2017 Musical Favorites
What a strange and horrible year. A miserable, painful, exhausting year for me and my friends. It was far worse for so many strangers across the globe. An utter shitbag of a year.
Yet I’m still here. I’m even happy about that most days. But in order for me to remain happy I had to pull away into my own little world more than I have in almost a decade. That retreat meant I wrote less than I have in years and each sentence moves forward then back then tentatively forward again like the littlest engine that hopefully could. I keep nodding at Sisyphus as we pass each other again and again.
Amidst all this frustration and fear and anger I found one great solace; the music made by my friends. Music has always been a wellspring of strength for me in my most troubled times. This year was troubled start to finish, but over and over again my friends buoyed me up through their art. Sometimes it was with a shout in the face of adversity, sometimes a howl of pain in the dark, sometimes a righteous fucking riff that took me out of my head. The personal, the profound, and the inane all spoke to me, or put me at ease, or broke the spiraling thoughts in my own head that were dragging me down.
This year I also found more collaborators and supporters for my own sounds. In particular, David, Jeremy, Jonathan, and Chris all made me a part of their own art and music. I didn’t know I needed that until I had it. Thank you.
That’s enough about me and my year. Here’s my favorite music of 2017. Here’s to my friends.
Vattnet - Vattnet
With each passing year I grow closer and closer to Chris Alfieri. That closeness meant I got to watch this record blossom from riffs to demos to the full flowering of its finished form. I have zero distance and extreme familiarity so make of this what you will; this album floors me. It wears its heart on its sleeve, the emotions raw and wracking. After the first time I listened to “Funeral” I took off my headphones and cupped my head in my hands. I don’t think I’ve reacted like that to an album since Woods of Ypres’ Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light.
The Angelus - There Will Be No Peace
Emil and I spent a few years in the same circles in Dallas before we became friends. I regret that; we should have had more time together. What I don’t regret is every time I got to see his band and to hear him sing. Emil has an old voice, a voice from a different time and place. His voice makes his songs mythical, his tales bigger than man, bigger than truth. Apocalyptic prairie post-rock, revelations of Revelation.
Divide Replace - warp wrap
My partner in HEP LAD made a weird little glitchy electronic album and everything about it makes me happy. Short and sweet, warp wrap is a candy colored blast of joyful weirdness and it makes every day I listen to it a little better.
Cavernlight - As We Cup Our Hands and Drink From the Stream of Our Ache
I heart bummer jams. Adam understands because he not only releases music from the best bummer jam band in Kowloon Walled City, he makes his own darker and danker version with Cavernlight. No matter how low I felt this year Cavernlight was there below me to let me know it could be worse. I’m sorry Adam and his bandmates had to go to such a dark place to make their art, but I’m glad they were there so I could brace my feet on their shoulders and keep my head above water.
Couch Slut - Contempt
If you don’t get mad at the horrors of the world it’ll eat you alive. No one got that across better for me than Couch Slut. Noise rock with classic rock underpinnings and Megan out front tearing her soul out of her throat. She gave voice not to the weak but to the unheard. Listen to the broken, the outcasts, the despised, the ignored. They know the world better than you.
Shooting Guns - Flavour Country
v/a - Return of the Son of Gutbucket
Hawkeyes/Radiation Flowers - split LP
There is a fellowship of Canadian psych rock that I don’t understand but sure the fuck do enjoy. I’ve been lucky enough to be an honorary part of it for years now, and I wear my denim and denim and denim proudly. Canadians I’ve never met in person are some of my closest friends and favorite musicians. Let the jams floooooooooow.
STACEY MADE ME LISTEN TO THESE OTHER CANADIANS
Eiyn Sof - Meadow Thrum
Biblical - The City That Always Sleeps
Stacey and I occasionally talk about things besides Nick Mason and my silly ideas for Hawkeyes merchandise. He tipped me off to these two very different albums.
Meadow Thrum is what I wanted freak folk to be; a singular cracked and magical vision. It’s a self-contained universe with its own rules and wonders and you either accept it for what it is or you don’t. I did, and I'm better for it.
The City That Always Sleeps is a wonderful melodic hard rock update of post-Syd psychedelic Pink Floyd for the modern era. Biblical doesn’t sound like anything besides themselves, and 60+ years into the rock and roll era that is no mean feat. It seems strange to me that this record seems either beloved or loathed; I’ve yet to see a “meh” response to the album.
GIMME INDIE ROCK
Vagabon - Infinite Worlds
A thank you to Lars Gotrich as I would likely have skipped this once the hype train started rolling (yes, I’m that kind of elitist jerk). It would have been my loss. Lӕtitia Tamko already has her own voice; and while the trappings may be familiar she uses them to strengthen her songs, not as cheap sonic signifiers of familiar meaning. Years ago I stepped away from paying attention to the indie rock and pop world as it seemed no one had new things to say. Vagabon feels fresh and real in a world of hoary old tropes.
NEW WORK FROM OLD FAVORITES
Bob Dylan - Triplicate
Earlier this year I said Triplicate is the best Bob Dylan record in 50 years. That’s is a lie. It’s his best record in
48 years (Nashville Skyline, my favorite Dylan album, came out in 1969). Bob’s been building towards his true Stardust for a few albums now and has reached it with this triple LP. His comfort in these classic tunes is evident from the get go, and his control of his cracked and weathered voice is nothing sort of masterful. Folk music made him famous but pre-rock and roll pop has proven to be where his heart lies.
The Feelies - In Between
I don’t think my heart beats. I think it jangles. I heart The Feelies.
Ulver - The Assassination of Julius Caesar
The Assassination of Julius Caesar is the best Depeche Mode record since Songs of Faith and Devotion. Heck, it might be the best Depeche Mode record ever. It’s definitely the best Ulver record since Shadows of the Sun.
RAM - Rod
RIFF - Riot
Ufomammut - 8
I like heavy psych that pins me down like the thickest, warmest comforter. Ufomammut has built a career of it with nary a misstep.
BIG PSYCH JAMS
Dhidalah - NO WATER
The Odyssey Cult - Vol. 1 & 2
A large percentage of my listening is built on jams. I love the high wire act; can they make this work long enough to get through or will a bad meander down a dead-end path drop them into the trash heap of pointless wankery? Dhidalah take big chances and succeed on their two lengthy jams. The Odyssey Cult aims for mostly shorter improvisational pieces which gives them a broader palate with more choices but less risk (there are exceptions, like vol. 2's epic closer "Ulysses") . These albums dominated my psych-improv listening space.
Harriet Tubman - Araminta
I didn’t write about much his year but I went long on Harriet Tubman. Still as excited about it now as I was then.
Gonçalo Almeida / Rodrigo Amado / Marco Franco - The Attic
For free jazz and improv to work for me I have to feel the musicians are playing for the music and not themselves. Anyone can make noise irrespective of what others are doing; it is the interplay between them that holds the magic. Listening is the most important skill, and these three artists are excellent listeners. While there is plenty of blowing – Amado does love his skronk – there is a context for every shriek and howl from his sax. A technical note: I'm impressed not only with the space the musicians give each other but to the space in the recording. The room is almost the fourth member.
DRONES & SOUNDZ
Quality Impressions - Quality Impressions
This could have been in friends but it fit nicely with these other drone and experimental sound records. This is a recording of a score/instructions created by Ben Hinz (Dwarfcraft Devices, The Ronald Raygun) and each cassette includes the instructions so you can create your own version. I’m a sucker for compositional games and systems. If anyone cuts a better version of the epic “Drum Womb” please let me know. I need more of its weird droning madness.
Benoît Pioulard - Lignin Poise
Anther one that could have been elsewhere, perennial favorite Benoît Pioulard has made another textural masterpiece with Lignin Poise. Like Sonnet, my favorite album of 2015, Lignin Poise is awash with sounds and noises that envelope and relocate my brain from its manic norm to a more pastoral and comforting place. I keep returning to comfort because it’s been that kind of year. I listened to music to ease my anxiety.
Phonophani - Animal Imagination
How do I describe this? Dense, ambient electronic soundscapes with glitching broken noise, with some almost danceable sections of repetitive percussion, that's broken into both short interludes and long soundtrack like sections, all wrapped in some of the most impressive and immersive use of the stereo sound field I’ve heard in ages. If any of that sounds interesting give it a go.
The Fun Years - Heroes of the Second Story Walk-Up
More big thanks to Lars. If he hadn’t opened his home to me and played this record I wouldn’t have heard one of my favorite releases in many years. A long drone piece made with turntables and baritone guitar, Heroes of the Second Story Walk-Up became my soundtrack to the fall. As things fell apart this was almost too on point, its soundscape crumbling alongside everything else. But to return to a theme, it also brought comfort. Underneath the dissolute drone is a sense of naturalness. Things fall apart. Things change. To survive the hard times is to be stronger for the better times to come.
Matt Jencik - Weird Times
While The Fun Years dominated the fall, Matt Jencik's Weird Times dominated all of 2017. Layers and loops of guitars manipulated into other forms, Weird Times is a perfect drone record for my scattered brain. Short discrete pieces that explore a sound or idea and then get out of the way for another one to step up makes perfect sense to me. Ambient drone has long been my bugbear genre because I can’t wait 20 minutes for an idea to emerge. Give me the good bit then give me another good bit. This is only good bits from beginning to end. Most importantly, Weird Times has been there through everything 2017 had to throw at me. An album to anchor an unsettling era.