2017 Albums of the Year; 10–1.
10. Eisley — I’m Only Dreaming
An old friend of mine tried to get me into both Copeland and Eisley at the same time. I never really bit into either one too deeply. I wasn’t completely turned off by them, but they didn’t have the spark that I was really looking for at the time. But this was one of the first records that released this year and I was starving for all the new stuff that was coming out. This record really took over an entire weekend for me. While it was light and beautiful, it had a lot of really nice and lingering tones on the vocals, something I hadn’t really noticed them pulling off before. The voice was sweet before, but this seemed to be taking it in a different direction, both playing up a smarter and more pop-intelligent aspect of the songwriting, but also something more dynamic, akin to the way that Anthony Green pulls his vocals from piece to piece like stretching cotton. There’s the boundless sort of youth like Mae’s ‘Destination Beautiful’, but also the emotional intelligence of the 15 or so years since that record released. I’m blown away by the command that Sherri Dupree has over the subtleties she has written. She isn’t found overstretching or on alien ground. This is pretty music for austere moods. It’s tough because Green actually makes an appearance on one of the tracks on this record and where he could have left an enormous footprint in the record that was almost framed perfectly for the size of his outbursts, he instead stays within the footprints already set forth for him, somewhat diminishing the appearance. But beyond that, a lot of these songs fold together like a sprawling book of pictures with the same theme, painted with the same swatch of colors but taking on varying forms. It’s a beautiful experience all in all.
Check Out: You Are Mine
9. Dryjacket — For Posterity
This is such a firecracker of an album. It’s a blast to play loud, reminding me of a less filthy ‘Merit’ by The Progress. And that record is absolutely one of my favorites. It’s got lots of dynamic guitar work, heavily inspired by all that mathy stuff from that 90s emo movement from Braid and American Football, from which they also borrow heavily with the trumpet sound thrown in there from time to time as wel. The record feels close to a masterwork of the genre, thought that can be an incredibly fleeting thing. Pop punk is a dangerous game. Bands come and go in that genre like lightning flashes. With all that’s going on in this record though, I really feel like these muscles are just beginning to flex. The drums are not only carrying the beat throughout, but they have that uncanny spotlight that this genre tends to lend itself to graciously where little fills and transitions really give the artist a chance to shine on his own while making the rest of the band’s song sound that much more full. The vocals never really explode and go off into a realm where he would shine his own, but the higher pitched vocals drone over the music perfectly, never stretching itself too thin. The guitars really are what give this band their personality to me. The harmonics, the sweeps, the noodling are all so artful and technical, but hit points where there are some really gigantic pedal moments (‘Misused Adrenaline’ for example) that seem pulled out a Minus the Bear album. These guys could have their own instrumental album, but lend their craft to such a fun cause. Over this whole list, there’s a lot of different types of music to go through and I’m thankful for all of it, but there’s something really exciting when you can get the feeling that there will be another fighting day for pop punk.
Check Out: Bill Gates’ Ringtone
8. No Sun — If Only
A warm coma of an album, this one came up on me the same way that Nothing’s did last year. There’s a grief in here, coccooned in a somber and heavy racket that radiates with the glow of a fuming core. The guitars are heavy and distorted and chunky, but they aren’t abrasive and aggressive as they are melancholy and begrudging. The stares reserved for the enemies in more heavy music is instead turned inwards towards the self in a series of songs that seem to, even in love, have a sad expression worn. The landscapes are gigantic, like the enormous space satellites that Hopesfall’s early work was filled with, and the small and spiraling voice appears as a constellation in the ever-expanding sky. There’s wall to wall production here, from the guitars acting as a hurtling fuselage to the creaks and cracks of the amps that are left to dream and toss and turn like the ghosts releasing in the sinking of a massive ship. These are beautiful songs that I’m shocked are coming from a debut LP. There’s a veteran status that this band seems to command, though it could just be the command of the emotional weight in play here, the quality of the songs not taking any time to convince that they’re ready to jump to a bigger stage. These guys knew what they wanted to sound like coming out of the gate, know what hits hard, and know how to get marry those concepts into a brilliant sounding record. Very happy to have discovered this band this year and pumped to hear more from them going forward.
Check Out: Drown In You
7. Bjork — Utopia
Whenever there’s a Bjork release, I treat it like a film. In her recent work, I’ve had a hard time treating her albums like a bunch of songs together that you can skip between tracks and share them as a bunch of individually produced and written pieces, but instead like movements of a bigger piece.There’s going to be some kind of transformation to watch and far more at play than just lyrics, choruses, bridges, breaks and production. There are many details, total ecosystems at play. This record has its own sort of theme, following up her last album (an admitted breakup record) with resplendent celebration and a warm radiant happiness. This sounds like a natural habitat and refuge, a collection that has recorded the Earth itself in its own blissful glow. It takes a while for each bit of it to sink in as there is a lot of breathing that these takes do, but that’s not unlike taking in the sights of a vast landscape, coming to terms with the natural expression of time and the environmental chaos that goes along with it. Before a place becomes a representation of beauty, it starts off as just a place, just a location. Not until you place the context of your memories, your heart, your expectations and your experience does it become some kind of art. And a lot of the songs here have that same feeling, slowly building and swirling until you fold your sensations across them over and over and end up with a feeling of it all.
Check Out: Losss
6. Brand New — Science Fiction
This album comes together beautifully, and it couldn’t have been released in any other way than it was. There is no single that makes sense to detach from its clenched whole. Listening to it, it doesn’t feel like there’s a way to separate a song and try to describe it to anyone without the way that it sits in place amidst the rest of the tracks on the album. Along with the interludes, it sews together a perfect tapestry. It has the same dense emotional weight that their previous records have boasted but there doesn’t seem to be as much of an introspective and narcissistic grasp at work, but rather the mirror is turned to window and these songs seem to be exploring the universe and seeking answer without as opposed to within. They’ve grown into giants, always filling the skin that their expectations have stretched for them. The voice that they’ve invented, constructed and cultivated over the years hasn’t changed, only become more robust, stronger and more confident to take on even the most obtuse and abstract dynamics. There’s as much Deja Entendu within this work as there is Daisy, like a crew deeply mining into the earth to find richer and rare minerals. As far as I can tell, with this band announcing its breakup far before the actual event itself, I believe this will be their last album. It certainly feels like this would be their most evolved form, one which represents itself as the height of the evolution of a band that saw itself through from before “the scene” began yet just as informative to the kids within that movement and never bending or shaping themselves to fit within any specific niche except for their own.
Check Out: Out of Mana
5. Mount Eerie — A Crow Looked At Me
The Sound of Giving Up
Easily, EASILY the most difficult record I’ve ever had to come back and listen to. Hearing it the first time was brutal enough, each word digging into me like something punishing me and tearing me open vowel by consonant by meter. Knowing what this piece contained and reopening it was like swallowing a terrible pill. As someone who wrote most my of strongest penances while going through the painful ordeals of heartbreak, I understand what it is to strip down elaborate description to expose the stark reality of the moment. This, coping with the death of a spouse in real time, is possibly the most powerful collection of words put to music that I’ve ever heard. It is all so final. So ultimately climactic. Phil Elverum puts it best when he says that the death of someone isn’t something that you can make art about, not something you want to build stories and memorials about. It’s sad and stupid and empties you of all of your energy. There are plans that stop, memories you go back over that you never want to travel again. The words as they stand are monuments of devastation, but put to somber guitars and the loosely woven basket of his defeated voice is flattening. While I describe this album as the absolute totem of emotional pain, I also cannot recommend this record enough. Even just for one listen, this is an experience that you can’t deny yourself. There are few recorded pieces of media that will elicit the pure essence that this will. Powerfully enough though, this record acts as a gift of perception, granting the listener the very real sense of mortality and if taken with enough wisdom, the gift to never take those around you for granted. Cherish the ones you’ve chosen to love. Respect the ones who’ve chosen to love you.
Check Out: Real Death
4. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN
I don’t know how he does it. Album after album. Track after track. Kendrick is inhuman. I’ll be real with you. I don’t know much about what makes rap or hip hop great. I’ve seen him mentioned as someone who is overrated. That’s fine, I’m way out of context here. But I know what I like. The music on the backgrounds of his flows are absolutely untouchable. There’s a cinematic feel to it. Almost to the point where the DJ forgets that there’s a man trying to spit rhymes over this. It takes on a life of his own. And even when I had his record ranked #1 last year, I compared it to the same thing I’m about to cite: JAZZ. There’s a sense of adlib on here not only from his flow and the way he delivers his words, but also the way the beats break off into their own passageways. The songs feel like they are intricate ant farms, termite mounds, labyrinths that you can follow for hours and still miss the main point of the track. There’s infinite cool, a timeless chic about this record, but also (relevantly enough) a humility to the tracks, a sense of THIS IS SIMPLY ME. One thing I’ve never loved about hip-hop is one of its biggest strengths, one of its pillars: flossing, bragging, gigantic egos. There’s something about his songs that while he’s self-assured and self-sustained, there’s a sense of humanity that is unmatched. For me, this is art. These are extravagant tapestries in the vein of hip-hop. There’s a full spread of emotions at play here, from introspection to empowerment to aggression to straight up excitement. There’s nobody out there doing what Kendrick is doing right now.
Check Out: Element
3. HEALTH — DISCO3
The Discoteque of Bret Easton Ellis’ Los Angeles
It feels a little strange to have a remix album ranked so highly. But for a record to have so many incredible tracks on it to be dismissed feels just as strange. Health’s ability to crush and disorient sound is absolutely incredible in and of itself. What they do afterwards in writing those ruined sounds into pop-worthy songs is a miracle. They sound as if destructive battle robots arrived here with the intent of raging warfare but ended up really digging the club scene instead. Every song is laced with cocaine and uncomfortable bright light that you want to keep gravitating towards because of all of the beautiful people are there. Aurally, it’s the distinct difference between mushrooms and acid, far more chemical, far more rigid and synthetic, but a raw experience no less. The new tracks built into this listing are incredible, from the industrial-riddim ‘Euphoria’ to the Nicholas Winding Refn murderscenedisco of ‘Slum Lord’ and the stalking, out of body experience of ‘Crusher’ (complete with a collapsing breakdown to end the song), all have their own legs and have their own place as favorite songs of the year. All of the songs blend together to form a huge thesis of shattering invasion communicated through tactile bass blasts and shimmering beauty in the vocals. If you haven’t yet, go back to 2015’s Death Magic by these guys, my favorite album of that year, just to get a real feel for what these songs were originally. Then come back here and see how they were obliterated in car crashes and dragged back screaming from the wreck in all of their reincarnated splendor.
Check Out: Crusher
2. Manchester Orchestra — A Black Mile to the Surface
Stream of Consciousness Narrative Bombast
I can’t deny the influence of Manchester on so many of my favorite bands, but it’s not always a band that’s “worked” for me. I saw them live at this huge show at Nassau Coliseum with Glassjaw, Brand New and other ‘local’ acts, but the first time I really DISCOVERED them was when their album ‘Simple Math’ dropped in 2011 and I absolutely fell in love with every track on the record (even the lyrics!) and wanted to know more. I went back and listened to their previous two albums and wasn’t too into them. I looked into Andy Hull’s other stuff, like the lauded ‘Bad Books’ and couldn’t get into that either. About a year or so later, a 14 minute ‘cover’ of No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” surfaced and I was rapt in the possibility of these guys. Man, and then COPE came out and aside from the titular track, I just couldn’t get into it. Even when they acoustified the record and released it as HOPE, I still couldn’t find the draw. I had written them off as a band that I would only ultimately enjoy as a singular album, but respect as an act. It happens. And when this record was announced and the single arrived, I was cautiously optimistic. Sure enough, when this record came out in full, I was obsessed. From the little pieces of storytelling I was finding within, to the brief history of background I heard about what inspired the title of the record (ultimately a mining town where people work a mile deep into the earth, metaphorically inspiring the journey from the pit of darkness up into the light), everything about the record lined up perfectly. There are a billion layers to each track, finding clips of conversation and television sonically dripping into the channels and occasionally being the only thing you can hear at times, to guitar parts that you can still discover on the fiftieth listen. There are two powerful pieces to Manchester Orchestra’s brilliance, and they lay on each end of disparate planes. The huge, full sound that is able to swallow you up like a misjudged wave can toss you into a swath of spiraling black, with a near sensory overload of trying to orient yourself with all of the elements being tossed at you. But sometimes immediately, there are moments where all things disappear aside from Hull’s voice. It acts the same way that reading a fantastic book can, where the entire body of work sweeps you up and it’s all mapped out in your mind, and then WHAM, the purest and most perfect line hits you hard and there is no book, there is no surrounding, there are just those words. The ability for Manchester Orchestra to let you know precisely when there is a moment that requires all of your senses exposed, to let you know what they felt when they wrote it and how, despite the pain or pleasure, you are going to experience it alongside them. There’s sadness in here, there’s joy and hope, there are also bouts with slipping sanity. Not only are these incredible songs, they’re incredibly detailed memoirs. And I felt every word.
Check Out: The Sunshine
1. Code Orange — Forever
I listen to this album in awe. It’s just so heavy in ways that I wish could materialize. It’s the sound of hate and pain and torture and punishment. It’s twisted together the way that decimated buildings become the same real estate after they’re bombed from the air. Sure, there are breakdowns in these songs but they almost act as relief from the body of the full song. These songs were written from a place of anger and produced from a place where they wanted to put the damage on display. Of course, there are elements of this record that make me laugh at how heavy they were, but mostly it takes the darkest things inside me pushes them to the surface. It threatens to remove the filters and boundaries between the awful things that exist in our shadow selves. Listening to this record brings monumental release. There aren’t just heavy guitars and pummeling drums to paint this black portrait. The low rumbling pulses of synths feel like a miserable presence polluting the make up. The bass is produced not like an instrument, but as a blackened film that coats the surface of all sound. The reference may not make sense as the band stands now as obvious stars, but the way this album hits me is the same way that Slipknot’s first album did. Suspending disbelief, it really felt like these dudes in masks weren’t actual people, that they were from parts unknown, and that their instruments and haphazard percussion were made up as a means of survival much like a roving pack from the Mad Max universe as opposed to a bunch of guys who were adopting characters and personas to become something new. Code Orange bears a very similar standard without the masks or jumpsuits to don. They openly advertise that they are the Thinners of the Herd, separating the real bands from the bands that are just in it for the fame or image. Videos and images of their live show prove to be punishing and fearful affairs, rife with mayhem and violence. There’s a cinematic quality to the whole record, a powerful character overall, if not a collection of scenes of the grotesque, that is difficult to look away from for its horror. One of the best visions of hate, seen through to its entirety. There are a lot of records on here that I wasn’t sure “how high” they were going to end up on the list, but without a doubt, this was my album of the year.
Check Out: Forever