2017 Albums of the Year; 20–11.
20. The National — Sleep Well Beast
I’ve stared into the middle of this monitor for a good period of time to think about what I want to say about this band, this album and these beautiful songs. They feel like sitting next to a friend on a comfortable couch with a nice sound system set up and some unfamiliar records playing in the background while they sullenly spin the yarn about how things haven’t worked out for them over a muddled wine. The information as a whole doesn’t really sink in but the somber tones do, the proximity does, and while you try not to make it about yourself, you sort of realize that all of this is how it always works out, and sitting there with this, with him or her, in these sounds with this feeling is a certainty that you can feel comfortable in. I’m not sure how Pitchfork will say it, but I guarantee they give more details without describing specific scenarios that have never happened. Maybe they include a lot of facts about the band as well. This is just a fantastic record that is a little sad but without crying into its own mirror.
Check Out: Dark Side of the Gym
19. Elephant Gym — 工作
I struggled with whether or not to include EPs on a favorites list, and I ended up deciding that the music’s merit can’t be determined by track number or length. An album in this list goes over 40 minutes with only three tracks, and then some more extreme genres can have over 15 songs and only last for 20 minutes. Where’s the line? This band really satisfies on so many levels. The guitars are beautifully done, doing acrobatic somersaults over each other and landing on very cool beds of light summer breezes where the vocals are supremely calming and saccharine. Possibly my favorite part of this album is that it’s in a completely foreign language with no roots in romantic language and I couldn’t pick up any meaning even if I tried. It really lets the music speak for itself.
Check Out: 中途
18. Nine Inch Nails — Add Violence
Always always always respect Nine Inch Nails. Was also recently asked by a friend where to start with them as they had just recently heard the song ‘Hurt’ and wanted to try and dive into them. I would say that for me, it would always be the older stuff, the ugly and aggressive side of Trent Reznor’s stuff that was my favorite. Albums like Pretty Hate Machine, Broken, and one of the all-time great, The Downward Spiral. In between then and now, there are others. Friends of mine probably still claim a lot of those middle ones as being just as great as those early ones that I was talking about. But for me, there was something missing. The production and intricate attention to detail was still there, and for that, I will always hear those songs and be completely blown away. But nothing grabbed me viscerally the way those first few pieces did. This year, Nails came back with this EP that totally turned my head back in their direction. The sound of the drum machines from the very beginning called to mind old Sisters of Mercy albums, the distortion the crushed all on-board sound gave that same grimy experience that all of those old tracks used to make me feel. Front to back, it’s weird again. It’s raw again. At the end of the album, there’s an entire segment of the song that crumbles, with apocalypse sounds growing and expanding into the structure of the song and absolutely tear it apart until it’s deteriorated, but you can still hear it at the core screaming for help. Little effects like this are what make Reznor a genius. Very happy to hear that somewhere in that human heart of his, there’s still a darkness that he can tap into and control.
Check Out: The Background World
17. Less Art — Strangled Light
One track into hearing Less Art on a routine drive home from work had me energetically and hyper focused on them. There was something about it transplanted from the days of when Thrice, Hopesfall, etc. were on top. It wasn’t only about the breakdowns and the heavy parts, but about what separated them, what kept them together, and what built into them. While the band name is calls for ‘Less Art’, there seems to be far more here in the aggressive space than there has been in some time. Although this works as the band’s debut, there are members in this group made of up a bunch of bands that have been doing it for a long time. While their structure seems to take inspiration from bands like Touche Amore, Pianos Become the Teeth and La Dispute, it might collectively be the other way around. This is one of the most interesting records to come out of the genre in a long time. It’s got such a raw and genuine approach at the style, calling to mind the high point of Poison the Well’s records. It places beauty and aggression side by side, the dichotomy highlighting the strength of both sides of the coin. I think the songs get better as the record goes further into the track listing, with so many of the band’s songs that really nail their style coming towards the second half of the record. I think it might be a more difficult listen to kids who came up in any other time than the early 2000s. There’s a call for such different things in modern ‘hardcore’, but this is a slice of another time, bringing me back to when Trustkill and Ferret Records were trusted without question.
Check Out: Strangled Light
16. END — From the Unforgiving Arms of God
From the very moment this album was teased with a simple flashing YouTube video of a building and collapsing breakdown, I couldn’t wait for this beauty. In the greatest way possible, IT IS WHAT IT IS. Brutal breakdowns, a roaring scream over ever drum beat. It’s a pouring molten hell, recorded to show off how punishing some of this stuff can sound when the volume is turned all the way up and you unleash angry, angry energy. Just as in any record that does this style properly, there are breakdowns on this record that get me so hype that all I can do is laugh. This album makes me so, so happy. Sad that it’s so short. The breakdown at the end of Necessary Death is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.
Check Out: Necessary Death
15. Chelsea Wolfe — Hiss Spun
Slow and steady is what wins this race. It’s a long grind of distorted guitars, dripping with tar and pitch accented with a siren’s beautiful voice to call you in. The record is filled with fever dreams and the tossing and turning of sweat and insomnia. Discomfort seems to be the overwhelming theme, fraught with twitches and a rising sense of anxiety of the beckoning approach of something terrible that you can’t look away from. The genius of this record is that it doesn’t rely on oscillating back and forth between that which is pretty and that which is ugly, but instead braids them together to form a constantly undulating hybrid of the best of both dimensions.
Check Out: 16 Psyche
14. Glassjaw — Material Control
I never really believed that this record would release. Knowing the cheeky nature of this band, I almost imagined that they’d been talking about making new music just as a way to keep the fanbase rabid and slathering over the possibility of it ever coming. Late last year (maybe the year before?), they dropped New White Extremity and it acts as the lead track on Material Control which without a doubt informs the listener that these guys are back and haven’t lost a single step. There’s nothing like these guys out there and their absence hit me with a gut punch as soon as I heard this record, and knew what kind of music had been missing. Their live performances have never felt like ‘reunions’, but always fresh and new performances as lush with passion and commitment as any within the heart of a band’s lifespan and I think this record reflects the same kind of timelessness. Characteristically, this band hasn’t gone out of their way to interest you or to get you to turn your head. You will find what you will find within this record and none of it has a feel of a ‘single’ or a song that sounds anything like a specific stone within the edifice of the album they’ve constructed. I feel, in a way, there is a lack of quality control in the level of production, but where the shine and luster lack, the raw feeling of a gritty, grimy and ultimately DIY band out of where I grew up feels just right. Interestingly enough, where Beck’s guitar finds itself sounding often like power tools which come across just so sick and Daryl’s vocal decisions come across as brilliantly as ever, I think the bass parts on this record might be my favorite flavor in the whole mix.
Check Out: Pompeii
13. Slowdive — Slowdive
All of the excitement over Slowdive reuniting and coming out with new music in 2017 was great, and instantly recognizable as a big deal when I heard the first single released by them. Their mastery was fully apparent. It was almost perfect that I listened to this record outdoors during the spring time when things were just warming up and the winter was behind us but the truly brutal days of summer hadn’t yet creeped up. The blue skies, drifting clouds and swaying trees worked to dress these somewhat sorrowful and ethereal tracks into a different stratosphere, lifting them up into these majestic and floating anthems, energizing and inspirational in larger than life fashion. Really, though. These songs are big and beautiful, and for anyone who’s a fan of the shoegaze genre, it’s easy to see how these guys set the stage for all that came after them. Masters of the craft.
Check Out: Everyone Knows
12. Quicksand — Interiors
When I caught mention that these guys were coming back, there was a sense of excitement there. Different than most, I wasn’t excited, necessarily, to see where they were going to go since their earlier stuff, mostly because I hadn’t spent too much time exploring it. I was pretty geared up to be able to get into the seminal post-hardcore band that had set a lot of the rules in place for so many of the bands in the genre that were doing it within a blueprint that they’d created. I loved the first track released, the album’s opener, ‘Illuminant’ and had to bide my time until they were going to release the full album. So to prep, I went back and listened to their album ‘Slip’ and completely fell in love. It got me primed for this new record which trudges forward in heavy strides that seem to have the same pacing of a blend between a modern Deftones record and a classic shoegaze album. There’s the rusty heft of the guitars that loop over and over, but also there are sprites and sparkles and twinkles that you can catch in the peripheral aspects of the songs as well. Quicksand’s unique formula here becomes a walk through an industrial museum where everything is evenly themed, but acknowledges a sense of deterioration and weathered tint. Any band can palm mute and down tune some guitars and then have a dude scream over the songs, but this band has taken that tired schematic and deconstructed it, taken it outside the box, and never gets to the fevered pitch of anger, instead letting Schreifels singing vocals sit on top of the tracks to stretch it outward into a whole new dynamic. What’s amazing is that some of the parts are heavier than the way they’re recorded. Like in ‘Hyperion’, it feels like these could have been recorded with so much more sludge and distortion, but keeping it right within the same pocket in the signature Quicksand tone makes it sound exactly the way it’s meant.
Check Out: Cosmonauts
11. Alice Glass — Alice Glass
Alice was my favorite part about Crystal Castles, the way her vocals sound like some kind of dark adolescent really pulled out a lot of the grime that the band tried to characterize. There isn’t as much of the harsh production that was the other half of her previous act, but I think hearing her isolated from it and still able to pull off an incredible sound like this is very encouraging. There’s a lot of weird legal stuff happening between the members of CC now, so I’m not sure what to expect out of her in the future. There’s a dark neo-LA sound about the record, the way that the verses have the sleek and shiny build and then disintegrate into these chaotic and pixelated choruses. A brilliant collection of songs that is ugly and beautiful and desperate, all things that mark art at its finest.
Check Out: Natural Selection