Sunday, January 28, 2018

Favorite Albums of 2017

Here's the thing... 2017 had a TON of really good albums. Perhaps fewer truly GREAT ones, but a lot more worthy listens than usual. Quantity over quality, I guess. Anyway, as a result, I just had to go with 50. Most years I'm struggling to fill 25 spots of worthy music, this year I still feel like I left some out at 50. 

And... that's about all I'll say about that. Here are my Favorite Albums of 2017.

First off, some miscellaneousness...


1. Gorillaz - Seattle, Key Arena
2. Radiohead - Portland, Moda Center
3. The xx w/ Perfume Genius - Salt Lake City, The Complex
4. Washed Out - Salt Lake City, The Depot
5. Jesus and Mary Chain - Salt Lake City, The Complex
6. Real Estate w/ Mary Lattimore - Salt Lake City, Urban Lounge
7. Alvvays w/ Jay Som - Salt Lake City, Urban Lounge
8. The Shins - Ogden, Twilight Series
9. Little Dragon - Salt Lake City, Twilight Series
10. Deftones w/ Thrice and Rise Against - Salt Lake City, USANA
11. Cults - Salt Lake City, Urban Lounge
12. OK Go - Ogden, Twilight Series
13. Com Truise w/ Nosaj Thing - Salt Lake City, Metro Music Hall
14. Alison Krauss w/ David Gray - Salt Lake City, USANA

Alien: Covenant \\ Jed Kurzel

Runners Up
Blade Runner 2049 \\ Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch
Phantom Thread \\ Johnny Greenwood


We Can Die Happy \\ Tennis

The Greatest Gift \\ Sufjan Stevens

Runner Up
B-Sides and Rarities \\ Beach House

 Cigarettes After Sex \\ Cigarettes After Sex

Throughout the minimalist melancholy of this remarkable debut, front-man Greg Gonzalez sings of love like it's a diary of the past - specific memories about different lovers and friends, some casual, some serious. But it's a quiet intimacy in the details that sets it apart from typical love songs. That and Gonzalez's strikingly androgynous pipes, which barely register above a whisper, as if singing too loud would be a disservice to these moments. An album that manages to make the confessions of youthful infatuation seem sacred for 47 minutes straight. 

 Antisocialites \\ Alvvays

I came late to the Alvvays party, but their debut was a landmark listen during the darker days of 2016. So their sophomore effort ended up being one of my most anticipated releases of 2017. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. Blissfully airy late 80's/early 90's flavored fuzz-pop (gotta respect the influence-on-the-sleeve tribute to Jesus and Mary Chain that is "Lollipop (Ode to Jim)") that beats former champs Pains of Being Pure At Heart at their own game this year.  Approaching heartache with a sunny resolve, Antisocialites was one of a handful of needed healing sessions that grabbed me by the ears and lifted my spirits in a subtle but effective way. 

 Slowdive \\ Slowdive

Speaking of late 80's/early 90's fuzz-pop... I had never listened to a Slowdive album before this last year. Which is kind of crazy, because I've bathed in the wall of sound of basically every other shoegaze legend of the era. But part of me is kind of glad that I didn't have any true expectations with this long-awaited follow up to 1995's Pygmalion. I had done a little audio homework before diving into this one, but for the most part I came into it with little more than a respect for the name and an open mind. And, really, that's all it took. Slowdive did the rest. Such a fantastic album, from what I now know to be a fantastic band. Here's to hoping all these legends quit going decades between albums.

 This Old Dog \\ Mac DeMarco

Mac's very personal third full-length was also a pretty personal release for me during a rebound year. It was one of the first albums I really soaked up in 2017, and not only do I relate to its themes of loss, uncertainty, camaraderie, family, and getting older, but there's a certain zen chill to it that gave my soul some much needed comfort. It's a simple statement of self-reflection. It's also no accident that I've attached Mac to the gal that saved my life. Not only did she convert me to his tunes, but we made the trek to see him in Vegas as our first big adventure together. So, in a lot of ways, this album sort of represented turning a new leaf and being OK with that.   

 Yours Conditionally \\ Tennis

I saw Tennis open for Haim a few years ago. It was such a great show I decided to buy their album that was released shortly after. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed in it. So I wasn't excited to give Yours Conditionally a chance. But thanks to Miss Bridnee, I did. Just a couple weeks ago we flew to their hometown of Denver to catch them open their new tour. And here we are at #6. Husband and wife duo Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore continue to channel a Madonna meets Gwen Stefani vibe, but with a Motown twist, and seamlessly craft some of the most heartfelt pop I've heard in some time.

 Somersault \\ Beach Fossils

Opening track "This Year" starts things off declaring, "This year I told myself will be a better one." And for a brief but blissful 39 minutes Beach Fossils did their damndest to make good on that conviction. The band never ventures too far into unknown territory - the album is reminiscent of label mates Wild Nothing - but it's the flourishes here and there that set it apart: strings galore, a little jazz flute, and perfectly placed guest spots from Slowdive's Rachel Goswell and rapper Cities Aviv. The latter's spoken word smooth jazz is an especially powerful and introspective standout moment. The entire record laments about personal and cultural strife throughout but somehow manages to maintain a distinct vision of hope and beauty. A perfect album for my own personal 2017. 

 Boo Boo \\ Toro Y Moi

Chaz Bear (fka Bundick) is a kindred spirit. A talented visual artist and designer, who just so happens to make some of the best tunes around. I want to be like him, or at least be best friends with him. Anyway...

He is full-on embracing the cheese with Boo Boo - the album name, the 80's adult contemporary funk, the melodramatic lyrics - and dayum, does it ever work! Definitely the saddest record I allowed myself to cling to this year. But as sad as it is, there's a line on standout track "Labyrinth," towards the end of the album, that encapsulates the entire experience: "This apocalypse is never ending / Start a second life and keep moving." It really is an album about moving on. In fact, movement and space are key aesthetics throughout. As I listened to it on a drive to California last summer, I realized it's a great road trip album, (further evidenced by Chaz's hypnotic road trip visual to the whole thing). And the music itself is constantly flowing, vocals completely absent on a few tracks, and leaving plenty of space for CHILL. It may not be his most sonically diverse effort, but it's certainly his most conceptually consistent. For my money, the best thing he's done.

 Mister Mellow \\ Washed Out

It took some time to grow on me, but Ernest Greene's third full length as Washed Out just might have become my favorite release of his, which may surprise a few of my fellow fans who weren't all that pleased with Mister Mellow. The transfer to hip hop label Stone's Throw surely had an impact on his sound, as the grooves are a bit more grimey, a tad less synthy, and full of samples. So I get the apprehension to this slightly stripped down approach, but I think it's a perfect evolution. Seeing him perform it live backed by the trippy visuals he produced for each track certainly added to the appeal (definitely check out the visual album). But underneath all of that, what I really get out of Mister Mellow is an overarching theme of trudging through the monotonous drag that we call life. The entire album is a mantra for staying mellow amidst it all. Not a revolutionary concept on its own, but certainly timely.  

 Humanz \\ Gorillaz

Humanz was conceived as a doomsday dance party. A party to end all parties! As a concept, it's a little eerie how appropriately that fit in 2017, given the state of things. There are some truly dark moments on here that disguise themselves as carefree bangers. Gorillaz has always managed to have fun with dark themes, often waxing prophetic in their cartoonish doom and gloom. That's part of what makes their music so vital. The biggest difference this go around are the collaborations. Some people have complained that there are too many, which might be valid if each guest spot wasn't so exquisite. Damon Albarn is the ultimate curator in a time when great curated dance albums are popping up left and right (Disclosure, Kaytranada, Mura Masa). Hell, even Daft Punk took a chapter from the Gorillaz book with their own character-led curation of Random Access MemoriesThe ultimate, underlying goal of such a concept is to come together and find the beauty, the fun, and the power in unity. The album is called Humanz after all, so it only makes sense that it would feature more of them. I dunno what else to say other than Gorillaz have done it again. Another audio-visual spectacle seemingly tailored to my liking.

 No Shape \\ Perfume Genius

There's a line in "Valley," one of the many moments of pure gold on the masterpiece that is No Shape, where Mike Hadreas asks, "How long must we live right, before we don't even have to try?" He wonders allowed about the frustrations of "living right." When does it get easy? Does it ever get easy? For some, it really isn't. Hadreas has struggled with sexuality, drug abuse, and the general weight of the world throughout his life. No Shape is an attempt to break free from it all. As a result, he's created an epic display of defiance. It's a celebratory statement of love in the face of all obstacles. Love for others, but also for oneself. It's not exactly a typical "feel good" album. In fact, being atypical is what makes it so great. There are moments of darkness between the moments of light, moments of pop between moments of experimentation, moments of crying between moments of dancing. And throughout it all, not a single weak track. This was the perfect album for me to soundtrack a year of new love and rebirth. I may not have a ton of faith in humanity lately, but albums like this remind me that maybe we're not totally hopeless. 

Favorite Albums of 2017: 50-11

 Have Hope \\ Faded Leroy

 Drunk \\ Thundercat

 Who Built the Moon? \\ Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

 Utopia \\ Bjork

 Please Be Mine \\ Molly Burch

 Big Fish Theory \\ Vince Staples

 American Dream \\ LCD Soundsystem

 I See You \\ The xx

 Colors \\ Beck

 Omnion \\ Hercules and Love Affair

 Ease My Mind \\ Shout Out Louds

 Nightmare Logic \\ Power Trip

 Mura Masa \\ Mura Masa

 Everything Now \\ Arcade Fire

 Hug of Thunder \\ Broken Social Scene

 Aromanticism \\ Moses Sumney

 Soft Sounds from Another Planet \\ Japanese Breakfast

 Routines \\ Hoops

 Girlhood \\ The Preatures

 Painted Ruins \\ Grizzly Bear

 Plunge \\ Fever Ray

 Ti Amo \\ Phoenix

 Compassion \\ Forest Swords

 Analog Dance Music \\ Kommode

 What Now \\ Sylvan Esso

 No Home of the Mind \\ Bing & Ruth

 Everybody Works \\ Jay Som

 Mono No Aware \\ Various Artists

 Black Origami \\ Jlin

 Love at Low Speed \\ Abram Shook

 Tulips \\ Maston

 Parallels \\ Nosaj Thing

 async \\ Ryuichi Sakamoto

 Stubborn Persistent Illusions \\ Do Make Say Think

 Season High \\ Little Dragon

 Messes \\ Stef Chura

 Phantom Brickworks \\ Bibio

 World Eater \\ Blanck Mass

 Collected Pieces \\ Mary Lattimore

 Every Country's Sun \\ Mogwai