Listen: 20 Favorite Albums Of 2017

Listen: 20 Favorite Albums Of 2017

With the year in music drawing to a close, we look back on our 20 Favorite Albums of 2017. While it might be easier to compare apples to apples, this genre-spanning collection compares apples to oranges. We find it a more “fruitful” approach when boundaries are broken down and exceptional, but quite different artists, such as Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Old Iron, or Pissed Jeans and Jlin, all show up to the party together!

Flawed and inadequate as it is, this list also reflects our knee-jerk bias for all things Seattle! Shout out to Blue Glass, Porter Ray, Shabazz Palaces, Sub Pop, and Good To Die Records for bringing us some of our Favorite Music of 2017! While, at times, this year seemed to progress like a slow-motion car crash, musicians where there to help us pick up the pieces and assess the damage. Wherever possible, we’ve framed these selections with quotes from the artists themselves, and what they had to say about their work revealed that this bunch is more similar than different as they restlessly push their creativity in new directions, search for authenticity, and perfect their various crafts. Alright, let’s get going–we got a lot of music to listen to…

20. Crooked Bangs II LP (Nervous Intent Records)

Crooked Bangs II LP (Nervous Intent Records)

Austin’s Crooked Bangs play the kind of dark, brooding punk that we love on their 2017 LP II, out now on Nervous Intent Records. The band’s vocalist Leda Ginestra sings in English and French throughout, and while drummer Phillip Gonzalez might have been “taken aback” by that when he first joined the group, he now asserts, “it sounds awesome.” Speaking with The Austin Chronicle this past March, guitarist Samantha Wendel added, “I’ve always been into the rhythm of French music without ever seeking it out. Everything from Sixties French pop to late-Seventies/early-Eighties punk seemed to end up on my iPod. The language just serves music well.”

19. Essential Tremors Discorporation LP (TRAM Planet Records)

Essential Tremors Discorporation LP (TRAM Planet Records)

Essential Tremors play an eerie brand of synth-wave on their 2017 LP Discorporation out now on TRAM Planet Records. Sounding like a dire warning from some apocalyptic near-future, the album combines the band’s love for analog synths with dangerously addictive basslines, and Code KNR’s bleak vocal delivery. When we spoke with the group back in November, we asked about the album’s interesting title. Code KNR explained:

“I thought it would just be self-titled for the longest time, but I was reading “Stranger in a Strange Land” when we finished the album, and in that book, the term “discorporation” is something similar to what humans refer to as death or a departure from the body of some kind. At that point one of the members of the band had quit, we had recorded parts of it separate from each other, and I knew the band in its current incarnation was coming to an end, so the title seemed fitting. I love science fiction, and I’ve suffered from severe depression and anxiety since I was a boy, so everything thematically is filtered through those things.”

18. Blue Glass Eleven Years LP (self-released)

Blue Glass Eleven Years LP (self-released)

Blue Glass is Seattle-based multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Michael Shunk (Transient Songs). His solo debut Eleven Years finds him playing all the instruments on the record, except for drums, and it’s a gorgeously conceived and emotional exploration of longing and acceptance. Speaking with Impose about how the album came about, the musician explained:

“I would spend days and weeks just walking around or biking around cities like Berlin—taking in whatever I could, being distracted, writing. I would get back to my apartment where I would record the ideas. I had nowhere to record them properly, so I just kept writing, not sure exactly where it would go or what I was doing, really. I ended up moving back to Seattle eventually, and that’s when things started to take shape. I looked back on what I had demoed and a core set of songs and a concept emerged…Ultimately, aside from the drumming, which was done by the super-talented Moises Padilla (a ringer we brought in last-minute, and to his credit) I demoed and recorded everything myself.”

17. Porter Ray Watercolor LP (Sub Pop)

Porter Ray Watercolor LP (Sub Pop)

Seattle rapper Porter Ray transforms the grief of losing his brother to gun violence, and the pressures of being a single parent, into his against-all-odds debut LP Watercolor, out now on Sub Pop. When asked by the blog Passion of the Weiss about where his ability to tell “street stories with a sort of philosophical undercurrent” comes from,” Porter Ray explained:

“It comes from listening to people like Nas and Mos Def. I also read a ton. I pay attention to details. I wanted to paint a picture of my city and make the rhymes cinematic. A lot of people don’t know what Seattle looks like—what Seattle smells like—and I’m trying to capture that. I want the music to be reflective of the situations I’ve been in. It comes a lot from reading short stories and being really into film. There are a lot of great storytellers—people like B.I.G.—rap music, in general, is full of them. You listen to a song and you can tell what their neighborhood was like. I just want to capture nuance in my rhymes.”

16. Xiu Xiu Forget LP (Polyvinyl Records)

Xiu Xiu Forget LP (Polyvinyl Records)

Xiu Xiu returns to our Favorite Albums list with his 2017 LP Forget out now on Polyvinyl Records. This past February, when speaking with Tiny Mixtapes, he was asked about how he approached the vocals on his albums. After outlining the different ways this process has changed over the years, he explained:

“…for this last one, I decided to do it by myself in my little home studio again. It was a very, very long, difficult inward journey. Usually, I can do one song in a day. It takes all day to do it. And then it requires a fair amount of editing afterward. Obviously, I feel a little tense about this. For me, it is the most important part of the record. It’s the part that puts across whether or not it has the potential to connect with someone. And I think because I attach so much importance to it, I enter into it with the most amount of tension and baggage. And considering the content of most of the songs, it’s usually a deep journey into something I feel fucking terribly about…It is certainly never fun to do.”

15. Old Iron Lupus Metallorum LP (Good To Die Records)

Old Iron Lupus Metallorum LP (Good To Die Records)

Seattle metal trio Old Iron employ the “devil’s interval,” and some serious psychedelics, on their sophomore LP release Lupus Metallorum out now on Good To Die Records. Recorded by Matt Bayles (Mastodon, ISIS, The Sword) at Red Room Studios, the band’s tritone worshiping LP combines wicked low end, and mind-melting riffage, with vocalist Jesse Roberts‘ ungodly howl. The singer explains, “There was never any intended theme, but in hindsight half of the songs were inspired by experiences I’ve had with ayahuasca and DMT.”

14. Lee Gamble Mnestic Pressure LP (Hyperdub Records)

Lee Gamble Mnestic Pressure LP (Hyperdub Records)

London-based producer/DJ Lee Gamble joined Hyperdub Records this year with the release of his 2017 LP Mnestic Pressure. While previous efforts like 2014’s Koch or 2012’s Dutch Tvashar Plumes found the musician surfing the data clouds, Gamble’s Hyperdub debut explores vivid dynamics and a channel scrambling logic. This past November when Pop Matters asked Gamble about the album’s strange title, he explained:

“The title Mnestic Pressure comes from living in the UK with Brexit and the surrounding politics. You are pressured into making a decision about something or take a stance on something that you are actually quite happy with anyway. All of a sudden you are pressured to decide about something. I started to think about it a lot and it being used in politics a lot. Newspapers saying things like if we have Brexit, then we will go back to this point in British culture where everything was good. This is pressure on your idea of what you’re memories are. It’s this pressure to make you think in a certain way. Memory is yours, but that’s not always true.”

13. Visible Cloaks Reassemblage LP (Rvng Intl.)

Visible Cloaks Reassemblage LP (Rvng Intl.)

On the Portland-based duo Visible Cloaks‘ 2017 LP Reassemblage (RVNG Intl.), Spencer Doran and Ryan Carlile craft drifting, amorphous atmospheres from their love of instruments from around the world. Setting this Fourth World aesthetic on its’ ear with their use of virtual instruments, the pair take obvious joy in creating opaque sonic bridges from their varied sounds, patterns and melodies. This past February, Doran explained to Bandcamp Daily: “What we’re trying to do is take a bunch of those different instruments from across the world and stack them together to create this virtual, simulated reality, where all these things coexist together.”

12. Fake Palms Pure Mind LP (Buzz Records)

Fake Palms Pure Mind LP (Buzz Records)

Toronto’s Fake Palms returned this year with their Pure Mind LP out via Pleasance Records/Buzz Records. While the band’s 2015 self-titled debut was a raucous affair, the group’s 2017 LP finds the band growing into a more nuanced expression. The band’s singer/guitarist Michael Le Riche explained the new growth this way to Northern Transmissions:

“When we started working on the album, I decided that I wanted to put out the songs I had that sounded the furthest from what we had released until this point. I wanted to do things as differently as possible. We took slower songs, ones with less guitar, and tried to do things that weren’t expected of us. We wanted to challenge the idea of what we do as a band, and we wanted to challenge ourselves. I hope that as a band that’s something we never stop doing. We’re at our best when we’re pushing toward the next thing.“

11. Prurient Rainbow Mirror 4xLP (Profound Lore Records/Hospital Productions)

Prurient Rainbow Mirror 7xLP (Profound Lore Records/Hospital Productions)

Dominick Fernow celebrated 20 years of his Prurient moniker in 2017 with this mammoth 7xLP Rainbow Mirror, out on Profound Lore Records/Hospital Productions. This release finds Fernow working as a trio joined by fellow musicians Matt Folden (Dual Action) and Jim Mroz (Lussuria). Clocking in at over three hours, Rainbow Mirror is a sprawling collection of what Fernow calls “doom electronics,” and it is absorbing and exhausting in the best of ways.

10. Pissed Jeans Why Love Now LP (Sub Pop)

Pissed Jeans Why Love Now LP (Sub Pop)

Pissed Jeans return to explore the demented corners of the male psyche on their 2017 LP Why Love Now out via Sub Pop. Produced in part by Lydia Lunch, when the band’s Matt Korvette spoke with Noisey about working with the punk legend, he had this to say:

“She was just a great presence in the studio—her attitude was very different from our attitudes, and her experience and her stories, she was a great motivator. I didn’t know what to expect, which was the fun of it. It wasn’t like we were walking into the studio with someone who you can look at their 12 most famous productions and already know exactly how they like to work. She was kind of just a nut—listening to the songs, kinda yelling about stuff, it gave us a totally different atmosphere than usual, pretty like, pretty subdued, kind of quiet—we’ve only ever worked with producers who have the bedside manner of a psychologist or something, whereas Lydia was an unhinged, awesome force in there. She’s the opposite of a passive-aggressive Californian—”oh yeah, whatever you want, that’s cool, cool, man” while reserving their actual judgment or maybe not having any. She was very enthusiastic and would say crazy things and would really mean it if she liked something. I feel like any compliments we got from here were 100% sincere.”

9. Pharmakon Contact LP (Sacred Bones)

Pharmakon Contact LP (Sacred Bones)

If Pharmakon‘s 2014 LP Bestial Burden dealt with the agony of the flesh, on this year’s effort Contact (Sacred Bones), the artist explores methods of release from this material container. On this “sister album” to her 2014 long-player, Margaret Chardiet uses the four generalized stages of an out-of-body experience to map her album. In March, the artist explained to FACT:

“One of the common threads in my music is the idea of the loop and I think that’s because repetition helps me go into this mindset, go into that state. I looked at that a lot when I was when I was composing and tried to understand what about low percussive repetitions has consistently attracted me while making music for the past 10 years now. I think that it’s this physiological response that I can’t really describe. It’s more evident in a live setting and I’m trying to make the same sort of body feels happen as when you’re listening to the record.

In the live setting, when you’re playing these frequencies, loops and percussive elements, they’re physically vibrating in your body – in between your ears, through your feet and your stomach, in your gut. So in a way, it’s not just your brain processing the sounds but your body.”

8. Shabazz Palaces Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines LP (Sub Pop)

Shabazz Palaces Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines LP (Sub Pop)

Fortunately, Shabazz Palaces continue to visit us from their Emerald City in outer space. This year, Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire returned from their interstellar travels to drop twin LPs, Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines and Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star, both out on Sub Pop. Take your pick, as they’re both killer. At the end of the day, we choose Jealous Machines, as it contained one of our favorite tracks of the year, “Welcome to Quazarz.” Discussing the album’s thematics, Butler told The Guardian:

“When I was a kid there was this notion that the machines would take over and they would be these humanoid-looking things that would have enough intelligence to subjugate humans. That was the fear. Then one day I realised that if an electricity grid went out in a city, it’s a wrap. Motherfuckers wouldn’t know what to do. The machines have taken over. They’ve inserted themselves on everybody’s person.”

7. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith The Kid LP (Western Vinyl)

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith The Kid LP (Western Vinyl)

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith‘s 2017 LP The Kid (Western Vinyl) arrived this year like a deep breath of much needed fresh air. Meant to reconnect us with our playful “kid energy,” Smith’s analog synth compositions are densely radiant celebrations of the unexpected. Inspired in part by the philosopher Alan Watts, the musician explained to Nylon:

“I’ve always loved his energy. I love his concept of life is “play” and that your work should always be play. I try and live my life that way, and that’s a big intention in this album. There was a talk that I was listening to, right when I was making this album, that was saying that it’s our human nature to record ourselves to prove that we exist. Whether it’s looking in a mirror to find a reflection or finding a partner to find a reflection or actually recording ourselves through writing or audio or video. That was just very fascinating to me, so this album has a lot to do with reflections, and I play with that a lot musically and visually for the live show.”

6. Taiwan Housing Project Veblen Death Mask LP (Kill Rock Stars)

Taiwan Housing Project Veblen Death Mask LP (Kill Rock Stars)

Taiwan Housing Project began in Philadelphia back in 2012 after a chance collaboration between Kilynn Lunsford of Little Claw and Mark Feehan of Harry Pussy. Since that time, the band has grown to include musicians Pat Ganley, Adam Cooper, Kevin Boyer, Kevin Nickles, Donald Bruno, Gwen Rooker, Cameron Healy, and Joanna Kessler. Named after the Norwegian-American economist Thorstein Veblen, who coined the term “conspicuous consumption,” the band’s debut 2017 LP Veblen Death Mask (Kill Rock Stars) makes the kind of racket intended to scare the neighbors. This past May, Lunsford told Noisey:

“Ultimately, my intention isn’t to ease people into this. I want to assault them. I want to rob them of levity. It may not seem that way all of the time, because my songs are varied in mood. However, what sonics don’t achieve, confusion will. People often feel affronted and besieged by what they don’t understand, and that’s where I want my creations to exist.”

5. Actress AZD LP (Ninja Tune)

Actress AZD LP (Ninja Tune)

The UK-based producer Actress told FADER this past April that he made “at least 300 CDs of just recordings” in creating his 2017 LP AZD (Ninja Tune). In addition to using graffiti converted into sound, Darren Cunningham went on to explain:

“For me, it’s just about creating a personal landscape of the things that I want to investigate. With this record, I was thinking about black art and how it’s considered as naive art. Repatriation: finding things and making something new out of those things. With AZD, I wanted to build a machine, really. What was in my head was this Willy Wonka-style elevator, which is basically loads and loads of buttons [and] he knows exactly what every button does apart from one. I would buy vintage gear simply by how it looked, not necessarily by how it sounds. If it was silver and it was sick, I’d buy it; if it was black and it was sick, I would buy it. It had to fit within the body of this robot [made out of gear] that I’d created…

[The robot’s] named AZD. The album is just a product of the programs that would go into AZD and the process that was affecting it as well.”

4. Oiseaux-Tempête – Al-‘An! (And Your Night Is Your Shadow — A Fairy-tale Piece Of Land To Make Our Dreams) (Sub Rosa)

Oiseaux-Tempête – Al-‘An! (And Your Night Is Your Shadow — A Fairy-tale Piece Of Land To Make Our Dreams) (Sub Rosa)

The Paris-based musical collective Oiseaux-Tempête have always focused their musical project on their travels around the Mediterranian Sea. For Al-‘An! (And Your Night Is Your Shadow — A Fairy-tale Piece Of Land To Make Our Dreams) (Sub Rosa), core members Frédéric D. Oberland and Stéphane Pigneul traveled to Lebanon where they met local musicians like the guitarist Charbel Haber (Scrambled Eggs, The Bunny Tylers) and percussionist Sharif Sehnaoui (Karkhana, Alan Bishop, Okay Temiz), to name a few. Describing their musical adventure to the blog African Paper, Oberland explained:

“We arrived at Tunefork studio in Beirut completely free, just wanting to give the best of what we could do. Big parts of the improvisations we recorded there together with the different teams were so blissful and were finally going further than we could expect… Then when we jumped back to Brittany, France, for some overdubs and extra recording session, we gave some extracts from these Beirut sessions to our drummer Sylvain and to Paul aka Mondkopf to listen to. After a small break, we went back with Stéphane to listen to the complete sessions and we started to edit -as in a movie- and to build the whole album. It took some months to find the proper way to give birth to the opus. Our way of working is empiric, without a written scenario…”

3. Chelsea Wolfe Hiss Spun LP (Sargent House)

Chelsea Wolfe Hiss Spun LP (Sargent House)

Chelsea Wolfe‘s 2017 LP Hiss Spun (Sargent House) was marked by her return to Northern California, as well as her reunion with drummer Jess Gowrie. The musician explained to that she had to stay with family while living in-between houses last year, forcing her to create a small home studio to write lyrics for the album. She says:

“All of that dug up a lot of memories for me – some good, some strange and some dreadful. Without overthinking it I was putting a lot of that into the songs. There are some more abstract moments on the record, like ‘Offering’ for example, but even that one, I was singing about the Salton Sea, but creating this sort of female character that I could relate to, and I think many other women could relate to–the world wanting more from you than you can always give.”

2. Algiers The Underside of Power LP (Matador Records)

Algiers ‘The Underside of Power’ LP (Matador Records)

When 2017’s political clown show had us feeling down, AlgiersThe Underside of Power (Matador Records) got us back on top with just the kind of rallying cry that we desperately needed. The album is a politically charged, sonically seductive collection, and the band’s vocalist Franklin James Fisher had this to say about it to Billboard:

“This record, we wanted to emphasize the hope that may have been lost on a lot of people on that first album. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here, but a lot of what this album’s about is this sense of purpose and hope and drive in spite of the impending apocalypse, symbolic or otherwise. A lot of songs on this record touch on those themes. A major influence on this record, thematically, was The Plague by Camus. There’s at least five or six songs that deal with those concepts.”

1. Jlin Black Origami LP (Planet Mu)

Jlin ‘Black Origami’ LP (Planet Mu)

On Jlin‘s 2017 LP Black Origami (Planet Mu), the Indiana-based electronic musician displays her continued evolution from her early days as a Footwork producer. What hasn’t changed, though, is the way this music moves the body. Naturally athletic, Jlin’s rhythms are restlessly innovative, and she continues to push electronic dance music into thrilling territory. When asked by FADER about what she learned in making Black Origami, she replied:

“I learned in doing this — even though I kind of knew this about myself already — that I am never satisfied. I always feel like, if I got it to this point it can be better, even if I love it. I love “Holy Child,” that is probably my favorite track. That and “1%.” OK, “Challenge,” too. So those three tracks, I love them to death. Or to life. But the thing about it is, I know I can do even better than that. I know I can go deeper than that. I love stretching my potential because I don’t believe in peaks. I don’t believe in the start, the peak, and then the downward. No, no, no. Once I start from the bottom and I am going up, I will continue to go up. I don’t believe in coming back down. I believe in “keep stretching.” So that’s my drive in life, whether it’s music or anything else.”

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