Friday, December 22, 2017

Top 50 Albums Of 2017, 20-11


The past few months I've spent creating the list you're about to read (and the one I hope you've already read, my top 100 tracks of the year) have really burnt me out. Maybe that's not something you want to hear, or something I should be disclosing, but it's the truth. It's not that my heart wasn't in it, just that my heart only had so many beats to give. So much music released this year it's honestly baffling how I, or anyone keeping up with the happening's in the genres I frequent, was able to keep up with it all. There was Brockhampton taking the Hip-Hop world by storm with their Saturation trilogy. There was King Gizzard doing their damnedest at completing their promise of five LP's for 2017. And, of course, Trap continued its growth through sheer force, with what seemed like a new project from a noteworthy name every week. Quality withstanding.

There's only so much mental and aural battering one man can take. Ironically, a trip to Disney World this past week cleansed that edge, but invited a new one with psychical anguish. Next year, Dozens Of Donuts starts fresh. That's not to discredit the wealth of superb material we've received through all genres this past year though. There's Hip-Hop here, Indie too. And Rock and Pop and R&B and Electronic and Ambient and Funk and whatever it is Death Grips did. 2017 gave us a lot. Highs were abound, and while lows were frequent (Boomiverse still makes me sad), it's lists like these that prove just how grateful we should be for the art that continues to push us all forward, even in the darkest of timelines. So, with that being said, I hope you enjoy the 50 best albums of the year!

Also be sure to check out my best albums 20162015 and 2014.

Run The Jewels | Run The Jewels 3

Seems like so long ago now when Run The Jewels dropped the third part of their renowned, self-titled trilogy. That's less a knock on the duo of Killer Mike and El-P as it is a compliment on the wealth of news and music 2017 had on offer. More than anything, Run The Jewels 3 signaled a change in tide, namely the administration of Donald Trump and the rampant turmoil that would inevitably follow. Being political wasn't exactly new for the two veterans, it is their bread and butter after all, but on RTJ3, and namely tracks like 'Don't Get Captured' and 'Kill Your Masters,' the two showed that understanding is at the heart of revolution. A riot accomplishes nothing when the rioters know not what they're rioting for. Through malice and might, Killer Mike and El-P explained, bar by bar, just what that purpose is.

On top of that, of course, was El-P's usual remarkable production. Since Run The Jewels began, and really long before that when El-P produced R.A.P. Music and created Cancer 4 Cure in 2012, the two's expectations have risen to standards many artists would fail to reach. And yet, each iteration, including RTJ3, achieved substance despite adhering to the same principles they initially began with. There's the relentless bangers that exaggerate tasteful braggadocio like 'Legend Has It' and 'Stay Gold,' the out-there production that never ceases till it's in your face like 'Call Ticketron' and 'Panther Like A Panther,' and the aforementioned political cuts, including 'Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)' and the beautiful 'Thursday In The Danger Room.' Like its predecessors, Run The Jewels 3 had everything Hardcore Hip-Hop fans needed.

Blanck Mass | World Eater

Blanck Mass' World Eater came as a surprise to me. One, because I hadn't yet experienced the former Fuck Buttons member's Electro-Industrial music. Two, because I didn't think music like this was possible. When insatiable thrill-seekers continually up the ante, like fetishizers who can't satisfy their curious lust, extreme genres like Noise, Industrial, and Power Electronics become their go-to, end all be all. These are, largely, genres I can not bear to sit with, for my ears are already bleeding mere seconds in. By design, their harsh discordance stands directly in contrast of fundamental music that aims to please. Fuck Buttons was the closest I could get, using Drone and Noise at their leisure, but doing so through sheer melodic harmony.

World Eater is a different beast, reanimated by the same mind. After the abnormal 'John Doe's Carnival Of Error,' an opener that introduces vocal samples and instrumental subtleties, the nine-minutes of 'Rhesus Negative' pummel you to another realm of darkness. All those aforementioned genres are prominently on display, but here there's structure, semblance, style, spirit. At its heart, 'Rhesus Negative,' and other zonked examples like 'The Rat' and 'Silent Treatment,' are nothing more than Electronic music cut with a shrill knife. Blanck Mass' music is intense, both in the general principle and the fact that it's intensely enjoyable. There's no better example of that than the closer 'Hive Mind,' a daunting experiment that combines his dissident beat-crafting with over-joyous vocal samples that sounds akin to The Go! Team.

Death Grips | Steroids

Technically, it's one song. But really, when was the last time a Death Grips project did things by the books? Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix) is a 23-minute barrage of shattered glass, blown out speakers, and psychotic breakdowns. It's a proving grounds for Death Grips, one that showcases just how far off the deep-end they can go. Previous projects like The Money Store or even Bottomless Pit seem tame in retrospect. That's because Steroids wastes not a bated breath. MC Ride pummels you from the get-go, bludgeoning you with his lunacy ("my whole life, my whole fucking life!") as Zach Hill and Andy Morin program sonic obscenities with ruthless disregard. Virtually everything on the record is sheer noise fed through a blender that's purely bass and synth-driven. It is a non-stop barrage of sound, one that's so chaotic that MC Ride, known for already being unintelligible, falls even further into the abyss of rambling untethered nonsense.

It's clear that Steroids is both an outlet for MC Ride to expunge his most depraved fantasies, as it is socket for Hill and Morin to elaborate on what Death Grips 2.0 would sound like. While tracks are not divided by the group, it's clear there's a handful sequenced throughout Steroids. Some, like 'Blood Like Bitch' and 'Come & Go,' take a bouncier approach that allows Ride to ride the beat, containing their last semblance of Hip-Hop in the process. Others, like 'Hi' or the closer 'Steroids,' annihilates the eardrums with dissonance, slamming together instrumentation at breakneck speed highly inspired by Gabber, the genre Death Grips dabbles in here. Somewhere in those cacophonies is MC Ride, still the deranged presence holding everything into place. And by holding, I mean wailing around on elastic strings during a violent windstorm.

Xiu Xiu | Forget

Last year, Xiu Xiu sent their fading career into overdrive when they released the highly ambitious, and extremely true-to-heart, cover album of the cult TV show Twin Peaks. Little did I know at the time that Plays The Music Of Twin Peaks would not only introduce me to a band of near-limitless experimental conundrums, but also a television show that shaped my perception of art. The two uniting was a match made in heaven, and one, regrettably, not taken advantage of at the Roadhouse stage during one of the many performances in The Return. Few knew where Xiu Xiu would move to next, considering the overwhelming dread and maximalism their Twin Peaks ode conjured up, but it turned out, with Forget, their roots are what became most familiar. On Forget, Jamie Stewart continued his reign as the quirky doomsday-sayer filled with regret, dashing hopes, and demonic possession.

Forget stood tall with two magnificent beacons, 'Wondering' and 'Get Up.' These two tracks, situated next to one another, whittled Xiu Xiu's entire catalogue down to two uniting ideas; pop and art. Flip those words around and you have their primary genre. From every perspective, they're endlessly entertaining, whether it's the screams leading into 'Wondering's' chorus or the explosive sendoff to 'Get Up's' conundrum. Elsewhere, 'The Call' slapped listeners across the face with sudden sample juxtapositions, while the monumental closer 'Faith, Torn Apart' presented Xiu Xiu fans with one of their darkest works yet. Jamie Stewart's identity continues to shift, to perplex, to quantify. Not only has his songwriting remained par for the course, leaving much ambiguity to the listener (like his idol, David Lynch), Xiu Xiu's production forever remains on the cusp of whatever reinvention they'll most certainly be apart of.

Perfume Genius | No Shape

After Too Bright, many were left wondering where Perfume Genius would go next. After all, his 2014 LP was widely considered his breakout, not just musically, stepping into the bright lights of Art Pop, but personally as well, finally accepting his sexuality with unabashed enthusiasm and prowess. With that knowledge known, No Shape then takes the shape of a man whose become one with his body whilst realizing the troubling nature that not much has changed in his mind. The music, as seen on 'Just Like Love' or 'Slip Away,' is as bombastic as ever, glorifying Perfume Genius' Pop sensibilities (I still can't believe 'Slip Away's' similarities to Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off'), while the content deep in the recesses finds a man conflicted with the fate of a lover. No Shape's a project that, quite literally, has no definitive shape.

Whether mentally, physically, or emotionally, Mike Hadreas constantly remains in flux over Perfume Genius' fourth LP. The album's first half finds two romantic beings intertwined through different avenues, whether it's the Vampire Weekend-esque 'Wreath' or the Xiu Xiu-esque 'Go Ahead.' Here, Perfume Genius pleases all with upbeat melodies and striking scene sets, only, deceptively, as a way to heighten the impact of the second half's mental solitude. On songs like 'Braid' or the profound 'Alan,' Hadreas retracts the confidence previously self-imposed by quietly returning to his Singer/Songwriter roots. As his relationship crumbles, Hadreas as prominent LGBT figure crumbles too, showing that, at the end of the day, we all experience the same inherent problems making us, equally, human.

Oh Sees | Orc

Orc came as an unexpected, unassuming surprise. Oh Sees' next-in-line effort essentially defines the concept of good. Humans tend to downplay valuable performances. Think of a workplace, and how you could leave each day achieving your responsibilities perfectly without any acknowledgement from co-workers or superiors. That's how I treated Orc. It wasn't until a month after first hearing it, when conducting my traditional By The Numbers rating system, that the inherent goodness of Oh Sees' Psychedelic Rock anomaly finally dawned on me. What's perhaps most impressive is that, after decade's worth of over-bloated Rock material, Orc still manages to invite fresh ideas with invigorating results. That's best seen on the magnificent opener 'Static God,' a monstrosity that combines villainous vocals with the palpitating heart of grimy Swamp Rock.

But Oh Sees' prowess here isn't defined by a singular idea, something their long-instilled tenure as Thee Oh Sees gave experience to. Sure, their Rock foundation stays rigid in regards to instrumental variation, but their patterns, tones, and playfulness really drives Orc to a level that's both expected and creative. See to 'Animated Violence' and the catastrophic mix of John Dwyer's nefarious screams ("I am Warrior!") with the technical crescendoing of the guitars that follow suit. Or to another place entirely, like 'Cooling Tower' and the fanciful parade of chants and circus sounds that drives into the early 70's Canterbury Scene. A track that brings unquestioned life, despite featuring no vocals whatsoever, mind you. Orc never slacks on originality, succeeding willfully on those merits alone. It's an album that confirms that ideas long-since institutionalized can be reimagined for a future audience.

Paul White | Everything You've Forgotten

There was little debate as to who was 2016's producer of the year. That mantle, awarded more convincingly than any in recent memory, was given to Paul White for his sensational versatility on Hella Personal Film Festival, his collaboration with Open Mike Eagle, and his transcendental genre-bending on Danny Brown's Atrocity Exhibition. No one in Hip-Hop's entire lineage, apart from El-P, has successfully mended catchy capabilities with creative clairvoyancy better than Paul White. That much was, once again, confirmed with this year's self-sustaining beat tape Everything You've Forgotten. It wasn't an album, wasn't a mixtape, just merely a beat tape of wild, globe-spanning ideas caught in a mini-concept about music itself as a learning experience. He can do it from scratch, do it through sampling, with Everything You've Forgotten, Paul White demonstrated just how much he's learned.

Even though the ideas spread rich and verbose across the brisk 30 minutes form a singular vision, their breadth, within their respective one to two-minute time slots, is nothing short of amazing. White kicks the record off with a bang, rampaging through with the sci-fi 'Futurist,' the psychedelic 'I Am The,' the jaunty 'Duck Calls' (with assisted vocals from Danny Brown), the bushwhacking 'Mouth Harp Mahem,' and the clashing of it all with 'Jyonder.' There's also the cartoon tomfoolery of 'Bowling Stations,' the operatic 'Eclipse,' and the sulky 'We'll Make It.' All this culminates in the breathtaking peak 'Maori Baby Junior,' a track that doubles the length of many predecessors, bringing with it a kaleidoscopic gaiety that reimagines the colorful Wildflower for a more realistic setting. Everything You've Forgotten really proves that Paul White's capable of everything.

Alvvays | Antisocialites

The four lovable corners of Pop; Indie, Jangle, Dream, and Twee. All, coincidentally, utilized by Alvvays on their sophomore LP Antisocialites. As evident by their 2014 self-titled debut, Molly Rankin and crew understand the utter simplicities of Pop music. There is no obtuse information, no indecipherable dialogue, no needlessly complex hooks. Throughout Antisocialites, the Canadian band tout this instantaneous satisfaction, whether it's the Indie Pop of 'In Undertow,' the Dream Pop of 'Dreams Tonite,' the Jangle Pop of 'Plimsoll Punks,' or the Twee Pop of 'Lollipop (Ode To Jim).' Apart from general thematic nostalgia of an adolescent summer filled with happiness and sorrow, there's really nothing more to the record. It is Pop personified. Rankin's lovable swoon fits the tone flawlessly, and her black and white romanticism helps to direct attention to our teenage years.

Whether it's through the music itself, or the language in which Rankin speaks, Antisocialites is wholly relatable. Even the title itself, against the backdrop of constant companionship, establishes the duality of the teenage struggle. There's talk of relational distrust ('Your Type'), handsome strangers causing butterflies and daydreaming ('Dreams Tonite'), pseudo-maturation ('Saved By A Waif'), and even an accidental death ('Already Gone'). Rather than glorify the specifics, Rankin merely uses these footnotes as memory beacons to anyone's most significant childhood summer. The lyrics are meant to reimagine, while the production is meant to take you there. While there's a handful of standouts, nowhere is that seen better than on the downright lovable 'Saved By A Waif,' which, alongside Japanese Breakfast's '12 Steps,' represents impeccably the 90's carryover for children, like myself, growing up around the turn of the millennium.

Vince Staples | Big Fish Theory

Believe it or not, Big Fish Theory may be 2017's most inexplicable album. At least it is to me. Months later and descriptions over the content run scarce, understanding over Vince Staples' direction even scarer. In one far-reaching corner, the relentless bang, clash, stammer, and crack of the Industrial Hip House paints a more accurate portrait of inner-city, west coast life than anything released in this decade. In the other, Staples completely rejects his origin story (excluding a few dubious sticking points, namely 'Big Fish') and decides to paint an even uglier portrait of America through the eyes of hyper-connectivity, social media obsession, and problems when ignorance gets held on a pedestal. For a measly, 37-minute album that's saying a lot. But to me, that's the intent. There isn't a simple idea in sight, despite the projection of dance-oriented music brought on by the completed project.

And yet, I'm still not convinced. What does it all mean? Does it even have a meaning? If Staples hadn't already convinced listeners of his astute observations and political ramblings on Summertime '06, this question wouldn't even be posed. I mean hell, the best tracks are those that fidget freakily over Footwork as Staples tip-toes his way around adolescent conviction, braggadocio, and party-supplied tropes ('Yeah Right,' 'Homage'). None of that matters though, because if we take away true intent, Big Fish Theory still excels by virtue of Staples' mastery of the English slanguage and how said words work over the most out-there beats handled by a rapper of his prominency (excluding Danny Brown). The songs of Big Fish Theory are cutthroat, tackling all the 'Party People' with production so bombastic and in-your-face that even cross-examining the success would cause a death stare from the album's creator.

King Gizzard | Murder Of The Universe

Normally, I'm in opposition of quantity over quality in any medium, music included. That's merely due to my belief that musicians can only do so much before retracing old steps. Rappers like Future and Young Thug have confirmed that in recent years. However, in 2017, a rebuttal came in the form of King Gizzard, a seven-piece Australian Rock outfit who welcomed a whole new batch of fans with last year's Nonagon Infinity. That's where I jumped on board, even though I wasn't fully convinced yet. After all, the looping insanity of the record basically begged to be called a gimmick. And it was. And so was every project since. However, original gimmicks used only once is better than one being reused ad nauseam. And in 2017, after detailing the Australian outback with Flying Microtonal Banana, but before returning to their Melbourne roots on Sketches Of Brunswick East, King Gizzard traveled to an apocalyptic madhouse in Murder Of The Universe.

The three-part, 46-minute Progressive Rock mutation combined the restless stature of Nonagon Infinity with a violent folk tale handed down by Leah Senior through monotone spoken word. The result was genius. A visceral experience that never let off the gas. There were cannibalistic deities, clashes between war-like demigods, and Han-Tyumi, the confused cyborg whose only wish is to vomit like a human. Somehow even more absurd, the music matched. Deconstructed bedlam ran ravage across the project, failing to dip and rise like a formal story would. In many ways, the production techniques of King Gizzard draws comparisons to Mad Max's psychotic world. Translating that to the music format was a wonderful decision, and one that only Stu Mackenzie and his wildly charismatic vocals could ascertain.

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