Thursday, December 21, 2017

Top 50 Albums Of 2017, 50-21


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.

Grizzly Bear
Painted Ruins

Having not heard the rest of Grizzly Bear's discography, it's tough to gauge the appearance of Painted Ruins. On the whole, the project succeeds by combing Art Rock with a psychedelic fixation, but I feel experiencing their backlog would change the perception of Painted Ruins as a whole. Regardless, there's plenty of tasty layers Ed Droste and company stir up here to invite casual listeners, like myself, in. Some of those include the seamless structural shifts of standout 'Three Rings,' the hammering percussion of 'Mourning Sound,' and the wildly high-strung guitar work on closer 'Sky Took Hold.' Throughout the LP, Grizzly Bear teeters the line of relevance, dipping their toes into dad Rock, only to pull their bootstraps up and dazzle with vitalizing passages like 'Aquarian' or 'Four Cypresses.' They've got the composure and refinement of The National with the clout and virtuosity of Broken Social Scene down pat. Painted Ruins may not stand the test of time, but as far as representative Indie Rock is concerned, there wasn't much better in 2017.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
The Kid

Last year, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith made a small, but noticeable imprint on the Indie scene with EARS, an album that radiated all sorts of imaginative sounds from Folk to Electronica. Just like that, her world was idealized, bringing the atmosphere of Animal Collective, the wide-eyed lure of Dan Deacon, and the native aural magic of Brian Eno together. On The Kid, Smith did all that under the guise of a concept, one that gave an origin story to her inklings. Taking the perspective of a baby exploring the universe, pondering the unanswerable, The Kid sought to associate Smith's music with that of a childlike imagination that we never get to remember. It's luscious, divine, and full of life well lived. Her synth-driven escapades find buoyant bounce on one-steps like 'I Am Learning' and 'Until I Remember,' whereas the darker recesses of the mind unveil precarious ventures in lands unknown on 'I Am Curious, I Care' and 'In The World, But Not Of The World.'

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Luciferian Towers

Upon initial listen, Luciferian Towers, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's sixth LP, sounded marketably similar to the previous two since coming back from hiatus. That's because it is. From the album's formatting to the instrumentation's predictability, nothing on Luciferian Towers made any sort of anomalous impact. However, what sets Luciferian Towers apart from the tedious 'Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress' and the overrated 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is hope. For once, there's an unmistakable answer to all the doom and gloom they've presented. From their promotional campaign which skewed far left, to titles like 'Bosses Hang' and 'Anthem For No State,' it's clear Godspeed sees a solution in revolution. The music abides. For each of the aforementioned songs, split respectively into three parts, passages flowing from promise to distressed to anarchy track the movements of a foreseeable uprising. Deciding to abandon the lingering drone in favor of a more immediately pressing venture was Godspeed's best move since returning, and one that enacts upon the dire circumstances rather than quivers in fear of the end.

Saturation I

Ah, the curious case of Brockhampton. The All-American boy band made a compelling mark on Hip-Hop's continuing youth movement with clean aesthetics, a trove of homemade music videos, and outlandish behavior helmed by leader Kevin Abstract. Sound familiar? That's because Brockhampton's inspiration lies in the not-so distant past with Odd Future. Despite the success of individual OFWGKTA members, as a collective the unit struggled. That's not the case with Brockhampton, as the Saturation tapes have proven to be a Hip-Hop triumph. It was the first though, when members, beats, and topics were new, that sticks with me the most. Bangers like 'STAR' and 'HEAT' sit alongside adolescent introspection like 'MILK' and 'FACE.' This, while jarring genre shifts akin to Childish Gambino or Kid Cudi, dot the middle portion of Saturation I on deep cuts like 'SWIM' and 'BUMP.' It's clear Brockhampton hasn't yet learned the prototypical rules and regulations of album formatting, but it's that exact opposition to command that has drawn listeners far and wide.


Since his inception as Destroyer, Dan Bejar's biggest asset was also his greatest crutch. That, of course, the curse of his vocals, perfectly eschewed to romanticism of New York City in the 60's, revisioning the timeline by scratching any and all negatives surrounding that era, that place. Poison Season evoked this sense strongly, as the production snuggled right alongside Bejar, conforming to his functionality. ken does not. Some songs do of course, like 'Saw You At The Hospital' and the unbelievably kitschy 'Light Travels Down The Catwalk,' but the majority escape Bejar's clutch, finding a new Synthpop-oriented lane in the process. Tracks like 'In The Morning' and 'Tinseltown Swimming In Blood,' two immediate standouts, worship the synths, teasing intricate layers as much as harmless melodies. Both aspects are utterly effective. In all this adulation, it seems as if Destroyer himself takes a backseat, allowing the production, for once, to handle his aesthetic-carrying. For once, it's refreshing and not stale.

Mac DeMarco
This Old Dog

Avid readers will know that my criticism towards Mac DeMarco has come swift and frequent. See to the reviews of Salad Days or Another One for that. DeMarco's character-driven, careless schtick always rubbed me the wrong way, not surprisingly given my personality that lends itself to the opposite line of thinking, especially in regards to art. However, sometimes compromise needs to be made. For me, that was understanding the value of music for music's sake. For DeMarco, that was, regrettably, having to experience the death of his stepfather. The result was This Old Dog, DeMarco's most personal, honest, and mature album yet. On it, the slacker mentality takes a momentary backseat to allow for reflection, remorse, and regret. Some songs, like 'Sister' and 'Watching Him Fade Away' focus on the familial bonds, or lack thereof, while others, like 'Baby You're Out' and 'One Another,' contemplate the memories taken for granted. All wrapped up by 'My Old Man,' DeMarco's most sophisticated piece of contemporary yet.

Lana Del Rey
Lust For Life

On 2015's Honeymoon, Lana Del Rey felt uninspired. She didn't have a purpose, direction, or overall agenda. If anything, she played into the hands of critics everywhere by epitomizing her stereotype. Because of events both good and bad around the country, Lana finally discovered something she could stand behind. Lust For Life takes a political turn towards unification, reducing our country's countless problems by offering a solution of peace. While not the most groundbreaking of ideas, Lust For Life doesn't thrive because of the content; it does so because of the thematic principles said content forces Lana to abide by. 'Lust For Life' with The Weeknd is an anthem for all the anti-YOLOers out there, while 'Summer Bummer' with A$AP Rocky works as a getaway during darker times. But it isn't until the album's final moments, on 'Heroin' and 'Get Free,' where Lana shines the brightest, pulling in an all-time performance on the former, extinguishing that flame by creating a new one on the latter.

The I.L.Y.'s

The I.L.Y's, the side project of Zach Hill and Andy Morin, two-thirds of the infamous Death Grips, allows them the opportunity to breathe when MC Ride releases his grip from the throat. With Bodyguard, The I.L.Y.'s continue their ride or die mentality, driving home nonsensical Pop songs shredded through a litany of sub-genres. From Synth to Psychedelic, Noise to Garage, Bodyguard pounces with simple melodies through the duo's typical unusual means. That's seen right off the bat with the loud and rambunctious 'Wash My Hands Shorty,' something that shifts dramatically two tracks down the road with the Neo-Psychedelia of 'Gargoyle.' Reverb-heavy, but not overly done enough to be considered pretentious, the pounding west coast instrumentation that thrives on Bodyguard does so because of Hill and Morin's motto of carelessness. Joviality is what drives the LP, culminating on the instantly catchy Surf Rock of 'I Love You Man.' 

2 Chainz
Pretty Girls Like Trap Music

Surprise of the year alert. 2 Chainz's Pretty Girls Like Trap Music had the making's of forgettable Trap album written all over it. I mean, just look at that title. Even the thumbs up replacing 'like' on the cover felt like a vain and futile attempt at maintaining youth and trendiness by 2 Chainz. Yet, Pretty Girls sported next to none of that. It was smart, witty, mature, and exquisitely polished. Right from the get-go, 'Saturday Night' found 2 Chainz flexing with his own southern slang, directly before diving into that southern underbelly with the ravenous and filthy 'Riverdale Rd.' This wasn't your poor man's Trap album, even though all indications, including the A-list features, pointed in that direction. Not even the 16-track, 62-minute duration could quell Pretty Girls' class, finding standout tracks late in the tracklist with the lovable 'Rolls Royce Bitch,' the nefarious 'OG Kush Diet,' and the cool, calm, and collected 'It's A Vibe,' just to name a few. Who knew a veteran could defeat the youth at their own Trap game.


Few have a more desirable position in music than those who receive applause and acclaim from both the mainstream circles and the critical ones. Right now, none, apart from Kendrick Lamar, honor that role better than Lorde. On one end, she's able to craft delectable Pop songs like 'Green Light,' an ode to the Synthpop bombast curated by Madonna. On the other, she takes direct influence from Indie artists such as Son Lux, seen on the sleek 'Hard Feelings / Loveless.' Somewhere in between lies her identity-defining potential, a talented teen with curated taste trapped in a melodramatic world. 'Supercut,' 'Homemade Dynamite,' and 'The Louvre' just some Lorde-isms that define what that appeal versus artistry sounds like. I mean hell, 'The Louvre' ends with a gorgeous instrumental close despite "broadcasting the boom boom boom and make your mom dance to it" moments before. Few albums have that kind of range, and with Melodrama, Lorde showcased that tip-toe warfare beautifully.

Theme From Crying Fountain

In their glory days, around the time of Drum's Not Dead, Liars were a three-man bunch. As time's prone to do, pieces began to fall and, in 2017, only one man remained; Angus Andrew. His state of being up in the air considering the attire he sports on Theme From Crying Fountain's cover. Success in the artistic fields tend to come from two places; the mind of a perfectionist executing his or her plans, or a mind that's crumbling whilst trying to reach that unattainable goal. Therefore, it's exactly Andrew's psychosis that has warranted Liars' praise. TFCF being no different. On their eighth LP, Liars invites the Electronic orchestration set in stone by modern Rock pioneers Radiohead, combining it with Andrew's fluid emotional state. Even though it's only 38 minutes there's a fair deal of variety on TFCF, nonchalantly drifting from the mental mania of 'Face To Face With My Face' to the offbeat Singer/Songwriter of 'Ripe Ripe Rot.' With, of course, a handful of fun tracks scattered between.

Clap! Clap!
A Thousand Skies

Clap! Clap!'s brand of UK Bass has been criticized for diving into the dicey world of cultural appropriation. He is, after all, an Italian producer using strictly African samples and instrumentation to craft thematically-cohesive albums. However, there's a clear and distinct difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, of which, I feel, Clap! Clap! falls into the latter. With A Thousand Skies, there's a distinct love of the music's origin. It's as if producer Cristiano Crisci is constructing a fabled folk tale from a foreign land that's filled with intrigue, mystery, life, and death, for all across the world to consume. A Thousand Skies, across 15 tracks and 43 minutes, unravels this star-crossing voyage through the uncontaminated skies and undeveloped land of Africa. Set dead center as the peak is the monument 'Ode To The Pleiades,' a six-minute trek across numerous passages and mood shifts, acting as its own little slice of the album's overall sonic and thematic dynamic.

Ariel Pink
Dedicated To Bobby Jameson

Compared to pom pom, Ariel Pink's Dedicated To Bobby Jameson is a muffled disappointment. But then again, comparing anything to what was creatively, conceptually, and characteristically an artist's clear attempt at crafting an opus would result in defeat. Without that which to compare to, Dedicated To, by its own parameters, is certainly no slouch. Dominated by the monumental, discography-spanning 'Time To Live,' by which all other songs pale in comparison, Pink's ode to a deceased cult favorite aims to please fans who enjoy the middle path of his curiosity. Much like his work with Haunted Graffiti, Dedicated To further ascends out of Hypnagogic Pop, while still adhering to the basic principles as seen on 'Bubblegum Dreams' or 'Kitchen Witch.' After relieving himself of all mind-based lunacy on pom pom, tracks like 'Feels Like Heaven' or 'Acting' breath new, modern life into his persona. The former utilizes Dream Pop while the latter brings aboard Dam-Funk for some of that late night, LA funkiness. All and all, Dedicated To fuses itself to Ariel Pink's radical discography quite nicely.

Open Mike Eagle
Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

Everyone in the Art Rap scene, Open Mike Eagle included, are more than capable of thematic-driven concept albums zeroing in on one detailed idea. Yet, artists like Milo, Busdriver, or Serengeti, typically feel more comfortably barraging you with a plethora. It's not surprising that, out of all the aforementioned artists' efforts, Serengeti's collaboration with Yoni Wolf on the wonderfully concise and emotional Testarossa, takes the cake as my favorite. Much like their project, which mixed fantasy with reality, Open Mike Eagle's Brick Body Kids Still Daydream did much of the same. Concerned over the grave circumstances of a Chicago housing project's demise, OME, as former child, as current rapper, takes it upon himself to stop the demolition and raise awareness to the apathy of the faceless decision-makers. The rapper's stereotypical humor largely replaced by sorrow, culminating in the decimating finale 'My Auntie's Building.' Prior and throughout, Brick Body Kids acts as a time capsule for all those souls whose past memories now live in rubble.

Japanese Breakfast
Soft Sounds From Another Planet

It didn't dawn on me until months later, but Michele Zauner's decision to capitalize on the success of Psychopomp with Soft Sounds From Another Planet less than a year later was, essentially, a way to avoid the sophomore slump. Expectations ride high when a swarm of new fans flock, and rather than dally on how to appease them, Zauner just gave them the next idea on her mind. 'Machinist' was a system shock, a striking Synthpop effort that struggled to reconnect with her followers, whilst simultaneously promoting Japanese Breakfast's fearlessness of the future. And while no effort on Soft Sounds reached that far, her concise theming and atmospheric concept succeeded by supplementing the superlatives of Psychopomp with a dash of new identity. 'Diving Woman' was ambitious, '12 Steps' was nostalgic, 'Boyish' was cinematic. Her talents and knack for variety still applied, an impressive factoid given that she did the same thing, with a different batch of songs, one year prior.

Laila's Wisdom

In the summer, Rapsody dropped a track called 'Pain.' It wasn't featured on Laila's Wisdom and failed to garner much attention. Both of these actions were wrong, as 'Pain' was likely the most politically-charged Hip-Hop track of 2017 (sans Run The Jewels' thought-provoking pieces at the end of RTJ3). However, in retrospect, 'Pain' works better as a precursor to Laila's Wisdom than a part of it. Throughout the lengthy project, Rapsody presents hope over conflict, answers over questions, and entertainment over damnation. On the record, Rapsody presented herself as a connoisseur for the African-American way of life. Not the youth per say, but the adults. She included everything from the male obsession over materialism ('Chrome'), to chivalrous romance ('Knock On My Door'), to petty drama ('Pay Up'), to dark-skinned admiration ('Black & Ugly'). Above all else, she offered listeners a wide range of Hip-Hop appeal, providing Boom Bap viciousness alongside Kendrick Lamar on 'Power,' philosophizing with hearty reflectiveness on 'Jesus Coming,' and grooving like nobody's watching on 'Sassy.'


Even though they're largely diminished to the description 'gimmick,' concept albums that are able to combine their primary topic with unconventional structuring relevance never fail in grabbing my attention. That's what Thundercat did with Drunk, a 23-track monument to alcoholism. Using the album's own topsy-turvy layout against it, Thundercat was able to increase the effectiveness of his message. On closer 'Dui,' the lead expects change to happen tomorrow, only for the album to loop back to 'Rabbit Hole' with the same production, causing the vicious cycle to continue once again. The outlandish set pieces ('Captain Stupido'), drunken stupors ('Tokyo'), drug-induced mind trips ('Jameel's Space Ride'), and enlightening moments of relapse ('Walk On By'), all effectively rendered useless by the self-containment an alcoholic prisoner must endure. The structuring is genius, albeit purposely frustrating, causing you to withstand the same erratic behavior and desultory scene shifts that our lead manufactures. For that alone, Thundercat's Drunk deserves admiration.

May God Bless Your Hustle

Moments after hearing the 10-minute insta-classic by Earl Sweatshirt known as 'Solace,' I knew music of that caliber and passion needed a place in Hip-Hop. Depression's a topic weighing on the minds of many in our modern age, and yet music, typically on the forefront of understanding such ephemeral concepts, has trailed behind. With 'Solace,' the door was opened, allowing rappers the outlet for approval of their respective misery and woe. MIKE, who, at the time of recording May God Bless Your Hustle, was still a teenager, could join the ranks of Sweatshirt to lead this new movement because, let me tell you, he has potential. Muddy samples of neglected origin float in and out of consciousness as MIKE, the self-aware enabler, riffles through his catalogue of issues, pitfalls, and fleeting desires. May God Bless is pure, Hip-Hop poetry, unaffiliated with the trends of today, caring only for the emotional revelations burrowing underneath.


There's nothing I can say about Nmesh's Pharma that the massive LP won't explicate ten times over. Like the equally experimental opuses before it, Lil Ugly Mane's Third Side Of Tape and The Knife's Shaking The Habitual come to mind, Pharma never settles on one, five, or ten ideas. It's boundless, contained by no restraint, not even the Vaporwave tag it clenches. 26 original tracks (with too many extra remixes to count) span the gamut of modern Electronic music. Samples galore, like on the infinitely layered 'Mall Full Of Drugs,' embody Plunderphonics. TV commercials relayed through static on 'High Speed Adjustable Broiler' and 'Workalude' constitute Vaporwave. 'Fall Any Vegetable' and 'The Program (You Are Stars)' fuse opposing elements a la Sound Collage. '/////LD-99/////' and 'Left Alone In A Blue Room' are pure Ambient. 'White Lodge Simulation' and 'Hepatic Portal' frantically sprint through IDM. There's even the Spoken Word monstrosity of 'Acid Baby.' Point being, Pharma is an album worth experiencing, even if all the passages won't apply to you. The fact that this LP manifested from a single mind can create a profound effect. The same extent to which Pharma should kickstart its dying genre; Vaporwave.

of Montreal
Rune Husk

Rune Husk's success comes directly from its duration; a measly 18 minutes. It's that precise limitation implanted on Kevin Barnes that led to his best work in years. Recent projects like Aureate Gloom or Innocence Reaches weren't as bad as they were bloated, envisioning the same of Montreal tropes through slightly varying lenses. Rune Husk's efforts are memorable due to the fact that, with only four tracks on the EP, they have to be. However, thematic unison considers them grand pieces of a puzzle, stripping the fluff out of a would-be LP. Barnes' fanaticism with Glam Rock on full display with 'Stag To The Stable,' his flamboyant neuroticism with Neo-Psychedelia smeared across 'Widowsucking.' But it's the EP's indelible finale 'Island Life' that concedes to the accomplished variety of Rune Husk, presenting a side to of Montreal that's never revealed itself. Until now, the group's consented to the radiant flower power burgeoning in Barnes' head. With 'Island Life,' the coin has been flipped, the instrumental priorities as well, as the group crafts their darkest, most demeaning edifice to date. It's an epic eulogy that sets its sights high.

Billy Woods
Known Unknowns

The faceless soothsayer Billy Woods always thrives in excessive contemplation. He has a near limitless batch of ideas because the world is filled with a limitless amount of things to analyze. Two years back he dropped Today, I Wrote Nothing, an ironic title given the LP's mighty 24-track stature. This time around, for Known Unknowns, it's back down to 18 concise, practical columns on the state of America from the viewpoint of someone who's stitching it together from the bottom up. Standouts are dotted across its surface, from the merciless depiction of black on black crime in 'Superpredator,' to the criticism of obsessive stoner culture on 'Groundhogs Day.' Not just lyrically, musically as well, as Known Unknowns might be Billy Woods' best effort yet in that department, teaming up with former collaborator Blockhead. 'Fall Back' strings along with mellowed out Boom Bap, providing listeners with a new perspective for Billy Woods to work in, while 'Strawman' does the same but in a more Pop-manufactured sense. Diverse and coherent, that's Known Unknowns' M.O..

Fever Ray

Many found immediate discomfort in Fever Ray's return to the limelight after evading it for seven whole years. Why? Well, rather than continue on the expected path by reenacting the aesthetic of the self-titled, Karin Dreijer reverted back to her early days leaping around outlandish principles and in-your-face subversions with her brother as The Knife. For those expecting a project in the line of Fever Ray, disappointment would surely come. For those, like myself, who adore The Knife's boundary pushing artistry, chipper provocations like 'IDK About You' and 'To The Moon And Back' were a breath of fresh air. Combine that with The Knife's sublime production work on Silent Shout, something that Dreijer carries over here on oozing treats like 'Mama's Hand' or 'Wanna Sip,' and Plunge's intangibles were good from the get-go. I mean really, who else can assert themselves with lines like "perverts define my fuck history" and "i want to run my fingers up your pussy," only to end the album in a ponderous state over the details of one's childhood.

The Caretaker
Everywhere At The End Of Time 2

Undoubtedly, separating one stage of The Caretaker's six-part series on the deterioration of the artist's own dementia diminishes the overall impact, but being released individually, in our consumerist, compare-all culture, they'll need to be taken on their own terms. Stage Two excels where others didn't, capturing the break in mind, body, and spirit, combining the effervescence of Stage One's boundless glee with Stage Three's looping nightmare. Unlike those two stages, new memories are formed where old ones once existed. The fear comes in knowing what will soon crumble, as somber bouts of melancholy echo into the present from the past's more heartfelt passages. Beyond that, as seen on standouts like 'Surrendering To Despair' or 'Denial Unraveling,' Leyland Kirby, for just a passing second, moved away from the repetitive spiral and crafted drones far more drawn out, freeing, and florid than any of his previous material.

The National
Sleep Well Beast

A few years back, after exhausting the catalogue of Indie's top-tier musicians while exploring the then-unknown genre to me, a thirst for more obviously ensued. One such place I looked was The National's Boxer, and let me tell you, I was bored to tears. Years passed, taste developed, and while 'The System Dreams In Total Darkness,' the lead single for Sleep Well Beast, didn't alter my perception of The National, the trifecta that followed certainly did. 'Guilty Party' in particular echoed the sophistication of prime Radiohead or Arcade Fire. Sure enough, much of Sleep Well Beast continued this elegance, even succeeding when introducing a risky Electronic element, as seen on 'I'll Still Destroy You' or the imaginative title track finale. There, Matt Berninger's vocals enter the comatose he's always teased, wistfully attacking his inner-demons, ending with one of 2017's best lines: "I'll still destroy you someday, sleep well beast, you as well beast." Sleep Well Beast isn't always that dark, despite the presence of a menacing monstrosity being felt throughout.

Flick Your Tongue

Travis Miller creates music most musicians are afraid to. He created a Memphis Rap monstrosity as a white kid from Virginia. He created three endless tapes of unfiltered ideas composed over a decade-long span. He created an Instrumental Hip-Hop masterpiece using old slave hymnals and chicken bones scratching on a metal tray. And in his most recent stunt, he changed his name to Bedwetter. The first volume under his new pseudonym found our lead fully exposed on a therapist's couch, dissecting the most psychologically-traumatizing moments of his childhood. 'Stoop Lights' analyzes his hyperawareness of his alcohol abuse, 'Man Wearing A Helmet' unfurls a menacing story of an innocent-snatching kidnapping, and 'Haze Of Interference' unleashes the inner demons boiling up inside him. At times, the agony becomes practically unbearable, which is all the more heightened by the uneasy instrumental interludes like the uneasily calm 'Fondly Eulogizing Sleep.'

Death Peak

There's really only one reason Death Peak captures my imagination more so than any Clark project released before; it has a beating heart. Previous installments, namely his famed self-titled, powered through dexterous, pre-automated Industrial like it originated from a factory of robots. On Death Peak, best seen on riveting tracks like 'Peak Magnetic' and 'Butterfly Prowler,' the factory's handlers have turned human. The functions for creation are still similar, but there's a fair level of inconsistency at play. Even the prettiest moments have splotches of ugliness thrown in, which makes Death Peak all the more tantalizing. This isn't just a working theory either, you can hear Chris Clark's own decision of incorporating disembodied vocal samples to his fray. The gorgeous, nine-minute voyage 'Un U.K.' a wonderful example of this, traversing a million ideas while never losing sight of what, or better yet, who's at the heart of it.


Who would've guessed that a Jay-Z project, one over a decade removed from his first retirement and following arguably his worst spectacle yet (2013's Magna Carta), would remain a highlight of Hip-Hop in 2017. Sure, there were better records from artists in their prime. But Jay-Z's success in uniting powerful forces, namely No I.D. who thrives with rich production on cuts like 'Smile' and 'Caught Their Eyes,' while openly criticizing himself in the process, calls for applause. Even though his abandonment of revelations in '4:44' and 'Family Feud' elsewhere, something his wife Beyonce didn't do throughout the entirety of Lemonade, leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Point being, despite some cheesy lines and outdated braggadocio, Jay-Z's maturity in production, staying current unlike fellow New Yorkers the Wu-Tang Clan, and earnest reflections on his youth, with 'Marcy Me' and 'Legacy,' cause 4:44 to be a well-rounded project that proves that staying in touch with Hip-Hop has nothing to do with age.

Four Tet
New Energy

Right as Microhouse began to run short on breath, Four Tet, one of the genre's primary influencers, shifted his focus towards different agendas. Beautiful Rewind toyed with Tech House, while Morning / Evening experimented with time-tested structuring. New Energy counteracts those advancements by, ironically, reverting back to Microhouse in an old-fashioned sense. Periods of classical ambient divvy up the LP wonderfully, as standout sections build with intensive beauty, like the mesmerizing 'You Are Loved' or the breathtaking 'Daughter.' It's on tracks like these, or the closer 'Planet,' where Kieran Hebden once again proves his prowess in maximizing the minimal. Tiny fidgets of percussion turn into formidable backbones for euphoric release, something that lies at the heart of the best Microhouse. On New Energy, there's a swirling mix of danceable beats and atmospheric pleasure points that collide into one solid project worth losing yourself in.

Broken Social Scene
Hug Of Thunder

Perhaps the greatest part of Broken Social Scene's return wasn't the music itself, but the message of unity across borders that Hug Of Thunder instilled early and often. Think about it. In today's trouble times, Indie musicians are flocking to record songs of social change. But for BSS, after being on indefinite hiatus for six years, their collective return, quite literally, prompts harmony and cooperation. Not to mention, with songs like 'Protest Song' or 'Mouth Guards Of The Apocalypse,' BSS made the conscious decision of not ridiculing those they disagree with, but rather, criticizing all who aren't intent on improving conditions across the world. Hug Of Thunder's a message of hope, one that could easily be played now, 50 years ago, or 50 years in the future. It helps that the Indie Rock, headed by the tremendous title cut with Feist on lead vocals, is aggressive, touching, and beautiful all at the same time.

Who Told You To Think??!!??!?!

There's times when Milo's tongue-twisting complexity becomes a frustrating art. On Who Told You To Think, that much was evident, spilling the dotting indecisiveness of his Scallops Hotel pseudonym into the emotional elasticity of his traditional Art Rap projects. Here he achieved total enlightenment, reaching a linguistic zenith that pandered to the all-seeing eye, demising the idea of simple concepts for those more obtuse and abstract. Feelings played a vital role, transitioning from pent up animosity ('Call + Form (Picture),' 'Poet (Black Bean)'), to questioning standards and practices ('Magician (Suture),' 'Sorcerer'), to recollecting the fundamental prospect of love ('Note To Mrs,' 'Embroidering Machine'). Along for the ride was a handful of pensive emcees imagining standout performances, like Elucid on 'Landscaping,' Self Jupiter on 'Ornette's Swan Song,' and Busdriver on 'Rapper.' Proving that, for Milo to reach the ultimate plateau, he needs some helping hands.

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