The Needle Drop

Jeremy's Fav Albums of 2017

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well OK, not really. Jeremy, your faithful editor here, and let me tell you: truth be told, List Season this year has been more stressful for me than ever before. I had a really hard time choosing what should go where. I had at least five versions of this list. I decided at the last minute to cut it off at 10 and do the remaining 20 as alphabetical honorable mentions, because ordering became impossible. Finally, I landed on this iteration. There are, of course, some things I didn’t get around to listening to that I probably should have (here’s looking at you Kelly Lee Owens) but at this juncture in time, these are my 30 favorite albums of 2017. I am not even going to go out on the limb of saying these are The Best Albums of 2017, because that feels too shaky. I’ll simply say, when thinking back on the music of 2017, these are the albums I enjoyed most, responded to the most, related to the most, was moved by the most, felt the most, revisited the most. I hope some of you find something new here, or revisit something you may have written off. And don’t blow off those honorable mentions - those are some damn good albums!

All right. Onto my list!


Top 10

1. Feist - Pleasure [Interscope]

1. Feist - Pleasure [Interscope]

I really enjoyed this record when I first heard it, but after months of revisiting it - a rest on the couch here, a long drive there - I love it. I think it is Feist’s strongest and most singular statement to date, without sacrificing or heavily altering anything that has made her music such a point of ardor for me in the past. Pleasure retains her predilection for somewhat raw, scrappy production and recording style, with songs filled with space and hiss and room tone. The title track slowly bursts into a PJ Harvey-esque rocker, while more introspective tracks like “Lost Dreams” and “The Wind” unfurl and stretch out, lithe and full. The lyrics and the music are so full of little details that I think it took me this long to feel like I’ve fully heard the record, and now that I have, when I look back at all the albums I have really liked this year, Pleasure simply stands at the top for me.


2. Zola Jesus - Okovi [Sacred Bones]

2. Zola Jesus - Okovi [Sacred Bones]

Zola Jesus (aka Nika Danilova) also released what is probably her strongest record to date this year, in the bleak, all-encompassing Okovi. The title is Slavic for “shackles” which feels deeply appropriate given the themes of loss, grief, and the shards of hope that permeate the songs. Danilova’s voice - as powerful and sweeping as ever - anchors these brooding songs, but it has never sounded as finessed and controlled as it does here, whether it’s the hysterical “Exhumed” or the pleading “Remains.” Best of all is “Witness”, a song that nearly made me cry when I first heard it. Over languorous, beautifully weeping strings, Danilova delivers her most staggering performance, matched with some very moving lyrics. That the album ends with a long instrumental arranged piece kind of bothered me at first, but now I’ve come to relish in it. It’s the beautiful skyward send off Okovi deserves, and the moment of calm it needs. By then, she’s said everything she needed to say.


3. Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now [Secretly Canadian]

3. Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now [Secretly Canadian]

And now a left turn. Jens Lekman is kind of a lovable dork, a goofball. Despite interviewers commenting more than once on his calm, almost stoic demeanor, his songs are fun, silly, bright, a little winkingly twee, and catchy. Very frequently, they sound like the kinds of songs that nobody else could get away with. Life Will See You Now is his first album to sort of go headlong into a more electronic/beat-driven sound, though it is contrasted with a more organic set of sounds. His lyrics on this album are as witty, self-deprecating, and verbose as usual, his stories full of interesting and humorous details. At times, such as on “How Can I Tell Him”, his writing is almost unbearably touching; at others, like on “Evening Prayer” or “Wedding in Finistère, he is clever and buoyant. I just can’t help but love this album - it’s fun and silly and smart, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.


4. Sylvan Esso - What Now [Loma Vista]

4. Sylvan Esso - What Now [Loma Vista]

When Sylvan Esso released their self-titled debut album, I didn’t know who they were. I hadn’t caught the buzzy singles like “Coffee” or “Hey Mami”. But then I saw them open for tUnE-yArDs, and I felt like I witnessed something awesome. Between Nick Sanborn’s twisty synths and pulsating beats, and Amelia Meath’s pining, elastic, and quietly powerful voice, I was caught. Their second album, What Now, essentially improves on their sound in almost every way without changing the DNA. You can still dance to most of the songs here with glee, and the ones you can’t are still striking ballads-in-miniature, like the melancholy “Slack-Jaw”. But let’s face it, we’re here for the dancing, and almost every song - “The Glow”, “Radio”, “Song”, “Signal”, “Just Dancing” - makes me wanna tap my toe or bob my head. The keyboards are constantly shapeshifting; the beats are infectious; Meath’s lyrics are catchy while still being profoundly human and relatable; her voice is stunning as ever (as it always was - go check out her folk band Mountain Man for further proof). I just could hardly ask for more from this dynamite duo. It’s a dance album that’s more than a dance album, and yet also a really killer dance album.


5. Jesca Hoop - Memories Are Now [Sub Pop]

5. Jesca Hoop - Memories Are Now [Sub Pop]

Jesca Hoop isn’t a typical singer-songwriter. Memories Are Now is her fourth album, and although each one has taken a slightly different guise, she has retained her knack for knotty structures, surprising risks, tight harmonies, and melodies that sound as old as time, but are fresh and new. Her fourth album is one of pristine songcraft, full of tunes that are deceptively simple until you tear away the layers. The opening title cut is bewildering in its lurch toward the climax. “The Lost Sky” repeats the same verse and chorus three times, growing in intensity each time. “Songs of Old” sports some of the highest notes I’ve heard her sing, and she nails them with such gusto and passion. These songs are like little puzzles - spare on the surface, with not much more than acoustic guitar, voice, and some strings - but enough little details thrown in, like tiny shining jewels, to keep you coming back for more.


6. Perfume Genius - No Shape [Matador]

6. Perfume Genius - No Shape [Matador]

The fact that this album just got nominated for an engineering Grammy feels like some sort of grand cosmic victory. Mike Hadreas’ music is the kind that stops you in your tracks almost every time. Once so insular it could crack you in two from sheer emotional fragility, the homespun piano ballads have given way to a much more tense and meaty and complex sound. Hadreas and company’s instrumental palette is more varied than ever, between funky synths, nighttime noir keyboards, unidentifiable stringed instruments, more percussion, and a few glowing walls of sound. It’s no small wonder that an album where nearly every song goes in a different direction than the last feels surprisingly coherent and cohesive. On “Slip Away” he’s breathless; on “Just Like Love” he’s airy and coy; on “Valley” he’s forlorn and thinking on the past’s impact on the present; on “Choir” he’s almost frightening; on “Alan” he’s reserved and ruminating on an enormous love. The album veers wildly left and right and then left again. It’s unpredictable, in a way that would make most albums fall apart, but Hadreas and friends (including producer Blake Mills) have crafted a multifaceted, surprising, and emotionally rich gem with No Shape.


7. Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton - Choir of the Mind [Last Gang]

7. Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton - Choir of the Mind [Last Gang]

Emily Haines’ usual gig playing new wave-inspired electro indie-rock with Metric is well-known by this point, but unfortunately it seems a lot of people - including fans of the band - have been sleeping on her tiny but formidable collection of solo work. Her debut, Knives Don’t Have You Back, came out in 2006, followed quickly by a short and sweet EP in ‘07. And then people kind of forgot about it, even though it’s one of the strongest solo turns from a front-person of the current century. Now, 10 years later, we get her sophomore record. Choir of the Mind keeps much of the debut’s sonic interests in tact while also adding some new touches. The songs are nearly all led by Haines’ emotive, melodic piano, and her aching, moving lyrics. Her voice has never had the widest range, but 20 years into making music she knows exactly how to use it, and she wrings some genuine pathos from these songs. More percussion, subtle synths, and guitar flit in and out (courtesy of the eponymous Soft Skeleton crew), but this is Emily’s show. Songs like “Planets” and “RIP” are draped in thick choruses of Haines’ voice, while “Fatal Gift” gives her the rare chance to jam out. More meditative cuts like “Nihilist Abyss” and “Siren” are beautiful and evocative in their emotional language. Haines is never stronger than when she’s doing her own stuff, and I am beyond thrilled she made another record. That it’s this strong is just a cherry on top.


8. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

8. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

I am not going to write much about this record. Yes, it’s basically an acoustic singer-songwriter record, but it is so much more. It’s a stark, compelling document on grief and loss, from one of music’s most enigmatic and interesting players. Mount Eerie delivers a record that is almost impossible to get through, due to the sheer emotional gravity on display. A record of songs written in the wake of his wife’s passing, the lyrics are full of hyper-specific references, such as her ashes, or her bloody “end-of-life tissues,” and it never really lightens up. It’s a gorgeous, stirring, and honestly profoundly upsetting record, but the strength of the writing, the imagery, and the melodies cannot be overstated. Seek it out if you haven’t heard it yet, but don’t surprised if you end up crying and never listening to it again.


9. Sampha - Process [Young Turks]

9. Sampha - Process [Young Turks]

This album surprised me. I had never heard of Sampha before, which I know is probably some sort of sacrilege in some corners, but when he released his debut album and I began seeing positive reviews for it, I figured I’d check it out. Now here it is on my Top 10. Sampha delivers a singer-songwriter record that operates more in an electronic/experimental pop vein, which is sort of refreshing. “Blood on Me” hits so hard it takes my breath away. “Kora Sings” is airily, effervescently beautiful. “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” is heartstopping. “Reverse Faults” is booming and incredibly catchy. All over this album, Sampha surprises, keeps us guessing, and does it all with a finesse - and a production so pristine it blinds (in a good way) - that belies the fact that this is his debut album. He’s already a pro, crafting emotionally resonant pieces of pop music that doesn’t sacrifice style and hooks for feeling and intricate sonic touches. I am definitely going to be keeping an eye and an ear on Sampha going forward.


10. Aimee Mann - Mental Illness [SuperEgo]

10. Aimee Mann - Mental Illness [SuperEgo]

I struggled with my #10 spot a lot this year. So many records I wanted to spotlight on this list. But in the end, I decided to go with my gut and stop denying it: this new Aimee Mann record is incredible, and is one of her best yet. It may not sound like much to some of you - “oh, another acoustic singer-songwriter, okay…” - but if you listen more closely, the genius arises. Mann’s lyrics - both sad and sympathetic, while also darkly funny most of the time - are masterful. She has an unbelievable way of spitting off a striking image or two and making it sound very, very easy. Her rhymes are rich, never too obvious, and always feel in service of the song. Nearly every song has at least one line or verse that is so smart, so descriptive, so stealthily evocative that it kind of stops me in my tracks: “3,000 miles to sit in a room/With a vanishing groom/Till it undoes me,” from “You Never Loved Me”. Or “You look around and think ‘I’m in the right neighborhood’/But honey, you just moved in,” from “Patient Zero.” Or “We’re babies passing for adults/Who’ve loaded up their catapults/And can’t believe the end results” from “Simple Fix.” The lyrics are the key here, and they’re beautiful, moving, and clever. It doesn’t hurt than Mann’s voice is strong and smooth throughout, her melodies aching and catchy at the same time, aided by a small group of musicians (extra guitar, percussion, and some beautiful arranged strings). It’s a simple album on the surface, but the emotional world underneath is endlessly engaging and rich.


Honorable Mentions

Akira Kosemura - In the Dark Woods [Schole]

Akira Kosemura - In the Dark Woods [Schole]


Björk - Utopia [One Little Indian]

Björk - Utopia [One Little Indian]


Blue Hawaii - Tenderness [Arbutus]

Blue Hawaii - Tenderness [Arbutus]


Broken Social Scene - Hug of Thunder [Arts & Crafts]

Broken Social Scene - Hug of Thunder [Arts & Crafts]


Celebration - Wounded Healer [Bella Union]

Celebration - Wounded Healer [Bella Union]


Colin Stetson - All This I Do for Glory [52Hz]

Colin Stetson - All This I Do for Glory [52Hz]


Dirty Projectors - Dirty Projectors [Domino]

Dirty Projectors - Dirty Projectors [Domino]


Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up [Nonesuch]

Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up [Nonesuch]


Iron & Wine - Beast Epic [Sub Pop]

Iron & Wine - Beast Epic [Sub Pop]


Juana Molina - Halo [Crammed Discs]

Juana Molina - Halo [Crammed Discs]


 
Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness [Ba Da Bing!]

Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness [Ba Da Bing!]


Land of Talk - Life After Youth [Saddle Creek]

Land of Talk - Life After Youth [Saddle Creek]


Larkin Grimm - Chasing an Illusion [Northern Spy]

Larkin Grimm - Chasing an Illusion [Northern Spy]


Laura Marling - Semper Femina [Kobalt]

Laura Marling - Semper Femina [Kobalt]


Lorde - Melodrama [Lava]

Lorde - Melodrama [Lava]


Mariam the Believer - Love Everything [Repeat Until Death]

Mariam the Believer - Love Everything [Repeat Until Death]


Moses Sumney - Aromanticism [Jagjaguwar]

Moses Sumney - Aromanticism [Jagjaguwar]


Rainer Maria - S/T [Polyvinyl]

Rainer Maria - S/T [Polyvinyl]


Stars - There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light [Last Gang]

Stars - There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light [Last Gang]


Torres - Three Futures [4AD]

Torres - Three Futures [4AD]


Fav Singles

Austen's Fav Albums of 2017

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Hey, it's Austen again, coming at you with another HOT year-end list! For those unaware, I'm the managing editor of The Needle Drop, or in other words, Anthony's right-hand man. It's my third year making these lists for the site, and let me just say up front that this is the best one yet. 2017 has been my favorite year in music this decade, so you're in for a whole lot of gushing and superlatives. Moreover, I'm listing more albums than usual so as to not leave anyone out; you'll see when we get to the honorable mentions section. Many of the albums also happen to be very long, with a few in the Top 10 exceeding three hours. I'm not sure what to make of that – probably just a coincidence. Or perhaps Anthony's conspiracy theory about albums getting longer and longer is proving true.

With that digression aside, here's the list...


The Top 10

1. Oxbow - Thin Black Duke [Hydra Head]

1. Oxbow - Thin Black Duke [Hydra Head]

Thin Black Duke topped my mid-year list and, as you can see, not much has changed since then. Unfortunately that includes my inadequacy as a writer to do this album justice. I'm forced to recycle the line about this being the greatest orchestral rock album since Lou Reed's Berlin, which I can now at least clarify is my favorite album of all time. It's also a shame that I didn't keep the anecdote about Joseph Losey / The Servant in my pocket. The one thing the album had yet to prove at the time of my previous list was its staying power, and it has certainly done that. Every track on this album hits me as hard as it did on first listen, if not harder. It was just last month that I had the album on one night and got choked up by its centerpiece, "Letter of Note." Not only because it's a pretty tragic song, but because it's just formally perfect. It occurred to me in that moment that I'll probably never create something even half as beautiful – that's a paradoxically inspirational feeling. If you can listen to the track, or the rest of the album for that matter, and not have that response, then you and I are very different people. So, to reiterate: if you're in the market for a rock album that's artful, impeccably arranged, and emotionally overwhelming, you're not going to find much else on the level of Thin Black Duke. Except The Narcotic Story. Listen to that one, too.


2. Mark Kozelek 2017 [Caldo Verde]

2. Mark Kozelek 2017 [Caldo Verde]

In 2017, Mark Kozelek released four albums that total nearly six hours of music. This volume of output comes as a surprise even by his prolific standards. 50 years into his life, half of those spent releasing music, Mark doesn't even seem to think this is a big deal and is really taking the principle of not resting on one's laurels to the next level. I've already written a lot about Common as Light and the Jesu collab on my mid-year list, so I'm just going to use the rest of this space to touch on the Yeaton and Boye/White projects. Yellow Kitchen, the disc with Parquet Courts bassist Sean Yeaton, ended up being my favorite of the "tetralogy" and pretty much validated my previous Scott Walker comparison – this is essentially Mark's The Drift. I was expecting some typical garage rock, but it turns out that Sean is quite the composer and producer. He mostly contributes dark ambient soundscapes that perfectly suit Mark's anxious, sometimes downright paranoid musings about his health, daily life, and memories.

Yellow Kitchen has a schizophrenic charm in its brevity and disjointedness, whereas the self-titled collab with keyboardist Ben Boye and drummer Jim White goes for a consistently nocturnal fusion of jazz and slowcore. This sound is a bit more in the Koz's wheelhouse, but the project stands out in his catalog for the trio's exceptional chemistry as improvisers, culminating in the epic "Topo Gigio." I'm also taken by Mark's terse writing in the CD insert detailing the events that inspired the album; it closes with "I sang about my days, my nights and my dreams." The man's blurring the line between prose and poetry, and as TMI as it sometimes gets, I think it's beautiful. As long as he remains ambitious with his instrumental and compositional palettes, I look forward to hearing where this uncharted songwriting direction takes him.


3. Bill Orcutt - Bill Orcutt [Palilalia]

3. Bill Orcutt - Bill Orcutt [Palilalia]

Bill Orcutt has spent much of the decade channeling the no wave energy left over from his band Harry Pussy into his (poor, poor) acoustic guitar, violently deconstructing a myriad of American standards along the way. Albums like How the Thing Sings and A History of Every One punked the fuck out of American Primitivism and effectively reinvented the instrument – well, they gave me some new ideas, anyway. However, Bill's gone electric on his latest release, and the results are more modest than one might expect. This is after all a self-titled album by the man who spent the last several years producing some of the most brutal acoustic guitar recordings of all time, and now that he has a decidedly more powerful weapon in his hands we're getting something low-key? Well, it was a wise move, as this is the best solo guitar album I've heard all decade. The only things I miss that were lost in the jump to amplification are the involuntary vocalizations Bill would make while going off on his detuned and destrung six-string. Those really added to the rawness. Bill takes things a bit easier on this album, though there is no shortage of explosive, high-attack moments, especially the closing rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." For the most part, his covers are easier to recognize this time around, the highlight being his take on "Ol' Man River." There's still a ton of bite and soul to Bill's playing; he just seems more willing than in the past to preserve some of these songs' inherent beauty. I respect that restraint.


4. Jute Gyte - Oviri [Jeshimoth]

4. Jute Gyte - Oviri [Jeshimoth]

Earlier this year, Jute Gyte (Adam Kalmbach) completed an epic triptych with Oviri, which like its predecessors Ship of Theseus and Perdurance (one of my 2016 faves), proffers a microtonal, polytempic, and electronically-tinged breed of black metal that is guaranteed to give those uninitiated in the worlds of extreme music and atonal composition a severe migraine. One could also be forgiven for looking at the track titles, the lyrics, and the Bandcamp write-ups and thinking they'd need dual degrees in ancient Greek philosophy and existentialism to vibe to this music. But I think it's precisely Adam's deviation from musical convention, his unrelenting limits-pushing, that makes his work so metal. The chord progressions on Oviri are as twisted as ever, though there are more spots here that might be considered melodic than there were on Perdurance. The dense compositions still evoke the totalism of Glenn Branca, and come to think of it, there's even common ground with some of Captain Beefheart's most abrasive work. The liner notes suggest that the atonality and simultaneous tempi aren't guided by (intentional) ineptitude in Adam's case, but nevertheless, the music in this trilogy of albums subverted my musical expectations in the same way I imagine Trout Mask Replica did for its contemporary audience. However, it's just as important to consider Adam's work as an extension of the black metal tradition – a much needed step toward (post-)modernity. Sure, the pagan mumbo jumbo has been eschewed in favor of enlightened mumbo jumbo, but I find Oviri to be every bit as emotionally potent and frightening as an album like Filosofem. Which isn't to say it's better – I actually think Adam owes a debt to Varg's work on that album, especially given Oviri's extended ambient passages. It's just exciting to hear the genre pushing the envelope to this extent again. I only hope Adam is able to continue doing this now that it seems this phase is finished.


5. Jürg Frey - l’âme est sans retenue I [Erstwhile]

5. Jürg Frey - l’âme est sans retenue I [Erstwhile]

Almost two decades after its completion, Jürg Frey's magnum opus, l’âme est sans retenue I, has finally seen the light of day thanks to Erstwhile Records. The label has been on a roll with these massive, multi-disc sets. Last year's the earth and the sky is one of my favorite collections of piano pieces, and if I had heard Keith Rowe's The Room Extended sooner, it likely would've topped my 2016 list. Clearly I think the streak continues here with retenue I, though I don't have a whole lot to say beyond what cover designer Yuko Zama wrote in her comprehensive breakdown of the composition. Due to its daunting six-hour runtime, much of that devoted to silence, one might see this as, like, the final boss of lowercase music. In a sense, it is, but listening to retenue I is better described as an experience than a challenge. I don't get the sense I'm experiencing "more than an album" very often, but that's certainly the case here. Granted, for some listeners it's bound to sound like quite a bit less than the average album; again, we're talking about a long-form piece that's virtually silent half the time. But as far as I'm concerned, Jürg's use of silence here is the most effective I've ever heard (perhaps "felt" is a better word), and I can see myself making retenue I a regular sonic pilgrimage.

It's worth mentioning that Erstwhile is now making its catalog available on Bandcamp. This Jürg release isn't there yet, but I recommend looking around anyway. The Lambkin/Lescalleet trilogy is a good starting point. Update: It's there now.


6. Impossible Nothing - Taxemenomicon [Self-Released]

6. Impossible Nothing - Taxemenomicon [Self-Released]

You may remember that in one of the first episodes of "It Came from Bandcamp," Anthony and I featured an insane and monolithic plunderphonics album from an Italian producer called Impossible Nothing. Since then, he received the Scaruffi bump (that's apparently a thing) and has gone on to release four more 260-minute-long albums this year – for all I know, the absolute madman may drop another before the year is out. My favorite is the third one, Taxemenomicon, though sometimes I find myself in the mood for Tonemenomicon, which is easy-going by comparison. Honestly, I thought his album last year was cool and all, but saw it as a bit of a novelty that didn't really live up to the cosmic proportions that the artist intended. Taxeme, on the other hand, does. It's the most incredible plunderphonics / instrumental hip hop album I've heard since J Dilla's Donuts. Except Dilla would've had to infuse Donuts with a shitload of stardust and all the excess of the Internet for these two works to even be comparable. He was also short a Seinfeld reference, but I'll let that slide. Essentially, I think what Impossible Nothing's doing here is the perfect representation of what makes our Bandcamp series worthwhile. On that note, shout-out to The Pablo Collective and all the other Bandcamp-based sound collagists out there. Love ya.

(Heads-up: the track below comes on pretty loud and sudden.)


7. Tyler, the Creator - Scum Fuck Flower Boy [Odd Future]

7. Tyler, the Creator - Scum Fuck Flower Boy [Odd Future]

I've been a fan of Tyler's since Goblin. For as excessive and E D G Y as that album is, I consider it some kind of exorcismic hip hop masterpiece and think Tyler proved himself to be a visionary producer with its consistently uncanny, synth-centric aesthetic. Rarely does a debut studio album following a hyped mixtape make such a statement. I've enjoyed Tyler's work since then, even Cherry Bomb if only because the title track was ingeniously a ready-made YouTube bass boost meme. Actually, if I have one gripe with Flower Boy here, it's that I miss some of the darkness and abrasiveness of those salad days. Other than that, I can appreciate that this is a surprisingly mature album from Tyler. His production is beautiful and he has blossomed into both a versatile rapper and a thoughtful lyricist. Of all the indie blog darlings who had blown up near the end of the Aughts, I'm glad it's been Tyler who has managed to maintain relevance and progress to such a degree as an artist.


8. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy [Sub Pop]

8. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy [Sub Pop]

Pure Comedy is among the most polarizing singer-songwriter albums to have come out this decade, and it's not exactly hard to understand why. It's a collection of post-ironic piano ballads written by a man who's totally unwilling to tone down his cynical and absurdist sense of humor. However, I'm not sure what it is about Josh Tillman that makes him harder to bear for some than similarly abrasive figures like Lou Reed and Frank Zappa. Hell, I could describe a lot of the album's social commentary as "Zappa-esque," though Josh seems more willing than Frank to wear his heart on his sleeve. The music has also been superficially compared to Randy Newman, Elton John, and [insert '70s piano man]; but the fact of the matter is this album couldn't have been made any time but now or by anyone but Josh. Ideological bullshit aside, I simply dig his passionate vocal performances and balladry, as well as the modern production that renders some of these pieces atmospheric and helps the whole thing sound like a product of 2017. Suffice it to say I'm looking forward to next year's Father John Misty album. But it's supposedly about heartache – sounds pretentious.


9. The Flaming Lips - Oczy Mlody [Warner Bros.]

9. The Flaming Lips - Oczy Mlody [Warner Bros.]

I'm a big-time stan for The Flaming Lips and I knew that couldn't be staved off for long. Oczy Mlody initially struck me as The Flaming Lips' first real dud since their early days (what tribute albums?), as well as the nightmare of "midlife crisis" Wayne Coyne coming to fruition. OK, that's a little harsh. This period in Wayne's life has yielded some of the Lips' most harrowing and innovative work yet in The Terror and "7 Skies H3," and considering the experiences that inspired that output, who am I to judge the guy for having fun? In fact, his portrayal of psychedelic hedonism in a tooth and nail world is one of the most interesting aspects of Oczy Mlody. The enveloping bleakness of The Terror lingers here as an undercurrent, and it's easy to hear the fantastical future-pop of Yoshimi mixed in there, too. For some, this combination has resulted in diminished returns, but I dig the aesthetic – it's like a post-apocalyptic party in a dingy abandoned warehouse lit by spare strands of neon light. Judging from the "How??" music video, that seems to be what they were going for. Unfortunately, I still think Oczy Mlody marks the first time the Lips don't do enough to help their "fwends" fit into their sound-world. Reggie Watts sounds out of place delivering the album's sole monologue, and the song with Miley Cyrus is hardly even contemporaneous to the rest of the material. It's just tacked onto the end of the tracklist, undermining an otherwise effective finish with "Blisko Domu." It'd be like if The Terror actually ended with "Sun Blows Up Today." My advice is to get rid of it; no one will ever know. I eventually realized that apart from that misstep, the Lips came through yet again with some truly charming and fascinating pop music.


10. Prurient - Rainbow Mirror [Profound Lore]

10. Prurient - Rainbow Mirror [Profound Lore]

For my money, Profound Lore is the best extreme music label out there, and I had trouble choosing between the two multi-disc albums it released this year. The first was Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper, a powerful piece of funeral doom that should be experienced at least once. But the album I'll have in heavier rotation is Rainbow Mirror, which commemorates 20 years of Prurient by way of three hours' worth of noisy drones. I've had the first two discs for a couple of weeks and once I got past the initial disappointment of Dominick's growls and screams being entirely absent here, I got absorbed by the cold, staticky soundscapes. I'm really in awe (and envy) of the album's textures, as well as Dominick and company's ability to keep the tension escalating across all of these lengthy tracks. While it's an entirely different animal from Frozen Niagara Falls and is far from Prurient's harshest project, Rainbow Mirror is at once the most mesmerizing and thrilling ambient work I've heard in a long time. Gotta give Profound Lore props for being a metal label that's willing to put out a 4-CD set of dark ambience.


Shout-outs

I'm doing something a little different with this year's honorable mentions section, devoting it to miscellaneous releases. Basically I'm listing albums that're live, limited, compiled, archival, or reissued – reasons why I feel they wouldn't really fit with the ones above. Also A Crow Looked at Me because I wouldn't consider it a personal favorite in Phil's catalog, but still think its concept and aesthetic deserve recognition. In other words, "I wouldn't feel right ranking it" meme. Anyway, the sorting is alphabetical and the lineup is arguably just as good as the actual Top 10.


The Caretaker - Everywhere at the end of time Stages 1-3 [History Always Favours the Winners]

The Caretaker - Everywhere at the end of time Stages 1-3 [History Always Favours the Winners]


Ian William Craig - Durbē [Recital]

Ian William Craig - Durbē [Recital]


GAS - Box [Kompakt]

GAS - Box [Kompakt]


GFOTY - GFOTYBUCKS [PC Music]

GFOTY - GFOTYBUCKS [PC Music]


Julia Holter - In the Same Room [Domino]

Julia Holter - In the Same Room [Domino]


Nicolas Jaar - Sirens Deluxe [Other People]

Nicolas Jaar - Sirens Deluxe [Other People]


Joe McPhee - Seattle Symphony [Kye]

Joe McPhee - Seattle Symphony [Kye]


 
Lieven Martens Moana - Idylls [Pacificity Soundvisions]

Lieven Martens Moana - Idylls [Pacificity Soundvisions]


Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]


Charlemagne Palestine - Arpeggiated Bösendorfer + Falsetto Voice [Alga Marghen]

Charlemagne Palestine - Arpeggiated Bösendorfer + Falsetto Voice [Alga Marghen]


Prince and the Revolution - Purple Rain Deluxe [NPG]

Prince and the Revolution - Purple Rain Deluxe [NPG]


Swans - Deliquescence [Young God]

Swans - Deliquescence [Young God]


Alan Vega - IT [don't buy this album until it's released by a different label]

Alan Vega - IT [don't buy this album until it's released by a different label]


Vektroid - Dream Castle / Floral Shoppe [Olde English Spelling Bee]

Vektroid - Dream Castle / Floral Shoppe [Olde English Spelling Bee]


2016 Mea Culpa

Kanye West - The Life of Pablo [GOOD Music]

Kanye West - The Life of Pablo [GOOD Music]

I'm introducing this mea culpa section to award a spot to an album that, upon a year of reflection, I realize I didn't give due credit. Frankly, I disliked The Life of Pablo when it came out and found those attempting to praise it for being an "unfinished album, full of asterisks and corrections and footnotes" to be delusional. More fool on me, as I now totally buy into the notion of this being an effectively deconstructed hip hop album. Moreover, I think it's the grandiose, revealing, and fractured character portrait that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy should've been; though that might have to do with the titular fantasy having since come true. Who'd have thought truth could be stranger than fiction? I also won't rule out the possibility that Kanye's subsequent hospitalization recontextualized the album, revealing a tragic undertone that either wasn't initially evident or was superficial at best. Whatever the reasons, this album has been a thing of fascination and enjoyment to me these past several months – I'd go so far as to say it's Ye's best yet. But my former favorite was Yeezus by a wide margin, so take my opinion of his music with a grain of salt.


Thanks so much for reading. If you enjoyed this, you can find lists of pretty much all of my favorite albums since the '60s by clicking the button below. Other than that, happy holidays and New Year.

FOREVER!

12/7 Update: four honorable mentions & mea culpa section added