Part 1 (50-31) can be seen here, while Part 2 (30-16) can be seen here. If you’d like to hear a spotify playlist of my favorite songs off my top 50 in order that they appeared, go here in the spotify app.
Irreversible Entanglements – Irreversible Entanglements
If there was a record this year that really floored me, even if mostly out of being caught of guard, it was this one. It’s nearly a straight avant-garde jazz record, with a political beat poetry sensibility recalling the trailblazing works of Gil Scott-Heron/The Last Poets. The thing that seems different is the violence in the air, or the decades of music that have come between. Since The Last Poets we’ve had punk, hardcore, thrash, riot grrrl, and gangster rap and that all matters here, as even if we don’t touch them sonically, their anger simmers in the boil next to these arrangements. It produces a stew that even when it’s as cool and detached as jazz can be, there seems to also be a siren in the room, a fevered burst ready to spring. It makes the record taut and uneasy, even if we listen knowing their isn’t a false misstep anywhere. Here come the assassins, and they’re checking their lists.
Idles – Brutalism
Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent
Another pairing; my two favorite straight ahead rock records of the year, each showing a remarkable set of original lyricists. Protomartyr have been at it for awhile, their last two made year end lists from me as well (with my previous favorite being 2014’s Under Color of Official Right), but Relatives in Descent exhibits genuine growth; song structures swell and grow, and textures exhibit new terrain after their apprenticeship during Rough Trades retrospective concert where they sat in with the Pop Group. The lead single ‘A Private Understanding’ shows this growth more clearly, toping over 5 minutes of beautifully varied rock music. At the end of the record, ‘Corpses In Regalia’ and especially ‘Half Sister’ lead, with twisting memorable guitar lines and their usual evocative bass lines (this is their best bass album yet—which says a lot). While both lean towards the post-punk sound of things, Idles are more the later—‘-punk’—and their debut is full of supreme piss and vinegar. It’s a righteous, but sensitive record; ’1049 Gotho’ is one of the most beautiful and savage accounts of depression you’ll hear a rock band undertake, and ‘Faith in the City’ a rocking statement on faith. With just one record, Idles seems in their prime, I can’t image how great they can become.
Neil Young – Hitchhiker
Dion – Kickin’ Child: Lost Columbia Album 1965
Our next pairing shows just how prescient and timeless great art can be. Can you imagine that two of the greatest lps released this year are both more than 40 years old? The Young was recorded in 1976, the Dion even older, in 1965. Both account for turbulent times, perhaps showing themselves unable for release because they were recorded before even more turbulent ones. They’re the exhale after Watergate and the initial escalation of the Vietnam conflict respectively, just as they paint their creators about to loose their footing in even more difficult personal times (Young saw the post-Watergate hangover turn into Corporate Reagan America and wanting to get out from under tyrannical record deal, while Dion saw 1968 fully level him and dim his bulb completely as many saw rock n’ roll leaving his shadow). Both deserved release in their times, but illuminate our thoughts now: Young becomes the 70’s soothsayer again; ‘The Campaigner’ walks out from Nixon into Trump, and ‘Pocahontas’ sounds like the film Leonardo DiCaprio thought he was making in The Revenant from all his mistaken award speeches he gave after it. Dion goes toe to toe with Bob Dylan, and often gets the best of the fray; ‘I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound’ is the best reading of that classic tune, and ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ showing the classic Zimmerman track a new wrinkle. You’re saddened that these didn’t appear in their time, but now, with new context, perhaps we’re reminded how truly great both artists were/are.
Gnod – Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine
Which such a mouthful of an lp title, you needn’t a lot of adjectives to tell you what the English punks have in mind on their newest lp. The cover is even more to the point: stark red to rile the largest of bulls and thick black block type. The music inside still surprises; spastic, urgent and artfully outsider, this just might be the sound of where punk is headed as it’s everything punk has ever been—antagonistic, confrontational, militant—but somehow this is even more so. You’ll want to buy the vinyl, just to display it defiantly on your turn table: Beware All That Enter.
Here Lies Man – Here Lies Man
You can say that nothing is new anymore, and in music that so sadly seems the case. But then, you stumble on something by total chance: the debut of LA rockers Here Lies Man, and you hear something totally fresh and new. No one has ever thought to mix Black Sabbath stoner riffs with Afrobeat rhythms, but for 8 tracks here you don’t understand why. It’s a perfect juxtaposition, made alarmingly appropriate in a world where multiculturalism is under daily threat.
Ride – Weather Diaries
For my money Ride’s Nowhere is the greatest shoegaze record ever made, so it’s no surprise that when it was announced that they were returning to reclaim their noisy, feedback laden roots after the more straightforward 1994 release Carnival of Light that I’d be in anxious anticipation. They’d done Tarantula in 1996, before calling it quits for nearly two decades before a 2014 reunion and tour was undertaken. It was well worth it, Weather Diaries is both fresh and contemporary, exploring noisescapes and drum loops without loosing any of their rock thunder. If the album was just ‘Home is a Feeling’ 12 times it’d have made this list with ease.
Uniform – Wake In Fright
There is a scene early in this season’s Twin Peaks: The Return where a couple of pretty raw dawgs attempt to murder Dougie Jones, Kyle MacLachlan’s truly inspired walking comatose-like creation. As they speed away in their muscle car their stereo blasts a highly appropriate, grinding fury of rock n’ roll. I immediately recognized the track, as I’d preordered and received Uniform’s Wake in Fright from Sacred Bones months earlier. But, being a subscribed receiver to their labels e-newsletter, the next day saw the record described in similarly fitting terms—this is the music of dangerous people, doing dangerous things. It came in January in 2017, but it was recorded with knowledge of the writing on the wall, that fascists the world order where making a serious play at running the world. Guns and bombs are sampled as rhythmic backing tracks, and the whole thing just melts your face when you realize this is only two guys creating this devilish chaos.
Alan Vega – IT
Records being made by artists acutely aware of their coming passing are sadly becoming too common; last year it was titanic releases from David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, while this year it’s longtime Suicide front man Alan Vega. IT might be the best of all these new mortality records, as Vega doesn’t sound forlorn or beaten. Instead he’s sickened and angry, wishing his time was longer. I wish it was as well, as the music on display still shows a remarkable curiosity with the form.
Lardo – Sinking
When I purchased a ticket for All Tomorrow’s Impeachments, a Chicago two-night benefit for organizations working towards resisting our orange Commander in Chief, I was nearly able to lie to myself that the cause I believed in would be enough to prod me there without the inclusion of Shellac and TAR (two of my favorite bands). When Steve Albini broke his arm weeks before the show and Shellac had to pull out the idea was tested in reality. Thankfully at the top of the bill was Lardo, a Chicago band mining much of the very same terrain as Shellac (most obviously on ‘Swimmer’), but with enough new ideas to break real ground. Noise aficionados will love the economy of a truly blistering and hooky lead guitar, while pop fans will just like the consistency in the tunes. Perhaps my favorite personal discovery of the year, the reward for supporting a local scene.
feedtime – gas
feedtime, the legends of the Australian noise scene, have been kicking around for longer than I’ve been alive. Formed in 1979, they released records from 1985 to 1996, splitting and reforming (with slightly different lineups) twice in that span. They were done for all intents and purposes until 2011, when they reformed, and retooled, again. In their heyday, they did primal, minimal sludge rock as well as it’s even been done, but outside of tinnitus fetishists (I’m a card carrying member) their records are largely unknown. A shame, they are a handful of masterpieces in their run, and gas, the fruits of their 2011 reforming, somehow manages to match anything they’ve ever done. There is a grand lie in rock n’ roll history—that it’s teenage rebellion music made by young people. Nah, the old farts do it just as good.
Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
Washington D.C. seems like a hellhole at this point, or perhaps more timely, like a shithole. Blind ideology, without any substantive basis, has collided with rampant sexism, racism, xenophobia, and populism with a narcissistic twist to render an entire country one of the worst cocktails you can imagine. When looking for a remedy early this year, I was happy to hear the Priest’s full length debut in late January, which boasts acute political subversion with angry, punk fury. Plus, oh yeah, I forgot to mention they hail from Washington D.C., perhaps it’s poetic that ground zero of the shithole can be where we look for the light.
Melkbelly – Nothing Valley
I’ve just talked about the joy of discovering Lardo, checking out their lp for the sole reason to hear what every band on the bill sounded like to prepare for a night out. Melkbelly was even more random, seeing a band that they—largely unknown—had been taken on the bill as the local (Chicago) add on. Seeing their set though, with the explosive jazz drumming, pop sensibility in the female vocals and left-handed guitar noise, I immediately understood I was in the presence of something profound, if young and beginning. Their debut, upon a conversation after the show was promised later in the year, a statement every young band says—but it came, and it’s a tremendous statement. The pop sensibility of grunge when it became mainstream, with the noise squawk that, well, the mainstream charts have never really seen. Several of the best songs devolve into it, and you’re in complete fuzzy bliss. Don’t trust me? Spin the second half of ‘RUNXRN’.
Thundercat – Drunk
After Kendrick Lamar become a critical darling in 2015 with To Pimp a Butterfly, you wondered how major contributor Thundercat’s next release would sound and fare after being in Lamar’s artistic wake. His two previous records showed a remarkable range and flavor, but nothing could approach his next release, my favorite Hip-Hop record of the year, Drunk (my second would have been Run the Jewels’, Run the Jewels 3). It’s bursting open with nearly two dozen creatively varied tracks, with a steady groove that rewards multiple listens. You go back to Apocalypse and you realize it’s been there since the start. Tremendous.
Just missed the cut (27; 51-75; in no particular order)
Unsane – Sterilize
Gnaw – Cutting Pieces (particularly the standout track, ‘Septic’)
Gary Numan – Savage: Songs From a Broken World
Oxbow – Thin Black Duke
Crystal Fairy – Crystal Fairy
Ryan Adams – Prisoner
Saint Etienne – Home Counties
Glassjaw – Material Control
Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross – Vietnam soundtrack
Thee Oh Sees – Orc
The Comet is Coming – Death to the Planet
At the Drive In – in•ter a•li•a
Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now
Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest
Ty Segall – Ty Segall
Kreator – Gods of Violence
Meat Wave – The Incessant
Chicano Batman – Freedom is Free
Thurston Moore – Rock N Roll Consciousness
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
The National – Sleep Well Beast
White Reaper – The World’s Best American Band
Boris – Dear
Alvvays – Antisocialites