Ten more of our of Favorite Albums of 2017 – Part 2 are shared today. The list includes artists who refine the familiar approaches, others who completely re-invented themselves, and some who released records that bordered on pure cinematic ecstasy. After reading the below, revisit Part One.
Dan Auerbach (USA) – Waiting on a Song
(via Easy Eye Sound)
Dan Auerbach is better known as half of The Black Keys, so no one would blame him if he rested on his laurels (and multiple Grammy awards). But instead of spending this year producing other artists’ work, he released his second solo album, the immensely enjoyable Waiting on a Song. The star-studded effort features a Who’s Who roster of talent – from John Prine and Duane Eddy to Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler – that adds greater depth to Auerbach’s usually blues-driven rock. The result is a rich blend of blues, rock, pop, country, and Americana that reminds you just how cathartic music can be. The whole album is a feast of genre riches.
The title track gives the impression this is a country-heavy album, an honest assumption since Auerbach now lives in Nashville. But despite co-writing “Waiting on a Song” with songwriting master John Prine, this is far from an Americana album. Auerbach channels The Traveling Wilburys on the jangly standout hit (“Shine On Me”) that features those unmistakable Knopfler guitar lines. From the soulful “Malibu Man” and “Undertow” to the dusty ‘70s-era tones of “Show Me,” these songs are a sonic feast from one of modern music’s most talented artists. Auerbach has already proven himself as a musician and producer; on this album he has some fun doing what he does best – making music that makes listeners happy. ~~~ Hollie
Father John Misty (USA) – Pure Comedy
(via Sub Pop/Bella Union)
Father John Misty may be one of the greatest songwriters of this generation. He’s smart, funny, sarcastic, and (at times) a total ass. Pure Comedy is Misty is at his best, but in a package that strips down a lot of what he does on previous records. It’s loaded with ballads and songs where the focus is on its lyrical content. It’s not a big departure; it just feels a lot more personal.
Misty never pulls a damn punch. And that’s why he’s such a great songwriter. “Pure Comedy” starts out with a sitcom intro. It calls out hypocrisy, particularly people who claim to be of god (“godless animals”), and Misty asks “where did they find these goons elected to rule them?” Another sharp track is “Total Entertainment Forever”, immediately referring to bedding a celebrity in virtual reality.
And while the whole album is great, any album with a track like “Leaving LA” needs to be on this list. At 13 minutes, it makes up a good portion of Pure Comedy. It’s hard to pull off a song of that length without any semblance of a chorus, especially when it’s just a dude on guitar. But Misty calls attention to all of that, singing “Some ten-verse chorus-less diatribe plays as they all jump ship, ‘I used to like this guy, this new shit really kinda makes me wanna die.” It’s the best example of storytelling on any record this year. Add in other great tracks like “Two Wildly Different Perspectives” and “Ballad of a Dying Man”, and you have his best work yet. ~~~ Rich
Fleet Foxes (USA) – Crack Up
(via Nonesuch Records)
For Fleet Foxes fans, it’s been an entire six years between albums, as front man Robin Pecknold took a break to enroll at Columbia University and “got some academic pretensions out of [his] system”. Their return, Crack-Up, felt like the band never left, as they graced us with another album that features their masterful cinematic indie-folk. At the same time, it feels like something deeper, more introspective, and more serious than anything previously heard from Fleet Foxes. There are diverse arrangements in the opener, “I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar” that is pretty much three songs in one. For casual fans, “Fool’s Errand” is euphoric and probably the most approachable. The rest of the tracks provide majestic sounds with the almost nine-minute “Third Of May/Odaigahara”.
The stand out track is “If You Need To / Keep Time On Me” which is probably their most intimate song on the album. It’s emotional yet graceful, and Pecknold’s vocals are rich and transparent in this track about relationships that are past. Pecknold mixes his “academic” and creative side on the companion tracks “Cassius” and “Naiads, Cassadies”, as he successfully mixes Greek tragedy with metaphysics.
At no point, however, should anyone listen to this album and think, “Fleet Foxes have grown up,” as this is simply not an applicable observation. This band has never lacked for depth, substance, or talent. On Crack Up, they simply are revealing deeper levels of what has always existed. ~~~ Wendy
Florist (USA) – If Blue Could Be Happiness
(via Double Double Whammy)
Florist’s music can be incredibly soothing. On If Blue Could Be Happiness, Florist’s main creative force, Emily Sprague, paints vivid pictures with her lyrics. Her lyrics and instrumentation create a warm atmosphere throughout the record. It’s also Florist’s most well-produced album, removing a bit of a barrier between the listener and the artist. The result is even more personal than those on their earlier works.
If Blue Could Be Happiness is about finding strength. Sprague sings on “Blue Mountain Road”about being terrified together in a terrifying time. On “What I Wanted To Hold”, she sings “I’m alive, and I’m okay / The air is light blue today.” “Understanding Light” is a great folk track, too, mostly with guitar and a little bit of piano and very light drumming. “Glowing Brightly” recalls places from California to Arizona and the Catskill Mountains where the record was recorded. The album ends with “Red Bird”, which Sprague played for her mother the day before she passed. In that context, it makes that song incredibly heart-wrenching.
Despite the sadness that sometimes comes through in the lyrics, If Blue Could Be Happiness never gets depressing. It’s about finding happiness and strength in things. Florist’s last two records have been about trauma and loss. However, they both offer warm reassurance that life goes on and there’s plenty to keep us going forward, even in our darkest times. ~~~ Rich
Future Islands (USA) – The Far Field
Future Islands are the reigning royalty of indie synth-pop. For more than a decade, they have cemented a reputation for both showmanship and craftsmanship. Now with the release of their fifth album, The Far Field, we ask the one question on the lips of fans and critics alike: does this trio still have the magic that’s put propelled them to the pinnacle of their career? Does this album have the same cathartic energy as their 2014 hit, Singles? Without a doubt, the answer is a unanimous yes.
The Far Field is a sumptuous treat, full of ’80s new wave-inspired bass lines and pulse-quickening beats. And much like their previous efforts, the Baltimore-based trio once again make bleak feel good, such as on the cinematic “Ran” and the lonely anthem, “Cave”. With this latest record, Future Islands have rightly assumed the throne vacated by ’80s legends like New Order, Joy Division, and The Smiths. But where those bands thrived on gloom, Future Islands instead infuse hope and sunlight on even the bleakest days. ~~ Wendy
Gang of Youths (AUS) – Go Farther in Lightness
(via Mosy Recordings/Sony Music Australia)
From being nominated for the ARIA Album of the Year (the Australian equivalent to the Grammys) for Go Father in Lightness and acknowledged by Triple J listeners as the best album of 2017, Gang of Youths have earned every accolade and award. Their sophomore album is a rarity in today’s music landscape – a sprawling 16-song, 77-minute catharsis of symphonic indie-rock, and it is a sonic and lyrical masterpiece.
At the forefront is David Le’aupepe’s songwriting, where the 25-year-old shares stories about different arcs in his and everyone’s life. The search for meaning is the focus on the ripper, “What Can I Do if the Fire Goes Out?”, while the soaring “Atlas Drowned” shares a fearless message of never succumbing to the oppressors no matter the odds. Exhilaration, optimism, and perseverance arrive in the forms of the boisterous “Let Me Down Easy” and soothing “The Heart Is a Muscle”. The band also looks outwardly on the “Achilles Come Down”, which is a stunning lament to the world, while the heart-racing closer, “Say Yes to Life”, sees Le’aupepe as the preacher who implores his congregation to dismiss hate and embrace the most powerful emotion.
Go Father in Lightness is more than just about one person. It is one about how the power of the human spirit can overcome even the most excruciating moments. It is about that faint light glimmering inside all of us and guides us through the perilous tunnel and into the waiting expanse that is life. For Gang of Youths, the light is not fading; it’s just awakening. ~~~ Ben
Girlpool (USA) – Powerplant
(via Anti Records)
Girlpool’s first record was a great one. It featured the vocals of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, at times nearing screams, yelling over a foundation that was mostly just Tucker on guitar and Tividad on bass. On Powerplant, the sound expands exponentially thanks to a second guitarist and a drummer, creating one of the year’s best albums.
Right from the first notes of opener, “123”, the duo sing harmony over just guitar and bass, like old times, right before drums and a second guitar kick in triumphantly. It’s a bold proclamation that they’ve expanded their sound way beyond Before The World Was Big. The rest of the album packs as much of a punch. Contrary to its name, “Sleepless” is dreamy with a great layer of distortion that blends quite well with the duo’s harmonies. “Corner Store” lulls the listener in with a sound reminiscent of their early records before a wall of sound disrupts everything.
“Soup” is an incredible track, the guitar work is pristine, and the sudden pause during the loudly exclaimed line “You’ve got lots of potential, can you feel it?” makes this one of the best Girlpool tracks. When the record closes with “Static Somewhere”, it’s a great diffusion of the energy on the record. It builds up to a cathartic sing-along release, which is what Girlpool is all about.
If you loved Girlpool’s other work, you’ll love this record. If you found their early stuff a little sparse, the additions on this record have put them on another level, and you’ll fall in love with Powerplant. ~~~ Rich
Hand Habits (USA) – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)
Meg Duffy has flown under the radar for a few years. She’s played guitar and toured with Kevin Morby, but she’s released some truly special music as Hand Habits. This year, she released her first LP under the moniker, Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void), which was recorded in a living room in upstate New York. Anyone who’s been in this part of the US, especially during colder months, knows there’s a completely different vibe to anywhere else, especially its noisy, hectic city neighbor to the south. Wildly Idle captures that feeling perfectly, creating an enchanting vibe throughout the record.
Wildly Idle starts out with just Duffy singing over a lightly finger-picked guitar while perfectly sublime electric guitar and drums join in here and there, creating the stunner that is “Flower Glass”. While used sparingly, instruments other than Duffy’s voice and guitar are perfectly executed. Tracks like “In Between” are taken to another level as a result. “All the While” is a real top-notch track, too. The understated bass line and amazing chorus result in one of the year’s most captivating songs. Then there’s a track like “Bad Boy” that throws aside a lot of what Hand Habits built and creates an immense dynamic. Wildly Idle is truly a remarkable album – undoubtedly one of the year’s finest – that will stick with listeners for years to come. ~~~ Rich
Hurray for the Riff Raff (USA) – Navigator
(via ATO Records)
With her sixth record as Hurray for the Riff Raff, Alynda Lee Segarra drew inspiration from her past to write The Navigator. In her youth, Segarra was very much a navigator, having left the Bronx in her teens and traveled on box cars across the country. For this record, though, Segarra tells the story of Navita, a character very much based on herself. It is a concept record and feels like it right from the start, as the listener is greeted with the doo-wop, a cappella track, “Entrance”, which features an underlying layer of ambient urban noise.
After that intro, listeners are treated to a song that feels like a real throwback, “Livin’ In The City”, which would be perfectly placed on any Best of Rock & Roll compilations. Segarra also draws from a host of other influences – from rock and pop influences in the opening track to her folk roots on “Life To Save”, or the Latin influence of “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl”. There’s also “Rican Beach”, a tale of gentrification, appropriation of culture, and condemnation of politicians who want to build walls. It’s among the year’s most powerful tracks.
The Navigator is a wonderful, important, and powerful record, Segarra takes the listener on a journey. It’s a diverse record built around a common theme. If Segarra wasn’t already recognized as one of this generation’s most important songwriters, The Navigator cements her place near the top. ~~~ Rich
Japanese Breakfast (USA) – Soft Sounds from Another Planet
(via Dead Oceans)
Over the last year, Japanese Breakfast have gone from hidden gem to an unstoppable force. Their first LP, Psychopomp, was an incredible debut. At times it was loud; at other moments it was personal and featured one of the catchiest songs ever written in “Everybody Loves You”. On their latest LP, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, their frontwoman and driving creative force, Michelle Zauner, reinvents herself, earning critical acclaim and a huge global headline tour.
Soft Sounds from Another Planet impresses right from its shoegaze-y introduction, “Diving Woman.” When Zauner sings, “I want it all” and it echoes into oblivion, the song becomes mind-blowing. The stunning “Road Head” centers on Zauner’s voice, but the guitar and bass intertwine throughout and the ending is just sublime. The most addicting track, though, is Zauner’s futuristic space opera-in-a-song, “Machinist”, which is about falling in love with a robot. It’s incredibly danceable and pushes Japanese Breakfast way outside the box of anything they’ve done before it. The brutally honest “Boyish” is another one of the year’s best tracks. “Twelve Steps” is a straightforward rocker that kicks ass. The last two songs, “Till Death” and “This House”, are beautiful, ending the album on an honest, emotional note before some tubular bells chime in.
With tunes like these, it’s obvious why Japanese Breakfast have broken out this year. Their music is relatable. It’s honest, smart, funny, and it’s always backed by some of the sweetest and softest sounds from any planet. ~~~ Rich
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