We have arrived at the conclusion of our Favorite Albums of 2017 with Part 5. Today’s list is filled with legends – whether artists and bands who indeed exemplify the term or who channel some of music’s most influential songwriters.
Slowdive (ENG) – Slowdive
(via Dead Oceans)
After a 22-year hiatus, post-rock/shoegaze titans Slowdive delighted fans with their eponymous fourth studio album. After such a prolonged absence, it was refreshing to hear the familiar churn of Neil Halstead’s reverb-drenched guitar and Rachel Goswell’s airy vocals. It’s not just nostalgia that had all of us gushing about Slowdive, which arguably is the year’s very best, but the spellbinding artistry the quintet have delivered.
While lead single “Star Roving” was a breath of fresh air, it was the exquisitely sedate “Sugar for the Pill” that took our breaths away. The dreamy duo of “Slomo” and “Don’t Know Why” further reveal the shoegaze giants have not lost any of their brilliance, although the beautifully constructed “Everyone Knows” and the jamming “Go Get It” show they have something new to offer. Through each of its eight songs, the content on Slowdive is stunning and grand. It is 45 minutes of pure shoegaze/post-rock brilliance that completely immerses you and has the power to take you to euphoric heights with each listen. ~~~ Ben
Spoon (USA) – Hot Thoughts
(via Matador Records)
“I’ve been dispossessed” is a refrain Spoon frontman Britt Daniel sings on “First Caress” from their ninth studio album, Hot Thoughts. Like many critics, we disagree, preferring to think he’s either been possessed or perhaps has sold his soul in exchange for the ability to create musical perfection. Each album the Texas band releases is crisp and taut, driven by irresistible indie hooks and punctuated by radio-friendly singles that become your new favorite song. In this case, the entire LP became an instant favorite.
From the ebullient lead single (“Can I Sit Next to You”) and the classic Spoon style of “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” to the jazzy instrumental closer (“Us”), the tracks hit your system with an almost narcotic rush that leaves you craving more. That’s the secret to the Spoon method: they make tasty art-rock fare with minimal fuss. Where other bands attempt reinvention by delivering a full banquet of disco-themed pop, Spoon serve up insanely palatable hors d’oeuvres that tantalize all your senses. Call it formulaic if you want, but it’s effective and far from predictable. Like their 2014 album, They Want My Soul, this release became one of my favorite albums of the year after just one spin. The sophisticated “Pink Up” is perfect for a contemplative night drive (thanks to lyrics like “Everything you fear we are, we will be”) while the driving percussion of “Shotgun” probably resulted in many a speeding ticket for drivers who cranked it. At just shy of 42 minutes, Hot Thoughts delivers satisfaction with each track, making it one of the finest in their nearly 25-year history. ~~~ Hollie
Strand of Oaks (USA) – Hard Love
(via Dead Oceans)
Once flying well under the radar, Strand of Oaks may be one of the best bands in the world right now. Frontman Timothy Showalter’s energy and passion are unmatched these days. During live performances his long, dark hair whips back and forth as he lays into his bad-ass riffs. Most of those riffs come from Hard Love, their latest record.
Few tracks rip as hard as “Radio Kids”, recalling listening to the radio as a kid and hearing the music that inspired Showalter to become a musician. It’s a love letter to the artists who helped make him the man he is. “Salt Brothers” is a slow burner with some of Showalter’s best lyrics, but on “Cry” Showalter delivers his most moving and emotional piece. Rock is his mantra, and he releases his inner Springsteen on “Rest of It” then closes the album with the epic, psychedelic rocker “Taking Acid and Talking To My Brother.”
Showalter’s songs are time capsules. Whether it’s his previous album, Heal, where he sings about Jason Molina on “JM” or a track like “Radio Kids”, he takes us back to times when we and our friends wanted to be rock stars. When we dreamed about adventures, becoming someone important, and the unpredictability of the next day. Through it all, as Showalter reminds us, we’ll always have that song on the radio to be the soundtrack of our lives. ~~~ Rich
Sundara Karma (ENG) – Youth Is Only Fun In Retrospect
(via Sony Music/Chess Club Records)
For nearly three years, Sundara Karma have used the formula of periodically releasing anthemic singles plus frenetic live shows to drive their rise. As expected, 2016 saw the Reading, England-based quartet explode, which included a headlining slot at the Reading Festival and selling out venues across the UK. At the start of 2017, they finally released what many of us have long waited to hear – their debut album, Youth Is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect. And like everything they’ve released, the record is an exhilarating and addictive experience that begins with a massive bang.
The stellar trio of “A Young Understanding”, “Loveblood”, and “Olympia” open the record and get the heart racing. The stupendous “Flame”, which was originally released in 2015, is (or should be) a classic. Catharsis is further achieved on “She Said” and “Vivienne”, which could be the soundtrack to a coming-of-age movie. There are tender and endearing moments, such as the stark and beautiful “Be Nobody”, the folk-influenced “Happy Family”, and the chest-swelling “The Night”.
Youth Is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect is everything that fans have come to love about the band – infectious, anthemic, thoughtful, and endearing. For those just being introduced to Sundara Karma, the album provides an opportunity to discover the UK’s next great music export. A band who could grow to become another Arcade Fire or even this generation’s U2 and become the biggest band on the planet. ~~~ Ben
Ten Fé (ENG) – Hit The Light
TEN FÉ released their debut album Hit The Light this year, and it’s a majestic journey and an amazing mix of shoegaze and dream pop. First beginning as a duo lead by friends Ben Moorhouse and Leo Duncan, they have since expanded to a quintet, leading to a more breathtaking, cinematic sound.
Hit The Light encompasses strong nostalgia, hook-laden synth and transcendental guitar work. The top tracks of the album include the dreamy, indie-pop number, “Elodie”, with lyrics that recount a lost relationship. “Turn” has groovy vibes throughout as a deteriorating relationship is recounted. “Twist Your Arm” provides hypnotic synth, impressive guitar, Moorhouse’s remarkable vocals. “Make Me Better” is a standout track with the addition of strings and a completely cinematic feel. “Don’t Forget” includes a stellar example of their heavenly guitar work. The closer “July Rain” tackles the subject of loss and offers a bit of hopefulness with the lyric “Don’t lose that feeling”. It almost has a gospel like vibe with the piano and chorus in the background which reminds us we just had a spiritual experience after taking in the entire album.
Hit The Light flows effortlessly together. The entire eleven tracks are stunning with lyrics that definitely hit close to home for anyone that has been in a relationship that ended awry or experienced loss in life. To think, this is just the tip of the iceberg for what should be a very successful career for the London-based band. ~~~ Wendy
Tim Darcy (CAN) – Saturday Night
Tim Darcy‘s main outfit, Ought, has already established a reputation as being one of Canadian music’s most adventurous bands. As a solo artist, Darcy is no different, although instead of looking towards the future, he reinvents the past with his eye-opening debut album, Saturday Night. From SUUNS to Leonard Cohen, Elvis Presley to Patsy Cline, and, of course, Ought, the album is wrought with music from the past five decades. The record launches with the first of many surprises with the toe-tapping “Tall Glass of Water”. Meanwhile, “Still Waking Up” has the introspective pensiveness of a classic Roy Orbison ballad.
The stunning “What’d You Release?” is where Darcy shines and delivers his masterpiece. It is Cohen mixed with Perfume Genius, making it the perfect blend of past-meets-present. Similarly, the double feature of “Joan Part 1, 2” bridges the classics with Darcy’s innovation, as the rockabilly beginnings give way to a moody, dark tune. The song represents everything about Darcy and his first solo foray. It is the old meeting the new; the light merging with the darkness. It is Darcy fusing these elements and his vast influences into one impressive LP that we continue to discuss to this day. ~~~ Ben
TORRES (USA) – Three Futures
Ever changing, the music of Mackenzie Scott – a.k.a. TORRES – is always fascinating. From her debut that was warm and simple to her incredibly complex and heavy Sprinter, TORRES showed that she can not be classified. On Three Futures, TORRES once again smashes any classification and created a strange, intense, and compelling record that almost mirrors the evolution of St. Vincent.
TORRES’ transformation is hallmarked by the electronic synth she’s slowly added more and more to her work. It’s fully present on “Skim”, which possess an amazing, thumping synth-bass line and distinctively TORRES guitar work. The mechanical delivery of vocals on the title track is spine-tingling. The record gets incredibly intense on “Helen In The Woods” that is accentuated with a vocal delivery that approaches screaming. There’s the incredible synth work layered under “Bad Baby Pie” that makes it one of the LP’s best tracks.
Three Futures is intense, foreboding at other moments, and ethereal when you least expect it, just like the Mackenzie Scott herself. There is never a boring moment about her music. For that matter, each time Scott releases something new, she’ll turn everything you thought you knew about her music upside-down. ~~~ Rich
The War On Drugs (USA) – A Deeper Understanding
(via Atlantic Records/Warner Music Canada)
When we reviewed A Deeper Understanding from The War on Drugs back in August, we were captivated by the album’s rich textures. The songs were new to us then, and we had only begun to appreciate the depth of the band’s fourth studio album. We knew it was great, even calling it a “cinematic masterpiece” – but now at year’s end, this album continues to resonate with its profound emotional impact.
The first strains of opener “Up All Night” are your first clue that this is a substantive album; the shimmering beauty of “Pain” confirms it. A Deeper Understanding demands your attention and gets it: you become a captive audience as Adam Granduciel paints vivid sonic imagery that surpasses the lush tones of the band’s 2014 release, Lost in the Dream. Here he creates another dream worthy of losing yourself in, where its soul-searching themes of love and loss become therapy sessions. Standouts like “Holding On” and “Strangest Thing” anchor the album, but the sprawling, 11-minute epic “Thinking of a Place” is the highlight. It rewards listeners with cathartic waves of reverb-drenched tones. Here the lyrics “I’m moving’ thru the dark of a long black night” are a beacon of hope amid a sea of yearning. The entire album is proof that The War on Drugs are future rock legends in the making who will stand alongside Dylan and Springsteen as icons of American artistry. ~~~ Hollie
Wolf Alice (ENG) – Visions of a Life
(via Dirty Hit/RCA Records/Liberator Music)
Daring. Ambitious. Expansive. Masterful. There aren’t many other words to accurately describe Visions of a Life, the merciless sophomore album by Wolf Alice. Merciless actually might be the best adjective because for 47 minutes the quartet offers something new and different on each song. From the dazzling dreamgaze opener “Heavenward” to the spirited melodic pop-rock of “Planet Hunter”, Wolf Alice deliver fantasy-like songs that possess the feeling of renewal. Surprises continue with the ’70s pop ditty “Beautifully Unconventional” and the intergalactic dream-folk dazzler, “After the Zero Hour”, which sees front woman Ellie Rowsell’s vocals reach a heavenly pitch.
Wolf Alice, however, are still at their best when they’re delivering stadium-sized anthems, such as the soaring “Don’t Delete the Kisses”, the furious post-punk rocker “Yuk Foo”, and the psychedelic epic “Vision of a Life,” The latter best encapsulates the entire album – surprising, unpredictable, and brilliant. There’s no sophomore slump for this band. Instead, Visions of a Life cements Wolf Alice as THE band of their generation. ~~~ Ben
Wolf Parade (CAN) – Cry Cry Cry
(via Sub Pop)
It’s easy to forget the impact Wolf Parade had on Generation Xers and, to an extent, Millennials. Whereas Nirvana represented our ’90s teenage angst, Wolf Parade revealed the concerns and uncertainties of people as the world in the mid-’00s were rapidly changing. At home, at work, and in classrooms, technology was taking over while a wave of conservatism swept across the world following the events of 9/11. Just like when they arrived in 2005, the political and musical landscapes have significantly changed. Wolf Parade, however, have not, and their fourth studio album, Cry Cry Cry, is a reminder of the quartet’s sonic and intellectual power.
The height of it all are the Bowie-esque “Am I an Alien Here” and the bold “King of Piss and Paper”, songs that reveal the band openly asking if the events of 2016 are real or fiction. Even on upbeat songs like the dance-floor euphoria “You’re Dreaming” and the driving “Baby Blue” tackle the changing world and whether our innocence has forever been lost. Wolf Parade also share their images of a post-apocalyptic world (or the present state) on the roaring “Weaponized” and the prog-synth spectacle, “Lazarus Online”. These aren’t just songs meant to entertain; these are songs intended to provoke, challenge, and protest. Cry Cry Cry is not merely a remarkable comeback, but an album that cements Wolf Parade’s relevance and legacy. ~~~ Ben
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