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Top 10 Albums of 2017

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Seth Montpelier: Arts & Leisure Editor

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Photo Courtesy of L.A. Times.

Photo Courtesy of L.A. Times.

Photo Courtesy of L.A. Times.

 

1. Soul of a Woman by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: The death of Sharon Jones a year ago certainly looms over this record, but mortality and death are not what the themes these songs conjure. These songs of triumph (“Sail On!,” “Come and Be a Winner”), pain (“Pass Me By,” “When I Saw Your Face”), and resilience (“These Tears (No Longer For You)”) are rousing and rattling, even the slow-burns. Jones voice has never sounded stronger and the band  more than carrying their weight with blaring horns and raging guitar. It sounds like it could have come from 1965. Only the closing track, “Call On God,” brings a farewell to mind. But, what a farewell it is.

 

2. A Crow Looked At Me by Mount Eerie: A concept album about the grieving process following the death of his wife, Phil Elverum (under the name of his solo musical project) uses almost no rhyme scheme or consistent melody through any of these songs. But, those become secondary when hearing at the raw emotion pouring out of every track. Almost only accompanied by acoustic guitar and piano, Elverum tries to make us feel the loneliness he feels. There are stray observations that one would never think of following the death of a spouse, like seeing his wife’s toothbrush in the trash or getting a backpack she ordered for their infant daughter for a future she knew she wouldn’t be part of. It ranks with Lou Reed’s Berlin and Bob Dylan’s Blood On the Tracks for its unadulterated torment.

 

3. Lotta Sea Lice by Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile: Court and Kurt are a match made in Heaven. Barnett brings her witty punk and Vile brings his world-weary, Dylan-esque folk, sung with his John Prine-style croon. “Over Everything”–a serious contender for track of the year–opens the album with the old-school country jam session that carries through the rest of the album. The humor is always present, but many of these songs are marked by a vulnerability. “Continental Breakfast,” “On Script,” and “Peepin’ Tom” are all highlights, but the real masterpieces bookend the album. The closer, “Untogether,” is a stripped down folk number with the two harmonizing their distinctive voices.

 

4. Who Built The Moon? by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Noel’s third solo album shows he hasn’t lost his edge, he just needed to find the right partner. That would be producer David Holmes, who provides some of Noel’s strongest songs ever with kind of studio gloss he never knew he needed. This creates a glam, psychedelic masterpiece, complete with sampling from obscure ‘70s bands and adding saxophones and trumpets, lifting from The Beatles and Bowie throughout. He also doesn’t fall into his bad habit of making songs too long. But, what’s most important to note is that the production enhances rather compensates. Songs like “Holy Mountain,” “Keep On Reaching,” “It’s a Beautiful World,” “If Love Is the Law,” and “The Man Who Built The Moon” rank among Noel’s best and shows that he still has a few tricks up his sleeve.

 

5. Near to the Wild Heart of Life by Japandroids: The long-awaited follow-up to the party anthem opus Celebration Rock doesn’t disappoint. The Vancouver duo hasn’t lost their touch and they don’t stray too far from the sound that made their last album so beloved. There are occasional acoustic guitars and synths, but they stick with the structure that works so well for them: songs about staying young with insecurities and fears hovering close above. The title track, “I’m Not Sorry,” “Arc of Bar,” and “In a Body Like a Grave” add instant classics to their somewhat small repertoire. While it seems hard to wait another five years for a new release, if that what it takes to release songs like these, then they take all the time they need.

 

6. Pure Comedy by Father John Misty: Veering a bit away from the breezy country-folk that made his sound recognizable on his last two albums, no album of 2017 is a better document for where we are right now. He takes aim at religious influence, technology, politics, and himself. His philosophical questions gives the listener a lot to think about, often unable to reconcile conflicting ideas. He’s sly wit lies close beneath his weariness and anger, showing disgust for hypocrisy and moral ambiguity, even when he admits he doesn’t have an answer either. It’s also his most theatrical album, with lush strings and horns. His rapid fire lyrics can almost be missed when you’re losing yourself in the beauty of the production.

 

7. As You Were by Liam Gallagher: Two great albums from the Oasis brothers was one of the biggest surprises of the year. Liam has finally emerged from the shadow of his brother, proving once and for all that he is a fine songwriter in his own right. Aside from “Paper Crown” and “Chinatown” (admittedly the two best songs on the album), Liam is a writer or the writer on each track. His voice has matured and so have his lyrics. Always the more brash of the two, Liam seems to be looking back at some his aggression of the past and is showing some regret. “For What It’s Worth,” another highlight, is his mea culpa for the brutish antics that have defined so much of his life. And for once, he is more interested in being a musician than a celebrity. The two brothers are the strongest they’ve been since the ‘90s, so we can only hope that the two can put aside their very public hatred for one another and join forces again.

 

8. Mental Illness by Aimee Mann: An album titled Mental Illness sounds like a tough listen, and it is. With sparse arrangements, Mann unleashes a harrowing look at the loneliness and anger through various stories and character studies, not holding back on the despair of these tales. It’s not news that Aimee Mann is one of the best songwriters around, and she is album to compose gloom like Leonard Cohen, create vignettes like Paul Simon, and personify troubled characters like Randy Newman.

 

9. This Old Dog by Mac DeMarco: Another set of sun-soaked soft-rock from the new king of slacker rock shows DeMarco with a little bit more on his mind that usual. In addition to the joy of love and the anxieties of adulthood, he bookends the album with songs about his complicated relationship with his dad. The first, “My Old Man,” is about the fear that he is becoming his dad, although, he ultimately sees his dad as another person and decides that he could be someone worse. The closing track, “Watching Him Fade Away,” is much sadder and personal, and new territory for DeMarco. It’s about how he regrets not reaching out to his dying father, although it’d been so long since they saw each other that his dad was practically a stranger. But, the rest of the album is a wisp of sunny vibes, with jangling guitars and lo-fi grins, with standouts like the title track, “Still Beating,” and “Moonlight on the River.”

 

10. Hot Thoughts by Spoon: The most consistent band in rock returns with another set of audacious riffs and brazen attitude. Brit Daniels’ Lennon-and-Jagger hybrid vocals sneer over the tight band, churning out funky tracks like the title track and “First Caress” and smooth tunes like “Pink Up” and “I Ain’t the One,” which almost has a gospel sound to it. But, they didn’t forget the raucous, yet steady rockers. “Do I Have To Talk To You,” “Tear It Down” and “Shotgun” ensure that Spoon hasn’t lost their touch.

 

 

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Top 10 Albums of 2017