Monday, January 29, 2018

Top 10 Albums of 2017

Moving right along from yesterday's list, today I present my Top 10 Albums of 2017 overall.

A brief reminder of the rules as to what constitutes an "album": It has to be an LP of seven songs or more, or at least 30 minutes in length (so EPs are ineligible); and it has to be all by one artist -- no compilations allowed. As I stated yesterday, this year, digital-only releases were allowed. So, for example, although it didn't make this list, an album like Passion Pit's Tremendous Sea of Love was considered, even though they never released it on CD.

Also, a reminder to my blog readers: While I always post my CD reviews on the Sputnik Music site first, and post them here afterwards, for reviews of live concerts and shows, and for my end of the year lists, they're released first here on my blog. Later, they're usually posted (albeit in a much more abbreviated form) as a list on Sputnik Music.

I'll give you a couple of quick honorable mentions here that just missed this list: 1) British musician Barns Courtney with his debut album Attractions of Youth; and 2) Aussie electro dance band Cut Copy with their fifth studio album, Haiku From Zero.

So, let's see how many of our albums by local artists from yesterday's list made this one also. Here they are, in reverse order:

Top 10 Albums of 2017:

10.  Neil Cavanagh - City of the Sun, Valley of the Moon

Again, this is such a beautiful album. And while I talked about "The Gates of Crocheron Park" yesterday, I'd be remiss if I didn't throw a mention of the equally lovely "On a Sunday Afternoon", and the instrumental version of that same song, "Sunday Evening". Makes me proud to be a fellow Queens boy.

9. Wolf Alice - Visions of a Life

Wolf Alice is a female-fronted British alt rock band from North London. I think I first became aware of them from hearing John from the YouTube channel ARTV talking them up, and he was right. They go through a variety of styles on this album. As for lead singer Ellie Rowsell, she can shriek with the best of them, and sing a nice ballad as well. My favorite song on here is the album opener, "Heavenward".

8. Lorde - Melodrama

This album from the New Zealand no-longer-teen sensation Lorde has received a ton of accolades, and rightly so. If all you're familiar with are the singles from this LP, you're missing out. There are a bunch of great songs on here. The number that most blew me away is "Liability". It's an absolutely devastating portrait of a lonely girl who always find herself  used and then dumped, because "You're a little much for me." So good.

7. Greywind - Afterthoughts

I reviewed this one early last year. This is the debut album by a fairly heavy brother-sister band (Paul and Steph O'Sullivan) from a small town in Ireland. She has a voice that's ridiculously powerful and gorgeous. Even the album art for this release is first-rate. Once again, the best track is the first one, which is also the album's title track. There are some excellent rock power ballads on here.

6. Aimee Mann - Mental Illness

This is another album I reviewed early in 2017. It's perhaps Aimee Mann's most stark album ever, and to me, her best one since 2005's The Forgotten Arm. Mann is probably the best singer-songwriter out there these days. I know I'm getting predictable, but yes, the best track is once again the first one, "Goose Snow Cone". (And if you're a cat person, the video for this song might make you cry.)

5. Brand New - Science Fiction

Their last album, 2009's Daisy, came in at #2 on my Top 10 Albums list of that year. That one felt like being inside the mind of a serial killer. This album is more like an episode of The X-Files, complete with possible alien abduction and experimentation. And guess what -- my favorite track here isn't the first one. It's track #6, a little ditty called "137".

4. Matisyahu - Undercurrent

If you're unsettled by listening to the Brand New album, this one will help center you again. You might not hear much about the "Reggae Rabbi" (as he used to be known) on the national scene anymore, but it doesn't mean that Matisyahu has stopped creating beautiful music. His last album, 2014's Akeda, made my Top 10 list for that year, and this one is equally good.

3. Mostly Autumn - Sight of Day

I reviewed this album by the British folky prog rock band Mostly Autumn midway through the year in 2017. They're a band I learned about from fellow prog rock fans on Sputnik Music, and given that they've been recording since 1999, this is a case of "Where have you guys been all my life?". The band mixes Celtic influences into their music, always a plus for me, and features quality male and female lead vocalists. Favorite track here: "Once Around the Sun", which has a little bit of a Kansas flavor to it (the band, not the state).

2. The Flaming Lips - Oczy Mlody

I admit, I kind of lost track of this Oklahoma City psychedelic rock band after 2002's excellent Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots album, and now I can't think why. Regardless, the fantasy themes of this album made me check this one out, and I'm glad I did. There are references to fairies and witches and frogs with demon eyes throughout this excellent work, but my favorite track here is "There Should Be Unicorns", a song wherein they explain that they're referring to "The ones with the purple eyes, not the ones with the green eyes. Whatever they give them, they shit everywhere." OK.

1. The Magnetic Fields - 50 Song Memoir

What else can I say about this one -- it's a songwriting Tour de Force. In addition to the tracks I mentioned yesterday, here are some more to check out: "Be True to Your Bar"; "Hustle 76", "The Blizzard of 78"; "Come Back As a Cockroach"; "Lovers' Lies"; "Me and Fred and Dave and Ted"; and "Weird Diseases". God (or whomever - insert your own deity here) Bless Stephin Merritt.

So that rounds out my Top Albums of 2017 list. Again, I hope maybe this encourages you to check out something on here you haven't heard before.

I'll be back in a few days with my "Top 20 Songs of 2017" list. Some of the songs I've mentioned here will doubtlessly make it there as well, but I can also promise you some surprises.

In the meantime, I've got a bunch of concerts coming up in February and March which I'll write about, and hopefully I'll also see and review the musical Once at the John W Engeman in Northport. And, as always, I'll keep the album reviews coming. My upcoming review schedule includes some Moody Blues, some Blackmore's Night, a little Ultravox and some Black 47 (which I'll be trying to time to post right around St. Patrick's Day), as well as some new 2018 stuff.

Peace out, folks.