This year was a wild one for music, with plenty of unexpected comebacks and continuations.
This post began as a list of some 20+ odd albums highlighted and another 30 mentioned in a sentence or two. I soon realized the scope of such a list was bigger than I wanted to take on for this post, and would require a lot more time than I’d intended. For those reasons and more, I decided instead to just talk about a few new noteworthy albums I liked. I used this list, as well as the more-inclusive wiki as refreshers for what was released this calendar year.
Joan of Arc / he’s got the whole this land is your land in his hands – On the morning of January 20th 2017 I found myself on a train with a few hours to kill, and began to peruse some new tunes on a popular music streaming app. One click led to another until I came across He’s Got the Whole This Land Is Your Land In His Hands, practically jumping for joy at the prospect of a new Joan of Arc record being instantly available to my ears. The last Joan of Arc album, Testimonium Songs (which was more of a collaborative art project than an album proper) came out in 2013.
If, like me, you also passed on the chance to pick up 2011’s Life Like from a reduced-price record bin because of its rainy line-drawing robot conjuring memories of less engaging ‘soft’ JoA tracks, only to later find out it is one of their most straightforward rock records (with just enough off-the-wall preternatural touches, and of course joyful puns) in years, then He’s Got the Whole… is the album for you. This go-around happens to feature a lot more riffing synths.
P.S. That wonderful fellow on the cover is bassist/keyboardist Bobby Burg, and his personality might best be described as effervescent.
P.P.S. Something from Tim Kinsella’s notes on the new album really struck a chord with me: “The less we feel like a band—the more we can continue to be a band, but escape that feeling of doing all those shitty, corny things expected of bands—the truer to ourselves we feel. And you all know it, everyone knows it even if everyone has to bury it to get on with their day-to-day: the truer to ourselves we feel, the better everything gets.”
(Check out my interview with Tim Kinsella)
Dead Rider / crew licks – Next up, another Chicago native: Dead Rider. Dead Rider came to my attention in the summer of 2011, when I saw them perform live. Frontman Todd Rittmann performed with the fervor and insanity of a Jack Nicholson who’d stepped fresh out of The Shining and onto the stage. The band have been making engaging and fearless experimental rock since 2009, and they are one of ‘indie’ rock’s best kept secrets. Rittmann was previously active in U.S. Maple (1995-2007), who received some Pitchfork coverage through 2003, but for some ungodly reason, that site proceeded to completely ignore one of contemporary rock’s most exploratory acts short of reviewing their debut (which was itself a mere hint of what was to come). Dead Rider’s third record, Chills on Glass was one of my favorites of 2014, and now Crew Licks joins it in that respect. I’ll admit that Mother of Curses and The Raw Dents fluctuate between engaging and overly esoteric tracks, but Chills and Crew bring both elements together like never before and are utterly jaw-dropping at their peaks.
(Check out my interview with Todd Rittmann. Okay, you caught me, both of my first two picks are artists I managed to interview this year, but they were also genuinely two of my favorite releases, and I haven’t interviewed the other three entries on this list, though I’d love to pick their brains in the future.)
Big Walnuts Yonder / big walnuts yonder – Big Walnuts Yonder is a supergroup composed of Deerhoof drummer Greg Sauntier, Tera Melos guitarist/vocalist Nick Reinhart, Wilco’s virtuoso electric jazz guitarist Nils Cline, and legendary The Minutemen bassist/vocalist Mike Watt. If ever there was a ‘dream supergroup’ that I didn’t even know I wanted to hear, this is it, and what they’ve cooked up together is as exceptional, carefree and exploratory as you’d expect from said lineup. This is truly the sound of four seasoned musicians jamming out and kicking ass while challenging each other just enough to keep it spicy along the way.
(Deerhoof and Tera Melos also put out excellent new albums in 2017 which are well worth your time.)
Everything Everything / a fever dream – Four rock-solid albums in and still waiting to get their due outside of the UK, (while nearly pop stars on their home turf) Everything Everything keep getting better, despite a mysterious conspiracy & less than subtle efforts to suppress the band’s work by making them harder to find.
Although their previous album Get to Heaven was released in June of 2015, it took almost a year longer to reach North American shores and streaming.
A google image search for ‘everything everything band publicity photo’ yielded far more results for Arcade Fire in their Everything Now uniforms than of the lads pictured here.
Despite everything (everything), they’ve dropped a fourth record which successfully carries their legacy forward with an evolution of sound, texture & composition without losing any of their wit, strength or skill. Look no further than their self-made ‘influences’ playlist for evidence of how they turn electronic ambient ‘ideas’ into full-fledged experimental pop songs.
I’ve been saying it for three albums now, but this is a band that’s going places and it’s remarkable that they are not yet superstars.
BLESSED / ii – Inventive canadian rockers Blessed showed a lot of promise with their debut EP, and this second EP (simply titled ii) continues that trend, but I’m still waiting for a full-length release to prove they’ve got more than just musical chops. This wasn’t technically one of my ‘top 5’s this year or even a full album, but as a small group with big ideas and a sound somewhere between Polvo and Ought, they still deserve the shout out.
Here’s to hoping 2018 proves to be just as musically fruitful. Happy New Year!