Another year in the books!!! So much has changed in the music industry, but we are still standing tall, thirty years in, and we couldn’t do it without all of you! One of the things we’ve always prided ourselves on is keeping the safe space of the record store alive; a place to explore new music, interact with each other, and most of all find gems you can’t find anywhere else. We hope you find our cozy little shop a nice respite from the internet. Plus with all the free stuff we give away on a daily basis, you’d be crazy not to have us in your lives.
Below you’ll find our favorite albums of the year in addition to favorites of our close friends and shop regulars. Everything on here is a real deal, physical release, none of that online-only, streaming, youtube exclusive stuff flooding your internet feed. These are all items in our shop, never heard of it before? Even better, come in and take a chance on something new! Looking for a holiday gift for that hard to please music lover? Peruse our eclectic list, there is something on here for EVERYONE!. And don’t forget to add your comments below if there’s anything we left off our lists!
Happy holidays to all of you! xo, The Stinkweeds Crew
Lindsay Cates – Stinkweeds Manager/Buyer
2017 has been another massive year for music, the hardest thing is to quantify it! In my frustration to narrow the list down to just five titles, I decided to simplify things. This has been a painful and defining year, in so many ways. It only felt natural to side with the ladies. These are five albums I aligned with the most this year. All these women have big and bold stories to tell. In no particular order:
After adoring her 2015 album Loyalty, Tamara Lindeman’s Self-Titled and self-produced new album took several listens for me. This album is quite a departure. The sparse, calm and folkiness of her previous work has been replaced with an overwhelming sense of urgency, frustration and desperation. Her narratives at time seem almost suffocating. It only makes sense this album should demand several listens. These are stories about the darkest corners of a relationship, they are also an incredible view into this brave woman’s growth as a songwriter with a clear vision all her own.
Susanne Sundfor is a Norwegian popstar, a pretty big deal, in fact. Luckily for us stateside, Bella Union brought her new album Music For People In Trouble to us, as this was my introduction to her music. Anyone previously into her Knife /Fever Ray-inspired synthpop will be amazed to hear this gorgeous and stark folk album, inspired by some of her earliest influences; Carole King, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell. At many times it is just Susanne’s voice accompanied by a guitar, piano, clarinet… Her songs are introspective, fatalist, dark and honest. She wrote this album after traveling the world, writing from a place of loss, truth, humility and rebirth. She floats through love, lost love, politics, the end of the world, destruction of the environment… you know all the comforting familiarities of modern life. When she layers instrumentation and brings in the pedal steel, it feels like the aural equivalent to being enveloped in a warm blanket, hoping to stay under for a long slumber.
Big Thief’s second full-length was an incredible surprise. Not a polished change of stride, rather a deeply intense and dark look inside and to the past. The music is still intricate and dissonant, but the bold storytelling is what affects the listener most. Adrianne Lenker has a lot to share, it comes pouring out in the most incredible way. Carnal, intimate and painful, I love this album, nearly as much as their first. Their stripped down live performance at the Valley Bar this year was also one of the most important shows I attended.
Mavis Staples collaborates a third time with Wilco mainman Jeff Tweedy. I’ve loved all of their albums together, but this one is easily the most timely of the bunch. Staples sings of outrage and tension. Though these songs are penned by Tweedy, there is no doubt about collaborative efforts. She sings with utmost passion, all the while delivering the mood with patience and most of all, love. There is no one better to hear this from than Staples, a 78 year old veteran to the music scene, a Gospel stalwart and civil rights heroine. The music this time around is tight and minimal leaning more toward funky than gospel.
Upon first listen, this album reminded me so much of early Feist. Not surprising, being on Arts and Crafts. You may remember Rose as the voice from Bombay Bicycle Club. She has a voice years beyond her age, lyrics too, which were heavily inspired by a humbling solo trip around South America, playing shows and finding her self.
Jessica Lea Mayfield – Sorry Is Gone [ATO]
Land Of Talk – Life After Youth [Saddle Creek]
Rolling Blackouts C.F. – Talk Tight [Sub Pop]
Metz – Strange Peace [Sub Pop]
Chicano Batman – Freedom Is Free [ATO]
Slowdive – Self-Titled [Dead Oceans]
Kevin Morby – City Music [Dead Oceans]
Froth – Outside (Briefly) [Wichita]
Kimber Lanning – Stinkweeds Owner
Brooklyn’s Big Thief produced my favorite record of the year. Just the song ‘Mary’ on its own is one of the best I’ve heard in ages! Fronted by songwriter Adrianne Lenker, the songs are dark and personal with hauntingly beautiful vocals. Capacity is their second release, which is significantly more interesting than their debut, Masterpiece. The songs range from gloomy and dreamy, with delicate folk overtones, to intense fury but all retain imagery of her abusive family history. This is as personal as personal gets.
In my mind, Slowdive represents the height of the British shoe-gaze phenomenon, and I’d put their 1992 masterpiece, Souvlaki, in my all-time favorites. Generally, when a band disappears for 22 years, I have little interest in hearing anything new. I stand corrected. After 22 years of silence, Slowdive released a remarkably relevant and powerful record that will win over new audiences while dazzling those of us longing for their trademark sound. This is a beautifully produced, stunning collection of songs that honestly made me giddy with joy.
So much talent coming out of Brooklyn today- Kevin Morby, formerly with Woods, delivers his first release with a full band. Guitarist Meg Duffy is a highlight for sure- simply stunning character of musicianship and a stellar performer as well. This is Kevin’s fourth LP, after Harlem River (2013) Still Life (2014) Singing Saw (2016) which all sound very lean by comparison. Fans of Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnet, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, take note.
At the risk of dating myself, I had to include a second old English band in my top 5 this year because, like the Slowdive LP, this record simply stands above the din. I am partial to the muffled voices and wall-of-sound guitar washes of this early 90’s sound, but Ride has a new take on it that left me feeling hopeful.
Fronted by Dylan Baldi, Cloud Nothings hails from Cleveland and had the good fortune to have their Myspace account viewed by a New York promoter who asked if they’d be interested in opening for Woods and Real Estate. At the time, the band was one of many solo projects put together by Baldi. This opportunity motivated him to put a band together and shortly after, drop everything else to pursue music, full time. Since then, Cloud Nothing has released 5 albums and each keeps that energetic sound and spirit of the kid who’s only audience was Myspace.
Dario Miranda – Stinkweeds Long Time Employee and Main Blog Writer
This year, I focused on thoughtful change and invention. All of these artists proved that changes can be made in the context of the familiar, to create something unique and inspiring.
Relatives In Descent appeals to the darker side of my taste. The heaviest music in my collection shares a similarity in their dissonant dynamics. I like heavy, but I also love chord structure and melody. There’s a subtle art to making music that is biting and energetic, yet maintains a clear sonic landscape. I’m not a fan of giant crashing waves of sound. I want the violence under the surface, where tension is not given to fully release. This is mostly achieved through instrumentation, but lately, I’m finding this tension in some very charismatic singers. Like Tim Darcy of Ought or Ben Shemie of Suuns. Joe Casey is perhaps the most personality-rich front man I’ve witnessed in a long time. This is less a result of effort and more for the seemingly lack of effort he puts into his words and vocals. This isn’t to say it’s lacking in any way. His lyrics could be described as “stream of consciousness” which he may even refer to in the opening line of the first track, speaking “Not by my own hand. Automatic writing by phantom limb.” Casey’s delivery has a very “working class” feel to it. Almost more of a mad ranting than poetic lyricism. His lyrics make reference to power struggles and injustices in our society, in very direct ways, but are followed by strange references, ranging from Greek philosophers to stories of Elvis seeing God in the clouds, to occasional mad babbling. What makes all of this worth listening to is the energy in which he delivers these words and the almost Thelonious Monk-like way he delivers melodies, mostly spoken with a lazy rhythm that almost doesn’t hit the mark, but manages to, every time, with the occasional musical moments clearing the tension for just a bit. The band creates the perfect abstract background for Casey’s words and voice, with a solid post punk aesthetic, resembling bands like The Fall or more recent bands like Parquet Courts. All of this is to say that Protomartyr is a tough nut to crack. Much like their home town of Detroit, Michigan, their music is complicated, gloomy, beaten down, yet full of an energy that can rise up through the rubble, pissed off and ready to roll up its sleeves, whether it be for the fight ahead, or to dig in the dirt to bury or rebuild.
Tim Darcy – Saturday Night [Jagjaguwar]
Metz – Strange Peace [Sub Pop]
Although Lean Year was a project I had to work for, I was immediately intrigued on first listen, drawn to the slow pacing, quiet jangly guitars, stings, horns, mallets on drums and melancholy vocals. These are all in keeping with a kind of music that I’ve loved longer than any other kind of music. I’m reminded of artists like Low or Tara Jane O’neil and others that ride that line between folk and minimalism. But, considering this for one of my favorites took a little more than a casual listen. Sometimes music inhabits multiple levels. There is an audible surface level, where the most palpable ideas of melody, hook, rhythm are prevalent. Just underneath this, there are intricacies of color and shape, still audible, also very palpable, but a little more abstract. Then, there is an almost intangible space that is more conceptual. This space is reserved for the albums that are created by those with a true sense of concept and a love for sonic discovery. My favorite albums are the ones that draw me into this space.
The result of Emilie Rex leaving her life in academia, teaming up with collaborator and film maker Rick Alverson, the music is as complete and well executed as you would expect from such a team. Having already conquered demanding and competitive careers, but choosing to put their energies elsewhere, I imagine they would tackle this project with the same drive that made them successful in other ventures. The ideas on Lean Year are confident and clear. The music is quiet and thoughtful, but retains an energy that comes from brilliant arrangements and some of the most compelling audio engineering I’ve heard in a while. Some artists may pile a million ideas into an album, in the hopes that something will stick. But, Rex and Alverson seem to use their ideas more sparingly and with a maturity that comes from the clear vision and execution you might expect from the marriage of academia and film.
This is a debut album and as such, it has that energy that comes from anticipation of ideas realized for the first time and that uninfluenced artistry that fades with fame and recognition. But, there is a maturity to Lean Year that is not often seen in a debut album. Their canvas was as wide as any for a new artists, bursting with ideas. But, their tools were well worn and familiar. This is a testament to the idea that music can mature with the musician.
Other albums/artists these words could apply to:
-Sam Amidon – the Following Mountain [Nonesuch]
-Jane Weaver – Modern Cosmology [Fire Records]
-Sivu – Sweet Sweet Silence – [Square Leg Records]
Similar artists in the Hip Hop/R&B Genre
Jamila Woods – Heaven [Jagjaguwar]
Shabazz Palaces – Quazarz Born on a Gangster Star [Sub Pop]
Solange – A Seat at the Table [Columbia]
In the past I found his music a bit irreverent and slightly unrelateable for a fella in his mid 30s. His “devil may care” lyrics didn’t quite resonate with me. I’m on the cusp of Gen X and Millenial. I’m well versed in cynicism and hope. I like a little grief in my music. Well, it seems our golden boy has a little grief in his life, like everybody else. I was recently described as “grumpy but in an oddly positive way.” I do like positivity and fun. Perhaps all Demarco’s music needed to grab my attention, was a little grumpiness.
Other Albums I vibe’d out on, this year:
Other Artist who shared very personal stories, this year:
Jeff wears many hats when it comes to Stinkweeds. He is Psyko Steve’s right hand man, booking bands and doing whatever else needs to get done at the Rebel Lounge and all the other venues where they put on awesome shows; He was a part time employee at Stinkweeds for a couple years (he tried to leave, but we just keep putting him to work) and now he is our personal tech guru because we’re all out of touch Gen Xers who can’t figure out how to work these damn computers. But most importantly, he’s a longtime Stinkweeds customer and friend to us all.
Very short and sweet release from members of Porches, LVL Up & more – this album is full of to-the-point, extremely catchy guitar pop.
This record is the chillest on this list – this band came out of nowhere (the group was actually initially formed as a joke) and released this totally solid album of atmospheric, slow, almost “shoegaze” alt rock that I highly recommend.
Pile does it again – these guys are consistently putting out super powerful and unique rock n roll with a whole lot of character.
My favorite aggressive record of the year. This album is full of crazy ideas and tons of energy – recommended for banging your head against a wall to.
Omni strikes again with another excellent record just 13 months after their last! It has been a pleasure getting to see this band play multiple shows in town this year.
Lomelda – Thx
Chad Vangaalen – Light Information
Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent
Girlpool – Powerplant
Big Thief – Capacity
Palm – Shadow Expert
Tera Melos – Trash Generator
All Them Witches – Sleeping Through The War
Mt. Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me
Alvvays – Antisocialites
Paula is a long time customer, a local musician and the newest member of the Stinkweeds team! With her, she brings a deeply rooted love for our little shop, that Stinkweeds music explorer’s spirit, a sunny disposition and a love for music that hits deep in the soul. But most importantly, she’s always up to chat about music!
This album gave me a similar feeling to that of a sneeze that just won’t come. Not to the same level of pure discomfort, but in the sense that I was on the verge of tears throughout the album and yet they never came. There were countless moments where I would put my head into my hands and wait, but no tears fell, nor even formed. Due to personal circumstances, when first listening to this album I was completely knocked over. I laid supine on the floor, the waves of synth pads and beats washed over me and a voice rang out clear as a bell. This voice collected my experiences and sang them back to me, but I could not cry. That is because the voice was also hopeful at times. There was a sense of security throughout the album, because for some reason Bazan decides to give us hope. In his song “Make Music”, he supplies a more danceable beat, but the content couldn’t be more somber. With this song I sank deeper into the abyss, but not two songs later he comes back with a more simplistic piece that has a little melody in the background that sounds like it’s coming from a music box. This song, titled “Inner Lives”, had me opening my eyes with wonder and a spark in my heart. He takes a simple moment: a woman he used to know is making him coffee in the kitchen and he sits and tells a joke without thinking. She laughs and suddenly he remembers who they were. It’s so pure and heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time. In this small moment we remember how much we can mean to another human and yet there are just enough differences that must keep us apart. The question this album leaves me with is one that can never be answered, just like that sneeze I’ll never sneeze, or those tears I’ll never shed.
From what I know of the album’s creation and intent, Sollee and some remarkably talented individuals took to a cabin in Kentucky in order to explore different genres of music that helped hone and inspire early American music. This album certainly does justice to the idea. The instrumentation alone hearkens back to another time, and in the middle of it all is Sollee’s cello. The album is a fun and enjoyable experience: easy to dance to, entertaining to listen to, and it certainly opens one’s eyes to a style of music that doesn’t circulate too much these days. I really love how Sollee and Co. are able to add modern enough twists to these songs so that they don’t just recreate music that’s already been out there for a while, but they take that music and transform it enough so as to honor it but still bring some creativity as well. The album also has its peaceful moments, like in “Pieces of You”. This song rings a bit more true to Sollee’s solo work but the string arrangements take it to another time when they enter the song, which is more sparing but definitely quite effective. Like I said before, it’s easy to dance to, so that’s usually what I’m doing while listening.
So I’m kind of breaking the rules (no pun intended) with this one, because it’s not on a label, and it’s not an album that can even be purchased in our musical mecca, but thanks to the powers that be I was allowed to add this album to my list. Breakers are a local band from Charlottesville, VA. Ever heard of it? It’s where Dave Matthews is from. That’s pretty much all most people know about it, if they know it at all. I found out this past summer that it’s also a very rich musical hub full of some remarkably talented individuals and bands! This band in particular caught my interest. The name of the album is actually based off of the Twilight Zone episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”. Lead singer, guitar player and songwriter Lucas Brown knows exactly what he’s doing. With a voice that reminds me of Julian Casablancas, though a bit more soothing, and a songwriting style that nods to Bach while still keeping things rocking was such a pleasure for me to experience. Brown’s lyrics are so vulnerable and yet so powerful. He also knows how to add romantic elements without overdoing anything: “I can’t find melody for my wind chimes but I can hear that silent symphony your breeze blows to my ears.” Perfection. To me, the track “Wild Violet” speaks the most to the title of the album, and is in fact one of my personal favorites. Let’s all hope that someday these gents find themselves a label to hop on so we can all partake in their music.
Maybe it’s because I also wasn’t made for these times but damn do I love this album! Jim James, you took the past, sang a few songs, twirled your mustache and now we have this little piece of work. First off, I think the instrumentation on the album is genius. The overall simplicity of it is perfect, especially as it gave James’ fun little “ooohing” tangents a real chance to glimmer in the atmosphere. Also the amount of reverb applied to his vocals really gives the album a feel from another time. The drenched vocals and octave tom-foolery in my favorite track “Midnight, The Stars And You” really gets you good the first time around. Perfection! I have to say that this is all typed with a smile on my face, because that’s what happens when I listen to this album. I can’t wipe the grin away. It’s great! I also highly enjoy his choice of covers for this collection. Jim James, you did a fine job. Thank you.
I have to take another somber turn. This album takes out your heart and makes you give it a good hard look. It reminds you of all the pain you’ve felt and pain that you might not have even experienced yet, but you can still almost feel like you already have. Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie) lost his wife to cancer in 2016. This album is his experience with the aftermath. It’s not going to feel good when you listen to this album, but it will make you feel real. It forces you to look through the world through his eyes, and it’s a sad world. But again, it’s a real world. I get so caught up with worrying about this and that, wondering who is or isn’t looking at my Facebook, my Instagram, wondering what I can post next that will get the most likes, and in the middle of all the chaos of this insanity I forget to just live. This album was a huge wake up call. It had me calling my loved ones, or just sending them a simple text telling them “I love you.” Though Elverum “doesn’t want to learn anything from this” I have learned so much from him. Elverum again utilizes a sparse arrangement to his pieces but his lyrical content and melodies take my attention so much that I wouldn’t even have really noticed if there was much more going on. With stabbing honesty he sings what life is like 11 days later with a one and a half year old daughter.
We care so much about things that don’t matter, we hold on to things that don’t matter. Thanks to A Crow Looked At Me, I remembered what matters.
Music saves me daily. I don’t doubt much different for my fellow contributors, and all the folks reading this—especially this year, when so much has happened in our nation and world, stoking hatred, division, and inequity. But this year, as I say every year, music was better than ever: more diverse, more spirited, more unique, more creative, and more purposeful. If you don’t think good music is being made in any given year, you gotta listen more closely.
A time and place record for sure, and one that will forever remind me of 2017. I’ve been a fan of the Crutchfield sisters for several years now, but I have to say this is my favorite release from either of them yet. Filled with the fuzz and warmth and angst they’ve become known for, this record shifts into a focus on enveloping synths, and thoughtful changes of pace for a record that is compelling throughout. From the warm sonic embrace describing a cold departure of “Broad Daylight,” to the bop-along of romantic uncertainty of “Dean’s Room,” to the Swearin’-esque drive of “The Marriage” which touches on lines and themes from across the record, this release has something for each mood of a breakup and newfound independence. It came to me at a huge point of transition in my year, and my life, when I happened to find myself in New York the weekend of the album release party—starting that very night, my year pivoted sharply into a place of taking greater risks and trying ever-so-hard to embrace confidence. Here’s to starting fresh from the rubble.
The most important band in pop-punk returns with their best record yet. I was proud to host this band on their album release tour in October at the Trunk Space, and it was honestly the best show I have ever booked—a packed, excited crowd for every act on a late Friday night, and with competition across the Valley to boot! The band’s singer/songwriter Lauren has been perfecting the personal/political anthem for years across this band’s discography and their previous project, The Measure(sa). So it comes as no surprise they are writing songs for fighting and loving in just this moment of our history. Reflecting on what being a closeted queer person means in Springsteen’s Jersey in “The Possibility,” or one’s place in the Revolution in “What We’re Up Against,” Lauren’s way with words and melodies strikes to the ambivalence and conviction of being a political human in a highly-personal world.
Another booking discovery! Hosted these fine folks on their first tour to SXSW in spring 2016, and was positively delighted to hear of their debut full-length, and major support tours of Rozwell Kid and Citizen putting them on the map for 2017. Perhaps the least “serious” record on my list, this record’s sick riffs, hilarious lyrics, and general laconic attitude betray a need for some amount of escape, even when you’re filled with self-doubt. Listen to a song called “28 J’s Later” and tell me again that you don’t wanna jam?
2017 was my year of jazz—a profound number of timely, boundary-pushing, intelligent jazz records rocked my world this year, and showed a form filled with a fresh dose of DIY vitality. This record first caught my attention for being released on the best label in the world, Don Giovanni, and featuring a 2016 favorite, Philly noise-rapper Moor Mother (nee Camae Ayewa), on vocals. Formed out of a single, charged live jam as part of Musicians Against Police Brutality, this group’s driving, appropriately-chaotic, brassy instrumentals propel Ayewa’s vitriolic and invective free-verse poetry forward in a manner I could not stop paying attention to, and learning from. I hope so many more do the same.
Alt-rap’s most humorous voice has always had more to him than initially meets the eye. On his breakout, “Dark Comedy,” this in-the-pocket rapper drew me with self-conscious jabs inward, alongside comic-book and wrestling references, and a penchant for deep honesty and sincerity. After a collab with producer Paul White featuring many of the same elements, Michael Eagle turns to his own history—creating a social-realist graphic-novel world inside the former Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, which housed thousands, including Eagle himself before its demolition about a decade ago. The raps convey the interchangeable vibrance and fear which held this massive public housing project together, underlaid with a deep feeling of betrayal at both the CHA and federal government’s gross negligence which turned these housing lifelines into punchlines for a nation long accustomed to ignoring inner-city PoC communities. Instrumentals remain restrained, as per Eagle’s M.O., forcing one to listen more closely to the stories being told, and I recommend we do.
Honorable Mention: Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me [PW Elverum & Sun]
I listened to this record barely a half-dozen times this year, but not for lack of its brilliance and power. Phil Elverum possesses a lengthy resume of records conveying the mood, atmosphere, and environment of his lifelong home in the Pacific Northwest. But after a widely-publicized cancer fight for his spouse Genvieve, we find Elverum reflecting on unthinkable grief, fear, and resolve: to raise a daughter alone, to continue life, to live in a world once inhabited by your perfect complement. It’s a dubious honor to produce the most profound and accurate lyrical and musical portrayal of death and grief, but it’s one that hopefully keeps us remembering what love is like, and how we can attempt to heal and care for our families.
Jason is one of our new contributors to the end of year list. When we were compiling names to include, he was one of the first to come up, since we usually don’t go more than a couple days before we see him. He always walks off with a stack of the best stuff, new and old.
OTHER ALBUMS OF NOTE:
Kendrick Lamar – Damn
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
Randy Newman – Dark Matter
The Replacement – For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s
Radiohead – OkNotOk
Sebastian is a long time customer who, even from a young age, has had stellar taste. He’s always happy to chat about what he’s listening to. This is our favorite kind of customer, because they are our best source for what’s new and good.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor will forever sit in high regard as one of my favorite musical projects. I may have shed a tear with the first announcement of this record. I I then grinned as I read the list of ‘grand demands’ which appeared on the press release for the album (see: ‘an end to foreign invasions,’ ‘an end to borders,’ ‘the total dismantling of the prison-industrial complex,’ ‘healthcare, housing, food and water acknowledged as an inalienable human right,’ ‘the expert fuckers who broke this world never get to speak again’). Mind you, this is the band who gave the entirety of their $30,000 Polaris Music Prize for their album Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (2012) to the effort of building music education programs in Quebec prisons. Not to heap praise, but while I plow the field, let me say that this may be the one of the most remarkable Godspeed releases to date. As, if not occasionally more, devastatingly beautiful (‘Anthem for No State’) than the other pinnacles of GY!BE’s catalogue. Luciferian Towers is more driving and deliberate than anything else released since they reunited earlier this decade. From the whirling flute on “Undoing a Luciferian Tower” to the massive climax of “Anthem for No State” – it is a pristine Godspeed record. Suggested Track: “Christian Zeal and Activity” composed by John Adams (performed by the San Francisco Symphony) [from The Chairman Dances]
A two-track, 43-minute album – A Shadow in Time carries a eulogy for the late-David Bowie [For David Robert Jones] and its companion piece, the title track of the release. Both of which appear as uniquely Basinski-driven compositions. The strongest side of the release, ‘For David Robert Jones’ moves with a singular backbone of a collapsing 10-second loop for a solid quarter of the length of the track before introducing an archival recording of Basinski moving towards a saxophone to carry through the final 14-minutes of Side A. Though I regard ‘For David Robert Jones’ to be the highlight of the record, such would never be meant to speak ill upon the title track. Holding a near 15-minutes of slow ascendance before releasing into a Satie-motivated piano loop – it is remarkable in its own right.
Lucier has spent the last many decades composing pieces which musicalize physical spaces, brainwaves, inert piano wire, etc. Illuminated by the Moon brings together some of these works and others composed throughout his career, a retrospective on one of the most academic composers of recent memory. Discovering Lucier in the way which many might, via his landmark ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’ [which is included in this release], provides a brilliant jumping-off point for the rest of his catalogue. To describe an element of the theory which constitutes Lucier’s work – ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’ begins with a didactic breakdown of the ‘rules’ of the piece, describing that the words being spoken at that present moment would be recorded and played back into the room again-and-again. What results is a slow disintegration of the effective-mantra of the work as the resonant frequency of the space, in which the recording occurred, gradually reveals itself until all else is lost. For fans of experimental music, sound art, or minimalism – this is a must-listen.
I would have described myself as a passive [Thee] Oh Sees fan for many years; I spent as much time with The Dream as possible but never ventured much further. Then I saw the band live for the first time at the Crescent Ballroom earlier this year and was sent into a frenzy; they have absorbed the last few months of my life. Orc lives with a type of Goblin’s Suspiria-toned patterning – filled with abrasion, fogginess, muddied vocals, hints of relief – while maintaining an undying presence of something uncomfortably sinister.
There may not be any Crystal Cat-era eruptions of sound and energy on Rat Film, but for that very reason, this is easily the most fascinating progressions of an artists’ sound that I have discovered this year. First, credit to the rats whom helped compose this soundtrack, praise be onto those scampering theremin-manipulators. Moving through this soundtrack, the strictly-patterned assembly of sound which is present is reminiscent of work by Arnold Dreyblatt & The Orchestra of Excited Strings; compulsive in its relentlessness. It would be impossible not to find some Philip Glass ecstaticism woven into the DNA as well. Returning to the note of progression, though the subject of the work is clearly different in moving from the continuum of …Bromst-America-Glass Riffer into a specified soundtrack recording, Dan Deacon has never utilized patience, air and reward in the means which he does in Rat Film. It’s monumental in a way entirely separate from the engulfing, exhilarating works of Deacon’s catalogue.
The ‘Reissue’ List:
Ryo Fukui – Scenery [Nadja]
Michele Fedrigotti / Danilo Lorenzini – I Fiori Del Sole [Song Cycle Records]
Don Cherry / Masahiko Togashi – Song of Soil [Tiger Bay]
Pharoah Sanders – Jewels of Thought [Anthology]
The Descendants Of Mike And Phoebe – A Spirit Speaks [Everland Jazz]
Jason Baker is a longtime customer who has always jumped around genres and styles of music, with the one common factor that everything he buys is among the best in its kind.
When I first listened to this album, I didn’t really get it. It wasn’t until I listened to a Song Exploder interview with Robin Pecknold, where he said, “I wanted this song (“Mearcstapa”) to feel like a Beach Boys song with a Can song being played on top it.” After that, I got the album, and enjoyed it more and more after each listen. The lyrics and tempo of the album, feel like being on a boat out at sea. There are several references to the ocean, throughout the whole album. Sometimes the ocean is unpredictable, sometimes it’s choppy, sometimes you’re not sure what direction you’re heading, and sometimes you just need to sit back and enjoys its vast beauty.
Editors Note: This Fleet Foxes Video was choreographed by former Stinkweeds Employee Steven Reker!
I loved this album from the very first listen. If you like reverb-drenched bedroom pop, this is your album. There is enough variation throughout its sixteen tracks that you’re never bored. From the stuck in your head melody of “Look Away” or the wobbly guitar line in “Sarah.” It’s been months since this album has been released and I still can’t get it out of my head.
I have to admit, I’ve never heard of Acetone, until Light in the Attic put out this anthology. The music is kind of “surf jangle” and maybe that’s why it got overlooked, in the early 90’s, under the grunge wave. They were handpicked by artists like, Spiritualized & Mazzy Star, to be the opening act on their respective tours. They even signed with Neil Young’s, Vapor Records. Unfortunately, the band suffered some personal tragedies and drifted relatively unnoticed out to sea.
TW Walsh was a key member in Pedro the Lion. He also worked with David Bazan again on the Headphones album. Walsh has said that Terrible Freedom is “about fear and liberation, space and time, the self and the mind.” My favorite track is the opening track, “My Generation” with some of the most insightful lyrics of the year, about crushing oxys in your smoothies. The song really captures the dwindling attention spans of 2017.
I only know about this album because I’m an Elliott Smith devotee. Anytime Elliott’s name is used in comparison, I have skepticism. Bridgers is also a Smith super fan, and this time it’s a good thing. There are some really melodic songs like, “Scott Street”, “Smoke Signals”, and “Motion Sickness”. Well actually, the whole album rattles in your head for days.
Iris is a longtime customer and a previous contributor to our Top 5 list. She is also one of the most active music fans in this city. You’re likely to see her at shows, sometimes on multiple nights of the week. She also frequents most of the festivals at home and around the country. She has a knack for recognizing talent in a live setting, informing a lot of her record shopping decisions. This is what dedication and passion looks like!
“Another year, another best of write up. I’m always looking for albums that make me feel and think… that sympathize and empathize and have me contemplating and clearing my head. The five albums below are the ones that were in highest rotation with the strongest effect on me, both recorded and sometimes live.”
A sophomore album that shines bright despite its brevity—truly, Alvvays kicked the second album expectations out of the park with this gem. Their work has always felt youthful—like the song “Not My Baby,” the idea of not feeling present and doing whatever one wants—not caring at all is captured. This vibe made me believe the group was younger than they are, but alas they are on their way to their thirties. Molly has always sounded like an old soul and a lot of the album sounds like reflection on past relationships. “Dreams Tonite” paints imagery of a love long past and a meeting in the now that poses the question: “If I saw you on the street, would I have you in my dreams tonight?” and almost like a response, “In Undertow” answers: “There’s no turning back.” I can honestly say that their sold-out Valley Bar concert was my favorite show of the year.
Listening to this record was like having a cup of tea and catching up with Jens as if he was a close friend… Jens’ conversational style of singing and his voice in general just have that intimate delivery—like it’s only meant for you. For me, the ends of the album made a strong impression on me. “To Know Your Mission” is a song that really had me contemplating my own mission, having come to a turning point in my life. The last song, “Dandelion Seed,” despite being melancholy, just washes a sense of calm over my often-worrisome heart with its last lines: “The wind is like a string section…”
Can I Be Michelle Zauner? She’s an inspiration with all the creative output pouring from her… making music and performing it live, directing music videos, writing a book, even making an RPG. Her latest efforts, ‘Soft Sounds from Another Planet,’ comes complete with many a tour date, a multitude of videos, and the RPG I mentioned? It’s a game inspired by the album in the vein of games of the 90’s like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest—and if you complete the mission, you are rewarded big time! Seriously, if you haven’t played it already, head to the band’s website! I also have to say, I’m even impressed by their tour merch: Japanese style Chopsticks to go along with the band’s name. Now a bit on the music: The vibes vary song to song. The opening track, “Diving Woman,” is my favorite—if the album consisted of ONLY this track I would still pick it up. It has that 90’s vibe that takes its time to sink in—fittingly, as the song is inspired by Haenyeo, Female Divers of Jeju, Korea who are known to hold their breath for longer than the average. On the “Machinist,” Michelle gives a Polica delivery to a song about falling in love with a robot and the title track certainly sounds like the Ronette’s could’ve sung it. Despite the variances in song delivery, the songs still fit together nicely, like a puzzle completed.
I came in cold to Jenny O’s music when she toured with Tristen this year… and oh my, was she able to go straight to my thought-strings with her music. Peace and Information is an effort that is like a comforting shoulder in this often-unsympathetic world, with hardships and struggles featured, but hope sprinkled throughout—and not without a work for it message. On stage, Jenny looked like a young Carole King sans curls and her voice at times would sound Joanna Newsom-tinged. Check out the songs “Funeral for My Former Self” and “Intuition” and I’m sure you will feel like letting go and starting anew.
Despite the band’s name sounding as if it would be punk, loud and abrasive, their music output is quite beautiful. This is an atmospheric effort that as one listens to it, it becomes a sonic escape to a tropical land that is so lush and vibrant you can almost feel the humidity. I came upon this band via a pop up Ad whilst streaming a show on my iPad. The song “Siebenkas,” came on and was like a song played by the Pied Piper passing by and I had to follow him… like the smell of bread freshly baked, a cup of joe just poured, or fried chicken just fried, the wafting temptation of the music is undeniably strong. This record was my summer “go-to” for the tropical vibes.
Some 2017 artists to really rattle me up with a single tune are:
The Weather Stations “Thirty”
Lali Puna’s “Head Up High”
Maggie Roger’s “Alaska”
St. Vincent’s “Smoking Section”
Chad Vangaalen’s “Old Head”
Two 2017 Hit songs that mention riding buses:
Alvvays’s “Dreams Tonite” and Jay Som’s “The Bus Song.”
And lastly, some interesting music collaborations of note this year:
Sin Fang, Sóley & Örvar Smárason (of múm) Singles collaboration is a morr music trifecta of awesomeness compiled as Team Dreams just released this final month of year. Check out “Random Haiku Generator.”
Deer Hoof and Lali Puna’s very collaborative releases working with the likes of Juana Molina, Jenn Wasner, Laetitia Sadier and DNTEL… among others
Kurt & Courtney’s collaborative album was this year’s perfect pairing—just like Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam’s collaboration blew me away last year. I love that they decided to cover Belly’s “Untogether.”
Keith is a forever friend of the shop. His passion towards music is a true testament to the eternal reward that is music. To see someone come in as often as he does, for as long as he has, always with something completely new and fresh on his list, is proof that music can be an endlessly rewarding interest, even if your taste is as specific and eclectic as Keith’s.
While you won’t find the big mASSeduction record anywhere close to my list, you will find Ardor by Big|Brave at the very top of my list. My first experience with B|B was seeing them open for Sunn O))) at the Rialto in Tucson back in May of 2016. I’ve seen Sunn three times and they are an experience like no other, but this last time, Sunn didn’t consume my mind for weeks after their performance, their opener Big|Brave did. I had no idea what to expect with B|B’s set, but after experiencing their opening song/piece two things came to mind, Swans and Bjork. I didn’t realize it at the time but many have referenced those very same artists in describing B|B’s sound. But Big|Brave is so much more. Heavy guitars, but not presented in the traditional “metal” sense. You could say “post-metal” or “post-rock” but they’ve gone far beyond those descriptions. After seeing them live, Big|Brave’s sophomore album Au De La quickly became one of my favorite records from 2015. I’ve been anticipating the follow up ever since. Now that it’s here, they did not disappoint. Basically, I am asking you to go and listen to this record. I hope you like it. But if you don’t there’s always the butt record.
Slowdive is dear to my heart. I had been hoping for a reunion basically since their break-up in the mid 90s. In fact, I was one of the many geeks online about ten years ago suggesting (begging) for a reunion to many of the members of the band via social media and online chat rooms. We got our wish a few years ago. I got to see them play for the first time in 2014. It was everything I could have imagined. Complete bliss. Then they announced the new album. I was all at once thrilled and nervous (actually more like completely frightened) of the prospect of a new record. Especially when another one of my favorite bands My Bloody Valentine released their follow up to Loveless back in 2013 and I still find it completely mediocre and forgetful (call me a heathen). So by the time the record actually dropped, I had prepared myself for the worst. My initial thoughts upon listening to the new material were mixed but fairly positive. I enjoyed the sonic nods to Pygmalion that are subtle but layered throughout album. I very much enjoy (when it happens that is) Neil and Rachel’s vocal harmony (always have). I definitely miss the heavy sonic barrage (walls of sound) that lured me into their music to begin with (there are elements of it, but it’s all lacking when compared to their early EPs and Just For A Day). The overall sound of the album is very polished compared to their earlier material. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet. Still, I felt the album was good, especially after so many years apart. Since its release, I’ve pretty much listened to it at least once a week and over time it has been growing on me more and more. While this record will never reach the level of importance that their earlier output means to me, I see it as being an essential part of their discography. Definitely a welcomed return. I sure hope they come to Phoenix next time they tour the States. I’d also love to see them revisit the album that they discarded between Just For A Day and Souvlaki. Fingers crossed.
Fantastic post-punk hailing from Sydney, Australia. Their debut LP follows an excellent EP that was released last year (2016) on Funeral Party (great label that has released other excellent records by Soft Kill, Nothing, Night Sins, and local boys Draa). Standing At The Edge Of The World finds their sound evolving more – less hope, more despair. If you are familiar with one of my favorite current post-punk bands Soft Kill, the latest from Death Bells is worth a listen. If you fancy The Chameleons or other like-minded post-punk, this is definitely calling to you.
Another in the post-punk category, but now in a completely different realm. I imagine this record will be on a lot of end of the year lists and deservedly so. First time I heard Protomartyr I actually thought they were another band called Disappears. Similar “modernized” Joy-Division-esque music paired with vocals that bring to mind the likes of Nick Cave and Mark E. Smith. The more I listen to Protomartyr the more I actually prefer them to Disappears (although I’ll always love Disappears). The production on this record is fantastic. Everything is so clear yet blends perfectly. Musically, Relatives In Descent continues along the same road as Protomartyr’s previous three albums, which for me is very welcomed. I love their sound. Finally getting to experience them live a few months back at The Rebel Lounge really brought their records even more to life. Their music and lyrics are very bleak and foreboding. It’s definitely not easy listening but if you take the time and listen I believe you will find it very rewarding.
Aside from their misfortunate name, I made an instant connection the first time I listened to the “I.” EP sometime back in 2016 (on recommendation from a friend no less). I must admit though, that they had fallen off my radar by the time they released their debut album. It totally caught me by surprise (which is rare). I purchased it immediately without hearing any of it when I saw it in the bins at Stinkweeds (of course). I played it a few times but it didn’t resonate like the EP initially did. Still, I knew when they announced their tour, and that they were going to play Crescent that I had to go. And for anybody that was actually at that show, you know that it was a game changer for me. One of the best shows I attended all year. Cigs are able to re-create their album sound live perfectly. Their live sound paired with the film-noir visuals was completely mesmerizing. Seriously, like a Twin Peaks “Roadhouse” vibe going on. If you have tastes leaning towards Mazzy Star/Hope Sandoval, early Mojave 3, Slowdive, early Low or any dream-pop (in the traditional sense) I can’t recommend the record enough. It would have been a perfect evening had it not been for the whiny and talkative girls standing a few feet away from me (ugh, go away). Anyway, that aside, Cigarettes After Sex made me a believer. Plus, if you think about it, this is serious “make-out” music. At least I think it would be. That is if I made out… Anyway, they are playing The Van Buren in May. Get your tickets now.
Otto A. Totland – Lost (Sonic Pieces) Solo Piano
Widowspeak – Expect The Best (Captured Tracts) Best record yet!
Deafcult – Auras (Hobbledehoy) Australian Shoegaze
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – Vol. 1 (Rise Above) First Official Issue
Crescent – Resin Pockets (Geographic) Lo-fi goodness
Pia Fraus – Field Ceremony (Seksound) 1st LP in 10+ years!
Ride – Weather Diaries (Wichita) 1st LP in 20+ years!
Larry is a near-daily regular at Stinkweeds and is always up to lend a hand, if we’re anticipating a busy day. He knows what he likes. We know what he likes. And, his family and coworkers know we know what he likes. So, if you ever find yourself pulling his name out of a Secret Santa hat, just come to us. We know what to do.
“Thanks again to Stinkweeds for asking me to do this, and for being such a great record store!
2017 was a year of surprising albums for me. I feel like I did a lot less looking for albums and a lot more time saying to myself “Wow, I had no idea this even existed!” I travelled even more for work this year and this again afforded me lots of time to listen to music. Unlike prior years, this list was pretty easy to compile because the albums I loved, I really loved a lot. And, unlike prior years, I wasn’t second-guessing if every album on this list should make the Top 5. These are my top albums for 2017.”
I love this record so much. If this album were a person they would be annoyed with me for being so into them. I love the flaws as much as the strengths. I love the art work. I love the tuxedos. I picked up this record because everyone was so bummed they cancelled for Viva Phoenix and I had never heard of them. It’s been in constant rotation for me ever since. I even use this album as background music when I’m getting ready to talk to rooms full of people about agile software development. You should get it.
I have to say I was a little worried about this album when I bought it. This is a band that has a meandering long form jamming approach to music that sometimes leads to criticism that they are self indulgent. I’ve always felt that wasn’t deserved. It feels to me more of a “we love playing together as a band and we’re kind of impressed that other people like to listen to us, too” kind of vibe. In fact, Feelies albums that don’t have enough long from jams always feel disappointing to me. I was worried that this album wouldn’t have that feeling as their last two albums didn’t (at least not for me). Whatever you think of them, this is now one of my favorite Feelies albums. It’s hard for me to choose between this and Only Life as my favorite ever. The album wraps up with a 9 1/2 minute jam that just blows me away every time I hear it. It’s worth noting that despite their (incredible) first album coming out it in 1980, this is only their sixth record!
I was surprised and excited to find out BSS had released a new album. It’s been quite a long time, over 7 years. I found out because it was displayed at Stinkweeds. I immediately suspected this was some kind of greatest hits release. This album picks up right where they left off, like a conversation with an old true friend after a long lapse. Their emotional punch is fully intact, their wonderful catchy, while still complex arrangements haven’t lost a step and they still overwhelm with a wide variety of musical styles. Welcome back!
I don’t think I’ve ever listed an EP on my top 5 albums list, but this one is amazing and it has me very excited to hear new material. There’s been a whole lot of chatter about this band, especially after Elton John mentioned them. I heard about it via a text message from my friend in New Jersey that simply stated the date of their show at Valley Bar with strict instructions that I must attend. Everything about this band works well and it’s very unusual for a “first EP” to have such a mature sound. This band’s set a pretty high bar for their first full length release but I’ll bet they have no trouble nailing it. The show was wonderful by the way!
I can’t say enough about Spoon, to me they are one of rock’s great bands. I’d put them right up there with any legendary act you’d care to name. Hot Thoughts doesn’t go in any radically new directions but it has a punchier sound than they’ve had in a while. Somehow it reminds me of the unexpected bounce and swagger of their earliest records while sounding both more polished and more adventurous. This is a band at the top of their game, that seem to be able to take their music wherever they want, and somehow keep putting out albums that surprise and fascinate me. I can’t say they keep putting out albums that are better than their previous albums because their body of work is so impressive, their releases defy ranking. Every time I put on Hot Thoughts I start tapping my foot and the mood in the whole house kicks up a level. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of it.
Honorable mentions in no particular order:
Phoenix – Ti Amo [Glassnote]
Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math [ATO Records] (released in 2016 but new to me in 2017!)
Rolling Blackouts Coast Fever – French Press [SubPop]
Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound [Southeastern Records]
Minus the Bear – Voids [Suicide Squeeze]
Bash & Pop – Anything Could Happen [Fat Possum]
Frank is a long time customer and a repeat contributor to our Top End of Year lists. Go back through the archives and you’ll see a clear history of stellar music taste.
Lindsay NEVER fails me! Never heard of the band, she recommended them and I was blown away. Brutal, in your face post punk with a razor’s edge guitar style a la Big Black and Shellac. Albini would be proud. Oh wait, he produced the album! With each listen the tracks seem to rev up in intensity but what floors me are the hooks infused all over the place. This is one special disc.
Unbelievable that the next two bands on this list were faves of mine from the nineties, reappear in 2017 and drop albums exponentially better than most everything released by “current” artists! Slowdive was one of the most tranquil bands from the dream pop/shoegaze scene of the nineties and what impressed me about this album was if possible, the guitars shimmer even more intensely than on past releases! The dual vocal delivery of Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead is truly gorgeous but I just can’t stop focusing on those guitars! Did this album really come 22 years after their last release?
Another band from the classic shoegaze era of the nineties returns more than two decades later as well and in my opinion released what may the best album of their career. Ride’s last album before dissolving in 1996 was the dreadful Tarantula. Fast forward to November 2015 and the band blew the roof off the Crescent Ballroom in what I feel was easily the best show that year. Mark Gardener and Andy Bell put aside their differences and that creative magic came through once again on the astonishing Weather Diaries. Classic dream pop and shoegaze full of guitars that shimmer brilliantly. The first two songs may be the best two tracks of the year from any band, they are utterly stupendous. Bravo!
I actually used to own a copy of a cassette-only live cassette released by The Replacements in 1985 and as was typical with their live shows, the sound quality was just trash. You never knew what to expect when they took the stage. This live album was recorded on February 4, 1986 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey and finally sees the light of day 31 years later. It is classic live Replacements, plenty of rowdy covers but this set actually featured a lot of their early material through the Tim album and a very rough version of “Can’t Hardly Wait” that would end up on 1987’s Pleased to Meet Me. This is a fun 29 song double disc.
Six years is far too long to wait between releases but The Fleet Foxes made their third full-length another charming expedition into the genre of folk rock. They may possess the best harmonies in the business, still the driving force behind this solid band. “I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar” and “Third of May/Odaigahara” and personal favorites from this album, a disc that shows progression away from their previous two full-length albums.
Justin is a weekly fixture at Stinkweeds and the customer we’re most likely to run into at shows. He’s got an eye for live music photography and his taste ensures that those photos are going to be of the best musicians in the business.
If there was any conflict about Kung Fu Kenny being the best rapper alive, 2017 cemented his status as king. He chose Phoenix as the first stop of his DAMN. tour, and for all of those in attendance it felt a lot like you were watching Michael Jordan in his prime. During his performance of “HUMBLE.” Kendrick paused while the entire arena crowd recited back the lyrics word-for-word acapella for over a minute. He stood speechless for a solid couple minutes before showing his gratitude and running the track back from the top. This was one of the coolest things to witness live, and it gives me chills whenever I watch the video. While choosing a favorite song off DAMN. is no easy task, I found myself continuously coming back to “FEEL.”. It has that poetic flow that is uniquely Kendrick and the way he switches up his vocal tones just amazes me. Favorite Tracks: “FEEL.”, “HUMBLE.”, “PRIDE.”
I caught Kevin Morby at Valley Bar a few months back, and the moment he opened up with “City Music” I knew I was in for a treat. This guy can shred on guitar and is constantly drawing comparisons to Bob Dylan due to his singing/songwriting, which is an apparent influence. I love walking around the city listening to this album and getting lost in my own world. Favorite Tracks: “City Music”, “Tin Can”, “Aboard My Train”
I have to give a major shout out to my friend LiaFondo who turned me onto Nick Hakim. I’m a sucker for soul music and Hakim’s eclectic spin on it over hazy reverb and psychedelic guitar riffs made it an album I kept returning to over and over again throughout the year. Favorite Tracks: “Bet She Looks Like You”, “Cuffed”, “Green Twins”
I can’t even lie, I think I officially became a fan of Tyler, The Creator when I heard this album. Well, that statement is partially true. I’ve always liked him for the crazy/outspoken individual he is dating back to the Odd Future days, but his music never really vibed with me until Flower Boy. The track “911 / Mr Lonely”, which is technically a two-parter, was the first to grab me with one of the smoothest hooks of the year sung by Steve Lacy and a verse from Frank Ocean that makes me wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the recording studio. Another stand out track is “Boredom”, which features 19 year old London artist, Rex Orange County, who’s been gaining a lot of hype overseas and is definitely an artist to watch in 2018. Favorite Tracks: “911 / Mr. Lonely”, “Boredom”, “See You Again”
I could not put down the Mount Kimbie record, Love What Survives, this year. The UK electronic duo reunites with two of my favorite U.K. artists King Krule and James Blake for guest features. My favorite track off the album and arguably of the year is “Blue Train Lines” which feels more post-punk than anything Mount Kimbie has released. The track is led by Krule’s unmistakeable raspy vocals that build up over a pounding beat and finishes with an epic climax that makes you feel like you got dragged out of a mosh pit. Don’t believe me? Just give it a spin and you will know what I’m talking about. Favorite Tracks: “Blue Train Lines”, “Marilyn”, “We Go Home Together”
King Krule – The OOZ
Sampha – Process [Young Turks]
SZA – Ctrl [Top Dawg Entertainment]
Toro y Moi – Boo Boo [Carpark]
Thundercat – Drunk [Brainfeeder]
Yellow Days – Is Everything Okay in Your World? [Good Years]
Alynda Lee Segarra and HFTRR come of age to me with Navigator. The previous LP, Small Town Heroes showed a stronger affinity to her own songwriting skills, musically and lyrically. This song cycle or concept album goes further… way further and is a bit of a departure, moving from the past folk-country feel to more straight-ahead rock. Also, the subject of the songs couldn’t be more timely. Navi is her fictional immigrant character but also very much mirrors Segarra’s own life and experiences coming from a family of Puerto Rican immigrants. The stories are rich with images of the trials and tribulations of being an immigrant street kid growing up in America. Musically as noted, while folk feel is not completely abandoned, this is a more rock feel with plenty of Bomba and Salsa flavor. I’ve long been a fan of her great voice and this record feels like she’s reached a new level of confidence and skill, might just be the new creative direction that highlights her boozy croon. Songwriting is a major highlight, focusing on the assimilation of people and the warning of the consequences of shutting out others rings more true than ever, “They say ‘we’ll build a wall to keep them out’, and all the poets were dying of a silence disease, so it happened quickly and with much ease”, truth in song.
No sophomore slump here. Maybe it was the fact that these songs were
not the songs she wanted to write but as she states “the songs I HAD to write”, lyrically these are not only some of her best but rank with the best written this year. The song subjects are tough ones but she makes them accessible and her wonderful voice adds comfort to otherwise hard subjects. She even throws a funeral for herself (or former self), beautifully and gracefully I might add. Musically aided with the production work of the great Jonathan Wilson who brings his trademark vintage sound which fits perfectly with Jenny’s songs for this album. Every song is gorgeously delivered, I can’t say enough about her simultaneously subtle, soft and powerful voice. This was one of those (new artist, to me, new album) loved it on first listen, played it twice on my trip back up the “hill” (to Prescott) don’t ya love that, thanks L.C. for the turn on, (“remember that one that was playing last time i was here?!?” ha!) Pay attention all, something tells me this is just the start of more great music still to come from Jenny O.
On JMs 4th solo record, the full band takes on a more prominent role than ‘15s “High On Tulsa Heat” (also a great record) and this gives BBL more of a rock and bluesy feel than that previous album. For me it’s Moreland’s voice that demands center stage. A hearty and booming vox he sings with just enough grit and gravel to give each of these tunes so much depth and feeling, it really tugs at the heart and simultaneously makes you stomp your feet. While lyrically his tunes are pretty straight forward, mostly focusing on relationships, emotional scars, small towns and regret, but he seems to find something good in these situations, “We’ll open up Old Wounds in celebration, if we don’t bleed it don’t feel like a song”. 2017 had me on wide open roads lots and time and time again JM’s BBL accompanied the wheels on the asphalt, plenty of chugging beats, vivid imagery, stories and great hooks to boot. This record leaves me wanting more from John Moreland, here’s to hoping the trajectory continues up for this great songsmith.
Another great comeback album on my best of 2017 (see Bash & Pop in extended list), Jason Lytle came out of his literal hole, returned home, revived the band and recorded an excellent collection here. It’s a return to all the great hooks, crunchy but catchy guitar and analog synth tastiness, which of course perfectly cloaks JLs dark-centered lyrics. I can only summarize that a harsh divorce brings some introspect to the songs here, and a longing for companionship or lost love, or maybe even “things” (see The Boat Is in The Barn), a desperate attempt to keep the past alive. Not to worry, the old theme of impending technology over natural states rears up several times too, hear “A Lost Machine”. If the songs weren’t so centered around real thoughts and feelings you would think robots formatted the soundscapes or at very least had a play in it all, but then again that’s probably what Jason wants us to think. While it won’t sound too new to old fans like me, it’s a welcome return to something I once new and loved, which is ironic given much of this album focuses on the lost and never found (like the damn key to life I’ve never found).
Frank is our neighbor from Halo Piercing and a nightly fixture at the shop. We can always count on him for some good conversation, gossip about parking lot “situations” and some intense taste in music, ranging from dark folk, droned out stoner rock, classic rock and some of the best Metal bands on the market today. Happy to have him contribute to the Top 5, for the first time and for years to come!
“2017. Another year to reflect upon with sadness, gratitude, and handfuls of joy. I had to say goodbye to two of my beloved felines and it left my heart aching. I experienced nurturing a relationship with my partner which helped bring me joy. Life is a gift. And towards every year I spend time reflecting on the past. The ebbs and flows of existence. Intermingled there is a constant and that’s music. I enjoy music immensely. Listening to it. Collecting it. Physically showing up to see it in person. 2017 had some stellar releases I’ve been patiently awaiting. Now I will share what my top 5 are in no particular order.”
From the opening track titled “Utopia” it’s evident this album is HEAVY! Laden with ethereal and almost whispery vocals this female fronted band bombards your senses. Until this release I wasn’t too familiar with King Woman. The Doom genre of music is full of male vocals. So it’s refreshing hearing Kristina Eseandiari simultaneously crush and lull your eardrums. This album reminds me of being enveloped in smoke. There are some more mellow elements to this album as well that seem to soothe. Gentle strumming to help bring you down before being launched back into the ether. Fans of Windhand may enjoy this. Solid release!
Moon Duo is a band I accidentally discovered. And the label Sacred Bones, I began to find out, put out a lot of great music with a variety of different bands. Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 go hand in hand. I chose Vol. 1 for really no particular reason. Moon Duo is an electronic outfit who create a psychedelic tapestry of sounds. I find myself playing them at work a lot. They evoke a more playful vibe and have a “trippy” feel to them. My listening to electronic-inspired music is limited but something about this band always gets me fired up and ready to go on a cosmic journey to nowhere.
If you’re a fan of funeral doom and haven’t heard Loss, ya better get with it! This band just oozes sorrow and depression. Michael Meacham bellows and groans like a leviathan that has been trapped for eons and is finally being released to unleash chaos and demise. This is for those who like it slow and to hang their head low. I saw these guys live at a music fest in 2013 and they were by far one of my favorite acts. The riffs they lay down make you wanna weep and crawl into a hole and never see tomorrow. This release just feels like pain and anguish. If you like sad and sorrowful check this band out. If you ever find yourself face to face with the endless sleep, these doom riders will help you cross over into oblivion.
Fuck! Where do I start?! This album is a masterpiece. From cover art to packaging this album was one I could not wait to hear! Again this is pure fucking DOOM!! 2016 was the year that tragically Adrian Guerra left this physical realm. He was their original drummer. This album is like a funeral dirge. The first track is over 45 minutes long. At points it can evoke tears and you can feel the pain and anguish in your gut. A two-piece with no guitars. Just a bass and a drummer. Simple and crushing. I’ve seen these guys live numerous times and it’s entrancing to witness them perform. It’s dark and brooding. Like a long walk in the woods with no path in sight. Vocally throughout the album is a balance of anguished screams and also some soft caresses shared by both players. Thundering bass and drums blend it all into one spiraling descent.
I can’t lie. This is my most anticipated release of 2017. Wolves in the Throne Room are punishing. It’s like they have come out of hibernation and are savagely hunting for more nourishment. When I think of American Black Metal bands Wolves is on top. If there was music playing while Valkyries were gathering the slain to bring to Valhalla it would be Wolves! I’ve always appreciated their sound due to their reverence to nature and natural related themes. Praise and glory are feelings this release brings to mind. The opening track picks up pace like a furious steed. I recently saw them in Tucson and could barely move my neck the next day. Some guest vocals appear by Steve Von Till of Neurosis fame on this release. Keyboards add a broader sound to this album as well. Aggressive vocals and screams will be heard through out with some interludes of female vocals. Very well rounded and thought provoking album. If you enjoy listening to aggressive and untamed black metal then get this album. The gods will smile upon you as you hail these mighty heathens!
Kyle is one of the big players behind all the amazing things that Stateside Presents brings to our little town. Chances are, you’ve seen him at your favorite shows at Valley Bar, Crescent or the newly opened Van Buren. You can rest assured that these great venues are in the capable hands of someone who keeps up on their music and prefers to listen on vinyl, which we all know is the format of choice for the true music fan.
Probably my favorite record of the year. I went in with caution, because her 2015 release Sprained Ankle was one of my go-to records for the past few years since it came out. This record completely surpassed any expectations I had from this extremely talented 22 year old. Her haunting songwriting maintains completely accessible and her multi-instrumental talent really shows through on this record. Julien is such an incredible talent for such a young artist and I really look forward to seeing her career progress. Check out a show or watch any of her candid performances (Audiotree, Cardinal Sessions, NPR Tiny Desk) and you will be completely blown away.
Jake Ewald (of Modern Baseball)’s side project Slaughter Beach Dog has been one of my favorites ever since I found it. Billed as “to experiment with styles that didn’t fit within the well-defined territory of his former project” – Jake is an incredible songwriter and am so glad that these songs have a place to be released and enjoyed.