This year was a transformative time in music. Indie rose, hip-hop retaliated and past favorites either left us, or returned from their hiatus. Artists were willing to either experiment or strip-down their arrangements. Therefore, making a concise list of my top 10 albums was a challenge, but an interesting one indeed. The records I chose were based its resonance. Also, if it made me think on a new musical level. Whether it was lyrics, pushing musical boundaries, being a notable LP for the artist and/or defining meaning behind its madness. While there were other worthy contenders, these stood out on their own. Thanks to GIGsoup, I get to share them!
10 Father John Misty ‘Pure Comedy’
Here lies the woes of Father John Misty a.k.a. Josh Tillman. The evils of capitalism, contempt with religion and seethe for an entertainment industry he himself belongs to. To some, he comes across as profound. To others, he comes off as overly sardonic and pretentious. There are holes to his arguments in ‘Pure Comedy,’ and lack of diverse melodies. Yet, what makes it special is the undeniable wit behind it all. Clever and crafty, Tillman’s lyrics explores our human psyche. Just as the much as the world he prescribes. The listener could find themselves smiling one moment then teary-eyed, inspired, angry or relieved the next. It is often the craftsmanship of his words that lighten his brute opinions. The apocalypse he foresees in the Trump-era.
Hopefully, his ideal world will come to life. Maybe peace will come and the row he’s made with God will subside. Time shall only tell.
9 Yazz Ahmed ‘La Saboteuse’
When I first heard Yazz Ahmed, I knew instantaneously that she was a new and exciting find in the world of jazz fusion. Most are familiar with the circa 1970s kind of fusion. For example, Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew,’ and his alums who transitioned to Return to Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Here in ‘La Saboteuse,’ Yazz Ahmed incorporates the forgotten flair of fusion and her own Arabic background to create world fusion. She uses modal jazz and improvisations over Arabic scales. Also, she includes an atypical line-up of instrumentals to create her futuristic palette. Ahmed’s intricate melodies, FX pedals on ‘The Space Between the Fish and the Moon’ and her cover of Radiohead’s ‘Bloom’ define her composition abilities. It is amazing that ‘La Saboteuse’ is only her sophomore album. She is a jazz player that knows her stuff, and one to watch for.
8 Thundercat ‘Drunk’
The cosmic journey of ‘Drunk’ is what makes it special. It takes on the depths of the musical universe with splashes of ‘70s funk, jazz fusion, electro-soul, R&B, skater-punk tendencies (yes – the reference is real) and video games. The type of weird, yet satisfying concoction that only Thundercat can provide in 2017. He takes his comrades Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Wiz Khalifa, and long-time collaborator Kendrick Lamar (whose famous partnership helped create Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’) along for the space ride. Yet, hidden underneath the humor and strong musical métier, the album reveals an unnerving reality. Take for example ‘Jameel’s Space Ride.’ Even something as whimsical and Zappa-wonky, Jameel worries about if he’s ‘safe on my block’ and if ‘the cops will attack him ’cause [he’s] black.’
For all these reasons, ‘Drunk’ is as deliberate as experimental, which is why it is part of my top 10 list.
7 Hurray for the Riff Raff ‘The Navigator’
Singer-songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra spent years hopping off freight trains and jamming on street corners. In 2017, she and Hurray arrived at her valiant ‘The Navigator,’ an endearing concept album channeling both her alter ego ‘Navita’ and Nuyorican-Americana roots. Segarra tells punk-kid Navita’s runaway story in twelve folk tracks that relish in other genres pertinent to its make-up. While the protagonist aims to escape her concrete jungle, Segarra reminds us what Americana is outside its usual scope. A minority trying to navigate her urban life, Segarra’s folk musical roots lies in the uproots of her own experiences. The America that she lives in today.
6 The Mountain Goats ‘Goths’
As someone who is obsessed with ’70s goth culture, I have long awaited for someone in the music world to shed respect on the forgotten era. A “dark”-era defined by underappreciated Batcave legends such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Sisters of Mercy, Alien Sex Fiend and most importantly – Bauhaus. Finally in year 2017, comes indie outfit The Mountain Goats sixteenth album ‘Goths.’ For all goth and indie rock fans, this is a crystal diamond in the dozen. The band ditches guitars and hi-fi sounds for a piano as its focal point. Leader singer John Darnielle’s verses are cohesive, witty and entertaining. He retells the days of his early youth, being one of the velvet-crushed kids in the Long Beach clubs and listening to the Banshees on KROQ. After the years of paying for coke, he finally gets closer to his new reality. Getting older.
‘Goths’ tries to find lightness in the darkness the generation had created. Physical death will come to all, even to the older jet-haired lads that made it as an art-form. From the streets of Westminster to the West coast beaches, ‘Goths’ remains as its delightful opus to its past.
5 Gabriel Garzón-Montano ‘Jardin’
Chances are you’ve heard of Gabriel Garzón-Montano. His laxed, airy ballad ‘6 8’ was sampled in Drake’s ‘Jungle,’ a track that was featured in ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.’ In his debut ‘Jardin,’ however, Montano poises himself as a separate force of nature. The album was three-year project, and worth the wait. Like the buzzing bees and blossoming flowers of a garden, Montano delivers an escapist experience that exudes lush and space. He uses ’60s psychedelic grooves and light melodic embellishments of funk, synth-pop and R&B to convey the message. Unlike other releases this year, the record stands-out for its soft reproach of genres in a finer grain. Tracks like ‘Fruitflies’ and layered ‘The Game’ promise more from an artist starting to spread his wings.
4 White Reaper ‘The World’s Best American Band’
From the onset, the rock arena chants of the opening track are indicative of whats in store for ‘The World’s Best American Band.’ White Reaper does not disappoint in this album (nor have they thus far). There are few bands that can seamlessly mix rock-n-roll, punk and short cuts as their own. Not to mention bringing Tony Esposito’s well-crafted guitar solos. This was an enjoyable album to review back in April. The LP is solid in its architect, bold in its performance and angsty all the way through. Stand-outs include ‘Judy French’ and ‘Little Silver Cross.’ While it is debatable if they truly are ‘The World’s Best American Band,’ make no mistake they are worthy contenders nonetheless.
Link to my ‘The World’s Best American Band’ review here
3 Kendrick Lamar ‘DAMN.’
‘DAMN.’ That already describes it, doesn’t it? Even if I liked ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ featuring Thundercat, I was by no means prepared for ‘DAMN.’ It took some listenings to delve into the complexity of Kendrick Lamar’s prolific album. However, credit must be given where credit is due. Lamar is masterful storyteller, bringing context to the current state of America, and where he fits in it. Using his spit-firing rhymes, extensive beats and profound verses, ‘DAMN.’ articulates meaning for those who understand it. Or choose, I should say. Lamar jabs at police, snippets from media pundits and his past upbringings to refocus the narrative. He knows he’s under the public lens, and uses rap as a platform to dispel the notions of his fame.
There is no question that ‘DAMN’ will make history, even if it’s not given in a shiny, silver platter.
2 Nai Palm ‘Needle Paw’
Coming from Hiatus Kaiyote roots, frontwoman Naomi Saalfield (Nai Palm) shines with her magnetic, stripped-back and beautiful interpretative debut album ‘Needle Paw.’ She breaks down Kaiyote’s rousing and melodic vamps into a sizeable LP centralized on her undeniable gift. Her voice. Recreating the band’s tracks like ‘Atari’ and ‘Molasses,’ she shifts the lush and neo-soul narrative to a meaningful conversation.
However, her stand-out is ‘Crossfire/So Into You.’ The cut is an effortless crossover of her original work and Tamia’s 1998 hit ‘So Into You.’ She pays additional tribute to artists like in David Bowie in ‘Blackstar’ and Jimi Hendrix in ‘Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland).’ Palm embraces a title she always had, but was never fully realized before ‘Needle Paw.’ A true artist of her own accord, and at her most pivotal moment in her career.
1 Spoon ‘Hot Thoughts’
When I first listened to ‘Hot Thoughts’ to review for GIGsoup, I knew I was hooked. Spoon wins simply for what they do best, which is bringing solid, refreshing and consistent music on each record. Their catchy ninth album is no exception. The band dazzles in their manic opening ‘Hot Thoughts,’ that takes some funky nods from Prince. They take strolls around the park with their past work and other genres in smooth transitions. These include avant-garde jazz, industrial noise, glam-rock, dream-pop, indie and more. Yet, all the while making it sound as fluid and straight-forward as possible.
They always deliver in classic Spoon fashion. Maybe years from now, they will be regarded as one of the great and consistent rock acts of our generation. While it is a bold assumption, they have yet to disprove it otherwise.