2017 was a great year for music – as many musicians took up the mandate to go forth and create art that speaks to the mind, heart and soul in the face of a geo-political landscape being haphazardly ripped up by an infantile narcissist.
There were much-balleyhooed releases from Arcade Fire, Beck, Chad VanGaalen, Cold War Kids, David Bazan, Destroyer, The Drums, Fever Ray, Frankie Rose, girlpool, Guided by Voices, Jeremy Enigk, Johnny Jewel, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Kelly Lee Owens, King Krule, Lali Puna, LCD Soundsystem, Lorde, The National, Nick Hakim, Pallbearer, Phoebe Bridgers, Rostam, ShitKid, St. Vincent, Sweet Baboo, Thundercat, Vagabon, The War on Drugs, Why?, The xx, and Zola Jesus… but none of those are in my personal list of the top 15 albums of the year.
I listened to 119 albums in 2017 from almost as many different artists. Here, then, is my short list of the top 15 albums of the year:
15. Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)
I’ll sing it to you softly, it’s so terrifying
When I hold you like a flower
I hold you like an hour glass
I hold you like you’re the only thing I love
~ Flower Glass
Hand Habits is Meg Duffy. Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) is her first studio album.
14. Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson
Pop up goes the weasel
Bobby’s mind has thinned
And I’m the best dressed and they’re not
That sorry ’cause I never came out
~ Do Yourself a Favor
This album is named after Bobby Jameson, whose stage name was Chris Lucey. He was briefly a fixture of the protest music scene in the 1960s. His origins remained mysterious for many years, as he faded from the scene and became an alcoholic homeless bum. Eventually, he overcame the alcoholism and lived for the better part of 20 years in obscurity with his mother in San Luis Obispo County, CA, before launching a series of autobiographical YouTube posts, which he kept up until his death in 2015.
Ariel Pink is Ariel Marcus Rosenberg. Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is his 11th studio album.
13. Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift
As the mystery of the cross
Asa Lovejoy lost the toss
And the fountain in the rain
Where my sorrow still remains
So I run to my friends and lovers
I lay down my life for my brothers
As I abide in peace
So will my delight increase
~ The Greatest Gift
Sufjan Stevens’ devastating Carrie & Lowell was my top album of 2015. Here, he presents a series of outtakes, demos and remixes of songs from that album, along with one or two b-sides.
The Greatest Gift could be considered to be his 13th studio album.
12. Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
I hoped howling out all this truth
Would be liberating
But all the pity spills from the seams
And everyone questions the unseen
~ No Question
Waxahatchee is Katie Crutchfield. Out in the Storm is her fourth studio album.
11. Big Thief – Capacity
What did you tell me Mary
When you were there so sweet and very
Full of field and stars you carried all of time
Oh and heavens when you looked at me
Your eyes were like machinery
Your hands were making artifacts in the corner of my mind
Big Thief are Adrianne Lenker (guitar, vocals), Buck Meek (guitar), Max Oleartchik (bass), and James Krivchenia (drums). Capacity is their second studio album.
10. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
White oceans roar
A frightened fool stokes heatless fire
But if you need to, keep time on me
If you need to, keep time on me
~ If You Need to, Keep Time on Me
Fleet Foxes are Robin Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset, Casey Wescott, Christian Wargo, and Morgan Henderson. Crack-Up is their third studio album, and first full-length since 2011.
9. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
There’s no one old on Magic Mountain
~ Magic Mountain
Perhaps the most politically-charged album on my top-list. Father John Misty seems to have a lot to say about the worldviews which dominate our headlines today… only trouble is, it’s pretty nigh impossible to discern his own worldview from the content of his lyrics. Ah well, music can be largely subjective and I’m not too concerned with deriving meaning from it at every turn… but when the whole point of a record seems to be to make a kind of statement, perhaps it would help to be a little more concise. In any case, this is a record which captured and held my attention.
Father John Misty is Joshua Michael Tillman. Pure Comedy is his third studio album under the moniker.
8. Fletcher Tucker – Cold Spring
The world I long for stays hidden
Clouds shroud the gates
~ Buried on the Wind
Fletcher Tucker’s haunting, psychedelic-drone-folk album Cold Spring was assembled over the course of four years in Big Sur, CA. It is a beautiful record. See him in the album art, above? You may have to squint. Don’t take my word for it; instead, go and read Aquarium Drunkard’s excellent write-up.
7. Kevin Morby – City Music
Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy
They were all my friends… and they died.
Kevin Morby was the bassist for Woods and the frontman for The Babies before embarking upon a solo singer/songwriter career. City Music is his fourth solo studio album.
6. Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream
I’m gonna be someone tonight
~ The Money Gets Bigger
When consistency is pitted against talent, consistency is usually going to win. Happily, in the case of Trevor Sensor, we have someone with a consistent penchant for belting out raucous, crowd-pleasing power ballads AND the talent to assemble something new from the potholes and well-worn ruts of this road-most-traveled: rock music. His gravely, muppet-esque singing voice makes every song so much more world-weary and enjoyable.
Trevor Sensor is… Trevor Sensor? Andy Warhol’s Dream is his debut album.
5. Temples – Volcano
Standing up like a wild impala
Standing down like a weekend martyr
~ Oh the Savior
The U.K. has been the source for many of the world’s most storied and influential bands: The Zombies, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, The Kinks, The Who, The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, The Clash, The The, U2, Radiohead, Coldplay (gasp!), Elbow, Keane, Klaxons, Wild Beasts, Harry Styles- the list goes on! Temples should be added to that pantheon, ’nuff said.
Temples are James Bagshaw, Tom Walmsley, Sam Toms, and Adam Smith (not the Wealth of Nations guy). Volcano is their second studio album.
4. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister – Planetarium
Tell me I’m evil
Tell me I’m not the name of love
Tell me I’m evil
Tell me I’m not the face of God
Step aside, Gustav Holst, there are some new kids on the “music of the spheres” block. And they pray for us.
3. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
Cause if you swear that it’s true then I have to believe
What I hear Evangelicals say on TV
And if there’s enough left after everyone else
Then why, then why, then why not me?
~ Happy to be Here
Julien Baker’s spare arrangements, coupled with her Sunday-morning-service vocals and raw, deeply-personal lyrics, make Turn out the Lights a powerful record.
Turn out the Lights is Julien Baker’s second studio album. She is merely 22 years old.
2. Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017
I won’t run away no more, I promise
~ I Promise
20 years ago, Radiohead released OK Computer. 20 years later, the album still stands as a massively influential artistic achievement. The entire extra album’s-worth of b-sides solidifies its reputation as a legend.
Radiohead are Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Philip Selway (and also- shhhh- Nigel Godrich). OK Computer was their third studio album when it was originally released in 1997. Since then, they have released 6 more proper studio albums.
1. Bombadil – Fences
I raise up my binoculars and
I see everything everywhere
I see detail, of that, I’m sure
But I don’t see me, and that hurts the most
Bombadil previously topped my list of albums in 2013 with their 4th studio album, Metrics of Affection. I went to see them perform at the Casbah in San Diego on June 19, 2016, prior to the recording of Fences. There, they performed many of the songs that would end up on the album. They even performed with a brand-new microphone all of the band members were pretty stoked on. Each one of them took turns on various instruments and all of them lent vocals by clustering around their shiny new mic. After the show, I chatted for a bit with band-member Daniel Michalak, who is a super-pleasant dude. Fences came out in March of 2017 and has been playing non-stop in my car, my house and my headphones ever since.
From tender love ballads about the mysterious mathematics of love, to excoriating an American Evangelical Christian base who bought into a campaign of hatred, bigotry, naked avarice and plainspoken evil, Bombadil’s sixth full-length has it all. Laden with pleasant arrangements and plenty of hooks, the subject matter of each song can range from adorable sentimentality to withering criticism. For me, Fences is an album that never gets old.
Bombadil are Daniel Michalak, James Phillips, and Stacy Harden. Fences is their sixth studio album. It was recorded at Tiny Telephone with John Vanderslice in San Francisco.
Listen to a playlist of some of Joel’s favorite songs from 2017 on Apple Music:
Full list of music Joel listened to in 2017:
- Actress – AZD
- The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
- Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
- Aldous Harding – Party
- Algiers – The Underside of Power
- Alex Lahey – I Love You Like a Brother
- Angel Olsen – Phases
- Arcade Fire – Everything Now
- Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson
- Baths – Romaplasm
- Beach House – B-Sides and Rarities
- Beck – Colors
- Big Black Delta – Whoru812
- Big Thief – Capacity
- Bill Benzel & Jim Earp – Mainland Style
- Bing & Ruth – No Home of the Mind
- Biosphere – The Petrified Forest EP
- Bob Dylan – Triplicate
- The Bob’s Burgers Music Album
- Bodies of Water – Spear in the City
- Bombadil – Fences
- Bonobo – Migration
- Briana Marela – Call It Love
- Chad VanGaalen – Light Information
- Chuck Johnson – Balsams
- Cold War Kids – LA DIVINE
- Cut Copy – Haku From Zero
- Cut Worms – Alien Sunset EP
- David Bazan – Care
- David Bowie – No Plan EP
- Derek Webb – Fingers Crossed
- Destroyer – ken
- Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors
- Don Bryant – Don’t Give Up On Love
- The Drums – Abysmal Thoughts
- Elbow – Little Fictions
- Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
- Feist – Pleasure
- Fever Ray – Plunge
- Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
- Fletcher Tucker – Cold Spring
- Floating Points – Reflections – Mojave Desert
- Four Tet – New Energy
- Frankie Rose – Cage Tropical
- Future Islands – The Far Field
- Gas – Narkopop
- Gaussian Curve – The Distance
- girlpool – Powerplant
- Gordi – Reservoir
- Grandaddy – Last Place
- Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
- Guided by Voices – August by Cake
- Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)
- Hello Shark – Break Arms
- Hoops – Routines
- Jean-Michel Blais & CFCF – Cascades
- Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
- Jeremy Enigk – Ghosts
- Jlin – Black Origami
- Johnny Jewel – Windswept***
- Josh Ritter – Gathering
- Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
- Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid
- Kathryn Kluge & Kim Allen Kluge – Silence (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
- Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens
- Kevin Morby – City Music
- King Krule – The OOZ
- Kraus – End Tomorrow (2016)
- Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things 2 (Original Series Soundtrack)
- Lali Puna – Two Windows
- LCD Soundsystem – american dream
- Liars – TFCF
- Lo Tom – Lo Tom
- Lorde – Melodrama
- Miya Folick – Give It To Me EP
- The National – Sleep Well Beast
- Nick Hakim – Green Twins
- Nightlands – I Can Feel the Night Around Me
- Pallbearer – Heartless
- Perfume Genius – No Shape
- Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps
- Psychic Temple – IV
- Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017
- Real Estate – In Mind
- Rostam – Half-Light
- Run The Jewels – RTJ3
- San Fermin – Belong
- ShitKid – Fish
- Silver Fleet – Demo
- Slothrust – Show Me How You Want It to Be
- Soley, Sin Fang & Örvar Smárason – Singles 2017
- Spoon – Hot Thoughts
- St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
- Steady Holiday – Terror EP
- Sudan Archives – Sudan Archives EP
- Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell Live
- Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift
- Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister – Planetarium
- Sweet Baboo – Wild Imagination
- Sylvan Esso – What Now
- Temples – Volcano
- Thundercat – “Drunk”
- Tim Heidecker – Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker’s Trump Songs
- Timber Timbre – Sincerely, Future Pollution
- Tom Rogerson & Brian Eno – Finding Shore
- Toro y Moi – Boo Boo
- TORRES – Three Futures
- Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream
- Vagabon – Infinite Worlds
- The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
- Washed Out – Mister Mellow
- Wavves – You’re Welcome
- Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
- Why? – Moh Lhean
- William Eggleston – Musik
- Withered Hand & A Singer of Songs – Among Horses 1 – EP
- Woods – Love Is Love EP
- The xx – I See You
- Zola Jesus – Okovi