THE BEST OF 2017
Well, dear readers, we made it through another year and the time has come to tally up
who made our favourite records and songs of the past 365. It would seem that whatever
your taste in music, 2017 had plenty to offer everyone. In what was a depressing trend
that carried over from 2016, another batch of legendary names passed on; Gord
Downie, Tom Petty, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Grant Hart and Malcolm Young
to name but a few, all left us and most were in fairly tragic circumstances. There was
also plenty to talk about in the past year: there were triumphant returns from Broken
Social Scene, Feist, Fleet Foxes and LCD Soundsystem (as a recording entity, at least);
Arcade Fire had a creative misfire; U2 continued their stay into irrelevance; Queens of
the Stone Age confused their fanbase; and Gord Downie released one last record as a
love letter to friends and family.
Enough talk, lets do this thing!
Johnny’s Top Albums:
1. PILE: A Hairshirt of Purpose - The Boston band’s sixth record is a classic from start to
finish. Lead singer/songwriter Rick Maguire’s writing has reached a new zenith with A
Hairshirt of Purpose. With every dissonant rocker (“Hissing for Peace”, “Texas”,
“Hairshirt”) there’s an equally intense, if quieter, accompanying track (“No Bone”,
“Making Eyes”) that makes for a wholly complete listen. Great musicianship, dynamic
songwriting and a incredibly consistent thirteen songs makes A Hairshirt of Purpose
my favourite album of 2017...by a wide berth.
2. Thurston Moore: Rock n Roll Consciousness - The former Sonic Youth man continues
his stellar streak of work after the implosion of his iconic band. Granted, there’s only
five songs on this thing, but those five songs clock in at a combined forty-two plus
minutes...encompassing guitar escapades that are both beautiful and menacing.
Moore has kept the band that played and toured on 2014’s excellent The Best Day
and the results are totally captivating. Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, My Bloody
Valentine’s Deb Googe and James Sedwards of Naught have provided the perfect
foundation for Moore’s signature sound. Sonic Youth’s duelling guitars of Moore and
Lee Ranaldo are immediately called to mind with the exquisite interplay between
Moore and Sedwards on songs like “Exalted” and “Turn On.” Moore has a storied
history in the annals of alternative rock, but Rock n Roll Consciousness proves he is
more relevant than ever!
3. Grizzly Bear: Painted Ruins - Coming some five years after the group’s last recorded
effort, Painted Ruins picks up right where the celebrated Brooklyn quartet last left us.
Soaring harmonies, atmospheric soundscapes, artsy but accessible, Grizzly Bear
sounds very much of the time, but yet they still sound like no one else. “Mourning
Sound” and “Losing all Sense” have a rock urgency, while “Systole” gets meditative
and “Glass Hillside” goes for a Steely Dan prog vibe. As always, what makes Grizzly
Bear so special is that Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste take such compelling turns at
lead vocals but they are always underpinned by each other’s gorgeous backing work.
Another mesmerizing record by one of today’s most vital artists.
4. Fleet Foxes: Crack-Up - After Fleet Foxes’ last LP( 2011’s brilliant Helplessness
Blues) and subsequent touring cycle, the band’s Robin Pecknold quit the music game
for studies at Columbia University and drummer Josh Tillman quit the trap set to find
fame as Father John Misty. After so many years away, it came as some surprise to
Pecknold that people were so eager to hear a new Fleet Foxes record...and what a
record it is. Though the band has always traded in gorgeous four and five part
harmonies and lush 70’s acoustic guitar swells, Crack-Up presents a more
challenging aspect of the band. Of the eleven songs on here, two are six and a half
minutes long and one is over eight and all of them seem to have multiple complex
structures. It’s a challenging listen, but a rewarding one. So good to have Fleet Foxes
back in the saddle again.
5. Chad VanGaalen: Light Information - The eccentric Calgary singer/songwriter is back
with another intriguing collection of twisted storytelling punctuated by his out of tune
guitars and zany keyboards. His catalogue of music is remarkably consistent in both
sonics and quality, and Light Information is yet another outstanding achievement on
his resume. All the classic VanGaalen hallmarks are here: noisy garage rock (“Golden
Oceans”, “Mystery Elementals”), timeless classics (“Pine and Clover”) and perfect
pop rock nuggets (“Old Heads”, “Mind Highjacker’s Curse”). At this point, VanGaalen
should get to hold a permanent spot on the Polaris Prize shortlist.
Leks' Top Albums
1. Death From Above: Outrage! Is Now - Arguably DFA's strongest full-length offering to date, the Toronto/California-based two-piece have shed their dance-punk origins in favour of a far heavier and more compelling stoner rock sound. Don't let lead-off single "Freeze Me" mislead you, the ten songs that comprise Outrage! Is Now share more in common with Queens of the Stone Age's breakthrough Songs For the Deaf LP (not least of all the same producer) than they do with earlier influences such as Bloc Party's Silent Alaram. Indeed, all that was old was new again in 2017, and the return of a stronger-than-ever DFA, bearing their original band name no less, was no exception.
2. Timber Timbre: Sincerely, Future Pollution - The sixth entry into Timber Timbre's rapidly growing catalogue, this release sees the four-piece outfit under Taylor Kirk's command channeling a sound that is more in the spirit of vintage David Bowie than it is with anything to be found within the vast collection of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Unrivaled for his ability to conjure a genuinely creepy atmosphere, Kirk has taken this creepiness to new heights on Sincerely, Future Pollution by painting a vivid portrait of a post-apocalyptic future that looks awfully similar to the immediate present.
3. Arcade Fire: Everything Now - Arguably the first relevant Arcade Fire release since their 2004 debut LP Funeral, and the first not to be released on their longtime indie label Merge Records, the band finally sounds comfortable in their own skin after the extremely awkward 2013 double LP Reflektor that saw the band grasping for some semblance of a new sonic direction. This album sounds streamlined and focused, with enough variety between songs to compel the listener to want to commit to the entire album without jumping between songs or bailing on the listening experience altogether, as was largely the case with Reflektor.
4. Broken Social Scene: Hug of Thunder - The fifth long-player in the BSS catalogue and first release from the band in seven years, Hug of Thunder reminds fans why they fell in love with the band in the first place. Literally the complete opposite of Arcade Fire's Everything Now, Hug of Thunder is a largely unassuming indie rock release with no aspirations of mainstream radio airplay or media attention outside of the alternative online press. In this respect its not unlike their debut LP Feel Good Lost: no one assumed this album was coming and no one specifically was knocking down the door asking for it either, but in the end we are glad that it exists. Not the best BSS record by far, but an extremely worthy entry into the band's glacially expanding catalogue.
5. American Lips: Kiss The Void - The debut release from Montreal's American Lips sees the three-piece comprised of an ex-member of Tricky Woo, their spouse, and Death From Above's Sebastien Grainger on drums for good measure kicking out the garage rock jams for exactly 22 minutes. Definitely the shortest debut LP in this writer's experience, the band doesn't waste any time wasting time. Ten short, punchy songs serve as the band's mission statement, which is quite simply a pledge of allegiance to a genre that largely doesn't exist anymore, but one which nonetheless enjoyed one hell of a renaissance at the turn of this century.
Johnny’s Top Songs
1. PILE: “Rope’s Length” / “Leaning on a Wheel” - I’m sorry, I tried to pick just one song,
but I simply can’t. There are too many compelling songs on A Hairshirt of Purpose
that I can’t stop listening to and I’m not even sure that “Rope’s Length” and “Leaning
on a Wheel” are the best of them. Both songs swell with dramatic tension and release
and take turns at different musical volume.
2. Chavez: “The Singer Lied” - Don’t call it a comeback! Alright, call it a comeback! Mid
90‘s guitar heroes Chavez have finally gotten around to putting out some new
music...and there’s good and bad news about that: The good is that the music that is
on here is as compelling as anything they had put out on their 1995 and 1996 LPs.
The bad is that there’s only three songs to salivate over. In all honesty, I could have
picked any of the three, but I went with “The Singer Lied” because it best captures
everything I want from a Chavez track: Matt Sweeney and Clay Tarver’s angular,
math rock guitars, James Lo’s mesmerizing drums and Scott Marshall’s wall of
sound, fuzzed out bass. More please...and in less than twenty years!
3. METZ: “Cellophane” - The abrasive Toronto trio put out another blitzkrieg of an album
this year and for my money, “Cellophane” was the best number on it. Let’s face it,
there’s little to distinguish between your typical METZ track; almost all have buzzsaw
guitars, PTSD inducing drums, fuzzed out bass, and Alex Edkins singing about how
disgusted he is about something. “Cellophane” has a slightly slower pace and a
Beatles-like “How will I know” chorus that just won’t leave your brain.
4. Jason Loewenstein: “Superstitious” - With some time off between Sebadoh and
production duties, Loewenstein finally got around to releasing his second solo album
(and first since 2002) and it’s full of all his typical Sebadoh styled material. My
favourite jam on here is the barely two minute long “Superstitious.” Typically,
Loewenstein pens my preferred Sebadoh songs and “Superstitious” sounds like
something he could have written for that band’s Harmacy or The Sebadoh LPs.
Nothing fancy and no frills to be heard here, just good old fashioned indie rock.
5. Chad VanGaalen: “Old Heads” - Sometimes VanGaalen makes it sound so easy and
“Old Heads” is a classic example of that. Here, VanGaalen is content to keep a happygo-
lucky tempo and plays it relatively straightforward with his guitars, drums and
keyboards. As he does at other times on the new LP, VanGaalen sings about cells and
how they’re not dividing or about who is keeping them together. Some weighty issues
seem to be on the table, but VanGaalen keeps the music simple and it’s all the better for
Leks' Top Songs
1. Timber Timbre: "Sincerely, Future Pollution" - The creepiest nearly-all instrumental ever to be committed to tape, the bass line that permeates every second of this song is bound to raise every ghost in the cemetery and get them dancing no less. This song serves as the thesis statement of the album, and perhaps for the times we are currently living in. Sincerely, the pollution.
2. Arcade Fire: "Creature Comfort" - Only Arcade Fire can take a real-life anecdote of a fan's attempt to take their life in the bath tub and turn it into the catchiest radio single of 2017. Topical and thought-provoking, "Creature Comfort" tackles the seemingly ubiquitous topic of mental health and presents it in a form that is neither judgemental nor an endorsement. Simply put, this song serves as a means to keep the dialogue surrounding the subject ongoing.
3. Death From Above: "Never Swim Alone" - The most painfully repetitive song in DFA's catalogue, this song has bore its way so deep into this writer's brain that is has made a permanent home, like a tape worm or parasite that you learn to love and don't know how you could have ever lived without. Not inherently catchy but nonetheless loaded with memorable one-liners packed densely atop each other within the lyrical narrative, "Never Swim Alone" reads as survival guide for Millennials in 2017. Satan is my username, indeed.
4. Broken Social Scene: "Half Way Home" - Perhaps the most ragged BSS radio single since "Ibi Dreams of Pavement," there is a beautifully anthemic quality to this song that ultimately hardly received any radio play upon its release. Containing all of the key elements of a BSS song, namely call an response vocals and an obligatory horn section in the song's finale, not to mention some beautifully stacked harmonies, this was a hard one to get out of your head in 2017.
5. Jack White: "Battle Cry" - The lone release from Jack White in 2017, "Battle Cry" sees Jack channeling his inner AC/DC on this instrumental track that recalls "Thunderstruck". Sharing no musical similarity to the material contained within the forthcoming Boarding House Reach LP, this might be the last "classic" Jack White rock song for years to come.