Monday, December 18, 2017

This Fluid Thrill End of Year Awards: Top Albums of 2017

Newcomers: here are my lists from 2016201520142013 & 2012.

And there's a playlist of one song from each of my top ten albums from this year at the bottom of the post if you want to listen while you read... and aren't worried about spoilers.


It took me until the last day of February 2017 to wrap the best albums of 2016.

And yet here I am, midway through December ready to put a bow on this strange old year we've had.

Spotify tells me I listened to over 7,500 songs in 2017 and only skipped 116, which makes sense as I listen while I write and I've been writing full-time this year.

Screencap from my Spotify Wrapped, featuring Willy Nile
(The only other time I use Spotify is for impromptu dance parties with my kids (Lia is 5 later this week and Caio is 2), so my top tracks include most of the Moana soundtrack, 'Shake it off' and 'Can't Stop the Feeling').

My process this year has been more organised than in the past, but is still haphazard. I chuck stuff I want to listen to in my 'Working' playlist. If I like a track, I put it in my monthly playlist, which I include in my consumption diaries on this blog. If I like the whole album (and it came out this year), I put it into my best albums of 2017 playlist.

At the start of this month I went back and listened to everything in the best albums playlist, and rated them all.

In the end 32 albums were in the running for my top ten. I haven't gone through all the reputable top ten lists, so I may have missed something great and will kick myself next week, but I'm staying true to the process.

So here, in some kind of order, are my top ten albums from 2017:

10) The Big Moon - Love in the 4th Dimension

Maybe there was some recency bias (I only came across this album in November), but this album won the tussle with a bunch of solo - or soloish - dudes (Stephen Steinbrink, Lee Bains III, Gord Downie, Mathew Logan Vasquez, A. Savage) for tenth spot.

I mean, Downie would waltz into top spot on sentiment alone, but it was a double album, and it seems I will not even allow impending death as an excuse for insufficient editing.

But enough about the guys (sheesh).

My first impression of Big Moon was they sound like Du Blonde (a fave from 2015... Message to Beth Jeans Houghton: more music, please), but this is a an all-female rock group from London, who happen to also play on the album in at #9.

Their lyrics maybe lack the bite of Du Blonde or *spoiler alert* Marika Hackman, but I can't stop spinning Love in the 4th Dimension.

Check them out!

9) Marika Hackman - I'm not your man

Another recent discovery. The opener, 'Boyfriend', is so great, the rest of the album can't help feel like the tail of the comet.

I mean, just listen:
You came to me for entropy and I gave you all I had
He makes a better man than me
So I know he won't feel bad 
It's fine 'cause I am just a girl
"It doesn't count"
He knows a woman needs a man to make her shout
And compared to her earlier, folky output, I'm not your man is like it's own big bang. Hackman goes electric! And acerbic.

To all the part-time readers who thought the short story 'Cat Person' was great, and all those who said it was terrible, I think you can both agree this album is better.

(What did I think of 'Cat Person'? I liked it. Parts of it felt brave. Parts felt fresh. The end was a little obvious. But it hit its mark. People are talking. Go the short story! ... Actually, the most troubling thing has been the amount of times in subsequent coverage it has been called an article or an essay. FFS!)

8) King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Flying Microtonal Banana

2017 may well be remembered more for KGatLG's outlandish ambition and quantitative output rather than its quality.

This album is the best of the four. A rock version of UMO's Multi-Love.

And I'm a sucker from the microtonal guitar. Obviously.

While I'm on strange tunings/instruments and Aussie musicians, the 2016 album I took to long to discover and thus omitted from that year's list: Xylouris White - Black Peak.

It would probably slot in at #2 on the 2016 list. So great.

7) Arboretum - Song of the Rose

A new discovery for me this year. Their back catalogue is tight, but this year's album is their best to date.

How to describe their sound? A bit like pre-2017 Strand of Oaks - slow and apparently simple - but somehow more epic and RAWK. Like Rooks-era Shearwater. Like Low. Like a lot of the best bits of a lot of great bands.

The sort of music you should listen to while reading Icelandic sagas.

Folk-metal? Oh, I don't know.

I just love it.

6) Nadia Reid - Preservation

How fucking assured does she sound on this album? How great is she with a band behind her? Both on record and live!

2017 was the year Aldous and Nadia's paths well and truly forked musically, both for the better, and both are enjoying incredible success.

I loved Harding's track 'Horizon', but Preservation is the better, more consistent album. My second-favourite New Zealand album of 2017, in fact.

5) Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent

I liked 2015's The Agent Intellect but kinda forgot Protomartyr even existed until Relatives in Descent dropped.

There's something in Joe Casey's low, growly-but-not-screamy voice that just gets to me, in a good way.

It's like, how could Post-Punk be cool? Well, here's how: take the heavy bits of Nick Cave and the soft bits of Swans and Fucked Up. And there's something about the imagery and doomish sound that  makes me think of it all as some elaborate charade, like the Misfits (another band whose vocals get to me) and their horror schitck.

And this sense of being on the edge of my seat, of being on the look-out for reasons to disavow this band or flip out even further, makes listening to them compelling.

 4) Lost Horizons - Ojala

Another November release, but I'm confident there's no recency bias unduly bouying its placement. In fact, I think this could be two or three spots higher when all is said and done.

The one problem with this album, the first fruits from a collaboration between Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins) and Richard Thomas (Jesus and Mary Chain), is that it's so strong and varied across its 15 tracks, and the host of guest vocalists so impressive (Tim Smith from Midlake, Ghostpoet, Marissa Nadler... read this for the full list), that it feels like a really great mixtape rather than a traditional album.

But, I mean, what is an album anyway, when you listen to all your music as one giant Spotify playlist or incidental music when tending a barbeque? 

Don't answer that.

Just... next time you're at a lost for what to throw on when you want to defeat the silence (or the sound of your neighbours bickering), spin this album. Spin it and thank me later.

3) TW Walsh - Terrible Freedom


This might be my 2017 version of St Lenox. As in: music that probably spent most of its gestation in one man's bedroom; and over top of this laptop's worth of beats and blips: just the greatest lyrics.

But whereas St Lenox goes for an abrasive distortion of Adam Levine's vocal stylings, TW Walsh's singing is laid back and inoffensive, which tends to obscure the content of his words until you stop and LISTEN.

Take the opener and strongest track, 'My Generation', which reworks Snoop Dogg lyrics in a series of lines that connect the first and second verses, in what is otherwise a soft-spoken, walking-beat rocker. I didn't pick it up on this on my first or fifth listen, but I still loved the song. And when I finally did notice, it unlocked this whole John Grant / Father John Misty vibe.

2) Lorde - Melodrama

I thought it would be good. The kind of pop album a 34-year-old might appreciate without being compelled to listen to it again. But crap. There's some really interesting, challenging stuff happening here, while also banging when it's supposed to bang and breaking your heart when its phasers are set to 'shatter'. 

The ability to take weirdness and make it relatable is her superpower. 'Liability', 'Green Light', 'The Lourve', 'Writer in the Dark'... all might be my favourite song from the album (or even the year) depending on my mood. You can read whatever you want into the fact I've chosen 'Liability' for the playlist at the bottom.

Ms Yelich-O'Connor (and probably the fact I've got a daughter who now has opinions about music) has helped usher this old fogey into a new appreciation of contemporary pop music.

And I fully expect (and trust) her to take me somewhere completely different on album number three. 

Howeverlong that takes, it'll be worth the wait.

1) Ryan Adams - Prisoner

This is one I could have buried around number eight, or dismissed along with the other guys on the cusp, because there's so much about Ryan Adams in 2017 that isn't cool. The fact he's being doing this thing so consistently for so long, with only slight variations. 

The fact I've never considered any of his previous albums as anything more than fine. Certainly not Top-Ten-worthy.

And then to go and release a single like 'Do You Still Love Me Babe', which sounds (sonically, if not lyrically) like something that might have been played at the inauguration of the first George Bush.

And for it to be a break-up album. And for that break-up to have been with a pop star-actress ten years his junior. 

How could it be worth your time, your attention and ultimately the vulnerability needed to truly get a break-up album?


Clearly, it is worth it. 

Clearly, it worked its magic on me.

'Do You Still Love Me Babe' has its heartfelt arena rock cake and eats it too. 'Prisoner', 'Shiver and Shake', 'Breakdown'... why am I listing songs? They're all perfect. Probably too perfect.

I listened to Prisoner a lot this year while writing my novel which isn't about heartbreak at all. 

And then I listened to Prisoner B-Sides a lot when that came out. And I loved songs like 'Where Will You Run', and 'Hanging onto Hope' and 'You Said' and 'Too Tired To Cry', which are rougher and in their roughness I was reminded of what lay behind this whole project.

If given all 29 tracks from Prisoner and the B-sides album, my final twelve would have been different, but I'm eternally grateful this wasn't released as a double album. Adams edited, and refined, and released a concise (and possibly overpolished) statement, and allowed it to be supported by the release, some time later, of other products of the breakup. Because wouldn't it be strange, for such a prolific songwriter, only to produce 12 songs from the end of his marriage?

Without the B-sides album, Ryan Adams wouldn't have been my most listened to artist on Spotify in 2017. Without the B-sides album, Prisoner wouldn't have been my number one. But it's existence, and perhaps more importantly its separation, was enough to convince me.

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