Get your Spotify playlists ready. My playlist is playing on Plex as I compile my 2017 AOTY. This year, the countdown comes from an unmistakable dad in his mid-forties. I’m trying to shuffle my work and personal life and there’s not nearly the time to discover new music like there used to be. (Also, too many albums for me to go digging through to post album artwork.) This list has a heap of “legacy” bands. But in retrospect, it was a really, really decent year for music. There were some albums that I expected to be better and others which really surprised me. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them all in a playlist of your own or just sit with them straight through. Feel free to post your thoughts and objections in the comments.
6. Primal Scream – Chaosmosis
“More Light” was the dark, brooding, brass knuckle side of Primal Scream. Chaosmosis is the Technicolor, grooving, silk shirt wearing side. It’s fun, dancy and easy to take for granted from your first listen. From the first track, in fact. “Trippin’ on Your Love” is laced with Haim backing vocals and I would hate to be caught listening to it in public. But the song’s wah wah guitar keeps the whole thing grounded and launches the album from the get go. Bobby Gillespie is obviously in a good phase here. It’s hard not to be there with him.
5. The Cult – Hidden City
The best Cult record since “The Cult” and a direct descendant as well. The one-two punch of “Hinterland” and “GOAT” anchor the middle of the record. Before and after those songs is a mix of “Love” like balladry and slightly scuffed “Sonic Temple” arena rockers. There’s no real reason this band should be out there doing this except for the fact that nobody does a great Cult record like the Cult.
4. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
What a head fake, Sturg. Just when everyone thought they had you pegged as the ultimate classic country revivalist, you go and do a late-career Elvis Kung-fu move – complete with brass. This is an album to be devoured in one sitting. It starts with a tender, almost schmaltzy song directly addressing his son and continues as a chronicle of the life of Sturg. Along the way it passes ports of call, drug busts, and Nirvana. Simpson is a young guy so it seems premature. That said, it’s only a guide to earth. Maybe other planets will follow. After this there’s no reason to believe they won’t.
3. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
I told my wife this should have been called “The Three Quarters” album. That’s because save for “1,000 Times” none of the songs kick in until ¾ of the way through. That and the fact that the show stopper of the album for me, “The Bride’s Dad”, roughly hits around ¾ of the way through the album. Fractions aside, this is a barn burner of an album from the talents of The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend. It could have been recorded in 1955 or 2055 and it would still be as remarkable. Not an album that takes hold without some commitment but when you put in the time, it returns in spades.
2. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
When I saw this album start to appear on blogs and music sites on the internet, I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t know who Josh Homme was, nor had I paid attention to Iggy since “Brick by Brick” when my mom asked me if he had just said he had to “scrape the concrete off of his dick”. Yep, Mom. But when I finally got around to listening to this album, something inside me lit up. It was a hell of a submission to a hell of a catalog. Start to finish, it’s an album by a punk who never stopped being punk and who just, well, never stopped. Iggy’s 69 now and no less ferocious that he was when he recorded the song, “1969”. This album forced me to reexamine his whole career, album by album. This was also the year I got to take my girls to see him. Had it not been for Iggy, this year would not have been nearly as rock and roll as it was. Had it not been for David Bowie, this album would have been number one on this list. Of course, had it not been for David Bowie, this album would have probably never happened. Fitting to have the one and two slots on this year as they are.
1. David Bowie – Blackstar
There’s not much that can be written about this album that hasn’t already been written 1000 times. There’s just no way to top it this year. It was the whole performance piece. From the release, to the music, to the packaging and the disappearance of the Starman and/or Black Star, himself; this will never be matched in my lifetime. The album is a haunting, bittersweet, perfectly executed meditation on mortality. David Bowie was a genius until the end.
This has been an incredible and eventful year for music. We’ve lost several superstars including one of the greatest musical personalities of all time in David Bowie. In positive news, my childhood hero, Sting, has come back to the pop music scene after a decade in the lute filled wilderness. Out of nowhere, Iggy Pop’s late-career masterpiece has led me to gobble up the rest of his discography and left me wondering how the hell I missed it the first go ’round.
Some consider 2016 to have been one of the worst years ever. Of course, I think that’s impossible to say without some distance. The losses in the music world were sad but we gained some promising new blood in a little band called Car Seat Headrest. But for me, this was largely a year of the old pro’s being on top of their game.
This is also the year that my girls declared their favorite bands. For my oldest, it’s the Beatles. For my youngest, it’s Iggy Pop. Unless you know my kids, you don’t know just how fitting that is, nor how happy it makes me.
OK, onto the list. Like last year, this will be in several installments. Let me know what you think in the comments.
18. Drive-By Truckers – American Band
The DBTs get political here. About the last thing I needed in my life was more politics. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is pretty sharp but what’s missing are the fun character sketches of the Truckers’ previous albums. I don’t mind politics in music but a lot of this just comes off as preachy. But the red vinyl is cool.
17. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky
The third in a trilogy of sorts for Mould, “Patch the Sky” is a solid latter day Bob Mould record. That said, it’s not much more than that. Nothing really sticks out on it. Or, maybe after 3 records of superb Mould craftsmanship, I’ve started taking him for granted. Either way, a solid Mould album trumps one like “Modulate” so I’m not complaining.
16. Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day
I should really be forced to play this record every time I miss church. The whole thing sort of reminds me of the one time I went to a Southern Baptist church service in rural Texas. Something about all of the hellfire and brimstone really appealed to me. The same thing happens with this record. Something about recognizing and coming to terms with our flawed nature as humans has always had an appeal. Parker Millsap nails that mood on this record. If sinning and redemption had a soundtrack, it might well be this record.
15. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious
Am I taking Andrew Bird for granted? That could be. This is a good album and the duet with Fiona Apple is a real standout. Otherwise, it’s just a good, solid Andrew Bird record. Is there really any other kind?
14. Wilco – Schmilco
This album grows on me a little bit more with every play. But it’s far from one of their best (a tall order) and the cover is just awful. I think I may not have found the right mood to listen to it. It’s notable that the only song that rocks is “Locator” and “Common Sense” is absolute garbage. A close cousin of Tweedy’s solo debut, I can tell there’s something in this but can’t yet decide what it is. Confused? So am I.
13. Sting – 57th and 9th
First off, when I was a kid I had Sting and Police posters all over my room. When I listen to a Police record, I get the same type of feeling that I got when I first heard “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”. So, I’m a fan. That’s why I was so happy to see Sting come back into popular music. His first effort in over 10 years in that vein is no disappointment. It’s a solid Sting solo album. It’s hard to say where it ranges in his solo canon but it faces some stiff competition. That said, he pulls off some very difficult political commentary without sounding preachy. He tackles global warming and the refugee crisis and I don’t get the urge to skip the songs. The writing is solid though not stellar and somehow it all seems a little aloof. What does it compare to? I think it’s a close relative of “Brand New Day” in feel. Not a bad thing. Welcome back, Sting.
Here it is. Part deux. Big year. This is the part of the list where it gets real. Do people still say that? Well, they do here. Or, as I’d say in a work e-mail, “Please see below:”
Craig Finn – Faith In The Future
The studio sent a car to collect me
When the driver dropped me off at the lot
He said he’d never forget me
The publicist picked up lunch again
I had Pabst and some pemmican.”
You can’t really write an review of a Craig Finn album without quoting some lyrics. It’s like talking about Shakespeare without doing the same. It’s the whole point. Don’t get me wrong. The band backing Finn on his second solo outing is solid as well. But the lyrics to his songs are always the exciting part. By the time you get to “Sandra from Scranton,” you know you’re in the middle of a great album. Still more to dig through with this one. Looking forward to repeat listens.
Guy Garvey – Courting The Squall
I never saw a Guy Garvey solo album coming. I’m not sure why. I thought the last Elbow album was sort of a return to form, albeit a quieter one. But Garvey changes it up a bit on his first solo effort. The only way I can think to describe it is the well-worn descriptor, eclectic. From the moment “Angela’s Eyes” hits the speakers, this is something different. It’s Garvey doing what’s in his head and not through the democracy of his band, Elbow. The second real gut punch of a song for me is “Belly of the Whale.” It sounds to me like a tale of house ownership gone wrong. I’m not sure why it connects but it does. And I’m not a homeowner. A solid first step as a solo artist.
El Vy – Return to the Moon
Tame Impala – Currents
Metric – Pagans In Vegas
Blur – The Magic Whip
Josh Rouse – The Embers Of Time
Honorable Mentions (Albums I Haven’t Gotten To Yet):
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
Calexico – Edge of the Sun
These are the albums of my year. If they interest you, check them out. They’re not the be all and end all of music. However, this has been the soundtrack of 2011 for me. I’m happy to say that many of them have been appreciated on vinyl. That medium, more than anything else, has gotten me back to enjoying music and not just listening to it. I had forgotten about the difference there for a while.
Anyway, here’s my 2011 in no particular order:
- Alberta Cross – Rolling Thunder EP
Hope this is a preview of the new album. Driving rock that could derail into Kings of Leon in 2012. Let’s hope not.
- Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!
Not their best by a mile but the 1st half is great and it picks up again at the end.
- Gomez – Whatever’s on Your Mind
An older, wiser, Gomez. Not their best but a good dad record. I am what I am.
- Portugal. The Man – In the Mountain In the Cloud
Wasilla, AK. They’ve got a period in their name. ‘Nuff said.