Another year, another list of my favorite new albums!
So… 2017 was a strange year for music. There were a handful – emphasis on “handful” – of albums I loved… and quite a few I listened to once and promptly forgot. I also finally noticed a trend that’s been building for a few years: I’ll find a great new album one year, like it enough to put on my “best of” list, but only truly “discover” the album the following year. Fully half of my overall most-listened to albums in 2017 – five of ten – were from 2016.
Below are my ten favorite albums of 2017. As I’ve done the past couple of years, the list comes directly from my Last.fm stats; I have, however, tinkered with the order a bit. After the list are a few honorable mentions, followed by the raw data from Last.fm.
My Top Albums of 2017
10) College – Shanghai – College isn’t a “band” exactly; it’s a “project” headed by French musician David Grellier. He’s worked with acts like Minitel Rose, Electric Youth and Anoraak, and, under the name “Mitch Silver”, he’s been a member of Sexy Sushi since 2004. If you don’t keep up with European electronic music, that might not mean a lot to you, but trust me: the guy has deets. And beats. Ironically, that’s one thing Shanghai lacks: beats. It’s a moody, atmospheric affair, one that could be mistaken for a soundtrack album. It’s not my favorite thing College has put out, but it was good enough in a lean year to sneak onto this list:
9) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Echo of Pleasure – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are one of those bands where I either love or hate each individual song. Some songs I listen to over and over again; others I listen to once, never to hear again. The Echo of Pleasure is a pretty solid album all around, though. Good job, guys:
8) Furniteur — Perfect Lavender – Furniteur is a bit of a mystery. It’s at least one blonde girl from Washington DC. There are two guys who perform on stage with her… are they part of the band? Musicians only hired when she plays live? Who knows? Her\their various webpages – Bandcamp, Twitter, Last.fm – are quite vague about who they are. But that’s not important, really. All I know is, I’ve played them a lot since they showed up on a Spotify “Discover Weekly” list. Perfect Lavender is an awesome, and surprisingly solid, album. A lot of times albums start off well, but lose steam halfway through (I’m looking at you, Bryan Ferry), or they only have 1 or 2 good songs to begin with (I’m looking at you, Primitive Radio Gods). Unlike the bulk of synthpop artists, where you’re ready to play someone else’s album about halfway in, this album surprises you when it finishes. “I listened to the whole thing? Nice!”
7) Me The Tiger — What Is Beautiful Never Dies – A SWEDISH band on my top ten list? NO WAY! That’s a joke, son: seems like half the bands I listen to these days are from Sweden. Anyway, Me The Tiger isn’t quite like the rest of the Swedish bands I listen to. It’s not “slow, dreamy” synthy stuff. Instead it’s loud, in your face, and slightly abrasive. Instead of the calming vocals of Mia Bøe (Postiljonen) or Anja Oyen Vister (Flunk), Me The Tiger’s Gabriella Åström is loud and, at times, almost shouty. Not that that’s a bad thing – it’s just that Me The Tiger will never be on anyone’s “best chillout songs” playlist. Having said that, the band does get quite a bit “samey” after a while. Still, a pretty sold effort from these Swedes:
6) Johnny Jewel — Windswept – Johnny Jewel is the driving force behind Chromatics, one of my “Top Five” bands at the moment. No band out there can create an atmosphere quite like Chromatics and Jewel can. And there’s no better example of this than Windswept, a collection of songs Jewel wrote (and collaborated with others on) for the recent Twin Peaks revival. Have a listen to the title track, heard over the end credits of episode 5, and throughout episode 6:
5) Kid Francescoli — Play Me Again – Marseilles’ Kid Francescoli returns with another kick-ass album (their 2014 debut, With Julia, was #2 on my “best of” list that year). Any why not? This is solid pop music, folks! Look, I get it. I really do: for decades, French pop music was an easy target for English-speakers to make fun of, with dated Italo disco-style beats behind a chain-smoking, “not nearly as cool as he thinks he is” Frenchman singing phonetically in English. Yes, yes… I know. But French pop has come a long way in the past few years, thanks to acts like Kid Francescoli. Have a listen to this (and yes, before you ask, on the album the singer does not use the words “backwards mother lover”):
4) Maud Geffray — Polaar – Maud Geffray is a French musician and producer. And the lead single off this album, also named “Polaar”, is fantastic. A big part of the reason I knocked this album down from #2 on my scrobble list to #4 on the album list is because those scrobbles were dominated by “Polaar”. That, and much of the album consists of variations on “Polaar” (“In Your Eyes”, a duet between Geffray and Flavien Berger, is just a heavily-remixed version of “Polaar”, for instance). Still, when this album hits, it hits hard:
3) Sylvan Esso — What Now – College radio loves Sylvan Esso… and you should, too! There’s no “sophomore slump” here – just ten kick-ass tracks in a row! The lead single, “Radio”, is a scathing indictment of FM radio… and is exactly the same vibe Katy Perry swung at and missed in “Chained to the Rhythm”. Yet, this album is somehow a mystery: it makes fun of pop music, yet is an excellent example of the genre. Take notes, Katy Perry. Sorry for the live version of “Radio” below, but I guess the foul language in the official music video triggers YouTube’s “adult” filter, which WordPress’ embedding tool doesn’t like. But that’s OK, though: one of the best shows I saw last year was Sylvan Esso, so here’s a taste of what their live show is like:
2) Washed Out — Mister Mellow – OK, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: yes, this is an album to smoke weed to (see: music video, below). Let’s not pretend it isn’t. And yes, listening to this album in “enhanced mode” is probably better than listening to it sober – there’s a lot of “noise” in this album that will just kind of… annoy some. But that doesn’t make this just a stoner album. Ernest Greene has been the flag-bearer for the chillwave movement, and this is something he does not take lightly. All of the tracks on this album are finely-crafted pieces of art, and if this “visual album” isn’t quite as good as 2013’s Paracosm or 2011’s Within and Without… it’s only because Greene took a swing at a concept album. Whether it’s a home run or foul ball is up to you.
1) Saint Etienne — Home Counties – Saint Etienne have been one of my favorite bands since the late 90s. They are, in my estimation, the “longest-running” band I still like (as opposed to bands like Depeche Mode or Duran Duran, which I consider “nostalgia acts” to the chagrin of friends). Home Counties – named after the counties that surround London – is a “day in the life” tour of the area… and it’s one of Saint Etienne’s best albums. They’re getting up there in age – Sarah Cracknell turns 51 in April – so one has to wonder if this might be their last album. If so, what a way to go out! For some reason, this album, to me, echoes their entire catalog. “Dive”, for example, reminds me of their early, “60’s revival” work, while “Underneath the Apple Tree” seems to hearken back to the “electronic English folk” era of Tiger Bay. And the album’s best song – “Out of My Mind” – is a total belter, made all the better by the (ironic?) fact that once you hear it, you won’t be able to get it out of your mind. Bob, Pete and Sarah have spent 27 years searching for the perfect pop song, and they might have just found it. I adore this album from start to finish, and you will, too!
With the caveat that “EPs aren’t albums”:
Heaven – Lonesome Town EP
Public Memory – Veil of Council EP
Pale Honey – Devotion