2017 was a busy year, and characterized by the simmering dread of the 24-hour reactionary news cycle. My favorite albums sound like they come from another place or time, with the exception of Run the Jewels. It’s not that I felt compelled to look back (though some of the albums do give me a sense of nostalgia). Rather, it’s as if the albums reminded me that despite the craziness of the world, good music is still being composed and that I can still be moved by it, no matter how beleaguered my soul may feel. Anyhow, here are my recommendations (here’s last year’s list).
Tennis appeared on last year’s list, thanks to the heavy airplay “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” received on SiriusXMU prior to the release of this album. I was a little worried that I’d only like that song and the rest of the album would be a dud, but my fears were unfounded – there’s nary a bad track to be found. Each song is pleasingly arranged and so, so catchy. I get that not everyone would like the vocals but they really work for me. Alaina Moore knows how to modulate her voice and distribute syllables without being obnoxious. The lyrics express the difficulty of asserting oneself against expectations or constraints placed on you. That’s my take, anyway.
This album captures the frustration that I felt throughout the year. The tracks have an energy that says we don’t have to put up with the bullshit and I appreciate that Mike & El-P are gonna tell you exactly what they think. It’s aggressive in some ways, but there’s humor to it as well. It’s the perfect release valve.
After a hard pass on their second mainstream release, I was surprised that I found the songs making up Deerhunter’s third effort to be just really well-written. They each have a distinct character, unlike one of last year’s favorites, DIIV, whose songs ended up feeling pretty same-y. This is one of the albums I’m referring to when I mention nostalgia. It has that sound of another place and time – the sixties, maybe – but with modern production, technique and lyrics that encourage me to look ahead in life with some optimism.
Another band that I’d say draws on the sixties for its sonic inspiration, Temples remind me of summer driving and how ripe with possibility life can seem. Or, how it once seemed that way to me, when I was younger and wasn’t sure where life would lead me, but this didn’t scare me but rather made my heart feel full.
I think this album has caught some flak from fans who think it’s too cleanly produced and feel the songs are too poppy. I don’t know if Josh Homme has every been as skilled a lyricist as he is a guitar player, but I think the band is still on point here. They sound great and that ominous QOTSA character is in full force on “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” and “Domesticated Animals.” As an aside, it’s weird to think I’ve been listening to this band for, like, 14 years. Wow!