2017 is weeks away from ending. Here are my favourite albums of the year (in no particular order). Please let me know what yours are!
Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
The lead single of Queens’ new album Villains was ‘The Way You Used To Do’, a funky number with plenty of swagger. Although upbeat, it was kind of forgetful, I mean, how does QOTSA outdo their brilliant 2013 album, …Like Clockwork?
It took a few listens to really appreciate this album. It does not contain the gloom of …Like Clockwork but instead replaces their sound with something more optimistic and playful. Multiple listens reveal the subtle and catchy nuances sprinkled throughout this album.The song ‘Fortress’ is easily one of my favourite songs of the year, and maybe one of the band’s best ballads.
War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding
I fell in love with The War on Drugs’ last album Lost in a Dream last year after a long drive home from a recording studio. Their expansive sonic range and catchy guitar lines catered to my Post-Rock sensibilities. So come 2017 with a new album, A Deeper Understanding, how does it stack up to the heights of their previous effort? The answer is thankfully, very well.
I feel strangely towards this album from a critical point of view. I don’t see it as a hugely different departure or expansion of their overall sound. The big swirling sonic walls of sound are still there, along with the quieter moments. Yet nor does the band sound stale in not venturing too far from where it has been before. A Deeper Understanding is simply an album of great songwriting.
There’s an introspection, a pathos that War on Drugs create in their music that captures loss and hope simultaneously in musical expression. It’s hard to articulate, so maybe just listen for yourself.
King’s Kaleidoscope, The Beauty Between
I saw KK earlier this year along with Citizens and Saints and The Sing Team – bands that remained after the fallout of Mars Hill Church Seattle. I was least impressed by KK. Sure enough, they are a talented band that have really challenged the notion of a ‘Christian band’ – not just because of the controversy they’ve created (the ‘F’ word in one of their songs from Beyond Control) – because of the sheer breadth of creativity and hue of their albums: an eclectic mix of modern sounds with woodwind and brass sections.
The Beauty Between shares some of the gripes I have with modern-day KK – there is a strong element of lyrical and musical cliches – however some of the tracks are really great. (To date, I still think their first EP, Live in Colour, is their strongest piece of output, which was earnest and less cheesy than what came from their later releases). To their defence, this album is a mix-tape, so there isn’t really a thread of consistency running throughout it. Compared to their previous albums, KK feels more confident in asserting their Christian beliefs than before. The nuances were present throughout Beyond Control but this time they appear more obvious.
Perhaps more biographically, I listened to parts of this album a fair bit during my time in Japan. I remember fondly walking back to my accomodation in Kyoto listening to ‘Safe Retreat’; a song based on a mix of Psalms about Christ being a retreat and fortress for Christians. It gave me great comfort and encouragement in trusting the Lord with joy whilst travelling in a strange country.
Check it out below:
King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, Sketches of Brunswick East and Polygondwanaland
The Aussie band, King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard have 3 weeks to complete their ambitious goal of releasing 5 albums in 2017. Although I did not listen too intently to the first two albums in this project, Flying Microtonal and Banana and Murder of the Universe. I wasn’t particularly drawn to their intentionally lo-fi sound, finding it tedious and pretentious, however, when I heard Sketches of Brunswick East, I was hooked.
The lo-fi nature of Brunswick benefits the album, giving it a dynamic sound wedged between 1977 and 2017. The double-drum attack made most sense here, being divided between the left and right speakers for a percussive aural assault. At times Brunswick reminded me of Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo (the album cover is eerily similar in design). In fact, most of it simply reminds me of Zappa. The album transitions between experimental jams, jazzy hooks, and neo-soul vibes. It is quite a departure from the fuzzed out previous offerings.
Brunswick was strong, but boy is Polygonwanaland epic. It is the most interesting Prog-Rock album in ages. The distracting point of much contemporary Prog-Rock is that it is so over-produced (just try listening to anything by Dream Theatre or associated bands). This album is a little more produced than other efforts by KGATLW but doesn’t feel ‘slick’. It is a blend of King Crimson, Yes, Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa. Ok – basically every prog band ever.
There are sounds on this album that I haven’t heard in a very long time, if ever on any album. MOOG synths the like of which I haven’t heard since Dark Side of the Moon featuring in the album’s gargantuan opener, ‘Crumbling Castle’. It is tasteful, never giving the hint of ‘Hey this is a nod to Dark Side!’ but in service of the song.
Another interesting fact about Polygondwanaland is that it was released freely to the public. As in, they released the masters for the cd and vinyl, for anyone to manufacture and make money from. The band simply provided the music. Like Radiohead’s stint with In Rainbows, asking the public to pay whatever they wanted for the album, KGATLW went further: releasing all rights to the public for personal consumption.
Pretty bold stuff in the name of creativity. I wonder how they pay the bills…
Check out these albums!
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN
Kendrick Lamar returns with his follow-up to the amazing To Pimp a Butterfly and B-Sides Untitled Unmastered, Kendrick Lamar returns with a ‘less-sophisticated’ collection of songs on DAMN. Now to qualify this statement, what I mean is that Kendrick has made an album that is more in line with contemporary rap, rather than his jazz-tinged and more experimental albums like Butterfly and Unmastered. The songs are catchy as ever, just check out ‘DNA’, ‘Loyalty’ or ‘Humble’.
Maki Asakawa, Best Of
I bought this album on vinyl from a record store in Kyoto, Japan, upon recommendation from the store owner. I am so glad I did. It is easily one of the best collections of songs from a non-English speaking artist I’ve heard in a while.
Maki Asakawa is a little-known jazz singer from Japan influenced heavily from the likes of Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson, who was operating primarily during the late 60’s to late 70’s. She made over 30 albums throughout her career, before dying in 2010. Her style is a mixture of soul, jazz with nuances of pop and funk.
Her voice is haunting – the grief at times is palpable. I highly recommend her.
Kode Wa Suki desu!
Lecrae, All Things For Good
Lecrae used to make cliche Christian rap with tired imagery that was plagued by the tendency for Christians artists to over-produce their material. Thankfully, in the last few years he has changed dramatically and produced some of the strongest modern rap, period. All Things For Good is not start-to-finish great – the first half of the album in particular is pretty underwhelming – but the latter half of ATFG particular tracks are enough to compete against Lamar’s DAMN in terms of quality. Just listen to ‘Come and Get Me’, ‘I Wish You the Best’ ‘Broke’ and ‘I’ll Find You’.
I am aware that Lecrae’s movement away from Evangelical circles has caused a lot of controversy, but may have been beneficial for him as an artist making rap for the glory of God. I don’t think this album is a compromise on any of his beliefs. If anything, its a portrait of a sinner finding redemption in Christ from the sins of his past and present.
68, Two-Parts Vulture
68 return with a fantastic second album after their debut, In Humor and Sadness. IHAS was a little hit-and-miss; a slightly lacklustre album that was fun but more about great potential. Two-Parts Vulture exceeds any of the potential the band had in their debut, with a really strong and consistent collection of songs. Part Nirvana, part White Stripes…only heavier.
I did also get to see them live a couple of times and it boy was it heavy.
What were your favourites of 2017? Sound away below…!