Top Albums of 2017 — Christopher Harrington
The way I see my life spreading out, records are forever linked to each fragment, action, and movement, like a score within a score. But things are changing. The young people of today are in a world far removed from the not-so distant past. Back in the day, you had to go to the record store to buy an album. You had to search the physical world for, and take chances on, finding new and exciting music. It was a lifetime commitment. There was no backup. It was exciting and heart fluttering, and records physically purchased back then had a lasting quality to them. They still do. Now, most music is available perpetually and effortlessly online (at least until the natural resources dry up). There’s no more need for struggle and wonder. It’s all within a click of the finger. There’s a mindlessness to this new universe.
For me, I have to actually own a record (or at least burn the digital copy to cassette) to consider it for any sort of end-of-year list. I have to listen to it and wear it out. Bang it up. I’ve had the opportunity to download infinite amounts of free music this year, but I’ve passed on most of it. It was just too easy to click on. I still have to search for my music, take chances, and look forward to disappointment. There’s a lot of great cassette labels out there these days churning out underground music at a rapid clip. This is a great way to interact with music online and still get a somewhat physical connection to it: you get tapes in the mail and it just has a real feel to it.
Metal is only a tiny genre of the music I listen to, so I’ve listed a non-metal top ten as well. The year went fast, and next year will be even faster. So grab your Sony Walkman and take a hike.
Let’s have a listen.
Honorable Mentions (non-metal):
20. Desert Beats – Desert Beats (Baby Tooth Records, Arizona)
19. Public Speaking – Enhanced Touch: Caress, Redact Remixes (Already Dead Tapes & Records, New York)
18. Wolf Eyes – Undertow (Lower Floor, Michigan)
17. Sunken Cheek – Familiar (Found Remains, New York)
16. Michael Potter – Garden Portal Almanac (Already Dead Tapes & Records, Georgia)
15. Joey Badass – All Amerikkkan Badass (Pro Era, New York)
14. Thievery Corporation – The Temple of I & I (ESL Music, Washington, D.C.)
13. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mellow Music Group, California)
12. Big Thief – Capacity (Saddle Creek Records, New York)
11. Strand of Oaks – Hard Love (Dead Oceans, Pennsylvania)
This is fucking punk. Boise's gnarly sonic slashers Deep Creeps are a group that lays down something fierce. An imminent pain and pressure surrounds their raw and blistering approach. White Rot is like noise and trash and underground grind all spinning light years of refuge and force. There’s speed, madness, and a desire to just rage and own your movement. This is a lighting sparkle of a cassette, an album that does what it intends: blow through your mindscape with haste. The inner sleeve of the tape contains a recipe for Vegan Garlic Roasted Idaho Potato Soup. I mean, this is the real deal.
(Deformeathing Production, Poland)
Poland’s extreme fusionists Youdash manage to make death metal funk again. The quartet’s first full-length is a whirlwind of dexterity, acrobatics, and Dadaism, which is what a musical expression like death metal needs. Astrophobia is blindingly quick, technical as hell, and funny. There’s also the funk. Not the funk you might be thinking, but a funk that is nestled strangely in dimensions not flat, but bumpy and earnest. The guitar solos on this record are fucking crazy, and perfectly fused to create bounce and extension. The record never fails itself, it trusts its architecture, believes in its overall outcome. This is some shit right here, progressive, daring, and unique.
(Season of Mist, Portugal)
It’s cool to listen to former Mayhem guitarist, Blasphemer -- a.k.a. Rune Eriksen -- rip it up in a rock 'n' roll band. No need to pretend like you’re some fucking demon from hell, just rage it naturally. His new band, Earth Electric, has those rigid and dark edges of Mayhem, but stretched through a lens of prog, classic rock, psychedelic, and old-school heavy metal. It’s beautiful stuff. This is one the most listenable records of the year: dark, sunny, circular, and fun. Earth Electric is a killer band, one with a soul for the 1970s and a quickening mind for the entire history of rock 'n' roll.
(Full Contact Records, Finland)
It’s been thirty long years since the ubiquitous Jesters of Destiny have released a record, and shit, it was well worth the wait. The psychedelic rockers are a group well adjusted to the altitude of musical variance. They know what “happening” means. The Sorrows That Refuse To Drown is a complete vision with perplexing angles, invisible surfaces, funk, punk, laughter, prog, proto-heavy metal, and infinite melody that drips nods to the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Spinal Tap, Sabbath, Can, Butthole Surfaces, Black Flag, and everything in between. The Jesters rule man!
(Svart Records, New York)
This avant-garde supergroup of sorts plays like it’s the exact part of the slimy Earth that rubs against your inner mind, festering up your outer dreams, dark and musty. Made up of Oren Ambarchi (Nazoranai, Burial Chamber), Stephen O’Malley (Sunn O))), Pentemple), and Attila Csihar (Mayhem, Tormentor), the group’s second full-length is a breeze through hell and back, encircling free jazz, black metal, drone, industrial, noise, and more. It’s a collection of psychological studies, where art meets amplification, and feeling drives the overall picture towards ascension and collapse. There’s a deep mindfulness to this record. It sounds like war is actually happening outside your inner-chamber, and that’s the point. Oren Ambarchi based the record around his experiences in the war-torn Middle East. This is serious stuff.
(Ipecac Recordings, California)
I can’t think of any way else to pick your top albums of the year, except for how many times you listened to them. That’s pretty much it, right? Well, I listened to Dead Cross a shit-ton, and really raged it. I like the fact that a lot of people didn’t like this album. I think it did its job. It’s punk, it’s fast, it’s arty as hell, and I listened to it over and over while driving around the grey streets of Brooklyn, imagining Mike Patton as a kid working at a record store in Arcata, California. This is all the hardcore music I really needed for 2017, and old guys like me fused it. Guys who probably still have cassette tape decks in multiple rooms of their homes. That is the key to life right there. Cassette decks.
(Neurot Recordings, Idaho)
Steve Von Till is a legend with Neurosis, but his Harvestman recordings offer the inner light of his expression. Music For Megaliths is an organic swirl from the ether, circling around itself like an infinite atom in the forest. The record enters your mindscape breezily, with tones and dark psychedelia that pull from the fear and the joy. There’s pure abstraction here: immense feelings that stretch across drone, noise, krautrock and folk: soundscapes vivid and challenging. “Oak Drone” is science fiction at its best. A planet like the old Earth, with creatures made of shadows and trees lush and warm. “Ring of Sentinels” is beauty beyond: a universe far and near. If you want to take a serious trip this year, check this out. It impressed upon my mind like no other recording this year. I first listened to it in the car, and the outside world ceased to exist. I somehow made it to the store, dazed and inspired. I was transformed.
(Season of Mist, New Jersey)
Scratch that. I actually needed a little more hardcore in 2017. Enter River Black. The band’s self-titled debut was a direct onslaught of power, swift maneuvers, and tasteful extensions, showcasing a punk rock underbelly and an experimental over-brain. Featuring three-fourths of the legendary blasters Burnt By The Sun (Mike Olender, John Adubato, Dave Witte) with Revocation bassist Brett Bamberger, this group forged one of the most thoroughly engaging and happily destructive records of the year. The hardcore is deep here and blends within and without a cornucopia of extreme variations. The veteran quartet takes a mindful approach with each composition: never extending too far and always applying just enough pressure to keep you pummeled and engaged. The record is fast and swirling, with many a moment of breakdown in the middle of the street doing a fucked-up jig. Some passerby will give you the staredown, but you’ll be infinite, walking into the horizon of art and ascension.
I love it when “metal” people bitch and moan about new Mastodon. Every asshole has an opinion, and it appears Mastodon could give an endless two shits about them. Thank god. They just continue to evolve as songwriters and infinite dreamers. Creating albums that stick in your mind like the albums of old, before the inter-web and all these picture-phones. Emperor of the Sand will sit next to your Zeppelin records, your Grateful Dead records, your Bob Marley records, and your Tribe Called Quest records. Mastodon makes music that is timeless and beautiful, and they can rock riffs huger than any band out there, forever!
(The Laser’s Edge, Norway)
The long running progressive art rock band White Willow have always created lush musical landscapes, but with Future Hopes there is something even beyond that: a movement with such heft and beauty that it hangs in the layered air like notes in invisible union, dancing across the shiny boards of infinity, long and strong. I played this album the most of any of these top-ten records I’ve listed. And such, it’s Number One in my book. It’s a journey that stomps through the darkness and the light; in the middle are dimensions chromatic and piercing, flying through Pink Floyd clouds and Soft Machine gasses. White Willow ushered in a masterpiece with this nugget of joy. New horizons are reached with each successive listen, it never ceases to amaze.