Top Albums of 2017 — Spyros Stasis
Another year, another excellent bunch of releases. As I tend to spread out across different sounds and genres, it is a joy to be able to see that big names from each scene are still able to produce great pieces of work, continue to challenge their respective audiences, and not rest on their laurels. At the same time, you get new introductions and artists with a unique style and voice that are either releasing their first work, or seemingly conquering the whole world in just their second attempt (I am looking at you Jlin). And, of course, the long awaited returns -- there is nothing better than seeing some of your favorite acts come back after a long break and bring work of such quality in the process.
So, even if the world is still a mess and tragedies still strike, at least solace can be found in the fact that the composers of our lives’ score keep delivering each year.
20. Ryuichi Sakamoto – async (Milan Records, Japan)
19. Demen – Nektyr (Kranky, Sweden)
18. Dodecahedron – Kwintessens (Season of Mist, Netherlands)
17. Ben Frost – The Centre Cannot Hold (Mute, Australia/Iceland)
16. Fever Ray – Plunge (Rabid/Mute, Sweden)
15. Esmerine – Mechanics of Dominion (Constellation, Canada)
14. Grave Pleasures – Motherblood (Century Media, Finland)
13. Forest Swords – Compassion (Ninja Tune, UK)
12. Nadah El Shazly – Ahwar (Nawa Recordings, Egypt)
11. Pact Infernal – Infernality (Horo, Unknown)
(XL Recordings, Venezuela)
Arca’s collaborations with Bjork, FKA Twigs, and Kanye West brought him recognition in the wider music scene, but it is his solo releases that are the most exciting. Displaying a truly experimental spirit and a deep affection for intelligent electronic music, record by record the producer has been opening up. This self-titled album finds him at his most honest, showcasing a work that becomes more intriguing through the personal angle that it holds.
There are many bands that are described as having an extreme sound, but few that can be accurately described as extreme. Endon is one of the few acts that actually reaches deep down, to the absolute nihilistic level and pulls to the surface a diamond in the rough in Through the Mirror. A devastating album, showcasing the best (or worst) of the quintessential faces of extreme music, from black metal and hardcore to industrial and noise.
(House of Mythology, Norway)
Just when you have thought that Ulver has explored all that it has set out to, Garm and company come back with a record like this. Diving into post-punk, the band finds inspiration in the dreamy rock tunes of the early 1980s while adding its own off-kilter attitude. It is direct and yet filled with mysticism, accessible but also hiding some of its twisted nature beneath the surface. In essence, despite the band not venturing in that direction before, it is a pure Ulver record.
(Sacred Bones, USA)
I was slightly disappointed with Zola Jesus’s previous record Taiga in the departure from their heavier sound and toward a slightly more mainstream and polished offering. In the follow-up, Danilova returns with her darkest record since The Spoils, where the power of the atmosphere does not come from the injection of noise and power electronics, but by the openness of her compositions.
(House of Mythology, Italy)
This is just an amazing trip to lose yourself in. Influenced by the Tibetan ritual of sky burial, this Italian trio reveals a world of droning soundscapes and free-jazz mentality. Zu was never a band to follow the norms, and from one record to the next the face and vision has been shifting, but Jhator sees them hitting the bullseye. The two long-form tracks see Zu acting as the curators of dreams, setting out to craft a mystical experience through the haze of improvisation.
Simply put, this is a no bullshit album. Generally, I am quite particular about death metal, but Pyrrhon’s latest album has really done it for me. It is not that the record is simply brutal and heavy, but the manner in which the band goes into What Passes for Survival brings something enticing and novel to the table. Without focusing on ultra-fast pacing, but rather bringing down the tempo, they dive into new territory at a time when exploration is necessary for survival.
(Planet Mu, USA)
Jlin is the absolute master when it comes to rhythmic patterns. On just her second album, following the excellent Dark Energy, she already exceeds herself with Black Origami. It is a complex album, difficult to come to grips with as it constantly shapeshifts into new forms. The use of the term origami is the most appropriate description on the production process of Jlin, who folds and takes apart her compositions, presenting them one way before they are deconstructed and redesigned to fit a different purpose.
(Profound Lore, USA)
In a short time span, Bell Witch already released two albums that will remain in the pantheon of extreme doom/death forever with Longing and Four Phantoms. However, as is the case with life, tragedy struck, and drummer Adrian Guerra passed away just last year, leaving a gaping hole in the extreme metal scene. Dylan Desmond found the strength to return with Bell Witch, forging a kindred spirit in drummer Jesse Shreibman, and releasing the band’s most impressive work in the 83-minute monolith that is Mirror Reaper. Do not fear the duration, this is a trip that will redeem you for sticking with it.
When it comes to bands that twist the standard rock form, few (if any) do it better than Oxbow. The band from San Francisco remained silent for a seven-year period, since the release of The Narcotic Story, which made the return with Thin Black Duke that more alarming. Seemingly without having missed a beat, Oxbow goes into its frenzied rock state, introducing jazz concepts and classical leanings to build the ultimate testament to the capabilities of rock music.
(Ideologic Organ, Australia)
The return of the masters. The Australian trio has a long history and has released a series of excellent works in years past, and with Unfold they further build on to the quality of their discography. Four long-form tracks, not the usual single hour-long trip, are found in their first release through Ideologic Organ, and the band makes sure to explore and examine each improv part, hauling the droning, post-rock structure they are introducing. It results (as is the case with most of The Necks’ work) in a wonderful journey through the mindset of three intriguing performers.