Look, 2017 was a garbage year and I think we’d all just rather move on. Nazis roamed the streets, giant hurricanes ravaged densely populated areas, half of California is on fire, all of your favorite people who didn’t die last year got outed as sex offenders, and President Donald Trump managed to gut social programs and mortgage our children’s futures so he could give the 1-percenters a tax cut they absolutely do not need. Worst of all, Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, giving the Minnesota Freakin’ Vikings the opportunity to be the first team to play in a home-field Super Bowl. The silver lining? Well, we’re not in a nuclear war, so that’s good at least. Anyway, I guess some good music was released this year, and as usual my “year-end” list is not so much a list at all as it is a haphazard lumping of various albums that I mostly already wrote about. I do not really have an album of the year, usually when I declare such a thing I wind up wondering what the hell I was thinking a couple weeks later. But there was a lot of good stuff, most of which I haven’t heard, but hey. Only so many hours in the day. So here are my end-of-the-year awards – as usual, links to better, more well-thought out opinions when they exist:
Best album by a wily old vet, or multiple wily old vets: Sparks – Hippopotamus
By this point “the new Sparks album is actually really great” shouldn’t be surprising to anybody, but Sparks are creeping up on their 50th anniversary, which is like, four decades past the point where most bands stop being vital. This is technically their first solo album proper in 9 years, which would make it the longest ‘gap’ of their career, though they’ve recorded some stuff in the interim (including another “I can’t believe this is so good” disc, a collab with Franz Ferdinand). I mention that because it really does sound like they’ve been hoarding songs – like Indiscreet this feels like it was recorded in several studios with several sets of musicians (I don’t think it actually was, but that’s the impression I get). But that’s a point in its favor, as all fifteen songs here stand out in their own way, with varying degrees of rock, earnestness, humor, and orchestration. It is full of little dumb vocal hooks that continue to irritate long after the album is done playing, and as usual that’s kind of the best part of the album. It’s funny, possibly funnier than any Sparks album since Whomp That Sucker. It sums up everything they do so well without falling into any of the traps that mark their lesser works. I can’t believe they managed to pull it off so late in their career, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
Best usage of recycling: Nmesh – Pharma
Well, it was between this and The Bran Flakes, but Nmesh gave me a Twitter shout out so I’ll give him the prize. Plus, his album was longer and it came out on cassette tape, which in itself is laudable. A lot of my favorite albums this year were made up primarily of recycled old sounds, which is fitting. More than ever we define ourselves in terms of our esoteric interests and I kinda feel like an album like Pharma opens up the mind of its creator more than any overly earnest guitar-and-microphone recording could.
Comedy album of the year: Neil Cicierega – Mouth Moods
Either there were not very many funny records released this year or I just didn’t much feel like laughing. But Neil Cicierega delivers the goods, with a record that’s funny now and funny later, especially once you start to unpack the sheer volume of complete nonsense lyrics that Neil manages to cobble together. I’m tempted to just paste the entire lyrics to “Wow Wow” but instead I’ll just link them here.
Favorite album that most of y’all probably wouldn’t like: Denki Groove – Tropical Love
I absolutely love this group but I’ve got a difficult time explaining why. Their latest disc feels like it’s got a lot of pretty obvious flaws – it’s too jokey, the mastering is weird, and some of the hooks sound so obvious that it almost feels like they’re mocking the listener. But I love it anyway. I think this wound up being my most played album of the year.
Most bonkers in an absolutely mad sort of way: SAYOHIMEBOU – 卡拉OK♫スターダスト東風
Usually sugar-rush pop music like this sounds better after you’ve had a few, but this one is utterly incoherent if you can’t give it your full attention. This is music for chaps with extremely low attention spans – it sounds the same way the tracklisting looks. It’s pretty great…I think. I don’t really know. Even if nothing else, that cover of “Celebration” is pretty incredible.
Most bonkers in a “what the hell is this guy doing” sort of way: Kirin J Callinan – Bravado
I might write more on this album later, but let’s just say that is a pretty apt album title if I’ve ever seen one. Was expecting to hate this album…wound up developing a strange sense of respect for the dude. Also a contender for “Comedy album of the year”, if that helps you picture it.
Best LCD Soundsystem album: Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai
Why, after giving LCD such a glowing and somewhat embarrassing review this year? Don’t get me wrong – American Dream is pretty great, but Uyai keeps the tunes to a tight four-minute run time, and when it comes to relistening to all my records for a given year I start to appreciate that. When I looked for that dance-pop-with-agogo-bell sound in the year 2017 (as we tend to do) I wound up gravitating towards this one – first, because it’s got a real kick-ass opening track (“Give Me a Reason”), and two because the singer is a lot better. American Dream will get enough accolades this year.
Most essential live album: Orbital – Live at Eventim Hammersmith Apollo 2.12.17
This was only just now released in the month of December and I’ve only heard it once, but god damn is this thing incredible. Essentially a greatest hits set + three (excellent) new tracks, which is not too exciting on its surface, except for the fact that Orbital have, for whatever reason, never released a proper live album, and they take the opportunity to rip up a lot of these tunes and reassemble them from scratch.
Least essential live album: Yes – Topographic Drama: Live Across America
I almost gave Orbital the nod here as well, since for whatever reason they wound up releasing a second live album with a nearly identical tracklisting as the first, taken from the same run of shows. But I have not heard that album, and as of this moment I don’t review stuff I haven’t heard. Meanwhile, you’ve got Yes, a band limping steady into Year Number Fifty, featuring a lineup full of the sort of guys who tend to show up on the band’s least popular albums. The gimmick this go round is that they play all of Drama and about 55% of Tales, though as usual I find myself wishing I had heard them doing this 30 years ago, as the once-capable hands of Yes in 2017 just don’t seem built to tackle music this complex; even when they dip the tempos down, they still seem a bit off cue. Listen to “Heart of the Sunrise” or “Tempus Fugit” and you’ll quickly hear what I mean. But hey, Roger Dean’s cover art is still on point – at least one of them’s still got the magic.
Anyway, that’s it for now. I’ve heard (and enjoyed) a bunch more albums this year, but these are the ones I felt about writing off the top of my head just now. Happy 2018, y’all!