Best Albums of 2017: #50-26 (with commentary)

#50: King Krule, The OOZ
To understand this album, just imagine stoned jazz. Very stoned jazz, with a lower-class English accent. You can see him holding a mic and not moving while smoking a doob and slur rapping into the mic.
#49: Hippo Campus, Landmark
Yearning, upbeat pop with great hooks on the first full album from this Minnesota band. Highlights: “Epitaph” and “Boyish.”
#48: The Yawpers, Boy in the Well
Upbeat stomp ‘n’ holler (perhaps the “cow-punk” genre describes them best).
#47: Foo Fighters, Concrete and Gold
Dave Grohl and crew are still at it, grinding out pure hard rock. Just listen to the grinding riff of “Make It Right” to get the vibe.
#46: Foxygen, Hang
These guys have chops, man! And they apply them in a great creative way. There’s funk, soul, and even a kind of ’20s dance hall number (“Avalon”). It’s hard to classify, which is a great recommendation by my standards.
#45: Steve Earle and the Dukes, So You Wannabe an Outlaw?
One of the great American songwriters, deeply stepped in the history of American folk music, has produced another collection of Americana – country, folk, rock, honky tonk, bluegrass – all blended together and driven by one of the best backup bands in American music.
#44: The National, Sleep Well Beast
Matt Beringer’s baritone (an unusual range for a rock ‘n’ roll band) lends The National a lot of their unique sound, but their approach to arrangements (often subtle and wary of over-instrumentation) and general tightness as a band gives this outing its usual sense of melancholy and drama.
#43: Circuit des Yeux, Reaching for Indigo
Haley Fohr’s music has a character all its own. Dark and almost creepy at times, the music also has elements of free jazz and avant-garde composition (e.g., “Paper Bag”). Not the easiest music to listen to, but endlessly interesting.
#42: Sylvan Esso, What Now
Not as catchy and surprising as their debut but still very warm, fun, interesting, creative and danceable electronica.
#41: Nick Mulvey, Wake Up Now
This album somewhat reminds me of Ben Howard: highly percussive and rhythmic acoustic music, very melodic and charming.
#40 (tie): Dori Freeman, Letters Never Read
Beautiful songwriting covering a wide range of Americana, from bluegrass to Patsy Cline to crooners. The title track is a highlight.
#40 (tie): Nicole Atkins, Goodnight Rhonda Lee
That this tied with Dori Freeman’s album is not a big surprise. They are both exceptionally talented songwriters with a deep grounding in American musical history. Not to repeat myself (although I am) but the title track is superb.
#38: Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life
These guys make more noise with a guitar and a drumset than seems possible. And while they do it with a punky attitude and crunch, it can’t hide their uplifting, ready-for-the-arena melodies.
#37: Dirty Projectors, Dirty Projectors
Another album from one of the most creative outfits in music (from whom I learned about “hocketing” – look it up!). The lyrics are obviously about leader David Longstreth’s breakup with Amber Coffman (and her solo album, #87, is obviously about the same).
#36: Showtime Goma, Smiley Face
The first solo album from Jen Goma (better known as leader of A Sunny Day in Glasgow, and a collaborator with a number of well known indie bands), this is quirky, indie pop that spins off in unexpected directions.
#35: Matt the Electrician, The Doubles
The conceit here is that musician Matt Sever (aka Matt the Electrician) recorded the first half of this double album with his own trio, and the same basic set of songs on the second half with guest musicians. Just terrific songwriting with a great eye for detail and stories.
#34: Spoon, Hot Thoughts
Just more inventive pop-rock from the Texas quartet. Anchored by Britt Daniels interesting voice and some great keyboard riffs. “Do I Have to Talk You Into It?” is a stand out.
#33: Kevin Morby, City Music
Kevin Morby is one of the most interesting songwriters out there right now. Very much in the indie- and/or folk-rock camp, he seems to treat each song as a unique object that requires a careful approach. The result can be chill, uplifting, rhythmic, or all three.
#32: Shakey Graves and the Horse He Road In On, Noble’s Fool and the Donor Blues EPs
Quirky, drugged country-blues
#31: Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm
Katie Crutchfield has expanded her sound palette and production values fairly significantly on this, her 4th album. The same basic ingredients from her earlier, more lo-fi recordings, is in evidence, though: gorgeous melodies, aching/longing lyrics, and some nice punky guitar shredding.
#30: Mondo Cozmo, Plastic Soul
An unexpected discovery, found while browsing new releases and listened to without knowing anything about it. Great neo-soul/rock and roll songwriting. “Shine,” the title track, and “Chemical Dream” are all great rave-ups, passionate with a classic slightly off-kilter rock ‘n’ roll voice.
#29: San Fermin, Belong
Still amazingly creative, with spectacular arrangements and complex instrumentation, but not quite as strongly melodic as past efforts.
#28: Thundercat, Drunk
Funky, jazzy and a little mellow (almost sleepy): in other words, a bit undefinable, as good music often is. A bit of a Steely Dan/’70s feel, which is augmented by the appearance of both Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald on the same track, not to mention the retro LP cover.
#27: Chad Vangaalen, Light Information
This Canadian musician brings a keen understanding of psychedelia, the Velvet Underground, and glam rock to this outing. Listen to “Faces Lit” or “Glam.”
#26: The Killers, Wonderful Wonderful
Big, loud, heartfelt and heartland, arena-ready rock


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