50. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Async
It feels weird to be kicking off our best of the year list with async. After all, the opener “Andata” is the sort of song associated with endings; it’s a funeral dirge, a reflection of where Sakamoto’s mind was no doubt wandering during his three year battle with cancer. Perhaps this fear of death also led to the common day sounds present throughout async. The first words spoken on the album (“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times”) is the sentiment that I think sums up the importance of these sounds we take for granted, yet may never hear again. “Walker”, for example, features the sound of grass crunched underfoot and the background noise of a town or city in the distance, provoking the sort of quiet contemplation that no doubt Sakamoto experienced while crafting async. But if most of async is the quiet reflection that comes with the reminder of one’s mortality, then the title track is the sweating painful fear that comes with all the pangs and doubts as to whether remission will come. And for that complex duality, I think async deserves a spot here. –Mort.
49. Alvvays – Antisocialites
Fuck being a woman in indie. The baggage, in the hands of critics, takes on the form and density of rocks. How many artists, or bands fronted by women, have you heard compared to Sleater-Kinney or HAIM? How many times has a woman’s voice, purely by virtue of its femininity, been labelled twee? As listeners, many of us like women where they belong: at the top of the highest tower on the tallest mountain, mournfully strumming a harp, waiting to be rescued. Reference points outside of female-fronted bands? No sirre; this is America.
Alvvays don’t care an iota or fig. Lead singer Molly Rankin and co., in a deranged melange of shoegaze inflections and cutesy drum patterns, gleefully amps up the ‘twee’, the saccharine, the gooey, and dares you to comment. Remarkably, one doesn’t — perhaps because Alvvays have an uncanny knack for melody, sub-genre-flitting and wearing what are commonly seen as deficits with rebellious pride. “When I chip through your candy coating / You’re stuffed with insulation / Just strawberry ice cream floating / With a sprinkle indignation” runs one objectively terrible, somehow delicious lyric on album highlight “Plimsoll Punks”. Chipping through this album’s coating, however, reveals a big beating heart — and the ice cream is, thought decadent, sumptuous. –Winesburgohio
48. Benjamin Clementine – I Tell A Fly
It’s official: Clementine, never the steadiest tiller on the good ship of mental health, has lost his mind. The industrial-cum-sylvan figure has emerged from his lair to belt out 11 bizarre, vaguely ominous, frequently incoherent art pop sonatas, each one touching upon variously baroque, neo-classical and jazz themes in inchoate carnations. It sounds like an album in fugue state, constantly redefining itself against parameters invisible to the audience.
But, for all its flourishes, Clementine excels best, perhaps, at crafting the kind of pop that connotes unease and loneliness, an attribute (along with cheekbones that could cut glass and a certain capital-‘S’ Serious approach to androgyny) he shares with Grace Jones. His impressive vocal range and weird but convincing genre flourishes aside, stripped down, this is an album about a kind of life lived on the periphery. That he had to dress it up to get people’s attention is the crux, but with sartorial flair and elan this knowing, one hardly minds. –Winesburgohio
47. Forest Swords – Compassion
46. The Contortionist – Clairvoyant
If there was ever an obvious manifestation of maturity, Clairvoyant is a perfect display of it. Carrying on from where Language left off, The Contortionist’s fourth LP continues to push a watchful emphasis on songwriting, scrapping their abrasive metal sound for multi-layered melodic passages and Pink Floydian soundscapes delivered by the band’s impressive-as-ever musicianship. There’s a shift in priorities, making a conscious effort to focus on mood-making and vocal work, rather than flexing their muscles in the fret-gymnastic department – something that isn’t lacking here, either. The results push the band into a bold new world creatively: one that manages to masterfully cater to its core audience whilst introducing a wave of new fans in the process. –DrGonzo1937
45. Leprous – Malina
Much like The Contortionist, Norwegian quintet Leprous have had a little shakeup with their approach to Malina‘s creation as well; the spotlight and all its pressures have largely fallen on Einar Solberg’s singing to keep the bulk of the LP afloat. While I wouldn’t call it a defining moment for the band, it’s an album that continues to evolve them in all the right areas: taking the moody aesthetic of Congregation and amalgamating it with Solberg’s impassioned vocal performances. The risks taken pay off with Malina: it’s their most melancholic project to date and one that opens a lot of interesting doors if there’s ever to be a next album. You’ll still hear Leprous at the core of this thing; it’s just a more subdued and nuanced one, with less focus on the instrumentals and more time and effort being put into areas they hadn’t yet properly explored until now. –DrGonzo1937
44. IDLES – Brutalism
There’s not a single member of Idles that really seems in control on Brutalism. There are times when it feels like maybe vocalist Joe Talbot is guiding the rest of the band, with his caustic, accent-soaked hollers seemingly steering the gut-punch drums and razor-sharp post-punk guitars like a snake charmer. Yet the sardonic, pissed-off incantations that Talbot spits out never feel calculated or even chosen; he desperately needs to expel them from his throat. On Brutalism, Idles are exorcizing a deep anger at the state of their home country, with Talbot in particular honoring the death of his mother by screaming his lungs out at the wealthy conservatives who fucked her over, shoving their own crimes down their throats in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, one of them will choke. Fortunately for the rest of us, this visceral eruption of Idles’ fury just so happens to make for a deeply invigorating punk album, full of acerbic wit and exhilarating anarchy. –hesperus
43. Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains
After the resounding critical success of …Like Clockwork, expectations for its follow-up towered high enough to brush the firmament, so it’s rather appropriate that the arrival of Villains scattered opinions and confounded responses. Queens of the Stone Age no longer promise the heat waves and sandstorms stirred up earlier in their career, and if we’re honest, they haven’t for a short while now. Despite the earliest proclamation on album opener “Feet Don’t Fail Me” reminding us that Homme “was born in the desert”, he and the rest of the band have clearly matured in the sleazy, smoke-filled bistros of alternative rock, and the resulting musk clings to this record with intoxicating tendrils. Don’t be misled; the same recognisable riff-and-roll machine continues to pump away at the heart of Villains, but the distinct tone and attitude persisting since the era of Kyuss has been left in the dust, replaced with something altogether more subtle, and perhaps a little tipsy. Present-day QOTSA wear sunglasses inside dim venues and sway on stage with misplaced sex appeal, but beneath the surface there’s a vulnerability poking through its feigned swagger, revealing a more emotional and thoughtful side to these rockers that hasn’t always been allowed to bathe in the jaundiced spotlight. Villains is a revealing work for a collective finally eschewing most of what made their name and pursuing a sound they’ve been progressing towards for the last decade. It may not be the same band you knew and loved, but it’s one you can get to know, and learn to love again. –ScuroFantasma
42. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
Expertly toeing the line between dreamy, foggy atmospheres, and sexy, strutting funk, Hot Thoughts is a perfect descriptor. Conjuring up images of AIR meeting OK Go and David Bowie in a dark alley, this record is a confident, sexy head-bopper that satisfies from start to finish. Analog beats, Britpop-themed vocal quirks, and a hearty sense of humour make this an essential pop release – the archetypal ‘record to cheer you up’ with tons of replay value. –MercuryToHell
41. Pain of Salvation – In the Passing Light of Day
40. Arcane Roots – Melancholia Hymns
After the ecstatic and angular romp that was Blood & Chemistry, there was almost an audible whimper when it was announced that Arcane Roots would be taking the pace down a notch for their sophomore release. However, they have crafted a haunting and immaculately presented epic in Melancholia Hymns. Grandiose pounding leads being complemented by charming synthesizer work that wears a slight ’80s influence on its sleeve but never once sounds outdated. Managing to slip between moments of atmospheric bliss and heavier, anthemic highlights, this is an utter delight of a rock record. –MercuryToHell
39. Milo – Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!
I think the most likable characteristic about Milo is the pureness that oozes out of his originality. Whether he’s mumbling aphorisms on repeat or punctuating every bar with impassioned pronunciation, it’s safe to say there’s no other rapper out there like him. And trust me, I’ve tried to find similar artists ever since Who Told You to Think??!!??!!dropped this past summer, yet I failed to find such a unique balance between the record player fuzz concoction of chill rap and the playful lyrical explorations grounded in his own reality. Plus, there’s something in this record here for everyone, whether it’s the splashes of psychedelia seen in “Embroidering Machine” and “Sorcerer” or the hard-hitting old-school vibe that’s most prominent in tracks like “Rapper”. Lyrically, Milo stays true to the non-hostile genre of Art Rap, yet he’s much less upfront about the cheeky quips riddled throughout his earlier work. Instead, he deadpans almost every line, making phrases like “I’m Salazar slitherin’ / by the salad bar gigglin'” all the more poignant when you notice their dexterity. While there’s really no proper way to praise everything right about this 15-song record (although Jack came quite close with his review), it’s safe to say it’s one of the best underground rap albums of 2017. –Conmaniac
38. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper
“Funeral doom metal” is far too easy a term to apply to Mirror Reaper. Bell Witch’s third full-length album is a monolithic, 80-minute, one-track record that passes motions through consistently plodding doom metal, taking on drone-like qualities, chanting, and mournful guitar melodies. That’s in the first half. As the album enters its second stage, it sees itself tone down the doom entirely, and focuses on Warning-esque clean vocals and relentlessly slow clean guitar that’s more reminiscent of ’90s slowcore than it is of any doom metal you’ve ever heard. Not that it’s a bad thing; this reflective genre swap is welcomed with open arms, as the more atmospheric and gentle ideals of funeral doom have never been explored as well as they have been here. It’s all just gentle and swelling atmosphere before bursting back into that heavy and paralysing crescendo of electric guitars. The end result is a monumental achievement for a band such as this, an artistic statement and a soon-to-be-classic, which will fondly be remembered for many years to come. –Astral Abortis
37. Paramore – After Laughter
“If we cry hard, we’re going to dance harder!” is the unofficial slogan for After Laughter, but my god could it be the motto for my late twentysomething self – and really, most twentysomethings I know. We have the luxury to come of age during a weird time in history. Caught between the stoic ideals of an older generation who mock vulnerability and trying to find where we belong in this messy world, sometimes the only thing to do is fake a smile. And that’s really what After Laughter is about: the glamour that covers up the grime. “Caught in the Middle” couldn’t be a better example. In any other context, a song that starts off with the lyrics “I can’t think of getting old / It only makes me want to die” would be kind of a bummer, but when Paramore dress it up – glitzy neon lights, funky bass, and bright jangly guitar – it’s an undeniable toe-tapper. After Laughter takes your daily dose of anxiety (“Hard Times”), self-deprecation (“Idle Worship”), an aching heart (“Pool”), then sets it to the soundtrack of an ’80s pop-rock disco. It’s a feel good album about feeling bad, and I must admit, there is something oddly cathartic about dancing the pain away. –TheSpirit
36. Kauan – Kaiho
Fans of the band will have seen it coming for the past two or three releases now, with most of the line-up changing in the run-up to 2013’s Pirut, but Kaiho marks the point where the Finnophone, Russian-cum-Ukrainian quintet have dropped their metallic leanings of old — and the result is a thoroughly excellent post-rock release. While not exempt from the genre’s climactic traits (and the stronger parts do tend to be in tracks like “Sateen Huuhtoma”, which plays with almost-silence in its earlier phases), their focus on Anton Belov’s ever-so-slightly distant narrative and Alina Belova’s soaring backing performance means there’s a lot more going on here than mere pretty twinkles. Playing with nostalgia is almost always a bittersweet device, but Kauan seem to do it particularly well here. –Archelirion
35. Circa Survive – The Amulet
Of the post-Blue Sky Noise version of Circa Survive, The Amulet both in lyrical themes and musical execution comes off as the most cathartic for the band. Lacking in any standout tracks a la “Phantasmagoria” or “Schema”, The Amuletintertwines a hefty helping of post-rock into its formula to create an ethereal journey through Green’s hopes and fears. This stylistic decision requires a bit of work to fully appreciate what the band are doing, but longtime listeners know the drill by this point: they have been writing around Green’s impressive vocals for damn near 15 years now (with not one member leaving impressively), and The Amulet boasts some of his most haunting and beautiful melodies yet. As with every Circa album, it immediately stands out from the crowd of -core releases this year with supremely tight musicianship and mature songwriting. The Amulet has to catch you in a mood to fully enrapture you, but once it does, just stop what you’re doing: you’re going to be busy for the next 45 minutes. –Calc
34. Fen – Winter
The title of Fen’s fifth album, Winter, is certainly appropriate given the content of the album, but it also sells the album short. Wintry sounds and themes are well-tread ground in atmospheric black metal, as are the elements of post-rock and shoegaze that Fen bring to the table, but the way Fen weave these elements together, building them into a mammoth 74-minute album that spans so many styles and tones, makes Winter feel entirely new. From the tumultuous peaks and valleys of miniature symphony “I (Pathway)”, through the rollicking “II (Penance)” and the gentle waltz on “IV (Interment)”, to the slow, cathartic build of closer “VI (Sight)”, Fen transforms the familiar aural suggestions of wind and snow into an epic journey across a vast, awe-inspiring tundra. In a year inundated with unique, engrossing, and even innovative black metal albums, Fen’s contributions to the genre put them all to shame: they used black metal’s biggest, most beloved strengths as fuel to propel the genre forward. –hesperus
33. Oxbow – Thin Black Duke
Nico Wenner, Oxbow’s guitarist, mentioned that in making Thin Black Duke he had the idea of “large scale coherence” in mind, wanting to take cues from the formal technique common to classical music where “a small idea, a kernel, is reiterated, morphed, expanded and truncated.” The result of this is that much of the album echoes and evokes the same themes in a double assault of demented orchestra and tightly strung noise rock swagger. As the sickly strings and brass swell to re-join proceedings, the guitars weave their downtrodden melancholy through them; two parts intertwining to create a mass of rising and falling motifs that smack of regret and futility. Vocalist Eugene Robinson is therefore the decadent icing on the cake, his ludicrously versatile vocals (croons, growls, howls, etc.) smacking of grandiose despair as he laments over our Duke’s end, adding to the deranged instrumentation with his own unhinged persona. Oxbow therefore sound like the slightly unnerving and strange soundtrack to a posh dinner: the host is drunkenly crying in a corner and all the guests want to leave, but the band won’t stop playing… –Mort.
32. Everything Everything – A Fever Dream
A Fever Dream has left me feeling appropriately plump. And while it is nothing morbid, I’m in no way willing to leave this pushchair. Righteously rich electro-pop banger after pop banger after pop banger after pop banger… demands are high and Everything Everything are delivering. These British nutters are becoming the McDonald’s of inventive pop music, really. People will decry their oily goodness with shouts of, “They are running out of ideas,” but silence comes swift when the burgers arrive. “Night of the Long Knives” kicks off a dangerously addictive record with fabulous triumph, and while it isn’t devoid of dips, these gents espouse esprit de corps every second they get. Pristine, witty, essential. You might think that post-indulge stupor is a message of impending, gastrointestinal doom, but you won’t be thinking about the after effects next time you walk through those pearly, greasy gates. –cryptologous
31. Counterparts – You’re Not You Anymore
It’s no easy feat to combine mind-boggling technicality with genuinely emotional promulgations – let alone do it for five albums straight – but Counterparts are just that good. Even without principal songwriter and lead guitarist Jesse Doreen who departed in 2016, You’re Not You Anymore is able to ply the line between late ’90s hardcore brutality and emo earnestness better than most. Newly minted guitar duo Adrian Lee and Blake Hardman are relentless in their craft, their riffs a melange of the metal and core genres. “Thieves”‘s brutish hardcore beatdowns pulverize bone to dust, while “Bouquet”‘s nuanced progression sees the guitars trading off harmonized licks left and right. Whether behind atmospheric swathes or in utter chaos vocalist Brendan Murphy remains steadfast and confident in his delivery. “Keep me forever in heart,” he bellows in the breakdown of “Arms Like Teeth”, one of the shortest but most effecting passages on the album; his lyrics throughout You’re Not You Anymore all stand the test of genuity, but like any good hardcore album, his pre-breakdown call(s)-to-arms provide some of the best moments on the album. Counterparts clearly still have the magic, and though they may have lost a limb in Jesse, if You’re Not You Anymore is any indication, they haven’t lost their heart. –TheSpirit