Before you fly off the handle with comments and insults, read this: These are groupings of my favorite albums of the year. By favorite, I am saying that these albums broke through to me in a way that defined my 2017. This is music that stayed on repeat and defined my moods and feelings. I am sure some of these made your best albums list, some you may not know, and some you may hate. But these are my favorites, and that’s all I gotta say.
Favorite reissue: The Replacements, For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986
Even for some self-proclaimed music fans, The Replacements are often more mythology than an actual band with amazing songwriting and musicianship. “Aren’t those the guys who got banned from SNL?” they ask. But some of us, we were lucky enough to discover Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash! when we were in our teenage years. For us, The Replacements became the ultimate symbol of teenage angst and garage punk badassness.
As great as Sorry Ma was, the song that eventually blew my mind wide open was “Bastards Of Young” from their Sire Records debut. The performance of that then little-known song on For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 captures the essence of what makes this one of my all-time favorite anthems of teen angst and yearning.
God, what a mess, on the ladder of success
Where you take one step and miss the whole first rung
Dreams unfulfilled, graduate unskilled
It beats pickin’ cotton and waitin’ around to be forgotten
We are the sons of no one, bastards of young
We are the sons of no one, bastards of young
The daughters and the sons
….perfection. Sometimes I want to be thirteen forever.
Favorite new rock record: Queens Of The Stone Age, Villains
I grew up in New York, when rock was the coolest. We had CBGB’s, the birthplace of downtown cool — the house that Blondie, Television, The Ramones, and The Talking Heads built. And then came MTV and, with a few exceptions, rock kinda sucked for a long time. Who made rock cool again… was it The Strokes? The moment I heard I heard The Strokes, I knew something new, and yet very old — rock coolness — had crept back into the public consciousness. Rock-cool is something you feel when you hear it and this Queens album has it. The tempos, the grooves, the melodies, and the guitar tones are all just right for Josh Homme to deliver his cool rock guy thing. I bump this and I am happy with just how cool it makes me feel.
Favorite new album from a band I first discovered in 1990: Slowdive, Slowdive
Slow groovy tempos, check. A hip blend of atmospheric guitar effects and delays, check. The ideal melancholy ambient vocal that sits perfectly inside the mix? Definitely. If any of these things sound like they are up your alley, this album is for you. I only listen when I am in a good mood, out of fear of what the emotional context could do to me in another mood.
Favorite album from a band I discovered this year (via Steven Hyden): Sheer Mag, Need To Feel Your Love
Before this year I had no idea who this band was. Then I read Steven Hyden’s write-up where he compared Sheer Mag to Thin Lizzy…huh? I was beyond intrigued. Thin Lizzy are pretty rad and I needed to know what they would sound like today in the hands of a newer band. All I can say is, “Thank you, Steven Hyden.” THANK YOU. This album helped complete the mood of my 2017. It was something I needed in my life to fill in some gaps and make those happier moments even happier. You probably need it too, because I still haven’t found a replacement. But if you are skeptical, just read that above piece by Hyden. He is the perfect gateway drug to help you get hooked like I did.
Favorite new album that is technically a nerdy-jazz fusion album: Thundercat, Drunk
I love Thundercat. I love every music-nerdy-soulful thing about him. Despite his enormous talent, Thundercat always seems humble. He pays homage. And on this album, he pays homage to a weird perfect mixture of blue-eyed soul, R&B, and jazz fusion nerdiness. I am talking about, like, Alan Holdsworth level jazz fusion nerdiness. It is probably worth noting that Holdsworth passed away this year. With his passing, and Zappa’s before him, not to mention Jaco before him, we lost our giant nerdy musical technicians who wanted us all to take musical chances. Listening to Drunk restored my hope in that legacy of exploration, because it lives on in Thundercat’s even more capable hands. He is a musician who can turn complex and nerdy music into something rich, soulful, and even accessible and fun.
Favorite hip-hop albums that deserve even more hype: Vince Staples, Big FIsh Theory
, Joey Badass,
All Amerikkan Badass, Talib Kweli, Radio Silence
I could also title this category, “albums I wish came out on Rawkus Records.” I believe in and deeply feel the mission of these different records. They represent the hip-hop I want to live daily — rebellious, independent, lyrical, and avant garde. Jay, Kendrick, and Kanye are on a different plane, but what Vince, Talib and Joey accomplish on these albums feels just as urgent, because it is more approachable. That approachableness of character mixed with the total commitment to artistic vision makes these albums worthy of the hype they received and more.
Favorite hip-hop albums that deserve all the hype
: Jay-Z, 4:44, Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
I listen to both of these albums all of the time and they are actually underappreciated, if that’s possible. I will wait another year or two before I officially apply the title, but I am pretty sure that these are both bonafide masterpieces — this generation’s Illmatic, Midnight Mauraders, Led Zepplin IV.
Favorite country albums: Jason Isbell And The 400 unit, The Nashville Sound, Chris Stapleton, From A Room Vol. 1, Vol. 2
I won’t try to write about why these albums are so great, instead, I urge you to read Hyden’s reviews of all three albums. He compares Stapleton to Tom Petty and I agree. With Petty’s passing this year, I’m reminded of how potent the mid-tempo perfect country rock song is. It is something I hope we never lose, but can only be pulled off with integrity by a true artist, who is skilled enough to make it seem cool and effortless.
If you have no interest in country or country or rock, but only have an interest in hearing one of the best-written songs in any genre ever, immediately listen to Isbell’s “If We Were Vampires.” Not since hearing Elliot Smith (on almost any song), does music instantly hit a nerve so deep that I almost immediately tear up. But unlike Smith who taps into sadness like few others are capable of doing, Isbell taps into a sense of absolute love and yearning that reminds me in message of John Coltrane, but with Smith’s immediacy of sad folk guitar and voice.
Favorite jazz albums: Kamasi Washington, Harmony Of Difference, Christian Scott, The Centennial Trilogy, Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow, and Bobby Previte (with Iggy Pop
), Loneliness Road
What an amazing time for jazz — it’s officially cool, again. You aren’t convinced? Please go read Aaron Williams on how Kamasi Washington’s new album has the potential to change how the world sees jazz, or watch any part of Esperanza Spalding’s 77 hour live recording that streamed across the internet earlier this year. How about this footage of Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington jamming with Lupe Fiasco?
You know who’s fuckin with jazz? Your favorite musicians from Kendrick to Iggy Pop, so they must know something. If you are more of a rock person, maybe start with pianist Jamie Saft’s collaboration with Iggy Pop — I suggest “Loneliness Road” as your first song. More of a trap music person? Dive into Christian Scott’s massive three album trilogy that brings together jazz, trap, world music, 80’s Miles and even some Portishead into a cohesive and compelling musical adventure.
Favorite album-as-club experience: Steve Aoki, Kolony, Rayko, No Stopping
I spend a lot of time listening to DJ mixes, probably more than I do listening to albums. You know you found the right mix when you feel motivated by the DJ to get off your living room couch and head to a club, or at least dance in your kitchen. It’s hard to get that feeling with albums, but these two deliver that feeling to me. They are a complete club in a package, albeit two very different clubs. Rayko’s No Stopping is everything I love about nu-disco and soulful house, and electro funk neatly combined.
When I dig for dance music, these are usually the elements I am looking for. But these are elements that borrow heavily from yesterday’s club experience. Steve Aoki’s Kolony album is all about now and the future. It features today’s biggest names in, let’s call it mumble rap, over trappy EDM beats. There is no denying it’s now-ness and Aoki’s commitment to it. If you want to feel like you are at a club with thousands of partygoers raving to Gucci Mane over an EDM beat, this is your album.