Monday, December 11, 2017

Durf's Töp EPs, Non-Metal Albums, and Songs of 2017

It's crazy to think another year has come and gone so quickly, even if parts of this year did feel like they were taking forever...  But we're here, at the end of another year, which means it's time to talk about all the music we loved over the past twelve months.  This is the first of two posts I'll have on the matter; this one deals with non-metal albums, EPs, and songs, while the metal list will come out whenever Mick deems it time.

Töp Non-Metal Albums

Before we jump into the thing, a brief note: Brand New released a new album this year, Science Fiction.  Initially, it was a no-brainer as the top album on my non-metal list.  However, after the allegations of extreme sexual misconduct by lead singer Jesse Lacey surfaced, along with a non-apology confirmation by Lacey himself, I did not feel comfortable including the album on my list.  I don't think I'd be able to adequately be able to do justice to discussing what Lacey has done while simultaneously extolling Science Fiction, and praising the album without discussing his actions was absolutely out of the question.  So I left it off the list, bumped everything else up a spot, and pressed on.  With that out of the way, let's start this puppy with my Top Five Non-Metal Albums of the Year!

5. Agusa - Agusa
Agusa completely surprised me when I listened to it, as the Swedish folk band is prone to wild flights of fancy and is generally lacking any real heaviness.  But much like a warm spring breeze, listening to Agusa is a welcome addition to any day.  I tried to write a review about this album, but realized it was so unlike anything I'd ever listened to that I couldn't define it or talk about it in a way that I'd be ok putting out into the world, so I shelved it.  But trust me, you should listen to this album; as inscrutable as it is, it's also incredibly enjoyable.

Favorite Tracks: "Landet Langesen," "Sagor Fran Saaris"

4. Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up

I loved the first two Fleet Foxes albums, 2008's self-titled endeavor and 2011's follow up Helplessness Blues, but after drummer Josh Tillman departed the band and found success as Father John Misty, I sort of figured that would be it for the Foxes.  Well, as usual I was wrong, but in a nice change of pace, being wrong was an incredible thing.  Crack-Up is not only the finest album Fleet Foxes have put out, but it's right up there with Mumford and Sons' Sigh No More as the finest album to come out of this "neo-folk revival" genre that's been nearly ubiquitous for the past few years.  Crack-Up finds the Foxes in darker territory than their first album, with longer songs that push every boundary of their trademark song, to the point where the music is recognizable, but certainly different.

Favorite Tracks: "Third of May/Odaigahara," "Fool's Errand"

3. Trevor Shelley de Brauw - Uptown
For whatever reason, I thought Trevor Shelley de Brauw had already released a solo album prior to Uptown.  The Pelican guitarist is involved in multiple other projects, so I forgave myself quickly; it helped that Uptown is so, so good.  I don't usually go for ambient/noise albums, but for whatever reason, this one sucked me in.  I wrote in my review of the album that underneath the droning feedback, there are "bits and pieces of melody and notes that are incredibly easy to miss if you aren't paying close attention, but still incredibly lush and beautiful to hear if you're zoning out."  I stand by that assessment; Uptown is an exceptional, rewarding listen, because repeat listenings in different settings reward the listener with different experiences.  Uptown has been one of my favorite albums to listen to on my commute home from work, and I look forward to that continuing as the days shorten and the snows begin to fall in Chicago.

Favorite Tracks: "A New Architecture," "From the Black Soil Poetry and Song Sprang"

2. Lorde - Melodrama
There are albums that are aptly titled, albums that live up to their titles, and then there's Melodrama.  Over eleven tracks, the New Zealand singer dives full stop into melodramatic themes and experiences.  I'm slightly embarrassed at how much I, a thirty-year old man, relate to some of the tracks and lyrics on Melodrama, but then I remember that these songs are so good, so catchy, and so goddamned well-written that there's nothing to be embarrassed about.  "Perfect Places" is damn close to knocking "Shake it Off" from its three-year perch atop my "Favorite Radio Songs" throne, and the vulnerable "Liability" and seemingly regretful "Sober" are no slouches either.  I'm sure some of you reading this are rolling your eyes at Melodrama's inclusion on this list, and all I can say is that if you don't give it a shot, you're absolutely missing out on one of the year's best.

Favorite Tracks: "Perfect Places," "Liability," "Sober II (Melodrama)"

1. Steven Wilson - To the Bone
My love for Steven Wilson has been well-documented on this site, so I'm sure it's no surprise to see his latest album To the Bone appear on my year end list.  To the Bone took a little longer to click with me than Wilson's three previous releases, but he has once again crafted a stellar album.  Poppier than it's predecessors (the excellent ABBA clone "Permanating" is one of the most infectious, bouncy songs I've ever heard)s, To the Bone finds Steven Wilson stretching his musical creation in new directions while still retaining his trademark darkness and progressive overtone.  The absence of a central, prog wet dream centerpiece a la Grace for Drowning's "Raider II" or Hand.Cannot.Erase's "Ancestral" actually stands as one of To the Bone's greatest strengths; the more concisely written songs allow him the freedom to explore different sounds for three to five minutes at a time while reigning in his more indulgent impulses.  The result is a striking collection of songs, including "Pariah," (which features now-frequent Wilson collaborator Ninet Tayeb), which might actually be the best song he's ever written.

Favorite Tracks: "Pariah," "Song of I," "Same Asylum as Before"

Töp EPs

So those were my favorite Non-Metal Albums of 2017, so now let's move on to my Töp EPs of the Year.  These are across all genres, and there's definitely more of a metal lean to these than to the albums you just read about.

5. Blissful Stream/Lightsabres - Devil's Night to All Souls

A wonderfully pleasant surprise, Devil's Night to All Souls finds the previously unknown to me Blissful Stream teaming up with Lightsabres for 5 tracks of fuzzed out, self-described "black folk rock."  Blissful Stream is a great discovery, with gloriously demented vocals wreaking havoc over dancing riffs, while Lightsabres takes the "Bon Iver meets Red Fang" sound from last year's incredible Hibernation and drenches it in feedback and distortion.  It's a primal, uncanny release.

Favorite Tracks: "Dead of Night," "Blues From the End of the Rope"

4. Tanakh - Unwilling

In my review of Unwilling, I wrote that it is "one of the hardest albums to try and categorize simply because of the way it moves from misanthropic sludge to brutally intense death metal to something that resembles atmospheric doom the way a hurricane resembles a passing drizzle." I stand by that. Unwilling is a graduate class in metal subgenres, with album opener and standout track "Sundoggodnus" its thesis statement. Doomy without being staid, black metal without losing all the production value, with a good measure of death thrown in, Unwilling showcases a band that wants to do it all, and then does it because it can, and the result is nothing short of spectacular. And also, Michael Iverson may be the best drummer in metal that no one's paying attention to.

Favorite Tracks: "Sungoddognus," "Macrocosm"

3. Godhunter - The Codex Narco

Tucson, Arizona's Godhunter has put out quite a few releases that I really enjoy over the years, but none have made more of an impression than Codex Narco.  While the band's signature sludge is still on display, it's tempered and molded into something different and wholly better, much like Fleet Foxes' Crack-Up (in theory, not so much in sound).  "Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams" is easily my favorite song from the album, as it's trippy, nightclub-ready sound is unlike anything I've heard from Godhunter before, but their cover of Tegan and Sara's "Walking With a Ghost" is also one of the more impressive covers I've ever heard.  Godhunter is certainly prolific, and I would never bet against them, but topping Codex Narco is going to be quite the challenge.

Favorite Tracks: "Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams," "Walking With a Ghost"

2. Mastodon - Cold Dark Place
Mastodon had sort of fallen off over the past few years, as The Hunter and Once More Round the Sun fell quite short of the expectations the band's earlier work had built.  Their fortunes changed this year, first with the incredible album Emperor of Sand, and then with the surprise EP Cold Dark Place.  Made up of tracks inexplicably left off their previous two albums, Cold Dark Place is a different sound to Mastodon; bluesy, mournful, and yes, cold and dark.  The band's signature riffs are still there, but applied in a different way, and the result is as bleak a record as you'll hear.  The heartbreak that was said to inspire the record is palpable through each listen, and when heard in conjunction with Emperor, it's clear that Mastodon can still stay interesting while changing up their sound.  Damn good to have these boys back.

Favorite Tracks: "North Side Star," "Cold Dark Place"

1. CHRCH/Fister - Split 
Possibly my most listened to album since it came out last month, this split finds Sacramento's CHRCH and St. Louis' Fister each contributing one behemoth, 16+ minute song apiece.  Each song finds its respective band at the height of their considerable power; CHRCH builds tension in "Temples" before exploding into a tidal wave of aural fury, while Fister's "The Ditch" roars out of the gate with their brand of malicious sludge before veering into something bordering atmospheric and pensive... that eventually makes its way back into insanity.  CHRCH and Fister's split is the best EP/split of the year, by a considerable margin, and whether you like doom/sludge or not, I think you should check it out; I'm pretty sure you'll find some part of it you really enjoy.

Favorite Tracks: "Temples," "The Ditch"

Töp Songs

My favorite songs of the year are a varied, random bunch.  To be completely honest, outside of the Töp 5 or so, the order of the songs is far less important than the order of the albums, EPs, or my upcoming metal albums list; these are just the 25 songs that have stuck with me the most this year, and I think you will enjoy them.  Some of them are very long; some are "normal" song length.  Ten of them are from albums that won't appear on my list, which I think is kind of neat, but you may not.  That's ok.

25. Mutoid Man - "Bone Chain"

24. Lorde - "Perfect Places"

23. Mord'A'Stigmata - "Hope"

22. Trevor Shelley de Brauw - "A New Architecture"

21. All Pigs Must Die - "Slave Morality"

20. Elder - "Blind"

19. Architects of Aeon - "Bloodgod"

18. Fister - "The Ditch"

17. BISON - "Drunkard"

16. Foo Fighters - "Run"

15. Barrows - "Cocoon"

14. DVNE - "Scion"

13. Falls of Rauros - "Arrow & Kiln"

12. Imperceptum - "The Eternal Path to Nothingness"

11. Pallbearer - "Dancing in Madness"

10. Mastodon - "Roots Remain"

9. Hobosexual - "Trans Am Sunday"

8. CHRCH - "Temples"

7. Godhunter - "Cocaine Witches & Lysergic Dreams"

6. Cormorant - "Migration"

5. The Great Old Ones - "Mare Infinitum"

4. Steven Wilson - "Pariah"

3. GOLD - "You Too Must Die"

2. The Ditch and the Delta - "Fuck on Asphalt"

1. Converge - "Eve"

So there you have it: five non-metal albums, five EPs, and 25 songs that dominated my listening this year.  Be sure to check back later this week for my Töp 15 Metal Albums of 2017!

- Durf

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