The Best Albums of 2017
An album that didn’t make it on this list but that you absolutely should give a listen is the new album by lady-band Crunch, their first proper album but filled mainly with remakes of songs from their earlier demos and EP’s that I have recommended here so many times.
Also the new Tricot is great, but in my opinion mainly a further perfection of what they have been doing the past five or so years.
10: Various Artists: ‘Throw away your CD’s and go to a show‘
Curious about the Japanese indie scene, perhaps because of the videos I posted here of exciting bands like Otori, Panicsmile, The Noup, P-iPLE and MELT-BANANA? Well, than this is a real treat for you, a compilation of many of the best Japanese indie-bands by music journalist Ian Martin’s record label Call & Response.
9: Smany: ‘Kotoba‘
In 2013 she gave us Komoriuta, which I described as a crystal fairy tale world where warm snow flakes whirl down from the sky. A year later Polyphenic followed, ‘an album of heavenly music with hints of Satie, Kate Bush, Akino Arai and a soupçon of Tom Waits’.
Smany went pretty silent for a couple of years but this month she surprised us (or at least me), with a new album, again downloadable for absolutely free, called Kotoba. This one is far less heavy on the electronics with more emphasis on piano and subtle drums and percussion. It even has a song featuring rapper Himeshi.
It’s still rather silent music, verging on the ambient, with Smany’s light whispering voice leading the way. I think the piano and the drums, along with the warmer tones of the electronics she does use give this album an earthier, a less ethereal quality.
The video below is not from her album but features her in a song by Coelacanth.
8: Zombie Chang: ‘Gang!‘
Zombie Chang is a modern day Kraftwerk, a work of art, interpreting the feeling of alienation of today’s young generation, ironically commenting on it. Zombie Chang is also one of the coolest cats around.
Musically she’s a minimalist, quite clinical and emotionless at first, then she subtly dramatises her melodies with little shifts and twists and sometimes humorous exaggerations. Gang! is full of surprises and exciting little gifts. Zombie Chang is one of the important Japanese musicians now, as far as I’m concerned.
7: Yasmine Hamdan: ‘Al Jamilat‘
Soft, sweet and melodious, Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan’s new album is like an Arabian woman whose irk you have yet to invoke. And don’t be mistaken, there rages a storm under all that pretty surface. Hamdan settles her scores on Al Jamilat with corrupt and oppressive regimes, macho-men and patriarchy in general.
Hers, however, is the soft and soothing poetic touch, she lulls you into a state of dreaminess, bewitches you with her strange, beguiling music, a mix of electronic sounds and acoustic instruments. Beautiful album.
6: Yaeji: ‘EP2‘
One of the great discoveries of 2017, as far as I’m concerned, Korean-American rapper/singer/electronic whizzkid Yaeji. She makes smooth, groovy dance music that feels like a warm bath or a safe womb. Her tunes are small vacations, spent at the side of a swimming-pool, drinking sweet mocktails. Enjoy ‘em here.
5: Frank Waln: ‘The Bridge‘
The Native Americans, the people who really discovered America, are the most oppressed minority in the US. Yet we hear and read very little about the discrimination, the police brutality and the racism against this group. They seem to be forgotten by the world.
The quality is high, their music quite innovative, incorporating traditional Native American music and instruments in their hiphop. They all sing about issues we all ignore. Not just police violence and discrimination, but also the loss of their culture and language, prohibited until very recently by the US and the Canadian government, and the pride they take in the redisovery of their roots, often after an extremely difficult period in their life. They are all Herculeses who went through hell and came out reborn and stronger than ever.
Frank Waln brought out a new album this year, The Bridge, a strong statement against the settler mentality that still poisons the relation between Native Americans and the descendants of the immigrants who violated and still violate every damn treaty ever made with the American people.
The Bridge starts with the song ‘Who made the Red Man Red?‘, an indictment against about the casual racism pervading every cultural expression out there in the movie theaters, bookstores, museums on television and in sports stadiums, and then continues to address all those painful issues we prefer to look away from.
Waln wrote the songs after a visit to Palestine, which made him realise the Native Americans and the Palestine people are relatives. Bear in mind, however, that this album is not about anger per se. Love and hope are very important themes for Waln, that he stresses with every opportunity he gets.
Mixing his tracks with sampled speeches from important Native American intellectuals, spokespersons and artists and also the song ‘Treaties‘ by Leonard Cohen Waln not only made an important, very important record but one that is varied, exciting and highly entertaining as well. Because the music, have no doubt, simply is superb.
4: Kendrick Lamar: ‘Damn‘
Kendrick Lamar is kind of like Prince in the mid-eighties, quickly releasing one album after the other and every single one a work of genius. Just never a lesser album. Lamar stands for constant quality, coupling belligerent lyrics with empathic compassion. He quickly jumps from a machine-gun rattling rapping to lazy nasal singing to deep warm soulful crooning, takes samples from the whole spectrum of black music and just makes the most energetic, exciting rap music today.
3: Juana Molina: ‘Halo‘
The Argentinian singer/songwriter/composer/tinkerer Juana Molina brought out an album that’s even eerier and more mysterious than all her previous albums. There’s a sultry dreaminess to her music. It’s truly enchanting, literally. Not that you can be changed into a frog or something, listening to it, but it does get you in a kind of trance. Halo transports you to another dimension of strange ghosts and monsters and dangerous fairies. She is kind of the Guillermo del Toro of pop music, digging heavily into folk tradition and using parts of it to build her own strange but wonderful universe.
2: Cornelius: ‘Mellow Waves‘
Cornelius is one of the most interesting electronic musicians around, combining lighthearted melodies and ditties with intricate compositions and arrangements, quickly shifting to different spheres and paces and adorning everything with tittilating sound-effects.
On his first new album in over a decade he takes a more mellow approach than before, treating us to soft melodic easy listening music with a tender, loving, soothing touch.
1: Ryuichi Sakamoto: ‘async‘
Ryuichi Sakamoto is getting old. He survived cancer but feels his death approaching. At least that´s what I read from his latest album async, a dark, melancholic work of art that somehow seems to comprise everything he´s ever done before. Somehow it reminds me very much of Bowie´s swan song Black Star.
Async is an eclectic mix of ambient, classical music and noise. It´s haunting and very touching, warm, meditative and at times disturbing. Often peaceful and acquiescent, then suddenly aggressively defiant. It is pure music, but often I get the feel of an installation in a museum, a collage of images and vague, sometimes stark memories.
Async is beautiful, simply beautiful and without a shred of a doubt the absolute best of what the past musical year had to offer us.
op 30 12 2017 at 13:57 schreef Martijn:
Nice Terayama reference @ 10. :)
Excellent year for music (the stuff I like anyway), so much hip hop I’ma make a special list. Brockhampton is running in on K.Dot lately.
Love how Kendrick alienated (or elevated) the rockist part of the audience that dug the previous album because “real instruments”.
Thanks for the heads up on Tricot, both the album and the live show were great!
op 31 12 2017 at 17:21 schreef Ines:
Ik wist niet van het bestaan van de “Native American hiphop”. Ik ben geen hiphop fan maar dit ga ik zeker vaker luisteren. Dat geldt eveneens voor Yasmine Hamdan, het liedje “beirut” bv is ook echt mooi.