2017 was a good year for music, but then again, I’m not entirely sure what a bad year for music looks like.  It seems to have become convention for these sorts of year-end lists to open with a preamble about the year that just finished, whether it was a good, bad or average year for music and how it stacks up compared to recent years.  Like I said, however, I struggle to envisage what a bad year for music would look like, as there’s always great music coming out.  Sometimes said great music is being released by prominent artists on proficient record labels and will receive no end of coverage from well-known music publications, whilst other times, audiences may have to turn to independent releases and underground artists and labels to find greatness, but either way, great music is always out there.  Although there seems to be no consensus regarding whether 2017 was a good, bad or average year for music, the most common sentiment I have personally seen reflected in various other music critics’ introductions to their year-end lists is that last year was somewhat of a slow year compared to previous years, with many of the year’s great releases being rather finely spread across its 365 days.  This certainly wasn’t the case for me, but given that quite a lot of obscure and underground releases will be featuring in my top 100 albums from 2017 — perhaps even more than usual — it’s probable that many of the year’s greatest releases of a particular degree of prominence were fewer and further between.  Compared to previous years, this may very well be the case for hip hop, as the vast majority of rap records on my list come from the genre’s underground scene.  Although I never got on board with the BROCKHAMPTON hype train, if it weren’t for the success of the breakout, ‘boy band’ rap crew’s three records released last year, I’m sure many more critics would be commenting on what a slow year 2017 was for solid hip hop in the mainstream.  What’s more notable for me, however, is how disappointing a year 2017 was for country music.  Of course, using 2016 as a point of comparison is rather unfair, given just how exceptional a year it was for country music across the board.  From fantastic debuts, like Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, to up-and-coming industry titans fortifying their position in the country game, like Sturgill Simpson with his terrific third record A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, and even to great releases from some classic country stars, such as Loretta Lynn with her phenomenal 40th studio album Full Circle, 2016 was one of the most fruitful years for country in quite some time.  In comparison, the fact that only one true country record made it into my top 100 albums for 2017 is quite the let-down.  Even still, country was the only genre that stood out to me as having a particularly lacklustre year, and by no means does this affect the fact that 2017 was, as far as I can tell, a good year for music overall.

 

Now, as for my list, I’ll quickly lay down the groundwork for how I went ahead with making this.  Of course, it should go without saying that this is my personal top 100 albums of 2017, meaning that if your favourite record from last year didn’t make it onto this list, I either didn’t hear it or didn’t like it enough to include it, and given that I listened to a total of 2,892 albums released during 2017, I’m willing to bet that the latter is the most likely reason.  All of the albums included on this list, including the honourable mentions, have been reviewed on my website, so for a more detailed breakdown of my opinion, clicking on the album’s name will take you to its full review, just as I have included links to various streaming services where you can listen to each of these albums.  Should you want to hear just a taster of each of these records, then I have also made a Spotify playlist where I have included a track from each of these albums, with the exception of five that aren’t currently available on Spotify.  Of course, I love every record mentioned here, including the honourable mentions, and would highly recommend them, so I strongly suggest listening to any of the ones you haven’t heard already.  Also, I have simply listed the honourable mentions and the albums ranked from 100-51, whilst from 50 onwards, I have included a short summary of each album, gradually going into more and more detail until we reach the number one spot.  Now, with all of the housekeeping out of the way, I present my top 100 albums of 2017.  Thank you for your readership in 2017 and I look forward to another great year of music in 2018.

 

Honourable Mentions:

 

‘Romans Lips’ by Omar Rodríguez-López

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‘Dans La Joie’ by Au Champs Des Morts

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‘Primordial Malignity’ by Tomb Mold

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‘Northern Passages’ by The Sadies

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‘Nightmare Logic’ by Power Trip

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‘In Extremis’ by Azarath

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‘Wrong One To Fuck With’ by Dying Fetus

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Top 100 Albums of 2017:

 

100.  ‘Life & Livin’ It’ by Sinkane

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99.  ‘Prédateurs’ by Les Discrets

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98.  ‘3’ by Tricot

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97.  ‘Love Is Love’ by Woods

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96.  ‘I Decided.’ by Big Sean

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95.  ‘Cruel Optimism’ by Lawrence English

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94.  ‘Godfather’ by Wiley

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93.  ‘Aodron’ by Merzbow

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92.  ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ by Stormzy

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91.  ‘DAMN.’ by Kendrick Lamar

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90.  ‘RELAXER’ by alt-J

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89.  ‘Diaspora’ by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

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88.  ‘Anticult’ by Decapitated

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87.  ‘Poulo Warali’ by Awa Poulo

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86.  ‘The Spark’ by Enter Shikari

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85.  ‘Black Serpent Rising’ by BALFOR

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84.  ‘Left Hand Pass’ by Cannabis Corpse

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83.  ‘Abreaction’ by Svart Crown

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82.  ‘Homecoming’ by Sorrow Plagues

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81.  ‘Asheran’ by DVNE

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80.  ‘Infrared Horizon’ by Artificial Brain

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79.  ‘Les Irreals Visions’ by Foscor

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78.  ‘The Barn’ by IDYLLS

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77.  ‘Red Before Black’ by Cannibal Corpse

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76.  ‘Malina’ by Leprous

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75.  ‘…BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR’ by Machine Girl

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74.  ‘Necrobreed’ by Benighted

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73.  ‘Stinger’ by Hard Proof

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72.  ‘Forever and Then Some’ by Lillie Mae

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71.  ‘Serpent Column’ by Ornuthi Thalassa

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70.  ‘Narkopop’ by GAS

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69.  ‘Elipse’ by Como Asesinar a Felipes

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68.  ‘Muen’ by Merzbow

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67.  ’30 Seconds To The Decline Of Planet Earth’ by Jesu / Sun Kil Moon

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66.  ‘Guppy’ by Charly Bliss

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65.  ‘Nightbringers’ by The Black Dahlia Murder

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64.  ‘Reimagining Miyazaki’ by Ghosting

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63.  ‘Mzansi Beat Code’ by Spoek Mathambo

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62.  ‘The Ghost of Hope’ by The Residents

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61.  ‘Onism’ by Photay

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60.  ‘Known Unknowns’ by billy woods

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59.  ‘Brutalism’ by IDLES

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58.  ‘Gay and Dead’ by Trial of the Golden Witch

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57.  ‘Crack-Up’ by Fleet Foxes

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56.  ‘Drunk’ by Thundercat

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55.  ‘Cast The First Stone’ by Hour Of Penance

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54.  ‘Outrage! Is Now’ by Death From Above

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53.  ‘Atonement’ by Immolation

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52.  ‘With Primeval Force’ by Vampire

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51.  ‘Machine Messiah’ by Sepultura

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50.  ‘Trumpeting Ecstasy’ by Full of Hell

Full of Hell return to recording solo with Trumpeting Ecstasy, an album that may not push sonic boundaries like the band’s collaborative efforts with Merzbow and The Body, but most definitely tests grindcore’s compositional threshold, with a selection of serpentine songs that bare their fangs courtesy of crushing production from Converge’s Kurt Ballou.

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49.  ‘Den Förstörda Människans Rike’ by Henry Kane

A new project masterminded by Wombbath’s Jonny Pettersson, Henry Kane’s debut album, Den Förstörda Människans Rike, is an impossibly heavy compound of death metal, crust punk, grindcore and other extreme genres that is elevated to destructive heights thanks to the creative and, almost literally, ear-splitting production.  Proceed with caution.

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48.  ‘Sabiduría’ by Eddie Palmieri

A veteran of Latin jazz, revered pianist Eddie Palmieri celebrates an impressive 60 years of work in the music industry with Sabiduría, which acts as a fitting manifestation of the legendary artist’s contributions to reconciling the world’s various cultural approaches to jazz music, in the form of one of the most multi-faceted and characterful records of his formidable career.

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47.  ‘Bloodstained Rebellion’ by Wrath of Belial

Despite having been active for a decade now, Bloodstained Rebellion is Wrath of Belial’s full-length debut, and it seems that the time the band spent honing their style on the Danish underground metal scene was put to good use, with their first record being a particularly angular and tortuous take on the melodic death metal sound popularised by the likes of At The Gates and Hatesphere.

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46.  ‘The Dusk In Us’ by Converge

The Dusk In Us, the newest studio effort from metalcore legends Converge, embodies many of the band’s most iconic features, whilst demonstrating how they have been able to keep up such a high quality of output over the years through their ability to continuously adapt their illustrious mathcore sound to suit new and exhilarating stylistic endeavours.

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45.  ‘Written At Night’ by Uncommon Nasa

Written At Night sees Uncommon Nasa, a staple of New York’s underground rap scene, delve into the jumbled, late-night/early-morning musings of the nocturnal, inner-city artist, with this intricate narrative being performed with the MC’s usual flair for off-kilter flows, atop a batch of abstract, self-produced beats.

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44.  ‘Reflections of a Floating World’ by Elder

2017 was quite the eventful year for stoner rock and doom metal, and an undeniable highlight from this corner of the music world was Reflections of a Floating World, the fourth full-length studio release from Boston-born stoners Elder and an hour-long epic of resounding, mammoth doom metal that is as vibrant and elaborate as the album’s artwork suggests.

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43.  ‘who told you to think??!!?!?!?!’ by milo

Rory Ferreira gives meaning to the phrase “a thinking person’s rapper”, and his latest release under his milo moniker, entitled who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, sees the MC lend his esoteric way with words to the topic of race and inequality, supported by an impressive arsenal of guest rappers and a selection of beats that spans what is likely the most colourful sonic palette to ever feature on a record from the rapsmith.

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42.  ‘Terra Damnata’ by Nightbringer

Nightbringer’s Terra Damnata may fall into many typical black metal trappings from a stylistic perspective, but the angular and idiosyncratic bite to the band’s sound gives them the edge over many of their contemporaries, with their knack for asymmetrical, razor-sharp melodies and incredible interplay between their three vocalists making for an intoxicatingly hectic record.

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41.  ‘Dear’ by Boris

Dear is the 24th studio album from Japanese experimental trio Boris and it encapsulates 25 years of eccentricity by harking back to the devastating doom metal that defined the band’s earlier and most widely venerated material, whilst also incorporating subtle influences from the various stylistic detours that the three-piece has taken throughout their career, from harsh noise to J-pop to shoegazing.

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40.  ‘Hang’ by Foxygen

The fifth studio album from Foxygen, Hang, sees the Californian duo build on the energetic and camp theatricality of some of their previous material, particularly their third record, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, with a project that is far more extravagant on just about all fronts.  Sonically, compositionally and even emotionally, Hang is the two-piece’s most eclectic, eccentric, colourful and fluid release to date, in a way that complements their persona perfectly.

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39.  ‘English Tapas’ by Sleaford Mods

Those familiar with Sleaford Mods’ formula will know roughly what to expect from the post-punk duo’s latest studio album, English Tapas, but that’s not to say that the two-piece don’t expand on their brand of minimalist, caustic, semi-rapped, semi-spoken tirades about British culture and politics.  Vocalist Jason Williamson lets loose some of his fiercest and funniest bars to date, as well as some of his most infectious refrains, which are bolstered considerably by the broadened sonic palette of Andrew Fearn’s propulsive post-punk grooves, making for the band’s most diverse, but also most pinpointed, album thus far.

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38.  ‘Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often’ by Quelle Chris

Quelle Chris’ signature, ice-cold, minimalist rap flows hit hard on his latest project, Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often, in part due to the album’s textured, hypnotic, jazzy production and the host of impressive guest features, but also thanks to the raging battle between self-aggrandisement and self-deprecation that fuels the record’s concept.  From the hilarious heights of egoist anthems like Buddies to the poignant depths of despair and low self-esteem on tracks like Popeye, Chris comes through with a cohesive and comprehensive character study of the self, packed with his usual quips and aphorisms.

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37.  ‘Primo’ by Matteo Vallicelli 

A familiar face amongst Italy’s underground punk circuit, Matteo Vallicelli’s first solo venture with Primo is quite the detour compared to his days sitting behind the drum kit in various punk outfits.  Perhaps the only influence from punk that carries over onto the minimalist electronics of Primo is the genre’s DIY principles, with Vallicelli crafting carefully concentrated compositions that weave melodies and rhythms that sound fresh from Berlin’s bustling underground techno scene into stark soundscapes, all of which are constructed with such meticulous attention to detail that the album demands multiple listens simply to appreciate all the subtleties that it keeps tucked away.

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36.  ‘Salutations’ by Conor Oberst

One of the most beautifully pained singer-songwriter records of 2016 came in the form of Conor Oberst’s Ruminations, an acoustic album that the former Bright Eyes frontman wrote and recorded in isolation following a spell of physical and mental illness.  Oberst’s newest release, Salutations, is the slightly sunnier sister album to Ruminations, with the musician having provided the songs from his previous record with lavish, full-band instrumentation, as well as seven entirely new songs that nevertheless fit in with the themes present on Ruminations.  With grander instrumentation backing them up, the 10 pieces from Ruminations have blossomed into something much brighter and more sanguine, with Salutations being the optimistic next step in Oberst’s saga.

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35.  ‘Black Origami’ by Jlin

On her sophomore album, Black Origami, Jlin elevates her esoteric footwork stylings to entirely new heights, moving the genre forward into territory that is far more detailed rhythmically, compositionally, stylistically, texturally and thematically.  From martial music to Baltic folk music to Gnawa music, the stylistic reach of Black Origami knows no cultural or geographical boundaries, whilst avant-gardists and innovators like William Basinski and Holly Herndon contribute their own abstruse stylings to Jlin’s colourful sonic palette.  As a result, Black Origami progresses footwork far beyond its fundamentals and may very well herald a new era of innovation and experimentation for the genre.

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34.  ‘Heartless’ by Pallbearer

Continuing the impressive year for doom metal is the third record from one of the genre’s most critically-acclaimed up-and-comers, Pallbearer’s Heartless, and the first album of theirs to completely win me over to their definitive marriage of crushing doom metal and classic progressive rock.  Compared to their first two records, Heartless isn’t much of a change of a pace, bar perhaps the greater emphasis on the band’s progressive leanings, but Pallbearer bring a far more diverse songwriting style to the table that easily justifies its hour-long runtime, making for a truly epic journey of resounding, emotionally potent doom metal.

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33.  ‘Hiss Spun’ by Chelsea Wolfe

Yet another great doom metal release from 2017 comes from an artist who has only recently become associated with the genre.  Chelsea Wolfe established herself as a formidable force in the world of experimental folk music with her dark, gothic aesthetic on albums such as Ἀποκάλυψις (or Apokalypsis in English), but her previous record, Abyss, extended her influence from metal music beyond a mere aesthetic sensibility, whilst her newest release, Hiss Spun, sees the singer delve even deeper down the doom metal rabbit hole.  This fully-fledged doom metal direction brings a booming intensity to the nuanced compositional chops that guided Wolfe’s folk-orientated material, which complements this new stylistic choice perfectly, making Wolfe a perfect fit for the genre.

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32.  ‘Derevaun Seraun’ by Kiran Leonard

Kiran Leonard conceived an exceptionally colourful and progressive take towards folk and baroque pop on his first two albums, but his latest release, Derevaun Seraun, sees the singer-songwriter strip back many of the instrumental luxuries and stylistic abstractions of his previous material, instead favouring a set-up consisting solely of vocals, piano and strings.  The record’s monochrome, pencil-drawn cover art reflects this more rustic approach when compared to the technicolour explosions featured on the album covers for Bowler Hat Soup and Grapefruit, but Leonard loses none of his flair for fluid and dynamic ballads on Derevaun Seraun, with these self-imposed instrumental restrictions instead depicting the artist at perhaps his most sincere and human thus far.

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31.  ‘Oto Hiax’ by Oto Hiax

Comprised of Mark Clifford of Seefeel fame and Scott Douglas Gordon from Loops Haunt, the self-titled debut from Oto Hiax is undoubtedly one of the most mesmerising experimental electronic records of 2017, and also one of the most overlooked.  The combined musicianship of Clifford and Gordon makes for a selection of incredibly detailed pieces that, despite often straying into the realm of noise and industrial music, retain a defined sense of nuance and texturing that seems to freely flit between heavenly and haunting.  Indeed, the emotional palette of Oto Hiax is perhaps just as diverse as its sonic palette, with many of the more abrasive cuts being oddly sedative, whilst many of the more delicate compositions can easily put the listener on edge.

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30.  ‘PACKS’ by Your Old Droog

Your Old Droog is clearly evoking the iconic, boom bap sound of classic New York hip hop acts on his sophomore full-length release, PACKS, but that’s not to say that the MC drowns in his influences.  Undoubtedly, Droog’s delivery is likely to bring to mind that of New York’s flagship rapper, Nas, to the point that he was initially mistaken for an alter ego of the luminary MC upon the release of his first EP, but PACKS manages to work within a classic East Coast style while expanding on it nonetheless.  In particular, Droog’s heightened use of slightly abstract flows and his knack for poignant, amusing and occasionally subversive lyrics fortifies the rapper’s unique persona, especially when backed up by the record’s creative sampling and dynamic production value.

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29.  ‘Uyai’ by Ibibio Sound Machine

The sophomore album from Ibibio Sound Machine, Uyai, brings together the dance music of both Britain and Nigeria in a kaleidoscope of vibrant electronics, ravishing organic instrumentation and ardent vocal performances from frontwoman Eno Williams.  With the fiery rhythms and fervent vocal performances of Afrobeat providing the foundation for many of these pieces, the rest of the band builds these compositions up to even more dynamic and energetic heights with colourful instrumentation that pulls from funk, post-punk, psychedelia, techno and many more genres, evoking the likes of Gary Numan one second and The Prodigy the next.  Williams’ exuberant and downright contagious vocal performances are the icing on the cake, making Uyai the most thrilling and addictive dance record of the year.

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28.  ‘Three Worlds: music from Woolf Works’ by Max Richter

Featuring reworked compositions originally written to accompany choreographer Wayne McGregor’s narrative dance piece based on three Virginia Woolf novels, Three Worlds: music from Woolf Works features some of Max Richter’s most haunting, captivating and beautiful works to date, with the classical and post-minimalist composer demonstrating a keen awareness of, and respect for, Woolf’s works and life, with each three of these acts evoking similar themes and emotions to the respective novel by which they were inspired, those being Mrs. DallowayOrlando: A Biography and The Waves.  Through inventive use of instrumentation and various other sounds, these pieces successfully convey stories all on their own, but studying their relationship to each respective novel is wherein Richter’s skills as a composer truly shine.

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27.  ‘Battle Through Time’ by Undrask

If I were to summarise the appeal of Undrask’s debut album, Battle Through Time, as straightforwardly as possible, I would simply say that it’s an incredibly entertaining and, above all else, fun melodic death metal record.  There are few death metal bands that can be listened to whilst smiling rather than scowling, but Undrask manage to convey all the intensity of their best contemporaries, through killer riffage, undeniable earworm-ery and meaty vocal performances from frontman Steve Wynn, whilst never taking themselves too seriously.  Although a lack of structural diversity would usually be a negative for any group, Undrask’s use of relatively standard, tried-and-tested songwriting formulas complements their style of melodic composition perfectly, with all of these riffs being so infectious that they seem perfectly suited for strophic form.

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26.  ‘Típico’ by Miguel Zenón

Típico, the newest release from Puerto Rican jazz saxophonist Miguel Zenón, is a celebration of sorts, with these eight new compositions being dedicated to the Miguel Zenón Quartet for their work and friendship over the course of 15 years and 10 studio albums.  In the spirit of jazz, however, Zenón’s idea of dedicating an album to his bandmates is to demonstrate the extent to which all of the quartet’s members challenge one another and how this has helped the group, and each individual musician, flourish at their craft.  As such, the bandleader pens some of his most complex and tortuous compositions to date as to truly test his band’s skills, with the result being an exceptionally energetic Latin jazz record, wherein all of the musicians display tangible chemistry with one another, whilst also demonstrating their own dexterity and individuality.

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25.  ‘Wintres Woma’ by James Elkington

Following in the footsteps of the legendary British folksters of the late 60s and early 70s, James Elkington, having worked as a session musician and band member for countless singer-songwriters, steps out from the sidelines and into the spotlight for his debut solo album, Wintres Woma.  With the guitar latticework of Bert Jansch, the timelessly English lilt of Nick Drake, and a few ideas picked up from American folk music, Elkington’s first foray into solo material is as rich in timbre as it is in folk tradition.  Interesting instrumental choices, passionate performances and a keen eye for enthralling imagery elevates Wintres Woma beyond a simple homage to English folk classics, with Elkington establishing himself as one of the most cultured, polished and masterful singer-songwriters to have come out of the woodwork in the past few years.

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24.  ‘A Distant Star’ by Teakwood

From what little information about this album that is available on the Internet, one will find that Teakwood were a funk and soul band who operated during the mid-1970s, having recorded A Distant Star, their sole full-length album, during that time.  For various reasons, however, the record was never released and presumably left on a shelf somewhere until it was finally released by Tramp Records four decades later.  For those curious about the backstory of the album, I suggest scrolling down to the comment section of my review, as none other than Fred Forsh, one of the group’s founding members and the man responsible for having the record rediscovered and finally released, happened upon my review and shone some light on the band’s backstory.  As for its music, despite being cryogenically frozen for 40 years and released in a completely different musical climate, the fusion of funk, soul, jazz, disco and psychedelia on A Distant Star is incredibly refreshing, with all of these stylistic influences being applied in colourful and creative ways, making for a record that is truly special on many levels.

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23.  ‘Awaken’ by Fleshkiller

Fleshkiller’s Awaken may not be my number one metal album from 2017, as there are still two more to go, but it surely still stands as the most multi-faceted metal record that I heard last year.  In fact, pinning this album down to any single genre under the metal umbrella is likely impossible, bar perhaps the broad characterisation of Christian metal.  Indeed, the diverse careers of each of Fleshkiller’s members throughout the world of experimental metal, and beyond into the world of avant-garde music in general, have clearly been put to good use on this supergroup’s debut album.  The band rolls so many of my favourite things into their debut album that it was sure to be an instant hit with me; the theatrical, heavily-harmonised clean vocals of a band like Ghost, the tortuous yet seamless song progressions of a band like Yes, the diverse and dynamic stylings of a band like Opeth, and so much more, in the form of influences drawn from all over the metal map.  Ultimately, Awaken is almost guaranteed to tickle every metalhead’s fancy in some way or another.

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22.  ‘The Underside of Power’ by Algiers

Having uncovered through-lines between post-punk and gospel music on their self-titled debut, Algiers continue to expand their eclectic sonic and stylistic palette on their sophomore LP, The Underside of Power.  Recent political developments in the US have provided ample ammunition for frontman Franklin James Fisher to delve deeper into his diatribes on racial tensions, class inequality and general societal unbalance, with the utilisation of noisier and more industrial instrumentals potently paralleling this heightened causticity.  Although the raucous collision of abrasive post-punk and Southern gospel music may not sound all that accessible on paper, Algiers’ airtight songwriting chops and Fisher’s knack for penning powerful, impassioned and infectious hooks — with the album’s title track boasting one of the fieriest and most unforgettable choruses of 2017 — means that The Underside of Power will almost certainly be a hit with any fans of rock, soul or blues music.

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21.  ‘Infinity Ultra’ by Claude Speeed

Fusing stylistic principles from noise, drone, ambient, trance, hardcore, post-rock and more, the second full-length project from Berlin-based producer Claude Speeed, Infinity Ultra, is a hefty and audacious endeavour, but the end product is a kaleidoscopic exploration of electronic music and the way in which it occupies space.  In spite of the sheer scope of Speeed’s experimentation across his latest record, Infinity Ultra comes together incredibly cohesively, with the musician’s colourful sonic palette painting a prism of pulsating power electronics, coruscating synthesizers, colossal drones and caustic feedback.  Through all of its maze-like twists and turns, the album remains wound within the luscious and vibrant soundscapes that Speeed proves himself highly skilled at crafting, with Infinity Ultra being one of the most dynamic and emotionally commanding experimental electronic records of 2017.

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20.  ‘Neō Wax Bloom’ by Iglooghost

Under his Iglooghost moniker, experimental electronic musician Seamus Mallagh pairs surrealist stories, such as an epic fight between a monk named Yomi and a bug boy in a cloak called Uso taking place on a battlefield of floating fruit, with the songs from his debut full-length project, Neō Wax Bloom, and these abstruse tales are strangely helpful in making heads or tails of his unique compound of such diverse electronic, dance and hip hop subgenres as wonky, crunk, glitch, juke and vapourwave.  This stylistic concoction is as colourful as it sounds, with all of these sounds swirling together in a technicolour tornado, whilst the fruity kick drums, rubbery bass lines and scintillating synthesizers practically paint the stories that Mallagh marries to each of these songs.  To say that Iglooghost fashions a world of his own on Neō Wax Bloom is no exaggeration, with the musician’s instantly recognisable sound delving deep into the human imagination to pull out the most vivid, lively and mind-altering electronic music of 2017.

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19.  ‘4:44’ by JAY-Z

Unlike any album of his previously, JAY-Z’s latest endeavour, 4:44, sees the iconic MC strip back the glitz and glamour, the bravado and braggadocio, the expense and extravagance of his previous material in favour of a surprisingly intimate and skeletal release.  With this record being JAY-Z’s first since the release of his wife’s Lemonade, in which the pop priestess employed a similarly personal approach and explored her husband’s adulterous actions, the rapper’s attitude across his newest record is undeniably humble by his standards, as he weighs up the consequences of his past behaviour and seeks forgiveness.  This is starkly reflected in the sparse, soulful production provided by No I.D., the album’s sole producer, as if both the bars and the beats across the album are portraying the artist at his most vulnerable and repentant.  Given how uncharacteristic just about every aspect of 4:44 is for JAY-Z, the fact that it nonetheless stands as one of the most well-rounded, cohesive and arresting releases of his, at least since American Gangster from 10 years ago, is even more impressive.

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18.  ‘Elwan’ by Tinariwen

There seems to be no end of exciting and inventive music coming out of Mali right now, and the fact that this album isn’t even the final record from a Malian artist to be featured on this list proves just how big an impact the West African nation is having on music audiences in the West.  Tinariwen are one of the most critically and commercially successful groups from Mali to have risen to prominence in the West, and their latest record, Elwan, marries the band’s usual musical mastery with heartrending stories of their homeland and its current state of political turbulence.  The extent to which the members of the group have been deeply disheartened by the state of their motherland permeates the very lifeblood of this record, and the end product is a movingly beautiful and meditative record, both lyrically and musically.

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17.  ‘A Shadow in Time’ by William Basinski

Despite the fact that William Basinski’s latest project, A Shadow in Time, reincorporates the formula of gradually deteriorating tape loops that defined his four-volume magnum opus, The Disintegration Loops — which, I feel I should point out, is my favourite ambient album of all time — by no means does this new record at all live in the shadow of the artist’s crowning achievement.  That’s not to say that A Shadow in Time is as revolutionary or definitive for the genre as The Disintegration Loops, but it shares many of that project’s strengths, particularly the way in which Basinski easily extracts stark and mortal themes from his immense, celestial and highly evocative soundscapes.  The added texturing of the Voyetra-8 and the distant whispers of distorted saxophone melodies, which are clearly inspired by David Bowie’s Subterraneans, inject these two new compositions with another dimension of emotional potency, with the result being what is likely Basinski’s most essential release since The Disintegration Loops.

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16.  ‘async’ by Ryuichi Sakamoto

Having recently overcome cancer, Japanese multi-genre composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, makes his solo comeback with async, one of the most compelling endeavours of his already fruitful career.  async feels as much like a music album as it does a cinematic experience or an epic poem, which is apt, given the diverse influences from all different art forms that Sakamoto incorporates into his material.  The musician’s marriage of fluttering synths, sombre church organs, dramatic spoken word excerpts and dainty electronics is applied in such a way as to reflect his recent experience confronting his own mortality, and the new-found perspective on the nature of life that he has gained as a result of this.  If the mission statement of async is to translate these introspective feelings of an oddly comforting insignificance in our vast universe to the listener, then this record is indeed perhaps Sakamoto’s crowning achievement.

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15.  ‘Semper Femina’ by Laura Marling

Despite her previous full-length project, Short Movie, laying the groundwork for an electrified and more rock-orientated direction for the singer-songwriter, Laura Marling’s latest work, Semper Femina, continues to expand on the brand of classy, ornate folk music that the artist has spent most of her career refining, essentially picking up from where her fourth studio album, Once I Was an Eagle, left off.  Rather than simply retreading the ground covered on much of her past output, however, Semper Femina furthers Marling’s elegant folk stylings with the incorporation of a more prominent jazz influence, in a way that is suggestive of an artist like Nick Drake and his marriage of baroque folk traditions and conventional jazz ideas.  With the added potency of one of Marling’s most detailed, intimate and generally captivating lyrical narratives to date, which concerns her feelings of female identity, Semper Femina stands as perhaps the singer’s most polished project thus far, both lyrically and musically.

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14.  ‘FORGET’ by Xiu Xiu

The extent to which any album from Xiu Xiu could be described as ‘accessible’ is at least somewhat limited, primarily courtesy of the fractured, quivering and pained vocal performances from the group’s frontman and sole recurring member, Jamie Stewart, as well as the layers of dissonance, esoteric instrumental choices and obscure stylistic sensibilities that will inevitably be worked into any song that the experimental trio lays to tape.  Yet, even amidst the walls of wailing guitars and harsh electronics, Xiu Xiu have not only crafted one of their best records of original material with their latest release, FORGET, but they have also conceived their most accessible album to date.  Although still rife with avant-garde ideas, not to mention Stewart’s explicitly morbid ruminations, the band laces glistening electronics with memorable melodies that, when paired with Stewart’s warbling vocal delivery, retain an air of glam rock eccentricity.  Ultimately, FORGET straddles the line between pop sensibility and Xiu Xiu’s usual experimentation, making for one of their most vibrant, multi-faceted and electrifying releases thus far.

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13.  ‘Wreche’ by Wreche

Wreche’s self-titled debut album is a very special black metal record, in that the band substitutes six strings for 88.  Yes, Wreche are a black metal duo consisting of drums, vocals and piano.  At first glance, it would be easy to write a group like this off as just another black metal band that employs some sort of gimmick to compensate for the fact that, on a compositional and stylistic basis, they really aren’t doing anything all that new, and given that I’ve often found myself underwhelmed by exactly these sorts of acts in the past, I braced myself for disappointment when I first went into Wreche’s self-titled debut.  However, unlike certain other bands who have substituted black metal’s heavily distorted, tremolo-picked guitars for some other instrument, Wreche do far more with this quirk than simply have the piano play what a standard black metal guitarist would play in its place.  Instead, the band takes just as many cues from classical music as they do from black metal, with vocalist and pianist John Steven Morgan’s piano work drawing influences from romantic and impressionist composers, whilst the drummer of the duo, Barret Baumgart, utilises a true-blue black metal style of playing that is intricately moulded to reinforce Morgan’s playing in incredibly detailed ways.  Although Wreche is only a short introduction into Wreche’s esoteric stylings, it is a lasting one that alludes to groundbreaking material from the band in the future.

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12.  ‘Murder Of The Universe’ by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s apparent bid to walk every avenue of modern music, and even pave some new ones for themselves, has led the band to explore a narrative-driven approach on Murder Of The Universe.  Divided into three separate chapters, the Aussie psych-rockers’ second record of five released over the course of 2017 is structured like a sort of anthology album, with its recurring musical themes being self-contained within each act, along with the three separate tales.  With Murder Of The Universe being, by far, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s most narrative-based endeavour thus far, with only their sophomore LP, Eyes Like The Sky, even coming close to its storytelling scope, the group does a fantastic job of accommodating for this tone shift within their usual brand of eclectic, progressive, psychedelic garage rock.  With the flow of each individual chapter being structured similarly to their infinitely looping record, Nonagon Infinity, the band strikes an impressive semblance of cohesion and fluency across the course of the album, whilst the spoken-word passages are rather seamlessly incorporated into their usual, off-kilter compositional style, which remains as dynamic and explosive as ever.

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11.  ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

Given that Flying Microtonal Banana, the first of the five records released by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard last year, is only one rank higher than Murder Of The Universe on this list, it should go without saying that they are both of a very similar quality, but not necessarily for the same reasons.  Of course, the aforementioned psych-garage sound that has become closely associated with the group reappears on this album as it would on any other King Gizzard album, but the added microtonal flavour takes this sound in an entirely new direction, emphasising aspects of the band’s stylistic sensibilities that typically lurk beneath the surface.  In particular, the microtonal tuning of much of the instrumentation lends itself to a definitively Eastern sound, which really ramps up the desert rock influence on King Gizzard’s music, whilst the use of a zurna (a central Eurasian wind instrument), accentuates the subtle influences from Anatolian folk music that have recurred across the group’s previous output.  Flying Microtonal Banana is underpinned by the high-octane performances and high-powered songwriting skills that appear on all of King Gizzard’s best albums, meaning that the record doesn’t use its microtonal foundations as a crutch, rather they are used as seasoning for an already outstanding set of songs.

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10.  ‘The Iceberg’ by Oddisee

Whilst many of the albums on this list will have one defining attribute that elevates them to exceptional heights and makes them a cut above the rest, this isn’t exactly the case with Oddisee’s latest studio album, The Iceberg.  Instead, the appeal of this record is rather straightforward, and it’s not an album that the listener will have to sit with for a particular length of time before they completely unravel all of its secrets.  Of course, that’s not to say that Oddisee isn’t a highly talented wordsmith, rather he approaches every topic, no matter how weighty or mundane, at an extraordinarily insightful angle, making for no end of relatable, amusing and punchy bars.  As such, it’s not as if the listener will have The Iceberg completely sussed out from one listen alone, but at the same time, its strengths are so upfront and imposing that it should be obvious why I have ranked it so highly on my year-end list just from a single listen.  The bright, bouncy, boom bap production is wound around potent grooves and sticky melodies, whilst Oddisee’s flows are as catchy as his lyrics are characterful, and this is a trend that doesn’t let up across the course of the entire record.  Put simply, The Iceberg is hip hop done right.

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9.  ‘Ex Eye’ by Ex Eye

Colin Stetson, one of today’s biggest powerhouses of boundary-pushing jazz experimentation, makes his first of two appearances on my year-end list to team up with a selection of fellow musicians well-versed with the avant-garde to try his hand at metal as part of Ex Eye.  Although far from the first ever foray into the world of jazz metal, Ex Eye’s take on this fusion comes from an exceptionally enthralling angle, given that Stetson’s esoteric style of complex and hefty saxophone playing is similarly maximalist and physical to much metal music.  On Ex Eye’s self-titled debut, not solely is the band able to effectively exploit the common ground between Stetson’s experimental saxophone stylings and their brand of blackened post-metal, but there are countless instances in which even abstruse jazz tropes are cogently and potently brought into the fold.  With Stetson’s keen ear for the place of tension and release within progressive compositional structures, and with each member of the outfit bringing their own unique playing styles to the table, Ex Eye is one of metal music’s most finely-crafted and well-rounded experimental endeavours to come out in quite some time.

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8.  ‘Brick Body Kids Still Daydream’ by Open Mike Eagle

Known for his razor-sharp wit and heartbreaking honesty, Open Mike Eagle turns his attention towards a public housing project on the South Side of Chicago, called Robert Taylor Homes, on his latest project, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. With the art rapper’s visions of comic book heroes rising from the rubble of these now demolished high-rises to defend the stories of those who once lived there, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream contains Eagle’s most ambitious and abstract conceptual undertaking to date, which is certainly saying something.  Yet, despite the MC’s lyricism typically being tailored more towards caustic comedy and biting satire than laser-focussed political commentary, Eagle pulls through with an impressively detailed narrative, complete with a comprehensive character arc of his younger self and points of genuinely dramatic internal conflict, with his usual nerdy, referential humour and sardonic, sociopolitical quips spliced in amongst all of this.  The slightly more serious tone of the production across Brick Body Kids Still Daydream fortifies the rapper’s lyrical angle across the album, with the music often balancing the offbeat, glitchy quality of previous Open Mike Eagle projects with a more refined sound.  The more intense moments in Eagle’s storytelling, however, don’t see the beats shy away from getting that bit more aggressive, just as some of the more hectic textures in the instrumentation seem to mimic the MC’s state of mind during the points of internal conflict within his lyrics.  With Open Mike Eagle’s bars being at their most thematically and narratively cohesive, the fact that the music across Brick Body Kids Still Daydream works to enhance this makes for what is surely his most consistent and well-rounded full-length project thus far, to the point that it borders on cinematic at times, whilst multiple listens have proven to be continuously rewarding, as new layers to the rapper’s lyrics continue to reveal themselves.

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7.  ‘Goths’ by the Mountain Goats

The latest album from folk outfit the Mountain Goats, Goths, is as compelling lyrically as it is musically.  In choosing to opt for using no guitars, no comped vocals and no pitch correction, with most of these songs being driven by woodwinds, a piano and a Fender Rhodes, whilst a bass and drum groove holds down the fort, the band’s usual brand of refined indie folk takes a slightly baroque turn that unfolds into some of the sleekest song structures and most ravishing instrumental arrangements that the Mountain Goats have yet put to tape.  Goths also marks significant lyrical growth for the act’s frontman and mastermind, John Darnielle, with the album’s narrative being an in-depth rumination on the life of goths that clearly comes from a place of endearment for the subculture.  The singer manages to appeal to fellow fans of goth culture with arcane references, whilst nevertheless retaining a sense of accessibility in the way in which these allusions are employed as to reflect on human emotion and interaction.  Darnielle typically tackles the primary idea behind a record from the Mountain Goats with great poise, but he takes this even further with Goths, managing to translate both the complications that come with ascribing to an outsider subculture and the sense of belonging that it can bring, whilst nevertheless retaining the air of an unbiased narrator.  The vocalist doesn’t necessarily glamourise goth culture, but he nevertheless translates its positives as well as its negatives, making for one of his most thorough conceptual explorations to date, and one of the best records in the Mountain Goats’ discography.

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6.  ‘Pure Comedy’ by Father John Misty

Father John Misty’s previous album, 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear, alluded to the overarching sociopolitical narrative that appears on Pure Comedy, but the sheer scope of the artist’s approach to this arc could not have been anticipated.  On his latest album, Josh Tillman, the man behind the Father John Misty moniker, takes a step back from the minute details of political discussion to grasp the breadth of the bigger picture, only to find a tumultuous landscape of confusion, chaos and criminality, similar to that which is displayed on the album artwork.  Not intimidated by the unfathomable mess of everything, Tillman endeavours to tackle the woes of the Western world, and no one is safe from his scrutiny.  Across 74 minutes of dynamic, animated, show tune-esque ballads, the singer-songwriter engages with contemporary politics and the state of society as a whole through some of the most amusing, depressing, sardonic, meta and generally biting lyrical diatribes of any album from last year, rivalling the likes of Mark Kozelek with his verbose harangues about anything and everything.  As its title would suggest, this album’s narrative is an epic tragicomedy of sorts, but, above all else, Pure Comedy stands as a monument to cynicism that is as laughable as it is miserable.  For those who are so disenfranchised from the polarised political discussion that runs rampant in Western countries, particularly the US and the UK, that all they can do is laugh at, and lament the state of, both sides of the aisle as complete lunacy unfolds, Pure Comedy is a refreshing reminder that we are not alone.

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5.  ‘All This I Do For Glory’ by Colin Stetson

When bringing up avant-garde jazz, the first thing that will often come to someone’s mind is the wailing saxophones, unthinkable time signatures and improvised freak-outs, that test the patience of the listener as much as they do the technical stamina of the musicians, associated with the likes of John Coltrane, Sun Ra or Roland Kirk.  Whilst such jazz veterans have unequivocally been pivotal to the development of the genre, there is more to avant-garde and free jazz than solely these takes on the style.  The purpose of avant-garde jazz has often been to poke at the taboos of what is, traditionally speaking, a genre of music with a highly rigid form, with many budding musicians being expected to meet certain technical standards in order to make it as professional jazz players.  In this regard, Colin Stetson is perhaps one of the most radical and revolutionary jazz musicians of our time, and his latest solo effort, All This I Do For Glory, furthers his growing legacy.  Despite applying numerous techniques that require copious amounts of technical ability, including multiphonics, percussive valve-work, circular breathing and growling, Stetson also takes audacious risks in the form of, for instance, venting, which is when a reedist expels air from the sides of their mouth and their nostrils.  This is perhaps the cardinal sin of a reed player, but on All This I Do For Glory, Stetson actually places microphones on either side of his face as to ensure that these breathy noises are picked up on tape, and this pays off, with the entire record retaining an ambient air to it that complements Stetson’s minimalist compositions perfectly.  Colin Stetson’s work with Ex Eye is indeed experimental, but his work on All This I Do For Glory is radical.

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4.  ‘ATAVISM’ by YOSHIMI

Meditating on the folklore and classics of his homeland of Japan, YOSHIMI’s latest project, ATAVISM, seeps influence from cyberpunk literature from every crevice.  Pulling from genres as diverse as vapourwave, trap, industrial, ambient and trip hop, the overall aesthetic of ATAVISM is as stylistically esoteric as it is texturally extravagant and compositionally multi-faceted.  With the arcane allusions to Japanese art being a deeply ingrained aspect of YOSHIMI’s ruminations across the album, ATAVISM is not only one of the richest sonic experiences of last year, but its beautifully dark soundscapes are matched with an equally rich cultural significance.  Rife with dualities and dichotomies, ATAVISM is a record of many layers, with each one being stripped away to reveal an ever-increasing sense of deeply-rooted and firmly-established artistic understanding.  In a sense, ATAVISM seems like the next logical step for YOSHIMI following his previous album, Tokyo Restricted Area.  With both of these records being inspired by the Japanese capital, the pervasive industrial edge of Tokyo Restricted Area reinforced the way in which YOSHIMI picked apart the city as a solid entity comprised of brick and mortar.  ATAVISM, however, seemingly transcends the physical world in its underlying themes, with the album’s celestial ambiance existing as a direct counterpoint to its industrial elements, such as the hammering taiko percussion and the unsettling grumbles of bass, creating a stark contrast of dark and light, night and day, the material and the spiritual.  The grand textures of nocturnal electronics loom over the brooding ambience below, like a neon skyscraper towering above a dark night’s thick fog in some future dystopia, with the end product being as concrete and industrial as it is spiritual and ghostly.

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3.  ‘World Eater’ by Blanck Mass

From both his work under his Blanck Mass pseudonym and as half of Bristol-based electronic duo Fuck Buttons, Benjamin John Power has his fingers on the pulse of the latest innovation in the experimental electronic scene, and his latest record as Blanck Mass, World Eater, is by far the artist’s most formidable, immense and multidisciplinary project thus far.  Equipped with an expansive stylistic palette that reflects elements found in everything from hip hop to black metal, as well as a hefty instrumental arsenal that makes the most of the musician’s most maximal and entrancing production to date, Power unleashes a beast of an experimental electronic record that builds on everything to have established the artist as a tremendous force in the world of electronic music throughout his career.  Despite the sheer, daunting expanse of its stylistic structure and compositional configuration, World Eater is not the least bit cluttered, with Power weaving together this patchwork of myriad musical ideas with masterful precision.  Indeed, it’s truly astonishing how cohesively World Eater comes together, despite the fact that many of its ingredients could easily clash with one another if not handled properly, and this also acts as a testament to how far Power has come as a producer, with much of this album’s atmosphere being elevated to inspiring and moving heights courtesy of the artist’s keen ear for vibrant, expansive and generally ravishing production techniques.  Although World Eater is wildly experimental, there are more than enough memorable melodies and rollicking rhythms worked into these frenzied soundscapes for the record to retain a semblance of accessibility, and its sweeping stylistic palette evokes such a broad scope of emotions that it’s bound to resonate with the listener at some point or another.  In short, World Eater is not simply one of the most ambitious electronic albums of last year, but Power handles its monumental experimentation with such composure and control that it never once loses focus, despite many of these compositions unfolding into complete chaos.

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2.  ‘Résistance’ by Songhoy Blues

In the face of displacement and the interdiction of music by Islamist extremists, Songhoy Blues put the ‘punk’ in desert punk.  The Malian quartet’s first record, 2015’s Music in Exile, saw the band set out to preserve the legacy of the music of Northern Mali, which is now locked into civil war between various insurgent groups.  Despite the bleak nature of the state of things in their homeland, Songhoy Blues’ disposition remained as sunny as their music, and, lyrically speaking, Music in Exile was more focussed on paying homage to Mali than putting anyone on blast.  The group’s newest record, Résistance, continues the trend of Songhoy Blues protesting conflict and division with joy, celebration and unity, whilst their sonic stylings across the tracklisting, however, are greatly changed.  Music in Exile saw a seamless fusion of the band’s inspirations from their motherland and the influences they brought in from the US and the UK, through classic rock acts such as Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, whereas Résistance brings countless more styles into the equation, fortified with the strong songwriting skills and infectiously energetic performances that are now a staple of the group’s persona.  Whether it be hip hop, electronic music, funk or Americana, Songhoy Blues handle each new endeavour with incredible dexterity and focus, whilst the diverse soundscapes of Mali and West Africa at large still provide the life force for all of these compositions, making for an album that is as rich as the cultures it seeks to celebrate.

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1.  ‘A Crow Looked At Me’ by Mount Eerie

It’s hard to look at any album created by Phil Elverum without considering it in the context of his broader discography, both as the mastermind of indie rock innovators The Microphones and now under his solo Mount Eerie moniker.  Despite having dabbled in everything from ambient music to black metal as Mount Eerie, Elverum’s latest album under this pseudonym, A Crow Looked At Me, harks back to his third solo record, Dawn.  Although not recorded in isolation in a cabin in the Norwegian countryside, A Crow Looked At Me bears the same stripped-back, lo-fi aesthetic and features some similarly fractured and muted vocal performances from Elverum.  What really seals the relationship between these albums for me, however, is a line from the song Moon Sequel, the third track on Dawn and a continuation of The Microphones’ song The Moon from their classic 2001 album, The Glow, Pt. 2.  Perhaps the most harrowing song on Dawn, the entire first verse of Moon Sequel, through an acoustic guitar melody that oozes sadness, keeps piling on the emotions until its final two lines, which go as follows: “I have my shirt off in front of a crowd / I tell them about you and how you’re gone”, with “you’re gone” being repeated over and over again, before Elverum breaks into one of the most pained choruses of any song I’ve ever heard.  Although Moon Sequel is a break-up song through and through, since the release of A Crow Looked At Me, I struggle to hear that line without thinking of Geneviève Castrée, Elverum’s wife, who died of cancer on July 9, 2016 at the age of 35, about a year and a half after the birth of the couple’s first and only child.  It may be odd to pick a line from another record to summarise A Crow Looked At Me, but essentially, this new Mount Eerie album shows Elverum with his “shirt off in front of a crowd”, i.e. at his most vulnerable, simply recounting his thoughts and feelings since the passing of his beloved.  Due to the constant updates on the amount of time that has passed since Castrée’s death across the album, A Crow Looked At Me assumes an almost diary-like structure, which is only fortified by Elverum’s incredibly intimate approach to lyricism.  Most impressive about his lyrics across the record is the fact that Elverum manages to capture the intimacy and poignancy of a stream of consciousness narrative style, despite the fact that each song on the album seems to have been carefully considered as to reflect on death in relation to various other topics, whether this be art, nature, society, family or any other of the numerous themes subtly woven into the musician’s mourning across the record.  Of course, Elverum’s honesty and self-awareness across A Crow Looked At Me unequivocally make for an emotionally challenging listen, especially as the singer interrupts his memories of his wife with the repeated reminder that “death is real”, but the fact that the listener is so attuned to the singer’s pain is exactly why this record is so potent and such a spectacle of the power of art.  Elverum articulates this pain with a brand of profound honesty and rare simplicity that clearly translate his confusion, frustration and anguish with striking precision, with the beautifully muted instrumentation and hauntingly fragmented style of performance and composition reflecting these themes with as much emotional strength as the words they accompany.  Although a difficult listen, Elverum’s detailed and sincere description of death and its aftermath makes for one of the most moving eulogies ever written, and perhaps the most important thing to take from A Crow Looked At Me is that Phil Elverum loves a woman called Geneviève Castrée, whose memory, as a wife, a mother and a musician, will live on forever through this album.

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