Something interesting is happening musically this year. A generous supply of remarkable, innovate and often unexpected albums have been released. 2016 was the year we lost too many iconic artists but somehow 2017 (probably not intentionally or karmically) is reminding us music isn’t dead, it will never die and that argument is tired.I typically wait until the end of the year to attempt a cohesive report on my favourite albums but perhaps that’s getting tired too. Here is a list of the records I highly suggest spending long afternoons, evenings and perhaps even the next day with.
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile-Lotta Sea Lice
This one was highly anticipated by myself and many other desert loving, psych rock adoring and reverb attics that I know. I fell in love with Barnett’s music three years ago at Pickathon- my favourite music festival on this godforsaken rock. She was spilling out witty and clever lyrics while simultaneously demolishing her guitar seemingly effortlessly inside a steaming hot barn around midnight. It was impossible to take your eyes off her. The audience seemed to avoid blinking in fear of missing this supernova who has now deservingly reached international success.
Vile is a truly distinctive artist that left the War on Drugs to pursue his illustrious solo career. His music grasps the melancholic void and executes this highly relatable yet obscure sensation into rock and roll lullabies. The two could not be more suited to play music together and fans lost it when they heard they wouldn’t only record this album but follow it up with an extensive tour. They both have a knack for gracefully extended guitar freakouts, honing a particularly attractive brand of garage rock and gently delivering powerful lyrics. Lotta Sea Lice is a collection of old and new songs written by both. The single “Over Everything” gives insight towards how amiable and intoxicating this project is. The entire album plays like a dream that reels in and casts out of reality, it’s ambiguous who wrote what, which is simply a testament towards how much the two compliment one another.
The War on Drugs- A Deeper Understanding
The ever so talented Adam Granduciel leads the dreamy, innovative and nostalgic Philadelphia based band The War on Drugs. The musical marvel spent generous amounts of time in the studio mulling and obsessing over his impressive material. The band’s fourth studio album Deeper Understanding was highly anticipated as a follow up to their iconic Lost in The Dream released in 2014. A Deeper Understanding is a remarkable portrayal of complex expression, detailed instrumentation and the, if you will deeper understanding (I’m sorry) of musical catharsis. Granduciel takes you on a scenic walk through his moody, prophetic and infinite imagination. A Deeper Understanding is a tenacious sonic dreamscape that completely explores the depths of sonic possibilities, leaving no stone unturned. There is a lot going on in this work yet it’s completely accessible which is likely why the band gets reduced to “dad rock”.
Aerialists is the brainchild of Canadian folk sweethearts Adam Iredale-Gray (Fish & Bird) on guitar and Elise Boeur (Jenny Ritter) on the fiddle joined by Scottish harpist Mairi Chaimbeul (Darol Anger & The Furies) who began collaborating extensively at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Their music is best described as “prog trad” implying an intentional contradiction while properly expressing a contemporary revision of traditional folk music. They are a genre bending, rule defying, brain shattering collection of wildly astute purveyors of sound. Their eclectic skills and intuitive instrumentation create an stirring tapestry of music dripping with range, emotion and history. Aerialists truly grasp the diversity and possibilities of folk music and it’s various sub-genres. They are young people inspired by old music yet their sound is timeless.
Their first full length album Group Manoeuvre is a commanding collection of brilliant songwriting, evocative harmonies and imaginative arrangements. It is cunning, exhilarating and at times almost emotionally overwhelming. They are fully committed to their complex and difficult music. The hauntingly powerful vocalist Emily Millard is featured on the record; her voice is as intense as it is gentle which is impossibly well suited to the avalanche of sound surrounding her. Their arrangements are palpably meticulously sculpted and derive from their original compositions and traditional Scottish, Irish and Swedish fiddle songs. Iredale-Gray produced the album himself in his hometown of Main Island, B.C on behalf of his very own label Fiddlehead Records.
LCD Soundsystem- American Dream
There is no band quite like the avant-garde LCD Soundsystem. Front man James Murphy began the project when he was in his thirties and wrote the accidental smash hit “Losing My Edge” which pokes fun at mainstream artists which ironically made him a mainstream artist.Their eponymous debut title album received a Grammy for best electronic/dance album in 2005. This was followed by the exemplary Sound of Silver released in 2007 and This is Happening in 2010 and they essentially headlined every major music festival simultaneously. In April of 2011 the band sold out Madison Square Garden at a performance billed as their final one, which clearly wasn’t.
LCD is like the choose your own adventure of bands as you can digest their music as rich feasts or light tapas and either way, it’s delicious.Their music captures the evocative backbone of strong electronica and the tender resonation of strong songwriting. It’s ambiguous towards what era they are most inspired by, their sound is a unique blend of 80s,90s and the future. American Dream is misanthropic dance music that speaks to the hips as much as the brain.It is a soundtrack for our current generation.It is vulnerable, manic, hopeful yet conflicted;just like us. It wavers between dreamy electronic terrain and gut wrenching belts of cynicism.American Dream speaks volumes to late capitalism and the unwillingness to conform which Murphy has mastered musically.
Queens of the Stone Age- Villains
Let me begin this my stating this potentially unpopular opinion- Queens of the Stone Age are my least favourite band that Josh Homme is in. I adore the Desert Sessions, Them Crooked Vultures and The Eagles of Death Metal. However, Queens of the Stone Age are my favourite mainstream modern rock band. I always take a while to warm up to a QOTSA album but when I do, which I always do I need to rethink that entire statement but I still land on the same consensus-these are the games I play in my head. That said, I strongly enjoy Queens of the Stone Age but I think Josh Homme should essentially be in the dirtiest, grimiest and most obscure band in the business. However, an album like Villains reminds me why this shouldn’t and couldn’t be.
QOTSA bridges the gap between metal heads and pop fans and everyone in between. Their music is intentionally radio friendly even though Homme is THE quintessential badass. Producer extraordinaire Mark Ronson is all over this record, the same Mark Ronson who produced Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk and Amy Winehouses’ Valerie- he’s a hit machine. Ronson’s craftsmenship successfully pulled out the abundantly rich and complex soundscape that the band has mastered. The record is a condensed tale of inclusive disorderly rock. It invites all listener’s into the magic of rebellious music without making them feel undeserving of the experience and that’s what makes this band so special. Villains is arguably their most accessible album which further celebrates the band’s wonderfully bizarre and friendly mandate.