Honourable Mentions of 2017

The best of the rest, in alphabetical order:

Cannibal Corpse, Red Before Black (Metal Blade)
The death metal greats seldom, if ever, disappoint me, and their 14th album yet again serves up a headbang-inducing helping of intricate, thrashy riffs, dive-bombing solos, and plenty of cartoonish gore spewed by the inimitable George “Corpsegrinder” Fischer. This remains an after-work fave, when I’m exhaustedly hopping off the bus home and am all, OUT OF MY WAY, JERKS. In other words, exactly how good death metal should make you feel. (Spotify)

Circle, Terminal (Southern Lord)
If I were ever going to curate a cool music festival, Circle would be one of my absolute must-haves. The Finnish band has been around forever, has released a bazillion albums, feature as talented a lineup of musicians as you will ever come across, and put on a truly incredible live show. This album leans toward their heavier side, and while the krautrock/psychedelic/experimental vibes are always around, this record is primarily about the almighty riff. (Spotify)

Couch Slut, Contempt (Gilead)
When it came to noise rock in 2017, no one topped the mighty Couch Slut, whose second album marks a significant step forward from their astonishing My Life as a Woman two years ago. Led by ferocious vocalist Megan Osztrosits, the Brooklyn band pummels the listener, daring anyone and everyone to submit. It’s rare that I hear music this angry and this compelling at the same time, but Couch Slut are extraordinary at what they do, a perfect reflection of the grimier side of America. (Spotify)

Fever Ray, Plunge (Mute)
I was frankly hoping for a second straight knockout from Karin Dreijer Andersson, but although the long-awaited follow-up to my 2009 Album of the Year doesn’t quite reach that level, its still worthwhile, a welcome return to conventional song structures in the wake of The Knife’s rampant experimentalism. As always, Dreijer Andersson’s strange vocal phrasing is a perfect match for the minimalist arrangements, creating a haunting, nocturnal atmosphere. (Spotify)

Kelela, Take Me Apart (Warp)
R&B didn’t get any better in 2017 than the superb second album by singer-songwriter Kelela. Surrounding herself with a group of producers with the courage to think outside the box, she creates her own peculiar little world on this entrancing record. It minimalism, its starkness and dark tones reminds me a lot of fka twigs, but to Kelela’s credit she creates something completely original and memorable. (Spotify)

Kesha, Rainbow (Kemosabe)
Kesha’s much-ballyhooed comeback album, released after years of legal hassles and becoming a folk hero as a result, is a big, sloppy mess, but considering how important it was to make a strong statement after shedding the icky presence of Dr. Luke, throwing everything at the wall turns out to be liberating. Ranging from introspective to anthemic, this record is a complete blast, not to mention a gigantic triumph. (Spotify)

Zara Larsson, So Good (Sony)
The Swedish artist often comes across as a more clean-cut Tove Lo, but this album, which is comprised of tracks that date as far back as 2015, is lively and smart enough to retain an identity of its own. Blending tropical house, R&B, and electronic, Larsson comes across as both effervescent and cerebral, best evidenced by the empowering ballad “Make That Money Girl”. (Spotify)

Kelly Moran, Bloodroot (Telegraph Harp)
This seemingly unassuming but ultimately jarring album was a very pleasant discovery, as the Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist uses manipulated piano and electronic tones to create an atmosphere that’s comforting and unsettling at the same time. To my ears it sounds like John Cage meets Krallice, as minimalism, repetition, melody, and dissonance combine for something unlike you’ve ever heard. (Spotify)

Sanhedrin, A Funeral For the World (self-released)
Easily the best metal debut I heard all year, this record hearkens back to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, namely the imposing sound of Witchfinder General and the nimble speed of Angel Witch. Led by singer/bassist Erica Stoltz (formerly of the great chamber band Amber Asylum) the Brooklyn trio remember how catchy heavy metal used to be and can still be, and A Funeral For the World is a total, fist-bangin’ old school blast. (Bandcamp)

Wolf Alice, Visions of a Life (Sony)
Wolf Alice is a band I knew I should have liked years ago, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the young British band started to win me over. It sure doesn’t hurt that Justin Meldal-Johnsen, one of the better producers out there right now, helped shape the sound of this very strong album, but it ultimately boils down to terrific songs like “Don’t Delete the Kisses” and “Sadboy”, which strike a good balance between pop rock and hazy dreampop. (Spotify)