I know we’re two weeks into 2018, but since I get most of my music for the year around Christmas (yes, I’m one of the few people that still buys CDs), I’ve spent a good deal of the last two weeks digesting new music. I also just realized it’s been about two years since I’ve posted anything on the blog. Lot going on, and with two little ones, just don’t have the free time (or any) that I used to.

2017 wasn’t the best year for music, but it wasn’t all that bad. There have been years where I had a clear No. 1 choice for my top spot, but this year it was a bit tough to pick. So here’s what I’ve come up with, and I’ll even include honorable mentions at the end of the post.

beckcolors

10. Beck, Colors

When we last heard from Beck Hansen, he released the Grammy-winning Morning Phase. It certainly was a surprise winner, and an album I rarely go back to. Give me upbeat, eclectic Beck over the melancholy, depressing Beck any day of the week. To me, Morning Phase was just a rehash of the superior Sea Change, released nearly a decade before. At the time, Beck said he was working on a more upbeat album at the same time, and it took him five years to complete it. The result is Colors, perhaps his biggest foray into dance-pop. Tracks like “Up All Night,” “Dreams,” “Colors” and “I’m So Free” are immediately hummable dance ditties, while the piano-dominated “Dear Life” has an almost Beatlesque quality to it. Don’t think this one will win any awards, but it’s an infinitely more fun record to listen to. And unlike the last one, I’ve gone back to it several times already.

liamg

9. Liam Gallagher, As You Were

Since the break-up of Oasis nearly a decade ago, Liam Gallagher proceeded with his career like that event literally didn’t occur. He formed the band Beady Eye with the members of Oasis not named Noel Gallagher and put out a pair of albums that had some decent moments but couldn’t help but sound like Oasis-lite.

For his first proper solo album, the junior Gallagher has teamed with uber-producer Greg Kurstin and come up with a set of melodic, introspective power pop tunes. And while Oasis fans would love to see the brothers get the band back together, this album proves Liam is more than capable of making it on his own.

everything-now

8. Arcade Fire, Everything Now

The Canadian indie rockers hit critical (and eventually, commercial) gold with their first four releases – Funeral, Neon Bible, The Suberbs and Reflektor.

Their fifth release was a more polarizing affair, achieving a modest 66 (out of 100) on the critical aggregate site Metacritic. Some of the critical reviews were a bit harsh, with the band accused of having not much left to say or relying too much on the often disco-fied sound included in Reflektor.

And while I’ll admit it’s not quite as strong as the band’s previous output, I still love this album, aside from a track or two. The first half of the album contains the more upbeat “disco funk” type tracks (“Everything Now, “Signs of Life”), but the back end unearths a few emotional gems like “Put Your Money on Me.”

The musicianship, as always, is tight, as are the vocals of Win Butler and wife Regine Chassagne. Definitely recommend it.

 

gorillaz

7. Gorillaz, Humanz

The fifth album from Blur frontman Damon Albarn’s ‘virtual’ band Gorillaz dropped seven years after the last one did.

And while the last couple albums had Albarn’s fingerprints all over them, he took a bit of a step back on this one, letting his many collaborators get their turns fronting the ‘band.’

Gorillaz was always a project that allowed Albarn to explore his dancier, hip-hop side, and this album does that to a T. There are guest rappers galore like Vince Staples, De La Soul, Danny Brown and Pusha T, as well as a number of lesser-known R&B singers singing lead.

The only Albarn solo contribution here is “Busted and Blue,” which is also the slowest track here. Easily could have been on an Albarn solo album, as it doesn’t fit with the rest of the material.

The big headliner on the set is the final track “We Got the Power,” which brings together former archrivals Albarn and Noel Gallagher for a two-minute tour-de-force victory lap of the Britpop era. Best song on the set, but far from the only highlight.

concrete-and-gold-foo-fighters

6. Foo Fighters, Concrete and Gold

Dave Grohl and company returned in 2017 with a sturdy collection of tunes and an A-list of guest musicians for the Foos’ ninth album.

The set kicks off with an initially quiet acoustic number called “T-Shirt” which morphs into a monster arena-rock singalong chorus before abruptly ending in less then 90 seconds. Second track  “Run” is one of two powerhouse singles on the album, evoking the loud-soft dynamics reminiscent of Grohl’s former band Nirvana.

“The Sky is a Neighborhood” is the even better (in my estimation) second single, paying tribute to rock’s many fallen heroes with outstanding backing vocals by (among others) Allison Mosshart of the Kills and the Dead Weather.

Megastar guests include Justin Timberlake (backing vocals on “Make it Right”) and Paul McCartney (drums on the Taylor Hawkins-sung “Sunday Rain”). The album flows nicely, although sags a bit in the middle, as the album is frontloaded with the best songs overall. A near home run, but a booming double instead.

marilynmanson

5. Marilyn Manson, Heaven Upside Down

Can you really call Marilyn Manson a shock rocker anymore? Not sure the term ever really fit anyway, especially when the ridiculous media made him a scapegoat for the Columbine shootings at the turn of the century, an event that severely hurt his career.

Manson has never really gone away, although his albums aren’t as anticipated as they once were at his heyday.

While he may not be “shocking” anymore, he certainly still does rock, and he’s hit a bit of a career renaissance working with collaborator Tyler Bates. Their first album together The Pale Emperor was a bit bluesier and didn’t have as much of an industrial edge as the latest effort, which is much heavier overall. It definitely hearkens back to Manson’s heyday and serves as a bit of a cross between Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals. The first-half of the album is superb with crunching industrial rock (“Tatooed In Reverse”, “Say10”, “We Know Where You Fucking Live”) along with a creepy Manson love song (Kill4Me, which has been the album’s biggest single).

It slumps a bit with the overlong “Saturnalia”, but ends with a fury (“Threats of Romance” is a menacing album closer).

mastodon-emperor-of-sand-20170126161858

4. Mastodon, Emperor of Sand

Damn, Mastodon is a fine metal band.

I mean, they’ve never put out anything I haven’t enjoyed thoroughly and their latest is no exception.

The last two albums kind of went away from their old formula of big music surrounded by an album-encompassing topic or theme, but the concept album has returned here.

With a few band members going through traumatic times with deaths in the family, the theme of death and how one fights and comes to terms with it is the subject dealt with in every song.

The songs themselves are shorter and more concise than in past concept-heavy offerings, so it’s taking a bit of the last two album’s ‘songs first’ approach and marrying it with the old ‘bigger is better’ theme. Whatever it is, it works seemlessly. And to boot, after this album was released in March, they put out a four-song EP called “Cold Dark Place” which consisted of outtakes from the last two albums, and that was awesome as well. Like I said, they’ve never put out something I didn’t like.

robplant-920x584

3. Robert Plant, Carry Fire

At nearly 70 years old, Robert Plant can no longer reach the spine-tingling wail of his Led Zeppelin days.

But that’s fine, his voice may not have the range it once had (not going to at 70), but the man can still sing with plenty of raw emotion. And that’s what he does here on his latest solo offering.

Backed by his phenomenal band The Sensational Space Shifters, Plant delivers his best set of tunes in years and while it may not be as heavy or quite as eclectic as Zep, there’s a ton to love here.

Opener “The May Queen” gives a wink of “Stairway to Heaven” in its title, but the song itself has a more Indian feel to it, as Plant’s solo stuff often does.

The album is topical but not overtly political. The closest you get to a Plant political rant comes in the tune “Carving up the World Again … A Wall and not a Fence” which deals with Donald Trump’s controversial immigration policy. More than anything else, this album is a set of well-played, dazzingly sung songs by a true master. Two thumbs way up here.

 

Kendrick-Lamar-DAMN-album-cover-featured-827x620

2. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN

There aren’t many rappers (if any) today that marries wizardlike wordplay, topical relevance and musical innovation quite like Kendrick Lamar does.

His last album, To Pimp A Butterfly (one of the best rap albums ever in my opinion) was essentially a jazz-rap tour de force.

His latest effort is a bit more commercial sounding by comparison, but a whole hell of a lot better of most of the drivel you’ll find on the radio today.

Guests like Rihanna and U2 (yes that U2) drop by, but this is Kendrick’s show all the way. The single-word song titles mostly deal with man’s inner struggles and desires (“Pride”, “Lust,” “Love,” “Loyalty”) and closes with a plea to God (on the aptly titled “God”) before again turning inward on “Duckworth.”

Lamar dazzles with his flow but his ability to show compassion for the human condition while also delivering hypnotic storytelling makes him such an important voice in the music world.

noelgallagher

1. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds,
Who Built the Moon?

The third solo effort from the former Oasis guitarist/songwriter takes a drastic left turn from his first two albums. Those albums, full of great songs, were a bit more basic rock albums, with plenty of acoustic strumming and straightforward arrangements.

On comes this dynamo, which layers trippy psychedelic sounds on beautiful tunes like “If Love is the Law” and “She Taught Me How to Fly.”

Noel is at his glam-rock best in lead single “Holy Mountain” and he turns things down a bit on the understated, bluesy “Be Careful What You Wish For.” The songs all have memorable melodies.

Really, if you took this album and much of Liam Gallagher’s As You Were’, you’d have the best Oasis album since What’s the Story (Morning Glory)? Instead, we’re left with a pair of excellent solo statements.

Rounding out the Top 20:

11. Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
12. Jay-Z, 4:44
13. The Killers, Wonderful, Wonderful
14. Dhani Harrison, In//Parallel
15. Incubus, 8
16. Greta Van Fleet, From the Fires
17. Linkin Park, One More Light
18. U2, Songs of Experience
19. Weezer, Pacific Daydream
20. Eminem, Revival

 

 

 

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Comments
  1. Tracy says:

    Some of this is new to me. I’ll be gecking them out. I need some new music in my life.

  2. Tracy says:

    And apparently I can’t type because I’m not wearing my glasses.

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