One of the things that excites me the most when I listen to new music is when I recognize to be in front of an artist, or a band, who has managed to compose an album that is so beautiful and inspired that its value transcends the specific canons of its musical genre. This is something very rare: according to my personal statistics I encounter an album of this kind once or twice a month. Compared to the hundreds of new discs I listen – and select – this is really an infrequent event. For this reason, when a new musical masterpiece emerges from the crowd, it is necessary to celebrate it and announce it with energy and passion. For these category albums the standard labels of “jazz” or “rock” or “metal” lose their intrinsic meaning. These works are in fact valid and musically relevant regardless of their original gender. These are the albums that leave a mark in the memory that we’ll keep of the current year.
Just a couple of months separate us from the end of 2017. Let’s have thus a last update of the best albums that were released since the beginning of the year, before the final and definitive assessment that we will do at the end of December.
The list you’ll find below doesn’t represent an order of value but rather a suggestion of a possible musical path across the “must have” albums of the year. From the beginning to the end of the list we move from the delicacy and virtuosity of modern jazz to the energy and passion of metal. But as already said, there is a common element that goes beyond the tags and categories we may attach to each LP, and this is the absolute value and the quality of each one of the following entries.
Enjoy this trip into the most beautiful music of the year and stay tuned for further updates! A few additional details for each album is provided after the list.
The Best 20 Albums of 2017, last update before the end of the year
- Tigran Hamasayan, An Ancient Observer
- Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet, Jersey
- Max Richter, Three Worlds Music From Woolf Works
- Joep Beving, Prehension
- Kauan, Kaiho
- Ulver, The Assassination of Julius Caesar
- Chinese Man, Shikantaza
- Woolworm, Deserve To Die
- The National, Sleep Well Beast
- Imelda May, Life Love Flesh Blood
- Manchester Orchestra, A Black Mile To The Surface
- Motorpsycho, The Tower
- Rise Against, Wolves
- Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Modern Ruin
- Goldfinger, The Knife
- Seether, Poison The Parish
- John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues
- Ordos, House Of The Dead
- Power Trip, Nightmare Logic
- The Haunted, Strenght in Numbers
Tigran Hamasayan, An Ancient Observer
At this point in time many months have passed since An Ancient Observer, the last masterpiece by Armenian composer Tigran Hamasyan, entered into the charts of this blog. But as a matter of fact, I recognized immediately that this LP was going to be one of the major releases of the year, across all genres.
From a musical point of view, this last production from Tigran sees the artist focused primarily on the piano. The simplicity of the arrangements, however, is in this case totally in favour of Tigran’s enormopus musical inspiration. In all of the songs of the album, in particular, we can appreciate the beautiful balance that he managed to achieve between Armenian folk music (which is based on a different tonal system with respect to the European one) and more conventional – western – musical structures. The melodies in Tigran’s songs are always suspended on this unstable equilibrium between two worlds and two cultures, and this dynamic contrast creates a fascinating and magical atmosphere.
An Ancient Observer doesn’t look as a circumscribed musical experiment but rather appears as the result of years and years of work and persistent refinement by a musician that is incorporating local folk melodies into jazz-form improvisations since his teens.
Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet, Jersey
It is really curious for me to observe that there are artists who are so much driven by musical curiosity and the desire to explore different influences that they feel the pressure to produce adventurous works mixing together musical genres, always trying to find new languages for expressing their creativity. And it’s even more curious to recognize, sometime, that the only way these artists really manage to achieve their goal is to come back to the origin of their music. Evidently, it is just by going through the most well-known roads that you can travel the further.
Mark Guiliana, the talented and versatile drummer who gained the attention of fans and critics playing together with artists of the caliber of Brad Mehldau and Avishai Cohen, started a few years ago an exploration of electronic music, pop/rock and free-improvisation – sometimes with mixed results in my opinion. This year he has movedback to a more conventional lineup, a total analogue set-up, and he eventually released one of the most exciting records of his entire discography.
Working together with long-time supporting musicians such as tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby and bassist Chris Morrissey, and the the new addition of Fabian Almazan on piano, Mark Guiliana managed to record a compilation of songs wich are today the perfect synthesis of Conteporary Jazz and that showcase a perfec balance between the excellence of the individual musicians (often engaged in breathtaking solos) with an excellent harmonic cohesion.
Max Richter, Three Worlds Music From Woolf Works
Three Worlds Music From Woolf Works is Max Richter’s eighth album and it’s mostly consisting of the music score that the British musician composed for the ballet Woolf Works in collaboration with choreographer Wayne McGregor. Compared to the major works from Richter, this album somehow leaves the post-minimalist sounds of his last releases to embrace a neoclassical style, somehow closer to his early works. Interspersed with the larger orchestral moments, we still find, however, a few synthetic inserts which give the music an estranged and pleasantly artificial atmosphere.
This is a must-have disc for all Richter’s fan but, more in general, for all music lovers. It represents a perfect fusion between creativity, depth of sound and enjoyability.
Joep Beving, Prehension
The story of Joep Beving testifies the impact that social media and modern streaming services may have on the success (and sometimes the failure) of a new artists. This Dutch musician recorded some of the original piano tunes that he used to play for his family, distributed them online, and eventually sparked a stratospheric interest from hundreds of thousands of Spotify subscribers. At that point, contended by a number of record companies, he released this year a second record, Prehension, which confirmed the class and talent of the artist.
The style of Joep Beving follows the successful stream of modern classical and contemplative piano music, but just because of the fact that this genres begins to be definitely inflated, to emerge from the mass becomes even more difficult. The short compositions collected in Prehension reach the magical point of equilibrium where accessibility of the melodies matches with class and style. All the musical attributes of Bevings’ compositions float in that delicate balance between minimalism and delicacy where every additional element would make the sounds redudant, but anything less than that would compromise pleasure and smoothness of the songs.
Kauan are a typical case of a band who had to face a long and articulated journey through different genres before landing on those shores which proved to be the best suited to convey the poetry of their music. Started as a black and doom metal band, this group of musicians from Chelyabinsk, in Russia, first transformed their sound into a blend of post-rock and neo-folk, and eventually arrived to play an incredible combination of ambient music and atmospheric minimalism.
The abandonment of metal and doom sounds was already initiated by the band with the spectacular 2015’s album Sorni Nai, which is still one of the most incredible and thrilling LPs of the decade (and the album is available for free at high quality).
This year, with Kaiho, the process is completed. I find quite difficultto find a proper category for the music that is being played by these poets of modern music. But this is a little problem with almost no importance. What really matters, in fact, is that we are in front of a musical masterpiece, an album that is capable to make you fly into magical soundscapes and feel pure and breathtaking emotions.
I will always express my gratitude to Kauan. What they have given to me in the recent years with their music is something unique, special.
Ulver, The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Similary to what we’ve already said for Kauan, even in the case of Ulver, which is a Norwegian experimental musical collective that is nowadays approaching 25 years of activity, it’s absolutely impossible to synthesize and represent their musical career with just a few tags. If their early works explored the realms of black and folk metal, with the passing of time they have initiated an incredible and ambitious exploration of other musical genres, including ambient, electronica, and neoclassical. This year, with their last work named The Assassination of Julius Caesar, the band is experimenting with synthpop and EDM. The result is brilliant, as if the four Norwegians were long-term and celebrated artists of this genre, and not the neophytes of this type of music as they are in reality.
The album manages to combine an incredible fluidity of sounds with a unique and truly elegant musical elegance, something that’s really challenging and not easy to achieve with electronic music. The quality of the LP is very high, on all aspects, and that’s basically one of the albums which surprised me the most in 2017.
Chinese Man, Shikantaza
Five years after their first album, French trip-hop collective Chinese Man are back with a new LP, Shikantaza, which is built on top of a perfectly balanced mix of funky, groove, hip-hop and many other fragements of musical genres and ethnic references.
The are a few songs that stand out for their brilliance and creativity, but at the end it is the average level of all the tracks of the album which leaves speechless. Shikantaza is an album made to be listened and listened again, this is one of those albums that you can easily play in the background during your day for hours and hours and never get tired of. Sometimes you will find yourself turning up the volume and dancing alone like a fool, captured by one of the many vintage rhythms that punctuate the entire disc.
Woolworm, Deserve To Die
Listening to Deserve To Die, the beautiful new album by Woolworm – a Canadian band relatively new figure in the indie rock scene – you realize how often the most beautiful things in music are born out of the clash between opposite elements. Rage and tenderness, hardcore and pop, dissonance and melodies, light and darkness, these are the main ingredients which constitute this little masterpiece of rock.
From a musical point of view, Deserve To Die is a beautiful collection of indie rock songs with numerous and well-blended influences from stoner, post-rock and even some heavy metal. Almost all the tracks of the album shine for immediacy and freshness and, considering the album as a whole, you get the feeling that these musicians really enjoy what they’re doing: playing a genuine, inspired and captivating rock and roll. And this is not by chance that such a little gem has taken a seat in this journey through the best music of the year while many other bands – more acclaimed and experienced than Woolworm – didn’t achieve the same result.
The National, Sleep Well Beast
Sleep Well Beast, the seventh album by American indie art rock The National, was one of the most anticipated and awaited albums of 2017. It’s not by chance, then, that the LP topped in a few days some of the most important music charts in US, UK and Canada.
Born as college rockers and post-punk revivalists, these four guys from Cincinnati developed with the years a unique musical style where delicate melodies and intimate atmospheres dominate over every other element. One of the best characteristics of the album is how the band managed to introduce a bunch of new elements and innovation in their style but without reinventing their overall musical approach, which is still dominated by a profound melancholy but with some nice and appreciated relatively energic inserts (as it’s evident in the beautiful single Day I Die).
As it’s typical with every albums of The National, a few songs are particularly brilliant, but in this case the overall quality of the LP is very high, making the experience of listening to the album as a really enjoyable journey.
Imelda May, Life Love Flesh Blood
Thanks to a long presence in the music scene and a total number of five albums, Imelda May has already achieved a strong reputation as one of the best folk and rock singers of our time. The Irish musician, singer and songwriter began her profession as back as 2003, at an age that formally should preclude her to enter into many places where she was expected to perform.
Initially affirmed with a rockabilly-oriented musical style, Imelda May has slowly shifted towards a peculiar and enjoyable soft rock with the incremental introduction of elements coming from the folk tradition. Her last work, Life Love Flesh Blood, signs the definitive change in her musical direction and sees the artist engaged with a number of country and folk ballads of absolute value.
Unlike some critics who haven’t fully appreciated this change of style, I am among those who have greatly enjoyed the new musical path she embarked on with the last album. Imelda May’s LP, as far as I am concerned, is among the finest things I’ve heard since the beginning of the year.
Manchester Orchestra, A Black Mile To The Surface
A Black Mile To The Surface, the 5th full-lenght album by Manchester Orchestra, was already indicated in this blog as one of the best art-rock albums of the year. As a matter of fact, the American indie rock band from Georgia has collected in their last work a fantastic sequence of songs and this is presumably one of those albums that will stay among the masterpieces of the band’s career.
From a musical point of view, the album meshes togheter the disparate stylistical elements that the guys from Atlanta manifested in their last few productions: gorgeous rock melodies, ambitious and elegant arrangements, layered harmonies and evocative lyrics. And whether you pick up single songs or you deal with the entire album, this work does not disappoint. Definitely.
Motorpsycho, The Tower
When I was a student at the University, more than 20 years ago, Motorpsycho reached for me the status of a cult band and every year or so they repeated the rite of releasing a new album, which for me used to become a new relic to be worshiped. Between 1994 and 1998, in particular, this trio of Norwegian rockers released 4 albums that marked the “renaissance” of progressive rock in the ’90s. Their music was just wonderful. They played a genuine, engaging and exciting rock, a music gifted by a level of creativity that was really outside the boundaries of the human being, with a powerful and devastating sound. In short, a myth.
The story tells that at some point in their career the band faced a musical turn and the magic of those years was never to be repeated, probably not only because of their music but also because it was also my life that changed. Through the years I have continued to follow their steps, perhaps with less transport and passion but always with great interest. Their prolificity has been somewhat slowed, but they have continued to produce albums with a certain frequency. Recently, for some years now, their music is coming back to touch some special strings of my sensitivity and today, with their new work The Tower, it is as if they are again approaching that part of my body that is more sensitive to their music.
The current lineup of the band features only two members of the original formation: Bent Sæther (lead vocals and bass) and Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan (guitars) and last year also the “young” drummer who supported the last 7 albums left the group to be replaced by Tomas Järmyr from Zu, who was presented as the new permanent drummer of the band. But as often happens with the rock groups, the arrival of a new member must have activated a new vein of creativity because the latest work from Motorpsycho is really amazing and full of so many musical ideas that it really seem to be back to the magical period of their career.
Rise Against, Wolves
One of the best surprise in Rock Music this year came from from Rise Against, the American alternative and hardcore band which published on last June their eighteth studio album, named Wolves.
The record is full to the brink of the band’s signature and explosive formula where aggressive punk and hardcore sounds are combined with fiery vocals and furious choruses typical of alternative rock. With the exception of a couple of catchy songs, however, the album needs some repeated listening to be appreciated in its entirety. Or at least this was my personal experience…. I had to go through the album a few times before getting involved at the right level by the record’s eleven tracks. Steadily and incessantly, the album climbed on the top of my preferences in rock and today it’s also one of the most appreciated companions for my running workouts.
Besides the absolute beauty of its best tracks – the album in its entirety is characterized by a very high quality of music and lyrics. Rise Against play a very effective and strong rock and the value of their production goes well beyond the politic message they convey with their songs.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Modern Ruin
Modern Ruin is the second album released by the relatively new English rock band capitanated by former Gallows frontman Frank Carter, here supported by Dean Richardson, Thomas Mitchener and Gareth Grover (The Rattlesnakes).
Released on January 2017, Modern Ruin immediately topped all the music charts of this blog. It’s an incredible compilation of energetic and catchy songs supported by an incredible sound which magnifies the fantastic voice of the band leader. And despite the ups and downs in the chart, this is a release that can’t really miss in your collection of the best music of the year.
Goldfinger, The Knife
What can one expect from a rock group which spent the last nine years without any new music and in the meantime 3 of the original 4 members were kicked out from the band?
These were the premises for The Knife, the new and long-awaited studio album by Goldfinger, the punk band from Los Angeles which gained quite a good reputation across the two centuries for their relevant contribution to the ska-punk sub-genre. But once I started listening to the disc, I found myself literally embarrassed for how good this album was and I ended-up literally seduced by the energy and the freshness emanating from the album. The Knife, released on last July, is the seventh LP from Goldfinger and it managed to cancel in a matter of seconds all the skeptikism one could have on the album.
After the last internal revolution, Goldfinger is today a sort of “supergroup” with a new line-up consisting of band leader John Feldman, who’s the only remaining member of the original group, supported by Blink-182’s Travis Barker (who’s maybe the best punk drummer of the current days), talented bassist Mike Herrera and Story of the Year’s rhythm guitarist Philip Sneed.
The songs in The Knife offer the listener a wonderful mix of melodic punk, alternative rock and ska. The music crafted by Feldman and his new bandmates manages to combine funny and catchy choruses with interesting musical structures. The ska elements are very well balanced and as a matter of fact you can listen the album over and over again without too much saturation. This is an instant classic, one of the best rock albums of the year.
Seether, Poison The Parish
It may seem a curious thing at first, but what is still today the best alternative metal album of the year comes from South Africa and has been produced by a band of veteran rockers who – until a few years ago – very few would have associated the metal world.
Seether, a post-grunge band from Pretoria, has been in fact the protagonist of one of the most interesting music transformations of the year. Poison the Parish, the seventh full-lenght work by the trio, arrived three years after their previous release and signed a new heavier direction for the band. And based on what we hear on the album, the change is for the better.
The musical style of Seether, today, is clearly inspired by the masters of alternative metal (Tool and Alice in Chains, just to mention the most evident sourcse of inspiration), but the album never trascends into a mere imitation of the models. This album is definitely one of the best surprises of the year. These guys have developed an exceptional mix of “metal” atmospheres and mainstream “rock” music motifs: the result, in this case, is more than the sum of the two parts.
John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues
As long term fan of John Garcia, I tend to appreciate almost every single thing he does as main artist or every song where he simply contributes with his wonderful voice. His last full-lenght disc, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, is however a masterpiece from every point of view. This is an acoustic album where the former Kyuss singer rearranges a few tunes from his glorious past and presents also a number of new songs.
Much of the beauty of this record lies in the fact that John Garcia didn’t just follow the desire to pursue the commercial success by just putting a new dress on the most famous songs of his career. Rather, it is evident the depth of emotions which our favourite singer wanted to share with us. and which is at the basis of such a little masterpiece. The value of this album is well beyond the stoner musical domain, this is a work which clearly represents one of the best things which happened in music in 2017.
Ordos, House Of The Dead
Ordos is an incredible Swedish stoner-doom band which released early this year their second album, House of the Dead. The LP follows their 2013’s debut. As the band uses to says, the album is evidently inspired by the underground stoner genre and the songs are typically characterized by a trashy stoner-doom with elements from black metal and bluesy psychedelia.
I’ve fallen in love with this work since I listened to the initial guitar riffs of the album, and the positive impression remained unchanged after many and many other listens of the entire work. The songs of this LP feature a lot of elements that are reminiscent of ’70 rock and ’90 metal (the final part of the title track borrowed the riff from Faith No More), but what’s really impressive of the disc is the enjoyable heaviness of all the melodies that are fitted into the 6 tracks of the album. It’s a wall of sounds that wraps you up but without tearing you down. Energy and dark riffs.
Power Trip, Nightmare Logic
Nightmare Logic, which is the last and second full-lenght album by Texans trashers Power Trip, has systematically climbed the rankings of every chart of this blog where the LP was included, eventually reaching the position of best metal album of the year.
Power Trip are a relatively new metal band from Texas which plays an energetic and violent blend of thrash and hardcore. They aren’t around since many years but have already accumulated considerable experience playing live together with some big names like Anthrax, Lamb of God and Napalm Death. Nigthmare Logic is their second full-lenght album and it proved to be one of the best thrash metal releases of the last years: fast, energetic, and innovative with a lot of inserts from other metal sub-genres, such as hardcore and industrial.
Nightmare Logic looks to me as one of that fortunate cases where the classical and typical elements of thrash metal have been masterfully reshaped with modern elements, creating a new and unique sound that most likely will become itself a reference for future generations. Impressive, not to be missed.
The Haunted, Strenght in Numbers
Swedish extreme metallers The Haunted have achieved last year the important milestone of 20 years of successful career. On last August they released the ninth album of an impressive discography. In their new work, called Strength In Numbers, the band further consolidates their musical style without any radical innovation butm as usual, we’re in front of a wonderfully played compilation of death and thrash filled with the right amount of brutality, energy and class, with a few tracks emerging on top of the others for their quality.
And it’s no surprise, then, that in a short time this work took out the competition and got the title of best death metal album of the year.