Saturday, December 30, 2017

The List 2017

    There was no reason to think 2017 would be anything but a year of despair and malaise as the nation and world settled into Trumptoons and post-Brexit breakdown. Surprisingly, though, artists responded with some exceptional work. Despair was in evidence, sure, but so was righteous anger and even a bit of joy. A majority of the 180-odd albums listed here weren’t just listenable, they were memorable.
    This was the second year in a row of sparse EP and special-album releases, though a sudden mad rush of singles and EPs appeared post-Halloween for some inexplicable reason. Some special albums veered close to reissues this year, such as Neil Young’s Hitchhiker, but the original rules apply: if a fancy anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper or One Nation Underground is released, it simply doesn’t qualify as anything new. And the caveat about best-of-best still applies: Close to a thousand mainstream and indie albums are released annually, and this 180 or so (OK, 200 including “specials”) represent the ones worth hearing.  Sure, there are quality gradients between the top ten and bottom 20, but anything that makes this list is worth your perusal.

DISQUALIFICATIONS: Just like Russia in the Olympics, some won’t like it, and it ain’t PWR BTTM, though that band ranks low simply for being overrated. Instead, it’s Queens of the Stone Age, because there is overwhelming evidence of Josh Homme’s violence. Depending on his contrition, he may rate a permanent DQ in the future, for now it’s just a one-time DQ for the aptly-named Villains. PWR BTTM retains an equivocal ranking because the evidence against the band was spotty at best, even though their albums were banned and they were piled on by everyone.

    Nods to dozens of musicians gone in 2017, now it seems the ones who remain get special merits for sticking around.

Regular Studio Albums, 2017

1.     Torres, Three Futures – This might be the first time my list has featured the same artist at #1 for more than one showing. Torres (Mackenzie Scott) took first place for Sprinter in 2015, and she unexpectedly outdid herself this year. Her style is becoming less guitar-centric and closer to that of St. Vincent. Even though St. Vincent released an amazing album in 2017, there was a certain mystical quality to Three Futures  that gave Torres an unprecedented repeat performance at #1.
2.      Mt. Eerie, A Crow Looked at Me – Phil Elverum tackled the near-impossible task of processing the grief involved in raising a toddler after the co-parent has died. Some people found this album simply too depressing to confront. I think Elverum raised hopeful signs of his wife signaling him from another world, and produced an amazing album as a result.
3.     Kevin Mitchell and Lord Damage, Hannibal’s at the Gates – You’ll hear any number of stories about Kendrick Lamar or Tyler the Creator conjuring the ultimate political/confessional hip-hop hybrid, but really, none can touch Colorado’s Mitchell and David Mack (Lord Damage). The politics are both specific and universal, the literate talents immense, and with guest appearances by Rosemary Lytle and Emily Strange, how can this be anything but phenomenal?
4.     Circuit des Yeux, Reaching for Indigo – Haley Fohr’s unusual baritone blues voice has reminded people of everyone from Nico to Joan Armatrading in past albums, but she brings in jazz and orchestral ensembles here that suggest Nina Simone on LSD. In 34 minutes, Fohr applies a range of musical styles that is downright amazing. Still some suggestions of Capt. Beefheart or Ry Cooder in her work, but much, much more.
5.     Lana Del Rey, Lust for Life – Haters are simply irrelevant by now. This is Lana’s magnum opus, an analysis of 21st-century Situationist representations.
6.     Peter Brotzmann and Heather Leigh, Sex Tape – The duo’s 2016 tour was useful not only for bringing Brotzmann back into the center of consciousness where he belongs, but for bringing the force of nature known as Heather Leigh to a broader audience. And this album had more immediacy than last year’s studio effort.
7.     Filthy Friends, Invitation – No better match has been made in recent years than Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker providing front vocals for REM’s Peter Buck and his regular band of roustabouts. This is one of those sparkling pop albums without a weak cut.
8.     Protomartyr, Relatives in Descent – Detroit post-punk Dadaist intellectual pondering on a world gone mad, and you can dance to it. What else do you want?
9.     Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm – Katie Crutchfield grows more focused and passionate with every album, and her sister Alison joins her on this outing, making it a superb Waxahatchee/PS Eliot hybrid of sorts.
10.                       The Accidentals, Odyssey – It’s so often we hear about teenage superheroes signing to a big label only to crash and burn, that it’s nice to hear about the young geniuses of Traverse City, MI signing to Sony Masterworks and kicking some major ass. Sometimes fairy tales do come true.
11.                       Jesca Hoop, Memories Are Now – The innovative and unusual Hoop comes up with more elaborate compositions than any she’s attempted, including in her duo album with Sam Beam.
12.                       Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice – The only thing keeping this album out of the Top 10 was its brevity (OK, the nine tracks equal 44 minutes, but seem brief0, but Barnett and Vile really make this collaboration work by keeping ambitions in check. This is just a beautiful, aw-shucks, back porch whiskey-sippin’ wonder.
13.                       St. Vincent, Masseduction – Annie Clark’s further move into synth gives a feel of Xiu Xiu meets Charli XCX, but she adds simple human elements to songs like “Happy Birthday Johnny” that might just make this the finest St. Vincent album of all.
14.                       Craig Finn, We All Want the Same Things – It took three solo albums for Finn to get to the point where his solo work is more impressive and heartfelt than anything he does with The Hold Steady.
15.                       Moses Sumney, Aromanticism – It starts out with falsetto R&B like so many artists, but adds elements of Seal or Moby electronica, folk music, and spoken-word poetry, until you realize this debut album is quite amazing.
16.                       Neil Young, The Visitor – Those who thought last year’s Peace Trail was plain-spoken will be pleased to see Neil take on not just Trump himself, but those who think like Trump, including many of Neil’s biggest fans. Powerful songs of social protest grace this album, which can have maudlin or silly misfires from time to time, but that’s typical of any Neil album.
17.                       Randy Newman, Dark Matter – Yep, the master of irony and sardonic observation is back, and he left the movie soundtracks at home. Sure, he didn’t include the song about Trump’s penis, but we get a love song for Putin and a 7-minute debate about science and religion, so of course it’s excellent.
18.                       U2, Songs of Experience – Surprise! Bono comes up with more new ideas than the band’s had since Atomic Bomb days a decade ago. Some, like a higher range of singing and better rock/polyrhythm fusing, work; others, like Autotune, vocoders, and megaphone, not as well. And if all the descriptions of a dark angry world and the healing power of love sound a little hollow after the revelations of Bono’s offshore accounts, well, that’s nothing new for U2.
19.                       Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway – Because of her choice of material, much of it traditional, this almost went into a “Specials” category, but at any rate, this is some powerful stuff, a cut above her first album and anything she did with Carolina Chocolate Drops. Giddens is one of the finest vocal talents and public intellectuals in music today.
20.                       Bjork, Utopia – Bjork uses orchestration and her own direct language to emphasize joy at a new love, while denouncing the social traps that hold us down. Her message and the arrangements are best in the weirdest tracks, like “Body Memory” and “Tabula Rasa,” though there are times when the more mainstream tracks sound like Bambi-era Disney soundtracks, which is probably not what Bjork had in mind.
21.                       LCD Soundsystem, American Dream – Not only is it great to know the hiatus was temporary, but this album has that striking quality that brings to mind Talking Heads’ Speaking In Tongues. One of the year’s best car-driving albums.
22.                       Lorde, Melodrama – It’s good to know the New Zealand teen savior of pop took her time for her next studio release, because this one is beautifully crafted.
23.                       Algiers, The Underside of Power --  Algiers blasts forth a unique mélange of punk-gospel-R&B gumbo, and this second album represents a big leap in bearing witness and speaking truth to power.
24.                       Bully, Losing – Nashville has brought forth a power trio that combines 1990s elements of Pavement or Nirvana, old-school ‘70s punk, and 1980s power-pop, in a compelling mix that is distinctly 21st century.
25.                       Ted Leo, The Hanged Man – You’ll often hear that Ted Leo’s first work since his duo effort with Aimee Mann, The Both, is a grim solo affair without The Pharmacists, a long treatise on political and familial problems. What you may not hear is that Leo has offered up some of his best pop riffs ever, and that this album is an exciting testament to preserving hope in dark times.
26.                       Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights – Baker was a mere 19 years old for her first bare-bones, plaintive album. Now she returns with Memphis backup musicians, strong and assured lyrics, and poetry that continues to set a high bar for singer-songwriters.
27.                       Out Lines, Conflats – James Graham of Twilight Sad teams up with Scottish newcomer Kathryn Joseph to take bleak Glasgow despair to new heights? Lows?
28.                       The New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions – Even if the band is heading more in pop-synthy directions and Dan Bejar is absent, these songs are sparkling and memorable, more so than the last Brill Bruisers effort.
29.                       Wolf Parade, Cry Cry Cry – Some fans will just be glad to hear that Wolf Parade is back. More important, the band is on a strident kick reminiscent of Joy Division, but with a happier demeanor.
30.                       Gord Downie, Introduce Yerself – The final call from Tragically Hip’s lead singer, as important in its own right as Bowie’s Black Star. 23 songs are each dedicated to a specific person in his life, a way of saying goodbye.
31.                       Flobots, Noenemies – You can almost hear an audible sigh of relief that Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit are back to provide guidance in these dangerous times. As usual, the hip-hop poetry is first-rate, the politics are direct, and the musical arrangements break new ground.
32.                       Cloud Nothings, Life Without Sound – Cloud Nothings exist in a world where math-rock and emotional indie work fuse, and this album features some of their finest compositions to date.
33.                       Kendrick Lamar, Damn. – A hip-hop hero who stands apart for his ability to laugh at himself, Lamar offers up wry observations on fame in this fascinating release, though it doesn’t offer the breathtaking scope of To Pimp a Butterfly.
34.                       Halsey, Lonesome Fountain Kingdom – Some people place Halsey in the silly-pop category because of her dalliances with tedious people like Chainsmokers, but this album is as impressive as her debut. Do not underestimate Halsey.
35.                       Daniele Luppi, Parquet Courts, and Karen O, Milano – It’s been six years since Luppi’s Rome collaboration with Dangermouse, and this time, he recruits Parquet Courts and Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs to perform a concept album on Milan in the 1980s.  Sheer genius.
36.                       Sylvan Esso, What Now – A great leap forward from the first album, full of bravura and enthusiasm, along with a bit of wisdom.
37.                       The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, Always Foreign – This band has gone from a complex twee format to something noticeably darker, encapsulating the last half of their involved name. Moody music for moody times.
38.                       Weaves, Wide Open – It was hard to figure out where Jasmyn Burke might take her Toronto misfits after their wild and untamed first album. Some people hear Springsteen elements, but I hear British 1970s pub rock of the Graham Parker variety, which is damned strange for an African-American art-punk vocalist, and all sorts of wonderful besides.
39.                       Tori Amos, Native Invader – A return to synth-heavy minimalism, and a family affair in the recording studio, but excellent songs as always.
Bonus Edition Handicap: Unless you really want that Black Friday EP in splattered vinyl, just get the extended edition and save yourself some money – the extra songs are worth it.
40.                       Kesha, Rainbow – Successfully extricating herself from Luke and crafting a country-influenced album at the same time? High fives, Kesha.
41.                       Jason Isbell, The Nashville Sound – There may not be the anguished masterpieces from the first two albums, but Isbell has put together a band that is at its height.
42.                       Feist, Pleasure – Feist understands that her real strength lies in rhythmic minimalism, and to hell with how popular it makes her. An uncompromising and beautiful work.
43.                       Taylor Swift, reputation – Swift has not flagged in her ability to craft a perfect pop tune, but it’s painful to see her attribute any importance to the pop celebrity issues that define the title of this album. If only she’d take the Michelle Obama advice to just rise above, we’d be seeing better albums.
44.                       Grandaddy, Last Place – It is so tragic to see Grandaddy return after such a long absence, only to suffer the loss of Kevin Garcia. The songwriting of Jason Lytle is as eclectic as ever. Maybe the band will be back in another form, but this stands as a superb testament.
45.                       Father John Misty, Pure Comedy – He still may elicit yawns or catcalls from some of his live performances, but these songs were subtle and great, despite his affectations.
46.                       SZA, Ctrl – Despite her remarkable and often understated voice, I’m not as blown away by SZA as many. A fine debut effort, but couldn’t put it in Top 10.
47.                       Surfer Blood, Snowdonia – SB founder John Paul Pitts had to put up with a horrible amount of tragedy in the past two years, making it even more amazing that this is a testament to positivity, with a sound mixing Belle & Sebastian with TMBG.
48.                       Gorillaz, Humanz – Damon Albarn and friends are back with a dystopian nod to our times, presented in typical cartoon fashion.
49.                       DISQUALIFIED (see above – but here’s where they would have ranked) Queens of the Stone Age, Villains – Josh Homme dredges up Bowie and glam ghosts for this tour de force, and guess what? It works.
50.                       Magnetic Fields, 50-Song Memoir – Seeing as how the 1999 box set 69 Love Songs worked well enough to not only be the album of the year, but one of the finest studio pop efforts of all time, why is this one sort of a misfire? Maybe because it’s much more of a Stephin Merritt personal effort, less of a group production of the band, and it was made with some prodding from producers. Clever execution to be sure, but not the work that 69LS was.
51.                       Laura Marling, Semper Femina – In the grand parade of dissecting women’s intentions, Marling wanted this one to be her concept masterpiece, but I’m not hearing the diversity and simple masterly styles of Eagle or Short Movie. A very worthy work, nonetheless.
Bonus Edition Handicap: The double LP with live renditions of the songs is cool, but not essential.
52.                       Guided by Voices, How Do You Spell Heaven? – The best of the Pollard-related products this year, spotlighting newer band members without shirking on the pop masterpieces.
53.                       Tyler the Creator, Scum Fuck Flower Boy – The real power of this one isn’t merely Tyler confronting gender and LGBTQ issues in hip-hop, but also Tyler getting serious about a lot of subjects after holding his tongue firmly in cheek in his post-Odd Future years. Tyler’s also said he is done with rap and hip-hop, and is touring with a full politically-informed band that sounds like Gil Scott Heron’s and Brian Jackson’s old Midnight Band, so it will be interesting to see how these studio songs evolve. A powerful album.
54.                       Aimee Mann, Mental Illness – One of Aimee’s most beautiful and confessionalist works.
55.                       Eminem, Revival – If nothing else, this deserves a listen for the appearance of “Walk On Water,” and Eminem certainly gets points for politics and confessionalism. Still, there’s that celebrity quality – Ed Sheeran? Really?
56.                       At the Drive-In, Interalia – Glad that all our Mars Volta and Sparta friends realized that these times demand ATDI, as our superheroes have risen to the occasion, bullwhips in hand.
57.                       Joan of Arc, He’s Got the Whole This Land is Your Land in His Hands – Tim Kinsella is best when he’s being ridiculous rather than profound, and this album is a merry and wicked tour de force.
58.                       RV Zoo & the Sugar-Spun Elephant Band, Guiding Star – More people need to realize how expertly Dave Arvizu is trying to bring back the spirit of Frank Zappa or Fiery Furnaces. Fun and competent.
59.                       William Basinski, A Shadow in Time –His finest work since Disintegration Loops, and a worthy tribute to David Bowie.
60.                       Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Luciferian Towers – A single composition rather than multiple symphonic pieces, and a worthy message of hope from a band known for its apocalyptic tenor.
61.                       Arto Lindsay, Cuidado Madame – When Lindsay headed DNA, his art-noise-rock was an acquired taste. When he followed his tropicalia muse to form Ambitious Lovers, the band hit its stride just at a time David Byrne was curating Brazilian pop, but still never found a mass audience. This solo album is a nice combination of all his threads, but it remains a specialized, albeit wonderful, taste.
62.                       Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Soul of a Woman – When recording sessions began for this posthumous album, Jones had no idea she would be history by November 2016, though she had been battling pancreatic cancer for months. This album is solid and varied, with no indication from her vocals as to the struggles she was going through.
Bonus Edition Handicap: For those just catching up with Jones, you can purchase her last three studio albums including this one, as a three-disc set.
63.                       Cut Copy, Haiku from Zero – Australia’s dance experts take us on one of their more exuberant outings.
64.                       Joan Shelley, s/t – Our Kentucky songbird gets some new production help from Jeff Tweedy, though the overall effect is not as good as her last studio outing.
65.                       Deer Tick, Volume 1
66.                       Deer Tick, Volume 2 – John McCauley has this unfortunate tendency to jump from beautiful acoustic numbers to drunken throwaways. Since these two studio albums were billed as rowdy and quiet, respectively, one would assume that one of the two volumes would be throwaway. Surprisingly, both are filled with some of Deer Tick’s best work yet.
67.                       Margo Price, All-American Made – I wasn’t quite convinced last year that Price was the savior of country honky-tonk. For her second album, the quality of writing takes a big leap, and it’s obvious she will be with us for a while.
68.                       Destroyer, Ken – Dan Bejar is as literate and cryptic as ever. The heavy New Order bass lines give the music a new kind of timbre, but the arrangements aren’t as interesting as those on the last two albums.
69.                       Grizzly Bear, Painted Ruins – There is an added beat among the ethereal productions, making this a very cohesive and beautiful album.
70.                       K. Flay, Everywhere is Some Where – K. Flay starts really playing with arrangements as she shifts from hip-hop to more of a pop base, but in her new styles, she has to compete more with the likes of Halsey or Lorde.
71.                       Fleet Foxes, The Crack-Up – The Foxes knew that barbershop-quartet/CSNY styling had about hit its limit. Am I the only one who was glad they went all ethereal and weirdo-intellectual on us? Seriously, it may be a bit heady, but there’s good stuff here.
72.                       Beth Ditto, Fake Sugar – The former lead singer of The Gossip performs the most powerful work since that band’s Music for Men, and sneaks in some Southern culture and scary bayou tales on the side.
73.                       The National, Sleep Well Beast – Matt Berninger took a fun break with his duo EL VY, and it shows, given that this is the loosest and most fascinating National album since High Violet.
74.                       Rainer Maria, s/t – What a treat to have Caithlin de Marrais back with us again, sounding at her most powerful level in years.
75.                       Tobin Sprout, The Universe and Me – And that goes double for Tobin Sprout, former Guided by Voices guitarist, who was back on tour with fine new songs and backing band.
76.                       The CIientele, Music for the Age of Miracles – The band’s intent to get a perfect early-psychedelic sound may have led them unintentionally to sound like the first few Moody Blues albums, but really, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
77.                       Brian Eno, Reflection – It was time for Eno to re-visit long-form ambience, and yes it sounds like Music for Airports, but for modern sensibility.
78.                       Bill Orcutt, s/t – Bill Orcutt has gone back to an electrified and conventionally-tuned guitar, resulting in an album normal people could actually listen to. Of course with Orcutt, you still get the hidden joke – the tracks bear the names of familiar standard tunes, but you’d be hard-pressed to actually identify any of them as they are played.
79.                       Circus Devils, Laughs Last – Robert Pollard is putting his GbV side project for weirdness out to pasture, but leaves us with an album that is not quite as strange as Circus Devils at their wildest, but more interesting than albums like Escape.
80.                       Elf Power, Twitching In Time – Yet another grand return by a 1990s band that has been sorely missed, offering up clever tunes that are among the band’s best.
81.                       Slowdive, s/t – I always preferred the 1997-2010 Mojave 3 project of Rachel Goswell and Co. over the early-1990s shoegazer Slowdive project, but it’s great to have the band reunited, with some lovely tunes within.
82.                       Iron and Wine, Beast Epic – Sam Beam offers some lovely bare-bones acoustic songs. Wonderful, but not earth-shattering.
83.                       The Xx, I See You – It’s good to see Romy follow Jamie Xx’s lead in turning the band from an ice-cold electronic palace to a trio that wants to have some occasional fun.
84.                       The Mountain Goats, Goths – I’ll always love any project that John Darnielle is part of, but both the topics and arrangement in this one made me list it as among the lesser in the MG canon.
85.                       !!!, Shake the Shudder – Seems like this band is always defining excellence in underground dance-funk-rock, and not getting nearly the credit it deserves. Another fine !!! album, what more need be said?
86.                       Sparks, Hippopotamus – It’s a pleasure to have Ron and Rusell Mael not simply continuing to make music, but producing funny songs about aging.
87.                       Xiu Xiu, Forget – Seems like Jamie had the slightest of intentions of giving this a more commercial sound, but of course, it’s Xiu Xiu, so it’s still weird. Had a hard time placing a finger on its center of gravity, though.
88.                       Street Eaters, The Envoy – Megan March wins our respect for attempting a punk concept album, and one based on Ursula K. LeGuin, at that. The only problem is that telling a story took a little of Street Eaters’ exuberance away.
89.                       Eyvind Kang, Plainlight – A more minimalist, orchestral and eclectic outing than some by this master violinist, the Side 2 suite “Sanjaya the Skeptic” is not to be missed.
90.                       Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black – It’s great to see Staples go through such a prolific period, but something about this lacks the sparkle of her last album. Is the production by Jeff Tweedy a hindrance here? Tweedy also produced Joan Shelley’s album this year, and both seem to be a bit lackluster.
91.                       Holly Macve, Golden Eagle – If you’ve ever seen this British country-revivalist artist in one of her solo outings, you’d swear she’s the reincarnation of Patsy Cline. This is a fine debut effort, though Macve might want to consider how she balances songs and arrangements for future outings.
92.                        Lau Nau, Poseidon – Finnish experimentalist Lau Nau may be an acquired taste, but her newest efforts are complex and beautiful enough to expand her audience base.
93.                       Pile, A Hairshirt of Purpose – In live performances, Pile is one of the most passionate and dedicated bands one could hope for. I’m still waiting for a studio release to capture that feeling, though this album certainly is worth a listen.
94.                       Priests, Nothing Feels Natural – Judged by their early EPs, Priests were destined to be the saviors of punk. This first full-length album is decent enough, but I’m not hearing a radical remake of punk.
95.                       PWR BTTM, Pageant – Many people would take this album off their lists because of the sexual harassment allegations that made the label pull the album from the shelves. I wasn’t going to get involved in such an immediate pile-on, but neither would I rank this very high. Before PWR BTTM took their dive, some reviewers were calling the album a new definition of queer rock, power pop, or punk rock. Nope. It’s just sort of average twee and dreamy pop.
96.                       Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, Contraband Love – It seems as though every six months, Third Man Records and other Americana labels are trying to tell us about new saviors of old-timey country. This couple, who have played with Levon Helm and Shawn Colvin among others, is the real deal.
97.                       Downtown Boys, Cost of Living – It’s great to see Rhode Island’s finest punks get the attention they deserve. The reason this album didn’t come up to the quality of Full Communism was due to the departure of saxophonist Victoria Ruiz. But I have faith DBs won’t let us down.
98.                       Ryan Adams, Prisoner – Adams makes it look so easy, coming at us time and time again with a release full of pop-country-rock goodness. A decent release, though not a standout.
99.                       Alt-J, Relaxer – Alt-J takes a lot of crap for being the overthinkers of hipster rock. Maybe some of their tunes are a little too clever, but they tried this time around to throw in unexpected folkie and electronic elements, and I give them credit for not sitting still.
100.                  Deerhoof, Mountain Moves – It’s clear Satomi wanted to make this the pop-breakthrough album for Deerhoof, and it’s loaded with guest vocalists. This is certainly a favored Deerhoof album for parties, but the route the band is taking could have dangers. At least they’re not giving us the same sound over and over.
101.                  Mogwai, Every Country’s Sun – On first listen, this seemed incredibly majestic. But few of the compositions stuck, unusual for Mogwai.
102.                  Guided by Voices, August by Cake – At first glance, the idea of a double GbV album that features other members of the band than Pollard seemed like a great idea, but once the more traditional How Do You Spell Heaven?  album came out, it was clear that this one was fun but not as essential.
103.                  Manchester Orchestra, A Black Mile to the Surface – Those who think of MO as middle-class faux greatness might snicker to hear that Andy has crafted an album about approaching middle age, but really, he doesn’t trip and fall. This is a very decent album once you subtract a bit of melodrama.
104.                  Liars, TCF – Maybe Karen O can feel some justification that Liars has been reduced to her old boyfriend Angus, since he can’t seem to get along with anyone, but Angus is capable of putting out a heartfelt and unusual album on his own, albeit under the Liars label.
105.                  Tim Darcy, Saturday Night – Tim doesn’t quite achieve the strange greatness here that he achieves as vocalist with Ought, or in the duo album he recorded last year with A.J. Connell, but that Darcy quirkiness is everywhere on this unique album.
106.                  Avey Tare, Eucalyptus – Any member of Animal Collective is going to be a less strong element on their own, but I like Avey’s solo efforts more than those of Panda Bear. Guests like Susan Alcorn and Eyvind Kang really make this one memorable.
107.                  Haim, Something to Tell You – This second album is a decent outing of Motown-influenced pop, but the utter enthusiasm the Haim sisters showed us in their debut is flagging a bit here.
108.                  Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life – Maybe it’s slightly cruel to call this duo “dad-rock,” but they don’t sustain my interest as much as their fans insist they should. Still have some nice tunes.
109.                  Kevin Morby, City Music – This is my first introduction to Morby, and he strikes me as descending from the kind of rock soloist composers who would make good solid Top 10 albums in the 1970s and 1980s, but who never was given proper due a few years later. I expect I’ll be hearing and liking a lot more of Morby’s music soon.
110.                  Depeche Mode, Spirit – I failed to take Depeche Mode seriously enough in the 1980s, but now that the reunited band is getting tough and frank about its politics, I promise to remedy that.
Bonus Handicap Edition – Yes, the fancier book edition is worth it, but more for the packaging than the extra music.
111.                  Dirty Projectors, s/t – It would be nice to give David Longstreth points for being painfully honest about his breakup, and the music here is actually quite good, but there’s also such a thing as too much self-disclosure.
112.                  Steve Earle, So You Wanna Be An Outlaw – Many people rave about this as the return of Earle’s country side, but frankly, this bears the feeling of a Waylon/Willie type of outing, and I’ve always preferred the Treme side of Earle.
113.                  The Arcade Fire, Everything Is Now – To those who have given up on Arcade Fire due to the haughty self-importance, I can tell you that Win and Regine have actually made this a fun spoof on pop-dance culture and living through social media. The album is a hoot, though there are no revelations we haven’t heard before.
114.                  Morrissey, Low In High School – I had gotten fed up with Morrissey long ago, though I had to admit to the excellence of his World Peace album. Now, he’s gotten to be like Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon, where bad behavior in real life taints everything coming out of the studio. Some worthy songs within, to be sure, and Morrissey understands global politics more than most, but I feel like an enabler listening to Morrissey.
115.                  Alvarius B, With a Beaker on the Burner and an Otter in the Oven – When Alan Bishop gets together with Invisible Hands or Dwarfs of East Agouza, the magic that ensues recalls Sun City Girls. And even his releases as Alvarius B can be monumental, especially Baroque Primitiva. But here he has released three individual LPs, or a double-CD set for the budget-conscious, that mostly rely on the sort of laid-back cowboy tunes in Sun City Girls’ Jack’s Creek – some are brilliant, many just OK. Still, this gets special mention for being recorded and mixed in Cairo after the coup. Take that, al-Sisi.
116.                  BNQT, Volume 1 – This certainly sounded inspired, a supergroup with members from Grandaddy, Franz Ferdinand, Band of Horses, Midlake, and Travis. In reality, it’s a laid-back jam session with a few zingers and many OK tunes.
117.                  Bardo Pond, Under the Pines – Many people I otherwise trust are calling this their favorite Bardo Pond album of all time. I’m not hearing it. The band sounds sort of tired, with a few moments of greatness.
118.                  Mark Lanegan, Gargoyle – This has moments that sound as stark as Screaming Trees, but it can’t match his best solo work.
119.                  Wire, Silver/Lead – Many of the band’s songs approach the 1979-82 period of greatness, but Wire is trying to be too prolific these days, coming out with annual studio albums that require a bit of filler.
120.                  Julie Byrne, Not Even Happiness – A nice debut for a folkie with a husky voice, but she also faces some stiff competition from those with a wider lyrical palette, like Julien Baker.
121.                  A. Savage, Thawing Dawn – Parquet Court’s lead singer tries his hand at cowboy music, with cool results.
122.                  Chad VanGaalen, Light Information – Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what VanGaalen is up to with his quirky folk-rock, but he’s developing a sense of rhythm and riff that seems midway between Pavement and Neil Young in the Crazy Horse era.
123.                  Dan Auerbach, Waiting On a Song – Definitely the best of his solo efforts, but still takes a back seat to The Black Keys.
124.                  The Feelies, In Between – Some people worship each time Bill Million goes back into the studio, but I find the whispered works of The Feelies to be a bit repetitive at times.
125.                  Robert Plant, Carry Fire – There are a million reasons to remain annoyed at Robert Plant, similar to those from his halcyon Zep days, but damn if this aging master doesn’t continue to conjure unique new material to convince us otherwise.
126.                  Manotaur, Channeling the Wizard – Denver’s resident lunatic Greg Hill creates one of his best and funniest band projects to date. Catch Manotaur live.
127.                  Crystal Fairy, s/t – If Terri Gender Bender and the gang from Mars Volta are involved in a common project, I’m always right there, but this explores the heavy metal side of their work, so not nearly as interesting as Le Butcherettes, Sparta, At the Drive In, etc.
128.                  Do Make Say Think, Stubborn Persistent Illusions – It’s good to see this jazz-centric Godspeed You spinoff back in business, though the work is not as adventurous as the early 2000s.
129.                  Six Organs of Admittance, Burning Threshold – Nice background presence, but doesn’t reach as far as much of Ben Chasny’s work.
130.                  Ariel Pink, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson – On first listen, I thought this might be Ariel Pink’s best work, but on repeated listens many elements sounded derivative.
131.                  Zaimph, Transverse Presence – Definitely some of Marcia Bassett’s scarier instrumental work.
132.                  Tennis, Yours Conditionally – I should give them credit for giving studio efforts greater variety and emotional depth, but Tennis still is mostly breathy beach mode.
133.                  Ani DiFranco, Binary – DiFranco is well aware she is now a mid-40s mom, trying to raise political fire, and part of the problem here might be that she tries too hard to expand from that reality.
134.                  Valerie June, The Order of Time – June is a powerful musician, but still must escape the boundaries of her folk-blues genre.
135.                  Pere Ubu, 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo – Kudos to David Thomas for always trying out new styles after more than 40 years of Ubu strangeness, but this 1- and 2-minute song structure mostly didn’t work for me.
136.                  Beck, Colors --  Beck Hansen returns to straight-up pop with a sassy summertime album, but who wants to be happy in 2017?
137.                  Blitzen Trapper, Wild and Reckless – In theory, this might be the best-executed BT album ever, but that’s part of the problem. This began life as a rock opera, so every element is a little too well-defined, the lyrics too predictable. I long for the days of Blitzen Trapper albums that were messy whirlwinds, like Destroyer of the Void.
138.                  Prophets of Rage, s/t – Let’s give Morello and friends credit for having the timing more or less right, and the politics and spirit in the right place, but this supergroup anti-Trump effort seems more an exercise in rhetoric than anything else.
139.                  Wild Hares, Dose – Sure, a Tracy/Michael collaboration might be silly at times, but “Grandma Used to Sleep with Chuck Berry” is worth the price of admission on its own.
140.                  Alison Crutchfield – The lesser-heard half of the Crutchfield sisters of Waxahatchee and PS Eliot fame tries her hand at a solo record, a decent effort, but overwhelmed by the new Waxahatchee.
141.                  David Rawlings, Poor David’s Almanac – A decent traditionalist old-timey album, and another chance to hear the increasingly rare presence of Gillian Welch, but not quite as groundbreaking as his last album.
142.                  Cults, Offering – Cults can give us either clever and beat-heavy pop a la Sleigh Bells, or lighter ethereal pop. This one falls into the latter category.
143.                  The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding – I have no doubt some will have Adam Granduciel in their top ten or even at best album of the year, convinced that WoD is redefining 70s-style arena rock for the 21st century. I still hear mostly derivative compositions, good stuff, but hardly earth-shattering.
144.                  Kevin Greenspon, Forgot Something – An often overlooked electronic artist delivers some interesting compositions.
145.                  Jen Gloeckner, VINE – A challenging, ethereal effort from a new singer-songwriter deserving of attention.
146.                  Grant Sabin, Juke Joint Highball – A Colorado blues master serves up some unexpected drink mixes.
147.                  Juliana Hatfield, Pussycat – When people complain that such-and-such an artist is being ignored, I always bring up Hatfield. Some albums like this are just so-so, but she has offered up some of her best work in the last decade, and no one seems to pay much attention.
148.                  Son Volt, Notes of Blue – Sorry, Jay, but some Son Volt albums are truly revelatory, while this one seemed like the obligatory set of new tunes to open out the 2017 tour. Great live tour, though.
149.                  Pissed Jeans, Why Love Now – Something about this album pissed me off, excuse the pun. Maybe it was the reliance on dated macho swagger in a year of sex-abuse revelations. At any rate, a misfire by a band I like.
150.                  Eilen Jewell, Down-Hearted Blues – This had enough little-known blues standards in the mix to almost qualify as a “special” album a la Van Morrison’s Punches, but in either event, Jewell can pick appropriate tunes to emphasize her many talents.
151.                  Blondie, Pollinator – I suppose we should appreciate the fact that Debbie Harry is still recording in her 70s, but the material on this album mostly sounded predictable.
152.                  Flaming Lips, Oczy Mlody – On the one hand, I’m glad Wayne took a break from concept albums, with just a simple album of interesting songs. On the other hand, it was hard to find the center of gravity here.
153.                  Imagine Dragons, Evolve – For a corporate pop band, ID comes out with consistently interesting product, particularly as their percussion evolves. You can laugh if you want to, but notice I’ve placed them higher than Shins, Spoon, etc.
154.                  The Shins, Heartworms – No, I’m not biased against James Mercer because he can be so haughty. I just didn’t find that much of interest here.
155.                  Justin T. Earle, Kids in the Street – Give Justin credit for always trying to make his music fresh with various concepts or templates. Unfortunately, his songwriting just isn’t quite as unique as other members of the great Earle dynasty (which reminds me, we haven’t heard from Stacey Earle or Emily Earle of late).
156.                  Foo Fighters, Concrete and Gold – Dave Grohl is such a great chronicler and historian, it’s a shame most Foo Fighters albums are more or less interchangeable.
157.                  Spoon, Hot Thoughts – When I saw Spoon in 2015, many people told me they thought Britt Daniels had gotten a little stale in his songwriting in recent years. I defended him unto the death. Then the new album came out and I concluded they were more or less right.
158.                  Harry Styles, s/t – I’ll grant the one interesting member of 1 Direction his place in the list because of his love of so many rock styles. Note that none of his former band mates’ solo works are here.
159.                  Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Tourist – It’s important to recognize that Alec continues to try to make worthy music again, after taking Clap Your Hands to a tedious low around the third album. Still a ways to move up, but his songs remain worth hearing.
160.                  The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Echo of Pleasure – For their last album, I recommended Kip share more of the singing duties, since his bandmates pulled off more effective songs. Pains went in the opposite direction.
161.                  Gyda Valdysdottir, Epicycle – The co-founder of mum offers up a cryptic and beautiful solo experimental album, but it’s not for the uninitiated.
162.                  Mynabirds, Be Here Now – Laura Burhenn’s efforts to be as chameleon-like as Beck are catching up with her. There are some cool arrangements here, but it is difficult to figure out where the Mynabirds project wants to go.
163.                  Banditos, Visionland – A lot of the Americana reviewers and music promoters were touting this Alabama shit-kicker band as a brave new combo. For the debut album, it’s a thriller when Mary Beth Richardson sings, but otherwise just sort of OK.
164.                  The Residents, Ghost of Hope – This was actually a perfect concept album for the incoming Trump era, but The Residents’ eclecticism is getting harder to decipher all the time.
165.                  Sheryl Crow, Be Myself – Let’s give Sheryl credit for following her country-music muse. Let’s also recognize it doesn’t move the football all that far.
166.                  Foxygen, Hang – Damn, if these guys weren’t the Jeff Tweedy-backed “it” band of 2014-15, and damn if they can’t integrate a lot of Motown and pop influences, but damn, if it doesn’t end up somewhere a bit tedious akin to Two-Door Cinema Club.
167.                  Todd Rundgren, White Knight – Many folks were ready to give this high marks, as Rundgren was moving back into original material. I’ve really enjoyed his recent live outings, but didn’t find a whole lot of interesting trends here.
168.                  Miley Cyrus, Younger Now – In theory, I’m glad Miley is willing to re-visit her country roots. In practice, Kesha gave us a much better “pop diva goes country” album this year.
169.                  Barenaked Ladies, Fake Nudes – These guys get credit for mere longevity, though they can trip up on their Canadian sincerity at times.
170.                  Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Punishment of Luxury – It’s hard to bring back that particular 1980s electronica sound, but at least the reunited band has better material than its final couple late-1980s albums.
171.                  Wolf Eyes, Undertow – Fun to be sure, and fine to see the masters of noise continue to find new fans, but a lot of Wolf Eyes albums tend to sound alike after a while.
172.                  Conor Oberst, Salutations – This is sort of like that Manchester Orchestra dual album of a few years back – Oberst tries different interpretations of the songs from last year’s Ruminations. This would have been cool as the bonus disc to the former, but as a separate album….
173.                  Chris Hillman, Every Day – It is duly noted when a largely neglected Byrd/Burrito/SHF member comes back to the studio, though…. Duly noted.
174.                  The Killers, Wonderful Wonderful – We’ve been through a lot of nonsense with Brandon Flowers, but damned if he doesn’t try to convince us he’s sincere. And some of the songs here allow you to almost believe it.
175.                  Green Day, Revolution Radio – Give the band credit for giving the people what they want, and packaging revolution to make it safe for the masses. At least Billie Joe hasn’t become a Trumpster.
176.                  Phoenix, Ti Amo – Phoenix goes back and forth from power-pop near-greatness to dance-floor silliness. This is mostly in the latter category.
177.                  Macklemore, Gemini – Even in collaboration with Ryan, Macklemore was spreading a little thin, so now we get the first solo work, and well, no.
178.                  Maroon 5, Red Pill Blues – There are actually some very cool tunes within – it’s too bad the band has this insurmountable problem called Adam Levine.

Special Albums (Live, Compilations, Splits, CD-Rs, MP3, etc.)

1.     Woody Guthrie, The Tribute Concerts, 1968 and 1970 – The original recordings, split between Columbia and Warner Brothers, were worth getting more for the star-studded musician list than for the sound quality (still quite good) or the coherence of presentation, but Bear Family Records has done a stellar job of repackaging this with two hard-cover books and a full life-long tribute to Woody. Just wow.
2.     Husker Du, Savage Young Du – The only factor taking this a notch down from the top (besides the excellence of Guthrie) is the fact that very early pre-Zen Arcade Husker Du belongs to that rough-cut hardcore era of the early 1980s. I’m more of a post-New Day Rising kind of guy. Still, with 69 early tracks, most never released in any form, this is a mind-blower.
3.     Various Artists and Ornette Coleman, Celebrate Ornette! – What a joyous and rich box set of a Prospect Park live tribute to honor the king of the outer limits.
4.     King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Polygondwanaland/Sketches of Brunswick East/Murder of the Universe/Flying Microtonal Banana – Usually when a band releases two studio works in a single year, they’ll get two separate listings above, as with Deer Tick and Guided by Voices. But these Melbourne-based polyrhythmic lunatics have turned their effort into more of a project, releasing an album every 60 days or so. Exhausting and delightful, though King Gizzard hovers dangerously close to becoming a jam band.
5.     Helium, Ends With And – Mary Timony is finally getting 21st-century credit for her own solo work, and her 1990s work with Helium. This is the ultimate collection of rarities.
6.     Julia Holter, In the Same Room – This “live in studio” set launches a new series from Domino Records, and Holter was a great choice to begin it. This has enough new material to almost qualify in the “regulars” section, but this way Julia Holter can be at #6, and she always deserves high standing.
7.     Offa Rex, Queen of Hearts – The Decemberists and Olivia Chaney collaborating on traditional folk tunes and labor ballads? How great an idea is that? Even those that find Colin Melloy annoying are bound to like this.
8.     Beach House, B-Sides and Rarities – Beach House can be such an ethereal duo, it was anyone’s guess whether this would prove substantive, but guess what? It does.
9.     Sleater-Kinney, Live in Paris – Leave it to our favorite grown-up riot grrls to package this thing to resemble a 1990s bootleg. Great material emphasizing S-K’s reunion tracks, but also some older favorites.
10.           Various Artists, Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile – A tenth-anniversary tribute to Carlile’s The Story, and a worthy benefit for the refugee organization War Child. Of course this album has covers from people like Dolly Parton and Adele, but the fact that Torres, Secret Sisters, Margo Price, and Pearl Jam are here gives you an indication of how broad Carlile’s reach really is.
11.           Radiohead, OKNOTOK (OK Computer 1997-2017) – There is enough unreleased material and B-side tracks to make this much more than an expanded reissue album, and more of a tribute to Radiohead of a certain era.
12.           Neil Young, Hitchhiker – Some exceptional mid-1970s interpretations of everything from “Campaigner” to “Cortez the Killer.” But where is the promised solo acoustic version of “Fontainebleau”? Its absence may have lowered this a point or two.
13.           The Replacements, For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 – True Mats fans no doubt have this one in some bootleg form or another, but the professional packaging just enhances the quality of the material.
14.           Nathaniel Ratlieff and the Night Sweats, Live at Red Rocks – I’m not all that up on party bands, but hey, they’re Colorado natives, and it’s sort of like a 21st-century version of J. Geils’ Full House. But with Red Rocks.
15.           Various Artists, Hardly Art, Hardly Released – A brilliant little cassette-only offering from Sub Pop, with a special Protomartyr track and all kinds of other goodies.
16.           Game Theory, Supercalifragile – Scott’s long-awaited GT album from the vaults. Not the very best, but very good.
17.           Angel Olsen, Phases – The lo-fi studio numbers where she continues to channel Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline are interesting enough, but the 2016 outtake ‘Special’ is alone worth the price of admission.
18.           Gipsy Moon, Songs of Olde, Vol. 1 – This Nederland, CO traditionalist band is really quite remarkable, picking wildly unexpected treasures from past decades, including a definitive version of Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan,’ and a truly scary version of ‘Darling Clementine.’
19.           Circuit des Yeux, Reaching for Indigo Live at Rough Trade, Nov. 15, 2017 – When an artist tours an album played-straight-through so soon after its release, does a live document of its existence matter? In this case, yes.
20.           Priests, Early Recordings – Since the first proper album wasn’t all it could be, Tough Love Records was nice enough to release the first two unobtainable EPs in one handy package.
21.           Van Morrison, Roll with the Punches – Our favorite crank has been quite prolific in the last 15 months, releasing a suite of new music last December, this blues album in October, and a jazz/standards album in December. The blues numbers here are worth the listen; the standards in Versatile much less so, which is why it’s on the bottom of the Specials list.
22.           Roscoe Mitchell, Bells for the South Side – A two-disc live set from 2015, released by ECM to celebrate AACM’s 50th anniversary, and to show that Mitchell has lost none of his innovation.
23.           Andrew Jackson Jihad, Live at Bowery Ballroom, Nov. 7, 2017 – Can it really be ten years since the release of People That Can Eat People? I’m still thinking of AJJ as the young whippersnappers, which shows how ancient I am. Anyway, we get the album played through in entirety, and various beloved nonsense from their thrilling career.
24.           Judy Collins and Steve Stills, Everybody Knows – A nice idea to bring back the “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” players, though the selection of material wasn’t as adventurous as, say, Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle. Not a 50-year-revival of an old flame as much as two old friends getting together to have fun.
25.           New Order, NOM17 – Let’s not get into specifics of whether these songs are “real” without Peter Hook. They’re just good.
26.           Weird Al Yankovic, Squeeze Box: The Complete Box – Many critics have lamented, with some degree of truth, that the appearance of this 15-disc set seems to mark the death of satire as a social art form. To be honest, Weird Al’s odd parodies of pop music across the decades carried only mild interest to me, but it’s impressive to see it brought together in one place, and sad to think that parodies may no longer be a part of comedy – if comedy itself survives the Age of Offense.
27.           Jim James, Tribute to 2 – Some folks no doubt will roll their eyes at the very notion of My Morning Jacket’s frontman covering Sonny & Cher, The Beach Boys, etc., but it’s a lot more palatable than Van Morrison’s worn-out jazz covers.
28.           Cage the Elephant, Unpeeled – Some might consider this a “best-of” album and thus disqualified, but this is more of an innovative and generous reinterpretation album of some of CtE’s best works. More interesting than you might imagine.
29.           Chad VanGaalen, Live at Rough Trade Dec. 6, 2017 – This actually makes his latest studio work more palatable, and is a fun set besides.
30.           Animal Collective, Live at Brooklyn Steel, May 25, 2017 – Anyone who remains unconvinced of AC’s recent vocal-intensive, Beach Boys on LSD style, should take a listen to this hour-long set featuring recent studio works.
31.           Marcia Bassett/Samara Lubelski, Live in NYC – Slightly more droney than their first collaborative live album, but a must for Bassett or Lubelski fans.
32.           Pile, Live at Sunnyvale Fest, April 7, 2017
33.           Pile, Live at Market Hotel, Dec. 9, 2017 – You say that Hairshirt of Purpose didn’t quite take you to the Zen feeling of a Pile love-fest? Try these live sets on for size.
34.           Sufjan Stevens, The Greatest Gift – This is billed as a “mixtape,” more of a Carrie & Lowell reinterpretation, but given that Stevens has already given us a live version of C&L, the purpose of this album is a bit unclear.
35.           Harry Pussy, A Real New England Fuck-Up – Well of course it’s a chaotic mess, but with a radio show and live set documenting the 1996 near-meltdown period, true HP fans will want this one.
36.           Laura Marling, Live from York Munster – I’m cheating a bit, since this was originally released nearly ten years ago in very limited quantities, but this double-LP live set with orchestral backing got a reissue on Record Store Day, so I’m including it here.
37.           Titus Andronicus, Live at Market Hotel, Dec. 14, 2017 – A rougher and more expansive career overview than 2016’s official live album, this one features chunks from The Monitor and Most Lamentable Tragedy. (Note: Patrick Stickles’ extended opening monologue about how stage diving and body surfing does not show respect to others, should be an indication that the entire mosh culture of 1981-86 hardcore punk would not survive in a #MeToo era. Heck, some might say hardcore was inherently reactionary. And they might be right.)
38.           Bardo Pond, Live at Knockdown Center, April 1, 2017 – Even though Isobel seems a bit off at times, some of the renditions of Under the Pines tracks are better than studio equivalents.
39.           Neil Campbell, Live at Horse Hospital – Like much of Campbell’s work of the last five years, this noisemaker just oozes with joy.
40.           Ben Gibbard, Bandwagonesque – It’s not often a well-known musician chooses to cover an entire album of another artist. Interesting, but the really cool thing is the attention Gibbard gives to Teenage Fanclub.
41.           Waxahatchee, Live at Warsaw BK – A little rough around the edges, but a great Kate-and-Alison set of recent and older Waxahatchee material.
42.           Cloud Nothings, Live at Webster Hall – There’s a lot of Cloud Nothings live material out there, but this includes tracks from the excellent new Life Without Sound studio album.
43.           Van Morrison, Versatile – Ideally, Van could have added a few of the bluesier standards to his blues album and gotten a better single disc, because most of the renditions of standards herein are superfluous.

Singles and EPs

1.     Various Artists, 7 Inches for Planned Parenthood – Worthy songs for a worthy cause, though the contribution level may be steep for some, and comedians are placed in the same bucket as musicians – nice for cross-fertilization, not so nice if you want to focus on the music.
2.     Spirettes, s/t – Well what the hell did you think was going to happen when Kate Perdoni (Katey Sleeveless) of Eros & The Eschaton joined forces with Kellie Palmblad and Emily Gould? Some things are just self-evident and magnificent.
3.     Kamasi Washington, Harmony of Difference – It’s unique enough for a jazz artist to release an EP (except for the re-issued 1950s 10” records), but Washington went overboard in producing a 30-minute six-part suite, including color miniatures of his sister’s paintings at the Whitney Museum, all as a follow-up to the 2015 massive box set The Epic. Guess this is mini-epic! Well-played indeed.
4.     Sleigh Bells, Kid Krushchev – An unusual, thought-provoking quieter mini-LP from the beats-crazy duo.
5.     Belle & Sebastian, Human Problems – Not sure how to list this, as Part 1 of 3 EPs arrived Dec. 8, with the other two slated for 2018. I guess naming them twice won’t hurt. The twee Glasgow wunderkinds grow old gracefully.
6.     Xiu Xiu and ®, Cover ZZ Top – Maybe the best surprise of the year was discovering how well Jamie could cover Los Barbudos.
7.     Filthy Friends, Any Kind of Crowd/Editions of You – The A-side was a great introduction to a new and righteous supergroup, but hearing Corin Tucker cover Roxy Music on the B-side set this apart from the debut album.
8.     Fleet Foxes, The Electric Lady Sessions – This 10” record didn’t make the meaning of The Crack-up any clearer, but the live tracks certainly were exquisitely recorded.
9.     L7, Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago  -- After 18 years of silence, we get the anti-Trump manifesto “Dispatch from Mar-A-Lago” in the fourth quarter to round out a gruesome 2017.
10.                       Wye Oak, Wave is Not the Water/Spiral – I’ll be honest, I was never fully convinced of the wisdom of Jenn Wasner morphing from guitar goddess to synthesizer mystic. This is the first single that has truly integrated those two aspects.
11.                       Preoccupations, s/t EP – It’s not clear whether this was recorded right after the Canadian band changed its name from Viet Cong, or whether its initial release was summer 2017, or in a limited edition before the 2016 self-titled album. At any rate, a nice little addition to the canon.
12.                       Vibracathedral Orchestra, Total Inertia – A new live addition to the VCO library, and a 10” record to boot!
13.                       Mountain Goats, Marsh Witch Visions – The alleged Ozzy Osbourne theme of this EP doesn’t really matter, it’s just new unadorned works by John Darnielle.
14.                       Jason Isbell, Live from Welcome to 1979 – One of the coolest Record Store Day releases, a suite of straight-up covers from The Nashville Sound.
15.                       Anohni, Paradise – Outtakes and additions from 2016’s Anohni album, and it’s clear the former Antony Hegardy wants to put politics and social activism out front.
16.                       Frightened Rabbit, Recorded Songs – It’s about time the Scottish masters of sad stepped back from the well-produced studio albums and offered up some rough-cut works.
17.                       Bernice, Puff – A fascinating Canadian newcomer (or relative to U.S. ears), with intriguing sounds.
18.                       Dazies/Courters, Seen a Ghost – A fun new split EP from two power-pop snarlers.
19.                       Animal Collective, Meeting of the Waters – Recorded in Brazil, and maybe a little too heavy on the green naturalism, but more interesting than the band’s studio EP.
20.                       Lydia Loveless, Live from Documentary ‘Who is Lydia Loveless?’ – To be honest, it’s a lot better value to pick up the reissued and expanded Boy Crazy EP on vinyl (not listed here because it’s all been released before), than to pay $30 for five songs and a DVD. Mostly of interest to completeists.
21.                       Heather Maloney, ‘Wild as a Birdsong’ – I have a feeling this will be included in a February 2018 EP, but this lathe-cut 45 rpm is just a fun little souvenir from an utterly amazing singer/songwriter.
22.                       Animal Collective, The Painter – More of the vocal exercises that characterized last year’s album, but overshadowed by the Brazil EP.
23.                       Coldplay, Kaleidoscope – Unlike many annoyed critics, I think Chris Martin still has some interesting ideas to offer. Not a critical release, but OK.
24.                       David Bowie, No Plan – An early 2017 EP that collected the loose ends from Blackstar.
25.                       Fucked Up, Year of the Snake – Another fun entry in the Chinese zodiac series, though I admit to getting a little tired of the growly delivery.
26.                       Guided by Voices, Just to Show You
27.                       Guided by Voices, Space Gun
28.                       Guided by Voices, Cash Rivers – Nice to see the singles releases continue, though the country-music jokes in the second single were not something I wanted to continue into an album-length domain.
29.  Japandroids, ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’ – I find Japandroids mildly interesting, but I wanted to list this single separately from the album because of the excellent cover of Talking Heads’ ‘Love Goes to Building On FIre' on the B-side.