AD YearInReview 2017

Here it is. Our obligatory year-end review. The following is an unranked list of albums that caught, and kept, our attention in 2017. Let it blurb. – AD
____________________________________________________________________________________

cir russ kid

Circuit Des Yeux – Reaching for Indigo: Haley Fohr’s Circuit Des Yeux project has always skirted some expansive sonic frontiers. Her singular, twangy bellow, deft finger-picking, and alien drones conjure the image of a lone rider trotting across some star-splotched prairie. Reaching for Indigo turns that expansive energy inward: “Stick your head inside a paper bag and see just what you find/ Was it you? Was it me? Or was it another type?” As if to parallel the porous borders of the self, Fohr’s command of both traditional songwriting and sound-as-art make this album her most focused and realized expression to date. An album of awakening and restoration. (buy)

Arthur Russell – Instrumentals: Recorded during two separate sessions between 1975-78, the reissued/remastered Instrumentals finds the artist early in his career prior to his lauded disco/club explorations. A stylistic omnivore, these 17 tracks present yet another side of Russell invoking Brian Wilson, free-form improvisation, atmospheric drone and beyond. A truly captivating listen by an indispensable artist. (buy)

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid: The composer and sound artist Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has a knack for fusing organic sounds with synthesized ones. This multitudinous union comes across with an air of the mystical, the ritual, the meditative. As the title suggests, The Kid taps into a childish whimsy, and each song conjures an imaginative aural ecosystem that that burbles and thrums with Smith’s curiosity and warmth. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 1.36.02 PM

Alice Coltrane – World Spirituality Classics 1 / The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane: Luaka Bop’s excellent World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda cherrypicks highlights from the musician’s days at the Sai Anantam Ashram outside of Los Angeles. Recorded between 1982 and 1995, this material is devotional and functional — it was largely written for the ashram’s services, with vocal chants and propulsive percussion accompanying Alice’s Wurlitzer and synth playing. But it still feels very personal, as Coltrane looks both to Eastern modes and gospel traditions to create a wholly unique, heavily spiritual sound. Ecstatic isn’t even the half of it. (buy)

Hiroshi Yoshimura — Music For Nine Postcards: Hiroshi Yoshimura intended the nine one-bar pieces that make up Music For Nine Postcards to be played slowly, over and over again, with slight drifts in the melody and tempo meant to recreate the movements of the cloud and shade he’d see out of his window. The recordings he made with Satoshi Ashikawa and released in 1982 (reissued by Empire of Signs in November) move at a cosmic pace, and their intermixed sadness and sweetness that give it a sense of personhood missing from much ambient music before or since. (buy)

Midori Takada — Through the Looking Glass: 1983’s Through the Looking Glass presents Japanese composer Midori Takada’s dizzying take on minimalism: Classical composition always in line with emotional expression. Her marimba facilitates meditation, but this is ambient music most suited to active listening, its rhythmic blend of African and Asian percussion both spiritual and technically wondrous. Fans of Eno, Reich, and the most challenging corners of the new age spectrum take note — these are special, moving sounds. An exceptional percussion-based work from an underappreciated master of sound. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 1.43.50 PM

Joan Shelley — Joan Shelley: Discussing his 2017 masterpiece Lincoln in the Bardo, author George Saunders called empathy a “superpower.” By that standard, Kentucky songwriter Joan Shelley’s self-titled record is the work of a superhero, its Celtic-tinged odes to understanding, romantic possibility, and incisive questions centered on locating the center not only in one’s self, but in those around you. “In your wild indifference/It’s all centered on you,” she sings, but she turns the rebuke around, asking “Ain’t it lonely?” — a recognition that we needn’t live sequestered away from each other. (buy)

Gunn Truscinski Duo — Bay Head: Though the last couple years have seen guitarist Steve Gunn and drummer John Truscinski creating great work together in a full-band group on Gunn’s solo albums for Matador, there’s something noteworthy about hearing the two in a duo setting. The sonic space around them emphasizes their dynamic — Truscinski with an intuitive swing, Gunn with a thoughtful, melodic touch — and allows for heady exploration. From the blistering “Flood and Fire” to the sanguine “Seagull for Chuck Berry,” Bay Head provides a glimpse of two players who truly know each other, whose ability to hear the other translates to inspiring sound. (buy)

Neil Young – Hitchhiker: Neil Young’s latest archival release, is an absolutely essential addition to the songwriter’s canon, capturing a skeletal mid-1976 solo acoustic session fueled by beer, weed and cocaine. Young was on a hot streak in the mid-70s, with classic tunes pouring out like water from a tap. There were so many songs that several went unreleased until now – “Give Me Strength,” “Hawaii” and Hitchhiker’s harrowing title track among them, standing up easily alongside such well-traveled favorites as “Powderfinger” and “Pocahontas.” (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 12.58.56 AM

Outro Tempo: Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992: A collection of exotic, otherworldly futurism and electronics, born from the most poignant of circumstances, the assemblage finds traditions and soundscapes blending into a new form. This alternative vision not only fuses jazz, ambient music, and minimalism with indigenous roots, but also naturally evokes the spirit of Tropicália. A wonderful and exquisitely strange compilation. (buy)

Tonstartssbandht  Sorcerer: Meticulous yet free. Tonstartssbandht sculpt their own brand of spaced-out krautrock and improvisational psych. Their sound distinctive and welcoming, brothers Andy and Edwin White allow themselves a sonic spaciousness that contains orbits: jammy neo-psych-folk, cloud-bound vocal harmonies, and spacey ambient soundscapes. (buy)

Horse Lords – Mixtape IV: Baltimore’s lords of DIY, just-intoned matrix music tackle compositions by the late visionary composer Julius Eastman. Interpretations of “Stay on It” and “Remember the Future” comprise the two sides of Horse Lords’ most recent “mixtape,” and these contributions to the present revival of Eastman’s work are both timely and rousing, beautiful and hypnotic. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 4.36.09 PM

Various – Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976-1984: Makossa, the infectious dance music of Cameroon, blended beautifully with funk, disco and pop in the late 70s and early 80s — and the Analog Africa label has gathered together some of the period’s amazing highlights in this recommended compilation. Put together by deep crate digger and Analog Africa founder Samy Ben Redjeb and DJ and music producer Déni Shain, Pop Makossa – The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976-1984 is a total joy. The tracks here show just how versatile the Makossa beat is, with the musicians finding inventive and delicious ways to incorporate it into an array of genres. Elements of high life, Afro-beat, merengue and more all mix and mingle happily. (buy)

Bitchin Bajas – Baja Fresh: More incredible tones ‘n’ zones from the Chicago-based Bitchin Bajas. The trio has fully absorbed a half-century’s worth of minimalism, spiritual jazz, kosmische and psychedelia, emerging with a mix that pays equal homage to Sun Ra (whose “Angels and Demons At Play” they cover on Baja Fresh) and Terry Riley, Harmonia and Laraaji. If there’s a 2017 listening experience as purely blissful as “2303” (clocking in at 23:03, naturally), we’ve yet to hear it. (buy)

Various Artists – Tokyo Flashback: Originally released by P.S.F. Records in 1991, the indispensable Tokyo Flashback compilation was a gateway drug for many listeners, shining a light on some of Japan’s most deeply fried underground acts, including Keiji Haino, Ghost, White Heaven and more. It remains one of the best entry points to this fertile (and ongoing) scene — especially in Black Editions‘ labor of love double-LP reissue (the first time the comp has been available on vinyl), which looks as good as it sounds. Historical importance aside, Tokyo Flashback is just a fantastic listen from side A to side D, whether it’s Marble Sheep’s massive, Hawkwind-worthy opening jam to Ghost’s acid-drenched psych folk improv. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 4.47.46 PM

Pharoah Sanders – Tauhid, Jewels of Thought, Summun Bukmun Umyun (Deaf Dumb Blind): Sure, Karma gets all the plaudits — you manage to make a radio hit out of a thirty-minute spiritual jazz jam, it tends to be what people talk about — but Sanders was a force to be reckoned with on these essential reissues that were originally released around the same time. “Force,” of course, is probably not the term he’d use, given, the sweet open-heartedness of his playing, but who says you can’t get knocked backwards by joy? (buy)

Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference: If The Epic was a novel of Dickensian proportions, Harmony of Difference is a tightly conceived chapbook, a handful of short poems that finds the world’s most unlikely superstar picking up a handful of themes, holding them up each to the light, and moving on to the next one before synthesizing them all in a visionary grand finale. (buy)

Joe Henderson – The Elements: Having abandoned post-bop, Joe Henderson turned his sax to full-on improvisation on four simple themes on The Elements: “Fire,” “Air,” “Water,” and “Earth.” With a top-notch band that included Alice Coltrane, Charlie Haden, and Michael White, Henderson is in an exploratory mode here, wandering gamely through sounds with only those titles serving as guide. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 4.58.49 PM

Gal Costa – Índia: By the time Gal Costa and Gilberto Gil recorded Índia in 1973, the Tropicália movement had come to an end, and sure enough, the record is lacking the youthful verve of the movement. What Costa presents, though, is the full maturation of its ideals, from the sweeping artifice of the title track to the overall cosmopolitan genre-switching down to the indigenous vest she wears on the album’s original back cover — a photo that, in another nod to the effects of Tropicália, was immediately banned by the military junta. The Mr. Bongo reissue restores the original sleeve, but it also shows the unified artistic vision of one of Brazil’s biggest stars. (buy)

Yoko Ono – Fly: Secretly Canadian’s second wave of Yoko Ono reissues in collaboration with Ono’s Chimera Music presents the singer and conceptual artist in a restless mood. Though Approximately Infinite Universe and Feeling the Space, found Ono exploring a more pop-focused sound, 1971’s Fly is the best of the bunch, a raw, choogling explorations of the possibilities at rock & roll’s far out fringes. (buy)

Laraaji – Sun Gong/Bring on the Sun: Inhabiting a cast of cosmic comedic personas, new age composer Laraaji commits himself to joyful noise and universal celebration. So often, contemplative music is marked by its seriousness or self-importance, but Laraaji brings laughter and playfulness to his records, coupling deep humor with percussive textures and ambient bliss. His electronic soundscapes put him in league with Brian Eno and Jon Hassell, but his light touch retains traces of his early standup comedy days — a comedian cracking wise about the universe itself. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 3.00.43 PM

OCS  – Memory of a Cut Off Head: This year, John Dwyer’s venerable garage rock outfit Thee Oh Sees celebrated 20 years of life, the last five or six of which found them growing into an institution. An eternal shape-shifting one at that. Dwyer released two records to mark the occasion, each under a different iteration of the band’s name. The first, Orc, credited to Oh Sees, found them further plunging down the ever-expanding rabbit hole of heavy, spacious psych. But it was the second release that lingers like some old weird, welcome ghost. This is Dwyer’s Barrettesque psychedelia; a record that feels like a warm blanket, offering a kind of bittersweet comfort. (buy)

Paul Major – Feel the Music, Vol. 1: It was a big year for Paul Major. An excellent new Endless Boogie record, Vibe Killer; a retrospective book, Feel The Music, via Anthology highlighting his groundbreaking work as record obsessive; and this supplemental compilation showcasing some of Major’s favorite odd-ball recordings. Check out Justyn Rees’ “Behold,” a track that nearly overdoses in the reverberating baptismal font of Scott Walker. (buy)

Omni – Multi-task: Atlanta trio Omni returned in 2017 with their second lp of angular, punchy, post-punk. Like their 2016 debut, Deluxe, the album wastes no time – its 11 jagged tracks get in and out hovering around the two and half minute mark. Recalling the best of the genre’s masters of brevity (think: Josef K, Wire, Pylon) Mult-task excels in its statement of purpose – a stylistic sequel to their debut in the best way. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 11.51.58 PM

Oté Maloya: The Birth of Electric Maloya on Reunion Island 1975-1986: The single greatest thing about the growth and evolution of African reissue culture is its progression into later waves of high electro and disco funk, the sounds getting weirder the closer it moves on from what’s considered the golden age of afrobeat and highlife. Strut zapped in these transmissions, entitled Oté Maloya: The Birth of Electric Maloya on Réunion Island 1975-1986, documenting a sparkling new wave of maloya musical form off an island way off in the Indian, owned by the French, but populated by the vast possibilities of its environs and exchanges. (buy)

Kronos Quartet & Trio Da Kali – Ladilikan: While best known for championing new music, the Kronos Quartet has cultivated a diverse repertoire of deeply traditional sounds from around the globe. Kronos did not achieve this alone; over its forty-plus year career, the punk rock string quartet has grown into an institution for collaboration. The Quartet’s synergy with Trio Da Kali, a group descended from legendary Malian griots, is particularly rich and cohesive. Ladilikan, featuring the compositions of balafon player Lassana Diabete, amplifies both ensembles virtuosic strengths in a mesmerizing interplay of plucky timbres and polyrhythmic grooves. (buy)

Zazou/Bikaye/CY1 – Noir et Blanc: The reissue proper of a 1983 chance encounter between Congolese musician Bony Bikaye, Algerian-born French composer / producer Hector Zazou & electronic duo Cy 1. The result, a visionary and future-seeking treasure, Noir Et Blanc. Tribal vocal chants and spaced-out alien rhythms fusing with tropical post-punk grooves. Folk-hued strings and big metallic beats joining soulful spoken word, singing & laughter, oft times floating atop the percussive cushion of mbira mist. An exercise in pure experimentation, Zazou, Bikaye & CY1 emerged from the playground with something holistically radical. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 5.02.24 PM

Marijata – This Is Marijata: 2017 saw the latest reissue of this 1970s Ghanaian classic, now from Mr. Bongo for Record Store Day. The more the merrier. Would any listener ever turn it down? Everything’s here. Raw, psychedelic Afro-funk / jazz / beat / soul. Deep pockets. Raging guitars. Celestial organs. Red-hot horns. Blood-pumping, distorted vocals. “I Walk Alone,” is a cosmic masterpiece. What more could you really want? (buy)

Rev. Lonnie Farris – A Night at the House of Prayer: Another slice of heaven from Mike McGonigal. Rev. Lonnie Farris’ sacred steel performances are otherworldly. And his voice is an eerie, bittersweet one. that floats in the raspy range of renowned Venice Beach busker, Ted Hawkins. Songs like “I’m So Happy and Free: That the Lord Saved Me” and “Wondering Child Mother Is Dead” are soul piercing stuff. (buy)

Pastor T.L. Barrett  – Do Not Pass Me By Vol. 2: Pastor Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir are back with another essential LP of robe-swaying, hand-clapping gospel funk. The way that they offer up their sea of voices is really something to behold. Barrett was a spiritual genius. Thank the lord that the folks at Numero Group made this one widely available. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 3.27.39 PM

Kikagaku Moyo – Stone Garden: The most excellent Stone Garden EP was recorded over two days last year in Prague. The sessions were cut up and spliced together to make five tracks, which proceed from beginning to end with an undulating sense of urgency. “Backlash” and “Trilobites” make frenetic, experimental movements, while “Nobakitani” refines the sprawling meditations of Mammatus Clouds into an elegant and leisurely 8-minute daydream. Both “In A Coil” and “Floating Leaf” harness a murky, propulsive groove, as if “Green Sugar” from House in A Tall Grass was poured into a flooded creek bed atop Mt. Fuji and left to run down the mountain. (buy)

Headroom – Head in the Clouds: Just when things were beginning to get a little stale in 2017, Headroom entered the room with heavy, sprawling psychedelia to clear out the cobwebs. Dried out cornfields. The smell of exhaust inside an old car. Thick frost on the dashboard. A mobile home with exposed insulation. Bong hits before a final exam. Stop reading and listen. (buy)

Endless Boogie – Vibe Killer: The boogie is indeed infinite. On the long-running NYC band’s latest slab, the riffs just keep on coming, with Paul Major’s sneering, ever-Beefheartian vocals spinning out tales of glorious dissolution and wasted (very wasted) youth. Even though Endless Boogies primarily trades in one chord jams, Vibe Killer has a certain subtlety to it at times. Who says boogie can’t be subtle?! (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 3.34.59 PM

Children of Alice – Children of Alice: Six years after the tragic death of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan, her partner James Cargill makes his welcome return with the debut album from Children of Alice, a collaborative effort alongside The Focus Group’s Julian House and Broadcast keyboardist Roj Stevens. A logical (and challenging) spiritual sequel to Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, Children of Alice is a pastoral collage work full of foreboding and wonder. White Noise for the 21st century. (buy)

Mary Lattimore – Collected Pieces: A loping odds and sods collection from the criminally underrated harpist who has performed and recorded with all your favorite musicians. Expansive, searching, and as essential as her 2016 magnum opus, At the Dam. (buy)

Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest: Sung mostly in her native French, and penning the majority of the album’s lyrics, Rest finds Charlotte Gainsbourg in top form throughout. While the album’s lyrical context and content are shadowed by the tragic 2013 death of her sister, they are coupled with the lush production of French producer/dj SebastiAn. Her fourth album in twenty years, Rest marks her best work to date. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 5.14.56 PM

Josiah Steinbrick – Meeting of Waters: The debut solo release from the Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer who has worked with the likes of Cate Le Bon, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Devendra Banhart. Nine studies of effortlessly distilled ethnographic, avant-garde, and minimal music. Track down the lavish and limited vinyl pressing if you still can. (buy)

Joseph Shabason – Aytche: Joseph Shabason has performed saxophone on recordings from the likes of Destroyer and the War on Drugs. Aytche, his first solo album, was released by Western Vinyl at the end of August. Better late than never is always a good rule of thumb; one that’s especially true here. “Long Swim” builds on a somewhat strange foundation; looped sax; a mélange of field recordings (including falling rain, dogs barking, birds chirping), and a coarsely textured rhythm. It’s the highlight of a seriously engaging ambient debut. (buy)

Eddie the Wheel – Leave Behind: “Leave Behind” is the first fully-formed recording as Eddie the Wheel since the He’s a Scream EP. The tile track picks up the drum machine groove of “Nearsayer” and envelops it with slowly-humidifying guitar and synthesizer. “Never know what you’re leaving behind,” Whelan sings. “So just be kind. Cause your right on time.” As the beat gives way to the growth, it’s not hard to get nostalgic for those Athens summer days gone by. (buy)

Image-1

Even a Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973: What more can we say about this comp? Easily one of the top releases of 2017. Jake Orrall, Yosuke Kitazawa and the Light in the Attic gang have done well to focus our attention on these songs and the Japanese artists behind them. This is songwriting, musicianship and production of the highest order. (buy)

Helado Negro – Private Energy: Technically, this record first came out in 2016, but it was reissued in 2017 by RVNG Intl, so we’ll let it slide, because it’s great. Uplifting, electronic pop that finds Robert Carlos Lange singing in both Spanish and English. Songs like “Transmission Listen” and “Lengua Larga” demonstrate a knack for timing and melody that’s tough to come by in pop music these days. (buy)

Destroyer – ken: Inspired by the casual radicalism of youth, Destroyer’s ken finds songwriter Dan Bejar surrounded by cold, synthesized textures and nearly industrial rhythms, which serve to contrast against the hot humanity of his voice. Each lurid sentiment and piece of gutter poetry feels like a “a roll of the dice in a world that is bawling and totally loaded.” (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 11.51.25 AM

The Myrrors – Hasta La Victoria: It’s probably an inevitability that a record made in the Arizona wilderness on Afghani instruments bearing most of a Che Guevara slogan for a title would be political. And you wouldn’t be wrong to hear very real lamentation in Hasta La Victoria’s extreme wailing, and to connect the suffering American policy has wrought in the Sonoran Desert with its effects on the Registan Desert. But it’s also an expert piece of exploratory psychedelic spiritual space music irrespective of intentions, a kind of horror trip worth taking again and again. (buy)

Six Organs of Admittance – Burning the Threshold: Burning The Threshold , the latest addition to Ben Chasny’s ongoing Six Organs of Admittance project, is definitely in the upper Six Organs echelon. For this effort, Chasny enlisted the help of some heavy hitters: Circuit des Yeux’s Haley Fohr, Ryley Walker, Damon & Naomi, and Chris Corsano among them, each one digging into Chasny’s intricately eccentric song structures with enthusiasm. Things lean a bit more in the folk direction of the psych-folk realm … but there’s plenty of room for shreddin, too. (buy)

The Feelies – In Between: Each Feelies record is a gem, filled with Velvet-y jangle-n-strum, pulsing rhythms, and hook-filled songwriting. The band’s new one, In Between, continues the streak effortlessly. Thanks to a sound that leans heavily on the acoustic guitar, its closest kin is the Feelies’ classic 1986 effort, The Good Earth. But also like that LP, acoustic doesn’t necessarily translate to mellow; there’s an humming undercurrent of restlessness lurking in the layers here, distortion and dissonance looming in the distance like a threatening storm. (buy)
Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 10.39.51 AM

Kevin Morby – City Music: On his 4th album, Kevin Morby pens an ode to city life and its energetic power. “Oh, that city music… Oh, that city sound…Oh, how you’re pulling my heartstrings and Oh, let’s go downtown…” he sings on the centerpiece title track. His songwriting is sharp and focused on this record; musically the band is taut and kinetic. Owning his downtown denizen influences well (Reed, Dylan, literally the Ramones on “1234”), Morby is painting a picture of urban life that is equal parts alluring and confident. He’s put together quite the steady catalogue, and this record might be the first or second you’d pull out to share with a friend. (buy)

The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding: Adam Granduciel has arguably topped his 2014 insta-classic Lost In the Dream; leaning into both his major label debut studio budget, and the tracks themselves. Front-to-back you’ll find expansive, hook-laden ‘American rock & roll.’ It sounds of a timeless era and the plaudits you’ve probably heard are accurate. He’s a noted studio obsessive, and here it translated to layers of sophisticated synths, towering horns, mechanical drum beats, and his signature guitar work floating it all into the stratosphere. It’s fair to say that the creative command of this band has no ceiling; and dating back to 2011’s Slave Ambient, the listener is on a renaissance ride that recalls Neil Young’s album run in the late 60s into 70s and Springsteen’s Born To Run through Born In the USA trot… Enjoy it. (buy)

LCD Soundsystem – american dream: We’ll skip over the extra-baggage that surrounded this release and just get to the point: this is a phenomenal record. James Murphy runs the show and owns his savant-level genius proudly. This is a very bold album (despite it’s purposeful, no-cap stylization), especially given he could’ve produced something a bit timid and safe. Lyrically, Murphy sings of love, loss, frustrations, and on the album’s arresting closer, one would assume his hero: Bowie. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 4.24.53 PM

Spiritual Jazz 7: Islam: Esoteric, modal and progressive jazz inspired by Islam 1957-1988. The seventh entry in Jazzman’s ongoing ‘Spiritual Jazz’ series keeps apace with its predecessors, this time focusing on Muslim players drawing upon Middle Eastern and Islamic music. Four decades of jazz innovation inspired by faith, powered by jazz. (buy)

Pauline Anna Strom – Trans-Millenia Music: The ambient music Pauline Anna Strom released in the early 1980s under the Trans-Millenia Consort moniker resembles known sound only in the way that the sparkles of light that appear when you jam your fingers into your closed eyes resemble vision. To call her music spectral or wandering is to do it the disservice of naming it; as suggested by Trans-Millenia Music, a recent RVNG compilation of selections from throughout her early 80s run, there is little that connects her work to the world around us, musical or otherwise. And yet it still feels warm and humane, the byproduct of an inner generosity. It’s welcoming, even if it’s unfamiliar. (buy)

Penguin Cafe The Imperfect Sea/Penguin Cafe Orchestra – Union Cafe: Quietly and with little fanfare, 2017 was the Year of the Penguin. Not only did Penguin Cafe, the modern incarnation of the late Simon Jeffes’ chamber pop orchestra led by his son Arthur Jeffes release a new album of subtle, masterful compositions, but the year ended with a reissue of 1993’s Union Cafe, an lp of gentle beauty and jazzy warmth, highlighted by the touching “Nothing Really Blue” and the bounding “Scherzo and Trio.” Instrumental music as emotionally buoyant as it is adventurous. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 12.09.56 AM

Bob Dylan – Trouble No More: As anyone with a passing knowledge of the life (lives?) of Bob Dylan knows, in late 1978, the singer-songwriter had a born again experience, and devoted the next few years to writing and performing (mostly) gospel material. But let’s not talk about Jesus. Let’s talk about the incredible band Dylan assembled to take his new music to the people during this period — a group of stellar musicians who are finally given their due on the latest edition of The Bootleg Series, Trouble No More. Those who splurge on the deluxe edition of the set will have the chance to bask in six discs of fiery live recordings from the Gospel-era band (the more affordable two-disc set cherrypicks highlights), alongside two additional discs of previously unreleased studio, demo and rehearsal tapes. (buy)

The Beach Boys – Sunshine Tomorrow: Zeroing in on the post-Smile era of the Beach Boys, this colorful comp is a handy argument that Brian Wilson didn’t really lose the plot after his masterpiece was shelved. If anything, he lost his delusions of grandeur and got back to the source, conjuring up an array of perfect pop songs, from the still-stunning “Darlin’” to the sublime “Can’t Wait Too Long.” The live material and studio rarities give even more reason to smile. (buy)

Wooden Wand – Clipper Ship: James Toth continues along his distinctive path, conjuring up an especially vibey set of psychedelic folk on Clipper Ship. Joined by a killer ensemble including Nathan Salsburg, James Elkington, Glenn Kotch of Wilco, Jim Becker of Califone, and bassist Darin Gray, the album finds Toth meditating on what it takes to keep making art, to “swim and keep on swimming” in unfamiliar waters. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 4.31.17 PM

Chuck Johnson – Balsams: Taking cues from the work of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, Chuck Johnson explores the ambient possibilities of the pedal steel guitar on this utterly gorgeous LP. Filled with slo-mo soundscapes that envelop the listener, Balsams is a balm through and through, as the musician floats at a glacial pace across celestial shores. Prepare to get lost in this one, with no burning rush to find your way home. (buy)

Bill Orcutt Bill Orcutt: With only his ravaged four-string Telecaster and an amplifier, Bill Orcutt deconstructs the canon. Taking on  standards like the Disney classic “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “White Christmas,” and the “Star Spangled Banner,” Orcutt turns the familiar in on itself, his playing alternately patient and furious. (buy)

Elkhorn – The Black River: Elkhorn is just two guys with guitars — Jesse Shephard on acoustic 12-string and Drew Gardner on electric — but the duo packs a lot of music into The Black River, an excellent collection of six exploratory instrumentals. Takoma School fingerpicking, psych-ed out jams, brooding pieces that call to mind Neil’s Dead Man soundtrack, some hints of West African trance blues … Shephard and Gardner seem to have absorbed it all (and more), emerging with a beautifully unclassifiable blend. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 1.40.29 AM

King Krule – The OOZ: Archy Marshall’s chief gift is his ability to synthesize the sensation of being young and in possession of yourself as you wander through a big city at night. Throughout The OOZ, he flits between genres and sounds with ease, with the flickering neon light of his personality (and the expertise of his touch as a producer) the only real constant. It’s Ryan Adams’ lamentation that “To be young is to be sad is to be high” flipped with a crooked grin and stretched across 67 minutes. (buy)

Greg Fox – The Gradual Progression: That the percussion on the solo record from Liturgy’s drummer is both heavy and rhythmically complex is hardly surprising. What is a shock about The Gradual Progression is how beautiful the rest of it is. Using a battery of samples triggered from his drumheads and a handful of guest musicians, Fox grounds spiritual jazz, stoner funk, and Oneohtrix Point Never–style animatronics with splashy, peg-legged drumming. (buy)

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – On the Echoing Green: A blistering, brutal new wave of shoegaze emerges courtesy of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s latest, via the space-trotting Mexican Summer label. Deep hisses of washed out bass, elliptical synth, and industrial noise make for one of the more dynamic and engaging sonic experiments of the year. One moment, evoking pink-hued nostalgic waters and overexposed, gauzy photos of summers past, the next dropping you at hyper speed into Lynch’s purple sea —banging and clanging its way to some newly discovered dimension. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 4.05.54 AM

Juana Molina – Halo: Juana Molina’s latest long-player, Halo, finds the Argentine artist continuing down the expansive path forged on her previous album, Wed 21…and is all the better for it. Seven albums in, this is Molina’s best and most interesting work to date. An album as inventive as it is infectious. High praise, indeed. (buy)

Makaya McCraven – Highly Rare: Jazz ain’t dead. Recorded live to a Tascam four-track at a Chicago dive bar in November of 2016, Highly Rare is an ad-hoc affair, one that finds McCraven chopping up, re-sequencing and mutating the night’s work the work into this – a heady mix of augmented free jazz exploration. Damn good, too. (buy)

Colleen – A Flame My Love A Frequency: Dubby glimpses into the void. As Coleen, Cécile Schott makes skeletal, rhythmic overtures of singular character. On A flame, my love a frequency, her loopy mutations have shifted away from experiments on the viola da gamba toward a splotchy synth setting. Her compositions unfold slowly, and her use of silent space is profound. Ruminating on the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, Coleen has made an avant-garde electronica album that is both contemplative and visceral. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 10.59.00 AM

Sinkane – Life & Livin It: A couple years ago, Ahmed Gallab (Sinkane) led a touring all-star cast of musicians under the guise of the Atomic Bomb! Band. They honored the late, great William Onyeabor – reinterpreting and rejoicing in his essential brand of groove. It was a masterclass in musicianship and fun; and when you stack up some of the key figures, Gallab was a comfortable, self-assured, and impressive leader. Stepping away to focus on his own project, Life & Livin it finds Sinkane proudly carrying the Onyeabor torch onward. Seamlessly blending influences from all over the globe, this record provides an audible party and musical education. Funk meets afro-pop meets slinky, catchy rhythms and melodies. Gallab is a very accomplished musician, producer, and here, true musical historian. This one slipped under the radar a bit, but we highly recommend taking its lesson. (buy)

Shabazz Palaces Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star/Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines: Digable Planet’s Ishmael Butler is cautious to call his dual 2017 albums “science fiction” epics, though it’s easy to hear echoes of the space ways in his rhythms and kaleidoscopic rhymes. But his narrative about a “being from an elsewhere” —e xplored vividly across two individual, but connected recordings — is rooted in the present day, in the act of waking up in a country and not recognizing where you are. Utilizing psychedelia and free verse, Butler and collaborators chart a new path. (buy)

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – The French Press EP: RBCF from Melbourne, Australia quietly delivered a fantastic ep in 2016 (Talk Tight) and followed it up this year with another gem of a short-player. They craft incisive rock with a wink of beachy fun; full of ripping guitar lines, shared vocal duties, and clever songwriting. The propulsive title track is one of the best of the year, and the rest of the EP sits on a very high shelf. If Television chased waves and sundowners – they’d probably sound similar. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 11.08.01 AM

Tony Conrad – Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain: Dug up by archival NYC label Superior Viaduct, Ten Years Alive On the Infinite Plain finds filmmaker, composer, and avant-garde artist Tony Conrad on stage in 1972 with no-wave guitarist Rhys Chatham and synthesist Laurie Spiegel. Conrad’s violin hovers over the sounds of handmade instruments of his own designs —electronic pickups grafted to wood planks with metal hardware and rubber bands. His drones take on an air of violence, but the intensity of the sound reveals a deeper beauty — pair with the recent documentary Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present for a potent combo. (buy)

Bill MacKay – Esker: In recent years, guitarist Bill MacKay has served as Ryley Walker’s six-string sparring partner, built luminous soundscapes with Rob Frye (Bitchin Bajas, Cave) and led the jazz-inflected Darts and Arrows collective. A varied resume! MacKay maintains this healthy sense of adventure on Esker, his eclectic Drag City debut. Each of the 10 absorbing instrumentals here is a world unto itself, whether it’s the mystical, slide guitar + piano on the opening “Aster” or the jaunty ragtime of “Candy.” MacKay has chops a-plenty, but the album never feels fussy or ostentatious. There’s a looseness and ease to every moment here; the paint is still fresh on the canvas. (buy)

Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa – Are Euphoria: There is no album this year whose title is a better description of its sound. Dustin Wong and Takako Minekawa’s latest is an exuberant build. The yes-and spirit of improv is brought to bear on every element of the music here, which means that there are so many rhythms, textures, and melodies flying around within its forty-eight-minute container that you’ll want to duck out of instinct. Don’t. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 11.41.45 AM

The Clientele – Music for the Age of Miracles: Miraculous, indeed. Airy, autumnal, and possessing a twilight magic, The Clientele’s “comeback” LP is the most adventurous outing yet from songwriter/guitar/vocalist Alasdair MacLean, drummer Mark Keen, and bassist James Hornsey. Alongside guests like harpist Mary Lattimore and Anthony Harmer, the trio gently expands on its jangle pop roots, incorporating cinematic strings, touches of Eastern classical music, thumping disco, and hypnotic psychedelia. It’s a record about altered states; singing breathily, MacLean evokes the logic of stars and myth, his surrealist lyrics hovering in the space between sleeping and dreaming. (buy)

Sloppy Heads – Useless Smile: One-third of Sloppy Heads literally wrote the book on Yo La Tengo, and YLT’s James McNew mans the boards for the Brooklyn-based band’s debut LP. So comparisons to Yo La Tengo are inevitable and apt, though they’re far from the whole story. Useless Smile is a pleasingly eclectic brew, mixing noisy guitar pop with spectral balladry, rambunctious garage rock with feedback-laced dissonance. Familiar, maybe, but the Heads throw enough twists and turns into each tune to make it all engaging and fresh. (buy)

Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens: Owens came to electronic music while working as a record-store clerk, and while she brings a crate-digger’s meticulousness to her debut record, she knows when to bring us back to the surface, too. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 7.23.13 PM

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN: The world’s greatest rapper continues to kill all comers, especially his own damn self, but despite what you’ve heard, DAMN.’s biggest achievement isn’t the fact that he made U2 cool again; it’s that he apparently made U2 want to be cool again. (buy)

79rs Gang – Dead and Gone” b/w “Wrong Part of Town: As the title suggests, the A-side is a vivid tribute to the Mardi Gras Indians of days past. Jermaine Bossier’s gritty baritone dances along a sparse, hair-raising groove, freely and passionately recalling the story of his Indian predecessors. On the B-side, the beat continues, and the pair trade verses, alternately warning the listener to watch their step in the chiefs’ respective wards. That message isn’t always ceremonial. Towards the end of the song, Romeo Bougere pays respect to a young Indian peer lost in December of 2015 to gun violence. The 9th Ward Big Chief’s sweet alto carries a stark reminder; the New Orleans grit often comes at a cost. We should never take talent like his or Bossier’s for granted. (buy)

Thundercat – Drunk: 23 servings of space-funk from the bass wunderkind, Thundercat, is just what the doctor ordered for 2017. Even though “Them Changes” is old, it’s still a damn JAM. And we’d be foolish not to mention the smooth moves of “Show You the Way,” featuring Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, or “Tokyo,” which feels like a trip through, well, Tokyo. Not to mention the brief yet brilliant melodic moments via “Bus in These Streets” and “Jethro.” More, please. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 12.14.20 AM

Yishak Banjaw – Love Songs, Vol. 2: Ethiopian organist Yishak Banjaw granted the world with his first ever international release last fall, courtesy of the Senegal-based label Teranga Beat. Originally recorded in Banjaw’s house in 1986, Love Songs Vol. 2 beckons the space-age synth hypnotics of fellow countryman Mammane Sani. Sentenced to obscurity for two decades in the wake of political and social instability, Banjaw’s futuristic Casio spacescapes have been granted a second wave, and you’ve got to get into the deep end of this ocean. (buy)

Awa Poulo – Poulo Warali: This record from Peulh singer Awa Poulo absolutely smokes. Polyrhythms and rustic candor mingle in ecstatic liveliness, as her impassioned vocals are lifted to greater heights by accompanying flute, n’goni, calabash gourd hand percussion, and guitar – sometimes acoustic, sometimes with some ever-welcome distortion. It’s nothing if not a party, but it’s also a sincere celebration of the fertile, cultural melting pot of its diverse origins and influences. (buy)

Various Artists – Agrim Agadez: This compilation of various guitar music, seemingly oozing out of every corner of Niger, is a testament to the infinite power of the unadorned and naturalistic recording process. Bringing together likeminded musicians from all walks of life, the collection includes what the liner notes describe as everything from “bar bands of the southern Hausa land, pastoral flock owning village autodidacts, rag-tag DIY wedding rock musicians, to political minded folk guitarists.” (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 11.17.23 AM

The Original Sound of Mali: Malian music isn’t all desert blues. As this comp shows, the country was home to a music scene in the 1970s and ’80s whose sheer funkiness rivals anything coming out of Nigeria around the same time period. That said, there are echoes of what would eventually come to be thought of as the Malian sound here: these are frequently long, rhythmically droning songs built around single-chord vamping, making it one of the heaviest funk records of its era regardless of region. (buy)

Brooklyn Raga Massive – Terry Riley In C: Terry Riley’s masterpiece was literally made for malleability; the 53 overlapping cells of sound dilate and contract at the musicians’ discretion, as do the number and kind of instruments involved, which means no two performances are ever the same. As their name suggests, Brooklyn Raga Massive’s reverent interpretation reads Riley’s staffs through a classical Indian lens, and the bright and open pulses of the original composition here shift like afternoon sunlight through venetian blinds, the dominant drones wrapping themselves around the tabla that taps out the piece’s titular centerpiece note. (buy)

Les Filles de Illighadad – Eghass Malan: Fatou Seidi Ghali and Alamnou Akrouni are, as the name of the group they front suggests, from the town of Illighadad, a hamlet in Central Niger. Eghass Malan finds them returning the male-dominated world of Tuareg guitar music to its origins: the female-centric Nigerien tende drum sound that the original Tuareg guitarists were mimicking. It comes together in a hybridized form of rural North African music so perfectly integrated that it’s hard to hear where either form begins and ends. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 11.34.42 AM

Popol VuhAgapeAgape Love Love/Spirit of Peace: Popol Vuh leader Florian Fricke spent his entire career trying to express the deepest truths of his spirit. Even if 1983’s Agape-Agape Love-Love and 1985’s Spirit of Peace don’t reach quite the same ecstatic heights as Hosianna Mantra and Das Hohelied Salomos, they nonetheless stand as classics in their own right. Percussive, soaring, and exploratory, the lps speak to Fricke’s spiritual omnivorous soul, and act as spiritual monuments to his desire to create transformative art for anyone wishing to hear it. (buy)

Mt. Kimbie – Love What Survives: The question of whether drum machines have soul having long ago been answered in the positive, Mt. Kimbie set out to determine whether the same is true of krautrock. Love What Survives is as woozy and punched-up as the title implies, like a lovelorn drunk driver making his careful way down the autobahn. (buy)

Coupler – Gifts from the Ebb Tide: Coupler’s pulsating electronic soundscapes have developed steadily since their first release back in 2011. The act’s latest 12”, Gifts from the Ebb Tide, was co-produced by Nashville sensei, Roger Moutenot. The four-part musical piece follows synthesizers traveling amidst moody atmospheres and full-fledged motorik grooves. Here’s hoping for more in 2018. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 2.42.45 PM

Anna Makirere – Tiare Avatea: Originally issued on cassette in the Cook Islands in the early 1980s, this totally wonderful reissue via Little Axe Records contains the complete recorded works of teenaged singer Anna Makirere. Come for the gorgeous, solar-powered harmonies, stay for the subtly grooving, phased-out guitar work. This is music that’ll lift you out of any doldrums, guaranteed — and we could all us music like that these days, right? (buy)

Wilco – Being There: Wilco effectively became Wilco on its second lp, side-stepping the alt-country of its debut AM (also reissued this year in deluxe fashion) in favor of a singular blend of post-punk, folk, power pop, and experimental noise. Packed with alternate takes, demos, outtakes, and in-depth notes by music writer Steven Hyden, this reissue of Being There showcases Jeff Tweedy and company’s first masterpiece and highlights what was left on the cutting room floor — a collection of (sunken) treasures deserving of attention. (buy)

Trummors – Headlands: Trummors’ Headlands is a gorgeous sonic road trip through the beauty, sadness and mystery of the American West (or what’s left of it), packed with sunburnt pedal steel, close harmonies and sneakily sophisticated songwriting. Think New Riders of the Purple Sage, American Beauty-era Dead, Neil’s Harvest and the early 70s work of Iain Matthews (whose “Hearts” is given an absolutely perfect rendering here). Roll the windows down, crank the volume up and head for the open highway. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 4.38.28 PM

Jake Xerxes Fussell – What in the Natural World: Leading off with an inspired take on Duke Ellington’s “Jump For Joy,” Jake Xerxes Fussell’s sophomore effort is a kaleidoscopic trip through the American songbook, made all the more enjoyable by Fussell’s expert guitar work and warm vocals. What in the Natural World is the kind of album that doesn’t boldly pronounce its brilliance, but the more you dig in the more it reveals, even as the weird mystery of these songs deepens. (buy)

Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society – Simultonality: Necessary information. A totally absorbing trip that brings to mind many great spiritual jazz masterpieces from the past (without feeling remotely like an exercise in nostalgia), Simultonality will transport you. Bassist/composer Joshua Abrams and his Natural Information Society have been fixtures on the Chicago underground jazz scene for some time now – and this LP is the perfect place to hop on board, with hypnotic rhythms, spiritual vibes and deep interplay. Spaceways, here we come. (buy)

Hiss Golden Messenger Hallelujah Anyhow: “Step back Jack from the darkness.” Hiss Golden Messenger began as a solitary vehicle for M.C. Taylor, but Hallelujah Anyhow sounds like the culmination of years of performing as a band, its grooves celebratory, lived-in, and loose. A smoky blur of soul, rock & roll, gospel, and Americana, the record succeeds not as an escape from the bleakness of the country today, but as a document of how to hang onto joy in spite of it. It’s an exploration of how joy is needed to keep up the fight. “I’ve never been afraid of the darkness,” Taylor songs, “It’s just a different kind of light.” (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 4.46.26 PM

Marvin Pontiac – The Asylum Tapes: Once again assuming his Marvin Pontiac persona — that of an insane African-Jewish outcast bluesman— John Lurie creates a charmingly quixotic world. Recorded by the fictional Marvin on a 4-track recorder while held at the Esmerelda State Mental Institution, the album demonstrates Lurie’s growth as a singer, his growls, moans, and most surprisingly, throat singing, conveying desperate emotion. With his guitar and banjo, Lurie connects Malian and Delta blues, illustrating the middle ground between “crazy” and “not crazy,” as the ravings of the disturbed Pontiac seems to be making perfect sense of our current moment (“I Want to Get Out of Here,” “I Am Not Alone,” “Unbelievable”). (buy)

The Weather Station – The Weather Station: “I noticed fucking everything,” Tamara Lindeman sings on “Thirty,” one of the best songs from her finest recording yet. Here, she brings a rock & roll urgency to the table, packing her songs tight with sharp observations and naturalistic imagery. She finds strength in specificity, and comes into her own on The Weather Station as one of the most literate and true voices in modern folk rock. (buy)

Bright Phoebus: The Songs of Mike and Lal Waterson: The holy grail of British folk rock. 1972’s Bright Phoebus never got a chance to be hailed as a classic of avant-garde folk — only about 1,000 copies were initially pressed — but Lal and Mike Waterson weren’t creating art for those in a hurry, anyway. Working alongside members of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, the Waterson’s made an album rooted in tradition but open to peculiarity. Domino’s reissue expands and enhances the Waterson’s vision, one of cyclical darkness married to country rock and ancient ballads. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 4.53.49 PM

Mountain Goats – Goth: John Darnielle specializes in narratives outsiders, those outside by circumstance and by choice. His 2017 novel, Universal Harvester focused on the former, but Goths, his keyboard dappled album with the Mountain Goats trains its sights more on the latter (though not exclusively). The band cooks, and Darnielle’s never sang better — it’s an album that finds the group more refined and subtle than ever before. “I’m hardcore, but I’m not that hardcore,” Darnielle sings, examining the inner lives of black-clad weirdos and misfits, finding in them reserves of love, charm, and resilience. (buy)

Hayden Pedigo – Greetings from Amarillo: A dual illustration of both the Takoma school of American Primitive guitar and the ambient expanses of kosmiche guitarists Michael Rother and Manuel Göttsching, Hayden Pedigo’s singularity rests in his dedication to his native soil of Texas. “Sirens in the dust/Amarillo in the rain,” outlaw poet Terry Allen reads at the album’s close, providing simpatico words for Pedigo’s meditative sounds. (buy)

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice: One of the purest things we heard all year. Two friends, gathered in the studio to kick around songs and enjoy the sound of each other’s voices. Vile’s spidery guitar lines accentuate Barnett’s deadpan poetry; Barnett brings a sharpness to Vile’s fuzzy shamble. Joined by friends and collaborators, their enthusiasm for each other and these ambling songs is infectious. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 5.08.12 PM

Fletcher TuckerCold Spring: Anyone who’s spent a night in the wilderness knows that nature is not quiet. On his debut under his own name, Gnome Life Records founder Fletcher Tucker taps into the raw, overwhelming noise of his home in Big Sur, creating a gothic folk masterwork. Via drones and ambient soundscapes, Tucker creates a verdant, sprawling tapestry — thick, dangerous, and haunting, a testament to the freedom and clear thinking afforded by the natural spaces that are under constant threat. (buy)

Philip Lewen – Am I Really Here All Alone?: Lonesome and longing observations from 1975 paired with achingly fragile guitar and stark piano. Searching (both inward and out), but quietly hopeful. “Watercolours” condenses years of complex feelings into three-and-a-half sublime minutes and marks the album’s high point. Another impossibly rare private pressing resuscitated by Tompkins Square. (buy)

Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band – Dreaming in the Non-Dream: For the follow-up to 2016’s The Rarity of Experience, a sprawling, expansive double LP, Chris Forsyth and his Solar Motel comrades take a more spare/skeletal path. For one thing, Forsyth handles all the guitar work on Dreaming In The Non-Dream himself, leaving a bit more space in the mix, and allowing the stellar rhythm section of bassist Peter Kerlin and drummer Ray Kubian to shine. Motorik epics, elegiac musings, scratchy jams – it all adds up to another essential chapter in the Forsyth saga. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 10.31.56 AM

Kacy & Clayton – The Siren’s Song: The fourth and most fully realized album yet from the northern lights of folk. Building on an existing foundation of the music and traditions of Southern Appalachia, the British Isles, and their rural ranch Saskatchewan home, The Siren’s Song finds the duo-turned-full-band widening their scope—check the Tex-Mex swagger of “White Butte Country” and the studio worldbuilding of the title track. The Great Speckled Bird is still flying proud and strong. (buy)

Jackie Shane – Any Other Way: Disappeared from the public eye since the early ’70s, Jackie Shane cuts a captivating, beguiling cult figure in the history of soul music, but she deserves a prominent place in the canon. The single video clip that exists of Shane reveals a nuanced master of the form who fits no mold. A woman born in a man’s body, Shane is noted for navigating a world not yet ready for her: a self-possessed, consummate entertainer whose interpretations of songs like “Any Other Way” convey a sentiment respect, love, and being yourself that anyone can take to heart. An intensely private person, Shane’s six 45s and stunning live record have been collected by the Numero Group, and the accompanying liner notes and pictures give voice to her story. (buy)

Link Wray – S/T: Every year-end list should include this gem, regardless of the fact that it was released in 1971. The folks at Light In the Attic played a hand in this year’s Grade A vinyl reissue; remastered and complete with a reproduction of the original die-cut jacket. Now you don’t have to shell out the big bucks to listen to Wray’s Three Track Shack magic in style. Crank it up. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 2.18.30 AM

Jan Schulte: Tropical Drums of Deutschland: Compiled by Jan Schulte, aka Wolf Müller, Tropical Drums of Deutschland mines music culled via small, regional, German imprints from the 1980s. A compilation of “songs about the jungle or the rainforest made by people that know the rainforest only from television and books”, reads the liner notes. At thirteen tracks this is a collection born wholly of imagination and escapism, and a curious and oddly compelling one at that. (buy)

Luka Productions – Fasokan: Label Sahel Sounds calls Fasokan “one of the most left field recordings to ever come out of Mali.” A densely textured dreamscape courtesy of Luka Productions, the moniker of rapper, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Luka Guindo, it’s one of the most interesting records to come across our ears this year, blending recordings of kora and balofan with synthesized percussion, flute, horns, and keys, with a meditative vocal whose hypnotic, tranquil energy merges with consuming currents of tropical rhythms and new age experimental tones. (buy)

Mind Over Mirrors – Undying Color: Composer Jaime Fennelly’s sixth outing as Mind Over Mirrors unites an ensemble including Califone’s Jim Becker, and Haley Fohr, the elusive architect behind Circuit des Yeux and Jackie Lynn. Given this widened scope, the album soars over the mountain, meditating in singular fashion through Indian pedal harmonium, Appalachian drone, sweeping industrial synth, and ceremonial vocal séance. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 12.02.22 PM

David BazanCare: How does one care in a time characterized by utter carelessness? Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan doesn’t offer up definitive answers on his latest set of synth-folk, recorded with pop wizard Richard Swift in Oregon — he’s always been more about the question than the response. But there are hints about how to carry on in his boozy melodies, notes on family, honest and frank sketches of love, and reflections on the act of making art — and most tellingly, a simple bit of advice: When it gets hard to make things right, “Keep Trying.” (buy)

Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness: Julie Byrne’s Not Even Happiness provided an oasis of calm in the midst of a chaotic year, thanks to the songwriter’s elegant fingerpicked guitar, entrancing vocals and quietly devastating songwriting. The record follows Byrne on a cross-country journey, through pastoral, spiritual and cosmic landscapes, depicting a complicated soul in search of peace. (buy)

Jessi Colter – The Psalms: Working with Lenny Kaye, Jessi Colter steps to the left of outlaw country on The Psalms, a revelatory and deeply personal collection of musical interpretations of King David’s spiritual poems. It’s a spare record, featuring not much more than Colter’s voice and piano (with occasional touches of electric guitar by Kaye), but it’s full and rich. The wordy verses require a free approach, and so Colter moves between recitation, haunting wailing, and pounding praise. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 1.14.37 AM

Ahmad Jamal Trio – The Awakening: Ahmad Jahmal’s piano sounds like peace, evocative of those rare moments where true ease, gratitude, and empathy can be observed. The buoyancy of his progressions, the playfulness of his rhythm section, are found in great splendor in the elegantly carefree masterwork that is 1974’s, aptly-titled, The Awakening, gracefully reissued this year by way of Be With Records. (buy)

Can – The Singles: This compilation of Can’s “singles” follows the legendary band’s unparalleled existence, from its early Malcolm Mooney days of dirty psych to Damo Suzuki-led ebullient rock & roll bliss and beyond. The set covers a vast terrain in charting the band’s evolution — a great retrospective, with deep love and gratitude to the late Holger Czukay. (buy)

Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa: The young New York-based reissue label Ostinato Records broke through in a big way this year, with its Grammy-nominated compilation of widescreen, culturally rich aural treasures and genre-bending presages, the game-changing Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa. With a backstory as profound and potent as the eclectic and space-age 70s and 80s Mogadishu grooves living in the wax, these recordings were culled from, literally, buried tapes hidden in the late 80s, in an effort by a brave few to preserve half a century of culture from authoritarian ruin. An essential record, and a timely one at that. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 7.31.44 PM

Robyn Hitchcock – S/T:  After nearly four decades of consistently inspired/inspiring songwriting, Robyn Hitchcock has very little left to prove. But happily, he sounds absolutely energized on his new self-titled LP, his 21st solo album. It’s his most electric and electrifying effort in quite some time, filled with Hitchcock’s unmistakable six-string leads, Byrdsian harmonies and plenty of weird and wonderful lyrics. Recorded in Nashville with producer Brendan Benson, Robyn Hitchcock’s crack backing band is a pleasure throughout, and the songs deliver the goods time and time again. (buy)

Nick Lowe – Party of One: Nick Lowe spent the ‘80s in the artistic wilderness, adjusting to life after a massive hit and struggling to keep the wheels on the road. He made good records in those days, all reissued this year by Yep Roc, but it’s 1990’s Party of One, that hit on a tone  that would sustain Lowe into the present. Sly, loose, and homespun, songs like “What’s Shakin’ on the Hill” and “You Got the Look I Like” present Lowe at his warmest and wisest. (buy)

Acetone 1992-2001: What if Chet Baker had played with the Velvet Underground? On Light in the Attic’s retrospective 1992-2001, Los Angeles trio Acetone, the late bassist and vocalist Richie Lee, guitarist and vocalist Mark Lightcap, and drummer Steve Hadley, demonstrate what that might have sounded like. The archival set — a soundtrack accompanying author Sam Sweet’s nonfiction novel Hadley Lee Lightcap, collects not only songs from the band’s cult lps for Virgin subsidiary Vernon Yard and Neil Young’s Vapor Records, but also home recordings, demos that indicate where the group might have gone, deeper into the restrained sounds they culled from their collective collection of thrift store exotica and country and western records. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 1.28.48 AM

Skyway Man – Seen Comin’ from A Mighty Eye: 2017: the year James Wallace reinvented himself as Skyway Man. The results of this transformation are spectacular. Mostly recorded at Spacebomb Studios, Seen Comin’… is exquisite psychedelic pop overflowing with vivid imagery and lush arrangements. Seriously, everyone should have written about this record. (buy)

The New Year – Snow: Texas Slowcore pioneers the Kadane Brothers returned this year with Snow, their 4th LP as the New Year. It’s an excellent addition to the canon. And it’s best, as all their records are, when the band stretches its legs, such as on the title track and the aptly titled behemoth, “The Beast.” On the latter, Matt and Bubba get lost in a desert labyrinth of chiming guitars, their headlights bouncing off the sand and the scrub. (buy)

Maston – Tulips: Frank Maston’s Tulips is a ‘70s film score on a hit of acid, Elmer Bernstein sweating through a bad trip only to arrive at an ecstatic come up. Maston’s brilliance lies in his ability to create a cinematic universe through music alone—the nostalgic guitar twang blending with Morricone whistles and dusty drums to create something familiar yet decisively unheard. (buy)

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 1.58.05 AM

Michael Nau – Some Twist: On Some Twist, Michael Nau continues toying with the breezy, off-kilter charm of last year’s Mowing, his solo debut. And that is to say it’s great. It bursts with the luminous and grooving gospel glow of Nau and his wife Whitney McGraw’s collective work as Cotton Jones. Gentle flourishes of piano, guitar, and pedal steel accompany Nau’s lonesome porch laments on “Wonder”, while he tries out some new and rewarding creative directions as well. (buy)

Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Best Troubadour: Continuing to prove himself as brilliant an interpreter as he is a songwriter, Will Oldham paid glorious tribute to the late, great Merle Haggard this year. Always abounding with genuine joy and grace, Oldham’s study of Haggard also finds himself honing in that unique spring of country, gospel, folk, and a chamber glow. (buy)

House and Land – S/T: House and Land’s self-titled debut sees the duo of Sarah Louise Henson and Sally Anne Morgan (Black Twig Pickers) traveling deep into Appalachian folk territory — territory that’s been explored by countless musicians in previous years. But Henson and Morgan manage to make these timeworn tunes and tales sound absolutely fresh and alive, lifting the veil on the centuries and uncovering an often-devastating emotional core. (buy)

Image-1

On Fillmore: The Happiness of Living

A mishmash of Brazilian grooves, avant-garde adventurism, and complex improv from drummer Glenn Kotche and bassist Darin Gray’s long-running On Fillmore. Working with a list of collaborators including Ciara Banfi, Domenico Lancelotti, Alexandre Kassin, Caetano Veloso’s son Moreno Veloso, vocalist Gabriela Riley, and Mauro Refosco of Thom Yorke’s Atoms for Peace, the duo explore a cross-cultural landscape, driven by a sense of joy and discovery the entire way. (buy)

Jaimie Branch – Fly Or Die:

Trumpeter Jaimie Branch took root in Chicago, and her subtle blend of jazz, folk, drone, and electronic music courses with the curiosity and vibrant energy of that town. Her debut as a bandleader is a stunning one, and a portent of greatness to come. (buy)

Sam Amidon – The Following Mountain: An intrepid interpreter of folksong embraces ecstatic free jazz to generate tunes of his own. The Following Mountain is Amidon’s first record of proper originals and his starry-eyed, high-lonesome performances sound giddy and fluid. Reedy vocals and raw fiddle lay bare Amidon’s mystical inclinations. Throughout the album, an improvisational spirit injects his lilting songlines with a captivating, intimate intensity. (buy)

Keep up with Aquarium Drunkard bric-a-brac via Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

’12 Year In Review / ’13 Year In Review / ‘14 Year In Review / ‘15 Year In Review / ‘16 Year In Review

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 7.36.12 PM

Two highly recommended, late breaking 2017 guitar masterworks …

First up is Alexander’s self-titled/self-released LP — the work of New Haven’s David Shapiro (a name heads may recognize from contributions to such bands as Headroom and Nagual). Performing solo on a guitar of his own design, Shapiro makes a meditative sound with deep frequencies and soothing tones. He never rushes things, preferring to let his intricate compositions unfold and unwind at their own speed. You’ll be hanging on every note. That’s not to say Shapiro can’t pick up the pace at times; check the rolling waves of fingerpicking expertise on “II,” which calls to mind the visionary grandeur of Fahey’s America. Positively dazzling.

Next, we’ve got the latest from dbh, a somewhat enigmatic British player whose playing can run the gamut from Windham Hill-worthy pastoralism to gypsy-jazz zones, from sublime electric reveries to janky pedal fuckery. This eclectic approach works brilliantly on Mass — wherever he goes, there’s a sense of discovery and pure imagination at work. Personally, I can’t get enough of the dreamy cathedral of sound that dbh builds on the reverb-laden “Light Pools.” Give it a listen and bliss out … words / t wilcox

van-morrison-wild-night-1971-12

¡Órale! Los Blue Angels step up with the horn-happy cover of Señor Morrison. Via the U.S. imprint of Mexico’s oldest record company, Peerless, the ever-evolving grupo tackled the Irishman’s greatest-hit within weeks of its original release. The spirit, and frantic drive, remains – and the Irish brogue traded for a Chicano-rock spin on a noche salvaje. words / b kramer

Los Blue Angels :: Noche Salvajes

james ward

Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 504: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Loudon Wainwright III – Hollywood Hopeful ++ Neil Young – L.A. ++ Crazy Horse – Dance, Dance, Dance ++ Ernie Graham – Don’t Want Me Round You ++ Bert Jansch – Open Up the Watergate (Let the Sunshine In) ++ Bob Dylan – When I Paint My Masterpiece ++ Sandy Denny – Crazy Lady Blues ++ Chris Darrow – Wherever You Are ++ The First Edition – Tulsa Turnaround ++ Leon Russell & Marc Benno –  Hello, Little Friend ++ Bob Carpenter – Miracle Man ++ Hamilton Camp – I Shall Be Released ++ The 31st Of February – God Rest His Soul ++ Gene Clark & Doug Dillard – Don’t Let Me Down ++ Clover – Mr. Moon ++ Daniel Moore – May, 16, 1975 ++ Abrigada – Tribute to Joe Raposo ++ Goose Creek Symphony – A Satisfied Mind ++ Bob Martin – Captain Jesus ++ Link Wray – Juke Box Mama ++ The B.C. Harmonizers – You Ought To Been There ++ Odetta – Baby, I’m In The Mood For You ++ The Zion Travelers – The Blood ++ Rolling Stones – I Just Want To See His Face ++ The Georgia Sea Island Singers – Adam In The Garden ++ Little Feat – Strawberry Flats ++ Willis Alan Ramsey – Geraldine And The Honeybee ++ Bobby Charles – Street People ++ Françoise Hardy – Till the Morning Comes ++ Jerry Jeff Walker – Will There Be Any ++ Harry Crews – Everything Was Stories ++ Ramsay Midwood – Spinning On This Rock ++ John Martin – Over The Hill ++ Davy Graham – Both Sides Now (excerpt) ++ David Crosby – I’d Swear There Was Somebody There ++ Jerry Jeff Walker – About Her Eyes ++ Sibylle Baier – Wim ++ Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Pardon My Heart ++ Jim White – Still Waters

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
__________________________________________________________________________________

ORD31cover

Watch out for those late in the year surprises. Eclectic composer Robert Stillman sneaks in just under the 2017 wire with Portals, a new lp of Fender Rhodes improvisations. Recorded at his home in Kent during the winter of 2016-2017, right around the time his remarkable album Rainbows was released, the new album drifts into lo-fi ambient territory. Stillman designed it as a headphone album and it excels with a nice pair on, its layers pulse with warmth and the gentle abstraction afforded by a classic electric piano. Available now digitally and cassette via Orindal Records. words/j woodbury

litUp

Ah yes, go ahead and inhale the fecund ether of the season. Lit Up Like A Christmas celebrates the, er, other side of seasonal tidings — holiday esoterica from the far corners of vintage jazz, twang, fuzz, scuzz, r&b, blues, country, garage, lounge and beyond. And by beyond, I mean Sun Ra doing a Christmas song.

Both volumes have been re-upped, including the much expanded spotify versions (that are highly recommended). Stuff your stockings and have a nip of this nog, below . . .

TRANSITION

Speaking of 1971, the funky shit Kenny Rogers and The First Edition were laying down in the early 70s continues to maintain a special place in my crate — especially this one. Yup, that’s Mickey Jones on drums.

The First Edition :: Tulsa Turnaround