A much delayed ‘year end list’. So delayed, in fact, that if I left it any longer I really shouldn’t bother (which wouldn’t be the first time). However, just as you’re all settled into 2018 and looking forward to a whole bunch of new releases, ol’ Jim here is reviewing 2017.
It was a pretty great year for releases from some of my favourite artists. The year kicked off with a new album from The Flaming Lips and a remastered and remixed Texas Jerusalem Crossroads. Then releases from The Afghan Whigs, Lanegan, Danny & The Champions of the World, Beck, and Queens of the Stone Age left me thinking that it couldn’t get any better… then Causa Sui dropped their second release of the year.
Anyhoo, here are my favourite releases of 2017.
#1 The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
The return of The Afghan Whigs a few years back was the best news I could have imagined. That they would release two inspired albums was more than I would have expected, but that’s what they’ve done.
In Spades is a dark, but lifting album. The loss of Dave Rosser has made the listening experience even more emotive. It’s weighty. It’s bittersweet. Most of all, though, it’s just pretty brilliant… that’s why it’s hard to look beyond it as my favourite of the year.
#2 The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody
It was a tough call, but The Flaming Lips’ album is only pipped by The Afghan Whigs to top spot. Seriously close.
Oczy Mlody is a success on all levels. Less intense than The Terror, The Flaming Lips deliver an album that sits comfortably in the space between the heady ramshackle feel of their pre-Soft Bulletin material and the lush, sense exploding stuff that came afterward. This is an album to celebrate.
It’s also worth mentioning that the standard LP doesn’t include Listening To Frogs With Demon Eyes. Although on the digital version, I believe the track kinda pulls me out of the bliss state that the song cycle had me in. I’ll need to ask Wayne & Co. what they think.
#3 Causa Sui – Vibraciones Doradas
A surprise release from those Danish desert rockers, but easily one of the year’s top releases. This is just as accessible as 2016’s Return To Sky, but this time out there’s a whole lot of dust and grit in those amps. Almost as if they left them outside to be battered by a sandstorm.
#4 Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
There hasn’t been an outpouring of love for this one. It’s been more a lukewarm “yeah, I kinda like it” response and I know some have been reaching for Songs For The Deaf and longing for days when Oliveri was weilding his bass axe and covering microphones in drool and a coating of spit and venom. Which is fine, but Queens of the Stone Age are more than that and have been for quite some time. In my opinion, their best albums don’t even feature the big guy.
Sure, it’d be nice to hear Lanegan on a Queens record again (cause who doesn’t want to hear Lanegan), but Villains finds Homme & Co. in great form. It may not be as powerful or weighty as …Like Clockwork, but here they channel Led Zeppelin via Gary Numan with some ZZ boogie thrown in for good measure. It’s fun, dark, sinister, infectious. This is the sound of a band really having a great time in the studio. This isn’t just a year’s best, this is top 3 Queens of the Stone Age stuff right here.
#5 Spoon – Hot Thoughts
First Spoon album I ever heard, this. Can you believe that? Not quite sure why, as they’ve been on my radar a while and I’ve kinda assumed that I might like them. Maybe that’s the reason why.
Anyhoo, I’ve listened to this album a whole lot and got to know it pretty well. There has a whole bunch of great catchy tunes, angular guitar, thrown shapes, sing-a-long choruses, and, deep grooves. Ultimately, there are enough hooks here to ensure the songs are in your head and you’re still whistling, humming, or singing long after it’s done.
#6 Mark Lanegan Band – Gargoyle
I know a few folks who have been fairly underwhelmed by Lanegan’s post-Blues Funeral output and, well, I guess I can understand that. Phantom Radio’s quieter moments and 2015’s Houston: Publishing Demos had me longing for a return to the sound of Lanegan’s pre-Bubblegum work, but instead we got Gargoyle… and that’s fine.
This is hypnotic and there’s a shift in tone and pace. Across the album’s 10 tracks, it seems that Lanegan’s either finally found redemption or forgiveness. Maybe both. Or maybe he’s just recognised that the scars he wears, or is responsible for, are part of what makes him who he is.
#7 Danny & The Champions of the world – Brilliant Light
One of my all-time favourite bands released one of their finest albums last year. This one is a sprawling 18-track double LP and it really does fit the format perfectly, with Side B ending with the brilliant Gotta Get Things Right In My Life, and Side C starting like a whole new song cycle with Waiting For The Wheels To Come Off. The focus here isn’t solely on Danny Wilson’s knack for writing a tune, but on collaboration… and they also welcome a new member into the fold.
There is a limited 3LP release, with the third slice of vinyl acting as a bonus instrumental album. I should have snapped that up, but the fool in me thought I’d be happy with just the two slices of vinyl. Drats.
#8 Beck – Colors
Although the whole thing about Beck has always been that you should expect the unexpected, as he shifted style from one release to the other. However, Colors is unlike anything he’s released so far. It’s a joyous, slick pop record full of beats, melodies, and sing-a-long moments that will genuinely make you smile.
Better still, it features Dreams and Wow – both exceptional songs that have been around long enough to drill straight into that substrate.
#9 Duke Garwood – Garden of Ashes
2015’s Heavy Love was a bit of a lighter affair, but this is a deep dark album. A saunter through the remains of the pending apocalypse. Confronting and coming to terms with the end of days. Consumerism, smart phones, the fear and loathing that’s come with the rise of the right and the effects of the likes of Brexit and Making ‘Mericu Great Again. Or maybe that’s just what I take from it.
Again, Alain Johannes and Mark Lanegan ensure that Garwood’s words aren’t lost to the rhythms and intricate mournful blues of his guitar.
#10 Deep Purple – Infinite
I’m not an expert when it comes to this band and, to be honest, it’s only been over the last couple of years that I have gotten to like some of their stuff. I’m aware that there’s a rich catalogue and a complex history that has yielded some of the greatest rock albums ever recorded.
I know that this one may not live up to those albums of the past, but you know what? I dig it. A whole lot. Even if there’s an unnecessary reading of Roadhouse Blues included. And you know what else? The album cover is great. So there.
And best live album goes to:
Causa Sui – Live In Copenhagen
I’m not often crazy for live releases and this may be the first time I’ve ever considered a live album to be among my favourite releases of whatever year I’m talking about, but Live In Copenhagen is really, really special.
Comprised of two shows – launch nights for Euporie Tide and Return To Sky – the whole thing sounds urgent and heavy and… well, just so bloody good. Even the material from Euporie Tide sounds heavier and so much more likely to explode.
Also, there’s a quite incredible version of A Love Supreme.
There are a few other albums that I only heard towards the tail end of the year that I know would have made it here if I had been more familiar with them. So, notable mentions go to:
The National – Sleep Well Beast, Colter Wall’s self-titled album, Mastodon – Emporer of Sand, Don Antonio, Deadly Avenger – Everyday Is Kill, Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun, The Secret Sisters’ – You Don’t Own Me Anymore, Dave Catching – Shared Hallucinations…, Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent, Van Hunt – Popular.
Next time, I’m gonna pull my favourite new additions from the shelf and take some pictures… there’ll be some words about why they’re my favourite additions of 2017, but it’s really all about pictures, innit.