Best Music of 2017 / Top 20 Albums Chart (Update #03)

One third of the year 2017 is almost gone, it’s time to select which are the albums across all genres which gave us the strongest emotions. There have been a lot of new entries since the previous update of the chart, which is now becoming really representative of which are really the best releases of the year. Presumably some of the selected works will stay in the chart until the rest of the year, even if there are strong competitors approaching…. some of them very close to the release date! Stay tuned!

#20) Silver Eye by Goldfrapp (New Entry)

Synth-pop, Indie Pop, Electronic

Sylver Eye is the seventh studio album by the English electronic duo Goldfrapp. We are used to see them change direction on almost every album, showing an unique will to experience with sound and follow their time-changing musical instincts. This record doesn’t make any exception and we can enjoy in this case a nice come back to synth-pop, after the recent of excursions in the areas of electro folk and glam pop. Additionaly, this is one of the album whose value is improving with repeated listens and we can’t exclude that it will even gain positions in the following updates of the chart.

Maybe there’s just not much to laugh about these days, but the common pleasure in Goldfrapp’s many stylistic directions is escapism—to a dream, a film, a dance floor. Lately, their fantasy looks nearly as bleak as our reality. (Spin)

 

#19) Near to the Wild Heart of Life by Japandroids (↓)

Indie Rock, Post Punk

Near to the Wild Heart of Life is the long awaited third studio album by the Canadian rock duo Japandroids. The band has slightly eased the aggressive tone of their musical approach but they maintained a good emotional tension in all the tracks of this album, which is at the end a very good and solid indie rock album.

Listening to Japandroids makes me think about Jenga. You have the most basic elements (guitar, drums, and vocals, in this case) delicately stacked on top of each other. The raw materials are so simple, but the more it builds in increments, the higher the stakes become; each move ratchets up the tension partly because you know the whole thing is constantly in danger of buckling under itself at any time. (Consequences of Sound)

 

#18) Heartless Oppressor by Primal Attack (↓)

Thrash Metal, Groove Metal

Primal Attack are a new thrash and groove metal band from Portugal. They released a beautiful album called Heartless Oppressor which although strongly inspired from the works of Pantera, Hatebreed and Machine Head, it contains so many original features that establishes itself as a unique piece in the modern metal scene.

Heartless Oppressor is a strongly energetic disc, at times brutal, fully packed with catching riffs and melodies. These guys from Portugal must have some special gift if they managed in less than five years and only two albums to achieve such a maturity in balancing different metal influences, spanning from groove to death metal. This is a disc that we definitely recommend and we expect big things in their future. A few of the songs from the album have become a regular presence of the metal playlist we’re publishing in the blog.

The guitars on the album hand are way above par. We’re talking eagle at least. While the palm muted chugging is simply apt and pummeling, the solos and leads have an addictive, catchy litheness. It’s not terribly new for anyone who regularly listens to classic thrash but the execution is spot-on and it brings out the best of tracks like Halfborn. (Angry Metal Guy)

 

#17) Of Chaos And Carnal Pleasures by The Project Hate MCMXCIX (↓)

Death Metal, Experimental Metal, Progressive Metal, Industrial Metal

The Project Hate MCMXCIX is an experimental and death metal project created by the elusive and mysterious Swedish musician kwown as Lord K Philipson. There is no actual band Beyond Mr. Philipson, since different and variegated friends and musicians are brought in with each and every album. In this respect, The Project Hate is more a studio entity than a real musical group.

Since the beginning of this project, which dates back to the year 2000, 11 albums have been published. The last one, called Of Chaos And Carnal Pleasures, was released in the early months of 2017 and it quickly achieved a great consideration here in this blog. The albums contains a few but long and articulated progressive death metal tracks, each one including an irregular and dynamic sequence of musical segments which alternate violent moments with melodic and expressive pieces.

THE PROJECT HATE - 1280x300

 

#16) Nightmare Logic by Power Trip (↓)

Thrash Metal, Hardcore Metal, Industrial Metal

Power Trip are a relatively new metal band from Texas that plays an energetic and violent blend  of thrash and hardcore. They aren’t around since many years but have already accumulated considerable experience playing live together with some big names like Anthrax, Lamb of God and Napalm Death. Nigthmare Logic is their second full-lenght album and it’s one of the best thrash metal releases of the last few years: fast, energetic, and somehow innovative with a lot of inserts from other metal sub-genres, such as hardcore and industrial.

Power Trip embody a platonic ideal of heavy metal escapism. With more focus on detail, the Dallas thrashers push their second LP over the edge, balancing modern intricacy and old-school aggression. (Pitchfork)

 

#15) Ichiru by Daigo Hanada (New Entry)

Modern Classical, Minimalism, Piano Solo

Daigo Hanada is a young and talented Japanese pianist and composer, born in Tokyo but based in Berlin. Hanada released on last February a little masterpiece, named Ichiru, where he plays delicate and minimalistic melodies on a simple upright piano.  The album contains a collection of relatively short but deeply captivating piano moments (intimate vignettes), which collectively show how sometimes the simplicity of arrangement and the immediacy of the melodies may generate an immediate connection between the author and the listener.

This is definitely one of the most lovely albums we heard so far in 2017.

The more one listens, the more comforting it becomes like a late-night conversation with an old friend. It seems lately that lovers of solo piano music are a bit spoiled for choice, but that should not diminish appreciation for the exceptional beauty of what Hanada has created on his first outing. (Stationary Travels)

 

#14) The Burning Spider by Parov Stela (New Entry)

Electronic, Electro-Swing, House Music, Jazz

Parov Stelar is the stage name for Marcus Füreder, an Austrian musician, producer and DJ which gained some popularity in the electronics industry as one of the ng pioneers of “electronic-swing”. In his productions he mixes with great skill disparate elements from house music, dance and even some fragments of jazz.

In the last years he released a number of good and captivating albums, almost one every year. The album he published in 2017 is named The Burning Spider and it is another great collection of enjoyable and variegated electro-swing tracks. At the time we’re writing this list, the album has just dropped on the shelves, but we have already appreciated a number of songs, which we also included in a dedicated playlist on vintage elektro.

 

#13) Three Worlds Music From Woolf Works by Max Richter (=)

Modern Classical, Meditative

This beautiful album has been with us basically from the beginning of the year but its value has been untouched by the passing of time, as witnessed by the fact that it consolidated its position in this Top 20 chart despite the number of new entries we had since the last update of the list.

Three Worlds Music From Woolf Works is Max Richter’s eighth album and it’s mostly consisting of the music score that Richter composed for the ballet Woolf Works in collaboration with choreographer Wayne McGregor. Compared to the major works from the musicians, this album abandons the post-minimalist sounds of his last releases to embrace a neoclassical style more  close to his early works. Interspersed with the larger orchestral moments, we still find, however, a few synthetic inserts which give the music an estranged and pleasantly artificial atmosphere.

This is a must-have disc for all Richter’s fan but, more in general, for all music lovers. It represents a perfect fusion between creativity, depth of sound and enjoyability.

In his most iconic moments, Richter is an instantly satisfying composer, soundtracking to our dreams and memories. His textures are thick and evoke the moments we forgot or are too afraid to remember and the memories we treasure. (PopMatters)

 

#12) Circles by MEM3 (New Entry)

Contemporary Jazz, Piano Trio,

MEM3 is a relatively young and cosmopolitan jazz trio consisting of pianist Michael Cabe from Seattle, bassist Mark Lau from Sydney and drummer Ernesto Cervini from Toronto. The trio has released so far two very enjoyable and elegant jazz albums, the last one named Circles and published in the first months of 2017. In their albums they play mostly original compositions from all three musicians as well as a few traditional hymns. The particularity of this trio is that you really feel how each single member of the group is equally important for the development of the songs. In most of the tracks of the album you can clearly recognize the presence of a leading player, who’s typically the composer of the piece, which is supported beautifully by the other musicians. And the delicate and just perceptible contrast among the three different music styles gives the album an additional element of interest.

From a musical point of view, the trio is clearly influenced by a few masters of Contemporay Jazz such as Peter Erskine, The Bad Plus and the Esbjorn Svensson Trio. Their music is kind, elegant but never trivial, and the album benefits of excellent recording and production that allow you to listen even to the most subtle nuances of the sounds produced by their instruments. There are a few delicate electronic inserts that do not disturb at all, rather they enrich the songs and make even more intense some of the beautiful atmospheres produced by the three musicians.

If MEM3 comes out of the e.s.t school of the modern piano approach, Circles, their sophomore effort, rises to the top of the class—an enchanting and deceptively complex and straight-through compelling set of sounds. (All About Jazz)

 

#11) Chalice Hymnal by Grails (↓)

Progressive Rock, Instrumental Rock, Avant Garde

Grails are an  American instrumental experimental rock band founded by Alex Hall and Emil Amos (who’s also the drummer of the legendary doom stoner band Om). The band is active since early 2000 and they have released in 2017 the tenth album of their career, named Calice Hymnal.

Across their albums the band showed an incessant evolution of both the sound and the overall approach to songwriting. In the last album we perceive a persistent sense of anger and mistery which is however mediated by the introduction of many evocative and more cinematic moments.

The perennial influences of mid-20th century Western film scores, obscure library music, and psychedelic krautrock are indelibly imprinted, but Chalice Hymnal exudes an eerie patience in unfurling the many layers of its subtle details. (Bandcamp)

 

#10) Flying Microtonal Banana by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (New Entry)

Progressive Rock, Experimental Rock, Garage Rock

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are a prolific psychedelic rock band from Melbourne, Australia, which embarked into the ambitious project to release a total of five studio albums in 2017, each one addressing a specific kind of experimentation. Flying Microtonal Banana, the first album of the project, deals with microtonality, which is about the adoption a special musical scale with more than the standard number of 12 tones, with the result that the separation between adjacent sounds is smaller than what we are accustomed to hear.

Flying Microtonal Banana is the ninth album released by the Australian experimental rockers since their formation in 2010. From a musical point of view, the guys play on this record an energetic and explosive mixture of progressive and garage rock with frenetic rhythms and very funny melodies that stick in your head. It’s an album full of  joy, positive, played with verve and great technical ability.

The album is fantastical in its darkness, with layers of murmured vocal harmonies feeding into fuzz-leaden guitar parts and wailing flute melodies. (DIY)

#9) Potsdamer Platz by Jan Lundgren (New Entry)

Contemporary Jazz, Piano Jazz

Potsdamer Platz is the last work by Jan Lundgren, and it’s definitely one of the best jazz works we heard in these first months of the year.

As reported on his biography, Lundgren is part of a remarkable and long tradition of innovative pianists from Sweden like Jan Johansson, Bobo Stenson and Esbjörn Svensson. He has the ability to integrate the most disparate musical influences into a fascinating whole. Whether its contemporary classical music, the northern folk tradition or the groove of jazz, Lundgren has a unique way of leading the listener on a voyage of discovery – sometimes relaxed, sometimes utterly invigorating – through his highly individual soundscapes.

Pianist Jan Lundgren is a fine example of a classically-trained European musician with a strong empathy with mainstream jazz. Potsdamer Platz is, in turn, a fine example of Lundgren’s ability to compose fresh-sounding and often beautiful tunes, allied to a talented quartet of players who know just how to bring the pianist’s ideas to life. (All About Jazz)

 

#8) Transparent Water by Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita (New Entry)

World Fusion, Contemporary Jazz

Cuban-born jazz pianist Omar Sosa has already played on various projects with world musicians from all around the globe, often travelling outside the standard of jazz traditions. In his last album he joined the efforts with the Senegalese drummer, vocalist and kora player Seckou Keita, who is today one of the most charismatic musicians from Africa. The duo has released a beautiful album, Transparent Water, which sees contributions from other musicians from the most disparate areas of the world.

The experience of listening to this beautiful album is really a journey through sounds and enchanting melodies, with the different musical traditions which manage to complement each other providing the listener with varied nuances of the same basic tune.

Each of these very different artists come from deep traditions that border more on classical music than folk, which might account for the rather compositional feel of the work. There’s little emphasis on the improvisation or syncopation you’d expect from Sosa or Keita. Instead everyone is focused on fitting together seamlessly around a melody, often a gentle, sung refrain (Paste)

 

#7) Modern Ruin by Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes (↓)

Punk Rock, Alternative Rock

As soon as we started playing the new album by Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes we knew that we were in front of a great work. Modern Ruin, in fact, not only does contain quite a good number of good songs, but it is graced as a whole by a positive energy that emanates from every one of the 12 tracks included in the disc.

This is the second LP produced by the British band and it arrives on the shelves a year and a half after the sensational debut album, Blossom. Frank Carter, the leader of the band, became however famous first as the frontman of the English hardcore punk outfit Gallows, then as the leader of the American-British rock band Pure. Compared to Carter’s previous works, Modern Ruin may seem more inclined to melody and somehow less visceral, but this didn’t affect the pleasantness of the songs and indeed the album has gained fluidity and (we believe) longevity.

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes’ second album, is an angry and sad but striking thing, all shimmering, serrated guitars and Carter’s distinctive vocals imbuing everything with a vital urgency. (NME)

 

#6) Shikantaza by Chinese Man (↓)

Electronic, Downbeat, Funky, World Music

Shikantanza is the last release by the French electronic collective named as Chinese Man and it was already selected in February as the Best Electronic Album of the Month. This is in fact an extremely enjoyable album offering an overwhelming combination of groove, funky, hip hop and many other fragements of musical genres and ethnic references. The are a few songs that stand out for their brilliance and creativity, but at the end it is the average level of all the tracks which leave us speechless.

Shikantanza is made to be listened and listened again, this is one of those albums that you can easily play in the background during your day for hours and hours and never get tired of listening to it. But sometimes you will find yourself turning up the volume and dancing alone like a fool, captured by one of the many vintage rhythms that punctuate the entire disc.

A must-have. Not only selected but definitely recommended.

With this new album, Chinese Man creates a link between the music of his origins and his new aspirations. SHIKANTAZA is an invitation to let go, to capture the moment, a personal path to enlightenment. (Beatport)

 

#5) The Assassination of Julius Caesar by Ulver (New Entry)

Electronic, Synth Pop, Experimental Music

It’s not easy to categorize the music from Ulver, the Norwegian experimental musical collective founded that is now approaching 25 years of actrivity. If their early works explored the realms of black and folk metal, with the passing of time they started an incredible and ambitious exploration of other genres, including ambient, electronica, and neoclassical. This year, with their last work named The Assassination of Julius Caesar, the band is playing with a blend of futurist electro-pop and experimental music. The result, as usual, is brilliant.

Those familiar with this stubborn pack of wolves from Oslo will not be surprised that they also this time round are shifting shape. Never afraid of challenging or redefining current musical conventions, Ulver has now enacted what they are calling “their pop album”. You don’t have to worry about vexing radio humdrum or pastel ear candy though – Talk Talk and Music Machine are pop music as good as any in the universe of Ulver. A universe where “pop” is more a mark of distinction, denoting immediacy and possible body movement. (Bandcamp)

 

#4) Blackfield V by Blackfield (↓)

Progressive Rock

Blackfield is the fascinating musical project initiated more than 10 years ago by legendary and prolific British rocker and producer Steven Wilson (founder of Porcupine Tree) with Israeli songwriter and musician Aviv Geffen. As the title says, Blackfield V is the fifth album generated by this collaboration and it comes four years after their previous release which is named, with a shot of originality, Blackfield IV.

Blackfield V was written and recorded over a period of 18 months in both Israel and England. It is no coincidence, then, that all the songs on the disc show a remarkable attention to detail and a clear sense of maturity. We feel in fact that some of the musical ideas on the album  were left to age without rushing and possibly reworked over time. And it is also clear that both the two musicians drew extensively into the reserve of ideas they accumulated in their careers, but always with the desire to adapt them the new context and enjoying the result of a fusion of different inspirations.

Blackfield is the most accessible band that Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree fame has been involved in, despite maintaining the melancholic tone present in his main projects. The group has been an outlet for him to shift away from progressive rock and metal in favor of a straightforward brand of art rock, while still retaining the emotional weight present in his music (SputnikMusic)

 

#3) For the Fallen by Memoriam (New Entry)

Death Metal, Thrash Metal

Memoriam is the new Death Metal band consistings of two former members of Bolt Thrower, i.e. singer Karl Willets and the band’s original drummer Andy Whale, joined by former Benediction’s Frank Healy on bass and Cerebral Fix’s Scott Fairfax on guitar. Leveraging their substantial and proud Death Metal heritage, last year the four metal heroes started playing together in a number of festivals and eventually released in 2017 their debut album, For the Fallen.

The immediate feeling you get listening to this fantastic album is how everything in the disc sounds so familiar, in the good sense of the term. It really seems that time has rewound back and now the the sadness we experienced for the loss of one of the most influential bands of the metal scene can be replaced by the knowledge that nothing is lost and the class and charisma of these musicians were not dissolved with the years.

Memoriam stacks its sound with emotions and personal meanings. To the Fallen is strong in most parts and despite having some minor setbacks, it doesn’t make the album bland or uninspired. However, the homogeneity of the record and the lack of climaxes do make it a little hard for it to be memorable, but it is a very decent effort, nevertheless. (Metal Wani)

 

#2) An Ancient Observer by Tigran Hamasyan (New Entry)

Piano Solo, Folk, Contemporary Jazz

Tigran is a young and talented Armenian musician who plays compositions which are strongly influenced by the Armenian folk music and partially blended with American jazz traditions. More precisely, Tigran mostly uses the melodic content based on the Armenian music and creates on top of it an harmonic content based on Armenian modes applied to the piano.

Tigran’s latest adventurous project is 2017’s An Ancient Observer, his second solo album, his eighth overall as a sole leader. As we read from his website, The Ancient Observer focuses on the art of observing. “It’s something that humans have been practicing for ages, sometimes even subliminally,” Tigran says. “It is especially interesting now in 2016. It’s the feeling of the ancient eternal and impermanent versus the present day eternal and the impermanent. The intertwining of this ancient with the modern world creates an existential feeling. This album is presenting the observation of the world we live in now and the weight of our history we carry on our shoulders, which is influencing us even if we don’t realize it. This album is the observation of influences and experiences I had.”

Honestly, a few of Tigran’s recent productions left us bit puzzled, maybe overloaded by an excessive weight of conceptual elements and not enjoyable to listen to. But as soon as we started listening to his latest work, we remained literally speechless. The album sees Tigran focusing primarily on the piano, and we personally feel that finally all the most beautiful aspects of his music have been collected together in a single place, a magical place.

Hamasyan’s musical language has never been more defined: Armenian melodies, based on modal scales and enriched by frequent yet always discreet ornaments, are matched with harmonic and rhythmic restlessness, odd time signatures, tuplets and polyrhythmic sections. The influences are so internalized that it’s impossible to separate the elements, and the perfection of this fusion guarantees the fluidity of the playing. (Echoes and Dust)

 

#1) The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues by John Garcia (=)

Stoner Rock, Acoustic

As long term fan and lover of John Garcia (the voice of the desert) we appreciated almost every single album he published or where he simply contributed with his wonderful voice. In his last full-lenght disc, however, he really managed to convey a tsunami of emotions and the balance between new and old tracks is definitely satisfying. The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues is an acoustic album which contains new songs and some wonderfully rearranged tunes from the Kyuss era.

Much of the beauty of this record lies in the fact that John Garcia didn’t just follow the desire to pursue the commercial success by rearranging the most famous songs of his long and glorious career. Rather, it is evident the depth of emotions which our favourite singer needed to communicate and which is at the basis of such a little masterpiece.

The Coyote that Spoke in Tongues is a project that Garcia fans will really appreciate. I think it’s a brave effort for artists to set aside a craft they’ve practiced for years – that magic formula that’s been tweaked and developed to perfect over time – to  try something new. What Garcia & Co. have created with this record is excellent. It’s full of life and experience, tales to tell, and scars to show. It invites the listener to hitch a ride with them and listen to those stories as they drive on through the lonely, arid desert. (Metal Wani)

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