TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2017 – The Best Music of the Year (update #04)

Five months have passed since the beginning of 2017 and it’s time for a new update of our main chart with the best 20 albums across all genres. As one can easily imagine the list is very heterogeneous with entries spanning between Death Metal and Contemporary Jazz, but this is at the same time a valid compendium of the best music that we had the pleasure to listen in the last few months and also an indication of the where and how modern music is moving to.

Compared to the previous chart there are a few very interesting new entries, such as The Afghan Whigs, Barock Project and God Dethroned, and consequently some bands which left the chart, maybe temporarily (Goldfrapp, The Project Hate and Japandroids). We register also a few movements within the other albums of the chart, reflecting evident differences in the “longevity” factor for some of the albums that entered the list earlier this year.

 

#20) 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 being 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 strong and 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.

 

#19) Ichiru by Daigo Hanada (↓)

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.

 

#18) The Burning Spider by Parov Stelar (↓)

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 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. It’s not a long time since the album was released, but we have already appreciated a number of songs, which we also included in a dedicated playlist on vintage elektro (check it out from the home page).

 

#17) 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.

As is the case fo instrumental albums, the songs rely on quite a good number of musical ideas and changes of atmosphere. A few tracks stand out for their particular quality, but the overall value of the album is definitely good and the disc may be appreciated also as a single conceptual musical travel (something that’s not always true for rock instrumental works).

 

#16) 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 almost untouched by the passing of time and it’s now a stable presence in our Top 20 chart.

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.

 

#15) Detachment by Barock Project (New Entry)

Progressive Rock

The first new entry of this chart comes from Barock Project, the talented rock group from Modena, in Italy, which has the declared objective to mix together ’70s progressive-rock with classical music. In their musical career, which is now over 10 years long, the Italian musicians have already released a number of studio albums and one live disc. Detachment, the LP published on last March, is the fifth studio work of their discography.

The album is clearly reminiscent of the standard tradition of Prog Rock, both in terms of the overall sound which the band managed to craft in the year that they spent in the studio for the recording and also for the classical “suite-structure” of most of the songs. But such a glance to the past is limited to the form of the music they play, because beyond the external cortex there are beautiful and very interesting songs which show an undeniable creative vein and also a remarkable unique ability in the combination of elements coming from different musical experiences.

 

#14) Circles by MEM3 (↓)

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 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.

 

#13) Flying Microtonal Banana by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (↓)

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.

 

#12) In Spades by The Afghan Whigs (New Entry)

Alternative Rock, Progressive Rock

I was just a teenager when I heard for the first time a few songs from the american alternative rockers The Afghan Whigs. At that time, however, I was too much involved into the fantastic metal scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s to give enough attention to the elegant and complex architectures from these skilled and talented musicians. Eventually they broke up in 2001, just when I was starting to really discover and apprecieate their music. After almost ten years, the guys from Cincinnati started composing and recording new material together. But if the first album of the reunited band received mixed reviews from both critics and fans (I also wasn’t too much excited from their 2014’s Do The Beast), with their new release, In Spades, they somehow managed to match the beauty and the quality of their first releases.

In Spades is the eight album in The Afghan Whig‘s discography. Musically speaking the album is full of progressive rock references, with passionate and engaging motifs, and the disc stands out effectively as one of the finest works from the band, even considering their entire production since 1986. There are a few noir anthems in the album wich definitely candidate to be among the best rock songs of the year, and the record has all the cards in place to win both the old fans and to capture the attention of the new generations.

 

#11) Potsdamer Platz by Jan Lundgren (↓)

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.

 

#10) Transparent Water by Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita (↓)

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.

 

#9) Nightmare Logic by Power Trip (↑)

Thrash Metal, Hardcore Metal, Industrial Metal

If you checked the previous versions of our musical charts, both the overall Top 20 and the specific metal selections, you noticed how this album by the texans trashers Power Trip is systematically climbing the rankings since its entry in the beginning of the year.

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  innovative with a lot of inserts from other metal sub-genres, such as hardcore and industrial.

That’s definitely a band to follow, we expect really big things in the future.

 

#8) 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 longevity.

 

#7) Shikantaza by Chinese Man (↓)

Electronic, Downbeat, Funky, World Music

Shikantanza is the last release by the French electronic collective named as Chinese Man and here in this blog in last February it was awarded 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.

 

#6) 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.

 

#5) For the Fallen by Memoriam (↓)

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.

 

#4) The Assassination of Julius Caesar by Ulver (↑)

Electronic, Synth Pop, Experimental Music

It’s not easy to categorize the music from Ulver, the Norwegian experimental musical collective that is now approaching 25 years of activity. 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.

The album manages to combine an incredible fluidity of sounds with a unique and truly elegant musical elegance, something that’s really challenging and not easy to achieve with electronic music. The quality of the LP is very high, on all aspects, and that’s basically one of the entries in this music chart which surprised us the most.

 

#3) The World Ablaze by God Dethroned (New Entry)

Death Metal

Entering the chart directlyt at the third place after 5 months since the beginning of the year means that we’re in front of a great work. And in fact, The World Ablaze by Dutch veteran metallers God Dethroned is really a magnificient work and for sure one of the best metal albums you will hear in 2017.

Death Metal is not an easy kind of music to hear, and unfortunately the genre is also inflated by an excessive number of low-level bands that simply find themselves pushing the sounds to the extremes, without particular skills or any research for something different to say. Nothing we just wrote applies to The World Ablaze, the last release by God Dethroned and the tenth album since their formation in 1991. The album arrives seven years after their previous release, and we can imagine the four dutch metallers spending this long time refining and improving their signature blackened Death metal style. The quality of the album is impressive, there is a fantastic balance between energy and melancholy, the two main and recurring themes of their recent production. They have an undeniable capability to forge impressive and engaging guitar riffs which result enough catchy and “groovy” to make the songs enjoyable to hear but keeping some of the brutality that is typical of the Death Metal sub-genre.

 

#2) The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues by John Garcia (↓)

Stoner Rock, Acoustic

As long term fans 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.

 

#1) An Ancient Observer by Tigran Hamasyan (↑)

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.

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