We’ve turned the half of 2017, here in the northern hemisphere we are already in the middle of the summer, it may be the right time to retrace the most beautiful music we have heard this year.
Let’s see which have been the top ten records that have accompanied us during this first part of the year, across all genres. I’m presenting them based on their date of publication, the oldest ones first
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Modern Ruin
Modern Ruin is the second LP produced by the British rock band and it arrived on the shelves a year and a half after their 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 Love.
Compared to Carter’s previous works, Modern Ruin may seem more inclined to melody and somehow less visceral, but this didn’t affect the overall energy of the pieces. An instant classic, that’s a must have album for 2017 and beyond.
Don’t come to Modern Ruin looking to be cheered up then, but if it’s catharsis you’re after, there’s nothing more fitting. (NME)
John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues
As long term fan of John Garcia I tend to appreciate almost every single thing he publishes or every song where he simply contributes with his wonderful voice. His last full-lenght disc, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, is however a masterpiece from every point of view. This is an acoustic album where the former Kyuss singer rearranges a few tunes from his glorious past and presents also a number of new songs.
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 just putting a new dress on the most famous songs of his career. Rather, it is evident the depth of emotions which our favourite singer wanted to share with us. and which is at the basis of such a little masterpiece. The value of this album is well beyond the stoner musical domain, this is a work which clearly represents one of the best things which happened in music in 2017.
Max Richter, Three Worlds Music From Woolf Works
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 musician, this album somehow leaves 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.
Three Worlds is rewarding as a background record as well as cognitive listening. Richter’s sound is best served without real pictures but paired with your dreams (PopMatters)
Chinese Man, Shikantaza
5 years after their first album, French trip-hop collective Chinese Man are back with a new LP, Shikantaza, which is built on top of a perfectly balanced mix of funky, groove, 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 of the album which leaves speechless. Shikantaza is an album 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. 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.
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)
Blackfield, Blackfield V
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. It looks like 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.
The Blackfield hallmarks of meticulously timeless production, enduring melodies and quality instrumentation are here stronger than probably ever for their fifth album, and those three attributes together are nearly impossible to find in any other rock band today (Something Else)
Power Trip, Nightmare Logic
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 actually 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.
Nightmare Logic looks to me as one of that fortunate cases where the classical and typical elements which made thrash metal so much successful in the past 30 years have been masterfully reshaped with modern elements, creating a new and unique sound that most likely will become itself a reference for future generations. Impressive, not to be missed.
You don’t need to be a metalhead to have a blast with Nightmare Logic. Screamed sardonics, persistent chug, and apocalyptic melodrama are all acquired tastes, sure. But Power Trip’s fist-pumping choruses, ricocheting grooves, and ample charm are so animated that they leave us with something addictive and, well, fun. (Pitchfork)
Tigran Hamasyan, An Ancient Observer
Differently from Tigran Hamasyan’s most recent productions, An Ancient Observer sees the young Armenian composer focused primarily on the piano. The simplicity of the arrangements in this case is in favour of Tigran’s music, since we can fully appreciate the beautiful balance that he managed to achieve between Armenian folk music (which is based on a different tonal system with respect to the European one) and those more conventional – and for us familiar – musical structures. The melodies in Tigran’s songs are always suspended on this unstable equilibrium between two worlds and two cultures, and this dynamic contrast creates a fascinating and magical atmosphere. Listening to the album, however, we appreciate how this is today the result of years and years of work and persistent refinement rather than just a circumscribed musical experiment. As a matter of fact, we’re speaking of a musician that is incorporating local folk melodies into jazz-form improvisations since his teens.
Sometimes, even if quite rarely, there are songs that can hit you deep in your emotions. Songs where the beauty of the melodies is combined with a great expressiveness of the interpretation. An Ancient Observer is full of these kind of songs. This is with no doubts a musical work that will leave a mark for a long time. Not to be missed, absolutely.
An Ancient Observer is a quieter solo piano trip to Tigran’s Armenian heritage, inspired by the ancient and modern contrasts Hamasyan observed on his return home after more than a decade living in the US. (The Guardian)
Goldfrapp, Silver Eye
Legendary English electronic duo Goldfrapp published this year the seventh studio album of their career, named Silver Eye. Those who are familiar with the English duo are aware that the band loves to explore different styles and sub-genres of music: until now every album from the band has been different from its predecessor. This rule is somehow confirmed with Silver Eye, which sees a clear and decise turn towards synth-pop from the previous experiments with folktronica (Tales of Us) , 80’s pop (Head First), and downtempo (Seventh Tree). It should be said, however, that such perpetual re-set of their sound could be one of the reasons for which the band didn’t achieve the commercial success that they deserved. To some extent this is applicable also for their last album.
As a long-term fan of the band I’m convinced that Silver Eye collects together an impressive number of very good songs, maybe a bit “basic” with respect to modern canons, but with a level of elegance and delicacy that’s indeed a rare thing nowadays. Whether you want just a light musical background during the working hours, or to “unplug” yourself for a moment of relaxation, this record can truly be your loyal companion and it will hardly disappoint your expectations.
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)
Imelda May, Life Love Flesh Blood
British musician, singer and songwriter Imelda May began her profession as back as 2003, at an age that formally should have precluded her to enter into many places where she was expected to perform. Initially affirmed with a rockabilly-oriented musical style, Imelda May has slowly shifted towards a peculiar and enjoyable soft rock with the incremental introduction of elements coming from the folk tradition.
Her last work, Life Love Flesh Blood, signs the definitive change in her musical direction and sees the artist engaged with a number of country and folk ballads of absolute value. Unlike some critics who haven’t fully appreciated this change of style, I am among those who have greatly enjoyed the new musical path she embarked on with the last album. Imelda May’s LP, as far as I am concerned, is among the finest things I’ve heard since the beginning of the year.
Having spent her apprenticeship as Jeff Beck’s crooner-in-chief, Imelda May has always seemed like a singer first and a solo artist second. But that looks set to change on Life. Love. Flesh. Blood, her most personal collection to date. (Evening Standard)
Ulver, The Assassination of Julius Caesar
It’s not easy to categorize the music from Ulver, the Norwegian experimental musical collective that is nowadays approaching 25 years of activity. If their early works explored the realms of black and folk metal, with the passing of time they have initiated an incredible and ambitious exploration of other musical genres, including ambient, electronica, and neoclassical. This year, with their last work named The Assassination of Julius Caesar, the band is experimenting with synthpop and EDM. The result is brilliant, as if the four Norwegians were long-term and celebrated artists of this genre, and not the neophytes of this type of music as they are in reality.
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 me the most.
If Ulver were one of the X Men characters, they’d easily be Mystique. Ever changing, always in a state of flux, and able to morph their identity with incredible ease (Metalstorm)