2017 was a rather active year in music, but when it came to new releases, I opted to leave a lot of stuff on the shelf. A decade ago, new albums by Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear would have been breathlessly awaited. I don’t get the sense either had much staying power beyond their release dates.
As a result, I ended up purchasing a total of 34 new titles, approximately 7 percent of my total buying activity. The remaining purchases? Catalog and reissues. This list, in other words, comes from a small pool of albums.
- Onitsuka Chihiro, Syndrome
- Royal Wood, Ghost Light
- RADWIMPS, Your name.
- Sam Smith, The Thrill of It All
- Sam Amidon, The Following Mountain
- Kronos Quartet, Folk Songs
- Gaytheist, Let’s Jam Again Soon
- Living Colour, Shade
- Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound
- Renée Fleming, Distant Light
Sam Smith and Living Colour are the big changes from the mid-year list. The Thrill of It All isn’t as weird as I hoped it could be, but it’s a more appealing album than Smith’s debut.
Shade is the perfect soundtrack for the frustration of living under the current administration. Pre-release press mention the blues as a springboard for the album, but really, Living Colour transform the blues in ways that are nigh unrecognizable.
Other favorites from the year:
- Eluvium, Shuffle Drone: I hate both the repeat and shuffle buttons on my playback mechanisms. That said, Matthew Cooper deserves mad props for creating an album that puts both buttons to excellent use.
- Sampha, Process: I admit I didn’t listen to this album till a few weeks ago, once it started showing up on year-end favorite lists.
- David Rawlings, Poor David’s Almanack: My long-simmering discovery of Gillian Welch will have to wait for another entry, but it’s the reason David Rawlings shows up here.
- Shiina Ringo, Gyakuyunyuu ~Kuukoukyoku~: Part of me misses the rocking Ringo-chan of the early 2000s, but then hearing these songs side-by-side with the artists who recorded them first deepens my appreciation for her.
- Sufjan Stevens / Nico Muhly / Bryce Dessner / James McAlister, Planetarium: It helps to have heard this album with a laser light show.
- The Drums, Abysmal Thoughts: Jonny Pierce takes over the show.
- Cocco, Cocco 20 Shuunen Kinen Special Live at Nippon Budokan ~Ichi no Kan x Ni no Kan~: The live performances don’t stray too far from what’s heard in the studio, but Cocco’s voice doesn’t seem to have aged a bit.
- Duran Duran, Thanksgiving Live at Pleasure Island: If you’re a fan of the seriously-underrated Medazzaland, this live album is a must-have.
Tags: bryce dessner, cocco, david rawlings, duran duran, favorite edition, gaytheist, james mcalister, jason isbell, kronos quartet, living colour, nico muhly, onitsuka chihiro, radwimps, renee fleming, royal wood, sam amidon, sam smith, sampha, shiina ringo, sufjan stevens
I usually publish this entry at the start of July. Unfortunately, all the releases in which I’m most interested came out in June, and I didn’t want to make hasty judgements. So I held off till I had a few weeks to live with these latecomers.
Labels, why did you all wait till the middle of the year? Couldn’t you have spread some of this joy over the previous 6 months?
- Onitsuka Chihiro, Syndrome: This album really recaptures the sound and mood of her debut album.
- Royal Wood, Ghost Light: This album was released in 2016 but limited to Canada. So I’m calling it a 2017 album because of its worldwide release in January. The Burning Bright is so far Wood’s best album, but Ghost Light isn’t a slump for a follow-up.
- Renée Fleming, Distant Light: I’m not sure Fleming’s sound suits Samuel Barber’s Knoxville 1915, but the orchestral arrangements of Björk songs works really well.
- RADWIMPS, Kimi no Na wa: I’m pretty much throwing this soundtrack on the list because the movie was amazing, and it’s impossible to hear “Katawaredoki” without tearing up. (You just have to watch the movie to understand.) The English version of the songs came out really well.
- Sam Amidon, The Following Mountain: Amidon does some strange things with traditional material, but this time around he writes his own songs and lets his jazz side out a bit more.
- Kronos Quartet, Folk Songs: Kronos takes a back seat to the singers — who include Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens and Natalie Merchant — but these arrangements of mostly traditional songs are far from genteel.
- Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound: Isbell is the kind of songwriter whose music continues to play in your head after it’s finished on the player.
- Gaytheist, Let’s Jam Again Soon: Oh, it’s loud!
- Sufjan Stevens / Nico Muhly / Bryce Dessner / James McAlister, Planetarium: I don’t know if this album needs to be 75 minutes long, but it’s a fascinating listen nonetheless.
Tags: bryce dessner, favorite edition, gaytheist, james mcalister, jason isbell, nico muhly, onitsuka chihiro, radwimps, renee fleming, royal wood, sufjan stevens
It’s probably way too early to start anticipating 2017 first quarter releases, but I’ve already placed a few orders for next month.
The Flaming Lips, Oczy Mlody, Jan. 13, 2017
I lost track of the Flaming Lips right around 2009’s Embryonic. I don’t even think I checked out The Terror, which would have been an appropriate title for 2016.
Renée Fleming, Distant Light, Jan. 20, 2017
As probably the only indie rock fan who genuinely liked Dark Hope, I’m totally on board with Renée Fleming performing Björk. I’m hoping she uses her alto range.
The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir, March 3, 2017
Nonesuch has already started posting excerpts from this album, and I keep wondering when someone is going to make a jukebox musical out of Stephin Merritt songs. I don’t think Merritt is necessarily the best interpreter of his songs, but since other singers haven’t yet taken up his music, it’s not a hypothesis I can prove.
Quruli, Sayonara Stranger, Dec. 28, 2016
Quruli, Zukan, Dec. 28, 2016
Quruli, TEAM ROCK, Jan. 25, 2017
Quruli, THE WORLD IS MINE, Jan. 25, 2017
For Quruli’s 20th anniversary, HMV is reissuing the band’s albums on vinyl. I’ve already placed orders for TEAM ROCK and THE WORLD IS MINE. At the time, I gave Antenna a good review, but I’ve changed my mind since then. Zukan and Sayonara Stranger are also important titles to own, but they’re not priorities for me personally.
The Killers, Hot Fuss, Jan. 13, 2017
This reissue has been delayed multiple times since May 2016. What?
Duran Duran, The Wedding Album, Jan. 13, 2017
I’m still skeptical about this reissue, since it too has bounced around the release schedule for nearly a year now.
Tags: duran duran, looking ahead, quruli, renee fleming, the flaming lips, the killers, the magnetic fields