Albums of 2017, the Half-way Point

Okay, it is July, and in about 5 months I will be winding up another year of music.  It is time for the mid-year rundown of what I have found so far: the stuff that is good, the stuff that is not so good, the stuff that should be good but fails, and this year a list of the stuff I missed from previous years.

My music discovery process derives from all manner of sources: recommendations from friends, blurbs from various websites/review sites, accidents, and for the first time *cough*Spotify*cough*, via its weekly Discovery list, which does deliver up some interesting and unusual suggestions, especially given that I do not much stream, so its analysis of my tastes is necessarily limited.

Every year I seem to run a theme – some genre or style of music that tends to dominate my listening.  I’m not really sure why that is or how it happens.  Last year it was largely industrial electronica and ethnic-based post-rock; this year is Old Fogey Year – discovering the music of well-established outfits I heretofore ignored because I thought I didn’t like them.  It seems the older I get, the less of a music snob I become.  That is probably a good thing.

So here is the list of contenders so far, in reverse order of interest, with a brief capsule review. You may notice a certain…theme to some of the album titles.  Naturally, this order is subject to revision at any time.  And I will just note: So far my albums of 2017 were released long before 2017.  I just found them this year.

The 2017 Releases that Made It

13. Red Bowling Ball – Alongside the Traveller. Nice smooth French blues rock. There are a lot of very melodic moments, but it maybe gets a bit samey after a few songs.

12. Eclipse – Monumentum. Highly competent, albeit formulaic melodic hard rock from Sweden, a bit variable in quality, but when they are on, they are very on.  Nice thing is that the tracks are relatively short and do not outstay their welcome.  There are some excellent rockers on this album.

11. Nathan Gray Collective – When the Darkness Takes Us. At some point in his life, Nathan Gray lost his faith in God and it made him very very angry. The result is this earnestly over-the-top exegesis of loss and betrayal, spat out over dense electronics and thudding rhythms and piano ballads.  It is an interesting album but…okay Nathan, we get it.

10. Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark? Speaking of short and sweet, the bass/drum pop-rock duo is back, with their brief, dense songs. I do have an inexplicable fondness for these guys.

9. Glass Apple Bonzai – In the Dark. The Toronto native returns with upbeat industrial electronica themed around Satanism, evil, and dark magic. It is accessible, good-natured, maybe not a philosophical tour-de-force, but damn that guy can sing! And there are two or three really great, poppy EDM tracks here.

8. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar. The eclectic Norwegians return with yet another stylistic swerve in the form of a rather accessible dark industrial album. These guys are a favourite of many of my friends, but most of what they have done so far has never stuck with me.  This album is not going to change that.  It is pretty good, and surely has some compelling moments, but it just doesn’t grab me.  Overall…it seems like it is trying too hard.

7. Public Enemy – Nothing is Quick in the Desert. Well, what can I say. I snagged the album while it was free, as a celebration of the outfit’s 30th anniversary; after liking Body Count so much I figured I had nothing to lose.  And…I like it.  There are all kinds of interesting things going on in this album. I do not listen to hip hop as a rule, but as the man said — there are only two kinds of music: good music, and the other kind.  No reason for hip hop to be exempt.

6. Metallica – Hard-Wired to Self Destruct. So here is one of those bands, around forever, that I never paid attention to. Back when I was a prog snob (yes, I was one of those people, and I’m sorry for it), hard rock or metal wasn’t a thing to listen to.  Most of what I heard I never much liked anyway.  But I do like this, it is good heavy rock to pass the time.  Of course one isn’t going to be driven into deep contemplation of it, and it is no Master of Puppets (but then what is?), but the old pros deliver.  The collection of tracks on the first cd seems a bit stronger than the second.

5. Tuber – Out of the Blue. The instrumental post-metal outfit from Greece returns with a nice EP, heavy and reliable, nice melodies and their signature dense bass-driven sound.

4. Body Count – Bloodlust. I knew Ice-T had done musical stuff, and I remember the controversy over “Cop Killer”. But somehow the existence of Body Count just never registered.  But damn, this is fine stuff.  Heavy and unapologetically political — the politics of race and poverty laid out in rap-meets-merciless-head-banging metal.

3. While She Sleeps – You Are We. Face-melting metalcore from England.  Delivered with vigor and violence, with a good solid grip on melody; they do remind me some of early Linkin Park though, especially in the vocal style.

2. Heart Attack – The Resilience. Now we’re talking. Heavy melodic thrash metal from France, this is very very good stuff.  Switching between clean and growl vocals, almost every track is an addictive head-banger.

1. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand. As with Katatonia last year, so with Mastodon this year. Apart from this being the first album I have heard from these guys (again, a band I knew of but never investigated), it was a very slow grower.  I didn’t really think much of it the first few times I played it, but there were a couple of tracks I kept coming back to.  And then one day I realized how good an album this really is.  Good enough to take the Interim Number One spot.


The Stuff I Should Have Known About Earlier But Didn’t Department.

4. Nordic Union – Nordic Union (2016): this is Eclipse, but with a better singer. The same melodic hard rock but Ronnie Atkins’ (Pretty Maids) monster voice elevates it above the Eclipse album; and hell…”Hypocrisy” is just a great, hugely energetic rock song. I hope they do more stuff together.

3. Legend – Fearless (2012) An ambient industrial outfit from Iceland, rich, eerie music, dark and compelling (thank you, Spotify. Never thought I would say such a thing). Apparently a new album is coming out this year, which I am really looking forward to.

2. Pretty Maids: Motherland (2013), Louder than Ever (2014), Kingmaker (2016 – review here) and especially Pandemonium (2010 – No. 2 album of the year so far). Guys who have been around since the dawn of the 80s and have 16 albums, these four albums feature a new producer who transformed their sound into monster heavy hard rock, really allowing the songwriting and performances to shine. I. Love. These. Guys!!!  (Thank you Dareczku!) Here is the live version of “Pandemonium”, which just kicks mother f**king ass so hard!

1. Noise Unit – Drill (1996) and various other things.  Noise Unit is a classic EBM/industrial duo out of Vancouver, who set the bar very high for this genre.  The guys have also worked with other groundbreaking acts such as Front Line Assembly.  Drill is an absolutely spectacular album, by far the best album I have heard this year.  Relentless, addictive, intricate and sophisticated, I just cannot stop playing it. It is my No. 1 album for 2017.

The Unlikely to Make It Department

Horisont – About Time. Interesting stoner/psych/blues rock, better when the singer doesn’t sing. It sits right on the border of making the cut, but that will depend on how many albums I decide to feature this year, and what else is going to be released.

Amarok – Hunt.  Well, I suppose if you want some pleasant, unobtrusive background noodling … but in terms of interest, nope.  Except for the song “Idyll”, because Mariusz Duda’s voice can elevate damned near anything to listenable status.

Steven Wilson —To the Bone.  So far 4 songs have been released from the album, and of the four, perhaps only “Pariah” has some merit, mostly because of Ninet Tayeb.  The rest are … well, not even good pop songs.  We shall find out what the rest of the album sounds like in due time, but I fear that it may not accomplish what he intends (assuming he intends not to alienate his fan base).