1. Depeche Mode - Spirit
If you didn’t know I’d have Depeche Mode as my #1 album of the year, you haven’t been paying attention. The few people I’ve talked to about this record don’t like it. Having been a pretty vocal fanboy of Depeche Mode for ages now, I find most of those that say they like Depeche Mode mostly mean they like the album Violator, and compare everything else the band does to that record. Violator is amazing, don’t get me wrong. But no two DM records sound like each other. There has always been a consistent evolution between albums, themes, inspirations, even types of equipment used (this new record is predominately based on blues guitar riffs, and sounds Martin came up with via his new, expansive, collection of modular synthesizers). If anything, this record is Delta Machine 2.0 + a heavy inspiration from recent world events. Parts of it took a bit longer for me to initially grasp than I expected, but I happily enjoy the entire album. (My one critique is, their cover of Bowie’s “Heroes” isn’t on the album; it’s not even on the expanded addition.)
Highlights: Going Backwards, Where’s The Revolution?, The Worst Crime
2. The Mountain Goats - Goths
The Mountain Goats have become one of those “shut up and take my money” bands. Meaning, I don’t need to hear the album in advance; I just buy it whenever a new Mountain Goats thing is released. This album is no exception, and it’s equally as worthy of praise as their others. (“The Sunset Tree” is still my all-time favorite, but this is a close 2nd or 3rd. Sidebar: if you include the cassettes, I’m floored at how prolific of a songwriter John is. Second sidebar: I REALLY want to listen to his episode of the WTF Podcast, but the website makes it a giant pain to pay for just ONE episode, and the copy on YouTube isn’t complete. Help?)
Highlights: We Do It Different On The West Coast, Rain In Soho, Unicorn Tolerance
3. Slowdive - s/t
Slowdive is this great combination of not just lush shoe-gazer songs, but pop sensibilities to give their albums more pop sensibilities than a lot of other bands in this genre. (Anyone remember the SF band Loquat? The production on this record reminds me of Loquat in places.)
Highlights: Slomo, Sugar For The Pill
4. DJ Shadow - the Mountain Will Fall
(Technically this came out in late 2016 but I don’t care.) Over the last year-ish I’ve been really getting into electronic music. Not just the synth stuff ala Depeche Mode and Erasure (which I’ve adored since junior high). But the other stuff too: ambient electronic, DJs, experimental things, industrial, noise records, various instrumentals and so on. Especially of interest has been people like DJ Shadow that can take samples and turn them into something new. The guys that “make beats” are sometimes interesting, but folks like DJ Shadow and RJD2 take it to an entirely new, fascinating, level. I want to start a new music project in 2018 that mostly consists of me trying to rip off DJ Shadow (and failing). Who wants to help?
Highlights: The Mountain Will Fall, Bergschrund, Suicide Pact
5. Butch Walker - Stay Gold
The title track is worth the money alone, even if just for the Outsiders reference. (I haven't heard his new holiday album yet.)
Highlights: Stay Gold, East Coast Girl, Can We Just Not Talk About Last Night
6. Black Map - In Droves
I’m bias. Members of Far, Dredge, and The Trophy Fire formed a group. It’s super melodic and heavy at the same time; not overly dark or metal. It’s all the heavy guitar tons of Far and pop melodies of Far and Dredge and Trophy Fire, with more straight ahead arrangements of everything from those bands. (Chris Robyn is arguably one of the best drummers in rock (and a super nice guy). I wish this band weren’t SO good, but that’s for purely selfish reasons — Chris was going to play drums on my next record, but now that Black Map are so busy, I don’t think I can schedule time with him.)
Highlights: Indoor Kid, Run Rabbit Run
7. Quicksand -Interiors
There is a new Quicksand album!!! It’s 2017 and there is a new Quicksand album! It sounds pretty much like you’d expect, with maybe slightly more melodic bits than the earlier records. And a few tiny instrumental-ambient things. That all makes sense, given the other projects Walter has done over the last 20-ish years since we last got a Quicksand album. (Really I’m just glad it doesn’t sound like that gawd-awful space-hippy-jam thing he’s doing now in his other band.)
Highlights: Illuminant, Hyperion, Under The Screw, Sick Mind
8. Meshuggah - The Violent Sleep of Reason
If you don’t like Meshuggah, you won’t like this record. If you like Meshuggah, you will REALLY like this record.
Highlights: Ivory Tower, MonstroCity, Clockworks
9. In Flames - Battles
The only other In Flames fan I talk to regularly does not like this record. It’s definitely more produced in spots, and feels like they -might- have been trying to “write some hits” in a few places. My feelings on that come and go; mostly I’m enjoying this record. If you really like Def Leppard and Iron Maiden, maybe start with this one and work backwards. For everybody else, start with “Soundtrack to Your Escape”.
Highlights: Drained, The End
10. John K Samson - Winter Wheat
Technically this came out in late 2016 but I didn't pick it up until this year. It's essentially a Weakerthans album, maybe a tad mellower. It even includes the latest chapter in the life of Virtue The Cat — I’ve never cared about an imaginary cat as much as I do Virtue. Proof that John can write a song that tugs on your heartstrings with the best of them. Buy this record if for no other reason than, the world needs the song "Select All Delete" to be played everywhere and often, especially these days.
Highlights: Select All Delete, Virtue At Rest
11. Jeremy Enigk - Ghosts
I might like this record best of all the Jeremy Enigk solo records, and yes that includes “Return Of The Frog Queen” and no I don’t care what the emo-hipster-crowd things of that. Jeremy gets better with each album. (Though can we PLEASE get one more Sunny Day Real Estate reunion tour?!)
Highlights: Light And Shadow, Sacred Fire,
12. Bash & Pop - Anything Could Happen
Bash & Pop is Tommy Stinson from The Replacements and his other band. Wait, he also played bass in Guns N Roses for a while — his other-other band? Anyway. This is essentially what a Replacements record would sound like if Tommy sang everything instead of Paul. With, dare I say, an even heavier Alex Chilton influence in spots?
Highlights: Not This Time, On The Rocks
Honorable mentions (because picking just 12 is TOO HARD):
Primus - The Desaturating Seven
Primus made an album that’s inspired by the children’s book “The Rainbow Goblins” that Les Claypool read to his kids. And it sounds EXACTLY like that.
Ogikubo Station - s/t EP
The ONLY reason I made this an honorable mention and didn’t put it in the top 10 is because it’s an EP, not a full-length. Ogikubo Station is the latest project from Mike Park; he’s joined by Maura Weaver, who I know nothing about, other than her voice works really well on these songs with Mike (she’s played in some other bands that I really need look up). It sounds a lot like Mike’s last few solo albums, with him duetting on each track. We get the expected combinations of songs about racism, making the world a better place, and finding your way through the world. The world needs more Mike Park music than ever before. Keep fighting the good fight, sir.
Brand New - Science Fiction
This record is great. Jesse's personal issues (to put it mildly) left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people, understandably. But the other 3 members of the band still deserve some credit for recording such a great record. I couldn't bring myself to rank the album in the top 10, but removing it entirely seemed wrong too. Hence the honorable mention. (I'm open to offline discussions with anyone about these topics, and would be open to recording them for a podcast as well.)
I haven't heard the entire new album yet (is it available?) but the 2 tracks on iTunes are as gorgeous as expected. The Loved reuniting and recording new music is one of the best things to happen this year in any capacity.
Kill the Precedent - Some Version of the Truth
Another that I’m putting in the “honorable mentions” list solely because it’s basically an EP (7 songs). I freakin’ love this band — they are Sacto’s own version of Ministry, with tiny bits of humour mixed in.
Ghost BC - Popestar
Another “technically released in late 2016”, and it’s a short EP consisting mostly of covers, so it only gets honorable mention. But their version of “Missionary Man” is worth the price all by itself. One of the best covers I’ve heard in ages. (Full disclosure: I’m kind of obsessed with Ghost BC.)
Sigma - “Find Me” (featuring Birdy)
“Find Me” is just a song, not even an EP (to my knowledge). It’s supposedly coming out on a full-length later, but I haven’t found legit info on that (yet). It’s a dance song, which is a genre I often dismiss pretty quickly. A couple of months ago I started watching Andrew Huang videos on YouTube. He’s this musician that us super prolific and posts YouTube videos of not only his songs, but tons of behind-the-scenes footage of him creating sample packs, working with new gear, trying out microphones, and so on. It’s fascinating. A while back Andrew posted a video talking about his favorite song of the last year, which was “Find Me”. The rest of the video was Andrew breaking down WHY this dance songs is better than the others, and not just in vague “because I like it” terms. He got into the music theory behind the chord structures; he talked in detail on the arrangement and songs structure; he went over when harmonic content is added to the track. All things that the music-theory-engineer-studio-nerd in me found fascinating. And ya know what? He’s right.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - “Rings of Saturn”
They released an entire album this year and it’s good, but really the highlight is this song, “Rings of Saturn”. I just keep playing it over and over — this is easily one of the best songs to be released all year. The version they performed on Stephen Colbert’s show brought tears to my eyes.
Dahlia Fiend - Beautiful People In Ugly Places
Sherman Baker's new project, which is way more electronic based than his previous singer-songwriter acoustic-ish records. This album is one of several reasons that I'm going to be recording a ton of electronic music in 2018. Thanks for the inspiration, sir.
(Where did I put my copy of the new Horseneck album?! Gah!)