7 Sleep Well Beast The National
An album that’s nothing less than a return to form for the band. The National are a well-known New York-based post-rock band (up Interpol’s alley), known best for their two magnificent albums Crocodile and Boxer. So the story goes, a group of friends from Ohio moved to New York for careers in advertising, said “fuck this” after a decade or so, and so the band was born. The ballads are middle-class and melancholy, elegant and suave yet confessional, and presented with sincerity. This album pairs nicely with good wine.
6 Drunk Thundercat
Known for his collaborations with Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington, and his stint as bassist of Suicidal Tendencies, Thundercat attained recognition after featuring on Kendrick Lamar’s seminal To Pimp a Butterfly.
With a delightful sense of humor and a mind-melting sense of funk, Drunk is the breakthrough album to end breakthrough albums. For those who might need extra convincing, evidence of his virtuosity is readily apparent in a fantastic Tiny Desk Concert for NPR. All aboard the Thundercat hype train, my dudes.
5 Mr. Finish Line Vulfpeck
It seems Vulfpeck, the apparent musician’s musicians, can do no wrong. This latest effort is a festival of funk, featuring one of the best bassists working today and a collection of multi-instrumentalist virtuosos. The group met at the University of Michigan’s music school, and has been steadily building steam since their 2011 debut. Always tight, always going somewhere wonky, and always clearly delighting in the music they’re making, Vulfpeck put up a strong showing with Mr. Finish Line. Wonderful sounds and rhythms abound - give it a spin.
4 Elektrak Shobaleader One
Readers may know Squarepusher for a drum and bass career that spans back to the mid-90s. The London-based electronic artist is not limited to electronica, however. This album features what feels very much like a jazz fusion quartet playing his compositions. And man do they nail it. Cop E8 Boogie - one of the most satisfying bass licks (performed by Squarepusher himself) I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. This album (recorded live in concert), to pardon the pun, hits every note for me.
3 A Crow Looked At Me Mount Eerie
This album is a wonderful, but incredibly painful listen. Singer-songwriter Phil Elverum is fresh off the tragic death of his wife Geneviève, who passed earlier this year. This album is essentially Elverum’s nauseatingly present outburst of emotion about the topic. The compositions are skeletal and mostly acoustic; the lyrics are packed with pathos, from blunt references to the time past since her death to “I brought a chair from home / I’m leaving it on the hill / Facing west and north / And I poured out your ashes on it / I guess so you can watch the sunset / But the truth is I don’t think of the dust as you / You are the sunset.” Every song on this album is brutally sad, deeply moving, and otherwise intense and engaging. And yet, a better audible memorial to Geneviève is inconceivable.
2 Relatives in Descent Protomartyr
Protomartyr deliver solid, progressive Rust Belt post-punk, with an artistic streak all of their own. Ambling, janky guitar lines are tracked over plodding drums and a dragging bassline, while singer Joe Casey lays down pure poetry with a deep, exhausted, wonderfully enticing voice. Their latest effort is an excitingly experimental step into a unique sound. Seething and desolate when downtempo, and fully punk rock when up, the hot streak that started with Agent Intellect continues onto Relatives in Descent. Fuck Paramore, this is what punk in 2017 sounds like.
1 Crack-Up Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes are a folk band from the state of Washington with a knack for rootsy, reverberating compositions. Their sophomore effort, 2011’s Helplessness Blues, was an instant classic; then they immediately went on hiatus. Their comeback, Crack-Up, delivers in spades. The lush vocal harmonies are now accompanied by experimental song structure, dense lyricism, and a vibrant instrumental palette - from flitting pianos, to off-kilter woodwind sections, to soaring violins, which come together phenomenally in perfectly-crafted orchestrations.This is a glimmering masterpiece that shouldn’t be missed.