Listen to “Ozarks at Large”
Listen to Fayetteville Flyer contributor Kevin Kinder discuss these albums and hear clips from many of them courtesy of a discussion with Kyle Kellams of KUAF 91.3 FM. The segment can be heard during the Dec. 26 edition of “Ozarks at Large,” which airs at noon and again at 7 p.m. You can also listen online.
I would like to talk to you about your Top 10 list of favorite albums from 2017. I need you to know that your list is right. Absolutely perfect. Mine is right, too, at least for me. These are the albums that spoke to me, that I played enough to sing along with, that I went to the record store to buy the limited edition, specially colored vinyl of. Some great albums are not on this list, and I know my genre biases. What can I say – I like what I like. I hope you found some music to enjoy this year as well.
10. Wolf Parade, “Cry Cry Cry”
Released: Oct. 6
I thought my chances to enjoy new Wolf Parade music was over. After an excellent 2010 album, the British Columbia rockers disappeared, and at least one of the group members released a solo album. It certainly looked like the end. Until “Cry Cry Cry” showed up in late October after a series of gigs last summer. It’s remarkable for being exactly what you expect – Wolf Parade, in fine form.
9. Mount Eerie, “A Crow Looked at Me”
Released: March 24
If there is a theme to my Top 10 list, it might be sadness. Existential sadness, sadness from political fatigue, sadness from personal struggles, always sadness. (I’m okay, thanks. I do like sad songs, and there were plenty of them this year…) The saddest song of them all might be any of those collected on “A Crow Looked at Me” by Mount Eerie. The album documents the death of lead singer Phil Elverum’s wife, Genevieve. The songs deal with the death head on, in a way that’s so raw and gut-wrenching that you wonder if Elverum is okay or will ever be (and who can blame him if he isn’t?). This is an all-consuming, powerful and powerfully sad album.
8. Aimee Mann, “Mental Illness”
Released: March 31
I don’t know Aimee Mann’s full catalog. I understood why people liked her, but she just wasn’t an artist I spent much time listening to in the past. When her newest, “Mental Illness,” was released in late March, my fiancée put it on, then again. It crept into my existence, and I started playing it often, too. That’s the best kind of discovery – an album you never anticipated liking subsequently sticking with you for the entire year. Mann describes it as her “saddest, slowest” album, and that’s saying something. But it never plods or panders. It’s a smart record written by a veteran – one I maybe should have spent more time listening to in the past.
7. Bully, “Losing”
Released: Oct. 20
If you revived the grunge era, and used Gwen Stefani to front The Smashing Pumpkins instead of her ska band, you’d land somewhere close to Nashville rockers Bully. Their disc “Losing” is bliss, bolstered by the punk rock roar of lead singer Alicia Bognanno as a persistent driving force.
6. Phoebe Bridgers, “Stranger in the Alps”
Released: Sept. 17
This could be the record of the year based on the title’s obscure, winking reference to cult classic movie “The Big Lebowski.” But there aren’t many jokes on this album, and sad songs like “Funeral” may send you reeling. It’s still excellent. This is Bridgers’ debut, but she shows depth in the vein of peers such as Julien Baker and Angel Olsen. This is a sad album with sharp ideas and a lot of promise for the future.
5. Mavis Staples, “If All I Was Was Black”
Released: Nov. 17
After almost seven decades in the spotlight, Mavis Staples deserves any kind of rest she desires. But she’s not taking it. Not only is she working to stay topical and important when bands like U2 try the same and fail, Staples (with the help of her friend Jeff Tweedy of Wilco) make one of the most compelling protest albums of a year. But more than a protest, it’s a call to action. “There’s work to do,” she tells us in the song called “No Time for Crying.” I’m glad she’s still working.
4. The War on Drugs, “A Deeper Understanding”
Released: Aug. 27
“A Deeper Understanding” finds War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel doing his 1980’s Bruce Springsteen impersonation. The songs resonate and the alternating piano and guitar leads show off the chops of Granduciel and his musical partners. A rock and roll album through and through, and one I listened to more than almost any other this year, always with a new layer of my own understanding of the record.
3. The National, “Sleep Well Beast”
Released: Sept. 8
The National too have made a political record. Probably. A cryptic spoken word segment is purportedly from former Bush-era advisor Karl Rove, although that’s in some dispute. But The National’s brooding sound is further drug through the pallor of our hyper-political existence. This is The National’s most guitar-heavy record, and it stretches them into unfamiliar territory, but not too unfamiliar.
2. Sylvan Esso, “What Now”
Released: April 28
There are sly jokes all over Slyvan Esso’s sophomore record. The album’s title, “What Now,” attempts to tackle what a band who had a buzzed-over debut album should do to meet the pressure they created for themselves. And songs like the radio-friendly number “Radio” is about being a “slave to the radio,” not a fawning homage. The electro-pop duo’s lyrics and smart songwriting shine throughout the murk and make for a compelling listen dotted with discoveries.
1. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, “The Nashville Sound”
Released: June 16
Jason Isbell has spent the last few years and albums writing songs about himself, and brilliantly so. “The Nashville Sound” is a more outward, wide-ranging look at things but still harkens back to his muscular Americana roots. “If We Were Vampires” is a top-flight love song, and songs like “White Man’s World” look current events right in the eye. This batch of songs will challenge and move you.
Honorable mentions: Waxahatchee, “Out of the Storm”; Protomartyr, “Relatives in Descent”; Julien Baker, “Turn Out the Lights”; St. Vincent, “Masseduction,”; Justin Townes Earle, “Kids in the Street”