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Craig Reptile: Your Sunday Sonic Sundowner writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2017: Craig Reptile

CHIRP Radio Best of 2017

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2017. Our next list is from Assistant Music Director Craig Reptile.

2017 brought an embarrassment of excellent records to my ears, and presented the toughest choices I can remember since I started doing this for CHIRP seven years ago. Yes, there were reliably excellent releases from “old faithful” and resurgent musical acts like Antietam, Beck, The Clientele, Deerhoof, Fur Coats, Luna, The New Pornographers, Ride, Slowdive, Stars, Son Volt, and Zola Jesus, and possibly too much music from habitual overachievers like Guided By Voices, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Obnox. But the records that made the agonizing “Top Ten” cut for me were the ones that really knocked off my socks and garnered a steady diet of repeat spins in my headphones, most of which were artists that either seemed to come out of nowhere or finally fulfilled the promises of their earlier recordings. With the caveats that my predilections veer toward a new shoe event horizon, that any one of these 10 could have been ranked differently depending on my daily mood and that I didn’t hear the entirety of everything that was released this year (is such a thing possible?), my methodology went like this: I started with a list of about 60 records, winnowed that down to 40, then down to 30, and then started really sweating. I also took pains (and it was painful) to avoid looking at other “Best of 2017” assessments, in the hopes that I would avoid regurgitating critically received wisdom. Here’s hoping 2018 will be even better than 2017! Musically, I mean. Although 2018 couldn’t possibly be much worse than 2017 was in all other respects. Right?

 

#1   There Is Only Now by Secret Shine (Saint Marie)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Secret Shine There Is Only NowAlthough it originally came out in the spring, this return to form from British shoegazers garnered a re-release in December, and the Oscar-like gambit worked for me, making it the record that I most wanted to continue to NOT turn off this year. Why listen to anything else when you can just play this wonderful, woozy, loud and bruisy dream pop assemblage over and over again? Gonna commit heresy and speculate this might be better than the next My Bloody Valentine record, which is allegedly due in 2018.

 

 

#2   Infinity Maps by Panda Riot (self-released)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Panda Riot Infinity MapsReliable locals Panda Riot keep making fantastic music, and nothing has been more fantastical and entertaining end to end than their second full-length, an 18 track opus that successfully bridges the parallel universes of spacepop and dreamgaze—having seen them live a few times, there’s definitely no shoegazing happening, but there are definitely a few effects pedals involved. With Rebecca Scott’s lovely vocals soaring over the top of the guitar-drenched maelstrom crafted by partner Brian Cook, and accentuated by percussionist José Alejandro Rodríguez and Cory Osborne (of like-minded locals Lightfoils) on bass, the quartet’s compelling songs are what make them winners. Their four track Part Time Punks Live Session came out in September and provides a great introduction to the highlights of Infinity Maps, which at first blush might seem a bit intimidating.

 

 

#3   Nothing Valley by Melkbelly (Wax Nine/Carpark)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Melkbelly Nothing ValleyEvery time music from this record came up in my shuffle this year, I had to stop everything and find out “What the hell was that?” playing in my headphones. Their debut full-length is one that successfully fulfills the promise of their earlier singles and EP. Melkbelly are noisy yet tuneful, loud yet melodic, complex yet simple-- like Veruca Salt meet Bloodiest, or Yakuza meet Motorhome or something. I don’t know. Words fail me. Loud and fun, this was the record with the highest “sock removal quotient.”

 

 

#4   Here by ChanHays (Droppin' Science)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

ChanHays HereChandler Haliburton hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia and although he has a substantial hip-hop production pedigree, this is his first solo record. Solo might as well be in quotation marks, for the record is overflowing with guest rappers-- at least 40, by my colleague Mike Bennett’s count. But all of the guests bring their A-game, and with stellar turns by the likes of Pharoahe Monch, Homeboy Sandman, Erick Sermon and local legends The Cool Kids, as well as a plethora of lesser known handles that pop up, there’s not a duff cut among these seventeen tracks. While the guests might threaten to overwhelm ChanHays deft and intricate board work at times, that’s kind of the point-- he’s willing to let the rappers be the stars, much to his credit.

 

 

#5   Last Place by Grandaddy (30th Century/Columbia)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Grandaddy Last PlaceAmong many returns to form in 2017, none were more welcome than the return of Grandaddy. Jason Lytle’s solo work is all well and good, but the magical moniker of the band that originally put his dreamy melodies, wan tenor and wistful, neo-surrealist (not to say semi-magical) lyrics on record was hard to top. The group formed in 1992 in Modesto, California, released four albums and disbanded in 2006, and although Lytle started working on the record in Montana, the majority of the recording was done in Portland, and he’s since moved back to Modesto. Lyrically, “Last Place” was inspired by his divorce, but the track "I Don't Wanna Live Here Anymore," took on new resonance after founding member and bassist Kevin Garcia died on May 2 following a massive stroke. If you’re new to the cult of Grandaddy but a fan of Elliott Smith, Earlimart and Admiral Radley like I was, this record is not only a great entry point but also an excellent stand alone in their inestimable catalogue of sublime, understated pop.

 

 

#6   S/T by Rainer Maria (Polyvinyl)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Rainer Maria S/TSpeaking of being a recent convert to a band that broke up in 2006, Rainer Maria’s reunion record, cleverly titled “S/T” was a soaring, breathtaking work of female fronted emo that left me saying to myself, “Whoa, why have I not listened to this band more in the past?” With the brinkmanship of Polvo but without the math-rock noodling, with the passion of Mercy Rule and the heartfullness of Sarge but with music more akin to Poster Children, the Madison Wisconsin-born but NYC retransplanted trio rock, riff, lurch and pummel through nine exercises in crunchy, guitar-driven melody that occasionally sway off-kilter but never fail to drive forward.

 

 

#7   Turn Out the Lights by Julien Baker (Matador)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Julien Baker Turn Out the LightsRemarkable for entirely different reasons is Julien Baker’s sophomore outing. Not recommended for end to end listening unless a bottle of antidepressants is close at hand, the Nashville singer-songwriter pulls no punches in addressing her struggle to reconcile her Christianity with her homosexuality. While many folks (like me) have long since moved on in terms of resolving those allegedly irreconcilable differences, Baker clearly hasn’t, and her regrettable struggles are the listener’s gain. “Turn Out The Lights” is a uniformly gorgeous collection of meditative ballads with the sparest of accompaniments, allowing the focus to be on her sharp as a knife blade lyrics and the ache in her winsome, delicate vocals. This record is a stunner, so be prepared to be floored, and maybe leave the lights on when you listen to it, just to be on the safe side.

 

 

#8   Running Wild by Grieves (Rhymesayers)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Grieves Running WildIt’s been three years since the last album from Seattle’s Grieves, and Benjamin Laub’s fifth record comes out ten years after his independently released debut “Irreversible.” “Running Wild” isn’t perfect, but there’s enough intelligence and interesting flow on this slice of hip-hop with hints of "turned on its ear" modern R&B to make the record a fascinating listen. Highlights include the kick-off cut and travelogue “Postcards,” meditation “Faded” and the dark “RX.” The production is the real star here, providing an intricate bed to what otherwise might be somewhat slow but serviceable rap verses. “Running Wild” shimmers with invention and intensity.

 

 

#9   Dedicated To Bobby Jameson by Ariel Pink (Mexican Summer)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Ariel Pink Dedicated To Bobby JamesonAriel Pink is a genius and this is the record that finally proves it without question. He could be a different band on every track, yet it’s all Ariel Pink. While his previous work has been wildly uneven, sometimes maddeningly (and seemingly intentionally) so, this is the one that finally works from the first needle drop to the final note.

 

 

#10   If All I Was Was Black by Mavis Staples (ANTI-)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Mavis Staples If All I Was Was BlackYou can’t (and shouldn’t) call what soul singer Mavis Staples is doing nowadays a comeback. Earlier this year she scored a guest spot on the return of Gorillaz, rendering the track her own, and after dropping her second collaboration with Jeff Tweedy in early 2016, she was back (and more than black) with a new Tweedy partnership this November. Although the fellow Chicagoan has produced records for Staples before, this was the first penned beginning to end by the Wilco front-man (excepting three songs co-written by the singer). It’s a testament to Tweedy’s strong songwriting skills and (seemingly) hands-off production work that “If All I Was Was Black” comes across as all Mavis Staples. It’s also a testament to Staples, who has been making music her own since she propelled The Staple Singers to notoriety in 1956, when at the age of 13 she sang lead on their cover version of “Uncloudy Day.” This new record was timed perfectly to coincide with Chicago Public Library’s commemoration of the biography “I’ll Take You There” by Greg Kot as its One Book, One Chicago selection for 2017-2018. The album reflects Staples’s (and Tweedy’s) optimistic outlook that despite the dark times of today for minorities, there is no time for crying, we’ve got work to do, to paraphrase one of the choruses.

 

BEST REISSUES/BEST OF COLLECTIONS

1. Husker Du, Savage Young Du (Numero Group)
2. Kicking Giant, This Being the Ballad of Kicking Giant, Halo: NYC/Olympia 1989-1993 (Drawing Room)
3. Helium, Ends With And (Matador)
4. Chain & The Gang, Best of Crime Rock (In The Red)
5. "Weird Al" Yankovic, Squeeze Box (Legacy Recordings)

 

 

 

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2017

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