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MDReed.gb@gmail.com writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2017: Michael Reed

CHIRP Radio Best of 2017

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2017. Our next list is from Assistant Director of Underwriting and Sponsorship Michael Reed.

2017 was not a good year on this island Earth. Standards of decency were shattered, the threat of nuclear war once again became a plausible outcome of international relations, environmental degradation and science denial became official government policy, immigrants became outlaws, facts fell before propaganda, and the powers-at-be resumed the Bush-era project of criminalizing political dissent. Need I say more? Oh yeah, and Nazis. Nazis became a viable political force again.

One of the often parroted sentiments at the beginning of this year was “With the world going to hell, at least music will be good again.” This statement was thoroughly unpacked and flayed for its indifference towards the suffering of real people at the time, and twelve months in, it is safe to say that this statement was not only arrogant but inaccurate. Many of the hotly anticipated releases of this year, while some initially well received, with only a few months of hindsight, can be slotted somewhere between “Fine, I guess…” to “Meh” to “What were they thinking?” (Sidebar: I’m officially declaring Dead Crosses clown-show-core, trademark pending).

The high profile mediocrity did have its upside in the form of more attention paid to fantastic indie soul, dance, and rock artists, whose releases might have slipped through the cracks in a year where established music press darlings had actually delivered the goods. Even the massive wave of death and doom metal released this year saw some well-deserved mainstream buzz. Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper inexplicably made it on to the AV Club’s “Best of” list (inexplicable not because Mirror Reaper isn’t a great album [it totally is], but because the AV Club is not typically on the bleeding edge of the metal underground, good on them for digging deep)! Despite some major disappointments, there was still a lot to love about music this year, and I’m positive that many of the albums I discovered this year will be sticking with me for many years to come. These are my top LP picks for 2017.

 

#1   Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume by Integrity (Relapse)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Integrity Howling, for the Nightmare Shall ConsumeThere isn’t a band out there who is better acquainted with the idea of art as a weapon as Integrity (lead singer Dwid Hellion’s compositions are often used by the US Military in experiments in sonic and psychological warfare, much to his frustration of course). Integrity’s latest album is a meditation on human psychology and trauma and the intersection of belief. Set in a biblical apocalypse where the prophecies of the Book of Revelations have come true, sans the Rapture, it is a setting where the faithful are forced to reckon with the reality of a conflagration they had prayed for, but from which there is no salvation. In a world where the impossible has become frighteningly real and beliefs warp people’s souls beyond recognition, it’s a parable of how getting what you most desire can destroy you, presented in the form of one of the most uncompromising punk albums of the year. An epic and thought-provoking album that feels presentiment in the age of Trump and will be in heavy rotation for me for many years to come.

 

 

#2   Hiss Spun by Chelsea Wolf (Sargent House)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Chelsea Wolf Hiss SpunOn her latest LP, Wolf has crafted a ponderous, sinister, and malignantly beautiful blend of cavernous dark folk and ribcage rattling doom metal, the enchanting, cathartic impact of which cannot be understated. These maudlin melodies helped me get through the latter half of this year, and make for the perfect soundtrack as we slip into another bitter, sunless Chicago winter.

 

 

#3   Reaching For Indigo by Circuit des Yeux (Drag City)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Circuit des Yeux Reaching For IndigoI’ve felt Haley Fohr was special even before I heard a note of her music. I read an interview with her a few years back where she recounted bullying she experienced when she first started performing due to her baritone singing voice and unfeminine appearance. Instead of allowing this to deter her she recognized the pettiness that motivated her harassers and continued her work in defiance of their ignorance. Over the past decade, Fohr has emerged as a mature and peerless artist with a lush, emotionally complex, and tightly structured experimental style that points a way forward for folk music in the 21st century as well as setting the bar for indie pop higher with each release. Reaching For Indigo is a fantastic album and I’m immensely proud of the fact that Fohr continues calls this corridor of the Great Lakes region home. We need her brains and bravery more than ever these days.

 

 

#4   Toy by A Giant Dog (Merge)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

A Giant Dog ToyMost garage rockers are content writing about light or uncontroversial subject matters like partying, dating, and listening to Big Star records. A Giant Dog has always wanted more and it shows on their fourth LP Toy. The Austin band has not only written one of the more emotionally revealing albums in their catalogue [which is saying something], but also one of the more emotionally available punk albums of this year. In the words of Spoon’s Britt Daniels “[A Giant Dog] are currently writing circles around just about anyone else in rock and roll.” This would be an achievement even if Toy didn’t rock out loud, but it totally kicks out the jams, and that’s just one more reason to love this record.

 

 

#5   Brick Body Kids Still Daydream by Open Mike Eagle (Mello Music Group)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Open Mike Eagle Brick Body Kids Still DaydreamWhen I first heard Brick Body Kids, I thought it was an instant classic. Only time will tell if I was correct, but what is clear from the get-go is that this is an illuminating portrait of displacement, change, resilience, and the price of gentrification in the form of a concept album about growing up in Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes, a twenty-eight building complex, destroyed in 2007 in an ill-advised attempt at urban renewal. The jazzy beats and Mike’s buttery, inimically nimble flow help give life to the nostalgia and creative energy that permeates this album. It’s not as outright hilarious as his previous releases, but it is just as personal, witty, comfortingly low-key, and arrestingly earnest in all the ways that you’ve come to expect from Mike over the years.

 

 

#6   Known Unknowns by Billy Woods (Backwoodz Studioz)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Billy Woods Known UnknownsThis didn’t make into CHIRP’s rotation this year and we are all the poorer for it. Billy Woods is one of the most enigmatic rappers in the hip-hop underground right now. Known Unknown is a dark, metatextual, biographical, and often hilarious depiction of a modern day poet vagabond; battling expectations, prejudices, and the inertia of being a greying rapper on the road in a world that is aging poorer than he is. The samples are perfect, the execution is masterful, and it delivers track after track, play after play. Do yourself a favor and pay homage to one of the unsung heroes of the underground. Give this a spin and find out what you’ve been missing!

 

 

#7   Eroded Corridors of Unbeing by Spectral Voice (Dark Decent)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Spectral Voice Eroded Corridors of UnbeingFeaturing 3/4 of Colorado’s celebrated Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice makes good on the promise made on their 2015 demo Necrotic Doom and delivers a cavernous confluence of Lovecraftian doom and Finnish death metal on their much anticipated debut LP. The arpeggios echo from a deep cosmic void, the careening death howl vocals bully and burn like an indifferent arctic wind, and the oozing percussion ensnares and consumes hapless listeners whole. This album will rip your face off and leaving you wishing that you only had more face so that it can do it again, and again, and again. This is easily my favorite death metal album of the year and that’s saying something in a year of epic death metal releases.

 

 

#8   Face Your Fear by Curtis Harding (ANTI-)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Curtis Harding Face Your FearEvery year has a few R&B records that really nail it, and 2017 was no exception. With fantastic releases by Nick Haukim, Kelela, and Sza, 2018 really has its work cut out for it. That said, sometimes all you really want is a solid throwback and this year I found it in Curtis Harding’s Face Your Fear. Harding’s blend of psychedelia and Curtis Mayfield-style soul grabbed me in a way that more forward looking offerings of the genre didn’t manage to and I haven’t been able to put it down since.

 

 

#9   Nightmare Logic by Power Trip (Southern Lord)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Power Trip Nightmare LogicThis was one of the sleeper hits of 2017. Maybe Power Trip’s fusion of Cro-mags hardcore and Nuclear Assault thrash metal seemed a little too familiar to indie tastemakers when Nightmare Logic dropped back in March, but since then it has proven to be a revitalizing force in extreme music fandoms as well as providing the enduring, earwormy, and cathartic dose of anti-corporate, anti-war political metal that 2017 sorely needed. Mark my words, Power Trip will become latter day canon for thrash metal fans and it’s best to get on the bus now before you’re left eating their radioactive dust.

 

 

#10   Why Love Now? by Pissed Jeans (Sub Pop)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Pissed Jeans Why Love Now?The topic of toxic masculinity has driven much of the social discourse over the past year, and with good reason. While most hardcore bands have something to say on the topic, and a few at times can even embody it, no group took this particular bull by the horns in quite the same way as Pissed Jeans on Why Love Now? From facing down male privilege, drawing portraits of anemic emotional intelligence, wrestling with death denial, dredging up misogynistic undertones in indie rock, and lampooning sexual entitlement, Pissed Jeans do more than address the symptoms of a system that not only permits but encourages a man to fall short of the standards of basic human decency, and instead cuts to the foul quick of each jaundiced nail to reveal the unflattering truths that lies beneath. Paring these themes with the tightest, weightiest, and gutsiest performances of the band’s already exemplary career, make Why Love Now? a can’t-miss for socially-conscious punks and head-bangers alike.

 

Other favorites from 2017 (unranked):

Lecherous Gaze/ One Fifteen/ Tee Pee Records
Brother Ali/ All The Beauty in This Whole Life/ Rhymesayers
Exhumed/ Dead Revenge/ Relapse
The Heliocentrics/ A World of Masks/ Soundway
Woe/ Hope Attrition/ Vendetta
Primitive Man/ Caustic/ Relapse
Succumb/ Succumb/ The Flenser
Unleash The Archers/ Apex/ Napalm
Undergang/ Misantropologi/ Me Saco Un Ojo
Vince Staples/ Big Fish Theory/ Def Jam
Downtown Boys/ Cost of Living/ Sub Pop
milo/ Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?!/ Ruby Yacht
The Luyas/ Human Voicing/ Paper Bag
Code Orange/ Forever/ Roadrunner
Body Count/ Bloodlust/ Century Media
Father John Misty/ Pure Comedy/ Sub Pop
Couch Slut/ Contempt/ Gilead Media
The Obsessed/ Sacred/ Relapse
Nnamdi Ogbonnaya/ Drool/ Father Daughter
Igorrr/ Savage Sinusiod/ Metal Blade
Worriers/ Survivor Pop/ Side One Dummy
Sza/ Ctrl/ Top Dawg Entertainment

 

 

 

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2017

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