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Austin B. Harvey presents: The Liquid Diet writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2017: Austin B. Harvey

CHIRP Radio Best of 2017

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2017. Our next list is from Assistant Music Director/DJ/Softball Team Manager Austin B. Harvey.

A lot happened this year. I probably missed some things. We’ll do better next year.


#1   Lost World by Star Tropics (Shelflife/Fastcut)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Star Tropics Lost WorldAfter two singles released over the last four years, the Chicago band’s full potential blooms on their debut. Hearkening to The Smiths’ best work, Another Sunny Day, Cocteau Twins, and Literature, Star Tropics craft an album full of catchy melodies, lush guitar sounds, and delightfully shy boy-girl vocal lines. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, except for the fact that I’ve been waiting for an album like this one, something that sounds like a happy, shy Stone Roses album, since my teenage years.



#2   Drunk by Thundercat (Brainfeeder)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Thundercat DrunkStephen Bruner’s third full-length combines his six-string jazz bass virtuoso stylings with the pop, R&B, and hip-hop songwriting expertise he’s picked up from the all-star cast of collaborators he’s worked with in the intervening four years since his last album. The result is everything from leftfield alternative soul (“Captain Stupido”) to a post-ironic ode to yacht rock (“Show You the Way”), featuring two of the kings of the bygone era in full voice, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. Thundercat’s grasp on the hyperreal maelstrom of social media and the news cycle fits perfectly with a synth-backed, woozy haze.



#3   Rest by Charlotte Gainsbourg (Because)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Charlotte Gainsbourg RestThe British-French actor/singer’s latest is a mournful trip through her own brand of European pop. Kraut-y disco, ballads, and fractured yé-yé all get their on this moving, beautiful collection of heartbreak and sorrow. Gainsbourg’s whispered sprechgesang takes turns with her affect-free sung choruses, creating French pop that takes the blueprint of her father and goes futuristic.



#4   Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples (ARTium)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Vince Staples Big Fish TheoryFrom the start, BFT aims to be the most distinctive of 2017’s best hip-hop albums. Leadoff track “Crabs in a Bucket” sports a beat that owes as much to Burial and Four Tet as it does to modern hip-hop’s most forward-thinking producers. London dubstep, Detroit techno, and even Chicago house all can be heard in the club-influenced sound of Staples’ second album. Vince’s rhymes are as incisive, brutal, and sharp as ever, as he quickly cements his status as one of the best rappers in the game.



#5   Black Origami by Jlin (Planet Mu)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Jlin Black OrigamiGary, IN producer Jerrilynn Patton doesn’t make music to soothe or reassure. Her melodic, abrasive, beat-driven attacks subvert time signature and the typical song structures of just about any popular music genre. Jlin’s second album ups the ante from 2015’s Dark Energy, taking her foreboding, beautifully horrific take on footwork to greater heights. She’s one of the most forward-thinking musicians in modern music, and hearing her versions get further realized is a joy to behold.



#6   The Violent Tapes by Mazes (Sanzimat International)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Mazes The Violent TapesThe formerly-Chicago musical project headed by Charles D’Autremont elocated to Buenos Aires, and, with help from local musicians and fellow original Maze Edward Anderson, created a less-hectic, more-focused third full-length that sounds less like a collection of lovingly-collection ramshackle demos, and more like a fully-realized statement of breezy, off-kilter songs. “Det Är Lugnt” is especially revelatory in its chord progression.



#7   Music for the Age of Miracles by The Clientele (Merge)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

The Clientele Music for the Age of MiraclesThe London band gets a little less psychedelic and a little more chamber-pop, with horns, strings, and synths augmenting Alasdair MacLean’s electric and classic guitar stylings. When the entire mix is working cohesively, as it does mere seconds into opening track “The Neighbour”, or with a little more time on “Everything You See Tonight Is Different from Itself”, the result is pure wonder.



#8   Slowdive by Slowdive (Dead Oceans)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Slowdive SlowdiveThere have been more than a few great bands who leave the game with an experimental record that confuses and alienates much of their fanbase. Fewer of those bands got back together with anything resembling fuel in the tank. Slowdive prove everyone wrong with the best shoegaze record of the year in a year full of them.



#9   St. Mojo by Sweet Spirit (Nine Mile)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Sweet Spirit St. MojoSabrina Ellis, the Austin, TX singer whose electric presence fronts both A Giant Dog and this self-proclaimed “freak parade”, turns into rock’s answer to Sally Bowles with her impassioned, theatrical performances. “Pamela” is the finest ode to a former Baywatch star that you’ll ever hear, and “Salvation” might be the best glam-rock song released this decade. Multiple stellar live shows in Chicago this year may have helped push this still-wonderful collection of soul-inflected jams into my top ten.



#10   GN / Infinity Maps by Ratboys / Panda Riot (tie) (Topshelf / self-released)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Ratboys / Panda Riot (tie) GN / Infinity MapsYes, a tie. Yes, it's a copout. Anyway, for Ratboys, the Chicago duo of Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan teased bits of their new record all the way back in January at a small show where they debuted lead single “Elvis Is in the Freezer”, a humorously honest tale of a beloved pet whose burial had to wait until after the ground thawed, and “Peter the Wild Boy”, a remarkably moving remembrance of a feral child found in the 18th century. I remembered thinking then that the new record would be phenomenal. I wasn’t wrong. Ratboys make a younger, fresher sort of alt-country (or post-country, as they call it) that recalls and builds upon albums like Being There and No Depression, creating a sound that’s more fuzz than punk. Steiner’s lyrics are personal in nature and universal in sentiment. I came back to this one again and again. As for Panda Riot, these Chicago shoegazers hit the sweet spot with nods to A Sunny Day in Glasgow, The Pains of Being Pure Heart, and even some early Pumpkins (the good songs, don’t worry). Shimmery, summer-y songs for cold days.


Honorable Mentions

12. The Afghan Whigs - In Spades (Sub Pop) The Cincinnati crew’s second album of their comeback marries the noir-y tendencies of Black Love with the melodic soul of 1965. Greg Dulli is still at his sleazy best.

13. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 3 (Run the Jewels, Inc.) El-P and Killer Mike come back again with their most focused and singular effort. Zack de la Rocha’s guest turn on the final track had me yelling.

14. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys - Rot (What’s Your Rupture?) Sydney band with a name that’ll get you laughed out of most record stores answer the question of what it would sound like if The Replacements were fronted by Bob Pollard. Windows-down music.

15. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Luciferian Towers (Constellation) Uniting the drone sounds honed ever since their return to recorded music at the beginning of this decade with a metallic heaviness brought in by guitarist Mike Moya, GY!BE for the first time in ages sound… hopeful? The last minute of the album is one of the best in music this year.

16. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me (P.W. Elverum & Sun) I thought about quoting one of many of the lines from this stunningly matter-of-fact album revolving around Phil Elverum’s grief at the passing of Geneviève Castrée, his wife, but I would have ended up quoting the whole thing. Many albums talk about death and moving on. None are this honest.

17. Japanese Breakfast - Soft Sounds from Another Planet (Dead Oceans) A sci-fi fantasy concept album about falling in love with a robot. Lead single “Machinist” is a neo-disco love song with vocoder, autotune, and a sax outro. It’s incredible.

18. Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now (Secretly Canadian) The Swedish troubabour’s latest tackles toxic masculinity, memory, and disco samples all with equal aplomb. Lekman’s assuredness with his lack of self-assurnace is his most endearing and reliable songwriting trait. Oh, and “How We Met, the Long Version” is the best song of the year.

19. Kelela - Take Me Apart (Warp) Defiantly alive R&B jams that still cram a ton of hummable melodies into a melange of synth sounds and beats that are more IDM than straight-up bangers.

20. Priests - Nothing Feels Natural (Sister Polygon) Punk and post-punk are forced to be partners in a three-legged race. This DC band’s full-length debut captures their sweat-soaked basement shows from days of yore.

21. Broken Social Scene - Hug of Thunder (City Slang/Arts & Crafts) The Toronto collective and indie-rock signpost make up for the title of this album by it being another worthy member of the BSS canon. Bonus track “Old Dead Young” bangs especially hard.

22. Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference EP (Young Turks) When the choir comes in on the final track, “Truth”, you will probably see your supreme being of choice. Jazz with an eye on the epic, with synths and strings.

23. Sleaford Mods - ENGLiSH TAPAS (Rough Trade) Sleaford Mods are the only punks worth your time that could possibly get network television time on either side of the Atlantic.

24. Kweku Collins - grey (Closed Sessions) The Evanston rapper combines a ton of wide-ranging influences (casiocore, dubstep, emo rap, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to start) into a moving, effective mini-album.

25. Alvvays - Antisocialites (Polyvinyl) Canadian twee-poppers don’t have a chorus that soars quite as high as “Archie, Marry Me” but they get near there about a half-dozen times, especially on “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)”.

26. Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie - Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie (Atlantic) With Stevie Nicks touring, Fleetwood Mac’s other two primary songwriters give us the best Fleetwood Mac-adjacent album since Tango in the Night. John McVie and Mick Fleetwood also participate. McVie’s voice and Buckingham’s production ear are a perfect pairing.

27. CCFX - CCFX EP (DFA) “The One to Wait” cribs the beat from the “Tom’s Diner” remix and turns it into an uplifting, 6-minute adult contemporary anthem. The other three songs are fun, too.

28. Converge - The Dusk in Us (Epitaph) Nine albums in, and the Boston metalcore legends show no signs of letting up. In a bad mood? Chill out to this.

29. SZA - CTRL (Top Dawg) A definitive R&B treatise on the trials and tribulations of love, friendship, and romance in the social media age.

30. Do Make Say Think - Stubborn Persistent Illusions (Constellation) This Toronto band that shares members with Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Broken Social Scene uncork their first in eight years, and it’s like Menomena had twice as many members but did only instrumental music.

31. Moses Sumney - Aromanticism (ANTI-) A collection beaten-down but not-yet-broken collection of quiet, bedroom not-love songs. For the Sunday morning after a one-night stand.

32. Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens (Smalltown Supersound) The former History of Apple Pie singer-guitarist trades shoegaze-inflected post-grunge for a soaring, atmospheric sort of IDM. The result is endlessly-unfolding and enrapturing.

33. Rainer Maria - S/T (Polyvinyl) An emo album that manages to leave hyper-nasal vocals and hourly existential crises at the door. It thumps, too.

34. Sheer Mag - Need to Feel Your Love (Wilsuns) If AC/DC had The Strokes’ AM radio-ready production, and Tina Halladay instead of Axl Rose singing lead, it would sound like this. Each copy of the album comes with a free cut.

35. Jay-Z - 4:44 (Roc Nation) “The Story of O.J.” is an experimental track with a Nina Simone sample, but it’s also a killer single. Shawn Carter makes a solo album that keeps up with the times for the first time in a decade.

36. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch) Sinister Berlin techno-house from one of the masters of the genre. Criminally slept-on this year.

37. Crash City Saints - Are You Free? (Saint Marie) Adding a '90s midwestern rock vibe to by-the-numbers shoegaze might seem like a strange recipe for success, but this pairing makes for a nourishing listen for this Kalamazoo band.

38. Spoon - Hot Thoughts (Matador) The Austin band are still remarkably consistent. The title track slaps, and the tension just builds from there.

39. The Courtneys - II (Flying Nun) You’re doing something right when you’re the first non-Kiwi act to get signed to Flying Nun. The Courtneys are.

40. St. Vincent - MASSEDUCTION (Loma Vista) Annie Clark is ready for her closeup, but she’s going to make you squirm through every frame of it.




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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2017

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