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Mike Bennett writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2017: Mike Bennett

CHIRP Radio Best of 2017

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2017. Our next list is from DJ and Board Member Emeritus Mike Bennett.

Another year full of swell music. Once again, I listened to at least 150 2017 albums full through at least once. This was a great year for modern R & B, in particular. My list is based only on albums that I own (yes, I'm one of the few people on Earth who still buys music), so I know there are great things that would be on this list, had I spent the time with them. Like that Alvvays album, for example. And I ended up punting on the Run The Jewels album -- it was physically released earlier this year, but they leaked it late in 2016. It's my number one between 2016 & 2017 release, I suppose.


#1   Résistance by Songhoy Blues (Fat Possum)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Songhoy Blues RésistanceThis quartet from Mali perfected its blend of funk, rock, Afro-pop, and, yes, blues on this sophomore effort. The band locks in right away, cooking up some excellent grooves. Unlike a lot of African music, Songhoy Blues keeps the songs concise, packing loads of energy into relatively small packages. While sometimes the virtue of Afropop is letting things unfold over time, this band attacks each song so thoroughly, playing with such obvious joy. MVP honors go to guitarist Garba Touré, who does the work of two or three guitarists on most tracks.



#2   Goodnight Rhonda Lee by Nicole Atkins (Single Lock)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Nicole Atkins Goodnight Rhonda LeeI didn’t think Atkins could ever equal (let alone top) her superb debut album, Neptune City. But on her fourth LP, she focuses more than ever on showcasing her amazing pipes, while adding country and R & B styled songs to her repertoire, and showing a mastery of those genres. And there’s still room for the torch songs that are her raison d’etre. This isn’t what people usually think of when the term ‘Americana’ is bandied about, but she really hits many forms of classic American music here and excels.



#3   The Underside of Power by Algiers (Matador)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Algiers The Underside of PowerThis sort-of-Atlanta-based trio melds so many styles into something distinctive and effective. The blend of gospel, and electronics, and rock, with lyrics addressing social concerns and soaring vocals was inspiring and perfect for the cluster-you-know-what that is 2017. In some respects, they remind me of Young Fathers, but Young Fathers doesn’t have singer like Franklin James Fisher.



#4   Masseduction by St. Vincent (Loma Vista)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

St. Vincent MasseductionI suppose that popmeister Jack Antonoff, who seemed to produce half of the big female fronted pop records of 2017, had some effect on the songwriting and hooks on this album. But Anne Clark is too original to simply go pop. Whatever concessions are made to contemporary radio here do nothing to conceal the quirks that help define (but don’t wholly define) Clark’s music. This is still arty, but where there are big hooks, they probably come through a bit clearer than on prior efforts. Even with less guitar than I would have liked, this was another St. Vincent triumph.



#5   Freedom Highway by Rhiannon Giddens (Nonesuch)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Rhiannon Giddens Freedom HighwayThe problems that folks are facing now, particularly persons of color, aren’t, for the most part, that new. Thus, Giddens is able to address them by taking inspiration from traditional music of the past (like The Staples Singers song that is the title cut here) and put together a mix of passionate songs that have one foot in the past and one in the now. Her songwriting meets the standards of the covers here, and she even dabbles in some hip-hop flavored R & B. Her singing is fantastic, as always.



#6   Take Me Apart by Kelela (Warp)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Kelela Take Me ApartFans of electro-R & B have been waiting for Kelela to release a proper album since her 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me announced her as a major talent. While there was a possibility that artists like FKA twigs and The Weeknd could have rendered her irrelevant, Kelela delivers the goods on this icy, soulful, and sensual collection. Similar to twigs, Kelela dispenses with lyrical pretense, offering direct words sung with passion that enliven the cool and memorable backing tracks.



#7   Hippopotamus by Sparks (BMG)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Sparks HippopotamusNot counting Sparks’ collaboration with Franz Ferdinand on the 2015 FFS album, Ron and Russell Mael hadn’t put out a proper pop album since 2008. But FFS reinvigorated the Maels' pop instincts, and led to this album, which finds them picking and choosing from the various styles they’ve played over the years, and coming up with something that doesn’t merely revive the past. That’s partly due to the Maels' aching need to make catchy pop music that deals with subjects that subvert their chances of achieving popularity. The second side is weaker than the first, but there are seven or eight Grade A songs here, which ranks this among the year’s best.



#8   Ash by Ibeyi (XL)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Ibeyi AshOn this album, produced by XL head Richard Russell, the Diaz twins up the ante. The contrast between the minimal electronic backing tracks and their soulful folk music vocals is more striking than on the debut. Moreover, Lisa Kainde Diaz’s songwriting has moved up to another level -- the melodies are stronger, the choruses more memorable, and she never overwrites. Everything is tight and lean and so striking.



#9   The Hanged Man by Ted Leo (SuperEgo)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Ted Leo The Hanged ManFor his first solo album, Ted Leo gets more personal than ever. He also isn’t married to playing with The Pharmacists, so he makes some choices in what instruments to play, the arrangements, and other areas, that give this a different vibe than prior releases. The influence of his work with Aimee Mann in The Both is felt. But this isn’t Ted Leo subdued so much as Ted finding new frequencies to play with. And he still knocks off some rockers that could have come off any prior Ted Leo and the Pharmacists record.



#10   Cut-Ups by SAVAK (Ernest Jenning Record Co.)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

SAVAK Cut-UpsThere are certain bands (and records) that just scream college radio to me. Records where the band is going for something catchy and memorable, but in no way affiliated with any notion of pop. Even better, these bands, such as Big Dipper, Hypnolovewheel, The Sames, and others I’m forgetting now, have some roots in post-punk, giving the music a tension that pays off when it's released by an awesome chorus. SAVAK, comprised of vets of a slew of indie rock bands, are now part of this group of groups, with four guys who play together so well as a unit, particularly specializing in fantastic interplay between the guitarists, and terrific, intelligent songs.


The next 10:

11. SZA - CTRL (RCA)
12. Temples - Volcano (Fat Possum)
13. Sampha - Process (Young Turks)
14. Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent (Domino)
15. Rose Elinor Dougall - Stellular (Vermillion)
16. Syd - Fin (Columbia)
17. Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory (Def Jam)
18. The New Pornographers - White Out Conditions (Concord)
19. Ibibio Sound Machine - Uyai (Merge)
20. Ambrose Akinmusire - A Rift in the Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note)




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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2017

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