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Mike Nikolich writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2017: Mike Nikolich

CHIRP Radio Best of 2017

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2017. Our next list is from DJ (Fridays noon-3 pm) Mike Nikolich.

My favorite albums of 2017 began with a list of more than 100 titles, which I winnowed down, based on music I reviewed, played and received requests for during my CHIRP shifts. The biggest question I ask myself for any of these titles is, “Will I be playing this music 10 years from now?” The answer is a resounding YES for these 10 fabulous artists. In alpha order, I present my favorite albums of 2017.

 

Party by Aldous Harding (4AD)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Aldous Harding PartyAldous Harding sings “Imaging My Man” at the Empty Bottle

Stunning sophomore album from acclaimed New Zealand singer/songwriter. I had the chance to catch Harding at the Empty Bottle last May, and she performed these songs as beautifully live as she did in the studio. Recorded by award-winning producer John Parish, Party features musical contributions from Parish, as well as Mike Hadreas (Perfume Genius), who contributes vocals to “Imaging My Man” and closer “Swell Does the Skull.” The sound is sparse, personal and utterly mesmerizing.

 

 

SpiderBeetleBee by Bill MacKay & Ryley Walker (Drag City)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Bill MacKay & Ryley Walker SpiderBeetleBeeBill MacKay and Ryley Walker perform “Dragonfly” at Constellation

Looking for a great change of pace when you shuffle songs? Acoustic finger-picking guitar virtuosos MacKay and Walker deliver eight gorgeous, instrumental folk songs that feature Ryan Jewell on percussion. My wife Susan and daughter Jessica had the privilege of witnessing this album played live at Constellation, and my appreciation for this recording and the dexterity of these two master musicians grew exponentially. I played the grooves off “The Grand Old Trout,” “I Heard Them Singing” and “Dragonfly,” on my show, often using these tracks to bridge seamlessly from one style of music to another.

 

 

Utopia by Björk (One Little Indian)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Björk UtopiaBjörk’s ninth LP is a challenging, but satisfying listen. Clocking in at 71 minutes and 38 seconds, Utopia is the longest of her studio albums. Co-produced by Arca (aka Alejandro Ghersi), a Venezuelan-born, London-based electronic artist and producer (who also collaborated on her last LP, Vulnicura), the LP’s 14 airy and lush tracks feature Björk’s adventurous vocals and sparse instrumentation. Tracks like “Blissing Me,” “The Gate,” and “Body Memory,” sound more like vocal chamber music, replacing traditional instruments with sound effects, birdcalls, growls and wordless choirs. You may wonder where the drums, synthesizers and beats are, because many songs on Utopia are closer in structure to Gregorian chants than contemporary music. But Bjork is no ordinary artist, which is what makes this LP so special.

 

 

What Goes Up by Chicago Afrobeat Project (self-released)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Chicago Afrobeat Project What Goes UpThis world music ensemble combines Afro-Cuban, funk, hip hop, jazz, jùjú, rock and Afrobeat, the musical style of Nigerian superstar Fela Kuti. The group began in 2002 in a loft at 657 W. Lake Street and is occasionally accompanied live by African dancers from Chicago’s Muntu Dance Theatre, as well as Ayodele Drum & Dance. On What Goes Up, the band is joined by Kuti’s 77-year-old Nigerian drummer, Tony Allen, who Brian Eno once described as “perhaps the greatest drummer in the world.” The LP is a joyous affair that is loaded with infectious songs by great vocalists like JC Brooks, Kiara Lanier, Legit (Chance the Rapper) and Oranmiyan Ajagundade. Standout tracks include “Cut The Infection,” “I No Know” and “Must Come Down,” which I play regularly on my shift.

 

 

Don't Give Up On Love by Don Bryant (Fat Possum)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Don Bryant Don't Give Up On LoveA love letter from 74-year-old Memphis soul legend Don Bryant to Ann Peebles, his wife of 43 years, Don’t Give up On Love is his first new album in decades. The LP kicks off with “A Nickel and a Nail,” a soulful vamp, before Bryant goes all Wilson Pickett on “Something About You.” My favorite tracks are “I Got to Know,” which features horns and a great doo-wop chorus, and “It Was Jealousy,” a slower, soulful number that begs you to turn down the lights, flip on the mirror ball and dance cheek-to-cheek with someone special.

 

 

Momentum by GBH (Hellcat)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

GBH MomentumGBH, also known as Charged GBH, is an English street punk band that has been banging around since 1978. Led by vocalist Colin “Col” Abrahall and guitarist Colin “Jock” Blyth, the quartet is considered one of the pioneers of street punk (often nicknamed “UK82”), a working class-based genre of punk, which took shape in the early 1980s, partly as a rebellion against the perceived artistic pretentions of the first wave of British punk. Although the boys are well past 50, they still rock like teenage punks. Momentum features 12 pile-driving, rip-roaring tracks, each song virtually indistinguishable from the next, with gruff vocals and kicking guitar solos. This LP didn’t even make the CHIRP rotation, but it made mine!

 

 

Feel Your Feeling Fool! by The Regrettes (Warner Brothers)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

The Regrettes Feel Your Feeling Fool!Teenage punk quartet from LA is led by foul-mouthed vocalist Lyndia Night, guitarist Genessa Gariano, bassist Sage Chavis and drum Maxx Morando. Sounding at times like a cross between Joan Jett and Phil Spector-produced girl bands like the Ronettes, the band combines doo-wop vocals with sneering, urgent power pop and delivered a killer set at Riotfest last fall. While many of their songs violate FCC standards for airplay, they still will sound mighty good on your stereo. Favorites include “Hey Now,” I “Don’t Like You” and “You Won’t Do,” but the track I couldn’t stop playing is “A Living Human Girl,” a modern take on a teenage girl coming of age.

 

 

Boy in a Well by The Yawpers (Bloodshot)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

The Yawpers Boy in a WellNate Cook and the Yawpers delivered a stirring version of "Mon Dieu" at Hideout

This talented Denver trio features two acoustic guitar players and drummer, yet their sound is anything but folk. After playing the grooves off rockers like “Armistice Day,” “A Decision is Made” and “Mon Dieu,” on CHIRP, I was lucky enough to catch the band performing the entire album this fall at The Hideout. Lead vocalist/guitarist Nate Cook literally foamed at the mouth that evening, screaming out his vocals as he swilled down gulps of Jameson scotch whiskey, while lead guitarist Jesse Parmet delivered one stinging solo after another. The album’s lyrics are based on a story Cook and his father wrote about a French woman who abandoned her son in a well during WWI. Author/illustrator JD Wilkes created a graphic novel of the story and designed the cover art of the LP, which ranges from rockabilly rave-ups to Springsteen’s Nebraska-era folk. There isn’t a weak cut in this Tommy Stinson-produced LP that was recorded in Chicago.

 

 

American Consciousness by Vices (self-released)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Vices American ConsciousnessElmhurst punks Sam Sage (guitars, vocals and bass) and Shawn Wilson (drums and vocals) mix hard rock, rowdy pop and noise, delivering solid musicianship and nasally vocals that should translate well to live performances. “Lucky” sets the tone, effortlessly shifting from punk to noise, while “On the Surface,” the album’s longest track, provides plenty of opportunities for the lads to solo. My favorite track is “Compass,” a catchy, hook-filled rocker that is clearly influenced by Green Day and Blink 182. This was the first LP I reviewed in 2017 and I never stopped playing it.

 

 

Stop Mute Defeat by White Hills (Thrill Jockey)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

White Hills Stop Mute DefeatNew York City-based experimental band fronted by Dave W. (guitar and vocals) and Ego Sensation (bass and vocals) delivers a tour de force of industrial-charged sonic candy mixed by Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Brian Eno and Afrika Bamabaata). Highlights include “A Trick of the Mind,” with swirling guitars, pounding beats and Dave W’s electronically-enhanced vocals, and the title track, which features Ego Sensation’s chirpy vocals over a pulsating, electronic beat. But the song I keep playing is “Attack Mode,” an aggressive, industrial track with sinewy guitar and Dave W’s clinched vocals.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Alex Lipinsky, Alex (A Recordings)
Animal Youth, Animal (Weyrd Son)
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice (Matador)
LADAMA, LADAMA (Six Degrees)
Matt Wilson, Honey and Salt (Palmetto)
Oumou Sangaré, Mogoya (Nø Format!)
Surabhi Ensemble, Surahbi (Ensemble of Ragas)
Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet, Ladilikan (World Circuit)
Vieux Farka Touré, Samba (Six Degrees)

 

 

 

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2017

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