My Favorite Albums of 2017

A year-end list is a fool’s errand. The mere fact that I feel compelled to do one for public consumption is to give myself a level of self-importance which is completely unjustified.  And you may notice I call my list “favorite” instead of “best”. I believe that music is ultimately too subjective to call something best although the irony of being the guy to scoldingly tell you each season who was best on American Idol is not lost on me.

But what constitutes “favorite”? What I listened to the most? (Yes) What I waited for the longest? (Yes) What was better than expected? (Yes) What was unique? (Yes) What was by somebody I already really like? (Yes) What absolutely blew my mind? (Yes)

Foolish. Self-indulgent. Subjectively Subjective. My Favorite Music of 2017.

Rag‘n’Bone Man Human At the end of 2016, Rag‘n’Bone Man (Rory Graham) won the prestigious Brit Critics’ Choice Award[1] given to the British artist predicted to make the biggest impact on music in the coming year.[2] Their confidence was justified. In 2017, he won the Brit Award for British Breakthrough Act and the BBC Album of the Year. Human was the fastest selling debut album by a male artist in the current decade – yes, outselling the debuts by Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith.

This is simple – dude can sing. Powerful. Impassioned. Controlled. Gritty. Full of so much soul. A “righteous roar” according to one reviewer. As to the music, it’s a blend of soul, gospel, blues, hip-hop and pop. As to me, I am obsessed with him.

Evanescence Synthesis This is an album of songs chosen from their catalogue (plus two new ones including Hi-Lo with My Girl Lindsey Stirling) and remade with classical orchestration augmented with touches of electronica. These reimagined songs are so good, I may never be fully satisfied listening to the original (and personally beloved) versions.

Bruises Dia Frampton The first word that came to mind when trying to describe this album is “gorgeous”. With co-production by film composer Dan Heath (who has also worked with Lana Del Rey), Bruises’ expansive, cinematic backdrops are a perfect complement to Dia’s sweetly fragile voice, acute self-awareness and emotionally vulnerable lyrics.

Jessie Ware Glasshouse and Paloma Faith The Architect These albums are two of a kind. They are both popular, #1 charting artists in the U.K. These are the third albums for each and they represent continued growth over their excellent earlier work (“the Jessie Ware album I’ve been waiting for”, per my daughter Cassandra). Both are throwback artists, not in the sense of replicating past eras but instead making R&B of the past 50 years sound current. Paloma casts a wider net than Jessie who is more rooted in the 80s and 90s “quiet storm” style songs whereas Paloma also channels 50s girl group, 60s Motown and 70s disco. Jessie has the more sumptuous voice – so, so smooth – while Paloma has a broader – and more uniquely, distinctive palette of vocal tones. The best thing about both of these albums is that there is so much subtle goodness that each time you listen, you hear something you hadn’t noticed before.

Niia I Is she soul? R&B? Jazz? Pop? Who cares. Her silky, slinky, sensual voice is hypnotic.

Jamar Rogers Lazarus Finally. I have been waiting for an album from him since his disappointing early exit from Idol in 2009[3] and his semi-final finish on Season 2 of The Voice in 2012[4]. Until Lazarus, I’ve had to make do with randomly released singles or his guest vocals on other artists’ songs. Jamar has a lush, soulful, muscular voice and he’s created an exquisitely produced album that is something I experience rather than just listen to.

Royal Blood How Did We Get So Dark? None other than Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page is a huge fan of their bombastic, bruising, punch-to-the-solar-plexus-until-you-can’t-breathe sound. Recommended minimum listening volume is 11.

PVRIS (“Paris”) All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell PVRIS avoided the sophomore slump after their standout 2014 breakthrough album White Noise. AWKHAWNH is moody, atmospheric, genre-bending rock driven by Lynn Gunn’s urgent, intense, searing and soaring voice. Billboard had this as their #8 Rock album of the year.

Vita and the Woolf Tunnels A darker, more brooding, more gothic version of Florence + the Machine. They are a new keyboard/drums electro-rock duo that made waves at SXSW 2016. Their music has a cinematic quality and Jen Pague’s voice is powerful and exhilarating. Tunnels was one of my favorite faves of the year. Here is a sampler of the whole album:

EPs

R.Lum.R (“Ar-Lamar”) Afterimage At the forefront of what’s happening in electronic-influenced modern R&B, he’s been named an artist to watch by Rolling Stone and NPR, and made Billboard’s 15 Best R&B albums of 2017.

Maggie Rogers Alaska She’s become the “It” Girl after the viral video of Pharrell trying desperately to keep his cool while listening to her NYU music school project (Google it). Maggie’s getting the kind of media attention, commercial endorsements and record label promotion that suggests she’s on her way to stardom. With the quirky catchiness of her music and hippie persona, she reminds me of a young Joni Mitchell.

The War and Treaty Down to the River Lawd. Have. Mercy. The War and Treaty is a married couple singing Americana music that must come from some spot in America where urban meets rural, country meets soul, Saturday night secular meets Sunday morning sacred and Appalachia meets the Mississippi Delta. A recent review of a show said this: “Eyes popped wide. Mouths dropped to chins, arms raised skyward, and voices clamored in the midst of a miracle.”[5] Exactly my reaction the first time I heard the title song Down by the River.

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[1] The Brit Awards are the equivalent to our Grammys.

[2] Adele was the first winner followed by Florence + The Machine and Ellie Goulding. Sam Smith won in 2014.

[3] Outrageously wasn’t selected by the judges for the final 36 coming out of Hollywood.

[4] Kept of the Finale because of the rule – since changed – preventing a coach having both finalists.

[5] http://www.heraldcourier.com/community/the-war-and-treaty-let-their-music-take-you-up/article_65cd30da-d549-11e7-bea0-3f0d706c5c01.html

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