My Top 15 Albums of 2017


Hi! Still existing and loving my family, hope the same goes for all of you. I may be retired from all else in the music world, but the year end list is eternal.

Sample size: I have 83 albums released in 2017 at the time of writing this. Can’t promise I actually listened to all of them.

Surgeon General’s Warning: Ranking music is silly and I generally discourage it.  (But I do it once a year anyway…….)

15. Chinese Man – Shikantaza

trip hop/hip hop

Sample track: Liar

fun French hip hop/trip hop album that seems to have gotten overlooked a lot. I listened to it a ton earlier this year. It’s not something I’ll remember years down the road, but it certainly earned a spot for as much as I played it.


14. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

stoner prog

Sample track: Sanctuary

For me personally, this is probably the most unorthodox pick on my list, because it is heavily rock-centric in all the ways that typically turn me off. God but something about rock and roll has always felt absolutely soulless to me in a way that few genres can match at their worst. But Elder just do what they do so damn well that it’s impossible to hate this opus. An endless onslaught of prog ingenuity with a nice stoner rock crunch that keeps it driving from start to finish. It’s 64 straight minutes of ear candy without a dull note in the mix, and I have a world of respect for how flawlessly these guys accomplished what they set out to do.


13. Krallice – Go Be Forgotten

post-black metal

Sample track: This Forest For Which We Have Killed

Krallice are responsible for a lot of the best music to come out this decade, and in 2017 they pumped out two new ones (both painfully late into the year for a band that requires a lot of repetition to fully appreciate). While I haven’t actually read anything about either of these yet, the distinctly different styles between them have me pretty convinced that Mick Barr wrote the bulk of this one and Colin Marston took charge on the other. Go Be Forgotten gets off to a glorious start with its opening track, but the remainder has so far failed to really captivate me to the extent that most of their previous works did. It doesn’t raise the bar (or if it does, it hasn’t sunk in yet), but it’s still a fascinating exploration of highly complex soundscapes that few other artists have the technical precision to delve. And god that opening riff is sick. Krallice will be a perpetual year end contender as long they keep doing what they do.


12. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

folk rock

Sample track: When The God Of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay

I have mixed feelings about this album, and my inclination is to point out the negative; suffice to say, it’s not lacking in universal praise. It wouldn’t be on my list if I didn’t love it. The reason it’s not higher is that, as I see it, Tillman too often defaults to rather throw-away lines. That’s not inherently problematic (see: my #1 pick), but I think it clashes with the more refined, theatrical vibe of the sound around them. Simple case in point: Total Entertainment Forever kicks off with an absolutely delicious line–Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift–and follows it up with something so generic that I feel it only exists to achieve a rhyme–after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes. Sometimes gentle flaws make a work all the more endearing, but Pure Comedy goes too big and refined to get away with it for me. I feel like he aimed extraordinarily high and almost got there.


11. Tchornobog – Tchornobog

blackened death metal

Sample track: II: Hallucinatory Black Breath Of Possession (Mountain-Eye Amalgamation)

A landscape album as only blackened death metal can paint one. Tchornobog takes you on a 64 minute journey across an entirely unpleasant and stomach-turning waste of all purpose ugliness that really reflected how I’ve felt about the world this year any time I let my attention range beyond my immediate household. We’re talking death metal aesthetics here so yes, that can be a compliment. And while the visions are certainly exotic, there’s not much surrealism of the lofty, artistic sort you find on say, a Blut Aus Nord album. It’s just leaves you feeling kind of dirty. It hit a note I could appreciate while maintaining enough melody and progression to avoid succumbing to redundancy.


10. Hell – Hell

doom sludge

Sample track: Machitikos

Ridiculously heavy slow-rolled sludge that shouldn’t require any genre appreciation to crush your skull. At its peek on “Machitikos”, the quality of this album is unreal. Unfortunately I was pretty late to the ballgame, and their more ambient moments are going to take more than a sporadic month to leave a lasting impression or definitively fail to. Nowhere to move but further up the charts for this one.


9. Nokturnal Mortum – Істина

pagan metal

Sample track: Дика Вира

We’ve certainly come a long way from Knjaz Varggoth screaming hateful nonsense to crackling cassette recordings of Dollar General synth, and as endearing as Nokturnal Mortum’s early works may be, you can’t deny that he has matured (both musically and intellectually) substantially over the years. This album thoroughly lacks the trademark Eastern European folk metal execution that Knjaz inspired more than perhaps anyone else: brutally hammered folk jingles lashing out violently from beneath a wall of modern noise. Істина is a lot more even keel, to such an extent that its metal elements almost feel unnecessary at times. It fully embraces the more cerebral, orchestral sound we began to hear on Weltanschauung and leaves most else behind, achieving a new height in terms of orchestration. I do miss Knjaz’s more passionate explosions, but I don’t consider that a flaw. The real down side to the album for me stems from the studio. For all of its grand instrumental diversity, the complete package is a bit washed out. Everything feels like it’s playing in the background as a supporting element to a non-existent centerpiece. It’s something I’m certainly used to–Nokturnal Mortum have always struggled a bit on the finer finishing touches of sound production–but it’s still a fault that’s hard to ignore. An incredibly solid album that could have been even better.


8. Riivaus – Lyoden Taudein Ja Kirouksin

black metal

Sample track: Vihan Temppeli

This is probably the most unknown album on my list. It’s just straight-up black metal. No frills. No novelties. Really it’s the sort of thing I rarely listen to these days, because most great bm artists have moved on to more experimental fronts. But this is tight as fuck. The riffs are great and it’s got a nice punchy pace and a crisp tone that suits the mood perfectly. Outstanding debut from an unheard of artist. Hoping he sticks around for many years to come.


7. Thundercat – Drunk

funk/jazz

Sample track: Bus in These Streets

A tongue-in-cheek dreamfunk fantasy. Artists who can let a cheesy sound be cheesy often accidentally stumble into brilliance. This guy makes some of the goofiest sounds that funk and jazz have ever imagined somehow feel endearing. I’m also pretty impressed by how distinct his sound is. I mean, considering how radically uninformed on this sort of style I am, it kind of blew my mind that I could instantly go “this guy must have wrote the bass lines to Wesley’s Theory“. I think Drunk is an incredibly well-craft work masked behind a delicious veil of comedy. And it’s given us such eloquent 21st century mottos as “thank god for technology, because where would we be if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts?”


6. Krallice – Loüm

post-black metal

Sample track: Etemenanki

If Go Be Forgotten offered Krallice’s most deranged opening melody to date, Loüm might take the prize for their heaviest boot in the ass. Etemenanki hammers down all the brutality of a headbanger’s wet dream from the first note without budging an inch on Krallice’s classic eclectic tremolo noodling. I don’t think I’ve wanted to just open my mouth and shout “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck” to a Krallice song this bad since Inhume. As with Go Be Forgotten, there’s a serious question of whether the album as a whole is really that great or if the opening song just carries it, and that’s not to knock the rest so much as to say that by Krallice’s ridiculously high standards I think it might have some mediocrity. You can never really tell with most Krallice songs until you’ve heard them four dozen times. It’s complicated, intricate shit that your brain doesn’t instinctively unravel. My gut tells me that Loüm will keep on growing on me in a way that Go Be Forgotten may struggle to, and I was right about that with Prelapsarian’s incredibly late release last year. (Yes, it is amazing.) The only lasting down point about Loüm for me is, surprisingly, the addition of Dave Edwardson (Neurosis, Tribes of Neurot) on vocals. He does a killer job, but I am shamelessly in love with Nick McMaster’s vox and can’t help but miss them.


5. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

folk

Sample track: Crow

Phil Elverum’s wife died last year, and he wrote this album. It’s artistically significant for reasons that are pointless to explain, because I think you will either already get it or it will fundamentally conflict with whatever life coping mechanism you personally subscribe to, and both are fine. It matters to me more than other albums about death because we appear to share roughly the same world view. It isn’t my favorite album of the year because it can’t be.


4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers

post-rock

Sample track: Bosses Hang

I somehow managed to ignore the rebirth of GY!BE in spite of being entirely aware of it, and this is the first album I’ve listened to by them since Yanqui U.X.O. fifteen years ago. In the meantime, I’ve become an avid consumer of Silver Mt Zion, and after that long of a break it’s easy to forget just how different the two projects were. I’m at a loss for words to properly describe how I feel about Luciferian Towers because I have nothing remotely current and similar to compare it to. “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State” are both absolutely mind blowing, and I usually skip the first and third tracks and don’t even care. This is the greatest band in post-rock being exactly that.


3. Kendrick Lamar – Damn

hip hop

Sample track: DNA

Every time I saw this album top another year-end list, I wanted to move it further down mine. It doesn’t move me on an emotional level like To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s not Kendrick’s greatest work. Can it really be the best of 2017? But every time I revised my year-end list, it just kept moving up instead. Everything he touches has a subtle finesse to it. I love the sound of his voice. I love the way he weaves it into the instrumentation flawlessly. I love how every aspect of each song seems painstakingly tailored to suit the intended vibe. I can just really get into this from start to finish time after time with zero effort. It was my 2017 fallback the grand bulk of the times I wasn’t in the mood for something dark or heavy. This album makes me feel empowered every time I put it on with no cheap sense of escapism attached, and god did I need something like that.


2. Boris – Dear

drone/doom/psych/post-rock

Sample track: Dystopia (Vanishing Point)

Wow. This is 16th year that I’ve compiled a year-end list. For the grand majority of that time, I would have named Boris in my top 5 favorite bands if you asked me. During that time, they’ve put out 53 releases just that I have managed to acquire. And not one has earned my #1 slot. Smile came so close. So close. And now I’m saying it again. I almost feel guilty leaving Dear at #2. It was never dropping any lower. But if you’re at all familiar with it, this might sound generous. Dear is nowhere near their most well-received album. It is absolutely nowhere near their most accessible. Doom and drone at its core, it’s a slow drip grind that will leave all but the most steadfast fans bored out of their minds on first encounter. Yet I somehow managed to listen to it close to 50 freaking times. It wasn’t that I liked it at first. I kind of didn’t. But the mood was right. It hit that sweet spot between ambience and melody that made it never quite dull enough to bore inherently but never quite memorable enough to bore through familiarity. It was dark but it wasn’t morbid. It was just the right sort of fuzz to make me feel more alert without distracting me. And it was through that extremely passive but relentless pattern of listening that its finest moments slowly revealed themselves to me, raising the bar higher and higher, until now it blows my mind that a track like Dystopia (Vanishing Point) could have failed to sweep me off my feet on first encounter. It certainly manages to every time now, on take number one hundred and god knows what. This isn’t my favorite Boris album, but I suspect it’s much higher up there for me than for most fans, and after a very great deal of consideration it only failed to take the title by a fraction of a hair. Oh, I also got to watch them play it live in its entirety. 😀


1. Sun Kil Moon – Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood

Americana

Sample track: Lone Star

The grand prize goes to Sun Kil Moon. I think this might be for me what Pure Comedy has been for a lot of other people this year. It just speaks to so much I’ve been feeling in 2017 in a way I can completely relate to. Mark Kozelek takes half of the stuff I’ve been making enemies spouting all year and sets it to solid American folk music. He has a blue collar political perspective that offers no compromise for our “total fucking asshole” President but takes far more cutting hits at liberal America’s zero-attention-span reaction-click-and-move-on culture for allowing the country to fall into this state. The album is a two hours and ten minutes meandering disjointed travel through personal stories and monologues that reach all over the place, but underneath it all is a consistent love and appreciation for the bonds we share in our meager little lives, and an intense compassion for those who have permanently lost them. If he comes across as cranky, he’s just pissed at how many Americans have lost sight of this.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016

NMY vs The World Video Game Hall of Fame Class of 2015


The Strong, an educational institution in Rochester specializing in the study of games, announced the six inaugural inductees of their World Video Game Hall of Fame yesterday. So what? Well, it made its way onto a lot of major news sites, which means it is probably going to resurface again next year and, in time, become the closest we’ve got to an “official” Hall of Fame.

My gut reaction was “my what a pretentious title”, because the “World” VG HoF looks incredibly U.S.-centric. Their game history timeline pretty much completely ignores the fact that the U.S. did not control the international gaming market for the vast majority of the 20th century. I mean, this timeline is crazy. 1982, the year that the bloody Commodore 64 was released, they feature Chicago-based Midway’s Tron instead. 1986, the year that Dragon Quest set the standard for the next two decades of role-playing games, they are at such a loss to find anything novel that they dig up Reader Rabbit by Boston-based developers The Learning Company. In spite of devoting 1992 to Las Vegas-based Westwood Studios’ Dune II, LA-based Blizzard Entertainment steals 1994 with Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. Does the invention of RTS gaming really deserve two years? Well, it’s not like it was competing with the release of the Sony Playstation or anything. Oh that’s alright, we’ll feature it in 1995, since that’s when it came to America. This list also devotes 1993 to the development of the ESRB rating system (which only applies in America), 1996 to Lara Croft’s tits (seriously, does anyone actually give a shit about Tomb Raider?), and 2002 to the U.S. Army, because uh, freedom!

So yeah, World Video Game Hall of Fame my ass. But that doesn’t mean they got the first six wrong:

Pong (1972)

“Ladies and gentlemen, you have been hand selected to choose the five games which will accompany Pong into the Hall of Fame.” It had to go something like that. Pong invented gaming like Al Gore invented the internet. Could you imagine a Hall of Fame without Pong? I mean, it’s Pong! Really though, wasn’t computer gaming kind of inevitable? Was it the first game? Nope. Did it stand the test of time? Not really. Did it usher in the age of arcade gaming? I guess it did, but the game itself had little to do with that. It was a novelty. Replace it with anything else, and that other game would be just as famous, regardless of its content. I don’t like that. There is a reason why Pong is the only game of the six Hall of Famers that I never played as a kid or else upon release, and that has nothing to do with my age. I think we get hung up on its simplicity, its catchy name, this idea that it all began with two paddles and a ball, and the desire to point to something and say “this started it all”. Pong deserves recognition in any gaming hall of fame eventually, but top 6? We can do better.

NMY gives this selection a 5/10

Pac-Man (1980)

What are Pac-Man‘s claims to fame? Well, it was the first video game to be a major social phenomenon, generating a huge market for spin-offs, toys, animated cartoons, and all sorts of other consumer products. It was the first video game with a really memorable theme song. It remains the best-selling arcade game of all time. It generated a chart-topping shitty pop song. It even destroyed the gaming industry. (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has absolutely nothing on the devastating consequences of Pac-Man‘s abysmal Atari port.) And sure, it’s pretty boring, but it still lasted well into the 90s. I had a pirated DOS copy as a kid. Do you think anyone bothered to pirate Pong? Uh, no.

NMY gives this selection a 10/10

Tetris (1984)

Tetris is a game that we all agree to love because it is Russian, and like Russia, it is really evil and kind of a dick. Four Z blocks in a row? Really? I didn’t double tap that button. Go back! Ugh…. Tetris annoyed the hell out of me as a kid, but I certainly did play it. It also spawned a ton of cheap rip-offs, novel improvements, and largely unrelated block puzzle games that stole its name for publicity, and a lot of these vastly outclassed the original. If I look back on all the fun I had playing Tetris Attack for the Super Nintendo, or hosting TetriNET tournaments online in the late 90s, or the amount of time my wife wastes on Candy Crush Saga, it is hard for me to pretend that Tetris was not significant. It was the mother of all “endless puzzle” games, and it deserves credit for that, even if I hated the original Alexey Pajitnov Tetris, with its never-ending tiers of frustration.

NMY gives this selection a 9/10

Super Mario Bros (1985)

This is the real shoe-in. Nintendo was able to turn Mario into (I am assuming) the most recognizable fictional character in the world because the original Super Mario Bros was so great. A game released in 1985 is not supposed to still be this much fun 30 years later, but from novel settings and mechanics to outstanding control, this game ran the gamut of what a great side-scroller was supposed to be. This, at a time when there was very little in the way of quality competition to take inspiration from. The game’s lasting legacy is so pervasive in our culture that I would feel silly even bothering to summarize it.

NMY gives this selection a 10/10

Doom (1993)

“Why an FPS, World Video Game Hall of Fame?” Because “it also pioneered key aspects of game design and distribution that have become industry standards“, according to the official induction explanation. Design-wise, they laud it for “a game ‘engine’ that separated the game’s basic functions from other aspects such as artwork.” That might be an interesting point. I don’t know much about it, though I have to imagine that anything Doom did, Wolfenstein 3D did first. Distribution-wise, they talk about how id Software marketed downloadable expansions and encouraged multi-player, online gaming. That point fails to impress me. Doom launched in 1993, which means no games before it really had the option to market themselves in this way. “First” only counts for me if the move is innovative, not inevitable. So we are left with some sort of novel modular processing system and the fact that it was the first really successful FPS. Those are fine points. I might not like FPS games, but I can’t deny that they have had a more lasting impact than say, fighting or sports games. Placing so much weight on the play style does, however, open up the doors for a lot of why nots. Why not Diablo? Why not Dragon Quest? Why not Command & Conquer?

NMY gives this selection a 7/10

World of Warcraft (2004)

I am not entirely sure why the World Video Game Hall of Fame chose World of Warcraft, because they aren’t telling. Their write-up goes into detail on what makes MMORPGs so revolutionary, but none of it is really unique to WoW. They throw out some numbers about WoW’s player base and monthly profit, and then bam, inaugural hall of fame induction. I am probably the last person to give an accurate assessment of how World of Warcraft changed gaming, because I still actively play it, but I have to believe that its enormous popularity had a lot to do with its place in time. Coming in to the 21st century, we all knew someone who played EverQuest, and we all (all of us, right guys?) secretly wanted to abandon our real lives and nerd out in 24/7 multiplayer fantasy immersion. I never played EverQuest, however, or Final Fantasy XI for that matter, because I still had dial-up internet. World of Warcraft launched right around the time that the majority of gamers were becoming equipped to play something of its magnitude. That being said, WoW is going on 11 years now, and still going strong. I’ve never seriously considered canceling my subscription. Blizzard landed on a market ripe for the picking, but they have carefully cultivated it ever since.

NMY gives this selection an 8/10

Over all, I think the World Video Game Hall of Fame is off to a good start. Pong is the only inaugural entry I strongly disagree with, but were it missing, would people still take the organization seriously? Doom is a bit sketchy to me, because its only claim seems to be “first popular FPS”. I think GoldenEye 007 was the game to push FPS into the mainstream and really reach beyond the genre, while Blizzard clearly dominated online gaming with Diablo and Starcraft, whatever id Software happened to do “first”. Doom is a good candidate, no doubt, but I feel like it belongs in another class. It would have fit in more nicely in a 2016 school that pushed genre-standardizing games like Dragon Quest, The Legend of Zelda, Street Fighter II, and Space Invaders.

Is that what we have to look forward to in 2016? Well, based on the runners-up from 2015, maybe not. The list did include Space Invaders and The Legend of Zelda, along with worthy contenders Pokémon Red and Blue and The Oregon Trail. Beyond that, it got a bit dicey. It is hard to imagine that Angry Birds, for instance, almost made the top 6. Sonic the Hedgehog would be long forgotten if not marketed as Sega’s response to Mario, yet it was a contender. FIFA International Soccer was the only sports entry–an odd choice, given that I have never heard of it, it only came out in 1993, and Tecmo Super Bowl exists. The other options were Minecraft–a bit young yet, don’t you think?–and oddly, The Sims, which I am sure was quite fun to play and left no lasting impact on gaming whatsoever. Well, they’ve got another year to straighten things out.