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

October Music Series: Veilburner – Scorched Earth Exorcism


Well, I started out this series featuring a couple of songs I’ve been enjoying for the better part of two decades. Here is one I discovered less than a week ago. It’s not too often that music successfully creeps me out these days, but I suppose I should have known I was in for a treat when Veilburner were described to me as a bad acid trip.

Veilburner are a two-piece band out of the Philadelphia area who just released their first album last year. “Scorched Earth Exorcism” appears on their sophomore follow-up, Noumenon, released this July. (I highly recommend picking up a copy on Bandcamp if this sample track intrigues you.)

“Scorched Earth Exorcism” is a great example of this band’s unique, psychedelic mix of death and black metal. It’s some seriously twisted stuff, and nothing on the album better captures the deranged spirit of the season than the melody that takes over this song around the 4 minute mark. I’ve been watching AMC’s The Walking Dead marathon over the past few days, and I seriously had a dream about hunting zombies with this screwed up tune playing in the background. It was disturbing and awesome.

Neon Dream #2: Boris – Intro


Japan’s three-piece prodigy Boris have played every style of music in the books over the years, and they do it all well. “Intro” appears fairly early in their discography, on the 2005 reissue of Akuma No Uta. (The original 2003 release features a much shorter intro track.) If you had any question about the sort of diversity Boris brought to the table even this early on, you could look at Akuma No Uta‘s multiple album covers. One was a play on the cover art of Bryter Layter by Nick Drake. Another, Welcome to Hell by Venom.

This track also made my mix after I used it in a game. The task I set for myself when I purchased a copy of RPGMaker was to take an incongruous cyberpunk story written by a bunch of kids in the 90s and make it work. It was in pretty bad shape. Apparently being chaotic evil made you a great candidate for leadership; the CEO calling the shots was supposedly some genius who had carefully crafted his rise to power, but then he’d turn and do crafty things like scream “bwahahaha” and murder his advisers. It was the sort of nonsense only a bunch of children or Joseph McCarthy could dream up. I wanted to retain the basic progression of events–I was doing this for fun and nostalgia, after all–but the opening sequence, where the leader shoots a passenger airline out of the sky in order to sense the euphoric death rattle of hundreds of innocents burning in unison, was uh…. yeeeeah….

When I listened to “Intro” by Boris, the scene rewrote itself. The plane was suddenly slowly drifting over a scene of urban anarchy, where police stations and hospitals barely hung on behind walls of garbage and broken glass. Casinos and brothels lit up the night sky. The pilot commits a minor breach in security protocol while requesting permission to land, and a culture of paranoia spirals the situation out of control. Ultimately, a general authorizes force with a hint of satisfaction, and the plane explodes. Wata’s high pitched, siren-like guitar seems to simulate ambulances rushing to the scene. Boris set the tone for how I would rewrite the entire script. The foreboding, dystopian vibe of this instrumental song was powerful enough alone to create a setting I couldn’t handle with graphics and dialogue at my disposal.

Review: Hail Spirit Noir – Pneuma


Do you know how many albums I’ve reviewed in 2012 so far? One. Comparing that to 2011, when I had pumped out well over 40 by this point in the year, you might say I am a bit behind. It was somewhat inevitable this year, with my video game music project taking up the grand bulk of my free time, but it’s not too late to catch up where I can.

And why not start with the obscure? Hail Spirit Noir is a band from Thessalonika, Greece. The person who introduced me to this album described it as “progressive psychedelic black metal”, which I don’t necessarily agree with but should certainly uh… pique your curiosity.

Mountain of Horror

My apologies for this video. I wanted to include the opening track, and the only copy of it on youtube commits the double idiocy of presenting a fake music video and cutting off the last 30 seconds of the song. While it actually syncs up with the music quite nicely, I have no reason to believe it is anything but a fan project, and it should be duly ignored.

I think there is a general bias among metal fans to label anything black which possesses the slightest traces of the sub-genre. To call Pneuma black metal is a bit of a stretch. The elements of black metal it incorporates are all on the fringe of the genre, and at the end of the day it is far too broad to place any single label on. What you get in “Mountain of Horror” is a combination of that “black and roll” vibe that Peste Noire perfected on Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor, a heavy dose of 70s prog keyboards, and a progressive black break that falls firmly within the sort of sound Ephel Duath pioneered–more avantgarde than “progressive black” in the sense that recent Enslaved and Ihsahn might call to mind.

Against the Curse, We Dream

And what do you know, another fake music video. Oh well. What you might start to notice as this album progresses is a semblance of stylistic consistency underlining the disorganized madness. Black and roll meets traditional black metal meets psychedelic/70s prog meets avantgarde doodling, mouthful though it may be, is definitely the order of the day.

The Peste Noire vibe is definitely the selling point for me, and in Against the Curse, We Dream it syncs up particularly nicely with the prog synth. The Ephel Duath-esque avantgarde bits leave a lot to be desired, but really, when does avantgarde music ever not leave a lot to be desired? Its presence is at least relatively minimal in the broad range of Pneuma’s sounds. The disorganized nature of the songs is also not particularly problematic, in so far as a standard rock beat sustains to hold the vast majority of it together.

The only thing that kills it a bit for me is the lack of dynamics. From the most break-neck blast beats to the calmest, coolest prog grooves, the album maintains pretty much the exact same level of intensity. It is very much even keel from start to finish. That is more a vice of prog music, which Hail Spirit Noir ultimately choose to place above the metal side of their sound. Much like practically all prog that I have encountered prior to the past ten years, it never opts to overwhelm, feeling relatively dispassionate at the moments where intensity is in highest demand. Consider the staccato break at 5:34 in this video, and how much it could benefit from the level of tension System of a Down applied to similar passages in their early albums. The aggression which follows is somewhat lost to the vibe-killer that the previous passage did not necessarily need to invoke. The avantgarde outro is a disappointing end to a relatively creative song that, enjoyable though it may be, fails to move me to the extent that I feel like it ought to have. This is, of course, to place some unfair stipulations on the band; that the overall atmosphere isn’t what I would have chosen doesn’t mean it fails to capture the vibe Hail Spirit Noir were aiming for.

Haire Pneuma Skoteino

The closing song, Haire Pneuma Skoteino, is by far the most accessible song on the album, and I was pretty surprised by how well I remembered it, having only heard the song one time before, when I first picked up the album half a year ago. I suppose a poppy, catchy outro track is well in keeping with Hail Spirit Noir’s consistent inconsistencies.

At the end of the day, I have mixed feelings about Pneuma. It falls victim to being the first new release I’ve listened to in the better part of a year, and I’m no doubt being a lot more critical than I would have been this time last year, but I just feel like the execution leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand, it is definitely an impressive and well-informed debut from a band on an obscure label from a country not exactly famous for its metal scene, and the shortcomings I hear suggest I am instinctively holding them to a much higher standard than I would other bands with similar backgrounds. Pneuma isn’t an album I’m likely to revisit, but it has convinced me that this band is a world of potential. I’ll be keeping an eye out for their future releases.

Review: Boris – Attention Please


I like to think of Attention Please as Boris’s main release for the year. If the other two are really good, this one’s something closer to brilliant. Typically when Boris release a “normal” album–something composed of distinct tracks, not a concept piece–there’s always a few tracks that fail to do much for me. Even Akuma No Uta and Smile had their down time. Attention Please does not. Every single track is wonderful. It’s also got the least in common of their 2011 works with anything they’ve released before, which, if you know Boris, is a sure sign that you’re in for something good.

Attention Please

The album is a melting pot of laid back songs like the opening track, dreamy shoegaze, and a sort of dirty pop sound that probably finds precedence in genres I’ve never explored. No matter which they’re tapping into at a given moment, they do it well. But it might be kind of pointless for me to just heap endless praise on this. If you’re already a fan of Boris then all you need to know is it’s really good. If you’re unfamiliar with them, then you’re hearing this all in a completely different state of mind than me. Let me give you a little background.


Boris – Track 3 off Vein, 2006

This is also Boris.

Party Boy

So you have to understand, half the fun of the album is hearing what they’re going to do next, and being astonished by how well they pull it off. Maybe this isn’t the best dance electro pop whateverthehell out there, I wouldn’t even know. It’s the fact that Boris is doing it that makes it so remarkable. At least to a point. I mean, a lot of these songs are still excellent by any standard.

Spoon

So enjoy it for its own sake, but also enjoy it because it is Boris. I think that’s all I have to say. Sorry if this isn’t really a “review” of the album. I’m too much of an infatuated fanboy to do much more than drool when I think about it. New Album has its ups and downs, and Heavy Rocks 2011 is somewhat inaccessible, but Attention Please is among their very best. Yeah, I said that about their 4-volume EP series and split with Torche in 2009. Yeah, I said that about Smile in 2008, and pretty much everything dating back to Flood, when I first heard them. But hell, why not. I hope I can keep saying it for years to come.

I’ll leave you with my favorite track off the album, which is kind of an unusual selection you might say, but calms me down in a way no band really has since Sigur Rós released ( ).

See You Next Week