Streaming Consciously: Something in the Wudder's Top 17 Albums of 2017
Our last year-end album wrap opened with, "20SickDream has been a trying year, filled with epic levels of tragedy on all fronts".
You could probably say the same about 2017, while adding the monkey-wrench of Donald Trump as President.
On a musical level, we didn't lose as many monumental artists in 2017 as 2016.
Nor does this year's album output run as deep, or scale heights as high and often.
But there's still been a lot of both to spread around too.
Without further ado, we bring our Top 17 Albums of '17 to you:
17) Spoon-Hot Thoughts
The ninth album by venerable Austin, Texas rock band Spoon doesn't reach the peak of its best album-to-date, 2010's Transference.
Nor contain a song as achingly perfect as "Inside Out", off 2014's They Want My Soul.
But it's still a Spoon album, despite the defection of multi-instrumentalist Eric Harvey, and as such, well worth your time.
16) Chuck Berry-Chuck
I know what some of you might be thinking...is this a sentimental selection, Bomb?
And perhaps it is, but if so, only just a little.
But when one of the architects of rock and roll releases his first album of new material in nearly forty years, then passes away in March at age 90, you can bet that at number sweet-little-sixteen, I'm gonna salute the man who made Maybelline.
I dare you to claim it doesn't hold up among the 2017 big boys while it's actually playing.
He still sounded like Chuck, to the Berry end.
Rest in Power to him, as well as Fats Domino, who passed nine months later.
Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis are now Last of the OG Rock & Roll Mohicans.
15) Valerie June-The Order of Time
The album is called The Order of Time but what is so beguiling and bewitching about Memphis singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Valerie June is that you can't place what time her sound, or especially her voice, fits into.
There's a hodgepodge of musical forms present here: Appalachian folk, bluegrass, Stax-era southern soul, country-blues, gospel, even shoe-gaze rock.
Her unique vocal tone calls to mind everybody from Dolly Parton to Erykah Badu, while remaining the inimitable voice of Valerie June.
14) Joan Osborne-Songs of Bob Dylan
From my August OCNJ Daily piece reviewing her double-bill with Shawn Colvin:
"Joan Osborne is best remembered for her Grammy-winning, 1996 Top 5 Billboard pop hit, “One of Us”. What may be less known is that she’s one of the better song interpreters currently working. This reviewer had some idea, having witnessed her perform “Little Red Corvette” with Philadelphia’s The Roots at Brooklyn Academy of Music in December 1999, plus watched her reverent take on “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted” with The Funk Brothers, in 2002’s acclaimed Standing in the Shadows of Motown film documentary."
This album, a pairing of Joan's interpretations with one of my all-time favorite songwriter Bob Dylan's creations, had me at a release date.
13) Big Boi-Boomiverse
It's hard to believe that one of the greatest groups of all-time, OutKast, hasn't existed as a functioning recording/touring unit in 15 years.
In the meantime, the thought-to-be-"Batman" of the duo, Andre "3000" Benjamin, moved into fashion and acting but never released the solo LP many craved, while "Robin", Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, has gone on to record four more good-to-great solo albums.
Boomiverse, his fourth in this string, is arguably best or second-best out of that batch, after Sir Lucious Left-Foot, his first.
Thank you, Daddy Fat Sacks, for keeping your eyes on the prize and continuing to give 'Kast fans this work.
12 (tie) The Doppelgangaz-Dopp Hopp & The Underachievers-Renaissance
Rap groups seem to be a thing of the past. Rap duos, however, have (pardon the pun) undergone a renaissance in the 2010's.
Two of my favorite examples to debut in this decade, Pougkeepsie NY's Doppelgangaz and Flatbush BK's Underachievers, both returned this summer with their first full-lengths since taking 2016 off.
We decided to let these two occupy this dirty-dozen slot, just because we didn't know which one to pick over the other.
Both acts have been putting in work for awhile now. Rap fans who weren't up on either already, now might be time to discover.
The two cloaked crusaders along with this psychedelic-rap pair, respectively continue to place their brand of hip-hop in front of a dusty fun-house-mirror, while not sounding much like anyone else, including each other.
11) Japandroids-Near to the Wild Heart of Life
From my February Albumism review:
"Although they technically debuted in mid-2009, Japandroids remain the only rock band of record to arrive in this decade. If that sounds inflammatory, so be it. While music criticism is by nature subjective, that’s a lot closer to fact than any “alternative fact” trotted out during this “facts don’t matter” era. It’s both a testament to this band’s strengths, and a lament to long-gone days of rock & roll as a vibrant musical art form with contemporary cultural capital...Rock may be pushing up dirt, but sometimes this band can make it sound saved."
Japandroids' latest, Near to the Wild Heart of Life, isn't as fresh or satisfying as 2012's Celebration Rock.
But the lead single "No Known Drink or Drug" alone, along with the pounding of David Prowse's propulsive and powerful drumming, will always make these 35 minutes of punk-art-rock (even now in more polished form) worth turning on and cranking up once in awhile.
The first lady of T.D.E., the great Los Angeles collective that brought us Kendrick Lamar, hails from New Jersey.
After some stellar guest appearances, three well-received EPs and some public messiness, we finally got her full-length debut in 2017.
Ctrl, to the surprise of many, went on to become a rousing success.
It went Gold in an era where nobody buys new albums from established stars, let alone debuts.
Within two months, it was on as many year-end-best lists as almost any artist this side of Kendrick.
This has led to a bit of a backlash in some camps. The two most common complaints?
1) "She can't sing!" (or, perhaps more accurately, "SANG")
2) "She makes 'side-chick anthems'".
My counter argument(s):
1) Don't make me break out the list of folks who weren't great *singers*, yet managed to make interesting music and have distinctive voices.
2) Have you listened to the lyrics to "Saving All My Love For You" recently? Yeah, Young Bambino didn't realize that at the time either.
SZA can count this fellow LA/Wu-Tang/TDE enthusiast, Jersey native, and Drew-Barrymore-admirer at The Wudder as a fan.
9) Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett-Lotta Sea Lice
From November 3rd's special Five Spot episode of Streaming Consciously:
"I don’t know how, or when, Philly-based War On Drugs affiliate Kurt Vile and Aussie singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett linked up. Maybe it was just a game-recognize-game thing, with both of their talents sending out bat-signals from an increasingly fading indie-rock scene.
But from the moment you hear these two trading off conversational verses, on Lotta Sea Lice's opening salvo “Over Everything”, you’ll be glad they did."
The fact that this album was made by "Kurt & Courtney", is just an added bonus for us early-nineties babies.
8) Triple Nickels-Lightning Wars
One of our favorite discoveries of the year was pure serendipity, as told in one of The Wudder's best received episodes of Streaming Consciously all year, "Streaming Consciously: Mining Philly's Rap Underground for a Diamond in the Rough"
You can read more on the origin story of its discovery there, but as far as the music goes:
"This is a rap album by savvy vets the world outside Philly doesn’t really know yet.
Overseen by a producer who clearly enjoys the album, over singles, listening experience.
The kind of thing you can just start at the top and let ride."
We'd like to thank Erik "Sleep-E" Coleman for queuing this album up in the whip as we hopped inside.
Syd, fka Syd the Kid, and former DJ of Los Angeles' Odd Future collective, has come a long way in a short time.
While she used to house and record Odd Future's early work in the basement of her parents house in the early 2010's, soon she was singing, playing on and producing her own group (The Internet) while touring around the world by 2013.
Her first solo album, Fin, was recorded in late 2016 while her group was on extended break, following the success and then successive tour behind 2015's Ego Death (#14 on 2015's edition of this list).
Syd, in customary humble, soft-shoe fashion, stated while making it:
"This album is not that deep, but I feel like this is my descent into the depth I want the band to get to...For me, this is like an in-between thing — maybe get a song on the radio, maybe make some money, have some new shit to perform."
The end result may be more than her or her band bargained for, in fact it might be the best thing she's done to date.
The result feels like her music-nerd version of originals, inspired by the Aaliyah and Brandy jams she was raised on as a child.
The stripped-down results leave more than enough to love, almost like an album of songs that call to mind the vibe of Meshell Ndegeochello's cover of Ready For The World's 1986 classic "Love You Down" at the end of last decade.
For a still-only-25-year-old Syd, Fin, is certainly nowhere near the end.
“Nobody wins when the family feuds. Unless we’re talking about the Carter Clan, who’ve now generated three consecutive landmark albums, following a family squabble captured by an elevator security camera. Each initially available only on Tidal, the family streaming service. In this rare case, airing out the family businessman makes for good business, man."
"It will be, or already has been said, in the initial swarm of think-pieces immediately following 4:44’s release, that this is the first “middle age” or "dad rap" album. The first? Nah. There's a growing list of rap albums that touched on that topical terrain. But on some level, 4:44 is certainly the start of something. It could be a new template for middle-aged rap. At the very least, it should be the nouveau blueprint for Old Jay-Z."
"Just a kiss, was all there is…
How many artists occupy their own universe?
This one had me from the first line of her first verse."
"Nothing is perfect, but it’s all perfectly understood.
The pain of divorce, a theme of 2015’s Vulnicara, does still surface (“Sue Me”).
But emerging on the other side, this emotional explorer serves a higher purpose.
The aspiration is for transcendence and her efforts prove worth it."
Wudder Editor's Note: This album wouldn't have actually gotten the full five stars in this forum, but it felt necessary to award it five in there, in order to balance out a few of the other fives other reviewers there had tossed out over the course of the year ;)
One of the central members of the famed "West Coast Get Down" jazz collective from Los Angeles, Thundercat (discussed here in the "Deep In The Cut: Five Amazing Live Displays of Everlasting Bass") blessed the world with his third and best full length album to date in 2017.
It featured a variety of heavy-hitters chipping in from the world of jazz, hip-hop (Kendrick, Wiz Khalifa) and perhaps most memorably, pop/rock...who else but The Cat among these millennial music-makers is bringing Michael McDonald & Kenny Loggins back on a track!?!?
Thundercat's prior EP, The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam, came in at #8 on the Wudder year-end list in 2015.
This album felt like where it all came together, shifting into various styles, but never lingering on any one or song too long, but managing to weave a thematic and sonic arc for 50 minutes.
Tyler, The Creator-Flower Boy
Some loyal readers of The Wudder recall us already discussing this album in great detail in "Streaming Consciously: TYLER, THE CREATOR...Thru the FUTURE and the Past, ODD-ly"
There's not much more we can add except to say it hasn't fallen out of the rotation since that piece six months ago.
Meanwhile Tyler's Viceland show, Nuts + Bolts, became one of our favorite TV surprises of the summer...
...with the Converse episode leading to these Golf Le Fleu kicks, our favorite fashion pickup of Fall 2017:
On top of all that, Tyler shocked us all by showing his music could translate to NPR's Tiny Desk studio:
Tyler's definitely got a strong case for 2017 MVP.
2) Kendrick Lamar-DAMN.
Speaking of 2017 MVP's, we started telling you about Kendrick's return in Albumism with "The Heart" back in March.
"From the moment that Good Friday began in the East, to the waning seconds of Sunday evening and his climatic headlining set at Coachella out West, Kendrick Lamar (Duckworth), or “Kung Fu Kenny” now, delivered crane-kicks to the culture’s dome throughout the entire 2017 Easter weekend.
DAMN. is both this album’s title and a succinct summation of its artistry.
In between DAMN.’s release and Sunday night’s cinematic, instant-classic performance in Indio, was a tantalizing side-bar of “fake news,” speculating on a forthcoming surprise 2nd album of the weekend, which had us waiting on Kendrick like the 1st & 15th, or The Resurrection."
1) Kendrick Lamar-DAMN. (Reverse Order Collector's Edition)
Ha, didn't see that coming, did ya?!?
Or maybe you did, if you'd checked Spotify and noticed the playlist with the songs in reverse, was MK's most-played material since May.
The only album better than DAMN this year, was DAMN in reverse.
Salute to Kenny.
Honorably Mentioned Less-Lucky-7:
-Sean Price-Imperius Rex
-GoldLink-At What Cost
-Vince Staples-Big Fish Theory
Looking Back On The Sweetest Sixteen Albums of 20SickDream:
1) A Tribe Called Quest-We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
2) Chance The Rapper-Coloring Book
3) David Bowie-Blackstar
4) Anderson .Paak-Malibu
5) YG-Still Brazy
7) Bruno Mars-24K Magic
8) Kendrick Lamar: Untitled, Unmastered
9) NxWorries-Yes Lawd!
10) Schoolboy Q-The Blank Face LP
11) Kanye West-The Life of Pablo
12) Leonard Cohen-You Want It Darker
13) Childish Gambino-“Awaken, My Love”
14) Maren Morris-Hero
15) Lucinda Williams-The Ghost Of Highway 20
16) PJ Harvey-The Hope Six Demolition Project
Looking Back On Our 20 Best Albums Of 2015:
1) D’Angelo-Black Messiah
2) Earl Sweatshirt-I Don’t Go Outside, I Don’t Like Shit
3) Kendrick Lamar-To Pimp A Butterfly
4) Janet Jackson-Unbreakable
5) Snoop Dogg-Bush
6) Kamasi Washington-The Epic
7) Czarface-Every Hero Needs A Villain
8) Thundercat-The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam
9) Dr. Dre-Compton
10) Keith Richards-Crosseyed Heart
11) Jazmine Sullivan-Reality Show
14) The Internet-Ego Death
15) Rae Sremmurd-Sremm Life
16) The Weeknd-Beauty And The Madness
17) Kurt Vile-Believe I’m Going Down
18) Raekwon-Fly International Luxurious Art
19) Vince Staples-Summertime ‘06
20) Best Coast-California Nights