The Best Albums of 2017 (So Far) You May Have Missed
There are still a few months of great music waiting for us, but we have five of the best albums of 2017 (so far) you may have missed.
Hello, DBP friends. For September I’m taking a sabbatical to warmer and more congested locales, and as exciting as that is, I’m also bummed because September will be one of the best months for new releases this year so far. By the numbers, here are the albums you may have missed what I would tell you to listen to if the bandwidth allowed for it.
- Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson
- Bicep – Bicep
- Hercules & Love Affair – Omnion
- The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Always Foreign
- Prawn – Run
The Bicep and Hercules & Love Affair albums are out – so get on those ASAP. The other three have yet to be released, but based on some early track releases for all three, I’m 99.9-percent positive they will be worth your time.
So in lieu of not being able to predict the future and give you full reviews, we’ve decided to do a mid-year recap of some of our favorite albums from earlier in the year you may not have heard of. You won’t find Kendrick Lamar’s Damn or the new LCD Soundsystem on here. Both are well worth your time, of course, but this list is a little more offbeat.
If you haven’t listened to them yet, here’s a reminder to check them out. I’ll be back in October with more reviews and banter.
Arto Lindsay’s music is often spoken of in terms of its dichotomy and that’s a fair call; few artists can say that their music has been covered by experimental bands like Beauty Pill as well as appearing in episodes of Sex and the City.
If you know the story of Arto Lindsay, then I don’t need to tell you that he’s the son of missionaries who spent his formative years in the midst of Brazil’s Tropicália movement, and later went on to front the early 80s no wave pioneers DNA before becoming a successful solo artist and producer. So, apologies for rehashing what is one of the more interesting musical back stories out there, but Arto’s story matters because it informs his music. Knowing these things means not having to wonder why he sings half of his songs in Portuguese or why he feels the need to slice across some of his more beautiful numbers with what some might call “noise.”
Cuidado Madame is Arto’s first album in twelve years and a welcome return if you happen to enjoy distilled Brazilian beats and idiosyncratic melodies (and “noise”). One minute it can be soothing and the next it breaks apart and challenges your patience. That being said, it’s rarely boring. The song “Su Pai” has Arto singing a soft melody to a nylon string guitar as electric flourishes percolate in the background. Right after that, there’s the track “Arto vs. Arto” where it sounds like a bass guitar is crawling up from a shallow grave only to meet the distorted vocals that tried to kill it in the first place. But “Arto vs. Arto” feels like a short experimental afterthought in the grand scheme of things.
I’d rather talk about songs like “Ilha dos Prazeres” and “Vao Queimar ou Botando pra Dançar” where the beats are infections, the bass is wobbly, and Arto’s voice sounds like he’s back in his beautifully bizarre element. That’s where he excels like no other, and Cuidado Madame is a nice addition to the already interesting catalog he’s given us.
Like a lot of great artists, Keigo Oyamada, aka Cornelius, has undergone several style transitions over his tenure in music. Reluctant figurehead of the Shibuya-kei scene in the 90s turned avant-garde sound shaper in the early to mid 2000s, collaborator for the likes of Yoko Ono and soundtrack maker for an arc in the Ghost in the Shell anime franchise are just a few notable things (to say nothing of his history with legendary streetwear label BAPE) on his way to reaching ultimate tastemaker status in Japan and abroad.
But Oyamada is ultimately a music nerd, someone who still intently shops for obscure records every chance he gets, a guy who has worn his love for Brian Wilson and rare garage rock on his sleeve his entire career while possessing an uncanny knack for mixing those influences with bleeding edge technology for every era he’s worked in. Some critics in the 90s had him pegged as the Japanese Beck, but that was never going to stick. Truth be told, there’s no one else like him.
Mellow Waves, the first Cornelius album in eleven years, is indeed mellow, but its title is a bit of a misdirect; “mellow” shouldn’t read as “boring.” Instead, Oyamada weaves a detailed tapestry of intoxicating synths, off-kilter guitar, and knotty drums to make for the most cerebral of mellow experiences possible. Opener “If You’re Here” is a good indication of this both in song and video, where synths wobble around a rim shot strong enough to shake the dust from your rug before the song softly explodes into something wonderful and alien. Follow up track “Sometime/Someplace” sounds like futuristic bossa nova for the most part before Oyamada’s electric guitar comes alive in a sputtering mess to remind the listener he isn’t afraid to splatter paint all over the beautiful portrait he’s just created.
The video for that song is also extremely cool, merging his talent for audio and visual into an amazing cohesion. His ear for melody is striking on songs like “In a Dream” when he boils the bridge of the song down into a deep mix of keyboards that all have the same goal of vying for the listener’s full attention. Mellow Waves provides enough subtle details and enjoyable compositions to absorb until whenever Oyamada feels compelled to make music under the Cornelius project once again. Hopefully, it won’t be as long as the last stretch.
Back when they were touring for Bitte Orca, seeing Dirty Projectors live was like watching a bunch of adept Juilliard dropouts play weird shit with a drummer channeling the ghost of John Bonham. It was great! For better or worse they symbolized the kind of Brooklyn hipsterism that was coming to the forefront of the culture, but they were still challenging and seemed more comfortable at the fringes, eschewing any crossover potential that may have awaited them. Over the years the lineup of that band has dwindled down to the core of its sole creator Dave Longstreth so this time around, the project is a much more solo affair but it still retains a refreshing warped perspective both in its approach to music and content.
Over the years, the lineup of Dirty Projectors has dwindled down to the core of its sole creator Dave Longstreth, so this time around the project is a much more solo affair. But it still retains a refreshing warped perspective both in its approach to music and content.
Dirty Projectors is a breakup record – one that chronicles the aftermath of the long-time relationship between Longstreth and former Dirty Projectors member Amber Coffman. Word out on the interwebs is that the two have remained friends, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some oddball catharsis to work through. True or not, it sounds like a savant tackling magnetic poetry: vocals both pitched down then Auto-Tuned, mutated guitars, electronic glitches hinting at instability, horn sections that come out of the ether, samples, strings, a dozen other things all produced by one man under one roof.
It’s all calculated madness designed to retain interest at the risk of alienation, and often surfs both ends of that spectrum. I think at this point, you are either on board with the project, or you heard “Stillness is the Move” back in the day and moved on. If you’re in the former camp then welcome back. Many strange treasures await.
Rolling Blackouts C.F.
The French Press
Rolling Blackouts C.F. (or Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) released their first EP Talk Tight in 2015. It did exactly what an EP from a little-known band should do – it made people want more.
The Melbourne quintet is back with The French Press, another EP that shows the band have been steadily honing their revisionist sound to an even more blissful degree. They’re indie darlings right now, and why not? They sound like something that would be played on a college rock station in 1990, right between some Sonic Youth and Green-era REM.
The French Press conjures up memories of bands like The Go-Betweens and Teenage Fanclub to name a few, but for fans of a younger ilk, these guys will most likely just sound like some good unpretentious indie rock that the world has been somewhat in need of. And that’s totally fine. There’s a directness to the shimmering indie pop that fills the songs. If this album were a person it would be the friend who has a drink ready for you at the bar on a Friday afternoon after you flee work. At six songs it’s over all too soon, showing that once that people may be left wanting more.
Dreaming of sunny relaxed locales in less turbulent parts of the world might become a recognized pastime for a lot of us in the next few years. If you do have these tendencies, or if you’ve always had them, then Lonely Planet is the album for you.
In spite of his chosen moniker, there is actually nothing tornadic about the music of Aussie producer Tornado Wallace. Instead, Lonely Planet is a calm and relaxing journey of sound that makes use of World Music, New Age, Dub, and a nod to House-style repetition. It’s a walk through a dewy jungle, just after the rain has ceded. Bird chirps sound out against drum loops made from wooden instruments. Guitars, synths, and flutes cascade and intermingle like singles on a Caribbean cruise. The album is a travelogue of sound that manages to conjure up comforting vibes when you might just need them the most. For God’s sake, there’s even a song on the album called “Heeling Feeling.”
Lonely Planet shares similarities with the globe-spanning pop of previous group like Swedish duo Studio (and their subsequent spin-off projects like Atelje), but it’s good to see that sound picked up and reshaped even more.
Tornado Wallace got his start as a House producer and still makes music for a pretty solid dance label out of Frankfurt but Lonely Planet could just as easily make fans of the Windham Hill or Echoes variety. It’s an album that has something for everyone, assuming everyone wants some interesting and calming music in their lives. If you can’t actually make it to that sunny locale you’re dreaming of then the next best thing might be to put this album on repeat while you outline your escape.
You can read more of Nate’s suggestions in his monthly column on music you may have missed.