I’m Gonna Wash That Year Right Outta My Hair: The Top 10 Albums of 2017

7: Real Estate — In Mind

cofReal Estate covers no new ground on its fourth album—pun intended, I’m afraid—but the New Jersey fivesome’s brand of smart, mellow indie-pop is such a winning formula, it doesn’t need to…yet. Internally, the group suffered a seismic upheaval in 2017 when it lost founding member Matt Mondanile, who left to concentrate on his solo project Ducktails. But judging from this fine first post-split effort, Mondanile’s departure has barely caused a ripple in the band’s placid sound. The jangly melodies still recall soft-boiled R.E.M.—think “So. Central Rain,” not “Finest Worksong,” etc. And co-founder and head songsmith Martin Courtney’s lyrics remain genial, daydreamy musings cut with a dash of suburban dread. The lovely “Holding Pattern” chronicles a predictable day in the life of its author, who flirts with existential angst (“It’s just this game/Makes me insane/I wonder where we’re going”) before succumbing to the comforting numbness of sleep (“Someone pressed pause/Wrapped me in gauze/And turned the lights off”). In my universally adored half-year roundup, I predicted that In Mind would likely be the album I listened to the most in 2017. A few picks to come on my year-end list have challenged that bold claim, but I do still play it quite often. And if it’s frequently just as background music to various chores, well, a guy’s got to have pleasant, easy-peasy tunes going while he’s scrubbing the dinner dishes, don’t he?

 

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I’m Gonna Wash That Year Right Outta My Hair: The Top 10 Albums of 2017

8: The xx — I See You

thexxiseeyouWith its seductive melodies and pillow-talk interplay between vocalists Romy Madly-Croft and Oliver Sim, xx, the 2009 debut album by this London trio, was the sultriest British export to come along since Sade. After the mild sophomore slump of 2012’s Coexist, which sounded like a paler copy of the original, the xx pumps up the volume a smidge on this outing. The brassy synth notes and insistent beats that introduce the lead-off track, “Dangerous,” promise a more club-ready sound, and I See You does indeed deliver a few danceable numbers, most notably “On Hold,” the band’s catchiest tune to date. But fans of the hushed intimacy of the first two albums shouldn’t fret too much. The grooves here stay at the techno-lite simmer of, say, “Missing” by Everything but the Girl. And there are still plenty of slow burners like “Replica” that allow Sim and Madly-Croft to wrap their sexy, simpatico voices in an aural embrace. One or two disposable cuts keep this from placing higher on my list, but all in all it’s a sure-footed attempt at expanding the group’s very identifiable sound.

[Blogger’s note: I’ll post each of my Top 10 picks in succession over the next few weeks, or possibly several weeks, depending on the severity of my winter laziness.]

 

 

I’m Gonna Wash That Year Right Outta My Hair: The Top 10 Albums of 2017

9: Moses Sumney — Aromanticism

cofThe eerie headless and floating figure, photographed from behind, on the cover of this soulful L.A. up-and-comer’s debut album is unnerving at first glance. Let your mind’s eye adjust and a new image takes shape: The artist gazing very determinedly at his own navel. It’s an apt visual to accompany the themes of solitude and self-reflection that Sumney explores in this lush song cycle. The album’s title, a trendy buzzword for the inability to feel romantic attraction, suggests Sumney’s no fan of happy loving couples. “You need a solid, but I’m made of liquid,” he warns on “Don’t Bother Calling,” one of 11 exquisitely produced tracks here.  But he’s savvy enough to know that romantic reclusiveness comes with a price. “Am I vital if my heart is idle?” he wonders on “Doomed.” If the album is introspective to a fault—the languid rhythms and Sumney’s delicate falsetto grow a little snoozy at times—it is nevertheless an impressively ambitious artistic statement by the most promising newbie of the year.

 

I’m Gonna Wash That Year Right Outta My Hair: The Top 10 Albums of 2017

With buzz phrases like “tiki torch Nazis,” “dotard,” and “allegations of sexual misconduct,” 2017 certainly won’t be remembered as one of the most commendable chapters in human history. When the news turned ugly—and frankly, when was it not? — I sought solace in soothing sounds. (Apologies for th-pitting there.) Only three of my picks for the 10 best albums of the year qualify as pulse-raisers. The rest slot smoothly into a category that my friend Kendall has disdainfully dubbed “music you can bathe to.” What can I say? Calgon, take me away*… far, far away from the grimy headlines of recent months. And here’s to a more rockin’ 2018. Come back, Tom Petty. We need you.

(*Google it, Millennials!)

10: Grizzly Bear — Painted Ruins

cofCritics have called this brainy Brooklyn combo’s latest album, its first after an extended hiatus, “elegantly layered” and “immersive.” Non-fans might interpret those accolades as code for “boring.” And to be honest, it took five or six listens for Painted Ruins to click with me as a whole. As usual, the band eschews easy hooks in favour of complex song structures with protean melodies, although the moderately propulsive “Mourning Sound” is one of its most accessible compositions yet. And while the 11 tracks here do allow for the occasional burst of drama, such as the emphatic organ flourishes on “Aquarian,” the overall tone of the album is restrained. Patient listeners will be drawn in by the always-stellar harmonies, virtuoso playing—Daniel Rossen’s guitar work is the standout—and off-kilter lyrics. (The opener, “Wasted Acres,” is a playful ode to a DRX-250 motorcycle.) It’s no party record, to be sure. But if you don’t mind the wait, Painted Ruins will eventually reveal its quiet beauty.

[Blogger’s note: I’ll post each of my Top 10 picks in succession over the next few weeks, or possibly several weeks, depending on the severity of my winter laziness.]