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
Critics 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.]