T&E presents their always eclectic year end list! Five members of the Collective curated a list of fifty of their favorite albums, ranging in sound from wonky IDM to flamenco pop, brutal death metal to r&b funk, and beyond.
Artist: The War on Drugs
Album: A Deeper Understanding
Favorite Song: “Strangest Thing”
It would be an understatement to say that our generation has a knack for nostalgia. Plenty of artists across plenty of genres adopt a throwback sound nowadays, but it's rare to find music that can take the sounds of yesterday and make them genuinely fresh and relevant. The War on Drugs is probably the best band I can think of that can effectively pull this feat off. Frontman Adam Granduciel channels the spirits of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan in his music; however, he does so in a way that not only treads new ground that his predecessors left unexplored, but in a way that makes it so that you feel like you discover something new in his music every time you listen to it. I’ve had A Deeper Understanding on constant repeat since it came out in August. For that, this is my album of the year.
Artist: Code Orange
Favorite Song: “Kill The Creator”
Another band with a talent for blazing new trails using the sounds of old, Code Orange dropped a statement album at the beginning of the year and the rest of the heavy music scene couldn't keep up.The Pittsburgh band’s 2014 album, I Am King, was one of the most genuinely scary albums I have ever heard. On Forever, they take that sound, weaponize it, and let the world know they’re running things from here on out. Code Orange combine gloomy atmosphere, climatic breakdowns, stop-start dynamics, industrial samples, and a healthy respect for 90’s icons like Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson, and Billy Corgan. The end result is an album that make you feel like you’re falling asleep in a Freddy Kreuger movie. Make no mistake - the future is now. These kids are in charge.
Artist: Run The Jewels
Album: Run The Jewels 3
Label: Run The Jewels, Inc.
Favorite Song: “Legend Has It”
I’m cheating for this one. RTJ3 technically came out in 2016, but it dropped by surprise on Christmas Eve when all of last year’s lists had been written and published. And let’s be real, it was more culturally relevant this year, so I’m going to write about it now. Being socially conscious nowadays can feel exhausting, but Run The Jewels remind everyone that despite all the ugliness in the world, there are still things in this life that make it worth living and you should absolutely have some fun with it. El-P particularly shines on this album, both with his ferocious beats and his hilarious one-liners (Seriously, “Brave men didn’t die face down in the Vietnam muck so I could not style on you?” “Every new record’s my dick in box?” “I am the living swipe-right on the mic?” Where does he think of this stuff?). The bromance between El and Killer Mike is also the most adorable thing I’ve seen in rap since mittens on kittens. May it last for years to come.
Artist: Chelsea Wolfe
Album: Hiss Spun
Label: Sargent House
Favorite Song: “Twin Fawn”
Chelsea Wolfe has built a name for herself throughout this decade for her dark, brooding mix of gothic rock and folk pop; however, she has never been shy to show off a subtle heavy metal influence in her music, either. On her fifth studio album, Hiss Spun, she fully embraces her heavier side and crafts a crushing doom/sludge metal record that stands out from the rest of her equally impressive catalog. Her songwriting is as eerie as ever, and contributions from Aaron Turner (ex-Isis… no, you idiots, the sludge metal band), Kurt Ballou (Converge), and Troy van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age) lend to the album’s claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s rare for an artist to have the ability to grow and evolve their sound while still sounding uniquely like themselves, and Chelsea Wolfe showed the world she has it.
Album: The Dusk In Us
Label: Deathwish, Inc.
Favorite Song: “I Can Tell You About Pain”
It's been a long five years since Converge graced us with a new album, and I’m so happy they made their triumphant return. I've never been able to pick out a favorite album of theirs because there's always something different to love about each one, and The Dusk In Us is no exception. This album stands out from the rest of their catalog thanks to a slew of sludgier songs and the inclusion of slower, more melodic songs that seem to be influenced by frontman Jacob Bannon’s side project, Wear Your Wounds. That's not to say they don't release the beautiful chaos that they've made a career out of over the years. Songs like “Eye of the Quarrel,” “Reptilian,” and “I Can Tell You About Pain” are ridiculously heavy songs that hit you like a punch in the gut. It seems like thing can be guaranteed with every new Converge album - you know it'll be a bundle of authentic emotions.
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice
Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
Mastodon - Cold Dark Place EP
Drake - More Life
Royal Blood - How Did We Get So Dark?
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Favorite Song: “HUMBLE.”
It doesn’t matter whether you listen to this album forwards or backwards—it’s amazing. Maybe it’s not as good as Kendrick’s last two albums, but those set an impossibly high bar. Actually, in one important way I prefer this to To Pimp a Butterfly: it’s easy to listen to. Playing TPAB is not something you do casually. You’re deciding to embark on a dark, dense journey through poetry and history and jazz and African American Studies that culminates with a nearly 20-minute cinematic sequence. It’s a lot to take in. While still deeply multi-layered and brimming with poetry, Kendrick’s fourth studio album is less a grand, conceptual epic and more a collection of good-to-great songs. From the vicious bangers (“DNA.” and “HUMBLE.”) to the slow, introspective pieces (“YAH.” and “LOVE.”), Kendrick delivers some of his best bars over some of his crew’s most delicious beats. And the guest features—including Rihanna on “LOYALTY.”, Steve Lacy on “PRIDE.”, and even U2 on “XXX.”—prove that Kendrick isn’t just a one-man act; he feeds and feeds from other brilliant artists. Backwards or forwards, this album is destined to be played again and again and again.
Favorite Song: “raingurl”
This is the first of three EPs on my list. I don’t have anything against long pieces, but in the past few years I’ve become increasingly critical of artists who don’t know their own limits. Not everyone is Stanley Kubrick, so why is your film over two hours long? Not everyone is Kendrick, so why is your album over an hour long? Smart artists will leave you wanting more, and that’s exactly what Brooklyn-based electronic music producer yaeji does on her 19-minute EP. Every song is different. With a bitesize piece of poetry quietly sung over lush ambience, the first track offers the perfect intro into “raingurl,” a deep house banger I want to hear to in every DJ set for the next year. Then comes “drink i’m sippin on,” where yaeji sings seductively in Korean over a late-night trap beat. Track four returns to deep house guided by a sing-song voice, and then the album closes with a lovely, meditative cover of Drake’s “Passionfruit.” Exploring and experimenting with different beats and vocal styles, yaeji has crafted a work that works just as well on and off the dancefloor.
Artist: The Knife
Album: Live at Terminal 5
Label: Rabid Records
Favorite Song: “Pass This On / Stay Out There / Silent Shout”
Okay, maybe I’m just nostalgic. I loved the Knife’s last tour (in 2014), but supposedly people angrily walked out of the shows for a variety of reasons. The group did rely a lot on pre-recorded tracks, which can be annoying at a live performance. Instead of shining the spotlight on singing and musicianship, they seemed to be focusing on glittery faces, shiny pastel outfits, and wild aerobic dance moves. Normally I would be the first to criticize this shift in focus but… this is electronic music! Millions of people go to shows where they just stare at one guy tapping a laptop on stage. The underground scene shies away from this scheme by reducing stage presence and putting the focus on the dancefloor. The Knife tried something else: their method of “shaking the habitual” was to invite a dozen beautiful dancers to transform the stage into a celebration of life, sex, diversity, political resistance, and pure ecstasy. My favorite part of the performance arrives during the last three songs—two reimagined Knife classics and one newer song—strung together on a driving house beat that doesn’t stop at the end of the set. This isn’t reflected on the album release, but at the show another DJ took over and the beat kept going. If you were complaining about the lack of an encore, then you missed the point. If you were smiling and still dancing, then you got it.
Label: House Music
Favorite Song: “Sweet Time”
This EP only dropped this month so pardon me if I’m getting ahead of myself here. But damn it’s good. In just six songs and 22 minutes, Raveena channels all the great soul singers, from Stevie Wonder to Solange. It’s funky, chill, and smooth as satin. The stand-out single has to be “Sweet Time,” a sexy groove where harp phrases and bass pluckings play together happily alongside the singer’s self-affirming lyrics: “I’ve been meditating / I stopped medicating / I’m taking advice from the moon.” It sounds like dancing in a field of wildflowers.
Artist: Steve Lacy
Album: Steve Lacy’s Demo
Label: Three Quarter
Favorite Song: “Some”
I’m obsessed with Steve Lacy. Even if you haven’t heard his demo, you may have heard his work on Kendrick’s album: he produced the track “PRIDE.” The smooth Rickenbacker sound is his signature, and it’s all over this six-song, 14-minute EP. It landed on my radar after learning in March that Steve co-produces and plays guitar for the Internet, and then quickly became my favorite music of the year. It's quirky and funky, like a creamy stew of Al Green, Nile Rodgers, Sly Stone, Ariel Pink, and Weezer. Not only does it sound great, but it also comes with an interesting piece of trivia: the entire EP was recorded on an iPhone. My favorite track is “Some.” After a couple solo bars of humming bass, the guitar and vocals come in—”baby, can I have some of your love?”—and everyone’s panties drop. Now if it only were a little longer...
Lower East Suite Part Two — Onyx Collective
Narkopop — Gas
Process — Sampha
Rock n Roll Consciousness — Thurston Moore
Shuffle Drones — Eluvium
Album: Rap Album Two
Favorite Song: “Out of Sight”
I remember listening to Rap Album Two when it first released back in February and already knew full well it was going to make the top of my year end list. This album exemplifies all the various talents of Jonwayne -- distinctive beat producer, vulnerable poet, and beastly rapper. His flow really lends himself to the nickname of “inverse Biggie” (aka he straight up sounds like if Biggie were reincarnated into a nerdy white dude). But more than that, this album is an incredibly personal journey through depression, addiction, self-doubt and seeking triumph through poetry. It’s the kind of album that lures you in with its catchy beats, witty sense of humour and ridiculously clever bars (especially on "TED Talk" with lines like "My quips could carry trips like some big bear visions/These words are so sharp I give some thin air stitches/Got a hole in space-time where I state my business"), and keeps you involved on an emotional level to have you reflecting on Jon’s personal evolution as well as your own. (PS - I interviewed collaborator and fellow tour mate, Danny Watts, which you can read here).
Artist: Nick Hakim
Album: Green Twins
Label: ATO Records
Favorite Song: “Green Twins”
The first time I heard Nick Hakim, I thought he was eh...pretty good. The second listen was pretty alright too. It wasn’t until I watched him spill out his soul performing a song off this debut album on COLORS Berlin that I finally appreciated all his truly unique and raw talent. By the time I got around to my third listen of Green Twins, I was completely hooked and have been swoonin' ever since. Hakim’s voice is a perfect contradiction of smokey and smooth, riding over a psychedelic haze of lush instrumentation and heavy reverb. This album is equal parts delicate and powerful, sensual and nostalgic, all carried through with pure soul.
Album: Vibe Vol. 2
Label: WAEV Records
Favorite Song: “Pause”
I nominate IAMDDB as Best New Artist and Artist Y’all Should Be Stoked as Fuqq On for 2018. In this past year, she released two killer EPs and various singles (my absolute favorite single of the year was her collaboration with The Mouse Outfit), all of which have the ultimate steez and wavviest of vibes. She effortlessly floats over chillwave beats with her liquid R&B vocal stylings, keeping the mood euphoric and always leaned out. IAMDDB is UK”s best kept secret, don’t sleep on her.
Album: Los Ángeles
Favorite Song: “Catalina”
I’m not going to lie, I only heard this album for the first time a week ago. I did that thing everyone does when making a Top 10 list and rushed to try to find artists that I passed over. Thankfully The Needle Drop’s 15 Underrated Albums of 2017 video turned me onto this debut album by Spanish flamenco and folk singer Rosalía. I’m gonna go ahead and agree with TND and say that this has to be one of the most stunning and dynamic records that came out this year. Rosalía brings all the traditional elements of flamenco to a modern audience with a sound so powerful that it grabs your heart and pulses it along with each intonation of her voice. Whether or not you speak Spanish, there isn’t a moment on this album where you aren’t completely compelled by Rosalía’s storytelling. Her passion overrides any language barrier, and the gorgeous nylon-string picking by instrumentalist and composer Raül Refree is enough to sweep you off your feet.
Artist: Neil Cicierega
Album: Mouth Moods
Favorite Song: “Floor Corn”
I have no shame in saying that this is in my Top 5. From the creator of the Harry Potter Puppet Pals, and other early Flash animation videos you probably watched in computer lab in middle school, comes a literal meme masterpiece of a mash-up album. It mixes all of our favorite and most regrettable songs of yesteryear from the likes of Barenaked Ladies, Smash Mouth, Drowning Pool, and Oasis in a way that’s not only fucking hilarious but actually brilliant. This nerd must have spent so many countless hours editing and tweaking and layers all of these tracks together to make these cohesive and surprisingly catchy remixes. If this album doesn’t make you laugh, you probably don’t have a soul.
All of the King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard albums
Forget - Xiu Xiu
DEAD CROSS - Dead Cross
Brick Body Kids Still Daydream - Open Mike Eagle
No Pop - Odonis Odonis
Why Love Now - Pissed Jeans
No Shape - Perfume Genius
All Bitches Die - Lingua Ignota
1992 - Princess Nokia
Laila's Wisdom - Rapsody
Saturation III - Brockhampton
Black Boy Meets World - Danny Watts
Uyai - Ibibio Sound Machine
Godfather - Wiley
Mono No Aware - Various Artists
Black Origami - Jlin
Neo Wax Bloom - Iglooghost
El Origen - Nicola Cruz & Rodrigo Gallardo
Thrice Woven - Wolves in the Throne Room
Love What Survives - Mount Kimbie
EP2 - yaeji
The Grove - DJ Orange Julius
Artist: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Album: The Kid
Label: Western Vinyl
Favorite Song: "A Kid"
This album is absolutely bonkers. The bulk of the synthesis is done on a modular Buchla system, and Smith is a master at weaving intricate and exciting soundscapes from the engine. Pair the masterful synthesis with multi-tracked vocals and lyrics about life, death, and learning, and you’ve got yourself one of the weirdest pop albums out there.
Album: Neo Wax Bloom
Favorite Song: "Zen Champ"
This album is somehow both pastel and neon. Iglooghost’s dynamic and distinctive production shines here. These tracks are bouncy, colorful, playful, and most importantly, they pull your body in five ways at once (I think that’s called dancing). Maximalism is not something that I often spring for in music, especially dance music - it has to be done right. Iglooghost does it right. (Picking one dance record was hard, Karen Gwyer and Patricia both had good releases this year too).
Artist: Full of Hell/The Body
Album: Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light
Label: Thrill Jockey
Favorite Song: "Master’s Story"
The Body and Full of Hell have released a split before, last year’s One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache. Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light however, continues to push all the envelopes both of these bands love to push. There is a good bit of the distorted 808y trap-inspired drum patterns that The Body began to explore in their most recent record. There’s also plenty of terror shrieks and brutal grindcore etc. Texturally diverse and well-executed. (This was a hard choice again; I didn’t want to write up two metal albums, but Bell Witch, Hell, and Krallice have all put out great records this year)
Artist: Sarah Davachi
Album: All My Circles Run
Label: Students of Decay
Favorite Song: "For Organ"
I stumbled onto this record accidentally, not having heard of Davachi’s previous work. This album is somewhat of a departure from that work, which heretofore made use of lots of synthesizers to create warm, ambient landscapes. This record, however, features compositions for single analog instruments, voice, organ, etc. It’s an incredibly subdued record and takes exactly the right amount of time to pull you into its depths.
Country Girl - Boy Harsher
Shaneera - Fatima al-Qadri
A Satin Sight - Pan Daijing
Sutekh Hexen/Hissing - Sutekh Hexen/Hissing
Album: Trance of Death
Label: Sepulchral Voice Records
Favorite Song: "Trance of Death, Part III - There Are Other Worlds…"
Like the other revivalist trends in metal in recent years, the new wave of old school death metal has now reached sufficient maturity that we are moving past bands simply copying the superficial elements that made those long-forgotten bands underground heroes. In the past few years in particular, there have been a slew of young bands firmly playing in the old school sandbox, but using those same common tools to make really unique and quite excellent releases. Venenum is the new kid on the block, finally releasing their full length debut this year, and they waste no time infusing thoughtful, smart, and finely crafted touches of modernity into this cacophonous, esoteric trip into the past. That may be the biggest accomplishment of this release; the band superbly navigates the waters of the old school, bringing forth a strong tremolo riff backbone and cavernous atmosphere, but then effortlessly contrasts frenzied aggression with melodic, otherworldly passages of haunting psychedelia. Like Morbus Chron a few years ago, this release really blew me away and is making me absolutely love this particular variant of the old school revival.
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Favorite Song: "When the Jackals Come"
Leave it to the almost 20-year veterans with their 10th full-length to make it near the top of my best of list in 2017. But Atonement is exactly that solid, well-written and finely crafted album you were expecting from Immolation. Their legendary consistency in quality remains unchanged, however, this time around Immolation managed to add just enough spice to the tried and true family recipe to really make this release pop. It’s hard to place it exactly – each instrument will sound very familiar to long time listeners – but through composition, songwriting, pacing, and small, but well-placed moments of creativity, they’ve managed to elevate their no-nonsense approach to death metal to something very fresh and inspired this time around. Sure, it’s no Close to a World Below, but damn is this finely crafted death metal.
Artist: Hour of Penance
Album: Cast the First Stone
Label: Prosthetic Records
Favorite Song: "Cast the First Stone"
Though Hour of Penance has been much more consistent than some other brutal death metal bands, I must profess I lost track of them after Paradogma came out. I don’t know why exactly – Sedition and Regicide were both good albums once I got around to listening to them – but they never struck me as amazing. Not to say that Cast the First Stone is their best album or anything, but with this new release, Hour of Penance managed to hook me again to their technical, brutal Italian death metal gazpacho. Maybe it’s their continued hyper-speed, heavy as all fuck riffing, drumming, and vocals combo that I’ve been missing after all these years, or the fact this time there are (marginally) slower moments where interesting and varied riffs come to the forefront (sometimes even some bass!). All I know is that Hour of Penance managed to strike a really nicely balanced recipe of their trademark brutal death metal insanity with some variety and better songwriting that will be appreciated by new and older fans alike.
Album: Obsidian Arc
Label: Eisenwald Tonschmiede
Favorite Song: "Dark is the River of Man"
I’m sure I’m part of a large generation of metalheads for whom Agalloch was a crucial element in shaping their musical tastes during those critical teenage years. And while it was bittersweet to see the nasty dissolution of one of my favorite bands, I, like many of that generation, was excited to see the output of the former members in their new respective bands. Thus far, Jon Haughm and Pillorian beat the rest of the former band, now in Khôrada, to the release punch. Thankfully, the rushed release was worth it, as Obsidian Arc is well executed and surprisingly great in parts. Agalloch was always a collection of the differing influences of the constituent members; with only Haughm’s influence on display here, we get a much heavier, more straightforward black metal record. This is relatively speaking of course. This is also very much a continuation of The Serpent and the Sphere – don’t expect Desert Northern Hell or anything. But still, Haughm focuses on keeping things tight, heavily riff-oriented, and darkly atmospheric. There are moments that harken to the melodic, doomy, or post-rock Agalloch days, hell some parts seem right off of Pale Folklore, but this is still very much a new, darker, and much more metal direction. Here’s hoping Khôrada comes up with an equally compelling take on the other side of the former Agalloch sound, or maybe something entirely different.
Artist: Run the Jewels
Album: Run the Jewels 3
Label: Run the Jewels, Inc.
Favorite Song: "Panther Like a Panther (Miracle Mix) [feat. Trina]"
Yeah, yeah it came out in 2016, I know. But technically it was supposed to be released in 2017 and RTJ decided to give it to us early for Christmas. That’s close enough for me. While I don’t think it is as consistently good as their first two albums, RTJ3 has moments of superb brilliance that I continue to revisit today. And sure, it won’t take the mantle of top RTJ album RTJ2 still holds, but you have to appreciate RTJ’s ambition with this album, and compared to most other groups, continued excellence. Their most eclectic album to date to my ears, this still has some of the best rap tracks I’ve ever heard. The verses are even weirder this time, but the beats are heavy as ever (maybe my all-time favorites from the group) and, importantly, the same energy that bristles through RTJ 1 and 2 is still there. The Jewelrunners still got it.
Akercocke – Renaissance in Extremis
Suffocation – …of the Dark Light
Dodecahedron – Kwintessens
Execration – Return to the Void
Skáphe – Untitled
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