The Tenth Man’s Favorite Albums of 2017

2017 was a crazy one. Hurricanes, earthquakes, crazy California wildfires, Hollywood allegations, NFL protests  – even a Presidential Inauguration. It’s been one of the most divisive years I’ve personally experienced and one that’s felt like a complete rollercoaster ride. In the music world, it’s been an equally crazy ride. We unfortunately lost the likes of Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Lil Peep (at 21) and Tom Petty and heard plenty of allegations about some world famous artists. Pop had a huge year, hip-hop remained fascinatingly scattered, jazz resulted in some all-timers and electronic music had some incredible experiments. With all the craziness in the music world, us at the Tenth Man decided to collectively reflect on the past rather than put together a numbered list. There’s plenty of amazing albums worth checking out and ranking them would only be a disservice to the lesser knowns. Without further ado, here’s some of our favorites! 

Algiers – The Underside of Power

In an intensely political year, Algiers provide the perfect soundtrack for disenfranchised and downtrodden revolutionaries. The very first moments of the album set the mood of unbearable tension by sampling a speech from the famous Black Panther Fred Hampton over a scratchy guitar riff before exploding into defiant, nearly unintelligible shouting by vocalist Franklin Fisher. From the very outset of the album, Algiers make it clear that they will never back down from defending their rights. The record, as a whole, is an invigorating listen that demands the listener to cast aside apathy and fight for the future.

The more impressive achievement is that the album manages to do all of the former without sacrificing any quality of the music itself. Algiers present a fresh, new take on post-punk that is long overdue. While producing some of the most poignant political statements of the last forty years, post-punk has mostly remained the arena of white men. By infusing their songs with elements of gospel and soul and maintaining a lo-fi ethos in their production, Algiers repurposes post-punk to what it should be- music by the common man for the common man.

Taking both of these factors into account, the finished product of The Underside of Power is not surprising. For forty four captivating minutes, Fisher delivers his sermons in equal parts gospel-tinged singing and enraged shouts over driving post-industrial beats, funky bass grooves, and aggressively angular guitar lines. It’s gritty, it’s messy, and most of all, it’s passionate. If you close your eyes and listen intently, you can almost picture the band playing in a dilapidated warehouse. The result is an absolutely rousing piece of art that manages to blaze new trails in genres that had previously seemed stale and in decline.  –Cameron

Alvvays – Antisocialites

Antisocialites is a rare pop album that blew me away. It isn’t overly complicated, artsy or ambitious. Instead, it serves as a logical step from their already spectacular debut. Songwriting is noticeably improved, production is crisper and cleaner and the instrumentation is ever so slightly complex. There was a certain comfort to the debut’s lo-fi production but a step toward a modern sound ensures tracks are more effective from a pop standpoint.

The band manages to bring in some rock elements while still maintaining a sweet, low-key atmosphere. As a result, the album is intriguing – punk and shoegaze elements slowly crop up to reveal new influences, but not without muddying the already perfected pop formula. Though noticeably improved, the band can’t quite compete with Molly Rankin’s lead vocals. Her voice is still the real standout here, making the band feel more like a backing group than a skilled supporting cast.

As a whole Antisocialites is a pretty tremendous pop project. Standing at just 30 minutes, it manages to sound fresh, accessible and invigorating. A dreamy atmosphere and shimmering production push the project to a new level, avoiding many of the problems plaguing too many indie releases. Rakin’s voice, paired with straightforward songwriting and lush instrumentation ensure it’s one of the best pop albums of the year. –Charlie

Arca – Arca

Arca’s albums have always been personal. But his self-titled record is the first one to make that explicit, moving from the contorted character-studies of previous releases towards impressionistic self-portraiture. Even if the listener couldn’t understand his lyrics – all sung in Spanish, his native tongue – the intent was made clear; this is a pained album, and Alejandro Ghersi’s vocal textures alone point towards that, shifting between a wheezing, croaks, and gasps for much of the record. It spends its forty-three minutes exploring the politics of sex and sexuality, deliberately portraying queerness as a monster to be reckoned with; what is “Whip” about if not the intersection of sexuality and violence?

These ideas don’t stand alone, though – this is the first Arca record to consistently show solid songwriting chops, rather than simply sketches, and it’s all the stronger for it. Ghersi spends many of these tracks reaffirming his ability to build narratives and emotional upheavals through texture and sonic expression alone. To look at a few examples: “Reverie” culminates in an enormous, skyward bellow, “Desafío” is the catchiest song put to an Arca record yet, and “Miel” becomes enormous through silence and disquiet. And these moments and ideas feel earned, like logical culminations of emotional and textural design – on a song-by-song basis or on a record-sequencing level.

It helps that it all sounds great – this is still an Arca record, so it’s all built from horror-show skitters and clatters and synths that crawl all over the tracks. On a pure sound-design level, it’s an enrapturing testament to Arca’s ability to conjure worlds. This is a record that’s deeply personal for both better and worse – in sound, in theme, in lyric. When you put these elements together – Ghersi’s BDSM-grade lyrics, his newfound songwriting chops, and the sputtering, creaking, and always-uneasy instrumentals – the result is stunning discomfort. –Michael

Avec la Soleil Sortant de sa Bouche – Pas Pire Pop, I Love You So Much

With their sophomore LP, this Montreal based kraut-funk group have packed quite a punch. The album consists of just three tracks, which sprawl and meander through their various sections in quite a free-form way. Despite this, the tracks manage to seem very focused, while never remaining static.

The album opens with “Trans-pop express,” a song in two parts which is undoubtedly named as a nod to a seminal album by krautrock pioneers Kraftwerk. This song bursts into life with a groovy bass line, accompanied by guitar, drums, and some glitchy synths. A group-wide chant soon adds to the dynamics. This piece ebbs and flows between different sections in a very satisfying way, never growing stale, constantly layering or evolving.

The second track offers a pleasant change of pace. A song in three parts this time, this composition is more guitar driven. It opens with a very upbeat guitar line, underpinned by some fantastic rolling drum lines. Dual vocal melodies play off one another, as the tension builds. There is a sudden shift in tone, as a heavier guitar riff cuts across, and leads into a groove with a more improvisational feel for the remainder of the track. The final piece, “Road Painting Ahead,” spans approximately half of the album, and split into five sections. This last track reaches previously unreached heights, with melodic and uplifting synth suites amidst harsh breakdowns that border on noise. Overall, there is more focus on synths here. The tone is somewhere between that of the first two tracks, which ties the album together nicely.

On Pas Pire Pop, there is always something new and interesting happening. Spanning the choppy and angular guitar lines of math rock, the jazzy drum and bass grooves of krautrock, and the layered and avant garde jams of psychedelic rock, this album is a masterclass in genre mashing. All of this variety is welcome, considering the length of the tracks. There are long instrumental sections, with vocals peppered in irregularly. While I enjoy the vocals, they are not the centre of attention. As with a lot of Krautrock, the drums are a big focus. The drummer does a fantastic job of creating jazzy grooves, and the guitars, bass, and synth all add to the vibrant cacophony. –Cian

 

Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

In a word, Reflections of a Floating World feels alive. It’s made up of ever-shifting parts that work in concert to create something much larger than themselves; it’s the sound of a band operating with magical levels of chemistry. It’s in the way that “Staving off Truth” builds its entire second half around a cloudy keyboard line that’s disarmingly soft, making immensely heavy guitars feel natural atop a foundation of fog; it’s in the way that “Sonntag” subtly shifts, making its nine-minute groove both constantly stay in place and constantly evolve, pushing itself outside of its comfort zone while staying completely in it; it’s in the interplay between guitar, drums, bass, and voice – rhythmic and melodic back-and-forth, with all players constantly throwing new grooves and ideas into the mix.

This is music that seems both meticulously composed and of-the-moment, with songs taking ­new grooves and pulling at them until they unspool in fascinating new directions. It’s a testament to the band’s songwriting that this works; these songs rarely return to an idea they’ve already had, but they’re still melodically invigorating and rhythmically contagious. But most impressive may be the atmosphere all this playing is in service of. Using exhilarating solos, dreamlike clouds of guitars and organs, and ever-shifting walls of drums and cymbals, Reflections of a Floating World balances dread and hope and longing and ecstasy and so many other things all at once. With songs like that – as emotionally powerful as they are technically stunning – it’s only natural that it demands return trips. –Michael

Author: Charlie

Charlie Wooley is an aspiring journalist and founder of The Tenth Man Blog. An avid sports fan and music nerd, he’s written for publications such as Pop Gates, Every Deja Vu and Tremr. A local San Diegan, you can catch him eating fish tacos or cruising through Balboa.

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