Best albums of 2017: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Happy Friday everyone! And the last Friday of the month to boot! To celebrate, I’ve got a bit of a treat for y’all: the start of something new for this blog.

But first, some background.

Some of you might well be aware of my previous blog, Music Insanity, and if you are, you likely remember that I made a big production of counting down my favourite albums of the year, culminating in two or more weeks of posts and thousands of words at each year’s end. I’ve decided I would do the same on these pages but in a more toned down way. My first thought was to limit it to a top five, detailing each in its own post, each Friday, in the last five weeks of the year, but it proved too difficult a task to limit myself to just five albums. So instead, I will still detail my top five albums in the coming weeks but today, will give the next five as a sort of honourable mentions post. (And then, I cheated even more by hinting at the albums just outside my top ten in the photo of record covers above. Bad, blogger, bad.)

And yes, I intend to continue this tradition on annual basis going forward and over the coming months, will likely sprinkle in some of my favourite albums lists from past years to break up all these lists of favourite songs I’ve been throwing at you.

So without further ado, here are albums ten through six of my favourite albums of 2017. Stay tuned for album number five next Friday!

#10 Phoebe Bridgers “Stranger in the alps”

It’s been quite a while since an album like Phoebe Bridgers’ caught my ear. Her debut album, “Stranger in the alps”, is a mostly quiet, deeply personal, female singer/songwriter collection, which doesn’t in and of itself sound very exciting. The young Ms Bridgers, however, is a fine and mature writer, whose strong musical knowledge and awareness is displayed in her lyrics, making this a very cool listen indeed.

Gateway tune: Smoke signals

#9 The Rural Alberta Advantage “The wild”

Despite being a huge fan of the Toronto-based indie folk trio’s first three albums, I didn’t think I would, and if truth be told, almost didn’t want to like “The wild”. Yet here it is, squeezing its way into my top ten. Just when I think there must be a limit to what can be produced by Nils Edenloff’s raw vocals and guitars and Paul Banwatt’s frenetic drumming, they find yet another gear. In the case of “The wild”, they found themselves with a new member, Robin Hatch, who replaced the departed Amy Cole, and immediately made her presence felt.

Gateway tune: White lights

#8 Allison Crutchfield “Tourist in this town”

Funnily enough, I didn’t immediately make the connection with Waxahatchee but sure enough, Allison Crutchfield is the twin sister of that band’s driving force, Katie Crutchfield. “Tourist in this town” is Allison’s full-length debut after years of collaborating with others, notably with Kyle Gilbride in Swearin’ and her sister in a number of bands, including Waxahatchee. It’s a great breakup album, but one nowhere near as angry as Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged little pill”, and focuses more on change in a more global sense. It’s power pop with synths and is as fun as it is touching.

Gateway tune: Dean’s room

#7 Alvvays “Antisocialites”

Alvvays’ self-titled debut was on pretty much everyone’s lips three years ago on the back of its collection of lovely, jangly indie pop gems. Their sophomore doesn’t disappoint, feeding us more of the same sweetness, but this time with better production (and an appearance by Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake!). If there was a critique to be made, it’s that “Antisocialites” does not adventure very far from what made its predecessor so successful. But I’m not so sure I would have been happy with anything else than what we got.

Gateway tune: Dreams tonite

#6 St. Vincent “Masseduction”

Second and final disclosure of this post: though I’ve always respected what Annie Clarke (aka St. Vincent) was doing artistically and musically, I haven’t always been a fan. That pretty much changed when I saw her live at Ottawa Bluesfest in 2014 and I realized she was the female David Bowie. The similarity is not necessarily musical but in ethos and persona, she’s a true performance artist. “Masseduction” is her take on the pop album but she does it without compromising her sound and art. And it’s pure brilliance.

Gateway tune: Los ageless

For the rest of the albums in this list, check out my Best Albums page here.

Best tunes of 2010: #12 Arcade Fire “The suburbs”

<< #13    |    #11 >>

Ah yes, Arcade Fire. I’m sure you figured that they might be on this list somewheres, given that 2010 saw them release what is arguably their biggest and most accomplished album to date.

Arcade Fire was originally formed in 2001 when Win Butler was attending school in Montreal with his friend Josh Deu and they met Régine Chassagne. Their debut album, 2004’s “Funeral”, turned the indie rock realm on its head and spearheaded a group of Canadian talent that tuned the world’s ears to this bleak piece of land north of the U.S. It was so great and so promising that nothing the band produced could have realistically followed it up and so their 2007 sophomore effort, “Neon Bible”, disappointed at first but in hindsight, was quite excellent.

Then came “The suburbs”.

Much like all of their long players, it is a sort of concept album. It is lyrically inspired by Win and his brother, Will’s early years growing up in the ‘burbs, but rather than looking at the subject nostalgically, they throw a futuristic, dystopian curveball at it. Musically, Win Butler has reportedly described it as “a mix of Depeche Mode and Neil Young”, which kind of reminds me as a joke band my friends and I made up back in high school that called themselves a mix of Eric Clapton and Jesus Jones (more on that another time perhaps). What I am guessing Butler is saying and what I am trying to get across with my comparison is that Arcade Fire is boldly mixing sounds that shouldn’t work together and in so doing, managed to carve out a piece of music that is uniquely theirs.

The title track was one of the few songs I heard as a teaser prior to the full album’s release and also one that they performed the second time I saw them live. It was headlining the main stage during the second week of Ottawa Bluesfest in 2010, almost a month before the album’s release. They were a much bigger deal in terms of popularity than the previous time I had seen them as an opening act a few years prior. There was a massive crowd queued up to see them, rather than those curious few who showed up early for U2 and were treated to a raucous performance. But success hadn’t changed their manic live set any and still hasn’t. I’d say they are probably one of the best live shows you will ever see.

Performed live, “The suburbs” is a boisterous, rollicking affair but on the album, track number one is like a stroll through the singer’s childhood neighbourhood. The drums present a lackadaisical gait and pacing that suggests we need to take everything in. The jaunty, ragtime piano is more upbeat than it should be and the strings and other otherworldly synth effects suggest a sinister, malevolent undertone. But Win Butler’s vocals are matter of fact, telling it like it is, pointing out points of interest, recounting childhood stories, and espousing dreams in a world that appears to be without hope. Doesn’t it just leave you breathless?

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

Vinyl love: Asobi Seksu “Citrus”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Asobi Seksu
Album Title: Citrus
Year released: 2006
Year reissued: 2017
Details: 2 x LP, Black vinyl, 180 gram, gatefold

The skinny: Asobi Seksu was the first of a number of shoegaze/dream pop revival bands that I came across in the early to mid-2000s and was perhaps the best of these. “Citrus” was the group’s sophomore release and was a thing of beauty, calling to mind both Lush and My Bloody Valentine.

Standout track: “Strawberries”