Noise Not Music's Albums Of The Year: 2017
"You can say all you want about 2017, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a fantastic year for music."
You can say all you want about 2017, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a fantastic year for music. I know it seems a little early to be making a year end list, but these are all albums I've sat with for a while and have well-formed opinions on; for anything that comes out in December I won't have that kind of time. So anything stellar I will probably just include on next year’s! If you want to see some other stuff I liked, the full list will be on my blog near the end of the month.
Experimental musician Jun Konagaya has been steadily releasing music for nearly 35 years, and yet compared to many other beloved figures of the Japanese underground he remains largely unknown and unappreciated in the United States. This is a tragedy, considering Konagaya's endless devotion to his craft and the amazing amount of emotion he presents with his music; two elements that are incredibly evident on his newest release, Memento Mori.
The record sees Konagaya further exploring the ambient post-industrialism of 2014's Travel and the wistful organ-driven folk of its predecessor Organ, and is an amazingly cohesive work that serves as both an acknowledgement of past styles and a step in a new direction. While Konagaya's albums are always incredibly personal, Memento Mori is a different beast: we hear him at his most aggressive and his most vulnerable, his vocals ranging from ragged animalistic rapping to desperate croons. This album filled a very special place for me this year, and is without a doubt the best thing I heard in all of 2017.
Upon first listen, Through the Mirror elicited one of the most immediate reactions of any of the albums on this list. It's a cruel trick they play on you: the trance inducing pound of "Nerve Rain" gives way without warning to the unbridled insanity of "Your Ghost is Dead." The whole record is absolutely teeming with similar surprises, all of them equally as awesome. From the invigorating primal shrieks and growls on "Born in Limbo" to the abrasively cathartic beauty of "Torch Your House," Through the Mirror doesn't let you catch your breath for a second. I wouldn't have it any other way.
It's rare, at least in my experience that a band comes back after ten years with a great record. It's even rarer that a band returns after all that time with their best album yet, but this wouldn't be the first time Oxbow has surpassed expectations. Thin Black Duke is probably the experimental rock quartet's most conventional effort yet, moving away from the sludge and noise of their early releases in favor of sultry, bluesy chamber rock. The string arrangements oddly sound right at home amidst the distorted guitars and Eugene Robinson's trademark wails, pushing the band toward a completely new sound - for which I couldn't be more excited.
It's no secret that Faust is one of my favorite bands ever, so I just want to iterate that there's no bias here; Fresh Air is just a really fantastic record. I wasn't exactly optimistic, considering how underwhelming both jUSt and Something Dirty were, but I was very happy to be proven wrong. Fresh Air represents so much of what I love about Faust, offering surreal arrangements, quirky spoken word, and ear-shattering climaxes, while still presenting new elements I didn't even know I wanted in their sound.
There's something special about records that are enjoyable even though they conjure up images of things you never want to see or experience. Exuvia is one of those to a T, its dark tribal atmosphere always pushing feelings of unease and fear through you. It's the soundtrack to a demented ritual of horrific implications, and it's so incredibly vivid that it's hard to believe it all came from one man. Von Meilenwald is a stellar musician, and will hopefully continue to add to his incredibly consistent catalog.
Lorde returns with the pop album I never asked for but that I couldn't be happier I got. It's an improvement upon her debut in virtually every way. The incredibly lush production is such a step up from the infuriating minimalism of Pure Heroine, the songwriting is more mature, and I felt like it's much more cohesive overall. It couldn't have come out at a better time, too; Lorde's ironic depictions of the titular melodrama that dominates modern romance are poignant and fascinating. Plus it's catchy as all hell.
Despite the undeniable strangeness of Ikue Mori's music, she somehow sounds just as good while playing with other musicians as she does on her own (if you don't believe me, just listen to Electric Masada's At the Mountains of Madness). On Obelisk, with three talented improvisers supplementing her usual electronics, the effect is otherworldly. Drummer Jim Black, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, and Okkyung Lee form an amazing quartet, and the unspoken improvisational conversations are wonderfully apparent. This is a new favorite of mine from Mori, and while I adore her solo works I am in love with this sound.
Best known as a founding member of legendary noise act C.C.C.C., Hiroshi Hasegawa is one of my favorite figures of the Japanese noise scene. His visceral approach to his music is on full display on this collaborative cassette with Ukrainian artist Dao De Noize. The two twenty minute pieces are harsh but psychedelic, constantly assaulting your ears with lush collages of atmospheric noise. They're somehow stagnant and dynamic at the same time, building and contracting but never letting up. Amazing project from these two musicians.
Unfortunately, this wasn't the best year for my personal hip-hop listening. I pretty much just stuck to my usual favorites and didn't really like anything new that came out. Except Due Rent, which I would honestly say is one of the most refreshingly great records I have heard in a long time. Both artists show immense talent, with Swarvy's jazzy lo-fi beats perfectly complementing lojii's deadpan delivery and earnest lyrics. I haven't been able to put this one down, and I'm glad for a glimmer of hope amidst a bleak period for the genre (for me at least).
On People Pleaser we get the best aspects of Guthrie's style all in one album, his spastic drumming providing a frenetic backbone for obscure samples, frequency manipulation, and crackling electronics. In contrast to many of the other records on which he's played, the tracks are short and immediate, yet still incredibly well developed. It's consistently intense, disorienting, overwhelming, colorful, and utterly amazing. Definitely looking forward to where he goes next.