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Can it be a year since the last list? Here goes with my favorite 20 releases of 2017. Your tastes are not mine, you will disagree, but maybe there is something here that you might not have discovered, something of beauty that might bring you joy. At one point I thought this might be a thin year; when I got down to making the list I realized there was no filler at the bottom. Exact placement is fuzzy – there are lots of apples and oranges being compared here. Feel free to move any of these up or down a few places in your head.

#1. Taylor Deupree – Somi

Deupree’s Faint from a few years ago is still one of my regular listens and pleasures, and I wonder with hindsight if I should have placed it at number one that year. He gave me another chance with the magnificent, meditative Somi. Loops of single notes from acoustic instruments played at varying intervals are layered and treated to create a fascinating slow dance of beauty and rest. And the deluxe edition packaging was as gorgeous as the music. (Listen)

 

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Monads – Porya Hatami

Here is the mystery of Monads. It is, by design, not an album of tunes, or even of nice, appealing drones. It is a collection of experiments in sound design, playing with frequencies and the odd bulges, strange eruptions, and frayed edges that emerge when sound itself is subjected to expert duress. It appears on the LINE label, which specializes in rarified noises that would puzzle many of my friends. It is an album that, save for one track, might be a shock to the system of anyone who comes to it from the melodic, pastoral beauty of a previous Hatami album such as Shallow. It is the kind of album where the review ought to be about all the special equipment and arcane techniques employed to wrestle the novel sounds out of the ether.

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It’s been a quiet 2016 at Music is Good. Professional commitments have left some regulars with less time for blogging. But we’re still listening. Here are my top 20 albums for 2016. I excluded compilations (though Orbital Planes & Passenger Trains, Vol. 1 from Serein, Into the White from Dronarivm, and Eleven into Fifteen from 130701 all delighted me). As ever, this is the best in my subjective judgment of what I heard and liked, no more, and the numbering is less important than the chance of helping someone find something good that they missed. This year I am treating EPs separately, in a second post.

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25. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

Waxahatchee - Ivy TrippIvy Tripp is DIY singer/songwriter that draws on Katie Crutchfield’s punk past.  Lyrically, the album continues her exploration of feminist ideas, and uses her experiences, or more specifically her mistakes, to demonstrate how a strong, independent woman is formed in today’s society.

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Here is my top 20 music releases for 2015, with no claim that they are somehow objectively the best or that I listened to everything anyone else did. I have found things that delighted me on other people’s lists, and the point of the exercise is not to replicate or compete with those lists but to highlight some things you may not have found, things that might delight you. The sequence changed every time I made a shortlist, so take the numbers with a pinch of salt – all of them could be at least plus or minus 5 on a given day.

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Arovane - dwell_tevvel_structure

dwell_tevvel_structure by Arovane

Germany’s Arovane has been putting out some striking ambient material of late, including the recent dwell_tevvel_structure on the UK label …txt recordings. I have no idea what a tevvel is, and neither does Google; it’s an anagram of velvet and bears a passing resemblance to the Dutch teviel (“too much”), but who knows if that is relevant. Dwelling, in the sense of settling down and taking time, and structure, here in the form of careful layers of sound, are both terms that illuminate the music on this album. The album consists of four long sound pieces (ranging from 14 to 20 minutes), each with its own distinct character yet tied together sonically in an arc that suggests four movements of a whole. The first opens with a gently undulating drift and fluttering patters of brightness – perhaps it’s the cover art, but I find it hard not to think of sunlight sparkling on waves.

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Jenny Hval - Apocalypse, girlJenny Hval – Apocalypse, girl

Norwegian Jenny Hval makes experimental music made up of gentle, often ethereal, synths and uncompromising lyrics focusing on sex, gender, aging, religion, and other deep personal subjects (the word “cunt” is startlingly used on multiple tracks).  This combination of the otherworldly and fully human creates an unsettling, fascinating whole.  Apocalypse, girl, Hval’s third release under her own name, she previously recorded as Rockettothesky and along with Håvard Volden as Nude on Sand, is her best work to date.  In fact, much of Apocalypse, girl merges all the above topics into one massive exploration of the female condition.  This is not music for idle listening, but requires time and focus.  That time and focus are rewarded, however, with one of the most lyrically interesting albums of the year thus far.

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BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah - Sour SoulBADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

Combining an avant-garde, instrumental jazz and hip hop trio and a brilliant MC with a love for soul/jazz samples is a no brainer.  So, it should come as no surprise the combination of BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah works so well.  Throw in guest verses from guys like Doom and Danny Brown, and Sour Soul is an embarrassment of riches.  The album sounds exactly as you would hope, with unmistakable Ghostface rhymes (in both topic and flow) sitting on top of a bed of soulful piano/synths, live bass, and drums.  The artists all have such a wonderful feel for each other it seems they’ve been working together for years.  Sour Soul is a great album.

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Drake - If You're Reading This It's Too LateDrake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Drake has jumped on the release an album by surprise bandwagon with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.  Unlike Beyoncé’s and D’Angelo’s big, blown out surprise albums, however, IYRTITL is really more of a mixtape than a studio album and finds Drake at his most stripped down and emo.  Most of the album is just Drake rapping over spare beats (primarily from Boi-1da, but Noah “40” Shebib is obviously here, too), with only the occasional feature from the likes of Lil Wayne, Travi$ Scott, and PARTYNEXTDOOR.  Essentially, IYRTITL is an album chock full of the most divisive aspects of Drake’s music, so if you’re already a fan you’ll love it, but if you aren’t it’s best to skip this one.

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Father John Misty - I Love You, HoneybearFather John Misty – I Love You Honeybear

If you like the sound of soulful 70’s singer-songwriters, but think their lyrics weren’t nearly sarcastic, caustic, or angry enough, I’d like to introduce you to Father John Misty.  I Love You Honeybear is the real life Josh Tillman’s sophomore album as Father John Misty, and while it replaces a lot of the anger of its predecessor with sincere sentiments of love (he met his now wife after Fear Fun was written) he hasn’t lost all of it (the lines “Save me white Jesus” and “Save me President Jesus” from first single “Bored in the USA” are early contenders for my favorite line of the year).  More importantly, there’s a rare depth to this album that takes several listens to reach.  Once it has been reached, however, I Love You Honeybear opens up and shows it is well worth the time.

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