The end is finally here! Cerpin Taxt’s Best Albums of 2017 sees its conclusion with my favourite five albums of 2017. If you’ve followed Part the First and Part the Second, you can probably guess as to what this article’s subjects entail. Unlike the other two parts, however, I’ve decided to rank this final section. I was originally against it, but I’m not alien to bailing on initial intentions – the numbers here mean very little though, as these are the five most essential listens of 2017 that I implore you to listen to.
As an addendum, I’d also like to give an honourable mention to Benjamin Clementine’s eclectic album I Tell a Fly that I’ve only just heard coming into 2018. I’m still coming across excellent albums from 2017, so who knows – I could end up redoing this Album of the Year list next year with completely new records!
Without further ado, here are my favourite albums of 2017:
#5 – Everything Everything – A Fever Dream (Art Pop / Progressive Pop)
A Fever Dream dwells in the shadows of Everything Everything’s powerful stance as the UK’s most formidable art pop group today; conjuring images of humanity at unease and the oncoming collapse of civilization. It’s another distinctive Everything Everything album with their politically-charged lyrics and exuberant vocals, yes, but this time A Fever Dream shows them at their darkest and acts as a counterpart to 2015’s colourfully stellar Get to Heaven.
Isolationism and self-doubt in ‘Can’t Do’ and ‘New Deep’; xenophobia and societal woes in ‘A Fever Dream’, ‘Night of the Long Knives’ and ‘Put Me Together’ and the moral ambiguity in ‘Good Shot, Good Soldier’ plant seeds of anxiety in the listener, making the album feel like an oncoming panic attack. That isn’t to say that A Fever Dream isn’t fun, though: the bouncy Calvin Harris-esque synths in ‘Can’t Do’, the feral ‘Ivory Tower’, the sassy ‘Run the Numbers’ and the campy chorus of ‘Desire’ make for utter bangers. The more tender tracks are also spellbinding, and is probably what Everything Everything have improved upon in this record: the hypnotic post-rockesque title track; the light percussion that nestles in the timid vocals of ‘Put Me Together’ and the instrumental restraint of ‘Good Shot, Good Soldier’ are all stand-out qualities despite being relatively meek.
The only dud here is ‘Big Game’. As lyrically inventive as Everything Everything are, the digs at the Twitter-rampant POTUS and his tiny hands feel superficial here, given the myriad of faults that one could work with. Get to Heaven’s ‘The Wheel (Is Turning Now)’ and its lambasting of Nigel Farage, the UK’s answer to Donald Trump, feels far more creative in its beguiling lyrics and sassy execution. Otherwise, Everything Everything still bring lyrical brilliance in each track with Jonathan Higgs’ absurd delivery as a fantastic medium – especially the absurd imagery in ‘Ivory Tower’.
Alongside Bent Knee, Everything Everything are one of the most impressive art pop groups of the decade, and A Fever Dream is another achievement to put under their belt. The question now is: where do they go from here?
#4 – Glaswegians – Severance (Post-rock / Progressive Rock)
I’m going to cheat here and redirect you to my review of Severance half a year ago, because my point still stands. This album is like an aging wine: it improves over time and I can’t get enough of it. My only other additional comment would be that compared to Mike Oldfield’s Return to Ommadawn, Glaswegians has blown it out of the water. What happened, Mike?!
Severance is what I find to be the strongest progressive rock album of 2017 – it’s an essential listen of the year.
#3 – Lingua Ignota – ALL BITCHES DIE (Death Industrial / Contemporary Classical)
Kristin Hayter, under the alias Lingua Ignota, brings us ALL BITCHES DIE: a window to the terrors of horrific sexual abuse and domestic violence against women. In capturing these traumas, Lingua Ignota brings elements of harsh noise, contemporary classical and industrial music to create an utterly chilling experience.
The brevity of instrumentation in ‘ALL BITCHES DIE (BITCHES ALL DIE HERE)’ and its repetition of piano motifs amplifies the severity of its grave subject. Closing requiem ‘HOLY IS THE NAME (OF MY RUTHLESS AXE)’ and the latter half of ‘ALL BITCHES DIE…’ bring a mournful grace to offset the abrasive strings that stalk in the background. The organs in ‘FOR I AM THE LIGHT (AND MINE IS THE ONLY WAY NOW)’ build a wall of oppressively majestic sound that crumble into an empowered recital of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ – it’s all simply haunting. Every track in ALL BITCHES DIE is crucial, and their expositional spoken word samples accentuate and give context to each song’s message.
Kristin commands the album with utter damnation through her fantastic vocal and dynamic range, overpowering even the cacophonous industrial noise in the opening track. The contrasts between the oppressive noise and delicate piano sections emphasizes the divide of the abused and abuser; the powerlessness and unbridled vengeance that each section embodies. Only the repetition of ‘all bitches die’ at the very end of the title track that loses its impact in diminishing returns, but otherwise ALL BITCHES DIE gains unbridled strength in Kristin’s rawness.
The standout track has to be opener ‘WOE TO ALL (ON THE DAY OF MY WRATH)’ with draconic proclamations at its core, conjuring a demonic and vengeful soul that challenges the horrors wrought in the Book of Revelation:
The teeth of seven thousand men adorn my silver crown
Where’ere I walk ten thousand flies precede me
Where’ere I walk ten thousand serpents follow at my feet
My tongue is an axe and a sword and a five-pointed dagger
To put it in less refined terms: Lingua Ignota’s ALL BITCHES DIE feels like the musical equivalent to the revenge-horror film ‘I Spit On Your Grave’, but that comparison alone is reductive. It’s an emotionally devastating and harrowing record that’s hard to listen without being in moved in some way – whether it’s breaking out in cold sweats to ‘WOE TO ALL (ON THE DAY OF MY WRATH)’ or being brought to tears by closer ‘HOLY IS THE NAME (OF MY RUTHLESS AXE)’. I can appreciate that it’s a difficult album to digest, but its songs and its messages should be witnessed by everyone.
#2 – King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Murder of the Universe (Garage / Psych Rock)
Okay, okay, okay, okay – hear me out:
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s second drop of 2017 brilliantly mixes that cheap 80’s monster B-movie aesthetic with psych rock along the likes of Thee Oh Sees, resulting in a concept album with three enthralling narratives: ‘Altered Beast’, ‘The Lord of Lightning vs Balrog’ and ‘Han-Tyumi & the Murder of the Universe’. The wails from synthesizers, guitars, harmonicas and vocalist Stu Mackenzie amplifies the terror and excitement in each tale, and the over-compression of the drums adds a lo-fi charm that works well with the album’s themes and grungy feel.
The driving force throughout Murder of the Universe, which has led to widely polarizing opinions on the album, is its spoken word elements. Many find them grating, but I love how unsettling the gentle female voice speaking in rhyme is as it contrasts with the grotesque transformations in ‘Altered Beast’. The closing segment, ‘Han-Tyumi…’, is more suitably narrated by a cyborg describing vile imagery of his yearning for vomiting and death; the title track is utterly disgusting that I feel sick just listening to it. I can’t recall any other album closers that abuses my bodily functions like that.
Many criticize the repetition in ‘Altered Beast’ and the simplicity of the melodies that King Gizzard bring in Murder of the Universe, being reductive to the single meme expression of “DUDE SICK RIFFS”, but I find these to be some of the album’s strengths. The overlaying of vocals and guitar melodies in Murder of the Universe make them all the more memorable, and the repetition and evolution of the riff each subsequent part of ‘Altered Beast’ and ‘Alter Me’ keeps the 20-minute suite feeling fresh.
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve spun this record, but it’s definitely my most played of the year and I’ve yet to exhaust it. Forget the polyrhythms of Polygondwanaland; forget the pretentiousness of Flying Microtonal Banana’s entry-level microtonal tracks; forget Sketches of Brunswick East‘s twee jazz front and you’ve probably already forgotten about Gumboot Soup. Murder of the Universe is my favourite King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard record and was almost my favourite album of the year simply for how much fun it is.
#1 – Stevens, Muhly, Dessner & McAlister – Planetarium (Art Pop / Ambient)
I’m such an idiot…
When I first started writing these end-of-year articles, I found it incredibly difficult to distinguish and rank each tier apart, let alone each album. There have been many excellent albums that were released last year, but I didn’t think anything had blown me away quite like previous years’ releases have done.
Now I’ve come to appreciate that Planetarium is the best album I’ve heard from 2017.
Planetarium captures that reverent awe of staring into the starry abyss on a clear night; it encapsulates those childlike dreams of space exploration and it embodies the vastness of solar system’s masses and emptiness. Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens joins forces with The National’s Bryce Dessner, classical composer Nico Muhly and drummer James McAlister to produce a record that commemorates the solar system with the utmost excellence.
The use of electronic beats and synthesizers against orchestral instruments, as well as vocoders being used in tandem with clean vocals, act as respective parallels to the contemporary and classical connotations the solar system. Imagery of the planets anthropomorphized as their corresponding ancient Roman gods, alongside personal and emotional interpretations, reminds us of the cosmos’ dominance over mankind’s curiosity, and the record’s dominance over its audience. However, the mythological symbolism isn’t limited just to Roman deities: ‘Moon’s bestial imagery is drawn from mythos from indigenous America and ‘Pluto’ avoids a depiction Hades, opting instead for a romantic ode to the dwarf planet’s ballet with Charon.
Planetarium is even structured to match the solar system; with songs inspired by the planetary bodies separated by ambient interludes for the most part, with ‘Saturn’ and ‘Jupiter’ acting as the most imposing tracks. The ambient sections in the album are just as necessary as the more exuberant indietronica songs in painting the cosmic background; the ominous ‘Black Energy’, the brightness of ‘Sun’ and the fleeting ‘Halley’s Comet’ still portray their characteristics effectively without words. Only ‘In the Beginning’ feels redundant as an introduction to ‘Earth’ due to its already beautiful opening section, but it’s not subtractive in any way at least.
Thankfully, Sufjan et al. don’t fall into the trope of having track length proportional to the size of each celestial body. Instead, ‘Earth’s tender beginning as life germinates bleeds into a techno breakdown as humanity’s technological advancement becomes law, before regret of a life and planet squandered fades into ambiance – this is all covered in 15 minutes. ‘Sun’, on the other hand, shimmers almost stationarily for under a third of the time, as the seemingly eternal being only flickers with its storms, but is otherwise unmoving.
The track listing seems like a roll of the dice at first, but the juxtaposition of ‘Sun’, ‘Tides’ and ‘Moon’ is logical and smooths the transition from ambiance to ‘Moon’s blinking phases. Opening Planetarium with the sorrowful ‘Neptune’ and ending with the beautiful ‘Mercury’ is utterly perfect; given that they’re the two most emotionally resonant tracks, Planetarium is an utter pleasure to start and to finish.
I can’t say that I’m familiar with any of the artists’ previous works. Sufjan Steven’s Illinois didn’t capture my interest when I listened to it years ago, so being impressed by Planetarium on first listen was surprising. Yet with each revisit, the gravity of the album intensified; the climaxes in ‘Saturn’, ‘Earth’, ‘Mars’ and ‘Jupiter’ sends chills down my body and the tenderness of ‘Pluto’, ‘Neptune’ and ‘Mercury’ makes me weep. The fusion of contemporary and classical arrangements and symbolism is masterful and the balance of indietronica and ambient tracks is exact. Planetarium may feel fleeting on the first few listens, but if you sit down, rid yourself of all distractions and immerse yourself in all 76 minutes of it, you may find it as astronomical as I do.
It’s done, it’s finally over. These album of the year lists are getting increasingly more monstrous in scale, but writing about the albums I’ve gotten so much joy out of and returning to forgotten treasures is easily my favourite part about each new year. I take back what I said on Part the First about bleak musical output, revisiting these fantastic records has been great.
Here’s to 2018.
What do you think about this concluding article? Did you love these albums as much as I did, or do I have plebian tastes? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!