the year in music: 2017

Another bleak music year – which probably says more about me than the music industry. I have a hard time getting into new bands. I listen to what I listen to, and it’s just tough to break into that circle. I was also majorly underemployed for the first nine months of the year, which put a damper on my discretional spending.

Despite that, I have to call 2017 the year of Gojira. I had heard of this French heavy metal band in the past, but not enough to care to give them a listen. That changed when I saw a YouTube video of one of their songs, which led to me getting their From Mars to Sirius album in 2016. I liked that one enough to pick up the two albums that followed it this year, and all three albums are getting heavy rotation. I don’t even mind that they don’t play guitar solos, which is usually a deal-breaker for me when it comes to new bands.

Top 10 By Listens

10. Sarah Jarosz – Song Up in Her Head (2009). I went to see Jarosz play at what is basically a minor-league NASCAR track. They have a concert venue in one of the buildings big enough to hold a couple hundred people. Fantastic show, really pleased I got to see her play live at last. Even though her newest album (Undercurrent, 2016) is good, it’s still her first album that catches my attention every time. This album didn’t make the Top 20 last year, but I listened to it a lot in 2016, too.

9. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014). This was my #1 album of 2015 and ranked #8 in 2016, so clearly I am still enjoying this album a lot. I’m surprised it made the Top 10 given that Mastodon came out with a new album in 2017, but there it is nonetheless.

8. Eric Johnson – Europe Live (2014). I bought this album last year and it has quickly become my favorite EJ live album. His playing never ceases to amaze me, and I love a good live album. “Cliffs of Dover” still blows me away every time he plays it.

7. Pink Floyd – Animals (1977). I will not hide the fact that Animals remains my favorite Pink Floyd album, and I listen to it a lot. I have a half-dozen versions of it between LPs and CDs. I even had the 8-track once upon a time! The musicianship and songcrafting still amazes me after all these years. Back in the Top 10 after a year off.

6. Gojira – From Mars to Sirius (2014). I’m not the biggest fan of growly vocals and I don’t tend to like things from, about or made in France. I tell you that so you’ll understand just how hard it is for Gojira to break into my album rotation, let alone actually make it into the Top 10 of my annual list. This album is that good. The two albums that follow it, The Way of All Flesh and Magma are also excellent, but there’s something about the aggression and environmental awareness of From Mars to Sirius that resonates with me. My favorite track is “Global Warming,” an eight-minute song in which nearly the entire guitar part is finger-tapped.

5. Fear Factory – Genexus (2015). Last year’s #4 album is this year’s #5, showing that it remains strong in the rotation. Fear Factory’s precision metal and mix of growly and melodic vocals keeps bringing me back.

4. Dead Can Dance – The Serpent’s Egg (1988, 2008 remaster). I’ve had DCD’s “greatest hits album” A Passage in Time since I took a creative writing class in college in probably 1993 or ’94; the professor liked to use it to set a mood for our in-class writing exercises. I always dug that album, but found myself wanting to know what one of their regular studio albums sounded like. I chose the one that had the most songs on APIT, and that’s this one. It’s cool, mellow and thought-provoking, even if you can’t understand the lyrics. I think they sing in Latin, but it could be Dutch for all I know. Sometimes it’s English, but not usually.

3. Ghost – Popestar (2016). One of the things that Ghost does that I like is they like to put out singles – but instead of just releasing one song, they do an EP that has the new single plus a few cover songs. There’s no doubt that Popestar’s centerpiece, “Square Hammer,” was a huge, huge song for Ghost, but for me, the standouts on this EP are their covers of Eurhythmics’ “Missionary Man” and a song called “Bible” originally performed by Imperiet, a Swedish band that nobody has ever heard of. Ghost translated “Bible” into English, and it recounts the myth of God creating the heavens and the Earth in just six days. It’s a slow-building song, and its climax is worth waiting for. Ghost’s version of “Nocturnal Me,” originally by Echo & the Bunnymen, is also excellent.

2. Baroness – Yellow & Green (2012). Last year’s #3 album was Baroness’ Purple – a good album, but it didn’t even make the Top 20 this year. I reverted back to the album that drew me to Baroness in the first place. Their Red album was just outside the Honorable Mentions this year. This is a double album, and it’s fantastic. If you only get one Baroness album, this is the one to get.

mastodon_emperorofsand1. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand. Ever since I discovered Mastodon’s Leviathan, I have gotten everything they put out as soon as they put it out. They are as good a metal band as there has ever been. One of the things I dig about them is that whatever their next album is, it doesn’t sound exactly like their last album. That’s funny, because the thing I dig most about Slayer is that their next album sounds just like their last one. Anyway – Emperor of Sand is probably Mastodon’s most accessible album. The songs are mostly under five minutes and while there’s plenty of progressive influence still apparent, there are tons of hooks and catchy choruses abound. “Sultan’s Curse” is practically a pop song – sure, it would be a pop song about cancer, but still. There’s only two songs on the album over six minutes long and the longest of them is just under eight – compare that to “Pendulous Skin” from Blood Mountain at over 22 minutes long, “The Czar” and “The Last Baron” from Crack the Skye (11 & 13 minutes long respectively), and the nearly 14-minute-long, mostly instrumental “Hearts Alive” from Leviathan. This is an astounding album, topping 2015’s Once More ‘Round the Sun, which I called their best to date in 2016.

Honorable mentions (#11-15) on this year’s most-played list are AC/DC, For Those About To Rock (a perennial favorite, #5 last year); Black Label Society, Stronger Than Death (#6 last year); Enigma, Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi (what can I say? I had an electronica phase); Slayer, God Hates Us All (replacing their Repentless in my top rotation); and Ghost, Meliora (last year’s #9).

Albums Purchased in 2017

  • Darkest Hour – Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora. I know DH’s bass player Aaron Deal. Great guy, fantastic bass player. I got in on their crowdfunding campaign to get their newest album put out, and if you like growly vocals and aggressive metal, you will probably love this album.
  • Dead Can Dance – The Serpent’s Egg (1988, 2008 remaster)
  • Eve 6 – It’s All in Your Head (2011) and Speak in Code (2012). I really love this band’s Horrorscope album and got the bug to hear what they’ve done since that album. While I wasn’t hugely disappointed or regret spending the money, neither of these albums is going to make it into heavy rotation.
  • Sarah Jarosz – Undercurrent (2016). Another solid album from Jarosz as she slowly moves away from her bluegrass roots and towards becoming the queen (or at least a princess) of Americana. I bought this directly from Jarosz at her concert. Nice lady.
  • Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Soul of a Woman. I got this album after seeing a documentary about Jones; she was a late-in-life success story and cut down in the prime of her career by cancer. This is a mind-bendingly good rhythm & blues album that any fan of the genre or powerful female singers would be well advised to pick up. Think Ike-era Tina Turner, but with more attitude and a better horn section.
  • Kaleo – A/B (2016). My coworkers were playing this in the office one day, and I liked it enough to pick it up for myself. They’re sort of Zeppelin-esque with a modern sensibility, and at least one song on this album is in their native Icelandic language. I can’t understand the lyrics, but it’s a great song.
  • KXM – Scatterbrain. This is probably my biggest disappointment of the year, CD-purchase wise. On its surface, the blending of dUg Pinnick (King’s X), George Lynch (Dokken) and Ray Luzier (Korn) should produce music that is both forceful and memorable; unfortunately, this album is only the former. It’s good, but it’s forgettable, unfortunately.
  • Gojira – The Way of All Flesh (2015) and Magma (2016). My obsession with Gojira continues to grow. I will keep working my way back through their catalog one CD at a time.
  • Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls (2015). I went to see Iron Maiden last summer. It was a great show – as expected – but Maiden’s newest songs are … well, competent. They sound like Iron Maiden, and I’m glad they’re still writing new music, but this double album goes on for too long – both in song count and in individual song lengths. The closing track is an endless, meandering piano piece that I would have been happy to never hear.
  • Killer Be Killed – Killer Be Killed (2014). I only got this album a few days ago, having heard about it right before Thanksgiving. It’s Troy Sanders (bass/vox) from Mastodon, Max Calavera (guitar/vox) from Sepultura, and a couple of guys I never heard of from bands I’m barely familiar with. The first few listens are promising – good, old-fashioned metal right here.
  • Mastodon – Emperor of Sand and Cold Dark Place. Cold Dark Place is an EP of songs that were left off the Once More ‘Round the Sun and Emperor of Sand albums. I manipulated the song info in iTunes to include them with the albums they were recorded for, and I think they play quite well in that manner. A nice add-on release from Mastodon.
  • Pinnick Gales Pridgen – PGP 2 (2014). I picked this album up simply for the sake of having both PGP albums – King’s X is one of my favorite bands and I love dUg Pinnick’s voice and bass playing. Eric Gales is a MONSTER guitarist, and Thomas Pridgen (The Mars Volta) is a fantastic drummer. This album isn’t quite as good as their self-titled debut, but it’s worth repeated listenings.
  • Joe Walsh – The Definitive Collection (2006). What can I say? I love Joe Walsh and decided to pick up this greatest hits CD that spans his career from The James Gang to his post-Eagles solo work. It’s fun. The dude can PLAY!

There is no Movie Top 10 this year because – well, I was unemployed for nine months and didn’t spend money on going to the movies. I saw Murder on the Orient Express last night because the power was out at my house and I was bored. Even though the movie was good, it did not cure my boredom. I’ll go see the new Star Wars movie next week, but other than that and Wonder Woman, there wasn’t much to catch my attention in the movie theaters in 2017.

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