40. PRIESTS- NOTHING FEELS NATURAL
Debut album by D.C. based, mostly-female, political punk rockers is a perfect antidote to Trump-era nonsense. It was released back at the top of this year but I finally got around to listening to it in August. Like 70’s punk & post-punk bands like the Raincoats and the Slits, Priests are far more interesting than straight-ahead, paint by numbers punk, adding elements of funk, jazz, reggae and indie-rock. First single “JJ” is the catchiest track, but closing cut “Suck” is the most musically interesting. “Nothing Feels Natural” is a barely thirty minute album with not a second wasted.
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39. REAL ESTATE- IN MIND
Fourth full-length by Northern Jersey bred indie jangle pop act is another winner, making a strong if subtle case that Real Estate is one of the best and most consistent rock groups of this decade. There are small tweaks to Real Estate’s well-honed sound. Founding guitarist Matt Mondanile has left the group and was replaced by fellow Jersey native, the formerly solo artist Julian Lynch. The lyrics concern chief songwriter’s recent move to the upstate New York town of Beacon, marriage and new fatherhood, showing that the band has moved on a bit from post-collegiate, suburban ennui. While every song on “In Mind” sounds unmistakably like Real Estate, the group does rock out at bit more than on prior albums which can seem dramatic to a group with such a mellow, well-formed sound. Opening track and lead single “Darling” is an early favorite and one of the band’s best songs yet but this band is just ear candy to me and I expect to find my favorite songs to change over time with each listen.
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38. WOLF PARADE- CRY CRY CRY
“Cry Cry Cry”, Wolf Parade’s first album in seven years, is quietly its most rewarding listen since the Canadian group’s debut “Apologies To The Queen Mary”, which took indie rock by storm back in 2005. Wolf Parade sticks to its recognizable driving rock sound, led by punchy synth riffs and co-singer/songwriters Dan Boeckner & Spencer Krug’ passionate vocals. The group brings a better stable of songs to the table, after two decent but not great albums released over the last decade in “Expo 86” and “At Mount Zoomer”. Tracks like “You’re Dreaming”, “Artificial Life” and “Valley Boy” are among the band’s best and though many of the album’s songs stretch past the five minute mark, “Cry Cry Cry” speeds by quickly without any real missteps.
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37. BIG THIEF- CAPACITY
Sophomore release from Brooklyn-based indie quarter Big Thief took me awhile to enjoy. “Capacity” is bare-bones, intimate and quite intense. Singer, chief songwriter, and guitarist Adrianne Lenker delivers devastating lyrics often about painful familial memories, death and abuse, but sung in a sweet, very palatable voice. “Capacity” requires immense concentration to fully appreciate its beauty and depth. “Mythological Beauty”, the title track, and “Shark Smile” are the album’s biggest highlights.
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36. CHRIS STAPLETON- FROM A ROOM VOLUMES 1 & 2
Nashville neo-outlaw Country hero Chris Stapleton follow up to his wildly successful, multi-million selling debut “Traveller”, is a modest, brief collection- a part 1 of a planned two part set (part 2 is planned to be released later this year)- that is all killer, no filler. Album highlights include “Up To No Good Livin'”, “Them Stems”, “I Was Wrong” and Willie Nelson cover “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning”, but every single song here is damn good. Stapleton is a top notch songwriter, an authentic and soulful singer and maybe the very best thing going in all of country music right now.
** Since the above review Stapleton did release Volume 2 on 12/1/17. I like it slightly less than “Volume 1”, but combining the two records delivers a solid one-two punch which contains nearly two handfuls of standout tracks with nary a stinker in the whole lot. We are lucky to have this man’s talent.
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35. FATHER JOHN MISTY- PURE COMEDY
“Pure Comedy”, Father John Misty’s third album, is seventy-five minutes long and in his most ambitious and grandest statement yet. Despite an incredibly strong start to the album, that does not make it his most enjoyable. It lacks the amount of strong songs and musical diversity of his last album “I Love You Honeybear”. Misty’s hipster persona, usually laden with irony, makes it difficult for the listener to discern his level of sincerity. While many people find him frustrating; an obviously crazy talented & prolific songwriter with a voice like an angel who just can’t seem to play it straight, I find the persona fresh and interesting. These are dark times both politically and culturally and Misty is not afraid to point fingers at not only our often ridiculous leaders, but the capitalist system in general as well as himself and his own audience. The first four songs on “Pure Comedy”- the title track, “Total Entertainment Forever”, “Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution” & “Ballad Of A Dying Man” are all among the best songs he has ever written but “Pure Comedy” can get bogged down by the amount of similar sounding, lengthy ballads- four of the album thirteen songs are over six minutes with two of them going over ten.
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34. THUNDERCAT- DRUNK
Third album by hotshot L.A. bassist Thundercat is a free-form, often goofy “day in the life of” album made up of 23 songs, each around two minutes. The vibe is experimental but also a loose and laid back fusion of soul, funk & jazz with each song flowing right into the next. Standout tracks include “Friend Zone”, “Show You The Way” (with Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald!) and last year’s cut “Them Changes”, which is maybe the best of them all.
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33. MIGOS- CULTURE
Atlanta trap-rappers piggy-back and the success of #1 single “Bad and Boujee” and follow-up smash “T-Shirt” with the best album of their career so far. Though “Culture” is certainly front-loaded it’s still by far their most consistently good release so far and its unique but more accessible sound should garner the group a ton of new fans.
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32. JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT- THE NASHVILLE SOUND
After two solo albums (2013’s “Southeastern” and 2015’s “Something More Than Free”) which established Jason Isbell as one of the leading lights of alternative country, Isbell releases his first album with his band the 400 unit since 2011 and his third with the group overall. The Nashville Sound is less a singer-songwriter album and more of a southern rock album with gritty kick-ass songs like “Cumberland Gap” and “Last Of My Kind” which sound closer to the Drive-By Truckers than Isbell’s more recent solo output. Though “The Nashville Sound” has a few missteps great songs like the ones mentioned above, along with “If We Were Vampires” and “White Man’s World” make it another worthy listen for Isbell’s ever-growing fanbase.
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31. CHARLOTTES GAINSBOURG-REST
Charlotte, the daughter of legendary French pop star and auteur Serge Gainsbourg, lost her half sister in 2013 to a tragic accident. Her last album “IRM” dealt with her own fears of sickness and mortality. “Rest” is about coming to grips with loss while figuring out how to move forward with your life without being consumed by tragedy. Gainsbourg is able to switch from quiet, depressing ballads like “Kate” and “Rest” to celebratory, dance tracks like “Deadly Valentine” and “Sylvia Says” mirroring the album’s main theme of resiliency.
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