Robert Dada’s Top 15 Albums Of 2017

Posted: December 23, 2017 in Music

This is the first year that I expanded the ranking to 15 from 10 but with 30 contenders in total, it was pretty much impossible to whittle this down to 10.  Here goes:

#15. Marilyn Manson: Heaven Upside Down

Marilyn Manson is back in a major way since 2015’s (and in my top 10 of that year) “The Pale Emperor”.  This time around, he’s leveraged his regained relevance and married it with his great works from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It’s no “Antichrist Superstar” or Mechanical Animals” but it’s still very strong and a wonderful return to form.

Manson

 

Pitchfork Review

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/marilyn-manson-heaven-upside-down/

#14. Chrome: Techromancy

Ever since Helios Creed joined the band, Chrome has been a massive force in psychedelic, sci-fi fueled industrial rock. This band should have been huge if there was any justice in the world.

Once again, they have released another slab of brilliance though it’s not on par with 2013’s “Half Machine From The Sun” and 2014’s “Feel It Like A Scientist”.  I still play it often though, especially when on the road.

Chrome_tech

DME Review

http://dmme.net/chrome-techromancy/

#13. The Heliocentrics: A World Of Masks

I love discovering bands whose work I previously did not know about and “A World Of Masks” from The Heliocentrics is a stellar example. This album is equal parts crooner/blues, acid jazz, psychedelic rock and trip hop at the same time. A lot of it feels like drug induced film noir and weirded out classic science fiction. I’d love to throw this on while discussing anything with William S. Burroughs or J.G. Ballard.

This is a great “after the sun goes down” album after good people have gone to sleep and are dreaming and the denizens of the dark rainy urban jungle emerge to share drinks and other substances.

Helio

Pop Matters Review

https://www.popmatters.com/the-heliocentrics-a-world-of-masks-2495389075.html

#12. Primus: The Desaturating Seven

From Wikipedia: The Desaturating Seven is a concept album based on the children’s book The Rainbow Goblins, written by Italian author of children’s books, Ul de Rico. Les Claypool used to read the book to his children when they were younger, and was fascinated and inspired by the book’s vibrant artwork and use of colors. Claypool always felt the book’s story would make a fascinating musical project, and eventually approached his fellow band members about recording original music based on the story of the book.

It has a much more progressive feel to it than other Primus albums so it gives the whole work a sense of freshness when compared to the rest of their catalog.  Great album for night time road trips.

primus-the-desaturating-seven-album-artwork

Cryptic Rock Review

http://crypticrock.com/primus-desaturating-seven-album-review/

#11. In The Nursery: 1961

The sound on their latest release harkens a bit back to their earlier sound of post-punk electronic/industrial material. The album is dark and somewhat gloomy but never veers into ‘sappy goth’ like you sometimes get with artists going way too far to depict the dark side.

The link below does a great job of describing this work. Though I’ve loved these guys since the 80’s this release is one of their best in years.

InTheNursery

The Quietus Review

http://thequietus.com/articles/23576-in-the-nursery-1961-album-review

#10. The Dream Syndicate: How Did I Find Myself Here?

With their first album of new material since 1988, The Dream Syndicate released a masterpiece that will be on heavy rotation for me. The guitars are loud and noisy, the bass is strong and yet all the vocals come through clearly in the mix. Some of it reminds me of REM if they were really good and yet some reminds me of The Velvet Underground / Lou Reed though the songs aren’t as ‘out there’.  This is a very worthy companion piece to 1982’s ‘The Days Of Wine And Roses’.

This is a nice album to play very loud at home or in the car. I was fortunate enough to see them on tour for this album and the songs hold up well in the live setting especially since they are all great musicians. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait almost 30 years again for the next album.

dreamsyndy-1497972094-compressed

Pitchfork Review

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/the-dream-syndicate-how-did-i-find-myself-here/

#9. Roger Waters: Is This The Life We Really Want?

This is Roger’s first solo album in about 24 years.  I don’t know if it was Brexit, the Trump election or the general rise of nationalism/populism in mainland Europe but something got Roger fired up here.

I honestly think this album is his best since Pink Floyd and it fits in well with Pink Floyd’s catalog (I can attest to this after seeing him live twice this year).   Consequence of Sound said the album “is easily the most accessible of Waters’ solo work—a distillation in many regards of the anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, anti-greed messages he’s been broadcasting since Pink Floyd.” Pitchfork said the album’s “myriad sonic references to his work with Pink Floyd suggest that Waters is comfortable with his past. The more you accept how much his past reflects in his present, the more receptive you’ll be to this album’s charms.”

RWaters

Rolling Stone Review

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/review-roger-waters-is-this-the-life-we-really-want-w485215

#8. St. Vincent: Masseduction

For her 5th studio album, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) incorporates a more electronic sound throughout its 13 songs. Even though it peaked at #10 on the Billboard 200, none of it feels overly commercial or accessible though it does have many catchy and infectious rhythms with her futuristic pop sound.

Like 2014’s ‘St. Vincent’, ‘Masseduction’ is ending up on a lot critics best of lists this year. Arguably this is her best album as the songwriting is bolder and very accomplished. She’s potentially reaching for a wider audience but does so without compromising the quirkiness and originality of her previous works.  This is the most ‘commercial’ album to make my list but I never think of it that way when I listen to it. It proves that you can still release great music for the masses.

StVincent.jpg

New York Times Review

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/arts/music/st-vincent-masseduction-review.html

#7. Clan Of Xymox: Days Of Black

I believe this is the 16th studio album (along with a slew of singles over the years) by Ronny Mooring’s Clan Of Xymox and though the sound is different than their first two albums, 1985’s ‘Clan Of Xymox’ and 1986’s ‘Medusa’, I find myself playing this as much as those two. If you like electro heavy, darkwave music, this comes highly recommended.

Though Ronny has been for quite some time, the only original member of the band, that doesn’t become an issue since all the work to date features his rich, deep vocals and melancholy guitar work. I can say that no new ground has been broken with this release but why mess with a formula that really works well?

This album works best at night, with low lights and the substance of your choice (the kind that relaxes you) while at the same time makes you want to take to the dance floor and dance within the multicolored lights, strobes and thick fog.

clan-of-xymox

Cryptic Rock Review

http://crypticrock.com/clan-xymox-days-black-album-review/

#6. The Residents: The Ghost Of Hope

Per Wikipedia, this is The Resident’s 44th studio album since 1974 (and let’s not even go into the many more singles, EP’s, compilations, live albums and multimedia projects). I think it’s their best since 2008’s ‘Bunny Boy’.

Per their website:

“Following their long tradition of projects based on narrative themes, The Residents are pleased to announce the release of The Ghost of Hope, an historically accurate album based on train wrecks. Pursuing this theme in both a literal and metaphorical sense, the group discovered a series of vintage news articles highlighting the dangers of train travel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Inspired by the era’s elegant language, the group then contrasted that eloquence against the sheer horror of these devastating events, resulting in an album that sounds both startlingly new and curiously nostalgic. Using the familiar elements of music, spoken voice, sound effects and audio textures, The Residents have constructed a highly original series of tone poems quite unlike the music of anyone else – except, of course, The Residents.”

With the following tracks: ‘Horrors Of The Night’, ‘The Crash At Crush’, ‘Death Harvest’, ‘Shroud Of Flames’, ‘The Great Circus Train Wreck Of 1918’, ‘Train vs. Elephant’ (probably one of the greatest song titles ever), and ‘Killed At A Crossing’, this is one of the dark side Resident’s albums (Think of the ‘Hell’ compilation vs the ‘Heaven’ compilation).

Much of ‘The Ghost Of Hope’ returns us to an earlier Residents sound from the 80’s which I think was always their best overall period. The songs tend to be on the longer side (7 songs at 48 minutes) which gives them time to build to their inevitable climax without leaving you bored. They effectively use their equipment to capture the sounds of the railroads as well has creating an atmosphere of the past to allow the ‘stories’ to come through effectively.

In many ways but for different reasons, this album reminds me of Einsturzende Neubauten’s 2014 (and my #1 for that year) ‘Lament’.  It doesn’t sound anything like it but the overall sense of history being captured with the music is very compelling.

Residents

Louder Than War Review

http://louderthanwar.com/the-residents-the-ghost-of-hope-album-review/

#5. Richard H. Kirk: Dasein

Being either one third or one half (depending on what year you are looking at) of one of my favorite industrial / post-punk / electronic bands, Cabaret Voltaire, I’ve been following Richard H. Kirk’s work since the early 80’s. In addition to Cabaret Voltaire, he has quite an extensive body of work as a solo artist and I think Dasein is his best work (that I know of) as a solo artist.

Much of this album reminds me of early 80’s Cabaret Voltaire (think Red Mecca era, etc.) with a bit more percussion like mid to late 80’s work, without coming across as too danceable like their final works became.

Many of the 9 tracks start with minimal intros with successive layers of sounds building on top of one another. Dialog samples and/or distorted vocals again throws us back to the sound of classic Cabaret Voltaire.

With songs that have titles such as ‘Nuclear Cloud’, ‘New Lucifer / The Truth Is Bad’, ‘Radioactive Water’ and ‘Invasion Pretext’, the tone on this album is not upbeat by any measure though most of the tracks move along and groove once they really get started.

The final track, ‘Sub / Antarctic / H20’, is a slower, noisy, industrial/electronic track that is evocative of some of the soundtrack type work he and Cabaret Voltaire have done over the years. It moves along slowly with dense noise building and receding throughout. I don’t view it so much as a track to discern meaning out of it but more of an outro soundtrack piece that allows you to think about the 8 previous tracks you just heard.

RKirk

The Quietus Review

http://thequietus.com/articles/22770-richard-h-kirk-review

#4. Gary Numan: Savage (Songs From A Broken World)

Like 2013’s release, ‘Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)’, ‘Savage’ is a dark album. But whereas ‘Splinter’ was more internally focused, ‘Savage’ is outwardly focused about a dystopian world in decay and civilization that has largely collapsed.  Though many tracks pound with synths, bass, and percussion, it does not take away from the overwhelming melancholia.

This album has a bit more personal relevance to me since I helped to crowd fund it as it was being recorded and produced. It was interesting to see and hear Gary throughout the process talking about the progress and letting us in a bit into the creative process.

Since I loved ‘Splinter’ so much, I was never expecting to be disappointed but I also didn’t think it could be better in a major way. Well, it is.

In ‘When The World Comes Apart’ he sings:

And when the sun fell down
And when the moon failed to rise
And when the world came apart
Where were you?
Were you with me?
When my light burns out
And when my fire is cold
And when my breath is the wind
Where will you be, dear God?

As I listen to this track and the album in general, my answer to the last question to the lyrics above are ‘Long Gone’.

This album is brilliant. If you are a Gary Numan fan, this is a must have. Even if you aren’t as familiar with his work over the years, this is a must have.

Numan

Electrozombies Review

https://electrozombies.com/review/gary-numan-savage-songs-from-a-broken-world/

#3. The Tear Garden: The Brown Acid Caveat

Earlier this year it was announced that the group would celebrate their 30th anniversary with the release of a new album, The Brown Acid Caveat. As some of you know, The Tear Garden is a psychedelic/experimental/electronic band, formed by Edward Ka-Spel of The Legendary Pink Dots and cEvin Key of Skinny Puppy in 1985. Their work over the years has often caught them taking the very best of both of those bands and fusing them into something uniquely its own.

This was another crowd sourcing album I participated in. I had no doubt in the world this album would be worth it, given past efforts as well as Edward and cEvin’s humongous output overall. As I suspected, I was not let down. Upon first listen I knew this album would probably end up in the top five of 2017. It was just a matter of what final ranking it would get.

Metropolis Records stated: “It’s been nearly 50 years since the first Brown Acid Caveat was issued to a million hippies in a field at the first Woodstock Festival. In these dark, more-knowing times The Tear garden felt it was the perfect moment to mark their 30th Anniversary with a similar warning.”

Clocking in at 1 hour, 17 minutes, the 12 tracks (none under 4 minutes and half over 7 minutes), drips with delicious psychedelia, with nice electronic beats to keep things moving and Edwards always phenomenal vocals and trippy lyrics.

Stand out tracks include ‘Strange Land’, ‘Calling Time’, (the hysterical) ‘Lola’s Rock’, ‘A Private Parade’ and ‘Seven Veils’, though there isn’t a weak track on the entire album. The album is paced nicely with the slower and more up-tempo songs complimenting each other. It’s often hard to believe this is a side project effort when most full-time bands couldn’t achieve the same level of quality even if they tried.

TGarden

Reflections Of Darkness Review

http://www.reflectionsofdarkness.com/artists-p-t-cdreviews-134/17564-cd-review-tear-garden-the-the-brown-acid-caveat

#2. Wire: Silver/Lead

Silver/Lead is the sixteenth studio album by British post-punk band Wire. It was conceived to arrive in conjunction with the fortieth anniversary of Wire’s first gig as a four-piece band on 1 April 1977 at The Roxy in London. Though obviously one cannot like all albums from a band equally, ‘Silver/Lead’ is on a par with my very favorite Wire albums like ‘Pink Flag’, ‘154’, ‘The Ideal Copy’, ‘Red Barked Tree’ and ‘Wire’.

Why this band is not more popular continues to baffle me. They have influenced so many other artists who have gone on to successful careers. Big Black, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth and R.E.M. expressed a fondness for the group. R.E.M. covered ‘Strange’ on their album Document. Minor Threat covered ‘12XU’.  Henry Rollins covered ‘Ex-Lion Tamer’. Robert Smith has described how, after seeing the group live, Wire influenced The Cure’s sound after their first album.

Always wanting to support them in any way I can, I bought this album directly from them so they would receive the maximum return for my investment (yes, I consider great music to be an investment). In addition, I purchased the version that comes with a book describing each song and presenting their lyrics (though one will never get a clear translation from Graham Lewis on what any of his lyrics are about). That gave me an insight into what went into each song and how they were created which probably influenced the overall ranking.

I do have somewhat of a personal relationship with the band, having spent time with them before/after the 3 shows I’ve seen of them in Washington DC as well as contact through social media but that in no way influenced where I put this on the list. In fact, I would say that my opinion of the quality of their work over the decades (in addition to how kind they are) has made me want to get closer to them in the first place.

Though much of the material in my top 15 is not for the faint of heart or those who do not like to be challenged, Wire has almost always managed to deftly balance creative originality along with (yes) an accessible listening experience (of course my overall tastes are all over the place and way off the beaten path). To me, Silver/Lead is a perfect example of this.

I don’t know how many people even care about my annual best of lists but if I convince 5 people to dive into Wire, my work here has been rewarded. Dive!

Wire

The Quietus Review

http://thequietus.com/articles/22134-wire-silver-lead-album-review

#1. UUUU: s/t

UUUU is a new band featuring Graham Lewis, Thighpaulsandra, Matthew Simms and Valentina Magaletti. These musicians have been the forces behind Wire, Coil, Dome, He Said, etc.  This album is such a brilliant work that perfectly captures high experimentalism in music while still retaining some semblance of accessibility. Translate: You won’t ever find a single radio station (at least in the US) willing to play this stuff but there are still many cuts you can move to.

To me this is one of the most brilliant albums ever released, akin to Einsturzende Neubauten’s 2014 (and my top album of 2014) “Lament”. In other words, it’s an experimental album that I will play A LOT over the years. It’s really not for anyone who prefers traditional song structures but unlike some experimental records released over the years, it’s not at all akin something you like and appreciate but readily admit that it takes some effort to get through. I fell in love with it upon first listen. Like The Tear Garden, I am hoping this is a side project that will continue to release new material.

To illustrate how much this album moved me, my wife and I are flying over to London in January to see them perform live. This will clearly be the most expensive concert ever for us (trust me, there have been many costly concert trips) but I can’t miss out on this.  I for one, am eagerly anticipating how they are going to pull this off in a live setting. I give them the thumbs up for even trying.

Thank you UUUU for keeping the flame of experimentalism alive and well.  In a word, Bravo!

UUUU_1506860095

The Quietus Review

http://thequietus.com/articles/23301-uuuu-uuuu-album-review

Honorable Mentions:

Bash And Pop – Anything Could Happen: The latest from Tommy Stinson’s latest project. Good straight ahead indie rock and way improved over 1993’s (yes it’s been that long between albums) ‘Friday Night Is Killing Me’.

One-Eyed Doll – Wicked: It would be in the top 10 but it’s an EP and does not qualify for my criteria. Great music though!

The Horrors – V: Great material but still inferior to ‘Primary Colours’ and ‘Skying’.  As a result, they are capable of better.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment Of Luxury: If 2017 wasn’t such a great year for albums, this would have made the top 15. Much of it reminds me of their early to mid 80’s work.  It still comes highly recommended.

Prophets Of Rage – Prophets Of Rage: I wanted to like this album more than I did. It’s got its moments but given where these guys come from, it could have been stronger.

KMFDM – Hell Yeah: Really strong material but it doesn’t really break any new ground for them. You kind of know in advance what you’re getting with KMFDM.

Chuck Berry – Chuck: Released when he was 90, I think this is his best effort since his glory days.

Prong – Zero Days: Not bad but they are capable of doing better. I will find myself going to other albums by them when I get in the mood to hear them.

Nine Inch Nails – Add Violence: I appreciate the experimentalism but again, it’s an EP and can’t qualify.

Daniel Ash – Freedom: One of his better solo efforts but not up to par with his work in Bauhaus, Love And Rockets or Tones On Tail. Those are pretty lofty goals though.

Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock: A bit better than 2014’s ‘The Man Upstairs’, which was also really good. A nice dive back into psychedelic rock.

Depeche Mode – Spirit: Their best album since 1990’s ‘Violator’.

Alice Cooper – Paranormal: Really fun stuff and great hard rock from a guy who has been doing this stuff since 1969. My first rock idol, he did not let me down this time.

Brian Eno – Reflection: A nice return to the ambient form but with just one cut clocking in at 54 minutes, it’s not the kind of thing you’re going to throw on frequently. A generative version of the album is available as an app that plays infinitely and changes the music at different times of the day; digital streaming versions of the album update on a seasonal basis. Eno is still one of the gods of experimentalism.

Body Count – Bloodlust: Similar to Prophets Of Rage, I wanted to like this album more than I did. I’m not disappointed that I bought it but I doubt it will ever be in heavy rotation.

X Marks The Pedwalk – Secrets: Lately they’ve released material that is easily on a part with their early 90’s stuff. Their influence on the electronic and industrial music scene is undeniable and it’s great to know they are still releasing new material.

 

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