My usual line to describe the Overcoats is: “It’s like the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? except on top of EDM beats.” Usually that grabs people’s attention.
Part of me really wants to push that Black Thought freestyle to the top of my list because I will never be able to look at 2017 in my rear view without hearing it. It was as if he snatched up the mic in the A train conductor’s booth at Inwood and 207th and unleashed such fury that before you realized what was happening, you were stumbling out in a Ciroc-drenched haze at Rockaway Park–Beach 116th. In Black Thought’s cipher, it seems there is a rhyme for every emotion and every moment from heartbreak to triumph and back.
If Daniel Caesar’s voice didn’t remind you that hope is possible — even in 2017 — you may be beyond redemption.
K. Ross Hoffman
Still can’t believe that MUNA’s “I Know a Place” failed to catch on. For me it was the ultimate 2017 anthem, a cry for both individual and collective resistance/resilience (even without the beautifully succinct Trump-targeting bridge they added for their Jimmy Kimmel performance) and a killer dance jam that frames dancing as a political act. Still makes me choke up pretty much every time. Most of the band’s debut — especially the first half — is nearly as strong.
My old roommate would call Club Chai Vol. 1 “scary hedonism music” whenever I put it on. Scary, almost definitely, but the hedonism part is the fun thing. So much experimental club music is processual, not discreetly pleasurable. The revelatory thing about this compilation — dedicated to artists “whose work falls in line with [underground dance party and club label in Oakland, California] Club Chai’s diasporic vision” — is that it feels so full of life. As far as utopias go, I’ll take this one over Bjork’s — flutes are great, but if the revolution doesn’t sound like a sweaty warehouse, then I’m out.
Smokepurpp’s “To the Moon” is flaky and psychedelic like P.M. Dawn (underscored by his name: There was Prince Be and there was Prince, and Prince liked purple, and it all fits together), except it’s 2017, so there are strippers in the video and the lyrics are slurred and indecipherable. Many bonus points for making me think of Jackie Gleason (said video also features a lot of astronaut footage; would have been nice instead to see three minutes of Ralph Kramden bang-zooming a very bored and unimpressed Alice).
Warhaus’s self-titled debut was the Gainsbourg-Waits-Cohen hybrid my 2017 needed. Slinky, sexy, smart, and analog. Everyone I’ve played it for has loved it, hope it continues to spread.
Two years ago I was the only person to vote for Pile and the only person to vote for Queen Moo. I assume that will be the same this year; that doesn’t mean those two records aren’t the two best records of this year.
My top three albums gave me, respectively, comfort, hope, and perspective in a difficult year. Swedish post-rock outfit Horseface build shelters against the forest dark from polyrhythms, violins, lullaby melodies, and old synths. Hannah Peel takes those synths, adds a colliery band, and sends these battered sounds on a redemptive cosmic journey. And Hauschka makes a record for the deep future, player pianos chattering like nanobots, sketching a world after us.
Bubblegum and grunge do not belong together, but Charly Bliss managed to marry these two classic sounds, thanks to a great deal of modern clarity and personal flair. Guppy is a testament to the genre blurring that will ultimately define the 2010s.
Nothing against Rhiannon Giddens, but my road trip this past summer through the South reminded me that there’s lots of idiosyncratic, potent artists who get ignored by the Americana world, from bluesmen like Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, to Southern soul singer Ms. Jody, to the funky Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band.