With 2017 half over and not being nearly the dumpster fire that 2016 was, I felt like it would be good to look back at some of my favorite music from the past six months that I never got the chance to talk about in a full review. I generally listen to at least five or six new albums a week, basically making it impossible to give everything I want to talk about a full review. So, in no particular order, here are some of the records that have stood tall on the top of mountain of my sporadic listening habits.
Billy Childs- Rebirth (jazz)
This may seem like a bit of an unassuming jazz record on first glance, but repeated listening reveals some of the most tightly wound compositions you’re likely to hear this year, all delivered by the eponymous pianist and his quartet, with a few guests on several tracks. The album has great variety and every track has a completely different vibe than any other track. As is to be expected, the performances on Rebirth are impeccably well played, with just the right amount of mathematical precision to keep the tension running high and never do the band’s instrumental tangents feel like they’re trailing off into the sort of unfocused improvisations that many lesser jazz ensembles fall into.
Standout Track: “Dance of Shiva”
The Menzingers- After the Party (pop punk)
I have to say, the reason I never gave this album a full review was that it actually took me about three months to figure out whether or not I liked this album. The tunes are massive and fun, a real demonstration of how to make pop punk with some real grit, but the main theme of the record is the type of nostalgic sentimentality that comes really close to rendering the record a bit saccharine for my tastes. That and the album gets off to a bit of a rough start in my opinion. The first track is outstanding but I feel like it sort of falters after that until the song “Charlie’s Army”, after which the album is flawless all the way to the end. Even with the flaw I mentioned, I can’t help but be won over by the joyous nature of a lot of these songs. Ultimately I have to concede that this is a great pop punk record because these tunes are just undeniable.
Standout Track: “Charlie’s Army”
Power Trip- Nightmare Logic (metal)
If you know me well, you probably can guess that my favorite junk food music comes in the form of really knuckleheaded thrash metal. And no one has ever recaptured the spirit of that special eighties brand of hardcore punk inflected thrash metal quite like Power Trip have here. Everything here scratches that retro thrash itch, from the muddy guitar tone to the rather intrusive reverb that coats the mix. The lack of double kick drums especially does a lot to strip this record down to the bare essentials. There is absolutely nothing fancy about any of this and it makes me want to smash empty Bud Lite cans against my head.
Standout Track: “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)”
Run the Jewels- Run the Jewels 3 (hip hop)
There may be a debate about whether this is a 2016 album or a 2017 album, but since the physical release didn’t drop until January, I’m counting as part of this year. There’s not a whole lot to say about this really, other than the hip hop duo has gone three for three when it comes to their albums. Everything awesome about the first two RTJ releases is still here, but with even more glitzy production and grandiose presentation. RTJ3 contains some of El-P’s finest production and beatwork to date, and him and Killer Mike throw out endless bars like it doesn’t mean anything. A heightened ambition comes in the form of a more socially conscious second half of the album, in which the two display some greater lyrical nuance and storytelling. Also, the obligatory unannounced Zach De La Roca cameo is as awesome as ever.
Standout Track: “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”
Employed to Serve- The Warmth of a Dying Sun (hardcore punk)
I’m really happy to see that nostalgia has been building over the past couple of years for metalcore in the older sense of the word. The subgenre has become so watered down that the original sound has basically been removed entirely from most bands doing it today. Between Code Orange and these guys, a more true brand of metalcore seems to be gaining more ground against the poppier end of the subgenre. I guess a fairly common point of reference for Employed to Serve would be early Converge, although these guys and girls aren’t quite as anarchic. This is forty minutes of angular beatdowns and it is all done with the finest level of craft. With so many great hardcore records coming from the U.K. the past few years, we may look back on this period as a little golden age for this type of music.
Standout Track: “I Spend My Days (Wishing Them Away)
Roger Waters- Is This the Life We Really Want? (progressive rock)
This is the first Roger Waters solo album since 1992 (unless you count the opera that he wrote music for back in 2005), and I think he was waiting all this time for something to truly piss him off like never before, and given the general direction the world has taken in the last two years, he certainly has plenty to work with. I wasn’t expecting this to be very good, but, despite some overly on-the-nose Floyd-isms that were kind of distracting, this was actually really good. Roger Waters does a lot on here to remind everyone how great of a songwriter he truly is, as well as delivering his trademark scathing lyrical approach. But the most important thing is that through all of this, I think Waters’ sincerity shines through. He puts so much passion and even youthful rage into all of these songs that you can’t help but rally behind him in the end.
Standout Track: “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”
Colin Stetson- All This I Do for Glory (experimental/ambient)
Colin Stetson has collaborated with more artists than I care to count, but his solo works are some of the most texturally interesting music around in that he gets sounds out of his saxophone that are like no other sax player you’ve ever heard. I’m not sure the extent to which the post-production goes on this record but some of the sounds Stetson coaxes out of his sax are haunting, to say the least. Some have described it as avant-garde jazz, but to me it has more of a world music vibe given the album’s tribalistic rhythms and some sax sounds that sound like demonic bone flutes. The cow skulls on the album cover set the vibe up before you even listen, as this is music that sounds like it belongs in a desert. Whatever you want to call it, this is an extremely interesting performance and I hear new little textures every time I listen to it. The album might be a bit minimalistic for some listeners as the only things on the album are sax and occasional percussion, but let it sink into your mind in the late hours of the night for a mind-expanding listen.
Standout Track: “The Lure of the Mine”