Hey, everyone. Andthony Wittano here, the Pleiad’s busiest music nerd, and it’s time for my compilation of the best, in-between and worst albums of the year.
2017 was…something, to say the least. Thankfully the music industry was able to keep us fairly entertained amidst gloomy headlines and presidential tweeting sprees.
In the preface of these reviews, I’ll quote Anthony Fantano himself, “Ya’ll know this is just my opinion, right?”
Portugal. The Man, “Woodstock”: Like many other fans of the Alaskan psychedelic indie group, I was a tad bit worried when the band’s single “Feel It Still,” began to gain prominence on the airwaves. Bands that we discover on our own accord are, in kind of an odd way, precious. We don’t want them to sell out what made us fall in love with them in order to appease commercial audiences.
Their latest album, though, thankfully convinced me otherwise. The band previewed this album by doing what helped them gain popularity in the first place: forging their own obscure path. This included releasing a custom blend of cannabis and even waging a war of words with internet juggernaut Alex Jones. Portugal. The Man holds their own with this one, making powerful statements about today’s political climate, yet all the while still oozing with cool.
Jidenna, “The Chief”: As the American-born and Nigerian-influenced rapper would put it, “that world between classy and ratchet is at the center of my life story.” This certainly hits the nail on the head for Jidenna’s album. From performing in three-piece suits to attending summits at the White House, Jidenna is a classic example of the guy that your girlfriend tells you not to worry about.
These lavish lifestyles are certainly apparent on his debut studio album. While mixing the Nigerian Highlife genre with smooth rap beats, Jidenna carves his own path within the hip-hop industry. Tracks like “Chief Don’t Run,” “Classic Man,” and “Long Live the Chief” melodically tell his life story, from living in Nigeria to graduating from Stanford. This album would make me raise my pinky finger even if I was drinking water.
Mac Demarco, “This Old Dog”: When speaking of artists who have shown a fair amount of growth within their music this year, we should definitely consider the latest album from the Canadian king of stoner rock.
In “This Old Dog,” we see the same compassionate lyrics and mellow guitar chords that Demarco often incorporated in albums like “Salad Days” and “2.” However, we see a little more maturity out of the now 27-year-old rocker. With songs like “My Old Man” and “Dreams from Yesterday,” Mac is more reflective with his writing, which isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s no bodacious brag fest with roaring guitar solos, but rather a relaxed glimpse at Mac Demarco’s life today, one in which he’s doing pretty well if I do say so myself.
Big K.R.I.T, “4eva Is a Mighty Long Time”: Undoubtedly the best rap album of the year, in my humble opinion. The Mississippi rapper has come a long way in his career since being booed offstage in 2010 when opening up for fellow rapper Jay Electronica. This album proves that K.R.I.T now has all the missing puzzle pieces in place.
We essentially see two different faces to the rapper with this release. As a two-disk album, the first is more akin to the Big K.R.I.T that we have been familiar with in the past few years: southern-fried bangers that pop harder than bubble gum. The second disk, however, takes a different route, as he incorporates a softer, more gentle blend of southern funk. It’s almost as though K.R.I.T takes a step back from the modern day rap persona to create something that’s, by all regards, innovative.
Honorable Mentions: BROCKHAMPTON, Saturation; Tyler, The Creator, Flower Boy; The xx, I See You
The Killers, “Wonderful, Wonderful”: This was the long-awaited return from one of the greatest rock bands to emerge in the 2000s. Hits like “Mr. Brightside” and “When You Were Young” solidified them as a household name among music fans alike. They’ve had multiple chart-topping records, a plethora of sold out shows and even a few Grammy nominations. All that being said, I, along with many other Killers fans, was very eager to see what this new album had in store.
What they would deliver, though, was a bit underwhelming. While the band had done an excellent job of teasing the album with fantastic singles like “The Man” and “Run for Cover,” this release as a whole seemed to lack what made The Killers “The Killers.” Quite honestly, there were many instances in listening to this album that I had to make sure I wasn’t listening to a classic U2 compilation, as it began to sound so similar. It’s not a bad thing to incorporate influences, but I feel as though Brandon Flowers and company relied on this crutch too heavily. This does not discount from some definite highlights on the album, including “Tyson vs Douglas” and “Out Of My Mind.” Was it their best album? Absolutely not. Was it an admirable comeback attempt? Eh, I’d say so.
Father John Misty, “Pure Comedy”: A lot of people were doing backflips over this album. I, frankly, thought it was very average. While I respect the talent and performing styles of Misty (surname Josh Tillman), this album’s theme of “death by media consumption” came to be too much at points. A decent listen, but certainly not the Album of the Year.
Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”: Believe me, it truly is painful to put perhaps one of the greatest Indie bands of all time in this category. Nonetheless, this album simply wasn’t good.
Ever since their 2013 album “Reflektor,” the Montreal-based band has completely diverted from the somber and uplifting orchestrations to synthpop dance beats that, frankly, seem off-putting. Given that “Reflektor” wasn’t exactly a bust, it seems as though Arcade Fire took this as a sign to continue with this shtick, thus leading to the disaster that is “Everything Now.”
To their credit, the beginning of this album provided me with some hope that this could all work out. From the intro track to the title song “Everything Now,” I began to wonder if the band would prove me wrong. Think again. The downfall started with the track “Creature Comfort.” The track’s instrumental is great, however, the lyrics are what ruin it for me. While I am not at all trying to downplay the social issues that are described on this track, such as the gender norms of mental illness, I still find it a bit hard to take it all seriously coming from them. Perhaps the song’s cringey-est moment comes in the line that depicts a girl who contemplates committing suicide, but then decides not to after listening to the band’s first album “Funeral.”
…What? Arcade Fire is definitely not a self-congratulatory band, but this certainly walks that line. If we’re going to praise “Funeral,” then it should be for the innovative sounds that brought Arcade Fire the success they presently have. This album is a mess of which the band seemingly doesn’t want to pick up. Maybe it’s time for reflection?
Gorillaz, “Humanz”: Once again, a long-awaited return that was less than flattering.
This was the notorious British virtual band’s first studio album in seven years. Within that time period, many fans were brewing up ideas of how/if the group would return. On the eve of President Trump’s inauguration, Gorillaz released their first single, “Hallelujah Money,” an apocalyptic glimpse into future. This would soon serve as the overriding concept of the album: a last-chance dance party before the world completely crumbled. An interesting idea in theory, but the album simply doesn’t pan out well.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in this album is the mere absence of the Gorillaz. With a track listing that is loaded with big name features, the songs almost revolve around the style of the artists being featured as opposed to the actual band. A perfect example of this would be the song “Saturn Barz,” which features Jamaican singer Popcaan. With very minimal vocal work from the band’s leader Damon Albarn, it would have been hard for me to guess that this song was made by the Gorillaz in the first place.
While I don’t think the band’s career is quite over yet, I, along with many other fans, would have liked them to deliver a little more than they did on this one.
XXXTentacion, “Members Only, Vol. 3”: Not much can be said about this one. As the beloved cartoon character Squidward Tentacles would put it, “No, X, aggressively yelling is not an instrument.”