Favorite Albums of 2017

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In the year before she died of pancreatic cancer in 2016, this astounding soul singer recorded one last album, and it’s flat-out terrific — a testament to Jones’ indomitable spirit and the enduring power of the soul music genre when it’s in the hands of such talented artists. daptonerecords.com

2. Joan Shelley: Joan Shelley (No Quarter)
This Louisville singer-songwriter made my favorite record of 2015, Over and Even, and came very close to winning that title again with her self-titled. Simply beautiful acoustic folk music, with a sense of yearning that pulls me in every time. joanshelley.net

3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Luciferian Towers (Constellation)
This Montreal ensemble may be categorized as rock music, but to me, it’s one of the great orchestras of our time. *Luciferian Towers* is not quite as foreboding or dark as GYBE’s other recent albums, but it’s just as rich and powerful, leaning more toward the light. cstrecords.com

4. The Feelies: In Between (Bar None)
The iconic New Jersey band took six years in between albums this time, finally releasing another excellent collection of groovy rock songs. As the title In Between suggests, this album falls somewhere in the middle of the Feelies’ most pastoral folk rock and its Velvet Underground-style rave-ups. It finds a cool balance. bar-none.com

5. Kacy & Clayton: The Siren’s Song (New West)
This duo from Saskatchewan makes harks back to that part of the 1960s when country, rock and pop seemed to be on the verge of melding into some new genre. And with production help from Jeff Tweedy on this album, the songs sound marvelous. kacyandclayton.com

6. Laura Marling: Semper Femina (More Alarming)
The songs on Marling’s latest record are subtle and complex studies of female protagonists, performed as memorable folk rock in multiple forms. lauramarling.com

7. LCD Soundsystem: American Dream (DFA Records/Columbia)
After calling it quits, James Murphy and his group got back together and made one of their best records filled — the same expertly arranged dance music, but with more wistfulness this time. lcdsoundsystem.com

8. Robyn Hitchcock: Robyn Hitchcock (Yep Roc)
Robyn Hitchcock has been one of my favorite singer-songwriters (and raconteurs of absurdism) since the mid-1980s, but I may have begun taking him for granted. While I have enjoyed many of his other albums in recent years, none of them stuck with me as much as this self-titled one, which finds Hitchcock playing study psychedelic rock songs reminiscent of the work he used to do with his backup group, the Egyptians. robynhitchcock.com

9. Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society: Simultonality (Eremite)
One of Chicago’s most outstanding groups, Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society makes hypnotic records, and this one even climaxes with an ecstatic and beautiful passage with a radiance that evokes John Coltrane’s A Love Supremeeremite.com

10.The Necks: Unfold (Ideologic Organ)
This Australian trio’s meditative improvisations delicately explore how pieces of music can fit together. Over the course of this long album, the Necks continually reinvent how those parts work. thenecks.com

Runners-up:

Jon Langford: Four Lost Souls (Bloodshot)
Mavis Staples: If All I Was Was Black (Anti-)
Algiers: The Underside of Power (Matador)
The National: Sleep Well Beast (4AD)
The Stevens: Good (Chapter Music)
Aimee Mann: Mental Illness (SuperEgo)
Mazes: The Violent Tapes (Sanzimat International)
Margo Price: All American Made (Third Man)
The Cairo Gang: Untouchable (God?)
Tinariwen: Elwan (Wedge/Anti)
Chad VanGaalen: Light Information (SubPop)
The Sadies: Northern Passages (Yep Roc)
Mdou Moctar: Sousoume Tamachek (Sahel Sounds)
Bonnie Prince Billy: Best Troubadour (Drag City)
Björk: Utopia (One Little Indian)
St. Vincent: Masseduction (Loma Vista)
Jeff Tweedy: Together At Last (dBpm)
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice (Matador)
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound (Southeastern)
Kevin Morby: City Music (Dead Oceans)
Mark Eitzel: Hey Mr. Ferryman (Merge)
Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (World Circuit)
Angelo Badalamenti and various artists: Twin Peaks Limited Event Series Soundtrack (Rhino)
The Replacements: For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 (Rhino/Sire)

Favorite albums of 2015

I could say this about almost any year: I heard a lot of great music in 2015 — and I surely missed even more. As I wrestled with the decision about what to include in this list, I kept thinking, Well, that album might have made my list if I’d listened to it a few more times. And of course, this list reflects my tastes, which lean toward the stuff that generally gets called indie-rock. My biggest regrets this time are not listening to more jazz, experimental music, world music and new classical music. The records I enjoyed the most in 2015 included quite a few by female singer-songwriters and bands from Australia and New Zealand. These were my favorites.

 01joanshelley1. Joan Shelley: Over and Even

Joan Shelley is a singer-songwriter from Kentucky making old-fashioned folk songs. Her voice is utterly gorgeous and heart-piercing, with a quality that reminds me of Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson. Her key collaborator on this second album is Nathan Salsburg, who plays intricate patterns of notes on his acoustic guitar. (The record also features subtle harmony vocals by another Kentuckyan, Will Oldham, on a few tracks, along with contributions on several instruments by that ubiquitous Chicago musician James Elkington.) This is a quiet, intimate album, with one great song after another. I never get tired of hearing it. (No Quarter)
joanshelley.net

02twerps2. Twerps: Range Anxiety

This band from Melbourne, Australia, plays the sort of guitar-based rock songs I remember bands in the 1980s playing back when I thought those bands sounded like 1960s bands. Back when we talked about jangly guitars. It’s bright, spirited pop music, with smartly constructed riffs and a delightful mix of male and female vocals delivering catchy melodies. (Merge)
mergerecords.com/twerps

CD package.indd3. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Of all the albums on my list, this is the one most likely to finish high on critics’ polls like Pazz & Jop. The world hardly needs me to point out that Courtney Barnett is a dynamite performer with some wonderfully witty and catchy tunes. But I will join in with that chorus of praise. In addition to all of her other talents, Barnett’s a terrific guitarist and many of the tracks really rock on her second album. (Or is it her debut, as many say? Depends on whether you count that excellent combo of her EPs that came out earlier). And the words of Barnett’s songs are remarkable — funny and insightful observations of life. (Mom+Pop)
courtneybarnett.com.au

04joshuaabrams4. Joshua Abrams: Magnetoception

Like the previous albums Chicago musician Joshua Abrams recorded with his Natural Information Society group, this one — a sprawling two-record set on vinyl — might be categorized as jazz. But it feels more like Abrams’ music is in a category all its own, a hypnotic sort of experimental improvisation that draws on elements of African and Eastern music and art rock. Abrams frequently plays the guimbri, a three-stringed North African bass lute, on these tracks, collaborating with a bunch of top-notch musicians (Hamid Drake, Emmett Kelly, Jeff Parker, Lisa Alvarado and Ben Boye) as they explore every nook and cranny of their chords with probing intelligence. It all feels very organic. The instrumental tracks may seem minimalist and repetitive at first, but repeat listens reveal complex and highly compelling music. (Eremite)
eremite.com/album/mte-63-64

05eleventhdreamday5. Eleventh Dream Day: Works for Tomorrow

This Chicago group has been making music since the 1980s, with many fine records over the years. This ranks among its best. The core lineup recently added guitarist James Elkington, making this the first Eleventh Dream Day record since 1994 with two guitarists. That strengthens the ferocity of these performances. This is the sound of a veteran band that really knows how to play together, finding a new way to build on its time-tested formula. (Thrill Jockey)
thrilljockey.com/artists/eleventh-dream-day

06gybe6. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress 

This Montreal collective — rock band or orchestra? — has made two albums now since reuniting in 2010 after a long hiatus. In the tradition of its best music, this is an epic symphony of guitars, violins and drums: foreboding, dark and powerful. (Constellation)
cstrecords.com/cst111/

07lauramarling7. Laura Marling: Short Movie 

Another confident record of memorable folk songs by one of today’s most talented singer-songwriter-guitarists. (Ribbon Music)
lauramarling.com

08sleaterkinney8. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love 

After years apart, Sleater-Kinney came back together, sounding as brilliant and fierce as ever. A strong reunion album. (Sub Pop)
sleater-kinney.com

09royalheadache9. Royal Headache: High 

This garage band from Sydney, Australia, quickly slams out its punchy tunes, and you can almost see the sneer in those vocals. Like the best punk, it’s energetic and noisy but also damn catchy. (What’s Your Rupture?)
royalheadache.com.au

10algiers10. Algiers: Algiers 

Franklin James Fisher’s commanding gospel-influenced vocals emerge from a churning, dark mix of experimental rock, demanding to be heard amid the din. (Matador)
algierstheband.com

Runners-up

In more or less descending order…

Wilco, Star Wars
The Necks, Vertigo
Björk, Vulnicura
Ultimate Painting, Green Lanes
Salad Boys, Metalmania
Mikal Cronin, MCIII
Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
Deaf Wish, Pain
Patty Griffin, Servant of Love
Ryley Walker, Primrose Green
Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Viet Cong, Viet Cong
Jim O’Rourke, Simple Songs
Yo La Tengo, Stuff Like That There
Calexico, Edge of the Sun
William Basinski, Cascade and The Deluge
Radioactivity, Silent Kill
Negative Scanner, Negative Scanner
The Cairo Gang, Goes Missing
Thee Oh Sees, Mutilator Defeated at Last
Richard Thompson, Still
Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
Universal Togetherness Band, Universal Togetherness Band
Wreckless Eric, AmERICa
Drinks, Hermits on Holiday
Belle and Sebastian, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld, Never Were the Way She Was
Dick Diver, Melbourne, Florida
Titus Andronicus, The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Mekons & Robbie Fulks, Jura
Protomartyr, The Agent Intellect
Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer
Low, Ones and Sixes
The Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird Is Home
Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp
Bitchin Bajas and Natural Information Society, Autoimaginary
Maria Hackman, We Slept at Last
The Singleman Affair, The End of the Affair
The Chills, Silver Bullets