This year charges on and doesn’t appear to show any signs of slowing down. As we near the six month mark (and our own Top 25 of 2017 So Far), it’s becoming apparent that 2017 hits on broader fronts than 2016 did. While the previous year was an amazing year for some very specific genres, there were others that suffered less than stellar performance. With 2017, there’s very little that’s left untouched, with great releases coming from left and right.
The list below is a great example of this; it contains post rock, grindcore, jazz, psychedelic electronics, death metal, stoner and oh so much more. Each of these sub-genres have been producing great releases this year, giving 2017 the illusion of a siege. From us, the nominal besieged, a measure of elasticity is required; we must keep our ears open and listen to new places, places we might have abandoned up until now.
This, perhaps, is the key to understanding the mercurial nature of the times we found ourselves in, as the Internet appears to show no slowdown in its desire to propagate, expand, and continuously barrage us with music from disparate and intriguing places. Bow before the wind of this assault instead of staying rigid; there’s only benefit awaiting those who can be flexible. Goodbye May; bring on June.
Do Make Say Think – Stubborn Persistent Illusions (post-rock)
Do Make Say Think didn’t need to release another album. Despite their previous release, 2009’s Other Truths, not being one of their strongest, by that point the veteran post-rockers had little to prove. As one of the titans of the peak post-rock era that emerged in the late 90s, their discography is filled with gems that display the best of what instrumental rock can offer. Each album is a world unto itself for the listener to lose themself in a sea of dynamic drumming, invigorating horns, subtle textures, and dense production and compositions. So if Other Truths had truly been it for DMST, there is very little fans could complain about other than wishing that their sendoff was a little less lackluster.
In the fashion of other prominent and veteran post-rock bands that have released incredible material recently after years of absence – yndi halda, The Album Leaf, etc. – or general mediocrity – sorry Explosions in the Sky – DMST managed to pull off an incredible feat by releasing not just a great comeback album in Stubborn Persistent Illusions, but easily one of their best albums, period. The utter care and attention to detail they place in tracks like “Horripilation” and “Her Eyes On The Horizon” is nothing short of stunning, while the invigorating energy that flows throughout jams like “War On Torpor,” “Bound,” and “And Boundless” give more than enough reasons for even the most casual and skeptical post-rock listeners to nod their heads and get into the groove. It’s everything that this sort of cerebral post/math rock should be, and it’s more than enough reason to feel hopeful for the much-maligned genre as a whole. With new acts still pushing the music forward and veterans still pumping out shining examples of what the music at its best can be, there is plenty for instrumental post-rock fans to feel good about in 2017.
Forest Swords – Compassion (neo-psychedelia/tribal ambient)
For nearly every genre, 2013 was a truly exceptional year, especially for electronic music. There were incredible releases from every imaginable context and subgenre, including fearless debuts (Chvrches, Disclosure) sophomore triumphs (The Haxan Cloak, Huerco S.) and an immense wave of veteran artists maintaining or exceeding their legendary status (Autechre, Boards of Canada, Daft Punk, The Field, Fuck Buttons, Jon Hopkins, The Knife, Oneohtrix Point Never). For those who followed the genre throughout 2013, there’s likely one glaring omission from this list, being Matthew Barnes’ exceptional full-length debut (Engravings) as Forest Swords. It’s difficult to argue against this argument in terms of quality; Engravings presents an exceptional blend of trip-hop and ambient dub crafted with gorgeous neo-psychedelic and Asiatic soundscapes. Yet, what’s difficult about lumping Forest Swords in with the aforementioned artists is the project’s sparse connection to electronic music. Though the music Barnes creates fits into the genre from a technical standpoint, moments where this is apparent to the listener are few and far between. The elements Barnes’ incorporates into his music feel too organic and mystifying to fit comfortably in the realm of electronic music, causing every Forest Sword track to become its own unique entity operating outside of time, space and restrictive genre classification.
Compassion only expands on this notion while also fleshing out Engraving‘s landscapes to include new sonic peaks. Barnes has further refined his mastery of textures and soundscapes and more adeptly leverages the instrumental assets at his disposal. What’s most impressive about his style is how simple every Forest Swords track is at its core. A revolving roster of vocal samples, strings, naturalistic synth tones, piano, woodwinds and percussion compose the vast majority of Barnes’ music, with the wonderment of his careful song craft resulting from subtle development and sampling of these components. Vocals become their own instruments and morph into both choirs and and individual chord progressions; the percussive elements are drawn from an extensive palette that forms an intricate backbone strong enough to dominate tracks in their own right; and the overarching compositions are the essence of transcendental experiences. Even when Barnes crafts his version of a banger on “Raw Language,” the hand claps and energetic string sample are bolstered by underlying organic elements that keep the song rooted with footing in an experience of a human collective throwing their voices to the wind.
Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy (deathgrind/powerviolence)
In the four years since their last full length album Rudiments of Mutilation, grindcore’s rising stars Full of Hell have been honing their craft on high profile collaborations with The Body and Merzbow that would cement their status as critical darlings. Many had anticipated the group’s follow-up solo endeavor to infuse noise and ambient music per these collaborations, but Trumpeting Ecstasy is a fully-developed grind powerhouse that is every bit as ambitious without getting lost in the obtuse. Songs burn bright and fast with immediacy; it doesn’t even matter that Trumpeting Ecstasy clocks in at a narrow 22 minutes because it’s getting spun at least twice in a row, anyway. That’s how great the songwriting is here. The songs stick around.
In our review, Simon argued that “Full of Hell have catapulted themselves into the absolute upper echelons of extreme music” and that “Trumpeting Ecstasy has topped anything they’ve put out so far,” which is absolutely true, and at the risk of getting lost in hyperbole and relying too heavily on superlatives, it’s safe to say (now that we’ve seen a little bit of distance) that Trumpeting Ecstasy deserves to be revered as one of the greatest grindcore albums of the past decade alongside classics such as Pig Destroyer’s Phantom Limb (2007), Gridlink’s Longhena (2014), and Wormrot’s Voices (2016).
Sentient Ignition – Enthroned In Gray (progressive death metal)
Not a lot of bands really go for the progressive death metal angle, and fewer of them have a really unique, distinct sound. Enter Sentient Ignition. Combining melodic elements of Son of Aurelius, Opeth and Disillusion, this is one of the strongest debut releases I’ve heard in a while. What makes a good progressive release? Creativity and making something of said creativity. Sentient Ignition nail both aspects. Their riffing style is quite distinct. Overtly melodic, they take chords and expand them into rising melodic lines, slightly drifting out of conventional rhythms, then bring it back in. The end result is quite fantastic, bringing complexity to a sound that could have easily been safe and stale. Add to that snappy drumming, song structures that emphasize the strongest aspects of their riffs with repetition and peppering variety in between, and we have a winner.
The other standout aspect of Enthroned In Gray is the vocals. Singer Sev has a sharply exceptional style. His screaming is solid and varied, but the melodic vocals are what put it over the top. A pained, intimate yell is what he utilizes for the most part, and it compliments the music magnificently. Conveying emotion with aggressive vocals is not always the easiest, especially when everything about the music itself is quite complex. It’s all about everything coming together, with the melancholic instrumentation and pained lyricism complimenting each other. Any fan of melodic, progressive or technical music will find something to enjoy here.
Yazz Ahmed – La Saboteuse (arabic jazz/world fusion)
Jazz isn’t exactly my thing but I have been known to enjoy its darker climes; some about the propensity for wind/brass instruments (coupled with a cello, let’s say), makes jazz uniquely equipped to explore solitude, melancholy, and modern living. For those exact reasons, Yazz Ahmed’s La Saboteuse has captured my heart. The album has plenty of grooves on it but it’s when it’s at its most solemn and chilling that the album truly pierces me through and through. There’s a collaboration between all instruments that runs deep through those parts, a trademark of any truly great jazz piece.
La Saboteuse manages to take these disparate elements and weave them into one impressive whole. Ahmed’s personality itself pulses underneath these compositions, lending the album the finish touches of direction and intent. It simply feels like an accomplished album from a veteran artist when, in fact, Ahmed is only getting started. Somehow, the tempered passion which is the hallmark of long time musicians is already there, blending restraint with emotional expression. It makes La Saboteuse a challenging album which requires many listens to fully comprehend. Which is a good thing because you’re going to want to listen to it and nothing else for a while after discovering it. Happy diving.
Other Notable Releases
Hugo Kant – Out of Time (trip-hop)
In a sea of generic and fine-but-not-great trip-hop, French producer Hugo Kant breathes life into the well-trodden genre with an album of fantastic grooves elevated further by frequent use of jazz flute and sax.
Somnium Nox – Terra Inanis (atmospheric black metal)
In the usually long winded fields of atmospheric black metal, it’s quite refreshing to find an album as succinct as this. Terra Inanis is condensed fury melded with expansive introspection, both of which it does very well.
Son Lux – Remedy
Written and recorded in the immediate wake of the most recent presidential election, the dynamic and forward-thinking art rock trio Son Lux’s most recent EP is both a testament to effective musical catharsis in response to politics as well as Son Lux being one of the best and tightest rock bands in the game currently.
Stone From the Sky – Fuck The Sun (desert rock/psychedelic rock)
What happens when you take stoner/post rock and slow them way down? You get this album, an ambient sojourn in psychedelic valleys, straight from France.
Succumb – Succumb (death metal)
While Succumb may not fit into the numerous death metal subgenres we’ve touted this year, it’s no indication that The Flenser‘s latest proteges lack ambition or forward-thinking compositional chops. To the contrary, their self-titled debut seamlessly incorporates elements of black metal, dissonant death metal and the spirit of hardcore punk for truly savage and voracious results. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Jonathan’s immaculate summation of the band’s sound from his Death’s Door column: “Imagine if Gorguts got just a little tired of the constant noodling, decided to meet up with Krallice for a drink, got absolutely hammered and started a fight with Altarage and Portal. That’s kind of what this sounds like, and you need to listen to it right now.”
Ulsect – Ulsect (atmospheric death metal)
This has been a remarkable year for death metal, thanks in part to its burgeoning atmospheric and avant-gard sect. The latest act to slither out of the primordial ooze is Ulsect, featuring members of Dodecahedron and Textures. Ulsect offer a groovier take on the style rather than risk getting lost in the weird and atonal world of Gorguts and Ulcerate, which is honestly for the best; that’s a competitive field right now, and Ulsect’s punchy and post-metal infused take allows them to stand apart from their contemporaries.
Faust – Fresh Air (experimental rock/krautrock)
Illustrations – Acts of God (metalcore/sludge metal)
Loss – Horizonless (death doom/funeral doom)
Perfume Genius – No Shape (art pop)
The Ruins Of Beverast – Exuvia (atmospheric black metal/death doom)