Best New Records
1. Ted Leo—The Hanged Man
It should be the simplest thing. Writers and performers should get better at their crafts the longer they do it. But that seems to be the exception. The rule is that performers and writers peak, then level off or fall off. Depending on the artist, the peak may be earlier or later, and the fall off can be quick or drawn out. Ted Leo, however, just keeps getting better.
2. Guerilla Toss—GT Ultra
This occupied my top spot for several months until I gave The Hanged Men several listens. Noisy and intense from the beginning, Guerilla Toss has, over the past several albums and EPs, tightened up considerably. Now GT is noisy and intense with an incredible groove.
3. Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble—Find Me Finding You
Laetita Sadier’s work outside Stereolab has always featured some of that group’s sound, besides her voice. But on her last three albums, she’s shown how much she contributed to Stereolab as a writer. Delving even further into the leftist and socialist politics that fueled the ‘Lab, Find Me Finding You is a reaction to the rise of right-wing regimes across the world.
4. Pissed Jeans—Why Love Now
Uncomfortable is probably the best way to describe Pissed Jeans. Lyrically, the band tackles unpleasant subject matter. Musically, they aren’t afraid to move away from straight hardcore and get weird. On the opening track, “Waiting on my Horrible Warning,” the music lurches and stops, aided by changing tape speeds, never sounding quite right. “The Bar is Low” ties a killer riff to unsettling lyrics discussing how easy it is for a man to seem decent because so many are so awful.
5. METZ—Strange Peace
Toronto trio METZ put together another winner. Fuzzy hardcore with great hooks.
6. Deerhoof—Mountain Moves
2017 was a tough year for a lot of people. Deerhoof meet the awful with an album full of guests including Laetita Sadier, Xenia Rubinos and Juana Molina.
7. Madness—Can’t Touch Us Now
Madness continue their late career renaissance with another slab of catchy, ska-inspired pop music. This one was recorded on 8-track with Clive Langer, one half of the production duo who produced all their early albums. The result is a very focused, live-sounding album.
8. Low Cut Connie—Dirty Pictures (Part 1)
Low Cut Connie are one of the best rock & roll bands working today. One of the two main songwriters, Dan Finnemore, left after the last album, but Adam Weiner and the guys are back with another fantastic album full of raucous piano-driven tunes, including a killer cover of Prince’s “Controversy.”
9. The Courtneys—II
This trio plays fuzzy, 60’s girl-group inspired pop songs. Catchy as hell and lots of fun.
10. Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings—Soul of a Woman
The final album from Sharon Jones and company is a strong one. Most of it was recorded before she passed in 2016, and then finished up in 2017. The first half features the up-tempo funky soul the band is known for and the second half slows it down and adds some strings.
Radiohead—OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017
The first disc of this two-disc set is an excellent-sounding remaster of the OK Computer album. The second is a collection of B-sides and outtakes that law out another possible path that the band could have taken after The Bends.
Grateful Dead—The Grateful Dead (50th Anniversary Edition)
The first in a series of Grateful Dead albums reissued 50 years to the day of their initial release. This new reissue features a new remastering of the original album, but none of the bonus outtakes from the previous reissue. Instead, there’s a second disc featuring two live recordings from late 1966, a few months before the album was recorded. The live recordings feature an album’s worth of material that the band discarded before the first album as they quickly morphed from electric blues into full-blown psychedelia.
Cavern of Anti-Matter—Blood-Drums
This reissue of the first Cavern of Anti-Matter features new artwork on the vein of that on their second album, void/invocation trex. The album was originally released as a one-off project in a very limited edition (500) by a German book store. Now that the group is a continuing concern, this reissue is a wider release of that initial record.
Best Archival Release
Frank Zappa—Halloween 77
Halloween was always a big holiday for Frank Zappa. He played a number of Halloween shows in New York City over the years. In 1977, he booked four shows to film for the Baby Snakes movie. They quickly sold out and two more were added. All six are on this USB drive box set. The CD version includes only the Halloween show with bonus tracks from 10/30. The first four shows feature the same setlist, with some changes on the last two nights. The best two are the final two, but it’s interesting to hear the band settle in over six shows in four nights.