This is it. This is what we wait for all year. The Top Albums of the Year. Of course, no list is perfect, and I wanted to just jump in here for a second to tell you how we got these ten albums. These albums are our most played albums of 2017. They are not the ones that we thought-were-best-but-never-really-played. Or the albums-that-we-think-should-be-in-a-year-end-list. These are the albums where we put our money where our mouth is. These were the ones that we wore out. The ones that we listed to over-and-over-and-over. These, by definition of play count, are our Top Albums of 2017.
10. Fleet Foxes – “Crack-Up”
A sprawling epic with eight minute songs and titles like “- Naiads, Cassadies” and “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” doesn’t exactly set itself up to be a top playing album on radio. But we fell for this album and we fell hard.
Fleex Foxes painted a landscape and then dropped you off into it. Complete with found sound from that environment. There are crashing waves, a children’s choir, at one point all the music cuts out and all that is left is what sounds like a phone’s microphone app left on in Robin Pecknold’s hand as he walks through a door humming a melody, and then it suddenly crashes back into an orchestra of sound.
Of all the albums this year, “Crack-Up” looked, sounded, and felt the most like a piece of Art.
9. The xx – “I See You”
“I See You” started 2017 off right. Released less than two weeks into the year it proved to be a record that would not be forgotten when we hit our year-end list.
In previous xx albums, the trio held onto their understated aesthetic, but In “I See You” they seemed to take a couple best practices from Jamie xx’s solo work that focused on making bigger dance tracks with a tempo that was far beyond The xx’s studio work. The final product became a work that held onto that trademark xx minimalism, but also inserted some of those Jamie xx hooks, resulting in an album that we returned to again and again in 2017.
8. Strand Of Oaks – “Hard Love”
There is an inherent nostalgia in Strand of Oaks sound. Part of it has to do with the subject matter. “Goshen ’97” and “Radio Kids” are both actually about pining for those old memories, but there is also something about the sound. Maybe it’s whatever guitar tone that is, or maybe it’s some kind of effects petal. Whatever it is, it makes your heart yearn for something. Whatever that feeling is, it’s a feeling. And what is the point of art if not feeling something?
7. Spoon – “Hot Thoughts”
After eight studio albums, most bands are giving you more of the same or not giving you anything at all, but Spoon’s ninth studio album, “Hot Thoughts” might be their best yet. Lead singer Brit Daniel skinks, saunters, and strolls with a rock n roll attitude that we thought was once lost.
The band also proved that they practice what they preach when they came to Milwaukee, torched the house, then proceeded to party in Milwaukee until four in the morning including stops at High Hat, The Safehouse, and howling at the moon.
6. Electric Guest – “Plural”
Rising Artist of the Year goes to Electric Guest. In 2012 we thought that Electric Guest might be onto something with their album, “Mondo,” but they didn’t seem to be quite there. In 2017 they got there. “Plural” was such a surprise gem. Opening for Portugal. The Man, they did a studio session here at 88Nine and they played the song “Oh Devil.” In the middle of that song a couple of staff members looked at each other as if to say, “What is this?!” Shortly after that “Oh Devil” went into heavy rotation, becoming a station favorite and solidifying Electric Guest as a new favorite artist to all of us.
5. Thundercat – “Drunk”
Our Program Director Jordan Lee has a saying: ABMM, or Always Be Michael McDonald-ing. We are not quite sure exactly what it means, but it’s funny. And it’s also funny to say anything in a Michael McDonald voice. That’s just a fact. A lot of us are actually closet Michael McDonald fans, and all of us are outwardly Thundercat fans. So when the two came together in a song that was both campy and, seriously good, called “Show You The Way,” we were hooked.
The album unfolds as the events of one day, from start to finish. It’s funky. It’s freaky. It’s fun. Kind of like 2017.
4. Mac Demarco – “This Old Dog”
Mac Demarco is a character. Kind of the “thesis” of his whole aesthetic is that everything is a joke. On-line he is a goofball. In person he is loud and funny. He performed with an on-going clip show of Kelsey Grammer cameos projected behind him at The Rave this year. He is the embodiment of the internet.
And yet, his music is just the opposite. It’s soft and sincere. It’s innocent, and often, it’s romantic.
It’s the Duality of Man, man.
3. Fast Romantics – “American Love”
A Canadian band singing about American Love. This band sounds like they were given Ken Sumka’s record collection ( the stuff from 1978-86) and asked to form a band that incorporated all of those elements. Bits of Bruce Springsteen, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, and lest not forget fellow Canadians Psychedelic Furs thrown into a pot and scooped, liberally, into heaping spoonful’s of radio gems. We are not sure why Fast Romantics aren’t selling out arena’s worldwide, but if they ever want to play a show just south of their boarder, we will give them a Canadian welcome in Milwaukee.
2. Beck – “Colors”
Musical chameleon Beck, followed up the soft and slow sounds of 2014’s “Morning Phase” with an album of TOTAL BANGERS. By the time the album was even announced, “Wow” and “Dreams” were placed firmly into the “Party Ragers” playlist and more was left to come with “Dear Life” and “Up All Night.” Honestly, we could just turn up and play this album front to back every day and I don’t think anyone would even bat an eye, they would be too busy wiping the sweat out of them from dancing so hard. “Colors” claps.
1. Sylvan Esso – “What Now”
This is a band that met in Milwaukee at the Cactus Club, back when Nick Sanborn tended bar at Burnharts and DJed under the moniker Made of Oak. In a slightly off-center booking, harmonizing folk trio, Mountain Man, (featuring Amelia Meath) opened for this pulsing DJ, Made of Oak. And there, at the Cactus Club in Bay View, Wisconsin, Sylvan Esso was formed.
The origin story is great, but the music is better. On paper, like Mountain Men opening for Made of Oak, this combo doesn’t work. Nick Sanborn’s knob twisting beats are unhinged and aggressive. Amelia Meath’s vocals are so sparce and delicate that they beg for a harmony. It’s in that space that they even each other out. Meath’s vocals reign in Sanborn’s wild beats and those electronic pulses give the folksy vocals some edge.
Together, in music, and in life, these two are perfect. Their love and partnership translates into and through their work, resulting in a masterpiece. They even have themselves asking, “What Now?”