Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Nominees: 2017 Album of the Year

I was in Mexico City over Thanksgiving and didn't set this up to post in advance. So here goes, better late than never.

The nominees for my ***25th*** Album of the Year are ...


Angelo Badalamenti/Dean Hurley/Various — The Music of Twin Peaks (three albums, one joint nomination)

So this might seem like a copout, or an unfair advantage, but trust me, it’s neither. The music of Twin Peaks was the soundtrack of much of my summer, and some of the older pieces in this collection are part of the soundtrack of my life. Mostly what makes this three-pronged TP attack a nominee is the simple fact that there was no more important piece of art to me this year than Season 3 of the greatest television show ever, and one of its grounding elements was the sound design (done by David Lynch himself) and the Roadhouse performances at the end of nearly every part. It was the best concert of 2017 you couldn’t attend in person but felt no less real — and often far more surreal. It was the music event of the year, and it takes three records to cover the full breadth of it — from those dreamy or disturbing Bang Bang Bar acts to the perfect placement of old or reimagined tunes to the buzzing electricity of Dean Hurley’s sound effects to Angelo Badalamenti’s compositions — some familiar, some new — that continued to set the incomparable tone of Twin Peaks.


Bjork — Utopia

I’ve had various levels of interest in Bjork’s work since her masterpiece — 2001 Album of the Year winner Vespertine. This is the most excited I’ve been about a new Bjork record in years. Sure, she doesn’t really do hooks anymore, and her vocals are often too low in the mix, but the songs here explode, and the lyrics are profoundly moving — Utopia feels like a latter-day Vespertine, with the thick blanket of snow replaced by a tropical island filled with exotic birds and flutes.


Hurray For The Riff Raff — The Navigator

This is the record that turned HFTRR from a strong folk act to an “Important Band”. A drama told in music — but not a musical — it spins the story (one quite personal to lead singer Alynda Segarra) about growing up Puerto Rican in the Bronx. Although the elements for a record this strong had been there, the transformation is nothing short of astounding. As a Bronx-born white dude who grew up in suburban privilege, I have a hard time singing along without at least a tinge of embarrassment and shame. Which I think is at least part of the point.


Laura Marling — Semper Femina

One of the better live shows I saw this year (a surprise from Amelia!), Laura Marling is just one of the best songwriters there is right now. I find these songs a lot more subtle, less bitter, less defiant, than her last Album of the Year nominee, Short Movie, but they’re all memorable and if anything show off her range. “I was wild once,” she speak-sings, and it seems to make sense as some rumination and reflection on the brief but fiery film that preceded it.


Mount Eerie — A Crow Looked At Me

This is a record so hauntingly beautiful it’s hard to listen to. Phil Elverum faces the death of his wife, musician Geneviève Castrée, from pancreatic cancer — leaving behind their 1-year-old daughter — with a low-fi and direct and personal and poetic set of vignettes about picking up the pieces and moving on, without ever forgetting. The record is both a profound work of art, and a rejection of the meaning and power of art in the face of death.


Offa Rex — The Queen of Hearts

Olivia Chaney gave me my favorite concert memory — really, memories — of the year, which I’ve written about at length in Unwinnable Monthly. And sure, that helps make this record more special to me. But it would have been right in this space regardless. It’s a collection of ancient folk ballads I wasn’t — save for one more recent tune — acquainted with, but Chaney and The Decemberists deliver them so expertly and beautifully, I’m thrilled this is how I heard them for the first time.


Tift Merritt — Stitch of the World

Like HFTRR and Offa Rex, Tift Merritt is a cherished Newport Folk Festival discovery, who gave Amelia and me our wedding song. We also saw her perform this set of new songs in a brilliant show at City Winery. There are instant Merritt standards — most of the record, in fact — and Icarus ranks among the absolute best songs of her career.


Hon. Mention

Aimee Mann — Mental Illness
Big Thief — Capacity
Broken Social Scene — Hug of Thunder
Daniel Hart — A Ghost Story (Original Soundtrack)
Feist — Pleasure
Fever Ray — Plunge
Filthy Friends — Invitation
Groundhog Day: The Musical (Original Cast Recording)
The Innocence Mission — The Snow on Pi Day
Iron & Wine — Beast Epic
John Maus — Screen Memories
Sharon Van Etten — (It Was) Because I Was In Love
Willie Watson — Folksinger, Vol. 2