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2017 Top Picks in Music

With apologies to Lorde, Drake, Ed Sheeran, SZA, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift and several other very good hit-makers of the Top 40 ...

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 Top Picks in Music

With apologies to Lorde, Drake, Ed Sheeran, SZA, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift and several other very good hit-makers of the Top 40 sort, here are a few recordings (in no particular order) that earned repeated spins on the hi-fi stereo this year.

1.     Bjork – Utopia. In a sea of moody despair, this blissed-out set is lovingly ecstatic and eccentric with birds, flutes, blips and mesmerizing vocal chops. “The Gate” and “Claimstaker” provide vivid emotional textures and spare soundscapes.
2.     Neil Young – Hitchhiker. A 1976 recording, including two previously unreleased songs, is Mr. Young at his peak creative powers. Try “Powderfinger” or “Human Highway” to get a taste.
3.     Sam Smith – The Thrill of It All. The sophomore effort by England’s latest balladeer soars through a grounded emotional core. The single “Too Good At Goodbyes” is this year's "Hello."
4.     Gary Numan – Savage. A return to the spotlight in blistering form to compete with NIN through a kaleidoscopic wasteland of heavy hitting and uplifting thunder. “When The World Comes Apart” says it all.
5.     Planetarium – Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister. An ethereal platter of delicacies marks a continuing a career of original ditties packed with imagination and warmth often set in outer space. Sample “Mercury” or “Saturn.”
6.     The National – Sleep Well Beast. Sometimes brooding, often haunting, this set shows a brave maturity for a band on the move. This outing injects loops, soft piano, and atmospherics into its usual alt-rock mix. Try "Nobody Else Will Be There" or  “Day I’ll Die.”
7.     Dear Evan Hanson (Original Broadway Cast Recording). An exuberant and wistful musical that hits all the right dramatic notes. Tony-winner Ben Platt’s breakout star turn is hard to match. “You Will Be Found” is the hit, but “For Forever”  and “Words Fail” are theatrical standouts for Platt.
8.     Robert Plant – Carry Fire. A smoldering rock album (his 11th solo outing) backed by the Sensational Space Shifters is at once downbeat, pulsating and passionate. Chrissie Hynde guests on “Bluebirds Over The Mountain.”
9.     Todd Rundgren – White Knight. Riveting vocals have always played a starring role for The Todd and he doesn’t disappoint here. Yet it’s the strength of the songwriting that amazes on this collection with guest star turns by Donald Fagen, Daryl Hall, Joe Walsh, KK Watson, Dam Funk, Joe Satriani and Trent Reznor among others.
10.  The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful. The reigning team of stadium pop rockers led by frontman Brandon Flowers rollick and relish both themselves and the world as they see fit. The mostly mid-tempo anthems tease new wave, 70s fist-pumping rock, and disco. Sample “Run For Cover” or “The Man.”
11.  Alt-J – Relaxer. A mix of dark eclectic rock experiments on the edges holds sway here with cuts such as “In Cold Blood.” The album's arc takes its diversions seriously as on “3WW” and the melodic “Pleader.”
12.  Beck – Colors. The endlessly energetic Beck is in full force this year with a spellbinding aural landscape all his own. Decidedly a move toward the positive on this release that recalls earlier work, The Beatles and a wholly new range of sounds. Try “Dear Life.”

Other notable releases: Spooky ToothIt’s All About (reissue), The Dream SyndicateHow Did I Find Myself HereRyuichi Sakamotoasync, and Mark EitzelHey Mr. Ferryman

Wednesday, November 29, 2017