2017: Favorite 50 Music Releases This year’s shitshow can’t be completely undone, but we are not beyond repair.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


40

Kara-Lis Coverdale

Grafts

[Boomkat]

[LISTEN · READ]

Montreal resident Kara-Lis Coverdale returned in 2017 with her most fascinating and poignant work to date: her first solo vinyl release titled Grafts. Over the course of its 22 minutes of playtime, Coverdale expertly layered various textural and melodic ideas, molding them into a whole that inspired reverence and wonderment in the listener. The piece drew inspiration from contemporary electronic music, seminal minimalist compositions, and church music, as overlapping muted piano flourishes, dense organs, gentle drones, and fluttering synths blossomed into fascinating meditations on texture and melody. As the third — and most peaceful — movement (“Moments In Love”) slowly drifted to its conclusion, there was tangible sacredness in the air. Grafts was spiritual, intimate, contemplative, and completely alive. And in 2017, it was a stark reminder that beauty exists, even amidst the ever-present chaos and confusion.


39

Actress

AZD

[Ninja Tune]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

To enter such a realm, of life between being and nonbeing, of sound surging with numinous intensity and laboriously weaving itself into some vague, half-formed nightmare… The horror of reality, the limitations inside of genres like “dance” and “club” and outside: icy white silk of pouring rain and a backdrop of bleak office buildings. A ghost in the making, a figment, a cash register, a pistol, a zombie. People say that I am in a city, but I suspect I am amongst thousands of mountains. Expressive force over representational legibility, with the snowcaps amongst us. Slabs of marble dragged onto raw drips; flings of dust conjuring a far-away vision of the Dragon Gate, and in its fairy tale therein occurs a dance battle, or maybe a rap battle, or actually a 4/4 beat created from synths of yore, heavy with retrofuturism and insinuating something, something deep. So we go out, to the warehouses, to the studios, to the grottos, to the basements, with a question to ask: Do you remember real life?


38

Upgrayedd Smurphy

HYPNOSYS

[R-CH-V]

[LISTEN]

HYPNOSYS’s Giger-inspired cover art depicted Upgrayedd Smurphy morphing into something like an apex predator, xenomorph style. Smurphy’s beats were tighter and more austere on this album, driving the melodies while integrating classic post-punk texture into modern beat work. This approach effectively aligned her music with recent works by Andy Stott and Zomb while still sounding nothing like them. It was music for driving at night through morose, dilapidated cities. Dim-lit neon bulbs flickering out, exits collapsing in the rearview. The malaise of modern living, all connected yet lost (hypnotized, even) in reconciling that this was all actually meaningless. The whole thing felt appropriately bleak, the product of how awful our world has become. If we have to go on, let’s become something else. It’s already happening all around us. Upgrading to extraterrestrial.


37

Pan Daijing

Lack 惊蛰

[PAN]

[LISTEN · READ]

Pan Daijing herself described Lack 惊蛰 as an “opera,” suggesting listeners were to consume the work as performance rather than music proper. Immediacy and vulnerability, then, were core tenets of the work: Lack 惊蛰 was an intimate process to be witnessed, not only by the listener, but by Daijing herself: “I saw myself being this absurd, mad person ‘acting’ out the sounds.” Taking listeners through various modes of sound affect, Daijing’s arsenal included experiments with verbal intonation/inflection, disquieting moans, aggressive synth loops, and arrhythmic percussion. Still, the album was less about sonic extremes and more an exploration of what noise — and perhaps the avant-garde at large — can achieve by forcing us into spaces that make both listener and performer more visible, allowing us to express and embody sincerity in an era rife with irony, superficiality, and untruths. Fundamentally, Lack 惊蛰 instilled awareness: the simple suggestion that we are here, we are feeling, we are real. In the years to come, art and performance in a similar vein will become paramount in creating spaces where we are free to feel vulnerable and consider our emotions and experiences as they relate to the human condition.


36

Richard Dawson

Peasant

[Weird World]

[WATCH · READ]

Peasant detailed the lives of the 6th- and 7th-century peasantry during the violent unification of the Kingdom of Northumbria in present-day Northeastern England. Daunting stuff for the historically disinclined. But as TMT writer Sam Goldner pointed out, this obscure theme counter-intuitively allowed Richard Dawson to address very current, and very pressing, political concerns. By giving voice to otherwise mute historical figures — soldiers, prostitutes, beggars — Dawson implicitly critiqued the power structures that allow these characters’ oppression to persist today. Wary of drawing any explicit connections between his music and recent politics, Dawson nevertheless remarked that “some of the things that are described in the songs are not too different from some of the things that occur today in a supposedly civilized society.” And what is described in the songs was bleak: the world of Peasant was violent, superstitious, corrupt, and all too recognizable. Dawson’s powerful Geordie bark and discordant acoustic guitar brought this world arrestingly to life. The intensive historical research and dissonant experimentalism of Dawson’s earlier albums now seem like necessary steps toward creating Peasant’s sprawling narrative, one of those rare documents that perfectly encapsulates an artist’s approach. In retrospect, it’s obvious Dawson had to make this album, and that he had to make it in 2017.


35

woopheadclrms

Meeting Room + Rare Plants

[Ukiuki Atamata]

[LISTEN · READ]

It took a few listens to pinpoint what made woopheadclrms’s Meeting Room + Rare Plants so compelling. Putting aside the overwhelming amount of samples and otherworldly qualities hidden in the pitched-shifted mutant vocals, there was an underlying presence. It was almost like a secret, whispered between the barrage of sound. The smooth transitions between sounds, the gentle jokes, the memes, the chirping of birds, the conversations between friends, the jungle-like atmosphere: it all made for an experience akin to those overly romanticized depictions of death we see on television, where the character’s life flashes before their eyes, millions of moments rushing back toward a light that had shined for decades, maybe even a century, separating the unknown pre-birth world and the halcyon ocean that lay ahead. All the detailed subject matter blurred and the memories seemed randomly chosen, but when pieced together, they formed not a grandiose message, but feelings of warmth, solace, maybe even alleviation.


34

Giant Claw

Soft Channel

[Orange Milk]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

There are few rockist tropes as worn-out as the breakup album. Many of rock & roll’s big names have one among their canonical works (Blood on The Tracks, Here My Dear, Rumours, The Boatman’s Call, Sea Change, Vulnicura, etc.). Is Soft Channel “a breakup album for the internet age”? Cutesy rhetorical clutches aside, the album indeed found Keith Rankin exploring the fragments that circle one’s head in the aftermath of a sentimental crisis, the mix of frustration, disappointment, relief, loneliness, regret, and everything else that threatens to overwhelm you in such episodes. And if Rankin’s post-digital approach to plunderphonics, his brutalization of modern pop and appropriation of the remains, suits the anxiety buildup that comes with a breakup, Soft Channel wasn’t just a trip through despair. The later part of the album pushed for a sense of closure, with melodies becoming recognizably tame and R&B vocals acquiring luminescent shapes. Striving for serenity might be naïve, but a measure of peace existed in letting memories and whispers dilute in the past. After all, we will all find a home in there eventually. Even awful exes and sanctified breakup albums.


33

Konrad Sprenger

Stack Music

[PAN]

[LISTEN · READ]

Stack: With Stack Music, Konrad Sprenger put the authorship of music in flux. The music was authored by a system: user, interface, instrument. The user directed the interface to make choices for patterns of sound. Despite a complete oversaturation of questions regarding artificial intelligence in electronic music, Sprenger’s process stood monolithic in its reversal of “man vs. machine” rhetoric. Here, the system’s authors shared an economy of sound.

String: Every sound came directly from a computation of resistance; the string resists its labor. The physicality/artificiality of the string was totally elusive, creating an audible treachery of sound. The string sounded like a train.

Stanza: 7:01 / 18:56 / 18:07 / 6:28

Space: The Euclidean algorithm, here applied to rhythm, creates an interplay of space. The computer-author finds space and generates sound to fill it. Sprenger’s longtime influence and New York minimalism counterpart is Ellen Fullman, but where Fullman’s string instrument creates space, Sprenger’s devours it. When there is no space left, Stack Music sounds the most beautiful.

Syncopation: “I can make syncopation sound like death.” –John Fahey.


32

Khaki Blazer

Didn’t Have to Cut

[Hausu Mountain]

[LISTEN · READ]

Even Khaki Blazer felt it this year. Taking a respite from the whiplash frenzy and wormhole plunderings of his sample-heavy, hyperaccelerated pinball methodology, Pat Modugno launched an uncharacteristically patient, low-key textural investigation on Didn’t Have To Cut. Through lateral pathways into parentheticals and ellipses, Khaki Blazer plunged into the hearts of his samples and discovered something like a universal glitch, stuttering alongside elastic harmonies and oblique slippages, plopped onto the cement like putty and smeared into the shape of a rainbow. Our bodies twitched, our eyes glazed over. Time was a bar of soap. Space was up for debate. “My battery’s almost dead. Do you have a charger?” We looked down, and Khaki Blazer was trapped in the grid, crying. He had flowers in his hand. The flowers were melting. It was a cartoon!


31

Young Thug

Beautiful Thugger Girls

[Atlantic]

[WATCH · READ]

Wending his way gently into the crevices of a rich and sensuous realm of pop, Young Thug used Beautiful Thugger Girls as a faultless freeze frame that captured his increasing rise to stardom and the social misdemeanors that come with it. His observations were as astute and as resounding as ever, rapping about everything from his difficulties at school to family loyalty to individuality. Each cut carved fresh insight into the complicated world of a rising artist as he continued to veer away from the mainstream while flirting unabashedly with it. Although it might not have been as crass as Barter 6 or as uncompromising as JEFFERY, Thug made sure that his summertime mixtape proved to be one of his most captivating releases to date, and for that we were truly grateful.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


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