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


20

M.E.S.H.

Hesaitix

[PAN]

[LISTEN · READ]

“How did I become so stupid?,” Hesaitix asked, in sonic pursuit of a grotesque metamodernism. An anagram of “cathexis,” Hesaitix invested profound energy into the imponderable bloom — a bloom declared as “essence” by so many discredited philosophies — but a process rightly ignored by the Machine, just as the imponderable bloom of the grape was ignored by the manufacturers of artificial fruit. M.E.S.H. tensely collected the grapes of wrath on record, pooling expired audio into cisterns filled with birdsong, vision, electricity, and pulsing acid-shade hues of burnt purple-gold. The hybrid result was an organic/plastic sound with half-utility as an armored “club record,” while still half-fantasizing a dilapidated attempt at introverted worldbuilding: “This is my world…but how did it become so stupid?” Over-rendered, fleshy, but recast rigidly into stark obsidian, M.E.S.H. sketched hopeful boundaries for form, as if creating lumpy sculptures out of a constantly melting red clay. There was no real reconstruction happening here, only ephemeral reactions that merely complemented M.E.S.H.’s previously deconstructionist audio agenda. Here, there was only the search and the reveal — a revelation in the sound of void-wind cuffing the plaza.


19

Chief Keef

Thot Breaker

[Glo Gang]

[LISTEN · READ]

They’ve been asking for the old Sosa since he was 17. But how can you miss the old Chief Keef when he can be the pill that you gotta take, your night shift, your light-year, the sun in your rainy weather, your listener, your boat? Your Number 1 Pop Star, your “LOVE.” He’s changed (“Slow Dance”), and he’s stayed the same (“My Baby”), turning his Gucci/Wayne smear resplendent. Thot Breaker arrived overdue and yesterday, a pop time slide, a HNDRXX from the future, in 2017, after the honestly equal albeit unmastered Two Zero One Seven. Anamoly (Almighty So), phantasmagoria (lil glo). The old Sosa’s ttttturbo made us go “Whoa,” then his voice took us inner, outer, and higher. How far is a light-year?


18

GAS

Narkopop

[Kompakt]

[LISTEN · READ]

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that, even after a 17-year pause between albums, GAS felt, in essence, unchanged. Wolfgang Voigt’s most sublime musical outlet has always felt more like a natural phenomenon than a project, tied not to the passing of trends or eras, but to the epochal aging of the Earth itself. If that sounds grandiose, great — Narkopop was a giant piece of music, tall as sequoia and unapologetically huge in scope. And yet it was Voigt’s personal touch for turning his few ingredients into an entire world that stuck when the record ended — the wisps of fog-synth and floor tom, masterful in their ability to subtly play the human senses. The cap on a now 20-year experiment in opening ambience to its widest point, one hopes this is, for Voigt, just one of many trips back to the forest.


17

SZA

CTRL

[Top Dawg]

[WATCH · WATCH]

While Taylor stumbles through her deferred quarter-life crisis and Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko stakes her claim in the socioeconomically monopolized realm of indie rock, Solána Rowe, d/b/a SZA, forged a middle ground between the two artists on CTRL. Her debut long-player after a string of EPs, CTRL channeled Swift’s narcissistic empowerment and tempered it with Tamko’s outspoken insecurity and tacit gender politics. Oscillating between off-the-cuff lyricism and carefully deliberated melodies, SZA located personal trepidation in the album’s stream-of-consciousness musings and discovered affirmation in its mantra-hooks. When she sang “Leave me lonely for prettier women/ You know I need too much attention for shit like that” on the blank-verse confessional “Supermodel,” it was a supplication to be proven wrong. And on the would-be capstone single “Drew Barrymore,” she asked confidently, knowingly, “Am I warm enough for you outside, baby? Is it warm enough for you inside me?” Rowe’s mother graced CTRL’s interstices with soundbites of maternal wisdom and exhortation, the most pertinent of which inaugurated the album: “That is my greatest fear: that if I lost control or did not have control, things would just be… fatal.”


16

DJ Escrow

Universal Soulja Vol. 1

[Self-Released]

[LISTEN · READ]

Noise becomes encoded, gridlocked, parceled-out through repetition. "Who knows about this one?" On the heels of a year when the noxious sirens and gas of BBF was a 3D, maybe too-real thing, "summer mixtape" Universal Soulja Vol. 1 supplied an antidote to numbing, carceral ProTools, the blight of smoothness (a buffering and a buffing-out), a channelization of encoded angst. A scorched DJ Escrow cypher-and-gab served a blunt anti-cryptography. "I was a Selectah, too/ Used to run the records backwards and that." Escrow's pressurized text broke off an exclusive new caesura: new enemies, new connect, new number, new phone. No more drums, just the autonomous interior of Universal Mind, mobilized amidst crumpling earth and layered skee'd-offs to nowhere. "Quick, quick, quick, quick." Escrow's selections and laced flows resurrected the originary thrust of the sound system, disarticulated from the clutches of an "abstract" noise, a noiseless noise. Rather, we keyed in, live and direct, primed for elevation and Escrow's organized programme: "Be with your real ones."


15

Various Artists

Sounds of Sisso

[Nyege Nyege Tapes]

[LISTEN · READ]

There were few more invigorating introductions to a sound in 2017 than the opening 20 seconds of "Baba Animata Natafuta Kiki" from Sounds of Sisso. Thudding drums, pitched-up vocals-as-melodies, and breakneck rapped lyrics tumbled outward, frenetic and elastic, announcing the arrival of "Singeli," a style that agglomerates, combines, and entangles music from across Tanzania. Released by the Uganda-based label (and studio and festival) Nyege Nyege Tapes, Sounds of Sisso was the product of producers Bwax, Sisso, Bampa Pana, and Yung Keyz Morento, as well as MCs Dogo Niga and Makavelli, whose spooling, pounding sonics operated simultaneously on the edges of several temporal planes. This was vertiginous, engrossing music, its drums snapping and feinting, its bass thrumming and hulking, its melodies chopped and looped. It roamed across effects and textures, letting light in one minute and sending the listener down fathomless rhythmic wormholes the next, the tracks' cramped spaces thoughtfully filled by the MCs' breathless bars and the mobile hands of its producers. If "Nyege Nyege is named after a Luganda word that means 'the feeling of a sudden uncontrollable urge to move, shake or dance,'" Sounds of Sisso repeatedly placed the listener in the midst of that feeling, on the precipice of its realization. And in that moment, when control had been wrested away, one's only response was to surrender to the dance.


14

milo

who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​!

[Ruby Yacht]

[LISTEN · READ]

There was an intriguing duality between the title and contents of milo's who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! Or perhaps a call and response, if you prefer. While the album's title might've evoked the threatening, manic taunt of a drill sergeant or other superego turned frighteningly corporeal, the album's poetry proffered quietly self-assured answers, like "Mom" or "Baldwin" or "Busdriver." It spoke to a continuing conversation, an obligation to add on. In one interview this year, milo noted that his last full-length, 2015's So the Flies Don't Come, was what finally proved to some naysayers that he could really rap. In other interviews, he identified rap as something he has always done, will always do, and must always do. Meticulously tooling his "school of thought” like a record store in the making, the Hellfyre Club pupil turned Ruby Yacht professor workshopped the hell out of this latest set, with tours and mixtapes and more and more still. We listened, and even if we didn’t directly see or hear the toil that went into these songs, we damn sure felt it.


13

Ryuichi Sakamoto

async

[Milan]

[LISTEN · READ]

Drinking alone at the Park Hyatt Hotel in downtown Tokyo, lost and desperate, I had never heard async. Eating 12 large dumplings in Kyoto, unable to taste them, unable to think about anything beyond my inability to think about anything, I had never heard async. Later, in Hong Kong, insomnia settling in before the hospital stay, I had never heard async. I had never heard async, was still mere silhouette in the moments between my nightmares. When I did hear async, I became a bird and flew beyond the fire I’d lit, to a place where the line between music and lesson blurred. I found myself in a clearing made of music, a symphony that became physical space, revealing the “physical” as mirage. Places could be inhabited from anywhere. I imagined new ones, and I traveled to them. I chose not to speak. When I feared nothing so much as going back, I listened to async.


12

Various Artists

mono no aware

[PAN]

[LISTEN · READ]

PAN’s mono no aware articulated its philosophy in furious gestures of peace and good will toward things. The featured artists attempted, in their own ways, to bottle up in one vessel their love and their sensitive openness to the world that must, of its nature, wash the loved away. Where artists like Yves Tumor and Malibu reprised their practice in recognizable form for the compilation, underground club heroes M.E.S.H., Oli XL, and Mya Gomez were encountered in a more pensive mood than usual. It was, after all, an “ambient” compilation, whatever that means. The seesaw of Kareem Lotfy’s “Fr3sh” was like an impossible mixture of unthinking fog and the clarity of contemplation, while AYYA’s “Second Mistake” was a melody of razor-sharp notes in superposition, ascending and unmoving, feeling a little like a Shepard tone. A similar sense of suspended animation was captured by Jeff Witscher’s “ok, American Medium,” which climaxed in a brassy, pseudo-acoustic cacophony, while curator Bill Kouligas’s own “VXOMEG” saw an overdriven whine through to the low, echoing hum of its self-immolation, each of the two domesticating noise and the discomfort for which it stands, absorbing them into a sublime framework. If mono no aware had a theme, it had to do with a movement that, while alien and transmutative like a passage from the world, remained firmly embedded within it. This year, the world and my thoughts grew loud, and I found no more perfect escape than in not escaping.


11

Felicia Atkinson

Hand In Hand

[Shelter Press]

[LISTEN · READ]

The ominously rattling “I’m Following You” began the journey of Felicia Atkinson’s Hand In Hand, an album that delightfully balanced shaking paranoia with tranquilly restorative vibrations. She captured the sound of things shifting in a room where nobody was — haunted, humming, serene. Minimal, pulsing, pinging instrumentals were juxtaposed with disparate spoken segments — spooky, scattered phenomenological and ontological ruminations on plants, everyday objects, information, space, the empire, the universe, the fall. Language was there for the grasping, but it was deliciously slippery both sonically and in what was signified, such that sliding around without gripping too desperately for narrative was the best mode, letting it all drip and wash over us like a hot digital bubble bath. Things comported, stretched, and occupied weird little corners, dug deadend tunnels, inhaled, exhaled, froze, paraded softly. The soothing chimes and lost whispers of “Curious In Epidavros.” The sinister scraping and disappearing bass of “Monstera Deliciosa.” The barely-happening “No Fear But Anticipation,” wherein Atkinson’s concluding murmurs on desire, the future, and suffering supplied more peculiar pieces to a puzzle that was thrillingly unsolvable.

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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