Category Archives: BEST OF 2017

MAGNET’s #16 Album Of 2017: Hurray For The Riff Raff’s “The Navigator”

In a country with a short, shameful history and an even shorter memory, you can live in a place for years but never really understand where you are, let alone where you come from or where you’re going. On The Navigator, Alynda Segarra, the sole permanent member of Hurray For The Riff Raff, fights the tendency to erase and assimilate, instead celebrating the lives of the displaced and dispossessed through snatches of gospel and bomba, doo wop and Dylan. In the guise of Navita Milagros Negrón—part Boricua street kid, part Ziggy Stardust, part Segarra herself—the Bronx-born multi-instrumentalist leads listeners on a journey through the projects, the subways, the clubs and the luxury condos of The City. From “Hungry Ghost,” which inhabits the same sonic space as Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark,” to “Rican Beach,” a slow-grooving anthem of resistance against gentrification, to the proud “Pa’lante,” Hurray For The Riff Raff draws a solid line from striving ancestors to all still dealing with the fallout of colonization. In the process, Segarra wrests Americana from those who would reduce it to banjos and beards, planting her flag decisively in the place—geographically and culturally—where she and her people, as much as anyone, truly belong. —M.J. Fine

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MAGNET’s #17 Album Of 2017: Peter Perrett’s “How The West Was Won”

To anyone unfortunate enough to have witnessed the Only Ones’ pitiful reunion a decade ago, the very idea that their waif-like singer Peter Perrett would still be alive in 2017, let alone responsible for producing one of the year’s most life-affirming albums, would have seemed ludicrous. Here was a man who’d drifted out of the music scene, a man whose long-term addictions to heroin and crack had so utterly ravaged his lungs he was barely able to breathe, let alone sing. And yet, 10 years on, he’s back, apparently drug free, in (relatively) good health and making marvelous music on par with his glory days. How The West Was Won is nothing short of a revelation, a ridiculously heartwarming return to form, by turns louche, laconic and impossibly romantic in the most literal sense. Throughout, Perrett comes on like Lou Reed’s long-lost transatlantic cousin—think Loaded or Street Hassle filtered through a grimy South London lens. It’s languidly lyrical, laced with mordant wit and unflinching candor, all the while beautifully complemented by his two sons, who provide a perfect musical foil throughout. (Which is something in itself, seeing as they previously backed incorrigible ex-junkie dilettante Pete Doherty, a man who’s spent most of his career copying Perrett’s worst aspects.) A minor miracle of sorts then, a true gem, one for wide-eyed gutterpunk romantics everywhere, and the best back-from-the-dead trick since Lazarus. —Neil Ferguson

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MAGNET’s #18 Album Of 2017: Valerie June’s “The Order Of Time”

Valerie June takes her time and doesn’t give away too much of herself, but she fills The Order Of Time with a lifetime’s worth of experience: being born, falling in love, forming a family, falling apart. Her voice—by turns girlish and womanly, wistful and wise—touches the heart where it is, where it is unspoiled, where it is tender, where it is broken, where it is scarred but yearning to open again. On the clear-eyed “Love You Once Made,” June condenses a marriage into one moment; on “Shakedown,” with its relatively raucous electric guitars and keyboards, she makes an urgent desire feel like it could last indefinitely. Though her guitar and banjo are frequently buried beneath layers of horns and strings, there’s no tension or distinction between country and jazz here; like Norah Jones, who contributes backing vocals on a couple of tracks, June disregards artificial boundaries between genres. As the Tennessee native sings on gently rollicking album closer “Got Soul,” “I could sing you a country tune … I could play you the blues.” Of course, by then, any listener can tell the transcendent truth, and the chorus confirms it in word and deed: “But I got soul/I got sweet, soul, soul.” —M.J. Fine

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MAGNET’s #19 Album Of 2017: Father John Misty’s “Pure Comedy”

Joshua Tillman grew up in a family dominated by evangelical-Christian parents who didn’t allow secular music in the home. After spending his youth playing in rock bands, he went on a hallucinogenic-mushroom binge and emerged as Father John Misty, a preacher dedicated to giving his listeners a huge dose of truth and reality. He takes another big step in that direction with Pure Comedy, an album that dissects the illusions at the heart of capitalism and the entertainment business. Tillman performs a delicate balancing act as he explores the escapism he sees at the heart of the songwriting trade. His verbose sermons have a serious nature, albeit laced through with sarcastic wit and laser-sharp irony. He delivers them against a somber melodic background broken by shards of industrial noise, dissonant keyboard fills and a keening, wordless chorus. His weary vocals intensify their desolate nature, as he wrestles with Jesus, climate change, racism, homophobia, misogyny and the meaning of life and death. There are a few bright moments. A vibrant pedal-steel guitar lifts up “Smoochie,” a celebration of the strength you can draw from a supportive lover, while “A Bigger Paper Bag” waltzes along with an almost giddy optimism. But most of these songs demand a degree of self-examination that’s rare in popular music. —j. poet

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MAGNET’s #20 Album Of 2017: Perfume Genius’ “No Shape”

There was a distinct feeling after 2014’s Too Bright that Perfume Genius had summited—in fact, the feeling arrived during the album, precisely four tracks in. How, exactly, does one top the life-affirming, career-defining, 12-minute-long Z-snap in the air that is “Queen”/“Fool”/“No Good”? Mike Hadreas has a few ideas. Moonlighting as his own muse, Hadreas delivered with No Shape his most alluring and disturbing work, an anxiety-inducing, endorphin-bursting pop smear that histrionically milks dry and then tips all of pop’s sacred cows. Openers “Otherside” and “Slip Away,” queen-age symphonies to God, are all release, no builds necessary; side-two sundowners “Choir” and “Die 4 You” almost literally flip the script, an Amadeus-ex-machina panic attack and trip hop’s black swan song, respectively. Hadreas, nothing left to prove, saves the last words (pillow-talking, morning-gazing coda “Alan”) for Alan Wyffels, his longtime partner in romance and music, divisions left permanently blurred after No Shape: “Thought I’d hide/Maybe leave something secret behind/Never thought I’d sing outside.” Sing, brother. —Noah Bonaparte Pais

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MAGNET’s #21 Album Of 2017: Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit’s “The Nashville Sound”

Jason Isbell’s third album in a row with outlaw-country “it” producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton) is the pair’s most fruitful collaboration yet. Title notwithstanding, it certainly doesn’t sound like your typical Nashville product. Marked by a tangible intimacy and warmth and loaded with crisp performances from the 400 Unit, this is a true band album. It also happens to feature Isbell’s finest songwriting to date, with lived-in melodies that resonate and a remarkably varied narrative perspective. Cobb tinkers with the Isbell formula in interesting—but never obtrusive—ways, coaxing the accelerated pace that makes “Cumberland Gap” such an exhilarating rocker and adding a vaguely progressive intro and outro to “Anxiety,” one of the most harrowingly direct studies of emotional turbulence ever written. In quieter moments, Isbell continues to extract plainspoken poetry from the numbing predictability of life’s harsh realities. “Maybe we’ll get 40 years together/But one day I’ll be gone, or one day you’ll be gone,” he concedes on “If We Were Vampires,” a gorgeously delicate duet sung with wife Amanda Shires. Yep, death is inevitable—about as inevitable as another great Jason Isbell album. —Hobart Rowland

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MAGNET’s #22 Album Of 2017: Mount Eerie’s “A Crow Looked At Me”

“Death is real/Someone’s there, and then they’re not/It’s not for singing about/It’s not for making into art.” Those are the first words on Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me, the saddest album of this, and probably any, year. Those lines are as true as they are false, and they are a perfect distillation of this record. Phil Elverum, formerly of the Microphones, has turned the reality of the early death of his wife, Geneviève Castrée, into raw, guileless, artful songs. The listening experience is intrusively personal, in the mode of, say, Mark Kozelek (but more empathetic by far). A Crow Looked At Me is full of heartbreaking details: a package arrives for their young daughter, sent by her mother before she died, and the speaker breaks down on the stairs and cries; clothes need to be given away and underwear discarded; the world is thrown into sharp relief by absence; chores that were once shared are now a father’s burden. The close-mic’ed vocals for the words that come in tumbling lines add to the whispery intimacy, and the understated arrangements—usually little more than a resonant acoustic guitar and perhaps a few piano lines—enhance the stark emotions. A Crow Looked At Me is such a painful album that it’s not one to listen to often, but it’s an impressive work of art. —Steve Klinge

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MAGNET’s #23 Album Of 2017: Bash & Pop’s “Anything Could Happen”

Two priceless gifts were bestowed upon Replacements fans this year, most notably the formal release of the band’s oft-bootlegged 1986 live set at Maxwell’s. Unfortunately, that nostalgia trip diverted attention from a new collection of gloriously boozy rock ’n’ roll songs by the Mats’ main sideman and erstwhile Guns N’ Roses bassist, Tommy Stinson. Recorded under his long-dormant Bash & Pop moniker, Anything Could Happen hears Stinson cement his status as the Keith Richards of Generation X: a reedy-voiced, rock ’n’ roll traveler finding his muse in country, blues and Maker’s Mark. Also like Richards, the spiky-haired Stinson manages to be eternally youthful and world-weary at the same time, a study in contradictions that carries through to his songwriting. “I might change my life,” the protagonist sings on the title track, but you’re not entirely sure he believes it. No surprise that this push and pull of hope and regret is a consistent thread as Stinson faces down the other side of 50. Really, though, what’s so special about Anything Could Happen is that it doesn’t try to be special at all. Instead, it conjures a freewheeling, live-to-tape basement jam fueled by adrenaline and a few cases of beer. And isn’t that what rock ’n’ roll is all about? —Matt Ryan

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MAGNET’s #24 Album Of 2017: Algiers’ “The Underside Of Power”

It’s hard to argue with Algiers even on paper: They’ve been described as dystopian soul, and who doesn’t want to hear that? Soul in a soulless world helps the poison go down. But it’s also obsolete; any soul act is “dystopian soul” in 2017, even if this one fuses techno punk and gospel in a raging firestorm of drum machines that admittedly undercut a tiny bit the amazing sticksman Matt Tong, who made Bloc Party’s first album the only true barnburner of the dance-punk wave. But Algiers’ second LP lacks nothing in neck-snapping, locomotive propulsion on such spooky tornadoes as “Cry Of The Martyrs” (where an extra harmony on the final verses gives the song a fourth melodic dimension) or the tambourine-abusing title tune, which wouldn’t be unreasonable to hear in a church. Their concessions to R&B don’t trade in rock’s blunt force for polyrhythmic complexity but rather a spaciousness that gives lead firebrand Franklin James Fisher the proper haunted reverb for his sustained vibrato. Nothing gets in the way of his voice, so the musique concrète of bluesy howls and eerie backup choirs bolstering him on tracks like “Cleveland” and “Animals” are mere cobwebs up against the battering ram of his instrument. A band like this could only have been born for the end of the world, which sounds so much sweeter than it is while The Underside Of Power is playing. —Dan Weiss

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MAGNET’s #25 Album Of 2017: House And Land’s “House And Land”

The past has a lot to say to the present, but what you hear depends on how you listen. Singers/multi-instrumentalists Sally Anne Morgan and Sarah Louise Henson are tuned in to the harsh realities and uncertain hopes expressed by old Appalachian folk songs. They hear how gender and class can box you in, making economics as important as hormones when you’re deciding whether to stick around the old homestead or run off with a handsome stranger. They hear that no matter what shaped your choices, you have to answer for them. And they hear how the drones and dissonances that folk singers have been savoring down the generations have laid the groundwork for the tonal layers and timbral clashes of current avant-garde practice. Everything they hear goes into House And Land’s music, which is as rich and rough as the hillside topsoil under your feet after a renewing season of fire and rain. Just as the protagonists of their songs assert agency despite their circumstances, the duo achieves great variety working with two voices, some stringed instruments and a wheezing squeezebox. —Bill Meyer

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