Category Archives: BEST OF 2017

MAGNET’s Top 25 Albums Of 2017

25. House And Land | House And Land (Thrill Jockey)
flockofdimes 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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24. Algiers | The Underside Of Power (Matador)
anonhi 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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23. Bash & Pop | Anything Could Happen (Fat Possum)
birdofyouth 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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22. Mount Eerie | A Crow Looked At Me (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
nada “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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21. Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit | The Nashville Sound (Southeastern/Thirty Tigers)
wilco 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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20. Perfume Genius | No Shape (Matador)
bobmould 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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19. Father John Misty | Pure Comedy (Sub Pop)
parquet 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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18. Valerie June | The Order Of Time (Concord)
parquet 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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17. Peter Perrett | How The West Was Won (Domino)
bonnier 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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16. Hurray For The Riff Raff | The Navigator (ATO)
Avalanches 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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15. Spoon | Hot Thoughts (Matador)
Angel Britt Daniel and Co. are the Swiss watchmakers of indie rock: fine purveyors of quality and precision. Sure, the surface aesthetics change, but they’re always, undeniably, Spoon, from their metronomic underpinnings to Daniel’s blue-eyed soul. So it goes with Hot Thoughts, a record that hears Spoon’s lockstep instrumentation increasingly beckoning listeners to the dance floor. With most bands, this would raise fears of disco-fication, a slide into frivolity. Spoon, however, is likely the only band since the Cars that can bring the keyboards and still sound rock ’n’ roll. Case in point is “Can I Sit Next To You,” unafraid to use dramatic washes of synth, but at its core is an irresistible, badass strut, built from sounds fit together like expertly milled gears. Indeed, it’s a goddamn miracle of mechanical beauty, a cause for rump shaking by humans and robots alike. Similarly, the opening title track delivers Prince-ly amounts of funk with the painstaking efficiency of a German automaker. Why does Hot Thoughts deserve honors this year? Because it’s a Spoon record. Given the guys’ consistent track record, let’s just plan on reserving a slot for their every release here and ever after. —Matt Ryan

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14. Priests | Nothing Feels Natural (Sister Polygon) 
radiohead To quote The Catcher In The Rye Truer word was never spoken, boy. Released on January 27, Priests’ first full-length—following a scattering of singles and EPs—sounds fittingly like a post-inauguration thermometer jammed under the national tongue (or into whatever orifice you feel perpetuates the correct metaphor) of an America sick with the feverish staggers. Opener “Appropriate” blasts out of the gate, then switches tempos and progressions through a first, then a second false ending, as if Priests had so many musical ideas they couldn’t bear to leave any out. The rest of the LP follows suit, its lyrics at once expansively absurdist and unsettlingly specific: “Magical psychology, deceptive anthropology/All the wingnuts got a haircut/Bred and had babies” (“Pink White House”); “Tomorrow’s going to be a different life/The tower over me, it said oh, oh, oh/Trust me, trust me/Things could be much, much, much worse” (“Lelia 20”). Befitting an era in which the only predictable element seems to be our constant gobsmacked shock, Nothing Feels Natural whipsaws among styles and structures song by song. But taken as a jittery whole, Priests’ debut feels like the realest possible soundtrack to life in these current United States—not only a landmark bow for an immensely talented punk band, but the first LP that really bottles how it feels to be alive and kicking (against the pricks) in the new millennium. —Eric Waggoner

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13. Laura Marling | Semper Femina (More Alarming/Kobalt)
cass In interviews, Laura Marling often says that she only speaks when absolutely necessary and takes that verbal discipline seriously. Her music is emotionally dense, expressing a full range of feeling, but it’s lyrically sparse with a sense of plainspoken poetry. The songs here investigate the ideas of gender and sexuality, maintaining a fluid stance that allows her to explore the difference between the emotions we feel and the way we choose to manifest them. “Nouel” surveys the wounds a thoughtless lover can inflict on those who care for her, with Marling’s simple, lilting vocal conveying a sense of quiet anguish. A booming drum loop and shimmering electric guitar introduce “Wild Fire,” a tale of unrequited love that’s delivered in a jazzy flow that falls before and behind the song’s measured tempo. Marling gets a lot of press for the passionate intensity of her vocals, but her skills on the guitar are just as impressive. On Semper Femina, she complements her burnished vocals with a solid display of fingerpicking prowess marked by showers of arpeggios and bluesy notes full of sliding overtones. On electric, she drops some solid rhythmic chord clusters and even a hint of country twang into the mix. —j. poet

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12. LCD Soundsystem | American Dream (Columbia)
mitzi Anyone who took James Murphy seriously when LCD Soundsystem played its supposed last show in 2011 is a dope. Quit to do what? DJ? Do a signature coffee? Play percussion for David Bowie? Yes, but no. The manicured-scruffy Murphy was always born to take the music of his youth (Liquid Liquid, Talking Heads, Can, the Fall, Psychedelic Furs), exploit it and yank it into the future with a furious-yet-finicky, sense-of-melancholy, now-sounding dance rock/funk and an emotional wallop that’s as poignant as all get out. American Dream does what Sound Of Silver and This Is Happening did, but even more so. There is nostalgia, hurt and the whiff-sniff of sadness that comes with loss on “Oh Baby,” the title track (dedicated to the late Alan Vega) and “Black Screen” (for the passing of Bowie). But Murphy is forever the snarky unsentimentalist, as his dry-ice vocal take on “Other Voices” succinctly proves. What is a surprise is that LCD is now (albeit slightly) more of a democracy with each member in post-punk mode and contributing thusly, resulting in a theatrical sound that’s thicker, deeper and louder than in previous settings. If you thought you couldn’t be more impressed with LCD Soundsystem than you were in its pre-retirement past, you were wrong. There’s nothing retiring or AARP about American Dream—A.D. Amorosi

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11. Japanese Breakfast | Soft Sounds From Another Planet (Dead Oceans)
drivebytruckers Michelle Zauner is a firm believer in love; it was woven tightly into the fabric of Psychopomp, the brilliant 2016 outing by Japanese Breakfast. That LP took shape while she cared for her terminally ill mother, transforming various sorts of grief into uplifting and ebullient synthpop. While Psychopomp showed that pure devotion is bigger than any one of us, Japanese Breakfast’s equally strong follow-up outlines how the only thing keeping us from intimacy is ourselves. Soft Sounds From Another Planet shimmers in stylistically varied sounds, from opening krautrock pulsar “Diving Woman” to closing acoustic ballad “This House.” Each song is a different vignette, with communication—and a lack thereof—being a common thread. Sure, “Machinist” is on its surface a bizarro sci-fi story about a woman falling for a robot, but it’s also about coping with cold emotional distance. The strings on “Boyish” score a sad tale of lovers drifting apart, while torch song “Till Death” finds them rekindled, ruminating on the ties that bind. Zauner’s strength is songwriting that’s unflinchingly honest and vulnerable. On Soft Sounds, it pairs with some of the year’s most gripping playing and production, and Japanese Breakfast once again has us contemplating our experience with heartache and seeing hope within. —John Vettese

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10. Cigarettes After Sex | Cigarettes After Sex (Partisan)
dino Quiet-storm guitar rock can be a beautiful thing—just think of the languid, deep-blue mood pieces of yore created by Mazzy Star and Mojave 3. But Greg Gonzalez didn’t sit and stew in El Paso, Texas, for eight damn years so that he could create a replicant strain of ’90s sadcore specimen Red House Painters. We have every reason to believe that Gonzalez aimed instead for more sensual, shiver-inducing Sade territory, and the evidence is all over the self-titled debut by Cigarettes After Sex. Gonzalez doesn’t just turn a vocal melody; he shapes them into tendrils of ecstasy and longing. And true to the band’s name, these songs are inches-deep sex jams about sleeping and pillow-talking with so many women. Opener “K.” is devoted to Krista, Krystal or Kristin, depending on which verse you’re listening to. Given the rather mannered, diving-bell acoustics and reverbed-to-death guitars of these leisurely paced songs, a little bit of salaciousness seems like a tonic rather than a tasteless gesture. When Gonzalez sings, “You wanna go/Where the girls are young and dumb/And hot as fuck,” it doesn’t read as irony or a playful rejoinder to propriety. It’s a straight shot of desire. —Matthew Fritch

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9. Sylvan Esso | What Now (Loma Vista)
beach slang It’s fun to fall down the wormhole of Sylvan Esso remixes, which are essentially reimagined twists—sometimes by others, just as often by themselves (see the improved perfection of the Echo Mountain Sessions)—on a reimagined original. Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn’s chicken-and-egg ensemble is unique in modern pop music. More akin to a self-sampling hip-hop team than an indie-rock duo, they might be better considered “premix” artists. If the eponymous 2014 debut offered a bionic/chameleonic glimpse at the metrosexual Mountain Man makeover, this sequel is where they shed their skin, reemerging stronger and yet more vulnerable (i.e., more human) than ever. The album’s whiz-bang production is a consistent kick (jump, twist), but it’s really on those distilled Echo Mountain visual essays that true love takes hold, in large part due to the ace supporting players: Wye Oak dime Jenn Wasner on bass/keys, Mountain Goat Matt Douglas on (what else?) horns. It’s an acoustic read on a digital upsample of a low-res capture, which makes no sense but works like a charm. Just like the band itself. —Noah Bonaparte Pais

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8. Queens Of The Stone Age | Villains (Matador)
lucinda Queens Of The Stone Age records are like strangers sidling up to you at a dive bar with a double whiskey neat and launching into a tale. Sometimes the night ends in a brawl (Songs For The Deaf) or the conversation wanders to a dark place (…Like Clockwork), but it’s never, ever a snooze. Villains heads straight to the jukebox, fires up some Prince, chats you up a bit, then dances with your girl when you’re in the bathroom. There’s a booty-shaking groove that snakes through this Mark Ronson-produced set, whether it’s the funky “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” the swing of “The Way You Used To Do” or the seductive strut of “The Evil Has Landed.” This guy’s a charmer, too—few frontmen turn a phrase like Josh Homme, who can slide from comic to confessional to sinister in a single breath (“I’m all dressed up, no one left to blow/Addiction to friction leaves you raw … All I require is a pupil, and I’m sure it’s yours.”). Even a warning about the perils of fast-lane living on “Un-Reborn Again” (“Frozen in amber eternally … drowning in the fountain of youth”) sounds like a party you want to crash. Suddenly, it’s last call, your date went home with that slick-talking damage case, and you’re not even mad about it. —Richard Rys

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7. Future Islands | The Far Field (4AD)
carseatheadrest The narrative for Future Islands’ fifth album is simple and linear: The Samuel Herring-fronted synth-pop band struck gold with “Seasons (Waiting On You)” from 2014’s Singles, partly on the heels of an instant-classic Letterman performance. Although the Baltimore band came out of the same scene as experimental oddballs like Dan Deacon, “Seasons” was pure pop bliss, and The Far Field doubles down on its strengths. Throbbing, New Order-ish bass lines, bubbling synths, rhythms that propel you to the dance floor, and, most of all, Herring’s emotive, gruff vocals. He’s quite the singer, conveying earnest commitment, desperation and heartache from within a muscular, masculine exterior. “Freezing rain can’t keep me away from you,” he growls on “North Star,” and there’s a sad plea within his pledge. On The Far Field, Future Islands find the difference between selling out (compromising one’s identity and values to follow paths that have potential for commercial reward) and buying in (recognizing when one has at last found a perfect alchemy, then seeing what more can be done with the ingredients). Which also meant, for Herring and Co., drafting one of their heroes—Debbie Harry—for a duet that, although it slightly disrupts the spell Herring has cast, makes perfect sense for a nigh-perfect record. —Steve Klinge

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6. Sampha | Process (Young Turks)
nick cave You can learn a lot about who’s got next by watching the VIP section at Coachella. When Stormzy, Mura Masa, members of Brockhampton and Foo Fighters plus various Hollywood types start showing up early for your set, it’s pretty clear that “a moment” is happening in front of you. The debut LP from British producer/vocalist Sampha Sisay does indeed qualify as such, an emotionally complex, subtle piece of golden-throated popcraft that registers in your memory as a soundtrack to melancholy (Sisay lost his father to cancer at a young age, his mother to the same disease in 2015) when it’s not gently coaxing you toward the dance floor. Or the bedroom. Sampha’s voice may be better known for his collab work with Solange, Drake, Kanye and Frank Ocean, but he begins to stake a claim on solo righteousness the moment that discerning ears hear “Timmy’s Prayer” and, especially, “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano,” his bid for Prince’s forsaken soul-prince throne and a tribute to his late mother that makes clear his debt to her memory and his music as a lifesaving force. Supple, sublime and slyly swinging, Process is 2017’s Channel Orange—Corey duBrowa

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5. Manchester Orchestra | A Black Mile To The Surface (Loma Vista)
goat One of the biggest coming-out parties of 2017, Manchester Orchestra’s A Black Mile To The Surface locates the Atlanta band in the following space-time coordinates: right here and right now. The maximalist Southern-gothic album fills every available crevice with a Billy Corgan level of advanced instrumental layering, and the wonder of it all is that singer/guitarist Andy Hull’s high-lonesome voice somehow doesn’t get lost in the center of the sonic vortex. A complex narrative thread and a cinematic imperative forms the backbone of Black Mile, but the TL;DR version is that the record is a tale of maturity and fatherhood. For the 30-year-old Hull, it turns out that the rock-band touring regimen of smoking cigarettes and subsisting on Hot Pockets is no way to go through life, and the songs weave through themes of mortality and responsibility. The result is a level up from the group’s emo roots and a lateral move toward the anthemic, stylistic space previously occupied in recent years by Band Of Horses and the Shins: two bands that firmly owned a piece of everybody’s heart at some point. For Manchester Orchestra, ambition has created its own reward. —Matthew Fritch

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4. Chastity Belt | I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone (Hardly Art)
william After breaking out with an album-length survey of the freaks and geeks found at most social gatherings (2015’s Time To Go Home), Seattle’s Chastity Belt returned two years later with a masterful collection of unflinching personal insight. I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone comprises the internal observations of singer Julia Shapiro (and drummer Gretchen Grimm, whose “Stuck” is a highlight). Characterizing herself as the perennial loner implied by the album’s title, Shapiro guides her crew through relatable tales of a world that preys on the introverted. Honest, matter-of-fact lyrics are aided by swirling guitars and steady rhythms. Save for jet-propelled closer “5AM,” I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone is a warm, unhurried listen. All this is coupled with the band’s delightfully wry sense of humor: Check out the shot-for-shot remake of Temple Of The Dog’s “Hunger Strike” video the women did to accompany lead single “Different Now” or their JCPenney Portraits press pics. In another time, Chastity Belt would surely be scooped up by some major label looking to add some emotional “edge” to its roster. Lucky for us, Chastity Belt exists in the present, where we can all be alone together. —Eric Schuman

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3. The War On Drugs | A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic)
case By now, it’s common knowledge that the War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel is an obsessive tinkerer. So we’ll never know what the initial recordings from A Deeper Understanding sounded like before he tucked them under his arm and headed back into the studio for another four or five weeks of tweaking. But the end result is what counts, and it amounts to 67 minutes of fretfully refined brilliance—an album that exceeds an hour and leaves you wanting more. The cover would have you believe—and rightly so—that this is a keyboard-heavy continuation of the sound and vision set forth on 2014’s Lost In The Dream, and the touring version TWOD does feature two guys on keys. But it’s also worth noting that there are at least a half-dozen tightly wound guitar solos scattered throughout A Deeper Understanding, a necessary counterpoint that slices through the dense, layered synth washes and the 4/4 rhythms laid down with metronomic precision by six(!) different drummers. A Deeper Understanding is the sound of a restless and gifted creative force expanding his reach and, in some cases, picking up where he left off. It also offers incontrovertible proof that exacting craftsmanship doesn’t have to be a life-sucking proposition. —Hobart Rowland

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2. The National | Sleep Well Beast (4AD)
bowie As easy as it is to love the National, it’s also easy to dismiss the band as simultaneously understated and pretentious, as monochromatic, as boringly consistent, as complacent dad rock. But throughout Sleep Well Beast, the quintet shakes up its sound just enough—not radically, but enough to up the ante. The edges, both emotional and musical, are sharper and weirder. The elegance is still here, but so is a satisfying ugliness. The unhinged “Turtleneck” is a three-minute maelstrom of squealing guitars and politically barbed ranting that is the most extreme song in the National’s seven-album catalog, and “Walk It Back,” with its spooky Karl Rove-quoting voices, is its most overtly experimental. But throughout Sleep Well Beast, the band seems to be pushing itself: Artful touches abound in subtle electronics, in orchestral grandeur, in pealing guitar hooks, whether on the rock songs that are among the National’s best (“Day I Die,” “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”) or in the elegant, stately ballads that seem to come so easily. The lyrics, by baritone vocalist Matt Berninger and his wife Carin Besser, depict fissures growing in a long-term relationship—within a marriage, probably, but also within a country or within a close-knit, contentious band. Sleep Well Beast isn’t a breakup album; it’s a breaking-up album. But the success of the collaboration suggests, one hopes, a reason to have faith, to have love. —Steve Klinge

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1. Waxahatchee | Out In The Storm (Merge)
lucy Make no mistake, MAGNET’s album of the year is about a nasty breakup, but it’s not completely informed by misery and dejection. Out In The Storm also conveys a tangible sense of freedom and relief. Through 10 tracks of tightly rendered self-revelation, Katie Crutchfield sounds like a woman on a mission—one who’s been thrust headlong into a cyclone of relational dysfunction and come out the other side transformed. “If I turn to stone, the whole world keeps turnin’,” she sings on “Silver,” the ruggedly catchy first single. “I went out in the storm, and I’m never returnin’.” Such hard-won clarity is cathartic, but there’s also a sense of inner peace, indicating that Crutchfield spent some time sorting through her feelings and gaining perspective before putting proverbial pen to paper. Veteran producer John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile, Hold Steady) was the perfect choice to stabilize Crutchfield’s abrupt mood swings and make her angrier moments palatable and sometimes even beautiful. Though beefy and rock-focused, it’s a sound that’s malleable enough to veer from dense to atmospheric to delicate pretty much on a whim. The result is Waxahatchee’s most focused and confident statement so far. Hell, it’s even a little optimistic. —Hobart Rowland

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Best Of 2017: Q&A With Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield

We caught up with Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield in her hometown of Birmingham, Ala., during some downtime between tour legs for Out In The Storm. Here’s what she had to say about the making of MAGNET’s album of the year.

It’s no secret that Out In The Storm is about weathering a rocky relationship. And yet there’s not a lot of weakness and self-pity expressed in these songs.
I had the urge to write fresh off the breakup, but every time I sat down to do it, I had to stop myself. It was too earnest, too over-the-top. I needed to wait. By the time I actually sat down to write the songs on the record, the relationship I’m describing had been over for a year and a half. I was right at the end of processing it.

And the album is sequenced that way, especially with “Fade” as the last track.
I actually wanted to put that at the beginning of the album, and (producer) John (Agnello) was like, “No, it doesn’t belong there.” And he was right. I kind of look at the record like a long breakup conversation, and “Fade” is that last breath.

You definitely hear anger on this album, but there’s also a sense of empowerment and even hope.
The relationship I’m describing on the album is something that a lot of people have been through, where there’s this uneven power dynamic. The record was a response to really feeling like I didn’t have a voice in the relationship. So I’m saying all the things I felt like I really didn’t get to say in the moment. I wanted that combative energy to be a force to be reckoned with. I wanted it to sound strong.

What was it like working with producer John Agnello?
He’s really nurturing in the studio. Some artists like to be verbally abused [laughs], and some artists need to be coddled. I definitely fall into the latter category. He knew when to push me, and when to retreat and let me win the battle. Every song has its own atmosphere, and that’s kind of a new thing for me. There’s less space on this record. Daniel Shea, who did the artwork on the record, described it as claustrophobic, and he meant it as a compliment.

So you’re getting ready to relocate.
I’ve lived in Philly for about six years now, and I’m in the process of moving back home to Alabama, buying a house and settling here. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with my relationships in Philly; my closest person there was my sister, Allison, and she moved to L.A. I really had to do some self-reflection and ask myself where I really wanted to be. Birmingham just feels like the place. For years, I’ve really missed the South. It feels like home.

—Hobart Rowland; photo by Gene Smirnov

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MAGNET’s #1 Album Of 2017: Waxahatchee’s “Out In The Storm”

Make no mistake, MAGNET’s album of the year is about a nasty breakup, but it’s not completely informed by misery and dejection. Out In The Storm also conveys a tangible sense of freedom and relief. Through 10 tracks of tightly rendered self-revelation, Katie Crutchfield sounds like a woman on a mission—one who’s been thrust headlong into a cyclone of relational dysfunction and come out the other side transformed. “If I turn to stone, the whole world keeps turnin’,” she sings on “Silver,” the ruggedly catchy first single. “I went out in the storm, and I’m never returnin’.” Such hard-won clarity is cathartic, but there’s also a sense of inner peace, indicating that Crutchfield spent some time sorting through her feelings and gaining perspective before putting proverbial pen to paper. Veteran producer John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile, Hold Steady) was the perfect choice to stabilize Crutchfield’s abrupt mood swings and make her angrier moments palatable and sometimes even beautiful. Though beefy and rock-focused, it’s a sound that’s malleable enough to veer from dense to atmospheric to delicate pretty much on a whim. The result is Waxahatchee’s most focused and confident statement so far. Hell, it’s even a little optimistic. —Hobart Rowland; photo by Gene Smirnov

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MAGNET’s #2 Album Of 2017: The National’s “Sleep Well Beast”

As easy as it is to love the National, it’s also easy to dismiss the band as simultaneously understated and pretentious, as monochromatic, as boringly consistent, as complacent dad rock. But throughout Sleep Well Beast, the quintet shakes up its sound just enough—not radically, but enough to up the ante. The edges, both emotional and musical, are sharper and weirder. The elegance is still here, but so is a satisfying ugliness. The unhinged “Turtleneck” is a three-minute maelstrom of squealing guitars and politically barbed ranting that is the most extreme song in the National’s seven-album catalog, and “Walk It Back,” with its spooky Karl Rove-quoting voices, is its most overtly experimental. But throughout Sleep Well Beast, the band seems to be pushing itself: Artful touches abound in subtle electronics, in orchestral grandeur, in pealing guitar hooks, whether on the rock songs that are among the National’s best (“Day I Die,” “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”) or in the elegant, stately ballads that seem to come so easily. The lyrics, by baritone vocalist Matt Berninger and his wife Carin Besser, depict fissures growing in a long-term relationship—within a marriage, probably, but also within a country or within a close-knit, contentious band. Sleep Well Beast isn’t a breakup album; it’s a breaking-up album. But the success of the collaboration suggests, one hopes, a reason to have faith, to have love. —Steve Klinge; photo by Gene Smirnov

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MAGNET’s #3 Album Of 2017: The War On Drugs’ “A Deeper Understanding”

By now, it’s common knowledge that the War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel is an obsessive tinkerer. So we’ll never know what the initial recordings from A Deeper Understanding sounded like before he tucked them under his arm and headed back into the studio for another four or five weeks of tweaking. But the end result is what counts, and it amounts to 67 minutes of fretfully refined brilliance—an album that exceeds an hour and leaves you wanting more. The cover would have you believe—and rightly so—that this is a keyboard-heavy continuation of the sound and vision set forth on 2014’s Lost In The Dream, and the touring version TWOD does feature two guys on keys. But it’s also worth noting that there are at least a half-dozen tightly wound guitar solos scattered throughout A Deeper Understanding, a necessary counterpoint that slices through the dense, layered synth washes and the 4/4 rhythms laid down with metronomic precision by six(!) different drummers. A Deeper Understanding is the sound of a restless and gifted creative force expanding his reach and, in some cases, picking up where he left off. It also offers incontrovertible proof that exacting craftsmanship doesn’t have to be a life-sucking proposition. —Hobart Rowland

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MAGNET’s #4 Album Of 2017: Chastity Belt’s “I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone”

After breaking out with an album-length survey of the freaks and geeks found at most social gatherings (2015’s Time To Go Home), Seattle’s Chastity Belt returned two years later with a masterful collection of unflinching personal insight. I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone comprises the internal observations of singer Julia Shapiro (and drummer Gretchen Grimm, whose “Stuck” is a highlight). Characterizing herself as the perennial loner implied by the album’s title, Shapiro guides her crew through relatable tales of a world that preys on the introverted. Honest, matter-of-fact lyrics are aided by swirling guitars and steady rhythms. Save for jet-propelled closer “5AM,” I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone is a warm, unhurried listen. All this is coupled with the band’s delightfully wry sense of humor: Check out the shot-for-shot remake of Temple Of The Dog’s “Hunger Strike” video the women did to accompany lead single “Different Now” or their JCPenney Portraits press pics. In another time, Chastity Belt would surely be scooped up by some major label looking to add some emotional “edge” to its roster. Lucky for us, Chastity Belt exists in the present, where we can all be alone together. —Eric Schuman

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MAGNET’s #5 Album Of 2017: Manchester Orchestra’s “A Black Mile To The Surface”

One of the biggest coming-out parties of 2017, Manchester Orchestra’s A Black Mile To The Surface locates the Atlanta band in the following space-time coordinates: right here and right now. The maximalist Southern-gothic album fills every available crevice with a Billy Corgan level of advanced instrumental layering, and the wonder of it all is that singer/guitarist Andy Hull’s high-lonesome voice somehow doesn’t get lost in the center of the sonic vortex. A complex narrative thread and a cinematic imperative forms the backbone of Black Mile, but the TL;DR version is that the record is a tale of maturity and fatherhood. For the 30-year-old Hull, it turns out that the rock-band touring regimen of smoking cigarettes and subsisting on Hot Pockets is no way to go through life, and the songs weave through themes of mortality and responsibility. The result is a level up from the group’s emo roots and a lateral move toward the anthemic, stylistic space previously occupied in recent years by Band Of Horses and the Shins: two bands that firmly owned a piece of everybody’s heart at some point. For Manchester Orchestra, ambition has created its own reward. —Matthew Fritch

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MAGNET’s #6 Album Of 2017: Sampha’s “Process”

You can learn a lot about who’s got next by watching the VIP section at Coachella. When Stormzy, Mura Masa, members of Brockhampton and Foo Fighters plus various Hollywood types start showing up early for your set, it’s pretty clear that “a moment” is happening in front of you. The debut LP from British producer/vocalist Sampha Sisay does indeed qualify as such, an emotionally complex, subtle piece of golden-throated popcraft that registers in your memory as a soundtrack to melancholy (Sisay lost his father to cancer at a young age, his mother to the same disease in 2015) when it’s not gently coaxing you toward the dance floor. Or the bedroom. Sampha’s voice may be better known for his collab work with Solange, Drake, Kanye and Frank Ocean, but he begins to stake a claim on solo righteousness the moment that discerning ears hear “Timmy’s Prayer” and, especially, “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano,” his bid for Prince’s forsaken soul-prince throne and a tribute to his late mother that makes clear his debt to her memory and his music as a lifesaving force. Supple, sublime and slyly swinging, Process is 2017’s Channel Orange—Corey duBrowa

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MAGNET’s #7 Album Of 2017: Future Islands’ “The Far Field”

The narrative for Future Islands’ fifth album is simple and linear: The Samuel Herring-fronted synth-pop band struck gold with “Seasons (Waiting On You)” from 2014’s Singles, partly on the heels of an instant-classic Letterman performance. Although the Baltimore band came out of the same scene as experimental oddballs like Dan Deacon, “Seasons” was pure pop bliss, and The Far Field doubles down on its strengths. Throbbing, New Order-ish bass lines, bubbling synths, rhythms that propel you to the dance floor, and, most of all, Herring’s emotive, gruff vocals. He’s quite the singer, conveying earnest commitment, desperation and heartache from within a muscular, masculine exterior. “Freezing rain can’t keep me away from you,” he growls on “North Star,” and there’s a sad plea within his pledge. On The Far Field, Future Islands find the difference between selling out (compromising one’s identity and values to follow paths that have potential for commercial reward) and buying in (recognizing when one has at last found a perfect alchemy, then seeing what more can be done with the ingredients). Which also meant, for Herring and Co., drafting one of their heroes—Debbie Harry—for a duet that, although it slightly disrupts the spell Herring has cast, makes perfect sense for a nigh-perfect record. —Steve Klinge; photo by Gene Smirnov

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MAGNET’s #8 Album Of 2017: Queens Of The Stone Age’s “Villains”

Queens Of The Stone Age records are like strangers sidling up to you at a dive bar with a double whiskey neat and launching into a tale. Sometimes the night ends in a brawl (Songs For The Deaf) or the conversation wanders to a dark place (…Like Clockwork), but it’s never, ever a snooze. Villains heads straight to the jukebox, fires up some Prince, chats you up a bit, then dances with your girl when you’re in the bathroom. There’s a booty-shaking groove that snakes through this Mark Ronson-produced set, whether it’s the funky “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” the swing of “The Way You Used To Do” or the seductive strut of “The Evil Has Landed.” This guy’s a charmer, too—few frontmen turn a phrase like Josh Homme, who can slide from comic to confessional to sinister in a single breath (“I’m all dressed up, no one left to blow/Addiction to friction leaves you raw … All I require is a pupil, and I’m sure it’s yours.”). Even a warning about the perils of fast-lane living on “Un-Reborn Again” (“Frozen in amber eternally … drowning in the fountain of youth”) sounds like a party you want to crash. Suddenly, it’s last call, your date went home with that slick-talking damage case, and you’re not even mad about it. —Richard Rys

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