We don’t necessarily assert that these five albums are the best albums of the year, as authoritative lists like that are best left to music blogs and magazines. They are merely the ones we played the hell out of, a glimpse into an important part of our company culture: our collective soundtrack.
So without further ado, here are 5 Albums We Played The Hell Out Of In 2017.
1. Pinegrove – Cardinal <2016>
Pinegrove exists in a world of hybrid genres. Labels like alternative-country and indie-folk are certainly appropriate catch-alls, but if you factored in everything else that’s going on throughout the New Jersey band’s concise but impactful first album, you’d be left with some serious word salad. Garage-Americana? Punk for sitting cross-legged on your living room rug?
Cardinal is music about memories, friendships, and home – subjects that may not come as a surprise from a band whose promotional photos look like a brochure for a small liberal arts college. But that youthful energy comes across as thoroughly genuine – frontman Evan Stephens Hall’s vocals are intimate and vulnerable, full of quiet disclosures, pleading yelps and a unique, rolling drawl.
There’s a low-fi warmth to Cardinal. Muted, quarter-note-downstrums (normally the bread and butter of pop-punk rhythm guitar) give way to soaring, Built to Spill-style riffs and some tastefully minimal banjo twang. For an album that takes the listener so many places in such a short period of time, Cardinal somehow feels complete, cohesive and intensely familiar. And familiar is exactly how an album about growing up should feel.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Old Friends <3:30>
2. LCD Soundsystem – american dream <2017>
Whatever your opinion of LCD Soundsystem, it’s safe to say that they’re very proficient at three things: crunchy, booming synth-bass, cynical scrutiny of modern society, and the slow build.
As such, american dream is not about finding it and living happily ever after. It’s dark and cavernous, illuminated only by the light of bizarre little art-rock blips and retro-futuristic beats. Compositions are deliberately paced and incrementally layered, often opening with simple, repetitive riffs that gradually balloon into sweeping maximalism. It’s as jarringly dissonant as it is eminently danceable, sometimes simultaneously.
If detached, sardonic wit was the only thing american dream had to offer, few would have hailed the return of a band whose most recent album was seven years and a breakup ago. Fortunately for us, we’ve been given an appropriately neurotic soundtrack to wash it all down.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Oh Baby <5:49>
3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. <2017>
Overwhelming ambition is one of Kendrick Lamar’s most defining qualities, a feature that’s presented itself in more abstract and experimental ways on the his previous two critically deified albums. On 2017’s DAMN., however, we get the full level of versatility and theatre that we’ve come to expect from the Compton prodigy, but in a much more accessible package. Where his previous work felt like an arthouse documentary, DAMN. takes the autobiography in a tighter and more lucid direction.
DAMN.‘s balance and refinement doesn’t come at the cost of depth or complexity. We’re still getting Kendrick at his weirdest and most cerebral, but this time alongside a savvy and intentional selection of producers grinding out some well-polished trunk-rattlers.
It’s rare to see the majority of mainstream music publications agree on the best album of a given year. Given that DAMN. could be found at the top of nearly every list, it’s safe to say Kendrick Lamar continues to bat a thousand.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: DNA <4:45>
4. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – Blueprint for Armageddon <2013-2015>
We’re going to temporarily loosen the definition of ‘album’ to mean ‘collection of audio recordings’ for the sake of this entry’s inclusion. Released in six parts and totaling over twenty three hours in length, Blueprint for Armageddon is the entire start-to-finish story of World War One.
For those of you who aren’t diehard history buffs, that may sound absolutely insufferable. If you’re familiar with Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, however, you’ll know this is not some dry, academic lecture. Carlin’s delivery is conversational and full of enthusiasm, bringing context and color to an expansive, complex topic.
Blueprint, at its core, is about a world unprepared for its own future. Major industrial developments of the time allowed military technology to advance far more quickly than tactics; simply put, the most powerful nations on the planet went to war in tangled alliances using next-century weapons but completely outdated methods of waging war. This utterly catastrophic combination reshaped human history, catapulting us into the 20th century and laying the groundwork for the modern era.
If you’re only going to listen to one part, begin at the beginning and buckle up. <3:07:20>
5. The Grateful Dead – Cornell 5/8/77 <1977/2017>
If you enjoy a good, hearty jam session but have neither the patience nor the psychedelic fortitude to sit through the stoned-out, atonal noodlings of acid-era Grateful Dead shows, this one’s for you. Perhaps the most replicated and exchanged live recording on the ‘blanks and postage’ circuit, the Dead’s May 1977 concert at Cornell University is the stuff of legend (as evidenced by its 2012 induction into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry and official 2017 release).
It’s an amazingly crisp recording of the band at their tightest, featuring nearly every element of their signature eclectic sound – Americana, space jazz, outlaw country, and everything in between. But 5/8/77 is not merely a demonstration of breadth – it’s well-structured emotional arc that paints a unique, continuous, and thoroughly enjoyable landscape for the audience.
If you’re only going to listen to one song, make it two: Scarlet Begonias / Fire on the Mountain <26:01>
Honorable Mentions: Our Individual Picks
ASA’S PICK: Croquet Club – Love Exposure <2016>
This short, sunny EP from French producer Croquet Club is without a doubt the most played vinyl record in our collection. It’s a versatile album that’s calming yet infectiously bouncy, weaving a thread of soft, airy piano through a lush, ambient electronic soundscape of downtempo grooves and sequencer loops.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Careless Love <4:54>
MATT’S PICK: 16 Bit Lolitas – ABGT250 (Live DJ Set) <2017>
Rather than an album, this year’s pick is incredibly introspective live DJ set by one half of Dutch DJ/producer duo 16 Bit Lolitas. The Gorge Amphitheater in Washington state, one of the most scenic concert locations in the world, was the perfect setting for 16 Bit Lolitas to take us on an emotional, hypnotic, and soulful journey.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: L. Doblado – Lie Alone (16 Bit Lolitas Remix) <5:37>
BREWHOUSE PICK: The National – Sleep Well Beast <2017>
The National’s 7th studio album is their most unique and progressive album to date. The signature ethereal baritone and haunting, resonant piano arrangements are still present, but this time flanked by looser, more experimental compositions and liberal electronic intervention.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness <3:56>