Pete Ferris shares his presidential picks of 2017 (and of course it includes DAMN. ya goober) (List Week 2017)
Favorite Records of the Year
5. Brutalism by IDLES
Punk has been boring for a while. Amateur musicianship and raging angst can only be satisfying for so long before they become either a self-parody or entirely disingenuous. Most bands could really learn a thing or two from Idles, a rising UK post-hardcore group. Combining minimalist ferocity with an extremely heavy dose of sarcasm, the band’s debut album Brutalism is perhaps the harshest statement on our grim social climate in 2017. Nothing is safe from frontman Joe Talbot’s scathing tongue, whether it be conformity, devaluation of artistic merit, the fleeting satisfaction that comes from religion, the social construction of gender-based differences that may influence tendencies towards sexual violence, or famous British cooks. It’s also worth mentioning that his voice sounds like it was flushed down the toilet, then doused in bleach, beaten with a hammer fourteen times, thrown into a blender with a box of nails, then taken out and put back together with duct tape.
Brutalism is far from a stuffy, “conscious” record, though. Talbot’s rants are often laced with hysterical irony, further enhanced by gang-vocal choruses and start-stop guitar work on tracks like “Well Done” and “Faith in the City.” This is the perfect album for those who just want to laugh at how terrible the world is, and maybe dance a little bit while they’re at it. It helps if you’re a fan of British accents.
4. Finisterre by Der Weg einer Freiheit
Not many of my friends would enjoy this. I doubt most normal people would enjoy this, either. It’s intense, chaotic, and the songs are really, really long. And I can’t understand a single word on this album even if I tried (the lyrics are all in German). But none of that really matters to me - this is some of the most emotional, well-written black metal I’ve heard in ages. Der Weg einer Freiheit are clearly students of the old-school, frequently employing long, repetitive passages or motifs on this record. Yet they never sound boring, always keeping listeners on their toes with ever-changing drum patterns (which, by the way, are absolutely phenomenal) and beautiful, subdued segues in preparation of extraordinary climaxes. The language barrier prevents me from talking about the lyrics in a constructive manner, but the vocals are still passionate, and (at least for my personal taste) find the perfect balance between sorrow and grit. Prepare for a roller coaster with this one.
3. Kelly Lee Owens by Kelly Lee Owens
Like many of the best electronic artists, Kelly Lee Owens knows how to convey ideas as simply as possible. Inspired by Arthur Russell, her debut album is nocturnal and minimal, with deep, throbbing bass and few lyrics (if any). Few albums this year were as detailed-oriented as Kelly Lee Owens - she wants listeners to concentrate on every individual sound, and never lets her music get too busy. The drum pattern in “Lucid,” for example, doesn't come in until almost the end of the song. Similarly, the ooooooohhhhhhs in “Arthur” seem like they'll eventually turn into actual words, but they never do. This type of songwriting is amazing when done well, though. Despite being heavily atmospheric, every track showcases a great sense of melody, too; songs like “Anxi.” and “Bird” whoosh by, but they’ll still get stuck in your head. Like taking a 3:00A.M. walk in your local city’s downtown circa 2047 on a bed of clouds.
2. SATURATION II by Brockhampton
When I found out that Brockhampton’s de-facto frontman, Kevin Abstract, is five months younger than me, I felt like I’ve done absolutely nothing worthwhile in life so far. I mean, that’s probably true regardless of how old some rapper from Texas is, but...you get the point. Here’s what really matters: Saturation 2 is so fucking good. The songs contain most of the catchiest hooks I heard the year, for one thing, equally inspired by the coldness of Wu-Tang and plastic joy of M.I.A (go listen to “Gummy” right now and tell me I’m wrong). And even though it was released a mere two months after Saturation, Saturation 2 indicates significant growth both lyrically and musically. The verses on “Junky,” for example, are unquestionably some of rawest verses of the year (especially Kevin’s intro). Not only does it flow better, and not only are the hooks catchier, but the production is out of this world. So many little details make these beats stand out, like the sitar buildup on “Fight,” the Dark Fantasy-esque synths on “Gamba,” the funky bass line on “Sweet,” and the insane beginning to “Queer.” Brockhampton made easily the best pop album of the year, something that fans of NYSNC and 2Pac could enjoy in the same company.
1. DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
Sorry, but this was no contest. I’m sure y’all are getting sick and tired of seeing this record top everyone’s lists and seeing all the cliches thrown around. I promise, this recap will be devoid of any of the following statements:
Kendrick’s most accessible record
A “throwback to the streets”
U2 is on a song and it’s actually good!!!
“The record we needed in 2017! He’s angry just like we are!”
IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE PLAYED BACKWARDS SO DEEP MAAANNN
Sure, all of these are easy talking points. But beyond the bullshit philosophical and social claims critics always make about Kendrick’s art, let’s consider the music on DAMN. There’s honestly little point discussing Kendrick’s lyrical abilities considering that his position as Greatest Wordsmith Alive is basically a given. Instead, consider the unreal beat switch on “DNA,” the booming bass kick and twisted Bruno Mars sample on “Loyalty,” the spooky chords on “Element,” the absolutely killer guitar sample on “Fear,” Steve Lacy’s lo-fi touches on “Pride,” the lofty chorus on “God.” Much like the lyrical statements Kung Fu Kenny makes, the music on DAMN. can seem scattershot, but it’s all about juxtapositions. We see him at his most braggadocious and his most vulnerable, his most brazen and most contemplative, in both his fiercest and most sincere frames of mind. I don’t think the music could do any of a better job showcasing these lyrical contradictions while also being so listenable and enjoyable. Syrup sandwiches and all, this record is another winner in a soon-to-be classic discography.
Favorite Songs of the Year
10. "Social Suicide" by Past Life (from Triple Nothing)
9. "I Can Tell You About Pain" by Converge (from The Dusk in Us)
8. "XO Tour Llif3" by Lil Uzi Vert (from Luv is Rage 2)
7. "A Shade Darker than Black" by Parius (from Let There Be Light - EP)
6. "Legend Has It" by Run the Jewels (from Run The Jewels 3)
5. "Sanctuary" by Elder (from Reflections of a Floating World)
4. "Desire" by Sh!t Bird (from You Gotta Change That Name - EP)
3. "PRIDE" by Kendrick Lamar (from DAMN.)
2. "call the police" by LCD Soundsystem (from american dream)
1. "GOLD" by Brockhampton (from SATURATION)