Well yes, here I am.
I know, it’s been a while.
In fact, it turns out last year was the first year since this blog’s founding that I didn’t do a “Best Albums of the Year” post, and – even though I haven’t posted on this blog at all since my “Best of 2015” post – I was determined to get something out this year.
For a couple of reasons, really. Firstly: this blog is now 1o years old. And I know I haven’t written on it much in the last few years, but 10 years seemed… worth celebrating. Secondly, this post is officially the 400th post on this blog… again, something worth celebrating.
Anyway, long story short… I’m back for this post. Then I’ll probably disappear again for a while.
Actually, while I have you here, indulge me, if you will. I have a theory a little bit about music bloggers, and how pretty much all of my favourite music blogs died out.
You see, 10 years ago or so, we music bloggers were really the taste-makers, of a kind. Before streaming services were popularised, and back when RSS readers were all the rage, loading up your favourite music blog to download an MP3 because a blogger who just got you had recommended it was pretty much the best part of your day.
You’d listen all day to the tune with that kind of euphoria that can only come from a well-matched, personalised mixtape.
But then streaming services came along.
Streaming services, obviously, devalued music bloggers. We traded in (sometimes) illicit substances that weren’t (easily) available otherwise. Then, suddenly, they were at your fingertips, available at an instant’s notice.
And, probably the biggest factor?
Before streaming, downloading MP3s was an investment. You invested your time, on your slow dial up modem. You invested your data, on your capped downloads. You trusted music bloggers to ensure you weren’t wasting these valuable commodities. That they had vetted the hundreds of emails they received in a month, and they were only posting the very best songs, and culling the duds. But suddenly, when you could stream any album for just a few seconds in seconds, the “opinion” of a music blogger wasn’t important anymore. You didn’t have to invest anything, or risk anything. It became… zero calorie snacking.
We became commodotised. We became… irrelevant.
Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not whinging. I’ve been a Spotify premium subscriber since well before it officially expanded to Australia. I think it’s a great thing that taste-making is now democratised. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a little part of me missed the old days, when I was motivated to do this whole music blogger thing.
Ok, that’s enough indulgence. Thanks for your time. Now, onto the real stuff. Without further ado, here is Burgo’s Top Albums of 2017.
15. Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
You guys, I’ll be honest. I fell in love with Aimee Mann 15 years ago, when she performed a cover of “Shed a Little Light” on the West Wing episode, “College Kids”.
I mean, just listen to this:
Her voice then just absolutely killed me. And it continues to, today.
Back in January, Mann called “Mental Illness” her “saddest, slowest, most acoustic, if-they’re-all-waltzes-so-be-it-record” that she’d ever created, and man, she wasn’t kidding. Mann leans into the cliched view of her as a “depressing songstress” completely with a sly wink, and the result is just stunning.
Standout track: Lies of Summer
14. Portugal. The Man – Woodstock
Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since I first wrote about these guys. But in all that time, Portugal. The Man have never failed to impress. People will complain they sold-out. Heck, the band clearly foresaw that, and started selling “I Liked Portugal. The Man Before They Sold Out” t shirts before the album was even released!
So yeah, I know I’m in the minority here. But, I dunno… allow me this one conceit, as someone who has written about them for the last 10 years. Their dive headfirst into pop sensibility is something to behold, in my opinion; and, if nothing else, makes for an interesting listen.
Despite all that, when I had to pull out a standout track for this post? It had to be “Feel It Still”, which is easily their closest approximation to their previous tunes. So perhaps I’m a little conflicted too.
Standout track: Feel It Still
13. Mountain Goats – Goths
An opus on Goths? Why yes, thank you. I’ve said on multiple occasions that I view Josh Ritter to be the lyricist of our generation, but I tell you what… John Darnielle is 100% up there, and nowhere is it more evident than on Goths. The flow is just effortless, the melancholy too casual, the details too… alive. No one breathes life into their characters with the little details like Darnielle.
Charting the life of a goth moving from the UK to the US to make it big in a band, playing for cocaine (“Paid in Cocaine”), refusing to open for Trent Rezor (“Shelved”), to dealing with being an aging goth, and all the realities that come with becoming… irrelvant. It’s heartbreaking, if it weren’t so bittersweet funny.
Standout track: We Do It Different On The West Coast
12. Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy
Ever since Yonkers, I’ve been waiting for… something, from Tyler, The Creator. I didn’t have any idea what that “something” was, mind you, which was frustrating for me… so I can only imagine how frustrating it could have been for Tyler.
That something came with “Flower Boy”.
It’s an album about finding yourself. Accepting, despite the otherness, which previously Tyler had always played up as being a “radical”. Here, Tyler confronts… well, himself.
In the album opener, “Foreword”, Tyler asks “How many cars can I buy ’til I run out of drive? How much drive can I have ’til I run out of road?”, and then goes on to question his relationships with, “Shout out to the girls that I lead on / For occasional head and always keeping my bed warm / And trying their hardest to keep my head on straight”; and those relationships, later, are even more confronting when you get to the songs, “Garden Shed” and “I Ain’t Got Time”, with its line “Next line will have ’em like “Woah” / I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004″.
I don’t want to say anything as trite as “with this album, Tyler, The Creator has found himself”; but, I will say that he’s looking clearly in the mirror, and that self-reflection has made for an amazing album.
Standout track: 911/Mr Lonely
11. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Another case where it’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 10 years since I first wrote about The War on Drugs, and their debut album “Wagonwheel Blues”. Since that time, Adam Granduciel has been a fair regular on this blog, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that “A Deeper Understanding” finds a place on this list.
These are long, meandering tunes full of texture. Granduciel played half the instruments on this album, and he weaves together a tapestry of fuzzy sonic lines that somehow come together into something coherent.
This album takes its time. On a warm summer’s night, go out into an open field overlooking the surrounds, and watch the sun set to this soundtrack.
Standout track: Thinking of a Place
10. Hollow Coves – Wanderlust 🇦🇺
The first of quite a few Australian releases on this list, “Wanderlust”, the debut EP from Brisbane folk-duo Hollow Coves is short, at just 21 minutes… but man, does it win you over quickly. From EP opener, “Coastline”, Ryan Henderson and Matt Carins have you completely hooked.
You’ll lose yourself in these tunes, guaranteed. Here’s to more of this.
Standout Track: The Woods
9. Alex the Astronaut – See You Soon 🇦🇺
Another EP? Hey, it’s my list, I can do what I want.
So, most Australians would be familiar with this release, thanks to the stunning tune, “Not Worth Hiding”, which was a timely release, coinciding with Australia going through a national survey on whether same sex marriage should be allowed (yes, seriously… we had a national survey on that).
The tune itself was premiered on Triple J, and I remember the text line just going (justifiably) absolutely mental when it was played. The entire EP is well worth a spin though.
Standout track: Not Worth Hiding
8. Polish Club – Alright Already 🇦🇺
14 songs. 39 minutes. And in that time, Sydney duo Polish Club lay out an album so accomplished, it’s like nothing I have ever heard from a debut. In their first release, “Alright Already”, Novak and John-Henry have released an honest-to-goodness guitar and drums, garage-rock blues album in a year that seemed to overlook these kind of tunes.
And oh man, is it fun.
This album, quite simply, rocks, and you need to get it into your earholes.
The first 11 tunes barrel along like no one’s business… and then track 12, “Divided” throws a curveball… a stripped-back tune that comes at just the right time, before “My Delight” and “Red River Rock” really turn things on their head. Listen… you’ll see what I mean.
Man, I love this album.
Standout track: Divided
7. Gang of Youths – Go Farther In Lightness 🇦🇺
If you’re feeling slightly lost; if you’re feeling… flat. This is the album you should listen to right now. Seriously. Stop reading this post, and listen to “Go Farther In Lightness”.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s a long album at 76 minutes, but you really need to listen to this in its entirety. It’s a cathartic process, and one that explores loss, heartbreak and confusion, but somehow with a purpose and optimism that, quite frankly, we all need right now.
You will lose yourself in this album. You will well up with tears. Your heart will swell. After listening to this album, you’ll feel like you can take on anything. And, you can, you know. It’s all just a choice.
Standout track: What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out?
Bonus: Like A Version
Dave and Co. also gave us one of my favourite “Like A Version”s this year, with their cover of the Middle East’s “Blood”. Every time they kick into the instrumental outro around 3:30, I get goosebumps.
6. Ryan Adams – Prisoner
If you’ve read this blog at any point in the last 10 years, you’ll know my love for Ryan Adams. Of the now 400 posts on this blog, I’d hazard that Ryan makes up at least 30-40 of those posts. He remains, through thick and thin, “my” songwriter… the one who it seems will always get me, no matter how old we get or the fact that he has no idea I exist.
Dissecting his 6 year marriage to Mandy Moore which ended in 2015, “Prisoner” finds Ryan back in breakup territory… and, let’s not kid ourselves, Ryan (as a musician) is on familiar ground here. But that doesn’t mean that the album isn’t gorgeous, regardless. There is an element of honesty here that you just can’t help but admire, that makes these songs hit hard: there’s the internal monologue of “Shiver and Shake”; the heartbreak of “Breakdown”; the admission of things always wrong in “Broken Anyway”, and then the hopeful moving on of “We Disappear”.
Standout track: Shiver and Shake
5. Alex Lahey – I Love You Like A Brother 🇦🇺
In 2016, Alex Lahey had one of the absolute tunes of the year, with her single “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me”, which was eminently hummable. Her full-length debut, “I Love You Like A Brother” thankfully delivered on that promise. 35 minutes long, it’s a rollicking good time, full of relatable tunes packed full of witty observations, that are just made for singing along to.
Standout track: So, so many… but I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself
4. Lorde -Melodrama
Ella Yelich-O’Connor just turned 21 last month.
Let that sink in for a bit.
Standout track: Perfect Places
3. Future Islands – The Far Field
Oh man. Such a tender, fragile record.
“Catch me laughing / Catch me drinking past the dawn / Catch me singing / Catch me beaming—open armed” Samuel Herring sings, followed by “Don’t watch me weeping / Don’t watch me weep into my palms”, and it’s absolutely heart-breaking.
For such a sad, intimate album, it propels you along, particularly driven by the bouncing bass lines (see “Time On Her Side” below for an example)… this record never once gets boring in its 45 minutes.
And when Debbie Harry, at 71, steps in on the penultimate song, “Shadows”, to pull Herring out of the shadows and into the light? Just… wow.
Herring speaks of the heartache, with “A melody that trails and falls, yet never fully blooms / Plays like an old song / That’s just out of tune” and the wiser, older Harry retorts “Why can’t you just break free? / Is it the heat dreams, that fevers brought you?”
Finally, Harry turns Herring’s plaintive cries of “These old shadows” back on him with the refrain “They’re just shadows!”.
What an experience.
Standout track: I’m cheating and including two… “Time On Her Side” and “Shadows”
2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Holy… you guys. You GUYS.
From the second track, DNA., you just know this album is special. The rhymes come blistering, effortless… it’s like Kendrick doesn’t need to breathe, he just flows.
I find it hard to write about this album. It’s just a visceral experience. Right from opener “Blood”, where Kendrick’s protagonist dies, to the backdrop of Geraldo Rivera’s criticism of Lamar’s take on police brutality on his 2015 track ‘Alright’, Lamar is pissed. And man, it’s amazing to listen to.
Standout track: FEEL.
1. Gordi – Reservoir 🇦🇺
A couple of years ago, I saw Sophie Payten (aka Gordi) open for The Tallest Man On Earth at QPAC in Brisbane, and I described it at the time as “something special”. Which sounds terribly mundane, but that’s because I was seriously lost for words. It was one of those gigs where the crowd stayed silent, holding their breath, the entire set, for fear of ruining that “something special”. At the time, Gordi was laying herself bare in front of us, and that vulnerability (particularly during her cover of Courtney Barnett’s “Avant Gardener”) just floored me.
Thankfully, her first full-length release, “Reservoir”, continued that trend.
This album is complicated. It’s layered. It’s nuanced. It is… something special.
And it’s my album of the year.
Standout track: Heaven I Know
Bonus: Like A Version
Gordi also provided us with one of my other favourite “Like A Version”s of this year, with her cover of Linkin Park’s “In The End”. Chills.