Yeah, yeah, putting the final nail in the coffin of 2017 is a little premature, seeing as there’s still more than 30 days left in the year. But, I’m the music writer compiling this list, so, here you go.
It was an interesting year in underground music and, rather than present a conventional Top Ten, I thought I’d list 10 of the best records in various categories. (Incidentally, they are cumulatively my Top Ten of the year, if you want to get granular.)
Who scored big in the year of our Lord Twnety Seventeen? Fire away, chief.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
David Grubbs – Creep Mission
This is the record Grubbs was born to make. The post-rock forefather lives up to Gastr-sized expectations on this collection of fluid instrumentals that speak as much to the heart as they do to the head. His guitar compositions, calling to mind the best of Loren Mazzacane Connors, have never sounded so mature or profound. A five-star masterpiece!
BEST FOLLOW-UP TO RECORD OF THE YEAR
Astrid and Rachel Grimes – Through The Sparkle
Composer/pianist Rachel Grimes takes a step away from the wonder of The Clearing, my choice for 2015’s record of the year, with a sublime exploration of emotion and restraint. Echoing the chamber ensemble Rachel’s (I mean, how could it not?) and late Talk Talk, this UK import showed this group of musicians simply clicked when they made music together.
High Plains – Cinderland
In a word: haunting. Sound-structuralist Scott Morgan (aka Loscil) pairs up with cellist Mark Bridges, and the soundbeds this ambient duo cooks up are breathtaking gossamer. Hopefully, this is the first collaboration of many to come.
BEST RECORD THAT MIGHT HAVE COME OUT IN 2016
Christian Frederickson, Ryan Rumery and Jason Noble – The Painted Bird / Amidst
Frederickson and Noble, in their last recorded collaboration before Noble’s tragic death, sound riveting and engaging on the self-released and elegiac score to this dance cycle. Rumery plays the role of Kyle Crabtree/Edward Grimes perfectly, adding a spine to airy instrumentals.
BEST FINAL RECORD
STNNNG – Veterans of Pleasure
Yes, it’s true: STNNNG appears to have gone the way of the dinosaur. But, what a way to go! The Minnesota group’s final blast of art-punk, recorded with precision and care by the one and only Steve Albini, is incredible stuff.
BEST RETURN TO ROOTS
Iron & Wine – Beast Epic
It was heralded in every corner so it might as well be heralded here: Sam Beam did an excellent job of stripping his songwriting down and getting to the heart of the matter on a record that recalls early gems like The Creek Drank The Cradle.
BEST BETWEEN-PROJECTS AFFAIR
R. Ring – Ignite The Rest
Kelley Deal finds love beyond The Breeders with this engaging little full-length outing with Ampline’s Mike Montgomery. Raw and writerly, Ignite The Rest exudes a bizarre but inviting kind of natural beauty.
BEST SUPERGROUP RECORD
Dead Cross – S/T
Boasting a line-up featuring members or ex-members of Faith No More, The Locust and Slayer, this hardcore-punk super-group managed to defy expectations and add up to more than the sum of their parts. Now, if only they get Mike Patton to stick around long enough for a sophomore LP.
BEST FOLLOW-UP TO A RECORD THAT WAS ALMOST RECORD OF THE YEAR
Loscil – Monument Builders
Can Loscil’s Scott Morgan sound any better than he did on 2014’s Sea Island? Turns out he can. When Morgan wasn’t busy working on High Plain’s epic debut – another Top Ten selection this year – he constructed this gem, a really murky, melancholy slice of ambient textures.
PITTSBURGH RECORD OF THE YEAR
Radon Chong – I Keep On Talking To You
This Pittsburgh act crafts musical nooses out of knotted guitars and, on its debut, amazingly finds the precise intersection of post-rock scale and Captain Beefheart’s atonal laments. Simply leaves everyone else writing guitar-driven indie-rock in the region looking clueless or misinformed.