The finale of Blocland’s Best Albums of 2017 list is finally here. We have really enjoyed your clicks.1 We even have come close to securing a partnership with an exciting sponsor! More on that to come.
We planned for this release day so we could topple our mortal enemies over at Pitchfork for clicks. Wish we could say we are sorry but it’s business. We are the premiere music website.2
Below are Blocland’s top 5 favorite albums of 2017.3
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more year end wrap up content.
Also any lurkers please comment and introduce yourself and praise us. We love praise.
20. Zola Jesus Okovi
19. Couch Slut Contempt
18. SZA CTRL
17. Suf and Friends Planetarium
16. The Horrors V
15. Bell Witch Mirror Reaper
14. Big Thief Capacity
13. White Reaper The World’s Best American Band
12. The XX I See You
11. Alex Cameron Forced Witness
10. LCD Soundsystem American Dream
09. Vince Staples Big Fish Theory
08. Father John Misty Pure Comedy
07. King Krule The Ooz
06. Jay Som Everybody Works
Kendick Lamar DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN is a literary detonation. Dropping into the 2017 year when exclusior rhetoric wins the election, DAMN addresses a society of disrepair absorbed in the fictitious belief of color blindness as the ongoing promise of equality has become a bounced check for second class citizens. Like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ novel Between the World and Me or Jordan Peele’s film Get Out, the Compton-bred rapper abducts his listeners and inserts them into the Black body where they are met with visceral FEAR. A Black body condemned and dehumanized since the African diaspora.
Rhymes whirl the audience in a cognizant vertigo and transports them through a heritage of street culture, childhood violence and institutional racism as African Americans are instructed to nurse pride and ownership for their country, yet not for their bodies. America perpetually reassures the Black body that it does not, cannot, amount to the White body. No, this body does not recognize self-love, but rather self-conscious. Lamar’s storytelling forces us to grip onto, latch onto, a spirit disillusioned within a body tortured, a body limited, a body beaten by history, by government, by parents, by gangs by cops. This body showers in violence, nourishes with hate and breathes insecurity.
To Black America, where a staggering 24% of the ethnic population suffers in poverty, DAMN is not an album, DAMN is life mundane to the commonplace horrors of racism. DAMN is the physical: DNA, the moral: LOYALTY and the emotional: LOVE boundaries within of the Black experience and contours the schism between the privileged and the oppressed.
In the spirit of equity, I’m trying to put no more thought into this review than Kung Fu Kenny did his “instantly iconic” and infinitely memeable album cover. Because though it doesn’t take any courage to criticize the current best rapper in the world, you definitely don’t get any points either. In fact, a negative review of a Kendrick Lamar album feels like a negative review of Taylor Swift–it won’t make a difference worth a damn.
Frankly, I don’t hate the album. I don’t love it either, but that’s more my problem. No, my beef is with the tendency of our culture today to glom on en masse to the official public narrative without question. “IF there is New Kendrick Lamar Album in year XXXX, THEN New Kendrick Lamar Album is best album of the year XXXX.” That’s the party line. Get with it or get ignored. The articles write themselves like mad libs or paint-by-numbers. Fill in the blanks, hit send, and you’re done before the last note fades.
Never mind the fact that “DAMN” lacks the cohesive conceptual narrative that animated and elevated his previous “short film” and “letter.” Never mind the fact that he sequenced the fucking thing backwards for some inscrutable reason. Never mind that you get the nagging feeling this one is a little low stakes, that it leans too hard on the cult of personality. Never mind any of that. Just put down “#1” and collect your daily pill ration.
“It is the custom on the stage, in all good, melodramas” wrote noted poptimist Charles Dickens, “to present the tragic and the comic scenes, in as regular alternation, as the layers of red and white in a side of streaky, well-cured bacon.” So it is goes with Lorde’s second album, a pop-opera about young, dumb, tempestuous, all-consuming, silly love. The album doesn’t do anything remarkably innovative. It follows the familiar script: good times/bad times/learning from the affair. Your woman leaves home with a brown eyed man, and you don’t seem to care. Such overly demonstrative frivolities may sound childish and absurd to our jaded and sensible ears. But Dickens knew that such absurdities were the very thing that added flavor to the well-cured pop album. “Such changes appear absurd,” Dickens continues, “but they are not so unnatural as they would seem at first sight. The transitions in real life from well-spread boards to death-beds, and from mourning weeds to holiday garments, are not a whit less startling; only, there, we are busy actors, instead of passive lookers-on; which makes a vast difference.” It is a testament to Lorde’s precociousness as songwriter that Melodrama, like few other pop albums before it, is able to bridge this vast difference.
Our nation currently has a president who gets away with murder. Every day he says or does something awful, and there’s a large section of our society that bends over backwards to defend him. I often find myself reading one of his many moronic tweets and thinking, “How can anyone see this shit and find it appealing in any way?” I just don’t get it. He barged his way into power by using a false voice, one he created specifically to alienate certain groups, and his base continues to eat it up. The idea that there are people out there who agree with the hateful garbage he’s constantly spewing out of his tiny asshole slit of a mouth makes me wonder if I’m living in the real world or if I’m actually in hell, and the devil has gone easy on me up to this point just so I can truly understand pain, now that his torture game has kicked into high gear. I’m leaning towards the latter, but only because as we speak, there are people I love – people whose opinions I usually value above all others – who have faith in that fat orange dotard. Their views on Trump make me question not only their sanity, but their taste and knowledge of things in general. At this point, all I can really do is hope that I am not in hell. That I am, in fact, alive. And that eventually these silly people will realize – he just fucking sucks.
When you grow up near the ocean, it becomes a part of you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a browned, industrial waterfront, a tropical beach, or a Northern Atlantic fishing town, somehow that massive body of water with its tranquil, yet never quiet, sounds and it’s steady horizon stays with you. Just the same, when you are in a relationship for long that person becomes a part of you. Some people choose to never leave the close proximity of an aquatic horizon, and some people choose to stay with the same partner for the rest of their lives. On the flip side people move away from the ocean and end relationships all of goddamn the time, and in both of those situations, finding the exact instance of the phase shift between together apart is really difficult. It seems easy, right? You pick the moment where you moved away or when you caught that asshole in a lie and move on, right?
Antisocialites begins after the end. Most breakup albums that examine the same period tend to oscillate between “woe is me” self flaggelation and “fuck you” angst exclusively, but Alvvays instead use those feelings to make sense of an existential bifurcation around a question like “This was for the best, right?” It’s kind of question that you ask the version of your partner that lives inside your head over and over like the tide lapping on the shore. On the surface, the lyrics list plenty of transgressions, grudges, mistakes, lies and character flaws to justify the separation, and alone that might be enough, but Alvvays songs are so rich with wordplay and double meanings that, the deeper you go beneath the surface, the more the light distorts and refracts sure statements into doubtful ones. It’s just as how the more you look back on the same memories, the more you question your actions.
Going along with the coastal, oceanic imagery, the band puts forth a stellar performance that makes me feel like I’m the fish section of a pet store in a dilapidated midwestern mall, wondering whether or not the fish would appreciate being able to swim a longer distance than the 2 foot tank they’re trapped in (a vat of fake coral’s close enough, I guess?). Kerri’s synths ebb and flow beautifully like a time lapse video of the tide, Alec and Molly’s guitars dart and reverberate between each other, and the rhythm section keep everything flowing beautifully, such that when they build and crash on “Plimsoll Punks” their wave holds together in a perfect barrel. These arrangements make light of the feeling of constantly bailing out water, or getting washed up on shore and having to wait for the tide to come back in before you can set sail again. It makes light of painful, uncomfortable situations in the way the best twee music can.
In 2017, Alvvays are a special band, in that they don’t try and reach for a narrative hook. They let the narratives in their songs speak for themselves, and they only write perfect songs, ones that are perfectly enjoyable without thinking about any of the things I just wrote about. Hell, you may find yourself reading way too much into these songs in a totally different way. But every time I listen to Antisocialites (I guarantee I’ve listened to this record way more than you) it makes me miss the fucking ocean, helps me better consider a relationship that I could only ever know the half of, it keeps me daydreaming about waves, wind and the horizon, and it helps me forget about life 29 minutes at a time.
I am currently on my 3rd listen of Alvvays’ Antisocialites today*. Or is it the 23rd? The only reference point I have, the one that distinguishes itself from the wwery uninspired, flat sounds that comprise the set of “songs” that this band thinks is an album, is the motorcycle rewwing its engine on “Not My Baby”. I’wwe heard that sound a few times today. That I’m certain of. “Plimsoil Punks” starts out semi-promising (only because it is slightly distinguishable from the rest of the same-y sounds, like eggshell’s relationship to the color white) until you realize that every self-absorbed, heartbroken nawwel-gazer that has ever picked up a guitar since the beginning of time has tried to recreate “Dear Prudence”. Is that Alec or Molly? Exactly. You’re not John Lennon and you will ALWAYS not be John Lennon. Pick up a dictionary dicks! “I will newwer be your type”. A-fucking-men. One middle finger up and two thumbs down.
*I came into this with no strong feelings either way about this album. I now fucking hate it.
It seems more than a little ironic to try and use words to paint a picture about a type of music that feels the function of lyrics better served with guitar and a carefully curated pedalboard. But, it appears that no one has yet pioneered the instrumental review, so we have to make due with words, clumsy and imprecise though they may be.
On the subject of vocabulary: I’m not aware of a word in the English language for “euphoric sadness.” But with this stately return, the Berkshire five finalize the case for their chosen name. Slowdive. Really, it’s fitting that the eponymous title was reserved for the victory lap. As it unfurls from edge to edge, this album is all surge, sigh, and float, banishing any potential dragging somnambulance of which its predecessors could be accused.
I say unfurl–or bloom or blossom–because it’s difficult to imagine a group of people sitting down to fashion and record these sounds. Instead, it fades into view like an echo of memory that was never forgotten, but simply locked away–a past life awakened by seance. You’re not entirely surprised to find tears steal into your eyes as the first notes wash over–it feels like coming home.
All my friends wouldn’t shut up about this great new white noise app so I decided to check it out. They said it sounds SOOOO great and made them have these crazy dreams about drag racing in a Souvlaki truck or some shit. Almost immediately I realized it 3 serious flaws:
1) It only has 8 settings.
2) Exactly NONE of those settings are “Rainforest.”
3) It switches sounds every like 4-7 minutes (Most sound similar but they’re different enough to fuck with my snoozin’ routine).
I’d have better luck falling asleep to a Toto record, and I will be asking iTunes for a refund.
The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding
Let It Bleed. Sticky Fingers. Beggars Banquet. Exile on Mainstreet.
College Dropout. Late Registration. Graduation. 808s & Heartbreaks. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Yeezus.
Sgt Peppers. The White Album. Abbey Road. Let It Be.
Slave Ambient. Lost In The Dream. A Deeper Understanding. Their Next Album.
With A Deeper Understanding The War on Drugs join these legends with flawless album runs. Perhaps even surpassing The Beatles album run. Not Kanye’s though. They still have some work to do.
I’m afraid I can’t say anything new about The War on Drugs. They’ve been thinkpiece’d and article’d and interviewed out the wazoo recently and with good reason – I’d argue they’re best rock band playing today. This year, they followed-up 2014’s absolute masterpiece and commercial breakthrough, Lost In The Dream, with another incredible album that equals and often goes beyond the heights reached by it’s predecessor.
With A Deeper Understanding, The War on Drugs sounds both more arena-ready and more comfortable sonically stretching out. The thrilling and powerful fist-in-the-air moments are there but so are the quiet and reflective moments. They threw down the gauntlet releasing the epic 11-minute Thinking Of A Place as the first single. It takes its time and lusciously swerves around the aural road while maintaining its drive and energy. The album as a whole delivers on the promise of that track with ten of the calmest jams that have ever made you so excited.
Probably almost everyone reading this has read about and listened to this album more times than they can count, so I’ll skip the broad praise for the stunning guitar tones and adventurous but restrained solos, for the catchy but vague and dreamlike lyrics/melodies, for the perfectionist production touches and the distinctive and fearless arrangements. I’ll skip the rock math and long comparisons to, like, a pedal-obsessed studio-rat Mark Knopfler shredding the major pentatonic over Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love or Tom Petty meets Don Henley in the yard of a Dead show.
All I’ll say is: this is timeless American Rock and Roll and if you’re into that kind of thing, you probably already fucking love this album.
Here we go. Another go ’round from classic rock revivalists WoD. This one finds Adam and Co. in fine form. More lush and fleshed out than previous releases “A Deeper Understanding” should really scratch the itch of all your Boomer pals who ask “why can’t ALL bands sound more like Dire Straits, The Grateful Dead, AND Springsteen? AT THE SAME TIME”
There are several standout tracks here. None of which sound anything like the incredible album “Siberia” by Swedish chanteuse Ester Ideskog, AKA Vanbot. Gone are the flashy dance beats from her two earlier releases. This gossamer delicate album is barely held together by simple beats, airy synths, and the unmistakable vox of Ester. Recorded on a 17 day trans-Siberian rail trip from Bejing to Moscow with Johannes Berglund and Petter Winnberg Siberia is a study in minimalism. There is so little holding these fragile songs together. Vanbot had hinted at being more than just another Swedish pop dynamo on her 2015 release “Perfect Storm” but there’s no way anybody could have expected such a genuinely brave release from this artist. The 11 song, 57 minute playtime gently breezes by, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll miss all the wonderful little flourishes this gem has to offer. Something Pitchfork Contributing Editor Philip Sherburne most certainly did. Start with the wondrous track “On The Fly – Omsk”, such a f’ing treat. At times I feel this album is perfectly sequenced but it works equally well on shuffle. It’s abundant charms come through either way. Blocland couldn’t possibly love this album more and hope you find yourself entranced by its simple spellbinding allure as well.
Anyway, WoD made another album. And it’s great? Sure, let’s go with that. And it sounds completely unlike all their other albums (yes, I’m snickering as I type this.) Or a bunch of albums from 1977-1982. Whatever. If that’s yr deal. How much Boomer traffic do we get on this site anyway?