The Alt Ten of 2017
Each year in addition to picking a list of my ten favorite records I also present a list of ten records that could have easily made the cut but for one reason or another didn’t resonate with me as strongly as the ten best. These are in no particular order.
Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps
This is the debut record from LA based indie folk singer Phoebe Bridgers. This album missed my top ten by a sliver. Bridgers is playful and traditional without yielding the modern conventions that comprise the indie scene. “Motion Sickness” is one of the great tracks of the year—see it below.
Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher
There is a smoldering intensity to Cloher’s work. For her most recent record the brilliance of her song writing is on full display. There are playful nods across the spectrum of music but her central vision is always front and center. Check out “Analysis Paralysis” below.
Daniele Luppi and Parquet Courts – Milano
In 2011 Daniele Luppi teamed up with Jack White and Nora Jones to write the soundtrack for a western that never existed. The result was the excellent Rome. This year he followed up by collaborating with the Parquet Courts and Karen O on a concept album that follows the Milan fashion scene and heavily draws from the likes of Antonioni. Check out the video for “Talisa,” which directly follows a seminal scene from Antonioni’s Blow Up.
Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley
Through their blend of live instrumentation and carefully researched public domain clips Public Service Broadcasting tell intricate stories from our recent past. They capture the essence and often the wonder of their topics. For this record they tackled the rise and fall of Welsh coal mining for another epic sonic journey. Check out “Progress” below.
Charly Bliss – Guppy
Guppy is power pop distilled to its essence. For those of us who loved the female led pop scene of the late '90s this is a welcome update to that moment. An easy favorite for driving record of the year. Put it on and head somewhere warm. This record got a lot of play in our house this year. Check out the video for “Westermarck” below.
Jay Som – Everybody Works
This group is headed by singer songwriter Melina Duterte. Dream pop that edges on the confessional nature of the bedroom pop scene. Duterte has an ear for soft harmonies and devastatingly fun hooks. “Bus Song” is one of the great tracks of the year.
Allison Crutchfield – Tourist in this Town
Allison Crutchfield is the twin sister of Katie Crutchfield who leads Waxahatchee. While Allison shares her sister’s dark sense of humor, the sound here is a bit more on the pop side. I love the overall tone of this record. It finds the fun in the painful and the joy of existence. There is a lot to like here. Check out the video for “Dean’s Room.”
Milk Flud – Flake
Although I know very little about the beat-maker behind this record, Milk Flud’s Flake was easily one of the best hip-hop records of the year. There is an old school feel here, that evokes the likes of DJ Frane and Nightmares on Wax. Check out “Snakeskin Wrapped Burrito” below.
Benjamin Clementine – I Tell A Fly
Poet and pianist Benjamin Clementine followed up his Mercury prize winning debut record with this outstanding concept piece that explores the fate of the displaced and the fractured nature of our current political moment. This is one of the great records of the year and worth diving into. The video for “Jupiter” is below.
Bully – Losing
Alicia Bognanno and company have returned with an excellent new installment of indie grunge. The album runs hard from beginning to end. The guitar work is exceptional and Bognanno’s voice always seems just at the edge without breaking. Check out “Feel The Same” below.
One Special Mention
Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
Every once in a while a record comes along that refuses any attempts to classify or categorize it. This year Phil Elverum has produced such a record under his Mount Eerie project. A Crow Looked at Me is a examination of the death of Elverum’s wife from pancreatic cancer shortly after the birth of their daughter. This is easily one of the great records of the last ten years – it is not easy to listen to but produces a real moment of catharsis in the listener. Too often in contemporary culture emotional cues feel at best fake and at worst intentionally manipulative, there is non of that here. This is a raw, honest and devastating confrontation of the absence of someone profoundly loved from the rest of the survivors’ lives. You will carry this record with you always after hearing it – don’t put it on in the car or in the background – sit with Elverum for a bit and give him your attention. I did not include this record in either of the top playlists because it’s not something you should just stumble across. You need to go into this experience prepared. It is profoundly moving. “Real Death” is embedded below if you’re ready.
To Do This Week
Tonight check out Gal Holiday at d.b.a. Tomorrow Sonny Landreth is at the Old US Mint. On Saturday, Cyril Neville rolls into the Little Gem and Walter Wolfman Washington is at the Maple Leaf. Sunday Jake Bugg is at Tips. Monday catch Alex McMurray at Chickie Wah Wah. Wednesday The Iguanas are at the Circle Bar and the Tin Men are at d.b.a.