Ottawa Life’s Top Albums of 2017
10. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent (Domino)
No record snarls quite as much this year as Protomartyr's latest, but the band's absolutely unpredictable sense of composition is what makes Relatives In Descent such a rush of a journey. Rollicking drums and horrifying drones blare through "A Private Understanding" while the band is able to turn that into Clash-esque grooves on "Here Is The Thing." The band manages absolutely mind-boggling builds on "My Children" and "Up The Tower," going from tense to explosive when you least expect it. On top of a sharp critique of our modern social state, the album is just such a dark yet enthralling listen that you'll want to listen repeatedly just to find out what you didn't notice the first time.
9. Baxter Dury – Prince Of Tears (Heavenly Recordings)
Far from the start of his career, Baxter Dury has really crafted something unique with Prince of Tears. Oozing darkness and the danger of the city on "Miami" Dury shows he's brought the bizarre vocal styles of his father (Ian Dury) into a new era. Graceful yet disturbing, tracks like "Porcelain" and "Mungo" constantly teeter between hypnotizing listeners and shocking them. Dury even manages to fit in some hard punk overtones on "Letter Bomb" and "Listen" while still fitting the lush instrumentation that makes the album so delightfully weird. Closing with perfect pop poise and a moody monologue on the title-track, the album rounds out perfectly to be one of the year's most unique.
8. Gorillaz – Humanz (Parlophone)
No artist criss-crosses quite as many genres as Damon Albarn does, or with quite as much success for that matter. Keeping the clever song writing strong throughout 20 songs, (25 if you count deluxe versions) Albarn uses each of his amazing collaborators to great effect. Admittedly the genre rotation between the party hip hop of "Ascension," the neon disco of "Strobelite" and the galactic reggae of "Saturnz Barz" is somewhat disorientating, it's really hard to find an objectively bad song on the album. With by far the greatest collection of talent on one record this year, you can listen to Grace Jones, Kali Uchis, Kelela, DRAM and Danny Brown on some of the finest tracks Albarn has ever released. Considering the breadth of content, even if you find half the album to be outside of your listening habits, you'd still have a typical album's worth of great music.
7. She-Devils – She-Devils (Secretly Canadian)
Being forced to abandon their sampling ways for a debut record was probably the best thing that could've ever happened to Montreal's She-Devils. With a seemingly endless supply of creamy tones on this record through tracks like "Come" and "Darling" the album is about as catchy as it is just amazing to hear. Like a blast from the past, tracks like "Hey Boy" pull you into alternate histories, and the wondrous keys of "How Do You Feel" will leave you in a dream-like state. Even as they emulate ukulele pop on "The World Laughs," the swirling rushes of sounds constantly take the song to another world. A deeply intimate record from one of Canada's most unique acts around at the moment, it stands out from everything else recorded this year.
6. Alex Cameron – Forced Witness (Secretly Canadian)
On first listen of Alex Cameron's sophomore record you'll notice two things, it's beautifully eighties and maybe a tad creepy in its eccentric lyrics. But once you've become familiar with Cameron's constant character work, the rotating cast of troubled men becomes a powerful commentary on where we are as a society, while being deliciously catchy at the same time. Offering up heartbreaking background vocals over saxophone with Angel Olsen on tracks like "Stranger's Kiss" and "Candy May," the album is a constant rush of enticing sounds and intoxicating melodies. Fan of Brandon Flowers will even note the similarities in their sounds and writing, likely because the two have been collaborating on each other's work for the past year, making the album all the richer. Even the overtly mean lyrics of "Marlon Brando" easily become melodic in the intricate composition Cameron makes, and his hilariously weird poetry hits its peak on "True Lies" as he skewers online dating while making some of the best rhymes of the year.
5. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Soul Of A Woman (Daptone)
The world suffered a huge loss when Sharon Jones left us in 2016, and her magnificent posthumous record only made that all the clearer. Dropping instant classics over and over again, with tracks like "Just Give Me Your Time" and "Rumours," Jones and her band tap into the grooves that make R&B and soul so addictive without ever feeling like tired takes on a genre that's certainly pressed for fresh records. So much of the record updates the style of old-school soul to modern sonic beauty that tracks like "When I Saw Your Face" feel plucked right from the vintage charts. Jones' powerhouse performance drives the album through, taking each song to something utterly unforgettable.
4. Casper Skulls – Mercy Works (Buzz Records)
One of my immediate takeaways on seeing Casper Skulls for the first time was how commanding they were on stage, but on their EPs they always had a much grungier attitude. This time around however, the band has completely upped their game with a wondrous production full of harmonies and huge string arrangements to make their album just as magical. Tapping into a hint of the bright yet pained feelings that made 90s grunge so powerful, songs like "Lingua Franca" and "You Can Call Me Allocator" are dually cheery and dreary. Dense chugs of instrumentation make "Primeval" a marvel and "Colour of the Outside" an utter mystery. On top of a great closer, the back-to-back-to-back brooding pop of "Chicane, OH," "I Stared At 'Moses And The Burning Bush'" and "The Science Of Dichotomies" makes side two of this album a whirlwind listen.
3. Alvvays - Antisocialites (Royal Mountain Records)
After such an emotional debut from Toronto's Alvvays, I honestly had no idea how they would follow it up, but luckily they decided to move forward instead of replicating themselves. Moving past the sadness of their debut within seconds of album opener "In Undertow," the album has a lush and hopeful note. Emotionally layered as always however, even the bright tracks like "Lollipop (Ode To Jim)" and "Saved By A Waif" have deeper complexity to them that makes each listen more cathartic than the last. Delivering the knockout with the lo-fi luster of tracks like "Not My Baby," the album is a smart follow-up that sees them getting more energetic without losing their depth as a band.
2. Tei Shi – Crawl Space (Arts & Crafts)
While Argentina-Brooklyn-Canadian transfer Tei Shi (aka Valerie Teicher) was still making her way towards the mainstream as 2017 opened, she's well on her way to stardom as the year ends. Releasing her fierce debut LP, Teicher shows her complete range on this album between the soaring pop of "Keep Running" to the boundary pushing hip hop of "Justify." Even the psych rock tracks like "Baby" fit perfectly amongst it all, making for a listen that will surprise new listeners and fans of her previous releases from start to end. The personal lyrics of overcoming fear are even more powerful thanks to Teicher's salvaging of old childhood recordings for the album's interludes as well.
1. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream (DFA Records)
Out of any album this year, this album not only exceeded my expectations but easily grew on me to become an almost daily ritual by the end of the year. While many thought James Murphy and company were due for a sloppy return after their five year breakup, this album proved they had evolved rather than atrophied. From the lush and image-invoking synths that burst open on "Oh Baby" to the epic beat drop of "How Do You Sleep?" the album really never lets up, and even it's closer "Black Screen" becomes a brutally sad slow-burn once you realize it's about Murphy's friendship with David Bowie. With tons of wonderful Talking Heads influence on tracks like "Change Yr Mind" and "Other Voices," dark club eeriness on "I Used To" and a brash rock explosion on "Emotional Haircut," the rest of the album makes its singles look simple by comparison.