Turns out I had a little more to say about each of these albums than I though. It also turns out that rapid-fire publishing nine posts over eight days isn’t a great idea, so I’m clumping most of my favorite albums of 2017 into this post on this final day of the year. Here are my takes on weirdo-pop icon Fever Ray, prog theatrics from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, a slab of supermassive riffs from Ground, a lightning-fast thrash assault from Lich King, and Igorrr, dear god, Igorrr, what have you wrought?
Fever Ray – Plunge
My favorite review of this album came from a YouTube comment: “God is back, and she’s horny!”
This is a weird one, for sure, and I don’t feel as qualified to talk about it in context as I do the other albums on the list (Fever Ray is half of brother-sister duo The Knife, whose music I am entirely unfamiliar with), but it’s an uncompromising artistic vision, and it’s got some seriously cool music on it.
Fever Ray’s self-titled first album, which came out in 2009, is an eerie, woodsy indie-electronic masterwork speckled with playfulness, something that might happen if you gave a bunch of Swedish land wights and hipster faeries some synthesizers and effects pedals (I absolutely loved it and still listen to it regularly eight years after it came out). With Plunge, her second album as Fever Ray, Karin Dreijer takes a bunch of neon-and-pastelle twee pop, mixes it with early industrial and modern BDSM club bangers in the same cauldron as the first Fever Ray album, seasons it with a little Björk and One Oh Trix Point Never, and microwaves it for ten minutes on “queer” until it’s bubbling and blackened on top. The result is actually pretty great. What cohesion there is comes from Dreijer’s lyrics, which deal with the push and pull of personal relationships and the establishment of identity within, outside of, and resulting from those relationships. The whole album is an anthem of feminist sexual liberation, and Dreijer ensures that she’s not speaking alone by collaborating with Deena Abdelwahed, Nídia, Paula Temple, Sara Parkman, and many others:
When you want to work in a feminist process, it has been so important to create these collaborations, to not feel so alone, and also to have these kind of autonomous areas where you can work with your ideas and not have to struggle with the patriarchy on the outside[…]*
If you’re in for something relentlessly eclectic, something that is unashamed to be its bizarre self and only becomes more beautiful for its confidence, give Plunge a listen.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard- Polygondwanaland
Another group I’m mostly unfamiliar with (I found them on Bandcamp while looking for unrelated stuff about three weeks ago), King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have released four albums this year, with another supposedly on the way. It would be reasonable to think that this alarming output might come at the expense of quality, but given Polygondwanaland and the other albums of King Gizzard’s I’ve heard, I can confidently say that this band churns out good albums like a grandmother with company coming churns out baked goods. Each King Gizzard album is relentlessly experimental; Flying Microtonal Banana, as the name implies, thumbs its nose at the traditional eight-note octave, Nonagon Infinity loops back on itself endlessly, and Quarters! is four ten-minute mini-albums in one. Polygondwanaland, from a structural standpoint, seems almost bland in comparison, until you realize that it’s a concept album whose story arc is portrayed in totality on its cover. Musically, it’s a delightful prog rock sojourn, with modern and retro synths, harmonica, and flute adding color and detail to the surrounding guitars and drums. It’s at turns jazzy, noodley, ambient, driving, and groovy, and I can’t wait to dive more deeply into this band’s back catalogue. Sure to please you and the dad figure in your life. Best of all, it’s free!
Ground – I
Sometimes, you just need something that wrecks face. Sometimes, when blazing fast thrash metal theatrics don’t cut it, all it takes is a good sludgey riff to make you feel like you could bench press a cable car or split logs with your teeth. If that’s you, if that ‘sometimes’ is now, then Barcelonan duo Ground has you covered. Their debut album is riff after catchy, pummeling riff, all that force held together by various classic touches: old-school stoner rock guitar solos, a scorching vocal performance, and, most importantly, a rock-solid mid-tempo. There’s not much more that needs to be said about this album, especially considering that it’s pay what you want and you can listen to it right now.
Lich King – The Omniclasm
Similarly, sometimes you just wanna go hard, but more importantly, you want to go FAST, and maybe you want to cackle like a supervillain while you’re doing it. I’ve done a lot of irresponsibly fast downhill biking while listening to Lich King, and in my opinion, The Omniclasm doesn’t just compare favorably to that other thrash album everyone’s putting on their best-of lists this year, it crushes it. Furious tempos, moshable riffs, frothing guitar solos, crisp production: it’s got it all. Plus, vocalist Tom Martin says it best: metal’s supposed to be fun, and Lich King are incredibly fun. Where else are you going to hear a track about the pestilential parts of parenting, or about how the metal bands that we grew up with have become content to churn out albums that aren’t a tenth of their early work, or a track called “Crossover Songs Are Too Damn Short”, or hell, even an LGBT fight anthem? Or a track wherein the vocalist quits the band? The Omniclasm is a jewel in Lich King’s crown, and I am utterly perplexed as to why it’s not being hailed as the best thrash metal album this year.
Igorrr – Savage Sinusoid
If you’re not already familiar with Igorrr, get ready for the wildest fusion of disparate elements you’ve ever experienced with any of your senses. I’m not kidding. Also, I’m happy for you; this is a great album to start with.
Gautier Serre has been bending the music world to his twisted will since 2006, and I think Savage Sinusoid might already be my favorite Igorrr album–certainly the one I’ve listened through the greatest number of times. Igorrr’s music is, at its most basic, a mad science experiment combining breakcore, deathgrind, and Baroque classical music, but any individual track might play host to influences from chiptune, klezmer, opera, musique concrete, Indian and West African traditional music, swing, bluegrass, dubstep… look, I could keep naming styles of music until I’m completely out, and I’ll bet you you could find them all on one Igorrr track or another. The astounding things are a) Savage Sinusoid doesn’t use any samples at all, and b) it’s really, really good–assuming you like being screamed at by Travis Ryan from Cattle Decapitation and Laurent Lunoir, Serre’s frequent collaborator (with a couple fiery breaches into extended technique from the classically-trained Laure Le Prunenec). In my opinion, each Igorrr album has a standout track: on 2010’s Nostril, it was “Tendon”, and on Savage Sinusoid, it’s “Houmous”, a track derived from Bulgarian ratchenitza, with its madcap staccato accordion and gleeful saxophone in 7/8 time. Not to mention the chicken cluck that heralds the chiptune break. This whole album is the work of a visionary who has been refining his craft for years and has employed some stellar musicians to play with him. The fact that it’s beyond bizarre only makes it more enjoyable.