Idol Threat's Top 20 Albums of 2017 - Idol Threat: Warning Shots at the Mainstream


Sunday, March 04, 2018

Idol Threat's Top 20 Albums of 2017

Unlike last year we didn't make our goal of getting this list out before March. We weren't too far off though, and better late than never right? (It's also why our recommended weekly releases has taken a backseat of late.)  As schedules and lives changed for us this past year I've done something a little different with the list this time to help get it done. With past lists we've always included input on spots from contributors, but the writeups for the Top 10 of the Top 20 was always written by me (Editor: Godzillinois.) 

This year I've asked writer Patrick Loy to help contribute with writing a few entries, and what entries they were! Per usual the list consists of the lesser known, but if you're looking for more mainstream suggestions please check out Rapsody's album Laila’s Wisdom, legendary post-hardcore band Glassjaw's return - Material Control and of course Kendrick Lamar's Damn. Now without further ado here is Idol Threat's Top 20 Albums of 2017 in no particular order:

Lingua Ignota - All Bitches Die
Kristin Hayter is an experimental musician that also happens to be a classically trained vocalist. She performs under the name Lingua Ignota which is Latin for “Unknown Language.” Her music covers a wide range of the spectrum, from near operatic vocal virtuosity riding eerie alternate waves of sparse piano and death industrial, to vengeful black metal shrieks over crackling distortion and stark synths.  It is Power Electronics with a dash of the avant-garde, but with the artist playing the sufferer instead of the offender. Hayter is a survivor of domestic abuse, and it is a subject that dominates her work.  In fact, the proceeds from her debut EP released earlier in 2017 all went to the National Network to End Domestic Violence

Her training and experience bring a refreshing twist to the genres that resemble her work; the usual subject matter of sexual and physical abuse are contorted from vicarious exploration to confrontational, confessional catharsis. The seething anger normally used by PE frontmen to narrate are now vehicles that sings suffering into our souls and beats screaming wrath into our eardrums. Even the oft-traversed tropes of serial killers are bent on its ear when Hayter samples Aileen Wuornos, a female serial-killer who claimed that all her murders were the result of self-defense from rape. Lingua Ignota’s dramatic, soaring, classical vocals provide a great foil to the metallic crash and burn of harsh noise, as her tracks move from brutal practices of the art to surprisingly serene songs of beautiful sadness. Through shining rage she provides a light to genres normally devoid of it, as we are left to revulse in the offense of the lyrics as opposed to reveling in it. This is not just Power Electronics, this is Powerful electronics. ~GodzIL

Jlin - Black Origami
I imagine working in a steel mill in Gary, Indiana to be pretty grueling and demanding, not just physically but mentally as well. Few people working in music know that more than footwork producer Jerrilynn Patton, thankfully for her and for us (at a much lesser extent of course) she found an outlet to express the dark emotions felt on a day-to-day basis. The opening title tracks starts off with what sounds like a layering of likembe (thumb piano) sounds before the onslaught of frenetic polyrhythms take hold, with what feels like wind instruments chanting over a haunted forest while someone chimes in with a midi keyboard for good measure. The energetic ‘Hatshepsut’ is certainly a standout track, with its catchy martial rhythms and call-and-response time stamps.

It’s remarkably varied for a footwork album, check out the Middle Eastern influences on both ‘Kyanite’ and ‘Holy Child’, or the dubstep influences on ‘1%’ (with Holly Herdon) and ‘Never Created, Never Destroyed.' I’ve read that William Basinski is even on here somewhere (though granted I can’t find info at the time of this writing). It should be pointed out that unlike other footwork producers, Jlin uses no record samples. If factory work has given Jlin anything, it’s an incredible sense of rhythm and space. Few artists working in any genre have a grip on that as fully as Jlin, yes the tracks can be intense and aggressive but they also know how to breathe. I missed out of Jlin’s debut release called Dark Energy back in 2015; I assure you I will not miss any future releases
. ~P

Gnaw - Cutting Pieces
When Gnaw rose out of the ashes of New York doom metal supergroup Khanate, they did so with a potent distillation of its most extreme elements. The torturous wails and screams of vocalist Alan Dublin were still present, but they now had to compete with the abrasive and murderous din of the band that has only amped up the fervor of their noise and drone. I hesitate to merely call their music ‘experimental noise metal’ as the title fails to capture the unsettling, deranged, cinematic cacophony that you experience when you listen to Gnaw. That is an apt description since their music falls closer to an experience instead of a mere listen, playing this album and the band’s music as a whole is not something that is to be taken lightly

With their third full-length outing the band welcomes Insect Ark‘s Dana Schechter to the lineup, along with an immense number of instrumentation both traditional and non-traditional. Perhaps this is what adds to the atmosphere of the album, having the instruments creating soundscapes not found with traditional playing. To wit, the instruments aren't played so much as bled through the ether with trauma as they vibrate through the wounds. The album culminates in a dredging 10 minute track with Dublin layering his various vocals in a symphony of madness before it buzzingly fades to black. A fitting end to their most tormented release to date. ~GodzIL

Mr. Lif & Brass Menažeri - Resilient
Balkan Brass Folk music and Hip Hop. One would be forgiven for concluding that the two would not be a good mix, at the very least it’s not an obvious one. But Mr. Lif (Boston underground rap legend and Def Jux alumni) and Brass Menažeri, (2008’s Best International Live Band according to SF Weekly) has proven that assumption wrong with this collaboration, which has been seven years in the making. When Mr. Lif was curiously tapped to play at the 2010 Seattle Folk Festival and a mutual friend suggested that Brass Menažeri would make a good backing band for Lif, little did they know that the one rehearsal and performance would spark a friendship that would prove fruitful in the years to come.

The virtuoso acrobatics and brass bass of the Menažeri provides a great backdrop to the deceptively smooth yet lyrical delivery of Lif’s rasp. This synthesis goes beyond the gimmick of its premise and proves to be enjoyable on its own merit, leaving us to hope that this isn’t the last of their partnership nor would we want another 7 years to pass before another release. This album isn’t the only one that Mr. Lif put out in 2017, the triumphant 12 year return of his duo The Perceptionists released Resolution earlier in the year, but this unique album takes the spot in our list just based on the pure audacity of its success. ~GodzIL

Chino Amobi - PARADISO
Chino Amobi is a co-founder of NON, which according to them are “a collective of African artists, and of the diaspora, using sound as their primary media, to articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power.” That’s a pretty bold statement, but it is also backed by a pretty bold sound as well. The noisy, experimental, electronica on this record provides the backing for Chino’s vocals along with other NON artists Crampton, Haleek Maul, Embaci, Nkisi and FAKA, rapper Haleek Maul, trans model Aurel Haize Odogbo, Bolivian-American electronic artist Elysia Crampton, and singer Benja SL. Chino also receives help from Texan Producer Rabit and Dutch E Germ, aka Tim DeWit, formerly of psych collective G.

The album itself is full of sirens, synth, samples and spoken word all swirling together to give this a very cut and paste feel. Although there are bouts of respite in the form of tribal rhythms, sinister synth lines and quiet poems of some tracks, what dominates the album are the elements that are the most jarring, abrupt and often the sound of emergency. It is apparent that Amobi isn’t as interested in the ‘dance’ aspect of electronic music, nor is he engrossed with the IDM-side of experimentalism as he is with the statement of the overall piece. The clashing and clanging of styles seems to want to confront more than comfort, grate instead of groove. Paradiso is where electronica collage meets themes of social justice; a dense, chaotic and thought-provoking piece of work. ~GodzIL

Uniform - Wake in Fright
Uniform’s second album ‘Wake in Fright’ was the first album of last year that cemented it’s place in my top 20 list. From the first track I knew that this record would have everything I would want in extreme music: industrial metal awash in harsh noise, screaming power electronics vocals and even some thrash thrown in the mix. The New York duo makes music that is louder and angrier than a mere duo should be, as programmed drums, synths, guitar, and vocals drown in distortion. Vocalist Michael Berdan weaves stories of characters suffering from pain, addiction and the coping mechanisms for them while guitarist Ben Greenberg’s samples and martial rhythms sets the stories of struggle against the sounds of war. Greenberg has stated that their music is a response to the chaos and violence of the world around them, in hopes that fellow sufferers can find solace in the madness and camaraderie in the chasm of despair. Whether its the vices that men fight to be free of, the fear of the inevitable drums of war, or the unchanging monotony of a miserable existence, 'Wake in Fright' hopes to purge us of the pain by experiencing it instead of escaping it as many of the characters in the album desire to do. Catharsis never sounded more apocalyptic or wonderful. ~GodzIL

Oddisee - Beneath the Surface
Beneath the Surface is the live version of the other 2017 album Oddisee released; Iceberg. That album could have easily taken this spot instead, but this is one of those instances where the live album may even be better than the original. It’s hard enough to get a decent recording of a live Hip Hop show (think muffled mics and songs dedicated to killing the sound bwoy) so when one comes along of this quality it deserves attention. What’s even harder than getting a clean recording from a live show, is a studio album capturing the energy that make live shows worth attending. 'Beneath the Surface' succeeds on both ends and brings the best of both scenarios together, which is why it is on this list in place of Iceburg. Hearing the various cities get a shoutout, experiencing the spontaneity of the call and response sessions, and getting live versions of songs from Oddisee’s amazing back catalog is where this record shines above the previous one. The other major factor is Oddisee’s live backing band Good Compny (Olivier St. Louis on guitar, Ralph “Real” Washington on Keys, DJ Unown on MPC, Jon Laine on drums and Dennis Turner on bass.) The Washington D.C. MC/Producer has been releasing work since 2002 and these last two releases proves that he’s showing no signs of slowing. ~GodzIL

El Michels Affair ‎– Return To The 37th Chambers
El Michels Affair first burst onto the scene with the 2004 album “Sounding Out the City.” Their leader Leon Michels dubbed their blend of Jazz, Funk and Soul “Cinematic Soul” and it was a sound that was honed during the days of his high school band The Mighty Imperials, and as support for Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings during their tours and recording. While all this was happening Leon found himself collaborating with Raekwon which led to a tour with El Michels backing multiple members of the Wu-Tang Clan. This tour produced a series of Wu-Tang instrumentals performed by EMA and released on 7 inch records, eventually culminating to their second album Enter the 37th Chamber (an ode to Wu-Tang’s debut album Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers.)

The lo-fi warmth and sublime yet faithful reworking of those classic tracks translated well as instrumentals and left me wanting more of the same. Enter their latest record, the aptly named Return to the 37th Chamber which features such Wu-Tang greats such as "Iron Man," "Shadowboxing" and "Verbal Intercourse." The success of their sound is not just the nostalgia of retro-soul, but a deep understanding of what moves people with music. While simultaneously running his label Truth & Soul Records, touring and recording Michels helped found The Menahan Street Band, co-produced Aloe Blacc’s sophomore record, Good Things, and received a writer credit on Adele’s Grammy-nominated album, 19. It’s that kind of talent that helps this LP transcend the status of a mere cover album into a genius piece of interpretation that stands alone. ~GodzIL

Algiers - The Underside of Power
The band’s 2015 self-titled debut was one of my favorite albums of that year, an eerie blend of deep southern gospel, post-punk, and old timey black spirituals. What made that album so revelatory (besides how well all those sounds belonged together) was that it restored black voices/sounds to rock music that by the 21st century has largely done away those influences. Opening with the industrial stomp of ‘Walk Like a Panther’, it is arguably the most angriest, darkest, heaviest song of the band’s career. Nothing else on the album is as forceful, but that doesn’t mean the other songs don’t carry lots of power.

With its apocalyptic EL-P like beat that rides atop ‘Cleveland’, it’s definitely one the album’s highlights. The piano led ballad of ‘Mme Rieux’ that arrives at the album mid-point is another highlight, the mood of which is later echoed in the instrumentals ‘Plague Years’ and ‘Bury Me Standing.' These three tracks provide a template for the album as whole, minimal and atmospheric. The tracks lets let the mood and tension sometimes build to a climax of sorts, more often times though, not. Fans of the self-titled might be led to some disappointment upon first listen; this is one of those albums that truly reveals itself only on repeated listens. Though the band is not polemical in the strictest sense of the world, the disillusionment and anger do shine through the music. This is music for these uncertain times in this uncertain world. ~P

Sean Price - Imperius Rex
Listening to Imperius Rex makes me angry. Not because it offends me or because it’s a horrible album, far from it actually. Sean Price’s posthumous album is so fucking good that every verse, every beat, every grunted “P!” reminds me that we won’t get this greatness again. Luckily he left us with this latest record to add to his amazing discography for us to play over and over to our heart’s content. This album almost didn’t make it, if it weren’t for the efforts of his widow Bernadette Price and Duck Down CEO Dru Ha this album wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Not only did Bernadette help piece together unreleased tracks and a tracklist, but she also debuted her rapping talents to tracks “Dead or Alive” and “Price Family.”

She’s not the only family member lending her talents to the album however; Sean Price's daughter Shaun gives her own version of the opening to Price's 2015 track "Soul Perfect" as an intro to the album. Family aren’t the only contributors however as DOOM (in one of his best feature tracks EVER) Junior Reid, Styles P, Freeway, Prodigy (RIP) as well as the members of Boot Camp Click guest stars throughout the record. In fact there is a world-shattering posse track called "Clans & Cliks" which features members of Boot Camp Click AND Wu-Tang Clan all on ONE TRACK! Sean P was a huge part of the 90s era of Hip Hop, but he wouldn’t rest just being a part of history. P brought that era of rap forward by getting better at his craft, having forward-thinking collaborations (i.e. his albums with producer 9th Wonder) and bringing out a sense of humor that never compromised how serious he was on the mic. RIP to one of the greats. ~GodzIL

...and here's the rest of the Top 20 list in no particular order:

Dead Cross - Dead Cross

Primitive Man - Caustic

Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs - Gems From The Equinox

Chepang - Dadhelo (A Tale of Wildfire)

All Pigs Must Die - Hostage Animal

Godflesh - Post Self

Dan Terminus - Automated Refrains

Machine Girl - …Because I’m Young Arrogant and Hate Everything You Stand For

Code Orange - Forever

Monolord - Rust

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