Best of 2017: 40-31

-40: Kacy & Clayton - The Siren's Song

A beautifly arranged set of songs well rooted in the sounds of 70's folk / country. Produced by Jeff Tweedy, these kids (I think early 20's?) have incredible chops and sound well beyond their years. 

-39: Laura Marling - Semper Femina

A compelling and pleasant release that fits well within her canon. I miss some of the rougher around the edges tracks from previous albums, but these songs all come from a place of maturity and I much prefer that she writes from where she is rather than trying to continuously recreate past magic that was born of a time and place. 

-38: Four Tet - New Energy

Aptly named record from the elder statesman of glitchy indie electronica. This is among my favorite of his works, mostly due to the moments of energetic warmth amongst the chill and trance vibe you've come to expect from Four Tet. A reliable headphones listen. 

-37: The Mountain Goats - Goths

The Mountain Goats continue a streak of singular albums with their biggest departure yet - no guitars! I found their previous effort (Beat the Champ) seem to get lost in the concept in a way that prevented me from falling in love with the album. This, to me, risks that again but stays on the right side of the line. I welcome any and all further exploration from a band that gets a lifetime pass, and look forward to giving this album many more tries while the depth of it fully reveals itself. 

-36: The Weather Station - The Weather Station

This is an intricate album of vision and voice. The high points of her past albums (see "I Mined" off of 2015's "Loyalty")  were simple, beautiful things that caught and entranced me immediately. The rewards of this one are a little harder earned, but  this is clearly a big step forward from both a musical and songwriting standpoint. It forces you to engage with it in a way you don't always expect to with this type of music. 

-35: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound

Since his solo breakthrough a few years ago, Jason Isbell has well established his place in the americana / alt-country scene as a master songwriter, capable of both heartstring pulling ballads and ripping boot stompers. There are both on this album, but what's most pleasing to me are are the mid-up tempo ones that come from a place of contentment (see the last two tracks on this album). As capable as he has been at capturing his darkness, we need more artists who can create moving art from a place of stability. 

-34: Hammock - Mysterium

This is beautiful, etherial, elagaic music. It might put you to sleep, but it might also wake you to a nice level you don't always get to access. I listened to this A LOT while working this year. It's moving in the way a sparse film soundtrack can be moving, but it holds its own as an artistic piece (no visuals needed). Let it wash over you.

-33: Justin Townes Earle - Kids in the Street

I'm always excited for a new record from JTE- they for the most part don't occupy my mind when I'm not listening to them, but they get a lot of plays in the background while cooking or hanging out in the backyard with friends. He's got a warm tone, an interesting delivery, and keeps it between the lines. What more can you ask for? 

-32: Dirty Projectors - Dirty Projectors

With the separation of the two main elements of the Dirty Projectors (see Amber Coffman further ahead...), it's fascinating to be clearly able to see the influence various parties brought to the band. Kind of like hearing albums from Zammuto and Paul de Jong after the dissolution of The Books. Neither separately feel quite like a whole idea immediately. Dave Longstreth seems to have retained a lot of the characteristic Dirty Projectors sound, but it's clearly lacking some of the warmth of past records.  He's always been all over the map, but I got lost a little bit more than usual in the lesser tracks. Still, this is an incredibly sonically ambitious album. Up in Hudson, as well as the contemplative closing track (shared below), will definitely be on playlists for years to come. 

-31: Offa Rex - The Queen of Hearts

More and more I'm learning what a soft spot I have in my heart for sorrowful traditional folk, especially if it can occasionally find just a spark of chaos or energy backing it. I never got bit by the Decemberists bug, not sure if was Colin's voice or the too-clever-by-half lyrics, but by sharing the stage with English folk singer Olivia Chaney, they create something truly moving here. The musicianship is nice, but the ones where they step back and really just let her shine send chills down my spine.