The Fall: A Top Ten List

A continuation of thoughts from And This Day: Mark Edward Smith (1957-2018) . . .

Marcia and I spent the past week in Hawai’i. On the (long) flights between Maui Kahului and Chicago O’Hare, I spent much of the time with headphones on, deeply appreciating a setlist of about 50 Fall Songs that I’d culled after the unfortunate early passing of Mark E. Smith in January. The (long) travel time provided a good period of focused listening and reflection on the amazing body of work that MES (as he’s regularly referenced among Fall fans — and why I use “JES” in my own short-hand notes) left behind for us all. I was equally moved by “classic” songs composed by a young man full of piss and vinegar, and by latter day works, when mortality had clearly intruded in the songwriter’s consciousness.

MES’s funeral took place while we were in Hawai’i, and his sisters released a statement today on The Official Fall Website that read:

We would like to thank family, friends and fans for all their kind words, condolences and memories about our brother Mark. Also, the N.H.S and staff who treated Mark throughout and Mark’s partner Pam who loved, cared and cherished our brother. Mark fought a long and hard battle after his diagnosis of terminal lung and kidney cancer.  He took every treatment going, which could be brutal at times and left Mark with some horrible side effects. Mark was such a strong man and hated letting his fans down and tried to carry on regardless against all advice. Mark had a great life and loved and lived it to the full and always by his own rules and we, as his sisters were privileged to be part of it too. Mark is at peace now and pain free, but we, his three sisters have been left heartbroken and will miss our big brother very much.

Barbara, Suzanne and Caroline.


I was very sad to learn what took Mark away from us, as it made clear the struggle he’d endured in recent months/years — and removed any “he died peacefully in his sleep, and he never knew what was coming” wishful thinking from the mix. His end was hard, and that makes his final album(s) and concert(s) all the more meaningful and amazing, as he was obviously creating and performing with full knowledge that he did not have much time remaining to do so, and was suffering in the process. MES was truly inspiring until the very end. I doff my cap to him, again and again, and I thank him for all the joy he provided me and so many other Fall Fans over the years.

I should note that Fall Fans are a diverse, global lot with myriad interests (musical and otherwise), though if anything binds us (beyond our obvious love for the Fall’s music and the musicians who made/played it), I would offer that it’s a love of list-making, data gathering, analysis and/or debate — as perhaps best evidenced by the ways in which the most seemingly mundane topics regarding The Fall routinely receive deep and thoughtful dives over at the Fall Online Forum (FOF), where I was long a regular contributor. Since MES’s death, I’ve read and digested boodles and boodles of tributes and lists and stories at the FOF and elsewhere, many of which I agree with, and many of which . . . well, not so much.

There are about 520 songs that have been recorded or played live by The Fall over the past 40 years, and as my own final tribute here to Mark E. Smith and The Fall, I offer my personal “Top Ten List of Greatest Fall Songs Ever” below. I’m defaulting to studio album versions for the links embedded in my list, though many Fall Fans will often cite Peel Session or other live versions as definitive. There’s no right answer, ever, when it comes to The Fall.

If you value my tastes and recommendations and want to learn more about The Fall, then these may be good places to start investigating. But if these don’t do it for you, then I most heartily recommend you explore any of the other 510 songs, as I’ll wager there’s a gem in the canon somewhere that will appeal to you, and once you establish that initial connection, it will itch and itch at you, and you will want to hear more (or all) of it, I promise.


#10. “Dr Bucks’ Letter” (2000, from The Unutterable)

#9. “Mountain Energei” (2003, from The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click))

#8. “Who Makes the Nazis?” (1982, from Hex Enduction Hour)

#7. “Weather Report 2” (2010, from Your Future Our Clutter)

#6. “Second House Now” (2017, from New Facts Emerge)

#5. “The Container Drivers” (1980, from Grotesque (After The Gramme))

#4. “Fall Sound” (2007, from Reformation Post TLC)

#3. “Fantastic Life” (1981, from Lie Dream of A Casino Soul (single))

#2. “Blindness” (2005, from Fall Heads Roll)

#1. “Noel’s Chemical Effluence” (1995, from The Twenty-Seven Points)

And This Day: Mark Edward Smith (1957-2018)

Legendary English singer, songwriter and group leader Mark E. Smith of The Fall died this morning, some four decades after embarking on one of the most remarkable careers in modern music history. The Fall’s studio canon is sprawling and epic in its depth, breadth, variety and quality, while the group’s live performances have given generations of rock scribblers fodder and thrilled countless punters with the chaotic, organic greatness the group concocted on their best nights. (Though even their worst nights were delicious chaotic marvels on some plane).

I have long been a big fan of The Fall (very professional), citing them as my favorite band for many years, and I wrote in glowing terms about their last studio album, New Facts Emerge, just this past August. It was their 31st or 32nd album, depending on how one feels about their 1981 release, Slates. (Whether that’s an EP or an LP is a deeply divisive topic among certain sectors of The Fall’s fandom). (Though it is an EP, for the record). The group had announced a (very rare) set of American dates last fall to support their new disc, and played a few English gigs after the album’s release, but cancellations (including all of the U.S. shows) were rife. Smith’s onstage appearance during his final concerts (wheelchair bound, arm in a sling, face terribly swollen) was cause for alarm for some — while others saluted the great man for honoring his commitments, doing his job, and being with the audiences who loved him, doubters be damned. I tend to side with the latter camp.

The Fall have been routinely and tediously cited by the music press for their high rates of personnel turnover over the years, but Smith had worked with a stable bass-guitar-drum lineup for over a decade before his death, and my admiration and respect for those three (Keiron Melling, Dave Spurr, and Peter Greenway) is most high, especially for helping their boss rock hard as his own body was failing him. They had their own unique Fall Sound, and some of their records rate as favorites among the long lines of vinyl, plastic, and digital bits that have entertained and awed me for decades. Bravo, gentlemen. You made a glorious racket and were a very fine Fall group.

Regarding their chief, I have long considered Mark E. Smith to be the same sort of musical genius as George Clinton, or Captain Beefheart, or Brian Eno, or David Thomas. They are all organizers and shepherds with very clear visions of what they want from their songs, along with the persuasive skills to extract stellar performances from musicians who might never before nor ever after ascend to such heights. None of those aforementioned visionaries are ace guitarists, or skilled keyboardists, or deeply technical arrangers, or even particularly good singers, but the players they surround themselves with — their teams — are managed in such deft ways as to spark and deliver brilliance, time and time again, in original and often highly unusual styles.

Mark E. Smith was also that greatest of literary devices: a character. Quotable, irascible, intelligent, badly behaved except when he wasn’t, wearing his opinions on his sleeve, sharing his tastes with anyone who’d talk to him, largely unfiltered, mostly impolitic, deeply irreverent, consistently cantankerous, and entertaining to the Nth degree, always. I just liked watching and listening to him talk, even if I couldn’t understand what was coming out of his mouth much of the time. There’s none like him that I know, and none likely to ever fill such a unique creative niche, for so long, so well, again. Well done, Mark. Well done, indeed.

On a personal front, I’ve spent well over a decade as an active member of the Fall Online Forum, one of the most bizarrely delightful digital communities I’ve ever had the pleasure to haunt, and the depth of commitment and passion that cabal devotes to the group that binds them is extraordinary. (I most recently wrote about the “FOF” in my 2017 Year in Review, here). As it turns out, I had put myself on a sabbatical from the Forum just a short time ago — which is interesting (to me), because I did the same thing in the prior online community where I spent most of my (online) time prior to the FOF, just before its own inspiring light died. I don’t know if my radar is sensitive to that sort of impending change or what, but it’s a bit deja vu and disconcerting feeling for me right now, in any event. I do wish my friends at the FOF well. This is a world-jolter there, and here.

At bottom line, it’s the end of an era for The Fall: who are always different, and now never the same again . . .

Mark E. Smith with the last of the lads in the Fall. They were a good crew, and served him well to the end. RIP.


Best Albums of 2017 (Addendum): “In The Presence of Presents 2017” by Jed Davis

I usually do my annual “Best Albums of The Year” report in late November or early December, before the craziness of the year end, and because it usually takes me more than a month to decide that I want to include something on the list anyway. (Here’s the 2017 Best List, the 26th consecutive annual one I’ve published). The downside of this approach, of course, is that sometimes I miss some truly worthy late-in-the-year releases, and those don’t get captured on the report. That happened in the waning moments of 2017, so let me tell you about one more essential disc from the year that was . . .

Jed Davis, In the Presence of Presents 2017: If you search for Jed Davis on this blog, you get a lot of results, because I consider Jed to be one of the finest songwriters of the past quarter-century, and he’s a damned fine musician, artist, singer, and writer to boot. A real renaissance rocker. Jed actually did get a mention in the introduction of the 2017 Best Albums list, as I cited The Hanslick Rebellion (they are one of Jed’s bands) with Single of the Year for their zeitgeist-defining “Who’ll Apologize For This Disaster Of A Life?” But damned if Jed didn’t slip in a year-end album-length surprise with the third of his occasional In the Presence of Presents series (now issued in 2003, 2006, and 2017), and it’s a corker.

Here’s the concept: each edition of In the Presence of Presents includes one holiday themed original song, paired with nine non-holiday covers. Simple! But, of course, in such an endeavor, song selection, arrangements, and performances make all the difference, and Jed’s three-for-three again on those fronts this time around. To give you a sense of the breadth of the covers, he’s got songs by (among others) The Beach Boys, Juliana Hatfield, Jobriath, Judee Sill, Patrik Fitzgerald, Yaz, and Kendrick Lamar. (In the last two cases, actually, that’s only one song, and it’s a mashup made in heaven). And then there’s “Wonder Woman,” by Billy Joel’s so-awful-it’s-amazing early band Attila. It is a thing, for sure, and Jed and ace session drummer Joe Abba make it an even better thing, absolutely.

Abba appears on several tracks, as does indie-superstar guitarist Avi Buffalo, while The Hanslick Rebellion, Anton and Lewis Patzner (Judgment Day), and Maryanne Fennimore appear on a cut apiece. Jed provides his usual display of sure-fingered playing on organ, guitar, bass, piano, Rhodes Piano Bass, percussion and the dreaded Baldwin Fun Machine, which brings the perfect amount of period cheese to Beach Boys’ deep cut “Busy Doin’ Nothin'”. He’s also in fine voice throughout the proceedings here, with some excellent harmonic arrangement making things sweet when they need to be, often with a little dash of bitter for leavening. Mmm, that’s good.

Speaking of harmonies: this year’s original Jed Davis holiday song — “Peditum Quod Festum Nativitatis Delevit” — is performed in Latin with but eight voices, and its narrative revolves around one of the very few things that have amused human beings from all cultures since deepest antiquity, and will no doubt continue to amuse us until we’re eventually wiped from the face of the earth (hopefully not in 2018). You’ve gotta hear it to believe it, and I know you too will be amused when you do. Ho ho ho!!!

Oh! And did I mention the part about “presents?” Well, this is one to us from Jed: you can nab it all for free by clicking on the album cover below. (And then get the earlier installments by clicking on these links: 20062003). (And then explore the amazing collection of albums Jed has helmed over the years involving a truly unbelievable collection of musicians at The Congregation of Vapors).


2017: Year In Review

We are closing in on the shortest day of the year, and that always puts me in a reflective mood, so how’s about a trawl through 2017 to summarize the year that was, for those interested in such matters. (And if that doesn’t include any of you, well, then at least I’ve given myself a nice summary for future reference. Excelsior!)


I posted 35 thingies (some fiendish) on the blog this year. The number actually surprised me; I would have guessed less. Last year I posted 27 times, though I was working on the short story project, so at least I was producing more long-form stuff than I did this year. In 2015, I posted 77 times. I guess either this blog’s swirling along a slow spiral to oblivion (like most blogs), or this is just the new normal. We’ll see what 2018 brings us. The ten most read new posts here in 2017 were:

The ten old posts that got the most traffic in 2017 were as follows. It’s always fascinating to me which of the 1,000-ish posts that I keep on the blog interest people (or search engines, anyway) the most all these years on . . .

I gave up on Facebook years ago, but I remain active on Twitter. I have learned after a very long time online that accepting or seeking connections just for the sake of doing so is a tool for madness, so I generally ascribe to Dunbar’s Number and try to keep my follows and followers around the 150 level. I am a little high on both fronts right now, so there might be some purging to be done by year’s end. On a political front (while I try not to write about that much here), Tiny Blue Isle is my go-to aggregator for Chicago-oriented progressive stuff. Bonus points for them using my poem as inspiration for their handle. I should also note that a photograph I took during the Chicago Marathon went wildly viral, for all of the wrong/right reasons (depending on whose views you take).

Where I used to regularly read one or more newspapers each morning to get my day started, my train commuting routine now involves three websites, which are almost always refreshed on a daily basis, and which fill the time in a very satisfying fashion as I rumble down the rails from Chicago to Naperville. In the order that I read them each day:

  • The Fall Online Forum: I’ve been a reader here for about 15 years, and an active poster for over a decade. You don’t have to be a fan of legendary English band The Fall to have fun in this forum: it’s high volume, with threads on pretty much everything under the sun, and some things from elsewhere, if you’re willing and able to trawl around a bit. It’s an old school message board, so there’s a nice nostalgia factor in play there, too. (Edit: Literally days after I posted this, the hosting site unilaterally updated the FOF, so now it looks like a typical modern web forum. Phooey!) Recommended, if you need a place to romp and stomp and waste time on the man’s dime. Smart people, passionate and knowledgeable about all sorts of arcana and oddities, and a great place (for me) to get an outside-the-US perspective on what the hell’s going on in the world these days. Plus the time difference between the UK and Chicago means that in the early morning here, I’ve got hours of new posts there to peruse.
  • Thoughts On The Dead: My favorite purveyor of semi-fictionality (have you heard of the concept?) has produced two novels’ worth of utterly stupendous world-building in his ongoing Little Aleppo Chronicles, along with a surrealistic treasure trove of character-based stories, timely satire, and the best writing about everybody’s favorite semi-defunct choogly band to be found in this universe and time stream. And if you nab the time sheath, you might find that it’s the best such writing in any universe or time stream. Try not to commit any felonies if you do that, though, please and thanks. Oh, and Thoughts On The Dead is being considered for an Oscar this year too! Be sure to check out his Christmas List if you visit, and do the right thing, namsain? You don’t want Donate Button to come looking for you.
  • Electoral-Vote Dot Com: I’ve been depending upon (and writing about) this website for my election season news aggregation since 2004, long before some of their more-highly-visible imitators started pilfering their data-driven approach. Normally, after the final counts were tallied in late 2016/early 2017, they would have shut down for a couple of years — but things this year are just so freakin’ weird that they’ve decided to keep rolling with the daily posts, for which I am thankful. There’s lots of political news aggregators out there on the web, and I consider these guys to be the pinnacle of the form. Good data, good sources, no bullshit, solid interpretation. Highly recommended.


Marcia and I began the year in Reykjavik, watching the citizens of Iceland lose their collective minds in an orgy of fireworks and bonfires. We are going to end 2017 in Key West, with Katelin in tow this time. We were there for New Year’s Eve 2009/2010 as well, and it was a hoot. Here’s hoping that the city is well recovered from its hurricane damage, and that we have a nice warm night for the drag queen drop to marshall us into 2018.

I had tried to travel less for work this year, but it didn’t really quite work out that way, as my annual travel map (including planned holiday travel) indicates:

There were loads of adventures and lots of good work done over the the course of the year, but the particular highlights (beyond Iceland) of 2017 travel included: a family trip to the Netherlands and Belgium (where Katelin got to meet her spirit animal); getting to experience the solar eclipse in the mountains of North Carolina with the extended Smith-Duft families (minus Katelin, alas); a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where I go to see (ZOMFG) The Mothership; and riding the Tour des Trees in and around my old stomping grounds of Washington, DC and Annapolis, where I got to dedicate a Liberty Tree on the grounds of the State Capitol.

Leaving a nicer legacy in Annapolis than I did 30+ years ago. (Me in yellow NAVY cap).


I already published my Best Albums of 2017 (26 years and counting!) and my Most Played Songs of 2017 reports, so probably don’t need to say much more on that front.


We have two good movie theaters within easy walking distance of our apartment, not to mention Amazon Prime and Netflix, so we watched a lot of movies this year. At the time of this writing, here are my Top Ten Films of the Year . . . though I note that I have some Oscar Bait movies to see between now and early January, so this list could change a little bit before the dust settles on the year.

  • Get Out
  • Trainspotting 2
  • mother!
  • The Big Sick
  • A Ghost Story
  • Dunkirk
  • The Disaster Artist
  • The Florida Project
  • Lady Bird
  • The Darkest Hour

Special mention to two epic television experiences that held us bound in front of the screen this year: Amir Bar-Lev’s outstanding Grateful Dead documentary, Long Strange Trip, and David Lynch/Mark Frost’s thrilling and maddening Twin Peaks: The Return. I’m not sure which story was weirder . . .


Years ago, I summarized my  general book reading habits thusly: 10% Fiction, 40% Natural Science and History, 40% Music Biography, and 10% Tales of Human Suffering. Nothing too far afield in the mix of this year’s Top Ten Books, even if the percentages change, so I remain adamantly predictable in my tastes. (Note that a few of these books came out toward the end of 2016, but I didn’t read them until this year, so I’m recognizing them now):

  • Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
  • Borne (and The Strange Bird) by Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones
  • Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger
  • Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
  • The Erstwhile by Brian Catling
  • The Show That Never Ends: The Rise And Fall of Prog Rock by David Weigel
  • The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis (December 2016)
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (December 2016)
  • The Gradual by Christopher Priest (December 2016)

I should note that this list is based on traditional print media output, but if we expand the definition of “book” to include serialized fiction online, then we must also add A Book With No Title by Thoughts On The Dead (see above) to the list.


We also went to a ton of live performances this year, in a variety of genres and idioms. Rather than break them up into different bits, I list my 15 favorites below, chronologically:

  • Too Hot to Handel, Auditorium Theater, January 15
  • Carmen, Lyric Opera, March 3
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Oriental Theater, March 11
  • Adrian Belew Power Trio, Old Town School, April 1
  • Destiny of Desire, Goodman Theater, April 8
  • Jean-Michel Jarre, Auditorium Theater, May 22
  • U2 and The Lumineers, Soldier Field, June 4
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Auditorium Theater, June 16
  • Paradise Blue, TimeLine Theater, July 15
  • Wire and Noveller, Metro, September 16
  • Rigoletto, Lyric Opera, October 14
  • Giselle, Joffrey Ballet/Auditorium Theater, October 29
  • Pere Ubu and Minibeast, Beat Kitchen, November 18
  • King Crimson, Riverside Theater (Milwaukee), November 26
  • In The Next Room, TimeLine Theater/Stage 773, December 9


As with so many other things, we’re blessed with a plethora of riches right here in our neighborhood: The Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center are both within 10 minute walks of our apartment, so I visit each of them every few weeks, just because they’re my fave indoor places to go, solo or with friends. Here are the ten art happenings in Chicago that most moved me in 2017 (in no particular order), and those two venues feature most heavily, just because I’ve seen everything they offered in both permanent and temporary exhibitions over the past twelve months.

  • Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsia! Soviet Art Put To The Test, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Along The Lines: Selected Drawings by Saul Steinberg, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Chicago Architecture Biennial, Chicago Cultural Center
  • Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Ben Shahn: If Not Now, When? Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership
  • Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–1975, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Jack Kerouac’s On the Road Scroll, American Writer’s Museum
  • Eugene Eda’s Doors for Malcolm X College, Chicago Cultural Center
  • India Modern: The Painting of M.F. Husain, Art Institute of Chicago

And . . . I guess that’s it! Unless something moves me profoundly to write here in the next couple of weeks, it’ll probably be 2018 when I next check in at the blog. ‘ta ’til then from all of us in The Adventure Family . . .

Most Played Songs of 2017

Today I reset the play counts on all of  our family iPods after a year of pretty much continual music spinning. I’ve been doing this each December since we got our first iPod in 2007. I used to wait until December 31, but I’ve found that we usually want some fresh mixes through various holiday trips and hectic work season, so now I generally reprogram everything after I complete my Best Albums report in early December.

We have a lot of iPods in use at this point, and since Apple is doing its usual evil empire thing and phasing out gadgets like these in favor of packing everything onto its phone/tablet platforms, I’ve actually nabbed a couple of spares (still in their boxes, safely) so I can keep using the ones I like; old Nanos and Shuffles, mainly:


The most interesting playlist every year, for me, is the automatically-calculated “most played songs” count. Since we synch all of our gadgets to one computer and one iTunes account, this “most played songs” list in our household represent the aggregated play counts from my train commute, my travel time, our car, Marcia’s gym, Marcia’s apartment in Des Moines, and the collaborative family iPod that stays in our Chicago apartment stereo dock and is played by whoever is home at the time.

So the “most played songs” of the year are often unexpected, since they represent the heart of a musical Venn Diagram where our family’s tastes most closely overlap, even though each of us individually may like very different things. We spun about 5,000 songs in 2017 — out of about 12,000 stored on my computer. The list below shows the ones that earned the most frequent listening love in aggregate since December 2016, with “Biological Speculation” by Funkadelic taking the title of Most Played Song in our lives this year. (It is very apt for our current political environment, if you don’t know it).

So as I push the “post” button here, I also push the “reset” button on the iTunes play counts. Kaboom!! It’s a new musical year!! Huttah!!

1. “Biological Speculation” by Funkadelic

2. “Camouflagellant” by Jowe Head and the Demi-Monde

3. “Little Birds” by Guadalcanal Diary

4. “You’re Crossing A River” by Golden Suits

5. “The Night Watch” by King Crimson

6. “You Gave Me The Answer” by Paul McCartney and Wings

7. “Death Is A Star” by The Clash

8. “The Garden” by Einstürzende Neubauten

9. “Book of Saturday” by King Crimson

10. “No Plan” by David Bowie

11. “Angels (feat. Saba)” by Chance The Rapper

12. “That’s The Way Of The World” by Earth, Wind and Fire

13. “Fantasy” by Earth, Wind and Fire

14. “Midnight Cruiser” by Steely Dan

15. “Playing Harp For The Fishes” by Wire

16. “The Mincer” by King Crimson

17. “Háa C” by Moses Hightower

18. “Humble” by The Þorgrímur Jónson Quintet

19. “Garry” by Dean Ween Group

20. “Ástin er Undarleg” by Guðmundur Rúnar

21. “Europa and the Pirate Twins” by Thomas Dolby

22. “Forever and a Day” by Wire

23. “I Went Back To Bed” by The Finks

24. “Early Days” by Paul McCartney

25. “Winchester” by Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians

26. “Doors of Your Heart” by The English Beat

27. “All Night (feat. Knox Fortune)” by Chance The Rapper

28. “If You’re Going To The City” by Mose Allison

29. “Stella Maris” by Einstürzende Neubauten

30. “Merman Blues” by Jowe Head and the Demi-Monde

31. “One Of Our Submarines” by Thomas Dolby

32. “Dirty Work” by Steely Dan

33. “Stutt Skref” by Moses Hightower

34. “Bury Me In Willow” by Asia

35. “Save It For Later” by The English Beat

36. “Night Club” by Mose Allison

37. “Blue Jean” by David Bowie

38. “Killing A Little Time” by David Bowie

39. “Dissidents” by Thomas Dolby

40. “This Time” by Wire

Best Albums of 2017

With Thanksgiving behind us, it’s time for my 2017 Albums of the Year Report. This edition marks the 26th consecutive year that I’ve publicly published such an annual report in either traditional print or digital formats, so it’s a venerable personal tradition at this (ever-more-advanced) stage of my life.

To set the stage and provide some perspective on this year’s list, I share the following complete reckoning of my “Albums of the Year” from 1992 to 2016. With 20/20 hindsight, I don’t quite know what I was thinking in some of the years, but I own my picks as historic facts, stated publicly, for better or for worse.

  • 1992: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Henry’s Dream
  • 1993: Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
  • 1994: Ween, Chocolate and Cheese
  • 1995: Björk, Post
  • 1996: R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi
  • 1997: Geraldine Fibbers, Butch
  • 1998: Jarboe, Anhedoniac
  • 1999: Static-X, Wisconsin Death Trip
  • 2000: Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya
  • 2001: Björk, Vespertine
  • 2002: The Residents, Demons Dance Alone
  • 2003: Wire, Send
  • 2004: The Fall, The Real New Fall LP (Formerly “Country on the Click”)
  • 2005: Mindless Self Indulgence, You’ll Rebel to Anything
  • 2006: Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
  • 2007: Max Eider, III: Back in the Bedroom
  • 2008: Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight
  • 2009: Mos Def, The Ecstatic
  • 2010: Snog, Last Of The Great Romantics
  • 2011: Planningtorock, W
  • 2012: Goat, World Music
  • 2013: David Bowie, The Next Day
  • 2014: First Aid Kit, Stay Gold
  • 2015: David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock
  • 2016: David Bowie, Blackstar

My belief in the value of emergent music keeps me hungry as I search out new sounds throughout the year, rather than just wallowing in nostalgia mode, and I have found 2017 to be ripe with delightful music, with old favorites and newcomers alike offering challenging and/or engaging new offerings. I generally only consider full-length albums, preferring studio ones to live ones, and I also generally eschew compilations, unless there’s a quirky or compelling reason for counting them. (Meaning there’s a live album and a compilation in the honorable mention list below, because we need our exceptions to define our rules).

Among short-form releases this year, my EP of the year is the glorious No Plan by David Bowie, which provided a perfect posthumous coda to last year’s Album of the Year, Blackstar. Also highly noteworthy is the Great Aspirations EP by TC&I, a.k.a. Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers, the mighty rhythm section of XTC’s earliest, most glorious years; both players had long indicated intentions to step away from music for good, so it was unexpected and thrilling to hear them working together again on a strong quartet of Moulding songs. My single of the year is The Hanslick Rebellion’s “Who’ll Apologize for this Disaster of a Life?”, which perfectly captures the dire mood of our times with brilliant lyrics, a hook to die for for and a delicious video to boot. Get ’em all, even if they’re short.

Though I shouldn’t have to note this, I know from prior experience that I do: my list is obviously built from the things that I actually listened to in the prior year, and as musically omnivorous and curious as I am, there are some genres of music that I just don’t get around to sampling. So as much as I love dialog and discussion about music, please resist the urge to write a knee-jerk note telling me that I am a cultural imperialist bastard because I do not recognize the overwhelming genius of your favorite East Timorese grime-core nose-flute and bassoon collective. I am glad to know that their latest album will top your own list when you write it, so please share that link when you do, and we can talk. Thank you.

I open the list-making part of this exercise with the following Honorable Mentions for 2017. I liked these albums a lot and recommend them all for your collection, but after revisiting everything I acquired over the past twelve months, these didn’t quite make it into my Top 20 Albums for the year, but they were all close contenders:

  • The Black Angels, Death Song
  • Can, The Singles
  • Electric Six, How Dare You?
  • Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock
  • Irontom, Partners
  • King Crimson, Live in Chicago
  • King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Flying Microtonal Banana
  • Meat Wave, The Incessant
  • Awa Poulo, Poulo Warali
  • Samael, Hegemony
  • Songhoy Blues, Resistance

And here are my Top 20 Records of 2017, in reverse order, working toward my Album of the Year, at the bottom of the page:

#20. Moonspell, 1755: I didn’t consider 2017 to be a particularly brutal year on the metal front, but the few representatives of the extreme arts that appear on my list this year are quite fine and varied. First up, this epic concept album from Portugal’s venerable Moonspell, who have been practicing the metallic arts under singer Fernando Ribeiro’s guiding hand since the mid-’90s. This year’s album is among their best, with huge walls of riffs being uplifted and fortified with orchestrations and choral washes, all in service of a story about the year when Europe’s strongest recorded earthquake essentially destroyed Portugal as a global power. For the first time, Ribeiro’s lyrics are all delivered in his native Portuguese language, and the passion he feels for his country’s history is evident throughout in his emotional and emotive delivery. (Even if you don’t speak his language, it’s not hard to get the gist of what’s happening in songs with titles like “Desastre” or “Ruínas” or “In Tremor Dei,” so don’t be put off by the lack of English.) The overall auditory effect  and experience of 1755 is massive and thrilling and exultant, even in its darkest themes and moments, and this is one of those great anthemic metal albums that you brutalitarians out there might even be able to sneak past your more sensitive family members onto the family stereo. (I’m gonna give it a try, anyway. I’ll let you know what happens).

#19. King Krule, The OOZ: Archy Marshall is a precocious musical freak, with an impressively wiggly and weird catalog of recordings and concerts under his belt well before he’s even aged out of his first quarter century. Marshall’s second album under the “King Krule” moniker is a fascinating, rambling foray into a wooky and woozy and wobbly world where heavily accented hip-hop cadences collide softly with spacious lounge bleats and blaats, all bouncing around reverberently in the cavernous vacancies of your skull, and the expressways thereto. Imagine The Streets working with Esquivel under the direction of Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch, all at the end of a six-day mushroom bender, and you’ll get the general flavor and feel of the thing. Wild, man, and excellent in its excess and full on flagrant commitment to its conceits and concepts, with the best bits being the ones that bop along on stronger beats, pushing the creepy freak fest into a realm which might almost be called propulsive, if you could see your way forward through the smoke and haze and ooze clearly enough to want to move from your safe and stable corner booth, the one with the stuffing pushing out through the tear in the red-brown blown pleather seat, and the yellow glass ashtray in the armrest. I honestly can’t say that I’ve ever heard anything quite like this one before, and I doubt you have either. But if you have, then let me know, because I might need a little taste of that, when the shakes come, namsain?

#18. Godflesh, Post Self: Justin Broadrick makes the first of two appearances in my 2017 Best Albums list with this concussive gem from Godflesh, his long-standing off/on collaboration with bassist G.C. Green. Post Self picks up pretty much where 2014’s A World Lit Only By Fire (my #2 release of that year) dropped off, with a trio of songs built atop the juddering, hammering, calamitous riffs for which Godflesh are rightfully and influentially famous. But then the sledge riffs abate a bit for the remainder of the album, and sulfurous hissings and keening blade spins and phlegmy furnace croaks drop from high places to fill the pregnant pauses, and it’s just as powerful as it ever is, but is also somehow more horrible, in the good sense of that word. I guess only Broadrick himself knows the process by which he decides whether a new piece best fits Godflesh or one of his other numerous creative outlets (Jesu, Council Estate Electronics, Final, Pale Sketcher, etc. etc.), and far be it for me to quibble with his assignations, even if this project seems to me to pivot from (typical/expected) Godflesh to (typical/expected) Jesu fare midstream. It’s all good, whatever it’s called, and it’s always a treat to hear G.C. Green anchoring the bottom, and more on Jesu later (below), so hold these thoughts . . .

#17. Replacire, Do Not Deviate: As noted above, 2017 wasn’t a year in which I found myself head-banging and flinging my (imagined) hair about as often as I do some years, but that doesn’t mean that the metallic arts aren’t fairly represented in the year-end mix. Replacire are a ridiculously technical death metal band from Boston, who write gloriously complex and knotted pieces, play them with surgeons’ precision, and yet still somehow manage to blow the roof off of your brain housing group with battering barrages of riffery and shoutery and stompery and general oh-hells-yeah punch. That said, they recognize the power of sonic dynamics, too, so piano interludes and clean vocals occasionally jerk you back into a safe spot for breath-catching, before you’re shoved back into the meat grinder, with spectacles propped on your dribbling nose, so you can see how sharp the blades are before they chew you into perfectly consistently sized ribbons of meat and gristle. While album cover art is a dying craft, I do give Replacire credit for a perfect image to capture the sounds of Do Not Deviate: it’s red and black, and there’s stuff falling apart, and things are more complicated than they need to be, and there’s a monster, and it’s smiling, and did I mention it’s all very complicated, and the falling apart bit, too? Yeah. That picture is what this music sounds like. Bravo on both fronts.

#16. Xiu Xiu, FORGET: Xiu Xiu’s last album of primarily original material, 2014’s Angel Guts: Red Classroom, was described by singer-songwriter Jamie Stewart as an exploration of the “mean, tight-hearted blackness of Neubauten vs Suicide vs Nico” and, amazingly enough, it actually lived up (or down, depending on your worldview) to that evocative description of really dark, really powerful music. Of course, that makes it one of my favorite albums by the assaultive experimental ensemble. Surrounding it, though, were gentler records exploring the music of Nina Simone, the soundtracks to Twin Peaks, and Caribbean folk songs and American hymns, so Stewart and Company clearly hadn’t completely succumbed to the allures of the null and the void. This year’s Xiu Xiu offering is something of a happy medium merger of the aforementioned forays, with (relatively) accessible song structures, melodies and arrangements, spiced with Stewart’s typically frank declamations on all manner of deeply felt things, sacred and profane, wordly and other, sexy and ugly, almost all in equal measure. Core members Stewart, Angela Seo and Shayna Dunkelman are joined this time out by nearly a dozen guests — including genderqueer icon Vaginal Davis, Kristof Hahn (Swans, Pere Ubu), and Greg Saunier (Deerhoof) — and the record has a richer, less skeletal feel than some of their blunter early work. It’s not easy listening, not by a long shot, but it’s a little step closer in that direction from anything that’s come before it, and if that exposes Xiu Xiu’s brilliance to even a few more fans, then that’s a good thing.

#15. The Residents, The Ghost of Hope: This album marks a significant turning point for The Residents, as Cryptic Corporation manager/agent/spokesperson Hardy Fox (a.k.a. Charles Bobuck) retired earlier this year and shockingly “de-cloaked” after 40+ years as the always anonymous group’s primary composer. Fox noted in an interview (as Bobuck) that he wrote for the The Ghost of Hope before his departure, so with typical perversion and bait-switching, the new album is being announced as a “classic Residents” project, restoring the live group’s quartet lineup, with long-time collaborators Nolan Cook, Eric Drew Feldman and Carla Fabrizio along for the ride. Well, at least in the studio, anyway. Who knows what happens on stage? Ghost provides an outstanding and historically grounded exploration of famous 19th and 20th Century train wrecks, and the record rocks harder than anything they’ve done in the past decade, with Louisiana-inflected crooner Mr Red Eye/Mr Skull/Randy Rose (these days dressed as a cow, while his band mates don plague masks) in very fine voice, and the accompaniments and texts being direct, disturbing, and delicious in equal measure. What’s next? Who knows. And that’s more than half of the fun, as always, when it comes to the always prolific, always surprising, and always amazing Rez. Long may they Snorp! Whoopy! (Note: The Residents also offered one of the best compilation packages of 2017 with 80 Aching Orphans; newcomers and veterans alike are encouraged to nab that too, as it puts The Ghost of Hope in great career context).

#14. The I.L.Y’s, Bodyguard: I first raved about Death Grips when I ranked their debut mix tape as my #2 album of 2011, and I’ve written and ranked a lot by them since then. The California trio have masterfully manipulated record companies, audiences, critics and consumers with aplomb over the years, sometimes withholding expected releases, other times dropping surprise musical bombs, regularly cancelling shows (or whole tours), wrapping their intended major label release in a heinously graphic sexual cover, announcing their dissolution more than once, usually just before announcing a new tour or album. Their aggressive perversity has been tolerable, though, because the music they make is stellar and harrowing and challenging. So what does all of this have to do with The I.L.Y’s? Well, they are the instrumental two-thirds of Death Grips, and they released their first two digital albums on Grips’ Third World label, without really making it clear who they were. Bodyguard finds the pair (drummer Zach Hill and producer Andy Morin) tacking “normal” rock instrumentation (vocals, guitar, bass) onto their usual slamming beds, releasing a physical album on a traditional record label, and generally going about the music business the way that the music business wants itself gone about. The results are surprising and sublime and (gasp!) shockingly accessible, sometimes even to the point of inspiring singalong moments. Hill and Morin are undeniably talented, and if they ever decide they want to relax the whole “fight the power” thing, even just a little, this album proves they’ve got it in ’em to be a tight and commercially viable combo. Which would be cool, as long as they also continue to stick it to the man with MC Ride in Death Grips. I don’t want to have to choose.

#13. Protomartyr, Relatives in DescentProtomartyr are a Detroit-bred quartet, featuring the most standard rock lineup imaginable: vocals, guitar, bass, drums. They write fairly standard rock songs about a lot of dark topics (with excellent lyrics, objectively speaking), and front-man Joe Casey sings them in a fairly standard rock baritone voice, somewhere between Ian Curtis and Iggy Pop. They have issued four albums, each one a bit better than the one before it. And I love them dearly, most especially this latest record . . . though I struggle each time they appear in one of my year-end reviews to explain exactly why that is, since there’s never an easy hook, or gimmick, or angle that make it easy to explain why they’re special, when they’re doing things that gazillions of bands before them have done, generally in the way that most bands do. I guess what separates them from the pack is that they do what they do as well as it can be done, and that consistent whiff of excellence elevates their straight-up four-piece rock into realms that most garage bands can only dream of with the assistance of good drugs and expensive strobe lights and maybe some supermodel girlfriends or something. I dunno. Words fail me when it comes to Protomartyr . . . they’re just great because they’re great, and this album is wonderful because it’s wonderful. So shut up. And stop staring at me. There’s something weirder coming up next.

#12. UUUU, UUUU: Wire’s Graham Lewis is another multiple-entry performer in this year’s Top 20 Albums of the Year report, in this first case with a new quartet that adopts his always interesting approach to naming groups; UUUU follows in the footsteps of such Lewis projects as P’o, Ocsid, Dome, Hox, MZUI, and He Said Omala, among others. Lewis is joined here by his Wire bandmate Matthew Simms (more on them below), ex-COIL/Spiritualized synth-man Thighpaulsandra, and drummer Valentina Magaletti of Tomaga and Vanishing Twin. I have literally scores of albums by Wire and COIL, so am well versed with and deeply fond of the works of 75% of UUUU, while Magaletti and her work are completely new to me.  Interestingly enough, she emerges in many ways as the superest-star in this super-star project, as her drum and percussion work is just dynamite throughout, indicating deep skill in everything from the most motorik of Jaki-beats all the way through to the free-form clatter and clank of a cold-stone (Chris) Cutler acolyte. The eight songs on UUUU are gloriously titled (“The Latent Black Path of Summons Served” or “The Princess Anne Love Cassette,” anyone?), mostly instrumental (though Lewis adds some of his always delicious baritone here and there), and range in scope from the four-minute almost pop of “Boots With Wings” up to the 16-minute meltdown of “Five Gates,” which is so compelling that the time passes far more quickly and frighteningly than it should. I don’t know what, if anything, the future holds for a side project like UUUU, but this is a great offering from a quartet of experimental creative geniuses, and I do certainly hope that they might have a VVVV or a ZEGK or a cUUUUpol or something similar out there planned for us in the future.

#11. Juana Molina, Halo: So if you’re not at all, or are just a little, familiar with Juana Molina, then we need to pause this list for a moment while you go read her bio on Wikipedia, because it is awesome crazy wonderful, and gives some deep, deep context to this record. Go on. I’ll wait here for you. Wait wait wait. Okay, you’re back? Great! How was that story in terms of a cool career in the arts? Neat, right? Well, I sure was impressed . . . and surprised, I have to admit, because much of the coverage I’ve read about Halo over the past year has ignored that back story, and sort of presented the Argentine star as an emergent young artist, probably because her impressive prior accomplishments didn’t happen here in the States, and our marketing engines don’t know how to digest and process such geographically remote success, even as the globe gets smaller and smaller, day by day. All that being noted, how about the music? Well, I’d say it sounds like nothing I’ve heard before, as it is original, and engaging, and incorporates both global and regional (Argentine) musical influences, and processes them through a very unique and delightfully skewed creative vision, using both organic and electronic instrumentation, in ways that you don’t expect them to be used. Molina’s singing voice is delicious, too; I have to admit a fondness for Argentine pronunciation of the Spanish language where “ll” sounds are pronounced with a slurry “shh” sibilance, giving the whole thing a woozy, exotic flavor that reverberates warmly with the most luscious bits of both classic Iberian languages. A great album by a great talent with a lifetime of achievement behind her . . . and (hopefully) a lot more yet to come. Pay attention, America!

#10. Idles, Brutalism: Idles are a British five-piece who emerged from Bristol’s Batcave club half a decade ago, issuing half-a-dozen EPs and singles before their debut elpee, Brutalism, early this year. Singer Joe Talbot’s mother died young after a difficult illness during the recording of the album and, well, he’s pissed off about that (as one is), and his anger about that and a variety of other things comes through loud and clear throughout this brash and aggressive record’s run. Talbot’s got a sneering, shouting, snotty, heavily-accented voice that reminds me of a young Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers) at times, and Protomartyr’s Joe Casey (see above) at other times, and Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson at still other times, and he writes punchy, memorable lyrics that often repeat over a song’s course, embedding them deeply and quickly into your ear holes after just a few spins, making you feel like you’ve know about these songs far longer than you possibly could have. Unless you’re from Bristol, anyway. With The Fall perhaps winding down (see below), and Sleaford Mods being a bit of a limited act with their voice and loops approach to live and studio work, I can readily imagine Idles emerging as the great angry voice band of modern Britain, letting those of us who don’t live there know what the folks there are pissed off about, and helping those who are pissed off there to find a lucid outlet for the ills (social, political, cultural and personal) that ail them. A potent young band, well worth rooting for in the years ahead.

#9. The Fall, New Facts Emerge: In Fall Record Release Time, it’s been a dog’s age since they issued a new album, and this particular hiatus has been notably defined by the departure of keyboardist Eleni Poulou, who has been the creative and personal partner of stalwart Fall mastermind Mark E. Smith for the past 15 years. Further potential red flags in front of New Facts Emerge involved cancelled gigs, record release date slippages, a more-ill-looking-than-usual Smith struggling onstage during their occasional shows, and drummer Keiron Melling suffering a savage and cowardly beating on a British train earlier this year. But never mind all that, I guess: New Facts Emerge is a potent and high-octane record , with a unique and defiantly odd blend of power riffage, strange song structures, creative studio trickery, weird production techniques, sounds bleating from disparate corners unexpectedly, tunes descending into chaos only to rebuild themselves as different tunes elsewhere, and a completely nutso sequencing that attaches weird little fragments to some songs, while other elements linger long beyond the point where studio sanity would seemingly dictate “cut.” The Fall have embraced weirdness and repetition and angularity and just being not quite right in pleasing ways over the years, and these new cuts are a part and piece of that tradition, as not a one of them is a straight-up, straight-through rocker with a clean arrangement; they’re all askew and unsettled in one way or another. Mark E. Smith remains Mark E. Smith, of course, and if you haven’t liked his voice over the years, well, then this album isn’t the one that’s going to change your mind on that front, but he’s a venerable legend, nonetheless, and worthy of your attention, still. (Note: Sadly, as I was typing this blurb, I got word from fellow fans of a last-minute cancelled Fall gig in Brixton, with Smith reported as being exceedingly ill. Wishing you better, Mark. Take it slow and get yourself fitter. We’ll all be here when you’re ready).

#8. Alan Vega, IT: Alan Vega told this mortal coil to fuck right off last year, punching it in the nose on his way out at the age of 78, aggressive to the very end, despite a stroke some years back that would have felled a weaker, less ornery man. IT provides us with one last collection of rants and horrors from the former Suicide singer, and I think it’s easily his finest work since the original 1977 Suicide album and related era ROIR 1/2 Alive tape. Nobody has ever sounded quite like Suicide, with Vega’s shouted story-telling perfectly balanced (or unbalanced, actually, most of the time) atop Martin Rev’s lo-tech/lo-fi organ and drum synth attack. They were looping and sampling before looping and sampling technology existed, and (as with Queen’s famous Deacy Amp), it’s been virtually impossible since to use high-tech equipment to reproduce Rev’s incredible low-tech accidents, created by necessity and frugality and need, not by wisdom or experience or technical facility. But I’ve got to hand it to Vega’s long-time creative and personal partner, Liz Lamere, because she gets as close to Rev’s original dirty sound as I think you possibly can in the 21st Century, and IT‘s instrumental beds are just absolutely perfect for some of the clearest, cleanest, cleverest, and angriest rants and stories of Vega’s long and storied career. He was a punk before anybody else was a punk, even if he was likely to punch you for calling him that, because he was old enough to know what the word actually meant. Rest in pugilism, Alan. You were one of the greats.

#7. Judy Dyble and Andy Lewis, Summer Dancing: What a delightfully unexpected gem this album was for me this year. Judy Dyble was the first female lead singer of Fairport Convention, was a member of the transitional band between Giles, Giles and Fripp and King Crimson, sang on the Incredible String Band’s most famous cut, “The Minotaur’s Song,” and was just generally in all the places where the cool and happening folks wanted and needed to be for a few seminal years in British music history. And then she disappeared from the public eye, to work, and have a family, and generally get on with her life. As Fairport’s and Crimson’s stature have grown and grown over the years, a lot of early or short-termed members have emerged from the wood-work to trade on their one-time band connections, and I’ve got to say that I find most of the results to be nostalgically nice, but not necessarily musically significant, and my expectations for Dyble’s latest return to recording were low going in because of that general trend. But, wow, I could not have been more wrong, as Summer Dancing is an utterly wonderful album, filled with well-written songs given exceptional arrangements by producer Andy Lewis, perfectly merging the folk traditions in which Dyble’s history is rooted with an eclectic, modern electronic attack that’s timely and timeless. Dyble’s voice remains a warm treat, and her lyrics are thoughtful and whimsical and fun and perceptive. A winning proposition, all around, and I most sincerely hope that it serves to introduce a legendary figure in the evolution of electric folk music to a new generation of listeners, because the sounds of Summer Dancing are just perfectly attuned to appeal to discerning listeners of all ages and interests.

#6. Sun Kil Moon and Jesu, 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet EarthThe first Sun Kil Moon/Jesu collaboration blew my freakin’ mind when I first heard it in a record store in Florence, Italy, last year, completely mesmerized by the unexpected clash of sounds and styles that Justin Broadrick (Jesu, and also Godflesh, see above) and Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon) offered over that long, glorious album. I knew of and appreciated both artists before then, but hearing them together made me completely reassess their collective bodies of work, and also to marvel at the fact that they found each other, and decided it was a good idea to work together, since on paper, that seemed to be a non-starter clash of styles, and then some. Thankfully, they have decided to extend their collaboration, and we’ve got another fantastic album this year to swoon and marvel over, along with other releases from both artists on their own and with other collaborators. I noted above that Godflesh’s new album seemed to move in a more ambient, reflective, Jesu-like direction than its predecessor, and I’d say that this Jesu/Sun Kil Moon record reflects a similar shift, eschewing some of the grinding, bottom-heavy elements that defined the prior release, and generally emerging with a gentler, more electronic and/or acoustic sound this time around. Kozelek’s personal, observational lyrics remain riveting, as does his vocal delivery. One of this collection’s gems, “You Are Me And I Am You,” literally moved me to tears while I was walking up Michigan Avenue listening on headphones one day, and the aching, heart-felt soul of that track is echoed over and over again throughout this album’s thrilling run. While I’m no longer shocked to hear these geniuses working together, I am still deeply pleased by their collaboration, and hope that it continues in years ahead. They’re doing great work in a variety of outlets, sure, but they seem to be doing their best work together, hitting epic heights that move me to the depths of my soul, no kidding.

#5. Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie: I neither understand nor approve of the legal and music industry conventions that allow Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood to record and tour together as “Fleetwood Mac,” while Buckingham, McVie and Fleetwood playing with Christine McVie may not do so . . . but be that as it may, and whatever this record is called, this is the best music anyone associated with Fleetwood Mac have issued since Rumours to Tusk days, no kidding. Buckingham and McVie write and sing gloriously together, and the arrangements and production are as sparkling and meticulous as you’d expect with Lindsey in the producer’s chair. The venerable J. McVie-Fleetwood rhythm section helps out with their customary skill (you don’t necessarily pay active attention to them, but they make everything atop their base sound better, always), and Mitchell Froom is along for the ride to provide supplementary keyboard and occasional production flourish. Buckingham remains one of the greatest guitarists of his era, and his finger-picking leads and swirls are just magical, as is the opportunity to hear him and Christine singing together, his piercing tenor and her dusky alto just as sublime together as they’ve always been. For all of the attention focused on Buckingham and Nicks over the decades, it’s worth noting that Christine McVie actually wrote more Mac hits than the two of them combined, and her melodic sense and skill is in ample force throughout this year. Just a lovely record, all around, from the real Fleetwood Mac, whether they can say so or not.

#4. Pere Ubu, 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo: Cleveland’s venerable “avant garage” pioneers remain powerfully relevant and deeply creative on their latest missive from the shores of Lake Erie, which is sadly destined to be the final one engineered by the late Paul Hamman, who has filled that crucial sonic role since 1980, and passed away this fall. But there’s still continuity amidst the changes: the core group of David Thomas, Michele Temple, Robert Wheeler and Steve Mehlman have been playing together for nearly 25 years, and they are joined on this album by Cleveland guitarist Gary Siperko, ex-Swan Kristoff Hahn, long-time Thomas/Ubu collaborator Keith Moline, Graham Dowdell (aka Gagarin) of Nico/Cale band demi-fame, and clarinet player Darryl Boon. A big band, at bottom line, and on fire creatively: this collection of songs is as tight and urgent as anything they’ve done, and the sonic variety possible in such an expanded line-up gives richness and variety to the proceedings in evocative and innovative ways. Ubu Projex (their art and business affairs directory) has been issue vague warnings that this year’s tour (which I saw, and which was great) might mark the last chance to see them live, but by the evidence offered on Missile Silo, Pere Ubu’s innovative approaches to songwriting, arranging, and recording their deeply-rewarding music remain strong, and here’s hoping that the flexibility built in to the growing “Ubu Orchestra” allows us to receive further dispatches from the dense jungle of sonic possibilities that they have hacked with machetes and guitars and analog synths for so long, so well. (Note: Right after I posted this piece, Ubu Projex announced that the schedule West Coast tour dates were cancelled due to Mr Thomas’ health, so I wish him well as I admire his work completed, and anticipate his work yet to come).

#3. Krankschaft, III Mysteries: The world would be a better place if there were more records like this one in it. Krankschaft’s III Mysteries offers punchy British post-glam rock and roll songs, generously sprinkled throughout with all sorts of sparkling sonic filigree, provided to the punter in a beautiful, generous package, filled to the brim (and beyond) with all sorts of brilliantly-designed books and stickers and what-have-yous. The Krankies’ new album also offers deeply engaging story-telling in both its lyrics and its packaging, building on the narrative laid down in their last disc (2014’s Three), wherein three musical youth of the ’70s are transported through time to a grotesquely and absurdly dystopian future, namely right now, this minute, right here. And imagine, if you will, a world where such intrepid time travelers attempt to unravel the mysteries behind their confusing circumstances using the tools available to them, right here, this minute, right now.  Say, Facebook. Or Twitter. Or some other platform rife with inaccuracies and fantasias and gossip and lies and every other form of crazy known to man, woman, God, and Dog. What might they produce? How about eight instant classic cuts covering the spectrum of conspiracies from “Hollow Earth” to “Chem Trails,” from “The Hum” to “The World Is Flat,” and from “Binary Star” to “Interstellar Highway,” which would be Nazca, of course. Given the preponderance of the the third positive cardinal number in their iconography, I presume that it is not a thematic coincidence that there are three musical Krankies in the real world: Steve Pond, Alex Tsentides, and Kevin Walker, supplemented by the very enigmatic Dr Foxon, who makes the art and manages the machines. If they’re stuck in our time for good, then here’s hoping that they keep making brilliant art and music like III Mysteries. And if they do manage to find their way back to the ’70s, then there’s gonna be a great alternative timeline in some multiverse where the likes of Bowie and Bolan, and Heep and Hawkwind, and Roxy and Wizzard and Slade and all the other yoofs gaze admiringly (and enviously) upon The Mighty Krankschaft, who brought the rock and roll back from tomorrow, and made every possible today everywhere better because of it. (Note: This was the final album I received and reviewed this year. I think if I’d had more time with it, it would score even higher in this list. I’ll just jump forward to 2037 to confirm . . . back soon . . . watch this multi-verse for edits . . . )

#2. Wire, Silver/Lead: Released on the 40th anniversary of their first show as a quartet, Silver/Lead has a smoother, cooler, swingier vibe about it than some of their more frantic and metronomic dugga dugga dugga fare. If I had to liken it to any other albums in their high quality, eclectic canon, I’d probably compare it to 1988’s A Bell Is A Cup . . . Until It Is Struck. Both albums are melodic, mid-tempo and accessible on first listen, but rich with weirdness when you dig into them a little deeper. Colin Newman has dominated the vocals on recent Wire albums, so it’s good to hear Graham Lewis more represented in the mix this time; the variety of their voices is appealing when you listen straight through. Lewis’ lyrics are odd and wonderful, as always, though the album has a bit more directness and perhaps even poignancy in some places, with the emotions showing through more than they usually do in Wire’s often detached and icy worldview. I would judge this to be the best offering of the Wire’s current era with Matthew Simms on guitar, and while the inner workings of the band are inscrutable to outsiders, as a longtime (nearly lifetime) listener,  I feel like I’m hearing Simms really blossoming here as a strong creative force within the band. I was glad to have the chance to hear and see Wire tour this album this year, too. They are as potent on stage as they are on disc, and that’s something to celebrate this deep into their careers. Long may they dugga, and swing!

#1. Dälek, Endangered Philosophies: So here we are at the end of my 26th Annual Album of the Year report, and I’m pleased to doff my cap to Dälek, who top my list with the second album of their renaissance era, Endangered Philosophies. When Will Brooks brought Dälek back to action in 2016 with a retooled lineup (featuring DJ Rek and Mike Manteca), I rated the group’s Asphalt for Eden as my #4 album of the year, noting that it was:

“. . . a thrilling addition to their fine body of work, with the usual exceptional (and topical) lyrics delivered atop their signature sonic soundscapes, combining big beats with industrial sounds, chiming and clanging guitar lines, and truly fantastic turntable and sample work. Not to beat a dead horse, but 2016 has been a tough year, and as we look to its end and to what’s coming ahead of us, we really need voices and sounds like those that Dälek are offering us to keep us sharp and sane. There are very few artists whose music challenges me to think as much as Dälek’s does, and I am grateful for that. This is the sound of resistance, and of empowerment, and of strength. Embrace it through the guaranteed struggle ahead.”

You know what? You can change the number “2016” in that review to “2017,” and every single word I wrote then still stands now, while the quality of the message and music that Dälek offer on Endangered Philosophies is even more thrilling and bracing than that appearing on its predecessor disc. There’s a lot of protest and resistance music out and about this year (as there needs to be), but nobody else is offering such smart and topical lyrics, anchored in a deep understanding of the history of constructive social struggle, with such a strikingly unique sound and approach to music-making as what Dälek offer here. Or offer here again, rather, as they’ve been doing what they do for a couple of decades now, fully and faithfully excellent. Dälek don’t sound like anybody else, ever, with Brooks’ stentorian declamations mounted atop fractured and tortured industrial electronic beds that are somehow knit into stately beats, while drones and chimes and harmonics fill the gaps, and ghostly samples enhance the messages, and the whole monolithic thing drags you down and lifts you up at the same time, creating a visceral, vital tension that’s thrilling to behold and experience. Endangered Philosophies is a meaningful masterpiece, at bottom line, and I’m proud to uplift it to you as the very best album I experienced in 2017. Bravo to Brooks and Rek and Manteca. This music matters. You make a difference. Thanks for that.

Hit the image to score my 2017 Album of the Year.

And with that . . . . we’re done with this ongoing project for another year! Here’s hoping that 2018 brings an equal bounty of goodness. I suspect it will. Most years do, if you’re willing to put in the work to find what’s out there. As always, I’m interested in what you think I might have missed and need to hear. Hit me up in the comments . . . I don’t stop listening to 2017 when the ball drops on the year, and I’m always game for a choice pointer or ten . . .