Exclaim!'s Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, 10 to 1 Best of 2017
Published Nov 29, 2017
5. LCD Soundsystem
It might have seemed like a tough ask to expect a new LCD Soundsystem album to transcend the complicated reactions to the band's return, less than five years after James Murphy "ended" it with a big friggin' to-do at Madison Square Garden. But American Dream is no con — even if it is a bit of a ret-con, sounding less like a "comeback" than as if LCD never left in the first place.
American Dream slows the pace and expands the band's sonic palette while maintaining its jittery-yet-hypnotic charm, standing proudly alongside Murphy's original "trilogy." Here's hoping his continuing conversation with age, culture and relevance — once thought final — has many chapters left to come.
Lorde mastered the art of a perfect pop record with her long-awaited sophomore LP Melodrama. The four-year wait proved worth it, and heard Lorde re-emerging as a stronger songwriter and producer.
The album takes listeners through a series of vignettes that beautifully capture moments of emotional intensity: museum-worthy young love ("The Louvre"); turning post-breakup heartache into drunken nights of dancing ("Green Light"); moving on and regaining a sense of self when that love fails ("Hard Feelings/Loveless"); grappling with the bizarre solitude of fame ("Liability"); and coming to the conclusion that partying might not actually be as transcendent as it feels in the moment ("Perfect Places").
Thankfully, Melodrama keeps that feeling alive long after the first listen.
Since Slowdive announced their return in 2014 following an almost 20-year hiatus, shoegaze fans waited with bated breath for new material. "Star Roving," the first single from Slowdive, was a harbinger of further majesty to come; each song here gives fans the familiar signifiers they craved for decades while managing to drift into territory heretofore untraveled.
Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell and crew cleverly balance nostalgia and forward momentum, never tarnishing their legacy but emboldening it and polishing it for a new audience. Slowdive proves that this comeback is no shtick; these star rovers are bona fide artists, raising the bar ever higher with each consecutive accomplishment.
The intimacy of Leslie Feist's search for pleasure on her eponymous fifth album is captivating. As she muses on the pleasures that others cause, we are, in the end, left thinking that maybe you can only feel genuine pleasure when you find strength in yourself. On the tender closer "Young Up," for example, Feist departs with a realization: "I got so stuck in my ways, that's no way to behave."
Feist described going through "foggy periods" as she was writing Pleasure, so perhaps the record's sonic imperfections are indicative of her life during that time. Yet, in the face of all the noise here — the unshakable hiss of amps, a scrap of Mastodon's "High Road," crickets, a door's squeaky hinges — there is Feist: open, eager and as radiant as the pink flowers on her album cover.
Following a scrappy, loveably rough-around-the-edges debut in 2014, Toronto's Alvvays upped the stakes on Antisocialites. They still love fuzz and reverb, but this time around they cleaned up the production quality and added spacious synth arpeggios to the familiar palette of jangling six-strings and Molly Rankin's mellifluously drawled vocals.
Most importantly, the songwriting is absolutely impeccable: from distorted twee scorchers ("Plimsoll Punks," "Lollipop") to mournful ballads ("Forget About Life," "Already Gone"), Alvvays have perfected their pop craft here. Anthems like "Not My Baby" and "In Undertow" are as emotionally touching as they are catchy, with the latter featuring devastating breakup observations like "Meditate, play solitaire, take up self defence."
Antisocialites doesn't rewrite the Alvvays playbook; with the exception of some lonesome synth breaks that vaguely evoke Boards of Canada, this isn't an album of curveballs or surprises. Rather, it's a collection of great guitar pop hooks, plain and simple. If you were looking for a warm, perfectly written indie rock record in 2017, it didn't get any better than this.