Top 5 Albums of 2017: The Contenders

And so it is time once again for my annual ritual, in which I engage with consistently less enthusiasm than the year before.

2017 sucked. I mean, I thought 2016 sucked. But 2017 redefined just how much a year can suck. That didn’t, directly, have anything to do with the music produced this year, but the music didn’t help much.

Anyway, despite my generally negative attitude towards everything this year represents, I have nonetheless purchased some music that I have enjoyed. Here’s the list. As usual, I’ve put the most likely contenders for the final Top 5 List in bold. (Yes, I’ve only highlighted four. I can’t decide on the fifth.)

Beck: Colors
Com Truise: Iteration
Foo Fighters: Concrete and Gold
Gizmodrome: Gizmodrome
Hampshire & Foat: Galaxies Like Grains of Sand
Kamasi Washington: Harmony of Difference
Lorde: Melodrama
Lusine: Sensorimotor
Mux Mool: Implied Lines
Phoenix: Ti Amo
St. Vincent: Masseduction*
Steven Wilson: To the Bone
Thundercat: Drunk
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: The Vietnam War
Various Artists: The Bob’s Burgers Music Album
Vermont: II

* I haven’t actually purchased/listened to this album yet but I intend to and expect it to be good.

Stravinsky on that chord

Up to now I’ve only really been documenting it on Facebook (for some reason), but over the past 3 months I’ve been working on one of my most ambitious music projects yet, a prog/post-rock interpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It’s been an interesting exercise that has helped me to get very (very) familiar with the piece, and encouraged me to research more about its origins.

Today I discovered this delightful video of Stravinsky humorously recounting the early history of the piece. Specifically, demonstrating the chord at the beginning of “Augurs of Spring” to Sergei Diaghilev, the ballet producer who had commissioned the work.

I like very much this chord. It was a rather new chord, you know? An 8-note chord. But the accents were even more new. And the accents were really the foundation of the whole thing.

When I finished composing The Rite of Spring, I played it for Diaghilev, and I started to play him this chord. Fifty-nine times the same chord. Diaghilev was a little bit surprised. He didn’t want to offend me. He asked me only one thing, which was very offending. He asked me, “Will it last very long time this way?” And I said, “’Til the end, my dear.”

And he was silent. Because he understood that the answer was serious.

What is that chord? I think just to mess with us, Stravinsky notated it rather absurdly with F♭s and C♭s. From the bottom up, the notes are: F♭ A♭ C♭ F♭ G B♭ D♭ E♭. So, that’s… um… well, if it were written as E instead of F♭, with ♯s instead of ♭s, it works out to an Emaj7/♯9/♯11/13 chord. Another way to look at it is an E (F♭) major chord with an E♭7 (in first inversion) stacked on top of it. Since Stravinsky was exploring bitonality, this is the most likely explanation, but really there’s no good way to notate it. Over a hundred years later, this is still difficult to grasp.

A few rambling words about YES in honor of their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and in reaction to Rolling Stone’s funny but sloppy history of the band’s lineup changes

So… YES, one of my favorite bands of all time, are finally getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tonight.

They’re also frequently the butt of jokes for their numerous, tumultuous lineup changes. The one true real life Spinal Tap, I say. Today Rolling Stone released a short video chronicling, with good (snarky) humor but a bit of carelessness, these changes.


A friend shared this on Facebook, and of course tagged me. I enjoyed the video, but could not abide its omissions, so I went on a bit of a rant, which I share below, unedited.

I’m sorry… they glossed over some HUGE drama in the band between 1973 and 1979. Rick Wakeman left over “Tales from Topographic Oceans” which according to this video “SUCKS”. (It doesn’t suck; it’s just hard to get into an album that consists of four 20-minute songs.) Patrick Moraz came in and played on one album, then the band took a break and in 1975 each of them released a solo album (before KISS tried this stunt!), and in 1977 they came back together, but Moraz was out and Wakeman was back. They released one album which was their last really good album, followed by another that was — at the time — their worst. THEN you’re up to 1979 when the band was in the middle of recording an album that never got released, and Anderson and Wakeman left. (And that’s as far as I’ve watched so far… I’m sure I’ll have a Yes-grade epic rant about later errors and omissions too.)

And then, after I’d watched the rest…

Some more glossing over as it goes (like how the ’80s lineup got back together after Union fell apart and recorded one more album in 1994), but I am really glad they had the bit at the end about Anderson Rabin Wakeman and how they’re more Yes than the current Yes lineup, and now the guys from that hideous Union/Onion thing are coming back together (tonight!) for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. It’s all too much to take. My head used to spin over these lineup changes when I first got into the band in high school, and that was just before Union. It’s gotten so much crazier since then.

Oh, and they also didn’t even mention how Benoit David was kicked out in 2011 and replaced by ANOTHER Yes tribute band singer, Jon Davison. (Whose name always kills me… it’s like a mashup of Jon Anderson and Benoit David.)

And they ALSO didn’t mention the infamous Russian keyboardist Igor Khoroshev, who played with the band in the late ’90s until he got kicked out for molesting some fans.

And they ALSO ALSO didn’t mention Billy Sherwood, the guy who replaced Chris Squire on bass, who happened to have been one of those unnamed session musicians on Union and was for some reason added as a 6th member for a while in the late ’90s on guitar and keyboards (and yes, now he plays bass).

Then there’s Jay Schellen, who’s been playing drums with them recently because Alan White had back surgery, and Tom Breslin who briefly toured on keyboards in 2004-ish because the band didn’t have a keyboardist and had recorded an album with an orchestra.

Somewhere in the midst of those inane changes, the band recorded several albums that were worse than the one that came out in 1978, but up to that point, it was the worst.

OK, I’m done.

But I wasn’t done. One last thing was stuck in my craw. Trevor “Ray-BEEN”? That’s not how I’d ever imagined it was pronounced. I assumed it was “RAY-bin”. And, if the man himself is a trustworthy source, I’m right:

Top 5 Albums of 2016

As I noted earlier when I posted the contenders for this list, 2016 is a year I’d just as soon forget. And I suspect it’s possible this year and the next three (or seven, or the rest of my natural life) may also fall into that category. In other words, I’m not extremely excited about dwelling on any details of 2016, even my favorite music from the year.

But it’s my tradition to produce these lists. And so, I present my ranked top 5 albums for 2016, this time without commentary, which I may or may not add at a future date when I am less demoralized by the world we’re living in.

5. King Crimson • Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind
4. David Bowie • Blackstar
3. Radiohead • A Moon Shaped Pool
2. Solange • A Seat at the Table
1. Tycho • Epoch

Top 5 Albums of 2016: The Contenders

Yes, it’s time for this annual ritual.

While in most ways 2016 is a year I would gladly forget, it did produce some good music… amongst the deaths of countless legendary musicians, from David Bowie in January to Greg Lake in December and many more in between, including, of course, Prince.

So, yes, it was a tragic, awful, embarrassing and far too long year. But it sounded pretty good. Here are the new albums and EPs I purchased in 2016, my contenders for the top 5 list which will be coming next week. Maybe. But as usual, I’m jumping ahead and putting the likely winners in bold.

AZIZA • AZIZA
Brian Eno • The Ship
Com Truise • Silicon Tare [EP]
David Bowie • Blackstar
Field Music • Commontime
King Crimson • Live in Toronto
King Crimson • Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind
Monolake • C G and G M O [EPs]
New Sound Underground • Push
Radiohead • A Moon Shaped Pool
Room 34 • Elements (yes, it’s me)
Room 34 • Pocketwerks [EP] (yes, also me)
Solange • A Seat at the Table
Steven Wilson • 4 1/2 [EP]
The Bad Plus • It’s Hard
The Darcys • Centerfold
Tortoise • The Catastrophist
Tycho • Epoch
Umphrey’s McGee • ZONKEY

Honorable mention goes to Kamasi Washington for his outstanding triple album, appropriately titled The Epic, which was released in 2015 but I didn’t get into until this year. It would’ve been on last year’s list. Same goes for Khruangbin and their album The Universe Smiles Upon You.