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SPEW crowns the 31st - 40th best Albums of 2017. All hail!

... SPEW, Best of 2017, phase 2:

31-40. You know, it’s just supposed to get better as you climb the chart. And it does, I think. As good as some of the 41-50 selections are, there’s nothing there I’d say has top 10 potential. With 31-40, some do, definitely. 

31.    Necks – Unfold (Ideologic Organ)

See, a review I already did. 

32.  Queens of the Stone Age - Villains (Matador) 
Josh Homme and Mark Ronson’s production combines dance floor grooves, psych-rock experimentation, and mostly hard ass rock that’s both dirty and machine-tooled. I came to QOTSA in fits and starts, but Villains is a modern classic, all dune buggies from hell and sweet menace. The smooth brutality of these guitar lacerations is head banging even listening on an iPhone at low volume. And Homme’s Jack Bruce croon lures as it destroys. 

33.   Tony Allen – The Source (Blue Note) - The Charlie Watts of ju-ju music, the man behind many of the greatest grooves out of Nigeria with Fela Kuti, makes a jazz record, and it succeeds as a jazz record, as well as an outpouring of the high-life sounds Allen marinates in. The fun here is in the tension between Allen’s jazz chops (real, redolent of having absorbed Art Blakey, for example) and his tendency to percolate more than swing. It works. And his accompanying musicians, including Cameroonian guitarist Indy Dibongue, are on Allen’s frequency all the way.

34.  Parquet Courts & Danielle Luppi -Milano (30th Century/Columbia) - Parquet Courts and Karen O, first of all, are an inspired New York pairing. Frankly, it seems to me that Luppi's greatest talent is finding boss collaborators (Danger Mouse, Jack White, Norah Jones - 2011’s Rome). Here he takes a modern cool  rock band, throws in one of the most distinctive female voices of the era, and gets out of the way. Milan was ablaze culturally in the Eighties and the Parquets' quirky songs communicate that in their droll, cool way.

35.   Ty Segall – s/t (Drag City) - Segall is all over the place. For someone whose basic metier is garage-rock, he swings from the altered-acoustic jams of Sleeper to the gonzo psych-metal of Slaughterhouse – and if Ty likes a pitch he’s a free swinger. As the self-titled approach suggests, this album demonstrates a healthy variety of what Segall does. He’s a synthesist who’s not entirely found himself in his eclecticism, but it’s fun listening to his mind work because his rock instincts are dead-on.

36.   2 Chainz – Pretty Girls Love Trap Music (Def Jam) - I love me some trap music too. Now, I ain’t gonna lie; I’m no expert. I’ve listened to hip-hop with enthusiasm since Sugarhill, Kurtis Blow and all that shit. But there are people (black people mostly, duh!) who can discuss Pretty Girls as avidly and informedly as I do the New York Dolls, but I can’t without sounding like a dumb white guy. What I do know is ... enough to know when something’s got it. Pretty Girls got it and 2 Chainz is offa his.  

37.   Doughboys – Front Street Rebels (RAM) - These guys first played together in the bloody 1960s, tearing up their native Jersey and residing musically at New York’s Cafe Wha? Drummer Richard X. Heymann has forged a critically successful solo career as a one-man band power popper. Singer Myke Scavone has had a journeyman life in rock n’ roll, too. The band reformed in 2000 and forgot to break up. Their records have all been well above average Sixties garage-rock, but Front Street Rebels is a leap forward, a set of mostly great songs that sounds fresh, even contemporary, while paying homage to their Animals-Stones-Yardbirds inspirations. It rocks.

38.   Sweet Knives – s/t (Big Neck) - Newly emerged from the Goner-Memphis scene and the ashes of Lost Sounds, the band singer Alijca Trout fronted with the late Jay Reatard, Sweet Knives trade heavily on the non-Jay part of that repertoire, but with more guitars, fewer keys and an unsettling ability to convey brooding doom and pop charms simultaneously. 

After discovering the big names and icons of Jazz (Miles, Trane, Duke, etc.) in my late teens I was ready for new discoveries. One of my first was the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a Chicago-based collective that spawned the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Their music was bold, adventurous, coming out of jazz tradition and the emerging Black nationalist sensibility. Nicole Mitchell is a vibrant inheritor of that tradition and a force in her own right. Madorla contains multitudes. Mitchell makes flute a force like no one since the generation of Dolphy, Kirk, and Lateef. Her compositions, rooted in tradition and reaching for the skies, are an inspired blend of impressionism, Monk, and Sun Ra. The players she attracts are empathetic and skilled, guitarist Alex Wing is inside and outside, Sonny Sharrock one moment, Pat Martino the next. 

40.   Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black (Anti)

Jeff Tweedy may gain and lose me as an admirer when it comes to Wilco, but he sure has proven a terrific producer for Mavis Staples. And since Mavis is one of the great voices in American music that’s no small thing. Nothing this woman sings is a “cover.” Her imprimatur is all over any lyric she chooses. Staples always gives love with her protestations; it’s the Christian thing to do, and Pops raised her to be Christian. But damn if it ain’t harder these days to be “nice,” and the music and Staples’ delivery take on a little more brimstone in this time where grace is a struggle.


The people have spoken.

Wire is having a 40th anniversary. Yes, I feel old.

"Editor's" Note: One Mr. Colin Newman of Brighton observes that it is he who plays most of the keyboards on recordings by Wire. I'm not sure where, or if, I indicated otherwise, but Mr. Newman's contributions (in the studio and to SPEW'S accuracy) are noted. He is certainly an authority on the subject. 

Wire is celebrating the 40th anniversary of their debut Pink Flag with the release of their fifteenth studio album Silver/Lead.

Wire’s first three records, Pink Flag,Chairs Missing, and 154 formed a blueprint for much of what came next in the wake of punk; showing how the drive and anger could be channeled beyond the roar and rage. Wire did, however, share with the Pistols a sense of the absurd. Uncomfortable with the conventions of rock, Wire set about reworking and subverting rock ’n’ roll. From Flag’s short, sharp blitz of songs to the more Kraut-Floyd atmospheres of Chairs Missing, to 154’s dark consolidation of Wire’s elements (immaculately produced),Wire’…

10. Alan Vega - It (Fader) ... SPEW'S Top 10 countdown.

If you know who Alan Vega is we can move along. 
But maybe some of you don’t. 
Alan Vega was part rockabilly hiccup, part electronic futurist. He was a poetic minimalist. Whether as musician, either with his partner Martin Rev in the band Suicide or solo, or as visual artist (his gallery shows were infrequent, but legendary), Vega was uncompromising and unwilling to play the game. He was interested in energy, in process, not in creating a portfolio. One romanticizes artists at one's peril, but Alan Vega didn't have time for bullshit, and his work shows it. 
Alan Vega died in 2016; he was seventy-eight years old. Much of his life he’d been a bit cat and mouse about his age, not wanting to let his Seventies “punk” peers at Max's and CBGB's know he was fifteen years older than them. He needn’t have worried. Nothing dated Alan Vega. 
His posthumous swan song It i(the back half of a New York 'exit' sign) is as abrasive and aggressive as his first record with Suicide, th…

Today, the Whiffs

Yesterday I called L.A.’s Starcrawler the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.
Today, it’s the Whiffs.
A power-pop band from Kansas City. I recommend the Whiffs if you like Norwegian black metal. Not because they sound like Mayhem or Gorgoroth, but because there are laws against church burning and the Whiffs would never incite such a thing. Their songs are about various stages of infatuation, the yoozh for power-pop. Cheery melodies in bright keys with sprightly tempi tend not to mulch into diatribes against the Caliphate. Although a lot of shit rhymes with Caliphate … hmm (I can hear Joey Ramone rhyming Caliphate with ‘too late.’). But clearly, I digress.
Take a Whiff is a blast. Eight shots of tuneful adrenaline. Okay, one song is ALMOST three minutes - a veritable jam. But you can fade it out. No problem (kidding). Not a token slow dance dragger on this puppy. Mid-tempo and up-tempo. There’s never a reason for a pop band to do a slow song unless it’s poetic and melodically gorgeo…