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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.

Jessica Lea Mayfield's unapologetic "Sorry is Gone"

Jessica Lea Mayfield, of Kent, Ohio, released her first album With Blasphemy so Heartfelt (produced by Dan Auerbach, fellow Ohioan) at the tender age of nineteen. I missed it. I probably shouldn’t have.
Her second Auerbach (Black Keys) produced record Tell Me arrived in 2011 when she was 22, 23 maybe. I listened to it. I heard talent. But somehow the combination of songs, performance and production didn’t really hook me.
Never bothered with her alleged grunge-rock record, the two previous had been loosely in the roots-rock/Americana idiom, called Make My Head Sing. No Dan Auerbach. I don’t know who produced it, but Mayfield described it loosely as dedicated to one of her favorite artists, Dave Grohl. Not being a huge fan of the Zelig of contemporary rock, that dedication probably soured me on the project. Sorry.
For me and Jessica it was a matter of timing. The time is now. And the record is Sorry is Gone. Which is pretty great.
Mayfield and producer John Agnello seamlessly blend everythi…

EMA is Ericka M. Anderson. Exile in the Outer Ring is her vision of American despair and marginalization. Yup.

When I selected Past Life Martyred Saints as my top album of 2011, Ericka M. Anderson was straight out of the American underground, not an artist widely recognized. EMA, professionally and for short, had released material with two groups, Amps for Christ and the Gowns, but PLMS was her solo debut, and it was on a small label called Souterrain Transmissions. If you want a little background, here’s a link to my original review and my 2011 Top 25:

With the 2014 release of The Future’s Void, EMA consolidated her stature as an artist to be reckoned with. After the viscerally powerful PLMS, Void was a colder, more technocratic vision. Like it’s ambiguous title, the music conveyed a vision of a sterile and oppressive near tomorrow, like something out of a William Gibson novel, humanity struggling with the powers of its own creation, with the alienations of the internet age.

Void’s slabs of distorted sounds were a blurred border…

SPEW presents the 12th-20th Best Albums of 2017. (#16 is a tie. This is my world ... and so is #10.)

12.EMA – Exile in the Outer Ring (City Slang) I had this to say when this album came out … I would still say pretty much the same.
13.Kendrick Lamar – Damn (Top Dawg/Interscope) Hip-hop. I know what I like. It’s impossible not to like Kendrick. Named for the Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks, Lamar is straight outta Compton, section 8 housing, the life. He’s also an artist unafraid, not reluctant to mix genres and sounds or to speak his truth, plainly and poetically. His last, To Pimp a Butterfly, was universally, justifiably acclaimed. Damn is harder, more personal, and just as impressive. ‘Duckworth’ (Lamar’s real last name) is a lyric tour de force of black millennial life. A story too good to be true, but that don’t matter,because it says what it says so powerfully.
14.Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice (Matador) Barnett has, along with a punk-assertive aspect, a droll, laconic side. Vile is all droll, laconic side.Together, they kee…