Across the Margin continues its rollout of the Best Albums of 2017 with albums 20 – 11…
20. Big Boi – Boomiverse
Big Boi’s still got it. It is remarkable, as many other rappers of his generation have lost a step, or just can’t keep up that breakneck cadence of yore, that Big Boi is just as nimble and dynamic a rapper as ever. Boomiverse, the third full-length solo studio release for the Outkast alum, holds the proof of this claim, as Big Boi slides over and through each track with the dexterity of his heyday. Utilizing some of the best mc’s in the game, Big Boi, on Boomiverse, has enlisted the help of Killer Mike and Jeezy (on the remarkable “Kill Jill”), Gucci Mane and Pimp C (on the Southern banger “In the South”), Snoop Dog (“Get With It”), amongst others. And what is remarkable is that Big Boi remains true to his southern roots and the sound that he made his name with on Boomiverse, while not sounding outdated in the least. Produced by longtime Outkast collaborators Organized Noise, Boomiverse acts as both a hat tip to the classic sound that birthed trap music in the South, while also reminding people that Big Boi remains a force to be reckoned with.
19. Washed Out – Mister Mellow
Ernest Greene, the man behind Washed Out, has certainly made his mark on the music scene, standing out as one of the biggest names in the sub-genre Chillwave. He has amassed a sizable, loyal fandom, but somewhere along the way his musical stylings have become synonymous with downtempo vibes. Although this assertion is arguable, considering some of Washed Out’s more upbeat tracks from the last decade, Greene himself seems to have embraced this idea, going so far as to entitle his latest LP Mister Mellow. True, the album is characteristically lackadaisical in places, but tracks like “Hard to Say Goodbye,” “Get Lost,” and the instrumental “Zonked” are buoyant enough to get people moving during live performances. Anyone who’s seen Washed Out live in concert knows that the band’s performances are industrious affairs that get the crowds going, something that might come as a bit of a surprise to the uninitiated. However, with Mister Mellow’s release, Greene has doubled down on the studio album’s listening experience by providing fans with a full visual accompaniment, in the form of a video for each of the twelve tracks that employs collage, animation, and claymation. This visual component of the LP is redolent of Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time,” Bloc Party’s “Ratchet,” DJ Shadow’s “Walkie Talkie,” or Gnarl’s Barkley’s “Crazy,” and stylistically this visual aspect is in step with Greene’s artistic modus operandi. Washed Out’s performances are not to be missed, but Mister Mellow represents a different medium, and this standalone LP is a perfect audiovisual experience for both newcomers and fans who’ve been around since 2009’s EP Life of Leisure alike.
18. Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Semper Femina is the sixth full-length release from British folk singer-songwriter-goddess Laura Marling. It’s an entirely sensual album, one that is all-encompassing and soothing, with the experience of taking in its nine mesmerizing tracks akin to what an unborn child must feel like nestled up in the warm embrace of its mother’s womb. Marling chose to work with veteran producer Blake Mills on Semper Femina, who has worked with Jim James, Conor Oberst, John Legend, and Perfume Genius, and who is a wizard at crafting rich, almost dreamlike, textures of sounds, and what came of this collaboration is as beautiful an album you will come upon all year. The title of the album is taken from the line “Varium et mutabile semper femina,” or “Woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing,” and in the album Marling examines a woman’s place in the world, and her relationships to the women in her life. At its core Semper Femina is a complex and heartfelt album, but it is also one that you can get lost in as waves of sonic beauty flow through you, track after alluring track.
17. Statik Selektah – 8
Bolstered by an absolutely insane roster of MC’s on his latest release 8 (2 Chainz, Wiz Khalifa, Run the Jewels, Action Bronson, Raekwon, Prodigy, Wale, Joey Bada$$, Royce da 5’9”, Curren$y – and that’s just to name a few!), Boston native and prolific producer Statik Selektah has been laying remarkable foundations for MCs to glide over for decades now. This year, however, the recently signed to Roc Nation producer might have dropped his magnum opus in 8, one of the most anticipated hip-hop releases of the year. While 8 consistently hits from front to back, what is astounding is Statik’s ability to impeccably match beats with the artist, as he is remarkably in tune with each performer’s capabilities and slants. In this way, while the album flows fluidly as a singular work of art, it also serves as a showcase of the remarkable talent that pervades hip-hop today, both young and old. The titular 8 is in reference to Statik’s 8th studio album (released aptly on December 8th!), and although this album was essentially two years in the making, we are already eager for album 9, 10, 11 and beyond, but for now we are entirely happy rocking the all-star extravaganza that is 8 on repeat.
Essential Tracks: “What Can We Do Now (Part 1 and 2) (ft. Anoyd, Crimeapple, Avenue, Nick Grantz, Millyz and Chris Rivers)“, “Put Jewels On It (ft. Run the Jewels)“, “Man of the Hour (ft. 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa).”
16. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Joshua Tillman, a singer-songwriter better known as Father John Misty, topped Across the Margin’s Best Albums of 2015 list with his powerful and heartfelt yet satire-laced album I Love You Honeybear. In the almost two years since, the folk rock star has found himself emerging as the indie scene’s most prominent social critic (nay troll?), weighing in on such cumbersome issues as the rise of the Internet culture, America in the shadow of a Trump presidency, and the way in which pop music mistreats women, just to name a few. Equally disillusioned and passionate, distrustful of humanity’s sincerity yet vulnerable and self-expressive, Father John Misty, is a man of contrasting thoughts and observations surrounding our shared reality. His latest album, Pure Comedy, which the artist describes as “the real I Love You, Honeybear but without the cynicism,” is a questioning journey into the mind of Joshua Tillman. What can be found therein is a seventy five minute exploration of such themes as the ways in which humanity is doomed, how God was overambitious in his creation of Man, how the capitalism-driven entertainment industry is making slaves of us all, how the arrival of the climate apocalypse is what ultimately kills Capitalism, thus returning us to our “native” state, and so on and so on. But don’t get us wrong, though the themes Father John Misty choses to skewer on Pure Comedy may be weighty and intense, and the irony, bleakness and forceful nature of his manifesto substantial, the music is downright seductive and dazzling. Is it that quality of music that draws us again and again into Father John Misty’s orbit, so we may drink deeply of his enchanting elixir, pondering the topics of our age as we drift drunkenly in the fast lane of his intoxicating grooves.
Essential Tracks: “Pure Comedy,” “Things That Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before the Revolution,” “Ballad Of The Dying Man.”
15. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
Spoon’s steadiness in terms of excellency in album output is extraordinary, and their latest album Hot Thoughts is just more verification of Spoon’s inimitable consistency. Increasingly, over the course of their last few albums, Spoon has inundated their brand of sultry pop rock with a shot of sparse, modish psychedelia and atmospherics. These thick layers of feeling that can be found bolstering the tracks on Hot Thoughts and Spoon’s previous gem of an album, They Want My Soul, and this new approach might be attributed to veteran psychedelia producer David Fridmann who has worked with acts such as Weezer, Elf Power, MGMT, Tame Impala, Black Moth Super Rainbow, The Flaming Lips, Mogwai, to name a few. Exemplifying this novel tonnage is “Pink Up,” a song which possesses a synthy pulse and a looping piano line that is intoxicating and all-encompassing. Hot Tracks is arguably Spoon’s most interesting output in their stunning nineteen year career, and finds the band decidedly at the height of their game.
14. Iron & Wine – Beast Epic
It’s back to the roots for Iron & Wine for their sixth full-length album, Beast Epic. From the opening track “Claim Your Ghost” to the album’s closing “Our Light Miles,” Best Epic is the kind of outstanding Iron & Wine offering that we’ve been in love with for the last fifteen years, through and through. There’s currents of warmth and love at play mixed with moving singing by Sam Beam, and his heartfelt acoustics feel like a light in a darkened forest leading the weary traveler back home. Beast Epic is hands down some of the best singing that Sam Beam has ever offered up and the themes that he regularly returns to in the album — family, death, life in the South, and religion — pull the listener into his romanticized world rather than push them out. There’s a stripped-down, relaxing magic to Iron & Wine’s latest album, and it’s evident that after fifteen years of writing music that Sam Beam has given us his greatest work of art.
13. Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkkan Badass
By the time we reached our third run through Joey Bada$$’s second full-length release, All-Amerikkkan Badass, we were compelled to pause for a moment to consider what we had experience, as we realized in time that what we were listening to was another brilliant album. This awareness was startling as it meant that Joey, in his young career, has now dropped two incredible bangers back-to back (2 for 2!). In his follow up to his 2015 debut, B4.DA.$$ (which featured two remarkable DJ Premier produced singles, “Paper Trail$” and “Christ Conscious”), Joey doesn’t shy away from the political, and this makes All-Amerikkkan Badass the perfect hip-hop album for the here and now. Lending his voice to the national conversation surrounding police shootings, institutional racism, and life as a black man in the darkened days of the dictatorial Trump administration, Joey wears his heart on his sleeve throughout All-Amerikkkan Badass, and does not simply grieve for the predicament our black communities find themselves in, but crafts a compelling call to arms. In the barnburner that is “Rockabye Baby” he declares “If you ‘bout this revolution please stand up / We ain’t got no one to trust / Time is running up feel the burn in my gut / And if you got the guts scream Fuck Donald Trump,” which functions, like the entire album, as an act of musical defiance that is both impressive and inspiring.
12. Oh Sees – Orc
Orc is the nineteenth album from Oh Sees (formerly Thee Oh Sees and The Oh Sees and OCS and Orinoka Crash Suite and Orange County Sound…notice a pattern?), a band that has seen versions of itself arrive and disappear with the frequency of a FedEx delivery man during the holidays. Employing a double set of drummers to drive their genre-defining brand of garage rock forward, Oh See’s have delivered on Orc, an album that is as powerful as it is invigorating. From every corner and every tiny crook, the album exudes fuzz and funk and sonic fun. There’s a rawness and an energy to each track, and with names like “The Static God,” “Nite Nitro,” and “Animated Violence,” (three of our choices for Essential Tracks on the album), you can get a sense of the vitality and vigor that Oh Sees are pushing out into the world. Of all the nineteen Oh Sees albums that have landed at our feet in the last twenty years or so, Orc is the one that we’d take with us on a one-way psychedelic trip to the stars.
11. Talib Kweli – Radio Silence
We here at Across the Margin are huge Talib Kweli fans. Not only are we still obsessed with Black Star (and wondering daily where the follow-up is!), we find Reflection Eternal to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums period. But even with this sort of respect and admiration, we didn’t think that Talib Kweli had another brilliant album in him at this late stage in his storied career. In that, we were wrong. Dramatically so. Radio Silence is vintage Kweli, finding him dropping an album as quality as 2002’s Quality (see what we did there!). In hindsight, doubting Kweli was obtuse, as the fact of the matter is he has continued to hone his craft and release fascinating work continuously, but with Radio Silence he has made a statement, and his relevance and talent even decades after his earliest distinguished work is unflappable. Radio Silence features a slew of awesome guest verses from the likes of Jay Electronica, Rick Ross, and Waka Flocka Flame, but it is Kweli’s unflappable lyricism that shines throughout this stunning release. It’s remarkable to see one of hip-hop’s most celebrated lyricist performing at the absolute top of his game, and Kweli’s socially conscious and insightful rhymes throughout Radio Silence are just what we need in these trying times in America.