Ear Influxion’s Best Music of 2017

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earinfluxion

earinfluxion

14 January 2018

The end of the year is always a daunting time for me as a writer and music aficianado. Having released not one but three solo projects this year, I spent a lot of the front half of the year mired in production work, with months of new releases virtually passing me by. But with the release of my Nebulae and Starward albums in early November (and some part-time work that encourages headphones listening) I’ve had way more time to catch up and dive into so many of the curious and cool albums that I had missed. Readers may notice more out-of-date records than usual in my reviews, rarely timely these days; that is because Ear Influxion is entirely a labor of love, and I can only write when I have the time and/or inspiration. It feels good, though, to be inspired again toward the end of what was essentially a terrible year in general.

I opted to order this list alphabetically instead of my usual ranking system. This is because I just do not have the time to weigh the merits of whether an ambient drone album is “better” to me than a techno album. Instead, I am presenting my top 50 of the year, included for one reason or another here: a concept that really resonated, pure perfection, something I’d never heard before, or more pop-tinged music that really hit all of the right notes (literally and figuratively).

My original goal was to write up every single album that made it to my list. However, in some cases, that felt pointless: I don’t see much reason to write about Björk’s latest album, which has gotten liberal coverage in every music outlet under the sun, but it’s gorgeous. Same goes for Goldfrapp or LCD Soundsystem, both excellent albums (perhaps each act’s finest to date), but neither of which necessarily are albums I’d usually write about here. But you know how it goes: My blog, my rules. 🙂

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Adult.: Detroit House Guests (Mute)

“…the real spirit and heart of Detroit House Guests is in Adult.’s willingness to stray from their usual repertoire and to flow with their collaborators’ instincts or contributions.”

Read our whole review >>

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Aquarelle: Leave Corners (Debacle)

“…at once unassuming and stark but also quite moving in its hushed beauty.”

Read the whole review >>

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Mario Batkovic: Mario Batkovic (Invada)

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Bernard Baum: After (Panatype)

After stands strong as a quiet masterpiece, understated and beautiful.”

Read the whole review >>

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Andrea Belfi: Ore (FLOAT)

“The most satisfying thing about Belfi’s
arrangements is how well produced the music is, with its percussive
layers coming through either loudly and clearly with bravado or
accentuating the music in more beguiling ways.“

Read our whole review >>

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Björk: Utopia (One Little Indian)

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Black Swan: Travesty Waves (Swan (Plague)

(Review forthcoming)

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The Bug vs. Earth: Concrete Desert (Ninja Tune)

“…a prime example of inspired collaboration, wherein the talents of its contributors complement each other to the fullest extent … rather morose but impressive, feeling like an instinctive emotional response to both its theme and each other’s musical strengths.”

Read the whole review >>

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Clark: Death Peak (Warp)

“Its upbeat beginning and ramp up toward something more climactic, followed by a prolonged denouement into cinematic beauty, it all feels like a narrative that we collectively experience…”

Read our whole review >>

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Colleen: A flame my love, a frequency (Thrill Jockey)

“Disarming in its simplicity and intimacy, it’s one of Colleen’s finest efforts to date and a highlight of 2017.”

Read the whole review >>

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Colin Stetson: All This I Do For Glory (52Hz)

“…Glory’s six tracks stand tall as accomplished and ultimately cool on their own accord, demanding repeat listening. Working wholly independently as the writer, performer, and producer of this release, Stetson continues pushing the limits of solo performance with this tour de force, one of this year’s finest." 

Read the whole review >>

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Alessandro Cortini: AVANTI (Point of Departure)

"Even when it swells in scale and scope, its coarser edges are treated more delicately, allowing it to bristle and fuzz without sacrificing clarity. It brings with it a grandeur that feels at once reflective and expansive…" 

Read our whole review >>

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Kara-Lis Coverdale: Grafts (Boomkat Editions)

"The overall effect of Grafts is not unlike watching the way weather conditions affect the surface of a lake, sometimes shimmering and rippling, sometimes a rolling downpour, sometimes serene and muted, sometimes even mysterious or murky.”

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Sarah Davachi: All My Circles Run (Students of Decay)

“…the real essence of Circles is in its minimal intent, the pronouncement of each arrangement’s focal point in its title denoting a means to an end, despite the music evoking something far more human, haunting and inspired.”

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Deerhoof & Dal Niente: Balter/Saunier (New Amsterdam)

“The push and pull between the various performers and Balter’s writing is what makes the entire recording so successful, as if there was no ego in the equation whatsoever. Instead it feels like a real marriage of sensibilities and enthusiasm for performance…”

Read our whole review >>

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DMX Krew: Strange Directions (Hypercolour)

“Fans of Upton’s catalogue will not be disappointed, and in fact in its willingness to explore the more shadowy side of melodic IDM and electro, Strange Directions is one of the more solid entries in his already impressive arsenal.”

Read the whole review >>

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Jacek Doroszenko: Soundreaming (Audiobulb)

“…whatever dreams Soundreaming conjures up in the minds of its listeners will be equal parts the result of the sound itself and the perceptions, memory, and assumptions of those listeners, and that’s really at the core of what sound art is all about.”

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Ekoplekz: Bioprodukt (Planet µ)

“There’s something sunny in his arrangements in the front half of Bioprodukt that bring to my mind the image of light rippling off the surface of water — vaguely tropical, and yet often tinny and featuring layers of synths that don’t even necessarily entirely mesh — mirroring the layered and complementary geometric shapes of its art direction, forging new prints and patterns in the process.”

Read our whole review >>

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Roe Enney: Glare (Root Strata)

“…a great dead of winter album, stark and isolated”

Read our whole review >>

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Errorsmith: Superlative Fatigue (Pan)

“Weigand’s strongest asset
is his bizarre aesthetic and willingness to forgo hooks or melodies,
instead opting to wander freely within loose constraints. Its punchy
beats are a noteworthy advance from the elastic-only approach of his
second album, and his oblique references to various dance music
trends are a welcome spin on his signature weirdness.“

Read our full review >>

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Nathan Fake: Providence (Ninja Tune)

(review forthcoming)

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Fever Ray: Plunge (Rabid)

“…with Plunge, while she’s not necessarily diving into completely unfamiliar waters, there is something there that wasn’t before: the magic.”

Read the whole review >>

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Marcus Fjellstrom: Skelektikon (Miasmah)

(review forthcoming)

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Forest Swords: Compassion (Dense Truth)

(review forthcoming)

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Lee Gamble: Mnestic Pressure (Hyperdub)

“…exciting stuff that sounds good both on a loud system with good low end and headphones, with tons of details to be found in its swirl of effects, edits, and layering.”

Read our full review >>

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Goldfrapp: Silver Eye (Mute)

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Grizzly Bear: Painted Ruins (Warp)

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Laurel Halo: Dust (Hyperdub)

“…a satisfying reminder that earworms aren’t always the most rewarding listens, and that the world of sound remains a playground for the creative and curious to tap into both the emotional and the esoteric all at once.”

Read the whole review >>

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Porya Hatami: Monads (Line)

“… a variety of sound experiments and excursions that are largely devoid of melody or obvious rhythm. Instead, each track is its own self-contained sonic world”

Read our full review >>

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Ikonika: Distractions (Hyperdub)

“…still dealing in tightly crafted, unassuming productions, but she’s refined her technique and roped in some welcome collaborators.”

Read the whole review >>

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Hannu Karjalainen: A Handful of Dust Is a Desert (Karaoke Kalk)

“…often peaceful and rarely overtly melancholy…one of our latest ambient favorites.”

Read the whole review >>

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Gregg Kowalsky: L’Orange L’Orange (Mexican Summer)

“…a sweet, sunny journey across tranquil ocean water, sandy beaches, and candy colored sunsets.”

Read the whole review >>

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Lali Puna: Two Windows (Morr)

“…the buoyancy of its production lends it a refreshing immediacy when compared to some of their more typical mid-tempo material, and even then their sonic palette feels edgier and more sprightly.”

Read the whole review >>

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LCD Soundsystem: american dream (DFA)

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Michael Mayer: & (Kompakt)

“Mayer’s best album… always yielding a slightly different result and staying fresh by virtue of the rotating talent on these tracks, covering a lot of ground while still feeling focused around Mayer’s distinct sensibilities as a DJ, producer, and label owner.”

(Technically this was released late 2016, but I didn’t hear it until 2017…)

Read the whole review >>

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Matthew Mercer: Nebulae (Bandcamp)

“twin new album releases, Nebulae and Starward, are two sides of the same coin: light and dark, hypnotic and stimulating, cosmic and intimate. It’s one vision in two albums, marking a return to dance music but with a deeper edge.“

Learn more >>

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Matthew Mercer: Starward (Bandcamp)

“twin new album releases, Nebulae and Starward,
are two sides of the same coin: light and dark, hypnotic and
stimulating, cosmic and intimate. It’s one vision in two albums, marking
a return to dance music but with a deeper edge.”

Learn more >>

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Matthew Mercer: Vintage Tomorrows (Bandcamp)

“Brand new music from Matthew Mercer, Ear Influxion’s main editor and writer, released today on Bandcamp! Shades of Bibio, Beats Antique, Four Tet and more in this electronic and strings-laden score inspired by the creativity and craftsmanship of the steampunk movement.”

Learn more >>

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Minced Oath: Supersede (Countersunk)

“Fans of gliding, stark ambience will find a lot to love here…”

Read the whole review >>

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Mhysa: fantasii (Halcyon Veil)

“[Mhysa] allows me to be a part of myself I think white institutions tried to smother. Now I keep her with me and bring her out when we’re safe to be, preferably in spaces where Black women can just be themselves without having to explain or apologize, in spaces where other Black women exist and are seen.” — MHYSA on Mhysa

Read the whole review >>

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Yann Novak: Surroundings (Line)

“One
might argue that by virtue of deliberately sourcing sounds from the
space and surrounding park, Surroundings is, at its core, the
antithesis of ambient listening; this is not music that is intended
to fade into wallpaper but instead serves as a living, breathing,
in-the-moment experience that encourages listeners to hear its quiet
details and environmental resonance.”

Read the full review >>

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OMD: The Punishment of Luxury (White Noise)

“OMD’s renaissance that began in 2010 with History of Modern continues a winning streak with their third since the original quartet reunited.”

Read the whole review >>

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Perc: Bitter Music (Perc Trax)

“…one of my favorite releases from Perc to date, feeling somewhat liberated from the trappings of techno while still showing off how good he is at it, a balancing act that can be difficult to pull off.”

Read the whole review >>

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Ryuichi Sakamoto: async (Milan)

“…his sixteenth album is at once fragile and introspective as well as resilient and quietly confident.”

Read the whole review >>

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Second Woman: S/W (Spectrum Spools)

“It’s that push and pull between severity and more emotive suggestion that makes S/W such a captivating listen from start to finish, going down so much more smoothly than some of their more severe contemporary counterparts." 

Read the full review >>

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Siriusmo: Comic (Monkeytown)

"…split the difference between club-friendly production and jaunty, sweetly melodic compositions that feel as though they take as much of a cue from Jean-Jacques Perrey as from any current dancefloor act. Indeed, the album title cut opens things off with a benign melodic arrangement that feels resolved and effortless.”

Read the full review >>

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St. Vincent: MASSEDUCTION (Matador)

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T.Raumschmiere: Heimat (Kompakt)

“…it’s almost aspirational or anthemic in a way that I’d never typically associate Haas’s style; he’s gone and delivered one of the best cuts on Kompakt in the last year.”

Read the whole review >>

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Visible Cloaks: Reassemblage (RVNG Intl.)

“…a recommended ray of sunshine to combat the post-holiday blues…”

Read the whole review >>

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worriedaboutsatan: Blank Tape (This Is It Forever)

"…lush and even sublime at times, a health blend of classically melodic IDM, indie pop, and voluptuous atmospheres so thick you can practically wade through them.”

(Technically this was released in 2016, but I didn’t hear it until 2017…)

Read our full review >>

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