Though always enjoyable, the task of compiling one of these lists is increasingly challenging. Like Christmas garland at shopping malls, retrospective best-of lists seem to appear online earlier and earlier each year, prompting self-imposed pressure for armchair music critics like me to start writing before we’ve had a chance to listen to all of our 2017 contenders.
The other complicating factor is that in October, after six or eight months with Apple Music, I abandoned streaming, returning to an admittedly awkward yet strangely comfortable blend of vinyl LPs, compact discs, and iTunes downloads. It makes checking out those “maybe” albums a bit more difficult, and as a result, I’m sure I’ve overlooked some gems. But hey, you can always leave me a comment if you feel I need to check something out.
The upside of avoiding streaming services is that it shelters me from the weekly deluge of new releases that is, frankly, overwhelming at times, and instead allows me to go at my own pace and do more repeated listening, which is rewarding in its own way. I often wonder what bands think of the mile-a-minute music press.
I’m also slowly learning it’s okay to follow artists without necessarily buying every new album they release. I used to operate with a black-and-white approach: either I don’t care about an artist, or I gradually buy their entire back catalog and every new release. As the number of artists I follow grows and grows, it’s been a relief to realize that if a favourite artist releases a new album, but the singles don’t seem promising, there’s no pressure to buy it solely out of loyalty (sorry not sorry, Conor Oberst).
Still, disappointments are seldom predicable. Who could have guessed Beck’s long-gestating follow-up to Morning Phase would be Colors, a largely forgettable album whose only good tracks were released more than a year ago as singles? Remember, this was from an established musical chameleon known as one of the best studio tinkerers in the business.
And what is going on with my beloved Arcade Fire? While I’d still buy a concert ticket in a heartbeat (where is that Winnipeg tour date?), Everything Now was shrill and uninspired — and that’s coming from someone who’s sympathetic to its critique of consumerism and late capitalism. It’s not as bad as some made it out to be — omit the dismal mid-album trio of “Peter Pan,” “Chemistry” and “Infinite Content,” and it improves dramatically — it’s still easily the band’s weakest album, and a far cry from the heights they used to routinely reach, and still could. (But still, listen to “We Don’t Deserve Love,” which is beautiful and heart-rending and one of the best things they’ve ever done.)
The self-titled debut from indie supergroup Lo Tom was also a bit of a letdown, with bland rawk production and virtually no vocals from my man Jason Martin. Similarly, Peter Silberman’s debut solo album Impermanence was meditative and subtle, but ultimately left me wanting a new LP from his consistently terrific band, The Antlers.
The year in concerts included a day each at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and Interstellar Rodeo (R.I.P.), and a whirlwind weekend in Wisconsin at Eaux Claires Festival. I also caught The Sadies and Polaris Prize long-listed Leif Vollebekk earlier this fall. In July, I had great seats for Bob Dylan, which was ah-mazing.
As a concertgoer on a budget, I must say one of the best things about listening to primarily new indie music is that it saves you a ton on concert tickets. Some of the best shows I’ve seen in the past few years have been $20 or $30 tickets to places like the Park Theatre and the West End Cultural Centre, to see acts like Angel Olsen or Andy Shauf. At a time when online ticket selling techniques are increasingly unfair and legacy act ticket prices effectively make arena and stadium shows a pastime for the super-rich, it’s comforting to know that really good live music remains within reach for just about everyone, if you know where to look.
Anyway, keep an eye on this blog over the next seven weeks for my favourite albums of the year. As I did last year, I’ll write a short piece on each of my Top 10, in reverse order. And as always, I’d love to hear your own Top 10!
For my lists from previous years, click here.