The past three months have seen music released at a torrid pace with big names, new bands, some surprises, and a whole host of great albums. Here are my picks. (side note: NPR's All Songs Considered hosted a great podcast discussion on the best new artists of 2017 so far - listen here)
Best Album: I have a feeling that this selection will be as difficult now as it will be at the end of the year in that at some point, I am going to have to decide which album is better - 'Pure Comedy' by Father John Misty (released April 2017) or 'Relaxer' by Alt-j (released June 2017). The two albums are wildly different in approach, intention, and sound; while Father John (aka Josh Tillman) has written and album filled with acerbic, witty, and deeply thoughtful songs about the current human predicament, Alt-j have gone back to the experimental blackboard again, fearlessly continuing to re-invent themselves with stunning results. So I guess I just won't pick one over the other at all ... they're both exceptional.
Best Song: a host of great albums means even more great songs; not only do both of the best albums of the past three months have a substantial list of great tracks, there were also releases from Arcade Fire (3), The National (2), and Radiohead (3). Add to that the previously unknown (Big Thief's, "Mary" or Figure Walking's "Summer Haze") and the unexpected ("Gina's World" by Marika Hackman or "Carolina" by Harry Styles...yes, you read that correctly) and it makes for a pretty touch choice. In the end, I will call it a split decision (sense a theme here?) between "Pleader" by Alt-j and "People Will Always Need Coal" by Public Service Broadcasting. Again, here are two songs with a very different feel to them; while the former positively exults in the power of the human voice, the latter builds slowly using both music and samples to create tension and ultimately crescendo.
New Artist: I have no idea why, but I can't get enough of the album 'Brutalism' by the punk band IDLES. Here's the band's own description of themselves: "IDLES met as a quintet at the death of the indie scene in Bristol and began making visceral and sometimes unlistenable post-punk to a growing crowd...they have now completed their first album and are savaged in hunger to play their music. They want to give themselves and their art to the audience in a concise and violent way unrivalled by their peers. They have no qualms in terrifying and entertaining in the same breath. They celebrate their influences in a vitriolic and belligerent sound that is both familiar and new. They are a nose-bleed on the ears and they're here to show you they care." Awesome.
What's Next: Arcade Fire and The National both release albums in the third quarter of 2017. Same with Haim (meh), Public Service Broadcasting, Broken Social Scene, The Dears, Neil Young, This Is The Kit (hype!), Lana del Rey (meh), Cage the Elephant, Grizzly Bear (meh), Queens of the Stone Age (ugh), The War on Drugs, Mogwai, LCD Soundsystem, Tori Amos, Emily Haines, Foo Fighters (ugh), Chelsea Wolfe, and Wolf Alice. And Shania Twain. Boom.