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With releases from The XX, Sampha, Spoon, The Shins, Temples, Real Estate, and more, 2017's first quarter was a dream come true for music fans. With even more amazing music due out soon from bands and artists like Syvan Esso, War on Drugs, Woods, Fleet Foxes, National, Gorillaz, Alt-J and more, AudioHammock decided to sit down and sort out what's already out and which of it ranks amongst our favorites so far. Join us for our favorite albums of the first quarter of 2017!
Genre: Acoustic Folk / Indie
Released: January 13 on Ba Da Bing Records
A nomadic wanderer with a soulful voice and fingerpicking skills to end the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, Julie Byrne's album Not Even Happiness is an introspective look into the depths of the human condition. With light strings on a couple tracks and a rhetorical disposition that manages to simultaneously question and idolize the wanderlust style of life, love, and all that goes with it, Not Even Happiness is a legitimate contender for album of the year let alone just the first quarter.
Genre: Indie Rock
Released: March 17th on Matador Records
What do you need to know about Spoon? Well let's start with their main ingredient–consistency. Upbeat, lyrcially calm yet adventurous, and with a poignant instrumental vibrancy that spans three decades, if there's any band you can go "all in" with as far as knowing what you're getting, it's Spoon. 2014's They Want My Soul saw the band turn in a more electronic direction without comprosmising core sound and the results were fantastic. The album was rewarded with numerous end of year accolades from various publications, was an AudioHammock favorite, and received "Best New Music" from Pitchfork. Now in 2017 Britt Daniel's and company have returned with one of the year's most anticipated releases and the question isn't if we're going to love the album, but how much? The answer is quite a bit.
Again teaming with producer Dave Fridmann who was at the helm for quite a bit of They Want My Soul MGMT's Oracular Spectacular and more, Hot Thoughts sticks with the succesful composition of the former Spoon album. Here we have racing electric guitars that layer in and out, piano and key compositions, drum machine beats that fade into actual drumming by drummer Jim Eno, and all the spacial tones and sonically endearing ambience that makes Spoon seem like a ten-piece band at times. Take all of this into consideration and add in the fact that you can dance to 80% of this, a rock album, and you've got something speical.
Diving into the tracks themselves, the album starts with the title track and first single "Hot Thoughts". A serving of vocals and stylistic drum beat before launching into full band, downtempo piano and bass induced interlude and arching back into a raising guitar outro, the track ends abruptly and leaves you wanting more. If there's one qualm I can introduce with Hot Thoughts it's that these tracks feel like they have the natural ability to go on indefinitely instrumentally ("Us" is a beautiful all-instrumental saxophone led album closer to counter-point) and don't. "WhisperI'lllistentohearit" is another example, a fast-paced highway anthem of soul-searching, the track ends abrutply as it crescendos and leaves you wanting to rock out a skosh longer. Perhaps these decisions on song length can be attributed to the band not wanting to go out of the confines of the genre but when a lot of these drum and machine beats are influenced by hip hop and electronic genres it's hard to let go of them when they can seem so fleeting. Overall a minor blemish and if anything serves purpose to ensure that you will return to these songs again, and trust me you will.
As if the band has heard my whiny drivel on song length, halfway through the album "Pink Up" creeps up on you. One of the longer songs in the Spoon discography, the track hits the 6 minute mark with what seems like aboriginal offerings of xylophone, tribal percussion, and Eno's cymbals and snare echoing in and out. Methodical is its takeoff and landing, "Pink Up" is one of the more interesting songs on the album, and hints at yet another direction Spoon can adeptively tackle-Psychedelic.
As with any Spoon album, the friendly hits are here with the aforementioned "Hot Thoughts" and the second single "Can I Sit Next to You". Yet sequenced in with the rest of the album's offerings they wont seem so blatantly commercially aimed. The fast paced is balanced out well with still uptempo ballads like "I Ain't The One" and the stealthy track "Shotgun". Overall Spoon has delivered another estimable album that will have you high-fiving those around you on repeated listens. Where it lands in the trajectory of the band's fantastic discography is a continuous argument you'll have–Hot Thoughts is certinaly top shelf material, but then again so is everything this band has released. Insert random endearing Spoon 2017 hashtag here.
Genre: Electronic R&B, Soul
Released: February 3rd on Young Turks
Sampha Sisay has an impressive resume outside of this album having worked with the likes of Drake, Kanye West, SBTRKT, Solange, and others with production and writing credits. This soft spoken English gentleman has finally taken the plunge out on his own path and struck gold. The trepidation that Sampha felt stepping out into the limelight is captured beautifully in Process, an album that offers slick and sophisticated R&B beats, piano compositions (Sampha has played since a little boy), and electronic stylings that fit moods morning, noon, and night. Tribute to his mother who died a tragic death is also featured in "(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano", a beautiful ballad that will have you longing for anything and everyone you hold dear. Like contemporaries Frank Ocean and Childish Gambino, Sampha uses his instrumental and lyrical prowess not as an egotistical weapon, but as an introspective look inside his life, one that will ultimately have you looking at yours as well. Process is a top shelf album for this decade, let alone the year.
Genre: Indie Rock
Released: March 17th on Domino Records
Let's not beat around the bush, In Mind is no Atlas but then again what is? We talked about Spoon's consistency yet here's a band who offers it just as much if not more. You know you're going to get vibrant tones and lazy day sunshine guitar tracks with Real Estate. Martin Courtney's lyrics are just as enjoyable as ever and this album sequences in nicely amongst an already expansive and impressive discography. Not sure what to play at your backyard mid-morning BBQ? Real Estate. Cooking dinner? Real Estate. Driving to work? Real Estate. While some may be annoyed at the notion that the band doesn't bend their succesful formula, this music fan doesn't believe they need to. Real Estate is indie rock comfort food, hefty portions that you'll return to more often than not and In Mind is no exception.
Genre: Psychedelic Pop, Indie Rock
Released: March 3rd on Fat Possum Records
Temples blew the world up in 2013 with their first album Sun Structures and there's definitely no sophomore slump here. While the group from Kettering Europe will draw comparisons to Tame Impala we don't think it's a fair one. Temples first album was very guitar driven and while Volcano is a bit more synthensized in production and sound, this band is very much their own vessle and capable of sending you to mind melting dimensions with James Bagshaw's kaleidoscope vocals and guitar playing. Powerhouse performers in a live setting as well, don't miss them this year on their American tour.