Top 10 Releases of 2017: Part 1

10. Mormon Toasterhead - monocarpic
(2017 Self-Released)

adjective [BOTANY]
(of a plant) flowering only once and then dying.

...and what it leaves behind is prickly, sturdy, and puzzling. Aligning itself with the pineapples and durians of the botanical world, Mormon Toasterhead's first of two 2017 LPs houses acid-sweet flesh inside its tough shell, which admittedly took a few attempts for me to peel. 

Toasterhead frontman Ben Klawans isn't the most hospitable host on monocarpic: the Chicagoan songwriter loads the first 15 minutes of the record with its most challenging, incoherent content. Opener "drooling, delirious, red," for example, is constructed around a rapidly looping sample that sounds like throttled windchimes, throwing back to the glitchy atonality of Animal Collective's 2002 live album Hollinndagain: Klawans mumbles a spoken word poem, his vocal fry acting as a coagulant that holds the spooky soundscape together long enough to phase into "more than monotony" and "hollow rain," two cuts that nod to Alex G's cherubic college-rock delivery while dipping into Sonic Youth's tertiary palette of free-jazz asides and ambient cooldowns.

Clocking in at six and eight minutes respectively, the pair of tracks give the listener ample time to get used to their too-trebly mastering and almost non-existent structures, filled out by full-band arrangements that defy Mormon Toasterhead's cozy, lo-fi back catalogue. As if writing a sentence that travels for pages, full of parenthetical phrases and em-dashes, Klawans jerks the reader by the wrist from dissonant riff to keyboard drone, and it's all worth it because these weird little asides are just as fascinating as the free-associative lyrics that bridge the gaps. 

Finally making your way to closer "Bright Green" is worth the price of admission. Materializing in a pretty cloud of feedback and harmonics, Klawans and Co. trudge their way through a cocktail of narcotic alt-country haze and rubber-band guitar twang that recalls Doug Martsch's work with Built to Spill. 

"remember how teeth and dandruff used to show up bright green? 
under UV disco lights, 
at your favorite bowling alley"

Metal fences rise from the gutters to catch you as you glide down the waxed lane, into the reversed guitar samples that cap the album off like the faded edge of a watercolor stroke. 

9. Aria Rostami - Reform
(2017 Zoom Lens)

Among the ZOOM LENS label's discography of washed-out blues and cyberpunk gloom, Aria Rostami's Reform is a fragrant explosion of olives and pinks, huffing warm synth-pop melodies against IDM drums that rattle and hiss. It's wordless, but mouthed by samples and patches that could be mistaken for human voices: a chorus of hushed tones and yawns. For nearly an hour, Rostami sustains the feeling of stretching out in bed after a hard day's work, dozing off as the soreness circulates from your shins to your chest, leaving the body as a sigh of relief. If "Flim" is your favorite Aphex Twin song, this record is right in your wheelhouse.

8. youthcomics - Shower of 411 sec.
(2017 Miles Apart Records)

Kyoto quartet youthcomics stretch toward the future while still keeping a back foot planted in the pastry-flake crackle of 90's twee-punk. Their first and only release to date is this lone cassingle, but there's enough power-pop fizzed bottled up into its seven minutes of tape to overshadow many full albums released within the genre this year. 

A-side "Youth in Our Backyards" defies language barriers to supply an impossibly-catchy chorus, bookended by echoing vocals, kaleidoscopic chord changes, and crisp guitar solos that feel as hypnotic as anything DIIV pressed on their 2011 debut, Oshin. Narutoshi Ohino's vocals phase and flange beneath the cramped instrumentation, and they sound almost autotuned in a beautiful way--through vaguely folky, the record is bursting with mechatronic energy, powered by air-tight drumbreaks that'll win over any fans of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. 

B-side "Falling" feels a bit more delicate, peeling back the distortion to let Ohino extend syllables against gummy basslines and bluesy licks. If you've ever jammed to The Field Mice, Joanna Gruesome, or early Yuck, you won't be able to resist Shower of 311 sec.