Top 10 Releases of 2017: Part 3

4. Bjork - Utopia
(2017 One Little Indian)

In some ways, Utopia plays out like an endearing parody of Bjork's past decade of output, piling on the pan flutes, stretching its 10-minute compositions in to frayed bubblegum strands, and wallowing in its own futurist-but-also-naturalist aesthetic: she samples animal sounds in lieu of snare drums on "Body Memory", for God's sake. 

The new effort is wildly pretentious and impenetrably academic, two usually undesirable traits that I'm weirdly always hoping for a Bjork album to embody. Like Kanye West, who's also collaborated with Utopia's co-producer Arca in recent endeavors, the Icelandic art-pop mainstay has the grandiose presence and creative drive to back up her musical hyperbole. And from the new record's explosive blossoms of melody to its diary-entry lyrics that bridge the mundane and divine, it's evident that Bjork has cultivated what might be her most hyperbolic material to date.

Though blooming as slowly as "Stonemilker", the string-swathed opener to Bjork's 2015 effort Vulnicura, Utopia's intro track "Arisen My Senses" produces a flower that's exponentially more fragrant/gaudy/harmonically layered/abstract-expressionist than its predecessor. When Bjork's not belting gale-force cries into the exosphere, she's filling in the space below with the whispered germination of love. "Weaving a mixtape, with every crossfade," she sneaks beneath her own synthesized chorus: the affection here is as seemingly world-changing (and unwieldy) as a teenage crush, carefully curated playlists sent as gifts and all.  

The title track is the album's most solid cut. Beginning with a lengthy instrumental section, its woodwinds and sampled insect sounds are spooky and humid as the alien landscape record's visual accompaniments depict. Digital percussion clicks and shuffles to the speedy rhythm of Chicago's footwork scene. Woozy orchestral arrangements approximate a trap melody, the twittering of "unseen birds never seen or heard before".

Listening, you really feel as if you're walking through a conservatory or an aquarium only to discover that you're what's behind the glass.

3. Neatpop - The Ongoing Tragedies of Spectra and Little Lucille
(2017 Vore Music)

It sounds chewed-up and spit-up. Not quite recycled in the way that hip-hop chops and screws its samples: The Ongoing Tragedies is almost fully digested, tinged with acid burns and vaguely speckled with the folksy bedroom pop it must have been in some earlier state. Detuned keyboards crumble against creaking drum loops, tapping out skeletal beats. Neatpop fills these haunted spaces with the sad-sack spirits they've summoned, which giggle and screech in their own, nightcore-d language. The music's sickly, but oozes a sweetness I almost feel bad for enjoying: The Ongoing Tragedies feels gloomy without trying to, like taking a bite out of a microwaved burrito that's still too cold, or stepping in a lawn you didn't realize was sopping wet from yesterday's storm. 

(2017 Xamba Xuice)

If you consider the thinking man to be the type of guy who has illegally streamed every episode of Yu Yu Hakusho, flips retro Tommy Hilfiger sweaters on Depop, and is quick to drop a tweet about your mcm's aesthetic shortcomings, then Xamba Xuice is the thinking man's Brockhampton. The Soundcloud collective debuted in July with their self-titled tape, its 12 members exploring their streaming platform's sonic breadth: opening track "YESS" melts jazzy chords across crunchy kicks and snares while SWIMCOACH and Yungbabyman trade laid-back bars between the repetitions of a dancehall chorus on the ultra-hummable "SWITCHIN 180". The gang gets quasi-political atop the the new-agey synthscape of "GEORGE W. BUSH" to hilarious effect and rattle off Nintendo-themed punchlines on "GAMECUBE"'s nimble production. The collective hops from genre to genre with grace, eschewing uniformity in their production for cleverness. Whether Cloudie's comparing himself to Republican presidents or Nicx Alexander is waxing ultraviolent and poetic at the same time, Xamba Xuice oozes originality while still staying at the forefront of Soundcloud's subcultural zeitgeist. 

XAMBA XUICE is a humble tape, clocking in at just below 30 minutes, but it's so loaded with memorable flows and dorky charm that it feels much longer. It's the cool cousin you're only able to see around the holidays--the one who's always down to race you in Double Dash and toss a nerf around in the backyard if it's not too cold. What's sometimes lacking in depth here is always made up for in in dry wit, raw sauce, and a diverse range of timbres and styles.