15 Dec 2017

TONEwood's Top 10 Non-Metal Albums of 2017

They say variety is the spice of life. For years heavy metal has been my go-to music style, and to this day it remains the style that I consume the most of. But even if heavy metal has numerous very different subgenres, there always manages to sneak a bunch of very un-metal albums into my consciousness. These are the Top 10 non-metal albums from 2017 according to the Gospel of TONE.

If streaming is your thing, you can listen along right here:

10: Horisont - About Time
For a band that has already released nothing but great rock albums, About Time sure feels fresh. Lovers of Time Warriors or Second Assault should feel right at home in this next of simple 70s hard rock tunes, but at the same time the dudes in Horisont have bestowed upon us a harder prog edge than on earlier efforts. Track for track, About Time might be the most thoroughly enjoyable album from Horisont, and also of the entire 70s throw-back hard rock substyle. Though this is of course a bold claim, it's not hard to believe once you've heard tracks like Electrical.

 9: Ryan Adams - Prisoner
I'll admit that I'm a sucker for Ryan Adams. His songwriting has remained oddly relevant and forthcoming for a number of years, and he just keeps it coming. Prisoner's sound production alone is a study in modern singer-songwriter rock music, but the way Adams builds up to his choruses with contrasting crunch and light hearted strings and organs is eternally a winning recipe. His latest true album isn't immediately as enticing and catchy as 2014's self-titled full length, but it continues to grow even now, almost a year after its release in February 2017.

8: Deathray Bam! - Blackk Mirror
Is it too narcissistic to put an album on the list if your own label released a physical version of it? Hell yeah it is, but obviously I wouldn't put it out if I didn't think it was top shelf stuff. That so few artists have made the musical connection between the thick 80s synthwave and the cold dramatics of synth-pop and new wave is incredible. Blackk Mirror, put forth in early 2017 by the Brazilian synthwaver, isn't just an album with potential - It portrays an artist who is confident in what he's doing, and this mix of styles feels both unique and necessary in a music scene that is being plagued by sameyness. Just listen to A Spell On You. It's like the perfect amalgam between Depeche Mode, The Sisters of Mercy, Anoraak and Com Truise. What more could you possibly want?

7: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Polygondwanaland
Here we are with another TONEwood release, but obviously TONEwood doesn't truly own the music - In KGLW's own words, it belongs to the fans. Of the four albums King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard put out in 2017, I found Polygondwanaland to be the most enticing. Spicing up their psychedelic garage jams with some more progressive influences suites their style very well, and the resulting album is chuck full of brilliantly memorable segments. For a band to release material of this quality for free and encouraging fans and labels to release their own versions of it is incredible, ballsy and totally cool.

6: Tinariwen - Elwan
Tinariwen is already a band with an insane amount of experience, and they really let that show with Elwan. Their quirky desert blues is in a league of its own, where busy percussion assists the semi-clean guitars in creating that unique atmosphere of western and Saharan culture combined. Not only are they obviously comfortable with their style, they've mastered it to the point where their little hints of experimentation and risk-taking is completely seamless and feels right at home among more traditional chords and instrumentation. As a whole Elwan is refreshingly informal and relaxing, but the group still manage to find elbow room for some more physically engaging rock tunes.

5. Lazerhawk - Dreamrider
Leave it to Lazerhawk to never stay in one place for long. Where the initial albums defined the hard electro surface of outrun synthwave, 2013's concept album Skull and Shark took a turn into heavier and darker territories. It's been quite a while since anything has been heard from the Hawk, but with Dreamrider it's been worth it. By now the synthmancer has swerved into another new part of town. Gone are the ghostly streetcircuits, replaced by dreamy futuristica. This utopia bids you welcome with drowsy synth-pop, Jarre-esque soundscapes and chilling swells somewhat reminiscent of Com Truise's laid back chillwave. The throbbing bass tells us that Lazerhawk is definitely still a synthwaver at heart, but his music has evolved into a broader spectrum of electronica.

4. Demon Head - Thunder on the Fields
You'd be excused for thinking that 70s revival hard rock is a tired concept by now, but leave it to the Danes in Demon Head to change your mind through the sheer undeniable force of engaging guitar play and extravagant vocal lines. There is indeed thunder on the fields when the half-clean, but ultra dirty, guitars buzz into life. The album is the perfect combination of lethargic psychedelia and hard hitting rock the way the devil likes it. Without resorting to classic Sabbathism or heavy use of occultism, Demon Head make use of a classic band lineup and an undeniably groovy internal dynamic to create this phenomenal rock album.

3. Sequestered Keep - Wandering Far
I only recently discovered how well dungeon synth was doing as a genre. For those new to the concept, it's a music style that takes inspiration from traditional folk music, 16-bit era video game soundtracks, early black metal and fantasy in a mix that evokes ancient ruins, vast landscapes, gruesome battles and distant, foreign lands. And few check off every box while managing to keep the music itself interesting like Sequestered Keep. Too often these types of artists get lost in their concept before actually creating worthwhile compositions, but Wandering Far is as evocative as it is enthralling.

2. The Night Flight Orchestra - Amber Galactic
It's not often that an album comes along where every single track is an instant hit. From Midnight Flyer to Something Mysterious, Amber Galactic has everything an 80s rocker could possibly want: Powerful vocals, great riffs and easy to follow choruses. This album definitely gives you wings and should quite easily win over the Boston/Journey/Yes/Queen/Foreigner crowd with its boisterous tunes that are equal parts rock and pop. Ironically this non-metal Nuclear Blast entry is probably the best stuff to come out on that label in years, and I enjoy NFO much more than any of the metal bands the members are otherwise engaged in.

1. Bonobo - Migration
Night Flight Orchestra were so close to stealing this spot, but Bonobo's pleasingly chill electronics goes a little further in pure substance. Though I'm no long time fan, Migration to me feels so laden with quality and memorable material that it beats out every prior album from the artist. Every track is pure craftsmanship and has an ability to conjure up moods like nobody's business. Migration really shows how far music has come and is a testament to modern songwriting with its intricate passages that come off as deceptively simple while they're neck deep in a sea of detailed layering. The power inherent in Bonobo's fragile soundscapes is incredible and speaks of a true Best of the Year experience.

Honourable Mentions:

1: NP at the Banishing Point - NP at the Banishing Point
Drummer/vocalist NP Nielsen has already been active in the Danish rock and metal scene for years in bands such as The Kandidate and, more recently, Disrule. As a result of his somewhat prominent career in music, this debut solo album - backed by old companions and seasoned musicians - feels like a mish mash of styles and impressions, all of them hard-hitting, dirty and filthy in their own right. NP at the Banishing Point is equal parts doomed metal, stoned rock and punked blues, fronted by NP himself, delivering his best vocals to date. If bands like Motörhead, Black Sabbath, Fu Manchu and The Shrine are your jam, let NP into your home. His band will consume your booze, but you'll have a great time.

2: Antibalas - Where the Gods are in Peace
With all the hate going around, Antibalas delivers a much needed oasis of festive peace and colourful music. Compared to many concurrent practitioners of the afrobeat style, Where the Gods are in Peace feels very old school. Their jazzy grooves have that almost tribal feel to them that the likes of Manu Dibango and Fela Kuti popularised with their music in the 70s, but Antibalas add lots of Caribbean and latin character with their rhythms that drag their latest album in an even more exciting direction. It's predominantly relaxing but also an adventurous endeavour. Antibalas aren't exploring territory unbeknownst to them, but they're certainly mapping the area better than most with chilling instrumentation and lengthy jamming passages.

3: The Souljazz Orchestra - Under Burning Skies

The Souljazz Orchestra comes off as a group more willing to experiment with the afrobeat style than most, going on more poppy tangents and relying more on basic but memorable - and ultimately slightly repetitive - structures than most contemporaries. This definitely plays to the group's strengths as songwriters, and Under Burning Skies takes a place as a memorable and easily accessible album as a result. Their tunes have just the right amount of mainstream-friendly quirkiness while also staying true to the basics of the style. Totally laid back, you'll feel content relaxing to these tunes while the sky is burning above you.

Post your own top 10 or comments below!

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