Best of 2017 – 2/4

Pitchfork tells me that my preferred genre is Contemporary Adult Indie. And Pitchfork should know. So, here are five albums from some of my favourite purveyors of Contemporary Adult Indie that were released this year.

The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

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It was tough to follow Lost In The Dream. And A Deeper Understanding was always likely to be received as Lost In The Dream Pt. 2. Was it less thrilling? A little perhaps. Was it slightly mellower? The chances are. Was it a deeper understanding? Undoubtedly.

Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins

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Five years between albums is a long time. And Grizzly Bear returned to a very different world. For that reason if no other, Painted Ruins didn’t have quite the same impact as Yellow House or even Veckatimest. But there were some great tunes and some great titles. ‘Systole’, that point in the heartbeat process when the heart is contracting.

Iron & Wine – Beast Epic

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From The Creek That Drank The Cradle through to Ghost On Ghost, Sam Beam’s trajectory seemed perfectly linear. From spare and plaintive songs through to rich, multi-tracked arrangements. But with Beast Epic there was a return to somewhat simpler musical times. The result was a real gem.

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

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The anticipation is always better than the event. And Crack-Up conformed to that general rule. But this was still a fine album. The figurative Crack-Up was perhaps taken a little too literally on some of the tracks, notably the opener, whose whole was not the sum of its parts. Yet, rejoice nonetheless. For Fleet Foxes are back.

Conor Oberst – Salutations

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In more ways than one, Salutations was Ruminations plus. With the welcome addition of Ian and James Felice among others, Conor Oberst transformed 2016’s stripped-down set into a full-on band experience and added some new tunes for good measure. Next year, expect the arrival of the version for orchestra and massed choir.

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Ten best Grizzly Bear songs

Grizzly Bear have just put out a new album, Painted Ruins. It’s their first in five years. On first listen, it sounds as good as anything they’ve done before. To celebrate, here are the ten best Grizzly Bear songs prior to the new release. The only caveat was that there had to about a roughly equal number of Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste songs. Here’s what the algorithm returned.

While You Wait For The Others

Yet Again

Ready Able

On A Neck, On A Spit

Little Brother (Electric)

Knife

Sleeping Ute

Two Weeks

Alligator (Choir Version)

Plans

Grizzly Bear – Bear Rampant

Grizzly Bear – Shields: B-Sides

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This collection should come with a health warning to aspiring artists. Beware: This Is What Grizzly Bear Can Leave Off Their Albums. There are at least two tracks here that would not grace not just any normal record, but that might still end up being on many people’s end-of-the-year best-song list. The first is Daniel Rossen’s ‘Smothering Green’. It’s both utterly beautiful and fantastically hummable. Arranged in five acts, the first three increase the tension incrementally, the fourth releases it, and the fifth provides a wonderfully liquid ending. It’s a fully realised track that perhaps should have been included on Shields. If it had replaced ‘A Simple Answer’ with its almost unrelenting and distinctly un-Grizzly Bear-ish drums, it would have made a lovely centrepiece to the record. But it was discarded. The second is ‘Taken Down’, one of the three demos from the Marfa sessions. This is a classic Ed Droste song. The verse/chorus just goes straight into your head and won’t come out. For a song that could have become another ‘Two Weeks’ or ‘Yet Again’, it’s amazing that it was omitted. Perhaps it was psychological. The Marfa sessions in Texas were traumatic. Seemingly, none of the tracks recorded there found their way on to Shields. Maybe ‘Taken Down’ was consciously or sub-consciously repressed so that the band could make a clean start. Whatever the reason, it’s good that it’s now out in the open. What does let this collection down are the remixes. They’re an acquired taste anyway. But, here, they’re unusually uninteresting. ‘Sleeping Ute’ becomes so laid back that it’s best to think of it as ‘Sleeping Yurt (the Parks and Recreation Remix)’. As for the ‘Gun-Shy (Goes to The Disco Remix)’, the less said the better. What they do demonstrate, though, is that Grizzly Bear are at their best when they’re in control of their own sound. We have to accept this includes the right to leave off some truly great songs from their albums. But at least we can be pretty sure that at some stage we’ll get to hear them. Shields: B-Sides is proof.

Pitchfork review

Pretty Much Amazing review

The Line of Best Fit review