2017 favorites, from Southwest Sound

by Cooper Stapleton

Azure, “Wish For Spring”Every so often a record comes around that hits me in a massive way that I never expected. “Wish For Spring” is a triumph of progressive rock, and even atop that accolade, the album is much more than a prog-rock record. “Wish for Spring” is drenched in sex appeal, emotional vulnerability, astounding musicianship, and moving and insightful lyrics. A major metric in how much I love a record is its staying power. I first heard the album in full in early March, and it has been in constant rotation since then, soundtracking every plane ride and road trip. Perhaps the most notable accomplishment in “Wish For Spring” was making a record both cohesive in theme and wide in scope, where every single track has its own identity, but you’ll never doubt who you’re listening to. The best albums let every track be your favorite, depending on the day. Today, mine is “Piglet,” the only song from this year to get me to belt out the chorus with my windows open.

War on Drugs, “Deeper Understanding”An exquisite layer cake of psychedelia, prog, quiet moments, and moments of bombast. The synth lines merge with the guitars and Adam Granduciel’s voice in such a sublime way. “The Strangest Thing” is an absolutely gorgeous song, and it made this record for me. Worth the price of admission for the chord harmonies of the guitar, keyboards, and saxophone on that track alone.

Primitive Man, “Caustic”Easily the angriest record to come out this year, my dudes out of Denver have done it once again. When I first heard the riff in “Victim,” I made a face like I had just smelled something dead, but instead of disgust, I was just angry. The vitriol at the center of the record is so grounded that it becomes emotionally heavy while simultaneously assaulting the ear drums with negative energy. Pure expression of mood is one of the reasons I seek out ever-extreme music, and “Caustic” exudes everything that its name implies.

Evergreen Refuge/Twilight Fauna, “Procession of the Equinox”This split between Evergreen Refuge and Twilight Fauna is the anthemic cry into an open canyon and the contemplation of a dying campfire. Some genre purists decry the rise of post-rock influence in black metal, but I wholeheartedly embrace it. The elements of Twilight Fauna’s sound evoke his geography while the soft plucked banjo adds an exotic twang to the shimmering guitar progressions. The Evergreen Refuge side is an experience as well, full of exotic movements, ritual drums and quiet, deliberate guitar work that crescendos into a soaring pattern before decomposing into the quiet ambiance that birthed it.

Vvilderness, “Devour The Sun”This Hungarian one-man black metal band blew me away while just wandering the bowels of Bandcamp, and I am so glad that it did. A lot of people tend to not want catchiness in metal, black metal especially, but the riff on Sol is immediately ear catching and whisks you away, much like the early viking/pagan metal of bands like Ensiferum. “Devour The Sun” scratched that nostalgia itch like nothing else I’ve heard in a long time. Album closer “Aftershine” is one of the best post-black songs I have heard, a gorgeous melding of shimmering guitars playing melancholic chord progressions while a layer of distortion slowly bubbles from below. The main chorus riff has stuck with me since hearing it, and, on chance occasion, has even caused a tear or two to fall.

Cooper Stapleton

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