At the top of the end-of-year lists that music websites and magazines will put out around this time of year, you will recognize the names of a few incredible and well-crafted albums. Kendrick Lamar’s Damn. Lorde’s Melodrama. SZA’s Ctrl. Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory. What these albums have in common is that they were lucky to be released to massive commercial success, along with critical praise. Some incredible and well-crafted albums, however, don’t see the exposure and commercial success that these albums had, and therefore are often missed for many end-of-year lists. With an average of less than a million plays on Spotify and ordered by release date, here are just six of them, though they are an incredible six that deserve much more recognition than they currently do.
Fenech-Soler – Zilla
Created during a difficult time in the history of the band, following the departure of namesake founding member Daniel Fenech-Soler and drummer Andrew Lindsay, the remaining members of Fenech-Soler, bothers Ross and Ben Duffy, still managed to craft a record that stays true to the spirit of the band, which specializes in unique, experimental electronic rock soundscapes. Zilla is a very reserved album compared to their last two albums, though maintains the “glorious, unashamed pop” sound that defined the band’s career among the underground synthpop scene thus far. The Duffy brothers sought a shift in focus on instrumentals than complex lyrics, with sounds inspired by disco and “old soul vocal harmony groups”. Their result is an album driven intricately by the strings to create a sophisticated-sounding album without most of the actual sophistication. It’s simple, fun, and a very enjoyable 48-minute album from start to finish.
Kraftwerk – 3-D The Catalogue
Live albums without crowd input are not relatively new concepts; session albums and, more simply, albums recorded with the crowd instructed to hush during the songs, have been around for a long time. Live albums recorded completely without a crowd, however, is an interesting, yet effective way to breathe new life into music such as the legendary catalogue of Kraftwerk. Long-time fans of Kraftwerk’s pioneering electronic music will thoroughly enjoy founding member Karl Bartos’ new renditions of the band’s iconic discography spanning, and I kid you not, four-and-a-half hours of content across eight discs on a compilation titled 3-D The Catalouge, a ‘sequel’ of sorts to their remastered studio album compilation The Catalouge, released eight years earlier. The live album also provides a unique insight into how the modern Kraftwerk performs their songs, without the distraction of the crowd. It is absolutely surreal experience, and utterly interesting.
Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley
Words can’t describe how beautiful Every Valley by Public Service Broadcasting is. The niche of the band, setting music to archival news and documentary audio, continues on this exceptional concept album that tells the story of the mining industry in Wales. Bringing a new perspective to its rise and fall, Public Service Broadcasting emphasize the tragic ironies and the lessons that haven’t been learned from an industry that affected an entire nation during its dominance over the economy and its sharp, sudden collapse. Backed by a full brass and string orchestra, the band successfully does one of Britain’s most sorrowful stories justice, with a masterful conduction of composition, themes, sampling, and storytelling that also pays respect to the men and women affected by the decline of the industry. Throughout 2017 there has been no album quite like it, and that in its own says a lot about the idea of the album on paper, emphasizing the achievement of how well it was pulled off in practice.
The Chain Gang of 1974 – Felt
For an experimental indietronica project such as Kamtin Mohager’s The Chain Gang of 1974, big-room pop choruses and upbeat, catchy tunes were probably the last thing most followers of Mohager had for The Chain Gang’s fourth album. Lo and behold, that’s the direction he went in, and it worked surprisingly well. Felt is an absolute marvel in underground electronic music, embracing pop music sensibilities while keeping the charm of Mohager’s signature experimental style. The album is full of absolutely magical moments dominated by lofty synth and guitar riffs that shine brilliantly among all the sparkly textures that the album presents. Never have chords sounded so enchanting as they do on Felt.
Various artists – Rocket League x Monstercat Vol. 1
For the diverse range of pure talent that Canadian electronic dance music label Monstercat houses, there hasn’t really been an album with any coherent structure that properly celebrates the collective heart and spirit of Monstercat without individualizing each artist too much that particular ones are largely ignored. With the opportunity to create the soundtrack to the ever-evolving and exponentially growing sports video game Rocket League, came the chance to change that, and with that opportunity they accomplished that. Rocket League x Monstercat Vol. 1 is a spectacular compilation that brought some of Monstercat’s best artists, from Rogue to Tokyo Machine, Tristam and others, to create a thematic soundtrack based on Mike Ault and Hollywood Principle’s signature vibrant EDM sound with their original soundtrack for the game. The album serves as concrete proof that a Monstercat compilation with a unified theme and sound can work, bringing out each featured artist’s creative splendor to the table to craft many different musical applications based on the same common idea, fitting perfectly as not only a video game soundtrack, but more specifically as a worthy successor to Mike Ault and Hollywood Principle’s original Rocket League soundtrack.
Red Vox – Another Light
Having expressed on multiple occasions their desire to create a more experimental album, Twitch streamers Vin and Mike of Red Vox succeeded in creating a sophomore follow up to their debut that exceeds all expectations and elevates the band to a new level of artistic prowess. Another Light sees the band take notes from psychedelic and progressive rock, translating the idiom of changing your perspective and seeing things in another light into a transportive experience that places the audience in a spacious, freeform musical adventure accompanied by Vin’s soothing voice and the swift chemistry between Vin’s guitars and Mike’s drums. Emotional lyrics and diverse production make Another Light another kind of beast all together.
Image credits – Featured image released by Paul Hudson under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license · Artwork for ‘Zilla’ all rights reserved by Fenech-Soler and So Recordings · Artwork for ‘3-D The Catalogue’ all rights reserved by Kraftwerk, Klingklang, and Parlophone · Artwork for ‘Every Valley’ all rights reserved by Public Service Broadcasting and PIAS Recordings · Artwork for ‘Felt’ all rights reserved by Kamtin Mohager and Caroline Records · Artwork for ‘Rocket League x Monstercat Vol. 1’ all rights reserved by Monstercat and Psyonix · Artwork for ‘Another Light’ all rights reserved by Red Vox.