2017 was a disorienting year. Looking back feels like remembering a fever dream — all the details sort of blur together, washing in and out of your mind’s eye, leaving you with little of anything except a weird feeling of lethargic anticipation that’s hard to shake.
Not to say that music in 2017 ever made me feel sick — I mean, most of the time it didn’t. But thinking back on a lot of the records released over the past year gives me that same feverish, blurry sensation. There were few releases that jumped out or demanded attention, and even fewer achieved this through the sheer novelty of their work.
There’s something to be said for the mastery of synthesis of many different influences in music. It’s not hard to argue that essentially all the creative process amounts to is ripping off enough stuff until it feels completely different. But something was missing in 2017. Maybe that’s not the fault of the musician, though. Culturally, major issues, divisions and institutions remained stagnant or simply got louder without taking on any real nuance. It’s possible that music just reflects that.
What will 2018 be like? It’s hard to tell. Many musical innovators are confirming that they’ll be putting new material out, but that doesn’t guarantee anything.
Either way, here are a few releases to look out for.
Migos, “Culture II”
When Emory needed the hip-hop trio the most, they, well, weren’t ever coming. But at least they’ll probably make the release date for “Culture II,” Migos’ upcoming third studio album, set to be released on Jan. 26. An honest appraisal finds the record slightly behind the first of its name: “Stir Fry” is fun but isn’t even a fraction as hyped as “Bad and Boujee,” and “Motorsport” — we don’t need to talk about the lyricism. But never forget — this is the same trio that brought us “No Label II.” They’ve destroyed the sequel game before; can they do it again?
Car Seat Headrest, “Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)”
After almost seven years, singer-songwriter Will Toledo returns to his indie-pop-cult wonder “Twin Fantasy,” to be released Feb. 16 — but this is no simple remaster. “It was never a finished work,” Toledo said in a Jan. 9 statement when announcing the release. “It wasn’t until last year that I figured out how to finish it.” Every single track on the album has been re-recorded and reworked to fulfill his final vision. The biggest change? The movement away from the lo-fi sound of the original, which to many defined the album. But even through the updated, glam-rocked out chorus of “Nervous Young Inhumans,” you can hear every one of 19-year-old Toledo’s thoughts, hopes, fears come alive to him yet again. Sure, you can revisit the past — but can you ever really rewrite it?
David Byrne, “American Utopia”
If you haven’t been following David Byrne’s solo career, you’ve been missing out. Does he produce the simultaneously genre-bending and defining work he did as the frontman of Talking Heads? Not quite. However, his more recent collaborations with Brian Eno and St. Vincent find strength by putting the stylings of contemporary pop into the hands of a new wave mad scientist — and “American Utopia,” slated to release March 9. “Everybody’s Coming To My House” is an uptempo, groovy romp through this layered dance of instrumentation that seems weirdly suited to a Bond movie, and his lyricism is as thrillingly strange and passionate as ever.
Mount Eerie, “Not Only”
Mount Eerie’s “A Crow Looked at Me” is an album about death. Sometimes, that feels wrong. Listening to it alone is like reading someone else’s diary, telling all your friends about it and discussing it in plain view. This is admittedly unfair: Critics especially have been very empathetic in their coverage, and Elverum consciously let this music into the world. But the feeling of violation is hard to shake when confronted with the stark, gray, monolithic anguish of loss. His upcoming album “Not Only,” set to be released in March, promises to be a further exploration of that diaristic style — ”Distortion,” the first single, is as sobering, thought-provoking and heartbreaking as anything on “A Crow” but is a much more focused meditation on memory and its power.
And in 2018, as we sort through the strange haze of our history, we might end up needing something exactly like that.