MAGNET’s #4 Album Of 2017: Chastity Belt’s “I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone”

After breaking out with an album-length survey of the freaks and geeks found at most social gatherings (2015’s Time To Go Home), Seattle’s Chastity Belt returned two years later with a masterful collection of unflinching personal insight. I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone comprises the internal observations of singer Julia Shapiro (and drummer Gretchen Grimm, whose “Stuck” is a highlight). Characterizing herself as the perennial loner implied by the album’s title, Shapiro guides her crew through relatable tales of a world that preys on the introverted. Honest, matter-of-fact lyrics are aided by swirling guitars and steady rhythms. Save for jet-propelled closer “5AM,” I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone is a warm, unhurried listen. All this is coupled with the band’s delightfully wry sense of humor: Check out the shot-for-shot remake of Temple Of The Dog’s “Hunger Strike” video the women did to accompany lead single “Different Now” or their JCPenney Portraits press pics. In another time, Chastity Belt would surely be scooped up by some major label looking to add some emotional “edge” to its roster. Lucky for us, Chastity Belt exists in the present, where we can all be alone together. —Eric Schuman

MAGNET’s #5 Album Of 2017: Manchester Orchestra’s “A Black Mile To The Surface”

One of the biggest coming-out parties of 2017, Manchester Orchestra’s A Black Mile To The Surface locates the Atlanta band in the following space-time coordinates: right here and right now. The maximalist Southern-gothic album fills every available crevice with a Billy Corgan level of advanced instrumental layering, and the wonder of it all is that singer/guitarist Andy Hull’s high-lonesome voice somehow doesn’t get lost in the center of the sonic vortex. A complex narrative thread and a cinematic imperative forms the backbone of Black Mile, but the TL;DR version is that the record is a tale of maturity and fatherhood. For the 30-year-old Hull, it turns out that the rock-band touring regimen of smoking cigarettes and subsisting on Hot Pockets is no way to go through life, and the songs weave through themes of mortality and responsibility. The result is a level up from the group’s emo roots and a lateral move toward the anthemic, stylistic space previously occupied in recent years by Band Of Horses and the Shins: two bands that firmly owned a piece of everybody’s heart at some point. For Manchester Orchestra, ambition has created its own reward. —Matthew Fritch

MAGNET’s #6 Album Of 2017: Sampha’s “Process”

You can learn a lot about who’s got next by watching the VIP section at Coachella. When Stormzy, Mura Masa, members of Brockhampton and Foo Fighters plus various Hollywood types start showing up early for your set, it’s pretty clear that “a moment” is happening in front of you. The debut LP from British producer/vocalist Sampha Sisay does indeed qualify as such, an emotionally complex, subtle piece of golden-throated popcraft that registers in your memory as a soundtrack to melancholy (Sisay lost his father to cancer at a young age, his mother to the same disease in 2015) when it’s not gently coaxing you toward the dance floor. Or the bedroom. Sampha’s voice may be better known for his collab work with Solange, Drake, Kanye and Frank Ocean, but he begins to stake a claim on solo righteousness the moment that discerning ears hear “Timmy’s Prayer” and, especially, “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano,” his bid for Prince’s forsaken soul-prince throne and a tribute to his late mother that makes clear his debt to her memory and his music as a lifesaving force. Supple, sublime and slyly swinging, Process is 2017’s Channel Orange—Corey duBrowa

MAGNET’s #7 Album Of 2017: Future Islands’ “The Far Field”

The narrative for Future Islands’ fifth album is simple and linear: The Samuel Herring-fronted synth-pop band struck gold with “Seasons (Waiting On You)” from 2014’s Singles, partly on the heels of an instant-classic Letterman performance. Although the Baltimore band came out of the same scene as experimental oddballs like Dan Deacon, “Seasons” was pure pop bliss, and The Far Field doubles down on its strengths. Throbbing, New Order-ish bass lines, bubbling synths, rhythms that propel you to the dance floor, and, most of all, Herring’s emotive, gruff vocals. He’s quite the singer, conveying earnest commitment, desperation and heartache from within a muscular, masculine exterior. “Freezing rain can’t keep me away from you,” he growls on “North Star,” and there’s a sad plea within his pledge. On The Far Field, Future Islands find the difference between selling out (compromising one’s identity and values to follow paths that have potential for commercial reward) and buying in (recognizing when one has at last found a perfect alchemy, then seeing what more can be done with the ingredients). Which also meant, for Herring and Co., drafting one of their heroes—Debbie Harry—for a duet that, although it slightly disrupts the spell Herring has cast, makes perfect sense for a nigh-perfect record. —Steve Klinge; photo by Gene Smirnov

MAGNET’s #8 Album Of 2017: Queens Of The Stone Age’s “Villains”

Queens Of The Stone Age records are like strangers sidling up to you at a dive bar with a double whiskey neat and launching into a tale. Sometimes the night ends in a brawl (Songs For The Deaf) or the conversation wanders to a dark place (…Like Clockwork), but it’s never, ever a snooze. Villains heads straight to the jukebox, fires up some Prince, chats you up a bit, then dances with your girl when you’re in the bathroom. There’s a booty-shaking groove that snakes through this Mark Ronson-produced set, whether it’s the funky “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” the swing of “The Way You Used To Do” or the seductive strut of “The Evil Has Landed.” This guy’s a charmer, too—few frontmen turn a phrase like Josh Homme, who can slide from comic to confessional to sinister in a single breath (“I’m all dressed up, no one left to blow/Addiction to friction leaves you raw … All I require is a pupil, and I’m sure it’s yours.”). Even a warning about the perils of fast-lane living on “Un-Reborn Again” (“Frozen in amber eternally … drowning in the fountain of youth”) sounds like a party you want to crash. Suddenly, it’s last call, your date went home with that slick-talking damage case, and you’re not even mad about it. —Richard Rys