Viking's Choice: The Year In Cathartic Screams And Meditative Drones : All Songs Considered When so much of 2017 felt broken, it felt good to scream along to punk and metal records. But more often than not, restoration for NPR Music's Lars Gotrich came from quiet music and a good cup of tea.
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Viking's Choice: The Year In Cathartic Screams And Meditative Drones

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Viking's Choice: The Year In Cathartic Screams And Meditative Drones

Viking's Choice: The Year In Cathartic Screams And Meditative Drones

Viking's Choice: The Year In Cathartic Screams And Meditative Drones

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Clockwise from upper left: Rata Negra, Chuck Johnson, Chepang, Circuit Des Yeux. Miguel Martin Vargas, Andrew Paynter, Aaron Nichols, Michael Vallera hide caption

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Miguel Martin Vargas, Andrew Paynter, Aaron Nichols, Michael Vallera

Clockwise from upper left: Rata Negra, Chuck Johnson, Chepang, Circuit Des Yeux.

Miguel Martin Vargas, Andrew Paynter, Aaron Nichols, Michael Vallera

When so much of 2017 felt broken, it felt good to scream along to punk and metal records. But more often than not, my restoration came from quiet music and a good cup of tea. These are the realms I inhabit in my Viking's Choice column, where it's not uncommon to hear revved-up psych one day, mutant industrial-metal another and ambient Americana the next. It all works in my brain, and Bob Boilen picks that brain for our annual year-end show that's not so much a definitive list, but a broad overview of 2017.

In this episode, you'll hear Nepalese grindcore, ambient pedal steel, fiery free jazz and sacred noise, capped off with my favorite rock 'n' roll record of 2017. I've also published a 186-track Spotify playlist of songs that I loved this year including, yes, "Boys" by Charli XCX. It's the essence of our greatest discovery and my 2017 obsession: roséwave. —Lars Gotrich

Viking's Choice 2017

Chepang

06Sohjo Lato Pasu

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Chepang

  • Song: Sohjo Lato Pasu

Despite its penchant for short songs played fast and loud, grindcore can encompass a maximalist approach. Think of Gridlink's infinite riffs packed into minute-long bursts, or the sonic mauling of Pig Destroyer. I first heard of this Nepalese quintet (mistakenly called a foursome in the podcast) from friends who excitedly described Chepang's brief set at Maryland Deathfest: two drummers, two vocalists and one guitarist ramming full-speed into a psychotic whirlwind. The band, now living in New York for a decade, more than lives up to longhairs' praises with DADHELO - A Tale Of Wildfire. In under 21 minutes, Chepang understands the history of grindcore not only with technical proficiency and a surprisingly dense dynamic for an unusual lineup like this, but also with a sense of fearless abandon.

Purchase: Nerve Altar, Bandcamp

Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson

  • Song: Labradorite Eye

Chuck Johnson often writes for solo acoustic guitar, but lately has been stretching his ambient composition skills with the tenderness heard throughout his discography. For Balsams, he layers loops of pedal steel guitar that rest on the edge of dusk, just when the tumult of day subsides and seeps into the soul's reflection.

Purchase: VDSQ, Bandcamp

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Irreversible Entanglements

03Fireworks

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Irreversible Entanglements

  • Song: Fireworks

In 2017, we looked to punk to express our despair, when there's been long been a fire raging in free jazz. Irreversible Entanglements quite frankly left me stunned after a mid-summer performance at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in the nation's capital — ritualism, anger and hope all throbbed from a quintet spread out over Philly, D.C. and New York. The debut album, co-released by tastemakers in punk (Don Giovanni) and jazz (International Anthem), makes stellar use of hard-funked grooves to breathe air into the band's flames.

Purchase: Don Giovanni, International Anthem (Bandcamp)

Krallice

02Rank Mankind

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Krallice

  • Song: Rank Mankind

Krallice cannot be stopped. The band has released four albums in the past three years, each one a benchmark of modern metal. In 2017 alone, there's Go Be Forgotten, which almost sounds like a revisitation of Krallice's black-metal origins 10 years ago, if far more savage and strange. But it is Loüm, written and performed with Neurosis' Dave Edwardson on vocals and synths, that aims for pure heft, with occasionally graceful moments to breathe. Krallice's compositions can sometimes seem completely impenetrable, a concrete puzzle of metallic mayhem, but Edwardson's contributions come from a like-minded band that actively seeks new pathways to heavy.

Purchase: Bandcamp

The Fun Years

03The Delusion Always Wins

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The Fun Years

  • Song: The Delusion Always Wins

Depending on who you are when you listen to it, The Fun Years' Heroes Of The Second Story Walk-Up could feel like a moment or a lifetime. Broken into seven tracks, but best experienced as a 45-minute whole, the baritone guitar and turntable duo has made a striking piece of ambient music that blooms, disintegrates and resurrects melodic themes like a story, blurred and crackled in its own sequence. It's been seven years since God Was Like, No, a record that also ended up on a year-end Viking's Choice show, and it's evident that time has not only refined Ben Recht and Isaac Sparks' ambient music, but also magnified its emotional touchstones.

Purchase: Bandcamp

Rata Negra

02Gente

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Rata Negra

  • Song: Gente

If you are listening to punk and hardcore in 2017 and don't ingest every single release on La Vida Es En Mus, then literally what are you doing with your life? Go ahead, press play on anything from the label's Bandcamp page — from the Yonkers-based, Arabic-screamed hardcore band Haram to the Brazilian psychedelic post-punks Rakta to the first album in 11 years from Limp Wrist — you're guaranteed to rage. But all year long, I've gone back to the debut album by Madrid's Rata Negra. With members culled from two of Spain's most distinct punk bands, the 12 songs on Oido Absoluto not only combine the sharp melodic sensibilities of Juanita y Los Feos and the raw garage-glam of La URSS, but also put some serious star power behind Juanita's voice — doom and desperation distilled into instantly catchy pop-punk anthems.

Purchase: Bandcamp

Ariadne

01Wounds Renew

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Ariadne

  • Song: Wounds Renew

This is a strange Venn diagram of my very specific interests: an operatic soprano singing lyrical adaptations of Christian mystics over jittering electronics and dank synths. Ariadne's Stabat Mater fractures sacred music in profane noise, but like the controversial figures Hildegard von Bingen and Teresa of Ávila from which the Brooklyn duo takes its texts, there is divine liturgy in its sonic defiance.

Purchase: Auris Apothecary, Bandcamp

Circuit Des Yeux

02Black Fly

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Circuit Des Yeux

  • Song: Black Fly

For nearly a decade, Haley Fohr's evolution as a singer, songwriter and sound-welder under the Circuit Dex Yeux moniker has been incremental, but purposeful. Year-end lists don't always reward the slow and steady, but for the deep listeners, Fohr is one of the most consistently rewarding. As ever, Reaching For Indigo not only plays with the boundaries of folk and experimental music, but creates its own world, which Fohr confronts: "You're not the dark star they want you to be / You're just a black dot in the sky / A black fly."

Purchase: Drag City, Bandcamp

The Courtneys

04Tour

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The Courtneys

  • Song: Tour

There are only four rock 'n' roll records on NPR Music's 50 Best Albums of 2017, at least by my count. No slight on those picks from my colleagues across public radio — or a particularly strong year for hip-hop and pop music — but, hey, gimme a few guitar chords, a pounding rhythm section and songs about life and death and how dumb/great it all is and I'm set. That said, The Courtneys are my favorite rock 'n' roll band, at least right now. As the first non-New Zealand band signed to Flying Nun, the Vancouver trio embodies the weirdo pop sensibilities of the '80s and '90s Kiwi rock scene on the simply titled II, but also knows the value of repeating a hypnotic riff-and-groove combination. This is the kind of rock 'n' roll band whose logo should be Sharpie'd into notebooks along with such distance-staring musings like this, one of my favorite lyrics of 2017: "What you are and what you want to be / It takes a long, long, long, long time."

Purchase: Flying Nun, Bandcamp