The final phase of this succession of holiday celebrations was spent during New Years with some family friends at The Great Wolf Lodge, a kid-centric hotel and indoor waterpark. The experience was met with great highs and a few lows. The facility and its programming are definitely geared towards school-age kids, and the members of our group in this age bracket had a really great time. I also have an advanced toddler and an infant in my family, however, and most of the activities were categorically over their head. Very often, we had so split into groups, with one or two people who had to stay in, or at least close to, the room to attend to "the littles" eccentric needs.
When it was my turn, I felt the room was stifling. Granted, its overall cost included unlimited access to great water slides, kids programming, and “magic quests," but when I had to spend long stretches of time there with a group of small humans who could not speak English or use the potty, the barren, windowless walls and poorly maintained furniture gave me the sense that I was "confined to quarters." As a result, my patience often ran a little short, and I found myself being snippy with the people in my orbit for no apparent reason.
This experience at the Great Wolf Lodge unfortunately serves as a microcosmic example of my mood as the year drew to a close. Having two very young children has been tough, especially with an older third one who is struggling with our newly distributed attention and a wife starting her PhD coursework. The level of stress sometimes seems unmanageable, and I feel like it has been at this level for a while. While I philosophically believe that I am here to live my life in service to others, if I am to be honest, I have found keeping that belief practically difficult to sustain in recent months. I find myself at the end of my patience more often that I would like to admit. I get grumpy, cranky, and introverted when I feel overwhelmed, and anyone who met me for the first time this Fall probably thinks that I am a really big jerk. If that is so, I apologize. I am examining ways in which I can steer my actions into closer alignment with my intentions in 2018.
2017, however, sounded like this:
10. The Amazing - Gentle Stream: I initially put The Amazing on my watchlist because I heard them described as a “prog-psych” project featuring Reine Fiske, the guitarist from Dungen. While I think that Dungen is probably the more adventurous of the two groups, The Amazing has the advantage of accessibility, which allowed Gentle Stream to find its way into play quite often this year.
9. Contact - Zero Moment: This incredible synth-prog album has the distinction of being the only MP3-only album on this year’s list. It's an arresting joyride of hyperactive drums and impeccable compositions throughout.
8. Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones: I am never disappointed when I decide to pick up a Tom Waits recording. Swordfishtrombones has turned out to be one of my favorites.
7. Dawes - All Your Favorite Bands: Dawes is the current iteration of classic songwriting at its finest. While All You Favorite Bands doesn’t quite have the consistency that earned its predecessor Album of the Year in 2014, its still great enough to crack the top 10.
6. Accordio del Contrari - Violatto Intatto: Some albums sound like complete gibberish upon first listen only to reveal layers and layers nuance upon repetition. Violatto Intatto, a twisting, disorienting knot of brilliantly executed instrumental progressive rock, is exactly one of these albums.
5. Lunatic Soul - Fractured: The sound design on this albums is consistently jaw-dropping, which provides a deep environment for Lunatic Soul's compelling songwriting. It’s one of the few albums that I could favorably compare with Peter Gabriel’s solo work, although made distinct by a dark and angular instrumental approach reminiscent of Tool.
4. United Vibrations - The Myth of the Golden Ratio: The Myth of the Golden Ratio was a lucky discovery that has sustained an incredible amount of listening this year. Its “Sting-meets-Fela” vibe is both distinctive, familiar, and it checks an impressive number of personally interesting musical boxes.
3. Crying - Beyond the Fleeting Gales: It’s difficult not to at least appreciate the enthusiasm that Crying injects into their music. Beyond the Fleeting Gales is thoughtfully crafted and meticulously composed, but never at the expense of being a fun listen.
2. Astronoid - Air: Astronoid’s “dream-thrash” concept melds the rumbling blast-beats of Deafheaven with Mew’s cosmic vocals. The overall effect is like strapping on a jet-pack and blasting through the universe at light-speed.
2017 Album of the Year
1. Seabuckthorn - Turns: Looking back at the progressive rock and songwriting that traditionally dominate my Album of the Year selections, the oscillating ambiance of Turns makes it an unlikely choice at first glance. It has, however, almost served as my companion this year, providing many moments of contemplative stillness in an otherwise manic existence without ever losing a bit of its intrigue or mystique.