The 5 Best Albums of December 2017

Even as we took stock of 2017, we kept spinning new records to the end.

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The 5 Best Albums of December 2017

As is the custom, things slowed down on the new-release front as Thanksgiving iced over into Hanukkah and then Christmas, with most outlets—Paste included—focused more on taking stock of the year than spinning new releases. But even as we turned our attention to the Best Albums, Best Songs, Best New Artists, and Best Live Performances of 2017, we put some fresh records on heavy rotation. Here’s a look at our five favorite new releases of December.

5. Alexander: Alexander
Rating 8.1
Over the past two years and through a variety of short-run cassette releases, guitarist David Shapiro—always recording under the name Alexander—has explored a number of different moods and sounds. For his first full-length album, Shapiro leans more toward the spacious and melodic acoustic work of his 2015 release Celeste Arias, with nine songs of varying lengths and moods that cohere around the tones of his guitar and a breadth of scope that evokes the proud tradition of American Primitive music. Most of the songs on Alexander have no names, just Roman numerals as titles. That is likely the point, a way to focus our attention on the music rather than trying to parse out any meaning behind his unfolding melodies and tumbling drones. —Ben Salmon

4. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Who Built the Moon?
Rating: 8.4
“You gotta get yourself together,” Noel Gallagher sings on album opener “Fort Knox,” its massive beat and ring-the-alarm strings signaling that he intends to do just that, as he paints with a broader sonic palette than he has in years. The honking sax and glam-rock rave-up of “Holy Mountain” sees him chasing a bird who “smelled like 1969” (does that mean she smells like patchouli? Richard Nixon?), and he backs it right up against a heady swirl of Primal Scream/Rolling Stones horn punches and gospel-tinged backup vocals on “Keep On Reaching.” It’s a bracing one-two punch that, with every vicious stomp of Jeremy Stacey’s kick drum, batters away the accepted notion that this Gallagher only does mid-tempo acoustic numbers. —Madison Desler

3. Miguel: War & Leisure
Rating: 8.7
Miguel (pictured top) is back with his fourth full-length, and again, he’s going his own way. It’s not that different from his past work—this isn’t Miguel’s country record or anything—but it does find the man in a brighter, breezier place, generally speaking. Never afraid to sing of carnal pleasure, Miguel is in perhaps his randiest mood yet on War & Leisure. Sexual urges consume every word of “Wolf,” a throwback blues that underlines his stylistic range. “Harem” is a pretty, pillowy invitation. And “Anointed,” a slinky ballad with psychedelic embellishments, blurs the line between the sexual and the spiritual. —Ben Salmon

2. Scanner: Fibolae
Rating: 8.8
It feels dismissive to mention that Fibolae, the latest full-length from U.K. electronic artist Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud), is his first studio album in eight years. Considering his busy schedule of production and performance, he would have been forgiven for tossing out a bunch of dance tracks or unused pieces from his last eight years of work. Instead, Rimbaud has gifted us to a rich, emotional work that is steeped with righteous fury and terrifying calm. That sometimes arrives in the form of one track, like “Spirit Cluster,” a slowly flooding array of percussion rumbles and syncopated tones shot through with the glow of what sounds like the hum of a gentle brass band. —Robert Ham

1. Bitchin Bajas: Bajas Fresh
Rating: 8.8
The instrumental bliss-out band Bitchin Bajas were all set to exist in relative obscurity—the kind reserved for residents of the sonic fringe, makers of weird art, interstellar sound travelers. Then, last year, the Chicago-based trio made a collaborative album with odd-folk legend Bonnie “Prince” Billy, whose high profile dragged them into the knowable zone for a larger number of folks. With more ears on the hook, Bitchin Bajas have returned with their best work yet. The perfectly titled Bajas Fresh is a dynamic set of patterned tones, docile drones and burbling dervishes that prove there is real momentum to be found in meditative music. —Ben Salmon

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