STAFF LIST: Eli’s Top 10 Debuts of 2017

Posted: by The Editor

Over the next couple weeks, The Alternative will be publishing numerous EOTY staff lists leading up to our site-wide ‘Top 50 Albums of the Year’ article. Why so many lists? Well, we believe in giving as many bands/artists exposure as possible, and with so many great releases in 2017, more lists will cover more ground. Our goal is to help you find something new. Thank you for reading.

Every artist only gets one debut album. It can say a lot about their future trajectory, but it can just as easily be a marker of a brief moment in time. Many bands don’t make it past one album, and many that do never again capture the magic of their first. I’m betting that these 10 will bear many fruits, though.

10. Blush—Blush

Blush, which dropped on 12/8, is a perfect example of why The Alternative waits until mid-December to finalize our EOTY lists. That said, the S/T debut from the new project of ex-Darlings vocalist Maura Lynch doesn’t feel like it has any interest in meeting the standards of year-end critical praise. The record’s eight, mostly two-minute-ish songs only amount to 20 minutes worth of material, which includes a cover of a Mariah Carey song (“Fantasy”) and an instrumental that would be pegged as an interlude in most other circumstances (“Fire Island”). This isn’t to insinuate that Blush feels tossed together or underwritten—quite the opposite, actually. Despite its short runtime, the last four tracks transition gorgeously into each other, and the warm, silky mixing on here is evidence of a great deal of post-production thought. Blush is just what its name implies; a palpable yet briefly subtle flare of emotion.

9. Alex Lahey—I Love You Like A Brother

I Love You Like A Brother does a phenomenal job at putting the early twenty-something experience to music. Australian songwriter Alex Lahey blissfully sings about heartbreak, awkwardness and casual hedonism over unrelentingly peppy, delightfully glossy pop-punk songs that’re as enticing as that extra shot your friend is playfully prying you to down. Fortunately, the resulting hangover isn’t painful, it’s simply the tormenting catchiness of lines like, “I haven’t been taking care of myself/I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be in good health,” which is perhaps more of an impetus than a deterrent for future indulgences of her work. Instead of a six-pack, try pounding a few 36-minute run-throughs of this next weekend. It goes down easy.

8. Full Body—What’s Good?

Whatever the frightening, smoldering, horned beast bursting out of its home on this record’s front cover is supposed to be, it looks like an animalistic manifestation of Full Body’s sound. With bristly riffs and pointy rhythms, the Rochester, NY quartet rip up the floorboards of indie rock on these eight songs. It’s a welcomed fracas, though, as these old buildings need to be torn down and reassembled in order to appeal to new renters. Not that Full Body are finished renovating an entire genre after their debut record, a construction job like that takes time and outside assistance. But it’s a project that Fully Body and their Upstate New York colleagues in Total Yuppies, Jouska and Bruiser & Bicycle seem to be making headway on together, and within the next few years it might have some serious curb appeal. That’s what’s good.  

7. Girl Ray—Earl Grey

A lot of rock music from the last two years sounds like the 70’s. Recent albums from Big Thief, Kevin Morby, Ty Segall, Angel Olsen, Parquet Courts, Car Seat Headrest, and of course this year’s collaboration between two of the movement’s chiefs, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, pull from the era where folk-rock was in its prime and punk had yet to adopt its sharp-edged form. Aside from Barnett, though, few of these figures have emerged from outside U.S. soil, that is except for London’s self-proclaimed “girl power trio”, Girl Ray, whose contribution has been severely underappreciated in the states since it arrived in early August. Their 50-minute debut Earl Grey is an ambitious undertaking, featuring a bevy of stylistic departures, elaborate keyboard phrases, and a 13-minute jam session in the middle of the record. It’s a classically rock ‘n roll effort and they pull it off with ease, a gentle reminder of which nation—in this case rightfully—deserves to lay claim to the rock idiom.

6. Fits—All Belief is Paradise

In an interview a couple months back, Fits frontperson Nicholas Cummins told me that their album’s title, All Belief is Paradise, comes from a language poetry book called The Weather by Lisa Robertson. Cummins explained that language poetry focuses more on the way things sound than what they mean, which is a method that Fits translated into music on this record. Many of Cummins’ lyrics are intentionally difficult to follow, but each song conveys its own individual feeling. There’re puffy power-pop cuts like “Hot Topic,” “All The Time” and “Superdead;” moody, bassy ventures like “Drop Thistle,” “The Ground,” and “How Did You;” and urgent punk rippers like “Running Out” and “Mango;” each delivering their sentiments sonically rather than with lyrical specificity.

5. Nervous Dater—Don’t Be A Stranger

Don’t Be A Stranger is more than just a title, it’s Nervous Dater’s musical ideology. The Brooklyn quartet have a refreshing disregard for social norms on their debut full-length, offering excruciatingly awkward, uncomfortable and embarrassing personal details with the finesse of a reckless, drunken double-text. However, rather than cringe-worthy, their lyrics (which all four members contribute to) come across as unusually genuine. Nervous Dater songs create a unique musician-listener dynamic; one that feels like you’re hearing out a close friend, or even having your own suppressed emotions validated by the fearlessly forward frontwoman, Rachel Lightner. Her and her bandmates slam through some of the most exhilarating pop-punk, hooky indie rock, and engaging emo of the year on this record, all while puking their innermost anxieties all over the kitchen floor. By the end, though, they still have more guts than any one of their peers.

4. Melkbelly—Nothing Valley

There’re quite a few spots throughout Nothing Valley that warrant a quick glimpse at the track title to make sure you haven’t accidentally skipped to a totally different artist. The best of these occurs halfway through the third track, “R.O.R.O.B.,” shortly after frontman Miranda Winters tepidly utters her eighth repetition of the line, “concrete is raw / concrete is cold.” Just when you think you have a solid idea of where the song’s going, it completely falls over itself and becomes a chugging, sludgy, sinister breakdown that could (fittingly) soundtrack someone slipping and slamming face-first into cold, raw concrete. The majority of the record oscillates between tangentially melodic alt-rock (“Cawthra,” “Kid Kreative”) and gnashing noise-rock (“Middle Of,” “Off the Lot,” “Twin Lookin Motherfucker), and although the tracks that pound those two sides against each other the hardest are the standouts (“R.O.R.O.B.” and “RUNXRN”), Nothing Valley as a whole is one of the most thrilling rock albums of the year.

3. Partner—In Search of Lost Time

A lot of rock music the last few years also sounds like the 90’s. Partner are a Canadian two-piece that provide full disclosure of the decade that influenced them most, with songs about corny daytime T.V. shows like Maury and Judge Judy, an open affinity for grunge riffs, and a sense of humor that recalls the slacker goofiness of Wayne’s World. Despite their lack of self-seriousness, though, Partner are serious musicians, and In Search of Lost Time is perhaps the best product of the 90’s revival because it doesn’t sound dated at all. The tongue-flicking solos, anthemic melodies, whimsical lyrics and profoundly delectable riffs form truly terrific rock songs that render the generic question, “are they reinventing the wheel?,” moot. This band doesn’t care to make a sweeping impact on the current state of guitar music, they’re just trying to kick back, munch on some snacks, and crank out some kick-ass tunes. That’s rock ‘n roll in its purest form.

2. Hand Habits—Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)

To continue the theme of retrospection, there was a swarm of intimate folk records that dropped in 2017. Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void), nearly a year after its release, continues to be the lushest, most vivid of them all, though. Tracks like “Actress” and “All the While” begin tenderly and slowly unfold into something gorgeous and winding yet smooth and tranquil—with just a touch of mellow psych-rock to drive them forward. Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy is only in her mid-twenties, but she possesses the patience of an elder songwriter. She sounds wise, experienced and unwavering throughout her 50-minute debut, as if she’s been doing this at least a decade longer than she actually has. Like the sun peaking through the clouds on a frigid February afternoon, her songs glisten momentarily before tucking back into a dense haze. But Wildly Idle sounds like you’re gazing at the sky through the window of a cozy bedroom; nothing about this record feels cold, but the treasured rays of light that occasionally do land on your skin certainly feel warm.

1. Vagabon—Infinite Worlds

Infinite Worlds is a personal album. Its eight songs are about songwriter Laetitia Tamko’s own experiences with heartbreak, maturing and feeling helpless; like a small fish in a world full of sharks, as the brilliant opening track “The Embers” references. Although it’s an album that’s all hers, it’s one that’s eerily encapsulated a lot of the general sentiments most of us have been feeling throughout the last year. Inferiority is the main one, which “The Embers” tackles epically, but there’s also lines about feeling completely lost and isolated (“I’ve been hiding in the smallest spaces/I’m dying to go, this is not my home”); about feeling expendable (“you were only a casualty in my cleaning house again”); and about being sucked dry emotionally (“take what you need and go/don’t look back and see if the well is producing any more water”). Again, all of these lyrics are specific to Tamko’s own identity, experiences and emotions. She’s not writing them for anyone else. But hearing her deliver them so powerfully inspires me to interpret them through my own experiences and emotions. It’s one of those records that feels like an eternal flame, and throughout this year of social and political fluctuation, it’s been a rare source of reliability.

Eli Enis | @eli_enis


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