STAFF LISTS: Hendo’s Top 20 Releases of 2017
Posted: by Henderson
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.
2017 was the year the felt like a decade. Fortunately it was also a year that featured 100’s of incredible albums, because I don’t know if I would have been able to make it through without music as my crutch. Slimming this year’s Top 50 down was tough and my own Top 20 even harder. I hope you’ll give these albums a listen if you haven’t heard them already. I think you’ll find some gems in here.
Lomelda – Thx, Looming – Seed, Prawn – Run, 21 Savage – Issa Album, Harmony Woods – Nothing Special, Gingerlys – S/T, Princess Nokia – 1992 Deluxe, Mom Jeans / Prince Daddy / Pictures of Vernon – Now That’s What I Call Music: Volume 420, Nervous Dater – Don’t Be A Stranger & IDK – IWasVeryBad.
I first got into music during the mid 2000’s wave of emo bands: Starting Line, Taking Back Sunday, that sort of stuff. That style mostly became stale and faded away, but a decade later, bands have begun adapting the best elements of that period into fresh emotional punk that is repurposed for the current time. Macseal are 1 of the bands that I think are doing this the best. Their EP, Yeah, No, I Know, reminds me why I loved those older bands while still bringing something exciting and interesting to the table. Their back and forth vocals, twinkly guitars, and emotional screams keep me coming back again and again.
19 Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps
Phoebe Bridger writes emotional indie rock that is in some ways very similar to Julien Baker’s, but there are important differences that allow Phoebe to carve out her own place in the singer songwriter world. Her voice, like Julien’s, has immense power and emotion, but her songs, backed by drums and a full band drive forward with more rock energy. Stranger in the Alps bursts on the to scene and grabs you and doesn’t let go. The entrancing lyrics leave you in the clouds wondering how something can so fully convey what you’ve been thinking. “I’ve got emotional motion sickness / somebody roll the windows down.” This band’s potential is boundless and their ability to pull off these tracks live is second to none.
Rozwell Kid write jokey tracks about magic genies, Weird Al movies, and boogers that are packed to the gills with guitar solos. That alone is a fun time, but what makes Jordan from Rozwell Kid’s writing really special is the way that these silly tracks bury underneath real emotions and thoughtful story telling about relationships, anxieties, and life as a creative in 2017. Precious Art really isn’t anything that different for Rozwell Kid, but because they are 1 of a kind, and they keep the jokes fresh, these tracks never get boring.
Jelani Sei’s EP LVNDR TWN is far jazzier than most things I usually listen to, but as soon as heard it I immediately downloaded it and began starting my day with it every morning. The grooving rhythms build while the smooth vocals providing a flowing context to each track. There is something truly calming about their sound. By my 100th listen, I was revisiting the genre of jazz rock as a whole, maybe there’s more there than I thought, or maybe Jelani Sei are just that good.
16 Wiki – No Mountains In Manhattan
As a born New Yorker and UWS resident, Wiki’s solo album No Mountains In Manhattan made me profoundly proud. This is our city, rap is our medium, this is our story. Every line, every video, and especially every live performance was New York in a way no imposter could summon. Intricate bars delivered with the brashness of someone who isn’t looking for a hit single. As far as NY rap goes, this is as pure as it gets, and I loved every minute. In a year of resurgence for NY hip-hop, Wiki was the flag bearer.
I don’t know if a genre term already exists for music like this, but I would group Caracara in with Foxing as “Big-Band Emo”. Emotional indie tracks that employ complex and intricate instrumentals to build the feeling nearly of a fully orchestra. While this complexity could easily become distracting, Caracara are able to use the wide variety of instruments organically and create an album that is a beautiful experience. This is done with excellent songwriting and thoughtful lyrics. “If this is being civil, I want to be evil. / I want to destroy the world.”
14 The World is a Beautiful Place… – Always Foreign
On Always Foreign, The World is a Beautiful Place… mostly abandoned the slow burning complexity and expansiveness of their past albums in order to write a more direct indie rock record, and in my opinion produced their best album to date. Always Foreign’s real value comes in the complicated issues it is willing to address: American racism, betrayal by close friends, and the political nightmare we live in. As I have said before, and will say again, 2017 is a dark time for America and the world, and good art should endeavor to examine this darkness and if possible bring some solutions to the table. Always Foreign does that, and does so with endlessly re-listenable tracks that pack even more punch than one might realize on first glance.
13 Diet Cig – I Swear I’m Good At This
Diet Cig are a punk rock 2 piece (guitar and drums) that write songs about crushes, jerks, relationships, and family. A fairly common formula, but in this case, executed incredibly well. Alex and Noah are able to find a ton of variety even within their small band structure (sometimes through the addition of some cool synths) and write songs that keep you dancing while you yell along to the hooks. When Alex lets out a cathartic “fuck offffff” it feels fucking great.
12 Fire Is Motion – Still, I Try
An EP as the 12th best release of the year? Yes. These tracks are instantly memorable and cause me to burst out into song or dance without fail. They are like a warm fireplace on a winter’s day comforting and welcoming. This is all built on the next-level harmonies of the band’s 2 vocalists. The way their voices combine and build to crescendos is one of the most exciting things I’ve heard all year. In just a few songs they have accomplished more than all but a few albums, and have left me clamoring for more.
Bully’s Losing is a straight up rock n roll record that feels fresh in 2017 when most rock has gone either a punkier or indie direction. It’s an angry bitter break up album that really couldn’t be described as emo, proving that emo doesn’t have a stranglehold on the topic. But it’s Alicia Bognanno’s lyrics and vocals that really make Losing one of the best releases of the year. “They say I’m running, but I don’t care. / I’ll admit it, I get anxious too!” Her hushed screams and crooning hooks stick in your head and you don’t want to listen to anything else.
I had never heard a band that sounded like Greet Death. After hearing Dixieland, I set out like a detective to research this band and their sound and how the hell something this cool had emerged. When I finally did get a chance to talk to them, they told me something to the extent of “We were making music that sounded very different, but then we saw Cloakroom set up a wall of speakers and melt faces off, and we wanted to do that too”, and you know what, that’s exactly what it sounds like. When these songs rumble forward like a stone golem on the attack you will be left in awe.
9 Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights
Julien Baker’s music is pure emotion. The limited background instrumentation leaves her voice often isolated and laid bare. It is in these moments that the gripping intensity of feeling is most apparent in her voice. As she screams out to God and herself, fighting demons internal and external, the listener fully experiences her pain. The result is a deeply touching album that has built Julien into one of the most well-respected songwriters, vocalists, and lyricists in all indie rock, and for good reason. This is art.
8 Heart Attack Man – The Manson Family
The Manson Family is a depressing album. In many ways this album IS depression. Plodding punk rock tracks about the boredom and pure sadness that comes with the sickness. The world in gray. Music at it’s highest level is emotion distilled to its purest form and served to the listener in a way that is entertaining, relateable, and consumable. The Manson Family achieves that level of art in its depiction, and does so without leaving the listener bored or depressed themselves. These songs just rock. “Life sucks“
It’s difficult to describe what it is exactly about Strange Ranger that has me in love with their music, but it is certainly some combination of the stream-of-conscious lyrics and the winding indie rock jams. Setting this album on a record player is like sitting down for a 5 course meal at a fancy restaurant. As I proceed through the track list, I digest each song fully, marveling at each facet and savoring the textures. There is a true depth to these tracks that may not be apparent on the 1st or even 10th listen. With Daymoon, Strange Ranger have miraculously recreated the success of Rot Forever and proved they have the skill to write great music for a long, long, time.
2017 was 1 of the most difficult years of my life. I dealt with stress, physical and mental illness, and an overall dissatisfaction with the direction of the world. In this tough time, Hodera’s second album, First Things First, sat with me like a good friend. It let me know that others have felt this pain and have wondered if it would be possible to make it through the week, or even just the afternoon. Matt Smith from Hodera is able to write about mental anguish and heartbreak in a way almost no other songwriter is able to, at least nothing has ever related to me in this way. When the band builds through “Four White Walls” a track about receiving treatment for mental illness and fighting for better control over one’s mind, or “Just For Today” a song about friends and family lost far too soon, I feel the release that only great music can bring, and I feel a little less alone in this dark world.
5 Brockhampton – Saturation Trilogy
Brockhampton’s music in 2017 left me mouth agape starring at my screen. On the date of this list posting, the LA by Texas rap group/boy band will be releasing their 3rd studio album, which also happens to be their 3rd studio album THIS YEAR. A ton of music isn’t necessarily a good thing, but here it’s a great thing. Brockhampton’s 6 MCs and multiple producers blend genres in a way never before heard in rap. Part old school hip hop, part catchy boy band, and a heavy dose of Odd Future / Wu Tang diverse rap crew dynamic. The things Brockhampton attempt within 1 song (in terms of vocal shifts, beat variations, and verse interplay) are usually not even attempted within an entire album by most rap veterans. Like most rap groups, Brockhampton’s MCs are the starring attraction. The diversity in perspectives and rap styles is as refreshing as a Slurpee on a hot summer day. The sheer energy and creativity of these 3 albums makes them worthy of your time and the 5th spot on my list.
4 Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough
Early in 2017 I became enamored with Great Grandpa’s Can Opener EP. When I heard during an interview with vocalist, Alex, that their new album would be more expansive and varied than the EP, I was intrigued. From my first listen of Plastic Cough, I knew this was exactly what I was looking for. Each track ricochets through tempo changes and angular riffs, while the vocals cut through and then collect for scream-along choruses. Great Grandpa’s lyrics leave me raging at the sky or collapsed on the floor in a puddle from track to track. The sheer variety of emotional energy leaves my mind reeling. As the guitars build a wave of warm fuzz, I wrap myself in it. The album ends with a track about escaping zombies when you’re high. Plastic Cough is so my shit it’s crazy.
I was not anticipating Guppy when it arrived earlier this year, because I had somehow never heard of New York’s Charly Bliss before. But as soon as I heard “Glitter”, I knew I was in for an AOTY contender. Stunned, I immediately began listening and re-listening to this indie/punk record from front to back. Lyrical daggers matched with wailing guitars and Eva Hendricks’ squeaky vocal style. This might not necessarily sound like the combination to produce 1 of the best records of the year, but it works in a way that would have been impossible to guess. The elements of the band mixing and interwinding to produce a high energy album of scream-along belters. There is nothing else that sounds quite like Charly Bliss, and all I know is I want more of it.
2017 was a year defined by Trump, evil corporate Republicanism, and waves of stunning revelations about the deep layer of filth below the veneer of American society. Run The Jewels (a rap group made up of Atlanta’s Killer Mike and NYC’s legendary producer and MC, El P) delivered the album that perfectly exemplified the rapid fire dystopia of these times. Political and activist without being preachy, this album is a perfect example of the things that hip hop can accomplish artistically. The bars on this record are some of the smartest political commentary I’ve heard all year (not just in music but anywhere). RTJ takes on cops, the military industrial complex, corporate Democrats, Hillary shills, and more when they aren’t issuing warnings of the incoming class war. “Not from the same part of town, but we both hear the same sound coming. / And it sounds like war. / And it breaks our hearts.” I feel as if I’m being educated by master philosophers while I jam out, probably because I am.
1 Oso Oso – the yunahon mixtape
the yunahon mixtape dropped in early January; falling out of the sky like manna from heaven. Much like Run The Jewels, it was a surprise release from an artist I have followed intensely over the past few years. I took a listen and was in love. It is such a massive improvement from Oso’s last LP, Real Stories of True People, Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters, which I was already a huge fan of. The poetic songwriting, warm vocals and especially the addicting guitar melodies had me hooked. I declared it an AOTY contender almost immediately, but while most albums don’t hold up past the initial excitement of their stunning release, this one stuck with me, in fact it grew on me.
I’ve gone through phases of naming nearly every track on yunahon my “favorite”, and the album is definitely consumed best as a whole. It outlines a relationship’s growth and decline, like the changing of tides (ocean metaphors abound). When it came time to select my album of the year, usually an agonizing decision, this year there was only 1 option. yunahon was far and away my favorite of the year. It might be the best album about a relationship I have ever heard. It gets it: the good, the bad, the worries, the love, the things that don’t make sense. “I don’t blame you if your feeling confused, I would too, I would too.“
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