1. The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
Even if these guys weren’t one of my all time favorite bands… even if I haven’t travelled all over the United States to see them live… and even if I didn’t feel a little bit stalker-ish about Greg Dulli, this is clearly one of the most exciting albums of the past year and features one of my most played songs of the year, “Demon in Profile.” The boys nail the dark, edgy rock that brought them to my attention (listen to “Copernicus” and “Oriole” and “Arabian Heights,”) the soul that makes their brand of rock so unique (listen to “Toy Automatic” and “The Spell,”) and unforgettable choruses (listen to “I Got Lost” and “Light as a Feather” and “Into the Floor.”)
2. U.N.K.L.E. – The Road: Part 1
Moody and haunting (listen to “Nowhere to Run / Bandits“), Lavelle has perfected his form of trip-hop-influenced soundscapes. With guests galore, including frequent collaborator Mark Lanegan (listen to “Looking for the Rain“), Keaton Henson (listen to “Sick Lullaby“), Eska (listen to “The Road“), and the star-packed favorite track of mine “Cowboys or Indians.”
3. Wolf Alice – Vision of a Life
Complex guitar tones enveloped in shoegaze textures (listen to “Heavenward“) all carried by a haunting female vocals. Occasionally rocking (listen to “Formidable Cool” and “Yuk Foo“), always melodic (listen to “Don’t Delete the Kisses” and “Visions of a Life“), and deeply evocative (listen to “Planet Hunter” and “Sky Musings.”)
4. Bleachers – Gone Now
It’s no surprise with the pop pedigree of Bleachers’ sole member (the official stage name of songwriter and record producer Jack Antonoff) that this is a record full of soaring melodic anthems (listen to “Everybody Lost Somebody” and “I Miss Those Days” and “Dream of Mickey Mantle.”) What is surprising is how well the eclectic collection of contributors (which includes Organized Noize, Nineteen85, and many others) work with Antonoff’s superior songwriting.
5. Venn – Runes
It’s rare that an album so clearly taps into precedent records yet comes off sounding refreshingly new. Venn does just that with their atmospheric synth-driven masterpiece, taking listeners on a journey through late-Joy Division (listen to “Real Blood” and “Waxen Palm”) to early-New Order (listen to “Legacy Project” and “Esalen 64”) to Antlers (listen to “Supernature” and “Bigger Fiction.”)
6. Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder
Upon first listen, it sounded like BSS recorded the album in a concrete basement under the ocean. Upon further listens, my ears peeled back the layers and discovered the real magnificence of this record: complex sonic mosaics of deftly placed organic (e.g. real) instruments, electronics, and keyboards. Always cognizant of melody, BSS explores complex song patterns (listen to “Vanity Pail Kids” and “Stay Happy” and “Please Take Me With You”), enchanting duets and swaps between male/female singers (listen to “Protest Song” and “Victim Lover”), and subterranean bass lines (listen to “Hug of Thunder” and “Towers and Masons.”)
7. Slowdive – Slowdive
One of my most anticipated records, Slowdive made a magnificent return to recording and performing their timeless style of shoegaze dream pop. Hard to believe that it’s their first album in 22 years, because this record is flawless in its gorgeous showcase of ethereal reverb-drenched production (listen to “Go Get It” and “Slomo“), somber mood (listen to “Sugar for the Pill” and “Don’t Know Why“), and songcraft (listen to “Everyone Knows.”)
8. The Bloody Beetroots – The Great Electronic Swindle
With guest artists up the yin yang – including Perry Farrell, Jet, Karen O, and more – this is the pump your fist in the air and do the pogo for hours anthem album of the year. Think classic hardfloor meets Prodigy (listen to “Drive“), Rage Against the Machine (listen to the song that should have been the main fight song from Thor: Ragnarok “Crash“and “Fever“), KMFDM (listen to “Pirates, Punks & Politics” and “Irreversible” and “Wolfpack“), and Steve Aoki (listen to “Invisible.”)
9. All We Are – Sunny Hills
Their self-titled album set the stage, but Sunny Hills brings the house down. All of the things that made me love the Joy Formidable (listen to “Human“) and Denali (listen to “Burn It All Out“) and even #3 on this list Wolf Alice (listen to “Animal.”)
10. Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
Seems like too many bands are named “cloud” something… anyway, these guys nail classic indie rock in the vein of Get Up Kids and Saves The Day – from when both bands were their most angsty. This record is a fresh take on a familiar genre with guitar-centric tracks that are overdriven (listen to “Internal World” and “Darkened Rings“), loud (listen to “Things Are Right with You” and “Modern Act“), and emotional (listen to “Up To The Surface” and “Enter Entirely.”)
11. Pile – A Hairshirt of Purpose
With the dissonance of Three Mile Pilot (listen to “Rope’s Length” and “Dogs“), the edginess of Drive Like Jehu (listen to Texas” and “Fingers“), and the driving beats of Girls Vs. Boys (listen to “Hairshirt”), I’d call these guys the Raymond Carver of post-punk / post-hardcore. You’re Better Than This hooked me on this great band; Hairshirt sealed the deal.
12. Robert Plant – Carry Fire
Weary, wise, deliberate, thoughtful; this sums up Bob and the one he sets with most of this record (listen to “A Way With Words” and “Keep It Hid” and “Dance With You Tonight.”) Bob has travelled the world and experienced places and cultures that most of us will never read about (listen to “Carry Fire” and “Bones of Saints“), and the wisdom that comes with a 50+ years in rock and roll is evident throughout this masterpiece.
13. Cloud Control – Zone
Synth-driven pop music that balances its catchy melodies with strong beats, Cloud Control draws from Oh Minnows and Say Hi with nods to sonic textures of the late-1970s (listen to “Treetops” and “Panopticon“) and early-1980s (listen to “Zone (This Is How It Feels)” and “Rainbow City.”)
14. Blinker the Star – 8 of Hearts
I never saw this one coming: one of those bands form the early 90s that were supposed to blow up but then never went anywhere. Over eight tracks, however, these Canooks showcase some serious melodies (listen to “Heather” and “Orion“), cathcy riffs (listen to “Wear the Crown,”) and and timeless songwriting (listen to “Caves and Shadows” and “Living Proofs.”)
15. David Grisman & Tommy Emmanuel – Pickin’
I grew up listening to David Grisman and countless other bluegrass and acoustic jazz records. This fun record covers the gamut from uptempo swing numbers (listen to “Zorro’s Last Ride” and “Tipsy Gypsy“) to lovely ballads (listen to “Tracy’s Tune” and “Cinderella’s Fella.”)
16. Death of Lovers – The Acrobat
I’m new to Death of Lovers, but channel your inner 13-year-old gothic kid living in the basement and listening to early Cure, Dreamtime-era Cult, Psychedilc Furs, and Flock of Seagulls. Reverb-heavy guitars (listen to “Ursula In B Major” and “The Lowly People“), beautiful darkness (listen to “Divine Song” and “Orphans Of The Smog“), and even a sax solo! (listen to “The Absolute“)
17. 12AM – Afterparty
It’s a post-Weeknd world out there, but every so often someone comes along who takes the overdone world of ethereal electro slow jam and offers something new (listen to “Afterparty” and “White Winter.”) I’d never heard of 12AM before; and while I initially cringed at the idea of a crooning soulful white Canadian millennial (“Living in Toronto on my own for the first time really brought out all the feelings in this EP,” he says… WTF?!?!) this youngster nails the formula (listen to “Couple Pills (feat. Jez Dior)” and “The Comedown.”)
Honorable mentions: the Sabbath-like heavy slow crawl of Whatever Witch You Are from Walter Schreifels’ Dead Heavens; the soulful synth-laden duets on Love, Hugh from Hugh; the haunting electronica of David Bazan’s Care; the cornucopia of decades and styles on Wax Fang’s surprising Victory Laps; the trap/R-n-B stylings (and ridiculous title track) on Tribe Society’s compelling We Sell Drugs; the undeniable appeal of the American Eagle/Old Navy/Pac Sun-in-store-music-sounding Closer by Wild Cub and Stay Cool by Twinsmith; the signature Charlatans UK songwriting and guitar-driven Britpop on Different Days (though is it just me or does Tim Burgess’s voice sound different?); the hooky dreampop of the Ten Fé debut Hit The Light; the excellent Pete Yorn-sounding indie rock of The Great Detachment from Wintersleep; the loudly emotional post-punk You’re Not As ___ As You Think from Sorority Noise; the triumphant and complex return of LCD Soundsystem with American Dream, featuring my most played song of 2017, “Oh Baby”; the gritty, catchy, bouncing indie rock of Promise from Pictures and Hot Thoughts from Spoon; all of those bands that I love and continue to push out new music that rivals their best, including the evocative Prisoner from Ryan Adams, the sonically adventurous Villains from Queens of the Stone Age, the pop masterpiece The Echo Of Pleasure from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, the masterpiece Little Fictions (and one of my favorite live shows from 2017) from Elbow, and the pop crooning The Far Field from Future Islands; the head-nodding and addictive desert rock of Drive Like Maria with Creator, Preserver, Destroyer; the jangle dream pop of Pillow Talk on This Is All Pretend; and the beautiful, ethereal Stargazing For Beginners from Pale Seas.
- My album of the year is Unkle‘s “The Road, Pt. 1”. James Lavelle won me back this year, conducting beautiful, cinematic collaborations with many new artists, mixed in with some of his finest beats.
Venn – Runes British krautrock with Joy Division influence.
Spoon – Hot thoughts Fantastic return with big, dark, driving dancey songs.
Future Islands – The Far Field I finally saw the light and became a fan of this Baltimore band with their catchy synth-rock jams.
Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah – Diaspora One of the three albums this prolific Jazz musician released this year, collaborating with a wealth of artists.
New Swears – And the Magic of Horses Rootsy party-punk like Fidlar.
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream NYC band’s return may not have met the hyped expectations, but it is still very good.
Death From Above – Outrage! is Now
Racquet Club – S/T The unfocused Jealous Sound fell short for me, so I was happy Blair and Sergie brought back the intensity of Knapsack for this new album.
Beach Fossils – Somersault Real Estate’s chill style has been bettered this year by Beach Fossils.
JD McPherson – Undivided Heart&Soul Midwest 50’s rockabilly-soul fusion.
Versing – Nirvana Shimmering rock from Seattle.
Pale Honey – Devotion Sexy Swedish minimalist rock.
L’Orange – The Ordinary Man Del is one of many all-star collaborators on this Tennessee hip-hop producer’s album.
Blis – No One Loves You Early Sunny Day Real Estate melodies and big Hum-inspired riffs.
PICTURES – Promise German band channels Black Rebel Motorcycle Club for a stellar album.
The XX – I See You Another beautiful minimalist rock album by these Brits and a great live show I was fortunate to see in NYC.
Hard to compile all the great 2017 releases into such a compact list, but here’s my best effort. Many honorable mentions at the end.
MuteMath ‘Play Dead’ This record has been out for several months, but it’s only recently shown itself to me. I’ve been listening to it every day. The loss of a couple long-time members of the band including monster drummer, Darren King, has made it even more impactful.
Quicksand ‘Interiors’ Hey, did you hear the mighty Quicksand are back with their first album in twenty years?! It’s no slouch either. I swear every song is good. Really can’t think of a musician more prolific than Walter, but this particular band just has a sound from another place- A heavier place.
Queens of the Stone Age ‘Villains’ Honestly their last several releases haven’t done much for me as compared with the S/T, “R” and ‘Deaf’. This time it’s different. A different sound- A get down sound. Excellent cover art as well, with a G. del Toro sort of influence. Plus, who knew J Homme was such a dick?
36 Crazyfists ‘Lanterns’ Though this album wasn’t as immediate as past works, it quickly hit me pretty hard. Great heavy songs featuring some of Brock’s best lyrics to date and amazingly full production by Holt. Also, that nimble and robust rhythm section! Kyles’s drumming is some of the most technically skilled out there, currently.
Mastodon ‘Emperor of Sand’ I’m a sucker for concept albums and nobody pulls them off like Mastodon. Best band in hard music today made up of four geniuses that all bring a strong quarter of brilliance to the table. Also, don’t miss the four song ep ‘Cold Dark Place’.
Manchester Orchestra ‘A Black Mile to the Surface’ Soaring performances and epic production. Can’t stop listening.
Wolf Alice ‘Visions of a Life’ Second full-length from UK dream rock band.
Eccentric Gentlemen ‘A Man Said to the Universe’ That one release that’s too amazing not to share, yet frustrating that many or most will never hear unfortunately. Last summer I reconnected online with one of my favorite independent musician/producers, Aaron Starr (Absent, Grazert), and was shocked to hear his new band Eccentric Gentlemen. Though Aaron has one of my favorite singing voices, this endeavor features features vocals from Ryan Taverna (Coytah), which are fantastic as well. Well-crafted, hooky pop songs so immediate it’s unbelievable.
Death From Above ‘Outrage! Is Now’ Can two guys raise any more sonic hell??
The Life and Times ’The Life and Times’ Music to get lost to. Good thing the cover is a map….a glorious skull map.
Junius ‘Eternal Rituals for the Accretion of Light’ Dark, heady and intense are words I use to describe the latest effort from Junius. I’m not smart enough to understand completely all their concepts, but I feel them. My favorite album of 2017.
So many of these could have just as easily been in my list as well: St Vincent, Chelsea Wolfe, Afghan Whigs, Ride, Slowdive, Lana Del Rey, Arcadea, Dead Heavens, Vanishing Life, He Is Legend, Venn (Runes), Bladerunner sdtk, Cloakroom, Nine Inch Nails, Royal Blood, Seether, Juliana Hatfield, Speak the Truth…, Demon Hunter, Private Lives
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets – High Visceral (Part Two): Luckily, this absolutely horrendous band name is vastly overshadowed by the frentic, kaleidoscopic, fuzz-soaked psych rock that dominates this album from start to finish. The Pink Floyd influence is unmistakable, but that is certainly not a bad thing.
Blonde Tongues – Safe Like Silk In Polyester Sheets: Gentle, sleepy shoegaze from Australia covered in reverb and echo, straight out of Brisbane. A lovely, lazy album that suits the mood of an afternoon doing nothing or everything.
Buried Feather – Mind of the Swarm: Aussies taking this list by storm! An excellent experimental psych rock album with just enough retro swagger to it. The vocals are hypnotic, the phasers are dripping and the drums are mesmerizing. A real gem unearthed this year.
Afghan Whigs – In Spades: Dulli delivered. Nothing else needs to be said here.
Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile to the Surface: A breathtaking, beautiful, and brilliant album that takes their sound to a whole new level, and is easily the richest-sounding album of the year – the production is impeccable.
Biblical – The City That Always Sleeps: Biblical’s sophomore effort is a schizophrenic album, blending elements of psych, shoegaze, stoner metal, and space rock. It’s both crushingly heavy and intricately delicate at the same time. ‘Spiral Staircase’ is a swirling, instrumental masterpiece.
Devil’s Witches – Velvet Magic: Stoner metal definitely dominated my year, and the debut album by Devil’s Witches was at the top of the list. Velvet Magic was the soundtrack of many evenings working in the garage and yard, beer in hand. The throwback sound is unmatched and the graphic design of their artwork and advertising is some of my favorite.
Brand New – Science Fiction: Recent unfortunate events aside, Jesse Lacey and Brand New delivered the best surprise album of the year. The mystery shrouding this band is incredible and it’s a shame this may be their last album.
Beastmaker – Inside the Skull: Yet another excellent stoner metal release, the sophomore album from Beastmaker draws heavily on the sound of classic bands such as Black Sabbath, Samhain/Danzig, and Pentagram, but adds Beastmaker’s own touch of dark, heavy, evil. Classic horror movie samples, nasty, sludge riffs, and raw drums fill this album from a band often compared to Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats.
Desertshore – Arc of an Arrow Blind: A gorgeous instrumental album of ringing, lush, electric guitars and a pleasant accompaniment of piano and keyboards give this album an almost (showing my age and music store history here) Narada-esque new age sound, but it works quite well. Easily my favorite Desertshore album thus far.
Death From Above – Outrage Is Now!: Another crushing dance-punk album that certainly does not stray from their signature sound, but somehow stuck with me much more so than their previous works. My steering wheel has taken a beating because of this one.
Story of the Year – Wolves: One of my favorite bands returns from a too-long hiatus with a PledgeMusic-funded album that does not disappoint. Huge hooks, catchy, scream-along choruses, and soaring songs fill this album from start to finish.
Torso – Limbs: Austrian (not Australian this time!) alternative psych rock reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I’ve played the hell out of this album this year. Another excellent random Bandcamp score that I stumbled upon.
Slowdive – Slowdive: The shoegaze forefathers return after an unfathomable 22-year split with an album that was certainly worth the wait.
Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1: My most surprising pick on this list, for sure. Chock-full of rappers and artists that I would normally never listen to, something about this album drew me in and sunk its gold-plated grill into me. I still don’t know what a Migos is, though.
Youngblood Supercult – The Great American Death Rattle: The final stoner metal album on my list, and another excellent one to boot. The straightforward heavy blues/metal guitar and their creepy seventies sludge vibe fill a record that I played over and over this year.
+ special Audiotree session from a few months back: