Bag’s Top 17 of 2017

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: RagnarokCrash“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.