Monday, December 18, 2017

Top 40 Records of 2017: 10-1

2017 was kind of a weird year for me in a lot of ways.  Musically I found myself living in a lot of nostalgia.  Some of this is from the fact that I'm getting old.  I think some of it though had to do with the fact that until late October there wasn't one record that really jumped out and screamed "this is the best thing you'll hear all year."  There were a lot of great records that had been released throughout the year (a LOT of great records) but I hadn't found that one that would define 2017.  Sometimes you hear a record and know, wow this is awesome, and sometimes you hear a record and you have a spiritual experience.  I had a few of those spiritual experiences this year but it took a while to really find that one record.  I don't want it to sound like I'm burying the other records on this list, because I'm not.  Every single record on this list needs to be heard.  In fact, the top six records are especially important expressions of heart and heartache, soul and wonder, hope and desperation, and are shining beacons for those who hear them and those who need them.  In a lot of ways, until I heard that one, I couldn't single out any specific record as my record of the year because those other five hit me so hard.  All of these bands and artists should be playing to sold out rooms around the world and it is a freaking crime that most of them aren't.  I say it every year but great new music is out there, if you just know where to look.

One thing that struck me while compiling this list was the number of female artists that kept popping up.  The New York Times did an excellent piece on the fact that women are making the best music in rock today and they weren't wrong.  Women played a huge part in 2017, whether it was the gigantic success of Wonder Woman or the Silence Breakers that have rocked the entertainment industry to its knees, women have been at the forefront and music, especially the indie/punk scene was no different.

When I look back on 2017 I'm honestly not sure what I'm going to remember.  This year was hard for me on a lot of personal levels and thus has clouded a lot of my memories from the last 12 months.  What I will remember with absolute clarity is the music on this list.  These records helped me get through a lot of shit and I cannot thank these artists enough.  Your words and sounds, your heart, passions, and souls are what keep people like me going.  Please don't ever stop.  We need you.  I need you.

40-31, 30-21, 20-11, Honorable Mentions

10.  Dear Avalanche by Lights & Motion
Deep Elm Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
What word do you use when "epic" simply isn't enough?  To call Lights & Motion's fourth album Dear Avalanche epic would be an understatement.  The follow-up to the act's brilliant 2015 record Chronicle, takes everything that was great about that album rips it up, rebuilds it better than it was before, and adds new layers and elements making for a powerful, expansive, haunting, driving, and stunningly epic listening experience.  Composer and multi-instrumentalist Christoffer Franzen has truly outdone himself with Dear Avalanche by once again creating a masterpiece of gigantic sound, all performed by one man (minus the background vocals, which add a remarkable extra layer to the already fortified music).  The truly raw and dynamic emotions that Franzen is able to invoke without uttering a single word is astonishing.  This is cinematic post-rock at its finest and is a colossal tour de force of instrumental music magic that pushes the boundaries of what it means to be cinematic, instrumental, and fantastic rock 'n' roll.
Cinematic post rock is a genre that I never thought I would get into but thanks to Lights & Motion I have.  This is a record that I have played in yoga class, when cooking, or relaxing.  Songs from this record found their way onto episodes of The Vampire Diaries and hearing this great music on one of my all time favorite shows was a joy and a trip.  Hopefully more producers and shakers in Hollywood will look to Lights & Motion to compose for their next project because this music begs to be heard on the big screen.

9.  Near To The Wild Heart Of Life by Japandroids
BandCamp, Anti- Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
If there was any one album that spent more time in the CD player of my car than any other it was Japandroids' Near To The Wild Heart Of Life.  If you think I'm exaggerating, just ask my kids (they can begrudgingly sing along to the title track).  Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is eight songs of classic rock infused with punk and indie rock anthems that ring loud and true.  This record may not have been the critical darling that Celebration Rock was but it is superbly enjoyable and is designed to be played on repeat.

8.  Dream Gig by Dead Bars
BandCamp, No Idea Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
Dead Bars' full-length debut Dream Gig is about as spectacular a debut album as you'll ever find.  There's something special about this band that's almost indescribable.  The songs are catchy, hook filled, gruff vocaled anthems that dare you to not sing along but there's something else to it that is there that you can't nail down.  This band and this record just has, as Chris Jericho would put it, IT.  Just do yourself a favor, buy Dream Gig, listen to it on repeat for a few days, and you'll see what I'm talking about.  Hell the title track alone is worth the price of admission.

7.  Leonard by Deforesters
BandCamp, Black Numbers RecordsAmazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
...Deforesters play a sickeningly catchy brand of gruff and melodic punk rock that is equal parts Nothington and Screeching Weasel.  Mixing the best of the melodic, the pop, and the punk, Leonard plows forward with tight hooks, big choruses, and lyrics that are as intelligent as they are thoughtful and witty.  This is the kind of band and the kind of record that sounds and feels like it is a product of the scene in Gainesville, and while that is absolutely a compliment, this band is so much more.  Behind the gruff vocals and punk hooks, is a tremendous pop sensibility that goes far beyond one genre or one era of rock 'n' roll.  Bottom line, this is a killer record that is a must for fans of Red City Radio, Against Me!, Timeshares, Hot Water Music, The Fest, or any of the aforementioned bands. 
Not only does this band shred, they are also super cool.  You can hear my interview with lead singer / bassist Pod on episode # 7 of the Oklahoma Lefty Podcast.

6.  Your New Norman Rockwell by Micah Schnabel
BandCamp, Last Chance Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
Micah Schnabel's latest album Your New Norman Rockwell is a powerhouse release of poignant poetry, biting social commentary, and personal heartache, all held together by brilliant hooks and heart wrenching melodies.  There is a power and a purpose behind each and every one of these songs and though the subjects are often dark, the world is a far better place because of their existence.  There is a wisdom in these words, born from a point of view that puts others before self refusing to dwell in the gutter of self-service and delusions of grandeur.  Schnabel gives a voice to those who feel alone and worthless and powerless, to those who have been marginalized, belittled, and demonized, and he does it in the best way possible.  It's very easy for those who feel low and stepped on to become angry and bitter and filled with hate.  And that's what makes Your New Norman Rockwell so utterly and completely special.  This record does none of that.  Yes there is anger and frustration but there is no wallowing in self pity or cries for vengeance.  This record is all about making the world a better place by taking care of each other.  It's a musical plea, appealing to the better angels of our nature, begging people to take the higher road of love and compassion and serving others.  And if all of that wasn't enough, these songs are brilliantly crafted mixing the best elements of folk, punk, indie rock, classic rock, and country.  [...]  From start to finish the album is a roller coaster of emotions and styles held together by Micah Schnabel's voice and words.  This is an exceptionally important record, one that should be felt as great poetry as much as enjoyed as fantastic music.
Better than anyone right now, Schnabel captures the frustration and alienation of those on the edges of society.  This record is so incredibly important.

5.  You Can't Stay Here by Iron Chic
BandCamp, SideOneDummy Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
I'm not really sure how to do this record justice with a review.  Iron Chic has always been a great band, but this time around they have reached a whole new stratosphere of power and emotional depth.  The loss of founding member and former guitarist Rob McAllister is all throughout the songs on You Can't Stay Here.  This band has always written poignant and emotional songs but this time around the they are utterly heart wrenching and soul affirming.  There is despair and loss but there is also hope.  Iron Chic has taken a tragedy and turned it into 11 of the most powerful and precious songs that are guaranteed to touch your heart and your soul.

4.  In the End by Nothington
BandCamp, Red Scare Industries, Amazon, iTunes, Interpunk, Spotify
From my review --
Nothington's fourth full-length album In The End is the kind of nearly perfect record that somehow gets better with each and every listen.  This record is the perfect mixture of aggression and melody, gruff edges and pop sensibilities, punk and rock.  The album is classic Nothington with 11 songs of big choruses, tight melodies, gruff dueling lead vocals, excellent harmonies, and hooks that refuse to let you go.  It's that killer melding of melodic pop punk with country twinges and classic rock anthems that hits some many different sweet spots.  Then there's the lyrics.  This record deals with desperation, love, and growing older without ever diving into complete despair, offering glimmers of hope for a better tomorrow.  In fact it's those lyrics that really drive this record home taking it from great to unfuckingbelievable.  This is the kind of record that hits you first with its incredible sounds and then knocks you out with its words.  
From top to bottom this record kills.  I've been listening to it constantly for a couple of months now and each time I put it on, I find something new to love.  Bottom line, In The End is a completely and utterly satisfying record musically, lyrically, and emotionally. 
Eight months after writing this review, In the End continues to get better and better.

3.  Bury Me in Philly by Dave Hause
Official, Rise Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
Dave Hause's third solo full-length is an absolute, unequivocal, incontrovertible joy.  From start to finish Bury Me in Philly is pure rock 'n' roll gold that harkens back to the pop rock glory days of the 1980s.  Now on the surface that might sound like a bad thing but trust me, it isn't.  Taking cues from artists like Bryan Adams and The Hooters, Hause has crafted a record that is dipping with hooks, melodies, and earnest pop sensibilities.  Produced by Hooters' frontman Eric Bazilian, Bury Me in Philly truly is the modern descendant of Bryan Adams' 1984 classic Reckless.  The songs are catchy, full of heart, and powered by pure soul.  I understand that comparing a punk-turned-troubadour singer/songwriter to one of the 1980s pop rock megastars may seem odd if not sacrilegious but it works.  I was in elementary school in 1984 when Reckless came out and I remember with great fondness the power and heart of songs like "Heaven," "Summer of '69," and the brilliant duet with Tina Turner "It's Only Love."  There was a simplicity and an innocence to those songs that filled you with joy and that is the same kind of feeling I get each time I listen to Bury Me in Philly.  What Hause has over Adams and The Hooters is depth and a sincerity born from coming up through the punk rock underground.  Had this album come out at a time when rock 'n' roll records still churned out hits, I have no doubt that songs like "With You," "The Flinch," and the title track would have ruled the charts and airwaves.   
I have been listening to this record for months, picking apart the lyrics and practically meditating on the melodies, and each time I put it on I find something new to love.  Each and every song on this album kills in its own unique way making for a satisfying and spiritual journey.  Trying to put into words how much I love this record has been a challenge.  From the moment I got it, I knew that I was hearing something truly special and that feeling has only grown stronger and deeper with each passing day and rotation.  Bury Me in Philly is the kind of record that speaks not only straight from the heart but straight into your soul.  Dave Hause is a tremendous songwriter and this record is the perfect showcase for his ever expanding talents and skills.  Bury Me in Philly fills my heart with hope, brings joy to my soul, and gives me chills all at the same time.  This is truly a rock 'n' roll masterpiece, a timeless piece of musical perfection that is destined to save souls through its power and purpose.  Thank you Mr. Hause, thank you. 
I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Dave Hause and his band The Mermaid recently in Dallas, TX opening up for Beach Slang.  To say that their set was amazing would be a gross understatement.  Hause is the consummate rock 'n' roll frontman with an undeniable stage presence and an innate ability to connect with a crowd.  On top of that, he is a super nice guy.

2.  The Tide/Shaggy by RVIVR
BandCamp, Dead Broke Rekerds, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
Okay, so RVIVR originally released The Tide/Shaggy digitally in late 2016 (on December 31st to be exact) but in 2017 it received a physical release on Dead Broke Rekerds.  And yes this is a two song release (the second on this list actually) but I don't care.  More than any other single song, "The Tide" was my favorite song of the year (hell it was the song I listened to more than any other on Spotify).  I can't tell you how many times I lost myself listening to this record, pumping my hand and a half in the air, dancing like a fool in my room or in the kitchen, or screaming along in the car.  I fucking LOVE this song!  And if that wasn't enough, "Shaggy" also shreds.  This record is literally and objectively perfect.  If there could be any complaints it would focus around the small number of songs but for me it is the absurdly high quality of the two songs herein that make this one of the absolute best things to come out this year.

1.  Rhombithian by Sincere Engineer
BandCamp, Red Scare Industries, Amazon, iTunes, Interpunk, Spotify
From my review --
Sincere Engineer's full-length debut Rhombithian  is simply outstanding.   The brainchild of Chicago, IL's Deanna Belos, Sincere Engineer is a band that mixes all of the best elements of catchy, poppy punk, '90s indie rock, and folk punk resulting in a record that feels timeless and modern with its brilliant use of hooks and melody while at the same time keeping the listener on his/her toes with is quirky and off-kilter nature.  And that's just the music.  What truly drives Rhombithian home are the lyrics and Belos' honest intensity.  These songs touch on themes of relationships, self-doubt, growing up, facing reality, and those harsh and often disturbing realizations that things you once cherished are no longer as important to you as they once were.  There is a power in the desperation in these songs.  Hearing that someone else is feeling alone and disconnected is incredibly empowering and that, beyond the greatness of the music, is what makes this record cut so deep into the heart.  Each and every time I listen to Rhombithian I find something new to love.  This is the kind of record that gives me great solace and hope for a better tomorrow because I know that I'm not alone.
This is it.  This is the record that smacked me across the face and screamed "hey I know you love all those other records but listen to this" and boy did I.  I'm honestly not sure I can express how much this record means to me.  These songs sound and feel like they were written for me and all of the shit I've gone through and that, that is something special.  Crafting a piece of art from one's own experience in such a way that it draws other in so completely that they feel like said art was made just for them...that is something truly special.  Plus the chorus of "Overbite" is my mantra for this year and life in my 40s -- "I don't care about anything as much as I used to."  Thank you Deanna Belos for this incredible album and please know that it means more to me than you could ever imagine.

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