Best Albums of 2017
Have you noticed that all the “best of” lists from “independent” publications all kind of look the same this year? In past years, I’ve been able to find at least one or two that have contained decent overlap with my favorites. This year, they all seem to reflect what in the past would have been a Billboard end of year chart. Sorry, folks, I’m just not looking for you to tell me that Lorde or Kendrick Lamar had the best record of the year…I want something based on more than sales figures. I’ve also noticed that the big lists are very careful to cover ever genre. You won’t find any of that here.
Instead, first and foremost, you get a list of all of the albums that had me going back for repeated listens this year. There were a good number in 2017. I have included one release that came out late in 2016, because 1) I didn’t hear it until 2017 and 2) if one thing has been clear this year, it’s that there are no rules anymore. I’ve also kind of stopped ranking albums. Does it matter if something is #1 or #3 on my list? Not really. It’s kind of arbitrary and adds little value. We can say I listened the top tier ones a lot more often than the “other notable” records. That’s as much as I am going to break it down. Enjoy. There’s a lot of great stuff happening in the indie music world. I’m eager to hear your comments (and feel free to suggest other bands I’ve missed!).
Once you are done here, please check out the Pette Discographies Best of 2017 Mix Tape Playlist on Spotify. In order to embrace my inner nerd in full, I actually constructed to fit a 90-minute mix tape (allowing 46 1/2 minutes per side…).
Diet Cig – Swear I’m Good at This
It was a toss-up whether I anticipated this album or the new Afghan Whigs more when the year got started. I would have thought it impossible for this record to live up to the level of hype the machine in my head was cranking out…and yet, it did. It’s a fantastic album – catchy, energetic, brutally honest songs from guitarist/singer Alex Luciano’s adventures/missteps in early adulthood. Great hooks, fantastic energy. I can say with certainty that I listened to this record more times than any other in the first half of the year (and most likely more than any other all year). “Maid of the Mist” is a damn-near-perfect indie rock song, and it contains a delightfully vicious opening line: “I want to hold a seance for every heart I’ve broken, put them all in a room and say, ‘Get over it.'”. Other highlights: Bite Back, Blob Zombie. I’m really looking forward to seeing their songs performed with a full band in the spring (they have been a two-piece band to this point).
Katie Ellen – Cowgirl Blues
OK, let’s get this out of the way: first, Katie Ellen is a band name, not a person. Second, Cowgirl Blues is not a country album. I freakin’ love this record. Diet Cig dominated the first half of my year, but Katie Ellen took over the second. This record is full of excellent, infectious, heartfelt, and yes, brutally honest indie rock songs (sensing a pattern?). I know I said I wasn’t ranking things, but “Sad Girls Club” is my song of the year. I have listened to the full album many times over, and still cannot listen straight through without repeating that track a couple of times. It’s just a perfect, infectious song, and not just because it has the lyrical cadence of Nirvana’s “Drain You.” The chorus — “You have known for quite a while that I am not so well, sad girls don’t make good wives” — is even more biting when you see the lyric sheet, which contains quotes…i.e. ‘You have “known for quite a while that I am not so well’, sad girls don’t make good wives,” meaning this was probably something that was actually said to singer/guitarist Anika Pyle during a breakup. Rough. Anyway, fantastic record start to finish. Highly recommended. Highlights: “Sad Girls Club”, “Drawing Room”, “Houses into Homes”
Allison Crutchfield – Tourist in This Town
The curse of a January album release…by December, everyone forgets it came out this year. I gave Allison Crutchfield’s record a ton of my time in 2017 as well. It is packed with stellar indie pop songs with extensive earworm qualities. I had only listened to it once when she was touring through here, and I opted not to go, and I now regret it terribly. She spent most of the rest of the year touring with her sister as Waxahatchee (also a solid 2017 album), and now, it seems as though her focus may be shifting back toward the reunion of her previous band, Swearin’. That’s all good, but I was really hoping to hear some of this material live. I was also shocked to discover that an album I have had in my library for many years, the Ackleys, included 15-year old Allison and Katie Crutchfield. Blew my mind. Anyway…my favorite tracks: Expatriate, Dean’s Room, Mile Away
The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
It would take a lot for Greg Dulli to put out a record without it making my best of list. This is the second Whigs album since they reformed, and I can’t help but compare it to the last one. I would say that In Spades has a consistent quality to it, while Do to the Beast had more ups and downs. However, while I thought two tracks from Do to the Beast measured up to any of the best of Dulli’s extensive catalogue (These Sticks and Lost in the Woods), I did not feel that any on In Spades quite reached those heights (though I Got Lost gets close). There’s a quality in my favorite Afghan Whigs or Twilight Singers songs that gives me chills and stabs me squarely in the emotion vault. Only I Got Lost and Birdland do anything like that for me on the new record. I realize this is starting to read like a negative review…it’s not. In Spades is a great album, and I — at the very least — like every song on it. After almost 30 years (!) of transcendent music, though, my Dulli bar is set REALLY high. Highlights: I Got Lost, Birdland, Light as a Feather
Cherry Glazerr – Apocalipstick
Apocalipstick caught me off guard. I had formulated an opinion on Cherry Glazerr after their last record and singles, and felt fully comfortable in my “solid at times, but nothing that needed to be in the rotation” stance. Oops. I kept reading so many good things about their new record that I gave it a try a few weeks ago. The first two songs meshed well with my idea of the band’s sound. Same assessment: fine. Then, the third track, Moon Dust, hit, and knocked me on my ass. This is a badass, powerful rock song that thoroughly blew me away. It totally derailed my day, as I had to stop what I was doing and really give it a good listen. As I listened, more and more of it won me over. A later track on the album, Sip O’ Poison, bowled me over even more than Moon Dust had. This is one hell of an album, full of captivating songs with delightfully harsh and/or menacing guitar lines. Even the tracks that had me on the fence upon first listen have since grabbed me. Fully worth your time. Highlights: Moon Dust, Sip O’ Poison, Nurse Ratched
Charly Bliss – Guppy
I will be honest…the first time I listened to this record, early in the year, it didn’t resonate with me and I couldn’t get over the sound of the vocals. However, I read at least three different reviews as the year went on that said the same thing: something along the lines of, “the vocals turned me off at first, but then I couldn’t get the supremely catchy songs out of my head and now I love them.” I decided to give it another try, and I am really glad I did. Count me among those now on the Charly Bliss train. Now, I can’t figure out how I gave them a pass earlier in the year, especially since the album takes no time to get going; the guitar line in the opening track, Percolator, just crushes. I have listened to everything they have released kind of incessantly throughout the fall. Guppy is packed with addictive indie rock songs full of savage self-reflection and occasional shredding guitar lines. I love it. I got to see them a few weeks back and they did not disappoint. Interestingly, some of my favorites of theirs are the one-off mp3s and singles they have put out separately. In addition to the Guppy album, Don’t sleep on those: Turd, Clean, Special, Love Me are all fantastic. Highlights from Guppy: Percolator, DQ, Ruby.
THICK – It’s Always Something… EP (2016)
I heard THICK on the fabulous playlist assembled by the NY Times as part of their Rock’s Not Dead, It’s Ruled By Women article that came out in September (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/arts/music/rock-bands-women.html – well worth one of your ten free articles this month). Both the article and the playlist are phenomenal. The playlist fully validated what I have been listening to in recent years, as 90% of the new bands that have hooked me in the past five years were featured. THICK doesn’t have much material out yet, but I like what I’ve heard. There’s a ton of potential in their handful of songs, which swing between indie and full-on riot grrrl. It’s Always Something… is a four-song cassette EP and all songs are good. You can already see the growth in songwriting from the other tracks that they have on Bandcamp, and I can’t wait to hear what’s next. Highlights: Puke’s Diner, Anymore
Skating Polly – New Trick EP
I’ve mentioned Skating Polly before on my best of lists. I continue to be intrigued with their rapid development as musicians. They drew me in with Babes in Toyland-esque noise, and kept me coming back with their less-thrashy, more harmonic material. this year, they went into the studio with Louise Post and Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt and cranked out a three-song 12″ EP, and it’s excellent. All good. They also added their brother to their touring lineup to make it a three-piece, and it had a great effect. Highlights: Louder in Outer Space, Black Sky
Other Notable Records of 2017
Cayetana – New Kind of Normal
I’m still trying to figure out what to do with Cayetana’s second full-length album. It’s really good. And I rarely listen to it. Why? Well…it’s a tough album. It’s actually the perfect musical embodiment of depression. I don’t mean that in an, “I’m sad today and I’m going to turn out the lights, light a candle, and listen to _ to stew in it” kind of way (I left in blank because everyone has their personal preferences for this). No, this is not that type of album. This is a no-holds-barred, bleak portrayal of what it is like to wrestle with crippling depression. It’s not that it isn’t heartfelt…it’s just got that energy that someone has when they are just going through the motions of daily life as they battle all-encompassing depression. It’s brilliantly constructed, but, honestly, tough to put on with any regularity. There are a couple of standout tracks, like Phonics Failed Me, that break free from the bleak overall feel to strike at some more emotion; those do keep me coming back. However, there aren’t any songs on this record like a handful of the ones on the last album, like Dirty Laundry, that I may or may not have listened to 15 times in a row. Highlights: Phonics Failed Me, Am I Dead Yet
Date Night with Brian – S/T EP
I’m just happy that there are new songs from Ean Hernandez of Sicko. A solid EP of exactly what one would expect from him: poppy indie-punk songs. Highlights: Summertime, Anywhere
Greensleep – Cheap Headphones
Greensleep was one of my favorite bands of the ’90s. They were pretty unknown, especially outside of New York, but cranked out song after song of heartbreaking indie-punk during that time. I was really excited to hear that they were reuniting. Naturally, they are not the same band that they were then; a solid chunk of life has passed since the ’90s. In reforming, though, they added a fourth member, who now does the majority of the singing, and it has completely changed the dynamic of the band. Cheap Headphones is their first full-length album since reuniting. The main singer/guitarist from the original band only sings four of the eleven tracks on the album. Those four songs would make a fantastic EP; those songs somehow retain the angsty, early-twenties energy that the band had in the ’90s. The ones sung by the later addition to the band don’t have the same energy. Some are good songs, but the feeling is off. Highlights: 2nd Avenue, Restrepo, Armchair Revolutions.
Pette Discographies Best of 2017 Playlist