As always with my year-end list, this is in no particular order and as the title should let you know, these are 50 records I dug a whole lot this year – I am not pitting them against one-another, nor should the absence of a particularly popular or well-received record be an indication that I did not like it. 2017 was an unbelievable year for new music, so this was even hard to keep down to 50. Hopefully you find some albums that you hadn’t heard, or some bands that will become new favourites. Enjoy, and click-through this link to find my Spotify Playlist featuring one song from every album listed here. Let’s get started:
After hearing their debut EP in 2014, I patiently awaited the day when Charly Bliss would release their debut full-length; a string of fantastic singles followed, and for a while it felt like that day would never come. And when it did, how could it live up to my own personal hype machine that I had built by obsessively re-listening to those singles? Well, the day came, and goddamn did the album live up to my expectations. Seeing Guppy land on so many year-end lists this year has just filled my heart with joy; such a great record, from a great band of great people. Charly Bliss truly deserve the hype, and for me they dominated my listening statistics for the year; immediate, hooky, driving indie-pop has never sounded so good.
The Front Bottoms have always felt like someone else’s band to me; I’d heard some of their records and songs before, and enjoyed them just fine, but never had the moment where they became a true obsession like their fans seemed to. Well, Going Grey was that moment for me; hearing Going Grey was like being let into a big party that I had been waiting at the door for. I understood why they mean so much to their fans for the first time, and now I have a set of songs with cathartic and huge sing-alongs I can shout along with them. I saw a lot of “oh, they’ve gone 80s” with this record, but I’m not totally sure I’d describe the record that way. Sure, there’s more synths and textural work here on the surface, but the bones of these songs are straight-forward indie-pop songs through-and-through; “Peace Sign” maintains the stripped-down acoustic guitar and drums foundation of their previous work, but with catchy adornments and an absolutely unreal hook. Top to bottom, this is a massive achievement for the group, and a huge step forward.
Speaking of obsessions, I was downright obsessed with the latest from Fishboy, Art Guards. A conceptual album of sorts, each track outlines a character and their jobs – an art guard of course, a former performance artist, a popular photographer, and more. Each track is a gorgeous, catchy ode to their lives, achievements and regrets. On the final track, every character re-appears for a food fight. It sounds quirky and silly, but what Fishboy is so brilliantly able to do is infuse the record with humor, pathos, and palpable emotion. The record also functions as a great piece of art, as frontman Eric Edward illustrated 365 different “art guards” throughout 2017. If you could give one record a shot from my list this year, I’d beg for it to be this one. Highly recommended.
Like the title suggests, Oso Oso’s The Yunahon Mixtape is inspired by, well, mixtapes; here’s an album that throws back to the days of mid-aughts indie-rock and emo-revivals; equal parts early Death Cab For Cutie, Shins, The Promise Ring, Built to Spill and more. Basically, this record sounded like everything I was listening to in the aughts and I’m super about for it. This was another one of those “I can’t quit this record” records for the year – no matter what I was listening to, I came back to The Yunahon Mixtape for a blast of catchy indie-rock again and again.
It’s fitting that the cover of this record features a fish-eyed view out a car window, with sparklers double-exposed over-top. It might not be immediately apparent upon pressing play and hearing “I Feel Bad’s” methodically plucked opening, but about 1 minute and 20 seconds the album opens up like the aforementioned window and the rest is a straight-shot down a highway of huge riffs, synth-lines for days, dueling guitar melodies, and vocals that will remind you of how fun shouting along to The Get Up Kids used to be. Man, what a rush.
This year, I listened to a whole lot of Superdrag – probably more than any other non-2017 acts, even. I feel like Pope can appreciate the underrated aspects of Superdrag, because I definitely hear some similarities in their fuzzed-out power-pop on True Talent Champion. They’ve got a pinch of grunge-y riffs going on in these sugary pop songs (“Elvis”) while also showcasing their ability to slow it down to a sludgey-chug (“Make Your Mind Up”) either. True Talent Champion is a slyly eclectic slab of indie-alt-rock.
The Smith Street Band – are fucking cancelled
More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me (SideOneDummy Records) Much like The Front Bottoms, with The Smith Street Band I’ve often felt like an outsider; I really enjoyed 2014’s “Throw Me In The River” but something about it didn’t completely grab a hold of me. Well, More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me certainly did just that, this year. Over on Exclaim.ca, they said the album found the band “pushing it to extremes in all directions: the louds are louder, the quiets are quieter and there’s rarely a moment that doesn’t feel like they’ve poured their hearts into every chord and every word.” I can’t really think of a better way to put it, honestly. The record was produced by Jeff Rosenstock, so fans of his work will also likely find a lot to like here; highlights including the gorgeous duet with Laura Stevenson on “Run Into The World” and a cathartic finale on the inspired “Song For You.”
Sløtface’s album Try Not To Freak Out is a hyper-active blast of punk-pop with knife-sharp feminist edge; much of the album reminds me of how refreshing it was when I heard The Muffs for the first time – and that comes as a big compliment, because I love The Muffs. Sløtface are a bit more versatile than The Muffs though, as their songs aren’t entirely of the driving, no-holds-barred variety; “Slumber” has a downright beautiful build to it, and “Night Guilt’s” slinking, muted guitar lines make it much more groove-based than other tracks on the record.
Wild Pink are from Brooklyn, but man they don’t really sound like a Brooklyn band to me. One spin of their self-titled record and I think you’d understand my meaning; immediately I’m thinking of pacific northwest indie-rock. Their sound encompasses elements of slowcore and bedroom pop, but with a driving jangle; the mind drifts from Elliot Smith, to Built to Spill, American Analog Set, et al. But Wild Pink isn’t just playing spot-the-influence, their churning hooks on songs like “Playing Through A Dip Related Injury” and “Great Apes” are effective in their own right, regardless of reference points.
Lots of bands have pulled a mid- to late-career left-turn into a whole new genre of music, but few in recent memory have been as effective as Paramore’s head-first dive into retro-pop on their latest record After Laughter. As soon as lead-single “Hard Times” hit, I knew they were onto something good here. After Laughter isn’t just dressed up in the standard 80s textures, but these songs are so laden with such specific references and elements that you can’t help but applaud the band for their efforts. Working with Justin Meldal-Johnsen (who has produced for M83 in the past) certainly helps things, but the whole band is 100% in here; the era-appropriate use of gated-reverb and adult-contempo synth vibes serve more than just remind you of the past, but combined with the age-old idea of dancing through your pain, they lift these pop tracks up to become something much more.
If there’s one “to-watch” artist that you should keep eyes on from this year’s list, it’s Blushh. Their It’s Fine EP shows a band primed and ready to blow up; each track here demands repeat listens, because otherwise they’ll end up stuck in your head for days. Not that you’d be complaining, because their knack for smart songwriting and enormous melodies has already been honed down to a precise art on these five songs. If the one-two punch of opener “I Don’t Wanna Leave” and “Wake Me Up” doesn’t have you tapping your foot and humming along, you might want to check your pulse.
When I moved to Toronto, one of the only constant in life was B.A. Johnston would be touring somewhere – and whether I was in Toronto, visiting home in Peterborough, or anywhere else in Ontario, there was probably a B.A. show either coming up, or one just past.
So, I was obviously very excited about his latest release Gremlins III (aka Gremlinz III aka GRMLNZ, VOL. III: Donairs After Midnight, thanks to Spotify’s refusal to allow the real title on their platform despite Nerf Herder having a song called Ghostbusters 3 and that’s totally fine but I digress.) Easily one of B.A.’s most consistent albums in years, it’s chock-full of songs about drinking, being too drunk to sit in a canoe, turning into your Grandma, cheap beer, and the time-honored tradition of making your girlfriend a frozen lasagna and bag of No Name salad for dinner (Good lord, has there ever been a more relatable song than this? Well, his song about building an IKEA bed comes close.)
Gremlins III is also one of B.A.’s most eclectic records, with a solid ratio of full-band tracks, piano ballads, electro/casio driven songs, and his classic acoustic four-chord approach. On top of that, every song is a hit – either catchy enough to hum all week, or funny enough to have you laughing as you wonder along with B.A. “Where did those ninja movies go?”
2017 was a great year for the bands who got lumped into the “emo revival” genre of a few years ago; The Smith Street Band hit a home run, Sorority Noise put out a fantastic album, Sinai Vessel’s album missed making this list by about a millimeter. But, The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s album was maybe the most prescient and topical of the bunch.
“The future just got here again and again now / The present was awful but it’s all past now” they sing on the second track, “The Future.” Though the album is littered with razor-sharp lyrics and much of the album is obsessed with the weight of the world, there are pockets of hopefulness that colour the corners and make Always Foreign such an impressive piece of work for a band who have truly hit their stride; “Let it float away, go dancing on its grave. There’s a place for you.”
Los Campesinos! have had a fascinating career, having began life as one of many bands born of the online buzz-boom, their debut was an effervescent and brash jolt of energy. Over the course of a few albums though, they’ve smoothed out the edges and become such a welcomely consistent band that I’m always afraid they’re being overlooked. Sick Scenes, their latest, is certainly one of their best records, and another one on this list that is preoccupied with negativity and personal issues while offering glimmers of hope for all of us: “I know little, but I promise: There’s a slow, slow death if you want it. Yeah, I want it” they sing on “Slow Slow Death,” choosing to soldier on instead of giving into the darkness.
This album of breezy power-slack-pop from The Obsessives – out of Philadelphia – totally hits me in that sweet spot of Weezer-esque power-pop with indie-rock influences. Where The Obsessives blaze their own path though, is in how they lock a lot of these songs down in off-kilter grooves and surprising turns – like on album closer “You’re Gonna Be” when they slow things down to a crawl and infuse backing vocals for a triumphant finish. “You are gonna be an artist.” Nick Bairatchnyi sings after a bout of self-reflection before doubling-down: “You’re gonna be an important person.”
Continuing my theme of albums where hopefulness battles with darkness, Strawberry Runners’ EP “In The Garden, In The Night” features what may very well be my favourite song of the entire year with “Brother.” The record is 18 minutes of sparkling and beautiful indie-pop, but “Brother” finds Emi Night singing to her younger brother – “maybe two or three” she says – after having left him alone at home all night when she should have been looking after him. “It hadn’t crossed my mind, you might be lonesome just like me” she sings before the song opens up to one of the most emotional moments of music I heard all year. “When you’re a little older, I’ll explain it all to you – why the good will never stay, and all the dark and scary things will never go away” she sings, before adding “but, we’ll be bigger than them someday” as a chorus of oohs and aahs carries the listener away.
It never fails to send shivers down my spine every single time – and of any song this year, “Brother” has probably got me the closest to bawling my eyes out at work during lunch hour. There’s just something so simple and so beautiful about it, and the rest of the EP on that note. I really cannot wait to hear more from Strawberry Runners.
The Spirit of the Beehive’s record might have been one of the murkiest releases of 2017, but in a good way. There’s so much going on under the layer and layers of guitar noise, keyboards, hiss, fuzz, and grime; Pleasure Suck is easily one of the most inventive and surprising indie-rock records of the year. Songs fall apart into ramshackle diversions (“pleasure suck I”) and then spring back to life sounding completely different. Sound collages lead way to slack-hooks – “ricky (caught me tryin’)” – and elsewhere delay-laden drums create a sound so deep you could dive into it – “future looks bright (it’s blinding)”. One of the most rewarding records of the year, easily.
David Bazan put out another terrific solo record this year, but it was his work in the supergroup Lo Top (featuring David Bazan, TW Walsh and members of Starflyer 59) that landed on my best-of list. Lo Tom’s self-titled debut takes the best of both bands and smashes it into one phenomenally satisfying album – this was another record I came back to again and again through the year.
This kaleidoscopic debut record from Iglooghost takes a number of touch-points – hints of EDM/IDM, Jungle, drill-n-bass and more – and works them together into a super charming, intriguing and exhilarating listen. I can’t remember the last time an electronic album hit me as hard and fast as Neō Wax Bloom does – every track is stuffed to the gills with wild sounds that will throw you for a loop. I love this album so much.
The lead-cut off Stay Behind is “Welcome Back,” a song dedicated to lead-singer Joseph Klomes’ wife and details his struggle with coming out bi to her, his friends and family. It kicks off a riveting post-hardcore record that wrestles with the politics of personal relationships – with yourself, with racist family members, with former friends, and more. At times, sonically it can be a bleak record with waves of cymbals and pummeling riffs. Other times, it’s gorgeous. Stay Behind is a testament to how positive a force it can feel to scream your guts out for all to hear.
My first contact with Toby Foster was through my discovery of High Dive, another project he is involved in. I came to that band from my love for Good Luck’s two records and instantly fell in love with High Dive’s New Teeth. When I heard 100 Ways for the first time, I think I didn’t even realize Toby was the same one from High Dive and I skipped over it quickly. I’m very happy a friend pushed me back towards 100 Ways, because it quickly became one of my favourite records of 2017. A mature record of indie-pop with the same top-shelf lyricism Toby brought to his work with High Dive.
When Sleeping Bag dropped their first single ever, “Slime,” I was completely addicted; I listened to that song – and later, the record it was off – obsessively. Slowly over the years, Sleeping Bag have continued to release some of the most solid indie-rock records you’re likely to hear. Three years since Sleeping Bag’s Dave Segedy released Deep Sleep, he returns with Wet – another catchy-as-hell slab of indie-rock. The songs on Wet seem especially driven by their bass-and-drum grooves and unassuming hooks that burrow into your brain. If Sleeping Bag have yet to emerge on your radar, now is the time to fix that – and don’t forget to circle back on Segedy’s previous releases as well.
Listen, I’m no Converge expert – I got into the band around the time of Jane Doe, but never truly fell in love with their records until All We Love We Leave Behind was released. That said, The Dusk In Us and All We Love We Leave Behind are easily their best records in my eyes – two of the heaviest and most interesting and slyly experimental metalcore/hardcore records in recent memory. I just go nuts for these two records, and their latest is no disappointment. I’ve caught so many side-eyed looks at work as I spent many afternoons head banging along with these songs (“Under Duress,” holy shit!)
Aside from Strawberry Runners’ Brother, the only other song that tried its damndest to get me to cry this year was Bahla’s “Pierogi.” A haunting song that just catches me off guard every time I listen to it. On Imprints, North-African rhythms and percussion build the foundation of many tracks here, with other more expected jazz arrangements layered on top. One of the most unique elements of the record is the influence taken from Jewish folklore. Their official write-up puts it better than I ever could: “Radiant vocals – echoing the modal form of Jewish prayer music – rise and fall over searching, delicate melodies on keys and guitar.”
A lot of my favourite indie-rock records this year had elements of slow-core to them, and this Horse Jumper of Love record is no different. Last year, a record by Nap Eyes really caught my ears, and this record accomplished a similar feat. Everything about this record begs to be lived in, the atmosphere is fuzzed-out and inviting – but with a real streak of melancholia. If you were ever a fan of the band Duster, you’re going to want to check this record out because I think you’ll love it.
A late addition to my list, but a great one nonetheless – proof that you shouldn’t shut out late-year releases from your lists because amazing labels like Take This To Heart are putting stuff like this out year-round! From my previous review:
Hard Feelings is equal parts power-pop and heart-on-sleeve angst; they write songs with titles like “In Love Or Whatever” and “Giving Up On Crushes.” When this kind of stuff is executed just right, it’s bulls-eye in my comfort zone – and let me tell you, everything about Hard Feelings is just right.
The best part about the record though, comes from how vocalists Amy Hoffman and Daniel Radin trade-off vocal duties; music like this can easily succumb to a narrowed perspective, but the dual-vocals side-steps this issue.
Pitchfork once called a record by The ’89 Cubs (underrated album, btw!) “post-pop-punk.” Now, let it be known that I think that’s a silly label, but I feel like the way Cool American’s fantastic “Infinite Hiatus” works falls in a similar category as what they were trying to get at there. “Seems Insane,” the third song on the album, is my choice cut for explaining this – the way it’s structure, the way its chorus slots so perfectly into the song and how the extended bridge wraps around back to the chorus one last time… it’s perfection. There’s ambition here, for tension and release, to have the highs soar as high as possible. I just love it, I couldn’t stop listening to “Seems Insane” and the rest of the record is just as strong. Infinite Hiatus shot to my year-end list quicker than any other record, I think. I hope more people check it out.
High Pony’s Seen A Change is like classic-era Built To Spill reincarnated; huge swaths of guitar-heroics and major hooks collide with intriguing song structures for about forty straight minutes. Check out “Not Yet,” with a satisfying hook at the center – though the song twists and turns about a million times while unexpected guitar solos launch you into the damn stratosphere. An exhilarating record, that’s for sure.
Friendship is a group based out of Philadelphia, who play “a collection of songs about work, friends, love, and loneliness, lifted by synthesizer, pedal steel, and Rhodes piano, and set against a combination of live and programmed drums.” The melodies are gorgeous, but melancholic. There’s a sad slink to this record, as it unfolds through your headphones with subtle hints of 80s vibes and the aforementioned pedal-steel guitar lines which reverberate through the background. Maybe one of the biggest sleeper records of the year, give this one some time and it will surely grow on you.
Nicholas Cummins – who has played bass in a number of Brooklyn-based acts – strikes out as the driving force on FITS’ record All Belief is Paradise. Much like the record by Quarterbacks a few years ago, FITS are straight and to the point with their quick and hooky indie-rock meets power-pop tracks. The driving force comes from these tracks’ evolution from bass-loops recorded as voice memos, which gives the record an immediate feeling as the lyrics which hop from angry, vulnerable, quirky, funny and back again.
It’s a really hard feat to pull off the retro-styled record while including forward-thinking songwriting and production, but Zuli’s album of absolutely dynamite power-pop does the this trick, and does it very well. The oos and aahs behind slashing guitars on “blaze” is just a wildly satisfying combo, and Zuli even pulls off some downright pastoral pop on tracks like “neither am i.” With a pinch of psychedelia here and there, it all adds together to stand as a very accomplished and addictive pop record.
The 80s-esque strum that opens Pardoner’s Uncontrollable Salvation might have you making assumptions, but 40 seconds into the album and you’ll be regretting you made them. Equal parts noise-rock and indie-slack, Pardoner take the skewed sounds of Polvo and add in a heavy dose of indie-rock and punk catharsis. “Pivot Fakie” drives like a skateboard on asphalt, only to barrel into Sonic Youth’s art-noise outbursts head-first. It’s not all pummel und drang though, as the title track is as catchy as anything you’ll hear all year. If you like your rock messy and exhilarating, Uncontrollable Salvation is the album for you.
The latest from Kindling takes everything about their previous record that I dug and cranks those elements up even further; it’s heavier, dreamier, prettier, and shoe-gaze-ier. A hugely satisfying record.
Gnarwhal’s record Crucial reminds me of the time I was first getting into hardcore and heavier music; previously into mostly pop-punk, indie etc. I was checking out acts like Hella and Lightning Bolt for the first time. Crucial is like taking that memory, filtering all of the best bits of those weird, supremely heavy and experimental bands and pressing it to one unreal record. A blast of guitar insanity and out-there drumming; every song plays like ten micro-songs crammed into one in the very best way. Crucial is a wild ride, but I came back for more all year.
Laila’s Wisdom is the second studio album by Rapsody, and her first non-mixtape release in 5 years; it’s also quite easily the best hip-hop record I heard all year, which is saying something in a year that brought a ton of terrific rap albums. Featuring a bevvy of features (Kendrick, Gwen Bunn, GQ, Busta Rhymes, Anderson .Paak, and more) it’s a kalediscopic, head-nodding trip through gospel-funk, dusty samples, skittering jazz, and even some sparse R&B beats. Rapsody dominates every track, regardless of the features – she’s a force of nature here, lyrically on-point throughout the entire record and putting in stunning performance after stunning performance. As insightful and powerful as it is an enjoyable rap record; highly recommended.
Another group from Philadelphia – sensing a trend here – Weller’s self-titled record balances immediately satisfying melodies with introspective lyrics and slight country influences; there’s a Saddle Creek kind of vibe going on here that I’m super down with, with laid-bare emotions over bouncing guitar-pop rhythms and toe-tap worthy choruses.
Parquet Courts took me quite a while to come around on – see, I was a Teenage Cool Kids fan through-and-through, and I found it hard to swallow when the band disbanded. Fortunately, I got over my dumb self and came around on their records, which are honestly really really great. As soon as I heard A. Savage’s Thawing Dawn for the first time, it was immediately obvious that this was a record born of Savage’s mind; much more rustic than anything he has been involved with previously, his debut solo still retains his sharp lyricism and eclectic mix of post-punk basslines, avant-garde compositions (“Wild, Wild Horses” & “What Do I Do,”) singer-songwriter narratives and cross-sections of the personal and political. It may be just another chapter in what is fast becoming one of America’s most welcome musical forces, but what a chapter it is.
I’m going to keep this one short, and to the point; if you like blown-out guitar lines, eclectic and junky jam-space production values, and massively addictive hooks, you should probably listen to Of The Valley II from Van Dale.
Portland, Oregon’s Strange Ranger are a band who play with low-fi, muddy textures but offset any inaccessibility with driving indie-rock structures. What I find interesting about this one, is that it seems to be more than a sum of its parts – these songs are all working together over the course of the album – there’s a lot of little pockets to dive into – and when you step back to take the record as an album-sized movement it becomes even more rewarding. I had a wonderful time diving into this album throughout the year, and so it absolutely deserves its place on my year-end list.
OK, here’s another one I’m going to keep short – have you ever heard Blockhead before? He got his start as a hip-hop record producer, but now makes instrumental records with head-filling beats n’ samples. If you’ve heard his stuff before and dug the work, you’re going to like his new record Funeral Balloons. I spent a ton of time working alongside this record, and at this point it almost feels like a close friend I can rely on when I need to vibe out to some headphone candy. Obviously a high recommendation from me here.
Nadine Shah’s Holiday Destination is a record about post-Brexit racism, Islamophobia, turning 30, mental illness and the refugee crisis; if it sounds like a heavy listen, it certainly is lyrically but the music is some of the most innovative, eclectic stuff you’ll have heard all year. Part post-punk and part bric a brac production, Holiday Destination is a passionate and topical record that I couldn’t put down this year.
Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs have been toiling away up here in Toronto for a while now, but their self-titled record from 2017 truly feels like their coming out party; shit kickin’ rock riffs, Glam influences and 70s power-pop choruses abound, it’s enough to make you want a double-necked flying-v of your own – and that’s before you make it to the three-part song-suite of Ragnarok,” “Teenage Release” and the Cheap Trick-esque finale “PhD.”
Again, here’s a record that takes everything I love in indie-rock and makes it fresh again; palm-muted guitars crush into soaring choruses before dropping back to classic indie-rock loud/soft dynamics, while elsewhere twisty Polvo-esque guitar lines interlock with the tight rhythm section. Huge recommendation for fans of the Charly Bliss record this year, or Speedy Ortiz.
Back-to-back hits from Double Double Whammy! Here, it’s Cende – named after a Descendents-related in-joke – and their album #1 Hit Single. Originally just as influenced by seminal band The Marked Men as they were Milo and Co., #1 Hit Single shows off a widened set of influences with both jangle-pop and pastoral elements rearing their heads on songs like “What I Want.” Still, the punk-pop element remains, and gives the album a real driving force that keeps the whole thing interesting throughout.
Easily one of the heaviest, gnarliest records of the year – it’s not even a question. From the instant “Soul Sacrifice” kicks into gear, I knew this immensely heavy, hardcore-meets-thrash-n-grind-metal record would be on my year-end list. A no-brainer, really.
What would The Strokes sound like if they were super into twee-pop? Maybe a little bit like Rips One Into The Night, the 2017 album from baseball-reference heavy act Petite League. The lo-fi record from this New York duo is full of fuzzy little ditties that are about as sticky as bubblegum. I was also reminded of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s early work, and how they had such a deft touch for catchy tunes that felt effortless (check out the triple-vocal layering on “Pocketknife,” which sounds like SSLYBY-meets-The-Softies.) Rips One Into The Night was a major beam of sunlight that cut through my year of music listening.
Real Life Buildings began life as an outlet for lead-singer Matthew Van Asselt, but have grown to something of an indie super-group, now including Vagabon’s Lætitia Tamko and Crying’s Elaiza Santos for their album Significant Weather. Like any good super-group, the band doesn’t have a sound that you can pin down with any simple genre label – is it just indie-rock? How do you account for the subtly progressive elements in some of these song’s structures? Each track breathes like it is full of life – an organic piece of songwriting that shifts from movement-to-movement deftly. From quiet-as-a-whisper to fully-orchestrated cathartic explosions, Real Life Buildings can do it all and Significant Weather is a testament to each member’s immense talent.
In A Hairshirt of Purpose, Pile have taken their trademark caustic sound and crafted it into one of the year’s most satisfying aggressive-indie albums; where their previous work was about as thrilling and unexpected as you could get, here the band pulls back a little bit. This isn’t a dig – I loved their previous work, but I am really trying not to say that Hairshirt is… “mature.” But, the record unfolds in ways their previous work didn’t seem to. There’s a subtly to how the band works through the first six songs on this record, culminating with the huge and riff-heavy song that is “Texas.” A record that is ferocious as much as it is delicate, which proves to be a perfect balance for Pile in 2017.
Here’s another record that almost didn’t make it to my list this year, but upon reflection and some further year-end listening, could not be ignored. People Like You take math-rock guitar lines and drum fills but sprinkle a supremely accessible pop layer on top. Just one listen to the opening track “You Need a Visa” and you’ll know what I mean – the guitar riffs, splashes of cymbals and plenty of drum fills bring to mind math and jazz influenced emo-rock, but the dueling vocals, horn lines and pretty melodies make sure it all goes down sweet. People Like You dive a little further into jazz-territory with their “Kneeplay” interludes that pop up throughout the record, but they all lead back to the curiously infectious mix of elements at play here and serve as well-executed palate cleansers between tracks. People Like You have definitely turned a corner on Verse, and I can’t wait to see where it leads them.
Don’t mention Weezer. Don’t mention Weezer, Don’t mention Weezer.
OK, it’s tough to talk about Rozwell Kid without mentioning Weezer, who they have been compared to again, and again. They must be getting tired with that comparison by now, but their nerdy references (“UHF on DVD”) and often goofy lyrics (“Booger”) but on Precious Art their style is offset for the first time by a sense of sadness. At least, a little bit – in the past you could have called them slacker-rock, but there’s a heavier hint of moping going on here which makes the record a bit more of a mope – but not in a bad way at all. Whether slacking, moping, or rocking out something fierce, Rozwell Kid have another winner in Precious Art.