2017 once again served as a telling point in music where you had to stretch to certain realms (Americana, folk and funk) to really dig out the best. Once again Glide staff writers narrowed down the list to our top 20 albums of the year along with a list of 20 very strong honorable mentions. We’re confident that this forms a definitive list of 2017’s best albums from the genre pool Glide strives to cover.
Thundercat (pictured above) made a defining statement with Drunken while Chicano Batman went from playing clubs to theaters with the glorious Freedom is Free and White Reaper might be one of the best young rock bands we’ve heard in years. Return to form is one of the themes of the 2017 list as Aimee Mann returned to her classic sound with Mental Illness; Sparks proved creatively brash with a heralded LP Hippopotamus; Slowdive returned with their first album in 22 years stronger than before and Grandaddy granted us perhaps their last indie jewel. Here are Glide’s choices for Top 20 of new albums of the year and our 20 honorable mentions.
Top 20 (In Alphabetical Order)
Mann’s first solo release in five years, Mental Illness finds her taking a quieter approach to her craft, a seemingly different tack than she took last time around when, teaming with Ted Leo in The Both, where she pursued her typical pop approach.Mental Illness may offer a nod and wink, but these songs are brewed with softer sentiments, a quiet charm, and reserve that’s consistently gorgeous given Mann’s deft touch.
Cohesive and powerful, Atlanta’s Algiers mold post-punk, gospel, early 70’s Motown and classic rock on its second release via Matador. Algiers tell their songs with a brash of urgency and aplomb that reak of revolution and resistance, but their songs maintain a spiritual hope and pattern of funk & soul that never dips into the cliche.
Cram-jammed with the Gypsies’ signature amalgamation of raucous, British invasion blues, classic Americana rock, and Nashville swagger – all played with the reckless abandonment of proto-punk groups like the Stooges and the New York Dolls – the fifteen track LP is enough to satiate even the most forlorn of souls.
Not only is Chicano Batman’s newest album the most soulful, emotionally moving/political album of their career, it is also their most complete. Freedom Is Free finds the group continuing their South American rock influences but also diving head-first into classic American R&B with grace and passion. Groovy, funky and dive bar cool, this package touches all the corners.
Last Place shows no signs of the rust you would expect from a decade-long recording hiatus. Reunion albums have a notorious track record, but Grandaddy is able to recapture the spirit of their original albums without ever sounding like an old band imitating its former self. Jason Lytle brings back his Lynnesque ear for dreamy harmonies and phrasing that make for masterful indie pop.
Mayfield’s songwriting has always run deep, but Sorry is Gone offers us the most intimate look inside her brain, fears and all. There’s a liberating feeling that pulses through the songs on Sorry is Gone, and it’s some of Mayfield’s most powerful work. It finds Mayfield moving through the world with a new guard up, as her angelic, sweet voice has an unexpected cutting intensity with its undertones of haunting despair.
The burly songwriter’s Big Bad Luv will break your heart, but it might make you smile through the tears, too. It is clear from the start Moreland is continuing to evolve his sound. His arrangements are less sparse, and even a little upbeat, despite how dark his lyrics get. With his Tom Waits-ian rasp and big acoustic guitar, Big Bad Luv is a devastatingly beautiful collection of songs about moving forward.
A cousin duo that hails from Canada, Kacey & Clayton’s sounds as if it was beamed down from a bygone era. It’s psychedelic, mystifying, haunting and full of the kind of wisdom that typically comes with decades of life experience. Produced by Jeff Tweedy, wondrous harmonies fill the nine tracks that pull from age-old traditions with current vigilance.
Satellite City was clearly focused enough to accommodate multiple ideas of Steve Kimock and his bandmates to create an all-encompassing atmosphere. Like so many of his tracks, the essence crystallizes around Kimock’s adventurous guitar work, while Leslie Mendelson is an integral participant adding nuances and modern flourishes to this realized and poignant project.
Three albums on, Lily Hiatt succeeded in casting an individual identity, a conclusion borne out by Trinity Lane, an album that stands as her most accomplished effort to date. It’s a collection of songs that both charm and challenge, from the easy sway of “All Kinds of People” to the insistence and aggression of clearly confessional “The Night David Bowie Died.” The thing all these offerings have in common is their remarkable first-person perspective, a candor and vulnerability so real and affecting, it almost feels like the listener’s intruding on private space.
Like War on Drugs, Los Colognes have brought a modern spin to the multi-colored band rock of late 80’s Grateful Dead, Dylan and Dire Straits. With The Wave, they bring a newfound approach to subtle grooves and California guitar rock/pop from the 70’s. It’s not everybody that can steer down this slope with agility and originality but Los Colognes nails the mission set out before them.
As the Philly band continues to grow and evolve, their sound gets tighter and tighter with each record and each show. And their latest release is a culmination of all that boundless energy. Dirty Pictures (Part 1) is the kind of rowdy party record we expect from Low Cut Connie, but with all of the incredible polish and sophistication of a band that has really figured out who they are.
If All I Was Was Black is more than simply a cursory attempt to denounce injustice. It’s a statement of purpose to be sure, but equally importantly, it’s an inspiring set of songs that get in a groove and invite listeners to share the spirit. “I’ve got love to give,” she insists on the title track, and given its upbeat enthusiasm, that’s consistently true throughout.Ultimately then, If All I Was Was Black is an album that touts harmony and conciliation, two badly needed additives in today’s tumultuous times. “We’ve got work to do,” she implores in “No Time For Crying,” an insistent call to action. Inspiration never sounded so resolute and succinct.
Protomartyr doesn’t hint towards being contrived or manicured to any degree. Rolling into their fourth album release, the trademark Motor City grittiness can still be found but it’s the existentialism and questioning of truth that reaches a fever pitch. At a point where their heavy and experimental compositions have earned its largest ear base, they are simultaneously writing their most thought-provoking music.
Ron Gallo has a sick, twisted worldview, and that is what you’ll love about his new record Heavy Meta. Gallo has an undeniable talent and a penchant for the dark and weird side of things. His commentary can be such a bummer, perhaps because he often hits the nail on the head. But you’ll never have such a blast getting down in the dumps than to Gallo’s wily garage rock and breathless howl.
Slowdive’s true strength was their openness that was understandably morose yet stirring – no doubt due to Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead vocal duality that seemed to pierce through everything and eventually succumb even the most skeptical. While other groups heavily sedated their listeners with a layered mixture of guitar dissonance and subtle bliss with muted lyrics for the unknown, Slowdive was definitively switched. Their reunion album (first in 22 years), aptly named Slowdive for their return, gives way to that heaviness that evaded their album releases previously.
On their 23rd studio album, Hippopotamus, Ron and Russell Mael penned 15 tracks which revolve from soft piano interludes to full on Dance-pop crushers. The brothers have crafted yet another gem of highbrow lyrical madness combined with absolutely perfect hooks. Sparks has always been a musicians band and revisiting the whimsicality and madness of their 70’s and 80’s albums, let’s hope Sparks might finally get their universal praise…or maybe not.
Every so often you hear a record that makes you think, “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore,” and that is consistently the case with Steelism’s stellar new follow up to their 2014 debut 615 to Fame. Ism is a continuation of the duo’s 70s-inspired instrumentals, with the addition of an impressive group of collaborators. Steelism is the dynamic Jeremy Fetzer and Spencer Cullum, and Ism is a stylish, polished collection of songs that feels artfully curated.
Drunk fuses Stephen Bruner’s (aka Thundercat) humor, bleakness, self-doubt, and modern age technique with retro love for early 80’s pop and digital beats over a long and winding road, bringing in perfect guests with zero hangover. Most importantly, Drunk has earned Michael McDonald a comeback nod “Show You The Way” while Bruner’s bass work glows in some of the most inventive lead in years.
Power chords, tasty guitar solos, and bombastic melodies glorify this 2nd album from Kentucky’s White Reaper. While this album title might be a bit over the top, there’s no doubt that best “underground” might apply to this album and band. Shades of Cheap Trick, White Stripes, and all over garage rock swagger make this collection of songs listenable and ballsy.
20 Honorable Mentions
Beck – Colors
Big Thief- Capacity
Billy Strings- Turmoil & Tinfoil
David Ramirez- We’re Not Going Anywhere
Deer Tick – Deer Tick Vol. 1, Vol .2
Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
Ha Ha Tonka – Heart Shaped Mountain
JD McPherson – Undivided Heart & Soul
Kevin Morby – City Music
Langhorne Slim- Lost At Last Vol. 1
Leslie Mendelson- Love & Murder
LCD Soundystem – American Dream
Mike Gordon – OGOGO
Queens of the Stone Age- Villains
Roger Waters – Is This The Life We Really Want?
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings- Soul of A Woman
St. Vincent – Masseduction
Texas Gentlemen – TX Jelly
Travis Linville – Up Ahead
Valerie June – The Order of Time