It’s been a weird year. Where 2016 was just unequivocally horrible for everyone in the world, 2017 was more of a rollercoaster. It’s hard to call any year all good when it begins with Donald J. Trump being sworn in as President of the United States, but
it’s finishing out with a superhero named Robert Mueller doing his best to dismantle this administration as he every day comes closer to being able to, like the old hip-hop song says, arrest the President. In my personal life, it’s been a rollercoaster
as well, and I don’t like riding rollercoasters. I had to move yet again, which took more out of me than I expected, I went through a really tough summer, but I got some help and am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As for music, I think
2016 was a better year for music overall, but 2017 still had some real bangers. So let’s see what this year turned out.
MY TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2017
The Bombpops are a good band, but I don’t think they’re quite as good as they’re going to be one day. Fear of Missing Out
is the first outing of a band showing a ton of potential that’s yet to be realized. But in the meantime before they finally
put out their masterpiece, Fear of Missing Out
is a rip-roaring pop-hardcore adventure through debauchery and immaturity, with a touch of romance. The Bombpops are a band to keep an eye on.
I basically got into The Dollyrots last year after doing a review of the Wiretap Records Christmas Compilation, which featured The Dollyrots phenomenal cover of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” I fell for The Dollyrots because of how
adorable they are. A married couple with two children who have been together since high school, The Dollyrots are a family (with an ever changing line of drummers longer than Spinal Tap’s) and following them online gives you a fun glimpse into how family
and music intersect. Whiplash Splash
, the second Dollyrots album to be recorded at home while Kelly Dollyrot was pregnant, demonstrates how dominant The Dollyrots are at putting together amazing pop-hooks. The Dollyrots are an experience, like
watching your own friends putting out music, and it’s always catchy as hell.
I expected to have this album much higher on my list, but when it finally came out, I was a little underwhelmed. I still like the album, it’s very good, but these are two bands that normally blow me away with everything they do, and with this split I
didn’t feel blown away. That being said, it’s still good. The two bands are already both combinations of pop-punk and hardcore, with Direct Hit! leaning more towards pop-punk and PEARS leaning more towards hardcore, but for this split they each seemed
to be borrowing a little bit of the other bands’ style. PEARS does a better job of this than Direct Hit!, with some unexpected nu metal parodies and other little doses of humor. The two bands each covered the other, with PEARS outdoing Direct Hit! with
a sort of medley that’s musically Direct Hit!’s “The World is Ending (No One Cares)” but incorporates lines from their song “Buried Alive” and a random line from Masked Intruder’s “Heart Shaped Guitar.” So this album isn’t the album I hoped it would
be, but it’s still one that’s been in heavy rotation for me.
Not their best album, I admit, but a pretty solid record for the first Anti-Flag album to take aim at the Trump administration, the most oppressive and fascist regime in American history. American Fall
had a lot of expectations to live up to, and
made a fair showing of it. There’s a few duds, but there’s some absolute classics on here that capture the spirit of this political moment in a way that only Anti-Flag can.
Punks tend to have an attitude that everything that’s underground is great and everything that’s mainstream is crap. While there’s a kernel of truth in that philosophy, I’ve always found it to be far more true of hip-hop than of rock music. Hip-hop has
a much starker contrast between its high quality underground and its cesspool of mainstream artists. While there are exceptions with a few mainstream artists here and there being actual quality artists (two such exceptions appear later on this list),
it’s still a pretty good rule of thumb to stick to the underground if you’re looking to get into hip-hop. One of the best places to start is the Doomtree Collective and its various members’ projects, particularly the group’s founding member, P.O.S.
is one of P.O.S.’s most vibrant, catchy, and energetic albums. Throw in cameos from everyone from Busdriver (another one of the best underground hip-hop artists out there) to Kathleen Hannah, the queen of feminist punk, and you’ve
got a recipe for what is undoubtedly one of the best hip-hop albums of the year.
As I’ve started writing for this site, I’ve come to learn that my favorite kind of music is experimental pop-punk, but sometimes I’ll just settle for experimental. Black metal and thrash are normally not my thing (even though there are two thrash albums
on this list), but Mike Patton leading a black metal/hardcore/thrash band is definitely something I wanted to check out. It’s Patton’s normal level of weirdness draped in a darkness that’s so extreme that it becomes a tongue-in-cheek parody of itself.
It’s a weird thing to say, but this album makes black metal and thrash into something lighthearted and a lot of fun.
I had a lot of people complain that I gave this album 4 ½ stars, but I stand by my rating. Light it Up
is one of Hot Water Music’s most eclectic albums, with every song carrying a new style--sometimes incorporating a style that’s entirely new for
the band--and every single song working on every level. The only real shame is that they’re doing a very limited tour to promote this album, and Chris Wollard has had to drop out of the tour for health reasons. Still, while I wish I could hear this
album live, what they’ve put down on wax is phenomenal.
Renaldo’s review of At the Drive-In’s long awaited reunion album talked a lot about it being a rehash of the last album they put out before their breakup, Relationship of Command
. I agree with him that there’s a lot of RoC
on this album,
but what it also has is a renewed sense of energy and spirit that we haven’t heard since Acrobatic Tenement
. in•ter a•li•a
takes the band that At the Drive-In was at the time of their breakup, but streamlines the sound, polishes it up,
and adds a lot more energy. The opening track, ‘No Wolf Like the Present,’ kicks the album off bristling with more energy than their last two albums combined. in•ter a•li•a
is At the Drive-In with the excess fat trimmed down and, if this reunion
is going to stick, I think they’ve found a new groove for themselves that could keep them vital again for years to come.
One of the many albums I discovered just because someone else reviewed it at Punknews, I fell in love with this fun little pop-punk album. The first thing that catches your attention is the ridiculous song titles, my favorite one being “A Song for the
Reptoids of Denver International Airport to Sing.” The title has nothing whatsoever to do with the song, but being a Denver resident I appreciate the title, which is a reference to an actual conspiracy theory about the Denver airport. Once you’re past
the silly song titles, you’ll find some very well crafted pop-punk songs, but with some very subtle pop hooks. It’s the album equivalent of wanting dessert but not wanting anything too
sweet. It gives you just enough pop to get stuck in your
head, but not enough to give you diabetes. With this being the Deforesters’ first full length, I trust that they have even better albums to come, because Leonard
is a fantastic start.
Great Wight: The Suburbs Have Ruined My Life
This was a last minute addition to my list. We got a request in November to review this band, which I volunteered to do, and immediately I knew that I had to put it on my top 20 list. I was told initially that it was an all black, all queer band, and
I knew I had to jump on this album because I absolutely love queercore and punk rock from people of color. The Suburbs Have Ruined My Life
gives us an intimate portrait of life in a suburb in the bible belt while being black, queer, atheist,
and leftist. Blending the personal with the political, it sometimes feels strange to hear political lyrics over what is essentially emo music, but it works. It’s a very unique style of music with little regard for convention and it doesn’t get much
more punk rock than that. If we could get more punk bands like this in the scene, instead of claiming scene diversity by pointing backwards to Bad Brains and X-Ray Spex (both of which are problematic), we could make an actual diverse scene and would
be able to learn so much more from that.
Despite being a massive fan of The Hold Steady and Lifter Puller, I’ve never been a big follower of Craig Finn’s solo career. Maybe it’s because Clear Heart Full Eyes
was such a quiet, subdued record when I’m used to hearing Finn’s lyrics belted
out over a hard rock band. But it’s probably more to do with the fact that each Craig Finn solo album feels like another nail in The Hold Steady’s coffin, in that there have been three Craig Finn albums since 2012, and only one Hold Steady album, all
the while The Hold Steady’s touring schedule remains sporadic. That being said, I put that all aside to give We All Want the Same Things
a chance, and I’m glad I did. Finn lights up WAWTST
with his usual brilliant songwriting skills. I’ve
heard Finn say in interviews that he never writes about himself, and that what he does is more about writing fiction stories. Well, We All Want the Same Things is clearly a storyteller’s album, particularly on the phenomenal spoken word track, “God
in Chicago,” which the album takes its title from. It’s not as hard rock of an album by The Hold Steady or Lifter Puller, but it isn’t the low-key acoustic style of Clear Heart Full Eyes
. Instead, We All Want the Same Things
is based more
in indie pop, with an occasional dose of jazz and 70’s style pop thrown in for good measure. All in all, a spectacular album.
I’ve never been a big Menzingers fan, even Rented World
, which everybody loved and recommended to me. But I decided to give After the Party
a shot based on a friend recommendation when I said, early in the year, “I just haven’t heard the
first great album of 2017 yet.” After the Party
was absolutely the first great album of 2017, and an utter masterpiece. In a bit of Craig Finn-esque storytelling, After the Party
weaves a simple story of love in your early 30’s, something
I can definitely relate to. I don’t know exactly what the narrative of the album is, but I firmly believe there is a narrative thread in the album because a number of themes, situations, and characters that seem to repeat throughout the album. Also,
I noticed that my first name comes up in more than one song. Pretty much every song on this album is an out of the park home run, making for just an album of anthemic banger after anthemic banger. This is pop-punk at its finest.
What I love about DAMN.
is how much it goes out of its way to be the opposite of Lamar’s 2015 masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly
, and in doing so it becomes its own, completely opposite masterpiece. One of the few mainstream rappers who really
is an artist at heart, Kendrick Lamar ditches the storytelling concept album in favor of a thematic concept album. A good deal of the lore behind this album comes from Kendrick’s cousin Carl who leads a weird religious sect called the Hebrew Israelites,
but if you’re willing to kind of tune that out you’ll find an exceptional album. It’s a harsh, grating, jarring album at times, but always with a clever artistic sense of when to use each quality, and it gives the album a more halted feel compared to
the smoother sound of To Pimp a Butterfly
. Definitely worth a listen if you’re open minded about hip-hop.
7. Worriers: Survival Pop
The Worriers are another band I’m new to this year. I think I had tried to listen to their last album and found it good but ultimately gave up on it. But the title Survival Pop
immediately grabbed my attention and made me want to check it out,
especially since it came out at a time where I needed a little encouragement for my own survival. Admittedly, it took a few listens before I got into a groove with this album, but I’m glad I eventually did because this album is a real treat. It’s a
beautiful indie punk album that’s somehow stripped down and warm at the same time. The only thing I might fault them with is putting such a strong, beautiful track as the opener (“My 85th Rodeo”) that makes it hard to proceed through the rest of the
album because you want to go back and relisten to track one. But if you can manage to pry yourself away from the stellar opener and give the whole album a listen, you’ll find a lot of marvelous hooks that lift up your spirit and give you a reason to
hope for a better tomorrow.
For the fifth album from Damon Albarn’s virtual hip-hop group, Albarn got a huge group of collaborators together, with a guest vocalist on nearly every track, and told them to imagine they’re writing their song after a major disaster, like if Trump was
actually elected president. Not knowing that that was going to become a reality, it inadvertently became the first album of the Trump presidency to actually be about Trump. It’s a dance party at the end of the world, an apocalypse brought about by our
Nightmare in Chief, and it creates one of the most intricate, layered, powerful albums that Albarn has ever created with any of his projects, and it’s the best chapter in the ongoing story that is the Gorillaz. Make sure to pick up the deluxe version
to get the true vision of the original project; it’s worth it.
Despite its place at number five on my list, I have to admit that this isn’t an album that I’ve gone back to that much this year. That’s not because it’s not a good album, but because it’s such a dark and emotionally raw album that it becomes hard for
me to listen to it without going to a very dark place. When I was packing up to move out of my apartment in May, I was in a rough emotional place going through all the stuff from my last two relationships, and that’s when I was listening to
New Kind of Normal
and it turned over to the song “Easy to Love” and I lost it, started crying uncontrollably, and it eventually led to me abandoning a lot of stuff in the apartment instead of cleaning it up, causing me to lose a good chunk of
my security deposit. It’s a compliment that the album can send me into that kind of a freefall. It’s a huge turn towards the dark side compared to their last album, Nervous Like Me
and they nail the themes of heartbreak, depression, and anxiety.
New Kind of Normal
is a masterpiece of sadness and darkness, so beware of where it might take you.
My hometown boys, The Downtown Boys, made a big stride this year as they got signed to legendary Sub Pop records with their third album, Cost of Living
, a deeply political album that becomes more obtuse and metaphorical than their previous albums,
to the point that frontwoman Victoria Ruiz has to explain the meanings of the songs at their live shows. I don’t mean that as a complaint, more of a compliment on how they’re on a whole other plane with their music. You know who else was obtusely metaphorical
and also very political and managed to get across important messages to a lot of people? Rage Against the Machine. In a lot of ways, Downtown Boys are the party rock version of Rage, with their saxophone playing and their vibrantly party like atmosphere.
Their major label debut adds a much more melodic sound while maintaining the aggressiveness of their underground breakout record, Full Communism
. Cost of Living
is warm, beautiful, and an inspiration for activists and organizers.
What can I say about Victory Lap
that hasn’t been said yet? Like I said about Downtown Boys, Propagandhi is also very adept at creating dense music with obtuse lyrics, but still manage to get their political message across to the audience loud
and clear. Propagandhi remains one of the very few bands that gets better the farther away they get from their roots. They make for a much better thrash-punk band than they were a skate-punk band and, since they first made their foray into thrash with
2005’s Potemkin City Limits
, Victory Lap
is the first album to match the quality of Potemkin
. It’s a violent, chaotic, angry, but also funny take on politics that’s perfect for any day where you’re just pissed at the government
(which should be every day at this point).
John Darnielle just shits gold. He keeps putting out records every one to two years (with few exceptions) and they’re all magnificent. His latest, the guitar-less Goths
, is no exception, as it uses an odd combination of pop and jazz to tell a series
of short stories about goth music and goth culture. This is a loving tribute from someone who really loves the music he’s singing about, even if he’s never really played that style of music. It’s a very technical album, but with some amazingly light
and bouncy hooks. The guitars aren’t missed at all in this album that’s far more fun than most of the brilliant yet depressing material Darnielle normally puts out. Goths
is a breathtaking album that had me with my jaw dropped for the entire
first time I listen to it. Whether or not you’re already familiar with the Mountain Goats, you have to check out Goths
I know I’m going to catch heat from people for putting this album at number one. Not simply for putting it on my list, because I know that many people loved this album and agree that it’s a top 20 album, but I anticipate a lot of people complaining about
me putting this at number one. And while Victory Lap
require more technical proficiency, if I’m honest about which album I came back to the most in 2017, it’s Warriors
. I actually wasn’t a huge fan of Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s first
LP, Not Sorry
, because, despite its famous pop hooks and three part harmonies, I felt like, with a few exceptions, the three singer/songwriters in the band didn’t seem to have much of importance to say on that album. Warriors
problem with a much more vital album where each track is saying something very important. Many people point out the more political lyrics on this album, but when they’re not talking about politics directly, they’re blending the political with the personal.
The “non-political” tracks talk about things like self-care for mental illness and getting out of an abusive relationship, things that most activists and leftists will tell you that you need to take care of before you can become an effective activist.
When they are being political, they’re mostly tackling feminism, but from a distinctly 2017 point of view. “Wild Me” is a great song that’s both political and personal in that it that it explores Jennie Cotterill’s personal journey of discovery of her
own feminism. In essence, Warriors
is a rejection of the classic, Sex Pistols’ style politics of simply destroying and tearing down, and replaces it with the modern day far left radical philosophies that are more common in 2017 and are geared more
towards radical acceptance of all people. The last track, “Brain is for Lovers,” is a bit of an outlier being about lost friends you haven’t spoken to for years, but boy is it a well done song. Upon hearing it, I got back in touch with my old high school
friends to let them know I still love them. I tend to take a lot of points off on reviews for the album not having a strong closing track, but “Brain is for Lovers” is an epic and beautiful way to end the album.
is the best political album of the year, and the best album of the year for my money. Over the summer when I got into a severely depressive episode, Warriors
was on repeat in my car all the time because it’s just such a wonderfully
comforting album. It was pretty much the only thing that I could listen to that gave me any joy whatsoever, and I loved it for that.
So, that marks the second year in a row that I’ve given my number one spot to a Fat Wreck album. Overall I had three Fat Wreck albums on this list including my number one pick, and the exact same was true of my list last year. I guess I really
like Fat Wreck. Honestly, I strongly dislike NoFX, but I guess that I really share a lot of the same tastes in music as Fat Mike.
Well, that’s all for this year. I look forward to see what albums come out in 2018 and what my list will look like next year. Fuck you, get pumped, and happy new year!