Happy New Year! With 2018 underway, I felt it was time to bid fond farewell to the “new” releases we heard first in 2017, so here we are. If you remember from my list last year, I have decided to do away with a numbered ranking of my favorite albums. It seems unfair to whittle the work these incredible musicians did to a number on a list, so I’ll simply be telling you what I was digging this year, and nothing more. The only album that I’ll prop up above any other is my personal Album of the Year, which is of course the most subjective award I could give anyway. With that in mind, here are the albums that provided my soundtrack to 2017:
Album of the Year: The Menzingers – After the Party
It certainly feels like The Menzingers’ entire career has been building to this moment. Once “Lookers” was released over the summer of 2016, it appeared the band’s heartfelt Americana songwriting was finally peaking, after the steady build from their previous two albums, On the Impossible Past and Rented World. This time, both Greg Barnett and Tom May have produced their best songs of their careers, with each track providing a different in-depth look at growing older in the punk scene, and the world at large. There are so many moments on this album that bring me right back to moments in my life, and I’m sure I’m not the only one making those connections. To me, this is what great music should do–allow us to look into ourselves and see old memories in a new light, and with a much better soundtrack.
Other Albums Receiving Consideration
Paramore – After Laughter
After Laughter is the perfect example of why I hate ranking albums at the end of a year. This album is so so good. I spun it almost as much as After the Party. So why is it not Album of the Year? Honestly, I can’t really give a good reason. What I can say is that this is easily Paramore’s best and most complete album, and the vision they began to develop on the self-titled album has been fully realized here. Hayley Williams is undeniably great on After Laughter, as her gleaming pop melodies mask the very real pain hidden in her lyrics. It feels more like a pop album than an emo album, but that doesn’t mean Paramore can’t excellently mix the two. In fact, no one’s ever done that better.
Manchester Orchestra – Black Mile to the Surface
Manchester Orchestra have become an unrelenting creative force over the last few years. From the double-album Cope/Hope to the work they did on the Swiss Army Man soundtrack, the band have never more free to pursue new ideas. All of those elements came to a head on Black Mile to the Surface, a titanic force of emotion, melody, and the overwhelming power of the band’s musicianship.
Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
Brimming with emotion, talent, and sincertity that the music industry sorely needs, Julien Baker is already among the world’s greatest songwriters, and she’s only getting started. On Turn Out the Lights, she takes the aching melancholy from Sprained Ankle and is able to arrange songs in new and inventive ways to make things sound fresh. Baker has a way of using her own pain and anguish to speak to and empower others, so not only is her release one of the best of the year, but also one of the year’s most important releases as well.
All Time Low – Last Young Renegade
After a slew of emotionally jarring albums, I’m choosing to throw Last Young Renegade in now to remind you that your favorite pop-punk band from the late 2000s is still kicking, and they still make really good, fun music. Once again taking the major-label leap, this time with Fueled By Ramen, All Time Low decided to take a full swing at stardom once again. This time around, they’re traded their pop-punk roots for a more conteporary pop-rock formula, which at times produces some unbelievable results (“Dirty Laundry,” “Nightmares,” and the album’s title track), and others that come off like a cheap OneRepublic impresssion. The results are mixed, but the high points are going to be fun as hell to sing along to at an All Time Low show.
Tigers Jaw – Spin
The last time we saw Tigers Jaw, they were in lineup limbo, and it was unsure who was still a part of the project, or what their level of input would be. This time around, the band have returned with Spin, an album whose focus and attention to detail is unlike any of their previous material. Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins deftly share the songwriting burdens, which produce a mixture of melancholy emo reflection (the Walsh-helmed “Follows” and “Guardian”) and breezy indie-pop (powered by Collins in “June” and “Brass Ring”). The two harmonize incredibly well, and their cohesive vision for this record proved to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.
Silverstein – Dead Reflection
Eventually, I’m going to grow tired of discussing how Silverstein have been able to stay true to their sound and continuously evolve, and how they’re one of the very few bands who can say that they’ve done that. But, here we are, with Dead Reflection not just refining thier sound, but expanding upon, and showing that they still have the potential to create thoughtful, hard-hitting, and great post-hardcore. Shane Told’s vocals have matured to some of the best vocal chops in the scene, and his band have also brought their best work to date as well. Silverstein are entering their 18th year as a band, and their Rise Records debut shows that they’re not slowing down any time soon.
Circa Survive – The Amulet
We may have hit a cycle of release-rinse-repeat for Circa Survive. It seems that The Amulet has continued the trend that Violent Waves and Descensus have set before it, with the band tunneling further down their progressive-rock rabbit hole, with Anthony Green’s struggles with substance abuse pacing most of his lyrics. I mention this, only to report that while the band’s formula is unchanged, their immense talent as a collective unit is also still intact. Green’s vocals have become more and more hauntin throughout the songs on The Amulet, and guitarists Brendan Ekstrom and Colin Frangicetto always seem to strike the right chord to complement Green’s outstanding range as a vocalist. The rhythm section of Nick Beard and Steve Clifford also continue their often-underappreciated work, making this collection of songs another piece of proof that there is no band making music quite like Circa Survive in music today.
PVRIS – All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell
I’ll be the first to admit that the wait for PVRIS’s highly-anticipated second album on Rise Records caused me to lose sight of how great they truly are. While White Noise showed that there was a light in the darkness of Lynn Gunn’s lyrics, All We Know finds Gunn plunging herself into that darkness with reckless abandon. Lead single “Heaven” set the tone for the album’s lyrical themes, while “Anyone Else” and “What’s Wrong” highlight the band’s development as songwriters. Whether this album is any better or worse than White Noise is irrelevant; what we should be celebrating here is that PVRIS has produced two fascinating albums in their young career, and the sky is truly the limit for this band.
Turnover – Good Nature
Turnover changed the entire perception of their band with 2015’s Peripheral Vision. While Good Nature doesn’t have the same effect that its predecessor had, it does reaffirm the band’s immense talent. Good Nature is more of an album that needs to be experienced in full, which is a nice way of saying it doesn’t quite hit the peaks that songs like “Cutting My Fingers Off” or “Humming” hit. However, if you are able to carve out the time, it will transport you to a blissful blend of guitars and Austin Getz’s easygoing vocals that are perfect for a summer drive down to the beach.
Haim – Something to Tell You
The Haim sisters returned from a long layoff with Something to Tell You, and continued to show off their vintage rock sound. I seriously think that this band would have been the biggest band in the world in the 1970s, but I’m really happy we have them here and now. The band’s ambitious work on tracks like “Right Now” and “A Little of Your Love” add a flair that shows of the sisters’ charisma, and leadoff track “Want You Back” is certainly the best song they’ve ever written. This was certainly worth the wait.
Bleachers – Gone Now
If he didn’t prove it on Strange Desireor on his collaborations with pretty much any great pop singer in the last few years, Jack Antonoff is one of the best, most forward-thinking minds in pop music today. Still tackling complex issues and relationships, Antonoff’s ability to say things in new and inventive ways helps Gone Now claim its own identity from his previous work. This is a release that I’ve liked more and more with each listen.
Acceptance – Colliding By Design
The legacy that Acceptance’s Phantoms has is a peculiar. The album’s lukewarm reception, paired with a myriad of other factors, led to the band’s far-too-early demise. But here we are, in the 10-Year Anniversary Era of emo, and the band decided to dust off the guitars and skinny jeans for another go. Colliding By Design is a great first step back, with vocalist Jason Vena pacing much of the album with his soaring range. The band hasn’t found thier Phantoms form just yet, but this is a comback that was sorely needed.
Walk the Moon – What if Nothing
I’m not sure which was more unpredictable: the success of Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” in the mainstream radio, or the fact that subsequent fame and the fallout from it nearly ended the band. Walk the Moon had always been a beacon of positivity for me, so when I heard about the turmoil that the band dealt with, the band’s new album What if Nothing felt like an even greater accomplishment. “One Foot” is the anthem that was the fitting follow up to “Shut Up and Dance,” while “Surrender” takes the greatest emotional toll of any song in the band’s career. The band continue to push themselves creatively, still striving to find their true identity as a band. What if Nothingmay be more uneven than the band’s previous releases, but it’s just great to have Walk the Moon still releasing music.
Have Mercy – Make the Best of It
Continuing the theme developed with Walk the Moon’s new album, Have Mercy frontman Brian Swindle overcame a mountain of adversity to get to his project’s third album. After a scrapped album’s worth of ideas, a mass exodus from the rest of his band, and thoughts of ending the band altogether, Swindle got back to work and created one of his best albums. Brimming with emotion, Make the Best of It is complete from front to back, with each track being propelled by Swindle’s aching songwriting. Have Mercy needed a bit of a comeback in 2017, and Make the Best of It was the perfect way to keep things rolling.
It’s amazing to think that a year’s worth of music has already past in 2017, but this year brought some great releases. I hope you enjoyed my list!