By Ian Bremner
In a few years time (if humankind still exists), sit back and try your hardest, your very hardest, to think back to the year 2017 in nothing but musical terms. Maybe then it won’t be so bad.
There are Top 10, Top 50, Top 100 “Best Records Of The Year” lists. Old Rookie may not be ones for arbitrary rules, but we do like to look back on a lot of the great albums that came out in 2017, and there were many. 59 seemed like a good enough number as any, so herby stands the “The Best 59 Records of 2017.”
Below is an unranked list of 59 great records that came out this year. These albums got a lot of airplay at ORHQ and left us feeling better, 30, 45, 59 minutes at a time. Read up and Listen:
BEST RECORDS OF 2017:
Ron Gallo’s Heavy Meta is hard to pin down, but the cynical lyrics give it those emo garage punk vibes that are hard to come by. There’s plenty of fuzz and pop hooks, yet buried underneath it all are the sharp turns of phrase and highly observational anecdotes that are the true core of the record. Heavy Meta is both heavy, and meta, but mostly a highly listenable rock record for the times.
English band Slowdive, led by Rachel Boswell on vocals put out their first album in 23 years. Though they helped introduce the indie-rock, “shoegaze” scene in the 90s, they were able to drop material that sounds new and fresh into a environment that sees new “indie-pop” groups pop up everyday. Slowdive prove they’re still some of the best at it and the fact that the record is self-titled feels like a re-introduction.
One August day, 41 years ago, Neil Young recorded an entire album of acoustic gold in the form of Hitchiker. Though most of the songs have been performed in some rendition by Neil over the years either live or on records in other forms, the album never saw the light of day as an official release, until now.
Lilly Hiatt beautifully blends her southern accented country vibes with a grit most associated with northwest grunge. Most folks will recognize her last name. Being the daughter of John Hiatt, songwriting is certainly in her bloodline and the two share a deep bond over music. She doesn’t shy away from anything and seems to relish in the purest form of honesty
One of the beautiful ironies of Pure Comedy, is the fact that Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty is using this media-driven absurdity to promote an album about exactly these concepts. Political and religious commentary are the album’s central themes. As are gun violence, boy bands, basic bitches, hipsters, materialism, self-importance and overall global doom. Those are not elements all people want to delve into when they put on a record, but this is no dinner party record. It is beautiful, however. Pure Comedy’s brilliance is in spite of its unwillingness to be easily-listenable, danceable or “entertaining.”
One of the most underappreciated stalwarts in music, Gargoyle could be a sign of a renewed career for Mark Lanegan. It’s electronic/industrial feels gives it a gritty edge, even for Lanegan who is known for his grit. A man and artist in constant evolution, it will be really interesting to see Lanegan’s next move, but in the meantime, Gargoyle continues to sound better and better after each listen.
One of the most critically and commercially successful albums in years and for good reason. Kendrick Lamar was able to crossover from rap god to pop legend and still maintain his artistic experimentation. DAMN. was not the jazz-fueled, live band effort that To Pimp A Butterfly or Untitled.Unmastered. but it straddled the line of getting back to hip hop’s roots, while pushing it forward with new sounds and new bravado.
Drunk is a continuation of the trippy jazz fusion Thundercat has come to make a name for, but it delves even deeper into a space unknown. The themes are unapologetic-ally funny, dry, sometimes absurd, but sung so smoothly with a buttery falsetto and thick bass lines, it’s damn near impossible to NOT drink it all up to intoxication.
You would be hard pressed to ever find a more self-aware 83 year old. Willie Nelson knows even he is not immortal, an idea he explores rather bluntly on the new record, God’s Problem Child. Willie Nelson is the type of legend that can live off his name, but he continues to push forward which is truly inspiring. God’s Problem Child may go back in time style-wise, but it is as modern a country record as you will find.
You can nearly hear the sounds and smells of the city in Kevin Morby’s new record, City Music. Comparable to New York City itself, the true beauty of City Music is the serenity within the figurative cigarette smoke, constant motion and overall grit. City Music has been billed as a companion piece to 2016’s excellent, breezy, West Coast-feeling Singing Saw, but the two have decidedly different feels. There are certainly some parallels, but City Music manages to recreate, in song, the specific energy you feel by being back east.
Love Is Love is a short and sweet record that follows up 2016’s City Sun Eater In The River Of Light. It acts as companion piece in some capacity, but it’s message was clear. It was released during as especially hateful period of 2017 and it’s title track is a nice escape from it all.
A 4-year hiatus proved to be just the refreshment Deer Tick was seeking. Two self-titled records, Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Deer Tick Vol. 2 are an equal reflection of Deer Tick V.2017. These days, they are not so much of an indie band, or a country rock band, a grunge band, as much as they are a cult band. Volume 1 (the acoustic one) and Volume 2 (the electric one) are entirely separate recordings meant for different listening moods, yet pair together admirably.
From the very get-go of Face Your Fear, you can tell you are into something a bit more slicked up, a bit more layered from Atlanta’s Curtis Harding. Though there are fresh sweeps of modern studio help, Harding only adds his vintage rock n roll cred. The album flows wonderfully, bouncing across all genres and all decades.
Losing builds off the same sonic pattern as 2015’s Feels Like, but with just a bit more polish and confidence. Alicia Bognanno’s lyrics are straight out of a diary and delivered with as much angst as sincerity. It’s no wonder why Sub Pop, a label known for Seattle’s 90’s grunge explosion and most notably, Nirvana, jumped at the chance to sign Bully for the Feels Like follow-up.
Riding a creative and artistic hot streak of a lifetime, Jason Isbells’ follow up to Something More Than Free sees the Nashville songwriter go sonically heavier, but lyrically outward. Isbell got his band, The 400 Unit back together for more of a rock n roll record. He’s no longer singing of his own troubles, but tales of the everyday American. Being a white man living in white man’s world, living with anxiety and the thought of mortality in the face of being in love sounds heavy. It is, but also easy to listen to. Isbell has created a trilogy of amazing albums the last 4 years and seems to be just getting started.
Electronic albums with lots of guest stars can go a lot of ways, but London’s Mount Kimbie were able to get King Krule, James Blake and Micachu together for a phenomenal collection of industrial electronic songs. Love What Survives is edgy, smooth easy to get lost in.
The Toronto singer has been lauded the future of RnB. Daniel Ceasar got help from Kali Uchis, H.E.R., Syd (From the Internet) and Charlotte Day Wilson on his debut, Freudian, but Ceasar is the star throughout.
Call it a post-retirement record if you want to, but LCD Soundsystem feels like they never left. So, actually, don’t call it that at all. American Dream is equal parts disco, punk and rock n roll. James Murphy’s lyrics are perfectly modern with the right amount of vintage production. He has replaced (some of) the shamelessly dance-y tracks for a heavier groove. It’s less spastic, and just as enjoyable.
From indie-darling to pop stardom, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) can seemingly be interchangeable and just as likeable. Her new incarnation is a bright pink, leotard-wearing, guitar-shredding pop icon. Her new live show matches the album, which is dark, sexy, dramatic, artistic and addicting.
There’s a serenity in Cassandra Jenkins’ voice that provides the ability to get lost in the meaning of her songs. Songs like Tennessee Waltz and Jan Lee Jasen, among others, feature a country-tinged steel guitar giving the entire a record a western vintage backdrop to her glamorous vocals and other dreamy-pop sonic soundscapes.
Much like the music itself, The War On Drugs ascension has been a slow burn with steady bursts throughout, with 2014’s Lost In The Dream launching them into a new sphere. A Deeper Understanding builds on the same sound in which they cut their teeth on in indie circles, yet possesses the power to launch them into the conversation of the great arena-rock groups.
Without question, the best breakout star of 2017. Depending whether you would call 2014’s Z an EP or an LP, SZA made the most of her debut record. She has been touted by Kendrick Lamar, has shared tracks with Rihanna and others, but CNTRL was her turn to shine. She has the ability to sing either off beat or well behind it, and still sound purposeful. SZA is leading the charge on a new, female driven RnB wave. Her sound is experimental, smooth and entirely unique.
Garage rock trio from Los Angeles quickly became the favorite band of many of their new fans. Their debut, self-titled record came out on Seattle label, Suicide Squeeze and it’s truly difficult not to like L.A. Witch.
Sometimes, you hear a voice that stuns you back a few steps. The Irish 21-year old who now lives in Brighton, England, Holly Macve possesses one of these violently captivating voices. Her voice is at the forefront of the entire 46 minute Golden Eagle, but the soothing nature of it should not overshadow the lyrical themes of it. It’s hard not be impressed by Holly Macve’s assuredness and wisdom throughout.
A man known for his many collaborations, The Cairo Gang is where Emmett Kelly takes the vocal reins and gets to do his damn thing. Untouchable sprinkles glittering guitar all over the place, pays not-so subtle homages to The Velvet Underground and Tom Petty and is one of those straight forward rock n roll records that are becoming increasingly more rare in the experimental indie spheres.
Ty Segall the artist and Ty Segall the record are one in the same. Sometimes a beautifully simplified songwriter, sometimes a spastic explosion of noise, each instance as passionate as the other. It’s an impressive feat to conjure up as much beauty as noise. Ty Segall the album all over the place, yet totally cohesive. There’s a country lick followed by metal riffs, with a 10-minute jam sprinkled in.
There is an interesting division to CFM’s latest record. Accurately titled Dichotomy Desaturated, the ten track album pushes into nearly everything going on in the musical world of Charles Moothart. Dichotomy Desaturated is a glowing result of mixing influences, environment and personal flair. It’s full of garage riffs, thrashing drums, Sabbath-like vocals and enough acoustic touch to put that west coast polish over top of it all.
The new record title, Highway Queen seems a far more literal nickname than however tongue-in-cheek it’s supposed to be. She’s hit the Jackpot with ten sharp, quick witted country tunes that boast a vintage country pop production.
Stones Throw artist, Sudan Archives melds African sounds with west coast beats and plays a beautitul violin over the top. Sudan Archives is a self-taught instrumentalist from Ohio, moved to Los Angeles and makes music that could come from anywhere in the world.
Margo Price’s star has been rising steadily and to new heights since she first released Midwest Farmer’s Daughter on Third Man records in 2016. She has toured with world several times over, played with Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill and Willie Nelson. She is set to headline the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville for 3 nights and her 2nd record, All American Made is a big reason why. All American Made is less honky-tonk and more Americana. She takes just as many cues from Tom Petty as she does Tammy Wynette. It’s traditional, it’s modern, it’s gospel, it’s political and she holds nothing back.
All Them Witches is a highway experienced, American rock n roll band in its essence. Touches of grunge, sprinkles of southern blues with Nashville roots, made them the perfect band for superstar producer Dave Cobb to get involved with. Sleeping Through The War is a hard hitting, yet very easily digestible blues/not blues, punk/not punk record that sounds like the new Nashville…but not.
Sneaker Waves is a fantastic retro-pop record with bursts of folk, synths and psychedelia throughout. Each song has a life of its own, and Tristen manages to invite the listener into her world one thought at a time.
To avoid any tired cliché (because Rodney would never do it) involving wine and getting better with age, Rodney Crowell may still not have reached his peak. The legendary songwriter remains in Nashville amongst all the changes the fair city has seen in recent years and it only provides more fuel. Crowell’s way with words rivals very few and Close Ties is as good pound-for-pound as anything he has done.
Though Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett are indie-rock superstars, their collaborative record, Lotta Sea Lice is less of an explosive super group effort, as much as it is two buddies jamming out, sharing tunes and creating new ones. On paper a CB-KV duo is a match made in heaven. They are obvious fans of each other and the chemistry is palpable. Both songwriters have histories of hard rock, folk tunes and the slyest of deadpan deliveries. Kurt and Courtney are the type of artists who could make a song about literally, anything and make it sound interesting.
Few artists have the cult-like fandom as Mac DeMarco, but pressure and certain expectations do not seem to enter into his mind in the slightest. He just sort of does his thing. This Old Dog is a mostly acoustic record, but he’s careful not to call it just that. “It’s not really an acoustic album at all. That’s just what it feels like, mostly. I’m Italian, so I guess this is an Italian rock record.”
In a town like Nashville, it can be difficult to stand out amongst a sea of talented, driven songwriters. There are a lot of factors, of course, but one absolutely necessary characteristic is worth ethic, and Becca Mancari embodies that. Her new album, Good Woman has to be a personal triumph. Good Woman delivers on everything you’d want from a solo debut. Intricate songwriting, guitar solos, slow ballads like Golden and Good Woman, and feel-good tunes like Waiting So Long and Summertime Mama.
Jack Cooper is 1/2 of UK’s mellow indie-band, Ultimate Painting. Though there are some of the same moody similarities to his band, Cooper’s first solo record, Sandgrown is stripped down to an even more mellow pace.
There is a reason for the longevity of Lee Ann Womack’s country music career. She LOVES country music. Yes, she has had some pop crossover success, but her love of the genre’s history is evident. It was surprising to see the indie label, ATO records release a Lee Ann Womack record, but upon listening to The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone, you know why. It’s cool! It’s lonely, smoky, country, but above all, its REAL.
The Los Angeles quartet lead by Clementine Creevy have been around for a few years now as a noise pop outfit, but for their debut on Secretly Canadian records, they stepped it up to full blown rock n roll. Apocolipstick is not only a great record title, but a layered, punchy indie-rock album that took Cherry Glazerr to new levels.
Out Her Space, the new record from Karl Blau parallels his adventurous past, but builds on the production value and unique sounds that made Introducing such a great listen. Track by track, Out Her Space wanders all over the place, but it is by no means aimless. Each song has it’s entirely own personality.
Legendary Seattle slap-beat extraordinaire, Jake One lays the perfect funkdation for Mayer Hawthorne to croon disco tunes over. Their mission is to bring funk & disco back to the funkfront. They did it with their debut, Tuxedo, and they did it with the sequel, Tuxedo II, and it’s possibly even better the Second Time Around.
While there is something undeniably fun about the entire album, if you really pay attention to Alex Lahey’s lyrics, all her songs are slightly dark and have an underlying tone of melancholy. Lahey sings about her life with wry humor and honesty, making I Love You Like A Brother a very unpretentious portrayal of what it’s like to be young, to be in and out of different relationships, and to be a human in general. – RB
Bread & Butter are the type of guys who listen to Cheap Trick, sing karaoke, drink cheap beer and somehow, that’s exactly what Bread & Butter the record actually sounds like. Certain tracks stand out, like Desperation and Keys To The City, but Bread & Butter as whole is where the vibes truly lie.
Felony Blues is not only a built-for-country music record title, it’s also quite literal for Jaime Wyatt. It’s not always the easiest or most fun to talk about your past, especially one as checkered as Jaime Wyatt’s, but the California country singer makes no effort to shy away from it and even seems to embrace it.
Queens of the Stone Age ringleader, Josh Homme knew he would face some backlash when he got together with Mark Ronson to produce the new QOTSA album, Villians. Though Ronson is experience in all genres, he is most known for his pop success with Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars. Villains is a bit more danceable than most Queens material, but it’s still heavy enough for their hardcore fans.
Kids In The Street is a spanning collection of songs that are uniquely Justin Townes Earle’s, yet a refreshing change of pace. He seems.. happy and content with his current life. Moving to Portland, getting married and having a child will do that.
Metal-y psychedelic garage rock from Austin, Texas. If you’ve ever seen Black Angels live, you know of their dark, trippy light show backdrop. Somehow, that’s how they sound on record too. Death Song is loud, droning and transfixing.
Her 4th record, Soul Sick, feels like the real Sallie Ford. It is introspective, confessional and accepting of personal issues. It sounds like an artist coming out of the proverbial shell. Sallie Ford has a very loyal and steady fan base in her adopted hometown of Portland, and folks will follow her journey regardless. It finally feels like Ford is accepting that fact and making music that although may be difficult to put together, sounds therapeutic and dare say, “fun.”
The producing genius behind The Arcs, Lady Wray, Lee Fields and Olympians, Leon Michaels dropped the follow-up to the 2012 legendary cult record, Enter the 37th Chamber. It lands on everything you would expect from the soul man’s instrumental tribute to the Wu Tang Clan.
As wavy, loud, intricate, or funky as Jim James can get, many of the showstoppers James is responsible for come in the form of the slow ballad, or a classic cover tune. Tribute To 2 is another beautifully selected compilation of covers. On it, James is paying homage to the classic pop writers before him, while showing a glimpse of where he finds inspiration. Jim James proves he is equally at home wielding an axe for a wild My Morning Jacket guitar solo or delicately harmonizing with himself over some old timey piano.
Swedish singer Snoh Allegra spent part of the year opening up for Daniel Ceasar on tour, which gave her a new audience of eyes and ears. If life has any justice, it won’t be long until the next star singer is opening for her. FEELS is Allegra’s debut album after years of dropping singles and EPs. It features fantastic features from Vince Staples, Logic, Vic Mensa but none of them touch what Snoh herself brings to the table. It’s simple production is smooth and pretty. Where she may be the future of Rnb, she clearly knows the roots.
Kentucky, South Carolina and pockets of the Southeast already know of Tyler Childers and now the rest of the country music world does too. The long-awaited debut, Purgatory, was produced by fellow Kentuckian, Sturgill Simpson and is proof that real country music still exists. Childers is a part of a new wave of young country music songwriters that will be so fun to watch grow and gain notoriety.
MC Taylor aka Hiss Golden Messenger is a Carolinian songwriter who has steadily built up a fan base and impressive catalog over the last several years. Hot off the heels of 2016’s Heart Like A Leevee, Taylor released Hallelujah Anyhow that could be argued to be his best work. As the title suggest, the album is a celebration of life and curiosity in the face of reality.
The posthumous swan song from Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. The album was recorded during her very public battle with cancer. Her band and Daptone crew would have to wait until she was feeling good enough to record vocals and take it step by step. The result is a mellower mood than her previous records, but barely. The energy can definitely be felt. It can also be argued that, Soul Of A Woman is one of Jones’ best albums. For a woman who seemingly knew she didn’t have much time left, she did not want to rest on he laurels. Soul Of A Woman is a fantastic encapsulation of who Sharon Jones was, the best.
Canadian country troubadour with a truly insane baritone. Looking at Colter Wall and hearing him sing might break your brain because it just doesn’t seem to make sense. His debut self-titled record gained momentum as he toured the country with the likes of Margo Price and Tyler Childers.
Austin, Texas’ Molly Burch is a classically trained singer and musician, but she applies her skills to excellent songwriting and mellow, soothing vocals. Songs like Downhearted and Please Be Mine pull together aspects of jazz, indie-rock with just enough reverb.
One of the year’s true protest records. Front woman Alynda Lee Segura is known for her bluegrassy, New Orleans soul-folk tunes, but on The Navigator, she goes all out experimenting with different sounds. Exploring her Puerto Rican roots is at the very forefront. Being a minority and a woman in today’s climate is not easy, but Segura seems to relish in it and it has made her as fiery as ever. Her new music, as are its listeners, are the main beneficiary.
Going out on a limb and stating there are very people in the world who share a similar resume to Faye Webster. She is a hip hop photographer in Atlanta, has shot large ad campaigns for Nike and other prestigious companies AND is a tremendously talented folk singer. Faye Webster’s recently released self-titled record was her first since 2013. Her soft voice glides over country-tinged folk tunes that meld together a unique blend that would attract fans of indie rock, and singer/songwriters.
Valerie June’s 2nd record, The Order Of Time, feels like the season’s changing. You can visualize a falling leaf frozen in time. There are fewer boot stompers and less RnB flavors than her debut, Pushin’ Up Against A Stone, but instead settling for windy soundscapes with a hint of jazz and 70’s country. With June’s voice at the forefront; a great recipe.
Listen to the BEST WHATEVER  RECORDS OF 2017 (PLAYLIST)