I’m not 100-percent sure, but I’m fairly certain that I’ve listened to more new music in 2017 than I have in any other year.
My New Year’s resolution was to listen to at least one album I had not heard before per week. I’m cruising along and already past 40 albums, so barring a monumental collapse I should hit my target.
About 90 percent of my first-time listens this year have been new music.
In no particular order, these are the releases from this year that I’ve enjoyed the most.
White Reaper – The World’s Best American Band
Truly, this is good, uh, rock’n’roll music. The second album from Louisville-based power-poppers, White Reaper, is one of the year’s most fun releases so far. It’s unabashed, straight-forward rock influenced by The Ramones, Cheap Trick, Big Star, The Replacements and The Exploding Hearts. There’s genuine guitar heroics, and the hooks are plentiful.
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Vince Staples released his second consecutive instant classic LP this year. He continues to rap about depressing realities over severe-sounding beats in a way that’s fun, mostly thanks to gallows humor punchlines and a rapid pace. Not a single song surpasses the five-minute mark and most are shorter than three minutes.
Jay-Z – 4:44
I expected this corporate partnership release to be as uninspired as Magna Carter Holy Grail or Kingdom Come or The Blueprint 3, and was floored to hear an album that can comfortable mingle in the upper echelon of Shawn Carter’s discography. Certainly not better than Reasonable Doubt or The Blueprint , but it compares favorably to The Black Album and American Gangster. The No I.D. production sounds amazing. It is warm, slightly opulent and gives the album a cohesion lacking from some of Jay’s lesser works. The tabloid-fodder infidelity confessions are what’s drawn the most coverage, which makes sense because I can’t recall Jay-Z ever sharing this much of his personal life, but equally interesting are Jay-Z’s thoughts on race and black unity, which I don’t recall ever before being quite so explicitly dissected on an album by HOV. Strictly speaking, these aren’t Jay’s best bars. His flow sounds off, and the rhymes aren’t always particularly clever. But, it is some of his most interesting and personal work ever.
Kendrick Lamar – Damn.
Kendrick Lamar continues his streak of dominating the rap game. His flow continues to be a dense labyrinth of internal rhyme and references, but in a way that’s more approachable than To Pimp a Butterfly. The album is a little less focused than some of Kdot’s other releases (I can’t picture a U2 feature on any of his other albums), but not every album needs to be a Statement.
Ty Segall – Ty Segall
Ty isn’t reinventing the wheel here in any sense. He’s even done a self-titled release before. But this might strike the best balance among the prolific garage-rockers prodigious-but-disparate strengths. There’s straight-ahead rockers, Sid Barrett-esque psyche-pop and a really sweet love song. Unlike some past releases (looking at you Manipulator) this album is a tight collection. This really is a virtuosic display of everything one of rock music’s best working songwriters does right.
(Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
This album is equal parts hummable alt-country and industrial freakout. I prefer the warmer, mellow first half of the album. “Bobby”, “Poison Root” and “Proud” are fine, extremely pleasant and slightly weird pop songs with warm twang. That may sound like faint praise, but it’s meant as a rousing endorsement. That basically describes most of my favorite Wilco songs, after all. The string-filled melodies are made all the more remarkable because they share an album with “Brick”, which has more in common with Death Grips than a lot of songs on Rocket.
Charly Bliss – Guppy
Guppy is an entirely transparent attempt to replicate the soaring buzz of ’90s alternative-rock, and it accomplishes that modest goal with aplomb. Lead singer Eva Hendricks sounds downright effervescent, but her high, perky voice fits in with songs that are all forward momentum and chugging guitar. “DQ” is on my shortlist for songs of the year, and one that I’m sure will be in my rotation for years to come.
Los Campesinos! – Sick Scenes
The hyper-literate twee punks I’ve loved for a full decade now have grown into a wonderfully dependable, mature indie rock band. As always, these songs are lyrically captivating. Gareth never stops being Gareth whether that means setting an almost literary scene, capturing a particular brand of malaise, whip-smart punchlines or super-specific sports references. Musically, this album includes some of the most energetic songs LC! has put out since the absolutely transcendent Romance is Boring. There’s also “The Fall of Home” which is just heart-achingly gorgeous. All snark is set aside to explore the sensation of seeing the places we come from crumble after moving on to some place ostensibly better.
Smidley – Smidley
I’m not a huge fan of Foxing, but Conor Murphy’s side project was unexpectedly winning. Lightly psychedelic indie rock will always be in my wheelhouse. “Hell” is one of the year’s better side one track ones. It sounds both dark and jaunty in a way that recalls The National, has group vocals that make me think of Local Natives (which isn’t something I’ve done often since 2012} and there’s some trumpet that somehow sounds perfectly in place. “No One Likes You” and “Pink Gallo” make good use of Murphy’s unique voice and are very good and just slightly odd. “Milk Shake” is an interesting, bare bones acoustic take that surprises with its vulnerability, but really shouldn’t considering singing in an emo band is Murphy’s main hustle. For me, the standout track is “Fuck This”, and it’s really what pushes Smidley’s eponymous debut onto this list. It’s essentially a perfect instant classic. A springy, midtempo number with a seesaw melody and shouted chorus that features multiple lengthy crescendoing chants of “Fuck this, fuck this” will always, and I mean always, have a spot in my heart.
The Sadies – Northern Passages
The Sadies are absolutely crackerjack musicians, and that shines through on every track on Northern Passages. They sound equally comfortably on the rave up “Another Season Again” and the sleepy, Kurt Vile-assisted “It’s Easy (Like Walking)” and both songs are positively delightful. Not since The Band have Canadians so effectively mined American to thoroughly winning effect. I think this album has largely gone overlooked, and it might be because The Sadies have served as a backing band for the likes of John Doe and Neko Case in the past. If you’ve got a soft spot for countrified rock, you owe it to yourself to listen to this album.