Words by WASTER Staff
What is the deal with year-end lists? How does anyone classify an album as ‘the best’? We don’t have the answers, but we did write about some music that got us through the past twelve months.
In no particular order, here are some of our favorite records of 2017…
“Queen of Hearts”
[July 14th, 2017]
While The Decemberists have heavily hinted at their love of English folk music in the past, they dove deeply into the genre this year when they collaborated with folk singer Olivia Chaney and released The Queen of Hearts under the name Offa Rex. The record is comprised of covers of songs made famous by luminaries of the English folk revival of the ’60s and ’70s, such as Pentangle, Anne Briggs and Lal Waterson, in a style reminiscent of that movement.
For instance, “Blackleg Miner,” a traditional song famously adapted by the likes of Steeleye Span, stomps like prime-era Fairport Convention with a combination of harmonium, mandolin, bass clarinet and standard rock instruments. Elsewhere on the album, “Bonnie May,” features Chaney painting a pastoral scene with a voice that is often stunningly similar to that of English folksinger Sandy Denny.
While many other artists, like Sharron Kraus and Espers, have been keeping the sound of English folk music alive and accessible in recent years, it’s refreshing to see a group as established as The Decemberists paying tribute to the genre and introducing it to a wide audience that might never encounter it otherwise. A truly beautiful record from start to finish, this was certainly a calming album that ears in 2017 needed.
– Keith Hadad
[June 9th, 2017]
SZA. I mean, I feel like I don’t even need to be writing this right now, because truly, who hasn’t heard her long awaited debut album, Ctrl, and immediately had their lives changed? She’s had an epic year of praise, reaching music lovers across the globe and it couldn’t be more well deserved. SZA released a record that created its own genre – nothing can compare to it.
The way she narrates her life (and a lot of our lives) in her songwriting, brings a sense of closeness and friendship to the creator who, somehow can read you like a book. Gifting you with songs that make you laugh, cry, dance, and feel less alone through one perfect life soundtrack of an album. It was love at first listen with her first single “Drew Barrymore”; I listened to it on repeat basically every day until she released her album–and then I had fourteen more songs to listen to on repeat.
“Pretty Little Birds” flaunts her gorgeous vocals, drawing you into the track right away, and keeping you there for the layers of vocals reminiscent of Imogen Heap. Her truthful and relatable lyrics mixed with the stunning soundtrack she created to tie it all together hits a music fan hard, locks you in, and keeps you as a fan for life. Nothing but the best for this absolute queen, SZA.
– Cher Dunn
[June 16th, 2017]
in 2017, The Drums have set a mood that is more sobering than morose or fun (two unlikely adjectives that equally describe this band). Abysmal Thoughts is about the duality of life — darkness and light — and finding the beauty of living somewhere in between.
But it’s the title track that crowns the record’s catharsis. The band crafts a strange arrangement of melodies on “Abysmal Thoughts”; first, a grinding bass, chiming guitars, an ecstatic whistle followed by the full melodic sway of his heartfelt voice.
Frontman Jonny Pierce’s vocal sweeps in like the unstoppable current of a river, sprinting just ahead of the entire ensemble like a man running with the bulls. He sings the title like a lost lover’s name; a lump in his throat as his voice wavers into gracious falsetto.
In the tradition of most Drums songs, Pierce combines Nihilistic sweet nothings with bright, cathartic choruses. What sounds like music to others is the musician’s way of coping with life. On this record, Pierce confronts his inner demons and anxieties with charming grace and pop savvy.
Abysmal Thoughts is everything but. It’s a dark, hungry yet hopeful evolution of a band integral to the life and struggles of its now sole member. By its last breath, the record is life affirming; optimistic of the joys and horrors of being a small person in this big, empty world.
– Eric Gasa
[March 3rd, 2017]
From producing music on SoundCloud, to topping charts with his singles, “Young Dumb & Broke”, “Location” and “8TEEN”, Khalid has left an impressive mark on this year, and rightfully deserves a spot on our list of the top albums of the 2017.
Released in March, American Teen is essentially an album that speaks to your inner adolescent. Breezy beats, tied together with relatable lyrical content, encapsulate the youthful spirit of a generation on-the-rise. Luckily, themes on the album are not exclusive to just juveniles – lyrics within songs like “Therapy”, “Cold-Blooded”, and “Angels” all seem to address the very real transition into adulthood.
For all you romantics out there, fear not, American Teen also features universal love songs such as “Shot Down” and “Another Sad Love Song”. Both tracks represent the struggles of love in a very cool and stylistic way, that almost makes you want to get your heart broken by Khalid.
Honestly, since we are all going to end 2017 young, dumb and broke anyway, you might as well celebrate the new year with American Teen.
– Lauren Sorce
[October 13th, 2017]
The brilliant Masseduction isn’t just about a sound – it’s a whole aesthetic – carefully curated by the always quirky, and sometimes warped imagination of Annie Clark.
Changing her look with nearly every record, this time Clark poses as a self-proclaimed ‘dominatrix at the mental institution’ – scantily clad in bright pink latex, and armed with a songbook of pre-apocalyptic diary entries.
Masseduction spills out of your speakers with songs that are jarringly unique, yet somehow universal. The deeply personal album takes on a laundry list of topics, from self-medication (‘Pills’), to narcissism (‘Los Ageless’), and even good old-fashioned heartbreak (‘New York’). It’s tortured art-school rock with a slick layer of pop polish.
Like any respectable album of the year, Masseduction is equal parts sexy and scary. It’s hard to define, but easy to adore.
– Audra Tracy
Queens of the Stone Age
[August 25th, 2017]
When he’s not kicking the faces of innocent photographers, Josh Homme puts his heart and soul into making music; generally of the hard rock variety. Villains doesn’t forget this, though some dementia sets in as the record shows fragments of funk/groove, and new wave. Songs like “The Way You Used To Do,” and “Villains of Circumstance,” show the versatility the Homme and QOTSA are able to accomplish. “Domesticated Animals,” and “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” are reminiscent of vintage Queens, while simultaneously displaying ways the band has updated their bag of tricks.
Some of the album’s finesse can be attributed to the addition of Mark Ronson as producer, a surprising collaboration upon first glance, but it makes sense when you take a good listen. The album’s tight sound and energy calms any worry of going into pop territory, but Homme knows what lines not to cross, he’s a rock pro for a reason. The band seems to enjoy the change from album to album that seems to be the new normal for QOTSA. But isn’t that the sign of a good artist? Movement. And unsurprisingly the album succeeds in making you want to move- unless you’re afraid of a little change.
– Steve Melone
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
“The Nashville Sound”
[June 16th, 2017]
Jason Isbell has had the kind of career-defining year most musicians only dream of. His album The Nashville Sound, with group the 400 Unit has garnered several accolades, including a surprising nod from the CMA’s with a nomination for Album of the Year. The sixth album from the former Drive-By Trucker caps the lyrics-heavy, roots-driven sound he has been honing for the past several years. His empathic take on working-class perspectives makes him a rarity in a mainstream dominated by a pointed lack of a political voice. “Some people are standing up at the right times. But for the most part, the popular country world has remained silent in a way that just looks really, really bad to me,” stated Isbell, as reported by NPR.
At 38, Isbell has spent the last 5 years facing his demons and returns with a facing forward sound. He breaks our hearts as the perfect husband in the heart-rending ballad ‘If We Were Vampires,’ conveys a word of caution to a life of unexamined white privilege and its over-reaching effects in ‘White Man’s World,’ and gives hope amidst the despair of the current political climate in ‘Hope the High Road.’ While pumped-up bar rocker ‘Cumberland Gap’ and the slow burn crescendo on ‘Anxiety,’ balance the album out with a healthy dose of gritty expansiveness. While Isbell may be ‘the last of his kind,’ he gives the genre an infusion of fresh energy and hope that it so desperately needs.
– Corinne Casella
Wolf Tone/Caroline International
[September 22nd, 2017]
Three years since the release of 2014’s Luminous, The Horrors saw a burning world in need of an industrial-psych release, injected themselves with the air that Gary Numan breathes, and kicked in the door with their September release of the band’s epic fifth album aptly named V.
V for Vendetta, or five? Either way, it works with this bad-ass, dark, heavy bass, and synth-tastic garage punk record. Lead singer Faris Badwan’s storytelling make this album feel like a perfect indie movie soundtrack, while the instrumentals will take you on a journey of your own.
Starting off strong with a magical “Hologram” that will make you think you have synesthesia, the record continues into a funky rollercoaster ride with “Press Enter To Exit”, then flawlessly enters into the dark and heavy “Machine”, and at this point, you’re truly strapped in for the ride. The album plays like a classic vinyl, one that all fits together in a story that you have to listen to from start to finish- and you won’t want to skip around. Every track is truly a favorite. This record shows so much growth with the band, you have to think they had the best and most enlightening past three years of their lives, and thank goddess for that.
– Cher Dunn
Need more lists? Check out Our 50 Favorite Songs of 2017…