Chuck Prophet – Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins
For years in the early 1980s Chuck Prophet half fronted one of the greatest American bands most people don’t know, Green on Red. Their delicious blending of rural American styles and punkish wit set them within avenues that many more famous contemporaries have now become millionaires within (REM, Wilco, etc). But as is said for many originators, it was lonely at the top of inspiration hill, and thus they remain largely unknown. Once Chuck Prophet went solo, his records slowed down, he’d be most easily characterized as an American Graham Parker or Nick Lowe, but while they’ve decidedly softened as they’ve aged, Prophet’s razor lines remain brimming with a bloodlust he had in his youth. Plus, some of the stuff still absolutely screams, I can’t think of a more signature riff this year than the one that forms ‘Your Skin’ here.
Yossarians – Fabric of Time
I’d initially seen them described with quite lofty praise, “Manchester’s Yossarians sound, somehow, like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Egon Schiele and Iggy Pop fronting the Bad Seeds or mid-period Swans”, as if anything could remotely approach that (besides, I’d imagine that Dostoyevsky and Shiele would like a less abrasive sound than mid-period Swans!). The sensibility is correct though, Yossarians evoke all these things somehow, right down to a Michael Gira cover situated at the albums center. It’s certainly helped that musically the record is eclectic; Yossarians have three guitar players, one of which is often strumming a banjo or mandolin, which colors everything with an almost Arabic sensibility, and the punk side drives everything with a clarity of purpose and vigor appropriate for the times. It’s one of the most interesting records of the year, and in time, I think could be seen as one of the most prescient.
Little Barrie – Death Express
For pure 4 on the floor rock n’ roll stomp, you won’t top Little Barrie’s newest gem for 2017 releases. It’s a rarer feat than most realize nowadays, where good rock extends the very definition of rock often, and the more straight ahead stuff often finds itself safely in a silly derivative cliche of a band that probably wasn’t even good 4 or 5 decades ago. Death Express, though, is a genuine good time, loud, aggressive and a swagger straight from the 70’s. I don’t doubt my Pops would find it shakin’ too he he stumbled upon it via Sirius XM.
Downtown Boys – Cost of Living
There’s a largely forgotten Mod band from mid-1960’s Britain by the name of the Downliners Sect that released a pretty darn wonderful single in 1966 called ‘The Cost of Living’. It’s a catchy, great time, that after enough listens and careful examination reveals an interesting political subtext underneath. It immediately sprung to mind when the Downtown Boys announced the title of their forthcoming second lp early in the year. Their second, Full Communism, had been a minor masterpiece of leftist pop in 2015, the sort of record that was fairly common in the late 1970’s but has sadly dried up over the years. Cost of Living further ups the ante, with the addition of sax and synths, we’re nearly approaching the danceable agitprop that was so brilliant in England via the Two Tone bands without loosing an ounce of the seething righteousness. Along with the new Priests record, our political punk is in great hands.
The Body – Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light
The Body appeared on last years list as well, with the goth metal No One Deserves Happiness. I might have liked that one more, but it’s not by that much. New here is their second collaboration with Full of Hell, and the increased familiarity shows, as these are more assured, creative tracks (their previous collaboration was 2016’s One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache). They’re still butting right up to pop, but within a sonic framework that most pop fans would never venture into; catchy tracks that drill holes into your ears and plant deep, dense mines of thick noise. On ‘Our Love Conducted With Shields Aloft’ they’re even joined by Lightning Bolt manic jazz drummer Brian Chippendale, for what amounts to a tidal wave of buzzing music. The title of the lp gets it right, this is as seemingly impossible as ‘heavy light’, exhibiting a sensation you shouldn’t think physically possible.
Slowdive – Slowdive
With all the classic era shoegaze bands returning from hiatus or resurrecting themselves in recent years, it was only a matter of time before Slowdive did so as well. Nothing here sounds like an older band trying to recapture the magic, in fact, when you consider that their last effort—1995’s Pygmalion—left on one of the genre’s highest points, this seems like a nature progression. After letting the noise overwhelm and envelope you several listens in, an even sneaker reality emerges; the arty experimentation of their later work (say, Pygmalion) is still readily present, but so is the aggressive squeal of Just for a Day, amounting to something of a career retrospective while growing clearly forward. It’s an incredibly rare feat, leaving everyone new and old satisfied and eager to hear what’s next.
Hey Colossus – The Guillotine
This year was a heck of a year for Hey Colossus, upon celebrating their first ten years of recording together, they released the double retrospective, Dedicated to Uri Klangers (2003-2013) and then the noisy blast, The Guillotine. Most bands aren’t still in their upward trajectory when they release greatest hits packages, but The Guillotine might just be their best work yet, a perfect balance between their epic noisy tomes and the more introspective, poetic laments. In Black and Gold, released in 2015, was seen as a culmination of their aesthetic, a great synthesis of the murky depth of rock n’ roll noise, but, here, epic soundscapes intermingle for a broad expansive sound.
Godflesh – Post Self
I’m not sure there is a guitarist in rock from the last 25 or 30 years that could go riff for riff with Justin Broadrick. Whether its with his main band Godflesh, or his often busy experimental side project, Jesu, Broadrick is a very gifted writer of highly memorable, savagely heavy and hooky riffs. The riff is often said to be at the center of the rock and roll form, so Godflesh’s newest, Post Self, is as clean a distillation of pure rock n’ roll as you’ll ever hear. It happens instantly in the opening of the lead, self-titled track, ‘Post Self’ that starts with a highly memorable riff before another, tricker, but also hummable riff, forms a bridge. You know where you’re going now, and the 9 songs that follow are more of the same; some of the best heavy music you’ll ever dream of having the pleasure of going deaf with (I said Power Trip might have made the best Metal record of the year, but this might actually bare that title as well).
Snapped Ankles – Come Play the Trees
Wrapped in mystery and foliage come London’s Snapped Ankles, a post-punk outfit whose 2017 full-length debut fully flew their Krautrock-derived freak flag high. Wearing identity concealing outfits, their names remain unknown, and the music comes from similarly eccentric and individualistic places, part Devo, part Pop Group. It’s often a driving blast, each song a party of ideas and hooks. My favorite track shares a partial title with maybe my favorite film ever made, ‘Jonny Guitar Calling Gosta Berlin’, which is a driving bass throb for more than 8 minutes, with many interspersed layers of keyboards, synths, and guitar lines. It’s epic in conception, but supremely approachable in execution, each turn producing a memorable melodic line in what is surely one of the tracks of 2017.
French Vanilla – French Vanilla
Some sounds in pop are so indicative of a time and place, that a mere second or two will immediately transport those to their eras. Proto-riot grrl post-punk is just such a sound; the heavy, perky bass rumble of the Slits, Delta 5, Dolly Mixture, Au Pairs or LiLiPUT puts one squarely in the late 70s and you know nearly everything about the band after a bar or two of a song. Those bands are all great and they created some of the definitive rock tracks the form has ever heard, even if the casual fan hasn’t bothered with doing a proper dive into their catalogues. I point this all out not to be a pesky elitist, but rather the damage this has done to rock—a form forever too male-centric, because the great bands of the other gender have been given too quick a take. French Vanilla’s self-titled, then, comes on with track 1, ‘Honesty’ that within 3 seconds we know where we are, and what we’re about to hear. The record never disappoints, and often elevates even higher—‘Carrie’ is a clever retelling of the de Palma/King tale, ‘Anti-Aging Global Warming’ is pure angular agitprop, while ‘Heavy Handed’ finds clever use of everyday conversation ticks for melodic underpinnings. Easily one of my favorite finds this year, if it was a cassette tape, I’d have worn it out.
Depeche Mode – Spirit
A record so good by a band I so cherish that I flew hundreds of miles to see them perform it. A slight exaggeration—a vacation was needed and Depeche Mode’s tour coincided—but Spirit does find the goth stylists in fine form. A highly charged political bent is their new wrinkle, with many of the tracks openly questioning how we’ve landing in the terrible predicament we currently find ourselves in. The tracks question their audience, and the people their audience share their lives with (lovingly or not) rather than the usual, easy bomb-throwing at our leaders. Memorable moments are aplenty—the deep bass groove of ‘Going Backwards’, the advancement of their Delta blues fascination on ‘The Worst Crime’, ‘Poorman’s allusion to trickle down economics as a metaphor for being pissed on, and the achingly beautiful ‘Cover Me’, which can render me to a stream of tears if I’m not resilient in its presence—proving that as Depeche Mode approach their 40th birthday, they aren’t close to finished.
Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
Is this my favorite metal release of the year? Possibly. I don’t want to spoil the next installment, and I’m not sure this statement does—there are heavy guitar driven records coming in the top 15, but not that I’d designate as straight away Metal with a capital M. Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic is just that, a thrash metal stomper coming from Heavy Metal golden 1980’s era, with a contemporary twist. Production notes sprinkle the record with a deeper density than some of the early thrash metal records that were often more brittle than anyone realized at the time (since, you know, they were that fastest, heaviest things anyone had heard before). At just two records in, Power Trip is two-for-two, and one of the brightest beacons mainstream metal, err, Metal, has had in quite some time.
The Yawpers – Boy in a Well
Tommy Stinson, the Replacements legendary bassist, produced this lp, so it’s not hard to try to connect the Yawpers raucous garble with that of the 80’s alternative heroes. There’s definitely a kinship in sensibility to the American underground now gone, with wild guitar flourishes amidst tracks with an otherwise down-home sensibility. Upon first listening, I’d nearly written it off after a song or two, as it starts with the slow burn of ‘Armistice Day’ and the rockabilly-tinged ‘A Decision is Made’. It seemed rural roots rock, a tired indy genre at this point, but you’ll want to stick with it, as by the end of ‘A Decision is Made’ they’re nearly sprinting, a speed they reach consistently throughout the rest of the album. Within the chaos of their more upbeat numbers they’re somehow able to find and explore more space, rather than the assumed opposite (that the slower burn numbers would have the sensitivity and depth). It allows everyone to reach out; guitars swirl, vocals scratch, and the rhythm careens like an old jalopy. Maybe my biggest surprise this year was how much this one grew on me.
Institute – Subordination
In the 40 years since the Sex Pistols broke the mold, punk has splintered in a lot of different directions. In that first generation, there was a bevy of lo-fi releases, fuzzy distortions of punks central ethos of do-it-yourself. Since then, the most glaring way punk as aged is being cleaned up, whether it was the mainstream making it over and dulling the message, or it was pop bands sneering just enough to think they were serious but nevertheless intently trying to sell singles to teeny-boppers (sorry, but there’s a glaring difference between the Buzzcocks and the Undertones and, say, Green Day). Well here is Institute recall the grimy and distinctly low-fi origins of punk, but of course this isn’t a pure revival offering—in fact far from it—the band touches on glam and hard rock stylings, for one of the freshest punk releases of the year.
The Replacements – Live at Maxwell’s 1986
A live record more than 20 years old makes the cut, and probably not nearly high enough. Fair enough, it’s not, but I’d assume if you know the contents at all you aren’t in need of a placement on a list such as this to urge you to seek it out. It’s the Replacements at their artistic peak—their catalogue has swelled enough to now contain three masterpiece full length lps from which they can pull from, and Bob Stinson’s furious guitar is still blazing out leads. He’d leave/get kicked out later in the year from the unreliability of his drug habit (it’d eventually take its toll on his overall health when he’d die a decade later). In short, this is just about the best the Replacements ever were, and though they tried as they might to sabotage their career at every turn, you can’t deny the irresistible allure of the four sides of wax here. Bouncing in a moments notice from early punk fury to sensitive 80’s independent American rock, the Replacements are as good a band that America has ever produced and here is a good enough artifact to start with if you don’t already know.