It's time for my annual list of my favorite albums of 2017! I've been doing this annually for quite a while and I want to thank you at the top for checking this out. Whether this is your first or your 5th time reading my recap of the year in music, I really appreciate it.
2017 was a really great time for music as is often the case when our politics become polarized. The sounds of the day can often be a great reflection on where we are as a society. Something new this year, I've made a Spotify play list of my favorite song off each album HERE.
Here's the list for 2017:
25. Taylor Swift - Reputation
The only way to fully explain this album is this way ... if I didn't know who Taylor was before hearing it, I would have really liked it a lot. However, I saw Taylor open for Rascal Flatts in 2005 in Omaha where she played her guitar quietly and was all by herself on stage. Hearing her sing lyrics like: "Carve your name into my bedpost, 'Cause I don't want you as a best friend. Only bought this dress so you could take it off. Take it oh ha ha ha" was ... interesting.
The feeling it gave me was similar to how I felt when I saw my 18 year old sister drunk for the first time. It was almost shocking. I say almost because it's 2017 and nothing is really shocking anymore. I also took my sister to see Taylor at Gillette Stadium, the show she claims is her favorite performance ever because it rained on 70,000 people, so maybe that's also why this album makes me feel a little sad. Taylor now sings like a young woman sick of the rumors and sick of the negative press around her life. She has axes to grind and she doesn't give a shit about who knows it.
"Cause for every lie I tell them, they tell me three; This is how the world works; Now all he thinks about is me". Well, that's interesting. More: "I've been breakin' hearts a long time; And toyin' with them older guys; Just playthings for me to use" That sounds like a woman who DGAF.
This album is a great look at a young woman trying to handle being a 20-something in the internet age as a main focus of the 24-7 gossip media.
24. Liam Gallagher - As You Were
The former lead singer of Oasis has come out with a solo album that is worthy of attention. Now, Liam's voice is not for everyone but I've been a fan of his for a long time dating back to my junior year in high school. Liam's brother, Noel Gallagher, has a solo album out this year as well and is on this list later on. In my opinion, Noel is the real talent of the family, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I really enjoyed this record.
If you haven't read some of the interviews that Liam did in the lead up to this release, I really recommend them because he is still completely batshit crazy. I don't know if Oasis will ever back together but if they do, I wouldn't expect the brothers to get along. These two seemingly get joy out of hating on each other publicly.
23. The Killers - Wonderful Wonderful
As a Las Vegas resident, The Killers are a band that invokes a great deal of civic pride. For a long time, nobody respected bands that came out of Sin City. There was a thought, or a bias, that the only west coast music scenes to pay attention to were in Los Angeles or Seattle. That changed with the massive success of The Killers and opened doors for several other Vegas bands to make it big like Imagine Dragons. When The Killers book a gig here, it sells out in seconds.
The fifth studio album from the Brandon Flowers fronted band, is good - not great. I highly doubt they will ever be able to match the music on their debut album - Hot Fuss, but Wonderful Wonderful is still a solid effort. Songs like "The Man" are really fun and the video (below) is awesome.
22. Judah and the Lion - Folk Hop n Roll
These guys are really, really fun and have been putting out great music since 2011. They are from Nashville and have a wild sound combination of folk, rock, bluegrass, country, and Americana all messed into one. I mean, they play an electric banjo and an electric mandolin for goodness sake.
In 2017, the band produced a deluxe version of an album that originally came out in March of 2016. It featured 4 new tracks and a special version of "Take It All Back" that they called "Take It All Back 2.0". It went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart for Alternative Music in January.
These guys play here in Vegas in February of 2018 as they have started to tour as a solo act and I can't wait to see them.
21. Lights - Skin and Earth
Every year on this list, there is a real pop album that appears after it found its way into my heart as a sorta guilty pleasure. Lights is an artist that creates incredibly fun pop tracks, so I really shouldn't feel guilty at all. This album doesn't change the landscape of music but that's not the point of it.
The 30-year old Canadian toured with Halsey this year and that's how I found out her and this album. Skin and Earth is her fourth studio album and has some wonderfully ear-pleasing tracks like "Savage", "Skydiving", and "Giants". It's not the most unique album sonically, but it's a great album for driving or working out.
20. Terence Ryan - Don't Panic
I found Terence Ryan during an NPR interview where he talked about his life and his career. This guy lived out of his car in California while trying to get a record deal. This is a throw-back to a 1990's-type musical success story. In fact, the album cover of "Don't Panic" looks like something I would have found at Newbury Comics in 1993.
As many of you know, I'm from Boston and I'm very proud of that fact. I love Las Vegas because you can't shovel heat but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to you that I got emotional the first time I watched the video for "To Live and Die in New England" because it's spot-on. The images he shows are exactly what it's like to live in my home region, especially during winter time.
"Don't Panic" is the type of folk album you don't hear much anymore because it doesn't sell as much as a pop record. Performing this album won't fill big stadiums or get you spins on mainstream radio. I think that's why I like it so much. The album doesn't try to be something that it's not.
19. Arcade Fire - Everything Now
This album, the fifth studio release from this unique Canadian band, is nowhere near the 2010 release of "The Suburbs" but that doesn't mean it's bad. It's just not close to Arcade Fire's best album, which was one of the best albums of the last 20 years. It's tough to live up to their own standard.
Not every album has to be a home run though. There is nothing wrong with a double and that's what the album is. It's solid and it's sounds like an Arcade Fire record should sound like.
18. Phoenix - Ti Amo
In my life, I don't think I've had much experience listening to alternative rock bands from France. Phoenix is one of my first and I hope it's a sign of things to come from that country. Ti Amo is their 6th studio album and is a great representation of the musical sounds that are popular right now. However, I will admit to being late to their party. Electronic music has become so diverse and interesting but Phoenix's sound stands out.
I don't if this would be called "Indi-pop" or "synthpop" but this album is a fun ride through catchy hooks and keyboard beats. I'm excited to listen some of their older stuff in 2018.
17. U2 - Songs of Experience
If you know me, you know my love for U2. This band has been with me since I was 12 years old when my Uncle Joey gave me The Joshua Tree. For my 40th birthday, I saw U2 at Gillette Stadium perform that album from start to finish. If this album was released before December 1st, it would be higher on this list but because I'm still making my way through the tracks, it's only at 17.
Given our geo-political climate and the fact that U2 has an amazing ability to sing about American culture in a way that is so revealing, we needed this band to put out new music in 2017. This album features some wonderful thought provoking songs like "American Soul" with the lyrics: "It's not a place; This is a dream the whole world owns; The pilgrim's face; It had your heart to call her home." It reminds us that America represents so much to the world. We can't forget that and U2's song are a great reminder of the beacon of light we used to be. We can be again if we want to be.
16. Wolf Alice - Visions of a Life
I've had really big expectations for this band ever since I first heard their debut album back in 2014 and their latest studio release shows the maturity of band settling into their sound. I saw these guys last year here in Vegas opening up for Chvrches and they didn't disappoint as a live act. With this release, Wolf Alice has shown some level of staying power as a rock band in a world not completely sure they like rock bands anymore.
One of the things about this band that I love is that they sound so different from other Brit-rock bands. Ellie Rowsell's voice is powerful and piercing and you instantly know its her from her first note. Wolf Alice was once described as "the love-child of folk and grunge" and I completely agree. I can't wait to see them play live again.
15. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Who Built the Moon?
This is the 3rd solo album for the former Oasis frontman who was the real reason why I loved that now defunct Brit-band. He was the true talent of that band. In 2011, when Noel went solo, I was really excited to find out what his music would sound like. Now, after 7 years and now 3 albums, I'm pleased with what he has produced. It's different than Oasis and that's not a bad thing.
Songs like "Be Careful What You Wish For" and "It's A Beautiful World" are reminders of what Noel is capable of producing as a songwriter.
The reviews of this record have been mixed and I understand that if you listen through a prism of Oasis music. Who Built The Moon? isn't even Noel's best solo album to date but it's still a worthwhile listening experience.
14. Beck - Colors
Remember the song "Loser"? That song seems like it came out 100 years ago doesn't it? Colors, Beck's 13th studio album, signals a return to the pop songs that made him a household name with music fans. I really, really like it when Beck goes down this road because the results are just awesome.
Tracks like "I'm So Free Now", "Up All Night" and "Wow" showcase Beck's unique talent of writing different varieties of pop songs. Beck isn't going anywhere and his ability to come out with relevant records 23 years after his first album, proves he is a legacy artist we will be talking about for a long time.
13. Cold War Kids - L.A. Divine
I did not know much about this band when I saw them open up for Death Cab For Cutie in Omaha way back in 2007. Now, 10 years later, this band has come out with their best album to date and has proven to have staying power in today's musical orbit. This is an extremely fun and interesting record that has been warmly received by critics. Given the awful fires that have impacted LA County during the month of December, this album feels even more pertinent.
Cold War Kid's 6th studio album is a tribute to Los Angeles (the band is from Cali) and is complete with some of the best songwriting of 2017. Songs like "So Tied Up" and "Love is Mystical" blast catchy beats that are easily enjoyed by music lovers of any age.
12. Machine Gun Kelly - Bloom
The third album from Cleveland's own MKG shows his growth as an artist. The record also shows that he is quickly becoming one of the most coveted hip-hop performers to collaborate with for Top 40 radio hits. Stars like Hailee Steinfeld, James Arthur, Camilo Cabello, Ty Dolla $ign make appearances on tracks and leave a lasting impression on the listener.
What make MGK so fun is his ability to combine rock, blues, soul, and hip-hop together. For a while, he was just considered a performer riding the coat tails Eminem but as his career continues to develop, MGK has branched out his sound to make something entirely his own.
MGK once called himself the "David Bowie of my generation". Now, is he there yet? No, but he could. He is really a triple threat as a musician, rapper and an actor. There is a lot more coming from the slim bodied talent.
11. Ani Difranco - Binary
Ani Difranco is my favorite female artist of all-time. I've grown up with her music ever since I first listened to her as a freshman at UMass Amherst. I've written a lot about the influence she has had on me over the past 20 years and every album she has created is in my rotation at some point in throughout the year.
Binary, Ani's 19th full studio album, continues her progression as an activist, feminist, and musical powerhouse. These songs are full of her passion and frustration with ills of society, forced by a deep need to see social change. Lyrics from songs like Play God speak to her lifelong pursuit of equal rights for women: "And I feel I've earned; My right to chose; You don't get to play God, man, I do; You don't get to play God, man, I do."
Or from Pacifist's Lament: "But there is nothing harder than to stop....in the middle of a battle and say you're sorry; But we ask it of our children to just stop ... in the middle of a battle and say you're sorry; Which one of us is ready to just stop?"
Once Ani moved to New Orleans, the city's rich musical heritage infiltrated her sound and the results have been beautiful. Her sound is different than her early work now but that's what growing is all about. Ani tours with legendary New Orleans musicians and her live shows continue to be something I never miss when she comes to a town I'm in. My concert count for her is approaching 30 shows and I'm always looking forward to my next one.
10. Baby Driver- Original Movie Soundtrack
I can't remember a soundtrack for a movie making my favorite albums list because it's collection of performers, not just one. However, this soundtrack and movie combo was exceptional.
If this is the last movie I see with Kevin Spacey, well, it was a good one to end his career. The mixing of iconic funk, reggae, rock, and soul with action scenes, centered around a teenager who wears headphones due to a injury to his hearing set the stage for an amazing experience. It was a fucking fun movie.
Not everyone loved this film but it was made for people who love movies and were tired of the same old - same old. Those who liked it were looking for something fresh and new on-screen and Baby Driver presented something we hadn't experienced before in a movie. Watch the clip below to understand my point.
9. Macklemore - Gemini
I have a tough time describing my opinion of this Seattle-born rapper. This album, the first in 12 years without collaborator Ryan Lewis, isn't the best thing Macklemore has ever produced but his lyrics are profound to me and puts this album among my favorite for 2017.
I think the best way for me to explain what I mean is through the lyrics of the final song on this album "Excavate":
"If I could read the world my notebook and these thoughts in it; Would they judge me or love me for what I've written?; Tryna get closer to spirit that enters the body; It's the vessel like I'm not it; In fifty-something years, I won't be here; There'll be a kid with some headphones covering his ears; Walking 'round a hallway, dreaming of ideas; Find himself in the sound 'cause music is a mirror;
The song ends with one of my favorite lyrics of 2017:
"My greatest achievement isn't the dollars; My greatest achievement isn't the followers; My greatest achievement isn't the accolades; My greatest achievement is my daugther; Waking up in the morning, being a father; Watching the light kiss her eyelids; Hearing her sing along to Chance; And being like, yeah, that's my kid"
8. Gracie and Rachel - Self Titled
Back in college, I saw Dan Bern open up for Ani Difranco and became an enormous fan. I've seen Dan a bunch of times and really came to respect his talents. I have yet to see Gracie and Rachel live but I learned about them after they also toured with Ani this past fall.
This duo of classically trained musicians create music that invokes a somber response when you listen to it. It's like they took anxiety and made it into sound. Their music is haunting and beautiful. "Only A Child, "TipToe" and "(Un)Comfortable" are a few of my favorite songs of 2017 and it's a wonderful album to listen to when you have the time to digest it properly.
The album was recorded in their loft in Brooklyn, which is amazing given how beautiful the violin sounds on every track. Critics call this "pop music" but I'm not sure. That's a good thing. I'm really excited to hear what these two produce together in the coming years.
7. Oh Wonder - Ultralife
The second album from this Belgium duo is exactly what I wanted to hear from them in the follow up to their highly successful debut record that came out in 2015. This band had the unique idea to release 1 song online every month in 2015 that eventually made up their first record. They successfully built a fanbase online who eagerly awaited each new track to come out. Those fans allowed them to tour to raise awareness even more. These have grown so much that they sold out a club show here in Vegas this past summer.
While the debut record had catchy tunes that showed their potential, it failed to produce a song that would grab the ears of the masses. It was a pretty quiet album. Ultralife delivered on their potential with several songs that received a great deal of attention this year and turned up the volume on their future.
6. Foo Fighters - Concrete and Gold
One of the last great American rock bands delivered the goods in 2017 with their 9th studio album. It's incredible that this band came into existence with their self-titled debut album all the way back in 1994. Nirvana is how we learned of Dave Grohl but his success as the frontman of the Foo Fighters will be his lasting musical legacy.
In a year filled with electronic beats and keyboard focused songs, it was nice to know that some bands still use guitars and drums to record kick-ass songs.
5. Brand New - Science Fiction
This band was gone for 8 years and then BAM! they dropped a surprise album in August, which was first mailed out to fans on vinyl like it was 1995. I love what they did so f'ing much and this album easily could have been released in the 90's with its spoken word clips and distorted guitars. It brought me back to a different time in my life. I fell in love with it quickly. It became their first No. 1 album on Billboard's top 200 and it was 100% deserving of that.
Science Fiction does a great job of bringing a lot of emotion out of the listener as it weaves through track after track of gritty sound. It's the kind of album I would have listened to as I skipped school and took the train into Boston as a high schooler. "Waste", "In The Water" and "Can't Get It Out" are a few of my favorite tracks on this album but seriously, if you haven't heard this album - go listen to it right now.
4. Pvris - All We Know Of Heaven, All We Know Of Hell
I'm from the Merrimack Valley (Andover). This band is from the Merrimack Valley (Lowell) and yes, that means I'm biased. However, these guys make their 2nd appearance on my favorite albums of the year list after being my top pick in 2015 for their debut record White Noise. In 2017, they returned with their second studio album that features a more mature sound that is so damn good.
Lynn Gunn is supremely talented, dark, mysterious and one of the best front women in music today. Her voice is the driving force behind this band and her vocal range is amazing. Screaming one moment right into beautiful melodies the next, she can give you goose-bumps when she sings. I saw them headline their own show here in Vegas in 2016 and they blew the doors off the small club I was in. I need more Pvris live music in my life very soon.
3. Prophets of Rage - Self Titled
By now, you know who these guys are right? Prophets is the super-group made up members of Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill who came together in 2016. This is their first studio album and holy FUCK did we need this album this year. It was exactly what I was looking for ... an unapologetic, pissed off, fuck you of an album. 2017 DEMANDED this to be recorded.
We live in a society where our President race-baits us to go against each other and praises Russian leaders and White Nationalists for being good people. Where our Congress passes tax cuts to give billionaires more billons on the backs of my daughter's generation. Where Republicans are willing to vote for an accused child molester because their majority in the Senate is at stake. Our electorate believes fake news stories because their neighbor posted it on Facebook and Fox News has created a boogeyman for every issue they want controlled.
"No hatred; Fuck racist; Blank faces; Time changes; One nation; Unification; The vibration; Unfuck the world."
Tom Morello's guitar playing is gasoline for this fire. Chuck D and B. Real push the lyrics into your ears in an attempt to return music to its rightful, anti-establishment roots. My only hope is that Zack de la Rocha will one day front this band. This type of music needs a voice that screams the anger that the crowd is experiencing daily. However, I don't want to overlook how desperate I was for something like this to come out and thank goodness it did. I'm giving you two videos because the visual art is important to see.
2. Halsey - Hopeless Fountain Kingdom
On the heels of her huge debut album Badlands, comes the album I spent the most time with in 2017 from the artist known as Halsey. Her second studio release has propelled her into superstardom with the most complete record of the year. There are some simply perfect tracks on Hopeless that even casual fans will love. "Bad At Love" is a mega-hit but before it was released, it was the track that caused me to be obsessed with this album.
Halsey's backstory has attracted millions of fans but also her fair share of critics too. She is openly bisexual who consistently sings about her attraction to both men and women. She often writes about her tough times in life and her themes are easy to associate with, especially for young people.
On "Heaven In Hiding", Halsey points out her past with domesic violence: "I push up on my toes, you call me "sweet thing"; And breathing down your neck, your body screaming; And you thought that you were the boss tonight, but I can put up one good fight; I flip the script like I can take a beating"
Some fans have felt that Halsey has exploited her sexuality and were very upset that she included rapper Quavo on "Lie" following a controversial comment about an Atlanta musician's coming out story. Halsey did her best to explain that other people's opinions are not her own but that's tough to do in 2017.
The controversy didn't slow down her popularity however as she was named one of Spotify's most listened to artists of the year.
1. Joywave - Content
In 2015, Joywave debuted with the album "How Do You Feel Now?" and it was generally seen as a solid first effort. However, Content, the band's second record is very, very different in the area of sound, feel, and emotion. In fact, the word I would use to describe this album would be "uncomfortable". That might seem like a weird word to use when talking about my favorite album of the year but I'm blown away by this album. It has a deep, almost chilling, anger that is much different than their first album and it's something you need to listen to in order to understand.
Throughout the record, Joywave points out how disconnected society is today with our technology. On "Content": “I’m searching for the difference between/What CON-tent and con-TENT can bring; Maybe I’m just an algorithm with a given name; But I’m trying to find the difference."
On the track "Little Lies You Told", frontman Daniel Armbruster sings about the issues that so many of us have with millennials and their sense of entitlement: "You could be an athlete, you could drive a sports car; You deserve the things you want, just put 'em on your points card; You could be important, you could make a difference; You deserve the finer things, you're supposed to be famous"
This album is not only my favorite of the year, but it's a perfect look at where we are as a society. Go listen to it right now if you haven't heard it already.