If I’m being honest, most of the music that I connected to this year wasn’t actually released in 2017. The majority of the music that stuck with me this year was from going back and delving further into discographies of bands that are now defunct or didn’t release new music this year. I got a lot more into hardcore bands that I’d been a casual fan of in the past (Earth Crisis, Grade, Integrity, Strife, etc). If I’m being honest, though, I think I spent even more time listening to James Taylor albums than I did listening to anything in the realm of emo or hardcore, as one might assume. That’s all besides the point, though. This is what I was listening to that caught my ears in 2017.
Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger In The Alps
If there is one album that is going to stick with me from 2017, this is the one. I see this one becoming a staple of my influences, similar to the way that albums like Death Cab’s Plans and Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning are. I’ve easily listened to this album more than any other new release this year. It’s so gentle and warm and delicate. The vocal melodies are beautiful, as well as haunting at times. The guitar and piano tones are exactly what my ears like to hear. The production of the album really adds a lot of depth to the overall feeling. As much as I love Phoebe’s previous acoustic offerings, there’s a much more mature and fleshed out vibe to this album. It feels whole. It’s something that I listen to as an entire album cover to cover, and that’s one of the key things that I look for in a great album. The stories on this record are described lyrically in such a way that my mind wanders through the scenes in which they’re set without the songs needing to be being overly descriptive. There’s a good mix of relatable autobiographical stories, along with a nice dose of fiction (at least, what I believe to be fiction). The album is sad without being overly depressing. It’s bittersweet. There’s romance, reminiscing, violence, loss, and beauty all wrapped into one album. Plus, it has Conor Oberst singing on a track, which really seals the deal for me. This is my album of the year, and the other releases are in no particular order. This album also has one of my favorite closing lines, but I won’t spoil that for you. Just give it a listen for yourself.
Wicca Phase Springs Eternal – Stop Torturing Me
I’m a different person when I listen to Wicca Phase. I know that sounds goofy as hell, and it definitely is. Wicca Phase is a project that I thought was super cringe-worthy the first time I heard it when Adam McIlwee left Tigers Jaw and started making distorted emo/trap on a laptop. Over the years, something changed in how I viewed the music. It finally “clicked” in my head. I don’t know how to describe it. Wicca Phase makes me feel different that almost every other artist I listen to, even different than any of the other heavy hitters of this new weird emo/trap “movement” (can you even call it that?). As one of my friends once put it, “when I listen to Wicca Phase, I feel like a millionaire”, and that is the truth as silly as it sounds. A lot of you are probably laughing and rolling your eyes at this one, and that’s fair. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t. Either view is just as valid. Wicca Phase combines the feelings of sadness, isolation, and longing that I find in emo music, along with nasally emo boy-ish vocals with trap beats and really catchy hooks, recurring metaphors, and some of my favorite one-liners that I like to take away from listening to hip hop and rap. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it was one of the things I listened to the most this year. P.S. Don’t write this artist off on first listen.
Rusty Vining – The Family Name
Even as a person of faith, I generally write off most “worship music” that I hear. There’s a lot of songs written about what I feel is a deeply personal topic that are so blatantly dumbed-down that they almost seems disrespectful rather than reverent. This is one exception from the genre that I’ve found. It’s very encouraging. It’s poetic. It’s relatable whether or not you hold spiritual beliefs. On top of that, it’s a very well composed album. It was self recorded, but the mix is solid. It’s got a little bit of an Elliot Smith vibe, but it also has synthesizers and strings. I’m probably slightly biased about this release because I sing on it, as do a handful of my friends. With all of the features on it, there’s a lot of opportunities for good harmonies that were definitely taken advantage of (I just ended a sentence with a preposition, and I hate that). It’s a good album. “Shelter” is one of the only songs that made me cry this year just because of how beautiful it is. Listen to The Family Name. If you want to hear a song that I sing on, listen to “The World Was Light”.
Pictures of Vernon – Pictures of Vernon
Can I just take a minute to brag on my buds!? For the past couple of years, I’ve enjoyed all of the Vagabonds/Pictures of Vernon rendezvous, hangs and impromptu tour sleepovers that have occurred along the way. Whether it’s been getting lost in the woods in TN and trying to find our way back to the van to get to the show we were playing on time or if it’s been shooting down an underground drain that we used as a water slide in TX or just ice skating here in Grand Rapids, I always have a blast around these kids. They put out a self titled EP this year, and all five songs are *certified bangers* if you will. This is the only real emo/twinkle album this year that caught my attention and stuck with me. There’s also a song that ventures slightly into the *screamo* realm, and it’s just so good. The songs are so simple, the lyrics so honest, and the melodies so fitting. Such a good release. Please listen to these folks, folks.
Sinai Vessel – Brokenlegged
I had been waiting to this to come out for so long. Caleb’s stories along with the band’s simple but well thought out compositions are worth a listen.
Bazan – Care
Playing a couple of the same fests as this dude made my year. This is far from my favorite thing he’s put out, but Bazan is king. That’s all you need to know.
Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights
There is only one reason why this wasn’t in my top 4 (yet), and it’s because I haven’t listened to it quite enough to give that great of a review or description. It’s still finding it’s place in my life, but I know it’ll get there. At the initial listens, though, it’s clear that this is a special an impactful record. Julien is the best of the best as an artist and a human. She’s grown so much since I first booked The Star Killers/Forrister (a truly fantastic project as well).
Lo Tom – Lo Tom
Again, Bazan is king. I listened to this album so many times this year, but it definitely gets a little redundant. Still, a great release in the expansive Bazan catalog.
Ecostrike – Time Is Now
5 songs, and I’d mosh to all of them. Basic, solid hardcore. Dynamic vocals. Nothing *out of this world*, but it’s sick.
Converge – The Dusk In Us
I didn’t listen to this as much as anything else I listed, but it’s still great. Converge has never been my favorite band, but they’re clearly a very prolific band, and they’re still cranking out incredible records 27 years into a genre that a lot of bands get stale in after a couple records. Hats off to Jacob Bannon and co.
Mansions – Deserter
This might sound dumb, but I haven’t listened to the full album yet. Mansions is one of my all time favorite bands, and I’m just waiting for a night or drive when I can really sit and take in the entirety of the release. I’m sure it’ll be great.
Keyoung – “ESC.” and “Kisss”
Jeff is one of the sweetest guys and best listeners. I love this dude so much, and he’s gotten SO good over the years.He put out a couple singles in 2017. Listen to both. His flow gets better with each release. Don’t sleep on Keyoung!
Vagabonds is the project of Grand Rapids based singer-singwriter Luke Dean. In June 2017 Vagabonds released their first full length I Don’t Know What To Do Now on Blook & Ink Records. You can listen to that right here.