The year in reverie: Jack’s top 10 albums of 2017

By Jack Rechsteiner, managing editor.

  1. Two Parts Viper by ’68

For fans of: Rage Against The Machine, a heavy version of The Black Keys

 

Imagine if Bob Dylan was born in the 80s and was still just as angry about the current state of society. Now imagine he was obsessed with distortion pedals and started a two-man jam band. That kinda gives you an idea of what ’68 sounds like.

Before starting ‘68, Josh Scogin cut his teeth singing for the trendsetting hardcore bands Norma Jean and then later The Chariot. ‘68 retains the energy and intensity of both those bands, but instead of musical chaos ‘68 is focused more on lyrics and groove. “Two Parts Viper” shows that Scogin is not only an excellent vocalist and guitarist, but an equally excellent songwriter. To go along with the speaker-scorching, guitar-playing and singing, the album has interspersed moments that add to the beauty with backing orchestras, cut-and-paste editing, instrument recordings played backward – and that’s just to name a few.

‘68 has been a two-piece band since its inception, and the synergy between Scogin and drummer Michael McLellan on this album shows why they don’t need more than two people. Scogin’s guitar parts and McLellan’s drum playing are like that of a crazed train conductor and a runaway locomotive; and it is one of reasons “Two Parts Viper” is such an enjoyable listen. The two musicians have an effortless coordination with each other, only to suddenly clash together, and then go back to playing in sync before the train ever veers too far off the tracks.

Frenetic, creative, and thoughtful – “Two Parts Viper” is an album that’s as impressive as the rest of Scogin’s career and stands out as the best album released this year.

 

  1. Greatest Hits by Remo Drive

For fans of: Green Day, Weezer, Joyce Manor

 

Remo Drive debuts their first full length with a tongue-in-cheek title that promises these are their best songs yet and that it’ll all be downhill from here.

Remo Drive has grown from their early EPs of catchy garage punk into a full album of soaring sing-along punk. I’ve caught myself randomly singing the chorus of “Hunting for Sport” more times than I can count.

Each track on Greatest Hits follows a cohesive sound that ties the whole album together, while still giving every song its own personality so that they’re all memorable instead of just running together. The little embellishments, like the outro of “Art School” or the clapping breakdown on “Summertime,” turn Remo Drive’s Greatest Hits from a collection of good songs into an irresistibly fun album that deserves multiple listens.

The self-defeating swagger of Greatest Hits seems to imply they know they’ve made an album that’ll be tough for them to top, but I only see good things in the future for Remo Drive.

 

  1. Turn Out The Lights by Julien Baker

For fans of: crying to Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright

 

Julien Baker recreates the magic of her debut album, which is no small feat, on Turn Out The Lights. Not only that, but she expands upon her intimate confessional songs into room-shaking teary-eyed hymns that sing a gospel of self-loathing, loneliness, and a defiant hopefulness.

Growing up as a queer Christian in Tennessee, wrestling with herself and her identity has always been a focal point for Baker’s songwriting. Now she has learned how to use her vibrant voice to let out what’s been building up within her over a lifetime. Whether it’s the slight crack in her voice on “Everything That Helps You Sleep” or the way she stretches out the words “why not me” on “Happy To Be Here”, each line in every song carries Baker’s entire lifetime within it.

The emotion and power that Baker puts forth in her singing and music playing makes you entirely forget the lack of percussive accompaniment. In fact you would think the songs would lose some of their heartbreaking rawness if they had something that distracted from the harsh light of self-examination Baker has put herself under for the sake of these songs. The loneliness of her presence and her presence alone on these recordings underscores the troubles that Baker opens up about on this album.

Baker lights her emotional hardships ablaze with her evocations on this album and turns them into a devastatingly bright torch. This illumination shines light on the inner turmoil she’s fought through and Baker has won an incredibly powerful album from those battles. Turn Out The Lights is a beacon of understanding and relatability for people struggling with those same issues and the beauty of that isn’t something that can easily be put down in words.

 

  1. What Not to Do by Perspective, a Lovely Hand to Hold

For fans of: Tiny Moving Parts, Minus The Bear, Algernon Cadwallader

 

On their sophomore album, What Not to Do, Perspective, a Lovely Hand to Hold hones in on the excellent musicianship that their earlier works promised.

Crafting energetic math rock riffs with toe-tapping tempos, these are songs that make you move to the groove. What Not to Do isn’t the next radio anthem album, but the band has more of a dance-pop edge than a lot of other emo and math rock bands. The pleading and plaintive vocals bring the album to life and get the songs stuck in your head so that you’re singing along to every chorus.

Perspective, a Lovely Hand To Hold doesn’t allow there for any dull moments on the album. With the longest song clocking in at 2 minutes and 35 seconds, each song is exactly what it needs to be without any excess. What Not to Do takes you on a colorful amusement park ride of music and feelings that leaves you wanting more.

 

  1. Precept by Rest

For fans of: Citizen, Mastodon, The Smashing Pumpkins

 

This is the shoegaze album your mom warned you about.

Rest sets the mood of the album at the beginning of the first track when sludgy, feedback-wailing riffs pave the way for Kyle McGandy’s melancholy singing. Precept makes a convincing argument that Rest’s members are the worldwide masters of tone; their wall of sound instrumentation is as gritty as the heaviest doom metal band while still being clean enough that you can clearly hear what they’re playing. The band’s sonic destruction is complemented by the distinctly contrasting shoegaze vocals which act like a safe harbor in a storm. The lyrics fit perfectly with that contrast as they grapple with trying to find honesty and the struggles of learning to accept loss as part of life.

Rest weaves together elements of different genres so flawlessly on “Precept” that it creates something larger than the sum of its parts.

 

  1. Science Fiction by Brand New

For fans of: Manchester Orchestra, Sufjan Stevens, Bright Eyes

 

Eight years after their last record, Brand New announced they would be closing out their 17-year career with one more album as their final chapter.

After eight years of waiting I was resigned to the fact that I had grown distant from Brand New’s music, grown out of it even. I had a passing curiosity in their last album, but that was rooted more in nostalgia than actual interest. That’s why the first time I listened “Science Fiction” it was a startling realization that it was my favorite release from them and that it’s how I’ll remember the band after their demise.

This context is important because of the type of album “Science Fiction” turned out to be. The record had taken so long to come out that some people joked it was never going to be released, that it was just a clever marketing ploy. When “Science Fiction” did come out, it wasn’t reflective of the hype and excitement that had been surrounding it for so long. It was vastly different from the singles that had been put out leading up to the release “Science Fiction,” almost like they were red herrings. It was weird, with long stretches of silence and old-sounding recordings of people talking about dreams they’ve been having. More than anything, it was sad. And not the kind of sad I had been expecting. It was vulnerable and it’s vulnerability was unnerving. Gone were the apathetic and snide lyrics of Brand New albums past. Their infamously aloof frontman Jesse Lacey finally lets down his guard because he knows this is the last chance he gets. The honesty in the lyrics of the song ‘Waste’ is brutal as Lacey sings “If nothing is fun don’t lose hope, my son. This is the last.” Where Brand New used to be bitter and morally confused, they are now emotionally drained and meditative. Lacey sounds more resigned to his fate than ever as “Science Fiction” opens with a chorus where Lacey sings an invocation about him burning like a witch in a puritan town and the line at the end of ‘137,’ “A final show and we all go, so no one has to say goodbye.”

With Brand New’s last breath, Lacey confesses his sins and lays them out in harsh light as a seeming attempt for retribution and forgiveness from others and forgiveness from himself. The darkly acoustic ‘Could Never Be Heaven’ shows Lacey expressing his desire to be a reliable husband and father with as much emotion as he used to scorn ex-lovers and ex-friends. On another song, ‘In the Water,’ Lacey warns “‘Hide your daughters,’ the old men say. ‘You were young once before, you know how we got our way.’” This is a blatant warning about men like Lacey, who has been accused of sexual assault and has openly sung about it on songs before.

“Science Fiction” is a farewell letter that was painstakingly written over many years and is an album that captures the struggles of making peace with your life at the end of it. I will never defend or deny Jesse Lacey’s actions as a predator, but I am happy to have the repentant “Science Fiction” to remember Brand New by instead of their earlier, proudly misogynistic records.

 

  1. DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar

For fans of: Kanye West, Tyler the Creator

 

Kendrick isn’t just on top of the game, he’s the one currently defining it.

Following up on the critically acclaimed “To Pump a Butterfly”, Kendrick shows that he can produce consistently great albums without reusing the same sounds or themes from his previous hits. Kendrick’s rapping on this album is most definitely the main focus with his verses being skillful, clever and intelligent. The broad musical scope of “To Pimp A Butterfly” is left behind in favor of a clearer, more focused sound that serves as the grand stage for Kendrick’s lyricism.

On his tight and triumphant fourth album the California rapper looks inward, asking all kinds of questions dealing with fate, responsibility, ethics and morals. But he doesn’t let that depth steer “DAMN.” away from being an incredibly catchy and polished rap album.

 

  1. ‎Rearm Circuits by Icarus the Owl

For fans of: Dance Gavin Dance, Circa Survive

 

Who knew post-hardcore could be so catchy? Apparently Icarus the Owl did because that’s what they’ve managed to create on Rearm Circuits.

“Rearm Circuits” is a true-blue post-hardcore album through and through with soulful vocals that rise above intricate guitar work and driving drums. The pop inflections Icarus the Owl manages to inject into their songs give them hooks that stick with you and pretty soon you find yourself singing along to them and listening to them again. The album isn’t without its heavy points either. Vocalist Joey Rubenstein shows that he can scream as well as he sings and the musicians backing him know how to craft an excellent post-hardcore breakdown on songs like “The Vanishing Point.”

Like any good post-hardcore band, every member of Icarus the Owl excels at their instruments. On each track of “Rearm Circuits” you could listen to each instrument individually and be impressed, but the real mark of excellence is how good the band sounds when layering their parts together.

Icarus the Owl follows in the footsteps of the greats, like Dance Gavin Dance and Circa Survive, but has a fresh take on the genre. “Rearm Circuits” isn’t a groundbreaking album, but it is a great addition to the post-hardcore bands that have come before while still having enough merit to stand on its own.

 

  1. The Spark by Enter Shikari

For fans of: Twenty One Pilots, Radiohead, Gorillaz

 

Enter Shikari proves you can write songs with pop sensibilities without sacrificing the quality of the songwriting.

“The Spark” has foregone the electric fury which had been the definitive sound of Enter Shikari up to this point. The scathing lyrics about politics are still front and center, with vocalist Rou Reynolds recording this album in the midst of a complete breakdown caused by the recent political chaos around the world. Reynolds describes his panic attack caused by his political anguish on ‘An Ode To Lost Jigsaw Pieces’ as a “thundering pain in my chest like God’s in there having a migraine.”

Instead of just making an album the same as their rest, Enter Shikari took the risk of evolving their style and it paid off in big ways. While the band may not have the same aggressive sound, Enter Shikari still has the same force and intensity they’re known for. This time they’ve turned away from distortion and breakdowns in favor of finding the human elements in their songs and expanding them into a grand and beautiful album.

 

  1. Brokenlegged by Sinai Vessel

For fans of: Death Cab For Cutie, Relient K

 

Sinai Vessel is a band name that has become synonymous with lyricism since their debut album, Profanity. Now on Brokenlegged they cement their status as wordsmiths with poetic abstractions and powerful imagery.

Opening track, “Looseleaf,” is the perfect example where the song starts with somber instrumentals leading into singer Caleb Cordes’ first line, “Here I stand, like a tree nervous on the edge of the clearing.” It’s concrete imagery that’s rife with metaphor – there’s a suggested feeling of standing tall and being triumphant, but also a nervousness of all the things waiting to cut you down. The introspective lyrics are as consistently good throughout all of Brokenlegged.

The lyrical moments on the album are made especially important by the well-crafted instrumentals that help to add to the weight of the words. Surrounding the vocals is solid songwriting that creates a rhythmic structure for the album, the drum patterns are intricately placed in the most impactful places, the guitarwork is full of grueling chords and desolate riffs while the bass lines are thick and cause the songs to have an extra layer of depth to tie it all together.

In much the same way as lyrically-centered bands like Death Cab For Cutie, Sinai Vessel was able to make “Brokenlegged” an album that entrances you with the stories that it weaves within its songs and leaves you thinking about them long after.

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