We’re all about recommendations here on Pop Break. And we love nothing better than recommending new music to people. So a group of music writers got together to talk about what they consider 10 Must-Listen Records From 2017.
‘Brett Young’ by Brett Young (Lisa Pikaard)
Never before did I think I would say this but the best album of 2017 is a debut record from a young up and coming country star, Brett Young. Young’s self titled debut album came out in February of 2017 and blew me and most country music fans away. It’s the one record from this entire year that I have not stopped playing on permanent repeat.
In 2016 Young released an EP and his first very single, “Sleep Without You.” While it had some airplay, he didn’t truly take off until he released his ballad, “In Case You Didn’t Know.” That track hit number one on the US Country Airplay charts just as he released Brett Young and he hasn’t slowed down since. It was technically released as the second single from the EP but became the track that launched the new album just a month later.
“In Case You Didn’t Know” has become a popular choice for wedding songs (mine included) and showcases Young’s vocal and songwriting abilities. Since that song has been released, Young has charted two other songs from Brett Young, “Mercy” and “Like I Loved You.”
If you were to give just two tracks a listen from this album I would recommend a ballad and a fun uptempo song but I don’t know which ones! The album has just one song that I only like rather than love so you really can’t go wrong; however, the best upbeat tunes are “Makin’ Me Say” and “Sleep Without You” and the best ballads are “In Case You Didn’t Know” and “Mercy.”
Melodrama by Lorde (Matt Taylor)
It took four long years for Lorde to follow-up her critically acclaimed debut, Pure Heroine. Luckily, her sophomore album, Melodrama, was well worth the wait –– not just from a musical standpoint (although the music is quite good), but from a thematic one. While Pure Heroine found a young artist emerging on the scene with a deeply personal collection of songs, Melodrama finds Lorde darker, more mature, and more relatable than ever. An 11-song odyssey through the common millennial experience, Lorde’s new album is a complete success, whether you’re looking for catchy pop songs or a thought provoking collection of lyrics.
The album’s best song, “The Louvre,” embodies what makes Lorde so special; with a simple, hypnotic melody and her haunting voice, the song quickly worms its way into the listener’s ear. Meanwhile, Lorde’s lyrics brilliantly describe the early days of a crush; her words are relatable, yes, but with a dash of sarcasm and a deprecating sense of humor to show that she doesn’t take these passionate emotions seriously. She’s aware of the way both she and her fellow millennials tend to overdramatize, but she’s having fun while reveling in those emotions.
Elsewhere on the album, Lorde solemnly celebrates the importance of self-love in the face of a breakup (“Melodrama”), and decides to own her flaws while enjoying her 20s (“Perfect Places”). And you’d be hard-pressed to find a wild house party described in a more artistic fashion than it is on “Homemade Dynamite.” These are relatable moments in every 20something’s experience, described in the most poetic terms possible, and with great music to back it up. This is a brilliant piece of art that perfectly summarizes an entire generation, without a hint of negativity but, instead, with a sly, sarcastic smile. It’s fun; it’s eerily relatable, and a complete home run.
Sketches of Brunswick East by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (Andrew Howie)
Having reviewed three albums by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard for The Pop Break, I’ve come to greatly respect their talent and far-reaching songwriting abilities. The Aussie septet is currently in the middle of attempting a wildly ambitious five albums in 2017, and they just released their third, ‘Sketches of Brunswick East’. You can read my full review here. It’s also my pick for album of the year. Let me tell you why.
Sketches of Brunswick East finds King Gizzard shifting dramatically to a heavily jazz-based, free-flowing, sun-drenched psychedelic sound, a wild departure from their previous immense prog-rock opus Murder of the Universe’ and the alien groove of Flying Microtonal Banana (the group’s first two records this year). Described on the band’s website as a “soothing balm” of an album, it melts into your ears right from the get-go; dripping with sunshine and dancing flutes and tropical keys, it reaches far out into space while remaining firmly grounded in an upbeat, melodic, sunny city afternoon sort of way.
It was pretty tough for me to narrow this down to ‘Sketches of Brunswick East’ for album of the year, as I’ve previously described both earlier King Gizzard releases as my favorite music of the year thus far. Their constant evolution in such a short time period is mind-blowing, and on ‘Sketches’ they’ve broken new ground again, and the 13 tracks on the record melt into and out of each other, taking the lucky listener on an excursion to a thoughtful, contented state of mind. It’s a real pleasure to hear such a normally bonkers band take a walk on the chill side, demonstrating their versatility and songwriting prowess in a new way.
Trumpeting Ecstasy by Full of Hell (Dylan Brandsema)
While I was never a fan front to back of any of Full of Hell’s previous releases before this (there was some songs I enjoyed here and there, but otherwise, I thought they were just okay), Trumpeting Ecstasy was one of my most anticipated albums of the year as soon as I saw the super creepy, almost Begotten-like title track single video (see below).
And God damn, did it deliver. It’s one of the best extreme metal albums I’ve ever heard in quite some time, and proof that Full of Hell is getting stronger with every release (they have another one the way later this year). 11 tracks, but only 23 minutes, Trumpeting Ecstasy is an absolutely brutal onslaught of grindcore, traditional death metal, and noise music — listen to the sudden white noise distortion on “The Cosmic Vein” for a good example of the noise integration.
The album is a short and to-the-point example of how to do a proper extreme metal album with lots of experimentation that doesn’t stray too far off into the area of becoming a bunch nonsense noise and distortion with no form. It makes it’s mark and calls it a quits when it knows it should. If anything, it’s worth listening to just for the brilliant final two songs – the interweaving title track and “At The Couldron’s Bottom”, which make up almost 10 minutes of the album’s total 25. It’s a perfect mix of subtle, creepy instrumentation, absolutely brutal riffs and vocals, and a hellish drum outro that sounds like gates of Hell opening. Check it out.
BEST TRACKS: The Cosmic Vein, Crawling Back To God, Trumpeting Ecstasy, At The Cauldron’s Bottom
United States of Horror by HO99O9 (Dylan Brandsema)
HO99O9’s United States of Horror is a such a bizarre, weird amalgamation of genres and sounds I almost have no words to describe it accurately. It’s punk, it’s hip-hop, it’s thrash metal, it’s crunk, it’s weird, atmospheric bassy songs with no definable structure. It’s a lot of things, and it’s awesome, and it’s my favorite album the year.
This Newark, NJ duo makes their full-length debut here after a long series of many EPs and singles since 2014, and this album perfectly encapsulates everything the band has been about from the beginning – politically charged, angry, aggressive music that can switch from sounding like a hyperactive Bad Religion to a turnt up club banger in just the turn of a beat. The transition from “Hydrolics” into “New Jersey Devil” near the end of the album is one of the biggest musical 180s I’ve ever heard on one single record, and it’s frickin’ great.
It’s impossible to pin HO99O9 (pronounced “Horror”, for those unaware) into one genre, and this album is a wild, unstoppable roller coaster of different genres, political anger and aggression, and some absolutely unpredictable musical U-turns. It’s a definitive milestone album from one of the most unique outfits in music today, whether it be in hip-hop, punk or any genre. They’re certainly a divisive band too, so there’s no guarantee you’ll like it, but I think it’s a masterpiece.
BEST TRACKS: Street Power, Bleed War, City Rejects, Hydrolics, New Jersey Devil, United States of Horror.
Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator (Megan West)
I am as obsessive a listener as I was when I was thirteen or fourteen. I’m told that those are the years where you make up your mind about your favorite bands, when you say “This is what I like,” and that’s that, no matter how open-minded you say you are about new artists. So 2017 felt like a dream, with a new album from what felt like all of my tried and true favorites: Arcade Fire, Real Estate, Fleet Foxes, Mac Demarco, The xx, Grizzly Bear, the still looming LCD Soundsystem release. Some were great. Some sucked. I think anyone would be lying if they said Everything Now really did it for them.
Hey, but good news: Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy does it for me the way Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs did in high school. When Flower Boy came out, I sang along to “911 / Mr. Lonely” in the car every day. “I can’t even lie, I’ve been lonely as fuck.” The album is stripped down in many ways; void of some of the abrasive subversion that characterized his past albums, it’s shorter than other releases, with tighter composition. Flower Boy is an introverted album, endearing in its sincerity. And it feels new–rooted in 2017, where the most exciting music is undeniably hip-hop.
Damn. by Kendrick Lamar (Angelo Gingerelli)
Damn. proves Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper of this decade. Period.
There are artists with more/bigger hits (Drake, Nicki Minaj, Future) and artists with comparable creative output (Run The Jewels, J. Cole, A$AP Rocky) but there is nobody performing at the same commercial and artistic level as the “Five Foot Giant” from Compton.
Damn. is Lamar’s most straight forward major label release, 2012’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City introduced K. Dot to the masses via a cinematic concept album loosely based on his life, 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly was an experimental, jazzy and genre bending rumination on race in America and 2017’s Damn. is an attempt to silence critics and earn Kung Fu Kenny his rightful place among the all-time greats.
The songs on Damn. address emotions with titles like “LOVE.” “FEAR.” and “LUST.” and all expertly convey the intended feeling. Aggressive songs like “LOYALTY.” and “HUMBLE.” showcase Kendrick at his fire-spitting best, while mellow cuts like “YAH.” And “GOD.” show the more contemplative side of the MC. The production is also top notch as the beats complement his complex wordplay and Kendrick goes against the grain of most commercial Hip-Hop by only having a few well-placed guest appearances that all fit into the flow of the record.
In an era where critics constantly lament the demise of cohesive albums due to downloading/streaming and the rise of style-over-substance Hip-Hop (Trap Muzik, Mumble Rappers, etc.) Kendrick Lamar continues his streak of great LP’s that showcase his lyrical talent, social conscious, song writing ability, ear for production and ability to be different from just about anything else available in the music industry. Damn. It feels great to be living during the reign of King Kendrick.
Harry Styles by Harry Styles (Marley Ghizzone)
If I was being honest, I keep forgetting it’s 2017. Yes, it’s almost September, almost 2018 but 2017 isn’t much fun to write or say. It’s uninspiring. Of course 7 is the most magical number so what it lacks in pizzazz, it makes up for in magical energy. This is why I chose Harry Styles self titled debut album as my pick for the best album of 2017. Harry Styles (album) was pure magic. It transported me back to my senior year of high school and my absolute and all encompassing obsession over One Direction, specifically it’s curly haired member Harry Styles. I thought I had escaped this rabbit hole but one night while watching a Saturday Night Live my parents DVR’d I heard “Sign of the Times” for the first time and died.
Obviously an immediate purchase of the entire album was in order and then back to back listenings for about two weeks straight. I will admit that some of the lyrics are, I’m not sure how to put this nicely so I’m just going to say it, dumb and infantile. But the sound is magnificent and you can hear Styles’ progression as a musician. I suggest taking a listen and shedding preconceived notions attached to his boy band roots because then you’re missing out and you probably suck butts or something. After this explosive debut, I’m excited for Styles’ next project.
Woodstock by Portugal. The Man (Chris Sicoli)
After four long years without a record Portugal. The Man returned with a vengeance, releasing their 8th studio album entitled Woodstock. They’d been struggling with creating new music; a series of writing, recording, and scrapping roughly a hundred different songs over a three year period. It only took a tumultuous presidential race and a divided country to spark what the band has called their most natural record yet.
While the lyrics seem to follow a political theme of feeling helpless and promoting resistance, there’s no direct enough message that’ll inhibit anyone’s enjoyment. This album is littered with toe-tapping, dance worthy numbers that focus on being simple and fun. A shining example is the album’s premier song “Feel It Still,” a catchy tune that would be a smash hit in any decade and has reigned at #1 on the Alternative Chart for two months (as of this writing) along with mainstream radio play and commercial use. If you manage not to dance while listening to “Feel It Still,” seek medical attention.
Portugal. The Man has done a tremendous job of staying true to its rock n’ roll core while embracing the modern electronic style popular in today’s music festival scene, highlighted in their song “Noise Pollution”, featuring actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead and emphasizing synthetic sounds. If you’re more a fan of traditional rock music look no further than their jams “Keep On” or “Rich Friends” which feel like a major rock concert. Even the songs that fall flat, such as “Mr. Lonely” with its disappointing rap section or “Tidal Wave” which feels polluted with too much noise (see what I did there?), still end up being fun to listen to and don’t diminish from the album’s greatness. Enjoy this album on a nice summer drive with the windows down or dancing at home while you finish some chores.
Songs to check out: Feel It Still, Keep On, Noise Pollution
LANY by LANY (Corbyn Jenkins)
With the release of their highly anticipated 16-track debut album, on June 30th, 2017, LANY, an alternative band from Los Angeles, has come a long way from making music in a Nashville bedroom.
“The Dynamic Trio” consists of Les Priest on the keyboard, guitar, and backup vocals; Jake Clifford Goss on drums, and Paul Jason Klein on lead vocals, keyboard, and guitar.
LANY is an acronym for “Los Angeles, New York.” The band choose it to represent just that, the span across the country from L.A. to New York. The name couldn’t be more fitting since they have been weaving their way into the hearts and ears of people all over not only the United States, but the world.
For a band with virtually no radio play, it is incredible how far they have evolved and grown over the years. LANY’s three EP’s are really what built the band’s massive foundation. When Klein was asked how they put out a debut album after touring behind three EP’s, he said
“Many bands take their best songs from their EP and put them together to form a debut album, but we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to release all new material, so we did. The only pre-released song was “ILYSB.” We had a plan, and I thought it was beautiful and perfect.”
And it was.
The album fixates on the idea of love, both lost and found. As you start at track one, “Dumb Stuff” and go throughout to track sixteen “It Was Love,” you feel as if you had been living in the music. The way the album was laid out allows for each track to play off of each other and let listeners feel they experienced a relationship’s roller-coaster of ups and downs. It is incredible.
Track twelve “Pancakes” was one that stood out to me the most, mainly because I feel it spans farther away from what LANY has done before. Also because the name is amazing! Who doesn’t love pancakes? Another standout song was track nine “Hericane” because I was able to connect with the lyrics in a personal way. So many people can make connections with LANY’s music, and I think that is what makes it unique.
LANY’s debut album truly reflects who they are and is symbolic of their progression as a band and it couldn’t be any better.