This year was a particularly stellar year for music. Maybe it has a lot to do with where people's heads were at throughout 2016 or a compulsion to respond to 2017. Either way, I found it difficult to rank so many fantastic albums. However, I managed. Here are my ‘Top Albums of the Year’.
10. Black Dots / Gentlemen Prefer Blood - Split 7-inch - La Escalera Records
I know I have said this countless times, but EPs are fun. Especially when an EP is a split, and the collaborators have fun with the medium. Simply put, the Black Dots/Gentlemen Prefer Blood Split EP has both bands playing one of their own, then playing one of their counterparts. I love this set-up and loved to hear the other band's interpretation of their colleagues. It makes the punk genre feel like a big backyard party with everyone just having fun.
9. Jason Hawk Harris - Formaldehyde, Tobacco and Tulips EP - Free Man Records
Doing an EP is an easy win for me, especially when it is my introduction to a band. It is easy for me to dedicate a little time to listen to 4-6 songs while doing some other small task around the house (i.e., changing a diaper or feeding a baby). But when an EP is excellent, then it quickly becomes that album I go to when more little tasks come up (maybe there would be fewer diapers if I feed it less?). Jason Hawk Harris's "Formaldehyde, Tobacco and Tulips EP" quickly became this album for me. Just five sad, but extremely well-done country tunes to score my daily "dad tasks." This is a powerhouse of an album. Each song is super introspective, and will pull at your heartstrings (also he is pretty nice in person too).
8. The Dopamines - Tales of Interest - Rad Girlfriend Records
Maybe I was a little hyperbolic in February, but I still think The Dopamines put out one of my favorite albums of 2017. All 14 songs (or 34 minutes) are great Pop-punk and will remain in rotation for years to come. The Dopamines's ability to craft a fun song without compromising grinding distorted guitars and biting lyrics is enviable.
7. AFI - AFI (The Blood Album) - Concord Music Group
If I have any 'guilty pleasure music' it would be AFI. Ever since I heard "Very Proud Of Ya" I have been hooked. But when they turned more "gothy," that's when my love for them went more underground. It never dissipated, but it was delayed. As I said in my review of AFI's 2017 release, "AFI (The Blood Album)," I was never current with my AFI discography. I always found myself just wrapping my head around one album when they are working on something new. It took me a whole album cycle to appreciate the shift they made musically thus I was never ready to get on board with where they were present. However, this trend stops with "AFI (The Blood Album)." I got it on the first try (maybe the second).
6. Dreamcar - S/T – Columbia
A year or two ago I heard that the boys of No Doubt were teaming up with Davey Havok, (the crown prince of Goth Punk), to do some new supergroup. I never heard what type of music they were planning on doing nor did I know if this group was anything more than a hobby. These questions finally got answers in 2017. The band is named Dreamcar and they do not meet expectation. Instead of treading old territory of punk, ska, goth rock or synth, Dreamcar went in a whole new direction, Modern New Wave. Yeah, I know, not what you were thinking. However, these legendary musicians handle themselves quite nicely in the genre. By blending pop songs with 80s dance grooves, Dreamcar is highly infectious. The whole album sticks with the listener and makes you want to go back to it for several more experiences. I don't know if it is the cross-over hit any fan of No Doubt or AFI will gravitate towards, but I cannot recommend it enough. It is quite good.
5. Showoff - Midwest Side Story - Dodgeball Records
I feel like anytime Showoff is mentioned I need to state outright that I love this band and am very biased towards their work. That said, I found it very difficult to not automatically place "Midwest Side Story" at the top of the heap for 'Best of 2017'. But I realize my taste is not universal and, again, I am super biased towards Showoff. However, even after a few months of listening to new Showoff music, I am still enamored with this band. From their catchy hooks, great vocal harmonies, their acoustic ballads and silly lyrics about girls, "Midwest Side Story" is not just a nostalgia album for me. I legitimately love this album.
4. Ted Leo - Hanged Man - Ted Leo / SuperEgo Records
With each listen of "Hanged Man" I find myself saying out loud to no one in my car, "Ted Leo is excellent." His catalog is underappreciated and should be a part of every rock, indie, punk and pop music lover’s collection. Ted's charm and a stage presence is an odd mixture of perfectionist and DIY Punk Rock Troubadour. Much like all of my top album this year, a massive swath of realism takes center stage in some of the most significant pop songs I have had the pleasure of hearing in 2017. Ted Leo is a master of balancing the heavy with the light. But because "Hanged Man" is mostly a solo endeavor, the heavy does start to take over and makes this album tough to go back to if you are not in the right mood. I have found myself at the tail end of a rough day skipping some songs in "Hanged Man" and returning to them when I am more equipped to work through those moments with Ted. That said, I know this album will stay in rotation in 2018. It's just too good to lay entirely to rest.
3. The Menzingers – After The Party – Epitaph
It’s hard to say something about The Menzingers that hasn’t been mentioned dozens of times before. Yes, they are a great band. Yes, they have fantastically well-constructed songs. And yes, their albums somehow get better with each listen. These are the things one can expect from previous Menzingers albums.
“After The Party” is an exceptional album. The Menzingers not only build on their songwriting skills from "Rented World" and "On the Impossible Past," but I think - and this may be a little sacrilegious - the Menzingers are transcending the genre and are truly more than just another punk band. They write songs about life and their experiences but never compromise a good listen, but every musical element is deliberate and meaningful. The Menzingers deserve to be heard by more people than what the punk world has to offer and one day I hope they get some mainstream recognition.
2. Worriers – Survival Pop – SideOneDummy
From initial listen, I found this album to be compelling, insightful and super listenable. These statements still ring true after a few months of it sitting on the shelf. Worriers' ability to tackle heart-breaking topics with a hefty helping of pop-punk is remarkable. As I said in my original review, nearly every song on this album is worth returning to multiple times in a day. I found myself going back to this album frequently and turning as many people as I could on to what Worriers had to say and the way they say it. It is just a great album all-around.
1. Cory Branan - Adios – Bloodshot Records
The first time I heard of Cory Branan was a namecheck in a Lucero song ("Tears Don't Matter Much"). But once "Adios" came out, I found myself digging deeper into his discography and his interviews. My music nerd tendencies led me to a steady Cory Branan diet in 2017. Simply put, this guy is terrific.
Branan's songwriting is deceptively heartfelt and introspective throughout his career, but peaks on "Adios." One with lesser talent would not be able to write a whole album about death and dying without bringing the listener down. Be it songs about his dying father, "The Vow," or police brutality, "Another American Nightmare," Branan's voice and guitar work carry the listener through the heaviness like a mother cradling their child. You feel safe, but you know things are not always going to be that way.
Branan's approach to massive subjects is hard to describe. The songs on the album are great to listen to and easy to return on multiple visits, but once you hear them stripped down to their core, the tears are plenty. For instance, his acoustic versions of "Adios" move Matt Besser and other veteran improvisers to an emotional state during his recent visit on "Improv for Humans." Branan's ability to connect to a live setting required the group to take a moment to regain composure before moving on. Again, he is just that good.