Posts Tagged ‘Best Albums Of 2017’

Listening to Partner is like hanging out with your best friends, assuming your best friends are queer Canadian stoners with hooks for days. For Josée Caron and Lucy Niles, that’s actually true, and their easy chemistry is evident on the excellent “In Search Of Lost Time”, both on the album’s 12 songs and in the goofy skits threaded throughout. What’s even more evident is their musical chops, the kind of righteous riffage that can turn anything from wandering around a grocery store high to discovering your roommate’s sex toy into a slyly subversive guitar-rock anthem.

A lot of rock music the last few years also sounds like the 90’s. Partner a Canadian two-piece that provide full disclosure of the decade that influenced them most, with songs about corny daytime T.V. shows like Maury and Judge Judy, an open affinity for grunge riffs, and a sense of humor that recalls the slacker goofiness of Wayne’s World. Despite their lack of self-seriousness, though, Partner are serious musicians, and In Search of Lost Time is perhaps the best product of the 90’s revival because it doesn’t sound dated at all. The tongue-flicking solos, anthemic melodies, whimsical lyrics and profoundly delectable riffs form truly terrific rock songs that render the generic question, “are they reinventing the wheel?,” moot. This band doesn’t care to make a sweeping impact on the current state of guitar music, they’re just trying to kick back, munch on some snacks, and crank out some kick-ass tunes. That’s rock ‘n roll in its purest form.

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Vocals / Lead Guitar by Josée Caron
Vocals / Rhythm Guitar by Lucy Niles 
Bass by Kevin Brasier
Drums by Simone TB

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Don’t Be A Stranger is more than just a title, it’s Nervous Dater’s musical ideology. The Brooklyn quartet have a refreshing disregard for social norms on their debut full-length, offering excruciatingly awkward, uncomfortable and embarrassing personal details with the finesse of a reckless, drunken double-text. However, rather than cringe-worthy, their lyrics (which all four members contribute to) come across as unusually genuine. Nervous Dater songs create a unique musician-listener dynamic; one that feels like you’re hearing out a close friend, or even having your own suppressed emotions validated by the fearlessly forward frontwoman, Rachel Lightner. Her and her bandmates slam through some of the most exhilarating pop-punk, hooky indie rock, and engaging emo of the year on this record, all while puking their innermost anxieties all over the kitchen floor. By the end, though, they still have more guts than any one of their peers.

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One of my favorite albums of the year, loved it from the first time I listened. I tried to find my favorite track on this album, but kept changing it after listening through the album because I truly enjoyed every one.

Nervous Dater is
Rachel Lightner, Kevin Cunningham, Andrew Goetz, & Yon Heenan
Additional Vocals – Megan Gouda & Kelly McGovern
Trumpet & Flugelhorn – Brad Lightner

Destroyer 'Ken' artwork

Dan Bejar, aka Destroyer, has announced a new album today called Ken. The title is apparently lifted from the original title of Suede’s “Wild Ones”. Ken will be Bejar’s first album since 2015’s Poison Season. It’s out October 20th on Merge Records . Chaos strikes in a hospital. Satan haunts a fashion show. Tinseltown swims in blood. Destroyer’s twelfth album, ken, is full of unforgettable scenes from Dan Bejar, one of indie rock’s finest lyricists, with a macabre bent suiting his newfound penchant for gothy synths.

The LP’s opening number, “Sky’s Grey”,

Vancouver garage-rock trio The Courtneys are the first non-New Zealand band to sign to Flying Nun Records, an independent label known for its influential catalog of 1980s and ’90s guitar pop. Fitting for the band, devoted students of the sound they now recall and push forward with their sophomore LP, expanding the “jangle without sacrificing their cozy, lo-fi charm,” . Blending punk simplicity with hearfelt lyrics and good old-fashioned fun, these are bold songs “to be shouted into hairbrush-microphones everywhere.” Former tourmate Mac DeMarco once asserted: “The Courtneys are gonna melt your face off.”

Indie fuzz rock trio The Courtneys debuted in 2013 with a set that impressed on an international scale. The Courtneys II. The aloof, sugary singing from drummer “Cute Courtney” binds nicely with “Classic Courtney’s” exciting phaneritic guitar work. Together with “Crazy Courtney” on bass, the trio takes us on a highly engaging ride through lo-fi slacker culture and bubble-gum garage punk. The disc opens with “Silver Velvet”. “Country Song” bursts with a wall of guitars, the album’s standout jam. “Lost Boys” pays tribute to the 80s’ vampire craze while surf rock dresses up “Mars Attacks”. This was easily 2017’s best rock album.

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Jen Twynn Payne – Drums/Lead Vocals
Sydney Koke – Bass/Vocals
Courtney Loove – Guitar/Vocals

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(Sandy) Alex G is one of those artists who dumps dozens of lo-fi albums on Bandcamp, but few catch the spotlight the way he has over the last three years — and deservedly so given the musical growth visible on his latest album Rocket, proving those “prodigy” tags slapped on him back then weren’t over-exaggerated hype.

On its surface, Rocket is a vaguely Americana record where he finally sheds Elliott Smith comparisons for those of Cassadaga-era Bright Eyes, but it’s the experimental tracks. On Rocket, he steps past the Elliott Smith comparisons and into an unsuspected combination of beautiful Americana-evoking tunes often fit with strings (“Proud,” “Bobby,” “Powerful Man”) and left-field instrumentals that vary between hardcore freak-outs (“Brick”) and restless, wild fits (“Horse”). What some might find discombobulated is one cohesive vision in the mind of Alex Giannascoli. A guy-next-door songwriter so brilliant and special that Frank Ocean nabbed his talents for both Endless and Blonde, Giannascoli tells tales that aren’t always relatable and might only make sense to him, but still somehow feel like home.

SIDE A 1. Change My Mind (0:012:40) * 2. Kicker (2:395:28) * 3. New (5:318:45) 4. Joy (8:4913:30) 5. Child’s Play (13:3415:49) 6. Promise (15:5019:19) 7. Trash (19:2522:08) 8. Trade (22:1023:26) 9. After Ur Gone (23:2825:47) * 10. Mud (25:5627:44) * 11. Mary (27:4831:02) 12. Bug (31:0533:46) 13. Kara (33:4736:49) 14. Clouds (36:5239:14) 15. Salt (39:1843:55) *

SIDE B 16. Soaker (43:5945:37) 17. Sorry (45:3948:20) 18. Nintendo 64 (48:2351:00) 19. Hollow (51:0255:07) * 20. Skating (55:0857:40) ** 21. Memory (57:411:00:32) * 22. Tie Me Down (The Skin Cells) (1:00:351:02:58) 23. Scar Tattoo (1:03:011:06:04) 24. Sarah (1:06:061:08:57) 25. Snot (1:09:011:14:00) * 26. Sandy (1:14:031:16:42) 27. Break (1:16:461:19:41) ** 28. In Love (1:19:421:23:11) ** 29. Waiting For You (1:23:151:26:43) ** 30. Mis (1:26:491:30:05) ** 31. Change (1:30:061:32:08) ** 32. Explain (1:32:111:33:45) 33. Message (1:33:461:36:30) * 34. Clouds (1:36:321:38:55) 35. Go Away (1:38:561:39:55)

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N.Y.C. blues-punk combo Boss Hog was helmed by the husband-and-wife team of singer Cristina Martinez and singer/guitarist Jon Spencer. If you like your blues rough, devilish, dirty and burning as hell you’ll be as ecstatic
about the spectacular return of Boss Hog. After 16 years this glowing gang featuring legendary blues junkie Jon Spencer and his charismatic wife and ex-Pussy Galore tiger Cristina Martinez the band have released new album BROOD X earlier this year. The longplayer bellows viciously as if the 5-piece band is involved in a merciless, sonic fight with evil demons, with unsightly cacodemons and anything nasty in daily life on this troubled planet.

Boss Hog was formed in 1989 by Cristina Martinez and Jon Spencer. The band has released three disturbed and sexually provocative studio albums and as many EPs, along with numerous incendiary and slashing singles, on the world’s most important record labels, including Amphetamine Reptile, In The Red, and DGC/Geffen. Boss Hog is internationally-known as New York City’s most provocative and original rock’n’roll band.

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Band Members
Cristina Martinez, Jon Spencer, Hollis Queens, Jens Jurgensen, Mickey Finn,

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The National has been slowly, sometimes imperceptibly fine-tuning its sound over the course of seven albums. A common jab is that all of the band’s records sound the same (or, worse yet, that they’re boring). Sleep Well Beast, on first listen, won’t change that, but first listens are never where The National’s albums do their strongest work. An hour-long odyssey into the darkness of our times, both political and personal, Sleep Well Beast is quietly, gorgeously insinuating, from the Leonard Cohen-esque “Nobody Else Will Be There” to the electronic thrum that drives the incredible title track. It’s music that, as usual, demands and rewards close attention.

The National’s ‘Sleep Well Beast’ came out on September 8th on 4AD Records, and on Friday (July 14) they took the opportunity to present the album in full live at Guilty Party, a two-day collaborative concert at Basilica Hudson in Hudson, New York.

Watch them perform the live debut of ‘Born To Beg’ along with ‘Guilty Party’.

The National live from their Guilty Party in Hudson, NY

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When you’re an artist like Jason Isbell, the bar gets set higher and higher with each and every new album release, creating a tough hurdle for his album The Nashville Sound. Though he has established himself as one of the all-time greats in the world of songwriting during his time with the band Drive-By Truckers and over the course of three solo albums to date, it didn’t seem like a broader fanbase opened up to him until his 2013 LP, Southeastern. Isbell ripped his heart right out of his chest and slapped it on your turntable so you could hear every ounce of pain and sorrow, every ounce of joy and happiness, that he had experienced up until that point. The grooves of his arteries showcased a delicate artist, one who could capture the story of falling in love in a matter of minutes, or highlight the depths of pain that cancer brings to a relationship.

The Nashville Sound finds a recharged Isbell waving the flag for his adopted hometown’s left-of-center roots musicians. The city has changed markedly since his arrival, with exports like Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price challenging the public’s perception of what Nashville – a town whose very name remains synonymous with mainstream country music – actually sounds like. His roots sunk deep into the Tennessee ground, Isbell digs in for his biggest, boldest album to date, one that skirts the tired trends of Top 40 twang and, instead, sets a new watermark for accessible, articulate Americana.

Once again, the songs were written at home – this time in a modest place somewhere south of the city limits – with Amanda Shires pulling triple duty as muse, editor and bandmate. Also contributing to the album’s pointed punch are the 400 Unit’s Sadler Vaden, Chad Gamble, Derry DeBorja and Jimbo Hart, all of them whittled into sharp shape after touring in support of Southeastern and its chart-topping follow-up, Something More Than Free. For the first time since 2011’s Here We Rest, Isbell’s backing band receives co-billing on the album – a move that’s well-deserved.

There was something about his songwriting on Southeastern that perhaps felt more accessible than ever before with new and old fans alike, and since 2013, the expectations for Isbell have continued to rise to seemingly unachievable levels. Yet, a couple of years following Southeastern he met and exceeded those expectations with the Grammy-winning album, Something More Than Free. And now, in 2017, Isbell is facing the most anticipation he has likely ever faced in his career with the release of The Nashville Sound.

Isbell is a master storyteller, he’s also a master autobiographer, and opening The Nashville Sound is a pensive look at, potentially, his own career and life. As he sings “Am I the last of my kind?” over and over, he’s asking an honest question, one that could easily be applied to the musical world in which he lives. But it’s also a question that he could be applying vicariously to the working class across the country, those who convinced themselves that they were the forgotten minority leading up to last year’s election cycle. And still, it could simply be an homage to the great John Prine, a living legend whom Isbell (and his wife and member of the 400 Unit, Amanda Shires) has grown closer and closer with over the last few years.

The same interpretive trajectory could be placed on any of the songs found on The Nashville Sound. The flat-out rocker, “Cumberland Gap,” has one of the greatest lines of any Isbell tune—“As soon as the sun goes done / I find my way to the Mustang Lounge / And if you don’t sit facing the window, you could be in any town” — and while one fan might interpret that as a nod to the indistinguishable similarities found in Small Town U.S.A., another may go deeper and look at the overall theme of the song as one that follows the struggles of an alcoholic, something Isbell knows a thing or two about.

That’s the beauty of a Jason Isbell tune, and even more, the beauty of a Jason Isbell album. In a recent interview, he said, “I have learned that the process of trying to figure out what my album is about is better suited to critics and listeners than to me,” and he leaves that door wide open on his latest effort.

The one thing that is not left to interpretation, though, is the completeness of The Nashville Sound. Never has Isbell constructed a more unabridged record than this; though fans and critics may enjoy jumping on one individual track and heralding it as Isbell’s crowning achievement, the real story with The Nashville Sound is simply how perfect it is as one cohesive, full LP.

The opening trio of songs includes the aforementioned “Last of My Kind” and “Cumberland Gap,” neatly wrapped up with “Tupelo,” a track that starts out by continuing the “struggles of an alcoholic” interpretation that preceded it. The most powerful movement on The Nashville Sound is found in the next few tracks, though, as Isbell and company — keyboardist Derry deBorja, drummer Chad Gamble, bassist Jimbo Hart, guitarist Sadler Vaden, and fiddler Amanda Shires — shine on “White Man’s World,” “If We Were Vampires,” and the magnum opus, “Anxiety.”

The former two tracks have been unveiled to fans prior to the album’s release, and both have been examined ever so closely. In “White Man’s World,” Isbell is clearly stating where he’s at in both the current political landscape and the music industry. The title itself beckons the listener to consider the results of the presidential election of 2016, but the lyric, “Momma wants to change that Nashville sound / But they’re never gonna let her,” seems to take aim at Music City.

That song is followed with what many are proclaiming to be one of Isbell’s most beautiful and heartbreaking tunes ever, “If We Were Vampires.” A reflective look at life, death, and love, “Vampires” is an emotional reminder of both Isbell’s and Shires’ staggering talent, being able to shift from a politically- and professionally-motivated track like “White Man’s World” to a crushing song like this, one that reveals more and more poignant depth with every spin.

“Anxiety,” though, is the song that will be discussed and praised by fans and critics a hundred years from now. It is Isbell’s masterpiece, and the most dynamic, well-rounded song on The Nashville Sound, not because it merely showcases the frontman’s talents (though it does), but because it highlights all of the powerful and moving aspects of the 400 Unit. From start to finish, every single instrument and note, every single lyric, joins together to create an achievement that serves as a reminder of the power of Americana music, and Isbell’s place in the genre’s history books.

As that second movement wraps up, the rest of the record flows smoothly into “Molotov,” the quintessential “song of the summer” if Isbell ever wrote one, and “Chaos and Clothes,” a song that we think was inspired by Isbell’s good friend, Ryan Adams. (We’re serious. Spend some time with the lyrics and compare it to the heartbreak that Adams has experienced over the last few years, coupled with the themes in “I See Monsters” from 2004’s Love Is Hell—not to mention the “black metal T-shirt” reference.)

From there, Isbell gives fans the final two tracks, “Hope the High Road” and “Something to Love,” the former highlighting his rock and roll personality and the latter his softer, singer-songwriter edge. That last track takes the thoughts of the opening tune and, though it doesn’t answer the question “Am I the last of my kind?,” it does provide the listener with a bit of guidance as the record comes to a close: “I hope you find something to love / Something to do when you feel like giving up / A song to sing or a tale to tell / Something to love, it’ll serve you well.”

If Isbell ever pondered giving up — if he ever truly questioned whether he is the last of his kind — he has found hope in singing songs and telling tales, and he has never told a more complete tale than that of The Nashville Sound. As the needle runs out on side B, you won’t be putting the record back in its sleeve; you’ll flip it back and start listening all over again as you try to determine what exactly that Nashville sound is, and why it’s so damn important.

“The Last of my Kind”
Opening the album on a mellow note, “The Last of my Kind” spins the sad story of an Arkansas native who loses himself – geographically, emotionally, mentally – within the big city. “Nobody here can dance like me / Everybody clapping on the one and three,” Isbell laments during the initial 30 seconds, delivering the album’s first of many killer lines. Behind him, the 400 Unit fades in and out, waiting until the song’s second half to make a proper entrance.

“Cumberland Gap”
File this pissed-off rocker beside “Decoration Day” and “Go It Alone.” Recasting himself as a boozehound in an Appalachian coal-mining town, Isbell feels angry and spiteful, his horizons filled with mountains whose peaks have been blasted away in search of cheapening coal. He funnels that fury through distorted guitars and an epic chorus, nodding to his days with the Drive-By Truckers along the way.

“Tupelo”
Isbell is on the move once again. This time, he’s driving back home, reeling from a bad breakup and a hard fall off the wagon. His plan? Finish the last of his “plastic cup of real good wine,” sober up and relocate to northern Mississippi, where “the summer is blistering, so there ain’t no one from here that’ll follow me there.” Punctuated by some swooning slide guitar, “Tupelo” is equal parts Southern soul and sad-eyed folk, the soundtrack for slow Sunday afternoons.

“White Man’s World”
Taking a hard look at his place in Trump’s America, Isbell tackles social privilege, gender politics and the desire to shield his daughter from the harsh realities of a country that remains divided along cultural lines. The anger is pointed and palpable here, hitting a high mark during the song’s solo section, where Isbell’s electric guitar and Amanda Shires‘ fiddle chase each other in fuming circles.

“If We Were Vampires”
The Nashville Sound’s stunning standout, “If We Were Vampires” shatters the love song’s familiar mold, focusing not on the never-ending power of Isbell’s affection for Shires, but the pair’s limited time together. “This can’t go on forever / Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone,” the two sing during the song’s chorus, acknowledging their own mortality. The real gut punch arrives during the second verse, though, where Isbell’s voice briefly falters, a sign of an emotional recording session.

“Anxiety”
A mid-tempo pop/rock song at its core, “Anxiety” is bookended by two sections of dramatic, guitar-driven crunch, like the musical manifestations of the unease that gives the song its name. On a track dominated by first-rate lyrics, it’s those instrumental breaks – particularly Sadler Vaden’s chromatic guitar riffs, which could’ve found a home on Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s Mojo – that steal the show.

“Molotov”
Caught halfway between Tom Petty’s poppy punch, Bruce Springsteen’s anthemic nostalgia and R.E.M.’s ringing guitars, “Molotov” takes a look backward, setting its scene “in the year of the tiger, 19something.” “I hope you still see fire inside of me,” Isbell sings to a former flame, seconds after rhyming “three wishes” with “being facetious.” Well played.

“Chaos and Clothes”
“Chaos and Clothes” roots itself in the double-tracked vocals and fragile beauty of Elliott Smith’s bedroom recordings. It’s like nothing Isbell has ever made before, with soft, woozy textures replacing the bombast of the two songs that flank it. “You’re in the fight to the death, my friend,” he sings to the song’s narrator, a heartbroken single man struggling to forget the woman who’s left a trail of memories in his mind and the occasional garment in his apartment.

“Hope the High Road”
With a disappointing election behind them and an uncertain future on the horizon, Isbell and the 400 Unit mix politics with benevolence on this optimistic heartland rocker. “Wherever you are, I hope the high road leads you home again to a world you want to live in,” goes the final chorus, addressing the marginalized, the left out and the pissed-off.

“Something to Love”
A close cousin to Something More Than Free opener “If It Takes a Lifetime,” “Something to Love” unfolds like a front-porch folk song, mixing coed harmonies with brushed percussion and understated guitar. Here, Isbell sings to his toddler daughter, willing her the resolve, patience and curiosity needed to survive in modern times. “I don’t quite recognize the world you’ll call home,” he admits, urging her to “find what makes you happy, girl, and do it ’til you’re gone.” That’s good advice.

“Singing Saw”, was the solo album from Los Angeles singer-songwriter (and former Woods bassist) Kevin Morby, was one of the great “growers” of 2016. Dusky and unassuming, it revealed its considerable charms slowly but surely. Morby’s follow up, City Music, mines a similar aesthetic, though its songs in general seem to endear themselves more quickly. Where Singing Saw was inspired in part by Morby’s sleepy neighborhood in the hills northeast of L.A., City Music is about the metropolis: city life, city noise, city people, a city’s pace, and so on.

Morby has said Singing Saw was Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, while City Music is Lou Reed and Patti Smith, and the comparison is clear in Morby’s speak-sing deadpan and bulging crescendos from brooding guitar-folk to driving rock. (The barreling “1234” makes a beeline for the Ramones.) City Music doesn’t hustle and bustle. But it won’t let you miss it, either so cool.

Kevin Morby’s title track off his excellent record, “City Music” nearly hits the 7-minute mark and challenges what fans may have come to expect from him. The song builds like a slowly accelerating subway train, as does this deeply impressionistic video.

Kevin Morby “City Music,” from his album, ‘City Music’, out 6/16 on Dead Oceans Records

On her earlier albums, Alynda Segarra (aka Hurray For the Riff Raff) explored the troubadour wanderings and raffish sounds of Americana. On the 29 year old’s visionary new work,  The Navigator she brings it all back home, re-connecting to her buried Puerto Rican roots. In the process, Segarra struck an original mix of roiling bomba rhythms and catchy New York rock. Drawing inspiration from Ziggy Stardust  , she conceived ‘The Navigator’ as a sci-fi tinged concept album, tracing the life of a character named Navita Milagros Negron through a metaphysical world. The lyrics present the story as a play, with allusions to the Latin political group of the ’70s, The Young Lords and verse from Puerto Rican poet Pedro Pietri. Segarra’s catchy songs connect the dots in the long lineage of Latin influences on popular music, from the street-corner harmonies of doo-wop to the romantic hits of the Brill Building to the Latin-rock of acts from Mink DeVille to The Ghetto Brothers. A song like “Living In The City”  sounds like something Lou Reed could have cut in the early ’70s, delivered with righteous fervor by Segarra’s resonant vibrato. Themes of gentrification and cultural appropriation anchor the story. Properly staged, ‘The Navigator’ could become a rock opera for our time.

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