This last year saw an immense number of notable releases in music. Musical legends were coming out of hiatus left and right, hip-hop rose to the most popular genre in America, and with platforms like Bandcamp and Soundcloud it’s no surprise music fans have had so much to listen to this past year. However, in the endless whirlwind of music releases today, some records are bound to fall by the wayside in end of the year lists and reviews so here are five records that may have slipped under your radar in 2017.
1. Remo Drive – Greatest Hits
This year was big for music but something that seemed to really hit its stride was revivals. Numerous artists have been returning to their roots, specifically those interested in emo. Bands like Remo Drive are using revival as the seed for their creative endeavors. Taking the matter of ‘saving emo’ into their own hands with their freshman release Greatest Hits. Between playing a sold out record release show at the famous Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis and touring across the U. S. in support of their record. Remo Drive have garnered a sort of hometown hero success while connecting with a growing following of new wave emo fans nationwide. Remo Drive delivers a spirited record, bent on elevating a genre long thought to be beyond help. Employing a post-punk flavour, singer Erik Paulson’s raw vocal delivery carries the listener through the highs and lows of young adulthood and fitting in. Backed by Stephen Paulson on bass and Sam Mathys on drums, the stripped back setup brings the project down from the grandiose scale that late 2000s mainstream emo had reached and finds more sonic inspiration in the roots of the genre itself. Hard-hitting chords, catchy hooks, and thumping percussion makes for classic emo vibes with tracks about all your friends getting older while the only thing you can reliably do is fall off your skateboard.
Top Track: Eat Shit
2. King Buzzard – Husk
Saskatchewan-born, Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Ryley Epp released his first record this past summer, under the stage name King Buzzard. Released via Vancouver DIY label, Honey Pomelo Forever, Epp’s record meditates on addiction, suicide, anxiety, and (genre staple) love. Epp provides a candid take on difficult subject matter, bears a great deal and has the vocal chops to match. Beautiful harmonies please the ear but Epp is not at all afraid to come through with his voice standing alone as well. The vocal performance is quite unique in the sense that it carries a powerful kind of restraint on tracks throughout. Often only letting go completely when it’s entirely appropriate as a number of his tracks lead into great walls of sound and emotion. The album feels truly cohesive in its tone and the setting of that tone is lent greatly to the instrumentation. Subtlety integrated field recordings make the record feel fluid from track to track. Layering both acoustic and electric guitar together, the combination makes for an intense and deeply variable sound. Particularly on tracks featuring heavily distorted guitar over plucked chords, representing in a sense the effects some of the harsher themes of the album can have on a person’s well-being. Epp, in his refusal to shy away from more abrasive sounds coupled with the sweet ones, provides a sort of look into a direction that the singer-songwriter genre could very well take in coming years. This makes Husk far overlooked due to the value of its variation on a common theme and genre.
Top Track: Vivadixie
3. Oh Sees – Orc
Oh Sees, dropped the “Thee” from their name this year (marking their 7th name change) while releasing their 20th studio album and certainly hasn’t lost any steam through it all. Oh Sees delivers an album chock full of tasty licks, growling vocals, and driving (occasionally funky) drum leads. Kicking off with squealing guitars and venomously delivered vocals to match from singer-guitarist John Dwyer, Orc is immediately upon the listener and intends to hold you there for the next hour. While having an actual mythical beast sit on your chest for sixty minutes might sound discomforting, this one is interested in making it as enjoyable as possible. Jumping from garage rock and metal influences into more psych-oriented funk jams keeps the record interesting and difficult to immediately peg as one thing or another. Oh Sees, in turn pulls off a project that immediately grabs your attention. While keeping the songs more than simply gripping from the start line, Oh Sees also made sure to keep them incredibly layered and ripe for repeat listens. Whether it’s the psychedelic, keyboard rich “Cadaver Dog” or a track like “Raw Optics” beginning with an ambient interlude into about four minutes of soloing by drummers Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone, Orc wears its layered unpredictability with pride.
Top Track: Raw Optics
4. Brockhampton – Saturation
Dropping in early June and considered at the time to be a standalone record, Saturation has been far overshadowed by Brockhampton’s meteoric rise to the limelight of alternative hip-hop. Brockhampton’s debut full-length LP is an exhaustively varied rap record that set the form for their following projects. However, it wasn’t until the release of Saturation II that the boyband really broke into the mainstream. What this meant for Saturation is that it was moved past all too quickly in the shuffle created by the group announcing a second record so soon. Saturation II deserves much of the attention it received being an album loaded front-to-back with fan favourites, but what it lacks in comparison to its predecessor is the same cohesive feeling. While Saturation II is often described as a record full of bangers, Saturation feels less like a collection of songs and more like an extremely well-curated playlist. Moving from the murderously hard opening track “HEAT,” into the well-rounded and catchy “GOLD,” just to hit listeners with the clever oddball “STAR” was no accident. Brockhampton delivered the same quality of record as they’ve now proven they are capable of repeatedly, but the way the record is organized is what makes it stand out so far ahead of its sibling. The only thing this record needs is another listen.
Top Track: STAR
5. Guerilla Toss – GT Ultra
Art rock outfit Guerilla Toss signed to DFA Records last year, releasing their first album through the label titled Eraser Stargazer. Eager to outdo themselves, GT Ultra was put out only 15 months later. Featuring a close-to abrasive sound on multiple cuts, GT Ultra isn’t exactly made for radio play. However, this did not stop Guerilla Toss from making the record catchy as any pop song you’d find on the radio. Driving synth leads make you feel as though you’ve caught a signal from a spaceship far out of our own solar system and with an opening track like “Betty Dreams of Green Men,” you can’t help but think that the band had the same thing in mind. Vocalist Kassie Carlson’s delivery is punchy and loaded with range to match the soundscape created by her bandmates. She often moves from lengthy monotone monologues to high-pitched hyper-energy yelps. The vocals and synths often blend together into fast-paced but nonetheless entrancing walls of sound. Carlson doesn’t overcomplicate things with her lyrics either. Most songs consists of short hooks leading straight in refrains repeated over and over to the point of making it difficult not to sing along even on a first listen. Keeping it interesting in the latter half of the record, songs get longer, and the lyrics become more varied highlighting the more complicated sounds that the band is capable of beyond their usual bubblegum pop influences. All this leaves GT Ultra feeling just as experimental and varietal as the album cover suggests.
Top Track: Betty Dreams of Green Men
From rap to funk to art rock, 2017 was loaded with records so here’s hoping this list helped you unearth some finds you would have otherwise missed this year.
An article by Maguire Stevens