In 2017 we saw plenty of acts step up their game while adding to the crowded marketplace that the music industry has become. While some old favorites returned to form, the bulk of this list is acts that you may not know, but who you should get familiar with. Below, a list of favorites from acts that aren't from Houston, the best records of the year.
Album of the year: Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator
The rap world is changing and changing fast. Throwing away his antics from the Odd Future days, Tyler, the Creator stepped up his game with an album that was fire from the moment it dropped. There's something about how Tyler can go from quick to slow rhymes, how he can drop a beat like it's second nature, and how the music alone on this release is worth getting down to. This album had the best features, the best beats, and a style that married hip hop's past with hip hop's future. I mean, he had Kali Uchis before anyone really knew her on a national level. Songs worth blasting are "Foreword," "Where This Flower Blooms," "See You Again," "Who Dat Boy," "Boredom," and "911/Mr. Lonely."
The Rest of the albums, in no particular order
Relatives in Descent by Protomartyr
Twenty years from now when people look up what post punk is, hopefully this album will be what they cite. Taking off from where bands like Wire and P.I.L. left off, the Detroit natives really went all in on this record, adding lyrics about political matters without really sounding political. From the opening notes to the closing blasts, it's pretty obvious that Protomartyr is ahead of everyone else making this kind of music, while offering up a sonic and dark intensity that feels unmatched at any level. Songs worth repeating are "A Private Understanding," "Here Is The Thing," "My Children," "Don't Go To Anacita," and "Male Plague," to name a few.
It's A Myth by Sneaks
There's a good chance that you don't know the music of Sneaks judging by how few of you were at her stellar show at Walter's earlier this year. However, by making music with heft in a minimalist style, her newest release It's A Myth was full of short songs that seemed to be bigger than their run times. From the electronic opener to the stark beats and punk vibes that fall all over the release, Sneaks is doing her own thing and it works like you've never heard before. Songs worth checking out are "Look Like That," "Hair Slick Back," and "Act Out."
Albeit Living by Sextile
LA's Sextile isn't going to conform to the norms of today's society just so you can feel good about yourself, and that's okay. On their newest album, without trying, they dropped some catchy songs in the vein of an industrial haze fueled with post punk structures and enough darkness that the light doesn't come through to showcase the high points of their well crafted sound. There's just something amazing in how they use traditional instrumentation and electronics together while finding the dark spaces in tracks that don't come off as dark when they're played at loud volumes. Songs worth getting dressed in black for are "Who Killed Six," "Ripped," "Floored," "Situations," and "Crisis."
Interiors by Quicksand
Reunion albums are usually terrible, even by the standards of longtime fans. However, for New York's Quicksand, it felt like they were just picking up where they left off. Being a band that the record industry never really knew how to market just meant that when they returned they could do so on their own terms. What emerged was an album that felt like the band was in their twenties again with a newfound energy and songs that could've come out on their previous albums. Songs worth playing on 11 are "Under The Screw," "Illuminant," "Warm And Low," and "Cosmonauts" for starters.
No Shape by Perfume Genius
Perfume Genius seems to make all the rules they want to make music and perform by, which was proven with this quirky and intelligent release. There's always been a gap in electronic music between acts like Depeche Mode and Erasure, and what modern acts of today like Nine Inch Nails and Youth Code do. However Perfume Genius has found a space in that gap to exist while finally filling that void. With vocals that remind you of Andy Bell and an electronica that's almost theatrical, Perfume Genius is definitely a breath of fresh air into a genre that's become clouded with producers and not with performers. Songs worth repeating are "Slip Away," "Otherside," "Die 4 You," "Just Like Love," and "Valley."
Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Deer Tick
It seems like Deer Tick have been reinventing themselves with every album, but with these two releases they prove that they can make the kind of music that's eluded Jeff Tweedy all of these years. On Vol. 1, they acoustically drop songs that are pretty and diverse, while Vol. 2 offers plenty of Tom Petty worship in the best way possible. While groups like Wilco and Son Volt have tried to dance between country, folk, and classic rock without coming off too much like dad rock, Deer Tick finds the balance on these two releases like they were born to do so. Songs worth hearing on Vol. 1 are "Sea of Clouds," "Card House," Me and My Man," and "Doomed From The Start." Songs worth praising on Vol. 2 are "Don't Hurt," "Jumpstarting," "It's a Whale," "Tiny Fortunes," and "S.M.F."
Poppy.Computer by Poppy
Pop music has become pretty formulaic to the point that straight pop isn't what it once was. Enter Poppy, the artist who doesn't tell anyone her real name, where she's actually from, or even her age. She does interviews in the third person, her Houston show sold out almost as soon as it was announced, and her videos are a mix of weird and intriguing. While we live in a time where everyone wants to say the phrase "YouTube star" like it's a bad thing, Poppy embraces it and creates the catchiest pop music you might hear in your entire life. From start to finish, the videos, the persona, the album, it's all like a big art project being done so in a way where it's all the product. When you dig, you can answer all of the questions you have about her, but seeing as she's being marketed in such a brilliant way that it reminds you of how things were done in launching Britney Spears 20 years ago, maybe we're best to not know and just enjoy the electro-pop infused ride. Songs worth grooving to are "I'm Poppy," "Let's Make A Video," "Moshi Moshi," "Bleach Blonde Baby," and "Interweb."
Stranger in the Alps by Phoebe Bridgers
Soft singer songwriter songs aren't usually on music critic's year end lists, but with L.A.'s Phoebe Bridgers, it's worth noting. On her debut album, she finds a way to craft those types of songs without losing your attention, and creates some of the prettiest songs of the year. While others like Conor Oberst and Ryan Adams have sung the praises of the young performer, this album should be more than enough for you. Songs worth adoring are "Smoke Signals," "Scott Street," "Killer," "Motion Sickness," and "Would You Rather."
A Black Mile To The Surface by Manchester Orchestra
When this album dropped, it wasn't the immediate sound that I wanted. However after giving it another listen and catching the band in person, I found the record to be something much more than my initial reaction. Full of beautiful notes, sonic soundscapes, and emotive vocals, Manchester Orchestra finds a way to swing between soft and hard without sounding like a band repeating themselves. Songs worth lending an ear to are "The Gold," "The Sunshine," "The Maze," and "The Grocery."
Out in the Storm by Waxahatchee
If you counted Katie Crutchfield out, then you definitely failed. On her latest release Out in the Storm, she mixes folk and indie rock with catchy hooks to craft an unforgettable body of songs. This album mixes Crutchfeld's lovely vocals atop a mix of sturdy indie rock and folky adoration that's a winner from the opener to the closer. Songs worth repeating are "Silver," "8 Ball," "Never Been Wrong," "Sparks Fly," and "Hear You."
Modern Pressure by Daniel Romano
You probably don't know the music of Canada's Daniel Romano, but this album was one of two he released this year alone. Romano has gone from making old school country albums to sixties inspired rock that's hard not to like, and he's mixing elements of the two here with ease. Seeing that Romano plays almost all of the instruments on his records, and the fact that he can write with an intensity like he's been given his last rites, this album was the better of the two he dropped this year. And that's a phrase you rarely get to read. Songs worth jamming are "Roya," "The Pride of Queens," "Dancing With The Lady In The Moon," and "Impossible Green."
Toy by A Giant Dog
Austin's A Giant Dog make records everyone can adore, especially with Houston's Sabrina Ellis singing the leads. While that's not really news, this album proved that this band isn't going away anytime soon, and with a mix of theatrical rock and punk undertones, the bulk of this release is praise worthy. They rock when they need to, they get epic when you want them to, and they go soft just enough to make the record one you can't stop listening to. Songs of note are "Fake Plastic Trees," "Bendover," "Photograph," "Roller Coaster," and "Angst in My Pants."
DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
This album wasn't like To Pimp A Butterfly, but that was the point. Full of bangers with Lamar posting his lyrical prowess atop them all, he quickly showed that he can change things up and still keep us all listening. It's been a while since an artist changed things up like Lamar did here, and while the record wasn't hampered by a bizarre feature with U2, it was still one that many people haven't stopped jamming since it was dropped. Songs worth blasting are "DNA.," "ELEMENT.," "YAH.," and "HUMBLE."
Odd Hours by Caddywhompus
While the guys in Caddywhompus may always have ties to Houston, the New Orleans duo has been on a tear as of late. This year they dropped the crazed, intense, and hook heavy progressive sounding album Odd Hours like they were meant to do so. In the vein of acts like Tera Melos, these two craft this kind of indie rock sound like no one else, and this album is a splendid representation of what they can do as a unit. Pretty much every song here is worth getting familiar with, though tracks of note are "Decent," "Ferment," "Appetite," and "Waiting Room."
The Underside of Power by Algiers
People call Atlanta's Algiers experimental, people call them soulful, and people call them intense; but no one would dare call them boring. On their new album, The Underside of Power they take their already intriguing sound and take it further by implementing punk, grime, and soul. The dystopian electronic indulged sounds these guys can make together is like its coming from someplace else, and their use of soul infused vocals with post punk structure is completely different from most records you'll hear coming out today. Songs worth repeating are "Cry of the Martyrs," "Death March," and "Plague Years," for starters.
Infinite Worlds by Vagabon
New York's Vagabon makes the kind of music that makes you feel like the world is a beautiful place where the sun is always shining and it never rains. On Infinite Worlds, the Cameroon born singer offers up a beautifully soft version of the indie rock world that's become the norm today. There's an organic feel to the songs on this release, and most who hear it should feel like they've found a new artist to fall for, even if that wasn't their intention upon checking it out. Songs worth placing on repeat are "Fear & Force," "100 Years," "The Embers," and "Cold Apartment."
Nothing Feels Natural by Priests
This record took a while to get made, the band almost dissolved while making it, and they had to learn how to record to get it done. However, with all of those hiccups, Priests dropped an album full of punk aesthetics, dark sounds, and catchy tunes. There are moments on this release that the band seems to carve their own path, thus setting them apart from the rest of the DC scene without completely alienating it either. Songs of note are "Pink White House," "JJ," "Nicki," "Appropriate," and "No Big Bang."
Melodrama by Lorde
There's a reason Lorde is in such high demand, she's just amazing. There's something engaging about her gut wrenching vocals mixed with pop undertones and catchy production that just draws you in as a listener. Throughout this album, it feels like she's trying to invite you in for a second before blowing you away with her vocal prowess and sheer intensity. Songs worth repeating are "Green Light," "Sober," "Hard Feelings/Loveless," and "Liability," to start.
Drunk by Thundercat
Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner seems to be able to write his own ticket while creating some of the hippest sounding jams of modern day. On Drunk, Bruner took the time to mix his eclectic and magical bass playing with hints of free jazz, soul, R&B, and most notably; yacht rock to craft one of the craziest and groove heavy albums of the year. There's a reason Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins appear on this record, because for the first time in a long time, there's an artist making music they can be a part of without feeling too hacky or part of some oldies reunion. Songs worth blasting are "Bus in These Streets," "Captain Stupido," "Lava Lamp," "Show You The Way," and "Walk On By."
Black Origami by Jlin
You should know the work of Jlin, even if you've never heard of her. The producer and electronic musician takes what you think you know about electronic music and turns it on its head. Beat heavy clusters mixed with industrial soundscapes and dance heavy structures. There's a ton happening here that words can't really give this album justice, you just need to hear it for yourself. Songs worth playing again and again are "Black Origami," "Enigma," "Holy Child," and "Nandi."
Kali by Emily Bell
Female rock musicians used to be something we saw all over the place, though now they aren't as common as they were 30 or 40 years ago. However, the lack of those in the genre didn't stop Austin's Emily Bell from dropping a record that almost channels the likes of Pat Benatar, Nancy Sinatra, and Patti Smyth. On Kali, Bell takes hook filled rock structures and turns them into anthemic songs for a whole new generation of girls in their bedrooms to lip sync into hairbrushes. Mixing sixties rock with R&B underpinnings, Bell dropped an E.P. that was hard to walk away from. Songs worth singing along with are "Can't Talk Back," "Girls That Never Die," "Goddess of Destruction," and "Goldmine."
Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples
Vince Staples has definitely been making a name for himself since he came onto the hip hop scene in 2009. However, after a slew of mix tapes and features, he was and has always been set to drop an album that's hard to stop blasting. On Big Fish Theory, Staples dropped that album and releases music into the world full of catchy electronic beats and rhymes that become the things you sing along to in the car. Different from his last album, this record is hard not to love and even harder not to jam year round. Songs worth bumping in your ride are "Crabs In A Bucket," "Big Fish," "Love Can Be...," and "Yeah Right" for starters.
Need To Feel Your Love by Sheer Mag
If you love Thin Lizzy, why not celebrate it? That's what I hear when I hear the music of Sheer Mag, though it doesn't feel like theft, just solid rock n' roll that's supposed to be performed in sweaty venues where the air conditioning is always on the fritz. Sheer Mag takes AC/DC sounding riffs, Thin Lizzy licks and melds them with a stronger vocalist in singer Tina Halladay. There are moments on this record where it feels like 1978, and that's a great thing. While we hear that rock is dead, Sheer Mag proves that no one told those in Philly. Songs worth repeating are "Meet Me in the Street," "Just Can't Get Enough," "Rank and File," "and "Turn It Up."
Losing by Bully
When the singles for this record dropped, I wasn't in the mood for this band's blend of fuzz infused guitar rock that made the nineties so fun for so many of us in our forties today. But once the album came out, it was easy to see that Bully wasn't staying dormant long for a reason. The result is a record full of distortion soaked guitar, snappy drums, hooks for days, alongside singer Alicia Bognanno's signature raspy vocals. There's something to the two guitar sound that this Nashville based band has perfected, that you can't help but bop your head and sing along when the music starts. Songs worth getting into are "Kills to Be Resistant," "Running," "Feel the Same," "Blame," and "Not the Way."
Ctrl by SZA
SZA has been doing her own thing for a good while now, but with Ctrl, she takes her R&B sound and takes it to a whole new place. By sticking to narrative and not pop structure, she created one of the most engaging and intriguing releases of 2017. The record takes all of the past R&B structures and reinvents them with hip hop and electronica influences. Songs to get down to are "Love Galore," "Doves In The Wind," "Broken Clocks," and "The Weekend."
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Best Show of the year: Quicksand at Walter's
Quicksand was definitely among friends and fans when they took the stage at Walter's earlier this year. Remarking that Walter's was "they type of place we used to play," Walter Schreifels and the other two founding members of the post hardcore band that weren't arrested at a CVS, played like they were trying to prove that they could still go hard with ease. Funny thing is, they did go hard and they did so like it was second nature. Old songs like "Fazer," "Dine Alone," and "Delusional" sounded just as great as they did more than 20 years ago, while new songs like "Under The Screw" and "Illuminant" added to the mix like they belonged in the set list all this time. This show proved that while some bands phone it in when they reunite, Quicksand showed that they could get together for a rebirth.
Best Show you didn't see: Flying Lotus in 3-D at House of Blues
Post Harvey, shows haven't been as packed as they could be, though I felt like this appearance from FlyLo could've been marketed better. The truth is though, when an artist tours without new material publicly available, it's often hard to get people out in this crowded music landscape. However, as he dropped new tracks and old favorites, the 3-D glasses provided gave those who attended the craziest visuals that seemed to dance atop the crowd that was there. From the back of the room, it was obvious that Flying Lotus thought this tour out, and the 3-D images were creepy and magical at the same time.
Best Use of Social Media: Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz
This was a year where if you assaulted someone, you couldn't play dumb like you had no idea of it being something that occurred. While many people jumped on the bandwagon of anger, Dupuis took to Twitter to not only tell her own personal story of assault, but to disprove that the members of PWR BTTM were blindsided by allegations of assault and abuse. In a time where we use social media to gripe or to share our projects, Sadie Dupuis proved that you can use it to make people aware while backing victims in the strongest way possible, by backing up that it's real.
That's about it for this year. While there are records on here you might not be down with, or maybe even albums you wish were here, remember that this is a rather short list, and it's all just opinion anyway.