We do love a list at Overblown and the end of year lists are pretty much the pinnacle of all lists. Music will never be a competition of course and whilst we listen to a lot of records we most definitely will have missed many amazing albums. What we present to you here is simply what we fell in love with in 2017.
Let’s use this brief opportunity to thank anyone and everyone who’s spent some time with Overblown this year. We’ve seen some pretty incredible and humbling growth as a new music platform this year and your support is appreciated more than you could imagine. 2017 has been a strange year in many ways, not least the horrific realisation that some of the men involved in the bands we loved turned out to be slime of the highest order. We hope such behavior continues to be weeded out of the world bit by bit. We do have the power to stop supporting any band who can’t behave appropriately or who use their platform to abuse others. The glorious thing about music is that there will always be literally thousands of other bands who are more deserving of our support and love. We’ll spend 2018 trying to discover as many of them as we possibly can. Have a good one.
IDLES – Brutalism (Balley Records)
These Bristol based punks have been around for a while, releasing their debut EP Welcome in 2012, and the follow up EP Meat in 2015. These were solid and visceral efforts but their debut album, aptly titled Brutalism, is another story altogether. Taut, sinewy, and confrontational, they possess that most rare of commodities in 2017: their own sound.
Big Thief – Capacity (Saddle Creek)
From the delicate, painful opening of ‘Pretty Things’ to the smooth closing of ‘ Black Diamonds’ this journey through Adrianne Lenker’s mind and memories is utterly captivating. Trauma and drama laced with oddly compelling beauty throughout. Capacity is completely captivating, entirely worth the obsessive attention it’s been given by so many this year.
CHUCK – Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store (Audio Antihero)
Essentially, New York-based lo-fi singer/songwriter CHUCK is the most fun and heartfelt songwriter that you’ve never heard of. This is his final album as he is retiring from music at the ripe old age of 30. It’s a bloody tragedy to be honest, as I don’t think there’s a songwriter out there who can write with such fun and tenderness all in the one song.
Girlpool – Powerplant (Anti-)
The transition from two guitars and two voices to a beefier setup is made to look like child’s play by Girlpool on Powerplant. Introspective, deceptively simple sounding songs blessed by Cleo and Harmony’s voices which whisper and melt together. Lyrically this seems far more abstract than previous recordings but it’s no less intriguing or engaging. Inventive throughout. “Can you feel it?” Yes, we undoubtedly can.
New Jackson – From Night To Night (All City Records)
New Jackson is the new musical project from Irish singer/songwriter David Kitt. This sees him veer away from the ‘white guy singing sad songs’ into more electronic and abstract planes of musicality. The results are engrossing and captivating. One wishes that Kitt had done this years ago.
Alvvays – Antisocialites (Polyvinyl)
It would’ve been easy to doubt Alvvays’ ability to follow up the joy they delivered with their debut album but Antisocialites seems as close to perfect pop as a band could get. We bump between glorious atmospheric indie to potent, perky guitar pop without ever skipping a beat. Clean and crisp guitars, sweeping synths and superlative melodies all delivered with the confidence of a band that are as charming and captivating on record as they are on stage.
Spotlights – Seismic (Ipecac Recordings)
Husband and wife alternative metal team Spotlights explore a most visceral and melodic brand of alternative metal/metalgaze on debut album Seismic. After the sprawling songs of their Tidals EP, this one is more direct and immediate. Calling to mind the brutal but beautiful work of the likes of Deftones, the record is as unrelenting as it is mesmerising.
Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound (Wichita Recordings)
There’s an isolated, claustrophobic atmosphere to the latest Cloud Nothings album. Not as panic-stricken or brutal in nature as the wonderful Here and Nowhere Else that preceded it but certainly just as gripping. Songs build up through desperate layers of noise into hugely satisfying crescendos. Cloud Nothings seem to be able to find a new angle with every record they release, a new outlook that makes them one of the most essential rock bands around.
Ye Vagabonds – Ye Vagabonds
Irish brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn have finally released their debut LP under the Ye Vagabonds moniker this year. A subdued and mournful release, it aims and succeeds in drawing on traditional Irish and European music, American old time, and the music of the 1960s folk revival to create something melancholic and yet beautiful.
Sheer Mag – Need to Feel Your Love (Wilsuns Recording Company)
What a blast it is to hear an album like this. Sheer Mag’s rejuvenation 70s / 80s guitar rock is just massive fun and massively impressive in terms of how they bring a style of music that’s often associated with machismo and rock n’ roll excess kicking back into life. It’s all done on their own terms, of course, their punk ethos permeates through the sound and they have one of the planet’s greatest vocalists to deliver it all making Sheer Mag one of the best and most unique bands around.
Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent (Domino Records)
Detroit post-punks Protomartyr continue to explore their highly intellectual and yet emotionally resonant brand of post-punk on their fourth record. Signing to Domino Records sees them with a bit more reach this time around. This is reflected in more experimental song structures. This takes a bit of time to sink in but is entirely worth it.
Metz – Strange Peace (Sub Pop)
On their third album, Metz do more of what they’re great at. Intense, pummelling punk of the highest quality seems to bleed from this band. However, on Strange Peace, there’s more at play than speed and volume. It feels like the album has a little more room to breathe, some extra space to delve beyond bludgeoning repetition and power. The reward is an extra something, not 100% sure exactly what that something is but add it to the sheer satisfaction of the usual Metz assault and you’ve found a winner.
AMENRA – Mass IV (Neurot Recordings)
Nearly 20 years in and Belgian post-metal stalwarts AMENRA are just getting better and better. Mass VI is as direct and yet abstract as these folks get. Drawing on themes of spirituality and pain, the record is a swirling and hypnotic tour-de-force that is both supremely beautiful and ugly.
Sleaford Mods – English Tapas (Rough Trade Records)
Thanks to Brexit, social media and the ‘weak and wobbly’ Conservative government clinging on like a very determined species of itch mite, the Mods are unlikely to run out of material any time soon. “But their sound isn’t progressing,” I hear you whine. So what? Neither’s the toilet of a country they’re writing about!
Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun (Sargent House)
Album number five sees American singer/songwriter Chelsea Wolfe head into the big choruses of 90’s alternative rock. Along for the ride are Troy Van Leeuwen of QOTSA, Aaron Turner of ISIS, and Kurt Ballou of Converge. This is emotionally bare but without being needlessly esoteric. A triumph of catharsis and hook-filled songwriting.
Post War Glamour Girls – Swan Songs (Hide and Seek)
The third album from PWGG massively over delivered on the promise of their previous two. A tense and twisting record shuffling through straight up soaring rock songs like ‘Polyanna Cowgirl’ to bitterly dizzying dramas like ‘Gull Rips a Worm to Shreds’. Built through sharp lyrics and glorious bass lines it’s closing pinnacle ‘Divine Decline’ towers over this and every other record made in 2017.
Two Inch Astronaut – Can You Please Not Help (Exploding In Sound)
Here’s another one that draws heavily on the late 90’s. The production on this is so damn lush and thick that it makes me smile like I’m 14 years old again. Two Inch Astronaut ply their trade exploring an exceedingly melodic brand of post-hardcore. Kind of like Rival Schools or something along those lines. Play it in your car. Works for me.
Feature – Banishing Ritual (Upset the Rhythym)
Knowledge of the occult isn’t necessary to understand this is an incredible record of acute punk songs, sharper than a serrated knife and delivered with complete authority. We’d pick out a standout song for you but there’s ten of them so go choose yourself (ok – ‘Schedules Align’ if you’ve got a knife to our throat). ‘Tuneful but Weaponised’ states the bands Bandcamp page. Spot on. Heartbreaking that this band split up before this record ever saw the moonlight of midnight.
Remo Drive – Greatest Hits
You know I hated pop-punk when it was at its height. The thing is that the brand of pop-punk we were subjected to at that stage had very little heart and was slick as fuck. Conversely, Remo Drive have more earnest heart than you can shake a big stick at and are dirty as all hell. ‘Yer Killin’ Me’ is one of the best pop songs of 2017. Fact. The album is pretty much as good. Legends.
Sister John – Returned From Sea (Last Night From Glasgow)
There’s a wee devilish streak to Sister John’s wonderfully crafted debut record. It’s like the difference between the black of the sea and the black of the sky on the horizon on a gloomy night, almost imperceptible but somehow clearly visible. This collection of gentle, charming songs is peaceful and comforting as well as forlornly melancholic. Brimming with character. Lovely folk from lovely folks.
Soccer Mommy – Collection (Fat Possum Records)
Soccer Mommy, aka Sophie Allison, is the queen of bedroom pop. Crafting endearing and delicate songs of vulnerability and awkwardness, this year’s Collection is a compilation of some her best work that saw release through Fat Possum. Even if ‘Allison’ was the only decent song on it, it’d still be awesome.
Bratakus – Target Grrrl (Screaming Babies Records)
Gratifyingly angry punk has rarely sounded as fresh as these young Scottish sisters. Three chords, a gloriously satisfying fuzz pedal and dual vocals growling through the speakers make this debut record sound like an angry celebration of hissing youthful rebellion. It screams along at a scorching pace, way quicker than you could ever escape so don’t bother trying. Let Target Grrrl beat you senseless, you’ll soon be back for more.
Future Islands – The Far Field (4AD)
My buddy Eoin claims that Future Islands are formulaic. But dammit I love their formula. They will forever be elevated to higher planes by the shameless earnestness of vocalist Samuel T. Herring, whose naive and innocent performances are the life that is imbued in each track by these synth-pop fellas. “And what’s a song without you? When every song I write is about you”. Preach brother, preach.
Breakfast Muff – Eurgh! (Amour Foo)
Not sure there’s been a more menacing punk clatter in the last few years than what’s delivered through songs like ‘Feast’, ‘Babyboomers’ or ‘Lunch Money’. There’s a lot more than just a magnificent racket though as we journey through songs that sound like a translation of lucid kaleidoscopic dreams. An album that finally captures what makes Breakfast Muff such a vital live band.
i.e. crazy – Non Compos Mentis (Muzai Records)
When I interviewed i.e. crazy (Maggie Magee) she told me that she hated mediocrity and lukewarm effort. This is certainly a manner in which her music could never, ever be described. Exploring a kind of claustrophobic post-folk sound, Magee’s music is akin to bloodletting. This feels real, raw, and undiluted. Which is quite admirable in an era of cynicism and packaging.
The Afghan Whigs – In Spades (Sub Pop Records)
The return of Greg Dulli’s Afghan Whigs was one of the surprising pleasures of 2014. Their comeback album, Do to the Beast, was an unbridled joy full of sex and riffs. For me, it is the greatest Afghan Whigs record, a feat that should be impossible for a band heading into their 50’s. Follow up In Spades is nearly as accomplished. Sporting more ambitious arrangements and instrumentation, the album shows Dulli’s disdain for standing still. It’s also jam-packed with bangers. Result.
Good Good Blood – Songs From Where I Live (Fox Food Records)
I like to think that the band name Good Good Blood refers to the benefits and knowledge one can glean from suffering. For me, this seems apt for folk music that is drenched with melancholy and reflection. Songs From Where I Live should appeal to anyone who is from somewhere. I’m not being facetious. This is universal.
Vagabon – Infinite Worlds (Father/Daughter Records)
One could be forgiven for being enormously cynical and suggesting that indie rock singer/songwriter Vagabon (Laetitia Tamko) is only celebrated due to her rarity and novelty as an African/American woman operating in the indie rock scene. However, her ability to write tender but empowered music, combined with her unusual position in the scene, is what is her real appeal. Infinite Worlds is infinitely endearing.
Droughts – Stay Behind (Skeletal Lightning)
It was the ferocious blast beats of ‘Welcome Back’ that first drew me to post-hardcore outfit Droughts. Their willingness to throw slightly unusual styles and sounds together makes their debut record Stay Behind an engrossing and engaging force. Combined with this are the unabashed and vulnerable vocals/lyrics of Joseph Klomes. A winner.
Vasudeva – No Clearance (Skeletal Lightning)
Ostensibly, New Jersey’s Vasudeva are an instrumental rock band. What makes their shtik special is their employment of a most hopeful and uplifting tone that neatly grabs the band out of melancholy and into optimism. No Clearance is warm, lush, and beautifully constructed like a fastidiously constructed play that retains its emotional heft.
Idan Altman – Expiration Date
In the 00s much music began to take on a more expansive and untraditional exploration in the form of groups like Mogwai, Sigur Ros, and ISIS. For me, the internet pretty much killed that. This is why it is heartening to hear a musician aiming to explore in a traditionally concise and accessible form. Idan Altman’s expansive and warm take on folk is breathtaking. Listen. Tell him Overblown sent you.
Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
The story of A Crow Looked At Me by Mount Eerie (singer/songwriter Phil Elverum) could be the plot of a novel. The album was released in the wake of the passing of Elverum’s wife, Geneviève Castrée, and operates as a document and means of processing his pain and loss. The rawness of the performances and lyrics are dumbfounding and enrapturing in their simplicity and effectiveness.
Elder – Reflections of a Floating World (Stickman Records)
The thing about Boston stoner/prog trio Elder is that despite their expansive running times and meandering style, the song always comes first. This is not tomfoolery for the sake of experimentation. It is, in fact, a focused musical exploration that values the listener experience over all else. Beguiling and engrossing.
Couch Slut – Contempt (Gilead Media)
New York’s Couch Slut do two things I love. They meld the rawness of noise rock with the sheer aggression of metal. They also love to cause offence with their name, the cover for their previous album My Life As A Woman. These ones are as smart as University Challenge and as blunt as my buddy Joe.
Pulses. – bouquet.
I am still not sure if I even like the bizarre mixture of post-hardcore, screamo, emo and pop that Virgina’s pulses. pedal. Which is as good a reason as any for them to feature on this end of year list. Remember when rock bands weren’t afraid of huge chorsuses and, what for it, being actually memorable? Then these folks are for you.
MNHM – Of Empires Past
Let’s say for the sake of argument you grew up in the Netherlands and it was pretty boring. What should you do? Well, meld black metal, post-rock, shoegaze, and doom of course. MNHM (Mannheim) do this expertly on debut album Of Empires Past. Ferocious, heartfelt, and direct.
For Giants – Big Sky
Do you love the riffs of djent but find the overall experience a bit much for your ears? Then, New York’s For Giants are for you. Taking an instrumental and progressive approach to the tone and style of djent, the trio also bang in a fair share of post-rock, math rock, and even some 80’s/Top Gun style guitar solos. Riveting.
Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough (Double Whammy Whammy Records)
Slacker alt-rockers Great Grandpa are not afraid of chunky fuzzy riffs, big choruses, and bag loads of emotion. This makes them instantly endearing. However, that would all be for nought if they did not also possess a knack for both melancholia and melody. Seriously, if this was 1994, they’d be enormous.
Pile – A Hairshirt of Purpose (Exploding in Sound Records)
For the sixth (?) album, Boston noise rock/post-hardcore quartet rein it in a bit. A little less angular and angry, A Hairshirt of Purpose instead focuses on reflective emotion and melody. Having said that, Rick Maguire’s off-kilter vocal delivery and lyricism are constantly present. One for whiskey and late nights.
Lankum – Between The Earth & Sky
Despite altering their name from the somewhat questionable Lynched to the much less problematic Lankum, the Irish trad quartet retain their visceral and enchanting intensity on second album Between The Earth & Sky. For me, the group’s success is that at a time when folk and trad has been co=opted by some rather dodgy musicians, their faithful and earnest approach is unconcerned with immediacy and far more concerned with truth. Essential.
Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (ANTI-)
For some reason, I always associate alt-rock duo Japandroids with Cloud Nothings. Like their Ohio contemporaries, Japandroids continue to clean up their lo-fi sound. Luckily, they are also adept songwriters and so, even without the fuzz to hide behind, the songs continue to arrest the listener with honesty and catharsis.
Converge – The Dusk In Us (Epitaph Records)
It is album number nine for post-hardcore pioneers Converge. At this stage, you could forgive them for phoning it in and touring the hits. Fat chance. The Dusk In Us is a powerful and enigmatic effort that sees the quartet continue to throw all kinds into the creative bucket to create an entity that is uniquely Converge.
And So I Watch You From Afar – The Endless Shimmering (Sargent House)
Pioneers of the modern flux of upbeat and soaring instrumental rock bands, Belfast’s And So I Watch You From Afar celebrate 12 years on the go with The Endless Shimmering. A collection of eyes closed, fist in the air bangers, the set proves that the outfit have nothing to prove.
Ex Eye – Ex Eye (Relapse Records)
Relapse Records can always be relied on to find something that really stretching the boundaries of convention. Ex Eye are one such discovery. Straddling all kinds of genres from post-metal, jazz, prog, and black metal, the thing that really defines them for me is their ultimate rawness. It imbues their experimentation with a liveliness, energy, and urgency that is close to divine.
Diet Cig – Swear I’m Good At This (Frenchkiss Records)
Despite the cacophony of praise for their EPs and singles, the debut album from indie pop/pop punk duo Diet Cig kind of went under the radar. Which is a surprise as it is brimming with melody, direct and earnest lyrics, and the kind of reckless abandon that is far to rare these days. A triumph.
Glassjaw – Material Control (Century Media)
It’s been fifteen years since post-hardcore buckos Glassjaw graced us with an album proper. The pair of EPs (Our Color Green and Coloring Book) released in 2011 proved they still possessed the requisite heft and bang to pull off their rather involved and frantic signature sound. Material Control seems them marry a Deftones-esque sound with their original ouevre. It’s a success.
Percolator – Sestra (Penske Recordings)
So after about ten bloody years of being together, Irish alternative/noise/shoegaze outfit Percolator finally put out their debut album Sestra. Definitely worth the wait, the album is a perfect example of how to distill your expansive and exploratory live show into a more digestible and immediate album. Not one second is wasted.
H.Grimace – Self Architect (Opposite Number)
This is a record that seems to carry a certain weight, a burden which needs to be shaken off through dark post punk guitars and bass lines. It’s intense and urgent, direct and engaging and delivered with no shortage of courage. Short and intense for the most part but it does stretch its own boundaries with the wonderful ‘Royal Hush’ as its last hurrah. It’s been a year of great debut albums, H. Grimace cement themselves firmly in that category.
Pinact – The Part That No One Knows (Kanine)
We can only assume that the flowers that adorn the album cover of Pinact’s The Part That No One Knows are withered because there simply isn’t any more life to give after listening to this record. It explodes with punk rock energy and enthusiasm. The formula may be nothing new but there’s been so many sub-par bands doting on 90s grunge / punk over the years that it’s thrilling to hear Pinact get it exactly right. Hooks, crunching guitars and Corrie’s incredible voice, it’s easy to love and impossible to forget.
Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights (Matador)
One of the best success stories in music in recent times is the place this incredible talent has found in so many hearts and minds. This follow up to Sprained Ankle is remarkable in its ability to rip your insides to shreds using beauty and delicacy. In Gold Flake Paint’s words Julien Baker has a voice that sucks the air out of a room. Combine that with such exquisite songwriting and the result is close to perfect. This is a massively affecting, poignant record that’s impossible to ignore.
The National – Sleep Well Beast (4AD)
It’s hard to comprehend how a band can continue to drop releases of such consistent quality. Sleep Well Beast crawls into life with the brooding ‘Nobody Else Will Be There’ and drags us through a wonderful journey of pianos, guitars, weird sound effects and of course the painfully addictive voice of Matt Berninger who whispers, mumbles and yells his way through this record with an outstanding performance. “I’m gonna keep you in love with me, for a while” he croons on ‘Dark Side of the Gym’, and he’s right, it’ll be a very long while.
Monster Treasure – II (Leisure and District)
From the second album opener ‘Searchers’ rips into life there’s no room to relax for the next half hour and if distortion and volume is your thing then why would you want to? II feels like an unstoppable splurge of 90s alt-rock energy layered with infectious vocal harmonies that float above the cacophony of the band. Take the lyric “I don’t like being fucked with, I hope that you get herpes” and imagine the kind of revengeful noise you’d want to sing that over and you’ve cracked it. Fast, heavy and exhilarating.
Slowdive – Slowdive
In a year that saw bucketloads of comeback albums, arguably nobody picked up where they left off better than shoegaze pioneers Slowdive. Vocally a little different to their previous work in parts, it’s fresh, vibrant and meticulous effort that rivals anything from their Souvlaki and Just A Day heyday.
The Drums – Abysmal Thoughts
It’s a real skill to write music that’s insanely catchy, but has enough edge and depth not to be cheesy. The Drums manage it every time for me, even if this latest album is more or less a Jonny Pierce solo project. The bass is pretty much always the lead instrument, the lyrics are dark and biting, and Pierce’s delivery, as ever, is touchingly sincere.
Slotface – Try Not to Freak Out
A wonderful concoction of Nordic youth, wrath and fun. Take any song you like off it and throw yourself about like an idiot, but I really like the slowed-down, grungy duet of ‘Slumber’. It seems like the album closer even though it isn’t, with ‘Backyard’ almost acting as an encore.
If you’ve ever got half an hour to spare, just stick this on!
Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley
The decline of the Welsh coal industry comes under the art-rocky microscope of Public Service Broadcasting, who even recorded it in the mining town of Ebbw Vale for added authenticity.
With a helping hand from the likes of James Dean Bradfield and Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell, it’s musically their best album to date on a topic that really shouldn’t still be relevant, but is.
Airiel – Molten Young Lovers
As great as the shoegaze revival is, it’s not a genre that offers a great variety from one band to the next. Airiel’s second album (10 years after their debut) doesn’t exactly change that, but it’s hard not to lose yourself in the guitar swirl, and the vocals – which oddly make me think of Britpop bands like Shed Seven and the Longpigs – are interesting and different enough to help this one stand out.