2017 was, to be honest, a bit overwhelming. Not only in the sheer amount of news that never seemed to end, but in the amount of music that was dropped week after week. Trying to keep track of everything that was released seemed futile. If you did manage to listen to everything, there was always something else, someone you’ve never heard of, waiting for a listen as well. There were a lot of new musicians with new styles of music breaking onto the scenes, coupled with a growing number of old-timers releasing mediocre or boring records. Mediocracy and exceptionality seemed to be two themes in 2017. Here are my personal hits and misses of the year.
The National, Sleep Well Beast
This album wasn’t anything special at all, really; it was an exceptionally good record by an exceptionally good band. What makes it stand out, however, is comparing it to the rest of the industry. When alternative legends like Arcade Fire or The Shins release frankly boring pop albums, The National stuck with what they do best: brooding, soaring guitar and melancholy lyrics. I really loved this album listening to it the first time, and every time I’ve put it on since, I’ve loved it even more. The National hit a home run with this album, something that can’t be said for some other industry vets.
Walk the Moon, What If Nothing
Maybe it was me missing Walk The Moon, but this album got stuck in my head for
days. When I heard their first single, “One Foot,” I was cautiously optimistic. I always thought that Walk the Moon, much like Imagine Dragons or X Ambassadors, toed the line of pop and alternative pretty closely, and that sometimes resulted in some pretty boring music (remember “Shut Up and Dance”?) However, I didn’t find that in Walk the Moon’s new album. I replayed it three times the day it came out, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke of me enjoying it because it was new Walk the Moon. It wasn’t. “One Foot” was my anthem for the last few weeks of the semester, whereas “Tiger Teeth” seemed to replace “Anna Sun” as my “quintessential Walk the Moon song.” I sincerely hope more people listen to this album.
Nothing But Thieves, Broken Machine
New bands always have to be wary of the sophomore slump – if they release music
that sounds exactly the same as their first album, people won’t listen. But if they stray too far, no one will listen to that, either. It seems that Nothing But Thieves decided to stick with what they were good at and turn it up to 11, creating an album with trippy, layered guitar riffs; poignant and charged lyrics that tackled mental health, politics, and religion; and an incredible performance by the lead vocalist. A sleeper hit is “Particles,” which examines mental health in very raw and open way. It was an experience to listen to it. The whole album was an experience to listen to, and it may have taken some time for me to truly appreciate it, but I can’t deny that I loved the album.
Radiohead, OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017
Is this allowed? Can I argue that this album – which was nothing more than a
rerelease with some previous unreleased songs – was a hit? I’m going to. You can’t really argue that Radiohead isn’t good. They might not be your cup of tea, but you can’t deny that they excel at songwriting. You also can’t deny that OK Computer is one of the greatest albums of all time. I think this album deserves a spot on this list because if you didn’t know any better, you would think this album came out in 2017. The songwriting holds up, twenty years later. And the “new” songs (new in the sense that they’re actually released, not newly written material) are incredible. “I Promise,” “Man of War,” and “Lift” all held their weight against music released in this day and age. If anything, I think this album proved just how good Radiohead is, even twenty years after they’ve released one of the best albums of all time.
Harry Styles, Harry Styles
I was not expecting to like Harry Styles’ debut album. I’ll admit that I was a One
Direction fan back in grade school, but the music I had heard from the other members since their split (Hiatus? Whatever they’re doing, a bit lackluster.) I get it, they’re all pop stars, so it makes sense that popstars would release pop songs, right? I wasn’t expecting anything else from the tween heartthrob, except when I finally sat down and listened to his album. I was blown away. I’d argue that “Sign of the Times” is the song of 2017, because it really encapsulates what the music industry has gone through this year: what you see on the cover on the album is not what you should expect. Industry vets might disappoint, newcomers might surprise you, but if anything, don’t judge an album by its cover.
Miss: LCD Soundsystem, american dream
What is it with people thinking disco is a way to make an album good? The fact that people actually enjoyed this album is a bit astounding to me. Maybe it’s not my taste, but I thought this album was just bad. The only song I even enjoyed was their single “call the police,” and even that I got tired of it the tenth time I heard it on the radio. Their other single, “tonite” is just bad music. This band tried too hard to fit in with the 80s synth pop resurgence we’ve seen in the past few years, and it came out sounding like a record you find in your parent’s music collection that you can’t believe people actually listened to. Bottom line: it’s a no from me.
Arcade Fire, Everything Now
I’ll give Arcade Fire some credit: not everything on this album was total garbage. I still
love the two singles “Everything Now” and “Creature Comfort.” It’s not Arcade Fire at their best, but they are both undeniably good songs. I can’t say that for the rest of the album. I tried so hard to enjoy this album, I really did. I thought it was good the first time around. The second listen, however, revealed just how bad it really was. If you were hoping for some Suburbs or Reflektor era songwriting, you came to the wrong place with Everything Now. In the same vein as LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire seemed to think that disco was a good way to tackle that 80s synth pop craze. And, can I just be honest? It sounds like garbage. That album is a disgrace to the Arcade Fire discography. I’d like to pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Royal Blood, How Did We Get So Dark?
What makes me the saddest is that I loved this album when it was released. It came out around the same time of Lorde’s Melodrama and Radiohead’s re-release of OK Computer, so it should have been obvious how frankly boring this album was. I remember thinking to myself, after listening to it the second or third time, that it was a great album to put on for background music. Which would have been fine, if Royal Blood wasn’t a rock band. The fact of the matter is, after the second or third listen, all the songs sounded the same. I couldn’t name a song off that album. It was unoriginal, and relied on the same thing for every single song: loud guitars, screaming vocals, and something about a girl. Overall, this album aged pretty poorly for me, in the span of six months.
If this album had been released any other time than 2017, I’d argue that it would have been a hit. That being said, it was released in 2017, along with a volley of aging alternative artists struggling to stay relevant. I’ll say this: I don’t hate the album, rather the timing of its release. “Colors”, “Up All Night”, “Wow”, “Dear Life”, they’re all songs that I wouldn’t skip if they came up on shuffle, but, in the same vein, I won’t defend this album for being the greatest record Beck’s ever released (that obviously goes to Guero). I won’t deny that a tiny part of me has always wanted to see a mainstream pop Beck album, but in a year where Paramore, Weezer, and The Killers all put out pop records, this album failed to make an impact on me.
Father John Misty, Pure Comedy
Yet another album that I didn’t hate when it was first released. Father John Misty is an excellent songwriter, and his prose in this album was overwhelming at times. But there comes a point where music and politics reaches a limit, and that point is about halfway through this album. I get it, 2017 was a big year for politics. It seems almost ridiculous that anyone wouldn’t release a song that wasn’t a thinly veiled jab at their least favorite politicians. I won’t deny that I’ve enjoyed it. But, again, there comes a point when it’s just exhausting to hear your favorite musicians wax poetic about how corrupt our government is and how disillusioned society has become with technology. I listen to music to escape these realities, not embrace them. This album was perfect the first and second and even third time through, but as I listened to it more and more, the more tired I became hearing things I heard every morning listening to my daily news podcast. Political discourse in the form of albums just isn’t my cup of tea, I guess.
By: Catelyn Rees