Triple Crown Records has been putting out some of the scene’s most essential records for twenty years now, so it makes sense that their anniversary show ended up being one of the best shows I’ve seen this year. The four-band show had a mix of styles that spoke to the variance in sound the label has always had; a fan of almost any kind of music could’ve found a set to like. I ran through some of my favorites below.
The top two bestselling albums in country music this year are both by the same guy. Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 1 (released back in May) and Traveller (released all the way back in May 2015) are unstoppable juggernauts despite the fact that neither ever notched a major radio hit. Depending on just how strong the Stapleton support is throughout the holiday season, there’s an outside chance he could own the entire top three for 2017, thanks to the fact that he just released his second album of the year: From A Room: Volume 2.
A cynical person would see Stapleton’s decision to release two albums in the same year as a shameless ploy to sell more records. There probably is something of a calculated approach there, given that Stapleton 1) still sells albums at all, and 2) thrives on full-length statements rather than singles. What’s probably truer, though, is that Stapleton just cut a lot of quality material while in the studio with producer extraordinaire Dave Cobb, and wanted to put it all out there for his fans to enjoy.
While he’s been coy about the exact details, Bono apparently almost died in 2017.
In general, it’s been a rough few years for the frontman of the world’s biggest rock band. The backlash against U2’s last record, 2014’s Songs of Innocence, was perhaps fiercer than for any other album released this decade (though the hate was more for the gung-ho iTunes release strategy than for the actual music). Then, a few months later, Bono crashed his bike, fractured his face, and shattered his arm. The injury, he later said, may have put a permanent end to his guitar playing days.
Still, neither Bono nor U2 have slowed down much. If anything, they sped up. This year, the band zipped around the globe playing The Joshua Tree for its 30th anniversary. Even at a relatively brief (by U2 standards) 51 dates, the tour grossed $316 million—enough to be the year’s highest grossing concert tour. Meanwhile, U2 have spent months tinkering with Songs of Experience, the sequel to their maligned 2014 album, which was supposed to come out a year ago. Even with the 12-month delay, Songs of Experience still arrives just three years and two months after its predecessor—the band’s briefest album-to-album gap since the early 1990s.
“Rap is the new rock n’ roll,” Kanye West declared in a passionate 2013 interview with Zane Lowe, and whether you like it or not, he’s right. Any passing glance at how Top 40 has change over the past 35 years will confirm mainstream radio’s transition into pop and hip-hop. Even major rock releases this year from genre mainstays like Foo Fighters and Weezer were quickly set aside in favor of the stronger, more youthful voices of artists like Open Mike Eagle and Big K.R.I.T.
Ultimately, this leads us to a larger conversation centered around age, privilege and politics, but short of (re)writing a thesis about the importance of hip-hop in 2017, I offer you this: rock music, as a general genre tag, is dead in the water. Where it continues to thrive, however, is in niche markets – select corners of internet forums like this one and on DIY airwaves, where new bands attempting to revive everything from dream-pop to post-punk are offered equal opportunities to share their vintage visions. One such place is DKFM, an L.A.-based radio station operated by shoegaze blog When The Sun Hits, where cuts from Kindling’s massive new album, Hush, have become regular rotation.
There’s a moment on “Sour Breath,” one of the many highlights on Julien Baker’s second album Turn Out The Lights, where the strings swell, the guitar strums pick up, and Baker’s vocals slowly build until the floor drop outs from under us and her voice breaks through the silence – “The harder I swim, the faster I sink.” It’s a jaw-dropping moment in an album that’s full of them. And stringing those moments together are cathartic confessions throughout Turn Out The Lights – an once-in-a-lifetime album that’ll leave you speechless.
Turn Out The Lights – once again self-produced by Baker – possesses a richer, fuller sound than 2015’s Sprained Ankle while still maintaining its intimate, minimal appeal. The imagery on the album is stunning and the album’s eleven tracks continues to accurately paint a picture of living with depression while struggling with the idea that she’s been rejected by romantic partners, close friends, God, and even herself. Songs like the title track, “Happy To Be Here,” and “Hurt Less” depict those thoughts perfectly.
The album’s title track is a deconstruction of what it can feel like to live with depression. “There’s a hole in the drywall still not fixed. I just haven’t gotten around to it. And besides I’m starting to get used to the gap” is an incredibly accurate look at existing with functional depression while the lyrics “So you wish you could find some way to help. Don’t be so hard on myself. So why is it easy for everyone else?” recalls the outside world’s infuriating interpretation of it. And it’s the song’s haunting conclusion that acknowledges the album’s overall battle, as Baker reveals, “When I turn out the lights there’s no one left between myself and me.”
There are certain albums that represent milestones in people’s musical development. Ones that trigger a rush of nostalgia more powerful than just the simple recollection of a memory. There are a couple that I can think of off the top of my head that bring me back to a time and a place, but none more powerfully than Motion City Soundtrack’s 2007 LP, Even if it Kills Me. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan of the band before this. I was just starting to develop my own taste in music. I wasn’t quite over my Metallica phase and not quite ready to throw myself headfirst into any of the scenes I eventually would in High School. I was in sixth grade, I had yet to get my first guitar, and the two bands dominating my SanDisk MP3 player were Green Day and Fall Out Boy.
Based on those two bands alone, you can assume that my music listening was still largely radio-based. It was before my friends and I would regularly swap CD’s and the idea of being able to share playlists with each other over the internet was too far in the future to even be a thought. It really was a surprise to stumble upon a band I had never heard about, making music I fell head-over-heels for.
Over the span of nearly 25 years, Weezer have come to be known for a lot of things – frontman Rivers Cuomo’s absurdist lyrics, the goofy Beach Boy persona that seems to contradict his well-documented reclusiveness, a series of self-titled albums known by their respective color palettes – but staying in one place for long has never been one of those things. And so it is unsurprising following the relative critical success of 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End and 2016’s Weezer (White Album) that Pacific Daydream is an inconsistent album by a band whose entire career could be defined by the very same word.
If Pacific Daydream doesn’t sound like the album fans expected, it’s likely because it wasn’t the album the band originally intended to deliver. Fans of Weezer (White Album) rejoiced when Cuomo spoke of a darker, more experimental follow-up, naturally titled Weezer (Black Album). But that same praise seemed to push the band in another direction as he soon began curating a different project. Pacific Daydream is still dark and, at times, experimental, but only in the sense that it occasionally sheds the quirks Weezer have become known for in favor of generic indie-pop largely targeting the same college radio stations inhabited by bands like Twenty One Pilots and Fitz and the Tantrums.
This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on October 20th, 2017. First impressions are meant to be quick, fun, initial impressions on an album or release as I listen to it for the first time. It’s a running commentary written while listening to an album — not a review. More like a diary of thoughts. This post has been lightly edited for structure and flow.
It’s been too long since I’ve done one of these.
It’s been a while since there’s been a really hyped album coming out that felt right for something like this. But, this Julien Baker album seems just about perfect as we move into fall. Her last album, Sprained Ankle, is one of my favorite fall albums and it’s only a matter of time until this one cements itself in my cold weather rotation as well. In many ways it takes what the first album did and expands upon it in every way. It reminds me a little bit of how Manchester Orchestra took ILAVLAC and enhanced a variety of different aspects of that sound, and their songwriting, to take it up another level for METN. That’s the feeling I get from this album. It takes Julien’s songwriting to a new level, maintains the “it” factor that solidifies her as one of the most exciting and talented voices in music right now, and puts her in rarified air. It’s the kind of album I could see us talking about for years.
In a year that’s been filled with so many new albums, it’s hard to pick out the ones that I think will live a life longer than just this year. The ones that we will return to, talk about, and obsess over for years to come. What are the next classics? The next great albums? The ones all of us remember as the year it came out? I’ve heard a few this year that I think are in contention, albums that have knocked me on my ass, brought a huge smile to my face, and left me speechless … and then “Claws in Your Back” finished and I looked down at the hair standing straight up on my arm. Jesus. That’s new.
There’s very little solace to be found in Mineral Girls’ This Is the Last Time Every Time. The world the characters inhabit is an indifferent – if not outright cruel – one to be certain, but most of the anguish on display here comes from inside. “I’m not trying to get any better / I’m just trying to make it look like I am,” becomes something of a mantra for the record.
This Is the Last Time Every Time is an appropriate title for an album as concerned as this one is with trying to change. The title of the opener (from which comes the above lyric) is “Let’s Talk About Us,” after all. And the song is just as cathartic as it sounds. See, for all the intensity behind the lyrics, the band behind them matches it pound for pound. For the most part, they’ve ditched the fuzz from Cozy Body in favor of a rougher, more straightforward emo sound. “The Bruise on We” begins with a Mineral-style riff, building and building to a post-hardcore climax, complete with harsh shrieks. It’s the only moment like it on the album, but it feels totally necessary. Elsewhere, like the title track, the band introduces electronics into their sound.
When Travis Meadows sings about hitting rock bottom, you can tell he’s been there. There’s a rawness and pain in his voice that tells you he’s not just playing a character or weaving a narrative. His songs ache with the scars of a hard life. As a child, Meadows’ younger brother drowned, his parents got divorced, and he ended up the odd man out between a mother and a father who started new families and moved on without him. At 14, he was diagnosed with cancer. He survived the disease, but lost his right leg in the battle. Eventually, he turned to alcohol as a crutch. He was already writing songs, and already had a publishing deal in Nashville, but he was such a mess that no one would agree to write with him. It took four trips to rehab before he could make sobriety stick.
Meadows has been off the bottle since 2010. In the interim, songs he’s written have been cut by Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, and Jake Owen—three of the biggest male stars in country music right now. His songs, though, remain haunted by his past. In a recent profile for Uproxx.com, Meadows said that he uses songwriting to admit the secrets about himself that he’s too scared to say out loud. That honesty radiates through First Cigarette, Meadows’ second full-length album and the most starkly intimate LP that anyone has made this year.
I’m not sure I have ever anticipated a new album with quite the furor that I anticipated Jimmy Eat World’s Chase This Light in the fall of 2007. Futures had been a game-changer for me, the album that transformed me from a budding music listener into a voracious, lifelong die-hard. As often happens when you’re young, the three years that stretched between the October 19, 2004 release of Futures and the October 16, 2007 release of Chase This Light seemed to last an eternity. (I was 13 when the former came out and 16 for the arrival of the latter.) The wait was eased a bit by the 2005 release of the Stay on My Side Tonight EP, but the dark, moody nature of those songs only made me want a full-length. An album packed of songs like “Disintegration” and “Closer”? Count me in.
Chase This Light was decidedly not that record. Futures gave the band two basic paths forward. The first was to embrace the moody, late night autumnal vibe that manifested on songs like “Polaris” and “23.” That path evidently led to Stay on My Side Tonight, which was made up of songs the band had written for Futures but hadn’t finished or put on the record. The second possible path was for Jimmy Eat World to keep following their arc as a glossy studio band. They’d made Futures with Gil Norton, a well-respected rock producer known for making big, robust rock albums. Futures sounded appropriately huge, and there was some feeling—particularly in radio singles like “Pain” and “Work”—that Jimmy Eat World could be a massive radio rock band for the new millennium if they wanted to be. They could prove that “The Middle” wasn’t just a fluke hit.
By all accounts, Circa Survive shouldn’t be here. The band’s frontman, Anthony Green, sometimes can’t even believe that the band has survived all the demons and turmoil over the course of their career. But Green and his bandmates have continually persevered through it all, alive and thriving with their sixth full-length album (and Hopeless Records debut) The Amulet, the band’s darkest and most personal piece of art yet.
The hazy opener, “Lustration,” begins with Green’s familiar croon before erupting into an unshakeable groove provided by drummer Steve Clifford. It’s a warning of sorts (“Beneath your finger nails/they’ll find small pieces of stone/you’ll face the sun/cut with the pressure point”) mixed in with Green’s desperate pleas (“I don’t want to be the anchor on your chest“ and “I don’t want to see the moment you forget”). Elsewhere, the album’s ominous vibe penetrates on tracks like “Premonition Of The Hex” and “At Night It Gets Worse,” with the latter being a career highlight. Its glacial pace slowly picks up as the implied dread increases, leaving the listener feeling uneasy. We also get some of Will Yip’s best production work ever – the thrilling guitar riff that kicks off “Stay” is incredibly crisp and Nick Beard’s bass work across the record (especially on the Juturna-esque “Tunnel Vision” ) is thoroughly killer, providing the backbone to the vast majority of The Amulet. Colin Frangicetto and Brendan Ekstrom’s dueling guitar acrobatics are a pleasure as well – “Never Tell A Soul” never lets up the pace as Green tears through the chorus.
Sammi Lanzetta is undoubtedly a new, and welcome face in the rock scene. Her first song showed up on Bandcamp in May of 2016. “House Plants” instantly shows off what kind of artist she is, with a sound best described as “anxiety rock.” On her new EP, For Avery, we get a better exploration of this sound. The EP consists of four songs none run over two and a half minutes. Lanzetta gets right to the point and that gives the EP has a great flow.
“Circles” pulls no punches with its biting opening line: “Why are you such a misogynist? I would rather slit my throat than be stuck in a house with you.” Now, if that doesn’t tell you exactly what you’re diving into with For Avery, then I don’t know what would. While the lyrics bare it all, the music is painfully real as well. She sings about her fears, anxiety, and many more emotions in the relatively short amount of time of just four songs. “Anxiety Olympics” is completely upfront about being around other people her age and how she may pale in comparison. She wants to be better, but also doesn’t want it to feel like a competition. That just might be something we can all relate to, even for those of us who are competitive.
The connection found amongst shared interests within pop culture can be the catalyst for some of the strongest bonds in life. A terrible day capped off by the most mundane social event, spent staring at carpets with a drink in hand, can be altered by the moment another human mentions a band you love or nonchalantly slips a quote from your favorite sitcom into conversation; ears prick up from across the room, time stops for a second, a small spark and a “me too” moment occurs. In January of this year, 23-year-old Phoebe Bridgers released “Smoke Signals,” and it managed to hone in on that precise feeling. Packed with references to Bowie, Lemmy, Thoreau’s Walden, The Smiths, and a guitar line that emulates the Twin Peaks theme, the song encapsulates the warm-glow of discovering a connection via a first conversation with someone. It’s a masterclass in introspection and nostalgia that transcends boundaries in a way that it could soundtrack any one of our very own memory trips.
It’s this intimate, conversational approach of Bridgers that makes her debut album Stranger In The Alps a gut-punch of a triumph. The sheer candor and familiarity as foundations are rare to find but the listener has a goldmine here, resulting in one of the most rewarding and affecting records of the year.
Tom Petty is the sound of summertime. “American Girl.” “Learning to Fly.” “Wildflowers.” “Free Fallin’.” Losing him is like losing summer, forever.
That was one of the first thoughts I tweeted out yesterday afternoon, following the deluge of bad news about Petty. It was already a hard day. Between waking up to news of the Las Vegas tragedy and spending the entire day thinking about my grandfather, who passed away on October 2, 2014, it was a lot to handle. Losing Petty out of nowhere, less than two weeks after he wrapped another summer-conquering tour, felt like the devil playing a trick. When news broke that Petty was not in fact dead and was “clinging to life,” I dared to hope that he might pull through—even as the sounds of Southern Accents and Into the Great Wide Open filled my living room.
Alas, those hopes were for naught. Last night, at 8:40 PST, Tom Petty passed on, surrounded by his family, friends, and bandmates.
You’d think that after 2016, we’d be used to losing legendary rock stars. After a year that took Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and a slew of others, we’d be a little more prepared to say goodbye to our heroes. That’s not the case. Losing Petty hurts especially for me, not just because I adored his art, but also because without him, so much of the music I love wouldn’t exist.
The Killers just can’t seem to catch a break.
You’d think that penning one of the most iconic, ubiquitous pop songs of the millennium would win you some points. Same with putting out a debut album that almost single-handedly prolonged the life of rock radio for an extra year or two. By all accounts, Brandon Flowers and company are nice guys who work hard, put on an exceptional live show, and have a better track record of radio singles than any other rock band this side of the Foo Fighters. But The Killers have never been cool. They certainly never earned the stamp of approval from critics, who took the “No Fun Police” stance against the singles from Hot Fuss and then vowed to bury the band when Brandon Flowers had the audacity to suggest that 2006’s Sam’s Town would be “one of the best albums in the last 20 years.” Most music writers expected The Killers to be a flash in the pan, and they were graciously willing to help the band reach their inevitable demise.
But a funny thing happened along the way: The Killers held on. As radio rock died, they kept writing hits. As the critical darling indie rock bands of the early 2000s slid toward mediocrity or obscurity or both, The Killers remained stubbornly present. Now, 13 years after Hot Fuss and five years after their last album, The Killers are back, and they are every bit as inescapable as they always have been. In the release week of September 22nd, which saw a massive deluge of new albums from acclaimed and up-and-coming artists, no one got as much press as The Killers.
In 2003, The Appleseed Cast released Two Conversations, the followup to their critically acclaimed two-disc Low Level Owl project. Fans were disappointed. Two Conversations was decidedly more commercial than Low Level Owl; the ambiance was replaced with melody and, it seemed to fans, the band traded ambition for accessibility. It’s true that Two Conversations shifted away from the unrepentant post-rock sound of the Low Level Owl CDs, but it’s also true that it’s an impressive album in its own right, even if it isn’t what was expected out of The Appleseed Cast. Most have come around to that by now.
I foresee something similar happening with Prawn’s new album, Run. 2014’s Kingfisher was unanimously praised on release by fans and critics alike. The record’s blending of emo and punk with post-rock made for an engrossing listen – one you can sing along to as well as brood to. Like Two Conversations, Run is a far more straightforward album than its predecessor. It’s more Into It. Over It. than Moving Mountains, let’s say – especially when the punk influence shines through on songs like “Empty Hands” and “Snake Oil Salesman.” The latter of which is a highlight on the record; Tony Clark shouting, “I know what you’ve been selling,” is one of the most fun moments in the band’s whole discography.
2017 has been a miraculous year for young talent in the country/roots music space. From Colter Wall to Tyler Childers to Lindsay Ell, a fair chunk of the best albums in those genres this year have been made by twenty-somethings. Add Christian Lopez to the list. At 22 years old, Lopez is just crossing the boundary between youth and adulthood. His brand-new sophomore record, Red Arrow, is all about making the journey.
A crisp collection of roots-pop songs, built on a foundation of catchy melodies and organic instrumentation, Red Arrow is as immediate a record as you’ll hear this year. That might be a surprise, given Lopez’s youth. Shouldn’t a guy who’s only been on the planet since 1995 still be learning the ropes of this whole album-making thing? Apparently not. While Lopez is young, he’s not inexperienced. He’s been touring tirelessly for the past few years, building a following largely on the back of hard work and strong word of mouth. And it also can’t hurt that he’s made his first two albums with two of the best and most respected producers working in roots music right now.
In 2014, Noah Gundersen released his first full-length album. The record in question, Ledges, was a masterclass in contemporary folk music, loaded with confessional lyrics, acoustic guitars, and fiddles. By all accounts, Gundersen seemed like a traditionalist.
In 2015, Gundersen quickly followed Ledges up with his sophomore LP, the spiritually fraught Carry the Ghost. It was still a folk album, but Noah was fleshing things out, adding fractious electric guitar and other elements of full band instrumentation into the mix. It was clearly the work of a young songwriter who was yearning to grow.
Between the fall of 2015 and the early winter of 2016, Gundersen did two tours in support of Carry the Ghost. The first was a full-band endeavor, presenting the songs on Ghost as they were meant to be heard. The second was a solo tour, where Gundersen played songs from both Ledges and Carry the Ghost on acoustic guitar, solo electric guitar, and piano. It was a stark, intimate presentation, and it showed off what made Gundersen so special: his vulnerable, fragile voice; his songs that could work well no matter how much he built them up or stripped them down; and his honest, forthright lyrics.
But something was wrong. Gundersen was having a crisis of faith—not the same crisis of religious faith he wrote about on Carry the Ghost, but a crisis of faith in his own art. When I saw Gundersen on the solo tour for Ghost, he was pointedly reserved. He bantered with the audience occasionally, but during the songs, his eyes were cast toward the floor or closed entirely. And at the end of the show, when a condescending moderator led a Q&A session and suggested that Gundersen was “so young” and “couldn’t have possibly experienced what he sang about in his songs,” Noah seemed at a loss for how to answer—at least politely. When the Q&A ended, Gundersen headed quickly for the stage door.
Brian Sella is a notoriously sweet guy. So sweet, in fact, that he doesn’t even correct me when I refer to his band’s new single as “Raindrops” rather than its correct title, “Raining.” When I ask him if he still gets nervous playing shows, he replies, “Oh, totally!” When I inform him that I’ve been doing interviews for three years now, but that I was still nervous to speak with him, he laughs.
“Oh, don’t worry about it! You’re a professional. That’s what you’ve gotta tell yourself.”
In the context of The Front Bottoms’ discography, Going Grey reflects Sella’s current “vibe,” a word he uses frequently in our conversation. As he’ll tell me, the band learned that an “anything goes” attitude in the studio can result in plenty of band and fan favorites. In this way, Going Grey is an expansion of the polished-yet-experimental sound of their 2015 powerhouse, Back on Top. It continues to analyze topics such as mortality, relationships and getting older – oftentimes within the same three-minute pop song.