Here is my “deluxe” review list for 2017 – 20 great albums paired with 17 EPs you shouldn’t overlook. This year, we saw strong releases from veteran acts and new groups alike, and they certainly weren’t confined to one genre. Hopefully you can find a new artist through the list below – and please let me know your opinions in the comments!
*Denotes IVM Artist
1.*’68 – Two Parts Viper
This abrasive return to form by one of our generation’s most iconic rock duos manages to top their previous release, with a succulent mix of rock, grunge, hardcore, funk, and plenty of passion.
2.*Cool Hand Luke – Cora
Cora is the album we never thought we’d get, and it makes me optimistic we’ll get additional Cool Hand Luke music in the future. It’s decidedly different from earlier releases, largely due to the writing process, and it showcases more electronic and dance elements for an experience that’s anything but stale.
3.*Beautiful Eulogy – Worthy
Although I noted I was ambivalent toward Beautiful Eulogy’s latest offering as a whole, I cannot stress how good tracks like “Messiah”, “Doxology”, and “Mosaic” are. It’s theologically-dense, passionate, and diverse in its instrumental foundation.
4.*Little Image – Musings
Little Image’s debut caught my attention a while back. Unfortunately, it was a bit cliché in some sense. Musings is a much, much more mature release, mixing element of emo, ambient, and From Indian Lakes-esque segments for an emotional experience. Take, for instance, “Fly a Kite” – a cover of a Mary Poppins song. It’s an explosive track that showcases many of the band’s defining features. Lastly, the drumming on the album is truly top notch.
5.Echoes – Cornerstone
Echoes’ debut album, The Pursuit, was a long-awaited release after hearing one of their singles. Cornerstone continues the trend of ambient guitars and dynamic crescendos, this time relying more on clean vocals. It’s an incredibly-diverse progressive album that instantly became one of my favorites for the year.
6.New Language – Come Alive
New Language burst onto the scene after Kiven went on hiatus, continuing on with incredible vocals and powerful guitar lines but opting for a heavier approach. With that said, New Language certainly has a pop sensibility – the album is strewn with catchy choruses and the guitar lines are neither metalcore nor radio rock; they’re appropriately intricate without ever being unnecessarily busy. The lyrics certainly don’t take a back seat, either – listeners will be met will provoking verses and calls-to-action that at times seem political, though are not partisan in nature. Pair all of this with the band’s branding (primarily, videos featuring a skeleton named Richard), and you’ve got one of the hottest new rock acts of 2017.
7.Alazka – Phoenix
Alazka (formerly Burning Down Alaska) has presented listeners with a provocative debut that, despite being somewhat in line with similar acts, showcases a powerful blend of post-hardcore riffs, clean vocals that aren’t needlessly-high, and great production wrapping it all together. Admittedly, it has been a while since I’ve enjoyed an album like this – but Alazka manages to distinguish themselves amid their stale counterparts.
8.pulses. – bouquet.
Pulses. is a fun post-hardcore band from the northeast that draws influence from Dance Gavin Dance. The first track will give you a great taste for what the group has to offer – progressive riffs, lyrics that don’t take themselves too seriously, and scattered rap segments make “Bouquet.” enjoyable largely due to its ability to integrate otherwise-contradictory elements.
9.Father Mountain – Apartment Living
“Apartment Living” is first full-length release from Kentucky emo group Father Mountain. It’s a nice blend of punk, alternative, and indie influences that leans more toward the accessible end as opposed to heavy experimentation. Nonetheless, it’s a fun release that is decidedly mature for a debut album.
10.Tiny Deaths – Elegies
“Elegies” is adorned in a beautiful, though at times somber, ambiance. Soothing female vocals pair with strong production for an album that truly stands out against other contenders.
11.*Stemson – Weird World
Stemson has been quiet for several years after the release of “Deleo Creo”, which was written in 30 days as part of a challenge. While it showed promise, “Weird World” shows exactly what Stemson is capable with less time pressure. Its 13 tracks are a strange amalgamation of nerdcore, rock, piano ballads, 80s, and experimental electronic. Lyrics are just as varied, ranging from spiritual and serious to comedic and fun.
12.*Kings Kaleidoscope – The Beauty Between
I’ve always been a bit indifferent toward Kings Kaleidoscope. Needless to say, their latest offering certainly left me impressed. “The Beauty Between” features numerous guest appearances by Christian hip-hop legends like Andy Mineo and Propaganda and manages to meld the classic Kings Kaleidoscope sound into some pretty great beats.
13.*Sink In – Ordinary People, Extraordinary Things
It’s been a while since I really got into a pop punk album. Thankfully, Sink In is no ordinary pop punk act (no pun intended). The tracks are often groove-driven, with a heavy focus on rhythmic progression that truly sets the group apart. It’s a fun album that is also fairly diverse – whether it’s working with a producer, including a piano-based track, or simply throwing in a fun riff, Sink In proves they’re capable of crafting great songs.
14.Hodera – First Things First
Hodera is one of an increasing number of math-rock-influenced emo bands and their sophomore release picks up nicely where their debut left off. “First Things First” is shamelessly transparent and raw, ripe with emotions most bands would prefer to bury rather than address openly. With that said, the album isn’t all “doom and gloom” – there are plenty of upbeat, almost pop-punk, moments sprinkled in and the choruses are bound to get stuck in your head.
15.*Hotel Books – Equivalency
Although I put off listening to Hotel Books for a few years, “Equivalency” managed to get my attention pretty quickly. It wouldn’t be a stretch to claim this is Cam Smith’s most ambitious collection of songs to date, with a greater focus on sung vocals, a wider variety in stylistic influences, and the undeniable passion that has always been characteristic of Hotel Books’ discography.
16.Novo Amor/Ed Tullet – Heiress
This duo’s collaboration album has been years in the making, but that time certainly hasn’t been wasted. Tullet’s falsetto lingers over the album’s eleven ethereal tracks. “Heiress” is not instrumentally-busy, nor is it too formless to be enjoyable. It’s a minimalist folk album that is okay with sitting in the background but also doesn’t mind your full attention.
17.Dead Leaves – Vultures
Even though I’m not usually a fan of emo, at this point in my list I’ve definitely noticed several strong albums representing the genre. Dead Leaves’ “Vultures” sits at the intersection of accessible and intelligent; Hopeless Dweller is a personal favorite of mine that showcases the band’s honest, down-to-earth lyrics.
18.Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
Julien Baker’s sophomore album serves to remind us that sometimes less truly is more. Baker’s minimalist approach to instrumentation is again front and center, though it ultimately serves as a backdrop to poetic lamentations of life, love, and loss. Others may disagree, but I definitely feel she managed to top “Sprained Ankle” with this release.
19.Flagship – The Electric Man
I’ve really grown to enjoy 80s-influenced feel-good bands. Flagship is a prime example, with their 2017 release “The Electric Man” with blends elements of alt-rock, surf pop, and hazy dance floor vibes. Nostalgia blankets the tracks, though Flagship certainly is not eclipsed by their predecessors and has crafted a sound that walks the line between modern and classic.
20.Lions and Acrobats – Mundane
Lions and Acrobats’ sophomore release may tackle the concepts of the mundane, but the music content is anything but. There’s a nice foundation of indie, hints of progressive rock, and a great balance in instrumentation and vocals.
1.Overslept – That’s Not Very Punk Rock of You
Denver’s Overslept continues to impress with their latest EP. Though it deviates from the electric, full-band sound showcased on “I’ve Been Keeping to Myself” (save for the last track), there’s still a lot to enjoy here. The vocals are great as always; lyrics certainly aren’t lacking either. It’s a good chance to see a stripped-down version of what Overslept has to offer.
2.*American Arson – Waymaker
While the Detroit duo still hasn’t granted our wishes by releasing a proper full-length, Waymaker is the longest release to date and serves as a culmination of their past three EPs – both instrumentally and lyrically. This was one of my favorite releases to review due to the narrative nature of the songs and reference to previous tracks. There’s a good mix of knock-’em-dead punk songs and melodic, post-hardcore tracks.
3.*Least of These – Wolves
Like several other bands this year, Least of These manages to blow their previous work out of the water with incredible growth. The EP is heavier, more technical, and all around more interesting than their previous releases. Whether it’s layered vocal parts or even the use of a bell tree, it’s a great listening experience. Add in a consistent narrative across songs which builds upon lyrical references and musical passages as the EP progresses and it’s truly a stand-out collection of songs.
4.Stolen Jars – Glint
Stolen Jars is a math-rock/chamber pop group that features male/female vocals, strong percussion, and an incredible artistic vision. Each song on “Glint” is accompanied by a video, each the labor of a separate director. This small collection of songs is instantly-memorable, with an equal amount of technicality and radio-friendliness.
5.*The Oh Hellos – Notos
This eclectic EP snuck in toward the end of the year but made surfaced just in time to make my list. It’s an accessible blend of indie-folk and chamber pop for an experience that’s truly artful.
6.Evinair – Never Was
Fans of Copeland will feel at home listening to Evinair’s lastest EP, “Never Was”. Airy vocals float over piano-driven indie for a sound that draws influence from the likes of Polyenso and Rare Futures. Basically, it’s an artful EP that positions the group against some pretty big acts.
7.New Language – Everybody Screams
As if releasing a full-length shortly after their debut wasn’t enough, New Language returned in the fall to release the four-song EP, “Everybody Screams”. It’s again a testament to their songwriting prowess – I would argue that this is their best material yet. Comparisons range from Foo Fighters to Bloc Party to ’68. All that said, it’s heavy yet catchy all the same.
8.Yellowbirddd – You’re Already in Paradise
Yellowbirddd’s release is appropriately-titled. Paired with vibrant artwork, the music presents listeners with sultry summer vibes. Lyrics are suitably poetic, making “You’re Already in Paradise” worthy of attention.
9.Hi-Lo Jack – Old New Clothes
Hi-Lo Jack is an art rap collaboration featuring the aforementioned Stolen Jars, the soulful stylings of Lawrence, and the vigor and lyrical strength of DAP the Contract. If you’re wondering what rap mixed with brass and groovy guitars might sound like, look no further.
10.Hakanai – Hakanai
This brief set of songs is a promising selection of math-rock and chamber pop, paired with angsty vocals and poetic lyrics.
11.Acres – Smoke and Decay
Acres is a staple in the European melodic hardcore scene. Their releases continue to showcase a refined sound that in many ways has deviated from where they started. This EP is a perfect place for new listeners to get started as the band has new material on the way.
12.Cold Reading – Sojourner
Cold Reading’s 2017 EP “Sojourner” borrows heavily from post-hardcore-influenced indie acts; riffs are carefully constructed, vocals are passionate without being too aggressive, and the sound is very balanced. “Sojourner” is a great melodic rock release that is perfect for fans of classic Moving Mountains.
13.*Cold Comfort – Year of the Crow
Cold Comfort’s latest release is four tracks of shamelessly-libertarian rap-rock a la Rage Against the Machine. The sound is classic, the lyrics are impressive, and the band’s growth in songwriting is truly promising.
14.The Outdoor Type – Perspectives
Australian indie-folk project The Outdoor Type has returned in full form with the “Perspectives” EP. It’s hazy at times, nostalgic to the point of pain, and incredibly well-crafted. It’s a great introduction for new listeners.
15.Envy on the Coast – Ritual
I’ll be honest – I never was too invested in the first incarnation of Envy on the Coast. However, “Ritual” instantly vied for my attention. If I had to sum up the sound in one word, it would be “attitude”. Gritty guitars and vocal inflection create an atmosphere that is sludgy. The EP isn’t heavy in a traditional sense, but it certainly has a defiant presence.
16.*Mark Mathis – The Brightening
This indie-folk EP definitely flew under the radar in terms of press, save for a Spotify suggestion regarding new releases. Nonetheless, “The Brightening” is a solid set of songs and Mathis manages to incorporate elements of worship artfully in a way only few artists could.
17.Glacier Veins – Dreamspace
It’s rare to find female-fronted rock acts who truly offer a unique flair. Thankfully, “Dreamspace” is a pretty unique release, with tinges of shoegaze mixed into a casserole of punk, indie, and progressive rock.