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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

Music 2017: the winners, the losers and the underrated

Cristina Interiano | The Observer

The musical world is a vast and wacky place. We can't capture the whole thing in a 20-song list. That's why we created this potpourri of reflections to document some (but certainly not all) of the ups, downs and oversights that defined 2017 music.


The winners and losers

Scene talks about the peaks and valleys of the musical year.


Winner: Girls with guitars

By Mike Donovan, Scene Writer

The women of rock were sick of the patriarchy’s weird games, so they smashed the board to pieces and replaced it.

Sheer Mag’s “Need to Feel Your Love” wrote new rules for the stadium rock rage machine. Priests’ “Nothing Feels Natural” reinstated punk (real punk, the kind with teeth) for the modern era. Alvvays’ “Antisocialites” swept through our surrealist dreams. Vagabon teleported us to the “Infinite Worlds” where race, love, anger and the electric guitar form an immediate family. Waxahatchee shook us to consciousness and gave us a compass when we lost ourselves with “Out in the Storm.” And Charly Bliss’ “Scare U” targeted our masochistic underpinnings with a menacing pack of bubble gum freak fuzz.

If you’re still “for the boys” on this one, you can join them on the honorable mentions list.


Loser: Abusers of power

By Adam Ramos, Scene Editor

Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino said it best in her op-ed for Billboard, “Consider 2017 the year of male consequence.” In 2017, men and women everywhere decided that the systemic abuses of power rife throughout the entertainment industry will no longer be permissible. Throughout the year, accusations of sexual assault and other abuses seemed to appear on a daily basis as manifestations of a culture that has kept victims quiet slowly begins to change for the better.


Winner: Australia

By John Wilson, Scene Writer

In the land down under, artists better known to U.S. audiences like Tame Impala and Courtney Barnett, ceded the floor to lesser-known bands working across the spectrum of rock music this year. Smith Street Band’s “More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me” is triumphant, heart-on-your-sleeve punk that tries to make sense of distance induced separation. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s “French Press” sounds like a more caffeinated, hook-driven version of the band Real Estate. Jen Cloher’s self-titled folk-rock album navigates changing relationship dynamics due to the unexpected success of her partner, Courtney Barnett. Gang of Youths’ “Go Farther In Lightness” is reminiscent of the kind of huge, orchestral albums from indie-rock forebears like Arcade Fire, all while trying and succeeding to find light in the darkest of personal situations.


Loser: SoundCloud

By Mike Donovan, Scene Writer

SoundCloud — your one-stop-shop for sub-par rap gods, your buddy’s band from high school, infinite remixes and a few hidden gems — had a tough 2017. According to TechCrunch, SoundCloud “had to lay off 40 percent of its staff” in July as it continued to run out of financial roadway. Chance the Rapper vaguely promised his assets as a lifeline, but few believed he would follow through.  Many believed that, come September, the democratized streaming service would be no more.  But, in early August, SoundCloud chairman Alexander Ljung ensured the sites continuity after “the largest round of financing in the history of SoundCloud.” So, for the time being at least, you can continue to stream all the gems (and junk) you wish.


The Underrated 

Scene writers reflect on overlooked albums from their personal album of the year lists.


“Nothing Feels Natural” — Priests 

By Mike Donovan, Scene Writer

Oh punk, how we’ve missed you — with your soothing dissonance and cozy angularity. Words can’t express how much we appreciate your return (in the form of Priests’ stunning debut LP “Nothing Feels Natural”) as a counterpoint to the Great Apricot’s rise to power and the culture of abuse in the underbelly of the entertainment industry.

Cheers to your latest emissary, Katie Alice Greer, whose words surgically dissect the American condition — “A puppet show in which you’re made to feel like you participate.” Send my praises to Daniele Daniele (drums), GL Jaguar (guitar) and Taylor Mulitz (bass) as well. Their chemistry — scratch that, alchemy — bars nature at the door, creating a space where absurdity (read: reality) can gallivant.

Thank you, punk, for giving us “Nothing Feels Natural,” one of the 2017’s best — if not its best — records.“Crack Up” — Fleet Foxes

By Thomas Murphy, Scene Writer

Though it may not have been the best album of 2017, “Crack-Up” was certainly the most appropriate. Packed from start to finish with indie folk’s most intricate instrumentation, “Crack-Up” begins with a retreat from the pressures of society, declaring individualism in a year of egotism, before slowly transitioning to an acknowledgment of our need for each other. Despite its confusion and insecurity about the world’s state of affairs, “Crack-Up” inspires listeners through grand instrumental swells and glistening harmonies. “Crack-Up” was received with plenty of critical acclaim, but didn’t seem to reach the ears of non-critics. I encourage everyone who has been dragged through 2017 to find solace in this excellent piece of art.


“4eva is a Mighty Long Time” — Big K.R.I.T.

By Adam Ramos, Scene Editor

A double album split between two halves representing distinct perspectives, Big K.R.I.T’s “4eva Is a Mighty Long Time,” is the most ambitious rap project of the year. At a time when southern rap has pretty much abandoned its storied roots in favor for Atlanta’s now-international trap sound, Big K.R.I.T is both celebrating and building upon the sound that put Southern rap on the map, ushered in the ‘90s by groups like Outkast, UGK and Goodie Mob. Marked by buzzing percussion, huge choruses and gritty bars, the album’s first half is a joyous toast to all things Southern. The second half is a fiery introspection, a collection of heavy questions that drips in religious imagery. The juxtaposition of sides is an astounding testament to Big K.R.I.T range and unmatched maturity. Famed southern voices, such as CeeLo Green, T.I and Keyon Harrold contribute in spades all throughout the album. All in all, “4eva is a Mighty Long Time” is a sprawling odyssey that should not be missed.  


“Wrangled” — Angaleena Presley

By Matt Munhall, Scene Writer

Angaleena Presley begins her second LP by puncturing the Nashville dream of music industry success. “Dreams don't come true / They’ll make a mess out of you,” she laments, with the weary voice of someone who’s been through the Music Row wringer. On “Wrangled,” the singer-songwriter — best known as one-third of the Pistol Annies, alongside bandmates Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe — takes aim at the country music establishment, which so often marginalizes the voices of women. Presley lampoons the cliches of bro-country on a rollicking number with Alabama rapper Yelawolf and rails against traditional gender roles on the affecting title track. On “Outlaw,” she rejects being labeled an outsider and voices her desire for mainstream country acceptance. “I don't wanna be a renegade / I wanna be a straight-shootin’ high-falutin’ rider on the hit parade,” Presley sings, and this brilliant, sharp album proves she should be.