All Highs: The 10 Best Indie Albums of 2017

– By Camille Banzon, Music Editor –

A fact and a little confession: the last week of December 2017 is the time of the year when all music writers scramble to collect the best records that graced the past 12 months for a mandatory “best albums list.” While it’s no easy feat, it’s a task that we all look forward to each year as we look back at (and listen to) the musical diversity presented to us. These are the albums that defined indie rock in 2017, and are considered as benchmarks in either: a) making solid comebacks, or b) setting standards of what’s yet to come in 2018.

 

1. Cigarettes After Sex – “Cigarettes After Sex”

After a successful EP, the ambient pop group from El Paso, Texas released their self-titled debut record in June, and it defined a lush, hedonistic soundscape that’s dark and calming. Slow throbbing bass lines and caressing guitar work dot vocalist Greg Gonzales’ raspy tone in a way that truly makes listeners feel that they are having a satisfying drag after passionate lovemaking. Highly acclaimed by critics, the record features 10 tracks that perfectly combine shoegaze, dream pop and “slowcore” with a noir edge.

2. Slowdive – “Slowdive”

The shoegaze legends from Reading, England made a stellar comeback in 2017 with a self-titled album. The excitement of long-time fans was heavily justified with how crisp and moving the album is. The band’s signature hazy, wall of sound is still very much celebrated in the record, as heard in the track “Star Roving.” What truly makes this release remarkable is the band’s consistency in sound without having to adjust to new age, modern standards.

3. The National – “Sleep Well Beast”

We’ve seen this band live and we are quite aware of how electrifying they can be, no matter what song tempo or performance intensity they choose to partake in. “Sleep Well Beast” is a journey from 0 to 100, and the band went in for the overkill. This album still holds vocalist Matt Berninger’s woeful, vexatious lyricism all throughout, especially in “Day I Die.” “I don’t need you/ I don’t need you/ Besides I barely ever see you anymore/ And when I do it feels like you’re only halfway there” sings Berninger as the band’s trembling bass and lightly pounding drum work pattern the song. The feel of the entire record is similar: beautifully bitter and somewhat innovative, as heard in the title track placed strategically at the end of the song, where Berninger seemed like he was doing a poetry reading.

4. Alt- J – “Relaxer”

Call it “folktronica” or even “experimental rock,” Alt-J’s music has proven that charming string arrangements can go a long, long way. Their third album, “Relaxer” is filled with magnetic tracks that sum up the band’s new sonic persona. From fast tunes like “In Cold Blood” to peaceful, meditative numbers such as “House of the Rising Sun,” Alt-J displays an experimental maturity that could be confusing to their old fans, but it’s hard to set aside.

5. St. Vincent – “MASSEDUCTION”

Who’s still not in love with Annie Clark? Not only did we get excited to hear this new release, but we were sure that it could be something for the books. At first, we were put off with the gimmicky, newfangled promotional material, but once we listened to it, we understood that Clark has something politically and socially relevant to say in the album. Just look at the video for the debut single, Los Ageless, that attacks superficiality and plastic lifestyles.

6. Broken Social Scene – “Hug Of Thunder”

Hearing a new BSS album is like seeing an old lover and finally having a compassionate talk without any traces of bitterness or guilt. It just leaves you feeling good and ready for what’s next. The album is full of energy, warmth, and tenderness, and it carries the usual folksy charm that drew us to BSS way back. It has been 7 years since the band’s last release, “Forgiveness Rock Record,” and “Hug of Thunder” is absolutely worth the wait.

7. Grizzly Bear – “Painted Ruins”

Each time Grizzly Bear releases a record, it’s hard not to be floored and pick our jaws from the ground. We featured the debut single, Neighbors, 5 months ago, and it was already a mind blowing listening experience. The rest of the album is as expressive and dynamic, and it comes to no surprise. All of the 11 tracks are intricately arranged, just as expected from Grizzly Bear. For us, “Aquarian” proved to be a favorite, as well as “Systole” because of the frenetic drum work and throbby bass.

8. Alvvays – “Antisocialites”

Toronto-based indie pop group, Alvvays, released their second album this year after a successful self-titled debut in 2014. The “jangle pop” wonders did a tight collection of tracks without compromising their strong melodies and candidness. “Plimsoll Punks” caught our attention the most, especially with its fast-paced and yet gentle character. “You asked me if I was intrigued by LSD/ I sat next to you on the picnic bench/ And before I knew it, you were flying next to me,” sang Molly Rankin in “Lollipop (Ode To Jim),” which highlights her mild tone that acts as milk against a strong punch of instrumentalism.

9. The War On Drugs – “A Deeper Understanding”

“If Bruce Springsteen had an indie band, this is how it would sound like,” said everyone in the world who listened to this record. As if it’s not already evident enough, front man and main songwriter Adam Granduciel fully justifies how critics always compare him to Bruce Springsteen in this album. All comparison’s aside, “A Deeper Understanding” could be the band’s brightest release, with heartfelt compositions and melodies that we can get used to for a long time.

10. Future Islands – “The Far Field”

The prolific synthpop trio from Maryland released their fifth album and in it are soothing gems that dwindle to form a satisfying listening experience. The band wrote some of the songs of album during a short break from touring, when they confined themselves in a beach house in their hometown of North Carolina. The retreat proved to be influential in the creation of the rest of the album, especially with its easy vibe and light undertones.

 

Special mentions:

11 – 14. All the 4 albums that King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard released: 

  • Flying Microtonal Banana (February)
  • Murder of the Universe (June)
  • Sketches of Brunswick East (August)
  • Polygondwanaland (November)

Who puts out 4 full-length albums in one year? Well, psychedelic rock favorites King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard did, and they’re all worthy to be mentioned here. The prolific trippers really spoiled their fans this year, and each release is as full of characteristic and energy as the other. It’s hard to pick just one because we’ve grown to become huge fans and followers of this band, so we just decided to put them all in. We loved the collaboration with Mild High Club and the apparent intricacies in “Sketches of Brunswick East.” However, “Polygondwanaland,” is a standout because of its fantasy/ fairy tale undertones that are not only quirky, but could very well be the soundtrack of a lengthy acid/ mushroom trip/ crazy f*cked up video game.

 

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