Five Overlooked Albums of 2017
It's days before Christmas, and that means we won't be getting much in the way of new albums until the new year, save for any potential high-profile surprise releases (which are not out of the ordinary during the gift-giving season). As we prepare to say goodbye to 2017, we published a list of 20 2017 albums by indie and underground legends, and our staff-wide top 50 is
coming very, very soon HERE.
Even with all the music we write about all year and a list of 50 favorite albums (with even more honorable mentions), it's still impossible to hear all of the great music that comes out each year. In an attempt to catch up on some of that, and because there are hardly any new albums to write about anyway, Notable Releases of the Week is going into hibernation until January, and I'm replacing it this week with five overlooked albums of 2017.
You can define "overlooked" in various ways -- in some places, the albums on this list were far from overlooked -- but I'm just using it to mean great 2017 albums that we haven't gotten a chance to talk about on BrooklynVegan yet. None of them were reviewed for Notable Releases, and only one of them has been discussed on BV at all. They might not be the most overlooked albums of 2017 (whatever that means), but they're all albums that passed me by during this very busy year and that I'm strongly recommending now.
Check out my picks below, and let us know in the comments what albums you thought were overlooked this year. Happy holidays and see you next year!
In addition to playing in the trio Bermuda Triangle with Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard and Jesse Lafser, Nashville's Becca Mancari released her debut album Good Woman this year, which was produced by Kyle Ryan of Kacey Musgraves' band. It's a country album, but Becca has one foot firmly planted in indie rock too. She cited Big Thief, Tame Impala, and Kevin Morby as influences for the album, and NPR's Ann Powers compared the album to Big Thief as well as other "atmospheric, roots-aware, Neil Young-indebted indie rock bands" Hiss Golden Messenger and The War On Drugs. (Becca gets Neil Young comparisons a lot and cites him as a major influence too.) Not to mention Becca's been co-signed by Paramore. I'd also add that I hear some Angel Olsen in Becca's voice, and hints of Sharon Van Etten's anthemic songwriting on album highlights "Arizona Fire" and "Devils Mouth."
The album isn't without its real-deal country signifiers, but even when it uses those, Becca tends to mess with the formula. She has a pedal steel player, but he loads it with effects and reverb to the point where its purpose becomes more about adding psychedelia than adding twang. At least half the songs on Good Woman work in a rollicking country drum beat or a traditional Americana vocal harmony, but it's never long before each song shows off an airy, dreamlike atmosphere too. Sometimes it's as simple as a little reverb on Becca's voice, and other times it's a dose of haunting, bare-bones folk music added in to contrast the brighter sounds. It's clear from one listen that Becca's indie/country crossover style is both distinct and appealing, but it's her strength as a songwriter that keeps Good Woman feeling powerful after repeated listens. It's not everyday that you can say this about an artist on their debut album, but Becca Mancari is truly a natural.
There's an article about Hamburg-via-Baltimore artist Sophia Kennedy on The Cut with the headline "Sophia Kennedy Made the Best Pop Record You’ve Probably Never Heard Of." Considering I only heard this May release very recently, that headline is some of the realest news I've read all year. It only takes a few seconds of hearing Sophia's debut album to realize you're listening to the work of an ambitious and uniquely talented artist, and the rest of the album does not disappoint. For a super general description, it's somewhere in the realm of Kate Bush/Bjork style art pop, though Sophia never sounds like either of those artists. She released the album on DJ Koze and Marcus Fink's Pampa Records, which usually puts out dance music, and though there are some electronics on Sophia Kennedy, it's way more of an organic, song-oriented album than you expect from Pampa. Sophia makes use of pianos, strings, and big-sounding drums, and leading the way is her powerhouse pipes. There's a bit of a jazz-pop touch to Sophia's vocal melodies, but not in a retro way. The album kind of sounds how its artwork looks: overwhelmingly colorful and with Sophia front and center, unselfconscious and unobscured by effects or anything else. No matter how distracted you're prone to getting, I doubt this could ever become background music. Sophia's performances are so in your face and so distinct, that she commands your attention song after song. It's not so out of left field that you've never heard anything like it, but Sophia's music is more about putting her own personality and creativity on display than showing off a few cool influences. And when you're as creative as Sophia Kennedy is, that's something we should treasure.
I'm not even close to an expert on contemporary jazz, and most of the musicians I am familiar with are ones who I know through their work with rappers (Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin). So I'm not 100% sure how Far From Over compares to other jazz albums released this year, but I have fallen in love with it. And actually, pianist Vijay Iyer sorta fits in with my usual contemporary jazz listening habits. Though he's been releasing music as a band leader for over two decades, it was admittedly his frequent collaborations with Heems that put him fully on my radar. Far From Over doesn't really have a hip hop side (though I could see someone sampling and rapping over "Nope"), but it does have a brilliant collage of sounds that toe the line between the traditional and the experimental. Coming off a string of trio and duo albums, it's Vijay's first album with this sextet -- which includes Steve Lehman (sax), Mark Shim (sax), Graham Haynes (trumpet, electronics), Tyshawn Sorey (drums), and Stephan Crump (bass) -- and he really benefits from having this many musicians working together at once. There are songs like opener "Poles," which feel like a trip back to post-bop's '60s heyday, but with warm, clear production and unique twists that make it sound like 2017. Then there are songs like "End Of The Tunnel" and "Wake," where the electronics shine and Vijay and his team dive fully into the avant-garde. It might sound on paper like Far From Over tries to do too much at once, but the sextet transitions between various sounds so seamlessly, the album is sequenced so perfectly, and Vijay's strong vision ties everything together.
Mask-wearing Brooklyn rapper Leikeli47 has been releasing music and playing shows for a few years at this point; she's collaborated with such diverse and impressive names as Pussy Riot, Baauer and AlunaGeorge; and she's opened for Santigold, "stole the show" at Afropunk, and been featured on Insecure. Yet somehow her great new LP Wash & Set still feels like it flew a little under the radar. Hopefully that changes soon, because it truly deserves to be heard. Leikeili has gotten more than one comparison to M.I.A. over the years, and it's easy to see why. Both sing and rap and both pay zero attention to genre boundaries, taking their sounds in all kinds of various directions, sometimes on the same song. Leikeli doesn't really sound like M.I.A. though. She's got her own style, and it's one that feels ready to take over rap radio and underground rap alike. The choruses of the title track, "Attitude," "M I L K," and "Miss Me" could make for huge hits, while the wordy, multisyllabic verses of the latter should earn her respect among those who turn their noses up at mainstream rap. "O.M.C." has her trying on the codeine-drenched auto-tune of Atlanta rap and beating some ATLiens at their own game. "Ho" and "Elian's Revenge" show she can succeed at crooning indie-R&B, and "Bubblegum" shows she can succeed at reggae. Even on the catchiest songs, Wash & Set's production is usually raw and minimal, but always intentionally so, with tons of attention paid to detail. And Leikeli's lyrics are unforgettable. She throws in a few aggro boasts that are typical of hip hop's tendency to be stereotypically masculine, yet her music remains distinctly feminine. On the same song ("Bags") that she brags "Notorious and Brooklyn just like Biggie," she also taunts "Nails pink lemonade, I like to match what I sip." On "Attitude" she compares herself and Beyonce to god (who run the world?), the title track is an ode to doing her hair, and a lyrical highlight of "M I L K" goes "My friends break gender norms / We both wear pink platforms." Leikeli is more proof that -- whether it's an openly lesbian anthem or the first No. 1 solo female rap single in two decades -- rappers are continuing to challenge rap stereotypes, right here in the genre's birthplace.
Black metal and punk/thrash have been combined before -- just look at the many bands who have earned themselves the "black n' roll" tag -- but something feels different about Vancouver's Wormwitch. They aren't really black n' roll because they never really roll. Instead, they inject their songs with pummeling d-beats, sounding something like a blackened Disfear or Black Breath. On one song alone, Wormwitch are prone to switching between a BM shriek and a hardcore shout, between blackened tremolo picking and a fist-pounding thrash riff or a searing, classic heavy metal solo. And Wormwitch have serious RIFFS. After a partially acoustic intro song, their debut album Strike Mortal Soil rips through nine furious songs that only rarely ease up on the speed. They offer up something of a ballad with the clean-vocal-fueled "Even the Sun Will Die," and they slow it down for some Slayer circa South of Heaven style sludge on "...And Smote His Ruin Upon the Mountainside" and closer "So Below." Otherwise, Strike Mortal Soil is pure whiplash that delivers an endlessly cathartic release.