For someone who consumes a lot of music, I’m usually pretty late to the party on a lot of things, so it’s always hard for me to compile a year-end list. I’m giving it a go this year because I think there’s been a lot of important work done – not to mention some certifiable bangers coming out.
1. Daddy Issues – Deep Dream
I would start this out by noting that 2017 was a rough year for women, but that’s not true – it hasn’t been any more awful than previous years. The only difference is that this year we’re talking about it. Nashville power-trio Daddy Issues’ debut full-length Deep Dream is my album of the year because not only is it well-crafted, catchy grunge with lyrical context that has been sorely missing from women in rock, but also because their take-no-shit attitude is refreshing in an industry that has long told us to sit still and look pretty. (Or shut up and sing, if you’re a Dixie Chicks fan.)
It’s awesome to not only discover such angsty, grungey music being made by powerful women this year, but they’re also young, and I can’t wait to hear what they have for us next.
Best Song: Emily Maxwell’s “I’m Not,” written about her assault trauma and played by me ad nauseum this summer as I worked through the same.
2. Cayetana – New Kind of Normal
Without Daddy Issues, I never would have found Cayetana. Early in the year I tweeted, soliciting songs that people listen to when they need some cheering up, and Bass Jenna suggested “Am I Dead Yet?” by Cayetana. And boy, did this record hit me right where I needed it. I’ve been open about my own mental health struggles and search to feel “normal” for most of my adulthood, and this album hits the nail on the head. “Am I Dead Yet?” echoes exactly the thoughts I have when I’m in a depression pit, “Grumpy’s” encapsulates the anxieties I’ve long had around dating (“was I your friend or your drinking buddy, your first call or the understudy?”) and “Mesa” looks back on a relationship that had potential but ended. It’s a realistic look at what it’s like to be a woman trying to navigate mental illness and living the life you want.
Cayetana is hands down my favorite discovery of the year, and I am so lucky that I got to see them play. Highly recommend checking them out – they were very sweet as I almost fell over myself fangirling them as well.
Best Song: “Am I Dead Yet?” and “Grumpy’s”
3. Craig Finn – We All Want the Same Things
No surprise that Craig’s third solo album ranks highly on my list, so I won’t drone on about it for too long. It’s an amazing album with more instrumental depth than previous records (that flute though) and continues his tradition of being one of the best writers in the game.
Best Song: “Birds Trapped at the Airport”
3. Cory Branan – Adios
I never thought there would be a year where a Cory Branan record would land so far down my “best albums” list, but here we all are. When I saw Cory play last summer, he said that the new album was his “death” record – and I immediately perked up. For me, his dark songs (“Survivor Blues” and “Hold Me Down” from MUTT, specifically) have always been where his writing shines, so I went into Adios with high hopes. It delivered.
Sonically, it’s very diverse – from the 80’s synth of “Visiting Hours” to the southern blues take on “Walls, MS” or “Cold Blue Moonlight”‘s waltz – but it all fits together well. “The Vow” is some of his most personal songwriting, a tribute to his late dad that his wife finally convinced him to record, and the killer-cop song “Another Nightmare in America” that floored me the first time I heard it (and continues to affect me on every listen.) He brought back a track from an old Jon Snodgrass split with “Yeah So What?” and I’m taking that as a personal victory after years of shouting to hear it live.
Best Song: “Visiting Hours”
4. Kesha – Rainbow
Thank you, Saint Kesha.
When she dropped “Praying” out of nowhere, I think everyone in a ten-mile radius heard my shrieks of excitement and subsequent sobs after listening to it on repeat for a few hours. Her very public sexual assault trial against Dr. Luke (and the treatment and reaction of the label afterward) was perhaps the first time a lot of people were hearing about sexual misconduct in the music industry and as a precursor to #MeToo, her career stagnated as she wrestled with getting out from under working with and for her abuser. It’s impossible to listen to “Praying” and hear it as anything but an anthem for survivors.
Rainbow is still full of the traditional Kesha-style bangers: “Woman”, “Learn to Let It Go,” and “Bastards” are all empowerment anthems to dance around your room in the style of her past albums – but with a little more substance.
Best Song: “Praying”
5. The Menzingers – After the Party
True to form, I was a bit late to the Menzingers party. A few years ago a friend played them during a drive around Nashville and passed me the CD when I said I liked it, but I never listened to it again. Late last year when I heard “Lookers” for the first time, I immediately got on board. I turned 30 this year, so the album’s theme of “aging punks” does feel just a little on the nose, but I don’t mind a little pandering in my music.
(And I love being Midwestern, so anything that pays tribute to my great nation helps hold some weight for me.)
Best Song: “Lookers”
6. Chris Gethard – Career Suicide
This isn’t the type of album most people would expect to see here, but this was the Year of The Geth for me. For the uninitiated, Chris Gethard is a comedian and host of The Chris Gethard Show now on truTV, occasional actor, pro wrestling fan, and very outspoken about mental health. His stand-up special from last year, Career Suicide, is so named because he tracks back his illness, starting from when he was first starting to realize that something was wrong and that having suicidal thoughts wasn’t normal, and tracking through diagnoses, addiction, prescriptions and side effects, and how to start feeling better.
The special is available on Hulu, and I can’t recommend it highly enough (with the suggestion that it’s maybe best viewed on a Good Mental Health day.)
7. Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Another band I was late to the train on, it took me a long time to get into them – and it wasn’t actually until I saw them live that my mind was changed. I love how big the guitars are, I love the energy of the live show, and the sing-along choruses on songs like “North South East West.” (Plus I love geography songs, so that’s really just hitting me where I live.) The shift in “Arc of Bar” gives a nearly-8 minute song a refreshing shift in tone, and “No Known Drink or Drug” is a great album closer, and one of the year’s most romantic rock songs.
Best Song: “North South East West”
8. Paper Tiger – In Other Words
If you’ve been around me for longer than five minutes, you will have heard the following words come out of my mouth: The Hold Steady, Daddy Issues, Cory Branan, Doomtree. Paper Tiger’s In Other Words was released this year, a full album version of four four-song EPs he put out over the course of a year. The first installment came out last year on the day Prince died, and while everyone else was blaring through his catalog, I was lost in In Other Words, Pt. 1. I described it as “musical Xanax,” and Paper Tiger continues his streak of releases that always make my year-end list.
Best Song: “Light Music”
9. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
Potential controversial opinion: I think Jason Isbell is much better when he’s playing with the 400 Unit than his solo releases. While I take issue with the sequencing of The Nashville Sound (how do you not open with a song like “Anxiety”?) it’s a great Nashville rock album… and yes, I probably did just invent that genre.
Best Song: “Anxiety”
10. Penny and Sparrow – Wendigo
I discovered Penny and Sparrow a few years ago and their sparse, literary songs really resonated with me. 2017’s Wendigo sees them continue on with their tributes to Les Miserables and explore more complex musical compositions. It’s perfect music for cozy winter nights, so let Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke soothe your winter blues.
Best Song: “Smitten Pt. 2”