Hot New Mexicans, PURPLE 7, and Middle Children have all put out some of the present decade’s best basement punk (and basement pop) records. A common thread running through all of those titles is Patrick Jennings, who has gained notoriety inside DIY punk circles for exceptionally strong songwriting but has been wildly overlooked outside of those circles. For those fortunate enough to have heard Jennings’ work, they’re aware that anything the songwriter puts out is worthy of some anticipation.
Yet, that anticipation is never quite afforded to artists like Jennings due to the nature of how bands and songwriters in that sphere operate. If you’re not following their personal soundcloud, seeing them test new material on tour in a sweaty dive bar, or they’re not posting new snippets of songs on social media, it’s impossible to know whether new material’s coming at all. When this post was first being written, the included content was the demos of these songs that Jennings had posted to a personal soundcloud. When that playlist was pulled, it was hard to know whether to be doubtful or hopeful.
Thankfully, a short while late, Immediate arrived as a fully-formed record, with the earlier songs fleshed out in full band arrangements. And, as always, the songs continue to impress. A personal friend once told me that when Jennings sang, they believed him. That air of conviction has bled through all of the songwriter’s past work and continues to peek through on Immediate. There’s a rough-hewn scrappiness that’s served as Jennings’ trademark, accentuating and strengthening a constant that’s served the material to perfection: mid-fi production.
Production value’s not typically an overwhelmingly important detail but there’s a very GBV-esque quality to all of Jennings’ materials that seems to exist so harmoniously with the actual material that its next to impossible not to view it as another instrument when it comes to the work on display. With some brief exceptions, it’s become an unlikely trademark that continues to pay rewarding dividends, lending those records a cassette-like quality that honors the history of multiple genres.
On Immediate, Jennings continues and expands on where the songwriter’s last solo effort, Careful Now, left off. Most of these are mid-tempo basement pop rockers that draw from punk, Americana, and soul to congeal into something singular. From top to bottom, Immediate is unmistakably the work of Jennings, who has cultivated a fascinating identity in a pocket of the music world that tends to bleed together.
A record that lives up to its title, Immediate is a record that sinks in right away, a brusque and enjoyable ride through pointed narratives and straightforward tempos. Immediate revels in the mundane and takes care in its embellishments, proving yet again that Jennings deserves far more attention. While this post isn’t nearly enough, at least it might be a start. Don’t miss out on this one.
Listen to Immediate below and download a copy here.
2017 was a staggeringly balanced year in terms of memorable musical output. To honor that consistency, the typical run of 17 songs will be complemented by a list — in no particular order — of 83 other great songs to find release throughout the year. As usual, the “best” tag simply acts as shorthand for the music I was fortunate enough to consume from January through December, which had an individual song list that tallied well into the quadruple digits.
Names that are already familiar to year-end lists on this publication reside comfortably alongside artists who are still looking to make a larger impression. Non-singles are included with some of the year’s strongest advance tracks and songs that tip towards hardcore rub shoulders with some quiet basement pop numbers. There’s a lot to contemplate — both inside and outside of the top 17 selections — and even more to celebrate.
These are the 17 best songs of 2017.
Great Grandpa – Teen Challenge
One of the great album openers of 2017, “Teen Challenge” reintroduced a noticeably more explosive version of Great Grandpa that wasn’t afraid of hairpin turns or controlled catharsis. From the outset of “Teen Challenge” the band is swinging for the fences but it’s not until the enormous final section where something deeply impressive transforms into something legitimately inspiring. It’s a celebratory song that comes loaded with conviction and is delivered with the type of determination that refuses to be held back.
Mo Troper – Your Brand
One of this site’s picks for last year’s Album of the Year honors, Mo Troper returned this year with two records. One, a collection of older material reworked for Troper’s current band, the other, an inspired effort of new material that saw Troper expanding his ambitions to legitimately unexpected degrees. The elevation of both songwriting and production on Exposure & Responseis particularly evident in career highlight “Your Brand“, which finds Troper turning his gaze towards the brand-obsessed inhabitants of social media, people who treat themselves as corporate entities and flaunt varying levels of entitlement.
Occasionally, those same denizens find the levels between tongue-in-cheek mockery and unwitting sincerity blurring into an unrecognizable definition. It’s a richly-deserved skewering that’s shot through with a resigned understanding. The tasteful string and brass arrangements that adorn “Your Brand” send the song to euphoric heights even as Troper is weighed down in the bog of a tragicomic reality. It’s a masterful outing that positions Troper as one of the most promising pop songwriters of this generation.
Cende – What I Want
Cende‘s first and final full-length effort was an enticing effort headlined by a slew of singles that all warranted consideration for placement on this list (and earned individual write-ups). None of them wound up impressing quite as deeply as the song boasting the record’s most challenging — and towering — arrangement, the Greta Kline-featuring “What I Want“. Falsettos, a lilting string arrangement, and an incendiary bridge showed off Cende’s formidable range, tilting from something approaching the saccharine to a vicious instrumental outburst at the click of a hi-hat.
Charly Bliss – Westermarck
Few bands have earned as much attention and praise from this site as Charly Bliss over its four-year existence and it was heartening to watch the band break out in 2017 with one of the year’s most affirming releases in Guppy. While every track on that record is noteworthy for one reason or another, it was “Westermarck” that kept revealing deeper facets of itself. A rousing meditation on uncertainty couched in an unapologetic joy of simply being alive, the song became an unlikely anthem for anyone questioning their partner’s motives (especially in significantly skewed familial setting).
Common Holly – Nothing
Tender, sparse, and wrought with longing, Common Holly‘s “Nothing” proves how adequately minimalist formulas can maximize difficult emotions. It’s a bare-bones run through a personal affirmation, rendering something that appears delicate at first blush searing at second glance. More than that, “Nothing” introduces Common Holly as a deceptively powerful artist with the capacity to deliver breathtaking turns in the quietest rooms.
Weaves – Puddle
Riding a wave of critical adulation and having earned the respect of their contemporaries, Weaves returned in 2017 with Wide Open, an aptly named run that they billed as their Americana effort. While the record takes a lot of notable cues from that genre, the band’s wildly erratic, genre-obliterating core remained intact with the barn-burning closer “Puddle” acting as the clearest indication that the band’s unpredictable firepower was still fully intact.
Fred Thomas – Misremembered
Following a record as momentous as All Are Saved will always be a difficult task but to surpass high expectations in the way that Fred Thomas managed with Changeris a rarity. From the record’s dynamic opening track, Thomas proves to be more focused than ever, spinning barbed tapestries of lived-in realism with unmatched verve. “Misremembered” isn’t just a testament to Thomas’ lyricism, either, the fiery music that serves as its backdrop propelling it to stratospheric heights.
Big Thief – Breathe In My Lungs
A lot of outlets gave Big Thief‘s breathtaking “Mary” a deserving amount of love, ranking both the song — and the record it resides — as the year’s best. Meanwhile, the band’s devastating B-side, “Breathe In My Lungs”, flew under the radar. As is often the case with bands as prolific and talented as Big Thief, “Breathe In My Lungs” is so much more than just a castaway or afterthought, it’s one of their most heartrending numbers, expertly using the considerable weight of guitarist/vocalist Adrianne Lenker’s singular voice to turn in some of the year’s most unforgettably damaged romanticism.
Cayetana – Bus Ticket
2017 saw a very large handful of bands taking the next step in their evolution but few seemed to take their strides forward with as much assurance as Cayetana, who zeroed in on what’s long been the crux of their songwriting: mental health. No song conveyed this more than their staggering “Bus Ticket“, which saw the band slowing the tempo and accelerating the force the trio’s always put into their compositions. Managing to be direct and atmospheric simultaneously, “Bus Ticket” stands proudly as a career high for a band that’s found their voice.
Yucky Duster – Elementary School Dropout
One of the year’s most unabashedly exuberant records came in the form of Yucky Duster‘s latest EP, Duster’s Lament. Headlined by the effusive “Elementary School Dropout”, the band offered up an irresistible slice of joyful basement pop that grounded it’s more playful elements with some effective self-deprecation. Expertly toeing the balance between the light and the bleak, “Elementary School Dropout” stood out as 3 of 2017’s most outright fun minutes in a year where that sort of thing was desperately needed.
Strange Relations – Say You
One of the boldest re-introductions of 2017 came by way of Strange Relations‘ enormously confident Editorial You, which was teeming with memorable bursts of icy post-punk that saw the band considerably elevating their grasp on composition. One of the most significant individual outings for the project comes on the record’s second track, “Say You“, which conjures up a steely demeanor and enhances it with fiercely jagged musical interplay. Both minimalist and towering, it’s an obscenely impressive song from a young band that seems determined to continuously reach for greater heights.
Covey – Call Home
There were a lot of songs that came out over 2017’s 12 months that occupied a similar space as Covey‘s “Call Home”: laid back, lovely, unassuming, and tinged with regret, loneliness, and despair. None of them wound up staying the way “Call Home” managed to stay; the song’s melodies and gorgeous chorus humming along and dominating unexpected spaces of memory when it could’ve just as easily rescinded into oblivion. Every return listen offered a new take and at some point, the song migrated from being a pleasant curiosity to something far more essential: one of the year’s best.
IDLES – Mother
Recently given Music Video of the Year honors, IDLES‘ “Mother” also comes off as a ferocious head-turning effort when stripped from its hyper-intense visual accompaniment. Vocalist Joe Talbot repeats several mantras throughout “Mother” — written as a tortured tribute to his own late mother, whose portrait graces the record’s cover — each of them decrying two evils: one political, one sexual, both too frequently intertwined into a nightmarish whole.
Viciously opposed to a system that uses a weighted system to the benefit of the people who are afforded privilege, the song is a startling reminder of the seething anger and frustration of the people who oppose those systems. It’s a clarion call delivered with an excess of venom, using it’s hardcore leanings to drive a message home hard enough that the ramifications of our choices are left lingering in the smoke.
Palehound – If You Met Her
A beacon of consistency over the past several years, news of a new Palehound record was welcome when it was first announced. The first few singles were packed full of the band’s usual tricks but then “If You Met Her” arrived and decimated everything. A hard-hitting look at how the loss of someone you know can affect your own perception of what it means to die, “If You Met Her” immediately registered as not just Palehound’s darkest effort but the project’s best as well.
It’s a gripping, grounded meditation on life itself and it’s delivered with such empathetic understanding that it’s nearly impossible to listen to the song in full without running through an avalanche of feeling. Anything that inspires that level of emotional response and visceral reaction is worth noting — and in the case of “If You Met Her”, it’s more than worth celebrating.
Young Jesus – Feeling
A longtime staple of this site’s coverage, Young Jesus have continuously found exciting ways to evolve as a band in the face of a slew of obstacles that leave lesser bands stumbling. From nearly complete lineup shifts to a refocused experimentation to a relocation that took them from the upper Midwest to the West Coast. The band’s latest effort saw a quick self-release suddenly disappear only to be re-released shortly after by Saddle Creek.
All it takes to understand why such a revered label would take on the band is one listen to “Feeling”, a sprawling 10-minute opus which beautifully showcases the band’s remarkable range, guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter‘s penchant for blending memorable poetry with unforgettable melody, and a growing fearlessness. It’s a heart-stopping moment on what remains one of 2017’s most woefully overlooked records and reaffirms Young Jesus’ place as one of today’s best bands.
The Magic Lantern – Holding Hands
Easily one of 2017’s outright loveliest moments, The Magic Lantern‘s “Holding Hands” casts a spellbinding magic all its own within its opening figures, as a yearning vocal is laid on a bed of gentle saxophone figurines. As the notes and vocals hold — with as much purpose as the imagined goal of the narration, no less — the song winds up with enough power from two core elements to elicit chills.
When the body of “Holding Hands” takes shape as the drums kick in, providing yet another one of 2017’s most perfectly-realized moments, it becomes abundantly clear that something miraculous is happening on the track. By the time it all winds to a ghostly close, “Holding Hands” has left a mark that deserves to be called upon fondly in the days to come. In all of it’s warmth and care, “Holding Hands” pushes forward from a simple greatness and achieves something far closer to transcendence.
SONG OF THE YEAR:
Mount Eerie – Real Death
When Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” first arrived, it was set to get a standalone feature. That post never arrived as I personally struggled with the decision to attempt to bring any sort of discourse to something so nakedly personal, which held true for A Crow Looked At Me (the record it’s from) as well. As time passed, that decision lingered, though it became increasingly difficult to listen to both the song and the record, famously written about the death of the songwriter’s wife and recorded in the studio she’d built in their house, on the instruments she left behind.
Even without being able to listen to the song, the memory of the song stayed as strongly as the feelings that accompanied the first listen (as well as the subsequent ones). It’s the sound of Phil Elverum tearing his own wounded heart out of his body to present to the world so that they can understand what kind of grief accompanies something so tragically world-shifting.
While every moment of “Real Death” is shattering, the weight of it becomes nearly unbearable when Elverum shifts the lyrics from oblique poetry to a hyper-specific narrative, recounting one moment of singular heartbreak that arrived with a package that has late wife had secretly ordered for their daughter. In that retelling, Elverum envisions his wife, living with the knowledge that her wife would be ending, thinking ahead and wanting to provide comfort for the people she loved.
Not only does that specific moment touch upon why Geneviève was someone he loved so fiercely but, in doing so, provides the song’s listeners a glimpse into her character as well. It effectively shifts the tonality of the record even further toward heartbreak by painting such an intimate portrait, making “Real Death” come across as even more unmistakably, painfully human. It’s a tribute to an artist that so many of us wish we knew and stands as a stark reminder to cherish the ones we do know while we can and to strive to match their gifts with our own.
By positing real-life implications alongside meaningful execution, “Real Death” became something much larger than the sum of its parts. In plumbing the depths of personal loss, Elverum’s Mount Eerie projected gifted us something hard to experience and impossible to forget. With any luck, it will steer us towards more effectively demonstrating our love when it can be appreciated by the people for which it’s intended.
The Best of the Rest
Middle Children – Baby Boom
Joyce Manor – NBTSA
Thurst – Forever Poser
The New Years – Recent History
Monomyth – Puppet Creek
Hermetic – Strategic Default
Protomartyr – A Private Understanding
Alexander F – Call Me Pretty
Pile – Dogs
Vagabon – Cold Apartment
Cloud Nothings – Internal World
Prom Queen – Blonde
Holiday Ghosts – Can’t Bear To Be Boring
Washer – Dog Go Bark
Grouper – Children
Slaughter Beach, Dog – Fish Fry
Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day
Meat Wave – Run You Out
The Spirit of the Beehive – Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)
Walter Etc. – April 41st
Chemtrails – Deranged
Juila Louise – Brat
See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm
Amy O – Lavender Night
Modern Baseball – This Song Is Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks
Girlpool – It Gets More Blue
The Total Bettys – Stay Here All Night
Tica Douglas – Same Thing
Midnight Reruns – Warm Days
WHY? – Proactive Evolution
Hand Habits – Sun Beholds Me
Long Neck – Mine/Yours
Julien Baker – Appointments
Anna Burch – Asking 4 A Friend
Palm – Walkie Talkie
Single Mothers – People Are Pets
Lydia Loveless – Desire
Deem Spencer – Soap
Two Inch Astronaut – Play To No One
Blessed – Headache
Diet Cig – Maid of the Mist
Madeline Kenney – Big One
Dream Wife – Somebody
Bethlehem Steel – Finger It Out
Strange Ranger – House Show
Miya Folick – Trouble Adjusting
Jesca Hoop – Pegasi
Fiji-13 – Mansplain It To Me BB
Idle Bloom – Dust
Florist – What I Wanted To Hold
Beachheads – It Feels Alright
Fruit & Flowers – Out of Touch
Ratboys – The Record
Schlotman – Holy Basil
Lost Balloons – Numb
John Rossiter – Mom Guitar
Lomelda – Interstate Vision
Walter Martin (ft. Matt Berninger) – Hey Matt
Jay Som – The Bus Song
Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
Screaming Females – Glass House
Phoebe Bridgers – Smoke Signals
Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal
Half Waif – Frost Burn
Petite League – Pocketknife
Say Sue Me – Bad Habit
Petal – 15
Waxahatchee – Silver
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires
Siobhan Wilson – Whatever Helps
Sammi Lanzetta – Circles
Deep State – Nothing Speaking
Saintseneca – Moon Barks at the Dog
Lithuania – 5000 Year Leap
Just about three full months into 2017 and there have been a litany of great records. In that massively overcrowded field, there were still several records — full-lengths, compilations, EP’s, or otherwise — that managed to stand out. Below are 10 of the most gripping releases to have emerged in 2017’s first quarter, each making an impression that was felt, intensely, for one reason or another. Read about some of those reasons below and listen to each record in the selected embed (just make sure they’re all at the beginning of the record when you hit play). Enjoy.
MO TROPER – GOLD
Last year, Mo Troper put out a proper solo debut full-length, Beloved, which was one of five to receive this site’s Album of the Year designation. In February, Troper unleashed a new collection of songs that’d been written over the past several years and further solidified a status as one of this generation’s premier powerpop songwriters. Not a note’s out of place, the atmospherics serve the song, the melodies are earworms that last for days, and there’s an abundance of feeling driving another outstanding collection.
JOHN ROSSITER – NEVERENDING CATALOG OF TOTAL GARBAGE HEARTBREAK AGGREGATE
Young Jesus‘ name has appeared on this site several times over and John Rossiter‘s been a valuable contributor to the A Year’s Worth of Memories series. Last year, small batches of collections were being released under the Young Jesus name before being pulled because they weren’t full band efforts; all of those songs were Rossiter solo efforts. Thankfully, they recently re-emerged in a gorgeous compilation that ably, compellingly, and movingly demonstrates Rossiter’s formidable songwriting talents.
YUCKY DUSTER – DUSTER’S LAMENT
Easily one of the best releases of 2017’s first three months came in the form of an EP from Yucky Duster, a basement pop band that, seemingly impossibly, keeps finding ways to improve on each successive release. Duster’s Lament is the band’s finest work yet and continues drawing them even closer to attaining outright perfection. All five of the songs the band has on display here manage to be simultaneously carefree and incredibly memorable, entwining two aesthetics that are too frequently at odds. It’s masterful.
FRED THOMAS – CHANGER
A very early Album of the Year candidate, Fred Thomas‘ Changer saw the acclaimed songwriter continuing to elevate his craft in astonishing fashion. Easily Thomas’ sharpest lyrical effort to date, there’s also an urgency to these songs that push them forward with sincerity, feeling, and an irrepressible need to get these statements out into the world. Musically, it’s Thomas’ most ambitious work to date by a considerable stretch and, overall, a triumph bearing a magnitude and scope that’s impossible to ignore.
CLOUD NOTHINGS – LIFE WITHOUT SOUND
Cloud Nothings‘ discography, up to this point, has been littered with superlative releases. When a band achieves that kind of consistency, it’s fair to have high expectations for their new releases. Still, Life Without Sound, the band’s latest, manages to transcend its anticipation and wind up as not only the band’s most ambitious and inventive release but, somehow, its most representative as well. All of the bands eras are fused together here to create a spellbinding work that’s proven to be difficult to forget.
MEAT WAVE – THE INCESSANT
There are a handful of concept records that are widely regarded as some of the greatest releases of all time, despite some hamfisted tendencies. Meat Wave‘s The Incessant side-steps both the trappings of concept records and their characteristically overbearing nature by releasing a collection of acutely pointed missives dealing with one specific topic: the swirling vortex of incoming emotions after a life-altering event. The result is a record that serves as the band’s most abrasive, ambitious, and intense effort to date.
BEACHHEADS – BEACHHEADS
Upon learning at least one member of Kvelertak was in Beachheads, the band’s debut full-length came as a joyous-yet-jarring left turn. Trafficking in sunny powerpop that takes most of its cues from the genres forebears, Beachheads wound up being a deeply unexpected delight. Every song on Beachheads boasts sublime moments and evokes the sort of open-road-and-sunshine aesthetic that’s been so vital to the genres most enduring classics. Beachheads give that aesthetic a slightly modern spin and wind up with a summery gem.
MIDDLE CHILDREN – EARTH ANGEL
Patrick Jennings has been directly responsible for a lot of the music that’s hit me the hardest over the past seven years so news of a solo project was very welcome. Unsurprisingly, given Jennings’ track record (and what he’d accomplished with both Hot New Mexicans and PURPLE 7), Earth Angel is an incredible work. One of the best records likely to be released in 2017, Earth Angel is a quiet, brilliant, and unassuming encapsulation of what’s made Jennings such an essential (if woefully overlooked) voice in today’s music landscape.
STEF CHURA – MESSES
Ever since 2010’s self-titled effort, Stef Chura has been steadily improving, perfecting a strand of punk-tinged basement pop that’s immensely appealing. Messes, Stef Chura’s latest, is the most perfect distillation of this brand of music the act’s offered up yet, thanks in part to the contributions of Fred Thomas (who, as this list indicates, is on a white-hot streak of great releases). Still, Thomas’ contributions wouldn’t mean nearly as much if the source material wasn’t so involving. Messes is the sound of an artist coming into their own and, as a result, the work present on the record winds up being antithetical to the record’s title.
RICK RUDE – MAKE MINE TUESDAY
One of the most intriguing releases of 2017’s earliest stretch came in the form of Rick Rude‘s sprawling, shape-shifting Make Mine Tuesday. Easily the band’s boldest — and best — release in a very strong discography that was uniformly unafraid to take risks, Make Mine Tuesday succeeds as both a masterclass in forward-thinking composition and as a record with immense replay value; these are intricate songs that never seem to get old or become any less engaging. A scintillating mixture of wiry post-punk and basement pop, Make Mine Tuesday finds Rick Rude reaching unprecedented heights. One can’t help but wonder, especially after a release like this one, if they’ll ever return to earth.