Ak’Chamel – Death Chants
Few acts on this list, or on this planet, put out albums as singularly unique and engaging as Ak’Chamel. No two albums are ever alike, and yet each one is completely captivating in its cinematic-like compositions. Death Chants sees Ak’Chamel play with a bit more structure than their average releases are allowed, but the end result is no less interesting as they weave together 11 tracks that hearken to various funeral rites and processions from around the world. It’s the type of album you could expect incense and prayer at one turn, and something more sinister at others.
All Riot – Crossfire Traffic
Filled with pop hooks, driving indie rock aesthetics, and a punk rock sneer, All Riot exploded out of the Connecticut music scene with one of the state’s best releases in 2017. While their 2015 debut was a good enough affair to warrant multiple listens, it’s this album that will be remembered for searing this band into the memories of everyone who happens upon it. I’ll be honest enough with you to state out loud that I’ve pretty much sunk into ‘jaded old man’ status these days. There were a handful of albums in 2017 though that rejuvenated me in more ways than one, and Crossfire Traffic sits firmly towards the top of that short list.
Audio Jane – Naïve
Speaking of Connecticut albums that blew me away in 2017, I needed to look no further than my Hartford backyard to uncover one of my absolute favorites. Looking for something a little sultry, maybe a little dangerous, and a whole lot atmospheric, then Audio Jane may have exactly the fix you need. With a sound that feels like a first date between Mazzy Star and Kings of Leon, Audio Jane wisp their way through the more esoteric branches of the rock tree. Another band that really found their stride this year with an album that stands head and shoulders above their previous releases (and those of many of their peers as well).
Balkun Brothers – Devil On TV
What more can be said about the Balkun Brothers? Best Blues band in Connecticut multiple years running. State ambassadors who have toured the US and Europe. One of the best live shows you’ll witness every single time they play. Rock gods among mere mortals. The boxes just keep getting checked, one by one, and with every new release they inch closer to the national recognition they not only deserve but have worked their collective asses off for. Their sound has evolved over the years in the same way their live shows have – they’re grittier, heavier, and ballsier. Sometimes becoming full-fledged road dogs hardens you and your sound. Devil On TV still plants itself in the Blues, but only if you consider rocking acts like Johnny Winter, The Allmans, Jeff Beck, and even the likes of Black Label Society and Clutch as existing somewhere in the same space.
Broads – Vacancy
I purposely put these year-end lists in (pseudo) alphabetical order, however I will pull no punches here: This was my favorite album of 2017, genre be damned, bar none. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed dozens of albums since Australia’s Broads gifted us with their debut full-length back in March, and I simply didn’t do enough writing on this blog in general this year, the astute reader may notice that this is the last album I did a full write up for. There’s a reason for that. If I listened to Vacancy once I listened to it a hundred times. I can sing every word, hum every note. I listened to it when I was up. I listened to it when I was down. It put more smiles on my face and brought more tears to my eyes than possibly every other album combined this year. How addicted to this album was I in 2017? Various selections appeared in multiple dreams I had this year. Music is the most subjective art form in the world. For me though, The Broads duo of Kelly Day and Jane Hendry put out just about the most perfect album I could have ever possibly hoped for this year. All hefty praise, I know. But I would be remiss in attempting to sugarcoat this in any other way.
City Streets Country Roads – …and the world turned ever so slowly
This is one of many albums this year I took way too long to settle down with. Released back in March, it wasn’t until the summer when I finally found myself spending an ample amount of time listening to this album from front to back. Once it had its talons firmly planted though it wasn’t letting go. Equal parts dark noir and raucous indie rebellion, this was an album that had staying power from note one. The intersection of jazzy saxophone and rhythmic undertones layered upon an Americana aesthetic does this band’s moniker all the justice it demands.
Emilee South – Motel
Melbourne’s Emilee South is a throwback of the highest order and she’s got the boogie woogie to prove it. Hearkening back to one of rock n’ roll’s first great eras (namely 1955-1964), South spends her debut album peppering in influences as varied as Etta James, Buddy Holly, and Muddy Waters. But South is not just some novelty act. She’s a firebrand of sonic hoodoo with the chops to match. Motel is truly a rollicking and infectious collections of tunes.
Flowers For Bodysnatchers – Asylum Beyond
Revolving around a story straight out of the most gruesome of horror films, Asylum Beyond weaves a sonic tale of ritualistic killings, deranged characters, and a boatload of mystery and intrigue. Dark ambient project Flowers For Bodysnatchers returns with another album’s worth of eerie soundscapes and sonic treachery. It’s a lush and gorgeous composition. It’s also altogether nightmare-inducing at times, especially with the backstory firmly entrenched in the back of your mind the whole time.
The Foresters – House Stories
One of the most promising young acts to emerge from Connecticut over the last few years, The Foresters, released their best material to date with House Stories. The accolades for this album came pretty fast and furious from the music blogosphere, and the hype was well-deserved. It’s an amazingly mature and well-crafted album for a group of kids who are…well, still kids in the grand scheme of things. Filled with juicy pop hooks, fuzzed-out indie rock, and a healthy love of all things “Brit”, The Foresters were able to craft something special and worth revisiting as often as your toes can tap and your head can bop.
Grave Pleasures – Motherblood
Every year I have a handful of records that straddle that line between these metal and non-metal year-end lists I compile. Ultimately I need to justify why I include certain albums in certain places and not others, and there is always that one album that I wish I could (and probably should) just drop onto both lists and be done with it. Welcome to 2017’s version. Despite the fact that Motherblood was released on one of the biggest and most prestigious metal labels in the world (Century Media), and despite the fact that everything about this record should appeal to metalheads on various levels, here it sits on our non-metal list. Why? Call it a feeling or a hunch, I suppose, but when I listen to this record (and I listened to it A LOT) I don’t acquire the same shadowy feelings I do when listening to other metal/non-metal type albums (i.e. Chelsea Wolfe). There’s more of The Damned, The Cramps, Bauhaus, and Joy Division on this record than anything you’d hear on a normal Metal Dad Radio Show. This is a really long-winded way of saying that this album simply defies barriers and genre descriptors. Finland’s Grave Pleasures have made a career out of walking that tightrope between goth aesthetics and metal atmosphere. This record is no different as their irresistible post-punk is dripping with a brooding, moody style. No matter how you want to classify it, this album is brilliant. You could easily argue that this is their best material to date as well.
Gridfailure – I Shall Not Survive Another Winter and When The Lights Go Out Vol. 1
I’m going to cheat a little bit on this one and offer up two releases from New York’s Gridfailure, but then again that seems completely fitting being they are one of the most prolific acts around. 2017 was a banner year for Dave Brenner and his ambient/noise project. While quality has always gone hand-in-hand with quantity, Brenner knocked it out of the park with these two. I Shall Not Survive Another Winter is as bleak sounding as its moniker. Brenner digs deep to explore the tattered threads of our collective psyche through dark ambient soundscapes. The whole thing has an engrossing cinematic quality that all too many releases of this ilk lack. The most recent of Gridfailure’s 2017 releases, When The Lights Go Out Vol. 1, sees Brenner delving even further into a sonic underworld where your worst nightmares are met head on by a potent mix of ethereal ambiance. Both of these albums set out to, and achieve, a certain aura worthy of multiple listens while watching the world as we once knew it finally come crashing down around us.
Hannah’s Field – Revolutionary Soldiers
On the other hand, if you’re looking for an album filed with upbeat reggae/soul/rock dripping with hope for a better future and a better Earth, look no further than Connecticut’s Hannah’s Field. Full disclosure – a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Hannah and I shared the same college campus. It would appear that everything I once remembered about this person has become manifest in her music – a passion for life, a love for compassion, and a soulful groove that permeates the entire room. While the reggae and soul elements are ever present it’s her ability to cross back and forth among various genres to deliver something accessible to a lot of different scenes. Go ahead and let the warmth of this record melt away those winter blues.
Harvestman – Music For Megaliths
Take traditional folk music and run it through the all-seeing, all-knowing, third-eye lens of Steve Von Till’s “other” outfit, Neurosis, and that may give you a close approximation to the Harvestman sound. Close, but not entirely. Von Till, has spent several releases under the Harvestman name creating music that feels as if it is filled with ancient secrets and wisdom that only a select, chosen few can ever attain and comprehend. It took a long time for Music For Megaliths to finally see the light of day but it was well worth the wait as Von Till gifted us with the most powerful and impressive release under the Harvestman banner to date. It’s a lush and stark album that deserves multiple listens.
IIVII – Invasion
IIVII (pronounced “ivy”) return with another album’s worth of moody, sci-fi landscapes. Invasion is less an album, and more an experience, which is exactly how Josh Graham (A Storm of Light, Red Sparowes, etc.) would have it. NASA recently kinda, sorta admitted that maybe there really is intelligent life out there amid the stars, and maybe our government has known about and been communicating with them. Maybe. If that all sounds a little too X-Files for you or you missed that story amidst a barrage of pumpkin-fingered tweets, I get it. What you shouldn’t miss is the soundtrack for when those intelligent lifeforms finally put us all out of our well-deserved misery. It’s already been written and awaits your full attention.
Kindred Queer – Child
I try very hard to keep these lists to full-length albums only. However I would be remiss in not including the debut, EP from New Haven’s Kindred Queer. I have to be brutally honest in saying the first time I saw this act perform live several years ago I was less than impressed. An off night? Possibly. A band that was on to something though and still trying to flesh out their sound? Definitely. Fast forward in both time and songwriting, and the six songs captured here are an absolutely gorgeous array of chamber folk and all things indie. This is a band that I’m generally excited to see where their musical journey takes them as they’ve laid the foundation for some amazing music to come with this release.
Laundry Day – It’s Cool It’s Whatever
When someone finally figures out what’s in the water in New Haven can you please bottle it and sell it? One of the more anticipated releases around these parts is the first full-length album from Laundry Day. Their 2014 EP turned some heads and surprised the unsuspecting. With a lofty release comes lofty expectations though, and Laundry Day was up to the task. It’s Cool It’s Whatever is eight, highly infectious, indie jams that often throwback to a time when college radio stations were tastemakers, 120 Minutes was required watching, and the internet was a twinkle in somebody’s eye.
The Meadows Brothers – Truth
With a folksy, laid-back sound combined with a well-beyond-their-years aesthetic, The Meadows Brothers return with the follow-up to their highly-acclaimed, 2015 debut. Writing tracks that are best sung riding the rails, or at the very least traveling down some oft-forgotten back roads. Few artists can do so much with so little, but The Meadows Brothers have perfected a stripped-down sound that doesn’t rely on anything except tight musicianship, sharp lyrics, and solid storytelling. Fans of various forms of Americana should be all over this band and this album.
Mercy Choir – Like a Fountain Stirred
The first great album of 2017 came from New Haven’s Mercy Choir. Mercy Choir main man, Paul Belbusti, has long been a prolific musician churning out quality releases at an exponential rate compared to the vast majority of his peers. Like a Fountain Stirred is one of his best, and possibly sits at the top of the mountain if we were forced to choose. Filled with an eclectic mix of psychedelics and indie folk wrapped in Belbusti’s usual penchant for unorthodox song structures, this is an album that might require multiple listens to truly grasp its greatness, especially for the currently uninitiated. However individual moments jump off the page at every turn as Belbusti and his cadre of talented backing players weave through his special vision.
Mountain Movers – Mountain Movers
Long-running, New Haven psych rock outfit, Mountain Movers, return with another album filled with enough riffs and feedback to fill a crater on the moon. Channeling a full array of musical psychosis from the storied 70s Krautrock scene to 13th Floor Elevators, and beyond, Mountain Movers glide and sway through a barrage of dingy garage rock unlike few others. It makes perfect sense that their sixth full-length album is one of their most cohesive and engaging releases as their current line-up has now existed longer than any other incarnation (and there have been many). Here’s to hoping they all continue to enjoy each other’s company because we are all the better for it.
Neun Welten – The Sea I’m Diving
When you base at least some of your lyrics off the writings of Edgar All Poe, and you attempt to add a certain cinematic element to your arsenal of dark folk, there’s a pretty solid chance that you’re purposely stumbling upon something moving. Such is the case with the newest release from German outfit Neun Welten. It’s been eight long years in between full-lengths, yet Neun Welten clearly spent that time honing their songwriting and working towards their best release to date. Combining delicate vocals with an engulfing mix of dark folk, neo-classical, and dark ambient, The Sea I’m Diving was one of 2017’s best revelations.
Noeta – Beyond Life and Death
Released during the iciest death grip winter could muster, Beyond Life and Death from Sweden’s Noeta was the absolute perfect album to use to simply slip away into the season’s eternal darkness. Lush female vocals soar over top of a combination of dark ambient, neo-folk, and snippets of post-rock. It’s as introspective an album as you’ll come across and one that can become gloriously depressive at times. I personally spent a lot of time with this record and could often feel it sitting on my chest like a cat waiting to suck that last breath from my sleeping mouth. The most calming thrill ride you’ll experience this year.
Omega Vague – Aversion/Reversion
One of the most underappreciated acts to emerge out of the rich Connecticut music scene is shoegaze/ambient/darkwave project Omega Vague. Mastermind Craig Douglas has a back catalog that is as eclectic as it is impressive as he churned out five exceptional albums in roughly three years. Aversion/Reversion might be the most accessible of the bunch as Douglas crafts seven dreamy tracks that dabble in pop aesthetics while maintaining the pensive and poetic shoegaze that have made past Omega Vague releases so addictive. Whether it was meant to be or not this album has a very personal feel to it, as if Douglas has allowed us to peek behind the curtain into the parlor where his various sonic muses model for him. I’ll go ahead and call this not only one of the best releases to come out of my home state this year, but hands down the most underrated as well.
Quiet Giant – You’re In Heaven
One of my absolute favorite releases from 2015 was the debut from Connecticut’s Quiet Giant. 2017 saw their triumphant return with the You’re In Heaven EP. I’m breaking my ‘full-lengths only’ rule once again, because for the second time in three years Quiet Giant has completely blown my doors right off. Album opener, “Heaven”, is one of the catchiest tunes you’ll hear anywhere and the entire album is a case study in dream pop meets indie rock. Front woman, Danielle Capalbo, is a commanding presence with a voice like barbed wire wrapped in thick layers of silk. Quiet Giant is more about the sum of their parts though as they fire like a well-oiled indie machine on each track. Worthy of multiple front-to-back listens even a solid seven months after its release.
Shilpa Ray – Door Girl
Shilpa Ray has somewhat quietly been the best thing to come out of New York City since the beginning of this decade when she still had Her Happy Hookers backing her up. Somewhere between the gritty downtown streets and the florescent neon of uptown lies Shilpa Ray’s newest masterwork, Door Girl. Always a phenomenal storyteller with a biting wit to match, Shilpa Ray is a self-proclaimed artist’s artist. Much like another group of NYC artist’s artists, Velvet Underground, she may not be selling millions of records, but everyone who comes in contact with her work is deeply affected for the long haul. There’s a certain power and reckoning that comes with this record, as if she’s attempting to finally exercise something from deep within. It’s not often that the catharsis on a record is tangible, but it seems to be here.
UZOO – The Youngest
Real talk: The distinct lack of all things hip hop on these year-end lists is because this metalhead rarely reaches for hip hop releases. Instead, every year, a handful of hip hop acts/albums somehow travels through the space-time continuum to awaken me. This year that act was the Hartford-based collective, UZOO. Made up of a seemingly endless barrage of talented writers, producers, and rappers, UZOO continually passes the mic with dizzying effect. At no point does this record tire out or fizzle. The let-up that too many ‘super groups’ inevitably face doesn’t happen here as each artist is allowed to spread their wings and express themselves within the construct of “The Zoo”. It’s a refreshing take on various styles within a scene where all too often the machismo doesn’t allow for this type of stellar collaboration.