Each of the previous three years has come with a certain disclaimer -- that I'm listening to less music than I pretty much ever have in the past. Not the case this year! My music listening has picked up quite a bit this year, though it stills tends to come in waves. I'm spending more time listening to music on the train than I used to, and while my commute time is still mostly devoted to a book, a comic book or a podcast, this alone has increased the amount of new albums gracing my ears. Additionally, I'm spending more time in the gym this year than in years past, which is proving to be the main source of my music listening so far in 2017.
Here's the dang list.
1. The Menzingers – After the Party
I don't agonize over a mid-year list. Most of the time, my mid-year album of the year is the one I've listened to most to date. After the Party runs away in that classification -- I've listened to it at least twice as much as any other album on this list. It's perhaps The Menzingers' best album, neck-and-neck for me with On the Impossible Past, which is delightful in the way that I couldn't have anticipated this band reaching that level again. Not because they don't have the potential for it, or whatever, but because I really latched onto OTIP during college and it hit me hard. I wrote about this album extensively already, and I'll probably write about it again before the year ends. I couldn't be happier with it.
2. Paramore – After Laughter
An album that I have yet to write long about, but an album which I intend to write long about in the near future. After Laughter has delivered hours of enjoyable consumption, because there's quite a bit to dig into. It's been noted that this is Paramore's definitive foray into becoming a full-time pop band, and it's a joyous listen from a musical perspective. The lyricism is inversely correlated to be super sad, most of the time, and incredibly intimate for a frontwoman of Hayley Williams' stature. After Laughter is proof positive that Paramore are capable of doing literally whatever the heck they want, and knocking it out of the park.
3. The Maine – Lovely Little Lonely
It's a yearly "tradition" for me to anoint an album as one that comes out of nowhere to surprise me. I've written in the past about how the element of surprise tends to buoy the records that do the surprising on lists like these for me. Lovely Little Lonely is this year's version of that; as a person who's never been into The Maine, I'll suffice it to say that this came from left field. It's a guitar-driven pop-rock album with wonderful vocals and catchy-as-hell hooks that stay in my head for weeks at a time. In 2017 I have spent a lot of time doing meal prep on Saturdays and Sundays, and this is a go-to album that delivers danceable tunes for those two-hour sessions.
4. Bleachers – Gone Now
Fresh, smart pop music from a fresh, smart pop artist. Jack Antonoff is one of the best songwriters around right now, for my money, and Gone Now is a superbly executed vision. The thematics of this album are something that I'd like to go into deeper when I get the time, and the story is one that I'm still digging into a bit more with every listen. Antonoff's writing chops are best in full-album mode, but select cuts like "Don't Take the Money" and "I Miss Those Days" are worth blasting on their own merits. This will be played often on waterfronts in July.
5. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
The best rapper today delivered another incredible addition to his discography. DAMN. is a masterpiece through and through, and I won't be surprised if it climbs spots on my final year-end rankings. "Humble" is the song of the year so far -- a song that will never, ever grow tired -- but the album as a whole is worth making an hour for on a regular basis.
6. Sorority Noise – You're Not As _____ As You Think
I am so, so firmly against weird-ass punctuation in album titles, but Sorority Noise's third full-length effort is good enough that I don't mind holding down the shift key for those five underscores in You're Not As _____ As You Think. Cam Boucher is one of the most promising young songwriters around; his work on Joy, Departed already had me thinking of him in kind with early work from Andy Hull and Kevin Devine, and this album reaffirms these suspicions. I will listen to anything Boucher puts out. His vocal delivery is emotive, his band's musicianship is getting better by the album, and he has a bright future writing songs in a variety of different formats. He can't seem to put out songs as quickly as he writes them, which means we're in store for a lengthy and illustrious career from this frontman.
7. Future – HNDRXX
Future's post-DS2 efforts haven't hit me anywhere near as hard as that album did, but HNDRXX and FUTURE, released in back-to-back weeks this year, are the two that have come closest to matching the intensity I felt in that record. This one is a poppier, quieter sound than his standards, but an album that is starkly introspective in its lyricism. It's filled with songs of regret, remorse and more, and it's one I'm still digesting.
8. Pinegrove – Elsewhere
I'm here to declare that all of the studio versions of Pinegrove songs have now been replaced with the live versions present on this album. When a band is still very new to this, but when that band has been on the road endlessly and has started to perfect its sound in its current incarnation, you often wind up with a live show that will stand out in years to come as something special and weirdly irreplicable in years down the road. This is where Pinegrove is now. They'll write another album and have to figure out how to incorporate that into their live sets; they'll take some time off the road because they deserve to, but they'll lose the tightness that only comes with those years where two-thirds of the nights are spent playing shows. Elsewhere is special because of this, and it's a joyous thing to have documented for a young act. I think about Kevin Devine's Matter of Time as a bottling of an extremely good version of his band, and I'll think of Elsewhere in the future in a similar light.
9. Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart Of Life
Good rock album from a rock band. The mystique and wonder of Japandroids feels like it's fully faded, which is good, because though Celebration Rock was very good, this band was never really writing transcendent music and that's okay. Not all guitar rock needs to be put on a pedestal, and Near to the Wild Heart of Life is a deserving follow-up. It's a bit more mellow, perhaps a bit more thoughtful, but still precisely in the wheelhouse of what these guys do well.
10. Future – FUTURE
"Mask Off" is such a huge hit, and such a good song, that it makes it easy to forget that Future can probably write a track like this on any given weekday. That's a little bit hyperbole, but it's how I've compared FUTURE to HNDRXX this year -- this one's the album that feels like Future could have released it at any point over the last several years, while HNDRXX feels like the one we'll remember for a longer time as this watershed moment for a great artist. Clearly, I still enjoy FUTURE.
A quick note about this one EP / single:
Balance & Composure – Slow Heart. I really, really like these three songs. This release was a surprise because I became so turned off of this band in the time following The Things We Think We're Missing, which was an album that I severely overrated at the time of its release, and the follow-up effort from last year, Light We Made, was so completely boring to me. I sincerely did now know that this band could still write songs I enjoyed, but here we are with three great ones.
Five other albums I've enjoyed so far this year:
Captain, We're Sinking – The King of No Man
Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog
Mutoid Man – War Moans
Pet Symmetry – Vision
Rozwell Kid – Precious Art
Some other albums that I'm listening to right now that I haven't had enough time to consider for this list:
Born Without Bones – Young At the Bend
Chon – Homey
Conor Oberst – Salutations
Eerie Gaits – Bridge Music
Elder – Reflections of a Floating World
Hundredth – Rare