Festival Pulse staff writers teamed up to compile 2017’s top ten albums. Take a look to see our take on a rollercoaster year of music, with old favorites and newcomers alike making the list.
From The Fires – Greta Van Fleet
With a blast from rock’s past, Greta Van Fleet’s debut album From the Fires evokes the sound of Zeppelin’s 70s hard rock. Recorded by three brothers (Josh, Jake, Sam) and a close friend (Danny), this album starts with the electric twang of “Safari Song” and flows with shredding guitar riffs and impressive vocals from Josh over seven more hits. They explore the harder ends of rock with power chords on “Edge of Darkness” and wailing vocals on “Highway Tune.” These brothers weren’t afraid to play with their sound either, using an acoustic rhythm on their feel good track “Flower Power.” The future looks bright for these rock enthusiasts, with From the Fires already winning Loudwire’s “Best New Artist” award.
Everything Now – Arcade Fire
Canadian indie rock group Arcade Fire once again demonstrate their mastery of the concept album with Everything Now. Their fifth album combines Arcade Fire’s classic indie rock angst with dance and pop elements both old and new, with influence from electronic house group Daft Punk as well as now classic rock or pop artists such as David Bowie, Talking Heads, or even ABBA in “Put Your Money on Me.” Arcade Fire uses this unique sound to highlight the themes of the album; lyrics discussing social isolation and meaninglessness in the digital and consumerist age are paired with a foil of energetic dance beats imitating the barrage of modern information. While the result is less than impressive in repetitive songs such as “Infinite Content,” songs such as “Electric Blue” and title track, “Everything Now” spring out at the listener with the signature combination of catchy dance rock and heartfelt, earnest vocals that put Arcade Fire on the map. The album is still strongest as a whole, musical and lyrical elements carry across the album, charting a course from the catchy dance anthem “Everything Now” to the nihilistic yet surprisingly triumphant track “We Don’t Deserve Love.”
The Aviary – Galantis
Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklöw are back following their hit debut album Pharmacy. The Aviary furthers Galantis’ tropical house sound with pop-like vocals throughout. This unique combination is prevalent in “True Feeling” and “Girls On Boys” where their DJ prowess is on full display. In tracks like “Hunter” and “Hey Alligator,” Galantis boldly changes the pitches of the vocals to match the hectic array of synthesized sounds. Other hits such as “Love on Me” and “Pillow Fight” rely more on simple, yet undeniably melodious lyrics. The album culminates in Galantis’s biggest hit of the year, “No Money.” The song’s genius spreading of eight lines of lyrics allows the listener to become immediately welcomed to the song’s anti-bullying rhetoric. Almost all of the songs in the album feature obscure artists, which adds to the power of their ability to shape each song around different artists. Galantis’s The Aviary cements them as a leader in the tropical dance genre and suggests that Karlsson and Eklöw are not afraid to use unorthodox measures to establish an unparalleled dance sound.
Songs of Experience – U2
In their sequel to the Songs of Innocence release in 2014, Bono and company have strived to remain relevant. Featuring appearances from several other popular modern artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Haim, Arcade Fire, and the xx, U2 shows a diverse take on modern rock with their 14th studio album Songs of Experience. Choosing a slow and ambient sound on their opening track, “Love is all we have left” invokes a sound similar to Bon Iver’s 22, A Million. U2 pleases their radio listeners as well, with the preleased rock-pop tracks “You’re the best thing about me” and “Get out of your own way.” Adam Clayton & The Edge intertwine their weaving bass and heavy guitar on “Lights of home” and “American Soul,” bringing a harder hitting sound to the album as well. Bono reaches out to his activist side on “Summer of Love,” a groovy ballad to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, produced with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder. This album has a little bit for everyone, even getting the nod as some of Obama’s favorite music of 2017. This is certainly not the U2 that came out with The Joshua Tree 30 years ago, but a band that has evolved and modernized for better or for worse. Traditional fans may not love it, but Songs of Experience is a mature and well produced modern rock album. The value of innovation for this album and this group is what earned this album the seventh spot on our list.
Harry Styles – Harry Styles
Our next album is Harry Styles’ self-titled debut. His first since leaving One Direction, the album marks an opening into the capabilities of Styles himself, if not just his music tastes. The album touches a couple of different areas, with the melodious acoustic guitar riffs of “Sweet Creature” and “Meet Me in the Hallway,” to the powerful rock elements in songs such as “Kiwi” and “Only Angel.” The commonality between them being the backbone of Styles’ strong vocal presence, best featured in the pre-released rock ballad “Sign of the Times.” Across many songs, Styles seems to get carried with the emotion of his subject matter, and expresses this by singing more creatively than through lyrics (see “Woman”), often leading to positive results. This album previews the many avenues which Styles can follow for the rest of his career, defining him more as a musician. It is a relatively unique and quality set of songs for a first album, especially due to the nature of his fan base and situation, having stepped into it with a large fan base from One Direction. It’s an exciting album to listen to, and it sparks a curiosity for what comes next.
I see you – the xx
The xx’s third studio album, I See You, placed number five on our top ten chart. The London-based indie pop trio of Romy Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith followed up their sophomore album, Coexist, with their first release in four years. With a diaphanous indie sound, I see you undulates between the crisp vocals of Romy Croft and the whisper-like intonations of Jamie Smith in a pleasant and utterly distinctive auditory experience. Maturing from Coexist, the album displays the band’s continuing evolution into an alternative, indie-pop favorite. Croft and Sims share vocals for much of the album, including the crowd-favorite “On Hold” as well as the deeper tracks “Test Me” and “see if I break.” The lyricism touches on typical the xx themes of raw emotionality, with tracks such as “Brave For You” telling Croft’s deeply personal tale of the passing of her parents in a captivating story arc and a distinctly stripped, naked sound. The unique synth-undertones and personal lyrics in I See You keep true to the xx’s distinct atmospheric sound in a mature and undeniably enjoyable album.
A Deeper Understanding – War on Drugs
A Deeper Understanding, the fourth album from The War on Drugs and their major-label debut, finds Adam Granduciel further pushing the boundaries of conventional rock, abandoning modern genre restrictions in favor of a sound which is best described as Springsteenian dad-rock meets shoegaze with a heavy dose of synths. Building off of the success of 2014’s critically acclaimed Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs return with an album which displays Granduciel’s growth as not only as a musician, but also as a producer. Granduciel’s penchant for lengthy songs allows him to create expansive soundscapes which captivate and draw in the listener, perfect for escaping the troubles of real life. From the highs of the blisteringly distorted guitar solo on breakneck rocker “Nothing to Find” to the ambient sonic meandering of standout “Thinking of a Place,” Granduciel manages to make music as emotionally cathartic as anything else released in 2017. Granduciel’s efforts allow A Deeper Understanding to provide a form of escapism in a year when it could not have been needed more.
Damn. – Kendrick Lamar
FestivalPulse’s choice for the third best album of 2017 is Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., his fourth studio album. Kendrick’s recent silence since 2015 and To Pimp a Butterfly has been felt sharply by his listeners, as new rappers have been cycling through the industry at an increasingly frenetic pace. Kendrick returns here true to form, an assertive statement of his ability to continuously build on previous accomplishments and create a new sound, all while maintaining significance in his lyricism. DAMN. maintains the heavy, hard feel that has defined Kendrick since Section.80, while still carrying the well produced sound that creates radio mainstays such as “LOYALTY.”, “HUMBLE.”, and “ELEMENT.”. Contributing to this is his willingness to maintain a flexibility throughout, with beats switching easily from verse to verse and track to track, almost in a Kanye-esque style of production. Out of this comes Kendrick’s likely most upbeat, commercial album to date. Listeners would note that “HUMBLE.,” with its hard-edged lyricism and self-righteous lyrics, actually represents in a break in sound from much of the work, which carries a more upbeat vibe than many Kendrick fans are used to. This is not to say the album is without substance – from the autobiographical “DUCKWORTH.” to the emotionally charged “FEEL.” to the honest and spiritual “FEAR.,” Kendrick maintains his throne on the power of his words, regardless of the context in which they are delivered. In the current status of the rap industry, where significance and aesthetics do not exactly reign, Kendrick demonstrates a return to quality.
Melodrama – Lorde
Lorde’s sophomore album Melodrama comes in as number two on FestivalPulse’s top ten chart. Written over a period of four years and produced with Jack Antonoff of Bleachers, Melodrama was released in June to much critical acclaim. The meticulously produced album signals a noticeable shift from Lorde’s teenage debut, “Pure Heroin.” Reflecting on her bacchanalian transgressions, Melodrama features a mix of emotional, melancholic melodies and upbeat, synth-infused tracks. The dictionary definition of melodrama is a sensational dramatic piece with exciting events intended to appeal to the emotions. Lorde’s album does exactly that in a succinct, yet natural progression of twelve songs of undulating emotional intensity. The dynamism and upbeat melodies of “Green Light” kickstart the album and infuse it with emotional, romantic undertones. Regret and past missteps are fully explored in “Sober” and the deeply emotional, melancholic tone of “Liability,” whose mournful lyrics yearn for others understanding. Melodrama ends as naturally as it began in “Perfect Places,” whose lyrics pervade a dramatic sense of teenage escapism with up-beat tones that reach a gratifying crescendo in the chorus. The album is quintessentially Lorde, defying many well-established songwriting and producing norms to form a melodic and emotionally-gratifying auditory feast.
Nashville Sound – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
The Nashville Sound was Festival Pulse’s number 1 album of 2017, packed with ten southern rock hits that exemplify a dying generation. The 400 Unit paint a country background with their melodic blues guitar on “Last of my Kind,” while Jason Isbell fills the song with his introspective lyricism. Isbell feels the growing alienation in this country as he clings to his traditional southern roots. The pace of the album kicks into another gear as the 400 Unit jam out on “Cumberland Gap,” and Isbell becomes even more desperate. He dreams of a way out on “Tupelo,” and isn’t afraid to turn political on “White Man’s World” as he reminisces on the racial disparities that still find themselves at the forefront of today’s social scene. On the clear highlight of the album, Isbell contemplates the longevity of marriage on the hauntingly beautiful “If we were vampires.” The second half of the album, just as powerful as the first, boasts another rock hit with “Hope the High Road,” an added tension with the perfectly awkward placement of their “Anxiety” track, and another introspective look into a small town relationship on “Molotov.” Musically, this album nails simplicity, and tells an important story for millions of Americans along the way.
Interested in Blind Pilot? Check out our piece, Experience an Experience: A Night Guided by a Blind Pilot.
Otherwise, bookmark Festival Pulse to keep up to date with festivals and their artists.