In 2017 I listened to over 250 new albums, and considered roughly 70 of them to be worthwhile on some level. Of those, the 25 best were selected to be considered the greatest of the year. Here is the countdown of the top ten…
#10: Low Cut Connie – Dirty Pictures (Part I) – 10 songs / 32 minutes / Released May 19
Best known for their hits “Rio” from 2011’s Get out the Lotion and “Boozophilia” from 2012’s Call Me Sylvia (featured on an Obama family playlist 2015), these guys don’t take themselves too seriously, whether on record, in concert, or in person. Led by piano player and songwriter Adam Weiner, they want you to dance, bang your head, and not think too much. I had the pleasure to see their May 30 set at the Neurolux, which was best described as ridiculously high energy. Adam was in motion throughout, gyrating and dancing on his piano bench, and at times on the piano itself (named Shondra, in case you were curious).
I had the opportunity to chat with Adam and his bandmates before their set, and they are some seriously humble, low key dudes. Side note/distraction: While chatting with Adam, I asked him to sign my ticket stub, which he immediately obliged to do. His signature? One word: Adam. And one drawing: a penis. Well done, sir. This is some piano-driven sleazy rock and roll, which always garners Jerry Lee Lewis comparisons. For me they are more reminiscent of the Doors, or early Rolling Stones, with loads of piano along for the ride.
All of that aside, this record is worth your time. This is consistently enjoyable, light-hearted rock-n-roll. The album is full of quick 2-3 minute shots of catchy guitar riffs accompanied by rollicking piano chords. Themes of the album include: the revolutionary power of music (“Revolution Rock n Roll”), obsession and addiction (“Dirty Water”), the ubiquity of bad news in today’s society (“Death and Destruction”), spreading pink eye and herpes (Montreal”), dating a woman way too hot to be with you (“Angela”), and the pitfalls of having an “open” relationship (“Love Life”). The best music is found on the first half of the record, with the exception being “What Size Shoe”, the album closer in which Adam asks sarcastically what the hell he has to do to make his demanding woman happy.
The rest of the music recorded during this studio session is due to be released in 2018. If this album is any indication, I look forward to that release, and you should too.
Key tracks: “Death and Destruction”, “Revolution Rock n Roll”, “What Size Shoe”
#9: The Orwells – Terrible Human Beings – 13 songs / 38 minutes / Released February 17
Hooky sing-along punk rock that I just can’t get enough of. This record even comes complete with a perfectly “broken” album cover, and boy do I have a soft spot for tacky/goofy album covers. Their previous records showed promise, but this is their most complete and consistently enjoyable effort to date. The first track, “They Put a Body in the Bayou”, is a perfect representation of what these guys do at their best. Mario Cuomo’s vocals are the epitome of slacker/punk delivery, with a lazy drawl but biting undertone. The riffs, provided by Mario’s cousin Dominic Corso, are smooth as silk, and brothers Henry and Grant Brinner provide a worthy rhythm section. Incredibly, these guys were signed to a label while still in their Illinois high school, and graduated only four years ago. To say they have a bright future ahead of them would be an understatement. Given their teenage emergence and danceable rock and roll, I can’t help but be reminded of The Arctic Monkeys, who came from across the pond at a similar age (although with more considerably more hype) a decade ago.
“Black Francis”, an homage to the legendary Pixies singer/guitarist who obviously serves as an influence, is a fun 2 1/2 minutes, with its “Black Frank has got my world in his hands” sing-along chorus. “Hippie Soldier” features catchy “sha-la-la-la-la” call and answer vocals, a great guitar riff, and a pounding drum beat. Mario encourages a hipster to go buy some records and discount clothes, and informs him that “just because you took the easy way out, doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about”. There are down moments here throughout, but when this band is on their game, they are tough to beat, as evidenced by “Double Feature”. The album closer logs in at over 7 minutes and has an absurdly catchy chorus and slow-burn ending. Listen to this one and tell me that “Came from the wrong side of the tracks, showed up with scratches down his back, got his Camaro painted black, and he aint ever coming back” isn’t stuck in your head. It has been stuck in mine all damn year.
Key tracks: “They Put a Body in the Bayou”, “Hippie Soldier”, “Double Feature”
#8: Ryan Adams – Prisoner – 12 songs / 42 minutes / Released February 17
Ryan Adams’ 15th studio effort since breaking up country-tinged rock band Whiskeytown at the turn of the century is his most overtly pained, which is really saying something. Written shortly after his breakup with Mandy Moore, he distills his very real pain into some worthwhile pop/rock melodies complete with sharp, raw lyrics. This is heavy stuff if you pay attention to what he is saying, but if you are a fan of mellow rock and roll in the 80s AOR vein, look no further. He compares himself and his feelings to that of an inmate on “Prisoner”, saying repeatedly that if loving her is wrong, then he is a criminal, a prisoner. He has no shame in asking if he is still loved on the lead single “Do You Still Love Me?”, and it is clear from his delivery and the entertainment headlines that the answer is no.
I must admit that Ryan Adams is one of my favorite artists and quite possibly my favorite contemporary songwriter, so I am biased to liking just about anything that he releases. Although there are a few weak songs here (see “Anything I Say to You Now” and “We Disappear”), the bulk of this album is quite lovely in its sadness and despair. The highlight of the album for me is the visceral recalling of life after a breakup that wasn’t his idea on “Shiver and Shake” when Ryan laments to “close my eyes and see you with some guy, laughing like you never even knew I was alive” and “I’ve been waiting here like a dog at the door, you used to throw me scraps, but don’t do it anymore”. Pretty hard to beat that, my friends.
If you are a fan of Mr. Adams, you will dig this record. If you are a fan of sad bastards writing about their sadness, you will dig this record. If you are not familiar with his work, I would encourage you to start with his excellent Gold or Love is Hell records first. Like many others, I am curious to see what direction he is going to take next.
Key tracks: “Shiver and Shake”, “Do You Still Love Me?”, “To Be Without You”