Article by Sarah Williams.
By sticking to the classic Top 5 format for our end-of-year round-up, I’ve really made a rod for my own back. It would be easier to write a Top 10 or a Top 40 with all the amazing releases this year.
As a result, there are some surprising absences from my Top 5. Propagandhi’s Victory Lap has received a lot of repeat play at Shout Louder HQ, but I’d still take any of these smaller bands over it. Bear Trade, Matilda’s Scoundrels and 88 Fingers Louie have all put out brilliant full-lengths. I’m a huge fan of The Smith Street Band, but for me More Scared of You Than You Are of Me just doesn’t have the sheer gut-wrenching emotive force of their earlier releases. I feel similarly about The Menzingers‘ After The Party.
Shamefully, I’ve not given enough time to Iron Chic’s You Can’t Stay Here or Hard Girls’ Floating Now to include them, although I know I’m going to become obsessed with both. I only recently heard Hateful Monday’s Unfrightened but that would definitely be on the Top 5 if I had got to it sooner! There are also plenty of less punk releases that I have enjoyed. If you’re into Canadian hardcore then You’re Not You Anymore by Counterparts will be a highlight. One of my other favourites has been Thundercat’s Drunk – it’s fabulously eclectic stoner/soul/nu-jazz stuff.
I have one final thing to mention before I get on with it: the new Only Strangers album. The release has been pushed back to 2018, but had it been released in December as planned there is no doubt that it would be in my Top 5. I’ve been rinsing a pre-release copy on repeat for weeks. If you like gruff melodic punk like The Burnt Tapes, Hot Water Music or Iron Chic, keep an eye out for the release in the next few weeks.
Finally, here are my Top 5 Albums of 2017:
#5: Aerial Salad – Roach
Aerial Salad are a refreshing suprise. There is something exciting about their debut album that I can’t explain; it has a modern-classic air to it. Songs like Habits and Problems are instantly memorable and relatable. The bassline on Check My Mind is as comforting as your pulse. The opening line to 97, ‘I just told my Mum I’m gonna kill myself, it’s so easy now,’ is so raw it burns. Roach is an album with guts.
It’s even more suprising that the album sounds refreshing, because in many way it’s copy-cat familiar: Aerial Salad’s sound is reminiscent of bands like Greenday, PUP, Gnarwolves, Jawbreaker and Nirvana. The is a raw quality to the production and rough delivery that makes the album sound fresh, unique and special. Discovering Roach is like finding £50 discarded and trampled in the street. Give it a listen and get ready to become obsessed.
#4: Gnarwolves – Outsiders
Gnarwolves are a somewhat marmite band within the scene, but for me Outsiders is merely further proof that they can do no wrong musically. From the warm, plaintive opening of Straightjacket I am completely and utterly hooked. ‘I found love at the bottoms of bottles, the edges of twilight where my Sunday slips into my Monday,’ is a fitting introduction to Thom Weeks’ evocative and memorable songwriting. The album then cascades through equally dark and uplifting tracks like Wires and Paint Me A Martyr, full of appealing melodies, hooks and infectious refrains.
Every Gnarwolves record to date has had one major tour de force (see: Bottle to Bottle and Melody Has Big Plans) and Outsiders’ is the final track, Shut Up. It’s one of the darkest songs they have ever produced, beginning with slow waves of disappointment that build into a bitter torrent of anger and distortion. The album closes on the final line torn from Thom’s throat: ‘Fuck this, fuck you, I’m gone.’
#3: Grand Collapse – Along The Dew
Grand Collapse play exceptionally fast, heavy thrash and I’ve had a bit of a love affair with them since first hearing them in 2015. Along The Dew was released on TNS Records in May and Christ it’s utterly incredible. From the first squealing bars of the title track, the album hurtles frantically forward with destructive force, dragging you along wide-eyed and slack-jawed.
Calvin Sewell’s vocal sounds like he’s trying to exorcise demons from the depths of his lungs, although if you open the lyric sheet you’ll realise it’s an ascerbic and clever collection of political polemics and thoughtful reflections. The percussion unreletingly drives the record at breakneck pace but the rich, heavy metal-influenced guitar riffs on songs like Omission and the complex little bass licks on tracks like Turncoat really stand out. Unusually, the album excels as one overall piece, rather than as a collection of excellent individual songs. It’s an absolute masterpiece in thrash terms.
#2: Kamikaze Girls – Seafoam
When I was starting to compile my Top 5, I was actually a little surprised that Seafoam had made it into my running order. My love for the album crept up on me unexpectedly. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kamikaze Girls’ moody, atmospheric post-rock style, and I enjoyed Seafoam the second I heard it… but since its release in June I’ve played it again and again and again. Hundreds of times. I’ve fallen madly in love with it.
For a record to really appeal to me, it has to not only hit my musical buttons by also my emotional triggers. It’s rare that I’ve found a record that’s struck both as well as Seafoam has; many of the themes have been particularly pertinent for me in 2017. Berlin and Good For Nothing feel like anthems of self-deprecation, whereas edgier KG Go To The Pub takes all my internalised anger and hurls it at the wall. My favourite song is also their darkest and most personal: Weaker Than, a song so emotional it’s hard to listen to. At all times, Lucinda Livingstone’s guitar is a catastrophic, capcophonic muddle of fuzzy, overdriven tones – it’s a noise that seems to accurately replicate the anxious bundle of thoughts that rattle round my brain. There’s not a second that I don’t love this album.
#1: Darko – Bonsai Mammoth
Bonsai Mammoth is a flawless record. From the gently building introduction on Life Forms into the wall of tight, intense guitar that follows, right through to the descredendo chant of ‘we can stand for something more’ on the final track, every note is perfect. I believe that it’s not only the best release of 2017, but also one of the strongest records of the past five years. I cannot stop listening to it.
Given that Darko have been a band for so long (and they’ve released a host of EPs) I’m shocked that this is only their debut album, but I’m glad they’ve taken so much time and care over the project. Although there are some standout tracks, the record excels as a complete work. It’s thoughtful little touches like The Chernobyl Effect – which serves as a short, light introduction to punchy main single Hiraeth – that unites the songs in a complete long-play format. Throughout Bonsai Mammoth the drums and guitars blend together to create a dynamic soundscape that organically shifts from atmospheric to technical madness. Dan Smith’s vocals are almost vicious in their delivery, but there is captivating quality in his energy and tone that gives Darko an edge. Bonsai Mammoth is a real accomplishment. If you like fast melodic hardcore and you’ve not heard it yet, you’re seriously missing out.
Check out our other End of Year Top 5s:
- Top 5 EP Releases of 2017
- Top 5 Punk Festivals of 2017
- Top 5 Punk Gigs of 2017
- Top 5 Predictions for 2018
Article by Sarah Williams.