• Hali Neal

Top Albums of 2017


As a music loving writer, I’ve always been fascinated by albums with lyrics that tell an interesting and cohesive story. It’s a plus if the story happens to be one I can relate to. The following 10 albums are stories I couldn’t stop listening to in 2017 and probably won’t stop listening to in the near future:

Palisades – “Palisades”

I can’t say enough good things about this album. It came out almost exactly a year ago now and three of the songs still ended up in my Top 5 most played of 2017 on Spotify. It’s the album I reach for whenever I’m feeling down and want to feel better, the album I reach for whenever I want to listen to a great guitar solo, and the album I reach for when I want music that makes me feel something.

The album has an overarching theme of struggling with relationships, mental health, and the growing culture of violence in the U.S. It’s quite the departure from 2015 EDM influenced party album “Mindgames”. That departure is exactly what got me back on the Palisades boat. I wasn’t the biggest fan of “Mindgames”, but hearing the complete post-hardcore direction they went in live on the Lacey Sturm tour (when I didn’t even know I’d be seeing them, going to that show was a super last minute decision) was a huge and welcome surprise.

I didn’t even believe it was the same band at first. When I actually first sat down to listen to “Palisades”, I was so blown away by the lyrics I knew I had to do a review. Some of my favorite songs include: “Hard Feelings” (the guitar solo makes me want to pick guitar back up so I can play it), “Dancing with Demons” (the lyrics!), “Let Down” (lyrics and music!), “Better Chemicals” (lyrics and music!) and “Dark” (again, the lyrics!)

Trivium – “The Sin and the Sentence”

Trivium is a fascinating metal band primarily for these four reasons: according to Spotify, the name Trivium “comes from a Latin word meaning ‘the three ways’ or ‘the three roads’”, lead singer Matt Heafy is obsessed with food, mythology and culture, which often bleeds over into the music, they’re from Orlando, and they incorporate a lot of different genres into their music. Heafy also has impressive control of his voice, as he’s responsible for the clean lead vocals in Trivium as well as some of the uncleans (guitarist Corey Beaulieu and bassist Paolo Gregoletto are also on vocals). This is on full display in “The Sin and the Sentence”, especially in singles "Betrayer" and "The Heart From Your Hate". There is also some technical guitar and drum work on the album and it gives more layers to their already fantastic music.

latewaves – “Partied Out.”

Admittedly, I only found about this album a few weeks into December while looking through my review queue; but once I heard “A Year Ago Today (Peanut Butter Coffee)”, I had the whole album on repeat for an hour and downloaded it. I deeply relate to the lyrics in “A Year Ago…” where lead singer Mikey Pellegrino feels frustrated and stuck where he is. It was nice to feel like someone understood how that. So many well-intentioned people (including a therapist I saw) would tell me I need to “focus and be happy where I am” but sometimes you’re just frustrated and want someone to validate that without offering advice.

Awaken I Am – “Blind Love”

2017 was a great year for dark music that serves as catharsis, whether that’s for the artist or the person listening or both. Awaken I Am, a recent addition to Victory Records’ roster, is a metalcore band with an R & B type vocalist in lead singer Adam Douglas. His voice soars to heights reached by fellow metalcore frontmen Tyler Carter of Issues and Jonny Craig of Slaves (yeah, yeah, yeah I know what you’re about to say… let’s just focus on the similarities in vocal range, all right?), but it’s the way he uses that voice that, like his counterparts, is one of the things that sets him and the band apart.

I was hypnotized from the first moment I heard the first verse of single “Black Dreams”: Breathe just keep breathing I tell myself/That it was all just a dream/no a nightmare I can't breathe/falling false hope I had become lost/always felt like I was the one who was forgot/a little worn a little torn…

You can feel, not just hear, that the band was struggling with toxic relationships/friendships, self-destruction and anxiety/depression, which is what makes this album so special. Other favorites from “Blind Love” include the title track, “Red Wine, Regret” and “Wolves”, a song railing against “friends” who say they’ll be there for you… until life starts pummeling you to the ground and you feel like you can't get back up again, at least at first.

Sleeping With Sirens – “Gossip”

I’ve had a rocky relationship with being a fan of Sleeping with Sirens…. and with good reason: there was the train wreck that was their 2014 APMAs performance, which was shortly after I became a fan of Quinn’s range; then there was finding out that he consistently couldn’t hit the high note on smash hit “If You Can’t Hang” and didn’t do anything about it; then there were the rumors of Quinn lip syncing live and being rude to fans (the being rude thing has been the only thing that’s had a kernel of truth so far... although I’ve heard recently he’s changed his tune in terms of attitude).

I was ready to and did write the band off until I read an article in Alternative Press with the headline “Sleeping With Sirens are a ‘completely different band’ after recording their new album”.

The contrarian asshole in me said, “oh really?”, so I clicked on it and was genuinely surprised by what I read. The article details Quinn’s struggle with depression as well as the band’s struggle with even liking their craft at times. What really grabbed me was the following conversation between producer David Bendeth, who worked with them on “Gossip”, and guitarist Jack Fowler:

Said Bendeth, “You would rather walk to the fridge and grab a beer than pick up your guitar. Is that true?’

And [Fowler] said, “Yeah. And that’s changing right now.’ It’s crazy how much things have changed in the last couple months.”

This article also confirmed the two main thoughts I’d had the first time I heard “Kick Me”, a single off 2015’s “Madness” (I maintain that, while catchy, it’s lyrically the worst song the band has ever written). My first thought was that Quinn had a major confidence problem. The second was that the band had given up on making a genuine product so they tossed some half-assed songs together because they had to churn out an album for the label. “Fly”, “We Like It Loud” and “2 Chord” are actually pretty decent songs, but that’s an article for another time.

Over the years, and the many label changes the band has gone through, I’ve always gotten the impression that those labels were pushing Sirens hard to be something they didn’t want to be. The savvy listener will realize that Quinn’s stopped singing as high as he used to. The songs certainly seem to come out better when he isn’t trying to hit that one perfect note, like in “If You Can’t Hang”.

Sleeping With Sirens was originally a Rise Records band, then (disastrously and briefly) an Epitaph Records band and, finally, seem to be settled with major label Warner Bros. Records for “Gossip”. Oddly, as most bands seem to feel constricted by major labels, Sleeping with Sirens seems to have found the right home with Warner Bros. Records.

Quinn’s hit his comfort zone vocally in this album, as the few high notes are carefully controlled, something he seemed to have trouble with on previous albums. The rest of the band shines as well as they play more like a cohesive unit who just love making music. The piano, which fans haven’t seen since debut album “With Ears To See and Eyes To Hear”, makes a return as a nice undertone in “I Need To Know”.

This is the band’s most honest record to date, as Quinn owns up to “selling his soul” in blues-y “Trouble” and “getting caught up in the life” in “The Chase”, two of my favorite tracks.

Quinn also indirectly responds to the rumors that have swirled around him and the band since they broke through with 2011’s “Let’s Cheers To This”, with the opening track “Gossip” : “don’t believe the lies you’ve heard about me/about me/about me…”

It’s refreshing when a band can admit they got caught up in the fame and lifestyle, do some soul-searching, and remember why they got into this business in the first place. Despite what the naysayers will undoubtedly say (and I’ve already seen that there’s plenty concerning this band/album), that is the reason I chose this album.

Asking Alexandria – “Asking Alexandria”

I didn’t have the best introduction to Asking Alexandria: I was at Fort Rock in 2013 and had only the vaguest idea of who the band was, but the crowd in Jacksonville was buzzing with excitement. Turned out they were pretty popular in the area at the time. This was also right before Danny Worsnop left, a volatile time for the band. I remember the first thing I heard, probably after asking a fan what the deal was with Asking, was how the band skipped out on a meet and greet because they were too hung over.

This colored my opinion of the band for a long time as I don’t like bands who treat their fans like crap. It wasn’t until I saw the super cringe of the video that is “The Final Episode” at a rock bar that I was like ‘oh, who is this?’. I looked up who the song was by when I got home that night and enjoyed the uber 2009-ness of the video. I kept up with news about Asking Alexandria after that, even if I didn’t consider myself a fan.

Then I got obsessed with We Are Harlot’s “Dancing on Nails”. I like to give people who seem serious about changing second chances. I’ve had Sirius Radio for the last year and a half and Asking Alexandria gets played quite a bit on there, so I actually got more into their comeback (“comeback”) with Denis, liked “I Won’t Give In”, heard about the drama surrounding him and his departure and then finally started jamming to “Into The Fire”. I turn that one all way up whenever it comes on.

This album continues chronicling Danny’s journey back to sobriety and the lyrics are raw and well done.

The Maine – “Lovely, Little, Lonely”

If you’re ever looking for an album that perfectly sums up a feeling, look no further than The Maine’s “Lovely, Little, Lonely”. The music behind the lyrics, especially in “Lovely”, “Little”, and “Only Wanna Talk To You”, encapsulates loneliness better than any words ever could.

Don’t get me wrong, though, the lyrics on “Lovely, Little, Lonely”, are also excellent. Some of my favorite ones can be found in “Black Butterflies and Déjà Vu”, “How Do You Feel”, and a song literally called “Lonely”.

“How Do You Feel” is a great because it calls out the common and toxic way boys are told to bottle up their emotions: Dearly depressed and broken hearted/I'd like to let you know that boys cry too/Don't let them tell you how you're feeling/I wonder why nobody is asking you/Are you free or are you in sorrow?/Are you free or are you being borrowed?”

Paramore – “After Laughter”

This album provides an unflinching and sometimes uncomfortable look into depression, as the album chronicles lead singer Hayley Williams’ struggle with it over the years. It’s also probably the happiest sounding down record you’ll ever hear with its 80s influence and neon colored album art.

It took me a while to warm up to this one because it was so different musically than anything I’d heard from them before. After an awful shift at work shortly after this album came out, though, I finally decided to give it a listen. I was mad it had taken me two months to listen to it because the lyrics just hit so hard. They still do: I’ve had lyrics to “Rose Coloured Boy” (“Low key/no pressure/just hang with me and my weather…”) on my Twitter for the last month or so because they just describe what I’ve wanted to say to people for so long whenever depression sucks me in.

Fake Happy” also resonated with me because it’s about feeling like you need to pretend to be happy because you’re afraid. Afraid that people will look at you differently if they knew the truth (“oh please don't ask me how I've been/Don't make me play pretend/oh no, oh oh what's the use?”) Afraid that your image is based on being the ‘cute bubbly girl’ and how no one could possibly like or relate to the deep, often hopeless, numb, black hole that overtakes you sometimes (depression is a great and terrifyingly convincing liar).

Afraid that everyone around you is just like you and then feeling mad about that. It’s something I struggled with a lot as I entered adulthood and something I still struggle with to some degree today. There’s a Real Friends line that helps tamp the accompanying anxiety to these thoughts that I can’t recommend enough in times like this: “I can’t fix everything around me. I can’t make everybody happy. And it’ll be okay.” It’s a song called “Well I’m Sorry” from their album “The Home Inside My Head”.

Papa Roach- “Crooked Teeth”

I love unflinchingly honest albums, and the latest release from Papa Roach is one of those. From simple but earnest “Help” to the heartwrenching scene “Periscope” sets, it was hard for me not to fall in love with “Crooked Teeth”. I’ve been having my own struggles with mental health this year, as you can see from this post, and it can feel pretty isolating, especially without a good support system you can see in person (though I do love my internet friends – thank you for helping keep me sane during the bad days). It was great to have somewhere to go when I felt alone --- even if it was just between headphones.

Machine Gun Kelly – bloom

I first heard this album because, if I’m being 100% transparent, I was having trouble filling the last two slots on this list and I’ve been a casual fan of Machine Gun Kelly’s (or MGK, or “Gunna” as he’s more commonly called) since I first heard “Wild Boy” two years ago. Note: this doesn’t mean that I just threw any two albums on there, I wanted something that, had I found it earlier, would have been on constant repeat. You know how when you hear a really good album for the first time and it’s like you got the wind knocked out of you? That was “bloom” for me. The thing I like most about him is how versatile he is. He can go from “Wild Boy” to being on “The Voice” with Sam Harris and Bebe Rexha to the rock feel of “Let You Go” to the pensive tempo of “27”. There are the requisite lyrics about smoking weed and kicking back but there are also deeper lyrics also on “27”, “At My Best (ft. Hailee Steinfield)” and “Go For Broke”. It makes him that much more interesting and definitely worth your listen.

I made a Spotify playlist of all these albums if they escaped your attention in 2017… never too late to discover good music. After all, we’re only two weeks into the new year!

#machinegunkelly #mgk #gunna #bloom #paparoach #crookedteeth #paramore #afterlaughter #topalbumslist #lists #topalbumsof2017 #whenmusicspeaks #themaine #lovelylittlelonely #askingalexandria #sleepingwithsirens #gossip #awakenIam #blindlove #latewaves #partiedout #trivium #thesinandthesentence #palisades #writing #musicblogs

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