Categories: Music

FREEwilliamsburg’s Top 25 Albums of 2017

Trump is still standing, the internet is no longer free and open, and we’re one year closer to the dreaded L train shutdown. But hey, at least we can finally dance… to these twenty-five albums.

25) Priests – Nothing Feels Natural

LISTEN: Nothing Feels Natural
While DC political-punks Priests have been around since 2012, this year saw the release of their debut full-length album, Nothing Feels Natural, via their own Sister Polygon label. The album has more of a post-punk influence than the earlier Eps and despite the name of the record, it definitely feels like a natural move for the quartet. Priests are perhaps the best current example of a band that are the sum of their parts, with Taylor Mulitz (bass) and Daniele Daniele (drums) forming one of the most interesting rhythm sections around, GL Jaguar’s classic post-punk tone, and Katie Alice Greer’s vocals have found an expanded range and sound from their earlier Eps that go perfectly with the new material.
– Chris Quartly

24) Power Trip – Nightmare Logic

LISTEN: Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)

If Manifest Decimation was Power Trip’s Cowboys From Hell, Nightmare Logic is their Vulgar Display of Power—an album at once heavier and catchier than its already pretty heavy/catchy predecessor. From mid-temp riff-romps like “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe” to full on d-beat neckbreakers like “Waiting Around to Die”, Nightmare Logic is not only a step forward in every conceivable direction—production, songwriting, musicianship—but also, like Power was for Dime and the boys, the Austin crossover quartet’s big breakthrough moment. Blasting in hockey arenas and on NXT broadcasts across America, Nightmare Logic is the year’s most un-ignorable metal record and a thrilling snapshot of a little Texas thrash band done good.

– Coleman Bentley

23) Waxahatchee – Out In The Storm

Listen: Never Been Wrong

I saw Waxahatchee early in the year as a duo opening for The New Pornographers, and I’ve always preferred Katie Crutchfield’s songs when they’re delivered at their slowest and most bare, so while I enjoyed the first single from the record (Silver), I was hoping the bigger sound wasn’t going to be the norm. However, the sign of a great writer is to take you along with them and turn you around, and Out in the Storm is her best effort yet, with more layers and more guitars than before, turns out their all the better for it!
– Chris Quartly

22) Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – The French Press

LISTEN: Julie’s Place

The French Press is the second EP for this Melbourne-based Subpop band – a follow-up to last year’s fantastic Talk Tight. Not a moment is wasted on the EP’s too-brief 23 minutes, as the band showcases its skillfulness at creating hook-filled indie rock. If you’re a fan of jangly pop with lots of guitars, you’ll love The French Press. We sure do and are hoping for a full length in 2018.
– Robert Lanham

21) Shabazz Palaces – Quazarz: Built on a Gangster Star/ Jealous Machines

LISTEN: Shine A Light
2017 may have felt like DAMN’s world, with every other hip-hop record just living in it, but Shabazz Palaces do not operate within this world. While Kendrick and Vic Mensa were down here hogging all the oxygen, Palaceer Lazaro was riding a galactic bulldozer straight for the outer reaches. He came back with a document of his travels: Quazarz: Built on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machine, a double LP of  of interstellar, free-jazz inspired jams. You’d be forgiven for assuming that Quazarz was a Brainfeeder release (Sub Pop, actually!), as the double album’s closest relative is probably Flying Lotus’ space opera Cosmogramma, another artifact from hip-hop’s fringes. It’s every bit as good as Fly-Lo’s magnum opus, and similarly demands every bit of your attention. Quazarz differs in that it never really pushes the throttle past Mach 1 (plus uhhh, the whole rapping thing.) Probably THE stoner album of 2017.
– Peter Rittweger

20) Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – Youth Detention

LISTEN: I Had to Laugh
We’ve liked Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires since first stumbling onto a set at CMJ in 2014, and while their record at the time was a blaze of AC/DC-inspired southern rock and roll (released via Sub Pop), I was very excited to hear that they had signed to Don Giovanni Records for what would be their third album, Youth Detention. The rough edges have been sharpened and while the fire is still there in spades, I would say Youth Detention is perhaps the best radio-rock album I have heard in many a year, the songs hit fast and true but are filled with catchy hooks and one can’t help but feel like this is an album that should be in everyone’s car. This is a record that deserves to be paid for, and played loud, with a smile on your face.
– Chris Quartly

19) Tops – Sugar At The Gate

LISTEN: Petals

It was a grueling, bitter year for us all. That’s why TOPS’ unabashedly sweet Sugar at the Gate was such a welcome pleasure. Light as whipped cream, and proud of it, the record floats effortlessly through its ten, honey-filled tracks, powered by its infectious melodies. Jane Penny’s breathy vocals have never sounded more inviting with the band blending the nostalgia of 80s synth-pop with the haziness of early nineties indie. (Don’t miss the gentle guitar stabs on “Petals” which are immediately reminiscent of The Fixx.) Though it falters a tad in its second half, Sugar at the Gate is a delight and the Montreal band’s best record to date.

– Robert Lanham

18) Pallbearer – Heartless

LISTEN: I Saw The End

You probably know Pallbearer as the metal band everyone who doesn’t really like metal really likes. And that’s fair. Or at least it was until Heartless came along. On their third full-length, Pallbearer are no longer the Warning-worshipping funeral doom outfit or slowed-down southern boogie band you thought you knew, carving out the truest, bravest encapsulation of their sound yet. Like baroque slowcore beamed to this planet from an alternate reality where rock stars still play rock music, Heartless is anything but—an elegant, operatic reaffirmation of both life and metal that goes down like that nice bottle of red you’ve been saving for the end of days.
– Coleman Bentley

17) Slowdive – Slowdive

LISTEN: Sugar for the Pill

Since it’s their first album since 1995’s Pygmalion, you’d think Slowdive could have come up with a more inventive name.  But alas, we can forgive them because their latest, self-titled release is nearly as strong as anything they’ve produced. Slowdive finds the band revisiting the warm shoegaze they’re known for with fantastic songwriting by Neil Halstead. It’s easy to overlook a staple band like Slowdive that’s been making music for years (forgive us please, The Feelies) but Slowdive’s return was too charming to ignore.
– Robert Lanham

16) The War On Drugs – Deeper Understanding


If you’re apt to complaining that The War on Drugs sound like a slickly-produced Dire Straits with songs that drag on forever, you’re going to hate Deeper Understanding, just like you hated their last record. I happen to love them precisely because they sound like a slickly-produced Dire Straits with songs that drag on forever. Deeper Understanding is more upbeat than the band’s last outing, but no less textured or hypnotic. The spell is occasionally broken when I’m reminded that the sentimental lyrics are likely about Krysten Ritter – who front man Adam Granduciel is dating – but at least he’s not paired up with a Kardashian.

– Robert Lanham

15) Incendiary – A Thousand Mile Stare

LISTEN: The Product Is You

If Long Island hardcore is a capital-F family—think the Corleones, the Sopranos, and the Bluths—then Thousand Mile Stare installs Incendiary as the acting dons. One of the single most diverse, memorable, song-centric slabs of hardcore since Jane Doe, each and every outpouring of anger on Thousand Mile Stare—from the foreboding opener “Still Burning” to the scathing capitalist critique “The Product if You”—carves out its own sonic space at the base of your skull. This is not 10 blows from the same scabbed fist, as so many genre peers press, shrink wrap, and ship. It’s an honest-to-goodness album, with each song gathering its own serrated hooks and foundation-splitting riffs under a single ideological umbrella: If we don’t fight, we’re fucked.

– Coleman Bentley

14) Liars – TFCF

LISTEN: No Help Pamphlet
Liars were always the quintessential Williamsburg, Brooklyn band to me. More than the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Dirty Projectors or Black Dice or TV on the Radio or LCD Soundsystem. They were the band that felt like the next link in the chain that included the Arkestra, The Factory, and No-wave. The era Liars defined for me has come and gone, and in a way, so have Liars. TFCF is the first solo Liars record for Angus Andrew, who always shared songwriting duties with Aaron Hemphill. It’s also his best in a half decade or so. Andrew sings, “Okay, that’s it, that’s all the songs I really like. Um, so I hope that you’re not burning out, and I hope that you have a really great break. And I’m thinking of you all the time,” on “No Help Pamphlet,” probably the most gutting song I’ve heard about missing a friend and creative partner. As I listen, I don’t only miss Hemphill. I miss those days.
– Peter Rittweger

13) Blanck Mass – World Eater

LISTEN: Rhesus Negative

Fuck Buttons are kinda known for being a gateway band for people getting into noise and extreme music. Its offshoot, Blanck Mass, is a gateway to that gateway, and if you’re looking to dive into any these universes, World Eater is a great place to start. It’s definitely the most immediately likeable album John Power has ever put out. What’s impressive about it, is that while it’s probably Power’s “pop” album, and thereby the one that will, on paper, alienate anyone who takes extreme music a little too seriously, it just doesn’t do that in practice. It’s still pretty noisy, but it’s been harnessed and contextualized. The album’s populist bend is a reaction to the preceding year’s events; its title, according to Power, “is a reference to the inner beast inside human beings that, when grouped en masse, stops us from moving forward towards good.” Despite the doom and gloom, it’s also pretty danceable. World Eater is an album of paradoxes, and a vital touchpoint in an impressive catalogue.
– Peter Rittweger

12) Bonobo – Migration

LISTEN: Break Apart

Leave it to Bonobo to craft the perfect soundtrack for the end of the world. In his sixth studio album, LA-based electronic artist Simon Green packs the essence of the human plight into 12 masterfully produced tracks that range from melancholy to joyful, downtempo to upbeat, minimal to complex. Bonobo’s commitment to creating layered, emotional music remains consistent in Migration which incorporates elements from numerous genres, resulting in a clean package that celebrates his unique artistry and unmatched production skills. The bittersweet lyrics and smooth vocals of Break Apart (feat. Canadian/Danish R&B duo Rhye) deserves a top spot on any 2017 post-breakup playlist, while Kerala‘s funky bass line feels right at home in a deep house club set. “Life has highs, lows, loud and quiet moments, beautiful and ugly ones,” Green says to describe his newest compilation. Stream this bad boy with a tall glass of mezcal in hand, and you’ll start to see some glimmers of hope for mankind.

– Megan Venzin

11) Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

LISTEN: The Falling Veil

Let’s just get this out of the way: Reflections of a Floating World is hardcore guitar porn, an oodly, noodly planet-spearing psych-metal comet launched from a cosmic barrel in the deep ether of time—1971 if I had to guess—and space. Once you get past the callous-bursting solos and river-like stream of riffs, however, you’ll find a rock record of ancient power, a monolithic 65-minute journey through, seemingly, the entire recorded history of post-blues in America. An eight-minute pedal-steel freakout that flirts with the height Zeppelin’s theremin-fellating excess may be a footbridge too far, but if you can get there, Elder have another world waiting on the other side.
– Coleman Bentley

10) White Reaper – The World’s Best American Band

In a year when imbeciles blathered endlessly about “Making America Great Again” again, White Reaper actually tried to with a record as American as Cheap Trick and air guitar. The World’s Best American Band is ten party songs plain and simple, half clocking in under 3 minutes, that will remind listeners of ZZ Top, Kiss, and more recently Free Energy.  There are no ballads to be found, just plenty of heavy riffs, anthem-style vocals, and harmonizing lead guitars. Every song on this record could slip in seamlessly on that 70s rock station you listen to during the holidays that still plays “Get the Led Out.” In other words, it’s fantastic.

– Robert Lanham

9) Destroyer – Ken

Following  the bombastic and dreary Poison Season we’re happy to report that Destroyer’s Ken is a fantastic rebound. Most reminiscent of 2011’s Kaputt, Ken is yet another strange, sax-filled (and-sex-filled) journey through 80s synth-pop. Where a lesser artist would simply rehash a nostalgia for the radio pop of that era, Dan Bejar subverts it, finding a sound that’s evocative, psychedelic, and utterly his own.
– Robert Lanham

8) Bitchin Bahas – Bajas Fresh

When they’re not putting out records with other Drag City oddballs like Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy or Circuit des Yeux, Bitchin Bahas are busy building a reputation as one of our most dynamic and consistent electronic bands. Their latest Bajas Fresh, whose title leaves us with a craving for tacos, doesn’t break much new ground for the Bahas, but instead illustrates a band perfecting their sound. Their subtle, warm landscapes are built upon a series of well-selected loops, creating music that is at once meditative and vital.
-Robert Lanham

7) Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me

Like Benji in 2014, Carrie & Lowell in 2015, and Skeleton Tree last year, A Crow Looked At Me is a gut-check, the raw, unfiltered human grieving process compartmentalized and compressed into 11 free-form folk missives. The sound of Phil Elverum coming to terms with the loss of his wife to cancer, A Crow Looked at Me is spare, sparse, and, at times, almost too tough to listen to, but in its fleeting moments, when the clouds part and a good memory bubbles to the surface like a sunset, it is, quietly, simply transcendent. Maybe its too much to stomach for you—and we certainly wouldn’t blame you if it was—but just like life, the collective whole is worth the fleeting pain.
– Coleman Bentley

6) Ryan Adams – Prisoner

Sometimes a record comes along that just captures you in the moment. I’d dipped in and out of Ryan Adams’ discography about 15 years ago but I didn’t feel it at the time and never went back. However, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to an album so many times in a single year than I have done Prisoner, since I was a teenager. The title track in particular tackles that well-worn subject of forbidden love perfectly that even great writers can only manage sparingly, if at all. While some may prefer Adams in a more rustic vein, the immaculate production is another triumph here, and though I could understand people saying that it’s perhaps a bit too similar to his self-titled album from 2014, and even though this ends up as #6 on our list, it’s hard for me to see past this being my personal favourite of 2017 by some distance.
– Chris Quartly

5) Aye Nako – Silver Haze

Every time I heard awful news about one of my heroes being a disgusting, reprehensible pervert this year, I played Aye Nako’s Silver Haze. Needless to say, I listened to a lot of Silver Haze this year. The record’s “sad songs about being queer, trans and black” are a reminder of what emo, and punk rock in general, is really about – feeling safe and secure with who you really are, and what you’re doing in life. Silver Haze’s candid subject matter may make the record political by default, but it is by no means an album of rallying cries, and the tempo rarely, if ever, leaves the mid-range. The addition of new guitarist and songwriter Jade Payne, who previously played in Sad13, has really helped evolve the Brooklyn band’s sound. You can still hear the band’s pop-punk roots on “Maybe She’s Born With It,” and “Half Dome,” but Payne, and by extension, Sadie Dupuis’, influence overwhelms everything else. In the best way.
– Peter Rittweger

4) Curtis Harding – Face Your Fear

Anyone who follows Free Williamsburg won’t be surprised to see Curtis represented in this list, we’ve been huge supporters since the very beginning. His debut album, Soul Power, was so good that the three years it took for Face Your Fear to come out has seemed like an age. It has, however, been worth the wait, and while the debut was laced with horns and guitars, his latest effort is more like a contemporary take on smoother soul, with keyboards coming to the fore. The star of the show, is of course, Harding’s vocal delivery, which is even better than before. Not only is he continuing to be the only modern soul artist I can think of that doesn’t sound derivative of the past, his latest efforts show another great quality, someone who doesn’t want to make the same record twice.
– Chris Quartly

3) Krallice – Go Be Forgotten

At this point, every new Krallice release comes as something of a surprise, but Go Be Forgotten is shocking not because of the context—the band’s second unannounced full-length dropped in the span of a month this fall—so much as the content: A blushless, full-blooded return to the Krallice of yore. Far more than a simple nostalgia trip, however, Go Be Forgotten—a violet wash of synth swells in the eye of a swirling extra-terrestrial tremolo-storm—is the relentlessly experimental quartet’s most focused, melodic, and listenable (there, I said it) record since Years Past Matter, begging listeners to step out from behind the lab glass and finally, after years of careful observation, face the gale head on.

– Coleman Bentley

2) Big Thief – Capacity

Brooklyn-based quartet Big Thief stepped up their game massively in 2017, and that’s saying something after their 2016 debut, Masterpiece. While the former was a wonderful record, Capacity somehow manages to handle the fragile melodies and delicate finger picked guitar parts with so much more confidence, while also becoming more bare and intimate at the same time; quite the achievement. As long as Adrianne Lenker and co keep putting out records this beautiful, we won’t have to pine for the days when Mark Kozelek could remember what a vocal melody sounded like.
– Chris Quartly

1) Uniform – Wake In Fright

Everyone’s got their own soundtrack to the end of the world, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a better one than Uniform’s Wake In Fright, the first album to ever top both of our year end lists. Released on the morning of Trump’s inauguration, Wake In Fright’s songs are portraits of characters on the brink of collapse; the kind of people you’d meet in a country hungover from a two-hundred and fifty year long bender, drunk on avarice; only now forced to deal with reality. Rather than holing up in bed with a fistful of Advil and a couple of bottles of Gatorade, Ben Greenberg and Michael Berdan have armed themselves with kick drum bombs, gunshot snares, blistering riffs and pummeling noise.

“We are surrounded by war and the whole world is burning and it doesn’t seem like there are any appropriate reactions or responses left anymore,” Greenberg said in the album’s presser. “This music is our response to and our reflection of the overwhelming violence, chaos, hate, and destruction that confronts us and everyone else in the world every day of our lives. When we play, I don’t feel powerless anymore. I hope this record can help others transcend their anger and frustration.”

It’s definitely helped us this year. And David Lynch too.

– Peter Rittweger

Peter Rittweger :Peter resides in Bushwick, Brooklyn and is an unrepentant Donnie Darko apologist.