Soundbites: The Best Albums of 2017 ... So Far (Part 1) | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Soundbites: The Best Albums of 2017 ... So Far (Part 1)

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The midyear marker always sneaks up on me. But here we are, roughly halfway through 2017. Temperatures may be rising, but the days are getting shorter. Thanks a lot, summer solstice. You're as cruel as you are beautiful.

Given that we're crossing the invisible line that separates early 2017 from late 2017, it seems like a good time to look back at the freshest local albums Seven Days has reviewed this year. All of the major music publications are likely doing the same thing, so why shouldn't we?

It's worth pointing out that some of the albums we've reviewed this year were technically released in 2016. So for our purposes, this recap looks at records we've reviewed this calendar year, regardless of their initial release date. And since we've reviewed some 50 albums so far, we'll need to take two weeks to do a proper summation. This installment includes submissions from January through March.

I'll start by giving a shout-out to two local bands that dropped seriously badass records — and then called it quits.

First, Brattleboro-based indie rockers the Snaz dazzled with their third album, Sensitive Man — though they waited until after its release to announce their demise. It seemed the band was just hitting its stride, which made the retirement sting all the more. As sad as it was to say goodbye to the young quartet, it makes a lot of sense. After all, they formed while in high school. A choice cut is the lead single "Strung Out on Candy Bars," a thunderous celebration of love's intoxicating addictiveness.

And then there's Coquette's final effort, Three. The trio announced its end in conjunction with the EP, so at least we knew right away that it was the band's last serving of spastic, intricately arranged rock. And it's solid from start to finish. But the first track, "Man Provides," is the one I found myself listening to on repeat. I love the way its bookish lyrics clash with its raging punk energy.

One of the more unusual records to land on the music desk early this year was Clam's Sonnendruck. Producer/instrumentalist/choral singer Alex Vitzthum self-produced this odd collection of hyper-synthetic instrumental electronica and Gregorian chant. The juxtaposition of the former's unabashed giddiness and the latter's reverence and sobriety is jarring but unequivocally memorable.

1881 concluded their EP trilogy with Action!, the strongest piece of the three-part series — the first two releases were Lights and Camera. Caught between two eras — the British invasion of the 1960s and the Britpop resurgence of the 1990s — the band proves itself a force to be reckoned with on the contemplative "8 Long Years" and the rambling "Everyday Weekend."

The first proper album from garage rockers Apartment 3 had the honor of being the final offering from the now-defunct Burlington-based label Section Sign Records. And perhaps the best way to experience the album is on the label's preferred medium: vinyl. I'll admit that the record didn't truly speak to me until I heard it on wax. I guess what philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously said is true: "The medium is the message." The band's "insouciance," as reviewer Chris Farnsworth put it, in all of its fuzzy, angsty glory, is fully realized on cuts such as "No Feeling" and "Complacency."

Maiden Voyage crewmember Jarv and beatsmith Thief prove to be a winning combination on their album The Boiler Room. Jarv's mind-boggling rate of rhymes-per-second and Thief's classic-era production style should satisfy most hip-hop fans, no matter if you're OG all the way or if you prefer modern styles. The duo achieves peak perfection on "The Beat."

Instrumental post-rockers Black Ox delivered a brief and confounding self-titled debut. The band's use of dynamic range, slow-building tension and interplay between lead and rhythm guitars make the record a vigorous listen. The album's closer, "Slipstream," is a monstrous and meandering composition.

Spencer Lewis' 26th album, From Now to Now, marks his return to lyrically driven rock after more than a decade of instrumental works. "The Messenger" has the heft of a Peter Gabriel ballad, albeit with a folksier tonal palette.

Hip-hop producer Loupo's third album, Good Company, is smooth, futuristic excellence. Guitarist Max Bronstein and keyboardist Danny Whitney are featured prominently throughout, as is Smooth Antics and smalltalker singer Stephanie Heaghney. The second track, "Letters," puts Heaghney's layered vocals front and center. I can say with confidence that it's one of the top-10 best locally produced songs of the year — and we still have half a year to go.

Clever Girls, a countrified indie-rock threesome that shares members with 1881, dispatched one of the year's most solid works, Loose Tooth. Though they didn't intend to be a "serious" band when they started jamming together in 2016, the members' chemistry led to some truly beautiful songwriting. Tracks such as "Crazy" and "Tell Me No" showcase singer-songwriter Diane Jean Reilly's impassioned outlook, brutal honesty and effortless vocal trill.

Indie-folk singer-songwriter Erin-Cassels Brown has had his hands in several local projects over the past few years, such as the North End Honeys and Little Slugger. His debut EP, Northern Lights, Vol. 1, shows that he's an old soul with a fresh perspective. "Bad Bad News" is a country-western throwback with a rootin', tootin' hook.

Though we never gave the Mountain Says No's Golden Landfill a proper review — we covered the record with a feature instead — it should be noted that this band put out one of the finest records of 2017, too. The off-kilter rock quartet's sophomore effort is full of eerie melodies, menacing riffs and fierce instrumentals. Choice cuts include "Be Like Ryan," a dark, dirge-like slow burn, and the herky-jerky opener "Machu Picchu."

And speaking of records we haven't reviewed, I should mention how much I've been enjoying "There for You," Barika's collaboration with Kat Wright from the former's latest record, When the Time Comes. I hadn't heard it before the band's explosive performance atop the Lakeview Garage during the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. It was glorious — one of the fest's most memorable moments. Wright's soaring vocals are a perfect fit with the band's psychedelic, Afro-beat-tinged rock.

Tune in next week for a look back at April through June.

Listening In

If I were a superhero, my superpower would be the ability to get songs stuck in other people's heads. Here are five songs that have been stuck in my head this week. May they also get stuck in yours. Follow sevendaysvt on Spotify for weekly playlists with tunes by artists featured in the music section.

Wild Cub, "Speak"

SZA, "Aftermath"

Ugly Duckling, "Rio de Janeiro"

Pom Poms, "Betty"

Laura Mvula, "That's Alright"


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