Releases of the Year: 2017

It was much harder to determine my releases of the year for 2017, as opposed to last year. For one, this was a year of incredible music. While many major artists made incredible albums, there was no shortage of amazing releases from smaller bands and labels. This shows that many bands have always been able to do it themselves in terms of releasing music, and the spirit of hardcore itself thrived this year. To compensate for that, I created a list of my top 10 releases, as well as a list of my favorite singles, demos, and EPs, in no order. Without further adieu; my top releases of 2017.

1. Ctrl - SZA

If you haven’t listened to this album yet, welcome to your new guide to life.  SZA’s effortless vocal range, from whisper-soft and airy, to a passionate, raspy cry, makes her able to invoke any emotion in her unique blend of hip-hop, indie, and neo-soul. What also aids in this is her incredible songwriting ability - giving vibes of an all-knowing big sister, SZA covers issues like insecurity (Supermodel, Normal Girl, Drew Barrymore, Garden, 20 Something), a woman’s sexuality (Doves in the Wind, The Weekend), trust issues (Prom), and ultimately giving yourself a break to tune in with yourself (Anything, Go Gina). Though SZA herself just turned 28, this is very much a coming-of-age album that I think could help a lot of people. This makes it relatable to almost any “20 something,” no matter their background or personal issues. Even though this is considered a hip-hop/neo-soul album, some songs almost wax indie, alternative, or even pop. This results in a soothing listen with something to suit almost every situation.  SZA manages to keep Ctrl fun and light when the situation calls for it, while simultaneously always owning - and never trivializing - her own feelings. The icing on the cake is her well-selected features from Top Dawg labelmates Kendrick Lamar (Doves in the Wind) and Isaiah Rashad (Pretty Little Birds). In addition to musical features, SZA features her mother and grandmother, who give brief statements on a few topics at the end or beginning of a few songs. My personal favorite is her mother, Audrey, on the beginning of “Supermodel” and end of “Doves,” providing the album's name inspiration - “That is my greatest fear, that if, if I lost control, or did not have control, things would just, you know I would be… fatal. … We take things, and my influence so far, and then it's out of my hands. And, y'know, while as I said it can be scary, it can also be a little bit comforting. Because I've learned that when I get to that point, and I can acknowledge, ‘Okay, Audrey, that's as much as you can do,’ I can actually let it go.” Picking favorites from Ctrl is situation is extremely hard, as the entire album is a cohesive masterpiece, but if I had to choose a few…

My favorite tracks are Doves in the Wind, Supermodel, The Weekend, and Normal Girl.

2. DAMN. - Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick has, once again, proven himself as one of the greatest rappers of all time, on what is arguably his best album yet. He flawlessly covers topics like police brutality (XXX.), growing up black in America (DUCKWORTH.), religious discovery (YAH.), and issues dealing with fame (FEAR., LUST., PRIDE.), while also managing to balance the album with songs and verses that reflect Lamar’s cocky attitude.  His confidence and flow show that he is truly one of the greats, with no plans of stopping his quest to “off [the] fucking heads” of every other rapper in the game. While it’s been a year where SoundCloud rappers and synthesized emotions thrive, DAMN. provides something unmistakably real. That’s not to say that DAMN. doesn’t have its fun as well, with energetic songs like “LOYALTY,” “HUMBLE,” and “LOVE.” Further showing his multifacetedness, Kendrick had guest features from Rihanna, U2, Zacari, and Kid Capri - two huge names in the music business, an emerging soul artist, and a Bronx DJ (of whom provided all those “y’all know what happens on Earth…” 90’s club-esque parts). Kendrick’s equal-opportunity approach to collaborations shows just how humble he is, while still acknowledging his worth. With all these things considered, DAMN. is sure to be a classic rap album for years to come.

My favorite tracks are ELEMENT, DNA, XXX, HUMBLE, and LUST.

3. Blessed By the Burn - Left Behind
(full review here)

Left Behind’s debut, Seeing Hell, is one of my favorite albums of all time, which made it pretty hard to top. However, they managed to exceed all of my expectations with their sophomore release. Their sound has matured, without being different enough to alienate fans. The band has moved into a more sludgy, metal-based direction, with riffs that will be stuck in your head for days (which is dangerous, because they will also make you want to beat someone’s ass). Blessed By the Burn flawlessly explores topics like suicidal ideation (Early Mourning, Scarred Soul), mental illness (Sweetness of Nothing), abuse (Tough Love), and more, all while keeping a sound that is less brooding, and more reminiscent of the hillbilly metal you’d put on to drive through the desert with a gun in the passenger seat. As I said in my full review; “Left Behind has created an album comprised of so many unique-sounding songs, while still releasing a cohesive, blended release.”

My favorite tracks are Scarred Soul, Early Mourning, Tough Love, and Focus on the Flesh.

4. Sounds of Loss - Orthodox

This band truly blew me away with this record. While I’ve always liked Orthodox, they have truly managed to distinguish themselves with this album. Echoing influences like Slipknot, Korn, and other nu-metal legends, Sounds of Loss feels more like a cohesive concept than a traditional album. This is proven by the almost theatric way the band incorporates the songs into their shows, showing the anger and raw emotion behind the album in its performance. (Also, there’s a sick strobe light show that they do themselves.) Vocalist and songwriter Adam Easterling describes lyrical inspiration for the album in his article on No Echo; “[Breaking Wheel’s Kyle Mykietiuk’s] writing style made me think of speaking in the form of someone else, in the case of Sounds of Loss—from the perspective of death itself as a living being.” More specifically, he explains to New Noise that it is “... centered on the theme of anticipated grief. It’s preparing for the loss of loved ones … due to various reasons including addiction and illness. I tried to write about the strain that grief and loss have mentally, physically and even on your faith.” All of this comes across in a fresh take on the oft-written about topic of death, with a sound that’s abrasive and angry enough to make you feel strong enough to take those feelings head-on. Though this may have the shortest write-up in the list, Orthodox’s Sounds of Loss largely speaks for itself.

My favorite tracks are The Anticipation, Panic, I’m Scared of You, and Resent Me.

5. Forever - Code Orange

What more can be said about the massive impact Code Orange has had this year? Arguably paving the way for the 90’s metalcore revival, touring with Hatebreed, and getting a Grammy nomination are just a few of the things the band has managed to do with their 365 days. Creating this incredible album is just the cherry on top. Though it came out in the first two weeks of 2017, Forever set the tone that this was going to be an excellent year for hardcore. The band has progressed from their earlier noise-influenced brand of hardcore to a sound that is all their own, featuring industrial and electronic sounds between songs from their former guitarist, Shade Balderose. Guitarist and vocalist Reba Meyers gets her own song with Bleeding in the Blur, a brooding, catchy track that gives a break to the heaviness and intensity that the rest of the album carries. What stays constant is drummer and vocalist Jami Morgan’s signature raw vocal style. Lyrically, this album is here to remind us that Code Orange’s New Reality has arrived, with tracks that speak on breaking the mold (Bleeding in the Blur, The New Reality, Real),  fakeness and bully mentalities (Kill the Creator, Spy), and just generally being better than you (No One is Untouchable). Another familiar constant is the band’s ability to write lyrics that read like dark poetry, while still sounding badass while being performed, like Ugly and Hurt Goes On.

My favorite tracks are Spy, Real, Hurt Goes On and Bleeding in the Blur.

6. Good Nature - Turnover

Turnover continue on their journey into the dreamy world of indie with their third album,  Good Nature. Released at the end of the summer, the album sounds like exactly that. Breezy, cool instrumentation, poetic lyrics, and vocalist Austin Getz’s soft tone gives the audience a relaxing, yet never dull listening experience. This album received resistance from those who are not huge fans of mushy, romantic tracks (Bonnie (Rhythm & Melody), Pure Devotion, Super Natural), but I would argue that Getz writes these topics in a refreshing way that makes all of these tracks sound much more up to interpretation. Songs like Breeze and Curiosity echo the sound of their previous release, Peripheral Vision, while many of the others have a more traditional indie/dream pop sound that manages to sound more classically influenced, a bit more refined, without straying too far from PV. As I previously mentioned, though there is a lot of love-related tracks on this album, Getz also explores topics like feeling burnt out or anxious (Sunshine Type, Breeze, Butterfly Dream, What Got In the Way), being tolerant of others’ ideas (Curiosity), self-love (Nightlight Girl), living in a minimalistic, relaxed way (Living Small, All That It Ever Was), and more. While it took a minute for many to get used to Good Nature (we’re a long ways away from tracks like “Sasha” and “Flicker & Fade”) Turnover fans have proved resilient and adaptable. Good Nature is the listening equivalent to a breezy mid-summer walk in the park. Though it is hard to choose...

My favorite tracks are Living Small, Sunshine Type, Nightlight Girl, Bonnie (Rhythm & Melody),  and Butterfly Dream.

7. As You Please - Citizen

This album is, in my opinion, the best work that Citizen has ever put out. Their critically-acclaimed full length album, Youth (2013), was a tough act to follow. It was a successful venture away from their initial pop punk sound, softly leading their fans away with indie influences. When their sophomore album, Everybody Is Going To Heaven (2015) went in a grittier, more 90’s grunge direction, they lost some of their audience. I believe that As You Please is the perfect medium between those two sounds. Leaning into 90’s pop rock influences, Citizen’s newest release channels the likes of popular bands from that era, like Third Eye Blind, with tracks like “In the Middle of It All,” “Control,” and “Ugly Luck.”  Songs like “You Are a Star” take the listener back to the glory days of emo bands like Brand New and Straylight Run. Whether intentional or not, this results in a matured, well-developed, yet effortless-sounding end product that can span a wide variety of audiences. At the same time, tracks like “Medicine,” “Jet,” and “You Are a Star” echo back to the aggressive grunge sound  that fans of Youth are familiar with. Lyrically, vocalist Mat Kerekes continues to show his genius. Many tracks sound abstract and up to interpretation, like “In the Middle of It All” and “Ugly Luck.”  Songs like the title track and “Flowerchild” reflect a vulnerability with different sides of the common topic of love, as well as love lost. All-in-all, As You Please is sure to be a crowd pleaser without ever trying too hard.

My favorite tracks are Medicine, You Are a Star, Fever Days, In the Middle of It All, and As You Please.

8. Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 2 - Cardi B

Cardi B is an unlikely inspiration to many girls. Rising from an abusive relationship. finding her independence through stripping, and making herself into a household name with a reality show and a multi-platinum single in a matter of just a few years is no easy feat. Understandably, the woman has seen some shit. How she expresses that to us is through her highly-underrated mixtapes, Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1 and 2. The latter came out in January, just months after the first. GBM Vol. 2 is a monument to Cardi B’s strength, toughness, and, ultimately, her complete lack of fucks regarding what you think about her. The mixtape includes songs like  “Bronx Season,” “Lick,” “Hectic,” and “Pull Up,” which all make up her relentless attack on her haters that lets you know she’s going to fight you, fight your man, and make sure she gets the bag while doing so. All the while, she stays tongue-in-cheek with lines like “The only time I hold my tongue is when I’m suckin’ dick,” in addition to the entirety of  “Leave That Bitch Alone” and the skit before it - which, lyrically, reads like the hood version of “Before He Cheats.” It takes a lot to write bars addressing your haters without sounding corny, but Cardi B manages to do this beautifully. She shows a vulnerability with the song “Never Give Up,” a softer song featuring Josh X that addresses the struggles of those that are in the place that she used to be in, while also serving to inspire and encourage. Cardi B puts the general feel of this mixtape well in an interview with Global Grind; “Look at Michelle Obama; she’s a very inspiring woman, but… There are a lot of people who have not graduated high school, [or] middle school and they are not going to understand Michelle Obama’s vocabulary. They are going to understand Cardi B’s vocabulary and it’s like, if I can help them in a certain type of way and in an entertaining way, then I’m going to do it.” If all you’ve heard from Cardi B is her singles, then I highly suggest checking out Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 2.

My favorite tracks are Bronx Season, Pull Up, Lick, and Pop Off.

9. Lust For Life - Lana Del Rey

In all honesty, I haven’t been this excited about a release from Lana Del Rey since she released Ultraviolence in 2014. She has always explored new sounds with each era she goes through. Lust For Life is reminiscent to the older, dreamier forbidden love anthems that Lana was known for in her earlier days. While her lyrical content has been described as shallow in the past, Lana has shown that she has the ability to be let loose or write about serious topics. Songs like “Groupie Love,” “Lust For Life,” and “Love” are the perfect lazy, end-of-summer love songs, all ushering the listener into different varieties of a midday daydream. “In My Feelings” and “Summer Bummer” channel Lana’s famous way of intensely pouring her heart out. yet reverting to a false sense of feeling blasé about her love interests, all in the same song. Still, she taps into her ever-wistful side with songs like “13 Beaches,” “Cherry,” and “Heroin.” While this is usually where the subject matter ends  for Lana, she takes almost half of her album to tune into a different side of herself. The reflective “Coachella…” and “When the World Was At War We Kept Dancing” both on Lana’s entire presence, in my opinion, drawing the parallel between living your life and being carefree while the world goes down in flames, and the beauty of doing so. This is bitingly appropriate for the state of the current world, and Lana writes without making anything into too much of an overt protest song. If Lana’s own beautiful contributions to the Grammy-nominated Lust For Life are not enough, features from A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti, Sean Ono Lennon, and the dream collaboration with Stevie goddamn Nicks  will at least partially win over fans from multiple genres, whether you have or haven’t been a Lana fan in the past.

My favorite tracks are Groupie Love, Lust For Life, Summer Bummer, and Cherry.

10. Without Warning - Offset, Metro Boomin, and 21 Savage

This album was released, quite literally, without warning, on Halloween.  This is just 3 months after the release of 21 Savage’s debut full-length, Issa Album, as well as 9 months after Migos’ Culture in January. This album represents to me a quality that many feel is missing in newer rap - darkness and evil. When rappers from back in the day proudly spoke on killing their enemies, selling drugs, and street life in general, you believed it. Lots of newer rappers come off inauthentic and manufactured when they try to talk about how hard they are. Offset and (especially) 21 Savage, however, make their bars come off as a genuine warning. To add to this, Metro Boomin shows his amazing ability to create darker beats that almost have a haunted house music vibe, without ever coming off corny. The intro track, “Ghostface Killers,” is, boldly, a 6 minute song, with a feature from Travis Scott. Everything about that song is a slap in the face to modern rap trends - short, quick, and able to be played in a party setting. Instead, the first few songs on the album serve as a reminder that 1) the bad dudes are here, 2) they’re winning, 3) they’re better at life than you are and 4) you’re going to do what they say. The third point is apparent in songs like Savage’s “Rap Saved Me” and Offset’s “Ric Flair Drip. “ Though both of those songs center around their collective lives of shooting, and drugs, they come off as more radio-appropriate (using that term very loosely) than the rest of Without Warning. Savage’s “My Choppa Hate N***as” and Offset’s “Nightmare” smoothly flow together back into the tone of the intro track. The latter half of the album, while a bit calmer than the start, maintains the mood invoked in the first half, producing an altogether well-rounded album. All in all, this album does exactly what a good collab album should do - every artist is spotlighted without overshadowing one another, and fans of all artists involved can find something that appeals to them in these features. This makes Without Warning, in my opinion, one of the best rap releases of the year.

My favorite tracks are Ghostface Killers, Nightmare, Ric Flair Drip, and Disrespectful.

Honorable mention

Turn Out the Lights - Julien Baker

Admittedly, I could not listen to this album much this year because of how emotionally heavy it is. I am one of the few that can’t do sad music when I’m already sad - I could not handle this record unless I decided I was ready to cry or had already cried that day. I told my therapist this album had come out at the beginning of a session strictly to warn her that I was in my feelings over it. I paid money to tell a woman Julien Baker released new music However, I didn’t want to leave it out of this list, because the emotional power that Baker’s sophomore release carries is apparent in this fact alone. This is entirely meant as a compliment. Baker’s raw vocals, honest lyrics, and beautiful instrumental skills have won me over for the millionth time, and probably will continue to do so as long as I have ears and a heart. My favorite tracks are Shadowboxing, Televangelist, and Happy To Be Here.

Best EPs, demos, and singles

Coup de Grace - Mercy Blow

Best track: “Ill At Ease”
Demo - Lethal Contact

Best track: “Left To Suffer”
Demo - Infamy

Best track: “Death of a Nation”
Demo - A Needle Under the Nail

Best track: “Quasar”
All Love Withdraws - Backbone

Best track: “Worldwide”
Demo - Luxe

Best track: “Force of Change”
Moment of Violence Promo - Kharma

Best track: “Paper Gangster”
Capital Punishment - Detain

Best track: “World of Decay”
Candy Says - Candy

Best track: “Candy Gonna Die”
From Now On - Day By Day

Best track: “Convicted”
Never Had a Choice - Freedom

Best track: “Never Had a Choice”
Change of Pace - Source of Hate

Best track: “Change of Pace”
Winter Demonstration - Vicious Embrace

Best track: “Impure Harvest”
Conflict Theory - Forced Impact

Best track: “Bottom Line”
Time Is Now - Ecostrike

Best track: “Immortal Weapon”
Closer To God - No Victory

Midwest Straight Edge - Inclination

Best track: “No Exit”
Swift Minds of the Darkside - Queensway

Best track: “Swift Minds of the Darkside”
Wrong World - Three Knee Deep

Best track: “Last Man Standin’”
Purged In Flame - Vicious Embrace

Best track: “God Fell Silent”
The Infringement of God’s Plan - Sanction

Best track: “The Prophet Who Saw Fire”
Tomb of a Thousand Sorrows - Another One Dead

Best track: “Another 1 Dead”
God of Rage - Trail of Lies

LP Promo - Bind

Best track: “Life Goes
Winter Tour Demo - Division of Mind

Best track: “Auto-da-Fé”
Demo 2017 - Slowpanic

Best track: “Time”
The New Chapter - Verdict

Best track: “Purity of Mind”

While this year has sucked for a lot of people, there is no denying it was an excellent year for music. May musicians continue to channel their rage, frustration, happiness, love, sadness, and everything in between into music. Your creativity and passion makes an impact on the world.

I am thankful for every reader, every band, and every person who has helped or supported Resonating in any way in 2017. You have no idea how much your encouragement means to me, even if it’s just a “like” on social media. I have a lot of things planned for next year, and I hope to see even more of you here by then.

2018 will be a good year. For Resonating. For hip hop. For hardcore. For us.


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