I’m back, just temporarily for now. Yes, I really don’t review much these days because of time restraints, but the future still holds many albums to be reviewed by me. When that will happen is something I couldn’t tell you right now. Could be in a few months, could be next year, but I still wanted to get my top 10 list written for the year of 2017 because it’s one of the main things I look forward to every year.
This year I’m probably going to be writing more about each album than most years, due to the fact that I never actually wrote initial reviews for any of them, except for one. As well as another I started but never finished. Therefore I’ll do less talking here and start with the list!
But of course, please check out my previous yearly top 10 lists here.
And remember, this is only my opinion, so don’t be an ass. I would however love to hear what your favourite albums were so please feel free to share! Each ranking will be accompanied by a video of my favourite song from the respective album as well. In past years I’d include the “album highlight” for each album, which isn’t always necessarily my favourite, but I decided to change that this year.
#10 – Sumo Cyco “Opus Mar”
Funny enough, I find my choice for the 10th spot is always an (unfortunately) lesser known independent or newer band, and usually a Canadian one. This is not done purposely and I literally just noticed this now as I started typing this paragraph.
Anyway, Sumo Cyco‘s hard rock and metal style hit me like the train that’s on Opus Mar‘s album cover and the three subsequent music videos that have been released from the album thus far. Vocalist Skye “Sever” Sweetnam is a fireball whose next move is always as unpredictable as her last. This is matched by the band’s blend of multiple different elements from groove metal, alternative, punk and electronic. The latter style I’m not too crazy about and perhaps is the reason Opus Mar didn’t contend for a higher spot, but the velocity of every other aspect of each and every song makes me forget any possible negativity every time I put on a song from this great release.
The band is unsigned, but that doesn’t stop them from popping up in hard rock circles, all over the place. I had already previously heard of them before meeting Sweetnam (and making a minor fool of myself when bringing up my memories of her previous and very different musical beginnings back when I was in my early teens) at WTFest last July where I got Opus Mar, which drove me to eventually get their first album Lost In Cyco City which is every bit as dynamic.
Sumo Cyco does everything right which is evident by the 30,000 likes they have on Facebook. It’s this hard work and dedication that helped them beat out a couple of big names for the tenth spot on my list.
Here I post Anti-Anthem for you all to see/hear because it has a music video, but for the record my favourite song has always been a perfect tie between this and Rally.
#9 – Steel Panther “Lower the Bar”
A year ago I’d have been surprised if I knew a Steel Panther album would ever make a top 10 list of mine. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved the band since their YouTube videos of pulling guests on stage to sing 80’s hair metal songs with them. My favourite being when they pulled up David Bryan (who they at no point call by name and only refer to as “the keyboardist for Bon Jovi“) and they played Runaway together. Watch David laugh with joy when Michael Starr hits the high notes at the end that Jon Bon Jovi has been incapable of hitting for years now.
Anyway, Steel Panther has never been the kind of band to release albums I’d expect to be the best albums of their respective years. The only exception is their debut album Feel The Steel. Had I been reviewing albums back then, and if I were to look back on that years releases, I’m sure that album may have been one of my ten favourites of the year. The follow up Balls Out really took a hit musically and concentrated more on the goofy lyrics. While there were some very memorable songs, I never thought it amounted to the debut. 2014’s All You Can Eat was an improvement and an album I sure enjoyed, but I think Steel Panther really got their stride back with Lower the Bar, at least from a music perspective.
I spoke to one fan who told me he was disappointed in the album and his reason was the lyrics, and I agree they’ve had better lyrics, but I’ve come to just want great 80’s influenced hair metal music from these guys and that’s what I got with this. Hell, they could write serious lyrics that aren’t about gratuitous drug use and sex acts and I’d still enjoy the songs here. Actually one song, Wrong Side Of The Tracks (Out In Beverly Hills) as well as bonus track Momentary Epiphany are practically just that.
Lead single Poontang Boomerang is everything I worried Lower The Bar would be like, sounding like an outtake from either of the band’s previous two albums due to its lack of musical punch and it’s major concentration on the only marginally funny lyrics. That’s really the only song I have a problem with as the rest of the album manages to deliver great tunes like the ballad That’s When You Came In (which still has nothing on the band’s classic ballad Community Property) the slow and heavy hitting Wasted Too Much Time and Now The Fun Starts which I believe has a tinge of grunge influence to it. No song to me is better than I Got What You Want which I thought was absolutely dynamic from the first time I listened to that keyboard intro a little before the album came out and still to this day think is one of the band’s best songs.
This is an album I actually wrote about 80% of a review for, I could just never think of a what to write in the concluding paragraph, so while I’ve already been writing a lot more than usual about the albums, this one has been particularly long, so thanks for sticking in there!
#8 – Barenaked Ladies “Fake Nudes
I know, following up a hard rock band like Steel Panther and Sumo Cyco before that with a band like Barenaked Ladies is not something anyone would expect to see. BNL’s Grinning Streak made my first top 10 albums list back in 2013 and it seemed out of place to everyone who read that list too. The truth is that Barenaked Ladies are one of my ultimate favourite bands (who just today was announced will be rightfully inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame) and after their 2015 release Silverball which left me disappointed, I was more than pleased with Fake Nudes. Not just because it was much better than its predecessor, but also because I don’t think the band has ever felt this comfortable on record.
Their fourth album as a quartet, Fake Nudes saw a heavy increase in songwriting by multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn who really upped his game with Bag of Bones and Flying Dreams, both of which are easily the best songs he’s ever written with the band, and being somewhat familiar with his solo work, I may say these are in general two of the best songs he’s ever written. I also have to mention his great acoustic pop song Township of King which closes the album. The song is named after the township right next to where I live and even mentions Canada’s Wonderland, the theme park I live a mere 5 minutes from. Being a Canadian boy raised in the York Region of Ontario, I don’t commonly hear anything in song or see anything in much media about anything close to where I live, so that just makes it all the more awesome. Not to mention the song in itself is a fantastic little folk inspired tune.
Kevin’s increased contributions also allowed Barenaked Ladies main man Ed Robertson to put his best stuff forward. Opening track Canada Dry is easily one of the best songs the band has ever released, certainly in the last decade at least, opting for a folk sound similar to the band’s early days. The mentions of Canadian greats Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and the late great Gord Downie only help this song bleed red and white.
Lead single Lookin’ Up has a bit of an annoying keyboard riff but I can’t help but admit the chorus is the catchiest pop melody the band has released since becoming a quartet. Ultimately Fake Nudes is a pop album, one of the poppiest albums Barenaked Ladies have ever released, but there is enough variety on it to make it one of their best.
#7 Matt Mays – Once Upon a Hell of a Time
Already three Canadian artists now, have you noticed? I’m pleased to say over half this list will be Canadian artists.
It’s a five year wait since his last album Coyote came out. The same album that spawned one of my absolute favourite songs in modern rock as well as a bumper crop of other rootsy folk rock songs. Needless to say my expectations for Once Upon a Hell of a Time were high. Matt Mays, who you could say is hitting Canadian rock veteran status, delivers another collection of great songs in this new release. Sticking to a more traditional rock sound this time around, Matt has made songs that fit in well with today’s Toronto indie rock scene (I think the strong contributions from Wintersleep‘s Loel Campbell might have more than a bit to do with that) yet still have that familiar Matt Mays magic to them. Dark Promises is a fine example of a song that can transition a listener from his Coyote material to this new album, while Howl at the Night contains some ventures in the music that may seem new to long time listeners. There are no finer tracks than leading single Faint of Heart and NYC Girls, both reign among Matt Mays’ best.
Given my high opinion of Coyote, I’ll admit that Once Upon a Hell of a Time didn’t quite meet expectations at first, but Matt Mays has a magic on all of his albums that always grows on me the more I listen to them. So much so that I’m sure in years to come I’ll like this album more than some of the other albums to come on this list.
#5/6 – The Killers “Wonderful Wonderful”/ Seether “Poison the Parish”
I don’t commonly give ties, I did so on my first ever list but not since. I make the exception this time because, as anyone who knows both bands knows, they are so damn different from one another. Therefore it’s near impossible for me to determine if I like the modern new wave pop rock of The Killers‘ new release more than the typically alternative hard rock of Seether turned even harder on their new album. So I will discuss both alphabetically by band name.
The Killers – I haven’t always liked The Killers. It was within the past year that I started to listen to their stuff beyond the inescapable hits that they’ve had over the past decade and a half. That being said I’ve become quite a fan, particularly of these many hits they’ve had as well as a good few other songs that I’ve heard. There is one problem I have with them though: they really don’t have many albums that are consistently good. With the exception of their debut Hot Fuss, much of their albums have the hits that people know, maybe a few other good to pretty good songs, then half of the album just doesn’t hook me.
That wasn’t the case with Wonderful Wonderful. I’ve spoken to many huge Killers fans who couldn’t disagree with me more, but I think this is the second finest album of their career. In fact I find the album to be even more consistent than the previously mentioned Hot Fuss. The only difference is that while Wonderful Wonderful’s lead single The Man is quite the catchy earworm and it’s second single Run For Cover captures the essence of what has made The Killers’ songs so good in the past, they won’t have the staying power that Hot Fuss’s hits All These Things That I’ve Done, Somebody Told Me and Mr. Brightside have had.
That being said though, it’s really just the last two songs from Wonderful Wonderful – The Calling and Have All the Songs Been Written? – that I didn’t find initially all that special. However, The Killers completely rocked The Calling when I saw them perform it live earlier this month. Songs like the dramatic opening title track to the tremendous ballad Rut all help me be sure that this is perhaps the band’s finest effort in a long time.
Seether – Seether have spent the past almost decade constantly improving from album to album. Poison the Parish finds the band changing themselves up once again, this time by becoming more of a heavy metal band rather than an alternative band. That’s what they intended at least. There is definitely a lot of familiar Seether formulas to Poison the Parish, with hard hitting less than happy sounding songs that typically keep up a mid to slow pace. Let Me Heal is a prime example. I do hear an evolution from their earlier stuff though, as well as a vast difference from their previous album (and to my surprise my most viewed review) Isolate and Medicate.
Reading up on the album as it was released, it sounds like Shaun Morgan has been told what to do with Seether‘s music direction by the record companies for the past while. I hate knowing this because I absolutely love the directions they took, especially with their two previous albums. This time around he did what he wanted to. Despite my preference of those albums, Poison the Parish still has songs that are just fantastic. From the two opening tracks Stoke the Fire and Betray and Degrade which I think are the kinds of songs early Seether fans have been missing, to the two closing tracks, the grungy Emotionless and the restless Sell My Soul, Seether show me once again why they deserve to be on my top 10 list, just as Isolate and Medicate made my 2014 list.
#4 – In My Coma “Next Life”
I’ve been friends with In My Coma for a little over five years now. Some of you may think that starting off with that would invalidate my choice to put Next Life anywhere on my list, but I assure you I wouldn’t be so unfair as to give a spot on this list where I didn’t truly think it belonged just to benefit friends.
Honestly Next Life is leagues better than In My Coma‘s previous album Magnets & Miracles, an album which I also found to be very good. This time around the band seems to be more focused on making a quality straight forward rock album, as opposed to the spacey Muse influenced Magnets & Miracles. Next Life does still have its unique moments, like the main riff of Beautiful Minds being something unexpected and catchy that lays the foundation of a great upbeat tune.
With seldom a bad note played and a strong 90’s rock influence mixed with a modern sounding work dynamic, songs like Take A Ride¸ Calm and Throw It All Away make for just some examples of the superiority of In My Coma ahead of most to all other independent Toronto bands that I could name. How seamlessly they can fill up the Horseshoe Tavern on a weeknight is even more evidence of that.
I think Calm is my favourite song from the album, but there is no link of that song to provide. Luckily my second favourite song has a video.
#3 – Foo Fighters “Concrete and Gold”
Considering how greatly disappointed I was in Sonic Highways, I really wasn’t sure I trusted to hear another Foo Fighters release. I’m not typically this pessimistic but I really thought Dave Grohl may have lost his creative spark. Maybe he brought it back for one last go round with 2009’s Wasting Light, but I worried that might have been all that was left in the tank. Matters weren’t made better when Run was chosen as Concrete and Gold’s lead single. I liked that song really only the first time I heard it and then grew incredibly tired of it almost instantly. It’s stupid music video didn’t help.
Then The Sky Is A Neighborhood came out and I thought that it showed promise. Sure now it has been played to absolute death on the radio but that doesn’t change the fact that I still think it’s a good song. Then came the actual release of Concrete and Gold and boy was I happy. Opening song T-Shirt starts things off much like my favourite Foo Fighters album, The Colour and the Shape started; a short song that starts off very soft then turns and blasts out some intense rock music. It’s not a great song but it gets things going. Then there’s the boring five-and-a-half minutes of Run before the album really starts to take off. Make It Right, Arrows and The Line are just some of the amazing tracks that follow.
Now I didn’t actually think Dave Grohl lost his tough, just the pessimist in me, which rarely rears its ugly head, thought it possible. Ultimately, Foo Fighters have accomplished to make what I think to be one of their absolute best albums. It lacks the bona fide classics that albums like One By One and In Your Honour had, but as full albums go I think Concrete and Gold may be the best all around album (or at least my favourite all around album) released since There Is Nothing Left To Lose.
#2 – Alvvays “Antisocialites”
Back at the Sumo Cyco post, I mentioned how most to all of my #10 spots have coincidentally gone to an independent or lesser known act. In 2014, Alvvays‘ self titled debut was that album. That album ended up getting a hell of a lot of buzz in the Toronto indie scene. I’m still not sure what their success is like outside of their home city, but after having just recently seen them at their first of five sold out shows at The Mod Club, I think it’s easy to say that they are probably the number one indie band in Toronto right now. And take my word, there are more indie pop rock bands in Toronto right now than just about any other kind of band.
Antisocialites has a lot of what made Alvvays‘ self titled debut so special, just this time around they have a much more polished sound. I also notice an improvement with Molly Rankin‘s voice. But the main factor that puts Antisocialites all the way up here at the #2 spot is how every damn song has some sort of a hook, most typically a vocal melody like the chorus of the soft, groovy yet light hearted ballad Dreams Tonite, the opening vocals of the first track In Undertow or the high notes of Lollipop (Ode To Jim). Kerri MacLellan‘s keyboards also take the spotlight in making some songs stand out, most particularly the middle section of the otherwise simple closing track Forget About Life.
Man, there’s just so much I can say about all of these songs on Antisocialites that would take up so much room. I really wish I gave it its own review. Even though it’s not the number one album on my list, it’s the one album I find myself telling people to listen to the most. I think it’s because as popular as Alvvays has become, they still aren’t the household name I really wish they were, even in the Greater Toronto Area, but that will only be a matter of time.
#1 – Big Wreck “Grace Street”
I actually wrote a review for this one, which you can read here.
Since I wrote a review for Grace Street, perhaps I won’t have as much to say here about it, but we’ll see. Why is this my favourite album of 2017? First of all there’s the fact that by year’s end, there wasn’t a song released in 2017 that I liked more than One Good Piece of Me. Like past Big Wreck songs, it’s the perfect rock song to appeal to a pop oriented fan base thanks to its catchy riff and melodies. But of course one song wouldn’t be enough to make an album my favourite of the year.
Songs like Floodgates, Motionless and my second favourite track The Arborist all have hooks and unique sounds that have been etched into my head that I haven’t forgotten in the year since the album came out almost a year ago. No matter how much time passes between listens to these tracks I never fail to remember the goosebumps I got when I first heard them. It’s funny cause while I would certainly call myself a fan of Big Wreck, I’ve never been that huge of a fan to think that they’d have an album I’d ever consider to be one of my all time favourites.
First I’d like to specifically thank anyone who read this (or at least a lot of it) over the people who just scrolled to see what album was placed where, I know it was a lot to go through but it means a lot.
Last year’s top 10 list was so easy. I knew exactly what ten albums would make the list, it was just the order that was the challenge. This year was typical of most other years where there was an eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth album that I wish could have made the top ten. Other years that amount varies, but this year there are three albums that were just squeezed out. I’ll start alphabetically with The Maine‘s Lovely Little Lonely. Another album by a pop rock band to be mentioned, this album is dear to me thanks to the hell I went through trying to get it. Ultimately it was an easy choice to (regretfully) leave off the list simply because while I love it and put it in league with their past albums (their previous album American Candy made my 2015 top 10 list) I just didn’t like it as much as the albums that made the list. Simple as that.
Mastodon‘s Emperor of Sand completely turned me on to the band. While their earlier more intense stuff has was always ahead of the current metal pack in originality, their more melodic stuff of the past few years has been some of the better metal music released, and I now know this thanks to how Emperor of Sand opened my eyes. Ultimately though as great as the album is, I like it more for getting me in to the band and not as much when compared to my top 10.
The toughest one to leave off was Rise Against‘s Wolves. I had very similar thoughts before listening to this album as I did with Foo Fighters‘ Concrete and Gold in that I was quite disappointed in Rise Against’s previous release The Black Market. Also much like Foo Fighters, Rise Against didn’t fail to surprise me with this album which completely redeemed them in my eyes. They stuck to their familiar formula for the most part but made better quality songs this time around. However it’s that familiar formula that ultimately made me realize that Sumo Cyco‘s originality would squeeze them ahead into the tenth spot.