Brody's Favorite Albums of 2017 (So Far)
It's only July, and 2017 has already been an exceptional year for music. I say this every year, but I'll continue to say it as long as I keep hearing records that floor me and take me to new places. Here are five of my favorite records of 2017 so far.
Korey Dane -- Chamber Girls
27 year old Long Beach singer/songwriter Korey Dane first came through with 2015’s “Youngblood”, a literary, roots and folk driven muse to the American open road. However, on “Chamber Girls”, his sophomore album released in June, Dane mostly looked inward rather than to the mythos of travel. With themes concerning relationships, unwanted changes, and rolling with the punches of getting older, "Chamber Girls" is a portrait of endurance; a hazy, cinematic one at that. On this record, the quieter folk of "Youngblood" is elevated to full band romps that pay tribute to Blonde on Blonde era Bob Dylan and the wry conviction of Bruce Springsteen. However, any comparison that can be made is offset by Dane's nostalgic, cinematic swagger and vocal presence that echoes a hazy, rambunctious night that continues far into the morning. Whether you're steeping in the sweet, rollicking organs on the blissfully spiteful, post-breakup ode "Charlie Handsome", the adventurous, open-road Americana of "Heart Out West", or the flickering, sentimental magic of the Dylan-esque "Always", Chamber Girls feels detached from modern music in the best of ways. It inhabits its own world, carrying a nomadic and rebellious energy that renders it an instant classic. Saying that people don't make records like this anymore would be inaccurate, because Dane is doing it with the ease and charm of someone that far exceeds his age.
Julian Velard -- Fancy Words For Failure
Julian Velard's charming, virtuosic piano-pop has been wooing those lucky enough to know about him for over a decade, so his crowd-funded, seventh LP Fancy Words For Failure couldn't have come at a better time. A concept album about not achieving the kind of success that puts your name in lights or makes you the most sought after person at the party, this record is centered around dissatisfaction and doubt, but it also makes room for a generous amount of optimism. Despite the negative themes surrounding these songs, they're some of the brightest and most jaunty pop songs you'll hear this year. The lead single "Sweatpants on the Living Room Floor", a song focused on the juxtaposition between bachelorism and matrimony, features a lively, infectious melody that sticks like glue, as Velard sings about the comfort of marriage over a honky piano lead that never loses it's spark. "24 Hour Flower Boy" also shines high and bright with endearing, imaginative imagery that evokes the ease of Italian dinner music without sounding novel. "Goodbye Hollywood, Hello Adulthood" also asserts itself as one of the record's best moments as it says adieu to youthful dreams of becoming a bona fide star, instead favoring "making monthly payments on a ten year adjustable loan", as Velard says it best. Julian Velard is a one of a kind songwriter, approaching pop music on this album with a classic virtuosity and pairing it with one of the most endearing, authentic forms of expression: self-critique.
K Phillips - Dirty Wonder
K Phillips is one of the most impressive country artists working today. Debuting in 2012 with the rollicking, eclectic American Girls. Phillips came back for more with his sophomore LP Dirty Wonder. This is a breakup album at its core, mostly chronicling a split he witnessed firsthand, with the occasional autobiographical and fictional touch. However, these songs don’t waste any time leaning on the common tropes and clichés of other breakup songs. Instead, Phillips expresses the prevailing feelings, whims, and ruminations of lost love with unrivaled, eclectic wit that feels as fresh as it does charismatic. This unique narrative teams up with an array of flowering pedal steel, sensuous girl-group background vocals, loose but tonally precise guitar playing that channels the soaring highs and gritty lows of outlaw country music, and beaming blues piano in a combination that results in one of the best records modern country music has to offer. Phillips touches on multiple aspects of country music on this LP, one of the most notable being the rootsy, pop-sensible "Hadrian", a song that details a fading relationship through a rich assortment of historical allusions. "Hadrian built a temple/and Alexander wept/I took your class, honey/Or maybe I slept", he sings with his handsome drawl. You'll be pulled in by songs like "Hadrian", but you'll stick around for the rollicking, low-down, outlaw country of tracks like the sensuous "Dirty Wonder" and the post-breakup anthem to disillusionment "18 Year Old Girls". If you're unhappy with where country music is headed, K Phillips has enough charm and clever grit to go around.
Gold Star - Big Blue
Gold Star, the solo moniker of Marlon Rabenreither, debuted in 2015 with the LP Dark Days, but it wasn't until now that he struck gold. His sophomore LP Big Blue Sounds like a dusty, lost album from the ‘70s that you find in an old box in the attic that luminously takes you back to a time you may have never lived or experienced. There’s a sense of mythos attached to this record that at times is a lucid, idealistic tribute to the streets of Los Angeles, and at others a romantic chronicle of memories and recollection. The album remains emotionally colorful and ranged from side A to B, offering a portrait of a songwriter while also building a bridge to your own stories and experiences. The saccharine, Bob Dylan-influenced rock ‘n’ roll, folk, country-drenched symphonies of sharp harmonica pulls, Hammond organs, tastefully low-down guitar leads and slide riffs, and intricate acoustic chord progressions are soaked in an air of distance, as if they’re trying to break through the dense, hazy presence of time. From the psychedelic, luminous, country-soaked lead single “Sonny’s Blues” a partial ode to James Baldwin’s short story of the same name to “Come With Me”, a tantalizing invitation to experience the streets of Los Angeles as Rabenreither sees them: picturesque and romantic. “Under silver streetlights and city/From 14thstreet down to the old city hall.” The song carries the groove of a ‘70s Dylan song, emulating the rhythm of walking down a city street late at night with nowhere to go, but everything on your mind. As a songwriter, Gold Star is a master of metaphor and poetic urgency while also maintaining thematic clarity. This is a hard balance to strike; many songwriters either fall on the end of forthright honesty or poetic obscurity, without finding the middle ground between the two. If Big Blue is any indication, this isn't the last time you'll hear the name Gold Star.
Ryan Adams - Prisoner
Ryan Adams has consistently been one of the most interesting and eclectic singer/songwriters over the last two decades, and Prisoner indicates that he hasn't lost any of the creative, sentimental fervor that sparked his early material. In fact, it's improved over time. This is Adams' sixteenth LP, and it's potentially his best to date. Influenced by an axis-shifting divorce and the residual heartbreak something of that magnitude often leaves behind, Prisoner is an aching, yearning, and-- most importantly-- enduring collection of songs that feel like they needed to be written. However, instead of achieving this catharsis by pouring out his sorrows through an acoustic guitar, Adams' retreats into his influences. Driven by the sounds of '80s rock like The Smiths, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty, Adams writes about heartbreak with a fervor that transitions between aching, helpless, and frenzied-- each burdened with being haunted by something lost to time. Loud, fervid anthems like "Do You Still Love Me", the Smiths-heavy "Anything I Say To You Now", and the assertive, Springsteen-esque flickering on "Outbound Train" serve as an expression of the angrier moments in a breakup. On the other end, the lonesome and damaged "To Be Without You", "Haunted House", and the harrowing, reverb-soaked "We Disappear" focus on the quieter moments of desperation and doubt. The fact that Ryan Adams has managed to make such an exceptional album so late into his career is an indication of his brilliance as a songwriter. His prolific output and creative spirit know no limits (he also released a 17-song collection of Prisoner b-sides that are also roaring and exceptional), and he's still going nowhere but up.