The best low-key albums of the year
The Grammys was a night to celebrate the big releases of the past year, from Kendrick Lamar to Childish Gambino, Bruno Mars to Chris Stapleton, Kesha to The War on Drugs. With many big names being recognized over the years, it’s easy to forget about the artists and albums that went under the radar. Whether it be underground artists with interesting sounds or newcomers who blew away all expectations, these are six albums that went overlooked in 2017.
Ron Gallo—“Heavy Meta”:
You know you’re in for a treat when this artist has a sound almost analogous to The Rolling Stones and The Who. Ron Gallo pulls heavy influence from the rock musicians of the past but brings his own sense of snark and charm to this type of music. Gallo veers from whispery vocals on songs like “Started A War” to off-the-wall and charismatic yelps on songs like “Put The Kids to Bed.” It is clear from his delivery and lyrics that Gallo is quite the sarcastic, sardonic, and sometimes insufferable character, but he plays his songs with enough wit and charm that it’ll make you come around. In other words, it would be hard to forget songs like “Young Lady, You’re Scaring Me” or “Why Do You Have Kids?” anytime soon.
Algiers—“The Underside of Power”:
Algiers is an interesting new group that mixes hard rock and punk music with gospel. If that isn’t enough to get you hooked on this album, don’t worry. Algiers’ sophomore album refines and expands on the sounds and themes of their previous album. Franklin James Fisher is a revelation of a singer, with his booming tenor reaching manic howls on many of the tracks here, such as the manic opening “Walk Like a Panther.” Lyrically, it is a powerful and brazen outlook on modern day race relations and systemic injustice, bringing the fury and power that gives the songs its potency. It isn’t an easy listen, but it is certainly a powerful one with some of the best instrumentation of any album this year.
Deaf Havana—“All These Countless Nights”:
Out of all of the artists on this list, Deaf Havana is the group that has been around the longest … and may receive the most raised eyebrows from the public. Deaf Havana went from being a post-hardcore band to an alternative band in the same vein of, say, All-American Rejects, Incubus, or You Me At Six. The instrumentation is decent and pulls off what it really needs to do. However, it’s the performances and lyrics that really shine on this album, detailing failed relationships and the lead singer’s alcoholism and how it affects the people around him. Songs like “Happiness” and “Like A Ghost” detail the lead singer at his lowest points, which makes the eventual reform of “St Paul’s” all the more powerful. It may not be as creative as Algiers, but it has its moments of lyrical prowess and emotion to make it stand out.
Jaime Wyatt—“Felony Blues”:
OK, so this is technically an EP, but if you want to hear a refreshing female voice in country/blues music, Jaime Wyatt is someone to look out for. This seven-song album was written during a bleak time in Wyatt’s life: her seven months in a county jail. It’s the sort of bluesy country music that calls to mind Johnny Cash (who famously performed live at Folsom Prison in 1968) and Merle Haggard (whom Wyatt covered with “Misery & Gin” on this album). She takes influence from the old but also brings in plenty of her own ideas and styles. Wyatt is a stellar performer and an even better lyricist, calling to mind her time in prison and love waiting for her on the outside.
Quelle Chris—“Being You is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often”:
In a year with big rap projects from Kendrick Lamar to Tyler, the Creator along with trap rap breaking into the mainstream, it can be easy to neglect the more low-fi hip hop this year. Quelle Chris in particular released a pretty great album covering the topic of low self-esteem. It is certainly a weird album, especially given his off-kilter flow and odd sampling (evident as soon as the intro track, on which he spliced several TV voice clips to spell out the album name). His lyrics are definitely off track too, seemingly a tour through Chris’s mind. Quelle Chris seems to swap back and forth between a more optimistic and loud-mouthed personality and a more pessimistic personality during the album (oftentimes, such as in “Dreamer in the Den of Wolves,” on the same song). It’s a perplexing album, but that really adds to its charm.