The most impressive thing about the 2017 album list is the bands that didn’t make the cut. Our two main music writers and I started with a much longer list. We argued, threatened, sobbed, and listened to a ton of great tunes. Even by our admittedly subjective criteria, this Top 10 is still a product of workshopping and compromise, and is therefore flawed. Still, we’re pretty proud of our work here. There were a couple of bands that weren’t purely Fort Worth, so we improvised a short addendum.
Just in time for your internet rage to subside, we’ll be doing Top 10 songs next week. Enjoy! –– Eric Griffey
10.) Henry the Archer, Zero Is a Number
The fourth album from New Jersey transplant Richard Hennessy sees the singer-songwriter put the last forms in place on a bridge that links the ethereal acoustic vignettes of his early work to the loud and full-throated rock of Zero Is a Number. The album’s eight songs are built on a foundation of sensual Muse-inspired danceability layered with Interpol’s downstroked single-note guitar lines –– and just a sprinkling of reggae dub. Hennessy, an exceptionally gifted vocalist, has his full range on display, effortlessly switching from a gritty copper mic-tone to an astral clean falsetto. With radio-friendly hooks and a body-moving rhythm section, Henry the Archer’s arrow is pointed toward superstardom. –– Patrick Higgins
9.) The Spiral Sound, Lowded
After an engineer decamped for New York with the digital files of Lowded, the third album by the Spiral Sound, the band’s main man, Christian Mauch, could’ve thrown in the towel. Instead, he restarted from scratch as a solo project –– recording on an iPhone, no less –– and created a canny hybrid of chilly reverb rock and dark electro. Though Lowded’s genesis predates Donald Trump’s America by several years, the jagged portent seeping through the grooves of the record’s electronic-shelled guitar rock is a fitting score for the Orwellian overtones of 2017. (Editor’s note: Weekly contributor Patrick Higgins once played in an earlier iteration of Spiral Sound.) –– Steve Steward
8.) Dreamy Life Recordings, Group Therapy,Vol. 4
Each year since the inaugural release, the label somehow manages to continually both lift and exceed expectations. This year’s effort features an eye-popping 29 tracks from Dreamy Life alums and allies. With contributions from Group Therapy staples like War Party, Andy Pickett, Toy Gun, and Jack Thunder & The Road Soda, and newbie operatives like Juma Spears, BULLS, and Dallas’ Sub-Sahara, Vol. 4 is Dreamy Life’s most ambitious and diverse collection to date. –– P.H.
7.) Mean Motor Scooter, Hindu Flying Machine
Hindu Flying Machine documents Mean Motor Scooter’s maturation into full-grown musical monsters from outer space. Released on the heels of taking home an armload of panther-headed hardware at this year’s Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards, Flying Machine sees the band’s recent juggernaut momentum roll on. The addition of Rebekah Elizabeth on organ has lifted the band’s garage-psych sound into the stratosphere of surfy ’60s-era dance tunes. With songs about aliens, lizardmen, sea serpents, and shape-shifters, the late night B-movie vibe gives MMS’ first full-length everything a liquid light projector and lava lamp enthusiast could wish for in a band that reincarnates Question Mark & The Mysterians. –– P.H.
6.) Siberian Traps, Indicator
Indicator drifts even further from the twangy Nashville roots that anchored the band’s previous efforts, and Siberian Traps are all the better for it. By adding guitarist/keyboardist Ben Hance to the lineup and granting drummer Peter Wierenga room to spread his producer wings, Indicator lends heft to Reeves’ ear for R.E.M.-esque pop sensibilities –– the music equivalent of watching a Polaroid of a fun birthday party come to life. Though they’re informed by heavy subjects like our environmental crises, the songs still stick thanks to sunny hooks and irrepressible grooves. –– S.S.
5.) Juma Spears, Knowledge Is Power
Released digitally, Knowledge Is Power is the culmination of three frustrating years of work for young rapper Juma Spears. Recorded and eventually completely re-recorded, the 13 tunes almost never saw light of day. The songs, which hark to old-school hip-hop in the vein of Prince Paul, De la Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest, are expertly produced. The beats are soulful and unhurried, rooted in jazz and funk with the smooth knob turned all the way up. As a rapper, Spears is as fluid as mercury. With intelligent lyrics and savvy phrasing, his rhymes are blue-chip. Only 23, Spears displays such maturity in his flow, you’d think he used a time machine to develop it. –– P.H.
4.) BULLS, 14 Minutes
Urgent and anxious, BULLS’ aptly titled 14 Minutes EP is barely a quarter-hour long, yet the four songs create a fully realized vision of nervy guitar jangle and punishing waves of post-punk guitar freak-outs. It’s a meltdown caught in a bottle, teetering toward a slow-motion two-story drop onto torn-up asphalt, bathing your ears in explosive bliss. –– S.S.
3.) Frosty, Frosty
Multi-instrumentalist Claire Hecko’s Frosty is a cinematic score for feelings of isolation, portraying loneliness, solitude, and the faces of one’s own failures as an expanse of slow-burning, minor-key songscapes. Melancholy strings and wary, contemplative guitar patterns describe an emotional topography that, for all its plaintive austerity, is at the same time comforting and majestic, as the distant echo of Hecko’s vocals and ambient keyboard textures limn the outlines of her hurt like moonbeams through winter clouds. –– S.S.
2.) Cameron Smith • Sur Duda, Paper Knife
Paper Knife is a 10-song collection of intelligent and infectious psych-pop that is every bit as interesting as War Party frontman Cameron Smith’s outré moniker Sur Duda. Smith employs the poetic musings of Lou Reed over the hooky indie-rock of the Shins. Blending complementary doses of percipient social commentary on songs like album opener “Baby Teeth” and the title track with the tender self-reflection of the swirling “Rearrange the Room” and the tears-in-my-beer “Chasing Cars,” Smith hints at an armory of songwriting skill far sharper than the album’s vellum utensil namesake. (Editor’s note: Cameron Smith is a contributing writer for the Weekly.) –– P.H.
1.) Andy Pickett, Andy Pickett
With production from White Denim’s James Petralli, Andy Pickett’s follow-up to his 2015 debut expands the sonic spectrum for his sardonic ruminations on life, love, music, money, and where they take you. Colored with ’80s sitcom chord changes, dubby horns, psychedelic synths, and jazzy guitar licks made for million-dollar kimono-clad fantasies, the songs’ destinations might be Jamaica or Japan, or at least a TV show about Jamaica or Japan. Wherever it ends up, Pickett’s eponymous album delivers piano pop gold. –– S.S.
Semi-Local Top 2
1.) Oil Boom, Terribility
The quartet’s second full-length recording percolates chunky riffs, tasty guitar trills, bouncing rhythms, and sing-along melodies, all delivered with a tongue planted so firmly in cheek, it threatens to tear through the side. Smirk inspiring as it may be, Terribility is far from nonchalant silliness. With vocalist Ryan Taylor’s keen Vonnegut-ian social eye, listeners come away with the feeling they’ve been treated to something meaningful. Oil Boom’s ethos is the musical equivalent of growing an ironic mustache. It takes real cool to pull that off. (Editor’s note: Weekly contributor Steve Steward plays bass for Oil Boom.) –– P.H.
2.) Calhoun, Football Night in America
Thirteen years into being in a band, Calhoun frontman Tim Locke almost kept this album on the shelf, wondering if the world really needed another Calhoun record. We’re glad he changed his mind, as Football Night is easily the best work of his band’s career. Jordan Richardson’s production gives the songs a darker, heavier edge, which in turn draws a drop-shadow under Locke’s most cynical lyrics yet. Locke has always been able to wield great choruses, and on Football Night, those choruses win big. –– S.S.