And it all comes to an end… well, sort of. The Saturday Sampler December 9th edition is our very last mini-playlist of 2017. There’s still the Weekend Showcase tomorrow that runs down this past week in music plus our Mega, Mega Playlist of our favorite songs that we will share on New Year’s Eve. In addition, we’ll be sharing our Year-End Lists starting next week. The mini-playlists, however, won’t return until Monday, January 8th. We leave you with 10 songs that summarize how great a year 2017 was for music.
Gibraltar – “Viper In A Vacuum” (Seattle, USA)
RIYL: The Pixies, The Rural Alberta Advantage, The Hold Steady
Seattle is one of the world’s best music cities, so it’s no surprise to find amazing talents there who leave you in awe. We have been ardent fans of Gibraltar since their 2013 debut EP, Storms. That was an appropriately titled album since their music is as raw, fierce, and unrelenting as a hurricane. They create a massive wall of sound that make The Pixies and The Hold Steady seem quiet. But it’s not just their volume that is impressive: their latest single has that indescribable Wow! factor in spades. Just crank up “Viper In a Vacuum” and you’ll understand.
If your soul craves pure indie rock & roll that blazes a new path, look no further. From the first drumbeats to the final, fuzzed-out layers of guitar and bass, “Viper In a Vacuum” reminds you why you fell in love with music in the first place. Gibraltar provide an endorphin rush so real you’ll be shouting “Hell yeah!” before Aaron Starkey sings one note. His powerhouse vocals and the vibrant energy of Holly Houser’s keys provide dynamic depth while the driving percussion and bass make Gibraltar one of the best indie bands around. It’s high time the rest of the world discovers one of Seattle’s best-kept secrets.
This single (along with their previous releases) is available on Bandcamp.
Gibraltar are: Aaron Starkey (guitar/vocals), Holly Houser (piano), Nick Biscardi (drums), and Ryan Leyva (bass).
Half Japanese – “Why Not” (Uniontown, MD, USA)
RIYL: Nirvana, Parquet Courts, Sonic Youth
Half Japanese are one of those timeless bands that continue to be relevant and revolutionary, decade after decade. While some younger music fans may not know their name, their sound may be familiar. After all, this is a group whose influence on modern indie rock is almost incalculable: their music is imprinted into the sonic DNA of grunge and punk, from Nirvana to Parquet Courts. After 40 years together, they have earned the title of indie legends. But they’re not resting on their laurels, and their “Why Not” single is testament to that fact.
“Why Not” is three minutes of unrelenting, punk-infused, cathartic release. It’s jangly and jubilant, full of psychedelic swirls of guitar that could lead to delirium or a concussion, if your head-banging goes unchecked. But holy hell, is it addictive! If you’re new to the magic of Half Japanese, don’t just listen passively to this tune: dive in deep. Trust us: you won’t regret it.
Look for Half Japanese’s Why Not LP (their 17th studio album!) when Fire Records releases it January 19th. You can pre-order it from the label or Bandcamp.
Half Japanese are Jad Fair, Mick Hobbs, Gilles Rieder, John Sluggett, and Jason Willett.
ILUKA – “Sympathy” (Sydney, Australia)
RIYL: Nicole Atkins, Elle King, Dolly Parton
By the age of 21, Nikki Thornburn – a.k.a. ILUKA – had released three EPs and completed a headlining tour across Australia. And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Before these accomplishments, she lived in various places in Europe, including in an attic in Paris after she went broke. No wonder when listening to her retro soul-pop music she sounds much older beyond her years.
Now 25, Thornburn is embarking on a new chapter, which is becoming Australia’s next big thing. Her new single, “Sympathy”, will sure get the folks Down Under and abroad to take notice of her soulful vocals, her classic approach, and her intelligent and poignant songwriting. As the horns, guitar, and rhythms blast in the background to give the track a Mardi Gras-meets-Motown vibe, Thornburn’s booming voice takes center stage, and her words deliver a knockout blow to her generation. This song isn’t about her, but rather she speaks out against how so many of her peers are driven and controlled by technology and the human side is all lost. In other words, she’s written her own “Sympathy for the Devil” but with a modern twist. This young woman is indeed more than meets the eye and mature beyond her age.
LOLAWOLF – “Baby I’m Dyin'” (Brooklyn, USA)
RIYL: Chairlift, Janelle Monae, Santigold
Most people recognize Zoë Kravitz as either for her acting in Max Max: Fury Road and HBO’s Big Little Lies or as the daughter of musician Lenny Kravitz and actor Lisa Bonet. Few realize she is the voice of indie R&B/electropop outfit LOLAWOLF , along with drummer/producer Jimmy Giannopoulos. Her new single proves she inherited musical talents from her parents while still creating her own signature sound.
The last time we featured a new LOLAWOLF song was back in March 2016. It’s been almost three years since their everyfuckinday EP, so the arrival of this new tune means a new full-length effort is in the works.
“Baby I’m Dyin” is a lush and sensual downtempo soundtrack to an evening under the stars. Kravitz displays her vocal prowess here with intimate delivery and impeccable style. Even if electropop isn’t your usual genre, it’s hard to deny the appeal of this tune.
This single is available now on iTunes via Innit Recordings.
Psychic Markers – “Hardly Strangers” (London, England)
RIYL: Broken Social Scene, Phosphorescent, Spoon
What???!!! That was our expression when learning that London-based quintet Psychic Markers will release their sophomore album, Hardly Strangers, on February 23rd via Bella Union (pre-order it now at the label’s store or Bandcamp). First of all, the band has a very small following, which just blows us away because they’re creating some really cool and interesting music. Second, how could almost the entire world not know about this band, including us until now? Third, how again did their debut album fly under the radar? In the immortal words of Vizzini, this is “inconceivable”! Better late than never, right?
The other day, Psychic Markers shared the lead single from the new LP, the splendid title track. “Hardly Strangers” is difficult to describe because it is extremely complex. It is like three, maybe four songs combined into one. At first, it commences like one of Phosphorescent’s intimate, neo-psych-folk songs and then turns into a post-rock, glacial hum a la Sigur Rós. Following the bridge, the second half starts off like the cathartic and expressive indie pop-rock of Broken Social Scene and then it builds and builds and builds into a Spoon-like anthem. It’s a sensational and mind-blowing song that needs to be repeated over and over again to truly appreciate the band’s brilliance. After you spin it a few times, you, too, might be asking, “What?!”
Queue – “Aimless Kid” (Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, USA)
RIYL: Daughter, Miya Folick, London Grammar
It seems like yesterday when Queue arrived at our virtual doorstep and shared their stunning debut single, “Falling Into Skies”. It was one of those rare moments where a debut single had us saying “Wow” and “We have to share this”. We should have realized at the moment that these four friends who met at Penn State would continue to blow us away with their music and, thus, become one of our all-time favorite hidden gems. Like the day we first heard them some 20 months ago, they once again have us in awe with their new single.
“Aimless Kid” is an emotional train wreck, and it is a gorgeous experience. With the dark undertones of Daughter and the devastating lyricism of Miya Folick, Queue have crafted a song that will pulverize your heart and rattle your bones. The brooding yet beautiful soundscape is breathtaking while Olivia Price’s incredibly lush vocals will have all those who hear her melt in her presence. As stunning as this song is, Price’s story is crippling, as she tells the story of a girl who has been abused, manipulated, and discarded. It’s an incredibly powerful story of how the actions of a few can destroy a life.
Queue are Olivia Price, Tyler Ringland, Aida Mekonnen, and Steve Vannell. This little band is too good to remain unsigned.
Rhye – “Count To Five” (Toronto, Canada and Los Angeles, USA)
Is there another band like Rhye, the project of Canadian-born singer-songwriter and vocalist Mike Milosh and Danish multi-instrumentalist Robin Hannibal? The only other group that can match the duo’s alluring and sensational music is Cigarettes After Sex, which, if you think about it, would be a fantastic double headliner on a bill. While this past year CAS stunned us with their long-awaited debut album, Rhye is set to do the same in 2018 when their new album, Blood, is released February 2nd via Loma Vista Recordings. This will mark Rhye’s first album since their gorgeous 2013 effort, Woman.
Rhye have already shared a couple of songs from the LP – the orgasmic “Please” and the titillating “Taste”. With “Count To Five”, they return more to their roots in delivering a sultry, groovy, cinematic indie number that will leave listeners in a state of bliss. The bass line in this song is jaw-dropping delicious, and the addition of the strings adds a layer of mystery. Milosh’s vocals are enchanting as he recounts a story of want and lust. But is it someone that he seeks or is something the object of his desire?
Milosh and Hannibal are heading out on a worldwide tour early in 2018. Dates and information are available here.
Ruby Boots – “It’s So Cruel” (Nashville, USA via Perth, Australia)
RIYL: Nikki Lane, Shovels & Rope, Lucinda Williams
Get to know Ruby Boots now, because she won’t be an emerging artist for long. Soon the world will know and love this incredible rising talent who is destined for stardom. The proof is in her scorching debut single, “It’s So Cruel.”
An irresistible hybrid of Margo Price, Brandi Carlisle, and Grace Potter, what you get here is the whole package. Ruby Boots (the moniker of Australian singer Bex Chilcott) fuses elements of alt-country with blues, punk, and old-school rock that gets your pulse racing. Her twangy, sassy vocals sound like they belong to a Nashville native, so it makes since that she relocated there from Perth, Western Australia, when she was just a teenager. Since then she has been honing her sound and in 2015 released her debut album, Solitude. But it’s this single from her upcoming Don’t Talk About It that should make her a household name.
Ruby Boots doesn’t belong to any one genre; her sound is simply too large to be confined to any traditional labels. That’s why she’s on our list of Artists to Watch in 2018 and beyond.
Violetta Zironi – “Toast” (London, England via Correggio, Italy)
RIYL: Hope Sandoval, June Carter, Julia Jacklin
Violetta Zironi is trying to do something that very few artists have been able to do – achieve success in Italy and the US. Sure, plenty of opera singers have been able to do it, but very few Italian pop, rock, folk, and country singers have been able to translate the popularity in their home country to the very touch English-speaking market. With an incredibly lush voice, a classic country-folk approach, and heartfelt stories with which everyone can empathize, the 22-year-old Italian has the potential to be the one who breaks through. Her new single, “Toast”, will make you a believer.
Who would believe that the simple breakfast staple could be turned into a stunning and beautiful ballad that will make your heart melt? The song sounds more like it came from the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee or the Blue Mountains of Australia than it did from a young woman who hails from an unknown Italian municipality. Zironi’s lyrics are clever and imaginative, and their impact is heightened by her remarkable voice.
“So are you going to make me that toast
Because I’m not ready to go
If you’re just a speed bump
Then I’ll get over you.”
For us, though, we’re not ready to get over Zironi; instead we’ll be following Italy’s answer to Hope Sandoval quite closely. The US will get to meet her in March when she plays SXSW.
Zironi’s debut English-speaking EP, Half Moon Lane, will be released in February.
Written Years – “Lost In You Now” (Vancouver, Canada)
RIYL: The Wombats, Said The Whale, City Calm Down
Written Years‘ story is one made for the movies. After forming in 2013 and releasing a well-received debut album, three of the band’s four band members experienced unthinkable hardships. Frontman Wade Ouellet experienced sudden speech loss, causing him to live in near-isolation for months. Alex Richardson and Kane Enders, meanwhile, endured the unexpected losses of immediate family members. All this happened at a time when the band was preparing the release of its sophomore album, which was expected to launch them onto every Canadian’s radar. Nearly three years later, Ouellet, Richardson, and Enders along with Brian Dyck regrouped and completely re-wrote their new album. Yesterday, they unveiled the lead single, “Lost In You Now”.
Two words come immediately to mind in hearing this song: emphatic and triumphant. Through the ’80s-esque buzzing synths, the crystalline chimes of the electric guitar, and the sizzling rhythms, “Lost In You Now” is a statement made by four gifted musicians that they will overcome and persist through even the darkest and most desperate moments. It is the soundtrack for anyone who has suffered and fought to have their own voice heard. Exhilarating, uplifting, and hopeful, Written Years have delivered the perfect song for these chaotic times. It is also the perfect way to end our 2017.
Written Years are Wade Ouellet (vocals/keys/guitar), Kane Enders (drums/percussion), Brian Dyck (bass/synths), and Alex Richardson (guitar/vocals). Album #2 arrives in early 2018.
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