Next up in our year-end countdowns, we have the releases that defied all expectations, the ones we weren’t predicting much of, but ended up completely surpassing all preconceptions, for better or – in the case of one particularly entry – for worse.
Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)
5. Seaway – Vacation
Seaway have often been founding skirting the edges of pop-punk as far as the big players are concerned, but with Vacation, the Canadians have taken a huge leap up that very few would’ve ever expected. Taking further influence from jubilant pop-rock as well as sunny, Weezer-esque melodies, Vacation is pop-punk at its most addictive, half introspection and half sugary sentimentality that collides for a joyous, but ultimately grounded listen from start to finish. Fine work indeed.
4. Nickelback – Feed The Machine
So many people think they’ve got Nickelback pegged, given how many (undeserved) “worst band ever” tags have been thrown their way. So the fact that Feed The Machine has even had those detractors giving it praise speaks volumes, and even though it’s still fairly formulaic and not deviating from a long-accepted template, a return to heavier, more brazenly muscular hard rock, especially to the extent that some of these tracks go to, is definitely pleasant. And sure, it’s still verging on rock of the lowest common denominator, but compared to both what Nickelback have done in the past and what so many of their peers have thrown out this year, this is good stuff.
3. Vukovi – Vukovi
This is surprising for two reasons – 1) Vukovi have actually gotten around to releasing an album after what feels like forever, and 2) the spiky, off-piste math-rock of their EPs was no indication of where this would go. That’s not a band thing at all though, as the Scots’ self-titled effort pushes itself into slightly weirder pop-rock that might almost completely divorce itself from their previous efforts, but has the colour and spark to still make a huge impact. For a band who could’ve easily be another under-appreciated underground commodity a few years ago, Vukovi have really come into their own.
2. Josh Todd & The Conflict – Year Of The Tiger
Here’s a new one – a self-aware, introspective album from the man whose biggest claim to fame is Crazy Bitch. It sounds strange, but Josh Todd’s new project is without question the best thing he’s ever been involved with, taking hard rock that mightn’t be that much different from what he’s done in the past, but with a changed attitude that circles back on himself and a level of self-examination that no one could’ve ever believed would come from him. The fact that the album actually manages to stand up is just another layer to the overall surprise.
1. The Used – The Canyon
The Used have been plagued with diminishing returns for some time now, so for The Canyon to see them come out with by far their most ambitious, sprawling effort to date showed a band for whom resting on their laurels is not an option. As the final product, it ends up as something much more powerful still, with Bert McCracken coming to terms with the death of friend through rigorous soul-searching done in an almost artless fashion. This sort of post-prog opus has never even been hinted to be in The Used’s locker, but the fact that they pull it off with such immense power and heft is a testament to a band who’ve been unfairly written off for too long.
Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)
5. Bright Green – That’s Heaven Behind Me
News of singer Zac Eisenstein’s new side project Bright Green made the news of Man Overboard’s hiatus not quite as devastating, but many were disappointed when his first EP The Highs Are Getting Lower turned out to be a collection of sad acoustic songs. Flash forward to 2017, and Eisenstein has stuck to his promise of not always recording acoustic music as Bright Green. Follow-up That’s Heaven Behind Me is a hard-hitting EP both instrumentally and vocally, with Eisenstein really pushing himself on the latter (you can almost hear his vocal cords breaking constantly). There’s a real promising future in emo here, and many people probably wouldn’t have expected it.
4. Seaway – Vacation
Pop punk got super stale super quickly, and instead of the innovative bands giving the genre a new lease of life, we were faced with a horde of sub-par clones all releasing similar music while the saviours of the genre moved on to bigger things. But this year saw a few major improvements, with Seaway being one of them. New album Vacation positively sparkles due to a little more focus on the ‘pop’ aspect of their sound (see Lula On The Beach or Scatter My Ashes On The Coast Or Don’t). It’s representative of exactly what pop-punk should be, and it’s good to see Seaway break away from the pack and forge their own sugary identity.
3. Harry Styles – Harry Styles
The fact that Harry Styles’ solo career looks to be the most successful of all the One Direction members isn’t a surprise in itself, but just how good it is might be. He’s predictably tried to follow the path of a Bowie or a Jagger, but with his charisma and genuine talent for singing rock songs, nothing feels unnatural about it. That personality plus the brilliant songs on his self-titled record (from the storming banger that is Kiwi or epic sweeping ballad Sign Of The Times) point to years of success, and not just from the screaming teenage fans his name is usually tied to.
2. ROAM – Great Heights & Nosedives
The leaders of the sub-par pop punk clones Seaway were part of were certainly ROAM, whose debut album Backbone, released at the start of 2016, represented everything wrong with this new breed. Fast forward just over a year, and they’ve joined them in the ‘most improved’ ranks and released one of the best pop punk albums of 2017 with Great Heights & Nosedives. They’ve toned down the muscle from Alex Costello a lot and kept this record ballad-free, resulting in great infectious choruses and a much more cohesive sound in general. Such an across the board improvement has no option but to be commended.
1. Fall Out Boy – Young And Menace
Faith in Fall Out Boy’s musical credibility has long been dwindling, but no-one expected this. The lead single from their forthcoming album M A N I A (release date delayed from September to January because it was unfinished, what does that say?) is a total mess of a track. So much is wrong with it – the references to Nikki Sixx to try and prove their rock credentials; the title that makes no sense; and of course, the overly-long ‘chorus’, which sounds like someone leaned on the control panel at the studio and because of time constraints, thought “yeah, that’ll do”. It’s terrible songwriting, and although FOB’s last two albums weren’t good either, they at least had a handful of good songs to show everything hadn’t completely gone down the pan. Young and Menace was easily the most jaw-dropping musical moment of 2017, and roll on January, so we can see what other horrors await us on M A N I A.
Words by Luke Nuttall and Georgia Jackson