TOP TEN ASHEVILLE ALBUMS OF 2017
As the world wraps up this rather interesting (for lack of a better word) year, I’d like to hone in on one special location in the music world, Asheville, NC. It was a great year for music here with lots of new releases and first albums for many bands. I’m going to be listing the top ten best albums of 2017 that were released in Asheville based on sales, the cohesiveness of the tracks, and the overall sound.
Let’s start this off with number one: Phases by Angel Olsen, released in November. This is one of the best-selling albums in the Asheville realm of Bandcamp, and for good reasons. This album is a compilation of B-sides and some previously unreleased tracks over several years of her music career. Phases includes tracks of many different sounds, genres, and eras, which makes the title fit very well. This is a great example of how Olsen has grown as a musician, especially after becoming a part of the Asheville community. Olsen is probably one of the most successful Asheville musicians, and deservedly so. This album illustrates the cliche ‘practice makes perfect’ and is an inspiration to many up-and-coming musicians in town.
My choice for number two is Loss Memory by Coma Cinema. Another great seller, this record is quite literally a daydream wrapped up into ten songs. What makes this so cool is the influence of shoegaze in their music, a genre that is so unique and easily forgotten. Out of all of the amazing tracks on this record, the fan favorite seems to be “Running Wide Open.” If I were to choose a song that wraps up the whole album, it would definitely be that one; it’s full of lo-fi sounds and heartfelt lyrics that blend so well together as a pair. This album is actually the final record from Coma Cinema; it’s quite saddening, but what a way to go out.
The third album of choice is Floating Action’s self-titled release. When I asked for opinions on the greatest Asheville albums of 2017, almost every person I asked mentioned this album. Likewise, it also has a 5-star rating on Amazon music. As I was listening to this album for the first time, I honestly thought that it was very innovative and unique. I couldn’t really tag just one genre onto it, which is a good thing. The sound is very original, yet you can hear many different influences, like dubbed reggae, country, folk, etc. I guess you have to have a certain level of talent to take a load of genres and mix them all together into one collective sound of your own, and have it actually sound good.
The next album is MJ Lenderman’s Him. This is Lenderman’s first full-length debut, and it is quite amazing. The supposed concept behind it is the difference between boys and men, exploring those differences and all the stops in between. The entire album is great; each track sounds authentic, gritty, and eerie. The song that really caught my eye (or ear, I should say) was “Gatlinburg.” As the longest song on the album, it was written about the two boys who set the forest in Gatlinburg ablaze, which was a very traumatic moment in recent history. Lenderman managed to take that horrid disaster and turn it into a sad, yet beautiful song.
Number five on this list is Perfectly Stranger by Anders Manga. I was super excited when I found this album because it is just so freaking cool. Manga dabbles in a genre called darkwave, which to me is like the love-child of Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath. I had no idea that this was a thing, and it sounds amazing. When listening to the first track, my immediate thought was, ‘this sounds like Halloween,’ and I don’t mean the cheesy Monster Mash kind of Halloween sound. It’s dark, melodic, eerie, and yet it so chill and slightly trippy. The album cover also illustrates this feeling; it’s a vintage-looking black and white shot of a clownish man with a black cat above him. This album is perfect for those who also like to get down in the dark sometimes.
My sixth choice takes us back to classic sounds of the mountain music that helped build Asheville’s music scene. Working on Wall Street, a release by Chris Rodrigues and the well-known Asheville street musician, Abby the Spoon Lady. This album is 13 tracks of pure southern folk-blues. Asheville has a lot of rock bands, so a new release from a southern-folk duo is an exciting sound we don’t always hear. Chris Rodrigues displays strong, screaming vocals; not too twangy, and just powerful enough for this type of music. His singing paired with the unique percussion of Abby and her spoons is a match made in heaven.
The next choice is Jay Bartell’s In A Time of Trouble A Wild Exultation. There is actually a track on this album (“Swim Colleen”) that features Angel Olsen, who was mentioned above. This album, to me, sounds like it’s being played on a record player. Not that the quality is bad, it just sounds very classic and vintage. It mixes in a wide range of sounds, like harmonicas and slide guitars with more “cliche” elements like electric guitars. I enjoy musicians that choose to create their own sounds rather than pick just one genre and stick within it; those musicians are the most talented, and they seem to be on the rise. This is a great and exciting step for music in the future.
My eighth choice is Pictures of Vernon’s self-titled EP, released in May of 2017. I only had to listen for the first few seconds of the beginning track to hear the early emo influences in the music and the vocals. It’s well-written, well-composed, and exciting. I have only heard great things about Pictures of Vernon, and people seem to eagerly await each release they put out. They seem to be on the road to a full-length debut, which will probably hold their best tracks yet.
My choice for number nine is Make It Sweat by King Garbage. King Garbage have been called, “the new crop of American soul players,” and this album makes you see why. It’s what you get when you mix elevator music, jazz, soul, and a little bit of a beat track with some passionate vocals. It sounds like what you should be listening to on a rainy night in your house, or while you’re sitting in a hole-in-the-wall bar in the city. If you’re looking for groovy, fresh funk, this is the album you need to get your hands on.
Last, but certainly not least, is my tenth choice: Tarot by Aether Realm. Let me start this off by saying I’m not a huge fan of music with screaming vocals as the only style of vocals on their albums. With that being said, I still enjoy this album a lot because of the great concept and all of the thought put into Tarot. This release has 11 tracks on it, all but one are over four minutes long, and it includes a 19-minute closing number. Since the title of the album is Tarot, each track is named after a tarot card, for example, “The Fool,” and the music on that track is meant to encapsulate the character or theme of said tarot card. This album is an ambitious melodeath album that tells multiple stories, which makes music enjoyable for me. Like many others, I enjoy music that has a narrative, so this album had to be on my list.
After reading this list, I hope it has inspired you to do some exploring of your own. It was a learning experience for me, because there is always some new Asheville artist I don’t know about. If you’re not careful, you can miss something really amazing in 2018. Give these 2017 releases a listen and make sure to continue to support your local artists!
photo by AUDREY KEELIN