Every year has its ups and downs, and for a lot of us, 2017 felt like one downturn after after another with no signs of going back up. Despite that, the musical world didn’t let up on putting out great tracks to jam to, and a steady stream of interesting releases throughout the year provided a bright spot.
Here’s some of our favorite 2017 releases in the electronic and indie scenes.
The M Machine, ‘Glare’
This San Francisco duo has been putting out slick electro house with a harder dubstep-inspired edge for years, but on their first full length effort, producers Ben Swardlick and Eric Luttrell shifted gears with an expanded sound palette and more introspective subject matter. Tracks like “Voyeur” and “We Had It All” show off a newly refined version of the Machine’s take on synthpop, while “Talking Machine” blends the band’s Metropolis-era sound with distorted electric guitars and samples of Thomas Edison. And then there’s “I AM,” a hyperkinetic jam that manages to bring Aphex Twin to mind in composition while feeling completely original with a wavy ear worm of a synth riff.
Kyle Kaplan and Vinnie Pergola met from being secondary characters on Disney Channel shows a decade ago, but one would never be able to tell from their debut album as house duo Phantoms. In their time away from the spotlight, the pair crafted a clever take on the genre that brings traditions from its history into the modern framework popularized by contemporaries like Disclosure. “Downtown” places a narrative of a fleeting night out against dark, pulsing beats. “Just A Feeling” and “Someone to Talk About” each offer their own take on love (or lust) in the club, and “Tried to be Nice” rejects the idea entirely. Particularly special is “Need You Closer,” a thumping tune with a killer breakdown and a clever vocal turn from fellow Disney alum Hayley Kiyoko.
St. Vincent, ‘MASSEDUCTION’
From our review: “Annie Clark’s outside-the-box thinking makes “MASSEDUCTION” an enjoyable listen for old and new listeners alike. Early standout “Pills” sees her sing a staccato refrain against a heavy sound palette of bassy drums, and “Fear the Future” brings industrial and noise rock elements into the mix as Clark sings, “My baby’s lost to the monster / Come on, sir, just give me an answer.” It’s St. Vincent in her prime, bringing a worthy successor to her self-titled album that doesn’t necessarily outdo it but works brilliantly as a companion piece, showing a different side of a multifaceted artist.”
ODESZA, ‘A Moment Apart’
From our review: “With A Moment Apart, ODESZA holds fast to the territory of chill electronic vibes that made their name, but uses its established sound palette as a foundation for new collaborations and ideas that bring a greater emotional range to the forefront. Lead single “Line of Sight,” made with Australian electronic group Mansionair and English singer WYNNE, has a sound that established fans will find familiar, as do album cuts like “Higher Ground” with Californian singer Naomi Wild and instrumental cut “Meridian.” “Divide” (made with vocalist Kelsey Bulkin, formerly of indietronica outfit Made in Heights) and instrumental track “La Ciudad” combine Mills and Knight’s melodic sensibilities with pulse-pounding beats.”
Mura Masa, ‘Mura Masa’
English producer Alex Crossan has made tunes as Mura Masa since 2014, but with his first full length, he made a bid at future bass stardom. Rare is the occasion when an album with this many big names manages to feel like it still belongs to the producer behind it all, but Crossan does just that, keeping pace with the likes of Charli XCX (“1 Night”), Damon Albarn (“Blu”) and A$AP Rocky (“Love$ick”) through his unmistakable style. If you ever wondered about the possibility of the marimba being a viable instrument to use in a pop song in 2017, look no further.