Without fail, my favourite thing about compiling the annual year-end lists for The Monolith is exploring the myriad nooks and crannies of my fellow writers’ music taste. From the eleven regular contributors to the site whose personal lists make up this composite top 20, there were 183 records referenced. Within that, there is a lot of music I didn’t get around to listening to – to my eternal chagrin, of course, but I’m eternally grateful to my staff for their knowledge, expertise, and above all their contributions.
Of course, that means there are 163 records that we’re not going to get the chance to talk about, but that’s okay, because these are the very best of the best. It’s genuinely a great list, which I feel is both representative of those who write for The Monolith, and also the greater rock music spectrum in general. We’re planning to release everyone’s individual lists in a more condensed form, with a couple of ancillary lists for shits and giggles, but this is where you’ll find the real meat of our music taste in 2017.
For the top spot, we had an interesting two-way battle between frequency and reverence; between one album which cropped up in more than half of the individual lists, and an album that scored very highly, but on fewer. It was a close thing – in fact, the top three were all fighting it out until the last list came in. I’ll let you guess which one is which, but ultimately it is unimportant, and the victor is a worthy one.
So without further ado, let’s get started. Please let us know which ones made your own lists, which ones you feel inspired to check out, and even which ones you think invalidate any opinion we’ve ever had ever. To the list!
20. OHHMS – The Fool
31st March – Holy Roar Records
On their water-testing EPs Bloom and Cold, Canterbury outfit OHHMS really embraced the long-form doom layout – but on The Fool, their debut full-length, they have focussed their songwriting technique to a fine point.
It’s quite a ride; the record shifts from smooth guitars to driving, throaty sludge. There’s a lot of psychadelic magic at play here, and rather than using it as a faux-60s flourish there’s a clear focus. Effervescent songs glimmer, silver and gold, and there’s a real warmth to the textures. Whilst before tracks might take their time to reach their destination, OHHMS have tightened up; their approach more immediate. This economy doesn’t strip them of their power, but it does mean the record is busier and more comfortable being sonically destructive.
Even on longer tracks like “The Heirophant“, OHHMS weave their magic without getting lost; there’re plenty of familiar fuzz-worshipping moments that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their particular vibrant nuance.
In a year of great doom releases, The Fool was a particularly refreshing, bright entry. OHHMS were always a promising band, and just like Bossk before them, their debut full-length is beyond excellent; it’s thrilling to see a band take their time to nail a full-length. With rumours that they’re recording again, it’ll be exciting to see where they head next.
19. Paramore – After Laughter
12th May - Fueled by Ramen
As soon as lead single “Hard Times” dropped, I knew I was going to enjoy this album. I’d written Paramore off for having followed Fall Out Boy down the same pop-rock route following their self-titled album – an album that had several great songs, but felt like it lacked character – especially given the line up drama of recent years.
But, founding drummer Zac Farro’s return to the band after six years seems to have rejuvenated their focus. Wholly embracing the ever more popular 80s revival sound, After Laughter injects the emo tinge from their earlier efforts into a musically fun, yet lyrically negative album, upholding the 80s spirit of bands like The Cure and Joy Division.
As you might expect, it’s very bouncy at times, but After Laughter plays with slower moments too, helping to balance some of the buoyancy. Elsewhere “23”, a standout, acoustic track, provides further contrast; its more positive lyrical content giving the album a fully juxtaposed feeling. Paramore have marketed the image of the album flawlessly; the funky avant garde art choice – given their own spin, of course – perfectly portrays an album swathed in colour. A definite summer album.
18. Jamie Lenman – Devolver
27th October - Big Scary Monsters
We’re fast approaching ten years since seminal British rock trio Reuben last strummed a chord in anger, but thankfully we’ve not been completely bereft of the talents of former frontman Jamie Lenman for all that time. After taking half a decade away from the mic, he returned with a solo double album in 2013 – and there was much rejoicing. Muscle Memory was a telling experiment from a man with both a wealth of ideas, and the capacity to do them justice, and this year’s stunning return to the studio was a fully-fledged realisation of his prodigy.
Devolver‘s genius lies in its diversity. Whether it’s the ominous, driving, anthemic simplicity of “Mississippi“, the fuzz-drenched ballad “Bones” or the measured, Radiohead-esque builder “Body Popping“, every song is unique and distinguishable from its companions. There are catchy hooks, big barnstorming riffs, and his familiar punk attitude. For every head-nodding or toe-tapping moment, there’s an equal flash of tenderness and genuine emotion.
Combining any number of these myriad facets is disarmingly difficult to pull off, but to gel everything as cohesively as he has is astounding; it’s the hallmark of real talent, and Jamie is one of Britain’s very finest.
17. Creeper – Eternity, In Your Arms
24th March - Roadrunner Records
Creeper had built up a lot of momentum and mythological intrigue (as well as risk) over the past couple of years with three strong EP releases, and so the pressure was most definitely on for their debut record Eternity, In Your Arms to succeed. What we have here is an absolute belter from one of the UK’s brightest goth punk peddlers.
The honing hand of frequent touring and practiced songwriting has clearly increased the band’s ability to deliver on their initial promise. With stadium-sized choruses, solid riffs and hummable melodies evident in every song on the record, whilst the production is first class, sounding radio-friendly without destroying that eerily goth-punk feel.
There’s a bit of everything on show, whether it be the emotively acoustic “Crickets” with an outrageously powerful vocal performance from keyboardist Hannah Greenwood, or the rampaging punk vibe of “Room 309” which sees vocalist Will Gould delivering the heavier side of the band’s spectrum.
Aided by a stellar main stage appearance at this year’s Download festival, Creeper have built a solid foundation on which to further themselves in the UK music scene and beyond.
16. Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day
13th January - InsideOut Records
Pain of Salvation have always been at their best when investing raw personal emotion into their music; it’s there on some of their best albums. After a brush with a life-threatening illness, band leader Daniel Gildenlow has found a way to imbue that savage emotive response into his music again on In The Passing Light Of Day. Right from the opening aggression of “On A Tuesday” to the slow-building, contemplative closer of “The Passing Light Of Day”, this album brings fear, guilt, anger and uncertainty together in an dark and deeply personal package.
It’s incredibly evocative lyrically, exploring the idea that daylight is but a brief phenomena that serves to cast shadows is very striking, and there are numerous references to the fear of death and feeling broken. There are a couple of subtle musical and lyrical references to “Ending Theme” from the seminal Remedy Lane, which connects the two albums thematically, and which is appropriate as In The Passing Light Of Day might be the best Pain Of Salvation album since Remedy Lane.
A huge feather in the cap for the Swedish prog metal stalwarts.