Bandcamping: The 25 Best Underground Albums Of 2017

Just like in 2016, I spent 2017 digging through the figurative crates of Bandcamp to find the best music that’s not getting the media coverage it deserves. Also like last year, I found a bunch of really great stuff that has changed how I saw this year in music (or at the very least, it changed my iTunes library). I’m constantly surprised at how this process has led to me finding some of my favorite albums of the year, obscure or otherwise, but this is the second year in a row this has happened, so maybe I should just get with it.

As 2017 comes to a close, I’ve gone back over these releases once again and compiled them into a top 25 list, so without further ado, these are the best albums that appeared on Bandcamping this year.25. Look, See, Sun by Heron Hunt
Genre: indie folk
If you like: The Head And The Heart, Fleet Foxes, The Shins

24. מיכל נאמן by מיכל נאמן
Genre: folk, alternative rock, Israeli rock
If you like: The Shins, Paul Simon, Novos Baianos

23. n i g h t s k y by Sigh Kicks
Genre: electronic, indie rock, chillwave
If you like: Toro y Moi, Minus The Bear

22. I Owe You For This by Beasthead
Genre: indie rock, ambient, alternative
If you like: Radiohead, Bon Iver

21. First Lady by OtherFace
Genre: indie rock, psychedelic rock, soul
If you like: Tame Impala, Leon Bridges, Radiohead

20. M A N G O L A N E by Mango Lane
Genre: indie pop, pop
If you like: Hot Chip, CHVRCHES, Chromeo

19. Fraction by Holy Machine
Genre: indie rock, new wave, post-punk
If you like: synthwave, Interpol, U2

18. Twins by James Wyatt Crosby
Genre: indie rock, alternative rock
If you like: Wilco, Band Of Horses, Beck

17. Modern Pressure by Daniel Romano
Genre: Americana, rock
If you like: The Beatles, My Morning Jacket, Wilco

16. Folder by Lød
Genre: indie rock, post-punk, krautrock
If you like: Neu!, Television, early U2

15. Play Till You Win by Cassandra Jenkins
Genre: indie pop, Americana
If you like: St. Vincent, Wilco

14. 404 by Ryan Cadwallader
Genre: jazz, instrumental hip-hop, ambient

13. Shelter by Charm Days
Genre: electronic
If you like: Bonobo, Four Tet, Arms And Sleepers

12. Both Sides of the Ceiling by Duncan Fellows
Genre: indie rock
If you like: Grizzly Bear, Real Estate, Manchester Orchestra

11. Business Of Dreams by Business Of Dreams
Genre: indie rock, indie pop, electronic
If you like: DIIV, M83, New Order

10. 2 by Saagara

Genre: jazz, world music, alternative
If you like: Four Tet, Sun Ra, Dan Deacon

Wacław Zimpel’s Indian orchestra Saagara combines Eastern rhythms and instrumentation with Western versions of the same, and this bridging of the cultural gap is a bona fide success. Opening track “Daydream” is an intense crescendo that doesn’t let up, and the rest of the album is similarly engaging in a way that doesn’t compromise the sounds of any of the cultures it draws from.

9. The Family Plots by The Family Plots

Genre: indie rock, indie folk
If you like: Owen, Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens

Virginia’s own The Family Plots hearken back to the mid-2000s or so, when indie folk was ubiquitous but also in an adventurous phase. On the group’s self-titled album, they’re both organic and atmospheric, and while you can tell the group took some experimental leaps, this is some very easy listening.

8. BADLANDS by El Palomino

Genre: R&B, soul, indie rock
If you like: Wild Beasts, Miguel, Frank Ocean

El Palomino (real name Justin Fleming) refers to his debut solo effort as “a dreamy, down-tempo exploration into the northern answer to southern rock,” and while this very well may be Vancouver’s answer to southern rock, it’s certainly not in the same language. “Ulysses” is a Frank Ocean-like bit of experimental R&B, and the rest of the album is similarly adventurous and not one to sleep on.

7. Refrain by Lofty Stills

Genre: indie rock, dream pop, alt country
If you like: Local Natives, Sufjan Stevens

Lofty Stills (real name Luke Culbertson) makes what could be described as dream alt-country, which makes more sense than it seems because the pedal steel guitar is so dreamy. The Seattle-based project pairs this instrumentation with Culbertson’s airy falsetto for a pure effect.

6. Big Blue by Gold Star

Genre: indie rock, alternative rock, Americana
If you like: Ryan Adams, Wilco, Hootie and the Blowfish

There was a simple wonder to ’90s rock that Gold Star pulls it off in a way that modernizes the approach. Because of this neo-throwback sound, there’s an instant comfort about songs like “Big Blue.” This album isn’t a thinker, which also means there’s no learning curve, so you can just listen and enjoy. Imagine that.

5. Singles, Vol. 2 by Bachelor

Genre: electropop, new wave, indie pop
If you like: Depeche Mode, OMD, Joy Division

On its surface, Bachelor sounds like an ode to new wave, but there’s a lot more to it than that. There are tons of throwback synths, yes, but the songs were totally written with the modern listener in mind. The instrumentation is great, and the hooks are catchy as hell; I haven’t found a chorus I enjoy singing along to more than that of album closer “Reykjavík (I Just Thought That You Should Know…).”

4. Shock Out of Season by Friendship

Genre: indie rock
If you like: Phosphorescent

Album highlight “Skip To The Good Part” is fueled by emotion in a way that’s hard to explain. singer Dan Wriggins’ voice cracks in the hook, it’s not a flaw, but an endearing detail. It works perfectly for the yearning hook “But please don’t call it a night.” Again, it’s tough to quantify or elaborate on, but the track was a special musical moment this year.

3. Still, I Try by Fire is Motion

Genre: indie rock
If you like: Broken Social Scene, Manchester Orchestra, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die

Album opener “Yesterday’s Coffee” starts out confident, but the song builds and calms down and builds and calms down and throws you all over the place. The indie rock is anthemic, the melodies are ripped from arena pop, and even though there are only five tracks here, this isn’t just a great sign of what’s to come, but an achievement in its own right.

2. Cash For Smiles by Mandala

Genre: indie rock, rock
If you like: Sleater-Kinney, Hop Along, Car Seat Headrest

“David Brown” is maybe the best album-opening track I’ve heard this year. The track sets the tone, and gets a message across: The guitar is here, baby. Morgan Fasanelli’s vocals are capable and assured, absolutely, but the guitar work on this song and “Washed Up” is genius in the way that it’s allowed to take center stage. The last minute of the album opener is just an absolutely ripping guitar solo, and it’s one of 2017’s most refreshing 60 seconds of music.

1. Jenna by Jesse & the Revelator

Genre: folk, acoustic
If you like: Neil Young, early My Morning Jacket, Ray LaMontagne

On paper, this album shouldn’t be as good as it is, because it just seems so simple. The production value is pretty modest for the most part, the instrumentation is pretty sparse, and yet, Jenna feels phenomenally huge and real. It’s a concept album about the murder of a 12-year-old girl, and as macabre as that sounds, I can assure you that this is one of the albums with the most heart that came out in the past 12 months.

It’s worth noting that this year-end list marks the end of Bandcamping on Nerdist. The Bandcamping archives will live on and remain accessible, of course, and Nerdist will continue to bring you interesting and exciting music stories, like the Star Wars theme song played on calculators, a bizarre musical instrument created by Benjamin Franklin, and all the pop culture holiday songs you need this December.

So, thanks to all of you for reading, and thanks to all the artists we’ve featured in this space for the music. If working on Bandcamping over the course of the past two years has taught me anything, it’s reinforced the fact that great music can come from anywhere, so keep your ears open and you’ll probably end up hearing some pretty wild stuff that wasn’t on your radar.

Featured image: John Ward/Flickr

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