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The 8 Best Debut Albums of 2017 (So Far)

Music ListAarik DanielsenComment

We’re just a little more than halfway through 2017, and the year has already yielded some fascinating music. Much attention has been paid to superlative records by household names like Kendrick Lamar and Jason Isbell, blockbusters by newly minted superstars such as Lorde, and the forthcoming efforts of indie stalwarts Grizzly Bear, LCD Soundsystem, and Arcade Fire. But amid the waves of artists you love — and artists you love having back — it could be easy to lose sight of some terrific debut albums that have made their mark on the first half of 2017.

Some of the following artists had already made their presence felt with singles, EPs or previous projects, but in early 2017 they put out fully-formed statements that made listeners feel like they were getting acquainted with tomorrow’s stars today.

Hit play on our playlist and scroll down to check out our list of the best debut albums of 2017 (so far):

Bedouine - Bedouine
(Spacebomb Records, June 23)

It feels silly and obvious to talk about how melodic the first Bedouine record is, but this collection from Azniv Korkejian is just so lovely and tuneful. The songs glide along with tasteful instrumentals only accenting, never interrupting or overpowering Korkejian’s singing. There is an effortlessness, an unforced quality, to her sound yet with it comes with a definite sense of sophistication.


Diet Cig - Swear I’m Good at This
(Frenchkiss Records, April 7)

Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman had already created serious buzz with EP Over Easy and 7” Sleeptalk / Dinner Date that overflowed with personality. The duo amplified and sustained that buzz on a dozen tunes that only further establish Diet Cig as the new standard-bearers for pop punk. Kudos to the band for delivering perhaps the most staggering opening statement of the year with first track “Sixteen,” the awkward, ultimately empowered tale of Luciano trying to make it with a guy who shared her first name.


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Nick Hakim - Green Twins
(ATO Records, May 1)

The Washington D.C. native builds a bridge between groove-oriented R&B and a more ethereal, shapeless sort of electro-pop. Hakim’s full-length debut has all the killer rhythms and slow-burning, stirring vocals once could want, but the record also bobs and weaves in artsier directions with slightly detuned pianos, echoing drums and fine layers of modern musical dust.


Priests - Nothing Feels Natural
(Sister Polygon Records, January 27)

There’s nothing casual about this fearsome foursome from Washington D.C. Both those who think of punk as a genre, and those who see it as a state of mind, will be challenged and heartened by Priests’ debut. There is righteous anger here, expressed by pounding drums, the occasional squall of saxophones and Katie Alice Greer’s darkly compelling vocals.


Sheer Mag - Need To Feel Your Love
(Self-Released, July 14)

Buoyed by the powerhouse vocals of Tina Halladay, this Philadelphia unit makes music perfect for rawk-fist pumping and scream-till-you’re-hoarse sing-alongs. There is definitely a ‘70s aesthetic at work here with the band playing massive riffs and pursuing slinky grooves, but Sheer Mag is so good at what it does, it almost doesn’t matter when it is doing it — the band would have found an audience at any point in rock history.


Sarah Shook and the Disarmers - Sidelong
(Bloodshot Records, April 28)

The first thing you notice about Sidelong is Sarah Shook’s voice. And like her last name, that voice will leave you rattled in the best sort of ways. The North Carolina outfit writes and plays first-rate juke-joint, somebody-done-me-wrong songs. But the strength of the material reaches a new level in Shook’s distinctive timbre; she has all the confidence of a honkytonk heartbreaker, yet possesses the quaver of an alt-rock icon.


Peter Silberman - Impermanence
(
Transgressive Records, February 24)

The solo debut from The Antlers frontman is only six songs long but, at around 35 minutes of music, it qualifies as a full musical expression. Silberman melds cinematic and, at times, neoclassical colors into a quietly exquisite vision. At the risk of hyperbole, his wispy, floating vocals approach Jeff Buckley territory at more than a couple moments. This work is atmospheric, but is far from background music.


Vagabon - Infinite Worlds
(Father/Daughter Records, February 24)

Laetitia Tamko’s voice is a rich, expressive instrument that embeds itself immediately in a listener’s sensory memories. The Cameroon-born, New York-based artist freshens the stylistic tropes of 1990s Alternative Nation, fearlessly going hard after whatever she wants to do or sound like — whether that’s playing loud and fast, establishing a more esoteric sense of space and place, or calling out people who prowl like sharks, as she does on A-plus opening track “The Embers.”


The Transverso Guide to Pitchfork Music Festival 2017

Music ListTransverso MediaComment

Pitchfork Music Festival is an experiential embodiment of the magazine itself, topped off with all the sweat and smoke you reflexively sense when reading their articles. All the artists too cool for Lollapalooza descend on Union Park just a few weeks before in the publication's (and our!) native Chicago, and we've taken the liberty of condensing the lineup into a handy guide you can use to preview what's in store this weekend.


FRIDAY


Hiss Golden Messenger (Red Stage - 3:00)
What’s this? An artist who has some predominant twang and mountain revival gospel roots featured on the Pitchfork Musical Festival lineup!? Say it ain’t so! Anyway, trade in your dad hats for a decidedly more Stetson-y aesthetic, because Hiss Golden Messenger is bringing some much needed Americana grit to the ultimate poseur festival on the calendar. Coming off of 2016’s Heart Like a Levee, MC Taylor is one of the few aritists in rotation today that have become consistently better with each subsequent release. So, if you want some pickin’ music to mix things up before you see Vince Staples, then Hiss Golden Messenger would serve as an interesting pre-Crabs in a Bucket fare. (Sean McHugh)

Vince Staples (Green Stage - 4:00)
Rap’s current “Big Fish,” as far as hip-hop personas go and as his recent studio release Big Fish Theory suggests, is a strong addition to the festival and helps maintain Pitchfork’s reputation for diversified and well-curated lineups. Performances of Staples’ new material will satiate an audience hunger for hip-hop bangers, invigorating electronic beats, and recitable hooks. Those who have yet to hear the new album need not be alarmed as Staples’ latest release will easily captivate fans previously earned and win over new ones. [Editor's Note: Not to mention Vince Staples' feature was probably the best part of the new Gorillaz record, too.] (Ezra Carpenter)

 

William Tyler (Blue Stage - 4:00)
One of the prides and joys of Nashville, Tennessee, William Tyler is a man that everyone has heard but never realized. His unique brand of post-bluegrass/country music brings about a side of the Southeast that many have never considered. Concise and deft in his ways, Tyler and his backing band (typically consisting of members from Margo Price and Bully) elicit sounds and senses of a Southern sound making its way into a proud but creeping decay, with the slightest sliver of hope trickling through each and every one of Tyler’s fine finger picking. Unfortunately, Tyler drew the toughest slot share of fest going up against Vince Staples’ set, which will undoubtedly be the belle of the ball (festival). (Sean McHugh)

Thurston Moore Group (Red Stage - 5:00)
Undoubtedly included in the lineup as means for Pitchfork to retain its ties to the indy-establishment community, post-punk legend Thurston Moore will be a polarizing act for the festival audience. Millennials will either embrace Moore’s cultivated practice of ambient punk or rip their ears off entirely from a boredom induced by music they simply don’t understand. Guitar enthusiasts, avid fans of experimental music, and post-punk die-hards do not need any persuasion as to why they should not miss out on a performance by the Sonic Youth founding member. But casual Sonic Youth fans (whose favorite of their catalog is most likely Goo) and those unfamiliar with their work should be weary of lengthy, downtempo post-punk instrumentals that do little to win over impatient listeners. (Ezra Carpenter)

Frankie Cosmos (Blue Stage - 5:15)
Under the guise Frankie Cosmos, Greta Kline has established herself as one of the finest songwriters of her generation. Her intimate, earnest lyrics are as emotionally transparent as a diary entry and as charmingly frank as a gossip sesh with your best friend. Her hooks worm their way into your brain, often weeks after you first hear them. So even if you’ve never heard her, check out Frankie Cosmos on the Blue Stage. By September, you’ll know all their songs by heart. (Julian Axelrod)

Kamaiyah (Green Stage - 6:30)
Fresh off her appearance on this year’s XXL Freshmen Class cover (the only female MC, bafflingly), Oakland’s own Kamaiyah is riding a massive wave of well-deserved hype. Her incredible mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto is the perfect distillation of her bright, funky sound, which recalls Salt-N-Pepa and TLC but sounds completely singular. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more fun show at this year’s fest. (Julian Axelrod)

Dirty Projectors (Red Stage - 7:00)
Upcoming Dirty Projectors’ performances bear more of a loss than a win for avid fans. On one hand, you will have the new material featured on their recent self-titled LP at your disposal with the band’s signature electro-pop sound nuanced with the dancehall influence that has marked most popular music this past year. But sadly, you will miss out on the vocal and guitar contributions by hallmark member Amber Coffman, who left the band to begin a solo venture catalyzed by the disintegration of her relationship with former partner and DP frontman Dave Longstreth. Within the context of Pitchfork’s Friday lineup, Dirty Projectors will serve you best as a palate cleanser for headlining act LCD Soundsystem. They will do well to help you adjust from the hip-hop/R&B/industrial electronic acts (Danny Brown, Vince Staples, Arca, and DAWN) featured on the day’s lineup. (Ezra Carpenter)

Acra (Blue Stage - 7:45)
If ever there were a sound that would be simply and best described as being “creepy” while not being a post-punk emo band consigned to Warped Tour oblivion, Arca would be at the top of the heap. Alejandro Ghersi’s self-titled 2017 release is by far and away his best AND creepiest/WTF-iest. Where other records like 2015’s Mutant went for a more devilish production route, S/T is remarkably pop-y (if you can consider music that sounds like the revised soundtrack of Saw-meets-Antichrist to be pop-y) and insatiably listenable. If you want to impress even the Pitchfork-iest of wannabe scenesters at Pitchfork Fest this year, then sticking it out during Arca will almost certainly impress those strangers you desperately seek validation from! (Sean McHugh)

 

 

LCD Soundsystem (Green Stage - 8:10)
15 years later and they haven’t quite lost their edge yet. Like we wrote in our preview of Lollapalooza last year, LCD Soundsystem are about as good as a headlining act can get. Say what you will about their temporary breakup and subsequent reunion, you’d have to be heartless to sit through a live rendition of “Dance Yrself Clean” and not feel at least a decent hit of euphoria. With the introduction of new instant classics “call the police” and “american dream” to their set, plus some other unreleased tracks from the forthcoming return record American Dream (due out September 1 via Columbia / DFA), James Murphy and co will continue to rise like a phoenix from the ashes, even if New York still brings them down. All you have to do is show up. (Weston Pagano)


SATURDAY


Weyes Blood (Green Stage - 2:30)
A quiet, yet deserving member of the “next-wave” of west coast indie stars (as christened through association with Father John Misty and Ariel Pink), Weyes Blood is one of the most refined new talents in music. Orchestral compositions spread across infectious melodies make for a magnificent and beguiling live experience that settles quite nicely into the Pitchfork aesthetic. Decidedly more reserved than the delightful garage-ska of Jeff Rosen and the Rock chic of Cherry Glazerr, Weyes Blood is a nice mid-afternoon comedown on Pitchfork Fest’s second day. (Sean McHugh)

 

Mitski (Blue Stage - 4:00)
In-studio performances with various radio-stations and online media outlets have revealed a tasteful versatility in Mitski’s live performance arsenal. The artist behind 2016’s Puberty 2 is able to manage solo performances accompanied only by an electric guitar and amp, as well as support from drums and rhythm  guitar (in which case she hops on bass). Mitski Miyawaki is a true music virtuoso with proficiency in several instruments and a keen ability to curate a performance according to individual venues and audiences. It is always a unique opportunity to experience a grassroots independent artist taking on an outdoor venue and one would be wise not to miss out on her set. She pairs well with fellow New York-based independent artist Vagabon (also featured on the Saturday lineup) and will be a great primer for Angel Olsen.  (Ezra Carpenter)

Angel Olsen (Green Stage - 6:15)
The best Olsen sister of them all, Angel is set for a homecoming of sorts after leaving Chicago for Asheville, North Carolina back in fall of 2013. Coming off of last summer's rollickingly infectious "Shut Up Kiss Me" and the rest of her breakthrough album My Woman, it'll be worth stopping by the Green Stage for that single alone. (Weston Pagano)

 

Madlib (Blue Stage - 6:30)
If you are at Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 and actively choose to skip out on Madlib’s set then you are - to place it in layman’s terms - a loser. Madlib is an absolute and unequivocal of hip-hop, rap, house, electronic, chillwave, and everything else Pitchfork readers salivate over. He is the All Father of modern urban music. AKA Otis Jackson, Jr. is the go to collaborator for one of the most criminally underrated rappers of his generation, MF DOOM, and has created one of the greatest rap albums of all time, Madvillainy. I mean, come on, the dude has worked with Mos Def, Kanye, De La Soul, Erykah Badu, AND has been on heavy rotation in every DJ worth his or her weight in wax. Seriously, I cannot reiterate enough, if you are in attendance at Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 and you choose NOT to see Madlib, please do return. Go see Madlib, for the love of all that is good and pure in this world, GO. SEE. MADLIB. (Sean McHugh)

A Tribe Called Quest (Green Stage - 8:30)
Hip-hop greats currently celebrating a late career second wind, and the life of esteemed emcee and former founding member Phife Dawg, will navigate through their performance by revisiting classic tracks and new material from 2016’s politically charged We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. Performing throughout the 2000s, Q-Tip developed an onstage presence that is more lively, energetic, and tenacious than anything from ATCQ’s catalog would suggest. Hip-hop heads young and old need not worry of whether or not these veterans still have the stamina to energize a crowd. Q-Tip’s mellow delivery and tack-sharp lyrics over Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s pristine work on the ones and twos are vintage hip-hop at its finest. (Ezra Carpenter)


SUNDAY


Kilo Kish (Green Stage - 1:00)
One of the coolest acts on Pitchfork’s lineup this year, Kilo Kish is exactly what someone like Kehlani wishes she could be. She’s the performance art contemporary of SZA and NONAME, and immediate associate of Vince Staples (AOTY?), so if that’s not endorsement enough, then you probably aren’t one for her set. Nevertheless, if you’re at Pitchfork Fest, you should go because her 2016 LP Reflections in Real Time kicks as AND she’s the only one playing during her time slot. (Sean McHugh)
 

 

 

Colin Stetson (Red Stage - 1:45)
Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, BadBadNotGood, Animal Collective, David Gilmour, Feist, Timber Timbre, Tom Waits, TV on the Radio. Yes, those are all bands that Pitchfork has an obsessive Stan-ism for, but they are also bands that have called upon alto and baritone saxophonist extraordinaire Colin Stetson for all their brasswind needs. On top of such a fact, Stetson’s live set and solo work is absolutely exceptional - he gerry rigs his own unique microphone apparatus (effectively a choker around his neck) that picks up guttural noises emanating not only from his core, but also his esophagus. His live set is all but a masterclass in circular breathing and live-sound MacGyvering, so if you’re one for DIY-isms, then Stetson’s set is a must see. (Sean McHugh)

NE-HI (Green Stage - 2:30)
Pitchfork is relatively light on hometown heroes this year, so make sure you show out for Chicago’s own NE-HI. The scrappy foursome traffics in sun-bleached, nostalgic guitar anthems that were custom-made for drinking on a friend’s porch. Their infectious riffs recall fellow Chicago mainstays Twin Peaks (who played Pitchfork last year) but NE-HI’s earnest tone sets them apart. The gang is holding down a prime spot on the main stage, so come celebrate their success by cracking open a cold one with these boys. (Julian Axelrod)

Isaiah Rashad (Red Stage - 3:20)
One of the best rappers working and yet somehow can’t seem to garner the respect of his contemporaries. He’s a southern rapper (Chattanooga, Tennessee) that managed to work his way into the XXL Freshman class of 2014, which included Kevin Gates, August Aslina, Vic Mensa, and some guy named Chance the Rapper (pre-spiritual revival) and Rashad STILL managed to murder the cypher. His post-2014 work has been equally as exceptional and under covered, but if you hit his Sunday set at Pitchfork Festival, you will hopefully convert to a Rashad disciple rather than Chance. (Sean McHugh)

Joey Purp (Green Stage - 4:00)
Joey Purp is yet another Chicago-based rapper that counts the like of Julien Ehrlich of Whitney and Mac DeMarco as fans; so if that isn’t Pitchfork-y enough for you, then you aren’t at Pitchfork. Otherwise, you should still check out Joey Purp because he’s a founding member of Savemoney (whose alumni include Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa) and he samples Drake’s “Gyalchester” on his song “Gucci Link.” That fact alone is worth hitting his set (and because his set is ultimately more interesting than Hamilton Leithauser, speaking from experience). (Sean McHugh)

Hamilton Leithauser (Green Stage - 4:15)
Because Rostam is never along for the live shows it can be easy to forget that The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser’s newest album is not technically a solo record. He and his live band, which includes former members of Spoon and White Rabbits, still do more than a sufficient job performing the duo’s fantastic I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, though. “I use the same voice I always had,” Leithauser belts out on “Sick as a Dog,” and despite the “extreme hiatus” of his original act there’s really no excuse to miss out on those world class pipes in any context while he’s still able to howl and wail with such passionate power. (Weston Pagano)

Pinegrove (Blue Stage - 5:15)
Arguably the greatest Bandcamp band to date, Evan Stephens-Hall and his Montclair, NJ cohorts bring their blue-chip millennial middle class spectral gazing to an otherwise lavish Pitchfork lineup (then again, the festival is the wannabe indie “tastemakers” wet dream). Anyway, Pitchfork is yet another festival stop on what has become a near two-year victory lap for Pinegrove highly lauded debut album Cardinal. There will undoubtedly be countless fervent and angst-laden Pingrovians, as the band’s faithful travel extremely well. Certainly a must see if you’re looking for more guitar and viscerality as opposed to the majority of Pitchfork’s beat-saturated 2017 lineup. (Sean McHugh)

The Avalanches (Green Stage - 6:25)
Most artists wouldn’t be able to come back from a 15-year hiatus. Then again, most artists aren’t the Avalanches. More than a decade after their seminal debut Since I Left You, the Australian group returned with another silly, sunny, sample-heavy sound collage in Wildflower. Even more impressively, they expanded their sound (including collaborations with Toro y Moi and fellow Pitchfork performer Danny Brown) while still sounding like they did in 2000. The group doesn’t tour often, so this may be your last chance to see them… until they drop their third album in 2033. (Julian Axelrod)

Jamila Woods (Blue Stage - 6:30)
Solange’s 2016 masterpiece A Seat at the Table earned her a much-deserved headlining spot at Pitchfork this year. But before you hear “Cranes in the Sky” live and ascend to heaven, make time to see another incredible 2016 R&B album come to life. Chicago singer/poet Jamila Woods gained widespread acclaim with her solo debut HEAVN, a deeply stirring and empathetic work about struggling to find peace amongst personal and political turmoil. It’s an invigorating record, and Woods brings the same mix of warmth and passion to the stage. (Julian Axelrod)

 

American Football (Blue Stage - 7:45)
The godfathers of American emo and native sons of Illinois (Urbana) who helped bring Chicago independent music into bloom in the late '90s have hit the festival circuit in support of their self-titled second LP (released in 2016 and not to be confused with their 1999 debut which was also self-titled…). Household name amongst indy/emo circles, Mike Kinsella has returned with the band’s original members to capitalize on 90s nostalgia and the hometown yearning for the unapologetic emotionality of their cult classic debut. Known for the technicality of their math rock sound, the sharpness and complexity of their instrumentals alone qualify American Football as a must-see. If not for their pristine instrumentation, see them to indulge in your forgone teenage feelings and perhaps buy yourself a PBR or some fireball to realize the sentiment.  (Ezra Carpenter)

Nicolas Jaar (Red Stage - 7:25)
Its highly likely that Nicolas Jaar is your favorite DJ-producer’s DJ, and yet somehow, most people who claim to be up-to-snuff on their scene knowledge leave him unabashedly unlisted in their “top-DJs-working” lists. So, if you wish to make up for past transgressions of not-listening-ness, then hit up Nicolas Jaar’s set. He put out one of the best experimental records of the decade in 2016’s Sirens as well as one of 2017’s best Boiler Room TV sessions. Go see him to prep for Solange, if you’re trying to groove instead of feel blue after American Football’s set. (Sean McHugh)

Solange (Green Stage - 8:30)
Pitchfork named Solange’s 2016 LP A Seat at the Table its number one album of the year. Her live performance is as visually striking as her music is provocative. Elaborate stage decor and lush wardrobe pieces create a medium that amplifies her songs’ conceptions of black beauty, assessments of race relations, and interrogations of the African American identity. A live performance by Solange is nothing short of an enriching experience sonically, visually, and intellectually. As Sunday’s headliner, she is an undeniable match for her festival headlining peers and has the potential to come out of the weekend as the best performer amongst them. (Ezra Carpenter)