The Underrated Artists of 2017
Orc, Thee Oh Sees
For 20 years, John Dwyer has been experimenting with a variety of psychedelic garage rock sounds that move in every direction, leaving drips of eccentric colors behind. After countless name changes, Dwyer and his band released 2017’s Orc as the Thee Oh Sees.
Orc is a 50-minute tooth-numbing catapult into a land unknown. In the first two seconds of the record, Dwyer’s screeching guitar, glued with Tim Hellman’s bass, is accompanied by both Dan Rincon’s and Paul Quattrone’s tight and rapid drum style in a way where each element begins to vibrate into an abrupt shock of high voltage energy.
But as the record moves along, Dwyer doesn’t forget to give listeners time to catch their breath. Between every aggressive, slick guitar riff is a movement into something smoother and less intense, a moment of recollection that lasts for just the right amount of time until he plunges you into another moment of chaos.
This juxtaposition of sound moves fluidly within and between songs like the fourth track “Keys to the Castle.” In about eight minutes, “Keys to the Castle” takes listeners on a joyful journey that warps into a hypnotic movement of sounds, all falling into a blissful violin that creates its individual moment in the song.
The record’s stimulating sounds are laced with a theme of war, of conquering a forbidden place, of violence and the aftermath; the song titles of “Animated Violence” and “Cadaver Dog” reference a battleground and the dogs that come to pick up the pieces of the dismembered.
These dark and brutal references are set upon upbeat instrumentals, making the record lend itself to feelings of dissipation, the rise of goosebumps along your arms and warm colors dancing along your eyelids. It is an album that reinvents the admired sounds of the past’s psychedelic pop and raw noise rock bands, blending genres together to create an other-worldly environment that feels enticing to be in.
— Selena Aguilera, Daily Arts Writer
Apricot Princess, Rex Orange County
Apricot Princess is butter. It’s a gorgeous collection of lo-fi tracks recorded by singer Alex O’Connor, better known as Rex Orange County, that pulls at a different part of the heart. The 19-year-old British wonder makes you yearn for your first love and your family, your sanity and your best friend. Each song slips into your mind, eases between the ears and into your soul. Before this album, I didn’t know what it meant to melt.
Released in April of this past year, the LP predated Rex’s breakthrough on Tyler the Creator’s Flower Boy, released later that summer. From there, his fame skyrocketed. Rex’s ability to string together lyrics alongside the jazz-infused, soulful nature of his music makes his age disappear behind the noise. Songs like “4 Seasons” and “Television/So Far So Good” are both tear-inducing and dance-worthy. Every situation, be it a family reunion or drawn-out cries of “What about me?” hits personally, not contingent on whether you’ve felt the love he sings about. “Untitled” welcomes tears, “Nothing” evokes nostalgia, but the only thing the album truly depends on is what the listener brings to it. The songs are only complete then, narratives fully formed only when his notes hit our ears.
— Natalie Zak, Daily Arts Writer
Deep Dream, Daddy Issues
“I was gonna write a song about you sucking and look at your pictures / Hang with your friend I planned on kissing,” opens “High Street” off of Daddy Issues’s 2017 release Deep Dream. A lyric delivered with nonchalance, monotone and a hint of spite, it acts almost like a sonic thesis for the rest of the album. And this is just a taste of the dreamy malice that Daddy Issues curates on their incredible sophomore release.
Deep Dream is an album fully concerned with emotional and physical detachment. It embraces the hatred and other unhealthy tendencies that follow breakups, delivered on wave after wave of grungy rhythms, some pop flare and sugary vocals. On “Dog Years,” guitarist/vocalist Jenna Moynihan delivers a scathing declaration: “I know how it ends / We’re not gonna be friends / In dog years you’re dead.” On “Boring Girls,” she bites over the closing shrill drone: “Boring boy / don’t hurt yourself / I don’t think they have guitars in hell.” These lyrical gems are innumerable, with nearly every track containing a poignant emotional punch, directed both outward and inward.
An album revolving mostly around negativity might hardly seem enjoyable, but it’s the emotional delivery of these sentiments that contains such brutally relatable honesty. The pop on “In Your Head” translates the scathing triumph of being the more stable half of a failed relationship. The monotone that pervades the album draws out the numbness associated with love turned to hate. Deep Dream is a harsh look at the human psyche of young adults dealing with the messiness of interpersonal intimacy, and it does so with an impressively composed delivery.
Oh, and they also include a lo-fi cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” which in and of itself kicks so much ass.
— Dominic Polsinelli, Senior Arts Editor
Communicating, Hundred Waters
Formed in late 2011 and signed to Skrillex’s OWSLA label in 2012, Hundred Waters has become the quintessential folk-electronica band. This mix of genres might sound incompatible, but the Florida-based three-piece has found a measure of success with their unconventional arrangements. In 2016, a Skrillex remix of “Show Me Love,” off of 2014’s Moon Rang Like a Bell, featuring Chance The Rapper, Moses Sumney and Robin Hannibal, gained immediate popularity. Though the song now has over 30 million plays on Spotify, the rest of Hundred Waters’s discography remains lamentably undiscovered by the masses.
Hundred Waters’s instrumentation usually consists of percussion, piano and synthesizer — often heavily looped — as well as pianist Nicole Miglis’s characteristically reserved vocals and the occasional flute or trumpet. Though none of this has changed since the band’s eponymous debut in 2012, their most recent release, 2017’s Communicating, is a more thoroughly compelling manifestation of the group’s talent and skill than their previous albums.
Although undoubtedly more accessible than both Hundred Waters and Moon Rang Like a Bell, Communicating finds the trio sacrificing none of their experimental spirit. Time signatures are atypical, loops abound and the disarming duality of intimacy and “electronicness” persists. Songs on the album are more pared back than they have been in the past, and it’s not hard to imagine some cuts being recorded on just four or five tracks. This simplicity allows both Miglis’s vocals and the song’s melodies to speak for themselves, though the former is usually passed through a filter of some kind, lending a comfy lo-fi vibe to the otherwise hi-fi recordings.
This is the kind of music that’s perfectly suited for sitting at home, wrapped in two or more blankets while the snow falls in fat flakes just outside your window. It is comforting and spacious, intimate but with a penchant for the cinematic, a perfect album to ring in the new year, especially if you missed it in 2017.
— Sean Lang, Daily Arts Writer
Somersault, Beach Fossils
The psychedelic revival that’s occurred in the last few years has not only catapulted bands such as Tame Impala and Beach House to stardom, but has also brought genres like shoegaze and dream-pop to the forefront of rock fans’ attention. Similarly named but different in its own way, newcomers Beach Fossils hit it out of the park on their slow-moving masterpiece Somersault. The plush synthesizers and droning guitars of song “Sugar” balance with more upbeat tunes like “This Year,” creating an endless playground of musical texture. Though the group has been releasing work since 2010, their latest effort proves they’re a band worthy of your attention, as Somersault pushes their old music to a new level of artistry. Beach Fossils knows their niche incredibly well, and through this expertise, they’re able to bring the listener into a dreamscape: 34 minutes of chill bliss.
— Clara Scott, Daily Arts Writer
Sevdaliza embodies the next wave of pop music. Her art is political, genre-bending and commandeering — exuding sexual independence and uncontained artistic agency. As an Iranian-Dutch singer, songwriter, dancer and producer, Sevdaliza has crafted her debut, ISON, to reflect the fluidity of her identities. On “Human,” Sevdaliza peels back these identities and implores that “she is nothing more than human.” In the accompanying music video, she commands a room of aristocratic white men in a rhinestone bra and hooves; dancing with purpose, she forcefully denounces the objectification of the female figure. ISON is a mixture of trap, pop and R&B. With sparse percussion, the album feels timeless — sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re at minute two or nine — and places a prophetic emphasis on Sevdaliza’s vocals. In a political atmosphere when female voices are finally being heard, Sevdaliza’s ISON provides pop music’s long overdue cultural commentary, exploring gender roles, identity fluidity and heartbreak in one of 2017’s most overlooked projects.
— Danny Madion, Daily Arts Writer