For some reason, every music writer seems to think that end of the year lists are the perfect place to remind readers that 2017 was a garbage year. Spoiler alert: We all already know. Apart from the wave of malaise sweeping the nation, the widespread recognition Atlanta music deserves still seems to escape our grasp for everything except hip-hop, and within that realm there are plenty of local rappers and producers toiling in obscurity. There’s still a lack of DIY venues, and on top of everything else, we lost more practice spaces this year, though I wasn’t sure many remained in the first place. Yet through it all, Atlanta artists and musicians continued to thrive in a city where their impact is trumpeted even as their livelihood is diminished.
Despite these frustrations and impediments, a wide variety of killer records sprang from the minds of local artists, each of which help to capture the beauty, tragedy, and chaos of the past year. As a format, the album has suffered endless obituaries and, conversely, exaggerated assertions of value, but whether dead or alive, the format remains a useful lens into the minds and identities of artists, communities, and subcultures. Some of the following records challenge the bounds of an inherently limited art form, others are examples of the power of said limitations, but all are testaments to the all the good shit going on this city and all the great human beings making the magic happen. – Russell Rockwell
The Underside of Power
Algiers’ second album is noisy, fierce, chaotic, ecstatic. Not in succeeding waves, mind you, but all at the same time like the aftermath of a horrific accident. Yes, you’ve managed to survive, and there is some grace in that, but your life is irreparably altered. At times, The Underside of Power can be utterly overwhelming; unraveling so many musical diversions and reference points is one thing—unpacking the sordid history of hate, the cycles of violence, the fleeting flashes of hope, and the revolutionary conscience that inform the LP is entirely another. Calling this a record built uniquely for our dark times only limits its potency. This is a soundtrack to human struggle regardless of era—grim in its vision and unrelenting in its spiritual uplift. – Guillermo Castro
Art School Jocks
Beyond its poignant political commentary and sharp cultural aspersions, Art School Jocks eponymous debut was flush with evocative songwriting and spellbinding hooks. It’s a record that unwinds steadily, trading between moments either expansive or tightly gripping without sacrificing any of its no wave cool. Whether they’re railing against sexual harassment and rape culture (“Just A Gwen”) or dissecting coded and subconscious body language (“Catdog”), the results are the same: smart, alluring songs that are incisive and remarkably compelling. – GC
Read our interview with Art School Jocks.
We tend to construe identity as what we are. However, more often, we actively define ourselves by what we’re not—eschewing businesses we don’t support, tuning out the music we can’t stand, avoiding the people we hate. Little wonder, then, that one of Atlanta’s newest and boldest bands, Bitter, can rattle off exactly what they aren’t. Don’t call them a “girl band”—all four members are non-binary and queer. Don’t call them neo-liberal feminists—bassist/photographer Camila Izaguirre (since replaced by Haseena Peera) and powerhouse singer Maritza Núñez are Latinx, and guitarist Chava Flax and drummer Zo Chapman stand in solidarity with their comrades. Definitely don’t liken them to Bikini Kill—you’d have to be daft to pin any lazy riot grrrl tags to Bitter’s megalithic anthems, sinewy and bloody yet glossed with a deliberate sheen. – Lee Adcock
Read our interview with Bitter.
This BKGD (pronounced ‘Background’) tape lifts the fog, through sheer light and brazen nonsense. From every angle a crooked grin in a new color smiles back, and not one shade compliments the other. Rhythms bounce and rattle like clockwork from another civilization, or perhaps just a clock shattering the sound barrier. Vocalist Tony Gary weaves through the ruckus with the same animated gestures as a younger Mark E. Smith. And yet, as garish and alien as these twisting vignettes might seem, absurdity cuts a clear path through it all, from the prosaic to the otherworldly, so that no mystery separates the two. It’s a deceptively meaty tape (especially given the blitzkrieg running time—just under 20 minutes), and I’m still chewing on every flavor that BKGD have to offer. – LA
Read the full review of Background.
No One Loves You
My first memory of Blis. is from the front porch of an Edgewood house show. I remember it was a frigid winter night, and while I can recall being impressed by the fledgling band, little did I suspect the impact they would come to have on the Atlanta scene. Since forming in 2011, the group has grown into a wondrous, pummeling force of atmospheric beauty, tumultuous guitars, and latent sadness. Frontman Aaron Gossett has emerged as a complex and conflicted songwriter, generously offering listeners a candid peek into his volatile world. Life isn’t something that comes easy in his eyes; Gossett’s hardships and struggles only motivate his perseverance to record and make new music—a kind of lifelong creative therapeutic session.
Blis.’ first full length, No One Loves You (Sargent House), is the long-awaited follow-up to the group’s sterling 2015 debut, Starting Fires In My Parents House. It’s a gritty, angst-ridden record that throws you aggressively into the everyday realities and dark intimacies of Gossett’s life. The end result is a beautiful mix of raw emotion, echoing screams, and brooding religious resentment that cuts through on every haunting melody and incendiary chord. – Jacob Kresak
Read our interview with Aaron Gossett.
World Underwater runs thick with metaphors and fantastical imagery—serpents in the Garden of Eden, Medusa, the Greek Sirens. CLAVVS have always intended to create subversive pop and what better way to dismantle traditional notions of female identity than by usurping these feminine symbols and sinister archetypes and turning them on their head? Within this thematic framework, Amber Reneé and Graham Marsh craft songs that are dark, sleek, and brooding. You may consider Marsh’s trip-hop textures and lush electronica to be the motor that propels the album onward and upward, but it’s the seductive grandeur of Reneé’s vocals that will stop you dead in your tracks. – GC
Read our cover story with CLAVVS.
Season of Mist
To Venomous Depths
Understanding the long-awaited debut LP from Cloak means embracing the band’s postmodern take on songwriting. Through nine winding tracks, the foursome blend mystery with heavy riffs while taking the listener on a haunting journey without a visible destination. On To Venomous Depths, the group’s effort to draw the listener into a rich gothic tragedy is fully realized, but it never diminishes the immediacy and lurking violence of each individual track. Metalheads are often obsessed with defining subgenres, but this record bends and break trivial concerns like style and methodology with complete irreverence, even as the band members embrace their roles as sages within a grey, disquieting universe. – RR
COMMAND is a multi-instrumental artist who is currently flying under the radar in Atlanta. With an understated aesthetic and a trippy, genre-bending sound, his latest release, MATH, provides a glimpse into the alcohol-infused, smoke-laden existential experiences of a young, hopeless romantic. From start to finish, MATH takes the listener on a psychedelic bender into a rabbit hole of heartbreak, despair, and rumination. Infusing elements of acid and alternative rock, cuts such as “SUNFLOWER” metaphorically liken an unnamed lover’s beauty to that of a floret, while soulful ballads like “COWBOY KILLER” utilize clever lyrical arrangements and guttural croons to personify his woe. – Johnell Gipson
Birds Fly By Night
In just over twenty minutes, Danger Incorporated offer up nine expansive and exploratory tracks, each one sliding through with its own unique atmosphere and emotional resonance. Given this divergence of vibes and sounds, I hesitate the use the word “formula,” but there’s certainly a method to the pair’s dizzying, dazzling aesthetic. On most cuts, Louie Dufflebags plays the ideal setup man, serenading the listener with his warm and shimmering falsetto before giving way to Boothlord who then hammers the track with lyrical liquid, his aqueous bars tumbling over the LP’s wavy baselines and pulsing synths. Indeed, the duo’s interlocking chemistry is the key to Birds Fly By Night’s strong sense of cohesion, each track gliding seamlessly into the next as the pair lure you in and lock you into their hypnotic world. – JK
Read the full review of Birds Fly By Night.
Kneel Before None
Whereas so many bands trading in traditional metal seem inextricably locked in the past, Death of Kings manage to invigorate old sounds with fresh energy. Aesthetically, you know exactly what to expect from their latest LP, Kneel Before None: an old-school thrash bludgeoning complete with pulverizing riffs, feral vocals, and speedy rhythms that teeter between complex and chaotic. (There’s also a hint of ‘80s hardcore intensity thrown in there for good measure.) But while galloping guitars and breakneck shredding is all well and good, it’s the band’s beer-swilling fun and mayhem that has kept them locked at the forefront of the Atlanta metal underground for so many years. – GC