Shit, y’all. Between Atlanta and Athens alone, we’re absolutely spoiled for talent. Yet each new month, as fresh waves of toxic waste and golden loot inundates us in equal measure, the glint of past treasures often sunk from sight. Fortunately, nothing knocks back the dust bunnies from your memory like a lightning round of songs—hence this list, which collects 55 of our favorites that Immersive stumbled upon this year.
As we compiled this compendium, we marveled at what a diverse bounty we’ve gathered in 2017. From righteous punk to shake yr fist with, to nefarious techno for the darkest club corners, to breathtaking ballads, to whatever junkyard labyrinth BKGD hails from, these singles and album cuts span miles of styles. Furthermore, in a year where we needed to chew through some tough shit, plenty of the artists here—and I’m looking at Linqua Franqa, Art School Jocks, and Algiers, among others—lowered their shoulders and barged straight into the fray. We also had welcome breaks from the fracas, with left-field twists into the absurd, the sublime, and the ecstatic.
While our upcoming list of best albums might provide a wider scope of the musical cache we’ve collected in 2017, this one showcases the smaller gems that might’ve slipped under your fingers. Sift through and see what still sparkles. – Lee Adcock
Thankfully, ABRA is on her grind again. After this year’s handful of relatively chill collabs, “Bacardi” drives in HARD, with sledgehammer EDM beats that remind us exactly why we worship this freaky queen so damn much. If the words sound familiar, though, you’re probably quite the R&B junkie—she’s lifted the verses from Jagged Edge’s “Where the Party At,” and the chorus from Lumidee’s breakout hit “Never Leave You (Uh Oh).” But that mega righteous, heart-throbbing flair that just beckons you to bow to your knees? That’s all ABRA, of course. – LA
“4th of July”
Verily, anyone who trades in the dark arts knows that fear stems from the unknown. Cut to the horror-stricken face when the creature appears; spare the details about the aberration in the corner that may have once been your neighbor. The slick techno synths of AGYN’s “4th of July” don’t seem malignant at first, but when Lee Heikkila crawls in at a dirge-like pace, with the cryptic insistence that “I want something or only nothing at all,” you know something can’t be natural here. Admittedly, this single is several degrees more neon-tinted than most of their last tape, where Heikkila would wail Siouxsie-like over serpentine drum and bass creations, but their inscrutable monotone here rattles yr nerves just as much. Add to this the classic EBM glitch-out in the middle, and you’ve got a very clever menace on your hands, the kind that you might not ever see until it’s too late. – LA
Algiers have never been accused of taking on a trivial enemies, and on “Cleveland” they go straight for the throat of America’s ever-expanding police state. The track’s name is a reference to the city where Tamir Rice was gunned down, and throughout the explosive cut the group proclaim the names of victims of police violence with righteous indignation. The trap-inspired production is massive, colliding with the oppression they rail against like waves against a derelict structure. Much like their 2015 debut, “Cleveland”‘s flickering rays of hope are often lost within the choking thorns of tyranny and racism, but this honest confrontation of reality imbues the band with a spiritual certainty and collateral power which resounds throughout the song and brings the darkest deeds of humanity to light. – Russell Rockwell
“Just A Gwen”
“Just A Gwen” finds Art School Jocks building a backdrop of understated slacker pop beneath scintillating lyrics. The persistent guitars are hauntingly catchy as the band provides a visceral exposé on the rape culture which permeates the everyday lives of women. – RR
“Consumer Machine” finds Big Brutus, a.k.a. singer-songwriter Sean Bryant, at his most lush and breezy while lamenting the materialist culture that sacrifices the individual to the twin gods of money and corporate-driven consumption. “I pray Oh, God, where are you now? / Buying up commercial spots on the other side of town,” he sings on the song’s alluring chorus before the track erupts in a spellbinding blur of blown-out guitars and spiraling saxophone. Overall it’s a beguiling effort from a songwriter who continues to push his craft in challenging new directions. – Guillermo Castro
Bitter spends most of “Stay” spewing angst like it’s 1994, but even though the track is built on radio-ready hooks reminiscent of early Hole and Garbage, any post-grunge excess is limited by an indie-pop sensibility. It’s convenient that Bitter doesn’t waste much time getting to the chorus because it’s catchy as hell, for which part of the credit must go to producer Randy Garcia, whose penchant for noisy pop seems the perfect fit for the four-piece.
Such an anxiety-laden track might seem a bit obvious for a band called Bitter, but from their inception the foursome have taken bold stances on their members’ various non-binary and Latinx identities, so it follows that such audaciousness flows through the group’s songwriting. It’s this confidence, especially from such a young band, which keeps me from going full-on eyeroll at their angsty identity. What could have easily sounded derivative is instead refreshing and impactful. – RR
“Into the Wall”
What? Wow! ZING! Mundane patterns in the woodwork look fine—until a rubber hammer smashes you in the head, and shows you stars that flash in pink and orange pixels. Background? Nah, this is like the second or third layer in a really trippy portrait deconstructed on Photoshop, where the head has shifted three inches off the neck, and the flesh glows in phosphorous smears. In two baffling minutes, “Into the Wall” jerks and swerves through a time-space collision between the Fall and Guerilla Toss—and, given the louche and wry vocals here, BKGD live for the cartoony carnage that follows. POW! BIFF! BAM! Are those stars, or just figments of your dehydration? – LA
“Take Me Home”
While it’s developmental roots and defining influences are plainly evident, Blis.’ formidable debut LP succeeds in large part due to it honesty and conviction. Album highlight “Take Me Home” may be awash in stormy guitars and taut post-hardcore hooks, but it’s frontman Aaron Gossett’s plainspoken vulnerability about his broken relationship with his father that makes the track so vital and cathartic. – GC
“Build Momma a Coffin”
“Build Momma a Coffin” was the first track Blood on the Harp shared after expanding into a sextet and it provides a striking example of the dark country and Southern Gothic sound the group is quickly becoming known for. Opening with an eerie atmospheric swell of strings, the mood feels initially bleak before settling into the aura of deep resignation that guides the bulk of the song. Along the way a forlorn acoustic guitar and banjo are set adrift by a shuffling backbeat, while a melancholic accordion sweeps in as if to offer its condolences. Music this rustic and stylized often seems tethered to a distant time and place, but the song’s tale of anticipated loss, coupled with some stirring vocal harmonization, gives it a grim immediacy that’s hard to shake. – GC
“Liminal, but not limited!” Existential musings aren’t the usual fare for super catchy pop songs—so much to unpack, so little time. But when you’re the Boygirlfriends, and you’ve got the inventive wit of Amy Dala, ideas spring like sparks onto the page. So instead of drooping into some dry or saturnine spiel, “Liminal” skips like a lost Squeeze or XTC single into the often complex field of gender identity. Integral to this breezy vibe are the classy Cars-esque synths, which enliven the already bouncy mix and ramp up the cheese factor to extra sharp. And try not to crack a grin at the vocoder echoes in the verses! Honestly, I’ve never had this much fun disrupting binaries before, which, given Dala’s lyrics, is really the whole point: “Sit on top the fence / move your hips around / feels quite nice.” If ambiguity could always be as great as “Liminal,” then we’d never hear the phrase “existential angst” again. – LA