Five personal favorites from 2017
1. Van Dale, Of the Valley II
In a year when a steady stream of bad and worse news has dominated headlines, sometimes the only reaction is to stare straight ahead, slack-jawed. It's an approach to turmoil perfectly encapsulated by singer/bassist Joe Camerlengo, drummer Tim Horak and guitarist/singer Lisa Brokaw on fuzz-rock act Van Dale's sophomore release. Over the course of nine tracks, the trio enters the void and gives us some three-minute pills to swallow in order to survive tomorrow; dose after dose, going numb has never felt so good.
2. Way Yes, Tuna Hair
For a month straight, I found myself humming the chorus of Tuna Hair track “Get Dead”: “I wanna be on the road by 9.” On paper, it's an offhand comment that seems like it never could or should hold up as an anchoring refrain. But Way Yes has a way of bringing overlooked or uncomfortable truths into stark relief — name it, claim it, put it into song. “Everyone I used to love is dead,” Glenn Davis proclaims elsewhere on “Get Dead,” yet there's no self-pity, no sulking. On this major-key, feel-good pop record about death, Way Yes stares the grim reaper in the face, grieves, makes peace and then gets on the road by 9, come what may.
3. Sam Craighead, The Tuesday Night Music Club
Whether reminiscing about hiding a Candlebox CD from his parents, stocking an online shopping cart with a billion-dollar order of Beanie Babies, or embodying Kevin Federline as he begs Britney Spears to go on “Ellen” with him, Sam Craighead writes mellow, expertly crafted piano pop with an empathetic ear that allows him to transform the goofy into something sublime.
4. Micah Schnabel, Your New Norman Rockwell
“There's a tension in America that's so thick, no matter what side of the line you're on. Everybody feels it. We're all just trying to handle it,” Two Cow Garage's Micah Schnabel said in June. Schnabel sees more of the country in a year than anyone I know, and as he stares out the tour van window, songs come spilling out. Your New Norman Rockwell is maybe Schnabel's best batch yet, a collection of lyric-first story songs that find him striving to make sense of America and the human condition. “First we have to agree that we're all just humans/Frail and scared to death of our own existence,” he sings on “Are There Any Questions?” If we're all just trying to handle it, these songs can help.
5. Counterfeit Madison, Opposable Thumbs
Sharon Udoh is one of Columbus' best-known and beloved musicians. Often, her powerful voice and virtuosic piano playing has showed up on other musicians' albums. But after two releases from her band, Counterfeit Madison, Udoh released her defining statement and masterpiece in 2017. Opposable Thumbs is the genre-spanning record Udoh was born to make. It's a culmination of her musical and personal journeys and a springboard for what's to come.