Year In Review: These are Tampa Bay's best local releases of 2017

Gut-punching, shimmering, unforgettable sounds your ears must hear.

HEARTS OF DARKNESS: Elizabeth A. Baker and Erich Barganier’s and darkness was upon the face of the deep was one of the year’s best. - CHARLOTTE SUAREZ
Charlotte Suarez
HEARTS OF DARKNESS: Elizabeth A. Baker and Erich Barganier’s and darkness was upon the face of the deep was one of the year’s best.

As you’ve read throughout this issue, there was a shitload to hate in 2017 (then again, maybe this edit team is just a pod of cynical assholes not yet ready to make America great again). Abhorrence for everything wasn’t the case when it came to local music, however, and combing through nearly 100 releases left us tree-huggers actually wanting to chop a few more down so we could include every one of our favorite homegrown releases on the printed page. Cooler heads (and the prospect of less carbon monoxide in the air) prevailed, so what you’re finally looking at below is the best slice of the best music your neighbors made in 2017.

Look and click the album titles to to get your ears massaged by all of the year’s best (or assaulted, if you’re listening to Meatwound).  Jump to specific artists via the menu below. We also list what other records were considered at the bottom of this post.

The comments, Facebook or Twitter are all great places to yell at us for missing your own local favorite. Artists, tell us about your 2018 release here.

Until next year, friends.


Joshua Cruz: Black Is Classier It’s really hard to say where Bay area singer-songwriter Joshua Cruz is going to end up landing (we’re thinking L.A.), but the soaring vocals and pristine pop production he showed off on his single, “Poison Lips,” finally got some company on this 37-minute effort. Cruz, 25, also dared other local R&B singers to step up to the plate by adding live tracks like “You Know It’s Complicated,” stripped down and backed up with an ace live band. (Forever A Dreamer)

Joshua Cruz’s “Poison Lips” video might be the Bay area’s sexiest R&B clip to date — watch

Meatwound: Largo Find us a better, more grimacingly loud or aggressive Bay area metal release, and we’ll shove it right back down your godforsaken throat where it belongs. This seven-track follow up to 2016’s Addio is every bit as bass-heavy, fast and gut-punching, but Dan Shook sounds especially possessed, especially when the wailing, distorted guitar of “Jungle Heart” seamlessly fades into the hypnotic, pulverizing rhythm of “Reproduction Blues.” (Magic Bullet Records)

Fay Roy: Heaven At Twenty-Seven The move back home from San Francisco has been amazing for this band of best friends, and local fans of shimmery beach-goth and pop are all the better for it, too. There’s many a moment of minor chord sadness floating around this quick 18-minute journey, but the storm clouds eventually give way to hopeful, intoxicating answers to the existential dilemmas Floridians tend to get themselves into when they’re contemplating quitting work during sandy Sunday-night strolls by the ocean.

FayRoy circles back home, ponder the future on new LP, Heaven at Twenty-Seven — listen

Dynasty: The Love EP It’s easy to love this original Tampa “femcee” (just read any of the coverage CL has devoted to Dynasty’s solo work and collabs with hip-hop luminaries like Talib Kweli and DJ Premiere). The Love EP, however, feels like a tryst or trustfall, in which Dy has to sit in the shadows so Diana (her real name) can kick it old-school. Music by Common plays in the background as she offers prospective lovers and friends a bevy of promises that she demands you hold her accountable for. There’s a lot of painful talk about relationships, jealousy and the imperfections that seem to mar every fabric of our daily existence, but our heroine gives us just enough light to make us brave enough to let her lead us through the thicket. (Feel Good Ink/Recordpushers)

Stove.: Eat./If You’re Listening, I’m Sorry for Everything Peppered with playful sax solos and 21st-century zingers lamenting the present state of things, the 13 tracks on two releases by ukulele-wielding songwriters Stove. make for an all-too-brief joyride through Bay area neighborhoods — in all, both EPs clock in at a combined 25 minutes. The “IHOP on 19 & Curlew” and even the Publix at Boot Ranch Plaza get immortalized in beautiful detail, and “Delete Your Fucking Snapchat” should be required listening. But buried in all the bright strumming is a diary’s worth of confusion, anger and hurt wrapped up inside delicate songs that are trying to solve the world’s problems while dealing with a sitcom’s worth of interpersonal bullshit on the side. (Records DK)

click to enlarge Ari Chi. - IVANA CAJINA
Ivana Cajina
Ari Chi.

Ari Chi: Color Fool Arielle Chi Bryant finally captured the magic of her live set on record with this release, in which a smoldering vocal floats, skitters and scats throughout songs that pull a little early 2000s soul, while others are interchangeably soldered together by big, synthesized beats and live drumming that tiptoes the lines between jazz, R&B and pop. Bright piano, guitars and strings also get built into the mix, and while Color Fool is worth listening to over and over again in 2018, Bryant has already released new music (“Apple Pie”) indicating that the new year will be just as fruitful for fans. (Made In Music)

Brother Cephus: Not That Important Not That Important? Not so much. Brother Cephus’s 2017 release — a follow-up to 2015’s Noise and a pair of Wounded Hearts cassettes — is by far the the most vital piece of the actual family band’s output to date. In just over 20 minutes, frontmen and brothers Seth and Gabe Davis lead friends JJ Revell (bass) and Logan Coats (drums) through a six-track movement that’s a near-perfect snapshot of what it’s like to be stuck somewhere between 24 and 34 years old and looking at a future that isn’t quite as sunny as the ones our parents were working on at this stage of their lives. There’s anxiety and curiosity stirred into the brothers’ drinks on “Toxic Slip” and “How Do You Do,” but the Davises never black out after the cartloads of cocktails they’re downing on bleary-eyed, bouncy album highlight “Can We Then?” Instead, they fact-check the news (“What Is This? America.”), look for a spiritual home (“Not Even You”) and employ frenzied drumming, reverb and gliding guitar lines en route to making music that hits that weird, sweet spot between feeling slightly self-assured and downright confused-as-fuck at the very same time.

Tampa’s Brother Cephus has a unique and ever-evolving creative process

Baker-Barganier Duo: .​.​.​and darkness was upon the face of the deep. CL slept on the July release from New Renaissance composers Elizabeth A. Baker and Erich Barganier, who claim to have taken a look at the history of subjugation on this hour-long sonic trip that’ll haunt our dreams for the next few months. Inspired by African-American slave songs and critiques of the American penal system, the piece ends somewhat sunny after banjos, bells and overpower shackle sounds on “Chain Gang.” And while opening tracks “My Father How Long” and “Dreams” lull listeners into a sense of calm, “I’m still having waterbug problems” is an unnerving and discombobulating movement paced by muted beats and replete with the crying of a bowed instrument that makes us feel like we’re trapped in that cold, dark, eerie place Eleven always goes to in Stranger Things.

Set and Setting: Reflectionless A wide-angle look at Set and Setting’s journey could help you argue that it has been the most successful Tampa Bay rock band of the last half-decade. After putting its debut album, Equanimity, to tape in 2012, the band embarked on numerous national tours while pulling European and festival dates off along the way. The release of this year’s Reflectionless was accompanied by a barrage of glowing press from outlets like Noisey, Stereogum, Brooklyn Vegan and Decibel — and it was well-deserved. The album is a trim 43 minutes with just a handful of songs breaking the seven-minute mark, but guitarist Shane Handal (along with drummers Mark Etherington and Stephen Handal, guitarist Ryan Fugate and bass player Nick Sibilia) colors the record in hundreds of entrancing hues. The pacing also lets the band’s penchant for blending sometimes-violent waves of roaring guitar rattle your core until the shimmering beauty of it all has you slack-jawed at the pretty picture Set and Setting leaves on the table as album closer “Ephemerality” comes crashing to its end. Set and Setting’s lineup changed a bit after the release of Reflectionless (gone is drummer Etherington, and original bassist John Allen Kreft has replaced Sibilia), but Berlin's Pelagic Records has already signed on to release whatever follow-up the boys are looking to start put together in 2018. (Science of Silence/Dunk!)

USF jazz professor Chuck Owen earns four Grammy nominations for 2017 album Whispers On The Wind

Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge: Whispers on the Wind In a year that saw lots of interesting Bay area jazz news (shout out to La Lucha pianist John O’Leary for raising $5,000 to record an album built around DNA and neuroscience), no one made more noise than USF professor Chuck Owen, who — along with his band the Jazz Surge — earned four 2018 Grammy nominations. It’s all thanks to this seven-track suite propelled by a 19-piece big band, full orchestra, dulcimer and even accordion, which all appear alongside horns (like that of Grammy-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker) and harmonica by Grégoire Maret. Produced by longtime Tampanian Tom Morris, the result is a non-traditional, expansive and sublime recording inspired by the American heartland and accented by composer Sara Caswell, whose violin shines on the nearly 12-minute long Whispers highlight “Can’t Remember Why.” (Summit/MAMA Records)

Hello Joyce — Couch Thoughts I’m gonna go ahead and say it. This fucking record from Tampa dream-poppers Hello Joyce is sparkly, and I love it. For 27 minutes, bassist Jared Hanlon, multi-instrumentalist Kyle D. Muti, drummer Nicolas Remy, guitarist Cameron Grant tap friends to bring sax and trumpet to a record that sometimes celebrates sloth (“Getting Fatter”) or pens tear-jerking odes to loyalty (“I’m Your Hound”), but always does it with a big fat wurlitzer-sounding paint brush that leaves everything it touches shimmering in its wake. “I want to live outside myself. I want to live with heart,” the band sings on Couch Thoughts’ title track. You are, boys, and it sounds too damn good.

DieAlps! — Our City A local album worth telling the world about. The songwriting core of Frank and Connie Calcaterra has endured several lineup changes since the release of a self-titled 2014 EP, but DieAlps! proves that it’s built to last on this debut full-length bursting at the seams with melody, harmony and melancholic messaging that shines brightest on album highlight “Dwight.” CL managing editor Scott Harrell called Our City “a flawless amalgam of chamber pop, indie fuzz, sweet harmonies, impeccable production and ambitious rock ‘n’ roll songwriting,” and we hope the band takes the record on the road, repping our city hard, in 2018. (New Granada Records)

click to enlarge Infinite Third plays Et Cultura Festival at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on November 18, 2017. - KATIE CALLIHAN
Katie Callihan
Infinite Third plays Et Cultura Festival at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on November 18, 2017.

Infinite Third — Channel(s) Getting weird has never been more interesting, especially when Billy Mays III is driving the bus. The mind behind Infinite Third (and the ridiculously fun Mouth Council) reigned in all the energy of his countless live shows for this pristinely-recorded 40-minute meditation that seamlessly transitions between tracks while managing to work in piano (“Open(ing)”), propulsive beats (“Sentence(s)”) and Explosions In The Sky-esque melody (“Dream(s)”) as well. The result is a record that is even more human than Mays manages to make his already warm take on ambient music feel already. (Remember You Are Dreaming)

Jinx — I Am JahSon After releasing a 2015 beat tape to hold fans over, Jinx finally turned in his follow-up to 2013’s The Gem In I. On this concept album based around a fictional character named JahSon, he pokes fun at braggadocio by letting the songs themselves establish their dominance (“I Am King”) while an eclectic palate of beats help him confront some difficult issues (“You ain’t anti-white if you’re pro-black,” he raps on “Prey,” which features The Villanz’ Main) alongside a who’s who of other Bay area talents like Demi Nova, Eliana B, Mighty Jai and Rude 100.

Submit your 2018 release for consideration here.

Other local releases we considered for this list, many of which are more than worthy of your attention. We excluded singles.
* = Best local album of 2017 honorable mention

Aaron Lepley — Address Unknown *

Acoupstix — Bowtabitch

Bad Human/SPIT — Split EP

Beerwolf — Planetfall *

Bride of Chaotica — Ghosts On Television

Catatonic Scripts — Volume # 2: Speaking Into Transcendence

Chris Jackson — Black Lives Matter EP

Cinema Within — Silhouettes *

City Squad — God, Family, Squad

Cold Blooded Sapphire — I Am Sapphire

Dabron Kain — Trial & Era

Danielle Mohr — Momentum

Demi Nova — The Infinite *

DJ Qeys — D.E.A.D

Foundation & DJ Hurley — No More Compromise

Gloria West & The Gents — Dem Keys

Golden Burns — Golden x Burns

Greg Billings Band — Live: Stranger 35

Gullwing — S/T *

Gwan Fanatic Beat Tape *

Hotwax — Communicator

Inkblot — Spectrum

Jensen Serf Company — The Fall *

Jeremy Gloff — Lightrail

Jon Ditty — College Radio: Alumni Edition *

JOOSE — Not From Concentrate EP

Joshua Reilly — Mercy on the Strange *

KB — Today We Rebel

LIMBS — Sleep *

Madnap — Seasons EP *

Max Norton — Blood Moon *

Nate Najar — Christmas In December

Pajamas — Smile Lines *

Obituary — S/T

Palantine — Bewildered States

Permanent Makeup — Scrape *

Ronnie Dee and the Superstars — #ThankYouMusic

Row Jomah — Guns & Gods & Gold 

S.T.A.R. — Soundtrack to a Revolution *

Sandspur City — Hey Kid, Your Dad's A Dick *

Seafang — "Solid Gold/Stardust" *

Selwyn Birchwood — Pick Your Poison *

Slade and the Wasters — Dissenter

Sleeping Pills — A Maze In A Wave

Soapbox Soliloquy — Good Morning Dragonclaw *

Sonic Graffiti — Loner

Swampuss — Symmetry and Dissonance

Swearingen and Kelli — The Marrying Kind

The Dags — Villains

The Rustbelt — The Atomic Sessions

Vacancy — Empty Head *

Hamilton​/​Suarez Duo — Vanishing Points *

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his intro letter and 2021 disclosure. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The Daily Beast. Products...

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