We kept our ears to the ground this year, Phoenix. And small wonder, there was no shortage of great stuff — from repeat-worthy albums to once-in-a-lifetime concerts and massive festivals. Valley bands and artists got their due, celebrated major anniversaries, and honestly, impressed the hell out of us. These are the best things we heard in 2017.
F.L.Y. by Cuzn’ It
Acting as an acronym for Forever Love You, F.L.Y. by Cuzn’ It plays out like an extended deep, dark love ballad crafted in the soundscape of ethereal synths and confessional lyrics. Tracks like “Highs and Lows,” produced by Arza, and the title track “F.L.Y,” produced by Charlie Mumbles, are like pages from Cuzn’ It’s secret journal, as he exposes his heartbreak, vices, and weaknesses over ’80s-style synthesizers and soul-infused chords. F.L.Y. plays out almost like a modern version of a Motown album, with Cuzn’ It’s storytelling shining throughout the vivacious project. Jaron Ikner
Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra at The Van Buren
Weird isn’t an eloquent descriptor for the scene in downtown Phoenix in August. That's when the president came to town, thousands showed up to protest him and his policies (and he infuriatingly teased his forthcoming pardon of ex-sheriff slash convicted felon Joe Arpaio — all due disrespect), and then some of the crowd walked a matter of blocks to get a first look at The Van Buren. There’s probably a German word for it. Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra christened the stage at the new venue from Charlie Levy of Stateside Presents and Live Nation, elevating the mood downtown with grooves and good vibes that only Arizona’s foremost Fela Kuti-obsessed rockers could’ve delivered. Becky Bartkowski
Sunn Trio’s Sunn Trio
The lineup of “Smokey” Joel Robinson’s Sunn Trio collective is in a consistent state of flux, but the unit’s music remains cohesively chaotic. Like the group’s Sonoran forebears Sun City Girls, the sounds that appear on the band’s self-titled 2017 LP for Sky Lantern Records is effectively post-genre, skirting blurrily between psychedelia, Tuareg-inflected funk punk, and free jazz. But from the skittering Beefheart-isms of “Metallic Meth Bop” to the rangy surf freak-out of “Hashshashins of Alamut,” Robinson and his combo of reed players, percussionists, horns, and guitarists seem to adhere to an obscured logic, a guiding principle that positions harmonic freedom at the forefront of their wall of sound. Jason P. Woodbury
“Opus Claviblasticum” at PRISMS
Arizona State University’s School of Music closed out its eighth annual PRISMS Contemporary Music Festival with a room-shaking performance of Jacob Adler’s “Opus Claviblasticum.” Adler is the brains behind the Otoacoustic Emissions performance series at St. Augustine’s Church in Tempe, and he composed “Opus” to be performed at ASU’s Organ Hall. Along with the avant-garde ensemble Crossing 32nd St, Adler spent almost an hour conjuring overwhelming sounds that expanded and contracted like the lungs of an interstellar deity. The audience sat rapt in long wood pews while the hall’s massive red organ blasted notes that soared and reverberated. Ashley Naftule
Viva PHX's Punk Rock Alley
Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up lived up to their name at Viva PHX 2017, fucking things up with blistering hard-rock-infused hardcore punk in the best way possible. After bands like Health and Playboy Manbaby got the frenzy in motion at this outdoor “venue” — really just the alley space behind Valley Bar’s entrance — headliners Fucked Up started a tear-it-up set. It didn’t take long for lead singer Damian Abraham to make his way off the stage, into the crowd, and up ledges and fire escapes, no one in the band missing a beat, Abraham included. We rode that wave of energy and chaos for days; still crossing fingers that they’ll make it back this way soon. Amy Young
Third by Cait Brennan
Cait Brennan’s 2017 record, Third, is a complex treasure trove of delights for the ear, psyche, and soul. From the opening verse of “Bad at Apologies” where Brennan says, “I’m the asshole who stole your boyfriend,” to the last notes of the heartachingly beautiful “Goodbye Miss America,” Third resonates with a perfect combination of charm, angst, and rock ’n’ roll swagger. Brennan deserves recognition as a Valley icon, alongside the likes of Pat McMahon, Alice Cooper, and the late, great Acquanetta. But we’re content counting her among our favorites until everyone else figures out how brilliant Brennan’s music truly is. Tom Reardon
“Go” by MRCH
This fall, Phoenix’s reigning indie dance-pop duo MRCH — pronounced “march” not “merch” — dropped a 10-track full-length called Reactions. Mostly recorded and produced by the band, which comprises Mickey and Jesse Pangburn, the album slinks with dark synths, a thematic aim to “spook the dance floor,” and lyrics Mickey mined real-life strife to write. It opens with an undeniable banger, insofar as goth-tinged dance tracks can be such a thing. “Go” dives in speedily with a shimmering beat and Mickey’s ethereal soprano, building to the lines, “No you never gave me what I needed / So I had to go go go go go.” At once anthemic and restrained, it’s all the more reason to stay. Becky Bartkowski
Meat Puppets at AZ Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
It was already awesome to watch this nearly 40-year-old band get inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame. It went next level when they performed. The band’s current members all got a plaque. But it was the original lineup of Curt Kirkwood (guitar/vocals), Cris Kirkwood (bass), and Derrik Bostrom (drums) coming together for the first time since Bostrom’s departure in ’96 that made the night. Songs like “Oh, Me,” “Plateau,” and “Comin’ Down” reminded us why we got hooked on the Puppets back in the day. And watching their smiles as they interacted made the whole thing heady and infectious. Amy Young
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Unity Through Community Kickoff
The Unity Through Community Kickoff Festival was an awesome celebration of local talent at Shady Park in Tempe this past September. Run by the local nonprofit Unity Through Community, the event featured a wide array of arts and music, with the intent to honor local creatives and their supporters. The lineup included locals like The Sugar Thieves, The Haymarket Squares, Walt Richardson Band, Dr. Delicious, W.A.S.H., Jerusafunk, Japhy's Decent, and so many more. It was a standout night for Tempe — and Tempe-based musicians and artists. There was definitely a lot of love in the building. Henri Benard
AJJ’s People Who Eat People... Anniversary Shows
In August, folk-punkers AJJ came back to where it all started – Phoenix, and more specifically The Trunk Space – to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the band’s 2007 record, People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World. Though they’ve grown in members since getting started, they took it down to original duo Sean Bonnette (vocals, guitar) and Ben Gallaty (bass, vocals) for this tour, upping the feels for nostalgic fans. The pair exchanged affectionate banter with the audience between blazing through tunes like “Junkie Church” and “Little Prince.” The hot ‘n’ sweaty, jam-packed room joined in, collectively belting out every word. Amy Young