Favorite Music of 2017

Favorite Songs Outside of My Top 10 Favorite Albums:

15. Father John Misty “Leaving LA” – best song that encapsulates my current feelings about my current state of residence

14. Sundara Karma “Flame” – best song that’s sure to be on some car commercial soon

13. Porn Bloopers “I Don’t Give a Fuck”  – best steak-and-potato punk

12. Dirty Projectors “Keep Your Name” – Best pitch-correction for sad people

11. Foo Fighters “The Sky is a Neighborhood” – Best rock anthem for 15 years ago

10. Big K.R.I.T. “Keep the Devil off” – best sample of a southern preacher

9. T-Pain with Mr. Talkbox “May I” – best keyboard solo

8. Small Leak Sinks Ships “Dancing Devil” – best song I found from someone else’s top 10 list

7. Weezer “Mexican Fender” – best new song heard live

6. Leikeli47 “Miss Me” – Best female rap song (sorry Cardi B, I guess)

5. The Mynabirds “Golden Age” – Best “nazi-punching” lyric for 2017’s political climate

4. Jesca Hoop “Memories are Now” – Best singer-songwriter tune

3. Kendrick Lamar “Humble” – best song played at the Prom I had to chaperone last May

2. SOPHIE “Ponyboy” – best song that makes me feel like I’ve been shot with a 12-gauge

1.Bleachers “Everybody Lost Somebody” – best use of Jack Antonoff this year, and saxophones

My Top 10 Favorite Albums of the Year:

10. The National Sleep Well Beast

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The National’s formula of using simple, repetitive chord progressions worked for so  long for one obvious reason: Matt Berninger’s vocal performance. His baritone melodies combined with fictitious narratives of love and woe made 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me worth multiple listens. In 2017, the reason to turn back to The National is due to the four other band members who create songs with electronic drum machines and electric guitar solos: instrumentation that never before characterized the traditional National-esque sound. With the new band sound, and with the shoot-from-the-hip feel of the recording sessions, Sleep Well Beast is an exciting listen, especially to fans of the band.

Standout Tracks: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” “Turtleneck” “Nobody Else Will Be There

9. The Orwells Terrible Human Beings

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The torch of American Rock n Roll remains lit, and Illinois’ The Orwells hoist it high and proud. The psych-rock doesn’t get bogged down in effects, and punk rock doesn’t get overblown with shitty mixing, and rock doesn’t get boring. This is the new Cage the Elephant.

Standout Tracks: “They Put a Body in the Bayou” “Creatures” “Black Francis

8. Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed Andy Mineo & Wordsplayed Present Magic & Bird

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Far from the serious, murderous rap from mumble rappers and their more lyrical role models, Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed use the trendy trap sound to create a 1980s-themed mixtape that’s fresh and fun, chock-full of basketball puns to justify the loose Larry Bird and Magic Johnson concept. Shockingly, the skits are funny, and as expected the rapping is top-notch from the two heads of the Minor League musical collective.

Standout Tracks: “Dance (You See It)” “KIDZ” “Judo (feat. Tree Giants)

7. Grandaddy Last Place

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A sonic blend of all the emotions with which I am most familiar.

Standout Tracks: “That’s What You Get for Getting Outta Bed” “Way We Won’t” “Brush with the Wild

6. Kesha Rainbow

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I vehemently disliked Ke$ha at her 2010 debut; both her balls-to-the-wall lyrics and her brash, bratty vocal style rubbed me the wrong way. On top of my initial distaste, I worked at a college cafeteria that would only play the Top 40 playlist, so Ke$ha would often great, accompany, and dismiss me from my shifts. Rainbow is, however, a significant departure in both sonic tone and sentiment. The auto-tune is gone and the live horn section of The Dap-Kings are in. The self-indulgence is out and the self-affirmations are in. The trite party imagery is out and the more quaint and introspective Kesha (with no $) is in.

Standout Tracks: “Woman” “Godzilla” “Bastards

5. Deerhoof Mountain Moves

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There always seems to be room on my end-of-year lists for the art-rock/garage artists who catch my ears: Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Tune-yards, St. Vincent, and their ilk. 2017’s seat was filled by Deerhoof, a band with whom I was unfamiliar until I listened to The Wandering Wolf podcast episode featuring Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier. The album itself is bouncy and Matsuzaki’s vocals are intriguing as she uses different effects to create different vocal personas inside her songs. The fuzzy, DIY attitude makes this record from the veteran band seem like an underdog, but this group is finely tuned and as talented as their peers.

Standout Tracks: “I Will Spite Survive” “Your Dystopic Creation Doesn’t Fear You (ft. Awkwafina)

4. Run the Jewels RTJ3

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I played this album on the day of President Trump’s inauguration, and it seems now that much of the word feels the same way as El-P and Killer Mike 11 months ago: angry at the bald-faced lies and ineptitude that plagues this administration, and capitalistic values in general. While the 1% are only directly addressed in a few tracks tucked inside RTJ3, the bravado of the hustler plays as the righteous indignation of the oppressed in this new political context. The two vocal Bernie supporters have only venom for the nation’s 2016 Presidential winner, and the chaotic production that defines the work of El-P’s instrumentals works as its own protest, thumping hard and boiling over with thick keyboards, horns, and 808s.

Standout Tracks: “Legend Has It” “Hey Kids (feat. Danny Brown)” “A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters

3. WHY? Moh Lean

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Yoni Wolf pens his best songs and crafts his best melodies since the band’s breakthrough masterpiece Alopecia. The acoustic piano helps keep the sound grounded and solemn, and the record’s high points of bliss are lightly gilded with Wolf’s melancholy: the sweet spot for WHY? the band.

Standout Tracks: “Proactive Evolution” “One Mississippi” “George Washington

2. Beck Colors

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Genre-hopping Beck lands on pop-electro-funk in 2017 with Colors. It’s primary objective: to make you dance and accept the more euphoric moments of life. It’s a carefree, but carefully constructed album, and Beck wears the genre well; it reminds me of my other favorite phase of Beck’s in the late 2000’s when he ended up on MTV and VH1 again with radio hits like “Girl.” Tucked in the middle of this album is the club hip-hop song “WOW” which is extra silly and has Beck back to his white guy rap mode.

Standout Tracks: “I’m So Free” “Colors” “Wow” “Up All Night

  1. Julia Michaels Nervous System EP

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Pop music, the kind that’s likely to show up on the radio, can become washed with the echo chamber of the Billboard 100 list. I have strayed from the radio dial, and their online streaming playlist cousins, and wait for audiophiles to recommend pop projects. Turns out, some of my favorite songs into the zeitgeist are from the pen of Julia Michaels, and Michaels now has her own hit with “Issues.” The EP from which it comes delivers six other solid pop tunes that bends the expectations without falling into the more experimental-leaning pop records. “Uh huh” may be my favorite song of 2017, Michaels sells the simple tune with subtly in the verses and full spunk in the chorus. The same can be said for the innuendo (or not) filled “Pink.” On the whole EP, the production is open enough to let the singer’s frail delivery float like pedals on water.

Standout Tracks: “Uh Huh” “Make It Up To You” “Just Do It

 

 

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Favorite New Music: September

The National Sleep Well Beast

the national sleep well beast

It’s been five years since The National’s previous album, Trouble Will Find Me, was released: a subdued yet anthemic work that placed the band at the top of indie rock’s best-of lists. Sleep Well Beast takes vocalist Matt Berninger to its traditional baritone melodies all the way to the shouts and cracks of the barn-burning rock tune “Turtlenecked.” The Dessner brothers open up their guitar licks to catchy heights instead of the simple chords of the previous album. Percussionist Bryan Devendorf even tries new methods on this outing, using synthesized drum machine sounds and loops instead of his usual dampened acoustic sound.

With these changes, the album is infused with songs that are equal parts depressing and dance-inducing, a dichotomy worth investing in with this band.

Standout Track: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

Death From Above Outrage! is Now

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The bass-and-drums duo have created an album of catchy tunes that transcend the confines of their previous mix of blues rock and heavy rock sound. The duo nail the prog-stadium rock of Muse, the hard rock riffs of Royal Blood, and the distorted vocal screeches of Jack White.

Standout Track: “Never Swim Alone”

Deerhoof Mountain Moves

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If you need an album this year that really keeps the listener guessing from track to track, look no further than Deerhoof’s newest project. The genres come and go like a radio music library playlist on the fritz: indie pop, hip hop, funk, blues rock, jazz, opera(!). Along with the obscure pallet from which the band pulls, the time signatures are played with to create more interesting guitar-led tunes that might otherwise be too tame for this body of work.

Standout Track: “I Will Spite Survive

Foo Fighters Concrete and Gold

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A great Foo Fighters album hasn’t hit the shelves since 2011’s Wasting Light where the band recorded the album in Dave Grohl’s house. Since then, Grohl has been spending his efforts on curating a documentary, playing drums for whomever, and releasing the overproduced yet underwhelming Sonic Highways. 2017’s Concrete and Gold isn’t a home run, but the songs are catchier and more concise, a format the band hinted at in their underrated Saint Cecilia EP. The best songs take the band’s guitar-centered aesthetics and somehow amplify them even more on tracks like “Run,” and the crowd anthem “The Sky is a Neighborhood” will find its way into the Foo Fighter’s 3+ hour live sets from now until the band’s official retirement.

Standout Track: “The Sky is a Neighborhood

Other Solid Releases: Rapsody Laila’s Wisdom; Metz Strange Peace; The Killers Wonderful Wonderful; Prophets of Rage S/T

 

Favorite New Music: March

1.Grandaddy Last Place

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This new Grandaddy sounds like what Sparklehorse might have released had he won his battle with depression and created a record of victory and positivity. The tunes are catchy and pleasantly upbeat. The tone of the singer’s voice gives the songs depth to what might otherwise go down as saccharine pop rock tunes.

Standout Track: “Brush with the Wild

2.WHY? Moh Lhean

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In Yoni Wolf’s podcast, Wandering Wolf, the front man of WHY? often communicates his continual fight to stay positive despite perpetual health issues. In this new album, Yoni continues that theme to create the band’s best album since 2008’s Alopecia–a very different album in tone, but similar in song structure complexity. The rapping is takes a back seat to Wolf’s unusual voice, but the performance on these tracks is more solid than his recent efforts. I’m so happy this album is as solid as it is…and re-listenable as well!

Standout Track: “One Mississippi

3. Kool AD Sky Ladder

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It’s more of what you’d expect from the Bay Area stream-of-consciousness rapper, but with a new sound palate when it comes to his choice of instrumentals.

Standout Track: “FUCK THAT (Feat. Killer Mike)

 

Other Solid Releases: Sondre Lerche Pleasure ; Methyl Ethel Everything is Forgotten ; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah The Tourist ; Sorority Noise Not As ___________ As You Think

Favorite New Music: February

1.The Orwells Terrible Human Beings

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No special tricks or gimmicks here, just catchy 4/4 pop punk tunes from The Orwells.

Standout Track: “Black Francis

2.Surfer Blood Snowdonia

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From simple indie pop tunes to elaborate 7+ minute sonic journeys, Snowdonia surprises me on every listen. The vocal harmonies help carry the album through the less impressive moments, and the melodies cement John Paul Pitts as a formidable pop songwriter.

Standout Track: “Snowdonia

3.Jesca Hoop Memories Are Now

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Memories Are Now mishmashes Celtic, indie folk, and Americana into a unique record, and one that I would normally regard as “boring.” What makes this project interesting, however, are Hoop’s repeating hooks and unique instrumentation.

Standout Track: “Memories Are Now

4.Dirty Projectors S/T

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Break-up albums come at a great cost, but the power impact of many a somber works of art are my favorite. While this self-titled release is tragic in subject matter, the sonic palate is all over the place: there are indie pop tunes, alt r&b, and electronic dance songs. They meld well in this collection of tunes, and never have I been more invested in a Dirty Projectors album.

Standout Track: “Keep Your Name

Other Solid Releases : Mother Mother No Culture ; Thundercat Drunk ; Mozzy Fake Famous

Favorite New Music: November

  1. Sho Baraka The Narrative

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Sho Baraka’s departure from Reach Records turned out to be a much needed source of inspiration. Baraka released the racially-themed Talented 10th, and was a little too adult for the Reach crew: a group whose mission statement was focused on creating youth group rap music. After 2012, however, other Reach artists began following Baraka’s lead, and Christian rap began getting political: Lecrae’s biggest album, Anomaly; Derek Minor’s Minorville, then Empire; and even Tedashii’s very personal eulogy album Below Paradise. None of these projects would have been green-lit without Baraka’s initial move.

This new album is 2 1/2 years in the making, and it is more emotionally varied than Talented 10th. The instrumentals are poppy, and some are jazzy thanks to James Portier’s involvement. Lots of symbol bell percussion hits and soul samples flood the body of the record. Thematically, this album focuses on the black experience in the United States, as well as Baraka’s personal faith system. It is much less religiously preachy than his early projects, and uses God as a personal confidant rather than the product of which Baraka is selling.

Standout Track: “Love, 1959

2. STRFKR Being No one, Going Nowhere

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This album makes me want to grow an ironic mustache, wear a dress shirt, go to a party, and politely bounce back and forth in the corner of the room.

Standout Track: “Tape Machine

3. Lambchop FLOTUS

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A vocoder album through-and-through, FLOTUS creates subtle and sometimes moving songs. Lots of the instrumentation is sparce and quiet, leaving room for the vocal performance to rise to the top. Lambchop creates an album that leans more toward Bon Iver’s self-titled album.

Standout Track: “JFK

4. Alicia Keys Here

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Alicia Keys’ newest album is an interesting counterpoint to Solange’s release A Seat at the Table: Both are politically charged thematically, and both from African-American pop singers, but the later is much more subdued than what is on Here. There are varying moods on this album, which makes for a more colorful experiences.

Standout Track: “The Gospel

5. E-40 The D Boy Diary: Book 2

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In a world where mumble rappers earn more money than most hard-working citizens, it’s nice to know, at least, there are working rappers out there who can spit circles around the young guns (some of whom appear here). Just one listen to songs like “Fired Up” or “Gangsta Song” remind listeners that rappers should be responsible for mastering their craft, and not simply tagging their name on a catchy beat. Never mind the ridiculous track list (44 songs!), the more the merrier for Mr. E-4o.

Standout Track: “On One

Other Solid Releases: DAWN Redemption ; SiMS More Than Ever

 

 

 

Favorite New Music: September

  1. Clipping. Slender & Misery

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The space between the Wriggle EP, released earlier this year, and this sophomore album Clipping has swung the musical pendulum as far as it can swing in the hip-hop spectrum of styles and modes. On this LP, the bangers are all gone replaced by a long, winding story-album of a futuristic stowaway alone on a spaceship. The music serves almost more as a radio play than a traditional rap album, and that makes this release one to invest time into.

Standout Track: “Air ‘Em Out

2. Dawes We’re All Gonna Die

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With their ability to wrap dire scenarios with pleasant instrumentation, Dawes continues to play to their strengths on their new album, just one year after releasing the wonderful All Your Favorite Bands in 2015. On this project, the lyrics center on the temporal nature of people and how to hold onto the little moments and how to get rid of the bullshit before its too late. The sonic palate is wider on this project too, with keyboards and drum machines finding its way onto an album also feature steal guitar and ragtime piano.

Standout Track: “One of Us

3. Frank Ocean Blonde

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Despite being released earlier on the Tidal music platform, I got a hold of Blonde in September…and the wait revealed an thoughtful R&B album, but not altogether different from his previous triumphs in the genre under his other releases.

Standout Track: “Solo

4. Angel Olsen MY WOMAN

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Olsen’s newest album starts slow with a slow, reverb-soaked ballad, but then cranks out some fun, groovy rock tunes with vintage guitar sounds and a voice that was transported from the 1960s.

Standout Track: “Shut Up Kiss Me

5. Against Me! Shape Shift With Me

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I have always missed on Against Me! albums; more bands lost in the glut of great new music being released in recent years. This album gives me reason to explore the band’s back catalog, and especially the critically praised Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Simple rock tunes with catchy hooks run throughout this album, and the simplicity keeps Shape Shift an easy listening experience.

Standout Track: “Boyfriend

Other Solid Releases: Grouplove Big Mess ; Mac Miller Divine Feminine ;  Kishi Bashi Sonderlust ; Cymbals Eat Guitars Pretty Years ; Sin Fang Spaceland ; Isaiah Rashad The Sun’s Tirade ; Bon Iver 22, A Million ; Regina Specktor Remember Us To Life 

New Music 2016: February

  1. The Jezabels Synthia

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If you’re like me and you’re spending your days waiting for news about a new M83 album, the wait is no more. Well, sorta. Synthia is cut from the same sonic cloth and even hosts a greater variance of themes and sounds than Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The lyrics are up in front, too, which helps carry across the lyrical intentions rather than the sheer pathos of heavy synth pads. This album is powerful and beautiful.

Standout Track: “Unnatural”

2. Eric Prydz Opus

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Is titled your album Opus arrogant, self-congratulating, or preemptive? Probably. But why wait for others to label your project? Cut out the middle man! Eric Prydz creates a long and consistent album of house/techno beats that eek inside your brain and still there in the back crevasses, whispering sweet 1s and 0s.

Standout Track: “Black Dyce”

3. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis This Unruly Mess I’ve Made

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The Grammy-winning combo that ruled pop-rap radio a handful of years ago is back with a sophomore album that is just as balanced as the first: silly Macklemore vs. overtly serious Macklemore. The new and old generations of rap appear together on this project and Ryan Lewis produces tracks that both dip into current trends and recreate funky, jazzy tracks from yesteryear. It’s a solid follow-up, but I have a feeling this album will not be nearly as omnipresent as The Heist was in 2012.

Standout Track “Brad Pitt’s Cousin

4. Diiv Is The Is Are

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Jangly guitars and I have been on an off-again-on-again relationship. Even the way these guitars look put me off. Despite all of that, Diiv creates a pleasant garage rock/surf rock sound with simple tunes constructed from complicated guitar parts. This is the sound of cool kid rock and I’ll be damned if I miss out on another rock trend.

Standout Track: “Dopamine”

Also Great: Radiation City Synesthetica, Kevin Gates Islah, Sunflower Bean Human Ceremony, Animal Collective Painting With, Ra Ra Riot Need Your Light, BJ The Chicago Kid In My Mind, Astronautalis Yikes! Ep; Mothers S/T.