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

the national sleep well beast

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

the-orwells

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

andy-mineo-wordsplayed-magic-bird-mixtape

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

grandaddy

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

kesha rainbow

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

deerhoof mountain moves

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

runthejewels3

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

beck-colors

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

julia michaels

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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2016: Favorite Tracks and Albums

Favorite Tracks (Outside of my Favorite Albums)

15. Joyce Manor “Fake I.D.” – Most awkward exchange at a party.

14. Danny Brown “Really Doe” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Sou, Earl Sweatshirt – Danny Brown’s experimental album had this more traditional, bangin’ posse cut right in the middle.

13. Brvndon P “Coolin” ft. Beleaf – 2o16’s best pitch corrected hype man lines.

12. ANOHNI “4 Degrees” – Coolest vocal tones

11. Ariana Grande “Let Me Love You” ft. Lil Wayne – Sexiest song of the year

10. Mutual Benefit “Not For Nothing” – From the saddest album of the year.

9. Gallant “Bone + Tissue” – best use of falsetto.

8. Joey Purp “Girls @” ft. Chance the Rapper – best instrumental

7. Kanye West “Ultralight Beam” ft. Chance the Rapper – best Chance verse.

6. Run the Jewels “Legend Has It” – the most RTJiest song to date.

5. Baauer “Day Ones” ft. Novelist, Leikeli47 – best song to crank to 11.

4. Lizzo “Good As Hell” – best feel good song

3. Into It. Over It. “Adult Contempt” – best percussion part

2. Jack Garrett “Worry” – best PBR&B tune

  1. Dawes “When The Tequila Runs Out” – best lyricist of 2016.

Favorite Albums of 2016

10. Jeff Rosenstock WORRY.

jeff-rosenstock-worry

While this album is nowhere as nuanced as Rosenstock’s previous record We Coo?, WORRY. has all the trappings of a great pop punk record – 1/8 note bar chords blasted through tube amps, a substantial helping of crowd “woahs”, and the blistering shouts from the front man himself.

Standout Tracks: “Festival Song” “Wave Goodnight to Me” “Blast Damage Days”

9. Swet Shop Boys Cashmere

swet-shop-boys

Heems’ project always capture my attention; whether its the Das Racist mixtapes or his solo projects, his use of humor and ad-lib skills make for an enjoyable listen. Here, the content becomes more politically-themed as he tag teams with Riz Ahmed, a Londoner of middle eastern heritage. The instrumentals sample sounds and artists of southern Asia (similar to Heem’s debut album Eat Pray Thug) thanks to the brilliant work of Redhino. Unlike the mixtapes, this project has no slack or throwaway moments; it’s all solid and important rhetoric communicated through club rap tracks.

Standout Tracks: “T5” “Aaja” “Zayn Malik

8. Modern Baseball Holy Ghost

modern-baseball

The emo rock world has been catching a new wave of energy: 2016 saw great music from Into It. Over It., Joyce Manor, Useless ID, Real Friends, and TTNG. The project that floats to the top of that powerful list is Modern Baseball’s newest LP Holy Ghost. It’s simplicity works in its favor as the heart-on-sleeve lyrics take a front seat.

Standout Tracks: “Note to Self” “Wedding Singer” “What If..”

7. Regina Spektor Remember Us To Life

regina-spektor

Regina Specktor’s newest album is a very theatrical project: each song is an independent vignette telling specific stories, some with fleshed out characters. Many musical moments are musical theater tropes, or that of a film score, and inform the lyrics and mood much more than the poppier piano projects Specktor has released previously in her career.

Standout Tracks: “Grand Hotel“”Small Bill$” “The Light

6. Weezer Weezer [The White Album]

weezer

It’s hard not to adapt the opinions of others in our formative years. I did not know, for example, that Weezer had bad albums. I bought what turned out to be, critically speaking, Weezer’s least popular records: The Red Album and Raditude. It wasn’t long after diving into diverse musical realms through college that these albums began to wain in quality, and some if it upon re-listening sounded horrendous.

2014’s comback-ish Trouble Will Find Us In The End turned out to be an album-long drum roll to the real surprise: 2016’s The White Album. The melodies are fun and within Weezer’s wheelhouse. The guitars rule, as they did in 2o14, and the subjects while not as eclectic are explored in odd ways…ways familiar to early Rivers Cuomo lyric sheets.

California Kids” “Jacked Up” “King of the World

5. Anderson.Paak Malibu

anderson-.paak-malibu-cover-art

Raspy-throated crooner Anderson.Paak went from behind-the-scenes producer for Dr. Dre’s Compton to front man extrordonare. Now grammy nominated, Paak unleased his varied talents as rapper, James Brown impersonator, band leader, drummer, and all around classy chap in this funky record. It’s meaty and yet airy, with thick product that somehow keeps the songs light. It’s a musical magic trick to behold.

Come Down” “The Dreamer” “Parking Lot

4. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive

Thao-Get-Down-Stay-Down--A-Man-Alive-album-cover

2013’s We Are Common also made it onto my AOTY list, and Thao has only upped her game since then. With production help from the brain behind tUnE-yArDs, this LP unleashes a torrent of quirky rock tunes circling the singer’s personal search of her birth father. It’s deep, thought-provoking, and catchy.

Standout Tracks: “Departure” “Astonished Man” “Nobody Dies

3. PUP The Dream is Over

pup

My favorite album of 2015 was FIDLAR’s Too, and this album takes the same musical influences and creates an equally raucous track list. The earnestness of the lyrics and the group shouts create an effective woe-is-me pathos, but the song structures are exceptional: multiple bridges, key changes, an incredible drummer, and time signature experimentation make this album an excellent record for all kinds of music lovers.

DVP” “Sleep in the Heat” “My Life Is Over And I Couldn’t Be Happier” “Familiar Patterns”

2.clipping –  Splendor & Misery / Wriggle

The experimental Rap trio released two excellent, yet very different, projects in 2016. The first was an EP called Wriggle that delivered more of what we knew made clipping great: creative instrumental beats (one made entirely of gun noises), motor-mouth bars from Daveed Diggs, and memorable guest verses. It’s catchy, raunchy, and a powerful punch for an EP.

Fast forward a few months, and the group releases Splendor & Misery. A 40-minute rap-opera of a runaway space slave trapped on a cargo ship. Yup. Diggs runs wild with the imagery and the narrative while the instrumental production serves more like the sound effects of a radio play than that of a rap album. Both projects are excellent, and both deserve to be recognized.

Standout Tracks: “Shooter” “All Black” “Air ‘Em Out“”Back Up

1.Car Seat Headrest –  Teens of Denial

car seat headrest

Will Toledo has a runaway hit of an album: a debut album in the sense that it is the first with a nation-wide market release, but is technically his 12th album, most of which were dropped on bandcamp. The garage rock band is pure pathos, with Toledo yelping his emotions, ripping them off his sleeve and throwing them directly into your face. The guitars are rough and agitated, but hold together for melodic hooks, building most of the wall of sound. i had the privilege of seeing them live, and you know a band resonates with a generation when the crowd, during “Drunk Driver/Killer Whales” sung so loud that it through off the band, missing a cue to move into the final chorus. The record makes me equally jealous and understood; Toledo makes a fine mouthpiece for a lot of sullen youth.

Standout Tracks: “Drunk Driver/Killer Whales” “1937 State Park” “Fill in the Blank” “Destroyed by Hippie Powers”

February Highlights

Music in February’s got me head-bobbin’ like ol’ Gandalf.

Full Albums/Mixtapes:

1. Acid Arab Collections LP 

acid-arab-album-versatile

What is it?

Parisian DJs/producers Guido Minisky and Hervé Carvalho who, when together, call themselves Acid Arab have collected an LP’s worth of bumping house music infused with Middle Eastern music, both traditional and modern. It’s loud and in your face and the dichotomy has been catching steam in pop music from Syrian Wedding singer Omar Souleyman’s “Wenu Wenu” to Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty”

Standout Track:

2. Leikeli47 lk47ptii Mixtape

Leikeli47-LK-47-Pt.-II-Mixtape

What is it?

Masked performers catch a lot of attention for their “anonymity” first and their music second. And with the piles of new music being released daily online no one would blame the publicity stunt for the extra buzz. It worked for Flying Lotus’ Captain Murphy persona and it’ll work for Leikeli47: a NY female rapper who spits venom all over her mixtape titled lk47ptii. To highlight the hype-value, she opens the mixtape with a quote straight out of The Dark Knight Rises. Cheesy or Epic? Your choice.

Standout Track: “Miss America”

3. Bombay Bicycle Club So Long, See You Tomorrow

club

What is it?

The new LP from England’s contest-winning indie rock group brings lots of up-tempo tunes that are easy on the ears.

 
4. Solids  Blame Confusion
 
solids
 
What is it?
 
I’m not normally a fan of noisy guitar fuzz rock, but Solids come in with a loud, brash bang and don’t give up. The mix seems a little more bearable on this LP and strikes a clearer chord with me. 
Standout Track: “Haze Away”

Singles:

1. James Blake and Chance the Rapper “Life Round Here”

What is it?

James Blake, grammy nominated dub-crooner, and Chance the Rapper, Chicago’s next big thing, might now be roommates. But more importantly, they now collaborate on musical ventures. With talks of a longer project (mixtape maybe, please?) the two released this bit of hip-hop.

2. The Bleachers “I Wanna Get Better”

What is it?

Fun. is a band who finds its strength in being the world’s most successful Queen cover band. And while leader singer Nate Ruess spends his time singing duets with P!nk, guitarist Jack Antonoff has started his solo project The Bleachers. Check out the similarities and differences.

Favorite Music Video:

Metronomy “Love Letters”

Directed by Michel Gondry, known for his Bjork music videos, memorable commercials, and trippy movies like Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Back to directing music videos, Gondry uses his crafty staples to represent Metronomy’s throw back style.

Favorite Cover:

Miley does OutKast, Diplo does Beyonce, and Lorde does James Blake, but good ol’ Jimmy Fallon takes the cake on this superb reimagining of “Ignition (Remix)” by R. Kelly