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: May 2016

Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial

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From the opening guitar licks in “Fill in the Blank” to the Dido reference in the middle of “The Ballad of Costa Concordia” Car Seat Headrest shows their songwriting prowess on this Matador Records debut. Will Toledo pens some killer drepressing lyrics and pairs the sentiments with indie guitar tunes that sit somewhere between surf rock, lo-fi, and punk. The songs are all very catchy, too, and melodies will stick around in your head, especially the refrain from “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”.

Standout Track: “Fill in the Blank

Mutual Benefit Skip a Sinking Stone

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Sometimes you need an album to just sit on the floor and soak in. For a long time, that album for me has been Burst Apart by The Antlers, but now it might have some company. These folk tunes from Jordan Lee deliver the mellow vibes through the lightly harmonized vocals and the thick, legato string arrangements.

Standout Track: “Not For Nothing

Nothing Tired of Tomorrow

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17 year old me would have been disappointed in his older self’s musical tastes. This album would have been written off as “too soft” in a world where nu-metal ruled and bpms under 140 were discarded. Nothing’s washed out opening tracks cresendo two minutes into “Vertigo Flowers” where the half time count builds into an incredible wall of sound. The album shows its 90’s sensibilities and holds a lot of similarities to the drugged out, dreamy songs of my early childhood. The nu-metal turns on at “A.C.D.” with harmonies one could find on a track by The Urge.

Standout Track: “A.C.D. (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder)

Death Grips Bottomless Pit

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And then there’s Death Grips.

Standout Track: “Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood

ANOHNI Hopelessness

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Have you ever been engaged with entertainment and cannot come to the conclusion whether you are either captivated or baffled? So continues my relationship with ANOHNI’s vocals on Hopelessness. The sexual ambiguity makes the music more difficult to categorize, which makes the album more interesting to explore. Plus, “4 Degrees” is a great pop song with one catchy hook.

Standout Track: “4 Degrees

Other Solid Releases: James Blake The Colour in Anything; Fruit Bats Absolute Loser; Homebody Sandman Kindness for Weakness; Yoni & Geti Testarossa; Chance the Rapper Coloring Book; Astronautalis Cut The Body Loose

 

 

New Music 2016: January

  1. Anderson.Paak Malibu

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The mind that was behind the scenes for Dr. Dre’s return-to-form release Compton has released his sophomore album titled Malibu. I didn’t give Compton much attention, but this album has been replayed more than any other album this month. Paak’s voice is so soulful and is paired with some beautiful piano progressions. The guest rappers are solid on each of their appearances (BJ the Chicago Kid stands above veteran rapper Talib Kweli and more celebrated rapper Schoolboy Q). The funky tunes are too fun to stop listening to and owe a lot to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. I hope Anderson.Paak dips his hands into more projects in 2016.

Standout Track: “Come Down

2. David Bowie Blackstar

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David Bowie’s final album is a dark journey into the final stages of life: acceptance, regret, looming doom. Bowie’s voice sounds withered and soulful, but the standout for this record is the instrumental group backing up the legendary artist. It’s very jazzy with elements of hip-hop, industrial music, and the classic ballad. It is an impressive finally for Mr. Bowie: a farewell gift for fans.

Standout Track: “Sue (or in a season of crime)

3. Lecrae Church Clothes 3

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Lecrae’s Church Clothes mixtape series has been his “cross-over” projects where the Christian rapper invites secular artists into featuring verses as if to say “Hey, look, I appreciate worldy rappers, but, sadly, they’re still going to hell.” The third issue of this series, similar to the rapper’s last full-length album Anomaly, moves from religious issues to topics of racism, classism, and gang violence. The moody production is much more cohesive than the first two mixtapes, but there is no standout banger here.

Standout Track: “Gangland” feat. Propaganda

4. Panic! At The Disco Death of a Bachelor 

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The parallel journeys of Panic! and Fallout Boy have always been weirdly synchronized since both groups debuted their breakout albums in 2005. Death of a Bachelor is Panic’s version of Save Rock & Roll and American Beauty/American Psycho in that this album is a love letter to past musical movements. Brandon Urie swings from an impressive Frank Sinatra impression on “Death of a Bachelor” to a late 2000s dance pop song on “LA Devotee” to the sonic potpourri “Victorious” that feels too much like FOB’s “Uma Thurman.” The points where Panic! distance themselves from their musical counterparts are the more memorable moments of this record, and of their career.

Standout Track: “Death of a Bachelor

Other Releases Worth Mentioning: Daughter’s Not To Disappear; Savages’ Adore Life; St. Lucia’s Matter; MONEY’s Suicide Songs

 

New Music: March

1. J. Monty – Level 54

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Christian Rapper J. Monty is one of Rapzilla’s Freshman Class of 2015 and has released the Level 54 mixtape as an introduction to a much larger audience. The focus here seems to be J. Monty’s lyrical skills as two of the tracks exist solely to give J. Monty space to spit one hundred bars. The personal indulgence is entertaining and doesn’t become dulling.

Standout Track: “100 Bars

2. Purity Ring – Another Eternity

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Purity Ring’s debut album got a lot of attention, and deservedly, but from an interesting individual: rapper Danny Brown. The trip-hop electronic group produce another beautiful album with a heavy dose of hip-hop beats covered by beautiful female vocals. In retrospect, Purity Ring might have been responsible for getting my hooked on the subdued electronic music with female vocalists (Ellie Goulding, Lorde, ODEZA, Banks, and everyone else).

Standout Track: “bodyache

3. Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful

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Sometimes a rapper’s staying power is determined by their personality. More charistmatic personalities that outshine their musical talents often come and go quickly. Action Bronson has a lot to prove in order to keep himself in the business: he’s a 31-year-old white chef (with the body type to match) from Queens complete with a big, red beard. He sounds strikingly similar to Ghostface Killah, but worse comparisons could be made. His mixtapes have delivered a lot of comedy and here he continues with his fun personality. The professional shine of a debut album is a little distracting, but when Bronson gets to rap, it’s hard not to listen again and again.

Standout Track: “Baby Blue featuring Chance the Rapper

4. Death Grips – Jenny Death

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Here’s a snippet of lyrics from Jenny Death: “Spit on you, spit on me/ All we know spit must be us/ Spit fits us, we spit and sniff/ We sniff and clutch each other’s fate/ I don’t care about real life, I don’t care about real life.” So, there ya go.

Standout Track: “On GP

Favorite Music Video of the Month: