13 essential by the national

Last year began in a way, for me, that could only have been worse if I were in direct impact of one of the many California fires. Things got off to an incredibly rocky start when what turned out to be my last pick from the right side of the debate for commander-in-chief was preparing to be sworn into office. (Kasich was my gop preference, although I would have even taken Rubio or Jeb over the eventual DT.)

What I won’t do here is give an overt discussion presented in op-ed fashion about the downfall of western civilization catalyzed by the inauguration of DT. What I will do, rather, is present a book-ended installment to the catalog of essential listening that I have been sharing since the untimely death & destruction of my last house’s kitchen*.

*a big shout out and THANK YOU to the many friends, family, & acquaintances that rushed in to help us in our most troubling of times. You know who you are.

The year began with a bang. Angst proved that it knows no age as my listening habits reflected such truth.

In January, Good Riddance hijacked my ears and gave me a proper outlet channeling the frustrations coming from personal misfortunes and national disappointment. From there I traveled back through time and revisited entire careers of old favorites only to piece together what would become a series of writings; essential listening mini music reviews written and designed for selfish reasons of cope and stability disguised as ranked recommendations. Your welcome.

After the initial Good Riddance installment I ventured forward to The Eels, Millencolin and Thrice. These are long time staples that I find myself shuffling through their back catalogs of often. From that point, I remembered what it was like to discover new music before internet technology as I dug deep into the career of Idlewild, of which was followed by MxPx, Brand New, and The Foo Fighters. Then, I would continue my journey of essentials only to explore music of NoFX, Thursday, Third Eye Blind, and Spoon. It was at this point that I would get the most vulnerable (and painfully nostalgic) when I shared my thoughts on Blink-182 and Tom DeLonge. I then felt it undeniably necessary to redeem myself and create essential listening from Kurt Vile immediately followed by (yep!) more nostalgia when I listed my favorite Alkaline Trio songs. Immediately after that the untimely news of Chester Bennington’s death was heard and I felt a heavy passion to memorialize his Linkin Park career with one of my essential installments. I regrouped my mental state with a revisit to music by Say Anything and Squad 5-O.

Then Tom Petty passed.

I was devastated.

Tom Petty is definitely a top 3 artist for me, so I doubled down and gave any readers I have gained (and my future self) a list of 26 essential songs. Thirteen each from him with the Heartbreakers and thirteen without.

From there I softened things up a bit and explored John Vanderslice then immediately jumped back to angst with The Lawrence Arms. I closed out my year in music with a review of Prevention Songs Vol 1, a final installment of nostalgia with The Ataris, and then a three part series of my favorite music of twenty seventeen which included honorary mentions, runner up top ten, and the top ten.

Now to cap off my essentials I wanted to end with something newer. Something that I currently am listening to. Something that I find a calming sensibility to the songs despite the often dreary subject matter of the lyrics. My favorite album from twenty seventeen was from the band that I just described: The National. Last year, it was my overly analyzed opinion that they released the best music of their career. Baritone-Berninger vocals have become a regular installment of the dad-rock that frequents my stereo.

All good things must come to an end. And though it may be up for debate as for if any of these lists of essentials have been good, coming to an end is what it has become nonetheless.

Cheers 🍻

13 | all dolled-up in straps

cherry tree

 

12 | the perfect song

the national

 

11 | mistaken for strangers

boxer

 

10 | bloodbuzz ohio

high violet

 

9 | lucky you

sad songs for dirty lovers

 

8 | nobody else will be there

sleep well beast

 

7 | daughters of the soho riots

alligators

 

6 | walk it back

sleep well beast

 

5 | heavenfaced

trouble will find me

 

4 | fake empire

boxer

 

3 | the system only dreams in total darkness

sleep well beast

 

2 | slow show

boxer

 

1 | all the wine

alligator

Best Albums of 2017 | The Top 10

The holidays snuck up on me this year. I didn’t realize it could be nearly seventy and also the winter solstice. But hey, it’s Fresno. So as we say goodbye to the holidays and to twenty seventeen let me remind you (and the future me) of what my favorite music from the past year was. I’ve already reflected upon the music that impacted me this year beyond my top ten, and here is where I end the conversation.

Cheers🍻

10 | The Smith Street Band

More Scared of You Than You Are of Me

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There are some things that, from my perspective, we should imitate from our forgotten earth neighbors from down under. Angst rock, gun control, and alligator wrestling. As for which of these (if any) that I am joking, I’ll leave that up to you. Australia has provided us pristine music from a range of genres over the years. AC/DC, Jet, Silverchair, The Living End, and Royal Headache are just a few that come to mind immediately. Here, with The Smith Street Band, I can refer to you another band from Australia you may benefit from knowing. The lyrics flirt with juvenile and the melodies harp on a genre that the radio has already given up on, but holy smokes do they do it good! As soon as you catch yourself screaming “death to the lads! death to the lads!” along with the chorus of one of my favorite songs on the record you’ll share the same opinion of these guys as I. And that is a promise.

Favorite tracks:

death to the lads, laughing (or pretending to laugh), birthdays

 

9 | Spoon

Hot Thoughts

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Here is where I get to have a little fun; relax a bit and know that whatever I hear from Spoon I am certain I will enjoy it. Spoon is one of those rock bands that has been around forever and consistently gotten better while still remaining relatively underground as far as mainstream success is concerned. They are arguably as big of a success story you can experience without the hit single. Write the note, seal the envelope, and place the federally entrusted stamp on the uppermost right corner of a declarative statement of me not caring. I hope these guys never have a chart topping radio single, because without one they have made music for twenty five years exuberating the definition of what rock and roll music is supposed to sound like in a post-rock radio world. Every album is a good time. Every song gets stuck in your head. Never are they found to disappoint. This new record, Hot Thoughts, changes nothing and takes us on a journey deeper into the encapsulated arena of their minds picking up where they left off when they released They Want My Soul. There are a few bands that, according to me, can do no wrong even if it were to be intended. Spoon is one of them. On this record the hooks get deeper, the melodies get catchier, and the arrangements get more courageous. While Kill the Moonlight remains my personal favorite from these guys, Hot Thoughts is home to some [more] of my favorite Spoon songs.

Favorite tracks:

I ain’t the one, shotgun, hot thoughts

 

8 | Kendrick Lamar

DAMN.

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Admittedly, I was too stubborn to give rap a chance a couple years ago. In two thousand and fifteen Kendrick Lamar released one of the best albums of the year and I failed to recognize that while spending too much time with singer songwriters and punk rock music. With time brings change and with change comes growth. I spend most of my time attempting to grow as a person, as a father, as a husband, as everything there is to describe me and now here I was earlier this year anticipating the release of DAMN. I was looking forward to this album ever since I saw the brilliant performance of Kendrick Lamar on the 2016 Grammy’s. It was one of the more chilling performances I’ve seen that will go down as one of Grammy’s finest. DAMN. features the overarching theme that “ain’t nobody prayin for me [Lamar]”.  His career will be scrutinized by select media outlets. His lyrics will be censored by those wanting to stay within the confines of their own life. Though it may be true that, just as with Eminem, a portion of this record can be regarded as obscene or offensive, but the serious tone of the overall arc of the story being told in DAMN. is one that cannot be ignored. Kendrick Lamar has a massive story to tell, he is smack dab in the middle of the plot, and as it thickens (and at the risk of being labeled bandwagon) I am here enjoying the show as I await the next installment.

Favorite tracks:

DNA., YAH., FEEL.

 

7 | Wolf Alice

Visions of a Life

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While the kids are all consumed by the successes of Paramore, they may just miss out on this fantastic rebroadcast of the nineties. Wolf Alice, the alt rock, indie dream pop, and shoegaze band, are at their absolute best with their latest album, Visions of Life. They are arguably the British incarnate of The Smashing Pumpkins and I welcome anyone to debate me on that. Only thing missing are the radio hits, but don’t hold your breath because the radio is starting to play new reggae not new shoegaze. If you compare the music industry from the early nineties to what it is today you could easily conduct a strong case in that Wolf Alice may never be the success that they imitate from their apparent influences of the past. No matter though, because this record doesn’t need the façade of mainstream successes to be brilliant. Each track flows in from the last and out to the next. The entire record essentially feels like a forty five minute breath of fresh air in a moment in music where most musicians are still perfecting their latest rendition of the electronic version of themselves. Do not hesitate with this one.

Favorite tracks:

don’t delete the kisses, beautifully unconventional, yuk foo

 

6 | Sorority Noise

You’re Not As ______ As You Think

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I’m certain that I was not the only one devastated by the news this year confirming the level of douchebaggery that Jesse Lacey was found to have always been. (Brand New gets nothing from me anymore.) During it all, we have yet to discover if the current #metoo movement and the rise in awareness of this hidden atrocity of American society has reached its full potential or not. My guess: not even close. We are more than likely in for many more disappointments of those we admire in our chosen field of entertainment. There will be more executives, there will be more celebrities, there will be more musicians called out for actions deserving to be brought forth. We should have no compromise to the integrity of a person’s existence simply because “they had a part in that favorite thing we used to like”. Lead by example. Evolve your interests. Find something similar, but new and without blemish of disgusting images of misogyny and predatory behavior. Sorority Noise, for me, was the band with the album that fit perfectly in the hole that was left after I removed Brand New from my listening catalogue entirely. Sorority Noise is three quarters Brand New layered with influences of Motion City Soundtrack and equal parts mewithoutyou, modern baseball, and death cab for cutie. The title of the record is as perfectly fitting as you can get with the “fill-in-the-blank” style phrasing of You’re Not As _____ As You Think. There is no getting closer to brutal honesty or near perfection then Sorority Noise did with this record. The tone in the lyrics and the singing style of the singer accomplishes so much more than what was obviously intended, and the result here, for me, is one of my favorite records of the year. Keep an eye on these guys as they live through personal devastation and organically make music as their own therapy right before our eyes. Selfishly, I look forward to what is to come as it is with my experience that the best creations are driven by tragedy.

Favorite tracks:

a portrait of, second letter from st julien, no halo

 

5 | The War On Drugs

A Deeper Understanding

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Every aging white middle class dad nearing forty has a few bands in common that frequent their record rotation more so than their others. Come on, admit it guys. Gone are the days with a preference for punk and angst with lyrics of chasing girls and heartache. The dawn of the new age of music for these fellas has begun, and maybe it has been going for sometime but without any notice for the rest of you. I can say these things because I am literally in the forefront of this subset of society and I will proudly listen to any and all of this described genre of dad-rock. I remember listening to A Deeper Understanding one night earlier this year and my wife asked why I was listening to Bryan Adams. Funny that she mentions it, because the case could be made that The War On Drugs is essentially a reincarnated 2017 version of Bryan Adams. This record is not as good (to me) as the last one by them, but it fits more suitably in a description of pop music. I see this new record being the favorite to more people and thus giving them a broader stroke of success. Nothing wrong with that.

Favorite tracks:

nothing to find, holding on, knocked down

 

4 | Loyle Carner

Yesterday’s Gone

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I listened to a lot of rap this year. I don’t know what that means, but I did. So much, in fact, that I put Office Space’s Michael Bolton to shame. I jumped on the Kendrick Lamar bandwagon. I rediscovered my inner delinquent with the new Eminem. I toyed with new Jay-Z, but then went back to his old. I even pulled out some early Jurassic 5 and branched off from there to a little Del and a bit of Dre. What I didn’t expect was to end up with tracks from a kid in London appearing in my weekly discover Spotify playlists. By no means am I an expert with what is good and what is not in terms of hip hop, but what I do know is that this kid has a lot of potential. Loyle Carner, on this debut record, not only does not succumb to having childish skits littered about the track listing but he instead gives the microphone to his mom while they scold eachother for swearing. Honest moments on an album full of treasured and heartbreaking memories presented in an almost retro production style of the genre. Loyle Carner could help reignite hip hop arena in the same way that L.A. Salami is arguably reigniting the Dylan-esque rock music storytelling. Time will tell. Yesterday’s Gone is a masterpiece in hip hop storytelling and I highly recommend.

Favorite tracks:

the isle of arran, ain’t nothing changed, no cd

 

3 | Arcade Fire

Everything Now

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Arcade Fire is another one of those bands that can’t really seem to do any wrong by me. Truthfully, though, I got lazy and haven’t listened to anything in excess since Neon Bible. That album was indie rock perfection for me, and, if forced, it’d be on a list of my top ten favorite albums of any year at all. I see Win Butler, the singer of Arcade Fire, becoming a type of importance to my generation that Bruce Springsteen or Jim Morrison of past ones once had. This record is timely, it is neo-classic, it is not nearly as great as Neon Bible, but it helps cement their status as a band that my generation will always fall back on as one that reflects their voice.

Favorite tracks:

creature comfort, signs of life, good god damn

 

2 | Earl St. Claire

My Name Is Earl

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I’m not a dancer. By no means have I ever claimed such status. It usually takes an act of God or a case of beer to get me up on any dancefloor. What I am trying to say is that while I am routinely passed up by my seven and nine year olds while attempting to mimic dance moves from Trolls by no means does that suggest I cannot enjoy a little soul. My Name Is Earl introduces all of us to (dare I say) the next Al Green with Earl St. Claire. Classified as an EP but with enough musical substance to put together a couple full lengths, there’s no reason this wound up being one of my favorites of the year. This is Cee Lo without the flare, Ray Charles without the corporate endorsements, and Al Green with all the intended comparison. Over these last few months, as I discovered this record a bit on the late side, I utilized these songs to shake up the mundane. It helped drive the focus, it helped put bounce in the step, and it gave myself a break from listening to all-things-guitar. I really enjoyed this record. This was my favorite surprise of the year and I’ll be back for more. I just hope he will also.

Favorite tracks:

feeling alive, ain’t got it like that, bad love

 

1 | The National

Sleep Well Beast

Sleep_Well_Beast

They did it! The National made a stunningly brilliant album with Sleep Well Beast. I bought this album on it’s first day released on vinyl and it literally took me a bit more than 2 weeks to flip the record to side B. The first half of this album is as close to artistic masterpiece as you can get with music. The second half tappers off a little and ends with one of the most beautiful songs that The National has ever written. I have a lot of installments on this list that include artists that represent the liking of an aging white late thirty something male, but hey — if I refuse to act my age with my dress code I may as well act it with my musical interests. All bands have their peak, and often times they are in the first couple records upon the band’s conception. This is The National’s ninth album and for it to be their best is not only a rarity among peers but also is an unexpected surprise. Before this album I thought their peak was reached with Boxer in two thousand seven. I was wrong. I am glad. Sleep Well Beast is perfect. This will be listened to in my home far beyond twenty seventeen. Light up your speakers with Matt Berninger vocals and the Sleep Well Beast music masterpiece.

Favorite tracks:

walk it back, nobody else will be there, sleep well beast

Best Albums of 2017 | Runner Up Top 10

As promised, here is part two of my three part series of my favorite music from this twelve month nightmare I was told was supposed be called twenty seventeen. I truly hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did putting it together.

Cheers🍻

20 | Lecrae

All Things Work Together

Last year my favorite record was da’ t.r.u.t.h.’s It’s Complicated and it was within the same genre as this one: christian rap. It came as no coincidence either, because the way in which I discovered it organically transpired as I rediscovered music I used to listen to not more than just a few years ago. It began as I listened to last year’s Switchfoot album. On it was a song featuring Lecrae which inadvertently brought me back into his catalogue of music I was neglecting. The Switchfoot song was Looking For America and it helped remind me that Christian music didn’t always need to be about the end of times or the ten commandments to be good. From there I discovered da’ t.r.u.t.h. and it was a consistent listen throughout the year. That was how my favorite record from twenty sixteen developed. Over those several months last year I had also listened to Lecrae’s Church Clothes more times than I had worn actual church clothes in nearly all my life (and that was a struggling attempt to poke fun at the fact that, with a modest refusal to grow up, I insist on still wearing a t-shirt and levis to church on Sunday). Now, let’s set a mental precedent for those that are unfamiliar with Lecrae: he is basically to rap culture what Switchfoot is to rock music. With that being said, I find it more than just a coincidence that he guest vocaled on the most recent Switchfoot record. Regrouping (this is a mini review of Lecrae not Switchfoot) I can express in absolute that this record is not perfection. What it is, rather, is necessary and relatable. This is an expression of a black man in a white world not yet able to completely understand his role, but exceptionally grateful for where he is at. This album isn’t for everyone, but it was definitely for me during the point in my life that I heard it. I look forward to his greater eclipse into more mainstream successes, which is inevitable.

Favorite tracks:

can’t stop me now, facts, I’ll find you

 

19 | LCD Soundsystem

American Dream

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Typically, as expressed multiple times before, I steer clear of records released after a bands’ retirement, or any mention of a hiatus. Bands that do this have proven over the years that momentum can often be subject to sacrifice when rest is granted. American Dream is the anthem for the exception to this rule that I have made up entirely for myself in my own head. LCD Soundsystem returns essentially unannounced with the album that was never supposed to have happened. With the lengthy farewell from several years ago it was understood that this aging rock star was filing for an early retirement. The joke is on us apparently. He never quit to begin with, and the new album returns better than ever. This band is about as age appropriated and stereotypical for the basically-middle-aged-white-man-looking-for-dance-music-while-still-seemingly-hip subset of our society, but don’t allow that single description falter or misguide you. American Dream is one of the better indie electronic records out there and it is arguably the best one that they’ve released.

Favorite tracks:

how do you sleep, oh baby, call the police

 

18 | Queens of the Stone Age

Villains

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Villains sometimes are cast with a random but creepy redhead (refer to General Hux in the more recent Star Wars movies), and Queens of the Stone Age does not fail to disappoint. Lead singer of QOTSA, Josh Homme, is about as redhead and creepy as they come. Perfect foundational layer to any rock band seeking to fright. Last year Josh Homme collaborated with Iggy Pop to put together an album that I heard for the first time this last summer. It was the perfect pairing of a couple of rock & roll’s best badasses and it was my own unexpected surprise of the summer. It was then at around the same time that Villains was released. The consistency in Homme & Co. persisted as perfectly crafted rock & roll riffs spilled from my speakers one track after another. Not only is the fright carried with the pigment of Homme’s hair, but also in the songs that they make. They are exceptional mini soundtracks to the melodic nightmare you can’t seem to wake from. Next year celebrates twenty years since the release of their first album, and what better way to celebrate than to be on tour in support of one of your best records yet? Villains isn’t quite in the same caliber as the riff-heavy Rated R but it throws a good punch to the ears removing any reason to not include it in a debate about whether or not these songs are as enchanting or consistently catchy as those from Songs for the Deaf.

Favorite tracks:

domesticated animals, feet don’t fail me, the evil has landed

 

17 | Eminem

Revival

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As we continue my list of favorite albums from the year you should be reminded that I ended honorary mentions with the new edition to my list of guilty pleasures in Lorde. Here we find one of the mentioned guilty pleasures nested near the end of my favorite twenty. Eminem has always had a portion of my attention as early as the the My Name Is video played in heavy rotation on MTV. Now here we are, nearly two decades later, and I have literally grown disinterested with anything he has done since he welcomed us all to the Eminem show. Today he is as close to fifty as I am to forty and his new record easily contains some of his most vulnerable lyrics to date. Sure, there’s plenty of the typical juvenile tantrum and the immature lyric on Revival that everyone is used to, but this time the serious tone is more grounded and the message more sincere. He also has alienated his base by (as previously warned with the anti DT freestyle rap rant) drawing a figurative line in the dirt between him and any fan who disagrees with his politics. The album itself isn’t a political statement, but the few tracks that are driven by modern politics may as well be a digital punch to the face of at least fifty percent of his fans. Other moments on this record we see Eminem being nostalgic and regretful, poetic and hopeful, narcissistic but sorry, and self-reflective while doubtful. I’ll probably catch a lot of negative reaction here after claiming to have enjoyed this record as much as I did, but as I often say on here: “I do this for me, and I do not care”.

Favorite tracks:

like home, bad husband, walk on water

 

16 | Bleachers

Gone Now

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Gone Now is the quintessential pop masterpiece from the side project of the guitar player for a band who we all forgot. That band, fun., was topping the charts just a few years ago. Remember fun? No, not that fun.. I’m talking fun.; fun with a period, because apparently punctuation can be part of the name of your band now (i.e. P!nk, Panic! at the Disco, or simply !!!). But instead of screaming the name of their band, fun. simply presented themselves in monotone on paper with the standard ending to any sentence; a period. On stage was a different story. They were upbeat and in your face. The lead singer held the type of flamboyant persona that was missing from this part of the twenty first century. Now, just a few years later, with fun. not releasing any new material, it has provided an opportunity for Bleachers to emerge with the fun. guitar player as its creative catalyst. This record, Gone Now, is the twenty seventeen pop anthem for those wanting zero politics in their music. There’s hindsight, but not of the societal layer. There’s remorse, but not with a political undertone. There’s sadness, but not without also celebrating life and the people we have to share with it. Here, we may be experiencing a time where the musical entity in pop music in fun. has spawned a successor in Bleachers as becoming the more important of the two.

Favorite tracks:

all my heroes, I miss those days, everybody lost someone

 

15 | Priests

Nothing Feels Natural

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I first heard this album shortly after I shared my favorite music from last year. It was a solid jolt to get the year off to a good middle finger type of pace. This album plays as a series of vignettes, nine stories that materialize to a bigger picture of social unrest, economics in human relations, and the overall frustrations with modern politics. The music is enchanting, eerily angelic at times, but without any purpose to be uplifting. The lyrics are descriptively aimed at everything you want to complain about, but take the joy out of it as they do it for you. This record is as close to prog punk you can get without being so progressive that you lose interest in the song entirely. At a reasonable length, these songs hold a sound with more depth and musicianship not typically expected in a punk band. I had my eyes on this group all year. I’ll be looking forward to what comes next.

Favorite tracks:

pink white house, Jj, no big bang

 

14 | Big Thief

Capacity

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Ok. I am getting exhausted from all this angst. It is starting to take its toll. Let’s slow down for a bit and talk about something more palatable to adults my age. (Is that even a thing?) While seeking out palatable music for adults nearing forty is arguably a subjective statement it is also just as much the wrong thing to do as it is the right. Music speaks to me no matter what the genre. Emotions pulled from the music I listen is determined entirely by the mood I am currently in while listening. Good moods welcome pop music, angry moments discover new punk rock, nostalgia may ignite a series of thirteen essential blogs, and melancholy finds acoustic vivid storytelling. There is something about reflecting upon yourself in music with the very mood you are in that exuberates the silver lining to any emotion, and the way in which I channel my emotions through music may not be the same as yours. There is beauty behind the very existence of music. This album, Capacity, fueled the engine in my soul needing rebuilt so many times throughout this year. With these lucid representations of well-crafted storytelling I was able to find my way out of a few holes I would have otherwise been lost in. It was a trying year, personally, relationally, professionally, and on a grander scale, politically and socially. This record was my Xanax, it was my Ritalin. I appreciated everything about this album, and most of all I appreciated its timing.

Favorite tracks:

haley, shark smile, mary

 

13 | Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile

Lotta Sea Lice

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A couple years ago in a similar setting as this I confessed my fan boy status toward Kurt Vile. Here he is again this year lending a hand, and a guitar, to the latest Courtney Barnett album. I did not anticipate Kurt & Courtney (no not that Kurt & Courtney) to collaborate in such a way as this, and I was initially unsure of its ability to come together properly. I’ve seen this before: prominent male songwriter teams up with equally prominent female in her own right to combine creative spells to craft an album that eventually falls flat to the listener. If you can’t think of any instances like this as I can, simply type in your search bar “Pete Yorn and Scarlet Johansson” or “Nora Jones and Billy Joe Armstrong”. I’ll give you a few minutes, you’ll see. The difference with this album isn’t necessarily the collaborative style of the project, but it was the literal sense that they took the conversation within the lyrics. From the opening lines to the record to nearly the end of the final song you feel as if you are a fly on the wall of the studio that these two are sharing. It is a conversation among would-be friends hammering out the details about writing the songs that they are singing. While Hail, Caesar is one of the better (if not only) films about making a movie, Lotta Sea Lice is setting a perfect precedent for what a record full of songs about how the songs become the song is supposed to sound. The imitative vocal nature of these two as they come together grasps the best of both artists to put together one of my favorite records of the year. Kurt’s lingering vocals and Courtney’s storytelling nature combine to make a musical integration that would come as an unexpected but very appreciated record.

Favorite tracks:

continental breakfast, over everything, fear is like a forest

 

12 | IDLES

Brutalism

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A self-description pulled from the IDLES website is as follows:

“At a point of uncertainty, IDLES bring you concise carnage. At a time of lies, IDLES bring you honesty. At a time of body shaming and Photoshop, IDLES bring you a visceral barrage of joyous bile. At a time of The Kardashians, IDLES bring you a story of working hard for what and who you love. In a time of polarized politics and murky waters; IDLES and bands like them are needed to remind people that it’s ok to dance and laugh and sing in the face of adversity.”

I don’t think I could have said anything more appropriately fitting to describe this band in as few sentences as I just shared. This record, Brutalism, is the debut from one of the best punk bands to emerge, ever. Just try and argue that with me. Based in England, these guys have a bright future in dark, unapologetic speak-sung punk anthems for the age of the social collapse. They are relevant. They might become huge. But they will be influential.

Favorite tracks:

well done, white privilege, mother

 

11 | Mount Eerie

A Crow Looked At Me

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A couple years ago Butch Walker made a heartbreakingly emotional record about the death of his father which translated into being my favorite records of twenty fifteen. This year I crossed paths with a record of similar discussion on the topic of death. Difficult emotions and widespread turmoil help the dawning of expression through art. This album by Mount Eerie is a nearly perfect lyrical arrangement of a love letter to a lost loved one. He opens the record with the softly sung monotone line “death is real” and from that very moment the tone of the album is very clear. I distinctively remember the first time I listened to A Crow Looked At Me, I experienced a kind of tears I never thought possible while listening to words from a stranger as they express heartache over a wife’s death through song. This album is utterly heartbreaking. It is completely personal. It is at times difficult to listen to. It is a final love note from a husband to his wife gone forever. Listen to this record with something to wipe away the tears, but also hear it in solitude because you are about to let sadness escape your eyes as you cry tears of sorrow for this poor man. This record gets as close as you can get using music to literally live through someone else’s trauma.

Favorite tracks:

crow, real death, toothbrush/trash

Best Albums of 2017 | Honorary Mentions

Hard to believe that twenty seventeen is already almost over.

I specifically remember back in the early-nineties as a preteen imagining ahead to the year two thousand. I would fantasize about things such as what I would look like as I aged, if I’d still be reading comics, and even doing simple math in my head calculating how old I would be once I reached the specific year being imagined. Twelve year old me would be in for a surprise seeing what the me of twenty seventeen has become. Some good, some bad, all of it me, and I am still managing to perfect the style which is able to portray the best version. Often disappointed and sometimes surprised, I am able to take this all in stride while enjoying one of my first loves: music.

I was given the passion of music by our creator, but he forgot to finish the job when he meant to include the talents belonging to a musician. Maybe my own doing. Oh well. Nevertheless, as they say, I persisted, and I have managed to find a great deal of enjoyment from listening to the music created by others. It is an escape. It is transformative. It is a window inside the soul of anyone who creates.

I fell in love with music as a young boy, and there always were scattered compact discs lying across my floor. My selected choices to own early on were schizophrenic to say the least. It was a gradual progression as I had to make all these discoveries on my own. I loved getting lost in the liner notes of the albums I listened to. That was how I discovered new bands. The “thank you” notes from inside the innermost folds of the album brought me to some of my favorite bands I still listen to today.

Fast forward. Twenty seventeen.

Spotify encroaches my personal space and forces upon me an algorithmically designed playlist every week assuming it can project what I will enjoy in their vast library of music. Sometimes wrong, but mostly right I have evolved to utilize these playlists to discover bands I hadn’t heard yet, as well as new albums from bands I had heard but would have otherwise missed. The digital age in music is a wonderful thing for those looking to get lost in what is to offer.

I’m continuing with my own tradition driven solely by everything I’ve described above with no end in sight, and what follows is the first installment of a three part series highlighting my favorite music of the year.

These are my five honorable mentions of the albums that almost made it to my top twenty records of twenty seventeen.

Cheers 🍻

25 circa waves | different creatures

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To start things off I wanted to highlight a band grasping so desperately to the sound of brit pop nearly two decades after its peak. Sometimes an album has such a heavy determination to be cheesy that it cannot avoid enjoyment. Go ahead. Swallow your pride. Ignore the immediate reaction to be pretentiously biased to your own choice in music. Don’t underestimate a band from the UK in twenty seventeen who sound like they missed the delorean time quake back to two thousand four. I am describing here the second album from Circa Waves which has come to me as my first exposure to the band that sounds like they so desperately desire to share the stage with the kooks or the fratelli’s opening up for the strokes in a fictitious description of their successes. The first half of the album is overwhelmingly superior to the later, but it is still a good record throughout regardless.

Favorite tracks: different creatures, fire that burns, wake up

 

24 sylvan esso | what now

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The older I get the more I enjoy indie electronic music. The xx, dj Seinfeld, Future Islands, and anything Danger Mouse touches are just some of the examples of the genre of music that is becoming more of a personal staple than the occasional novelty that it once was. I remember hearing about Sylvan Esso a couple years ago and stubbornly refusing to give them a chance. With seeing this album released earlier in the year, and the positive reviews that came along, I ignored all premonition of dislike and I listened to it in between a couple episodes of the “Labeled” podcast. Since then I’ve been able to tack on another band to the growing list of indie electronic bands currently releasing music that I would recognize more than a simple hook sampled for the Apple commercial I saw a few weeks ago.

Favorite tracks: die young, the glow, radio

 

23 j roddy walston & the business | destroyers of the soft life

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I remember the first time I heard J Roddy Walston. It was a Sunday. Midnight. I just arrived at the hotel room I used as temporary living while working in the city. I had PBS on the tv while I tried to sleep. Unsuccessful. Walston & the Business transformed the public broadcast into something otherwise known as paid television. This didn’t seem ordinary. How was something this enjoyable on PBS at this hour. I fell asleep with the tv on and woke up with the songs in my head. The new record is a bit different, but still enjoyable. The home to what is arguably the best chorus of the year comes from this record (refer to Numbers). Walston may not see many more successful albums or any radio fame, but enjoy this moment with him as this may be the peak of something fun.

Favorite tracks: numbers, the wanting, bad habits

 

22 Beck | colors

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I forgot about Beck. After he explored folk (which I hear he did pretty well) I became disinterested. It’s been more than a decade since he has made anything that interested me specifically. I may be a snob or a prude but I had a difficult enough time welcoming the dance anthems that Guero brought after his initial grunge period. Asking me to be ok with anything in addition to that is more of a request than I am able to reckon with. Alas, Beck returns with more dance anthems in Colors. My only hope, after this incredibly enjoyable record, is that he continues the slide back to where he originated and makes another interpretation of grunge with a future record. Now wouldn’t that be a good time.

Favorite tracks: no distraction, I’m so free, wow

 

21 lorde | melodrama

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I have a few guilty pleasures in music. They are the skeletons in my closet that, if you know me at all, I’ve revealed a long time ago. Pink, Eminem, Maroon 5, Third Eye Blind, Chicago, and Vanessa Carlton’s 1000 Miles are among them. Here, with the new album from Lorde, is an example when a guilty pleasure may turn out to be not so guilty. I first was known to speak of Lorde when the single Royals was banned from SF when the KC Royals played the SF Giants in the 2014 World Series. At that point in my life I was working inside the city and it was hilarious how serious native SF people took this ridiculous joke. With that said, I think Lorde may ditch the guilty prefix and become just another addition to my musical pleasures.

Favorite tracks: green light, liability, the louvre

13 essential by the ataris

It can be more than a bit embarrassing being caught singing your heart out as you lose yourself in a song by The Ataris when you are as close to 40 as I am. Although the mental venture isn’t as often as it once was I will admit that it does still happen on occasion. Read More

A Preview: Prevention Songs, Vol. 1

Knowing where your food is grown and where your clothes are made should be just as important as what fuels the passion in the music you consume.

I remember when a compilation album was my preferred way to discover new music. Many years in my youth was spent browsing record store shelves searching for the best cover among the cd’s filed under “various”.  This scavenger hunt for new music was that search for the next big thing, my new favorite band that you hadn’t heard yet, the band that sang the song your friends would be singing tomorrow. This was what defined my early days as a fan of music. It truly was an art form in both directions. A unique way to consume music and a creative way to sell it to a variety of eager ears. Fat Music, Songs From The Penalty Box, Atticus: …Dragging the Lake, Punk Bites, and various soundtracks from the 90s would conduct the effort to navigate the discoveries.  Read More

13 essential lawrence arms

Duel vocals seem so dated now (and so do my lists of essential listening).

Nevertheless he persisted. Read More

13 essential john vanderslice

I cannot take credit for becoming a John Vanderslice fan organically. That would be treasonous. The truth be told is that his music was brought to my attention during the early stages of my relationship with my wife. This was back when I thought the only music that mattered was pop punk. Read More

essential tom petty

Man, yesterday was hard! I keep typing out lines, deleting them, rewording and rewriting them only to delete it again and forget the point in which I was trying to make to begin with. Read More

13 essential squad five-O

Sometimes ingredients for success are the opposite of what it takes to become noticed, and sometimes the lack of self-definition erodes any chance for sustainability or attainment. This was the unfortunate fate of Squad Five-O, the dearly beloved and often overlooked Tooth & Nail band from the super-early, it’s practically the 90s, 2000s. Read More