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.
10 | The Smith Street Band
More Scared of You Than You Are of Me
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.
death to the lads, laughing (or pretending to laugh), birthdays
9 | Spoon
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.
I ain’t the one, shotgun, hot thoughts
8 | Kendrick Lamar
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.
DNA., YAH., FEEL.
7 | Wolf Alice
Visions of a Life
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.
don’t delete the kisses, beautifully unconventional, yuk foo
6 | Sorority Noise
You’re Not As ______ As You Think
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.
a portrait of, second letter from st julien, no halo
5 | The War On Drugs
A Deeper Understanding
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.
nothing to find, holding on, knocked down
4 | Loyle Carner
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.
the isle of arran, ain’t nothing changed, no cd
3 | Arcade Fire
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.
creature comfort, signs of life, good god damn
2 | Earl St. Claire
My Name Is Earl
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.
feeling alive, ain’t got it like that, bad love
1 | The National
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.
walk it back, nobody else will be there, sleep well beast