top tunes: 2017

Music is a huge part of my life. I have my parents to thank for this. Some of the best memories of my childhood include music–like the time I pretended I knew the lyrics to Steve Winwood’s Back In The High Life Again, while my mom sat there on the couch pretending I did, too, as Mr. Winwood and I sang to her. They had a great record collection–they still do, albeit the same one–and they used it to show us all the “good stuff.” My parents are the type of people who don’t want to pay exorbitant prices to see The Rolling Stones today, because they saw them multiple times for a fraction of the cost in their younger years. I learned the piano, then the sax, and in the process gained an appreciation for big band, classical, and jazz. As I grew, music (re)shaped my hair, my jewelry, my thinking, my mood(s), my views, my bank account–my life. It still does.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, recent “writing sessions” have been accompanied with music. (With the exception of this post) I often pick a song to set the vibe I’m going for, and then let it choose a path of its own as I write; the “songs listened to while writing [a] post” is curated as I go along. Music is my catalyst; I suppose one could even call it my muse. The(se) thoughts are always there, but it’s as if the music pulls them out and puts them here only when the music is going. It’s to that end that I’m virtually incapable of attending any concert without losing myself in thought at some point or another, or entirely, and having the impulse to codify it.

Since it’s that time of year when the “best of” posts are going around the Interwebs, I thought I would sit down and take a moment to document those songs that resonated the most with me this year. Sure, I didn’t listen to everything–music is a passion; not my job. But I listened to my fair share: approximately 17k+ minutes on my Spotify, too many concerts to count, and another few hundred-ish on my brother’s vinyl collection for good measure. I think the following are all really good songs, and while it certainly isn’t the most extensive list you’ll find out there, they’re the best I’ve heard. That said, whether you’re revisiting a great tune, or seeking to play something new which is worthy of your time, I hope you derive use from this list of my favorite 15 songs of 2017:

  • Pain, The War On Drugs – I’ve always been a fan of The War On Drugs, but this past summer I heard an interview with the band’s front man, Adam Granduciel, about his struggle with anxiety. Not only does it lend depth to both the song and album (one of the best of the year, I might add), but to hear him open up about his struggles with mental health resonated with me. In Pain, what essentially amounts to the title track of the album (as “a deeper understanding” is a lyric within the song), Granduciel couldn’t write about it any better.
  • Slomo, Slowdive – The beautiful opening track off another of 2017’s best albums. I’m a big fan of dream pop, although I suppose technically these guys and gal are “shoegaze.” But I can’t keep up with all the musical genres these days. It’s hard not to get caught up in, well, daydreaming while listening to this song, and it’s ambient sound is exemplary of who Slowdive is.
  • Third of May / Ōdaigahara, Fleet Foxes – Arguably my favorite band, it’d been six years since they released an album, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a song of theirs in my favorites of the year. The first single off the album; it regards the relationship between the group’s founders, Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset, and epitomizes what makes Fleet Foxes so great: Pecknold’s pipes, wonderful harmonies, brilliant songwriting, and dramatic changes in meter and tune.
  • Total Entertainment Forever, Father John MistyThe Fleet Foxes’ former drummer, Josh Tillman, can also write a lyric, and he proves it here: He intelligently blends irony with acoustics, piano, and reed instruments. You could make an argument it’s not as good as the album’s title track, Pure Comedy, but some good sax is always going to break a tie for me.
  • Truth, Kamasi Washington – Speaking of sax; Kamasi is the man. To pigeon hole Washington and his band as strictly “jazz” would be selling him short. However, if you want a “soft” introduction into jazz, look no further. An epic song, simultaneously simple and complex, that allows you to lose yourself, instead of getting lost.
  • No Reason, Bonobo feat. Nick Murphy – Spotify informs me that Bonobo was my most listened to artist of 2017, and this my most listened to song.  The former should tell you what I think about the album itself, while the latter explains why it’s on this list. Bonobo, or Simon Green, is one of the most talented DJ/producers around, and one of the many things he does so well is collaborate with other musicians. In this instance, it’s the inimitable artist formerly known as “Chet Faker” who lays down the vocals.
  • Corridors, DJ Shadow – The greatest living DJ/producer in this writer’s humble opinion. He’ll forever be linked to his seminal–and finest–work, “Entroducing…..”, but Josh Davis can still bring it. However, instead of “diggin’ in the crates” herein, he goes down a different corridor and offers up an entirely “original” work; one which he curates by, well, diggin’ in his brilliantly beatronic brain. The finish out to the track is reminiscent of an old 16-bit video game, and probably my favorite ninety seconds of any song I’ve heard this year.
  • On Hold, The xx – Another crew that spanned a few years between albums, and, boy, was the wait worth it. A genuinely phenomenal work; it’s really difficult for me to isolate a single song on “I See You,” as I’d argue a few could be included in this conversation. I choose On Hold because I think it best exemplifies what makes this trio who they are: the vocal interplay of Romy Madly Croft and Oliver Sim set atop Jamie xx’s top-shelf production.
  • Pineapple Skies, Miguel – Goodness gracious did Miguel do a thing. “War & Leisure” is upper echelon stuff as far as albums of the year are concerned. Yet, unlike with The xx’s “I See You,” I think it’s pretty clear that this is the joint off Miguel’s album. If the track doesn’t make you feel good and want to groove then I don’t even know you.
  • Love, Lana Del Rey – Who said I don’t do mainstream? I was in love this year, and so of course a song regarding it will be listed here. A hauntingly beautiful song, off an excellently produced album–one of which I spent more time listening to than any of her preceding work combined.
  • LOVE., Kendrick Lamar feat. Zacari – (We’ve now entered the “love” section of this posting.) This strictly isn’t the most sound track off the album (DAMN.), but provided it’s widely considered one of the best–if not the best–albums of the year that shouldn’t be taken as a slight. I include this song because in this day and age of widespread misogyny, especially in hip-hop, we have the best rapper on the planet writing a song about his high school sweetheart, and “homey for life.” It’s a refreshingly good song.
  • Big Fish, Vince Staples – Staples has gotten his due and been elevated into more mainstream recognition with this year’s album, “Big Fish Theory.” He deserves it, because he’s one of the best at his craft. To that end, in Big Fish, Staples talks about how his life’s changed with stardom, which, ironically, doesn’t consist of “balling out.” After all, he doesn’t drink, and prefers to give back to the kids of Long Beach, which is where Staples hails from. Oh, and he also had the best commercial of 2017.
  • Nobody Else Will Be There, The National – This was another tough one for me, as the album’s fourth track, The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness, is also very deserving, but NPR already did a review of that tune, and I actually think the lyrics and overall structure on Nobody Else Will Be There are better. Imagine having something difficult to talk about, and pondering over it. This is that in song.
  • Ran, Future Islands – Another of this year’s most listened to bands via my Spotify account. I love the energy and passion that comes through their songs, and it really shows here. What’s more, to see it in person, as I was fortunate to do this past September, really gave me a new appreciation of both the band and the song itself.
  • oh baby, LCD Soundsystem – James Murphy is back! But did you really believe he was gone? The album, “american dream,” is a great comeback, as if fans have come to expect anything different from the band. Ironically, the album is about endings. If the titular track american dream speaks of the end of the American dream; oh baby signifies the end of relationships, in a very accessible way.

I hope you enjoy the music as much as I do.

Thanks for reading.

Best,

-j

Songs listened to while writing this post (full playlist):

  • The above. Duh.

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