I always find it hard to do “End of the Year” lists when it comes to music. I feel it’s due to my inherent skepticism whenever I hear high praise about a band or album. Maybe feeling like an outsider to mainstream culture as a young kid built this internal stone wall of suspicion to the popular appetites of the day. I’ve definitely grown to appreciate recommendations and suggestions over the years, but the fact remains, it takes A LOT for me to investigate new music, and a lot of the music and artists I love I’ve encountered through dearly trusted sources or by accident. So I want to emphasize that this will by no means be my claims as to the BEST albums of the year, seeing as I simply haven’t listened to a lot of 2017 releases. But the albums listed below were the albums that I found the most meaningful to me, and while some of them I’ve already done write-ups for, they are albums I expect to come back to time and time again in the future.
Before I get into my list, I should give shout outs to some sources that I have grown to trust: NPR, Noisey, and Pitchfork all have comprehensive lists of music that I will enjoy exploring in the coming weeks, and I hope you do, too. Also, I’ll put playlists of my most played songs of 2017 as well as a selection of songs from my five favorite albums at the bottom of the article for your listening pleasure.
All right, here we go:
Honestly, I always feel guilty when I listen to and try to assess hip-hop and rap seeing as my knowledge of the genre and its rich history is piss poor. The one thing I feel comfortable saying about Staples second full length is that it is a different kind of hip-hop record (even to a casual rap listener like myself). Staples experiments with a variety of beats, from ethereal soundscapes on opener “Crabs In A Bucket”, to driving basslines on the second single “Big Fish”, to abrupt pulses and percussive elements that would be at home at any industrial or grime show. Staples uses these as backdrops while he contemplates on fame, financial success, and females in the most confessional of manners.
“Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” That question posed by the Pennsylvania punk quartet on the opening track of their fifth album will haunt me for the rest of this year until I reach the dreaded milestone of thirty years on Earth. Luckily I will have this album to provide the soundtrack to reflections on past mistakes I will always regret, former loves I dearly miss, and cherished moments that I wouldn’t give up for anything.
Read more of my thoughts here.
Profane and prophetic are the best words to describe this artist’s long awaited return to poetry. With every spoken word and ringing note one can hear the intentionality and purpose that went into the creation of this album. Hathaway utilizes a wide variety of vocal deliveries with just as many types of instrumentation, to explore themes of faith and lust, and the intersection between the two.
Read my full review here.
Open up a browser and go to YouTube. Search up any live performance by Japandroids. Found one you think looks good? Good. I’ll wait while you watch it.
I had you go through that rigamarole because no matter how much I harp on how there hasn’t been a collection of songs that embodies pure joie de vivre as much as this one, it won’t fully capture the matching energy that Brian King and David Prowse have when they play the aforementioned songs. Japandroids may just seem like a simple Canadian rock duo (their album covers may also add to that illusion) but truthfully they are the emissaries of a most sacred edict: “Love so hard that time stands still”.
Read my unrestrained ramblings about this album here, if you’re, like, into that thing.
“Maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright/And I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is.”
This mix of sentiment, of melancholy and optimism, of despair and hope, is plastered all over this Memphis songwriter’s second full length release. Equally astronomic as her move from emo label 6131 Records to indie rock heavyweight Matador Records is her sonic leap from her first record, Sprained Ankle, to her current release. Sprained Ankle was a collection of intimate emo/folk songs, that were mostly just Baker and her guitar. On Turn Out The Lights, she adds more instrumentation, including piano and string arrangements that create a more lush, reverent sound, almost fitting for cathedrals. This allows her to mold the emotions and mood of the listener at her whim while she expunges her demons. For instance, on “Happy to Be Here” one goes from feeling solemn, frail, and vulnerable when she whispers “I know I should be being optimistic but I’m doubtful I can change / Grit my teeth and try to act deserving / When I know there is nowhere I can hide / From your humiliating grace” to desperate and confident when she belts out “And if there’s enough left after everyone else / Then why, then why, then why / God why not me?”. The level of vocal control she has is incredible, but being able to wield it so intentionally truly shows her maturity as an artist. Add to the fact the she is just 22 years old and the entire experience of listening to this album becomes truly humbling. Throughout Turn Out the Lights, Baker paints vivid imagery of her struggles through mental illness until she triumphantly and unwaveringly proclaims at the end “I think I can love / The sickness you made / ‘Cause I take it all back, I change my mind / I wanted to stay.” I am personally grateful for presence, story, and music, and look forward to more of her art in the future.
Alright, that’s all for me. Again, you can listen to both my most played and selections from the previously mentioned albums below.
…also follow us on Twitter at @middleofrow
Happy New Year!