I am definitely overdue on this post. I'm excited to write about some of my favorite music from 2017...
Before I dive into it, I want to reflect a little on how I experience music. The way I listen to music is not conducive to making "best of" lists like this. I like to find an artist or album I enjoy, and then listen to that (almost exclusively) for a few days/weeks/months until I extract every last ounce of enjoyment out of it. Then I move back into "music discovery mode" until I find something else to feast upon.
Because of this, my music knowledge tends to have a lot of depth and not a lot of breadth. I think I do this because I appreciate music more and more each time I listen to it. For the past few years, I've considered making new year resolutions of listening to an album no more than twice to curb my compulsive listening tendencies. I didn't do anything like this in 2018 (thank goodness) - but maybe 2019 will be the year where I turn into a music discovery fiend (doubtful).
If anyone else can relate to this, let me know and maybe we can form a compulsive listener support group.
Below is a list of my favorite albums from 2017. Based on the above disclosure of my listening habits, you can be sure that I obsessed over each of these albums for a minimum of 1 week. The albums are listed in no particular order.
Brooding, authentic, enduring. Ryan Adams wrote and recorded this album while going through a divorce, and that clearly amplified the usual moody emotion of his music. You'll have to go to the B-sides album to hear my favorite track, 'Stop You'. I'm not sure why that track wasn't on the actual album.
Comforting, smooth, and confident. Love this album. This sounds a little bit like Bob Dylan, but please don't let that turn you off. I mean it in the best way. This is the sound of a band that is entirely on the same page; they know their sound, they figured it out, and they bring it on every track.
Dreamy, charming, and cozy. I read that this album was recorded in the lead singer's bedroom - and I totally believe it. The guitars have a hint of surfer vibe, and the singing always has a whisper element to it. It adds up to a unique sound that can't be found elsewhere.
Haunting, thoughtful, patient. Full disclosure: these guys had one of the worst live performances I've ever witnessed at Newport in 2017. Yet, the quality of their studio albums still impresses me. The songwriting is great. Jess and I will see them again in 2018 at Boston Calling - perhaps because it's hard to look away from a car crash. But, I genuinely hope they can put on a live performance that their albums deserve.
Clean, sparse, and vulnerable. The xx is a three-part band consisting of a male vocalist/bassist, female vocalist/guitar player, and DJ. The DJ, known as Jamie xx, is the secret sauce here, mixing samples and echoing beats into the otherwise extremely sparse pop/rock tracks.
Out-of-the-box, passionate, collaborated. This band's story is almost as good as their music. The 14+ member ensemble met on a Kanye West internet forum and decided to make a band. The fact that such unique and heartfelt hip-hop can come out of such an origin is amazing. The band released three full-length albums in 2017 and they're all good. The music seems to have an inexplicable consistency hidden away under its highly variable sonic qualities.
Meandering, echoing, carefully-paced. This is a great album to enjoy when you've got plenty of time to be patient with it. It will reward you. Get some good headphones, and settle down. Or listen while on a road trip. Just make sure you turn up the volume a little bit. Fleet Foxes released this album after a long hiatus, and it's great to hear that they're still performing at a high level. Fun fact - did you know that Father John Misty (AKA Josh Tillman) was the former drummer of Fleet Foxes?
Movement-inspiring, Catchy, Synthesized. Going into 2017, I liked Future Islands. Coming out of 2017, I love Future Islands. These guys delivered one of the best concerts I've ever attended, and now I'm a believer. It's hard to not - at a minimum - bob your head to their music. It's just fun to listen to, and it's delivered with an unparalleled level of enthusiasm by the lead singer, Sam Herring.
I have been developing this Spotify playlist full of songs that sound like Christmas songs, but are actually not Christmas songs. This is a great playlist for someone who's natural tendency is to be a grinch, yet still wants to get into that festive mood.
I was adding songs to this for a few months, and then just recently scoured the internet to find some more tracks to help fill it out.
Serving suggestion: Listen while drinking a heavily sweetened white russian (which may look/taste a bit like eggnog) and some peppermint hard candies (which look like candy canes...wait what do candy canes taste like??)
Click here to access the playlist (will require a spotify account) - I set it as a "collaborative playlist" - I think that means that anyone can add more songs. So...I guess we will see how that pans out.
Disclaimer: I am not going to claim that all of these songs are good. All I am saying is that they sound sorta like Christmas songs.
For those we don't have Spotify...sorry. I pasted the tracklist below (for what it's worth).
|Hospital Food||David Gray||Life in Slow Motion|
|White Winter Hymnal||Fleet Foxes||Fleet Foxes|
|Two Weeks||Grizzly Bear||Veckatimest|
|Standing in the Back at Your Show||Wild Ones||Mirror Touch|
|Amour Amour||Livia Blanc||Amour Amour|
|Step||Vampire Weekend||Modern Vampires of the City|
|Phantom Limb||The Shins||Wincing The Night Away|
|Welcome Home, Son||Radical Face||Ghost|
|Somewhere Only We Know||Keane||Hopes And Fears|
|Soul Meets Body||Death Cab for Cutie||Plans|
|Heartbeats||José González||Imperial Recordings Best Of|
|I'll Be Home||Harry Nilsson||The Best Of Harry Nilsson|
|Disarm||The Smashing Pumpkins||Rotten Apples, The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits|
|Beth/Rest||Bon Iver||Bon Iver|
Last night, Jess and I went to our good friend Abby's graduation from her DJ program. She was the very last act to perform, she played a great set, and the turnout was definatley solid.
There was a driving force that inspired Abby to take this DJ class, despite all of the various things that make life "busy" - and I admire that. There is something to be said about persuing hobbies and making dreams a reality.
I think this struck a chord with me because I have been finding very little time to persue my interests because of work commitments lately, and that can get frustrating. I am trying to use this blog to keep the ball rolling on the machine learning stuff. Anyways - I wasn't planning on making this about myself when I started writing. Nice job on that set, Abby. Her website is: https://www.abcomusic.com/
I'm a big fan of NPR Music's Tiny Desk concert series. These concerts started in 2008 - almost 10 years ago - supposedly when Bob Boilen (host of the All Songs Considered podcast) became frustrated with noisy and distracting concert venues. The Tiny Desk concerts are recorded right at Bob's office desk - and they are great because they strip away all of the cruft that gets between the music and your ears.
The music is front and center, and artists seem to have great respect for that. They treat their Tiny Desk performances as something special.
I feel like the quality of music has been especially high over the past few months, so I decided to share a list of my favorite Tiny Desk concerts. I haven’t come anywhere close to watching all of the concerts, so I might have to update this list again sometime in the future.
Gotta love this. The vocalist's (Bilal's) performance is powerful yet it often seems effortless. This sort of thing only happens when there is passion behind the music - and I sense there's a lot here - particularly in the last 3 minutes or so when he seems legitimately pissed off about equality issues. Definately one of the best Tiny Desk concerts right here.
This guy is a bit of a contradiction. He has a really soulful voice that sounds like it comes from New Orleans - yet he's from Sweden. Nonetheless, he's got the goods!
He sounds a bit like Ray LaMontagne. Solid concert here – it’s so easy to watch that it will be over before you even know it – and then you’ll say, ‘is there more?’ Yes there is - and it was recorded at Newport Folk Festival.
This is three sisters in a folk band. The vocals are the main focus here. Lots of good harmonies, and just the right amount of yelling.
With Tiny Desk, I find that a band completely outside of my typical preferences can grab my attention - and impress me! This is a good example. Honestly – I dare you to play the first 10 seconds of this, and then not listen to at least 5 minutes. It’s got a guy playing an electric guitar with a violin bow. It’s got an Obama lookalike playing drums. I’m pretty sure the lead singer starts handing out snacks near the end. Everyone is having so much fun here. I’d join their band if they asked me. Mom do you still have my clarinet from elementary school?
I didn’t know who The Arcs were before I watched this concert. This is a great band, perhaps underappreciated. Also, this was recorded two years ago and it was the 500th Tiny Desk concert. So, estimating that there has been about 150 additional concerts since then, and that each concert is about 15 minutes long, that means there is about 9,500 minutes or 158 hours of music – and more getting added every week. Now you know why I haven’t listened to all of the concerts.
This is a hip-hop artist, and his Tiny Desk performance is great. Writing about music is hard - but the person who writes the YouTube descriptions for NPR music is on point - they said this: "His deceptively intricate rhythm tracks interlock with complementary harmonies and brilliantly constructed bars in ways that appeal to both diehard hip-hop heads — those who decipher and analyze lyrics as a hobby — and those who just want a clutch beat." Woah, now those are the words of someone who actually knows what their doing.
When these guys finish their set, the host - Bob - was so excited that he gave the band high fives, and then catches them off guard by asking for another song. They didn't seem prepared, but they grabbed random office supplies to use as instruments - and then proceded to jam.
Standing on the desk of Tiny Desk is a move you see from time to time – but Paul Janeway, the lead singer, pulls it off better than most. Soulful.
In traditional OK Go fashion, their Tiny Desk concert is an intricate video recorded during NPR Music’s move from one office to another. They recorded little segments of the song in the first office, then in the hallway, then in the moving truck, then in the new office elevator, all the way to the new Tiny Desk location. This isn’t really a “stripped down” intimate performance that is typical of Tiny Desk – so I would feel disingenuous putting it in the list with the others.
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