Best Albums of 2017

2017 was arguably a trash fire of a year for many global and political reasons, but this outrage has sparked some strong music. Some of the music on this list is a direct response to the political climate, such as Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN and, partially, as Björk explained in an interview with Pitchfork, Utopia. As we enter 2018, I am excited and hopeful that we will see some great art, for art is the opposite of fascism. With that out of the way, here are my favorites of 2017:

Wolf-Alice-Visions-Of-A-Life

Visions of a Life – Wolf Alice

I was very lucky to see Wolf Alice perform at Great Scott in Boston over the summer, and their energy onstage is infectious. Ellie’s frantic energy colors Visions in tracks such as “Yuk Foo,” and “Sky Musings.” “Sky Musings” is actually one of my favorite tracks because of its candor: Ellie Rowsell, Wolf Alice’s frontwoman and lyricist, explains that she had an existential crisis on a long flight, which is something with which at least I, if not most people, can relate. 2017 was an exciting year for Wolf Alice, as they continue to grow an audience, performing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and opening several European dates for the Foo Fighters.

three futures

Three Futures – TORRES

TORRES as a musician, to me, is very much like Elizabeth Bishop as a poet (yes I want to write an essay about this); what I mean by this is that, what is left unsaid is just as important as what is said, or sung, in TORRES’s case. As much as TORRES is a vocalist, she is a guitar player. What I mean by this is that she doesn’t play guitar simply to accompany her singing; her guitar playing takes center stage just as well. I saw TORRES perform at the Sinclair the day after she released Three Futures, her third album. What she could not say with words, she communicated with riffs and shreds.

utopia

Utopia – Björk

I’d agree with many that this is a sort of companion piece to Björk’s 2015 release, Vulnicura. While Vulnicura explores and wallows in the heartbreak of divorce, Utopia is about beginning again. Björk sings with childlike wonder: “All of my mouth was kissing him/Now, into the air, I am missing him/Is this excess texting a blessing?/Two music nerds obsessing.” Despite these songs, Björk does not forget to mention the trauma caused by her divorce. In “The Gate” she alludes to her “chest wound,” a visual and lyrical motif from Vulnicura. She describes this wound as something that has become a gate from which she can give and receive love, albeit, cautiously.

MASSEDUCTION-Album-Cover-for-Web1-copy

Masseduction – St. Vincent

Is it a coincidence that I was able to see many of the artists of these albums live? For St. Vincent, I think it was fate. A friend of mine told me to listen to this album, and I was not disappointed. St. Vincent’s music has a theatrical and cinematic quality that very few musicians can achieve. Not only is Masseduction artful, but it also produces quite a few bangers: the dark pulsing of “Los Ageless” is at home in a nightclub, and the conclusion to “Pills” sounds like a ballad from Queen. In between these colorful pop songs are piano ballads recounting old and lost friends; in contrast, these songs focus on Annie Clarke’s lyrical abilities. The album concludes perfectly with the dark, brooding “Smoking Section.”

capacity

Capacity – Big Thief

If I had known about Big Thief in 2016, their previous album, Masterpiece, would have made last year’s list. Adrianne Lanker’s poetic lyrics, and shakily delivered vocals are what make Big Thief a lifelong staple in my music library. Unlike TORRES and St. Vincent, Big Thief’s delivery is not known for precision; but Big Thief’s messiness, as if you are in a garage with Lanker or having a conversation with her, is what makes them so great. Big Thief’s growing catalogue is something that gives me lots of hope- and lots of music that makes me feel at home in my intense emotions.

cigs after sex

Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex

Being a perpetually single person, it’s really hard for me to like an album that is composed entirely of love songs- but here I am, falling in love with Cigarettes After Sex. I don’t think this album could ever get old. Greg Gonzales’s vocals and the band’s timeless sound make this a permanent staple in my playlists.

soft sounds

Soft Sounds from Another Planet – Japanese Breakfast

Japanese Breakfast departs from last year’s Psychopomp with a more electronic sound that transports its listeners to… well, another planet. Soft Sounds channels Bowie in slower tracks such as “Till Death” (which is an ode in and of itself to Bowie, as Michele Zauner sings, “All our celebrities keep dying, while the cruel men continue to win.”). Other strong points on the album are the groovy riffs from the opening track “Diving Woman,” and upbeat and disco-y “The Machinist.”

melodrama

Melodrama – Lorde

My unedited thoughts to Lorde’s second album are exactly as follows: wowowowow how can you only be 21 years old? Lorde is an old soul AND a party girl, and I don’t think I’ve ever related to someone more. Lorde is an example, to me, of how powerful great pop music can be. Heartbreak, manic rage – Lorde shows a more fierce side on this album, in contrast to her cool and composed 2013 release Pure Heroine. Her vocal range is larger, and her tracks vary between soft and sad (“Liability” and “Writer in the Dark”) and large and epic (“Green Light” and “The Louvre”). As much as Lorde is a participant in the party, she is also a keen observer. On Melodrama, Lorde explores young relationships, those that are full of high moments of pleasure but altogether unsustainable and rocky.

a place

A Place I’ll Always Go – Palehound

Palehound represents two things I love: Boston and queer women taking over music. Palehound has gained national attention. I’ve seen them twice as they opened for Waxahatchee and Big Thief. Despite their renown, they remain true to the Boston scene, and I’ve seen Ellen Kempner, Palehound’s frontwoman and lyricist, working at the Harvard Bookstore Warehouse sale (yes, I freaked out a little). A Place I’ll Always Go explores relationships in many different ways: “Room”is a laid-back tune about a new relationship. “If You Met Her” is evaluates a former flame in comparison to a new relationship, though it leaves the listener wondering whether or not, within the moment this song illustrates, Kempner has moved on or not.  I’m sure she has though; Kempner and Palehound have toured with the likes of Mitski and recently released 7″ with Saddle Creek. Kempner’s songwriting really shines on my favorite track “Feeling Fruit.”

slowdive

Slowdive – Slowdive

With their first album release in 22 years, Slowdive made quite the comeback, earning Pitchfork’s title for Best New Music. “Give me your heart, it’s a curious thing,” Neil Halstead sings on “Slomo” the album’s opening track, and an invitation for the listener to – pun intended – dive in. Slowdive creates a large and open soundscape on their newest record.

ctrl

Ctrl – SZA

“Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?” SZA sings, I imagine, on a couch, surrounded by friends still groggy or asleep from the night before. They begin to awaken from hunger, and commence to binging Narcos from episode one, as Solana commands. SZA, just as much as Lorde, is the introspective party girl. Maybe it’s a Scorpio thing, because I, too, relate to this newly found archetype. On her first full-length record, SZA explores female sexual autonomy. Sometimes she’s the heartbroken, and sometimes she’s the heartbreaker, and I love her for her versatility and her ability to capture the myriad self.

damn

DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

Lamar’s powerful storytelling on DAMN. is an example of how the personal narrative can be made political, and so damn powerful. DAMN. opens with a monologue in which a man is taking a walk, opts to help an old woman, and is ultimately killed for it, which recalls the past few years of police brutality, racial profiling, and its divisive responses (such as the one Lamar samples from Fox News). Lamar produces big hits such as “HUMBLE.” and “LOVE.” but truly, his storytelling and powerful verses shine on the powerful protest of “XXX.” and the personal “DUCKWORTH.” “DUCKWORTH.” closes the album (or opens it, as Lamar has said the album can be played forwards and backwards, and can be looped) with the story of his father, whose life was spared in a robbery at his workplace, KFC. Ducky, Lamar’s father, “drove to California with a woman on him and 500 dollars. They had a son, hopin’ that he’d see college, hustlin’ on the side with a nine-to-five to freak it.” While the song is a thank you note to his parents, it is also a thank you note to fate, which kept Lamar from growing up fatherless and violent. “Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence? Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin’ life while I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight.”

i see you

I See You – The xx

If I have any regrets about Boston Calling, it is that I wasn’t able to see The xx perform. Their performance directly conflicted with the 1975’s, and everyone who knows me knows how hard I stan the 1975. The xx’s third album, I See You, is sexy and sleek, perfect for a party playlist. One of the most memorable tracks, “A Performance,” describes how appearing to be over a breakup in front of an ex is a performance. Two of the other strongest tracks, “On Hold,” and “I Dare You,” became hits worthy of the dance floor.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1248633101/playlist/3PaoMzculRHLN0Yqk0XDo2

Advertisements

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

Location: My porch, evening

Song Title: K.

Artist: Cigarettes After Sex

Album: Cigarettes After Sex

Label: Partisan Records

Duration: 5:20

Genre: Alternative

Source:  Headphones

Who I want to share the song with: I want to shove this song into everyone’s ears to let them know how wonderful it is.

How I discovered this song: NPR’s All Songs Considered

 

When I first heard this song on All Songs Considered, I fell in love with it and this band, who just released their first LP last Friday.

I can hardly put into words what this song makes me feel. The melody is perfect and bounces around in my head all day. When I hear it, I can’t help but sing along. Greg Gonzalez’s vocals are so cozy. The bass lines make me want to feel summer breezes forever. This song makes me positively euphoric– that’s the best way I can describe it. It’s one of those (very few!) songs that I can listen to over and over.

Sitting on my porch, watching the sunset, I am peaceful above the hum drum traffic of Washington Street. I am taking a moment to be thankful for where I am, who I’ve become, and the opportunities that lie ahead. I’ve fallen in love with myself and with the season.

Oddly enough, this song, though it is about discovering a romantic connection, signifies, for me, inner growth. I feel as if I have almost fully become the person that I’ve always wanted to be and that certain fears have stopped me from being. Today, I feel, I am reaping many rewards. I’ve come a long way.

My Kind of (Weather)

Location: car, sunroof open, windows down.

Date: 4/9/2017

Song Title: “My Kind of Woman”

Artist: Mac DeMarco 

Album: 2

Label: Captured Tracks

Duration: 3:11

Genre: Alternative

Source: Car stereo

Who I want to share this song with: Everyone

How I discovered this song: Spotify recommended

Playlists to put this song on: Already on “m00d”; sunny daze

 

Favorite Lyric: “And I’m down on my hands and knees begging you please, baby, show me your world.”

I never really paid much attention to the lyrics of this song, but when I stepped outside into sunny 55 degree weather (which feels like spring in Boston), I knew this was the song I wanted to hear. The melodies in this song are so haunting, dark, and relaxing, which makes me all kinds of happy. I blasted this song with the windows down and day dreamed of frolicking through a field with flower crowns. It’s so nice to have the sun around again, and I just feel so euphoric. I can’t wait to actually frolick in a field to DeMarco’s live performance at Boston Calling next month.

And it was as if I was watching it all through a videocamera

  • Location: Bedroom, 7:29 am, sunrise
  • Date: 3/12/2017
  • Song Title: Braid
  • Artist: Porches
  • Album: Pool
  • Label: Domino Recording Company
  • Duration: 3:27
  • Source: iPhone, headphones for immersive experience
  • Who I want to share this song with: Realistically, everyone
  • How I discovered this song: My roommate, Donna – this is her favorite band
  • Playlists to put on: Chill Meditative Jams?

Favorite Lyric

and it was as if I was watching it all through a videocamera. So shaky and blue, I’ve got a dark muscle too, pumping the same strange blood running through you.”

I woke up with this song stuck in my head so I felt the need to write about it. It’s interesting considering the lyric, “It gets so dark before the very powerful light comes down on me.” I’m thinking about the fact that it’s sunrise, but Aaron Maine could be talking about the lights on stage when he performs. He talks of being watched but also watching – he, himself, is an object to be viewed, a performer, but also a witness to the audience. The chorus (favorite lyric above) evokes surreal disconnection, and, at the same time, empathy.

“How I’d love to go to Paris again.”

  • Location: Bedroom
  • Date: 2/28/2017
  • Song Title: Paris
  • Artist: The 1975
  • Album: I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it.
  • Label: Dirty Hit
  • Duration: 4:53
  • Source: iPhone/Spotify app
  • Who I want to share this song with: Angel
  • How I discovered this song: Bought the album the day it came out
  • Playlists to put on: Driving at night.

Favorite Lyric

Hey kids, we’re all just the same. What a shame.”

I have a distinct memory of Matty Healy, the band’s lead singer, chuckling on stage while the crowd shouted out those words. It’s something rooted in sadness – that every person thinks they’re destined for something great or that they’re “different” than others. The song, I think, romanticizes what’s not there. The idea of running away to another girl, to drugs, or especially to Paris, a city which is essentially the embodiment of romance. I think Matty was writing about his own experiences becoming a cliched beatnik and romanticizing drug use.

Strangely, the song helped me a lot when I was grieving Abby, my dog. Maybe because the song itself is about a desire for escape, but, also, being held back by this desire to escape. The sound quality of this song is so dreamy and further matches the idea of romanticizing things that are ordinary and possibly even damaging.

So, here’s a live version of the song by the 1975, and an acoustic cover I did.