2017 favourites: Music
Shockingly, it's been one month since I started work, and one month since my last blog post. I wonder if there's a link.
The biggest adjustment at work has been learning how to use a Windows PC again, as I was spoiled by the last four years at Emerson, with Macs everywhere. But boy do I value the chance to type on my MacBook's keyboard again.
2017 has been a weird year, but to round it out, I've enjoyed being able to focus on all the year-end lists of the various outstanding media that was released. If ever there was a place to share my own personal favorites, it's this here blog, so here's a short list of some of the albums and songs I've most enjoyed listening to during this strange, hellish year:
Disarmingly candid, outrageously sexy, and slickly produced, SZA's 2017 offering was one of the soundtracks to my year, and everything that modern R&B should be.
I never really listened to Jay(-)Z growing up, and am not going to pretend I could relate to anything his early songs talked about. Great gym music though. 4:44 was just so wonderfully grand in its smashing production, soul hooks, and reflective lyrics. Old dog, new tricks, etc. It's disappointingly rare for a person of color to make it to the top of the mountain, and rarer still for them to make such a revealing piece of art about their view.
Harry Styles, Harry Styles
Harry Styles' debut solo album wasn't the best out this year by a ways. The album itself and the songs on it had flaws too. But it was just so unexpected. I wasn't convinced by Sign of the Times right away. I was just entranced by the hook on the opening number, Meet Me In The Hallway, and shocked at just how authentic Harry's new music and rock sound was. He subsequently went on a tear through the pop culture Zeitgeist — and his Carpool Karaoke was the best one since Adele — but his new musical direction was what impressed me most.
Need To Feel Your Love, Sheer Mag
After being reintroduced to rock music by mister Styles and a handful of Boston Calling performers earlier this year, the guitar riffs strewn throughout Sheer Mag's Need To Feel Your Love completely hooked me. The herculean vocals of lead singer Tina Halladay reminded me of listening to Brittany Howard in Alabama Shakes, but with a smashing windows and burning cars vibe that was far more cathartic for this year. Lia and I even went to see them in concert in Seattle for my birthday, where I was reminded just how not-punk I am.
Freudian, Daniel Caesar
Daniel Caesar is a handful of artists I can honestly and hiply claim to have known before they blew up, but in this case it was only for about 5 minutes. I'd been enchanted with his smooth guitar and chocolatey vocals on his various singles, and his album was more of the same. A natural progression and welcome re-imagination of the gospel sound Kanye and Chance the Rapper blew 2016 up with, but infinitely more intimate: Hence why Chance called on him for a collaborative project that debuted on Colbert this fall.
Face Your Fear, Curtis Harding
There's retro sounds, and then there's real soul. Curtis Harding makes real soul music in 2017, and his album, Face Your Fear, just bleeds from one beautifully delivered song to the next. It's short and sweet, has a hell of a groove to it, and was the perfect background music to many of my days of unemployment and freelance writing.
Aromanticism, Moses Sumney
I missed my chance to see Moses Sumney at Boston Calling, but I've been a fan since I watched the behind the scenes video of GQ Style's shoot with Brad Pitt, with his song scoring the clip. If James Blake and Benjamin Clementine had a lovechild, it likely wouldn't be far off the mark of Sumney. His music is so atmospheric and delicate, and his vocals are simply otherworldly. In 2017, I didn't need a James Blake electronic album — I needed something less depressing but equally precise and harmonically impressive. Sumney nailed it for me.
I didn't jump on the Lorde bandwagon after her first album, so I had a lot of catching up to do. Listening to any pop music now though, and her influence with her debut is easily traceable. Her sophomore effort will no doubt be just as impactful, and to listen to the master orator of wild child teenage feelings is to enjoy some immense bangers and moving ballads that give pop a good name.
More Life, Drake
Yes, technically a playlist, but I can't remember a time in recent memory where a star was so generous with his own spotlight, or so able to capture the musical moment than Drake with More Life. It's not song for song one of the best albums of the year, but the artists featured were all on their way to stardom. More Life only strengthened their respective waves, and also gave us some great new Drake (and friends) bops.
Witness, Benjamin Booker
Lia and I had the privilege of seeing Booker live in concert, and was taken by how brilliantly raw his vocals were, his astonishing mastery of the guitar, and his magnetic stage presence. He's a supremely stylish rock star with serious musical chops for both a powerful, catchy protest anthem, as well as a shredding solo. A spiritual successor to Gary Clark Jr., perhaps — not that there isn't room for both in my heart. I even spoke to him after seeing him in concert. I told him he was fantastic. He said, "thanks". *melts*
Meet Me In The Hallway, Harry Styles: I can't get enough of this song.
Family Feud, Jay-Z: Jay-Z and Beyonce at the height of their collaborative powers.
Drew Barrymore, SZA: the chillest ode to the post-party comedown.
Chanel, Frank Ocean: New Frank!!
No One Knows Me Like The Piano, Sampha: I'd been looking forward to a Sampha solo album for a while. This song made my head soar and my heart heavy.
Need To Feel Your Love, Sheer Mag: A swaggering riff for anytime, and a gateway to 21st Century punk anthems.
Tightrope, Andy Leon: I love my friend Andy Leon's music more than I can convey without sounding obsessive, but listen to her. She finally released an EP to the public. It's like a cuddle for your ears, and so wonderfully reflective of her.
Plastic, Moses Sumney: For all his ethereal electronic music, Plastic is his most listenable, hummable track.
Rosey, Bermuda Triangle: A country trio featuring the lead singer of Alabama Shakes, with dope beats? I'm so in. Thank god they finally released this as a single so I didn't have to keep watching a shitty YouTube recording of their secret concert.
Watch (Apple Music Up Next Live Version), Billie Eilish: Already featured on BBC's Sound of 2018 shortlist, Billie Elise is only 15, but marries her beautiful vocals with awesome electronic production. This stripped back version of my favourite of her songs really showcases her voice though.
Caroline, Amine: Amine is such a fun rapper, and Caroline was part of my Los Angeles spring break trip soundtrack. It makes me want to dance and reminisce at the same time, and what more can a song do?
Born to Lose, Ten Tonnes: Ten Tonnes has a knack for writing a hell of a catchy chorus, and is a welcome refresher to my usual roster of British sadboys. At least this one writes upbeat songs.
Summer Nights, Whitney: Whitney's EP of demo recordings of their debut album was a touch underwhelming in my opinion, but contained this hidden gem. I think of North Carolina backwoods every time I listen to Julien Ehrlich's voice, which sounds like a ray of cold, bright morning light when accompanied by saxophones.
Want You Back, Haim: Girl power, and a pop anthem that doesn't grow old.
3rd of May, Fleet Foxes: I live in Seattle now, and like wandering around the woods. Did I mention I own flannel shirts?
The Heart Part 4, Kendrick Lamar: I'm far from the most educated fan of Kendrick Lamar, but prior to his astonishing album release, I probably listened to this song about 100 times.
The Isle of Arran, Loyle Career: Softboy rap from the UK, with some gospel soul samples for good measure. What's not to like?