These year-end pieces are getting boring. I’ll skip the elaborate metaphor that describes the 2017 political climate (toilet bowl, kick in the crotch, etc. etc.).
Musically, pop became increasingly homogenous and boring thanks to algorithms and streaming’s popularity. Rap and R&B’s superstars took the year off after a busy 2016, save for Mr. Kendrick. Sadly, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift took advantage of the open playing field. Youths with unlimited data plans proved their power, making celebrities out of a crop of rappers who like to ad-lib more than rap.
Personally, it was my first full year out of college, a Jordan year that didn’t involve much balling. I physically moved less I ever have. I began the year in the best shape of my life, but I end it with long term goals, as I recover from a hip surgery and struggle to bend over to tie my shoes.
I listened to more music than ever, 580+ new (to me) albums according to my spreadsheet. It was too much and I’ll write more about that experience soon. There’s something to be said for having limited options. I went to an average of one concert every 11 days. I snatched up as many Neil Young and Harry Nilsson records as I could find. Late to the party, I discovered the poetry and genius of Joni Mitchell. I thankfully didn’t listen to Spiderland by Slint. I think Sheer Mag damaged my hearing.
The most important albums to me in 2017 were Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and the first three Fiona Apple albums, none of which came out this year. I did like new stuff too, which you can read about below.
1. Greet Death – Dixieland
I spent much of the year searching for “hard” music, a vague term that I mainly just say to myself (side note: screaming vocals are a dealbreaker, bye-bye metal). There were a few reasons. As I listened to more and more new music, I became less patient and needed something that grabbed me immediately. I also sat behind a desk all year, looking at a computer screen and getting headaches. Forceful music kept me focused. A rogue Ian Cohen tweet turned me onto this Flint, Michigan trio with an ominous name that moves slow, but with power. I hardly know anything about them, but their melodies are smart and their guitar tones will floor you. Dixieland is a 40-minute trip, a block of reliable warmth. It’s a fairly obscure pick and I wouldn’t expect it to click with most people. For me, it’s what felt most right this year.
2. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
I couldn’t run much this year, but when I did, Big Fish Theory kept me moving. Successfully embracing electronic sounds in an organic and non-gimmicky style—the best example of such since Danny Brown’s Old—Big Fish Theory is equal parts hype and bars, chaotic and subdued. Staples is a calculated rapper, with tight rhymes that don’t try to overpower the production from the likes of Zack Sekoff and Sophie. I’m still in shock that these sounds exist on a rap album, especially a short rap album. Let’s hope Vince is a trendsetter.
3. King Krule – The Ooz
Most of my first listens happen at my work desk and The Ooz was no exception. I liked it, but it was ambitiously long and blended together by the end. I wasn’t sold, but I knew it deserved some time and I bought the double LP when I saw the young King live. As the weather got colder and the days shorter, the murky music felt more and more appropriate and I became addicted to putting it on the turntable, starting on random sides, soaking in the mood.
4. The Spirit of the Beehive – Pleasure Suck
The Spirit of the Beehive made a demented record with many beautiful moments. I have trouble describing it. They have a vision and are forging their own path. It’s ugly at points, but a transcendent chord change is just around the corner. It’s some of my favorite music releases this year because I can’t make sense of it, but I keep coming back. It’s one of the many excellent records released by Tiny Engines this year. Support indie labels.
5. See Through Dresses – Horse of the Other World
Looking at my favorite albums of the year, I can tell that ambition is important to me. Being on a small label shouldn’t mean limiting your sound, and I sought out the bands that pushed the boundaries. See Through Dresses not only make music for big rooms, they do it in a variety of styles. There’s an emo song that spazzes out like something off Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden of Delete. Most of it emulates those late-80s British and Irish bands whose otherworldly sound made Europe feel lightyears away. Or so I imagine, I wasn’t born yet.
6. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
Hometown heroes made a punk record that already feels timeless. Unlike much of indie rock, Priests seem to function as a full band, with ideas coming from all members. Even de facto leader Katie Alice Greer makes way for drummer Daniele Daniele to deliver a blistering sermon on “No Big Bang.” Between Nothing Feels Natural and “Crew,” D.C. music fans can start to forget about Wale’s career.
7. Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls
KEEP MY FAVORITE RAPPERS AWAY FROM BORING TRAP BEATS. Young Thug thankfully got back to bucking trends and being weird after a somewhat disappointing 2016 that didn’t live up to the ambient genius of Barter 6. He dials into the singer-rapper role better than that Canadian guy.
8. SZA – CTRL
This has got to be the coolest album of the year, right? No one will second guess you if you tell them you’re into the SZA record. She’s had an inspiring glow-up, and deservedly so. CTRL smoothly pivots from sex raps to insecurity confessions to the only good Travis Scott feature to date.
9. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
I’m probably wrong, but I thought that To Pimp a Butterfly tried too much and ultimately wasn’t enjoyable. Am I square for enjoying structure? Nevertheless, DAMN. was more my speed and showed why Kendrick is the defining artist of the decade. The full-on pop turns of “Love” and “God” were particular favorites.
10. Charli XCX – Pop 2
Pop 2 delivered the in-your-face music I craved all year. Sometimes even too in-your-face; some of A.G. Cook’s production here is disorienting and claustrophobic. Charli is the rare artist who has visited the top of the charts and continued to make challenging music on her own agenda.
11. Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet
12. Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)
13. Strange Ranger – Daymoon
14. Alex G – Rocket
15. Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder
16. Alvvays – Antisocialites
17. The National – Sleep Well Beast
18. Lorde – Melodrama
19. 2 Chainz – Pretty Girls Like Trap Music
20. GoldLink – At What Cost
- “Crew” – GoldLink featuring Shy Glizzy & Brent Faiyaz
- “Boys” – Charli XCX
- “Supercut” – Lorde
- “Bobby” – Alex G
- “Lucy’s Arm” – See Through Dresses
- “Yeah Right” – Vince Staples featuring Kendrick Lamar & Kučka
- “With My Team” – Creek Boyz
- “To The Moon And Back” – Fever Ray
- “Raingurl” – yaeji
- “Need to Feel Your Love” – Sheer Mag
- “Dum Surfer” – King Krule
- “Don’t Call Me” – Young Thug & Carnage featuring Shakka
- “Road Head” – Japanese Breakfast
- “Going Home” – Chief Keef
- “Love” – Lana Del Ray
- “Love” – Kendrick Lamar featuring Zacari
- “No Halo” – Sorority Noise
- “The World’s Best American Band” – White Reaper
- “Slide” – Calvin Harris featuring Frank Ocean, Quavo & Offset
- “Rally” – Club Night
- “Chanel” – Frank Ocean
- “Pineapple Skies” – Miguel
- “Slip Away” – Perfume Genius
- “Mythological Beauty” – Big Thief
- “Bodak Yellow” – Cardi B
- “Midwestern States” – The Menzingers
- “Static God” – Thee Oh Sees
- “Cut To The Feeling” – Carly Rae Jepsen
- “Dark Side of the Gym” – The National
- “Rolls Royce Bitch” – 2 Chainz
Best Concerts I Attended
- Frank Ocean & Solange at Randall’s Island
- Wilco at Wolftrap
- LCD Soundsystem at The Anthem
- Japandroids at 9:30 Club
- Jay Som at DC9
- Rozwell Kid at Songbyrd
Beat of the Year That I Hope Inspires Many Other Producers
“Location” by Playboi Carti, produced by Harry Fraud
Positive Musical Memories
- Every time I heard “Crew” on D.C. rap radio
- Watching the Cloud Nothings drummer sweat through his shirt
- Hearing the Twin Peaks theme song during *that* moment
- Seeing Frank Ocean and Solange within a few hours of each other
- Attending the first ever Japanese Breakfast headlining show at Black Cat
- Hannibal Burress making a cameo for his “Doug Stamper” verse during Open Mike Eagle’s set
- Every time Kendrick’s verse started on “Yeah Right”
- Experiencing the “Dance Yrself Clean” drop live
- Listening to Rubber Soul with the windows down on the first real day of fall
- Hearing the crowd scream along to Pinegrove and “The Introduction to the Album”
- Listening to “Raingurl” for the first time and involuntarily dancing
- Getting my first-ever urge to mosh during “The House That Heaven Built” (I still didn’t)
- Making it through the year without learning who Jake Paul is
- “Hey we’re Rozwell Kid, thanks for coming out tonight, this next one’s called ‘Wish Man’”
Negative Musical Memories
- Kendrick promoting XXXTentacion on Twitter
- The Migos comments in Rolling Stone
- Learning that Prince lifted part of “Purple Rain” from a JOURNEY song
- Losing Grant Hart
- Lil Peep’s “I’ma die young” line coming true
- Chance the Rapper vs. MTV News
- Young Thug saying “Hit it from the back, loosen up her spleen”
- Beyoncé doing songs with both Eminem and Ed Sheeran
- My teen sister roasting me for liking Charli XCX
Favorite Music Journalism
Meet Me in the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman
The Year in Lyrics
“COUNTRY BILLY MADE A COUPLE MILLY” – Young Thug
“For my birthday, I threw me a surprise party” – 2 Chainz
“I’m a bad mamba jamba” – Chief Keef
“I moved on for the better
You moved on to whoever”
“Everybody wants to be a cat
It’s cool to be a cat”
“Meow, meow, meow, meow”
“I was up late night ballin’” – Juicy J
“City girl, but she grew up in the tri-state” – A$AP Rocky
“Clean lean jump like trampoline” – Gucci
“Used to have a killer crossover
Now I think I done crossed over”
– 2 Chainz
“I was busy thinking ’bout boys” – Charli XCX
“I can see that your chicken needs seasoning” – J Hus
“We were soup together, but now it’s cold
We were glue together, but it weren’t to hold”
– King Krule
“HEY NICE TO MEET, I’M YOUNG JEFE, WHO YOU BE?” – Shy Glizzy