My Favorite Albums of 2017

Okay, let’s start this post off by saying that this list was *very* difficult to do, for four reasons. 1) There were *so* many good albums this year that it was tough to keep track of, and the fact that it was across all genres made it impossible to compare albums. 2) Some of these albums I loved early in the year and then totally forgot about until I looked at my yearly list, and with my limited time, I cannot relisten to all of them. 3) I didn’t do too well keeping up this year, and there are well over 100+ albums on my list that I didn’t get to, including some from artists I have loved for years. I just don’t have time! 4) I found some good obscure records this year, but unfortunately they got lost in the ether and I only remembered some of them because I did a terrible job cataloguing stuff this year.

That out of the way, here’s my Top 50 Albums of the Year:

#50. Crystal Fairy – “Crystal Fairy”

Why It Bangs – One of two heavy-as-hell supergroups this year (ahead of Dead Cross, who didn’t quite make this list), the combination of Teri Gender Bender (La Butcherettes), Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (At The Drive In, Mars Volta), Buzz Osborne and and Dale Crover (both of Melvins fame) produced a tough, heavy album that both challenges modern rock while giving in to the craving listeners.

Key Tracks: “Drugs on the Bus,” “Bent Teeth”

#49. At the Drive In – “in•ter a•li•a”

Why It Bangs – The band’s first album since 2000’s legendary “Relationship of Command” was a surprise, especially after their original reunion tour fell apart. Although this album doesn’t come close to the legacy of that album (if not tarnishing it), the post-hardcore legends still have some fight left in them. The album does not live up to the legacy, but it’s still an especially noisy, raucous affair, made all the more pertinent by the quick reckoning of awful male celebrities. It’s like 2017, the album. Also, we’re 2:2 in Omar Rodriguez-Lopez albums so far.

Key Tracks: “Continuum,” “Governed By Contagions”

#48. Converge – “The Dusk In Us”

Why It Bangs – The Monday after this album was released, a co-worker (who has cited Converge as his favorite band) told me that the album combines many of their previous influences into one. He was absolutely right. This album has Converge acting out both their most immediate and most drawn-out impulses. The title track is almost like a rubber band being pulled back, and the subsequent tracks are the paper being flinged.

Key Tracks: “Eye of the Quarrel,” “The Dusk In Us”

#47. Depeche Mode – “Spirit”

The electro-alternative legends respond to America’s politics brightly, with an album full of music and lyrics that are more politically urgent than the band has sounded in years. This could have to do with them telling off a big fan, and rightfully so. This album was the maybe the political album the year needed – one that was vague enough that the alt-right could adopt it, only for the band to absolutely slam-dunk on them, because they’re total leftists. Genius.

Key Tracks: “Where’s the Revolution,” “Cover Me”

#46. Migos – “Culture”

The mumble-rap superstars didn’t just break through in 2017, they had one of the biggest songs of the year. And “Bad & Boujee” isn’t just a fluke, because the trio capitalized on an album that is just as rapid-fire and entertaining from start to finish. 2017 saw rap break off into a few unexpected territories (more on that later), but Migos are surely going to be one of the long-lasters.

Key Tracks: “T-Shirt,” “Bad & Boujee”

#45. Blondie – “Pollinator”

Blondie’s eleventh album doesn’t need to be this good, but it is. They basically outsourced the album, with many of the best tracks being written by younger artists or covers of other songs. Still, this sounds like premium Blondie, with the pop-rock of new-wave sounding no less energetic than it did in 1977.

Key Tracks: “Doom or Destiny,” “Fragments”

#44. Feist – “Pleasure”

Feist’s first new album in six years was a beautifully minimalist affair, one where it seemed like the traditionalist pop elements were removed in favor of just guitar and vocals. The album’s outward minimalism felt more consequential than intentional, which added a whole element. It is indie-pop at its most diluted form.

Key Tracks: “A Man Is Not His Song,” “Century (feat. Jarvis Cocker)”

#43. Kesha – “Rainbow”

Kesha’s comeback album was one of many emotions – anger, combativeness, joy, pride, and defeat. After Kesha’s unfortunate and incorrect loss with her legal battle with her producer, Dr. Luke, fans wouldn’t put it past her to put out some garbage to fulfill her contract. Instead, she released an album of beautiful pop ballads, rock-heavy jams and country-inspired tracks to show how Kesha wasn’t going to be ignored at all, but rather accepted for what she is. #Freekesha

Key Tracks: “Praying,” “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You)

#42. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – “Lotta Sea Lice”

A match that sounded great on paper sounded great on tape too, with America’s greatest garage-rock dude meeting up with Australia’s best grunge-rock goddess. Their album together makes a ton of sense, and while it doesn’t exactly improve on each other’s sound, it still serves a mission statement for what each person does best. It’s just a delightful album of two minds meeting face-to-face. If you like both or even one of them, you’ll enjoy.

Key Tracks: “Over Everything,” “Continental Breakfast”

#41. Foo Fighters – “Concrete and Gold”

There isn’t much to say about Foo Fighters to make them sound either interesting or not. That said, their new album is one of their better ones, perhaps their best since their great “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.” Their new album rocks harder than most of their recent releases, and even the radio-friendly songs like “The Sky is a Neighborhood” sound more equipped for the 90’s then they do now.

Key Tracks: “Run,” The Sky is a Neighborhood” (the singles lol)

#40. Sheer Mag – “Need To Feel Your Love”

People who say that punchy rock is dead have many bands to discover – least of all Sheer Mag. The band’s blend of seventies rock, punk and hints of thrash result in an album that knows when to step on the gas pedal, while still allowing for patient melodies. The riffs rip and the vocals will get stuck in your head, the best of both worlds.

Key Tracks: “Meet Me in the Street,” “Expect the Bayonet”

#39. The Mountain Goats – “Goths”

John Darnielle’s concept album could’ve easily been the heaviest Mountain Goats album, but instead he let it be one of the lightest. The album features no guitars at any point, focusing solely on piano, bass and vocals. It’s an interesting approach for an album focused on goth music and goth culture, but it works, bringing a terror into tracks like “Rain in Soho” and the total opposite in the jazzy “Shelved.” It’s the second straight “theme” album from the Goats, and an easy improvement over “Beat the Champ.”

Key Tracks: “Rain in Soho,” “Paid in Cocaine”

#38. Lil Uzi Vert – “Luv is Rage 2”

After internationally-known rappers began turning inwards and addressing their own issues with mental illness, addiction et al., the rise of emo-rap seemed inevitable. But the speed in which it came – and quality – was astounding. Vert is one of two emo-rappers on this list younger than me, and the youthful energy and chronicles of deep issues affecting young people are on full display. That he had a massive hit off this album that is directly threatening talks to the future of rap.

Key Tracks: “UnFazed (feat. The Weeknd),” “XO TOUR Llif3”

#37. Gary Numan – “Savage (Songs From a Broken World)”

Despite the Hot Topic title, Numan still has a natural knack for songwriting. If “Cars” is the only thing you know, though, then you won’t be as into this. This album is packed with heavy synth blasts at deafening volumes, matched only by his pained vocals and lyrics. Numan encompasses every bit of the goth image he created in the 80’s, and he soldiers on in pain to this day. Give him some support.

Key Tracks: “My Name is Ruin,” “When the World Comes Apart”

#36. Lana Del Rey – “Lust For Life”

Taking queues from classic rock and Coachella, Lana’s fifth official album couples her bleakest and most romantic ideas together for once, for an album that sounds unexpectedly fit for 2017. Her voice sounds great throughout, naturally, but the blending of vocals across the different lyrical ideas gives the album a whole deeper, puzzling meaning.

Key Tracks: “Love,” “When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing”

#35. Arch Enemy – “Will to Power”

One of the best metal albums of the year comes from mainstays Arch Enemy, an album full of expertly-produced, anthemic heavy metal that sounds too powerful for this world. Alissa White-Gluz’s vocals throughout the album are incredible, while the musicians behind her sound more locked in than ever. Not innovative or revolutionary, just a thrilling ride start to finish.

Key Tracks: “The World Is Yours,” “The Eagle Flies Alone”

#34. Japanese Breakfast – “Soft Sounds From Another Planet”

The tonal opposite of Arch Enemy is lo-fi project Japanese Breakfast, alias of Michelle Zauner. Her second album under the name is a totally sultry but somber release that never gets high in decibels. Zauner’s voice is gorgeous, and it mixes with the lo-fi music perfectly. It’s one of those albums perfect for disappearing into when you need to hide from the world for a little bit.

Key Tracks: “Road Head,” “Jimmy Fallon Big!”

#33. Drake – “More Life”

Okay, technically this was a “playlist” or whatever. But it’s Drake’s best release in years, and a welcome relief. I am of the opinion that Drake’s last three releases (counting the corpse with Future) were total duds start to finish. He corrected his biggest error – boring music. This album, though often questionably appropriative, features interesting and diverse music throughout, from pan flutes to island synths. Also, Drizzy himself is more patient, letting the music take the attention sometimes. It’s a great – and unpredictable – Drake album.

Key Tracks: “Passionfruit,” “Portland”

#32. Jay-Z – “4:44”

Hova’s best album in a long time came as an apology for the cheating addressed on Beyoncé’s classic “Lemonade,” as well as an acceptance of family, love and black culture. He packs it all into a surprisingly tight album that trims all unnecessary fat.

….okay, look. I don’t have Tidal and I’m not really down with illegal downloading. I only heard this album once when I happened to catch a full stream on Sirius radio. It’s really good, like really good. But I don’t remember it very well.

Key Tracks: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

#31. Sylvan Esso – “What Now”

A simple, sleek and affecting indie-pop album that hits every target from a couple’s first dance to backing off from a planned suicide. Each track here is deceivingly simple, with basic and often quiet music complementing Amelia Meath’s great vocals. But the lyrics pack many punches, and the music’s simplicity ends up being great hooks boiled down to their most catchy, fundamental core. This is an album that sounds forgettable on first listen – but still somehow demands another.

Key Tracks: “Die Young,” “Just Dancing”

#30. Los Campesions! – “Sick Scenes”

Though far from their greatest work, the now-veterans of indie-pop know how to make a listener feel loved, pleased and desperately alone all at once. It’s a trick few have mastered, but they’ve been doing it on practically every song for a decade. They continue on one of their better albums, and a welcome continuation of their excellent 2013 album, “No Blues.”

Key Tracks: “I Broke Up in Amarante,” “5 Flucloxacillin”

#29. Khalid – “American Teen”

One of three excellent R&B debuts on this list, Khalid’s album is an inexplicably great look at the fragility of teen life – partying mixed with pain (he is only 19, after all). His voice is smooth but the songs are often rocky, with unsure lyrics and uncertain tones, a sonic mirror of the fear teens feel about their own futures. This is about as good as R&B can get, made all the more impressive by Khalid’s age and limited output.

Key Tracks: “Young, Dumb & Broke,” “Another Sad Love Song”

#28. Lil Peep – “Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1”

Easily the most ominous album title of 2017. Also likely the shortest album on this list, Peep’s debut ‘album’ clocks in at 23 minutes. Like the aforementioned Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Peep is an emo-rapper, although he embraced the emo more than the rap. These are guitar-based tracks, and some of them are straight rock songs. But Peep’s lyrics about taking drugs to party and taking drugs to cope transcend both genres into a brisk, emotional and all-too-short debut work. Peep passed away exactly three months after this release.

Key Tracks: “The Brightside,” “Problems”

#27. SZA – “CTRL”

Another great R&B debut came, finally. “CTRL” was in the pipeline for a long time and SZA was barely able to release it. But are we all glad she did. She takes the best parts of Solange’s sultry music and Drake’s “are we friends or lovers” lyrics and transforms them into R&B that feels both completely new but still familiar. The best R&B toys with the formula, and that’s exactly what SZA does across her debut.

Key Tracks: “The Weekend,” “Drew Barrymore”

#26. Thundercat – “Drunk”

What do you expect when hear the phrase “jazz-bassist?” Whatever you expect, it’s here. Acid-jazz freakouts? Check. Smooth ballads? Check. Lyrics about making love? Check. Lyrics about Dragonball-Z? Check. Kendrick Lamar feature? Check. Kenny Loggins feature? Check. It’s all here. This is a wild and unpredictable trip from the first note to the last, and it’s a ton of fun along the way.

Key Tracks: “Uh Uh,” “Show Me the Way (feat. Kenny Loggins & Michael McDonald)”

#25. Fever Ray – “Plunge”

Fever Ray’s second album came out of nowhere, released shortly after it was announced in October. The album is an exploration through ambient and dance, rarely letting up on beat but fluctuating in intensity. Personally, I think the album is at its best when Karin Dreijer goes all in on volume and lets loose, but there isn’t a wasted moment here. This album is club-ready out of the oven.

Key Tracks: “IDK About You,” “To the Moon and Back”

#24. Sampha – “Process”

…and the third amazing R&B debut of the year comes from songwriting phenom Sampha, who has finally branched out on his own after writing songs for everyone you love. His album “Process,” if you can even call it R&B, is a purely spellbinding work of minimalist piano & vocal work. The album is Sampha dealing with the death of his mother, inviting us along for the, well, process. Beautiful lyrics mix with even more beautiful music into one of the emotional works of the year. There isn’t a wasted second on this one.

Key Tracks: “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” “Timmy’s Prayer”

#23. Winds of Plague – “Blood of My Enemy”

Much like Sylvan Esso a few spots earlier, this is a group I stumbled onto on Sirius radio (I promise I’m not sponsored). If the band/album names don’t imply, they’re a heavy metal group, and one that rips hard with multiple singers. They use their multiple singers for gang vocals on huge, arena songs in a way that feels obvious but is always underused. If you think heavy metal should just be fun, then this is your band.

Key Tracks: “Blood of My Enemy,” “Never Alone”

#22. Charli XCX – “Number 1 Angel” & “Pop 2”

Alright so this is two releases, I get that, but they’re both 10 song mixtapes so putting them together as one isn’t unreasonable, right? Whatever, Charli XCX is one of our most innovative pop singers right now, and she shows it across these tapes that both embrace and eschew pop conventions, often in the same track. She had a busy 2017, considering her best song of the year, “Boys,” isn’t even on either of these releases. Also, shoutout to “Lipgloss” for being maybe the dirtiest song of the year.

Key Tracks: “Babygirl (feat. Uffie),” “Lipgloss (feat. CupcakKe)” & “Backseat (feat. Carly Rae Jepsen),” “Delicious (feat. Tommy Cash)”

#21. Harry Styles – “Harry Styles”

The former One Directioner totally switched gears after his group went on hiatus, releasing an album of fun, seventies-inspired pop-rock. It’s clear he’s been listening to a lot of Eagles and Fleetwood Mac here, which is not an insult. It’s not music that hasn’t been heard before, but it’s fun throughout, and it’s interesting to see a musician do the music that he has clearly wanted to do for a while.

Key Tracks: “Song of the Times,” “Only Angel”

#20. Foxygen – “Hang”

One of the more ambitious indie-rock groups thriving now is Foxygen, who style themselves more after early, chaotic Rolling Stones than anything else. Their album quality has fluctuated, but this album, a baroque odyssey that often seems like one long suite, is certainly one of their best (though “21st Century” remains in my all-time top 5). It is chaos set to an orchestra – a calculated, patient chaos that also remains catchy as all hell.

Key Tracks: “Follow the Leader,” “America”

#19. Perfume Genius – “No Shape”

By this point it’s safe to assume that any Perfume Genius album will end up on any Best Of list. Mike Hadreas is a machine, and this 13-track album feels like so much more and so much less at the same time. He is a master at pop-adjacent tracks that aim to depress, scare, or deeply fulfill the listener. This album has an almost incoherent flow, in the best way – his every turn is unpredictable, but always dark, and we’re along for his turmoil.

Key Tracks: “Otherside,” “Choir” Slip Away is great but these are my favorites!!

#18. Roger Waters – “Is This the Life We Really Want?”

Like a pirate ship following a leader, the rise of the dormant Trump led to the rise of the dormant Waters. The ex-Floyd singer delivered his first rock album in over 20 years, but he hasn’t missed any signals. Waters has always been one of the most anti-fascist men in rock, and he puts world leaders on full display here. Tracks like “Picture This” imagine a world without inequality – with specific lyrics. Still, Waters finds time a three-track outro separate from the rest of the album, a tender love suite.

Key Tracks: “Picture This,” “Is This the Life We Really Want?”

#17. Fleet Foxes – “Crack-Up”

The 2008 indie youth in me was completely reinvigorated by this album, the band’s first album in six years. Compared to their first two (excellent) albums, it is sharply more experimental, much the same turn that Bon Iver has taken. But unlike Bon Iver’s recent album, this doesn’t feel the need to challenge the listener, just bring them on a spiritual and musical journey that’s as every bit gorgeous as experimental. It demands multiple listens – but they’re all peaceful.

Key Tracks: “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” “If You Need to, Keep Time on Me”

#16. Code Orange – “Forever”

Easily the most innovative metal album I listened to this year, the folks in Code Orange manage to find a way to fuck up every song they perform. By that, I mean this album feels like a bunch of conventional songs with a bunch of oddities added to them, like random bouts of dissonance, unexpected tempo changes and sudden feedback. This whole album is a fever dream and a nightmare all in one, but also supremely entertaining.

Key Tracks: “Kill the Creator,” honestly just pick one, all of these songs bleed together so wildly

#15. Pissed Jeans – “Why Love Now”

It’s tough to be a male feminist, in some ways? It’s easy to point out the wrongdoings in others, but rarely do allies point out the wrongdoings in themselves. Pissed Jeans are, far and away, the best male feminists in music – they call on all men, themselves included, for their ways. They’ve always done this, but they double down on this album, inspired by other, awful men. It helps that Matt Korvette’s throat-full-of-whiskey vocals bring in the Motorhead listeners, and the band’s post-punk, intense music keep them. The band’s frequently intense sound might deceivingly influence some listeners yet.

Key Tracks: “The Bar Is Low,” “Ignorecam”

#14. The National – “Sleep Well Beast”

Although I love the National with all my heart, their template was getting a little old. So I’m very glad they switched it up a bit, and made it a little (just a little) more fun here. For one thing, this album has guitar solos, unheard of in previous, tightly-knit National albums, as well as less repetitive choruses. It also has Matt Berninger hitting higher vocals, and the band doing one pure, amp-wrecking tune in “Turtleneck.” Still, the band puts out many slower jams, and they’re as beautiful as ever.

Key Tracks: “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness,” “Guilty Party”

#13. Björk – “Utopia”

This is, and I truly mean this, a gorgeous album. There is no other way to take this album in then with headphones plugged in, nothing on your screen and your eyes closed for an hour. The album exists within nature, and by that I mean there are constant clips of birds that make this piece feel like it should be within a forest. Björk is a truly unbelievable artist, and even if this work is just another notch on her record, its still one of the best albums of the year.

Key Tracks: “Utopia,” “Losss”

#12. Slowdive – “Slowdive”

A mere 22 years after their last record, the British shoegaze band decided to release another. Many shoegaze bands have been faltering in their reunions, but Slowdive’s proved to be fruitful, with one of the most pleasing and promising albums of the decade. Although operating in a genre built around guitar distortion, they have a sound that is much more plentiful and fulfilling than their peers. This album feels like medicine when you’re sick on a summer day – an urge to soak up the sun’s rays, even with the consequences.

Key Tracks: “Star Roving,” “Sugar For the Pill”

#11. Power Trip – “Nightmare Logic”

A Texas thrash metal group finally got their comeuppance late in the year – when FOX News inexplicably used a soundclip during their toxic program “The Five.” How and why this happened is a mystery, but it at least opened the gate for the group to dunk on the network. In reality, the band released the best metal album of the year – a pure thrash sentence full of brutal, simple riffs and wild solos. It wasn’t just the best metal album of the year – it’s one for the ages.

Key Tracks: “Firing Squad,” “Nightmare Logic”

#10. Queens of the Stone Age – “Villains”

Listen, I’m still figuring out my place with QOTSA. The incident with the reporter hit me hard, especially considering QOTSA have not only been one of my very favorite bands for 10+ years, but that I finally got to see them after all this time. It was an ugly incident, and shouldn’t be disregarded, and I need to remove this band from my life, I know, but it’s difficult. It’s a difficult thing to do because their music has always been there for me and I genuinely had a lot of faith in Josh Homme, but I’m not so sure now. Also this album bangs start to finish but honestly, I’m not sure about the group any more.

Key Tracks: “Head Like A Haunted House” and “The Evil Has Landed” but if you have less of an attachment, then nothing

#9. Bully – “Losing”

An album devoted to losing a relationship! This post-punk mess is a real nightmare of intense music and screamy vocals from Alice Bognanno that never feels outright loud and abrasive but also never feels quite at home either. It is more uncomfortable than their first album, while remaining within the realms of indie-rock and post-punk. The album is a seamless ode to someone unseen, and the damage that person has done. It’s a painful record, but one that has a pain for everyone. Damn, does this album make you feel.

Key Tracks: “Feel the Same” “Running”

#8. Susanne Sundfør – “Music For People in Trouble”

Susanne Sundfør’s previous album was a dark and mysterious pop album that used strings and heavy synths liberally. To follow it, she released an album consisting largely of just her and acoustic guitar. This album hits depths unavailable on Sundfør’s previous works, since she could often buttress her voice with other instrumentation. Here, she is mostly alone, singing and strumming, hitting emotional depths unattainable on her previous records. It is an entirely unexpected side from a current Norwegian queen, and even if I was looking forward to more synth-blasting pop, it is a welcome exchange.

Key Tracks: “The Sound of War,” “Mountaineers (feat. John Grant)”

#7. St. Vincent – “MASSEDUCTION”

Yeah I read it as “mass education” too Indie’s best current artist finally lets it all on the table, in the celebrity-tormenting freakout that is “MASSEDUCTION,” the album she’s hinted at for years but never gone for. It’s a mind-meld of synth and guitar bursts, around lyrics focusing on loss, regret, and the toxicity and fakeness of ‘celebrity culture.’ It’s far more expansive in its genre-busting than her previous works, and although it might not be her best, it’s certainly the most ambitious St. Vincent album. It switches emotions on a dime and wow does it hit them all successfully.

Key Tracks: “Pills,” “Los Ageless”

#6. METZ – “Strange Peace”

The loudest band I’ve ever seen live (St. Vincent is #2) rebounds after a ho-hum sophomore album with this blinding mess. Both of METZ’s first two albums start at volume 12 (“Headache” and “Acetate” remain two of their best songs), and “Mess of Wires” kicks this album off like a lethal rollercoaster. The post-punk band falls into their natural groove, waning between fast-and-catchy and fast-and-noisy, and the flow is a lot better than it was on “METZ II.” This isn’t music for everyone, but if it’s your thing, then METZ have proved themselves one of the best noise bands around today.

Key Tracks: “Mess of Wires,” “Cellophane”

#5. Vince Staples – “Big Fish Theory”

Across EP’s and studio albums, Staples is 4 for 4. This album works to totally subvert the introspective nature of his previous work, EP “Prima Donna,” by looking and criticizing outwards towards rap culture. He doesn’t necessarily remove himself from his criticism and satire (though does sometimes), and he wavers through points. But his points hit hard and his beats hit loud. These songs sound club-made if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re also insulting the clubs that would play them. Staples is a force to reckon with, and his star power is only increasing.

Key Tracks: “Yeah Right,” “Bagbak”

#4. Kendrick Lamar – “DAMN.”

After the other-worldly opus that was “To Pimp a Butterfly,” K-Dot needed to make a more back-to-basics album. He not only did so, but he still managed to make it a present all in its own. The album is filled with songs mostly shorter than those from “Butterfly,” quick, lyric-heavy jams that burst through the speakers, demanding a higher volume. It’s a surprise that Lamar isn’t screaming these lyrics at the intensity that he delivers them. But it is a much simpler album – basic, dirty beats and straight-forward lyrics about his upbringing rather than long-winded poems. Still, Lamar is an artist, and he couldn’t hold back – he re-released the album with the tracklist inverted for a totally different experience.

Key Tracks: “DNA.,” “HUMBLE.”

#3. Mount Eerie – “A Crow Looked at Me”

I talk a lot in this list about noise & experimentation, but music doesn’t need that – sometimes it just needs a grieving voice and an acoustic guitar. The story of this album is so sad that I don’t want to write about it again, but I will quickly. Phil Elverum lost his wife Geneviève Castrée to cancer mid-2016, not long after she had given birth to the couple’s sole child. This album is a borderline-concept record, with Elverum mulling over his grieving process in real time. This isn’t an act – these songs were written and recorded in this order and they never beg for sympathy. He used his late wife’s instruments to record the album, and he recorded it all in the room she died in, which adds a whole new, sad dimension to it. Basically, go into this album expecting to cry and expecting not to learn any lessons about anything.

Key Tracks: “Real Death,” “Toothbrush/Trash”

#2. Lorde – “Melodrama”

Easily my favorite pop album of the year went to Lorde, who weathered the general ennui of 2017 well. Although her album was mainly targeted at young folks, the lyrics about doomed relationships and friendships et al. strike a chord with any age group. And while her (phenomenal) debut album saw her sticking to a distinct lo-fi sound, this album sees her expand everywhere from club pop to industrial. Her debut was focused on the music, this is focused on the album – what can Lorde do in one release that touches on so many different points succinctly? The answer is “Melodrama,” a pop work for the ages.

#1. Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels 3”

Spotify told my three most played songs from this year were tracks 3-5 of this album, in order. I believed it. I especially love Run the Jewels because the group takes two veteran, underground rappers and pits them with each other to make the best possible music that they can. And, much like their first two albums, they don’t waste a bar. This album is more big beats and boasts than before, and less political, but there is still a healthy balance. It’s a longer album too, and the duo take a lot of time to flex with their newfound fame. Everything about this album works amazingly, and I find myself listening to tracks from it on a daily basis. The flow is amazing, and the consistent quality of their lyrics – whether they’re sharply political or comically boastful – is almost unprecedented. The fact that it came out so early in the year is definitely a factor but for now, RTJ3 is my favorite album of the year.

Key Tracks: “Legend Has It,” “Call Ticketron”

Well, thanks for tuning in! I’ll be jumping back into reviews soon I hope. If you disagree with anything here then, well, I don’t really care. This is my opinion and yours is as valid as mine. Let’s just go our own separate ways. If you aren’t annoyed by this then, cheers to still reading my garbage in 2018!

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My Favorite Songs of 2017

Hey all, it’s that time of year again. No don’t go away, this might be interesting, really! It’s that time of year again where I talk about my favorite songs and albums of the year. No? Okay well for the three of you still reading, here’s my favorite songs of the year. I had a lot to say about this year but I basically said it all over at The Filtered Lens, where I put on a critical, uh, lens on and talked about the best albums and songs of the year (and did not contribute to best movies and shows, but you should read those too). For now, though, here’s the music I truly loved, regardless of quality.

Top 52 Songs of 2017: #52-27, alphabetical order

All That Remains – “Safe House” – One of the heaviest songs of the year, with frequent tempo changes and a phenomenal breakdown. All That Remains kick their album off with an absolute firestarter of a song.

At the Drive In – “Continuum” – The best vocal track on the band’s comeback album shows that, despite what other critics say, Cedric Bixler-Zavala hasn’t missed a beat. Vocal hard rock for the ages.

Bjork (feat. Arca) – “Losss” – A pure sonic overload with both pleasant bird noises and pounding drums, it places the listener in a universe – but what kind of universe is it? (Note: want to make so many loss.jpg jokes but won’t)

Charli XCX (feat. CupcakKe) – “Lipgloss” – Arguably the dirtiest song of the year also has one of the strongest featured verses, from up-and-cumming rapper CupcakKe. The song is about, well, using a dude’s ejaculate as lipgloss. No way to sugarcoat that. Except in the way that the song suggests. *cough*

Foo Fighters – “Run” – One of the best hard rock songs of the year, The Foos kick high energy into their music when it was the most devoid of it. One of the heaviest and most thrilling songs in their discography.

Iced Earth – “Seven Headed Whore” – Alright the name is off-putting, but Stu Block shrieks like almost no one else in metal, and his vocals are on full display in this blistering metal track. Their whole album was great, but this song ripped the hardest.

Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.” – Lamar’s most incendiary track to date is an absolute barnburner of rhymes and vocal intensity. He had a point to prove with “DAMN.” and even if it wasn’t the best track, he proved it best here. This song causes pure whiplash. Also: Don Cheadle!

Kreator – “Satan Is Real” – Thrash metal legends Kreator have nothing left to prove and indeed, their album didn’t prove much. Still, it contributed fierce single “Satan Is Real.” Kreator, legends still great beyond their years. Side note: If you ever run into John Darnielle, ask him to tell his Kreator story, it’s a doozy.

Lil Uzi Vert – “XO TOUR LIF3” – One of the darkest, heaviest rap songs of the year also happened to be one of the biggest. Although the song is about a break-up, the openly suicidal lyrics hit hard against the plain delivery. It’s a spine-chiller. This may be the future of rap, and if so, we’re in for a spiritual reckoning.

Lorde – “Perfect Places” – Just a wonderful pop song. When I hear this song in a good mood, I think it’s an ode to a disagreeing romance, and it’s a great song. But when I’m feeling down and hear it, it opens a new world where I feel all of Lorde’s frustrated and restless emotions. There is a lot of ennui in the song that can transpose nicely into almost anyone’s lives.

Marilyn Manson – “WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE” – Alright, calm down dude, you’re like 50 now. Still, Manson and his group have been on an upswing, and their new album had a few great tracks, like this guitar- and vocal-heavy boomer. (Note: this list originally included the better track “Threats of Romance” but due to the very abusive-y lyrics, I decided to cut it).

Mount Eerie – “Real Death” – In a concept album recorded in real time over a grieving process of Phil Elverum losing his wife, the opening track is destined to be the saddest. Words cannot describe how sad this song is, and it is downright unlistenable even with a short runtime. The saddest song of the year. And what a closing line.

The National – “Day I Die” – Just a great indie-rock song bolstered by a strong drum section, this track has a very National-like center of questioning your current relationship while looking at the successes of your past ones.

Nine Inch Nails – “Not Anymore” – Though not the breakout song from EP “Add Violence,” this track was the closest to classic NIN material. Absolutely shrouded in fuzz and synth feedback, it begs the question why this isn’t the track David Lynch used for the new Twin Peaks.

Paramore – “Hard Times” – While most bands went heavy and/or introspective this year, Paramore got more fun. This song, an absolute new wave banger right out of Blondie’s best work, is just a straight jam about trying to live life to the fullest. We needed more of this in 2017.

Perfume Genius – “Choir” – A downright creepy song fueled by hyper strings and a female singer who opens with “I can’t dream,” this is what nightmares are made of. But isn’t that the Perfume Genius way? But wait, there’s more…

Perfume Genius – “Otherside” – (not a RHCP cover). This is an utterly beautiful song built around both minimalism and maximalism, as Mike Hadreas twice builds the listener up from very little sound to a full pristine universe. One of a few “headphones mandatory” songs from this year. Arguably the most beautiful song of the year.

Phoenix – “J-Boy” – The lead single from an otherwise disappointing album is a downright disco jam, when the world needs it most. The lyrics may hide behind acronyms, but the track is a straight track that is not afraid to give the fans the dance rhythm they want.

Power Trip – “Firing Squad” – An absolutely hard-hitting metal song, this song mostly ushered in 2017 for me. Power Trip have an inexplicable way of writing very simple thrash metal but making it sound original as hell. One of the bands of the year.

The Revivalists – “Wish I Knew You” – One of the breakout indie hits of the year, this is a really simple, really affecting track that we can all relate to in some way. The singer never specifies any kind of romantic interest, which makes this so relatable for all of our recent relationships.

Spoon – “Pink Up” – Indie legends Spoon put a borderline-avant-garde track in the middle of their new album, and it’s a glorious, oddly soothing song with many percussion instruments creating a nice, somber beat.

Vince Staples – “Bagbak” – One of the most incendiary songs on Staples’ recent full-length asks for more black people in the Oval Office, for good reason. It goes on from there to the general declamation, “Suck a dick because we own ya,” in a way that feels both childish but powerful. A brutal and necessary track.

St. Vincent – “Los Ageless” – St. Vincent’s new album is so collectively good that I couldn’t actually pin down any songs for my lists. But the best is this takedown of celebrity culture, with a huge chorus that grows with every line. It is every bit envy as it is anger.

Thundercat – “Uh Uh” – Thundercat wins the award for most diverse features, but my favorite off his album was this red-hot jazz track centered solely around Thundercat’s pure bass talent. It’s an instrumental track of pure fire.

Roger Waters – “Picture That” – The most hard-hitting song from Roger Waters’ very political comeback outlined many awful, oddly specific situations of people who are out of luck. One of the best political songs of the year.

The xx – “Hold On” – Jamie xx has always gotten the short end of the stick in The xx, but on this track he samples a Hall & Oates classic and lets his band member compete over it. The result is the best full-band affair yet, and just a great, if sad pop song.

Top 52 Songs of 2017: #26-1

Power Trip – “Nightmare Logic” – The thrash metal band’s title track absolutely cleans up the genre’s name, with a central and whirring riff of only two notes. The band’s obtuse leftist lyrics add to the music, but it’s the simple-but-supremely-effective riff that drives this to be one of the best metal songs of the year.

Susanne Sundfør (feat. John Grant) – “Mountaineers” – Whatever you imagine pop avant-garde to be, it isn’t this – a song off an album where the main artist doesn’t even show until the three-minute mark, filled with bass vocals and droning synth lines. This is a slow-builder to the max, and all the better because of it. Also, it was the album’s final track, and lead single. Haunting beyond haunting.

Arcade Fire – “Everything Now” – The indie band’s deflating fifth album still provided one beacon of light in the title track, an energetic track centered around a flute rhythm and the idea of hoarding all the shit that you like. It has the innocence of an Arcade Fire song, and the energy of the political songs that we maybe {hiccup} expected from them.

Winds of Plague – “Never Alone” – There’s tons of ways to do metal right, and Winds of Plague explore one of the least-used ones – group vocals. This song has a huge, huge, huge chorus of multiple people singing simultaneously and it adds so much to the already heavy pseudo-thrash song. This song hits top volumes in every way possible (while also being a ton of fun).

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut to the Feeling” – Somehow cut from both “E*Mo*Tion” and the subsequent B-sides release, this absolute jam is a huge pop powerhouse of big beats and lyrics rightly suited to Jepsen – a song about the very beginning of a meaningful relationship.

Blondie – “Fragments” – This song clocks in at nearly seven minutes, and it doesn’t waste a second of it. Just when a listener thinks they’re truly in for a ballad, the band kicks into high gear with Deborah Harry singing an ode to an unknown lover. The song is actually a cover, but Blondie more than make it their own.

Run the Jewels – “Legend Has It” – A boastful rap track that basically fronts the band’s third album, this song is El-P and Killer Mike at their very best. It isn’t even their highest-topping song on this list, but the song still has some of the best lyrics of the year. Look no further than El-P’s lines about choosing their crew over sacrificing a rabbit.

Bully – “Feel the Same” – The shortest track on this list sure doesn’t feel like it. The 1:59 of this song pack a bigger punch, of someone who lost a break-up of some sort, asking if the other person is doing alright. It’s a feeling we can all relate to in some way. Also, let’s just marvel at Alicia Bognanno’s vocals, as she is truly disrespected in the annals of rock singers today.

Lana Del Rey – “When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing” – While I love many of Lana’s tracks, I’ve always been partial to the rare ones where she feels upfront. This is the case on this track, where she undermines her own chorus with vocal additions. The added profanity makes this whole ordeal feel like a disaster in a very planned way.

The National – “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” – One of the best indie songs of the year finds a familiar band leaving their comfort zone. Not only does Matt Berninger kick his vocals into a higher register than normal, there’s also a guitar solo. Both of these things have been unheard of in recent National albums. Fans of the band will hopefully recognize the uncomfortable territory the band puts themselves in as a way to grow and progress their sound.

At the Drive In – “Governed By Contagions” – The shrieking guitar line that opens the song welcomed the return of the post-hardcore legends. While their subsequent album was hit-and-miss, the lead single is a wild, noisy mess that sounds just as applicable as anything they did in the late ’90’s. Again, it is a welcome return.

Queens of the Stone Age – “The Evil Has Landed” – Yes, I am reckoning with the shit against Josh Homme. QOTSA are one of my favorite bands, give me time. In the meantime, one of the coolest rock songs of the year is this prolonged groove where Homme locks into a funky rhythm for a while, before eventually abandoning it for a full hard rock punch (not a kick). QOTSA’s finest song since 2007’s “Sick, Sick, Sick.”

The Mountain Goats – “Rain In Soho” – It was a bold decision on John Darnielle’s part to make a concept album about goths that has no guitar, and admittedly it wasn’t the strongest affair. But the album’s opening track is an absolute powerhouse of piano and vocals unheard of in even other Mountain Goats songs. The song feels heavy, even with just piano and Darnielle’s unusually paranoid vocals. The Mountain Goats wheelhouse is unprecedented but this is another great addition. I cannot overstress how much I love Darnielle’s vocals on this track.

Vince Staples – “Yeah Right” – This track is about 60%  bass. This song, doubling as a club banger, basically comes bass-boosted already (like an early Sleigh Bells song). It adds to the deceptive aura of the song, a track that’s really about the vanity of rappers who aren’t super important. It’s a total deconstruction of rap from the inside. Also, it features a short but sweet verse from Kendrick Lamar, the only real feature on the whole album.

LCD Soundsystem – “call the police” – James Murphy’s revival has been controversial and questionable, and the result itself was a little disappointing. Still, it provided a handful of great tracks, like this droning, minimalist dance track that has the obvious Bowie influence on it. Murphy’s habit of placing dark lyrics over happy music gets a little twisted, as both get a little darker than normal. And yet, the track still has an undeniable groove to it.

Arch Enemy – “The World is Yours” – Easily my favorite metal song of the year is an absolute powerhouse performance from a long-standing group. This song basically cements their album, with incredible vocals from Alissa White-Gluz and phenomenal guitar work. The track is a little long, but it doesn’t waste a second in building a world and completely destroying it. This is just great metal.

Harry Styles – “Sign of the Times” – And what better way to follow? The One Directioner’s first solo single was so drastically different than the group’s work that it nearly caused spit-takes. The song tracks at nearly six minutes of piano ballad and impressive, intentionally-flat vocals. Ballads are meant to be emotional and, even with the somewhat corny lyrics, this song tugs right at strings.

Fever Ray – “IDK About You” – Now this is the definition of a banger. This electropop song bangs hard across its cavalcade of beats. Karin Dreijer comes in hot with her high-pitched vocals, before giving way to the beats themselves, as hot as the vocals. It’s a tensely fiery track, as danceable as it is, well, fever-inducing. Music this hyper isn’t necessarily reserved for the club, and it has the aura of a song only played at the most exclusive of places.

Sylvan Esso – “Die Young” – This is a purely poetic indie ode. This track has a narrator who has planned their suicide, only to have it derailed by a sudden love interest. While it may be the plot of 1000+ YA novels, it rarely graces music. And the subtle synths of the song bring it into something special. Not to mention, the poetry brought forth is immediate in a way that feels natural instead of cliche.

Gary Numan – “My Name Is Ruin” – Yeah, him. Some 30 years after he released his sole American hit, the genius is still releasing amazing electronica music. This song is an incredibly patient synth track. It’s extremely heavy, a song that probably sounds best live at a festival. It builds up verse-chorus-verse-chorus, like a normal song, but it does it over six and a quarter minutes. But it’s an incredibly prolonged track, one that drags the listener on through the suffering. The version below is, unfortunately, a radio edit. If you enjoy then please listen to the full version.

Slowdive – “Star Roving” – This song helped me through a tough patch. The shoegaze’s band’s revival has brought a renown to the genre’s resurgence, and this track in particular helped move me through many difficult parts of 2017. It’s a completely sunny song that shows how fulfilling guitar distortion can be, rather than the usual harshness. This song feels like optimism in song form, but the complexity somehow applies to any emotion. Headphones required.

Mount Kimbie (feat. King Krule) – “Blue Train Lines” – A brutal indie track that depicts a man finding his lover right after she has attempted suicide, without knowing if there’s enough time to save her. That alone is the basis for a potentially terrifying track, but when you add in the sad drone of a synth, King Krule’s barely audible screaming, and the drums that come piercing out of nowhere halfway through the song, it becomes a turbulent mix of fright and confusion. At first glance, this is a dirty mess of music, but on further listens it goes much deeper.

Gorillaz (feat. Vince Staples) – “Ascension” – Vince Staples dunks on Gorillaz on their own album. The first real track on the album starts immediately with Staples’ declarative voice, before he launches into an odyssey about being black during an apocalypse, and mostly just trying to score before it all ends. Its paranoid but groovy, something Staples does well, and having Gorillaz as a backing band certainly doesn’t hurt. Staples also gets props for best use of profanity in any track this year.

Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.” – The final nail in the coffin of Lamar haters came with this early-summer declaration, one that starts with a guitar scratch, horn blast and the line “Nobody pray for me” all in two seconds. Lamar’s critics like to point to his melding of genres and ideas as him hiding behind production, so he responded with this pure-vocal blast, an ode to, well, money. Lamar’s paranoia also focuses on himself, reminding himself to stay humble(.) despite the fame. At 2:57, it’s everything we’ve expected from longer Lamar tracks, and even better. The fact that it was a #1 hit doesn’t even matter. Also, video of the year.

Run the Jewels – “Call Ticketron” – One of the wildest rap songs of the year is also one of the catchiest and quickest. There isn’t a real narrative to this song – El-P makes some of the most memorable boasts of his long career (“I do push-ups nude on the edge of cliffs”) while also handling the chorus, advertising Run The Jewels at “the Garden,” (something that will finally be happening when they open for Lorde (?) next year). Killer Mike, meanwhile, re-imagines last year’s film “Arrival” with him awaiting aliens with a blunt and a beer. The total package is the most fun song of the year.

Lorde – “Green Light” – Yes, I said this is also the #2 song on the sister post, but I stand by high placement on both. This song is lyrically about a side romance that is doomed to fail because the man can’t come clean. But the music is an invigorating party, one that feels like the exact moment in which you realize you’re “getting over” someone, whenever in the relationship it may occur. And, if you’re not in a similar situation, then it’s just a frequent burst of piano that seems to be set to the exact rhythm you need to pick yourself up and keep moving. After all, the song is about moving on, and rather than make a ballad, Lorde opted for a booming piano track, lead single and first album track. With a sound completely different from her first album. And that, my friends, is moving on.

Well, there you have it, my favorite songs of the year. Yes, there were songs I wanted to write about but felt I didn’t have the space. There’s always great songs in all genres, and just because these are the ones I chose to write about, doesn’t mean there was no other good music this year. Far from it – there was an abundance across genres. Even now, as I’m writing, I’m listening to albums I missed during the year. Keep on listening, good folks, keep on discovering. There’s something out there for everyone.

Justin Timberlake – “Man of the Woods”

(Photo Credit: That Grape Juice)Grade: D+

Key Tracks: “Supplies,” “Breeze off the Pond”

Let’s be perfectly clear here – this iteration of Renaissance Man Justin Timberlake is different than the one we saw on 2013’s double “The 20/20 Experience.” We know this because of the cover, where a picture of him in a suit is cut by him(/someone) in jeans and flannel, and also because he told us. In reality, our “Renaissance Man” doesn’t have many hats on his rack. This album (somehow only his fourth solo work) proves that he is incapable of stretching out of pop’s limitations, even if he stretches those limitations in multiple directions. He’s a great singer, better dancer and one-time denim enthusiast, but he’s only a decent songwriter and remains vapidly unaware of both boundaries and genre authenticity.

This album actually has some great moments – at 16 songs and 66 minutes, it has to. But we need to dive into the album’s most egregious moments, most of which work to actively discredit the title and premise. Timberlake is a Memphis native – a city within state lines of the country’s best music city. And he attempts to use that heritage to prove that he has a woodsy background; a background that rarely shows its face throughout the album. This should be an easy sell for an ambitious and malleable artist who could cherrypick collaborators. I mean, the guy has “timber” and “lake” in his name. Instead, tracks like opener “Filthy” and “Morning Light” fall back on pop conventions, which are decidedly un-woodsy. The latter features Alicia Keys, who had a massive hit about her home city of New York, a city so decisively un-woodsy that a salsa company ran a whole ad campaign about it. The album’s front half features some songs that are pure pop and, even though he grows into the image more as it transpires, it starts the album off with a joltingly off-brand start.

Also, I have to talk about the filthy lyrics. I’m not even referring to the song “Filthy.” I’m referring to the back-to-back genital-drying lyrics of “Sauce” and “Man of the Woods.” Early on in “Sauce,” Timberlake sings “I love your pink, you like my purple / The color right between those, that’s where I worship.” Ewwwwwwww. And it only gets worse, a whole lot worse on the following track. The song is about the mutual love he has for his wife Jessica Biel, but lyrically it sure doesn’t sound that way – “So tonight, if I take it too far, that’s okay because you know … I hear the making up’s fun.” This is uhhhhhhh this is a song by a man currently in a Woody Allen film. I would like to revert you to the pic of Timberlake wearing a #TimesUp pin. And the chorus is just awful: “But then your hands talking, fingers walking, down your legs / There’s the faucet,” he sings. Please take your sexy back. Here’s a fun fact to leave you with: he named this filthy song after his infant son.

Major authenticity issues and gross lyrics aside, this album does have some enjoyable tracks. Country sensation Chris Stapleton helps actually ground “Say Something” in the vague indie-country-folk world Timberlake thinks he’s invading. Other tracks like “Supplies” and “Breeze Off the Pond” are pleasantly enjoyable songs, the former mashing flamenco-inspired guitar with trap beats, one of the album’s most interesting ideas. The latter is the best example of the acoustic-driven vocal songs that dominate the album’s back half. Even some early tracks like the Pharrell-co-authored “Midnight Summer Jam,” are delightful if not empty tracks. Even the pre-release ridicule of “Flannel” is a little deflated, as the track is frustratingly enjoyable.

Still, there’s far too many faults on this album. Ugly missteps run hand-in-hand through the city, and any escapes into the woods are mere digressions. What is essentially the opening line on this album is “haters gonna say it’s fake.” When’s the last time you heard Justin Vernon say that? Merle Haggard? Just being from an area does not make you an automatic herald of the culture. I’m from Boston but I’m not gonna jump into a perfect street-punk career at 27. I mean, there’s a damn reggae song on this album. So while there are some surprisingly pleasant moments, and Timberlake may remain an annoyingly pleasant celebrity figure, I have to end this with a question: If a tree falls in a forest, and no one’s around to care, should you bother listening for it?

-By Andrew McNally

Beck – “Colors”

(photo credit: shop.beck.com)Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Colors” “Dreams”

Beck is a literal cornucopia musician – you never know what the next album is going to sound like. And while there’s plenty of other musicians that do the same, they rarely have such big hits as Beck, and rarely do it so alone. Let’s take his 2005 album “Guero” – there’s 11 other credited musicians, but Beck is credited on 20 instruments, and two of those other musicians are credited with spoken word bits and another is credited on “additional sounds.” This album was made with Greg Kurstin, who is credited on veery song along Beck, and almost no one else shows up. Beck has always straddled the line of total outcast – often improvising lyrics in the studio and blending combinations folk, rock, rap, pop, and electronic genres on a whim – and industry favorite, helping to define and cement alternative music more than almost any other artist. On “Colors,” his thirteenth album, he again takes a hard left-turn, this time embracing the pop spotlight he’s so often avoided.

This is Beck’s first album since 2014’s “Morning Phase,” which won a shocking Album of the Year Grammy (an award so much in Beyonce’s favor that Beck’s speech was barely above surprised mumbling, and featured a tongue-in-cheek Kanye interruption). “Morning Phase” was a soft and blissful record, mistaken for somber. It was a direct follow-up to 2002’s entirely acoustic “Sea Change,” with Beck marking the passage of time and the acceptance he has gained since the disastrous break-up that spawned that classic. But the album’s outlook is much brighter than the music seems. And it makes sense that while Beck was working on that record, he was also developing some of the tracks on this album, even though the albums couldn’t sound more different. The tracks on “Colors” are easily the poppiest thing he’s ever done, at least on a full-album scale. This is a straight pop album, and while it isn’t always effective, it is a lot of fun to hear Beck bounce back in an unexpected way.

“Colors” might be the closest thing to a genre album that Beck’s ever done. Even later albums like “The Information” had diversity amongst tracks. This album has big pop beats throughout and, at times, Beck’s return to the pseudo-rapping of his heyday. Radio pop is the one thing Beck really has left to conquer, so it makes sense that at this stage in his career he would attempt it. By this point, he has nothing left to lose and a solid legacy intact. The title track has a pan flute, “I’m So Free” has rapping, “Wow” has both. And every track on this album is inherently catchy and dancefloor-ready. Even at his weirdest, Beck has always mastered catchiness, but here it isn’t hidden behind slide guitar, or robotic noises, or sitar, or whatever else he had laying around.

The album isn’t without downtime, however. Even though it clocks in at 39 minutes, there’s some fat on the album’s bones. Songs like “No Distraction” and “Up All Night” suffer from bland lyrics and the vague catchiness that plague the entire generation of indie music right now, most of whom are imitating Beck in some way. Although Beck’s music hasn’t always been perfect, he’s never seemed like one who would become a victim of his own creation like he does on “Colors.” Also, a weird disappointment of the album is that the whole piece is centered on the song “Dreams,” a guitar odyssey with one of the most memorable bridge sections in any alternative song. But, the song was released a single over two years ago, and has already gone through the whole radio rise-and-fall process and drifted from many people’s radars (not mine admittedly, I love the track). To center the album around this song seems like a cash-out, like Beck admitting that in the two years since he hasn’t been able to craft up something as good.

Still, the album is a fun and accessible, if not forgettable listen. It stands along with “Sea Change” and “Morning Phase” as the most directly cohesive listens in the Beck discography, therefore also making them the outliers. He successfully hides his years throughout “Colors,” pulling off a batch of songs normally reserved for musicians who fell in love with “Loser” in middle school. It’s another new side of Beck: party Beck. And while I hope party Beck doesn’t stick around very long for fear of getting very tiresome, it is a welcome presence. It also makes me ravenous for whatever Beck will have up his sleeve for his next album. But for now, enjoy all the different shades of Beck’s “Colors.”

-By Andrew McNally

Marilyn Manson – “Heaven Upside Down”

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia) Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “WHERE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE” “Threats of Romance”

One of the most predictable things of the early-2000’s was the downfall of Marilyn Manson. After the group’s surprise hit in 1996’s “The Beautiful People” and the subsequent smash of 1998’s “Mechanical Animals,” the controversial facade of the group had to wear off. And it did, resulting in declining sales and popularity. But one of the lesser expected things would be the comeback. After a few albums of water-treading, goth-y nonsense, the group washed away all of their previous controversial conventions for 2015’s “The Pale Emperor.” The album was a blues-metal masterpiece, filled with songs that the eponymous singer sounded like he had wanted to record for years. The band’s follow-up is a more typical Manson album, but one that renews their energy and their goth and industrial influences, while mostly doing away with the dopey-ness that has plagued their lyrics.

This album starts strong – really strong – with “Revelation #12,” a track that periodically uses a police siren as an instrument. Manson’s voice comes through loud and crisp in a way that often faltered in the band’s down years. Really, the album maintains a high energy, especially on tracks like single “We Know Where You Fucking Live” and closer “Threats of Romance.” The band embrace their goth heritage on these tracks, calling back specifically to legends like Gary Numan and former collaborators Nine Inch Nails. The album’s best line may lie in “We Know Where You Fucking Live,” where Manson sings, “We don’t intend to eat the street, the asphalt is the good meat.”

The album has a ferocity to it that hasn’t been seen on a Manson album in some time. The album’s standout track (and the band knows it) might just be “Saturnalia,” a completely engaging and bold track that stretches just one second shy of eight minutes. It allows the band to stretch out into territories they haven’t before, resulting in a fiery, burning track that not only benefits from the length, but represents a tentative change in style. After “The Pale Emperor,” the band seems completely energized to record music that might be similar to what they recorded in their heyday, but on their own, nondescript terms.

And there is a calmness to a few tracks as well. The album’s third- and second-to-last tracks, “Blood Honey” and “Heaven Upside Down” bring in acoustic guitar and more approachable melodies. Manson himself described the album as a soundtrack, where the title track is the end credits. If the album had ended there, it would’ve been equally effective. That said, it ends with the punishingly repetitive “Threats of Romance.”

Still, as with any Manson album, it isn’t without some corny moments. The one-two punch of “Say10” and “Kill4Me” don’t land too well, even with the latter being a single. Although “Kill4Me”is by no means a bad song, with synths balancing the blasts of guitar, it still suffers after the dopey and similarly-titled “Say10,” a track that sounds like the regular album schlock of 1996. Likewise, the stupidly-titled “Je$u$ Cr$i$” doesn’t do anything for the album, just a stupid song with a stupid title, even with a solid beat.

The corniness of a post-98′ Manson album is kind of a cherish as much as a detriment, and this album balances the more silly lyrics with literal punches at the bookends that cement this as one of the band’s better albums. The sudden resurgence with “The Pale Emperor” continues with this album that somehow manages to be bold in 2017. While “Emperor” excelled on outside influences, “Heaven Upside Down” takes the best elements of Manson’s past and reverberates them into a sound that is equally throwback and current. Casual listeners might not be grabbed by an album of this intensity, but Manson fans will surely be glad that an album from the group in 2017 can still maintain such an anxious, monstrous and deafening level.

-By Andrew McNally

St. Vincent – “MASSEDUCTION”

(Photo Credit: Northern Transmissions)

Grade: A

Key Tracks: “Pills,” “Sugarboy,” “Young Lover”

Annie Clark has big shoes to fill. Her last album, 2014’s “St. Vincent,” was consistently ranked among the best albums of the year, a busy year. The album saw her rise from indie darling touring the festival circuit to playing the season finale of “SNL” and winning a semi-surprise Best Alternative Album at the Grammy’s (ironically, presumed winner Beck also released a new album this week). After all that, “St. Vincent” is my favorite album. Like, ever. All-time. Has been for three years. So “MASSEDUCTION” has high hurdles to clear and, to our baited breaths, it jumps over those hurdles in every way that Annie Clark can think of.

Don’t let opening track “Hang On Me” and lead single “New York” fool you – this is a big album. At 13 tracks and 41 minutes, it packs a whole boxer’s array of punches. Although the opening song is inexplicably lackluster, the album kicks into high gear with the guitar-heavy satire “Pills.” The track’s fuzzy, chomping guitar sounds like an “Actor” lost cut. One of the album’s few disappointments is that this is really the only track where Clark lets loose on guitar, something she still does a little infrequently. But when the album that follows is as good as it is, it’s hardly even missed.

Other standout tracks include “Sugarboy,” with a super catchy and choppy beat that’s sure to rip through audiences in her live show. “Happy Birthday, Johnny” is a slight ballad with some unexpected country slide-guitar, stuck right in the middle of the album. “Savior” is a funky and sexy pop song, but one that includes industrial elements (although he doesn’t have a songwriting credit, the album was co-produced by Jack Antonoff, who cowrote and produced a similar, excellent song on Lorde’s album earlier this year). “Fear The Future” hits super hard after the emotional but slight “New York,” with a deafening sound and incredibly anxious lyrics. “Young Lover,” the tenth track, seems like the beginning of the wind-down as, frankly, the song’s first section is dull. But it transforms into a full-bloomed vocal track, the best of the album and one of the best in Clark’s discography. The album’s final song “Smoking Section” is a satisfying conclusion, with Clark repeating “it’s not the end.” The song’s title and placement might be a reference to David Sedaris’s classic essay “The Smoking Section” – let us not forget that Clark’s debut contained references to “Arrested Development” and MAD Magazine.

“MASSEDUCTION” is not without fault, of course. There are rare moments of downtime, in tracks like “Hang On Me,” “Slow Disco,” and, to a lesser extent, the title track. There is also a palpable lack of guitar wizardry. Although Clark’s guitar pops up throughout, the album generally lacks the riffs designed to pummel live audiences to their core. It’s a confounding stylistic choice for someone who is becoming known as one of the best live acts. Still, audiences haven’t seen these songs performed yet, so who’s to say what Clark has planned (also, she’s just free to record whatever she wants, maybe she’s just tired of guitar).

Although not her best overall, this album stands as easily the most cohesive record in the St. Vincent discography. It has the fewest amount of skippable tracks (there’s only two that I’d even consider and I’ve *just* listened to it), it has everything from anxious noise about the future to industrial-funk to genuinely beautiful ballads to satire about the medical industry. I’ve written (in a few places, extensively, sorry) about the impact that Clark’s 2012 collaborative album with David Byrne, “Love This Giant,” seemed to have on her confidence as a performer. That newfound confidence shines throughout this entire record, front (back?) and foremost with that album cover. Clark has always been an interesting songwriter, but this album continues her trend of pushing listeners out of their comfort zone with the frequent genre changes and occasionally uncomfortable lyrics.

This album is a borderline-masterpiece, if not one outright. Although it lacks specifically-standout songs like all of her other albums (“Rattlesnake” & “Birth In Reverse,” “Cruel” & “Surgeon,” “The Neighbors” & “Marrow,” “Now, Now” & “Your Lips Are Red), it works as a huge cohesive unit that really doesn’t have much time to cut. It’s a challenging pop album, asking the listener to accept satire, sorrow and directly sexual lyrics amidst their catchy music. This album feels like all of the highs, lows and middles that Clark has been living since and possibly before her last album. This album was likely going to be the one that people really judged Clark on. Her last album is, for all intents and purposes, a breakthrough – so the eye was on what she would do with the exposure. And if this album is what Clark can do under the pressure, then it’s safe to say we’re welcoming in a new legend.

-By Andrew McNally

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Nominees: Betting Odds

If you’re a total dork like me, you feign a lot of interest in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The inductions and the decisions made by the voting staff have been questionable at best, often focusing on big names over quality names even after years of complaints (Television has never been nominated? Okay). But it’s still interesting to see which acts get picked for their permanent place in the record books. This year’s nominee list has been released and – like last year – it sets the record at 19. What makes this process fun is that the Hall has no set number of yearly inductees, so anywhere from 1 to all 19 acts could garner enough votes. This means that no act is safe (well, one is, but we’ll get there), and that makes for some prime betting odds. So let’s dive in to all 19 nominees and whether the act deserves inclusion and if they’ll get it in 2018.

BON JOVI –

(Photo Credit: Like Totally 80's)

Odds Of Inclusion: 3:1. Bon Jovi has never been popular with the critics, and has always been divisive with the fans. Even though they retain fans like Springsteen does, the people that dislike Bon Jovi tend to have a strong, negative stance. Normally, this would be a tough sell. But, the Hall also has a yearly popular vote winner, which is how Journey got in last year. I would expect Bon Jovi to grab this popular vote.

Should They Be Included: No.

KATE BUSH –

(Photo Credit: theodysseyonline.com)

Odds Of Inclusion: 10:1. The Hall has been chronically cold to solo, female vocalists. Whitney Houston isn’t even in. Bush stands a chance as one of the most successful artists in British history, but her popularity never fully translated in America. Her famously reclusive life also doesn’t translate well into American celebrity culture. She is deeply respected in the music community, but given that this is her first nomination after 15 years of eligibility, it looks like a tough hill to run up.

Should They Be Included: Absolutely. Bush has one of the best voices in pop history, one of the best singles (1978’s “Wuthering Heights”) and one the best pop albums (1985’s “Hounds of Love”) ever recorded. Get her in.

THE CARS –

(Photo Credit: nnjazzykat.wordpress.com)

Odds of Inclusion: 6:1. They’re clearly not a priority, and their output was relatively small, which hurt their chances. But, they’re nominated for the third straight year, so someone wants them in desperately. With only one guarantee this year, it might be their chance. It might be just what they need.

Should They Be Included: Yes. Although their music sounds tame these days, they had a string of hits that helped define new wave and alternative music as well as music videos. They had their hands all over the beginnings of alternative music. Ric Ocasek would again help change alternative music in ’94 when he produced Weezer’s legendary debut.

DEPECHE MODE –

(Photo Credit: Vimeo)

Odds of Inclusion: 8:1. Like The Cars, Depeche Mode were big factors in early alternative music. They helped define and dominate synth culture of the 80’s. And unlike many of their peers, they maintain an active presence, release albums regularly (including a decent one this year), and remain a popular live act. But, the Hall tends to focus away from synths, and Depeche Mode rely on synth for every song. So it’s a tough sell.

Should They Be Included: Yes! But I cannot recuse myself from bias on this one – I absolutely love Depeche Mode. But they should be in for their long string of hits, and their classic “Violator” album, a shining star in alternative music. I mean, they’re a synth band that got covered by Johnny Cash. That’s something.

DIRE STRAITS –

(Photo Credit: Ultimate Classic Rock)

Odds of Inclusion: 6:1. Many of this year’s nominees are relatively safe choices (save two), and Dire Straits represent one of the more musically talented, classic rock oriented safe choices. The Hall is still devoted to classic rock, even as they run out of bands, so Dire Straits have a decent chance. They’re also a band that transitioned well into 80’s, MTV culture, which adds points. I wouldn’t call them a definite, but they have a good shot.

Should They Be Included: Sure? I’m not gonna lie, I don’t know anything about Dire Straits.

EURYTHMICS –

(Photo Credit: Billboard)

Odds of Inclusion: 4:1. Although often unfairly reduced to that one song that gets stuck in your head for days, Eurythmics were still crucial for 80’s alternative music in the same way Depeche Mode were. They were a pop powerhouse, with Dave Stewart writing classic after classic. Annie Lennox’s celebrity persona and continued, successful solo career can’t hurt, either. They’ve never been nominated in their 12 years of eligibility, but I have faith in their inclusion.

Should They Be Included: Yes, maybe not as much as some other nominees on this list, but yes. Are you ever disappointed when they come on? I’m not.

J. GEILS BAND –

(Photo Credit: Billboard)

Odds of Inclusion: 10:1. J. Geils Band has a string of hits in the 70’s and 80’s that started as partytime blues/funk and ended as big hair ballads. They were one of the only classic rock bands that figured out how to do the 80’s, and recorded arguably their best music in that period. That said, with no legendary albums and hit-or-miss critical reception, their inclusion would be purely on the basis of inducting a classic rock group.

Should They Be Included: Airing on the side of no. In the grand scheme of things, they simply didn’t bring anything new to the table. They had more than a handful of great hits, but that isn’t enough to secure a nod. And Peter Wolf’s onstage rants now just sound sexist instead of cool. “Whammer Jammer” rules, though.

JUDAS PRIEST –

(Photo Credit: Amazon)

Odds of Inclusion: 12:1. Judas Priest are one of the most important, successful and longest-running metal bands in history. You’d think that would be enough for inclusion, but it’s not. Black Sabbath and Metallica remain the two metal bands in the Hall, and that likely won’t change this year. The Hall likes hits, and although Judas Priest had some, they aren’t as recognizable as “Paranoid” or “Enter Sandman.” Still, a metal band close to entering it’s fifth decade together is extremely impressive.

Should They Be Included: Absolutely. Like Depeche Mode, I’m a real big fan, so take this with some salt. But their early, behind-the-scenes work helped cement metal as a genre. They didn’t get the credit Sabbath and Deep Purple got, but they also didn’t hit their stride until “British Steel” in 1980. Still touring, releasing albums and raising hell to this day.

LINK WRAY –

(Photo Credit: Rolling Stone)

Odds of Inclusion: 15:1. Rock and roll wouldn’t be what it is today without Link Wray. Although Wray performed a variety of genres, he is best and most importantly remembered as a near-sole pioneer in guitar distortion. His 1958 song “Rumble” was banned in multiple cities, despite being instrumental. Even in 2017, the song still cackles and bludgeons. By this point, though, he is so far removed from today’s popularity that he is seen as a lost relic, not someone whose influence still reigns.

Should They Be Included: Yes, unequivocally.

LL COOL J –

(Photo Credit: Twitter)

Odds of Inclusion: 10:1. One of the more interesting career shifts in this year’s nominees goes to LL Cool J. The once fiery and extremely influential rapper is now known as an actor, as a very longtime cast member on NCIS: Los Angeles, and as the host of both Lip Sync Battle and (frequently) the Grammy’s. His general, genial public persona softens the hits he once had, which makes his inclusion more difficult. That said, he is the only solo rapper nominated this year, and his influence on the genre is still palpable.

Should They Be Included: Yes, not necessarily this year but, yes.

THE MC5 –

(Photo Credit: Perfect Sound Forever)

Odds of Inclusion: 12:1. The fire and brimstone of the MC5 was a tough sell in 1968, because of their controversial lyrics and loud music that brought on the rise of punk music. Unfortunately, their extremely limited output makes them a tough sell for the Hall as well. Although they raised punk alongside The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, they were derailed early by controversy.

Should They Be Included: For sure, punk’s politics might not exist without them.

THE METERS –

(Photo Credit: RateYourMusic)

Odds of Inclusion: 12:1. The Hall has been relatively kind to funk, and rightfully so. The Meters were originators of funk music, but unfortunately they never enjoyed the success of some of their later counterparts. It’s a tough sell in a crowd of easy, big name artists. They’ve also been nominated multiple times since their eligibility a solid 24 years ago. Still, the Hall could pull through for a great funk group.

Should They Be Included: Yes, their influence on funk continues to this day.

THE MOODY BLUES –

(Photo Credit: Discogs)

Odds of Inclusion: 4:1. The Hall has been chronically cruel to prog rock, but the Moody Blues mostly shaped the genre and managed to have a whole bunch of radio hits. They’ve been eligible since ’89 and have never been nominated, but their inclusion this year is a definite possibility.

Should They Be Included: Yes, they pioneered prog rock and concept albums almost single-handedly. They layed-up to Pink Floyd who dunked with their ideas. They were phenomenal songwriters and even a quick run of their greatest hits is an engaging listen.

RADIOHEAD –

Odds of Inclusion: 2:1. They’re a definite. As the greatest rock band on the planet and one of the greatest all-time, it would be a shock for them not to get in on their first year of eligibility. If they had stopped after “OK Computer” they would still get in, but their run of eight straight amazing albums (disregarding only their mediocre debut) is entirely unprecedented. Sure, they’ve only had one true hit, but there are only a handful of wasted tracks across nine albums of material. They’re also the definition of ‘critical darling.’ Look forward to their entirely uninspired performance at the ceremony, for a prestige they actively do not want.

Should They Be Included: Yes, ful stop. Again – they’re one of my favorite bands, so the bias is strong. But almost no other groups have had the run that Radiohead has and continues to have, with eight straight unbelievable albums and one of the best and most unpredictable live shows on the planet.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE –

(Photo Credit: AllMusic)

Odds of Inclusion: 8:1. Rage Against the Machine practically defined the anger of 90’s music, even over grunge bands. Although they only released four albums, the group’s completely politically-charged rap-rock resonated hard with the frustrations of a difficult decade. Having one of the greatest and most unique guitarists in rock history doesn’t hurt, either. Fun tidbit that either increases or harms their chances at induction – Tom Morello is one of the Hall’s voting members. It’s entirely possible he nominated his own band.

Should They Be Included: Yes, maybe not on the first go, but yes. Rap-rock gets the rightful bad rap it deserves (no pun intended), but RATM really never had a bad song across their four albums. They’re one of those groups that had a totally unique sound, and the fact that it resonated with the radio not only once but across all four albums is a huge shock. Their crossover should deem them eligible in the future, if not this year.

RUFUS WITH CHAKA KHAN –

(Photo Credit: AllMusic)

Odds of Inclusion: 20:1. Basically DOA. That Chaka Khan has been nominated solo and not gotten in speaks to the chances of her original group, Rufus. The fact that Whitney Houston remains uninducted dooms her frequent collaborator. Still, Rufus put out some great music, and their nomination is not undeserved. They are all absolute funk legends.

Should They Be Included: Yes, frustratingly so. Like Chic, they seem to be one of those funk legends that the Hall can’t form an opinion about. But if they can’t even induct Whitney Houston then Khan’s future in the Hall seems dim.

NINA SIMONE –

(Photo Credit: Albertine)

Odds of Inclusion: 4:1. Interest in Nina Simone has spiked over the past few years, after the popular documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?”. She was eligible for the Rock Hall on their very first year, a whole 34 years ago, and she hasn’t been nominated before this year. This normally would be damning, but she will likely get in on her first nomination.

Should They Be Included: Of course.

SISTER ROSETTA THARPE –

(Photo Credit: BBC.com)

Odds of Inclusion: 25:1. I have to put Miss Tharpe, deeply unfortunately, as the long-shot of this year’s nominees. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, virtually unknown to the general public, invented guitar rock almost completely alone. She took gospel music and added elements of R&B and rock n’ roll to it, crafting a (then) completely signature style that would be used by thousands afterwards. Her role as a black woman who came front with guitar-heavy blues music was obviously oppressed. You often hear of the black artists who ‘actually’ invented rock and roll – Chuck Berry, Little Richard, etc. Sister Tharpe, who came before them, was the real ‘actual.’ Unfortunately, her total lack of presence in culture and the fact that she passed 45 years ago basically doom her from induction.

Should They Be Inducted: She should’ve been inducted on year one.

THE ZOMBIES –

(Photo Credit: Discogs)

Odds of Inclusion: 8:1. The Zombies were one of the weirder stories out of the classic rock era. Mostly known for their hit “Time of the Season” these days, they actually had an extremely limited output, releasing only two albums during their original 60’s run, but four since 1991. They were also victims of an incredibly interesting scheme that saw random musicians touring under their name, two of whom would later form 2004 inductees ZZ Top. Of the few actual classic rock bands on the ballot this year, they have a solid chance, if not a great one.

Should They Be Inducted: Probably. Even if they only released two albums in their original procession, “Odessey and Oracle” is one of the greatest albums of the classic rock era. That alone justifies them.

Well thanks for playing along and I hope you don’t bet real money on my picks, because I don’t know what I’m talking about at any point in time. But let’s see how these odds hold up during Radiohead’s performance/no-show early next year!!