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.

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!!

 

Favorite Songs & Albums of 2017 (So Far!)

(Photo Credit: Rolling Stone)

So listen – I’ve only listened to 29 albums this year. This is embarrassingly small for me, who tries to do 2-4 new releases a week. But what can I say! I spent the first few months of the year working on my thesis and looking for a job (both successful!). But, I still wanted to talk about my favorites. I regret that there are many albums by bands I love (Gorillaz! Pissed Jeans!) that I haven’t had a chance to spin yet. I wrote my annual halfway point critic-y sister post over on The Filtered Lens, but here’s my purely personal post of the songs and albums I’ve loved so far this year. Up first – songs.

Favorite Songs of 2017 (So Far):

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

(review)

Waters, both in Pink Floyd and solo, was never interested in subtlety. And any remaining subtlety has withered with age. This track, which sounds like a “Wall” cut, bemoans all of the injustices of the Western world – journalists facing danger, schoolgirls facing danger, the Earth facing danger, and fascist leaders not facing danger, all with savage profanity and an angry whisper. If this isn’t a call to arms, then what is?

#24. “Hard Times” – Paramore

After a few years dabbling in adult rock and a general grown-up alternative sound, the folks in Paramore looked to new wave inspirations for their fifth album, “After Laughter.” The best example came early, in single “Hard Times,” a completely rousing and bouncy joint that sees the group willfully eschew adult alternative for a Devo inspiration.

#23. “Everything Now” – Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire’s slow transition from existential indie rock group into bouncy disco band has had many factors, from a shortening in members to an acceptance of fame. And it soldiers onward to “Everything Now,” one of the most outwardly danceable songs the band has ever produced. Although still not an optimistic song, the production from one of the Daft Punk men robots sure heralds their new turn.

#22. “Firing Squad” – Power Trip

The thrash/heavy metal band Power Trip spent a long time recording their sophomore album – five years. And it was worth it – the dudes in the band are riff machines, and it’s prevalent throughout their album. In this track, the lead single, the guitars hit an incendiary rhythm that doesn’t let up past one of the highest, most excruciatingly shrill guitar notes this side of Dave Gilmour’s solo in “Money.” Rock on.

#21. “Ignorecam” – Pissed Jeans

The dudes in Pissed Jeans – only dudes since their ~2012 reformation – are one of the only dude bands that fully recognize their place in music, as a bunch of dudes. They did it just fine on their absolutely stellar 2013 album “Honeys.” They continue on this song, sung from the point of a dude camgirl-watcher who gets off on being ignored. Not sure why exactly they felt the need to give the voice to this group of men, but it’s a killer (and tongue-in-cheek) song either way. Singer Mark Kovette usually sounds like he’s guzzling whiskey mid-song, and his throaty, guttural vocals sound especially so here.

#20. “Pink Up” – Spoon

Admittedly, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Spoon. While I recognize their immediate legacy in the indie-rock movement, they have never really done it for me. But their new album gets permeated by a completely pleasant pseudo-avant-garde track in “Pink Up.” It’s what the avant-leaning indie movement of ~2007 did best. It’s a perfectly enjoyable track that twists and turns but never loses it’s deeply pleasant rhythm.

#19. “Continuum” – At the Drive In

(review)

After 17 album-less years, ATDI finally saw Hell freeze over and blessed us with “in•ter a•li•a,”and while it’s far from perfect (‘perfect’ here meaning “Relationship of Command”), it has plenty of killer, gut-punching tracks. “Continuum” is driven almost entirely by Cedric Bizler-Zavala’s screamy vocals, which have only gotten stronger over time. The climax of the song, which literally jumps from a whisper to a scream, is one of the best bridges of the year.

#18. “Passionfruit” – Drake

And here I thought I was done with Drake. After three straight releases that I absolutely couldn’t listen to (two of which were loooooong, too), Drake came through with the music-heavy ‘playlist’ “More Life.” One of the breakouts is single “Passionfruit,” which starts with a sobering minute-plus synth rhythm (sobering, despite the DJ literally cutting in to tell people to drink more). It’s a pleasant track that sounds a lot like “One Dance,” but smoother, more digestible, and, well, fruity. Keep it up, Drizzy.

#17. “DNA.” – Kendrick Lamar

(review)

Lamar might be the only person in music currently challenging Beyoncé in the combo of mixing ambition, stage presence, and popularity. “DNA.” is a dirty, rapid track that showcases the two things Lamar does best – boasts and vulnerability. He also tackles another target – Geraldo Riviera. Riviera naturally said some pointless, racist stuff about Lamar in the past, so Lamar responds to it directly, even including a soundclip of Riviera’s comments for all of us to hear. Savage? Jury’s out, but it’s great either way.

#16. “Bad and Boujee” – Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert

Migos aren’t exactly upstanding guys, and it feels bad to support them. But this song has been stuck in my head since January and there’s nothing I can do about it. Migos excel in simplicity; the rhymes here often sound like poetry written by (filthy) kindergartners – but it’s all in the rhythm of the vocals. The easiness of the song isn’t laziness but a calculated exercise in infecting listeners with a rhythm that’s bound to survive past the year and into the ‘classics’ hall. And it was a #1 to boot. Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah,

#15. “Nightmare Logic” – Power Trip

I’m not up to date on this year’s metal albums, but no song I’ve heard has had a more commanding central riff than this title track. The riff is so simple that it seems criminal how catchy it is, but that seems to be Power Trip’s MO. And although the lyrics seem to invoke a fight against an other-worldly evil being, they can be easily (and probably intentionally) applied to the resistance felt in our own country. This song is the fierce shot in the knee we all need this year.

#14. “Cut to the Feeling” – Carly Rae Jepsen

How good was Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 album “E•MO•TION?” She released a follow-up EP of cut tracks, and still had some gold leftover. This track, cut from both the album and the EP, is pop powerhouse. Jepsen practically smothers us in her voice, piercing through the music to belt the song’s title. Also, “Cut to the Feeling” feels like a description of the lyrics to every song she’s ever written.

#13. “Shining” – DJ Khaled feat. Beyoncé & JAY-Z

Khaled has a habit of bringing in some of rap & R&B’s best talents and bringing out the best in them, even over his simple beats. “Shining” is no exception, although the features make it worth the while. HOVA’s verse is on par with his verse in last year’s “I Got the Keys,” breathing energy into his limping* career. But Bey owns this tracks, singing at full volume and rapping a verse. It’s just a winning combination.

* – 4:44 is great, I wrote this bit before the album dropped and was kinda predicting it to be less so.

#12. “Run” – Foo Fighters

After a lackluster conceptual album and tour fatigue, Foo Fighters took a well-deserved break. And I, personally, thought that their glimmer was fading fast. But they returned recently with “Run” (no relation to their previous single “Walk”). The song stands as arguably the heaviest in their discography, with a riff boarding on metal and Dave Grohl’s screamed vocals. It’s whiplash in song form, in a way the Fighters haven’t delivered in a while. Also, the video is a masterpiece.

#11. “Governed By Contagions’ – At the Drive In

(review)

Boasting a title that sounds like it came from an ATDI song name generator, the band exploded back into the scene after 17 years with this single, a punk-induced blast that effectively uses both of the band’s singers. It’s as blood-boiling as anything in their back catalog, and appropriately dense. It’s also likely the best track on their new album. Turn the volume all the way up.

#s 10-7. “Talk to Me,” “Legend Has It,” “Call Ticketron,” “Hey Kids (Bumaye) [feat. Danny Brown]” – Run the Jewels

Okay is this fair? Maybe, maybe not. This is my blog, I do what I want. Run the Jewels have made a habit of putting out albums that flow like long suites. Their new album, “Run the Jewels 3,” opens with a surprisingly light track called “Down.” But then they kick it into high gear with “Talk to Me,” loudly announcing the album’s title. Their first two albums saw them justifying their own existence through searing political tracks. But this release sees them recognizing their popularity and rapping more about themselves. It’s less dark (though still dark), and often more fun. My personal favorite from the album, “Call Ticketron,” is just about the experience of seeing Run the Jewels live. Also, props to Killer Mike for some of the year’s best lines: “We are the murderous pair / That went to jail and we murdered the murderers there / Then went to Hell and discovered the devil / Delivered some hurt and despair” (“Legend Has It,” which also has a great video). Here’s a fun parting fact: both El-P and Killer Mike are 42, making the combined age of Run the Jewels 84. Legends.

#6. “call the police” – LCD Soundsystem

I have very mixed feelings about the publicity stunt that was the “break-up” and “reunion” of arguably-one-man band LCD Soundsystem. That said, James Murphy’s first single in seven years is exactly what you want from a Soundsystem song – nearly eight minutes, lacking a palpable central chorus and rhythm, and still inherently danceable. His lyrics are usually either completely targeted, or all over the place – and this song is the latter. Murphy sings like he’s throwing darts at a dartboard filled with “gentrified Brooklyn problems.” It’s a ton of fun stretched out over a long time, and it stops abruptly right as it becomes tedious. The true James Murphy way. Dance yrself clean.

#5. “On Hold” – The xx

The xx have never been the most upfront band. Even in the reformed group’s ‘new’ approach, they’re still very muted and emotionally vulnerable. And this is the exact reason why I, personally, don’t care for them. But for this track (the album’s lead single), Jamie xx takes a sample of a Hall & Oates song and exploits it as one of the song’s central rhythms. It’s an inherently catchy song that transforms a familiar rhythm into something else entirely. It’s a very groovy song, but one that repeatedly catches you in it’s cold, cold subject manner. The lyrics are just sad as all hell.

#4. “Sign of the Times” – Harry Styles

This song was a bold move, and one I deeply respect. At 5:41, the track is longer than every song in the One Direction discography (one remix matches it). It’s a somewhat bold lead single, one that signals an immediate shift away from the group he is permanently entwined with. And what a song – a piano ballad that’s vaguely about war (“Dunkirk” in theaters July 21st!) but also about personal relationships. It’s no secret that Styles was one of the better voices of the group, and it gets put on full display on this lead single. It’d be fun to watch the guy let loose if it wasn’t so emotional.

#3. “HUMBLE.” – Kendrick Lamar

(review)

The biggest jam of Lamar’s “DAMN.” was also its leadoff single. The song, less than three minutes, is a searing indictment of various things wrong with pop culture today. He touches on photoshopping models, billionaires giving talks and, vaguely and perhaps ironically, the luxury of millionaire celebs. And he does so with a ferocious energy, like he’s being paid word-per-second. The track is incendiary, the musical equivalent of a long string on fire, leading up to a bomb. Tense, direct, and catchy, it showcases Kendrick at his peak, truth-spewing form. And since I’ve done it a few times already – it has one of the best videos in years.

#2. “Fragments” – Blondie

(review)

The fun thing about doing pieces like this on my personal blog is being able to talk about any random album tracks I please, and there’s always ones that I love. This time around, it’s the final track on Blondie’s good new album “Pollinator.” The song is a left-field choice for my #2 of the year, for sure. It’s two seconds shy of seven minutes, and is a cover of a song written by a movie blogger. But Deborah Harry and co. just own it. It’s a new-wave song in the fullest – a slow intro that drags the listener long enough that they expect it to stay a sad ballad. And once that expectation is passed, the band locks in and jumps the tempo to practically double. Blondie don’t need to be putting in this much energy in 2017 (Harry just turned 72, for chrissakes), but the fact that they do makes this song so supremely entertaining. And the band stays locked in for most of the song’s runtime, before bringing it back in for a slower finale. I didn’t think we needed new Blondie in 2017, but we did.

#1. “Green Light” – Lorde

(review)

The first thing you should know about this song is that hitmaker Max Martin told Lorde her songwriting on this track was “incorrect.” She respectfully ignored his advice and released the song anyways. And man she dominates this song. The first minute sounds like old Lorde, piano ballad about meeting people in bars and what not. But once that off-beat piano kicks in, her whole history gets thrown out in favor of an excessively danceable tune that matures her teenage ennui in a very natural way. This song is the equivalent of a night where you went out a little too long – where you had a little too much, and got a little too emotional. But it’s also the morning after, when you realized that you don’t really care all that much after all. It’s three simultaneous emotions packed into one, and the pure volume and energy of the song make it difficult to handle. The proper response to this happens near the end of the song, when all instruments but the synth drain out in a supposed bridge, but one that Lorde ignores and keeps singing at high volume. This is a track for the bored teens, the 20-somethings who feel stuck, the 30-somethings who have to accept that life isn’t working out the way they want. It’s restless, fidget-y, and sleepless, but optimistic in a way that only Lorde could pull off. In other words, it’s 2017 in a song.

Favorite Albums of 2017 (So Far):

#10. Feist – “Pleasure”

Sparse, minimalist indie-pop isn’t usually something that barks up my tree, because I personally find it leaning more towards uninspired than emotional. But “Pleasure,” Feist’s first album in six years (and released only weeks before her appearance on the new Broken Social Scene record), feels intentionally lacking, like pieces have removed. It’s sparse to the points of actual silence, and yet the album has an undercurrent of something much bigger and darker. It covers a lot of ground, a lot of emotions and situations that are begrudgingly necessary in our own lives. This is a long way from an iPod commercial.

#9. Drake – “More Life”

Dammit, I like Drake again. His last three albums lost me completely – “Reading This” was frustratingly downtempo, “What a Time” was a cash grab and “VIEWS” was a painfully unlistenable act of showing you the table you’re going to put all of your emotions on, but then not actually doing it (as well as an exercise in the dangers of adopting another culture’s styles). But the common missing link in these albums was any remotely interesting music. Here, Drizzy incorporates music entirely, from the flutes in “Portland” to the sobering synth in “Passionfruit” that sounds like a tamer, better version of his inane and appropriative “One Dance.” Drake himself seems relaxed and in focus, more so than usual. And although this isn’t an album – it’s a ‘playlist’ – it’s still one of the better releases in his catalog.

#8. Foxygen – “Hang”

Foxygen are a pretty weird group. At their core, they’re early Rolling Stones imitators. Their music is very loose and fun, while being artfully destructive. But they do exist in 2017, an age where you can say “let’s spend the night together.” Foxygen exist more as the wet dream that exists in some Rolling Stones & Velvet Underground mix. This album, one of their better releases, is a large orchestral ensemble suite, although the band still officially credits only two members. Tracks like “Follow the Leader” and “America” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a more experimental prog-classic rock album, while maintaining a certain loose energy and heavy production that couldn’t have existed then. It’s a rare balance, and they haven’t always pulled it off in the past, but this album is a real gem.

#7. Slowdive – “Slowdive”

At it’s heaviest and loudest, shoegaze can be one of the most physically draining and ear-ripping experiences (My Bloody Valentine were regularly voted one of the loudest live bands and, well, Deafheaven). But at the other end of the spectrum are bands like Slowdive. They, like MBV and the Jesus + Mary Chain, regrouped for the current shoegaze revival and released their first new album in 22 years. The album retains shoegaze’s wall of sound, but through a dream-pop filter. The tracks on this album (especially “Star Roving”) fill you with a loud but warming sound that somehow reaches down into you like cocoa on a snowy day. It’s a summer-y album for people like me that don’t really like summer albums. Don’t feel like going outside? Let this be your sunshine instead. Note: headphones required.

*Doctors recommend a daily dose of sunlight. “Slowdive” has not been verified by the FDA and should not be considered a long-term replacement for vitamin D. Also don’t yell at me for calling Deafheaven shoegaze. “Sunbather” is.

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

(review)

This album title has a simple answer – no. Waters was never very subtle in his decades in Pink Floyd, and he has been even less so in his solo work. In fact, Waters is more direct in his lyrical attacks than any young punk band you’ll ever see. This album is chock-full of specific ailments the world faces. Waters (and all of Pink Floyd) is deeply anti-fascist, and with the rise of fascist and fascist-adjacent politics, Waters immediately followed suit. Although much of the album is acoustic and subdued (think “Mother”), his anger is broiling over the pot and onto the stove. Sure, at one point he refers to an unnamed world leader as a “nincompoop,” but most of his attacks land hard – he chronicles governments killing journalists, the indifference to women being murdered, climate change and police brutality in one verse. Waters is just as angry as ever. Also, happy 40th, “Animals.” You’re aging well, unfortunately.

#5. Power Trip – “Nightmare Logic”

I’d call this the best metal album of the year – to be fair, it’s the only one I’ve listened to so far. But it’ll probably stay that way. Power Trip take the best components of heavy metal and thrash metal and boil them down into songs that are straightforward but punishing. Metal bands can often be a little silly, but Power Trip demand to be taken seriously on this album, with grave political songs and mind-blowing riffs. The songs on this album are often somewhat basic, but they approach simplicity with a renewed energy, something most metal bands avoid (by either rehashing the same ideas, or trying to be overly conceptual). The rhythm in the title track barely stretches across more than one note, but it’s as effective as the best Motorhead classics.

#4. Lorde – “Melodrama”

(review)

From synth to industrial to piano ballad, Lorde’s sophomore album hits practically every point. The beauty of the album lies easily in how much of a sophomore album it feels like. Her first album was about life as a bored New Zealander teenager, minimalist and bleak; this album shares the sentiment, but from the POV of a 20 year old who has deeper experiences. Lorde’s choice to show those advancements through music rather than lyrics is brilliant, as it gives the album a whole depth that was intentionally missing from her debut. It’s a completely separate and distinct record, one that takes the already palpable emotions from her first record and translates them into different terms. This record is plagued with uncertainty about the future – it just switches between worry and carelessness. Lorde seems wise beyond her years, and this album shows.

#3. Kendrick Lamar – “DAMN.”

(review)

K-Dot’s last full album was, need I say, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” The modern masterpiece will almost definitely go down amongst “The Chronic” and “Stankonia” on the list of all-time best rap albums. Lamar presents himself on that album as a deeply flawed person, but does so in an otherworldly manner. On this album, he falls back down to Earth to compete at a fair level. The album is grittier, dirtier, and grounded more in velocity and realism than ambition. But don’t mistake that for a lack of creativity, because Lamar brings the heat. The album is full of intense boasts and rapid-fire rapping, from “DNA.” to “HUMBLE.” As always, the features are sparse, mostly centered around a solid Rihanna duet. And the album climaxes with a track that gives the oral history of the time Lamar’s father met the man who founded Top Dawg, the label Lamar is on – and then reimagines their interaction as a violent one. Lamar’s verses about addiction and personal demons actually feel more suited to this gritty album, and while it’s no “Butterfly,” it’s still a damn delight – sorry, a DAMN. delight.

#2. Mount Eerie – “A Crow Looked At Me”

The fact that I made it through this album in one pass is amazing. The fact that I did it over a drink is downright impressive. Only in rare circles of indie-folk do you find music this depressing and, when you do, it’s usually unwarranted and/or fictionalized. This isn’t. This album is the chronicles of folk/metal singer Phil Elverum losing his wife to pancreatic cancer shortly after she gave birth to their first child. The album acts as an extended news clip from a small-town station, a prolonged eulogy, and an admission of guilt over feelings Elverum maybe wanted to ignore. The album is entirely acoustic, and was structured chronologically from the immediate aftermath of her passing to acceptance a year later. The album’s songs are largely devoid of rhyme and structure, and are just thoughts thrown onto a page. Elverum describes the simplest of tasks – taking the garbage out, collecting her mail – with an emotional intensity that an average listener cannot relate to. It is extensively brutal, emotional, and honest. The entire album resembles a Mountain Goats song boiled down to it’s core and re-worked to be even more honest and unfiltered. If you think you can handle this album – then go for it. Elverum himself says there isn’t a lesson, that it’s just life. But even that can be overwhelming.

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

Run the Jewels have nothing left to prove. The two rappers, Killer Mike and El-P, spent the group’s first two records using their respective underground statuses to reach newfound fame. And now, both men (each 42 years of age), have hit that status. So their third album is less political and more vocal flexing. When you have both El-P and Killer Mike onboard, some narrative boasting is exceptionally enjoyable. They spend much more time on this album rapping about their own status as newly-christened throne holders. And they do it with flair – Danny Brown, Tunde Adebimpe, Trina, BOOTS, Zack de la Rocha and Kamasi Washington make appearances. RTJ have spent their first few years existing on a kind of fringe – a band more political than most current popular rappers, with a intensity not suited for radio. This album sees them join the ranks of current rappers and outdo nearly all of them immediately. The album follows their previous works, in that often songs blend together in one long suite (as you saw above), resulting in a constant crush of beats, El-P’s otherworldly one-liners and Killer Mike’s energy. Truly, a match made in heaven.

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Highly doubt anyone’s still reading (I didn’t), but if you did, thanks and remember to smash that like and follow button (did I do that right). Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have listened to, you know, a bunch more albums. Also remember to check out The Filtered Lens for occasional reviews from me and great takes on film and TV from others. See you in December!

75 Favorite Albums of 2016

Well, kids, it’s that time of the year. This year has been brutal on all of us, but at least we got great music out of it, in every genre. 2016 was honestly so great that I had trouble cutting things out of my top 75 – and it’s not like I listened to that many albums this year. So, without further adieu, is my top albums of the year. I don’t think I’m able to form a proper order, even for the top handful. Therefore, I have formed two tiers, for 75-31, and 30-1. If your favorite didn’t make the cut, I possibly didn’t like it, but probably didn’t get to it. But here, 75 great releases for you to bask in:

Tier II: (75-31)

Anderson .Paak Malibu”

A man who had a breakthrough year, Anderson .Paak effortlessly and energetically fuses many different genres on an extremely fun release. “Malibu” is one of the only albums to give pure joy in 2016.

ANOHNI “HOPELESSNESS”

Easily the most political album to grace the mainstream this year, ANOHNI touches on subjects not universally recognized in other political works. “4 Degrees” addresses climate change, where “Drone Bomb Me” and “Obama” criticize our beloved but faulty president.

BABYMETAL “Metal Resistance”

The concept is a tough sell – three teenage Japanese girls singing heavy metal. But it works. The girls clearly have the energy, focus and ambition, and their backing band is surely talented enough to hold against more “traditional” metal bands. Rob Zombie-approved.

Bleached “Welcome to the Worms”

Bleached took the opposite approach of many punk bands – they ditched their only male member and strengthened their sound. Their previous, sun-drenched 60’s sound was eschewed for a sturdier 70’s punk throwback, with a shoegaze style production. One of the highlights in a year of great feminist punk records.

Blood Orange“Freetown Sound”

One of the best R&B albums of the year hits many different targets. It’s often as political as it is lovely. And with a wide array of guests from Debbie Harry to Ta-Nehisi Coates to Carly Rae Jepsen (see below), it’s a full force. While this type of music usually isn’t my forte, I was still engrossed for every second of it.

Seth Bogart“Seth Bogart”

The first proper solo album from the Hunx & His Punx singer strays far from the band – an indie-pop art/music odyssey centered around the fake lifestyles celebrities must adapt, complemented by a cheap keyboard and auto-tune. Think a better Ariel Pink.

clipping. “Splendor & Misery”

Hamilton, this ain’t. The main project of Daveed Diggs, now-Broadway star, released their second album, a hip-hop odyssey about a slave traveling through outer space. It’s inconsistent to say the least, but when Diggs lets go, and when the band rallies with music that borders on pure harsh noise, it sounds like nothing else that came out this year.

CryingBeyond the Fleeting Gales”

Crying bypassed their chiptune upbringing and instead released an album of 80’s glorification – the emotion of 80’s alternative, mixed with the energy and confidence of hair metal. Pretty interesting for a band whose previous album featured a Game Boy as a main instrument.

Death Grips“Bottomless Pit”

One of my favorite groups of the past few years, Death Grips always shock and surprise with their new albums. Although this one doesn’t hold up to many of their previous releases, the sheer volume pushes and constant flow still make for one of the more interesting rap albums of the year.

Deftones“Gore”

Sixteen years after their excellent album “White Pony,” Deftones have finally delivered another great release. In typical Deftones fashion, it came from in-fighting that nearly dissolved the band. But singer Chino Moreno’s push for more experimental music against guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s push for heavier music resulted in the disconnect that permeates this, their eighth album.

Dillinger Escape Plan“Dissociation”

The mathcore legends went out on a high note, with a brutally loud final album that cements their legacy. The album is jampacked with tonal left turns, ruined hushed moments, incomprehensible guitar riffs and dense layers of musicianship. It’s everything you want from a Dillinger Escape Plan album.

DJ Khaled“Holy Key”

Put DJ Khaled down for having the album with the best guest spots of the year; Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, Future, Jay-Z, and Nas are just a handful that show up to work with the influential producer. Songs aren’t so much framed around Khaled’s beats as they are the strengths of the guests, which leads to many diverse, enthralling songs.

Future of the Left“The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left” and “To Failed States and Forest Clearings”

One of my favorite bands dropped a good album and a great E.P. The album, “Peace & Truce,” saw the band taking a more math-rock, trust-testing approach, with guitar riffs that edge closer to incomprehension than convention. The E.P., meanwhile, was a more familiar approach to the band’s viciously loud post-punk songs.

Gojira“Magma”

One of the best bands in all of metal had been striking closer to rock radio. Once the mother of two of the band’s four members fell ill and passed away, they took an even more subtler approach. The album is typically well-written (there’s only a handful of dull songs in the band’s discography), but is atypically conventional, to the point where it picked up Grammy noms in rock categories.

Gucci Mane“Everybody Looking”

Gucci wasted *no* time after getting out of prison – he recorded and released a song within 24 hours of its release. His follow-up album was his first great release in years, after many tread-water mixtapes from prison. Happier, sober and free, Gucci introduces a new version of himself – but in a typical southern style.

Hinds“Leave Me Alone”

One of the first notable releases of 2016, and unfortunately washed under everything else since, was the debut from the Spanish indie-pop group. It’s a slight album, one that focuses on individual notes in a way similar to The xx. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s a fun debut, and it’s clear the band put effort into every song.

Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion (Side B)”

Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 album “E*MO*TION” proved such a hit that she released an EP of songs that didn’t make the cut. Even these songs – especially “Cry” – would be a standout for other singers. Truly a great pop icon of our time (buy her album!!).

Kvelertak“Nattesferd”

One of the year’s best metal albums comes, unsurprisingly, from Norway. Kvelertak forego recent trends in metal and instead put out fiercely driving garage rock, updated for an age where Deep Purple aren’t revolutionary, just great. If the Vikings existed today, they’d eat up this album.

Kendrick Lamar“untitled unmastered.”

Much like Carly Rae Jepsen, K-Dot’s 2016 release was a continuation of his wild 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Only he took ideas cut from the album and turned them into a small-serving E.P. that flows. It’s minor, but often incendiary, and proof that Kendrick can take even fragments of songs and make something extraordinary out of them.

Metallica“Hardwired…to Self Destruct”

Though far overlong, repetitive, and burdened with a terrible title, Metallica’s first album in nearly a decade is also their best album in nearly three decades. At its best, the band matches their 80’s highs of frantic energy, huge guitar solos and destructive lyrics. It’s the first time that Metallica sound like they’re enjoying themselves in…too long.

Mitski“Puberty 2”

Mitski’s breakthrough is a diverse and brutally honest indie album, one that balances restraint with heavy lyrical topics. Even more contradictory, Mitski forces herself into complete control, through the use of subtlety and occasionally awkward themes.

Marissa Nadler“Strangers”

A beautifully dark, ambient and absent indie/folk record from someone who has proven herself at those kinds of things. It makes sense that Nadler is signed to a label that prioritizes heavy, brooding rock – her’s just takes away the volume.

Oathbreaker – “Rheia”

A brutally heavy metal album brings fury in unpredictable doses. Various tracks feature regular vocals and even acoustic guitar, but the doses of volume get longer and longer as the album goes on, so a black metal hangover emerges by the end. Oathbreaker grab the torch in a recent, necessary trend of black metal bands breaking formulas and providing emotional and shocking records.

Frank Ocean“Blonde”

Admittedly, I just don’t have the same attraction to Ocean’s music that most people do; echoing my note on Blood Orange, it’s just not really my thing. But after a long absence, Ocean’s album still delivers in a very diverse, dark and minimalist set that immediately makes you forget how long you waited for it.

Angel Olsen – “My Woman”

Angel Olsen continued her trend of creating folksy indie rock songs that border on The Flaming Lips as much as they do Florence & the Machine; as in, they jump from being humorous to emotional, short to lengthy. She also continued her trend of getting better with each album.

Panic! at the Disco“Death of a Bachelor”

My head grew and shrunk three sizes when I realized I was enjoying a Panic! at the Disco album, something I’ve never done before. But this album is a circus affair; grandiose and attractive, like a Vaudevillian set without seeming too forceful about it. It is flamboyant, in a non-flamboyant way.

Pinegrove“Cardinal”

One of the only noteworthy breakthrough rock albums of the year barely qualifies as such; the band’s lowkey mix of lo-fi and emo makes for an honest and subdued record, that’s still filled with excellent musicianship. It takes a bit to get into, but it’s more than worth it.

Rae Sremmurd“Sremmlife 2”

Although it loses steam towards the end, the first half of the Brown brothers’ second album is filled with some of the year’s best party tunes, with enough diversity to make each one different. Some of the only musical joy of 2016 came from “Sremmlufe 2”

Red Hot Chili Peppers“The Getaway”

The weakness of every RHCP album prior to this one (10 of them) was an inability to make the less funky songs interesting. This, more than almost any other RHCP release, feels like a cohesive album with actual effort put into every song, not just the potential radio hits. It’s a very chill album, too, with little action in a high volume.

ROMP“Departure From Venus”

Around a year ago, I caught this band at a small gig in Boston and they blew me away. They followed suit with an excellent little pop-punk record that strays closer to the latter than the former. Keep this name in your heads, and find it on Bandcamp.

Paul Simon“Stranger to Stranger”

Using world music has always been a crutch for Simon – and not always with a good result. But this album is littered with South African rhythms and South American drums, and even uses a clock as an instrument in one song. With quick songs, hushed music and upbeat rhythms, it’s one of Simon’s better albums.

Sum 41“13 Voices”

It’s been a long time since Sum 41 released a decent record, but the band has gone through some changes – frontman Deryck Whibley was hospitalized with liver and kidney failure (as a result of excessive drinking), and founding member Dave Baksh re-joined. The result is an album far heavier than any in the band’s heyday, a punk-metal trip that’s corny, but effective.

Tacocat “Lost Time”

Another great feminist punk album this year came from Tacocat, whose rhythmic and deceivingly-joyful album included excellent track titles like “Men Explain Things to Me” and “Dana Katherine Scully.”

Tove Lo“Ladywood”

While I wasn’t too into Tove Lo’s debut album, her sophomore release was a more well-crafted pop record, with an inexplicable appeal to it like a smell in an old cartoon that makes someone float into the kitchen. It isn’t the most memorable album, but as a whole, it really draws you in as the world around you disintegrates.

Vektor“Terminal Redux”

A thrash metal concept album about an astronaut finding, and then canceling immortality is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. But if it’s yours, this is one head-bashing record. It’s a mammoth of pained vocals and guitar shredding, all in a palpable sci-fi setting.

Weezer“Weezer”

Weezer’s fourth self-titled record (this one, white), isn’t as memorable as their first two albums – but it’s the best one since then. Weezer’s best songs are usually feelgood fuzz-pop for a summery day, and this album is full of them.

White Lung“Paradise”

White Lung’s 2014 album “Deep Fantasy” is one of my most-spun and favorite records; it uses sheer volume and ferocity to impress. This album, though, only strategically deploys those ferocious moments, against slower songs (even a few ballads!) The lyrics, meanwhile, approach even darker (and memorable) territories, even with the recent marriage of Mish Barber-Way, using that event to craft murderous timelines.

Young Thug“JEFFERY”

Thugger’s third mixtape of the year didn’t reinvent the wheel, just turned it very, very well. It is packed full of great lines, youthful energy and well-placed guest spots. Every track is named after one of Thug’s idols (and, uh, Harambe). And the mixtape’s cover is easily my winner for Album Cover of the Year.

Tier I: (30-1)

AJJ“The Bible 2”

AJJ made a long-overdue rebranding by shortening their name and flattening out their sound. Their albums had seen the band move more progressively towards actual songwriting, instead of just furious and ceaseless acoustic guitar strumming, and the transition feels complete here. There are throwbacks to earlier albums; “Terrifyer” could have been 2006-2011, and “Cody’s Theme” and “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” could’ve been 2011-2015. But there’s more drawn out songs, with slow pieces and delayed themes. It’s a good mix of old and new for a band that – love them as I do – took a little too long to grow up.

Beyoncé“Lemonade”

What is there to say about the best album of the year? Bey’s concept album sees a narrator, presumed as herself, going through stages of grief after being cheated on. There’s sadness, anger, regret and acceptance. The eventual acceptance zooms way out, with Beyoncé putting her own issues aside to call black women to arms against more widespread injustice. Conceptual, convulsive and controversial, “Lemonade” showcases Beyoncé at her prime. It even zips through different genres, racking up bizarre guest spots and songwriting credits – Jack White and James Blake pop up, and everyone from Led Zeppelin to Ezra Koenig to Burt Bacharach get credited. Fans nitpicked lyrics trying to figure out specific details about Bey and Jay-Z’s relationship – because Beyoncé sells her material so well that everyone just assumed it was autobiographical. It could all be true, it could all be fiction, it could be inspired by something that happened. All we have to go on is Becky with the good hair.

The Body“No One Deserves Happiness”

Easily the most unsettling album I listened to this year was this behemoth. The metal duo’s full-length nightmare is often punishingly heavy, but can stop and start on a dime. With pitch-black lyrics (look at the album’s title again), hammering drums and guitar overload, it can be a lot to take in. And that’s before I mention the vocalists – Chrissy Wolpert, longtime collaborator, shows up on multiple songs, adding cold beauty to the noise around her. This complements vocals by Chip King, who shrieks like a rooster at full volume in a way that does not ever get comfortable. I only discovered this band this year and haven’t yet heard their previous albums, so let me just say – I’ve never heard anything like this before.

David Bowie“Blackstar”

Oh, boy. About a year later and it still hurts to listen to this album. But what an album it is – Bowie’s last album (intentional or not – designed as a goodbye, but Bowie allegedly worked on some demos about a week before his death) is his best since “Let’s Dance” and his most artistic since “Low.” With references to biblical figures and 17th century literature, it’s really just Bowie letting himself go. The album skirts on being conventional, but often opts instead for jazz infusions and experimentation, which demands many listens. This isn’t only one of the best albums of the year, it’s one of Bowie’s best albums, and an album we’re going to remember for decades.

Danny Brown“Atrocity Exhibition”

When you’re a deeply respected rapper with some ties to the mainstream, you’re really sending a message when you name an album after a Joy Division song. But “Atrocity Exhibition,” like the work of Joy Division, is an astonishing and uncomfortable roller coaster that jumps wildly between ecstasy (both emotion and drug), terror, apprehension, and a mix of all. Brown usually details his nightmares, but on “Exhibition,” he lets us live them, in an up-and-down, jarring ride. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s always great. Brown is one of the best rappers in the world right now – and certainly one of the most unpredictable.

Car Seat Headrest “Teens of Denial”

One of the year’s two best indie albums, and the only one from a relative newcomer, is a 70 minute guitar epic that jumps between tightly-wound fuzz jaunts and extremely longwinded, Dylanesque tracks. The result is not really knowing what to expect next. The album’s longest track is just over 10 minutes longer than the shortest. And there isn’t a moment to lose – the longer songs (in general my favorites) are often slowburning and tantric, spending minutes building to a big chorus or musical peak. Will Toledo, frontman and former-sole-member, is a master lyricist. The album is filled with hyper-specific lyrics that would border on being worrisome, if they weren’t so often tongue-in-cheek.

Chance the Rapper“Coloring Book”

One of the only joys of 2016 was watching Chance’s meteoric rise to stardom. He used a spot on Kanye’s album to mention his forthcoming mixtape, and built it up so much that it had to deliver to keep his career going. Thankfully, it does, and more so. Although the album does see Chance slip into brief moments of contemplation or reflection on the evils of the world around him (especially in Chicago), it is largely a time for rejoicing and celebrating. Fun beats and funky rhythms bolster lyrics that hit a wide range of lyrics and emotions, but ones that are usually delivered in Chance’s infectiously gleeful attitude. Life can be a party sometimes, and Chance is here to remind us of that. So pure. We don’t deserve him.

Leonard Cohen“You Want It Darker”

Cohen didn’t necessarily predict this album to be his last. Although in an interview he said he was ready for death, he later clarified that he meant he had lived a full life, and wasn’t ready – only to die a few weeks later. Whatever his intentions may have been, the album sees Cohen removing himself from social situations and prepping himself for death. The title track and “Treaty,” which comes up later as a reprise, seem like a demand to be taken by God. “Leaving the Table,” meanwhile, is the ode of someone reluctantly leaving. I’m still not quite sure what to make of this record. You do you, Cohen.

Crystal Castles“Amnesty (I)”

A little bit before this album was released, I made a comment to someone about how I thought it was wrong for Ethan Kath to continue the band without Alice Glass. I was wrong – the replacement he found in Edith Frances is not only great, but provides a foil for what Glass’s strengths were. Frances is more than content to let her voice slip into the music, complementing Kath’s manic beats instead of fighting for attention. Not to say Glass holding her own was bad – it was just as good. But Kath & Frances did well to introduce a new singer by flipping the switch on the formula. The album’s most manic synth tracks are among my most-played of the year, and this album sits comfortably at my third most-played new album of the year. If you liked the old Crystal Castles, the new image is nothing to scoff at.

Dinosaur, Jr. “Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not”

Dinosaur, Jr. are at their very best when they’re doing just punchy rock songs. Their 90’s albums set aside time for J. Mascis to experiment with other ideas, and it was never bad. But when the band is locked and loaded, they’re at their prime. “Give a Glimpse” is just that – eleven great rock songs. The band’s biggest problem in the past was overlong songs, even in some singles. But there isn’t a wasted moment on this album, which cuts downtime. It’s just great guitar riff after great guitar solo. As usual, Lou Barlow sings two songs, very well-placed on the album. And the lyrics, with some patience, are among the band’s better outputs, too. Mascis sings about loneliness as a constant theme, with Barlow’s two contributions fitting in. It’s one of the band’s best records yet, and a strong contender for my personal favorite of the year.

DJ Shadow“The Mountain Will Fall”

Through 12 songs, DJ Shadow puts on just about 12 different masks. This album’s strength is diversity, and every song on this album is distinctly different from the next. The opener, titled the same as the album, is a somewhat soothing, slowly moving and wavy electronic song. The follow-up track features Run the Jewels. The album continues like this, with a serious unpredictability. Some have well-sought-out features, and some are just DJ Shadow. But the whole album is ear candy for anyone who respect Shadow’s deep record collection and love of music. The multitude of influences and ideas is on full display here.

Head Wound City“A New Wave of Violence”

In 2005, two members of the Locust, two members of the Blood Brothers and a member of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs formed a noisegrind supergroup. In one week, they wrote and recorded an EP, and disbanded. In 2016, they reformed and put out a proper album. But with a decade of inactivity under their belt, the members had grown weary of noisegrind, and set their sights on traditional hardcore. Despite the name, and the lyrical content of some songs, it isn’t necessarily a dark record. There are love songs here. But there’s also volume, and violence. It is a deafening record, just one that has songs that take their time to get to that point. More than anything, the strength of this album is Jordan Blilie’s double-recorded vocals and their ability to pierce any setting. (My second most played album of the year)

Jenny Hval“Blood Bitch”

Jenny Hval is a musician who escapes genre – even in writing about her, I struggle to call her avant-garde, noise, art-pop or ambient. She fits uncomfortably within all. It’s a space she has occupied for a while, but her new album further accentuates her standing as a conceptual artist. “Blood Bitch” is a concept album, one that equates vampirism (and cult exploitation and cinematic depictions) with menstrual blood. Every track on the album is about blood, and it never lets you get comfortable. But it’s important – especially for a male reviewer, like me – to face truths about what we do or don’t experience. This album does so in every way.

Iggy Pop“Post Pop Depression”

If David Bowie’s final album took a tone of uncertainty towards his own legacy, his protege’s sure doesn’t. Pop’s probable final album straight up bemoans an Iggy Pop-less world in its title. Throughout the album, Pop hits every note from creepy love song, to introspective moodiness to poo jokes – his entire wheelhouse. It’s nothing more than a collection of songs, but each one is great. He’s joined by Josh Homme and Dean Fertita from Queens of the Stone Age and Matt Helders from the Arctic Monkeys, and the album is recorded in such a way that it sounds like each man is vying for attention. In reality, it’s four musicians clocked in and creating a raucous good time.

Alicia Keys“Here”

Alicia Keys put her hair up and let her guard down on a totally rebranded album suitable for 2016. Keys has made many statements about women in her music, but never as direct as she does on “Here.” The songs are more diverse in tone, influence and even length than on a usual Keys album. Like other albums this year, especially Solange’s “A Seat at the Table,” the album is framed around a narrative that emphasizes themes through spoken word skits and interludes. But more than anything, there’s a bunch of great jams here.

Lady Gaga“Joanne”

When Gaga first arose, there was a need for a real change in pop music. Pop music demanded someone new and different. So Gaga donned a meatsuit and made music headlines. But now that time has passed, she can just be a performer now. A fool might forget that Gaga got to where she is based on the fact that she can sing; she has a voice of gold. “Joanne” showcases that – it’s not so much a Top 40 album as it is an album for both parents and teenagers to enjoy. There’s ballads and energetic tracks, in a more throwback lounge singer style. But it’s all Gaga, so it’s all worth it.

Nails“You Will Never Be One Of Us”

Ten songs, twenty-one minutes. That sounds like a daunting record, especially before you take something else into consideration: the last track is over eight minutes long. The songs that come before it prove Nails to be one of the best crossover metal bands around right now. Their songs mix the rapidity of grindcore with the ferocity of powerviolence, into a mix of metal and punk that’s been done a million times – but never quite with the touch that Nails gives it. My vote for the loudest band in the world right now.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds“Skeleton Tree”

“Skeleton Tree” is an album permeated with bad situations and unfortunate circumstances. Although Nick Cave had a personal tragedy after much of the album had been recorded, his grief still comes across like he walked into the studio moments after it happened. The prince of darkness spreads the idea of grief and forgiveness across a minimalist, difficult set of songs. It might just be the saddest album of 2016.

Phantogram“Three

Phantogram’s third album is a much more eclectic work than their previous album, a pleasing mix of the duo’s strengths – interesting guitar riffs, trip-hop and memorable lyrics – as well as some detours into newer territory. It doesn’t always work, but they take a more experimental approach, and hearing them leave their comfort zone is a pleasure. Each track is unique and most are some of the best they’ve done.

Radiohead“A Moon Shaped Pool”

Based on recent output and general malaise from the band, it seemed like Radiohead might not have another classic album in them (or another album at all). But this album – which features multiple songs the band has played live for years, some decades – is the best the band has done since “OK Computer,” which is one of the best alternative albums ever made. Thom Yorke unfortunately split from his longtime partner, Dr. Rachel Owen (R.I.P., as she passed away very recently), and it inspired this incredibly somber, painful and dissonant work. Yorke shares his feelings with us, a departure from a band that usually works behind closed doors. Despite a disappointing title, it’s another Radiohead masterpiece.

Jeff Rosenstock“WORRY.”

Easily the year’s best punk record belongs to Jeff Rosenstock, and not just because he’s listed as my religion on Facebook. His new album is primal – the A side is standard Jeff songs, bemoaning the changing of seasons, landlords, the closing of a legendary punk venue. And it’s all great. But the B-side, inspired by “Abbey Road,” is a collection of frantic, changing tracks that rarely last over two minutes. It’s as inspired as the best Bomb the Music Industry! records, and the most ambitious thing he’s ever attempted. And it should be noted – and has been – that it is entirely effective. It’s a punk album for people who love more than just punk.

Savages“Adore Life”

Another strong contender for my favorite of 2016 is the sophomore album from the British post-punk band responsible for some of the most raucous shows of the year. The women in Savages took a step back from their riotous debut and leveled the playing field; this album is more thematically linked, mixing slower songs with huge climaxes with heavy, chugging guitar songs. The result is a cohesive, whirling record about love and loving life – even the bad moments, because there are many. The concept is a tricky tightrope but they pull it off throughout. (My most played album of the year! To be fair, it was released in January.)

School of Seven Bells“SVIIB”

It’s fair to say that School of Seven Bells didn’t have a great run. Originally a trio, the band consisted of just one member when their fourth and final album came out. But Benjamin Curtis appears posthumously on the album, so the group is at least a duo. And what an album it is. Easily my favorite dream-pop release of the year, the album struck me in a way that other dream-pop albums – or bands – haven’t. This album is completely immersive, creating a dream-like state that makes it feel like you’re in the studio with the musicians. But, just as you really feel it, it gets taken away by a short runtime, and the dream is dashed. And it’s a great way for this group to bow out.

ScHoolboy Q“Blank Face LP”

I’ll admit that I was surprised by this album. I didn’t know much about ScHoolboy Q, and while my limited knowledge of him being a profane rapper was correct, this album threw me a lot of curveballs. It’s a tonally and lyrically diverse effort, with honest and forward odes coupled with dirty rhythms and dirty lyrics. More than anything, it’s psychedelic, which isn’t a word thrown around in hip-hop too often. It’s a long LP, but there aren’t many wasted moments. C’mon TDE, where’s the ScHoolboy/Kendrick collab?

Solange“A Seat at the Table”

One of the only people to upstage Beyonce this year was her sister, Solange. Unlike many of the year’s lengthy albums, “A Seat at the Table” is a flowing, consistently changing narrative that is as concerning as it is groovy. The album centers a handful of excellent R&B songs around spoken word interludes and short tracks, so no one idea sticks around long enough to feel comfortable. It flows like one long epic, centered around the struggles of black America today. It has memorable tracks, but it constantly disorients the listener. As I said in a different post: it’s an album meant to be enjoyed by many, but understood by some.

Vince Staples“Prima Donna”

One of my favorite rap releases of the year is a brief, disturbing look into the psyche of Staples, one of the best young voices in the genre. The EP is unflinching, a few moments of unfiltered, uncomfortable moments like rapping about having “Kurt Cobain dreams” in a hotel. A full album of this material might be unsustainable, but in a brief dose, it feels like a bad trip down through our worst insecurities.

Swet Shop Boys“Cashmere”

Heems and MC Riz joined together to create a quick, rapid-fire rap album that somehow flew way under the radars. Both men are at peak form, tackling racism conventions and the idea of being Indian in America. By signaling out Indian pop culture that’s big in America, like Zayn Malik, and Life of Pi, they highlight what life is really like. But it’s also fun, the duo wrote a bunch of quick bangers chock full of incredible lines and quips. Heems remains one of my favorite rappers, and he is as high-energy and funny-sad as ever here. A delight missed by most – pick this album out.

A Tribe Called Quest“We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service”

Another of the year’s best rap albums went to the only group who could truly save 2016, a group that hadn’t released an album this millennium. But they picked up where they left off – with an eclectic, jazzy, bluesy and pertinent rap record that throws away any masks and directly tells Americans what Trump’s America will be like. It only deepens the album’s impact when you learn that Phife Dawg passed away months before the album’s release. An upfront and necessary farewell from one of the country’s most important groups – we’re on our own now.

Kanye West“The Life of Pablo”

I personally found Kanye’s seventh studio album to be like every one before it – hit-and-miss. But this time around, I have to admire his artistic ability. Kanye established himself as a true artist on this album, by ‘releasing’ the album, and then making frequent and consistent changes and additions to it on a streaming website. As a whole, it stands as art in a way no other album has. And also as a whole, it’s wildly inconsistent. Kanye’s best and worst desires are given in to. But the best tracks and the best moments outweigh the missteps, and even provide a few of the best songs to come out of West’s whole career, even if one of them is just a Chance the Rapper feature in disguise.

YG“Still Brazy”

Another contender for my favorite rap release of the year is YG’s subtle nightmare, “Still Brazy.” The best tracks on the album are ones like “Who Shot Me?” where YG lets his insecurities filter through his usual tough demeanor. Unlike his debut, YG is imperfect here – not scared, but unsure of who his enemies are, and threatening to unload on anyone. But the album’s coda takes a serious and important left turn. The third-to-last track is the now famous “FDT,” which gets followed by two songs about police brutality. It’s a call-to-arms for the black community, to put down petty fights and turn to the bigger enemies.

The only albums I discredited from this list were Run The Jewels’ “RTJIII,” as the official release date lies in 2017, and Jack White’s “Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016,” as it featured some previously-released songs. There were also many albums I didn’t get to.

Check back in next year! If we make it that far.

-Andrew McNally

Radiohead Through 10 Videos

On the release of Radiohead’s ninth album and their two excellent new singles, I thought we should take a look back on some of the band’s best videos. They’re a cultural institution as much as any classic rock band, with one of the best singers and a pair of the best guitarists in modern music. They followed a legendary-status album with two more, and even their worst album is still a pretty solid rock record.

When you ask someone what they think the greatest music videos of all-time are, you may get some stock answers: “Sabotage,” “Thriller,” “Sledgehammer.” But it won’t take long to mention Radiohead. The difference from person to person is which Radiohead video they think is the best. This is because there has never been a band who has captured the meaning of their own songs in video form as well, and on such a consistent basis, as Radiohead. The sound, tone and emotion of their songs is delivered expertly in exciting and often surreal videos. This is not meant as a list of their best videos; far from it. I’m not even getting to “House of Cards,” “Paranoid Android,” “There, There,” or “Go To Sleep.” It’s a celebration of what makes Radiohead so damn good at their own visual arts.

“Daydreaming,” 2016 –

Radiohead’s newest video may also be one of their most direct, or at least directly related to the song. The video, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is six minutes of Thom Yorke walking through doorways into varying locales – kitchens, hospital rooms, the beach, and finally a frozen tundra. While maybe too reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine, the video has the look and feel of daydreaming. It’s nice that this is the video that came out right when I decided to make this post, because it has that direct music-to-video correlation that Radiohead nails almost every time.

“No Surprises,” 1998 –

If “Daydreaming” seemed minimalistic, then “No Surprises” seems downright cheap. Whether the video is a tense look at someone testing their own mortality, or just using the title to taunt the audience, it’s one of their best videos. If you haven’t seen it, it’s one long shot of Thom Yorke in some kind of chamber, water rising up to and over his head as he stares blankly at the camera. When he blinks, the water goes rushing beneath him and he gasps for air as the song continues playing. It’s alarming and a little scary, even if it’s one long, unchanging shot. The minimalistic quality matches the song’s tone, somber, even by the band’s standards.

“Lotus Flower,” 2011 –

This video is also minimalism pushed to the fullest (or emptiest?), but in an entirely different way. By 2011, Radiohead seemed to know that they had hit a legendary status and, as they grew older, felt like they didn’t have to prove themselves. “The King of Limbs” received pretty mixed reviews, but I love it because they’re not trying to make the artistic statement that all of their other albums strive for. That, in itself, is a paradoxical artistic statement. And to celebrate, the album’s only video is just Thom Yorke busting out his worst dad-dance moves in a big, empty room.

“Karma Police,” 1997 –

Arguably their best video, “Karma Police” is yet another work in fantastic minimalism. The POV shot follows a car moving down a pitch-black Southern road at night, catching up to some poor, unfortunate man, until he can make the tables turn. It’s an incredible slow-burner (pun intended), that adds tension by beefing up the mystery. And it’s one of their many, very Lynch-ian videos. I shouldn’t have to explain how the video relates to the song. Even though we have no context for the video, we can feel empathetic for the man being hunted, and the karma he delivers.

“High And Dry,” 1995 –

So if you’ve never seen a Radiohead video and you’ve just watched these four, you might think they’re the kings of understatement (and you might also think that Thom Yorke is the only member). But this video is downright cinematic. It is reminiscent of the then-recent Pulp Fiction, with the band sitting innocently in a diner while a key to a suitcase is passed through a pie to a different table but, unfortunately, the wrong table. This is maybe the only video that would probably benefit by the band not being there, but their presence does add some authenticity. It’s a beautiful but tense song, and it plays out perfectly in this Shakespeare-cum-gangster video.

“Pop Is Dead,” 1993 –

Speaking of cinematic qualities, Radiohead allowed themselves to slip into weirdness in their videos before they did in their music. Their first album, “Pablo Honey,” is easily the least exciting in their discography (even if it does have their only true hit). It’s a fairly standard early-90’s wannabe-grunge album, and although this song was a non-album single, it shows. The video even looks like Alice in Chains’ “Them Bones” video. But with Thom dressed up like a corpse, and a funeral procession moving in a serpentine fashion through a field, it has a strong David Lynch aura. They may have felt constrained on their first album, but this video shows it didn’t last long.

“Fake Plastic Trees,” 1995 –

On top of being one of the band’s most beautiful songs, “Fake Plastic Trees” has a certain childlike innocence to it. Thom’s vocals and the band’s music resemble a child learning the harsh realities of the world. The lyrics are notoriously cryptic – rumor has it they’re about abortion – but it doesn’t matter. The feel is captured perfectly in the video, with band members riding around like children in shopping carts and make a ruckus in a faux-grocery store filled with bright lights. This is a song that transports you back to your childhood just to make pain even worse, and the video emphasizes it even more.

“Burn the Witch,” 2016 –

Radiohead have had a love affair with animation – aside from this, their other new single, they also have the videos for “Paranoid Android,” “Go to Sleep,” House of Cards,” “Pyramid Song,” and “There, There.” All of them have animation of some kind, and all strikingly different from each other. Their new video continues this affair – with claymation. “Burn the Witch” is a pretty bleak video from the get-go, with an inspector surveying a town and seeing a witch being attacked, a hanging square and a massive effigy to be burned – only to be put in it himself. The strings in the song have a confusing impact, sounding equally joyous and shameless, and the video’s irrepressibly morbid tone plays off of both.

“Knives Out,” 2001 –

Michael Gondry hadn’t yet directed the as-previously-mentioned Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but he brings the same feel to Radiohead’s 2001 single. The video, done seemingly in one-take, details a woman being operated on and her lover sitting close-by, while their history plays out on a television. They love each other, but we also see them battling with axes. It’s surreal to the fullest – at one point, Thom’s head is replaced with a heart that opens and absorbs a picture of her – equal parts creepy and heartfelt. The video establishes a whole world within seconds, and makes a brief song feel like a whole movie.

“Just,” 1995 –

My personal favorite Radiohead video. “The Bends” provided some of the best (see above), this one being even better than the others. It’s another take on minimalism, with a middle-aged businessman walking to work and suddenly laying down in the street. A man, and then a few people, and then a crowd, try to figure out what’s wrong with him, even though he demands they just leave him alone. Eventually he tells them, but not us, and we see the whole crowd laying down. The song is not-so-subtly-but-poetically about depression, and having a man – an everyday man, but not the face of depression – suddenly take to bed on the sidewalk is a perfect encapsulation of how suddenly it can come on. The intercuts of the band playing in an apartment overheard are unexpected, especially since the members who aren’t Thom Yorke have become notoriously absent from their videos.

Radiohead have worked with some big name people, and here’s to hoping it continues. Some bands can make memorable videos, and some bands can make videos related to the song, but not all bands can do both – and Radiohead have been doing both since 1993. Their excellent new album, “A Moon Shaped Pool,” is available now, and I cannot recommend enough that you pick it up.

Grammy Predictions: Who Will and Who Should Win

(Photo Credit: The Grammy's)

(Photo Credit: The Grammy’s)

Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s the time for awards to distract you from taxes and the bitter cold. And music’s biggest night is quickly approaching! With performances from Adele, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, Justin Bieber, a David Bowie tribute from Lady Gaga, a Glenn Frey tribute from The Eagles and Jackson Browne and a Lemmy Kilmister tribute from Hollywood Vampires (the band that includes Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp), it’s bound to be an eventful night. While I cannot comment on every award, I’m presenting the major ones with my predictions, as well as who should win and who should have been nominated. The Grammy’s are notoriously unpredictable (remember this?), so if I get every one of these wrong, blame them.

Best New Artist: Nominees: Courtney Barnett, James Bay, Sam Hunt, Tori Kelly, Meghan Trainor

Will Win/Should Win: Meghan Trainor/Courtney Barnett.

Although Trainor technically isn’t even qualified to be nominated for this award – she was nominated for a major award last year – this is hers to lose. She’s an excellent songwriter and a talented performer, and does the kind of just-barely-biting-but-still-bubblegum pop that the Grammy’s love. Her album, uh, wasn’t great, though. Barnett deserves this award. Her debut full-length was a wholly original blend of 90’s guitars, Dylan vocal ramblings and suburban Australian apathy.

Should Be Nominated: Fetty Wap. Where was Fetty Wap?

Best Pop Solo Performance: Nominees: Kelly Clarkson, “Heartbeat Song,” Ellie Goulding, “Love Me Like You Do,” Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud,” Taylor Swift, “Blank Space,” The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

Will Win/Should Win: The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face.”

Unabashedly one of the best songs of the year, The Weekned brought semi-subtle darkness to the best rhythm MJ never moonwalked to. The song’s explosive bassline counteracted the lyrics, that sound like a love song, until you realize they’re about an inevitable cocaine overdose. It was the second biggest hit of the year!

Should Be Nominated: The utterly neglected Carly Rae Jepsen. Not for “I Really Like You,” but for the non-single “Run Away With Me.” It’s my blog, I can say what I want.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: Nominees: Florence & the Machine, “Ship to Wreck,” Maroon 5, “Sugar,” Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk,” Taylor Swift & Kendrick Lamar, “Bad Blood,” Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth, “See You Again”

Will Win/Should Win: Khalifa & Puth/Swift & Lamar

This one is really tough. Swift, Ronson and Khalifa all stand a big chance. But I have to give it to “See You Again.” While I have made my thoughts on Khalifa known, it is a genuinely great song. It also has two benefits: one of the 10 YouTube videos with over a billion views, and a now very famous spot in a movie – used in Furious 7 to commemorate Paul Walker’s untimely death. Plus, it was shunned by the Oscars, where it failed to even be nominated in a category it was expected to win. That said, “Bad Blood” was one of the most entertaining songs of the year, and brought together two artists that are usually hesitant with collaborations, and two artists who are otherwise competing tonight.

Should Be Nominated: Selena Gomez & A$ap Rocky, “Good For You.” Selena was among many former Disney stars who went through a whole career reboot this year, and the lead single from her great (and aptly named) album “Revival” is a sultry and engaging duet. Now, frankly, A$ap doesn’t help the song, and when it was released as a single, his verse was cut.

Best Rock Song: Nominees: Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” Elle King, “Ex’s and Oh’s,” Florence & the Machine, “What Kind of Man,” Highly Suspect, “Lydia,” James Bay, “Hold Back the River”

Will Win/Should Win: Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”

I will hesitantly say that this one is almost guaranteed to the Shakes. “Don’t Wanna Fight” is not only one of the bluesiest and spine-tingling sons of the year, it’s one of the most this decade. Brittany Howard’s booming vocals are reminiscent of Ella or Aretha, but it a modern-tinged setting. It’s one of the best songs of the year, and the type of thing the Grammy’s love.

Should Be Nominated: After frustratingly finding out that Royal Blood’s “Figure It Out” was eligible last year, I’ll say Courtney Barnett’s “Pedestrian at Best.” It’s one of my favorites from the year. It would go under Best Alternative Song, but that’s not a category.

Best Rock Album: Nominees: James Bay, “Chaos and the Calm,” Death Cab For Cutie, “Kintsugi,” Highly Suspect, “Mister Asylum,” Slipknot, “.5: The Gray Chapter,” Muse, “Drones”

Will Win/Should Win: just throw a dart at the list/anything besides these nominees

Muse’s album was terrible, Death Cab’s album was worse. “Kintsugi” was the only album in 2015 I couldn’t make it through. Slipknot haven’t been relevant in years. I cannot say I am overly familiar with the music of Highly Suspect or James Bay and cannot comment on them further, I imagine they’re talented acts, to share the bill with three outdated artists. I have to make a prediction? Ugh. James Bay probably.

Should Be Nominated: METZ. Motorhead. Viet Cong. More than anyone else, Marilyn Manson.

Best Alternative Album: Nominees: Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color,” Bjork, “Vulnicura,” My Morning Jacket, “The Waterfall,” Wilco, “Star Wars,” Tame Impala, “Currents”

Will Win/Should Win: Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color

With all due respect to Wilco’s phenomenal album, this is again the Shakes’ to lose. I mean, it’s also nominated for Album of the Year, so it’s a surefire. Through and through, the best rock album of the year. Might as well take this time to highlight on of my favorite songs of the year, Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen,” which vaulted the album into nomination.

Should Have Been Nominated: How many times do I have to say this? Courtney Barnett, for “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”

Best Rap Song: Nominees: Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen,” Kendrick Lamar, “Alright,” Common & John Legend, “Glory,” Drake, “Energy,” Kanye West, Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney, “All Day”

Will Win/Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

As much as I want to see Sir Paul McCartney pick up a Best Rap Song award, I don’t see the Grammy’s giving this to anyone other than Kendrick. His album is filled with topical and devastating muses on the state of black culture, and “Alright” cuts the deepest. It’s a true rap song for the ages. That said, if Fetty Wap wins, it is well deserved.

Should Have Been Nominated: anything from Nicki Minaj’s “The Pinkprint.” How about “Want Some More”?

Best Rap Album: Nominees: J. Cole, “2014 Forest Hills Drive,” Drake, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” Dr. Dre, “Compton,” Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Nicki Minaj, “The Pinkprint”

Will Win/Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly

Easy. This is a stacked category – really, these are all great albums – but Lamar is fighting T. Swift for Album of the Year, and none of these will stand in his way. His album is one of the greatest rap albums ever, and the Grammy’s owe him one from last time. That said, “Pinkprint” was my favorite album from last year, and a win for Nicki would be huge for her career.

Should Have Been Nominated: I don’t really have a true answer for this one so a personal pick, Heems, “Eat Pray Thug”

Record of the Year: Nominees: D’Angelo & the Vanguard, “Really Love,” Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk,” Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud,” Taylor Swift, “Blank Space,” The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

Will Win/Should Win: The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

So, let’s get this straight. I still don’t entirely understand the difference between this and the next category, Song of the Year. From my understanding, it relates to the overall production of a song, not just the writer/performer. All that said (or not said), The Weeknd made the best damn song of the year, and although he has competition here, I’m pulling for the Grammy’s picking him. It’s truly one of the grooviest songs in years.

Should Have Been Nominated: There’s a million answers to this. Elle King? I love “Ex’s and Oh’s.” The production on Bieber’s album was excellent too, it’s surprising not to see him nominated in this category.

Song of the Year: Nominees: Kendrick Lamar, “Alright,” Taylor Swift, “Blank Space,” Little Big Town, “Girl Crush,” Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth, “See You Again,” Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”

Will Win/Should Win: Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”

This is a surprisingly weak category, given all of the great songs that came out this year. Khalifa could easily take it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Grammy’s give Swift this award as a consolation prize (see below). It is probably the best song of the bunch, and Swift is deserving of at least some awards for “1989,” which really is a great pop album. Maybe the name she’ll be writing is “Grammy” or something, sorry, that’s, never mind.

Should Have Been Nominated: Although chart success does not necessarily equate award success, there is a conspicuous lack of both “Uptown Funk” and “Can’t Feel My Face” from the list. The Weeknd deserves this award. End all, be all.

Album of the Year: Nominees: Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color,” Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Chris Stapleton, “Traveller,” Taylor Swift, “1989,” The Weeknd, “Beauty Behind the Madness”

Will Win/Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly.”

I saved this for last because I truly cannot decide if I think the Grammy’s will give it to Kendrick or Taylor. No discredit to the other nominees, who are all very deserving, but this is a two-person fight. There’s some factors here: 1) The Grammy’s love Taylor, who released what might be her best album yet, 2) The Grammy’s know they messed up by not giving “good kid m.A.A.d city” Best Rap Album in 2013, 3) “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a much better album than “1989.” I think it’s going to go to Kendrick. There will be upset if he loses, although Swift also deserves the award. But man, it’s been years since there has been an album as politically relevant and important as Lamar’s. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Vice, EW, Billboard, President Obama and me all agreed it was the best album of the year. If he doesn’t win this award, he’d better call for a permanent boycott of the Grammy’s. #GrammysSoWhite

Thanks for reading! Check back in tomorrow to see what I got right and what I got wrong. And tune in for next year’s coverage, to see how many awards Adele wins.

-By Andrew McNally