For Your Listening Pleasure: My 2017 as a Playlist
Every year of my life for the past 11 years, I’ve followed the same basic pattern. There are some minor variances but the basics are the same: I approach the end of the year excited about creating an End-Of-The-Year “Best Of” list. Then I get busy, distracted or maybe just plain avoid working on my list and suddenly I wake up and it’s Valentine’s day, the obvious stopping point for a Year-End wrap up article. You missed the boat again, Mike.
Why did this happen? I remember the excitement I felt when, in 2006 I posted a massive Favorites of 2006 article to my Myspace Blog that included shitty opinions on music, film and television all with passionately and lovingly formatted blobs of text. I was so proud and even got some props for it on the forums I posted on, memorably being told that, “While I really don’t have the same taste as you,” which is friendly internet-speak for ‘I really think your opinions are godawful’ “…it’s really cool that you were able to put this together in an article.”
Yes, it was cool that I was able to put my opinions in an article, my fellow basement-dwelling friend! So, why did I step away from this in later years, content to just slap my top 10 or so favorite albums into a message board thread or a Facebook note and/or status?
I finally figured that out this year. I was not inspired to create anything beyond a list because I couldn’t figure out how to make it something unique, something that was more than just a “Guy Who Says That’s Good” smorgasbord of opinions. But this year I figured out a way to summarize the music (and some other mediums) that brought me equal parts joy and exquisite pain. I would put songs from my top 15 favorite records and put them into the form of a playlist, also known as a mix, for my and more importantly, your listening pleasure.
For a while, I had a hard time figuring out how to make songs from my 15 favorite albums flow. No matter what I did, the puzzle pieces that were these songs didn’t fit together. I took a brief hiatus from this project, believing that I was going to let another year go by without doing something that used to bring me so much joy (other things on that list include writing songs, playing piano and watching cheesy horror movies.)
However, one day the way to structure this list came to me in something akin to a wave of white-hot inspiration. I started thinking of songs from each of these records, remembering lyrics that really moved me on a personal level. Suddenly, my instincts for mix sequencing returned and what follows is a dynamic stylistic and (more importantly) emotional journey that I’d be honored for you to join me on.
1. Lissie — “Wild West”
“From where I stand / There’s a world where you can/ All that you lost you get back / and all that you want you can have”
Despite this song actually being released in 2016 on Lissie’s My Wild West, I will always remember its place in 2017 as it resonated through the cavernous, mythical halls of The Roadhouse on “Twin Peaks: The Return” (which is either my favorite TV show or film of the year depending on how pretentious I’m feeling when you ask). This song came into my life at the perfect moment. Not only was this particular chapter of “The Return” particularly dreary and dark (minus a humorous and touching sex scene), my life at the time felt particularly colorless and bleak. This song’s message of pushing forward confidently with indomitable willpower despite uncertainty filled my soul with renewed hope. As I lay in bed that night, I kept thinking about the mission statement of the song and it made me realize I didn’t want to give up anymore, no matter how hard things got. The sentiment that a song “saved my life” is one I tend to steer away from. That line always sounded melodramatic at best and worrying at worst… but I can’t overstate how thankful I am for this song, Lissie and David Lynch. “Wild West”’s message reached me like the best music can and its place in Twin Peaks feels particularly special. The “Roadhouse Mix” version of the song is featured in our playlist as it is the version Lissie plays in the show and it also came out in 2017. The middle-eight will make you feel like you can swim across the Mississippi.
2. Haim — “Want You Back”
“I had a fear of forgiveness / I was too proud to say I was wrong / But all that time is gone / No more fear in control / I’m ready for the both of us now.”
One of the greatest joys is casually listening to the radio on your commute to or from work and feeling a song hit you right in the heart, its message cutting through all the noise from your day in the office or other events in your life. The moment I heard this song’s opening acoustic guitar and string combo, along with the shimmering lead vocal I was hooked. “Who is this?” I asked myself. I felt reverberations inside my mind that made me think this song was both excitingly new and familiar. By the time the song’s first chorus erupted with slap bass and expertly placed percussion, I knew I had to find out who wrote this and when. I debated with myself: Was this song recently recorded or could it be an 80s classic that I’d somehow missed after all these years? When I heard it was the sisterly triumvirate of Haim, I was equal parts impressed and unsurprised. I had worried about the sophomore record from the Haim sisters ever reaching the heights of the first one and with each behind the scenes detail leaking out, I believed this would be another sophomore slump. I’ve never been happier to be so misguided. Something to Tell You is a mellow, groovy album and equally as enjoyable as their debut record. Like the previous track in our mix, “Want You Back”inspires, but it also soothes the heart.
3. Dan Wilson — “Home” (Written with Dierks Bentley)
“Free, nothing feels like free / Sometimes that means we don’t get along / Same, no we’re not the same / But that’s what makes us strong”
From Dan Wilson’s Recovered album, an album of songs Dan Wilson co-wrote with other artists. This song perfectly captures a sense of optimism about America, which I’m always looking for in these times of upheaval and negativity. This song reminds of everything this country has made it through and gives one hope on a personal level that all is not lost. There’s not nearly as much sugarcoating as one might expect from a country artist like Dierks Bentley. (One of the opening lines mentions that “she has her scars, sometimes it starts to worry me). This song reminds us that America is and should be a place where people can be themselves, whoever that might be. Dan’s version of “Home” is rough around the edges, crunchy and most importantly- alive.
4. Poppy — “Interweb”
“And the world feels smaller / When it’s at my fingers / So let’s keep talking / Tell me what day is it?”
I have vague recollections of how I became a Poppy-devotee (also known as a Poppy-seed). I know that one of the Horror Youtube channels I subscribe to brought her up as a person/robot? of interest, but I don’t recall being too entranced by what I saw at that time. However, one Saturday morning of overtime at work, I was checking out the new releases on Spotify and came across Poppy.Computer. “Wasn’t this that girl I saw on Youtube?” An album from a weird character like Poppy felt like a great (possibly bad) concept and so I clicked play and got back to work. I had no reason to have high expectations, after all this had potential to be a silly gimmick from a Youtuber. From that first listen, I was dragged kicking and screaming into Poppy and “Creative Director” Titanic Sinclair’s world. The album features a diverse mix of styles, sometimes sounding like Japanese pop music (“Moshi Moshi,” “My Microphone”) other times capturing the hooky aesthetic of classic Madonna (“Bleach Blonde Baby”) and ending with a hauntingly heavenly acoustic number fittingly called “Pop Music.” However, I felt the best song to introduce you into this world is “Interweb” because it feels like the Poppy mission statement. It captures all of Poppy’s favorite themes — technology, isolation and love/obsession. “Interweb” is a song about a digital voyeur, seeming to have found a way to capture their person of interest in an intimate way — This is seen in lines like, “These days I don’t have far to go now that I’ve got you on my screen.” However, while she sings, “I’ve caught you in my interweb,” it becomes clear in the song’s bridge that it’s actually her who is caught in this addictive world of stalking and fantasy. Not only does this song have a killer beat and clever lyrics, it also correlates to something I’m very proud of which I started in 2017 — I do not spend very much time on my laptop or any social media. Audience cheers. By cutting out something from my life which seemed to only be a detriment (and which I was extremely hooked into), I was able to clearly see what my life had been missing — I’d never gone on an adventure by myself. I thought back to my favorite places I’ve been and set a course for a journey to the East coast.
5. La La Land Cast — “Another Day of Sun”
“Without a nickel to my name / I hopped a bus and here I came / I could be brave or just insane / We’ll have to see.”
And put a song from the West Coast on my mix. While flying to Boston, Massachusetts for my first solo vacation, I looked on the in-flight entertainment movie list and decided “La La Land,” a movie about California dreaming and the sacrifices that sometimes have to be made in order to reach our dreams, would the perfect movie to watch for my big journey. I enjoyed the film very much, but nothing else in it could top the jaw-dropping highway-closing opening number. “Another Day of Sun” is a beautiful and upbeat instrumental with melancholy melodies & lyrics. The song expertly explores both the film’s main characters before they are even shown on-screen and explores the struggles and rejections all the artists, actors and writers in California face and how they never back down because tomorrow is “another day of sun.” This song and Albert Hammond’s classic “It Never Rains in Southern California” both waltzed into my life at the same time, both singing to me about the beautiful perils of California and believing the idealized version of lives unlived. I will neither confirm nor deny that I played it on a loop as I took the train from Boston to New York City.
6. St. Vincent — “New York”
“I have lost a hero / I have lost a friend / But for you, darling / I’d do it all again.”
This song was another case of me hearing a song on the radio without a DJ introducing it, feeling the song pierce into my emotional wall and finding out it was an artist I already loved. When I first heard St. Vincent (or Annie Clark, if you prefer) and her emotional tribute to a lost love, a lost friend or a lost time of her life, I nearly had to pull over and cry. Plaintive piano, string embellishments and powerful vocals decorate this beautiful song and make it one of the best things I heard this year. The lyrics on MassSeduction all feel intensely personal while oblique enough to retain a sense of mystery and distance much like a David Bowie or Prince record. Without knowing exactly what or who this song was about, I still felt the frailty and honesty behind it and it felt very universal in its melancholy thankfulness for pleasant times shared and long past.
7. Phoenix — “Lovelife”
“Withdrawn / I never meant to leave you alone / Many relentless promises / And if I realize I want you to know / I’m turning into partying alone”
Phoenix can at times feel like they’re living in their own separate universe. With each album they grace us Eathlings with, they reinvent themselves in jarring and unexpected ways. Yet everything they release makes sense within their previously established musical styles. No other band can pull off these stylistic shifts so effortlessly and seem so carefree about it. Ti Amo, their latest release, is no exception to that rule. It is full of danceable beats and unique song structures. Phoenix’s lyrics are clearly English, but they feel more like additional instrumentation to their otherworldly and heavenly tracks. In fact, it was only in reading the lyrics for this song while writing this list that I realized this song seems to be about a sad man whose movie starlet wife and/or girlfriend is having an affair. One other random thing to note — “J-BOY” (the opening track of Ti Amo) is my pick for best & most clever song title of all time. Give the song a few listens and eventually you’ll pick up on why they chose that title. If you need a vehicle to help you escape to a flowery, colorful and beautiful world, check out Ti Amo. And if we’re being honest, I think most of us will admit that we need to escape sometimes. For its unburdening and therapeutic grooves, Ti Amo was my favorite album of the year.
8. Hippo Campus — “Boyish”
“Never really knew if I did something wrong / All I ever heard was ‘it wasn’t my fault’ / But what good is truth if you don’t understand / Nothing but a pair of calloused hands?”
I drove a lot in 2017 and I’m happy to say a Minnesota band was the soundtrack to my Spring and Summer. With their debut full-length album, local heroes Hippo Campus have crafted some exceptionally catchy, laid-back and occasionally rocking tunes. The front and back half of the album reach extraordinary heights, with a bit of a bogged down middle section. The guitar playing on display here feels strategic and incisive, always feeling crafted to leave you satiated and smiling. For my money, “Boyish” is pound-for-pound the best track the boys have put together. “Boyish” feels powerful, driving and intense from the first second and it’s full of emotional vocals and good lyrics. Give this album a chance and you’ll be glad you did, particularly for this song and the jaw-dropping finale, “Buttercup.”
9. Noel Gallagher’s High-Flying Birds — “If Love is the Law”
“I didn’t come here just to make up your mind / I do believe that you were wasting my time / There’s no more tears left to cry myself blind / If love is the law then this is a crime”
For this article, I really tried to avoid using chorus lyrics as the quote for any given song — but you have to admit, that chorus is just too good for me to not choose it as the song’s standout lyric. The build-up for this album was very contentious, with Noel Gallagher saying he didn’t write it for a subset of fans he has give the loving moniker of “Parka Monkeys.” For the first time in my life, I was on Liam’s side in the eternal war of the Gallagher brothers. More on that later. As I listened to the songs that came out from this project, I began to wonder if Noel had lost his marbles. “It’s a Beautiful World” featured a section with a French spoken word megaphoned on top of an Ambient section. In live performances one of his backing musicians played the scissors. And none of the previewed tracks felt like they were very vital or had that rocking Noel/Oasis rock! However, once the dust settled and the music was out there for us to listen to in its fullest context, I had to admit… Who Built the Moon? is an enjoyable listen in its entirety. The music has great vibes, interesting production choices and great arrangements. “If Love is the Law” features a bridge that feels straight out of Pet Sounds (by the famous Beach Boys, which Noel has gone on record to state how much he hates) and the best Noel Gallagher-penned chorus since 2008’s “The Shock of the Lightning” by Oasis. An example of my expectations being way off from reality, but not the greatest example from this list. I’m happy to not have to choose a side anymore in the eternal Britpop sibling battle. We win for having both of them out there releasing solid albums and performing great concerts for years to come (but hopefully not too many years before the inevitable Oasis reunion!)
10. Scott & Rivers — “Our Future”
“Yo! This the future, baby! Here we go! Whoooo!”
This song is from Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) and Scott Murphy’s (Allister) Japanese language side project that occasionally puts out albums and tours in Japan (naturally.) From what little information is out there about this project, I believe the songs for this project are brought in by Cuomo while Scott Murphy helps translate the English lyrics into Japanese. The debut self-titled record in 2012 felt underwritten, poorly produced and cheesy as all get-out, comprised of songs that weren’t good enough for modern Weezer albums (it came out after Raditude and Hurley so please consider the destructive power of that statement). I’m happy to say that the material for their new album Nainaime feels considerably beefed up, catchy and full of great melodies and interesting twists and turns. On top of that, it sounds a lot like Murphy and Cuomo are having fun in the studio and don’t really care if they’re perceived as being nerdy cheeseballs for putting this stuff out. Let me make this clear — this album may actually be cheesier than the previous entry, but the songwriting is so tight that is reaches a breaking point where the cheese becomes enjoyable and satisfying. Nainaime also feels more like a Weezer record than the new release Weezer actually put out this year! “New Girl” is a rambunctious, blistering rock number with great drive behind it. “Where the Wind Blows” is another standout, feeling straight off of an 80s Top 40 station with its shamelessly catchy synth stabs and hilarious key change in its final chorus. And I wouldn’t be a Weezer nerd if I didn’t mention that Rivers’ guitar playing is excellent on this album, full of unrestrained solos and moxie. “Our Future” is my pick for this playlist because of its perfect mixture of soaring melodies and rampaging optimism. It also has the funniest and worst intro of any song from 2017. I smiled a lot while listening to this song and album and I’m glad it exists. Arigato.
Nainaime is not available on Spotify. Taking its place on the Spotify version of the playlist is another Rivers Cuomo-penned track: Friend of a Friend. This was made available in late 2016 on the deluxe version of Weezer’s White album. It’s a classic Weezer alt rock-ballad and is filled with the perfect amount of romantic yearning and awkward couplets.
11. Paramore — “Idle Worship”
“I know that you’re afraid to let all the dark escape you / But we can let the light illuminate these hopeless places”
Hayley Williams seems to be going through a dark period right now, but rather than getting mired down in the funk she got her band together and they recorded their sunniest and most defiant record yet. After Laughter is the biggest departure yet from a band who’s never been afraid to grow and change with the times. But look beneath the surface of the layers of keyboards and “lighter”-feeling sound and you’ll find some of Williams’ most troubled lyrics including the hit single “Hard Times” which is about depression and the way it seems to knock us down and take pleasure in it, and “Pool,” a song about recognizing toxic and negative relationships that leave us drowning and overwhelmed. The most genius track on this collection is “Idle Worship,” a brutally honest song about not placing your favorite musicians (or any creative figures) on pedestals and remembering that they are only human just like you. Williams gives her most flawed and honest vocals in this song’s verses, perhaps to accentuate the point of the song and remove the studio magic, leaving the message to hang in cold reality. It’s also the band’s grooviest jam yet.
12. Lorde — Homemade Dynamite
“Let’s let things come out of the woodwork / I’ll give you my best side, tell you all my best lies / Yeah, awesome, right?”
Lorde is a genius lyricist, and that is apparent all over her most recent album Melodrama. She’s created perhaps her best and most relevant record yet, confronting the realities of hook-up culture and excessive partying while celebrating being young and alive. On “Homemade Dynamite,” Lorde puts the way people present themselves to task and questions the decisions they make in the search for answers and temporary companionship. Moody and dreary synths drone in the background with a kinetic drumline sounding almost like a Timbaland production, injected with something darker and more emotionally resonant. “Homemade Dynamite,” as you might expect by the title, is explosive. This is another record I would highly recommend. “Perfect Places” is my favorite closing track of the year and “Supercut” barely got beaten out by this track.
13. Grandaddy — That’s What You Get For Gettin’ Outta Bed
“Head out the door / You’ve seen this all before / You’re such a tragic kid / Aren’t you glad you did”
Written after the lead singer’s divorce, Last Place is an album full of emotional baggage to wade through, but it’s worth it when you reach the beautiful acoustically healing finish. With its accurate depiction of dreary post-relationship fog weighing over its protagonist as well as his feelings of malaise and drowsy depression, this song helped me to feel less alone during early 2017. The arrangement features emotive key changes and soaring melodies that tug at the soul of the listener, immediately plunging them in the heavy shoes of a broken-hearted man. It was, in many ways the sunset to the sunrise of my better days, much like this song functions on its record. It’s a bottoming out point before the hero returns and crawls out from the sadness and that’s also it’s place in this mix of ours. We’ve almost reached the brightened day.
14. Mavis Staples — “Build a Bridge”
“When I say my life matters / You can say yours does too / But I betcha never have to remind anyone /To look at it from your point of view”
Mavis Staples, of the Staples Singers, has teamed up with Jeff Tweedy again seemingly with the goal of making a classic-feeling record for these increasingly weary times. “Build a Bridge” and the If All I Was Was Black album powerfully examine life in America for Black families, patiently asking the listener to put yourself in their shoes with beautifully produced music and poignant lyrics as your guide. Never casting judgment or aspersions and only singing from a universally truthful perspective, Staples is wise and understanding as ever. She’s not just offering questions but also solutions based in optimism in the face of adversity and maintaining dignity and honesty despite the injustices they face. She sings of a better world where there is no more division, where we can all reach a greater level of understanding for our neighbor. A soulful and heart-warming album which also features the spellbinding title track“If All I Was Was Black,” a wonderful examination of looking past generalizations and surface-deep misjudgments and “Ain’t No Doubt About It” an ode to Friendship sung with the aforementioned Jeff Tweedy. A great triumph for the last quarter of 2017, a time when I almost forgot the lessons I’d learned from track number one, where this mix starts. But one comeback story was all I needed to return to optimism. This is where our journey together ends.
15. Liam Gallagher — “I’ve All I Need”
“There’s no time for looking back, thanks for all your support / Slow down, all things must pass / Take your time, know the score/I’ve all I need and more”
When news broke that Liam Gallagher was going to come out with a solo record, I remained pessimistic that anything good would come of it. Liam’s previous post-Oasis musical venture (Beady Eye) felt derivative and musically uninteresting and his voice seemed to have been completely tapped of all its magic. But as Youtube videos started coming in from his live performances, something seemed… different this time. For one thing, Gallagher’s vocals hadn’t sounded this great live in about 20 years, if I’m being honest. He held notes with a sense of power and sustain (he had been content to shout and move away from the mic quickly in the final years of Oasis and Beady Eye), his eyes showed incredible emotion and intensity in each performance and he sounded clear-headed and as if he was inspired and ready to show everyone what he was made of. I took a mental note to stop laughing and give his new album a chance and I’m glad I did. As You Were is a fantastic pop-rock album which smiles at Liam’s past with Oasis while treading new ground. Liam sounds incredible and somehow was forced into doing falsetto, something I never expected would sound so wonderful. “I’ve All I Need” is a beautifully content and positive track, which closes As You Were (and our mix) on a beautiful high.The chorus erupts in a way that feels like it could have misfired, but the huge drums and artful guitar and keyboards mesh perfectly with a choir of Liam’s background vocals. The message that he’s thankful for what he has and won’t focus on the past is powerful and that he instead is looking to the bright and hopeful future resonates with me as well as all Oasis fans. The lyrics of this song, while simple, are potent and perfectly fit the chugging acoustic guitar and drums. While listening to this song in the car one evening, my mom and I had the same vision — Noel and Liam back together again, performing this song together in some far-off futuristic utopian concert. It’s incredibly unlikely and if it never happens I’ll be fine, but the picture it painted was enough to make me feel exultant. I’ve all I need and more. And after triumphantly rising to the top and getting through a rough year, that statement has never felt more true. I hope it’s true for you too.
Thanks for joining me on this musical journey. Keep your eyes peeled on this page as I’m going to be writing more from here on out.
My Favorite Albums of 2017 ‘Traditional’ List:
15. Mavis Staples — If All I Was Was Black
14. Twin Peaks : Music From The Limited Event Series
13. Paramore — After Laughter
12. Grandaddy — Last Place
11. Dan Wilson — Recovered
10. Liam Gallagher — As You Were
9. Scott & Rivers — Nainaime
8. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds — Who Built the Moon?
7. Hippo Campus — Landmark
6. Haim — Something to Tell You
5. La La Land — Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
4. St. Vincent — Mass-Seduction
3. Lorde — Melodrama
2. Poppy — Poppy.Computer
1. Phoenix — Ti Amo