The year in (Wil’s favorite) music: 2017
“Without listeners, there is no music.” I’m horribly paraphrasing the impassioned opening remarks from Music Weekend founding member Chester Bennett before he poignantly introduced his top 10 albums and a 90 minute mix of his favorite tacks of the year. It’s all part of an annual tradition that I joined for the 6th time and hosted for the 2nd this year. And for me (the only participating non-founder), Music Weekend is better than Christmas.
There was approximately one metric shit-ton of music released in 2017. The times are of course a changin’ and that includes how music is released as much as it includes the twists, turns and themes that are embedded within it. And while it’d be easy to nestle into the catalogs of my time-proven go-to artists, I’m compelled to try to keep up a bit to prove my worth to these really cool dudes in this neat photo.
It’s not that the year was all bad. I am like for sure married now, for example. I continue to work on creative stuff I like. But we also lost loved ones we knew well as well as those we felt like we did. There was bad stuff in the news. A lot of bad stuff in the news (you know stuff that makes it fine for me to casually use words like shit-ton). But there were also unlikely stories of hope, triumph, progress shifting entrenched power dynamics. Movements that we were parts of — in ways big and small. Opportunities for us to be proud, even for what may seem like simple actions. Kinda like when a lost life is celebrated rather than just grieved. It’s something beyond words alone. And when words won’t do, I seek a feeling (and yes at times, an escape).
Here’s the ’17 music I gravitated to most— the mixtape and the top releases:
Stream or download the wk17 mixtape featuring a handful of my favorite songs of the year (track list viewable on SoundCloud).
wil’s top releases of 2017
While there were many honorable listens this year (see full list below), here are my top picks:
10. King Krule — The OOZ
I read somewhere that King Krule doesn’t write songs but rather throws out ideas and then wanders through them in his playing. I couldn’t stop thinking about that. The OOZ is full of delightful moments, tough moments, moments that pull you in, moments that push you away. It felt oddly of the time and strange as it may have been for me, I came back again and again. This was the most inventive record of any of the albums in my top 10.
9. Valerie June — The Order of Time
This is what I listened to when I didn’t know what to listen to this year (or when I didn’t know what a crowd would be into). Valerie June’s consistency in creating pleasing song after pleasing song is amazing. She’s got gravity and songwriting chops in spades. I don’t think I can get sick of having this album on. (I also found out by listening to her live record that she’s a diabetic which made me respect her strength and resilience even more.)
8. Mount Eerie — A Crow Looked at Me
OK. This is a soul-crushing album that I didn’t listen to that often; however, considering its subject matter — the loss of Phil Elverum’s wife Geneviève, I listened to it a lot. A Crow Looked at Me is an incredibly impressive effort. It’s easily the saddest record I’ve ever heard and so powerful in its honesty. It reminds me of those wonderfully tragic movies that really move you but that you admittedly never want to see again. But it’s just so awe-inspiring. Watching Phil play live was a cathartic moment unlike anything I’ve seen.
7. Do Make Say Think — Stubborn Persistent Illusions
My favorite instrumental album of this year. Work companion of the year. This was possibly the first album I heard of all albums in my top 10, thanks to a streaming premier in late 2016. I had been aware of Do Make Say Think’s influence for a long time, but this record prompted me to revisit everything I could find. And the latest effort stuck with me enough that it rose to the top of my list even at year’s end.
6. LCD Soundsystem — american dream
This is my guilty pleasure record of the year. LCD Soundsystem is so popular that I’m almost embarrassed to like them. Yet again, I found myself drawn to the accessibility, the dryness and the sheer fun of James Murphy’s ongoing enterprise. I don’t think my ego wanted this album in my top ten, but my honest reflection on what I listened to most proved its spot. This is a record worth playing all the way through its thoughtfully drawn out end.
5. Charlotte Gainsbourg — Rest
Now, this is what I want my pop music to sound like. Like everyday on earth is a Halloween dance party. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her Dad’s music and her acting for a long time, I wasn’t familiar with her music at all. This record came along and floored me. Haven’t stopped listening weekly since its release late in the year. This will be on heavy rotation in 2018, especially in October.
4. Charlie Parr — Dog
Some things just hit when you need them to. I’ve always appreciated Charlie Parr but never loved his full albums until this one. Dog blends traditional country blues with a modern grittiness that rose above so many records for me in 2017. I was all in after seeing him play in Portland. His songwriting craft drips with obvious authenticity and when live, his wit between songs seals the deal. My sister lost her dog right around the time this album dropped making me feel that I was called to pay close attention. I gladly accepted.
3. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.
Real talk. I didn’t think this was the best Kendrick album when I first heard it. Then I had a day off and put on my headphones while doing nothing but riding the train and walking around the Portland Japanese Garden while listening. It was my first time paying actual attention to it. I did a complete 180. Kendrick’s ability to invite people to understand his perspective rather than shove it in your ears makes this album uncharacteristically universally appreciated. This album combines the empathy of an earnest bedroom project with the kind of production polish usually reserved for masking deft songwriting. In this case, the content is as good as the packaging and the album’s title takes on an almost onomatopoetic quality if you really listen.
2. Hurray For The Riff Raff — The Navigator
Her sincerity. Her stamina. Her passion. Her story. While I’ve enjoyed Hurray For The Riff Raff’s music for some time, after seeing Alynda Segarra and her band live a couple times in the last couple years, I’ve never heard her music the same. Her post-inauguration tour was primarily a call to action that just happened to have an accompanying soundtrack. Through a combination of her own forthrightness and the storytelling woven between her songs, she creates an urgency especially with regard to the treatment of immigrants but also for basic decency toward human beings. In the upside down of 2017, The Navigator was the most American record I heard, one we should all relate to.
- Big Thief — Capacity
It’s safe to say I caught Big Thief fever after coming late to the game on their debut Masterpiece. I caught it just in time for its title track to make last year’s mix but not in time for the record to sink in. I wasn’t going to make that mistake with their sophomore effort. And while energetically chief songwriter Adrianne Lenker is diverse in her delivery, Capacity has an amazing tightness to it. I get the impression that Big Thief doesn’t put out a song that they don’t deeply love. And it’s about time I loved everything a band released. For the first time since I started attending in 2011, I wasn’t able to make it to Pickathon this year. The price I paid is not being able to see Big Thief play. Among my new year’s resolutions is to correct this clear mix-up of priorities.
The full list of wil’s top releases of 2017:
At Music Weekend, after all four members have presented their top 10 albums and shared their mixes, a scientifically proven method is used to compile the objective best albums of of the year.
My mixtape with the other mixes from Music Weekend members:
Peter Woodburn (2017 review)
The best albums of 2017 according to Music Weekend:
7. The Deslondes — Hurry Home
6. Do Make Say Think — Stubborn Persistent Illusions
5. Ryan Adams — Prisoner
4. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.
3. Father John Misty — Pure Comedy
2. Big Thief — Capacity
1. Hurray for the Riff Raff — The Navigator
Happy new hears,