17 songs, 2017

Foreword: One of my favorite parts of every year are the year-end lists that media commentators come out with in December of every year. It’s kind of a stupid system especially with these mid-year lists that are happening with ever-more-frequency. But I like it! I like lists. I love lists. I’ve done music lists in previous years (2013, 2014, 2015). Since this blog is more than just music, I might do a more expanded scope, like lists on television and other such media I’ve consumed this year. We’ll see. For now, here’s my year in lists (music ed.):

2017 was a weird year. I’m tempted to join the chorus of of commentators saying, “2017 sucked augh god!” While I pretty much entirely agree with that sentiment, it feels like willful blindness to single out 2017 as particularly bad. All years are full of suffering and suckiness. And also all years have little nice parts! But I think what was unique about this year was 2017 felt very long. Very, very long. Thinking back through the months, this year had so much stuff just packed into it that it’s almost incomprehensible. Time goes faster as it goes on, but it also gets denser.

But as always the music was wonderful. Here are 17 of my favorite songs in 2017. They come in no particular order and some were not released in 2017. These songs are merely a time capsule of the music I loved this past year that I want to share.

Sun Kil Moon – “I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night of My Life”

I think in theory I should love way more of this dude’s stuff (sad acoustic guitar man=my music), but I don’t. This song, however, is amazing. The quick little details of a shared evening, then given a little extra context in the final verse. It’s all kind of dumb and indulgent, and I love it. Plus, this is one of those songs that end before I’m ready for them to end–as a result, I’m driven to put it on repeat just to get a little more from it.

Charli XCX – “ILY2”

I had trouble choosing my favorite song off of this album. (Mixtape? I think it was classified as a mixtape.) PC Music & co. uniting with Charli XCX a few years back was a beautiful coming-together of pop music that is still returning dividends. This mixtape didn’t fall off my playlist for months and just as it does, a whole new mixtape is being teased–POP2 is set to release on the 15th of December. 2017 in Pop: Year of the Charli.

Muki – “Sassaparilla”

Muki is a mysterious Australian producer who was brought to my attention in April and I spent the next 6 months obsessing over this one track. It has a SOPHIE “Lemonade”-eque quality with regards to the fizzy sounds and being about a drink and all, but this is a bit more accessible while still being experimental. Both songs, of course, are incredibly enjoyable. I’m still waiting for Muki to reveal more; there’s been another great Muki single and I’m hoping that’s only the beginning.

Emperor X – “Wasted on the Senate Floor”

I had been dimly aware of Emperor X for a few years–hearing a few songs here and there, but none of them ever grabbed me by the medulla quite like this album did. There’s a run of three songs in a row at the start of this album that I can listen to forever. The loquacious wordiness of it all reminds me of nothing but the very best Mountain Goats songs (which, as discussed, is my shit). But there’s also a musicality and an enjoyment of the songs on a strictly auditory level here that a lot of Mountain Goats tracks don’t always reach.

Smidley – “Milkshake”

I wrote about this song already on eyesclosed in the short amount of time it’s been around, and “Milkshake” remains one of my favorite few tracks of the year. There’s just something so emotive and appealing to me about Smidley’s plaintive wails. I can’t escape this song. The rest of the album “Milkshake” was released on was pretty good, too–and I discovered the guy’s other project Foxing as a result, too. The song just keeps on giving~

Mount Eerie – “Real Death”

Hoo boy. This song is so incredible. So, so incredible. I’m gonna write about it circuitously: I sometimes wonder, like, how does one know the difference between a good joke and a bad joke about a subject that shouldn’t be joked about? How do you know if you’ve told a good joke about murder? The only answer I’ve ever come up with is, “if it’s funny, it’s ok; if it’s not funny, it was not ok to make that joke.” It’s a tautology, I know. But like porn, one knows it when they see it. In most cases, it doesn’t work–bad jokes turn out hateful and arty sex films turn out porny more often than not. But sometimes it does, sometimes the joke works.

The same frame of thinking is how I see this whole album: how does one reconcile the fact that Phil E. wrote a whole album about his wife’s tragic death (i.e., an earnest outpouring of feeling, a deep and true feeling) and the fact that he released it for public sale and consumption (i.e., did something with a marked history of devaluing the true and meaningful nature of the subject matter and the art itself)? Well, that’s impossible to answer in any way other than the see-it-know-it paradigm. This album and this song works. “Real Death” manages not to devalue itself in any way. I’m so glad P Elverum released it. I’m so sorry that the universe unfolded in a way that he had to write it.

Brockhampton – “2PAC”

I really like Brockhampton. I rarely like rap crews and almost never love albums in that format–no rap crew has caught my attention like this since I delved into Wu-Tang’s stuff. That said, many of the group’s songs still fall victim to the same issue I had with, for example, the Odd Future stuff: a song with multiple members of the group where each verse varies wildly in feeling and quality. An otherwise great track being ruined by one member’s pointless verse. Brockhampton, for the most part, avoids this trap almost entirely and the history of rap groups shows that they’re incredible just for mostly avoiding that pratfall. Nonetheless, my far-and-above favorite from the album is “2PAC”: A nice and touching little song about Ameer’s past and the relationship he had with his mother.

The Smith Street Band – “Ducks Fly Together”

Two things got me good on this song: the first, most visceral aspect was that hook on, “I’ll miss you, but.” Just the swaggering way the singer sounds, and that lyric–my god. The “but” doesn’t really even need any more than that–the “but” says it all. It made me pay closer attention to the song, and that’s when I found the second hook: the little lyrical details that tell a whole story in just a few sentences. I especially love, “You asked me if I was self-conscious; I said of course I am and took my clothes off” and in the final verse where everything breaks down with, “I was so scared/to talk to your friends/pretending that I was/a real person.” God damn that gets me. I get it. Fuck, even re-listening to the song now so I can accurately quote the lyrics has got me again–I’m putting this one back on repeat.

Tegan and Sara – “Nineteen”

NPR, light of my life, reminded me that this album was transcendent when it did a ten-years-on retrospective. I went back and listened to the whole thing again for the first time in probably nine years–since I was 19 myself. This song didn’t stick out to me then at all, but now, older and wiser(?), it cut me right to the core. The pained refrain on “I was nineteen” says so, so much that I’d’ve never heard when I was actually 19. When I was actually 19 I thought I was the same as I ever was and the same I’d always be. I thought I was knowledgeable. The idea that at some point in the future, 19 would seem hopelessly naive and young and forever-lost didn’t gloss whatsoever. That line meant nothing to me. Now, in 2017, it means everything to me. 19 was so young, we were all vulnerable and afraid and I didn’t really even know it. I thought I was tremendously self-aware. I was nineteen.

Flatsound – “Helen, Oh Helen”

OK, so I’m actually almost embarrassed to put this song here. But it’s a perfect follow-up to “Nineteen” in that it actually captures that I still am that naive 19-year-old I once was. Let me explain: I discovered this Flatsound character over the summer. His music’s appeal was instantly clear to me–it was like Bright Eyes was writing his most treacly tracks in the 2010s, rather than the 1990s. And I loved that 90s C Oberst shit; it has a special place in my heart. I listened to it pretty much nonstop when I was 19. So it of course followed that I could not resist Flatsound–it was as if I were a roach drawn to the sugar in a trap, but even worse because I saw the trap and knew what it all meant. I eagerly ate the sugar/poison anyway. And it was good. Flatsound brought the feelings right back of listening to ten-year-old Bright Eyes songs in 2008 like nothing else could. It was like indulging in nostalgia that was somehow original and unheard to me. I loved it. But like all sugar highs, it only lasted so long before I became sick to my stomach. It was all too cloyingly sentimental, too naive. Too “college boy smoking a cigarette with a coffee and writing in a Moleskine” to really endure for a long period of time. I burned myself out on the music before I really could even delve all the way into it. “Helen, Oh Helen” was my favorite of the tracks I did get sucked into. It’s a sorrowful reminiscence about a shy boy expecting something for nothing from a woman whom he never reveals himself to. It’s the sort of shit I’d’ve loved and related to so hard at one point in my life.

Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”

I’ll confess something here: I almost didn’t include K.Dot in this list because it felt a tad too “obvious.” Plus, this album–awesome though it was–let me down after the inimitable To Pimp a Butterfly. But this song is undeniable. Kendrick was smart to go in a different direction with DAMN. and his rap skills and general artistry as a great as ever. This song and “DNA.” were probably my favorites from the album–I’m a fan of a hyped-up K Lamar.

Guided By Voices – “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory”

Guided By Voices was one of those bands that I had been “meaning to get into” for at least ten years. Finally I uncorked the bottle at the beginning of the autumn and, man oh man. Bee Thousand is wall-to-wall hits. “Goldheart Mountaintop etc etc” is probably my favorite song from the whole thing, but I can’t be sure–quite a few songs reach the same heights this one does. I’ll say that while I was at first confused by the nonsensical nature of the lyrics, I grew to really love and appreciate their incomprehensibility. I don’t know much about the band and wonder now if they were the sorts who wrote melodies then attached lyrics afterward–it sure feels that way.

Danny L Harle – “Happy All the Time”

I couldn’t let a yearly list of mine go by without mentioning an official PC Music track! Danny L Harle is one of the most fun (and most accessible) members of the PC Music collective and I always enjoy his releases. “Happy All the Time” was, honestly, just one of the songs I could have chosen from this 1UL EP–I loved the whole thing through and through in a way I hadn’t always with Huge Danny’s previous EPs.

Charly Bliss – “Percolator”

I love Charly Bliss. Holy hell, everything they do is great. This whole album scratches every musical itch I have w/r/t guitar music like this. It’s poppy and upbeat in tone and melody, while being less clearly blissful in lyrical content. I could have chosen any of a number of songs on this album for this top list of 2017 favorites, but I chose “Percolator” because it was the first song that really hooked me and because the final verse is just an explosion of feeling and majesty.

Big Thief – “Mythological Beauty”

I’ve been slowly warming up to Big Thief. (Not to say I didn’t ever not like her: from the first record I liked it; I’ve just been liking it more and more as the band develops.) “Mythological Beauty” is the peak so far for this young band. The melody the whole song hews to is incredible, and that hook on “if you wanna leave” gets me every time. Oh and lest we forget: the lyrics! My god! The whole song about the half-brother her mom had at 17 and gave up and her childhood injury had just enough details to be both universal and idiosyncratic. And I am hooked on the line, “17 you took his cum and you gave birth to your first life”–the low-to-high mix of language like “took his cum” and “your first life” was masterful.

Tennessee Ernie Ford – “16 Tons”

There are three factors that make this song incredible: (1) its eerie, almost malignant strings at the beginning of each verse paired with (2) Ford’s deep, resonant voice that make the song into the shape of some terrifying halloween-like pastiche and the fact that its all contained in a (3) stringently anti-capitalist, pro-worker message. The world needs more songs like this!

Scott Seskind – “I Remember”

This is actually a late 2016 classic for me, but I never completed a favorite list last year and it seems sorta fitting to end a retrospective with a song like “I Remember.” I don’t know anything about Scott Seskind and I don’t recall how I even heard about the compilation it appeared on. But that’s somehow perfect: it’s like “I Remember” just appeared one day, just willed into existence by the mysterious cosmos. “I Remember” is a nice lil song reflecting on the past, remarking on the present’s tribulations, and hopeful for the future’s possibilities. 2017, you were what you were. 2018, let’s go.