2017 was, in almost every way, a calendar year, that occurred.
Things happened, which was cool. Some things did not happen, that was also fine. The things worth mentioning though, the important stuff; that stuff resides on your phones, tablets, and desktops. Because 2017, in addition to being another profound year for music streaming, was a great year for music in general.
So many artists are stepping out of their comfort zones, hungrier than ever to produce evocative music often influenced by the sociopolitical struggles we've come to be immersed in these days. '90s musicians like Slowdive and Glassjaw have awoken from their hibernation to grace us with more material after about two decades of pondering. Most exciting of all: young musicians are combining genres and styles like lego pieces, something to look forward to into the new year.
Yet, music enthusiasts learned a lot this year. We've seen powerful, top-tier artists start to cut corners and ablate their integrity much to the "surprise" of our suppressed cynicism. Gorillaz, Portugal the Man and even Queens of the Stone Age, to name a few, have successfully dipped their toes in the waters of commercialism. Turns out, it's a warm and comfortable jacuzzi and now we might have to look back on to their past material to prevent the looming hype-disappointment cycles.
And maybe we can just avoid the Eminem conversation altogether.
But I digress. We here at Daily Lobo Music are big fans of lists, calenders, and innovative music, so we decided to all band together like a tag-team squad of transatlantic Captain Planet music junkies and document what releases made us laugh, cry, jam, mosh, scream, wonder, and go: "oh dang, yeah I like that" this year. Here is part one of our two part Best of 2017 series: the honorable mentions that didn't make it to the top 10.
Planetarium - Planetarium (Supergroup)
Songwriting: Sufjan Stevens with Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister
Production: Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister
I have a thing for space, man.
and I’m not sure who in the Planetarium super group hired a drunk 2nd grader to paint their album cover, but it seriously does not do any of these tracks justice. Listeners were so apprehensive about their self-titled that it swayed me off from checking it out for at least a season or two. Music critics, such as Fantano, who claim this album is a chaotic mess need to look up into the night sky more often. Who knew an album about the void, chaotic and tranquil in its quantum nature, could warrant an album that has no direction.
When in reality, Planetarium violently blooms over its every side with rich, cinematic orchestral choirs laced with arpeggiated synths and boastful horns. There's always a lot happening, even for the ambient tracks, and it's a lot to take in. Bear in mind, when listening to Planetarium: if you want consistency, look elsewhere. Tracks like "Mars" and "Jupiter" honor their namesake, with violent brass and effected keys working in tandem to animate the sonic landscape with true brute force, a moment that is only topped by the ambient, minimalist nature of "Sun" or the gentle, timid vocals on "Mercury":
And all that I dream; Where do you run to?
The greatest weakness of this album is the 14-minute track Earth, which falls on its head with an overdrawn, repetitive motions of confused arp lines that, in contrast to the rest of the albums journeys, never go anywhere. Nothings feels earned but perhaps that's intentional; reflecting on our hedonism as inhabitants of a world that shouldn't be so forgiving.
Sufjan Stevens continues to bend the indie scene to his will, ever solidifying his legacy with a bastion of dynamic music. Ironically, with how empty space is, this album couldn’t be more packed to the brim with life. It’s a joy hearing the team (accompanied by Dessner, Muhly and Allister) pull something from every part of solar system to truly make a unique product. Easy one of the most off the wall releases this year, one that, I imagine, will age like fine celestial wine.
But then again, I have a thing for space man.
Pure Comedy - Father John Misty
Songwriting: Josh Tillman
Production: Jonathan Wilson, Josh Tillman
Following the critical and commercial success of his sophomore album, I Love You, Honeybear, Josh Tillman (aka Father John Misty) could have used his undeniable talent for Tweetable witticisms and catchy hooks to cement his place as an indie music icon. But instead he released Pure Comedy, a challenging and divisive 74-minute manifesto of ballads about social media, neo-liberalism, entertainment, evangelism, capitalism, and the human condition.
Taking cues from Elton John and Neil Young, Pure Comedy’s lush production is brought to life with live takes and orchestral arrangements. Slower and bleaker than any of Tillman’s previous releases, these songs don’t hold the euphoric immediacy of “Chateau Lobby 4” or “I’m Writing a Novel,” but leave the listener with questions as large as the album’s grand ambitions.
The result is an album that is all at once bloated, demanding, self-indulgent and, yes, brilliant.
Grafts - Kara-Lis Coverdale
Songwriting: Kara-Lis Coverdale
Production: Kara-Lis Coverdale
Look through various sites and you’ll find album, single, or EP as classifications for Grafts, the latest work of electro-acoustic and classical synthesis by Montreal-based composer Kara-Lis Coverdale. That’s the only reason why it’s on this list and not the next; at just over twenty-two minutes, it feels as fully realized as any album released this year.
This might be in part due to the way it attempts to dissect time by folding various points of reference onto each other. In the first of three sections, “2c,” keys softly strike before cutting off abruptly, the digital source laid bare. As melodic figures repeat and overlay onto one another, with drones lightly providing an undefined space, one where time seems to melt away, there’s a sense of progression within suspension, as if burrowing deeper into an already created piece to learn more about it.
The second part, aptly titled “Flutter,” takes those drones and pushes them up against each other in a circular dance, whose occasional digression finds a way to preserve both the realized and the possible alternative through intimation. While the muted ending, which also happens to be the longest section, “Moments in Love,” seems to stop time entirely, continuing a relationship between an almost marshy step and the ground of low keys until it seems to transcend the landscape it inhabits.
And yet there’s a bit of digital distortion thrown in, as if to remind the listener of the history to which it is inherently tethered (that being a winding one, since here the digital is itself a recreation of analog instruments). What results is an honest confrontation with creation that, flaws exhibited, is all the more beautiful for it. It might even be perfect.
Melodrama - Lorde
Production: Lorde, Jack Antonoff
The empress of pop that conquered 2013 made waves this year with her sophomore record Melodrama.
Lorde saturated the wavelengths with “Green Light”, the melodramatic (hah) lead single regarding her first heartbreak. Despite Pure Heroine winning a Grammy in its heyday, many critics pointed out that all the songs followed the same structure and formula. After the first listen of Melodrama it’s clear she heard the critique, and it’s hard to find one truly commercial song.
In fact, tracks such as “The Louvre”, “Hard Feelings/ Loveless”, and “Supercut” dance on the border of what may be considered experimental. Melodrama is Lorde’s reflection at a waning youth, at the ripe old age of 21 - Lorde makes her early 20s feel like a loss of innocence and the first of many stinging cuts of maturity. Similar to SZA, Lorde understands the youth of today.
I overthink your punctuation use - "The Louvre"
Crack Up - Fleet Foxes
Songwriting: Robin Pecknold
Production: Robin Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset
After six torturous years after the release of their seminal Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes have released material unlike anything they have released before in Crack-Up. Don’t fear, Robin Pecknold has left the essentials of a quality Fleet Foxes record in tact: immersive orchestration, harmonic vocals, and using nature to portray the complexities of human emotion.
While not filled with the quaint, catchy hooks that have made the Seattle band legendary among indie circles, the sheer intensity of the track list makes up for that tenfold. “Third of May/Odaigahara” remains one of the best tracks of 2017, a tour de force in which Pecknold laments on lost friendship, and struggles with self-identity through the perspective of Francisco de Goya’s famous painting. The cheerful optimism of previous records have grown into darker, more adult views of the world. I also greatly appreciated “Cassius”, a track which highlights the need for the Black Lives Matter movement in America- as a song. It is very 2017.
I almost felt bad for how much I enjoyed this record, given that both their self-titled and Helplessness Blues are among my favorite albums of all time. I thought I was liking it because of who wrote it, rather than the music within. However, after many careful listens, I am confident in the quality of Crack-Up. It twists and turns, and even the quiet parts carry devastating weight.
The band continues to excel, leaving eager fans like me foaming at the mouth for another stellar release.
DAMN. - Kendrick Lamar
Songwriting: Kendrick Lamar
Production: Sounwave, Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, Mike WiLL Made-It, 9th Wonder, Bekon, James Blake
Y’all got ‘til April the 7th to get y’all shit together
This was the warning heard across the world just weeks before the current king of rap, Kendrick Lamar, released his fourth studio album DAMN.
While the record did not reach the heavenly-high expectations many had set on Lamar, what it did do was put forth his very first chart topping single, HUMBLE. It seemed that Kendrick put his best commercial foot forward and scored big. Not only did HUMBLE blaze over every radio station this year but so did the undeniable hits LOYALTY and LOVE.
Among commercial success Kendrick quite possibly made one of the absolute hardest hitting hip-hop songs to ever be engraved in wax, that being the truly unbelievable song DNA. So whether it be a cinematic story telling album, a complex jazz influenced concept album, or a truly pure commercial album, Kendrick once again proves himself to be the best at whatever endeavor.
Audrin Baghaie is the music editor for the Daily Lobo. All contributors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org