After the loss of David Bowie and Prince in 2016, 2017 turned out to be a good year for music. I don’t know if everyone stepped up their game to fill in the gap (not that anyone could fill for those two) or if it was the political climate, but I really enjoyed the music that I listened to this year. Very few duds, but then again, I don’t listen to much pop.
So let’s jump right in!
Favorite Political Song: Despite the continued relevance of YG’s song “FDT,” that song came out in 2016. March 2016, no less. What a prophet. But my favorite political song achieved that status because it came from an unexpected source: Depeche Mode.
I don’t know when it was written and recorded, probably in the throes or aftermath of Brexit and the 2016 U.S. election, but it had the familiar sound of old Depeche Mode, which drew me in right away.
Now, I don’t say “unexpected” because Depeche Mode’s never been political. Quite the contrary, this is the band that wrote of environmental destruction (“The Landscape Is Changing”), the long-reaching potential effects of parental neglect (“Shouldn’t Have Done That”), and the manipulation of the masses by the media (“New Dress”). That was a younger Martin Gore, however. This is an older, impatient Martin. “Where’s the revolution? Come on people, you’re bringing me down.” A call to action that is much needed in this Age of 45 and Brexit.
Runner Up: Billy Bragg‘s “Bridges Not Walls” mini LP – One of the best protest singer/songwriters of our lifetimes steps up to deliver messages of resistance and togetherness. Here’s “Why We Build The Wall”
Coolest Comeback & Favorite Show:
One of my favorite bands of all time is RIDE from Oxford, England. They’re a shoegaze band, a genre that emerged when I was in college, and I love the music that gets that tag, almost to a band. I’ve described it as a kind of pop-driven psychedelic guitar dirge but that’s not quite it. Like most “genre” tags the meaning gets lost (“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” right?).
I had plans for a music podcast named obliquely about the band (“Ride With Me”) that never quite got off the ground, but I digress.
Ride re-formed a few years back after a couple of one-off get-togethers where they played Primavera in Spain, Coachella in the U.S., and more festivals. 2017 saw the release of new material in February, the lead single “Charm Assault” with news of a full album titled Weather Diaries to come in summer. “Charm Assault” was immediately captivating: crisp, driving, replete with jangling guitars. It was like old Ride, but still new. “Home Is A Feeling” was released the next day, a more languid offering, but still that classic drone style.
The next release was “Lannoy Point,” a week ahead of the album. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about that song at first, and looking back I’m not sure why. Maybe the arpeggiated synth, maybe I was expecting something…else. I don’t know. But it’s another solid Ride song and a great album opener.
My first listen to the album was also a little off. All of the pre-released songs were on the front half of the album and I was anxious to hear more of the new new. I feel like I just floated along listening until I got to track 8, “Cali.” Not as fast as “Twisterella,” it opens with a catchy bass guitar riff and hip-shaking beat. The “summer is gone” refrain as the second half of the song stretches out is less a rebuke than an acknowledgment that all things pass.
The album has grown on me over time, appreciating the chopped samples that start “All I Want,” the pounding “Lateral Alice,” and how can a Buddhist not love a song about “Impermanence?”
When I saw the band was coming to Denver in September, I jumped on a ticket and it was probably one of the most satisfying shows I saw in 2017. I’d never seen Ride live in person, although I have a PAL videotape of their Going Blank Again performance at Brixton that I bought while on holiday in the UK. I was actually hoping I’d be able to catch them live but this was back pre-internet and I had no way of knowing at the time that they were on tour in the U.S. while I was in Europe. It was 25 years before I had another chance to see them, and they delivered. I also confused the hell out of them after the show by having one band member sign one each of the cover art from one of their albums or singles. (Most people were having them all sign one item.)
Here’s a set recorded for Amazon Music just days after the Denver show:
I thanked them for playing – I couldn’t think of anything else to say. What do you say to a musical hero sitting in front of you?
So, thanks again Mark, Andy, Steve, and Loz. You made me very happy this year. 🙂
(Note that they have a new EP coming soon titled Tomorrow’s Shore, featuring the new song “Catch You Dreaming!”)
Best Song & Video About A House-Sitter:
“House-sitter,” not a “user.”
Brad Goodall‘s charming 70s-twinged tune about stewarding the swank premises of his friend Mel got a lot of views & listens from me this year. Something about the laid-back vibes of the video (and the vibes Brad plays in the song) appealed to me. Like the guy is getting away with something, but he’s providing a valuable service in watching the cat. And gettin’ his groove on in the meantime. (And the little crouch-y dance Brad does is fucking classic)
Watch, listen, and live vicariously through our friend in Casa de Mel.
Favorite Summer Song:
I made a playlist of 9 songs released before or during June (except one), all of which I enjoyed during the summer months. From The Dollyrots‘ rockin’ “Just Because I’m Blonde” (a callback/homage to the old Julie Brown tune, maybe?) to the tropical island 80s energy of Paramore‘s “Hard Times,” there were some good summatime choonz to be had. The standouts for me were San Fermin‘s “No Promises” (suggested to a friend who was embarking on a road trip – the song features open vistas along with its urgent percussion); the near-nonsensical New Politics banger “CIA”; and my fave of the faves, “Turning the Screw” by Generationals. My friend Eric had recommended their Vampire Weekend-ish song “TenTwentyTen” not too long before “Turning” was released so I had a little callback moment when I realized they were the same group. “Turning The Screw” has enough of a lazy electro-bounce to encourage either relaxing with a cool bevvie or giving a slack shake of what your momma gave you.
Favorite Song & Video of the Year:
Round about mid-February my Spotify Release Radar playlist dropped a bomb on my head in the form of White Reaper‘s “Judy French.” The guitars jammed out a poppy Coheed & Cambria sound while the lyrics were a classic boy-likes-girl paean, pleading his case to his crush. In a bit of a flash-forward to the #MeToo controversy of the fall, our leading man leaves it all up to the object of his affection:
If I’m on your nerves just tell me
I don’t want to make it hard
I can leave you be, I can leave you be
We don’t even have to start
Clear. Simple. Consent.
But that’s not all. The lyric video dropped around the same time and is such a brilliant concept that I can’t believe it’s not been done before (at least not seen by me). You just have to watch:
So great, right? Aaaah, I love it. Such a callback to high school years.
Well done, White Reaper & Charlie Pollard. Thanks for the nostalgia and rockin’ song.
***They released an “official” video for the song but it’s standard slo-mo beautiful-girl-playing-the-guitar fare. Better still, watch their SXSW performance of their song “Make Me Wanna Die” into Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova.”
They’re having a lot of fun. 🙂
Honorable Mention for Great Lyric Video Concept: “On The Rocks” by Bash & Pop:
Video on the cracked phone while the lyrics come in as text message alerts? Also brilliant.
So I guess that’s it, don’t want to ramble on too long. Ok, just a little bit more.
Other Honorable Mentions:
Best Song Title: “Post-War Cinematic Dead Man Blues” by Chuck Prophet
Just A Great Rock Record: Our Undivided Attention by Benchmarks. I’ve followed Todd Farrell Jr.’s career for years and this is his new band. Give it a spin, won’tcha?
Best Thin Lizzy Homage Late Entry: “Tough” by Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs
“Late” because I heard it on my friend Dan’s 2017 top 100 list a week into 2018, so it doesn’t make my official list but damn is it a hell of a rock track.
Best Mermaid Song That’s Not A Song About Mermaids: “Mermaid Song” by Emily Kinney.
Honorable mention to the honorable mention: The Dollyrots’ “Mermaid”:
And there you have it. My 2017 list. Now you tell me your top 3 songs of the year in the comments!