DFM Masthead Disenfranchised FM Cuckoo's Eleven Top Five Songs Armchair Producer Music MD Tin Cans Scratch Take Life and Times Input




 

Top Eleven Songs of 2017:
Listen to Best of 2017 on Spotify

  1. Run the Jewels - Talk to Me

  2. Kendrick Lamar - HUMBLE.

  3. Jay-Z - The Story of O.J.

  4. Spoon - Hot Thoughts

  5. Beck - Dreams

  6. Lorde - Green Light

  7. St. Vincent - Los Ageless

  8. Sampha - (No One Know Me) Like the Piano

  9. The National - The Day I Die

  10. Tyler, The Creator - See You Again

  11. LCD Soundsystem - i used to

Honorable Mention:
Charly Bliss - Glitter
U2 - Get Out of Your Own Way
Arcade Fire - Everything Now
Elbow - Magnificent (She Says)
Ryan Adams - Do You Still Love Me?
HAIM - Want You Back
Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean - Slide
Waxahatchee - Silver
Alvvays - In Undertow
Ty Segall - Break a Guitar

Guilty Pleasure:
Taylor Swift - Look What You Made Me Do

 

1

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3

"We return from the depths of the badland / with a gun and a knife in a waistband / Went to war with the Devil and the Shaytan / He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan."

Hip-hop duo made up of Killer Mike and El-P haven't been afraid to do things differently: a year after their breakout 2014 Run the Jewels 2, they remixed the album using only cat sounds and re-released it as Meow the Jewels. Yes, you read that correctly.

RTJ3 focuses less on the unbelievably strong guest appearances that RTJ2 did, and while it features familiar rappers like Danny Brown, the lion's share of the lyrics belong to Killer Mike. And they deserve to be, because Killer Mike is one of the best rappers in the past twenty years. As a general rule of thumb, if Kendrick Lamar, the man who claims to own spots 1-5 in rapper ranking, gives you a shout-out for your skills, you have been annointed.

RTJ3 is a smoother sound than RTJ2, but it is still sharp with rhyme, wit, and philosophy on our nation's current state. Zach de la Rocha may be the reason that you initially heard about this group, but Killer Mike and El-P are the best duo in the game. And yes, I said duo, because I can't believe that I'm going to rank this next artist second again.

 
2

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

"I'll prolly die die walkin' back home from the candy house / I'll prolly die because these colors are standing out."

Kendrick Lamar is indeed the greatest rapper today, and at this rate he will likely end up on the Mount Rushmore of Rap. Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, Tupac, Eminem all have great lyrics, but Kendrick's beg to be deconstructed. Fluid to the ear yet dense for interpretation, he is the best in the game. This album isn't quite at the OH-MY-GOD-WHAT-JUST-HAPPENED level as To Pimp a Butterfly, but it's an incredible album.

3

St. Vincent – Masseducation

"I can't turn off what turns me on."

When Annie Clark released her eponymous album in 2014, she cemented her legitimacy as a top bill act. Her follow-up release continued a move closer to electro-pop. While Clark has maintained a deeply private life off-stage, she pushes the boundary lyrically, venturing into areas like power, sex, and identity. In some ways, it converges with many of 2017's feminist causes.

4

Jay-Z – 4:44

"Super Bowl goals / My wife in the crib feedin' the kids liquid gold / We in a whole different mode / Kid that used to pitch bricks can't be pigeonholed."

Jay-Z's career arc shares some parallels with characters played by Laurance Fishburne. Go with me on this …

Apocaplypse Now (1979) - Fishburne (at age 14, btw plays Tyrone "Clean" Miller, a jumpy sailor just trying to get his heiny back home to mama.
Boyz n the Hood (1991) - Fishburne plays Jason "Furious" Styles, father to Cuba Gooding Jr's Tre and a man who has learned to keys to both survival and being a man.
Higher Learning (1995) - Fishburne plays Maurice Phipps, a Poli-Sci professor who preaches to his lecture hall about finding one's own identity and not allowing others to categorize them.

From Reasonable Doubt through The Blueprint, Jay-Z is rap's brightest star, colorful and comedic, yet not far from his years as a drug dealer. He not only has the makings for great success, he is well on his way.

The Black Album turns a corner for Jay-Z. The faux retirement isn't really news anymore, especially when even he was poking fun at it on the album ("When I come back like Jordan, wearing the 4-5"). What makes this album significant in his development is he's found success as a rapper, as a producer, as a label owner. His lyrics reveal an artist who is departing from misogyny towards an understanding of his flaws and strengths, and like Jason Styles, isn't afraid to start teaching lessons to those willing to listen. Probably not a coincidence that he was already two years into his relationship with Beyoncι at this point. And this continues through the infamous elevator security video tape.

On 4:44, we find Jay-Z in a second coming-of-age, open and self-aware of his flaws and his failures. We also see a Jay-Z who openly discusses race. "The Story of O.J." isn't about financial advice, and every critic who takes a swipe at Jay-Z misses the point. Yes, it's a recognition that "living rich and dying broke" is a tired, worn stereotype. But it's much, much more than that: it's also a middle-aged man recognizing the labels forced on him as a person of color. He is acknowledging that his own definition is a work-in-progress, but an attempt to be a better husband, a better father, and a better father figure. Even better, it's led to some compelling discussions on race and identity. And because I am not the right person to carry-out these discussions, I recommend listening to conversations like this one. Sean Carter is well into his era of Prof. Phipps, and it suits him well.

5

Spoon – Hot Thoughts

"I know you must hold secrets / Such a long way from home / You're a lost letter, needs delivery / Someday you'll be where you should go."

Now in their 25th year of keeping Austin weird, but in a good way. Britt Daniel's writing has never been better, using contemporary hooks with a long shelf-life. Sharon Van Etten also makes an appearance with backing vocals.

6

Beck – Colors

"Found our way through the lost years / Now the day brings it all here."

After a stunning win at the Grammys for Album of the Year in 2014 ("Hi Prince!"), Beck Hansen teased us in 2016 with the first single and signaled to us a creative oscillation back towards experimental pop. Had he released both "WOW" and "Dreams" in 2017, this may have been a top five album, but he does become the first artist to make two End of Year playlists with one album.

7

LCD Soundsystem – american dream

"Oh sure it's ruling the airwaves / What remains of the airwaves."

In 2013, Rolling Stone magazine listed LCD Soundsystem as one of the New Immortals - current musical acts which would stand the test of time. And that was two years into a four-year breakup. Thankfully, they reunited for the 2016 festival circuit and ultimately released their highest-charting album to date.

8

Lorde – Melodrama

"Well those great whites, they have big teeth / Hope they bite you / Thought you said that you would always be in love / But you're not in love no more."

With a sultry, powerful voice, and an even sharper pen, it's easy to forget that Lorde is only 21 years old. Emerging from a break-up with her longtime boyfriend, her sophomore effort is not only stronger than her first album, it stands a very good chance of upsetting Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar for the Grammys Album of Year.

9

Elbow – Little Fictions

"Come to the river son / Let your obsession go / What does it prove if you die for a tune / It's really all disco."

One look at this Manchester four-piece's CV, and you have to wonder why they aren't a bigger deal stateside: former Mercury Prize winner (3x nominated), Brit award winner (2x nominated), 5 Gold albums and 2 Platinum albums, and composer of the London Olympics BBC Theme. Guy Garvey could very well be this decade's best lyricist not named Kendrick. Imagine Peter Garbriel-era Genesis covering Radiohead.

10

Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy

"You live in my dream state / Relocate my fantasy / I stay in reality / You live in my dream state / Anytime I count sheep."

My work peeps know Tyler Okonma first and foremost as "that guy who directed the goat videos." Watching the NPR Tiny Desk concert offered a more proper view: an artist who loves to be the jester, but in secret wants to the the bard. "See You Again" shows a poet looking beyond his typical blue humor in search of his true love; it's a 21st century take on Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene.

11

The National – Sleep Well Beast

"The poor, they leave their cellphones in the bathrooms of the rich."

Frontman Matt Berninger vocal's have traditionally dwelled in his lower Baritone range. On Sleep Well Beast, he extends his range into the top registry, reinforcing the urgency in his lyrics.



Honorable Mention


 

 

HM

Arcade Fire – Everything Now

"I'm in the black again / Can't make it back again."

Four straight albums of both commercial and critical success has set the bar high for this Canadian indie band. Perhaps that's why many critics called this a misstep for the band. It's an unfair expectation, and Win Butler's sparse lyrics and innovative sound continue to create a sound much greater than the sum of its parts.

 
HM

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

"I've been pullin' on a wire, but it just won't break / I've been turnin' up the dial, but I hear no sound / I resist what I cannot change / And I wanna find what can't be found."

I described 2014's Lost in the Dream as "Springsteen in the studio with Jerry Garcia, with Brian Eno at the board." Frontman Adam Granduciel continues to channel a flurry of influences in this follow-up, from Shoegaze to Heartland. Vocally, it sounds as if Granduciel drove solo from Maine to Los Angeles listening to nothing but Bob Dylan.

 
HM

Ryan Adams – Prisoner

"Another year will pass / I will count the days / Another sun goes down / And I'll never see the rays / What can I say? / I didn't want it to change."

In the last ten years, Ryan Adams has wrestled with his health, his sobriety, and his marriage. Divorced and sober, with his ailments under control, he's managed to walk the fine line of emoting grief without wallowing in it.

HM

Ty Segall – Ty Segall

"Sink, swim, breathe in the air / When you can't breathe it any longer / It might just disappear."

The only musician who can make Ryan Adams' output look sparse, and he's about to release ANOTHER album in seven days. Segall continues to be the best-kept secret of garage rock. This latest album demonstrates a broader range of influences, including T. Rex and Neil Young.

HM

U2 – Songs of Experience

"A dinosaur, wonders why it's still on the earth, yeah / A meteor, promises it's not gonna hurt, yeah."

They were broadly criticized for their prior release Songs of Innocence, which was unfairly driven by their choice to release via Apple iTunes spam. The album holds up remarkably well, with a youthful voice and a recognition of from where the band is from. Songs of Experience thankfully in a shorter time frame, allowing for more direct comparisons with its predecessor. It's a band that has rediscovered its ability to laugh at itself: not in the self-deprecating way it did with The Zoo TV Tour, but more so in the sense they recognize they are figurative dinosaurs in an era of singles over albums and streaming over physical copies. It's because of the band embracing these truths that makes this album great. Especially when comparing Experience to The Rolling Stone's chronology equivalent Voodoo Lounge, it's clear this band has more to prove, strives to be both relevant and timeless, and succeeds in both.



Guilty Pleasure of the Year


 

 

GP

Taylor Swift – Reputation

"But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time / Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time / I've got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined."

Taylor Swift has always been a critically acclaimed songwriter who hasn't been afraid to extend into new genres. Each jump, from Speak Now to Red, from Red to 1989, and from 1989 to Reputation, she's seen general critical acclaim and massive commercial success. But it hasn't been without criticism: each lead single from her last three albums has raised eyebrows, wondering whether Swift could really establish credibility in that space. To make such an argument is short-sighted; when looking at the last four albums collectively, Reputation is actually a natural progression.

Taylor Swift is to Carrie Underwood as the Oregon Ducks football team are to the Michigan football team. Michigan football looks ridiculous in anything other than maize and blue and its winged helmets - that's tradition. Oregon football is a tradition in the exact opposite: new uniforms every season, if not every game. Whereas Underwood would likely flop by attempting as severe a crossover, for Swift, it's become an expectation. But there are other reasons why I like this album.

My daughter turned five this past year. She's finding her voice, both literally and expressively. Saturday mornings have become a new tradition: while driving her to ballet/tap class, I slide in subtle parenting hints like "remember, a gentleman always offers a hand," or "I love that you try new things, and I hope sports is one of those things, too." All while listening to Reputation. There are moments when I see her from the rearview mirror, singing along to every lyric. Someday, I hope she'll do the same with Lily Allen and Florence Welch and Lady Gaga, but for now I'm proud that my girl can spit a line like "But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time." It's those moments when I realize the world is her oyster, if I can learn when to be at her side and when to get out of the way.

I like this album. Sue me.