Top Ten Albums of 2017

10. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Front Porch Sessions

This is the album I can’t imagine anyone but me liking. If this album works for you, let me know, I would be curious to hear some of your other favorites. This is stripped down hillbilly washboard blues at its’ best. It takes a unique ear to love this one. Written as a tribute to sitting on the porch and jamming, this one is my private escape album of the year.

Here is their viral video from a few years ago to get a picture of their style.

9. Eddie Berman – Before the Bridge

This was one of those albums that every time a track came up while on shuffle in the 2017 playlist I would always check and see who it was. It was always this twangy guy. Maybe the most soothing guitar album of the year.

8. Harry Styles – Harry Styles

This scored so high because I felt it hit all the marks of a great pop/rock record of yesteryear. It had the elements of having five or six hits. Not sure why it didn’t. It had smart songwriting and elements of every genre. The yesteryear it conveys includes CSN, Bowie, Stones, Fogelberg. It is loaded with smart and addictive songwriting. The sky is the limit for this guy.

7. Mondo Cozmo – Plastic Soul

A recommendation from a friend and what we have here is a non stop upbeat record of inspiration. Reminds me of a band from the 90’s named Spiritualized. It is catchy throughout. When I say catchy think “Natural Blues by Moby, Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” or “Bitter Sweet Symphony” from The Verve. This will probably get played quite a bit at the shop.

Beautiful video of “Hold On To Me”

6. John Mellencamp – Sad Clowns and Hillbillies

This Mellencamp record is a subtle gem. This album went unnoticed like the few before it. But, the subtlety is in the depth of the unassuming songs. Tackling age, politics, religion, racism from a place in life that is reflective and wise rather then the old pissed off Mellencamp.

I purposely didn’t put any videos in for the top five. There should be no distractions when listening to these classic records.

5. Kendrick Lamar – Damn

I was honestly unattached to the Kendrick experience before this album. After seeing the “Humble” video I was immediately attached. A trip back to the last couple of albums reinforced the power of storytelling that continues on this release. Lamar’s less than optimistic storytelling on Damn is as good as anything you will hear this year. This seems to be the album on the most top ten lists. I’m all in with Kendrick from here on out.

4. U2 – Songs of Experience

The fan boy wants me to put this higher. Instead I will just be wordier in my review. To totally get the U2 experience, make a cup of coffee and read this tremendous Rolling Stone interview.

U2 is that band you probably love or hate. People call them pretentious, I call them hopeful. People call them overly optimistic and I say give me overly optimistic all day long. They bring unified to the table which makes for their consistency. None of are worried about solo projects. They come back to the table with all their creative ideas for one purpose; to create the next epic U2 album. I love the fact that they’re only 14 studio album in a span of a 40 year career. To me, that is commitment to the craft of a great album each and every time.  It’s funny when you look at the Songs of Innocence and all of those people being upset that the record was on their iPhone without permission. That album was unbelievable. If people would’ve got over their own personal pretentiousness and feeling invaded upon they would’ve realize U2 might’ve released their best album since Joshua Tree. Really. Go back and listen to it. It is tremendous. And that brings us to this album Songs of Experience.

The record begins with the acoustic ballad, “Love Is All We Have Left”, that reckons back to the “MLK” ballad that ends Unforgettable Fire. Love is the tone here. U2 is convinced love will conquer the ills of the world. I tend to agree. The album is quirkily arranged though. The middle covers some pretty heavy material, “Summer of Love”, “Red Flag Day”, “The Showman” with some music arrangements that seem much lighter than the material being handled there. That throws the album a bit off for me and I would still say I think the Innocence record is better than this one. But, if you take the time to read the Bono interview linked above I think you will find some answers to the approach of this album and the power of love that lies within.

3. The National – Sleep Well Beast

Of all the bands I love and needed to come through this one met all expectations. Not since The Boxer have I been so satisfied with a National record. They even added a guitar solo or two. Say what? This along with my top two pics are the most satisfying listens from the drop of the needle until the silence at the end. And just like #1 and #2 the songwriting is so solid, so polished, so profound, so honest, that it is going to hold up over time.

2. Run The Jewels – 3

Released digitally on Christmas Day 2016, this record came out too late to make on on last year’s list. When it came to this record I needed the bass.  I needed the beats.  I needed the anger.  I needed the feistiness. I needed the words. I needed it not to be shallow. I needed it to have substance if we were going to get feisty. RTJ brought the whole game. The fact this holds up to take #2 having been released so early in this year’s campaign is a testament to its’ brilliance.

1. Gang of Youths – Go Farther in Lightness

This Australian band took third best in the Australian Rolling Stone Top 50 Albums list, behind Kendrick and Lorde. It was a band I would never have discovered without my friend, Tyler Scott. This was the record I wanted to find that would encapsulate 2017. Angry. Emotional. Hopeful. Honest. Transparent. Every musical element. Deep throated vocals, driving emotional guitars, string interludes, aggressive piano ballads, and lyrics wordier than a Run the Jewels track. This record owned me from day one and reigns at the top of this 2017 list.

 

Full Playlist of Tons of Great Albums in 2017

Eleven Thru Twenty 2017

The records in the top twenty, but not the top ten.

Apple Music Playlist. 

11.  Joey Bada$$

A jazzy beat hip hop record inspired by 90’s rap with a one track mind. The state of black people in America.

From Consequence of Sound Review

The album ends with one of the best songs of Joey Bada$$’s brief career, “Amerikkkan Idol”. The six-minute stream of consciousness details the thought process of a young man growing increasingly angry as he learns more about the world he inhabits. He empathizes with his community while trying to come up with ways to improve it. He mourns the losses of those who died at the hands of the police, as well as those who died at the hands of other black men. He emphasizes the importance of solutions over hashtags. The track summarizes the substance of All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ perfectly.

12.  Baby Driver Soundtrack

You all know I think this is the best soundtrack in forever. The whole movie was choreographed around each and every song. But, since it isn’t an album of new music we are going to slide it out of the top ten.

Enjoy the opening sequence here.

  

13.  Nichole Nordeman

The legalist recovery album. If you know what that means and you need recovery this album is for you. I am not a fan of this kind of style in general. But, the lyrics and hope circumvent the cheesy production.

14.  Valerie June

The quirky, modern day blues version of Nina Simone? Another one of those records that can be a top five record depending on what day of the week I hear it.

This 2013 Tiny Desk show is a nice intro to her.

15.  The Killers

When it is all said and done this might have the longest lasting power. There is never going to be another Hot Fuss record. But, like Harry Styles’ record, this album is deep with radio friendly hits. Some of the arrangements remind me of the pop sensibilities of Mike and the Mechanics. Especially the song “Rut”.

Here is a Mike and the Mechanics just for kicks

16.  Jay- Z

HOV gets awfully transparent in his first album post forty. Adultery, his mother being true to herself, the never ending battle of racism. And he has never sounded more real. Contains the song of the year, “The Story of OJ”

See my Most Important Songs post for my review on the power of “The Story of OJ”

17.  Chris Bathgate/Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit/Ryan Adams(folk/americana tie)

On any given day any of these could have made the top ten. And on another day they aren’t compelling enough to be there. I most likely will return to the Jason Isbell record the most.

18.  Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

My buddy Knox said these guys put on the best performance  of Rock on the Range, so I put their record in the cue. This is the ‘let the hair down’ rocker of the year for me. This is the ‘check out and jam’ record. Nothing ground breaking here, just good old album rock.

19.  Kevin Morby

Catchy songwriting genius. This review captures its’ essence.

20.  Lorde/Halsey/Pink (the divas tie)

Lorde’s was the best beginning to end. Halsey had the songs I will remember the most. Pink’s voice is the best of the divas.

Missed The Cut 2017

Just missed the cut

  • Taylor Bennett (Chance’s brother. Smooth hip hop)
  • Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (Trumpet player meets electronica)
  • Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk (post rock electronic)
  • Angel Olsen (aching folk b-sides record)
  • Manchester Orchestra (emotional alternative pop)
  • Slowdive (comeback of the year? I never knew thee before),
  • Tyler the Creator (best jazz inspired music on a hip hop record all year)
  • Superfood (irresistible bubble gum beats)

Apple Music Playlist 

 

The Most Important Songs of 2017

One disclaimer I have as I write stuff about music is that I write the way I receive it. This is the way I hear it. It may not be the way the artist intended it to be heard, but that is what art is about; it is to be given away and allow the recipient to love it however they see fit. That being said, my Most Important Songs of 2017 playlist is pretty heavy. As I stated a couple of posts ago, it was a heavy year. And heavy music is important. So, for those looking for a top 40 list, you won’t find it here. This one explores some stuff that I hope challenges your way of thinking.

As I dive into racism in the some of the songs that follow there is no doubt I have an odd background for a suburban white boy. I got sober in AA when I was teenager. The wisest men in my life were black and from the inner city. My second job was as a skycap at the airport.  The workforce there was twenty black men and five white guys. More life lessons were to be found there. I have been robbed by a black man with a gun; twice. For the better part of a decade I ran a record store that was rooted in black music. The three pictures above my desk at home are of:

A young African boy that we have sponsored for the last 10 years

A picture of me and Destiny’s Child (Beyoncé and all)

A picture of the children my daughter and I fell in love with in Lesotho Africa.

Racism breaks my soul. Charlottesville broke my soul. I’m not offended when somebody confronts white privilege. I think I’m supposed to learn from the worst of these and the least of these and the best of these.

The playlist theme goes from; legalism, racism, rebellion, hope.

Legalism

Nicole Nordeman – “Dear Me”

This is the song that resonates deeply in my spiritual soul. I am not bitter at any church. I’m not mad at any religion. I’m not mad at any denomination. What I am frustrated with has been my own inability to understand grace for so long. It was a long time getting there. My mind was inundated with abiding by the rules and morality and although I’ve always tried to love well I’m not sure I always did. This song confronts all of the legalism that she has put upon herself along the way. It’s a forgiveness song to somebody who might’ve believed and lived in ways that we’re not healthy and ultimately were not God honoring. And then it casts that legalism aside to pursue loving those who families lost loved ones to unjust deaths, the hungry, the prisoner, the victims, well, everyone. Some will take offense to this song, I think that’s why it was written. For me and many people I shared it with it has been sweet medicine to the soul.

Racism

John Mellencamp – “Easy Target”

Mellencamp’s Scarecrow is one of my all time favorites. It is one of my desert island discs. And Mellencamp has never stopped making music over the years. But, none has captured me as much as Sad Clowns and Hillbillies. His voice still draws me in. This song is a hillbilly from Indiana sharing the brokenness of the way the black man has been treated. The words speak for themselves, they aren’t hopeful. Just honest. But it is the aching strings at the end that seem a little bit off tune to demonstrate the ache of the heart for the inequality that still exist for those who are not white.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “White Man’s World”

Most of the songs that I’m sharing confront racism, legalism, etc. I believe can be handled by anybody who has decency and maturity when it comes to these things.  In an interview with Consequence of Sound Isbell said, “I think my job is to constantly evaluate my role in the human struggle for equality without feeling guilt or shame for things I can’t control.” I agree.

Jay-Z – The Story of OJ

Not only did this song introduce me to a Nina Simone song that he samples. A song I just said never really paid attention to. This song is incredible. Jay Z shares the unacceptability of the stereotype of a black person. And the fact it still exists. I resonate with the frustration Jay Z shares of the stereotype that lives out there. It’s not acceptable. Jay Z also gives an economic lesson to the culture he is a part of and leads. He confronts hip hop’s obsession with getting their own and not thinking about the future of their loved ones. It is an interesting and compelling song that is much deeper than you realize on first listen. This is the song and video of the year.

Kendrick Lamar – “XXX” (Feat. U2)

Being a U2 head, I didn’t connect with this at first. But, as I comprehended more of the story Kendrick was telling throughout the album, it started to come together. Plus, the next song on this list bridges this song with U2’s, when Kendrick returns the favor and guests on their album. This song covers it all. Racism, death of a son, the system being stacked against you, the desire for revenge, and the answers that don’t yet exist. The transition that U2 brings in the middle amplifies the hopelessness felt at the end.

U2 – “American Soul”

This is the rocker that we haven’t heard from U2 since maybe, “Desire”.  But it is so much deeper then just a torcher. This song also confronts racism in the heartbrokenness aftermath of Charlottesville. And the idiocy of not welcoming the stranger or immigrant or refugee. Kendrick’s bit on this the song carries over from XXX on his own album (and “Get Out of Your Own Way” on U2’s album). Lamar begins the song with a mockery of the way the Sermon on the Mount is being lived out, ““Blessed are the bullies/ For one day they will have to stand up to themselves…/ Blessed are the liars/ For the truth can be awkward.” For me, I love Jesus Christ. He was a stranger in a foreign land and he taught me to welcome all people. In the Sermon on the Mount His words convey, to forget yourself and love others. “American Soul” screams at the sin of not welcoming the stranger and how painful that is when the country created by immigrants forgets its’ roots. God bless the Irish band for pointing it out.

After Jay-Z’s “Story of OJ” and Kasami Washington’s “Truth” videos this is the next best video of the year.

Rebellion

Eminem (feat Alicia Keys) – “Like Home”

I am that guy that never truly found himself on the Eminem bandwagon. No reason. Well, as a youth pastor at the height of his heyday it wasn’t necessarily the music I wanted to tie myself to.  At the time I was too narrow in my thinking to allow myself to hear true art. (go listen to “Dear Me” in this playlist to get what I’m saying)

I could take or leave the new album. But there is a song, where Eminem trashes Trump in a way that confronts all the things that are unacceptable about him. There’s some stuff he says, that if we can all step back and be objective, is not acceptable. And I have a running joke about this song that Eminem is so pissed off, that he only cusses once on this song. I think that says everything. And the incredibly catchy hooks that Alicia sings with her flawless voice carries this anthem home.

LCD Soundsystem – “Call The Police”

Fans of the days of the band New Order will love the music here. This anthem reminds us that the old days are gone and the new days are coming. Get over it, the kids are coming in and taking over. It’ll be fine.

Hope

Kasami Washington – “Truth”

I discovered this song on video. I’m not for sure who shared it with me, I had just read a little bit about this sax’s player’s presence on some hip-hop records and I was curious. This 15-minute video is a meditation. It’s beautiful. It’s relaxing. It’s spirited. It’s transitions are mesmerizing. You won’t get that out of listening to just the song, the video captures the soul of this composition.

Soak it in.

Gang of Youths – “Fear and Trembling”

This is the angst anthem of the year in my opinion. A song of hope and emotional driving guitars after an acapella prelude.

From frontman Dave Le’aupepe; “Fear And Trembling” is titled after and in honour of a Soren Kierkegaard book written in the most productive part of his career, and it sort of presents a summation of all the themes and the narrative of the record within the lyrics, and all the philosophical questions and postulating that goes on for the rest of the record is sort of laid there in this first one”. You will find a more detailed overview of this band as a whole when I release my top albums of the year.

Mondo Cozmo – “Shine”

This is just shamelessly happy. Catchy like “Bittersweet Symphony”. Make it say whatever you need. Crank it up and sing along, you’ll feel better when it’s over.

Apple Music Playlist

Spotify does not have Jay-Z track

Compiling The List

The last couple years I have used a process by which I discover music. On Fridays (the day new releases come out) I look at all the new releases and add anything that looks interesting to me to a 2017 playlist. As time progresses I listen to that album individually. I also play that 2017 new release playlist on shuffle during my thirty-minute trek to and from work. As some music moves me I keep it in the playlist. About once a week, I go into that playlist on my Mac and any of the new music that doesn’t capture my attention right away, the music I don’t see contending for a spot at the top at the end of the year, I remove it from the playlist. That’s how I discover new music.

There are certain albums that I mention that won’t quite make the top, but remain in that playlist because there’s enough substance in on that album to keep it in the listening cue. I’m always looking for you to suggest something, so never fail to reach out to me and share something new. I will add it to the playlist to check it out.

Next up: The Most Important Songs of 2017

Local Stuff 2017

Apple Music Playlist – Local 2017

This is my local music post. It’s not very long. It’s not very extensive. I just wanted to bring attention to three artists that I have personal relationships with and that I love dearly. First is my friend David Fuller, with Hidden Places’ Uh’s David has created a Talking Headsesque manic album that is pretty hard to put down.

Then my friend Ben Martindale (formerly of several bands that I’m familiar with and you might be too) put out two Benji records. One an EP and one a full length. And I just love them. They are quirky and odd, and I know you’re now saying to yourself, “well that’s Ben Martindale dude.” And I would agree. But the EP was recorded on his iPhone and it’s clever and funny as can be. And we all know Ben has always taken his vocals and made them sound strenuously odd, and it works on these albums. It’s kind a like all of the things we knew about Ben came together in what we would’ve always expected on an album, but never knew for sure what it would sound like until it finally was released. This is good stuff.

Now you know, I’m definitely going to talk about Jack. I failed to cover Deathsong last year and part of that was I just didn’t think most of you were ready for that kind of hard-core music. Check the link to explore it. This year Jack released his solo project moon. Listen, I am the dad here. I had no idea what to expect. Jack hid behind the drum set for years. This album is definitely feels inspired by the likes of Mac DeMarco and The National. The risky vocals and ambient keyboards create a work of art. It’s an easy listen. It’s a deep listen. It’s a beautiful listen. And it’s a must for your collection. So proud of this kid.

Music is Medicine

This is the year I needed all of my staples to come through. Bands and musicians who had spoke to my spirit in the past. Personally, I needed all of those to artists show up and give me something. I needed to have meaning. I needed to have substance. I needed to have angst. I needed to be able to debrief and regroup within the listening of certain albums.

There were plenty of records that gave me that ‘disappear into it and jam’ feeling. And I love those. But, those don’t make the top ten this year. I will share those too. All solid albums. All potential top ten contenders in a normal year. But this isn’t hasn’t been a normal year. It was the year we needed music to say what we were thinking. That gave us hope where things seemed dark. This year, music had to have a little attitude. It had to have a way of communicating frustrations, fears and the desire for hope. I know that sounds way deeper than it should about an upcoming top ten list. But that’s what I was striving to hear.

Some people use social media to post their frustrations in ways to create tension between them and others. Believe me that is where I want to go most of the time. And there is a time or two I do go there. But, it’s just not healthy for me. Debate and exasperation of my thoughts to the public bring me no healing. And I seek to be healed as much as possible. I have a family to lead. I have people in my life who count on my stability. I have a business that counts on our ability to make impact. That takes a very strong, centered, and strategic focus as to not lose our way.

I am sure you might be thinking, “I thought this was about music Kenny”.

It is, it goes back to music for me. Music has always been important to me in a way that maybe your book collection is, or your “insert material thing here’ collection is, or you going to concerts, or you having a date night weekly with your significant other. Whatever your release, mine has been music. At the age of nineteen I attended the Music Business Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. By the time I was in my mid 20’s I was running a record store and doing DJ work on the side. That part of my life lasted for a good fifteen years. Writing top ten lists were some of the most fun things to do at the end of each year. Our customers at RTO thrived off of our suggestions and discoveries much like the Roosevelt with beautiful coffees. So forgive me if this is indulgent. Forgive me if this is self-serving. But I hope that you discover some music in these posts that you never would’ve come across and some might have a lasting effect on your spirit.

Next up: Local Music 2017