Monday, January 29, 2018

Music Monday ~ Updated Favorite Albums of 2017

Isn't it nice when I get to update a best list, as opposed to all the updates to my 2016 worst songs? Yeah, some great albums came out last year, and I didn't listen to half of them until this month because life can be kooky. This might still be updated on my listening journey but I feel pretty confident posting it now, especially in light of my latest discovery.

1-4 are in order, 5-10 are random.

1. Still Creeper, because nobody beats Creeper, or The Wiz.
2. Still Paramore, by a slight edge.
3. Alvvays ~ Antisocialites. What I think the Sundays would sound like in 2017. Even the album title fits.
4. Jaime Wyatt ~ Felony Blues. In light of all the great music I've listened to, this still hangs on at #4 despite its short length. Every song here connects and I love the cohesive theme. If it was any longer, maybe some of that theme would be obscured or less powerful, so I can't complain.

5. New Pornographers ~ Whiteout Conditions. How do they do this every single album. "Songcrafting" sounds like a pretentious as hell term but idk what else to call this. Beautiful album, and it's only grown on me once I got past the overwhelming amazingness of Brill Bruisers and stopped comparing the two.
6. The Shins ~ Heartworms. Holy crap, it's the Shins! I hadn't listened to these guys since Chutes Too Narrow, and that was in 2003. I looked it up. So, I listened to this this morning. Then I listened to it again. I wouldn't usually throw an album on a best list on such short notice, but this was indisputable. With all the older acts that disappointed me or I just liked but didn't love last year, The Shins and The New Pornographers nailed it with some classic indie pop. There's even a beautiful folk/Americana-tinged song called "Mildenhall." There are no "skippers" on this album for me, which is why it belongs here.

7. Hurray for the Riff Raff ~ The Navigator. By far the most distinctive and unusual album on this list, this could have been too exotic or artsy for me but it isn't. There's something straightforward about it that just hits me. It takes you on a journey. It's like energetic folk music. Folk with an edge.
8. Angaleena Presley ~ Wrangled. And, country with an edge. I need to check out her first album, but I'm gonna let this one sink in a little more first. It's important. This didn't get nearly as much attention as it should have, but I think it'll be a classic in 10 years. Groundswell, indeed.
9. Kesha ~ Rainbow. Still fucking great. This album will never make me anything but happy.
10. Sunny Sweeney ~ Trophy. Women in country have shit to say, and they're saying it beautifully. Keep making it and I'll keep listening. And again, I think time will be VERY kind to albums like this, even if the current climate isn't. Serious music listeners have long memories.

Honorable mentions:

Chris Stapleton ~ From A Room, Vol. 1. Yeah, the burnout was my fault. This is a really good album. I haven't listened to Vol. 2 yet.
Harry Styles ~ Okay, the uncredited guitar riff aside, I can't deny how much I like this. This is the ONLY album by a top 40 artist last year I'd call "rock." 70s light rock counts. Oh yes, it counts.
Doll Skin ~ Manic Pixie Dream Girl. This is just good, catchy rock music with a little pop punk vibe. If you're in the mood to just rock out, put on Shut Up, Daughter, Persephone, or pretty much anything from this album. There's a riot grrrl* element here, but unlike what keeps me from a lot of that style, the production sounds nice and clean.

*autocorrect changed this to "riot grill," which is absolutely a business I want to open.

This list is heavy on female artists, and that was not intentional. I listened to a LOT of male artists last year, but most of them either disappointed (Weezer, Beck) or were good enough but not up with what I included here (The Killers, The Maine, Zac Brown Band*). I'm so glad that Shins record came along ~ yay, something that actually exceeded my expectations! So while I support seeking out female artists, especially country ones, in this time that's being ridiculously and unfairly prohibitive, this isn't a statement on my part other than "this was my favorite music." If that in itself makes a statement, then I stand by it. :)

*OH, we'll be getting to his ass another time. Welcome Home was decent if not great, though.

And now, MUSIC!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Feel Good Friday

A bittersweet one today, as Lari White passed away this week, but she left us with one of my favorite feel good songs of the 90s. RIP. Thanks for the sunshine.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Music Monday ~ Music Criticism

While I'm not a music "critic," just a discerning listener, I try to take most critiques I do, positive or negative, seriously. Music is important to me. So I want to put out a few points about music criticism that I feel apply whether you're an actual critic or someone like me sitting on your couch in your Hello Kitty pjs.

1. "This isn't for me" vs "This is bad"

This is the most important distinction to make, and one that can be difficult. Of course "bad" is subjective, some people will like something you think is bad, and sometimes you'll even like something you think is bad. So how do I classify "bad" vs just not my taste? The number one answer to that is, LAZINESS. Lack of effort. This is often combined with blindly chasing trends. Hopping on the ol' bandwagon for some quick cha ching.

Let's take all this trap music as an example. In his worst hit songs of 2017 video, Todd in the Shadows said that while it's not for him, that doesn't automatically make it bad. Which is fair. However, in this case, I'd argue that much of this "music" actually is bad. Why is there so much of it? Why does it keep flooding the charts every week? It all sounds the same, the rappers all have the same name like "Lil Bunny Hop" or whatever, so why does it keep coming and coming? I think the answer's pretty obvious. It's cheap and easy to make. It requires very little effort or talent, and most of the lyrics are just the same words repeated over and over. Literally anyone could do this. I'm not saying anyone could do it and be successful, but I am saying the unsuccessful stuff probably wouldn't sound much worse or different from the successful stuff.

This goes double for The Chainsmokers, who are on record as saying they made music for "pussy" and hooking up with "hotter girls." THAT'S NOT HOW IT'S SUPPOSED TO WORK GUYS. You get girls by making great music. You get girls by being the fucking Rolling Stones. But they're successful so whatever, guess no one cares but me.

If you make as little effort as possible for as much reward as possible, if I see no discernible talent or artistry in your music, just dollar signs or... horniness, I'm calling it BAD.

2. Being stupid, offensive, or offensively stupid

I put in that last one specifically for "Body Like a Backroad." I'm not offended by the lyrics, but I am offended by the stupidity of the lyrics. Stupid hurts culture. So do misogynistic lyrics, as well as shallow so-called "feminist" lyrics. If I feel your song makes society an actual worse place, I'm calling it BAD.

3. "Experimenting" vs "Selling out"

This has been a big one with "rock" bands the last few years. I put rock in quotes because there really aren't any mainstream rock bands left. In fact, a lot of the bands I'm about to list were never rock rock, so we'll call them "bands that played actual instruments," or BTPAI, instead. Cause that's catchy.

Let's call this the Maroon 5 Effect. Was Maroon 5 ever a rock band? No, not really, but they were a band, and they had some kinda nice funk-pop songs back in the day like "Makes Me Wonder." But they stopped sounding like a band a while ago. A few years ago Imagine Dragons hit it big. I liked their early hits, I mean they were never like ROOOOOCK, but it was solid pop rock. Now I guess they still sound like a band, but a band of what? This is an example of two bands who might have once had integrity, but have successfully "sold out." And it's pretty damn obvious they're not experimenting artistically, they're going straight for the $$.

To be honest, neither of those bands offend me enough to call them "bad." But what have they wrought? In the past year, we've seen a glut of bands that would have fallen somewhere under the "rock" umbrella make these soulless, overproduced pop projects. Pop punk band All Time Low, Linkin Park, Weezer *sigh,* and most recently, Fall Out Boy. And none of them worked. Fans saw through it. It's happened in country too, with artists like Easton Corbin, Randy Houser, and Eli Young Band. Where did they go? Well, they weren't meant to be Sam Hunt, and since they decided to "fix" what wasn't broken, I kinda forgot they all existed til I went through my iTunes yesterday. It was kind of a "wow" moment, like why did these talented people have to go away?

Here's where criticism comes in. Another pop punk/rock band released a pure pop album last year, and it was my second favorite album of the year. Paramore is not only a great band but a great example. Don't automatically criticize a band for changing their sound. Analyze it. Figure out why it works for one album and not another. I can tell you why After Laughter works for me end none of those other albums do.

1. The lyrics resonate, they have something to say, which is an immediate indicator that it's not a "sell out."

2. The production is poppy, but not overdone like on that ear-bleeder of a Fall Out Boy album (and most modern production honestly). It suits the music perfectly.

3. Hayley Williams' voice, nuff said.

4. This last point is more subjective, but since the overall consensus seems to agree with me - it doesn't sound like it's begging to be played on the radio. It sounds organic, like it's own thing, a natural progression for the band. They're not trying to appeal to "the kids," they're just making music.

So change isn't automatically bad. Don't be one of those "I hate it because it's DIFFERENT" people. Because for all the sell out crap, the majority of which, ironically, seems to fail, sometimes there's genuine artistic growth. Even if you're not a critic, critical thinking is one of the most important skills you can hone. While music is made to be felt, there are certain metrics you can use to help determine "good," "bad," "not bad, just not for me," or "bad, but I like it for some reason, send help." Then, when you go off on something for being a piece of crap and someone's like, "you just don't like CHANGE, this is 2018 MAN, we LIKE things that suck!" you can point them to when you did, in fact, like change. They won't shut up, but at least you know you did your job right.

I'm going to end this by saying I listened to "In An Aeroplane Over the Sea" for the first time in years the other day, and it made me VERY EMOTIONAL. Sometimes, it's also good to just turn off your brain and feel the music. Sometimes that's the most honest critique of all.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Album Catchup, Part 2

Angaleena Presley ~ Wrangled

As a Pistol Annies fan this album was on my radar all year, but I didn't get around to it til I heard "Only Blood" on a year end list. And HOLY. PETE. That song reached out and grabbed me by the soul. I listened to the album that night, and wow. This is probably #5 on my 2017 favourites, by the way.

It's kind of like Brandy Clark's Big Day in a Small Town with an edge. The same kind of incisive, slice of life songwriting and effortlessly endearing vocals, but instead of the more narrative tone of Big Day, you get deeply personal stories from Presley's life, complete with lines like "if you bless my heart I'll slap your face." Oh yeah! This is my jam.

Wrangled opens with a very depressing song called "Dreams Don't Come True" that I weirdly love. If a Disney princess didn't get her happily ever after, this would be her song. And man, that's a story I wanna see. Except this is about fame, not love, and how she thought she'd "change the world with three chords and the truth." Well, you've changed my world a little bit, and that probably goes for anyone who's listened to this album, so that's something. It's funny, the second thing I thought of after hearing this song (the first being Disgruntled Disney Princess) was what I wrote about Taylor Swift and the ugliness of fame. Maybe it's better to be a respected critical darling than potential tabloid fodder. The whole world doesn't hear your music, which sucks, cause it deserves to be heard more than anything that's popular, but you're not gonna be writing lyrics like "why? because she's DEAD" either. So net positive, I say.

Every song here is worth talking about, but for the sake of brevity I'll skim a bit. "Outlaw" is an interesting song, gut-punchingly honest like everything on this album. Instead of boasting about being an outsider, she bemoans her lack of mainstream success, saying she is not brave and "Every fight I've ever fought, rule I've ever broke,
Was out of desperation." This is a beautiful moment of vulnerability that really resonates. You kind of get the feeling that since she can't conform even if she wants to ("Mama always said
God broke the mold when he made me
And I've spent my whole damn life
Tryin' to fit back in"), she wishes the mainstream could come to her, even just a little bit. But she's given up hope that will happen, as evidenced by the next song I wanna talk about.

"Country." Hooo boy. At first I wasn't feeling this but then I realized, this isn't a song, it's performance art. This is music in the same way punk is music. It's not meant to be pleasing, it's a means to a message. I appreciate its existence for what it is. "Backwoods, bonfire, here comes the hook, wooah ohhh woooah!" she squawks, off kilter, almost out of control. Then, "yeehaw!" Go get em, girl. 😘

More faves - "Mama I Tried," which brilliantly interpolates the classic "Mama Tried" while giving it a distinctly female bent. "Only Blood" is a fiery murder ballad with a killer bass riff. "Cheer Up Little Darling" interpolates the old spiritual "Farther Along" and is beautiful, hopeful and sad all at once. "Good Girl Down" has a simple message but is delivered with real swagger and confidence, a necessary feel-good track on an album full of anything but. Life can be pain, but you are who you are and you might as well own it. What else are you gonna do?

I LOVE this album. Angaleena is the voice country music needs right now, even if she's just preaching to the choir and the people who need to hear this won't, this is a statement that will stand the test of time. It's also a damn enjoyable album. I can even sway with "Country," if I'm in the right mood. I recommend whiskey. What, whiskey is a mood.

Okay, I'm gonna keep these next few a bit shorter. I hope. What can I say, Wrangled is a very "me" kind of album. 😇

Doll Skin ~ Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Like Creeper, this is a band that would sound right at home on rock radio, if rock radio wasn't busy still playing Nickelback wannabes. In 2018. Seriously, have you heard that piece of shit "Medicate" song? What bloody YEAR is this?? Anyway, yeah. This is an all-girl rock band, and they rock. They do a kickass cover of Alanis Morrisette's "Uninvited." They have a song called "Puncha Nazi." And crunchy, catchy tracks like "Shut Up (You Miss Me)," "Daughter," and "Persephone" were made to be rock hits. Seriously radio, these guys have hooks and clean, lovely production, there's no reason not to play them. Maybe we can leave 2002 where it belongs and bring some fresh sounds? Also, Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an awesome album title.

Hurray for the Riff Raff ~ The Navigator

Puerto Rican Americana music is something I did not know I needed, but very clearly did. Singer Alynda Segarra's voice has a lovely, rich tone, kind of like a rougher-edged Neko Case. Combined with the unique, subtly Latin-tinged instrumentation, this album feels like an adventure, a road trip through the less-travelled parts of town. The best way I can describe this is timeless. It doesn't sound like 2017, it doesn't sound old, it sounds like music that has always existed, somewhere, and always will. At once foreign and familiar, this is an odd mix of elements that just works. Man, I love music. I like every song here to some extent, but some favourites are "Living in the City," "The Navigator," "Pa'lante," "Rican Beach," and "Nothing's Gonna Change that Girl." This would probably be my #6 for the year.

And finally, a quirky little duo called Diet Cig. I heard about these guys from the Rock Critic (as well as Doll Skin), and I'm glad I did cause, you know, no 120 Minutes anymore. I wonder how many of these weird little alternative acts I've missed throughout the years. Anyway, this would have been one of my favorite albums when I was... 16? 18? 20? Somewhere in there or all of the above. While part of me has kind of outgrown music like this, another part is still 18 and vibing with it.

Singer Alex Luciano reminds me of Juliana Hatfield, which is probably why this takes me back to my teen years. In fact this album really reminds me of the Blake Babies' Sunburn, partly because of her voice but also just the raw, indie energy it exudes. This is a little lightweight for me to really gravitate towards now; I mean, you sure as hell don't wanna spin this after Hurray for the Riff Riff or Angaleena Presley, but it has its place. And 16 year old me is all aglow with edgy music discovery. ;)

I mean, right??

Also, "Barf Day" is my favorite song on the album. I finally have an outlet for my anger over my birthday being ruined last year. One 2017 demon successfully exorcised!

I'm sure I've still only scratched the surface of last year's good music, but I feel like I made progress and enriched my life in the process. It's nice when listening to music doesn't feel so... workmanlike? Anyway, here's a list of artists I'm eagerly awaiting new music from!

Confirmed or stated release in 2018:
Brandi Carlile, Kacey Musgraves, Weezer, Pistol Annies, Best Coast

Due for a new album:
Eric Church, Cage the Elephant, System of a Down (haha yeah right), maybe Honeyblood?

Album Catchup

I should probably not even do "best albums of the year" posts anymore, cause I always find great stuff after the fact, rendering them invalid. I blame/thank other people's lists for this. Here's how to get me to listen to an album by an unknown artist: play a snippet of one of the best songs in your video and if I like it, I'll go check out the album. That's all it takes. I have this weird aversion to listening to something blindly. idk.

So I have a new game plan this year, as long as nothing super shitty happens in my life. I'm going to listen to at least one new album every month. If nothing comes out in a month that interests me, I'll tackle something from another year. So that said, before I get to last year's catchup, what did I listen to this month?

Anderson East ~ Encore

I listened to something blindly! Go me. Okay, I was curious about Miranda's bf, and I'm not interested in Camila Cabello or Fall Out Boy*, so this was the clear winner for the slow month of January.

*any curiosity I might have had went out the window with that ear cancer they released last year

I don't know what I was expecting, but I'm not sure an old school soul record was it. Maybe more of a Stapleton country-soul type thing but no, this really isn't country like, at all. Which isn't to say it's bad. For me, this is mood music. This isn't something I'm gonna put in heavy rotation for walking, it's something to mix in late Saturday night with a glass of bourbon and maybe some Tom Waits and Rolling Stones.

I don't see myself returning to a lot of the songs here, but there are definitely some keepers, and I can't say enough good about East's distinctive, raspy voice and the well-suited production. The songs themselves just don't feel like anything I haven't heard before. It's very retro, and not in a cheesy way or anything, it has a sense of cool, it just doesn't really hit me save for a few songs. That said, this guy has a world of talent, I bet he sounds awesome live, and I'll be interested to see if his songs can match the power of his voice as his career progresses. Overall this just feels a bit safe, especially something like "If You Keep Leaving Me." Oh, and it probably goes without saying, but a good duet with Miranda would KILL. Those two voices together? Holy hell yes!

Top 3 faves: All On My Mind, King for a Day, Cabinet Door (the best songwriting here and also the most country, in lyrics if not production. Also makes a great companion to Waits' "House Where Nobody Lives.")

February's selection will be Brandi Carlile. I adored her last album, so very excited for that.

2017 catchup:

Alvvays ~ Antisocialites

This is now my #3 favorite album of 2017, beating out Jaime Wyatt simply by having 10 great songs vs 7. It almost even beat Paramore, considering After Laughter has one very skippable track and Antisocialites has none, but in the end the cohesive sound and themes of After Laughter were just too strong. It's practically a new wave concept album.

Where to even start with this album? Okay, the singer/songwriter for this band is Molly Rankin, and if you watched a lot of CMT in the 90s like I did, you'll remember her family's band, The Rankins. This is not a country-folk album, it's indie pop, but considering how effortlessly good this thing sounds, I'm not surprised there's a traditional music pedigree. The folk and Celtic undertones are there, but this is pure 90s-esque jangle pop along the lines of The Cranberries, The Sundays, The Darling Buds and The Primitives.

This album really reminded me of The Cranberries, so they were already at the front of my mind when Dolores O'Riordan passed away. Weird. If you're missing them and those other bands I mentioned, I can't possibly recommend Antisocialites enough. I'd also compare them to the band I found at the end of last year, Honeyblood, but more pop than rock. Just that sweet sound that hits me where I live. This is 6.99 on iTunes for 10 pieces of ear candy. Best deal you'll get all year.

Top 5 faves: Plimsoll Punks (this sounds like a lost Sundays song), Lollipop, Your Type, In Undertow, Dreams Tonite

This is getting long, so I'm making a new post for the rest.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

State of Music ~ early 2018

Happy new year! I'm only 17 days late, no big deal.

I'm feeling good about 2018 and nope, I'm not even gonna duck after saying that. This blog has been quiet lately, partly because I needed a break after all the year-end and movie stuff, but mostly because I've been catching up on music.

There was some good stuff I missed in 2017. Oh Lordy. In fact, one album is now my #3 favorite of the year. But we'll get to that in the next post. I have several albums I wanna discuss and well, it's taking awhile, so I wanted to at least post something in the meantime.

Unless there are major changes, my interest in mainstream pop and country is pretty much nil at this point, so expect mostly non-radio artists. Obviously, I will rave about anything great that might escape into the mainstream, and rant about anything especially egregious. But I wanna tune out the boring drone of the rest of it and focus on stuff that interests me. Turns out, there's a lot of it, and I'm gonna try to consume as much as possible while I'm in a good place without getting burned out.

Right now I'm mostly getting caught up on some country and alt-rock, since that's my main area of interest. But if this lovely feeling of open-mindedness continues, I want to try some other genres. I feel like I'm missing out on whole worlds by not getting into more hip hop, r&b, even some electronic stuff. I don't expect to like a ton of it, but even if I just get a handful of interesting, different sounding songs to pepper my playlists, I'm all in. This is inspired by my enjoyment of "Redbone," "I Feel it Coming," "It Ain't Me," and yes, even a few songs from Calvin Harris' album, of all things. But I like that. I want to be open-minded. We're living in a post-Kesha-is-awesome world, I'm all about being open.

Okay, quick "state of music." Not interested in most stuff in the top 100, but a few notes -

~ I feel like I say this every year, but I like the new Bruno Mars song. Thank you for giving me stuff to put on my best lists, cause that shit's a struggle. I love how every Bruno Mars song is about how awesome Bruno Mars is, yet somehow I still enjoy it. That takes talent.

~ Justin Timberlake - "my new album's gonna be more rootsy and organic!" First single - sounds like a robot in the shower.

~ Macklemore's last album was a bomb, but I'm happy to see the one good song, "Good Old Days" with Kesha, charting. Kesha saves the world again. It probably won't last long but seriously check it out, it's a good song.

~ "Marry Me" is a decent little country tune. Too bad it's sung by someone with the emotional range of a wicker basket.

"She don't wanna marry me. Cuz I'm a basket. Derp."

~ Nope, not even looking at the country chart with "Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line" at the top. What a joke. Shark, consider yourself jumped.

State of music (of 1982) ~ here's a weird fact for you. The person who wrote "Stray Cat Strut" knew nothing about cat genetics. The "black and orange stray cat" would be a tortie and therefore female, not a "feline Casanova." CHILDHOOD RUINED. I wonder if I'm the first person to notice this?

Okay, that's it for that. Hope that was as illuminating as mainstream music deserves.

Before I get back to work on that albums post, I think it's time for another "keeping me honest" check. It could get really hipstery up in here and I don't wanna get lost up my own ass, so here are some unpopular opinions. Enjoy my shame!

It's 2018, and I still like "Hey There Delilah."

It's 2018, and I still like Macklemore. I'm rooting for you buddy.

It's 2018, and I still like M. Night Shyamalan. This was a more embarrassing admission a few years ago before he made The Visit and Split, but he still made The Happening and I enjoy the hell out of it, so there you go.

It's 2018, and I've had "MMMBop" by Hanson on heavy rotation since 1997. No shame whatsoever, that song is a jam.

My notion of myself as a Serious Music Person takes a hit when I realize I like pretty much any song I heard while on vacation. (Except Body Like a Backroad, I'm not a BARBARIAN.)

I never minded Pitbull or Flo Rida. Fun party music is fun. It has its place. Dreary party music is the real enemy.

Sam Hunt is everything that's wrong with everything and I can't stand most of his "music" but dammit, I still think "Leave the Night On" is a decent little pop song. To justify having this song in my iTunes, I changed "Sam Hunt" to "Mr. Turdburger," because I'm the maturest person ever.

I fucking love porgs!

Okay. I feel good and humbled now.

Finally, we lost another music great at the ridiculous age of 46. There was so much wonderful music in the 90s, so many amazing female-led bands, and the Cranberries always stood out because of Dolores O'Riordan's beautiful, distinctive, soaring voice. Thank you for the musical legacy. You will be missed.