Concerning the Music of 2017 - 101 Best Albums and Some of the Best Songs

A year in the making. Of adding and subtracting, one song at a time. Of nudges, big and small, in one direction or the other. Here is my playlist concerning my favorite albums and songs of 2017.

A little elaboration: the first 101 songs are my picks for the best albums, in order. After that, after Beck's "Dear Life", the ranking stops and a mix of 2017 songs begins. From 102 to 222 or so you'll find singles as well as many songs from albums that did and didn't make the top 101. I tried to keep this whole thing limited to two songs per artist, but in a few occasions I couldn't help myself. Why did I stop at 101 and not find a spot for the Thurston Moore or Lee Renaldo album? I don't know. Why are only two of the three Moon Duo albums from this year on the list? And why is Occult Architecture Vol. 2 so much higher than Vol. 1? I don't know. At any rate, you'll still find around 150 artists on this playlist, and hopefully some of them will be exciting new discoveries for you. I'm sure there are some great ones that are missing simply because I wasn't aware or I just never found the time to sit with them. For that, I'm not going to apologize -- that's fodder for my What Did I Miss? playlist.  

I'm not sure if it was a matter of having my antennae more intently attuned to the new releases every week this year or just a matter of timing, but it felt like 2017 was an especially strong year for new music. There are big stretches in this list that are essentially a tie, and picking one over an other feels pretty arbitrary, but I suppose that's why making such lists is rather nonsensical anyway. Some days the Jack Cooper album will sound better than Julie Byrne -- other days there's no beating "Sleepwalker", period. The real point here is that it's all good, and by December 31st I can finally stop messing with it and start a new playlist to futz with.

It's New YouTube to Me: Palace "Horses" and Silver Jews "Random Rules"

What's your take on algorithms? Good, bad, a little of both, completely indifferent? Whatever it is, you have to admit that every once in a while the damn things can hip you to something mind-blowing. Well, maybe mind-blowing is a bit of a stretch. But I've been going around considering myself pretty well-versed in the output, musical or otherwise, of both David Berman and Will Oldham and was completely in the dark about the existence of these two videos.

Both of these videos come from the fine folks at Drag City who have blessedly made their videos open to all regions, so that here in Berlin I don't get the cursed fuzz screen that tells me "sorry but Sony and/or Universal own everything and you're out of luck, ya commie."

Palace Music - "Horses"

The first one is attributed to Palace, and Drag City should be considered a solid authority on the band name, though the song "Horses" is off Lost Blues and Other Songs, which is filed under Palace Music. Those familiar with this band will appreciate the continued obfuscation around the band name here. And perhaps at this point we all should just go with Palace and leave the Music, Brothers and Songs in the past.

I love this video for a few reasons. Not only is it a charming and simply funny blast from the past, it reminds me of all those wonderful and awful student films that were such a strong presence in my late teens and early twenties. This is innocence and energy, propelled by the same inspiration that countless other young filmmakers have experienced, which is, "Hey I have a gun and a car and a couple of suits so let's do this thing." Brilliant.

I think Will Oldman's shirt might even be a nod to Breathless, right? After all it was Godard that said, "All you need for a movie is a gun and girl, and for a music video you can even get by without the girl as long as you've got a car." Not many people remember that send part, but it's this video is proof he was right.

Silver Jews - "Random Rules"

So, not long after Lost Blues, the Silver Jews released their landmark album American Water, the first cut of which is this tune. 

I'm far more of a Silver Jews obsessive than I am of Palace or Will Oldham -- likely due to the relative brevity of David Berman's output compared to Oldham, who occasionally gives Robert Pollard a run for his money in the productivity department. So I'm even more surprised to see this video pop up in the sidebar. In my mind, Silver Jew music videos became a thing around the same time that Berman and the band started playing live, around 2004 or so.

The video for "Random Rules" is more polished than "Horses" but if the Palace video is like Breathless, then we'll stretch that analogy far beyond any tasteful limit and call the Silver Jews video like later, more experimental Godard, what with its odd use of jump cuts and whatnot. But what we really have a whole lot of ramshackle charm and some simple yet cool and effective techniques, like the shower curtain shot, the multiple Berman's walking into the bar, the shovel switcheroo, and so forth. You can tell that the lighting didn't quite work out for the disappearing-into-the-shadows shot, but hey, it's a solid idea.

I don't think I'll ever get used to a beardless Berman without glasses, but it would seem that this is a look he's returned to recently.

Like the Palace video, the images in this little "Random Rules" movie offer a powerful transport back to the late nineties. In this case, to penniless yet youthful cold days in Eastern Coast Suburbia and turning one's collar up against the wind. But that's just me, your own reaction to these time capsules may vary.

A Playlist For the Ages: "The Cooler" Or, Chunklet's Massive Song Dump

A very likely to be recurring feature here in the music section where I highlight a Spotify playlist that I'm currently obsessed with. This time around, it's Henry Owings's "The Cooler" playlist.

Do you like semi-obscure garage rock from the 1990s? Or how about super-obscure British psychedelia from the 1960s? Do the words Pylon, Cows, Flipper and Harvey Milk also evoke musical connotations? Do you nod knowingly when someone talks about the important difference between Rocket From the Tombs and Rocket From the Crypt? Are you hoping that next year's Riot Fest lineup features a reunion of the original Don Caballero trio? 

Then this playlist is for you, my friend.

The chunkletguy, aka Henry Owings, has been a vital fixture of the American indie music scene since the early 1990s, when Chunklet magazine first started appearing every so often, much to the delight of music geeks who like a good Modest Mouse joke. It is our good fortune that just this past March, Owings decided to dump over 2,000 songs into a behemoth of a playlist (some 100+ hours of music) that doesn't just cover the Athens, GA music scene that Owings is a significant part of, but spans deep cuts from Wilson Pickett, The Sonics and The Stooges, The Cynics, New Bomb Turks, Naked Raygun and hundreds of others bands -- many that will surely be new discoveries for most people. There's classic rock, new wave, no wave, psychedelic rock, punk, metal, math rock, essentially anything with a guitar and an attitude.

This is one of those, "If I could only listen to one playlist for the rest of my life..." kind of playlists. Pray it stays around forever so that you might find the time to listen to all the amazing music it has to offer. Right now it sits at 12 subscribers, so be the first cool kid on your block to add The Cooler to your collection.