A reflection on the artists and albums that represented the soundtrack of 2017.
Music is important to who I am. Although I listen to a lot of podcasts, books and converse with people via Voxer, it is still music that I fall back on. Here then are some of the albums and artists that have caught my attention this year:
But out of the little rooms and onto the streets
> You’ve lost your internet and we’ve lost our memory
> We had a paper trail that led to our secrets
> But embarrassing pictures have now all been deleted
> By versions of selves that we thought were the best ones
> ‘Till versions of versions of others repeating
> Come laughing at everything we thought was important
> While still making mistakes that you thought you had learned
I have a habit of hearing a particular song and writing off an artist’s oeuvre based on it. I did it with ‘Over and Over’ by Hot Chip until I discovered Grizzly Bear’s cover of Boy from School, I also did it with ‘Daft Punk Are Playing at My House’ by LCD Soundsystem. It was only after a different me returned to the music with new ears that I realised what I had been missing. With LCD Soundsystem, it was James Murphy’s production of Arcade Fire’s Reflector that had me reviewing my assumptions. However, it was not until american dream that I finally dived in.
I came upon american dreams via Austin Kleon’s newsletter. My first impression was that the long flowing bleeps and beats seem to float on by. However, on repeated listens the seemingly careless tweaks seem to take on shape. You started to realise that what felt like a jam was very purposeful, especially in regards to the lyrical content. I had a similar experience with Radiohead, in particular, Kid A. Some music takes time.
In my head, I play a supercut of us
All the magic we gave off
All the love we had and lost
And in my head
The visions never stop
These ribbons wrap me up
But when I reach for you
There’s just a supercut
Earlier this year, my family and I spent two weeks in New Zealand. During that time, ‘Green Light’ had just been released and was on high rotation. The song and subsequent album are intriguing. I feel that it is ironic pop – if that is even a genre – in that it has many of the ingredients of popular music, whether it be four to the floor beats or lush layers, juxtaposed with unapologetic angst and honesty of someone reflecting on life at 19. This comes out in Lorde’s dissection of ‘Sober’ on the Song Exploder podcast.
The more I listen to the album the more I am baffled about what exactly draws me in. 19 year old me has long gone, yet there is still something that hooks me. I wonder if it is Jack Antonoff’s production, but I also think that it is rawness of the lyrics as well. In an interview, Antonoff describes Lorde as the Bjork and Kate Bush of our time. I guess we will see.
Well you’ve got one choice, maybe two
You can leave with me or I’ll go with you
I know you haven’t even met me yet
But you’re gonna love me baby when you get to know me
Another ironic album is Arcade Fire’s Everything Now. A fist pumping critique of fist pumping. It is one of those albums that has all the lyricals hooks and riffs to mindlessly sing and dance along too at an outdoor festival only, yet when you stop and look and listen, the music feels like a critique of that, instead calling for some kind of awakening and realisation of the world that we are creating.
Along with The National’s dark Sleep Well Beast and LCD Soundsystem’s american dream, if feels like these albums offer an intentional comment on the current climate. Having said this, I also find it interesting to listen to something like The Bleachers’ Gone Now from a political perspective. For at the end of the day, everything is ideological, or as Jack Antonoff suggests “music is a mini documentary of that moment“.
Ten months sober, I must admit
Just because you’re clean don’t mean you don’t miss it
I am always intrigued by automation. Earlier this year I was driving back home across town and decided to put on some random driving playlist that Google made me. A few songs in this track started playing. It felt familiar, yet I had never heard it. The song was Ryan Adam’s cover of Wildest Dreams. I can only assume that Google thought I would like it based on both of my daughter’s obsession with Shake It Off. Well Google was right, I loved the whole album.
I remember watching an interview in which Adams explains how he chose to cover Wonderwall to annoy an ex. This album though seems more purposeful. A case of Bruce Springsteen meets The Smiths, Adams brings something different out with his reimagining of the songs. It was also fascinating a few months later, listening to Taylor Swift’s original album and comparing the two. Felt like comparing a book and movie adaptation, where you feel as if they are both capturing a particular tangent, yet neither quite captures the full circle.
Another plane, another train
I’m checking in and checking out again
Push to the Limit
This year, my daughters and I have regularly ventured into the city on the weekend in an effort to get out and about. This usually involves visiting one of the many parks or buying dumplings and donuts at the market, but it has also come to include listening to the many buskers that fill the streets. Some artists that come to mind are Amber Isles and their ability to fill.the sound of a full band even with the makeshift drum kit, as well as Gareth Wiecko and his layered piano concertos. However, the major highlight was Reuban Stone.
A self proclaimed samplologist, Stone builds songs from scratch, beginning with the beats, then layering this with various instruments, including vocals. Although his recorded material is good, his performances are something to be experienced. He manages to adjust to drag out tracks without feeling at all tedious or repetative. It seems mandatory to have a looper when busking these days, however Stone takes it to a new level.
So what about you? What music has caught your attention this year? What albums and artists have you had on high rotation? Like my discovery of all things Jack Antonoff, is there something that seems to tie your year together? As always, comments welcome.
If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.