Tag Archives: rock

The Music I Listened to in 2017 (#50-25)

A long while ago, the painter Paul Gauguin wrote: “To be an honest critic, one must not love.” So maybe writing this post makes me dishonest, but I’ll take the risk: I’ve put together a list of the top 50 musicians that I loved in 2017.

This is the time of year when all the critics start listing things. The top ten this and the top twenty that. I listened to Rolling Stone’s ‘Top 50 Albums of 2017’ podcast a few days ago and caught the bug. I’m going to borrow their format, but they can keep their judgments and assumptions about how the newest things matter the most. Unlike them, there is nothing timely about these rankings. Many of the artists had nothing to do with the year 2017. Look for the zeitgeist somewhere else.

I listened to 544.66 hours of music on Spotify this year – about 13 full-time workweeks – and captured all the data with Last.fm. The ranking is ordered by how many times I listened to a song by the artist, with #1 claiming the most listens.

My #50-25 most listened artists:

50. Chet Faker
There’s one part of one CF song that I kept coming back to – the beat on ‘1998’ that kicks just before the hook. Something about the way it steps into the song. Couldn’t get enough. His Song Exploder episode is also great.

49. Angus & Julia Stone
I listened to the ‘other Stones’ a bunch before they played DC, because I thought I was going to make it to their show, but other plans intervened and then the show sold out. Glad I become acquainted with their tunes even though I missed it.

48. Tours
Tours makes amazingly chilled out renditions of songs I love. Listening to them is kind of a way to be nostalgic about a song without listening to the actual song. It plays like a memoryscape sound painting.

47. Spoon
I think Spoon released a new record this year, but I’m still listening to ‘Kill the Moonlight‘ and ‘Girls Can Tell.’ Hard to find a rock band playing as raw as this these days.

46. Phantogram
I think I see Phantogram posting on Instagram as much (or more) than I listen to them – not complaining, it’s been awesome watching them get so popular. Missed the tour this year, hope to catch them on the road again soon.

45. Green Day
Something about the political climate this year (hmm, I wonder what?) had me going back and re-listening to American Idiot a couple of times. And Dookie just is and will always be permanently in my rotation.

44. James Blake
I’ve got to be in some type of mood to put on James Blake. So much emotion comes through in his voice, and his sparse, textured arrangements enhance it even more.

43. Dave Matthews Band
It’s been a tough year for DMB listening – they’re almost too upbeat and positive for 2017. But there were moments this year where only some ‘Bartender’ would do.

42. Seapony
Listening to Seapony is just like having a nice cookie or something. Just pleasant. Easy. Like it’s Friday morning and nothing is going to ruin my day.

41. Pantha du Prince
I’m surprised Pantha isn’t higher on my list – maybe it’s because many of his tracks are over 7 minutes long. This is serious focus music. Really good for painting. I’ve been hooked since I read Philip Sherburne’s essay on ‘Black Noise’ in the 2011 edition of “Best Music Writing.”

40. Jain
I heard her on the radio in a coffeeshop and someone told me who she was and I got back to Spotify and streamed her album like six times in a row, then didn’t really listen again. “Siri, remind me to listen to Jain again next year.”

39. Led Zeppelin
As much as I love Led Zep, every now and then I’ll put on an album and hear a song that I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. Either their catalog is that deep, or they are just that good.

38. The Appleseed Cast
Such a great band. ‘Mare Vitalis’ will always be one of my favorite albums and I listen to it in full a couple times every year. I’ll also get into Low Level Owl when I want to drown out every other noise in the world.

37. Cut Copy
I’m not sure what did it, maybe listening to so much Little Dragon this year – but I went back and got into ‘Bright Like Neon Love’ (2004 album) and rocked out like it was brand new this year.

36. Alt-J
These guys had a new album drop this summer, and I don’t think I listened to it at all – because I’m still so floored every time I hear the 5-year-old ‘An Awesome Wave.’ I have no problem calling it one of my favorite albums of the last ten years.

35. Tame Impala
I’m obsessed with Australia, where these dudes come from, and I really like their music. Psychedelic rock for people who don’t love jam-bands. I’m also still amazed by Rihanna’s awesome 2016 cover of their song “Same ‘Ol Mistakes.”

34. Boards of Canada
I can’t remember any particular song or melody from BoC, so I must have binge-listened to their whole catalog and not gone back to it yet. I will. Maybe the next time I go to Canada.

33. 311
I wonder if I’ll ever truly get tired of listening to 311? I haven’t yet, but the amount that I listen shrinks year after year. I think they had a new album, and I probably listened to a few songs, but it’s ‘Transistor’ that I always go back to.

32. Tosca
Whenever I look around and realize that it’s a dreary Tuesday and I’m sitting in a suburban office park working myself to death, and I think to myself, “I’d rather be in a sexy European hotel lobby watching fashionable people come and go right now,” then I put Tosca on and I’m basically there.

31. GoldLink
Multiple levels of respect for Goldlink – first, he’s been letting my cousin manage his tours for a while now. He’s also representing my little village of Washington DC. And he’s bringing some really fresh sounds to rap (if that’s even how he describes what he does.)

30. Broken Social Scene
I really wanted to go see BSS when they toured this year, but somehow I missed it. Was the whole band there? All 59 members? A few years ago their self-titled record carried me for months. This year ‘Hug of Thunder’ reminded me how much I like them.

29. Bob Marley & The Wailers
I finally got around to watching Kevin McDonald’s 2012 documentary, Marley, this year. An amazing story about a legend. I don’t think anything will ever surpass Babylon By Bus as the greatest live recording of all time.

28. Unknown Mortal Orchestra
If there was one song I could call out as being my jam of 2017, it would be “Can’t Keep Checkin’ my Phone” by UMO. I don’t think it came out this year. But I danced in my underpants to it on a weekly basis.

27. Francois & The Atlas Mountains
I found these guys while looking for vocals sung in French, because I want to learn how to speak French. I didn’t learn how to speak French, but I learned that the French are making some rad music these days.

26. Antonín Dvořák
I listened to Dvořák as a historical reference this year as I tried to learn more about 20th century classical composers. He influenced them a lot.

25. Massive Attack
Over the summer, rumors broke out that the elusive street artist Banksy is actually Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack. The speculation drove me to dive back into their records looking for clues.

two Sundays in Sydney

Sunday, Sept. 22

Calexico, the American alt-rock band, performed at the Sydney Opera House. Like most tourists in the city for the first time, I might have been content to watch someone scrub the stage with a mop just to get a glimpse of the inside of one of the world’s most fascinating structures. Thankfully, Calexico, a band I enjoy very much, brought their drums and guitars and saved the janitorial staff from the task of entertaining me.

Last year, I was introduced to Calexico’s funky blend of rock and traditional Mexican folk music by their performance on the Austin City Limits TV series. At the Opera House, they sounded great, and were enhanced by the building’s superior acoustical design. What surprised me, from my seat in the furthest row back from the stage, was how sedated the crowd was. When I’ve seen videos of Calexico performing elsewhere, it’s clear the crowd is enjoying the hell out of themselves with loads of dancing and clapping.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/22lWrq1-XEE]

In the Opera House, I gasped at seeing people actually dozing in their seats, getting up and leaving in the middle of the show, and generally giving a lackluster response to the excellent performance the band was offering. The only logic I can apply to this disappointment is that many in the audience had purchased tickets just because they wanted to be inside the venue, without any knowledge or interest in the band themselves. (I hate to generalize, but some of the snoozers looked as if they came from non-rock-music-listening places. Or perhaps they had all run the marathon that morning – but so did I, and I managed to stay awake.)

As beautiful as the Opera House is, and as precise and lovely as its acoustics are, it might not be the best place for a rock band to set up. The seats are bolted to the floor. No one is dancing. It probably happens to everyone who plays there, and it might be more noticeable in the very back row. But for someone who thinks of concert-going as others might consider church, it was bizarre to witness.

Calexico, Sydney Opera House, 9/22/13

Calexico, Sydney Opera House, 9/22/13

Sunday, Sept. 29

Who knew that the Enmore Theater could ask for twice the gate price that the Sydney Opera House could? I certainly didn’t, but by the end of the night, I had no complaints. The Enmore has the appearance of (and could well be) an old converted movie house, snugly positioned in the hip Newtown suburb of Sydney. If I had to guess, I’d say that this place was showing Chaplin movies to a packed house in the 1920’s.

The opening band, Alpine, natives of Melbourne, were the soundtrack to several of my road trips this summer, so getting the chance to watch them in their native country as they’re just starting out was the icing on the cake for this show.

Rolling Stone and TIME magazine have both called Alpine a ‘Band to Watch’ within the last six months. The group’s airy vocal harmonies come from Phoebe Baker and Lou James, who complement the fuzzy cloud of perfect bass riffs with some mesmerizing dance moves. I was rocking out and had almost forgotten that FOALS was backstage getting ready to perform.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/QRZez3vfgRg]

Several months ago, FOALS gave one of, if not the most, memorable performance I have ever seen in the 15 years I’ve been going to Washington D.C.’s 9:30 (here’s a video clip from the crowd) so I was excited to find out they were playing the Enmore Theater in Sydney while I was visiting.

The FOALS sound ducks in and out of labyrinthine beats and wizardly guitar riffs, and the danceable, screamy rock gets ratcheted up by the lead singer’s affinity for risking dismemberment while leaping from balconies and shoving his way through the audience, guitar strapped all the way.

The set at Enmore was just as intense as what I saw in Washington, with an even larger audience. (Here’s a video clip from the balcony – thanks, Youtube) Again, lead singer Yannis Philippakis abandoned the stage to perform half of the song ‘Two Steps, Twice’ from the crowd, climbing and leaping from the balcony.

Following the show I was lucky enough to find my way to the same bar that FOALS was claiming for the night. After walking into a fake hot dog shop storefront on Wentworth Ave. and passing through a cleverly disguised false door, I made it to the Soda Factory and stayed until the early hours of the morning.

FOALS set list, 9/29/13

FOALS set list, 9/29/13

I had a brief chance to speak to FOALS singer Yannis, and mentioned I had been at the show in D.C.  He was quick to praise 9:30 as one of his favorite clubs and went on to say that the D.C. independent music scene (Fugazi and Dischord Records) had been a big influence on him as a teenager.

It’s hard to emphasize how great it was to be on the other side of the world hearing a guy I just watched jump off a balcony into a throng of screaming fans tell me that he loved the city I came from. Rock on, Yannis.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/59yYHhdygOc]