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TOP 6 Albums of 2017 (after much adieu)

14 Jan

#6-Imagine Dragons

In the past, I liked Imagine Dragons just fine.  They were an agreeable band for work or other group settings that called for a musical consensus.  They were a neutral background sound.  Evolve stands out.  It’s easily in the top albums of the year.  The lyrics are meaningful, the album as a whole is cohesive, and each song is good.  There are no throw away songs here.  And the catchiness is at it’s peak, every song gets inside you.  Best song of the year–tied with Ke$ha’s “Prayer” is “Believer” oh my gawd!  They had factored even higher in my list all year long, but several last minute discoveries upset their easy top 3 place.  Still, this is good, and just shows how diverse the music was in 2017, and how many new artists came right out of the gate as contenders.

#5-Demi Lovato

After much deliberation, she settled on my list above magic Dragons because her emotion on Tell Me You Love Me is tangible and raw.  These songs are an obvious ‘fuck-you’ set to somebody.  You can feel the maturity, hear the singing power, and tell she went through a transformation while writing this and came out the better for it.  There are only 2 songs on the album that I didn’t care for (“Daddy Issues” and “Ruin the Friendship”) but big deal.  Plus, she gets extra bonus points for “Sorry, Not Sorry” my 3rd favorite song of the year, and very favorite diss song.  I was going to post a link to that video, but it was horrible.  Bad boots, bad kissing scenes, not the awesomeness I had imagined.  So here is a song without a video to ruin it.

#4-Lee Ann Womak

This is different from her prior adult contempory/easy listening/country touchy-feely stuff.  Different in a great way!  The Lonely, the Lonesome, and the Gone is bluesy.  The emotion isn’t contrived here—you can feel it.  Womak’s voice is thick with pain and grief and she easily conveys some gritty emotion.  Guitar is played with soul.  She reinvented herself, or slid into another niche—and I whole-heartedly approve!

#3-Sam Smith

I thought his radio hit was more of the same.  Urban R&B sounding stuff.  Which is good, but has been very overplayed in 2017.  I get it–every non-white, non-male, minority needs to shout right now.  Good on the industry for finally including other voices on the scene.  But it shouldn’t just get put on the radio, because it fits a certain image/demographic–the songs should be GOOD.  And the R&B is starting to get a little diluted.  Anyway, when I heard Sam Smith’s first single, it was just another one.  But when I discovered The Thrill of it All as a whole I was blown away.  The album isn’t another cookie-cutter to take advantage of the latest sound that sells.  It breaks stereotypes and pushes at boundaries, while showcasing a true writing and singing talent.  I like the gospel influence, and Smith’s resonant voice.  I like how a gay man (I haven’t researched this, it’s an assumption based on the songs).   speaks of love of religion–and men, and shows they are not mutually exclusive.  I admire the genuine way in which Smith has assembled the album.

#2-Marin Morris

She played SxSW in 2016 so I feel like neither she or her new album are exactly “new.”  But her album, which I heard in December, has been officially released in 2017.  And she’s fresh and awesome.  Every song is memorable and catchy.  Every song is good!  She’s part Miranda Lambert, part Gretchen Wilson, and part Shania Twin (in her hey-day).  And she is blowing up!  With good reason.  The hype (I’m assuming there is–I don’t really see TV, magazines, or forums in my daily life now) is legit.  This gal is the real deal.  Add to substantially talented, and I don’t think we’ll be seeing the end of her anytime soon.  I hope her sophomore album holds up.

#1-Ke$ha

Earns my #1 spot with her album, Rainbow.  The aptly-named album proves Ke$ha can pull of a range of sounds and show her true colors (pun intended–sorry, I couldn’t help it, it’s just too easy).  Sometimes, I would have to double-check these were still Ke$ha songs, and Spotify hadn’t run in to the next artist’s album, or those annoying “suggested songs” because it would be something that sounded different.  Which is good.  This album showcases the talent I always knew/hoped she had.  On her other works, I always liked the dance, but wanted something more substantial and serious also.  This is it.  In Rainbow she does not just talk through the songs as in the past (though there is that) and Ke$ha proves she can SING.  After Ke$ha’s traumatic experiences being sexually abused by her management, then held hostage to her contract, she has some pain and strength that make these songs outstanding.  Tied for best song of the year is “Praying” which shows both vulnerability and a new maturity.  I love how Ke$ha experiments with different genera categories and sounds on this album.  “Woman” is the girl-power anthem necessary to empower feminists in this Trumpian-sexism.  Ke$ha plays with a country sound on “Hunt You Down” and the game works out in her favor.  She has a campy-punk song (yes, apparently, you can have both at once) in “boogey feet.” The duet (“Old Flames”) with Dolly Parton is spot-on.  And “Godzilla” reminds me of the Juno soundtrack.  And yes, there are still the cheeky dance songs to shake your ass to!  Finishing with “Starship” was just the right move to reinforce the maturity, talent, and reinvention in the rest of the album.  I just can’t emphasize enough how Rainbow shows the range that I’d always hoped Ke$ha could pull off.

Here’s my full 2017 songs/albums list so you can listen for yourself.  I hope you enjoyed these countdowns!

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Things are Heating Up! Top 10 to 7th Best Albums of 2017

12 Jan

#10-Eminem
The King of controversy stops whining (mostly) and becomes socially relevant again with a Trump diss track. And anyone who disparages Trump is on my good-list.  I like Eminem’s political stance on Revival (for once) and think he put a lot of thought into the lyrics.  “Untouchable” is a work of socio-economic history and motivation.  It also didn’t escape my attention that Em uses “us” when he speaks of the situation, which rather than putting me off (b/c he’s pandering or phony or a poser), proved to me that he feels as-one with the black community and feels true understanding and empathy.  I felt American just listening to it, and moved to make change.  On a lighter note, Eminem can really utilize a sample:  Em takes Joan Jett, The Cranberries, and even a playground song, “… eat some worms” hooks and incorporates them seamlessly in his album. EXCEPT I absolutely hate when Eminem starts whining through verse and makes all kinds of excuses for his shitty behavior. “Bad Husband” is a prime example. Terrible.  But 3/4 of the album is great, great, awesome.  And he is cool enough to include 18 songs, so I can live with the 2 I really hate and 3 that I only half dislike (3.5 songs of 18 is pretty darn good).  But I love his total command of rapping. Eminem can hit those phonemes and rap fast! “Offend” shows off his undisputed talent. As for being 100% done with his career–we’ll see if it sticks.


#9-Kelly Clarkson
A new, sassy, soulful side to America’s first Idol winner!  Meaning of Life comes from a place of strength. I like how Clarkson still showcases man and relationship problems, as always, but this album plays on her power. “Whole Lotta Women” is fun, ferocious, and hits the notes. From the lyrics to the southern-influenced singing, Meaning of Life shows a woman who knows what she wants–and has the wherewithal to get it. The gospel background, and gravelly edge to Clarkson’s always strong voice are a welcome addition to her music.

Now I stand tall
Feeling like myself again, no worries at all
Breathe
No one can stop me from livin’ this moment for me
I found my heartbeat
After all that I’ve been through
No, I don’t think about you
#8-Blondie
Way to go, Blondie! I must say it was almost a relief to hear a true rock album this year. And I’m going to try really hard not to be condescending or age-ist in this blurb. I’ve seen some other reviews for Pollinator that I didn’t care for just for those reasons. Blondie knows what they are doing as a band. All the songs are good on this album, and Blondie stays true to their sound. The band manages the difficult feat of being careful not to alienate their loyal fans by diverting to a new direction, but also remains on the forefront of rock and trend.  I really liked it!


#7-Train
They snuck right in at the last minute!  A Girl a Bottle a Boat is FULL of winning songs. An album of radio-friendly singles, that may put them back on track (sorry couldn’t help it) to be a mainstream success again. And for some reason, I didn’t know Train had a new album until late December.  I thought my countdown was pretty well locked up, but this band bulleted (there I go again) to the top of it.  “Drink Up” is the new raucous drinking song. It surprised me that I liked, “Play That Song,” which is a nice sample/remake of a familiar tune. “Lottery” is super-catchy. Let’s be real, here, EVERY song on this album is catchy!  “Valentine” is also one that you’ll be humming for the rest of the day, and is legit romantic. I could go on, and tell about each song—but you get the point. Listen. Enjoy.

a girl a bottle a boat

Right Outside the Top Ten Albums of 2017 (#16-#11)

11 Jan

#16-Gogol Bordello

It’s still got that upbeat sound I love for running, but Seekers and Finders adds a lot more strings with the rock.  I love this band’s energy!

#15-Shania Twain I’m sorry to say I didn’t like Now when I first heard it.  I have always loved Shania Twain–and she’s a sentimental favorite and staple of my youth.  Here is my first impression of the album:  Now just doesn’t have that sparkle that Twain’s past albums have had.  And I don’t know why.  It seems like she’s authentic to herself, and not trying too hard or trying to be something she’s not.  None of the songs just have that kick, that she used to have.  The album is OK, and the songs are earned–you can tell Twain put thought and effort into Now.  I just guess that every album can’t capture the magic.  But then, after a few listens something happened.  After the fourth listen, I found myself singing along.  It’s not an instant-listen-like album, Now is a grower.

shania twain then and now

#14-Foo Fighters It’s a little harder rock than I love, but in this quiet R&B scene, it was refreshing to hear any rock at all.  And it sounds like the Foo are in top form.

#13-Amber Coffman It’s a nice album, R&B with folk and country mixed in.  “All to Myself” will get stuck in your head!  She reminds me of a mermaid singing.  P.S. I want you to know I never watch YouTube videos (and I only see the first few seconds even when I’m grabbing the link for the blog).  So I did not know hers involved the beach/water until just now when I gave you guys the link–the mermaid vibe I noticed was not influenced by media.  But I see that’s what she’s going for, so good on her for conveying it well through song.

#12-Aimee Mann

Mental Illness is a great idea and a timely conceptual album.  I like how politically relevant it is, and how it brings attention to the lack of preventative health care and how that is a direct cause for many violent acts we’re seeing.  I am also glad to see Mann back in the studio–I actually came to know her through an episode of “Portlandia” (which I was unimpressed with, as I am with Oregon as a state).  I liked her sound and scoped her out because of that.  But I thought she was finished–a thing of the past.  The songs are meaningful, and some have stuck-in-your-head sounds, which is good.

mental illness song list

#11-Lauren Alaina

She will be going somewhere for sure.   The country reminds me of Taylor Swift (especially “Crashing the Boy’s Club”) when she first started:   Sweet, truthful, and good writing.  “Road Less Traveled” is a call to action to be your own person and stop following the crowd.  I like the empowerment, especially coming from a country artist.  “My Kinda People” is a nice little song about living life to the fullest.  I like how she admires genuine people. 

23rd Up to 17th Top 2017 Albums

10 Jan

#23-Eisley I’m always a big fan of how so many voices in the band come together.  I’m Only Dreaming reminds me of the album that the Princess in Super Mario Brothers might be listening to while locked in the castle.  It’s got a fantastic, whimsical sound.  As always, the songs stick with you but are also good background music.

#22-Minus the Bear

Truly alternative music.  VOIDS isn’t nearly as dark and depressing as 2012’s Infinity Overhead, and that’s a good thing.  But it didn’t hit that spot in my psyche like it used to.

#21-Emily Saliers Her first solo album is really exciting to me!  I have been a long time, huge, huge fan of the Indigo Girls (and I’ve always thought that Emily was the better writer and singer of the two).  I mean, there’s really no comparing Amy and Emily–they are different and each have their own strengths.   But I figured if I liked Amy’s solo material than I would really, really like Emily’s.  Murmuration is a little on the sentimental side.  A little folksy and quiet.  And most definitely an album that requires multiple listens before you feel attached to it.  It can try a little hard, like the line, “. . .  mother-phallic gun. . .”  I mean, I get it, I agree, but still. . .  I really love when the songs have violin, and I really like the Native American style wailing (if that’s the right thing to call it?  Sounds like powwow music) in some of the songs.  And I appreciate the story and sentiment in “OK Corral.”  For the most part, I’m on board.

Back at home, they’re shaking heads and asking why
He was so quiet, seemed like such a decent guy
A heart of darkness lies in wait in everyone
It opens like a hollow point when you point and shoot your motherphallic gun

#20-Pink I didn’t intend to make this blurb full of backhanded complements (though I have).  I have been with Pink for her entire career, from the competition with the bubblegum-pop Brittany/Christina set, to the introspective Funhouse, with songs like “Sober” that really evaluates a lifestyle.  And I like Pink with her “if you don’t like me, fuck you” attitude and edginess.  I know Pink may not be the most mature or marketable artist, but she is never phony.  My favorite thing about Beautiful Trauma is not the usual catchiness that makes Pink have a lot of radio hits.  None of the songs really struck me as stand-outs or singles.  It also wasn’t WHAT Pink had to say.  As a matter of fact, her song “What About Us” bothers me.  It’s unclear to me what exactly she’s trying to say, or who she’s talking to.  It’s a partially political, partial love song, but equates to saying nothing at all.  I can tell it’s a song written to appeal to the masses and say whatever you want it to say.  There’s no real message from Pink’s heart here–other than buy the album!  Speaking of buying, I’m disgruntled Pink is selling her worst concert tickets for $206! What. the. Fuck?!  But, but but!  The thing that I think is put forward in Beautiful Trauma is Pink’s singing.  It is perhaps her best vocal work yet, and definitely the album that showcases her pipes best to date.  She can really hit the notes, and does so in almost all these songs, and that’s really what the music industry should be all about.

#19 -Michelle Branch “Living a Lie” is ummm, sort of like No Doubt in the 1990s.  Its poppy but with a rebellious watered-down punk vibe, listen to “Living A Lie” = ska.  It’s a nice change for Branch.  “Not a Love Song” is a good ballad of regret and trying to get over someone, and very catchy.  I’m glad Branch is working again, and admire an artist that can successfully do adult contemporary, country, and alternative styles.  Keep it coming!

#18-Rachel Platton

Waves sounds very much like Taylor Swift’s new album.  The style is better suited for Platten, but “Whole Heart” is good even though it doesn’t match the intensity and uplifting feeling that “Fight Song” garners.  I can appreciate the sentiment in “Loose Ends.”

loose ends lyrics

And “Perfect for You” is a plea to take her as she is.

#17-Miley Cyrus

I’m surprised how high I ranked Younger Now.  Miley explores a more serious side here, more mature without being boring.  Her voice is different than any female vocalist around—very deep relatively.  A duet with Dolly Parton is always a crowd-pleaser and shows Cyrus still values and hones her country roots.  I would not call this album country, though.  If you had to categorize it Younger Now would be pop.  But not superficial pop.  “You’re Not Him” shows depth of writing and emotion.  “Week Without You” is about enjoying time away from a boyfriend and the ramifications of that.  I would like to hear more things from Cyrus not put out to instill shock and rebellion.

miley-cyrus-younger-now-video

#30 best to 24th from the Top Album of 2017

9 Jan

#30-Jarod Nieman
This Ride is a perfect example of how much country has changed. The only thing that makes it different from other genres is singing with a twaing. The themes are much the same as any other type. Nieman is fun to listen to, and I like the stay-cation vibe he brings to the table.

Jared Nieman

#29 -Mary J. Blige

I like when Mary J. sings from a place of strength.  And she does just that in the aptly named Strength of a Woman.  In addition to the voice of empowerment for women, especially for women of color, I like the string instruments that are in the background.

#28-Luke Bryan

Fake country.  Still it’s a fun listen.  I watched a stand-up comedian (I can’t remember who) that hit the nail on the head when he accused country music of pandering.  The comedian was absolutely right when he said the current stars use certain buzz words:  Jeans, trucks, dirt road, etc. . .  to sell their album, even if that celebrity has NEVER lived that kind of lifestyle.  I think it’s true, and it makes sense since America has moved from an agricultural landscape to a mostly urban one.  But nobody wants to see a rich-ass musician crooning about hay bales when he, himself is wearing $800 boots that have known a day of physical labor.  Even if Luke Bryan is in that camp, I respect that he addresses the issue, right up front, in the first track.  He describes country as more of a mentality than a lifestyle these days, and I can buy into that idea.  I liked a couple of the songs that had a good hook.

Luke Bryan

#27-Nothing But Theives Good alternative.  The drum beats are kickin’!  He can hit some notes, but does it in such a chill way that it seems natural.

#26-Jack Johnson I WANT to feel Jack Johnson.  All the Light Above it Too is good, but it’s no In Between Dreams or Brushfire that will get mainstream air time.  The songs are cool, but you’re probably not going to be getting the lyrics stuck in your head.  I can appreciate Johnson’s vibe–his music personifies the laid-back, stoner, Hawaii-Hippy feeling/scene.  Jack Johnson has a message in his tunes that I can get behind too, and I respect his way of sharing it.  But to make the top of my list I need more–energy.

jack Johnson

#25-Zac Brown Band

Probably my favorite country album of 2017 is Welcome Home.  It has that twaing, is sentimental (without being saccharine or phony), and I think it speaks to a rural crowd.  “Real Thing” in particular is a stand out love song.

#24-Taylor Swift
Reputation ranks surprisingly low on my list, given how much of a Taylor Swift fan I have been in the past, and her mainstream status of undisputed queen of popular music.  Believe me, I can back up my opinion with more than the fact I feel like this album should be renamed, To Kanye, with Bitterness.  Though we will get to that after my primary point.  Does anyone else feel like Swift’s music has become formulas, statistics, physics, and mapping her way to sales and awards?  Yes, it’s irrefutable that Swift can write.  She can get together a catchy hook.  Obviously, she’s a self-promotional machine, almost unhuman with her uncanny ability to be on the forefront of the next sound-trend.  My question:  Is there any authenticity left in her process?  Or is it ALL promotion?  Get this big-name artist to feature.  Make that video with JUST enough skin to appeal to a male audience, but still support a good-girl image and not alienate female fans.  Drop this hint at that drama.  Release the singles and the album at the exact right moment.  I just have this bad feeling that Swift is all business.  I used to feel her emotion–and now it’s just strategy.  And the 10% emotion that’s left is bitterness and distrust.  I’m not in love with so, so much beef in the songs.  And you guys know how much I love a bitter song or a little hint of $hit-talking in a song!  But this is overkill. 

taylor swift fued

It seems like every song references Kanye in some way–or talks up some sexy relationship stuff, which to me sounds more like overcompensation, than actual love.  Taylor, get a grip and get over it already–we’ve heard these things, and you’re SO much better than this.  You are wasting your talent looking backward and unintentionally bringing attention to the wrong people, while you should be moving onward and upward.  It’s becoming overplayed.  Combine this uber-polished album with it’s super-poppy sound with too much rehashing of the same, tired story- and you get my opinion:  Maybe it’s somebody else’s turn to take the music crown. 

40th spot to 31st Best Albums of 2017

8 Jan

#40-TLC

You just can’t recapture the past.  Especially without a member, my personal favorite member.  But TLC’s self-titled 2017 album comes out strong, especially the song, “Haters” in which the message is absolutely true.  And it’s a good message.  Very relevant in these tumultuous times.  I’m not big on the very heavy sampling, but maybe the other 2/3 of the group can work out the kinks of being a duo and produce some quality tunes that are more in line with the past albums.

#39-Katy Perry

I think she was pushing a little hard to find that empowerment anthem, and because she was trying too hard it didn’t happen organically.  I like ‘Hey Hey Hey” but the first line of the song is, “A big, beautiful brain” which is a little over-the-top and not that singable.  Another example is “Power.”  It’s almost like Perry writes in soundbites that she hopes can become the next catch phrase or mantra.  I suggest she just write from her heart instead.

#38-John Mayer

I’m not gonna lie—Mayer is losing major points and positions because of his weird-ass cover art.  He looks like a junkie with unwashed hair that someone doodled over at the bus-stop.  WTF?!  Whoever convinced him to go that direction (or approved it) should be terminated.  Also, as much as Mayer tried to introduce some funk vibe into The Search for Everything, the album is mostly boring.  It’s like once he lost his arrogance, he also lost his inspiration.  The only songs I could attach to is “Never on the Day You Leave” and “Roll it On Home.”  The song “Changing” gets honorable mention from me.  But sometimes Mayer comes on a little too strong and tries to force emotion, which I do not like.  I would like to see John Mayer do something different but have that spark too.  Work on the whole package, man!  This album makes me wonder if he was just a flash in the pan-not a real talent.

John Mayer

#37-Kid Rock

He has that southern-fried rock going on, but I can’t help but think of Trump when I listen to it.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, but my impressions are Rock is more racist than rebellious these days.  I have no idea how he is as a person, but the type of music is a little too Lynard Skenard for me to feel comfortable jamming to.

kid rock racist

#36-Various Artists

Trios sounds like an experimental, jazzy cacophony.  Sometimes it’s just discordant sounds, others it intones a suspenseful mood.  The album is individual and cohesive.

#35-The Killers

It’s a little quiet, and a Lot less dancy.  Wonderful Wonderful was probably the best example of (just slightly alternative) rock & roll in the scene, which comes as a surprise to me.  “The Calling” is the most reminiscent of their other albums.  I also liked, “The Man…Remix” is a space-oriented shake-your-ass kind of song

#34-Drop Kick Murphys A little less pub-anthem, but still as cheeky as ever.  You can still sing to them when you’re drunk, but 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory is more melodious than past fare.  Standout of the bunch is “First Class Loser” which is awesome!

Dropkick Murphys

#33-Evanescence

Synthesis is Epic to the point I was wondering if it was written for a show or at the very least a video game.  This gal can SING though and per the usual she proves it.

#32-Linkin Park I see Linkin parts as four distinct sounds:  The angsty scream-yelling (not too much), the rap with thoughtful lyrics that make sense, the melodious singing, and the catchy hooks.  This album is very melancholy, without a lot of that anger that I used to like.  The sound is too different in One More Light and alienates me as a long-term fan.  The songs are still catchy, but they’ve lost that edge.

#31-Maroon 5

Red Pill Blues doesn’t have that special Maroon 5 beat.  It’s also not dancy at all.  And it’s not really catchy like past albums.  It’s kind of soft and unassuming, a dud actually.  I’m disappointed and hope they will rev things up again.

Adam Levine douche

The Bottom 9 of My Top 50 Albums of 2017 (is that enough numbers for you?)

7 Jan

#41-HAIM
Is that an all-caps name? I don’t really care for this band because it’s too 1980s. I can’t get past that retro sound.

haim

#42-Ani DiFranco
I usually loathe her because I think she thinks of herself as clever. I almost didn’t even listen to Binary because I can’t take her pretention. But the few songs that made my list are pleasantly discordant, and Ani actually bothers to sing, rather than just talk through them like she has in the past.

#43-Fastball
The one hit wonders are back with Step into Light. They sound much the same, actually, and I liked, “Best Friend” and “I Will Never Let You Down.”

#44-Foster the People
There is such a thing as too much hipster. It’s Sacred Hearts Club. I could live with “Static Space Lovers” and “Lotus Eater” but the rest are only good if you’re the type of person that shops at pawn shops (ironically) and has a handle bar mustache. Too much!

foster the people

#45-James Blunt
Two songs made my cut with “Heartbeat” being the better.

#46-Dolly Parton
I didn’t get the memo about I Believe in You, and I really hate to rank Ms. Parton so low on any list. But this album must be aimed at children? It’s…nice. But I’m not really sure what is happening with it—it’s not for my age group. But I think Dolly Parton is a really good person, and I’m glad she’s putting some good advice and lessons within her songs. It’s just not terribly listenable if you’re out of pre-school.

#47-Seal
Don’t get me wrong—I think it’s smart to jump in the mostly empty genre of swing. Why should Michael Buble reap ALL the spoils of a whole category of music? I feel like Seal’s foray into Sinatra-inspired music isn’t the best fit. OR it could be the Jim Carey effect. Either way, a few of the songs are good, but I’m mostly left thinking, imposter.

#48-Lee Brice
A little too saccharine for me. But listenable.

#49-Lana del Ray
I don’t really care for “dream rock.” It’s too slow, and boring. It’s not stoner music like Jack Johnson, nor is it soft rock (since even that has a hook or a tune). It’s flake music. Like a space-cadet music. Honeymoon is the same as usual. I can’t even be bothered to listen to the lyrics or tell you if the songs are cohesive. It’s just too slow to catch my interest.

honeymoon

#50-Rascal Flatts
Too much. It is whiny! And Trying too hard, and disingenuous. They are trying to recapture earlier fame, but the content isn’t believable or relatable. Very disappointing of an effort–I suggest they sing about what they’re actually feeling, instead of trying to contrive emotion in order to pander.