Yep, I am really behind on these year-end lists, so I may not be done with my “Top 10 Anime of 2017” list before 15 January.
I listened to a lot of music last year (meaning- I also liked a lot of things last year), I fell in love with Kendrick Lamar’s cinematic “To Pimp A Butterfly”, infinitely rewinding the Strokes’ grainy yet sunny “Is This It”, started grooving to Clarence Clarity’s acidic “No Now” and marveled at Swans’ grand “To Be Kind”. Great albums, but I won’t talk about them in this post (because this one got as ridiculously long as it is, as always).
Instead, I will be talking about the music (not specifically albums) I liked that were released last year. And this is the first part of three- English songs (not specifically songs from England, but songs written in English). This segmentation wasn’t planned but my habit to overwrite forced my hand to do this- I mean, no one wants to read a 6000 word post on somebody talking about their favorite music in a redundant fashion.
Also, Youtube links in the song titles (Spotify, like many other streaming platforms, isn’t available in my region). Or here’s a playlist.
[Edit: The quotation marks went crazy in this post for some reason, I apologize- I don’t know what to do about that]
Fleet Foxes- “Third of May/Odaigahara” & “I Am All That I Need“
I am not super familiar with the Fleet Foxes, I have only listened to “Helplessness Blues” before I listened to their latest album “Crack-Up”. Both albums are great, they are atmospheric and perfect for study sessions and fighting insomnia; the songs have ear-caressing acoustics and ambience, with a cavernous reverb as a backdrop. “Crack-Up” features more electronic sounds in parallel to their usual acoustic sound, but their fusion sounds more captivating and immersive than ever. Even though I will be talking about two songs for this band, I recommend checking it out.
“Odaigahara” features one of my favorite instrumental arrangements in a song from last year: I love the very present and sentimental bassline, the patient percussion, and of course, the guitar building things up when at the end of the verse section. The poetic and nostalgic vocals just add to this rich instrumental atmosphere. The song sections out like a story, the various instruments appear and disappear throughout the 8 minute song- it’s an unforgettable. “I Am All That I Need” exudes slightly less grandeur in its instrumentation. But I love the change in tempo during the chorus- it’s so well timed, and yet so cutting; and the reverb intermixed during the vocal harmony made it really stand out for me as one of more uplifting and energetic songs from the album.
Fazerdaze- “Lucky Girl“, “Take It Slow” & “Misread“
I occasionally (or even more than I would like to) go on these Youtube recommendation hikes, where I blindly click on one recommended song, and after listening to it, I click on another. I discovered Fazerdaze this way (and many other artists as well). Fazerdaze is a music project by New Zealand native Amelia Murray I really liked “Lucky Girl” so I checked out their album, and it is a pretty well put together album with nice dream pop(-like) songs featuring a fair amount of diverse ‘bedroom-produced’ songs, with some of them gravitating towards bass-driven tunes with a pleasant pixelated reverb. I really enjoyed the album.
“Lucky Girl” has that travelling bassline that I enjoy listening to in any pop song, and the synths add to the liberating ‘go on a drive’ vibe to the song. The reverb is grainy with the right amount of fizz to it, so that it prickles my eardrums in the right way. It’s catchy, it’s repetitive, and yet a very tightly structured short song. “Take It Slow” sounds like it’s by a normal guitar-bass-drum band, hence this one has a clearer and a more bare-bones form of instrumentation. I really enjoyed the prominent bass in this song, and once the acoustic guitar kicked in- the song felt really intimate and at the same time, it felt liberating. “Misread” is on the more grungy and heavy side of things, and it’s a short song about somebody not feeling nice feelings about another somebody; this song stood out to me because it sounds so cutting, yet so restrained so that it doesn’t sound foreign to the album’s vibe- the balance is really tight.
Sunflower Bean- “I Was a Fool“
This one is another find from my procrastinating expeditions on Youtube. I love prominent bass lines in songs, and this one takes it to another level by harmonizing with the guitar and percussion to make a captivating instrumental preamble to the song. The reverbed vocals and fuzzy backing vocals scream ‘dream pop’ but there’s also this strange groovy element to it. I am looking forward to future stuff from this band. Also, I think I have unintentionally been finding dream pop(-like) songs really enjoyable, recently.
Lorde- “Homemade Dynamite“, “Liability” & “Supercut“
I used to really like Lorde’s songs when I started to listen to English songs (before that I used to just listen to Japanese songs, not kidding- my weebness goes back before I got into anime). Anyway, I like her raspy voice and the thumping, yet smooth beats her songs had. So this new album (“Melodrama”) sounds more or less the same to me, except the songs sound a bit less ‘art-pop’ than pre-Melodrama- which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Lorde still retains her trait as being one of my favorite kooky pop singers.
“Homemade Dynamite” is a fun, fast song- her sing-talky bits are great and the extra-raspy chorus brings out the beat resembling a ‘fall and spread’ explosion to the forefront. It’s a pretty groovy song. As for “Liability”, it’s a piano ballad with Lorde showcasing her songwriting skills here. Frankly, I usually don’t care much about lyrics in music- but it’s hard to not appreciate the personal aspect of this song, it’s a beautiful short narration. “Supercut” is a relatively longer cut from the album, with the song taking the liberty in breaking the traditional structure in some places. The song starts with a upbeat shuffling beat and ends on a muffled reverb- indicating that the whole scenario that Lorde just painted is an escapist’s dream (or not, too lazy to decipher the lyrics).
Poppy- “I’m Poppy“
I don’t watch Poppy’s videos and not super familiar with her content. I have listened to her previous works and I share the same opinion as I do on this album- it’s alright, but not really memorable as a pop album. But the opening track stood out for me because of its super catchy backing track and the ‘P-O-P-P-Y’ melody. It’s just a 2 minute song, and I revisited this song more than I did for any other Poppy songs.
Perfume Genius- “Slip Away“
I am yet to listen to his new album, and this is the first Perfume Genius track I listened to last year. It is a instrumentally packed song, yet the percussions sound so pristine and Mike’s voice harmonizes with it with seeming effortlessness. The instrumentation is grand, making it a really theatrical song.
You know people who don’t listen to a lot of rap but they love Kendrick Lamar? Yeah, I am one of them. Kendrick makes me care about his lyrics. “Damn.” is a damn good album, but even though it lacks the grand jazz instrumentation from “To Pimp a Butterfly”, a song is more accessible to listen to without drawing context from the previous song in the tracklist.
“Humble” is the catchiest song for me last year, the piano progression and the beat syncopation are OTP in this song, they are great auto-head-bobbing inducers. And I am not sitting down when writing this, and also, I am listening to the song- you’ve most likely heard this song, you know how great this song is. “Element” has the best lyrics from the whole album, and the simple beat and its transformations surprisingly don’t sound. “Feel” feels more or less like “Element” except it sounds less structured and more like a rap ballad- and the beats take the back seat in this one, with Kendrick’s performance being cutting and powerful- which reminded me of “To Pimp A Butterfly” for some reason.
Rina Sawayama- “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome“, “Alterlife” & “Ordinary Superstar“
I found out about Rina from a review from Anthony Fantano, and heard that Clarence Clarity produced some songs for her- which made my ears perk up and gave her EP a listen. I wasn’t disappointed. Clarence’s acidic style doesn’t overshadow Rina’s- instead, her vocals harmonize (or rather perfectly dis-harmonizes) with the glitchy detours the instrumentation takes in the backing track. “Ordinary Superstar” is a glitzy, sparkly song with the slightest of glitchy sonic detours present. The electric guitar during the bridge is one of the most catchiest bits from the EP, and the chorus changes into a retro synth- I love active yet catchy instrumentation in pop songs. “Alterlife” sounds like an uplifting pop rock song with those chimes in the background and shift in progression to skew the listener’s expectation on the song’s structure. It’s great, it’s the song where I can easily see the influence of Clarence in the mixing. “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome” is my favorite track from the EP, the bubbly blossoming backing track during the chorus is unforgettable.
Clarence Clarity- “Naysayer Godslayer“
I got into Clarence’s music last year after watching Digibro talk about it in one of his videos. “No Now” is an amazing album with one of the most memorable glitch pop tunes I ever heard. His new songs feature new flavors of that kooky essence, “Fold ’em” has a nice backing track that builds up and breaks down in structure and flow, and then sandwiches in a rap section in between. But “Naysayer Godslayer” is more catchy and the retro synths sound hypnotic; it sounds more standard for the most part of the song, but then it takes cutting sonic detours to spice things up.
Brockhampton is a boy band with their songs having great mix of verses from their individual members. They put out three albums in 2017, and it has been a joy to follow their music throughout the last half of last year, I don’t remember how I came across them on Youtube, but “Heat” was the first track I listened from them. It’s a grimy, dark and guttural song with the beat laying a solid preamble to that aesthetic- the verses live up to its ‘this ain’t clean shit’ vibe. Basically, it’s a great angry song to listen to when you fell angry. “Sweet” is a nice mix of lyrics from each member- I especially liked Matt’s, JOBA’s and Merlyn’s verses. It’s a fun song with a sick backing track, it’s the type os song you listen to when you got friends in the house… or not. “Junky” is on the serious side of things with some dense lyrical content with an interesting diddling beat in the background. “Boogie” is their hypest and most high-energy song from their “Saturation” trilogy, with the most forward of lyrics- they are just messing around and it’s great. “Rental” is a suave song with an introspective beat layering- it’s my favorite backing track from Saturation III. I highly recommend checking out their Saturation albums- they are three of my favorite albums from last year
That’s all for this post. See you in the next one, where I talk about my favorite Japanese music (that came out in and) I listened to in 2017.