It's tradition now, surely! My third time writing a favourite records list. I really love looking back on a year of music, it's a bit like a soundtrack to life. This year, as usual, music has played a role, as an escape and an expression (opposite of escape?). Kind of like how I think of photography; there's memories, hopes, fears and desires tied up in these songs that are, though the songs aren't, my own. These records have had immense value for me this year, I hope you find something new to love.
#1 Malibu (2016)
Brilliant musicianship, story-telling, arrangement and production. Enough to earn him a grammy nomination this year for Best New Artist. Paak sings, raps and drums with incredible talent on this record. And he's damn tight live too, performing all three. Malibu's funky bass lines and husky tones were on repeat February to May this year. This record brought the dance, mostly behind the wheel, blasting through my sub-par stock Corolla speakers. The rest of the year came and went and boy I enjoyed some good music, but I'm not sure if anything quite topped what I found in this masterpiece.
Malibu was also one of those records that slowly opened itself up. The groove of the opening verse, in The Bird' was an instant and lasting hit, but it wasn't until later in the year that I had discovered the breakdown in Silicon Valley, and had it on repeat. 'The Season' carries moments of gold through the verse, with Paak delivering at the height of his signature husky voice. This record deserves to be turned up. Whether it's intricate depth of background vocal layers, theres a lot to find by digging deep.
I discovered Paak through his NPR Tiny Desk session, which I'll attach below. If you haven't seen it yet, I'd be more than happy to introduce you.
"My faith is buried somewhere underneath the town
(Until it’s paid for)
Strawberry season, my sweetheart is coming ‘round
(After it rains and pour)
How did you find me here? It must be perfect timing
If I didn’t love you then, I damn sure love you now
(Fruit of your labor)"
- The Season | Carry Me
#2 Stranger in the Alps (2017)
Second up is a very special songwriter I came across through an old favourite of mine, Noah Gunderson. They toured together this year. Phoebe is softly-sung, and on this record she opens up avenues of her past with ambiguity and beauty, well-mixed. She doesn't mind being abruptly honest about her thoughts, sometimes as though it's like direct flow from her consciousness: "Jesus Christ, I'm so blue all the time and thats just how I feel, always have, always will" (Funeral). And it's this honesty that also delivers an expression of some of the nonsensical paradoxes of human relationships and emotions that can be hard to explain or understand. "I hate you for what you did, and I miss you like a little kid" (Motion Sickness). It's a little like overhearing phoebe sing her journal, or letters to past lovers and friends. This introspection gives this record a unique beauty.
Stranger in the Alps has a consistent, simple sound built upon Phoebe's acoustic or clean electric guitar, a flowing slide, and a number of accompanying string parts. The record also features some unique sound elements, such as the streetscape/childhood sounds of bells and horns in Scott Street, which seamlessly combine with instruments to form an especially nostalgic outro progression.
Would You Rather features friend, Connor Oberst, for some of the best songwriting I've heard this year. This is followed by a cover of You Missed My Heart, originally by members of Sun Kil Moon and The Album Leaf. It's a song with a melody seemingly made for Pheobe's quavery vocal emotions, accompanied by the felted piano rolling through mellowing keys. A record for just about everyone I'd say. An incredible debut, I'm sure we'll be hearing more from her in coming years.
#3 Everything So Far (2015)
A late addition to this year's top 5, I was only introduced to Pinegrove mid-november, but their music holds something special I'm still putting my finger on. It might be the raw honesty in the home-made production quality of their records. Maybe it's the depth of songwriting emanating from Evan Stephens Hall, and the honest accuracy of his performance, live. Or it could be the contented passion of the band performing togethor, a calming pleasure to watch. There's something about Evan's face and voice that makes it feels so friendly and familiar, as though he's just taking a brief excursion out from taking care of his mother in the country hillsides. You can see in his performances, in between songs and interviews, his love for words and a humble but confident demeanour the world is seemingly slowly but surely falling in love with, complete with hole-y shirts, ugly jumpers and rough haircuts.
"I drank too much
She thinks i think too much
What do I need
That's not a part of me?
Do I care about my brain,
I remember everything."
#4 Flower Boy (2017)
Tyler the Creator
This album has been alot of fun to drive to. It's my first time really stepping into Tyler's music and I've become more and more intrigued by his expansive personality and interests, goofy, contagious dance, his forays into fashion. Tyler is a real character and it seems this album is just another piece of his flamboyant puzzle.
Flower Boy feels like an insight into Tyler's mind, a response to his rise to fame in recent years and even more explicitly, loneliness. Lyrical mastery, honest and vulnerable confessions, catchy licks, some wonderful production and fat beats are what brings this record into my top 5. As far as rap and even the rest of his discography goes, this album is quite accessible; it's easy to listen to. So whether you've been into Tyler previously or not, give it a listen.
An early favourite was Who Dat Boy. With the dirtiest intro and so much hype, the best of Tylers grinding voice and a great feature from ASAP Rocky, it's clear why it was released as the first single promoting the album. Videos of live performance look absolutely ridiculous too, something I'd love to see.
"Five car garage
Full tank of the gas
But that don't mean nothin', nothin'
Nothin', nothin', without you shotgun in the passenger
I'm the loneliest man alive
But I keep on dancin' to throw 'em off
I'm gon' run out of moves 'cause I can't groove to the blues
If you know any DJs, tell 'em to call me at nine-one-one"
#5 Romantic Works (2014)
This short instrumental e.p is mostly a collaboration between Henson and cellist, Ren Ford. So simple, the nine tracks hardly deviate from a theme, and there is no need to. It absorbs melancholy and nostalgia as well as anything else I've heard. I like and listen to a lot of sad music but Henson might really be the saddest I've ever heard. His work projects an intense kind of hyper-vulnerability that could simply be too harsh for some. Much of his music takes on a similar shape and so over time, his work takes on a comfortable familiarity. But across his discography, this emotional expenditure hardly ages. It's been a great study listen for me this year, narrowing my focus and relaxing my limbs, helping me slow down, breathe deeply and and think clearly.
This record is also a single gem among the plethora of beautiful releases by Henson. I stumbled upon all at once, and spent most of the year working my way through them. His other three records were shoe-ins to my honourable mentions, listed down below.
I find the record reaches a kind of climax in Nearly Curtains, which samples a misty background track of childrens' voices, and a soft atmosphere of brass accompanying the beautifully sad piano melody. This track epitomises the feelings of nostalgia, memory encapsulated by this record. A soundtrack for missing someone, perhaps.
Keaton Hensen: Dear (2010), Birthdays (2013), Kindly Now (2016)
Underoath - Lost in the Sound of Separation (2008)
Kim Janssen - Cousins (2017)
Luke Sital-Singh - Time is a Riddle (2017)
Corey Kilgannon - The Hollow II (2017)
David Ramirez - We’re Not Going Anywhere (2017)
Angelo De Augustine - Swim Inside the Moon (2017), Spirals of Silence (2014)
The Tallest man on Earth - The Wild Hunt (2010), Shallow Grave (2008)
Pinegrove - Cardinal (2016)
Siv Jakobsen - The Nordic Mellow (2017)
Billie Marten - Writing of Blues and Yellows (2016)
Mac Demario - This Old Dog (2017)
Northlane- Node (Instrumental) (2015)
Englewood - Pastel Beach (2016)
Counterparts - You’re Not You Anymore (2017)
Worthwhile - Old World Harm (2015)
Noah Gunderson - White Noise (2017)
'Her' (2013) OST
Paper Kites - twelvefour (2015)
Gang of Youths - Go Farther in Lightness (2017)