Cole and I are trying to agree on our top 10 90s Christian Rock albums. The rules are that it had to be released on a Christian label and it has to “hold up” and not make us feel ashamed or angry when re-listening today. It’s hard to find 10. I feel 60-70% ashamed or angry with both Violet Burning records, so those can’t move up to the “For Sure” column. Was very surprised by the Michael Knott record on re-examination, and that that one might move out of the “Hm, Not Sure” zone and into the top. Need to check in on that LSU again and probably those Dance House Children records, too.
Can’t believe the length of this goddamn year. They’ve been going so quickly, late-30s & early-40s; alternately devastating, okay, sometimes pretty good. But all very fast.
Last week, on a rambling stoned-zone call with my spirit human Brad, I said I felt like Rocky toward the end of one of those long fights; beat to shit, but still standing. Absence of hope, maybe, but still bumping around dumbly in the twelfth round, trying to go forward.
The Women’s March happened in this calendar year!? Mal was there with some of her best friends. The two of us were only newly into knowing one another. She wore a sweatshirt which said COME AS YOU ARE, but didn’t know the Nirvana reference. My older sister was there with her three daughters. They posted pics from their DC hotel room painting signs. My sister’s: Mother of Three NASTY Women.
Brad and I were on the couch in Durham most of the day on January 21st. Just a couple dudes. Stella, Brad’s wife, was in Mexico working. Maybe we walked around downtown for a brief minute, grabbed a coffee? Otherwise, I don’t think we moved. The TV was steady on 24-hour news, our hands wrapped around Twitter & Instagram. It feels like forever ago, but also like the true start of the year. One of my favorite days.
I wrote down little things and thoughts in my journal many times throughout the day as the march went on, as marches in other cities went on, other countries, the posts from people in Antarctica! Everywhere! I wrote about weird old battles, unaware of and unprepared for new ones around the corner. I wrote about big plans with dumb confidence. And then, for 12-straight months, it’s been off-tilt, fucked-up insanity.
In January, I truly thought I could protest all the time, make a thousand phone calls, attend every rally, vote in the tiniest of elections. My favorite sentence from that journal entry read: Trump feels small. Here on New Year’s Eve, I gotta say the dude feels bigger than Jesus.
Yes, this year had the deepest pits, but also very high peaks. Here’s my Best Shit List for 2017, those great medicines and moments that carried me. The greatest thing about year-end lists is that we’re only going for favorites, all the good stuff.
Malory Marlatte Voith is my favorite thing of 2017.
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN and Staples Center + Bridgestone Arena shows My favorite album of the year, and two of my very favorite live shows, too. Had a few million-thousand-trillion moments with tunes from this playing in my car, in my headphones, in my head, from some dude’s belt-strap speaker at the peak of a Runyon Canyon hike, and in the kitchen at Brownlee when Mal said yes. I read an interview where Kendrick said the beat to “Humble” sounded like his generation. I don’t think I’m part of his generation based on the calendar, but I’m an honorary member through marriage, yeah?
The eclipse on the driveway with Rye.
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders Favorite new novel this year. The way this thing moves is haunting, the magic is so subtle. A perfect novel.
Rostam, Half-Light Me & Mal’s Hawaii record. Listened to it 40+ times over there. Rostam sounds like no one else, singular and outside the box, and I love this thing so much. “Bike Dream” has one of my all-time favorite choruses ever ever. *sponsored post*
Band Aid Loved this movie. Did you see it? Seems like most people didn’t see it. Everything here was spot on (except for the very last song which coulda sent this one into all-time territory had it been a jam).
Breakfasts in Hawaii during elopement. One was in a hut/garage on the beach with SPAM and eggs. Another was high end, a gift from friends, beautiful and delicious and we were all smiles all morning long.
The National, Sleep Well Beast Another A+, goddammit. Best memories of this one are on vacation in awful Orlando. A pretty low-brow, mixed-family theme-park vacation with Mal & Rye and Cole & Aidan. On our last night, we played video & carnival games in the arcade and ate crummy bar-food at the fake pub attached to our shitty time-share. I made a little iMovie keepsake of the trip, and soundtracked it with “The Day I Die”.
Universal Harvester, John Darnielle Incredibly good horror-ish story with my favorite jacket art of this year. I am truly in awe of JD, who is building an impeccable second career with his novels.
Hiss Golden Messenger, Hallelujah Anyhow and some live shows at the Bowery Ballroom Duh. I worship this band. They’re the best band. I always seem to be in NYC in December for shows, and this year it was Hiss at the Bowery, a celebratory two-night stand with no support, a sick beefed-up lineup with horns, extra keys and singers. Johnny Beach was there in the back corner, but Jomo wouldn’t come down, says no more Bowery Ballroom for him. That room likely cannot die, too perfect, but it’s definitely end-of-an-era type shit, a changing of the guard, a bummer of a battle in the AEG vs LN portfolio wars. *sponsored post*
Maggie Rogers live at Omeara, London and Mosa Wild, “Smoke” Had one of my favorite nights of the year in London (during a sorta fucked and not-easy trip to Europe with Mal). It was Maggie’s UK debut at Omeara with Mosa Wild opening. Maggie had a real moment that night, she came out all genuine smiles to everyone knowing the words. I had chased MW over the pond trying to represent them with my co-worker Andrew based on their song “Smoke” and a few demos. Had a great hang with the band that night. They went with another agency, and we were told the decision had to do with all manner of dumb shit. Haven’t seen a second song come yet, but this first one is a damn fine tune.
Phoebe Bridgers Stranger in the Alps 1000% good! A headphone record for me.
Master of None, Season 2 Again this year I love the lack of cynicism in this show, and the wild changes in location, character, and style between episodes.”Thanksgiving” episode is absolutely the best shit.
Sza Control Don’t know shit about Sza, really. But sorta know everything because of this confessional masterpiece. Mal quoted Sza in her vows!
Cometbus #54, In China With Green Day?!! by Aaron Cometbus This issue, from 2011, covers a tour in Asia with Green Day, decades removed from the early van tours Aaron roadied; stadiums instead of all-ages halls. This issue was a solid companion piece to seeing Jawbreaker reunite, and to watching friends, acquaintances, and also strangers talk online about seeing Jawbreaker reunite.
Judah Friedlander America Is the Greatest Country in the United States Super duper funny, best deadpan stand-up.
Early morning breakfast with Rye at Brownlee is my favorite divorced-dad activity. I burn 10 slices of bacon to a crisp. Waffles and a banana for Rye, plus his half of the slices. For me it’s yogurt and fruit, along with my five. I take a long time making this very simple stuff, and play loud music while Rye plays video games. He’s constantly muttering to himself about his character, or his enemies. I ask him to pause Zelda, wash his hands, and come eat when it’s ready. He slowly eats, takes him forever. I finish my yogurt quickly and sneak outside, hide in the carport, and smoke. It was a bad year for self-care. I’m always worrying about my character, and my enemies.
Gardening with Cole at Brownlee this Spring and Summer, my first dipping of-the-toe into plant life, no research, no plan, just clearing years and years of weeds and popping flowers and greenery randomly around the yard. I think we managed to keep 23-25% of the stuff alive. This year we might get a basic gardening in Tennessee book.
Get Out. The best movie. Perfect, I think.
Brockhampton, Saturation II Anonymous Festival Booker told me Brockhampton would be to his 2018 event what PUP was in 2017; something fresh as fuck and able to fill the field in the early-afternoon with energy like a headliner. I hadn’t heard of them, but hung up and followed his recommendation, pressed play on this album and repeated it over & over for the next several weeks. I had big headphone thoughts on an early-morning walk in New Orleans for cigarettes and coffee the morning my friend Coombs got married.
Sylvan Esso, What Now My holiday record. Had loved a few tunes here and there this year, but it became a full album for me over the holidays. Part of that is because Rye’s responded to it. He hardly ever gets into much beyond the bleep-bloop soundtracks of video games, and this one pushes some of those same buttons. “Sound” is such a badass album opener, and I listened to that track as a stand-alone like 20 times this week.
Shorty & Dexter moving in.
Joey Purp, iiiDrops As an album, I’m a little lonely with this one. I listened to it mostly alone, though the “Girls” single was shared heavily with anyone/everyone. I don’t understand why this isn’t showing up more places. The record feels like a complete thought.
The Mountain Goats, “Shelved” have so many records and songs, and I’ve told Darnielle that he’s becoming a singles guy . If one song from any new album is in the setlist longterm, that record will live forever because the shows will forever point people back to it. I dunno if it will, but I want this song “Shelved” from Goths to be one of those songs. *sponsored post*
The Blue Bourbon Orchestra and Seguaro, Carson Mell Favorite off-the-radar discovery this year. I was passed the impossible-to-find The Blue Bourbon Orchestra and told I must read it, and that mind-blower of a book led me to seek out Carson’s DIY-reissue of Seguaro, which is also a damn fine read.
Fleabag, Season One Binged this six-episode quickie while sick in a hotel room in Seattle last week when I was supposed to be seeing extra Pedro the Lion reunion shows. LOVED it. It’s gnarly.
Kevin Morby, City Music One-Two punch for Morby, back-to-back bitchin’ albums a year apart. One of my favorite attitudes and vibes out there. All KM’s records are moody, but this one is MOODY. *sponsored post*
Inlet boat & dock hang outside of Gulf Shores during Hangout Festival with the Colvins and Mumford & Sons.
Big Theif, Capacity Feels sorta like listening to Mazzy Star in the Bloomington dorm in 1994.
Perfume Genius, “Slip Away” Rips.
Rex Orange County, “Loving Is Easy” A little ditty, and a good one.
Sleaford Mods, English Tapas This is a great album. I bet all of them are, huh?
Meet Me in the Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman Favorite new non-fiction. Love an oral history! I wasn’t around the deep NYC fabric stuff from this book except very tangentially now and again, but being in the Bowery for two nights this year, climbing those steps to the tiny-ass dressing room, looking at the chipped paint and bare-bones busted furniture up there, you could feel a bit of the residue of it. Everyone loved this book, right?
Dams of the West “Tell the Truth” video My favorite video, and I don’t like or watch videos almost ever. I’m also just gonna put this here: On the way home from a grinding tour, CT deadass booked a few driveway Dams shows on his own via social media and didn’t tell me about it. I was impressed. *sponsored post*
Chris Stapleton, Broken Halos The last two years had country records on my favorite list, and I thought that would multiply, but this is really the only great country track I listened to a lot this year.
DJ Khaled, “I’m the One” with Beiber, Chance, etc The most pretty-pop I can go, but I do go with this one.
Ryan Adams, “Shiver and Shake” rules, and “Do You Still Love Me?” eventually won me over. Brad told me when he first heard DYSLM, he thought it was maybe written for the sake of the light show only! I still haven’t seen Ryan Adams live, which sucks.
The Crown, Season 2 I know I’m being manipulated. Don’t care. Was thinking I’d miss Winston so much after Season 1 that Season 2 couldn’t stand up, but I was wrong. But, I will say I thought JFK and Jackie were weak. I was like “Get out of there Americans!” anytime they were on the screen. Episode 5, “Marionettes”, was so fucking good. The Queen’s televised Christmas greeting had both Mal and I crying like little babies. After we watched, we brought up the real thing on YouTube. The dramatized speech for The Crown is far more shocking and progressive that what was really said, but perhaps it had to be written that way to give the same sense of edge one would have felt watching that on TV in Britain in 1957?
Arlie, “Big Fat Mouth” and “Didya Think” This Nashville band is graduating college in a few months, and then I really do think it’s on motherfuckers! These songs are two from a ton I’ve heard in various demo stages. There’s a great record coming, I’m certain of it. Saw them at a house party toward the end of the year, and it was very much like Bloomington college house-party vibes, but like post-Vampire Weekend or whatever. God bless college. Also big points for these guys being much closer to my kid’s age than mine. *sponsored post*
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead Favorite not-2017 fiction. 2016 celebrated the fuck out of this, and it’s every bit as good as the hype.
Frank Ocean one-off singles are great!
The War on Drugs, “Strangest Thing” Darren Jesse on the drums!
Shame, “Gold Hole” This tune has me eager to see what their full-length has for 2018, and I’m excited to see these guys live.
H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald. Favorite older non-fiction I read this year. A most calming read! Haven’t felt that with a book in a long time.
Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times” Scratched my Brandon Flowers itch far better than the new Killers songs
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Tourist My favorite thing about this record is his cussing. The biz was/is so unforgiving of this guy. Since the big debut, he’s made at least 2.25 other great records. Literally zero humans mentioned this one to me. I’m still down!
Lana Del Rey, “Love” This is the first song on her record, and by song two I’m so bummed on her lyrics I cannot go on, and so it’s a single entry instead of an album entry. If I did listen on, though, I’d go forward to the chorus only of “Lust for Life”.
Blank Range, Marooned with the Treasure This record was made in a few days, raw and almost fully live. Love it so much, listened on repeat for months & months & months in the first part of the year. These dudes are GRINDING, opening for everyone/anyone. Try to make it out early and see them. *sponsored post*
Gang of Youths, “Fear and Trembling” For whatever reason, I’m suspect of my own returns to this song. It’s definitely far too heart-on-sleeve, and moshing is mentioned in lyrics, and after the opening track I’ve never been able to finish the actual album or connect with anything else on it. But I played this tune a shitload.
Watching the Petty Doc with Mal a few days after he died. She’d never seen it. I’d seen it a few times, but obviously a very different story now. But one of the best stories. We cried, a bunch. Crying on the couch with Mal was most definitely one of my favorite things this year.
TEN FAVORITE ALBUMS:
Contrary to every other list covering country music, Shine On Rainy Day is the best record out of Nashville. Probably the most under-appreciated this year. There’s absolutely no reason Brent Cobb isn’t being lifted up like Stugrill, Kacey, Stapleton, and Margo. This is the warmest of records, and small in the biggest of ways. Stunning songs, like a redneck Paul Simon.
A celebratory and hopeful record spinning in 2016, against all odds: Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. The season-closing SNL performances capped it off with an unfuckwithable exclimation point. Music forward, confident as hell, serious as hell, and fun as hell!
The Growlers record City Club is a Strokes album you wish existed, soaked in Southern California. This time, they’re produced by Julian Casablancas, which turns out to be a huge win, but the songs are goddamn strong on their own. Hooky as can be, with swagger like few rock and rollers can muster just now. This made me go back and check out albums I’ve missed from the The G’s over the years, and they’re all totally good right back to the debut! These guys seem to exist on an island their own, full of happy boys and girls!
Rihanna is an artist I’ve paid attention to 0% of the time over the past 10 years, but Anti grabbed onto me toward the end of the year, and I’ve been on it constantly for the past several weeks. I had not heard, seen, or understood anything about the release of this record, the delays, her back catalog, etc. I had heard a few singles over the years and that’s it, so zero context. I was/am shocked that this is pop music. “Kiss It Better”, “Never Ending”, and “Love on the Brain” are racking up endless plays, but I love the whole thing (save that track with Drake, which I think blows). Without a doubt the most sexually charged music in my life now, and maybe ever. The artwork for the LP is also insanely good.
Hiss Golden Messenger: Duh, of course, perfect record, got two Hiss tattoos this year, blah blah blah, Heart Like A Levee, best live rock band going, just getting started, etc etc etc. Most anyone who knows me has heard me ramble on about this album, but lots of people still to convert. I recommend the title track as your starting point, and then lucky you: It’s five or so more full-lengths with several singles and EPs for you to dig into, all great!
Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial feels like an internet-kid version of Modest Mouse, or maybe someone else’s Pavement or GBV. Is this kid under 27? “Destroyed By Hippie Powers”, “1937 Skatepark”, “Drugs With Friends”, and fucking “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” have all ripped my guts out countless times alone in my kitchen. Alone in my kitchen with guitars!
Catfish and the Bottlemen made 11 songs all about girls, and thinking/doing almost all the wrong shit. Everything this dude sings is tripped up and backward from a rational, adult perspective. Perfect for teenagers and 20-somethings, and apparently me, too. The Ride sits in that big-radio rock slot on my list; touchstones for me are of the Killers and Oasis variety.
Kevin Morby’s Singing Saw reminds me of Europe. Like his previous album, this one soundtracked overseas travel: airplanes crossing oceans, long walks thru empty late-night streets in London, sad times mostly. Kevin nailed his thing here perfectly, another weighty entry in the catalog under his own name.
The brainiest of my picks this year is a record Nap Eyes named Thought Rock Fish Scale. This was the first great album of 2016 for me, and I’ve come back to it over and over throughout the year. The story is that this one, like their last debut, was recorded live with no over-dubs, punch-ins, or trickery. It’s alive, dark, confessional, and weird. Love it.
Bon Iver’s 22, A Million has to be the record I listened to most this year. In particular, “Creeks” and “Million” played back-to-back loud as fuck worked like mantras for me at various points along the way. This record is a very specific moment in time. Curious to see how it’s gonna age; the emotional content and production might burn too bright to hold on in terms of forever and ever. But for right now, it’s perfect.
ALSO REALLY LIKED THESE TEN LPs:
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam Lennon vibes rise to the top for me. Rostam did well in giving Ham’s voice an open lane in these arrangements and mixes, which are both vibrant and shadowy, classy and risky. I’m sure it’s not the way they’d want me to feel it, but I Had A Dream That You Were Mine sounds like a great Walkmen record never made, or maybe the one Rostam imagined back in the Columbia dorm when Vampire Weekend was just getting going and Walkmen were NYC cool.
Amanda Bergman is the best singer America has hardly heard. I love her debut full-length Docks, truly can’t complain a bit, but will note I also miss the rougher edges of her stuff recorded under the Idiot Wind band name. Amanda seemingly has songs and melodies for days, and you should most definitely tune in.
Drive-By Truckers American Band: “What it meeeeaaaannnnss.” DBT have been a blind spot for me all along, even with constant recommendations from tons of people whose tastes I love and line up with. This new record, with a title I can’t ignore and artwork I want to keep looking at, has a few songs that should not be ignored.
Conor Oberst’s Ruminations makes me worry for him. Sparse, dark, and sadder than hell. The second half of his catalog stands very fucking steady with real tunes and performances showing up again and again. A friend said something specific to this album: “Yeah it’s good, but the harmonica can fuck off, I probably don’t need to hear anyone play the harmonica again unless it’s Neil Young or Dylan.” He’s probably right, it kicks me out often through this one. But, another very real mid-career (hopefully) album.
The Dead Tongues Montana is a gorgeous record I’m almost certain you didn’t hear. The band might be like Hiss Golden Messenger 5 or so years ago; maybe just record store nerds for now, but one to watch grow.
Noname Telefone is most certainly only going to creep further. I dug in on this one late in the year, and am very comfortable in the singular space she’s created. Can’t wait to keep going with this.
Explosions in the Sky is a band I’ve always assumed I like, but don’t listen to. However, The Wilderness served me well so many times while in transit this year, and I have to include a nod. It’s meditative, pretty, committed, and subtle. I’m mostly not one for instrumental music, but this is beautiful shit.
Frightened Rabbit’s Painting of a Panic Attack is probably the record that suffers the most from being a great, clever indie rock record. The classification is heavy, restrictive, and horrible these days!
Angel Olsen is a badass. My Woman has to be the most consistently high-praised record of the year, and I’ve got zero problem with that! My favorite music industry tweet of the year comes from her manager & boyfriend (another badass) Mark Capon: “Annoyed for a minute that Angel didn’t get a Grammy nom, then realized that’s something people like Grizzly Bear complain about. We DGAF!”
Lambchop’s discovery and complete personalization of auto-tune on FLOTUS means I’m 100% cool with 10-15 minute songs. I found myself around this dude a few times this year in Nashville. Picked up good vibes, but also complicated thoughts! What if you’re him, here in Nashville forever in almost-obscurity, and now “New Nashville” is all around you… yuck!
TRIED TO GET INTO, BUT HAVEN’T. NOT GIVING UP THOUGH:
LOVED SINGLES AND EPs FROM:
TEN FAVORITE BOOKS I READ (not necessarily published this year):
My Struggle - Books 1, 2, 3, and 4 by Knausgaard are my favorite books, maybe ever. 2000 pages in and only barely bored a tiny little bit during Book 4. I'm hitting pause until Book 5's English translation is available with jacket art matching the rest of my collection.
I read far fewer music-related books than usual this year, but two of them fucking ruled: Girl In a Band by Kim Gordon, and Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein! Both very clear and readable, packed with great stories and vibe.
Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana is a roadmap, actual clear instructions, but I’ve yet to actually incorporate much of it. This book is almost not-religious, which is best for me and probably you, too, but it is direct and pointed. I found it almost confrontational toward the end, which is a new take on practice to this beginner mind.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen Fucking King and The Art of the Memoir by Mary Karr better stay with me, my god please keep some of this stuff with me this year as I try to get more into writing a book and less into thinking about writing a book.
Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar is sad and heavy and everyone should read it.
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer is a candidate for my favorite novel of all time. Reads like a Catcher in the Rye without being referential or nostalgic. It’s UK-setting was pertinent to me, but I think it would have sunk it’s teeth in just as hard regardless. I can’t recommend this enough.
I’m very self-consciously and kinda embarrassingly putting Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love on this list. I didn’t read all of it, but the first section came at a good time for me this year by recommendation.
I loved The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, but I definitely didn’t come out of it appreciating being alone.
VARIOUS OTHER FAVORITE THINGS TO NOTE:
Night Market in Nashville, the first week of October. Indiana Dunes trip with Mary Lynn, Amelia and Rye. Dustin Yellen’s artwork (look at this stuff!) at Pioneer Works which is my favorite modern art I’ve ever seen up close and in person. Morning business calls with Brad Cook, writing and remembering this story about Pedro the Lion for Fidelity High, a visit to my childhood home with my sister, Warren the merch guy for Hiss Golden Messenger (“This dude came to buy a copy of Heart Like a Levee and he ended up leaving with six.”), New Orleans bike tour / Jeep tour with Dan, Michael Stipe showing up seemingly steady and real, Bumper the Cat who is cross-eyed as fuck and pretty good company, London, for fuck’s sake (Geffrye Museum of the Home, March for Europe protest, Ragnar Kjartansson exhibit at the Barbican, backward-ass coffee shop in Shoreditch, Nando’s), Bon Iver with Patti Smith and Hiss Golden Messenger at Hollywood Bowl (one for all time for me personally and seemingly every other human in the audience), Bon Iver at Pioneer Works on December 7 (one of the most inspired and alive Bon Iver shows I’ve seen to date), watching my nephew C. Ray become a dad, discovery of the Bullet Journaling system (as lame and blog-y as it could possibly be), dormroom-style Airbnb hang in Brooklyn with Brad and Stella, Hamilton on Broadway, the days before Christmas in Durham, the discovery of Burton luggage.