Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Best of 2017 Music Mix Tape

All right, here it is! Finally winnowed down my picks for my annual mix tape to something that fits on an honest-to-goodness CD. But you can listen to it on Spotify RIGHT NOW if you want!

What a fucking year. Good music becomes all the more important in keeping us sane and focused and also allowed to sometimes check out from this too often cruel and ridiculous world. I take enormous comfort in the continued dedication of humankind in creating art, though, and all those day-to-day small acts of kindness that persist.

But seriously, 2017 can pretty much get fucked. This music, however, can definitely stay. Lots of amazing work coming out of all genres, despite what some of the naysayers like to claim (ahem Bono). Music is alive and thriving. A lot of it definitely reflects the current atmosphere, too, with deeply political messages.

Obviously, this is never meant to be a definitive "best songs of the year" list so much as a "some of my favorite songs that came out this year" so it is highly subjective and likely misses a whole bunch of real good stuff. (I even try to capture more in my main/longer list here)

Enjoy! And feel free to let me know in the comments what songs and artists you were digging on this year.

1. "Blood in the Cut" - K.Flay
2. "Cut Connection" - Jesca Hoop
3. "Die Young" - Sylvan Esso
4. "Drew Barrymore" - SZA
5. "Disco Tits" - Tove Lo
6. "Woman" - Kesha
7. "Momentz (ft. De La Soul)" - Gorillaz
8. "Antifa" - Ministry
9. "Venus and Serena (ft. Taj Raiden & Q the Sun) - Lex Allen
10. "Uncle Usi Taught Me" - Brother Ali
11. "Atalanta" - Rina Mushonga
12. "Cold Little Heart" - Michael Kiwanuka
13. "Fool's Errand" - Fleet Foxes
14. "Back In Your Life" - TINA & HER PONY
15. "Fire" - Beth Ditto
16. "Strangers (ft. Lauren Jauregui)" - Halsey
17. "VRY BLK (ft. Noname)" - Jamila Woods
18. "Two Thousand and Seventeen" - Four Tet


1. K.Flay has had herself an interesting career in a short period of time, surfing the lines between genres and now seemingly settling into a really interesting spot that blends elements of roots country and electronica in a way that I decidedly do not hate.

2. I've loved Jesca Hoop since I saw her open, years ago, for either Ani DiFranco or the Ditty Bops (I honestly can't remember which). She has such a unique take on folk that I hesitate to even call it folk. Just good stuff, and doesn't really sound like anyone else. I think she may secretly exist on an entirely different plane.

3. Sylvan Esso stormed onto the scene with their debut record, and I adored the mix of quality lady vocals, poetic lyrics, and creative electronic underpinnings. Plus, the fella in the group is from Middleton, Wisconsin (right next door to Madison), so their tour stops here are always super packed and fun, with shoutouts to parents in the crowd.

4. SZA came to my attention thanks to a DJ friend of mine (mad thanks to Lolo) dropping her track, "Julia," in the middle of a set a little over a year ago. I've been hooked ever since, and thank goodness, because her newest album, Ctrl, is fantastic. Definitely check out the whole thing. Consider SZA part of the bleeding edge of the insanely good/evolving genre of alt. hip-hop/R&B/electronica. I don't even know what to call it, frankly.

5. I'm a little obsessed with Tove Lo. Turns out she's amazing live, too, with great production value and live band elements, plus costume changes! All on what must be a pretty tight budget, from what I can tell. I appreciate the hell out of her commitment to raw and honest tunes with dark techno underpinnings but superbly poppy hooks. And being unabashedly sexual. Also her videos are works of art, generally. If you haven't seen "Fairy Dust" yet, get on it.

6. KESHA, Hot damn, what a re-debut album this is. She came back from years of fighting with her old label for freedom from an abusive producer with full proof that she's an incredible artist. Fuck the haters. Also, tell true, this record is definitive proof that she'd been undervalued and underused by said old label and fuckwad producer, because her voice is legit, the lyrics are delightful, and the genre-bending (from country to dirty rock to electro-pop) is done with aplomb. I struggled between including "Woman" vs. "Old Flames" because the latter is a spectacular duet with the amazing Dolly Parton. But you can't really beat "I'm a motherfuckin' WOMAN" for a refrain, so. Anyway, point is, GOOD FOR YOU KESHA, GET IT ALL KESHA. And fuck rape culture.

7. It's been a long time since Gorillaz put out a record, and their strange and wonderful Humanz pretty much made up for the lapse. What can I say? It's strange as hell, but it just works. Bonus: De La Soul!

8. I'm always excited when an old industrial band puts out new shit that's actually good and relevant. Ministry pulled that off with "Antifa," from AmeriKKKant, which is obviously super duper political and timely. It's all the grungy guitars and stompy beats and biting commentary/quotes that I want and love in my angry tunes.

9. Lex Allen is from Milwaukee, and I've had the pleasure to both meet and see this incredibly dynamic and delightful human perform live on several occasions. The video for this track in particular is an awesome ode to body positivity and basically a big ol' queer celebration. What's not to love? Cat is going places.

10. Good Brother Ali always lays out the real shit with pointed but smooth lyricism, and this tale of travel woes and discrimination and the wisdom of our elders is no exception.

11. I stumbled randomly onto this Rina Mushonga track thanks to Spotify's wanderings and have been in love with it and her music generally ever since. Kind of a lovely cross between R&B, Caribbean rhythms, and some nameless soul of the city (with hints of Little Dragon). I look forward to hearing a lot more from her.

12. Michael Kiwanuka was also a random Spotify find, but I immediately dug his throwback Motown/TSOP-inspired sound. I think this track got some radio play, and rightly so. Great groove.

13. I've yet to be disappointed with a Fleet Foxes record. They have such a distinctive sound that it would be easy for it to become repetitive, but somehow they infuse each new album with fresh energy, and frankly the sound is so lovely that I don't mind some amount of familiarity between efforts. Their music makes me want to wander in the woods and go barefoot in streams.

14. TINA AND HER PONY were introduced to me by a family member who is a huge folk and roots fan, and saw them perform a criminally under-attended show here in Madison. He's since made it his mission to tell more people about them, and hopefully bring them back to town to a better response. I think they're worth it.

15. Holy shit was this solo Beth Ditto record everything I could have hoped for. I'd always enjoyed her work with Gossip, but it always felt like one final element was always lacking to keep their music from feeling complete. Hard to put my finger on. Whatever it was, though, got added to this solo endeavor--it feels full. Fantastic grooves, and that big, beautiful voice to tie it all together.

16. I'm supposed to like Halsey because she's an out bisexual (solidarity!) but I'm a little hit and miss with her work. I really, really like this song, however, and good Lord if I am not a sucker after all for a duet between two women, who sing openly about a relationship between two women. All in a lush, wistful pop tune? Count me in.

17. I came to Jamila Woods' song via recently discovering the work of Noname, who joins her on this playful but serious song about identity, racism, and solidarity. All good stuff, check them both out.

18. It felt appropriate to end the mix with this gorgeous song by instrumental electronic outfit Four Tet, from their newest record, New Energy. I honestly just enjoy everything they do so much, but this track in particular feels extra special. Good way to ring out the old year, refresh, and get ready to do better in the new. Plus, I'm always a sucker for hammer dulcimer.

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