Tag Archives: St. Vincent

2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

Last list, I promise. I limited this post to 25 albums, which is totally arbitrary, but I had to wave the white flag at some point. I always start writing these year-in-review posts with high hopes of streamlining the process in an effort to siphon as little time as possible from holiday celebrating with family, but something in me can’t help getting absorbed then overwhelmed. It’s a moth-to-the-flame thing. Odds are good it has something to do with mortality/the passage of time/wanting to hold onto and contain experiences so they — and by extension, I — don’t quietly disappear into a scary, nebulous past… but you didn’t come here for existential hand-wringing, did you? Oh, you did? Great! Let’s be sure to catch up after about physical media as an ineffectual bulwark against death!

A few notes before we get started:

  • I made some additions to the previous lists — Steve Gunn’s tour-only Dusted album was added to the list of live jams, and Elkhorn’s Black River album was added to the Americana list. I snagged both at Steady Sounds with Christmas money and it’s still 2017, so…
  • This is just the non-live, non-reissue, non-Americana, non-RVA top 25. Doing a ranked top 25 this year would have been really tough. I held on especially tightly to the music I loved this year. Maybe because I needed the distraction. Maybe because new music was just really good this year. It’s probably a little of column A, a little of column B.
  • Like the other lists, this one is ordered alphabetically.
  • I kinda regret not doing a list of EPs. Ian Chang’s Spiritual Leader EP was awesome, as was Delicate Steve’s Cowboy Stories. There’s also Kamasi Washington’s Harmony of Difference — I’m still getting to know that one, but I’m fairly certain it’ll become a favorite, based on what I heard at his show at the National earlier this month.

Enough preambling. Here are the best of the rest:

Ryan Adams — Prisoner

I didn’t end up connecting with the self-titled album that came before this one, in part because of the sound palette he was working with — more focused on 1980’s guitar sounds than is usually my cup of tea. Prisoner draws from the same well, but he seems more present in this one. And “Do You Still Love Me?” is a truly dynamite opening track. I was hoping he’d open his March show at The National with it, and he delivered. Love when bands do that.

Ryan Adams — “Do You Still Love Me?” [Spotify/iTunes]

(Sandy) Alex G — Rocket

I went a little nuts over this one. Step 1 was hearing the album and digging it. Step 2 was finding out that he played on Frank Ocean’s Blonde album. Step 3 was feeling crushed when I saw that a first pressing of the album had sold out via his Bandcamp page. Steps 4-18 involved various internal arguments about whether to order the first pressing from an online reseller — something I hate doing. I eventually caved. Not sorry one bit. It’s about as varied an album as I can remember spending time with this year — so many different flashes of brilliance.

(Sandy) Alex G — “Powerful Man” [Spotify/iTunes]

Dan Auerbach — Waiting on a Song

Did you know that John Prine has a writing credit on the title track? Or that Prine is pictured on the back cover? These are things I didn’t learn until I snagged a vinyl copy of Waiting on a Song the night Auerbach opened for Prine at The Altria Theater here in Richmond. What a show that was. That’s when this album went from something I enjoyed to something I really loved.

Dan Auerbach — “Waiting On A Song” [Spotify/iTunes]

Bedouine — Bedouine

There’s a quiet strength that runs through this whole album. It feels elemental. Inextricable. The Spacebomb flourishes are welcome and wonderful, but that strength never strays from center stage, making for an exceptionally compelling listen.

Bedouine — “One Of These Days” [Spotify/iTunes]

Father John Misty — Pure Comedy

I believe Pure Comedy was recorded before the last presidential election, and politics aren’t the focal point here, but I’ve found it to be of great comfort these days. Sometimes you need someone to point out life’s absurdities so you can maintain a little distance. As lyrically dense as these songs are, the net effect — for me at least — is like taking a breath of fresh air, or like hitting a reset button.

Father John Misty — “Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution” [Spotify/iTunes]

Fleet Foxes — Crack-Up

Speaking of dense… I’m not sure I’ve really cracked the surface of Crack-Up. Listening to the episode of Song Exploder about “Mearcstapa” was startling, in that I didn’t realize how much about the album’s sound was flying under my radar. That said, it’s absolutely gorgeous, and I’m wildly curious as to what this album will mean to me in five or 10 years.

Fleet Foxes — “Mearcstapa” [Spotify/iTunes]

Godspeed You! Black Emperor — Luciferian Towers

Part of an unholy trinity of excellent albums I’ve been playing loudly when I’m working from home in an empty house. Lots of tension and anger here, but so much light as well. The climaxes of these tunes can feel joyous — the melody at the end of “Undoing a Luciferian Towers” sounds like it could have been lifted from a Christmas carol written a hundred years ago.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor — “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” [Spotify/iTunes]

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard — Murder of the Universe

Another member of the unholy trinity. It occurred to me recently that King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard could be the Russell Westbrook of the musical world. Both band and baller set ridiculously ambitious goals for themselves (five albums in a calendar year for KG&tLZ, a season-long triple-double for RW) and it looks like both will be successful. Just amazing. Of the albums they put out in 2017, Murder of the Universe was my favorite by far. It’s pure fun — fast paced and delightfully creepy. On vomit splatter colored vinyl, no less.

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard — “Altered Beast I” [Spotify/iTunes]

Pokey LaFarge — Manic Revelations

Pokey’s sound has grown bigger and bolder, as has the St. Louisan’s writing voice. “Riot In The Streets” speaks to the Ferguson, Missouri protests, concluding:

Our past won’t go away
It haunts us to present day
There’s so much left to learn
As the bullets fly and the buildings burn

Pokey LaFarge — “Riot In The Streets” [Spotify/iTunes]

Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.

I decided not to rank this year’s list, but this probably would have been #1. Lamar is this generation’s lyricist of record, in my opinion. To Pimp a Butterfly may have been more musically immersive, but DAMN. is just as vital to understanding our country and its culture.

Kendrick Lamar — “LUST.” [Spotify/iTunes]

Landlady — The World Is a Loud Place

A few words from my February post about the album:

I had a chance to see and hear a few of these new tunes when the band came to Hardywood in August [2016] — “Driving In California” for sure, and I think “Nina” and “Electric Abdomen” made appearances as well. It’s a fantastic album, every bit as imaginative, tightly executed, and soul replenishing as Upright Behavior. In fact, Landlady has become one of the bands –maybe you have a similar list — whose shows are more like exercises in spiritual fulfillment than just a pairing of people playing music and people watching those people play music.

Landlady — “Nina” [Spotify/iTunes]

Aimee Mann — Mental Illness

A very, very good album that was there for me in a difficult time. Here’s what I said in an April post after typing out the lyrics to the chorus:

What a thing to have sung to you while standing in the backyard of your new home on a windy night, watching clouds zoom past the moon. That place she’s describing — the pocket of time before life grabs hold of the course you’ve plotted and adds twists and turns to it — that’s exactly where my family is right now.

Aimee Mann — “Patient Zero” [Spotify/iTunes]

Mdou Moctar — Sousoume Tamachek

From the post I wrote after seeing Moctar perform in October as part of a screening of his Purple Rain remake, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai:

I also walked away with a vinyl copy of Moctar’s newest LP, Sousoume Tamachek, signed by the three-man band I’d just seen in-person and onscreen. I’ve been spinning it nonstop — it paints a really varied and intimate picture of Moctar’s approach, with a nice mix of acoustic and electric guitar.

I’ve been seeing Sousoume Tamachek in other year-end lists, which makes me happy. Especially after hearing during the screening’s Q&A how tenuous the initial connection between Moctar and Sahel Sounds owner Christopher Kirkley was. A couple of missed phone calls and this album might not have been in my life.

Mdou Moctar — “Sousoume Tamachek” [Bandcamp/Spotify]

Mount Eerie — A Crow Looked at Me

I listened all the way through once, cried at my desk at work, and decided I needed some time before I listened again. I haven’t gone back yet, though I did almost buy a used copy at Reckless Records in Chicago while we were there on a family trip in November. It’s such a powerful album, and I could imagine it being there for me when I need it, but I never want to need it, and just thinking about needing it is terrifying. I have seen people talk about how listening to A Crow Looked at Me has actually been a life-affirming experience, and I get that, since it made me want to reach out to the people I love and let them know how much they mean to me. Still… it’s a little like looking directly into the Sun, emotionally speaking.

Mount Eerie — “Ravens” [Spotify/iTunes]

Mutoid Man — War Moans

This completes the unholy trinity! Come for the masterful riffing, stay for the lyrics about impregnating Satan’s daughter!

Mutoid Man — “Kiss Of Death” [Spotify/iTunes]

The National — Sleep Well Beast

This is the first National album that has grabbed me. Two contributing factors: 1. Reading this Amanda Petrusich piece about it, and 2. Listening for the first time when I was very sad for reasons I’m not sure I want to share here. What I will say is that I found exactly the right kind of musical sadness to soundtrack a moment of real life sadness, and that sense of harmony helped me find peace where I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

Sleep Well Beast — “The Day I Die” [Spotify/iTunes]

Orchestra Baobab — Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng

One of my favorite assignments this year was writing about an earlier Orchestra Baobab album for Off Your Radar. I hadn’t spent a ton of time considering why that album — Specialist in All Styles — had wormed its way so deeply into my consciousness, and I came out the other side loving it even more. I’m enjoying this one a great deal, as well. Here’s what I said about it in that Off Your Radar piece:

[Original band member Ndiouga Dieng’s] death prompted the band to reunite and release a new album this year called Tribute To Ndiouga Dieng, which I can’t recommend highly enough. Gone is Barthelemy Attisso’s virtuosic guitar — he’s back in Togo tending to his day job as a lawyer — and in its place you’ll find oodles of kora noodling. While I initially missed that brilliant, nimble guitar work, I’ve come to appreciate deeply how different this new release is. Another masterful move from a band whose musical chessboard spans the globe.

Orchestra Baobab — “Mariama” [Spotify/iTunes]

Rostam — Half Light

I feel like this was one of the year’s most misunderstood albums. While it was reviewed reasonably well, I feel like the reviews I saw missed something crucial about how bold the album is in making his voice the center of attention and using it as a muse for experimentation. This was his big moment to step into the spotlight, and he did so in a way that strikes me as exceptionally brave. It reminds me of a one-word answer he gave in an interview earlier this year when asked what he hopes people will remember him for:


Rostam — “Gwan” [Spotify/iTunes]

Skyway Man — Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye

From my May post about the album:

Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye is tailor-made for someone embroiled in exactly [my] obsessions, with the spacey aspects of Cosmic American Music, the voluminousness and spirituality of gospel, Tyler’s exploratory spirit, and references to early 1980’s production that remove songs from the present moment, like they’re wandering untethered by time. It’s all here, along with the signature Spacebomb sounds that consistently fill my heart with joy.

Skyway Man — “Wires (Donny Angel and the Opening Wide)” [Spotify/iTunes]

Devon Sproule — The Gold String

Another artist I nominated for Off Your Radar consideration. Here’s what I said about The Gold String in May:

I learned just this week that Sproule put out a new album earlier this year called The Gold String, and it’s lovely in all the ways I Love You, Go Easy is, especially when it comes to the way the lyrics flow. In fact, she touches on a similar idea in the title track when she imagines an endless strand that connects everyone and everything. Her description of it is nothing short of elegant, in large part because form and theme are one; she describes this inspiring connectedness using verses that lead into one another and this amazing rolling rhyme scheme that weaves together phrases in ear-pleasing clusters. Her words become the string she’s singing about. It’s really incredible.

Devon Sproule — “The Gold String” [Spotify/iTunes]


So my daughter, who is three and half and loves the color pink, keeps choosing this when I tell her to go pick a record from the shelf that has 2017 albums on it. Let’s just say the cover art is quite the conversation starter. Also, “New York” is one of the best songs of the year. Hands down.

St. Vincent — “New York” [Spotify/iTunes]

Moses Sumney — Aromanticism

The only album I could envision ranking above DAMN. It’s a towering achievement, both in terms of vocal performance and emotional articulation. While I didn’t manage to win a Vinyl Me, Please pressing at the Triple Crossing listening party in October, I managed to find a used VMP copy on the trip to Reckless Records I mentioned earlier. I know I put way too much stock in getting this or that pressing and having a physical copy of something that I can listen to online, but I love that Vinyl Me, Please did a pressing. It gave me an opportunity to sit around a table with new and old Sumney fans talking about all the ways in which Aromanticism is incredible.

Moses Sumney — “Lonely World” [Spotify/iTunes]

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau — Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau

From a Friday News and Notes post earlier this year:

Quick story — when Bob Dylan’s Tempest album was announced and I saw “Scarlet Town” on the track list, I desperately hoped it would be a cover of the Gillian Welch song from The Harrow & The Harvest. It wasn’t. So when I saw that a “Scarlet Town” was on this Thile/Mehldau album, I braced for disappointment…

No disappointment here. Just an hour and three minutes of next-level interpretation and collaboration. And, yes, it’s the “Scarlet Town” I was hoping for.

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau — “Scarlet Town” [Spotify/iTunes]

Tinariwen — Elwan

This is the year I truly fell in love with Tuareg desert blues. So glad BK Music had a copy of this. I was wearing out Sousoume Tamachek.

Tinariwen — “Sastanàqqàm” [Spotify/iTunes]

The xx — I See You

I liked the first two xx albums, loved Jamie xx’s solo album, and found this to be a great middle ground. It’s funny this comes last alphabetically, because it was the first top-tier album released this year, and it makes me think about how fucking long 2017 has felt. Good lord. Hey 2018, maybe don’t be like that?

The xx — “Say Something Loving” [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review:

2017 in Review: Live Albums
2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2017 in Review: Americana
2017 in Review: RVA


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Record Store Day

So this may end up being the earliest I’ve woken up to wait in line at BK Music on Record Store Day. The sun will not be out. The birds will not be chirping. The Mennonites won’t even be making donuts at the South of the James Farmer’s Market. I’m talking oh dark thirty. (The time, not the movie in which Andy from The Office kills Osama bin Laden.)

Why so early? Mostly because of this:

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit — Welcome to 1979

Let me count the reasons:

  1. I’m not sure which I heard first, the studio version on Here We Rest or the live version on Live from Alabama, but Isbell’s take on “Heart On A String” put Candi Staton on my radar, and it represents a crucial part of his own personal history, given that Staton’s original version was recorded at Fame in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The phrase “full circle” comes to mind when I hear Isbell perform “Heart On A String.” It makes clear that he both remembers and understands where he came from.
  2. I haven’t gotten to see Isbell do The Stones’ “Sway” live, but setlist.fm tells me that the cover closed his 2008 set on Brown’s Island here in Richmond, which is neat. I have seen him do “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” however, and he does a great job. It’s one of those “Man, that dude knows how to get just the right guitar tone” songs.
  3. John Prine, y’all. No need to for elaboration there.
  4. 400 Unit renditions of Isbell-penned Truckers songs make the world go ’round, and “Never Gonna Change” was the song with which he ended his outstanding 2016 Altria Theater performance. Man, was that show good. I said on Instragram at the time that he “pitched a perfect game,” and the experience has only gotten rosier in retrospect.
  5. What can I say about “Atlantic City”? It’s on a very short list of “All Time” favorites on Spotify and I wrote a mini-essay on the song after spending time in the city for the first time, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Isbell perform it. I’m sitting here trying to think of a combination of artist and cover that would make we wake up earlier in the morning… Thom Yorke singing “Hallelujah”? Donald Trump singing “2 + 2 = 5”?

There must be something in the water, because four of the other titles I’m most hoping to see at BK are also live sets:

Would also be neat to snag the Lumineers’ Song Seeds 10-inch. As someone who’s contributed parts to music written by Wes, I like the concept of the album — hearing songs at different stages of fruition. It’s the same reason I was so psyched to hear the episode of Song Exploder that featured “Ophelia.”

I better stop there before I get carried away. See y’all in line on April 22nd.


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St. Vincent

St. Vincent

I’m still floating back down to Earth after last Wednesday’s St. Vincent show, so if you’re allergic to hyperbole, you should proceed with caution. There are so many glowing things to say about her performance — a few adjectives that come to mind right away: otherworldly, innovative, exacting, singular — but the takeaway I can’t stop thinking about involves something that didn’t actually happen on stage. (And I’m not talking about sardine-like crowd experience, which was like some crazy test of how little personal space you can command before totally freaking out.)

During the show, this image kept popping into my head — Annie Clark standing on the same stage singing the same songs with the same vocal precision and just an acoustic guitar as accompaniment. It wasn’t because I wished she was performing that way, it was because I kept thinking about how removed her show was from that basic form of musical communication.

Quick digression: I’d always taken that form — voice and acoustic guitar — for granted, because so many of the artists/groups I enjoy go that well-worn route. It was a fairly recent comment from Father John Misty (I can’t remember if it was onstage or in an interview) about how he can imagine people rolling their eyes at another white dude with an acoustic guitar that made me take a step back and think about what deciding to perform that way means.

So what does the way Annie Clark decided to perform on Wednesday mean? In short, I think it means that she’s a visionary who cares deeply about the experience her fans have at her shows.

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St. Vincent

St. Vincent

An optimistic Friday post for y’all:

Certain people, places and things just bring out the best in you. Have you noticed that? Certain friends make you want to be better friends to your other friends. Certain activities inspire you to draw from wells of courage and generosity that you aren’t normally able to draw from. President Obama likes to quote a related turn of phrase from Lincoln’s first inaugural address — the “better angels of our nature” line — and while the original context may have been Civil War-level heavy, I encounter simple, everyday applications of the sentiment all the time. Music’s a great place to look.

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Black Keys

Us music fans are a fickle bunch, aren’t we? We love having gigs and gigs of tunes, but we’re not so fond of paying for them. Even though 10-buck-a-month streaming music services like Spotify are on the rise and are a step in the right direction, nothing fattens up a royalty check like consumers actually buying an album, be that a CD, record or download from an online store like iTunes. Well some bands aren’t taking the fight lying down. As record sales decline, we’re seeing some wildly creative promotions associated with album releases, and I salute the bands behind them. Take Wilco for example, who entered everyone who preordered their new album, The Whole Love, into a weekly giveaway contest, where one of the prizes was a Wilco-themed fixed-gear bicycle (insert your own “I’m a Wheel” joke here). Or take the Flaming Lips, who recently released music on a USB drive that was buried inside a 7-pound gummy skull (honestly, this is among the tamest of Wayne Coyne’s recent experiments with packaging). Or St. Vincent, who turned the release of the first single from her new album, Strange Mercy, into an interactive event, inviting fans to tweet the hashtag “#strangemercy” and posting the song to her website once enough people did. Well I have a new favorite in the world of viral marketing: The Black Keys. The purveyors of one of last year’s best albums in Brothers have just announced their new album, El Camino, and they’ve enlisted  the help of Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show with Bob and David and Breaking Bad fame in promoting it. In the video above, Odenkirk plays a used car salesman who is trying to sell a crappy van identical to the one that, despite its not actually being an El Camino, graces the upcoming album’s cover, but he can’t seem to get a decent take of the commercial he’s shooting. It’s a great clip, especially if you’re familiar with the actor’s body of work, or if you’re super depressed because Breaking Bad just ended and you need something, ANYTHING that’ll chase away the withdrawal symptoms for a spell. Ya know, whichever. Check it out above, listen to “Psychotic Girl” from their previous album below, buy Brothers here and start getting excited for December 6, when El Camino rolls into a record store near you.

The Black Keys — “Psychotic Girl

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Read It Later Roulette

I’m on earthquake watch tonight. The biggun happened on Tuesday afternoon, but I slept through both of the subsequent early-morning aftershocks. As I try to stay awake long enough for tonight’s edition, I thought I’d try something totally new — Read It Later roulette. If you don’t use Read It Later (or something like it), it’s an incredibly useful and simple tool (it’s a plugin for many browsers, my iPhone Twitter client uses it as well) that lets you add links to one central list for future perusal. It’s great for when you don’t have time to freely surf the world wide web of information by day, and great for keeping up with music news. Without further ado, let’s play! The following are links I stumbled across at some point today:

Apparently, Kate Miller-Heidke, whose song “Are You Fucking Kidding Me” still has me rotflmao-ing, once sang in an opera about Jerry Springer, which she calls “sheer brilliance” (the opera, not Springer). I think she’s brilliant, and I’m excited she’s recording an album in October! Read an interview with KMH at the Village Voice.

I hope Pearl Jam plans to update the liner notes for their next best-of album, given that the true spelling of some key lyrics to “Alive” have been unearthed. Thank to you Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr for documenting this important archival discovery on their Twitter feed.

St. Vincent released the video for new song “Cruel,” in which she has the worst kids and husband ever. Let’s find Annie Clark a better family, because she seems like a nice lady to me. And if anyone can think of what commercial(s) the husband is from, PLEASE leave a comment. It’s bugging the hell out of me.

Kanye performed a 20-minute version of “Runaway” in Portland, and Rolling Stone posted a fan video. Just when I was ready to cry senseless self-indulgence, he brings the free-form epic to a close by pointing out that he “had the nerve to play you this song.” That is why Kayne is the best. Never ever change, Yeezy.

Lastly, music blogs asploded (and I nearly spat out my lunch) last Wednesday when James Blake cryptically announced a collabo with Bon Iver. The gorgeous tune is called “Fall Creek Boys Choir” and it just made it’s way online. I would like to place an order for an entire album of that. Kthx.

So, still no aftershocks, but I’m going to bed. I need my sleep — hurricane watch is on tap for tomorrow…


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