D-Man’s 2017

It occurred to me in 2017 that experiencing music is much different than hearing it. Let’s imagine you’re at work and you give Discover Weekly a go. A carousel of data-driven reccomendations is wheeled out and you’re presented billboard climbers and diamonds in the rough – all with some potential (at least algorithmic potential) of resonating with your current state.

The reality is that most of the sounds slide right off you, disappearing back into the internet from whence they came. But some songs produce a type of friction – a sudden awareness that pulls you into the moment.

It’s kind of like Tinder. You may be compelled to believe that there are thousands of potential matches, but there’s really only a handful of people willing to meet in person and even fewer who want to connect on a deeper level.

We want to write about those second dates. The solid matches. The songs that make you experience music as an active force. The tunes you play again and again, as if by listening once more, you may get to the bottom of what’s important.

In the spirit of experience, here are a few songs that defined my 2017.


Chris Stapleton – Tennessee Whiskey


Despite my best efforts, I can’t get into country. Once, while visiting my brother in Montana I got close, enjoying how the sharp Southern drawl made wheel lines seem like religious labor. What could be more important than driving to feed the cows? Then, I’d hear pop country (the genre Wheeler Walker has used to shit-talk his way to fame) and would return a skeptic.

Which is all to say I didn’t expect to like Chris Stapleton, a soft-spoken Southerner who seems to inhabit a different musical universe than Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line. Like any country star, Chris Stapleton loves to sing about whiskey bottles and desert winds, but unlike his counterparts, he seems to bridge a transcendental gap, crafting music that can ring from the inside of honkey tonk bars to a gridlocked work commute.

Beach Fossils – Be Nothing


You always had something

You wish you had nothing

Still a loosely defined genre, indietronica blends two disparate worlds, running an electronic current through the traditional live band set up. Imagine long hair swaying over delay peddles, downtrodden beats, and the celebration of total melancholy. Give in and there’s relief – a weightlessness or what I imagine a sensory deprivation pool to feel like.

Of course there’s a limit to so much reverb, a line that Washed Out pushes, sometimes approaching numbness. Where Beach Fossils excels is the rush of the bridge, as the song builds to a crucial guitar solo, forty seconds of intense exhilaration – a shot of adrenaline to pull us out of our stupor.

Shagabond – Sweet Magma / Kraak & Smaak – Stumble (feat. Parcels)

2017 was a hell of a year for Soundcloud. In July multiple news outlets reported that a shutdown of the music streaming service seemed imminent. Money was drying up and when you stopped to think about it, who owns a Soundcloud Pro account anyways?

Then, an emotional response surfaced, as bloggers and users ran through their lists of remixes, mashups, and bootleg tunes that only Soundcloud could produce. Anticipating the shutdown, a few engineers rushed to archive everything. I got ready to mourn my “like” tab on Soundcloud – a nostalgic tour de force of electronic misfits.

Soundcloud was saved and appears (for the moment) to be stable. Out of the turmoil, one thing became apparent, Soundcloud is valued more than it’s bottom line may indicate, and it’s still a treasure trove of galaxy hop and other futuristic sounds.

ODESZA – Higher Ground


A few weeks after ODESZA’s new album, A Moment Apart, debuted, I still hadn’t listened. I felt like maybe I was over their brand of music. Since hearing How Did I Get Here almost five years ago, the masses had taken notice, followed by sellout shows in Berkeley and major commercial spots with top-notch brands.

That and Anthony Fantano, “the internet’s busiest music nerd,” waved off the album with a single Tweet.

When I finally did listen, I was struck by the odd sensation of parting the seas on some degree of musical snobbery. I was aware of a public persona and a private one. There was me, the music blogger, and me, the listener – both with their own agendas. One thinks about music, and the other simply enjoys it.

ODESZA’s classic refrain, a chattering, metallic rhythm section that powers their music like a locomotive train, made me realize that you should never turn your back on guilty pleasures. They’re too much fun.


They’ll sing you a lullaby

I don’t know what to tell you but of the ambiguous pain and assuring wonder. Of being lulled into a vulnerable and purposeful state by music. This isn’t a sad blog, necessarily, but just one that concerns itself with what happened over the course of a few weeks at the tail end of 2017. The transmission of a few songs and circumstances that, over this fortnight, could, perhaps, coalesce into a block of thought worth relating to the internet. (A sad blog would be one that dealt with the minutia of Pavement’s “Spit on a Stranger,” I imagine.)

I know, I know. There’s a lot of music out there. No amount of round-ups and Spotify missives will reckon with the fact that particular songs resonate with us more than others. They seem to stay on repeat long enough as to be an affect—like a particular pair of shoes or the tab you won’t close on your browser even though you’ve exhausted its contents. Still, there are, should you choose, songs that haunt as well. And deliberately so—you don’t seek exorcism necessarily, rather you invite these tracks to remain a companion presence such as they preoccupy your thoughts and state of being. A song begins to become a strain of emotion that, yeah, maybe, feels like more than what you’ve ever admitted to yourself or your friends, or anyone at a party. This is by virtue understandable since music is performative, in transit, and confessional. It awaits an audience.

All of this is quickly slipping into sloppy emoting territory, however, should I not establish any worthwhile stakes in this matter. So, my crutch: “I Can’t Do Without You (Tales of Us & Mano Le Tough Remix).” One of the best/worst things of this century, musically speaking, has been the drop. While it rightly so is a cliche and frequent MacGuffin maneuver of very middling EDM, the beat drop—when the bass or rest of the instrumentation (re)enters the song at a louder, deeper pulse—is executed well, it can be, um, riveting. When done to a degree beyond the professional grade, the beat drop can shake you, rattle your bones, make your hair stand, etc. Or, at the minimum here, I can prescribe this sole song as example.


As the writer Nora Khan’s suggested, electronic music, perhaps because of the durable length of songs that are double the pop standard, have a capacity to “collapse our sense of time.” How much and in what way is music identity forming and how much of it is misplaced nostalgia, she asks. The chime and plod of this remix of an already standout Caribou track was especially revelatory for me after I heard it in the Polish voyeuristic film “All These Sleepless Nights.” A camera closely trails two college-age friends through Warsaw, following them on many late nite tramps through clubs, raves, and silent discos. The women and friends who fall in and out of their lives, the crushing pleasures of hedonism and sensory overstimulation, are all caught by a camera at once too intimate and sincere. It is a loving look at even the minor tragedies and falling outs between the duo and the persons in their orbit. That sincerity, however, is entrapping, held together by the music that courses throughout and over the film. It is so comforting as to upend me in almost-naseua at how much the tableau of “All These Sleepless Nights” means to me.

A song of primarily a single refrain sung over a beat that develops layers of sonic stratigraphy, the innocuous recanting of “I can’t do without you” sounds as if it were a fading away from someone, a regression to a sullen state, or, perhaps, a reaching out toward somebody. The song builds like an intelligent dance music reissue of a Bach canon or fugue (the patient zero for almost all music that has come since). When Spotify broke the obvious news to me that this particular Caribou song was among my top 5 most listened to of the year, I thought, Well, 2007 me had exhausted all the versions of a particular Bach melody via Limewire that was probably burning a hole in my first generation iPod. Inconveniently enough, I cannot seem to find this gift horse for you, and, so, if/when you ever google “Bach canon,” this unfortunately exhausted song will populate the results. When I find the canon I’m looking for, I’ll follow up. Swear.

Then there’s Khan describing what, without much stretch of the imagination, is a truth anyone with an iota of the sensitivity of Drake has felt: “The music I listen to speaks to the past that I wish I had, the present I wish I had, the future I hope to have. Taken together, it builds a world of limitless potential I can only inhabit in my head.” That is, music as an exercise of one’s woes, one’s self, and one’s shortcomings and potential. Where, just as music can move a listener it can arrest them too.


“Plastic” is a vivid song that tracks the singer’s frailty to the plight of Icarus—the wax-winged mythical figure from ancient Greece, whose story is a cautionary tale for egotism. Given the gift of flight, Icarus flew too close to the sun which melted his wings, sending him plummeting to a certain doom in the depths of the Icarian Sea—the name of which is a bit on the nose, even for the Greeks, but still.

“My wings are made of plastic, my wings are made of plastic. / My wings are made up / and so am I,” sings Sumney of a sense of fragility in his disarming falsetto. His singing in person was enough to make a guy feel barely contained. And much more so given the circumstances. The four-song set occurred in a structure expressly built for ascension or grace. Grace being a state of levity—when you feel like sugar, or a whistling kettle, or weightless, or, more traditionally, when you can walk on water. At the San Damiano Mission—a church with stained glass likenesses of biblical characters watching from on high, the pitched nave, as is custom, directed toward heaven—was Sumney, who began the show with “Incantation,” a liturgical track which has him singing in Hebrew—ultimately, a not unfamiliar tongue in a Catholic church or for a guy named Moses. Traditionally, this cant is a prayer to the angels Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael to help protect one during the night (or Night). And his lyrics felt apposite to what a gathered and packed in crowd of beautiful people in Brooklyn Sunday sundries could expect.

Sumney performed “Incantation” a cappella. His accompaniment for the rest of the tracks otherwise consisting of an electric guitar and grand piano. The watching, and at many times, watery-eyed audience were rapt by Sumney—who was notedly bashful as if he’d rolled out of bed and onto the altar. His voice was clarifying, however. Last night was of sins and indulgences, he seemed to offer. Today was a recalibration. My years of Catholic schooling were being recalled like dust lifted into the light by a footfall: The remonstrations, the scripture, the discussions of homily and the holy—and here, in a time in popular music where openly slouching toward God will not necessarily harm record sales.

There is thankful comfort to be had in a setting where the word savior is invoked with doubtless conviction. Music, in a bit of hyperbole, perhaps, is a salve. Or, it feels like a salve. Sumney’s voice, whether in a church, or through headphones, or some other calibrated machination, is not salvation. It is, instead, a lullaby. Akin to what the critic Max Norman, in viewing a relatively unheralded Edvard Munch painting (from an exhibit curated by author Karl Ove Knausgaard, no less), described as “something else,” a feeling “approaching a kind of comprehension—one of those sentimental moments that move you in spite of yourself.” In the absence of anguish sentimentality may creep in, he suggests. Still, a negative feeling is, when held just so, a reprieve. Someone else, like Sumney, reckons with woes in a manner that feel so relatable as to cradle one away from mortal concerns and to momentarily distract into a state of what Buddhists, Hindus, and Catholics have all called unsentimental love.


But there’s, too, the performative shock of hearing something transcendent for the first time. It pipes in through the ears a sense of grace that is deliberately delightful on, say, a crowded and slothful evening subway ride uptown. Recently and specifically, this meant hearing a couple voices commingle on a track recommended to me through a trusted blogger. It wasn’t so much low expectations but an acquiescing to the rightness of the internet’s suggestion that gave me a feeling of minor incorporeality: myself in intangible forms—a song, a digital file, a lullaby conveyed.

The toy piano sound of “Close But Not Quite”, for its part, should immediately signal a lullaby; but it also is a retreat back to the days of when I listened to the Dresden Dolls following a red-headed girl’s recommendation. Memory is imprecise and shifts to fit the forms we prefer, but, still, I remember reading about this Boston band and fixating on the fact that they, as professionals, would find artistic purchase through a child’s plaything. This was in the heyday of the Strokes and Interpol. I was teaching myself drums by listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” on repeat, and here was a self-selected admirable tune from someone whose taste I trusted. Though it isn’t exactly the same tinkle. The sound on the track from my minor revelation on the subway appears synthetic, a simulacrum of the analog.

Everything Is Recorded’s “Close But Not Quite” comes a bit under the radar, sure, but it is the EP that was promised. XL Records exec Richard Russell brought, magnanimously, a group of musicians and samples together with his varying production, the title track of which can either meet the listener with the weight of an anchor and the cotton-swabbing cleanse of a lullaby. Besides the not-quite toy piano, “Close But Not Quite” is built around Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You,” from 1970. That isn’t clear, however, until the hook which, when directly following a Sampha verse, is a falsetto pairing that can ruin you if you’re feeling vulnerable. It’s a gift, all 3:29 minutes of flourishing Motown and lightly touching drums.

Now, sitting behind a laptop and feeling this out from a distance feels leveling, neither Sampha nor Mayfield can quite square the feelings intangible to them on the song, and, really, what all of the above writing is considering is that tracks such as these can do the opposite for the listener. We can feel a little more whole by having certain falsettos or beat drops reverberating through us. Strange how some things become an earworm and metonym for a particular moment. And others can never shake their nostalgic pull. It’s warped, retrospection. It can appear that a sad song has soothed you. But, even in a lullaby, we often only hear what we want to hear.

Breaking Down the Aux Cord

Anyone who’s casually made a song recommendation, or is suddenly tossed the aux cord in a car full of people, is familiar with the feeling of panic when it dawns on you that maybe you’ve misread your audience.

It’s usually the lack of reaction that’s the tip off – an awkward silence permeating the car and the space between verse and chorus. You’re suddenly aware of how god damn annoying the singer’s voice is, but it’s too late. Your copilot stares straight ahead, motionless and tense, and you grip the wheel to focus on the next turn, analyzing road signs and tree trunks – anything to distract you from the urge to unplug.

What did you expect playing Odesza’s new album in a car full of Leon Bridge acolytes? You should have done your homework, or at least listened to that voice in your head telling you to go with the folksy band out of Chicago, Whitney.


Your biggest mistake was plugging in with a group of people you don’t know that well. Who’s the tastemaker here? You need to know who will be the first person to complain and break the spell. You’re looking for a musical home base, a mutual jumping off point, like everyone agreeing that surf pop is BACK. But you’re driving blind. Not literally of course. But you have no raw data, no opportunity to stalk these people on Spotify to see what playlists they wander through.

You consider throwing up a softball. Something like This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody). Everyone loves that song. But you worry that you can only rely on nostalgia so many times before your constituents feel like puppets, propped up by familiar melodies.


What you really want to do is to connect everyone. Start with something sturdy, a song that’s easy to build on. Then, like an old man feeding pigeons, toss breadcrumbs in every direction – one to the copilot, one to the couple packed in the back, and then circle around to the tastemaker. Pull the group together and then start working towards the fringe, blending genres and weaving in offshoots. Pioneer new territory, not far off course, but dangerously close to the edge.

But the silence is paralyzing. You get the urge to unplug. Any second now the copilot is going to turn down the music. But, then again, redemption could be just a song away.

Parcels ~ Anotherclock Live @ Lollapalooza Afterparty, Berlin

Tiny Desk concerts give us a rare, unfiltered experience of an artists capabilities. Sitting just a few feet away, we’re keenly aware of imperfections, or more simply put, eager to point out what parts of a song don’t sound like the studio version. We lock onto what’s missing.

But sometimes, a good live performance reveals more than it entertains. As is the case with T-Pain’s Tiny Desk show, which shows that in the absence of autotune Buy U A Drank can be a luscious, tender melody. All that empty space, intimate and oxygen rich, brings the song to life.

Parcels, an Australian band living in Berlin, thrives at this sonic trick. With some dexterous hands on the keyboard, a steady rhythm section, and a groove that fuses Fleetwood Mac with Daft Punk, Parcel’s glittery synth-pop is hypnotizing. There’s no clutter, despite having five band members, Instead they’re slick, minimalistic, and brash – characteristics that are only amplified in a live setting.

Be sure to follow Parcels closely. Especially when they make their return to the U.S. And who knows… maybe a Tiny Desk concert is in their future.



Long Days & Loud Music

“Well are you excited?”  This was Maine, said by everyone. My responses were affirmative, but always with a bit of unintentional hesitance. There were still some major pieces of the puzzle to fall in place, and things had come together too quickly to really grasp. I couldn’t help but sound uncertain.

But then there I was, packing Old Blue to the brim with clothes, shoes, skis, camping gear, and saying a hard goodbye to my parents. The excitement of the road ahead hit me; it was Go time.


“I’m so glad to know that you exist.”  This was Chicago, said by Harry’s girlfriend. Apparently for years the two of them had a running joke that my existence was fabricated – that I was a cover up for him to chat on the phone with another girl rather than an old friend. She was delighted to be proven wrong.

Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska blend together for a long, flat, and unchanging few days. The general perception of Middle America is not wrong – the landscape is boring, and the air smells like manure; and yet, there is beauty to be found in sepia-tone cornfields under a late summer glow.


“I don’t know if you’ll reach California today, son.”  This was Utah, said by a hefty fellow named Glenn. I looked around the waiting room and wondered how long I’d be stuck there. Blue was hurting, and I couldn’t continue until she got checked out. On the bright side, I was surprised I made it as far as Utah without the car sputtering. It almost felt required that this would happen.

Seven hours and one painful invoice later, I zoomed through the mesmerizing Bonneville salt flats and the Nevada desert. I was delayed, but thankful to get the auto work done. The music got louder and the speed limits higher; all eyes were on the final state ahead.


“Well, welcome to California!”  This was Truckee, said by the woman behind the counter, inquiring about my East-coast license plates. The state border had snuck up on me, and before I knew it I was pulling over for coffee, surrounded by the majestic Sierras.

It was now, finally in the air of my new state, that I could reflect on it all: the past six months, the whirlwind of September – during which I slept in fifteen different locations, the Boston chapter behind me and the California chapter ahead.

I suddenly wished I could go back to everyone who had asked if I was excited.

Hell yeah I was excited.



A Deeper Understanding of Who I Am

‘More of the same’ is a common musical chirp wielded by “the internet’s busiest music nerd,” Anthony Fantano. Eyes rolling, hands in the air, he’s used the label to dull releases from Future Islands and ODESZA, and despite the initial urge to rush to their defense, it’s hard to counter.

New Future Islands sounds like old Future Islands. ODESZA will always sound like metal clattering through a rain storm. The alternative, and what Fantano must be looking for, is musical reinvention, exemplified best by Childish Gambino, who with his most recent album, Awaken My Love, vaulted himself from nasally rapper to bonafide soul-king.


The War on Drugs’ latest release, A Deeper Understanding (2017) is no sonic revolution. We hear the familiar sounds of dad rock – delay pedals, fuzzy guitars and Adam Granduciel’s crooning voice. Unsurprisingly, Fantano isn’t having it.  But having induced a nostalgic fervor with their last album, Lost In The Dream (2014), it’s possible that when it comes to The War on Drugs, more of the same is exactly what we want.

On A Deeper Understanding, frontman, Adam Granduciel, takes more musical risks and we travel further into the band’s sonic headspace, a place mired by pain.

“I met a man with a broken back / he had a fear in his eyes I could understand.”


Many tracks surpass the six minute mark, a holy metric for classic rock songs with dizzying solos, easy to fill, but difficult to pull off.  Nonetheless, Granduciel goes for greater heights, unafraid to scrape the zenith of his guitar playing abilities.

But the true potential of A Deeper Understanding may be in its reception. Just warranting a review on The Needle Drop is an odd form of recognition – whether the review is good or bad, people notice. So much so that The War on Drugs are launching into the mainstream, inhabiting places like 107.7 “The Bone” and 98.9 WCLZ, where Granduciel will continue tapping into their main source of power – nostalgia.