Francois’ 2017

2017 was, and my media and musical preferences may be betraying themselves here, the year of the SoundCloud Rapper. If this seems like an obvious take that’s only because of how pervasive the persona has become. Recall that for manymany others, the idea of SoundCloud Rappers begat an education. A moniker for the internet- and homegrown hip-hop talents who released their hybrid projects on the orange-hued music streaming platform, which itself almost went bankrupt this year even after rolling out a rather innocuous ad-revenue subscription service akin to its green-logoed nemesis.

On SoundCloud, however, scores of aspiring musicians met, shared tracks, advice, and inspiration; meanwhile, for listeners, it serves as a resource for that one cover or remix which is not available on Spotify, Apple Music, or, god forbid, Tidal. The platform felt more personable, less corrupted, and a tinge more democratic. Listeners, it appeared, would gladly suffer ads for the comfort of the, ironically, less-corporate seeming media player. Here was where the majority and best of the late Lil Peep’s output resides. It is where Chance and Uzi broke out before propelling to bona fide stardom. Of course, like any other consumer-facing product, SoundCloud relies on metrics and data, but mainly because of what it is not—because of its imperfections—did it seem to cultivate trust and appreciation from audiophiles and the artists who spoke to and of them. This was a validity that didn’t solely appear to be about monthly listeners, followers, or algorithmic prioritization.

The Soundcloud Rapper, then, became shorthand for an artist who by the content of their flow, production, voice, or some other miscellany, could not quite fit the established paradigm and posture of rap. (Skeptics would say we’ve hit the amoral bottom of so much bad being good because all we have is bad and that resets our standards.) The notion expanded, became known, and, like all good and weird things born of the internet, in a sort of backlash, ended up manifesting as the inspiration for an ill-considered Halloween costume.

Still, this is a long-winded apology for not including any SoundCloud rap on my favorite songs of the year (worse, the provided playlist is hosted by Spotify). The songs I enjoyed most are, I think, interconnected in their own way—songs with features was a way of including multiple favs, two-birds-one-stone, etc. Still, I need to reel off a few more honorable mentions here: A track like “Once Upon a Time” marked the return of The Diplomats whose braggadocio and cleverness was sorely missed. Whether it was FergTwelvyy, or the extended familia, A$AP made strides on their LP releases. 2 Chainz made the gift that keeps on giving on “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music”—I keep finding new tracks to bounce to. SZA was superlative on many of these sorts of lists, and should hers have been the only music released in 2017, we could all die in the Trump-apocalypse tomorrow and not in vain. Diet CigPalehoundKing Krule, Weaves, and Mac DeMarco released albums which, however distinct, make me feel young enough still to emote heavy with a lady or lad rock band. Mount Kimbie (a perennial top-5 musical act and the best concert I attended this year), Aminé, and Kendrick Lamar (the artist Spotify tells me I listened to the most over the previous 12 months), all came out with albums that I’ll regret not including on my best-of. Like Cassidy, by way of Jay Z said over a dozen years ago, ask about me and I’ll explain why.

This was also a year that saw the olds insist on making me revisit the sentimental investments of my youth, and, a la the show I never and possibly WILL NEVER finish, had me sliding backward on nostalgia toward “a place where we ache to go again.” So, shouts to music for teens that are just as good on the other side of 25: The NationalSpoonFuture IslandsThe War on DrugsGorillaz, and Broken Social Scene.

On the horizon, there’s Quiet Luke, a Prince-like singer and guitarist who is the fifth or sixth (who knows at this point) coming of Frank Ocean. Along with KWAYE, who has yet to make a track—even if its message is melancholy—that makes you get up and move in the way James Brown intended. Santangelo, makes music that is the singular stuff of SoundCloud’s heyday—cerebral and not-ready-for radio. His “Cave In” runs on the rhythm and beat of Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” which had me so wrapped up in wonder that I nearly missed my bus stop in the pouring rain. Clairo is a singer whose short lovelorn tracks belie talent and maturity, yet bridle with youth and something purposefully restrained—she’s not ready to share the magnitude of her vision and feelings quite yet. Imagine a bittersweet Maggie Rogers who eschewed NYU and with no hipster tattoos in sight.

So, the top 10? 

Well, the playlist gets its name from the few months I speculated a devious connection between Harry Styles’ impressive solo album and Christopher Nolan’s nationalistic and war-porn movie which stars Mr. Styles as the only person sane enough to say something nasty. (In truth, he makes a silly racist remark in front of a group of soldiers who look like they passed through a Blind Barber before making it to the beachhead battlefront, providing one of the few realistic depictions of how starved and imperiled soldiers would actually act in the movie). ANYWAY, my two favorite albums this year were the annoying-to-pronounce Alvvay’s “Antisocialites” and Tyler, The Creator’s “Flower Boy.” Among the other albums which made me cry were Rex Orange County’s debut, “Apricot Princess,” Princess Nokia’s “1992 Deluxe,” Young Thug’s “Beautiful Thugger Girls,” and Moses Sumney’s “Aromanticism.” Speaking of whom, Moses’ “Lonely World” is the feeling after you spill the mug of tea and don’t give a fuck, you run out of there and out of the world.

But this is a mix of individual tracks, so, it should be noted that Yaeji’s hit her stride and come a long way from that one time I played “New York 93” on the office Sonos that went over really, really poorly. The new mysterious electronic artist that’s got me by a strange, sonic gravitational pull, however, is The Blaze, whose videos relate a homoerotic and athletic mise-en-scène that involves Arabic persons in what is possibly the Levant that is as indelible as it is mesmerizing. Oh, and he/they put out a M83 remix that has the most ridiculous album art of the 21st Century. Lastly, and this was decided for me from the first time I listened to it, is one of the loosies Frank Ocean dropped this year: “Provider.” It’s a murmuring more than it is sung or rapped, and with a flowing production that rolls along the mentions of Super Saiyans, Patagonia jackets, and Stanley Kubrick, it is my ideal type of song—what I searched for and cherished whenever I found echoes of in 2017. The above, I hope, is an honest testament to that matter.

P.S. I’m hype for the Young Fathers album due out in “the near future.”

See ya, 2017!

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.

-D-man


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.