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Japandroids

1/8/2018

Of the many ways to measure a year, my preference is the musical memories. 2017, for all its tumult, was a creative carnival. There were some brilliant and expertly executed highlights from old favorites this year. Japandroids, The War On Drugs, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit and The Menzingers are instant classics in my catalog. But as far as taking the time to put some words down, I wanted to take my end-of-the-year list as an opportunity to highlight artists I would’ve loved to see get MORE attention for their work in the lists that I saw critics compiling, as opposed to those artists who everyone seems to agree did the best work. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of what caught my ears, here’s a playlist of some of my favorite songs from the year. And for more fun, here’s what I was looking forward to hearing this time last year (a couple wishes came true).

In no particular order, my list of the underrated music of 2017 that might be worth a listen or two:

Misterwives – Connect the Dots


This was easily one of my favorite records of this year, especially because it came in the form of a brand-new band discovery. I found Misterwives the same weekend as Record Store Day, and I bopped my way through the line curving around Amobea with “Machine” blaring in my ears. There’s a buoyancy and clarity to their sound that’s so fun and yet so strong, with lyrics are joyful, insightful and woke, sometimes all at the same time. In a year that ended with the voices of women being heard and celebrated, I think Mandy Lee’s output and Misterwives’ record was incredibly overlooked in music and pop culture circles. There’s still time, though, for Connect the Dots to take hold, and I’ll be here nodding along when it does.

Iron & Wine  – Beast Epic


This is a band that many listeners might associate with being great at a different particular time,  but I very much enjoyed Beast Epic. I thought it was beautiful, and full of thoughtful goodness. “Call It Dreaming” is, in particular, uplifting and lovely, I can think of at least two times I cried on the train listening to it. It joins a canon of other Iron & Wine songs (“Upward Over The Mountain,” “Walking Far From Home”) that instantly cut out my heart and serve it up to whatever waiting angeles want to sew it back in.

The Maine – Lovely Little Lonely


Oh, The Maine. A band that I fear will never have the recognition among rock/pop music critics that they so deserve, even though they still keep getting better with time. This album pushed their boundaries from the bubble-gum of American Candy slightly darker reflections, but still no shortage of hooks and earworm turns of phrase. A surprising addition to my workout playlists, this was both one of my most-anticipated albums of 2017 and one of my most-listened to.

The Killers- Wonderful Wonderful


Wonderful Wonderful got a bad odor attached to it way too quickly, there’s good stuff, there’s band that’s developing in the way they always were supposed to. The first 45 seconds of the album are probably the coolest part of it, but there’s a lot of other layers and meaning to it. Brandon Flowers has a cheeseball quality to him, but it’s not like that wasn’t on Hot Fuss either. I really like how thoughtful some of the lyrics seem, “are your excuses any better than your senators” is up there with the more socially observant takes from Flowers. The more I listened to it, the more layers I heard here — layers of rock music history, layers of references and layers of a band who is still finding their way, as all musicians ever are.

Carly Rae Jespen – “Cut To The Feeling”


I saw a tweet from someone who said that if there was any justice in pop radio, this song would be #1 airplay. Alas! Spotify’s Wrapped told me it was my most-listened to track this year, though, so there is that. Anyway, I know this isn’t an album and this is usually an albums list, but I can’t talk about my musical diiet in 2017 without talking about this song. For workouts, for pump-me-up moments, for sidewalk strolls, “Cut to the Feeling” is as perfect a pop song as I could ever imagine in any setting. Her voice is light and infused, the synths are sparkly and the chorus is soaring. More Carly Rae in 2018 and beyond, “Cut to the Feeling” proves she knows exactly what she’s doing and isn’t afraid to put it out there in any form.

Perfume Genuis – “Slip Away”


Another choice that rests as a song instead of an album — even though No Shape is a wonderful, thought-provoking listen that received accolades all over the place, this is the song that really stole my focus. It’s also easily one of my most-listened to tracks in 2017, a song I will forever associate with the year and the challenges and lessons it provided. I would love to see this band progress and grow, and earn more acclaim for such unique and inspired work.

Ruston Kelly – “Black Magic”


One of my favorite Americana/country discoveries of the year is Kacey Musgraves very talented husband Ruston Kelly – “Black Magic” is biting and classic and heartwrenching, and a hell of a fun to sing, too. It too became one of those songs I played in all times and all places, “Love is hell and nothing more than black magic” seems to me to be one of those lyrics that fell down from the sky and into waiting hands, meanings it’s hte most perfect, authentic, realized kind from the geniuses themselves.

Oh, and I loved Reputation. I listened to it on loop traveling to San Francisco for a fun weekend getaway, kept it on through train rides and strolls up to Lombard Street and while sitting on a park bench in Oakland. Now I play it on the bike, walking to my front door, waiting for the courthouse to open. I know there’s a lot of people out there who aren’t a fan of the way Taylor refrains from discussing politics/social justice, but I try not to judge people for their beliefs in the course of my daily life, and so I won’t get into that without having an opportunity to understand her as a person. So in spite of all the discussion, I’m calling it underrated, because the first reviews I read of it were all by white men and all throwing some kind of judgment toward it and it really kind of made me mad, that people were expecting so much and calling someone else’s work a disappointment. Do they not understand how creative output works, that it is not being created and poured into the world in order to appease someone else but because it had to come from the fingers of its creator before they fall off? I also love that it is first TS album to really tackle “mature” themes (she finally wrote songs about drinking and sex!). Taylor Swift at this point only does manifestos and while many are turning up their noses are her playing around with hip-hop and R&B stylings, she’s putting out work that’s exactly her, filter and polish and spit-shine and all. The control and focus and unapologetic honesty with oneself that that takes is something I really admire, something that’s worth channeling anywhere, anytime, any year.

Past years:
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011

2/12/17

How good is the new Japandroids album? So good it might be the best rock album we’ve seen since their last effort? I’m inclined to say yes — I’ve been glued to it and its hooks, pounding rhythms, expert production…there’s a lot to love here even before you unpack the meaning. At the moment, one song in particular has me totally hooked — “True Love and A Free Life of Free Will.”

When I first heard the album this song stood out but not in a major way; the album is pretty short so it was easy to remember what song was which and feel the entire flow at the same time. But over the past week or so, “True Love…” is my jam. It’s got a slow march feel that reminds me of “Continuous Thunder,” and brilliantly simple little scenes of cafes and catinas. Japandroids songs have a way of being deeply poetic and emotional without being too purple, too snobby, or too high-minded, which is why I think they have so much pull with critics and people who listen to music for a living. “True Love..” is a slow jam, the closet thing to a ballad on Near to the Wild Heart of Life, but it’s got a pounding rhythm and fuzzy aplenty to give it rock and roll heart.

It doesn’t take too long to decode the meaning behind a Japandroids song, another reason they’re so fun to listen to and write about to boot. “Spill your secrets and paint my days,” Brian King sings in a desperate plea. Then, later, he ends a verbose verse with “a little money and whatever’s on the radio,” , as if it is a throwaway line but it is anything but, instead it sets a tangible scene. The final chorus — which gets me every time — kicks in with a delicate guitar line before building to an outro, a really simple setting but a satisfying one nonetheless, as Japandroids are wont to do.

With only eight of them, every track on “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” shows the scenes of a life that all connect back to the same themes — ambition, risk and reward, mortality. All are powerful, but it’s the love songs that make the heart ache and cry and sing — “No Known Drink or Drug” is one of the band’s best songs yet and it’s a total sing-it-from-the-rafters anthem to love. “True Love,” with its romantic notions and realistic landscape, is absolutely stunning to me — it’s a perfect summation of the dare-to-dream, dare-to-love attitude the album is all about.

“Plans to settle down
Plans to up and split
Plans loose as the morals we are planning with
Baby be the beast, but free what burdens be
And I’ll love you if you love me.”

~True Love and A Free Life of Free Will
Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life

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