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my name is jay spanbauer, and this is where i write about music, basketball, culture, politics and other things.

What I Listened to in 2017

What I Listened to in 2017

I don't really like lists. So this isn't a list. I haven't listened to everything, so I wrote about what I had a chance to check out. 2017 was a crazy year, and there was a lot of great music that was released, though I don't know how related those two things are, however. 

P.S. -- Shout out to having a desk job. Without this sort of new and boring stability, I would not have been able to listen to as much as I did this past year.



The Best of 2017

Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN'

This feels like the right album for 2017. With 'DAMN,' the listener hears a less cinematic Kendrick. A less contemplative Kendrick. 'DAMN' doesn't feel as significant of a record, like 'To Pimp a Butterfly.' But while TPAB felt more of like a history lesson of past experiences, past stories and so on, 'DAMN' feels more like the present. More a reaction to the time.

The album is aggressive and raw. Rather than the jazz and polish of a wide variety of instruments across TPAB, 'DAMN' features a more modern and straightforward production style and focuses on Kendrick's voice as the main instrument. Kendrick's evolving lyrical mastery is the highlight of the record. 

I remember the hype as the record came out. Reddit and Twitter were rabid hives of excitement. I remember listening to the album's opening as I was reading comments and scrolling through tweets, reactions videos and more. The opening track's story comes to a close with a twist and gunshot. Spoiler alert. I remember watching videos of YouTubers and other rappers listening to the opening and freaking out over the twist. I even remember a video where some guy was listening to 'DNA' in his car, and when the beat switched (perhaps the best drop of the year, by the way), he was so excited that he jumped out of his car.

Even before the release of the record, a video for "HUMBLE" dropped on YouTube. It took over. I watch NBA games on LeaguePass. That night, every home team's starting lineup was introduced with the song playing behind the hype video. The weekend of the album's release, every NBA team was warming up with an edited version of the album playing over the stadium's speakers.

The year passed, and the album has grown on me even more. While it may not be my favorite Kendrick album - 'To Pimp a Butterfly' holds that title - it is an important release that cements his legacy as a rapper.

Bonus points for being able to re-release an album the same year it dropped without having to add any new material and just reversing the tracklisting. Boss move.

SZA, 'CTRL'

I don't know much about being a young black woman, but this album feels more real to me than almost any other release in the genre. It just seems genuine and relatable. We all know what it's like to be uncomfortable with ourselves, or to be anxious or depressed. 'CTRL' is honest. SZA is vulnerable over the album's 14 tracks. I've never met her, yet it feels like I could vent about my problems with her after she bares her soul and works out her problems over the course of the record.

I don't think there's an album I listened to as much as 'CTRL' this year. Every few weeks, another of the album's tracks would be stuck in my head and require frequent replays. Recently, "Anything" has been stuck on repeat for me, and it's followed by "Wavy (Interlude)," which I've yet to skip in any listening of the record. This two-song section of the record may only take up only about 3:15 of playing time, the hooks and melodies are better than the sum of most contemporary pop and R&B records.

The droning, out-of-tune guitar loop repeats as SZA opens up. Within seconds, the listener feels like a fly on the wall as SZA unloads her thoughts and works through her problems. The track really sets the table for the rest of the record.

I really can't recommend another record as much as SZA's 'CTRL.' It's raw, it's real and it's complicated. It's like life. But a lot catchier.

Lorde, 'Melodrama'

I'm not quite sure what it is, but Lorde is just better at pop music than almost anyone.

'Melodrama' is less simple than Lorde's debut album, 'Pure Heroine,' but the bigger and bolder arrangements take a backseat to the powerful and dramatic vocals highlighted by Lorde's impressive and sophisticated lyricism. The album just feels more important than most other pop albums.

The album is smart without giving up its fun and grandiose feel. Difficult to pull off. The opener, "Green Light" features a huge and dizzying chorus that somehow feels sophisticated and upscale, rather than out-of-control and dumb like most contemporaries. 

"The Louvre," "Sober" and "Supercut" are welcomed additions to any playlist.

Grizzly Bear, 'Painted Ruins'

It feels weird to instantly crown this record as 'their best yet,' but it seems as though Grizzly Bear continues to evolve and find their sound with every new release. 'Painted Ruins' is the perfect example. The band sounds more like 'Grizzly Bear' than they ever had.

The album is void of the typical track or two of 'boring Grizzly Bear music,' and features innovative and catchy tracks filled with an array of new sounds. The 60s-inspired harmonies and fuzz bass of "Losing All Sense," the unique composition and drum-playing on "Four Cypresses" and the hypnotic "Systole" stand out as highlights.

This is the Grizzly Bear album with which you can introduce your friends to the band.

Sampha, 'Process'

I first heard Sampha on Kanye West's 'The Life of Pablo' and was instantly charmed by the distinct and brilliant English crooning. The full-length 'Process' features Sampha's beautiful voice across a number of unique electro-soul and acoustic tracks.

"Blood on Me" may be one of my favorite songs of the year. The catchy, yet new and innovative-sounding track features a loop of layered vocals and punchy instrumentation. "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano" is a moody and soulful ballad that highlight's Sampha's voice and vulnerability.

St. Vincent, 'Masseduction'

'Masseduction' is uniquely personal despite the over-the-top aesthetics and references to consumerism. Annie Clark's voice and sharp lyricism are center stage behind electro-pop sequences and samples. Her iconic guitar playing is condensed down to noteworthy riffs and melodies that give the songs life.

"Los Ageless" features the album's catchiest chord and best guitar work. The synth and string-heavy "Slow Disco," alongside "New York," feature Clark's voice best, while "Pills," "Young Lover" and "Masseduction" showcase the variety and electricity of the pop-fueled album.



The Rest of 2017

Eminem, 'Revival'

I really want to like Eminem again - it seems like everyone does. But Christ. This album is barely listenable.

No one is denying Eminem's "talent." He's legendary as an emcee, and it seemed like in Trump's America, Eminem was the new white hope we all needed. After he dropped a freestyle at the BET Awards, it felt like there was a chance Eminem could be great once again. But alas, 'Revival' is a staggeringly-unremarkable album. The production style is adequate, at best with a handful of tracks sounding like nothing more than playful demos. The half-baked beats, however, seem to highlight the childish rhymes. You have brown hair now, Eminem, your humor doesn't have to exclusively appeal to teenage boys.

The album is bloated with big name pop stars doing these giant hooks on mediocre songs. Memorable melodies are few and far between across the exhausting, near 80-minute album.

Also why is your voice so growly, Eminem? Hit me back, just to chat.

XXXTentacion, '17'

The 'album' is lazy and unfinished. The tracks are poorly-produced while being packaged as 'raw' or 'authentic.' The album's collection of one-to-two minutes songs feel more like snippets from some over-emotional teenager's mixtape he made to convince his friends that he's tough. 

Not only is this album trash, XXXTentacion is pretty much a trash person, too.  

Prophets of Rage, 'Prophets of Rage'

This album is like a math problem being fully-realized. Something about the final product not being equal to the sum of its parts? I don't know. I'm not surprised it's not as good as a Rage album or a Public Enemy album, but it sounds even more out-dated and generic than even I assumed it would be. It's truly the opposite of what it "should be."  

Father John Misty, 'Pure Comedy'

I seriously can't sigh loudly enough.

Arcade Fire, 'Everything Now'

If it weren't for Father John Misty, Arcade Fire would have a great shot at 'most pretentious album of the year' award. That said, the strange messaging and hype around this album was enough to disinterest me before I even tried to listen to their uninteresting, disco-esque take on self-important, irony-drenched indie anthems.


In other news: 

  • I liked a bunch of other records, too:
    • Vince Staples, 'Big Fish'
    • Deerhoof, 'Mountain Moves'
    • Tyler, the Creator, 'Flower Boy'
  • It was a great year for reissues, too:
    • Radiohead, 'OKNOTOK 1997-2017' (20th Anniversary of 'OK Computer')
    • R.E.M, 'Automatic For The People' (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
    • U2, 'The Joshua Tree (30th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)
    • The Beatles, 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
    • Prince, 'Purple Rain' (Deluxe Expanded Edition)
  • There were ton of great hip-hop singles, too
    • Travis Scott, 'Butterfly Effect'
    • Miguel, 'Luke Skywalker'
    •  
  • Mount Eerie's 'A Crow Looked At Me' seems too boring and sad to listen to
  • I'm excited to listen to Brockhampton's 'Saturation' series

Have a good new year. Don't @ me.