1. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile: “Over Everything”
You know that feeling that comes every so often when you’re surrounded by people you like and you feel as comfortable and content as possible? “Over Everything” gives me that same feeling. It might be partially due to my undying love for both the artists featured here. Courtney Barnett, of Melbourne, Australia, has charmed me with her music since the release of one of my favorite songs, “Avant Gardener”, as well as her amazing 2015 album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Her ability to rock hard (like on “Pedestrian at Best”) and pull back and reflect (“Depreston”), all with extremely witty lyrics to boot, is amazing. Philly-native Kurt Vile has also been a staple of my music listening, appearing on many a year-end list of mine (my favorite song of his being the quietly cathartic “Wild Imagination”). No one had any inkling that the two would make music together at all, let alone for a full album, but they formed a mutual respect of each other’s work, which led to a friendship and collaboration.
Aside from my feelings for the artists, “Over Everything” just feels like putting on a huge warm sweater. Vile and Barnett trade verses, not to mention trade both acoustic and electric guitars, as they kick back and let the groove wash over us. “Over Everything” is the pure essence of contentment, diluted into song form.
2. Beck: “No Distraction”
I am not a fan of the new Beck album. I wasn’t a huge fan of the last one either. This new album, Colors, is meant to be a return of “fun” Beck, but it plays more as an overproduced collection of empty pop. On paper, these songs should work — they’re catchy and full of cool sounds, but they somehow lack a sense of soul. But I love Beck, so I will always find a way to celebrate his successes. And at least one of the tracks, “No Distraction,” is awesome. The overall feel and style of “No Distraction” doesn’t differ too much from its counterparts on the album, with the key exception that it’s too catchy to deny. The propulsive beat, stabbing guitars, and rhythmic melody make it impossible to stay still.
3. St. Vincent: “Los Ageless”
St. Vincent, otherwise known as Annie Clark, went bigger and bolder for her latest record, MASSEDUCTION, to stunning results. As cliché as the term is, it’s definitely her “break-up album,” and emotions run raw throughout. “Los Ageless” (which I thought was called “Los Angeles” after a full week of listening to it) is dark and mysterious, but somehow also bright and poppy at the same time. The line that really gets stuck in your head is when Clark rhetorically, incredulously, asks “How can anybody have you, how can anybody have you and lose you, how can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their mind too?”
4. Jessie Ware: “Selfish Love”
Jessie Ware is an extremely talented British soul singer who excels at setting the mood with pristine atmospherics. You can feel the intoxicating, sweltering heat radiating off of “Selfish Love.” It doesn’t rush or hurry to the point — it takes it’s sweet time, letting the rhythms and grooves slowly burrow into you, as Ware’s voice floats overhead, describing her doomed relationship: “Selfish love, why do I do these things? / I break you down, just to get my way / Selfish love, darlin’ you do it too / You tell me lies and I bend the truth.” The song has a definite Latin feel to it, which is probably why she also released a Spanish version of the song, “Egoísta”, which is just as good as the original.
5. The Rural Alberta Advantage: “White Lights”
“White Lights” already sounds like a Rural Alberta Advantage song that’s existed forever. Granted, it did come out about a year ago, but since the album it’s housed on, The Wild, was released this month, we’re counting it as an October 2017 song. Aside from that though, it just sounds so lived-in, like all the best Rural Alberta Advantage songs. The acoustic guitar opening is pleasantly wistful, the melody is killer, and the whole song sounds incredibly satisfying.
1. LCD Soundsystem: “tonite”
I feel like D-Brad Music as a whole has not given enough love to LCD Soundsystem. James Murphy’s quasi-legendary indie dance punk project from the 2000’s made a huge to-do of breaking up in 2011, going out with one last epic show at Madison Square Garden (documented in one of the best concert films I’ve seen, Shut Up and Play the Hits). They came back about a year and half ago and started playing shows again, to the chagrin of some fans who felt they had been misled, and thus emotionally manipulated, by the fuss LCD Soundsystem made about breaking up. Personally, I’m just glad they’re back. The band recorded my favorite song of the last decade, “All My Friends”, and I was able to see them play it live for the first time last year. Let’s just say it was the only time I’ve ever cried at a concert. So yeah, I like this band.
LCD’s much-awaited new album, American Dream, is really solid. It doesn’t reach the same heights as their debut or, my favorite album of theirs, Sound of Silver. But it’s still very well done. One of my favorites is “tonite,” one of the more danceable, fun-loving songs on the record — it settles into a catchy groove and slowly builds on it until the end. As he is wont to do, James Murphy addresses his constant feeling of aging out of the “scene,” talking about how “all the hits are saying the same thing / There’s only tonight, tonight, tonight… / And life is finite, but s—, it feels like forever.”
2. U2: “You’re the Best Thing About Me”
In middle school, my friends and I would kind of poke fun at our AP U.S. History teacher for saying U2 was his favorite band. That was back in my “all music made after 1980 sucks, Led Zep rulezzz!” phase. Later on, I got into U2’s ’80s material and loved it. But despite my later appreciation of the band, U2 still provides plenty of material to make fun of — Bono’s signature glasses and white savior complex, thinking it was a good idea to force their last album on Apple users, The Edge calling himself The Edge, and the constant cheesiness of much of their post-2000’s music.
“You’re the Best Thing About Me” does not exactly buck the “cheesy” trend, but despite that, it’s truly a great song. I can’t help but love it. The guitar riff and heavy drumbeat during the verses achieve maximum catchiness. Then there’s the chorus, which is fascinating to me because it’s a perfect amalgamation of U2’s cheesiness and greatness. The first two lines of the chorus, right when Bono starts singing “You’re the best thing about me, the best thing that ever happened a boy” (yes that’s the correct lyric, which, what?), is so sugary sweet, with the strings as the heavily-syruped maraschino cherry on top. But then after an effective build-up from the drums, the chorus repeats itself just as The Edge breaks out into one of his trademark sparkling guitar lines. You know the sparkling guitar lines I’m talking about — the ones that make “Where the Streets Have No Name” or “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” so great. The second half of the chorus is simply brilliant, exhibiting U2’s undeniable strengths.
3. Kamasi Washington: “Truth”
Kamasi Washington has been playing jazz for over a decade, breaking through with his appropriately-titled 2015 album, The Epic, but he made himself known to me after Kendrick Lamar featured his jazz stylings on his instant classic from two years ago, To Pimp a Butterfly. He’s come out with a new EP entitled Harmony of Difference, with “Truth” as its exquisite centerpiece. On “Truth,” Washington’s arrangement and tenor sax mastery recalls John Coltrane in his A Love Supreme days. At 13 minutes long, “Truth” never gets old — it constantly finds new ways to excite while holding to its central motif, providing an almost euphoric experience throughout.
4. Phoebe Bridgers: “Motion Sickness”
Los Angeles-native Phoebe Bridgers released an under-the-radar album last month called Stranger in the Alps, full of incredibly gorgeous, soft, pensive reflections. “Motion Sickness” is still relatively soft, but relies on a propulsive beat and muted electric guitars. It jumps right in with an exploration of a past relationship gone awry, as Bridgers sings “I hate you for what you did, and I miss you like a little kid.” Later in the chorus, she comes in with “There are no words in the English language I could scream to drown you out.” Bridgers’ voice sounds beyond her 23 years of age, world-weary and wise, not to mention beautiful.
5. Blue Hawaii: “No One Like You”
I was not expecting to put what basically amounts to a disco song on this list, but here we are. I had never heard of this Montreal-based electronic duo, but the smooth, subtle, dance stylings of “No One Like You” grabbed my attention. It’s just a really pleasant song to listen to. (Check out “Versus Game” as well, I almost put that one on instead.)
Here’s a running Spotify playlist of all the Five Quality Tracks songs for each month in 2017 (or at least, all the tracks that are on Spotify).