Top 5 Albums of 2017, So Far

5. From A Room – Chris Stapleton

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Alt Country Superstar, Chris Stapleton shocked the music world in 2015 with his debut album, “Traveller.” The record was truer to the country form than any record that had hit the mainstream in the past decade, and refreshed many old school country fans. Stapleton’s hotly anticipated follow up features much more original work and is arguably even better than his debut. Though the ending was a bit of a whimper, the record overall is one of the most enjoyable of the year so far.

4. Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset – Richard Edwards

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Full disclosure, I have a soft spot for subtle records, and with the first solo release of his decade and a half career, Richard Edwards of Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s comes through with a beautifully somber collection. When the record wants to whisper, it makes you lean in, when it wants to scream, it blows your hair back. Overall, the record explores the topics of sadness and melancholy with the care and softness the topics demand.

3. Nashville Sound – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

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One of the greatest songwriters of our time, Jason Isbell has been a part of enough classic country and Southern Rock projects in the past few years that this piece of excellence doesn’t even crack his top 3. Even still, with tracks like “White Man’s World,” and “The Last Of My Kind,” Isbell again blesses us with soft vocals and lyrics that will stand the test of many years.

2. Brutalism – IDLES

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2017 has so far been a year returning pop-infested genres to their roots. Country music started it’s pilgrimage with the likes of Stapleton and Simpson, rap with Lamar and Curry, and with IDLES March release, punk rock began this journey as well. The vocals of Joe Talbot would make Johnny Rotten proud, while leaving the likes of Billy Joe Armstrong shaking in their combat boots. Brutalism is one of the most vulgar, angry records of the year, but hell if it isn’t music to my ears.

****************************Honorable Mentions***********************

Wolves – Rise Against

“Awaken, My Love!” – Childish Gambino

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

Is This The Life We Really Want? – Roger Waters

Graveyard Whistling – The Old 97’s

****************************Honorable Mentions***********************

  1. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

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More so than any artist creating today, when Kendrick drops a new record, the world stops spinning. “DAMN.” Was no exception. Throughout the record, Kendrick comes after Donald Trump, Fox News, gang culture, and materialism all with a hard hitting lyricism that places him, unquestionably in the discussion of the greater rappers of all time. Throw in an intriguing feature from none other than U2’s Bono, and listeners are in for one hell of a roller coaster ride.

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Top 5 Uses of Music in TV and Movies

5. “Rescue Me; Voicemail”: Burn – Ray LaMontagne

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Dennis Leary’s powerful drama following the lives of New York Fireman after 9-11 is often forgotten in conversations about television’s current golden age, but scenes like this show why it shouldn’t be. As Tommy (Leary) sits on his couch alone, skipping his AA meeting to watch old home videos, excellent camera work reveals that, in his hands, he holds a bottle of vodka. LaMontagne’s tortured vocals add to an already beautiful scene as Tommy wrestles with his sobriety, before eventually pouring the entire bottle onto himself and attempting to light himself on fire. Once he learns that the vodka will not ignite, he gives up and shows up late to his meeting, wreaking of Vodka, as LaMontagne sings, “I’ll just stand here and burn in my skin.”

4. “Friends;The One Where Ross and Rachel Take A Break”: With or Without You – U2

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One of the most beloved sitcoms in American History, Friends is well ingrained in our culture for the foreseeable future, and with it, the on again, off again relationship between Ross and Rachel. Of the many breakups the pair endured, the most memorable scene features the perfect song choice of U2’s “With or Without You.” The scene, a combination of excellent writing and beautiful music, is able to date the show, and preserve everything great about the era it’s being dated in.

3.“Philadelphia”: La Mamma Morta – Maria Callas

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The next entry on this list is quite different than it’s predecessors. 1993’s Philadelphia followed the relationship of an AIDS-stricken Tom Hanks and the Lawyer, played by Denzel Washington, hired to represent him in his wrongful termination case. The other worldly voice of Maria Callas allows audiences to feel as alienated and out of place as Washington’s character when it comes to attempting to understand the LGBT culture of the 80’s and 90’s which is so well portrayed by this piece. As Hanks, barely able to stand and having withered to skin and bones, dances about the rooming, shouting the translation and explanation of the song, all the while lit by an unforgiving red light, He creates an incredibly intense scene, one that won him his second consecutive Oscar.

2. “Rocky III”: Eye of the Tiger – Survivor

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Few action series can boast the legendary soundtrack that Rocky does. From instantly recognizable themes in the first two installments to classic 80’s rock adorning one triumphant moment after another, none of these scenes can even compare to the perfection that is the Rocky III training montage, featuring Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” To this day, nothing can get butts off the couch and into the gym like this sequence.

********HONORABLE MENTIONS********

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“American Psycho”: Hip to Be Square – Huey Lewis and the News

“Fight Club”: Where is My Mind – The Pixies

“2001: A Space Odyssey”: Thus Spake Zarathustra – Richard Strauss

“Jaws”: Jaws Theme – John Williams

“The Breakfast Club”: Don’t You Forget About Me – Simple Minds

“Star Wars I: The Fantom Menace”: Duel of Two Fates – John Williams

“The Exorcist”: Tubular Bells – Mike Oldfield

********HONORABLE MENTIONS********

  1. Breaking Bad; Felina”: Baby Blue – Badfinger

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Breaking Bad is, arguably, the greatest piece of art ever put to film, so it would stand to reason that the best examples of using music in a scene would be found somewhere in it’s five seasons. Vince Gilligan gave us plenty of options for this list. The use of Tommy James’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion” as Walt finishes another batch of his famous blue meth or Jerome Kern’s “Pick Yourself Up” serenading Walt who sits idly in his home as multiple gruesome murders are carried out at his request. Both of these scenes, as well as many others may come to mind, but never before has a song been used so perfectly as in the show’s final scene. As Walt walks, dying, through his meth lab running his blood drenched hands over the equipment which has made him more than just a man, the lab that turned Walter White into Heisenberg, Badfinger’s “Baby Blue,” begins to play. This scene will never fail to give me chills as lyrics like “I guess I got what I deserve” bring the series to a close that is nothing short of perfect. Walt falls to the ground bleeding, as tears fall from the faces of any viewer with a soul and the tracks chorus, “My Baby Blue” bursts through. Simply breathtaking.

Top Five Metal/Hard Rock Albums of All Time

5. XX Rage Against the Machine

Institutional Racism, American Imperialism, and Political Protest are a few of the difficult & nuanced topics covered in just the first three tracks on this record. Throw in the unbridled anger of Zack De La Rocha and a series of guitar masterpieces by one of the greatest guitarists of our time, Tom Morello.

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HIGHLIGHTS – Killin in the Name, Bombtrack

4. Appetite for Destruction Guns N Roses

While Metallica ignited the underground roots planted by Sabbath & Zepplin, Axel Rose & Slash took hard rock in a new and more mainstream direction. Appetite for destruction raged on with tracks that focused on girls & parties, cutting them with cuts that focused on herroin addiction and the desire for success, bringing the dirty underbelly of the LA Rock scene to the limelight using an accessible sound that refused to sacrifice the wailing vocals and skilled guitar work of their front men.

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HIGHLIGHTS – Paradise City, Sweet Child O’ Mine, Mr. Brownstone

3. Ride the Lightning – Metallica

One of Metals quintessential groups, Metallica was at there best on Ride the Lightning. Coming in just under 50 min, this album skips the longer Prog Rock solos that would come later in their career & goes straight to the explosive melodies & complex lyrics that make Metallica amazing.

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HIGHLIGHTS – Ride the Lightning, For Whom The Bell Tolls

2. Paranoid – Black Sabbath

While Sabbath’s self titled debut is often considered the record that started it all, it was this follow up in the same year that truly fleshed out the concepts that would go on to be metal. Excellent instrumentals decorating the entire piece, which benefits, as well, from one of the greatest vocalists in rock history, Ozzy Osbourne.

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HIGHLIGHTS – War Pigs, Paranoid, Iron Man

********HONORABLE MENTIONS********

•Back in BlackAC/DC

•Vulgar Display of PowerPantera

•PornografitiExtreme

•Songs for the DeafQueens of the Stone Age

•Hellbilly DeluxeRob Zombie

•The Autumn Effect10 Years

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********HONORABLE MENTIONS********

Ænima – Tool

Incredible instrumentals, excellent vocals, & unparalleled, conceptual lyricism from one of the best bands to ever do it. The record is long, Sprawling and covers topics of domestic abuse, human evolution, and death. The youngest record on this list, Ænima is, in a lot of ways, a culmination of the ideas that had been developing over many years of hard rock music. Each of the four pieces of the group are some of the best in the world on their respective instruments, and when they work together as seamlessly as they do on Ænima, the world is gifted with one of the best rock albums ever recorded.

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