Kacey Musgraves Wows with Fourth LP

Golden Hour isn’t a masterpiece of lyricism, nor is it an intimate dive into the emotional complexities of life. Golden Hour is the sound of a very young, very talented artist developing a sound which has a lot of promise.

     I first came across Kacey Musgraves when I stumbled onto a live video in which she performs her song, “Burn One With John Prine,” while on stage with the man himself. It was a touching video, and fun to watch a member of my generation show the appropriate respect to those who came before. Upon a few repeat listens, however, I was struck by Musgraves’ lyrical ability and hypnotic vocal talent. While I hold a special place in my ears and heart for the outlaw movement in modern country music, and have spent hours enjoying the vast library of the movement’s holy trinity: Isbell, Simpson, and Stapleton, I’ll be the first to point out the apparent lack of diversity and depth in the outlaw catalog.

   Each of the outlaw trinity are nearing forty, and while they are prolific, the three of them alone are unable to saturate the radio stations well enough to cause a substantial shift in the tide, which trends toward the shallows of “pop-country” acts like the much maligned Florida Georgia Line. With all this in mind, one can imagine what a welcome sight Musgraves might be to a fan of the outlaw movement. An extremely talented young woman with a haunting voice, both in her singing and her writing. I went into Golden Hours with high hopes, and I was pleasantly impressed with what I found.

   Lyrically, Musgraves doesn’t claim any knowledge beyond her age, but instead speaks to an emotional map of teenage life. Interestingly, she avoids focusing too heavily on the tropes associated with teen singer/songwriters, namely breakups and wide eyed inspirational messages. To put it, perhaps more bluntly, she doesn’t overestimate the importance of her teenage emotions, but celebrates the smallness of herself. This is summed up well in the introductory track, “Slow Burn,” which sees Kacey celebrating the smallness of her life, and the enjoyment of her own unimportance.

   Other lyrical themes include her love for her family, her penchant for bad decisions, and her enjoyment of marijuana and psychedelics, a topic which is becoming more popular in country music thanks to hits from the likes of Simpson and Stapleton.

   The album is not without its faults, however. Tracks like “Love is a Wild Thing” and “Happy & Sad” verge on Hallmark-esque lyricism, and one could do with a few more vocal highlighting moments, which Musgraves does seem to be capable of.

   Perhaps the most persistent issue on this record is the uninventive production which undercuts every possibly great moment on this project. Producers Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian seemingly saw a pretty, young singer/songwriter and simply hit copy and paste on the settings for early Taylor Swift records. This effectively robs the project of any intimate moments, which may work for radio play, but can leave listeners of the entire LP wanting.

   The worst of the production offense can be heard on the drum tracks, which range from relatively inoffensive to horribly distracting. “High Horse,” particularly, is an interesting song which is essentially ruined by annoying drum work.

   But there is something endearing about this album. There is a palpable honesty in every line, an audible happiness in every song, and an obvious admiration Country’s history.

   Golden Hour isn’t a masterpiece of lyricism, nor is it an intimate dive into the emotional complexities of life. Golden Hour is the sound of a very young, very talented artist developing a sound which has a lot of promise.

6/10

Advertisements

5 Odd Bands You NEED To Hear

5. ∆ (Alt-J)

∆      For those of you well versed in indie/odd music, this will seem like a safe and obvious choice, but the four piece, English Indie-rock outfit, named after the keyboard command which produces the triangle symbol, rose to fame on the power of their single, “Breezeblocks.” It was a funky, experimental track that is somehow about murder, love, and the children’s book, “Where the Wild Things Are” all simultaneously.

   Their discography, while sporting only 3 studio efforts, is high quality throughout. 2012’s “An Awesome Wave” is the highlight as well as their debut, but their career is still going strong with a recent release in 2017 keeping them in the discussion. Alt-J isn’t the most successful band in the world, nor the strangest, but they strike a balance between the two which is quite admirable.

KEY TRACKS: Breezeblocks, Matilda

4. Walter Mitty and His Makeshift Orchestra

Walter-Mitty      Witty lyrics, hand-drawn album covers, and an instrumental pallet which ranges from the standard, acoustic guitar to the fantastic kazoo work that decorates the majority of their most memorable tracks. These qualities, and many more, draw listeners, particularly those with an ear for the strange, immediately to this band. You’ll stay, however, for the genuinely high quality music that fills fantastic records like 2013’s Overwhelmed and Underdressed.

   While the Makeshift Orchestra haven’t found massive success, they have accrued a strong following inside of the larger, quirky-folk genre. Their performances are fun and upbeat, and their ability to keep from taking themselves too seriously allows for a lighthearted feel that can almost make you forget how actually great this music is!

KEY TRACKS: Let’s Get Breakfast, Booger Storm

3. Sledding With Tigers

1_SleddingWithTigers_DSC_1185A      Similar to Walter Mitty, Sledding With Tigers is a quirky folk group with unique instrumentation, diverse vocal styles, and a punk-influenced spirit which really shines through in ever project. Unlike many of their short-lived contemporary’s, Sledding with Tigers boasts quite the discography, spanning six years and four projects.

   If you have heard of Sledding with Tigers, you’ve likely heard of their 2015 EP, Come On and Slam, which became a bit of an underground classic. The EP follows the story of 1996 sports film, Space Jam, often sampling clips and using quotes and actors names as key points in many of the tracks. In a way, the record is simply a well received joke, but on the other hand, Sledding with Tigers shows the art of songwriting by creating tracks based on a common background, which is quite enjoyable.

KEY TRACKS: Short People by Newman From Seinfeld, The Big Game (Movements 1 & 2)

2. Death Grips

Death-Grips      This experimental hip-hop duo has seen a massive growth in fanbase since their modestly received 2012 LP, “No Love Deep Web,” a record noted as much for its revolutionary style as for the remarkably vulgar album art. Much of this growth can be attributed to the groups deep connection to the modern internet/meme culture which resonates well with modern youth. Another large chunk of their popularity is likely born of the fanfare of many YouTube critics, most notably Anthony Fantano.

   Above all, however, Death Grips’ growth has been shockingly organic. They give very few live performances and have an odd and often non existent social media presence. The seems to care very little about the size or dedication of their fanbase, but they certainly care about beefing up their discography, releasing roughly an album or two per year. The angry rapping of MC Ride melds well with the open, hard-hitting instrumentation of his counter part, Zach Hill. Together, they form a truly unique sound which is worth a listen for any fan of hard-hitting hip-hop.

KEY TRACKS: Guillotine,  Get Got

1. Steam Powered Giraffe

     Have you ever heard a concept album about harmonizing, immortal, robots learning about love, friendship, and themselves all while traveling across the American Frontier? If your answer was no, then have I got a band for you.

SPG

   Steam Powered Giraffe got their start as street performers who played singing and miming robots, before their music career took off with their 2009 debut, Album One. They were then noted for their strange covers of artists like Rihanna, as well as their major single, “Brass Goggles,” but their career truly took off after the release of “Honeybee,” from their second studio record which served as their most successful single to date.

   SPG’s musical stylings are fascinating. Much of their sound stems from the early work of groups like The Beatles or The Beach Boys, relying, instrumentally on a prevalent acoustic guitar played by bass singer David Bennet, AKA “The Spine” Their sound also evolves rapidly as the band’s lineup evolves. David Bennet and Isabella Bennet, AKA “Rabbit,” have been constant members throughout, but have seen about a dozen other members come and go, some as session performers and others playing characters. What has not changed, however, is the perfectly tight, and unbelievably complex harmonies that take center stage on nearly every SPG track. This is a band that shows real dedication to their craft, creating backstory, character arks, and complex concepts for each project on top of music which is incredible in its own right. Because of this dedication, Steam Powered Giraffe lands at the very top of my list of odd bands you NEED to hear!

KEY TRACKS: Honeybee, Brass Goggles, Fire Fire

*************************************SPOTIFY LINKS*********************************

∆ (Alt-J) – https://open.spotify.com/artist/3XHO7cRUPCLOr6jwp8vsx5

Walter Mitty and His Makeshift Orchestra – https://open.spotify.com/artist/1iuJNmtyZVJxHVrnosRipw

Sledding With Tigers – https://open.spotify.com/artist/7E11mR7om6vMgUpPdl65EV

Death Grips – https://open.spotify.com/artist/5RADpgYLOuS2ZxDq7ggYYH

Steam Powered Giraffe – https://open.spotify.com/artist/1yqs45BSh7457Flyhmdv7f

Every Jason Isbell Album Ranked

9. A Blessing and a CurseThe Drive-By Truckers

blessing     This record marks the end of Jason’s tenure with the Truckers, and his contributions are fairly limited. The album itself is mostly tame, featuring a bit stronger tinge of country music, likely of the Mike Cooley-heavy track listing. Its the last time we’ll ever hear the three guitars of Cooley, Hood, and Isbell roaring together, and deserves notoriety for this. Aside from timeline significance, though, A Blessing and a Curse, offers little in the way of highlights.

   Jason takes a turn at the microphone with “Daylight,” showcasing a pretty incredible range and control. “Gravities Gone,” while not featuring Jason at vocals, is notable for its status in the Trucker’s catalog, and certainly features each of the three on guitar. After this project, Jason would be forced to move on, and after hearing this record, the divide between the two visions is clear.

8. Sirens of the DitchJason Isbell

Sirens     This record comes at an odd time in Jason’s career. Immediately following his departure from The Drive-By Truckers and landing squarely in the thick of his battle with addiction and divorce, this, his first solo effort, bares much of the rebel attitude and hectic style of his life at the time. The guitar work is impressive as usual, and the tracklist is certainly not devoid of the occasionally impressive verse or catchy hook, but the absence of Amanda Shires as well as his former bandmates, meant that Jason is forced to carry an entire album alone, and his inability to do so shines through.

   Tracks like “Brand New Kind of Actress,” and “Grown” will certainly excite long time DBT fans, and serve as Jason’s goodbye to Southern rock sound and rebel attitude, a goodbye which would last quite awhile.

7. Jason Isbell and the 400 UnitJason Isbell and the 400 Unit

     Jason’s first outing with his newly formed band is a memorable one to say the least. Much of the stylings held over from his time with the Truckers are gone, but he seems unsure on a direction to forge his own path. Instead, we jump around from more organic, bluegrass tunes, to a jarring foray into a kind of country/jazz fusion which works surprisingly well, despite the odd addition of a horn section.isbellcover

   The somber, piano driven “Blue,” is one of the most interesting tracks in the band’s catalog to date, and “Streetlights” provides a fairly clear picture of the direction which would eventually materialize into Jason’s “wheelhouse.” That being said, tracks like “The Last Song I Will Write,” showcase the fact that Isbell is not quite living up to his full potential. That would change soon.

6. Here We RestJason Isbell and the 400 Unit

here     This is what I would call the hidden gem of Isbell’s discography. While the second half falls a bit flat, the first is littered with fantastic tracks. The group embraces its most bluegrass influenced sound to date and comes through with a very unique and enjoyable project. The instrument pallet benefits from the new focus as well, bringing out the more organic feel of the acoustic guitar and violin work more so than ever before.

   Tracks like “Codeine” and “Alabama Pines,” come early in the track listing and epitomize the concept of the record as a whole. While the lyricism has a tendency to be a bit too literal, especially in tracks like “Stopping by,” Here We Rest, still manages to be a major departure from Jason’s background with the truckers and really serves as a starting point for the style he would go on to refine in later projects

5. Something More Than FreeJason Isbell

something     Isbell’s third and latest solo effort see’s the singer/songwriter steering hard into his country music tendencies. From topics of blue collar life to the bluegrass-esque instrumentation pallet, Jason sacrifices his earlier focus on lyrical themes for a tracklist which is linked more by it’s sound than anything else.

   Tracks like “If It Takes A Lifetime,” “ 24 Frames,” and “Children of Children” jump out on each listen for their powerful lyrics and anthemic choruses, and Amanda Shire’s violin is consistently wonderful. There are, admittedly, a few valleys along with the peaks, and tracks like “To a Band That I Loved” feel like waisted opportunities, but nothing on this record compares to “Speed Trap Town,” which is easily, one of his best tracks to date.

4. Decoration DayThe Drive-By Truckers

decorationday     Jason’s first effort with the Truckers sees a new life breathed into their sound. Fantastic guitar work, interesting lyrics, and an awesome dynamic between the three voices highlight one of the best records to date for the Southern Rock outfit. Fans were introduced, for the first time, to Jason’s unbelievable lyrical ability, as well as his common topic of critiquing the culture of the Southern, white, working class.

   Isbell’s additions are some of the best tracks in his entire catalog. “Outfit,” an anthemic analysis of what it means to be a young, blue collar man from the South. “Decoration Day,” on the other hand, tells the story of a family feud, a la Hatfields and McCoys, in Alabama, from the point of view of a young man, deciding how to tell his family about his past. The record also holds the distinct honor of being the very first project in Isbell’s long career.

3. The Dirty SouthThe Drive-By Truckers

dirtysout     Boasting one of the deepest discographies and some of the best live shows in the Outlaw Country movement, The Truckers serve as the royal blood from which Jason was born. His three album stint with the group is widely considered some of their best work, and this record is generally known as their best project. With the combined efforts of Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood, and a young, rebellious Jason Isbell, the Truckers paint a vivid picture of the American South, focusing on the lives of moonshiners and outlaws battling with the law.

   While Jason’s involvement in the writing of this project is unknown, Tracks like “Danko/Manuel” and “Goddamn Lonely Love” feature him as a lead singer and obvious lyricist. In addition, “Where The Devil Don’t Stay,” and “The Boys From Alabama” feature fantastic guitar work from the entire trio. Falling in the middle of Jason’s tenure with the Truckers, The Dirty South, is a must hear for hardcore Isbell fans.

2. The Nashville soundJason Isbell and The 400 Unit

nashville sound     On his third release with The 400 Unit, and most recent work to date, Jason writes with a more powerful voice than we have heard from him thus far. Gone are the contemplations on addiction and loneliness, and their replaced with commentary on race, fear, and death. The instrumentation is incredible, as usual, and the band as a whole seems to have really hit their stride with this effort.

   Tracks like “White Man’s World” and “Molotov” showcase the musical talent of the group, as well as the impressive vocal abilities of Jason. The lyricism of tracks like “If We Were Vampires” and “Tupelo,” on the other hand, highlight the skill of one of the world’s great songwriters, still in his prime.

1. SoutheasternJason Isbell

south     Music is often studied in movements and benchmarks. Progressive Rock has Dark Side of the Moon, Punk Rock has London Calling, and today’s modern, Outlaw Country style absolutely holds Southeastern as its best work. The lyricism is impeccable, the guitar work is expressive and beautiful, and the vocal performances are simply perfect. On top of all that, the instrumentation and vocal performance from Amanda Shires adds something irreplaceable to the project, which was Jason’s first solo effort in six years.

   While literally every song is fantastic, some are notable, even among stiff competition. “Elephant” tells the story of a young woman dying of cancer, featuring some of the best lyricism and vocal work in his catalog. “Live Oak” and “Different Days” deal explicitly with Isbell’s struggle to overcome his addiction and shameful past. For a true fan, though, nothing is as sweet as “Cover Me Up.” Opening the record with the story of his transition from hopeless alcoholic to married father and successful musician, Jason lets his fans deep into his heart and his past, and confesses the truth of his inability to save himself, and the way love changed his life.

   When played live, the entire crowd cheers when Jason sings “I sobered up and swore off that stuff forever this time,” and it brought tears to my eyes the first time I witnessed it personally. That moment represents, perfectly, the feeling of this fifteen year journey we’ve undertaken along with Jason, and the best part is, it is so far from over.

Five Good Albums From Bad Artists

5. Songs about Jane Maroon 5

     This one breaks my heart. Today, especially in a post-“The Voice” world, there is little to be enjoyed when it comes to Maroon 5, more aptly named, Adam Levine and These Four Dudes. There 2017 release garnered universal distaste from critics and fans, panning it as uninspired, lacking in character, and overall boring. There was a time, however, when the group was poised as the next big thing.Maroon-5

   2002’s Songs About Jane fused elements of jazz, soft rock, and funk to create an intensely fun listening experience. Levine’s vocals were certainly a highlight, but the sensual sound of the band behind him is what made this record as special as it was. Hits like “This Love” and “She Will Be Loved” still enjoy popularity sixteen years later, and benefit immensely from the large instrumental pallet across the project. Maroon 5 has failed to reproduce this sound since, and with the poor reception of their last project, it seems they may not get too many more chances.

4. What A Time To Be AliveDrake and Future

   I realize that it may be slightly controversial to refer to one of the most popular rappers in modern music “terrible,” but I do because its true. While Drake shone early in his career,  bringing a smoother approach to the emotional rap/sung music of the later 2000’s, he has more than overstayed his welcome as rap has turned to more organic instrumentation and socially aware lyricism. The hour long bore-fest that was Views proved that Drake’s music functions best as a kind of musical wallpaper, not meant to explore tougher concepts and styles.Drake-And-Future

   Thankfully, the rise of trap music, lead by the constantly successful but equally shallow Future, would provide a perfect venue to showcase that. 2015’s What A Time To Be Alive is far from a game changer, but instead performs the well established points of a trap album very well. Instrumentals are dark and base heavy, themes are violent and simple, and Drake’s articulate style contrasts well with Futures sloppier vocals. “Jump Man” emerged quickly as the projects biggest hit, as well as a good indicator of the records overall content and quality. This album doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it builds a damn good one.

3. Red.Taylor Swift

   I’ll be the first and loudest voice on the anti-Swift bandwagon. The vast majority of her work is overrated and uninspired. Her early work, though honest and fairly well written, is hindered by simply awful vocal performances. Just as she corrected her vocal shortcomings, it seemed she simply lost every bit of writing ability she had left. However, just in the sweet spot, comes Red.Taylor

   As it nears the ripe old age of six years old, Red. is certainly worth revisiting. While Swifts writes from the limited perspective of a pretty, white, 20-something, she writes honestly, never overstepping her bounds. The instrumentation is well produced and adds to an overall quality which is much higher than her previous work. Red. also marks the official end of Taylor’s time in the Country classification, though her transition was gradual enough that no one was shocked. Now it is fair to criticize the project for a wildly varying tone, especially in the very dated hit “I Knew You Were Trouble,” which dives hard into the dubstep craze of its time, but overall, the record holds a listeners attention for most of its fairly ambitious runtime, and sets a solid example of “good” pop music.

2. DarkhorseNickelback

   Nickelback is possibly the most reviled band in modern American history, and certainly Canada’s worst export aside from Justin Bieber, but with career that spans two decades an nine studio projects, there must be something there. As with a few other choices on this list, the bulk of Nickelback’s charm comes from their lack of self awareness, and thus, listening to a Nickelback album requires one to drop the same quality.

Nickelback

  With that pesky self-awareness out of the way, nothing tops 2008’s Darkhorse. This album is enjoyable in much the same way that watching a Fast and the Furious film is a fun activity. Crunchy guitars lay well over explosive drums and an accenting bass. Each track, of course, highlighted by Chad Kroeger’s grungy vocals, and hyper-masculine, and often overtly sexual lyrics. The album may not fit the mold of “good” in the classical sense, but it’s nothing if not listenable.

 

1. UnleashedToby Keith

   While the 90’s will forever be synonymous with Rock and Roll’s angry renaissance, many have forgotten the massive success enjoyed by country music in the latter half of the decade. Artists like Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, and, yes, Toby Keith, rose to prominence with a blend of stadium ready instrumentals, reminiscent of the glitzy style of their 70’s and 80’s predecessors, and an interesting sampling of Mexican and Reggae themes to change the genre landscape to that of the drinking man’s music. These artists also boasted shamelessly twangy vocals and lyrical content which was almost a caricature of the writing which had proceeded them. Enter Toby Keith, and in particular, his 2002 project, Unleashed.

Toby   Unleashed is far from a daring effort for Keith. In fact, the subject matter is almost exclusively drinking and patriotism, as one would expect, but its the unrelenting steel guitar, constant use of suspension and release into the final chord, the wonderfully catchy choruses. Toss in a Willie Nelson feature and Toby’s admirable effort to correctly pronounce the word “mariachi,” as well as tracks like “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” “Who’s Your Daddy,” and “Beer For My Horses,” and you’ve got yourself a classic. Listening to Unleashed front to back is like watching your drunk uncle at a wedding with an open bar. He’s drunk, dancing, and occasionally spouting off overly simplistic political  views, and you know that its wrong, but you just can’t help but watch and wish that you could some day be that confident.

MAROON 5 – https://open.spotify.com/album/1Rv9WRKyYhFaGbuYDaQunN

DRAKE AND FUTURE – https://open.spotify.com/album/1ozpmkWcCHwsQ4QTnxOOdT

TAYLOR SWIFT – https://open.spotify.com/album/1EoDsNmgTLtmwe1BDAVxV5

NICKELBACK – https://open.spotify.com/album/0GQ9AZBJSj109gmSdSrviC

TOBY KEITH – https://open.spotify.com/album/7ExectJocqn8sMKq4Tn4LY

Top 10 Albums of 2017

10. Harry StylesHarry StylesHARRY-STYLES

      Without a doubt, the most surprising project of the year, absolutely no one gave this album a serious chance, judging on Styles’ history in one of the worst boybands in recent memory. Public perception changed, however, after an excellent performance on Saturday Night Live of his first single, “Sign of the Times.”

When the album finally came, listeners were treating to a thoroughly impressive tribute to the great piano and soft rock of the mid to late seventies. What the album, admittedly, lacked in lyrical content, it made up for in a well executed vision, vintage instrumentation, and some powerful vocal performances from Styles. With each of the other members of 1D having split off to rather weak solo projects, Styles stands above with his talent and unique flair.

9. ProtomartyrRelatives In Decent

      By far the most interesting album of 2017, Protomartyr comes through with the third installment in their very unique discography. Relatives In Decent combines heavy punk instrumentals with experimental spoken word vocals for a product that every fan of great Rock and Roll simply must hear.PROTOMARTYR

      The record comes at an especially important time for Rock music as it undergoes a slow but necessary overhaul in its upper levels. A time is coming soon when Rock will be forced to decide between mainstream, accessible music and experimental or political tracks which may not net the same listener base, and one can only hope that Protomartyr will push the genre toward the latter.

8. Richard EdwardsLemon Cotton Candy Sunset

RICHARD-EDWARDS      Edwards rose to fame quickly as the frontman and founding member of the early 2000’s Indie folk-rock group, Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, but after the groups final LP in 2014, he disappeared from the limelight. Save a few social media posts and a mildly successful rarities box set, Edwards was silent until the release of LCCS along with the announcement that his silence had been due to a divorce and a nearly fatal stomach illness.

      Fans of Richard’s more folk-influenced tracks were pleased to be treated to a few quiet contemplative tracks, while the bulk of the record was reserved for spacey, orchestral instrumentation which complimented Edwards’ voice and lyrics perfectly. This record is a must listen for fans of folk music, and the first installment in what promises to be an excellent solo discography.

7. Roger Waters Is This The Life We Really Want?

      Water’s needs no introduction, as the bass player and founding member of arguably the greatest rock band of all time, Pink Floyd. With the groups massive discography, it may be difficult for even longtime fans to know how to prepare themselves for this record, but the closest parallel from Floyd would’ve been 1983’s The Final Cut.

ROGER-WATERS      In his newest release, Waters’ is fantastically brave, opting against cheap, meaningless copies of his Floyd work, and instead delivering a complex and difficult project. With poetic lyricism which ranges from contemplations on time and death, to biting political commentary, layered perfectly over a range of instrumentals, Waters achieves one of the most coherent and interesting visions of the year.

6. SZACtrl

SZA      My biggest musical regret of 2017 was not listening to this album the day it came out, and instead waiting until just a few weeks ago. SZA’s debut record was a smash hit upon its release, with listeners drawing comparisons to the likes of Beyonce and praising the TDE artist for her gritty and well articulated portrayal of the issues faced by many young women today.

      The album benefits from the unpredictable, stream-of-consciousness style vocal performances which resolve into infectious hooks and ear worm choruses. Toss in some excellent features from fellow TDE artists like Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and Isaiah Rashad and you have one of the most organic and creative hip hop albums of this year. The grooving instrumentals and wonderful production just feels like an added bonus.

5. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

FATHER-JOHN-MISTY      In the godawful mess of a year that was 2017, the world of music needed nothing more than a biting satirical voice. That voice was found in spades in Josh Tillman going by the title of Father John Misty. Drawing lyrical inspiration from the likes of Lennon and Dylan, Father John comes through with one of the most sonically adventurous and lyrically daring albums of the year, and by far the best in his already stellar discography.

      The record itself boasts a massive instrumentation pallet, witty lyrics, and an incredible and consistent vision. Misty’s vocal performance is also a high point, proving it possible to be an excellent writer and performer on the same album. Pure Comedy earned Tillman a few Oscar nods as well, which should likely add a trophy or two to a career which is already impressively decorated.

4. Chris StapletonFrom A Room: Vol. 2

CHRIS-STAPLETON     Chris Stapleton had made a name for himself in the underground scene as early as 2007 with his group, The Steeldrivers, and later as the lead vocalist for The Jompson Brothers, but in 2015, with the release of Traveller, Stapleton was rocketed to superstar status overnight. The narrative storytelling, simple instrumentation, and tight harmonies helped, but put simply, Chris could sing the phonebook in phonebook in his signature twangy wail, and have a hit record.

     With his second installment to the From A Room series, however, Stapleton finally decides to stop leaning on his vocal abilities and instead to let his songwriting make or break him. This decision lead to one of the best country records in recent memory, with one fantastic story after another, until finally indulging us all one time toward the very end of the project. Assuming the A Room series isn’t over, I believe Stapleton may be just on the precipice of a career making album, akin to Jason Isbell’s Southeastern.

3. IDLESBrutalism

IDLES      Great news for fans of heavy punk rock came this year in the form of IDLES’ hard hitting single, “Mother” and the pink dress wearing, fine china smashing, music video performance from Joe Talbot. The record itself is crushingly forceful, sporting political lyrics, fantastic vocal performances, and melodic guitar riffs.

      The most exciting thing about this record, though, is that there is much more to come from the angry Brits. After a fantastic debut like Brutalism and a successful tour which is enjoying quite a bit of buzz, it’s safe say that we can expect a few more instant classics in the near future.

2. Kendrick LamarDamn.

KENDRICK-LAMARThis is a bit of a given. Since his 2012’s Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, every album Kendrick drops sparks the conversation, not of whether it belongs in the top 10 of the year, but only how high. While it is true that Damn. wasn’t Lamar’s best record to date, it is certainly his most accessible, boasting a notable jump in sales since his last studio effort. Kendrick was able to convince large swaths of the American public to buy wholly into a very experimental and socially conscious rap record, and that is a feat in of itself.

As far as the actual music, Damn. delivers a string of hard hitting beats and lyrics, as well as a multitude of unlikely features which work very well, most notably from U2’s Bono. The highlight was the writing skills on display, with many calling the album Kendrick’s most lyrical record to date. Along with a couple fantastic music videos and gigantic world tour, there’s a reason Kendrick is on top of the music world.

1. Jason Isbell and the 400 UnitNashville Sound

Probably the best songwriter of our time, Isbell is back in 2017 along with the 400 Unit with an powerful album, packed to the brim with shining moments. From the angry and politically charged, “White Man’s World” to the sweet, contemplative “Last of My Kind,” the record jumps from high point to high point, rarely, if ever dipping in quality.

JASON-ISBELL-AND-THE-400-UNIT

Everything works on this album. Amanda Shire’s harmonies are gorgeous as usual, and every member of the 400 Unit really brings their best to this project, resulting in easily the best of Isbell’s full band efforts. However, the highlight is still Jason’s fantastic lyrics. Throughout the 10 song run, Jason puts on a master class in lyricism and songwriting which was simply not matched again through the rest of the year.

Top 5 Christmas Songs/Performances Of All Time

5. Lydia Liza & Josiah LemanskiBaby It’s Cold Outside

Josiah-Lemanski-Lydia-Liza.jpg     By far the newest song on this list, this project from the pair of young songwriters sees the creepiest Christmas songs in the classic rotation transformed into a witty commentary on sexual consent and respect for women. On top of all that, a portion of the song’s download profits were donated to a charity for abused women! At first, it may seem like a bit of a novelty, but new version of the song is quite an enjoyable listen and certainly finds its way into my Christmas rotation!

4. Andy WilliamsIt’s The Most Wonderful Time of the YearAlbum_The_Andy_Williams_Christmas_Album_cover

     Absolutely nothing sets the Christmas mood like this song! It’s been covered to death, most notably in an hilarious Will Ferrel performance on Saturday Night Live, but no one sings it like Andy, who brings to the track a certain joy and festivity. His voice will forever be an essential part of the Christmas season. On top of the vocals, the song benefits from excellent orchestral instrumentation and quite impressive production for its time.

3. Thurl RavenscroftYou’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch

how-the-grinch-stole-christmasbhrkvh     Nearly as plentiful as Christmas songs are classic Christmas specials which have found their way into the hearts and traditions of many families of the years. Few of these are quite as aesthetically pleasing and comically enjoyable as the 1966 cartoon “How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Along with the cartoon came a fantastic title song notable for a one-of-a-kind performance from the often uncredited Thurl Ravenscroft and the simply wonderful animated scene which accompanies it, along with whimsical instrumentation which bleeds with the passion that powers this project.

2. Bing CrosbyI’ll Be Home For ChristmasScreen Shot 2017-12-25 at 1.08.13 AM.png

     While Crosby is best known for his rendition of “White Christmas,” I prefer one of the most emotional Christmas songs in the modern rotation of classics, on whichCrosby’s vocals are as emotive as they are iconic. The instrumentation is warm and expansive. The true highlight of the track in this case, however, is the universally relatable lyrics. In recent years, the track has been used to represent soldiers who spend their Holiday seasons overseas, but the emotion in this song can move even the hardest of hearts.

1. David PhelpsOh, Holy Night!maxresdefault.jpg

     In all my years of listening to music, I’ve simply never found a tenor with as powerful a voice as David Phelps, and no Christmas melody quite as demanding as that of Oh, Holy Night! Naturally, the two met, and the performance was nothing short of magic. Phelps’ breathy, opening tiptoes and dances, lending an awe-inspiring dynamic to the thundering high notes toward the end. I’ve seen many people lead to tears from the “praise his holy name” line, and until you’ve heard it, you simply can’t understand. Simply put, this is one of the most impressive vocal performances in music history, and that’s why I consider it the greatest Christmas song/performance of all time.

LYDIA LIZA & JOSIAH LEMANSKI – https://youtu.be/amK4U4pCTB8

ANDY WILLIAMS – https://youtu.be/SFGC_YgeQ5w

THURL RAVENSCROFT – https://youtu.be/tWFaP1tkGgM

BING CROSBY – https://youtu.be/dL71eMc1blw

DAVID PHELPS – https://youtu.be/ElJ0fiD0lkc

Top 5 EP’s of 2017

5. Vic MensaManuscript

manuscriptMensa decides against reinventing the wheel here, and instead presents a tight, four track effort which simply bleeds Chicago style. Sporting a dense rhyme structure, Manuscript is heavily reminiscent of Rap’s golden age, as well as looking forward with more complex themes. Most notably, Mensa chooses to forgo the trap style for the majority of the EP, a decision which I believe will be revealed to be quite wise in a few short years and the trap phase finally dies off.

Ultimately, fans likely aren’t looking to this EP as an indicator of the future as Mensa already boasts an impressive discography. Manuscript is simply a quick, hard hitting, Rap project which fulfills it’s purpose of being fun hype music quite effectively.

4. WristmeetrazorI Talk To God…wrist

I’ll be the first to admit that I am woefully undereducated when it comes to the modern state of hard rock and heavy metal music. I couldn’t tell thrash from death from black metal no matter how hard I try. That being said, I know a fantastic and emotional record when I hear it, and Wristmeetrazor’s debut EP is just that.

Sporting only four songs, the record is a forceful, melodic, and a fun listen! Heavily reminiscent the hardcore rock of the mid to late 90’s, this EP. and likely it’s forthcoming sequel, is a perfect experience for fans of groups like Pantera, who have had trouble taking to modern metal music.

3. Allison YoungOld Friend

allisonyoung.jpg

This EP is just fun. Young is quite clearly influenced by classic female country artists like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, most notable on her cover of The Andrew Sisters’ 1941 single, “I’ll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time.” The project is highlighted by whimsicalinstrumentation, impressive lyricism, and one extremely enjoyable vocal performance after another from Young.

The aesthetic of this record is consistently pleasing and enjoyably nostalgic. With the promise of other, larger projects on the horizon, one can only hope for an equally light-hearted tone and respect for the roots of country music.

2. Kamasi WashingtonThe Harmony Of Difference24kamasi1-articleLarge-v3

The modern king of Jazz music, saxophonist one extraordinaire, Kamasi Washington came through in the final moments of this year with an incredibly tight and motif heavy project that simply built upon an already impressive early career. Obviously, the much longer closing track was a highlight, but the rest of the record offered quite an interesting listen.

As far as a future full length project, Harmony provides little in the way of foreshadowing. In many ways, the record is just a shorter and more accessible form of the ideas which Washing put forward on his debut LP, The Epic.

1. Denzel Curry13denzel

After 2016’s Imperial, Denzel was on the top of the upcoming freshman class and enjoying a massive amount of hype, which he didn’t disappoint when he started 2017 with the 13 EP. Dark instrumentals, sparse hooks, and Denzel’s signature, hyper-aggressive flow drive a fantastic five-track piece. Lyrically, Curry is in top form, allowing his dense rhyme schemes to drive and his violent lyrical content to steer for an excellent project overall.

If this EP is any indicator, fans can expect a long and powerful run from the young Florida rapper. Standing out worlds above his contemporary’s, Denzel stands to be the most successful artist to come from the 2016 Freshman class, and to, hopefully, join the ranks of Kendrick, Chance, Cole, and a select few others who are at the very top of the genre.

MANUSCRIPT:

OLD FRIEND:

I TALK TO GOD:

THE HARMONY OF DIFFERENCE:

13: