“Year End” lists had a purpose back when the music industry operated on the absurd business plan called the Circle of Love: artists would pour their hearts and souls into records, people would buy said records, in turn, the artists could afford food and shelter and, ideally, make another record. Back when there were record stores (you know, those giant versions of that Target end cap sandwiched between DVDs and books), critical acclaim helped worthy records find loving homes.
I’ll admit, I’ve been compiling my year-end best of’s since I was a pre-teen die-hard fan of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. Every December, I would even rank my cassettes in their plastic vertical cassette rack for the whole world – namely my older brother – to see. In the 90’s, my co-workers and I would fret over our yea-end lists before discussing in depth over beers. And then came the Internet where I found an audience beyond four guys and an empty pitcher.
Unlike every other media outlet on the planet, you won’t see Jay Z on my list this year. In my humble opinion, his tonnage of Grammy awards and critical nods, much like his wife’s, seem more about celebrity adulation than artistic appreciation. Instead, I wound up tracking down a digital version of Jaz’s Word to the Jaz, a stellar album Jay Z (as Jay Zee) appeared on as a hype man. I’ve had the 12-inch single to ‘Hawaiian Sophie’ since the day it came out and the whole album turned out to be freaking awesome.
While everyone else is rushing their Top 10’s to market this week, I am still marinating on my final rankings. It seems to change by the day, and great new music is still sinking in (like U2’s Songs of Experience and Tove Lo’s Blue Lips) or has yet to come out (Charli XCX drops a new mixtape on Friday and OMD release a new EP on 12/22).
Until I tally everything up, here’s a sneak peek at a few albums that would look great under your tree, in your stocking, and on your turntable this holiday season:
The Comeback Club
Blondie • Pollinator
Hot off the press of their star-studded return to form album, Pollinator, Debbie Harry and Joan Jett present themselves as the most deserving duo to take over the news airwaves from the likes of Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer…
Cool kids like Charli XCX, Blood Orange (Dev Hynes), Johnny Marr, Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio), Nick Valensi (The Strokes) and Sia also appear on this album — and when you buy the CD, you get a hidden bonus track with collaborator Laurie Anderson. Suck on that Spotify.
Bob Seger • I Knew You When
Let’s admit it, once “Like a Rock” became a ubiquitous truck-selling machine, Seger never needed to work again a day in his life. Thankfully, he’s back and has plenty to say, with an urgency I haven’t heard from him in decades. The first song released is the album’s closer, a tribute to one of his best friends, Glenn Frey, who dove into the river of sadness that swept away the likes of Lemmy, Bowie, George Michael and Prince.
Amilia K. Spicer • Wow and Flutter
Folk circuit darling Amilia K. Spicer released a Rumors-rivaling masterpiece of rock, country, Americana, joy, heartache, loss, redemption and longing. Wow and Flutter was years in the making and well worth every minute of wait. Unlike Taylor Swift’s Redemption, which fills every conceivable sonic nook and cranny with synth, polish and pulsating energy, Spicer’s songs slowly unpack and settle in, instruments have room to breathe, as does the singer. Her lyrics are captivating and reward undivided attention, her stirring rhythms and rich harmonies will steady your nerves during long road trips when you just need to tune out. Wow and Flutter was the year’s best Americana, Country and Alternative record all on one.
The biggest tracks on the album, ‘Harlan’, ‘Windchill’ and ‘Wild Horses’ (not a Stones cover) have yet to get their big budget videos, but this track will give you just a taste of the majesty that awaits you as her beautiful album unfolds.
Louise Burns • Young Mopes
Canadian phenom Louise Burns released her third solo album this year and I probably would have never known about it had it not been for a link within the facebook feed of her former band, Lillix. That band had a few radio hits in the US back when Lindsay Lohan was a bankable movie star, but the strength of their albums, musicianship, songwriting and harmonies was tragically overlooked by the masses. Burns, lead guitarist on their first two albums, is now three for three for driving home runs deep into dream pop left field. Her angelic voice is buoyed by layers of shimmering guitar that lovingly nods to New Order, the Church, the Chameleons and Echo & The Bunnymen.
Best New Artists
Pacific Radio • Pretty, but Killing Me
Do you remember when rock was fun and rock stars had swagger? That’s what makes Pacific Radio such a freaking riot. The California 4-piece released a flawless 4-track EP earlier this year that previewed a full length-album that finally drops this week. The band recently tore up the West Coast on tour and are steadily becoming one of the best live acts in the business. Their look and tunes come off like an Eagles of Death Metal and Foo Fighters love child; epic and audacious songs about chicks, cars, dudes and bars. My personal fave from the album hints of the anthemic side of Airborne Toxic Event…
Dua Lipa • Dua Lipa
And showing there is some justice in this world, 2017 gave rise to a bonafide superstar in the form of Dua Lipa. This stunning English model/singer captures the best elements of Adele, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Cheryl Cole and Amy Winehouse to create an absolutely spellbinding tour de force. The deluxe version of her self-titled debut spirals to a dizzying 17 tracks and there’s nary a dud in the bunch. Overseas, the awards are rolling in and the hit singles are racking up. She’s on a headline tour of the states as we speak to seduce more converts into her gorgeous church of soulful pop.
Mynabirds • Be Here Now
One of the great tragedies of 2017 is that Be Here Now, the fourth album by Laura Burhenn (who is to the Mynabirds what Chrissie Hynde is to the Pretenders), is unavailable on CD — it sounds great smunched into MP3, but I would love to hear it in higher fidelity (it is also on vinyl, but that does me little good in the car where I get my best listening in). Much like Goldfrapp (a band that ranges from disco to electro to alterna folk), anything is possible when a new Mynabirds album drops. Her second album, Generals (which I think was the first review I ever posted to Popdose), was a hard rocker; her debut, Things We Lost in the Fire, was drenched in Americana. Be Here Now builds upon 2015’s lush and lovely Lovers Know. Mynabirds songs hook you in an instant yet reveal all sorts of textures, surprises and deeper meanings with subsequent and obsessive listens.
Cait Brennan • Third
Cait is a beloved friend of Popdose. We first met and interviewed her at the start of a whirlwind year that began with the release of her decades in the making power pop epic, Debutante; continued with her meeting Sire Records legend Seymour Stein who signed her to a 4-track demo deal; and ended with her signing to the perfect label to realize her vision: Omnivore. The album has been praised from coast to coast and around the world by a snowballing and quite rabid fanbase.
The title, Third, is is a nod to Big Star — a big influence on Brennan; the album was recorded at the legendary Ardent studios in Memphis managed by Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. Fernando Perdomo, this generation’s Todd Rundgren (even though we already have a perfectly fine Todd Rundgren), returns as producer and co-conspirator. Somehow at those Ardent sessions and back in LA, Perdomo also found the time to record his own masterwork, The Golden Hour…
The Golden Hour delivers almost exactly what it promises, an hour (if you listen to it 1.3 times) of AM Radio Gold from the 1970’s. This is a new album for lovers of “long distance dedications” and bonafide classics by the likes of George Harrison, Tom Petty, Andrew Gold, America, Jeff Lynne, Todd Rundgren, Al Stewart and more. Perdomo is scruffy in person and on stage, but his voice is smooth as a lake at sunset, his guitar work sparkles like a desolate sky full of stars.
Debbie Gibson • We Could Be Together
While the critics will oooh and aaah over the deservedly cool reissues by the likes of Radiohead, the Smiths and R.E.M., I just can’t shake my love for this massive box set from the original TayTay, Debbie Gibson. We Could Be Together (yes, I ponied up about $100 for it — get it for less via Amazon.co.uk), captures just about everything in her canon with only a few slight exceptions (my favorite being the clubby, dubby 10-minute opus, “Only in My Dreams (Dream House mix)” from the Foolish Beat 12-inch single.
Still, its hard to complain when you have hundreds of Debbie Gibson classics to rediscover or hear for the first time. Her tragically overlooked Atlantic albums, Anything is Possible and Body Mind Soul, shine especially bright here and would fit right into today’s pop radio landscape if given the chance. Edsel delivers amazing packaging, lots of photos, videos, concert recordings and deep liner notes built around an interview with Ms. Not-So-Nasty herself. The final CD in the set sticks the landing with a few plum new tunes; so here’s hoping coming off her turn on Dancing with the Stars, there’s another box set of great music still within the Divine Ms. Gibson.
How About You?
So, do year end lists still matter? Do you still buy albums? If so, what are your favorite albums of 2017? Let us know.