I discovered my number one single totally by accident late at night listening to a New Orleans radio station over the internet. Shazamed it to no avail, but the DJ said it was “Floods of Fire” by the Gary Wrong Group. It’s six minutes of muted apocalypse over a motorik beat, with repeating doomsday imagery — “gnashing, ripping,” “volcanic ooze,” “trample-crushed bodies” — from Gary Wrong and an unnamed female co-conspirator. Then the beat stops and the final two minutes are pulses of bass and rippling guitar, fading to nothing. Exhausted and doomed and a little removed from caring, it was a perfect echo of 2017.
In need of comfort in 2017, we turned to the past. The shoegaze revival brought us reunion albums from Ride, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and — the steadiest and most seductive of the bunch — Slowdive, each offering escape into a realm of warm if artificial light.
Maybe it’s bizarre to get so excited about something so mellow, but it was a great year for ambient, including old faves (Robert Rich, Gas, the Caretaker) and all shades of moods, including floaty (Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society), dreamy (Chuck Johnson), meditative/minimal (Oliver Alary), unadorned beauty (Bing & Ruth, Poppy Ackroyd), cinematic (Alessandro Cortini), ethereal (Christopher Willits), light but sad (Bibio), dark ambient (Alphaxone, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement), and new age-y (Suso Sáiz, Justin Walter). Maybe in the age of Trump, we need to chill more than ever.
Convenient timing that Laura Marling’s all-things-feminine album Semper Femina just happens to land in the Year of Retribution Against Men Behaving Badly. Regardless of topical intersection, a timeless work by a master of her craft. Semper Marlinga!
Such a strange, odd year. Topical pop and protest music proliferated around the world, with all kinds of singers staying alert if not completely woke. Rock, house, hip-hop, reggaeton, and tropical hip-pop all impressed me with levels of social awareness beyond the usual moody sass and slackness. Migos and Cardi B may be guilty pleasures, but their cynical observations are too full of American realness to ignore.
Hurray for the Riff Raff. The fury behind The Navigator’s epic standout track “Pa’lante” is entirely justified. As a sample of Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary” is heard, the striking piano that buffeted the laments of the song’s first half fade away, and Alynda Segarra’s angered, forceful voice is backed by a frenzied guitar as she lays bare exactly what it is Hispanic and Latinx people cling to in a country that’s determined to vilify them.
In the face of the unprecedented attacks on the pillars of democracy, there were some great protest songs in 2017 worth noting including: Last Quokka, “Nazi Scum”; Shane Michael Vidaurri, “Alt-Right Fuck Off”; Juliana Hatfield, “When You’re a Star”; American Anymen, “Flag Burner”; Downtown Boys, “Promissory Note”; Prefab Messiahs, “The Man Who Killed Reality.”
There were a couple of choices this year: to run into the fire — to protest the horror of Trump’s insurgent “presidency” — or to seek escape from the havoc he was causing. Alternating the two seemed to be the best way to survive, and when it comes to the latter, the gorgeous album by the Clientele was the perfect soundtrack. So unexpected after a six-year hiatus, Music for the Age of Miracles featured all of the band’s virtues: literate, poetic lyrics; indelible melodies; sparkling music.
The song I listened to most this year, from the Women’s March in January to the passage of the tax-scam bill in December, was Run the Jewels’ “2100.” I’ve come to think of one particular line of El-P’s — “They could barely even see the dog/They don’t see the size of the fight” — as the motto of the burgeoning resistance to Trump. I pray every day that he’s right.
From Eno’s Reflection, to Kendrick’s DAMN, to SZA’s CTRL, music this year was addressing a world very much in flux.
Love exists and is real, hope is not the conviction that everything will be OK but the allowing of space for everything to be OK, everything is possible, music was good in 2017.
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