Best Of 2017: Kevin's List

After the impossible highs that were reached in music in 2016, the question of how that could be topped would always weigh heavy on 2017, but nobody could have really predicted the year that was. Our nation, our home, shifted at long last towards the deep-seeded hatred, misogyny, and generalized loathing that had always hid just underneath the surface of our communities, our entertainment, our ART. Turns out that for many, the American way was a freeway to self-destruction, and in 2017 all lanes were suddenly open.

And man, did we feel it. We ALL felt it. At times throughout this year of shellshock, music was our only refuge. I spent the first two months of 2017 listening to nothing but Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On on repeat, desperately searching for an answer, for something to slow down what seemed to be quick slide into the abyss. All of this had happened before, it seemed, but how had we survived it? How would I survive it? This was a question that a lot of my peers, friends, and musicians asked and the results, while mostly understated, were what saved US this year. All of the fear, joy, heartbreak, and confusion, laid down on wax to help us navigate this minefield of shit and bile one 33 1/3 rotation at a time. An anchor in the existential storm, that was never more needed than now.

But now we’re at the end. We made it…for now. The blunt-force psycho-trauma that any of you reading this likely experienced has had it’s year. How YOU made it through varies from person to person, but this list of what I consider to be the best music of 2017 is how I made it through.


Cornell 5/8/77 - Grateful Dead Are reissues cheating? Does it count if you've heard the piece of music in question hundreds of times? When it sounds this good the answer is a resounding "no." Cornell is the crown jewel of Grateful Dead shows, and this reissue pulled me back deep into a band that I have loved for as long as I can remember. 

Cornell 5/8/77 - Grateful Dead
Are reissues cheating? Does it count if you've heard the piece of music in question hundreds of times? When it sounds this good the answer is a resounding "no." Cornell is the crown jewel of Grateful Dead shows, and this reissue pulled me back deep into a band that I have loved for as long as I can remember. 

Dear John - Robert Ellis and Courtney Hartman Robert Ellis is one of the best/most adventurous modern songwriters we have (don't take my word for it, check out last years self-titled LP.) On Dear John, he's pairing with Courtney Hartman (Della Mae) to cover the songs of one of our greatest songwriters and the results are pure magic.

Dear John - Robert Ellis and Courtney Hartman
Robert Ellis is one of the best/most adventurous modern songwriters we have (don't take my word for it, check out last years self-titled LP.) On Dear John, he's pairing with Courtney Hartman (Della Mae) to cover the songs of one of our greatest songwriters and the results are pure magic.

Aromanticism - Moses Sumney Nevermind the artists take, Sumney's lush, woozy epic is nothing less than the evolution of soul/R&B. Over the albums quick thirty-four minutes, the listener is pulled along through a cosmos of loneliness and emotional confusion, only to come out feeling whole on the other side. It's a remarkable journey into one man's heart that knows what it takes to get by. 

Aromanticism - Moses Sumney
Nevermind the artists take, Sumney's lush, woozy epic is nothing less than the evolution of soul/R&B. Over the albums quick thirty-four minutes, the listener is pulled along through a cosmos of loneliness and emotional confusion, only to come out feeling whole on the other side. It's a remarkable journey into one man's heart that knows what it takes to get by. 

Lost At Last, Volume 1 - Langhorne Slim If this LP were just the single "Never Break" then that might be enough. That it's a song-cycle full of hope against hopelessness, about finding yourself by clinging tightly to the things that you love make it the perfect statement about self-care in 2017. There may be no new ground broken here, but it's the most concise statement of Langhorne Slim's career to date

Lost At Last, Volume 1 - Langhorne Slim
If this LP were just the single "Never Break" then that might be enough. That it's a song-cycle full of hope against hopelessness, about finding yourself by clinging tightly to the things that you love make it the perfect statement about self-care in 2017. There may be no new ground broken here, but it's the most concise statement of Langhorne Slim's career to date

Tenderheart - Sam Outlaw Country music continued to evolve in 2017, but the best work didn't come from Nashville, it came from LA.  Sam Outlaw's Tenderheart packs so many tiny emotional gems into its thirteen songs it's nearly impossible to nail each one down. But there are very few musical highlights of the year like the sugar shot/chaser of "Bottomless Mimosas"  - the best Country song of the year by a mile (sorry Midland!) - and the tender memory fog of "Bougainvillea, I Think." Forget the "guilty" this album is pure pleasure. You've earned it. Dig in.

Tenderheart - Sam Outlaw
Country music continued to evolve in 2017, but the best work didn't come from Nashville, it came from LA.  Sam Outlaw's Tenderheart packs so many tiny emotional gems into its thirteen songs it's nearly impossible to nail each one down. But there are very few musical highlights of the year like the sugar shot/chaser of "Bottomless Mimosas"  - the best Country song of the year by a mile (sorry Midland!) - and the tender memory fog of "Bougainvillea, I Think." Forget the "guilty" this album is pure pleasure. You've earned it. Dig in.

Pure Comedy - Father John Misty The odds that one of the most "hated" men in music today would turn out one of the year's most direct and deeply felt statements on the world in 2017 were slim-to-none, yet here we are. Josh Tillman didn't just embrace his alter ego, he fully inhabited it and in that act of possession showed us that even the most cynical of hearts can have the best of intentions when it counts the most.  

Pure Comedy - Father John Misty
The odds that one of the most "hated" men in music today would turn out one of the year's most direct and deeply felt statements on the world in 2017 were slim-to-none, yet here we are. Josh Tillman didn't just embrace his alter ego, he fully inhabited it and in that act of possession showed us that even the most cynical of hearts can have the best of intentions when it counts the most.  

Semper Femina - Laura Marling Not much has changed on Marling's sixth album, but that's alright when her output is consistently magic. A spiritual companion to Moses Sumney's Aromantacism, Semper Femina, explores the power of woman and the value our relationship to our self. It's lush, moving, and at the end of the day a window into the smaller truths about being human. 

Semper Femina - Laura Marling
Not much has changed on Marling's sixth album, but that's alright when her output is consistently magic. A spiritual companion to Moses Sumney's Aromantacism, Semper Femina, explores the power of woman and the value our relationship to our self. It's lush, moving, and at the end of the day a window into the smaller truths about being human. 

What Now - Sylvan Esso On their second LP as Sylvan Esso Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn dove deeper into the “man-in-machine” aesthetic that drove their 2014 debut, and the result was, at its heart, nothing less than a love letter to love. Whether it's through the Romeo and Juliet worthy feels of  "Die Young" or the stunning beauty of album opener "Sound," one thing is for sure, What Now is an album that is bursting with joy, not just over newfound love, but over the thrill of being alive. In one of the darkest years in recent memory, What Now was a bastion of hope right when we needed it.  

What Now - Sylvan Esso
On their second LP as Sylvan Esso Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn dove deeper into the “man-in-machine” aesthetic that drove their 2014 debut, and the result was, at its heart, nothing less than a love letter to love. Whether it's through the Romeo and Juliet worthy feels of  "Die Young" or the stunning beauty of album opener "Sound," one thing is for sure, What Now is an album that is bursting with joy, not just over newfound love, but over the thrill of being alive. In one of the darkest years in recent memory, What Now was a bastion of hope right when we needed it.  

Harmony Of Difference - Kamasi Washington On The Epic, Kamasi Washington exploded onto the modern jazz seen. In fact he seemed to consume it with the audacity of a three-hour "epic" being matched by the expertise of his young, but weathered crew of supporting musicians. Harmony Of Difference trades expansiveness for directness, and in doing so plays as one of the most concise and powerful musical statements of the decade. Five themes coalesce into one final "Truth" and the listener is left with a fleeting glimpse the inner workings of the universe, and the harmony between us all that this world depends on.

Harmony Of Difference - Kamasi Washington
On The Epic, Kamasi Washington exploded onto the modern jazz seen. In fact he seemed to consume it with the audacity of a three-hour "epic" being matched by the expertise of his young, but weathered crew of supporting musicians. Harmony Of Difference trades expansiveness for directness, and in doing so plays as one of the most concise and powerful musical statements of the decade. Five themes coalesce into one final "Truth" and the listener is left with a fleeting glimpse the inner workings of the universe, and the harmony between us all that this world depends on.

Dialogue - Aaron Abernathy "A spiritual heir to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, Dialogue finds Abernathy looking at the world around him, and searching deep inside AND out for answers to the daily horrors that seem to have taken over the zeitgeist. What does it mean to be decent in a world that seemingly only rewards depravity? How can an African American survive in a society that continues to not just perpetrate, but ostensibly celebrates systemic white supremacy? Do even the smallest of human actions matter?" I wrote that in our initial review of this masterpiece, and since then I've had the pleasure to sit down with Abernathy and discuss not just how he came to translate these important themes and questions into such a potent musical message (Listen to Part 1 | Part 2), but to see the his work evolve into a true dialogue, not just with his community but the larger world outside it.  Faith plays a huge role on Dialogue, and in Abernathy's life, but the key to not just internalizing the album's message, but practicing its gospel of peace is to understand that faith can take many forms. What is most important is that we all at least try to look at our world and the people in it with love, compassion, and faith that even in the darkest times, we CAN do better. 

Dialogue - Aaron Abernathy

"A spiritual heir to Marvin Gaye's What's Going OnDialogue finds Abernathy looking at the world around him, and searching deep inside AND out for answers to the daily horrors that seem to have taken over the zeitgeist. What does it mean to be decent in a world that seemingly only rewards depravity? How can an African American survive in a society that continues to not just perpetrate, but ostensibly celebrates systemic white supremacy? Do even the smallest of human actions matter?"

I wrote that in our initial review of this masterpiece, and since then I've had the pleasure to sit down with Abernathy and discuss not just how he came to translate these important themes and questions into such a potent musical message (Listen to Part 1 | Part 2), but to see the his work evolve into a true dialogue, not just with his community but the larger world outside it. 

Faith plays a huge role on Dialogue, and in Abernathy's life, but the key to not just internalizing the album's message, but practicing its gospel of peace is to understand that faith can take many forms. What is most important is that we all at least try to look at our world and the people in it with love, compassion, and faith that even in the darkest times, we CAN do better.