Julia Michaels

It’s frightening to get into the month of December – every damned year – and wonder where it all went. Not a year goes by now where we don’t stammer all bug-eyed and with feigned amusement and bewilderment to each other about how fast everything got away from us. This just consumes more of the precious stuff that we are so concerned about pissing away or having picked from our pockets. We love doing it though, and here’s my contribution to the continuing – and steady, despite everything we say about it – march-of-time from last year when I wrote this column, to this year’s incomplete-and-largely-arbitrary list of my favorite songs to make up an album for 2017 (the year of the rooster, fittingly enough).

Once again, a prelude is always in order when rolling out one of these opinionated and nuanced lists ranking works of art based on taste, and taste alone. How often do we get those text messages and completely miss the tone or the tongue tucked firmly into that hot cheek meat on the other side of the phone – and missed the fun of the exchange entirely? We must have some context for those wink-wink, nudge-nudge, pseudo-saucy texts just as there needs to be some framework and texture to what I’m about to lay out below.

Last year, I attributed some kind of life moment or memory to every song I decided to write about as my favorites of the year. This year, after going back and tallying up all of the concerts I produced in 2017, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve forgotten more about this year than I have in any other year since I started being heavily involved in this rock-and-roll circus over a dozen years ago.

There were 200 Moeller Nights shows this year and next year I’m going to try and double that number. Why not? This year, these were the songs that kept bugging me. They itched and I scratched, over and over and over again. I couldn’t help myself. They worked me over for various reasons. I savored many – replaying them on repeat cause I didn’t want to stop singing them in the car. I listened to and marveled at many of them for reasons you can’t figure out no matter how hard you try. I played some of them insanely loud (ask my wife when we’d switch cars for a day) just because they made me happy.

A good friend of mine once relayed a phrase that her mother would lob at her as an explanation for her poor choice in men, saying, “Your taste is only in your mouth.” I suppose that’s how it is with music, too, isn’t it? My taste is shit, and yours is amazing, but I think there are a lot of songs below that we can all get behind, if you’ll give them half a chance.

R.LUM.R

Izaak Opatz, Mariachi Static –A few albums might have come close to having been listened to more than this debut by Izaak Opatz, but only because I didn’t have it as long. Since the moment that I really got infatuated with Izaak around the time that I was scheming with Jonny Fritz at Mile of Music in Appleton, backstage at the Cat Power/Temptations show. I don’t know that there’s been a more accomplished, sun-drenched collection of folk-country songs in a very long time. Opatz gives off a feel like none other, a completely new, warm sound that’s somewhere between Ryan Adams and Tom Petty, but filling more of a role of frontiersman (if that frontiersman had email and text) riding between towns, possibly having kitchen sex after coffee and either leaving behind or taking broken hearts with him as he moved along. RCReader.com/y/sm171

R.LUM.R, “Frustrated” – Every time I make these lists, I like there to be a couple premonitions on there. It’s fun feeling like I’m bucking a trend or calling the Powerball numbers before the ping pong balls are even loaded into the machine. Now, that’s not to say that no one’s aware of the picks I’m going to make, but it does mean that as far as the big map is concerned, these artists aren’t much more than freckles yet. Izaak Opatz above is the least known of the three that fit the category on this list. R.LUM.R. is banging hardest already, garnering over a million monthly listeners on Spotify and the reason being is this sultry burner. Reggie Lamar Williams Jr. became a bit of an R&B sensation this year with this song and it landed him a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. His falsetto is spectacular and the explosiveness of this arrangement are obvious and they were in full effect when he played The Raccoon Motel around the 4th of July. Watch out for R.LUM.R. He’s gonna be a beast. RCReader.com/y/sm172

Julia Michaels, “Issues” – With children and more drop-offs and pick-ups than anyone should have to handle, top-40 radio is always on in our vehicles. Hometown girl Julia Michaels has been writing for other stars for years, but this year finally blasted out and made herself a star with this ubiquitous hit. The way that it came a bit out of nowhere and then just struck hard, along with the subtle way that the song structure behaves, it reminds me a lot of how Lorde came on the scene with “Royals.” It’s a stunning display of restraint and yet Michaels delivers her hooks without mercy. Such an impressive little ear devil. RCReader.com/y/sm173

Big Thief, “Shark Smile” – A couple of times over the last few years, I’ve been asked to write bios for some artists I’ve made acquaintances with and it’s always both an honor and an incredible amount of pressure that I mentally mask as an inconvenience. I only take the gigs when the records floor me, when they make me cuss at their brilliance. The newest Big Thief record was one of those that made me drop f’s and s’s all over the place. “Shark Smile” is my favorite track from this album and it’s a tight little story about foggy lust, as if those stories are ever tight rather than messy and incoherent. The chorus makes you wish you were younger, when these kinds of words might just walk into your life. RCReader.com/y/sm174

Big Thief

Father John Misty, “Pure Comedy” – I went out to Denver early this year to visit my friend Nathaniel Rateliff for a few days, just for the hell of it, and the video for this song had just been released. We watched it a couple of times in a row, there at his kitchen table and every sentiment seemed to encapsulate everything that had just happened in America as well as foretell everything that was about to happen. The muck was going to get muckier and the dummies were gonna get dumber or make themselves more visible. This song is somewhat akin to Bright Eyes’ “When the President Talks To God,” but in a less seething, spitting venom sort of way. This is a resignation, not a pity party. It’s after a full collapse, when heads just can’t shake disgustedly enough. And Josh Tillman sums it up pointedly when he sings, “The only thing that seems to make them feel alive is the struggle to survive, but the only thing that they request is something to numb the pain – til there’s nothing human left. Just random matter suspended in the dark. I hate to say it but each other’s all we’ve got.” RCReader.com/y/sm175

Overcoats, “Father” – Already on my short list to bring to the Quad Cities as soon as possible before they put out their full-length, Overcoats begin it with this short, short snapshot that hits hard at the need of a daughter needing her dad. As a father with three daughters, keeping this message of when someone needs you badly, they’re going to stubbornly fight admitting that you need anyone until it’s too late. This song is a swirling wash of all the spiders that get into our heads and crawl around on top of one another, looking for the light. RCReader.com/y/sm176

Glen Campbell, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” – Years ago, I was lucky enough to spend a few hours making a recording with Glen Campbell at a studio that belonged to Conor Oberst in the hills of Los Angeles. It was a studio where the first Dawes and Father John Misty records had been made, amongst others, and it was a gorgeous sunny day. Campbell was in good spirits and his entire family was there. I got to meet his wife and his grown children. He’d already been diagnosed with the Alzheimer’s that would claim his life prematurely this year, but he had only begun to feel mild effects of the disease. While this song wasn’t released in 2017, I listened to it a lot since his passing and it might qualify as the saddest song ever written. In it, he’s telling all of his loved ones that he’s not going to miss them when he dies because he’s not even going to remember them. It’s simply devastating and a mesmerizing way to not have to go through that pain. RCReader.com/y/sm177

TWAIN, “The Sorcerer” – Without a doubt, this song struck me hardest in 2017 and in a way it blindsided me. I’ve been lucky enough over the years to get to meet so many people that oddly enough become more than just people we know. They become friends. Some of them even become good friends. Few, if any become great friends. But there are a few. In a year of great transition and tremendous newness – as well as just more of the same hustling and bustling of everything that’s been building up for over a decade – there are new people that entered my life, I think, exactly when they were supposed to enter and that alone is improbable. The people that drift in and out of our lives like strategic wanderers are those we get excited to see for short durations and those small doses fill us up. Then there are the wives, husbands, partners and the special, rare few anomalies who we just can’t live without. They are the people who create a vacuum where moments feel like eternity and you just think to yourself how nice it is to get lost with for a while. We all need those people so badly. Mat Davidson’s song is a reminder of this special connection that can be found in the oddest places sometimes. RCReader.com/y/sm178

Glen Campbell

SUSTO, “Jah Werx” – Hearing 600 people at Codfish Hollow sing this non-word mantra as loud and as spine-tinglingly happily back at the band this summer was one of my favorite moments of the year. We’ve kind of grown along with this band from Charleston, South Carolina over the last few years as they’ve made this a home away from home. Justin Osborne writes with an understanding of himself and all of his demons in a way that most other writers don’t have a grip on, or they’d prefer to claim different narratives that make them appear more complicated and therefore special. Here, Osborne is worshipping his concocted Valhalla-type place that amounts to a morning, a day, or an evening that gains serious points for the struggles being minor or more manageable than they were the day before and for that, we drink and we toast. RCReader.com/y/sm179

Sheer Mag, “I Need to Feel Your Love” – There aren’t bands on my wish list. There aren’t shows that I regret not having attended and there aren’t really bands that are on something stupid like a bucket list. But I wish I would have caught Sheer Mag somewhere this year. They’re the only ones I can think of that I feel that way about. And the perfect place to listen to this song might go something like this: Give me somewhere with ridiculously poor ventilation. I need it to be not just sweaty, but also a place where all of the ripeness of a few hundred people could mingle and jockey for supremacy. I want it to stink. I want there to be an illegal way of drinking, perhaps a keg over in the corner where the beer is free but there’s nothing to serve it in so you will have had to have brought your own empty vessel – like an old Gatorade bottle that you had stowed on the floor in the back seat of your car. And I want to be there with my two best buds and we just forget everything. RCReader.com/y/sm1710

Ron Gallo, “Put the Kids to Bed” – From an album that mocks domesticity in what comes across as smart aleck punk attitude and with reckless, but logical abandon, Ron Gallo released a flawless album that feels like it should have come out on Lookout! Records, not New West. It dives into the lunacy that grabs so many people way before they should even be considering the mere thought of whether or not they should get married or have children. They’re really at the point in their relationships where they shouldn’t even be sending out Christmas cards together cause they haven’t been together long enough and don’t really know each other that well. Instead, they decide to make a person with someone they occasionally think is either psychotic or on their better days is just a sociopath. It creates a blistery tension that Gallo captures here in this rager that feels like a pack of cigarettes and an un-mowed backyard covered in faded and half-crushed beer cans, piles of dog turds and broken kids toys. RCReader.com/y/sm1711

Yon Ort, “What You Feel” – It’s just the start for Eric Wilson’s new group Yon Ort, but if this song and the band’s performances at the November GAS Fest (and the reactions to them – only their third and fourth shows ever!) are any indication, there’s going to be some fire behind these guys for some time. “What You Feel” is a song I imagine you’d hear drifting over a Joshua Tree sunset, before the coyotes come out, as the cactuses are cooling and the peyote is setting up shop. RCReader.com/y/sm1712

Honorable mentions: Niall Horan “Slow Hands,” Charlie Puth “Attention,” Sampha “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” The Kernal, “I Understand” and “Try Again,” Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs, “Talk 2 Her,” HAIM, “Want You Back,” Okey Dokey, “Hurts To Be You.”

 

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