While there’s been a ton of new music to take in during the month of May, I’ve also spent a good chunk of the month listening to old R.E.M. albums as I follow along with Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott’s mind-bogglingly weird and highly entertaining R U Talkin’ R.E.M. Re: Me? podcast, which is basically “season two” of their equally amusing U Talkin’ U2 to Me? podcast. These guys are true music geeks who are perhaps most entertaining when their differences of opinion come to the fore as they dig through every single track of every album in R.E.M.’s diverse and sometimes highly challenging discography. I’m finally discovering the magic in some of the band’s earlier work that I had previously overlooked as “all sounding the same” as a result of this. And I can’t wait for them to get to Reveal, my personal favorite R.E.M. record… though I have my doubts about whether they’ll be kind to it.
Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Janelle Monáe, Parker Millsap, Eleanor Friedberger, Beach House, A Perfect Circle, Young Oceans, Umphrey’s McGee, and Chvrches.
This is the fourth and final (for now, at least) part of a series chronicling each year of my life as viewed through the lens of a song that was meaningful to me in some way that represents a significant aspect of my life experience in that year. This segment covers the fourth decade of my life. Be sure to catch up on Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first.
At 8:07 A.M. on the morning of January 19, 2018, I will have been on this Earth for exactly 40 years. (Time spent in the womb notwithstanding.) I decided to spend the 40 days leading up to it focusing on a specific year of my life per day, as viewed through the lens of a song that somehow influenced me at around that time. (I’ve been posting these to my Facebook page since that 40-day period started, and I’m compiling those posts here on my blog for those who missed any of the earlier posts and/or aren’t connected with me on social media.) This was challenging for two reasons:
One, because I don’t have clear memories of the very earliest years of my life, and thus I had to cheat and pick songs which either my parents played for me deliberately or that were iconic in popular culture at the time, that left enough of a mark for me to remember them from some later point in my childhood.
And two, because once I really started to deliberately seek out new music to listen to in my teenage years instead of just absorbing whatever was around me by happenstance, it opened up the floodgates to the point where it’s hard to pick a single representative song for a lot of the later years of my life.
But it’s been a fun challenge nonetheless, because I think it really gets at the nuts and bolts of what sparked my initial interest in music, how it might have been shaped by early events in my life, and how that all contributed to the sense of identity I’d wind up with after four decades of existence.
So we’ll start where it all began, in the year I was born…
Artist: U2 Album: Songs of Experience Year: 2017 Grade: B-
In Brief: While the message on several songs is more vital and relevant than anything U2’s done in years, and the callbacks to tracks on Songs of Innocence are much appreciated, the music itself feels tired and restrained, even sometimes on the tracks that are supposed to have a darker mood or a heavier crunch. For a band with the enduring ambition to keep reinventing itself four decades into its career, U2 still hasn’t managed to shake the overly clinical production and instrumentation that plagues a lot of their 21st century output. I’m always thrilled to have something new from these guys, but this one feels more like work and less like joy each time I try to process it, and that’s coming from someone with a high tolerance for U2 trying to subvert the sound of classic U2.
It’s that time of year again where I run through the list of songs that inspired me, entertained me, or just plain got stuck in my head for amusing reasons, more than any other songs in the last 12 months. Most of these were released in 2017. Some came out in 2016 and I either didn’t hear them until this year or didn’t come to fully appreciate them in time for last year’s list. I’ve given brief explanations and YouTube links for the Top 30. For the rest… just check the reviews where they’re linked, if you’re curious.
And as always, many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2017 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
As always, I’m closing the year out with a summary of my favorite records from the year gone by. The only qualifying factors to make this list are that they must be full-length albums consisting of new material (I have a separate section for EPs and collections of previously released material), with a release date in 2014. Everything I really enjoyed this year that falls outside of those boundaries still gets a mention, just not a ranking.
It was really hard to pick a clear #1 this year. I love the top four albums on this list just about equally. Two are more “baroque” pop records that lean toward the electronic and experimental, and two are more in-your-face rock records. They’re the only “A grades” that I gave out this year. Which one is my favorite among them changes based on my mood, so I basically gave the #1 slot to the one I’ve enjoyed for the largest chunk of the year. I can’t imagine very many other people who would ever actually listen to all four of them, let alone like them all, but they all come with my highest recommendations for anyone into the types of music these individual artists are making.