Yearly Phat Jam

Jams

This is less a Daily Phat Jam and more a Yearly Phat Jam in that I’ve decided to compile my favorite albums of the year. Not all of these are “prestigious” or necessarily “better than Smash Mouth” but thankfully I’m not a music critic and my opinion only matters to me and like nine other people (at best). They’re listed alphabetically by artist name.

I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It – The 1975

Much like the title of the record itself, this album is a bit too long and a bit too intentionally odd, but the best parts of it (“The Sound,” “Love Me,” “She’s American”) outweigh the tedious bits.

Malibu – Anderson .Paak

This dude blew up in 2016 and for good reason. If you’re in search of an album that masterfully blends rap, hip-hop, pop, and funk (and the artist isn’t Chance the Rapper), this is your jam.

22, A Million – Bon Iver

Bon Iver got big when I was still in my “I don’t like slow music” phase. I still haven’t been able to truly connect with the group’s previous albums, but man did this one scratch my itch. Take Justin Vernon’s haunting, emotional vocals and distort it nearly beyond recognition and you’ve got a striking, memorable album.

Blonde – Frank Ocean

I got Apple Music just to listen to this album. That should tell you enough. (In full disclosure: I never deleted my Spotify account and ended my subscription with Apple Music.)

How To Be A Human Being – Glass Animals

I was blown away when I heard “Life Itself.” Already a big fan of Glass Animals, I was a little nervous to see how they’d return with a sophomore effort, but the band managed to advance their sound without losing what people loved about ZABA. Maybe my favorite album this year.

The Life Of Pablo – Kanye West

Not a masterpiece as it stands but I’m willing to bet there’s a masterpiece in there. This album has so many incredible moments (when the choir kicks in on “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”, all of “Waves,” etc.) that keep it afloat when other tracks fall flat.

A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

I’ve had difficulty getting into more recent Radiohead. I love The Bends and OK Computer and just this year developed a love for Kid A. Call me a poser but regardless, I immediately fell in love with this album, partly due to its accessibility, and especially its first track, “Burn the Witch.”

A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson

Sweeping, heartbreaking and twangy in all the right ways, this is the best possible version of modern country music. Simpson’s “In Bloom” cover got a lot of playtime from me this year. It alone is worth checking out.

Birds In The Trap Sing McNight – Travi$ Scott

He may not be the most, er, inspired lyricist, but Scott sure can make a dope-ass album. Not to mention the feature from The Weeknd on “Wonderful” that nearly steals the show.

We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

I didn’t grow up listening to rap music, so I really have no history at all with ATCQ. No matter, because this album (the group’s first since 1998) is fresh, amazingly produced, and more relevant than ever. Also: Busta Rhymes has the coolest voice in rap.

Weezer (White Album) – Weezer

Weezer was my all-time favorite band growing up. I fell in love with Weezer (Blue Album) and Pinkerton at the best possible times (in high school, with a healthy dose of raging hormones) and in a year fraught with nostalgia overload, this is about as close to those albums as Weezer will get. And that’s okay for me.

Light Upon the Lake – Whitney

My brother got me onto these guys. This album is so easy to listen to, and hits all the right notes (especially the horns on “Polly”) that it was hard for me not to include them.

Still Brazy – YG

YG made a West Coast ‘90s album in 2016 and took on the now-president-elect with the best diss track of the year (“FDT,” which stands for exactly what you think it does). He’s got my vote.

Advertisements

“On Hold” – The xx

Jams

The xx is comfort music. I didn’t discover the group’s first album, which came out in 2009, until sometime early in college a few years later. Its simple, stripped-down sound was a welcome accompaniment to long winter walks on campus with its warm tones and soothing vocals.

This past week has been a long winter walk for many of my friends and family. Throw in some pelting sleet and black ice for good measure. Annie and I missed a lot of the buildup to the election, and the subsequent letdown on Tuesday evening, which was blunted by 14 hours of travel from Iceland to Baltimore to Kansas City. By the time we landed, it wasn’t looking good for Clinton.

Iceland was beautiful and a welcome escape from reality, if only for a few moments. The Wi-Fi wasn’t great there and to be honest, my top priority wasn’t discovering new music, so I spent most of Wednesday going through my Spotify New Music playlist while I got caught up on work.

I’ve been telling myself that jetlag is responsible for the miserable, if shortened, week I just had. That’s likely part of it, but the other was the outcome of the election that I was too naïve to fathom ever being possible. There have been countless takes on what happened, countless journalists/media personalities/podcast hosts tossing blame, and countless tears shed by people all over the country for my words to add anything to the Kleenex pile. So I won’t.

Shock still lingering in my system, I fell upon the new xx song, “On Hold.” It begins like many other xx tracks, with Romy Madley Croft’s choir-like vocals welcoming you to the reality that is new xx music. Oliver Sim follows with his own soothing vocals as the song rises with a steady, measured production. And then, at 0:50, it bubbles over into something totally different. Hall & Oats different.

That’s right. This song samples “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” by Hall & freaking Oats. I had no idea. Try listening to the original song, if you can. I attempted it and blacked out for a moment, followed by a hallucination that I’d somehow fallen into a wormhole that dropped me into a dreamy 1980s nightclub complete with like, six mustachioed saxophone players. Don’t listen to it. It’s a weird, weird song. But Rodaidh McDonald and Jamie xx worked some magic with this sample because it transcends any previous xx song.

Jamie xx’s new solo artist stamp is totally evident in this track. I’ve not been as familiar with his debut album as I need to be—I also had no idea he was in The xx until last week but who among us, right?—but a quick visit to the band’s Wikipedia page confirms my claim. There’s a rising optimism to this song that never reveals itself on any of the previous xx albums. Describing it does no justice. Just listen.

Forget that the lyrics actually detail a broken relationship. We’ve all had those. Plenty of people had one last Tuesday. This is a bright, optimistic song as far as I’m concerned, because it was my first ray of light after election night’s dreariness and that hangover that followed. I can already tell it’ll be on repeat for weeks to come.

“Sweet is the Night”– Electric Light Orchestra

Jams

Prince and Beyoncé are anomalies. The two artists have catalogues of hits that perfectly blend sounds and styles, resulting in music that reaches beyond the cavern of Top 40 radio, into the daylight of something brighter, more meaningful. Some artists, like Crossfade or Chevelle, make music that dwells in the shadows of that very same cavern, churning out unimaginative tunes equal parts butt and rock.

I know that Electric Light Orchestra isn’t on the same level as Prince and Beyoncé. Few are. But Jeff Lynne (the man behind ELO) is a songwriting mastermind who has created some of the best hooks of all time. God forbid his passing, but once that day comes, I promise that many will revisit ELO’s catalogue and discover tracks such as “Sweet is the Night” that they’ll be hooked on for weeks.

The Beach Boys’ and Beatles’ influence here is palpable. And yet ELO is very much a product of its time. It isn’t difficult to imagine a disco remix of “Sweet is the Night” coming on right after a dance-off to the eternal classic “Disco Duck.” Somehow though, much like their better known hit “Mr. Blue Sky,” Jeff Lynne and ELO produce a song in “Sweet is the Night” that transcends a period of time or style of music.

This transcendence comes as a result of Lynne’s arrangement. The song begins with a familiar do-wop melody, harkening back to a simpler time, a time in which Marty McFly’s parents may not have ended up together had Marty not interfered at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. That melody seamlessly falls into the background, providing structure to the song, as a string section bursts through at :20, shattering any premonition you may have had about where the song was headed.

Lynne’s vocals come in shortly thereafter. The lyrics aren’t complex and don’t push boundaries quite like Lynne’s influences do. That’s okay though. ELO could be singing gibberish and it wouldn’t matter because their harmonies are so in sync, the production so tight, that at 1:25, the song goes from “I could listen to the rest of this” to “This must be what they play when you get to heaven.”

The remaining two minutes are bliss. That’s the thing about ELO songs. Once Lynne gets you there, you’re gravy. And the beauty of their greatest hits is that in each song, you can hear Lynne building the song piece by piece, almost like watching someone make cookies. Except they just keep throwing in really delicious ingredients. You’re watching going, “That looks so amazing that I’ll eat the cookie dough right now,” and then the baker tosses some peanut butter cups in and somehow it’s better than you ever imagined.

It’s hard to imagine that this came out in 1977 considering how incredible it still sounds almost 40 years after being recorded. That’s part of the magic of ELO. Lynne’s body of work is a testament to the fact that timelessness is essential in pop music. He doesn’t belong in the top echelon of artistry where few reside, but he’s a pop genius and should be heralded as such.

“American Money” – BØRNS

Jams

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought BØRNS would be a one-hit wonder after “Electric Love.” The song had all of the ingredient for a typical one-hit wonder: a virtually unknown artist, infectious pop melodies and an androgynous vocalist all packaged neatly into a 3:38 song performed by a band with a crazy foreign letter in its name. Seriously, look at the top charts for indie/alternative and you’ll find a surprising amount of artists with foreign letters in their names, including Låpsley, MØ, LÉON, etc. Who do these people think they’re fooling with their fancy foreign letters?

“Electric Love” was one of those singles that became exhausting to me because it was so omnipresent on the radio and streaming, its popularity lasting the duration of the summer. I needed a detox, and as a result, avoided listening to the rest of “Candy” (BØRNS’ EP) and completely overlooked the first album, “Dopamine,” which dropped in the middle of October.

Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist came through for me once again with yet another W. The first song on my playlist this week was “American Money” by my now-favorite artist who spells his name with a crazy foreign letter. It’s a song that contains similar elements to the more well-known and radio-friendly “Electric Love,” while diverging from the formula to give listeners something more to chew on.

It’s clear from the beginning that “American Money” isn’t going to be as airy or bubbly as “Electric Love.” While the latter begins with a burst of pure light, reminiscent of the energy brought with regularity by The Mowgli’s or The Polyphonic Spree, “American Money” brings a different vibe. Thumping and initially paired down, lead singer Garrett Borns delivers lyrics that wrap the listener up, bracing you for impact just as the synth and lustrous vocal arrangements hit.

It’s a totally different experience than listening to “Electric Love.” “American Money” has more complicated depth in its production, making the uber-popular “Electric Love” seem simple and superficial. While a basic love song at its core, “American Money” really delivers with its sound, finding that sweet, sultry spot somewhere between the bright soundscape of “Electric Love” and the darker, brooding synth melodies predominant among artists like Broods and Banks.

One-hit wonder BØRNS is not. “Dopamine” reached 24 in the US charts while the band’s top four songs on Spotify (other than “Electric Love”) combine for more than 40 million listens. “American Money” is the kind of pop music that I can get down to. I’ll even look the other way at the silly “Ø” character, which at this point just seems like a band name gimmick, albeit one that works. With that in mind, please consider attending a show on Friday night in Kansas City, where I’ll be playing with my new band, MØRNĭŅĜ ŜØŊ.

“Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” – Mass Gothic

Jams

I filter music in my head into various categories depending on its sound, tone and applicability to a given situation. To put it less robotically, I like the idea that the music I listen to acts as a soundtrack to my life. I’m sure plenty of people also feel this way. Kid Cudi has a song about it, and if he’s rapped about it before, you can be certain that plenty of white people are at least familiar with the subject matter.

Following this thinking, I’ve noticed that there’s a long list of endlessly upbeat songs that are the perfect accompaniments to optimistic montages in movies. “Light & Day” by The Polyphonic Spree is a prime example. So too is “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. Both make you want to sway back and forth like a flower child on their cloud (or, if you’re on something a little more psychedelic, gyrate like one of those inflatable things used to attract people to used car lots).

“Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” by Mass Gothic fits right in with this imaginary list of upbeat montage movie songs. It’s also a song that you know sounds good live. Big, bright and jangly, “Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” belongs at an outdoor music festival, the kind where the performers jump off the stage and walk through the crowd without missing a note.

It’s a simple song with simple lyrics. But when paired with thumping drums, raucous tambourining and harmonious backing vocals, the tune sticks with you (and make you feel good). Just to illustrate how cheerful “Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” is: I’ve already exhausted my list of appropriate synonyms for the words “happy” and “cheery” (because, let’s be real here, nobody would believe that I didn’t look up “buoyant” if I’d used to describe this song).

“Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” is the kind of song that almost convinces you to quit your job to pursue your true passion of joining a theater group that travels around the country, playing free shows for underprivileged youth, eventually falling in love with a person named Flower and naming your children after horoscope signs. It’s that optimistic.

I can’t seem to shake the image in my head of a joyous Jesus Christ Revival Band performing this song. Everyone is wearing white robes (think The Polyphonic Spree again) and they’re led by a charismatic, dubiously handsome granolaman (Edward Sharpe). I know it’s unfair to pigeonhole this group based on what one of their songs sounds like, because now that I’ve watched the video, it’s clear that they don’t look or act anything like those other two bands, so you should instead ignore me and listen to this song. The band has less than 1,100 likes on their Facebook page, and if you tell all your friends about Mass Gothic before they blow up, you’ll look really cool. And then I’ll look really cool and take credit for them blowing up.

“The Sound” – The 1975

Jams

The rules of radio control in the car are simple and universal. The Driver is allotted complete, omniscient authority over the music selection for the duration of their tenure as Driver. Disputing this fact puts the arguer on the wrong side of history, much like claiming that 9/11 wasn’t an inside job or that the pyramids weren’t built to store grain.

My girlfriend finds herself in this same camp, as she seems to think that the passenger gets to choose the music. This is an egregious error on her part, because her initial inclination upon hearing an unfamiliar song of my choosing is to skip it and continue on to the Pop2K SiriusXM radio station (which, for some unknown reason, plays an unusually large amount of Nelly and Ludacris). However, I’m convinced that “The Sound” by The 1975 is a song that she would skip immediately, and I would like to convince her otherwise.

“The Sound” starts with a muted choir of children chirping the chorus before the lead bursts through 25 seconds later. For many this Children’s Crusade of an intro might be a skippable offense. I plead these individuals to push past the opening seconds, because while simple and a tad repetitive, “The Sound” is another excellent pop song by an excellent pop band. The song is reminiscent of the brightest and liveliest hits from the 1980s thanks to its cheery beat, funky guitar and infectious piano that punctuates the syrupy lyrics with multitudes of exclamation points.

I haven’t fallen completely in love with The 1975’s other new singles quite the same way as I have with “The Sound.” (If I had to rank them, it would be 1. “The Sound” 2. “Love Me” and 3. “UGH!”.) However, all three songs have a familiar yet refreshing sound, as if the entire band were hipster time travelers: too cool to play 80s music in the 80s, so they jumped ahead three decades for the 80s revival.

If you’re still unconvinced about the authenticity of the music, let this statement ease your mind: I have no idea whether The 1975 have a keytarist. It’s really impressive to be so obviously influenced by a particular sound from decades ago and somehow manage to feel new, albeit a bit familiar.

But there really isn’t anything wrong with that. Hollywood has found success in the last few years with rebooting and refreshing decades-old source material for modern audiences. Why not The 1975 too? Listening to “The Sound” does just what I want this kind of music to do – it scratches my 80s Music Itch in just the right spot, inspiring me to listen to classic 80s pop music, including New Order and INXS (the bands I’m immediately reminded of when listening to The 1975), among others.

So how do I convince my girlfriend to listen? Not so simple. I’ve pretty much accepted that it’s easier to listen to music we both like while riding together than music that just I like. However, I have found a loophole: she proofed this whole article, which means that she listened to the song. And once it starts playing on SiriusXM (after Twenty One Pilots hopefully disappear), she’ll jam along with me.

“I Can’t Stand the Rain” – Ann Peebles

Jams, OP-ED

Part of moving to a new city is exploring your immediate neighborhood until you become comfortable enough to expand beyond your general territory into the various areas around town. In Kansas City, there are the usual parts of town that everyone suggests you visit: Plaza, Crossroads, PnL, Westport, etc. Each has a distinct flavor and history that you’re constantly cognizant of, whether it be the fountains at the Plaza or white sunglasses and studded jeans at PnL.

And then there’s the West Bottoms. A former stockyard during KC’s rapid agricultural expansion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the West Bottoms now exist as a virtual ghost town to tourists and many close-minded or unaware locals.

The West Bottoms are a five-minute drive from downtown KC. You take a huge, lazily winding bridge down into what feels like the depths of the city. My first visit brought surreal memories of the underside of Gotham in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, save for the seedy crime and caped crusaders. Stoplights are non-existent, craters filled with water from some long forgotten rain abundant. Huge buildings loom overhead, seemingly deserted like something out of a “Walking Dead” set.

For the most part, the area is used for art studios, to host the annual Boulevardia festival and, in the fall, as a hotbed for commercial haunted house attractions. However, situated in an alley in the middle of the West Bottoms is an old speakeasy called The Ship.

It was here that my friends and I first ventured down to the West Bottoms in search of The Ship, which had been written about in a local news story. The outside looked like the site of an unsolved murder: wooden shack of sorts with dim, overpowering red lighting. If it weren’t for the electricity, you’d think this were the Unabomber’s vacation home. Inside, however, you feel as though you’ve been taken below deck on an old boat. An impressive “The Ship” sign illuminated by dozens of individual light bulbs greets visitors as they find their seats in the nautical-themed bar.

All of these elements combined create a dreamlike environment that, beyond the swinging double doors, teleports visitors to a completely different, indiscernible time period populated by a cast of characters sometimes as illusory as the place itself.

We met one of those individuals on our second trip to The Ship, an older gentleman who had spent seven years bartending in Hawaii (the place where Hawaiian Punch is made). It was around 7 pm – an hour or two after they open – and completely empty aside from us and another bartender. Our bartender regaled us with tales of bartending in Hawaii and The Ship’s fascinating past while the other man popped a quarter into an ancient jukebox near the bathrooms.

On comes these old soul tracks I’ve never heard before, mostly from the 60s and 70s, that at any other bar would seem inappropriate, but here, they just fit. The music is as integral to the bar as water is to sailing, and you can tell that each song has been hand-chosen by the people who run The Ship. After a few songs, Ann Peebles’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain” comes on.

It opens with these strange, almost unsettling guitar (?) plucks that transport the listener – if only for a few moments – to a nebulous space devoid of familiarity. You’re floating there, unsure of your surroundings, until Ann Peebles comes in seconds later, luring you back to reality with the smoky, soulful voice that was so popular in the 70s.

Percussion and organ follow shortly thereafter, with some horns thrown in as well, and suddenly the listener is grounded. However, those otherworldly guitar plucks linger in the background for the duration of the song, sounding almost like the score from an old horror film, and when combined with the traditional soul sounds make it one of the more unusual tracks I’ve ever heard.

I can’t seem to get this song out of my head. It feels ahead of its time while remaining a product of its time. “I Can’t Stand the Rain” coexists with the West Bottoms and The Ship in a way that many songs don’t. Every time I hear it I’m whisked away, if only for a few moments, to that strange part of town that always seems further away than reality would have you believe.

“Gorgeous” – X Ambassadors

Jams

If the three people that read my posts with any regularity had a chance to check out my last one on Sundara Karma’s “Flame,” then this latest Phat Jam may convince you that I’m an asshole hypocrite. But let me explain myself.

So, last time I wrote about how indie and alternative music is slowly moving beyond its pretentious, mostly synthetic electropop phase. Now, I’ll admit that these #buzzwords are used in a broad sense, to speak on trends within the music industry that I’ve noticed and have decided to turn away from. Because I am the king of what should be accepted within music.

This latest X Ambassadors track, “Gorgeous,” feels like a much cooler step-sibling to the first single, “Renegades.” While the latter is a good song on its own, and better fits into the current trending catalog of alternative music, “Gorgeous” sounds like a completely different band.

Okay, I’ll say it. I’m not afraid. Just didn’t feel like bringing it up yet. Whatever. Yeah, alright, I’ll admit that “Gorgeous” kind of sounds like a Maroon 5 song. And I guess I’ll admit too that I have a sweet tooth for “Sugar” from their fifth album, V. Regardless of its similarities to Adam Levine and those Other Guys, “Gorgeous” is a perfect summer song.

The first few seconds of “Gorgeous” sound like a roadie tuning guitars on stage forty minutes before the band goes on when nobody’s around to listen. Except your friends told you the wrong time so you’re there looking like an dumbass nursing a lukewarm beer that was on special. But then the singer strolls out for the practice run and holy shit he kind of sounds like Michael Jackson. But you don’t want to say that out loud, or even think it, because it’s such a cliché and unfair comparison. But you can’t resist.

The beat holds the room hostage and forces you to start moving your shoulders, and, oh no: bite your lower lip. Then at 0:32 the falsetto and synth explodes for a passing moment. Now you’re hooked in full dance mode. None of your moves make any sense, like a novice puppeteer using her non-dominant hand. But you’re beyond caring. The singer obliges and jumps right back into the chorus, which could last forever it’s so infectious. By the time those final “Cuz you make me feel gorgeous” lines land, your pits are stained from dancing and another beer miraculously appeared before you.

“Gorgeous” is such an awesome summer song that it’s amazing it isn’t being played on Top 40 stations in KC yet. It isn’t being played anywhere that I know of. But if you’re Top 40-averse like I was at 13, you can plan on hearing it on alternative stations sometime soon. Or, just keep coming to Daily Phat Jam and listening here. Just don’t tell anyone that I’m a hypocrite.

“1957” – Milo Greene

Jams

This song is pretty old, so old it’s sprouting gray hairs and hipsters are raiding its closet for stuff to wear to class.

I really like this song. It has a sort of melancholy sound, sad and wistful. To me, I take it as a song about a breakup, one where a friendship and deep dependence upon each other has ended. One partner, the singer, wants to forget completely. “It would be much better If I knew / nothing about you.” He (the dominant voice is male) wants to move on, and his method of doing so is to scrub his mind and his life.

The thoughts of the relationship — “the windows that we watched from” — “take him away” to a time when they were together. There are traces of her, “scents,” ghosts that haunt and reappear, triggered.

Despite an intimate relationship, the girl “acts like you don’t know me,” and thus “tempts my anxious mind” to say something, to engage and break his insistence to move on.

The song ends with a repetitive chant, “I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go, I.” It reminds me of the end of “Breezeblocks.” This might go back to the breakup, when she left. It might be a threat from her. It might also be a threat from the narrator, to move far away to escape more the lingerings.

It’s just a great song. I found it last year, and even then it was old. But it’s still a goody.

“Can’t Feel My Face” -The Weeknd

Jams

Ever since Mark Ronson found a way to make himself the primary artist in “Uptown Funk” despite featured artist Bruno Mars singing the entire song, there has been an increasingly pervasive sound that has permeated popular modern music. Listeners sometimes refer to these songs as “funky” with both positive and negative connotations. While The Weeknd is often criticized for using his somewhat odd, high-pitched voice to sing a slightly different combination of words usually revolving around pussy, money, and drug use (original material, I know), he successfully captured this groove that artists have been experimenting with. The simple bass rhythm drives this head-bobbing tune while simultaneously contrasting the instrument’s low notes with the higher register of his voice.

And speaking of “Uptown Funk,” both songs have eerily captured Michael Jackson’s catchy pop cadence in several moments. Even some of the gasp-like noises and “ooohs” can be heard complimenting the main lyrics to the song.

Meanwhile, the lyrics of the song still ring true to The Weeknd’s “style” (if you want to call it that), which basically means that while the sound is fresh and groovy, it still seems like a version of his individual work, in part because he’s still doing his I’m-really-fucking-high-right-now-and-the-surplus-of-money-and-female-attention-is-awesome thing. Whether you’re a fan of his or not, if played loudly and with sufficient subwoofer support, I would challenge even the whitest of white people not to move to the admittedly repetitive but all around groovy vibe. Enjoy.