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.

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“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.

“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.

“40oz. on Repeat” – FIDLAR

Jams

There’s a certain satisfying nostalgia to being a hopeless romantic. Some songs and movies bring that nostalgia to the center of your attention, propped up just enough to be slumped over in sadness. It’s not that you miss being sad, or feeling lonely, but you recognize that those feelings used to exist in your psyche and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s comforting, actually, remembering that you used to feel a certain way. Strange enough, “40oz. on Repeat” hit me in this exact way.

I’d like to think that if I were 10 years younger, this song would be my anthem. I always saw myself as the “good guy,” the Jim Halpert of my life (then again, who didn’t? Does anyone really see themselves as Dwight or, God forbid, Toby?) who just couldn’t quite get the girl that envisioned himself with.

The opening lines of “40oz. on Repeat” aren’t cryptic whatsoever. They play like the inner monologue of a jilted Casanova, pissed at himself for his romantic ineptitude, at his failure to even take a chance at texting a girl. He later goes on to say, “I don’t care at all, I’ll drink some alcohol, it’ll make me who I really want to be.” He then says that he always drinks too much because nobody understands him.

FIDLAR has been on my radar for a while now. The video for their song “Cocaine” features a pissed off Nick Offerman going on a urine-soaked rampage. What’s not to love about that? They have a harder-than-usual sound for the surf-skate punk rock music that I’ve been into lately and “40oz. on Repeat” is no different.

Except it kind of is. It’s more reminiscent of their 2013 single “Awkward,” which feels like a spiritual predecessor to “40oz.” with its woe-is-me message. It’s authentic, though. FIDLAR expresses those kinds of feelings with angst and snarl, not butt-rock crooning a la Hinder or mellow moodiness found in early Death Cab for Cutie.

You can’t really anticipate finding a song that strikes you in such a way. Lyrics drum up memories the same way that a smell reminds you of the awful lunch your daycare used to serve. But the problem was that I had no reason to relate to those emotions anymore.

When you spend your formative years developing an inner monologue that insists you’re sitting, waiting, wishing for that special person, and you finally find them, these songs should mean nothing to you. Instead, they remind you that there was a time before your current happiness. A time filled with complex and gut wrenching emotions that kept you up at night, cursing yourself or a spin in Fortuna’s Wheel, wondering why me? Why?

And those songs meant something then. More than they do now. They told you that you weren’t alone, no matter how selfish you acted or idealistically you thought. Someone else knew what it was like to feel that way. But now, what you’ve got is a song that captures a glimpse of those memories, if only for 4 minutes, reminding you that what you went through will always remain.

Who knew a FIDLAR song could do that?

“Don’t You Find” – Jamie T

Jams

Jamie T’s “Don’t You Find” is dripping with something sticky and leathery and it feels oh so good to put your head underneath its sink and let it drip into your ears.

It’s a haunting lullaby whispered into your ear from beneath someone else’s sheets.

I’ve been struggling to identify what it is about this song that I’m hooked on. The lyrics, if read without music, are simple. The rhyming scheme is even simpler:

Don’t you find, some of the time/There is always someone on your mind/That shouldn’t be at all/In any place or any kind.

But it’s the delivery that makes this song work. Jamie T mumble-sings his way through most of it, conjuring images of a strung out mid-90s Trent Reznor with a little melancholic Alex Turner tossed in for good English measure.

With that in mind, I should admit that I’ve always had an affinity for English musicians and groups. I’m sure that a psychologist could unearth deep-seated emotional feelings for The Beatles that would explain why this is the case. But I can’t afford therapy and don’t really care to exhume those secrets.

It should go without saying that musicians influence each other. Duh. But I like to take this idea one step further and imagine every band and artist shoved into one huge room at the same time, all split up by their specific sound and nearest their most predominant influences. In this imaginary scenario, “Don’t You Find” puts Jamie T into a dark, creepy corner somewhere between Suede and James Blake.

The especially strange thing about “Don’t You Find” is that without music, the song is just a sad, simple ballad about pining away for someone that you can’t be with. Pretty typical fare for the singer/songwriter corner of the fictional band room that exists in my imagination.

What Jamie T has done, and what makes this song so great, is bring aching, sadistic life to a simple poem, forming a complex contrast between lyrics and music that makes it almost irresistible. It makes you feel dirty and sexy and sad all at once.

And I can’t seem to get enough of it.

“Coulda Been My Love” – Foxygen

Jams

Foxygen are weird.

Forget the name, all band names are weird. It’s their sound. I just can’t seem to put my finger on it. And the way I’ve always processed new music is by comparing it to something I’ve previously heard. But sometimes I’ll hear a song, enjoy it, and think to myself, “Now why the hell did I like that song?” This is one of those songs.

“Coulda Been My Love” sounds like a studio outtake on the B-side of a later Beatles album. Now hear me out before you poop your Pampers, because there’s enough distance and qualifiers between a proper Beatles album and my previous sentence.

The song begins with a haunting piano playing in an ill-lit basement. Immediately the listener is pulled through the doorway and down the staircase by duet vocals just as tortured as that lonely piano. What I’m getting at is that Foxygen sound like they’ve got a case of the bummers in “Coulda Been My Love.”

The drums come in soon after with a simple rhythm that provides a backbone to the pain. Complementary vocals echo alongside the chorus to add depth and harmony to otherwise-simple lyrics.

So back to The Beatles. “Coulda Been My Love” sounds and feels like a “White Album” outtake. It’s like they invited Paul McCartney to sing their song on Rock Band (and then he decided to stay the night because mom bought a bunch of Totino’s pizzas for everyone). I am a bit biased though, as I spent a lot of last year listening to Foxygen’s “Take The Kids Off Broadway,” a 7-song album that twists and swirls its way through the late 1960s.

The song leaves its impression on the listener right around the 1:30 mark. We get a little wail from the Sam France (the lead vocalist I think?) that leads into a brilliant, satisfying progression that reaches its apex at 2:15 and the song coasts the rest of the way home.

“Coulda Been My Love” is a song that’s grown on me by a group that’s grown on me. Foxygen’s sound is elusive (and often eclectic), which makes it difficult to easily label them. They feel like a group that’s still figuring out their sound, which makes me excited to see where they’re heading.