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.

“Flame” – Sundara Karma

Jams

Once the tectonic plates of cultural sensibilities conclude crashing against one another, we’re left with settled dust and a changed landscape. Boomers still reference the Summer of Love with the faint glimmer of a twinkle in their eyes that only those remembering their first crush can summon. It was a period of time that saw dramatic and significant change, both culturally and politically.

Music works much the same way. Right after Mumford & Sons’ “Babel” came out in the second half of 2012, listeners were drowned with a biblical flood of clap stomp, hey-hoing by the likes of The Lumineers, Passenger and Phillip Phillips, whose Top 40 success marked the end of Mumford-styled music being cool, because plugging insurance companies isn’t what indie folk is about. It’s the banjos, man. The banjos. To put this in very depressing perspective: Steven Tyler – yes, that Steven Tyler – just released his own country/folk album.

In the last 5-7 years, music has seen a multitude of indie-pop, electronic-indie bands, thanks especially to widespread use of and access to the internet and streaming services, which made it easier than ever for bands to be heard. Aside from the tedious roulette of genre combinations these bands generate, where it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to one as new wave folk-indie pop, the fact remains that the sound has peaked.

Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” has appeared on every Top 40 and alternative station in KC for the last couple of months. Which is great, because I think those guys are a fun band and am really happy that indie-pop (or whatever the hell you want to call it) has found its way to Rick Dees’ eardrums. A band with a similar sound won’t eclipse the success they’ve had, seeing as how “Shut Up and Dance” peaked at 4 on the US Billboard Top 100 .

But this is it. This is where popular alternative music shifts. If you still don’t believe me, look at Passion Pit, who just a few years ago were one of the hottest bands around. Now, their latest release, “Kindred,” has received medium to medium reviews but doesn’t have a single that’s broken into the top 25 spot for any of the Billboard rock lists. Now they’re the 29-year-olds that still hang out at college bars. We get it, you still like to drink like it’s 2007. Nobody thinks you’re cool anymore.

Sundara Karma’s “Flame” is the result of those plates shifting. When I first heard the singer, I assumed that it was another song in the same vein as all the other indie pop bands out there. The voice is certainly similar enough. But it’s clear that this is very much a rock song, and Sundara Karma is very much a rock band.

I originally toyed with writing about another of Sundara Karma’s songs, “The Night,” a few months ago. It’s on my Absolute Best of 2015 Spotify list and never gets old. Same with “Flame.” Each listen rewards you with something new, whether it’s the jangly guitar or the peculiar way the singer pronounces words.

“Flame” is one of those songs that sticks with me. There’s not one thing that I can really identify that makes it so appealing other than that it never gets old. It’s always good to have songs like that in your library. And if Sundara Karma’s sound really does mark a renaissance alternative music, then I’m excited to see how the music landscape changes.