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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“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.

“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.

“Peace Keeper” – Bear Hands

Jams

           A friend of mine really likes this band, Bear Hands, and hasn’t shut up about them the past few months. I mean that in the nicest way possible, because I can definitely understand bugging people about a band you love until they finally give in and admit you were right.