Friday, January 5, 2001

McQ's Best Of 2017 Vol 3 - The Usual Suspects

Even though Hip-Hop and electronic / R&B-flavored pop now dominate the mainstream musical landscape, 2017 still saw just about every top-tier indie-rock act of the last fifteen years staying in the game with a solid new release. So many, in fact, that it's going to take two full mixes to touch on all the major players.

Vol 3 - The Usual Suspects focuses on new music from those still vital indie acts who've always had a more rock/folk/alt-country lean.  Two mixes later, on Vol 5 - The Mostly Usual Suspects, we'll listen to new efforts from those returning indie greats who've traditionally had a more electronic sound.

About The Songs:

1. Slip Away - Perfume Genius: The lead single from Seattle-based Mike Hadreas's (aka Perfume Genuis) fourth album No Shape, Slip Away signals a new peak in Hadreas's transition away from the introspective gay-themed indie-folk of his early career and into the more adventurous sonic territory he initiated on his less consistent previous release Too Bright. Here, once you get used to the No Shape's quirks, it's a vibrant indie-pop pleasure throughout.

2. Mourning Sound - Grizzly Bear: Far and away my favorite song from the Brooklyn outfit's fifth full length Painted Ruins, which finds the band continuing in the insular, somewhat proggy style of previous release Shields.

3. Everything Now - Arcade Fire: My thinking on Arcade Fire's fifth album Everything Now, which was the band's first to receive generally negative reviews, is that while the record does sport a few very weak songs, overall it is not nearly as bad as the reviews would have you believe, and in a few moments, like the title track here, it shows Arcade Fire is still capable of hitting the peak of their music-as-communal-catharsis powers.

4. Hot Thoughts - Spoon: The title track, and one of two tracks we're featuring on this mix from the always reliable Austin-based indie stalwart's ninth release.

5. Pain - The War On Drugs: Another mesmerizing number from A Deeper Understanding, which, like most of the album's tracks, is excellent throughout its sung passages, then morphs into something better still when the singing stops.

6. Magnificent (She Says) - Elbow: Though the best song on latest release Little Fictions, Magnificent (She Says) is actually the record's outlier, its anthemic orchestral arrangements and highly sentimental nature much more in tune with the music on the band's previous two releases Build A Rocket, Boys! and The Take Off And Landing Of Everything than the intriguing, minimalistic approach that defines almost everything else on Fictions.

7. Over Everything - Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile: Ramshackle and easy-going in nature, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile's 2017 collaboration Lotta Sea Lice is a record that screams "We're just having fun here, don't take this seriously!"  That said, this song is amazing, one of my favorites of the year as it reaches a near Torn And Frayed-level of lazy vocal grandeur in its final minutes.

8. Darling Shade - The New Pornographers: Just another fun, super bouncy track from the long-running Canadian power-pop collective's latest release Whiteout Conditions, their first without regular contributor Dan Bejar.

9. Carin In The Liquor Store - The National: The National's Sleep Well Beast was, to my ears, their weakest studio album in over a decade, and it still deservedly ended up top-15 in most year end polls. That's how good they've been over that span, and this song, the album's best ballad, is a textbook example.

10. Third Of May / Odaigahara - Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes third album Crack-Up, their first release in six years, was arguably one 2017's most artistically ambitious efforts along with A Deeper Understanding, Kendrick Lamar's DAMN and King Krule's The Ooz.  But it is also, (suprisingly, given the band's heavy reliance on soaring group harmonies) one of the year's most difficult listens, full of unexpected, proggy shifts that confuse more than they excite and mumbly vocal passages so quiet they are near impossible to hear.  So for me, it's an album I respect more than I enjoy. But many other listeners fell in love with its complexities and intensely personal vision, making Crack-Up one of the best-reviewed albums of the year, and even a non-fan like me will admit it does have spellbinding moments, particularly the Fool's Errand and the brilliant first two-thirds of Third Of May / Odaigahara included here before the song veers off on another of Crack-Up's many detours in its final minutes.

11. Shotgun - Spoon: Originally I was only going to go with the title track from Spoon's latest album Hot Thoughts, but then my son came home for the summer, Shotgun was an ubiquitous part of the soundtrack to one of his PS4 MLB baseball games, and the track just wormed its way into my head.

12. Firebrand & Angel - Elbow: Here's my favorite of the really cool, minimalist/percussive numbers that make up a large part of Elbow's 2017 release Little Fictions.

13. Halfway Home - Broken Social Scene: Though I'm only including one track here, I seriously enjoyed Broken Social Scene's 2017 release Hugs Of Thunder, especially the album's vibrant, warm, and varied first half.

14. Turtleneck - The National: While Sleep Well Beast wasn't my favorite National album of late, there were many who did feel it was their best album of this decade. For them, I think the partial return to the band's harder-rocking early days, best displayed by the punkish Turtleneck here, was a big reason why.

15. Thinking Of A Place - The War On Drugs: You know an act has gotten to a special place in terms of belief in their artistic vision when they have the guts to release an eleven-minute song as the lead single for their new album. But to Adam Grundiciel and his bandmate's credit, their instincts were right.  Thinking of A Place is A Deeper Understanding's finest moment, a breathtakingly unhurried wade into a sea of pure musicality.

16. Ballad Of A Dying Man - Father John Misty: Here's another acidic social critque from Father John Misty's Pure Comedy to close out this mix. But unlike the album's title track, this Elton Johnish one's aimed at us all, including yours truly, as it eviserates those who would waste even a small fraction of their day espousing their superior cultural, moral, political, and aesthetic views on social media, when hundreds of years from now, history will prove us all wrong in the end.

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