Friday, January 5, 2001

McQ's Best Of 2017 Vol 17 - Sugar Rush: A Tragi-Comic Teen Angst Musical

Okay, I've really gone off the deep end here.

This mix, which aggregates much of 2017's best, bounciest punk-pop, indie-pop, and angsty emo, is sequenced as a fictitious soundtrack to a cliche-ridden, High School Musical-styled teen-movie -complete with a battle of the bands, a rise to stardom, an ugly duckling into swan transformation, sisterly and romantic betrayal, a state championship caliber basketball team, heartbreaking tragedy, and a feel-good reconciliation, all then capped off with a ominous "trouble looms again" easter egg coda after the main end credits. A silly lark for a blogger with too much time on his hands, but oh well...

Here's the link to the mix...!

And Here's The Synopsis And Notes On The Artists/Albums/Songs:

1. The World's Best American Band - White Reaper: White Reaper is a garage-punk quintet out of Louisville.  This song is the title track to their second full-length release.

For the purpose of our story: We open our tale of love, loss, and betrayal at a mall plaza in stunning Spokane, Washington, where a quintet of charismatic, photogenic teenagers(who strangely all look like they're in their mid-to-late-twenties) have just taken the stage in a local battle of the bands. Up front are three key players in this tale - on rhythm guitar, towering, achingly likable high school senior SEAN MCGARRIGLE, on electric keys (because when doesn't the girl in these teen rock movies get stuck with the keyboards), Sean's gorgeous, brilliant, super popular twin sister SUSAN, and on lead guitar and vocals, the town's brooding, mysterious dreamboat DERISON BAINES, who in addition to being the driving creative force behind the band, also happens to be Sean's best friend and Susan's boyfriend and soulmate (though, as is always only true in movies like this, the most popular couple in school hasn't done it yet). After some brief, impossibly endearing intro banter with the crowd from all three, they rip into their most popular number, The World's Best American Band. Will they win? 

2. I Love You Like A Brother - Alex Lahey: Yes! Hours later, Susan returns to her Gonzaga professor parent's amazing, alone-amid-the-pines home with trophy in hand, and before entering, exchanges pleasantries with our final player in this tale, younger tomboy sister SHONA, who as always this time of day, is putting in extra work on her soccer skills.  But though Susan loves her sophomore sister (who's already a three sport varsity starter), she and her liberal-minded parents have been too quick to assume what so far chaste, ultra-competitive, world-class-athlete Shona's eventual sexual-orientation will prove to be, assumptions that have quietly infuriated Shona ("what, straight girls can't be great at sports?"), and that will soon prove painfully wrong for all involved.

Reality: I Love You Like A Brother, from Aussie punk-pop Alex Lahey's 2017 album of the same name, was actually one of the year's most revered indie singles, though in the correct interpretation of the song, she's talking to her actual brother as they deal with their parent's looming divorce.

3. No Halo - Sorority Noise: Tragedy strikes! Unbeknownst to Susan, while the rest of the band is on their way from their battle of the bands victory to basketball practice (because in what high school musical movie are our male protagonists not also key members of a state championship-caliber sports team?), Derison's car is hit by a drunk driver. Derison and the band's drummer and bassist escape unharmed, but Sean, sitting shotgun right where they were blindsided, is killed instantly. Later that week, as everyone reals from the tragedy, Derison is so devastated, he can't bring himself to attend Sean's funeral, summoning the courage only to make the reception after at the McGarrigle's home. Needless to say, this doesn't sit well with Susan, and she and Derison have words.

Reality: No Halo was the lead single for this now defunct Connecticut emo-act's third release You're Not As _____ As You Think.

4. Silver Velvet - The Courtneys: Still at the funeral reception, after Susan storms off, Derison wanders out onto the back patio and stops dead.  Crying alone with her back to Derison in a stunning figure-hugging dress is one of the most strikingly statuesque girls he's ever seen. Sensing his presence, she turns, and shock of shocks (not to mention providing the requisite ugly duckling to swan transformation moment every movie of this type demands), it's Shona, whom Derison is witnessing scrubbed clean for the first time ever. Righting himself, Derison shakes off the sudden twinge of attraction, and gracefully comforts Shona in her moment of need. But when he leaves her to return inside and try to make amends with Susan, it's Shona who is overtaken with attraction. She bursts into song, skipping through the outlying pines as the sun sets around her, declaring that no matter how wrong, her heart now belongs to Derison.

Reality:  The Courtneys are a crack, all-female power-pop trio out of Vancouver. Both Silver Velvet here and Virgo, which we'll hear a few tracks later on this mix, are taken from their second full-length The Courtneys II.

5. Hiding With Boys - Creeper: A few weeks have passed, and tensions have only gotten worse between Derison and Susan.  On an intellectual level, Susan knows her brother's death was not Derison's fault, but can't stop herself from feeling anger towards Derison all the same. It all reaches a peak when Derison, frustrated over their lack of communication, shows up unannounced at Susan's house to talk and finds her hanging out in her bedroom with the rest of their band, doing exactly what she refuses to do with him, talking through her feelings on the loss of Sean. Furious and feeling betrayed, Derison storms out of the room...

Reality: Though it receive little attention in the states, British goth/metal/emo/hardcore-punk act Creeper's Eternity, In Your Arms, was to my ears, the best emo album of 2017.  Fans of My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade should love this one. 

6. Percolator - Charly Bliss: ...and right into the arms of Shona, who having just stepped out of the bathroom shower, wears only a towel. Flustered, Derison apologizes awkwardly, but Shona says nothing.  Instead, after letting him squirm for a moment, she takes his hand with a provocative smile, walks him into her bedroom, and closes the door. 

Reality: Albums just didn't come more 90's power-pop sugary in 2017 than Guppy from the Eva Hendricks-fronted Brooklyn quarter Charly Bliss. A strong player in 2017's year-end polls, most of the Guppy's songs zeroed in on moments of extreme emotional conditions, such as Percolator here, which finds its female protagonist ready to go all-in on a potential sexual encounter. The longer-term ramifications of that decision are explored in another Guppy song a few tracks later on this mix.  

7. Boyfriend - Marika Hackman: The next morning.  Derison has just slipped out of the house sight unseen, clearly conflicted over what has gone down. But as she dresses for the day, at this moment the always competitive Shona is feeling nothing but triumphant, having just surpassed her prim, unwittingly condescending older sister in the sexual experience department, with her sister's beloved boyfriend no less. 

Reality: The attitude of Boyfriend fits this story beat, but I'm twisting the lyrical intent of this widely lauded song from Marika Hackman's 2017 release I'm Not Your Man, as the song is actually written from the perspective of a lesbian woman who's just stolen away clueless lunk's bisexual girlfriend and mocks the boyfriend's unsuspecting obliviousness to what has just gone down. 

8. I Broke Up In Amarante - Los Campesinos!: Wracked with guilt over his actions and how it will impact not just Susan, but the entire McGarrigle family, Derison decides the only marginally acceptable course of action is to break up with Susan and start dating Shona proper.  So he convinces Susan to meet him at their favorite tapas restaurant and gives her the news. Susan is crushed. When Derison starts getting defensive and states "But you stopped talking to me!" She replies heartbreakingly, "but I never stopped loving you. I just needed time." 

Reality: I Broke Up In Amarante comes from long-running, witty Welsh indie-pop act Los Campesinos sixth studio release Sick Scenes.

9. Glitter - Charly Bliss: The aftermath. Susan returns and confronts Shona with a forcefulness Shona hadn't anticipated. The argument concludes with Susan declaring she will never, ever forgive Shona, and that Shona's as dead to her now as their brother Sean. After Susan leaves, Shona sits and wonders if she's thrown everything away for a moment with a guy that probably doesn't love her as much as she hopes. 

Reality: Our second selection from Charly Bliss's candy-confection debut Guppy asks that universal question that's probably crossed the mind of just about every girl once she's given herself fully to a boyfriend - "Am I the best,... or just the first person to say yes?"

10. Why We Won't - Grandaddy: And things start to get bleak for Derison and Shona right away. Word has spread around school, their mutual friends all take Susan's side, and Derison and Shona find themselves outcasts when they used to be two of the most popular kids in school. Worse, Derison, who still really loves Susan, is becoming an increasingly difficult and controlling boyfriend to Shona, laying down all sorts of rules on their relationship, which the still romantically inexperienced and smitten Shona accepts... for now.

Reality: After a ten year hiatus, Modesto, California's early-aughts indie-darlings Grandaddy returned with their fifth full-length Last Place.

11. Silent Movie Susie - The Big Moon: Things get even harder for Shona when Susan, always a super ambitious student who has already accumulated more than enough credits, decides to finish high school a semester early and move to/start working in Seattle on the UW campus where she will begin classes the following fall. Entering her older sister's empty bedroom after the move, Shona realizes how much Susan really means to her and sings words of hope that Susan will change her mind and come back. 

Reality: In addition to serving as the backing band for Marika Hackman on her excellent I'm Not Your Man, London all-female indie-quartet The Big Moon also found the time in 2017 to release their own rocking debut Love In The Fourth Dimension.

12. Disappeared - Sorority Noise: A major development!  Derison, still despondent over the loss of Sean and all that's transpired since, pours himself into song, writing and home-recording the track Disappeared, then putting it up on Bandcamp. The response is huge, and before you know it, Derison is swept into the world of agents, managers, and hangers on, all looking to get a piece of this overnight indie-rock sensation. 

Reality: Here's one more angsty number from Sorority Noise's You're Not As _____ As You Think.

13. Virgo - The Courtneys: And with so much of Derison's time taken up with his burgeoning music career (as well as finishing high school), Shona finds herself growing increasingly anxious over all the time she spends waiting on him, and thinking about him.  She fears she's losing herself in the relationship, and for the first time, the sense that this treatment is no longer okay for her starts to surface. 

Reality: One more from the Vancouver jangle-pop up-and-comers from their sophomore album The Courtneys II.

14. Sandlot - Dropkick Murphys: It's late spring, and Derison is invited to Seattle to perform Sandlot, the lead single from his upcoming major label debut, on KEXP's Live On Air. He brings Shona with him and they share a now rare joyous moment as Derison and the group kills it. Meanwhile, alone in her campus apartment, Susan listens to the broadcast, weeping for the simpler early childhood times the hyper-nostalgic song calls to mind. 

Reality: For their ninth studio album 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory, Boston's Dropkick Murphy's shook things up, leaving their hometown city to record in a rural studio in Texas.  In addition to giving the band a short head-clearing respite from their active family lives, it allowed them to lock in on some very heavy material focused on The Boston Marathon Bombing and the band's dedicated community work with addicts, homeless veterans, and disadvantage children through their Claddagh Fund charity. The joyous Sandlot, then, is a brief respite from the heaviness and intense sense of purpose that informs the rest of the album. 

15. Your Dystopic Creation Doesn't Fear You - Deerhoof: But after the show, while Susan weeps for what was, Derison, Shona, the band and the KEXP DJ have dinner. And after a moment where Derison rudely dismisses one of Shona's harmless, small talk comments, Shona grows increasingly disenchanted with what is, finding herself less and less willing to put up with Derison's controlling, me-first ways. She excuses herself, and the DJ, correctly interpreting the situation, let's Derison know things aren't right. 

Reality: We been featuring tracks from San Francisco's inspiredly insane, twenty-years-running art-rock outfit Deerhoof since we first started doing these mixes over a decade ago.  This track comes from the band's fourteenth studio release, 2017's Mountain Moves.

16. Link In Bio - Diet Cig: Walking the streets of downtown Seattle alone, still seething from how she was insulted, Shona realizes that though young, out of Derison, Susan, and herself, she is actually the strongest, toughest, and most determined of three. In this moment, though she doesn't yet break things off, her opinion of Derison drops dramatically, and she subconsciously comes to suspect she and Derison are done. 

Reality: Diet Cig is a young, White Stripes/Japandroids-styled drums and guitar punk/pop duo with a female twist out of New Paltz, New York.  The so bright Link In Bio comes from their debut release Swear I'm Good At This.

17. Marine Tigers - The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die: Meanwhile, even while on the verge pop superstardom, Derison continues to slide into more negative and cynical thinking, and finds himself and the band cutting the positively morose Marine Tigers in the studio. After finishing the song, his bandmates let him know their getting sick of all the depressive material he's been coming up with lately. 

Reality: The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die is a indie-rock collective out of Willimantic, Connecticut with a constantly shifting lineup that's almost as expansive as the band's name.  Marine Tigers is taken from their third full-length release, 2017's Always Foreign.

18. Short-Fingered Man - Julianna Hatfield: Shona convinces herself to give Derison one more chance, and early in the summer, goes on the road with the band for a long weekend. But after a completely unsatisfying love-making session following a sold-out show, realizes that whatever attraction she once had for Derison, it no longer exists. She breaks up with him, and decides to return to Spokane on her own to get on with her own life, but not before she makes a quick stop in Seattle to make amends with her sister. 

Reality: Though now in her fifties, former Blake Baby, Lemonhead, and I Don't Care Julianna Hatfield has never lost her youthful fire, as is clearly evident here in her 2017 take-down of lousy male lovers everywhere Short-Fingered Man from her fifteenth solo effort Pussycat.

19. Black Rain - Creeper: It's a few months later, on a rainy night on the Wash U campus.  The fall semester has started, Susan is now living in her new sorority house and face-timing with Shona, with whom she's reconciled.  Suddenly, she hears screaming outside, ends the call, and walks to her window.  Derison stands outside, soaking wet, screaming Susan's name over and over.  Susan tears up, but fortifies herself and lowers her blinds. Derison's screaming continues. 

Reality: Here's another one of Eternity, In Your Arms anthemic hard chargers.  Serious Streetcar Named Desire "Stella...." vibe to this one. 

20. Magazine - Slotface: The next day. Susan is at her local stylist's shop, getting her hair done, when she spots a picture of Derison and the band on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. All of her frustration and anger over his betrayal and his humiliating appearance at her sorority house the previous night, and the fact that despite all that, she can't shake her feelings for him, launch her into song -- as she recognizes her all-time favorite punk-hero would never put up with what Susan herself has allowed herself to endure. But just then, as she thinks she's resolved herself, there's a clamor of chatter from the other girls in the shop. She looks up to see Derison standing right in front of her. 

Reality: Slotface are a young Norwegian punk act just arriving on the scene, and the awesome Patti Smith name-dropping Magazine comes from their 2017 debut Try Not To Freak Out.

21. Pariah - Steven Wilson: Our big emotional conclusion. At a coffee house down the street from the hair parlor, Susan and Derison finally talk it out. She lets him know how badly he hurt her, but is then shocked at the depth of feeling coming from Derison, at how much he clearly loved and misses her brother, at how much he regrets all the pain he's caused her family, at how poorly he treated Shona, at how alone and lost he feels despite his career success, and mostly, how impossible it is for him not having his soulmate in his life. At this moment, Susan finds she is able to forgive him, and while not able to bring herself to rekindle the relationship - she still feels they have to move on - ends their conversation with words of comfort and love, encouraging him to fully seize the opportunity in front of him. 

Reality: Called by The Daily Telegraph "the most successful British musician you've never heard of," Steven Wilson has been a force in experimental and progressive rock for over thirty years, collaborating with the likes of Roxy Music, Jethro Tull, Opeth, King Crimson, Yes, Andy Patridge of XTC, as well as his own primary rock outfit, Porcupine Tree.  Pariah here, which serves as the emotional climax to our fictional rock and roll musical, is taken from Wilson's 2017 solo release To The Bone.

22. Tellin' Lies - The Menzingers: We fade to black on the previous scene, and then a title card "10 YEARS LATER."  Suddenly, we're in a packed concert venue just as a band takes the stage.  It's Derison and his basketball team bandmates from our opening scene, along with a couple new SUPPORTING PLAYERS. Derison fires up a riff, the crowd goes crazy, and then they go crazier even still when the final band member, a women, takes the stage.  It's Susan, now on guitar and also five months pregnant and sporting a wedding ring. She gives Derison a loving, spousal smile, and the band launches triumphantly into a rousing version of their latest nostalgia-driven hit as the end credits start to roll.

Reality: The Menzingers are an excellent veteran punk outfit out of The Office's hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  The rousing, sing-along Tellin' Lies hails from their from fifth full-length release After The Party.

23. Crickets - Creeper: As the credits and concert performance end, and the crowds burst into cheer, we pull back and realize it's been a televised New Year's performance, and it's being watched in a luxurious Seattle home, by an older Shona, still dressed in her surgeon's scrubs after a long day as Seatlle's top orthopedic surgeon but looking absolutely fabulous. A Gold Medal from her stint on the US women's soccer team hangs on the wall behind her. She too is now married, with her husband and two young children sitting with her. He rises, kisses her on the cheek, tells her how Susan and Derison came off great, then says he'll get the kids down and whisks them away. Shona turns her attention back to the television, as Susan and Derison start another tune singing into the same microphone looking blissfully happy, and a dark expression forms on Shona's face. Her POV of the television tightens until Susan is squeezed out frame, leaving only Derison, looking charismatically alluring. When we cut back to Shona, it's clear her  competitive fire is surfacing again. 

Reality: In the middle of all the theatrical excess of Eternity, In Your Arms comes this nightmare acoustic ballad of romantic devastation. The perfect cliffhanging, "set-up-the-sequel" coda to our teen-angst tragic-comedy.

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