I have no idea how to start, so I just will. The music I listened to in 2017 was mostly influenced by my Mom’s accident and the half year I spent with her in hospitals and rehab before she died a few months ago.
When she couldn’t talk, she might sing if I played the right song from a Bluetooth speaker I kept bedside. She remembered lyrics on days she couldn’t remember anything else. We’d listen to songs from her youth, songs her parents loved, songs she taught me to love. Hundreds of songs from Dorsey to Sinatra, Mathis to Fleetwood Mac, The Skyliners to Chaka Kahn, Santana to Streisand, Beatles to Radiohead. I could write a book about how Mom’s taste in music influenced my life. I spent decades burning her CDs to return the favor, the last being A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead. Thom Yorke’s voice spoke to her. To us.
I found myself adding those songs and more to a three hour mix I played at her funeral, from that same Bluetooth speaker set behind a meticulously curated photo collage of Mom’s life. The room was so crowded with friends and family that you couldn’t hear a note of it. Somehow I was fine with that. Music was between Mom and I, anyway, and I had my own little moment weeks later when I pressed eject on her car stereo and A Moon Shaped Pool popped out. I imagined Mom driving down Amboy Road to the beauty parlor softly singing “Daydreaming.”
Somehow I still managed to buy about thirty records this year, my hands down favorite being Soft Sounds from Another Planet by Japanese Breakfast. I listened to it every day driving back and forth over the Verrazano Bridge to see Mom. It wasn’t lost on me that their previous record Psychopomp was influenced by the passing of singer/songwriter Michelle Zauner’s Mom. Soft Sounds from Another Planet is beautiful and smart and vulnerable. I wore that record out. “Diving Woman,” a bit of shoegaze perfection, helped me over the bridge more than once this year.
“When she couldn’t talk, she might sing…”
“When she couldn’t talk, she might sing…”
Women ruled my playlists in 2017. Super talented songwriters like Julien Baker and Melina Duterte (of Jay Som) provided a depth that was totally missing from popular radio. Full disclosure; I dug some of what commercial pop had to offer this year, I can’t front. There’s a reason “Despacito” and “Shape of You” were ubiquitous. But while the rest of the world was feasting on the butt of Cardi B, I was happily listening to Everything Turned to Color and Sunflower Bean.
Sure, I made time for old standbys. Spoon never disappoints, and their record Hot Thoughts is kick-ass front to back. There were also great records from Randy Newman, Roger Waters, Jay-Z, Beck, The Shins, Robyn Hitchcock, Melvins, and others I really got into this year. Reissues from Radiohead, Paul McCartney, and The Beatles were also in heavy rotation, as was the Lin-Manuel Miranda penned track Ben Franklin recorded by The Decemberists. Some key songs from those records and more below. I promise it isn’t all depressing. I need candy, too.
Janita – Three Songs She’d Love to Have Written
Janita’s newest album Here Be Dragons is another in a progression of finely crafted hymns for the empowered. Whether by love, as in the silky “I Do,” or by subverting expectations, in the Beatlesesque “Not What You’re Used To,” Janita draws on lessons learned during a positively unique career that spans decades and continents. We caught up with Janita on the heels of her latest single “When It’s All Up To You” to find out three songs she’d love to have written.
Elliott Smith — “L.A.”
This is one of my favorite songs by Elliott Smith. I listened to the full album Figure 8 a lot while I was writing the songs on my new album, and it was a huge influence on me both melodically and lyrically. This song in particular has also informed some of the production choices we made later, like the heavier guitars you hear on my song “Not What You’re Used To.”
“L.A.” is incredibly melodic, but there’s an elusive, haunting quality to it. It feels like you’re always trying to reach it, catch up to it somehow. The backing vocals accentuate that feeling. In my mind, the song paints such a vivid picture of the ephemeral, fickle nature of L.A., and the similarly transient nature of the main character. Elliott Smith himself? I don’t know exactly how he does (did) it, but I’m certainly in awe of it.
Radiohead — “There There”
So hypnotic. So badass. Could the production possibly be any cooler? The melody is intricate and beautiful, and I can relate to the lyric from every which angle: as the singer, as the one being sung to, and whether in love relationships, friendships, or with total strangers. The subject matter simply comes up in life in so many ways all the time… I recently tried to express similar notions as I was writing a song, only to remember that it was already done here perfectly. Goddammit.
Punch Brothers — “Julep”
This song is simply magical to me. It’s made me bawl my eyes out at a Punch Brothers concert two separate times. It’s like that viral video that was circulating some years ago of a baby moved to tears when her mom sings a sad tune. I’m that baby when it comes to this song. It simply hits some sort of primal button in me and keeps pressing it until the very end.
While you’re at it, check out Janita’s video for “Digging in the Dirt,” a funky and faithful rendition of the Peter Gabriel classic.
New Music – Bachelor
Jay Som’s Melina Duterte and Palehound’s Ellen Kempner join forces as Bachelor – a musical powerhouse whose new record Doomin’ Sun drops May 28th on Polyvinyl.
Kemper and Duterter recorded the album during two weeks of mutual appreciation in California. Three visceral singles have been released in the lead-up, including the Pixies-flavored “Stay in the Car” and the sprawling “Anything At All.”
Bachelor has also announced the Doomin’ Sun Fest, a one-day livestream featuring Tegan & Sara, Courtney Barnett, Adrianne Lenker, Jeff Tweedy, Japanese Breakfast, Julien Baker, and more.
Self-Serving Interview with Electronic Device Does Little to Advance Musician’s Career
Two men that look suspiciously alike meet outside a fictitious Brooklyn hot-spot – six feet apart.
MC Krispy E: Very nice to meet you. (squints) Have we met before?
Electronic Device: Maybe?
MC Krispy E: Is the rest of the band joining us?
Electronic Device: (pause) I am the rest of the band.
MC Krispy E: You are Electronic Device? What’s that about?
Electronic Device: Uhm, yeah, it’s like a pen name. You know what that is, right?
MC Krispy E: I have some idea.
Electronic Device: It was actually the name of one of my dad’s companies back in the day before…
MC Krispy E: (looking at his watch) Wonderful. So… it says here you have a new single called “All Things Come to an End” inspired by the death of your brother.
Electronic Device: Yeah, after my brother died I recorded songs as a form of therapy in his old bedroom in Staten Island.
MC Krispy E: And now I read that you have cancer. Am I supposed to feel extra sorry for you?
Electronic Device: Uhm…
MC Krispy E: It sounds like this album is going to be super depressing.
Electronic Device: It’s not, I swear. I was looking for some happiness while recording these songs, there’s not much of an agenda beyond that.
Electronic Device: I wasn’t really thinking about influences while recording, but listening back I hear some Concrete Blonde, some Cracker.
MC Krispy: So bands no one is interested in?
Electronic Device: What the hell, man?
MC Krispy: Sorry, it’s almost like I can’t help it. What’s the single about?
Electronic Device: I hate saying what a song is about because everything is up for interpretation.
MC Krispy E: Humor us.
Electronic Device: I can say that “All Things Come to an End” has multiple narrators, some of which are unreliable.
MC Krispy E: (stares)
Electronic Device: And that one day I was at my Dad’s house and when I turned the corner into the hallway my Dad thought I was my brother for a moment, which was super sad because of course I couldn’t be.
MC Krispy E: And then you wrote a whole song about that.
Electronic Device: I guess so. When you put it that way…
MC Krispy E: (yawning) Tell us when the single come out.
Electronic Device: The single is out now. The album comes out in 2021.
MC Krispy E: Well, good for you. And good luck with that cancer thing.
Electronic Device: Yeah, you too.
MC Krispy E: Thanks. What?