Tag Archives: best of 2017

Track Marks: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” by The National

Gripes
There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!
Marisa
Gripes

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.

We covered The National in our music podcast, but I didn’t get a chance to say this: I haven’t listened to Sleep Well Beast all that much. It’s not that I haven’t loaded it up and hit the play button. But, four songs in, I get to “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” and I can’t get past it. I need at least three listens before I’m able to move on. It is, without a doubt, the best song by The National.

Perhaps that’s because it’s also the most song by The National. It’s all there from the beginning, but the song slowly, confidently lets them build: The beat, the piano, that angular guitar riff. There are horns. I’m a sucker for rock songs with horns (though oddly enough I never had a ska phase). But the horns aren’t blaring, they’re just lifting up the melody. There are voices, too, and not just Matt Berninger’s. They help the song move from the low rumblings of lonely secrets to the higher, soaring talks with God.

I used to have a theory that the best album titles were really just phrases you hear all the time, but taken out of everyday context. I still mostly believe that there will never be an album title better than Northern State’s Can I Keep This Pen? (When I heard that Limp Bizkit had an album called Results May Vary, I was like, goddamn them, that’s good.) I never really thought that applied to lyrics until I heard Berninger’s exasperated, “I can’t explain it any other way.” How many times have I said that, and how come it never sounded so beautiful?

Writer’s note: There’s an official video, too, but I liked the live one.

Track Marks: “Younger Now” by Miley Cyrus

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.

Is it really so ridiculous that Miley Cyrus would sing about feeling young? It might seem redundant, I guess, because she’s only 25, which to me, racing toward 40, sounds so impossibly fresh and dewy now. But I don’t know that I felt that way about 25 when I actually was 25. Bless anyone who maintains uncomplicated feelings about aging for 25 whole years.

Moreover: Miley Cyrus has been making music for a decade. Yes, she’s the kind of showbiz lifer who was born into it and made a beeline for the Disney machine, but Younger Now, the 2017 record whose title song I adore, is her sixth album. It’s the first one I’ve ever bought; I got Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz from whoever was kind enough to rip a free mp3 version from the free streaming version that was the only version available for a while (it’s now available as a paid download, and honestly, I kind of recommend it). I bought “Wrecking Ball” but not all of Bangerz. I downloaded “Party in the USA” from a music blog that encoded its source album as Shit Guys, Miley’s Done It Again!

There was a time when that fake title was only half-ironic. People like “Party in the USA” and especially “Wrecking Ball.” In the annals of teen or teen-like stars getting grown-up and weird, people do not so much like Dead Petz, the album where she fronted the Flaming Lips and (I assume) smoked a lot of pot, displaying a lot of vulnerability – and genuine, not overproduced, weirdness – in the process. People do not so much seem to like Younger Now so much, either. I gather that it’s considered kind of a clumsy, opportunistic pivot back to pop-country after a series of failed cultural appropriations. Though the record is country only insofar as it sounds kind of country-ish compared to the Flaming Lips, it is inarguably uneven. Miley Cyrus is not a savant who makes Top 40 pop that we wish actual Top 40 pop sounded like, like Carly Rae Jepsen. But then, Carly Rae Jepsen is 32. She knows things. This is why we (Rob and I, anyway) love her.

Which brings us back to “Younger Now.” Like the album of the same name, it’s not perfect. It has at least one production touch I actually hate: the fake or fake-sounding drum-ish fills that sound way too much like the fake record-scratching noises everyone started using around 1997 or so. (Again: I am not 25.) The lyrics are rife with clichés, especially in the chorus: “No one stays the same.” “What goes up must come down.” “Change is a thing you can count on.” But as on Dead Petz, the weakness and awkwardness in her music now feel achingly sincere, and both the melody and sentiment of “Younger Now” soar with an unforced wistfulness, and faux-drum stutters aside, the production lets that wistfulness breathe, showcasing Cyrus’s vocals. She’s never sounded more confident or comfortable or hopeful. You know, like how you feel for a few fleeting moments when you’re young, if you’re lucky.

Track Marks: “Up in Hudson” by Dirty Projectors

Sara is big into reading and writing fiction like it's her job, because it is. That doesn't mean she isn't real as it gets. She loves real stuff like polka dots, indie rock, and underground fight clubs. I may have made some of that up. I don't know her that well. You can tell she didn't just write this in the third person because if she had written it there would have been less suspect sentence construction.
Sara

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.

Remember February? I sure don’t. Woe to the artists who happened to release their albums so early in the year because I have mostly forgotten them in the midst of all the insanity, and great music, that’s happened since then. Anyway, if you’d told me last week that I’d still have patience for a sad white guy bemoaning his girlfriend leaving him I’d have laughed in your face. And yet “Up in Hudson,” from Dirty Projectors’ self-titled 2017 release, remains in my rotation despite fitting that description to a T. Because that also sells it short. At almost eight minutes, unfolding over a luxurious horn-based hook, it’s a break-up anthem that manages to be incredibly even-handed while also being honest about its creator’s pain, considering the girlfriend in question was an integral, and celebrated, member of the band.

The next move for Dirty Projectors has never been easy to predict: they’ve done jagged art pop on Bitte Orca; Dylan-flecked folk on Swing Lo Magellan; even a recreation of Black Flag’s Rise Above done entirely from memory. So it’s interesting to see what it’s morphed into now that Dave Longstreth is essentially a solo artist performing under an established name. The stripped down, distorted aesthetic on display here isn’t always easy to love in comparison to their past classics, but it does feel like a honest reckoning, and “Up in Hudson” is its early highlight. If Longstreth seems like he’s working out his own bitterness and resignation in real time, at least the end result is something we can all share in.