A Considered Look at the Best-Selling Albums of 2017

If what makes an album a bajillion-selling album in the high times is a baffling, confusing mess of a thing, then what makes an album sell anything in 2017 is even more of a tangled mystery. Overall consumption was reported to be up, although there remains the question of whether more people bought more things, or whether the record-selling industry just figured out how tot count things so that it can report on some kind of return. The final tally (see below) does include “Track Equivalent” and “Streaming Equivalent” numbers, however, so it might just be that they’ve decided to start keeping track of things as people actually consume them, which makes them only fifteen years late on that front.

So let’s take a look at what we can learn, by examining them one by one, in the manner of the Considered Look series 1 . “Best Selling” is according to Nielsen Music, via Billboard.

Ed Sheeran, [Division Symbol]

WHAT IT IS: It is suggested that it’s just meant to be called “Divide,” but that’s stupid. Although his last album was called X, which might mean that it might have actually been meant as “Multiply”. I can’t wait (I can wait) until he gets to the point where he’s calling his album !, pronounced “Factorial,” which will also be stupid. Not as stupid as Ed Sheeran, but still pretty stupid. Ed Sheeran is stupid.

WHY IT’S HERE: Because even though it is a well-established fact that Ed Sheeran is stupid, people still insist on listening to his stupid music. I can’t imagine why, but this is also compounded by the fact that I don’t think I actually know any of the people who listen to his stupid music.

AND….?: Remember how this last season of Game of Thrones sucked more than other seasons? Remember how it had Ed Sheeran in it? Yeah, Ed Sheeran makes everything worse. His music is a vector for his plague-like spread of garbage.

THE BEST SONG: None of these songs are any good, but the video for “Shape of You” features him getting punched, so that’s probably ok. I mean, I wish it featured him getting punched more, but what can you do? We take the gifts we are given.

Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

WHAT IT IS: The best-selling rap album of the year, a lot of places’ choice for record of the year full stop, and generally the next marker in Kendrick Lamar’s so far basically-perfect career.

WHY IT’S HERE: The zeitgeist sort of carried this album along on its shoulders. Kendrick’s always a big seller, and this record is less weird than To Pimp a Butterfly, and more crowd-pleasing, while also being less introspective. So people were probably more inclined to like it, and it sold a bunch (although it wasn’t purchased as much as it was streamed. Thanks Nielsen data!)

AND…?: It’s a great record. It’s extremely likable music, it’s extremely interesting music. It made my list, it made everyone’s list, everyone heard it, and it’s great.

THE BEST SONG: “Humble”, because sometimes I’m not a surprising person, and everyone’s opinion is, very occasionally, the right opinion anyway.

Taylor Swift, Reputation

WHAT IT IS: The first cracks in the Taylor Swift thing have started to show. This is not the best-selling album of the year! I mean, it’s also not very good.
WHY IT’S HERE: Momentum. A Taylor Swift record was always going to be a huge seller. She’s one of the only “too big to fail” stars still happening. This record is, in its way, a lot like the Justice League movie – it’s not that it’s terrible 2, it’s just that it isn’t actually good, and there’s nothing to recommend it beyond its own existence. It’s also only a “disappointment” commercially in the sense that the expectation was for it to be earth-shatteringly successful, and instead it was only regular successful.

AND…?: It has some nice moments, but they aren’t any of the singles. It was never going to do the business that the far-superior 1989 did, but it also isn’t a patch on 1989.

THE BEST SONG: “Getaway Car”

Drake, More Life

WHAT IT IS: The latest installment in the continuing chart dominance of one Canadian miserablist.

WHY IT’S HERE: Because people have a bottomless appetite for Canadian miserablism, especially if it comes from a former child star, I guess.

AND…?: I mean, I get why people like Drake in general, and I’m even guilty of occasionally liking him myself 3, but I guess at this point his real asset is familiarity or whatever, because otherwise I can’t really get my head around it. Maybe it’s whatever mystery agent that compels people to listen to Ed Sheeran, only applied to a less-annoying person.

THE BEST SONG: “Sacrifices”

Bruno Mars, 24K Magic

WHAT IT IS: Bruno Mars’ third album, and the oldest album on this list 4.

WHY IT’S HERE: Bruno Mars makes extremely likable, intermittently very good music, with a very easy-to-like throwback sound that a lot of people respond to favorably.

AND…?: Mars doesn’t make a lot of records 5, which is helpful, I suppose, in terms of keeping up the quality of his output. That said, 24K Magic is not actually very good, and its presence here is, like so many of these albums, actually pretty soul-crushing. Such is life. 

THE BEST SONG: “Finesse”

Post Malone, Stoney

WHAT IT IS: It’s probably not fair to refer to someone as being like a “rap Ed Sheeran” for no reason other than I hate their stupid music, but I want to do it anyway, because I hate his stupid music.

WHY IT’S HERE: Actually, it’s largely here on the basis of “Rockstar”, which is the unholy commercial alliance with another inexplicably commercially successful rapper 6, and “Congratulations,” which is a collaboration with Quavo, whose career in 2017 made me wonder if there was a feature offer that Quavo turned down in the entire year. I put to you: there was not.

AND…?: Well, I spent the “Why it’s here” portion of this writeup writing about other rappers after declaring Post Malone “the Ed Sheeran of rap” and frankly, I think that’s about where I stand on this record. It’s pretty bad, and I don’t like it.

THE BEST SONG: “Congratulations,” such as it is. I mean, I don’t know why Quavo is doing so much feature work, but I’m not what you’d call sad about it.

Migos, Culture

WHAT IT IS: Proof that good hip-hop seems to have fewer barriers to chart success than other genres, at least in 2017.

WHY IT’S HERE: Migos became a genuine actual mainstream phenomenon, having already established themselves as a genuine actual hip-hop phenomenon with their releases prior to this one. Their members’ (especially Quavo, see above) tireless willingness to pop up wherever they could is probably an aid to their general visibility, as is the fact that the particular flavor of “unique” and “innovative” they are also lends itself to being extremely catchy, and not actually sounding very much like anything else on the radio. Since these qualities are also intrinsic to their delivery, and not just embedded in their production 7, it means that when you’re hearing them, you’re hearing them, and have a good idea of how pleasing their music is going to be to you, the listener.

AND…?: I love Culture, and look very much forward to Culture 2, which will hopefully also continue their dominance, because it’s nice to hear good music atmospherically sometimes.

THE BEST SONG: “Bad and Boujee” (f Lil Uzi Vert)

The Weeknd, Starboy

WHAT IT IS: The best album that The Weeknd has made since his pop-star turn 8.

WHY IT’S HERE: Probably more of that appetite for Canadian miserablism, although The Weeknd’s is a sort of gleeful miserablism, so his record isn’t quite the same samey downer that Drake’s albums are. His Daft Punk-assisted singles probably didn’t hurt, nor did his frequent collaborations with Lana Del Ray.

AND…?: I like Starboy, I like “Starboy,” and I’m happy that The Weeknd seems to have figured out how to follow his muse to be adjust his musical approach to follow his impulse to be rich and famous without doing too much more damage to it than he already has. Since his pop records keep getting better, it’s easier to not be salty about his chart presence 9. It’s still not as good as the first few mixtapes, but then, almost nothing is.

THE BEST SONG: “Starboy”, which is one of the collaborations with Daft Punk.

Moana Soundtrack

WHAT IT IS: The soundtrack for a Disney movie. Interestingly, Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic is the oldest album on this list because it was released one day before the Moana soundtrack.

WHY IT’S HERE: A perfect storm of a clever interpolation of a kind of music that people don’t usually hear 10, songs co-written by of-the-moment musical wunderkind Lin Manuel Miranda, and a general exposure to the songs by it being an extremely famous Disney musical.

AND..?: I mean, it’s better than the average Disney soundtrack, but it’s still not my cup of tea.

THE BEST SONG: It might as well be “How Far I’ll Go,” since that’s the big one anyway. I don’t know guys, this stuff is pretty far beyond me.

Khalid, American Teen

WHAT IT IS: It’s all pretty much there in the title, honestly. American young people music made by a teenager. Or, well, ostensibly, theoretically young people music made by someone who is unquestionably a teenager.

WHY IT’S HERE: R&B is always a big seller. Khalid has a great voice, and “Young Dumb and Broke” is exactly the kind of radio-bait that is easy to get to pay off.

AND…?: It’s a pretty good record. The songs are fine, Khalid’s voice is, as mentioned, great, and it’s easy enough to listen to. I don’t know how many times I’ll ever listen to it, but I’m never sad to hear its songs in public situations.

THE BEST SONG: “Location” 

  1.  for more of which you can start here or here and go back from there. 
  2.  in Taylor’s case, the real problem with this record is the singles, which are uniformly awful, even though there are songs on the record that are just fine. 
  3.  although I haven’t actually liked a Drake record since Nothing Was the Same, which still wasn’t nearly as good as Take Care 
  4. It came out in November, 2016 
  5.  this is his third in seven years 
  6.  in this case, 21 Savage, who’s not nearly as bad as Post Malone, but is still popular beyond all possible reason. 
  7.  which not only varies across their own music but necessarily is scattered due to the aforementioned willingness to appear as features on the songs of other people. 
  8.  although it’s worth noting that even his early mixtapes included a cosign from his fellow Canadian pop star Drake, so it’s not like he was toiling in obscurity. It’s just that since the mixtapes, all of his label-supported material hasn’t been as good. 
  9.  for example, if I had been doing this when Kiss Land had been on the charts, I would probably be a lot more frustrated about it. 
  10.  traditional music of the Pacific Islands 

The Best Songs of the Second Half of 2017

The second half of 2017 is gone, the world is frozen and desolate, and everything is terrible. But there was some awfully good music! There’s more metal in this half-year rundown than in any previous, I think, which I suppose is something. That’s just about everything I have to say about it as a mass, that isn’t already covered in the individual entries below. As always, you can find a folder full of the songs right here.

Amenra, “Diaken”

Amenra take their time 1 making records, and, like most bands that take their time, make a pretty compelling argument for it by making uniformly excellent records. Mass VI doesn’t even really have a bum moment on it, with “Diaken” being the best representative sample.

A$AP Ferg, “The Mattress”

In which the good time party A$AP makes good time party music, with the best whooping ad-libs (“AAAAAAALL RIGHT!”) this side of a Migos record.

Aidan Baker, Simon Goff & Thor Harris, “Noplace”

A world-class drummer (who plays a bunch of other instruments), a world-class guitarist (who is also sometimes a drummer), and a world-class violinist (who I’m told plays other instruments, although I’m not as familiar) made a world-class album of beautiful drones. Unsurprising? Surely not. Very, very welcome, however.

Big|Brave, “Borer”

Sometimes what a body needs to be healthy and happy is some crushing drone-metal accompanied by some pained yelping. This is the best of all possible crushing drone-metal accompanied by pained yelping outings of the year, and it is everything a body could ask for.

Bjork, “Loss”

Utopia is in many ways the complete opposite of Vulnicura, both in much-remarked-upon subject matter shift and in its crazy-ass production. The relative-upbeatness of it isn’t nearly as durable as the fact that the sounds and arrangements on this record are weird as hell, and thus it isn’t quite the paradox it might seem that this optimistic, more-positive record’s high point is a song called “Loss”

The Body & Full of Hell, “I Did Not Want to Love You So”

When The Body and Full of Hell worked together the first time, I was baffled, and the result was basically my least-favorite record by The Body 2. Their second collaborative go-round was much more satisfying, and while I still prefer The Body by themselves, it was a worthy addition to their work, and is genuinely my favorite Full of Hell record. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

Boris, “Dystopia/Vanishing Point”

As Boris enters whatever this phase 3 of their existence is – Dear was meant to be their final album, but I guess they decided it was not – it’s good to hear them revisiting their old ideas, a thing that they had not been doing much of prior to this. Their last couple of records seemed to a part of a gradual synthesis of most of their previous sounds, and on Dear they basically got there. “Dystopia/Vanishing Point” is one for the books, in the drawn-out riff-fest vein of “Farewell” or the more recent “Angel,” and it’s nothing short of immensely satisfying.

Celeste, “(I)”

France might not have the best black metal scene in the world 4, but they might very well have the black metal scene with the highest batting average. So here we have another top-notch French black metal piece, although I’m pretty sure the dudes in Celeste would not be as comfortable with me calling them black metal as I am doing it. Ah, well.

Cloakroom, “Seedless Star”

Did you know I also didn’t have much substantive to say about Cloakroom when I wrote about them back in 2015, either? I mean, I used the phrase “noble Midwestern shoegazers” at that point, and I think that’s about where I’m at with this one. Great song, though.

Cocaine Piss, “Pinacolalove”

Do I have any idea what’s gotten these crazy kids so worked up? I sure don’t. And I don’t think they’re trying to actually tell me. So the only left to do is rock the heck right on out.

Cold Specks, “Exile”

In which one of the finest purveyors in mutlifaceted art-pop slows down, takes a deep breath, and makes her best record yet.

Dalek, “The Son of Immigrants”

Noise-rap pioneers Dalek 5 have managed to successfully return from their absence to take advantage of the fact that there is a whole lot more noise-rap than there used to be. Good for them. Endangered Philosphies is their second record after their hiatus, and shows that Asphalt for Eden was the duo successfully shaking the rust off, because it’s probably their best album yet, which is quite a feat given that it’s twenty years after their arrival.

Deep Dark Woods, “Up on the Mountaintop”

They can’t all be noise-assisted examinations of misery and/or nihilism. Sometimes you just want something strummy and chummy to hum along to.

Downtown Boys, “Lips That Bite”

I’m sure there must be bad bands from Providence, but I certainly haven’t heard any of them. Downtown Boys are another worthy addition to an already embarrassingly-great musical legacy from….a city in Rhode Island. Weird. Eerie.

EMA, “Breathalyzer”

If I say that EMA still doesn’t make albums that are as good as her singles, that’s probably not as big a deal as it sounds – her singles are tremendous, and it’s got to be hard to do that over and over again. “Breathalyzer” is no exception.

Brian Eno & Kevin Shields, “Only Once Away My Son”

This song basically put itself on this list. I mean, honestly, what was I going to do? Not listen to this collaboration five thousand times? Come on.

Ex Eye, “Form Constant; The Grid”

There is a sense in which this was basically on this list from the moment of its release – Colin Stetson is pretty much the best in the world at his instrument, and if Greg Fox isn’t actually the best drummer, he’s definitely the best heavy-metal drummer. The idea of them hooking up with criminally overlooked bass guitar wizard Shahzad Ismaily 6 and a guitar player whose work I was not familiar with 7 is basically a shoo-in. The surprise, then, of Ex Eye isn’t that they’re great, but that a bunch of jazzbos (and a metal drummer) made a pretty-killer black metal record. And I don’t even like black metal, as a rule.

Ezri, “1/1”

It is true that people first saw Ezri in Empire. That’s weird. It is also true that he is a pretty good rapper, and it is also true that he is a Clevelander, so I’m disposed to like him anyway, but I think I’d like just about anything that happens over that beat. Information on where the beat came from is thin and hard to find, which is a real shame, because I’d listen to it for hours and hours and hours. But, y’know, it’s also a good thing that it’s Ezri, who I genuinely do like a lot, who is rapping over the top of it.

Ben Frost, “A Sharp Blow in Passing”

Ben Frost released such an embarrassment of riches this year, over the course of two soundtracks, an ep and an album, that it was very, very difficult to winnow it all down to one representative selection. So, y’know, remember that this year also contained his cover of “Tainted Love,” and “Skittles is Fucking Delicious,” and “Mammoth Suite” and “The Beat Don’t Die in Bingo Town,” and even if you don’t listen to them, at least marvel at the majesty of those titles. And then enjoy “A Sharp Blow in Passing,” which probably is the best piece he put out this year, even if I don’t know how strongly I hold that particular opinion.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “Undoing a Luciferian Towers”

Godspeed continues to be a rock-solid consistent act, finding new ways to satisfyingly do what they’ve always done. On Luciferian Towers they give this whole “brevity” thing a try, and (somewhat surprisingly) it really works out for them.

Grouper, “Children”

We didn’t hear much from Liz Harris this year. This song might not even technically be usually included, as I tend not to worry much about outtakes (it was left off of Ruins), but since it’s the only thing I heard this year from Grouper, it made the list anyway. It’s my goddamn website, goddammit.

Gunn-Truscinski Duo, “Gunter”

I think of myself, generally, as someone who is not terribly interested in improvise dmusic. And then, of course, there ends up being a bunch of improvised music on these writeups. I suppose it’s only fair, then, to say that actually I don’t like dumb, boring improvised music, and that improvised music (across just about any genre) has a much higher percentage of dumbness and boringness. Steve Gunn is especially good at it, though, and his third record with John Truscinski is probably their most satisfying one yet. Two great players, playing great together. The peanut butter cup of guitar and drums music.

Jay-Z, “Caught Their Eyes”

You may be surprised to hear that I have nothing particularly to add to the general stew of words that have already been written about this Jay-Z record. I’ll just say that I really thought we were never going to even get another good Jay-Z record, let alone another great one, and that it’s good to have him back.

Mick Jenkins, “Free Nation Rebels”

In 2017, Mick Jenkins lost most of his chill, and made his hardest, most aggressive record (I mean, still graded on something of a curve) yet, and it might also be his best.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, “Sail On!”

As a Sharon Jones record, Soul of a Woman was as good as you could ask for. Hell, as an R&B record, it was as good as you could ask for. As a postmortem, it’s just about perfect, and “Sail On!” is it’s high point.

Alex Lahey, “Awkward Exchange”

More extremely likable power-pop from Alex Lahey is not a headline. But then, most of the appeal of this sort of thing lies in its appeal to one’s pleasure centers, rather than anything more cerebral. In fact, I daresay this one skips the cerebrum altogether in pursuit of rather more primitive cranial structures, and that’s why it’s here.

LCD Soundsystem, “Call the Police”

Look, I’m an old sad white dude. I love LCD Soundsystem. That’s just the way things work out sometimes.

Ted Leo, “Let’s Stay on the Moon”

Nearly forty years after Ernie cautioned that it might not be a good idea, Ted Leo provides a compelling musical rejoinder, and also quite possibly the best song he’s ever written.

Joyner Lucas, “I’m Not Racist”

It’s true that this is probably the first song to make one of these lists primarily on the strength of its lyrics. It’s also true that it would be a great song with different lyrics. But, y’know, the lyrics are real good. And mostly people heard this song because of the video, which is also great. But it’s also a great song, for real.

Merzbow, “Amadare Guitar”

Three minutes of guitar-scraping from the foremost practitioner of pure noise. It’s interesting as a curiosity, but more than that, it’s a pretty thought-provoking piece of music, showing that Merzbow contains multitudes, and can do what he does at any volume, with (apparently) any instrument. Oh, also, this is from the vinyl side of an insane one side vinyl/one side cd, so in addition to it being an intriguing look at form and whatnot, it’s also deeply irritating.

MIKE, “Forever Find Flight”

MIKE isn’t exactly one of the spate of emo-rappers that the soundcloud kidz are into these days, and that’s probably why I like him, to be honest. He takes the best of that sort of thing – the emotional honesty, and specifically the digging around in his worst emotional states to come up with the things he wants to communicate – and wraps it up a considerably more interesting musical package. The results are excellent, as “Forever Find Flight” speaks to.

milo, “Rapper” (f Busdriver)

In which Busdriver calls back A Tribe Called Quest, and milo throws Busdriver’s remembrances into even sharper relief. I suppose if nothing else, “Rapper” deserves full credit for demonstrating exactly what the best case scenario for a feature is.

Mogwai, “Every Country’s Sun”

So these are hard to write, right? I do it as a challenge to myself, but honestly, sometimes what I have to say about a song isn’t that interesting, or there isn’t that much of it. Sometimes it’s because my opinion is the same as everyone else’s, sometimes it’s because I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve run out of interesting ways to say “I like that shit.” Sometimes, in the case of Mogwai, it’s that a band has been so good in so many different ways for so long that I don’t know how to contribute meaningfully to the discourse around them. That makes it not only hard to fill this space about them, but even harder to make it clear that Every Country’s Sun, the album, is not merely another very good Mogwai album, but a surprising and invigorating one, and the title track is a standout from a band that has a career full of standouts.

Myrkur, “Death of Days”

Myrkur’s music can be kind of hard to pin down – it covers a lot of different sonic ground, some of which is great, and some of which makes you wish she was doing the other thing (the thing that was great). “Dance of Days,” which is a “bonus track” from Mareridt is the rare straightforward, easily-understood number in her oeuvre, and is all the more powerful as a result.

Randy Newman, “Lost Without You”

Spending much of the last couple of decades writing primarily for films has given Randy Newman’s ballad an additional sort of cinematic-frisson, and so even this, a small, domestic scene about old people being old and the onset of dementia and stuff, has this sort of wide-screen quality that is somewhat unexpected. In this case, however, it works.

Open Mike Eagle, “Hymnal”

Open Mike Eagle’s incredible Brick Body Kids Still Daydream does the thing that I hope for with any great record – it finds a way to connect the specific experience of being Open Mike Eagle, or with having been young Michael Eagle, as in the songs on Brick Body, to things that anyone can understand, and does so in ways that are inventive and effective, while also being entirely their own thing. “Hymnal” is a great song for a lot of reasons, but probably the primary one is the magic of directly communicating a complex and highly idiosyncratic way of thinking into a song that sounds great coming out of the speakers.

Pere Ubu, “Monkey Bizness”

Forty-two years into their existence, Pere Ubu continue to only be themselves, and continue to find new ways of being themselves, as well as making incredibly satisfying rock music. They are decades past the point where that should be expected. What an all-time terrific band.

Prurient, “Midnight Kabar”

Dominick Fernow hasn’t made a Prurient record that was generated by three dudes in a room since his first, earliest recordings. His decision to revisit the idea made for one of the best listening experiences of the year. Prurient records tend to live or die on their immediacy, and somehow even the septuple-album Rainbow Mirror 8 manages to maintain a healthy weight of momentum, and this probably has a lot to do with it being the sound of players interacting, rather than the sounds of Fernow’s head unadorned. “Midnight Kabar”, then, is more of a representative sample than a particular standout (although it is also a great piece of music) – the record is something that’s very much worth consuming as an entity.

David Rawlings, “Airplane”

Are country songs better when they’re wistful ruminations about what one would do with the power of flight 9? I submit to you that they are.

Shabazz Palaces, “30 Clip Extension” (f Quazarz)

They probably didn’t need to release two entire records to do it, but the good parts of Shabazz Palaces’s 2017 output were mighty, mighty good. Besides, there’s something sort of commendable about your statement being a sprawling, messy, overstuffed batch of songs, some of which sound like they weren’t ever quite finished, and some of which are absolutley top-notch. Obviously this is one of the latter.

Nadine Shah, “Holiday Destination”

Nadine Shah gets better with every subsequent release. Holiday Destination, from which we have the title track here, is even better than her first full-length. At this rate, she’ll take over the world by the time of her third record. Or at least we can hope so.

Sheer Mag, “Need to Feel Your Love”

Sometimes, even among all this highfalutin’ talk of thoughts and expression and abstraction and ideas, what you really want is something that challenges nothing, but provides easy-to-grasp thrills, and is competently and authoritatively proffered. What I’m saying is: Sheer Mag did not reinvent the wheel, but it’s a mighty fine wheel, nonetheless.

Telescopes, “Hand Full of Ashes”

The Telescopes continue to be a fantastic, consistent band that makes great records all the time, as they have for my entire life, and I feel like they still don’t get the credit for this that they deserve. Call it my mission in 2018 to make all of you love The Telescopes.

Ufomammut, “Core”

Ufomammut are probably the world’s second-finest doom metal trio 10, and although they aren’t quite as outrageously prolific as some, their batting average is enviable. I mean, it’s not every band that can still be satisfying their fans with their eight album, and after almost twenty years.

Unsane, “We’re Fucked”

I sure do ballyhoo a lot about subtlety, and communicative weirdness and all that. Well, as with the Sheer Mag song above, this does none of that. I can safely say that if you see that Unsane has a song called “We’re Fucked,” you probably know what you’re in for, and you’re probably right. And honestly, that’s exactly what I wanted it to be.

Alan Vega, “Stars”

I am prepared to say, after some consideration, that on every single album of which I am aware (and certainly every album that I own 11) that contains a song called “Stars”, that song is the best song. Alan Vega’s final album is full of all kinds of spirited, classic Vega-ist moments, and the best song, because this is the rule I have just decided on, is called “Stars”. So there you go.

Chester Watson, “Halloween”

Chester Watson still hasn’t let a year go by without his output including something that’s blown my mind. Even if 2017 was relatively minor in terms of his material in the world, it still contained things as good as “Halloween”.

Watter, “Depth Charge”

I was relatively surprised that Watter continued on 12, but they have managed to rival just about any band out there for consistency. Chalk this one up to another band that isn’t talked about as much as I feel they should be, and enjoy “Depth Charge.”

Wiki, “Made for This”

Since the end (I guess?) of Ratking, Wiki has remained tremendously busy, and his output has consistently been pretty great. He’s entered the same space as, say, The Underachievers or Big KRIT, where I’m pretty into everything he does, but I don’t actually have that much to say about it.

Charli XCX, “Backseat” (f Carly Rae Jepsen)

Charli XCX has always been a tremendously interesting pop music presence 13, with the notable exceptions basically being her radio-assist giant hits (“I Love it” and “Fancy”) and her actual “official” studio records. I suppose if her career as an actual pop star funds her side-gig as an interesting weirdo, then we’re in business. Fans of either aspect, however, should all be pleased with “Backseat,” which calls upon Carly Rae Jepsen to make this valiantly oddball, super-pleasing piece of candy.

The Yawpers, “A Decision is Made”

“A Decision is Made” is such extremely-likable music that I don’t have to do much to justify its inclusion here, and can say: man, this band has a killer drummer. What a cool dude.

ZGTO, “Long Ass Time”

ZeelooperZ would like you to know that he’s been on this grind for a long-ass time. Mostly known as a compatriot of Danny Brown’s, he’s also spent the past few years developing into a semi-hinged dervish. On A Piece of the Geto, he also reveals that he can lay back and work comfortably with queasy tension. Even if he’s just regular-style going on about how long he’s been in the game, it sounds sort of sick and fucked up. That’s a compliment.

HM: POS side-project Shredders’ “Calm/Sane” was an awfully good POS song in a year that had us spoiled for choice, and just barely missed the cut. Pope’s “David Caspian” and The Flatworms “Motorbike” are both excellently-rockin’ pieces of highly enjoyable, catchy power-pop. Ed Balloon’s “Paper Chaser” is, as all things Ed Balloon does, extremely well-sung, but misses out on the list for being fairly slight. Mavis Staples’s “Try Harder” is one of the angriest songs ever recorded by Mavis Staples, which is something of a feat not because of its competition, but because I didn’t know that Mavis Staples had angry songs in here. G Perico’s “Amerikkka” is a mad-as-hell rant that’s a lot of fun when it’s going, but doesn’t wear well. Joyner Lucas’s “I’m Not Racist” was a viral smash for its video, and his really intense delivery really helps mask the fact that it’s not really something that holds up to analysis. 

  1.  their last record, the superlative Mass V, was five years ago, and was their first for Neurot. 
  2.  it came along near FoH’s collaboration with Merzbow, which I found similarly baffling. Having now seen FoH play live, I have a better idea what they’re on about, and I like both records a bit more than I did at the time. 
  3.  the fifth or sixth of their quarter-century career 
  4.  by which I mean that I have no idea if they do or not, because I don’t listen to that much black metal. 
  5.  pronounced “Die-a-leck,” and not like the trash can robots in Dr Who 
  6.  I don’t usually have a lot to say about Marc Ribot’s solo records, but Ismaily is the bassist for a couple of them and his playing is uniformly pretty incredible. I’d imagine if I had deeper ties to the NY weirdo-jazz scene, I’d probably find him less-overlooked. 
  7.  I mean, his name is Toby Summerfield, and the internet tells me he played on a Cheer-Accident record I enjoyed a lot, but I did not know that. 
  8.  it is, admittedly, only four discs on CD. So. 
  9.  see also Merle Haggard’s “If I Could Only Fly” 
  10.  see above w/r/t Boris for the first 
  11.  It is, off the top of my head, true for albums by Lisa Germano, Hum, Kid Dakota, Bricklayercake, Colour Haze, Angel Olsen, and Two Cow Garage. 
  12.  this is, admittedly, because of me more than any particular quality on their part 
  13.  Especially Super Ultra, which I listened to a bunch when I was starting this very blog, but somehow didn’t warrant a mention at the time. Weird. 

The 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards

The Hollywood Foreign Press is, as always, kicking the year off both in terms of the awards season and also the calendar, so we’d best take the time to pay attention to them. We might learn something!

This year continued to be yet another of those years where the television parts were uniformly pretty good 1, and the movie parts were even more inexplicable than usual 2. They were also (and this may be the product of the times in which we’re living) steeped heavily in biopics, which, blergh.  

But wade through them for you little lost lambs I must, and so onward we go!

Best Miniseries or Television Film

Big Little Lies is a prestige drama full of Acting and stuff, and it’s been around for a long time 3, so I have very little else to say about it except to cite it as an example of a phenomenon that I feel compelled to mention during every television awards show that separates things out into “miniseries” and “series”. To wit: Big Little Lies is a complete story, with a beginning middle and an end, and so, as of a couple of months ago, seemed a perfectly reasonable candidate for “miniseries” status. Since then, however, it has been revealed that there’s going to be a second season, which means that it’s not a “miniseries” anymore, and so here it is, nominated anyway. This drives me batty, folks. I suppose this is at least a case where there’s any excuse for all this chicanery, but it still drives me batty. Anyway, miniseries are generally a cesspool of po-faced Serious Business, and this year is different because there is Feud, which managed to be effective without any of that stuff, and is therefore the best of these.


Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film

I mean, I would like to see Laura Dern nominated for Big Little Lies because she gave me the coolest part of any Star Wars movie made in the last twenty-seven years, but that’s like, not the same thing. But I am going to withhold the award from Shailene Woodley (for the same show) out of spite. So there. Take that, Shailene Woodley. Michelle Pfeiffer is probably fine in the unmemorable The Wizard of Lies. Chrissy Metz is on This is Us and isn’t Sterling K. Brown, so she doesn’t win either. That leaves us with Ann Dowd.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film

Still Christian Slater! I’ll be dipped. Anyway, David Thewlis was no worse than anybody else in this, the weirdest season of Fargo. David Harbour was fine and David Harbour-ish in Stranger Things. Alexander Skarsgard was pretty good in Big Little Lies. I really liked Feud, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alfred Molina, Feud

Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film

Having previously stated my devotion to Feud, I will now say that it is downright poetic that two of the people in this category are playing Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and that they are also the two I can manage to stomach the idea of winning 4. Bette Davis won the Academy Award in 1963 for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane but should not have 5, but unfortunately Jessica Lainge does not rectify this problem, because she was not as good as Susan Sarandon. Ah, fate.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Susan Sarandon, Feud 

Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film

Watch as I break strongly with (my own) tradition: as with most things, David Lynch provides a useful exception. I usually complain about people getting nominated for “vintage” characters 6, but bringing back Dale Cooper, and Twin Peaks in general, was the sort of feat of artistic continuity that is nothing short of actually incredible – in that it defies credulity – and I believe it should be rewarded wherever possible. This includes for the acting performances, which in David Lynch’s case are always the sort of thing I can get behind, even when it’s “real” actors giving them. Since Kyle MacLachlan is the undisputed king of the Lynchian non-realistic actor, it seems pretty satisfying to say that this one should go to him.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks

Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

This is a pretty good category! Let’s all just sit in this moment and savor it, as a chance to consider things that are good and worth rewarding and all of that. Aaaaaaaaaah. I mean, this is going to be short-lived (see the next category), but it’s nice to pretend this could be the world.


Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Is Eric McCormack dating someone on the nomination committee? Did he bribe people? I mean, there was basically zero chance that the Will & Grace revival was ever going to be an effective piece of televisual entertainment for me 7 , but even given that can we not pretend that he’s the part of that cast that needs to be nominated for something (see FN7)? Anyway. Anthony Anderson is also not the best part of his ensemble, but at least he’s better. Still not a winner. William H. Macy spent a few years as the funniest part of Shameless, but he’s also been doing exactly the same thing for a bunch of years now, which is less impressive. Kevin Bacon plays an effective asshole in I Love Dick, which is always a delight to behold. Aziz Ansari manages to play a character type that is all over television 8 in a way that is 1) not irritating and 2) actually effective. He also moves to Italy to make pasta and fall in love with Alessandra Mastronardi which, honestly, is pretty much exactly what I would do. Since Atlanta didn’t make a season this year, it’ll have to do.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Aziz Ansari, Master of None

Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama

Not a bad field, and an unfortunate year for both Claire Foy and Maggie Gyllenhaal that they went up the same year as Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale. Not so much for Katherine Langford (who probably should not have been nominated) or Caitriona Balfe (whose performance in Outlander might be great, but which show in question is so mind-destroyingly dull that I will literally never be able to know). So it goes.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Actor in a Television Series – Drama

Still Bob Odenkirk! Still Liev Schreiber! Still depressing! 9 The praise for The Good Doctor baffles and confuses me 10 , although I suppose that’s not necessarily Freddie Highmore’s fault. I mean, it’s also not not his fault. Ozark is better than This is Us, but Sterling K. Brown is better than Jason Bateman within their dumb shows. So there’s that. I mean, this year more than any other I’m tempted to just throw it to Bob Odenkirk or whatever but, well, I get a little sloppy with some categories down below, and I like to keep things as tidy as possible while I still can.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sterling K. Brown, This is Us

Best Series – Musical or Comedy

True story: I genuinely thought SMILF was a joke someone made up on the internet the first time I heard of it. Throughout 2017, I was forced to confront the fact that not only did it exist, and but it was then popular enough to get renewed, and now, come to find out, it is nominated for at least one award. Then, a very similar thing happened with Will and Grace. Wonders never cease, I suppose. Anyway, Blackish and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisle are good enough, but I’m here for Master of None. This is probably proof that Netflix has successfully targeted me or something.


Best Series – Drama

Three soap operas 11, a return to a well that maybe could have used some more thought 12 , and The Handmaid’s Tale. I would be pretty easy to convince that this whole thing was teed up just to hand it to The Handmaid’s Tale without much fuss.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Foreign Language Film

Khnhom kmeanoavei kuor aoy chabarommo daembi niyeay ampi braphet nih te dauchneh khnhom ban brae venta daembi bakabre vea tow chea pheasaeakhmer! Khnhom kitthea nih chea rueng kambleng kuor aoy asasaamnaech toh khnhom brakd nasa tha kmean vithi na del ach thveukearngear ban te! Saum chomreab dl norna mneak del an aksaar nih del niyeay pheasaeakhmer del khnhom brae proh khnhom min chue toukchett leu kar sarser kaud now leu WordPress  daembi bangkeut tuoangk pitabrakd dauchneh vea bangheanh pir dng min ach an ban!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: First They Killed My Father (which was made in Cambodia. See above.)

Best Animated Feature Film

It’s Coco. I will not talk about what those butchers did to Ferdinand. I will stop writing about this category entirely so that I do not have to shake with rage at the merest thought of it. Assholes.


Best Original Song

If you told me that this song was a literal, actual joke I would believe it. Not only is none of this good, it’s not even any good as film music. I suppose the one thing that can be said is that at least these things largely play over the end credits, so I’m not compelled to watch them happen on the screen. They’re not even interesting! Just dumb sludge!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nothing! No one! None of this!

Best Original Score

Everyone in this category used to be interesting! This is true! But in 2017, this is a category full of people who are pretty much going through their own motions at this point. Even Johnny Greenwood has done enough film scoring at this point that it’s all basically the same every time out. I suppose in the field, the fact that John Williams does the music for The Post officially makes The Post a parody of itself. That’s pretty funny.


Best Screenplay

This is the first time it’s coming up, but I have to tell you folks flat-out: there is no way The Post deserves awards. More on this in specific categories below. I’m sure the script for Molly’s Game is unique, I’m not sure it’s what we’re looking for here. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri should win some sort of award for “general competence,” because I don’t think it’s any one aspect of the thing that wins out, although I suppose I’m willing to hear arguments. The Shape of Water is an achievement in many ways, but its principle characters don’t talk, and while that presents a challenge to the screenwriters 13 , it also means that the hardest part of screenwriting is basically taken care of 14. That leaves us with Greta Gurwig and Lady Bird.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Greta Gurwig, Lady Bird

Best Director

So Christopher Nolan tried to do something cool and innovative, and made a movie that would have been better had he not done so. I applaud his ambition. Ridley Scott had to replace a key actor at the very end and finesse him into a movie right up to the moment of its release. I applaud his technical ability. Steven Spielberg did was Steven Spielberg (mostly) does these days. I applaud his consistency. Martin McDonagh…well, I don’t know what he did that fits this joke. I applaud his nonstandard result. Guillermo Del Toro made The Shape of Water.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, Musical or Comedy

Nearly every awards show that I write about, I write about the arbitrary nature of the categories for which the awards are given out. The one that always starts this ball rolling 15 is the Godlen Globes, and how they’re more than happy to continue to insist that men and women do different jobs when they act, but that everyone who isn’t a lead, in any kind of movie, is doing the same thing 16 . This is, frankly, completely insane. The leads are actually more similar than the supporting roles – even in a straight-out comedy, the lead performers are doing more like what a drama lead performer does than what a supporting character is doing. But since they lump them all together, and that’s the rules as set out by the awards-granting body, we still must choose a rightful winner. And in this case, it’s Hong Chau from Downsizing. So there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Hong Chau, Downsizing

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Musical or Comedy

I mean, Sam Rockwell and Willem Dafoe are as reliable as ever, and I wouldn’t want to take that away from them. By the same token, Armie Hammer is pretty much always going to be Armie Hammer, and thus is always going to be more-or-less dull as dirt, and Richard Jenkins is not bringing anything new to the table. Since the Golden Globes are already basically a circus, then why not let the person who did the best circus performance of the year: Christopher Plummer was cast, prepared a role, and delivered a performance in the time since Kevin Spacey has been accused of being a sex criminal. That’s pretty impressive in and of itself, and so I think it probably deserves the Golden Globe.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

For whatever reason, in addition to the Get Out miscategorization (see below), a lot of these lighthearted biopics are being sorted as actual comedies in the Golden Globes categories this year. That’s weird. I mean, there’s plenty of gentle humor in them, but it’s rare for a movie to not have any comedic moments in it. It’s the entire philosophical point of the idea of “comic relief.” Anyway, most of these are biopics, and most of them are also just regular-old run-throughs of the Standard Actor Biopic Serious Business Skillset, and as such, aren’t really anything special. In a year that has so many monkey-trick performances 17, it really throws how routine all of these are. Saoirse Ronan manages to do something interesting, and isn’t just playing the cinematic version of a real person that was in the news all the time, so I guess it has to go to her.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Two of these people play highly-entertaining, kind-of-awful 18 people. That’s probably interesting. I bet it would be interesting especially to figure out the personality similarities between Tommy Wiseau (played by James Franco in The Disaster Artist) and PT Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman). I bet that would be considerably more interesting than considering these performances in isolation or whatever. Steve Carrell also played a real-life person, but as far as I know, Bobby Riggs didn’t swindle anyone with his force of personality into liking his thing or whatever. I’m pretty sure he just 1) swung a racket and 2) was a public jerk. It’s a good thing the Golden Globes are still stupid about Get Out, because it makes this category not only much easier to write about, but tolerable in the first place.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

Expectation plays a role in our experience of art, especially arts that require us to pretend that someone is a totally different person 19 . That is to say: we already have to believe some things in order to appreciate the form in the beginning, and the fact that various and sundry performances are given by people that we know to be good at it or whatever in the past means that we’re better-able to meet someone halfway in terms of their performance. I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as an actor that’s consistently good at his/her job, I’m just saying that a lot of people are given an easier road than others because of their prior ability to be effective. I mention it because I cannot imagine what edifying new heights Meryl Streep is actually climbing in The Post, but here she is nominated anyway. I’m not saying she’s bad – she’s probably great, in the way of things – I’m just saying there’s no way that it’s the best performance of the year. She talks, for starters. I’m sure Michelle Williams is fine in All the Money in the World, but also outclassed 20 . After that, things are less reliant on expectation as such 21, but still, the thing hangs over the entire category. Anyway, Jessica Chastain deserves some kind of reward for being the first lead character in a movie directed by Aaron Sorkin, leaving aside the usual jokes about his writing, but it’s probably not a Golden Globe. That leaves us with the wonderful Sally Hawkins, who had the further disadvantage of delivering her entire performance as a character who wasn’t even able to speak.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

Daniel Day-Lewis claims that he’s retiring, never to act in a film again, after Phantom Thread. While I’m sure his performance is as overbearing and ridiculous as every other performance he’s given that I’ve been aware of, he at least deserves full credit for the charitable contribution of at least letting us believe that he’s not going to be inflicting any more of that on us. So he should probably be given an award, not for the quality of the Acting performance, but for letting us believe he’ll stop.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Leaving aside the obvious and often-mentioned truth that Get Out is neither a musical nor a comedy, it’s the best movie of the year, the best horror movie in many years, and better than every single movie in the drama category. So it’s the winner here, even though it shouldn’t have to be


Best Motion Picture – Drama

Well, The Post is a standard-issue high-respectability-type regular big movie drama, and Call Me By Your Name is a fake-small, fake-weird, equally standard-issue high-respectability-type regular small movie drama. So those are both right out. Dunkirk goes to some interesting places, but has a device that gets in its own way. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is as well-executed and enjoyable as its title isn’t. That’s something. The Shape of Water manages to create an excellent story out of a woman that can’t talk and a secondhand Abe Sapien. Obviously this could only have gone one way.



  1.  with the notable exception of This is Us, which is blatantly mawkish nonsense. 
  2.  much has already been said about the inclusion of Get Out in the comedy categories, but and while nothing else scales quite those heights of ridiculous, it is also the case that none of the categories are free of baffling decisions.   
  3.  i.e. it was around at the Emmys already, because the Golden Globes comes up at a weird-ass place in the U.S. television season, such as it still is. 
  4.  see also much written here previously w/r/t Acting with a capital A. 
  5.  I’m unsure, in fact, what the rationale for her win could have even been, and it’s very hard to find Oscar-beat coverage from 1963 without reading an entire goddamn book about it, which I’m probably not going to do. 
  6.  including a bit further along below! 
  7.  the things about it that were lauded at the time have aged extremely poorly, and while there are three funny people in the cast, only one (Megan Mullally) is ever put to use in anything like a good environment for her comedy. I’m not saying that if you flipped Sean Hayes and Debra Messing’s roles that you’d have a better show, but you’d definitely have one that flattered each of their comedy skillsets better. Any Jack “fans” are welcome to come at me. I will fight all of you. 
  8.  shiftless adult male with deep enthusiasm and very few material ties. See also: every sitcom pitched at thirty-year-olds since, oh, Scrubs or so. The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed some overlap with the writer’s own demographic in this categorization.
  9.  and here I say, as I do every year, that I have no problem with Bob Odenkirk or with Liev Schreiber. I’d even say I like them both. I definitely think they’re both at their best when they’re being funny. I’m just saying: what can they possibly be bringing to these performances that’s award-worthy after all this time? 
  10.  Note that that’s the praise – I see very clearly what they’re doing from a marketing/television-airing standpoint, I just don’t understand why people like it. Or, if they like it, why they think other people should. 
  11.  This is Us, The Crown and Game of Thrones 
  12.  Stranger Things 
  13.  I would argue somewhat less of a challenge given that the guy who wrote the script is also the guy who’s directing, and so only had to write a screenplay well enough to give the actors something to work with and to remind him of his own vision, which seems considerably easier than trying to do it for someone else. 
  14.  especially when you consider that, say, Octavia Spencer’s character is “the friend” and Michael Shannon’s character is “the villain” 
  15.  probably because the GGs are the first awards show of the calendar year 
  16.  that is to say all the non-lead men are doing one thing and the non-lead women are doing another thing. 
  17.  see below w/r/t, say, Christopher Plummer, or The Phantom Thread’s marketing centering around it being Daniel Day Lewis’s final film performance. 
  18.  Like, morally and stuff. One of them is almost certainly guilty of literal actual money crimes, and the other is probably only guilty of poor taste, but I still wouldn’t really want to have to deal with either one. 
  19.  I’m speaking here about films, see. I don’t like acting, see. See below for more blasphemy on this subject. 
  20.  By which I mean that it’s probably not as good as Meryl Streep is in The Post, for example. 
  21.  although certainly no one could argue that the last three women in this category aren’t well-regarded, consistently-performing actresses. 

The Best Albums of 2017

Every year, I think I that the year that followed was an excellent year for music. I guess I’m just one of those people that likes things, I guess. Anyway, this year this list was particularly hard to make. I expanded it officially to fifty a couple of years ago, and this year thought about shortening it again to like, ten or twenty just so that I could feel good for the things that were left off of it. I heard a lot of great music from older acts that were coming back or otherwise continuing pre-existing comebacks (The Feelies, Randy Newman, Bash & Pop, etc.), by reliable standbys (Boris, milo, Bonnie Prince Billy), and by beloved Clevelanders (Cloud Nothings, Marc McGuire, Heart Attack Man), and even by one who’s basically all three (Pere Ubu), all of whom made records I enjoyed a great deal but were kept out of the top fifty. So anyway, these are the fifty greatest records of the year, but I can’t even pretend like I usually do that this is objective, or that this list wouldn’t look very different if I made it at another time. Also, I’ve lumped the Oddisee records together as one thing even though I usually consider two records released in the same period by one artist separately (Diamanda Galas, for example, made two records this year, only of one of which made the top 50), and also I don’t usually consider live albums that are of existing material (the Sleater-Kinney live album was excellent, but also didn’t really even make consideration). This is because it’s my goddamn list, and I think the two records are complementary versions of the material and therefore count as one statement. So there.

  1. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
  2. Oddisee – The Iceberg/Beneath the Surface
  3. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper
  4. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
  5. Endon – Through the Mirror
  6. Oxbow – Thin Black Duke
  7. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
  8. Cold Specks – Fool’s Paradise
  9. Big Brave – Ardor
  10. William Basinski – A Shadow in Time
  11. POS – Chill, Dummy
  12. Sampha – Process
  13. Prurient – Rainbow Mirror
  14. Bjork – Utopia
  15. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
  16. John Moreland – Big Bad Luv
  17. SZA – Ctrl
  18. Quelle Chris – Being You is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often
  19. UUUU – UUUU
  20. Penguin Cafe – The Imperfect Sea
  21. Micah Schnabel – Your New Norman Rockwell
  22. Dalek – Endangered Philosophies
  23. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
  24. (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
  25. Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock
  26. Thundercat – Drunk
  27. Alan Vega – IT
  28. Neil Cicierega – Mouth Moods
  29. Amenra – Mass VI
  30. Will Johnson – A Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm
  31.  Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
  32. Downtown Boys – Cost of Living
  33. Lorde – Melodrama
  34. Jonwayne – Rap Album 2
  35. The Telescopes – As Light Return
  36. Watter – A History of the Future
  37. ZGTO – A Piece of the Geto
  38. The Body & Full of Hell – Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light
  39. Ben Frost – The Centre Cannot Hold
  40. Gnod – Just Say No the the Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Death Machine
  41. MIKE – May God Bless Your Hustle
  42. Pharmakon – Contact
  43. Diamanda Galas – All the Way
  44. The New Year – Snow
  45. Aidan Baker, Simon Groff & Thor Harris – Noplace
  46. Migos – Culture
  47. Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun
  48. Future – HNDRXX
  49. Merzbow – Hyakki Echo
  50. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Damage and Joy

Who the Fuck Listens to This: Sia – Everyday is Christmas

Christmas albums are a weird thing. In the record-selling industry of 2017, they’re one of the only things that actually sells. The reasons for this are as predictable as they are kind of hard to understand. The national mania for Christmastime is something that necessitates its own sub-branch of the secondary parts of the music industry 1, and it is apparently lucrative to represent a draw to a certain kind of pop star. This year alone, country stalwart and putative Sexiest Man Alive Blake Shelton, former child-pop-sensations turned servicable power-pop mainstays Hanson, and, in our focus today, Australian weirdo songwriter and occasional pop star Sia have all made bids to enter this field.

Money aside, the other focal truth about Christmas albums is that they’re kind of a double-edged sword. Christmas music is something people have an appetite for, but the existing set of Christmas songs is pretty boring. Everybody has heard them all dozens of times a year, and new entrants into the “played all the time every year” canon are pretty few and far between. So you have a couple of options, as a Christmas-album maker. The more common route 2 is to spiff up some of the standards, write a few Christmas-esque originals, and never really think about it again 3. Occasionally, however, someone jumps in with an album entirely of originals, which makes it interesting to consider as an extension of someone’s work. That brings us to Sia.

Sia is an unlikely choice for “album full of Christmas songs”, primarily because as a songwriter, she’s a classic miserablist. She’s made her career, as a performer and as a songwriter, on the back of being a dab hand at the art of the soaring saddo ballad. While certainly there is no shortage of sad Christmas songs, they tend to be more of the bittersweet, introspective type. Nobody, in short, is swinging from chandeliers to hide the pain of being an essentially-empty drugged-out lonely person in Christmas songs. That surprise could work to Sia’s advantage – after all, there’s an even shot that she contains the sort of multitudes that would yield something that makes people want to snog and sip nog around the yule log.

Spoiler alert: she might contain multitudes, but nothing on this record would appear to readily yield to -og words of any description.

Although it is fair to say that, while her primary authorial tone does make it seem mighty unlikely that she would yield a great Christmas album, it is not the thing that stands in her way. Part of the problem is that despite her assertion that she “thought we had a bit of a shortage of good Christmas music” 4, there’s very little on the album to indicate she has any feelings about it one way or the other. She says all the words you’d expect to find on a Christmas album, but none of it really ever comes together.

When I say that none of it comes together, I mean that pretty much as a totality. The album, which was created, like all of her other albums, in collaboration with Greg Kurstin 5, so one can assume that it was constructed under usual working methods for both folks involved. It just so happens that these methods do not, in fact, work very well for Christmas music.

For starters, the whole album seems to have no idea what it’s doing, sonically. There’s jingle bells and hand bells and all sorts of other kinds of bells, real and imaginary, and the whole thing has a general head-rush overblown quality that is pretty common to contemporary Christmas music. It is sort of filtered through Sia’s customary hugeness – every song, even the treacly piano ballads “Underneath the Christmas Lights” and “Snowflake”, is pitched to the cheap seats, which makes the album exhausting, even at only 35 minutes.

There seem to be a couple of attempts to marry the Generalized Christmas Spirit to Sia-standard regret porn, but the attempts are halfhearted. The aforementioned “Snowflake” seems to be about having some sort of romantic involvement simply because it’s Christmas, the time for romance (?!), and there appear to be some pseudo-sexual undertones to “Snowman” and a couple of references to Santa that really make me question some things 6, but it doesn’t really fit the whole thing very well, and the record is better off (for whatever standard of “better off” could possibly apply to this) when it sticks to the sort of essential Christmas stuff.

Ultimately, it’s the fact that she seems to have genuinely been going for a fresh new take on Christmas – the songs seem to be honestly considered, even if they are garbage – that hurts this the most. Most Christmas albums are cursory affairs, with very few ideas, and dashed-off originals. They’re the musical equivalent of those pinecones they sell in grocery stores that are soaked in some kind of nightmare hellscape of cinnamon oil: they bear some resemblance to what you think you want in the first place, but it’s all so half-assed that you wonder what can be done. By contrast, perhaps the only good thing I can say about this Sia album is that, even if it’s mindlessly inconsequential, it is at least whole-assedly so.

So we come to the question: who the fuck listens to this? I guess if you love Sia as much as you love Christmas, you might be interested. Generally speaking, however, most of what is celebrated at Christmastime has its roots in tradition, in the repetition of things that were done in years previous. Certainly not for every person, and certainly not every time, but Christmas is a season of “favorites” and comforting sameness. This is, in all likelihood, why Christmas music is whatever portion of an industry that it is: there’s an appetite for the songs themselves, but of course even a “definitive” version would come up short eventually, even if just through sheer repetition 7. That said, it’s not impossible for new songs to enter the Christmas canon 8, so I suppose there could be some utility in trying to be the one that does it. But as far as listening goes? I couldn’t tell you. There’s not much Christmas utility here, and the songs are largely outside of Sia’s mien, so they aren’t very satisfying in that sense either.

All of that said, if what you want is Christmas music, and you want it to be performed by people who really mean it, and you want good and worthwhile and new additions to your Christmas repertoire, I must guide you to Low’s superlative EP Christmas, which has a handful of your more traditional cuts (including the best-ever version of “Blue Christmas”), and two of Low’s actual best songs – “If You Were Born Today”, which is actually, literally about Jesus, and “Taking Down the Tree,” which does miserable and Christmas way better than anything on this infernally stupid Sia album.

  1.  secondary in the sense that there aren’t a lot of acts that make their living on making this kind of thing. There’s the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, of course, whose primary existence is to play shows around this time of year, and there’s a handful of Christmas-themed joke cover bands out there, but beyond those marginal cases, nobody is a Christmas musician first and foremost. So the portions of the industry that benefit are the radio, the playlist-makers at streaming services, and recording artists that record an album of Christmas-themed music as a somehow-surefire cash grab. 
  2.  it is, for example, the route taken by Shelton and Hanson in their contemporaneous Christmas albums. 
  3.  I mean, most of the songs on a christmas album are even spared from being played live, given how rarely pop stars of the kind of level that could sell a Christmas album don’t really tour at Christmastime. 
  4.  said assertion can be found here. 
  5.  a biographical side note: Sia first came to prominence as the sometimes-vocalist for the deadly dull Zero 7, and Greg Kurstin first came to (at least my) attention as the founding member for the deadly dull Geggy Tah, both of whom were doing things that were marketed at me circa 2001 (the former had just started, the latter would soon break up). This means that I have been largely-indifferent to this entire creative endeavor – i.e. Sia’s body of work as a singer – for my entire adult life. This album, needless to say, did not help. 
  6.  to be fair, I was, I think, 31 when I realized that the lyrical underpinnings to Christmas staple “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” were, in fact, that the kid narrator saw his parents pretending to be Santa, and thus caught them in the act. I had thought, prior to this realization, that the titular “mommy” was hooking up with Santa as, like, a sex bribe I guess? Like instead of cookies there was this chance to make out with this kid’s mom so he got a better present? I guess one would have to ask what it says about child me that “deceiving their child to make the world more magical” was replaced by “deceiving her husband to mack on Santa.” Please note that it was still to get better presents, however. I’m not a monster. The point of all this is: there may be no untoward feelings for Santa, and maybe I just see those wherever I look. 
  7.  It’s not like people stopped recording “The Little Drummer Boy” after David Bowie and Bing Crosby did it, to use one example. 
  8.  although it’s worth noting that the two that come immediately to mind, Paul McCartney’s “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You” are over a decade apart, were released a long time ago, and were also released by two of the most successful (in sales and chart terms) artists of all time. 

Tiny Lists in Celebration of Hanukkah, Day 6

10 Best Books I Read in 2017

(whether or not they came out in 2017)

  1. Matt Ruff – Lovecraft Country
  2. N.K. Jemison – The Stone Sky
  3. Box Brown – Andre the Giant
  4. Ned Baumann – The Teleportation Accident
  5. Jack Dann – Dreaming in the Dark
  6. Tom King – The Vision: Little More Than a Beast
  7. Mishell Baker – Borderline
  8. G. Neri – Yummy
  9. Jeff Van DerMeer – Borne
  10. Ed Piskor – Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 3

Tiny Lists in Celebration of Hanukkah, Day 5

10 Best Albums I Heard in 2017 that Weren’t Released in 2017

  1. Yoko Ono – Plastic Ono Band
  2. A Witness – I Am John’s Pancreas
  3. CRTVTR – Here It Comes, Tramontane!
  4. Simon Finn – Pass the Distance
  5. Migala – Arde
  6. Various Artists – Tokyo Flashback
  7. Brian Eno & John Cale – Wrong Way Up
  8. Sun Ra – My Brother the Wind
  9. Jessica93 – Who Cares
  10. Pauline Anna Strom – Trans-Millenia Music

Tiny Lists in Celebration of Hanukkah, Day 4

10 Best Podcast Episodes of 2017

  1. I Was There Too – Stephen de Souza
  2. Doug Loves Movies – Onur Tukel/Anne Heche/Sandra Oh
  3. Comedy Bang! Bang! – Manchester Orchestra/Jessica McKenna/Zach Reino
  4. How Did This Get Made – Ninja Terminator
  5. Hollywood Handbook – Doing Spont!, Our Good Friend
  6. The Doughboys – nugget power hour
  7. Oh No! Ross and Carrie – The Flat Earth Folks (all of it, even though it’s technically more than one episode)
  8. WTF – Randy Newman
  9. With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus – John Hodgman
  10. Nerd Poker – Amyna (because it represents an excellent podcast starting back up, and that’s a good thing or the world)