Best of 2017 – Music
My alarm clock goes off to terrestrial radio every morning, and this year I woke up to a whole lot of Brian and Amanda on Cat Country (98.1FM). It’s one of the few morning shows that actually plays a fair amount of music, and country playlists actually cycle much more quickly than most other formats. That means you won’t hear the same songs every day for eight months. Also the DJ schtick is that they tell stories that lead into questions requiring listener call-ins. Brian will tell a story that will unfold like the plot of a Simpsons episode, and it’ll end with a request like “Call in and tell us the funniest thing that YOU’VE ever said under anesthesia!” It’s oddly charming.
In terms of local releases, the best was maybe the most grueling to listen to: Lingua Ignota’s All Bitches Die [pictured] is an excruciatingly bleak tale of trauma filtered through harsh electronics and loud industrial noise. Kristin Hayter’s Vice interview is worth a read; I probably wouldn’t have picked up on the Catholic undertones of it all, to be honest, if I hadn’t read that.
I was also excited for the breakthrough of young Dominican producer Iris Creamer, who performs under the name Creamer and who made some national headlines on the strength of her fun album Denim.
I saw appallingly little live music this year, but I’m actually most upset about missing two big shows at the Dunkin Donuts Center: Miranda Lambert in the spring and Janet Jackson in the fall. In terms of what I did catch, though, my favorite concert featured Welsh genius Cate Le Bon performing for free on a Monday at Aurora. I missed her at Fete last year so this was a real treat. A close second was energetic gay rapper Cakes da Killa, also at Aurora. On stage at Foo Fest he kept insisting that it was his first visit to Providence. He apparently forgot to Google himself, because he played here just a few months before that one a double bill with the exhausting Mykki Blanco. The rest of my top 5 were all at the Columbus, which is probably a sign that I’m an old person who likes sitting down: Lucinda Williams, No Joy, and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Nationally, 2017 wasn’t a great year for music, or at least not for the kind of music I tend to prefer. Pop was a mix of empty boys (Charlie Puth, Shawn Mendes) and a parade of anonymous women with names like Zaya and Zendaya, each of whom sounded like a very whiny robot and/or a wounded farm animal. (Demi Lovato weirdly managed to sound like both.) Even the Carly Rae Jepsen single was upsettingly shrill. There were exceptions: Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” provided nice Euro filler for a year (mostly) without Gaga; I liked all the various solo efforts by the One Direction guys, even if Niall did compare a woman’s hands to his sweaty laundry; and Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” brought electroclash to pop radio about a decade after it would have made any sense to.
Latin pop was a lot better. Shakira’s “Chantaje” (a late 2016 release) got us through the winter and she followed it up with the almost as good “Me Enamoré” in the summer. Omnipresent Colombian sensation Maluma, dumb and pretty, sang an ode to open relationships with the steamy and inescapable “Felice los 4”. Jennifer Lopez sang with an unusually fiery passion on “Ni Tú Ni Yo”, possibly her best ever single. But for me the year was owned by 20 year old pop sensation Becky G and her fantastic, problematic hit “Mayores.” An ode to older men – her soccer star boyfriend is 24 – the absurdly catchy lite reggaeton hit features lyrics about how she likes well-endowed men (“A mí me gustan más grandes / Que no me quepa en la boca”) with sexual organs that are at least 21cm long. (21cm = 8.26 inches, FYI.) Unfortunately, Becky is signed to Kemosabe, the label run by Dr. Luke, supervillain of the #FreeKesha saga. That means that liking Becky G – the “Mayores” video is closing in on a billion YouTube views – is financially supporting a monster. Though the song pulled me through an emotionally bleak August, and is still on Poder 102.1 incessantly, I feel guilty even acknowledging it, let alone loving it.
Other miscellaneous highlights: Lorde’s Kate Bush-like album deserves the mountains of praise it’s been getting, though it’s not so surprising it wasn’t a bigger commercial hit. It was a somber year for mainstream hip-hop – Future’s “Mask Off” is excellent, but jeez if I have to hear Logic’s suicide hotline song one more time…) Aminé’s Good For You album was a nice antidote to all the gloom. Artists I always like – Mark Eitzel, Tara Jane O’Neil, Nelly Furtado, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sondre Lerche – released albums that I predictably liked. Swedish singer-songwriter Jay-Jay Johanson threw a curveball with the song “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone.” I’ve tried (and failed) in the past to like Johanson, bar his appearance on one Knife song in 2006, but this sad cabaret number really got to me. Scroll down for a full playlist of what I enjoyed this year.
You can’t see them all
Since I dedicated most of my cultural consumption to things that I could later review – movies, plays, books – I saw shockingly little live music. I don’t really see a solution to that, so I’ll be putting a call out soon for music writers that might be interested in reviewing local stuff across genres. This hopefully goes without saying but I’m NOT interested in people that are only going to plug their own ventures. Interested? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk.
Let’s pretend it never happened
At this point AS220 is one of the only venues left downtown, and it’s certainly the only venue downtown that welcomes local performers in all musical genres. They throw one fundraiser a year – a huge daylong block party called Foo Fest – that matches a ton of local musicians with one or two headliners from outside. Tickets are $15 for about twelve hours of live music, which is a real steal despite the fact that people complain about how it was better when it was free. (Fact: it was free once, and only once, in 2005.) Unfortunately, things went south this year when an army of Angry Internet People objected to scheduled headliner Sharon Needles, accusing the drag queen of racism and transphobia and all sorts of other things. Whether true or not – drama is an essential element of drag which is why I mostly ignore it – it left the organization in a really shitty position, with over half the scheduled performers saying they’d drop out unless Needles was removed from the bill. (Luckily Cakes da Killa and Lightning Bolt filled in.)