Christian Ortmann (backed by Danny Brown) explores his yearly picks (List Week 2017)
Favorite Records of the Year
5) Antisocialites by Alvvays
Canadian indie-rock darlings return with a sophomore effort that turns the saturation up a level from their already equal parts catchy and romantic, albeit muted debut. Antisocialites is a lucid dream pop jaunt down a lazy river coaxed along by delighted head-bobs and jittery legs. The jangle-pop elements and retro aesthetic breathe a particular freshness into the sound while referencing something still familiar. I’m a sucker for a well-portioned album, and at 32 minutes in length, Antisocialites certainly chooses to burn out before it fades away. At least Alvvays does us a solid by squeezing in a tenth track in the same amount of time as the debut. The three singles “In Undertow”, “Dreams Tonite”, and “Plimsoll Punks” are clear standouts on the track list but are also the first three songs. Personal favorites toward the backend of the album include “Not My Baby” and “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)”. These two tracks respectively bookend the spectrum of energy that Antisocialites explores. Not My Baby a more subdued heartbreak anthem with a hook no less memorable than the biggest hits. Meanwhile, Lollipop is an urgent and aggressive romp complete with uncharacteristic distorted guitars and vocal splices. Antisocialites extracts every infectious earworm from an already lovely debut, blasts it through the speakers, and embraces the feedback.
4) American Dream by LCD Soundsystem
Brooklyn Dance-punk tastemakers prove they still have their ear to the ground and can get the youths to put their phones down and let loose for a little while. Five years after the bands apparent “Long Goodbye,” the spirit of David Bowie got the rider for his first show in heaven fulfilled when LCD Soundsystem came back together and put together an album that would eventually become American Dream. Despite taking a step away from the limelight for a while, the group came back and hit the ground running. As if we ever doubted him, the lead single, “Call The Police”, proves that James Murphy never forgot how to craft an immense, swelling, hurricane of radio-unfriendly proportions. Personal favorite, “how do you sleep?” Is a category 5 storm that makes long time fan favorite “Dance Yrself Clean” look like a dust devil. First you are grounded, fixated on the rattling drumbeat, and then the atmosphere of the unsettling background synths and ambient sound bites startles you. Slowly the distant cries of Murphy lift your body up higher and higher until you find yourself somewhere in the troposphere looking down at the ground below. The best outside commentary I can find on American Dream comes from Reddit user /u/MadDogsPromenade who said, “The Twin Peaks vibes on American Dream are too real.” Although I believe they are referring specifically to the title track, I find the sound finds a place on “oh baby” as well. I hold this compliment in the highest regard. It is off kilter in the best way.
3) Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes
Another highly anticipated indie heavyweight return comes in the form of Seattle, Washington rooted folk giants Fleet Foxes. Founder and front man Robin Pecknold traded in nature as the great educator and stuck his nose in some books when he decided to go back to college at Columbia University. While he emerged looking less Bigfoot and more Brooklynite, the main pillars of Fleet Foxes sound weathered father time and succeed in not tarnishing an arguably flawless discography. To me, Crack-Up finds a sonic niche to occupy somewhere nestled between their self-titled debut and its follow up, Helplessness Blues. “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” was an ambitious lead off single to say the least, clocking in past eight minutes. A timestamp the group has reserved previously only for their stand out freak-folk odyssey “The Shrine / An Argument” from 2011’s Helplessness Blues. The songwriting chops remain apparent as Pecknold composes the ultimate indie bromance anthem to fellow founding member Skyler Skjelset, alluded to with double-entendres and replete with vivid imagery, soaring melodies, and a backing orchestra of obscure instruments I honestly can not talk intelligently on. My favorite examples of these can be found in “—Naiads, Cassadies” and “Mearcstapa.” Fleet Foxes piece together another beautiful mosaic, spin another warm tapestry, to dive in to and get happily lost in. While waiting patiently six years for another release from one of my all-time favorite groups did leave me a bit frustrated, the band absolutely came through with something worth writing home about.
2) Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood by Sun Kil Moon
Let me get one thing out of the way. No album needs to be over two hours. Frankly I start to lose attention after forty minutes. While this album did take two separate sit down sessions to get through, I promise it was worth it. Every track hits, for one reason or another. Front-man Mark Kozelek shows his soft side throughout and chooses heavy drumbeats and bass lines juxtaposed against his delicate acoustic guitar work. Instead of trying to make me inconsolably miserable, like his 2012 effort Benji, the instrumentals are lighter and take an honorable back seat to the stories Kozelek tells for the duration of the album. His signature stream of consciousness writing style is back in full strength, covering a range of topics that could fill up an autobiography several times over. At some points, Sun Kil Moon blurs the line between album and podcast. A dry, cynical sense of humor pops up at times for worthwhile comedic relief, most notably on the track “Philadelphia Cop” (shout out 215) where Kozelek both imitates a ditzy girl and name-checks one “Dr. John Misty.” Despite a plain exterior, I deem the perspective of Kozelek on the planets very recent state of affairs worth giving a listen. Those takes are my personal favorites, “Bergen to Trondheim”, “I Love Portugal”, and “Bastille Day”. If you do not enjoy the social commentary, maybe you can enjoy the endearing stories of personal connections like “Butch Lullaby” or “Sara Lawrence College Song”, for example.
1) A Crow Looked At Me by Mount Eerie
Humanity accepted sadness as an intangible concept long ago. If we could truly hold it in our hands, however, it would probably look like a vinyl LP copy of Mount Eerie’s eighth album, A Crow Looked At Me. This release comes six months after Pacific Northwest Cult Folk Hero, Phil Elverum, lost his wife to cancer. Poignant does not begin to describe the pure poetry that Elverum penned in the wake of his wife’s untimely passing. Each sparse piano chord or strum of the guitar forces grief down your throat a little further as Phil continues to break your heart with every tactful line that undoubtedly passed through his mind at some point before he decided to write a brilliant concept album about mortality, without the cushion of romanticism. Whether it was contemplating the contents of an urn or the posthumous gift from his wife for their daughter some time after she had passed, likely knowing she would not get to see it used. “You were thinking ahead to a future you must have known deep down would not include you” Elverum admits in a defeated tone that persists throughout the album. This albums minimalism is a statement. Crafting such an emotionally evocative and resonant album with so few moving parts is a testament to Mount Eerie’s sincerity and dedication to craft. Everything about it is so deliberate and genuine. It feels like a listen necessary to the human experience, as it is the most direct means to truly understanding what it means to empathize. I purposely chose not to cite any individual track as my favorite because I believe this album deserves a devoted, cohesive listen.
Favorite Songs of the Year
10. "Call It Dreaming" by Iron & Wine (from Beast Epic)
9. "Sunflower" by Rex Orange County (from Sunflower - Single)
8. "Cool" by Zack Villere (from Little World)
7. "Gucci Gang" by Lil Pump (from Lil Pump)
6. "Hey K" by Passion Pit (from Tremendous Sea of Love)
5." Captive of the Sun" by Parquet Courts feat. Bun B (from Captive of the Sun - Single)
4. "how do you sleep?" by LCD Soundsystem (from american dream)
3. "Overwhelming" by Matt Ox (from Overwhelming - Single)
2. "I Was a Fool" by Sunflower Bean (from Sunflower Bean - Single)
1. "I’m Just Snacking" by Gus Dapperton (from Yellow and Such - EP)