Music Bummys: Best Albums of 2017

Music Bummys: Best Albums of 2017

Top Ten

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10. Lorde, Melodrama: There used to be a tendency among critics not to take pop music seriously, dismissing it as frivolous and trivial. The norm now is to equate pop music with the seriousness of any other genre, though sometimes publications go a little too far, anointing any catchy song as a pop “gem,” or any high-profile pop album as “good.” Lorde’s Melodrama deserves its own special designation. Written and recorded at the end of Lorde’s teen years, this is an album for adults, danceable but daring, dramatic but universally so. If it’s a “gem,” it’s a hard-edged one; if it’s “good,” it’s because it sets the bar for pop music.

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9. Joan Shelley, Joan ShelleyShelley’s brand of folk music has always been minimalist. She herself said of this self-titled album that it was “an exercise in understatement,” which feels like an understatement. If that sounds boring, let me assure you that Shelley has an ear for the kinds of melodies that seep into the crevasses of your brain and remain their forever. She enlisted the help of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy for this album, but he keeps things spare- just the way Shelley likes it. Indeed, the only thing to distinguish this album from the rest of her sterling catalog is that literally every song feels essential.

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8. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound: Consistency can be a boring thing to write about, and there’s no one who has been so consistent over the course of his career as Jason Isbell. From his elevation of an already great band in the Drive-By Truckers to his solo career starting in 2013 after he found sobriety, everything Isbell has touched has turned to gold. The Nashville Sound finds him rejoining his post-DBT band for a more robust record. Southeastern and Something More Than Free were intimate, personal. The Nashville Sound gives its full-bodied sound more panoramic subject matter, tackling racism, tribalism, and mental health.

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7. The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding: At first glance, The War on Drugs may appear to have the same consistency as Isbell. They certainly have been consistently good, but A Deeper Understanding is something profoundly different for them. 2014’s Lost in the Dream was anthemic, engineered to give you catharsis or release at each song’s climax. It was one of my favorite albums of the year, and in that respect, A Deeper Understanding is no different. But its effect on me has been unique, sweeping me up in its epic scope and its measured introspection, which is a wholly different experience, but no less great.

04

6. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.: The album that came after 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly was bound to be disappointing, because that record was one of a kind, a generational masterpiece of its genre, or any genre for that matter. And while I liked DAMN when I first heard it, I couldn’t quite give it the same devotion I gave TPAB, but time has told a different story about Kendrick’s deeply intimate diary of dread, dreams, and desire. If I first listened to it in TPAB‘s shadow, DAMN casts its own shadow now, firmly establishing Kendrick in his own damn tier as a musician. Don’t let the fact that there are five albums ahead of his on this list; the margins are small, and it’s only personal preference. Kendrick is king, top ten lists be damned.

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5. Father John Misty, Pure ComedyAt one point during 2017, I would have Pure Comedy at the top of this list, and it wouldn’t have been close. Josh Tillman sings the way that I think, which is definitely not pretentious on my part and may in fact be an insult to Tillman. Indeed, Tillman is pretentious, cynical, and self-righteous, but also intuitive, empathetic, and insightful, which describes me on my worst days and my best days to a T. I associated with this album to such a high degree that I think it eventually wore me down to where I appreciated its artfulness less. I still think it’s a masterpiece (I put it at No. 5 for a reason!), but it’s not my favorite masterpiece on the list anymore.

If there’s one quality I don’t share with Tillman, it’s hopefulness, and this is not a hopeful record. That said, it is a truthful one, especially on album standouts “Two Wildly Different Perspectives” and “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay,” which dissect worldviews until there’s nothing left. Pure Comedy is intense, so steel yourself before you give it a listen.

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4. Hurray for the Riff Raff, The NavigatorI was a theater kid through middle school and high school, appearing in plays as varied as Fiddler on the Roof and Grease at school and in a junior company in Dallas. I loved acting and performing, and I still miss it. The Navigator moved the theater kid in me.

While Hurray for the Riff Raff’s previous album, Small Town Heroes, was a folk album that leaned hard into Creole and swamp influences, The Navigator plays almost like the soundtrack to a musical. Alynda Segarra, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, split the album into two acts, making it into a loose concept album. In the first act, the Puerto Rican main character survives on the streets (“Living in the City”) and discovers a toughness within herself (“Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl”). In the second act, she awakens to find everything stripped away from her people (“Rican Beach”) and calls them to action in response to oppression (“Pa’lante”), completing a work of art that empowers the downtrodden, the used- indeed, the riff raff.

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3. Propaganda, CrookedNo artist has made music that challenges my perspective as deeply as Propaganda. His first solo album with his current label, Humble Beast, included a song called “Precious Puritans,” which called out evangelicals who deify American Calvinist forefathers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, without ever confronting the fact that they owned slaves. I had to wrestle with this, and that was good for my soul.

Prop has always been unafraid to address social ills in his music, and Crooked takes this to a new level. There are songs called “Gentrify” and “Darkie,” and they’re as unabashed as they sound. For most of its recent popularity, Christian rap has largely kept its lyrical content to biblical truths that are easy to swallow for most evangelicals regardless of race. That’s beginning to change, thanks to Prop and other artists like Sho Baraka, and Crooked is the most recent record that serves as an example for rebuke, and the best.

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2. Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom HighwayOver the last few years, purely by coincidence, I’ve read a lot of books that deal directly with the wounds left on the African-American psyche by America’s history of slavery and racism. It started with Beloved by Toni Morrison when I was still in college, but then more recently I’ve read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, and C.E. Morgan’s The Sport of Kings. In all of these stories, slavery is presented in its unvarnished brutality, forcing a reckoning in my soul on the soil American is rooted in.

Freedom Highway feels like a continuation of the story those books tell of America’s scars and their wicked origins. Giddens, who has long been a leader in the string band Carolina Chocolate Drops, released her first solo album in 2015 with producer T Bone Burnett. They were well matched to fill out the album, which was mostly covers, with a rootsy vibe. Freedom Highway is more attuned to Giddens’s personal perspective; nine of the twelve songs are co-written by her, and they traverse the history of Southern America. Opener “At the Purchaser’s Option” contemplates that the singer, a slave, has no autonomy over her children, her sexuality, or her work. This helplessness is translated into a quiet anger on “Julie,” in which a slave confronts her owner, who claims to love her, for selling her children to another owner. And the heaviest and most hopeful song, “Birmingham Sunday,” a Joan Baez cover, details the 1963 bombing of a black church by the Ku Klux Klan and its aftermath.

Growing up white and privileged, my understanding of America’s foundation was unknowingly colored by my color. America’s principles of liberty, independence, and unity seemed natural and sewn into the fabric of our culture, when the reality is that they’re fragile and tenuous and far from pure. On Freedom Highway, Giddens joins a long history of uncovering this truth and inspiring hope for a better future.

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1. Gang of Youths, Go Farther in Lightness: There are more important things than relevance in pop art, but it undeniably matters. If an album moves me, but no one else I know has ever even heard of it, how much import can that album really hold? Does a movie matter if no one saw it but one person who loved it?

Gang of Youths forces me to ask this question, because there was no place I could put their second album on this list other than the very top. This album is the one that has stayed on repeat more than any other, the one that shot up to the top of my to-buy list as soon as I heard it, the one that I found myself thinking about long after I had turned it off to head to bed. If Father John Misty sings the way I think, Gang of Youths sings the way I feel. It’s bombastic, dramatic, and emotional from front to back; frontman Dave Le’aupepe doesn’t take breaks.

But the intensity isn’t for its own sake; Le’aupepe and his band, whom he met at Hillsong Church in Sydney, are processing real questions of mortality and purpose. Opener “Fear and Trembling” advocates for celebration and worship in the face of aging and death. The ballad “Persevere” is about the death of his best friend’s baby. Le’aupepe sings, quoting his friend, “‘But God is full of grace and his faithfulness is vast / There is safety in the moments when the shit has hit the fan / Not some vindictive motherfucker, not is he shitty at his job;” it’s a powerful examination of faith in light of grief. And my personal favorite, “The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows,” contemplates what it takes to “bear the unbearable, terrible triteness of being.”

If this sounds melodramatic, that’s because Le’aupepe gets it: life is a melodrama, and you have to embrace it.

Another Fifteen Contenders (alphabetical)

Chris Stapleton, From a Room: Volume 1
David Ramirez, We’re Not Going Anywhere
Drake, More Life
Future, HNDRXX
HAIM, Something to Tell You
Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life
JAY-Z, 4:44
Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights
Kehlani, SweetSexySavage
Kesha, Rainbow
Lana Del Rey, Lust for Life
Margo Price, All American Made
The Porter’s Gate, Work Songs: The Porter’s Gate Worship Project, Vol. 1
Sheer Mag, Need to Feel Your Love
Taylor Swift, reputation

Past Top Tens

2016

Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book
Beyoncé, Lemonade
Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial
Solange, A Seat at the Table
Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings
Sho Baraka, The Narrative
Bon Iver, 22, a Million
Courtney Marie Andrews, Honest Life
Jeff Rosenstock, WORRY.

2015

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Leon Bridges, Coming Home
Phil Cook, Southland Mission
Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
David Ramirez, Fables
John Moreland, High on Tulsa Heat
Ben Rector, Brand New
The Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird Is Home
Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

2014

John Mark McMillan, Borderland
Sharon Van Etten, Are We There
The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
Strand of Oaks, HEAL
Taylor Swift, 1989
Liz Vice, There’s a Light
Jackie Hill Perry, The Art of Joy
First Aid Kit, Stay Gold
Miranda Lambert, Platinum
Propaganda, Crimson Cord

2013

Jason Isbell, Southeastern
Beyoncé, Beyoncé
Laura Marling, Once I Was an Eagle
Patty Griffin, American Kid
Sandra McCracken, Desire Like Dynamite
Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience
Beautiful Eulogy, Instruments of Mercy
Kanye West, Yeezus
KaiL Baxley, Heatstroke / The Wind and the War

2012

Andrew Peterson, Light for the Lost Boy
Lecrae, Gravity
Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE
Japandroids, Celebration Rock
David Crowder*Band, Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])
Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
The Olive Tree, Our Desert Ways
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra, Fable
Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city

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Music Bummys: Best Songs of 2017

Music Bummys: Best Songs of 2017

Every year is a good year for music, because there is so much of it being released all the time. There are people decrying streaming and how it is flattening the playing field and making everything sound the same. These people haven’t listened to the novelty band filler in the Top 40 in the ’60s and ’70s; most music is bad, and a flattened playing field is just this generation’s thorn in its side.

But there’s so much good music out there too, music that begs to be bought and owned rather than just streamed. People haven’t forgotten how to make art, even as the masses forget how to work for it. Capitalism has never really been able to quench the youth culture. So onward, rebellious youths!

Anyway, there’s a lot of women on my list this year. I had some friends tell me recently that they prefer male artists to female artists, which I don’t understand. There’s probably no discernible reason why anyone prefers one voice to another, and I can’t discern one for why those preferences would break along gender lines among reasonable people. I can discern that I don’t suffer from that malady; women and men move me in generally equal numbers.

Anyway, here are the contenders and winners for best songs of the year:

Top Twenty

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20. Kesha, “Woman (feat. The Dap-King Horns)”: There are probably a lot of conventional reasons why this song shouldn’t be in my Top Twenty. But being conventional is boring. Empowerment has never been this fun or, as Kesha says, “loosey as a goosey.”

02

19. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Last of My Kind”Isbell has been on a tear since 2013’s Southeastern, and The Nashville Sound is the first time Isbell’s peak songwriting powers have been applied to the full band sound of the 400 Unit. But “Last of My Kind,” the album’s opener, eschews that sound for a more acoustic atmosphere. As light as a single guitar sounds, the song weighs heavy on your heart as Isbell considers a small-town boy’s disappearing world in the big city.

03

18. Kendrick Lamar, “HUMBLE.”: It’s impossible to remove the visuals from the music video from mind when listening to this song, but that doesn’t diminish its effect in the slightest. If there was any song from DAMN. that hit as hard as anything from To Pimp a Butterfly, it was “HUMBLE.” You can speculate about if he’s talking to himself or not, but regardless, this is a brutal takedown that should make other rappers give up diss tracks altogether (paging Drake and Push).

04

17. Taylor Swift, “Delicate”: Most of reputation is filled with great hooks, some of it feels like posturing, and a select few songs feel transcendent. For better or worse, we’ve watched Taylor Swift grow up in public. “Delicate,” which takes a welcome turn into dream-pop, is Taylor Swift exploring what it means not to be growing up anymore.

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16. St. Vincent, “New York”: I learned today that St. Vincent began her career with the Polyphonic Spree. Her brand of avant-garde pop-rock was already as far from that band’s twee-ness as music can get. And yet, if it’s possible, “New York” gets even farther, with its earnest lament over a lost relationship.

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15. Gang of Youths, “The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows”: I wasn’t sure any Gang of Youths songs would make it onto this list, since they all tend to push the same buttons in my heart when I hear them. But “The Deepest Sighs” is perhaps the golden mean of Gang of Youths songs.  It has the most earnest lyrics and the most soaring melody, and it’s the most mostest by far on an album of most.

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14. Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow”: And I thought this song would make it much higher on the list, given how completely it took over my brain last summer. Before she released her album this spring, I was worried that Cardi’s appeal existed only because she enunciates more than other rappers, much like Eminem is only still popular because he’s louder than other rappers. That turned out not to be the case- Cardi is a boss, not a worker bitch- but “Bodak Yellow” is the best-enunciated rap song since Eminem was last good, so 16 years ago.

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13. The War on Drugs, “In Chains”: The War on Drugs are another band like Gang of Youths whose entire catalogs could make a Top Songs list for me. But “In Chains” in particular stood out to me from A Deeper Understanding last year. Whereas frontman Adam Granduciel usually revels in the abstract nature of his lyrics, “In Chains” boasts some of the most direct exclamations we’ve gotten from him yet, leading to the band’s most purpose-filled song.

04

12. Taylor Swift, “New Year’s Day”: If reputation felt like a misstep at the time, it became one of my most-listened-to albums of the year because of songs like this one. Even while Swift overreached for bad-girl credibility, she didn’t lose her ability to write lyrics with eminent relatability. In “New Year’s Day,” about loving through celebrations and let-downs alike, “Please don’t ever become a stranger / Whose laugh I could recognize anywhere” is such a lyric.

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11. Propaganda, “Darkie”: Propaganda is the most interesting Christian artist working today. He isn’t the only one to attempt to reckon with social truths (look to Lecrae and Sho Baraka too, and if you’re starting to see a theme, I’d also point you to Gungor and The Brilliance), but he’s been the most consistent at elevating the conversation with excellent production and presentation of his themes. Here, he wrestles with the concept of black beauty being refracted through the lens of a white-dominated culture.

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10. Julien Baker, “Appointments”: I’m an emotional wreck when I listen to this song. Baker, who is queer and Christian and unafraid of the expectations associated with either of those identifications, reveals some truths that we are usually afraid to talk about, like “Maybe it’s all going to turn out all right / And I know that’s it’s not / But I have to believe that it is.” Faith means holding both hope and fatalism in the same hand with an eternal perspective, and “Appointments” captures that dichotomy perfectly.

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9. The War on Drugs, “Thinking of a Place”: I’ve gotten lost in this song more than once over the last year and a half. 11-minute songs are a hard sell, but The War on Drugs are so good at what they do right now that it almost seems like it was the logical next step in their careers to make an epic on this level. As I said above, Granduciel almost wallows in abstraction, but there’s specificity in these lyrics that doesn’t sacrifice relatability.

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8. Propaganda, “Gentrify”: One of the top ten songs of 2017 was about- *checks notes*- housing policy? Maybe this song is boring to other people, but I hear those horns and Prop yelling “Whole Foooods!” and I get excited. There are probably myriad academic papers on the subject of gentrification, but I find it hard to believe anyone has summed up the issue better than Prop in this searing indictment of white paternalism.

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7. Lorde, “Green Light”: Remember that time the Grammys didn’t ask Lorde to perform at the ceremony even though she was nominated for Album of the Year? Man, good times in the patriarchy. Anyway, I’d like to think that appearing on this list is a nice consolation prize for Lorde, given that “Green Light” is one of the best pop songs of the last five years, and probably the only one to reference The Great Gatsby so directly without feeling like a high school book report.

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6. Rhiannon Giddens, “Birmingham Sunday”: Giddens, most famous for her role in the bluegrass band Carolina Chocolate Drops, is a stellar songwriter in her own right; for reference, look up “At the Purchaser’s Option” from last year’s Freedom Highway, or listen to the whole album while you’re at it. But her take on this Joan Baez classic blows the original out of the water. Originally written by folk songwriter Richard Fariña about the four little girls who died in a bombing at a Birmingham church in 1963, Giddens’s version captures the tragedy in the story, but she also better harnesses the hope in the line, “And the choirs keep singing of freedom.”

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5. Hurray for the Riff Raff, “Pa’lante”: When Trump was elected, there were weirdos whose reaction was to look forward to the good art that would result from an administration that was likely to enact oppressive policies. In the two years since, maybe music by white artists has been inordinately influenced by the election, but by and large, artists of color were already diving into music that tells the stories of the voiceless rather than the privileged, including Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra, who is an American of Puerto Rican heritage. In this epic song, she expertly hoists the Puerto Rican battle cry of “Pa’lante!” to rally those considered sub-human to move onward and forward in the face of ignorant oppression.

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4. Kesha, “Praying”: Speaking of oppression, it’s hard to imagine someone following Kesha’s story over the the last few years and not being moved by “Praying.” I know some critics dismissed it as overly sentimental, or maybe allegations of rape that don’t result in felony rape convictions don’t move you to anger of any kind (which means you believe women 0.7% of the time, I suppose), but I can’t separate what I know Kesha has accused Dr. Luke of and how desperate she sounds in this song. This song is inextricably linked to the story of how Dr. Luke allegedly raped Kesha in 2008, and Kesha sued to escape her contract with his record label six years later in 2014. We will never know exactly what happened between Dr. Luke and Kesha, so we have to choose who to believe. Kesha’s accusations are neither surprising nor incredible, so I believe Kesha.

Their terrible saga began well before #MeToo reached its height and before I even knew what “blaming the victim” meant, but “Praying” dropped in July of 2017, right in the middle of the #MeToo movement, and it became an anthem of the movement, culminating in an emotional performance of the song at the Grammys. What’s amazing about “Praying” is that it’s not vindictive but redemptive, combining the need to be heard with a desire for Dr. Luke to see the truth of what he did and to beg God for forgiveness on his knees. I can’t imagine the strength it took to write it, and I’m endlessly glad that I’ve heard it.

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3. Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar”: This was my favorite song of 2017 for the majority of 2017 and 2018, until the top song on this list overtook it and I realized the second song on this list came out in 2017 and not 2018. It was stuck in my head for most of the last year, finding its way into my whistling or humming more than any other song. This song is infectious, contagious, an epidemic strain of perfect pop melody and earworm magic.

I’m not special for liking this song, but I like to think a lot of myself when a pop song rises to the top of one of my lists, as if liking a pop song is revolutionary. No, critics ate this song up, a first in Gomez’s career. I’m contrarian, so that made me look for reasons not to like it. But the truth is, “Bad Liar” displays a confidence and effortlessness that Gomez hadn’t shown us yet, and that confidence is inescapable once you’re exposed to it.

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2. Brandi Carlile, “The Joke”: I try to avoid hyperbole, but it’s almost impossible in these end-of-the-year superlatives. Well, here’s me trying to avoid hyperbole as much as possible: Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” might be the greatest folk song of the last 40 years. Oh man, I stepped right into hyperbole, didn’t I? Not by much though, I promise.

It’s not complicated; “The Joke” is about the marginalized, the underrepresented, and the least of these. One of my coworkers and friends said the other day to explain a decision she made, “I have a bleeding heart.” I had forgotten this phrase, but I suppose it’s the phrase you would use to describe me, because I often tear up during “The Joke.” But I guess we need a phrase like “bleeding heart” to describe people who care about other people?

I find “The Joke” not only moving but galvanizing. The verses are directed at boys and girls who are beaten down by people in power. In interviews, Carlile has specified that she’s singing to people in the queer community, undocumented immigrants, and disempowered women. Carlile shows in the verses that she sees those people and their pain. And then in the chorus, as her voice reaches its full power (and her voice has power), she gives them hope. “Let ’em laugh while they can, / Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind. / I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends, / And the joke’s on them.” Carlile knows how this ends; the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

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1. Sufjan Stevens, “Mystery of Love”It’s impossible for me to hear this song and not think of the movie in which it appears, Call Me by Your Name. Stay tuned for more on the movie when I post the Best Movies of 2017. It’s up there.

While we were watching the Oscars this year at our friend’s annual Oscar party, one of my friends (who is also my pastor) asked the room why, in the middle of the #MeToo movement, was Hollywood so okay with a movie in which a man in his 20s has a relationship with a 17-year-old. Now, he hadn’t seen the movie, but he wasn’t pretending he had. I also have to add, before anyone assumes anything about my friend because of his vocation, that he is a good, thoughtful pastor who engages with culture on its terms, but with a critical eye. This was not a question about the culture wars (nor a veiled attempt to discredit the movie’s focus on a relationship between two men), but an honest attempt to understand.

It’s a fair question. Anyone who has not seen the movie should be skeptical of the power dynamic involved. But I told him, and I’m telling you, that there is no such power dynamic in Call Me by Your Name. You never feel as if the older man (or the younger, for that matter) is taking advantage of the other young man or that he has any social or official authority over him in any way. There is a mutual attraction that they act upon, and it’s almost as simple as that.

But I think Sufjan Stevens’s “Mystery of Love” gets underneath the idea of attraction at something deeper involved. It’s not just that they’re attracted to one another; they’re connected in some way, and there’s no way to explain it. In the movie, they don’t even try to explain it, only to process how their lives will be different now that it’s there.

Call Me by Your Name does a very good job of telling a very specific story, while “Mystery of Love” universalizes it. The wonder and misery at play in Sufjan Stevens’s lyrics are an expression of the complexity of love. Any time someone tries to give a simple explanation for what love is, it’s never enough. Sufjan combines the antithetical sentiments of “woe is me” and “will wonders ever cease” into the chorus. He sings “to see without my eyes” and “drowned in living waters,” leaning into the paradoxical nature of an unexplainable phenomenon.

Call Me by Your Name never even says the words “homosexual” or “gay,” maybe because such labels limit the nature of the love involved, constricting the experience to science or sociology. It’s our choices that are binary and categorical, not love. What “Mystery of Love” does is revel in the unknowable truth of it all, the wonder and the woe alike. Love would make a terrible god, but there’s a divine mystery there nevertheless.

Another Thirty Contenders (alphabetical)

Big Thief, “Mythological Beauty”
Brandi Carlile, “The Mother”
The Brilliance, “Turning Over Tables”
Calvin Harris, “Slide (feat. Frank Ocean & Migos)”
Charli XCX, “3AM (Pull Up) (feat. MØ)”
Charli XCX, “Boys”
Chris Stapleton, “Either Way”
Dua Lipa, “New Rules”
Father John Misty, “Pure Comedy”
Father John Misty, “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay”
HAIM, “Little of Your Love”
HAIM, “Want You Back”
Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times”
Hurray for the Riff Raff, “Living in the City”
J Balvin & Willy William, “Mi Gente (feat. Beyoncé)”
Japandroids, “In a Body Like a Grave”
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “White Man’s World”
Johnnyswim, “Say Goodnight Instead”
Kehlani, “Hold Me by the Heart”
Kendrick Lamar, “DNA.”
Lana Del Rey, “Love”
Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee, “Despacito [Remix] (feat. Justin Bieber)”
Margo Price, “All American Made”
Migos, “Stir Fry”
Phoebe Bridgers, “Smoke Signals”
The Porter’s Gate, “Establish the Work of Our Hands (feat. Aaron Keys & Urban Doxology)”
Rhiannon Giddens, “Freedom Highway”
Sam Outlaw, “All My Life”
Syd, “Insecurities”
Taylor Swift, “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”

Past Top Tens

2016

Kanye West, “Ultralight Beam”
Rae Sremmurd, “Black Beatles (feat. Gucci Mane)”
Rihanna, “Work (feat. Drake)”
Drive-By Truckers, “What It Means”
Chance the Rapper, “No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz)”
Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker”
Solange, “Cranes in the Sky”
Car Seat Headrest, “Fill in the Blank”
Lecrae, “Can’t Stop Me Now (Destination)”
Japandroids, “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”

2015

Leon Bridges, “River”
Sufjan Stevens, “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”
Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, “Sunday Candy”
Blood Orange, “Sandra’s Smile”
Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”
Alessia Cara, “Here”
Justin Bieber, “Love Yourself”
Rihanna and Kanye West and Paul McCartney, “FourFiveSeconds”
Jack Ü, “Where Are Ü Now (with Justin Bieber)”
Miguel, “Coffee (F***ing) (feat. Wale)”

2014

FKA twigs, “Two Weeks”
Strand of Oaks, “Goshen ’97”
The War on Drugs, “Red Eyes”
John Mark McMillan, “Future / Past”
First Aid Kit, “Waitress Song”
Sia, “Chandelier”
Jackie Hill Perry, “I Just Wanna Get There”
Taylor Swift, “Out of the Woods”
Parquet Courts, “Instant Disassembly”
Sharon Van Etten, “Your Love Is Killing Me”

2013

Patty Griffin, “Go Wherever You Wanna Go”
Disclosure, “Latch (feat. Sam Smith)”
Jason Isbell, “Elephant”
Sky Ferreira, “I Blame Myself”
Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford, “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)”
David Ramirez, “The Bad Days”
Drake, “Hold On, We’re Going Home (feat. Majid Jordan)”
Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”
Beyoncé, “Rocket”
Amy Speace, “The Sea & the Shore (feat. John Fullbright)”

2012

Jimmy Needham, “Clear the Stage”
Trip Lee, “One Sixteen (feat. KB & Andy Mineo)”
David Ramirez, “Fire of Time”
Lecrae, “Church Clothes”
Usher, “Climax”
Andrew Peterson, “Day by Day”
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra, “When We Were Young”
Frank Ocean, “Bad Religion”
Christopher Paul Stelling, “Mourning Train to Memphis”
Alabama Shakes, “Hold On”

If I Ran the 2018 Grammys

If I Ran the 2018 Grammys

I do this every year, and the amount of time I spend on it far outweighs the amount I care about the real Grammys. But damned if I’m not back here again, discovering that the Grammys think Metallica is still making award-worthy music in 2018.

It does feel like this year’s nominees in the main categories line up a bit more with mine than usual, which means, of course, that they’re closer to being right.

A few ground rules for this largely pointless exercise:

1) I’ll give the real nominees with my prediction for the winner in bold. Then I’ll give you who I would have nominated, with my choice for the best in that group in bold.

2) We all know the October 1st, 2016-September 30th, 2017 qualifying dates are stupid, but we’re going to keep them in the interest of chaos. I can’t fix everything about the Grammys. So no Taylor Swift, but Miranda Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings (from 2016, but released in November) is fair game.

3) For the four major awards (Album, Record, Song, New Artist), I’m realistic. Father John Misty and Propaganda made two of my favorite albums in the qualifying year, but they’re too niche to be nominated for Album of the Year. However, Alicia Keys and SZA also released albums I loved, and they’re plausible options for the big one. But when it comes to the genre awards, anything goes- hence, artists like Joan Shelley, Sho Baraka, and Sheer Mag getting nods over more popular acts in their respective categories.

4) Genre boundaries are fuzzy- London Grammar’s and Lana Del Rey’s albums could really fit into pop or alternative, Phoebe Bridgers and Hurray for the Riff Raff could easily be considered Americana instead of alternative, John Legend might be more of a pop artist than urban contemporary, etc. So I went with my gut. I don’t have your gut, so if you disagree with me on whether or not Spoon belongs in the alternative or rock category, sorry.

5) Forget the 5-nominee limit! Sometimes the Grammys do this; a genre will have enough contenders that they’ll fit 6 nominees into one category because of a tie. I’ve often wondered why more award shows don’t open categories up a bit more. If there are enough albums that truly deserve to be in the conversation, why not include them and draw more attention to more great music? Let’s have a little anarchy! Except in the 4 main categories, which will continue to have the rigid 5-nominee rule, because too much anarchy is a bad thing.

Album of the Year:

Real nominees: Bruno Mars, 24K Magic
Childish Gambino, “Awaken, My Love!”
JAY-Z, 4:44
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
Lorde, Melodrama

My nominees: Alicia Keys, Here
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
Lorde, Melodrama
Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings
SZA, Ctrl

Is this the year when a black nominee finally wins Album of the Year? Seems likely that it will finally be a person of color for the first time in 10 years. But it also would not be surprising for Lorde to win, given how great her album is. On one hand, the Grammys don’t matter, so Lorde winning would be insignificant. On the other hand, award shows like this are touchstones within every year that we use to get a feel for the story our culture is telling. Over the last 10 years, the story has felt like a rejection of the amazing work that people of color have built. Lorde deserves to win, but so does Kendrick, and I can’t help but feel like the Academy will finally choose to reward him. And Kendrick would be my personal pick too, with a slight edge over Lorde. He should have won for TPAB, but DAMN. seems like the kind of record that is going to seem weirdly underrated in comparison to its titanic predecessor.

I could take or leave the rest of the Academy’s choices. I like JAY-Z’s album, but it’s a little overrated for its pop cultural significance. 24K Magic has great singles, but that’s about it. I’ve never gotten into Childish Gambino, but “Redbone” is the shit. I would have rather seen the underrated Here get some love for an artist that really embraced a less pop-driven sound to make a statement record. Lambert’s most recent record, a 2-disc opus, also deserves to be considered. And SZA, the breakout star of the moment, made an album that should not be relegated to the genre awards but seen as belonging among the best of the best.

Record of the Year

Real nominees: Bruno Mars, “24K Magic”
Childish Gambino, “Redbone”
JAY-Z, “The Story of O.J.”
Kendrick Lamar, “HUMBLE.”
Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee, “Despacito (feat. Justin Bieber)”

My nominees: Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow”
Kendrick Lamar, “HUMBLE.”
Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee, “Despacito (feat. Justin Bieber)”
Migos, “Bad and Boujee (feat. Lil Uzi Vert)”
Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar”

I understand the difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year, but I’m not sure the Academy does. Record of the Year is supposed to focus on the performance and the production, while Song of the Year is supposed to focus on the songwriting. If they actually vote based on the award’s definition, I don’t see how any song but Kendrick’s wins. But if they don’t, “Despacito” could sweep both song awards.

I wouldn’t be too mad about that; “Despacito” is a banger, for sure. I’m surprised 2 of the obvious songs of the year aren’t nominated though: “Bodak Yellow” and “Bad and Boujee,” both of which dominated the culture during their respective seasons. But my personal favorite belongs to Selena Gomez, who altered her singing style and leaned on Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter to craft the most interesting pop song of the year.

Song of the Year

Real nominees: Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like”
JAY-Z, “The Story of O.J.”
Julia Michaels, “Issues”
Logic, “1-800-273-8255 (feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid)”
Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee, “Despacito (feat. Justin Bieber)”

My nominees: Childish Gambino, “Redbone”
Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times”
Kesha, “Praying”
Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar”
The Weeknd, “I Feel It Coming (feat. Daft Punk)”

Hard to imagine anything but “Despacito” winning, but if the Academy is going to pick a category to screw up, I can see it being this one. The fact that “Issues” and “1-800-273-8255” are in here suggests the voters did not know what to make of their options. I’m surprised the Weeknd or Harry Styles didn’t get a look from them. I suppose it’s not surprising that Kesha didn’t get a nod, seeing as there are probably enough voters in the Academy who still feel enough of a kinship with Dr. Luke to see Kesha as too controversial. But her “Praying” is the best pop song of the year by far, eliciting tears from me nearly every time I hear it.

I can’t believe I typed that sentence, but here we are.

Best New Artist

Real nominees: Alessia Cara
Khalid
Lil Uzi Vert
Julia Michaels
SZA

My nominees: Cardi B
Harry Styles
Julien Baker
Lil Uzi Vert
SZA

Not sure why Alessia Cara is here, since she broke out during the previous qualifying year, but I’m happy she’s getting some love. SZA seems like the favorite here, but it’s not by a lot. Anyone could win in this category, and I wouldn’t be surprised. I would have liked to have seen Harry Styles get honored with a nomination here, though I supposed the Academy may not consider him new, since he was in One Direction and all, but seeing as he released his first solo album this year, I say he qualifies. I don’t understand the Julia Michaels love; her songs have been better interpreted by other artists. Julien Baker, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter who took the online indie community by storm with her single, “Appointments,” is who I would replace Michaels with.

Best Alternative Album

Real nominees: Arcade Fire, Everything Now
Father John Misty, Pure Comedy
Gorillaz, Humanz
LCD Soundsystem, American Dream
The National, Sleep Well Beast

My nominees: Big Thief, Capacity
Father John Misty, Pure Comedy
Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator
Hundred Waters, Communicating
Phoebe Bridgers, Stranger in the Alps
Spoon, Hot Thoughts

The Academy loves Arcade Fire, but LCD Soundsystem could be the dark horse for orchestrating a successful comeback, as silly as it may have been. As far as indie electronic music goes, though, I preferred Hundred Waters. Father John Misty made my favorite album of 2017, so he of course gets my bid here, though Hurray for the Riff Raff was hot on his heels. Gorillaz and the National were fine legacy act picks from the Academy to go with LCD, but the best indie legacy act of the year was Spoon, and it wasn’t close. Rounding things out are 2 female-powered acts who bare all through their words, Phoebe Bridgers and Big Thief.

Best Americana/Country Album

Real nominees (Best Country Album): Chris Stapleton, From a Room: Volume 1
Kenny Chesney, Cosmic Hallelujah
Lady Antebellum, Heart Break
Little Big Town, The Breaker
Thomas Rhett, Life Changes

My nominees: Chris Stapleton, From a Room: Volume 1
David Ramirez, We’re Not Going Anywhere
Hiss Golden Messenger, Hallelujah Anyhow
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound
Joan Shelley, Joan Shelley
Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings
Paul Cauthen, My Gospel
Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway

There’s a world where Lady Antebellum wins, given their undue past recognition from the Academy, but I think Chris Stapleton’s Traveller is still fresh in voters’ minds, and he’ll take it the night of. That album and Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings rank up there with any other album of this year for me, but Joan Shelley’s self-titled takes the title for me by a hair. Jason Isbell has received plenty of accolades for his newest album, and he’s nominated in the Americana category. I like things a little simpler than the Academy, so I’d lump the 2 categories together and highlight some more obscure acts, like Texas’s David Ramirez and Paul Cauthen, as well as North Carolina’s Hiss Golden Messenger and Rhiannon Giddens.

Best Christian Album

Real nominees (Best Contemporary Christian Music Album): Danny Gokey, Rise
Matt Maher, Echoes [Deluxe Edition]
MercyMe, Lifer
Tauren Wells, Hills and Valleys
Zach Williams, Chain Breaker

My nominees: The Brilliance, All Is Not Lost
CeCe Winans, Let Them Fall in Love
Ellie Holcomb, Red Sea Road
John Mark McMillan, Mercury & Lightning
Stu Garrard, Beatitudes

I find popular Christian music less and less interesting with every passing year. So I haven’t listened to any of the nominated albums, though I’ve heard a few Tauren Wells songs in passing. Wells feels more of the moment than the rest of these acts. The good Christian music struggles to be heard. John Mark McMillan is perennially underrated, and though Stu Garrard was part of one of the most popular Christian acts of all time (Delirious?), he himself is not a Christian household name. Neither is Ellie Holcomb, even though she’s one of the best worship songwriters in recent memory. CeCe Winans is probably the best-known name on this list, and her most recent album is near perfect. But my favorite is the album from The Brilliance, who leave no stone unturned on their quest to properly worship the father in all manners of music-making.

Best Pop Album

Real nominees (Best Pop Vocal Album): Coldplay, Kaleidoscope EP
Ed Sheeran, ÷
Imagine Dragons, Evolve
Kesha, Rainbow
Lady Gaga, Joanne
Lana Del Rey, Lust for Life

My nominees: HAIM, Something to Tell You
Kesha, Rainbow
Lana Del Rey, Lust for Life
London Grammar, Truth Is a Beautiful Thing
Lorde, Melodrama

This isn’t a particularly inspiring category, even if half of it seems kind of laughable that it’s included with the other half. Both HAIM and London Grammar could wipe the floor with that Coldplay EP (which is secretly pretty good), Ed Sheeran, and Imagine Dragons. I think the #MeToo/#TimesUp movement will inspire voters to given Kesha the vote. But the best pop album of the qualifying year should have been Lorde’s to lose. She was inexplicably not nominated in any of the genre awards.

Best R&B/Urban Contemporary Album

Real nominees (Best Urban Contemporary Album): 6LACK, Free 6LACK
Childish Gambino, “Awaken, My Love!”
Khalid, American Teen
SZA, Ctrl
The Weeknd, Starboy

My nominees: Alicia Keys, Here
John Legend, DARKNESS AND LIGHT
Kehlani, SweetSexySavage
Lizzo, Coconut Oil
Sampha, Process
SZA, Ctrl

There’s so much good R&B right now, it’s surprising the best the Academy could come up with to accompany likely winner Childish Gambino, the Weeknd, and SZA, was 6LACK and Khalid. Any of Sampha, Lizzo, or Kehlani would have been worthier. Both Alicia Keys and John Legend went unnoticed at the end of 2016, even though their albums were the best of their respective careers. I’m okay with Childish Gambino winning, but SZA winning would be the best.

Best Rap Album

Real nominees: JAY-Z, 4:44
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
Migos, Culture
Rapsody, Laila’s Wisdom
Tyler, the Creator, Flower Boy

My nominees: Drake, More Life
Future, HNDRXX
JAY-Z, 4:44
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
Propaganda, Crooked
Sho Baraka, The Narrative

It’s possible that JAY-Z will take this, since there seems to be a lot of support for his shot at redemption. It’s definitely his best album in 10 or so years, but it’s not anywhere close to as deep and interesting as Kendrick’s. It’s fun seeing Migos, Rapsody, and Tyler get some mainstream Grammy love. It’s not like Drake and Future needed any more attention, even though their albums were great steps forward for both artists. I doubt Christian rap will ever get proper love in this category, but my 2 favorite rap albums of the qualifying year were from 2 bold Christian hip-hop artists, Sho Baraka and Propaganda.

Best Rock Album

Real nominees: Mastodon, Emperor of Sand
Metallica, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct
Nothing More, The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding

My nominees: Gang of Youths, Go Farther in Lightness
Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Jeff Rosenstock, WORRY.
Sheer Mag, Need to Feel Your Love
The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding
White Reaper, The World’s Best American Band

I have absolutely no feel for what the Grammys value in rock music. Two rock bands could not be more different than Metallica and The War on Drugs, and I don’t know what a Nothing More is. I’m guessing they’ve never heard of my pick, Jeff Rosenstock, or Sheer Mag or White Reaper, even though the Internet has been gushing about them for the last two years. Surely they’ve heard of Japandroids if they know who The War on Drugs is? Unfortunately, there’s no way Gang of Youths would have been nominated, since the Australia band has yet to cross over here in America, even their album is the best rock album I heard in 2017. I guess Queens of the Stone Age will win? I have no idea.

Music Bummys 2015: Best Albums of 2014

2014 was a low year for music. I love all the albums on this list, but a good chunk of them probably wouldn’t have appeared on more competitive years’ Top Ten lists. But that’s okay! Even if the big releases of 2014 were virtually nonexistent (except for a very notable October album, see #5 below), there was plenty of music to love under the radar. Three of my Top Ten are from artists I hadn’t heard of before 2014, which is probably the most since 2010. So, in the spirit of discovery, pick someone on this list (or the fifteen albums below the Top Ten) you haven’t heard of and give them a chance.

[Disclaimer: Links in the album titles are to the album on Spotify. Definitely some profanity in some of these. Links in the artist name are to times I wrote about their album already on the blog. Shouldn’t be much profanity in those.]

Top Ten

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10. Propaganda: Crimson Cord

Prop’s brand of rap has always leaned more toward spoken word poetry than straight up hip-hop. Crimson Cord finds Propaganda engaging far more with the kind of bangers you might hear on the radio- that is, if radio party rap had a soul. And yet Prop’s kept his socially conscious vibe fully intact, lashing out rationally against things like the state of hip-hop and the educational system while crafting his best hooks yet.

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9.Miranda Lambert: Platinum

2015 has been bad for Miranda, so let’s pretend like it hasn’t happened yet. 2014 saw Lambert release her best album of her career, a record so strong from beginning to end that it comes off as a greatest hits collection. We know Lambert’s personal life will be in turmoil for a while, so thankfully we have this perfect slice of country heaven to look back on.

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8. First Aid Kit: Stay Gold

Americana’s time has passed- at least, that’s what you might think if you only paid attention to the radio, since Mumford & Sons have gone electric and The Lumineers are nowhere to be found. But First Aid Kit, a sister duo from Sweden, are indicative of how unkillable American roots music really is. If the two of them, ‘90s babies from a Stockholm suburb, can release an album with the simple honesty of Stay Gold, then we can count on Americana retaining its heart long after DJs stop working banjo samples into their sets.

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7. Jackie Hill Perry: The Art of Joy

The best rap album of the year might have been the least heard. A poet from St. Louis, she’s signed to Humble Beast, the same record as Propaganda, and while, like him, her style veers toward the spoken-word, she demonstrates such aptitude with many different styles of rap that you forget this is her debut album. A lot of Perry’s ministry revolves around homosexuality, but Art of Joy is much less concerned with that, broadening her scope to forming a detailed definition of joy in God, regardless of your struggles.

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6. Liz Vice: There’s a Light

We have certain expectations for what worship music should sound like, but There’s a Light makes a case that we should reevaluate those norms. The old-school R&B & gospel influences on Vice’s debut add new dimensions to praise music, imbuing her songs with a soul often missing from a usually more straightforward genre. With a whole worship album of soul music as a shining example, it might be time for our staid, white churches to embrace new styles of worship.

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5. Taylor Swift: 1989

I didn’t really know it till last year, but I’ve grown up with Taylor. It’s not just that we were born in the same year, but that we’ve matured at about the same rate, and we started having paparazzi follow us at about the same age as well. Seriously though, going back to listen to her older records, there’s an obsession with romantic love that I could relate to at the time, even if I wouldn’t have admitted it to you or even to myself. There’s a lot of romantic love on 1989 too, but songs like “Style” and “Wildest Dreams” convey a world-weariness that wasn’t there on Fearless or Red. I’m not saying twenty-six years is enough for Taylor (or me, for that matter) to have a foolproof perspective on the world, but 1989 definitely presents a fully developed perspective, and that’s a start.

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4. Strand of Oaks: HEAL

Rock music is dead, supposedly. But the people who say that seem to be speaking mainly about its popularity or its monetization. I get that rock & roll used to have excess as a defining characteristic, but, if you know where to look, you can find honest expressions of rock. Strand of Oaks’s HEAL was the best pure, old-school rock record of 2014, weaving big choruses into verses about the boundless possibilities of youth and disillusionment with access to said possibilities in today’s culture. If you’re looking for rock & roll, look no further.

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3. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream

If HEAL is rock & roll, Lost in the Dream is more rocked & rolled. Adam Granduciel and his band don’t indulge in the excess of traditional rock. Instead they wade into Granduciel’s recent breakup with a stoner’s conviction, touching on themes and ideas, but rarely truly committing to getting to the bottom of them, preferring instead to play along the edges of every different kind of emotion, until Granduciel lets out one of his signature whoops- then the band truly plunges in. This is some of the cathartic music in years, continuing that tried and true tradition of the breakup album being an artist’s strongest.

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2. Sharon Van Etten: Are We There

Speaking of breakup albums, Are We There is Van Etten’s continued exploration of what seems like the same relationship since 2012’s Tramp. She’s like the opposite of pre-1989 Taylor Swift: every song is about the same person. Or at least that’s how it can feel when listening to Van Etten sing about her inability to remove herself from the same emotional abuse, the same lack of commitment, the same cowardice. For all I know, these songs could all be hypothetical or about different romantic partners altogether. The one constant is that Van Etten is never anything less than self-aware; she’ll have material to mine for years as long as she remains this brutally open and honest about her inner thoughts, and if Are We There is any indication, she’s mining gold.

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1. John Mark McMillan: Borderland

With Liz Vice’s There’s a Light, John Mark McMillan’s Borderland is redrawing the lines around what worship music can be. David Crowder Band plotted the boundaries and Gungor tilled the land, so it can seem like McMillan is just bearing their standard. In some ways he is; he still subscribes to a lot of the old formulas: repetitive choruses, building instrumentals, simple verses. But more than others in the worship business, McMillan is rewriting the lyrical rules. He does some interesting things with the instruments (saxophone in worship music?), but the real story here is the imagery in his words. He compares irresistible grace to a conquering Napoleon, our exile status in this world to living in a borderland with danger at every turn, and the temptations of this life to monsters in his room. Simplicity is important in worship music, but Borderland is a prime example of the idea that simplicity shouldn’t hamper creativity.

Another Fifteen

Ariana Grande: My Everything
Charli XCX: Sucker
Crowder: Neon Steeple
D’Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah
Diamond District: March on Washington
FKA twigs: LP1
Hiss Golden Messenger: Lateness of Dancers
Joan Shelley: Electric Ursa
Kelis: Food
Lecrae: Anomaly
Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal
Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Sun Kil Moon: Benji
Trip Lee: Rise
Twin Peaks: Wild Onion

Past Top Tens

2013

Jason Isbell: Southeastern
Beyoncé: Beyoncé
Laura Marling: Once I Was an Eagle
Patty Griffin: American Kid
Sandra McCracken: Desire Like Dynamite
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience
Beautiful Eulogy: Instruments of Mercy
Kanye West: Yeezus
KaiL Baxley: Heatstroke / The Wind and the War

2012

Andrew Peterson: Light for the Lost Boy
Lecrae: Gravity
Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE
Japandroids: Celebration Rock
David Crowder*Band: Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])
Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball
Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
The Olive Tree: Our Desert Ways
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra: Fable
Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city

2011

Gungor: Ghosts upon the Earth
Adele: 21
Over the Rhine: The Long Surrender
Bon Iver: Bon Iver
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
Drake: Take Care
Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin’
Beyoncé: 4
Matt Papa: This Changes Everything

2010

Titus Andronicus: The Monitor
Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The Black Keys: Brothers
Andrew Peterson: Counting Stars
Gungor: Beautiful Things
Surfer Blood: Astro Coast
Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song
The National: High Violet
The Tallest Man on Earth: The Wild Hunt

Music Bummys 2015: Best Songs of 2014

Four of the Top-50-charting songs of 2014 are in my personal top 50. That’s not a totally accurate representation of how much I enjoy popular music, since a couple of those songs are holdovers from 2013 that appeared on that year’s list (like “Royals” and “Drunk in Love”). But while this is just a personal list and is far from objective, it does make me wonder about the quality of pop music that the vast majority of the Billboard Top 100 doesn’t interest me at all.

I don’t subscribe to the theory that things were better in the old days. If you looked up pop music charts from 25 or 50 years ago, you’d find good songs and bad songs, just like 2014. And by many accounts, 2014 was a down year for pop music anyway- not many blockbuster releases by big artists, the domination of streaming services bringing sales down, the appearance of some person named Iggy Azalea. But…only four?

On this list you’ll find pop music from heavyweights like Taylor Swift and One Direction and breakouts like Charli XCX and Sia. There’s alt-country from Drive-By Truckers and rising star Sturgill Simpson. And there’s whatever the heck “NRG” and “Attak” are. My point is, this list has something the Billboard Top 100 never seems to: diversity. Embrace it, and try a song by an artist you’ve never heard of.

[Disclaimer: The links in the song titles are to the songs themselves. They probably contain profanity and/or sexual content. The links in the artist names are to past posts in which I wrote about the song or the album it appeared on.]

Top Twenty-Five

25. tUnE-yArDs: “Water Fountain”

Merrill Garbus has been channeling world beats into protest gold for a while now, but this is her most powerful song yet.

24. Rustie: “Attak (feat. Danny Brown)”

This was my alarm for a while, and no song got me woke last year quite like it.

23. Taylor Swift: “Wildest Dreams”

I get why people are upset about the music video, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the song is gorgeous.

22. Drive-By Truckers: “Grand Canyon”

The Alabama rockers pen a masterful tribute to their late friend, remembering a poignant trip to the titular world wonder with him.

21. Sturgill Simpson: “Turtles All the Way Down”

The line about Simpson’s breakout song is about how he’s rebelling against country norms by singing about drugs, but I’m more impressed by how well he nails that old-school country sound.

20. Icona Pop: “Get Lost”

In some ways, this burner is even better than their hit “I Love It”, and it’s made all the more loveable by the fact that this one barely even charted.

19. Charli XCX: “Boom Clap”

It was nice to see a pop genius like Charli XCX get popular recognition for this sunny singalong.

18. D’Angelo & the Vanguard: “Betray My Heart”

This song didn’t receive a lot of attention, but I enjoyed it more than any other off Black Messiah because of its simple statement of commitment.

17. Propaganda: “Daywalkers (feat. Lecrae)”

A lot of my favorite Propaganda songs are closer to the spoken-word side of things, but Prop branched out more on this album into straight-up bangers, including this celebration of diversity with Lecrae.

15. One Direction: “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”

Four is full of full-throated hits, but this one might be peak One Direction for its unbeatable chorus.

15. Against Me!: “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”

A fiery plea for your empathy from one of the transgender community’s boldest public faces.

14. Ariana Grande: “Problem (feat. Iggy Azalea)”

The one time Iggy manages to be charming is also the best song of last summer with the best saxophone part since “Thrift Shop”.

13. Derek Minor: “Stranger (feat. Roz)”

To me, this is the song anyone who disbelieves the veracity of the Black Lives Matter movement needs to hear.

12. Ariana Grande: “Love Me Harder (feat. The Weeknd)”

This is the song that solidified My Everything as a great pop album, a genuine hit with lasting power.

11. Duck Sauce: “NRG”

honestly this song should be #1 the bummys suck

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10. Sharon Van Etten: “Your Love Is Killing Me”

The violent imagery isn’t anything new for a Sharon Van Etten song. The single off her last album, “Serpents”, used snakes as a metaphor for the mental turmoil of an abusive relationship. But “Your Love Is Killing Me” is about needing self-mutilation so that she doesn’t go back to an abusive relationship, which is taking things up a notch.

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9. Parquet Courts: “Instant Disassembly”

Courtney Barnett’s waiting in the wings and Patrick Stickles has a case to make, but there’s no one in music better at articulating the punk aesthetic than Parquet Courts’ Andrew Savage. But “Instant Disassembly” is so heartbreaking that it’s barely punk. Savage drunkenly muses to a woman identified only as “Mamasita” about the state of identity, that he feels like he’s falling apart, and begs her to reach for something higher than him.

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8. Taylor Swift: “Out of the Woods”

The best song on 1989 is the one that sounds the least like pre-1989 Taylor. Supposedly written for her relationship with Harry Styles, “Out of the Woods” could have come straight from its album’s titular year. But there’s something about the detail Taylor gives to it that makes it also feel so immediate.

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7. Jackie Hill Perry: “I Just Wanna Get There”

Perry’s story is incredible and informs every facet of her debut album, The Art of Joy. “I Just Wanna Get There” is the album’s climax, a summation of Perry’s life thesis in four minutes. Eight days after getting married, Perry found herself pregnant, and the song details her panic and her ultimate joy in trusting God.

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6. Sia: “Chandelier”

Was there a bigger song last year? I know there were certain other songs more dominant on the charts, but what “Fancy” or “Dark Horse” didn’t have was a sense that they were happening in the real world. From the moment Sia begins singing, you know she’s pouring years of her life into every syllable.

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5. First Aid Kit: “Waitress Song”

I’m a sucker for any road trip song. “Waitress Song” starts out as a chronicle of one girl’s getaway from a life in tatters, and there’s a lack of certainty about if she’ll be able to put it together. But as the song builds, so does her hope and her comprehension of the possibilities ahead of her.

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4. John Mark McMillan: “Future / Past”

Worship music is inherently formulaic, utilizing repetition as a method of instilling truth in the heart of the worshiper. McMillan, in “Future / Past”, takes the formula and multiplies it tenfold. There’s the expected repetition, but surrounded by unusual instrumentation and imbued with an appropriately epic chorus.

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3. The War on Drugs: “Red Eyes”

Not sure if the title is referring to late-night flights, drug use, or the effects of crying, but I am sure that it could be about any of those things and fit into the wide gamut of emotions Adam Granduciel runs through during the course of the song’s 5 minutes. “Big” isn’t necessarily an adjective you associate with The War on Drugs, especially not before “trippy” or “drugged out”, but “Red Eyes” is undeniably big and expansive and full. We’re treated to a breakup song writ large, with room for your problems and yours too and yours and yours and yours.

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2. Strand of Oaks: “Goshen ‘97”

Where “Red Eyes” feels expansive, “Goshen ‘97” is the epitome of tight, compact. As he tells the story of how he started his life in music, Timothy Showalter achieves the kind of honesty only present in the best songs rock music has to offer us. “Goshen ‘97” is the kind of song that makes me believe rock isn’t dead, it’s just hiding on the fringes of culture waiting to be discovered, because it knows music sounds better when it has to be found.

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1. FKA twigs: “Two Weeks”

Listen, before you press play on “Two Weeks”, it’s going to sound like a really vulgar song. And, admittedly, it’s unashamedly about sex, and not just about sex, but using sex to make your partner forget about someone else. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but “Two Weeks” is the most unforgettable song of the year. twigs’s boldness with her sexuality is different from the oversexualization of mainstream pop stars; it belongs fully to her, stemming from her own desires and preferences and not from the male gaze. This is refreshing, not because we live in an age that is too comfortable with sex, but because we live in an age where the proliferation of sex is driven by men, and “Two Weeks” is decidedly for women, by women.

Another Twenty-Five (in alphabetical order)

5 Seconds of Summer: “She Looks So Perfect”
Alvvays: “Archie, Marry Me”
Audrey Assad: “Death, Be Not Proud”
Bizzle: “Hallelujah (Work) (feat. Selah the Corner, B. Angelique & Black Knight)”
Charli XCX: “Break the Rules”
Diamond District: “First Step”
Ed Sheeran: “Thinking Out Loud”
Ellie Holcomb: “Marvelous Light”
Foreknown: “The Never Haves”
Hiss Golden Messenger: “Saturday’s Song”
Joan Shelley: “First of August”
John Mark McMillan: “Heart Runs”
Kendrick Lamar: “i”
Kevin Morby: “Parade”
Lakes: “Hold On”
Lecrae: “All I Need Is You”
Mariah Carey: “Heavenly (No Ways Tired / Can’t Give Up Now)”
Mark Ronson: “Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars)”
Miranda Lambert: “Smokin’ and Drinkin’ (feat. Little Big Down)”
NEEDTOBREATHE: “Brother”
Sharon Van Etten: “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”
Taylor Swift: “Shake It Off”
Tove Lo: “Not on Drugs”
Trip Lee: “Coulda Been Me”
The Weeknd: “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)”

Past Top Tens

2013

Patty Griffin: “Go Wherever You Wanna Go”
Disclosure: “Latch (feat. Sam Smith)”
Jason Isbell: “Elephant”
Sky Ferreira: “I Blame Myself”
Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford: “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)”
David Ramirez: “The Bad Days”
Drake: “Hold On, We’re Going Home (feat. Majid Jordan)”
Justin Timberlake: “Mirrors”
Beyoncé: “Rocket”
Amy Speace: “The Sea & the Shore (feat. John Fullbright)”

2012

Jimmy Needham: “Clear the Stage”
Trip Lee: “One Sixteen (feat. KB & Andy Mineo)”
David Ramirez: “Fire of Time”
Lecrae: “Church Clothes”
Usher: “Climax”
Andrew Peterson: “Day by Day”
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra: “When We Were Young”
Frank Ocean: “Bad Religion”
Christopher Paul Stelling: “Mourning Train to Memphis”
Alabama Shakes: “Hold On”

2011

Adele: “Someone Like You”
Cut Copy: “Need You Now”
Gungor: “You Are the Beauty”
Fleet Foxes: “Helplessness Blues”
Miranda Lambert: “Oklahoma Sky”
Jay-Z & Kanye West: “Otis”
Matt Papa: “This Changes Everything”
Over the Rhine: “Days Like This”
Gary Clark Jr.: “Bright Lights”
Bon Iver: “Beth/Rest”

2010

Andrew Peterson: “Dancing in the Minefields”
Hot Chip: “Take It In”
Ben Rector: “Dance with Me Baby”
Kanye West: “Runaway (feat. Pusha T)”
Broken Social Scene: “World Sick”
Arcade Fire: “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
Gungor: “The Earth Is Yours”
Kanye West: “Power”
The National: “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
Surfer Blood: “Swim”

If I Ran the Grammys 2015

Last year, I ran the first of what will hopefully be an annual feature about what the Grammy Awards would look like if I ran them. All systems are broken, but this year it’s more evident than ever that the Grammy system is a knot with no chance of being untangled anytime soon. We know this, because there’s only one worthy Album of the Year candidate (last year saw at least three- okay, at most three), and because there’s a legitimate chance Sam Smith might sweep the four major awards. This would be awful. I’m holding out hope that the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has come to their senses, so you’ll see below that I’ve bet against him in every category. Seriously, Academy- for the sake of all our brains overloaded with thinkpieces about race, do not give Sam Smith all the awards. Please.

A few ground rules:

1) I’ll give the real nominees with my prediction for the winner in bold. Then I’ll give you who I would have nominated with my choice for the best in the group in bold.

2) We all know the October 1st, 2013-September 30th, 2014 qualifying dates are stupid, but we’re going to keep them in the interest of chaos. So no 1989, but Reflektor (from 2013, but released after October 1st, 2013) is fair game.

3) For the four major awards (Album, Record, Song, New Artist), I’m realistic. The War on Drugs made my favorite album in the qualifying year, but they would never be nominated for Album of the Year. Lana Del Rey’s album isn’t even my favorite pop album of the year, but it’s the likeliest of that group to be nominated for Album of the Year. You get the idea. But when it comes to the genre awards, anything goes- hence, bands like Slow Club, Twin Peaks, and Kye Kye getting nods over more popular bands in their respective categories..

4) Genre boundaries are fuzzy- Beyoncé could really fit into pop or R&B, Arcade Fire could fit into rock or alternative, Drive-By Truckers could be rock or Americana, etc. So I went with my gut. I don’t have your gut, so if you disagree with me on whether or not Lecrae belongs in the rap or Christian category, sorry.

AP BEYONCE AND JAY Z - ON THE RUN TOUR - PARIS - NIGHT 2 A ENT CPA FRA

Album of the Year

Real nominees: Morning Phase, Beck
Beyoncé, Beyoncé
X, Ed Sheeran
In the Lonely Hour, Sam Smith
Girl, Pharrell Williams

My nominees: Reflektor, Arcade Fire
Beyoncé, Beyoncé
Turn Blue, The Black Keys
Ultraviolence, Lana Del Rey
Platinum, Miranda Lambert

grammys2If anyone but Beyoncé wins, the Grammys will have returned to their stupid ways. Daft Punk last year was fine; even if you liked Kendrick Lamar’s album better, it was hard to argue against Random Access Memories as a quality choice. But there is nothing else in this category that even comes close to being a worthy Album of the Year. And that’s not for lack of quality albums either! Why not Arcade Fire’s bold Reflektor, or The Black Keys’ solid Turn Blue, or Lana Del Rey’s legitimately and surprisingly great Ultraviolence? Are we really convince that Beck’s Morning Phase was anything but a rehash of Sea Change? And the other three nominees seem like votes for mediocrity and the status quo rather than quality. It’s a shame Miranda Lambert, who is a bona fide star, couldn’t get some love over Ed Sheeran, of all people. There’s only one right choice here, and the Academy better make it, or the Internet’s shit is gonna hit the fan.

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Record of the Year

Real nominees: “Fancy (feat. Charli XCX)”, Iggy Azalea
“All About That Bass”, Meghan Trainor
“Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)”, Sam Smith
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

My nominees: “Problem (feat. Iggy Azalea)”, Ariana Grande
“Drunk in Love (feat. Jay Z)”, Beyoncé
“Boom Clap”, Charli XCX
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

IGGY AZALEA, ARIANA GRANDE“Fancy” is nice and all that, but everything Iggy in that song gets on my nerves. Regardless of how I feel, though, it was the biggest song of the year, and the Grammys will likely reward it for its success (though I prefer Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap”). For everything I said about Sam Smith, “Stay with Me” is actually a really great song. Still, if I had to choose, I’d choose the remaining three. And where is “Problem”? There was a point over last summer where we didn’t know whether “Fancy” or “Problem” was the song of the summer, and just because “Fancy” won doesn’t make it the better song. I would’ve liked to have seen some love for “Drunk in Love” too, but “Problem” was the coolest record of the year.

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Song of the Year

Real nominees: “Take Me to Church”, Hozier
“All About That Bass”, Meghan Trainor
“Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)”, Sam Smith
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

My nominees: “Afterlife”, Arcade Fire
“Drunk in Love (feat. Jay Z)”, Beyoncé
“West Coast”, Lana Del Rey
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

grammys6Song of the Year is a songwriting award, and there wasn’t a better-written song this year than “Chandelier”. I’m not a fan of “Take Me to Church” at all, so I’ll gladly replace it with Arcade Fire’s best song of Reflektor. As much as I love “All About That Bass”, “Drunk in Love” beats it out by a mile. And “Stay with Me” isn’t a well-written song at all (especially considering the Tom Petty controversy); its charm is in its performance. I’d rather include one of the most interesting songs of the year, Lana Del Rey’s “West Coast”.

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Best New Artist

Real nominees: Bastille
Brandy Clark
Haim
Iggy Azalea
Sam Smith

My nominees: 5 Seconds of Summer
Charli XCX
Meghan Trainor
Sky Ferreira
Sturgill Simpson

grammys8If I’m honest with myself, Sam Smith is probably going to win this award. In an ideal world, either Brandy Clark or especially Haim would get it. But if any award is Sam Smith’s to lose, it’s this one. Even if the Academy realizes in the other categories that Smith isn’t the most deserving, it would be hard for them to ignore him in this one. But I’m kind of leaning toward a full-on Sam Smith fatigue having set in for the industry, so I’ll bet on Azalea’s monster year to push her into the lead. As far as my Grammys go, where are 5 Seconds of Summer, Charli XCX, and Meghan Trainor? Any of them would be better than Bastille, for goodness’ sake. I’d pick Charli XCX over Iggy Azalea even, since “Fancy” is largely successful because of its hook and not because of Iggy’s verses. And, just to make myself happy, I included two stars in the underground, the pop savant Sky Ferreira and the country up-and-comer Sturgill Simpson.

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Best Pop Album

Real nominees (Pop Vocal Album): My Everything, Ariana Grande
Ghost Stories, Coldplay
X, Ed Sheeran
Prism, Katy Perry
Bangerz, Miley Cyrus

My nominees: 5 Seconds of Summer, 5 Seconds of Summer
My Everything, Ariana Grande
Ultraviolence, Lana Del Rey
Midnight Memories, One Direction
Night Time, My Time, Sky Ferreira

grammys10I promise I don’t have anything against Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith. I just find them bland. That said, Sheeran has the inside track on this category, since he obviously had enough support to secure an Album of the Year nominee. The best album actually nominated, though, is My Everything. The best pop album not nominated was Sky Ferreira’s brilliant Night Time, My TimeUltraviolence got my vote for one of the more realistic Albums of the Year, so she’s obviously in here as well, taking Coldplay’s more alternative pop slot. And I’d replace Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus with a couple of other hit generators who were more on target: One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer.

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Best Rock Album

Real nominees: Morning Phase, Beck
Turn Blue, The Black Keys
Ryan Adams
, Ryan Adams
Hypnotic Eye, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Songs of Innocence, U2

My nominees: Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Against Me!
Reflektor, Arcade Fire
Turn Blue, The Black Keys
English Oceans, Drive-By Truckers
Wild Onion, Twin Peaks

grammys12Why do people think Beck is good? He hasn’t made an authentic album since Sea Change. Every album since then has been an effort to appease rather than challenge. That wouldn’t be a problem if the attempts were interesting, but he’s always boring. I’d choose any other album on that list over his. But on my personal list, I’d shoehorn Arcade Fire in on this ballot rather than the alternative genre, and give some love to some of the more underrated artists of the year: Against Me!’s brash punk, Drive-By Truckers rootsy epic, and Twin Peak’s blast of indie rock.

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Best Alternative Album

Real nominees (Alternative Music Album): This Is All Yours, alt-J
Reflektor, Arcade Fire
Melophobia, Cage the Elephant
Lazaretto, Jack White
St. Vincent, St. Vincent

My nominees: Electric Ursa, Joan Shelley
Fantasize, Kye Kye
Sunbathing Animal, Parquet Courts
Are We There, Sharon Van Etten
Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs

grammys14St. Vincent has the edge, since she was the critical darling of the last year on this list. I love Reflektor, but it belongs in the rock category, as does Lazaretto. In what world is Jack White not considered rock? I don’t care about alt-J or Cage the Elephant- they belong in the bland category with Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. I’m surprised The War on Drugs didn’t make it onto the Grammy’s list, since they received just as much if not more critical attention than St. Vincent. The same goes for Parquet Courts, thought they surely couldn’t care less. I enjoyed the albums by Sharon Van Etten, Joan Shelley, and Kye Kye far more than I liked St. Vincent’s. But that’s just my personal taste.

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Best R&B Album

Real nominees: Lift Your Spirit, Aloe Blacc
Islander, Bernhoft
Black Radio 2, Robert Glasper Experiment
Give the People What They Want, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Love, Marriage & Divorce, Toni Braxton & Babyface

My nominees: Beyoncé, Beyoncé
Cupid Deluxe, Blood Orange
Food, Kelis
There’s a Light, Liz Vice
Complete Surrender, Slow Club

grammys16Aloe Blacc is probably the only one the Academy has actually heard of on their own list. For my list, this is the category Beyoncé belongs in. She would fit just as well into pop music, but Beyoncé is way more D’Angelo than Katy Perry. Kelis also deserves some love for her sexy album, Food, but it went by this summer without anyone really noticing. Blood Orange and Slow Club received a little more attention in the indie world. And Liz Vice is the outlier of the group, a little-known Christian artist who has nailed how to pull worship R&B off.

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Best Rap Album

Real nominees: Because the Internet, Childish Gambino
Nobody’s Smiling, Common
The Marshall Mathers LP2, Eminem
The New Classic, Iggy Azalea
Oxymoron, Schoolboy Q

My nominees: Instruments of Mercy, Beautiful Eulogy
Old, Danny Brown
Anomaly, Lecrae
Crimson Cord, Propaganda
Sinema, Swoope

grammys18I don’t like Iggy’s style at all, but there’s no doubting she has all the momentum here, especially in such a down year for mainstream rap. I wish Danny Brown would get some love, but he’s the lone winner in a year full of rap losers. That wasn’t the case in the Christian rap scene though, with Beautiful Eulogy, Lecrae, and Swoope all releasing stellar versions of the genre. None was better than Prop though; he’d never win it in real life, but since I’m running things, Prop’s Crimson Cord would get the love it deserves.

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Best Christian Album

Real nominees (Contemporary Christian Music): Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong., for KING & COUNTRY
If We’re Honest
, Francesca Battistelli
Welcome to the New, MercyMe
Hurricane, Natalie Grant
Royal Tailor, Royal Tailor

My nominees: Devotion, Anberlin
Neon Steeple, Crowder
As Sure as the Sun, Ellie Holcomb
Borderland, John Mark McMillan
Rivers in the Wasteland, NEEDTOBREATHE

grammys20“Christian” is hardly a genre, but it’s a useful denomination for music that doesn’t really belong anywhere else. You could make the argument that Anberlin, Crowder, and NEEDTOBREATHE all make rock music, but they’re undeniably pigeonholed into the Christian category. Nothing on the Grammy list belongs in the conversation, though Francesca Battistelli probably has the most industry pull. I’d rather listen to Ellie Holcomb’s full-length debut any day. And the most overlooked of all will always be John Mark McMillan, always on the outskirts of even the Christian mainstream, forever going to be ignored by the Academy. He gets my vote though.

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Best Americana Album

Real nominees: Terms of My Surrender, John Hiatt
Bluesamericana, Keb’ Mo’
A Dotted Line, Nickel Creek
The River & the Thread, Roseanne Cash
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill Simpson

My nominees: Stay Gold, First Aid Kit
Lateness of Dancers, Hiss Golden Messenger
Small Town Heroes, Hurray for the Riff Raff
Platinum, Miranda Lambert
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill Simpson

grammys22Sturgill Simpson’s album was a wonderful breath of fresh air in the country genre. There are plenty of artists like him out there, injecting a stale genre with modern ideas, but he’s received the most attention for it, and deservedly so. But Roseanne Cash is the daughter of Johnny Cash, so she’s going to win. One of those other artists like Simpson is Hurray for the Riff Raff, and her Small Town Heroes was maybe the second most acclaimed album of its kind behind Metamodern Sounds. Hiss Golden Messenger and First Aid Kit both released my favorite folk albums of the past year, but the award should really go to Miranda Lambert. She’s nominated in the Best Country genre, and she’s the best example of mainstream country in years. Literally years. She may lose her real Grammy to Eric Church (another for the bland pile), but she would win my Grammy.

I’m aware I didn’t include all the nominees for these categories. I blame the layout of the Grammys’ website.

Tentative Top Tens for 2014

If you’re a regular reader of Coulda Been a Contender (and that’s a big if), you know I don’t really complete my Top Ten lists until around September of the next year. I like some remove from the end-of-year list boom and awards season fever, and it gives me a lot more time to catch up on everything I missed. But it seems wrong not to release some sort of list, so I’m going to tentatively present my Top Ten movies and albums. I don’t keep up with reading or TV as much as I like, but I’ll go ahead and throw in a book and show at the end. Neither of them are from this year, but whatever.

I’ll write plenty about most of these when I do the actual Bummys, or I’ve already written about them. If I have, the link to what I wrote will be in the title.

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Movies

10. Ernest & Celestine
9. How to Train Your Dragon 2
8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
7. Interstellar
6. The Lego Movie
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Blue Ruin
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
2. Snowpiercer
1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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Albums

10. Crimson Cord, Propaganda
9. There’s a Light, Liz Vice
8. 1989, Taylor Swift
7. Platinum, Miranda Lambert
6. The Art of Joy, Jackie Hill Perry
5. Stay Gold, First Aid Kit
4. Borderland, John Mark McMillan
3. Rise, Trip Lee
2. Are We There, Sharon Van Etten
1. Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs

Best Book I Read This Year

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Best TV Show I Watched This Year

The Wire