Year in Review: The 25 Best Songs of 2017

While 2017 was one of the absolute shittiest (yes, this is the first time we’ve cursed on here – we’re not apologizing) years on record politically, socially, and just about everything else-ly, the songs and albums that were released either in direct and indirect response or in complete indifference to it were on a completely different level of artistic ambition and passion for the delicate art form that is pure, unadulterated music. It was a distraction at the very least, an expanse to lose yourself completely and forget all the indecencies of the world at the most, and there was something for everyone, although we chose to go with the deeper, denser tracks, the ones that weren’t afraid to show emotion despite the call to remain stoic and detached due to the nature of society, to express vulnerability in every sense of the word. And, while doing best of lists this time around, I realized just how lucky I was to have started this blog when I did, because it has allowed me the chance to understand just how much music can change with the times as the years go by, as well as how much it stays the same – the twenty-five tracks presented here are honest, sincere, and gorgeous in their own respective ways, a playlist that kept us sane during a torturous whirlwind of a year.

25. Garbanotas Bosistas, “Last Summer’s Day”

The dreamy psychedelic sounds of Lithuanian band Garbanotas Bosistas were further realized with Room for You, released earlier this month. “Last Summer’s Day,” the first official single for the album, is one of the most gorgeous, a highly textured ballad devoted to the end of the daydreaming during the warm months and the embracing of new ideas. Lead vocalist Šarukas Joneikis asks the universe to bring him back to his good graces, to “bring back [his] heart, reunite with [his] mind,” but also understands that its ultimately up to him, lamenting “Lord, I really need to get moving on,” his voice lingering with something between desire and fear. The instrumentals, slow and saccharine sweet at the beginning, are perfectly in step with the vocals like a delicate waltz, only to quickly condense and explode in a cacophony of sound towards the end, a last hurrah both passionate and reverential in nature.

photo courtesy of artist

24. Peach Pit, “Tommy’s Party”

“Tommy’s Party,” the six minute closer to Peach Pit’s stunning debut Being So Normal released back in September, is perhaps the most minimal and sparse of its nine tracks, and yet, it just might be the most sincere the group has ever composed. Though highly specific in its narrative – frontman Neil Smith explaining upon release that the song is from the perspective of his roommate Tommy the night after a wild party where everyone seemed to have a bit too much to drink – the emotion in Smith’s voice amongst the bright, shimmering flourishes of guitar is what makes the track nostalgic and oddly relatable, especially if you’ve ever grown apart from one of your closest friends due to a new relationship or new life experiences. There’s hints of sadness in Smith’s voice as he tells us everything Tommy told him the morning after the party, that ultimately he was hurt that Smith brought a girl along with him and therefore ignored him the entire night. Tommy says in the last verse that when they were younger they thought that they’d only have each other to rely on, “but now she’s knowing you, just like I used to,” Smith lingering on the last two words as if introducing a painful surge of guilt, the guitar solo that follows afterwards a means to simultaneously suppress and acknowledge it.

photo by Lester Lyons-Hookham and Kelli Lane

23. St. Vincent, “Pills”

Masseduction, Annie Clark’s fifth album as St. Vincent, is something eerily close to post-pop, if we can be so bold as to even suggest that as an actual genre. There’s flashy neon colors, dramatic outfits, scripted, comic interviews, and yet the music itself has no gimmick – its pure, unadulterated St. Vincent as she has built herself up as over the years. “Pills,” not about the overarching presence of the pharmaceutical industry, but instead a brief look at a moment in Clark’s past, where she had once relied on sleeping pills. It’s also a wonderful example of the multi-faceted nature of the album as a whole, seein it feels like two songs in one. After the barrage of hallucinatory nursery rhyme choruses (“Pills to wake, pills to sleep/ Pills pills pills every day of the week”) the track comes down from the high, Clark’s voice melting into a passionate croon before a smooth sax solo. It’s reality in the style of fantasy, a surreal, out of body experience set to music.

photo by Nedda Afsari

22. Tennis, “I Miss That Feeling”

Tennis might be one of the hardest working couples in the indie music industry, as well as one of the most passionate due to the sheer amount of music they have released over the past year. While potentially any track from their fourth album Yours Conditionally could appear on this list, including the ethereal “Modern Woman” as well as the bright and cheerful “Fields of Blue,”  “I Miss That Feeling” from their more recently released EP We Can Die Happy deserves the spot, with its lush, atmospheric choral interludes as well as Alaina Moore’s clever songwriting – we still can’t get over her rhyming of “trembling” with “EKG.” But as always, the duo’s contribution is in constant balance, with Patrick Riley’s signature shimmering guitar melodies lying dormant underneath before erupting into its stunning closing solo.

photo via noisey

21. The Drums, “Heart Basel”

The Drums have always presented their albums with a certain mood in mind, and it feels like they’ve done almost everything with the classic indie sound  – their self titled debut was breezy yet complex in technique with hints of surf rock, Portamento was giddy but considerably darker in overall tone, and Encylopedia was the strange, yet oddly charming experimental outlier – and with Abysmal Thoughts, their first album in three years, it was as if all of those moods had seamlessly converged into one – even the hints of surf rock – with an added newfound aura of confidence. “Heart Basel” is somehow both breezy in composition and piercing in frontman Jonny Peirce’s vocal delivery, fighting the two separate feelings of infatuation and apprehension. He repeatedly asks a faceless, nameless entity in each chorus to “call me and tell me that you want me,” but its clear in the verses that he doesn’t really mean it, later telling him that “the tropical weather must have softened your heart,” that he “don’t make no sense.” Despite the frustration, the track still sounds bouncy and energetic, the pinpricks of guitar hopeful rather than dismal in nature.

photo by Moni Haworth

20. The xx, “On Hold”

I See You was, no doubt, the brightest xx record ever released. Each of its tracks, though still housing that signature heaviness equivalent with the trio’s sound, had an airiness about it, a glimmer of hope amongst all the despair. No other track really expressed this more than “On Hold,” also the first official single for the album. Romy Madley-Croft’s vocals hovered above her echoed guitar melodies, and even Oliver Sim’s signature deep drawl sounded just a touch lighter than usual. Though the narrative is about letting go of love (“and every time I let you leave/ I always saw you coming back to me”), the vocals, as well as the electronic compositions courtesy of the incredibly talented Jamie xx, point to something bright and hopeful, the result of learning from mistakes in life and love.

photo by Laura Jane Coulson

19. Temples, “I Wanna Be Your Mirror”

Volcano might be one of the most overlooked and underrated albums released this past year, and we found that to be an absolute travesty, considering the amount of work and passion that went into its creation. Perhaps it is because some believe Temples’ ambitious compositions emulate classic psychedelic rock just a little too perfectly, or that the complex instrumentals and often inscrutable lyrics make the Brit quartet’s music a little too much to take in all at once. However, what these critics miss out on is the passion and color that Temples place into everything they release, as well as their genuine love for the genre, and the album, to us, was a perfect continuation of everything they introduced with Sun Structures. Among the bubbly, high energy tracks, “I Wanna Be Your Mirror” was our absolute favorite off Volcano, mainly due to  the brilliant ways it melded together the energy of rock with the tenderness of a love song. Frontman James Bagshaw allows his vocals to both soar and condense, sometimes surrounded by walls of sound, but they are most stunning when they crumble down towards the chorus, accompanied only by shimmering guitar.

photo by Ed Miles

18. Rhye, “Taste”

Mike Milosh’s voice is, by far, Rhye’s best instrument. Both his control over it as well as the perfect way in which the instrumentals rush to surround him are absolutely mesmerizing, as heard in the Los Angeles duo’s debut, Woman, released back in 2013. “Taste,” one of the first teases of their upcoming album due next year, pointed to a slightly different, more experimental sound, with Milosh’s relatively deeper, yet still delicate falsetto at the center of a vortex composed of bass and synth, playful and eerie all at once. There’s also a distinct, simultaneous heaviness and playfulness, heard more in the accompanying tracks “Summer Days,” “Please,” and the most recent “Count to Five,” but it is most tantalizing here, the complex mixture of synth, metallic effects, and orchestral interludes conjuring an aura of mystery that Rhye will no doubt have fun with come next year. They’ve always been sensitive and vulnerable, but with these new tracks, they prove they can be a little dangerous as well.

photo by Dan Monick

17. Gorillaz, “Saturnz Barz”

Although Humanz was incredibly ambitious in its creation – complete with various collaborators, a lengthy tracklist, even a new plot and new art style for each fictitious band member (Murdoc’s was especially jarring – who told Jamie Hewlett to get rid of the green skin?) – we think we can all agree that it wasn’t Gorillaz’s best. However, there were moments of brilliance on the album, little melodies and earworms that seemed to linger well after the final note. “Saturnz Barz” was one that harkened back to that classic Gorillaz sound, and we also just had to include it based on how effortlessly cool it sounds. Glitchy synth and bright, metallic effects introduce distorted bass and drums, the sharp vocal delivery from Popcaan the cherry on top, the soft vocals from Damon Albarn peeking out underneath as well as towards the end another damn cherry on top of that one. It’s an absolute masterpiece of a track, proving Albarn’s continued excellence in composition. There never has, and never will be, a band that so perfectly pushes the limits of just about anything music can be – from its “band members” to what sounds go with others, to its incredibly creative music videos – and not even a so-so album can topple that.

photo courtesy of artist

16. Marika Hackman, “Boyfriend”

I’m Not Your Man was yet another incredibly overlooked and underrated album, again with no good reason behind it – Marika Hackman’s take on guitar pop was deliciously fresh and inspired, and the songwriting was impeccable – we couldn’t even decide on a favorite for this list without agonizing over the decision afterwards. Despite the soft fluidity of “Cigarette” and the stunning guitar melodies of “My Lover Cindy,” ultimately we had to go with the bouncy, energetic “Boyfriend,” a gorgeous song that isn’t what you first expect from the title. Though she admits she’s got a girl’s boyfriend “on her mind,” he isn’t the one she wants, instead confessing to stealing her away from him (“I held his girl in my hands/ She likes it ‘cause they’re softer than a man’s”). However, she doesn’t apologize, instead injecting everything from the tone of her voice to her meticulous guitar melodies with a healthy dose of sarcasm, making fun of him while commenting on how she isn’t taken as seriously. It’s the perfect introduction to her unique personality and writing style, showing that instead of feeling sorry for herself, she’ll have fun and steal your man in the process, just because she can.

photo by Pip for Dirty Hit Records

15. Tim Darcy, “Tall Glass of Water”

Ought frontman Tim Darcy took on a different persona in the the composition of his debut solo album Saturday Night, swapping out his mile-a-minute cynicisms with softer, lovesick serenades and sprawling, esoteric narratives. “Tall Glass of Water,” the first track released in anticipation for the album back in February, leans more towards indie rock in it’s heavy, balanced guitar melodies, but Darcy’s signature croon still hovers above, with his lyrics both asking and answering questions about his own abilities to muster on and understand himself as an artist (“If at the end of the river, there is more river, would you dare to swim again?” Surely I will stay, and I am not afraid / I went under once, I’ll go under once again”). These sorts of musings come complimentary with the singer/songwriter, it seems, regardless of what name or group he releases them under. However, rather than only bathe them in tension and angst, there’s also a sense of peace in his conveying himself, which makes the track all the more satisfying.

photo courtesy of artist

14. Japanese Breakfast, “Road Head”

The soft, mesmerizing guitar melody that courses through the entirety of “Road Head” was more than enough to grant it a spot on this list, as well as the fact that it was one of the many stunning tracks on Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Michelle Zauner’s sophomore album as Japanese Breakfast. It lived up to its namesake, each track expressing something otherworldly and ethereal, Zauner’s vocals its own instrument of despair and euphoria. Despite the brevity of its lyrical narrative, the emotion is still vivid and sincere, with super-sensory instrumentals – the guitar and bass the steady rolling of tires along the highway, Zauner’s voice whispering “run,” cooing towards the end, emulating the red and white flash of headlights through the dark as it soundly dissipates into the thick void of synth. It’s a surreal, almost hyper-realistic experience, and considering the short amount of time between projects, proved both Zauner’s passion and immense skill for her work.

photo by Ebru Yildiz

13. Gus Dapperton, “Miss Glum and the Pursuit of Falling”

Gus Dapperton was one of our absolute favorite musical discoveries of this past year, with his Yellow and Such EP offering up a different chunk of his quirky, yet highly intellectual writing and performing style. Working off his love of cinema, each track had a robust, full-bodied aura to them, heavy with thoughtful instrumentation and poetic, often witty and esoteric lyrics. “Miss Glum and the Pursuit of Falling” showed a more eclectic side, piecing together different techniques and moods into one cohesive track. There’s a colorful, yet muted menagerie of sounds – pinpricks and swelling flutters of synth, soft swells of melancholic guitar, a brilliant orchestral interlude that sounds as if it’s on a rocking boat, swaying from side to side – all floating underneath Dapperton’s echoed, ominous vocals. However, it is the implicit sadness evoked in the last minute of the track that makes it especially irresistible, a hotbed of sound where every delicately chosen note can combine and grow in focused succession.  

photo courtesy of artist

12. Alvvays, “Not My Baby”

There were a few tracks within Alvvays’s gorgeous sophomore album Antisocialites that sounded like two or three songs rolled in one, and “Not My Baby” was one of its best, not to mention its unapologetic narrative. Everything about it is soft yet visceral – the drums explode on impact, little flourishes of synth flutter underneath like sparks before swelling to the size of boulders. Molly Rankin’s voice changes right along with the muted, muffled instrumentals in tone, but remains static in her indifferent mood, only growing in power as the track plays on. TIt becomes especially enraptured towards the bridge, where she tells us all the things she did to get over someone from her past, trading her “rose colored shades for a wide lens,” how she used to make noise but now she “much prefers silence.” It’s a song about maturing and elevating your own perception of yourself for the better, and empowerment never sounded so saccharine sweet.

photo by Arden Wray

11. Alt-J, “In Cold Blood”

Relaxer was Alt-J’s shortest, most bizarre album yet, chock full of experimental instrumentals and insane references that, while more than anticipated due to the inspired nature of their past work, would undoubtedly take months to decipher. “In Cold Blood” was one of the most accessible of the bunch, the shallowest of the deep dive that is the three minds of its creators, but not without its individual merits that makes it that classic, albeit strange Alt-J song with an even stranger, specific narrative. “In Cold Blood” begins with a slew of binary, arresting, piercing and esoteric. While the track sounds bright and energetic, a deeper listen and brief glance at the lyrics reveals that a man has been killed during a pool party, and that same positive energy turns frantic and chaotic, the horns and glitchy keyboards mingling together in some sort of demented, violent menagerie. And yet, with it’s addictive “la-la-las,” it also sounds sunny and bright, but its ultimately its multifaceted nature that keeps us in the pool.

photo by Gabriel Green / big hassle

10. Porches, “Find Me”

Aaron Maine returned this year with news of his upcoming third album The House, the two singles shared in anticipation hinting at a project even more personal than his past work. “Find Me” had Maine foregoing instrumentals and instead used synth exclusively, stacking the varying layers on top of each other thoughtfully to create a stable, unwavering foundation for a minimal, yet highly emotional narrative that expounds the torturous nature of anxiety. Maine, through a jungle of tense, earth-shattering synth, desperately begs a faceless, nameless being not to let “it” find him. Despite his attempts to resist, “it” eventually finds him just before the chorus, and with it comes a powerful wave of bouncy, glitchy synth that washes over as Maine succumbs to the influx of thoughts and emotions. Yet his voice towers over the surge in acceptance, and he explains that he’ll go “somewhere else, where I can sink into myself,” and asks those around to watch him go, to watch him try and escape from the most unforgiving entity – himself – to attempt to find peace through internal chaos.

photo by Jason Nocito

9. King Krule, “Dum Surfer”

Archy Marshall’s sophomore album as King Krule was definitely more of a grower than his debut, but surprisingly, that ended up working in his favor. The Ooz steadily diverged from any trace of softness that showed its face now and then in ballads like “Baby Blue,” and instead embraced the deepest, darkest parts of Marshall’s already jagged, twisted musical persona, amplifying nearly every part of his aesthetic to the point where it truly became unparalleled – as if it wasn’t already before. In “Dum Surfer,” one of the highlights of the album, you can hear the signature sneer and snarl in Marshall’s voice so clearly its almost tangible, delivering a perfectly rhymed, snarky narrative about the hellish, alcohol soaked night he and his friends were in the process of enduring. He’s only accompanied by bass and guitar at the beginning, that is, until a glimmering guitar melody gradually slithers its way out of the heavy carpet of percussion, seemingly crawling into the open mouth of a saxophone that adds even more texture with every sultry blare. And yet, even Marshall can’t pull off a track that’s all grime and growl – towards the middle we get a brief moment of introspection, an indication that the zombie he portrays himself to be in the accompanying video has a heart himself.

photo by Geordie Wood

8. Cloud Castle Lake, “Twins”

We will never stop talking about, nor will we ever apologize for our unwavering love for Cloud Castle Lake, as well as their absolutely stunning track “Sync” – a track that, despite being almost three years old, continues to grow in brilliance every time we listen to it. Just when we thought nothing could rival that track in the feelings of transcendentalism and euphoria, the Dublin quartet released “Twins,” the first teaser for their upcoming debut album Malingerer, out next year. They’ve mentioned that the album will pull away from the experimental post-rock aesthetic they began with and instead lean more towards the raw complexity of jazz, and, according to the band, “juxtaposes lyrical darkness and despair with an almost euphoric catharsis.” Though that could be said for their entire discography up to this point, “Twins” seems like the true epitome of that statement, with McAuley enduring what seems like every human emotion to an incessant, brawny menagerie of bright, colorful jazz instrumentals. It’s colorful, explosive, and so wonderfully unique its easy to get lost within it, but after the first minute, you’re almost glad you are.

photo courtesy of artist

7. The National, “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”

Sleep Well Beast was an album that, ironically, we slept on until the beginning of December, where we finally gave into The National’s inevitable darkness and listened to lead single “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” originally released back in May. As you can probably imagine, one listen to the arresting, aggressive instrumentals and we immediately regretted all the time we could have spent diving deep into the vast world they’ve slowly been cultivating over the past four years. Matt Berninger’s voice is completely different from the deep drawl it took on during Trouble Will Find Me, even sometimes entering a vocal register we weren’t aware he could deliver. It’s a whirlwind beginning to end, chock full of little surprises on equal caliber with Berninger’s newfound vocal energy – Aaron Dessner’s guitar solo in the middle is smooth and calculated, an outburst of power that sounded as if it was held captive for far too long. Berninger repeats “I can’t explain it any other/ any other way,” an unapologetic tone that stays constant throughout the entire album.

photo by Graham MacIndoe

6. Sufjan Stevens, “Wallowa Lake Monster”

It seems like it has always been Sufjan Stevens’s mission to make anything painful sound beautiful beyond what is humanly possible, and that was exactly the case with “Wallowa Lake Monster” from this year’s release The Greatest Gift, the supplemental album filled with outtakes, remixes, and demos from Carrie & Lowell. The track follows the same narrative of love, loss, and regret potent within the album, offering another otherworldly, almost transcendental narrative on the death his mother, as well as their troubled, strained relationship. Both piano and voice are somber and delicate, each trying not to overshadow the other, conveying a sense of mutual respect and admiration in signature Sufjan Stevens fashion. Though the track exists as a continuation of the solemn nature of its larger work, its clear that this is perhaps the most solemn of all, due to Stevens’s absolute acceptance that “no oblation will bring her back,” that he has seemingly understood everything within the span of its seven minutes. His breathy vocals periodically rise into a beautiful falsetto during certain parts of the verse, strained and tired in response, but beautiful all the same, greeted with a cacophony of angelic wails that seem to carry a lovely weight towards the heavens.

photo courtesy of Asthmatic Kitty Records

5. Ought, “These 3 Things”

Art-punk quartet Ought surprised us all with news of their upcoming third album Room Inside the World, due out early next year. The first track from the album “These 3 Things” was noticeably different from the grit of their past repertoire, and instead leaned towards the gorgeous instability and unpredictability of post-punk, complete with synth and dulcet orchestral tones. Darcy’s voice sounded different as well, more mellifluous and elastic than ever, only occasionally returning to the brooding, acerbic tone he emulated in their past work, the unique vocals that immediately and unmistakably identified them as Ought. However, despite the stark differences in tone, “These 3 Things” stayed true to the feelings of suppressed turbulence and anxiety and instead sounded like a seamless progression for the band, an evolution that still thankfully takes advantage of their unique recording style – where it constantly sounds as if, through the separate energies of every component involved, that something large, potent, and powerful is brimming just underneath the surface, gaining energy, yet only to stay trapped, smoldering and hot to the touch, that tension more coveted and gorgeous than if it had burst.

photo courtesy of artist / merge records

4. Perfume Genius, “Slip Away”

There’s immense power in being soft and somber, two emotions that Mike Hadreas has mastered throughout the years in his attempts to both constantly and brilliantly oppose a grossly ignorant society denying him the right to exist because of all the ideas he represents – homosexuality, androgyny, male vulnerability – as well as unapologetically embrace his own merits at the same time. In “Slip Away,” Hadreas’s first release from No Shape, his fourth album as Perfume Genius, he fought back against those who denied him the basic right of humanity, and embodied the idea of love over hate, explaining to his partner that “they’ll never break the shape we take,” to “let all them voices slip away” amongst bombastic, pastel-tinged synth blossoms that exploded with each note. It’s enamored, luxurious, and yet with a wonderful message of love in both its romantic and platonic forms.

photo courtesy of artist / Matador records

3. Fleet Foxes, “Third of May/ Ōdaigahara”

Crack-Up contained some of the most gorgeous, dense, sprawling narratives ever written by Robin Pecknold, with lead single “Third of May/ Odaigahara” basically being the thesis statement for the entire album. The nine minute epic is nostalgia epitomized, a track whose first half is more for Pecknold himself than for anyone else, given the amount of breathtaking introspection about himself, his friendships, and his career – which is okay, given its energy and vivid imagery in as well as how much honesty and genuine emotion oozes out of every second. It is essentially a track detailing the close friendship of Pecknold and band co-founder Skye Skjelset, and details of him are everywhere, including the title (Skjelset’s birthday falls on May 3rd). Pecknold explained the song’s poetic narrative in full soon after it was released: “It addresses our distance in the years after touring that album, the feeling of having an unresolved, unrequited relationship that is lingering psychologically. Even if some time apart was necessary and progressive for both of us as individuals, I missed our connection, especially the one we had when we were teenagers, and the lyrics for the song grew out of that feeling.” It’s an anthem for their friendship as well as what Pecknold believes to be his personal responsibility as an artist as well as a human being, made especially clear in the second half, dramatically different from the first in tone. He practically grabs us by the collar and lectures that every day is a gift, that “life unfolds in pools of gold,” and that we “are only owed this shape if [we] make a line to hold,” that with the gift of life comes “the responsibility to transcend solipsism and offer connection beyond yourself.” When combined with the stop-and-go instrumental explosions and the echoes that Pecknold’s voice transforms into, the track showcases something close to divine intervention, given the way in which these elaborate, enamored instrumentals that rush to raise his speech up. It ends softly and sweetly with medieval sounding orchestrals that will soon make up most of the rest of the album, a nostalgic reminiscence, a respectful, mutual admiration, and a hopeful premonition rolled into one.

photo by Sean Pecknold

2. Grizzly Bear, “Three Rings”

Painted Ruins was Grizzly Bear’s most introspective album to date, filled with moments of heartache, hope, and epiphany, and lead single “Three Rings” managed to express all three to near perfection. The instrumentals at the beginning are composed of Christopher Bear’s relatively minimal, yet chunky percussions and Chris Taylor’s steady bass drone, only to later be met with a wave of techniques and styles that wash over to fill the space near the bridge, where Droste begins to question the emotions long since buried deep inside. He asks through the midst of experimental, industrial sounding guitar melodies courtesy of Daniel Rossen if this is “the way it is,” before sinking into a somber, teary-eyed “Ready, Able”-esque bridge of desperation and anguish, begging his beloved “don’t you ever leave me,” promising he can “make it better,” to supposedly make himself better too, if he can fit it in. It’s a desperate plea for acceptance that sounds more like a shout into the impenetrable void, but with an added aura of dignity in Droste’s vocal delivery that strips it of any futility that might come supplementary with such yearning. We root for him to succeed in the end, for him to become the best version of himself, although we can’t help but save a little bit of that pride for ourselves as well.

photo by Tom Hines

1. Baths, “Human Bog”

Though it was released less than two months ago, Romaplasm was one of the most gorgeous albums of the year, not to mention Baths’s most gorgeous album to date, mainly due to its genuine honesty and complex, fantastical compositions. In a similar regard, “Human Bog” was among the most stunning tracks Wiesenfeld has ever released dealing directly with personal identity, and contains a heartbreaking lyrical narrative that begins with the outside world and steadily retreats inward, the mind finding an respite within the heart – an ill respite, as we soon realize, but respite nonetheless. Wiesenfeld states his grievances of both night and day, day including seeing people “positioning pearls on younger girls who couldn’t be bothered” and “buttoning poise on younger boys avoiding their fathers,” minuscule at first glance, but holds a deeper meaning with every listen – by emphasizing the importance of outward appearance, superficial or not, the more he “conducts [himself] invisibly” due to his differences in how he chooses to spend his time, where he finds solace, who he decides to love. He cannot even find peace “by moon,” where he tells us in softer tones just how pathetic he feels he is, whispering “the lengths I go to get held onto” like a secret he’s held in for far too long. Wiesenfeld continues to admit in an increasingly fraying, porous voice between puddles of murky, treacherous synth that he’s “queer in a way that works” for whoever he’s with, but ultimately “queer in a way that’s failed [him], the instrumentals afterwards introducing soft orchestral flourishes that again allows the track to be both sad and beautiful, self-indulgent but honest. He claims before a glitchy, exasperated sigh that “everyone alive live fuller lives than me,” repeating “lie lie lie” before falling in a falsetto laden pit of self-deprecation. It’s incredibly hard to listen to if you or someone close to you, like us, has ever had these sorts of torturous feelings, feelings due to the inability to accept who they are due to the polarizing nature of society, or if you, also like us, wish nothing but peace and happiness for Wiesenfeld – but in the end, its an incredibly important message for others blessed enough to not go through these sorts of social indecencies need to understand. And, though it may hurts, it pays to stay true to yourself, to be honest with your own thoughts and feelings, because if you’re lucky, you’ll create your own sort of peace, or even, as Wiesenfeld has, art of the highest caliber.

photo by Mario Luna



Year in Review: The 10 Best Music Videos of 2017

Considering we’re a one woman operation here at kidwithavinyl (even though I tend to refer to myself as a hive mind or collective consciousness here as well as on social media for some reason), writing out end of year lists always pose itself as an arduous task. And this year, we’ve (there I go again) decided to make things even more difficult and add another category besides songs and albums: music videos. But, considering how many incredible ones there were this year, we couldn’t just ignore them. Though music videos can sometimes exist as sort of double edged sword – some can completely destroy an interpretation of a brilliant song, and some can breathe new life into an otherwise uninteresting track, confusing its purpose – the ten presented here are beautiful examples of how the right visuals can transform a song into something more substantial, carving out a space in time in order truly experience every feeling, every mood, every hidden sentiment the track has to offer. That, as well as the fact that they are nothing short of art in their own right.

10. Washed Out, “Hard To Say Goodbye” (dir. Jonathan Hodgeson)

Ernest Greene’s third album as Washed Out definitely stayed true to its name. Not only was the music delightfully mellow and charming in nature, but so were the images that accompanied every track, considering Greene’s desire to release a “visual album” as well as an auditory one this time around. Colorful and playful in tone, the use of live action, jumpy graphic designs, and hyper-realistic effects border on everything from the quirky to the unsettling, and yet, none of them feel randomly thrown together – in Mister Mellow‘s stunner, “Hard to Say Goodbye,” the movement of various images, colors, and shapes are orchestrated in such a way that they are able to perfect synchronization with both the synth and orchestral melodies as well as Greene’s gauzy vocals. The “redacted” protagonist moves through his complex world without a care, a white glowing orb in a sea of color, a ghost among people. It is also slightly reminiscent of both A-Ha’s “Take on Me” in its pacing and speed, as well as The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” in its cut and paste visual style – all three videos examples of reality and reverie coexisting in perfect harmony.

9. Moaning, “Don’t Go” (dir. Michael Schmelling)

New Sub Pop signees Moaning recently announced that they will release their self-titled debut early next year, releasing first official single “Don’t Go” as a teaser for their own specific brand of post punk. The accompanying video for the track is both minimal and chaotic, due to its monochromatic color scheme and sporadic cuts to the trio and friends performing various random actions – applying makeup, dancing, giving impulsive haircuts – and yet it all feels seamless, the feeling of each moment absorbed into the clash of guitars and drums. In its short duration, the video houses tenacity and humor, angst and euphoria, aggression and softness, and those contradicting energies fit incredibly well with the similar nature of post punk, where calculated unpredictability suddenly becomes entirely possible.

8. The Lemon Twigs, “I Wanna Prove To You” (dir. Nick Roney)

Last October, brothers Michael and Brian D’Addario released their debut album Do Hollywood, a stunning project made up of colorful chamber pop and psychedelic rock. After releasing the videos for “These Words” and “As Long as We’re Together” shortly afterwards, they released the video for opener “I Wanna Prove to You” at the beginning of this year, and arguably remains their best video yet, mainly due to its humorous narrative. Director Nick Roney breaks the fourth wall at the beginning, explaining that he brought the “Twigs” to his grandparents’ house in Utah to live with them in the hopes to show them what true love looks like, and it begins on a whimsical note. To his surprise, however, what follows is the brothers slowly being assimilated into the family – playing board games and having dinner, even getting baptized – and Roney slowly being cast out, the jaunty nature of the song the perfect little ironic soundtrack to it all. In the end, a broken Roney leaves with his crew, his grandparents and their new grandsons the “Twigs” waving goodbye, smirks stretched across their faces.

7. Tim Darcy, “Still Waking Up” (dir. Meg Remy)

Ought frontman Tim Darcy released his debut solo album Saturday Night in February, with tracks leaning more towards rough, coarse indie rock rather than the poetic, intellectual art punk he’s brought to life in Ought’s first two albums (with another on the way next year). While Darcy tends to embody various personas throughout the album – the intellectual protagonist, the enraptured existentialist, the hopeful cynicthe video for “Still Waking Up” shows him as what he really is underneath it all – the hopeless romantic. Directed by U.S. Girls’s Meg Remy, the video shows a lovesick Darcy standing outside a girl’s window, serenading her. After a grainy, muted interlude of various blooming flowers, it focuses on the girl’s unimpressed, empty stare, afterwards showing her slowly closing her blinds and shutting her door, leaving Darcy alone in the cold, with only his guitar to keep him warm. Maybe it’s because the lyrics to his serenade are more piercingly forthright than starry-eyed and romantic, but the implicit, heartfelt nature of them mixed with the overall simplicity of the video assure us that his effort wasn’t entirely in vain.

6. SZA, “Drew Barrymore” (dir. Dave Myers)

SZA’s debut album Ctrl was a delicate balance of aggression, sensuality, frustration, and vulnerability, and offered up a treasure trove of singles – “Love Galore” and “The Weekend” are two in particular that are sure to be played with the same level of adoration for years to come, . Yet we couldn’t stop returning to stunner “Drew Barrymore” due to its soft yet eerie instrumentals, the direct, textured vocals, and, most of all, its honest and sincere emotional transparency. The video is sentimental and playful in tone, shot in a vignette style that casts a soft, nostalgic veneer on everything she and her friends are up to in the city – partying, pretending to walk on airport conveyor belts, hanging outside laundromats, sledding –  yet its clear there’s also a sadness somewhere deep inside her, especially when it gets to the chorus, asking her lover if its “warm enough” inside her, clear that he doesn’t care about anything other than his own comfort. However, the video doesn’t show a disparaged or weakened SZA, rather the opposite – the people that care about her well-being are still there for her, the ending scene on the rooftop something all friends need to do at some point in their relationship. Meeting the actual Drew Barrymore isn’t bad either, but one thing at a time.

5. Alt-J, “3WW” (dir. Young Replicant)

The creative vision behind Alt-J’s entire discography has always been thoughtful and respectful to the people and concepts that appear within it, and the vision for their third album Relaxer was absolutely no exception. Each of their carefully crafted videos for “3WW,” “In Cold Blood,” and “Deadcrush” had its own separate plot and mood, with that signature confusion that Alt-J has trademarked over the years. “3WW” is perhaps the most ambitious of the three, with a dense, monochromatic color scheme and convoluted plot line left up to the viewer to understand. Set in Real de Catorce, Mexico, the video also features stunning villages and deserts, the backdrop to a love story that goes beyond the grave. The repetitive nature of the introductory instrumentals provide an eerie soundtrack to the village people carrying one protagonist’s coffin up into the desert, where another protagonist, the boy she fell in love with, takes on the task of carrying it the rest of the journey, fending off any predators that come his way. There are moments, like the scene with rabid wolves, where everything is in slow motion, yet still feels immediate in the way the camera pans in and around the action –  a brilliant move, considering those little bursts of adrenaline appear numerous times throughout Relaxer.

4. Japanese Breakfast, “The Body Is A Blade” (dir. Michelle Zauner)

Michelle Zauner’s sophomore album as Japanese Breakfast strayed somewhat from the bittersweet, sentimental nature of her debut Psychopomp, a beautiful project inspired by and dedicated to her late mother. Soft Sounds From Another Planet was just that – a collection of otherworldly, eccentric tracks that, thankfully, still contained that giddy, energetic Japanese Breakfast sound while at the same time experimenting with new techniques and effects. It was incredibly difficult to pick from the videos released for the album, due to “Machinist”s futuristic aesthetic and “Road Head”’s quirky narrative, but we decided on the nostalgic visuals for “The Body Is A Blade,” simply because it is the one that directly connects the debut and the sophomore albums in subject matter. Old pictures of her and her mother phase in and out while Zauner swims in a lake, climbs jagged rocks by the ocean, and traverses fields, blade in hand to cut the tall grass in her way, all with a smile on her face. The video becomes especially powerful towards the middle, where the song falls into its menagerie of shimmering synth flourishes, seeming to swell and grow in power as the child and adult Zauner repeatedly swap places on screen. It’s a surreal video in many ways, but it is also ultimately one of hope and positivity, as Zauner acknowledges her past as something that has made her stronger today.

3. Porches, “Find Me” (dir. Nicholas Harwood and Aaron Maine)

When regarding it in relation to the torturous nature of anxiety disorder, the visuals for “Find Me” – the second single from Aaron Maine’s upcoming sophomore album as Porches – become both illuminating and a touch surreal, both especially true if you or someone you love suffers from it on a daily basis. In some cases, you wouldn’t even know for sure if that person was suffering from it at all, due to the lengths they go to hide it or make it less troublesome for the people they love. Maine frantically gels his hair, shaves, brushes his teeth, and works out before he leaves, though its clear that he’d much rather “stay inside” in bed, readying himself for something that seems immensely important. He repeats, however, that he is not really going anywhere, but he can’t let “it” find him, and we see him in various places regardless – he becomes a tiny red dot in the middle of a lush green field, a lone wanderer in a dark supermarket parking lot, a static figure while two other similarly dressed characters flail around him. However, it’s clear when listening to the lyrics (“think I’ll go somewhere else where/ I can sink into myself”) that explode through the dense wave of synth and glitchy effects, that he doesn’t want to truly escape from the affliction – maybe from a deep rooted fear that it may be impossible to do so – but instead escape to a place in order to allow it to consume him for a little bit without completely inconveniencing the people around him. The cinematic quality of the video, also seen in the video for “Country,” should be noted as well, for everything from the colors to the pacing of each scene point to something done with immense care and consideration for the specific feeling they chose to evoke.

2. Perfume Genius, “Slip Away” (dir. Andrew Thomas Huang)

No Shape, Mike Hadreas’s fourth full length album as Perfume Genius, is the first in his repertoire to completely abandon the ideas of fear and remorse, instead marked with a blaze of confidence for the life he has fought for time and time again, with a stream of unapologetic love and rapturous passion coursing through each track. The gorgeous video for “Slip Away” portrays the album’s overarching theme of love over hate, as well as the intimacy of close friendship, all expressed with a menagerie of baroque and modern instrumentals as the soundtrack. Hadreas, hand in hand with a female friend, dances, runs through fields, eats handfuls of peaches, and runs from demonic creatures, immersed in a Victorian inspired fantastical world matching the track in both grandeur and hazy iridescence – the colors are incredibly vibrant and saturated, and yet still somehow muted in tone, emulating everything from a scene from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream to a Grimm’s fairy tale. It’s a beautiful, unique take on love’s ability to conquer every opposing force, and Perfume Genius has made it clear that it doesn’t matter if that love is romantic or platonic – both can empower you in countless ways.

1. Fleet Foxes, “Fool’s Errand” (dir. Sean Pecknold)

Fleet Foxes only released one official music video for their stunning third full length album Crack-Up, which was odd considering the lush imagery and dense poetry expressed in each of its eleven tracks. However, the ambitious and gorgeous set up for “Fool’s Errand,” directed by Sean Pecknold (brother of frontman Robin Pecknold) was the entire reason why we decided to make this list in the first place, so maybe one was more than enough. While the scenery is absolutely breathtaking – showing everything from grassy hillsides, desert sands, dense forests, as well as a rocky shoreline with jagged cliffs that could very well be the image on the album cover itself – it is the casting, costume design, and the unique choreography that makes this video exceptional, proving what a video for such an evocative track should be. Main lead Jane-Lorna Sullivan stands along the most aggressive and unpredictable environment of the bunch, as well as the most complicated of choreography, yet her sharp, powerful gyrations are in perfect balance with the nature of her surroundings, with a stoic determination seen each time we are placed in front of her piercing blue eyes, unable to look away. Sullivan even appears to be possessed by the music just as the sky begins to grow darker, falling to the ground in defeat and resignation. The video holds such suppressed, contained power that if the lyrics, music, and visuals are all taken in equally and simultaneously, what results is something close to transcendence, where human and nature can both be evoked in each other effortlessly.


photos by Sean Pecknold, Jason Nocito, Ebru Yildiz, Shawn Brackbill

Japanese Breakfast – “Road Head”

Michelle Zauner will return next week with Soft Sounds From Another Planet, her sophomore release as Japanese Breakfast. The first two singles from the album hinted at a more diverse sound with a little bit of everything, appropriately, considering the title, worlds different from her more thematic, jagged and emotional debut Psychopomp. The guitar that begins her newest teaser “Road Head” is soft and haunting at the same time, with ethereal synth effects mingling with Zauner’s piercing vocals. Her vocals are starry-eyed and hopeful, but the lyrics are tinged with desperation and disappointment, still incredibly enticing.

Soft Sounds From Another Planet will be released on July 14th.


photo by Phobymo



Japanese Breakfast – “Boyish”

Japanese Breakfast, also known as the musical project of Michelle Zauner, released one of the best and most emotional albums of the past year, expressing the pain felt after losing her mother to illness sound-tracked to thoughtful, jagged indie rock. A few weeks ago, she debuted “Machinist,” the glitchy, synth-heavy first single to her upcoming sophomore album Soft Sounds From Another Planet (which also has one of the most cinematic music videos of the year). It’s clear she’s taken another path stylistically and her second single reflects the theory tenfold, as she hangs up her space-suit to lose herself in a nostalgic doo-wop tune. Her vocals are velvety smooth and become almost transcendent in the haze of orchestral instrumentals – but the track has a bittersweet sadness laced in between the strings and harmonies, existing as an ode to feeling inadequate, just short of being the beautiful, complex creature that her lover wants her to be.

Soft Sounds From Another Planet will be released on July 14th.


photo by Phobymo

Year in Review: The 10 Best Albums of 2016

Even though we seem to say this every year, the sheer quality of music that was released these past twelve months has been absolutely stunning. So many deeply personal stories were shared in the form of pained, honeyed voices and passionate instrumentals, through thoughtful lyrics and complex, ambitious compositions. There were hopeless romantics and stoic cynics, expressing their desire for love as well as their disgust for its intricacies. While it was impossible to keep up with all the albums (and EPs!) released this year, the ten listed here were chosen based on their emotional dispositions, meaning that they were honest, raw, and unapologetic, never shying away from vulnerability and sensitivity, whether that meant sharing soft, sweeping ballads, nostalgia-tinged odes, or desperate shouts into the void, surrounded by aggressive guitars and shards of synth (and even though they’re numbered, many of these could easily be swapped around; I know I never had one set emotion this past year). Even though 2016 was not the best of years socially or politically, it was a beautiful one for music; unforgiving pressure makes for the most magnificent diamonds.

10. Ice Choir – Designs in Rhythm

Kurt Feldman’s newest release as Ice Choir was a gorgeous journey into a sugar-soaked digital world, where he brilliantly toyed with 80’s electronica, glittering synth, and even a little bit of the humorously controversial vaporwave genre. Though the genre is has the nature to be cold and standoffish, Designs in Rhythm was the exact opposite, as tracks like “Windsurf” and “Unprepared” were far too whimsical to be considered anything but warm and euphoric. Feldman’s voice is soft and lush, and he controls it well within the context of his instrumentals, perhaps due to his past work in sound design. It’s an album that lets you make what you want of it, though we doubt it will be anything other than pure joy.

photo by Ebru Yildiz

9. Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat To Earth

When Natalie Mering’s third full-length album as Weyes Blood was released, I remember listening to it in full over coffee, then immediately going to purchase a physical copy at the record store across the street. The vocals were so gorgeously haunting that I couldn’t get either “Used to Be” or “Do You Need My Love” out of my head for the next few days. Her voice is so potent and emotionally arresting that it almost exists as a physical entity, reverberating freely in the hollows and spaces that the instrumentals repeatedly create. The push and pull between loneliness, isolation, love, and desire made for nine absolutely breathtaking tracks, existing somewhere between the past and the present.

photo by Katie Miller/via npr

8. Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp

Psychopomp was an album fueled by heartbreak and mourning, yet somehow seemed to have a tinge of hope nestled somewhere underneath the sadness. Michelle Zauner devoted her debut album as Japanese Breakfast to her mother – who recently passed away from cancer – and her presence is everywhere, from the somber “In Heaven,” detailing the grief and frustration she (and her dog) felt days after her mother’s death, and even to “Everybody Wants to Love You,” the bright, sunshine streaked blaze of joy. “Triple 7” showed off Zauner’s poetic songwriting, and the line “call out my name/ like something from a bottom of a well” stayed with me long after the album was over. Sure, it’s an album soaked in grief, but there are moments where the celebration of life was emphasized more than anything else, and that devotion was beautiful.

photo by Phobymo

7. Frank Ocean – Blonde

Blonde is an incredibly important album is because of its complete and utter devotion to emotion, how it refuses to shy away from vulnerability and refuses to suppress sensitivity in its correlation to Ocean’s “boys don’t cry” aesthetic. As a result, the album sounds gorgeously intimate in its muted, muffled instrumentals and deeply poetic in its lyrics, with Ocean voicing his deepest desires in love in tracks like the fantastical “Seigfried” and the nostalgic, heartfelt “Ivy.” Even in the most upbeat tracks like “Nights” and “Solo,” there’s no mistaking the intense feeling put into the creation of this album, nor the passion of Ocean himself, who sounds as if he is breaking into tiny pieces as he pours out his soul. He seems to understand the importance of feeling everything in this world so deeply and intensely – even the little things – and the way he manipulates various emotions throughout Blonde is nothing short of brilliant.

photo courtesy of artist/npr

6. Mitski – Puberty 2

Happiness and sadness have reoccurring roles during adolescence and young adult life, often times occurring far too frequently and haphazardly to live normally. In Mitski Miyawaki’s fourth and most personal album to date, she battles depression, anxiety, and other insecurities bravely and succinctly, with her lyrics acting both as shouts into the void (“A Burning Hill,” “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”) as well as a fiery balm to soothe her wounds (“Fireworks”). She also discusses love and the lack thereof, with “Happy” and “Your Best American Girl” being the two most stunning tracks in her entire career due to their intense, raw instrumentals and subtle, soft vocals. Although you have to search for it, Puberty 2 does have moments where both happiness and sadness coexist almost harmoniously, to the point where it no longer becomes a place for Mitski herself to voice her frustrations, but also something in which the listener can relate with as well.

photo by Ebru Yildiz

5. Von Sell – Von Sell EP

Though this is technically not an album, Von Sell’s debut EP has enough finesse and feeling to be mistaken for one, chock full of complex, intricate compositions and eccentric lyrics. It’s mixed thoughtfully and masterfully, a quality incredibly important in crafting a successful electronic pop album, where aspects like vocals and vocal effects can become distorted and murky. Here, his vocals are powerful and vibrant, sounding commanding and striking in “Names,” and soft and gentle in “Miss Me.” He even plays around with his own creations; “Ivan (Revisited)” is a gorgeous retake of the original, adding in a jangly guitar riff to keep things loose and carefree. At its core, Von Sell is an album conveying differing aspects of the human condition, and its simply gorgeous.

photo via impose magazine

4. Night Moves – Pennied Days

Night Moves’ sophomore album Pennied Days is an absolutely wonderful example of the eccentric country-psych genre, consisting of pained, honeyed voices and bold, sweeping instrumentals, where heavy themes of desire and passion are expressed without restraint. Frontman John Pelant has the kind of magical voice that can change in tone with a flick of the wrist to soak rapidly into its surrounding instrumentals – it’s energetic and elastic in “Staurolite Stroll,” focused in “Border on Border,” and soft in “Kind Luck.” The theatric, atmospheric “Carl Sagan” also had one of the most stunning music videos released this year. As far as their instrumentals go, they go all out; there’s rarely a lull in the album or a spot where there could be more girth. There’s always some sort of gorgeous riff, or a vocal harmony, or a deep rooted drum beat filling the space, but it still manages to sound transcendental, a living thing succumbed to passion.

photo courtesy of domino

3. Pillar Point – Marble Mouth

Scott Reitherman’s self-titled debut as Pillar Point is one of our absolute favorite albums to listen to in the colder months, due to its moody, complex synth as well as the warmth of the vocals (“Touch” has been on the top of our playlist since October). However, it can sound restrained at times, timid in its construction, not wanting to overstep its bounds. Marble Mouth is the result of Reitherman overcoming that fear, and it sounds vibrant, euphoric, yet still conveying his intense skill as a producer. “Strange Brush” is quirky and bold, its vocal effects puncturing and dissolving into the underlying beat like watercolor paint, while the synth in “Black Fly on a White Wall” wobbles and whines like something alive and kicking. “Underground” and “Dove” revisit that moody past persona, showing that Reitherman still values emotion and feeling above all else, regardless of how much color reflects off his work.

photo courtesy of artist

2. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

Drummer and vocalist Julian Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek have created a truly beautiful masterpiece in the formation of Whitney, a band vintage in sound but modern in feeling. Their mellow, 60’s and 70’s inspired sounds combine aspects of psych, americana, and pure guitar pop, with Ehrlich’s gorgeously shrill voice and Kakacek’s nimble fingers at the reign. The title track is muted and shadowed, and despite being a seven member band, shows off their delicacy and intricacy, as well as their restraint and respect for past musical styles. The theme of the amalgamation of love and loss exists not as something somber, but something in which to derive beauty – “No Woman” and “Dave’s Song” show that as well as meticulous instrumentation. It’s more than a mere “heartbreak” album – to call it that would be selling it short – it’s something otherworldly and rife with feeling, from a band that know the meaning of closeness.

photo by Laura Harvey

1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Will Toledo is the personification of succumbing to your emotions. There’s never a moment on Teens of Denial where he’s not clawing deep into his heart or gouging out his soul; though it’s painful and uncomfortable, these are the things you need to do in order to conjure up something pure and honest. It’s an album fueled by depression and anxiety, yet it never sounds crude or self-indulgent; rather, the fact that Toledo can operate within the vicious, isolated world of depression (“Fill in the Blank”) as well as provide dense, sprawling narratives and stunning, meticulous guitar melodies to intelligently express that depression shows his immense talent as an artist as well as his nature as a human being. His lyrics are direct, simultaneously obsessed and repulsed by society, showing what it means to be a cynical, yet fearful twenty-something teetering on the edge of life. “Vincent” is piercing and volatile in its phrasing, “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)” is milder and more concerned with relationships, and “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” is the definition of dense, its eleven minute duration full of references and the most honest expression of fear of being an adult in a world that never bothered to teach you how to be one. It sounds like the beautiful expulsion of ideas kept in the mind and soul for far too long, the result of emotions finally being set free. It’s ambitious, intelligent, and often too much too fast, but it’s still human, through and through. And it all began in the backseat of a car.

photo by Cecilia Corsano-Leopizzi



Year in Review: The 10 Best Songs of 2016

This year was an emotional one, and music seemed like the only place to truly express that emotion.  Artists and songwriters were brave, bold, and brash, choosing not to limit themselves in passion or tenacity, placing importance in honesty and vulnerability rather than wasting energy trying to suppress it. For 2016, we chose our list of tracks, as well as our list of albums, based on the idea that indulging in your heart is often times more rewarding than solely listening to the thoughts in your mind.

10. Men I Trust – “Lauren”

The simple, yet mesmerizing bassline that introduces “Lauren,” the gorgeous single from Quebec quartet Men I Trust, is the element that secured it a sure spot on our list. It repeats itself and reverberates throughout the track, providing a thick backbone to the contrasting voices of Odile and Emma, vocalists found by founding members Jessy Caron and Dragos Chiriac. The result is a nostalgic, hauntingly beautiful sound, one that we’re hoping will expand into a full length album in 2017.

photo courtesy of artist

9. Von Sell – “Names”

Back in October, Brooklyn artist David Von Sell released his absolutely stunning self-titled debut EP (which, consequently, will also be on our list for the best albums of the year). Most of the seven tracks that appear on the EP were shared beforehand as singles, with “Names” being the last before the full release. “Names” follows the same aesthetic as the other tracks, including the use of strong, shuddering synth and bold, complex instrumentals. However, it was the pre-chorus of the track that had us coming back, where Von Sell’s crystal clear voice floats on top of a meticulous piano melody. It’s a breathtaking moment in the song as well as the entire EP, and solidified, at least for us, Von Sell’s intense skill and finesse as an electronic artist.

photo by Jen Maler

8. Japanese Breakfast – “Everybody Wants to Love You”

Michelle Zauner’s newest release as Japanese Breakfast was the highly emotional album Psychopomp, dedicated to her late mother. “Everybody Wants to Love You,” one of the early singles from the album, feels out of place at first listen, due to its jaunty, upbeat nature as well as Zauner’s bright vocals. However, when listening to the track again with a more focused ear, it further represents Psychopomp’s major themes of both grief and elation; especially when paired with the video, which has Zauner enjoying a day out on the town while wearing her mother’s hanbok, which she wore to her wedding. With the colorful guitar riffs and quirky lyrics that make up this beautiful song, its clear Zauner wanted to celebrate her mother’s life rather than mourn her death, and, given its short duration, becomes a moment of pure sunshine in the album.

photo by Phobymo

7. Mitski – “Fireworks”

Mitski’s deeply personal album Puberty 2 explored the natures of happiness and sadness both individually and simultaneously, further analyzing what it means for them to exist in almost perfect harmony. The songwriting was like a knife to the gut, but also felt completely necessary, as Mitski’s soft voice soothed and healed the wound. “Fireworks” was one of the most raw and passionate tracks from the album – with Mitski giving one of the most beautiful vocal performances in the entirety of the album – with the lyrics unapologetic in the way they deal with the natures of depression and insecurity. The track, narrating the life of someone so depressed they forget how to feel, contains some of the most somber lyrics, but yet the song sounds commanding and powerful in its instrumentals, communicating the moment its time to deal with your past.

photo by Ebru Yildiz

6. Porches – “Car”

Every time we come across this single from Pool, Aaron Maine’s debut album as Porches, we are charmed by the subtle way it builds from a simple, glittering guitar riff to a multi-faceted masterpiece in a mere two and a half minutes. True to the album’s name, the track comes in waves, simulating the feeling of being submerged by sound. Maine and his band add their parts as the song rolls on, including sparse drums, ethereal vocal backing, and layers of subtle, yet arresting synth. Maine’s voice also builds in strength up to the end of the chorus, where he slowly and delicately exhales the last few notes in a gorgeous release of pressure.

photo by Jessica Lehrman

5. Pillar Point – “Dove”

“Dove” might be one of the most stunning songs to exist in Scott Reitherman’s career as Pillar Point, mainly due to its simultaneous power and intricacy. His masterful manipulation of synth is heard throughout the entirety of his brilliant sophomore album Marble Mouth, and it’s especially impressive and elastic in the house track “Dove,” as it swells and shrinks, oscillating freely between elation and melancholy. Reitherman’s voice is an omniscient entity in the track, swerving beautifully through his complex instrumentals, whether it exists as the main narrative voice or part of the underlying rhythm. The lyrics are equally stunning, with Reitherman delicately reminding us that “without love/ you’re just a stupefied dove.”

photo courtesy of artist

4. Night Moves – “Alabama”

John Pelant’s voice is absolutely magical, and no other track made us realize that more than Night Moves’ fervent ballad “Alabama,” taken from their sophomore album Pennied Days. Pelant switches seamlessly from a gorgeously shrill falsetto to a thick, brooding drawl without so much as a breath, and then switches back to falsetto again, all while surrounded on every side by shimmering country-psych instrumentals. He compares himself to an animal in a cage, and the one he loves as his tamer, commenting on her unparalleled beauty and his inability to process anything other than his desire for her. The raw energy and unrelenting passion that exists in this track is so potent and animated that it’s almost tangible, and the story Pelant conveys through his lyrics makes it a love song for the ages.

photo courtesy of domino records

3. Frank Ocean – “Ivy”

I bought the entirety of Frank Ocean’s third full-length album Blonde solely based on the first few seconds of “Ivy,” hoping to experience the last five years of obsession and anguish devoted fans went through for myself in a mere five days. After finishing the album, I kept coming back to “Ivy” due to the delicate subtlety I heard in Ocean’s somber, pained voice, as well as the nostalgic feeling for a life I never had. Deeply weathered by the frustrations of love and desire, but refusing to fail, Ocean paints a sheer coat on top of an already broken, chipped foundation, heard in the track as the eerily bouncy, wavering guitar plucks. It embraces Ocean’s “boys don’t cry” theme of Blonde, as it doesn’t shy away from emotion and sensitivity, and he apologizes, yearns, and screams that he and his beloved aren’t “kids no more,” and should have learned how to deal with heartbreak by now.

photo courtesy of artist/npr

2. Car Seat Headrest – “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”

Will Toledo’s brilliant songwriting is seen and heard throughout the entirety of Teens of Denial, his first record for Matador under the title Car Seat Headrest. He’s a storyteller more than anything else, with each of his emotional, deeply personal songs coming from a place of extreme honesty. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is the stand out track from the album due to its mercurial nature; including everything from a falsetto drenched introduction, pained, soul baring interludes, and aggressive instrumentals pierced with pleading, yearning vocals claiming that “it doesn’t have to be like this.” Much like the rest of Teens of Denial, it’s incredibly self-aware, and completely indicative of Toledo’s intense talent as an artist.

photo by Cecilia Corsano-Leopizzi

1. Whitney – “No Woman”

When I visited Canada this past summer, “No Woman” was, by far, the one song I indulged in the most while I was there. I blasted it through my headphones on the plane, played it in the car for my relatives in the early mornings while driving through thick, melancholy fog and majestic emerald green pines, and listened to it in my room at our little rental house while prepping myself to go out for the afternoon to the little shops and restaurants that lined the waterfront. However, it was during a car ride one evening while we were there that I finally broke down, due to the simultaneous beauty of what I was listening to as well as what was right in front of my eyes. The introductory swell of piano and soft, nostalgic guitar strums provide cushion for Julian Ehrlich’s beautifully shrill, piercing voice, and the layers of drums, violins, and brass instrumentals all build on top of each other with divine timing, ending with a crescendo of absolute power. However, it was Max Kakacek’s absolutely stunning guitar solo that caused so much emotion, as I felt it along with the accompanying lyrics narrating the journey to embrace the unknown.  Not only does Whitney encourage you to find beauty in melancholy, but ultimately, allows you to  feel secure in your own loneliness, even when surrounded by mountains and trees.

photo by Laura Harvey



Best Songs of 2016 (So Far)

This time around, our annual task of compiling a list of the best songs of the year thus far was challenging (as it always is), mainly because many of the artists mentioned here have produced near flawless albums containing many gorgeous, standout tracks that – as cliché as it sounds – it is incredibly difficult to pick just one for each. For that reason, the tracks mentioned here are absolutely not an exhaustive list, and the list that will ultimately arrive at the end of the year may include the same/different tracks from the same artists mentioned here, as well as tracks from different artists entirely. So, that being said, here are our picks (in no particular order) of the best five tracks of 2016 thus far.

Sales, “Ivy”

Sales’ self-titled debut album was easily one of the years’ most underrated releases. When it was shared in April, the duo of Lauren Morgan and Jordan Shih immediately received praises for their skilled camaraderie as well as the album’s cohesive take on their summery, low-fi aesthetic. “Ivy” was the all-around favorite, and everything from the way Morgan’s vocals drift seamlessly over the nostalgic, warm instrumentals to the nature of the lyrics as a lovesick ballad further prove that Sales are a gem in the DIY crown.

photo courtesy of artist

Japanese Breakfast, “Triple 7”

Michelle Zauner’s intimate debut album Psychopomp proved to be one of the best of the year, mainly due to the contrast between the soft, synth/dream pop aesthetic and Zauner’s piercing, personal lyrics. Despite the album’s wonderful singles that highlight Zauner’s ability to pinpoint the side effects of pain, loss, and love, closer “Triple 7” lingered in my mind well after listening to the album in full due to its almost avant-garde like feel. The lyrics are absolute poetry, and the gorgeous line “call out my name/ like something from the bottom of a well” is made even better with Zauner’s saccharine shriek, with plenty of passion built up behind its delivery.

photo by Phobymo

Porches, “Car”

“Car” was by far our favorite track on Pool, Porches’ debut album. Aaron Maine, the mastermind behind the operation, succeeded in creating such an introspective take on the dream/synth pop genre by presenting everything in waves, much like being submerged. “Car” is especially evident of this quality, as layers and layers of synth slowly build on top of each other, only being relieved as Maine exhales his vocals towards the end of the chorus. It’s a simple, yet gorgeous song, and I find myself listening to the entirety of Pool more and more just so this comes along.

photo by Jessica Lehrman

Night Moves, “Alabama”

Night Moves’ sophomore album Pennied Days is an absolute treasure trove of country-psych. It’s chock full of irresistible riffs, lovesick lyrics, and especially full of frontman John Pelant’s magnificent howling croon, which expresses itself in varying ways. Throughout a majority of the album, the raging, upbeat 70’s vibe is in full swing, but then takes a breather on “Alabama,” the album’s one gorgeous ballad. Towards the middle of the track, Pelant’s vocals magically and seamlessly transform from a dreamy falsetto to a thick brooding drawl, which, much like Night Moves themselves, remains charming, dangerous, and luxurious all at once.

photo courtesy of domino records

Car Seat Headrest, “Vincent”

There’s no doubt that Car Seat Headrest released one of the best albums of the year, but the fact that it was compiled of songs from his eleven previous albums on bandcamp as well as his first official album since being signed to Matador made Will Toledo a force to be reckoned with. Teens of Denial is truly filled with such honest, intense, and sometimes heartbreaking tracks, all with their own particular sort of beauty attached. The party-hating track “Vincent” and its absolutely killer opening guitar riff as well as Toledo’s brash, passionate howls makes it one of the most visceral tracks of the album, and evident of Toledo’s impressive skill as a musician.

photo by Cecilia Corsano-Leopizzi



Album Review: Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp

Japanese Breakfast is perhaps one of my favorite musical discoveries in a long time, mostly having to do with the honesty and emotion that Michelle Zauner puts into her songs. Her last major project, Little Big League, was put on hold back in 2014 when she received the news of her mother’s illness, which makes the title and the dedication assigned to her debut album Psychopomp (a term in greek mythology for a guide that leads souls to the underworld) as Japanese Breakfast all the more intimate and somber. Initially a collection of raw, unfinished basement recordings, they have now all been revamped with the help of Ned Eisenberg, and are now a beautiful remembrance of her mother as well as a gorgeous testament to dream pop.

The true beauty of Psychopomp is the way in which the album’s tracks are organized, which brilliantly act as a gradual, emotional immersion into Michelle Zauner’s state of mind. After the initial solemness of the title, the colorfully stunning opener “In Heaven” lets you off easy – considering its grave subject matter – mixing together melancholy lyrics with hazy, shimmering dream pop. The album feels indulgent immediately after, as the opener is then followed with a handful of pure, shimmering garage pop songs. “The Woman That Loves You” is another hazy, brilliant dream pop tune, playing around more with the use of synth and similar instrumentation. Zauner’s vocals sound impassioned, pained, and relieved all at once, gorgeously mixing into the gauze of the chorus. “Psychopomp,” the title track, marks the sharp half-way point of the album, shifting gears dramatically with its somber instrumentation as well as the heart wrenching insertion of her mother’s recorded voice. Though some tracks like “Jane Cum” and “Heft” feel instrumentally colorful on the surface, Zauner’s pain is heightened through the vocals and lyrics, and leaves her condemning this awful power that has taken over the past few years of her life. After another instrumental track, we are led seamlessly left with the absolutely stunning track “Triple 7,” which has some of the most poetic lyrics of the entire album, as well as a stunning vocal performance.

Though the album does deal with loss, more of the essence of Psychopomp has to do with the way in which warmth and emotion are openly expressed, and the way it functions within itself. The way in which Zauner can take a simple melody and vocal line and transform them into something textured and dazzling is simply mesmerizing, and no other track but the brilliantly catchy single “Everybody Wants to Love You” is more representative of this idea. It’s bright, simple, and effective, showing off Zauner’s abilities in writing incredibly catchy riffs. Though the lyrics are repetitive, it never sounds forced or smothered, and when the instrumentals all converge into the bridge, it sounds absolutely euphoric. Another thing that makes this particular debut especially attractive is that it spends equal amounts of time introducing the specific sound as well as doing everything in its power to feel like something that one can relate with. Due to Zauner’s intense ability, the album ends up feeling like a emotional scale that equally takes grief and hope in both hands, ironically leaving the listener feeling more optimistic than anything else.



photo by Julian Master

Japanese Breakfast – “The Woman That Loves You”

As soon as Japanese Breakfast’s new track “The Woman That Loves You” begins to radiate inside your speakers, it’s clear that you’re listening to something incredibly special. Michelle Zauner’s solo project is beginning to gain some well-deserved attention, and the upcoming debut album Psychopomp is slowly looking like it could be one of the best of the year. “The Woman That Loves You” is the newest shared track among the emotional “In Heaven” and the bright, brilliant ditty “Everybody Wants To Love You,” and succeeds in showing a more technical and skilled side of the same persona. Its hazy, shimmering synth provides just enough cushion for Zauner’s voice to find a place of enchantment, and is simply too short and sweet for just one play.

Psychopomp will be released on April 1st.

photo by Julian Master

Japanese Breakfast – “Everybody Wants To Love You”

Michelle Zauner began her persona as Japanese Breakfast soon after her former band Little Big League went on hiatus, and has since swapped out the raging instrumentals with more focused, meticulous melodies and harmonies. Since sharing the ethereal, textured track “In Heaven,” the first single from her upcoming album Psychopomp, Japanese Breakfast has now released the ode “Everybody Wants To Love You.” The track shimmers and glows throughout its two minute duration, containing Zauner’s impassioned unique vocals as well as absolutely stunning guitar riffs that take it from a simple indie ballad to something more substantial. In it’s constant joy, however, there seems to be an aura of wistfulness, something that should no doubt be toyed with beautifully in the upcoming album.


photo by Julian Master