Sunday, December 31, 2017
Team Sisson's Best of 2017
Happy holidays from Team Sisson, and congratulations on receiving Chris Schuck's 16th Annual Surprise Birthday Bash for Jesus. As always, we've picked and exquisitely sequenced tracks from 22 of our favorite records of 2017 for your listening pleasure. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
1. Ron Gallo - "Young Lady, You're Scaring Me"
Album: Heavy Meta
Let's kick things off with some catchy garage rock by Philly's Ron Gallo. We heard "Young Lady, You're Scaring Me" earlier in the year and liked it quite a bit. Then when Sound Opinions did an interview we were hooked. I listened to Heavy Meta back to back three times that night. So good. Almost gave you "Kill the Medicine Man" since A) it rocks equally hard and B) I am a bit of a medicine man myself.
Also Check Out: "Kill the Medicine Man", "Why Do You Have Kids?", "Please Yourself", "Black Market Eyes", "Put the Kids to Bed"
2. Sir Sly - "High"
Every year we put a song on the Birthday Bash which we think might be a traditional radio hit, but since we don't listen to a lot of terrestrial radio it's hard to know. Not that there is anything wrong with radio hits. Many times radio hits are hits because the songs are really good. And we have nothing against good songs, we just try to give you tunes you might not have already heard a million times. So, with that being said, we're sorry if you've heard "High" a million times already, but then again, if you haven't what the hell have you been listening to? Come on man. It's time to step up your game!
Also check out: "&Run", "Altar"
3. Eamon - "Lock Me Down"
Album: Golden Rail Motel
We were initially hooked by the track "Before I Die", but unbeknownst to Team Sisson, Eamon has been around for a long time. Golden Rail Motel is actually his first album in 11 years, and previously he had a hit with "Fuck It (I Don't Want You Back". Didn't ring any bells for us, but we have been loving Golden Rail Motel this fall.
Also check out: "I Got Soul", "Be My Girl"
4. The Rural Alberta Advantage - "Dead/Alive"
Album: The Wild
The RAA have now earned a spot in the Birthday Bash hall of fame. Four records since 2009, four inclusions on The Bash. I think only Murder By Death can claim a similar streak, although that's probably wrong. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is we absolutely love the RAA. Now, that being said I'm looking at past tour dates on their website and amazingly, they have never played Kansas City. What is that all about RAA? We give you all this love and get nothing in return? Our Love... for you is All We've Ever Known. We hope you play This City, preferably In The Summertime, or else we may start Letting Go. Alright? Drain The Blood.
Also check out: "Brother", "Toughen Up", "Beacon Hill"
5. Caro - "Closet Lunatic"
Just about every year one of our favorite (or in this case favourite) songs is released as a single from an album that will be released the following year, or just as a standalone track, as was the case with that amazing Polyphonic Spree song "What Would You Do" back in 2012. This presents us with a real Sophie's Choice situation. Either we include the song on The Bash, but by doing so we undermine the whole idea of The Bash as a collection of tracks from the best albums of the year, OR we wait until the following year and run the risk of forgetting about what is probably now your favorite song, which is a situation with no winners. The former usually wins out, and 2017 is no exception. There is no Caro album yet. I don't know if there every will be. But "Closet Lunatic" is so damn good we couldn't keep it from you. Now I know it sounds very (very) much like Alt J, so if you're the type to be offended by songs that "rip off" other songs then you might want to skip to track 6. However, if you want to have your socks rocked off, turn it up! Speaking of Alt J, check out the Song Exploder podcast where they talk about how they made "In Cold Blood" from their 2017 record Relaxer.
Also check out: "Eyes On The Ground", "Cold Comfort", "Admit/Resist"
6. Mark Lanegan - "Nocturne"
We here at Team Sisson have been fans of Mark Lanegan for a very long time, going back to the 90's when he fronted the Seattle grunge rock band Screaming Trees. Since then he has done many things, including joining Queens of the Stone Age ("Hanging Tree" from Songs for the Deaf remains one of our favorites) and teaming with Greg Dulli from the Afghan Whigs to form the duo Gutter Twins. Speaking of Greg Dulli, we have twice almost featured the Afghan Whigs on the Bash, first in 2014 with Do to the Beast, specifically the track "Algiers" (which we may have liked strictly because the opening few seconds sound exactly like "Far From Any Road" by The Handsome Family.....which was the theme song to True Detective season one), and then again this year with In Spades, with the catchy "Arabian Heights." Back to Mark Lanegan, we initially found out about Gargoyle when we caught his great interview with Marc Maron on WTF. Marc also did a killer interview with Ryan Adams around the same time. You should check that out, once you're finished listening to Gargoyle of course.
Also check out: "Beehive", "Emperor"
7. P.O.S. - "Wearing a Bear"
Album: Chill, dummy
Hahahahahahaha. You thought we wouldn't put yet another Minnesota rapper on The Bash? Well then you were dead wrong! In the 16 years of the Birthday Bash I think we have featured either a Rhymesayers or a Doomtree artist at least 10 times, maybe more. In general, 2017 was a great year for hip-hop with Tyler the Creator & Vince Staples making awesome records that almost made our list, and RTJ & Kendrick making records that did. Nevertheless, we had to make room for P.O.S.
Also check out: "Faded", "sleepdrone/superposition", "Thieves/Kings", "Born a Snake"
8. Algiers - "The Underside of Power"
Album: The Underside of Power
In looking around at other best of lists I found a site I'd never heard of called The Quietus. They actually released a top 100 albums of the year list that included a whopping 15 bands/artists I've ever heard of. Out of those 100 only one Birthday Bash artist made their list, and this is what they said, "The blending of seemingly disparate, cross-generational, pan-century styles of music - Franklin's gospel vocals that veer into screams, Mahan's sulking bass, Tesche's grubby guitars and Tong's rhythmic pounding - and the omission of any real, tangible references to current events beyond subtext points to something much deeper. Something much older. And something much, much darker in its nefarious reach and longevity over the course of human existence. It is a nod, to quote Frantz Fanon once more, to the fact that “Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.” Took the words right out of my keyboard!
Also check out: "Walk Like A Panther", "Cleveland", "Cry of the Martyrs"
9. Idles - "Mother"
From Rough Trade Records: Bristol’s finest post-punk polemics Idles have been promising to do great things for some time now, and with their debut album Brutalism they absolutely fulfil that promise, and a furious promise at that. Politically charged, refreshingly confrontational and infectiously volatile, Idles are a band like no other. Bringing the unsettling reality of the world we live in into their frantic assault on the senses, they are a band that until now could only be truly understood by witnessing in a live environment - but with Brutalism it surely feels like they have captured the intensity of that live sound. Bottled up here are the abrasive, memorable lyrics of Joseph Talbot delivered with all of the spite and wry humour he puts across on the stage .Dedicated in part to the loss of his mother, who adorns the record’s cover, and partly to a perceived decimation of society, from the NHS to public services across Britain, Brutalism is a deadly serious indictment on popular culture. For fans of Fat White Family, Sleaford Mods and McLusky. Couldn't have said it better myself. We loved Brutalism this year.
Also check out: "Stendhal Syndrome", "Divide & Conquer", "Well Done"
10. Kendrick Lamar - "DUCKWORTH."
"You take two strangers and put 'em in random predicaments, give 'em a soul so they can make they own choices and live with it, twenty years later them same strangers you may could meet again, inside recording studios where they reaping their benefits, then you start reminding them about that "chicken incident," whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence, because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg would be servin' life while I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight."
If you don't know about Kendrick by now I just feel sorry for you. As previously discussed on this blog, we consider good kid, m.A.A.d city to be one of the top five rap records ever made. To Pimp a Butterfly was similarly great, and now we have DAMN. We had a damn hard time deciding which track to put on The Bash. "XXX." featuring U2 was the early favorite, largely due to the sickest beat we heard all year which kicks in at the 1:18 mark. Let's also pause to appreciate the fact that U2, arguably one of the biggest bands in the world, is doing guest work on a Kendrick record. We also loved "DNA." (I got, I got, I got, I got....etc.....check out the awesome video featuring KC's own Don Cheadle). HUMBLE. is obviously great. Sit down. Be humble. In the end we decided on the closer "DUCKWORTH." which tells the unbelievable story of Kendrick's father (Ducky) and his youthful run-ins with Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, who years later signed K-Dot to his label, TDE.
Also check out: Kendrick's entire catalog
11. Valerie June - "The Front Door"
Album: The Order of Time
Let's slow things down with some Valerie June, who made quite a bit of critical noise back in 2013 with Pushin' Against A Stone, which was co-produced by Dan Auerbach at the height of his Black Keys fame. There is a great New Yorker (consistently my favorite airplane read) Profile on The Order of Time. Here is a passage that describes the record, and then "The Front Door" way better than I ever could:
"I kept listening to “The Order of Time” because of its slower, more patient turns. I was captivated by the album’s ethereal slowness, its almost psychedelic wandering. In the past few months, I’ve grown enamored with the leisurely calm of certain songs of hers. They linger on the textures of everyday life: coming and going, the possibilities of love and loss, the passage of time, the engine of ambition.
I kept returning, in particular, to “The Front Door,” which describes the final minutes of a spent relationship. There’s a feeling of stillness as it rises from the quiet, with June mumbling and whispering, like she’s hiding her words behind the light churn of organ and the glimmer of pedal-steel guitar. She eases into the arrangement, then repeats the final lines, over and over, and they begin to stand on their own: “Bound, / Farewell, I’m bound / To leave you / Waiting by / The front door.”'
If ethereal slowness isn't your thing, would it help if I told you Valerie June has the best hair of any human being alive? Yeah, I thought so. Here's her La Blogotheque Take Away Show.
Also check out: "Shakedown"
12. Courtney Barnett, Kurt Vile - "Fear Is Like a Forest"
Album: Lotta Sea Lice
You guys already know how much we here at Team Sisson love the Trash Pickin', Field Goal Kickin' Philadelphia Phenomenon (minus the trash pickin' and field goal kickin'), Kurt Vile. This year he teamed up with Courtney Barnett for Lotta Sea Lice, which sounds EXACTLY how you think it would. In case you don't know, Courtney Barnett first mumbled her way into our hearts in 2014 with The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas which featured the awesome "Avant Gardener." Since then a pairing with Kurt Vile seemed inevitable, yet slightly dangerous. Despite looking very similar with similar songwriting styles, they hail from almost polar ends of the earth (Philly & Sydney) and play guitar with different hands (she's a lefty). This is the dictionary definition of the Coriolis Effect (isn't it?), so a duet between the two could have potentially led to a matter/antimatter catastrophe. Fortunately for all of us they threw caution to the wind and gave us an entire record of duets. We liked all of it, but loved "Fear Is Like a Forest." Now you're loving it too. You're welcome. Here's their Tiny Desk Concert.
Also check out: "Continental Breakfast"
13. All Them Witches - "Don't Bring Me Coffee"
Album: Sleeping Through The War
We are so excited to bring you Nashville's psychedelic rock quartet, All Them Witches. This might be our favorite find of the year. We have been rocking out to Sleeping Through The War pretty much constantly since we first heard it this fall. It was pretty tough deciding which track to give you, but we ended up going with "Don't Bring Me Coffee" as that opening line is such an earworm. Ain't nobody gonna tell me how to run my town. Yeah, you're muttering it too.
Also check out: "Bulls", "3-5-7", "Alabaster"
14. Run the Jewels - "Talk to Me"
Album: Run the Jewels 3
Brave men did not die face down in the Vietnam mud so I could not style on you
I didn't walk uphill both ways to the booth and back to not wild on you
You think baby Jesus killed Hitler just so I'd whisper?
When you're safe and sound and these crooks tap your phone and now have a file on you?
What, me worry? Nah, buddy, I've lost before, so what?
You don't get it, I'm dirt, motherfucker, I can't be crushed
Fuckers, open the books up and stop bullshitting the kid
My dick got a Michelin star, I'm on par with the best ever took the gig
I'm a super cat, from don dada to dusk, don't bother to touch
I got firm clutch on the grip and the bucks
I might ghost ride a tank, take a ride to the bank
I'm the son of Rick Rubin rushing full-thrust
Don't flash weak shit to the Shark Tank judge
Talk real good 'cause I'm smart and stuff
We a good crew to fuck with, better to love
Yes!!! RTJ has been killing it for three straight records now, but we still hold the Killer Mike solo record (produced by El-P) in higher esteem. Honestly, a record of just El-P beats with no vocals would probably be damn good, but he and Mike keep rapping over them and my god it sounds like melted butter on my speakers (ok....obviously I'm not great at this....feel free to insert your own simile)! In the spirit of the season, here's "A Christmas F*cking Miracle" from RTJ1. Speaking of which, here they are again with Stephen Colbert doing "Jingle Jingle (Santa Party)." Here's their Tiny Desk Concert.
Also check out: "Call Ticketron", "Legend Has It", "Don't Get Captured"
15. Sylvan Esso - "Die Young"
Album: What Now/Echo Mountain Sessions
We thought Sylvan Esso might be a bit of a one hit wonder after their self titled debut, featuring the super infectious "Coffee." Boy were we wrong! You've probably heard "Radio" on the radio, which is a song about getting a song on the radio. We decided to go with "Die Young" instead, but wait! You're not listening to the What Now version, but rather the Echo Mountain Sessions version, which features members of Mountain Man and The Mountain Goats (kind of a theme developing here) along with Wye Oak and Megafaun all playing live instruments and having a grand time doing so.
Also check out: "Radio", "The Glow"
16. Sampha - "Blood on Me"
Sampha blew up this year as a solo artist after previously working the the background on music by Solonge, Kanye, Drake & Frank Ocean. You likely heard the beautiful "(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano" at some point this year, which came in at #26 on Pitchfork's Best Songs of 2017 list. In fact, "Blood on Me" checked in at #61 on Pitchfork's Best Songs of 2016 list. Here's his Tiny Desk Concert.
Also check out: "(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano", "Plastic 100°C"
17. John Murry - "Defacing Sunday Bulletins"
Album: A Short History of Decay
Truth be told, we only recently discovered John Murry while looking around at some best of lists to make sure there wasn't anything we missed on our initial track list. That's when we stumbled upon a Best of 2017 list by the UK record store Rough Trade. Incidentally their list also included Yesterday's Gone by Loyle Carner which we almost included, specifically the track, "No CD." Here's what Rough Trade had to say about A Short History of Decay; "Second album from Cult US Singer Songwriter. A Short History Of Decay is an intensely personal document of an artist’s fall from grace. It contains all the tragic elements of that unwritten Southern Gothic novel: the revelations of a man coming to terms with the personal shortcomings, the flaws and the perverse twists of fate that led him to the end of one journey and the beginning of another." That Southern Gothic novel thing makes sense as John Murry is originally from Tupelo, MS and according to wikipedia is the second cousin of William Faulkner, but has since moved to Kilkenny Ireland. You know, that old cliche. We almost gave you "What Jail Is Like" which we just found out is an Afghan Whigs cover! As above, those guys are so close to making a Birthday Bash!!!!
Also check out: "Silver and Lead", "Wrong Man"
18. The National - "Turtleneck"
Album: Sleep Well Beast
At this point in the long and illustrious history of the Birthday Bash, we are increasingly cognizant of the fact that we have our stable of bands we love, and thus it is more and more difficult to prevent this mix from becoming super predictable (they love Doomtree so I'll bet P.O.S. is on here somewhere.....OK, you got that one right). But at the same time, there have been several records we missed over the years. For a while I had this great idea of a Birthday Bash misses mix where we highlighted our favorite records we discovered after press time, with The '59 Sound perpetually at the top of the list. What I'm trying to say is we've been fans of The National for quite some time now, but I can't honestly remember them ever making the Birthday Bash until this year (great memory.....just scrolled down and saw we put "Graceless" from Trouble Will Find Me on the 2013 Birthday Bash). So.......I'm hesitant to put them on here.......plus Sleep Well Beast gets awfully Postal Service after Turtleneck. Side discussion: I'm all about bands trying new things, keeping it fresh, staying relevant, etc, but for some reason this second half of Sleep Well Beast is really making me question that position.
Anyway, at the risk of sounding predictable, Sleep Well Beast is really good. Got a problem with it? Notice you don't hear any Arcade Fire on this mix. We liked Everything Now a lot, but didn't think it was quite Bash-worthy. Although, I must say I was mowing the lawn with earbuds in the first time I heard it and immediately loved "Creature Comfort" (especially that line "Assisted suicide, she dreams about dyin' all the time, she don't mean she came so close, fills up the bathtub and put on our FIRST RECORD") I damn near ran the mower off the road (good thing it was a push mower and I was nowhere near a road). Oh, you think mowing a lawn with earbuds blasting at full volume is a bad idea? I happen to subscribe to the Dave Dameshek philosophy that I do not survive, I LIVE! Although I've never been hang gliding, never been scuba diving, never seen the Mona Lisa, never been to Tokyo, never kissed someone on a train platform, never been in the Guinness Book of World Records, never even been in the Guinness Book of People Who Have Taken a Brief Tour of the Guinness Brewery Wherever It Is In Ireland, etc, etc etc. I did join a softball team this year though. Oh god, I need to go to a dark room and listen to some sad ass National songs.
Also check out: "Carin At The Liquor Store"
19. G Yamazawa - "North Cack" feat. Joshua Gunn & Kane Smego
Album: Shouts to Durham
In what we described above as a great year for hip-hop, we are so glad to be able to bring you G Yamazawa. We've been rocking Shouts to Durham most of the year. According to his website, he's a National Poetry Slam champion, a Cultural Diplomat for the Department of State and a Kundiman Fellow. Oh come on, you don't know what a Kundiman fellow is? Based in New York City, Kundiman is a national organization dedicated to the creation and cultivation of Asian American creative writing Duh. Mr. Yamazawa recently toured the Midwest, stopping in Columbia 10/28 and before that Hays, KS 10/17. Wait.....Hays, KS???? Did he stop for gas on a ski trip? Who's doing his booking? Looking more closely he played Raleigh, NC 10/15, Hays two days later, then way out to Pittsburgh 10/21. Let's hope the traditional Birthday Bash bump gets him some better gigs.
Also check out: "1990 (Interlude)", "One Crown", "Whas Good", "Ego Trip"
20. Grizzly Bear - "Mourning Sound"
Album: Painted Ruins
I was thiiiiiiis close to giving you "Three Rings." Had to substitute "Mourning Sound" at the last minute because while my Spotify playlist had the Bash at 80 minutes, iTunes showed 81 minutes. As you may recall from you childhood, compact discs have enough space for a max of 80 minutes. Either way it doesn't matter that much because I know most of you don't even have CD players anymore so this whole exercise is largely pointless. That being said, I am very proud we were able to pack 79 minutes and 58 seconds of music onto the Bash this year, although in hindsight I wish we had added a 2 second bonus track of the younger half of Team Sisson yelling Happy Holidays. I mean Merry Christmas. I almost forgot we have a leader who has single handedly made it possible for all of us to say Merry Christmas again! The war is over! Let's celebrate by rocking out to some muted dad rock! Anyway, Grizzly Bear is awesome. They did a cool Song Exploder episode where they explained how they made "Four Cypresses."
Also check out: "Four Cypresses", "Neighbors"
21. Benjamin Booker - "Off The Ground"
Benjamin Booker made quite a bit of noise back in 2014 with Witness, which narrowly missed a spot on that year's Bash, specifically the track "Violent Shiver." This year we gave Witness a listen, and "Off The Ground" hooked us right away.
Also check out: "Believe"
22. Japandroids - "Near to the Wild Heart of Life"
Album: Near to the Wild Heart of Life
So, as we close yet another awesome Birthday Bash, let's rock out to Team Sisson favorites Japandroids. Featured on the 2009 Bash with Post-Nothing, and again in 2012 with Celebration Rock, which we said at the time and stand by, was our favorite record of the previous five years. It still holds up folks. Go back in time and take a listen if you want to feel really good. Critics weren't enamored with Near to the Wild Heart of Life, but how could they be? They were all comparing it to Celebration Rock. But for our money, NttWHF is very Bashworthy. Same sound, same energy, same frenetic playing. What else do you want?
Also check out: "North East South West"
At this time I feel we must also recognize Capacity by Big Thief. We've had it on our list since June, but it didn't really hook us until after the final Birthday Bash track list was locked in. I listened to it in a severely sleep deprived state on the return leg of a bus trip to and from Aspen and have been obsessed with it ever since. Something about that setting made it absolutely melt in my ears. Had the timing worked out better I probably would have given you "Shark Smile", "Coma" or "Mythological Beauty" but the whole album is gorgeous. You should really check it out if you haven't already.
Here are some other records we loved this year.
Protomartyr - Relatives In Descent
Strand of Oaks - Hard Love
Grandaddy - Last Place
Golden Pelicans - Disciples of Blood
(Sandy) Alex G - Rocket
Oso Oso - The Yunahon Mixtape
Pickwick - LoveJoys
Afghan Whigs - In Spades
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - The French Press
Benjamin Clementine - I Tell A Fly
The Big Moon - Love in the 4th Dimension
This is The Kit - Moonshine Freeze
Loyle Carner - Yesterday's Gone
Priests - Nothing Feels Natural
Queens of the Stone Age - Villains
What a ride it's been. There's just one more thing........It's time for the THE 9TH ANNUAL BIRTHDAY BASH TRIVIA CONTEST!!!!!!!
As always the winner will receive a prize pack of Birthday Bash artist swag. T-shirts, hats, belt buckles, whatever looks cool. Last year our winner, Adam "Fiddy" Zentz took home an epic Modern Baseball t-shirt as well as a Shovels & Rope t-shirt that could only be described as "on fleek"
Here's this year's question:
We have included links to several NPR Music Tiny Desk Concerts over the years. How many artists featured on the 2017 Birthday Bash have performed a Tiny Desk Concert?
To be eligible to participate in the 9th Annual Birthday Bash Trivia Contest:
-You must have yourself received or have had an immediate family member receive the Birthday Bash.
-You may not have any past or present affiliation with the "University" of Kansas. Exceptions may be made on a case by case basis.
Please e-mail your responses with "Birthday Bash Trivia Contest" in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck and have a great 2018!