Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Flashback: Music & Miscellaneous

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Top Ten Songs of 2017

#10 "Hold My Heart" Lindsey Stirling ft. ZZ Ward

How do you rescue a pretty generic soft-EDM track from itself? Add a heaping helping of Lindsey Stirling's violin, effortlessly blending with the electronic bed around it to synthesize classical musicianship with a breezy modern sound.

#9 "The Cure" Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga's most recent album Joanne left me very cold, but this random single she spewed out in the aftermath of that country/rock-inflected sprawl is infectiously danceable. There's really not much more I can say about it than that, but sometimes that's all a song needs to be. If you're feeling down, just click play and feel your worries melt away for three minutes at a time.

#8 "Cut to the Feeling" Carly Rae Jepsen

In the background, Carly Rae Jepsen has been pumping out solid pop singles in the years since "Call Me Maybe," but this year's standout is by far "Cut to the Feeling," written for the instantly forgotten animated film Leap. The opening verse isn't as strong as it could be, nor is the repetitive bridge, but once the chorus smacks you in the face with its soaring candy vocals, it proves to be one of the strongest pop confections of the year.

#7 "Slow Hands" Niall Horan

Am I surprised that my favorite solo One-Directioner has turned out to be the shy Irishman Niall Horan? You bet your sweet bippy I am. But Horan has been exploring a side of himself that feels actually genuine, landing on the top 40 without clearly straining to be included in the pop music zeitgeist. His stripped-down hit "This Town" was also pretty solid, but "Slow Hands" is a syrupy, sexy track that defies everything I've ever felt about this boy band ex-pat, bumping and grinding along with an acoustic guitar riff and a relaxed, totally compelling lyrical seduction.

#6 "Green Light" Lorde

Lorde is certainly good at blending different musical influences, and "Green Light" is a track that takes you on a real journey. From the staccato stabs of lyrics that thrash you around the verse like a choppy, iceberg-laden sea to the chorus's Billy Joel piano riff that sweeps you straight into the sky with its soaring melody, everything in Lorde's best single is as fresh and unusual as her debut, which frankly pretty much everybody thought would amount to just a one-hit wonder.

#5 "Thunder" Imagine Dragons

I've never had an interest in Imagine Dragons. They just blended in with all the other recent bands that sounded like they exclusively played on instruments made before the 1800's. But "Thunder" utilizes an electronic vocal that never fails to prick my ear and some beautiful drum stings that unsubtly but satisfyingly evoke booming claps of thunder. Sure the lyrics are a little inane, and the lead singer's attempt at pseudo-rapping proves his whiteness by rhyming with the word "foyer," but I have a lot of fun with this one. Also that video is straight bananas.

#4 "Praying" Kesha

I've been waiting so long for new Kesha music. Her 2012 album Warrior was a triumph of pop artistry and the fact that her career was put on hold by a sexual assault allegation toward her producer Dr. Luke and subsequent court case is just unconscionable, both for her as a human being and for us as a world in need of perfect pop singles. But suddenly, out of the blue, "Praying" came to us on a golden lightning bolt. It's a perfect comeback single, showcasing her range as a singer while crystallizing everything that went unsaid for five long years in a beautiful, heartbreaking paean to rage, hurt, healing, and forgiveness. And if that high note shatters my eardrums, then so be it, because if that's the last thing I ever hear, I have led a blessed life.

#3 "Redbone" Childish Gambino

And the award for Most Funkiest Song in the History of Ever goes to... Childish Gambino really goes out of his way to transform his voice into the human embodiment of pure, breathy sex, accompanied by the best funk riff I've heard in decades.

#2 "Let 'Em Talk" Kesha ft. Eagles of Death Metal

When Kesha's Rainbow finally dropped, it provided an intriguing, vital mix of inspirational/haters-back-off pop and wickedly sharp girl power country, but "Let 'Em Talk" combines all the themes of the album with a rip-roaring rock 'n roll beat provided by one of her weirder musical collaborators, the Eagles of Death Metal. Their personalities collide in this kinetic, infectiously catchy middle finger to the world.

#1 "The Valley" Betty Who

There's only one pop musician out there who could possibly have summoned the strength to knock a Kesha song out of the number one slot, and that's the Aussie pop princess Betty Who. "The Valley" is the intro track to her album of the same name, and while that album was satisfying if a little thin, this track is a stunning piece that crystallizes a melancholy mood in a perfect minute and a half of gorgeous, lush a cappella harmony.

Bottom Five Songs of 2017

#5 "Body Like a Back Road" Sam Hunt

I think part of the reason I hate this song is how easily it gets stuck in my head. It's deviously simple, basically a jump rope rhyme that is designed to drill straight into your hippocampus. And what woman wants to be compared to a dirt road full of skid marks? At this point, I'd much rather be a wonderland.

#4 "Look What You Made Me Do" Taylor Swift

Now, I'm not as down on this song as the general populace immediately turned out to be, but it's a poor representation of her new album (which is basically generic "dark" pop that she already attempted to pull off years ago with "I Knew You Were Trouble") and a supremely irritating song. It's trying to galvanize her public identity in a way that flies in the face of all the work she's been doing to avoid taking responsibility for not speaking out against Trump or sexual predators in any way, shape, or form despite ostensibly being an outspoken feminist singer. I'm willing to grant her her silence and privacy, but not if she's going to be so loud about it. It's pure hypocrisy wrapped up in a shiny, staccato package.

#3 "Strip That Down" Liam Payne

I'm not going to pretend I expected art from the solo works of One Direction members (although, frankly, half of them seem to think they're producing it), but this R&B-aping solo track from The Shy One is a nauseatingly misguided decision.

#2 "Save as Draft" Katy Perry

I've heard my share of bad inspirational girlpop songs, but you know Perry is scraping the bottom of her creative barrel when the best metaphor she can come up with involves a Microsoft Word document.

#1 "Gucci Gang" Lil Pump

I know I've criticized certain songs in the past for being repetitive, but I take that all back because I've discovered the nadir of unnecessary rap repetition and nothing else seems quite as bad anymore. The only reason this one isn't number 1 is because it's blissfully short, just a baby's breath over two minutes.

Rap Success:
Cardi B

I still don't know what "Bodak Yellow" means, but Cardi B's surprise megahit shattered records left and right, and the success of a solo female black artist is something we really need in this day and age. Bring on single #2!

Rap Fail: Eminem

Wait, suddenly we're accepting Eminem as a nice person again just because he stumbled through a lame rap about the President? No, thank you.

Biggest Surprise: Niall is the Best 1D Solo Member

When One Direction broke up, I can't say I was particularly excited to hear any of their solo work, but I especially can't say I was anticipating hearing from Niall, by far the most bland member of the group, who got into their fair share of hijinks as the years went on. But Zayn jumped on the crummy R&B bandwagon, Liam attempted to grab the bumper of that wagon and fell in the mud, Harry became a proto-Mick Jagger yawnrock purveyor, Louis dropped off the face of the Earth, and Niall... delivered a super solid selection of folk rock acoustic songs. Who knew he had it in him?

Biggest Disappointment: Taylor Swift is pure evil

I mean, we all knew that Taylor Swift was a corporation more than she was a human being, but two things this year really lit my fire: First, other than the singles, her new album Reputation had every track set at "album only," which means you have to buy the entire album in order to download any particular song. I know moneymaking isn't what it used to be in the music business, but that is scary evil. Then on Black Friday she had the grace to discount her album. By three dollars. To $16. Why discount it at all? It's just cruel how tight-pursed she has become, but I guess that's how you stay at number one.

Best Bonus Track: "Godzilla" Kesha

Now, this is exactly what a bonus track should be. An acoustic little noodle that wouldn't quite fit on an actual album, "Godzilla" is still a delightful, sweetly hilarious gem of a song (in fact, she recorded it because her mother wrote it and she fell in love with its romantic sense of humor).

Best Music Video: "Boys" Charli XCX

Sometimes, simple is all you need. Throw a bunch of blink-and-miss-it cameos from handsome celebrities onto a pastel background and you have yourself an endlessly engrossing three minutes with a fun little chirpy pop tune.

Worst Music Video: "Sign of the Times" Harry Styles

There's nothing worse than a music video that's just boring. Like, I could have been listening to this song while washing the dishes or doing something productive, but instead I'm just sitting here watching you mope about on a hill. He does disrupt the boredom when he randomly starts flying, and the effects are pretty stellar, but then it becomes one of the silliest things ever broadcast. There's something about his posture that's just so inane, and I'll never stop giggling whenever certain shots hit.

Best Song for a Movie: "Dusk Till Dawn" Sia & Zayn (The Mountain Between Us)

The Mountain Between Us was an entirely forgettable, very nearly good-bad movie, but as soon as the credits rolled, it became clear that this duet was the single best thing about the film. Maybe it was just good in comparison to just shy of two hours of icy staring, but it was a fun way to wrap up an only OK night.

Worst Song for a Movie: "Never Forget" Michelle Pfeiffer

Something tells me she only signed on to star in Murder on the Orient Express if they agreed to let her sing a song over the credits.

Best Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Song: "I Go to the Zoo"

Season three of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been a spectacular ride, but one of the biggest surprises was this music video, parodying Drake in a loving, hilariously childish way. The way the language switches between the verse and the chorus is just sublime.

Worst Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Song: "What a Rush to Be a Bride"

Look, I get the joke. Juxtaposing this cutesy sentiment with black metal is funny. But it doesn't mean I want to listen to it for two minutes.

Best Guilty Pleasure: "Just Hold On" Louis Tomlinson & Steve Aoki

This list is really dominated by One Direction ex-pats, but they've really been the talking points this year. Well, except poor Louis, whose single got buried under a mound of poor publicity. But this track with Steve Aoki is an undeniable ear worm, even if the vocals are a bit rough and the lyrics are, frankly, insipid. Hey, a pleasure is a pleasure, but I do feel the slightest bit of shame looking at that play count in the corner of iTunes whenever this comes on. I've listened to this waaaay too many times.

Worst Guilty Pleasure: "Feel it Still" Portugal. The Man

At first, when this song was in one commercial, it was an enjoyable little riff. But then it was in more commercials. And trailers. And stores. And the charts. And you realize the manufactured happiness of the song is nothing but an emotional cheese grater rubbing against your brain, propagated by irritating hipsters who think their band name's alt-grammar is ever so cool.

Best Album Cover: Melodrama, Lorde

What can I say, I'm a sucker for a bold color scheme.

Worst Album Cover: Witness, Katy Perry

Look, I know I've been dumping on poor Katy this year, but seriously? First of all, you're ripping off the poster for The Theatre Bizarre. Second of all, why are you riffing on horror imagery for an album full of two-bit double entendres? The strategy on this whole album is just incomprehensible.

Best Cover Song: "Old Flames (Can't Hold a Candle to You)" Kesha feat. Dolly Parton

I know this list has a lot of Kesha, but cut me some slack. It's been five years, and I need an outlet. Kesha has covered "Old Flames" before on her acoustic album, because she has a very personal relationship with the song. Her mom actually wrote it for Dolly way back in the day. But nothing could beat getting Ms. Parton herself on the track, and their voices collide in a beautiful hurricane of nostalgia and emotion.

Top Five Pretty Guys

#5 Adam Levine

He has been on this list before, and he will be again. What can I say?

#4 Calvin Harris

Is it just me, or is he trying to look like a blonde Tom Hardy this year? Either way, it works for me.

#3 Childish Gambino

I think this entire list is made up of repeat offenders, but what can a guy do? The music industry hasn't really changed that much, and neither have the beautiful men.

#2 Zayn

I care for his music not one bit, but his face is a different story entirely.

#1 Joe Jonas

Dude was literally an underwear model this year. Come on.

Bonus: Shameful Bro Country Crushes

"Bro country" is maybe the worst subgenre in American music history, but Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, and Jacob Davis at least cover their shame in beautiful wrapping paper.

Here's Some Stuff That I Did in 2017

Pod People

Hopefully you're aware that I do a horror movie review podcast called Scream 101 (links in the sidebar), but things at my podcast network are doing surprisingly well! We added a new pop culture show called Cast Party that I'm co-hosting with my high school drama teacher Dave, as well as a slasher review show called Keep Screaming, hosted by my friends Ryan Larson and Bee Bass! Frankly, I wish I was a host on that show, but nothing can keep me from coming on as a guest at some point.

Geek K. O.

I always love it when I'm invited to run a round of geek trivia on Geek K. O., the podcast co-hosted by my friend Justin Madriaga. And this year I got to visit them four times, to talk Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, and Christmas horror flicks!

Kill by Kill

This was the year of me guesting on podcasts, and I got invited to be on another one of my favorites, the Friday the 13th podcast Kill by Kill, which runs through the characters in the film death by death. On my episode, episode 21, we talked about the requisite Sex Couple Eddie and Tina and had a lot of fun doing it!

Although the site unfortunately shut down this summer, I contributed many articles to the horror blog run by Blumhouse Productions, by far the coolest job I've ever gotten, and the reason I have any Instagram followers.

Shock Waves

Speaking of Blumhouse... I was invited on their horror podcast Shock Waves to talk recently seen flicks and LGBT horror movies with Happy Death Day director Christopher Landon. It was a blast, and appropriately I guess, it was episode number 69. Check it out!

Bad Kids of Crestview Academy DVD

See that quote on the back that says "A truly twisted high school movie" and is attributed to Eric Walkuski? Well, I wrote that. My editor at JoBlo got the credit thanks to a mix-up from the publicist, but hey. Maybe it's for the best that my first name blurb isn't on Bad Kids of Crestview Academy.

Ghastly Grinning

Also this year, I began writing a weekly column for the positivity-in-horror site Ghastly Grinning called the Horror Sommelier, where I pair the weekend's upcoming theatrical releases with older horror films for the perfect double feature.

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