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An American in Paris: Cinema Shame

an american in paris 1951 poster

Best Picture Shame: An American in Paris

Cinema Shame comes in all shades; however, the most common variety likely has to do with well-known films that have just never presented themselves or been made a priority. I’ve never avoided An American in Paris nor have I ever made a point to track it down. I once recorded it on my DVR, but forgot to watch it. Considering the number of movies we “need to see,” many so-called essentials fall through the cracks.

For the Cinema Shame February prompt, the great minds at the Shame-Q (yes — myself included) loaded the table with unseen Academy Award Best Picture winners. All well known films, certainly. Some with more lasting power than others. I have a weekly Cavalcade (1933) Fan Club meeting every Tuesday, don’t you?

That’s an imposing list of 89 films — many of which I’m guessing are not high on anyone’s Watchlist. It’s also a fun bit of personal reckoning. How many Best Pictures haven’t you seen? (My answer is 30, which is far more than I expected and just patently unacceptable.) It also speaks to how often, time and tide re-evaluates and re-assigns value to these films. At best they live up to expectation. At worst, they’re a trace memory of a forgotten zeitgeist.

I scanned my library’s shelves for Best Picture Cinema Shame inspiration. First rack. First shelf. An American in Paris.

an american in paris gene kelly kids

Knowing very little about the film itself other than the La La Land-inspiring finale, I went in largely blind — a pleasant change from most of my Shame viewings. Instead of a big, boisterous 1950’s musical, I found a small, wafer-thin narrative wrapped inside the serenity of Gershwin and the warm blanket of 1950’s Technicolor.

Gene Kelly plays Jerry Mulligan, an expatriate painter looking to enhance his reputation in Paris (#spoiler). His friend Adam (Oscar Levant), a struggling concert pianist hopes to launch a more profitable career (than tinkling the ivories in a lowly Parisian cafe) by working with the famous French singer Henri Baurel. Milo (an elegant Nina Foch), a lonely society woman takes an interest in Jerry’s work (and Jerry himself) and becomes a patron of his arts. Jerry, however, falls in love with Leslie Caron’s enigmatic store clerk Lise, complicating the patron/painter relationship. Further problematic: Lise’s engaged to Henri Baurel. Oh the tangled webs. 

an american in paris 1951

There’s plenty to love about An American in Paris, but the beauty’s found in smaller moments, the technical artistry of MGM in the 1950’s. Color. Set design. Photography. Gene Kelly’s athleticism. Small story. Big package. At least until the last reel when most everything comes together in a grandiose, twenty-minute finale, but we’ll come to that in a moment. The story doesn’t propel the film forward; there’s a sense of narrative listlessness as musical numbers pop in and out and occasionally arrest the film completely. All this plus some moldy 1950’s-era gender politics, contributes to some of the negative hindsight about the film.

And yet.

An American in Paris remains a charming and likable film, in no small part due to Gene Kelly’s natural charisma and Gershwin’s romantic score. Kelly, as ever, exudes joy. He is the embodiment of entertainment, selling every moment as if it’s the most fun/whimsical/romantic/downtrodden moment you’ve ever experienced. In the past I’ve seen that as both a strength and a weakness in his performance style. When it works, however, it’s magical — even if his pure strength and athleticism seems discordant with Minellii’s balletic symphony.

leslie caron an american in paris

Now, I must make a confession within a confession. This is the Russian nesting doll of Cinema Shame posts. I’ve never cared for Leslie Caron — but I’d never seen her dance. How is that I could have wandered the depths of classic cinema but avoided the one thing that made Leslie Caron magnificent. In An American in Paris I found her positively beguiling and I could not take my eyes off her.

I have no doubt that the finale swayed Academy voters. Outside the last twenty minutes, An American in Paris isn’t even in the Best Picture conversation. As I suggested earlier, the majority of the film is an MGM confection of big budget style over substance. Jay Lerner’s script failed to analyze the potentially complex and volatile relationships between Jerry and Milo or Herni and Lise.

nina foch an american in paris

Then again, dissecting what made Nina Foch’s patron of the arts the most interesting character in the film would have more fully humanized her and simultaneously raised difficult questions that the film wasn’t prepared to answer. It’s about true love, mon ami, and that’s all you need to know.  When a perfect, dramatic moment arises in An American in Paris, the conflict thaws and disappears just in time to preserve everyone’s happily ever after. Except Milo, who recedes silently into the background.

That said, sometimes happily ever after paired with something as magical and technically resplendent as An American in Paris‘ final reel is all we really want and the more easily that the Milo’s slip into the background the less we notice the frayed edges of visual splendor.

cinema shame February prompt

First-Watch Cinema Club: January 2018

I decided I wanted to blog more in 2018. I don’t know why. I’m already spread wafer-thin as far as time and energy is concerned. So we’ll make this quick and painless and just share some more love of classic and underseen cinema.

Hopefully, I’ll give a few items to add to your own watchlist — you can use them to fill out your Cinema Shame rosters. That was a shameless cross-promotion, mind you. Also a reminder to fill our your Shame Statements for 2018. You’re already late. Every month I’ll highlight my favorite 4 first-time watches. We’ll stick to Pre-2010 offerings to give these films time to recede from your memory.

First-Watch Cinema Club: January 2018

#4. Kid Blue (1973)

kid blue

Surprisingly low-key, often aimless Dennis Hopper vehicle boosted by a strong supporting cast including Warren Oates, Peter Boyle and a scene-stealing Janice Rule.

Looking positively svelte — some might say “gaunt” — in the role of Bickford Waner, Hopper plays a reformed (but inept) trainrobber trying to go straight in a town called Dime Box, Texas that wants nothing to do with him.

He stumbles in and out of menial jobs and eventually befriends Reese Ford (Warren Oates) and his wife Molly (Lee Purcell). The two form a strong bond, true bros, until Molly literally throws her knickers at Bickford and Bickford’s not a perfect man. Reese learns of the affair and severs the friendship.

Screenwriter Bud Shrake took great care in scripting this particular confrontation between Oates and Hopper — and the two actors, Oates in particular, have a meticulous way with damning silence. It was not his wife’s infidelity that has brought them to this point — but the betrayal of someone he’d known as a true friend.

Now an official outcast, casting aside any attempt at cultural assimilation, Bickford consults the other local outcasts (the Native Americans) about a little old-fashioned thieving. The unlikely gang attempts to take a pound of flesh from the society that has unfairly wronged them.

Director James Frawley (best known perhaps as the director of The Muppet Movie) allows this languid film to unfold without any agenda and only minimal genre-styled violence. This kind of thing only happened in the 1970’s — a character study with nowhere important to go. Foiled expectations for a Dennis Hopper western may turn some people off, but if you can survive the first thirty minutes or so, you’ll likely be rewarded with simple charms and an entirely unexpected moviewatching experience.

Kid Blue is available on DVD via the Fox Cinema Archive Collection.

#3. Captain Blood (1935)

While the wife went out of town to visit her family in Santa Fe, my daughters and I set sail to the library to scope out some child-appropriate classic cinema.

My oldest daughter K (8), has just recently discovered a more adventurous moviegoing spirit (because unlike a fortieth viewing of How to Train Your Dragon, I will almost always grant a classic cinema request). She jumped at the opportunity to watch a movie with the word “Blood” in the title because that’s definitely not something mom would have approved.

I don’t know if she witnessed as much bloodletting as she’d hoped, but she was glued to the screen for at least the first hour or so. I attempted to explain Errol Flynn’s status as a piece of 1930’s man meat — and equate his popularity with the only heartthrob she recognizes as an 8yo in 2018 — Brandon Flowers (the lead singer of The Killers). It was a really loose analogy, but I think she understood. More problematic was explaining King James and his predilection toward torture and slavery. This was not a topic I anticipated explaining to my 5yo.

This classic Errol Flynn swashbuckler was one I’ve been meaning to watch for ages. My dad put a bunch of Flynn’s films in front of me at an early age, but this was never one of them. Errol swashed and buckled and fell in and out of love with Maria de Havilland and ran afoul a French scalawag played by Basil Rathbone. This French pirate version of Basil Rathbone might just be my favorite Basil Rathbone.

Captain Blood certainly didn’t undermine it’s status as a classic Errol Flynn swashbuckler, but it fell just short of personal favorites The Sea Hawk and The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Captain Blood is available on DVD from Warner Brothers.

 

speedy harold lloyd#2. Speedy (1928)

A good Harold Lloyd film — but a fascinating portrait of New York City in 1928 from Coney Island to Manhattan. What they do with a wild chase through the city streets seems damn near impossible in 2018 or 1928.

This was another daughter viewing. I’ve been attempting to endear them to the classic triumvirate of silent comedians. Chaplin wasn’t a big hit at first glance, but Harold Lloyd seems to have struck a nerve, at least with my 5yo. She refuses to call him Harold Lloyd. As far as she’s concerned his name will always be Speedy.

Since Speedy, they’ve gone on to view a few of Lloyd’s short films, and while I have your attention for a minute can we talk about how dark some of those early shorts were? Lloyd’s character is always trying to kill himself after being spurned by a love interest. Explaining the humor in suicide is a difficult task. Luckily, Speedy is attempted suicide-attempt free and just a fun romp through New York city at breakneck speed on a horse-drawn trolley.

Speedy is available on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection.

 

#1. Lifeboat (1944)

lifeboat

Checked this box on my 2018 Cinema Shame statement. Also look for this to appear on an upcoming episode of the Cinema Shame podcast. Consider this a preview of coming attractions.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat is an exquisite technical achievement in filmmaking. A true showcase of a cinematic mind at the height of his craft. And then there’s Tallulah Bankhead’s resplendent performance anchoring the entire thing. See what I did there? Anchor. Lifeboat.

Like its single-setting sibling, Rope — Lifeboat takes full advantage of its claustrophobia and limited scope to focus on the frailty of the human condition and the latent ugliness beneath every facade. Hitchcock revels in a filmmaking challenge, and it often brings out the best, most subtle facets of his extraordinary ability. Whereas it’s easy to overlook the nuance in something like North by Northwest due to the film’s constant movement and action, Lifeboat highlights framing, juxtaposition of character, and the movement of actors within a frame.

This is a master class in close-quarters filmmaking. If you want to learn how to piece a film together with nothing but actors and a camera, single-setting Hitchcock is a good place to start.

Lifeboat is available on Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-ray. 

2017 3rd Annual 30/007Hz First Watch Hertzie Awards

My Letterboxd.com stat sheet indicates that I watched 304 movies in the year of 2017 and 70.7% of those were brand new to me. From Manchester By the Sea on January 1 to Baywatch on December 31 that’s a solid collection of movies. Only 17 of those films were released in 2017.

What? You’re dying to know more details from my Letterboxd.com stat sheet?

letterboxd stats

I watched more movies on Friday than any other day of the week and of the non-English countries of origin I watched more Italian films than Japanese films despite watching 10 movies from the Zatoichi series. I’m fascinated and I know you are too.

While everyone else is out there during this time of year discussing their favorite movies from the year that was, I’m not so sure I’m qualified anymore. The Oscar nominations arrived this morning. And unlike my more youthful days when I was a barely-compensated entertainment journalist for a tabloid-style publication, I haven’t seen them all — nowhere close, actually. You know what I have seen? The 304 movies I watched last year. I am 100% qualified to discuss and give out awards to all of those movies.

So what you won’t see is any furor over accolades for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I declare this a Three Billboards fury-free zone. Because, yes, you guessed it. I haven’t seen it. (Yet.)

My Oscar-season counter-programming might not entertain more than a couple people out there on the Interwebs, but I enjoy allowing myself the time to reflect upon my year in movies — so much so that this is the third year I’ll have given out the prestigious Hertzies. To recap: Slither (1973) took home the first Hertzie grand prize in 2015 and The Wanderers (1979) walked off (without controversy) with the 2016 Hertzie. Some love the Oscars, others fancy the Golden Globes, and four people out there know about the Hertzies.

Now it’s time to turn the microphone over to the once and forever Hertzie girl, our master of ceremonies, Myrna Loy, to present the nominees for the 3rd Annual Hertzie Awards.

myrna loy

Presenting the 3rd Annual First Watch Hertzie Award Nominations

Celeste Holm, The Tender Trap
Jennifer Jones, Beat the Devil
Angela Lansbury, The Private Affairs of Bel-Ami
Joan McCracken, Good News
Una Merkel, Murder in the Private Car
Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons

*Surprise nomination for Una Merkel in the silly Murder in the Private Car might cause some controversy. It’s almost like the Rumble just wanted her to come to the party. 

 

Jack Lemmon, The China Syndrome
Adam Driver, What If…
Thomas Gomez, Ride the Pink Horse
Victor Mature, My Darling Clementine
Victor Moore, It Happened on Fifth Avenue
James Stewart, Rope

*Adam Driver’s here solely due to his sex nacho speech.

 

Humphrey Bogart, In a Lonely Place
Ronald Colman, A Double Life
Douglas Fairbanks, The Mark of Zorro
W.C. Fields, The Bank Dick
Shintaro Katsu, Tale of Zatoichi
Joseph Cotten, The Magnificent Ambersons

*Colman receives his second nomination in as many years. Is he destined to become the Hertzie’s version of Susan Lucci?

 

Amy Adams, The Arrival
Irene Dunne, Theodora Gone Wild
Gloria Grahame, In a Lonely Place
Judy Holliday, Bells Are Ringing
Lisa Margolin, David & Lisa
Barbara Streisand, What’s Up Doc?

*Amy Adams received the only nomination for a modern film in the lead acting categories. And this automatically gives me more credibility than the 2017 Academy Awards. 

 

John Paxton – Murder, My Sweet (1944)
Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger – Black Narcissus (1947)
Eleanor Perry – David & Lisa (1962)
Andrew Solt, Edmund H. North – In a Lonely Place (1950)
Orson Welles – The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Samuel G. Engel, Winston Miller – My Darling Clementine (1946)

*That little indie film, David & Lisa, picks up it’s surprise second nomination.

 

Trey Parker – Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
Mike Gray, T.S. Cook, James Bridges – The China Syndrome (1979)
Richard Linklater – Everybody Wants Some! (2016)
Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola – The Godfather Part III (1990)
Kim Ki-Young – The Housemaid (1960)
Buck Henry, David Newman, Robert Benton – What’s Up Doc? (1972)

*The Original Screenplay category wins at life. Just look at those options. Nowhere — and I mean nowhere — could you ever see a Korean film from 1960 in the same category as Cannibal! The Musical and The Godfather Part III. Plus, the category contains two, count ’em, two exclamation points! 

 

Alfred Hitchcock, Rope
Kim Ki-Young, The Housemaid

Jose Ramon Larraz, Symptoms
Ida Lupino, The Hitch-hiker
Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Black Narcissus
Orson Welles, The Magnificent Ambersons

*I can’t wait to seat this crew at the same table, just to see what happens. The potential conversation between Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Jose Ramon Larraz is the reason the Hertzies are the best awards show on the planet. 

 

The Bank Dick (1940)
Bells Are Ringing (1960)
Black Narcissus (1947)
In a Lonely Place (1950)
Rope (1948)
What’s Up Doc? (1972)

*Two comedies, a thriller, a film noir, a musical, and a technicolor melodrama contend for the top prize. 

 

Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
The Housemaid (1960)
Mill of the Stone Women (1960)
Symptoms (1974)
Tower of Screaming Virgins (1968)
Vanishing Point (1971)

*Some don’t even care about the Best Picture award, contending that the real action happens here — in what amounts to the Hertzie after party. Even this category stirs some controversy as Kim Ki-Young’s The Housemaid slips into the B-Picture category, but word has it the studio felt it had a much better shot at carrying away the first foreign-language Hertzie in the coveted B-Picture category than fighting it out with the big boys. 

 

The winners will be announced the night of the 2018 Academy Awards on March 4th! Stay tuned to see if your favorites take home everlasting fame and glory.

30Hz 100 Best Songs of 2017 / #25 – #1

best songs of 2017

Return to Best Songs of 2017 #50 – #26

25“Cut to the Feeling” – Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen is the pop-singer we need, but not the one we deserve.

 

24“Shine a Light” – Shabazz Palaces, Quazarz, Thaddilac

Singular rappers evolve beyond their unique brand and replace stark minimalism with lush production and showcase skillful hip-hop skillz alongside soul and musicality. When you ask about the absence of Kendrick, Cardi B, Lil Uzi Vert, or any of those other buzzy, modern rappers on this list, I’m going to point to Shabazz Palaces and proclaim that they’re still not on this level. #UnpopularOpinions

 

23“Happiness Will Ruin This Place” – San Fermin

A musical collective in constant flux, ebb and flowed, flowed right into this brilliant centerpiece of their third full-length studio album. Downtempo optimism for the disillusioned.

 

22“Right Now” – Haim

You may not know this about me, but I love Haim. Not quite as much as I love CHVRCHES maybe, but “love” is no overstatement. At Haim’s Stage AE show a couple of years ago, they closed their set with this track. All three sisters grabbed drum sticks, beat the shit out of three bigass bass drums at the front of the stage and then walked off stage. #DramaticExits

 

21“Motion Sickness” – Phoebe Bridgers

When I first heard Phoebe Bridgers, I told everyone I knew that cared about music to listen to Phoebe Bridgers. Since you’re reading this bl-g, you care about music and therefore you should listen to Phoebe Bridgers, too.

 

20“Hard to Say Goodbye” – Washed Out

Washed Out climbed my 2017 charts through an epic war of attrition. I listened to this record the day it came out and want “meh” and then XMU played this song into the ground and I’d listen and listen and listen and finally I conceded the fact that it was a good song and placed it on the “Hits List” with the expectation that I’d dismiss it after the first round of cuts but then suddenly it was November or December and I couldn’t get “Hard to Say Goodbye” out of my head and the more it lingered the more I loved this low-key meditative pop-music. It’s got a soul that 2017 decidedly lacked.

 

19“Call Ticketron” – Run the Jewels

But Run the Jewels released their record on Christmas Day 2016, you’re saying. You’re saying technically this song doesn’t count for 2017. Fine. FINE. You go tell El-P or Killer Mike that they don’t qualify. I’ll wait. Meanwhile I’ll listen to Run the Jewels 3 on repeat because nobody releases bangers like this anymore. NOBODY.

 

18“Third of May / Odaigahara” – Fleet Foxes

The genre “psych-folk” still confounds and frustrates me, but Fleet Foxes is the epic poem version of folk music so if that’s what “psych-folk” means, I’ll let it slide.

 

17

“Tailwhip” – Men I Trust

Montreal indie-electro-poppers forced into my cranium by My Old Kentucky Blog. I’m thirsty for more.

 

16“Arabian Heights” – The Afghan Whigs

With few exceptions I consider the 1990’s rock music scene a sonic wasteland of grunge impersonators and trash pop acts. These particular 1990’s indie-rockers (one of the aforementioned exceptions) return with their most thumping track since… [scanning my Afghan Whigs playlist] …well, ever.

 

15“Imagining My Man” – Aldous Harding

Like a warbly, inebriated nightingale, Aldous Harding croons off-kilter ballads and “Imagining My Man” goes for the jugular when the “unsexy” sax intervenes and glues the whole thing together like already-been-chewed Trident. #MusicWritingDoesntHavetoMeanAnything

 

14

“Nothing Burns Like The Cold” – Snoh Aalegra, Vince Staples

Confession: until last week I’d never heard of Snoh Aalegra. I sampled this track while browsing someone else’s Best of 2017 list. Stax Records slow jam + Godzilla theme dramatic bass + Vince Staples’ inimitable flow. #PerfectionYouDidntKnowYouNeeded

 

13

“Keep Running” – Tei Shi

Tei Shi is the stage name for Argentinian-born, Vancouver-reared, Berklee-trained, New York City-based singer-songwrier/producer Valerie Teicher, but all that’s just backstory about how she comes up with her vicious pop hooks.

 

12“Keep Me In the Open” – Gang of Youths

Taking Australia by storm yet completely and totally unknown in the States. Dave Le’aupepe battles the likes of Ed Sheeran and Queens of the Stone Age atop of the Australian charts; have you read anything about Gang of Youths? Besides this blurb anyway? Le’aupepe sings like the National’s Matt Berninger, Bono and Bruce Springsteen, writes lyrics like Titus Andronicus and admits to being fucking pretentious. I admire that kind of self-awareness.

 

11“Harbour” – SOHN

Christopher Michael Taylor wowed me with his 2012 EP The Wheel and now he’s back to blow our minds with some more electronic wizardry. Taylor understands the power of patience and silence and expectation. When “Harbour” drops out after an already slow build at the 90-second mark, listen closely as he brings you back with a cacophony of sterile synth and a bulging bassline rising to a crescendo.

 

10“Deliverance” – Rationale

The Top 10. Huzzah. Rationale is Tinashe Fazakerley, a Zimbabwe-born UK electro-soulster that conveys the weight of a Shakespeare tragedy in his vocals. Close your eyes, let “Deliverance” wash over you and tell you don’t feel.

 

9“Un autre que moi” – Fishbach

 

Fishbach, aka Flora Fishbach, is an electro-tinged French singer-songwriter. I know absolutely nothing about her other than that she borrows Yé-yé pop sensibilities and reminds me of Françoise Hardy. And if you’re a reasonable music connoisseur that’s all you’ll need to know as well.

 

8“Astral Plane” – Valerie June

Van Morrison by way of Memphis, Tennessee. Nobody sings like Valerie June. Nobody will ever sing like Valerie June because to attempt to sing like Valerie June is like trying to argue with a Star Wars nerd about the logistics of making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs.

*also qualified for Top 2017: “The Front Door” and “Long Lonely Road”

 

“Shark Smile” – Big Thief

When “Shark Smile” breaks down and we’re left with a quiet snare and Adrianne Lenkers singing “And she said woo / Baby, take me / And I said woo / Baby, take me too” you’ll believe in Jesus. Or the Loch Ness Monster. Whatever it is that skeptics worry about these days.

 

6“Jj” – Priests

Nominated for powerhouse vocal of 2017. This retro fuzz-punk outfit fronted by Katie Alice Greer reminds me of the way I felt when I first heard Savages.

 

5“Petals” – TOPS

Montreal four-piece indie poppers continue to churn out lush, low-key AM radio tracks, like offspring of Mazzy Star and Lindsay Buckingham. TOPS recorded their choice 2017 record at a former Los Angeles brothel, which seems like something you should know.

 

4“Slip Away” – Perfume Genius

It takes cajones to put “Genius” in your nom de plume and the only thing that Mike Hadreas has ever done is live up to that billing. I hope he and GZA get together on a bi-monthly basis and talk shop about the burdens of being a f’ing boss.

*also qualified for Top 2017: “Die 4 You”

 

3“Green Light” – Lorde

I wrongly assumed 2013’s Pure Heroine would be the pinnacle of Lorde’s career. Mea culpa.

 

2“Thinking of A Place” – The War on Drugs

Epic 11-minute jam from reliable Springsteen/Dylan disciples consumes its listeners and spits them out, partially chewed, and grateful for the opportunity.

*also qualified for Top 2017: “Holding On”

 

1“The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” – The National

Though I’m still trying to wrap my head around The National’s challenging, abrasive and elegant Sleep Well Beast, this first single represents the band’s sonic leap by cramming a guitar solo into the middle of the song and sneaking some synth into the background like a matte painting. There were “better” songs, but none that stuck with me more than this one.

 

101 – 76   /   75 – 51   /  50 – 26  /   25 – 1

 

And now that you’ve run the gamut, here’s the entire list, plus all the tracks that got cut in the final round just before publication. Put the list on shuffle and make your own favorites. I’m no sonic dictator. Thanks for taking a sonic journey through my 2017. You can follow all my playlists on Spotify here.

 

30Hz 100 Best Songs of 2017 / #50 – #26

best songs of 2017

Return to Best Songs of 2017 #75 – #51

50“Goose Snow Cone” – Aimee Mann

I can’t hear Aimee Mann without thinking of her work on the Magnolia soundtrack. This is her best record since Magnolia and “Goose Snow Cone” is her best song since “Save Me.”

 

“Walkaway” – Weaves

Indie-pop from Toronto on the same wavelength as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (but without the power punk) or the tUnE-yArDs (but without the creativity). They’re the middle-of-the-road indie power-popsters for the rest of us.

 

“Appointments” – Julien Baker

Julien Baker joins fellow Memphis, TN crooner Valerie June as  standout acts of 2017. Both represent a conflicted and complicated southern viewpoint with a devotion to the roots of their genre. “Appointments” builds slowly. The listener waits for that cathartic release, only the transcendence undermines expectations. It’s bittersweet and ruminative, not bombastic, but even more potent.

 

“Moon Dust” – Cherry Glazerr

Los Angeles punk-pop trio full of self-awareness and cocky swagger. When the guitar solo bleeds into a blistering crescendo around the 2-minute mark, you’ll think to yourself, “Self, this rocks pretty hard, but not too hard that you’ll hurt anything vital.”

 

46“Machinist” – Japanese Breakfast

Or Jay-Brekky if you’re into the whole brevity thing. Solo project from Michelle Zauner, formerly of Little Big League. “Machinist” is an otherworldly meditation on the escape of earthbound pain and fear, a remarkable combination of synth and sax and voice modulation.

 

45“How It Left” – Violents (feat. Monica Martin)

Electronic soul music for the weary.

 

44“Never Start” – Middle Kids

Sydney, Australia’s indie-pop trio opened for Ryan Adams and Cold War Kids on the strength of one EP filled with catchy-as-hell earworms.

*also qualified for Top 2017: “Edge of Town”

 

43“Shilpa Ray’s Got a Heart Full of Dirt” – Shilpa Ray

A playful, straightforward art pop ‘n roll record that hints at Patti Smith vocals and Lou Reed rhythms. Shilpa Ray’s greatest asset is her boisterous big-blues vocals. A punk diva in an Ella Fitzgerald cover band.

 

42“Tie Me to the Ground” – Dear Reader

Before looking it up I’d have guessed that Dear Reader hailed from Australia, but it turns out that Dear Reader is now just a solo project of Cherilyn MacNeil and she’s based in Berlin. Art-pop with plenty of soulful piano dirges and sweeping choral flourishes.

 

“Wrong For You” – Molly Burch

By now you’re probably starting to skim this blurbs without really reading them and I’m okay with that. Really. 100 blurbs is a lot of blurbs. 100 songs is a lot of songs. Trust me. I’m the one writing them. And tradition dictates that I take blurb number 41 to discuss the grind of reading and writing about 100 songs. Rather poorly. You’re not really reading anymore and I’m not really spending much time thinking about them. Molly Burch deserves better than a half-assed blurb because she’s a cross between Patsy Cline and Nina Simone and that’s a damn fine part of the vocal spectrum. The girl can sing.

 

40“Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” – Destroyer

Den Bejar vocals + leftover synth and bass from The Cure’s Disintegration. Epic track.

 

39“Thirty” – The Weather Station

Toronto songwriter Tamara Lindeman perfects her formula on “Thirty” — the standout track from her fourth LP. Passionate, genre-spanning and remarkably unpredictable.

 

38“The Way” – HAERTS

No stranger to the 30Hz countdown, HAERTS returns with this power ballad that sounds like CHVRCHES and Haim and Rhye and the Shout Out Louds all came together for a jam. So of course I love it. Hopefully the band has a second full-length album on the horizon.

 

“Slide” – Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean, Migos

Maybe the most un-Calvin Harris song I’ve heard. Epic, soulful hip-hop in four movements.

 

36“Little Ones” – Kwaye

This Zimbabwe-born, London-raised student was discovered during his first week of studying abroad at UCLA while catching a ride in an Uber. He happened to play his demo for his driver, a former music executive, who passed Kwaye’s demo tape to the founder of Mind of a Genius. Frank Ocean – excessive production + killer hook.

 

35“Three Rings” – Grizzly Bear

Layered, folk-rock landscapes that reward with deep headphone listening and high volume. Lay down on your floor, stare at the ceiling and succumb to the Grizzly Bear.

 

34“The Underside of Power” – Algiers

Band members hail from the UK, Atlanta and New York City. Their sound becomes the interstice between them all, borrowing sonic tropes from Motown soul, garage rock, 80’s punk, R&B and even Italian horror movies. That sounds like a cute little buzz blurb for a sales pitch, but it’s legit. Wait until “The Underside of Power” drops out just before the 4-minute mark and you’ll swear you hear some Bruno Nicolai.

 

33“Apocalypse” – Cigarettes After Sex

Brooklyn-based noir dream-pop. You’ll be forgiven for believing that frontman Greg Gonzalez was a female vocalist. There’s a lot of Galaxie 500 and Beach House here. While many other dream-poppers skew flinty and wistful, Cigarettes After Sex relishes a good bassline and droning guitars.

 

32“Every Day’s the Weekend” – Alex Lahey

Pure punk-pop confection with a chorus that’ll infect your brain and have you singing “wooo oooh whoaaa oh whooaaa oh oh oh,” among mixed company. This 25-year-old Australian crafted a song neither I nor my 5yo could get sick of — and that’s a small miracle.

 

31“Sunshower” – Flowertruck

Sydney, Australia (yes, again!) post-punk, new-wave quartet inspired by Talking Heads, the Smiths, and Oingo Boingo. The band’s not getting enough attention for their debut full-length but you could probably say that about 9 out of 10 artists on this list because people listen to the garbage that’s placed in front of them.

 

30“Hug of Thunder” – Broken Social Scene

Indie-superstar collective returns with this slice of comfort good. Mac and cheese for old souls.

 

29“Eden” – Makthaverskan

Anthemic, angsty jangle-pop from Sweden. I’ve also heard them called “dream-punk,” which is a new sub-genre for me. Vocalist Maja Milner skewed darker on III (their third record, obvs.) but “Eden” remains a standout slice of accessible joy, the gateway drug to the darker themes within the rest of the album.

 

28“Rose Blind” – Gold Class

Australians dominated my 2017. These post-punkers play like Joy Division but where Joy Division kept listeners at a chilly distance, Gold Class’ record plays like a spiral, constantly pulling you towards the center with engaging lyrics about anger and politics and disillusionment. My most spun piece of vinyl from 2017.

 

27“Stranger’s Kiss” – Alex Cameron (feat. Angel Olsen)

Idiosyncratic Australian (they’re coming for me!) singer-songwriter plays like the sledgehammer version of Father John Misty, but where Father John Misty lets his lyrics speak for themselves, Alex Cameron pounds his cleverness home with a witty hook. Pitchfork called him “art-sleeze” and I’m struggling to come up with anything more appropriate. It’s worth noting that this is the second appearance of Angel Olsen on this countdown despite none of her own material making an appearance.

 

26“Saved By A Waif” – Alvvays

I didn’t immediately connect with Alvvays’ sophomore record but then I scanned my “Hits List” in November and found I’d logged four songs from the album. That’s only a failure when you consider I had five tracks from their debut on my 2015 Hits List. Way to let me down, Alvvays. I wish more bands would crush my dreams like you do.

*also qualified for Top 2017: “Not My Baby”

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