Best of 2017

A quick note here at the top to say: I kind of went long on the music portion (2nd half) of this list so if I skimped on talking about any of the movies/TV shows/books you’d like me to go on about, feel free to ask and you’ll find I’m all too happy to go on about them.

A less quick note below the quicker note at the top to say: Sometimes, friends/family will tell me that they’ve watched a movie because it was listed among my favorites. Usually those comments are made with disgust like, “Ugh, I saw the Lobster because you said you liked it and that movie was so stupid.” So with that in mind, please approach The Killing of a Sacred Deer (and pretty much anything else that sounds weird) with caution. I hereby reserve the right to be pretentious and disavow all culpability for anyone else personally enjoying any of the following things.

 

Part One: Best Movies/Books of 2017

 

Top Ten Movies

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1. The Last Jedi

What I said immediately after watching it: “That was so great. At nearly every turn, they made the more creative choice. That lightsaber battle in that red room? Man! I don’t know how anyone could dislike that movie.”

What I say now: Wait? People didn’t like that? **goes online to read several articles of dissent.** No way, the Last Jedi is awesome.

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2. The Florida Project

What I said immediately after watching it: “It was slow at first, then, after about forty minutes, I was fully committed. By the end, it brought tears to my eyes.”

What I say now: Yeah, the Florida Project is great and it's the only movie this year to make me cry. I want all of my co-workers to watch this movie the same way I wanted them to watch Short Term 12 a few years ago.

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3. Lady Bird

What I said immediately after watching it: “Man, that was sooo good. Such an honest coming of age story that doesn’t feel contrived or condescending. Greta Gerwig totally nailed the young adult voice. All the performances were great. Laurie Metcalf was particularly incredible. Also, I miss my mom.”

What I say now: Same, (sigh) same.

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4. The Big Sick

What I said then: “What a sweet romantic comedy that didn’t feel boring or predictable. The love in the story was heightened by the comedy instead of lessened by it.”

What I say now: No one really buys DVDs any more, but this is a movie worth owning.

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5. Spider-Man: Homecoming

What I said then: “Ah, that may be my favorite Spider-Man movie. I’m glad that they didn’t do the whole origin story again. No one needs to see Uncle Ben die again.”

What I say now: Homecoming is definitely my favorite Spider-Man movie, which actually thinking on it, isn’t all that difficult.

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6. It Comes at Night

Then: “That’s my kind of scary movie. I like that they focused so much on atmosphere and kept some of the details vague. Doing a lot of exposition is usually where scary movies lose me. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t like that.”

Now: Wait? People didn’t like that?...Actually, yeah, that’s probably not that surprising. Apparently, I'm not a good judge on this stuff. This movie is still great though.

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7. Dunkirk

Then: “I wish that lady didn’t ask the theater to turn down the sound, that was supposed to be kind of the point.”

Now: This movie is really meant to be seen in a theater, but still definitely worth watching at home.

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8. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Then: “Yeah, I liked that, but I don’t ever want to see that again.”

Now: I haven’t stopped thinking about this movie and I want to see it again.

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9. The Meyerowitz Stories (New & Selected)

Then: “That was a fun, sweet movie. I wish Adam Sandler got to be in good movies more often.”

Now: Noah Baumbach should get more love as a filmmaker. Also, this is on Netflix if you’re interested in watching it.

 

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10. Mudbound

Then: “Was that based on a novel? Feels like it was based on a novel. **Major checks on his phone: yeah, it was based on a novel. “That makes sense. The 6 different POVs kinda made it difficult to connect for a bit, but after a while, I was way into it. That was a rough watch at times though. Also, I wish Garrett Hedlund was in Lost City of Z instead of Charlie Hunnam.”

Now: I hope more people see this movie (it’s on Netflix now) and that Dee Rees gets direct some bigger movies based off its merit. Also, great performances from Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, and, the aforementioned, Garrett Hedlund.

Next Fifteen:

11. Logan Lucky

12. Personal Shopper

13. Get Out

14. Brigsby Bear

15. Lost City of Z

16. IT

17. The Post

18.  Baby Driver

19. Thor: Ragnarok

20. Wonder Woman

21. COCO

22. Jim & Andy (Netflix doc)

23. Blade Runner 2049

24. mother!

25. Logan

At the beginning of the year, I would’ve bet money that Boss Baby would be the worst movie of 2017. Surprisingly, it wasn’t.

Movies Worse Than Boss Baby

48. Valerian

49. A Cure for Wellness[1]

50. Baywatch

51. The Circle

52. The Emoji Movie

MOVIES WORSE THAN THE EMOJI MOVIE

53. The Mummy

54. The Void

Still plan/need to see: Phantom Thread, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, Call Me By Your Name, A Ghost Story, Love Song, Columbus, and Disaster Artist.

 Favorite Theaters[2]

1. Music Box Theatre in Chicago

2. The Charles in Baltimore

3. Regal Union Square in NYC

4. Gene Siskal Film Institute in Chicago

Best TV Shows[3]

1. The Leftovers

2. Nathan For You

3. Crashing

4. Master of None

5. The Good Place

6. Big Mouth

7. Ozark

8. Game of Thrones

9. Stranger Things

10. Legion

 

Top Books of 2017

1. Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock & Roll in New York City 2001-2011 by Lizzy Goodman

2. Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

3. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

5. Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

6. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

7. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

8. Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

9. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

10. The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

11. History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

12. The Temptation of Adam by Dave Connis

13. Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds

14. What is the Bible? By Rob Bell

15. Solo (Blink) by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

Best Collection: Welcome Home: An Anthology on Love and Adoption edited by Eric Smith

Best Reread: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (published in 2011)

Favorite Picture Book (as selected by my youngest son): Chicken Wants a Nap by Tracy Marchini, illustrated by Monique Felix

 

Books That Were Published Before 2017 That I Read & Also Liked

1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (published in 2016)

2. It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (published in 2006)

3. Moonglow by Michael Chabon (2016)

4. Mao II by Don Dellilo (1991)

5. Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman (2009)

Currently Reading That I Didn’t Finish In Time: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Earlier this year I saw an ad (or maybe it was an email) that offered three months of the New Yorker for $6. I went for it because I occasionally bought single issues for that much. What I didn’t realize is that my “subscription” would auto-renew after said three months. So as you read these next two categories, please be aware that I accidentally backed into a subscription of the New Yorker.

Favorite New Yorker Short Stories

1. “Dogs Go Wolf” by Lauren Groff (August  21 issue)

2. “Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest” by Sherman Alexie (June 5th)

3. “North East Regional” by Emma Cline (April 10th)

4. “Show Don’t Tell” by Curtis Sittenfeld (June 12th)

5. “A Love Story” by Samantha Hunt (May 22nd)

6. “FAQs” by Allegra Goodman (Sept. 11)

7. “Fly Already” by Etgar Keret (May 15th)

8. “The Sinking of the Houston” by Joseph O’Neill (October 30th)

9. “An Evening Out” by Garth Greenwell (August 21st)

and yes,

10. “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian (December 5th)


Favorite Poems from the New Yorker

1. “Generic Husband” by Rebecca Hazelton

2. “The Beard” by Amit Majmudar

3. “Poem Without An Image” by Carrie Fountain

4. “Hot Tub After Skiing, December 2016” by Jill Bialosky

5. “This Poem” by Vona Groarke

Favorite Graphic Novels: Saga vol. 1-7 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, March trilogy by John Lewis, Superman: American Alien by Max Landis, Paper Girls vol. 3 also by BKV, Comics for a Strange World: A Book of Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazamand

Best Monthly Comic Book: Runaways by Rainbow Rowell & Kris Anka

Favorite Book Stores

1. Atomic Books in Baltimore

2. 57th Street Books in Chicago

3. Richard McKay Used Books in Manassas, Virginia

 

 

Part Two: Best Music of 2017*

Top Albums

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1. Care – David Bazan

Besides being arguably Bazan’s strongest collection of songs to date (and the best indie-electro-pop album since The Postal Service’s 2003 masterpiece, Give Up[4]), Care is also the definitive album of this year. The reason for which is right there in the chorus of the title track: “It’s not like we’re immune to this/it’s not like we don’t burn/we’re just surrounded by carelessness/we know how much it hurts.” With this line, Bazan again reminds the listener the importance of being a decent human being, of not taking the easy way out of things, of overcoming your most basic human desires (or—at the very, very least—trying to) so that your mistakes don’t haunt you for the rest of your days, so that you’re not leaving a wake of ruined lives wherever you go. After the release of Care, Bazan changed his Twitter bio to simply read: “Keep trying.” Two words I intend to take to heart in the coming year.

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2. Stranger in the Alps – Phoebe Bridgers

Early[5] one Saturday morning this fall, as I drove my son to his swimming lesson, I was listening to this album[6] when the full sadness of it began to hit me. Like any good melancholy, there were multiple layers to it:

1) I was sad because I didn’t consider myself cool enough to really appreciate Bridgers’ music. I mean, here I was, a dad in his mid-30s driving his son to swimming lessons. I wasn’t wearing sweatpants, but I had only just changed out of sweatpants, you know? I think anyone who saw me that morning would have been able to tell that.

2.) The sadness was also something like the feeling I had when we stayed at this AirBnB in Brooklyn this past fall. There were so many people younger than me out there living lives and having adventures that were so much different than anything I had ever experienced or ever would experience.

3.) Then I felt bad for feeling that way ^, like, here I was driving my son to a swim lesson. I am super fortunate to be able to live the life that I get to.

4.) Then I started thinking about my sons and how they’ll grow up one day and they may be like characters in Bridgers’ songs, having adventures, forming relationships, and inevitably experiencing heartbreak. This made me happy for a second then that feeling took a nosedive.

5.) At that point I found myself on the verge of tears

6.) Then that second verse of Funeral hit and the tears came.

After that, it took me a bit to listen to Stranger in the Alps again. Not because I didn’t want to, the album is so awesome, but rather I was scared of its power. Anything that can elicit such strong feelings from me on a Saturday morning when I had just changed out of sweatpants isn’t to be trifled with. Over time though, much like the Sword That Seals the Darkness,[7] I gained enough hearts to be able wield this mighty creation. Now I can listen to Stranger in the Alps any time, day or night, sweatpants or normal pants and appreciate its beauty.

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3. A Black Mile to the Surface – Manchester Orchestra

MO’s fifth album is my favorite of theirs since Mean Everything to Nothing, at times it feels distant and cold, calling to mind eerie-snowy scenes that the Coen brothers would write (“The Gold,” “The Grocery,” and, oh, man, especially “The Alien”). While other songs feel very warm and personal like a note you found in your grandfather’s coat[8] (“The Maze,” and “The Parts”). Still yet, my favorite song (“The Sunshine”) is not even two minutes long and feels more like a segue way than anything else. I hope this album serves in the same way as a bridge between 2014’s lackluster (to me at least) Cope and whatever comes next.

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4. Sleep Well Beast – The National

There have been days this year where I felt myself getting older, days where it seemed like I could feel my body aging. For those days, and the increasingly fewer days in between, Sleep Well Beast became my go-to album. Lyrics like: “Forget it, nothing I change changes anything/I won’t let it/I won’t let it ruin my hair” became something like a mantra that got stuck in my head.

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5. Damn – Kendrick Lamar

Did I learn the lyrics to “DNA” just so I could yell-rap them on the four min drive between home and work? You know I did. This is probably why “DNA” was the most played song on my iPod this year.[9]

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6. Terrible Freedom – TW Walsh

Outwardly, it’s rare for me to use the word banger to describe a song. However, in my head (as is often the case) it’s a different story. For example, when I think of Terrible Freedom’s first track, “My Generation,” banger is the first word that comes to mind. The other nine tracks on Terrible Freedom are a bit more subtle.[10] Each listen through brings forth something new to love. That cool guitar lead that kicks off “Dead Landmines.” That awesome programmed drum beat in “Fake Disease.” And of course the way Walsh sings, “I won’t apply for a government grant/wear a tie with a presentable pant” on “High Numbers.”

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7. Rodia – Swordfish

My relationship with this album/band lived a lifetime over just 8 months:
April— Ian Cohen reviews Swordfish’s “Ghost Song” on Pitchfork. After listening, I also conclude, “hey, this is pretty good. I’m going to keep an eye on these guys.”

May— several weeks of Spotify streaming later, I finally cave and buy Rodia off iTunes so I can jam it more easily from my iPod.

June— Payton texts me to say that he may have booked Swordfish to play in Carbondale. I immediately ask if Sleeping Tapes could open for them, he replies with something like “maybe!” Then I begin to listen to Rodia even more. Wondering which parts would be the best to yell/sing along to.

July— Hey, I get to sit down with all five members of Swordfish as an informal interview. We have a really nice conversation that leaves me feeling like I gained something. Then later that night, my friends and I yell along to “Wash,” “Ghost Song,” and oh, man, “I’m Okay (x3).”[11]

August/September/October— in the midst of revisions/other writing projects, a pang of regret greets me every time I think of Swordfish and how I still haven’t transcribed our interview. It’s been so long maybe I should just act like I lost it but then found it? Followed by: No, I can’t do that.

November— I finally start transcribing our interview. Hey, this isn’t too bad. Maybe I can just act like I lost it but then found it. Yeah, I can definitely do that.

One Week Later in November— Swordfish announce they’re breaking up. No! They’re so young and talented with their best songs probably still to come. Even though they’ve broken up, I should still finish transcribing that interview. I’ll just admit that I’ve procrastinated.

December— Yeah, I should really finish transcribing that interview even though it’s been so long and they’ve broken up. I’ll just say that I lost it for a little while. 

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8. Lo Tom – Lo Tom (also winner for best album cover ^)

Lo Tom was written and recorded by four old friends over the course of two weekends. That intimacy comes through over the course of this album’s 8 songs. “Overboard” is a clear favorite, but don’t sleep on “Bad Luck Charm” and “Covered Wagon” either.

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9. Spin – Tigers Jaw

Spin reminds me of the weekend we first went up to stay with Stacy’s brother. Meeting Ethan and Jason was the best thing that happened to our family this year.

So listening to this album carries with it the warmth of that June trip. I hope it always will.

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10. Going Grey – The Front Bottoms

In October, I shared my thoughts about Going Grey here.

But for now let me share two bonus thoughts:

1. On “Everyone But You” when Sella sings: “It doesn’t get worse/it doesn’t get better/you just get old/it lasts forever/you can’t get happy/you can’t get sad/it’s hard to do”— this feels a lot like the theme of Going Grey and also like a callback to TFB’s 2011 breakout single “Flashlight” in which Sella sings: “When I’m sad, I am sad/But when I am happy, oh God, I’m happy.” It’s easy to imagine that the last 6-7 years of constant touring between these albums, plus all the people who have likely moved through his life in that time, has taken its toll on Sella emotionally.

2. I’ve been thinking about this ^ over the last couple of weeks and how I can relate. Sometimes I wonder if life is just a lesson in learning how to live better, much like working out so you can better at exercising, so with that we learn to balance our emotions which inevitably takes the wind out of our highs while dulling the edge of our lows. I think this is a good thing but when Sella sings that line in “Everyone But You,” it definitely doesn’t feel like a good thing.

 

The following albums are listed in descending order of favorite-ness:

Favorite Way to Get Educated on Obscure Goth Bands of the 80’s: Goths – The Mountain Goats

Favorite Album By My Favorite New Band I Got Into in 2017: Capacity – Big Thief

Best Album/Band Named After a Deceased Family Dog: Smidley – Smidley

Next Best Album by a Dog Band[12]: Birdie – Slaughter Beach, Dog

Best Bandcamp Heroes Album: the yunahon mixtape - oso oso

Most Played Album on Spotify that I Don’t Own (Yet): Deep Dreams – Daddy Issues

Best Album That Lost Ground as the Months of 2017 Wore On: You’re Not as ____ as You Think – Sorority Noise

Best Album to Write To: One Night Only – Cousin Stizz

Album I Love But Then Find Myself Switching to Something Else After Three Songs: Salutations – Conor Oberst

Favorite Album to Turn Down Whenever I’m at a Stoplight: Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

Favorite Album I Haven’t Really Listened to a lot But Feel Bad Every Time I Remember It and How Little Attention I Paid to It: Voids, Minus the Bear

Best Guest Verse: Kendrick Lamar on (insert everything he guest versed on)[13]

Best Infinity War Team Up Guest Verse: Kenny Loggins & Michael McDonald on “Show You the Way” by Thundercat

Prediction for Album I Will Grow to Like More in 2018: Flower Boy - Tyler, the Creator

Favorite “Oh, Yeah, They Did Release an Album This Year, Didn’t They?” Album: Japandroids, Young at the Wild of the Heart

Favorite Thing to Listen To Every Time I Think Of How Far Away March 2, 2018 Is/ Favorite Split of 2017: Camp Cope/Cayetana

Favorite EP: Remember, Forget, Fever Blush

Favorite Member of Wu-Tang Clan for 2017[14]: Raekwon

Favorite Local Release of 2017: this Backyards/Regulars split for sure.

Favorite 2016 Album/Song that I listened to A Lot in 2017: Masterpiece/”Masterpiece,” Big Thief

Favorite Song of 2017: “Smoke Signals” by Phoebe Bridgers with “Overboard” by Lo Tom being a close second

Favorite Album By a Guy Who Likely Read Infinite Jest Ironically: Pure Comedy, Father John Misty

Favorite Album By a Guy Who Definitely Read Infinite Jest Earnestly: Everything Now, Arcade Fire

 

Favorite Concerts of 2017*

1. The Mountain Goats supported by Samantha Crain at Sheldon Art Gallery in St. Louis, MO on September 11th. Seen with Stacy, Major, and Emily.

2. Julien Baker supported by David Bazan[15] and Fever Blush at Marathon Music Works in Nashville, TN on November 30th. Seen with Major, Durf, and Payton.

3. David Curtis supported by Ravenhill and Matt Jackson at the Burg, September 30th. Seen with so many friends.

 

Favorite Shows I Played in 2017[16]

1. Fountain Café on April 23rd Sleeping Tapes with Gaffer Project and Hello, Stranger.

2. Skihaus on July 25th Sleeping Tapes with Swordfish and the Regulars.

3. Acoustic Show at the Sesspool on June 16th with…geez, a bunch of dudes.

4. Rainbow Café Benefit show on April 22nd Sleeping Tapes with Bad Ghost, Trophy Shop, and Unapologetic Eyes.

5. Skihaus on Dec. 29th Harmless Sparks with 7Daze and Backyards

6. The Sesspool on June 6th Sleeping Tapes with Hello, Stranger and other people that I have forgotten, I’m sorry.

 

*Vacated Wins

A few weeks ago, I texted Major to ask for some examples of teams/athletes that had to abdicate wins/championships in disgrace. Better than Google, Major came back with Reggie Bush in 2005, Memphis Basketball in 09, and, yikes, of course, Penn State in 2011. It’s kinda overdramatic, but I thought of this question as I took down my Brand New concert posters, as I bagged up my BN t-shirts, and even as I left them off this list, because it felt something like a championship vacated in shame.

On August 17th, Brand New finally released their fifth (and presumably[17]) final album, Science Fiction. That afternoon felt like Jordan hitting that shot over Bryon Russell in ’98. I was ecstatic. A band I had loved more than any other band for fifteen years had pulled it off. Science Fiction was truly great. I wasn’t stoked about their planned retirement in 2018, but at least, like Jordan’s last game in a Bulls jersey, they were going to go out on their own terms.

On October 21st, I got to see them at the Hippodrome in Baltimore. Their set was energetic, powerful, and passionate. I had seen them over twenty times and this night was easily among the best shows I had ever seen. As one song segued seamlessly into the next, a wave of emotion washed over me as I thought about all that I had been through with that band’s music, all that I had gotten through with the help of their music. A few tears came when I wondered if it would be the last time I’d ever get to see them live. After all, that night did feel something like a goodbye. I just didn’t truly know at the time that it was.

On November 12th, two women came forward with allegations of Sexual Misconduct (Sexual Exploitation of a Minor) against front man, Jesse Lacey. Two days later, after reading Lacey’s lackluster response multiple times, I decided that I was done with Brand New.

I still feel heartache like the kind that follows a tough break-up when I think of Brand New. Though again, it’s important to note that there are real victims here in this story and I am certainly not one of them by any means. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to come forward with their experiences, all the doubt/judgment that has been unfairly cast upon these women and their lives as though by tearing them apart it can somehow justify listening to Brand New again. Still— to even go on about that would feel like exploiting the situation.

So before we wrap this up, here are a few articles that discuss this stuff way better than I ever could:

The Specific Betrayal of Brand New by Zoe Camp

How Mid-2000s Emo Groomed Underage Girls by Sophie Benjamin

Unraveling the Sexism of Emo’s Third Wave by Jenn Pelly

Also, I really like this piece by Lindsay Zoladz of the Ringer from when the Harvey Weinstein allegations started to come to light. I think that’s applicable here.

There has been a lot of debate this year about whether art can be separated from the artist. I can only speak for myself when I say that for me, especially in this situation, it can’t. Which isn’t to say I’m going to forget what their music once meant to me. It just means that I can’t continue to listen to them while still feeling okay about it. It means that I can’t listen to their music or wear their t-shirts while expecting people to take me seriously when I say that what Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Woody Allen, Matt Lauer, Roy Moore, and Donald Trump (and many others) did was awful and shouldn’t be forgotten. It just means that when I mention how I once loved Brand New, it will come along with an asterisk just like those vacated accomplishments mentioned above.

This year, more than any other, I’ve tried to reconcile what it means to support the things that I do, where that balance is between what I take in as an influence and how it helps me become who I want to be. I expect this effort will continue well into 2018 and beyond.

In the words of David Bazan: keep trying.

 

[1] With these two back-to-back, perhaps I just have a problem with Dane DeHaan being a more famous Dane.

[2] Or theatres if you will.

[3] I’d like to cut this list in half next year by just watching stuff that is great so that I can spend more time reading/writing/or sleeping

[4] In this author’s humble opinion. Though I have to admit I don’t listen to much that can be classified so elegantly as indie-electro-pop-stuff.

[5] It was like 8:45am at the earliest.

[6] Yes, I turned down the stereo when Bridgers sings: “And all of our problems/I’m gonna solve them/with you riding shotgun/speeding cause fuck the cops.”

[7] Shout out to my fellow Zeldads.

[8] Just don’t read that note aloud or the warmth will be erased.

[9] Yeah, I still do the majority of my music listening from my iPod. Don’t come at me with your Spotify year-end list.

[10] Word wanted me to change “more subtle” to “subtler” but I kept it this way. Some artistic geniuses cannot be tamed.

[11] An early draft of this “Best of 2017” post included the last verse of “I’m Okay (x3)” as the part of any song that I related to most this year. I ended up editing that out because I felt like that may concern some people. But yeah, I’m still leaving this footnote so I know it’s in here.

[12] Dr. Dog was unfortunately disqualified as they did not release a new album in 2017. Still, I probably wouldn’t have liked whatever they put out more than these two albums. But, man, I would have liked to really milk the Dog Band joke for all it was worth (which isn’t much).

[13] Originally I intended this little note in parenthesis to be for me to add in examples later, but now due to laziness or a moment of pure-artistic-liberty, I’m going to leave it.

[14] Editor’s Note: Previous winners include: Method Man (1997) followed by Inspectah Deck for years 1998 through 2016.

[15] Bazan also provided some of his best stage-banter maybe ever during his opening set.

[16] As with the majority of this post, this list is mainly just for me so that I can better catalog/remember the shows I got to play this year.

[17] Though yeah, now I’m pretty confident it will be their final album.