It’s been a while since I’ve dusted off this blog, but lately, I’ve been feeling inspired so I guess this is me trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
Even though I haven’t been writing about music, I haven’t stopped listening. And for the past two years, I’ve focused on listening to more music by women. It’s crazy that in this day and age you still have to make a special effort to hear more music by women in rock music. I think back to when I started getting more serious about music as a listener. The same alt-rock stations that blared Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Foo Fighters, rarely (if ever), added Hole, PJ Harvey, or Sleater-Kinney (not to mention musicians of color) to the rotation. However, things are improving little by little, and I’m proud that a number of major media outlets stepped up to make room for a reality check in 2017 not only showcasing music made by and with women but also giving a voice to the conversation and admitting that there is a serious gender imbalance. Some of those highlights included:
- Off The Record: How Studios Subliminally Silence Women – The Quietus (May 20, 2017)
- 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women – NPR Music (July 24, 2017)
- Rock’s Not Dead, It’s Ruled by Women: The Round-Table Conversation – The New York Times (September 1, 2017)
- We Are The 50%: The Truth Behind the Supposed Decline of the Guitar – She Shreds Magazine (September 19, 2017)
Each of these articles took a bit of a different angle, but all shared a common thread: Women are a part of the past, present, and future of music and it’s time we are counted, represented, and respected in all aspects of the industry. These articles helped to open a door that many of us have tugged at for years, as musicians, journalists, sound engineers, venue managers, etc. They exposed the hardships and barriers most women face to be heard and to be taken seriously. I hope that they opened the eyes of some of those people who have stood in the way, or stood aside doing nothing to help. Above all, I hope this coverage helps more women find the courage to keep pursuing their dreams.
All that said, this brings us to the now. I’m excited that so many of the albums I loved this year were made by and with women. I’ve learned so much from listening to music that speaks to me in a new and more personal way. If you find that your library is lacking in music by women, I highly encourage you to start digging.
Here are my Top Five favorite albums of 2017.
1. Sorry Is Gone – Jessica Lea Mayfield
Jessica Lea Mayfield really hit the ground running with her fourth studio album Sorry Is Gone. It’s full of odes to acknowledging the past while also putting it away to move forward. Before the album’s release, Mayfield made a very public statement on her social media accounts to inform fans that she had been a longtime victim of domestic violence. She spoke about how much it had affected her life, her physical and emotional well-being, and she spoke about the need for these situations to stop being taboo. The album follows that theme with songs about trying to escape dangerous situations, about redemption and newfound self-discovery.
The album breaks the silence and creates space for topics that need to be more out in the open. The first line of the album’s first song “Wish You Could See Me Now” puts things into perspective quickly, “If everyone would talk about it, no one would be ashamed.” After Mayfield’s public announcement, many commented with stories of their own perils. In interviews she discussed how touring this album has brought her fans closer, many of them saying her courage to speak up helped them to do the same. And isn’t that what music is all about? Inspiring people, inspiring yourself? It’s a beautiful response to come out of a difficult situation.
My favorite line comes from the title track right before the first chorus “But I deserve to occupy this space without feeling like I don’t belong.” It’s a line most marginalized people can identify with, especially in situations where our presence is often stereotyped, silenced, and disrespected. Realizing what we want and deserve is often the strength we need to get up and leave something that isn’t working. But getting to that realization often takes time and often, struggle.
My favorite song is “Soaked Through”, a heavy track full of thick guitars and lush chords. The lyrics send you through a dizzying conversation that the narrator has with herself about trying to escape a dangerous situation while at the same time admitting how hard it is to leave the person they love and trust. There’s guilt, confusion, and disconnection. Much like when you’re buried in the thick of something, it’s easy to get lost in it all, and a struggle to find ground to stand on, to stand up for yourself.
2. Murals – Eliot Bigger
Not only is this my favorite album to come from a local (Indianapolis, IN) band this year, it’s one of my favorites period, possibly ever. Eliot Bigger is a four-piece band that is hard to place in one genre. Their debut album Murals is aptly titled, as every song is its own collage of different styles and flavors colliding. Metal riffs meet swing rhythms with math rock precision. Paired with the powerful and emotional vocals of Kara Tucker, this band of incredibly talented musicians provides a listening experience like nothing you’ve heard before.
Favorite Tracks: Murals, Paffos, Tea Leaves
3. Losing – Bully
I am a little late to the Bully train, but I have Spotify to thank for getting me onboard. It’s easy to get stuck in your own world of the music you like, and sometimes hard to venture out into new things. Daily Mix gives stubborn listeners like myself a nudge by filling playlists with songs that I already have in my library, and gently sneaking in something new. The first track I heard from Bully was “Feel The Same”, and it was instantly a sound that I couldn’t get enough of. The gut-felt grit of Alicia Bognanno’s voice, along with crunchy bass, and punchy guitars pack an emotional jab that’s straight to the point and little sour in taste – but it the best way. Losing is a solid album from start to finish.
Favorite Tracks: Feel The Same, Running, Kills To Be Resistant, Focused
4. 3 – tricot
From the moment tricot found my ears, life was never the same. This Kyoto, Japan band has worked their way into my heart and my biggest hope is to one day see them perform live. The four-piece band blends math rock styles with jazz, pop, and punk influence in a way that leaves you both unsure of what you are hearing while also hoping the songs don’t ever end. Every note has intensity and purpose, and be prepared for irregular time signatures. You just never know where their songs are going to go, but that sense of mystery is woven well; tricot is taking you on a journey in every single track and you’ll want to ride it out… even if things get weird (especially then). I mean, I literally understand NONE of the lyrics or song titles, but I can listen to their albums from front to back in one sitting and then repeat. 3 marks the band’s debut on US label Topshelf Records.
Favorite Tracks: Sukima, DeDeDe, Setsuyakuka
5. Drunk – Thundercat
Thundercat‘s Drunk was a welcome addition to my music library this year. The album takes the bass, collaboration, and creative songwriting to a whole new level. From the second I heard that borrowed Isley Brothers drumbeat on “Them Changes” I was hooked. As far as post-breakup albums, this is up there with the greats and covers a lot of that hazy “what am I doing?” phase after a relationship ends. And who saw that collaboration with Kenny Loggins AND Michael McDonald coming?? The list of album guests is impressive; aside from the aforementioned Loggins and McDonald, Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar, and Wiz Khalifa made appearances on Drunk. Along with the menagerie sounds weaved into these songs (effects, sax solos), my favorite thing about this album is how it reminds the world that the bass is an incredibly versatile instrument that can be the backbone and the main event of songwriting.
Favorite Tracks: Them Changes, Friend Zone, The Turn Down
It’s hard enough to narrow things down to a Top Five, so here a few other albums that inspired me this year, in no particular order.
- Freedom Highway – Rhiannon Giddens
- Need to Feel Your Love – Sheer Mag
- Swear I’m Good At This – Diet Cig
- Infinite Wolds – vagabon
- Zone – Cloud Control
There are also a lot of great songs that kept me moving this year. Check them out here: HipsterSpinster’s Favorite Songs of 2017