Ending a too-long blog hiatus with my favorite albums, singles, movies, and television of 2017. We’ll continue our trip through the pop music past soon.
This list is ordered, but it was sort of a five-way tie for first. In the Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop national critics poll, you get 100 points to distribute among 10 albums, with a maximum of 30 and a minimum of 5. I’ve given 30 points before. My point distribution for this Top 10 was: 15-15-14-13-13-10-5-5-5-5.
Is Lee Ann Womack’s new one modern country or Americana? Lee Ann Womack is a grown-ass woman and is above your petty genre distinctions and squabbles, which are irrelevant. Here she pulls a bunch of Nashville pros off the assembly line and off to her own personal promised land. They respond like it’s 1968 at American Studios and Chips Moman is behind the board. One version of what freedom sounds like.
Out in the Storm is another. Katie Crutchfield says everything she needs to say about a relationship in her rearview mirror in 10 songs and not much more than half an hour. Regardless of genre, pop music’s greatest thrill might be hearing someone say the exact right thing in the exact right way, hearing someone born in the moment. This is another version of what freedom sounds like.
4:44 and DAMN. are both exercises in mastery in the most dominant pop form of most of our lives. Lamar’s brilliance is both thrilling and exhausting. I admire it greatly, but I don’t quite love it like I loved former personal chart-topper good kid, m.A.A.d city. For relistening, I found myself coming back to Jay-Z. It’s an album about his occasionally cringe-worthy “black capitalism” ethos and his marriage and his status as a hip-hop elder and … . Mostly, though, I think it’s about the double pause he deploys before the raised-eyebrow “Ok” on “The Story of OJ.” It’s about casual conversation that comes in couplets. It’s about the easeful musicality that made us care about him in the first place.
For me, the songwriting on The Nashville Sound isn’t as consistently gripping as on Southeastern (Isbell’s Out in the Storm), but it has a more cohesive shape than Something More Than Free, the fine middle volume in what feels like a trilogy-for-now. But this one peaks twice with twin Song of the Year candidates, the trembling “If We Were Vampires” and the defiant “Hope the High Road.”
- The Lonesome, the Lonely and the Gone – Lee Ann Womack
- Out in the Storm — Waxahatchee
- 4:44 — Jay-Z
- The Nashville Sound – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
- DAMN. — Kendrick Lamar
- All American Made — Margo Price
- Talk Tight/The French Press – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
- MacGregor Park — Fat Tony
- CTRL – SZA
- Freedom Highway — Rhiannon Giddens
- War and Leisure — Miguel
- Run the Jewels 3 – Run the Jewels
- American Teen — Khalid
- Trophy – Sunny Sweeney
- Wrangled – Angaleena Presley
- City of No Reply — Amber Coffman
- Chuck — Chuck Berry
- Dark Matter – Randy Newman
- Deep Dream – Daddy Issues
- The Order of Time — Valerie June
- “Hope the High Road” — Jason Isbell
- “Humble” — Kendrick Lamar
- “If We Were Vampires” — Jason Isbell
- “Sky Walker” — Miguel featuring Travis Scott
- “Love Triangle” — RaeLynn
- “Young Dumb and Broke” — Khalid
- “DNA” — Kendrick Lamar
- “Bottle in My Bed” — Sunny Sweeney
- “Say My Name” — Tove Styrke
- “New Year’s Day” — Taylor Swift
- “Hard Times” — Paramore
- “Silver” — Waxahatchee
- “Story of O.J.” — Jay-Z
- “Diane” — Cam
- “Bodak Yellow” — Cardi B
- “Los Ageless” — St. Vincent
- “Drew Barrymore” — SZA
- “Round Here Buzz” — Eric Church
- “Bad and Boujee” — Migos featuring Lil Uzi Vert
- “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” — Ashley McBryde
My own Top 10, presented in a format borrowed from one of my favorite recurring features, Film Comment’s “Moments in Time,” which sought to capture each of a year’s movies in a single scene, moment, or memory. Here are my 2017 “moments in time”:
- Tom Hardy immolates his fighter plane and walks stoically toward capture. Grace under pressure on the beaches of DUNKIRK.
- A police car pulls up, the audience tenses, and everyone knows what will happen. Or do they? A brilliant double-ending for GET OUT.
- Saoirse Ronan leans out of an East Coast dorm window, looks up to the skies, and bellows “Bruce!” with a mix of hope and exasperation. LADY BIRD wishes on a Sacramento star.
- Director Sean Baker pans across the decaying, candy-colored ice cream huts, souvenir shops, and roadside motels on the outskirts of Orlando’s Magic Kingdom. Surveying alien topography in THE FLORIDA PROJECT.
- “You glad to be back in the Delta?,” white former fighter pilot Jamie grimly asks to black former tank sergeant and could-he-be-a-friend? Ronzell along a Mississippi back road. Two war heroes are now MUDBOUND.
- Four feet in unison on a hardwood floor, Betty Grable on the box. Richard Jenkins and a radiant Sally Hawkins share a moment of joy in the Fifties fairy tale THE SHAPE OF WATER.
- “You had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you.” Michael Stuhlbarg puts a compassionate bow on his son’s heady summer in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.
- Rooney Mara stops to eat a pie, not a piece of pie, amid the Polaroid-framed poetry of A GHOST STORY.
- Skeleton ancestors illuminated in the night, a “city of the dead” so full of life in COCO.
- THE POST publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) turns her back to the roomful of men who’ve invaded her home, braces herself, and takes a leap. Then she goes to bed.
Honorable Mentions: The Big Sick, A Quiet Passion, Baby Driver, Wonder-Woman, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Logan, It.
Decent-tasting popcorn: Thor: Ragnarok, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Lego Batman Movie, Atomic Blonde.
Redeeming qualities: The Beguiled, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Battle of the Sexes, Alien: Covenant.
Duds: mother!, Guardians of the Galaxy II.
Ten I still haven’t seen (but wish I had): Phantom Limb, Faces Places, B.P.M., Girls Trip, Good Time, The Lost City of Z, Personal Shopper, Wonderstruck, Graduation, Jane.
I tend to only have one TV show going at a time, so my television watching is even more haphazard than my listening and movie watching (things which were once far less haphazard). This is everything (new) that I watched in full this year. The ones I most wanted to see that I just haven’t gotten around to yet: Twin Peaks: The Return, The Vietnam War, Insecure.
- The Deuce
- The Leftovers
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
- American Epic (PBS series on early American recorded music)
- Better Call Saul
- Game of Thrones
- Big Little Lies
New to Me
Maybe I’ll keep better track of the “old” stuff I read, watch, or listen to for the first time in 2018, but I’ll offer one newly experienced gem from each medium for 2017: True Grit by Charles Portis is a slim, quick, deeply pleasurable read with an unforgettable protagonist and a setting in my home state of Arkansas. Not sure what took me so long. … After Jonathan Demme’s death, I finally watched Something Wild, his 1980s screwball comedy of sorts with Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels, and Ray Liotta. It lives up to its title as a particularly individual take on a classic genre. … James Blood Ulmer’s 1983 album Odyssey caught me by surprise, adding fiddle to his jazz-blues guitar skronk to elevating effect.