A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours

I love Morrissey’s references to boys with pretty white necks. It’s both sexy and self-consciously glib. And he has got quite a pretty white neck himself, which isn’t meant to be lost on anyone. The winking and nodding to pretty boys’ bodies – coming from a pretty boy who claimed that his pain is too grand for mere labels of sexual orientation – was naughty and subversive, and as telling as you wanted it to be. Morrissey will probably never ‘come out’ the way some people are still rooting for him to do, nor should he; the business of pinning down personal identity is dreadfully dreary when you don’t particularly care for any of the options. That does allow the singer to remain pliable and easy to project onto, hence the rabid devotion he still commands. The fact that he’s kind of a crappy person doesn’t matter very much to fans who’ve identified with the music for whatever reason. The singer may be a challenge to admire, but the songs remain impossible not to latch onto. We will probably forever be debating just how knowingly Morrissey’s music addresses depression-case gay boys, or romantic-pretender depression-case straight ones, or sad-sack wallflower girls. But there’s one thing that everybody in the fandom relates to: people who’ve learned about the world in cemeteries and libraries experience love differently, with sweaty palms and shaky knees, and being pretty is frankly no reprieve from it.

The Best Albums of 2017

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Or dreading. Or, more likely, irrelevant and weeks too late to the party. 2017 is over and no one wants to think about it any more. It was a crap year, but crap years often inspire great feats of creativity. At least we had a tide of good music. Oh, so much good music…

1. Pure Comedy – Father John Misty


This is the album we deserve and need. It’s depressing as fuck, its bleakness relieved only by Misty’s signature hyper-articulate mordant wit. After the wedding album comes the hangover album. It’s the work of a man who’s snapped out of his honeymoon haze, looked around and saw the world all gone to hell. If there was one record I leaned on all year, it was this one.

Pure Comedy

Ballad of the Dying Man

Total Entertainment Forever


2. Low In High School – Morrissey


You would think that Morrissey, with his nasty eccentricity and tone-deaf statements and complete inability to learn from controversy, has outlived his usefulness as a public figure. Yet he’s still capable of writing some of his punchiest music, and musically at least, he’s still relevant and on-point. He’s still both narcissistic and self-deprecating, angry at the world, romantic, petty, and inexplicably interested in Israel. He may even have matured a little; some of the new songs are quite sexy, as befits a man with some life experience under his belt, no longer pretending to be a celibate little naif.

Spent the Day in Bed

Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s up on the Stage

I Bury the Living


3. Woodstock – Portugal. The Man


In a crap year, we kind of need a little escapism, a little fun. These guys have been plugging away for years, to little notice, but this year they finally hit the big time. They’ve always had a knack for great catchy tunes, tempered with a little darkness. They’re more catchy than ever, almost too catchy, like a tweaked out parody of catchy. Which is perfect, because we need to get tweaked on something that looks and tastes like pop sugar.

Feel It Still

Rich Friends

Noise Pollution


4. Lust for Life – Lana Del Rey


Well, I certainly couldn’t have predicted that Lana Del Rey would become one of the most consistent artists on the scene. She burst out in a blaze of way, way too much hype, and then she went and lived up to it. She likes to toy with romantic cliche in a way that both knowingly ironic and yet sincerely romantic, and she knows her way around retrofitted reference points. On this album she sounds like she’s beamed in from an alternate-universe Summer of Love, and it sounds nothing but timely.

Lust for Life


13 Beaches


5. Masseduction – St. Vincent


St. Vincent’s hi-fashion aesthetics may make her look like a ‘fun’ artist, but she’s actually a ‘dark’ artist, one who likes to explore the poses we strike in life. She can be depressing, she can be witty, she can be glamorous or scary, she can be all of those things all in one song. She’s one of those increasingly rare artists who work to please themselves, and end up with accolades they never aimed for, because they’ve hit on something pleases a lot of people.

New York

Los Angeles



6. Double Roses – Karen Elson

Double Roses

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for this record for years. Karen Elson’s first album became an instant classic for me in 2010. Now she’s finally back with her gorgeous voice, sophisticated songwriting and gothic folk/chamber-pop aesthetic intact. You gotta appreciate an artist who knows how to make the most of a harp solo.

Call Your Name

Wonder Blind

Distant Shore


7. Lotta Sea Lice – Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile


Courtney Barnett deftly dodges our elevated expectations. And after the big breakout of her debut LP in 2015, the expectations couldn’t be higher. Instead of trying to live up to the hype all over again, she offers instead an informal-feeling collaboration with fellow deadpan songwriter Kurt Vile. It’s just as articulate and insightful as you would expect, with irreverent observations about the mundane and a sense of friends just having fun. Maybe they should form a band.

Over Everything

Continental Breakfast

Let It Go


8. If All I Was Was Black – Mavis Staples


I have a shameful confession  to make: I’ve never listened to Mavis Staples before this year. I know that she’s been a force in soul music for decades, and somehow, I’ve never paid attention. Maybe the thing that pushed this particular record into my conscience is its relevance. It’s an of-the-moment piece of work that’s politically relevant, from a veteran of the civil rights movement who can’t believe she’s still fighting the same old battle. But it’s not a work of anger and indignation, but an openhearted and optimistic one; as befits someone who made her name in the 60’s, Staples still believes that love can heal all of our rifts. And if she can, so should we.

We Go High

Peaceful Dream

If I Was Was Black


9. The Far Field – Future Islands


I can’t get enough of Future Islands’ retro-synthpop romanticism. Their music sounds like a collage of 80’s New Wave elements, but it’s far too emotional to ever be called a retreat. It’s something beautiful and brand new that sounds like something that’s been around forever. That kind of instant familiarity is what we look for in new music, and we rarely find it, but when we do, it’s like an addition to the family. Samuel T. Herring remains one of the most unforgettable vocalists of the moment.



Time On Her Side


10. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom – Halsey


Halsey is a young songwriter whose work is both intimately confessional and ambitiously high-concept. On her second album, she writes about the effects of fame (it’s no cure for loneliness) and the challenges of challenges of love, quotes Shakespeare, and ties it all together with a loose narrative about disaffected youth in a near-future world. It’s catchy, modern, and ready for heavy airplay on indie radio at least, but satisfying challenging and personal.

Now or Never

Bad at Love



11. Every Where Is Some Where – K.Flay


K.Flay is an artist whose work can be called post-genre. She’s been called – nominally – a hip hop artist, but that doesn’t cover it. She’s pulling sonic influences from all over, but her writing is confessional, almost emo. It’s also her strength. Sometimes dark and laced with profanity, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes funny. She’s part of a new generation of female artists who present themselves as unapologetic anti-heroines, telling their stories, taking pride in their honesty and pain, not afraid to be get weird and ugly. This is her second album.

Blood in the Cut

High Enough

You Felt Right


12. Melodrama – Lorde


Last but not least in the series of outstanding second albums by precocious young women. Who could forget about Lorde? She was the teenage prodigy sensation of 2013 and now she’s almost all grown up. Sure, first love and first fame aren’t exactly fresh topics, and, no, there’s no way anything could be as unexpected and original as Pure Heroine was. But Lorde is approaching those topics with her usual wiser-than-her-years aplomb, and she’s still unique in her eccentricity.

Green Light

Perfect Places

Homemade Dynamite


13. Salutations – Conor Oberst


Conor Oberst used to be the teenage prodigy sensation of his time. Now he’s just another nearly-middle aged man who’s not as relevant or as cute as he used to be. That could be a cue to drop off the map. Or it could be a cause for renewed inspiration. It’s frankly great to see a major songwriter, who the emo generation grew up with, becoming mature and staying interesting. Also, what best of- list is complete without a shoutout to Oliver Sacks?

A Little Uncanny

You All Loved Him Once

Gossamer Thin

14. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream – Open Mike Eagle


This is the first time I’ve featured a hip hop album as one of my favorites. As you may have noticed, hip hop accounts for a huge swath of today’s pop culture, and it’s something I’m slowly educating myself about. This is a great place to start; it’s free of the aggressive posturing and machismo that makes most mainstream rap (and frankly, most mainstream anything anymore) so unappealing. Open Mike Eagle isn’t here to beef with other rappers or name-check the designer brands in his closet. What he offers is smart, personal, relevant songwriting that cuts across genres. Michael Eagle does standup on the side, and his wit lightens every track (and especially evident in videos.) Also, bonus points for year’s best Bowie shout-out.

Brick Body Complex

95 Radios

Happy Wasteland Day



Piccadilly Palare

And now, a song about being a male prostitute. Why let the ladies have all the degradation? Morrissey based this on the historical reality that young  men used to congregate around Piccadilly Circus to sell themselves, before the place turned into a national tourist trap. The male hustlers and homosexuals developed their own underground slang, the better to disguise their proclivities from the law. It was, needless to say, a seedy and desperate subculture, but also in its own way a haven for people who saw no legitimate life path that they could follow, thanks to who they were. No need to romanticize the bad old days when things were worse, but also, there’s an element of romantic appeal to an isolated and sexually confused young outsider i.e. Morrissey and his  entire fanbase. You could fancy yourself an outlaw who thumbs his nose at petty mores, a member of an exclusive community, keeper of secrets.

Our Frank

Oh, give us a drink
And make it quick
Or else I’m gonna be sick
Sick all over
Your frankly vulgar
Red pullover

Let me leave you with this lovely chorus for a moment. Just really mull it over. Now raise your hand if Morrissey can come vomit on you any time he likes. Or not. He makes himself seem like a bit of an unpleasant dinner guest here,  but also, we can relate. Ever been with a dreadful date who wouldn’t shut up? That’s when you drink yourself into oblivion, and yes, possibly maybe get sick all over, which is the least charming and sexy thing you could do. Lesson; don’t give your valuable time to people who bring you down and have poor taste in pullovers.

Ouija Board, Ouija Board

No, I was not pushing that time!

A dire warning about messing about with the spirit world, lest whimsical weirdness interrupts your bucolic teatime seance. Morrissey is borderline batshit insane even on his best behavior, and the rock star necessity of shooting videos does not bring his best out. So has, notoriously enough, taken the art of video where most artists of his stature would fear to tread. His videos have consistently been embarrassingly ill-conceived, amateurish, and just plain batshit insane. In this case, he does keep his shirt on, which may or may not be a detriment, depending on what you’re expecting to enjoy. And, as tends to happen, the general weirdness does no service to the song, which is actually weird in a good way. I think you all know what a Ouija board is, and I expect you’ll agree that it’s an exceedingly dumb toy. It’s dumb if you believe in the occult and equally dumb if you don’t. And it’s definitely something you could imagine your pale, mopey, celibate, tea-drinking self doing alone in an isolated Tudor mansion in the middle of the woods on a misguided romantic whim. Inevitably, you will find that the spirits don’t care for your company any more than the living.

The Operation

Morrissey is known for a lot of things, but indulging in sprawling six minute experimental songs with drum solos is not one of them. Yet here it is, the sprawling indulgent drum solo and the nearly seven minutes. With what I’m understanding as a disapproving message about the perils of plastic surgery (could be anything though.) Coincidentally or not, in 1995 it seems that a lot of people were sick to their back teeth of Morrissey, and his experimental opus got a chilly reception. What followed was a lengthy fallow period, and of course, the triumphant comeback. But obscure mid-90’s Morrissey is still worth exploring, because extravagant minute counts aside, he never really left his topical discomfort zone.

November Spawned a Monster

I have watched this video far more times than would be healthy, and the words ‘too gay to function’ come to mind. Perhaps through same magical transmogrification Morrissey switched places with Shakira for a day, so while he’s writhing in the dirt half naked, she is sitting moodily on James Dean’s grave in a trench coat and hat. Or, simply, WTF? What the actual fuck, Morrissey? Though it may appear that the point is to parody other pop stars’ sexy-dancing-in-the-dirt-for-no-reason music videos, this came out in 1990, way before that particular style of high-gloss head-on objectification became de rigueur. Whatever the reasoning, this is clearly the apex (or nadir) of Morrissey’s lifelong spree of terrible music videos. Let me be clear – the guy makes the worst videos of any pop star of his stature, and this is the weirdest, most disturbing one by far. So much so, I haven’t even thought to say a word about the song…um…it’s good, it’s a good song, something about the ugly way the world sees disabled people and…ohhh god what’s with the chocolate bar…why?…that is oddly arousing…please stop…