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10 Years and 10 Questions with John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants


When I called John Flansburgh mid-morning a few days after Christmas, he was fresh off a flight from Los Angeles to New York the day before, his cat was ill, and his a.m. jolt of coffee was spilling across his kitchen. “This might be a low-key interview,” he playfully confessed. If anyone could be excused a decaffeinated interview, it would be the guitar-playing John of influential Brooklyn band They Might Be Giants. Flansburgh had spent the last few days loitering in airports between flights and was now staring down the barrel of back-to-back New Year’s Eve shows at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the US leg of a looming world tour, the release of his outfit’s aptly titled 20th studio album (I Like Fun), and a 2018 re-up on the band’s legendary Dial-a-Song project.

But before I could tell him that a dialed-down John would suffice — after all, I was still in my sickbed from a Christmas in quarantine — Flansburgh burst into a handful of lighthearted gripes about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s recent induction selections, almost as though he was determined to finish a conversation with me that he had been having with someone else. “Why doesn’t the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just stop?” he asked. “It’s almost inconceivable how there’s going to be an all-star jam at the end of the night. It’s The Moody Blues, Dire Straits, and Bon Jovi!” In that moment, I began realizing what the next two hours and change would confirm: there’s no such thing as a “low-key” John Flansburgh. He’s as generous with his time, memory, and enthusiasm as one could ever hope. It’s an energy level that at once makes you understand why he and bandmate John Linnell still have some pogo in their steps all these years later. But it also raises the question about how that seemingly bottomless well of get-up-and-go gets refilled — especially when the damn coffee leaks all over the kitchen.

Maybe it’s because our favorite Particle Men remain as spirited and youthful as ever that we sometimes forget all that They Might Be Giants have done and seen over the course of nearly 40 years together. They were an indie band from Brooklyn before that was a “thing,” became music video pioneers on a pop-infatuated MTV while armed with only guitar, accordion, drum machine, and tape, and have the found common ground between music and technology from the archaic days of Dial-a-Song right up to the slightly less archaic days of dial-up Internet. To speak to Flansburgh, it’s all been a beautiful mess of blood, sweat, and wrong ideas gone right.

Humility with a puddle of coffee. Just how we like it.

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You and John already knew each other from growing up in Lincoln, Massachusetts, when you moved to Brooklyn in ’81. What drew the two of you to playing together and starting a band?

We literally drove into Brooklyn at the same time to move into the same apartment building. In 1981, for lack of a better term, it was the height of the Fort Apache moment. There was a huge amount of flight out of the outer boroughs of New York. There were a lot of abandoned buildings. We lived on a block in Brooklyn that on paper you’d think would be a beautiful place, but one-third of the buildings were shuttered. It looked like East Berlin after the war. Landlords were routinely burning down apartment buildings to evacuate them and save money. It was that kind of downward spiral of a neighborhood.

I came to New York to finish up art school at Pratt, and John was in a skinny-tie punk band (The Mundanes) ostensibly coming to New York to get signed. The Mundanes were a real band, and They Might Be Giants were … I think anytime you start a band, you have to calibrate yourself against what exists in the world, and it was daunting that John was already a member of a band that had gigs, a PA, a lighting system, and real prospects. What we were doing together just seemed kinda like a lost cause.

They Might Be Giants was really just an extension of our friendship and a creative outlet for the kinds of conversations we would have and the things we were interested in. It came about very organically. There were a lot of conversations and pie-in-the-sky ideas about what a band could be kicking around as we were forming. Everything seemed abstract. We certainly weren’t ever thinking about making a record or having any career to speak of at all. It was always, “What if a band was…” It was always wide-open, abstract thinking.

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One of the most beloved parts of They Might Be Giants lore is the legendary Dial-a-Song, which you’re bringing back in 2018. How’d this project originally come to pass?

While all these buildings were getting shuttered, people were leaving town, and subway cars were getting covered in graffiti, all the young people of New York were buying phone machines, which previously had been reserved for actors or people with very itinerant lifestyles. Then these consumer phone recording devices came out, and it immediately reminded me of Dial-a-Prayer in Massachusetts, which was something the Boston Catholic Archdiocese had started so that very observant homebound or ill Catholics wouldn’t miss their daily prayers. So, when I saw these phone machines, I realized that you could record on that device and have individual people call and hear a song. At the time, it just seemed like another bad idea.

Later, John was working as a bike messenger and had broken his wrist, and I was graduating from Pratt. We had to move out of the apartment we had shared together, and I moved into this terrible apartment in Bed-Stuy that was actually run by the pot dealers who lived there, and they were as unenthusiastic to see me at the door with my moving boxes as you could imagine. So, I went off to my job, and when I returned, everything I owned was gone. Oh, actually, the one thing they did not take was my four-track tape recorder because it was too heavy. In fact, if they had taken it, we probably would have never been able to regroup. But those setbacks basically meant we weren’t going to play any shows, though I do think we played a gig at CBGB with John’s hand in a cast. I think that happened.

So, I had to find another apartment, and the whole notion of doing the Dial-a-Song project was to keep the momentum going, which is a really funny idea because I think we were drawing about 35 people at the time. So, we bought a phone machine and just started putting up little posters around the East Village, and people started calling up, and it started becoming its own stand-alone phenomenon.

Early on, callers were able to leave messages. Any memorable ones?

The one that always sticks out in my mind is when a friend we had lived with in Park Slope called up and did this very, very effective impression of Robert Christgau, something like: “Hello, They Might Be Giants. This is Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, and I just want to say that your band stinks, and I’m going to do everything in my power…” And it was extremely deadpan and very, very cold. The first time I listened to it I was pretty positive it was real, and I thought, “Wow, how much evil is there in the world that a rock critic would take time out of his day to call you up, tell you he hated you, and promise to destroy your career.”

Also, at least one woman, and probably more in New York City, took down the seven-digit number and used it as a way to blow off unwanted suitors, so we would get messages like, “Hey, Sarah. We met the other night. I thought it was pretty cool … Wow, pretty weird message, but, hey, give me a call.”

What is it about Dial-a-Song that still kinda tickles you guys? You’re bringing it back in 2018. 

In a strange way, everything has sort of changed and then changed back. Through the ’90s and the ’00s, we kept doing Dial-a-Song, even though we were making albums. At a certain point, it sort of seemed like this useless extra thing, and we didn’t want to stop it because people might think we sold out or got lazy. And it kinda fell off, but then as social media has kinda taken over the world, we noticed that things that happen this week are much more important than things that happened this month and certainly more important than things that happened this year.

When you’re working on a record for years, it’s very weird to come out with an album and then have people say, “Alright, so what’s next for you guys?” But that’s the way of the world. In a way, the Dial-a-Song project is now answering the question of how to keep introducing ourselves to our audience and just having people be able to experience the band in an ongoing way. Not to sound too crunchy granola about it, but one of the things I like is that everyone who was curious about the band got to experience this journey with us.

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It must have been both fascinating and daunting trying to break into the NYC music scene in the ’80s. Where did a band with an accordion, drum machine, tape, and big stick fit into that scene?

It was a really intense time in music. Things were moving very quickly in terms of styles of music. It was not that much after math rock and goth and prog rock and that California ’70s cocaine-fueled stuff, so all of that stuff was very much on people’s minds. And, of course, the breakout point of punk rock in ’77. Everyone was just sorting things out after that. When we arrived in New York, it was at the height of No Wave, which is the asterisk on the end of the New York music scene. Unlike the initial punk rock stuff and the New Wave bands that followed, the No Wave movement brought no breakout acts and was sort of universally loathed. It was this very almost performance-based kind of music, very screamy. And that was the future as we were starting. There was something very dystopian about the reality of New York in the early ’80s that is very difficult to explain without photographs.

When we arrived in New York in ’81, I was doing home recordings with a four-track tape recorder that I had, and John was playing on some of those recordings. We did one show in the summer of ’82 outdoors at a Sandinista festival where we played a bunch of songs accompanied by tape as just a duo. John was playing organ; I was playing electric guitar. One person could do the rhythm part and one the melody, and it’s very complete sounding. Drum machines were just emerging technology at that point. Because we worked with a drum machine and pre-recorded tape, everything took a lot of preparation. There’d be a recording of a Moog synthesizer and a drum part that we’d have to be completely in sync with. So, nothing was done on the fly, and there was no way to stop anything. That was our first show. Just putting all of that together was really the beginning of our permanent mode: We need to write more songs. We’ve been needing to write more songs for 35 years, which is a very manic, self-imposed episode. I think we should have a conversation with Robert Pollard from Guided by Voices, though I think he clearly kicks our ass in the He-Man songwriting competition.

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We had started playing shows in ’83 about once a month, and the East Village Scene was just taking off. That would ultimately be a much more important part of our career trajectory than, say, CBGB. But CBGB was very much the official gatekeeper of the New York rock scene at that time. It seems so surprisingly democratic, but there was so much demand for bands to play there that they set up this very clear structure for bands to march through to get to a weekend gig. There’d be an audition night, and if you passed that, they’d give you a Monday or Tuesday show, and if you brought in a lot of people, you’d get up to a Thursday or Friday or Saturday show. It took the better part of a year to get from audition night to a Thursday night, and if you didn’t keep on playing, you’d get pushed back.

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So, you went from trying to keep the momentum going from your shows with 35 people in the audience to, a couple years later, having “Don’t Let’s Start” become the first music video from an indie band to break into MTV’s regular rotation. What did that moment mean for the band?

It was super fun. New York City is a terrible place to try to get out of. The local scenes in New York explode and implode very, very quickly. We had kind of enjoyed this incredible East Village scene that had really come to a peak in ’85. But there were also a half-dozen or more nightclubs that were doing insane business — hundreds of people from all over the New York area pouring into the East Village to see these crazy nightclubs, with the Pyramid Club being the biggest one. Because there was this huge, local scene, and we were part of it, we were really plugged into it. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

These clubs were very different than previous ones. They only wanted original acts. It was very important that what you were doing was absolutely original. They were very focused on performance art and things that were very sensational. There was a lot of drug-oriented art; there was a lot of transgressive stuff, a lot of transvestite acts, and things that were never going to be able to be televised.

We made our first album kinda fueled by this local phenomenon — this thing happening in New York that had an audience. So, we came to the attention of this very smart and ambitious, young man named Adam Bernstein. He was working at Nickelodeon and wanted to get into video direction. MTV was only a couple years old, but it was already fully dominant on the pop charts. MTV was kind of like a soap opera. It seemed like it was in the shape and style of rock and roll, but it had no sense of humor or proportion. In the same way that nobody ever tells a natural joke in a soap opera, there are more belly laughs in a real emergency room. On MTV, all the established acts were so afraid of looking silly and breaking their very-well-crafted images that it was very leaden and pompous. John and I were as pretentious as anybody about what we were doing, but we didn’t care about our personas or personal images at all. It wasn’t about our faces.

We went out to the New York Pavilion at the now-abandoned World’s Fair site in Queens and made the video with Adam. It was already the second video off the album, and the first had only done okay, so we weren’t thinking that we were going to crush it. The album had come out and been out for a few months, and in many ways, it seemed very possible this video could’ve been the last thing we ever did, which is a really strange idea. It got picked up by MTV, and people responded to it immediately. It was something that went into rotation simply on its own merit. It’s hard to explain how unusual that was in 1987. Nothing went into rotation on its own merit. There was no such thing as just playing something because it was really good. That’s not how radio stations or MTV worked. We had exactly zero money behind us, and yet there it was, getting played on MTV like it was a real video from a real band. And things changed in very short order after that. It turned us into a national act. We could actually tour and play in clubs all around the country. It was scrappy — piling in a van and sleeping on people’s floors — but it pushed us out there. We went from being a very popular local band to being a very unpopular national band.

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Flood came out and sold more than a million copies. It’s still a record that people turn to and cherish nearly three decades later. What did it mean for you and John to suddenly connect with that many people through your music?

It changed everything. The success of that record gave us the career that would ultimately sustain us until now. It was a platinum record. There were songs that charted in the UK. The success of Flood was due to having this Saturn V rocket of the Warner Bros. distribution company latched to our backs, and that was no small thing. But we made a record that felt really special in its moment. We weren’t too far ahead of our audience … I felt like it was all good, which is so strange. We had many showdowns with the record company, and when you read interviews with people who have been in a band a long time, they always talk about these things, and I don’t think that people realize how pointlessly self-aggrandizing they can sound. We certainly had those types of odd conversations, but I do have to say that we felt the record company was very much on our side and was trying to figure out how to crack the code at the highest level. They were in the business of making hit records. The only reason you’re on Elektra is to have a hit. So, how to figure out how to have a hit for They Might Be Giants, just as an idea, kinda hurts your head. It’s just not necessarily a natural thing. I wanna say I’m grateful to all those people who worked so hard on that project.

And to be perfectly honest, I felt like our side was winning. It was a very corporate moment in music. This was very pre-grunge. The only trend of the ’80s was that recording artists got prettier and prettier and lamer and lamer. The rock video thing only made it more complicated for regular people to make music and contribute to the pop music scene. When looks didn’t count, successful musicians got pretty darn ugly. The ’70s was a period when you didn’t even know what a lot of people making records looked like. But if you did, you’d find out pretty fast that they looked a lot more earthbound than fashion models.

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On the album John Henry, you went with a full band for the first time. How’d that change the game for you two as songwriters and performers?

It was a really big challenge making records that sounded unique with a full band. When we were working with drum machines and samplers, we thought the ideas we had were super original and the tools we were working with were just the tools we were working with. Of course, it was much more in reverse. The tools that we were working with were really unorthodox and made really strange recordings almost automatically. That was something we weren’t really aware of when we were working that way.

When we made recordings with a full band, all of a sudden it sounded kinda like other bands. And that was distressing to me. Again, we were still in this very high-stakes environment with Elektra where they’re trying to figure out how what we’re doing is going to fit in on the radio, and all of a sudden, one of our secret weapons, which was working with this very unusual recording setup, was being directly altered to a much safer sound. I think there are a lot of great songs on John Henry, but the actual process of making it and the sounds on it are … it’s probably the only album we’ve made that actively frustrated me.

Did fans actually boycott or resist the switch from a duo to a full backing band?

There was zero resistance from our live audience to having a live band. The second we went to having a live band, our shows went from seeming like concert presentations, where everyone was sitting down with their fingers on their chins, to full-out, stage-diving, moshing, party celebrations. The energy of our audience’s response just went through the ceiling, and that was actually a change that happened in 1992. We did a world tour as a duo on the Flood album — almost 200 shows — and never got the response we did once we had a full band. Playing live music at insane volumes … it was just nonstop dancing.

I haven’t learned a lot, but I have learned there is a big difference between the front row and the back row. The front row’s perception of what things mean and why things happen in a band can be very, very off, and things just become predetermined as facts. It’s just part of the myth-making of being in a band. The truth is two things happened at the same time when we got a live band: our records sounded kinda safer, and our live show became really fun. And the idea that two things are happening at the same time can be hard sometimes for people to take in. But it was clear to me that we were never going to go back to our previous format after we got with a live band. But we did get back to working with drum machines and samples and work that way to this day.

Could you even go back to the old way of performing at this point?

We actually played one show as a duo in November of 2015, a set circa 1985. And it was really weird. It was fun, but circling back … The thing about playing as a duo was we really firmly planted our feet in that idea. We were committed. We were a duo in the way that AC/DC doesn’t do fade-outs. We were like, “This is who we are: guitar, accordion, bass synth, drum machine. That’s what we do.” It was a totally willful act to thinking there was no shortcoming to that format. And people would come and see our show and wonder if we were for real. The format itself was a huge governor on a lot of people’s experience with the band. Either they thought we were fake or incredibly weak. It just didn’t have any power. But I loved it. I thought it was real.

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Whether it be Malcolm in the Middle, The Daily Show, or Tiny Toon Adventures, They Might Be Giants have quietly infiltrated pop culture over the last couple of decades. What’s it been like having become a part of so many people’s daily lives — whether they know it or not?

We were leaving rehearsal at 11 o’clock at night once, and I was in the front lounge with the security guard. He was just changing channels on the television, and it literally went from a rerun of Malcolm in the Middle to The Daily Show to a rerun of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (who’s watching at 11 o’clock at night, I have no idea) to an ad for Dr. Pepper or Dunkin’ Donuts we’d done. It was like, “Click … us, us, us, us,” and part of me thought this was amazing, but I also thought about what it would be like to be, say, a sideman in a Motown band. It’s an extremely invisible thing to do. Nobody knows. In a way, it’s kinda fun. We’re definitely in the culture, but it’s under the cloak of night.

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In 2002, you released No!, your first children’s album. And children’s music has sort of been a successful side gig ever since. What drove you to try recording music for children? 

We were in a very weird transitional moment. It really was the only time where it was unclear what the future of the band was going to be. We were just really broke. We couldn’t figure out how to make a profit by being on the road, and we thought of this as an experiment. We figured we’d only be making one kids’ record, and we wanted it to be very special. Although we have a reputation for having educational material in our songs, our ambitions were kind of to push more absurd Dr. Seuss impulses. It made it kind of a psychedelic record for kids.

I think it came down to good timing. I was recently watching a Portlandia episode about a children’s rock artist — based on The Wiggles or something. There’s this hipster dad thing that’s a big part of kinder-rock. There are a lot of regional acts, some of them doing really top-quality stuff. It’s like a folk scene. But that idea was just starting when we did No!. And, of course, it’s now blown up into its own component of indie music. And watching that Portlandia episode, I realized this was a world now. You could make fun of this idea, and it’s funny to think back to a time when this was a brand-new idea.

Did writing for children teach you anything about songwriting in general?

It was very important to us that we kept to our personal production standards. When you’re making a kids’ album, if you tell anyone, you get into a lot of conversations about how kids like things like dinosaurs. If you get beyond that, they’ll tell you, “That’s great because it doesn’t even have to be good.” And that made us feel so weird that it turned into a passion project for us to make something of the highest quality. If it’s going to be something that’s part of somebody’s childhood, then it can be something that echoes a long time. Everybody wants their record to be good, but we really invested a lot of energy into it.

The truth is there’s a whole ton of 20-year-olds in the front rows of our shows, and that record was their introduction to us. We’re their guilty pleasure. We’re the act they didn’t give up on. That’s a very flattering place to be. I feel we’re very fortunate to have been able to hold on to an audience.

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Instead of just shouting out the city you were playing each night, you wrote a brand-new song inspired by and dedicated to each venue you played on that tour. How’d that unique project come about?

I don’t know why we did the Venue Songs project. I think it was just a very stray conversation in a rehearsal hall where somebody noticed we were doing the same tour we had done a year and a half ago. We were playing all the same places, virtually in the same routing. So, we thought if we cooked up a new song during soundcheck for each venue, it would make the show that much more exciting. So, we set about doing that. Some of them — maybe a half-dozen of them — are actually worth listening to again. The “Mr. Smalls” one might actually be the best one. The Hollywood one is pretty good, too.

The weird thing about the process is that we would cook up the arrangements for the songs onstage and then proceed to go off and have dinner and get ready for the real show, and by the time we were ready to hit the stage again, we would have to play the song at the top of the show because if we didn’t, we’d never remember it. So, right before we went on, we’d listen back to the soundtrack recording a couple times. It just seems like a mistake now. We really gilded the lily by having John Hodgman do all the narrations and making the videos. It was the beginning of the YouTube moment, and it seemed like doing visuals was such a big part of people even hearing stuff. But it’s a very lighthearted thing. I have no idea how much interest it is except to people who went to Richard’s on Richards or Mr. Smalls.

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You and John have been making records for three decades as They Might Be Giants. I Like Fun marks the band’s 20th. How has recording changed over the years, or is the process and feeling still the same when you two enter the studio together?

Everything we do as a band is scheduled. I’ve got a calendar of scheduled things in front of me that runs to December 2018. But the weird thing about a calendar is there’s no place that says something like “John and John Writing Songs.” Consequently, we can often be entering the studio extremely well prepared or not so well prepared. One thing that we have gotten better at — and a lot of this is due to doing commercial work — is working quickly. Our confidence level in the recording studio is much, much higher than it was when we started at home all those years ago making demos and taking these very fragile ideas and committing them to tape.

We have a much bigger skill set than when we started, but our ambitions and standards are kinda the same. I’m looking at the 15 songs on this album [I Like Fun] and thinking, “Yeah, this new record’s really solid.” I’m really proud of how it came together. It’s a good combination of very strange songs and just some good pop songs. But I’m probably as nervous as I am proud. The challenge of writing songs … there’s just so much unlimited potential. But I think we’re covering some original territory in songwriting, and I think it’s worthwhile.

Actually, I think this record is a very good calling card for what we do. People ask us what a good starting point is [for getting into They Might Be Giants], and I think this album has a really good range of things. A really healthy, unusually wide set of ideas. And for the kind of band that we are, that’s sort of what you’re looking for. We’re trying to create a universe of our own, and I think this album does a good job of setting out a bunch of different flags.

You’re heading out on a world tour in a couple weeks. What’s life’s wisdom taught you about touring?

The best venues are the places that are some percentage shitty. If you’re playing at the opera house or arts center where everything is nice, it’s just gonna be a bad gig. Playing in a place that’s slightly run down, lived in — those are the places that have the energy. The places that do 200 shows a year. Those are the places you wanna play. Basically, the places that smell a little bad. Those are going to be the good gigs. That’s where the real stuff happens.

Are there any new songs you’re dying to play live?

There’s “I Left My Body”, which is such a simple song, but it’s really fun to play. It’s a very hypnotic, throbby song. It’s just really fun to dig in on. And then there’s “I Like Fun”, this really left-field song that we’re doing with our trumpet player, Curt Ramm, who’s coming out with us. We’ve done a lot of shows with him in New York, but we’ve never been able to afford to take him on tour. Until now, he’s been working with Springsteen. I think it’s probably fair to say that Bruce Springsteen pays a little better than They Might Be Giants. So, we’ve added him to our live lineup, and it’s this incredible amplifier to what we do. There are all these songs in our repertoire that have really big trumpet moments — “Doctor Worm”, “Your Racist Friend”, “Whistling in the Dark” — and one of them is the title track, “I Like Fun”, and it’s very majestic, very unexpected, and having that kind of instrumentation onstage makes it so different than your average, cookie-cutter rock show.



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Titus Andronicus announce new album, A Productive Cough, share video for lead single, “Number One (In New York)”: Watch


Photo by ​Ray Concepcion

Titus Andronicus will return this year with a new album called A Productive Cough. Due out March 2nd via Merge, the seven-track effort is a noted departure from the sprawling rock opera of the band’s last record, 2015’s The Most Lamentable Tragedy.

Recorded at New Paltz, New York’s Marcata Recordings with producer Kevin McMahon, A Productive Cough eschews the “punk rock anthems” of Titus’ past albums to focus on spacious ballads. Singer-songwriter and frontman Patrick Stickles brought in 21 musicians to help with his newly expansive sound, including pianist Rick Steph (Cat Power, Hank Williams Jr.), cellist Jane Scarpantoni (R.E.M., Lou Reed), and Brooklyn singer Megg Farrell. The resulting effort puts the focus on the orchestral flourishes that have long hid in the background of the band’s music.

Which is why despite its lack of chorus, the eight-minute “Number One (In New York” makes for the perfect lead single for the record. The song is one 64-bar verse that builds on the back of swelling piano and saxophone towards a gang-chorus ending surrounded by ringing bells. “Yes, I’ve been everywhere, but everywhere that I’ve been/ I’ve been out of my element, even in my own skin,” goes the outro. “And I can’t begin to think what I’d tell people back home/ So I tell it to the microphone.”

Check out the track via its Ray Concepcion-directed video below.

The video also serves as a trailer of sorts to a 60-minute making-of documentary that will be released February 26th. More clips from the doc will be revealed over the coming weeks at the album’s website, where you can also find an interview with Stickles about what went into the creation of A Productive Cough.

Pre-orders for the album are going on now. In addition to all standard formats, there’s a “Peak Vinyl” limited-edition pressing on marbled blue-gray wax that includes a 7-inch featuring the band’s nine-minute reimagining of Bob Dylan’s “(I’m) Like a Rolling Stone”. The track is only otherwise available on CD or digitally.

A Productive Cough Artwork:

606 mini 900 Titus Andronicus announce new album, A Productive Cough, share video for lead single, Number One (In New York): Watch

A Productive Cough Tracklist:
01. Number One (In New York)
02. Real Talk
03. Above the Bodega (Local Business)
04. Crass Tattoo
05. (I’m) Like a Rolling Stone
06. Home Alone
07. Mass Transit Madness (Goin’ Loco’)

Stickles will tour behind A Productive Cough, but not with his usual full band. Instead, the shows will feature just him and pianist Alex Molini doing an intimate “acoustic” set. Pile’s Rick Maguire will provide support for the 31-date trek, and you can find the complete schedule below.

Titus Andronicus 2018 Tour Dates:
03/07 – Kingston, NY @ BSP Kingston
03/08 – Boston, MA @ The Sinclair
03/09 – Providence, RI @ AS220
03/10 – Burlington, VT @ Arts Riot
03/11 – Montreal, QC @ Bar Le Ritz
03/13 – Toronto, ON @ Great Hall
03/14 – Detroit, MI ­­@ El Club
03/15 – Chicago, IL @ Subterranean
03/16 – Madison, WI @ The Frequency
03/17 – St. Paul, MN @ Turf Club
03/18 – Omaha, NE @ Slowdown
03/19 – Denver, CO @ Globe Hall
03/20 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
03/22 – Boise, ID @ Treefort Festival
03/23 – Seattle, WA @ Crocodile
03/24 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
03/27 – Sonoma, CA @ Gundlach Bundschu Winery
03/28 – San Francisco, CA @ The Chapel
03/29 – Santa Cruz, CA @ Crepe Place
03/31 – Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Theater
04/02 – San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
04/03 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
04/06 – Ft. Worth, TX @ Ridglea Room
04/07 – Austin, TX @ Barracuda
04/08 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
04/10 – Birmingham, AL @ Saturn
04/11 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
04/12 – Durham, NC @ The Pinhook
04/13 – Washington, DC @ Rock and Roll Hotel
04/14 – Philadelphia, PA @ UArts Black Box
04/15 – Brooklyn, NY @ Murmrr Ballroom



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The 30 Most Anticipated Albums of 2018


There’s a very brief, fleeting moment that takes place between celebrating and reflecting upon the music of a fading year and anticipating the sounds and possibilities of the calendar flip to come. If you blink, you could miss it. So, if you’re scratching your head right about now, odds are you blinked. That’s right. Last year’s best album was … hold on, we’ll think of it. And that song we couldn’t get out of our heads for months … wait, it’ll come to us. That’s a bit hyperbolic, we know, but it’s not entirely untrue either. It’s remarkable how we are able to arbitrarily rope off huge masses of half-processed pop culture in our heads and make way for more to come marching through. Is it fair? Maybe not. Ideally, we’d have a couple months to finish digesting 2017 before we’d have to start consuming all over again. But that’s life, and ready or not, there are dozens more remarkable records on their way. These are the ones we’re most excited to make some room on our plates for.

Happy 2018!

–Matt Melis
Editorial Director

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First Aid Kit – Ruins

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Release Date: Jan. 19th

Why We’re Excited:  After an exhaustive tour behind their last album, 2014’s acclaimed Stay Gold, the sisters of First Aid Kit took some much needed time apart to decompress. When Klara and Johanna Söderberg regrouped, they felt stronger as both sisters and a musical duo and then applied this sense of renewal to their fourth full-length, Ruins. The result is a rawer sound and a willingness to expose more of their inner selves than perhaps ever before. Here, the Swedish outfit focuses on a crushing heartbreak and the feeling of absolute purposelessness that follows, assisted by the likes of R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Wilco’s Glen Kotche, and elements of Americana and ‘50s-era Everly Brothers balladry. –Lake Schatz

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tUnE-yArDs – I can feel you creep into my private life

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Release Date: Jan. 19th

Why We’re Excited:  Merrill Garbus has kept busy in the four years since 2014’s Nikki Nack: she contributed to albums from Cut Chemist and Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, wrote a song for Mavis Staples, and kept on the road — and, as evidenced by early tracks from new album I can feel you creep into my private life, she might have gotten deeper into house music. The officially released tracks have been thrilling, but the live preview of ”Heart Attack” proves there’s far groovier Garbus to come in the near future. –Lior Phillips

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Nils Frahm – All Melody

nils frahm The 30 Most Anticipated Albums of 2018

Release Date: Jan. 26th

Why We’re Excited:  In preparation for his ninth (!) studio album, Nils Frahm created his ideal recording studio. Saal 3 is located within the historic Funkhaus building in Berlin and boasts bespoke cabling, a mixing desk, and a self-built pipe organ, among other unique features that have helped the German composer fully realize his vision and properly translate the arrangements inside his head onto record. While Frahm was already operating at a high level on his last few LPs, including 2015’s Solo, All Melody represents an accomplished musician elevated and empowered by a nurturing personal environment. –Lake Schatz

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Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin

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Release Date: Jan. 26th

Why We’re Excited:  It almost doesn’t make sense to eagerly anticipate a new Ty Segall record, given the maddeningly prolific clip that the seasoned garage guru records at. But his second self-titled effort, released in early 2017, showed Segall’s ability to branch beyond his savage musical instincts into subtler territory. To that end, it’ll be interesting to see if Freedom Goblin represents further growth or a retreat back to garage punk primitiveness. –Ryan Bray

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Rhye – Blood

rhye blood cover rgb The 30 Most Anticipated Albums of 2018

Release Date: Feb. 2nd

Why We’re Excited: Rhye may have lost one of their two founding members since releasing the Polaris Prize-nominated Woman in 2013, but the R&B outfit have still managed to evolve and become the most complete version of themselves on BLOOD. Much of this growth stems from Rhye’s many, many months spent on the road: Their music now is more inspired than ever by the intimacy and humanity that goes into a live performance. There’s also a noticeable emphasis on the sounds of funk and soul, which goes hand in hand with the LA-based act’s desire for closeness and emotional intoxication. –Lake Schatz

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Dashboard Confessional – Crooked Shadows

dc crooked shadows 1 The 30 Most Anticipated Albums of 2018

Release Date: Feb. 9th

Why We’re Excited: It’s been eight years since we’ve had the emo songwriting of Chris Carrabba to empathize with us while we wallow in our emotional depths, and there’s no better time for a return than 2018. Lead single “We Fight” was a reminder that those of us who feel like loners are still part of a community built on the acceptance of the outcast. Emo has had its ups and downs artistically as well as culturally over the years, but with the recent surge of talented young bands in the genre and a milieu more in need of rallying cries than ever, Dashboard Confessional is well set to return to the vanguard. –Ben Kaye

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Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending

franz ferdinand always ascending domino The 30 Most Anticipated Albums of 2018

Release Date: Feb. 9th

Why We’re Excited: Following the collaborative album FFS, released in conjunction with the band Sparks in 2013, the boys in Franz Ferdinand are getting back to business. Always Ascending marks the band’s first proper album since 2013 and features production from Philippe Zdar, who has previously worked with the likes of Phoenix and Beastie Boys. The self-titled lead single is heavy on synth and also gives fans their first look at new members Julian Corrie and Dino Bardot, who will help fill the gap left by founding member Nick McCarthy, who departed in 2016. Now 14 years removed from their smash hit “Take Me Out”,  Always Ascending offers a chance for Franz Ferdinand to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. –Zack Ruskin

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Superchunk – What a Time to Be Alive

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Release Date: Feb. 16th

Why We’re Excited: Don’t take the title of Superchunk’s 11th studio album at face value. What a Time to Be Alive, from its moribund-looking cover art to its angry-as-all-fuck title track, appears poised to be the most pointed and overtly political outing of the iconic indie act’s career. In today’s turbulent times, we’ll take all the fiery sonic catharsis we can get. Fortunately for fans, Superchunk haven’t missed their mark yet. –Ryan Bray

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Wild Beasts – Last Night All My Dreams Came True

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Release Date: Feb. 16th

Why We’re Excited: Wild Beasts announced their split in September, but the UK indie rockers’ many passionate fans will have one last album to cherish. The culmination of more than a decade and a half together, Last Night My Dreams Came True features 13 live studio recordings of tracks pulled from across the band’s five studio albums. It’s a bittersweet farewell, but a powerful one as evidenced by early sample “The Devil’s Palace”, which inventively combines Limbo, Panto highlight “The Devil’s Crayon” and “Palace” from 2014’s Present Tense. –Lior Phillips

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Screaming Females – All at Once

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Release Date: Feb. 23rd

Why We’re Excited: It’s common knowledge that Marissa Paternoster is one of our generation’s greatest guitarists. Through six albums with Screaming Females, she’s also proven to be one of punk’s sharpest voices, a bastion of clarity, and an undeniable force. The band’s seventh album, All at Once, is due out February 23rd on Don Giovanni Records and appears to be nothing less than a monster. Single “Glass House” builds momentum into a pummeling crescendo, claustrophobic and thrilling in the best ways, and if it’s representative of what’s to come, we may be in for the band’s heaviest record yet. –David Sackllah

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Top 50 Albums of 2017


Last year felt particularly cruel as we watched so many of our pop-culture icons get taken from us without warning. By December, we all yearned for a pause, an ending, a reset. However, none of the comfort that comes with the hopeful act of flipping a calendar page lasted long into 2017. Instead, we’ve felt the pain more acutely and more personally than a year ago. Most of us have witnessed our core values challenged, felt our realities shaken, and endured daily reminders that who we are in our most basic integrity remains very much at stake. For that reason, it’s been a year in which we’ve turned to music out of necessity perhaps more than ever. The albums you find on this list aren’t just records we admired or caught ourselves dancing to. In many cases, they’re part of the reason we’re still here. They’ve consoled and empowered us, understood how we’ve felt, and in a time of such ugly, bitter divisiveness, reminded us that we’re never truly alone in mind, heart, or spirit.

These are the 50 albums we’ve leaned on most this year. Here’s hoping they don’t have to do such heavy lifting in 2018.

–Matt Melis
Editorial Director

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50. Johnny Jewel – Windswept

windswept Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Los Angeles, California

The Gist: After placing Chromatics’ Dear Tommy in the Red Room, Italians Do It Better producer and multi-instrumentalist Johnny Jewel issued this daring solo album mostly inspired by his work behind the scenes on Twin Peaks: The Return.

Why It Rules: With Windswept, Jewel sounds more assured as a producer than ever, conjuring up a moody amalgamation of his signature brooding synthpop and a style of free-form jazz akin to David Lynch go-to Angelo Badalamenti.

Essential Tracks: “Windswept”, “Slow Dreams”, and “Between Worlds”

–Michael Roffman

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49. Oneohtrix Point Never – Good Time

good time oneohtrix soundtrack stream listen Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Wayland, Massachusetts

The Gist: Two years after the interstellar, metallic Garden of Delete, esoteric electronic experimentalist Daniel Lopatin (AKA Oneohtrix Point Never) returned to score a crime drama starring Robert Pattinson. Retaining his own burning palette and pushing it through a Vangelis/Carpenter mesh, Lopatin continues to find new ways to inject anxiety and awe under the skin.

Why It Rules: A somber, piano-heavy collaboration with Iggy Pop in which the Stooge dreams about petting crocodiles is a good place to start, but Lopatin delivers the high-voltage thrills all on his own.

Essential Tracks: “Hospital Escape / Access-A-Ride”, “The Acid Hits”, and “The Pure and the Damned”

–Lior Phillips

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48. Jay Som – Everybody Works

jay som everybody works Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Oakland, California

The Gist: Multiple-instrumentalist Melina Duterte (aka Jay Som) rode her production and recording acumen on debut LP, Turn Into, to a deal with indie major Polyvinyl for Everybody Works.

Why It Rules: In what can only be described as bedroom maximalism, Duterte dug her lyrics into the granular, banalities of existence and aimed her production at expansive soundscapes. On “The Bus Song”, Duterte sings, “I can be whoever I want to be,” and that’s exactly who she is on Everybody Works.

Essential Tracks: “The Bus Song”, “Everybody Works”, and “For Light”

–Geoff Nelson

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47. The JuJu – Exchange

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Origin: Chicago, Illinois

The Gist: After rising to session-player fame by collaborating with Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, and Vic Mensa, 24-year-old trumpeter Segal (FKA Donnie Trumpet) wrangled three fellow Chicago musicians together to expand his interest in experimental jazz, ultimately showcasing how the backbeat of hip-hop’s new sound is worthy of its own spotlight.

Why It Rules: On their debut LP, The Juju Exchange follow in the footsteps of producers like Flying Lotus and Knxwledge — not in sound, but in audience awareness, drawing listeners out of their usual jazz associations and into a world of smooth, free-form, low-key musings that inspire with their use of ample space.

Essential Tracks: “The Circuit”, “We Good”, and “Morning Of”

–Nina Corcoran

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46. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish – Blade Runner 2049

blade runner 2049 soundtrack artwork Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Santa Monica, California; London, United Kingdom

The Gist: All signs pointed to chaos when director Denis Villeneuve parted ways with composer Jóhann Jóhannsson at the 25th hour, but Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish rose up to the challenge with an unexpected Hail Mary score.

Why It Rules: In addition to time restraints, both Zimmer and Wallfish had to follow in the footsteps of Vangelis, whose original Blade Runner score remains inimitable. They succeeded with a follow-up that’s both reverent and wholly intimidating.

Essential Tracks: “Sea Wall”, “Rain”, and “Wallace”

–Michael Roffman

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45. Paramore – After Laughter

paramore after laughter download album stream mp3 Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Nashville, Tennessee

The Gist: Another lineup change and personal turmoil almost broke up Paramore, but Hayley Williams, Taylor York, and a returning Zac Farro came back stronger than ever to record their most pop-leaning album to date.

Why It Rules: On After Laughter, Paramore step completely away from their pop-punk origins and embrace the influences of Fleetwood Mac, Talking Heads, and Blondie. Catchy sing-along hooks and ’80s pop production combine for a bright, polished sound that barely conceals the heartbreak and pain in the lyrics underneath. Williams describes the album best with the catchphrase “cry hard, dance harder.”

Essential Tracks: “Rose Colored Boy”, “26”, and “Hard Times”

–Eddie Fu

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44. Khalid – American Teen

khalid american teen Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Fort Stewart, Georgia

The Gist: The 19-year-old R&B singer’s debut album builds from the buzzing lead single, “Location”, and demonstrates a strong grasp of the pulse of his generation without alienating a greater audience.

Why It Rules: Khalid’s silky-smooth voice and anthemic hooks combine with pop/R&B production for a fresh sound that doesn’t push the rookie too far outside his comfort zone. American Teen is a solid effort in its own right while also allowing plenty of room for growth as he comes of age.

Essential Tracks: “Young Dumb & Broke”, “Location”, and “8teen”

–Eddie Fu

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43. Phoenix – Ti Amo

phoenix ti amo Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Versailles, France

The Gist: Caught between the brutality of the Bataclan massacre and the subsequent ascent of France’s right-wing reactionaries, veteran synth rocker Thomas Mars and co. escaped the tension by looking backward via this Italo-disco ode to bygone Riviera summers.

Why It Rules: Released just in time for the warm-weather months, Ti Amo hit like the aural equivalent of a white wine spritzer: Singles “J-Boy” and “Ti Amo” bubble with a radio-ready fizz, while deeper cuts like “Tuttifrutti” and “Fleur De Lys” add a shade of heady longing to all that sunbaked pop.

Essential Tracks: “J-Boy”, “Tuttifrutti”, and “Fleur De Lys”

–Tyler Clark

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42. Migos – Culture

migos culture Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Atlanta, Georgia

The Gist: Riding high off the runaway hip-hop hit “Bad and Boujee”, the prodigious trio of Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff fully capitalized on that momentum with a splendid set of tracks that put even the best work in their mixtape-heavy discography on notice.

Why It Rules: Backed by a cadre of producers, including Metro Boomin and Zaytoven, the success-obsessed bars and hedonistic hooks of Culture perfectly encapsulate the breadth of trap music, from its hypnagogic highs to its unapologetic lows.

Essential Tracks: “Bad and Boujee”, “Slippery”, and “T-Shirt”

–Gary Suarez

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41. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – Stranger Things 2

stranger things 2 Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Austin, Texas

The Gist: Another season of Netflix’s Stranger Things means another vintage score from Survive’s own Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, and that’s exactly what they dropped back in October ahead of the series’ highly anticipated premiere.

Why It Rules: A year has passed. They’re a little older. They’re a little wiser. No longer are they echoing the iconic sounds of John Carpenter or Goblin, but indulging in more modern fare like Bon Iver and M83. Hawkins has never sounded so hip.

Essential Tracks: “Eulogy”, “Eight Fifteen”, and “On the Bus”

–Michael Roffman

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Car Seat Headrest share new 13-minute song “Beach Life-in-Death”: Stream


Photo by ​David Brendan Hall

Will Toledo has made a habit of digging into his vast Bandcamp archive of self-released music to find material worthy of a professional upgrade. His debut album as Car Seat Headrest, 2015’s Teens of Style, consisted almost entirely of older material that he reworked in a proper studio setting. Now, he’s revisiting another past track, “Beach Life-in-Death”.

The song was originally recorded in 2011, but Toledo took it back into the studio, cleaned it up, and expanded it for this new take. Like so much of his work, the 13-minute cut dips in and out of numerous genres, but there’s always a subtle surfy vibe rolling underneath. It’s there in the psychedelic strains of the chord shifts, and even during the punk rock freak-out when Toldeo bellows, “I don’t want to go insane/ I don’t want to have schizophrenia.” Listen below.

Back in August, Car Seat Headrest released the song “War Is Coming (If You Want It)”.



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In 1987, Dinosaur Jr. Dared to Make Guitar Rock Great Again


There’s a moment on You’re Living All Over Me that, if you’re not ready for it, will startle you. Actually there’s a lot of those moments, but J Mascis’ titanic guitar wail just over a minute into “Kracked” is the first, which by extension makes it the most effective. On the heels of a brief guitar interlude, Mascis uncorks a piercing solo that shimmers, shakes, and squeals for dear life. The distorted, wawa-infused fit comes at you so fast and with such urgency that your attention has no choice but to surrender to it. If it had hands, they’d reach out of your stereo and grab you, like something out of an indie rock version of Poltergeist.

If that all sounds like hyperbole or grand overstatement, you’re hereby challenged to play Dinosaur Jr.’s sophomore outing with some volume. It’s big, boisterous, and daringly epic, and not in the way records from bands like Zeppelin, The Who, or even more kindred spirits like Ramones were before it. On You’re Living All Over Me, Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Emmett “Murph” Murphy III delivered on their twisted vision of guitar rock heroism in full. At a time when the guitar solo had long become a rote, commonplace effect, Mascis reclaimed it as an act of majestic triumph. He didn’t reinvent the wheel, but he found some cool and unusual new ways to do burnouts on it.

You’re Living All Over Me is an ambitious, powerful, and undeniably messy-sounding guitar record, a fact that’s even more interesting with some measure of historical context. Despite what it might sound like, this wasn’t a record made by wayward, social misfits cast adrift. Mascis and Murph grew up in white-collar suburbs: Mascis in the picturesque college town of Amherst, Massachusetts, and Murph in Greenwich, Connecticut. Barlow, meanwhile, moved to the Western Mass suburb of Westfield when he was twelve. The band’s collective background was a far cry from the broken homes and fractured upbringings that helped give rise to many of their underground peers, but Mascis and Barlow nonetheless cut their teeth on early American punk and hardcore, playing together in the short-lived hardcore band Deep Wound. As Barlow told author and journalist Michael Azerrad in the latter’s spot-on indie rock tome Our Band Could Be Your Life, Deep Wound musically bonded through a love of speed metal and “wimpy-jangly stuff,” forecasting, in retrospect, what was soon to come with he and Mascis’ next act. But even then, a premium was placed first and foremost on volume.

“The one sort of statement that J had was ‘We’re going to be really fuckin’ loud,’” Barlow said. “And he was very serious about that. He was very serious about being excruciatingly loud.”

When Deep Wound disbanded, Mascis and Barlow, now joined by Murph, carried their noisy-but-sweet ambitions over to Dinosaur Jr.. After one album recorded under the name Dinosaur on Homestead Records, the trio jumped ship to SST Records. Home to many of the band’s heroes, including Black Flag, the Minutemen, and Sonic Youth, SST played a critical role in solidifying much of what was happening in the American rock underground in the 1980s. This fact was not lost on the Dinos, whose ambitions at the time didn’t scale much further beyond finding their way onto the label. Whether the band felt the need to try and live up to the label’s high standard is unknown. But they not only met SST’s high artistic bar; they in many ways vaulted over it into uncharted new terrain. Between Mascis’ thunderous guitar runs, Barlow’s strummed bass attack, and Murph’s steady-yet-powerful drumming, Living embraced big, anthemic classic rock in a way that no other record in the underground ever dared to. If most punk, hardcore, and early American indie rock of the ’80s rose up in resistance to the showier, more extroverted impulses of classic rock, Dinosaur Jr.’s sound owed as much allegiance to Neil Young and Hendrix as it did Black Flag and The Stooges, and they weren’t about to shy away from it. In doing so, the band made the underground scene a much-less stodgy and insular place, while Mascis became the indie circuit’s first bona fide guitar God.

It’s impossible to ignore the noise on Living, but the band employs it in such a way that you don’t want to. In fact, by the record’s final song, the Barlow-sung acoustic track “Poledo”, you realize how much you miss the band’s pulverizing sound when it’s not right in your face. Dinosaur Jr treats sound and volume with an almost weird reverence on Living, almost like an unspoken fourth member. It doesn’t exist for its own sake, but rather serves a proper function. It’s right there from the outset of album opener “Little Fury Things”, which opens with Mascis’ wami bar and Barlow’s indecipherable screaming. The band gets into a molasses-thick groove on the aptly titled Sabbath nod “Sludgefest”, but the song’s best moment comes at the four-minute mark when Mascis makes his guitar sound like the master tape’s being eaten. When the trio isn’t going to the woodshed on its own tunes, it’s making glorious chaos out of others’. “Just Like Heaven” (included as a bonus track on the record’s re-release) was a perfect piece of melancholy pop rock before the Dinos littered it with distortion, effects, and an intense metal breakdown at the chorus. Still, their version has become as much theirs as the original is The Cure’s.

If all Living had to offer the world was an intense exercise in sonic boundary-pushing, it still would be worth canonizing as a classic. But beneath the layers upon layers of sound is a pop record fighting for air. The record’s nine tracks are as melodic as they are loud, and its ability to split the difference made it one of the earliest precursors to the alternative and grunge movement of the ’90s. No one track better walks the line between pop songcraft and hardcore voracity than “The Lung”. Its relatively tidy song structure makes it arguably the record’s most accessible song. Mascis, meanwhile, comes as close as he gets to actual singing by halfway breaking free of his famed laconic speak-sing. On “In a Jar”, Mascis tones his guitar down largely to a treble, letting Barlow’s bass fuzz take front and center. Elsewhere, there are plenty of other light touches that give the record an added dose of pop sophistication. If you listen carefully, you might pick up on the tambourine during the breakdown on “Little Fury Things”.

Despite how cohesive and locked-in the band sounds on its second record, relationships between the band members were anything but. Dinosaur Jr. has always been famously non-communicative, and that inability (or unwillingness) to get on the same page with one another would ultimately bring the classic Dino lineup to a bitter end. Mascis reportedly never needed much of anything from Barlow and Murph beyond their musical services. Barlow, meanwhile, withdrew and grew embittered by his inability to win Mascis’ approval. Somewhere in the middle was Murph, who when not acting as a mediator between his two band mates had his own issues with both of them himself.

A more dysfunctional band you’re unlikely to find, but the trio poured all of that frustrated energy into its savage masterpiece. The things its members couldn’t say to one another bled over into the music. Mascis’ hazy monotone vocals often get buried under the band’s musical mayhem, almost as if he’s deliberately trying to hide his true feelings. But when you spell it all out, the lyrics on Living are anything but opaque. “I know what you did to me/ I know what you did was wrong,” Mascis sings longingly on the brokenhearted “Raisins.” The anger is reciprocated by Barlow, who penned the record’s final two tracks, “Lose” and “Poledo”. On the former, Barlow takes his anger out on himself in a self-loathing fit (“To think the focus just belongs to me,” he sings. “Selfish man, I know I’m nothing to me.”). But the bassist takes dead aim at Mascis on the lo-fi album closer, “Poledo”: “I know I’m guilty/ My stomach always hurts/ Milking your attention/ For the little it is worth.”

Scores of bands waiting in the wings would eventually ride Living0p’s formula of huge sound and pop melodies to breakthrough success in the wake of Nevermind. Sadly, though, Dinosaur Jr.’s initial run proved too volatile to last. By the time of 1988’s Bug, Barlow and Murph resorted largely to staying out of the way as Mascis assumed complete creative control of the band. Barlow was fired in 1989 while Murph quit prior to the recording of 1994’s Without a Sound. But through that tension the band made something truly great. Living might be the work of a band hanging on by the thinnest of threads, but that desperation in large part propelled one of the most brazenly out-sized rock records of the past 30 years. Great art isn’t always pretty, but every once in a while we get something far better. In the case of You’re Living All Over Me, it’s a goddamn beautiful mess.



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Top 50 Songs of 2007


So much of 2017 has related to excess, and whether you have it or you’re annoyed by it. Whether in noise, media, social media, words, money, things, or more — MORE?! — we’re constantly bombarded by volume; some of us come away from that wanting more, and others just want it to stop and shrivel away. Songs may not be able to change all of that, but they can certainly do a good job of explaining the situation. Looking through our list of the best tracks of 2017, it’s littered with artists taking a side in that debate. Whether you want everybody to sit down and be humble, or you’re happy to swim through love galore, the whole world is reacting to the gigantic-ness of everything. And despite all of the noise and the frustration, there’s been a whole lot of positivity and beauty, as expressed here as well. Living in 2017 is reacting to 2017, and it’s a beautiful thing to see so many people doing so with real care. These songs don’t deny our reality, but could well lay a path to a new one.

–Lior Phillips
Senior Writer

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Everything Now

Sounds Like: The Flaming Lips trying to cover an ABBA song but getting interrupted, continually and fruitfully, by a rogue faction of the Polyphonic Spree.

Key Lyric: “We can just pretend/ We’ll make it home again/ From everything now”

Why It Matters: The album’s grander ambitions (and seemingly endless, satirical guerrilla-marketing campaign) may have fallen flat, but the title track, aided by ambitious production from Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Pulp’s Steve Mackey, clocked in as one of the Arcade Fire’s most confident songs of all time.

Song in a GIF:

giphy 11 Top 50 Songs of 2007

–Tyler Clark

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The Thrill of It All

Sounds Like: The ending to every breakup you’ve ever had, only two hours later, when the weight of change hits you in every possible way.

Key Lyric: “I know you’re thinkin’ I’m heartless/ I know you’re thinkin’ I’m cold/ I’m just protectin’ my innocence/ I’m just protectin’ my soul”

Why It Matters: Sam Smith conquers the ballad yet again with a hit that’s less Tom Petty and more CW. This is unadulterated emotionalism that finds the blockbuster singer-songwriter sounding stronger and more confident than ever. It’s actually kind of contagious.

Song in a GIF:

goodbye Top 50 Songs of 2007

–Michael Roffman

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American Teen

Sounds Like: Klonopin in a song: A Gen Z lullaby drifting through a hazy high school basement party, where everyone is the right amount of happy, in a paradise hidden far away from expectations.

Key Lyric: “I’m so high at the moment/ I’m so caught up in this/ Yeah, we’re just young, dumb, and broke/ But we still got love to give”

Why It Matters: Nineteen-year-old Khalid speaks of what he knows on this mesmerizing and anthemic ode to embracing the bliss of simple youthful contentment. You’ll be swaying along to the chorus of “Young, Dumb & Broke” hours after you hear it.

Song in a GIF:

giphy 7 Top 50 Songs of 2007

–Kayleigh Hughes

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When I Was Young EP

Sounds Like: A neon-flooded roller rink after a few too many Pixy Stix.

Key Lyric: “On my own/ Pretending that I’m not at home/ Act like I don’t check my phone”

Why It Matters: Three long years after her debut, the Danish powerhouse’s confident vulnerability makes “Linking with You” a sugary pop high. She sings about dreaming that that special someone finally calls, but with , even the waiting is sublime.

Song in a GIF:

giphy 113 Top 50 Songs of 2007

–Lior Phillips

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Baby Driver OST

Sounds Like: A hard, drifting left turn around the corner of a damp city street, shot in high-def slow-motion.

Key Lyric: “The reign of our ascension makes statisticians feel sickly/ Accountants, they get snippy, they never counted so quickly” or “Show some respect, or you’ll get showered like parade confetti/ Made man, I’m made already, nobody safe from petty/ 450 horse up in the Porsche, 600 in the Chevy”

Why It Matters: Soundtrack themes are hard to nail, especially when you have the acclaim of the film to live up to. Bringing together this much talent on a song that perfectly fits the movie and makes for a banging standalone track only serves to elevate Baby Driver, which should be a benchmark for any OST single.

Song in a GIF:

gangsta girls car Top 50 Songs of 2007

–Ben Kaye

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Add Violence EP

Sounds Like: A sly protest song, sung with teeth bared, set to a beat by La Roux. Or if you prefer, it sounds like a demon, a party boy, and an anti-war activist having a freaky threesome in the bathroom of an all-night club.

Key Lyric: “And you can always justify/ The missile trails across the sky again”

Why It Matters: In recent years, as Trent Reznor has explored all the different sounds he’s good at making, he’s occasionally neglected the kinds of songs that made him great. “Less Than” hearkens back to Nine Inch Nails’ hits from Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral – it’s a howl of rage you can dance to. The difference here is that Reznor’s rage is turned outwards instead of in.

Song in a GIF:

tenor Top 50 Songs of 2007

–Wren Graves

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Culture

Sounds Like: The song the Peanuts gang might rage and blow a few stacks to if they were as lit as Migos. “Bad & Boujee” is a testament to their signature flows that pair them with deconstructed synth piano gold from Metro Boomin.

Key Lyric: “Raindrop, drop top/ Smokin’ on cookie in the hotbox/ Fuckin’ on your b*tch, she a thot, thot/ Cookin’ up dope in the crockpot/ We came from nothin’ to somethin’, n*gga…”

Why It Matters: “Bad & Boujee” is Migos’ first single to top the Billboard Hot 100. The group turned rap’s aspirational flexing into a nouveau riche trap anthem that speaks to their love of women and iced-out excess but also makes clear their willingness — if tested — to adhere to the code of the streets.

Song in a GIF:

giphy 114 Top 50 Songs of 2007

–Karas Lamb

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Weddings & Funerals

Sounds Like: A one-man tug-of-war for emotional stability across wet, slippery tiles as indifferent locker doors slam shut all around

Key Lyric: “I could be your swim mate/ I could be your slave”

Why It Matters: In a year that many of our favorite rock and roll go-tos tasted bland, we found ourselves turning to up-and-coming flavors like The Kickback more and more. The brutal catchiness, wit, and manic desperation of songs like “Hotel Chlorine” have kept us feasting all year — always allowing time to digest before jumping back in.

Song in a GIF:

ys1whxtzrrlmc Top 50 Songs of 2007

–Matt Melis

__________________________________________________________

Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1

Sounds Like: Relaxing by the pool in the moonlight with your significant other while sipping on margaritas.

Key Lyric: “Put some spotlight on the slide/ Whatever comes, comes through clear.”

Why It Matters: Frank Ocean comes together with Migos’ Quavo and Offset on a breezy, disco pop jam that’s as deep or superficial as you want it to be. While the chorus contemplates intimacy and meaningless sex, two-thirds of 2017’s hottest trio enjoy bouncing back and forth over a groovy bass line.

Song in a GIF:

hplchln Top 50 Songs of 2007

–Eddie Fu

__________________________________________________________

Adult Swim Singles 2017

Sounds Like: It’s like some ancient recording of an alien world, where silence is replaced by what can best be described as aural embalming fluid

Key Lyric: That part where your mind goes full David Bowman about three minutes and 53 seconds into this nine-minute odyssey.

Why It Matters: Brian Eno and Kevin Shields are responsible for some of the most groundbreaking music of the last few decades, and while their collaboration for Adult Swim isn’t exactly changing history, it’s certainly a little Eric Stoltz and Lea Thompson: some kind of wonderful.

Song in a GIF:

2001 Top 50 Songs of 2007

–Michael Roffman

__________________________________________________________



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Top 50 Songs of 2017


So much of 2017 has related to excess, and whether you have it or you’re annoyed by it. Whether in noise, media, social media, words, money, things, or more — MORE?! — we’re constantly bombarded by volume; some of us come away from that wanting more, and others just want it to stop and shrivel away. Songs may not be able to change all of that, but they can certainly do a good job of explaining the situation.

Looking through our list of the best tracks of 2017, it’s littered with artists taking a side in that debate. Whether you want everybody to sit down and be humble, or you’re happy to swim through love galore, the whole world is reacting to the gigantic-ness of everything. And despite all of the noise and the frustration, there’s been a whole lot of positivity and beauty, as expressed here as well. Living in 2017 is reacting to 2017, and it’s a beautiful thing to see so many people doing so with real care.

These songs don’t deny our reality, but could well lay a path to a new one.

–Lior Phillips
Senior Writer

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Everything Now

Sounds Like: The Flaming Lips trying to cover an ABBA song but getting interrupted, continually and fruitfully, by a rogue faction of the Polyphonic Spree.

Key Lyric: “We can just pretend/ We’ll make it home again/ From everything now”

Why It Matters: The album’s grander ambitions (and seemingly endless, satirical guerrilla-marketing campaign) may have fallen flat, but the title track, aided by ambitious production from Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Pulp’s Steve Mackey, clocked in as one of the Arcade Fire’s most confident songs of all time.

Song in a GIF:

giphy 11 Top 50 Songs of 2017

–Tyler Clark

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The Thrill of It All

Sounds Like: The ending to every breakup you’ve ever had, only two hours later, when the weight of change hits you in every possible way.

Key Lyric: “I know you’re thinkin’ I’m heartless/ I know you’re thinkin’ I’m cold/ I’m just protectin’ my innocence/ I’m just protectin’ my soul”

Why It Matters: Sam Smith conquers the ballad yet again with a hit that’s less Tom Petty and more CW. This is unadulterated emotionalism that finds the blockbuster singer-songwriter sounding stronger and more confident than ever. It’s kind of contagious.

Song in a GIF:

goodbye Top 50 Songs of 2017

–Michael Roffman

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American Teen

Sounds Like: Klonopin in a song: A Gen Z lullaby drifting through a hazy high school basement party, where everyone is the right amount of happy, in a paradise hidden far away from expectations.

Key Lyric: “I’m so high at the moment/ I’m so caught up in this/ Yeah, we’re just young, dumb, and broke/ But we still got love to give”

Why It Matters: Nineteen-year-old Khalid speaks of what he knows on this mesmerizing and anthemic ode to embracing the bliss of simple youthful contentment. You’ll be swaying along to the chorus of “Young, Dumb & Broke” hours after you hear it.

Song in a GIF:

giphy 7 Top 50 Songs of 2017

–Kayleigh Hughes

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When I Was Young EP

Sounds Like: A neon-flooded roller rink after a few too many Pixy Stix.

Key Lyric: “On my own/ Pretending that I’m not at home/ Act like I don’t check my phone”

Why It Matters: Three long years after her debut, the Danish powerhouse’s confident vulnerability makes “Linking with You” a sugary pop high. She sings about dreaming that that special someone finally calls, but with , even the waiting is sublime.

Song in a GIF:

giphy 113 Top 50 Songs of 2017

–Lior Phillips

__________________________________________________________

Baby Driver OST

Sounds Like: A hard, drifting left turn around the corner of a damp city street, shot in high-def slow-motion.

Key Lyric: “The reign of our ascension makes statisticians feel sickly/ Accountants, they get snippy, they never counted so quickly” or “Show some respect, or you’ll get showered like parade confetti/ Made man, I’m made already, nobody safe from petty/ 450 horse up in the Porsche, 600 in the Chevy”

Why It Matters: Soundtrack themes are hard to nail, especially when you have the acclaim of the film to live up to. Bringing together this much talent on a song that perfectly fits the movie and makes for a banging standalone track only serves to elevate Baby Driver, which should be a benchmark for any OST single.

Song in a GIF:

gangsta girls car Top 50 Songs of 2017

–Ben Kaye

__________________________________________________________

Add Violence EP

Sounds Like: A sly protest song, sung with teeth bared, set to a beat by La Roux. Or if you prefer, it sounds like a demon, a party boy, and an anti-war activist having a freaky threesome in the bathroom of an all-night club.

Key Lyric: “And you can always justify/ The missile trails across the sky again”

Why It Matters: In recent years, as Trent Reznor has explored all the different sounds he’s good at making, he’s occasionally neglected the kinds of songs that made him great. “Less Than” hearkens back to Nine Inch Nails’ hits from Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral – it’s a howl of rage you can dance to. The difference here is that Reznor’s rage is turned outwards instead of in.

Song in a GIF:

tenor Top 50 Songs of 2017

–Wren Graves

__________________________________________________________

Culture

Sounds Like: The song the Peanuts gang might rage and blow a few stacks to if they were as lit as Migos. “Bad & Boujee” is a testament to their signature flows that pair them with deconstructed synth piano gold from Metro Boomin.

Key Lyric: “Raindrop, drop top/ Smokin’ on cookie in the hotbox/ Fuckin’ on your b*tch, she a thot, thot/ Cookin’ up dope in the crockpot/ We came from nothin’ to somethin’, n*gga…”

Why It Matters: “Bad & Boujee” is Migos’ first single to top the Billboard Hot 100. The group turned rap’s aspirational flexing into a nouveau riche trap anthem that speaks to their love of women and iced-out excess but also makes clear their willingness — if tested — to adhere to the code of the streets.

Song in a GIF:

giphy 114 Top 50 Songs of 2017

–Karas Lamb

__________________________________________________________

Weddings & Funerals

Sounds Like: A one-man tug-of-war for emotional stability across wet, slippery tiles as indifferent locker doors slam shut all around

Key Lyric: “I could be your swim mate/ I could be your slave”

Why It Matters: In a year that many of our favorite rock and roll go-tos tasted bland, we found ourselves turning to up-and-coming flavors like The Kickback more and more. The brutal catchiness, wit, and manic desperation of songs like “Hotel Chlorine” have kept us feasting all year — always allowing time to digest before jumping back in.

Song in a GIF:

ys1whxtzrrlmc Top 50 Songs of 2017

–Matt Melis

__________________________________________________________

Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1

Sounds Like: Relaxing by the pool in the moonlight with your significant other while sipping on margaritas.

Key Lyric: “Put some spotlight on the slide/ Whatever comes, comes through clear.”

Why It Matters: Frank Ocean comes together with Migos’ Quavo and Offset on a breezy, disco pop jam that’s as deep or superficial as you want it to be. While the chorus contemplates intimacy and meaningless sex, two-thirds of 2017’s hottest trio enjoy bouncing back and forth over a groovy bass line.

Song in a GIF:

hplchln Top 50 Songs of 2017

–Eddie Fu

__________________________________________________________

Adult Swim Singles 2017

Sounds Like: It’s like some ancient recording of an alien world, where silence is replaced by what can best be described as aural embalming fluid

Key Lyric: That part where your mind goes full David Bowman about three minutes and 53 seconds into this nine-minute odyssey.

Why It Matters: Brian Eno and Kevin Shields are responsible for some of the most groundbreaking music of the last few decades, and while their collaboration for Adult Swim isn’t exactly changing history, it’s certainly a little Eric Stoltz and Lea Thompson: some kind of wonderful.

Song in a GIF:

2001 Top 50 Songs of 2017

–Michael Roffman

__________________________________________________________



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Producer of the Year Jack Antonoff on Why You Can’t Fake Success


There’s a moment in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest wherein the author lists a series of lessons one might learn when forced to examine themselves: “Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.” And while he didn’t learn that lesson in a halfway house a la the mammoth novel’s protagonist, Jack Antonoff has relied on that vehement self-reflection to help unlock the deepest idiosyncrasies of prominent artists from Lorde to Taylor Swift, then helping those eccentricities resonate with millions who feel the exact same way.

Certain producers see doors and sprint across the threshold. Antonoff is not shy about taking every opportunity, starting when he leapt into the music world as a young teenager. He dug into emotional pop punk and indie rock as a way to express himself in the wake of family tragedy. “I wrote songs because I felt like I had to say something and see if anyone else felt that way,” he offers with a warm sincerity. After finding success with the outfit Steel Train, he moved onto fun., breaking into the upper echelons of pop stardom with anthemic hits “We Are Young” and “Some Nights”. Antonoff’s songwriting meshed impeccable hooks with entirely honest emotion, never sacrificing an ounce of personality or intimate confession for commercial appeal.

Even once he started making connections with the pop world, Antonoff continued to rely on intensely personal methodology rather than moving into track and hook songwriting. He didn’t emulate others or write on spec, but rather worked in close quarters with new collaborators, got to know them, and pushed ever further into his own and his co-writers’ realities. “All of my favorite songs with really great writing and production have something that speaks to everybody individually,” he affirms.

After penning hits with Sara Bareilles, Grimes, Sia, and more, the spread of Antonoff’s personal approach reached a saturation point in 2017. In a single calendar year, he co-wrote and produced the majority of Lorde’s Melodrama (our publication’s Album of the Year), a large portion of Taylor Swift’s Reputation, and chunks of St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION and Pink’s Beautiful Trauma — as well as releasing an album with his latest project, Bleachers.

But unlike other producers who have had years in which they’ve seemed everywhere, Antonoff’s production doesn’t have the signature formula like Timbaland’s rubber band bass and skittering hi-hat, nor does it have the ultra-gloss patchwork of Max Martin. Though his collaborators are spread from dance pop to art rock, Antonoff finds a way to accentuate the singularity of each. Rather than write for those artists, he writes with them, one-on-one, a sort of art by therapy or gently held hand to help lift the weight.

It’s telling, as well, that the vast majority of artists with which Antonoff has worked in his career — and in fact the entirety of 2017 — are fiercely independent and inimitable women. In an industry embroiled in abuse, assault, and generally inexcusable power dynamics, not only does Antonoff support these artists, but does so by encouraging their own strengths rather than insisting on his own. The only other person involved in the process is engineer Laura Sisk, another dynamic female voice in the sessions — “a very unsung hero,” Antonoff insists, in another moment of shining the spotlight elsewhere.

That duality — putting out a solo album while stepping out of the limelight, digging into incredibly personal material while hoping thousands of people connect — is a mercurial balance, the same alchemy that propels the chart-topping and critically beloved songs and albums he’s spread throughout 2017. By tapping into the deepest, unspoken belief that we’re all unique, he’s managed to bring so many together in passionate choruses. We spoke with Antonoff about 10 key takeaways from his journey, including being competitive with oneself, meeting his collaborators, never assuming people are stupid, and how he found himself at the center of the music that defined 2017.

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Home is Where the (He)art Is

It doesn’t matter how you do it; it just matters that you do it the best way for you. That’s actually a very hard thing to realize: how you’re best. It takes many, many years and a lot of trial and error to be able to look at your work that way. Your whole goal in writing songs and making records is to capture a feeling. It’s no different than fishing, where everyone has a different hook that they like and they’re trying to capture this thing.

I have a landscape that’s very specific, where I feel like I’m totally myself, where I’m around all my things, and I can’t escape myself. I like to create there. But then I also like to take it all over the world and hear what it sounds like on a plane or in a different city. It’s nice to hear things in different places. New York is really home, but I come to Los Angeles to just sift through some of the things that I work on.

I’ve always loved writing on tour. I’ve always loved writing and recording at home and hearing it while I’m on tour, having that experience of being connected to live audiences and then taking that feeling home. Sure, I’ve gone to the woods and things like that. In my experience, if I leave the things that know me — the walls, the cities that know me — I can lose myself a little bit. Some people need that to find themselves. All that matters with writing is that you put yourself in environments that give you the best chance — and even then you still might not get fucking anything.

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ben kaye governors ball 2017 231 Producer of the Year Jack Antonoff on Why You Cant Fake Success

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On Success and Evolution

Songwriting and making records doesn’t change with success in any way. The big change is that more people are paying attention. I’ve been writing, making records, and touring for 15 years, so the past couple of years have been funny for me. Physically, my body is doing the same thing; it has just changed in other ways. I feel focused on getting these ideas out and getting them out correctly. Writing songs that connect with people the way you do when you’re a kid alone in your bedroom is really no different from the way that you do when a hundred million people are going to hear it. That’s a really funny thing to realize because I think there’s this feeling that you’re going to get invited into some kind of winner’s circle. And it doesn’t exist, and it shouldn’t exist.

I never wrote songs because people wanted me to write songs or because the world said I was great at writing songs. I wrote songs because I felt like I had to say something and see if anyone else felt that way. When I started writing songs, it was for two friends. The feeling of playing a song for two friends and them saying, “Oh, I know what you’re talking about” is the same feeling as when the entire internet says, “I know what you’re talking about!”

It’s like your first panic attack. The first time you get a panic attack, most people think they’re literally having a stroke or a heart attack. They think they’re dying because they’ve never felt that way before. Whereas no one remembers the first time their knee hurt, because who gives a shit? So, I think that is the feeling of having interesting collaborative relationships that work. You find another person that understands this thing that you feel is not understandable. That’s also the feeling, to be honest, when one person or a billion people like or connect with a song you wrote. You get this moment of clarity that makes the world feel a little more connected.

The process is exactly the same. So that’s why I don’t like to be in really big studios; I like to be in a home studio or the hotel on tour. And to be honest, nothing I did had any team involved. I made my records at home. The Lorde and St. Vincent and Taylor and Pink were just made with the artists. There were no focus groups, no test audience. If I had the same year and less people noticed it, I would still feel pretty great about those albums. I love those albums. They mean a lot to me, and I loved making them. There’s no need to change that. There’s no better way to do it. There’s no first class of writing.

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bleachers gone now Producer of the Year Jack Antonoff on Why You Cant Fake Success

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On Writing the Best Song Every Time

All of my favorite songs with really great writing and production have something that speaks to everybody individually. Millions and millions of people can all listen to the same song and just feel like it’s talking to them directly. That’s how I felt when I heard “In My Life” by The Beatles or “Unpretty” by TLC.

In the culture of writing that I come from, you don’t write a song unless it’s the best song you’ve ever written. It’s an insane competitive streak, but I’m only competitive with myself because I just want to find that song. When you find that song, when you actually get it and you actually hear it, and the production and everything makes sense, there’s no greater feeling in the world — but it only lasts for one second. Then you immediately think, “Oh no, was that the last one?” Then you go into this crazy deep dive trying to find the next one, and you don’t want the next one to be a fraction of this one. This has nothing to do with tempo or bigness; sometimes it’s a sad ballad, sometimes it’s a huge dance song. You just want to find that one song that really touches you. When you do, you have a split second of release. It’s insanely competitive and ambitious, so much to the point that it drives you a little crazy, but the trick is to stay only competitive with yourself, because nothing else matters. I just know that if you let yourself be inspired by others and stay really competitive with yourself, there’s a lot you can discover.

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st vincent august 2017 Producer of the Year Jack Antonoff on Why You Cant Fake Success

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Nobody Wants to be the Biggest Songwriter

Nobody writes songs because they want to be the biggest songwriter in the world. They want to write songs because they want to access themselves and be able to share it with other people. The greatest success you could have as a songwriter or a producer is for something to sound exactly like it does in your head, which is so impossible. You hear something in your head, you have a vision for it, and then you spend all this time trying to actually make it real, make it exist. That’s your ultimate goal.

But a big part of the past year for me in general is trying to stay fully connected with the original goal. No one writes songs because they want to make money. It’s a very desperate act, songwriting and production. You have a feeling that you’re terrified that no one has ever felt it before, and you make this grand, absurd gesture, put it to melody and production, and then you cast it out into the world and just pray that one person says, “Oh, I agree.” That’s the whole point. That’s when we’re at our best.

The heart of making work is being misunderstood for no real reason. I’ve had a lot of things happen in my early life that I write about a lot, some extreme trauma, loss, and grief. But that’s just stuff that I feel compelled to share, not why I make work. Everyone I know who is any kind of artist, the one common thread is that they have always felt misunderstood and can’t really pinpoint the exact reason. You’re just dying to know if anyone else has felt this way.

The greatest songs come from this singular space, this very specific thing, and then are amplified by the ability for many people to relate to something that is not super common. The greatest love songs are a very specific take on love. In my opinion, there’s no reason to write a song about something incredibly common that everybody experiences.

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antonoff Producer of the Year Jack Antonoff on Why You Cant Fake Success

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On Being Understood

Media is a bizarre thing and has always been a bizarre thing, but that’s especially true right now. When I play a show and I talk to kids after, or if I go to a show and meet people, or I meet people on the street and talk about what I’m up to, I feel totally understood by the people who are paying attention to me. But I feel like if you’re not part of a very specific formula, people can latch on to one side or another. The inherent point of a lot of media, unless it’s the really, really good stuff, is to make something very simple. But by no means has my career and my work been simple, and I never intended it to be. I never set out to be super easy to understand by a large group of people. I didn’t start saying, “Okay, I’m going to wear these specific clothes, have this specific name, have this one sound, and that’s going to be that.” I didn’t go for a super mainstream audience. A lot of that found me later. I’m already who I am, so it’s just going to be vaguely confusing for anybody that’s looking for a really simple explanation — which is fine with me.

The people I’m most concerned about are the people that are paying attention. That’s all that matters. It’s part of why I love touring so much and why I never want to be someone who isn’t face to face with the kids. That’s what matters: that reaction from a kid buying a ticket to a show. There is nothing there besides the need to be in a room and celebrate a body of music that you care about. That’s my bible.

It’s weird. On one hand, you do this because you have to do it, but then on the other hand, you share it. And you don’t share it for no reason; you share it because you want to be in conversation with people in some way or another. So you can’t live and die by the expectations and opinions of people, but you also have to stay in that conversation if you want to be there. It’s a funny balance.

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taylor swift call it what you want stream Producer of the Year Jack Antonoff on Why You Cant Fake Success

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On Working in a Specific Way

What I’ve done my whole life is what I do now, whether I’m alone or with another artist: I look at the whole thing and just push this boulder up the mountain. I work in a pretty specific way. I don’t do random things like writing camps — not because I have a problem with things like that, but because I’m not good at it. All the work I do is me in a room, either by myself or with one other artist. The only second or third person that’s ever in the room is Laura Sisk, who’s a very unsung hero in my opinion. She engineers all the records I do, and she’s a big part of the process.

I’ve talked about this a lot, and people take it as me throwing shade, but it’s not that at all. I think five people getting together, bouncing ideas off of each other, and getting a great song is a beautiful thing. I just never found much artistic success doing that. So, all the records I make, by myself or with other people, it’s a very insular process.

I used to have more opinions than I do now. The only opinions I have now are about myself. The longer time goes on, there’s only one thing that I stay sure of: I can only know what works for me. I can’t in good faith work on someone else’s art if I’m not being my best self. If I’m somewhere and I feel like someone’s not getting 100 percent of me, then I leave because it’s not fair. It’s all a weird algorithm in your brain: Did you not have too many friends in high school? Were you able to socialize well? Whatever the reasons are, everybody has their own code of how they can be the most creative and how they’re not. The best thing you can do if you’re going to put art out into the world is to stay your best.

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antonoff 5 Producer of the Year Jack Antonoff on Why You Cant Fake Success

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How I Met My Collaborators

All my most important creative relationships happened very randomly. I’ve worked with Grimes; I’m a really big fan. I met her at a weird, fancy party, and we sort of gravitated towards each other out of that kind of energy. I met Lorde at a Grimes show, and we started chatting about music; we’re both big Grimes fans. I met Taylor [Swift] at some weird music thing, maybe the European Music Awards, back during fun. days, like 2013 or something. I think our working relationship started because we both think that “Only You” by Yaz is the most perfect song ever written. Tegan and Sara are old friends. My old band, Steel Train, opened for them. Sara from Tegan and Sara introduced me to Sara Bareilles, we exchanged some emails, and then got together one day and wrote “Brave” in one afternoon. It’s always been just nice and simple. Annie [Clark, St. Vincent] and I had sort of met here and there at different things. I knew people that she knew. And then one night we got some food, and then we tried a couple of things in her studio, and then we tried some things in my studio in New York. It’s always a very gradual process.

I’ve never just sat down and said, “Okay, let’s make this whole album together.” It’s always a very gradual process. That’s what it was with Ella [Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, Lorde] when we started working on Melodrama. There were a lot of early recording sessions on that album where the box was so big of what it could be, and we just really defined it slowly. And that’s my favorite way to make records: to have a partner, whether that partner is another artist or an imaginary person in your head [laughs]. Then you just set out this entire body of work that has all the things you love about albums. It’s too big to fathom, so you just very slowly push that boulder up a hill.

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Making An Album is An Endless Conversation

Making an album is an endless conversation. The people I work with are brilliant producers as well. Ella, Annie, and Taylor are brilliant producers. There’s this real partnership of believing in something together and never stopping until it’s right. But that’s what comes with a working relationship that goes on for some time: you start to develop this language. Sometimes the language is literal, a literal bank of sounds. When we first started making Melodrama, Ella would talk about things and I would understand a fraction of what I would come to understand a few months later. The same thing happened with Annie on MASSEDUCTION. You can talk and talk and talk, but then as a team when you find an actual song or sound that is that conversation, it’s a really beautiful thing that creates a framework.

Then one day you look back, and you think, “I don’t even know how we got here, but we got here.” While you’re doing it, it seems so impossible. The same thing with the Bleachers record: it’s so daunting and massive, the only thing you can do is a combination of holding onto a big dream and taking baby steps. You have to have both. In this neverending state of delusional dreams, you won’t let go of how great something can be, how honest and emotional. Then, on a day-to-day basis, you have to make tiny steps up that mountain.

It’s about understanding the space of something. For example, I did two songs on the Pink album [Beautiful Trauma]. I did two out of many songs, but the reason I felt so good about it was because in my experience with her, when we were working together, we would have these conversations, and it just felt so natural to turn these conversations, the things she was telling me, into songs. There are certain artists that are always going to have a singular vision. So, a lot of people that I work with, there’s not really a risk that they’re not going to have a vision. These are some of the most brilliant artists ever. There’s no world where that would ever not be the case.

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antonoff 2 Producer of the Year Jack Antonoff on Why You Cant Fake Success

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Looking Back to the Future of 2017

I get a very intense feeling when I see the things that I’ve done this year, and it’s hard to describe. These albums mean the world to me. It just feels like a moment to me, this moment in my life.

It was never planned to have all this released this year. People I work with at labels may say, “Oh, we want to get it out around this time,” but what happens happens. A few months this way or that way is irrelevant compared to making the right or wrong album. All that matters is making the right album for yourself. My album wasn’t done until it was done, and that goes for all of the other stuff that I did. But it is in some ways symptomatic of the world and where I’m at.

Looking at the world, I’m sure everyone agrees that things are so hard to understand that you can only take so much. At some point, you have to go to the place where you do understand. I watch the news, I read the paper every day, and I know everything that’s going on, and I’m right here, but then the only way I survive is that everyday I write. And that’s very often not political writing; it’s almost always matters of the heart. But I can’t fully live in a place that I don’t understand. So, as horrible as that is, it really motivates me to stay in this creative space.

To be honest, shit’s always fucked up, but it’s obviously gotten really intense in the past two years — I’ve never been happier creating, either by myself or with other people. I think it’s because a lot of my creativity comes from harsh places. That’s kind of where I feel the most comfortable writing from anyway. I also know it’s not an endless well, so when it’s working, you have to follow it. I can’t control it. I always say this about songwriting: It’s a totally powerless art form. You spend five months racing down this path only to get to the end and find out there was nothing there. And then you turn around to walk back and write the best song you’ve ever written. It’s totally powerless. Anyone who says they know how to do it, that they have the secret, I don’t believe them. The closest answer I can come to is that it’s just about constantly trying.

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It Shouldn’t Be Easy

Everything I did this year I did because I really believed in it, and it really mattered to me. Another thing that’s important is to not make too many plans. It might not seem like it, but I didn’t think too far into the future. I just said yes if I thought I could do a good job. If I think too far forward, there are some vague feelings of terror, but that might just be a cultural defect.

It wasn’t always easy, but there was never an option not to overcome it because that’s what making an album is. It’s a fucking delusion until it’s not. You say, “I’m going to do this” and then you just never stop believing, even when it seems absurd. Any project I’ve worked on, there have been moments of euphoria and moments of being utterly lost. If it was easy, everyone would do it. If it was easy, it wouldn’t matter. If it was easy, it would be like making a sandwich.

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antonoff 3 Producer of the Year Jack Antonoff on Why You Cant Fake Success

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Never Assume People Are Stupid

The most important thing is the artistic success, and that’s strictly defined to you knowing whether you did it or not. You can’t fake that. I don’t think you can really pray to the gods of commercial success. I really, really believe that anything that’s an artistic success will find a version of commercial success. That doesn’t mean that if you make a great record everything ends up in an arena, but I truly believe that if you really achieve your definition of artistic success — without any bullshit, without making any excuses — that work will find a space. It’s a big world and there are so many different ways you can have success. I adore playing shows to big crowds. I love throwing a big party to celebrate songs. That’s something that feels very comfortable to me.

The bottom line is, if you design something to be commercially successful, I think you’ve assumed people are stupid. You should never, ever assume people are stupid, because they’re not. My least favorite phrase is when people say, “A person is smart, people are dumb.” I do not believe that at all. To have any commercial success feelings be part of the design of why you’re making work is such a losing game — like picking out five friends and saying, “We are going to have the greatest night of our lives starting right now!” It’s just not possible. The music industry is so funny because you’ve got an entire industry that is built to try to find out how to do that over and over again, and no one can! You can’t. All you can do is make work that you believe matters.



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Top 50 Albums of 2017


Last year felt particularly cruel as we watched so many of our pop-culture icons get taken from us without warning. By December, we all yearned for a pause, an ending, a reset. However, none of the comfort that comes with the hopeful act of flipping a calendar page lasted long into 2017. Instead, we’ve felt the pain more acutely and more personally than a year ago. Most of us have witnessed our core values challenged, felt our realities shaken, and endured daily reminders that who we are in our most basic integrity remains very much at stake. For that reason, it’s been a year in which we’ve turned to music out of necessity perhaps more than ever. The albums you find on this list aren’t just records we admired or caught ourselves dancing to. In many cases, they’re part of the reason we’re still here. They’ve consoled and empowered us, understood how we’ve felt, and in a time of such ugly, bitter divisiveness, reminded us that we’re never truly alone in mind, heart, or spirit.

These are the 50 albums we’ve leaned on most this year. Here’s hoping they don’t have to do such heavy lifting in 2018.

–Matt Melis
Editorial Director

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50. Johnny Jewel – Windswept

windswept Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Los Angeles, California

The Gist: After placing Chromatics’ Dear Tommy in the Red Room, Italians Do It Better producer and multi-instrumentalist Johnny Jewel issued this daring solo album mostly inspired by his work behind the scenes on Twin Peaks: The Return.

Why It Rules: With Windswept, Jewel sounds more assured as a producer than ever, conjuring up a moody amalgamation of his signature brooding synthpop and a style of free-form jazz akin to David Lynch go-to Angelo Badalamenti.

Essential Tracks: “Windswept”, “Slow Dreams”, and “Between Worlds”

–Michael Roffman

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49. Oneohtrix Point Never – Good Time

good time oneohtrix soundtrack stream listen Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Wayland, Massachusetts

The Gist: Two years after the interstellar, metallic Garden of Delete, esoteric electronic experimentalist Daniel Lopatin (AKA Oneohtrix Point Never) returned to score a crime drama starring Robert Pattinson. Retaining his own burning palette and pushing it through a Vangelis/Carpenter mesh, Lopatin continues to find new ways to inject anxiety and awe under the skin.

Why It Rules: A somber, piano-heavy collaboration with Iggy Pop in which the Stooge dreams about petting crocodiles is a good place to start, but Lopatin delivers the high-voltage thrills all on his own.

Essential Tracks: “Hospital Escape / Access-A-Ride”, “The Acid Hits”, and “The Pure and the Damned”

–Lior Phillips

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48. Jay Som – Work Songs

jay som everybody works Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Oakland, CA

The Gist: Multiple-instrumentalist Melina Duterte (aka Jay Som) rode her production and recording acumen on debut LP, Turn Into, to a deal with indie major Polyvinyl for Everybody Works.

Why It Rules: In what can only be described as bedroom maximalism, Duterte dug her lyrics into the granular, banalities of existence and aimed her production at expansive soundscapes. On “The Bus Song”, Duterte sings, “I can be whoever I want to be,” and that’s exactly who she is on Everybody Works.

Essential Tracks: “The Bus Song”, “Everybody Works”, and “For Light”

–Geoff Nelson

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47. The JuJu – Exchange

the juju exchange shin maeng billboard embed Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Chicago, Illinois

The Gist: After rising to session-player fame by collaborating with Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, and Vic Mensa, 24-year-old trumpeter Segal (FKA Donnie Trumpet) wrangled three fellow Chicago musicians together to expand his interest in experimental jazz, ultimately showcasing how the backbeat of hip-hop’s new sound is worthy of its own spotlight.

Why It Rules: On their debut LP, The Juju Exchange follow in the footsteps of producers like Flying Lotus and Knxwledge — not in sound, but in audience awareness, drawing listeners out of their usual jazz associations and into a world of smooth, free-form, low-key musings that inspire with their use of ample space.

Essential Tracks: “The Circuit”, “We Good”, and “Morning Of”

–Nina Corcoran

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46. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish – Blade Runner 2049

blade runner 2049 soundtrack artwork Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Santa Monica, California; London, United Kingdom

The Gist: All signs pointed to chaos when director Denis Villeneuve parted ways with composer Jóhann Jóhannsson at the 25th hour, but Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish rose up to the challenge with an unexpected Hail Mary score.

Why It Rules: In addition to time restraints, both Zimmer and Wallfish had to follow in the footsteps of Vangelis, whose original Blade Runner score remains inimitable. They succeeded with a follow-up that’s both reverent and wholly intimidating.

Essential Tracks: “Sea Wall”, “Rain”, and “Wallace”

–Michael Roffman

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45. Paramore – After Laughter

paramore after laughter download album stream mp3 Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Nashville, Tennessee

The Gist: Another lineup change and personal turmoil almost broke up Paramore, but Hayley Williams, Taylor York, and a returning Zac Farro came back stronger than ever to record their most pop-leaning album to date.

Why It Rules: On After Laughter, Paramore step completely away from their pop-punk origins and embrace the influences of Fleetwood Mac, Talking Heads, and Blondie. Catchy sing-along hooks and ’80s pop production combine for a bright, polished sound that barely conceals the heartbreak and pain in the lyrics underneath. Williams describes the album best with the catchphrase “cry hard, dance harder.”

Essential Tracks: “Rose Colored Boy”, “26”, and “Hard Times”

–Eddie Fu

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44. Khalid – American Teen

khalid american teen Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Fort Stewart, Georgia

The Gist: The 19-year-old R&B singer’s debut album builds from the buzzing lead single, “Location”, and demonstrates a strong grasp of the pulse of his generation without alienating a greater audience.

Why It Rules: Khalid’s silky-smooth voice and anthemic hooks combine with pop/R&B production for a fresh sound that doesn’t push the rookie too far outside his comfort zone. American Teen is a solid effort in its own right while also allowing plenty of room for growth as he comes of age.

Essential Tracks: “Young Dumb & Broke”, “Location”, and “8teen”

–Eddie Fu

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43. Phoenix – Ti Amo

phoenix ti amo Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Versailles, France

The Gist: Caught between the brutality of the Bataclan massacre and the subsequent ascent of France’s right-wing reactionaries, veteran synth rocker Thomas Mars and co. escaped the tension by looking backward via this Italo-disco ode to bygone Riviera summers.

Why It Rules: Released just in time for the warm-weather months, Ti Amo hit like the aural equivalent of a white wine spritzer: Singles “J-Boy” and “Ti Amo” bubble with a radio-ready fizz, while deeper cuts like “Tuttifrutti” and “Fleur De Lys” add a shade of heady longing to all that sunbaked pop.

Essential Tracks: “J-Boy”, “Tuttifrutti”, and “Fleur De Lys”

–Tyler Clark

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42. Migos – Culture

migos culture Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Atlanta, Georgia

The Gist: Riding high off the runaway hip-hop hit “Bad and Boujee”, the prodigious trio of Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff fully capitalized on that momentum with a splendid set of tracks that put even the best work in their mixtape-heavy discography on notice.

Why It Rules: Backed by a cadre of producers, including Metro Boomin and Zaytoven, the success-obsessed bars and hedonistic hooks of Culture perfectly encapsulate the breadth of trap music, from its hypnagogic highs to its unapologetic lows.

Essential Tracks: “Bad and Boujee”, “Slippery”, and “T-Shirt”

–Gary Suarez

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41. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – Stranger Things 2

stranger things 2 Top 50 Albums of 2017

Origin: Austin, TX

The Gist: Another season of Netflix’s Stranger Things means another vintage score from Survive’s own Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, and that’s exactly what they dropped back in October ahead of the series’ highly anticipated premiere.

Why It Rules: A year has passed. They’re a little older. They’re a little wiser. No longer are they echoing the iconic sounds of John Carpenter or Goblin, but indulging in more modern fare like Bon Iver and M83. Hawkins has never sounded so hip.

Essential Tracks: “Eulogy”, “Eight Fifteen”, and “On the Bus”

–Michael Roffman

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