Did I make a New Year’s resolution? Did you? Whether any of us did or didn’t, the fundamental spirit behind it is a worthy reminder. Every day is an opportunity to begin a personal revolution in all the ways you might dream. Here is a playlist that, for each of its own various sonic and lyrical reasons, can help you toward your own resolution for revolution in 2017.
1. “Highways” - REIGHNBEAU, Sister Grotto – Blood (Deluxe) (2016)
“Highways” has audible ebb and flow. Electronic pulses fuzz and fade in close while ten words make up the lyrical content and are given constant return. The repetition begins to act on the ear and body/brain like a mantra. A collaboration between New Mexico’s REIGHNBEAU and Denver’s Sister Grotto (Madeline Johnston), this one is dream fuzz that occupies a space somewhere between the here and there of the slightly awake and half asleep. What begins with gentles sounds of a rainstick fades to what sounds like a resampling of the rainstick with more static and fuzz interlaced. Sophisticated subtleties keep this song interesting alongside its relaxed and meditative feel. Let this one help you develop your own mantra for the year to come. Open your heart throttle and imbibe sound poetry: 2017 is a wholly open road.
2. “When” - RUMTUM – Mystic Wonders (2013)
Sampling Vincent Gallo’s hauntingly wistful and imminently gorgeous 2001 “When,” RUMTUM puts a pip in Gallo’s depressive downtempo and melancholic step. RUMTUM takes it away and makes it fresh, fun, and comparatively light. Basically, they take Gallo’s frown, turn it upside down, and give it proverbial jazz hands. They take Gallo’s gentle cooings and splice them to a tune to tap your toe to. RUMTUM isn’t afraid to experiment with anything, and you shouldn’t be either. It’s the new year after all.
3. “Elevate” - Kid Astronaut – Moon Theory (2015)
“Elevate” is chalk full of takeaways. “We were not born to be complacent,” Shockness maintains. Agreed. His loungy R&B sound with a soft hip-hop thump to undergird here goads and uplifts you gently into that place of higher being. And, “We were born to be special.” The task is yours to become the most special version of yourself you can. The possibility to be that is the gift you are given at birth. You owe it to yourself, and the most fundamental things between you and better you at any given time is complacency if you’ve fallen into it. Shake yourself awake. “Elevate” is loaded positivity; it is, in other words, more than positivity for positivity sake. Kid Astronaut summons the best of you.
4. “Base” - CRL CRRLL – Wave (2015)
CRL CRRLL (Carl Carrell) successfully builds a musical jenga tower with “Base” one piece at a time. The song retains solid structure despite the increased pressure of newly added elements, balancing R&B notes in lead vocals, hip-hop in backup vocals, a jazzy quality to the drums and keys, and then you already have several musical layers by the time her chill lead vocals come in clear. As the song chugs forward into jazzier fusion with all these elements, it ends with a sudden peaceful fade out of ocean shorescapes and the faintest mutterings of what could be voices at the wharf: “Lovin’ just what I am, lovin’ just what I ain’t.” The creed of self-acceptance will serve you well in the next year if you can abide.
5. “Into the Wind” – King Cardinal – Once a Giant (2015)
Remember that scene from Ace Ventura where Ace himself rips out a waiter’s heart and gives it to him in a doggy bag? Welcome to how it feels to listen to King Cardinal’s soulful alt-folk. This is a safe one to cry, mourn, long, hope, and remember to. Brennan Mackey gives the term singer/songwriter new meaning, and he wants your second chance. You enter without words, while Ben Waligoske’s steel pedal daggers you in the side. It continues to supplement, yet give that country-underbelly feel that allows heart pangs to echo through the room. Lean into life as you would gale force winds. Looking back too hard can get you depressed, looking forward too much can bring you anxiety. Just lean where you are, lean into the wind; trust your struggle and be not afraid.
6. “Just Don’t Stop” – The Kinky Fingers – Vagabond (2015)
Tone and message make this a happy, head-bop worthy (or inducing) tune. There is a delightful float in Taylor Doyle’s guitar, and soar in his vocals. Eventually, he stops crooning as he sends you off on a couple high notes, punctuated neatly with three steps back down and low, “Just. Don’t. Stop.” We take instrumental flight with Daniel Hogan and Travis Page’s soft rhythmic drums keeping it steady while the guitar takes surf rock-esque flight with reverb indulgences. This one’s a fun journey for the ear that never loses its path despite its wanderings. It’s a good one to get, or keep, you going in the new year.
7. “Get Loose Have Fun” – Dirty Few – Get Loose, Have Fun (2012)
Dirty Few touts warm beer and out-of-tune guitars; they never get too serious about themselves save two exceptions: partying and playing drinking man’s music. They want you to have a jolly good sullied blast of a night, and they shake it off with the tambourine whose sound drops into the background but propels the track forward from the get-go no less. Dirty Few here has that slight 60s pop beat in its pulse and the “ooh, ooh, OHH, OOH” backup vocals. It’s the kind of 60s vibe you can readily imagine leading to proto-punk on down the line, and then to skate rock. But we’ll call it dive-bar rock because no matter the acoustics of the place, any dive-bar is the best venue to catch Dirty Few in. It’s homecourt. Let’s get this 2017 party started!
8. “The Mtn Song” – Rayland Baxter – Ashkelon (2013)
Uh oh. We’re getting sentimental again. But Rayland Baxter could be singing about shoelaces and nonsense and get you to emote. Fortunately, he knows not just how to sing with all his heart, but to storytell both as musical abstraction and in literal lyrical composition. This is one to give you chills. It’s so soft and sweet. He whistles, serenades, and implores, turning over tender phrase after tender phrase as drums and guitar support this gentle, unhurried, and earnest offering of love. Love is all he has to give. Is that enough? Normally I’d say no. But syrup-ing from his earnest, low-lyrical valleys and high peaks, I’d say, “I’ll think on it. Ask again tomorrow,” and know I’ve already decided while falling asleep to the sound of those endearing whistlings in my own head. Even if love is all you have to give in 2017, it’s better than nothing at all, and is, quite truly, one of the best things in the world you can give. So take a note from Baxter and do it with all your heart, soul, and perhaps even your singing voice, should you be so inclined.
9. “Whistle While You Work” – Wheelchair Sports Camp – No Big Deal (2016)
You come in building off mixed whispers of Emcee Kalyn Heffernan. It’s a sheer drop at 00:20 into straight hip-pop thereafter, coming at you with melodic and rhythmic whistles and Joshua Trinidad’s synchronized trumpet horn on blast. Intermixed are, by comparison, callous, hard-cutting electronic beats. They all join together and maintain the BPM to make this track the banger that it is. From the first, Emcee Kalyn Heffernan’s vocals and lyrical delivery are all her own. She captivates. And when she turns the phrase, “they call me Little Miss Guided,” it’s just one of her many lyrical delights. In reference to Wheelchair Sports Camp, the Village Voice reported, “If there were ever a moment for a queer, disabled rapper with a love for pot, jokes, and revolution to be a star, the moment is now.” It’s about time. Thank you 2017.
10. “Left Fist Evolution” – Bianca Mikahn – Left Fist Evolution (2010)
A low, thumping beat and hushed, bluesy choral vocals reel you into this tune. Bianca Mikahn weaves her story in poetic clips and fragments that suggest a certain story without really telling a story in the classic sense. But there’s a story there, for sure. She leads the listener to hear, see, and feel what she’s driving at unequivocally without saying who, when, where, or why. Lyrically, vocally, and stylistically, “Left Fist Evolution” is powerfully evocative. I’ve heard the word “fortified” used to describe Bianca Mikahn, and that is how the listening process and outcome of “Left Fist Evolution” feels. We all need fortification, and music is the next best supplement to vitamins. So take yours by taking this one in.
11. “No Worries” – Trigga Man, The Reminders – Hit Man (2012)
Sampling another old favorite, The Specials’ “Ghost Town” is featured in the background here, and their reggae and ska influence comes through beyond the sample in this song. Where it’s got a pinch of dance hall in the female vocal chorus, there’s a dash of hip-hop with male vocal delivery in verse. Where musical components blend samplings and reminisce on interrelated genres, the content delivery blends too, packed full of literary, cultural, and political references. “Get it twisted like Oliver, yo.” you hear. This is a composite piece of precocious stature that makes it easy to miss if you’re too busy getting down to it the first go around. But also, in 2017, tell yourself as often as possible: “Me no worry with what them say and me not goin’ to be afraid.” Hold strong with Trigga Man and The Reminders’ beats.
12. “Music Is a Gift” - Grim & Darling - Beauty Through Pain (2015)
Music is good for you: mind, body, and spirit. And Grim & Darling part with their musical gifts for your benefit as gentle organs and strings grace your entrance: “Create a song as a gift just to give it a way, royalty free, no fee, just in hopes to teach about loyalty, honesty, forgiveness, giving second chances lovingly. Nobody’s above the beat, in fact we need it to breathe. That’s the mentality. Give away your masterpiece as if we never had to eat, leave your ego as a casualty. I’m glad to be passing this to all of you, it’s all truth, try to use it, I will too. I hope we can all focus on the consequences of what we do.” Grim & Darling’s mindful tune serves as an homage to what you musicians do for us. This isn’t empty flattery. Being a musician isn’t easy work, but humans thrive in music, so thank you. Scaling up and down graduated xylophone bars with patience, the delicate clear sounds ring a victorious and encourage your feeling the same about your own power. Get after the new year.
13. “Ready to Live - Pt. 1” - Thug Entrancer - Death After Life (2014)
We start and end on a meditative note, only here we go pure electronic instrumentation. This one’s a sonic journey from sound artist Ryan McRyhew. Thump off to the pace of an electronic pulsating heartbeat as horn-reminiscent tones enter. Sounds begin to grind in and on top, creating an ever complex liftaway into layered reflections on itself. McRyhew does his personal sound poetry one to two new sounds at a time, letting you slowly take in the cerebral, but ready flow of this musical peregrination. Get work done or space out in daydreams to this one. It’ll get you where you’re going if you let it take you there. I hope 2017 finds you more ready to live than ever, and this playlist serves as a continued asset in your endeavor.
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All songs per the artists featured. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.