My end-of-year music lists for 2017 are five: a big collection of songs released that I liked and keep listening to, three cluster of albums I loved and that suit different moods, and, finally, on December 29th, my “A List” of songs for the year.
I have a list of Twangy Songstress albums.
I have a list of Rock N’ Angst albums.
And I have a list of Fun-Filled Pop albums.
Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins (Belle Sound)
It probably doesn’t find anyone’s definition of “pop,” but Bobby Fuller . . . is good clean fun. Chuck Prophet knows his way around rock and blues, but he has a distinctive vocal style that brings a unique kind of life to these songs, even the ones about death (“Bad Year for Rock And Roll” and “Alex Nieto”). The man can write a ballad, too. “We Got Up And Played” is a timeless tip-of-the-hat to showing up and going to work, and “Open Up Your Heart” is exactly what the title promises: a schmoozy love song but with teeth.
Beck, Colors (Fonograf)
An 11-song sprint through an aggressive course of synthesizers, drum machines, and just about every other technical and artistic convention of pop music ever devised: that’s Colors. It’s almost exhausting how much fun it is. I’ve never gone in for Beck, and I expect the people who have don’t like this album. It’s kind of an all-in pop experiment, and I love it. “No Distraction” and “Wow” are standouts, but Colors really deserves to be queued up in order and blasted straight through.
Barenaked Ladies And The Persuasions, Ladies And Gentlemen: Barenaked Ladies And The Persuasions (Rainin’ Records)
It might seem weak to go all daffy over an album of covers, but this one won’t be ignored. It’s a collaboration between what seemed at the start of 2017 to be a has-been north-of-the-border uber pop outfit and a New York a capella group with roots in the 60’s. They got together in October of 2016 and recorded 15 songs live-off-the-floor. BNL standards sung by soulful R&B singers and arranged more acoustically is a recipe for magic that lots and lots of people can enjoy. “Don’t Shuffle Me Back” was the unofficial anthem of my junior high mission trip last summer.
Barenaked Ladies, Fake Nudes (Rainin’ Records)
If the success of their collaboration with The Persuasions led you to think that the only future for BNL is creative new machinations of their old material, think again. Fake Nudes is all new material. It features the quirky best of what these guys have always done (clever wordplay ballads like “Canada Dry”) but that also does it in a way that feels poignantly suited to the day (note the album title’s nod to “fake news” and its poetic takedown of a signature Trump project, “Invisible Fence.”)
“Navigate” and “Sunshine” display a depth of sentiment the old BNL catalog hasn’t accustomed you to. “Bringing It Home” and “Lookin’ Up” are the old cheese-and-macaroni standards their fans have always loved.
Paramore, After Laughter (Atlantic Recordings)
Okay, so Landon won me over on this one. I mean, “Rose-Colored Boy” was in my rotation all summer and fall, but it was November before I gave After Laughter the start-to-finish treatment. Turns out it’s a cohesive synth-powered pop project full of lyrical surprises.
Low Key. No pressure. Just hang with me and my weather.
You just get the sense that Hayley Williams and company know what they’re doing behind their keyboards and drums, sparing guitar riffs, and “Ba da ba da da da”s “Fake Happy,” “Caught In The Middle,” and “Hard Times” might make you dance. “26” might make you cry. “Forgiveness” might make you do both at once.