Monday, February 26, 2018

Rachael Sage and Howard Jones

I've seen Howard Jones three times in the last year (and five times altogether). You'd think I'm a superfan, but I'm not. It just worked out that way.

I first saw Howard Jones back in the '80s at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, sandwiched between Martha and the Muffins and Eurythmics, and it was one of the best shows I ever saw. I was totally unfamiliar with Jones, then -- I was there for Eurythmics, and I was a little familiar with Martha and the Muffins thanks to their hit song "Echo Beach" (although I didn't realize who they were until the show started, because by then, they were billing themselves as M+M). Jones played solo, with no one but a mime for accompaniment, and it was pretty great. As it happened, I taped the show that night on an old  cassette recorder, so while the sound quality was lousy, I got to relive that show again and again for many years until the tape wore out.

I saw Jones again at Jones Beach a few years later. I'm not even sure who he was opening for. Could have been Culture Club. He was OK, but I really don't remember much about his set that night. It was pretty forgettable.

Then, last summer, Denise and I caught him headlining the Retro Futura Tour (which included five other '80s acts) at The Borgata in Atlantic City. We had a lot of fun that night, and Jones was awesome, so Denise really wanted to get tickets to see him a few months later at The Paramount.

The Paramount show was a bad experience, not because of anything Jones did, but because of a run in with a loud, obnoxious drunk. So this Christmas, when I wanted to get Denise some concert tickets, and I saw that Jones was doing a quiet one-man show at The Boulton Center, I figured it was time for a do over.

We hooked up once again for this show with our friend Rich the drummer. We met him in Bay Shore about an hour and a half before the show. The plan was to eat at the excellent Chinese food restaurant on the corner near the theater, but unbeknownst to me, it was Chinese New Year. This meant that 1. There was a full house inside with at least a 25-minute wait, and 2. They were putting on an exhibition that included some employees dressed in a colorful dragon suit (which was fine), and some other employees beating loudly on a drum (which wasn't). So we called an audible, and instead went to a Thai food place just on the other side of the theater, which also turned out to be pretty good.

We finished up and got to the Boulton Center minutes before the first set. One quick note: The Boulton Center has "purdied" up the box office area and their front lobby since I was there last, and it's looking great. They've even installed a new refreshments counter.

The opening act was Rachael Sage, an indie musician from Manhattan, who I had heard of before, but I'd never heard her music. She played as a duo with an excellent violinist named Kelly Halloran. Sage reminded me of a more cheerful Tori Amos. She played a too-short 30-minute set that mostly found her playing keyboards, although she also played a little guitar and even did one song a cappella. She also snapped her fingers a lot, and sometimes stomped her feet too, for percussion. She did a few songs from a forthcoming album called Myopia, which is due out in May. She closed her set with a song I really liked off of her 2016 Choreographic album, called "I Don't Believe It" (which was apparently one of a number of her songs used on the TV show Dance Moms). We were all entertained by her set, enough so that I'll likely review her new album when it comes out.

After a quick break, Howard Jones took the stage. By this time, the house (which appears to have been sold out) was full.

This was a very different kind of show than I had seen Jones do before. The title of the tour is "Solo - the Songs and Stories", and it was an apt description. He confined himself musically to the piano all night (which I'd never seen him do before), and he had stories for each song. Over the course of the evening, I learned that Keith Emerson was his keyboard idol, that "Hide and Seek" is his favorite among his own songs (good choice!), and that over the years, he's  rubbed elbows with people such as Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Bob Geldorf, Midge Ure and even Princess Diana (among others).

He played all of his best songs, and threw in a few rarer treats as well, including a cover of George Michael's "Careless Whisper", a song he wrote for the film Eddie the Eagle that didn't make the soundtrack album called "Hero in Your Eyes", and a song from his People album (which he said is his daughter's favorite of his albums) called "Back in Your Life Again".

It was great to hear him in such an intimate setting. I got to enjoy him a lot more this time (the only minor irritation being we were seated behind a bunch I like to think of as "The Phone Family", a mother and father with their adult daughter and her husband, who spent a good part of the night recording Howard on their cell phones, heedless of the glare it created for the people behind them). And the stories were great. Even the female usher on the side we came in was loving it -- I saw her at various times throughout the evening dancing and singing along.

If you ever get the chance to see Howard Jones again in a situation like this, I highly recommend it.

I did see Rich Branciforte of Good Times at the show, standing against the far wall, but by the time I got downstairs he was gone, so I didn't get to say hello. (Rich has perfected the art of booking after a show from his many years having to dodge angry bands who lost their evenings in the Long Island Music Festival, so I kind of figured I didn't have much hope of catching up with him).

Anyway, the setlist for Howard Jones, as best I remember it, can be found at https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/howard-jones/2018/boulton-center-for-the-performing-arts-bay-shore-ny-4bee775a.html .

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review of Company of Thieves' "Better Together EP"

I posted this review just a few minutes ago on the Sputnik Music website:


Review Summary: Baby steps.

Chicago band Company of Thieves first came onto the national scene in 2009 with the excellent single "Oscar Wilde". It didn't make the Billboard charts, but it did get tons of airplay on American alternative rock stations such as the American satellite station Alt Nation. The single powered their debut album Ordinary Riches (which had received an independent release in 2007, but was re-released nationally on Wind-up Records in 2009) to the lower levels of the Billboard album chart, and to #5 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. Their follow-up album, 2011's Running from a Gamble, did even better, probably because the band was becoming more and more known. It contained no single as compelling as "Oscar Wilde", however, and although the album has grown on me over the years, I found it to be a step down from the band's debut LP. After that, Company of Thieves disappeared for a few years, finally announcing in 2014 that they had no plans to record new music.

Much to my surprise, though, the band came back together in late 2017, and now they have released their first new music in seven years. Not a lot, mind you, but some. The Better Together EP contains five songs in all -- three new studio tracks plus a couple of live acoustic re-recordings. Personally, I'm glad to have them back. Company of Thieves has never been a cookie-cutter unit -- they have their own unique style, and some real strengths as a band. Genevieve Schatz is a powerful and passionate vocalist, and the band's musical style is pretty sophisticated, mixing alternative rock with elements of jazz, folk and pop. Having said that, though, I have to admit that this EP leaves me underwhelmed.

The best track is probably the single, "Treasure". It's a plodding number that begins with a snippet of a fictional radio broadcast about "citizens exercising their constitutional right to assemble". I found it confusing at first, because it's obviously meant to be some kind of protest of Trump (the "fucking business man"), but it starts out as what seems to be a lost-love song, with Schatz singing "You're a treasure to me," but complaining, "Heaven has no rage like/When you took all the love, love". By the end, she's singing, "You're the villain for me". So I thought, maybe she used to love Trump on The Apprentice, but now that he's President, she hates him. Or maybe she's singing to a boyfriend she used to love, but now she can't understand it because he voted for Trump and then dumped her. Finally, I figured out that she's singing to America -- she used to consider it a "treasure" and a "pleasure", but now she hates the direction it's going in. I think that's it. Anyway, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. 

In any event, at first, I didn't hear much of anything in this song. It's slow and kind of draggy, and it suffers in comparison to "Oscar Wilde" -- there's certainly nothing here that makes you want to sing along like I used to do on the older song's chorus -- "We are all our own devil, we are all our own devvv-villl! And we make this world -- our helllll!" After repeated listens, though, I like "Treasure" somewhat. There's something vaguely catchy about it -- it kind of creeps into your spine if you let it -- and it does have a bit of a bite to it. It will make their Greatest Hits album someday, but as a lesser entry.

The other two new songs are called "Window" and "Younger". "Window" actually does appear to be a lost-love song. It seems to be about the regrets you have when a good relationship goes bad, and about trying to look back and understand exactly what happened. It's got a pretty good chorus, as Schatz bellows, "I want a window/I need a window/I want a window/I want to see it all through". "Younger" is another slow song, and another one that's either about an old dysfunctional relationship, or maybe about the country. It's kind of dirgey, though, and I don't like the way Schatz has to twist her voice on the first part of the verse. The album is rounded out by live acoustic versions of "Treasure", and, yes ... "Oscar Wilde".

Here's the bottom line. This definitely isn't Company of Thieves at the top of their game. But I look at it like this -- these guys were effectively broken up for about six years. As a band, they might as well have been in a coma. And while on TV and in the movies, coma victims wake up and immediately start running around (usually to get away from zombies), in real life, they have to ease back into things -- wake up their muscles, get a little physical therapy, etc. It might not have sounded like it in this review, but I'm really thrilled to have Company of Thieves back, and I'm looking forward to a new LP from them. As for this EP, while it's not their best work, you've got to cut them some slack. They just woke up from a coma, they'll work their way back into form. Baby steps.


Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars


Monday, February 19, 2018

Review of Ultravox's "Vienna"

I posted this review a short while ago on the Sputnik Music website:


Review Summary: An album of cold beauty, Midge Ure's first LP with Ultravox deserves inclusion in any conversation about the strongest new wave albums of the 1980s.

Vienna was the fourth studio album released by the British band Ultravox, and it represented a total change in direction for them. Released in 1980, Vienna was the first LP released after their former frontman, John Foxx, left the band to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Midge Ure. It was also their most successful release, reaching as high as #3 on the UK charts, (and making the Top 10 in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands and Sweden), and selling enough copies to make it the only Plantinum album the band would ever achieve in the U.K.

Under Foxx, Ultravox had been a commercially unsuccessful band with a cult following that drew their inspiration primarily from artists in the glam-rock movement. Under Ure, the band moved firmly into the realm of synth-pop. The change wasn't completely accepted by their old fans, nor was it universally acclaimed by critics, some of whom derided Vienna as being as either too pretentious or too commercial. However, as evidenced by the sales charts, the band made many new fans with the advent of this LP, and for the most part, it's retrospectfully considered to be their best album.

Vienna is an album of great beauty that manages to be both cold-blooded and fierce at the same time. It's dominated by the synth and the bass, and the music works together with lyrics to create a nightmarish quality and an overall feeling of paranoia. This, for example, is from "Sleepwalk", the album's first single: "Rolling and falling, I'm choking and calling/Name after name after name." Then there's this, from the whispered, spoken-word "Mr. X": "I almost thought I saw him, standing, whistling on a bridge/I asked him the time, but when he turned around/I saw it wasn't him at all." Clearly, this isn't happy '80s dance-pop music.

The atmosphere continues, all the while building towards the dramatic climax of the next-to-last song, the brilliant title track "Vienna". Ure has said that the band wanted to create a song that was quiet and "sparse", with a middle that was "incredibly pompous", then give it an "over-the-top classical ending". Maybe. He also originally claimed that the song was inspired by the 1949 British murder mystery The Third Man, then later said he had completely made that up, so who knows? In any event, the track became a #2 single in the U.K. and New Zealand, reached #1 in Ireland, Belgium and The Netherlands, and is generally considered to be one of the signature songs of the British '80s synthpop era.

Vienna isn't my favorite Ultravox album. That title goes to their warmer, more mournful 1984 classic Lament. But I love Vienna for its pervasive disquieting mood, and for the consistent high-quality of its songs. It deserves inclusion in any conversation about the strongest new wave albums of the '80s.


Rating: #.5 of 5 stars


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Once

This was kind of a weird weekend. I was watching the weather reports warily, but because they made it sound like the rain wouldn't turn to snow until sometime during the overnight on Saturday, my daughter and I headed to Stony Brook for an 8:30 PM showing of the film The Shape of Water. Naturally, the rain turned to snow before we were even halfway to the movie theater. I'm not comfortable with my car's performance in the snow and ice, so we briefly discussed just turning around and going home. But we waited a long time to see the film, and I still thought the weather might warm up again and melt any snow that formed, so we continued on.

Because this is a music blog, I won't talk too much about the film (although it does have a really good musical score). Suffice it to say that I thought the movie was excellent -- I liked it way more than I thought I would. What I didn't like was that as soon as we walked out of the auditorium, I could see through the theater's back door that the snow had continued, and there was already a good couple of inches on the ground.

The drive home was kind of iffy -- I knew the snow was supposed to be worse on the North Shore than the South, so I kept hoping that as we drove south on Nicolls Road, we'd outrun it. We did eventually, but not until we got all the way to Sunrise Highway. Anyway, we made it home in one piece, but it gave me some concerns about Sunday.

You see, I'd bought tickets for the Feb 18 Sunday matinee performance of Once at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport a few weeks ago. And as the snow was scheduled to continue for much of the overnight, I didn't know what to expect, especially since Northport is all the way the hell back north.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. There was no snow on the ground at all near my house on Sunday morning. And after several hours of sun and warm weather, there wasn't any snow to speak of in Northport either.

This was my first visit to the Engeman Theater. I can sum up the negatives about the theater in just two points: 1. The tickets are a little pricey for a Long Island theater, somewhere in the $70-$75 range; and 2. As the website makes clear, the parking isn't the greatest. The theater is right in the middle of town, and it doesn't have its own parking lot. The second point is assuaged somewhat by the fact that the theater offers free valet parking (which we made sure we were there early enough to take advantage of). As for the first point, I was hoping that we'd be getting a Broadway-quality show that would make the tickets worth the price.

I usually try to start off my theater reviews by getting the negatives out of the way first, so here goes. ... OK, for the first time ever, I've got nothing. There were no negatives to this show. And it seems like the rest of the audience agreed, as there was an enthusiastic full-theater standing ovation at the end of the show. 

OK, so much for the negatives. Now for the positives.

The theater itself is handsome, with good site lines and good acoustics. My wife and I were sitting in the last row, but because the seating area curves upwards (we were technically considered to be sitting in the mezzanine), we had no trouble either seeing or hearing anything. And there are restrooms conveniently located in the upstairs area, in addition to restrooms in the lobby.

I'd never seen Once before, although I've owned the cast album for a few years. It's one of those shows I would have liked to have seen on Broadway, but I just never quite managed it. The live show is based on the 2007 film of the same name. It ran on Broadway from 2012 to 2015, playing for over a thousand performances, and won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical for 2012. It's a quirky and bittersweet romance that takes place in the city of Dublin between an Irish man and a young Czech woman, both of whom are musicians. We never learn the names of these two characters -- they are only referred to in the program as "Guy" and "Girl".

I knew a lot about the show going in. What I didn't know is that it's often fairly funny -- the Girl character, in particular, is amusingly blunt and assertive -- and that the other characters of the play are likewise eccentric, but extremely likable. The stage setting is that of an Irish pub (and the audience is invited to go onstage and buy a drink both prior to the show, and at the intermission), although the actual action of the play takes place in a few different places. And most unique, the entire cast plays their own musical instruments. The style of music is mostly Irish (and sometimes Czech) folk, so the score sounds more like some of the better fare you might hear at the Irish version of a local coffee house than it does like a typical Broadway score.

The cast in this production is universally excellent. Barry Debois, who plays Guy, has a stunningly beautiful tenor voice. (I really wanted to say "Irish tenor voice", because his performance was so good that it wasn't until I started to write this review that I thought about the fact that he's a New Yorker who's played a multitude of musical theater roles. I'm pretty sure he doesn't actually sing with an Irish brogue when he plays Brad from The Rocky Horror Show or Tony in West Side Story, for example, which are a just a couple of the many shows on his resume). In any event, his  musical talent blew me away on numbers like "Leave", which opens the play, or "Gold", which ends the first act. In addition to his sweet, sweet vox, he plays a mean acoustic guitar.

As for Andrea Goss, who plays Girl, besides having a lovely voice, she showed serious comedic talent throughout. But she also managed to deliver a touching performance when the role allowed her to open up and show some of her character's vulnerability. And while her one solo number, "The Hill", was quite well done, "Falling Slowly", the first duet she and Debois performed together, was exquisite -- so good it sent shivers up my spine. She also plays a damned fine piano.

The rest of the cast was excellent as well, and I hesitate to start singling them out for fear of missing someone. Guy's father, Girl's mother, Girl's flatmates -- all did creditable jobs. If I had to throw special accolades to one, however, it would be to Stephen McIntyre, for his warm yet comedic portrayal of a Bank Manager who aspires to be something more.

I said earlier that my hope was that the price of the tickets for this play would be indicative of a Broadway-quality show. As it turns out, it absolutely was. Once was worth the money and then some. The show itself is a beautiful show, and I related very strongly to its message of how music has the power to elevate our lives. As for this production, it was golden. 

Once will run at the Engeman Theater through March 4. Their next upcoming show, beginning March 15, is another that won the Tony Award for Best Musical (in 2008). It's also another show with an ensemble of strong and likable characters: Lin Manuel-Miranda's In the Heights. This is a show that I have seen before, and I can promise that fans and admirers of Miranda's Hamilton are likely to love this show as well.




Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review of Blackmore's Night's "Ghost of a Rose"

I posted this review a few minutes ago on the Sputnik Music website.


Review Summary: "And the winds would cry/And many men would die/And all the waves would bow down to the Loreley."

Ghost of a Rose (2003) is one of Blackmore's Night's stronger LPs. It's their fourth studio album, and on this one, they continued a process which had begun on their previous album, that of stretching their musical boundaries. While the English Renaissance sound remains the defining characteristic of the band, on this one, they've expanded into various other sub-genres of folk music as well, including Slavic and gypsy folk, American pop folk and maritime music. 

There are fifteen tracks on Ghost of a Rose, and several of them are outstanding. The title number is one of those delicate, romantic songs that Blackmore's Night absolutely excels in. It's partially inspired by a cello concerto written by the British composer Edgar Elger, and is dedicated to Elger and Jacqueline Du Pre, who famously recorded the piece in 1965. It tells the story of a free spirited "maiden fair" (who seems to be supernatural in origin) who is separated from her "true love", but remains in his heart because she's taught him to always think of her whenever he sees a white rose. Candice Night has one of the loveliest voices in all of modern music, and the song's simple beauty is tailor-made for her. 

A second standout track is "Loreley". This is an upbeat little sea chanty based upon the German legend of the Lorelei, a siren whose haunting voice draws sailors to crash upon the rocks at the base of a cliff that overlooks the Rhine River. "Diamonds and Rust", on the other hand, is based on a legend of a different kind, namely that of Bob Dylan. This is a cover of a 1975 hit single by the American folk artist Joan Baez, and it's basically an F.U. song to Dylan, who seems to have broken her heart a decade prior. I miss Baez's exquisite finger-picked guitar on this version -- it's replaced here by some of Ritchie Blackmore's acoustic Renaissance stylings -- but Night presents us with a compelling alternate version of the song that might not eclipse Baez's original, but at least gives us an interesting variation of this classic track.

There are a number of other really strong numbers here as well. "All for One" is a stirring medieval anthem that mines some of the same territory as "Past Time With Good Company" from the band's 1999 Under a Violet Moon album. This one even gives Blackmore a chance to insert just a smidgen of emotive electric guitar. "Cartouche" mixes gypsy folk rhythms with the ancient Egyptian concept of the cartouche, a type of amulet that was buried with kings and queens to grant them immortality. "Way to Mandalay" is the album's sole single, which is strange considering the song is over six minutes long. It didn't really go anywhere on the singles charts, but it's still a pretty cool little track, featuring some Middle Eastern percussion and some atypical (for Blackmore's Night) synth work. It's something of a haunting musical journey through a "misty moor". There's also a cover of a relatively obscure Jethro Tull song ("Rainbow Blues"), and a couple of little acoustic instrumental ditties that give Mr. Blackmore a chance to show off some of his subtler guitar magic ("Nur Eine Minute" and "Mr. Peagram's Morris and Sword").

I have friends who are huge fans of classic rock music who are appalled that a rock legend like Ritchie Blackmore, a man who is, after all, responsible for one of the most iconic electric guitar riffs of all time in Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water", "wastes" his talents (as they see it) pretending to be a minstrel in a Renaissance Fair. If you're of a similar mind, then other than the occasional guitar lick that's just going to make you wish there were more like it, this isn't going to be an album for you. But if you enjoy folk music in general, and appreciate Renaissance music and/or myth-themed folk, Ghost of a Rose will definitely scratch that itch for you.


Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars


Monday, February 5, 2018

Review of The Moody Blues' "Seventh Sojourn"

I just posted this on the Sputnik Music website a few moments ago:


The span from 1967 through 1972 was quite a prolific period for The Moody Blues. They released seven albums in five years. And if, in retrospect, the quality of their music never reached the high level of contemporaries such as Pink Floyd or Yes, they were more consistent than either of those bands -- they might never have reached the heights of a Wish You Were Here or Close to the Edge, but they also never sunk as low as The Final Cut or Tormato during this period. One of the reasons for this steadiness might be that The Moodies managed to ride out this seven-album stretch with a changless lineup: Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder and Graeme Edge.

Seventh Sojourn (1972) was the final album of what some fans refer to as the group's "Core Seven". It's oddly named, considering it's the band's eighth album (and their 1978 follow-up Octave is their ninth). This is because for many years, The Moodies claimed 1967's Days of Future Passed as their first LP, choosing to ignore 1965's The Magnficent Moodies, because it featured a different style of music, and some different personnel (with Denny Laine and Clint Warwick in place of Hayward and Lodge). Seventh Sojournwas also keyboardist Mike Pinder's last full album with the band -- while he does appear on Octave, he left the group midway through the recording process.

A listen to the eight tracks on this LP reveals that once again, consistency is the order of the day. There are probably no great songs here, but neither are there any bad ones. The style of music is classic Moodies -- the album is full of mellotron and flute, with the only two guitar-driven tracks being "You and Me", the song that opened the second side on the original vinyl release, and "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band", the album's last cut. The vocals are pleasant throughout, with Hayward splitting the lead vocal duties with bandmates Pinder, Lodge and Thomas. 

The lyrical themes are mostly simplistic -- they all feature some variation of "All You Need Is Love", whether that be love of one's fellow humans, or occasionally romantic love. Truth be told, lyrics were never The Moodies' strong point. The only two numbers that dip their toes into something darker are the album opener, "Lost in a Lost World", which is an anti-war song, and "When You're a Free Man", a song that looks with hope toward better days, but takes a bleaker, more desperate, view of the present.

As for highlights, I've always been partial to the sole Ray Thomas number on the album, "For My Lady", which is essentially a sea shanty that takes a chivalrous, somewhat old-fashioned look at love: "Oh I'd give my life so lightly/For my gentle lady." Pinder plays a Chamberlin on this track, which he manages to make sound like an accordion. Hayward also has a pair of strong numbers here, the slow and beautiful "New Horizons", and "The Land of Make Believe", on which Thomas' flute creates something of a fairy-tale atmosphere.

"I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)", which was also released as a single, is one of Sojourn's best (and rockiest) tracks, and ends the LP on an upbeat note, but I've had a bone to pick with it since the album's original release. The lyrics for the bridge are as follows: "How can we understand/Riots by the people for the people/Who are only destroying themselves/And when you see a frightened person/Who is frightened by the people/Who are scorching this Earth." ... and that's where it ends. What? What happens when you see this frightened person? Finish the fucking thought! If you start a phrase with the idea, "And when this ...", you're implying there's a "then that"! Don't leave me hanging like this, Lodge, you lazy fucking bastard! ... OK. Sorry.  Deep breaths. ... Whew. ... I feel much better now. I've been waiting to get that off my chest for a long, long, time. Anyway, it's still a really good song.

So there you have it. Seventh Sojourn -- not great, but pretty good. The last album of the best period in The Moody Blues' career. Not particularly challenging, but still very enjoyable. It's now been 45 years since its original release, and I still like it. 

I'm going to go lie down now. See you next time.


Rating: 3 of 5 stars


Friday, February 2, 2018

Top 20 Songs of 2017, Part 2

So let's do this thing! The other night, I posted Part 1 of my Top 20 Songs of 2017 list. Here, in reverse order, is Part 2:


10. Incubus - "Familiar Faces"

I'll be the first to admit it -- this year's Incubus release, 8, isn't a great album, or even a very good one. But even at their best, I've always found Incubus to be one of those bands whose albums are kind of mixed -- there's usually some mediocre stuff, and some really good cuts. This song is one of the latter. It really moves. Unfortunately, I think Incubus has lost the capacity to even tell anymore which are their good songs and which are crap -- I saw them live this past summer, and this was one of the only songs from the 8 album they didn't play. Sad.


9. The Cranberries - "Why"

The recent death of Cranberries lead singer Dolores O'Riordan was a tragic loss, and it's eerie that this song, one of only three new ones on their acoustic Something Else album, is a song about meeting up again in the afterlife. I can tell you honestly, though, this one was always going to make this list, from long before O'Riordan's passing. I just wasn't sure about its placement. To describe it, it's a slow and alluring song about a love that death can't conquer.


8. Aimee Mann -- "Goose Snow Cone"

This is the best cut off of the stark, beautiful Mental Illness album. It's a quiet song that begins with the gentle sound of what appear to be sleigh bells. According to Mann, it was inspired by a photo of a friend's cat she received while on tour in Ireland, and if you're a cat person, the video for the song might just make you cry.


7. Tigers Jaw - "Escape Plan"

Maybe it's just because I'm getting older, but I really had a taste for sad, dreamy ballads this year. I love the vocals by Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins here. These guys are going on tour later this month with Yowler and Looming, and I'm really sorry they're not coming closer to Long Island than Pawtucket.


6. The Birthday Massacre - "Endless"

Thematically, this is something of a darker version of The Cranberries' "Why" song. But this one is a little louder, and filled with nicely programmed synths. The style here is gothic version of new wave revival. And you can even dance to it, if you're so inclined.


5. The Magnetic Fields - "Have You Seen It in the Snow?"

Stephin Merritt is known for writing songs with a wry, and sometimes, cutting sense of humor. But this track, which is essentially a love song to New York, finds him at his most sincere and sentimental. As another transplanted New Yorker myself, while I see many faults with the city of my birth, this one still sends a flush of warmth through me.


4. Leslie Mendelson - "Jericho"

Once upon a time, Leslie Mendelson was a Long Islander, and the lead singer of a somewhat successful local jam band called Mother Freedom. Now she's an L.A. gal trying to make it as a solo artist in the cold, hard music business. This wistful and touching folk ballad finds her trying to find her way back home.

Addendum: So after I posted this list, I heard from Ms. Mendelson, and it turns out she doesn't live in L.A. now, she lives in Brooklyn. Oh well. It's still a really great song.


3. Linkin Park - "One More Light"

The suicide of Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington was another great loss to the music world in 2017. But while the One More Light album was justly criticized by fans as being too full of cheesy pop, this, the title track, was one of the best songs of the year. And just like "Why" by The Cranberries, this one was always going to make this list. It was written about a friend of the band who died of cancer, and the subsequent death of Bennington only serves to make the song even more poignant.


2. Dot Hacker - "Beseech"

I had never even heard of the California experimental rock band Dot Hacker before 2017, but this trippy little song grabbed me early in the year and never let me go. While "Beseech" is a quiet song, there are all kinds of interesting little things going on here musically. I guess that's all I really want to say about this one.


1. Eisley -- "A Song for the Birds"

While I've always loved Sherri DuPree's vocals, what I used to like best about Eisley was the way her voice intermingled with the vocal harmonies provided by her sisters, Chauntelle and Stacy. Consequently, with the latter two leaving the band, their 2017 I'm Only Dreaming left me a little cold. On this upbeat, bouncy track, however, DuPree gets an able assist from her husband, Say Anything's Max Bemis, and just it does in the couple's excellent side band Perma, it proves to be a winning combination. Hands down, this is the catchiest alternapop song I've heard in a long time. That's why it's my favorite song of 2017.


So that about does it. I hope you've enjoyed my end-of-the-year Best Of lists, whether you agree or disagree with my choices. And if you did disagree -- well, 2018 is a new year! Later, friends.