Top 30 albums of 2017: #’s 20 – 16

It’s top twenty time!

#20 – Brother O’ Brother – Neon Native

I’m happy to include some “local” (as in from the same state as I) cats on my list of top albums of the year.  This is a blistering garage-blues record that further proves you don’t need a lot of fancy gadgets and studio trickery to make hard-hitting rock.  They’re one of my favorite discoveries of the year.

#19 – The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions

This album is one of the best reactions to the year in politics that was 2017.  Band leader Carl Newman has openly spoken about how the 2016 election and his battle with depression formed a lot of the songs on this record, but it’s not all doom and gloom.  There’s a lot of hope on this fine power pop album, and we all need a lot of that right now.

#18 – Thundercat – Drunk

I didn’t expect to pick up a jazz fusion record this year, but this one is certainly outstanding and was all over the place in 2017.  It made the top of many lists, too, and for good reason.  It’s an incredible concept album about the day in the life of a guy who parties too much and knows he’ll probably regret it later.  It’s the closest we’ll get to a Frank Zappa album any time soon.

#17 – Priests – Nothing Feels Natural

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got on a big post-punk kick this year and albums like this are the reason why.  It’s a vicious takedown on corporate bigwigs, consumerism, and greed, and the music is sharp as a hatchet.

#16 – The Black Angels – Death Song

If you know me, then you’re not surprised that a Black Angels record made my top 30.  They’re one of my favorite bands, and this album is one of their hardest-hitting in a long while.  It, too, is a bit of a reaction to the 2016 election and the country we’re now living in and seeing on the nightly news, but the Black Angels also let us know that all things are transient and this, too, will pass.

We’re halfway to home!  Who makes the cut?  Come back soon to find out.

Keep your mind open.

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Live: The New Pornographers and Ought – Kalamazoo, MI – August 17, 2017

The last time I saw the New Pornographers live was in 2007 at Chicago’s Metro.   Lead singer Carl Newman commented during the show about a strong thunderstorm happening outside during the gig, and you could hear thunder between songs now and then.  It was a great show, and my wife and got back to our hotel room still buzzing from it.  I noticed I had a voicemail from work, so I listened.  The storm that had rolled through Chicago during the show had become a tornado by the time it reached our hometown.  Nearly every home on the southeast side of town had either been destroyed or damaged.  A factory and a convenience store were wiped off the face of the Earth.  Amazingly, no one was injured.  Our house was fine, but we returned home early the next day to help with the rebuilding and cleaning efforts.

Thankfully, the only thing dire that happened during my second time seeing the New Pornographers was that the brewery in which they played, Bell’s in Kalamazoo, didn’t serve cider, radlers, or even their own root beer.


Unfortunately, I missed nearly all of opening band Ought‘s set.  I walked in during their last song (Thanks, Google Maps, for directions that were fine until the last two steps of the journey.), which sounded like some good shoegaze.  I need to check out their material.

The New Pornographers opening with “Moves.”

The New Pornographers came out sharp and quick with crowd favorites like “High Ticket Attractions,” “The Laws Have Changed,” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno.”  They sounded great.  They haven’t lost anything in ten years.  In fact, the additions of more electro touches from keyboardist Blaine Thurier and keyboardist / co-vocalist Kathryn Calder and violin and vocals from Simi Stone bring the band a new brightness.

Joe Seiders on drums and Simi Stone on violin and co-vocals.
John Collins on bass and Kathryn Calder on keyboards and co-vocals.
L-R: Blaine Thurier on keys, lead guitarist Todd Fancey, and lead vocalist and co-guitarist Carl Newman.

“Whiteout Conditions,” the title track of their new record, sounds even better live, and I was delighted to hear “Dancehall Domine” from Brill Bruisers live for the first time (They nailed it, by the way.).  The show cruised along well until a string broke on John Collins‘ bass and the band had a brief on-stage break while Mr. Collins worked some magic and had his axe swinging again in moments.  They were soon they were back to a fine rendition of “Adventures in Solitude.”

Broken bass string break.

The encore included “Challengers,” “Brill Bruisers,” “The Slow Descent in Alcoholism” (which I found funny considering they were playing in a brewery), and a rousing version of “The Bleeding Heart Show” that had us all cheering.


It was a fun night, and much needed by all.  It’s no secret that depression and the 2016 presidential election fueled much of Newman’s songwriting for Whiteout Conditions, so the crisp sound, fun vibe, and power pop the New Pornographers brought were, for one night at least, an escape from the miasma of news, Tweets, rumors, and anger.

Keep your mind open.


New Pornographers release new video and N. American tour dates into October.




Critically acclaimed supergroup The New Pornographers debut a new video for the track “Whiteout Conditions” from their critically acclaimed album of the same name; watch/share the video at Of the video, director Kevan Funk explains, “I wanted to tell a set of stories featuring characters who could act as conduits to explore that tension, each of them repressing some sort of tormenting emotion (guilt, shame, self-loathing) that they haven’t been able to reconcile internally. The facade of the mall, with its surreal fantasy elements, provided an effective metaphorical backdrop.”

Earlier this summer the band performed the song on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Whiteout Conditions— the first release on the band’s own Collected Works Records imprint in partnership with Concord Records— continues to receive critical praise:

“Pure, blissfully irresistible power pop…the band would be forgiven for receding into legacy-act status at some point. Instead, its catalog just gets more formidable: now seven albums strong, with as little patience for filler as ever.’”
NPR Music

“The New Pornographers’ seventh album is a peppy team effort, rich with new wave synths and closely blended harmonies…this, plus a singularly bright and skipping tempo, creates an almost forcibly energetic mix.” –Pitchfork

“…uplifting three-to-four-minute indie-pop numbers, imbued with lush vocals.” –Rolling Stone

“A.C. Newman and Neko Case don’t miss a beat; Whiteout Conditions provides another dose of power-pop with quirky synth accents from a collective that hasn’t faltered yet this century.” –New York Magazine

“Expect flawless harmonies, precisely arranged power pop, and more Neko Case vocal wizardry than any mere human deserves to hear in one lifetime.” –Cosmopolitan

“A parade of hook-laden songs.”
Whiteout Conditions [is] a characteristically punchy and catchy LP with more than a few jams set to become worthy contenders in the New Pornos’ canon.” –Stereogum

“loud, infectious, and energetic—classic New Pornographers” –Entertainment Weekly

“power-pop phenoms” –Vice Noisey

Whiteout Conditions contains some of The New Pornographers’ most interesting musical ideas.” –The Onion’s A.V. Club

“It is Newman’s steady creative hand and brilliant understanding of pop music’s beating human heart that once again win the day on Whiteout Conditions…a typically neat package that sits comfortably and appropriately in one of rock’s greatest band catalogs. 9 (out of 10)” – Magnet

“More than ever before, the Pornos feel like a legitimate band rather than an all-star union.” –Relix

“Finest yet from Carl Newman, Neko Case et al. 4 stars (out of 5)” –MoJo

Whiteout Conditions made its Billboard debut at #2 on the Alternative Albums Chart, #13 on the Current Album Chart and #35 on the Top 200. Additionally, the album hit #6 on Billboard’s AAA Radio Chart. The band’s world tour in support of the new album continues this summer and fall, including shows with Born Ruffians in select cities. Tickets for all headlining U.S. shows include a free download of the new album; see below for a list of dates.

Of writing the new record, founder and frontman A.C. Newman notes that, “At the beginning of this record, there was some thinking that we wanted it to be like a Krautrock Fifth Dimension. Of course, our mutated idea of what Krautrock is probably doesn’t sound like Krautrock at all. But we were thinking: Let’s try and rock in a different way.” Newman recently discussed the new record and the band’s 18-year career in a pair of Salon Talks here, here and here.

Since their debut in 2000, The New Pornographers have released six studio albums including their most recent, Brill Bruisers, hailed as an “exuberant, synthpop-infused set” by Rolling Stone, “infectious” by Harper’s Bazaar and “the grand and purposeful hookfest that you would hope these guys would come back with” by Stereogum. Pitchfork went on to note that “with the futurist sound of Brill Bruisers, the whole band embraces a more electric version of itself—bulked-up in chrome-plated armor, firing on all cylinders, and ready to steamroll anything in its path.” The band celebrated the release with a special NPR Music “First Listen Live” concert at the legendary Brill Building, and performed songs from the album on both “Conan” and the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

For more information, please contact Joe Cohen, Krista Williams or Carla Sacks at Sacks & Co., 212.741.1000.

1. Play Money
2. Whiteout Conditions
3. High Ticket Attractions
4. This is the World of the Theater
5. Darling Shade
6. Second Sleep
7. Colosseums
8. We’ve Been Here Before
9. Juke
10. Clockwise
11. Avalanche Alley

†with Born Ruffians

August 17 /// Kalamazoo, MI /// Bell’s Beer Garden
August 18 /// Madison, WI /// Majestic Theater
August 19 /// Omaha, NE /// MAHA Music Festival
August 25 /// Mexico City, MX /// Pabellon Cuervo
September 23 /// Cincinnati, OH /// Midpoint Music Festival
September 28 /// Victoria, BC /// Sugar Nightclub†
September 29 /// Vancouver, BC /// Commodore Ballroom†
September 30 /// Kelowna, BC /// Kelowna Community Theatre†
October 1 /// Nelson, BC /// Spiritbar at the Hume Hotel†
October 2 /// Calgary, AB /// MacEwan Hall†
October 4 /// Edmonton, AB /// Winspear Centre†
October 5 /// Saskatoon, SK /// O’Brians Event Centre†
October 6 /// Regina, SK /// The Exchange†
October 7 /// Winnipeg, MB /// Burton Cummings Theatre†
October 9 /// Detroit, MI /// Crofoot Ballroom†
October 10 /// Cleveland, OH /// Beachland Ballroom
October 11 /// London, ON /// London Music Hall†
October 12 /// Ottawa, ON /// Bronson Centre Theatre†
October 13 /// Montreal, QC /// Corona Theatre†
October 14 /// Toronto, ON /// Massey Hall†

Keep your mind open.

The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions

 The New Pornographers  (Kathryn Calder – vocals, keyboards, guitar, Neko Case – vocals, John Collins – bass, Todd Fancey – lead guitar, Carl Newman – vocals, guitar, Joe Seiders – drums, vocals, Blaine Thurier – keyboards, synthesizers) hail from Canada, so that might explain the title of their new album – Whiteout Conditions. Such things are frequent there in the winters. I can’t help but think, however, that the title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the result of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and the voter base that led to that result.  Carl Newman and Neko Case are openly critical of President Trump on their respective Twitter feeds, so it’s not too much of a stretch.

Judging by the bright, uplifting feel of this record, the band assures us that everything will be all right. The opener, “Play Money,” is full of brilliant keyboards even as Ms. Case sings lyrics like “…just when I thought we beat the system, I knew a gentleman of leisure. He loved to talk about his treasure and how he got it for a song.”

The title track is a tale of some depression Newman’s admitted he was feeling at the time he wrote it (Shock at the result of the 2016 election?) “Flying and flat on the ceiling, I’m barely dealing…I wasn’t hoping for a win, I was hoping for freedom,” he sings, disguising the song as a tale of a man who’s sick of his job with pulsing synths and almost New Order beats. The first single, “High Ticket Attractions,” amps up the synths and witty lyrics (“You can’t imagine all the factions that form around high ticket attractions.”) even more, but now they’re backed with solid rock drumming by Seiders.

“This Is the World of the Theatre” pretty much wears its meaning on its sleeve. Like many of the tracks off their last album, Brill Bruisers, it sounds like an ELO track. “Darling Shade” has some of the funkiest bass on the record as Newman and his niece, Calder, sing, “When you give your mind to your voices, you accept the terms of your sentence.” “Second Sleep” is about insomnia (Due to stress?) as Peter Hook-style bass drives the track. “Colosseums” sprinkles in a bit of psychedelia as Newman sings about being overcome by, and warning against the distractions of, grand spectacle (“Colosseums, colosseums of the mind. Right on time, celebration in the ruin. Elation is moving in a wave. I avert my eyes, but I still see the lions.”). I love the percussion on this. It reminds me of Oingo Boingo songs, actually.

“We’ve Been Here Before” doesn’t sprinkle in psychedelia, it lays it on like a sweet strawberry jam. Just listen to those synths and vocals and you’ll hear it. Newman and Case assure us that we’ll get out of these times of “gods of bad parties.”

“Juke” is electro-psych with Newman singing about shattered crystal balls and people diverging on many paths after chaos explodes around them. The much-appreciated dive into psych-rock continues on “Clockwise.” It’s something you wouldn’t be surprised to hear on a Besnard Lakes album. The closer is “Avalanche Alley.” It opens with keyboards reminiscent of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door,” and then breaks into a great clickety-clack beat. I love that they chose to end an album about post-election blues with such a peppy, upbeat track.

As usual, the New Pornographers have crafted a great record. They’ve yet to swing and miss. Whiteout Conditions let us know that everything will be all right. Winter always gives way to spring. Whiteouts always clear sooner or later.

Keep your mind open.

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