Top 89 Staff Picks: Cecilia Johnson, blogger


Top 89 of 2017 Staff Picks
Local Current blogger Cecilia Johnson shares her top albums, songs, and fierce lady-featuring music videos of 2017. (Luke Mills | MPR graphic)

Making a Top 89 list is one of my favorite activities of the year. Not because I enjoy ranking or tugs-of-war so much, but because a list is an opportunity to really gush about all the new music that stole my heart in a given time. Some crept in on tiptoes; some grabbed at me with both hands; all of it will live with me as I move forward. Here's what I loved in 2017.

Top 10 songs of 2017

Lizzo - "Water Me"

This stand-alone single grows and grows with each new ingredient; churchy (organ?) chords jump in first, then Lizzo sings the hook, then the bassline dances in and the drums start to kick. Then things really take off. I loved "Water Me" on first listen, but it wasn't until I played it at my service job that I fully grasped its greatness; even the crabbiest cook soul-clapped the chorus.

Janelle Kroll - "Barricade"
Chicagoan Janelle Kroll has a super recognizable voice, and I've never enjoyed hearing it more than in this song. Like, "Bad Habit" above, it's snappy with just the right amount of layers.

Alice Merton - "No Roots"
It doesn't matter where your volume is set -- "No Roots" sounds fierce as heck, yet danceable and a little seductive. I'd recommend this to anyone, to a degree I can't remember since Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know (feat. Kimbra)."

Chela - "Bad Habit"
My feelings for this song are probably best expressed by the way I listened to it literally 12 times in a row, repeatedly freaking out how good it is instead of writing a blurb. But here's what I eventually came up with:

I've been listening to Chela's one-off singles for years, but it looks like she's finally polished her craft enough to occupy a bigger spotlight. When NPR premiered "Bad Habit" in September, I took it as a sign of more high-profile releases to come, and I couldn't have been more EXCITED.

Kehlani - "I Wanna Be"
Released back in January, Kehlani's SweetSexySavage was too bloated to make it on my albums list, but this song and "Keep On" still sound so fresh that they jumped straight into consideration for my top songs.

SHAED - "Too Much"
You can tell my Spotify algorithm found my sweet spot. Midway through the year, my recommendations overflowed with dark and/or dancey pop, but you didn't see me complaining as I fell in love with the new SHAED (pronounced "shade"). They're good live, too; when I saw them open for Marian Hill, I wrote, "For being on their first tour ever, SHAED sounded great."

Halsey & Lauren Jauregui - "Strangers"
Thanks in part to songwriting assists from Sia ("Devil In Me"), Lido ("Don't Play," "Walls Could Talk") and Semisonic's Dan Wilson ("Alone"), Halsey's uneven second album had its moments. None shone brighter than this collaboration with Lauren Jauregui from Fifth Harmony. Here is a SPIN piece by Anna Gaca that I wish came from my brain.

Luis Fonsi - "Despacito (feat. Daddy Yankee)"
How fun to see this song leap onto "favorites" playlists all over the world. I've always been a fan of reggaetón, so I was seriously delighted to see genre megastar Daddy Yankee and Puerto Rican crooner Luis Fonsi team up for this global smash.

Noga Erez - "Pity"
"Alarms would go off and you'd need to go to a shelter and hear a big boom after it," Israeli artist Noga Erez told The Guardian of living in Tel Aviv while rockets were fired into the city. "It took me a year and half not to freak out every time I heard an alarm." Uncoincidentally, much of her debut album Off the Radar sounds wired: agitated and severe, one second from the most frantic freak-out. "Pity" is one of the most fully formed tracks.

The New Pornographers - "High Ticket Attractions"
This was another insta-favorite. It never stands still, thanks both to the urgent bassline and the tag-you're-it A.C. Newman and Kathryn Calder keep playing on the vocals. Also, the New Pornographers may hail from Canada, but Minnesotan Dan Huiting directed this music video.

Top 10 albums of 2017

Lorde - Melodrama
Lorde makes music I don't usually want to talk about. I don't want to look someone else in the eye and ingest their thoughts on minimalism and grace. I don't want to read Pitchfork's take on Melodrama when I could cradle my own. I'd rather stand in hot water or wander dark streets or lie next to someone in what would be silence except for the music.

It's selfish. Closed-minded, too. But that's Melodrama: the quiet, thrumming Pure Heroine follow-up that brought us, "I care for myself the way I used to care about you." The high notes in "Writer in the Dark," ominous and thin. The royal purple, the envy-green, the cold blue.

St. Vincent - Masseduction
St. Vincent's sixth album is plasticky on the surface and just plain sticky within. In "Savior" and "Los Ageless," one of my favorite songs of the year, Annie Clark uses vicious guitar riffs as grappling hooks into your head. Elsewhere, like in "Hang On Me" and "Smoking Section," her voice does the beckoning. I see this album as a career highlight.

The xx - I Dare You
At first, this band seemed innocuous. But this year, I Dare You started to wear grooves in my head, and the xx's show at the Palace Theatre decisively converted me to fandom. Curving more toward Jamie xx's strength in sampling than previous projects, the new album is uniquely well-suited to almost any context; most of it played more than once over U.S. Bank Stadium speakers before U2, and I've enjoyed it on trains, road trips, and dates with friends.

Sylvan Esso - What Now
I'd enjoyed Sylvan Esso before, but what really converted me to their camp was their show at First Ave in August. A jaw-dropping light show moved to Nick Sanborn's glitchy beats, and vocalist Amelia Meath always looked one moment from voguing (bonus: the most amazing lights-up Robyn dance-along of all time). That fun night opened my ears to What Now (especially "Sound," "Just Dancing" and "Kick Jump Twist").

Dua Lipa - Dua Lipa
I cannot wait for the day this woman tours in Minneapolis. Dua Lipa should've been a few songs shorter; "No Goodbyes" is an unexceptional 2017 pop song if I've ever heard one. But "Hotter Than Hell," "IGDAF," and especially "New Rules" are so much fun that I had to include this album in my top 10. Plus Dua actually has an amazing, Adele-rich voice; just listen to this album's "Thinking 'Bout You" and her cover of Sam Smith's "I'm Not The Only One."

P.O.S - Chill, dummy
P.O.S from Doomtree, aka Minneapolis's own Stef Alexander, recovered from health issues and brought this album back with him from the brink -- of anger, pain, and loneliness. During an in-studio session, he told Sean McPherson, "A lot of this record is shaking that [toxic] stuff off." Maybe that's why he recruited so many friends to contribute to the record, including Lady Midnight on "Faded" and Open Mike Eagle and Manchita on "Infinite Scroll."

Thomas Abban - A Sheik's Legacy
The first time I heard "Symmetry And Black Tar," Jade played it on The Current, and I assumed it was by an artist from outside of Minnesota. I would already know about such an awesome local talent, right? Well. Upon googling, I found out that Thomas Abban has been living in the Twin Cities for several years, ever since moving from Wales with his dad. He's been honing his abilities in private, and this year, he burst onto the scene with flexible, inexplicable rock album A Sheik's Legacy. I profiled him here.

Jay-Z - 4:44
I approached this album with a measure of skepticism. Most of us loved Lemonade, right? Why listen to Jay's apologies when we could watch "Formation" again? But then I listened to the Still Processing episode about it. Podcast hosts Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham delve into the cultural importance of Jay-Z and Beyoncé's relationship, and they EVEN play snippets of 4:44 next to Lemonade, and that's what eased me into this project.

I liked what Consequence of Sound had to say: "Even though it's only 36 minutes long, 4:44 is the first JAY-Z album where you're hanging on every single word from start to finish, because the words have about four times as many meanings as they did on any of his dozen solo albums prior."

Fyfe - The Space Between
It's not often that I let an album coast on the strength of a few songs. But "Belong (feat. Kimbra)," "Love You More," and "Relax" are so, so good that I couldn't help myself. If you thought Kimbra wasn't going to end up in my top 10s for the fourth year running, you were wrong.

Mura Masa - Mura Masa
Wow, I struggled with whether or not to list this album. On the one hand, it smushes old songs ("Firefly," "Lovesick") and trendy rappers (A$AP Rocky, Desiigner) and superfluous steel drums into one wrapper. But then there are the wonderfully hazy tunes and songs that literally make you bop and a stunning appearance by Christine and the Queens (who -- no question about it -- is my queen). In the end, I decided I'd spent so much time biking around to Alex Crossan's debut that it did deserve a place here (albeit in the tenth slot, an exception to my "no particular order" MO).

Top five music videos with FIERCE LADIES

Dua Lipa - "New Rules"

Dizzy Fae - "Don't Hate For Me"

Chela - "Bad Habit"

Beyoncé - "Freedom (International Day of the Girl video)"

Lizzo - "Scuse Me"

The Current Hosts' and Staffers' Top 89 of 2017

Brett BaldwinBill DeVilleJay GablerJadeCecilia JohnsonLindsay KimballMary LuciaJim McGuinnSean McPhersonShelley MillerMike NovitzkiBrian OakeAnna ReedJill RileyNate RyanDerrick StevensAndrea SwenssonLuke TaylorMark WheatMac WilsonJesse Wiza

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