Minus The Flair

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Last Active 12-14-17 5:54 am
Joined 06-02-06

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12.30.17 4 Best Songs of 201703.13.12 Resign, Review, Request?
11.08.10 Catch Matt Up03.06.10 Why 2010 > 00's
01.07.10 Minus The Flair - Songs Of 200912.14.09 Matt Wolfe's Top 25 Of 2009
11.17.08 Top 25 Of 08 Rough Draft08.31.08 New Stuff
12.25.07 Top 20 Of 07

4 Best Songs of 2017

Hardly listened to anything new this year, but here are a few thoughts on the songs that hit me hardest. Along with one rediscovery.
1The National
Sleep Well Beast

Erin at the Liquour Store

My writing skill is not at the level where I can explain the appeal of The National. That’s not some hackneyed glorification; it’s only to say I don’t really understand *what* appeals to me about The National. They occupy a space in my mind that belongs only to them. Nobody sounds like them, and nobody brings that same twinge of familiarity, of warmth, of, as Lewis put it in the year-end list, ‘home’. Why that should be, I can’t say. It could be Matt Berninger's soothing, at times slightly slurred baritone, always sounding like it’s on the verge of trailing off and leaving you to follow it into the next room. It could be those lyrics, oddly comforting yet indecipherable for eons, until the day you miss your flight or bump into an ex and it all clicks into place. It could simply be the repetition, the cosy space of refrain upon refrain.
2The National
Sleep Well Beast

As I say, I don’t know, but what I do know is that my favourite National tracks are those with piano keys. The piano that introduces and runs through ‘Erin at the Liquor Store’ is one of the greatest things The National has ever produced, and if I could bottle it, I’d open a liquor store, call it ‘Erin’s’, stock it with the stuff, and never let anyone in.
3Manchester Orchestra
A Black Mile to the Surface

The Silence

I spent a fair bit of time this year listening to Manchester Orchestra’s back catalogue, and it made for instructive listening. One thing that struck me was how Andy Hull chose to open the follow-up to their debut: the sense of snark and sarcasm on Mean Everything To Nothing’s ‘The Only One’ almost seems a cold laugh/slap in the face of Like A Virgin Losing a Child’s shameless emotional outpour. Admittedly, the debut did struggle to artfully direct the weight of its anguish at times, and maybe a middle finger to histrionics was the right approach for that moment. But what I love about Hull is that by the end of METN he is already right back to constructing these huge, crashing odes to *feeling*.
4Manchester Orchestra
A Black Mile to the Surface

Hull can’t escape this side of him. Fortunately, after allowing it to run away with him at times on Simple Math (and let’s not even get into Cope), he’s reached a level of maturity on Black Mile that has enabled Manchester Orchestra to record their most consistent album to date. And it’s fitting that the best song of Manchester Orchestra’s career so far would be the albums’s closer: The Silence is what happens when Hull keeps step with his tortured soul, rather than being outrun by it, overtaking it, or trying to hide from it. And it’s stunning.
5Four Tet
New Energy


If I had it my way, Four Tet would only ever produce songs like ‘Daughter’. Not since ‘Angel Echoes’ has a Four Tet song so captured me, and captured is the optimum word. Atop a bass line reminiscent of Massive Attack’s immortal Teardrop, a snipped and spliced female vocal swirls, spins, skips forward, smiling, daydreaming. Layer upon perfectly timed layer is added to the mix, with the prize piece being an enchanting piano melody for which only Kieran Hebden could find its right place. After the final layer is added, all that’s left is for the volume to swell and the net to drop and the time to pass and the repeat button to be hit again and again and again. An album of Daughters next time, Kieran.
6The Smith Street Band
More Scared of You Than You Are of Me


In July, I went to see The Smith Street Band in Bristol a day after my 4-year on-off relationship ended for good. I remember feeling intensely self-conscious, my arms crossed and my eyes to the floor in the claustrophobically tiny room packed front to back. Will Wagner and co opened with Forrest, ‘SHE YELLED, TELL JESUS HE’S A FUCKING LOSER’, and the place was bouncing, but still I couldn’t loosen up. I hadn’t processed what had happened, and thoughts of the last month’s numerous fights were skittering over my mind, shapeless, half-formed.
7The Smith Street Band
More Scared of You Than You Are of Me

Wagner transitioned into Birthdays, and whether it was the beer or the bursting of eardrums, the fog began to lift. ‘Wanna be alone, wanna be surrounded, wanna be transient, wanna be grounded’ hit the mark first. Then ‘We are more than simple housewives / More than the sum of our past lives’. These lyrics - the agony of one’s twenties set against the backdrop of wit, cynicism, crashing guitars, clinking beers and, vitally, hope - grounded me, at least temporarily, in the present moment, and I could enjoy one of the finest songs of the year being played just for me.
8Joanna Newsom
Have One on Me

Best Rediscovered Song of 2017 - Baby Birch

This was one of my favourite tracks from Joanna Newsom’s 2010 album ‘Have One on Me’, but I gained a new appreciation for it this year when I stumbled over a video of Newsom performing it live (since seemingly removed from YouTube). There is a moment in the performance - the songwriter resting her head against her harp, eyes downturned, hand wavering, and the previous note lingering just a little too long - where you are reminded that music is not only the salve of anguish but the product of it. I hope I never go through anything as harrowing as what Newsom must have been through to produce this song, and it almost feels like an invasion, a *theft*, to enjoy the spoils of her creation when knowing how tragic was its source.
9Joanna Newsom
Have One on Me

But if we are to enjoy it, then best to give it as thorough and attentive a listen as it deserves, even if it takes endless listens to get there. The effort is worth it, as doing so can leave you bewildered at Newsom’s skills as a harpist, vocalist, lyricist, and story-teller. No, story-weaver is more appropriate; colours and characters weave in and out between the harp strings, painting pictures that wake, yawn and live. Look even more closely, and out of the ether materialise snapshots of achingly intimate, painful moments. These gems leave me dumbfounded and ashamed, looking at my own words like lumps of coal. But it’s the awe that remains, and it continues to grow after all these years.
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