By Joseph Marcas
Sometimes you need an album that reminds you that the world, and your world, isn’t as bad as you think it is. This was the lesson that Kacey Musgrave learned this year and now she has an album that matches her sweet, dulcet voice, ready to sing about her life in a way that reflects on the bad things without letting it bring you down.
But things have changed for the singer. She has made a quick left turn (a wedding and an acid trip will do that to you) and has now produced one of the best records of the year. Gone is the cynical view of her hometown that most artist adopt once they’ve made it big. Now in its place is reformed outlook on life that tells us that maybe her hometown (and maybe the whole world) isn’t as bad place as we think it is (By the way, her hometown is named Golden if you’re wondering where the album title came from).
So what of the music itself? There are the standard soft piano ballads of “Mother” and “Rainbow” and typical country tracks (banjo and all) of “Love Is A Wild Thing” and “Velvet Elvis” but these songs are only a portion of Musgraves’ cache. There is of course the critical favorite “High Horse”, the standout disco track on the album; the sweet harmonies of “Butterflies”, a record that will have you weak in the knees during those choruses; and the fittingly oddness of “Oh, What A World”, with Musgrave playing around with a vocoder that would make Daft Punk take notice.
Yes, the fan favorite track on this album is “Space Cowboy”, the most epically country song out of all of the others on this record; a complete reinvention of how country relationships are sung about without going off into banality. However, I would ask you to consider “Lonely Weekend”, a track of such potentially depressing lyrics sung over a melody with such airiness and bounce that you will looking forward to your next weekend away from friends. A song and melody so warm that you will feel the sunshine on your skin while sitting indoors with the curtains drawn.
By Lauren Foliart
Michelle Zauner is making an unforgettable name for herself under the alias Japanese Breakfast. Her sound ranges from lo-fi punk rock to experimental pop, situating her somewhere between the likes of Sleater Kinney and Metric. But ethereal soundscapes and inescapable lyrics give J.Brekkie (as fans fondly call her) an offbeat identity from the rest. As indie rock enters a renaissance era, Zauner is proof of what will come. She is as motivated as she is talented -- a female musician who continues to take “steps” despite an oppressive music industry (see: Neil Portnow’s outrageous post-GRAMMY comment towards women artists). And among other things, she turned her life story into a masterpiece of work; that alone is worth a listen.
Zauner’s career started most notably as the frontwoman of the Philadelphian emo group Little Big League. Misunderstood by critics as being nothing more than a “basement band,” they did garner attention locally, upholding the small remnants of a Philadelphia punk scene. In 2014, Zauner left the East Coast and her band behind, returning home to Eugene, Oregon upon news of her mom being diagnosed with cancer. These events, and the death of her mother shortly after, ultimately led to her solo career as Japanese Breakfast.
Her debut album, Psychopomp, she wrote only two months after her mom passed away. Over the course of nine short tracks, Zauner carries listeners across a spectrum of her emotions, touching on everything from unapologetic sex to the existential crisis of losing a loved one. The album is deeply personal -- a tribute to Zauner’s mother (who appears on the cover with her hand extended as if it could almost be touched) and a somber portrait of the daughter who lost her mother.
Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Zauner’s second studio album, continues the story that Psychopomp started. If nothing else, it upholds the honest character we have come to know lying beneath Japanese Breakfast. But the album delivers even more. Her arrangements bring a much bigger sound, emboldening Zauner’s lyrics as if she wants them heard from space. The first single, “Machinist,” is the largest step in this direction, beautifully showcasing her intention to push herself as an artist and solidify her career as a musician.
"This was the first song I wrote for the record. It's about a woman who falls in love with a robot. It started with the synth line, and I had this idea for the spoken word, and sort of like a hip-hop skit in the middle. I got really shy about it at first, but Craig Hendrix, who co-produced the album with me, really encouraged me to keep going... He had the brilliant idea to incorporate the vocoder harmonies. I forget who came up with the idea to do the auto-tune... I had done a cover of Cher's "Believe" around this time, so that may have been its beginning." - Michelle Zauner, NPR Interview
This year, Zauner will embark on a massive U.S. tour with Oakland-based artist Jay Som. Together, they help prove that women can break barriers in the music industry despite the biases of the people who run it. Both of Asian American descent (Zauner, by the way, is part Korean and Jewish; she just liked the name Japanese Breakfast), their talent also aids to close an even wider gap in an undeniably prejudicial profession.
By Emilio Arias
Hackings. Shootings. International pissing contests. Tax cuts (hikes?). Nuclear threats. Stolen elections. iPhone batteries are a lie. Literal Nazis with tiki torches. 2017 was a rough year. And yes I know this is 3 weeks into the new year but this is our blog so...deal with it.
Thankfully we had safe refuge within the confines of music...and hot damn was there a lot of good stuff that came out in 2017.
Trying to pick a top 5 of is like trying to invite everyone to your birthday party...you’re going to leave out a good friend that you have a bunch of embarrassing drunk stories with. But at least remember to invite the closest (read: coolest) ones.
Here’s my list of albums that got us through 2017 better than the rest.
Oh-So-Close Honorable Mentions:
What Now - Sylvan Esso
The electro pop duo from North Carolina flex their raw dance-move muscles on this album with lead firecracker Amelia Meath showing a jagged edge that might as well be a well manicured middle finger to the patriarchy.
Migration - Bonobo
England’s Simon Green moves from the beaches to the deserts with this absolutely stunning album featuring a perfect blend of soaring guest vocalists, ethnic musical influences and more bells and harps than your high school orchestra.
Sleep Well Beast - The National
This just in: The National is a serious band that takes themselves seriously. But this album is seriously fantastic. Added bonus; The National dives into a previously unexplored world -- guitar riffs and solos. It’s delicious.
Pure Comedy - Father John Misty
In the year 2131 when aliens first make contact with earth, the amorphous alien leader will meet with our greatest minds and leaders. Undoubtedly the first words out of this alien’s telepathic mind will be “yo you have a copy of that Father John Misty album? It’s been making me cry since 2017. That shit was fire”. There’s not a greater lyricist on earth than the long haired cynic from Seattle.
Sampha - Process
“No one knows me like my piano” proclaims London’s most exciting singer/piano maestro since Sir Elton John donned the glitter jacket. On Process, Sampha redefines his future by letting us into the world that only him and his piano know -- and it’s a sight to behold.
5. Everything Now - Arcade Fire
There was something disconcertingly fitting about Arcade Fire’s frenetic meditation on over consumption, mass media, corporatism and joyful apathy amongst the backdrop of 2017. Perhaps it was the band’s omnipresent marketing campaign which bombarded us with tongue in cheek images of the EVERYTHING NOW™ über-corporation. Or maybe it was the the critic’s disappointment that put a dent Arcade Fire’s once impenetrable sheen as “the band to save indie rock”. Could it have been the album’s inability to decide on which genre, or even direction it wanted to take? Whatever it was, and even despite the album being the band’s first critical flop, something about the anxious and chaotic undertones struck a resonant chord that felt...intentional.
Starting with the stuck-in-your-head-forever title track (which undoubtedly had ABBA tapping their toes in approval) and thrumming onward into the darkly upbeat singles "Signs of Life" and "Creature Comfort," the themes of anxiety and overindulgence in internet age of now, the album’s, at times, jarringly disjointed tracks are kept together by one theme: anxiety. And what better way to celebrate the era of media oversaturation, reality TV presidents and flat earth movements than an album that embodies the cyclical nature of it all with it’s infinite content? Even the album’s more skippable tracks (read: "Peter Pan") fit as a sort of dull glue that brings the whole mess together.
It may come off a little ham fisted at times but Everything Now is like the soundtrack for the coming apocalypse --- not the nuclear one (although that’s certainly on the table), but the spiritual one that Win Butler and Co. have been portending since their first album. Just pop this record on and dance, cry, warble and wail your way amongst the flames of the coming armageddon!
4. Aromanticism - Moses Sumney
While Moses Sumney’s sultry debut album was a last second find and addition to this list, his subtle, gorgeous, downbeat entry was a welcome salve. Combining the sparse and austere production of Frank Ocean, with the crooning falsettos of James Blake, Aromnaticism is as sexy as it is enveloping. Defying any sort of label, Sumney’s production is a highlight unto itself. Utilizing everything from sparkling harps, bright synthesizers, twanging guitars to soft jazz drums and deep basslines, the album almost has a “kitchen sink” attitude to backing Sumney’s vocals. This sort of cross breeding of indie rock, R&B, soul and electronica feels like the cresting of a new wave in music that blurs lines, morphs through genres and generally symbolizes the new melting pot paradigm in which we are ingesting music. Gone are the days of being a strict “rap” or “rock” fan and having the radio dictate what you were going to hear that day. With the power of tools such as Spotify, Apple Music and/or whatever other medium by which you consume your music, you can be listening to Motown classics for breakfast and finishing your day with the latest deep-house mix for dessert. And Sumney’s debut album certainly feels as cool as a rich gelato as it melts in your ears.
3. MASSEDUCTION - St. Vincent
St. Vincent (or as her native Texan cohors know her, Annie Clark) has already established herself as a torch bearing paragon of indie rock. Collaborating with oddball legends like David Byrne, Sufjan Stevens and Jack Antonoff certainly did nothing to diminish the image of St. Vincent as a guitar shredding, doe-eyed, head scratching musical novelty. But little did the world know that lurking underneath her previous albums was a mutant butterfly waiting to burst forth from the shadows of her rock brethren and rain down musical fire and excellence upon us --- that butterfly is MASSEDUCTION. Ditching the distortion heavy guitar riffs of her 2015 self titled album in favor of Antonoff-led digital production, Clark has taken her game to an entirely new and almost overwhelming level. But don’t think for a second that this drum pad fairyland (The deliciously fun and seductive "Los Ageless" comes to mind) is missing any of the indie richness and soul that earned St. Vincent her street cred in the first place. If anything, this proto-prog album has launched Clark into the rarified air of near avant garde artist, a-la the previously mentioned Everything Now. Tackling themes of Xanax fueled disaffection in Pills, alienation at the hands of everyone’s favorite concrete jungles in "New York" and "Los Ageless," and constant softcore porn inundation with the title track "Masseduction," Clark’s heady songwriting isn’t pulling any punches. To top it all off, Clark has embraced the image of a glassy eyed, confusing, modern sex symbol; just give one glance at the album art and you’ll see what I’m talking about. This meta narrative gives the album a wickedly poignant allure in a time when we want all our favorite albums to be just a little more self aware.
2. A Deeper Understanding - The War on Drugs
Nobody sounds quite like the War on Drugs right now. We’ve all heard the classic Americana rock comparisons, but these guys still have their version of that definitive, nostalgic, sweeping sound. And it’s that very sound that is sharpened, honed, refined and driven right through your heart on A Deeper Understanding. At a time when the barrier between genres is as mushy and nebulous as ever, The War on Drugs has doubled down on what makes their sound work and carried the flag of “rock” into the sunset. Gifting us with an album that averages well over 5 minutes per track, this album is as long and winding as it is beautiful and soothing. From desperately wistful tracks like "Pain" and "Thinking of a Place" to glowingly driving anthems such as "Holding On," this album finds different avenues to rip your heart out.
But even more wonderfully, Adam Granduciel and company have reminded us that the ultimate rock symbol of freedom and expression is far from dead; the guitar solo. Considering how much we’ve become accustomed to repetition and the rise of the sampled track, A Deeper Understanding takes us back down a retrofitted highway of fretboards, distortion and bended strings...and it’s absolutely grand in scope. If you’re lucky enough to catch these fellas in concert, their mastery and dedication to their craft is on full display -- Granduciel evoking images of a long haired mad scientist, compulsively kicking, twisting and clamping at a dizzying array of foot pedals and distortion. From afar it appears as though he’s in the throes of some fever dream and the only way out is to smash the countless spiders on the ground with gusto. But to him...I’m sure he’s just finding the perfect pitch to pluck our heartstrings, with his merry tap dancing just another move in his arsenal of musical weaponry.
1. American Dream - LCD Soundsystem
Seven years after James Murphy and co., joyously danced themselves clean of LCD Soundsystem, the band is quite literally back together. If you’d gone into a coma before LCD’s “fakebreak” and the first thing you heard was American Dream, you would have guessed this came out mere months after 2010’s This is Happening -- the gang from New York have lost absolutely nothing in terms of raw firepower and modulated synth-suality. If anything, with the time off and beauty of age, James Murphy gives even less fucks, is more salty and has learned a trick or two during his time in hipster exile.
I’ll be the first to admit that my sense of anxiety immediately before this album dropped was overwhelming -- what if it sucks? What if they’ve lost it? What if James really is just mailing it in or doing it for the money? My resurrected love for one of the greatest accidental bands of all time was just too fragile to handle a letdown. This was 2017! The world is going to hell in a handbasket and we needed our heroes to deliver everything and more to save us from the incoming doomsday. Unfair expectations indeed.
Needless to say, I think James Murphy had the exact same fears -- American Dream is an ode to endings and new beginnings, both literal and metaphysical. Even the much maligned album art (giant ugly block letters layered over a perfectly hazy blue sunny sky) feels like a smack-to-your-face metaphor for what a diehard LCD fan would see in the last moments of their life before ascending to hipster heaven.
What surprised us the most about American Dream was not that we got more of the same wonderful kookiness and dance-party fun, but how raw and real we were allowed to see the band become. Now don’t get me wrong, "Someone Great," "Losing My Edge" and "All My Friends" are all windows into James’ anxiety ridden, overzealous, labyrinthine mind, but never before have we the audience been given the key to explore the depths of LCD’s heart. Tracks such as the who-cut-onions oh baby, no holds barred how do you sleep and ode to the late David Bowie black mirror all explore that theme most pressing in the corner’s of LCD’s consciousness -- loss and endings. From dealing with James’ divorce, to his business dissolution and brutal lawsuit with former business partner Tim Goldsworthy (if you don’t know about this look it up...it’s wild) and the loss of mentor and friend David Bowie, American Dream takes on a whole new feel and flavor in this context. The “dream” the album is referring to isn’t some comforting narrative, but rather a sweat drenched nightmare that we’re all living through with every waking moment. Sounds dark? Well it is. But that’s why we have this album to help us dance through the flames.
As much as it’s clear that James Murphy and co are painfully self aware of their age and tenuous musical legacy, it’s also obvious that they’re having fun doing what they do best -- making millions of people move their feet. Just promise you won't break anything when you start headbanging to emotional haircut or start a riot to call the police. See LCD knows that sooner or later the party is going to end, but they want to make sure they’re the song you’re playing when the house catches fire and the cops show up.
And that my scumbags, are the top albums of the shitshow that was 2017.
By Emilio Arias
Like a generation of us, I was raised with the lyrics to "Freefalling", "American Girl", and "Running Down a Dream", seemingly downloaded into my consciousness before I was born.
At some point, the spark of creativity and music seems to reach a fever pitch for a select few and turn human into legend. Legend into immortal. And immortal into a very fabric and piece of a culture.
That's what Tom Petty became to so many of us. For every gut punching moment in our lives there was "Crawling Back to You". For every ecstatic dance frenzy there was "Mary Jane's Last Dance". For each hazy karaoke night, we had those fever dream illusions of becoming the man himself.
But you don't wake up one day a legend. You become one over time. With each heart you touch and each moment you shape.
If a life is measured by the people you impact and the legacy you leave then Tom's tapestry stretches into infinity.
I was lucky enough to see him once, in our own backyard at Outsidelands 2014. It was a cold and foggy night; a classic Outsidelands evening. But there was a thrum of energy, a chord of electricity being felt by everyone there. We knew what we were about to witness. And hold witness we did. I was with my lovely girlfriend at the time and while we didn't claim or pretend to be Tom's biggest fans or know every word to every song and idolize the deep cuts, we had special memories shared with him. Falling asleep to his music. Softly singing along and sharing a knowing smile. And that night cemented all of them. We fell deeper into love as we sang "Learning to Fly" at the top of our lungs with 40,000 other people. We took pictures to commemorate the moment we didn't realize we'd only have once. Isn't it incredible how someone you never met and you will never know can bring thousands together and be such an agent of connection. It was an infinite moment with a human that had transcended a common life.
Legends don't die because we keep hearing their names or their work. Legends live forever because those memories are woven into the quilt of our existence.
Thank you for the memories Tom. Now it's our turn to keep you alive in ours. I hope wherever you are you’ve learned to fly.
by Lauren Foliart
Describing Sylvan Esso’s stage arrangement is simple: a girl with a microphone, a guy with a sound mixer, some fog, and some lasers. If someone switched on the house lights during their show, that is what everyone would see. However, Sylvan Esso’s performance is anything but elementary. Every moment is engineered with intention and every note played with a purpose. They take stage fully prepared to make the crowd forget the outside world and just dance.
At the Fox Theater in Oakland, Sylvan Esso did just that for two sold out nights that will forever be remembered by Bay Area fans. Their energy was infectious; their sound flawless. What could have been just another 40-dollar-plus-fees concert, they orchestrated into a priceless experience I’m daydreaming about still.
Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn only met five years ago, which is almost hard to believe considering how lock-step they are on stage—a near psychic connection between them. In 2012, the two were involved with separate bands when Sylvan Esso became a side project. Meath wrote lyrics to a song she needed someone to articulate with production, and upon finding Sanborn, that song soon became their hit single, "Play It Right." Afterwards, the duo moved to North Carolina and started a partnership that ultimately changed their careers.
The duality of what each of the brings to Sylvan Esso is undeniable when they perform live. Meath’s unmistakable voice paired with her standalone presence makes her a riveting frontwoman. It feels like every one of her moves is organic, but at the same time choreographed, taking into consideration the smallest of details such as her shadowed silhouette in the light projections. However, if at any moment you found yourself so enthralled with her dancing that you forgot to dance yourself, Sanborn is there with a massive punch of bass to get your feet moving again. The sound he produces on stage is equally as provocative as what he creates in the studio.
Sylvan Esso’s stop in Oakland is one on an international tour, in support of their sophomore album What Now. For most of their fans, this was the first time hearing those new tracks which have become instant classic summer anthems. Even their older songs like “Coffee” and “H.S.K.T.”, which we have repeatedly played over and over again since 2014, felt new again.
Hyping this album since October 2016 when I saw them perform at Treasure Island Music Festival, it surprised me not to see their name on the festival circuit for 2017. Sylvan Esso provides the ultimate festival set: high energy dancing, large scale visuals and an overall performance worth seeing from start to finish. Now, after seeing them in a small renovated theater like the Fox, I understand why they opted out. Sylvan Esso wanted to give their fans exactly what they delivered—an intimate evening to dance their hearts out with the band.
by Emilio Arias
Confined and impermeable are not words generally associated with good or accessible music. Yet that’s exactly the world in which Adam Granduciel and his heartland/roots-rock outfit, The War on Drugs, brings us into and locks us in with their newest album, A Deeper Understanding. Much like the title implies, we the listeners are brought down and happily trapped into a dark and expansive subterranean sonic world full of loss, longing, sadness and desperate hope. Raw, powerful, soaring and fun to listen to, A Deeper Understanding takes all that you’ve come to love about life on the road with The War on Drugs and drives you towards a new setting sun.
At this point in their career The War on Drugs have heard all the comparisons, for better or for worse; Dylan, Petty, Springsteen, Young. But where most groups would swing between bristling at being unable to escape the shadow of their influences, or grudgingly stay the course and adopt the sounds of their heroes, The War on Drugs has taken that legendary foundation and remade it distinctly their own. A sound which has been honed, sharpened and steeped to a nearly perfect cocktail on this album. Granduciel’s hallmark exuberance (just you try not to get pumped when he shouts his joyful woo! on their 2014 track, “Red Eyes”) isn’t found anywhere on A Deeper Understanding. But it isn’t needed to convey the powerful themes running through the album; the sonic highways on which the album roars down provides all the speed you need.
Where their 2014 breakthrough album Lost in the Dream reached a fever pitch with slow builds and driving guitars, A Deeper Understanding is a fever dream, slowly heating up and breaking out into a cold sweat as we observe from the corner of Granduciel’s hermetically sealed mental studio. If Dylan wrote of fantastic characters brought to life by acidic metaphors, and Springsteen crafted heroically vivid stories of Americana, The War on Drugs gives us detailed recollections through that hazy window of half remembered memory.
But metaphors and imagery aside, what truly shines on A Deeper Understanding are the expansive and vice-grip arrangements and melodies; acting as their own rich story, standing apart from Granduciel’s longing lyricism. It’s impossible not to lose oneself in the complex guitar solos of “Pain,” or the brightly unexpected xylophone in “Holding On,” which is made all the more impressive when realizing that Granduciel produced most of the studio instrumentation on his own. The wandering loneliness and longing so elemental to this album is heightened by Granduciel’s literal solitude in its creation.
The War on Drugs has never shied away from a grand sonic vision, and that ambition is no more obvious than on the length of the tracks themselves. Clocking in at a healthy 66 minutes across ten individually gorgeous tracks, A Deeper Understanding is an insular journey down a forgotten highway towards an uncertain future or leaving behind a haunted past. Able to toe the line between a sealed in studio album that traps us in the dark and beautiful recesses of its creator's mind, while simultaneously granting us visions of an open and beautiful world, the album succeeds where other records might fail; eliciting a sense of loss and pain while at once being authentic and real, and leaving you with a sense of hope and optimism that your destination will be worth the journey.
1. "Mother"/How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
“Mother” is the final track on Florence’s most recent album and the one song that represents everything I love about her. It’s lyrically poetic using classic imageries of nature and religion to illustrate the desperations of survival--a gospel in its own right. Feminine and fierce, the song serves as a conclusion to the journey of self-discovery we take with her on How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Most of all, this is Flo’s strongest homage to her influence Grace Slick. Her vocal sirens on the track speak so true to the late rock goddess it leaves you feeling like Flo has exercised Slick’s soul by the end of the song.
2. "Cosmic Love"/Lungs
Written during a “hangover to end them all,” “Cosmic Love” is a tale of galactic passion and unrequited love hums on a frequency so ubiquitous, I dare you not to think of your ex while listening. Fueled by harps and an uncharacteristically ghostly sounding Florence, "Cosmic Love" is a perfect snapshot of her early work; ethereal melodies backing up an almost mythological voice. Of course, we now know all about Flo’s gritty humanity and flaws as we’ve come to know her, but from her debut album, she very much flitted amongst the stars on this track.
3. "What The Water Gave Me"/Ceremonials
To be honest, I was not a fan of this song when it first came out. It dropped as the first single off Ceremonials over a month before “Shake It Out.” The recording felt abstract and avant-garde for Florence, and it terrified me that she might turn into an artist I didn’t want her to be. But it soon grew on me after Ceremonials’ full release. What felt disingenuine in fact became a point of integrity listed amongst the 11 other soulful tracks. Fun fact: The song’s theme tells of Virginia Woolf’s death and the title comes from a Frida Kahlo painting of the same name.
4. "Dog Days Are Over"/Lungs
The song that vaulted Florence into stardom and onto indie rock stations in the summer of 2009, “Dog Days” is as much a sweeping summer anthem as it is a coy cautionary tale. Warning listeners that “the dog days are over” and to leave their love behind “if they want to survive,” the track is truly all the best parts of Florence packed into a crisp 4:13’. Paired with a whimsical, colorful and frenetic art-house music video, the song highlights all the lighter elements of Flo, while alluding to the inner demons that will come to mark her later music.
5. "Delilah"/How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
This song, while lyrically desperate and damaging, empowers me out of a purgatory I often find myself in. Lost and only, Florence dances her way through one of her more uptempo singles off of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The gospel refrains that so proudly define her previous album Ceremonials makes me love this track even more. We can all harmonize to waiting around for someone’s call.
6. "Shake It Out"/Ceremonials
Evoking the same desperate yet hopeful imagery as “Dog Days,” the second track off of Flo’s sophomore classic, “Shake It Out” is a daring depiction of triumph over one’s demons. Visualizing twisted and dark imagery of ghouls, monsters and one’s personal hell, Florence’s journey through the wrenching song is both universally familiar and hauntingly dark. For anyone (i.e., everyone) who’s ever felt crushed beneath the weight of their own devils, “Shake it Out” is the perfect exorcism.
7. "I'm Not Calling You A Liar"/Lungs
Recalling my first time seeing Flo perform live in 2009, the image of a towering six-foot harp that stood beside her on stage represent is first to note. The beautiful and unusual instrument symbolized her breakthrough into the music industry for many years. She used it frequently throughout Lungs, as is heard on this track, and it set her apart from all other artists at the time. With every strum of the harp, it's like I remember the night Flo and I formally met.
8. "Third Eye"/How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Epitomizing Flo’s evolution from staid vocalist to Stevie Nicks-esque nymph, “Third Eye” is a harmonized meditation on grief and pain, but from the unique perspective of the outside observer. Identifying the listener’s pain by claiming she can see the “hole where your heart lies with her third eye,” Florence is stepping outside of her usual role as an inner monologist and instead gifting us with her ability to see right through all of us, making “Third Eye” her most personal and intimate song to date.
9. "Hospital Beds"/A Lot of Love, a Lot of Blood EP
One of the first songs I ever heard of hers, "Hospital Beds" was included on A Lot of Love, a Lot of Blood, the EP she released months before her first album Lungs. It is a cover of a Cold War Kids recording by the same name and a complete departure from anything Florence was trying to be at the time. It remains one of my favorite tracks to this day because of how strangely it fits in her music portfolio. When I listen to it, I can see her walking into an open mic night at a grungy bar where no one knows her, taking the stage and rocking everyone’s world with this song.
10. "Stand By Me"/Songs From Final Fantasy XV
Flo has never been shy about her covers, bringing her unique theatricality and raw, powerful vocal emotion to Johnny Cash’s “Jackson,” a laconic edge to Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” and even venturing into pure pop waters with Drake’s “Take Care.” But nothing quite hits home like Flo’s grandiose version of Ben E. King’s soul classic, “Stand by Me.” Packing an emotional wallop amidst soaring strings and warbling notes, Flo finds the balance that so many covers fail to do; paying ample respect and homage to the spirit of the song, while going full boss herself and making it completely her own. Nobody can upstage the diva, and Florence reminds us beyond a doubt that she is indeed the queen of the stage.
Washed Out//Fox Theater//Oakland//8-16-17