KRWG

2017 Music Wrap

Dec 30, 2017
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RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

It's almost the end of the year, and even though we're all looking forward to 2018 with new resolutions, a symbolic clean slate, it's also a time to look back and appreciate what we gained during the year past. Then, of course, it's time to party. So if you're looking for suggestions for a New Year's Eve playlist or just trying to catch up on tunes you might have missed, NPR Music writer Stephen Thompson is here to help. He joins me now in the studio, as he does every year at this time, to share his favorite songs of 2017. Hi, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hello, Ray.

SUAREZ: Now, before we get started, I want to mention that you're coming back soon to talk about upcoming music to listen to in 2018 - just putting that out there so our listeners have something to look forward to in case they don't like any of your 2017 picks. Well, that's not going to happen. Let's get to it. What have you got for us?

THOMPSON: (Laughter) I'm a big believer in second chances. Well, the first song I've got here is called "Prom" by a singer who goes by the name of SZA.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PROM")

SZA: (Singing) Fearing not growing up keeping me up at night. Am I doing enough? Feel like I'm wasting time.

SUAREZ: Why haven't we heard more from SZA before 2017?

THOMPSON: Well, she's been bubbling up for a few years. She had an EP a few years ago. And this, finally, is kind of her long-awaited first full-length record. It's called "Ctrl" - C-T-R-L. And it's all just packed with charisma and personality. You listen to this record and you think this could absolutely be our next pop icon, kind of the way a Beyonce or a Kendrick Lamar - these kind of superstars at the very top.

SUAREZ: So here we go. That's my cue to bring in someone whose album has been getting big airplay all year, that's Kendrick Lamar. His album "DAMN" was a huge success.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HUMBLE")

KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) Nobody pray for me, even a day for me, way - yeah, yeah. I remember syrup sandwiches and crime allowances. Finessing on them with some counterfeits, but now I'm counting this. Parmesan where my accountant lives. In fact, I'm downing this.

SUAREZ: So what makes this song stand out for you?

THOMPSON: Well, it fits into this record that is so personal and also about big ideas, about humility but also his place in the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HUMBLE")

LAMAR: (Singing) Be humble. Hold up. Sit down. Hold up. Hold up. Be humble. Hold up. Hold up. Sit down.

SUAREZ: Moving on, you've chosen a very different sound for our last song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAYING")

KESHA: (Singing) You almost had me fooled, told me that I was nothing without you. Oh, and after everything...

SUAREZ: This is "Praying" by the pop star Kesha. Now, Stephen, this one seems like an appropriate song for the times we find ourselves in right now with the Weinstein et al.'s scandals spiraling out to other industries. And a lot of Kesha's music is kind of personal, confessional, isn't it?

THOMPSON: It's not only personal, it's very relevant to the times that we're in right now, as you said, not only because of the Weinstein stuff but for anybody who needs kind of this anthem of grace and self-belief. Is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAYING")

KESHA: (Singing) I hope your soul is changing, changing. I hope you find your peace falling on your knees, praying.

SUAREZ: When Kesha was famously going through her lawsuit against Dr. Luke in 2015, there was worries, rumors, whatever you want to call it, that by speaking out against such a powerful producer, she'd ruin her career, she'd derail. Is this album, especially in this cultural moment, a comeback for her?

THOMPSON: Yeah, I think it absolutely is. And it's also - there's a feeling on the rest of the record of celebration, of her survival not only as an artist but as a person.

SUAREZ: And why don't we make time for one last suggestion, Stephen? You better make it count because we have a little bit more than 24 hours left to listen to all these songs and we can never play a 2017 song again. This is it, all this music sunsets.

THOMPSON: That's right.

SUAREZ: Let's listen to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF WE WERE VAMPIRES")

JASON ISBELL AND THE 400 UNIT: (Singing) It's not the long-flowing dress that you're in or the light coming off of your skin, the fragile heart you protected for so long or the mercy in your sense of right and wrong.

SUAREZ: Tell me about Jason Isbell, and is this really a song about being vampires?

THOMPSON: No, this particular record, called "The Nashville Sound," is a reflection of this kind of new phase of his life. He quit drinking. He got married. He's had a kid. And you have these really powerful songs of gratitude and kind of eyes freshly opened to the world around him. I find this record very warm and profound and just beautiful.

SUAREZ: That's NPR Music's Stephen Thompson. Thanks for sharing your 2017 picks.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF JASON ISBELL AND THE 400 UNIT'S "IF WE WERE VAMPIRES")

SUAREZ: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Ray Suarez in for Michel Martin. We'll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.