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Barb Rocks' Best of 2017


I know I'm behind on this as most blogs have already released their best of lists, but it's better late than never!

2017 was a big year of music for me.  A few of my favorite artists/bands released wonderful albums, plus there were many songs that touched my soul in one way or another.  Here's my Best of 2017 list, comprised of a few albums and some songs that ended up on repeat a lot, all with some commentary on why I selected each one.  The list could be longer, but I forced myself to keep it somewhat short as I know attention spans don't last long for such things.

Lorde - Melodrama
I've loved Ella Yelich-O'Connor since the first time I heard "Royals" via some small music blog, which was a good six months before the hit made it onto radio and propelled her into stardom.  Her debut album "Pure Heroin" was a breath a fresh air for me, something different from the mainstream Max Martin influenced pop that we hear daily, and "Melodrama" touched me just as deeply.  Each song adds it's own story to the house party concept album, with some raw emotions of a love lost and dealing with ones own reflection and pain.  I love the nostalgic feeling of "Supercut" and "Hard Feelings" really cut me deep, though I'm pretty sure I was already smitten when I heard "Green Light."

The War On Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
What a great follow up to "Lost In The Dream," which was my favorite album back in 2014.  This band just strikes a chord in me with their melodic shoegaze sound.  Perfect album to play in the background during a dinner party or while enjoying a fire pit with friends.  What a joy to see them in the Coachella 2018 line-up!

HAIM - Something To Tell You
One can't help to love the sisters HAIM with their harmonies and chick rock lyrics of love and life that I can relate to.  "Right Now" and "Want You Back" are stand-out tracks that had me yearning to hear the whole album, plus their set at the Fox Theater in Oakland (despite Danielle being sick) was an unforgettable night that tops my concert list for 2017.

Greta Van Fleet - From The Fires
If you haven't heard of this young Michigan band yet, then you better get schooled because their Led Zeppelin-era sound is taking over the airwaves.  I was lucky enough to be introduced to their 4-song EP "Black Smoke Rising" by a good friend of mine last summer and I was instantly hooked by their classic rock hooks and lead singer Josh Kiszka's wailing howl, which is very reminiscent of Robert Plant and would surely make him proud.  Composed of three brothers and a good friend, these 18-21 year olds are sure to become your next favorite rock band.

Halsey - Now Or Never
Oh how I love Halsey, let me count the ways.  She's just amazing with a sultry voice and heartfelt lyrics, plus add in that she's absolutely gorgeous.  I was so skeptical of her back when "New Americana" came out, but then I saw her live and was blown away, leading me to download "Badlands" and loving that album.  When I heard "Now or Never" last year, I was once again reminded how much I adore her and it became one of my go-to songs.  Maybe I should put the whole "Hopeless Fountain Kingdom" album on this list...

Banks - Underdog
When I heard that growling bark in the first verse, I was instantly hooked.  There's just something fierce and full of angst that resonates with me in this new single from the talented Los Angeles R&B pop singer.  I hope this tune brings in a new era of Banks, as I much prefer the fiery upbeat songs over the ballads.

Arcade Fire - Everything Now
This song combines a few of my favorite things: ABBA, Simple Minds, ABC, INXS, Tom Tom Club, and the Never Ending Story theme.  I love the 70's disco overtones with 80's New Wave undertones -- you can't help but dance to this catchy tune.  I was also a big fan of their live show; their whole branding was spot on with a boxing ring stage the band moved freely around on, providing that 360 feel for everyone in the arena.

Yoke Lore - Good Pain
Not many people know that Adrian Galvin used to drum for Walk The Moon, but he left the band due to artistic differences.  Last year he carved his own mark with some great singles & an EP, including this one that tops my list.  I have a feeling this is only the beginning of a fruitful musical endeavor as he continues to tell stories about how things are connected.  If you're wondering about the name, it's based on a yoke that binds things together, and lore, which is a set of stories.

Gryffin, Illenium, Daya - Feel Good
My favorite electro-pop song of the year, probably because I bonded with my camping neighbors at Coachella over it, which we experienced live in the Sahara tent.  Been a fan of Gryffin since I heard "Heading Home" in 2016 and I'm hoping he'll continually surprise me with good electronic tunes and remixes.  This song also introduced me to Illenium, who's album "Awake" is also worth a listen.

Alan Walker - The Spectre
My other favorite DJ, Alan Walker took my heart with his debut song "Faded" back in 2015, and again in 2016 with "Sing Me To Sleep" and "Alone."  2017 brings this Norwegian DJ to the forefront of the EDM scene, leading to a Coachella 2018 booking, which pleases me beyond my wildest electronic dreams.  Did you know that in early 2017, Walker's YouTube channel became the most subscribed channel registered in Norway?  And he's only 20 years old!

Imagine Dragons - Mouth Of The River
Let's be honest, Imagine Dragons haven't nailed a full album since their debut "Night Visions" even though I'll say that "Evolve" did surpass "Smoke + Mirrors" by far.  Despite that, this song really impacted me and ended up on repeat enough to make this list.  Maybe it's the choir-like feel of the chorus, or maybe it's that hard-hitting drum beat that syncs well with my heart.  Let's just say I sing out loud every time I hear it, especially  the part where Dan Reynolds chants "I'm pacing, and I'm pacing."

Walk The Moon - One Foot
Let's just call it my guilty pleasure, because this song just makes me smile and wanna dance.  From Nicholas Petricca's opening howls to the 80's synth pop feel of the music, it's one of those catchy earworms that gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day.  I often catch myself humming and singing the lyrics, all while remembering those high schools days dancing around my house to Duran Duran.  Even the video captures it's wild and upbeat feel that just radiates positivity.

K.Flay - Blood In The Cut
My girl Kristine has come so far since her Stanford days!  I'm just so proud to see an artist I've known since she first came out in the San Francisco Bay Area music scene make it big.  Getting signed to Dan Reynolds' Night Street Records and opening for his band on their Evolve Tour was just what she needed to thrust her into the spotlight and earn her a Grammy nomination.  Having suffered my own heart-break at the beginning of 2017, her lyrics really hit the spot, especially "lately, I’ve been killing all my time, reading through your messages my favorite way to die."

Planet Booty - Naked
Yes Planet Booty is on my management roster, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm being biased here.  "Naked" is simply a great dance song with lyrics that make you smile.  You can't help but shake your booty when you hear it and I'm sure many have added this to their bedroom playlist for getting it on.  Every person that experiences this bootylicious trio's high energy live performance walks away in awe and sweat.  Trust me, this electro-funk band will someday hit mainstream radio and you'll remember you heard it here first.

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Best of 2014 List

Last year I posted my Top Five Albums of 2013, so this year I decided to do my favorite songs of 2014, plus my favorite concert experience.

Let's start with my Favorite Concert of 2014 as that's short and sweet.  I saw Twenty One Pilots for the third time this year, this time at the Fox Theater in Oakland.  As always, this eccentric and entertaining alternative hip hop/electropop duo blew me away!  Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn really know how to get an audience pumping, and with each show they keep raising the bar, adding more tricks, throwing in some interesting cover songs, and growing their showmanship.  It's incredible to see how much traction they've achieved and that their underground following is growing exponentially!  The venue was packed and I was brimming with happiness as I sang along and watched the high energy madness ensue.  The only downside was that I wasn't up front at the stage as I was last year at The Independent, which definitely adds to the connection with the band.  Last year I was holding Tyler up as he came into the audience, as well as during the drum-off encore, and those two moments were exhilarating and missing from this year's show.  Here's my favorite shot from the show:

 Favorite Concert of 2014 Runners Up:
1) Carnivores Tour with Linkin Park, 30 Seconds To Mars, AFI at Concord Pavilion
2) Foxy Shazam at Slim's

Top Five Favorite Songs of 2014

This year has been a great year musically for me!  I love so many bands that released songs this year, as well as learning about bands through my Pandora station.  Some notable mentions are The Jezabels, Haerts, Young Wonder, The New Division, The Knife, Zella Day, Depford Goth, Washed Out, Kitten, and Warpaint.

10) Augustines - "Nothing To Lose But Your Head"

I've been a fan of Augustines since their debut album while they were still known as We Are Augustines.  I was hooked the first time I heard "Chapel Song" and discovered this rockin' band.  I've seen them live a few times now, including this past summer at The Independent.  The new album Augustines is a bit harder than their debut, but I like it, especially this song!


9) Glass Animals - "Gooey"

UK indie rockers Glass Animals came to me by accident.  I don't actually remember the first time I heard "Gooey" but I'll assume it was probably on Live 105's Soundcheck program.  It was one of those songs that creeps up on you, you're intrigued at first listen, and then all of a sudden you're hooked.  It's different, it's soothing, it's unusual, it's haunting, and it's relaxing, all at the same time.  Seeing them perform live at DNA Lounge in December was a treat; they really delivered live.


8) Semi Precious Weapons - "Aviation High"

I first heard of Semi Precious Weapons when they opened for Lady Gaga on her Monster Ball tour.  I remember being amused by them, but nothing really stood out.  Then I heard "Aviation High" and I fell in love with the song instantly.  The lyrics are sexy, the song is flirty, and the melody makes you move.  All qualities I enjoy in songs.  I ended up meeting the band at Live 105's BFD after their set; they were just hanging out in the crowd watching the next band, so I approached the lead singer and told him how I love this song, especially how kinky it is, and Justin said that he meant for it to come across that way.  Then we took a selfie together.  Very cool, I respect any band that hangs out with the commoners at a show.


7) Goldroom - "Embrace"

Because I had not yet heard of Goldroom, I missed his headlining set at SXSW in The Green Room.  But then The Beautiful Buzzz used this song as the background tune in their SXSW recap video and I instantly knew I had to download it.  I love the ethereal quality to the song, plus the singers voice suits the melody excellently, especially in the chorus.  I've since downloaded the whole EP and thoroughly enjoy all five songs.  I also recommend you check out the single "Fifteen," which brought him his initial success with the top spot on the Hype Machine charts.


6) Phantogram - "Black Out Days"

NY electronic duo Phantogram is just phenomenal.  I love pretty much everything by them.  If you haven't downloaded Voices yet, it's a must-have!  Not only does it feature the first single "Fall In Love" that drew people in and blew up so quickly that everyone was eager for the full album, but it also features 10 other amazing songs, including this hard-hitting jewel.  There's something beautiful and haunting about the song, the triggers deep in my soul.  I don't think I'll ever get sick of this song.


5) Broods - "Mother & Father"

New Zealand siblings Broods were one of those accidental discoveries.  I heard "Bridges" and enjoyed it so much that I downloaded their whole first EP Evergreen without even listening to it first.  I never regretted that decision and was happy to see they finally released their full-length self-titled album, produced by Joel Little, known for his work with Lorde.  "Mother & Father" is their best work so far and I'm excited to hear what else this band will deliver in the future. 


4) Banks - "Beggin For Thread"

I first heard of LA singer/songwriter Jillian Rose Banks in 2013 when she released "Waiting Game."  I was instantly drawn in by her haunting vocals and lyrics.  I heard the melodic songs "Brain" and "Change" in early 2014, which also struck my fancy.  Then I heard "Beggin For Thread" and I was blown away -- what a powerful and beautiful song!  It's such a hard-hitting dance song with angst-ridden lyrics any female can relate to.  Plus we all wanted to know why anyone would want to beg for thread, and then you hear why and it strikes a chord, deep down inside. The bridge is my favorite part: "hold it out, whoa, try to hide it out, but my tracks are better" -- it just hits you like a punch!  I should add that I really enjoyed her performance at Treasure Island Music Festival.


3) CHVRCHES - "Dead Air"

I've been a fan of CHVRCHES since their Recover EP, and all I can say is that "Dead Air" is their best song to date.  I thoroughly enjoyed their set at Coachella, probably one of my highlights of the festival, and to hear them release such a perfectly composed song like this just made me incredibly happy.  Not only is it perfect for the Mockingjay movie, but it just proves that these Scotts are improving musically exponentially.  If this song is any indication of what we can expect from them in the future, then we are in for a treat.  Trust me.


2) Lorde - "Yellow Flicker Beat"

What can I say about Ella Yelich-O'Connor that you haven't already heard?  Lorde is the voice of this generation and she's the force to reckon with these days.  I probably heard "Royals" about 6 months before most people, all due to a small blog I read.  That was before anyone knew what she looked like, we only knew she was 16 years old.  That song became my anthem and I posted about it on my Facebook to deaf ears.  Then the song blew up, and I mean really blew up!  For once the music industry was rocked by an unknown teen from New Zealand, with her unique sound that didn't conform to the the standard songs shoved down our throats by terrestrial radio.  It's artists like Lorde that gain international stardom organically that give me hope in the music business.  By 18, not only did she release 2013 acclaimed album Pure Heroine and won some Grammy's, but she's asked to put together a whole soundtrack for the third installment of the box office smash "Hunger Games" movies.  Not only does she rise to the challenge delivering a phenomenal assortment of songs, including my #3 song above, but she also writes an incredible hit song!  "Yellow Flicker Beat" is a beautifully written gem -- it's the perfect anthem for this trilogy that captures the essence of Katniss flawlessly.  All I can say is that Lorde continues to amaze me and I look forward to what she has in store for us next.


1) The War On Drugs - "Red Eyes"

I struggled a bit in choosing "Red Eyes" by The War On Drugs as my #1 song.  Not because it doesn't doesn't deserve it, it really does, but more because I'm such an electro-pop junkie that it seems more like me to choose Lorde instead.  But The War on Drugs album Lost In A Dream made such a huge impact on me this year that they deserve top honors.  It's seriously an amazing work of art that has been on repeat so much that my best friend Eric requested me to take a break before we got sick of it (like that's even possible!).  "Red Eyes" is a gorgeously composed song from beginning to end; it's upbeat with a hint of melancholy, with a driving beat that takes you for an exciting ride.  It's a beautiful journey that I enjoy taking as often as possible.  Every substantial music blog has listed this album high up in their best of 2014, and that alone should tell you that it's worth the buzz.

I can't wait to see what 2015 brings, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoyed my songs.  Would love to hear what you have on your list, so let me know!



My Top Five Albums of 2013

2013 has been a crazy year for me, lots of ups and downs, especially in my personal life.  But it has also been a great year for music!  Here is my list of Top 5 Albums of 2013:

5) CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe

"The Mother We Share" was a song that needed to grow on me.  Not sure why, as I find it brilliant now, but the first few months, I was skeptical.  But then I discovered their Recover EP with "Now Is Not The Time" and that solidified my new found love for this Scottish band.  Seeing them live on Jimmy Kimmel confirmed my new obsession and I found vocalist Lauren Mayberry a great female role model when she posted her public letter that she will not accept online misogyny.  After hearing "Tether" and "Gun,"  I rushed to download their full studio album and now it's my getting-ready-to-go-out soundtrack.

4)  The Naked And Famous - In Rolling Waves

I have been a fan of this NZ band since I first heard their single "Young Blood"; I even had the chance to see them do a few songs acoustic at The Blank Club and was blown away by them.  "Punching In A Dream" came out next and it had the same power as the first single, so I knew this band was going places.  Anxious to hear more music, I was stoked when they released Passive Me, Aggressive You, especially diggin' the songs "No Way" and "Girls Like You."  When I heard they were releasing a new album this year, I was ecstatic and their first single "Hearts Like Ours" did not disappoint.  "The Mess" and "I Kill Giants" are two of my favorite tracks on the album.  Thom and Alisa's chemistry on stage is undeniable, plus I love how they harmonize and play off each other's lines.

3) Bastille - Bad Blood

"Pompeii" is one of those songs that sticks in her head the first time you hear it.  The chanting hymns grab your attention and then Dan's heavenly voice comes in and you're hooked.  I couldn't get enough of it and went searching for more songs online, which led me to find their a capella version at the British Museum, as well as a capella version of "Overjoyed" at the gardens of Copped Hall.  Both of these blew me away; they really show off how talented each member of this fabulous band is!  With only the single and it's b-side "Poet" to keep me occupied for many months, I eagerly anticipated their full album, and now I can't stop listening to it.  Plus I had the pleasure of seeing them live twice, and they are amazing, really capturing their talent, essence, and musicianship!

2) Lorde - Pure Heroine

Sometime in February I read about five artists under 18 to look out for and Lorde was on that list.  I remember listening to "Royals" and finding it the most unique, brilliant song I've heard in a long time.  I just loved her voice and the lyrics were right up my alley.  I started posting about the song regularly, calling it my anthem due to the line "you can call me queen b" -- yet is seemed like no one was paying attention.  I appreciated the mystery behind her as there were no photos, just some cartoon with The Love Club EP on Soundcloud, a sign that it was about the music, not the image.  All of a sudden this summer, the song was everywhere, even on every type of radio station, and people were taking about this 16-year old from New Zealand (finally!).  Then she released her follow-up single "Team," proving she wasn't a one hit wonder.  Ella Yelish-O'Connor is just amazing, a true artist with a unique blend of haunting vocals over electro-pop beats, that's full of teen angst, but with a sense of maturity.  Her studio album is phenomenal and thought-provoking, from the beginning notes of "Tennis Court" to the dramatic end with "A World Alone."  I'm not surprised she's the youngest act to top the Billboard Hot 100 as it's well deserved.  I wish there were more artists and success stories in the music industry like this!

1) Imagine Dragons - Night Visions

This was the band that took my heart by storm last year when I heard "It's Time" on the radio.  Right away I knew this band and I would have a long relationship, they were right up the lines of my 80's new wave passion, yet with a modern twist.  When they opened Live105's BFD, I was in awe; Dan Reynolds is the quintessential frontman, which is rare for such a young band.  I loved his energy and how he had his own big bass drum to pummel on, adding to the dynamic and sound.  A few weeks later the band blew up on radio and their Continued Silence EP came out, which played repeatedly in my car.  Hits like "Radioactive," "Demons" and "On Top Of The World" warmed my heart and I couldn't wait to see them live again.  My dream came true last Fall, with a tremendous performance at the Great American Music Hall; the whole audience connected with this talented Las Vegas band.  Night Visions technically came out Sept 2012, but it's the album that's had the most play in my life this year.  Songs like "Bleeding Out" and "Nothing Left To Say" just convey so much emotion, I feel what they feel and they get me through the hard times.  I even went on an extensive search for their previous EP's after seeing a live version of "Cover Up" on Bronson Island, which is still one of my favorite songs by them, plus I discovered "I Need A Minute" on their 2009 self-titled EP.  And let's not forget their incredible show at America's Cup Pavilion -- one of the BEST concerts I've ever seen!