Nabil Ayers’ Favorite Musical Moments of 2017

2017 Countdown
Aldous Harding // photo by Carlos Cruz

Nabil Ayers is a former Seattle resident and head of the record label 4AD in New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @nabilayers.

Mica Levi’s Jackie film score
In just one-minute-and-27 seconds, the opening movement to Mica Levi’s Jackie score sets the tone for the confusion, tragedy and hope that shape the film. Jackie could have been adequately served with a pro-curated soundtrack of hits and deep cuts of the era by The Beach Boys or Ray Charles. But instead, Levi’s chilling, wilting and sometimes panicking orchestration interrupts the film’s emptiness in just the right way.

Arriving Late to Succumb’s Death Metal Party
It’s always exciting to discover a favorite album just before the end of the year. Last week a friend casually announced that he needed to stop listening to the Succumb album so often. He pulled me in with his description of a somewhat-mathy, very heavy, death metal record and I found myself listening to the album twice that night and ordering the LP on the spot — the cover art demands to be larger than a thumbnail. On the San Francisco band’s debut, pick-slides dive into off-color chords, reverb-drenched “grrrs” underscore chugging guitars and sparse, indiscernible lyrics take a back seat to more insistent blast beats.

Every Aldous Harding Show
Live music is most powerful when it scares me. It needn’t be scary music, but a performer’s conviction and my belief that they believe in what they’re doing can stir up emotional, sometimes frightening feelings. Aldous Harding scared me several times in 2017. Her music— impossible to write off as “freak-folk” or “singer-songwriter” — is at once minimal yet complex, soothing yet abrasive. At a recent show, Aldous appeared to laugh mid-song and I felt the silent, captivated audience relax as they joined her in laughter, alleviating some of the tension in the room. Aldous gazed, disapprovingly toward the most vocal culprits, quickly silencing them. She might laugh on stage, but that doesn’t mean you can.

Aging Out of Coachella
After a few years hiatus, I attended Coachella this year and I felt unflatteringly old. While I’d aged three years since Coachella 2014, the average attendee had become several years younger. Rock bands suffered, playing to sparse crowds as throngs of 19-year-olds floated around fog-filled EDM tents. But the ultimate sufferers were the food and drink vendors who reported record-low sales. Meanwhile, Stagecoach, the country music festival on the same grounds just one week later reported increased food and drink sales as well as the need for extra porta-potties. Seeing Cooper-Moore in Spanish Harlem My uncle is a saxophonist who came up in New York’s seventies jazz scene. His former roommate, my godfather, performs under the moniker Cooper-Moore and this fall they performed together at the Manna House Workshop on East 106th St. Watching these musicians play in a tiny room — there were no more than 20 of us in the crowded space — brought me back to my childhood when intimate, improvisational, free-jazz performances took place in my uncle’s downtown loft. A Q&A followed, during which an audience member referenced “smooth jazz.” “What’s smooth jazz?” another voice asked. A man in his 70s leaned back in his chair, confidently. His wool cap rested on his glasses and he punctuated his disdain for the genre by running his hand down his arm as he stated, with the utmost authority: “No bumps. Smoooooth.”

Realizing How Much I like Lorde’s New Album
The first time I heard “Green Light,” I hated it. The singles serve as deterrents, not entry points to Melodrama. As a whole, however, Lorde’s second album is much greater than the sum of its parts. Hits aside, it feels as if Lorde is getting away with something, with songs constructed solely of vocals over a sparse piano (“Liability,” “Sober II,” “Writer In The Dark”). Arrangements sometimes consist of mere beats under stacked vocals (“Hard Feelings,” “Liability Reprise”). Ostensible high-point choruses don’t expand, they contract (“Supercut”), defying what our ears, brains, and hearts typically demand from a pop song.

Watching The Lee Morgan Documentary, I Called Him Morgan
Lee Morgan’s wife shot and killed him while he was performing on stage in 1972. Beyond that, I knew little else about his life or his music. This deeply-touching documentary features insightful conversations with Morgan’s instantly-regretful murderer and many others who were close to him. Yes, it’s on Netflix.