One of the ironies that comes with being consistently great in the music world is that it can make people take you for granted.
If you're inconsistent, critics will hail your great albums and take glee at kicking your worst around like a tin can. If you drop an amazing, epoch-defining debut and then pull an Interpol, following it up with one diminishing return after another, fans can hold out hope for that old magic to come back.
But what about the bands on a different path? Those steady creatives who never have a career-threatening low point and continue creating consistently solid art? They're often taken for granted. Stable and reliable aren't as sexy to the zeitgeist.
Look no further than 2017 to see this at work. Last year was a terrible time for geopolitics, but it was a spectacular year for music. An incredible amount of killer records were released. So many that even the most voracious of music lovers would've had a hard time keeping up.
The downside to such a great bounty is that worthwhile records got lost in the shuffle. And some of the biggest omissions, the records that should have gotten more love, were by musicians who've released quality records year after year.
Here are seven bands we took for granted last year. They create work that demands our attention; we just have to remember to give it to them.
In a year jam-packed with amazing records, it isn't surprising that Destroyer's 2017 record ken didn't create a huge splash. Destroyer albums don't splash. Instead, they seep into the cultural landscape. Dan Bejar has long been one of our most reliably unpredictable songwriters. Switching up his style radically between records, penning catchy yet cryptic lyrics that you could turn in your head endlessly like a Rubik's cube, and crooning with a sardonic voice are all part of the package. His body of work makes you climb a little higher to get into its treehouse.
Building on the '80s and smooth jams vibes that Bejar cultivated on 2011's Kaputt, ken showed that there was still a lot left to explore with the aesthetic. You can experience his latest material in person, as Bejar is scheduled to perform at Crescent Ballroom on Saturday, January 13.
If any band deserves to be crowned the kings of Taken For Granted Land, it's Spoon. Ever since they dropped their debut in 1996, Austin's finest have dropped one killer record after another. Subtly tweaking their sound over the years to create a more skeletal, stripped-down take on indie rock music, they've expanded their lineup from being a duo, flirted with pop, and developed a fuller sound. And yet despite consistent quality, despite dropping masterpieces like Kill the Moonlight, they often seem to be left out of contemporary "state of indie rock" discussions.
Spoon are elder statesmen without a state, living legends without any myths tied to them. In a world where hot takes and sexy angles help dictate what bands get the lion's share of attention, Spoon's only crime is being really, really, really good at what they do.
Nite Jewel's Ramona Gonzalez is one of the modern era's great songbirds. The indie R&B singer's confident, warm voice should have made her a household name. While many other "PBR&B" artists have fallen off or gone pop, Nite Jewel have been a reliable constant. Each of her records is a gem. While newcomers like SZA (deservedly) got a lot of attention last year, Gonzalez's 2017 LP Real High showed that she's just as vital a voice now as she was when she first came onto the scene.
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It isn't surprising when avant-garde or underground groups don't get the attention they deserve. After all, they're not actively courting the wandering eye of the zeitgeist. What's genuinely baffling is when pop acts who should be huge don't get their come-up. No artist better exemplifies that than England's Charli XCX, an adventurous songwriter with big ambitions who should be giving Taylor Swift a run for her money.
That isn't to say that Charli hasn't had success. As a songwriter, she helped write inescapable radio hits like Icona Pop's "I Love It" and Iggy Azalea's "Fancy." But her own work hasn't connected on that level yet, despite producing several albums and mixtapes full of quality jams. Her latest mixtape, 2017's Pop 2, sounds like pop music beamed in from the future.
Sometimes you can be too good at doing one thing. Grizzly Bear have built a name for themselves as masters of orchestral rock-pop. Few modern groups share their talent for crafting songs are as ornate and expansive as the Sistine Chapel. They sound like the ghosts of the Beach Boys haunting a medieval cathedral — blissful and sweet, but with an ominous undertone that trails throughout all their albums.
They're so good at producing these kind of songs that one of the most commonly heard refrains about their latest record, Painted Ruins, was that it was more of the same. In other words, Grizzly Bear committed the cardinal sin of being, well, Grizzly Bear. But when no one else can do what you do better than you can, why do anything else?
It's fitting that an artist named The-Dream keeps getting slept on. Songwriter, crooner, and producer Terius Nash is the brains behind such massive radio jams as "Umbrella" and "Single Ladies." He's also released a string of critically acclaimed solo albums that combine his studio mastery with an idiosyncratic approach to R&B songwriting. If we lived in a universe without Frank Ocean (what a terrible world that would be), The-Dream would be a household name.
The-Dream has become so taken for granted that the man released a pretty excellent record, Genesis, last year to practically zero fanfare. He hasn't been on pop culture's radar since getting a Rick and Morty shout-out, which is a damn shame. Here's hoping people wake up to The-Dream soon.
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It's hard to get respect when you're surrounded by some of the all-time greats. That's Inspectah Deck's quandary. He's a phenomenally talented rapper who has the mixed blessing of being forever associated with a rogue's gallery of amazing rappers.
As a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Deck has held his own on record alongside giants like Ghostface, Raekwon, GZA, and Method Man. Many of his Wu associates would go on to drop classic, game-changing solo LPs. And Deck would also release his share of outstanding solo records like 1999's Uncontrollable Substance and 2003's The Movement. But they always seem to slip under the radar.
It wasn't 2013 that Deck started to really turn heads with his Czarface project. Teaming up with 7L & Esoteric, Deck released four Czarface albums full of hard bars and dense wordplay that showed he deserves a spot in the upper tier of Wu rappers.