Top Tunes ’17: Hiatt Hernon

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Who can believe it? Another year has come and gone, leaving but memories of records beloved past! This is an installment in an ongoing holiday season series for WOUB, in which some of the area’s favorite music nerds share what moved them, musically, in the year 2017. 
Hiatt Hernon is a senior at Ohio University in the School of Media Arts and Studies, and he wrote extensively for WOUB during the 2017 Nelsonville Music Festival
This might sound strange, but we need to talk about 2016 real quick. 2016 was terrible. That was a universally accepted fact. 2016 was a terrible year for everyone and we all wished it hadn’t happened. But what does that make 2017? The year after that one really bad year? I think 2017 was just weird. A lot of weird stuff happened to me personally and generally weird things seemed to infest day-to-day life. In any other context this would’ve been off-putting, but coming off of 2016 it’s a good change-up. The one thing that’s palatable with weird moods is an array of eccentric music, so let’s cut the relatable conversational intro and get to what you’re here for.
LCD SoundsystemAmerican Dream (2017)
This is it. My album of the year. No build-up. What better place to start than my current favorite 2017 release? Now when I say album of the year I say that very tentatively. I don’t feel like one can really make a best of the year list during the year. We’re all people. We’re busy. I can’t listen to all these dang releases. I just now feel comfortable with my 2014 list, and a 2-3 year gap seems appropriate.
That being said, the return of indie music’s God-king is certainly one of the highlights of the year so far. The seven year gap between releases is tangible, and the once hopeful and brash Murphy seems to have that boost in jadedness most of us seem to have injected during the turn of the decade. This stands out most in stand-out tracks “call the police” and notably “how do you sleep?” where the sometimes teased post-punk palate Murphy had clearly acquired gets time to shine. Murphy’s lyrics somehow still haven’t gotten embarrassing- probably an indicator of some sort of writing talent I’ve been searching for all my life. Even if I do find a 2017 album I like more than this, this one will always have a place on the list.
Open Mike EagleBrick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017)
Rapper Open Mike Eagle has to be one of the most consistent artists in any genre right now. He seems to have an album in my list every year and 2017 isn’t the exception that proves the rule. Last year’s Hella Personal Film Festival saw Open Mike flirt closer with the concept album as a concept, and on Brick Body Kids finally goes all in with themes of gentrification, specifically demolition of low-income living spaces. Open Mike goes a little darker at times here, understandably so given the subject matter, and I think he wears it well. My favorite part of the album comes with the final two tracks: “95 Radios” nostalgic Casio-esque beat and optimistic vibes turns suddenly into the bitter and enraged “My Auntie’s Building,” a somber ending revealing that the building Open Mike’s been giving homage to has fallen. Still, it’ll now live on forever in his work.
Bedwetter (Ugly Lil Mane)Volume 1 (Flick Your Tongue Against Your Teeth and Describe the Present) (2017)
Bedwetter is an alias of hip-hop’s many-named Lil Ugly Mane, one that has him take on a much different tone. Ugly’s Mista Thug Isolation is one of my favorite albums of all time but it isn’t one that I think of as very relatable (unfortunately, as I imagine a life where that album is relatable is never boring). As Bedwetter, however, Ugly Mane chronicles struggles with depression, addiction, and paranoia with a detail that reads as gritty without being too edgy. “stoop lights” was one of my favorite tracks of the year and even the more conventionally looked over instrumental breaks (Ugly Mane only raps on half the album) help build the atmosphere of the album in a way lesser artist may not be able to. This might not be the best first LUM project, but it’s certainly one of my 2017 picks.
Aphex TwinSelected Ambient Works Vol. 2 (1994)
What? Did you think these were all gonna be 2017 albums?
1. Why else would I put the year next to the album?
2. I told you I don’t like doing early lists! I have three albums I wanted to write about for this year, so here’s three more that helped me get through the weird year of 2017. Hopefully next year this part is exclusively Hannah Diamond and Carly Rae Jepsen because nothing bad happens ever.
2017 was a year of long drives for me. So what better to listen to a bunch than Aphex Twins’ Lord-of-the-Rings-long opus Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2? Here revolutionary artist and internet meme Richard D. James perfects his brand of ambient music. Seriously, this is the last of the SAW series, and I’m pretty sure it’s just because he nailed it. None of the tracks have names and you have to use a weird pi graph to figure that out so I can’t actually talk about any of the tracks individually, but I know “[rhubard]” is his best song ever and that all of the sonic environments are cool and maybe I’m underqualified here. Try using some sort of National Treasure puzzle to figure out song names while driving. You did this to yourself, RDJ.
Duster – Stratosphere (1998)
Hey! If you listen to this album now you can tell all your friends about how it’s 20 years old next year! I only included this joke because I thought it was released in 1997 and now that I’ve spent all this time typing this I might as well keep it in. Stratosphere is moody lo-fi space rock. It’s excellent for the night portion of that long drive (it’s a looooooong drive) through Appalachia. The clangy guitars and cardboard drums echo memories of autumn’s past through these hills. Or some poety stuff like that. This is definitely an October album in specific. October 2017 was just this album for me. Listen to tracks six and seven, “The Landing” into “Echo, Bravo”. That’s kind of a micro chasm of the album right there. I mean listen to the rest of it if you like it, but at least give those two a shot.
Pet Shop BoysDiscography: the Complete Singles Collection (1991)
Here’s my hottest theory as a noted Athens taste-maker: the hottest trick of 2018 is putting the carefully chosen “Best Of” album in your top 50. This sounds like music fan suicide, but the well thought out “Best Of” is a spicy curveball to include in the mix. With Discography you get a double whammy: the stylish “Best Of” inclusion AND the definitive Pet Shop Boys album. Discography is their best work, as it lassos together all the biggest and boldest dance hits the ‘Boys put together in the 80’s. This doesn’t include every PSB hit, they’re still making good music today (how come no one gives them props for that?), but this is the most explosive and genuinely fun album I heard in 2017. Hopefully you’ll need it a lot next year!
– Happy 2018 from Hiatt Hernon, Athens trend-setter.