2017: A Year In Music

2017: A Year In Music

By: Harsh Pareek
December 30, 2017 13:37:25 IST

This article is part of our 2017: A Year In Review series


You are allowed to dance, in case you didn’t know.

This is how Lou Reed introduces The Velvet Underground to the crowd at the Max's Kansas City in New York on 23 August 1970. This particular performance would be the last of a summer-long gig at the nightclub. This would also be the last time Reed performs with the band. The nine-week engagement (mostly this last performance) would eventually be released as Live At Max's Kansas City in 1972.

I have mixed feelings about the record (the backstory of it is a fascinating one though) but this particular line has always stuck with me, in all its casualness and profundity.

You are allowed to dance, in case you didn’t know.

More likely than not, it was just a playful, matter-of-fact utterance before the show. But the more I hear it, the more it sounds to me like a call to an inherent but forgotten instinct. You are allowed to ask for a change, in case you didn’t know. You are allowed to leave, in case you didn’t know. You are allowed to not give a f*ck, in case you didn’t know.

01 The Velvet Underground - Live at Max's Kansas City

January Hymn

As the winter started winding up at the end of January, the words sank in. The last few months had been a blur of frustration, disappointment, bad behaviour and even worse health. Life felt like the 1973 Dylan record. Mine, but with an asterisk.

I had been thinking about Hunter S Thompson a lot at that time, mostly in the context of Donald Trump being sworn in as the President of the United States, but also as to where things seem to be headed in 2017, in general. Drifting away often on a destination-less train of thought — what would Hunter make of all this?

And take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind

Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves

The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach

Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free

Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands

With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves

Let me forget about today until tomorrow

“...I’ve been arguing for the past few years that music is the New Literature, that (Bob) Dylan is the 1960s’ answer to Hemingway...” Hunter had once said. 'Mr Tambourine Man' had a special place in his heart (Bringing It All Back Home also was Hunter/Raoul Duke’s #2 on the 10 best albums of the 1960s list). 2016 seem to have vindicated that notion in a manner while I’d been away from music. In fact, I’ve been away from music (if such a thing is possible) since 2014.

02 Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home


Things came to head at the end of January. I was to cover the Jaipur Literature Festival but my heart wasn’t in it, neither was my head. The final piece, as imagined in my mind, never materialised. It was time for full measures.

The morning I returned to Mumbai, I put in my papers.

Let's get crossed

Off everybody's list

February Stars

One of the very few artists I consciously listened to during my three years of uninformed hiatus was Chet Baker. His vulnerable voice and poetic trumpet filling up the wee hours on nights that just dragged on.

03 Chet Baker - Chet Baker Sings

With love to lead the way I've found more clouds of gray

Than any Russian play could guarantee

The prospect of leaving Mumbai played heavy on my mind. I didn’t dread it though. In fact, I couldn’t leave soon enough. The last shred of the city’s The Best Is Yet to Come charm had worn off some time ago.

There was too much rain, too much humidity

Tell me why you did what you did to me?

Honey you're the judge, there ain't no jury

And I'm just an innocent boy, used to being guilty

The hustle is overrated. The city is disproportionately kinder to the ones with deep pockets. And before I am accused of blasphemy against the “spirit of Mumbai”, I’ll let the record show that once I too was in love with the city. The entire experience had felt like living inside the music video of 'Read My Mind'. The sprawling urban landscape, the lively streets, the freedom, the nightlife and the just the right kind of weird.

There is a theory I had come across in my years living there, often whispered at farewell parties. It plainly states that if you are leaving the city, you have lost. The city was too good for you and you are not cut out for this hardcore gangsta sh*t. Why this kind of psychology takes root is a different piece altogether, but if finding just enough room to barely stand in a local train for an hour makes you feel like Ice Cube’s 'It Was A Good Day', maybe you need to rethink certain things. Or perhaps, just think.


Talk about mixed feelings about leaving — Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester City less than a year after writing perhaps the greatest underdog fairytale in the history of professional sports.

We knew from the start that things fall apart

The Ides of March

I got the rockin pneumonia

I need a shot of rhythm and blues

I caught the rolling arthritis

Sitting down at the rhythm revue

Roll over Beethoven

Rocking in two by two

— Chuck Berry, 1926-2017

Back in September of 2016, Bon Iver had dropped his first record in five years. In my stupor I let it slide, promising myself that one day soon enough I will find just the perfect conditions to listen to it. Just enough peace of mind time to do it uninterrupted.

04 Bon Iver - 22, A Million

One March morning, five months on, I found myself at 32°14'12.4"N 76°19'37.3"E. High rises had given way to snow-capped mountains. Amid freezing temperatures and thunderstorms, now was a good time as any.

22, A Million marked a departure from the band’s old sound but retained what quintessentially makes Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Underneath all the new are the deeply felt stories of insecurity, struggle, faith and acceptance.

Where you gonna look for confirmation?

And if it's ever gonna happen

So as I'm standing at the station

It might be over soon

A poignant reminder of time passing by. An ode to coming to terms with it.


There happened to be another record from the year gone by that I had my eyes and heart firmly set on but didn’t come around to listening, because, you know, 2016 was nothing short of Geto Boys’ Mind Playing Tricks on Me.

This particular record would turn out to be one which will be in my thoughts for years to come, if not my lifetime.

Frank Ocean’s Blonde.

An hour-and-minute-long record with a transportive quality to match listening to Led Zeppelin alone in the dark. The songs get under your skin and linger in your dreams.

I'm sure we're taller in another dimension

You say we're small and not worth the mention

You’re tired of movin', your body's achin'

We could vacay, there's places to go

Clearly this isn't all that there is

Can't take what's been given

But we're so okay here, we're doing fine

Primal and naked

You dream of walls that hold us imprisoned

It's just a skull, least that's what they call it

And we're free to roam

From 'Novacane' to 'Swim Good' to 'Thinkin Bout You' to 'Super Rich Kids' (a personal favourite), Frank had it from day one; but this record was something truly remarkable. No wonder the guy wrote one of the most poetic and heartbreaking open letters of all time.

05 Frank Ocean - Blond

April Skies

After weeks of meandering across the north half of the country, it was time to go home. Which would be Jaipur this time. And it would be different this time.

From the ocean to the mountains to the desert.

Back in Mumbai, I would often hear people talk about home. Many felt they were far away from theirs, others rejected the concept of one altogether. What some missed, others were thankful to leave behind.

I could never make my mind up. Although, if I look back, back to a younger me, all that comes back is a fleeting sense of places. The many places that felt like home growing up. It’s never the people, hardly ever those ill-fated friendships; but always those suburbs of youth, those patches of land suspended in time, in mind.

06 MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

I'll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms

I'll miss the comfort of my mother and the weight of the world

I'll miss my sister, miss my father, miss my dog and my home

Yeah, I'll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone

The curves of the roads, the rain falling on rooftops. The city centres, the back alleys. The street lights, the darkness of the night. The summer heat on the sidewalks, the orange blanket of winter twilight. Home, I suppose, is just memories.


Something that required no suppositions — Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. The highly anticipated record turned out to be a rollercoaster ride intense enough to make one pass out.

I'm willin' to die for this s--t

I done cried for this s--t, might take a life for this s--t

Put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this s--t

D.O.T. my enemy, won't catch a vibe for this s--t, ayy

I been stomped out in front of my momma

My daddy commissary made it to commas

B---h, all my grandmas dead

So ain't nobody prayin' for me, I'm on your head, ayy

07 Kendrik Lamar - Damn

As Kendrick goes from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds between track #1 and #2, as you gather yourself back from the whiplash, as you start reading into the lyrics, as you try to comprehend the vocal gymnastics, and as you hit the replay button as soon as 'DUCKWORTH.' is done, you realise what the ‘voice of a generation’ is all about.

Hail Mary, Jesus and Joseph

The great American flag is wrapped and dragged with explosives

Compulsive disorder, sons and daughters

Barricaded blocks and borders

Look what you taught us!

Month of May // June 9th // July, July!

I've seen angels fall from blinding heights

But you yourself are nothing so divine

Just next in line

— Chris Cornell, 1964-2017

Living by the ocean for the past few years had unsettled my understanding of the cycle of seasons. It either rained or it didn’t. There are no dramatic shifts in the temperatures or the scenery as the months go by.

Now, as the summer blaze took hold of every atom in my immediate vicinity, it all came back. The hallucination-inducing dry heat, the months of bone-chilling cold, and the changing of colours in between.

In the swelter of the afternoons, what had a year back been a mild interest in surf edits and culture, now evolved into a mild obsession. The edits, the Championship Tour, the books and the meteorology 101s, the music.

Well when did all of the waves

Roll right in and make me their slave

So I went so far away

I didn't look back, I'll come back someday

There is a calming, almost meditative, quality to the sounds of crashing waves and a Jack Johnson record. Over 15 years since his first record, in a world with a depleting notion of role models, Johnson sure cuts a lonely figure.

08 Jack Johnson - Seasick Dream


The football season was winding down and even the shores of Oahu could do little to calm the anxiety over the approaching couple of months of absolute nothingness. The team too had performed poorly, adding an extra tint of nervousness to the bleakness of the break.


There's a war goin' on outside no man is safe from

You could run, but you can't hide forever

From these streets that we done took

You walkin' with your head down, scared to look

— Prodigy, 1974-2017

June brought some of the most anticipated, as well as, the best records of the year. The releases featured the likes of Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory, Lorde’s Melodrama, SZA’s CTRL, Laurel Halo’s Dust, Big Thief’s Capacity, Jay-Z’s 4:44, among others.

The one that I had been looking forward to the most was Fleet Foxes’ Crack-Up. Six years and some turbulent times later, the Seattle band was back together (minus Josh Tillman, which is a whole another story in itself) with their most complex and rewarding listen to date.

09 Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up

Where there were seeds of doubt and anxiousness in 2011’s Helplessness Blues,

I was raised up believing I was somehow unique

Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes

Unique in each way you can see

And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be

A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me

But I don't, I don't know what that will be

now there is something more,

I am all that I need

And I'll be till I'm through

And I'm light on my feet

Good to be without you

a sense of learning, growing up.


I find the answers aren't so clear

Wish I could find a way to disappear

All these thoughts they make no sense

I find bliss in ignorance

— Chester Bennington, 1976-2017

This one stung.

Like many others, I was introduced to Linkin Park in high school. They were the best thing I had heard apart from Eminem and Jay-Z (you can imagine what it was like when I got around listening to Collision Course), and Chester was nothing short of a mythological hero.

Late summer after school, sitting in my friend’s room, blasting Hybrid Theory and Meteora, obsessing over the cover art. Music understanding and choices were limited, the neighbourhood was quiet, the heat didn’t bother us much.

In 2010, as part of A Thousand Suns' release, the band organised a remix contest. The stems for the song 'The Catalyst' were provided and all you had to do was make a track out them. Weeks of debates, discussions and hard work (without knowing a thing about mixing and on Windows XP) went into putting it all together, only for us to realise that the contest wasn’t open for people in India. We were disappointed because in our naive minds, what we had done was nothing short of great.

But high school was almost done and our interest in the band was waning. I wasn’t a big fan of their new material and neither was my friend. The three of us went our different ways. When I heard about Chester’s passing, I hadn’t heard a single Linkin Park song in about five years.

I immediately messaged my friend when the news came through. Just a link to the breaking story. I wasn’t sure what else to say. ‘Yeah I saw’ was all he replied with.

A few days later, he messaged me a link. It was the remix we had worked during that summer. A different lifetime. “This is us,” the message read. This would turn out to be the first Linkin Park track I would listen to in years.

And it wasn’t bad at all.


Deep into the month, I waited for it to rain. Waited for days. Weeks.

There were a few showers, light and fleeting. Fleeting gestures from someone you have come to admire, always leaving behind a renewed sense of yearning. Most mornings I woke up and looked at the small patch of sky visible from my window lying down. Perhaps today the planets will align.

The clouds distort the sense of time. Minutes feel like hours. Hours pass in seconds.

I'm only sad in a natural way

And I enjoy sometimes feeling this way

10 The Style Council - Introducing The Style Council

The days were filled with lingering anticipation. Starless nights with dreams of neon-lit swimming pools. Rituals which I had grown up with, once again part of me.

In a season or two here, one can learn a great deal about longing, patience, disappointment, gratitude and petrichor.

Friday Night, August 14th // Pale September // Late October

The first kick off of the season.

11 Nina Simone - I Put A Spell On You

Birds flying high you know how I feel

Sun in the sky you know how I feel

Breeze driftin' on by you know how I feel

It's a new dawn

It's a new day

It's a new life

Months of anxiety, frustration, disappointment, midweek changes in the sleep cycle and occasional moments of pure ecstasy lie ahead.


12 Tyler The Creator Flower Boy

Boredom, boredom, boredom, boredom

Boredom, boredom, boredom, boredom

Boy, my bedroom floor is a cereal burial, I'm serious

I ate 'em all, dry boxes, bodies, yeah I caught 'em

If we're talkin' 'bout real meals, ask my stomach, he ain't saw 'em

I've been in this fuckin' room so long

My eyeballs are turning to dry wall

My friends suck, f--k 'em, I'm over 'em

"Hi y'all, y'all ain't hit me all day

What the f--k is the problem? Is it me?

'Cause I'm not solved, I'm... bored."

Find some time

Find some time to do something

Find some time

Find some time to do something

Find some time

Find some time to do something


Bored and getting desperate as hell

(Desperate, using, texting, amusing)

Cellular not amusing and I hope someone will

Message me with some plans that are amusing as well

Cause I haven’t seen the exit of these walls since before this morning

Morning, morning, morning, morning

(Morning, ohh, what the f--k?)

Got some cars I can handle but nowhere for performance

My stomach angry and yellin', I need some food, I could order

But I hate eating solo

Need someone, we can loiter in parking lots

As sunsets at the border, yeah

Ringy dingy dong, I can't be alone

I been starting to feel like I don't know anyone

So now I'm staring at my ceiling f--kin' going

Like I have no idea where I'm going

Tick tock

(Damn, gotta get outta here)

Find some time

Find some time to do something

(Hey, can y'all help me right quick?)

Find some time

Find some time to do something

Find some time

Find some time to do something


Cause boredom got a new best friend

Boredom got a new best friend

Cause boredom got a new best friend


It's alright if you love me

It's alright if you don't

— Tom Petty, 1950-2017

Somewhere between my siestas and making my eyes bleed watching Twitch, The National dropped their seventh studio record — Sleep Well Beast.

The band has been a favourite since I first came across High Violet a few years back. The emotionally charged sound of the band; the dark, funny and exceptionally mature lyrics; and Matt Berninger’s goosebumps-inducing vocals. It was love at first note.

And after all these years it is incredibly satisfying to see the band evoke the same emotions that they did the first time I heard 'Bloodbuzz Ohio'.

13 The National - Sleep Well Beast

I don't need you, I don't need you

Besides I barely ever see you anymore

And when I do it feels like you're only halfway there

Young mothers love me even ghosts of

Girlfriends call from Cleveland

They will meet me anytime and anywhere

The day I die, the day I die

Where will we be?

The day I die, the day I die

Where will we be?

November Has Come // Long December

In November I had a chance to go back to Mumbai for a couple of weeks and access if I had been missing something away from the city.

Short answer — not really.

Sure, the freedom can be intoxicating, the city and the company far more engaging, but perhaps we need a little more time to ourselves.

And for reasons that shall remain unknown, a lot of 21 Savage was played in my time there.

I got 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8… you know how it goes.

14 21 Savage - Issa Album


The Rat Pack winter is here.

The days are minuscule. The evening skies resemble the cover art of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The nights, silent and cold. It’s good to be here at this time of the year.

15 Nirvana - In Utero

Time to wind things up.

I'm not like them

But I can pretend

The sun is gone

But I have a light

The day is done

But I'm having fun

I think I'm dumb

Or maybe just happy

Think I'm just happy

Think I'm just happy

Think I'm just happy

My heart is broke

But I have some glue

Help me inhale

And mend it with you

We'll float around

And hang out on clouds

Then we'll come down

And I have a hangover

Have a hangover

Have a hangover

Have a hangover


This piece was mostly written listing to Function’s Incubation, Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports, Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children and DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing.....

A special shout-out to Blood Orange, Porches, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, NWA and J Cole for a memorable year in music.