With all the year-end lists of best musical contributions made in 2017, here’s one specially geared toward writers looking for that symphonic oomph that makes fights, chases, discoveries, deceptions, romance and deaths materialize on the page. Note that this list doesn’t include all my favorites of the year — Kendrick Lamar’s Damn. is a work of art, but not necessarily writing music for this creative (yet) — but covers the best inspiration found pumping through my speakers.
Best Vocal Album:
Trip by Jhene Aiko: This 22-track album easily tops the list as the best album for getting writing done. As the hip-hop and R&B artist takes her listener on a journey of self-discovery, drug-induced experiences (including euphoria, erotica and terror), maturity and love, the beats are deep enough to drown in and subtle enough to disappear when the writing starts to flow. Notable tracks include: “Jukai,” “Overstimulated,” “Oblivion (Creation),” “Psilocybin (Love in Full Effect).”
Synthesis by Evanescence: Not a new album per se but a reimagining of the band’s past work using orchestral and electronic arrangements, mostly for better and sometimes for worse. Forgettable B-sides from The Open Door and their 2012 self-titled album become dramatic character themes that are tinged with beautiful agony thanks to Amy Lee’s undying vocals. Notable tracks include “Never Go Back,” “Hi-Lo” and “The End of the Dream.”
Best Vocal Track:
“Wonderful Wonderful” by The Killers: Blend the right amount of echo, deep drumbeats and Jefferson Airplane mysticism, and you’ve got the titular track of The Killers’ 2017 track that fits the titular character of the project I spent the most time on this year.
“Drew Barrymore” by SZA: Everything from the opening line “Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?” to the refrain “Am I woman enough for you?” sums up the kind of relationship I wrote about most this year.
“Young and Menace” by Fall Out Boy: Forget everything you know about the “Dance, Dance” alternative band of the aught-2000s. Beat drops, high energy, strobe lights you can practically hear: Everything about this track screams superhero/mutant fight with a teen-emo bend steeped in acid.
Best Movie Score:
Wonder Woman by Rupert Gregson-Williams: Since Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL debuted the Amazonian warrior’s theme in “Is She with You?” from 2016’s Batman vs. Superman score, I’ve been impatiently waiting for it to extend to an entire album. Gregson-Williams doesn’t disappoint and tinsels his own take on the score with just enough of Zimmer and Junkie’s guitar shreds. Notable tracks: “No Man’s Land,” “Hell Hath No Fury” and “Action Reaction.”
Blade Runner 2049 by Hans Zimmer: Zimmer stays true to the tone of the original film as well as director Denis Villeneuve’s sequel with a soundtrack full of sustained tones, eerie key shifts and futuristic synthesizers. Notable tracks: “2049,” “Sea Wall” and “Tears in the Rain.”
Best Movie/TV Score Track:
“Supermarine” by Hans Zimmer: If there’s one thing the German composer does well (and there are millions of things he does well — trust me, I saw him perform live in August), it’s instilling a sense of urgency into his music. Dunkirk’s key track does just this by syncing listeners’ pulses to the quickening beat that acts as a perfect backdrop to a time’s-running-out situation.
“Fauxlero” by Jeff Russo: Technically this is an older piece, “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel, that was reimagined for FX’s series Legion, but the electronic arrangement makes it feel new and much scarier than the fairytale-esque piece from 1928. Maybe it has something to do with Aubrey Plaza appearing in her best Tim Burton attire and squeezing a man to death with her mind.
Sometimes it’s worth looking backward. These albums and tracks were released before 2017 but added to my collection this year:
“The Beast” by Johann Johannson: The doom-filled droning of Sicario’s key soundtrack theme picks the heart up and slams it to the floor with every beat.
Penny Dreadful: The Complete Series Soundtrack by Abel Korzeniowski: There’s a reason Korzeniowski, whose work also includes the soundtrack for Nocturnal Animals, W.E. and A Single Man, is one of my favorite artist discoveries of this year. Not only was the Showtime series practically made for writers who love universe crossovers, but the soundtrack shifts from simplistic (“Street. Horse. Smell. Candle.”) to the dramatic (“Joan Clayton”) — something for every scene imaginable.
“Think” by Kaleida: Shallow and soulful all at the same time, Kaleida’s track plays ironic backup to one of the bloodiest scenes in John Wick and provides the same quiet but sinister word-per-beat promise of “Think on me; I’ll never break your heart” to any investigation montage or illicit affair scene.