Thursday, December 31, 2020

Top 50 Songs of 2020


Disclaimer: I am not a professional and while I do hope to hear every song at time of release, there are some older tracks in here as always. This is more like a list of the 50 songs I fell in love with this year. I try not to overdo it with too many songs by the same artists, but everything I loved is in the Spotify playlist regardless of how many times it's the same artist. I hope you enjoy and find something you love. 

The retrospective pieces are coming, of that there is no doubt. In these pieces I suspect even a comment like "Best of 2020" will be met with the usual off-hand qualifiers, as if there is an obligation to remind everyone around us that we know it was a Bad Year. Music, always the extension of feeling and emotion, has a part to play in 2020 as well. Music, which reminds us of good times and bad; places we love, miss, hate; the lows of loneliness and separation; the highs of togetherness and achievement. Rarely are they not accompanied by music. Like most of you, I assume, I have pressed through 2020 not with a singular feeling. I have no one adjective I can use. I have felt the sting of missing loved ones in my life, the empathy for those who have the ultimate price, the anger everyone has felt towards each other, the loss of my diversions and hobbies, and the cloud that hangs over the absence of harmony. I have felt the warmth of watching my son grow from the comfort of my work from home office, I have experienced one the best and most fulfilling work years of my life, and I have stayed healthy. 

And music? Music has been there too. Music can lift and it can help you wallow. I spent time considering what the Song of the Year and Album of the Year should be, treating my selection with far more importance than it really holds. I've read other pieces by better writers than I drawing parallels between their top choices and the year it gets to win. I could absolutely pick a song for sorrow, loneliness, escapism, anything really ("Chinese Satellite", song #3, fits that bill in ways). I pick this for another reason. Wading through the wreckage, Fleet Foxes offered hope. Hope like a sunrise kickstarting a new day. In fact, when Robin Pecknold released the album, he described his desired effect for this to be "a life preserver in this ocean of bad news". On Can I Believe You, as with the rest of the year's best album, there is a sense of moving forward in the face of doubt, getting better, anticipating what is next. "Now I'm learning the ropes/Never got this close." On Sunblind, which has been at the tip of my tongue for month, Pecknold finds himself enjoying his favorite music with his "dear friends", the same whom he aches for on a Sunday night in Maestranza. Darkness is not absent here, but it's also not permanent. 

Top 50 Songs of 2020

1. Fleet Foxes – “Can I Believe You”
2. James Blake – “Are You Even Real?”
3. Phoebe Bridgers – “Chinese Satellite”
4. Sufjan Stevens – “The Ascension”
5. The 1975 – “If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know)”
6. Pearl Jam – “Seven O'Clock”
7. The Weeknd ft. Kenny G – “In Your Eyes - Remix”
8. Tame Impala – “Lost in Yesterday”
9. The Killers – “Caution”
10. Ray LaMontagne – “We'll Make it Through”

11. The Airborne Toxic Event - "All These Engagements"
12. Bootstraps - "Falling"
13. Caribou - "New Jade"
14. Vampire Weekend - "Harmony Hall"
15. Soccer Mommy - "Climbing Up the Walls"
16. Fleet Foxes - "Sunblind"
17. The 1975 - "Me & You Together Song"
18. Tame Impala - "Breathe Deeper"
19. Sufjan Stevens - "Tell Me You Love Me"

20. Miley Cyrus - "Midnight Sky"
21. The Strokes - "Eternal Summer"
22. Novo Amor - "If We're Being Honest"
23. Pearl Jam - "Retrograde"
24. Noah Gundersen & Soft Sleep - "Home"
25. Surfer Blood - "Summer Trope"
26. Grimes - "Delete Forever"
27. Christine and the Queens - "People, I've been sad"
28. Oneohtrix Point Never - "Long Road Home"
29. Niall Horan - "Arms of a Stranger"

30. Harry Styles - "Adore You"
31. Hot Mulligan - "*Equip Sunglasses*"
32. Taylor Swift ft. Bon Iver - "Exile"
33. Perfume Genius - "Whole Life"
34. The Shins - "The Great Divide"
35. Taylor Swift - "August"
36. The Naked and Famous - "Everybody Knows"
37. flora cash - "I Wasted You"
38. SAINt JHN & Imanbek - "Roses - Imanbek Remix"
39. Acceptance - "Son of the City"

40. Foster the People - "Lamb's Wool"
41. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness - "Slow Burn"
42. Phoebe Bridgers - "Graceland Too"
43. Ruen Brothers - "Break the Rules"
44. Bush - "Send in the Clowns"
45. Kid Cudi - "Solo Dolo, Pt. III"
46. Purity Ring - "stardew"
47. Great Grandpa - "Mono no Aware"
48. First Aid Kit - "Come Give Me Love"
49. The Killers - "My Own Soul's Warning"
50. William Fitzsimmons - "Light Years"

Top Five Albums of 2020
1. Fleet Foxes - "Shore"
2. Phoebe Bridgers - "Punisher"
3. Pearl Jam - "Retrograde"
4. Tame Impala - "Slow Rush"
5. Sufjan Stevens - "The Ascension"

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Top 50 Songs of 2019

Disclaimer: I am not a professional and while I do hope to hear every song at time of release, there are some older tracks in here as always. This is more like a list of the 50 songs I fell in love with this year. I try not to overdo it with too many songs by the same artists, but everything I loved is in the Spotify playlist regardless of how many times it's the same artist. I hope you enjoy and find something you love. 

1. Tame Impala – “Posthumous Forgiveness”

Strap in folks, this song will take you for a ride. Tame Impala, now well-established as one of the biggest acts in rock music, are readying their follow-up to their mega-hit album Currents, and if “Posthumous Forgiveness” is any indication, lead singer Kevin Parker is about to get a lot more personal. The song is a message delivered directly to Parker’s recently deceased and estranged father, dealing with his emergence from a child who still looked up to him to his eventual understanding of how selfish his father actually was in his abandonment (“Did you think I'd never know? Never wise up as I grow?”). The lyrics are cutting, reminiscent of the no-holds-barred anger in Death Cab for Cutie’s “Styrofoam Plates”. “And while you still had time, you had a chance/But you decided to take all your sorrys to the grave,” Parker sings. What separates “Posthumous Forgiveness” from a track like “Styrofoam Plates”, beyond the terrific music itself, is the woundedness and openness of part two, bereft of the anger this time. Parker longs for a father that would have seen and loved the crazy life he ended up living (“Or the time that I had/Mick Jagger on the phone/I thought of you when we spoke”). And of course, the song includes, as the title implies, a sequence of forgiveness after all. Yes, the song hits me close as a father of a young son, I do not deny that, knowing the responsibility I have to be the kind of father and influence I so strongly want to be. “Posthumous Forgiveness” is a stark reminder of what happens when that responsibility goes awry, the damage it can cause, and why I hope to spend every year on this Earth trying to be the best father I can be.

2. Local Natives – “When Am I Gonna Lose You”

Can things be good to be true? “When Am I Gonna Lose You” is a love song, in a way, it really is. But it’s about those early stages of love when you just can’t believe it can possibly last. I tried for years to get my eventual wife to notice me, love me. I remember those early years, that sense of self-doubt so embedded that it lingers, even when things are going unmistakably right. It’s a feeling and subject matter not often explored, an insight into anxiety and that feeling that this perfect thing, this wonderful person, cannot possibly love imperfect me.

3. William Fitzsimmons – “Angela”

If you’ve heard William Fitzsimmons before you’ll be familiar with the hushed vocals and emotion in the lyrics. What you’ve never heard before is music this layered, with the guitars underpinning the background reminiscent of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games”. This musical growth combined with what is undoubtedly a heartbreaking song about, well, heartbreak (“Sometimes at night I can still hear you laying beside him/Whispering about all the hurt that you’re leaving behind”) and the holes it leaves behind (“Sooner or later we end up as fragile compartments/Tired of carrying a soul that is so far from home/I never said I was scared of eventually dying/My only fear is I might have to do it alone”). 

4. Bon Iver – “Faith”

In a fine career with top flight albums and top flight songs, it means a lot to describe something as among Bon Iver’s very best. “Faith” is there, though. Unlike some of his recent work, these lyrics are more personal and direct. The song is, as the title implies, about faith. Ever-changing, transforming, difficult faith. I think of the challenges of growing older, losing that automatic faith instilled in you as a child (“It's not going the road I'd known as a child of God”, he sings), wondering how it becomes your own and struggling with knowing if you still have it when it just doesn’t feel the same. Countless songs have been written on this topic, but Vernon’s conclusion is different than some, especially his contemporaries in increasingly unchurched, faithless world. “And we have to know that faith declines…I'm not all out of mine” is one of the year’s most powerful lines.

5. Noah Gundersen – “Watermelon”

Noah Gundersen has been a revelation for me the last two years. His latest album, Lover, is his best yet. His ability to shift from personal and nostalgic to raucous and powerful is truly impressive. “Watermelon” is the former, a painfully introspective song that looks back at life’s ups and downs and looks forward to life’s next steps. 

6. Interpol – “Fine Mess”

7. Mick Flannery – “Fool”

8. The National – “Quiet Light”

9. Lana Del Rey – “The greatest”

10. Yola – “Faraway Look”

11. Novo Amor – “State Lines”
12. Bootstraps – “Replica”
13. Charlie Cunningham – “Minimum”
14. Jimmy Eat World – “555”
15. Bear’s Den – “Laurel Wreath”
16. The Hold Steady – “Traditional Village”
17. Harry Styles – “Lights Up”
18. Kishi Bashi – “Marigolds”
19. The Head and the Heart – “Running Through Hell”
20. The Violents – “Scene Unseen”

21. Lizzo – “Juice”
22. James Blake – “I’ll Come Too”
23. Billie Eilish – “bad guy”
24. Taylor Swift – “False God”
25. Biffy Clyro – “Tunnels and Trees”
26. Third Eye Blind – “Ways”
27. Tame Impala – “Borderline”
28. William Fitzsimmons – “In the Light (Alternate Version)
29. Local Natives – “Megaton Mile”

30. The National – “Oblivions”
31. Bootstraps – “Evergreen”
32. Noah Gundersen – “God Don’t Talk to Strangers”
33. Bon Iver – “Hey, Ma”
34. Foals – “Exits”
35. Panda Bear – “playing the long game”
36. Chvrches – “Death Stranding”
37. Coldplay – “Everyday Life”
38. Patrick Watson – “Here Comes the River”
39. Grimes & i_o – “Violence”

40. MØ ft. Foster the People – “Blur”
41. Jonas Brothers – “Sucker”
42. MISSIO – “I See You”
43. Weezer – “High As A Kite”
44. Blood Orange ft Toro y Moi – “Dark & Handsome”
45. Sufjan Stevens – “Love Yourself”
46. Francis and the Lights – “Take Me to the Light”
47. Liam Ghallagher – “Once”
48. Backstreet Boys – “Chances”
49. Caribou – “You and I”
50. Local Natives – “Café Amarillo”

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Top 50 Songs of 2018

Disclaimer: I am not a professional and while I do hope to hear every song at time of release, there are some 2017 tracks in here as always. This is more like a list of the 50 songs I fell in love with this year. I try not to overdo it with too many songs by the same artists, but everything I loved is in the Spotify playlist regardless of how many times it's the same artist. I hope you enjoy and find something you love. 

Some of my more recent discoveries populate the start of my list. Although Great Lake Swimmers find themselves on the list many times, including in the top 5, the others are all singular. Mitski's track is a new find populating a lot of lists this year. Panic! At the Disco made a fun comeback this year, and I've always felt they deserved a little more respect than how they were originally pigeonholed. First Aid Kit and Young the Giant both had lackluster albums, but their top tracks are worth a listen. How to Dress Well has some of my favorite songs of all time (seriously, go listen to "Lost Youth/Lost You"), but they tripled down on the weird on their newest album, and only "Hunger" made my list. Jade Bird is for the fans of poppier numbers, and apparently it hit #1 on the Adult Alternative charts last April. Had no idea. And yes, that's a popular country song with Lee Brice's "Boy". What can I say, I have a 2 year old and I'm a sucker now. 

50. Great Lake Swimmers - "A Certain Light"
49. Mitski - "Nobody"
48. Jade Bird - "Lottery"
47. Panic! At the Disco - "High Hopes"
46. First Aid Kit - "Distant Star"
45. Vancouver Sleep Clinic - "Through the Night"
44. Young the Giant - "Superposition"
43. Kurt Vile - "Loading Zones"
42. How to Dress Well - "Nonkilling 6 | Hunger"
41. Lee Brice - "Boy"

I'm hoping for the return of a proper Grimes album in 2019 as her one single at the end of 2018 is a great tease. Check out the unabashed saxaphone and falsetto on "Wrong Side" and tell me you don't love it. Hozier sure hit it big the last time around so he's no small find, but that voice is still killer. Handsome Ghosts is the kind of song I'd have liked better in high school, but there's still a version of that person in my somewhere. Rayland Baxter deserves more attention, though I'd still recommend one of my favorite songs ever, "Yellow Eyes". Death Cab had a pretty solid album this year, and "Gold Rush" was the best track. Chvrches also had a very good album, and "Graffiti" joins "Get Out" and "Never Say Die" to highlight it. Great Grandpa is a local Seattle band I was lucky enough to see open for Spoon this year. 

40. Maggie Rogers - "Light On"
39. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats - "You Worry Me"
38. Grimes ft. Hana - "We Appreciate Power"
37. Hozier - "Moment's Slience (Common Tongue"
36. Handsome Ghosts - "Reckless Lover"
35. Death Cab for Cutie - "Gold Rush"
34. Noah Gundersen & SISTERS - "Wrong Side"
33. Rayland Baxter - "Without Me"
32. Chvrches - "Graffiti"
31. Great Grandpa - "Teen Challenge"

Call this the sentimentality segment, full of old friends. The new Arctic Monkeys album is a sight to behold, and lyrics like that can only be sung by someone like Alex Turner. MuteMath has had some band changes and may never be the same, but "Sooner or Later" proves they still have great tracks in them. Muse was my favorite band in college circa 2005 and has challenged my fandom over the years, but "Algorithm" is fantastic. I think The 1975 would have been my favorite band in college if they existed back then. Andrew McMahon is my nostalgic hero, so not a surprise I included my favorite track from his newest album. Mat Kearney's song is a guilty pleasure of a track. I prefer the acoustic version, a simple ode to falling in love with someone you grew up with. I met my wife at 14 and she is always making me better. I’ve spent many words in the course of the blog trying to let people know there is more to Snow Patrol than Grey’s Anatomy and “Chasing Cars”. Consider this another reminder. You are welcome.

30. Arctic Monkeys - "Star Treatment"
29. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - "Echo"
28. MuteMath - "Sooner or Later"
27. Muse - "Algorithm"
26. Andrew McMahon - "House in the Trees"
25. VHS Collection - "Sign"
24. Calexico - "Under the Wheels"
23. Mat Kearney - "Better Than I Used To Be (Acoustic)"
22. Snow Patrol - "Life On Earth"
21. The 1975 - "Give Yourself a Try"

Lana made us all fall in love on “Video Games” than has since followed a winding career path of Billboard hits and collabs. “Mariners Apartment Complex” is the Lana I dream of in my meaningless hopes. Impossible to nail down, Lana can at moments be among the best there is. "Thank You, New York" is love/hate relationships at its best, except for Chris Thile (of Nickel Creek), his love/hate is more with a city than anything. Thus is born a sarcastic ode to a butt kicking. Lo Moon probably exists with too little of a core audience. After all, what is the market for 7 minute dreamy tracks like this one? Likely not experimental enough for the experimental crowd, but not poppy enough for the pop crowd, it finds a fan in me. I honestly never thought Interpol stopped making good music. 

20. Lana Del Rey - "Mariners Apartment Complex"
19. Chris Thile ft. Gaby Moreno - "Thank You, New York"
18. Great Lake Swimmers - "They Don't Make Them Like That Anymore"
17. Lo Moon - "Loveless"
16. Interpol - "If You Really Love Nothing"

Released on a small EP, “Autumn Town Leaves” is vintage Iron & Wine with Sam Beam continuing his welcome return to niche. Nearly a decade after they soundtracked writing my thesis in 2010, Mimicking Birds have upped the electronic elements a bit, but have started to catch on the festival circuit a little bit. Check out their top track from their new album. There are several stellar tracks on the latest Chvrches album, but “Never Say Die” is the fullest, richest of the songs, with Mayberry’s strong vocals carrying over a swarming rush of electronic rock that bring the final minute of the song to it’s amazing, M83-like conclusion. I have only had "Slow Burn" on my playlists a few weeks, so time will tell, but I cannot turn it off. Great Lake Swimmers' "They Don't Make Them Like That Anymore" is a tough track for me after losing both of my grandparents this year, I admit this track will probably not affect you like me. But when the line “it won’t be the same without you, I know” is paired with talk of Christmases with grandparents, new babies, and the acknowledgement that “while some things are different, some are always the same”, it’s a heartbreaking track I can barely get through. I’ll love you forever Grandma and Papa.

15. Iron & Wine - "Autumn Town Leaves"
14. Kacey Musgraves - "Slow Burn"
13. Mimicking Birds - "Belongings"
12. Manchester Orchestra - "Gold"
11. Chvrches - "Never Say Die"

10. Isaac Gracie - "terrified"

Looking for a new name to watch? Isaac Gracie has an astounding voice and "Terrified" is his best work to date, the highlight track on his debut full-length album.

9. MGMT - "Little Dark Age"

Someday we'll get a documentary that chronicles MGMT's meteoric rise, accidental fame, and the subsequent anti-hit albums that followed. But if you weren't paying attention you might miss that MGMT released their best, most accessible music since "Time to Pretend" and "Kids" soundtracked just about everyone's 2007 and 2008. The highlight of several outstanding tracks is "Little Dark Age".

8. Lord Huron - "Ancient Names (Part I)"

Care for some psychedelic-tinged indie folk? Living in an accessible folk/indie niche, the mistake would be to conflate Lord Huron too much with Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers, but Lord Huron exists as the best of them all, and they are getting quite consistent at this point. "Ancient Names (Part I)" is one of the most interesting tracks they've produced to date, their hazy folk propelling quickly over an unforgettable bass line. 

7. The 1975 - "Love It If We Made It"

I have an affinity for The 1975, a band like few I can ever remember where the phrase “more than meets the eye” applies so aptly. A couple years ago “Somebody Else” was my #1 song, this year “Love It If We Made It” lands in the top ten. I was also excited to see it chosen as Pitchfork’s #1 song of the year, rising above the indie hip hop that crowds their lists these days. Their write-up is superior to mine I am certain, but I’ll briefly share my thoughts: crowded with lyrics of negativity, this is a song that is, in the end, upbeat and hopeful. It is catchy, musically it is interesting, and lyrically is it memorable. 

6. Ray LaMontagne - "Such a Simple Thing"

Long one of the more soulful voices in music today, LaMontagne releases perhaps his greatest track with “Such a Simple Thing”. Beautifully simple, it creates a backdrop of acoustic guitar, soft beat, and a slide guitar, with LaMontagne’s bruised vocals carrying the weight. “My heart is like paper, yours is like a flame”.

5. Snail Mail - "Pristine"

There’s a 90’s retro feeling to Snail Mail’s sound here, a throwback to the electric guitar, bereft of any electriconica/synth dazzlement popular now. This is a girl and her guitar, and the vocals and the way they attach so viscerally to the lyrics, make the song. There’s honesty, hurt, and even a pragmatic realism to the words here to where it sounds almost matter-of-fact instead of forlorn when she sings “I know myself and I’ll never love anyone else.” I mean, it’s just a fact, right?

4. Great Lake Swimmers - "The Real Work"

Long a favorite band of mine, Great Lake Swimmers have hung in the realm of Iron & Wine and Nickel Creek, but with not nearly the same recognition. Softly sung and introspective, “The Real Work” rolls over piano and the hum of a cello. I’m not sure the exact inspiration behind the song, but it has a way of speaking to me personally, and includes my favorite lyrics of the year: “And the real work is never done, and has no clear beginning, and shows no result, no losing or winner.” 

3. Noah Gundersen - "HEAVY METALS"

The revelation of Gunderson’s existence this year, and introduction to his genre-bending work, was my top discovery of the year. And with finding my #1 track, I also discovered his self-titled solo work. “HEAVY METALS” is alternative rock at its finest, building and building until breaking free in a rush at the bridge, my favorite singular moment in music I found this year.

2. Manchester Orchestra - "I Know How to Speak"

Released independently of the great album released towards the end of 2017, “I Know How to Speak” showcases a softer, dreamier side of the great storytellers. Layered in guitars, there’s an element here that begs you to close your eyes and get lost.

1. Phoebe Bridgers + Noah & Abby Gundersen - "Killer + The Sound"

My song of the year this year is actually two songs, merged into one, both supplanting their works as individual tracks by blending into a heartfelt masterpiece. You do not need to know the original tracks to enjoy “Killer + The Sound” on its own, but listening to them individually will help you appreciate it more. “Killer” is not strikingly different, sung also over piano and blended with male vocals on the chorus on both the original and the new version, but Bridgers taps into a more soulful place when singing with Noah Gundersen. Gundersen is the author of “The Sound”, a top-notch track on its own, but one that is nearly unrecognizable from the new version. “The Sound” is a propulsive alternative rock song, with a driving, soaring chorus. Transformed on “Killer + The Sound”, Gundersen’s track becomes something new and wonderful entirely, and he owes much of this to Bridgers’ bruised vocal over a soft piano. When Gundersen takes over, he takes it up yet another notch. The mashup, or “reimagining” to use a more accurate term, lasts nearly eight minutes, and results in the year’s best track.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Top 50 Songs of 2017

Click Here to Open Spotify Playlist

50. Dermot Kennedy - "Glory"
49. Beck - "Dear Life"
48. Ed Sheeran - "Supermarket Flowers"
47. Lana Del Rey - "Love"
46. Rationale - "Prodigal Son"
45. Peter Bradley Adams - "My Arms Were Always Around You"
44. Harry Styles - "Sign of the Times"
43. LCD Soundsystem - "how do you sleep?"
42. Foster the People - "Pay the Man"
41. Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos - "Slide"

40. Sufjan Stevens - "Mystery of Love"
39. Fleet Foxes - "Third of May/Odaigahara"
38. Pond - "Sweep Me Off My Feet"
37. WALK THE MOON - "Tiger Teeth"
36. MuteMath - "Everything's New"
35. Elbow - "Magnificent (She Says)"
34. Sylvan Esso - "Radio"
33. Coldplay - "A L I E N S"
32. Spoon - "Hot Thoughts"
31. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, & James McCallister – “Mercury”

30. Violents & Monica Martin - "Awake and Pretty Much Sober"
29. Grizzly Bear - "Mourning Sound"
28. Passion Pit - "Hey K"
27. Fleet Foxes - "Fool's Errand"
26. Yellow House - "Better Views"
25. The Killers - "Rut"
24. The National - "Day I Die"
23. Cold War Kids - "Can We Hang On?"
22. Arcade Fire - "Everything Now"
21. Radiohead - "I Promise"

20. The War on Drugs - "Pain"
19. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness - "Birthday Song"
18. Portugal. The Man - "Feel It Still"
17. Toro Y Moi - "You & I"
16. Tame Impala - "List of People (To Try and Forget About)"
15. Fleet Foxes - "Naiads, Cassadies"
14. Sufjan Stevens - "Tonya Harding (In D Major)"
13. Minus the Bear - "Silver"
12. The Shins - "The Fear"
11. Rayland Baxter - "Yellow Eyes"

10. Pond – “Paint Me Silver”

Do you miss what MGMT was supposed to be? “Paint Me Silver” is the best of three outstanding tracks by the Australian psychedelic rock band.

9. Spoon – “Can I Sit Next to You”

“Can I Sit Next to You” is a classically classic Spoon song: tightly produced, a little funky, and Britt Daniel’s raspy growl. This is a summer with the windows down song.

8. Drake - "Passionfruit"

Six years ago Drake released a slow, dark, heartfelt track called “Doin’ It Wrong” with Stevie Wonder on harmonica, and for six years it’s been one of my favorite songs in my collection. Along with other more R&B-tinged songs like “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, Drake has it within him the ability to be one of my favorite artists, though he is clearly more famous for other kinds of songs. This year he did it again, adding Caribbean flair with soft steel drums to “Passionfruit” while his voice carries the song and sets a distinct mood.

7. Violents & Monica Martin - "Unraveling"

Here’s the sad break-up song of the year. “Unraveling” is beautiful and heart-wrenching. It comes from a place of low lows, acknowledging when you’re falling apart. Best moment: the strings that come in around 3:30 and Martin delivers the line “I much prefer you the way that I found you”.

6. Marshall McLean - "Level Out"

Marshall brings Americana right out of Spokane, Washington. He hasn’t broken out yet, but do yourself a favor and check his music out. “Level Out” is his best work yet. The guitar work here is magical, from the lead to the steel guitar, and McLean’s distinctive voices offers a little bit of chill, “I’m just spinning my wheels, killing time until I feel, that the time is right for me to level out”.  

5. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - "Over Everything"

Perhaps the polar opposite to the previous song, “Over Everything” is absolutely wonderfully positive, with a perfect lazy happiness encompassing everything about it. The style’s of Barnett and Vile, both great artists on their own, blend so well here it’s hard to believe they are not a normal pairing. I have spent the year singing the line “When I'm outside in a real good mood/You could almost forget bout all the other things/Like a big old ominous cloud in my periphery.”

4. The War on Drugs - "In Chains"

The War on Drugs are the best band that you aren’t listening to, and with their latest album they drop a collection of songs that once again is the best of the year. The album’s most cathartic moments come from “In Chains”, a seven and half minute propulsive gem that, like much of their music, comes from a place of anxiety. But on “In Chains” that anxiety seems to break through and a concluding line like “We can try and learn to make it through/Then come out the other side” sound positively positive.

3. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, & James McCallister - "Neptune"

If you, like me, are a sucker for Sufjan Stevens, don’t miss the top tracks from his somewhat bizarre collaboration album based around the planets in the solar system. But like every Sufjan album, no matter how odd or bloated, there is a moment that stops you in your tracks. For me that song is Neptune, a track that is as close to film score as a moving Sufjan piece, and the marriage of the two is breathtaking. 

2. Coldplay - "All I Can Think About is You"

Despite the release of Coldplay’s completely average partnership with The Chainsmokers this year that moved the charts, Coldplay also released its best song in years and years on a little album called the Kaleidoscope EP. “All I Can Think About Is You” is a slow builder that breaks into a classic piano line then bursts forth with the best minute and a half of music this year. Rank this one amongst the very top songs they’ve ever written in their now lengthy and impressive career.

1. Iron & Wine - "Thomas County Law"

There is something about “Thomas County Law” that paints a picture and a feeling stronger than any song this year. It’s a song about a town, a home, and as Sam Beam says, “both denying and accepting one’s origins”. There are those who dream of leaving (“every dreamer falls asleep in their dancing shoes”), those who have been left behind (“there ain’t a mother with a heart less than black and blue”), and those who know they shouldn’t have left (“I may say I don’t belong here, but I know I do”). “Thomas County Law” is Sam Beam and Iron & Wine’s return to form, a step forward by taking a couple steps back. It’s lyrically perfect, musically stirring, and it’s the best track of the year. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Once More, With Feeling: A Farewell to the Blog

This is a long time in coming, and in some ways it’s already happened. After 10 years of posting in various forums, I’ve decided to stop pretending that I’m writing a music blog any more. This blog hasn’t existed in the same form for all these years. For those of you who have stuck by for the last decade, you’ve seen it morph from Facebook notes and Xanga to blogspot and even my own URL, which my wife bought me as a gift. But here we are, at the end of 2016. I have a newborn son. Life has taken me everywhere and to many places I never dreamed I’d go. And all the while, blogging has become harder and more like a chore. The internet is saturated with blogs too, and any designs I ever had on becoming a high traffic site suffered under the reality that I never knew quite how to make that happen. But every time I thought about stopping, I pushed on, driven by the kindest comment or a single individual who was opened up to a new band or a new favorite song because of me and The Past and the Pending.

If you’ll entertain me and you have time to read, I want to write some thoughts down. And if no one ever reads it, that’s okay too. I always knew the blog was more for myself than anyone else. It was a way for me to organize and diary something very meaningful to my life. And I love having a written record.

I don’t exactly know when this all happened. Growing up I listened to almost all Christian music, plus my dad’s Elton John album, a greatest hits collection played live in Australia. As a kid I think my favorite song was “Place in this World” by Michael W. Smith. My first “secular” love was “Black Balloon” by The Goo Goo Dolls. Like many my age, I had a distinct Linkin Park phase in high school. Things change. Some things do not.

Nickel Creek, The Shins, Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, Band of Horses, Jimmy Eat World, The Hold Steady, Spoon, The National, Bon Iver, The Killers, Something Corporate/Jack’s Mannequin and everything Andrew McMahon touched. These are the artists that shaped me. These are the albums I’ll play my son. Someday maybe The Hold Steady’s “Separation Sunday” will become my son’s version of my dad’s live Elton John album. I can only hope.

Nothing can top that early thrill. I was not exposed to much music growing up. Discovering entire discographies at once is overwhelming and exhilarating. I got to discover Radiohead all at once. To me their first new album was “In Rainbows”. I still remember going into Best Buy and buying three albums all at once: Interpol’s “Antics”, Keane’s “Hopes and Fears”, and Snow Patrol’s “Final Straw”…on the same day! And that meant I hadn’t even heard Interpol’s masterpiece “Untitled” yet. I got two burned copies of The Shins’ two first albums at the same time and fell in love. And yes, I was one of those people who fawned over Garden State. Natalie Portman and “The Shins will change your life” and all that jazz.

In 2007, for some reason I decided to write a Top 50 songs of the year. I didn’t know then that I’d do 10 of them. Or that anyone would actually care. The first #1 song was “Australia” by none other than The Shins. It should have been my #7 song that year, “Detlef Schrempf” by Band of Horses, a song that is deeply meaningful to me. 

“So take it as a song or a lesson to learn/And sometime soon be better than you were/If you say you're gonna go, then be careful/And watch how you treat every living soul”.

At some point the blog stopped being fun. And while you might think it’s because so few people read (that's undeniably a factor, admittedly), that wasn't the main driver or I couldn’t have kept it up for a decade. In reality, my perspective on music criticism has changed. I used to review albums, positively or negatively. I used to have best and worst songs. I used to make fun of bad lyrics, and eviscerated the likes of Owl City, Nickelback, etc. I was part of the online hipster hater club. I stopped that a while ago, focusing purely on recommendations. I now believe you can like whatever you like, and viewed the blog as a way to say to my readers “hey, if you’re looking for something new, try this”. So I stopped doing pure reviews. If the album wasn’t good, I just didn’t talk about it. That left me less to write about. Second, online music blogs have changed too. There’s so much noise. My favorite blogs are touting EDM and indie hip-hop more and more. Free mp3’s aren’t as readily available. My peers are 30+ and have kids and don’t want new music as much, and the younger consumers of online content mostly like things that I do not. And sharing a blog post on your facebook news feed? Just clutter. More noise and clutter among a noisy and cluttered world of social media. I know it and you know it.

I want to thank you. Some of you have been reading here and commenting for a long time. You stopped me from quitting dozens of times. All I needed to know was that I helped you find a new favorite band or song. In the last ten years if I’ve helped you find that, that would make me very happy. Thanks for the love and support and requests and comments. It has always meant a lot. And if you still want recommendations I’m still here. I’m not giving up my love of music, and I'll still do a top 50 in some forum simply because I still like that part alone, but I’m giving up feeling like I need to write about music. So farewell, my friends, and thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top 50 Songs of 2016

Click Here to Open the Spotify Playlist

50. Bilal Khan – “Bachana”
49. The Faint – “Young & Realistic”
48. Lindsey Stirling ft. Andrew McMahon & The Wilderness – “Something Wild”
47. The Strumbellas – “Spirits”
46. Tree Giants – “The Courage” 
45. Frank Ocean – “Pink + White”
44. Rogue Wave – “Memento Mori”
43. Yeasayer – “Gerson’s Whistle”
41. Kaleo – “Way Down We Go”
40. Bob Mould – “Voices in My Head”

39. The Naked and Famous – “Higher”
38. Too Far Moon – “Be OK”
37. Wild Belle – “Losing You”
36. James Vincent McMorrow – “I Lie Awake Every Night”
35. Ray Lamontagne – “Part One – Hey, No Pressure”
34. William Fitzsimmons – “Hear Your Heart”
33. The Boxer Rebellion – “Big Ideas”
32. How to Dress Well – “Lost Youth / Lost You”
31. Florence + The Machine – “Too Much is Never Enough”
30. Local Natives – “Past Lives”

29. The Lumineers – “Sleep on the Floor”
28. The 1975 – “Paris”
27. Bear’s Den – “Napoleon”
26. Band of Horses – “Whatever, Wherever”
25. Radiohead – “Burn the Witch”
24. Bon Iver – “33 “God””
23. Jimmy Eat World – “Pol Roger”
22. Chairlift – “Polymorphing”
21. James Blake – “Love Me in Whatever Way”

20. Phantogram – “Same Old Blues”
19. Young the Giant – “Something to Believe In”
18. M83 – “Solitude”
17. John Paul White – “Simple Song”
16. The Radio Dept – “This Thing Was Bound To Happen”
15. The Lumineers – “Cleopatra”
14. Francis and the Lights ft. Bon Iver – “Friends”
13. Radiohead – “Identikit”
12. Blind Pilot – “Umpqua Rushing”
11. Local Natives – “Dark Days”

10. Isaac Gracie – All In My Mind (Live)

The award for best new voice in 2016 goes to Isaac Gracie, and the fact that this is a live recording speaks volumes. Isaac doesn't have a lot of tracks, but with the potential flashed on "All In My Mind" I am really looking forward to seeing what he can do.

9. Bon Iver – “8 (circle)”

Bon Iver walks--and sometimes crosses--a fine line between exploring new sounds and creating needless noise on his new album. But on "8 (circle)" he nails it. Sounding more soulful than he ever has, Vernon stays in a lower register and delivers strong. "We've galvanized at the squall of it all" is one of his best lyrics ever.

8. Animal Collective – “Golden Gal”

Animal Collective just couldn't accept that they'd mastered the balance between experimentalism and pop way back in 2009 with songs like "My Girls", instead opting for years of mind-blowingly noisy and, cough, "challenging" music that got the occasional good review but got no consistent airplay from anyone I knew. Their new album may not be a complete return to form, but for one shining moment on "Golden Gal" the band shows why they took the world by storm.

7. Sia – “Broken Glass”

Like passion and key changes? Sia is perhaps the queen of the epic anthem these days, and she leaves nothing on the table here. The result is the kind of song that needs the volume high.

6. High Highs – “Boxing”

Close your eyes and let "Boxing" sweep over you. High Highs make some moody, atmospheric music, and "Boxing" is the best of a strong album.

5. Band of Horses – “Dull Times/The Moon”

On hearing the opening song from Band of Horses new album, it was like meeting up with an old familiar friend. It's no secret that I--and many others--found Band of Horses' last album to be disappointing and lost. "Dull Times/The Moon" is a seven minute song that opens their new album, and the first half is vintage BoH, pensive and thoughtful. The second half is a romp, reminiscent of their earliest days. It works wonders together.

4. Caveman – “80 West”

80 West stretches from Chicago to San Francisco, traversing the endless Midwest of Nebraska, Iowa, and Wyoming, slipping through beautiful Salt Lake City, across the worst stretch of major freeway through northern Nevada, before crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. I've been on this freeway at almost every stretch, but on different trips, with many pensive moments along the way. For a band based out of Brooklyn, NY, the song title hints that the song was written on the road. It's a thoughtful song, and I like to imagine it was penned on one of those great road trip moments.

3. Jimmy Eat World – “It Matters” «««««

I needed this song. This blog has meant a lot to me, and the early formative years were filled and inspired by Jimmy Eat World. Songs like "23" and "Dizzy" are among my all time favorites, and I've seen Jimmy Eat World live multiple times. To me they always perfectly encapsulated the best elements of energy and introspective lyrics. If you want to try and hear what I hear, focus on the line "I imagine talks that last all night/never bring it up, but every day I want to/I think about us dancing, but it's not something we do/well there's my dream, doesn't it sound good to you?". In one line, both lyrically and with delivery, the song perfectly captures the disappointment when dreams and expectations don't match reality.

2. Bear’s Den – “Red Earth & The Pouring Rain” «««««

"Red Earth & The Pouring Rain" is said to have been inspired by an ancient Sangam poem found in the lead singer's room in an Indian guest house in the coastal town of Kochi. The poem, which you can read about here, reads "But in love our hearts are as red earth and pouring rain: mingled, beyond parting." It's a beautiful verse and a fantastic song. Musically, the influence of the 80's are obvious, and the song builds over a propulsive drum line. Vocally the deilvery is full of sincerity. This is an inspired album and an inspired song, and the inspiration is completely unique to anything I can think to compare it to.

1. The 1975 – “Somebody Else” «««««

The 1975 amaze me, and I wish I were a fly on the wall to understand how this band operates and writes music. I say this because there is a definite teen-sensation element to the band, where image means something and a flock of high school girls no doubt love them. There's immaturity in the lyrics as well at times, including this song,, and they have an entire song called "Please Be Naked". What's amazing about that song is that it's an instrumental, and it's beautiful. Their albums are full of curious filler and overwrought song titles. But then, like they also have before ("Chocolate" and "Robbers" to name a couple), they are capable of an absolutely perfect song. In a word, The 1975 confound me. So that leaves us with "Somebody Else", and although any of the top three songs this year could have been #1, it's this song I keep coming back to over and over again. Start with the haunting and simple opening, which portrays a dark and lonely soundscape right off the bat. The echoing and wounded vocals hit, with the opening line "So I heard you found somebody else, and at first, I thought, it was lie..." Before you feel for the artist too much, it becomes apparent that the source of the breakup is himself, though he's trapped in the confusing feelings of missing some elements of the relationship despite being the source for its demise. Musically the song is incredibly lush with detail. Just pay attention to the background right at the minute mark, for instance. This song is not remotely straightforward, and if you don't give them the time of day because of their image, you will miss it. I can scarcely think of a song that uses its sound to convey a mood better. The confusion, the jealousy, the anxiety, the haziness of everything being expressed, can be felt just as much as it's explained through the vocals. This song, especially the first minute, is the best of 2016.

Honorable Mentions

A Silent Film – “Something to Believe In”
A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People…”
Aaron Lee Tasjan – “Little Movies”
Anderson .Paak – “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance”
Anderson .Paak – “The Bird”
Animal Collective – “Recycling”
Band of Horses – “Country Teen”
Band of Horses – “Even Still”
Band of Horses – “Lying Under Oak”
Band of Horses – “Throw My Mess”
Barns Courtney – “Glitter & Gold”
Bear’s Den – “Auld Wives”
Bear’s Den – “Emeralds”
Bear’s Den – “Greenwoods Bethlehem”
Biffy Clyro – “Re-Arrange”
Blind Pilot – “Packed Powder”
Blind Pilot – “Seeing is Believing”
Bon Iver – “00000 Million”
Bon Iver – “29 #Strafford Apts”
Boxer Rebellion – “Firework”
Boxer Rebellion – “Let’s Disappear”
Car Seat Headrest – “Fill in the Blank”
Catfish & The Bottlemen – “Soundcheck”
Chairlift – “Crying in Public”
Chvrches – “Warning Call”
Diiv - “Bent (Roi’s Song)”
Drake fr. Wizkid & Kyla – “One Dance”
Fitz & The Tantrums – “HandClap”
Frank Ocean – “At Your Best (You Are Love) (The Isley Brothers Cover)”
Frank Ocean – “Nikes”
Frank Ocean – “Self Control”
Frank Ocean – “Solo”
High Highs – “Cascades”
High Highs – “How Could You Know”
James Blake ft. Bon Iver – “I Need a Forest Fire”
James Vincent McMorrow – “Get Low”
Jim James & Friends – “Candyman”
Jimmy Eat World – “Sure and Certain”
Jimmy Eat World – “The End is Beautiful”
Jimmy Eat World – “You With Me”
John Paul White – “Make You Cry”
Kings of Leon – “Muchacho”
Kings of Leon – “Waste a Moment”
Lady Gaga – “Million Reasons”
Local Natives – “Coins”
Local Natives – “Everything All at Once”
Local Natives – “Villainy”
M83 – “Go!”
M83 – “Walkway Blues”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “St Ides”
Mike Snow – “Genghis Khan”
Mitski – “Your Best American Girl”
Mumford & Sons – “Friend of the Devil”
Parquet Courts – “Human Performance”
Radiohead – “Daydreaming”
Radiohead – “Ful Stop”
Radiohead – “The Numbers”
Real Estate – “Here Comes Sunshine”
Rihanna ft. Drake – “Work”
Rogue Wave – “Look at Me”
Santigold – “Before the Fire”
Sia – “Alive”
The 1975 – “A Change of Heart”
The 1975 – “The Ballad of Me and My Brain”
The Killers – “Peace of Mind”
The Lumineers – “Angela”
The Lumineers – “Ophelia”
The National – “Morning Dew”
The Shins – “Dead Alive”
The Struts – “Kiss This”
Westerman – “Mother Song”
William Fitzsimmons – “Fare Thee Well”
William Fitzsimmons – “People Change Their Minds”
Young the Giant – “Elsewhere”
Young the Giant – “Jungle Youth”

Zayn – Pillowtalk