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

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Top Ten Albums of 2016

10. M83 – Junk

Even when you learn to expect the unexpected, and album like Junk is unexpected anyways, sounding unrecognizably different that M83’s all-time great previous album, yet being quite good nonetheless.

9. High Highs – Cascades

Cascades crafts a mood—dreamy, atmospheric, wondrous—from front to back.

8. Local Natives – Sunlit Youth

Local Natives made one of the peppiest albums with Gorilla Manor, one of the saddest with Hummingbird, and they split the difference on Sunlit Youth. It doesn’t carry the same overall strength as an album, but it’s an outstanding collection of tracks.

7. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

I could write a whole post on the potential of The 1975, who seem to possess both the ability to be a below average teen heartthrob band or to be one of the most interesting sounding bands in the world. When they are at their best—Somebody Else, Paris, A Change of Heart—they absolutely excel.

6. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

This is Bon Iver’s worst album of the three, and it’s wonderful. Justin Vernon stretches the listener’s patience with pretentious indie noises, but it’s still glistening with Bon Iver’s signature sound and very high highs.

5. The Lumineers – Cleopatra

Here’s the surprise album of the year. Mostly known for “Ho, Hey!”, The Lumineers put out a fantastic album this year with Cleopatra, complete with outstanding storytelling and an overall vibe front to back. Don’t overlook it.

4. Band of Horses – Why Are You OK

Sigh of relief. Band of Horses’ last album Mirage Rock was bad and crushingly disappointing. Ben Bridwell regrouped and learned to write about life as a happy family man, and delivers another smashing success with Why Are You OK.

3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

It’s always a treat to get a full-fledged Radiohead album, something that happens only every four to five years. A Moon Shaped Pool does not disappoint from string-tinged opener of “Burn the Witch” all the way to the longtime deep cut “True Love Waits”.

2. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

There was a time once, near when this blog started in some other form, when Jimmy Eat World was coming off releasing their best album, Futures, before following it up with the also-great Chase This Light. Since then there have been decent songs, but no good albums, and I confess I didn’t believe there ever would be again. But Integrity Blues was the album I needed at the perfect time and their best album in a decade.

1. Bear’s Den – Red Earth & The Pouring Rain

On their sophomore album, the British band Bear’s Den releases a sweeping  album full of storytelling, imagery, and emotion. There’s an earnestness here. Bear’s Den sings from the heart, and unashamedly so.  “Red Earth and the Pouring Rain” kicks it off on a high note, with a soaring, 80’s-influenced anthem that’s among the year’s best. Bear’s Den has a special talent for making you see what they are describing. On “Napoleon” it’s a father with “a tall glass of Napoleon and an off-white leather chair”. “Greenwoods Bethlehem” borrows its name from an Indian guesthouse on the Arabian Sea, while the title track was based on a poem found in the guest room there. The result is the year’s best album.

Honorable Mentions:
Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Animal Collective – Painting With
Blind Pilot – And Then Like Lions
The Boxer Rebellion – Ocean by Ocean
Frank Ocean – Blonde
Phantogram – Three
Rogue Wave – Delusions of Grand Fur
William Fitzsimmons – Charleroi: Pittsburgh, Vol. 2
Young the Giant – Home of the Strange

Monday, October 31, 2016

Recent Favorite Tracks, Hand Selected For You

Five songs of wonder, for your listening pleasure. Also, a picture of an ocelot.

Jimmy Eat World - "It Matters"

Bear's Den - "Red Earth and the Pouring Rain"

Bon Iver - "33 'God'"

Radio Dept - "These Things Were Bound to Happen"

Local Natives - "Past Lives"

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Best Songs of 2016 So Far

Halfway home in 2016, and it feels like most of the good music lies ahead of us in the form of soon-to-be released albums. But in the last months, with the arrival of the hotly anticipated Radiohead album, 2016 started gaining steam. Here are the songs that I've been streaming heavy this year:

Animal Collective - "Golden Gal"

After the massive misstep that was nearly everything on 2012's Centipede Hz, Animal Collective release their best track since they swept the festival circuit in 2009.

The 1975 - "Somebody Else"

Drawing on sounds from the eighties and with some impeccable execution, The 1975 are capable of transcending their sometimes immature lyrics and producing songs as great as this one.

John Paul White - "Simple Song"

John Paul White and Joy Williams may have born to be a duo as we hear them with The Civil Wars. But with "Simple Song", White gives us by the far the best track one of them has put out since the pair's untimely breakup.

High Highs - "Boxing"

High Highs are high on atmospherics and mood, and on tracks like "Boxing" they show their skill. Fans of bands like Washed Out will really enjoy this.

Sia - "Broken Glass"

Sia is possibly best known for "Chandeliers" and the powerful force with which she propels her voice. If you're for more, check out "Broken Glass", which shows no restraint as Sia pushes her voice through the songs key changes.

Young the Giant - "Amerika"

Color me excited for Young the Giant's album this summer. With "Amerika" and their other single "Something to Believe In", there's a lot of hope that their forthcoming album will be very strong.

Radiohead - "Burn the Witch"

Picking the best of Radiohead's new album is tough, but my initial leanings are towards "Identikit" and lead track "Burn the Witch".

James Blake - "Love Me in Whatever Way"

One of the best Blake tracks he's ever written. "This is a lonely off-white room/I keep my gaze on you, while other people move".

The Lumineers - "Cleopatra"

I've surprised myself by enjoying the new Lumineers album about as much as any album this year. "Cleopatra" is one of the album's strongest track.

Chairlift - "Polymorphing"

I've always sort of enjoyed Chairlift, but I actually don't think I've enjoyed them more this.

Boxer Rebellion - "Big Ideas"

Buried under what might first come off as forgettable mid-tempo Brit Rock is some truly fantastic guitar work that serves as the underpin for most of Boxer Rebellion's great tracks, such as "Big Ideas".

M83 - "Walkway Blues"

With the exception of the fantastic "Solitude", M83's newest album was way out in left field, sounding nothing like you'd expect (except if you are used to expecting the unexpected from them, of course). One of my favorite tracks is this one.

Band of Horses - "Dull Times/The Moon"

Band of Horses' new album is a return to form, and the opener announces that very well, with a sprawling 7 minute track that transitions from dreamy, lonely musings to a guitar-driven finale.

Blind Pilot - "Umpqua Rushing"

Another recent purchase, my first impression is strong and I look forward to hearing the full album.

Rogue Wave - "Memento Mori"

Rogue Wave always manages a few gems off of every album. The one I like the best right now is "Memento Mori".

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What I'm Listening To - The Ten Best Songs at the Quarter Pole

The 1975 - "Somebody Else" (Alt Rock)

Animal Collective - "Golden Gal" (Experimental Pop)

Bob Mould - "Voices In My Head" (Rock)

Boxer Rebellion - "Big Ideas" (Alt Rock)

Great Good Fine Ok - "Already Love" (Indie Pop)

High Highs - "Boxing" (Indie Rock)

John Paul White - "Simple Song" (Folk)

M83 - "Solitude" (Alt Rock/Shoegaze)

Ray LaMontagne - "Hey, No Pressure" (Folk Rock)

Sia - "Broken Glass" (Pop)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Underappreciated Cold War Kids

They've been around for years, a staple of the medium-sized print bands that shuffle casually into the middle of every festival poster. It's now been 10 years since I first heard "We Used to Vacation" in a tiny military town in the midst of Idaho. The song became a regular in shuffles shared with my friends, and I always pointed out the line that hooked me in the first place.

"I'm just an honest man. Provide for me and mine. I give a check to tax deductible charity organizations."

That line, dropped into a song about a struggling middle class working man with a slight drinking problem and normal person problems, defined Cold War Kids' style as much as the bar romp piano and riff-y guitar that it stood next to. 

Their style has changed a little over time. Their first two albums were stories not so much about characters, but from the characters themselves. A shift occurred later, for better and for worse. But on the better end you get songs like the rousing "First" and the heartfelt "Water & Power". 

When think about Cold War Kids' popularity, I think of a band always trapped on an endless plateau. They are liked, but rarely loved. They are not well known, but they are hardly obscure anymore. Yet when I think of them, I think of them as the band who opened for Death Cab for Cutie and blew them out of the water, a band who tells stories as well as any band not named The Hold Steady, and a band who you need to listen to more than you do.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Best of the Best, a Trip Down Memory Lane

Favorite songs by favorite bands. Nostalgia is high this morning.

Bon Iver - "Holocene" (2011)

"And at once I knew, I was not magnificent"

Band of Horses - "Detlef Schrempf" (2007)

"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."

Spoon - "Anything You Want" (2001)

"If there's anything you want, come on back because it's all still here."

The War on Drugs - "Red Eyes" (2014)

"Come and ride away. It's easier to stick to the old."

The Hold Steady - "The Cattle and the Creeping Things" (2005)

"He's got the pages in his pockets that he ripped out of the Bible from his bed stand in the motel. He likes the part where the traders get chased out from the temple."

Radiohead - "The Tourist" (1997)

"Hey man, slow down. Slow down."

Nickel Creek - "When You Come Back Down" (2000)

"I'll be the other hand that always hold the line, connecting in between your sweet heart and mine."

Interpol - "Untitled" (2002)

"I will surprise you sometime. I'll come around."

The Shins - "The Past and Pending"

"Held to the past, too aware of the pending.

Sufjan Stevens - "Futile Devices" (2010)

"It's been a long, long time since I've memorized your face"

The National - "Pink Rabbits" (2013)

"You said it would be painless, it wasn't that at all."