Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Favorite Songs of 2018 - Songs 1-11

As indicated in the last installment of this year's list, I believe the top 11 (and actually 13) songs this year are particularly strong. As befits both of the previous posts, my favorite song this year is a breakup song, sung by my favorite new (to me) artist of 2018 - Lucy Dacus. I hope you enjoyed this year's list as much as i enjoyed listening, compiling, and bringing it to you!

1.  Night Shift by Lucy Dacus.

"You've got a nine to five, so I'll take the night shift
And I'll never see you again, if I can help it
In five years I hope the songs feel like covers
Dedicated to new lovers."

Since I first heard this song early in 2018, it was near the top of my favorites, and ended up perched above all of the others.  Great lyrics, perfectly constructed, building to a crescendo of fuzzy noise, which I think is a positive sign - Lucy's ready to move on. I've actually seen Night Shift at or near the top of "real" music critics' best songs of the year lists, but, as always, I assure you that is purely coincidental. 

2.  Bodys by Car Seat Headrest.

"Everybody's swinging their hips
Everybody's giving the waitress tips
Everybody's dancing all of the dances
Everybody's dancing every dance now (alright)."

Second best concert I saw this year, this one with my spouse and Richmond family. Will Toledo is a genius. But I think I've already told you that.

Car Seat Headrest, Carrboro, NC 9/21/18 (photo by me)

3.  Let Me Down Easy by Gang of Youths.

"Honey, it's no secret that I've been losing my way
In the weirdest of moments and stupidest of ways
But, hey, I'm still young and it's gonna be okay
I've got solipsism, baby, and I brought lemonade."

The lemonade reference works off of an earlier part of the song where frontman David Le'aupepe sings that "not everything is easy as making lemonade." This is the second time in two years that solipsism makes an appearance in lyrics on the list - hope that says more about our current times than me personally.

4.  Ben Franklin's Song by The Decemberists.

"I'm the only American the French want to see
They call me a genius, I can't disagree
They have guns, they have funds
They can set us free
Invest in my reputation."

What's not to like about a song co-written by Lin-Manual Miranda and Colin Meloy? Miranda wrote the lyrics for Hamilton, but it didn't make the cut for the show. He gifted them to Meloy, who put them to music and in turn gifted it to us. For a music loving history major, it can't get much better than that.

Big profanity warning on this one, kiddos.

5.  Bondurant Women by The Texas Gentlemen.

"There was a genuine act of celebration
On the corner of the freight train station
And the sweating man gave a benediction
Said you're looking for a giant (?) foundation."

Love the percussion in this song. No lyrics that I could find, so I did the best I could. Suggestions are welcomed, particularly with the uncertain word above (maybe "jive" instead of "giant?").

6.  Gold Rush by Death Cab for Cutie.

"Digging for gold in my neighborhood
For what they say is the greater good
But all I see is a long goodbye
A requiem for a skyline."

A requiem indeed for Ben Gibbard's Seattle neighborhood. I know, I know, a lot of us in Wild and Wonderful would love to have Ben's problems. But still, gentrification does come with its issues, in a "you kids get off of my lawn!" kind of way that I think he acknowledges as well.

7.  How to Socialise and Make Friends by Camp Cope.

"And I heard it from a friend
That he talks to the primary school kids through the fence
Yeah, you shoulda seen his book collection
It was all 'how to socialise and how to make friends'
Yeah I guess we both got our problems
And areas to improve
And I know one of mine is to go a night without sympathising with you."

As you might guess from the spellings, Camp Cope ain't from around here. Australia, to be exact, is their home. But the raw emotion heard in many of their songs, including this one, is universal.

8.  Not Abel by Hop Along.

"And yet it was not Abel but Cain who got to hear
The voice that for so long had been a stranger
Not one word of all the time they spent growing up brothers
Even love, yes, even love, yes even lose
Something to lose."

Starts out sounding like many Hop Along songs (which I believe to be a good thing), albeit with a less personal them than most (indeed, the story of Cain and Abel). Then the last minute and a half take it to a whole new, sublime, level, kicked off by a classic rock guitar and bass line.

9.  Fast Talk by Houses.

"So maybe heaven is a ghetto with no bad blocks
Shangri-La dealers at the bus stops
And maybe god is just a cop that we can fast talk
So if you're guilty and you know it, put your hands up
'Cause karma's just a different word for bad luck
And what if death is just another pair of handcuffs?
Then we'd better run."

Heard this song first (and repeatedly) while on vacation in late summer with my better half on Sirius. The above lyrics are among my very favorites of the entire year.

10.  Born in Love by Horse Feathers.

"So color came from grey
It's gone from worse to good then great
Something realigned
Was it destiny and not fate?"

Yep, an honest-to-goodness love song! Sung by a guy in a Carhartt cap and denim shearling vest, no less.

11.  Once in My Life by The Decemberists.

"Oh for once in my
Oh, for once in my life
Could just something go
Could just something go right?"

Very different from most of Mr. Meloy's songs, when I first heard it I thought of it as more of a secular prayer than an ordinary song. I think the video, and Colin's notes about the video, confirm my feelings.

And, yes, we end this year's list with yet another song from The Decemberists. I'm an aged fanboy, what other defense do I have?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Favorite Songs of 2018: Songs 12-22

And the list rolls on, with the often (unfairly) overlooked middle kids (which happens to include the band Middle Kids ... ). And, unsurprisingly, The Decemberists.

Colin Meloy and The Decemberists in concert (photo by me)

12.  Nonbeliever by Lucy Dacus.

"You deal an unspoken debt
No kindness without wanting something back
What do I owe you? What did I forget?
Are we even after all of that?"

Nonbeliever in God? In a (human) relationship? In self-worth? I'm not exactly sure. But I'm not a nonbeliever in Lucy; she has a beautiful voice, can construct a great song, and can play a mean guitar.

13.  The Heart Is a Muscle by Gang of Youths.

"I wanna be loved, I wanna be whole again
So tuck my hair behind my ears and touch my soul again
The window is wide, the post unfulfilled
And I just ask you to be patient if you'll have me still."

Every year my list contains an invisible dividing line between the songs I like and those I really, really like. This year that line starts here. Songs 13-2 are, in my humble opinion, exceedingly good and pretty much interchangeable (number 1 has been number 1 since early in 2018 and has budged since). Gang of Youths was recently in D.C., and I'm very sorry I missed them. The video will give you a good idea as to why.

14.  Easy Enough by Pinegrove.

"All my limits have held me back
I hold my head and I let it ask
I'm altogether down
And when will it end now?

Back after a year-long, self-imposed hiatus (you can read the long, strange story here) the kids from Jersey are back with a new record. Thank goodness for that.

15.  High Beam by Sjowgren.

"And I don't wanna spend a lifetime
Worried about the sidelines
What other people are say about me
About me
About me."

Their second appearance on this year's list (and the fourth overall, I believe) as the mystery band from San Fran has stepped up what seemed to be a slow drip of their great music.

16.  Dancing's Not a Crime by Panic!At the Disco.

"Dancing, dancing, dancing's not a crime
Unless you do it without me
Unless you do it without me."

Go ahead, laugh, I can take the heat. And do repeatedly from family and friends for my fondness for this band (which roughly places me 45 years pre-my current age and seemingly forced to defend the "!" in its name). I dare you to listen and not bebop just a little while you do.

17.   Mistake by Middle Kids.

"You're standing out in the rain, tonight
Like you got something to say, to God
And you got a debt to pay back
For something you did way back
You wanna make it okay."

These Kids made last year's list as well (as did Cold War Kids, absent this year). I believe the title of the song is exactly what it's about - a mistake that someone made, maybe a long time ago. I'm okay with that (the straightforwardness, not necessarily the mistake).

18.  We All Die Young by The Decemberists.

"And in this dream, Bill Tecumseh Sherman
Glowered at the foot of my bed
He was long and lean, he spoke in perfect German
And I recorded all that he said
Yeah, I recorded all that he said

And he said:
'We all die young
We all die young
We all die young
We all die young."

More lyrical magic from the "hyper-literate" Colin Meloy and his band. While I'm including a "live" recording of the song here, check out the studio version as well. Definitely a touch of Pink Floyd in the children joining in on the chorus.

19.  In a River by Rostam.

"We are swimming with no clothes on
In a river in the dark
And I am holding on to you, boy
In the faint light of the stars."

One of several songs on this year's list either recommended by or heard for the first time with my comely spouse. I love the music in this song, which borders on orchestral.

20.  How Simple by Hop Along.

"Don't worry we will both find out
Just not together."

One of my favorite couplets (if that term can apply to two, non-rhyming verses) of the year. Matched by the year's best album name "Bark Your Head Off, Dog."

21.  Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers.

"I'm on the outside looking through
You're throwing rocks around your room
And while you're bleeding on your back in the glass
I'll be glad that I made it out
And sorry that all went down like it did."

I love the imagery of "emotional motion sickness."

22.  Causing Trouble by Saint Sister.

"But honey I know you
We dance to Elvis in the kitchen
At least we used to
And honey you know me
We danced from Belfast to the Basin
When you sang And it Stoned Me
Well, it stoned me.'

A harp, two beautiful voices, and a Van Morrison reference? Yes, please.

Stay tuned for my Top 11 songs, coming soon!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Favorite Songs of 2018: Songs 23-33

This year in music was full of highs and lows for me. The highest of the highs was getting to see one of my favorite bands, Frightened Rabbit, in concert in Chicago. The band made a brief tour in honor of the tenth anniversary of the release of their album The Midnight Organ Fight, the album that FR singer, songwriter, and frontman Scott Hutchison credited during the concert as the one that told them that they "might be able to make a living doing this."

Scott Hutchison (center) and his FR bandmates in Chicago
(photo courtesy of me).

The low was when, less than two months later, Scott Hutchison took his own life. He was 36, seemingly at the height of his career and in the prime of his musical life. Even a casual listener of FR's songs could not mistake the references to depression and suicidal thoughts that ran through nearly all of the band's five albums. But it was still a shock, particularly to me since Hutchison seemed in such a good place during the concert. His last public words, in a Tweet, summarize all that was good about him and all that is so terribly awful and unrelenting about depression: "Be so good to everyone you love.  It's not a given.  I'm so annoyed that it's not.  I didn't live by that standard and it kills me.  Please hug your loved ones.  I'm away now.  Thanks."

I soldiered on after that shocking event and once again dedicated myself to bringing to you my favorite songs of the past year. You will, as always, recognize several of the artists here from past years. You will, with very few exceptions, have never heard them on your local Top 40 radio station.  But I hope that you enjoy many of them, and perhaps go to see at least one of them if/when they come to your town.

23.  Drink About You by Kate Nash.

"I'm sick and tired of being such a hypocrite
I'm kinda over being over it all
I think I hate yourself
I think I hate me even more
I can't remember what happened before."

Kate has always been a favorite in our family. Her clever, witty lyrics are usually amusing and always thoughtful. One of several break-up songs on this year's list (and in fact this edition of the list).

24.  About You by G Flip.

"Yeah, we got crazy, yeah, it did phase me
When you just went and took off
Yeah, I know I pushed you
Didn't think you'd follow through and leave me on the rocks."

Another break-up song that perfectly captures the yin-yang of feelings that go with it. Which, I believe, purposefully matches her black and white sneakers in the video.

25.  Ancient Names (Part I) by Lord Huron.

"Far out past the astral plane
I cast you back from whence you came
Cosmic ash and blackened brain
I call you by your ancient names."

Our boys from the Mitten State seem to have taken a turn from pseudo-cowboy rock to Raymond Chandler-esque indie noir with their latest album (maybe my first hint was its name, "Vide Noir"). No official video or official concert video for this one as far as I can tell, so let your imaginations run wild with fortune tellers and soothsayers.

26.  Without Applause by Horse Feathers.

"Mama's here and nothing can be done
No other thought meanwhile something thaws
Dad to rise, there to fix something
It's not the drinking but the worry that does him in."

First heard this band on KEXP, one of my favorite radio stations. A song, I think, about the daily grind for working for a living and the toll it takes not only on the wage earner, but on his/her loved ones as well.

27.  Fell In Love by The Pollies.

"Fell in love with the one I love
When she's starin' back at me.
Fell in love with the one I love
And now she gives her love to me."

The Pollies were high on this list a few years ago with the politically charged "Jackson."  "Fell In Love" is less dramatic as far as subject matter goes, but certainly not as far as musicianship goes. 

28.  Give Yourself A Try by The 1975.

"And what would you say to your younger self?
Growing a beard's quite hard
And whiskey never starts to taste nice
And you'll make a lot of money, and it's funny
'Cause you'll move somewhere sunny and get addicted to drugs
And spend obscene amounts on f**king seeds and beans online."

A sneaking feeling that The 1975 are becoming (or at least trying to become) this generation's The Beatles.  Ambition is sometimes a bad thing, but for me not in this instance.

29.  better off by Sjowgren.

"I'm down low and I'm nothing without you
I'm better off to stay, I'm better off to say
I'm better off with you."

Kind of a love song, kind of a regretful "I can't help but be in love with you" song.  Sjowgren has appeared several times before on the list, but each time they've given a little more of a hint of who they might actually be.  I'm fine with the mystery, as long as they keep making great music.

30.  Plimsoll Punks by Alvvays.

"When I chip through your candy coating
You're stuffed with insulation
Just strawberry ice cream floating
With a sprinkle of indignation."

Yes, Alvvays (pronounced, of course, Always).  Saw them when they opened for The Decemberists a few years back.  They sound like an '80's girl group (The Go-Go's?), but with better musicianship (including a fuzzy grunge guitar) and much sharper lyrics.

31.  Call It Dreaming by Iron & Wine.

"'Cause the sun isn't only sinking fast
Every moon and our bodies make shining glass
Where the time of our lives is all we have
And we get a chance to say
Before we ease away
For all the love you've left behind
You can have mine."

Finally!  An honest-to-gosh love song instead of a broken love song.  Also saw Iron & Wine, many moons ago now, and frontman Sam Beam appeared to be trying to turn them into a "jam band" (I believe my line at the time was "trying to be another Phish - don't bite").  Nice to see him back to doing what he does best.

32.  Quarter Past Midnight by Bastille.

"We keep on running
Running through a red light
Like we're trying to burn the night away
Away-way, oh, away-way oh
Why are we always chasing after something
Like we trying to throw our lives away?
Away-way, oh, away-way oh."

Dan Smith, Bastille's lead singer, has a great voice.  And if you're a list regular, you know that I'm a sucker for big choruses.

33.  Everybody Lost Somebody by Bleachers.

"I waited 'til the night was over
Cursed the sun for coming up all over
Cashed the checks I had, I didn't own
Standing on the corner, God I wonder when
I'll give myself a break (hey)."

The winner in Facebook voting for this year's number 33 song. It appears that in this song our boy Jack Antonoff is beating himself up, instead of allowing others to do it as seems to be a frequent theme in Bleachers' videos.

So that's it -- the first 11 songs from my favorites of 2018.  Stay tuned for the next 22.  And while you're waiting for the next installment, hug someone you love.  For me, and for Scott.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Favorite Songs of 2017: Songs 1-11

As another year draws to a close, so too does our list. I hope that you've found some new artists to enjoy (or perhaps avoid) in the coming years. I believe that this year's list is particularly strong, especially at the top.

1.  Old Friends by Pinegrove.

"Walking out in the nighttime springtime
Needling my way home
I saw Leah on the bus a few months ago
Saw some old friends at her funeral.

My steps keep splitting my grief
Through these solipsistic moods
I should call my parents when I think of them
Should tell my friends when I love them."

When I discovered this song nearly a year ago, it immediately went to the top of my list and has stayed there ever since. The lyrics are perfect -- sad and hopeful, smart and simple, contemplative and life-affirming. The language advisory at the start of the video? Completely legitimate.

2.  Die Young by Sylvan Esso.

"I had it all planned that way before you met me
Was gonna leave early and so swiftly
Maybe in a fire or a crash off a ravine
People would weep: 'How tragic, so early.'

I was gonna die young
Now I gotta wait for you, hun."

A lovely, albeit slightly twisted, love song. All credit to my comely spouse for first discovering this song and these artists for me. The original version (from the excellent album "What Now") is fantastic, but the "live" version here is, I believe, even better (and I highly recommend the EP "Echo Mountain Sessions" as well). That voice! That sax!!

3.  Love Is Mystical by Cold War Kids.

"Oh, can't you hear the future is calling
For heaven's sake
It's either hell or high water
Let's get outta this place." 

I'm a graduate of the "you can never go wrong with hand claps and a 'woo hoo hoo' chorus" school of music appreciation. The other half of the dueling Kids on this year's list (joining Middle Kids from the last post).

4.  Shark Smile by Big Thief.

"It came over her at a bad time
Riding through Winona down the dotted line
Held us gunning out
Ninety miles down the road of a dead end dream.
She looked over, with a part smile
Caught up in the twinkle, it could take awhile
And the money pile on the dashboard fluttering."

A beautiful and sad song. Big Thief singer and guitarist Adrianne Lenker described it in a press release as "the story of a car accident in which one dies and one lives. She recalls her lover leading up to the moment of the wreck, wishing she'd been taken into the next realm, too."

5.  Off She Goes by Bad Suns.

"Where, where do you go
When the light leaves your eyes?
And you're just out of reach
Like a tree-bound kite
What's on your mind, as you're staring behind?
And I'm on my own in your arms tonight
Yeah I'm on my own in your arms tonight."

Not the most profound song on this year's list. But maybe the catchiest.

6.  Unforgiving Girl (She's Not A Single Version) by Car Seat Headrest.

"This isn't sex
(I don't think)
It's just extreme empathy."

As you may have guessed from last year's list, I'm a big fan of Car Seat Headrest. The above lyrics may be my favorite couplet (if that term can be applied to three lines) of any song this year. Besides, how can you not like a group whose front man (Will Toledo) looks more like McLovin than Russell Hammond?

7.  a million other things by pronoun.

"but you gotta come home
(come back baby, come back first)
you gotta come home first
(come back baby, even if it hurts)
cuz there's a million other things we could do in the world
there's a million other things we could do in the world."

According to Spotify, the song that I listened to more than any other in 2017. I have to admit, when I went looking for a song to lift my spirits at the end of a long day, or to sing along with on the ride home, it was "a million other things" that, more often than not, I went looking for.

8.  Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man.

"We could fight a war for peace
(Ooh woo, I'm a rebel just for kicks, now)
Give in to that easy living
Goodbye to my hopes and dreams
Start flipping for my enemies
We could wait until the walls come down."

Guessing this is the most played/heard song on this year's list. It was all over playlists/streams/satellite radio this summer. I never got tired of it (although my spouse did).

9.  The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness by The National.

"I thought that this would all work out after a while
Now you're saying that I'm asking for too much attention
Also no other faith is light enough for this place
We said we'd only die of lonely secrets."

Typical brilliance from one of my favorite bands. I love the guitar work on this song.

10.  Never Been Wrong by Waxahatchee.

"I spent all my time learning how to defeat
You at your own game, it's embarrassing.
I walk around like
This is the last strike
I love being right
Especially with you."

Rock lives, thanks in large part over the past year to female-led bands. This ain't your Daddy's Go-Go's. The woman with the pink Fender can play!

11.  Gwan by Rostam.

"And all of these dreams
Keep coming back to me slowly, slowly.
And sometimes I laugh 
When I think about how well you know me
Yeah, you know me."

I like the lyrics (about maturation and friendship, I think), but the instrumentation in this song is what takes me to a quiet, happy place every time I listen.

If you don't want to wait for my list starting in November 2018, feel free to check out the great new music at All Songs Considered, KEXP, or our local community radio station WTSQ. Or you can follow me on Spotify and see if you can figure out what will be on my list next year.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Favorite Songs of 2017: Songs 12-22

Without further ado, songs 12-22:

12.  Hope the High Road by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

"I've heard enough of the white man's blues
I sang enough about myself.
So if you're looking for some bad news
Well you can find it somewhere else.
Last year was a son of a bitch
For nearly everyone we know.
But I ain't fighting with you down in a ditch
I'll meet you up here on the road."

To be clear, when I called Isbell the new poet laureate of Appalachia in my last post, it was MY   version of Appalachia to which I was referring.

13.  Now & Then by Sjowgren.

"Some things had changed
But others stayed the same and you,
You had your stories.
Some different stories
I left behind."

I don't know much more about the artist than I did in 2015 when their (her?) song "Seventeen" was high on my list. But they appear to enjoy the mystery. As long as they keep making music like this, that's okay with me.

14.  Fashion by The Royal Concept.

"'Cause I love the way you wear on me
And you fashion is so wild and free
Honey, loving you ain't easy
But I'm not gonna leave ya
No no
So baby put your dope ass crazy fashion on me."

The boys from Sweden are also a past member of the list, albeit five years ago, with a song that reminded me of The Strokes (and Phoenix). "Fashion" puts me more in mind of a certain Purple Icon of Pop who passed away last year. Even if their music continues to be a bit derivative, as long as it sounds like this, I say "vive la sameness."

15.  I Dare You by The xx.

"I get chills
Heartbreak multiplies
I'm on a different kind of high.
A rush of blood is not enough
I need my feelings set on fire."

Just a plain ol' lovely love song.

16.  Then Again by Pinegrove.

"Wakin' in an unusual town
every morning this September.
You could sleep it off and leave it all
but in the morning you remember."

Along with Jason Isbell, the other artist with two songs on this year's list. Pinegrove's album "Cardinal" is my favorite of 2017.

17.  Near to the Wild Heart of Life by Japandroids.

"I was destined to die dreaming
When one day, my best friend
With passion and pure provocation
Summoned me and said
'You can't condemn your love
To linger here and die
Can't leave your dreams to chance
Or to a spirit in the sky.
May your heart always be ardent
Your conscience always clear
And succumb to the city and surrender, baby
I'll be waiting here."

If you ever get the chance, go see Japandroids live. It's astonishing how much (excellent) sound can come out of two guys, a guitar, and a set of drums.

18.  Fighting a Ghost by Matt Hires.

"What do you say
when your heart's not in it?
What do you do
when there's no new beginning?
How do you start
When you've forgotten how to finish?"

I've really liked Matt Hires for quite a while now, particularly his voice and the little bit of disgust or outrage boiling just below the surface, even if he's just singing about lost love.

19.  Slip Away by Perfume Genius.

"Don't look back, I want to break free
If you'll never see 'em coming
You'll never have to hide.
Take my hand, take my everything

In a year of angst and equivocation, there was at least one simple love song that I liked a lot -- and this is it. And those drums ...

20.  Holding On by The War on Drugs.

"Now I'm headed down a different road, yeah
Can we walk it side by side?
Is an old memory just another way of saying goodbye?"

Highway songs are common, particularly in the U.S. Somehow, The War on Drugs managed to make the genre uniquely their own in this song.

21.  Edge of Town by Middle Kids.

"I got all muddled up and journeyed to the edge of town
And then the road cracked open, sucked me in and I went down
I'm standing face to face with the kind of the underground
Some things just don't add up, I'm upside down I'm inside out."

This Aussie group toured with Cold War Kids this summer. Talk about the ultimate vacation for the Kids!

22.  Don't Take the Money by Bleachers.

"Will we fight, stay up late?
In my dreams I'm to blame
Different sides of the bed
Roll your eyes, shave my head
Now we're stuck in the storm
We were born to ignore
And all I got is a chance to just sit
(Baby love me you've got me, runaway)."

Proof that pop songs aren't necessarily devoid of meaning (or self-examination). Yes, that's Lorde you hear singing - she co-wrote "Don't Take the Money" with Bleachers' Jack Antonoff. And yes that appears to be Maeby Funke commiserating with Jack at the start of the video (and presiding over his "The Graduate" like wedding at the end). And finally, yes, Jack seems to regularly get his butt kicked in Bleachers videos.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Favorite Songs of 2017: Songs 23-33

It's hard to believe that a year ago, as I was composing the first post of my favorite songs of 2016, the Cubs had just won their first pennant in 108 years, the U.S. Men's Soccer team was still a "lock" for the World Cup, and we had a responsible adult in the White House. The dismay that many of us feel is reflected in many of the songs on this year's list. But also hope. And hope is a good thing.

23.  3WW by Alt-J.

"Girls from the pool say 'Hi' (hi)
The road erodes at five feet per year
Along England's east coastline.
Was this your first time?
Love is just a button we pressed
Last night by the campfire."

Difficult the read anything into this song as anything other than about ... intimate relationships. "3WW" stands for Three Worn Words (as the lyrics themselves say) -- the consensus is that they are "I Love You." The official video is here mostly because of the vocals by Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice, a band featured on last year's list. But live versions at KEXP and other places are wonderful too.

24.  Gossamer Thin by Connor Oberst.

"Ring 'round his eyes
Tracks down his arm
His fans are confused and his friends are alarmed.
His wife doesn't talk
Hates when he's gone
Counts ever skirt in his new entourage.

And they're all gossamer thin
Left of the dial, Bohemians.
And they dance, tournament style
Twirl 'round the room, curtsy and smile.
And they sit at his feet, sippin' their tea
And swoon with each word he speaks."

A more personal desperation at work here than in many other songs on this year's list.

25.  Cumberland Gap by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

"I ain't cut out for war,
unless I know what I'm fighting for.
And there's nothing here but churches, bars, and grocery stores.
Ain't much money in
The old-time mandolin.
So I cash my check and drink 'til I'm on my ass again."

There is not currently living a better chronicler of life in Appalachia (and that's "App-ah-latch-ah" by the way) than Jason Isbell.

26.  Lay It On Me by Vance Joy.

"Snow comes down everything is new and different.
I found you hidden in plain sight, why'd I take so long?
Write it on a piece of paper, honey
Put it in my coat before I go."

A former denizen of the top spot on my list, Joy's "Lay It On Me" doesn't quite reach those heights. But if you've been following for a while, you know I'm a sucker for choral crescendos.

27.  Modern Act by Cloud Nothings.

"Here we are among the living
See and count your friends
Gathered in a room together
This is how it ends
Can't stand the modern act
Whose war is this, what god is that?
Feels like the tide is only
Starting to come in."

One of many songs on this year's list about despair and hope. Or hope and despair. Your choice.

28.  Anymore by Goldfrapp.

"Your strange music
Like lucid dreams
The power of you
Transforming me."

A song that harkens back to when my children were young and I imposed my musical tastes upon them every chance I got - Goldfrapp's "Number One" was among them.  This is about as close to dance music or synthpop as my tastes allow me to venture. But perhaps that's my problem and not yours.

29.  Dear Life by Beck.

"You drove your Rolls into the swamp
You stole away like a thief, reeling from the sticker shock
Of the price they put upon your soul
You buy it back from the burning ashes of the devil you know."

Really reaching back now with Beck. If anyone can pull off a "sounds like The Beatles" song, Beck has both the chops and the pedigree to do it.

30.  Everything Now by Arcade Fire.

"Every inch of road's got a sign
And every boy uses the same line
I pledge allegiance to everything now
Every song that I've ever heard
Is playing at the same time, it's absurd
And it reminds me, we've got everything now
We turn the speakers up 'til they break
'Cause every time you smile it's a fake."

I'll leave it to you to decide of whom the boys and girls from AF speak when they say that every smile is a fake.

31.  Don't Matter Now by George Ezra.

"Sometimes you need to be alone
(It don't matter now)
Shut the door, unplug the phone
(It don't matter now)
Speak in a language they don't know
(It don't matter now)

Well I don't think about that stuff
No, I don't think about that stuff
It don't matter now."

One of those songs you find yourself singing in the shower or in the car on the way to work.

32.  Wolves and the Water by Edward R.

"Turn back time I don't belong here
But when I turn my head time always changes me.
Take me back to golden horizons
Hell you're gonna find me anyway
Torn between the wolves and the waters
Heaven's gonna find me on the way."

It appears that Mr. R. is sufficiently obscure enough to not have his own Wikipedia page. Seems that he's from Australia, but I can't tell you much more about him than that. I do, however, like this song, particularly the "unplugged" version in this video.

33.  Catch Me If You Can by Walking on Cars.

"I just got my head down
And I'm a little bit scared tonight
I need to run just far enough
So I can smile again, smile again
So i can smile again.

Chosen by my loyal Facebook listeners as their pick for the final spot on this year's list. A little Coldplay, a little The Fray. These guys and gal are from County Kerry, so what's not to like?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cups All Around (and not a Drop to Drink)

Some observations after watching most of the Confederations Cup and attending the U.S. Men's National team Gold Cup game against Panama in Nashville:

1.  The Confederations Cup Is No Longer a Test for Anyone but the Host Country.  Sure, you can say that the Germans don't have a B Squad, or that even their second team is better than most other countries, but whatever the excuse or the analysis, the simple fact is that they breezed through the Confed Cup starting exactly zero players who started the 2014 World Cup Final against Argentina. 

While roster turnover is a fact of international soccer, and it would be a shock if Philipp Lahm or Miroslav Klose featured in the 2018 German World Cup team (since both have retired from international football), there are several players from that team (Neuer, Ozil, Muller, Boateng) who seem naturals for the next edition as well. But they were nowhere to be found on the squad as Joachim Low chose a team without a wealth of international experience. The Germans won four games and tied one, "avenging" the tie by beating Chile 1-0 in the Final.

2.  Russia Met its Lowly Expectations. Apparently the "test" for Russia hosting these games, as far as FIFA was concerned, was to prove that it could be at least superficially friendly to traveling supporters of the participating teams and avoid any overt racism, homophobia, or hooliganism. While new FIFA Capo Gianni Infantino said that the tournament was a great success, it remains to be seen whether Russia can duplicate the feat on a much larger scale, with many of the stadiums not used for the Confederations Cup still not complete. Not to mention the pesky North Korean labor abuses upon which those stadia are apparently being built.

3.  Russia's Men's Soccer Team Met its Lowly Expectations. Which is to say, it sucks. Although one player, Yuri Zhirkov, was fun to watch.

4.  Mexico is Still Mexico. Which is to say, it folds on the big stage. The best Mexico has to offer was a poor, poor second to Germany in the semis, losing 4-1, and couldn't beat a Ronaldo-less Portugal in the third place match.

The view of Nissan Stadium in Nashville from the American
Outlaws' section prior to the U.S. v. Panama match. (photo by me)

5.  The U.S. Men's B Team is Not Germany's B Team. Or C Team. No surprise there, of course, but the performance against Panama was dross. Fortunately, the players know it and Bruce Arena knows it. While Arena chose to use the Gold Cup as a testing ground for players who are on the fringe of the potential 2018 World Cup roster, they were out-of-sorts defensively and particularly in the midfield. Which leads to the final observation ...

6.  Shut Up About Michael Bradley Already. After every U.S. match of any significance, the trolls crawl from their parents' basements to complain about how Bradley gives away the ball too much, doesn't play high enough, doesn't play back enough, blah, blah, blah. If the match against Mexico at the Azteca and a Bradley-less midfield against Panama don't convince you of Bradley's quality and the absolute necessity that he be a starting midfielder for the U.S. as long as he wants to strap on his boots and don the shirt, nothing will.

While Kellyn Acosta was good in the warm-up match against Ghana and threw himself around a bit against Panama, the other two center mids against Panama, Dax McCarty and Joe Corona, were abysmal. Here's hoping Arena gives someone (anyone) else a shot against Martinique. But only with the caveat that they will back-up, or at best play alongside, Bradley.