Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Favorite Songs of the 2010's - Songs 1-25

I have to admit, I tinkered quite a bit with the top of this list, and even as I publish it am not convinced, that numbers two, three, or four in particular shouldn't be number one. But, hoping that you understand that the differences are minute and that while obviously I truly appreciate all of the songs on this list, I'm going to go with my heart. As with the last version, the * indicates artists I've seen in concert (in some cases multiple times).

1.  Swim Until You Can't See Land by Frightened Rabbit*.

"Up to my knees now, do I wade? Do I dive?
This sea has seen my like before, though it's my first and perhaps last time.
Let's call me a baptist, call this the drowning of the past.
She is there on the shoreline, throwing stones at my back."

I suppose those who follow the list won't be surprised by this choice. Hearing Frightened Rabbit for the first time (on the t.v. show "Chuck" - remember when we watched network t.v.? and it was good? and had great curated music?) in 2010 in many ways shaped my musical decade. While it might be easy to read "Swim" as yet another song where Scott Hutchison contemplated suicide, I find that, quite the opposite, it is a song of hope, as Scott the baptist cleanses himself of a relationship gone bad (while she throws stones at his back, of course). While Hutchison's passing was incredibly sad, I'm grateful that he lives on in music like this, my favorite song of 2010, and, as it turns out, the entire decade. Other FR songs on my list throughout the 2010's were "I Wish I Was Sober" (number five in 2016), "Holy" and "Late March, Death March" (seventh and twenty-eighth in 2013), "State Hospital" (number 12 in 2012), and "Nothing Like You" (number four, also in 2010).

2.  Young Fathers by Typhoon*.

"When you're young you're hot
You have your whole life before you
Everyone will adore
You'll grow up, you'll be an astronaut
(or anything you want)."

Typhoon's dawning of adulthood lament/cry for clarity has everything I love about a song - multi-percussionists, smart lyrics, group-shout choruses, and of course a horn section. Young Fathers was number one on my list in 2013, followed up by "Common Sentiments," which was eleventh in 2014. Also one of the best concerts I've ever seen. 

Typhoon at Cat's Cradle, March 2014 (photo by me)

3.  Old Friends by Pinegrove.

"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."

Stripped down simplicity compared to Typhoon, Pinegrove's style is equally appealing - even to someone who is separated by many years from Gen Zers. Pinegrove has admirably soldiered on despite the social media uproar surrounding front man Evan Stephens Hall. And, in my opinion, we are all the better for it. The band from Jersey also appears on the list in 2019 ("Darkness" was 33), 2018 ("Easy Enough," number 14), and 2017 ("Then Again" was number 16, while Old Friends topped that year's list).

4.  Calamity Song by The Decemberists*.

"Hetty Green
Queen of supply-side bonhomie bone-drab
(If you know what I mean)
On the road
It's well-advised to follow your own path
In the year of the chewable Ambien tab."

If this were a list of my favorite artists of the decade, surely The Decemberists would be number one. But, alas, it's not. Calamity Song remains my favorite of the decade (it was number one in 2011) among all of those issued by our intrepid balladeers from the Northwest (although "Ben Franklin's Song" came pretty darn close). I usually like to include live versions of songs through the videos, but the above for Calamity Song so perfectly captures Colin Meloy's dark perspective and whimsical humor that I had to use it instead.  Joining Calamity Song in my catalogue of tunes were: "Down by the Water" (number 11 in 2011), "A Beginning Song" (number three in 2015), "Ben Franklin's Song" (number four in 2018), "Once in My Life" (number 11 in 2018), and "We All Die Young" (number 18 in 2018).

5.  Night Shift by Lucy Dacus.

"I feel no need to forgive, but I might as well
But let me kiss your lips, so I know how it felt
Pay for my coffee and leave before the sun goes down
Walk for hours in the dark feeling all hell."

Perhaps my all-time favorite breakup song because it starts as a lament (don't they all?) but ends with the "I think I'll be fine" sentiment conveyed by the lines: "In five years I hope the songs feel like covers; dedicated to new lovers." Along with Night Shift, my favorite song of 2018, my new "teacher's pet" (as one friend has described her) also had "Nonbeliever" (number 12 in 2018), "Forever Half Mast" (number 18 in 2019), and her cover of The Boss's "Dancing in the Dark" (number two cover song of 2019) on my lists.

6.  Bloodbuzz Ohio by The National*.

"I still owe money to the money to the money I owe
I never thought about love when I thought about home
I still owe money to the money to the money I owe
The floors are falling out from everybody I know."

Along with Sprawl II, the other song (not surprisingly also from 2010) that didn't make a list previously, Bloodbuzz Ohio is the perfect representation of The National's musicianship and Matt Berninger's great voice and inscrutable lyrics. Other songs by The National on my lists throughout the decade were "Quiet Light" (eighth in 2019), "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness" (ninth in 2017), "Humiliation" (second in 2013), and "Don't Swallow the Cap" (twenty-third in 2013).

7.  Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales by Car Seat Headrest*.

"It's too late to articulate it
That empty feeling
You share the same fate
As the people you hate."

Again, a song to which I can only vaguely relate, through Car Seat Headrest mastermind Will Toledo, to my ear, captures perfectly the angst of younger folk these days. Drunk Drivers was my second favorite song of 2016, and, since my top song that year is twenty-eighth on this list, that's a pretty good indication that it's grown in my estimation over the last few years (or I got that year's list really, really wrong).  CSH's "Bodys" was also number two on my list in 2018, and "Fill In The Blank" was number eight in 2016.

8.  Die Young by Sylvan Esso* (Echo Mountain Sessions version).

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

A twisted love song, the studio version is very good, but the Echo Mountain version is sublime. My second favorite song in 2017.

9.  Chocolate by The 1975.

"Now we run, run away from the boys in the blue
And my car smells like chocolate
Hey now think about what to do
I think about what to say, I think about how to think
Pause it, play it, pause it play it, pause it."

The 1975 has had more popular songs since they announced their presence (to me anyway) with this one, my third favorite song of 2013, but it still remains my favorite. They also made the list in 2018 ("Give Yourself a Try" was twenty-eighth that year).

10.  All Your Favorite Bands by Dawes.

"Now I’m just waking up and
I’m not thinking clearly so don’t quote me.
With one eye open, I'm writing you this song
Ain’t it funny how some people pop into your head so easily
I haven’t seen you in there for so long."

One of the songs I believe I seriously under-appreciated when it first debuted, ranking it ninth in 2015. Now it's only one place down for the entire decade. Just a beautiful song about about fondly recalled lost love.

11. Sister Cities by Hop Along*.

"See the old man on the bridge?
He's hauling up a sagging net.
It's full of eels twisting through
The eye sockets of a horse's head
And this fiend has no family
So he will outlive you and me."

Not exactly the sweet sentiment of "All Your Favorite Bands," now is it? Regardless of how real life "Sister Cities" is or not, front woman Frances Quinlan's lyrics and singing can't help but grab our attention. It was my favorite song of 2015, followed by "Waitress" (number 15 in 2015), and "How Simple" (number 20 in 2018). 

12.  Getting Ready to Get Down by Josh Ritter*.

"And now you come back sayin' you know a little bit about
Every little thing they ever hoped you'd never figure out
The Red Sea, The Dead Sea, the Sermon on the Mount
If you wanna see a miracle, watch me get down!"

Even though she "didn't like him then [and] probably won't like him now," Josh is entitled to take a shot, isn't he? Ritter's quick wit and sly humor shine through in Getting Ready ... a sort-of updated "Footloose" without John Lithgow's incredibly bad southern-Oklahoma accent. This was my sixth favorite song in 2015 (which, as I previously noted, was apparently my favorite year of the decade as far as music goes),  joined by "Homecoming" (number 14 in 2016), Ritter's cover of Frightened Rabbit's "Old Old Fashioned" (seventh on my 2019 covers list), and "Old Black Magic" (number 13 in 2019).

13.  Bros by Wolf Alice.

"I tell you all the time
I'm not mad
You tell me all the time
I got plans."

A great song about friendship, remembrance, and how things can never be the same, but memories can. Number seven on my list in 2016.

14.  Until the Night Turns by Lord Huron*.

"I got a helluva view for the end of the world
I've got a bottle of booze and a beautiful girl.
If I'm a'­goin' to die I'm gonna go in style."

Lord Huron went from cowboy-tinged rock to alt noir during the decade. But of course my favorite song from the boys from the Mitten State was their apocalyptic "Until the Night Turns," my second favorite of 2015. Also on various lists: "Ancient Names (Part I)" (twenty-fifth in 2018), "Fool for Love" (twenty-third in 2015), "Time to Run" (fourth in 2013), and "The Man Who Lives Forever" (twenty-first in 2013).

15.  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 the stupidest of ways
But hey, I’m still young and it’s gonna be okay
I got solipsism, baby, and I brought lemonade."

One of several artists on this list that I regret having not (yet) seen live. Let Me Down Easy was my third favorite song in 2018, and the boys from Down Under had another song farther down the list that year ("The Heart is a Muscle" was number 13), and in 2016 ("The Diving Bell" was number 31).

16.  Fast Talk by Houses.

"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.
Well then we’d better run."

I should probably be too old to appreciate Houses. But I do nonetheless. Fast Talk was number nine in 2018, while "Left Alone" was seventeenth last year.

17.  Living the Dream by Sturgill Simpson.

"That old man upstairs, he wears a crooked smile
Staring down at the chaos he created
Said son if you ain't having fun just wait a little while
Momma's gonna wash it all away
And she thinks Mercy's overrated."

My, my what's happened to our man Sturgill the past few years? He went from an obscure country singer to a full-on one man industry. While Living the Dream (number 16 in 2015) remains a favorite, based on the above lyrics if nothing else, check out his new effort ("Sound and Fury") as well, kind of Lynyrd Skynyrd meets ... I dunno, Led Zeppelin? "Mercury in Retrograde" (fifteenth last year) made the list from that excellent album.

18.  Pompeii by Bastille.

"But if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like you've been here before?"

Pompeii has over half a billion views on YouTube. So much for my eschewing popular songs ... It was number five in 2013, followed by "Good Grief" (eleventh in 2016), and "Quarter Past Midnight" (32 in 2018).

19.  a million other things by pronoun.

"Remember the night?
Even though we were sad
That we cried so hard that we started to laugh
Cried so hard that we started to laugh."

pronoun has gone from mysterious artist dribbling out a few songs to full on alt presence in the past year. But this is still my preference from the artist otherwise known as Alyse Vellturo. a million other things was my seventh favorite song in 2017, followed by "everybody knows" from "i'll show you stronger" (number 16 in 2019).

20.  Cleopatra by The Lumineers.

"The only gifts from my Lord
Were a birth and a divorce.
But I've read this script and the costume fits,
So I'll play my part."

I read somewhere that Cleopatra is based on a conversation that The Lumineers' lead singer Wesley Shultz had with a taxi driver in the Republic of Georgia. It was number three on my list in 2016, followed by "Ophelia" (twenty-first that year), and following "Ho Hey" (fifth in 2012).

21.  Depreston by Courtney Barnett.

"Then I see the handrail in the shower
A collection of those canisters for coffee, tea and flour
And a photo of a young man in a van in Vietnam."

Ms. Barnett's observational lyrics, chronically what appears to be but certainly is not the mundane, are most brilliantly demonstrated (in my estimation) in Depreston, my tenth favorite song of 2015.

22.  Someone New by Hozier.

"I wake at the first cringe of morning,
And my heart's already sinned.
How pure, how sweet a love, Aretha,
That you would pray for him."

"Take Me to Church" was a bigger hit, but the contrary Someone New was my favorite Hozier song of the decade. this was number 12 on my list in 2015; others from the Irish crooner (how's that for music journalism cliche?) were Take Me to Church (number 29 in 2014), and "Nobody" (number seven last year).

23.  Blown to Bits by Charly Bliss.

"Your mom in the yard
Your dad's favorite team
Poised to fail,
Then somehow suddenly win."

My favorite song of 2019. I'd love to see them, and particularly lead singer Eva Hendricks, live some day soon.

24.  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."

A Little Richard-esque piano and "Woo hoo ho" to boot? Oh yes. Love Is Mystical was my third favorite song of 2017.

25.  Little Trouble by Better Oblivion Community Center.

"Well, tell me, baby, what’s your biggest conceit?
Is it that you did it, or you did it with me?
I can't imagine what the problem could be
You found one song that you like, and you just play it on repeat."

Phoebe Bridgers is the only artist to appear on this list more than once, first solo with "Motion Sickness" and now with Conor Oberst as part of Better Oblivion Community Center. Little Trouble was my second favorite song in 2019.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Favorite Songs of the 2010's - Songs 26-50

Over the past month or so, in addition to listening to and posting my favorite songs of 2019, I spent some time reflecting on the now-past decade's music and my favorites among all of those published over the last 10 years. Going back through my lists (which began on Facebook in 2010, but did not make it into blog form until the next year), I was struck by how much things have changed in terms of the increase in platforms on which music (especially that to which I am drawn) and the sheer volume of music being produced. 

Ten years ago I was dependent on ... what? ... internet web stations as far as I can recall to hear "alternative" music in Charleston. Today I have Spotify, Apple, our local community radio station WTSQ, NPR, and KEXP to feed me, almost daily, the new music I sift through to find the songs and artists that I like. It's a daunting and exhilarating task that I alone have imposed on myself and I like to think that it keeps me young - at heart anyway.

After compiling my list of 50 favorite songs of the 2010's and having recovered from my holiday crush of posting, I decided to share the list with you. Where I don't include a video of a song, I'll provide a link in the song name, will let you know where they were ranked (if at all) when I first posted them, and provide links to those past lists. A further conceit: I will signify the artists that I've had the pleasure to see in person with an asterisk by their name.

As always, thanks for indulging me in my pursuit of new music - or, in this case, not so new. 

26.  Rollercoaster by Bleachers.

"We took the bones out from the road
Those endless nights that we traveled we stole
You let your clothes fall to the floor
And lit a fire while I waited for more."

Bleachers made the list four times in the decade, but this song, number 28 in 2015, is my favorite of the lot. Plus, the video had to be one of Bleachers' offerings featuring the recurring theme of front man Jack Antonoff getting his butt kicked.

27.  This Life by Vampire Weekend.

"Baby, I know hate is always waiting at the gate
I just thought we locked the gate when we left in the morning
I was told that war is how we landed on these shores
I just thought the drums would all be loud warnings."

Since This Life was included in my last post (number 3 in 2019), I won't go on about my favorite Vampire Weekend song of the past 10 years ("Unbelievers" made the list in 2013 and their cover of "I'm Goin' Down" topped my favorite covers of 2019). I note that for songs from the past year, I probably underrated some since they haven't had the opportunity to stand the test of time the way that others have.

28.  Grand Canyon by The Wind + The Wave.

"Don't die, you're just a baby, yeah you're way too young
You haven't lived till you've been to the Grand Canyon
It's the damndest thing
Oh, it's the damndest thing."

My favorite song of 2016, "Grand Canyon" hasn't held up quite as well as some other list-toppers have. But not for want of trying -- still makes me be-bop every time I hear it. While you're at it, check out the similarly movement-inducing "Raising Hands Raising Hell Raise 'em High."

29.  Some Nights by fun.

"Well some nights, I wish that this all would end
'Cause I could use some friends for a change
And some nights, I'm scared you'll forget me again
Some nights, I always win, I always win."

While I declared it my third favorite song of 2012, it's the highest of songs from that year on this list. Perhaps I was scared off by its popularity (almost 194,000,000 YouTube views). fun. also featured Jack Antonoff (that's him playing guitar in the video, and not getting beaten up).

30.  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 I drink 'til I'm on my ass again."

One of four Isbell songs featured in the 2010's (including "Hope the High Road" which I had number 12 in 2017, as opposed to Cumberland Gap, which landed at 25), I believe this song now better exemplifies Isbell's oft angry but always loving depiction of Appalachia. The other Isbell songs from the past decade? 24 Frames (thirtieth in 2016) and Super 8 (number 26 in 2013).

31.  Bushwick Blues by Delta Spirit.

"When we first met
We spoke so brief
When you sang a sonnet
I hummed sweet relief."

My second favorite song in 2011, Delta Spirit seems to have fallen off the map, but according to the band's website, they are touring this spring.

32.  Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men*.

"There's an old voice in my head
That's holding me back
Well tell her that I miss our little talks."

Little Talks is another former top song (in 2012) that hasn't fared as well over the years, perhaps influenced by the fact that I didn't much care for any of their songs that followed. I do still enjoy the interplay between the female and male singers though.

33.  Light Me Up by Bronze Radio Return.

"If you’re feeling good
Is all I need to know‘
Cause you light me up
Oh, you light me up."

Another song that I can't really defend lyrically, but is impossible not to bounce to from the first chord to the last (and the little "Alright now" makes me smile every time). Light Me Up was number 13 in 2015.

34.  Shark Smile by Big Thief.

"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 sad yet funny, tender yet brutal, road song, Shark Smile was my fourth favorite song in 2017.

35.  Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains) by Arcade Fire*.

"They heard me singing and they told me to stop
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock
Sometimes I wonder if the world's so small
Can we ever get away from the sprawl."

One of two previously unranked songs on this list, Sprawl II was part of Arcade Fire's epic 2010 release The Suburbs. I had only limited exposure to Arcade Fire before "prepping" for Bonnaroo in 2011. Their set at that festival still ranks as the best concert I've ever seen. 

36.  Gold Rush by Death Cab for Cutie*.

"Now that our haunts have taken flight
and been replaced with construction sites
oh, how I feel like a stranger here
searching for something that's disappeared."

Another frequent list occupant ("Black Sun" was number 22 in 2015, "You Are a Tourist" number 12 in 2011), Ben Gibbard's lament to urban renewal was both the antithesis of Sprawl II, number six in 2018, and my favorite Death Cab song of the 2010's.

37.  Pretty Pimpin' by Kurt Vile.

"I woke up this morning
Didn’t recognize the man in the mirror
Then I laughed and I said, 'Oh silly me, that’s just me.'"

If Kurt truly has a disassociation problem, he is the most connected person every to suffer from it. Pretty Pimpin' was Number 7 in 2015, and has done nothing but grow on me since.

38.  Riptide by Vance Joy.

"There's this movie that I think you'll like
This guy decides to quit his job and heads to New York City
This cowboy's running from himself
And she's been living on the highest shelf."

Also a former number one song (in 2014), Riptide has not aged particularly well for me, although as with almost every song on this list, I do recognize it instantly and feel a little jolt of happiness whenever I hear that ukulele start.

39.  Seventeen by Sjowgren.

"If you want a second to breathe
I'll give you all of my love
I'll give you all that you need
Don't worry
I'm not in a hurry
Not going nowhere
I'm not going nowhere, yeah."

A four-time list denizen (twice in 2018, with "High Beam" at number 15 and "better off" at 29, and "Now & Then," 2017's number 13, along with Seventeen, number 5 in 2015), Sjowgren ("Show-grin") remains largely a mystery in terms of composition of the band. I like a little mystery at times ...

40.  Don't You Look Back by Augustines.

"All right
This kiss ain't got no hope
But I'm gonna get it right
This kiss ain't got no hope
You see
We go up then down again
This'll be the end."

While Delta Spirit may or may not be defunct, Augustines certainly are, having called it quits in 2016. They do share something in common with Delta Spirit, however - a band name change. Delta Spirit was once known as The Delta Spirit, while Augustines were originally We Are Augustines. I regret that I never saw them live. Don't You Look Back was my third favorite song of 2014, followed by Nothing to Lose But Your Head (number 23, also in 2014), and This is Your Life (27th on the list in 2016).

41.  Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers.

"I hate you for what you did
And I miss you like a little kid
I faked it every time but that's alright
I can hardly feel anything
I hardly feel anything at all."

You can "Me Too" tweet all you want, but turning a creep's craft on him, with better lyrics than he ever wrote to boot? That is genius. Was my 21st favorite song in 2018, I'm given the opportunity to right that wrong now.

42.  Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man.

"It's time to give a little to the
Kids in the middle, but oh 'til it falls
Won't bother me."

A Grammy winner on my list? I'm nonetheless comforted by: 1. the socialist lyrics (the popularity of the song juxtaposes well with its message); and 2. The Beastie Boys reference. Feel It Still was my eighth favorite song in 2017.

43.  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."

Deserves inclusion based on the video alone. Number five in 2018.

44.  Born in Love by Horse Feathers.

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

Another from 2018 (Born in Love was number 10), which trails only 2015 (12) and is tied with 2017 (7) for the most songs from one year on this list. Every list needs at least one pretty love song.

45.  Circadian Rhythm by Silversun Pickups.

"Another night alone, a temporary dream
I came in through your window sleepwalking
Standing arm and arm, still so out of reach...
Well, there's nowhere left to go
Stay with me, stay with me."

Creepy Silversun Pickups, equally as effective as bemused Silversun Pickups (It Doesn't Matter Why, number 24 in 2019) and artsy Silversun Pickups (Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings), number 27 in 2012), Circadian Rhythm was my seventeenth favorite song in 2016.

46.  Quarter-Life Crisis by Judah & The Lion.

"I used to feel so strong, now I feel like a loser
This truth is hard to speak, but I could use the freedom
Oh, I can't do this all alone."

Another from last year's list, Quarter-Life Crisis was at number four. I'm long past the opportunity to have a mid-life crisis let alone a quarter-life one, but understand Judah's angst just the same.

47.  Smart by Girl in a Coma.

"Hold your head up though you’re shaking
I’ve never felt a rush like this, 
not quite like this."

Another defunct band ... maybe it's me? Smart was number six in 2011.

48.  You Go Down Smooth by Lake Street Dive*.

"And I am afraid to need you so
And I am too sober not to know
That you may be my problem, not my love
'Cause you go down smooth."

Do you think I'd pass up the chance to listen to Rachael Price's voice another time (or six or seven)? Of course not.  You Go Down Smooth was my fourth favorite song in 2014.

49.  Crying Wolf by Caleb Hawley.

"You always said you wanted me to be honest
So I made u a promise to tell u the truth
I thought you'd understand so that's why I said it
But now I regret it
Baby what are we gonna do?"

No list of mine would be complete without at least one blue-eyed soul song. Crying Wolf was number 18 in 2015.

50.  basking in the glow by oso oso.

"Cut me up, I've said enough
Learned this lesson far too much
It'll only bring you down
Carrying someone around
In your head, in your head."

The last on the list from 2019 (basking in the glow was number five) and the last ... period.

Stay tuned for the top 25!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Favorite Songs of 2019 - Songs 1-11

1. Blown to Bits by Charly Bliss.

"Every empty calorie
Expanding sweets inside of me
You're light as a feather, astronomically huge
Laughing out loud in your bathing suit
And I'm still alive, best year of my life."

Marry my perverse love of apocalyptic songs with my unusual appreciation of '80's girl bands' (The Bangles, The Go Gos) pop, and some pretty wicked guitar and what do you get? My favorite song of the year, that's what. Charly Bliss front woman Eva Hendricks describes the genesis of the song as: " I started writing this song the day that everyone in Hawaii was alerted to a nuclear missile headed their way. Luckily it ended up being a false alarm, but that day I couldn’t stop thinking about actually living out the end of your world, and THE world, and how devastated I would be by the loss of things that are for the most part, really simple and small ... This is a love song to little moments that make me feel like we might make it out the other end." Also check out the songs "Capacity," (which has actually made some critics' best songs lists), "Young Enough," and "The Truth." 

2.  Little Trouble by Better Oblivion Community Center.

"Not every certain death can be so brave
Not every psychopath can act so well-behaved."

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst combined their talents in Better Oblivion Community Center and on their eponymous first album (which contains the oft-heard "Dylan Thomas"). They then released this song, which I favor over Dylan Thomas. The bouncy, drum-led music belies the snarky lyrics, which I hear as an indictment of class and privilege. And the above lyrics? Perfect.

3.  This Life by Vampire Weekend. 

"You've been cheating on, cheating on me
I've been cheating on, cheating on you
You've been cheating on me
But I've been cheating through ...
This life
And all its suffering
Oh Christ,
Am I good for nothing?"

Hard to read this as anything other than the songwriter's (in this case, Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig) guilt at how well he's got things compared to much of the rest of the world - sort of a self-examining complement to "Little Trouble" now that I think about it. Also highly recommended is the band's "Harmony Hall" from the excellent Father of the Bride album. Vampire Weekend's musicianship shines through in this live version.

4.  Quarter-Life Crisis by Judah & the Lion. 

"All these stories probably should be just for my therapist
I've been fightin', hidin', tryin' my best not to let you in
I can't do this all alone."

The song, and the whole album Pep Talks, are the reflection of a crisis for the Nashville boys and particularly front-man Judah Akers brought on by family turmoil. Whether quarter-life or nearly full, we can all relate. Also recommended from this fine collection, at the least, are "Over my head," and "i'm ok."

5.  basking in the glow by oso oso. 

"Cut me up, I've said enough
Learned this lesson far too much
It'll only bring you down
Carrying someone around
In your head, in your head."

Jade Lilitri is oso oso, and as with many songs I love, the bouncy music is at odds with the introspective lyrics. Sounds to me like he's at least trying to figure things out. Also check out "one sick plan," "wake up next to god," and the first song on the album, simply called "intro."

6.  Way Way Back by Matt Nathanson. 

"I'm sure he's easier than I was
If you like that sorta thing
He looks better with his shirt off
Yeah, but can he sing?"

The final artist in the triumvirate of those that I heard (and liked) at Mountain Stage back in April. At the least, also check out "Used To Be" from his latest album "Sings His Sad Heart."

You can also here his entire Mountain Stage set here.

7.  Nobody by Hozier.

"I've been fed gold
By sweet fools in Abu Dhabi
And I've danced real slow
With Rockettes on dodgy molly
But I've had no love like your love (ooh hoo)
From nobody."

I can almost hear my Dad complain (as he often did about songs I would play for him): "I guess I like it but I can't understand a word he's saying." Pretty sure he wouldn't pick up on the "dodgy molly" (as, admittedly, I failed to do as well). Also check out "Almost (Sweet Music)" the seemingly more preferred but in my opinion less desirable Hozier song from his latest album Wasteland, Baby!

8.  Quiet Light by The National.

"Guess I don't know what I'm saying
Just call me
I'll come to where you are
Alone in the quiet light
I'm always thinking you're behind me
And I turn around and you're always there."

A departure for the boys from NYC (via Cincinnati) on the excellent album I Am Easy to Find as they incorporate the voices of a number of female singers. None to better effect, in my opinion, than on this song. But be sure to check out "Not in Kansas" and "Rylan" too (at the least).

9.  High Alert by Junius Meyvant. 

"You got my soul on fire
You got my heart beneath you
You got the one desire
To break me down just to please you."

This year's blue-eyed soul entry. Can't get much more blue-eyed than Iceland, which is where Unnar GĂ­sli Sigurmundsson (aka Junius Meyvant) hails from.

10.  Tenebrist by The Ballroom Thieves. 

"We all muddy the water, oh
To make it seem less shallow
If our grief grows like a shadow
And in the morning that's alright
We need the dark to know the light."

Anyone who has listened to more than a few of my favorite songs over the years would recognize this one as in my wheelhouse on may levels, chief among them the chorus, the interplay between the male and female voices, and the horns (which are unfortunately absent on the live version above).

11.  Will We Talk? by Sam Fender. 

"She said
'I don't usually do this kind of thing
Does it change the way you think of me?'
Thinking isn't his forte."

Speaking of The Boss, who has been all over my previous lists this year (here and here), Sam seems to have more than a bit of Bruce in him. And perhaps a little U2 to boot. 

Happy listening - thanks as always for following along!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Favorite Songs of 2019 - Songs 12-22

On we roll with the list, which features rockers old and new.

12.  Groceries by Mallrat.

"And if you wanna get groceries
And if you wanna get close to me
Just gimme some, gimme some, gimme some sign
I think that we're supposed to be."

Mallrat is one Grace Kathleen Elizabeth Shaw, an Australian musician (and rapper according to Wikipedia). Will her love be unrequited? Perhaps we'll find out on her next album.

13.  Old Black Magic by Josh Ritter.

"I can't sleep for crying
I cry all the time
Everybody's got an angel
I got mine
Wings of a crow
I got that old black magic rolling in."

One of my favorite artists backed by The 400 Unit and produced by Jason Isbell (who, I'm guessing, plays lead on the studio version)? Oh heck yes.  The studio version is here:

14.  Western Stars by Bruce Springsteen.

"Here in the canyons above Sunset, the desert don't give up the fight
A coyote with someone’s Chihuahua in its teeth skitters 'cross my veranda in the night.
Some lost sheep from Oklahoma sips her Mojito down at the Whiskey Bar
Smiles and says she thinks she remembers me from that commercial with the credit card."

In addition to the many fine covers of The Boss this year, we also had the good fortune to listen to his 19th album. This song seems to be from the perspective of an aging actor in Westerns -- for which there doesn't seem to be much call these days. Far from a coincidence that it comes from Springsteen in his 70th year of life.

15.  Mercury in Retrograde by Sturgill Simpson.

"Mercury must be in retrograde again
But at least it's not just hangin' around, pretendin' to be my friend
Oh, the road to Hell is paved with cruel intention
If it's not nuclear war, it's gonna be a divine intervention."

Mercury is truly (but of course, "truly" being a relative term since it only appears that way to us) in retrograde this year, but that's not what our friend Sturgill is singing about. This is actually one of the quieter songs on what is a rather pronounced turn to the loud for Simpson. Check out "Sing Along" and "Last Man Standing" to see what I mean.

16.  everybody knows by pronoun.

“I've been trying to make some sense of things
I know deep down don't make any at all
And the things I thought would build me up
One-eighty'd now and make me feel so small.”

Much like another list favorite, Sjowgren, pronoun would dribble out a few songs a year for us. Until 2019, when Alyse Vellturo graced us with her first album “i’ll show you stronger.” And what a treat it was. I recommend to you “stay” and “wrong” on the album as well - but this is my favorite.

17.  Left Alone by Houses.

"I wake up dreaming everyday
It's just like living but it doesn't feel the same
'Cause the sky up above me starts falling down on me
Like a shovel full of graveyard dirt."

Houses' "Fast Talk" was high on my list last year. I like this song almost as much ...

18.  Forever Half Mast by Lucy Dacus.

"We're in a state of disarray, united by our darkest days
Aching from the growing pains, they always say it's just a phase
America, the tried and true, red and white and black and blue
Tell me, who did this to you? If it was me I hardly knew."

Last year's list queen, Ms. Dacus spent this one rolling out one song at a time in celebration of various holidays (including Bruce Springsteen's birthday). This was her take on the Fourth of July, which expresses the ambivalence a lot of us are feeling these days toward the country that we love. A friend described Lucy as a "teacher's pet" for me. Absolutely accurate.

19.  Heavy Like the World by Guided by Voices. 

"It's a lonely world I've heard
I might have the knot pull through
It's so difficult to do
I might have to get one too."

When I first heard this song, I was convinced it was a certain aging but far from over-the-hill alternative rocker -- Bob Mould of Husker Du, Sugar, et al. fame. Then I learned that Guided by Voices are actually contemporaries of Mould, and are from of all places, practically our backyard -- Dayton, Ohio. I'm ashamed to admit I hadn't heard of them until a few months ago.

20.  Dope Queen Blues by Adia Victoria. 

"It's a culmination
Of my ruination
We are lost
In vain."

The subject matter is a little lost on me, but the vocals aren't. And then the sax kicks in ... Ms. Victoria's album was produced by Aaron Dressner of The National, which certainly isn't a negative (in my book) either.

21.  Moderation by Florence + The Machine. 

"Can't hold it back, I can't take the tension
Oh, I'm trying to be good
Want me to love you in moderation
Well don't you know, I wish I could."

Given the way she puts her soul into every song, it's easy to believe that moderation is not in Florence Welch's playbook.

22.  High Highs, Low Lows by Stephen Kellogg. 

"But most of your critique
Doesn't sound that much like me.
But I wonder if it sounds
A bit like you."

The second artist on this year's list that I heard at a most excellent Mountain Stage. C thinks it sounds like a Lyle Lovett song. High praise in my book.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Favorite Songs of 2019 - Songs 23-33

Greetings music lovers! One change in this year's list from those of the past: I'm only including one song from each artist in the countdown. There were just too many good songs/artist that I wanted to share with you. But not to worry, with those who had multiple songs that would have been considered or included, I'll let you know what they were.

Let's get started.

23.  Paper Stickers by Deau Eyes.

"Gave me a book of paper stickers
I need something thicker
to cut with my scissors
cut with my scissors.
I wanna tire out my hand and give them something to see
Hey, look, I raised my hand first!
Why didn't you call on me?"

Likely the most obscure of any song on this year's list, if the now 228 views of the video are any indication of popularity. Seems like a feminist anthem from my read of the lyrics. And I'm just fine with that.

24.  It Doesn't Matter Why by Silversun Pickups.

"You want to read our minds (We know)
Is It better on the other side? (No)
Will it help you sleep at night? (It won't)
And it doesn't matter why we're known
We're just known."

Not sure if the "other side" is the thin veil between life and the after-life, or if it has a more earthly meaning (the band's relationship with its fans?). At any rate, it's a Silversun Pickup song, and if they've got a new one, it will generally find its way onto my list.

25.  Yolk in the Fur by Wild Pink.

"'Cause they you wrapped up tight
In a disposable life
Yeah they ate your lunch and sold you dinner
On credit."

Like a little symphony - from some guys in flannel shirts (and in the video, a drummer in a Buffalo Bills t-shirt).

26.  Future Me Hates Me by The Beths.

"Future heart break, future headaches
Wide eyed nights late lying awake
With future cold shakes from stupid mistakes
Future me hates me for, hates me for."

How can you not like a song with that title? While you're at it, also check out The Beths' Little Death. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuzlZWvTU2I

27.  Newspaper Gown by Damien Jurado.

"Our friends think we're lovers
Or so I have heard
And they try for confessions
And I say not a word
So we let them keep guessing
'Til they figure us out
Our made-up wedding
In your newspaper gown."

The quietest song on this year's list, Jurado was part of the best Mountain Stage I saw this year. Two others from that show have songs further up the list.

28.  Landslide by Beirut. 

"If you ever return
In a wonderful form
Don't you wait out the storm
Just pull roots and move on."

A lovely song about ... death? Or a more earthly departure?

29.  I Dare You by The Regrettes. 

"There're stains on your sweater
You think you know better
But you're a child, and it's kinda wild
That you're the one that brings the sun."

This year's entry in what seems like the annual "sounds like The Strokes" category. Except for the female singer, of course.

30.  Saw Lightning by Beck (with Pharrell Williams).

"I held my head up
And it struck me down
Down to the ground
It struck me down, struck me down
Struck me down to the ground."

Beck's been on this list about as long, and as frequently, as anyone. There's obviously a reason for that ...

31.  Sway by Tove Stryke.

"Baby, are you tied up?
I don't wanna know now
Are we gonna stay up?
Are we gonna get out this crowd?"

Apparently this song was featured in the FIFA 19 video game. That is not where I first heard it (duh). Added bonus: Ms. Stryke (her real name, btw) is Swedish. Likely fits neatly into my "Guilty Pleasures" playlist long term.

32.  Superbike by Jay Som. 

"Now you're waiting in the light
Patiently to my surprise
(Somebody tell me)
I pick up the superbike
Going 80 in the night
(Somebody tell me)."

Superbike by Jay Som. Recommended to me by both my friend Charlie and my comely spouse, Jay Som is actually Melina Mae Duterte who really does record in a studio in her bedroom - can't get any more "bedroom pop" than that.

33.  Darkness by Pinegrove.

"Well, I know it's been a long time coming
I'm angry and I know that's weak
And I'm longing out that open window
For whatever it is I seek."

In this year's Facebook poll of what song should be last on the list, but first in our hearts, the boys and girls from New Jersey won out. If you want to check out the other two nominees, they were St. ("Saint" or "Street"?) by Restorations and Lo/Hi by The Black Keys.

We'll be back soon with a very solid middle children list of songs 12-22.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Favorite Cover Songs of 2019

In my never ending quest to bring you the best new songs of the past year, I was struck by one thing: there have been a lot of good cover songs lately. Since I'm not inclined to include covers in my list (Mates of State's Second Hand News in 2010 -- before I started posting the list here -- and Dwight Yoakam's Dim Lights, Thick Smoke are, I believe, the only exceptions) and because there are so many good new songs (and artists) this year, I decided to do a separate list for covers as an appetizer for this year's forthcoming favorite songs list.

So what makes for a good cover in my opinion? I'm not sure. I don't want a "remake" but I am admittedly sometimes am offended when a song strays too far from the original as well. I suppose the list itself speaks for what I'm looking for in a good cover -- and it does not necessarily include the requirement that I loved, or even liked, the original.

Two caveats about these songs: (1) one is not a cover but rather an "original"; and (2) I bent my rules a little and there are several that were released in 2017 (but for the most part I didn't hear them until 2019). Enjoy boys and girls!

1.  I'm Goin' Down by Vampire Weekend.

"I pull you close now, baby, but when we kiss, I can feel a doubt
I remember back when we started
My kisses used to turn you inside out
I used to drive you to work in the morning
Friday night I'd drive you all around
You used to love to drive me wild, yeah
But lately girl you get your kicks from just driving me down
Down, down, down."

What do you get when you combine The Boss with one of my favorite indie bands? "That's gold, Jerry. Gold!" Apparently VW has covered this song in one form or another since 2010. But it's the stripped down version recorded for Spotify this year (for you fellow old folks, click words to take you there -- it's a link -- that's why it's orange) that got my attention and propelled it to the top of my covers list for 2019.

2.  Dancing in the Dark by Lucy Dacus.

"Stay on the streets of this town
And they'll be carvin' you up alright
They say you gotta stay hungry
Hey baby, I'm just about starvin' tonight."

Yep, another Springsteen song at the top. Given my admiration for both The Boss and Lucy Dacus, it was inevitable that her cover of Dancing in the Dark would end up near the top of this list. This version is loyal to The Boss's original, but has a little extra something ... maybe it's the drums and the guitar. Or the female voice?

3.  Love Yourself by Dashboard Confessional.

"For all the times that you rain on my parade
And all the clubs you get in using my name
You think you broke my heart, oh girl for goodness sake
You think I'm crying on my own well I ain't
My mama don't like you and she likes everyone."

Love Yourself by Dashboard Confessional. That's right, a Justin Beiber cover, you got a problem with that? To be fair, Ed Sheeran got a writing credit on it too. That last quoted line alone is worth the price of admission.

4.  The Twist by Wintersleep.

"Lets pretend I'm attractive and then
You won't mind, you can twist for a while
It's the night, I can be who you like
And I'll quietly leave before it gets light."

The first of several songs on the list from "Tiny Changes" a collection of covers by various artists of Frightened Rabbit's The Midnight Organ Fight. Some of the covers fall a little flat for me, but others are a perfect celebration of Scott Hutchison and his music. This is one of my favorite Frightened Rabbit songs, particularly the above lyrics. Wintersleep turns Scott Hutchison's funny but sad version into an anthem that is every bit the equal of the original.

5.  Manic Monday by Prince.

"Have to catch an early train
Got to be to work by nine.
And if I had an airplane
I still couldn't make it on time."

This is the "original" alluded to in my above - not actually a cover but Prince's version of a long-enjoyed song from the album "Originals." The Bangles, of course, recorded it first.

6.  Whole Wide World by Cage The Elephant.

"When I was a young boy
My mama said to me
'There's only one girl in the world for you
And she probably lives in Tahiti.
I'd go the whole wide world
Go the whole wide world just to find her."

With a nod to Will Farrell in Stranger Than Fiction, this is probably my favorite cover of the Wreckless Eric original.

7.  Old Old Fashioned by Josh Ritter,

"I'll turn off the TV
It's killing us, we never speak.
There's a radio in the corner
It's dying to make a scene."

Another song from the Tiny Changes album, this one re-imagines Frightened Rabbit's waltz across the carpet as a honky tonk stomp.

8.  Dancing in the Moonlight (It's Caught Me in The Spotlight) by Alt-J.

"When I passed you in the doorway
And you took me with a glance
Should've been on that last bus home
But I asked you for a dance."

I like it when an artist can take a song and turn it into something different entirely (much like Aretha Franklin did to Otis Redding, or, to me anyway, The Band did to Springsteen with its rendition of "Atlantic City"). Here Alt-J turns Thin Lizzy's middling "Dancing in The Moonlight" into a lovely quiet ballad. And "it's alright, alright."

9.  I Melt With You by Surfer Blood.

"I'll stop the world and melt with you
You've seen the difference and it's getting better all the time
There's nothing you and I won't do
I'll stop the world and melt with you."

One of my all time favorite early alternative (pop punk?) songs, Surfer Blood's cover is, to me, the right mix of faithfulness to the original and an update 37 (holy mackerel, 37???) years after it was first released.

10.  Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) by Big Head Todd and The Monsters (with John Popper).

"But now you're sad, your mama's mad
And your papa says he knows that I don't have any money
Oh your papa says he knows that I don't have any money
Oh your daddy says he knows that I don't have any money
Well, tell him this is his last chance
To get his daughter in a fine romance
'Cause a record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance."

Along with the Frightened Rabbit theme throughout the list this is the other: The Boss. Big Head Todd and The Monsters' rendition of Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), with some help, from John Popper of Blues Traveler fame, still seems as rebellious and raucous as the original. But while the harmonica is nice, but I still miss Clarence's sax ...

11.  My Backwards Walk by Manchester Orchestra.

"I'm working on my faults and cracks
Filling in the blanks and gaps
And when I write them out they don't make sense
I need you to pencil in the rest."

The final song of the list, and the final one from "Tiny Changes." Manchester Orchestra's version of My Backwards Walk is one of those that strikes the right chord(s) for me between homage and interpretation. Plus you can never grow tired of hearing Hutchison's plaintive line "you're the sh!t and I'm knee deep in it."