Monday, December 29, 2014

Favorite Songs of 2014: Songs 1-10

And now my top 10:

1. Riptide by Vance Joy.

"Lady, running down to the riptide.
Taken away to the dark side,
I wanna be your left-hand man.
I love you when you're singing that song, and
I got a lump in my throat 'cause
You're gonna sing the words wrong."

Have to admit that I had second thoughts about "Riptide" being my number 1 after hearing it in the "Top Nine at Nine" on a local Top 40 station a few weeks ago. But, popularity be damned, this is my favorite song of 2014. The Midnight Cowboy reference and the ukulele don't hurt a bit either.

2. Left Hand Free by Alt-J.

"Hey, shady baby, I'm hot,
like the prodigal son.
Pick a petal eenie, meenie, miney, moe ...
And flower, you're the chosen one."

According to the critics, the most un-Alt-J-like song they've ever done, composed in 20 minutes to satisfy their American label for a radio-friendly tune for their new album. Works for me. There are two "official" videos, this is the second and more disturbing one, but seems to be more in keeping with the lyrics.

3. Don't You Look Back by Augustines.

"This kiss ain't got no hope."

The best single line from any song this year. And the only artist to have two songs on this year's list. They appear to have been touring in Europe most of 2014 and there are no new tour dates on their website, but here's to hoping they're coming to a venue near you (and, more importantly to me, near me) in 2015.

4. You Go Down Smooth by Lake Street Dive.

"Would it be true to say that I ordered you?
Or is it you that ordered me?
I could say you are the only one I see,
but I can't stop at two or three."

If we were to fashion an IQ test question from the top 5 of my list and ask: "which song is unlike the others?" You Go Down Smooth would be the correct answer. But Rachel Price's voice can make any list any time as far as I'm concerned. It sounds every bit as good live as it does recorded, as the she proved at Mountain Stage earlier this year and in the video from KEXP above.

5. I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers.

"While my friends were getting high and chasing girls down parkway lines,
I was losing my mind 'cause the love, the love, the love, the love
that I gave ...
Wasted on a nice face.
In a blaze of fear I put a helmet on a helmet,
counting seconds through the night and got carried away.
So now I'm standing on the overpass screaming at the cars:
I wanna get better!'"

Unlike many years, when one or at the most two songs stand out to me as possible number ones on my list, this year there were five, starting with this punk-pop anthem to insanity by Jack Antonoff's (of fun.) side project, Bleachers. Maybe the funniest video of 2014 to boot.

6. A Little Opus by Little Comets.

"You feel the weight of imposition.
Bear heavy on your own decision.
Fate to face they multiply ...
The crush of language,
and the cedent school ties.
The subtle angles of tradition (tradition)."

A song about .. English preparatory schools I guess. And, apparently it was actually released in 2012. But rules were meant to be broken, right?

7. Zigzagging Toward the Light by Conor Oberst.

"Oh how the circumstances change.
I fly by interstate, across a purple mountain range.
I find a place to come undone ...
Zigzagging toward you now, I sing out loud our boundless song."

Former Bright Eyes member Oberst's Upside Down Mountain is one of my favorite albums of the year. According to Wikipedia, his brother is a lawyer. No wonder I like him.

8. Madman by Sean Rowe.

"And the city has a way to make you forget.
About half the stuff you love and things you don't know yet.
About the space that's left when nobody talks.
About the quiet on the path where nobody walks."

Great song, and the best male voice of anyone on this year's list.

9. Can't Be Broken by Twin Forks.

"That's a love that
can't be broken.
That's the sting of a
heart cut open.
That's the thing about
blind devotion.
That's a love that
can't be broken."

Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba's new indie folk/Americana band churns out the same great music as DC, but with more acoustical instruments and less angst. Nothing wrong with that. And one of the bonuses of being seven minutes from Mountain Stage's usual venue? Meeting your favorite artists:

10. Budapest by George Ezra.

"My many artifacts.
The list goes on.
If you just say the words,
I'll up and run.
Oh, to you,
I'd leave it all."

A pleasant little tune from a guy who reminds me of another artist, but I can't quite put my finger on who. And he looks absolutely nothing like I imagined he would from his voice.

So there's this year's list. Go listen to some live music in 2015!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Favorite Songs of 2014: Songs 11-20

11. Common Sentiments by Typhoon.

"o what am i waiting for
a spell to be cast or for it to be broken?
at the very last
some wild ghost from my past come to split me wide open?
no. if i hold out my hand there is nothing at all because nothing's the token
i will be good though my body be broken."

Typhoon's Young Fathers topped last year's list, but I hadn't really had the time to appreciate the whole White Lighter album until this year. I listened to it front-to-back more than any other cd in 2014, and this is my second favorite song on it. And it sounds great live as I learned at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC in March.

Kyle Morton and some of Typhoon's band members.

12. Start Again by Bishop Allen.

"Summer, summer and the sun is settin' later than late.
I try to stop you, but you say it isn't worth the wait.
If I could give away the keys to the kingdom I would.
I'm sorry sorry but I think you may have misunderstood."

A break-up song, sounds like to me. But of a romance, or a friendship?

13. Simple and Sure by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

"I know we live in complicated times;
and it's so difficult to decide:
Who should be our king and how low we should bow
to lick the boots of the sacred cow."

One of those songs that sounds like a simple, poppy love song. But isn't.

14. Say Goodbye by Beck.

"See the sleet that rests upon
the quiet street we're standing on.
Is it time to go away,
and try again some other day?"

A song of love lost by one of the most influential artists of his generation. And still going strong.

15. Teenage Wasteland by Wussy.

"Yeah, we heard you, Pete.
Real loud and clear on the last one.
And we were pullin' for you a thousand times a day.
It don't take much
to sound like a sleeping prophet.
When your misery sounds so much like ours
so far away."

An ode to The Who and Baba O'Riley (according to an article that I read in Spin).

16. Someone to Love You by Andrew Ripp.

"Oh now I'm tryin'
To be the one I know you need.
I'm gettin' closer every day."

Just a straightforward pop love song. And that's just fine by me. And, with apologies, the first song on this year's list without a complete video.

17. Even the Darkness Has Arms by The Barr Brothers.

"People will raise a whole lotta hell.
About the water and the windmill.
And although I stab chaotically,
it hurts no one but me.
Even the darkness has arms,
but it ain't got you.
Baby I have it,
and I have you too."

Another beautiful, slightly mysterious song from the Brothers, adopted Montrealers like Arcade Fire.

18. Gimme Something Good by Ryan Adams.

"I was playing dead. Didn't make a sound.
Holding my breath, going underground.
So I can't talk. I got nothing to say.
It's like there's no tomorrow.
Barely yesterday."

This album is on many "best of" lists for 2014. Again, coincidence.

19. Scream (Funk My Life Up) by Paolo Nutini.

"Unload, reload, eyes back swinging.
Sweet thing, knows things, Jeff Beck sings.
Roundhouse, going down … Let's go!
And the girl's so fine makes you wanna scream Hallelujah.

A little Scottish brown-eyed soul for y'all. This one's kinda R rated kiddies. Make sure mom and dad say it's okay to listen. If it is, turn it up, get up, and dance around. Now!

20. Rent I Pay by Spoon.

"Everybody knows just where you been going.
Everybody knows the faces you been showing.
And if that's your answer no I ain't your dancer.
And if that's your answer no I ain't your dancer."

Another solid effort by another veteran act. A nod to T Rex in that last stanza perhaps?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Favorite Songs of 2014 - Songs 21-30 Plus One

I've been regaling/boring my friends with my favorite indie/alternative songs of the year for some time now. As with my past lists, the only rule is that these songs were released in either 2014 or 2013. Some of the songs here may appear on actual critics' lists as well, but any resemblance between them and me is purely coincidental.

21. Thirsty Man by Blitzen Trapper.

"I've been driving all night,
On a road to nowhere.
With the Devil's convoy,
Black smoke upon my tracks."

This band has remade itself from a folk/Americana sound to rock, and now sort of in-between. In whatever iteration they chose, I'm a fan.

22. Unfold by Wouie.

"I could never change the world for you.
But I could teach you how to cheat it.
I could never kill the pain in you.
But I can teach you how to treat it."

A Swedish band singing in perfect English. Not so sure about the American band a little farther on the List's mastery of Swedish, but sounds good to me.

23. Nothing to Lose But Your Head by Augustines.

"Have you ever lost someone?
Screamed Bloody Mary down the hall.
Or cried against a steering wheel,
And hated every mirror you ever saw?"

The only artists with more than one song on this year's list. Would love to see them live, but they've apparently been touring in Europe most of the year.

24. Sacrilege by Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

"Fallen for a guy,
fell down from the sky.
Halo 'round his head;
Feathers in a bed.
In our bed;
in our bed."

At first I was off-put by the screaming lyrics, but it turns into something visceral and essential to the song once you give it a chance. And I love how it builds to the climax of a choral climax.

25. Vad Hande Med Dem? by The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

"Inget är rätt, inget är bra, ingenting här är som det ska
Nånting gick fel så långt tillbaks, gick sönder inuti av det vi sa
Men jag hoppas vintern kommer snart och släcker ner hela stan
Snön kommer täcka alltihop, vartenda misstag som vi gjort."

Which, translated from the Swedish (according to Google) is:

"Nothing is right, nothing is good, nothing here is as it should.
Something went wrong so far back, broke inside of what we said.
But I hope winter is coming soon, and turns off the lights all over town.
The snow will cover it all, every mistake we made."

Despite my Swedish heritage, I have no reason not to trust that the translation is accurate. And while many of my choices for this List are lyrically driven, obviously this one is not.

25.  Spinners by The Hold Steady.

"Before she figures out what's wrong,
put another record on.
She picks it up and she carries a cross;
Heartbreak hurts but you can dance it off."

Another mythic urban tale from Craig Finn and the band, habitual list denizens. And, yes, references to the crucifix abound. And, yes, there was already a number 25 on the list. I'm too old to count correctly. 

26. From Now On by Delta Spirit.

"Your inner compass says you know I'm right.
No more letters, just a will.
All the prophets on the mountaintop.
But no one's hanging on the hill."

Another one of my favorite bands, with their best song in my opinion since the History from Below album. And no, I don't think Craig Finn wrote the lyrics, but kind of sounds like him, doesn't it?

27. Permanent Hesitation by Born Ruffians.

"Is it cheating if I call you sweetheart?
Is it cheating if you call me your man?
I'm retrieving wayward glances with my wandering eye,
and pretending not to know you care."

Sounds a little like Phoenix perhaps? Back when they were good I mean.

28. Gotta Get Away by The Black Keys.

"I went from San Berdoo
to Kalamazoo.
Just to get away from you.
I searched far and wide,
hopin' I was wrong.
But maybe all the good women are gone."

Definitely not a love song.

29. Take Me to Church by Hozier.

"No masters or kings when the ritual begins;
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin.
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene:
Only then I am human.
Only then I am clean.

Three different friends/family members who know my musical taste well asked me at different times if I'd heard Hozier and this song and told me that it "sounds like something (I'd) like." Who am I to disagree?

30. Pull Down the Moon by Cattle & Cane.

"Can you hear me scratching at your door?
You say it won't be different
than before.
I will sing you all my songs,
I will sing them all day long,
for you."

This, on the other hand, is definitely a love song. And a pretty one at that.