Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Favorite Songs of 2015 - Songs 1-11

Some years I go back-and-forth between my top five or ten songs and this year was no different -- as it should be I suppose as my "favorites" change as I hear new songs throughout the year. The top three songs this year have been there for quite some time however, although their order changed at one point or the other.

In the end, though, I couldn't escape the fact that one song, however unusual the lyrics, or occasionally (how to say this politely?) screechy (okay, that's not polite) the singing, is my favorite of 2015. And it's this one:

1. Sister Cities by Hop Along.

"In the hospital,
You talked about thumbing down that
truck ride for the first time ...
And the false friend
kept his back turned,
that’s when you learned
The fierceness of man,
How long it took to reach the sister cities.
And then somehow make it back
Just to tell me
'Yeah, I guess I’m still
pretty mad.'"

It's hard to explain why exactly this is my favorite song. The lyrics are sad and disturbing, the vocals lovely at times, grating at others. And yet it's still there. Over and over in my head, on my playlist, on my list. Maybe it's the xylophone ...

2. Until the Night Turns by Lord Huron.

"I had a vision tonight that the world was ending.
Yeah the sky was falling and time was bending.
We spent our last night in the moonlight...
Baby it's so bright we'll be up all night.
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 going to die I'm gonna go in style."

The second best concert I saw in 2015. And the second best song of 2015 by my estimation. Don't know what is with me and apocalyptic songs ...

3. A Beginning Song by The Decemberists.

"And I am waiting
Should I be waiting?
And I am wanting...
Should I be wanting?
When all around me
When all around me ..."

 Perhaps the sweetest, most hopeful song ever written by the "hyperliterate" (I read that somewhere and thought it suits him) Colin Meloy. Saw them with brother and son in Charlotte the day after my birthday this year. One of the five best concerts I've ever seen.

Colin Meloy at The Filmore in Charlotte. (photo from me)

4. Jackson by The Pollies.

"Wake up mama we got a little
We got a little to do.
Get the children they gonna...
Wanna hear it too.
Six Hundred Strong across that
Edmund Pettus Bridge.
We won't stop for the lawman
'Til it gets fixed."

A soaring song of tragedy and perseverance about a forgotten hero of the Civil Rights movement, Jimmie Lee Jackson. By four white guys from Alabama. Sounds like progress to me.

5. 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."

No, I don't even know how to pronounce the band's name. But this song is completely addictive from the first piano chords to the crescendo. More please!

6. Getting Ready to Get Down by Josh Ritter.

"Momma got a look at you and got a little worried.
Papa got a look at you and got a little worried.
Pastor got a look and said 'y'all had better hurry...
Send her off to a little Bible college in Missouri.'
And now you come back sayin' you know a little bit about
Every little thing they hoped you'd never figure out.
The Red Sea
The Dead Sea
The Sermon on the Mount.
If you want to see a miracle watch me get down!"

Almost another spoken word song, but mostly because there are so many words ... Saw him live at Mountain Stage recently -- the only other artist I can ever remember being so genuinely happy to perform was Bruce Hornsby. If Ritter is performing live somewhere near you, go see him!

7. Pretty Pimpin' by Kurt Vile.

"But I couldn’t tell you what the hell it was supposed to mean.
Because it was a Monday, no a Tuesday, no Wednesday, Thursday, Friday ...
Then Saturday came around and I said “Who’s this stupid clown blocking the bathroom sink?”...
But he was sporting all my clothes;
I gotta say
Pretty pimpin'."

A song with really clever lyrics but if you just listen to the lyrics, you'll miss how beautiful, and complex, the music is.

8. No No No by Beirut.

"Don't know the first thing about who you are.
My heart is waiting, taken in from the start.
If we don't go now, we won't get very far....
Don't know the first thing about who you are."

I love Beirut's sound, although I'm hard pressed to describe it.

9. All Your Favorite Bands by Dawes.

"I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it’d be.
I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever.
I hope the world sees the same person that you always were to me....
And may all your favorite bands stay together."

I missed them at their latest Mountain Stage appearance and am the poorer for it, but saw them on what I believe to be their first time on the show. A great song of love lost, but remembered, and appreciated.

10. Depreston by Courtney Barnett.

"You said we should look out further;
I guess it wouldn't hurt us.
We don't have to be around all these coffee shops....
Now we've got that percolator,
Never made a latte greater.
I'm saving
Twenty-three dollars a week."

A song with great lyrics that make the banal interesting and the unknown sad. Really doesn't do it justice to only post some of the lyrics. Great album title as well ("Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit").

11. Rock & Roll is Cold by Matthew E. White.

"You said you found the soul of rock and roll
You said you found the soul of rock and roll
Hey hey, rock and roll it don't have no soul...
Everybody knows that
Everyone knows.
Everyone knows that rock and roll is cold."

Great gospel/blues sound here. Plus my love of choruses singing things like "ooo la la la la ooo la la" is well documented.

Hope you enjoyed this year's list -- see you next November!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Favorite Songs of 2015 - Songs 12-22

My list continues with some familiar faces from last year and lists farther in the past. And some great new bands as well.

12. Someone New by Hozier.

"There's an art to life's distractions,
To somehow escape the burning weight, the art of scraping through.
Some like to imagine,
The dark caress of someone else, I guess any thrill will do.

The last of the artists on this year's list that also appeared on last year's. The perfect juxtaposition to "Take Me to Church" where he was literally worshipping a woman. And this year, "any thrill will do." My favorite line in the song, and maybe of any single line in any song this year, however, is "love with any stranger, the stranger the better."

13. Light Me Up by Bronze Radio Return.

"And when you feel right
I'm electrified
'Cause you light me up
Oh, you light me up.
So tell me how ya feeling tonight
Tell me how ya feeling tonight."

Another one of those songs that doesn't wow you with intellectual lyrics but is just so catchy you want to hear it over and over. And the video matches the song - I can almost hear Kevin Bacon yell "Let's Dance!" near the end.

14. Talking Backwards by Real Estate.

"And I might as well be talking backwards.
Am I making any sense to you?
And the only thing that really matters.
Is the one thing I can't seem to do."

After the <ahem> less than monogamous themes of the previous two songs, a more poignant love song. Or love lost song.

15. Waitress by Hop Along.

"I call you enemy.
'Cause I'm afraid of
What you could call me.
The world's gotten so small and embarrassing."

A song about relationships and social media and awkward chance meetings. Made all the more evocative by Frances Quinlan's tired, sad, frenetic, evocative voice. The last artist this year that you'll hear more from in the next installment of the list.

16. Living the Dream by Sturgill Simpson.

"That old man upstairs always 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
She thinks mercy's overrated."

Seriously, is that not a ridiculously perfect stanza? The only way it could possibly be improved is by the way Simpson delivers it.

17. Lifted Up (1985) by Passion Pit.

"Oh well, how many years has it been now?
How many days went to waste?
Now the rain and the thunder are clashing.
The Sun's go a smile 'cross the face."

Yes, listening to this song after the last, much like watching the video, could lead you "to potentially experience seizures." I didn't make that up - watch the video - and note the warning.

18. Crying Wolf by Caleb Hawley.

"Well I got no time to talk about it.
I said that I'm sorry
And I'm movin' on.
Just pretend that those words we said never happened.
Let's go back to laughin'
And getting along."

This year's blue-eyed soul entry. Love the Motown sound.

19. 4th and Roebling by The Districts.

"Sunshine, I believe we're headed the right way
But then again, I can't quite tell for sure.
'Cause we're running to the west to let our hands touch down
Where you left me in the dark so long before."

This year's "sounds like The Strokes" song.

20. Mr. Rodriquez by Rayland Baxter.

"Yesterday morning, I was walking around
Me and Mr. Rodriguez on the wrong side of town.
The streets were all empty and the houses all burned down
He reached in his pocket and he pulled out a crown.
And he said:
'You're so much like me, boy
Step outta your dream.
Watch 'em all gather 'round boy,
It's your turn to be king."

Saw him at a great Mountain Stage with Craig Finn, among other fine artists. Rayland rocked the house that night.

Rayland Baxter at Mountain Stage. Lighting is great for concert-going,
not so much for cell phones that you're not supposed to use the flash with.
(photo by me)

21. Black Sun by Death Cab for Cutie.

"There is a role of a lifetime;
And there's a song yet to be sung.
And there's a dumpster in the driveway
Of all the plans that came undone."

Kind of like rubbernecking a car wreck with the obvious references to Ben Gibbard's failed relationship, sad and cathartic. But then now-departed guitarist Chris Walla cranks up a fantastic, angry solo and takes it to a different dimension entirely.

Honestly, I had never seen the video when I first wrote the car wreck line. 

22. Gone by Jr. Jr.

"I've made up my mind,
over and over.
Keep pressing rewind,
but I'm getting older.
Tried every door,
don't know who I'm looking for.
And I've made up my mind,
over and over."

I had always hope to hear a song by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. that I liked enough to include on the list. I heard this one and thought "this is it!" Then they went and changed the name of the band to just Jr. Jr. Ah well, it's still good enough to make the list.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Favorite Songs of 2015 - Songs 23-33

Gather round boys and girls. It's that time of year, when we hear tales of a divine birth, jolly elves, and flying reindeer. And get to listen to what I think is some pretty good music. So much good music that, unlike past lists that were limited to 30 songs, this year's offering includes three bonus tracks!

As in prior years, the list is limited to songs released in 2014 or 2015. And that's about it as far as rules go. You'll hear a variety of songs that could be variously described as alternative, indie, pop, Americana, soul, and maybe even country.

Oh, one disclaimer: while a few of these songs may appear on one critic or the other's "best of" lists, I  do not profess to be a critic. Just an appreciator. And I hope you will appreciate at least a few of these offerings.

23. Fool for Love by Lord Huron.

"I stare into the endless sky
And the sordid tale of my life goes by.
I drift into the great unknown
And I really don't know where I'm going."

Missed Lord Huron at Bonnaroo in 2013 (despite E's best effort to the contrary), but caught them live this summer in Columbia, SC. They've made prior lists before, and will again later on this year's.

Lord Huron at the Music Farm in Columbia, SC. (photo by me)

24. Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon.

"We were victims of the night.
The chemical, physical, kryptonite.
Helpless to the bass and the fading light.
Oh we were bound to get together,
Bound to get together."

Admittedly a lightweight song lyrically. But so darn catchy. The pop song of the summer of 2015 for me.

25. Cavalry by Kingsley Flood.

"I've been thinking I've been drinking, I've been scraping rust.
I've been keeping clean, the frames that have collected dust.
Monday nights I watch the fights, on Thursdays I play cards.
But maybe just this week, I'll skip out on both."

Thought this was a standard breakup song until I studied the lyrics some more. It's clearly about the protagonist and his family - though I'm not sure if he's leaving home, or just asking them to get their house in order before he does.

26. Perth by Beirut.

"Blood on the sand
Paint on the water.
I skipped around
Asking for you."

Beirut, too, has appeared on past lists and will reappear on this one as well. Their album No No No is one of my favorites of the past year.

27. Waiting for My Time to Come by Colony House.

"I'm just waiting on the seasons to change.
Waiting for the curtain to fall.
I could lose my cool
Like a restless fool.
But I'm waiting for my time to come."

Horns and a big chorus of fresh-faced youngsters - what's not to like? I dare you to watch the video and not be at least a wee bit happier than you were four minutes earlier.

28.  Rollercoaster by Bleachers.

"Now I'm running and I won't stop I don't wanna go.
I think about it everyday and night, I can't let go.
And, hey, I'm never the same.
It's a hundred miles an hour on a dirt road running away."

A repeat of sorts as Bleachers' I Wanna Get Better was Number 5 on last year's list. Can't help but hear a little Billy Idol in this one.

 29. How'm I Gonna Find You Now by James McMurtry.

"I remember when I met you I's in love in one fell swoop.
You had a blade in your pocket and a rag in your belt loop.
Guys a hoverin' 'round the bar like gulls on the ocean
At the end of your shift just in case you got the notion.
Watch you washin' all the glassware, poetry in motion.
I'd a roped the moon for you.
How'm I gonna find you now?"

A Dylanesque largely spoken word song from a Dylanesque songwriter.

30. What Kind of Man by Florence and The Machine.

"What kind of man loves like this?

To let me dangle
at a cruel angle.
Oh my feet don't touch the floor.
Sometimes you're half in
and then you're half out.
But you never close the door."

I think there are more bands fronted by female singers on this year's list than ever before. And if that's the case, Florence has to be among them, doesn't she?

31. Bullets by Wild Child.

"Oh, I'm so glad, you found a cure.
It was so sad when you weren't sure.
I know you think, we need to talk.
You said, those regrets will burn a hole
In my black and withered soul.
You're gonna think I'm wicked when I walk."

See what I told you about female singers? I've always liked incongruous songs and this is one - a bouncy beat masking some pretty depressing lyrics.

32. Make Me Do It Again by Jim Noir.

"Come through the door,
Tell me more.
Make it up,
Make me feel,
Make me do it again."

Sounds like a Beatles' song to me. Sorry, can't find a link to a video for it.

33. You Must Have Met Little Caroline? by JD McPherson.

"Do you feel like I feel
Half a dozen times a day
When the lights go out
And your thoughts drift away?"

I've seen JD twice in person -- once at Bonnaroo in 2013, then again this year at Mountain Stage. Great rockabilly sound that's even better live. And, yes, I feel I know him well enough now to call him by his first name.