Friday, December 30, 2016

Favorite Songs of 2016: Songs 1-11

And so we reach the end of another year (which by many accounts, including mine, we are happy to see the backside of) and another list (which was musically pretty darn good). My favorite 11 songs of 2016 will have some artists that you will know from earlier lists this year and years past, songs that you will have actually heard on the radio or the internet, and some you may never care to hear again. But that's okay - it's still a free country. Right? 

1. Grand Canyon by The Wind + The Wave.

"Down to your skivvies at the watering hole
Gonna get you wet
Gonna save your soul ...
It's the damnedest thing
Oh, it's the damnedest thing."

Sure, there are songs that follow this one that are more critically acclaimed or commercially successful. But this song is the one that has always brought a smile to my face whenever it pops up on my playlist, that has the opening stanza that perfectly sets the mood for the rest of the song, that I've never even thought about skipping although I've already listened to it 100 times this year. And that's why Grand Canyon, from the band lead by Dwight A. Baker and Patricia Lynn, is my favorite of 2016. Lynn, the songwriter for The Wind + The Wave, describes Grand Canyon: “[It's] about my brother,” she says. “I almost lost him to a major car accident a few years ago. To me the song is about the ability to appreciate what’s in front of you and not take the things that matter most for granted."

2. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales by Car Seat Headrest.

"Here's that voice in your head
Giving you sh!t again
But you know he loves you...
And he doesn't mean to cause you pain.
Please listen to him
It's not too late
Turn off the engine
Get out of the car
And start to walk."

From my favorite album of the year, by a longshot: Car Seat Headrest's "Teens of Denial." A song about the choices we make, should make, or don't make; about selfishness and disillusion and how, sometimes, we need to do the right thing even though it's the hard thing. Language warning, btw, if you didn't get that from the lyrics above.

3. Cleopatra by The Lumineers.

"But I was late for this, late for that,
late for the love of my life
And when I die alone, when I die alone, ...
when I die I'll be on time.

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."

My favorite song on my second favorite album of the year. Seems to be largely drawn from historical accounts of Cleopatra's life, with a certain poetic license. But of course it could be about a modern day Cleopatra instead (as the official video seems to suggest). The last two lines quoted above are my favorites from any song this year.

4. Ghosts of Santa Fe by Alberta Cross.

"This heart catastrophe
Is sad in a way
But we'll get past it after all....
I sent my last rose
Down to New Mexico
I kept my head hung there after all."

This was probably the first song on my "Best Songs of 2016" playlist on Spotify.  I discovered it late last year (too late for last year's list) and it's been there ever since. A song of love lost and with a horn section, it's definitely my kind of music. Alberta Cross frontman Petter Ericson Stakee is Swedish as well, which certainly didn't hurt the song's appeal to me.

5. I Wish I Was Sober by Frightened Rabbit.

"My love, you should know
The best of me left hours ago so
Shove a rag into my mouth and let me smoulder...
The fall out and the damage done
I can’t un-sink the things I’ve sunk
Still not giving up, though I wish that I was sober."

My brother Jeff may have thought that this was the year of a new release by the band that he refers to as "Scared Bunny" without mention on my list, and for most of the year he would have been right. I was underwhelmed, truth be told, with much of the band's new release "Painting of a Panic Attack." Until I heard this song, that is. Smart, self-deprecating, gloomy lyrics with just a touch of hope, and crescendo-building music to boost that optimism are precisely why this is one of my all-time favorite bands and Scott Hutchison one of my favorite song writers. Rock on Scared Bunny, rock on.

6. California by i said yes.

"All the dreams you killed,
Do you dream them still?
Are they there in California? Wait and see,...
And come to California with me
And we'll cruise along Broadway in a Model T
When you come to California with me
In a big Top Hat like John F. Kennedy,
When you come to California with me."

The second California song on the list, as mentioned what seems like a long time ago. Love the symbolism of every significant American landmark being in California in the lyrics, although I don't feel it's provincialism that's intended, more like California as a metaphor for the entire country. Of course, if you look in the comments on the YouTube video, some idiot insists that: "statue of liberty, mt Rushmore, chatanooga, and the sun does not rise from the water in California." Thanks for the knowledge Mr. Peabody.

7. Bros by Wolf Alice.

"Shake your hair, have some fun
Forget our mothers and past lovers, forget everyone
Oh, I'm so lucky, you are my best friend...
Oh, there's no one, there's no one who knows me like you do."

A song about female friendship and impending "real-lifedom," but could just as easily be about guys and older folks as well. This song has been around in various versions for several years, but was rereleased in 2015 so I think I'm cool as far as my list rules go. It's such a good song that I didn't want you to miss it.

8. Fill In The Blank by Car Seat Headrest.

"You have no right to be depressed
You haven’t tried hard enough to like it
Haven’t seen enough of this world yet...
But it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts
Well stop your whining, try again
No one wants to cause you pain
They’re just trying to let some air in
But you hold your breath, you hold your breath, you hold it
Hold my breath, I hold my breath, I hold it."

I believe this is only the second time I've had two songs by the same artist in my top 10. Such is my admiration for this album and artist. Will Toledo, frontman for CSH, is the Strummer and Jones of the Millennial Generation as far as I'm concerned. This is music both entertaining and worth listening to.

9. Brand New by Ben Rector.

"I feel like a young John Cusack, like making big mistakes
I feel like for the first time in a long time I am not afraid
I feel like a kid, never thought it'd feel like this:

Like when I close my eyes
and don't even care if anyone sees me dancing.
Like I can fly,
and don't even think of touching the ground.
Like a heartbeat skip, like an open page
Like a one way trip on an aeroplane
It's the way that I feel when I'm with you:
Brand new."

Just a big, fun, pop song, the kind that I seem to always be a sucker for (fun., Bleachers, Walk the Moon, etc.). And despite my general distaste for amusement parks, the video is equally endearing (and kind of goofy).

10. Djin by Mashrou' Leila.

"All the women and the men
Arrive shrouded in hides
Awaiting he who dies and then returns to life...
We heed the wisdom of vines
Vines guard all wisdom of life
We relinquish self
But the god is with us."

You're going to have to trust me on these lyrics, just as I did to the vagaries of google translator, because they're in Arabic (and in fact I've seen the title of the song as both "Djin" and "Djinn"). I first heard Mashrou' Leila on NPR's Tiny Desk concert this year and was blown away by their lead singer Hamad Sinno. The group has a compelling backstory (including Sinno being openly gay in a country that is not particularly welcoming of such individuals) that also weighed into my admiration for the song.

11. Good Grief by Bastille.

"You might have to excuse me
I’ve lost control of all my senses
And you might have to excuse me...
I’ve lost control of all my words.

So get drunk, call me a fool
Put me in my place, put me in my place
Pick me up, up off the floor
Put me in my place, put me in my place."

An upbeat song about death and grieving from a British band with a French name that samples Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science. That about sums it up.

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