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.