Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Favorite Songs of 2018: Songs 12-22

And the list rolls on, with the often (unfairly) overlooked middle kids (which happens to include the band Middle Kids ... ). And, unsurprisingly, The Decemberists.

Colin Meloy and The Decemberists in concert (photo by me)

12.  Nonbeliever by Lucy Dacus.

"You deal an unspoken debt
No kindness without wanting something back
What do I owe you? What did I forget?
Are we even after all of that?"

Nonbeliever in God? In a (human) relationship? In self-worth? I'm not exactly sure. But I'm not a nonbeliever in Lucy; she has a beautiful voice, can construct a great song, and can play a mean guitar.

13.  The Heart Is a Muscle by Gang of Youths.

"I wanna be loved, I wanna be whole again
So tuck my hair behind my ears and touch my soul again
The window is wide, the post unfulfilled
And I just ask you to be patient if you'll have me still."

Every year my list contains an invisible dividing line between the songs I like and those I really, really like. This year that line starts here. Songs 13-2 are, in my humble opinion, exceedingly good and pretty much interchangeable (number 1 has been number 1 since early in 2018 and has budged since). Gang of Youths was recently in D.C., and I'm very sorry I missed them. The video will give you a good idea as to why.

14.  Easy Enough by Pinegrove.

"All my limits have held me back
I hold my head and I let it ask
I'm altogether down
And when will it end now?

Back after a year-long, self-imposed hiatus (you can read the long, strange story here) the kids from Jersey are back with a new record. Thank goodness for that.

15.  High Beam by Sjowgren.

"And I don't wanna spend a lifetime
Worried about the sidelines
What other people are say about me
About me
About me."

Their second appearance on this year's list (and the fourth overall, I believe) as the mystery band from San Fran has stepped up what seemed to be a slow drip of their great music.

16.  Dancing's Not a Crime by Panic!At the Disco.

"Dancing, dancing, dancing's not a crime
Unless you do it without me
Unless you do it without me."

Go ahead, laugh, I can take the heat. And do repeatedly from family and friends for my fondness for this band (which roughly places me 45 years pre-my current age and seemingly forced to defend the "!" in its name). I dare you to listen and not bebop just a little while you do.

17.   Mistake by Middle Kids.

"You're standing out in the rain, tonight
Like you got something to say, to God
And you got a debt to pay back
For something you did way back
You wanna make it okay."

These Kids made last year's list as well (as did Cold War Kids, absent this year). I believe the title of the song is exactly what it's about - a mistake that someone made, maybe a long time ago. I'm okay with that (the straightforwardness, not necessarily the mistake).

18.  We All Die Young by The Decemberists.

"And in this dream, Bill Tecumseh Sherman
Glowered at the foot of my bed
He was long and lean, he spoke in perfect German
And I recorded all that he said
Yeah, I recorded all that he said

And he said:
'We all die young
We all die young
We all die young
We all die young."

More lyrical magic from the "hyper-literate" Colin Meloy and his band. While I'm including a "live" recording of the song here, check out the studio version as well. Definitely a touch of Pink Floyd in the children joining in on the chorus.

19.  In a River by Rostam.

"We are swimming with no clothes on
In a river in the dark
And I am holding on to you, boy
In the faint light of the stars."

One of several songs on this year's list either recommended by or heard for the first time with my comely spouse. I love the music in this song, which borders on orchestral.

20.  How Simple by Hop Along.

"Don't worry we will both find out
Just not together."

One of my favorite couplets (if that term can apply to two, non-rhyming verses) of the year. Matched by the year's best album name "Bark Your Head Off, Dog."

21.  Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers.

"I'm on the outside looking through
You're throwing rocks around your room
And while you're bleeding on your back in the glass
I'll be glad that I made it out
And sorry that all went down like it did."

I love the imagery of "emotional motion sickness."

22.  Causing Trouble by Saint Sister.

"But honey I know you
We dance to Elvis in the kitchen
At least we used to
And honey you know me
We danced from Belfast to the Basin
When you sang And it Stoned Me
Well, it stoned me.'

A harp, two beautiful voices, and a Van Morrison reference? Yes, please.

Stay tuned for my Top 11 songs, coming soon!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Favorite Songs of 2018: Songs 23-33

This year in music was full of highs and lows for me. The highest of the highs was getting to see one of my favorite bands, Frightened Rabbit, in concert in Chicago. The band made a brief tour in honor of the tenth anniversary of the release of their album The Midnight Organ Fight, the album that FR singer, songwriter, and frontman Scott Hutchison credited during the concert as the one that told them that they "might be able to make a living doing this."

Scott Hutchison (center) and his FR bandmates in Chicago
(photo courtesy of me).

The low was when, less than two months later, Scott Hutchison took his own life. He was 36, seemingly at the height of his career and in the prime of his musical life. Even a casual listener of FR's songs could not mistake the references to depression and suicidal thoughts that ran through nearly all of the band's five albums. But it was still a shock, particularly to me since Hutchison seemed in such a good place during the concert. His last public words, in a Tweet, summarize all that was good about him and all that is so terribly awful and unrelenting about depression: "Be so good to everyone you love.  It's not a given.  I'm so annoyed that it's not.  I didn't live by that standard and it kills me.  Please hug your loved ones.  I'm away now.  Thanks."

I soldiered on after that shocking event and once again dedicated myself to bringing to you my favorite songs of the past year. You will, as always, recognize several of the artists here from past years. You will, with very few exceptions, have never heard them on your local Top 40 radio station.  But I hope that you enjoy many of them, and perhaps go to see at least one of them if/when they come to your town.

23.  Drink About You by Kate Nash.

"I'm sick and tired of being such a hypocrite
I'm kinda over being over it all
I think I hate yourself
I think I hate me even more
I can't remember what happened before."

Kate has always been a favorite in our family. Her clever, witty lyrics are usually amusing and always thoughtful. One of several break-up songs on this year's list (and in fact this edition of the list).

24.  About You by G Flip.

"Yeah, we got crazy, yeah, it did phase me
When you just went and took off
Yeah, I know I pushed you
Didn't think you'd follow through and leave me on the rocks."

Another break-up song that perfectly captures the yin-yang of feelings that go with it. Which, I believe, purposefully matches her black and white sneakers in the video.

25.  Ancient Names (Part I) by Lord Huron.

"Far out past the astral plane
I cast you back from whence you came
Cosmic ash and blackened brain
I call you by your ancient names."

Our boys from the Mitten State seem to have taken a turn from pseudo-cowboy rock to Raymond Chandler-esque indie noir with their latest album (maybe my first hint was its name, "Vide Noir"). No official video or official concert video for this one as far as I can tell, so let your imaginations run wild with fortune tellers and soothsayers.

26.  Without Applause by Horse Feathers.

"Mama's here and nothing can be done
No other thought meanwhile something thaws
Dad to rise, there to fix something
It's not the drinking but the worry that does him in."

First heard this band on KEXP, one of my favorite radio stations. A song, I think, about the daily grind for working for a living and the toll it takes not only on the wage earner, but on his/her loved ones as well.

27.  Fell In Love by The Pollies.

"Fell in love with the one I love
When she's starin' back at me.
Fell in love with the one I love
And now she gives her love to me."

The Pollies were high on this list a few years ago with the politically charged "Jackson."  "Fell In Love" is less dramatic as far as subject matter goes, but certainly not as far as musicianship goes. 

28.  Give Yourself A Try by The 1975.

"And what would you say to your younger self?
Growing a beard's quite hard
And whiskey never starts to taste nice
And you'll make a lot of money, and it's funny
'Cause you'll move somewhere sunny and get addicted to drugs
And spend obscene amounts on f**king seeds and beans online."

A sneaking feeling that The 1975 are becoming (or at least trying to become) this generation's The Beatles.  Ambition is sometimes a bad thing, but for me not in this instance.

29.  better off by Sjowgren.

"I'm down low and I'm nothing without you
I'm better off to stay, I'm better off to say
I'm better off with you."

Kind of a love song, kind of a regretful "I can't help but be in love with you" song.  Sjowgren has appeared several times before on the list, but each time they've given a little more of a hint of who they might actually be.  I'm fine with the mystery, as long as they keep making great music.

30.  Plimsoll Punks by Alvvays.

"When I chip through your candy coating
You're stuffed with insulation
Just strawberry ice cream floating
With a sprinkle of indignation."

Yes, Alvvays (pronounced, of course, Always).  Saw them when they opened for The Decemberists a few years back.  They sound like an '80's girl group (The Go-Go's?), but with better musicianship (including a fuzzy grunge guitar) and much sharper lyrics.

31.  Call It Dreaming by Iron & Wine.

"'Cause the sun isn't only sinking fast
Every moon and our bodies make shining glass
Where the time of our lives is all we have
And we get a chance to say
Before we ease away
For all the love you've left behind
You can have mine."

Finally!  An honest-to-gosh love song instead of a broken love song.  Also saw Iron & Wine, many moons ago now, and frontman Sam Beam appeared to be trying to turn them into a "jam band" (I believe my line at the time was "trying to be another Phish - don't bite").  Nice to see him back to doing what he does best.

32.  Quarter Past Midnight by Bastille.

"We keep on running
Running through a red light
Like we're trying to burn the night away
Away-way, oh, away-way oh
Why are we always chasing after something
Like we trying to throw our lives away?
Away-way, oh, away-way oh."

Dan Smith, Bastille's lead singer, has a great voice.  And if you're a list regular, you know that I'm a sucker for big choruses.

33.  Everybody Lost Somebody by Bleachers.

"I waited 'til the night was over
Cursed the sun for coming up all over
Cashed the checks I had, I didn't own
Standing on the corner, God I wonder when
I'll give myself a break (hey)."

The winner in Facebook voting for this year's number 33 song. It appears that in this song our boy Jack Antonoff is beating himself up, instead of allowing others to do it as seems to be a frequent theme in Bleachers' videos.

So that's it -- the first 11 songs from my favorites of 2018.  Stay tuned for the next 22.  And while you're waiting for the next installment, hug someone you love.  For me, and for Scott.