Friday, January 08, 2016

2015: My year in music

It's that time again folks!  I don't have a really long introduction to the music this year like in previous years.  I'm just excited to share with you the songs that have been making the rounds in my ears over the last 12 months.  I would love to hear your songs of 2015 and what's been meaningful to you, so if you're keeping a list, would you share it with me? I would love to hear it.

Here's mine.

Songs that just sound cool

  1. Entropy - Grimes/Bleachers      
    First heard this track on an episode of "Girls" and loved it.  2015 was a year for very distinct female vocals.  Grimes is one among 4 on this list of 7 tracks.  I like Jack Antonoff a lot as well, and his producing is behind a lot of songs I liked this year.    
  2. Fade Away - Susanne Sundfør
    Another beautiful voice.  It's so clear and pure. My favorite part of the song though is the retro microwave "ding" in the middle of the song. 
  3. The Bells - Lowell
    It's so pretty! I love that little voice that asks for a beat at the beginning and then when it comes in it gives those ringing tones an edge.  It's an unexpected juxtaposition that turns out very well. "Hey, where'd the beat go?" 
  4. 2 Time - Architecture in Helsinki
    I really got into this band this year. Every time I listened to them it was a dance party - in my car, in my apartment, at work, anywhere.  Unstoppable.  
  5. Alligator Years - Twinsmith
    The loose guitar riffs in the middle of the verses and the throwback sound made this one of my most listened to songs this year. It's got a playful sound to it. 
  6. Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat - Beck
    One of three amazing covers I came across this year.  The original is my favorite off Blonde on Blonde and Beck does a fantastic job with this reboot.  
The Motorcycle Diaries 
  1. Downtown - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
    Another incredible music video and more hilarious lyrics from this irrepressible duo.  This almost made me want to trade in my motorcycle for a moped.  (Well... no, not really). 
  2. Bad Betty - The Sonics
    It's about a woman who rides a Bonneville, which is a Triumph bike, which just happens to be the make I have.  My bike's name is Lucy, in case you were wondering.  
  3. 80's Mercedes - Maren Morris 
    In October of this year, I replaced my beloved 2002 Golf with a newer model GTI.  Its peppy engine, responsive acceleration and nimble handling make me feel like a million dollars every time I get behind the wheel.  It's not a classic car but it does make me feel "ready to roll". My new car's name is Lola.  Lucy and Lola are an indomitable duo and these tracks are dedicated to them and the untold miles we will ride together in the coming years. 
  1. Hold On - Alabama Shakes
    One of my best concert moments this year was in a light rain on the Jersey Shore on an evening in early June which was unseasonably cool.  Brittany Howard was on stage in a fantastic pink dress making her guitar emote and singing her heart out.  The purple lights shone in the mist coming down on us and we swayed and held on with Brittany as she told us of her conviction that there "must be someone up above" telling her to keep going.  
  2. Photograph - Ed Sheeran
    It started with my trip to Iceland in February. X was basically the soundtrack for the whole trip for me.  I know this album is over a year old but 2015 was the year I got into it.  I got to see Ed in concert in September and there was a transcendent moment during this song. He looped his voice over and over in woven harmonies that were unbelievably beautiful.  I found the YouTube video of the song from the show I went to and watched it hoping to relive a little of what it was like, but it was a faint, muddy echo of what I heard live. Time stopped and it felt like forever that I was hearing those heavenly voices singing together.  
  3. Loch Lomond (Traditional)- Arr. Ralph Vaughn Williams, Performed by Chanticleer This year I was lucky enough to go to this very loch in Scotland.  I had the song queued up in anticipation for my first glimpse of it.  I pushed play when it came into view and it was the exact musical moment I was hoping to create.  The gorgeous snow-capped Trossachs and lakes resting in between with this song playing as I drove the shore road were some of my more magical moments of 2015. 
Deeper Dive
  1. Drive All Night - Glen Hansard (ft. Eddie Vedder and Jake Clemons)
    While the original Springsteen song is just as achingly beautiful as this, something about the sax solo and Hansard's voice send this over the top.  I love both versions equally but just could not stop listening to this.  Did I mention the sax solos? Oh man.  
  2. The Beigeness - Kate Tempest Socially conscious hip hop from an English girl who has a cherubic face and a heart on fire with justice, pain and hope.  I like her usage of the word "Beigeness" and her disdain for it.  Life should be full of color. 
  3. Between Me and You - Brandon Flowers
    A song about struggle and questioning the reason for the struggle. I think his sentiments carry weight and a relatability accessible by many.  
  4. It's All Just Pretend - Ivan and Alyosha
    Kind of like Mr. Flowers above, these guys are writing about the struggle to be happy and that happiness is basically just pretend, this side of paradise.  "Never trust that man whose been smilin' all his life, his fears will catch up in the end".  I think they are saying that there are things to be afraid of and that's okay because if you are pretending they aren't there, that's not authentic. The older I get the more I see both the darkness and the light and this song does a great job of talking about recognizing but not being defeated by fear. 
  5. Story of an Immigrant - Civil Twilight
    Little bro has been campaigning for this band for a long time.  Their show I attended this year wasn't well attended but their album translated well live.  The more I listened to it after the show, the more I liked it.  This is one of my favorite cuts off the album.  I like the strong percussion and the refrain of "ready to begin".  I feel like it's a song about surrender and giving over to a larger path that you know is there but is somewhat unclear.  That is a sentiment that defined a large part of this year for me.  
The Wince
  1.  Wildfire - Scavenger Hunt
    As I scanned back through my memories of old flames (which I did an awful lot in 2015 and spent lots of time doing this), this song seems to capture what that feeling is like. It talks about how quickly and hot it burns, and how that's fun, but there's a knowing edge to it. I am thankful to look back on all of those memories through the lens of Grace All-Sufficient. 
  2. Pierre - Ryn Weaver
    "Still we had some fun 'til I came to".  I love that line.  Sounds like a few of my relationships.  I like how she's looking back over this catalogue of people she has known and seeing the fun parts, but also the bad parts and knowing she was always waiting for something better. 
  3. Exeunt - The Oh Hellos
    This song says goodbye to all those old affairs and alluring charms of days and people past.  It takes a positing of strength against them and even calls it, my love, an opiate, wine.  All these things that are seemingly good and give good feelings but can be so destructive too.  Brilliant song and the exact sentiment I had to come to terms with in saying goodbyes to all those people that have been in my life over the years.  No more wincing.  "Even when you hunt me...I have set my mind and my will: I am leaving."
The Theme of My Song

Don't You Want to Thank Someone for This - Andrew Peterson
There were probably three or four months this year when I couldn't start my day without listening to this song.  Its words stay with me as a prayer and a reminder to always look for God everywhere in gratitude.  It's 10 minutes long and I'm always sad when it's over.  It tells the story of why we need redemption and why there can be beauty in a fallen world, and how we can still be grateful for all of it.  

  1. Make Some Room - The Suffers
    Soulful and smooth, I love pretty much everything about how this song sounds. 
  2. Three Women - Jack White (adaptation of Three Women Blues by Blind Willie McTell)
    Admittedly not the best subject matter, but I'll be damned if this song doesn't completely take me over every time I hear it (especially the moment that happens at 3:26... wait for it).  Such swagger, so raw.  This song is the equivalent of the guy from the wrong side of the tracks that you can't help but have a major crush on. 
  3. Gooey - Glass Animals
    Sexiest song of the year for me (though released in 2014). It barely beat out Jack White for this coveted award. It's nonsensical and weird, and sounds (to me) like what a lava lamp looks like.  

Saturday, January 02, 2016

My Favorite Albums of 2015

This year, it felt important to do a separate post for just the albums of 2015 that occupied my thoughts.  There were a few that were released that were complete works- truly had a story arch or a clear narrative, and to publish the songs off the albums in my year-end list without the rest of the album as context felt wrong.  And there were just a few albums I needed to recognize as complete works, with no particular stand out songs on them for the regular year-end list but the album as a whole being the more impactful piece for 2015.

I hope you will enjoy these selections.

Hans Zimmer - Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
It is very rare for an original score in a movie to catch  my attention but this score was so good it almost distracted me from the movie (which I thought was amazing!).  I cannot get over the organ.  I read a bunch of interviews about the soundtrack and Hans Zimmer says he used the organ because at one time, the organ was considered the most scientifically advanced piece of machinery ever.  This soundtrack has made me weep this year simply because of its beauty and power and mystery. Favorite Track: "Detach"

The Lone Bellow - Then Came the Morning
I got to see this band twice this year and both times, in very different settings, they knocked my socks off.  This album is so beautiful, start to finish.  Full of great stories, beautiful harmonies, and powerful, heart-swelling songs, I haven't stopped listening to it since it came out 11 months ago. Favorite track: If you hold a gun to my head... "Fake Roses"

Seryn - Shadow Shows
When I went to their show in April it was the start of a very tumultuous three months.  But they continue to be one of the most exciting and uplifting live music acts around.  I hate the idea of them getting so big their shows no longer fit in weird back rooms of clubs in DC, but I also want their soaring music to reach the masses that I think need to hear it.  I can't wait for their next album. Favorite Track: "The Fire"

Taylor Swift - 1989
Because no person on planet earth was not affected by this ubiquitous album or TaySway herself in some fashion this year.  After much cajoling from my friend Sarah, I finally got into her music this year and, I have to tell ya, it's pretty good.  She is a great songwriter already and has some of the best in the biz making her songs even better in production.  And even if I hated her music, I would still like her because listening to her music has opened the door to conversations and new bonding with people in my life, both strangers and friends.  The second best thing about this album is the covers it inspired, first an entire album from Ryan Adams and then a single-song direct response from Father John Misty which kills me every time I listen to it. Favorite track: "Style" or "Out of the Woods" (pre- seeing the music video)

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell
This is on everyone's best of 2015 list.  Once again, this weird genius creates a study of death in musical form that interweaves religious musings, true and profound statements human existence, and his gorgeous layered sound that is quiet and yet rings so loudly.  I may not have put this on my year-end album list though if I hadn't seen him perform the whole thing live.  He played a show in Baltimore and he didn't introduce himself or say any words at all, he just started playing the album and didn't stop at all until they played the whole thing through.  Behind him were beautiful images, art and lighting effects that highlighted several themes of the album. It was sort of like watching a play.  It was a very meaningful show. Sufjan also has trouble with himself when he's not singing or playing an instrument on stage.  He does these strange dance moves that I don't think he can help himself from doing in the in-between times.  Goes to show that, even if you front a band and are a genius, you can still be awkward. Favorite Track: Should Have Known Better

Jon Foreman - The Wonderlands: ShadowsSunlight, DarknessDawn
Jon released these albums over the course of 2015 and one of the themes I became very aware of this year was darkness and light occupying the same space, good and evil, sin and redemption.  I think this set of four EPs does an amazing job of exploring those themes.  Jon's voice isn't my favorite but I love the content he explores and some of the songs fit his voice perfectly.  He's been cranking out really great musical project exploring other themes too, like the four seasons, and I appreciate his creative vision for these projects. Favorite Tracks: "She Said", "Run Free", "Your Love is Enough", "You Don't Know How Beautiful You Are".  (I decided I get to pick one from each EP)

Paul Simon - Graceland
I've long danced around this album.  I've heard a few songs off it, sure, and heard lots more about its critical acclaim and innovation, but this year I finally took the time to really listen to it. Mostly because my older brother loves it so much. I listened to some of Simon's commentary on how this album came about and was fascinated by the creative process he went through to arrive at the finished product.  I also just love love love the sounds on this album. he said he recorded half of it in South Africa and half of it in Louisiana and you can hear the zydeco on it as well as the the traditional "gumboots" sound of South Africa.  It's an astounding album.  It's probably in my top ten of all time now. Favorite Track: "Under African Skies"

Dawes - All Your Favorite Bands
Saw these guys twice in 2015 and completely loved their new stuff.  This album is just as good musically and lyrically as their others.  They haven't deviated from their sound but it's never boring and Taylor Goldsmith's lyrics just seem to get better the more life he lives.  And those guitar solos? Keep 'em coming, boys. Favorite Track: "Somewhere Along the Way"

The Oh Hellos - Dear Wormwood
One of my most anticipated releases of 2015.  Another album that is a complete thought - a conversation between tormentor and tormentee with a beginning and and end.  In many ways it continues and improves upon themes from their last full studio album - Through the Deep Dark Valley. I love them because they speak so candidly about the initial sweetness of sin, the alluring danger of darkness, of the remorse on the other side, and the beautiful hope we have in conquering sin once and for all.  Maggie and Tyler Heath are some of the best songwriters out there these days, IMHO. Favorite Track: All of them.  I pick all of them.

Kurt Vile - b'lieve i'm goin' down...
Just listen to the lyrics.  This guy is a brilliant songwriter.  Simple production and stripped down lyrics make this album incredibly compelling in an unassuming way. His music feels to me like taking a leisurely stroll through his head and seeing what's really there.  It's sort of leisurely and even, and the way he speak-sings a little bit, in the style of Lou Reed and Bob Dylan. Favorite Track: "Wheelhouse"

Belle and Sebastien - Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
Just because if they release something, it will probably be among my favorites for the year. You have to find the right moment to listen to this band, but when you do, it's oh so right.  For me, it's early morning car rides (preferably in spring with the windows down) with sun breaking in through my windows or cool calm evenings at home while cooking dinner. They always give me something to chew on with their songs and I love them for that. Favorite Track: "Ever Had a Little Faith?"

Jukebox the Ghost - Jukebox the Ghost
I've been listening to these guys since 2010 and it seems they have really found a groove here.  I remember loving Something Corporate/Jack's Mannequin because they billed themselves as "piano rock".  This group came together in DC (their GW alums) and Ben Thornewill's voice and piano skills are not to be missed. I love their clever lyrics and I think they say some true things.  They're funny too.  Just listen to the song "Hollywood".  It's all there.

Honorable Mention -
Stereophonics - Keep the Village Alive
Bronze Radio Return - Light Me Up
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats - Eponymous
Eagle Rock Gospel Singers - Heavenly Fire
John Mark McMillan - Borderland

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