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Jason Isbell

9/9/16

I love this new song from Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, a rare co-write between the married musicians, according to an interview with American Songwriter.

The song was born from a scrapped film but it’s inherently beautiful and full of story even without that context — it’s a little less specific than some of Isbell’s own work, but the melody is as full they come. It’s a gentle, sad song, and it shows the strength found in lyrical in repetition — notice how Shires’ change in harmony stands out on the “close your eyes” line the third time through. The last line is a real heartbreaker, just like the wailing fiddle.  A perfect match, if you believe in such things.

“On the wind I heard you call my name…”
~The Color of a Cloudy Day
Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires

3/2/16

Seeing Jason Isbell perform for the second time tonight. I almost didn’t buy tickets – stupid, I know! – in an attempt to be fiscally responsible and see if any freebies or friend offers came may way. But last night, with neither of those plausible chances coming to fruition, I made sure to secure myself a seat and I’ll be there in six hours or so, on the third deck of the Benedum Center balcony, so I can hear the genius Isbell and beautiful Amanda Shires play the highlights.

There’s a 110 percent chance I’m leaving in tears, the quiet, hot kind that you try to hide but can’t stop because you’d rather feel through your emotion than lock it up for the sake of saving face. Something about his songs – both melodies and words – cuts to the quick of what moving songs are supposed to do. He can channel the heartfelt without overplaying its effect. He can evoke memories you never knew you had. Few artists in this wide open music scene have the literary way with words that has made Isbell’s records such a classic —

“I’ll throw rocks at your window from the street
And we’ll call ourselves the flagship of the fleet.”
~Flagship 

Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

–not to mention the things he can do to a guitar, extending solos into mini-epics, playing each note a little clearer, a little truer, a little longer than the last. Hearing him for a couple hours tonight promises a respite from the rest of the world, just as it was last February, just as his albums from my speakers provide the most solid soundtrack, appealing to the better parts of my taste and humanity.

“It’s a strange thing to write a love song,” he said during a live session on WYEP today.

Strange, but beautiful.

1/3/2016

It’s that time of year again.

The beginning. Which also means the end.

I’m particularly at ease as I sit down to write this list this year. It’s the kind of thing that’s an annual source of self-inflicted stress. While the AOTY list is a list that anyone who fancies themselves any kind of music “expert” or “critic” must be able to accomplish, I dread the work that it requires to reflect, write, compile. This year, though, it wasn’t hard to find a free moment and begin typing. I knew most of this in my head, I had considered it several weeks before when I knew January was creeping closer. I kept a running Post-It list and refreshed my ears with a Spotify playlist. And I’m excited to put it out there, all this music that has meant so much to me.

2015, perhaps more than any other year in my adulthood, carried more emotional trials than I could have anticipated. I dealt with heartbreaks I could not predict. I faced fears I had been running from since I was an adolescent. I let people in. I let go. I ran farther, wrote faster and kissed harder than ever before. I gave up bad habits and picked up better ones, and I picked myself off the floor. I found surrender, I found self-love, I found the freedom and lightness a human can attain when you break your mind out of the fences of expectation, and now it is 2016, and I find myself still fighting for all of this, but with degrees of anticipation and confidence and the good kind of nerves, and I am encouraged. Most people reading this do not know most things about me; most people do not know most things about anyone, least of all strangers on the Internet, but if you are reading these words right now you can probably gather that that my lifeline (as it is maybe for you too) through all of this in life is music.

10) If I Should Go Before You – City and Colour


A late-year release that continues to captivate me, I didn’t fully realize the brilliance of these songs until I had the chance to hear them live. And then I heard what I should’ve the first time – sweeping, elegant rock songs, with a timeless, bluesy feel, and Dallas Green’s sorrowful interpretations of life and love. From the opening bars of the dark, groovy “Woman,” you can tell this a record that uses the best of ingredients in the rock band pantry – heavy rhythm section, masterful solos, top notch vocals and hook-filled choruses. But mostly what I love about this record is how the sentimentality still steals the show.

Bound for trouble from the start
I’ve been walking through this old world in the dark
All along right by my side
There you were shining, my ray of light 

~Lover Come Back

9) Permanence – No Devotion


When the day started to drag, when the week started to feel dull, this was the record to play to pick it up again. An indie favorite among a certain post-emo scene, the kind who might still care who Geoff Rickly is, the No Devotion record encapsulates a sound that’s both reminiscent of a past era and somehow still trendy, walking one of my favorite lines. I love how synth-pop permeates the guitar parts, how new wave that sound is, matched with dark chords and stirring harmonies at the high-end of Rickly’s vocal range. This record surprised me by how much I liked it, how fun it was to listen to, and also how unseen it was given its overall depth compared to acts in the same kind of genre. 

Ten thousand summers
Cannot replace what we lost when you went away
Ten thousand summers
In the grass
And though it’s getting dark
Remember this will pass

~10,000 Summers

8)Carrie and Lowell – Sufjan Stevens


So many Sufjan fans fell by the wayside when his grand plans for a 50-album, 50-state spree stopped after two, myself included, as “The Age of Ads” and his BQE tribute didn’t seem to have the same heart. But Stevens’ musical brilliance, and poetic truths, shone through this year in the most surprisingly stunning ballad collection, a heartfelt, intimate tribute the love and loss and pain and quiet, awkward, awesome moments that make up family. It’s just too beautiful. When I listen to this record, I feel like it’s OK to be curious and shy and passionate about the ones you love.

Do I care if I survive this, bury the dead where they’re found
In a veil of great surprises; hold to my head till I drown
Should I tear my eyes out now, before I see too much?
Should I tear my arms out now, I wanna feel your touch

~The Only Thing
7) Run Wild – Lydia

Another one that really surprised me by how much I wound up listening to it. Lydia was a band I got into purely by Pandora association, despite knowing they lurked somewhere in the mid-aughts emo scene I’m so fond of. Choosing to get into them shortly before this release was somewhat serendipitous but also somewhat misleading – the Lydia that existed 10 years ago isn’t the one that put out this radio-friendly, poptastic, shimmering party serenade. But I love it, oh how I love it, from the stammering chorus of “Follow You Down” to the wide-eyed dance rhythms of “Late Nights.” Something about this record set the tone for a light and breezy ride, no matter how dark and heavy I felt, no matter where I was going.

I don’t want to keep your heartache
And I don’t want to feel your ghost
And I don’t even know where we will go
Yeah, I’m just trying to make it home

~Late Nights

6) Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves


There’s so much to love about this record, which is one of the sweetest, funniest, smartest offerings country music had to offer in 2015 and one of my favorite morning sing-a-longs. Kacey Musgraves has a strong wit, sharp tongue and killer voice, wrapped in an aw-shucks-stoner attitude that makes her songs so original and listenable and just overall delightful. Her take on gossipy neighbors and nosy friends shows a mature mindfulness that you’re more likely to read about on yogi websites than hear about in a country song, setting her apart from the usual heartbreak heroines. Musgraves is only two albums in but she’s only getting better – and more sure of herself, too, if the “Dime Store Cowgirl” anthem holds up.

I ain’t exactly Ms. Congenial
Sometimes I talk before I think,

I try to fake it but I can’t
I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t

~Pageant Material

5) Peripheral Vision – Turnover


If ever there was a darker, dreamier record this past year, I hadn’t heard it. Turnover came out of nowhere, relatively, to put out one of the most outstanding LPs in the alt-indie scene, one that cut through stereotypes of bands in the genre and threw down a new standard for moody yet upbeat tracks. This record soundtracked many a lonely night, injecting a shot of needy hopelessness right when it was needed, but in the most melodic fashion. There’s a depth in production here that creates a really full sound, but still lets you pick out the guitar parts. So much delay!! And so cohesive, which is why I think it was so easy to listen to time and time again. “Peripheral Vision” is a tribute to the complications and anxieties in relationships, the kind that we all wish we could avoid, but if this is where the stumbles gets you, maybe it’s worth learning your way through.

Would you come here and spin with me?
I’ve been dying to get you dizzy,
Find a way up into your head
So I can make you feel like new again

~Dizzy on the Comedown

4) American Candy – The Maine


This one really sneaked up on me. I had never listened to The Maine before “American Candy.” What I discovered was the purest pop rock I’d heard since radio-friendly All-American Rejects tracks in high school, excellent parts and succinct playing. A perfect balance between light and dark, this record grapples with issues of anxiety and self-consciousness and stereotype better than any I’ve heard in ages, without being too obviously “fuck-the-man.” Why it’s not on other top 10s, I cannot say. Something this well-executed ought to be recognized – there isn’t a bad track on this record, and it never left my rotation since it came out in the first quarter of the year. In a scene jam-packed with releases, that’s not nothing.

Sometimes I feel as though I’m going mad when
I get a touch of saccharine on my lips
I hate the taste on my tongue too damn sweet
I don’t fancy american candy, american candy

~American Candy

3) Something More Than Free – Jason Isbell


This record contains my favorite song of the year, the one that I played on repeat the most, with the chorus that still brings tears to my eyes. I was so obsessed with this record when it came out, and while I listen to it less in full, I still think it’s one of the best showings of the year, with every track showing how timeless and tireless Jason Isbell’s sound is. While his breakthrough on “Southeastern” gave us all a taste of what he is capable of as a songwriter and introduced us to his own personal angels and demons, “Something More Than Free” gives us more of a look into how he sees the world and what matters in, things like working hard and loving true.

“You thought God was an architect, now you know
He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow
And everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames
In 24 frames”

~24 Frames

2) Astoria – Marianas Trench


The top two were really hard for me this year to balance out, because they both hit me in the gut. So consider this almost a tie…and consider them both the kind that lived up to high expectations. Marianas Trench may not be a well-known act in most music circles, and that might be the biggest oversight in critical estimations. I think Josh Ramsay is a brilliant modern pop composer and if you disagree, I guess you’ve never heard a little song called “Call Me Maybe.” He is a production master – and he shines brightest in his own band, Marianas Trench, who write epic after epic after epic. This one might their strongest yet – clearly 80s inspired, and clearly heavy on the drama. But it’s tight as hell when it comes to hooks. How “One Love” isn’t tearing up the radio stations, I don’t know. In the past month or so since I bought this record I’ve listened to it almost every day, and it only gets better. It only cuts deeper. “Astoria” makes me smile, it makes me cry, it gives me shelter, it makes me a fighter. If ever there was a band that proved pop music as a genre exists beyond what’s on the charts, it’s Marianas Trench, and if there was any rock album in 2015 that lifted my heart to places I didn’t think it could still reach, it was “Astoria.”

“Don’t remind me what the price is when left to my own devices
‘Cause I’ll find out in all due time what happens to never say die”

~Astoria
 

1) No Closer to Heaven – The Wonder Years


When “The Greatest Generation” came out in 2013, I couldn’t help but think that this big-sounding, on-the-rise rock band from Philadelphia, my favorite active artist, had the makings of a voice of a generation. When “No Closer to Heaven” dropped this year, I knew that inkling was spot-on. Dan Campbell has turned his musings outward, and this record finds pondering the sick, sad world around us as much as his own place in it. The band followed its strengths with this record, and they’ve wound up with some of their best-ever songs, like “Cigarettes and Saints” and “Stained Glass Ceilings.” This is not a record for the faint of heart, as it has its fair share of thrashing and screaming, as well as some disturbed imagery, from car crashes to drug overdoses to gun violence. But in this aggression is a ferocious heart, one that refuses to quit, colored by drum rhythms for days and dueling guitar solos. To me, this is the essential combination for punk rock – an American critique offered by the minstrels of its lower middle class, and loud-as-fuck playing. But there’s something else that that phrase “punk rock” doesn’t quite capture, and that’s literary-level vocabulary, narrative-style scene setting and that particular brand of maturity that only comes from traveling to mental depths so low, and so dark, and surviving them. No one does it quite like The Wonder Years does, and no band ever will.

This god damn machine; hungry and heartless.
My whole generation got lost in the margin.
We put our faith in you. You turned a profit.
Now we’re drowning here under your waves.

~Cigarettes and Saints

Honorable mentions, for lack of enough listening to properly rank:
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett
Vitals – MuteMath
Traveler – Chris Stapleton
All Your Favorite Bands – Dawes
Dealer – Foxing
1989 -Ryan Adams (listened a lot, but didn’t feel quite right to rank. Best cover album of all time, tho, for sure.)

Past years:
2014
2013
2012
2011

7/12/15



“And I don’t think on why I’m here where it hurts
I’m just lucky to have the work
Sunday morning I’m too tired to go to church
But I thank God for the work.”

~Something More Than Free
Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

I feel like I don’t yet have the words or links to properly explain how incredible and memorable the new Jason Isbell record is, but I am going to briefly try. I haven’t stopped listening to the NPR stream and can’t wait for the 17th when it gets released so I can play it with me all the time.  I didn’t even want to leave my house earlier this afternoon, because I couldn’t play it in the car. It’s patient, lush and heavy, sad and reflective and profound. My favorite song changes each listen. Right now it’s “Life You Chose.”

Each song is a story, and what an incredible storyteller he is. I could not be more satisfied by this record as a fan, and I could not be more impressed and inspired a writer. This record also has a lot more guitar solos and full band compositional moments than “Southeastern,” it feels like, with choices made in keeping with the whole scope of the song, and you the listener can just get lost in how well it all comes together. The overall vibe is still his brand of folksy Americana, with classic-sounding melodies, fluid twang and hushed tones – it is warm, it is cool, it is supple and resilient.

 Lyrically, Isbell is a modern master of the craft. He cuts to the heart of the it every time, whether it is love or regret or self-satisfaction, with just enough detail to give every feeling its corresponding setting. The chorus in “24 Frames” is still the greatest thing I’ve heard all year. The first verse of “Flagship” is so devastating and,perfect, not to mention the hopeful rescue of the chorus; the whole song has so much resolve and that soft, billowing organ accompaniment is sheer, subtle brilliance. I love this record. I am so glad it’s here. I needed it, in the way you sometimes need something completely new and outside yourself to dig into and and hold onto and get lost in. Helps you get by. This is all I can say, as words so often fail to do justice to the greatest things we hold. But, as Isbell shows us time and time again, what a glorious thing it is to try.

5/3/15

“You thought God was an architect
Now you know
He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow,
and everything you built that’s all for show
goes up in flames
in 24 frames.”

~24 Frames
Jason Isbell, 
Something More Than Free

I knew when I woke up this morning Jason Isbell would be releasing new music this July. I did not think I would get the gift of a new song that same afternoon.

He tweeted out a single, and I saw it, so I played it, and I cried at my desk when the chorus kicked in because I am so struck by his ability to capture difficult feelings so succintly.

This song is kind of perfect. It’s structured so simply, lyrically and melodically, and yet it sinks into the darkest places of hearts and minds, somehow without caving to them. Life is sort of like that, sad but ever-moving, incredibly deep and layered in meaning, but simple when taken as a whole. Isbell writes about life, all his imagined ballads, all his confessionals, all his stories woven from feelings of love and loss and longing, it’s all just life, and I do believe he is among the best of modern musicians because of this.

Earlier this year, I saw him in concert for the first time. Hopefully not the last, because it was mesmerizing. He played almost all of “Southeastern,” it felt like, plus the best of the DBT tracks (“Decoration Day,” “Goddamn Lonely Love,” “Danko/Manuel,’ “Outift”) and soloed for bars upon bars upon bars with a natural fluidity and masterful precision. He is never too much, but he is never too sparse. I could listen to him sing for hours. I kept meaning to write about that concert, this magical few hours where the world sort of stopped spinning, but I figured I’d just sell it short. I do know I would love to see him again, as soon as possible, and that mid-July can’t come soon enough.

I tried to be still tonight. I tried to be still after a 12-hour day, and never enough sleep,and preoccupied worries of the friends I didn’t call and the bills I’ve yet to pay and the frustrations of my own limitations and faulty connections. I tried to be still and I couldn’t, so I just listened to this until I felt clear enough to at least focus my kinetic energy into something worthwhile.

(EDIT: This is my 600th published post on this here blog. I like that number).

1/8/14

What is it about the end that makes you want to go back to the beginning?

Maybe it’s just me, but the end of 2013 seemed to bring more than usual flurry of lists. Too many rankings. Too much specificity – the top 10 albums commercially released, the top 10 albums you probably didn’t hear, the top 10 songs, top 10 tours…music criticism has evolved(devolved) into a competition for all-encompassing coolness, or maybe it always was. As someone who truly believes the best music is whatever you find you’re looking for it, I tend to have a difficult time sitting down and compiling these lists.

And yet, I have, time and time again.  I try to go by what I loved the most, what spoke to me, rather than what is the most acclaimed or groundbreaking. This list comes with all the usual prefaces, that I probably could sit here for days rearranging the order of the pack, that I am probably forgetting some, that some are way stronger than others, that staying power will really prove me right or wrong….but honestly, this was a great year for music, and I loved how inspired I was by so many new songs, sounds and artists.

10) RVIVR- The Beauty Between 
This album was a late year discovery for me, and it came in just in time. I caught their song, “Paper Thin” on NPR’s best of the year list, and stopped everything I was doing to find out who it was. I could see how some might be misled by band name – not another one of those all-caps, weird-spelling things I don’t know how to pronounce! No! But oh, how little I cared when I heard how kick-ass their record was. A rather lengthy LP of short little punches of punk rock to the throat topped up with a multi-song themed suite, all with just-right, good-enough screamed/shouted/sung harmonies, and clean, fast and furious guitar solos fueling my jealousy and drive to pick it up and plug in and yell my head off, Completely hooked on everything about it, this album is the one of the few my ears heard this year deserving of the phrase punk as fuck.

“Okay, I touch the ground/Send my roots deep down
When it gets too loud

It’s like a wrong way on a one way street
Promise to myself that I just don’t keep
You can hate me now/But I’ll stick around
Don’t fit, full of shit, struggle with identity
Try to find me.”

~Wrong Way/One Way
9) Mansions – Doom Loop
If you haven’t called Mansions a breakout band from their debut LP, “Doom Loop” should’ve done it for you. Anyone looking for proof that great rock musicians still exist need to look no further than this record, which was fairly cemented in my morning rotation. Sounds so good on speakers, loud and clear and content. I love how guitar-driven these songs are, I love the classic setup, I love how verbose the lyrics are and how unafraid of the dark the themes are, no matter how coherent the chords. A heavy, hearty sophomore effort from a band that, in 2013, found a solid place in my stereo.

“you’re out for blood in the older south
picture yourself in your dad’s old house, alright
the doors are locked and you can’t see straight
you’re lost for good in that pitch black state, alright
go on and hunt me down
it’s way too late to turn back now.

i don’t hear it when you whisper in your sleep
but every morning it’s just waiting there for me
i got this feeling i can’t shake
i got this broken heart that i just can’t set straight

no I can’t get away.”
~Out for Blood

8) letlive. -The Blackest Beautiful
I still haven’t let go of this record. It’s as fierce and fresh as the first time I played it, on a night’s drive back home from a friend’s when I felt alone and pissed off at the world. It became a car record, then a working out playlist, and now it’s just my entry into letlive., one of those bands that proves modern hardcore isn’t just a bunch of skinny kids with skinny pants and skinny hair, that it’s founded in the roots of metal: angry riffs and blood-curdling screams and being pissed off at the world. And yet, they find hooks, groovy moments reminiscent of metal bands before they were unintelligible, and the blend is as delightful of one as a listener as fickle and frustrated  as me could hope to find. Plus they toured with Every Time I Die. Long live letlive.


“Taxi drive me to the endLet the meter run into the digits I can’t spend
The you’ll drive me to the edge
I’ll stand upon the precipice and jump to pay my debt…goodbye”

~Virgin Dirt

7) Touche Amore – Is Survived By…
Someone said to me this year, “You like 16-year-old girl metal.” That may be true, and I’m taking it as a compliment. I spent more time going to metal shows this year than any other genre, fueled in part by a 10-day jaunt in a van on a DYI tour, but it opened by eyes to what scenes today look like, sound like, feel like, and I liked it. I don’t blog about metal a lot, because I like to blog abotu songs with lyrics I really relate to and I don’t really listen to metal for the lyrics….but that is not the case with Touche Amore. They’re all about the poetry, they’re all about pushing the words out there and then raining down on them with layers upon layers of heavy, astmospheric sound. This record hooked me as soon as I streamed it, so full of questioning and legacy and daring in the face doubt. This song in particular fueled me on many a cold, confused day’s drive.

“Does this mean that the words won’t come?
Does this mean that I’m at my end? If my joy
comes with the price of my love, I won’t pay if
I have to pretend. There’s always a chance to
relapse and fall back to the person I still fear
is there. So if this ink will suddenly run out,
I’ll refill if I feel the need to share.”

~To Write Content
6) Daft Punk- Random Access Memories
I loved this album. I still love it. I play it when I happy, I play it when I am sad, I play it when my iPod has died and I forgot my charger and it happens to be in the disc changer, so I may as well listen to the whole thing through. Music is supposed to make you feel things, and Daft Punk knows how to do this without the listener any the wiser. This is not an album you simply take in, this is an album you have a conversation with, it speaks to you, provokes you. I’m not even sure what you call Daft Punk nowadays are far as genre goes, but I would not hesitate one moment to call them artists, especially when you hear about how much time, effort, and attention to detail went into this record. Complete pros. Kudos for showing them all how it’s done.

“And we will never be alone again/’Cause it doesn’t happen every day
Kinda counted on you being a friend/Can I give it up or give it away
Now I thought about what I wanna say/But I never really know where to go
So I chained myself to a friend/’Cause I know it unlocks like a door.”

~Instant Crush

5) The 1975 – The 1975
Fun, sexy, smart, bold – what to say about The 1975 that someone more well-versed than me hasn’t said? This album soundtracked my summer, poolside with friends, curling my hair before heading out, hitting the gym hard, cleaning my apartment and letting the sun stream in the ceiling-high windows. From “Money” to “Robbers” the spitfire attitude of this album is rebellious, and yet contemplative enough to be hip, instrumentally, it’s so *now* it’s maybe a little ahead of its time, it just might be the pop of the future. I  love how well they use simple parts on real instrumentals, occasionally dressing it up with some synth tones and interludes. It’s hard to see why this record was passed up on so many other album of the year lists (leaving me to believe a lot of people paid to write about music have no idea what the hell they’re talking about and let the accepted trends speak for them). I’ll always associate this band with 2013, where life outside of work was spent adventuring and experiencing, curious and excited about the new ways to play in my new-found adult life while still ever-so-slightly keeping a finger on the pulse of the youthful past I’m not quite ready to surrender.

“And don’t call it a spade if it isn’t a spade.
And go lie on the floor if you want.
The first bit of advice that you gave me that I liked was they’re too strong, too strong.
Get in the shower if it all goes wrong.
Yeah, If you wanna find love then you know where the city is.”

~The City

4) Jimmy Eat World – Damage
Can Jimmy Eat World release an album that doesn’t make it into my top 10? “Damage” is proof that, no, no they cannot. Nearly every review of this album makes a whole bit about how they’re older and have lived more life than they did when they wrote “Bleed American” – well, no shit, it’s called aging. And nearly every discussion of this band seems to include the brilliant observation that they can’t make “Clarity” again – here I thought releasing the same album was what artists were all about! While “Damage” doesn’t reinvent any wheels, it is cohesive, it is smart, it is melodic, it is all the things that make JEW a great band that’s withstood the test of time. I’ve played “Please Say No” and “How’d You Have Me” enough times this year to place this album on a most-listened lists. As always with this band, timing is everything, and “Damage” gave me a lot to chew on for some time.

“You know I don’t ever sleep, just starting at the ceiling
I’m laid there beneath myself
You should have to be somewhere else
With someone just like me, nothing complicated
All the feelings and fantasy
Can you trust, can you trust
That there’s some things, you should never have, never known about”

~No, Never

3)The National – Trouble Will Find Me
You can’t rank National albums, really, it’s just not something you should do. It’s like picking a favorite chocolate or something, they all are good in different, subtle ways while fulfilling the same underlying temptation. Devastation, acceptance, regret and sorrow all make appearances on “Trouble Will Find Me” and they’re all addressed with the same curiosity and nervousness, the same awkward intimacy. The National is becoming ubiquitous as far as bands of this decade goes, and while their sound has quieted in a lot of ways it’s gotten no less complex; in fact, it’s only moreso, with shakers and auxiliary aplenty and experimental tones and timings. On this album, the band proves their mastery of space, balance and the ability to create moments that steal the heart and suspend it for as long as possible before letting it drop and shatter, and I love them deeply for it.


“Don’t make me read your mind/You should know me better than that
It takes me too much time/You should know me better than that
You’re not that much like me/You should know me better than that
We have different enemies/You should know me better than that
I should leave it alone but you’re not right
I should leave it alone but you’re not right”

~I Should Live In Salt
2) Jason Isbell –  Southeastern
Every now and then you hear an album that transcends so many boundaries, and Southeastern was one of those records. I first recall hearing about Jason Isbell through a New York Times profile, as trendy as that sounds, though I’d recalled the Drive By Truckers from occasional dabbling in the country songwriter genre. Nothing was like this record, though, where the storytelling is so pure and the chords so classic, even staunch no-country listeners instantly recognized its quality and capacity to be moving. Try listening to “Elephant” and not thinking back to your loved ones you lost too soon, who you saw in the throes of mortality and still manage to crack a smile. Isbell is the kind of guy who, when in front of a mic, moves everyone to listen, and something about the simplicity and purity of his songwriting makes me remember that the only way write well is to write honest, straight from the heart. It’s unmatched, unpretentious, timeless, and just like it’s supposed to sound.

“Once a wise man to the ways of the world
now I’ve traded those lessons for faith in a girl
Crossed the ocean, thousand years from my home
in this frozen old city of silver and stone

Ships in the harbor and birds on the bluff
don’t move an inch when their anchor goes up
And the difference with me is I’ve fallen in love
Stockholm let me go home.”

~Stockholm

1) The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
Can I say anything about this record I haven’t said already? Maybe this: that it’s a shame I haven’t seen them yet. The Wonder Years are leaders of the pack as far as the pop punk genre goes, but my love for them comes from a place much more personal and private than any trend, ranking or pack mentality goes. This is a band that, over the last few years, has soundtracked my life and transitions in near-perfect fashion, channeling the same fears and doubts in an aggressive yet meditating sound. So many good moments on this album, solid chord progressions and tense bridges keep an ever present suspension that just pulls me in and doesn’t let go. I start listening to this album and I can’t put on anything else until I’ve heard the whole thing. Never once do The Wonder Years completely lose it, as much as Dan Campbell tells you he’s going to, there’s so much thought and restraint. “The Greatest Generation” is literary in concept, in craftsmanship and contains the best closer they’ve done yet. I’m glad this album came around at a point in the year when I needed something to scream to, when I needed something loud and fresh and familiar to escape to, and I have a feeling it’ll be that way for years to come.



“Jesus Christ. I’m 26.
All the people I’ve graduated with,
All have kids, all have wives,
All have people who care if they come home at night.
Well, Jesus Christ, did I fuck up?

I’ve been looking for/Tears in the screen door.
I’ve been waiting for/Another disaster.

And I was kinda hoping you’d stay.
I was kinda hoping you’d stay.
I was kinda hoping you’d stay
.”

~Passing Through A Screen Door

Honorable mentions:
Into It, Over It. – Intersections (Much as I love “Proper” I haven’t given this a fair shake yet. But I will so here it is).
Deafeater – Sunbather (At least three people have told me to listen to this record. I haven’t yet. Putting it here to give myself a reminder.)
Haim – Days Are Gone (Pop. Tastic. Love.)
Arctic Monkeys – AM (I only heard one song  off this but I really liked it. so I guess I will check out the whole thing eventually).
Atoms for Peace – Amok (Thom Yorke is better than you, always.)
Cecile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild (Amazing artist. Amazing voice. She knows how to sing right from the soul and I love her for that. I need her on vinyl ASAP.)
Sainthood Reps – Headswell (Nu metal for life. I still like the first one better, but this guys have a great thing going.)
Scholar – Chose Adventure (So this friend of mine writes such great songs and his record is way cool.)
Paramore – Paramore (I really liked this record, it was so close to making it in my top 10! But there were enough songs I skipped compared to those I didn’t, however, “Ain’t It Fun” is definitely in my top 10 sing-a-long songs of the year).
A Day To Remember – Common Courtesy (I liked this album way more than I thought I would. Something very Four Year Strong about it that resonated with me. Also, the story associated with is one for the textbooks are far modern music industry is concerned, many lawsuits and label fights.)

And hey, for kicks, let’s look backwards even more:
Best of 2012
Best of 2011

7/31/13

“A heart on the run keeps a hand on the gun you can’t trust anyone
I was so sure what I needed was more tried to shoot out the sun
Days when we raged, we flew off the page such damage was done
But I made it through, cause somebody knew I was meant for someone

Girl, leave your boots by the bed we ain’t leaving this room
Till someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom

It’s cold in this house and I ain’t going out to chop wood
So cover me up and know you’re enough to use me for good

Put your faith to the test when I tore off your dress in Richmond all high
But I sobered up and I swore off that stuff forever, this time
And the old lovers sing ‘I thought it’d be me who helped him get home’
But home was a dream, one I’d never seen till you came along
Girl, hang your dress up to dry we ain’t leaving this room
Till Percy Priest breaks open wide and the river runs through
And carries this house on the stones like a piece of driftwood
Cover me up and know you’re enough to use me for good

Girl, leave your boots by the bed we ain’t leaving this room
Till someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom
It’s cold in this house and I ain’t going out to chop wood
So cover me up and know you’re enough to use me for good
Cover me up and know you’re enough to use me for good.”

~Cover Me Up
Jason Isbell, Southeastern

All I want to do is listen to this record and feel the tears wet my eyes, never falling.

In an age when any kid in a plaid shirt with a banjo (and an iPhone to prove it to the watching world at large) thinks he’s an Americana star waiting to be discovered, it is truly a gift to fans of the genre everywhere when a real talent like Jason Isbell breaks through like did. Already there’s plenty of stories about how this album was borne of his sobriety, and of how his days with the Drive-By Truckers are memories blurred by alcoholism. Now that “Southeastern” is done and given to the world, though, another story is just beginning. Because I think this can be an album that re-inspires folk and country to be better. I think this raises the bar.

Start to finish, every song tells a story. Emotions are laid plain on the table and neither dressed up nor down. Where in pop country you’d hear cliches, with Isbell you hear tales. His use of details is incredibly natural; the rooms and the landscapes he sees are sketched with phrases then painted in with acoustics and fiddle strings. Melodically, these songs were made for singing, and occasional harmonies and keys add some soul.

Some of the most poignant lines are the smallest lines, like a subtle afterthought (“What good does knowing do/with no one to show it to?”). There is love and there is loss, there are heavy hearts and there is hope. And yes, there is some slide guitar.

Isbell is definitely in the Americana/alt country category for me (think Whiskeytown), however if you don’t like folk or country, I do think you’d probably have to get past that to really appreciate these songs. But for songwriting geeks or any one with a penchant for a sad story, they will find what they’re looking for.  I’m sure there are exclusive listeners of pop punk and metal who I share favorite bands wtih who would totally write me off for appreciating this. But I don’t get that exclusivity, not when you’re looking to music to give you the stories and feelings to find yourself in, or appreciate the crafted expression that goes into writing something someone else may find worthwhile.

Jason Isbell is a storyteller, the truest kind American music can ever hope to find.

Lately I’ve been doing my best to leave my mistakes and regrets back where they belong. Major things, minor things, from hurting the ones I loved to spilling a drink on a host’s table and never really apologizing to missing an opportunity that I just wish I’d taken. Sometimes forgetting doesn’t work so well, other times, I see how far I’ve come. Listening to “Southeastern,” I keep coming back to why it’s so important to keep moving forward, because you never what light lies on the other side of the dark.

“Take my hand, baby, we’re over land
I know flying over water makes you cry 
Where’s that liquor cart, maybe we shouldn’t start
But I can’t for the life of me say why did we leave our love behind?”
~Flying Over Water,
Jason Isbell, Southeastern

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