Search

learning love songs

est. 2008

Category

lists

1/5/17

Happy New Year! I’m honestly optimistic about this one. I think it’s been awhile since I felt that way at the outset, but I’m going with it, looking ahead with curiosity to all the unknown the universe has in store. Throughout all the twists and turns that inevitably will arise, though, finding new music is still my constant joy. There’s something comforting about that, knowing that no matter what this year brings, at the end I’ll be left with a bunch of new music that moved me. 2016 will be tough to top on this front, as I was exposed to many different artists through reviewing opportunities and new communities, plus some of my longtime favorites like Jimmy Eat World and The Hotelier dropped incredible releases. But looking ahead at the calendar, I see plenty of highlights — here’s 10 albums I’m looking forward to (hopefully) listening to this year. I’ll revisit this in about 360 days to see where this wind up compared to my final favorites.

  1. The Menzingers: If “Lookers” and “Bad Catholics” are any indication, After the Party  will be an incredibly fun, punchy record — and perhaps the most poignant yet.
  2. Japandroids: “Near To The Wild Heart of Life” is quickly making its mark as a life anthem, as all Japandroids songs rightly deserve. I imagine this album will rock.
  3. Muna: Discovering this super-fun, super-edgy pop vocalist group was a great boon to my workout routine, and their latest single “I Know A Place” is a real earworm.
  4. Taylor Swift: Can she top 1989? I don’t know. Probably. I won’t pretend I’m not excited to see what direction she heads in , or to have more songs to practice guitar.
  5. Haim: Days Are Gone has held up incredibly well as an impressive debut, and I’m ready to be wowed with a follow-up imbued by their roaring success.
  6. Ryan Adams: My love for the folk-rock troubadour only grows, even as he fashions himself into something of a retro-bluesy, Pettyesque figure. Especially then, even.
  7. The Wonder Years: They’ve just announced they’re writing new stuff, so a 2017 release is possible/likely/high on my list of life-markers.
  8. The xx: Something tells me  the ambient, angsty chill pop of The xx will be perfect for LA’s rainy season, and perfectly sexy/cool.
  9. The Killers: Sure, they’ll never again make Hot Fuss. But who says they have to? Give me that desert-inspired do-or-die attitude and trademark soaring choruses any day.
  10. Ed Sheeran: I loved X. I still love X.  Sheeran has an undenying sweetness,  and a sensitivity that transfers beyond his gorgeous ballads. More please!

12/21/16

Another year, another end-of-the-year list. I’m getting in the habit of these things now, and also getting familiar with the sense of pressure and dread at shuffling my favorite music around.

Meriting a spot on this means it was music I couldn’t tear myself away from, that I binge-listened to on dull afternoons, evening walks or morning workouts. I turned to these albums when I couldn’t turn to anything else, when their hooks and chord progressions ran their way through my mind all day, or when I needed to hear that heartbreaking line one more time. I felt like I listened to more new music in 2016 than any other, mostly due to a reviewing side-hustle as well as getting Spotify premium on my phone, so narrowing it all down to 10 was hard. Obviously this year also saw incredible, groundbreaking releases from the likes of Bowie and Beyonce, and that song from The Chainsmokers hooked me as well as anybody, but these are the records that really resonated with me. I hope when I listen to them in 2017 and in years to come, I’ll be able to close my eyes and remember the place I was in when I first heard them, blanketed in sunshine settling into my Left Coast skin.

10) Kevin Devine – Instigator


One of my favorite songwriters, who in my opinion just keeps getting better with time. I regret that I was unable to catch him on tour this year, as the rocking and rolling songs on Instigator promise a great show. But I love it for walks around the city and morning jumpstarts, too, as the way Devine phrases his thoughts, feelings and societal observations are ripe for pondering. Though KD likely has one of the biggest catalogs of artists of his caliber/generation, I’d say that Instigator is a standout that could be presented to show a new listener what he’s all about.

9) Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings


Ms.Lambert takes the crown for my favorite record to sing this year. Though it was a fourth-quarter release, I haven’t stopped listening to this record since the day it came out, and it pushed me back toward regular guitar practice. Lambert really tells a story, and gives so much context to heartbreak, growing up, moving on and self-exploration, all with a wry smile and whiskey glass by her side. For that, and for the bold vulnerability, I bow down.

8) Moose Blood – Blush


These guys came out of seemingly nowhere to quickly become one of my favorite UK rock groups — and Blush burst forth this year as a collection of edgy heartfelt anthems. Nothing better than seeing them live at The Fonda opening for The Wonder Years, too — I love their cynicism in spite of youth, and their energy in spite of the cynicism. I love their obvious romanticism on songs like “Knuckles” and “Honey” and the aching regret on tracks like “Glow” and “Sway.” Also like how all the song titles are one word. Blush is as upbeat as you could want from a 2016 pop punk band, and as smooth and sweet as its namesake.

7) Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial


Hearing Will Toledo’s voice for the first time is like hearing a memory you can’t place — you don’t know where, but you swear you’ve heard it before. He’s just that ubiquitous. As a brilliant guitar player and subtle, wry lyricist, Toledo is chock full of talent and has a substantial following behind him. This year’s Teens of Denial was a stunner, in its own depressing and over-it way. Gems like “Vincent” and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” show how hard Car Seat Headrest can rock without abandoning pensive sensibilities, one of my favorite lines rock musicians can walk. Toledo has tapped into a raw rock and roll vibe that used to only exist in bands you had to go backwards to find, but this record showed how alive and well the genre can be.

6) Bon Iver – 22, A Million


God this album! I don’t have it on vinyl yet, but of all the records on this list, it’s the one I have my eye on the most. Justin Vernon has established himself as the kind of musician who pushes boundaries, and this eagerly awaited album shows that he does not make waves for their own sake, but rather because he has developed something to say. They heavy reliance on vocal manipulation and other-wordly echoes made 22, A Million an unforgettable listen, if only because it sounds like *nothing* else out there. But it has the same beauty as Bon Iver’s breakthrough work, with a few more levels of abstraction thrown in. I fell in love from the start, and this is now one of my favorite “focus” records when my mind starts running away with me. “8(circle)” is my favorite, although I’m probably not alone there. Three cheers for artistic expression, and those stay their path.

5) Joyce Manor- Cody


If I had to recommend an album for anyone to listen to this year, it’d be Joyce Manor. Hands down. For me, they’ll be up there with TWY and Brand New, carrying that mantle in their own sharp style. But we already knew that; the best thing about Cody is the way they’ve harnessed their aggression and thrash into polished hooks and climatic builds. “Last You Heard of Me” was my anthem upon release of the single, and it exemplifies the meaning and message these guys can cram into what on the surface one excepts to be a silly little pop punk song. Joyce doesn’t take themselves too seriously, which I love, but there’s nothing silly or little about them at this point.

4) The Hotelier – Goodness


Deep and resonant, heartfelt and literary….The Hotelier’s much -anticipated follow-up did not disappoint, nor did it simply satiate. Goodness is lush and full and while it doesn’t have the same sadness as their breakthrough record Home, Like No Place Is There, it has the same existential darkness and rock-solid progressions. Songs like “Piano Player” and “Soft Animal” channel the turmoil that we’ve come to know and love from The Hotelier, while pushing musical boundaries with different kinds of builds and busts. There’s a lot of depth here, and the shower of critical reception on Goodness gave me hope that it was recognized by not just niche audiences but the music world at large. After playing this album to death upon release, I can still put it on and get lost in it — damn right, they did it again.

3) Jimmy Eat World- Integrity Blues


Getting to listen to Integrity Blues for the first time felt like getting a phone call from a friend you haven’t talked to in awhile. You knew what they were up to, you knew they were doing OK, but you hadn’t heard the ins and outs yet. With this record, the singles were promising, but a part of me held my breath thinking this could be an album full of filler. Not so! Integrity Blues is likely the best album JEW’s put out since Chase This Light, and though my adoration for Invented is a very real thing, the songs on this record are true and honest alternative rock that embrace maturity in melody and meaning…the closer, “Pol Roger,” is easily one of my favorite Jimmy Eat World songs of all time, and not just for those sweet, sweet Jim Atkins harmonies.

2) case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs


This album got under my skin so quick, it was like falling in love at first sight. I think I read about the famed, talented trio just a couple days after the album dropped, and got right in on the ground floor with it. And it blew me away, with its stunning harmonies, poetic effort and lush sonic landscape. There’s not a song on this record that doesn’t feel like a breath of fresh air to me. There’s a sweetness and a strength, an assertive foot forward and knowing shy smile. Every song paints a picture of people, places and things, and eloquently describes intricate emotions with excellent harmonies and beautiful, lithe guitar parts. “I Want To Be Here,” “Supermoon” and “Best Kept Secret” all became instant classics for me, and the perfect songs to soundtrack my first summer in LA.

1) Pinegrove – Cardinal


I had trouble figuring out what was my favorite of my favorites, but I think I knew it had to be Pinegrove. I made an instant connection with Cardinal for its unique sound and literary qualities, but the album’s staying power really went above and beyond anything else this year. Pinegrove was the easiest band for me to bring up when talking music with friends, as I knew they were likely to be a spot-on suggestion for anyone who likes alt-rock, folk-rock or anything in the indie vein. When you hear songs like “Aphasia” and “New Friends,” you’re struck by not only their honesty but their plaintive innocence, as if you’re having a conversation with a thoughtful friend about your lives and feelings. That familiarity makes Pinegrove instantly accessible, even before you get into their slightly quirky and innovative ways of structuring songs. Seeing them at The Echo was one of my most memorable concert experiences of the year, too, if only because the way they layered up their sound with extra synth & auxiliary really brought their songs to life. There’s a comfort in knowing that if I heard this album when I was an emo teenager, I would’ve loved it for the same reasons I do now — and it gives me hope that today’s emo teenagers are being introduced to quality indie rock. Pinegrove also delivered one of my most definitive favorite lyrical truisms of the year — “I am outta my goddamn mind and out to California,” which sums it up as well as anything. So looking forward to continuing to wrap myself up in Cardinal, and see where this band goes next.

And as a little bonus, here’s a playlist of my favorite songs of the year, added in no particular order than how I remembered them. I kept it to one per artist, off of albums that dropped this calendar year (so you can expect that new Ryan Adams’ tune here next year). Looking over it, I’m really struck by the variety of the artists, and how despite their differences, they all managed to strike the same chord in me.

7/24/16

The sun and shine of summertime is ripe for discovering new music, and as I settle into my surroundings I am getting influences from all over the place. I’m breaking out of my rock-centric habits with some more electronic artists, and looking for lightness and fun in music as much as I am looking for energy, connection and commiseration as I typically have. I’m more than getting my money’s worthy from Spotify premium with all the exploration it provides through my own searching or its curated places — and still, I find those songs I keep coming back to. As summer reaches its midway point, here are a few of my favorite tracks I’ve been listening to while pattering around DTLA or cruising down the 110:

The Naked and Famous – Higher


With their 2013 smash hit record “Passive Me, Aggressive You,” TNAF cemented themselves as electropop/indie rock/hipster party anthem royalty and I’ll be damned if this new single doesn’t prove they deserve the acclaim. “Higher” is a fun, dancey groove with serious heart and do-or-die attitude. I play it at least once a day, whether walking or biking or shaking it off, and I can’t wait to hear more.

“Higher, higher
Tonight we raise the dead
Tonight we bury this in fire, fire
Under the shape of years
And the weight that brought us here.”

Muna/Tiesto – “Winterbreak”


Last night, I was mocked by strangers for defending Tiesto’s cool. “Maybe like 15 years ago,” they said, to which I replied “HAVE YOU HEARD WINTERBREAK?!” I guess my recent, spin-inspired foray into house music isn’t going as well I thought, but still, I’m obsessed with this song. Despite the seasonal title, this Spotify stumble is one of my favorite songs of the summer. Something about its moody, despondent, give-up-the-fight lyrics against a thumping house beat feels edgy and inspired, updating what is already a gem of a dark pop track into a spiraling, sprawling lovesick jam — and while I haven’t ignored the more timely “Summer Nights” remix, this is the song that makes me want to run, sun, and stay out late. Also: MUNA is pretty damn fun. More on them later.

“But always such a smart one,
always so intelligent,
you must know what’s happening here.”

Lera Lynn – Little Ruby


I’m loving the newest record from Lera Lynn, and its smokey, bluesy feel — which is no more intense than on album closer “Little Ruby.” I love the gender-bending from a female songwriter, and I love that smooth, jazzy melody in the chorus. Lera Lynn is a damn fine musician and “The Resistor” is an excellent album — and this steamy, steamy track is a sexy, sexy choice to soundtrack hot summer nights.

“Sweet little Ruby 
Why won’t you love me?”

blink-182 – Bored to Death


Nary a day goes by when I listen to SoCal radio without hearing Blink at least once, in addition to seeing their billboards everywhere. Maybe the rest of the country isn’t bombarded as much by the so-called revival of pop punk/punk rock’s reigning chart toppers. But here, it is not easy to escape, and so “Bored to Death” is becoming one of my go-to car sing-a-longs and songs of the summer. Don’t let anyone tell you they’re too old.

“Life is too short to last long.”

Local Natives – Past Lives


The first single from the new Local Natives recordings was one of my great spring surprises that has coasted into summertime. It’s dreamy and romantic, and full of glow, earthly and heavenly, all at ones. Local Natives left a big impression with 2013’s “Hummingbird” with a sound that was very trendy, but full-band force and detailed production of “Past Lives” makes me think this band is more than a quick-hit find. I love getting lost in the layers of thing song, and all its promise.

“I will wait for you
At the end love
Let your past lives too
Then you wake up.”

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

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

1/1/13

Well.

I’m a little late on this one.

I wanted to sit down and write about my favorite albums of 2012, the music that came out, crossed my path and meant something to me for any combination of reasons.

I wanted to talk about how there were songs that reminded me how wonderful it is to be young and alive even though it’s messy and mean, like Japandroids and The Menzingers. And how there were songs that blasted the cracks in my heart with deadly aim, and others that caulked in the gaps, like those from The Gaslight Anthem and Lovedrug.

I wanted to do this yesterday. But time got the best of me, and here we are, 2013 with no “Favorite Albums of 2012” on the blog. Let’s proceed.

Normally people order and rank these things; I have done this in the past and found it to be useful, clean and a fun reference for discussion purposes should the topic ever arise. My rationale for placing an album on this list could come from many places: Did I hear it, and love it instantly? Was I drawn to replay it in full one more time, or are there tracks that I simply couldn’t get enough of? And why? Was it the meaning, the message, the technique, or the timing?

I’ve also decided to highlight other albums that caught my ears for being very successful records in one way or another, because 2012 was a damn fine year for new music from artists both familiar and burgeoning. Here’s a whole bunch of proof:

10) mewithoutyou – Ten Stories
Kicking off the list, an old favorite band out with a new, thematic collection that’s eerie and haunting and potentially their most polished, meticulously produced effort yet.  Details pop out at every new listen, a harmony or a guitar part or an elusive, mysterious phrase. So enchanting, how could you not want to get lost in the night inside an otherwordly tale?

“All circles presuppose they’ll end where they begin/But only in their leaving can they ever come back around”

Posts from the Year: 7/15/12

9) Passion Pit – Gossamer
Ya heard. Electropop made it on my favorites list. But I’ve never liked electropop this much before, I’ve never seen the weirdness and depth this way. Played it all the time, even got my mom hooked on it. I found this album uplifting and entirely thoughtful, bright and shiny but ever calm, ever cool and just enough collected. I hear the  live shows are slammin’. Also: Gossamer is, and has been, one of my favorite all-time words.Shimmers just like it should, a perfect title.

“When then I’ll say what they say/And I’ll do what they do/But it doesn’t mean a goddamned thing”

8) Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams
Oh how perfect and beautiful this album is, how folksy. Though it seems acoustic and auxiliary-heavy Americana bands are a stone’s throw from every dive bar in mid-sized cities to the hottest clubs frequented by trendy, hipster-inclined urbanites, Lord Huron is, to my ears, the real deal. Kick back, relax and let their lonesome dreams interrupt and intersect with yours for awhile. And take a walk in the fucking woods while you’re at it.

“I’ve been dreaming again of a lonesome road/Where I’m lost and I’ve got no friends/Just the rocks and the trees and my lonesome dreams and a road that’ll never end”

Posts from the Year: 12/12/12

7) Bad Books – II
Perhaps I am inclined to rank anything involving the likes of Andy Hull and Kevin Devine, given my listening roots grew up in their respective heydays. And yet I have never appreciated them as much musically as I do today. Maybe it’s in the maturity, the sardonic tone, or the willingness to try on styles and sounds exemplifying a mastery of creative convention. Bad Books colors in the lines, but this is by no means a dig on lack of originality. Rather, we’ve got layers and layers of complimenting and contrasting rock ‘n’ roll theory. More, please.

“Folded arms and I felt your heart hum/Speedy eyes and I want what I want/Truth cut with a generalized fear/Cash baggies and an ash tray beers/I know you know/I wanna love you but I can’t let go/Honey, it never stops/No it never stops”

6) Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls
How did you not just instantly love this band? Rootsy and bluesy and fusion-y and all kinds of familiar, Alabama Shakes debuted with a powerful hello to an indie pop audience that was ready to lap up something designed to comfort the soul. We’ve got real instruments, real vocal talent like we haven’t heard in some time, real skilled players, and a whole lot of heart. Between the dynamics, the passion and the style, Alabama Shakes has serious rock chops, and I’d bet strong that we’ve only seen the start.

“I feel so homesick/Where’s my home/Where I belong/Where I was born/I was told to go/Where the wind would blow/And it blows away”

(Bonus Link: Listen to this full KEXP performance!) Seriously. Do it. Your face might melt, though.

5) fun. – Some Nights
Yes, I know I’ve said The Format is better (and first!) but what a record this was. Everyone seemed to love it, everyone related to it. At the tail end of 2012, I found myself replaying this album over and over. Great for drives, for thinking alone. Nate Ruess is a genius at capturing the mischief in melancholy, the hope in the view from the ground, and I am grateful he continues to make wonderful music to share with the world.

“My head is on fire/But my legs are fine/After all they are mine”

Posts from the Year: 8/14/12

4) Lovedrug – Wild Blood
Redemption comes in many forms. Lovedrug’s first full-length after a run of successful EP releases left me feeling full and happy, and intrigued by the new direction of a band. Focus, melody, depth and layers were always strong currents, but these qualities are the crux of Wild Blood’s impressive, hungry and ever-onward spirit. Glad this record was made, because it marks something of an end of an era for me — a triumphant effort from a band I’ve followed for years in a year that, for me, showed similar feats.

“We were owls when they came in the night/they were lookin’ for a creature to fight/I can see it that you’re ready to go/Like a bat in the cave of my soul”

Posts from the Year: 2/10/123/6/123/13/12,  4/15/126/15/12

3) The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past
Sometimes, people kind of laugh a little when I tell them I’m a pop punk/hardcore/whatever the fuck you call emo these days fan. A bit of an eyeroll. But The Menzingers are amphetamine laced proof that the genre isn’t dead and Epitaph is a fighting beast of a label(so shut your fucking trap). Heart-wrenching and boldly embracing pathetic helplessness and hopeless, this album is a collection of odes to self-fulfilled failures past and present. As I am a codified expert on such instances in my own life, it was entirely too easy to relate. Coated in familiar chords and fast-finger solos and just the right amount of scream, I listened to this at my worst only to end up feeling pretty damn close to my best.

“I will fuck this up/I fucking know it”

Posts from the Year: 8/22/12, 8/27/12

2) The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
What to say that I haven’t said? Do I have a bigger music idol of 2012 than Brian Fallon?  Not really, maybe, probably not. “Handwritten” proves that TGA will continue to churn out confessional narratives with amphitheater-sized proportions. They’ve proven to be true to their own style, a dash of the past included, so the end product is good, old-fashioned, new rock and roll.  And this album could’ve been a make or break moment after so many past successes. No doubt it was a daunting task to say, “Oh shit, gotta write more great songs.” And yet, I am more of a fan than ever.

“And we waited for sirens that never come/And we only write by the moon, every word handwritten/And to ease the loss of youth and how many years I’ve missed you/Pages plead forgiveness, every word handwritten”

Posts from the Year: 4/30/127/16/127/19/127/31/129/13/1210/9/1212/5/12

1) Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Japandroids just got it just right. They got the hunger right, the anger and fury, the passion, and the inescapable needs and conflicts of living fast. They’ve captured a certain brazen slyness that once thrived all over punk and rock scenes that’s shrunken to give way to pretension, a forced literariness that can be so guarded. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not really a good one either, if you’re looking for something to rock out to.

If you told me that 2012 would be the year that it turned out to be for me personally, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Or, maybe I would’ve of, but immediately passed out from fright, thereby changing said future through butterfly effect means. So, the present is fleeting, the past is permanent and the future, a wide scary unknown. In this lost haze, Japandroids brought a reminder that all you have is you and now, and fast is fun when your eyes are open.

Musically, omigod, so cool. Not only was I completely blown away by the sheer sonic power of such a tiny band (two skinny white dudes!), but you don’t hear guitars played in this way, so full of repetitive fierceness, in ways that are simultaneously melodic. This has a lot to do with the chord choices, and phrasing of vocal, but we’ve got some real metal technique doing some indie rock things.

So thanks, Japandroids, for making me remember so much of what I love about loud and fierce rock music, and for laying it all out so honestly, that there’s no way I will ever be able to hear these songs, and not connect to the moments, people and places of 2012. What more do you want out of an album of the year?

“It’s a lifeless life with no fixed address to give/But you’re not mine to die for anymore/So I must live”

Posts from the Year: 6/2/126/18/12

Special Awards:
Best EPs: The 1975 – Sex EP, The 1975 – Facedown EP

Best Genre-Bending, The Cool Award: Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Most Ambitious, Most Likely to Make Me Dance Contemporary Ballet, Most Poetic Album Title: Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Best “Comeback:”  Soundgarden – King Animal

Best Collaborative: GOOD Music – Cruel Summer

Best Taylor Swift: Taylor Swift – Red

Best Album for a Love Scene in Outer Space: The xx – Coexist

Best Metal (TIE): Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind, Every Time I Die – Ex-Lives

2/29/12

A few things about this NME list about the 50 best choruses:

*Oh my god, oh my god, could you BE any more British?
*Adele should not be on this list. That chorus (“Someone Like you”) isn’t that good.
*”Enter Sandman?” I’ll take it.
*”Sex on Fire” chorus is not > than “Use Somebody” chorus melody-wise, it just has sex in the lyrics.
*”Pride(In the Name of Love)” could totally be higher.
*I understand lists need to take into account new things, in an attempt to shape what will still be cool or insert your knowledge & relevancy but really…Lana Del Rey at 11? That song isn’t *that* good. I mean, maybe it’s only because I’ve heard it once, when she sang (horribly) on SNL, but I’ve seen way more talent out of hick bar open mic nights. Even from people who weren’t my friends.

But, beyond those gut reactions, I have to say I love the concept driving this list. Who doesn’t love a great chorus? Sub-par verses (too wordy, too spoken or too bland) can easily be redeemed by a great chorus – in fact, some songs are only *worth* listening to because of the chorus – for example, Toto, earning a well-deserved #32 on this list. We all know that chorus – it’s soo nice – but sing a verse? Could’t if you gave me tequilia.

Also, a really solid built-up, with plenty of tension and bite, can be perfectly topped off with a line or two performed with enough power. For example, one of my favorites off the list(at 33):

“You can go your own way, go your own way
You can call it another lonely day
You can go your own way,
go your own way”
~Go Your Own Way
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

Not too over-the-top, but it gets the point across. Doesn’t it? The throw-away line at the end is trademark Lindsey Buckingham bitterness. I love.

Beyond those impressions, I have to say I love lists. Journalists do, you see, they are easy to compile, and readers love them because why read 25 two-sentence paragraphs instead of 50 kitschy one-liners?

Also, I will be tracking this playlist down on Spotify when I’m working tomorrow afternoon, and in need of a midday inspiration burst.

(My tags indicate I haven’t mentioned Spotify on this blog yet, which is a bit of a shame because it makes at-home listening oh-so fun. All my songs, and all the other ones, too? It’s pretty fantastic, and I’m really happy I joined. Should 2012 see me make more money, I’ll maybe even subscribe.
Naw. I won’t, actually.)

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑