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1/8/2018

Of the many ways to measure a year, my preference is the musical memories. 2017, for all its tumult, was a creative carnival. There were some brilliant and expertly executed highlights from old favorites this year. Japandroids, The War On Drugs, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit and The Menzingers are instant classics in my catalog. But as far as taking the time to put some words down, I wanted to take my end-of-the-year list as an opportunity to highlight artists I would’ve loved to see get MORE attention for their work in the lists that I saw critics compiling, as opposed to those artists who everyone seems to agree did the best work. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of what caught my ears, here’s a playlist of some of my favorite songs from the year. And for more fun, here’s what I was looking forward to hearing this time last year (a couple wishes came true).

In no particular order, my list of the underrated music of 2017 that might be worth a listen or two:

Misterwives – Connect the Dots


This was easily one of my favorite records of this year, especially because it came in the form of a brand-new band discovery. I found Misterwives the same weekend as Record Store Day, and I bopped my way through the line curving around Amobea with “Machine” blaring in my ears. There’s a buoyancy and clarity to their sound that’s so fun and yet so strong, with lyrics are joyful, insightful and woke, sometimes all at the same time. In a year that ended with the voices of women being heard and celebrated, I think Mandy Lee’s output and Misterwives’ record was incredibly overlooked in music and pop culture circles. There’s still time, though, for Connect the Dots to take hold, and I’ll be here nodding along when it does.

Iron & Wine  – Beast Epic


This is a band that many listeners might associate with being great at a different particular time,  but I very much enjoyed Beast Epic. I thought it was beautiful, and full of thoughtful goodness. “Call It Dreaming” is, in particular, uplifting and lovely, I can think of at least two times I cried on the train listening to it. It joins a canon of other Iron & Wine songs (“Upward Over The Mountain,” “Walking Far From Home”) that instantly cut out my heart and serve it up to whatever waiting angeles want to sew it back in.

The Maine – Lovely Little Lonely


Oh, The Maine. A band that I fear will never have the recognition among rock/pop music critics that they so deserve, even though they still keep getting better with time. This album pushed their boundaries from the bubble-gum of American Candy slightly darker reflections, but still no shortage of hooks and earworm turns of phrase. A surprising addition to my workout playlists, this was both one of my most-anticipated albums of 2017 and one of my most-listened to.

The Killers- Wonderful Wonderful


Wonderful Wonderful got a bad odor attached to it way too quickly, there’s good stuff, there’s band that’s developing in the way they always were supposed to. The first 45 seconds of the album are probably the coolest part of it, but there’s a lot of other layers and meaning to it. Brandon Flowers has a cheeseball quality to him, but it’s not like that wasn’t on Hot Fuss either. I really like how thoughtful some of the lyrics seem, “are your excuses any better than your senators” is up there with the more socially observant takes from Flowers. The more I listened to it, the more layers I heard here — layers of rock music history, layers of references and layers of a band who is still finding their way, as all musicians ever are.

Carly Rae Jespen – “Cut To The Feeling”


I saw a tweet from someone who said that if there was any justice in pop radio, this song would be #1 airplay. Alas! Spotify’s Wrapped told me it was my most-listened to track this year, though, so there is that. Anyway, I know this isn’t an album and this is usually an albums list, but I can’t talk about my musical diiet in 2017 without talking about this song. For workouts, for pump-me-up moments, for sidewalk strolls, “Cut to the Feeling” is as perfect a pop song as I could ever imagine in any setting. Her voice is light and infused, the synths are sparkly and the chorus is soaring. More Carly Rae in 2018 and beyond, “Cut to the Feeling” proves she knows exactly what she’s doing and isn’t afraid to put it out there in any form.

Perfume Genuis – “Slip Away”


Another choice that rests as a song instead of an album — even though No Shape is a wonderful, thought-provoking listen that received accolades all over the place, this is the song that really stole my focus. It’s also easily one of my most-listened to tracks in 2017, a song I will forever associate with the year and the challenges and lessons it provided. I would love to see this band progress and grow, and earn more acclaim for such unique and inspired work.

Ruston Kelly – “Black Magic”


One of my favorite Americana/country discoveries of the year is Kacey Musgraves very talented husband Ruston Kelly – “Black Magic” is biting and classic and heartwrenching, and a hell of a fun to sing, too. It too became one of those songs I played in all times and all places, “Love is hell and nothing more than black magic” seems to me to be one of those lyrics that fell down from the sky and into waiting hands, meanings it’s hte most perfect, authentic, realized kind from the geniuses themselves.

Oh, and I loved Reputation. I listened to it on loop traveling to San Francisco for a fun weekend getaway, kept it on through train rides and strolls up to Lombard Street and while sitting on a park bench in Oakland. Now I play it on the bike, walking to my front door, waiting for the courthouse to open. I know there’s a lot of people out there who aren’t a fan of the way Taylor refrains from discussing politics/social justice, but I try not to judge people for their beliefs in the course of my daily life, and so I won’t get into that without having an opportunity to understand her as a person. So in spite of all the discussion, I’m calling it underrated, because the first reviews I read of it were all by white men and all throwing some kind of judgment toward it and it really kind of made me mad, that people were expecting so much and calling someone else’s work a disappointment. Do they not understand how creative output works, that it is not being created and poured into the world in order to appease someone else but because it had to come from the fingers of its creator before they fall off? I also love that it is first TS album to really tackle “mature” themes (she finally wrote songs about drinking and sex!). Taylor Swift at this point only does manifestos and while many are turning up their noses are her playing around with hip-hop and R&B stylings, she’s putting out work that’s exactly her, filter and polish and spit-shine and all. The control and focus and unapologetic honesty with oneself that that takes is something I really admire, something that’s worth channeling anywhere, anytime, any year.

Past years:
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011

7/17/17

Lately I’ve been really into this series of YouTube playlists some great soul with great taste dubbed Koala Kontrol put together that are full of delightful, deep and bright electronic-driven acoustic, chill and indie songs. I know that’s a lot of adjectives, but such is the world of YouTube playlists, which I’ve learned through the course of my daily listening are hyperstylized and specific. While I started listening to these particular playlists because I wanted to have something beat-driven to serve as pump-up background music while I was working, I’ve become gripped by how powerful and raw some of these songs are.

Dance beats and laptop-bred beats aren’t what I’d typically go to when I need to be emotionally moved by music (isn’t that what Tori, emo and Jason Isbell are for?) but lo and behold, I’m stricken! A lot of these songs are really specific in their lyrics about love gone wrong or right, the collapse of self-image and what it means to feel free and good for once. A lot of the grooves and harmonies are cool and sexy and fresh. I’ve discovered a bunch of new artists in a genre that I’ve needed to familiarize with myself more, and it’s been a cool little musical awakening to get into groups like Vallis Alps and Oh Wonder (whose new record is very worth checking out.

I don’t know who you are, Koala Kontrol, but thank you for these.

“I thought I saw the devil
This morning
Looking in the mirror, drop of rum on my tongue
With the warning
To help me see myself clearer
I never meant to start a fire
I never meant to make you bleed
I’ll be a better man today

I’ll be good, I’ll be good
And I’ll love the world, like I should
Yeah, I’ll be good, I’ll be good
For all of the time
That I never could”

~I’ll Be Good
Jaymes Young, Feel Something

3/29/17

I’ve stumbled across Sarah Jaffe in playlists around the Internet many times over the years, and today I was heartened to hear her gorgeous words and soothing voice on a playlist from Ambient Light Music. The song is called “Clementine,” and while it’s a few years old, it’s brand new to me — all that matters in that fresh attachment one finds with music.

She sort of hits the nail on the head of what it’s like to worry about your worrying, to watch your life speed by at the end of something while holding your breath for what’s next. The peripatetic motion of the string section (pizzicato, no?), and her repetitive vocals add a sense of urgency to a steady tempo and warm tone. She’s not too nervous, not too unsure, but still questioning, still wishing, still hoping.

“All that time wasted
I wish I was a little more delicate
I wish my…
I wish my name was Clementine.”

~Clementine
Sarah Jaffe, Suburban Nature

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.

4/19/14

It’s been awhile since I thought out a playlist, but I felt particularly compelled to create this one. I present: TBS Slow Jams, a pretty excellent collection of Taking Back Sunday at their most delicate, or at least destroyed enough to the point of slowed tempos. This selection is complete with deluxe, anniversary and re-issue tracks that bring out the best in some old favorites. It is designed to break your heart. I am going to listen to this for hours.

“You always come close but this never comes easy
I still know everything.”

~Great Romances of the 20th Century, Taking Back Sunday (Deluxe Version)

“This is all I ever asked from you
The only thing you couldn’t do.”

~This is All Now, Taking Back Sunday 

“I can’t say I blame you but I wish that I could
I’m sick of writing every song about you.”

~Head Club, TAYF10 acoustic

“Something real, make it timeless,
An act of God and nothing less will be accepted.
Now if you’re calling me out,
Then count me out.”

~Divine Internvetion, Louder Now

“Hoping for the best just hoping nothing happens
A thousand clever lines unread on clever napkins.”

~Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team) acoustic, Tell all Your Friends Re-Issue

“Well cross my heart and hope to…
I’m lying just to keep you here
So reckless, so thoughtless
So careless, I could care less.”

~…Slowdance on the Inside, Notes from the Past

“And I dare you to forget the marks you left across my neck
from those nights when we were both found at our best.”

~Your Own Disaster 04, Notes from the Past

“We spoke all night in a language only we could know.”
~It Takes More, Happiness Is

“And all I need to know
Is that I’m something you’ll be missing.
Maybe I should hate you for this
Never really did ever quite get that far.

~You’re So Last Summer, TAYF10 acoustic

“Well I don’t know where you’re going
but I know where you’ve been.
I’ve been tracing all your footsteps,
I’ve been counting all your sins.”

~Call Me in the Morning, Taking Back Sunday

“And when that push comes to a shove
We’ve got a headfirst kind of love.”

~All the Way, Happiness Is

“And I’m not so sure
if I’m sure of anything anymore.”

~The Blue Channel, TAYF10 acoustic

“I wanna hate you so bad, but I can’t,
I can’t stop this anymore than you can.”

~Bike Scene, TAYF10 acoustic

“Just ask the question come untie the knot
Say you won’t care, say you won’t care
Retrace the steps as if we forgot
Say you won’t care, say you won’t care
Try to avoid it but there’s not a doubt
And there’s one thing I can do nothing about”

~New American Classic, Where You Want To Be

“I get what I want until I want nothing at all
Until I want nothing at all.”

~Nothing at all, Happiness Is

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