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Taylor Swift

9/29/17

Too much music, not enough time, so the story always goes across these nine years of musical musings. I still haven’t fully synthesized my thoughts on Brand New’s Science Fiction, I’ve got lots of notes but haven’t quite gotten the nerve to sit down and face them. The new Josh Ritter is amazing, and I’ve only made it to the gym this week when the new Taylor Swift singles from Reputation were involved. But tonight I like this Good Old War song, “Part of Me” off their latest EP, a song that I actually discovered on Taylor’s Spotify playlist. It’s good stuff, sad and true with its simple picking and stirring harmonies and subtle slide guitar. I like songs that are brave enough to repeat a good line or two this often. Sounds like the kind of song I’d like to sing sometime. But again, not enough time or nerve, whichever is a more believable excuse. So instead, it’s all locked up somewhere, which I guess is kind of what this song is about.

“But I’m always looking forward for an open door
I found an outlet for all my feelings
They’re trying to cut the cord…

I’m thinking, we’ve got to run
If you’re holding on the seams will come undone
And you’ll only get part of me.
We don’t want to catch a break while we’re playing it safe
You’ll only get part of me…

~Part of Me
Good Old War, Part of Me

6/9/17

Oh happy day! Taylor Swift is on Spotify! Of course there’s some dubious reasons on how this came to be, but all I know is I’ve spent the past three hours going through the catalog and it feels like revisiting an old friend. I’m compelled to share my memories of Swift Through the Ages, so here we go, album by album:

Taylor Swift-2006
I remember being in high school sitting in my aunt’s living room when the video for “Teardrops on my Guitar” came on. We stopped our chatter and even my tough-to-impress aunt remarked, “She’s got a nice voice,” or some beign compliment. It was then Swift was special, and from there “Picture to Burn,” “Our Song” and “Should’ve Said No” become country indulgences that I was too insecure to admit in open company that I loved — but no doubt got tons of play on my iPod.

Fearless-2008
Swift was back with glitter and gold for Fearless, and from the title track to “Change,” I loved every track. The more country-tinged takes like “Tell Me Why” fit with the Swift I knew, while the popularity of “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” made her OK to embrace among friends. As a college student with college student problems, these songs fit like puzzle pieces into the goings-on of my life, each representing a person, place or feeling that meant something to me as I started to learn what it meant to grow up. There was a juvenile enough sensibility to Swift at this point, so it wasn’t enough to pull me away from listening to my favorite pop-punk and rock bands for meaning and more literary moods, but there was no doubt Taylor could keep me company in good times or bad.

Speak Now-2010
This was where it all clicked. My memories of Speak Now coincide with my fresh-out-of-college lifestyle, working in a small lake town with friends and fun surrounding me. I dove into my work, into new relationships, into new experiences without ever looking back, and this record become a soundtrack to all that when I was alone — from the crushes I had, the friends I missed and the people I’d left behind in college or high school. The country rock vibe fit in well with the Americana catalog I was beginning to dive into with my newfound musician friends, and “Sparks Fly” was blasted with the windows down driving down West Lake Road more times than I’d care to admit. Then “Mine” became the first song I learned on my very first guitar. And it’s true what they say about never forgetting your first — I picked up my third guitar just now and knew it like the back of my hand.

Red-2012
I bought Red on CD a few days after it came out. I wanted to listen to it on a road trip from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, and I remembering playing it as I drove on the turnpike in the dark. Knowing I loved Speak Now, I was prepared to be happy with the release, but I remember being struck by how mature the songwriting was, how developed it seemed, and how much the themes of passion, youth and letting go seemed to mirror my own life. “Treacherous” became a favorite of mine to play guitar to, while “All Too Well” was a too-real recollection (and I think, to this day, one of Swift’s best efforts yet). Red managed to skyrocket Swift’s success, put crimson lip color back into trend and set a precedent for deeply felt, deeply revealing pop songs. We’ll forgive that drop in “I Knew You Were Trouble” as a sign of the times, especially considering that outro coda of “Holy Ground” is so good.

1989-2014
In my life and in Taylor’s, so much happened between these two years. I’d moved yet again, and she’d embraced pop in full form. Separate and apart from my connection to it, this record was a cultural touchstone, so 1989 became a centering point for my friends and I in Pittsburgh, we rung in the New Year with it. Her exuberance for life (“Welcome to New York,” “Shake It Off”) reminded me to embrace my own, while her more vulnerable confessions that came to the fore gave me something to relate to (“Clean,” “This Love”). I loved this album deeply, on drives to work, on nighttime solo dancer parties — and then my fave Ryan Adams came out with his own version, which hasn’t let my saved Spotify songs since. But I’m still coming back to 1989 in all its iterations — her performances at the Grammy Museum are particularly meaningful, and beautiful, and highlight the pureness of what she can do with her voice, her guitar and her message. That was how she first was introduced to the world, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that’s what we’ll get more of — and soon.

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!

9/21/15

“Like any great love 
it keeps you guessing
Like any real love
it’s ever changing
Like any true love
it drives you crazy
But you know you wouldn’t change

Anything anything anything.”
~Welcome to New  York 
Taylor Swift as performed by Ryan Adams, 1989 

I probably don’t need to say any more adoring things about Ryan Adams on this blog but he covered the entirety of Taylor Swift’s “1989” and it is amazing. Amazing! I cannot stop listening to it.

The authentic profound messages of these songs come across a lot stronger without the glitz and shine of a pop record – Ryan Adams also has better delivery than Swift does, partly because he’s been doing it as long as she’s been alive. Hear how he takes the hooks and stretches them out across bars instead of repeating them, and how he gracefully falsettos at the crest of them. I’m noticing different lyrics and meanings behind them; the flirtation of “Blank Space” is replaced with a sad hope, and the in-your-face attitude of “Shake it Off” is replaced with an ode to overcoming anxiety. Not that those traits weren’t found in the original recordings, if you searched heard enough, but here they are that much clearer.

Turning “Out of the Woods” into a waltzy ballad was an obvious – and brilliant – choice. It sounds so much like a Ryan Adams song, like something out of the Heartbreaker era, with gentle guitars and a slow kick backbeat and rich, string-filled outro. It might be the best musical section of the record. I think it’s the one I’m the most surprised by, and my immediate favorite. That and “Shake it Off,” with its woodblock rhythm and breezy keys. He removes a lot of the words and pre-chorus structures, and it makes the meaning that much stronger – same with “Blank Space,” a song I regularly sing and dance to but loved without its punchlines.

Some tracks he doesn’t change too much but just adopts – like the piano-set “This Love,” and “Clean,” which is sped up slightly and decorated with guitars instead of automated bells and xylophone. A song that, in Taylor’s word, is a little flippant like “All You Had To Do Was Stay” suddenly becomes a forlorn kiss-off, with a slightly syncopated melody and a warmth that wasn’t there before. It reminds me of the quiet restraint he started exhibiting about 10 years ago in his solo work, the kind that his self-titled last year celebrated.

“When you’re young, you run,
When you’re young, you run,
When you’re young, you run,
But you come back to what you need.” 
~This Love,
Taylor Swift as performed by Ryan Adams, 1989

I anticipate this record all summer long, being a huge fan of both artists and really into their latest work. Now that it’s here I can’t wait to revisit “1989,” a record that was all kinds of fun and romantic and dreamy and uplifting in the winter of 2014. Who didn’t love this record? To hear in this way, filtered through the mind and fingers of an artist I love as much as Ryan Adams, is a gift. His motivations for doing it are as pure they could be – and his praise of Swift is, too.

In a broader sense, a crossover record like this promises to marry the fan bases of two at-a-glance disparate artists and show, quite easily, how much they have in common. Too often I hear people write off Taylor Swift as a product of a machine, not knowing how much she can write and build and convey. And despite his epic catalog there’s still a lot of people who aren’t familiar with Ryan Adams at all, or who might not realize how sound and strong and touching he can be. I love that this happened.  I love that I can hear it and share it and enjoy it.  I love that something so “mainstream” is so fulfilling, restoring my faith in the tastes of the masses at large and the idea that music, in all its form, can truly unite.

“I never miss a beat
I’m lightning on my feet
And that’s what they don’t see,
That’s what they don’t see.

I’m dancing on my own
I make the moves up as I go
And that’s what they don’t know,
That’s what they don’t know

‘Cause the players gonna play, 
And the haters gonna hate,
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, 
Baby, I’m just gonna shake.
~Shake it Off 
Taylor Swift as performed by Ryan Adams, 1989

1/1/15

So I’m sitting here alone on New Year’s Day trying to finish writing about my favorite albums of 2014, and I’m trying to care about these little moments I can remember with these songs and why they matter and why I liked them, and I keep stopping myself, thinking what is the point? What does a list like this even mean? Especially when published on a blog no one reads?

At the moment, I guess it is something to do with my hands. But I also know the importance of reflection, of finding meaning in our memories. I am so attached to my music. I am so inspired by it and connected to it, it sorts the feelings into boxes and puts them where they need to be. I am never alone when I have songs in my ears, in my head, or my heart, and this is a lifesaver, in no uncertain terms. If that sounds insipid or overdramatic to you, then you have never wrestled with emotions so intense you can’t breathe, so overwhelming you cannot think, only to be brought back down to earth by something other than yourself – for me, that something is most often music. I may be struggling today but I won’t be struggling forever, at least, not anymore than I always was or ever would be, and sitting here typing, replaying my favorite songs of the year, might be the best way to stay grounded tonight. So here goes, here’s what I loved in 2014, with the best reflection my tired, tragic memory can provide:

This Wild Life – Clouded
So emo, so angsty, and still so pretty. This was an evening record, mostly, or a Saturday afternoon jam. These songs are little stories you can wrap your head around, and harmonies you can sing along with, easy chords to strum. These songs lash out with some serious spiteful lines, but they’re so gentle in their own way.  Just a lovely little record worthy of attention, especially in sadness.


“And I just need a day, to shed this dead weight, and to get my head straight
I just want to let go, I just want to be left alone.”

Coldplay – Ghost Stories 
Chris Martin at his most maudlin gave me so much solace this year. I don’t care of the critics panned it. I thought “Ghost Stories” was beautiful, and sad, and strange and even trendy, at times. It didn’t try too hard, its muted drums and elegant little trills are so soft and rich. This record is the middle of the night and early in the morning, it is the hours no one else needs to see.

“Call it magic, cut me into two
And with all your magic, I disappear from view
And I can’t get over, can’t get over you
Still, I call it magic, such a precious truth”

Have Mercy – A Place of Our Own
Please keep pulling my heart strings, Brian Swindle. I sang-screamed so much to this record and it felt so good every time. I love how this band manages a scene-appropriate aggression with poignant, intelligent metaphors and lyrics. They’re so dramatic. I love the way they toy with dynamics, not afraid to get too loud or too soft in anticipation of what’s to come. “The Earth Pushed Back” has its own relevance in 2014 but this new release gave me something to hold onto. Expecting to play this more in 2015, starting tomorrow, probably.


“I’m the pawn and you’re the rook, 
And you played me like a crook, 
I never wanted it to end this way.”

Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
Some people are just born gifted. Ryan Adams is one of those people. No matter how long he stays away he comes back with something brilliant and beautiful, like it just pours right out of his soul to play excellent guitar and write heartfelt, resonating songs. “Gimme Something Good” was an anthem of sorts, as was “Feels like Fire,” but its the slower, very songwriter-y moments that make up the meat of Adams’ self-titled,  and he shines in this kind of arrangement. He is troubled and sad, he is older and wiser, but I will never tire of the lessons Ryan Adams has to offer, from the structure of a pre-chorus to the capacity to live with regret.

“Just so you know, you will always be the hardest thing I will let go 
Driving past your church and all the houses in a row, feeling in my chest is fire.” 

Taylor Swift – 1989
It’s so good. It’s so, so good. Of course it is. She’s something of a generational icon at this point, I’d say, and I’m not going to join the ranks of the eye-rolling haters who are probably just jealous there’s someone talented and beautiful out there. I’ve never heard a Taylor Swift record I didn’t like and “1989” is full of so many excellent, smart, full-feeling moments that prove what a great songwriter she is. This album is vulnerable and mature, but also quite hopeful, and for that I’ve found it a pretty reliable listen in most moods.  It is also draped all over my last quarter of 2014. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to this album and not remember the feel of a hand in mine, singing to someone who seemed not mind listening, the way the hillsides along the Ohio River shone in the afternoon sun.


“So it’s gonna be forever
Or it’s gonna go down in flames
You can tell me when it’s over
If the high was worth the pain.”

The Hotelier- Home, Like No Place There Is
What a fantastic find this band was….I am hooked on their tenor and tones, I am floored by their words, and I am wishing that I had more to say about this record that I’ve listened to so many times. I hope we hear more this band, because I think they’re onto something with the big-time choruses, and the drawn-out melodies, and the scathing honesty of pain and promise and self-destruction that lurks all over this record. I’m glad young, scrappy bands like The Hotelier are still out there making excellent indie rock music. I’m glad they give off something dark and just a little tormented, unashamed to be equal parts fragile and aggressive, which is really something of a combination, when you get down to it.


“I called in sick from your funeral 
The sight your family made me feel responsible.”

The Menzingers – Rented World
If I were in a band, I’d want it to be like The Menzingers. I fell hard for this band in 2013, in Pennsylvania, their home state, and I’ve only grown more attached to them. “Rented World” felt heavy and dark compared to their past productions, and maybe it was a little more serious than the pop-punk, mosh-prone crowds of their youthful fan base could handle, but I took it to heart, I embraced it fully. Really hope this band continues to tour, continues to write, continues to wow me with their mastery of the pop punk song, although their sound transcends, mostly through vocals and the hint of jams, into something a little more broad sometimes. “Rented World” is a jaded record, it is over everything, and I fucking love everything about it, because that is the kind of company that is  hard to find in a world where faking it is so damn profitable, so damn easy, so damn common.

“I’ve tried running, I’ve tried hiding, I’ve tried everything but dying
Damn the days we took for granted, never again will I let alone close to me.
Yeah, me and the rodent in the wall have more in common after all.”
The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
Sprawling, echoing and gorgeous, how could anyone listen to this and not fall in love? What I love most about this record is how contemplative it is, but with a layer of lonely discovery somewhere close to the foundation. It never loses its cool but dips into darkness, exploring all sorts of strange sonic places yet unheard by modern audience. There’s influences aplenty, but the sound is something of its own creation – it is so damn difficult to make something this effortless. This is easily one of the most acclaimed records of the year, but I will love it always for other reasons, too, for the wistful state its mere mention, let alone a listen, inflicts on my mind.

“Love’s the key to the things that we see
And don’t mind chasing
Leave the light on in the yard for me”


Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other
For when you heart is at your knees. For when your head is in dark places. For when inspiration can’t be found. In a critical sense, Dan Campbell’s side project is an incredible display of passion, intensity, talent and literary guise; from a personal standpoint, this album is a friend in depression, a companion for constant sadness. The scenes of New York and cars and bars are so vivid to me, and there’s something cinematic about the narrator’s desolation that I find quite a familiar story. I won’t ever forget meeting Campbell at the Four Chords Music Fest this year, and telling him how great I thought this album was. “Thank you,” he said, nodding slightly, and an hour later he’d go on to tear it the fuck up fronting The Wonder Years. I might not work in the business, I might not surround myself with musicians and bands the way I once did, but I do know a true talent when I see it. This guy’s got it.


“If I lay here long enough, maybe the bugs will eat me whole.
If I stay here long enough, maybe the night would take me home.”

Copeland – Ixora
It’s difficult for me to explain how much I’ve loved this album in the latter of this year. I can’t think of any other record that came out in 2014 that was so closely intertwined with my mornings, my nights, my thoughts and feelings. It is sad, it is sweet, it is symphonic, it is oddly experimental and it is strength is subtle. There’s no question this is my favorite album of the year, because no other has been as much a comfort. This album is hearts too heavy to sleep and knees to weak to stand, it is compassion and kindness found in the most unlikely places, it is desire mixed with perspective, which is such a strange, beautiful combination. I love how serene even the most heightened of moments are. I am so happy this band came back, especially now, at this time, when the sound of something familiar and fresh is so necessary, and also because time has only made their accomplishments more pronounced and produced. The tapestry of strings, guitars and drumskins is balanced so perfectly. You hear so much of the room on this record. I smile to think of all the studio hours spent pouring over this, because to me, that is dedication to perfection and striving to make your work shine the brightest it can, and I am inspired by that. I am in love with the love poured into this record, and its story of sensual struggle. Can’t wait to get it on vinyl. I hope to get lost in “Ixora” over and over again, hope to feel comforted by it and feel satisfied by it. Something tells me, reflecting on the moments I’ve spent with it so far, that might be the soundest start to this next year I can hope for.
“You’re still a breeze upon my skin, close my eyes, breathe you in.
I’m still the shadows in your night, taking over, until I fade into your light.
But you won’t erase me.
Heaven or hell will have to wait.
You won’t erase me.
So you just color me from grey.”

Honorable Mentions

Modern Baseball
I saw this band three times in 2014. The only other bands I’ve seen that many times are Brand New and Jimmy Eat World, which are my favorite bands ever, which is funny to me, but they tour like animals and their songs are fun as heck. Definitely a standout act of the year.

Angels & Airwaves
I am so hooked on The Wolfpack but haven’t gotten my hands on a copy of the album. Just glad they’re back, as I will never tire of this band’s spacey, delay-fueled aesthetic.

Ingrid Michaelson
“Lights Out” has some really excellent moments.  That hook in “Girls Chase Boys” is some kind of earworm. She continues to a preeminent songwriter.

letlive.
I’ll never forget the look of Jason Alan Butler dropping rose petals from his hands around the mic, and when he climbed up the speakers to the balcony at Altar Bar, latching onto the base only to shimmey across with a mic cord around his neck, then crowdsurf back to the stage. More shows like this in 2015, please.

Brand New
I saw Brand New at Stage AE in Pittsburgh this year. They continue to amaze.They continue to toy with their fanbase in these miserable little ways, teasing recordings and studio time and old-new tracks. Brand New is going to put out an album next year Actually, they probably won’t. But they could. They should. They will. I think.

Here’s to all there will be to listen to in 2015, and all the hope, comfort and companionship those albums, too, will provide.

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