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Well this is embarrassing. We’re only like like, what? 7 months late with this thing? 2016 was a wild year for both of us, and it looks like 2017 is shaping up to be too, or else we’d have wrapped this up a long time ago. But here we are. Most of these blurbs were written last year, so if there’s some confusion in the tenses used, we apologize. But honestly, if you’re still reading this thing after all these years and you’re worried about inconsistent grammar, I don’t really know what to tell you.

As always, these were our favorite albums of the year, not necessarily the best… blah blah blah. You get it. Let’s just cut to the chase…

 

Chris’s Favorite Album of 2016

 

The Bound Of The Red DeerThe Bound of the Red Deer

by King Creosote & Michael Johnston

[self-released]

Most of what I love about The Bound of the Red Deer can be summed up in its fourth track, “Billows Roll.” After two minutes of uninterrupted piano, the song gives way to a simple couplet repeated only twice, “You have an anchor that steadies the soul / steadfast and sure my love, how the billows roll.” It’s thoughtful and understated, and I hear that desire for a sure anchor throughout the record.

The Bound of the Red Deer may be the least obvious pick for an album of the year – it’s a minor release from two fairly niche musicians to begin with, recorded quickly on acoustic instruments several years ago, then released without any fanfare last spring. They only played a few shows in its support after it slipped into the world, largely unnoticed (I’m pretty confident that “unnoticed” is the right word, because I’m pretty well obsessed with anything King Creosote does, but I didn’t even hear about this record until almost four months after it had been released), and then it just kind of floated away as both musicians moved onto other projects.

Overall it’s a quiet, ruminative record, one that’s content to just be what it is. Both Johnston and Creosote are veteran songwriters who’ve been working tirelessly for years, and these sturdy songs reflect it (they’re both part of the Canadian/Scottish songwriters collective The Burns Unit, whose 2010 record Side Show is absolutely worth your time, and on which a few of these songs originally appeared). The songs are thoughtfully arranged and beautifully realized, with pretty little moments abounding: the ascending piano line that opens “Since We’ve Fallen Out”, the buoyant sha-la-la vocals in “Hang Dog” and the celtic percussion that peppers it’s outro, the celestial coda of “Supermoon” where both men’s voices combine to chant “come in with the tide” until the song ebbs away. I suppose none of these moments are particularly notable in their own right, but taken together they form an undeniably beautiful whole.

This past year has been a turbulent one for me. We left Indianapolis, our home of seven years, and started a new life 2000 miles away in Seattle, Washington. We started a business in April and welcomed our second son in September. All good things for sure, but not things I’d recommend doing within a 12-month period if you can help it. As I’ve been thinking about our year, full of gale-force winds and tempestuous seas, it’s become pretty apparent why this record has spoken to me so much. I love King Creosote, and his music actually has become an anchor for me over the past several years – something I’ve returned to over and over again whenever I’ve needed it. The Bound of the Red Deer is another cable lashed to that anchor, “steadfast and sure (as) the billows roll.” –Chris

mp3: King Creosote + Michael Johnston – Billows Roll

 

 

Logan’s Favorite Album of 2016

 

The Colour in AnythingThe Colour In Anything

by James Blake

[Polydor]

During my first semester at college I took an introductory art history class. It covered everything from prehistoric fertility statues to contemporary street artists. It was hardly in depth, but broad strokes and shallow interpretations are about all I’m capable of digesting (I know next to nothing about music but compared to my knowledge and understanding of art, I’m a Juilliard graduate specializing in… let’s say Jazz drumming).

However, I do remember one particular piece of art from that class and the experience I had (and have) when looking at it. The Night Café by Vincent Van Gogh depicts the interior of a cafe, a billiard table is near the center of the scene and customers sit slouched, drunk or asleep, at tables that hug the walls of the room. The colors are garish and almost violent. Even now, the sickly yellow-green glow of the lamps in that piece is lurid and unsettling. I was amazed at how the careful selection of colors could evoke such emotion and when I listen to James Blake’s appropriately titled third album, The Colour in Everything, I am reminded of that painting. Whether intentional or not, Colour has an imagery associated with it. The various tracks feel as though they were painted in cool hues of blue, purple, and gray. Blake’s sound is, at times, thickly applied like an Impressionist, chunky and roughly textured — at other times he channels the fine and precise detail of a Rembrandt, while still maintaining the darkness and intense emotions that permeate the album from start to finish.

(I trust anyone who knows anything about art will laugh at my childlike and simpleton interpretation. But I’d say this was pretty good for a guy who still laughs when he hears Peter Paul Ruben’s work referred to as “Ruben’s Boobens.“) –Logan

mp3: James Blake – I Need a Forest Fire (feat. Bon Iver)

 

 

The rest of the best….

 

 

ArrowArrow

by Amy O

[Let’s Pretend Records]

One constant during years in Indianapolis was making the 40-minute drive down to Bloomington to see this or that concert. I’ve seen everyone from Bob Dylan to Sufjan Stevens, from Jens Lekman to Janelle Monae in that little gem of a town, and I’ll always be grateful for its wealth of charming little venues, from DIY spaces like Rhino’s and the Live Room at Russian Recording, to relative mainstays like the Bishop and Bluebird, to the historic Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

Just before we moved I got one last chance to make that drive to Bloomington to see Hop Along at the Bishop with one of my very best friends. Hop Along were, of course, incredible (they’re honestly one of the best bands working today), but I was pleasantly surprised to thoroughly enjoy the opening act – a local group fronted by a young woman going by Amy O. That night was the release show for her latest record, Arrow, and she and her band just played its ten spritely songs straight through. I was so impressed I bought the album on cassette (that was the only format she was selling, if I recall) and went on to listen to this lo-fi garage-pop gem all year. She’s got another record on the horizon, so keep an ear out for this talented export from one of my favorite little Indiana towns. -Chris

mp3: Amy O – Arrow

 

WildflowerWildflower

by The Avalanches

[Modular Recordings/Astralwerks]

This definitely wasn’t Since I Left You, Part II. But honestly, how could it be? After 16 years, The Avalanches made the wise decision to not try and recreate a stone-cold masterpiece, instead coming back with something a little goofier, a little less mysterious, and with a lot more MCs. It might not prove to be as timeless as that first bit of lightning-in-a-bottle, but you know what? I still love it. -Chris

mp3: The Avalanches – Because I’m Me (feat. Camp Lo)

 

22, A Million22, A Million

by Bon Iver

[Jagjaguwar]

When 22, A Million finally saw the light of day, I read a lot of reviews that described it as “Justin Vernon gets weird,” which struck me as odd. Because, in my mind, Justin Vernon’s always been weird. Sure, the narrative for For Emma, Forever Ago was pretty cliched, and yes, it was mainly a man and his guitar – but aside from that, it’s a weird little record, made up of droning alternate tunings and word-soup free-associative lyricism. It was weird! On the Blood Bank EP, Bon Iver flirted with Reichian tonal patterns on “Babies” and was honestly the first singer-songwriter I knew of to experiment with autotune on “Woods.” It was also weird! On 2012’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver he swapped his guitar for maximalist cut-and-paste sound collages that ended with a straight-shooting homage to Bruce Hornsby. That was weird! And I’m not even mentioning all his forays into hip-hop (a la Kanye), experimental rock (Volcano Choir’s first record) and adult contemporary (Gayngs). It’s all been weird!

So yeah, 22, A Million is weird, but c’mon, it’s not like Vernon’s been writing variations on “Hey There Delilah” for the past ten years. The real difference this time around is how fully Vernon leans into his post-guitar phase – the majority of 22, A Million is made up of glitchy electronics and disjointed samples, creating the bed for Vernon’s trademark falsetto, only this time it’s more often distorted than not. So yeah, it’s weird. But just like all the other weirdness Vernon’s put his name on, the record is almost uniformly gorgeous, another testament to the man’s creative genius. -Chris

mp3: Bon Iver – 22 (OVER S∞∞N)

 

case_lang_veirscase/lang/veirs

by case/lang/veirs

[Anti-]

I got deep into this record in the weeks after my second son was born — it’s like a time capsule for this AM-radio golden era that probably never actually existed, but still makes the perfect soundtrack for a lazy afternoon. Neko Case is, as always, a force of nature, and KD Lang and Laura Veirs are just brilliant as ever. It’s an album that doesn’t try hard to win you over, but it doesn’t really need to. It’s just doing it’s thing and it’s thing is enough. -Chris

mp3: case/lang/veirs – Best Kept Secret

 

GoodnessGoodness

by The Hotelier

[Tiny Engines]

EDITORS NOTE: We consider this a family-friendly blog. We try to limit things like profanity and nudity when we can help it, and even though this cover isn’t particularly offensive, it still had a whole lot of naked, hence the pixelation. 🙂

I’m not a creative type. I like to doodle but that’s about it. I often think that I’m one who’s been blessed to appreciate and applaud those that are creative but at the same time is cursed to not be creative myself. I’ve surrounded myself with creative people; people who can use words, music, pencils, and other mediums to create art. Many of these people find inspiration in the mundane and use that to soothe and to solve. People who, when faced with a 3-year old refusing to go to bed, illustrate a comic showing a brave pillow-wielding heroine fighting a sleep deprived monster or who, upon seeing a doe grazing outside their cabin window, ruminate on life, death, and God. I find myself frustrated that I just don’t see the world the way they do. Goodness, by The Hotelier, has many of these moments (including the aforementioned inspiration from a doe). It has been an especially inspiring record since welcoming my first child this year because, if even in the smallest way, I think I’m starting to see the world a bit differently. Holding my son (essentially a little helpless poop factory and sleep destroyer) has made me think more about my life, the path I’ve been on, and, even in these dark times, allows me to see the beauty in this world. He really makes me “see life in exploding color”.

Okay, so maybe it’s all of the above that makes me love this album, or maybe I just enjoy over-the-top spoken word intros (which it definitely has). -Logan

mp3: The Hotelier – Soft Animal

 

Astronaut Meets ApplemanAstronaut Meets Appleman

by King Creosote

[Domino]

In the short five years since I stumbled upon King Creosote he’s released at least 9 albums worth of music (at least I think he has – his “official” releases can be pretty hard to pin down, much less purchase). The guy is just ridiculously prolific, especially considering the fact that the man’s been making music for three decades! This year alone, KC released this on Domino Records, Queens of Brush County on his own Fence Records, and self-released The Bound of the Red Deer with Michael Johnston. How’s anyone supposed to keep up with that?

With that kind of prolificacy, quality can be a real concern, but this guy just keeps pumping out winner after winner for me, and Astronaut Meets Appleman is no exception. Lots of KC’s records can be considered DIY affairs, but this one takes the hat-tip from 2014’s well-received From Scotland With Love and sticks with the higher production values. You can hear it in the gorgeous vocal textures and harp scales on the back half of “You Just Want” or in the lush low end in “Love Life”, or in the accordion and strings that drive the crescendo in “Surface” (in fact the accordion is all over this thing, and I love it so much). Listen, I know I’ve crossed over completely into fanboy territory with this guy and I’ve lost any semblance of objective credibility here, so you can just dismiss anything I say about him from here on out if you want. But make sure you at least take a listen first, because you might just find yourself in the same boat. -Chris

mp3: King Creosote – Surface

 

SonderlustSonderlust

by Kishi Bashi

[Joyful Noise]

Two years ago when Chris and I put together our year-end list, we had two albums vying for the number one spot, Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There and Kishi Bashi’s Lighght. Ultimately, if memory serves me right, we settled on Lighght strictly because Chris and I had had a fantastic year – 2014 had been one of the best years in our lives and we wanted our “top” album to reflect that optimism. Personally, I was celebrating my relationship and engagement to my now wife. I’m still in awe of my wife, but particularly in that year, when we decided to get married, I could not believe my luck. She is the everything I was made to believe was asking too much. The beauty and, at times, the lighthearted silliness of Lighght encapsulated what made 2014 wonderful. Now, two years later, I’m married, I’ve just welcomed my son into the world, and Kishi Bashi’s Sonderlust is beautifully in line with these life changes.

Both albums, ultimately, are about love. But where Lighght was frantic, excited, and just generally matched that thrill of a new love and romance, Sonderlust seems to take a more honest, fragile, and realistic approach to love. There is a mature love expressed in this album. A love based on understanding, compromise, and true affection. And you can take my word on this. I’ve been married for almost TWO years, so I’m pretty much an expert on mature and celestial love. –Logan

mp3: Kishi Bashi – Statues in a Gallery

 

Wild Dark MetalWild Dark Metal

by Mason Jennings

[Stats and Brackets]

This record occupies an odd space for me. It came out just as we were packing up and preparing to leave our home of seven years to start all over in the Pacific Northwest. I listened to it almost exclusively as I finished packing up our little duplex rental, repainting and filling holes in the 70-year old plaster walls. It’s what I listened to during the nights after my wife and son flew ahead of me to our new home — it played on an old portable turntable while I slept on an air mattress on the bare wooden floor surrounded by the dregs of everything we own, the things that didn’t file away easily into previously packed categories.

I haven’t returned to it much since that week, and I’m not sure when I will again. But the last two songs, “How I Feel About You” and “On The Starry Banks”, have never really left me since those nights on the floor in our old house, like little beacons from another life. -Chris

mp3: Mason Jennings – How I Feel About You

 

PreoccupationsPreoccupations

by Preoccupations

[Jagjaguwar]

With all of the talk of love and happiness in my other posts, I feel like we need to take it a tad darker.

2016 was a nuts year for me and my family. I’ll try not to go into too much detail, but it all started in February when I decided, along with my doctor, that I could discontinue my anti-anxiety medication. I had been in a really good spot for a while and I was feeling quite triumphant. My beautiful wife was pregnant, we had just put a down payment on a home we were building, and I had just received a pretty nice pay bump at work. These things and more led me to feeling emotionally stable, comfortable, and confident. And boy was I happy.

And then things started happening, not bad things, undeniably good things. Over the next four months, the ground was broken on our home, I left my old job to take a great position at a company I love, we moved into our new home, and the little boy continued to grow until he joined us mid-November, happy and healthy. During this time, even while we were celebrating such wonderful things, I felt the shake of my old anxiety. New father jitters. Homeowner nerves. New job stomach. Holiday exhaustion. It was easy to dismiss these things and not acknowledge that maybe I needed that help again. Things were wonderful and I was happy! You could look at any aspect of my life now versus 5 years ago and see the almost exponential difference. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of some unknown dread. Completely unidentifiable but, in my head, 100% real. It sucked.

Preoccupations (formerly Viet Cong) have, in my opinion, captured this emotional struggle with their self-titled release. Preoccupations is heavy. It perpetually beats these emotions into you through an almost monotonous repetition that keeps you uneasy and on edge. This was obviously the band’s intent. Each track title alludes to a battle so many people are facing day to day (and I fully realize I am very lucky and I feel a bit uneasy even putting myself in the same category as those that carry a far heavier burden). So far, I’ve described Preoccupations as an emotional struggle and a battle, but what is beautiful is that, at no point, is there the thought of a surrender. It might be an ongoing fight, you might lose battles here and there, but ultimately, the war of this album closes repeating the following line, “You’re not scared. Carry your fever away from here.

(And in case you were wondering, I’m feeling much better now. I’m back on my meds and things are going great.) -Logan

mp3: Preoccupations – Anxiety

 

A Moon Shaped PoolA Moon Shaped Pool

by Radiohead

[XL Recordings]

I don’t have much to add to any discussion on Radiohead, so I’ll keep this brief. As someone who genuinely enjoyed The King of Limbs, I wasn’t looking for some redemptive comeback record as much as I was looking for another gorgeous collection of songs — but no matter what you were hoping for, I think A Moon Shaped Pool probably delivered — it’s just that great. Like most  of Radiohead’s work, it’s claustrophobic and anxious while still somehow being tender and breathtakingly beautiful. But what’s most striking to me about A Moon Shaped Pool is how generous it is. Honestly, there’s so few examples of bands this successful making music this vital this late in their career – and the fact is, Thom Yorke & co. honestly didn’t need to. But they did, and it sounds like they put everything they had into it. And then they go and throw freaking “True Love Waits” on the end of it too? I mean, come on. We don’t deserve this. -Chris

mp3: Radiohead – True Love Waits

 

SVIIBSVIIB

by School of Seven Bells

[Vagrant]

I was pretty late to the School of Seven Bells party. I liked their second record well enough and put “I L U” on several mixes back in 2010, but besides that, they’d flown completely under my radar. Then, in 2013, Benjamin Curtis passed away due to complications associated with lymphoma. His surviving bandmate Alejandra Deheza released the last thing they’d recorded together, a cover of Joey Ramones’ “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up),” which Curtis had reportedly been working on in his hospital bed right up until his death. The over seven-minute take on the snotty classic won me over easily, and from there I dove back into a truly impressive catalog, cut much too short. So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that Deheza was finishing and planned to release the record she and Curtis had been working on before he died. The result is SVIIB, the likely last record under the School of Seven Bells moniker.

But you don’t need to know all that history to enjoy this thing – these songs stand up just fine on their own. Side A’s killer run of “Ablaze” through “A Thousand Times More” is as bleary-eyed and brilliant as anything else in their repertoire, and while the second half is more sedate in comparison, it’s no less pretty for it – all shimmery and enveloping in the way that Deheza’s and Curtis’s best work always has been. In short, SVIIB is just a gorgeous batch of songs, and certainly a worthy coda to a singular run of records.

mp3: School of Seven Bells – A Thousand Times More

 

We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

by A Tribe Called Quest

[Epic]

I just wasn’t that plugged into hip-hop this year. All the releases I was most excited about left me feeling cold (Kanye, Chance), and I’m just not that interested in any of the newest rappers I’ve heard (That’s right! I’m old! Get off my lawn!).

But something about seeing Q-Tip spit his bars from “We The People….” on SNL mere days after learning that a narcissistic authoritarian cheetoh-in-a-wig was going to be the next leader of the free world got my blood pumping. Since then, it’s been a sheer joy to revel in Tribe’s return from the grave – a vital document that appeared at exactly the right time. –Chris

mp3: A Tribe Called Quest – We the People…

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2015 Songs Header

Here’s another late addition to our favorite music of 2015–this time it’s our favorite songs. You’ll find Logan’s favorites first, then Chris’s, each in alphabetical order.

And if you have any interest, here’s a link to a Spotify playlist with most of the songs below–enjoy!

Read the rest of this entry »

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2015 header

So here we are, a whole month into 2016, and we’re finally putting up our favorite records of 2015. I’m sure you’ve all been checking in daily since mid-December, waiting with bated breath to hear what we’ve been listening to all year. I say “you,” as if there are still people who read this thing–don’t worry, we know full well the only “people” still reading this are the robots who keep posting comments about working from home and erectile dysfunction. Honestly, those spam-bots write more on this blog than we do. It’s the future, and the future is weird.

As always, we’ve highlighted our favorite records of the year–the ones we love the very most and think everyone should hear. One big difference, though–we decided to completely forgo ranking the albums this year. At the top you’ll find each of our respective picks for album of the year, but after that each record will be listed in alphabetical order by artist. So read on, erectile dysfunction robots! This one’s for you!

 

Chris’s Favorite Album of 2015

 

this is the kit

Bashed Out

by This Is The Kit

[Brassland]

On “We Are In”, the penultimate track on This Is The Kit’s exquisite Bashed Out, Kate Stables sings “Today we are the same age / we have both been far away / but today we’re in the same place.” I’ve listened to this song many times this past year, my first full year as a new father, and for me it’s come to describe the miracle of new life–of welcoming an eternal being into mortality to share this brief span of history together, of how in the grand scheme of things, the 31 years that separate my son and I are pretty insignificant. From a widescreen perspective, we really are the same age, just like we really are in the same place. Of course I have no idea what Stables is actually singing about, but that song has become so entwined with new fatherhood for me that I’ll never untangle it. A similar thing happened with “Spores All Settling,” a beautiful banjo-laden track that felt like a balm when our cat of several years passed away in the spring (”so open out and let the clean air in / you wash away, let’s get some weather in”). In fact, I’ve had moments like this with every song on Bashed Out–whether it’s looking out at the Gulf of Mexico and singing “all we need is the sea / because the sea sorts you right out” to myself, or adopting “get up off your rusty dusty” into my personal positive self-talk (as in “Come on Tobler! Get up off your rusty dusty! You got this!”). It seems Stables’ impressionistic folk music makes the perfect canvas for me to project whatever I happen to be feeling at the time, making each song more personal and precious with each new listen. Every song is a gem, hewn out by Stables, but then buffed and polished by the attention I’ve given it until it shines with a soft, warm glow–reflecting back whatever I face toward it. Bashed Out has become more of a companion than a record for me this year–and as Stables repeats in the closing refrain of “Magic Spell”, it really is “rare and remarkable.” –Chris

mp3: This Is The Kit – We Are In

 

 

Logan’s Favorite Album of 2015

 

sorority noiseJoy, Departed

by Sorority Noise

[Topshelf Records]

I just said to Chris, “I’m on my 4th iteration of the Sorority Noise write-up. I’m ready to just say, ‘It’s an awesome album.’” It’s not like I haven’t gotten kind of sappy with other entries, that seems to be my go-to, but I just think this is a very powerful album. It isn’t your usual ‘emo’ nonsense. It’s ‘emo with a message.’ I will admit that I originally gave Sorority Noise’s Joy, Departed a chance because I thought my wife might be interested. Like many of us, Brooke went through a phase in high school that was defined by punk, emo, and ska; however, unlike most of us, she is still sort of in that phase (fortunately she hasn’t asked me to bleach my tips or wear a puka shell necklace). When it came out, articles about Joy, Departed were describing it as “post-emo” and “what happens when an emo band grows up”. I’ll repeat that it’s a powerful album, both musically and thematically. Joy, Departed is a mature treatment and approach to mental illness and the struggle not only to live personally with it but to live with people who don’t understand the true nature of mental illness. I think the highlight comes in the second to last track “Mononokay” where the lead singer, who has admitted to suffering from serious depression, sings, “Call me depressed and tell me to get over it. It’s not in my head and it’s in my blood.” -Logan

mp3: Sorority Noise – Using

 

 

 

brandon flowersThe Desired Effect

by Brandon Flowers

[Island]

I think the text conversation between my brother Ty and I concerning Brandon Flower’s The Desired Effect is better than anything I would write (emojis will be included):

Ty: If the vast majority of the money in the world exists as nothing more than computer data and money represents human labor and we spend an enormous amount of time and energy maintaining computers and their networks….do we live in The Matrix? Are we giving ourselves to money so we can buy an inferior digital version of ourselves? The answer is yes. That’s just a crack-pot theory “rider” I added on to this message that is just to say, I think Brandon Flower’s album is as good as you say ☺.  It’s amazing. I love it. An active Mormon who makes good art…..I have to reevaluate all my experience now that everything I thought I knew was wrong!

Logan: I’m so glad you’re loving Brandon Flowers’ new album. So good. And now that you are having to see the world anew, Brooke and I will save a place for you next Sunday during Sacrament meeting

Ty: Maybe I’ll send an inferior digital version of myself to sac meeting.

(Rant about socialism, conservatism, and Ty moving into our guest room.)

Ty: My favorite line (among many) from the Desired Effect “All my life I’ve been told to follow your dreams but the trail grew cold.” Springsteen wishes he came up with that one.

Logan: Now now. Springsteen would have said ‘road’ instead of ‘trail’ and The Boss would have said something about his dream breaking down on the side of Hwy 9…just as a saxophone comes in.

Logan: Dang. I would listen to that song.

(Long discussion on the new Star Wars movie)

Ty:  I keep BFlowers playing in my car always. That album’s AMAZING. Like a sunny summer pop album but with a dark underside like Springsteens Tunnel of Love maybe. I’m curious what album you found that’s better. Keith Richards?  -Logan

mp3: Brandon Flowers – Between Me And You

 

 

carly rae jepsenE•MO•TION

by Carly Rae Jepsen

[Interscope/School Boy]

If you had told me in 2011 that Carly Rae Jepsen, a pop-singer that rose to fame with the help of fellow Canadian Justin Bieber, would have one of the best albums of 2015, I would have totally believed you. “Call Me Maybe” is the jam. EMOTION (or rather E•MO•TION, because life is difficult and typing should reflect the struggle) seemed to enter my radar amidst hushed whispers of, “Hey, have you heard CRJ has a new album coming out? Well it is supposed to be kind of amazing.” And it is. It really is. E•MO•TION is a Frankenstein’s Monster of pop-perfection. The star-studded production team took the best parts of pop music from just about every era (with some extra special attention on the 80s), mashed it all together with Carly Rae’s young and airy vocals, and added just a dash of saxophone to create something wonderful and endlessly playable (I am in the process of confirming this claim). -Logan

mp3: Carly Rae Jepsen – Run Away with Me

 

 

chvrchesEvery Open Eye

by CHVRCHES

[Universal]

I recently had the chance to watch 1996’s Space Jam in a rented out theater. I walked away from that saying two things over and over again, “Watching basketball players act is rough,” and “Whoa. Do you remember Jock Jams!?” Jock Jams was a compilation CD put out by ESPN that featured pump-up songs like “Get Ready for This” and “Whoomp! (There It Is).” They were everywhere. You’ve heard these played at every sporting event you’ve ever been to. Terrible songs. Absolutely terrible songs, even if they weren’t forever associated with the briny stench of my high school gymnasium. These songs were meant to fire you up and they just didn’t do it. Chvrches Every Eye Open succeeds where those songs failed miserably. This record is beyond upbeat–the music and the lyrics seem to be competing with each other on every track to see which can get you to attack life with renewed vigor. I’m waiting for the day when my friends’ mothers begin sharing inspiring photos on Facebook with Chvrches quotes like, “we will take the best parts of ourselves and make them gold’ (this quote will be attributed to Abraham Lincoln and a Minion will be saying it). Every Eye Open doesn’t let up until the final track “Afterglow,” which is a perfect and gradual closer for what is an exciting album. -Logan

mp3: CHVRCHES – Make Them Gold

 

 

dmm_jacketGolden Age

by Daniel Martin Moore

[OK Recordings/Sofaburn]

Sometimes a record comes along at just the right time–your defenses are down and it’s able to penetrate far deeper than if it had entered your life at any other time. Somehow, Daniel Martin Moore has managed to do this to me more than once (first with 2010’s Appalachian-set lost-masterpiece Dear Companion, then in 2012 with In The Cool Of The Day, an ostensible “minor work,” wherein Moore revisits traditional southern hymns from his childhood)–and now he’s gone and done it again with Golden Age. I wasn’t particularly anticipating any of these three records, but all of them have burrowed down deep into my musical soil, sprouting the kind of love and dedication usually reserved for sacred things. DMM writes fairly straight-forward folk songs, delivering them in a clear-eyed tenor that betrays no guile, here usually accompanied by simple piano accompaniment. Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) often has a hand in DMM’s records–and his wild-eyed cinematic vision broadens the scope of Golden Age just enough to catch a glimpse of something grand in the periphery (he shows up in a more corporeal sense with a fuzzed-out guitar solo on “Our Hearts Will Hover” that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Let It Be). Sonically, this record is the perfect soundtrack for the slow descent from autumn into winter, the cold slow exhale that takes all the leaves with it, leaving a gentle stillness behind. It’s not sad (in fact the overall tone of the record is optimistic–“our Golden Age is here” after all), it’s just content to be still, and to find some beauty and wonder in the stillness. -Chris

mp3: Daniel Martin Moore – Golden Age

 

 

father john mistyI Love You, Honeybear

by Father John Misty

[Sub Pop]

I don’t think Father John Misty (real name Joshua Tillman) and I would get along. I am basing this on next to nothing. He’s probably a fun and pleasant guy. Heck, who knows, maybe if I did get to know him I’d think we got along splendidly and he’d be the one saying about me, “Nah, not my style. He’s a bit much for my tastes.” The only thing I am basing this on is his music, and his music is exhausting (we all judge the personality of the artist off the music they produce right?). I Love You, Honeybear is tough–J. Tillman comes across as self-involved and cynical throughout the album. “Bored in the USA” is the prime example, and his apathetic swagger while performing the song on David Letterman was this album come to life. So… that sounded pretty negative for a “favorite album” post. I mean, I don’t do this whole blogging thing much anymore so I’m probably off my game (most would argue I had no game to begin with). But the thing is, while I Love You, Honeybear is all of those things I said earlier, it is also tender, beautiful, and, perhaps most importantly, genuine. There might be some cringe-causing moments but above it all, Tillman’s sincerity and the beauty of the music comes through. -Logan

mp3: Father John Misty – Bored In The USA

 

 

four tetMorning/Evening

by Four Tet

[Domino]

Kieren Hebden (as Four Tet) makes exactly the kind of electronic music that moves me most–it’s inventive and surprising, often warm and inviting, and it sounds like a human being made it. Morning/Evening especially fits this bill–it consists of two 20-minute tracks, each one representing one of the titular times of day, much like the ragas of Hebden’s Indian heritage. “Morning Side” is particularly enchanting, riding its rhythm like a small boat bobbing slowly on an ocean swell, while the voice of beloved Indian playback singer Lata Mangeshkar loops over the top, adding a celestial sheen to the whole thing. “Evening Side” is predictably more sedate, but not to a fault–it manages to be a thoughtful, if slightly less memorable, representation of the waning hours of the day. The earlier comparison to ragas is especially apt on Morning/Evening–not just in theme, but in execution–this is electronic music not for dancing or clubbing so much as for contemplation and reflection–music made to soundtrack time spent outside, walking alone, instead of inside, dancing with sweaty strangers. And if it sounds like I prefer one of those to the other, it’s because I do. -Chris

youtube: Four Tet – Morning Side

 

hop alongPainted Shut

by Hop Along

[Saddle Creek]

In a Stereogum article earlier this year, the writer said she didn’t like a particular band because they “never (look) like they’ll die if they stop… there’s no bloodlust.” While that’s a pretty dumb reason to write off a musician, I can at least relate to wanting that kind of urgency from your music. I only bring it up here because no one will ever level that same criticism at Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan–when this woman sings it sounds like you’re listening to every last nerve ending fry in her body. It actually does sound like she’ll die if she stops. And Quinlan’s voice is only part of what makes this band so amazing–they’re dynamic and ingenuitive, at turns crunchy and jangly, hurtling each song toward its inevitable climax and catharsis. All of this, though, just lays the groundwork for Quinlan’s real gift–her exquisite songwriting. Each of Painted Shut’s ten songs are knotty and poetic, painting vivid scenes with a shrewdness and empathy that feels earned–some are pulled from her own life, like the unpleasant encounter with a restaurant patron in “Waitress,” or witnessing a man beat a child but staying silent afterward in “Powerful Man”–others are pulled from the tragic lives of others, like Charles “Buddy” Bolden’s public nervous breakdown in “Buddy In The Parade,” or Jackson C. Frank’s private one in “Horseshoe Crabs.” Relying less on verse/chorus structure and more on the push/pull of the narrative, she ends almost every song with some sort of lyrical gut-punch, which the band then wrings for all it’s worth. All of this adds up to one amazing album, one you urgently need to hear. -Chris

mp3: Hop Along – Waitress

 

 

jamie xxIn Colour

by Jamie xx

[Young Turks]

This record has changed how I say the phrase “Oh my gosh.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then it’s time to get on that. -Chris

 

 

 

 

 

mp3: Jamie xx – Gosh

 

 

joan shelleyOver and Even

by Joan Shelley

[No Quarter]

Joan Shelley is from Louisville, Kentucky, one of America’s true hidden gems. Ever since I moved to the Midwest nearly seven years ago, Louisville (which is a short two hours south of where I live) has managed to become one of my very favorite cities in the whole world. Depending on who you ask, Louisville is either the southernmost Northern city, or the northernmost Southern one–the state it sits atop is often dismissed as backwards at best, but this beautiful city on the Ohio River has a vibrant culture and thrumming artistic community that provides a convincing counterpoint to the presumed bible-thumping toothless hillbilly. I don’t know if Joan Shelley shares my romantic impression of her hometown (distance, even just a couple hours, is the most sure way to romanticize anything, to be sure)–but I can’t help but hear some of what I love about Louisville in her songs. Shelley herself contains similar contradictions–for all intents and purposes she writes fairly straight-forward folk songs, but wraps them up in ways that gently nudge them into dronier, more ambient territory, giving them room to breathe and a life beyond the ghettoized tenements of so much contemporary folk music. On this record, those layers are provided by several other Louisville natives–like the wonderful Daniel Martin Moore, who produced–Nathan Salsburg, who contributed his unparalleled guitar work–and Will Oldham, whose voice flits in and out of the edges of these elegiac ditties. Even with these talented collaborators, the record still feels uncommonly intimate, like every sound is just there to provide context for Shelley’s bell-clear voice–a voice that stands out like a bright bold thread in the lush tapestry around it. That thread winds through an unbelievable first half, from “Brighter Than The Blues” through “Easy Now”–some of the downright most beautiful songs I’ve heard all year–and into a mistier second half, illustrated by the short, daydream-like “Lure and Line” and “My Only Trouble.” All together, Over And Even sounds ancient, like it’s always existed–or perhaps more accurately, like it’s never fully existed, except maybe in the twilight between the trees of a Kentucky river bank. Or okay, I might just be romanticizing again. -Chris

mp3: Joan Shelley – Easy Now

 

 

jose gonzalezVestiges and Claws

by José González

[Mute Records]

Like a lot of people, I first heard José González in 2005 when his extraordinary cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” hit the US (specifically in this rather gorgeous commercial). Since then, I’ve stayed a casual fan of Gonzalez’s, but over the years I’ve noticed that most of my favorite Gonzalez tracks tend to be his takes on other people’s songs – Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Nick Drake’s “Cello Song,” Arthur Russell’s “This Is How We Walk On The Moon”–while the rest of his oeuvre just sort of languished in my “like/don’t love” category. All that changed last winter when I picked up Vestiges and Claws— which is, in my mind, the absolute most stunning thing González has ever done. Like all his records, it’s hypnotic and enchanting–with his motorik guitar work providing the skeleton upon which the meat of the songs are hung. What’s different here, at least to my ear, is that his distinctively percussive guitar playing seems to be purely in service to these well-crafted songs, and not the other way around (I think this is how you could generally describe his cover songs – which is probably why I love them so much). The songs themselves are breathtaking–they sound lush and full, friendlier and less jagged than most of González’s past work. Songs like “Let It Carry You” and “Leaf Off/The Cave” are stunning in their simplicity and grace, only to reveal their complexities over time. Other songs, like “Every Age” or closing track “Open Book,” are the closest González has ever hewn to traditional songwriting, simple and straightforward in both sentiment and execution, and they’re better for it. This record soundtracked most of last winter for me, and has stayed a constant companion all year. -Chris

mp3: José González – Let It Carry You

 

 

josh ritterSermon On The Rocks

by Josh Ritter

[Pytheas Recordings]

It’s really no secret how much I love Josh Ritter–the man is responsible for some of my most sacred musical experiences, both live and recorded. But even with that history, Sermon On The Rocks initially left me a bit cold. “Getting Ready To Get Down” was the first time one of Josh’s lead singles didn’t completely bowl me over (for reference, that list includes “Joy To You Baby,” “Change of Time,” “The Temptation of Adam,” and “Wolves”–all unimpeachable masterpieces in my mind), and even though I’ve since come around to love “Get Down,” I originally approached Sermon On The Rocks with some trepidation. And being totally honest, it still didn’t win me over my first few times through. It had its high points: “Where The Night Goes” is some first-rate Boss-worship, “Henrietta, Indiana” is another notch on the belt of one of our generation’s best folk-song storytellers, and “Homecoming” is completely and ethereally incredible. But the piece as a whole didn’t quite win me over. That is, until I realized how much my ten-month-old (at the time) loved it. And I mean, LOVED IT. He still does. Every time I turn this record on, when those first few organ punches on “Birds of the Meadow” hit,  he immediately grabs whatever’s closest and sturdiest, because he needs some serious support when he’s rocking out (his go-to dance is a good-ol-fashioned headbang while holding onto something, anything, sturdy enough to support his little 24 lbs of dancing fury). It didn’t take long for me to realize that the more I played this record, the more I got to hang out with this tiny head-banging version of my son–and  you know what, after about 50 times through it, this Sermon has me converted. -Chris

mp3: Josh Ritter – Homecoming

 

 

LOW_OnesSixes_coverOnes and Sixes

by Low

[Sub Pop]

I loved Low’s 2013 album, The Invisible Way. That record was maybe one of the “warmest” they’d ever made–recorded with Jeff Tweedy at the Wilco loft, it sounded lived in and comfortable, like warm autumn light falling in from a window. I bring it up because Ones And Sixes does not sound like that. It is not warm and it certainly does not sound comfortable. If The Invisible Way was fall–painted in shades of orange and yellow–then Ones And Sixes is winter–icy, barren, bleak. Everything about this record is wintry, right down to the album sleeve. The drums are ultra-compressed, the keyboards sound like they’re coming up from under a frozen lake, and the abundant reverb gives everything a glassy, reflective sheen. All this makes a pretty stark canvas to paint on, but if there’s anything a group from Duluth, Minnesota, know how to do, it’s how to make something this cold and barren beautiful–and my gosh, are these songs beautiful. Aside from the indelible melodies and celestial harmonies you expect from Sparhawk and Parker, the beauty in these songs comes from their little details, like tiny prisms in the ice–like when everything drops out at the end of “Spanish Translation,” leaving just piano and the ghost of Parker’s voice hanging in the air, or when the palm-muted guitar rises up from the sludge in “Innocents” and slowly unravels into something vast and gorgeous, or the oscillating effect that spins the tightly-wound “Kid In A Corner” off its axis and out into space. The album climaxes in the nearly ten-minute-long “Landslide”, when what starts out as a cacophonous rage of guitar and feedback crumbles into a sublime Parker melody that continues for minutes on end–it feels like breaking through some sort of storm and coming out upon a beautiful frozen vista–cold and ominous, a little intimidating, but breathtaking all at the same time–kind of like this whole record. -Chris

mp3: Low – Spanish Translation

 

 

the mountain goatsBeat The Champ

by The Mountain Goats

[Merge]

I spent a summer in northern Wyoming with my cousins when I was about 14 or 15 years old. Wyoming is a great place for a boy that age because, as far as I could tell, there are no laws in that state. I grew to love fireworks and distrust firearms that summer but most of all, I watched wrestling. This was at the height of wrestling’s popularity when the WCW and WWF went head to head every Monday night. Not in the ring, but in ratings. This ratings war was brutal and surprisingly, very real. Stars bounced between the two organizations for bigger and bigger paychecks, spoilers on the results of WWF’s matches (taped a few hours ahead of their airing) were broadcast live by the WCW, and wrestlers from WCW/WWF got into actual fights. Because of this highly competitive environment both companies had to constantly shock and surprise the audience and I ate it all up. I had my favorites and I hated their nemeses. I recreated the best wrestling moves and takedowns on my cousins and I had a vivid nightmare of The Undertaker locking me in a coffin. So with this background you can understand my excitement upon hearing that The Mountain Goat’s next album would be based around John Darnielle’s childhood love of pro wrestling. I find myself getting caught up in the drama of the album as though I were watching those old matches between Diamond Dallas Page and Eddie Guerrero (brother to Chavo Guerrero who is featured in his own song on Beat the Champ). Behind the ringside drama of “Foreign Object”, “Animal Mask” and “Choked Out” (which are fantastic!) are the reminders that pro wrestlers are killing themselves in order to entertain, literally. Murders and accidents occur (“Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan”) but more often than not, pro wrestlers die young from the tremendous toll they inflict on their bodies. It turns out jumping off of a ladder and crashing onto a table 5 nights a week can have some lasting effects.  So although I put aside pro wrestling ages ago and in no way does this album elicit any sort of renewed desire to get back into the… sport, I get swept away each time I hear it. -Logan

mp3: The Mountain Goats – The Ballad of Bull Ramos

 

 

nathaniel russellSunlight

by Nathaniel Russell

[Warm Ratio]

As a resident of Indianapolis for almost seven (!) years now, I feel I have a responsibility to stump for all things Nathaniel Russell. I was a late-comer to his work as Birds Of America–but now it’s been a few years since he’s done anything under that moniker (if you, like me until recently, haven’t heard any BOA yet–do yourself a favor and give a listen to Current Carry or What Was Birds: 2000-2011they’re both quiet treasures). As far as I know, Sunlight is the first (musical) project Russell’s put his name on in several years–and it’s a good one. A reflection on fatherhood and aging, it’s slow and contemplative and bathed in ambient tape-hiss throughout–imbuing these gorgeous melodies with a sense of candidness–as if they weren’t so much recorded as captured, plucked straight from the air, like fireflies in a jar. They feel precious. A friend of mine described the record as “responsibly melancholy,” and while it made me laugh at the time, I’ve come to think that’s a rather perfect description. In fact, you could probably classify a lot of my favorite music that way–and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. We could all stand to be responsibly melancholy every now and then. -Chris

mp3: Nathaniel Russell – Lay Low Like The Iceberg

 

 

olafur arnalds and nils frahmCollaborative Works

by Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm

[Erased Tapes]

It’s hard for me to express what I love so much about Nils Frahm. At first blush it’s easy to slot the pianist/composer’s work as ambient, and I often listen to him that way–but there’s so much more to engage with in his work that sometimes it feels silly to treat it like background music. It’s curious and thoughtful, inventive and sometimes even funny, as he takes a melody or chord, then stretches and kneads it in strange directions until it becomes something else entirely. He’s known for his dramatic live improvisations, but I’m most impressed with how his composed work already sounds so improvised, so natural. I also love Ólafur Arnalds, who’s responsible for some truly gorgeous music of his own, though his tends to sound more deliberate and cinematic. Frahm and Arnalds are labelmates and good friends, and after releasing some 7-inches and EPs together over the last couple years, this fall they decided to finally release it all together as the 2-disc Collaborative Works. The pieces on disc one range from droney synth experiments to piano duets and are, almost without exception, completely beautiful. But the real treat here is the second disc, which contains the soundtrack to Trance Frendz, a film chronicling their all-night jam session last July at Frahm’s Berlin studio. What was originally supposed to be a quick film for fans soon became something else entirely–in their words, “…instead of ending the session after the first take we continued to improvise throughout the night, ending up with several new pieces written and recorded in 8 hours with no overdubs and no edits.” I sincerely believe music is a sort of magic we’ve somehow been blessed to wield, and to hear two wizards conjure something so beautiful together in real time is a treasure. Collaborative Works may not be a true album per se, but it’s still one of my absolute favorite recordings of this or, frankly, any year. -Chris

mp3: Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm – Life Story

 

 

Kindred

Kindred

by Passion Pit

[Columbia]

For those of you keeping track, Passion Pit and Sufjan Stevens are the only artists on my personal year-end favorite’s list that have previously appeared. I know this probably doesn’t mean much to you, but it’s actually quite meaningful to me. Each year, I start an entry about how I’m afraid I’m not picking my favorite albums of the year but rather the albums released this year by my favorite artists (Portugal. The Man always seem to be the artist I connect this to). A lot of my favorite artists released an album in one way or another this year, and for whatever reason, they didn’t make the cut–Josh Ritter, Foals, The National’s Matt Berninger (as EL VY). I will never say I’m hip or current but at least I’m still finding new music to fall in love with and that will join the pantheon of performers I adore. But then there’s Passion Pit. I can’t escape it. Sonically, Kindred isn’t that big of a departure from Gossamer (Passion Pit’s 2012 release), and that isn’t a bad thing, but I think what really draws me to this record is the sense that Michael Angelakos, who is Passion Pit, is happier and stronger. Manners and Gossamer are beautiful records, and if you only superficially listened to those albums you might be shocked to discover that underneath that sugary pop perfection, were some dark lyrics that gave us a real glimpse into the artist’s personal pains and struggles. Kindred allows us to see that Angelakos is finding strength, support, and security. In my mind, it’s somewhat of a callback to Roky Erickson’s True Love Cast Out All Evil–he album itself is beautiful but with an understanding of where the artist was and, because of this record, where they are now, it is heavier and more meaningful. -Logan

mp3: Passion Pit – Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)

 

 

ryan adams1989

by Ryan Adams

[Pax Am]

I am so incredibly happy to live in a world where this mad Willy Wonka version of Ryan Adams exists–a version of Ryan Adams who, after all these years, has finally established an enclave in the neon haze of Los Angeles where he and some like-minded compatriots can churn out whatever the heck they want, whenever the heck they want, in between playing pinball and posting Star Wars memes, of course. It’s only this version of Adams that, in the wake of his recent divorce, would re-work every song on Taylor Swift’s blockbuster 1989 in an act of genuine catharsis, share bits of it on Instagram, and then, allegedly because of Swift’s positive response, decide to release it as a full-fledged follow up to last years’ self-titled record. Honestly, Adams has always been a strange, prolific auteur (see his laundry list of “lost albums”)–but I love the fact that he’s in a place where he can just own it, without concern for genre tags like “alt-country” or marketing BS like “a return to Heartbreaker.” My hunch is, you already know if this is for you or not–but listen: not only is this a beautiful collection of music, it’s a beautiful testament to the weird and frankly wonderful pop music landscape of the 21st century. And with all due respect to Ms. Swift’s original record (which I loved), the fact that Adams elevated “Welcome To New York” from a pandering cringe-fest to a legitimate jam deserves some kind of mention. -Chris

mp3: Ryan Adams – Welcome To New York

 

 

sufjan stevensCarrie & Lowell

by Sufjan Stevens

[Asthmatic Kitty]

I’m not going to attempt to write much about Carrie & Lowell, except to say that it might be an actual big-M Masterpiece. That word gets thrown around with lots of Sufjan’s work, and for good reason–he works on a scale and with a talent that warrants that kind of hyperbole. But with Carrie & Lowell, he’s done something completely different. Borne out of the grief and confusion after losing his estranged mother to cancer, it’s a stark reflection on death and love and family and faith, and it feels messy and open-ended, raw and without precedent. It’s naked and spartan in a way that belies the complexity of expressing this kind of personal anguish–and I honestly don’t know how you do that, not on this level, not in a way that feels this universal, not without sacrificing what makes it ache in the middle of your chest. The truth is, only Sufjan Stevens, with his talent and experience to this point, could make something this perfect, this perfectly imperfect. -Chris

mp3: Sufjan Stevens – Blue Bucket Of Gold

 

 

waxahatcheeIvy Tripp

by Waxahatchee

[Wichita Recordings]

Last February I was in Chicago for a few days–my wife and I and our infant son stayed in an Airbnb in Lincoln Park and I took the ‘L’ downtown for classes. It was freezing and there was snow in mounds as bundled up strangers huddled on curbs and train platforms. Waxahatchee’s Ivy Tripp had recently leaked, and I listened to it incessantly on my iPod as I walked around the city (that’s right! I still have an iPod! How very 2006 right?).  I fell in love with this record quickly over those few days–as far as I’m concerned, it was the perfect way to experience Katie Crutchfield’s odes to communal loneliness–in the crisp and vibrant Chicago midwinter, surrounded by perfect strangers. I’ve listened to Ivy Tripp a lot in the intervening months–and every time I do, the impression it left on that weekend comes drifting back, kind of like a silhouette on the back of your eyelids–the organ drones of opener “Breathless” forever assuming the wispy shape of exhaled breath on a cold ‘L’ train platform in February. -Chris

mp3: Waxahatchee – Breathless

 

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“FourFiveSeconds”, the polarizing new single from Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney, has been playing in my head incessantly for over a week now. I can’t get it out of there! And that’s so weird! Because the song sounds pretty much like a glorified Colbie Caillat demo.

At least, that’s what I thought when I first heard it anyway. I scratched my head a bit (I think everyone did)… I didn’t not like it – I just thought, “that doesn’t sound totally finished”, and I thought that was that. But that wasn’t that. Because I kept playing it. And when I wasn’t playing it, I kept humming it. And when I wasn’t humming it… well you get it.

But it still just sounds like a demo to me. A demo that happens to have a (frankly) stunning vocal turn by Rihanna and a simple-but-somehow-brilliant chorus that just won’t let up.

And now it has this video. Which looks kind of like a Gap ad.

So what I’m trying to say is, this whole thing confuses me. But I like it. A lot.

(Also, that bass slide sounds SO MUCH like RX-FT500-era Mountain Goats to me. So maybe that’s why I’ve got some serious positive associations going on here…)

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On January 2nd, Jens Lekman announced his plan to record and release a new song ever week for the rest of the year. This is, of course, super great news. The songs will be recorded while he works on his next album, and the way he describes it, they’ll be sort of off-the-cuff thoughts put to music – he says to consider them “postcards… little greetings from me to you”. Considering it was a full five years between 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala and 2012’s I Know What Love Isn’t, this is a welcome change of pace for those of us who love Lekman’s unique brand of lovesick poetry.

Considering how candidly confessional  Lekman’s songwriting tends to be, this is a natural direction for the writer to pursue – and anything that leaves us with 52 more Jens Lekman songs is good news to me. Below is our first taste of what Jens has in store, which is titled, appropriately enough, “Postcard #1”. Enjoy.

And here’s the full announcement from Jens Lekman’s blog:

Happy new year!

Here’s my new years resolution for 2015: While working on my next album, I will sit down once a week, write down my thoughts, turn them into a song and share it with you directly. Think of these little songs as postcards. Little greetings from me to you.
You see, I spend a lot of time on my songs, on their details. I sweep the streets that my characters walk on and polish every doorknob until I feel confident to let other people in. But it does lead to a very isolated creative phase.
And I’ve been longing to share my thoughts and life with you a bit more. I’ve been longing to write about things that make sense one particular day but that might make no sense once the album comes out.
Then at the end of this year we can sit down you and me and listen through these 52 songs, and remember where we were and when we were there, who we kissed and who we missed. I’m looking forward to that.
Yours truly Jens Lekman

 

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2013 Singles Header

So we had so much fun putting together our Top Albums list, we decided to go ahead and make a Top Songs list too! Hopefully this kind of makes up for not posting all year! This list basically collects the songs that really killed us this year, whether they were world-conquering disco anthems, churning electronic chamber pieces, Billboard Top-40 hits, covers of Billboard Top-40 hits, or slowed-down versions of Dolly Parton classics – these are all just amazing songs.

Our rules for inclusion were simple: only one song per artist (Sorry “Afterlife”!), songs could come from one of our Favorite Albums, but couldn’t have been included in our Favorite Album post (Sorry “Holy”!), and finally, every song had to be unequivocally awesome. I promise they all qualify.

They’re listed below in alphabetical order by artist, because we don’t hate ourselves and weren’t about to rank these in any kind of favorite order. That being said, my favorite song of the year was hands-down “Song For Zula” by Phosphorescent. That song is my 2013 jam. Here’s hoping you find your 2013 jam below.

Read the rest of this entry »

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2013 Header2Well another year has come and gone, and we still haven’t been writing too much around here. We’re still listening to tons of great music, of course, but for some reason the urge to write about it hasn’t been there. Maybe it will strike again someday, but maybe it won’t. It’s hard to say.

One thing’s for sure though, we still very much enjoy putting together this year-end list. It’s become one of our favorite things each November to start emailing back and forth some of our preliminary thoughts on what should and shouldn’t make the list, and then spending a few weeks listing and re-listing, then splicing our lists and figuring out who will write what. It’s a lot of fun, and while we’re fairly certain at this point we’re at an all-time low for potential readers, we still like to think there might be somebody who’ll enjoy reading about what moved us this year.

But if not, that’s ok. We probably get the most out of this anyway, and at least we’ll have something to look back on when we’re telling our grandchildren all about what we listened to before we all got Google Glasses implanted in our heads and all the music ever made was constantly streaming right into our frontal lobes. They’ll probably think it’s quaint how we tried to quantify our favorite music of the year. And it probably is. But maybe we are quaint in our sleepy little corner of the internet. At least we’ve got great music here.

 

Rilo Kiley19. Rkives

by Rilo Kiley

[Little Record Company]

Ever since Rilo Kiley’s quiet demise a few years ago, there’s been fevered talk among fans of a collection of rare and unreleased material, and that collection finally saw the light of day this year in the cheekily titled Rkives. Considering that this may be the last we’ll ever hear from this remarkable band, I was probably going to enjoy it no matter what – but here’s the thing: this collection is so good you don’t need to be a RK devotee to thoroughly enjoy it. Frankly, the whole thing is miles better than any odds and ends collection has any right to be. The first half – from Jenny Lewis’s baleful ode to LA “Let Me Back In”, through the vintage-Rilo Kiley wordy-rockers “It’ll Get You There” and “Runnin’ Around”, all the way to the power-pop sing-a-long “I Remember You” – is as good as any stretch of recorded music I’ve heard all year. In the middle of that stretch is a Blake Sennett number that, in my opinion, is better than any song he contributed to any of their proper releases, and its blistering guitar outro is worth the price of admission alone. The second half isn’t as consistently impressive, but it still yields some gems, like the Execution of All Things b-side “Emotional”, before it closes with one of RK’s oldest and most iconic tunes “The Frug”. That song, from the band’s 1998 debut EP, is probably still the most concise encapsulation of everything that made this group so special – from the wry humor and playful guitar, to Jenny’s beautiful alto and subtly devastating lyrical confessions (“I can take my clothes off/I cannot fall in love”). For this Rilo Kiley fan, I couldn’t have asked for much more than this. -Chris

mp3: Rilo Kiley – Let Me Back In

 

Okkervil River18. The Silver Gymnasium

by Okkervil River

[ATO]

Okkervil River has never appeared on a WiAC year-end list. The closest they got is their collaboration with Roky Erickson (and boy, that’s still such a good album) but that doesn’t really count as a proper OR album. I don’t expect you to have an encyclopedic knowledge of our lists, but if I were you, I would have bet money that The Stand Ins or I Am Very Far would have showed up. Nope. Well it’s time that oversight was remedied. Talk about a slow burn though. If Chris questions the inclusion of any album on this list it should be this entry. When he asked me what I first thought of this album I was pretty dismissive, “Eh, it’s ok.” I liked it, but when I held it up to earlier albums, it just didn’t move me. It took a solid amount of time before I realized The Silver Gymnasium is its own beast entirely. A beautiful, moving beast.  Let me sum it up so you can get to the next entry: the music is triumphant, the lyrics are tragic, but ultimately, the past is the past. -Logan

mp3: Okkervil River – Stay Young

 

Daft Punk17. Random Access Memories

by Daft Punk

[Columbia]

I was going to write about how this was exactly the record I didn’t know I needed this year, how an over-the-top disco kitsche-fest pushed the exact groove buttons I didn’t even know I had. And I was going to write about how I was initially disappointed that the whole record didn’t sound like “Get Lucky”, until I realized that one “Get Lucky” is probably all the “Get Lucky” the universe could contain. And I was going to write how much “Motherboard” sounds like Daft Punk collaborating with Philip Glass and how much I love that. But then I realized that everything I feel about this record is pretty succinctly expressed in these two videos. So just watch those and you’ll understand. -Chris

mp3: Daft Punk – Doin’ It Right

 

Haim16. Days Are Gone

by Haim

[Polydor]

I don’t have much to write here that hasn’t already been written elsewhere. Three sisters play in a family rock-n-roll cover band as kids, obviously take great notes, come up with a perfect amalgamation of everything that was great about popular rock in the 70’s and 80’s and then unleash it on the world in the form of songs like “The Wire”, “Falling” and “Don’t Save Me”. Their musicianship is fantastic, their hooks undeniable. If anyone has a problem with these girls, it’s because they must hate fun and probably murder kittens for a hobby. Just kidding, they probably just listen to the hype more than to the music, because this is some great music. -Chris

mp3: Haim – Don’t Save Me

 

Foals15. Holy Fire

by Foals

[Transgressive]

I remember a reggae-heavy record shop in Laguna Beach I visited sometime in 2010. No real treasures until the twice-baked owner showed me to a random box from the back that was like the Room of Requirement. Think about an album and it appeared in a puff of bubonic chronic smoke. I walked away with three or four albums, one of which was Total Life Forever, which would be my first real introduction to Foals, and it is still such a great album.  Now if Tim McGraw has taught us anything, it’s that the memory of your first love never fades away, and I will always love TLF, but Holy Fire outshines it in just about every way. Guys, the beginning of this album is something else. Listening to the prelude and the first few minutes of “Inhaler” you think, “Oh this is going to be a great Foals album” and then Yannis Phillippakis screams “and I can’t get enough…SPACE!” and you’re whole world stops existing. But you’re fine with it; ‘cause in its place is distortion, rock, and the unsent spirit of grunge. -Logan

mp3: Foals – Inhaler

 

Yo La Tengo14. Fade

by Yo La Tengo

[Matador]

So I have a difficult relationship with digital music, and my experience with Yo La Tengo’s gorgeous new album illustrates perfectly my fraught relationship with recorded music when it’s divorced from physical media. I finally signed up for Spotify this year, and Fade was probably one of the first records I used my new-found account to listen to back in January, and I actually listened to it quite a bit. But I didn’t fall in love with it. I knew I liked it and that it was very good, but I didn’t have any real emotional connection to it. It wasn’t until very recently, when I bought it on vinyl at my local independent record store, that I really fell for this record. So why is that? The music hadn’t changed – the only thing that changed was how I interacted with it. I think there’s something about the commitment that physical media demands – that act of saying “I Choose You” to a record and then going out and buying it – that makes the difference. That act of choosing tends to focus my attention and tastes so that I really do end up liking something more than if I’d just streamed it 30 times. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m such a visual person and album art plays such a huge role in how I interact with a piece of music (and man, does Fade have some gorgeous album art). When I can’t flip through liner notes or lyrics I always feel like the artist is keeping me at arm’s length, and I can’t develop the same relationship with it. And then there is something about the physical act of putting something on the turntable/CD player/cassette deck that somehow makes the relationship between me and the music more permanent – like that physical act just brought our relationship into the real world. It’s like that Perro Del Mar song, “you gotta give to get” – even just the very minor effort required to turn a record over somehow imbues emotional resonance to what I’m listening to, and that opens me up to really be moved by what the music has to offer. And so far, I just can’t have that same experience with on-demand stream-whatever-you-want digital music. So in conclusion: Yo La Tengo’s Fade is a beautiful record and you should listen to it on some kind of physical thing that exists in the world. -Chris

mp3: Yo La Tengo – Before We Run

 

Jon Hopkins13. Immunity

by Jon Hopkins

[Domino]

Electronic music can sometimes be pretty cold. That’s nothing new. But more and more, electronic musicians seem to be finding ways of letting in the heat. Not the four-on-the-floor club-anthem kind of heat though – but the human touch kind of heat, the warmth you feel whenever you can tell something was labored over and loved into existence. Jon Hopkins is the master at this kind of heat. On Immunity he explores a remarkable breadth of ways to express it, like in “Collider” when he leaves in the sound of someone speaking… not the actual words they spoke, but the sound they made when they spoke them, the sound of air leaving their lips. Or like halfway through “Breathe This Air”, when the swirling bass falls off leaving just Hopkins’ piano and the sound of… something falling in the hall? Or maybe it’s someone walking into the room? I’m not sure what it is, but it’s entrancing. Immunity is full of little touches like that, where the music is wrapped up in the sound of the space it was made in, so much so that the space is as much a part of the record as the actual music. Nowhere is this more true than on the eponymous closing track, featuring King Creosote (another one of my year-end favorites), where the song itself seems to expand and encompass whatever space and time you happen to be listening to it in… it’s breath-taking, and might just be one of the prettiest pieces of music released all year. -Chris

mp3: Jon Hopkins – Immunity

 

James Blake12. Overgrown

by James Blake

[ATLAS]

To me, my love of James Blake is a continuing mystery. Those of you that were with us in 2011 will remember Mr. Blake’s self-titled album appeared on my year-end list. I didn’t know why I liked him so much then and I still don’t know why I like him so much now (my friend Rachel says that all of her gay friends are obsessed with James Blake… I’m not going to read into that). Maybe I unknowingly love Romanticism and the poetry of William Blake. I’ll let my brother Ty explain: “Can’t believe he [James Blake] is only 24 though, that is the age when you’re most prone to High Romanticism. I always loved the English Romantics, Byron, Shelley, Keats et al. I’d like to assume you know what I’m talking about but none of those dudes I just mentioned wrote Lord of the Rings so you probably don’t. I can’t believe BYU is a real school. Anyway, yeah, James Blake is maybe the spiritual ancestor of William Blake.” Oh well, maybe I’ll never know why Overgrown is so great, but with songs like “Digital Lion” and “Retrograde” it is undeniably one of the years best. (And yes, I am excited to see the new Hobbit movie. Screw you Ty.) -Logan

mp3: James Blake – Retrograde

 

Mark Kozelek11. Perils From The Sea

by Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle

[Caldo Verde]

It was a good year to be a Mark Kozelek fan. The man released three whole albums of new music, not to mention a Phish-like deluge of live records, plus a few singles teasing an early 2014 release – it was a lot of music to unpack, and frankly it’s all worth your time. But of the recent bounty, I’ve gotten most lost in this, his collaboration with the Album Leaf’s Jimmy LaValle – whose electronic blips and boops add a subtle new dimension to Kozelek’s stories, somehow managing to make them even more spacious and ethereal. Not that the music is that different from your average Sun Kil Moon fare – LaValle’s synthetic backdrops are not particularly lush or elaborate, but instead rather sparse arrangements of beats and midi melodies, essentially the electronic version of “the-man-and-his-guitar” sound – but they strike just the right note for this batch of Kozelek’s ruminations on nostalgia, aging, family, love, and death. The record is long (most songs clock in over seven minutes), but the songs are varied enough and so uniformly excellent that the length is just an invitation to get lost in Kozelek’s world. Ranging from the complicated have/have-not morality of “Gustavo”, to the stream-of-consciousness anti-lullaby of “Ceiling Gazing”, to the grand, conflicted affirmation of “Somehow the Wonder of Life Prevails”, there is not a slight song on here. They are all beautiful and thoughtful and should be a part of your life. -Chris

mp3: Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle – Ceiling Gazing

 

Marnie Stern10. The Chronicles of Marnia

by Marnie Stern

[Kill Rock Stars]

True confessions: the reason I started listening to Marnie Stern was because she went off in an interview about how much she hated the ending of LOST, and how she was more upset about the end of that show than about her last break-up – and I thought “YES! THAT IS EXACTLY HOW I FEEL!” (Just ask anyone who’s inadvertently brought this topic up with me over the last several years – I promise they regret it.) It turns out her taste in television is not the only thing to love about Marnie Stern – because she happens to make fantastic music. She reminds me a little of early Mates of State – the manic energy, the lyrical free-association, the frenetic melodies bouncing around like an ADHD kindergartener – just replace the Korgs with some serious guitar slaying and you’ll start to picture what’s going on here. This record is just fun from front to back, and unlike some TV shows I can think of, I can recommend it without reservation. -Chris

mp3: Marnie Stern – The Chronicles Of Marnia

 

Portugal The Man9. Evil Friends

by Portugal. The Man

[Atlantic]

Oh boy, oh boy, I LOVE Evil Friends. My love notwithstanding though, I won’t let me nieces and nephews listen to this album, and I dread the day when my future children (Ha! Not likely!) discover this album in a dusty box in the basement. All of my parenting about only listening to obscenity-free music will go straight out the window (kind of like when Chris discovered one of his Dad’s records had the f-word on it… that record was James Taylor’s Greatest Hits. I don’t look forward to destroying Evil Friends just to prove a point.) Really though, this album is just perfect. It has that perfect combination of funk, psych, and rock that I’ve craved all year. “Modern Jesus” is maybe one of the best Portugal. The Man songs ever, “Waves” makes me want to protest something, even if I’m not sure what, and “Creep In a T-shirt” is so darn catchy I can hardly stand it. However, if I had to pick a favorite song, it would be “Smile”; if I could write music, I would have written “Smile”. To a great degree, it’s exactly what I want out of life. Is that selfish? Probably.  I get news-fatigue.  I get tired of the bickering politicians, reports on how fat, poor, and stupid we’re all becoming, and yes, I get tired of hearing about starvation, genocides, and the general suffering of humanity. It’s nice to forget the world sometimes. -Logan

mp3: Portugal. The Man – Smile

 

King Creosote8. That Might Well Be It, Darling

by King Creosote

[Domino]

Since falling fast and hard for Diamond Mine a couple years ago, I’ve dived head-long into the rabbit-hole of Kenny Anderson’s (AKA King Creosote’s) discography, and it’s been an experience. Over the past decade and a half the guy has released something like 50 records, ranging from proper studio releases to self-made CD-Rs to locally distributed vinyl records, and so much of it is so genuinely fantastic that it’s pretty overwhelming. For instance, this year’s That Might Well Be It, Darling was originally released last year in the form of three vinyl-only EPs, which were themselves re-recordings of 2010’s tour-only vinyl record, That Might Be It Darling, which was the follow-up to 2009’s performance-only record, My Nth Bit of Strange in Umpteen Years. You see what I mean? This guy is nuts. Sonically, Darling strays far from the incubated intimacy I originally fell for on Diamond Mine – instead showcasing the raucous bandleader and wry songsmith that’s spearheaded the close-knit Fence Collective in Scotland for years, and it legitimately feels like a clutch of good friends hammering out a solid set to a sold-out hometown crowd, and loving every minute of it. Book-ended by sing-along barnstormers “Little Man” and “Going Gone”, the record contains everything from bright folk-rockers to tears-in-your beer torch songs to an 11-minute showcase of what Kenny Anderson can do with that voice and an indelible melody. This is yet another great entry into an already pretty overwhelming discography. -Chris

mp3: King Creosote – On the Night of the Bonfire

 

Mikal Cronin7. MCII

by Mikal Cronin

[Merge]

I just love this record so much. It’s fuzzed-out garage rock for people with feelings, or maybe just people who really love a good pop song. Because seriously, Cronin’s stuff is right up there with any of the classic pop songsmiths – Wilson, Davies, Nilsson, you name it and I hear their peer on MCII. Every one of these 10 songs is a 3-4 minute punch of unbelievably concise songcraft – unveiling brilliant melody after brilliant melody, every one gilded with hooks and bridges and codas that add just enough weight to what might have otherwise been just another good garage record. Cronin also expands on his composition skills here, using a clutch of strings and keys to complement that ever-fuzzy guitar. And oh man, can we talk about that guitar? Because that unapologetically overdriven monster has soundtracked many a roadtrip for me this year, so much that I can hardly hear the hook on “Shout It Out” and not reach to roll down the windows. -Chris

mp3: Mikal Cronin – Shout It Out

 

Local Natives6. Hummingbird

by Local Natives

[Frenchkiss]

In years past, I didn’t want a concert to influence how much I enjoyed an album, I wanted the album to stand on its own instead. Now I can understand why I tried to do that then, but like most of the decisions I made in my early to mid-twenties, I’ve come to realize that was stupid. That isn’t to say if you haven’t seen Local Natives in concert you won’t get why Hummingbird is so incredible and totally deserving of being one the best albums of the year, but if you haven’t seen them, you may not get why I’m so deeply in love with it. Really, this album is the best and this band is the best, and you should see them (preferably you should have seen them when they were touring with Frightened Rabbit AND the National this year. Oh man, just thinking about that lineup…). We’re not talking about concerts though, we’re talking about albums and this one got to me right away. I enjoyed Gorilla Manor, but Hummingbird is quite a different experience. It’s a little…darker, I guess? Not as poppy for sure, but it seems to have traded that for some depth. “Wooly Mammoth” blows it out of the water. Starting off with that chunky guitar and drums and then the transition into the smooth and soaring chorus… sublime. -Logan

mp3: Local Natives – Wooly Mammoth

 

Low5. The Invisible Way

by Low

[Sub Pop]

I’ve slept on Low for years. But something finally clicked about a year ago and I finally started my descent into the annals of their 20-year career – and man, has it been wonderful. Fast forward to this past March: we took an impromptu road-trip to the Shawnee National Forest in the southern tip of Illinois, which if you didn’t know, is gorgeous (see: Exhibit A). We explored ancient rock formations, Ohio-river pirate caves, and Native-American ruins. It felt kind of surreal, like we were discovering this magical other world, one that had existed for years right under our noses but no-one knew about it. During that whole trip we listened to a mix I’d made of Low’s music, and thinking about it now, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate soundtrack for the understated grandeur of that little corner of the Midwest than the gorgeously understated songs of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, themselves natives of another little corner of the Midwest. That mix ended with “Just Make It Stop”, a chugging highlight from The Invisible Way, Low’s most recent record. I know I’m speaking as a recent convert here, but I think this album is a perfect encapsulation of what Low does so well. The production (leant by Jeff Tweedy – yet another Midwestern native) is especially warm – often you can literally hear the space they’re recording in, their voices and piano chords bouncing back off the walls. But something is still slightly, even inexplicably, distant… like you’re just peeking in on some magical other world, one that you may have just found, one that isn’t going to give up all its mysteries just yet. -Chris

mp3: Low – Just Make It Stop

 

JR_TBIIT_Digipack_F4. The Beast In Its Tracks

by Josh Ritter

[Pytheas]

My admiration for Josh Ritter is well documented. But I was a little skeptical when I first heard rumors that this record was a more stripped back affair, recorded after his recent divorce. We’ve all heard the old trope: “guy gets his heart broken, gets back to basics and bears it all on record”, and its not always a good omen. But here’s the thing, this isn’t really a break-up record. There’s no real mud-slinging, no pining, no naval-gazing. For Ritter, who’s always been interested in the grand scope of things (even the titles of his records seem to conjure the sweeping arc of history, with phrases like Golden Age, Historical Conquests, or So Runs The World Away), those things would all seem kind of slight. Instead, this is the chance for him to place what happened to him within a grander scope, and he does. Instead of dwelling on the period of heartbreak and loneliness following the break, he starts the narrative a bit later, after he’s pulled through and finds himself in a new, healthier relationship – he first describes his new lover in relation to his old (he says they only look alike “in a certain light”), but later, as the old lover’s memory begins to fade, he focuses more and more on his new love alone, essentially dedicating the records second half to her. There’s a palpable sense of moving on, of things working out. On “Hopeful” he sings “the world is as the world is, everybody’s gonna hurt like hell sometimes” over a loping gait and plinking keys, but then he adds “she’s hopeful for me, coming out of the dark clouds” – essentially laying out the thesis for the record: we all hurt like hell sometimes, but it gets better. -Chris

mp3: Josh Ritter – Hopeful

 

Volcano Choir3. Repave

by Volcano Choir

[Jagjaguwar]

This year, unlike in years past, Chris and I share very few year-end albums in common. Which I think is great… sure you disagree on some things, but you’ve got fundamentals. We still need to shy away from talking about Portugal. The Man or Israeli/Palestinian relations (really Chris? The ’67 demarcation line? c’mon man)(NOTE: I don’t actually know Chris’ thoughts on this subject), but again, we agree on the fundamentals and really nothing is more fundamental than loving Justin Vernon and his projects. No question that Repave was going to be on our list. After I heard the first four tracks it was just, “Yep, this is it. Here it is guys. I found it. Everything you want is right here. I found it.” The biggest question, more than on any other album on this list, was what song to include in this entry.  “Tiderays” or maybe “Byegone”? I finally settled on “Comrade” (though not choosing “Acetate” may still keep me up at night). Sure, my four most favorite songs from Repave are the first four and comprise the first half, but don’t think that I consider this a one-sided album. Start to finish this is beautiful. -Logan

mp3: Volcano Choir – Comrade

 

Frightened Rabbit2. Pedestrian Verse

by Frightened Rabbit

[Atlantic]

I have a pretty funny story about how I ended up on a date with a married woman at a Frightened Rabbit concert this year, but it would take way too long to explain, so instead I’m going to tell you about the homemade calendar I plan on making. For real though, 12 tracks on Pedestrian Verse, 12 months in the years, and some of the most quotable lyrics ever. Yep, it’s gonna happen (and my mom said I’d never use the skills I developed in my college bookbinding course) (okay Ty, I get it, BYU might not be a real school). Each month would feature my favorite line from each track: “Acts of Man” (“I’m here, not heroic, but I’ll try”), “Backyard Skulls” (“White silent skulls are smiling at hypocrisy”), “Holy” (oh man, “Holy” guys, maybe the line of the year, “You’re acting all holy, me, I’m just full of holes”), “The Woodpile” (“Would you come brighten my corner?”), etc. Pedestrian Verse and Frightened Rabbit dominated the first half of this year and it was my most listened to album, by a decent margin too. More than anything though, this album excites me; it engages me like no other album on this list, and it’s the most exciting album of the year. -Logan

mp3: Frightened Rabbit – Holy

 

National1. Trouble Will Find Me

by The National

[4AD]

It’s become more and more clear to me over the years that the National are probably my favorite band. Which is sort of interesting, because over those same years I’ve become less and less likely to even have a favorite band at all. Generally, the older I get, the more I listen to music from a broader base, and the less I seem to obsess over any one particular group the way I did in my teens and early twenties. That is, except for the National. I kind of do obsess over them. I love everything they’ve ever done almost without exception. I collect even their 7-inches and EPs. Every time I’ve seen them perform live, the experience has been more akin to a spiritual rite than a rock and roll show. I even know every member of the band by name (even the bassist!). I cannot think of a more talented pair of guitarists/composers than the Dessner brothers, and I don’t think there has been a better low-end in rock music than the Devendorfs (I recently wrote a 1400-word treatise to a friend on how Bryan Devendorf is the best living drummer in rock right now), and then there’s Matt Berninger and his way of tying words into knots around already knotty subjects. And that voice? Just stop. The talent contained in this group is just staggering. And Trouble Will Find Me is that staggeringly talented band operating at their peak. It’s easily their most immediate, most visceral record since Alligator, but with the same poise and consistency of Boxer, combined with the fully realized production and sound of High Violet. It’s the natural culmination of everything they’ve done up to this point, taking everything they do so well and doing it, well, so well. Every song feels as if its already been part of their canon for years, and I’ve had some sort of experience with just about every single one on this record; whether it was falling in love with “I Should Live in Salt” while driving through the mountains of West Virginia in June, or getting a lump in the back of my throat while watching them perform “Graceless” in Louisville, or playing “Hard to Find” on repeat while watching the sun set behind a wintry Indianapolis skyline. I’ve returned to this record over and over again all year, and it’s continued to amaze and inspire every time. And I guess that’s why we have favorite bands – because bands like the National keep making records like this. -Chris

mp3: The National – Don’t Swallow the Cap

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…continued:

mp3: The Next Day:1

mp3: Chin Up, Cheer Up2

mp3: I Can’t3

mp3: Listen4

mp3: She Just Don’t Want To Be With You Anymore5

mp3: I Don’t Know Why6

mp3: It’s Not Fair7

mp3: Tell Me What I Did Wrong8

mp3: I Don’t Know9

mp3: Don’t Let It Get You Down10

mp3: C’mon11

mp3: Why Don’t We Get Drunk12

mp3: Silent Sigh13

mp3: Alright14

mp3: Hang On15

the end.

 

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…continued:

mp3: Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want1

mp3: I’m Sorry2

mp3: I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say3

mp3: Please Do Not Let Me Go4

mp3: Was It Something I Said?5

mp3: No6

mp3: It’s Not Your Fault7

mp3: I Can’t Explain8

mp3: I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You9

mp3: It’s Just That Simple10

mp3: Please Please Please11

mp3: Wait12

mp3: I Just Don’t Understand13

mp3: Nobody Gets Me But You14

mp3: Listen to Me15

mp3: You Can Do Better Than Me16

mp3: What Am I Supposed To Do?17

mp3: Just18

mp3: Keep on Chooglin’19

mp3: Pause20

mp3: Pardon Me?21

to be continued…

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mp3: Hey1

mp3: Can We Talk?2

mp3: Yeah3

mp3: We Can Talk4

mp3: What’s Going On5

mp3: I’m Gonna Leave You6

mp3: Wait… What?7

mp3: No Way8

mp3: But9

mp3: All I Want Is You10

mp3: Well11

mp3: You Can’t Always Get What You Want12

to be continued…

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You may remember the Harlem Shakes (the band, not the meme) from the top of a little list we compiled back in 2009.

Well, a lot of people are just now starting to pay attention to this fantastic (though, sadly, defunct) band’s twitter account… that is, if “paying attention” means “mistaking it for the official account of some recent internet dance craze”. So crazy, these kids!

You can read Buzzfeed’s rather perfect breakdown of the whole thing RIGHT HERE.

If only more people had been reading WiAC back in 2009, we wouldn’t keep having problems like these.

mp3: Harlem Shakes – Nothing But Change Part II

Tags:

There’s that old adage: if a tree falls on the internet and no one’s around to hear it, will anyone read its year-end list? Well, let’s find out! Even though we haven’t written a single post all year, rest assured that we’ve been listening to all kinds of great music, and some of it was even released this very year! And even though we’re a bit rusty, we’ve got some records we want you to know about.

This list is shorter than in years past, but we also feel stronger about each individual record than we have on any previous list, making it that much more fun to compile this thing. Also, this is the first time in 5 years that we both had the exact same record at #1 – so that’s pretty neat.

As always, we don’t pretend to be some great arbiters of fine musical taste. We don’t proclaim that these are the absolute best records released all year. These are just the records we absolutely loved the most. They’re the ones we kept coming back to, the ones that really moved us. They’re the ones we’ll remember when we look back on the last year of human civilization.

 

13. My Head Is An Animal

by Of Monsters And Men

[Universal Republic]

Sometimes it’s enough to just say that I like an album. The ‘why’ hasn’t been very important to me this year. Who’s to say what I find so enjoyable about My Head is an Animal? Male and female lead vocals? The la-la-las of “From Finner”? The hey-heys of “From Finner”? Just the simple fact that they’re Icelandic? Probably all-of-the-above, but I’m not thinking about that. What has mattered to me this year is the staying power of the songs and Of Monsters and Men has been my companion through countless hours of work, driving, cleaning the bathroom, lying aimlessly on the couch, etc. etc. -Logan

mp3: Of Monsters And Men – From Finner

12. The Only Place

by Best Coast

[Mexican Summer]

The Only Place takes all the things I enjoyed about BC’s debut, and improved on them just a bit – making an overall cleaner and crisper record. Not too clean or crisp, mind. That would ruin her… but it’s just enough to make this one a little less niche, while keeping all the hooks and humor that reeled me in to begin with. Per the (adorable) album art, she spends a fair amount of time lauding the Golden State – and being a California ex-patriot myself, I’m pretty much doomed to love her stuff no matter what (most of her rhapsodizing about her home state lines up so seamlessly with my own high-school nostalgia, right down to her covering Blink-182’s “Dammit” in concert – I mean, you can’t get any closer to my 1998 SoCal self than that song). And while the record is ostensibly a love letter to the Golden State, it comes wrapped in the kind of wide-eyed and sincere love of place that can be applied to anywhere you happen to call home, wherever it might be. –Chris

mp3: Best Coast – The Only Place

11. America

by Dan Deacon

[Domino]

Back in August Dan Deacon guest DJ’d on NPR’s All Songs Considered, and I’ll be honest: after listening to that show I was going to love America no matter what it sounded like. The guy is just so infinitely likeable, and for someone who graduated in ‘Electro-acoustic and Computer Music Composition’, he’s remarkably earnest, and refreshingly UN-pretentious. Deacon makes artsy electronic music but with a populace appeal – it’s complex and dense and referential, but it’s also insanely danceable and sometimes arrestingly beautiful (for proof watch THIS). By Deacon’s own admission, America is meant to be listened to in the LP format, with two distinct sides: Side-A contains the kind of noisy/cathartic electro-jams that are Deacon’s bread and butter, while Side B unfolds into a 20-minute symphonic suite employing electronic tools alongside a full orchestras-worth of wood, wind ‘n brass to bring to life Deacon’s expansive panorama of the American landscape. It’s evocative and gorgeous and challenging and it puts Dan Deacon solidly on the short list of artists who are meaningfully fuzzing the line between electronic pop-music and fine art. -Chris

mp3: Dan Deacon – True Thrush

10. Babel

by Mumford & Sons

[Glass Note]

Continuing my list of albums that you can purchase at Target is Mumford & Sons’ Babel. If I had to sum up my love of this album it would be in two hyphenated words: scream-sing. 2012 has been the year of the scream-sing for me. (Need proof? You’ll see those conjoined words again in just a few posts!) My favorite tracks from Babel are also the tracks that, when you sing along, you find the veins in your neck popping out: “Hopeless Wanderer”, “Below My Feet”, and the unbeatable “Ghosts That We Knew.” -Logan

mp3: Mumford & Sons – Hopeless Wanderer

9. Be The Void

by Dr. Dog

[ANTI-]

Right from the foot-stomping sing-a-long of the opening track, it’s clear that on Be The Void, Dr. Dog’s moved back to a more homespun sound than their last few albums, and the result is their most garage-sounding record ever. Be The Void sounds like a bunch of friends who love bands like Pavement and Three Dog Night equally, who got together for a weekend and banged out 11 of the absolute funnest songs they could come up with. These songs have that breathless live quality that make you want to sing loud and hard right along with them, especially on tracks like “Lonesome”, “Heavy Light”, and “Get Away”. I’ve said over and over if I could be in any rock band, it would be Dr. Dog. These guys just make the kind of music that makes the music-maker happy! Say that ten times fast. Then go listen to Be The Void. -Chris

mp3: Dr. Dog – Lonesome

8. There’s No Leaving Now

by The Tallest Man On Earth

[Dead Oceans]

Kristian Matsson’s latest record as The Tallest Man On Earth is my September record – it’s warm and cozy and it’s my relief from the long, hot summer. It sounds like autumn, with its clear, colorful days and crisp, cozy nights. It makes me think of riding bikes on leaf-littered trails and sitting out on high-school bleachers in sweatshirts. It’s not quite as wild and blustery as October yet, or as somber as November will be, but it’s also not without its own kind of tension – Matsson’s reedy voice has always had an inherent drama built into it, like the first harbinger that things are winding down, that this is the beginning of the end. The songs are gorgeous and flighty, and filled with the kind of evocative turns of phrase that made me first fall in love with this man. This is my September record, but I’ll be listening to it all year. -Chris

mp3: The Tallest Man On Earth – Revelation Blues

7. Gossamer

by Passion Pit

[Columbia]

Gossamer is just the most fun you will have listening to an album… until you actually start paying attention to the lyrics. That moment hit me sometime during my umpteenth time listening to “Constant Conversations”. That song is DEVASTATING! However, you know how I love a devastating song (See: The Antlers; entire discography of…). That said, some moments made me laugh. The reference in “Carried Away” to all of the subject’s money being in copper, I don’t think we’re dealing with a commodity trader, we’re dealing with a poor sad-sack graduate student who had to use pennies to buy a can of refried beans. (I may be filling in some of the specifics from personal experience.) -Logan

mp3: Passion Pit – Carried Away

6. Transcendental Youth

by The Mountain Goats

[Merge]

John Darnielle has few peers in the world of music-making – in terms of both talent and sheer volume (that’s volume as in quantity of work, not necessarily decibels) – he is in a league all his own. He explores characters and place with a thoroughness and compassion usually reserved for the world of literature, but then somehow packages them into little 3-4 minute songs with desperately strummed guitar chords and heart-swelling choruses that demand to be listened to over and over again. In Transcendental Youth Darnielle returns to the world he inhabited in 2004’s We Shall All Be Healed, this time populated by a semi-fictionalized cast of characters all tied together by their various struggles with mental illness – and through his empathetic exploration of their demons he proceeds to exorcise some of our own. Woven through the record is Matthew E. White’s gorgeous horn arrangements, acting as the perfect counterpoint to Darnielle’s raggedy voice, possibly providing the transcendence referred to in the record’s title for the fallen youth of these songs. I can’t adequately express how much I’ve loved this record this year – “Cry For Judas” is as triumphant as anything Darnielle’s ever produced, “White Cedar” may be the most beautiful Mountain Goats song ever, etc. etc. – the only thing I can do is tell you to go listen to it – over and over and over until you feel the same way I do. That is, that John Darnielle is a national treasure. -Chris

mp3: The Mountain Goats – Cry for Judas

5. From The Top of Willamette Mountain

by Joshua James

[Intelligent Noise]

What would WiAC be without our usual fanboy enthusiasm for Joshua James? Well guys he’s back and better than ever. It almost seems unfair. The velvety smooth “Ghost in the Town” and “Sister” which just demands you clench your fists and scream-sing along with Joshua… it doesn’t seem fair to so many other musicians. Sorry guys, you want to write a thematic album that explores a man’s sincere search for spirituality? You can’t, it’s already been done. (Go ahead, count the ‘hallelujahs’ in From the Top… only the best can pull that off without me feeling like I’ve strayed uncomfortably into contemporary Christian music.) In the track “Willamette Mountain” Joshua sings, “I got a million more stories.” Let’s hope so. -Logan

mp3: Joshua James – Mystic

4. Tramp

by Sharon Van Etten

[Jagjaguwar]

This record has absolutely ruled my world all year. Since February it’s been on near constant rotation at our house, and its relatively low position on this list is simply a testament to how much great music we’ve listened to this year. Tramp profoundly delivers on the promise of Van Etten’s 2010 album, Epic, helped in no small part by Bryce Dessner’s brilliant production – expertly fleshing out the songs while never distracting from their real treasure: Van Etten’s way with words. The word “poet” is thrown around way too often when discussing songwriters, but in this case I can’t think of a better descriptor –her economy of word is breathtaking, somehow packing so much into so little, like the couplet from “Give Out” – “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city / or why I’ll need to leave”. Tramp is full of moments like that: simple, straight-forward gut-checks that are at once profoundly personal, while also heartbreakingly relatable. -Chris

mp3: Sharon Van Etten – Give Out

3. I Know What Love Isn’t

by Jens Lekman

[Secretly Canadian]

“You don’t get over a broken heart / you just learn to carry it gracefully” sings Jens on “The World Moves On”, and in that simple phrase, Jens sums up the whole gist of this, his third album. It’s the break-up album that only Jens Lekman could have written – sad and beautiful and poignant, delivered with his wry sense of humor and acute self-awareness – never willing to give in to its own sadness or self-pity. It’s the kind of break-up album that acknowledges and affirms the heartbreak but is far more interested in trying to teach that heart how to “carry it gracefully”. In the song that bookends the record Jens searches for what that means in practical terms: “I started working out when we broke up / I can do one hundred push-ups / I could probably do two if I was bored” before he admits that “every little hair (still) knows your name”. But talking only about Jens’ lyrics is missing the whole point – because what makes Jens Lekman Jens Lekman is his ability to take sad songs and make them into something so ridiculous and beautiful that you can’t help but smile. In the past he’s done this masterfully for single songs at a time – probably the best example being “The Opposite of Hallelujah” from 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala, where Jens turns a conversation about debilitating depression into a heaven-reaching sing-a-long disco-anthem. Now take that and spread it over an entire album’s worth of heartbreak, and you’ll begin to understand how amazing this record is, and what it means to Jens Lekman to “carry it gracefully.” -Chris

mp3: Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t

2. 151a

by Kishi Bashi

[Joyful Noise]

I’ve been a Kishi Bashi missionary for the better part of the year now. As much as (SPOILER ALERT) Japandroids deserve the top spot, and for me it was perhaps the clearest choice for number one ever, Kishi Bashi was my go-to when someone asked about new music.  Share, share, share. “Manchester” this and “I Am the Antichrist to You” that. I never stopped talking about him (‘Him’ being Kaoru Ishibashi, aka Kishi Bashi). Did I feel betrayed when I heard “Bright Whites” on a commercial? Did I bemoan yet another gem of an artist having their beautiful work reduced to a ten second sound bite to sell HP printers? Heck no, just thrilled that perhaps Kishi Bashi is reaching more and more hearts.  So here I am again, sharing the most beautiful music of the year from a platform that reaches literally tens of people. -Logan

mp3: Kishi Bashi – Manchester

1. Celebration Rock

by Japandroids

[Polyvinyl]

Celebration Rock is an unbearably nostalgic record. Each track has a story and each story feels like it contains splinters of my own life. To explain, listening to “Younger Us” I had one story continually pop into my mind: It was 1 AM and it had been snowing all evening. I opened my sleeping roommate’s door and said, “Klompers, we’re all going sledding. Wanna come?” He sat up and still half-asleep said, “Let me get my coat and boots. I can dress in the car.” Hell ya Klompers, hell ya. Every track brings something back for me. They range from breakups to car rides to past introspective solitary moments (“Continuous Thunder”, “For the Love of Ivy”, and “Evil’s Sway” respectively) but each song resonates with me on a very individual level. I was reluctant to do this write up for that reason. My love of this album is very personal and I don’t think anything I’ve said translates to any of you. However, if you’re anything like me, you read the first sentence and the last sentence of these write ups and move on, so here goes. Hell ya Japandroids, hell ya. -Logan

mp3: Japandroids – Continuous Thunder

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