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
by This Is The Kit
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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: 2000-2011—they’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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Well 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.
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
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
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 thesetwo videos. So just watch those and you’ll understand. -Chris
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Since falling fast and hard for Diamond Minea 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
It’s no secret how much we love Josh Ritter around here – in fact, I can’t think of any other artist we plug more often or more emphatically than him. His record, So Runs The World Away, made the No. 2 spot in our Favorite Albums of 2010, and if we’d been writing this blog back in 2007, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter would have topped that year’s list as well. On top of all that, his 2006 masterpiece The Animal Years continues to be one of my all-time favorite records (now on vinyl!).
One of my favorite things about Ritter’s music is the remarkable stories he tells through his songs – whether they be about cursed mummies, romantic cowboys, or repressed missile-silo operators – so it only seems natural that the gifted songwriter would try his hand at a different form of storytelling. Josh Ritter will be releasing his first novel, Bright’s Passage, on June 28th via Random House/Dial Press. I don’t know much about the book yet, except that the story originally grew out of a song (naturally), and that it follows a World War I veteran, Henry Bright, and his infant son, as they trek through the wooded hills of West Virginia. Below is a brief note from Josh about the book, and a link to download the first chapter for free!
Here’s the first chapter to my first novel,Â Bright’s Passage.Â Â Wow!Â Â It makes me very proud to write that!Â Â Right now I’m sitting on the floor in Penn Station in New York, waiting for a train to Philadelphia where I’m to play a solo show.Â Â There are so many places a story can be told.Â Â Over the past year and a half, in airport bars and laundromats, tour busses and kitchens I’ve been telling myself the story of Henry Bright and his world.Â Â A story that started as a song is now a world inhabited by characters that are still surprising to me.Â Â I’m so happy to begin to present that world to others.Â Â Great thanks goes, as ever, to my family and my music family, my new friends at the Dial Press, and all of those whose generosity of will made this book possible. Finally, thank all of you for your continued belief in my writing, whatever form it may take.Â Â I never forget who it is that makes all of this possible in the end. As ever, rock on!
It’s a cold and icy day here in Indianapolis. So cold and icy, in fact, that they’ve canceled just about everything there is to cancel, including my classes. So I’m just sitting around here at home, enjoying not having anything to do but slide around on the frozen sidewalks, play cribbage with my wife, and punch ice sheets off our second-story windows. It’s been a pretty great day so far.
Adding to that great day vibe is the news that Josh Ritter’s near-flawless 2006 album The Animal Years is (finally!) getting the reissue treatment on CD and LP, just like Golden Age of Radio and Hello Starling have in the past couple years. Like those reissues, both the CD and LP will include a bonus disc of Josh performing the entire record solo and acoustic, plus four unreleased songs. The CD hits stores Feb 15th (including most online retailers), but the LP is available right now on Josh’s website and at your local indie record store.
The Animal Years is beautifully written and constructed from start to finish, and continues to be one of my very favorite records of all time, even five years later. Honestly, when I have to pick my Top Five Of All Time, this is definitely always in it. (Any guesses on the other four?) And I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited to listen to this beyond gorgeous album on my very own record player – I even asked Josh’s merch manager about it when we saw him in June, to which he said, “I KNOW! I’m working on it! I’ve even offered to do the design and layout!”
If you’ve forgotten how great this record is, here’s a couple highlights to refresh your memory, plus a link to download the new acoustic version of “Wolves”. Enjoy!
Top 21? But weren’t there 25 last year? Well yes. And it was only 15 the year before that. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re not that rigid around here – all we really care about is letting you know what we’re loving right now and that’s about it. If we only fall for one record next year then you can probably expect “WiAC’s Top 1 Album of 2011”. It’ll be a good one, though. We promise.
That said, this year was a great year for music. But it was great in a different way than the last couple years. In 2008 and 2009 we fell hard for debut records by new bands (Grand Archives and Harlem Shakes, respectively), but this year our top 5 went to nearly all familiar faces. In fact, I think when we look back on 2010 what we’ll remember most was how artist after artist that released an anticipated album just seemed to deliver – and not just by making good records, but often by making the record of their career. In a year where we listened to more music than ever, we just couldn’t deny that these were the albums we enjoyed the most. Period.
Finally, remember that this list represents our favorite albums of the year, and not necessarily the best albums of the year. If we had to pick what we thought were the very best albums critically, this list would probably look a little different. But we’re not critics, so we’re going to skip all the posturing and taste-making mumbo-jumbo. These are simply our very favorite albums of the year – the ones that made us laugh, cry, dance, smile, press repeat, wet our pants, etc. Basically, this is what we’ll remember when we look back on 2010…
To get ready for the All Hallow’s weekend here’s a playlist of what we think are genuinely creepy songs. With only a few exceptions, they’re mostly low-key acoustic songs, the kind you might hear around a campfire, somewhere far out in the woods. Only a couple deal with “monsters” per say (one mummy and one vampire, respectively), the rest are centered around the real-life kind of monsters – bloodthirsty sociopaths on hellish road-trips, spurned-lovers who become violently unhinged, and nightmarish butchers who come for your children in the night. A lot of the tunes are pretty, but if you listen close, these songs will keep you up at night…
Hey everyone! It’s hard to believe, but this is our 400th post here at WiAC. Kind of crazy, I know. And I couldn’t think of better news to grace this very historic post (not really), than the news that Josh Ritter just released a free song on his website – a cover of an old Hedy West song called “500 Miles” (no, not that 500 Miles). It’s pretty lo-fi, very pretty, and features Dawn Landes on vocals. Check it out:
We recently received this from Josh Ritter’s mailing list, and it’s kind of great:
During Josh’s show at The Tarrytown Music Hall this past Saturday night, the audience had quite the surprise for Josh and the band. Thanks to an unknown fan (who are you?) who handed out glowsticks – with instructions – to the entire audience before the show, the performance of “Lantern” was a concert moment not to forget.
The sound isn’t incredible, but that’s not the point. Enjoy:
So great right? That kind of stuff just warms my heart. We saw Mr. Ritter in June and even though there weren’t any glowsticks, he was still all kinds of awesome – you can read about it HERE.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed this… but a lot of the artists who made records that rocked my world in 2007 have happened to also make records that are rocking my world in 2010. It’s like they’re on the same creative cycle or something. I thought I’d throw a few of them together for you:
So admittedly, those last two are a bit anticipatory – I’m only hoping that their new albums are as amazing as their 2007 counterparts… but I’m not too worried. Now we just need another record from Feist, The Moonbabies, and Radiohead (maybe!?) to round off my list…