As we round the corner into the home stretch of 2019, I’m trying to cram in a lot of the odds and ends that have released over the past month (and even a few that I missed out on last year) while simultaneously trying to gear up for my year-end (and decade-end!) list-making extravaganza. So I’m a bit scatterbrained and perhaps haven’t given some of this stuff as focused of a listen as I normally might. Worst case scenario, I’ll come back to some of it in 2020, after the dust settles and my slate is clear from all of the heavy nostalgia that has taken up most of my listening time recently.
Oh yeah, and there are a few Christmas albums/EPs that have come out recently, which I’ve made the decision to ignore until the beginning of December. I’ll do this column a little earlier next month so that I can actually cover those before Christmas arrives. For now, I’m focusing on the non-seasonal stuff.
Here are my first impressions of the latest from Sawyer, Merriment, Lord Huron, Hollow Coves, The Last Bison, Grace Potter, Andrew Osenga, R.E.M., Charlie Peacock, Darlingside, Global Genius, Coldplay, and Medical Morning.
A pretty significant change to my listening habits this month is that I’m trying to be more open-minded about listening to singles aside from the albums they may or may not be attached to. I largely stopped paying attention to singles years ago, around when I stopped listening to any form of radio, because the risk of getting a negative first impression of a forthcoming album, or else being frustrated that a good song had been entirely left off of a studio album, seemed to outweigh the potential reward of enjoying the song as a listening experience unto itself. As much as I love to cherry-pick favorite tracks from albums for my own personal playlists, I often don’t discover how much I truly love those songs until I get to hear them in the grander context of a series of songs they were intended to be a part of. I’m more of an “album” guy than a “singles” guy, and that’s probably not gonna change any time soon, but since singles tend to come out so far in advance of the album these days, I figure I might as well be evaluating those songs when most of the artist’s other fans are, rather than being way late to the party when the album finally drops. I probably will still change my mind about some of these after hearing them in their “full album” context, but I think I’m patient and smart enough these days to manage expectations of a forthcoming album when a sneak peek catches me off-guard in some way.
I also finally got around to “following” a number of artists on Spotify, which I’ve discovered causes individual songs to show up in my “Release Radar” playlist as they come out. Or occasionally it’ll go back and pick one for me if it’s been out for a little while but Spotify can tell I haven’t listened to it on my own yet. This should keep me from completely missing out on new albums/singles from artists I had followed in the past but then sort of forgot about, without the hassle of having to manually look them up every now and then just to see if they’ve done anything new recently. I’ve got a running playlist of my own to keep track of these new releases and helpful suggestions from Spotify, at least the ones that seem like they might be worth repeated listens. I figure once those get released on an album and/or I get sick of hearing them on their own, I’ll drop them from the playlist to make room for new stuff. We’ll see how often I manage to squeeze that playlist into my listening habits as it evolves over the months to come.
Now, for the actual albums and EPs I’ve given a try this month. Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Mike Shinoda, Marika Hackman, Umphrey’s McGee, Sara Groves, Andrew Peterson, Belle & Sebastian, Rostam, and Charlie Peacock.
For the third and final entry in this long-winded look back at the music that mattered to me this year, I present the cream of the crop – the albums that provided me with the most satisfying listening experience from beginning to end, which is a much more difficult feat than simply hooking me with a catchy song or two, and arguably a feat many artists have given up on in the age of digital music that can just as easily be released for bite-sized consumption on a sporadic schedule, rather than thought through as a fully-formed artistic statement. These albums don’t have that much in common with one another, but taken all together, they represent the weird snowball of influences that make up my musical tastes these days, ranging from old favorites who have resurfaced after lying dormant for many years, to buzz-gathering indie artists who have begun to break out of the blogosphere and into some version of “the mainstream”, to those who have given up entirely on mainstream fame and are content to Kickstarter and Indiegogo their way into fans’ hearts with no traditional support structure whatsoever. It’s all a very weird mix, but it’s all quite delicious.
It’s time to kick off my yearly obsession with counting things that it really makes no sense to put in order. More detailed write-ups on the full lengths albums that captivated me this year are to follow, but for now, here’s a haphazard list I’ve compiled of 100 songs that moved me this year… some physically, some emotionally, some both.
Here’s what I was listening to during my last days of high school, and over the summer as I began to realize my need to separate from the seemingly small world around me (despite some people that I really wanted to hold on to) and to emotionally prepare myself for my first semester at Occidental College, which I chose over Pitzer out of the two schools that had accepted me, in the fall.
In with the New:
Code of Ethics
Jars of Clay
Sixpence None the Richer
Out with the Old:
Steve Taylor (as a solo artist – appears later with Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil)
Here’s what I was listening to in early 1995, leading into my final semester of high school. These songs were my motivation as I prepared for AP tests, badminton matches, and rejection from a cute girl or two.
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
Greg Long (as a solo artist – appears later with Avalon)
It Was Worth a Try: