A combination of new releases that dropped in February, and entries from some of my colleagues’ 2019 best-of lists that I wanted to check out, has expanded my new music column to a whopping sixteen albums this month. Whew! It might be a few months out before I actually get around to fully reviewing any of this stuff, but for now…
Here are my first impressions of the latest from (deep breath…) Tall Tall Trees, Drive-By Truckers, Bruce Hornsby, black midi, Cage the Elephant, Caroline Polachek, Weyes Blood, The Lone Bellow, Green Day, Holden Days, Tennis, Tame Impala, Tyson Motsenbocker, John Reuben, Derek Webb, and The Secret Sisters.
It’s that time of year again where I run through the list of songs that inspired me, entertained me, or just plain got stuck in my head for amusing reasons, more than any other songs in the last 12 months. Most of these were released in 2017. Some came out in 2016 and I either didn’t hear them until this year or didn’t come to fully appreciate them in time for last year’s list. I’ve given brief explanations and YouTube links for the Top 30. For the rest… just check the reviews where they’re linked, if you’re curious.
And as always, many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2017 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
This is the music I’ll remember the most when I think back on 2016. Not just the great singles (though these albums have plenty of those) or the dark horse picks buried deep in the track listings (tons of those too, though), but the way these records all flow from song to song, creating a continuous listening experience that makes spending nearly an hour of time with each artist (or more, in a few cases) worthwhile. On my most cynical days, I’d say that thanks to both terrestrial radio doing its thing and the ephemeral lifecycle of most songs and artists that go “viral” on social media, the single is a much more easily digestible and obtainable format for popular music nowadays, putting the album in danger of becoming a lost art. But from the very obscure to the decidedly mainstream, every record on this list would be here to prove me wrong.
The final days of 2016 are upon us, and that can only mean one thing – it’s time for some long lists that try (perhaps in vain) to sum up the best music I was listening to this year. As always, I’ll start with the individual songs that stood out to me the most. The in-depth reasons why I love these songs so much are mostly spelled out in the album reviews I’ve linked to from here, but in addition to the usual video evidence, I’ve also included a quick blurb for each of the Top 30 entries, just to keep it from being a long list with no explanation whatsoever, I guess.
I’ve also made a Spotify playlist that collects a lot of these highlights, if you’d like to spend a few hours following along. (That one’s ordered more as I discovered the songs, not so much how I’d rank them now, and it’s limited to one track per artist.)
Artist: Green Day Album: Revolution Radio Year: 2016 Grade: B
In Brief: While it’s not as ambitious as American Idiot or 21st Century Breakdown, I appreciate the return to writing songs in that vein, and the result is a far more listenable record than their 2012 trilogy. While the subject matter is a mixed bag, I’m finding most of the songs to be quite cathartic in the midst of a post-election malaise.
Starting the year 2010 off in Hawaii, as Christine and I finished up the last few days of our vacation and our visit with her friends and family, offered a lot of chances for rest and reflection on the almost five years of our marriage so far, and what challenges were potentially ahead of us in this new decade. Going back to the first set of mix CDs I made to cover the first two months of that year, I’m reminded of how my outlook on music was changing (a lot more indie rock, not so much Christian music although I retained a few of my long-time favorites) along with my outlook on life (less rigid and black-and-white, more open to being shown new perspectives and subjecting long-standing beliefs to greater scrutiny to see if they still held water). A lot of it was more about capturing a certain aesthetic or mood rather than a specific meaning – yet after spending some time with this collection of songs again after all these years, I’ve realized as I zoom out and look at the set as a whole that there are still some distinct markers of experiences in my life or ideas I was wrestling with, that give the diverse and sometimes even contradictory elements of these playlists a reason for being together that maybe I couldn’t have fully articulated at the time.
In with the New: The Paper Raincoat As Tall as Lions
We’ve reached the midpoint of my personal hit list now – at some point in the 40’s is where we cross the threshold from the material bubbling just under the “5 star” barrier, to the material that I feel fully earned the highest marks in each glowing review that I wrote. The higher up we go, the more unbridled my joy in going back and revisiting the great music that the 2000’s had to offer.
The beginning of a new year, 2010, and a new third digit in our numbering system for years that indicates I’ll likely never see another year with “0” in that slot for the rest of my lifetime, means that for the first time, this relatively young music fan gets to look back at entire decade (these things being commonly delineated by that third digit even if the technical scientific approach says our decade isn’t over until the beginning of 2011) and try to sum it all up in terms of the music that was meaningful to me over the course of nearly a third of my life. That’s right, I’m just a smidgen over 30, which means that the 2000’s (or the “Ought Nots”, as I’ve decided to call a decade of learning what not to do in retrospect) were my first full decade of being a true music fan. I might have come of age and finished high school and college in the 90’s, and I have my fair share of nostalgic tunes to whisk me back to those days. But this most recent decade was when I truly opened up, with the advent of file sharing and social networking making it remarkably easy to burst the bubble of “Christian music only” that I started out with, to go beyond the basic pop/rock styles largely dominant on the radio, and to really dig deep and find my own musical personality, unburdened by rumors of danger beyond the comfortable fences I had previously built for myself.