Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2017: Favorite Songs

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.

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Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2016: Favorite Albums (and Honorable Mentions)

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.

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Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2016: Favorite Songs

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.)

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Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues: It’s what you do when no one cares.

2016_jimmyeatworld_integritybluesArtist: Jimmy Eat World
Album: Integrity Blues
Year: 2016
Grade: B+

In Brief: Put quite simply, a strong pop/rock record with confident hooks and melodies, and intriguing, often heartfelt lyrics. Unlike their last few albums, it doesn’t need to prove that it’s in any way raw, experimental, or revolutionary. It’s simply Jimmy Eat World doing what they do best, and it’s the best they’ve done since Futures.

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What Am I Listening To? – November 2016

2016_jimmyeatworld_integritybluesJimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
I keep giving new Jimmy Eat World albums a chance, even though I haven’t truly connected with one of their records beyond a song or two in over a decade. This one may have finally broken the trend. It’s nothing groundbreaking for the band, but the songwriting and musicianship are more attention-grabbing right away and they keep that attention longer once a few of the initial surprises have worn off. The front half of the album is particularly strong.

2016_empireofthesun_twovinesEmpire of the Sun – Two Vines
I’m not sure if Empire of the Sun won me over in spite of their 80s-style campiness, or because of it. After their bizarre hodgepodge of a debut, they scaled back the weirdness for Ice on the Dune, and while that album had a number of strong songs and a more consistent sound throughout, I missed some of the quirkiness of their earlier stuff. Now the transformation seems complete on the third album, and there are so few surprises from song to song that I feel like they’re afraid to experiment much with their sound these days. Even when this thing is up-tempo (which is most of the record), it feels too laid-back and inclined to rely on cheesy, repetitive samples to propel the songs along. When you’re selling a highly stylized sound more than anything of real lyrical substance, that’s a bad place for a band to be.

2016_thedigitalage_galaxiesThe Digital Age – Galaxies
I’m so out of touch with contemporary worship music at this point that I honestly can’t tell how much of this album is self-composed, and how much is covers of currently trending worship songs. It’s mostly done in the high-octane, electronically-tinged rock style that these guys established when they were still members of the David Crowder Band. But the loose astronaut/space exploration theme bridging some of the tracks doesn’t add much to the experience, and musically these guys seem to be playing it pretty safe, unlike Crowder who still unapologetically mixes disparate genres in his solo work. I don’t even have a song I previously recognized like “All the Poor and Powerless” or “Oceans” as an inroad this time, so I’m finding it really hard to get into this album. Maybe when we start singing one or two of these songs in church, I’ll go back and see them with new eyes?

2016_norahjones_daybreaksNorah Jones – Day Breaks
Little Broken Hearts was a pretty daring album by Norah Jones standards. It makes sense that after taking listeners down her personal rabbit hole on that album, she’d want to throw some of her long-time fans a bone by going back to the more classic jazz and mellow pop hybrid that she first won the world over with on Come Away with Me. It’s the closest she’s sounded to that album in her entire career since. And it doesn’t blow me away, but I don’t mind it. I still need to listen more closely to figure out where the true highlights are.

2016_futureofforestry_awakenedtothesoundFuture of Forestry – Awakened to the Sound
I’m surprised that FoF managed to throw another full-length album together so quickly after Pages. Frankly I was so disappointed with Pages that I didn’t bother reviewing it, and the band had kind of fallen off my radar until the surprise release of this album right around Election Day. (I needed a good week to really get into the mood for it, but that’s not the band’s fault.) They’re slowly winning me back with this one. The days of FoF working from slow-burning baroque pop intros up to grandeur-filled modern rock climaxes are probably long gone, but I like the cinematic feel of a lot of these new songs and the way that several incorporate Eastern-style strings and backing vocals. Some of it is still a bit slow and ponderous for my tastes, but when listened to all in a row, it feels like a journey through the highs and lows of different landscapes, rather than the dull monotony of soft, middle-of-the-road, ballad after ballad that made most of Pages such a chore to get through.

2016_owel_dearmeOwel – Dear Me
I knew Owel must have had some really good things in store when I found out via Facebook that none of the excellent tracks heard on the Every Good Boy EP had even made the cut for the tracklisting on their second full-length album. Hearing it now, I can see why. A lot of these songs are sprawling, some even a bit challenging, in a way that’s definitely consistent with their self-titled album but that would have made most of the songs from that EP feel a bit out of place by comparison. This is an album that you really have to take your time with – it’s a slow-burner that owes a clear debt to the work of bands like Radiohead and Sigur Rós, but that also unfolds with the subtle grace of a band like Elbow. It’s an immersive indie rock experience that is in no hurry to impress the audience with pyrotechnics, but which instead is long on slow-building melancholy passages and intriguing songwriting. Owel is one of those bands where, even when the lyrics are esoteric and not easily interpreted, I always feel like I’m getting a glimpse into some intensely personal beliefs and experiences. Nothing here wows me quite as much as the first time I heard “Snowglobe”, but I’m actually glad the band isn’t so obviously repeating itself.

Divad’s Soundtrack #72: January-February 2008

Not having seen Christine’s parents since late 2006, we took an “off-season vacation” in late January/early February to go back to Oahu and visit them. This was a much cheaper trip than usual – no side journeys to outlying islands or overnights in Waikiki hotels or anything like that. Just low-key relaxation in suburban Mililani – and of course the usual driving around and exploring the island that I can never resist doing. Most of these songs aren’t tied to memories of that trip in the direct sense, but any good vacation offers its fair share of moments to pause, take in the peace of a beautiful place far from home, and reflect on personal issues I’m dealing with at that point in time, ways that my beliefs and passions are being shaped and challenged, etc. Listening to this batch of songs ten years later, it’s pretty clear that I was on the verge of some of those changes.

In with the New:
Arcade Fire
Edison Glass
Jon Foreman (as a solo artist – appears earlier with Switchfoot)

Out with the Old:
Matchbox Twenty
Chris Rice

Listen on Spotify:

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Divad’s Soundtrack #54: January-February 2005

This soundtrack for the winter of 2005 is filled with songs of anticipation, but many of them also express a desire for change. I was preparing for my life to becomeradically different as Christine and I planned our wedding. I had to ask myself who I was now, what I wanted to be, and what things were standing in the way of that transformation. I wanted to start married life knowing that the process would make me a better man.

In with the New:
Olivia the Band
The Fiery Furnaces

Out with the Old:
Something Like Silas
Day of Fire

Listen on Spotify:

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