To say that this month didn’t go as planned would be a massive understatement. At the beginning of the month, I was gearing up for a relaxing vacation in Hawaii, which is where I figured I’d be when writing this column. Then the Coronavirus happened – or rather, America finally got serious about defending itself against it, and most of us went into a prolonged period of self-isolation. The upside is that I’ve had even more time than usual to binge on music while working from home (and I’m fortunate to have a job that lends itself well to telecommuting). The downside is that, try as I might to be objective, some otherwise good music released during this season is going to be forever entwined with the memories of being stuck at home and praying to God that none of my family members or loved ones get sick. Maybe I’ll be able to turn that around and come out remembering some of this as the music that helped keep me company and lift my spirits during an intense and difficult part of my life? Only time will tell.
Here are my first impressions of the latest from Phantogram, SHEL, Alex Wong, Hayley Williams, Leigh Nash, Cindy Morgan, Holden Days, Collective Soul, Peter Bjorn and John, Mandy Moore, Matt Wertz, Jason Wade, Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams, Pearl Jam, Elbow, and Sleeping at Last.
It’s that time of year again, when I arbitrarily sort through the list of songs I’ve been obsessed with over the past 12 months, and try to whittle it down to a semi-reasonable list of 100 favorites. A lot of these were released in 2013, and a few even in 2012, but as usual, I was late to the party.
Music videos and some live performances are embedded for most of the Top 30. I didn’t want to go too far beyond that, for fear of crashing your browser. I’ve also created a Spotify playlist that explores a number of these favorites, more or less chronologically in the order that I discovered them.
Artist: Pearl Jam Album: Lightning Bolt Year: 2013 Grade: B+
In Brief: A triumphant “return to form” that manages to not be a rehash of Ten or of their previous “return to form” on the self-titled album. Despite a few slow spots, Lightning Bolt has a surprising amount of instant likeability that doesn’t diminish as you get deeper into the album.
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.
My soundtrack from the spring of 2010 is… a bit of a hodgepodge, honestly. Most of my soundtracks are, but this one in particular has a bit of an identity crisis. Lots of great music here from across a smattering of divergent genres, but not a whole lot of connecting tissue tying most of it together – and honestly, not as many specific memories tying the music to definitive events in my life. I think this tends to happen during a season of life when I’m reasonably settled and happy – the music I’m drawn to, which might reflect a certain amount of angst or difficult questions, is probably resonating more with stuff I’ve been through in the past, or stuff I’m glad to have never been through. All of this is to say, I’ve realized in retrospect that this is a less autobiographical set of songs than most of my soundtracks turned out to be. Nothing wrong with that – remembering a time in my life when there was a distinct lack of struggle or upheaval is kind of comforting nowadays, considering how isolated, unpredictable and stressful life is for me (and for most of the world!) ten years down the road.
In with the New:
The River Empires
Jónsi (as a solo artist – appears earlier with Sigur Rós)
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