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.
2019 was a weird year for me, in terms of the music I enjoyed most. A lot of artists put out genuinely great singles, only to follow them up with lackluster albums, EPs as stopgaps between albums, or really nothing at all. It’s a good thing I was following all of my favorite artists on Spotify, as well as some newer ones I was curious to hear more from, or else I might have not heard a good quarter of this list until 2019, if ever. Usually the vast majority of my Top 100 songs for the year comes from my favorite albums released that year, with some spillover from the year before. While that’s still true in 2019, it’s worth noting that nearly a tenth of my list this time comes from EPs or compilations rather than albums, and close to another tenth of the list is made up of non-album singles, that have yet to be attached to a larger collection of songs (assuming that will ever happen at all). While this speaks to the ability of many of my favorite artists to strike while the iron is hot in terms of getting new music out, it also worries me slightly where the longevity of the album format is concerned. But that’s an issue to discuss when I get to my list of Favorite Albums for the year. My Favorite Songs list, while eclectic and probably whiplash-inducing at certain points, definitely required some tough decision-making because there were so many great songs that spoke to me this year. At the end of the day, whether a song is part of a larger narrative or not, that’s really all that matters – whether the song stands out to me as unique in some way, and makes me want to keep coming back to listen to it over and over again. And everything on this list passed that test with flying colors!
As I do each year, I’ll give some insight into my reasons for picking the Top 30, and you can assume after that point that the ordering is somewhat arbitrary. Many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2019 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
First on my to-do list as the year comes to a close is to list the individual songs that inspired and entertained me the most in 2018. Some of these may have come out in 2017, or in a few extreme cases, as singles in 2016 that didn’t make it onto an actual album release until more recently. Either way, it was all new to me this year, or else I heard it in late 2017 and I had a belated reaction to it. Explanations and video/audio links are given for the Top 30 – for the rest, if you’re curious, just click the review links where provided to learn more.
As always, many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2018 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
This is part three of a series chronicling each year of my life as viewed through the lens of a song that was meaningful to me in some way that represents a significant aspect of my life experience in that year. This segment covers the third decade of my life. Be sure to catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 first.
Here’s the cream of the crop, folks – the list of albums that captivated me most in the year 2015. While some of these picks are likely about as predictable as the likelihood of a YouTube comments section devolving into a vicious political flamewar, there are a few cases here where I genuinely surprised myself by falling in love with an artist or even a genre that I had previously decided was “just not my thing”. I hope the music that comes out in 2016 challenges me in similar ways.
The first order of business as 2015 comes to a close is to sift through all of my favorite songs that I first heard this year (or perhaps late last year, and it just took me a little longer to appreciate them) and attempt to put them in order, which as usual starts to get a bit silly below the top 30 or so. Music videos and some live performances are embedded for that first chunk of the list. As I’ve done in previous years, I’ve also got a Spotify playlist that covers a lot of these, limited to a song per artist and more in chronological order of when I discovered them.
In Brief: Though the music remains mellow and reserved throughout, Sufjan’s attempts to make sense of his troubled childhood in the wake of his mother’s death can at times be visceral, even shocking. It’s a departure from the days of classic Sufjan when geography and history played the starring roles, but these elements are still there, serving as the backdrop for an album that, under different circumstances, could have simply been called “Oregon”.