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.
Out of the increasingly eclectic list of albums that makes its way into my Spotify playlists (and eventually my physical collection, wherever possible), here’s the stuff that I enjoyed the most in 2017, and that I would absolutely recommend, with no reservations, to anyone whose favorite type of music can best be described as “stuff that challenges me in some way but that is always super catchy”. (Is that not a musical genre? it should be.)
Artist: The Killers Album: Wonderful Wonderful Year: 2017 Grade: B-
In Brief: The Killers are probably always going to strike me as a highly inconsistent band. I can’t decide whether I want them to be more serious or more silly, and they often swerve in one direction when I’d expect them to go in the other. But they make a good case for both sides of their personality on their fifth album, which shows some genuine maturity in places without casting off their fun, glammy side. I’d say it’s their best work since Hot Fuss, actually.
There’s a lot of war, betrayal, decay, and destruction that plays out over the course of these two discs. You wouldn’t guess it right away from a lot of the up-tempo song selections, nor from the downright worshipful songs that bookend the set, and certainly not from the lovely scenery taken from a few of my favorite hikes that got chosen for the the cover art. This didn’t come from some weird place of turmoil in my own life – either it was a reflection on conflicts going on in the world at the time, or else I just sort of realize a theme was pulling itself together in the individual songs I was enjoying around that time, and I put them together in such a way that it really emphasized the common thread between a lot of them. There’s also some weird stuff about astronauts and aliens here and there… and a few songs that were chosen to commemorate an unusually warm Southern California spring. So it’s not all dark clouds and disasters and bullets and bombs and blood. But yeah… I guess it’s mostly that.
In with the New:
The Reign of Kindo
Sara Watkins (as a solo artist – appears previously with Nickel Creek)
Out with the Old:
Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts
Right at the tail end of 2008, and into early 2009, I was feeling a pretty strong dose of the economic anxiety that I think a lot of Americans were feeling at that point. Part of it was due to Christine being in transition – knowing she didn’t want to work in daycare any more, but not feeling another calling to a type of job that was both exciting and feasible to pursue. So we were living off of just one income for the time being, and it was hard not to worry about our future plans getting stalled out as a result of this. Fortunately she knew what to do to help get my mind off of the worries, and a pair of trips that we ended up taking along the central California coast in January and February did quite a bit to lighten the mood in that difficult transitional phase of our life together.
In with the New: Animal Collective Fiction Family Josh Ritter A. C. Newman Blitzen Trapper Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts
I was really optimistic at the end of 2008. It had been a tough year, but things appeared to be changing for the better. Still, I think I was more aware of a lot of the turmoil in the world around me than I had been before. I can sort of see a cycle in these songs that I picked back then, which starts out with hope – perhaps hope that was placed in imperfect humans who meant well but couldn’t fix everything we wanted them to fix all at once – and then it moves into a sequence of frustration, jadedness and cynicism, fear, conflict, war, and even death. Ultimately, with the arrival of the Christmas season, it comes right back around to hope again… but it’s tempered with a lot more grace and patience and wisdom than the first time around.
If the first few months of life as a newlywed weren’t easy for me, it wasn’t because of the marriage itself. It was largely because I was making things hard on myself and the people around me. I was harboring a lot of anger, guilt, and frustration from stuff that happened earlier that year that should have been left in the past, along with ongoing worries about money, and those things were transforming me into a bit of a jaded person. The music contained here helped me to fight that off in some ways, and in a few places, it brings back memories of the sweeter, more romantic moods that should have been the default mode for a couple of newlyweds, but that were at least able to shine through the pinholes into the otherwise dark places in my mind.
Here are my thoughts on the last “personal soundtrack” that I made as a bachelor. In trying to get this long-dormant blog series going again, I’ve realized that I’m currently about eight years behind real time. I’m not sure if I ever want to catch up to real time, since it’s easier to blog about the songs I loved at a certain point in my life when enough time has passed to put a bit of perspective on it. But, I hope to catch up to the point where I can write about this stuff before I completely forget why I picked the songs in the first place!
In with the New:
Rob Thomas (as a solo artist – appears previously with Matchbox Twenty)
Out with the Old:
Joseph Arthur (as a solo artist – appears later with Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts)