We’ve arrived at the final round, folks. The true heavy-hitters. The absolute classics that I’m pretty sure I’ll keep going back to over and over when they’re ten years, twenty years – heck, maybe even fifty years old if I’m fortunate enough to still be around then!
The realization that I had a pretty interesting cross-section of artists ranging from household names to the downright obscure on this list piqued my curiosity about whether there was some reasonable way to measure exactly how popular each of them were. It’s honestly not something I’ve ever paid super close attention to – I can usually get a sense of when someone whose music I happen to like has achieved A-list celebrity status around the world, because I’ll hear their music pretty much everywhere when I’m out and about in public, and their concerts will usually be prohibitively expensive. On the other end of the scale, when an artist is so-small time that only a small cluster of people seem to know about them, merely acquiring their music or finding out more about them for the sake of writing a review can be challenging. Word of mouth, and recommendations from other artists I enjoy, are often my primary means of getting into an artist, so for pretty much everyone between those two extremes, I often don’t know how many like-minded fans there are, or what demographic is most into them, until I catch a live show and start people-watching.
Alright, so it’s 2020, and it’s time to look back on the best music from the decade that is now behind us. Most of us will simply refer to that decade as “The Twenty Tens”, “The New Tens”, “The Teens”, etc. I’ve decided to label them “The Tenny Tweens”, mostly for the delight of how that silly phrase rolls off the tongue and because I wanted a unique nickname for it after coming up with “The Ought Nots” for the 2000s, but also because it felt very much like a decade of between-ness and transition, where I ended up in a different place both personally and in terms of my musical tastes than where I started.
Anyway, before I get to the proper list of what I’d consider my favorite album releases of the 2010s, I wanted to give honorable mentions to a hodgepodge of releases that don’t really fit into the conventional album format – generally because they’re too long, too short, and/or are mostly comprised of previously released material. Plenty of songs from these releases perked up my ears and lifted my spirits over the last several years, and it didn’t feel right glossing over ’em entirely simply because the artist didn’t choose a conventional LP as their method of releasing ’em.
If I could write songs like anyone in the world, I’d want to write like Vienna Teng does.
I’m sure I’ve echoed this sentiment many times in all of the reviews I’ve written of Vienna’s music over the years. And while there quite a lot of songwriters I’ve admired enough to consider them influential over the years, she seems to be the one I come back to the most consistently and remain in awe of, somehow still finding interesting little nuances I hadn’t considered before in songs of hers that I’ve loved for nearly two decades now. I knew pretty early on that I had stumbled across something special when I first heard her music – all it took was two songs performed on solo piano at an intimate live show way back in the spring of 2003 for me to first feel that tug deep within me, telling me I wanted to write something that communicated such powerful imagery wrapped in curious metaphor, and yet she was so intimidatingly good at it that I was pretty sure I’d never be able to come anywhere near it. But perhaps that’s the point. Vienna is such a restlessly creative individual who constantly challenges her own status quo. So maybe the best way to be inspired by her is to not try to mimic her at all. And therein lies the paradox.
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.
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.
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.
Artist: Vienna Teng Album: Aims Year: 2013 Grade: A-
In Brief:Aims will come as a surprise, if not a complete shock, to folks expecting tender piano ballads and an overall mellow mood. But those who have enjoyed Teng for her increasingly experimental tendencies over the years will find a lot of “thinking outside the box” to delight in here, as long as you’re not inclined to view electronic sounds and heavily layered production as somehow “inauthentic”.
Saw Vienna Teng at The Largo tonight. Geographically, West Hollywood might as well be Timbuktu for folks living on the side of L.A. that we do, and there aren’t many artists for whom I’d brave the weekday rush hour traffic. But Vienna is one of them, especially due to the long gap between tours due to her attending grad school in Michigan.
Is it just me, or did the year 2010 did just fly right on by? Usually that’s the sign of a good year, one so packed with exciting adventures that you just can’t seem to capture the time and get it to stand still. But it’s actually been a difficult one for me, a fact which may be reflected in a lot of my personal playlists from the last twelve months. Good music seemed to come out of the nooks and crannies as it does most years, but for a while, it seemed like a lot of the greatest stuff was eluding me. But that which seemed depressing at first became a place of solace during a hard year, and that which was happy became an inspiration to live a life worthy of the soundtrack. So my Top 10 list this year, while it follows my usual habit of emphasizing what I enjoyed listening to over what the critics or the general public or anyone else thought, seems to carry a little bit of extra personal weight, as I found so many moments of joy in absorbing it and in sharing it with other people. Music as a facilitator for community has always been one of my passions, and it’s because of this that I continue to expend so much energy writing about it for the handful of people who will actually read any portion of my long-winded articles.