At 8:07 A.M. on the morning of January 19, 2018, I will have been on this Earth for exactly 40 years. (Time spent in the womb notwithstanding.) I decided to spend the 40 days leading up to it focusing on a specific year of my life per day, as viewed through the lens of a song that somehow influenced me at around that time. (I’ve been posting these to my Facebook page since that 40-day period started, and I’m compiling those posts here on my blog for those who missed any of the earlier posts and/or aren’t connected with me on social media.) This was challenging for two reasons:
One, because I don’t have clear memories of the very earliest years of my life, and thus I had to cheat and pick songs which either my parents played for me deliberately or that were iconic in popular culture at the time, that left enough of a mark for me to remember them from some later point in my childhood.
And two, because once I really started to deliberately seek out new music to listen to in my teenage years instead of just absorbing whatever was around me by happenstance, it opened up the floodgates to the point where it’s hard to pick a single representative song for a lot of the later years of my life.
But it’s been a fun challenge nonetheless, because I think it really gets at the nuts and bolts of what sparked my initial interest in music, how it might have been shaped by early events in my life, and how that all contributed to the sense of identity I’d wind up with after four decades of existence.
So we’ll start where it all began, in the year I was born…
As always, I’m closing the year out with a summary of my favorite records from the year gone by. The only qualifying factors to make this list are that they must be full-length albums consisting of new material (I have a separate section for EPs and collections of previously released material), with a release date in 2014. Everything I really enjoyed this year that falls outside of those boundaries still gets a mention, just not a ranking.
It was really hard to pick a clear #1 this year. I love the top four albums on this list just about equally. Two are more “baroque” pop records that lean toward the electronic and experimental, and two are more in-your-face rock records. They’re the only “A grades” that I gave out this year. Which one is my favorite among them changes based on my mood, so I basically gave the #1 slot to the one I’ve enjoyed for the largest chunk of the year. I can’t imagine very many other people who would ever actually listen to all four of them, let alone like them all, but they all come with my highest recommendations for anyone into the types of music these individual artists are making.
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.
Chatham County Line – Tightrope
In return for the suggestion of St. Paul & the Broken Bones below, I suggested that my friend listen to The Secret Sisters. He countered by suggesting Chatham County Line, a bluegrass act who has been around for a while but who I’ve never given a try until now. They seem to know their way around their instruments and also how to pen a compelling song. They don’t seem to go for full-on instrumental breakdowns like Nickel Creek, but they’re pleasant to listen to. I might go with said friend to see them in concert in August.
Sean Watkins – All I Do Is Lie
I commented when reviewing Fiction Family and Nickel Creek’s most recent records that Sean Watkins seems more confident as a sideman than as a frontman. His material tends to get overshadowed by the songs penned by his bandmates. He hasn’t flown solo for an entire album since 2006, and it seems he’s compiled a wealth of strange ideas on the meantime, which are just as prone to show off his fast-fingered acoustic guitar playing as they are to wander into strange and disorienting realms unlike anything he’d attempt with either of the aforementioned bands. Even though the material is hit and miss, I like that this guy’s hard to pin down. And I have to sort of wince and yet sort of agree with him as he explores his ongoing issues with the Christian subculture in the hard-hitting song “The God You Serve”.
Jimi Goodwin – Odludek
Doves have been on hiatus for four years now, which is annoying, because it happened just as I was really starting to get into their back catalogue. I have no clue what the Williams twins are up to these days, but lead singer Jimi Goodwin has struck out on his own with this release (and he’s been touring with Elbow, just because we all needed to have an even harder time telling the difference between his voice and Guy Garvey’s). “Strange” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Doves had their experimental impulses on every record, but there was usually a kick-ass rhythm section to anchor most of it. Without that, Jimi is free to throw just about anything at the wall and see what sticks, which leads to downright disorienting fare like the horn-driven freakshow “Man V Dingo”. That might be the most extreme outlier on the album, but a lot of these tracks were hard to stomach on first listen. Even if some of them strike me as genius as I get deeper into them, I can’t see myself recommending this one to a lot of other folks.
Weird Al Yankovic – Mandatory Fun
A slight improvement over Alpocalypse, but Weird Al is definitely at his best when he can get his parodies out the door in a timely manner. Since this is the last album on his contract, perhaps having to wait 2-3 years to release a parody of something current will no longer be an issue.
Anberlin – Lowborn
The final chapter in a discography that’s been remarkably consist ever since their debut just over a decade ago. While I wouldn’t rank it as high as my two all-time favorite Anberlin albums, Cities and Vital, this lean-and-mean collection does manage to continue the electronic experimentation that worked well on Vital while bring back more of a variety of tempos and song styles as heard on Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place, to which this one feels like a bit of a companion piece, mood-wise. I’m stoked to see them in concert one last time this October!
Jars of Clay – 20
It’s an absolute treat to hear a favorite band revisit their entire discography, leaving almost no stone unturned as they celebrate a milestone anniversary. These mostly acoustic remakes of fan favorite songs are a delightful walk down memory lane, and hopefully they will demonstrate the diversity of the Jars catalogue to new listeners, as well as old fans who never really kept up with them past the first few albums.
Artist: Weird Al Yankovic Album: Mandatory Fun Year: 2014 Grade: B-
In Brief: A slight improvement over Alpocalypse, but Weird Al is definitely at his best when he can get his parodies out the door in a timely manner. Since this is the last album on his contract, perhaps having to wait 2-3 years to release a parody of something current will no longer be an issue.
When I look back on the final closing months of 2006, I remember feeling cold on the outside, but warm on the outside. That’s because the two cover images I chose for these mixes were from outdoor activities in the late autumn weather, in places that had both become meaningful to me many years before, but that I was now experiencing with a newer group of friends. 2006 was one of my favorite years all the way through to the end, and I felt a sense of peace about the holidays arriving that year, which isn’t a normal thing for me. The holidays weren’t without their moments of upheaval – my uncle Dean passed away just before Thanksgiving, and it took us over a month to coordinate with folks so that we could hold a memorial service. But there were also happy family memories, as Christine and I got to have her parents and my mom together for Thanksgiving for the first time, and we adopted our cat in early December, who Christine decided to name “Anberlin”, of all things.
In with the New:
Peter Bradley Adams (as a solo artist – appears previously with Eastmountainsouth)
Sean Watkins (as a solo artist – appears elsewhere with Nickel Creek and Fiction Family)
Out with the Old:
He Is Legend
The Violet Burning
It Was Worth a Try:
Chris Thile (as a solo artist – appears elsewhere with Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers)