It Was That Kind of Year, EP Edition

It’s the next installment of the year in music, this blog’s annual exercise in working out its author’s need to categorize and share the songs and albums from the previous 12 months the he liked. It’s not for everyone. But you might find something useful.

Today, EPs. EP stands for “Extended Play,” and it refers to a release that isn’t long enough to be considered an album, or “Long Play” (LP). They’re cheaper to produce, and many release LPs before an album. Increasingly, it seems like established acts are releasing EPs though, often in the same year that they release an LP. Both The Decemberists and Lake Street Dive did that this year, presumably in order to publish music they recorded for, but did not ultimately include on, their albums.

There were four EPs that I spent a lot of time with this year. One I’m sure you’ve heard. One I’ve already mentioned. Let’s start with that one.

Freak Yourself Out was released by Lake Street Dive in late November. Because I saw the band about a month earlier, I had heard most of it already. Frankly, if I hadn’t I don’t think it would have registered with me. Still, “Daryl” and “Angioplast” showcase the band’s delightful versatility.

Brett Dennen released two EPs in 2018, and I considered listing them together as an LP. Taken together they’re a solid collection of the folk singer/songwriter’s uptempo turn, but by themselves they kind of make individual statements. They are Dennen’s first recordings for Downtown Records, home to Cold War Kids and David Gray. I’ve known of Dennen for about a decade, but I haven’t loved anything he’s done until these. In particular “Already Gone,” and “Live in The Moment” are total earworms. “Jenny and Jill” has just the loveliest, loveliest harmonic chorus.

Finally, the one I’m sure you’ve heard. In late October, Matador Records released boygenius, a self-titled six-track collection from a female indie rocker supergroup nobody saw coming. Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker who have both recorded for Matador, teamed up with Phoebe Bridgers, whose debut album last year on Dead Oceans was one of my yearly favorites. The result is just stunning, vocally, rhythmically, and lyrically. No doubt, boygenius is one of the best things to happen in 2018 music. There are only six songs, so they’re all standouts. But “Me & My Dog” and “Stay Down” will stay with you.

These Are The 10 Songs from 2018 That I’d Take with Me To A Deserted Island

It’s great that Spotify automatically generates a list of the 100 songs I listened to most during the year. I’m also happy with the big list of songs I compiled myself, the one that has practically every 2018 release I heard and liked. But, as with all of life, hard choices are ultimately required, and they cannot be avoided.

Here, then, is my hard call on the ten songs I’m taking with me into 2019, listed, not ranked. Each inclusion represents a decision. There are lots of songs denied a spot on this list that I listened to more, but that I decided were not as good, not as important to me, as the 10 left.

Listening to music is rewarding. Reading about music is less so. Here you go then.

Parsing My Spotify “Your Top Songs of 2018” Playlist

In addition to my own annual music lists, Spotify makes one for me (posted below). I love this about Spotify. It pays for the subscription all by itself. There’s another service called that I have used for years that does something similar, collecting data on music you’ve streamed across a variety of platforms and showing it to you across seven day, 180 day, and 365 day stretches. But because, until September, it was mixing together both mine and Kiddo’s listening histories, there’s way too much Hamilton and Camila Cabello to sift through to find my music.

Also, not only does the service compile a playlist for you of the 100 songs you’ve listened to the most during the year, it accompanies that list with a web-based presentation about your music listening habits since January.

I listened to 25,104 minutes of music this year.

I listen to “non-mainstream” artists 71% more than the average Spotify listener.

The oldest song I streamed all year was the 1954 track, “Keep Your Hand on The Plow” by Mahalia Jackson.

I am so much of a sucker for this.

Listening through this automatic “Your Top Songs” playlist is actually a reflective exercise. Sure, a bunch of what’s in there is stuff I picked and played repeatedly on purpose, and most of it was released in 2018 and so overlaps with this playlist. But there’s a lot of surprises in there that break down to a couple of things that were true about 2018 for me.

I spent a lot of time building a shared playlist with a friend from seminary, trying to get him to expand my musical palette and teach me some of the American music history that my suburban Top 40 radio upbringing deprived me of. That list accounts for a lot of what I spent time with, stuff I would not otherwise have been listening to (Billy Bragg, Buffalo Tom, Grandpa Boy, The James Hunter 6).

I also, because of my job, spend hours driving vans full of teenagers. I make playlists for these drives, and I’ve started inviting the students to contribute. Those trips have a discernible footprint on this playlist. They account for  the Walk The Moon, Portugal. The Man, a-ha, Earth, Wind, & Fire (!), Miley Cyrus, Journey, and Barenaked Ladies (one group of students demanded “Don’t Shuffle Me Back” practically every time we got in the van.)

Finally, there are songs in here that I hope will be in my top 100 every year for the rest of my life. These are the songs that makeup the soundtrack of my life. I seek them out repeatedly when I need them. See “Beautiful World”, “Ordinary Angels,” “Tyson vs. Douglas,” and “Joey.”

Seriously, Spotify is an instrumental to my end-of-year reflection as anything else.

It’s December. Time To Share Music.

I listen to a lot of music. In the morning making Kiddo’s school lunch, on the train to work, in the office, on the train home, in the kitchen making dinner, in the car. I have music on almost all the time.

I choose the music intentionally. Spotify has a mind boggling array of radio stations that will play music for you: at this very moment the home page is recommending a station it’s created called “Have A Great Day,” one full of “Today’s Top Hits,” and then a seasonal recommendations–“Christmas Coffeehouse.”

I have no use for any of these.

For me, the true power of streaming music lies in the ability it gives me to curate my own library, with up-to-the-minute new releases, and to make my own lists. Spotify specifically lets me make lists with friends, which is amazing. One list a buddy and I have made has 921 songs on it, and we only started it at the end of last December.

I keep a running list of both songs and albums released in a given year. In December I share them. It’s December.

This is the list of songs released in 2018, either on albums or as singles, that were my favorite. It’s simple: if I liked it when I heard it, it went on the list. Over time, some songs came off the list. There’s a more exclusive list I’ll share later of my top, top, top songs of the year. That’s not this.

Put this on shuffle and see what tickles you.


The 2017 Songs Shortlist

Here it is, the final Music of The Year installment for 2017. After a big ol’ playlist of songs and three lists of albums, all that’s left is this this “shortlist” of the 26 tracks released in 2017 that I loved the most. May it usher you into a musically enriching 2018.



Most of these songs belong to albums I’ve already shared. A few thoughts on ones I haven’t, then.

“The Old Churchyard” from the Decemberists/Olivia Chaney collaboration called “Offa Rex” is haunting and just lovely. I gave the vinyl of this album as a gift to someone who maybe reads this blog and so can’t name. Merry Christmas.

“Confidence” by Said The Whale is just the right combination of electronic production, rhythm, and profanity for a rock record.

“Telefono” by Phoenix will break your heart if you can catch the snippets of English buried in the Italian one-sided dialogue lyrics. “But wait. Do you plan to visit?”

“In My Dreams” by Jenn Grant is a sad sultry song about praying to Jesus. Enough said.

“Tyson Vs. Douglas” by The Killers almost feels like a nostalgic cheap shot, and I can’t get through it without tearing up, which is a weird thing to experience from a song about a boxing match. “Rut” is just as personal and emotional. Especially if you hear the Song Exploder they recorded about it. 

“I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” by Sonny Sweeney is a cover of a 1988 Chris Wall song I’d never heard before that will turn your stomach if you’re allergic to country music. I’m not, though, and every time I played this record I found myself singing it to myself for hours after. Landon hates it though.

“Hungry” by Travis Meadows is a plate full of dirt and grit that you just can’t stop chewing on.

Thanks for reading. Happy New Year.

I Need More Live Music in My Life

I went to a choral concert my niece was performing in, and it was amazing. I came away with a few observations:

It’s hard to put on a program of excellent choral music without hymns and other religiously-themed pieces. This concert featured “I Sing Because I’m Happy,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and “Dirshu Adonai.” Choirs’ repertoires would be badly impoverished if you took away all their religious material.

One of the conductors invited the audience to sing along to “America The Beautiful.” “Singing kids come from singing families!” she chided us, and I wanted to add, “and churches!” I am increasingly grateful for the work the Church does teaching people to sing–particularly young people–because it’s an activity that popular culture has associated with celebrity. The good news must be sung as well as preached. In our day and age, choirs and hymnals are kind of revolutionary.

“Teaching kids to sing is an emergency,” said another conductor. I’ve never heard such urgency associated with arts education. The statement struck me as unassailably true.

Lastly, I need more live music in my life. As someone who accumulates, digests, and shares gobs of recorded music, I barely ever seek out live performances, and that’s a shame. Something like an emotional massage happens when a good piece of music played live hits your ears.

My niece’s choir sang a musical setting of the Yeats poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” and by the third note I was wiping my eyes. It was a gift.

More please.


Resolved: to listen to The Life of Pablo all the way through today

I’m a music fan, enough of one to maintain a music blog. Sharing songs, albums, artists, and even record labels with people in the hopes that they too will like what I like–there’s nothing better.

I should qualify that first sentence, though. I’m a [some] music fan. My tastes aren’t restrictive, but they aren’t broad either. They live on that easily digestible smorgasbord of Americana, Pop, Folk, and Electronic. My tastes almost never venture to the sonic poles of Metal and Rap.

But should they? Does your credibility as a music “fan” demand intentional stretching of your tastes? Should you force yourself to listen at least once to the new rap album everyone is raving about?

Or does artistic appreciation permit the bracketing of one’s tastes?

Resolved: to listen to The Life of Pablo all the way through today.

How To Look Stupid in Public (or Landon’s Music Picks for 2013)

Before you begin, click play on the above playlist. 

Twice this week I’ve attracted a worried, sympathetic gaze from a stranger, once while getting my mail and once while sitting at a traffic light. The cause was the same both times: Landon. Dude, I look like a dummy these days, and it’s all your fault. I can’t get “Brave” out of my head, and I can’t stop myself from dancing like the people in that video.

Landon and I are featuring one another’s favorite music of the year. We’ve swapped curated playlists of our favorite songs and the names of our top albums, and we’re taking turns this week presenting those in this space with comment. Hence my repeated listening to “Brave” (and “Settle Down” and “6AM”) and the inevitable public dancing, which, as you may have guessed, is the cause of my public humiliation.

Here’s Landon spinning out a worldview based on my music picks.

I’m less capable as a cultural critic, so I won’t suggest a worldview. I will, though, suggest a World Experience–that is, what listening to Landon’s 2013 music picks will do to your life. Once you get comfortable in your own skin, you’re gonna like it. I’ve been doing it for a week now. It’s nice.

The Playlist

In the past seven days tells me that I’ve listened to “Brave” 22 times, “Royals” 27 times, and “Get Lucky” 19 times (not counted are the views of the videos for these songs, which have been multiple). It’s a good life. The key is major. It’s rhythmic. There’s harmony. It won’t make you want to dance outright (excepting “Get Lucky,” of course), but you will be moving: head bobbing, feet gliding, shoulders twitching.

There was a time when I would heap scorn on that kind of indulgence. But I’m older now. November was a rough month. The songs on this playlist are a tonic from the gods.

This list isn’t without heft, though. “Two Sides of Lonely” is a throaty lament, and “Epic” has this haunting rhythm guitar part that’ll make you want do don a black turtleneck and horn-rimmed glasses.  And, yeah, “Royals” is nobody’s Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo. Landon’s songs will hook your head and your gut at the same time.

The best word for the whole list is “anthemic.” These are big songs for big places (“City Electric”). They’re reaching in their lyrics and arrangements to be the voice of a public (notably “Most People” and “Brave”), which kind of makes the whole list feel like a life statement: we the people of this music are coming after the world with confidence, ready to think and move at the same time. Stare at us if you want.

I synced this playlist to my phone last week so I could listen to it wherever I went and just swim in it. Now we’ll see how long it takes me to get out and dry off.

The Albums

Landon claims disappointment in 2013’s crop of albums, so he’s only highlighting three. We have kind of established a three-skip rule for albums in the past, which simply states that an album can’t be all that great if there are more than three songs on it that you regularly skip. I have to believe that the three skip rule kept lots of albums on the bench here.

Here are Landon’s top three:

“Random Access Memories,” by Daft Punk


This one kind of threw me, because I never took Landon for a Daft Punk fan. I’ll only say this: if you listen to this album from beginning to end you’re getting a smorgasbord of disco guitar arrangements and electronic vocalizations (including a long stretch of spoken word) that will challenge your attention span. If you can stick with it and not just hit the fun stuff (“Lucky,” “Lose Yourself To Dance”), you have a more disciplined ear than I.

“Stories Don’t End” by Dawes


Landon could sing the songs on this album, and I’m certain that’s why he loves it. This album is super simple flannel-clad rock that veers country at times. But the soul of the album is a bearded dude with a guitar writing nuanced lyrics (“Just My Luck”) crooning to a minimal backing band. No doubt Landon listens to “Stories Don’t End” and fantasizes about playing gritty bars with the boys from Jesusfish.

“Fellow Travelers,” by Shearwater


This comes out of nowhere, and I don’t quite know what to do with it. Jonathan Meiberg’s is Shearwater’s lead singer, and he has a voice like tar. It’s heavy and engrossing, but I can only take it in short doses. Those doses hit hard, though. Like, cinder block on your windshield hard. “Fellow Travelers” is snarlin’ music. That Landon loves this suggest to me that, after 2013, he could name you five people he’d kick in the chest given the chance. Go get ’em, cowboy.

So there you have it. Landon’s favorite songs and albums of the year. What does this collection suggest to you?

And does anybody know where I can get a good deal on a space helmet? I haven’t got Landon’s Christmas present yet.

“The World According to Rocky’s Music” by his musical friend Landon

As you are aware, Rocky and I (Landon) have this little love affair going on, which consists of notifying one another of any music that enters our lives that has potential to be of great importance. I dare say that music for us is a lens through which we see the world.


I feel confident in the above assertion, for the songs playlist that Rocky sent me was modestly titled: “2013 Live-or-Die Playlist: The 10 songs from this year I couldn’t do without.” Couldn’t do without? How’s that work? Do you just curl up in a ball and cry until the song is played? I mean, man – get a grip.

But what if that music actually IS “Live or Die”? What do these 10 songs say about our brother, Rocky? What is the world like if these are the tunes needed to sustain it? Let’s find out, shall we?

Hit play on the playlist below as you read on.

“Mother” by Said the Whale – Sometimes we’re all a little bit bad, but we want to be good. Just don’t tell our mothers ’til we’ve figured it out. Sassy indie rock, begging you to love it. And you do.

“Hey Rose” by Houndsmouth – Coming to terms with the things we want ain’t easy, but we gotta reassure the folks we leave behind that we ain’t leaving for good. Honky tonk. Honky. Tonk.

“Running Around” by Rilo Kiley – The people we leave in our wake as we go get the things we want know we’re full of crap. New-wave throwback, full of vim and vigor.

“Oil Slick” by Frightened Rabbit – Unless we’re committed to changing, whatever we give to the ones we think we love is going to hurt more than it helps. Brutally honest, gut churning Scottish Rock.

“You Can’t Save ‘Em All” by Big Harp – As a fool returns to his folly, so a dog returns to its vomit. But you don’t have to be there when they do. Lou Reed and Rufus Wainwright had a love child, and they are so proud of their honor roll student.

“Born at 5” by Bombadil – At some point, you just grow up and get your shit together. More authentic than The Lumineers. Is that possible?

“Recover” by Chvrches – Once you get your shit together, you can start imparting the lessons you learn to the world. Call it tough love. Call it boundaries. Or call it the simplicity on the other side of complexity. Electro-pop at its finest.

“Man” by Neko Case – One of the lessons you get to impart upon discovering the simple maturity of life is that loving another is the measure of who you are. Gritty, dirty, and full of punch.

“Blackout Days” by Phantogram – Regardless of how mature you become, the ghosts will come. Just shove them away. They don’t own you anymore. Dido decided to imitate Sinead O’Connor.

“Most People” by Dawes – These truths are the same for all of us. A perfect folk-rock song.

Okay, I concede. That’s “Live or Die” stuff, indeed.


Now, while it’s easy to be a bit cheeky about a list of songs, a person’s love of an album is another matter altogether.  More than just a collection of songs, an album is a world that one is invited to live in for a while. It is an immersive experience; a complete work.

Here are Rocky’s favorites of the year:

Heartthrob by Teagan and Sarah – If you need a thick, dense sound that transports you to 1990, this is the album you want. T&S come through again, but this isn’t the punk you’ve come to expect. There’s a maturity here that will take your breath away.

The Bones of What You Believe by Chvrches – You met Chvrches in Rocky’s song list, but the whole album is just as good. This is decidedly not my genre, but it still feels so good to listen to. A Chvrches show is one I’d pay money to attend.

From the Hills Below the City by Houndsmouth – This album makes me uncomfortable. It’s dirty and unrefined. I conjure images of the Patrick Swayze epic Roadhouse as I listen through my speakers. Beer bottles are flying, and I am loving every damn minute of it.

Pedestrian Verse by Frightened Rabbit – I love these guys so much. Their previous offerings have been some of my faves of the last few years. But the raw anger of this collection is almost more than the average bear can take. However, their track “Holy” should be required listening for any Christian boy or girl who thinks the Faith still matters. You’ll cry yourself to sleep on your huge pillow.

Stories Don’t End by Dawes – If I would have been in the same physical space as Rocky when I listened to this album, I would have kissed him for introducing me to the most refreshing music of my year. Perfect folk-rock. Not much more to say, in my opinion.

And now, I yield the remainder of my time back to the gentlemen from Claremont.



Landon And I Are Posting Our Top Music of The Year Next Week. This Isn’t It.

A couple years ago Landon and I shared our favorite songs and albums on our respective blogs (see here and here) . We didn’t do it last year, but we’re constantly texting each other music recommendations. In fact, our now defunct magazine may or may not have started as a text about Arcade Fire.

Next week Landon will pen a post here featuring five albums and 10 songs I sent him as my favorites of the year. He’ll add some commentary elucidating my obvious musical sophistication, perhaps working in a lament about his inferior facial hair. Later in the week I’ll write a post about his top music of the year in which I will make some recommendations of forthcoming albums that might finally fill the hole that N’Sync left in his heart.

For now, he’s some music we talked about a lot and really liked, but didn’t make it onto either of our year-end lists (and, yes, we’re still open to suggestions–use the comments)