Top Ten Tracks of 2012 (so far)

As in our Top Five Albums post, this one recognizes that we’re halfway through the year and a bunch of great stuff has been released. If I had to put only ten tracks into a playlist bound for a desert island, these would be the ones.

What about you? What are your favorite songs to come out this year? Put them in the comments and we’ll see what we come up with.

“Here They Come” by The Doc Marshalls

“You Jane” by The Wedding Present

“The Marks You Make” by Rags and Ribbons

“The Lion’s Roar” by First Aid Kit

“With The World At My Feet” by Big Deal

“Ballerina” by Bhi Bhiman

“Teenage Dreams” by Nada Surf

“We Are 1980” by Said The Whale

“Big Parade” by The Lumineers

“How They Want Me To Be” by Best Coast


Top Five Albums of 2012 (so far)

Six months are down. Six to go. 

Here are five albums released since January I would take with me to an island vacation. My only rule for inclusion is my patented 3 Skip Rule: if I have to skip more than three songs on the album in order to enjoy it, it gots to go. 

Here you are then, in no particular order.

“The Only Place” by Best Coast

“Lights Out” by Big Deal

“There’s No Leaving Now” by The Tallest Man on Earth

“The Lumineers,” by The Lumineers

Actually I lied. There’s only four. There’s five or six others vying for this fifth spot, but my love of them is not as enduring as it is with these four. Bhi Bhiman, for example. Or Rags and Ribbons, The Wedding Present, Said The Whale, and Nada Surf’s latest. They may grow on me as the year goes, and they each have terrific tracks on them. 

Anyway, enjoy. I know I am. 


The Year in Music, Part 2: The Top 5 Albums of 2011

Yesterday Landon and I posted our respective Top 5 Songs of 2011 lists.

Today we bring you our top five albums.

The album is a luxury in times like these. So much music–like so much life–is spliced up into episodic units for consumption during the commute or the wait at the doctor’s office. Maybe this has raised the bar for songwriting and maybe it hasn’t.  It’s definitely made it more difficult for a music consumer like me to experience a collection of 10-15 songs as a unified work. This list is something of an effort to listen to music with ears tilted in that direction.

To make it onto this list, an album has to be enjoyable from beginning to end–no skipping around to the three of four tracks on it I like. By that standard the first one on the list blows all the others away. Something of a perverse irony registers at this point, because a really good album demands a sustained investment of attention, and lacking the emotional or intellectual energy, or lacking the time, for such an investment means that a great album doesn’t get listened to all that often. It’s like a really good wine or a limited edition Snickers Dark.

The other side of that perverse irony is that albums containing a couple of dynamite songs may never get the benefit of a complete listen. That’s why an album like Thao and Mirah isn’t on this list, because I didn’t have the patience to give every track not titled “I Dare You” a fair shake.

Here they are, then: the five albums from 2011 that I’d feel most confident putting on without interruption for a long road trip, a party, or a quiet evening at home. Here’s the link to Landon’s list (bonus points for whoever finds the Album on both our lists)

1. Destroyer, “Kaputt”

It’s almost hard to tell independent tracks apart on this album, and the whole thing feels like it could have been released in 1986. But that doesn’t make it gimmicky. It’s smooth and melodic and catchy and engaging and so, so interesting from beginning to end.

Sample: “Savage Night at The Opera”

2. Bon Iver, “Bon Iver”

I resisted this one because indie music fans are supposed to adore Bon Iver in the same way Star Wars fans are supposed to worship George Lucas. But resistance is futile. It’s so good. Justin Vernon’s falsetto, the electronic tinkering, the marching band-like percussion–it’s very compelling, and there’s no one track that takes attention away from the others, even if “Holocene” got a Grammy nomination (a fact that is supposed to enrage the bearded bespectacled faithful?). Whatever. This album is full of depth and texture, and it’s beautiful.

Sample: “Holocene”

3. David Bazan, “Strange Negotiations”

That David Bazan was the frontman of a Christian rock band and now writes songs full of profanity was an intriguing intro to this record back in June. I totally missed his first solo album, but music writers had a blast writing it up as Bazan’s break-up with God. Bazan’s reasons for falling out of faith (if that’s indeed accurate) are his own, and, frankly, I don’t really care. “Strange Negotiations” is a gritty product in its own right, and it is diminished by parsing its tracks for evidence of a religious beef. I listened to this album almost daily for about two months and kept discovering lyrics and notes I hadn’t appreciated before. It’s pretty intellectually rigorous (“I know it’s dangerous to judge/but man you gotta find the truth and when you find that truth don’t budge/until the truth you’ve found begins to change/and it does, I know”), which is what I most like about it.

Sample: “People”

4. The Decemberists, “The King is Dead”

The last time I got all geeked up for a Decemberists release I was left feeling flawed because I didn’t like it, and there’s this flannel-clad vibe out there that leads you to believe that if you don’t like The Decemberists it’s not a flaw in the music but in your intellect. “The King Is Dead” is the most mainstream thing The Decemberists have ever done, so I’m a little embarrassed to have liked it so much. On balance, it’s not as epic as “Picaresque“, and it doesn’t have any fist pumpers like “The Rake’s Song,” but it’s supremely listenable without compromising the narrative identity that makes this band such a cultural gem (i.e. “We all do what we can/we endure our fellow man/and we sing our song to the head frame’s creaks and moan”). Also, I saw them in concert this year, and the broad smile that show put on my face for two hours hurt for a week).

Sample: “Calamity Song”

5. Dolorean, “The Unfazed”

It doesn’t feel like an album like this is written with year-end-list ambition. It’s full of uncomplicated melodies on which hang cigarette pack lyrics delivered by serviceable vocals. I feel like any two of those qualities without the third would make “The Unfazed” pretty pedestrian, and, thankfully, that’s strictly hypothetical. All the tracks on the album gel together in a really pleasant whole that’s not overly ambitious. I don’t know how many times I put this record on at the house on a constant loop, humming along to melodies for which I hadn’t yet learned the words. Also, I felt like I was recommending the album to almost everyone I talked to about music all year.

Sample: “If I Find Love”

There you have it. Thanks for reading and listening. Please chime in with your favorite music of the year.


The Year in Music, Part 1: The Top 5 Tracks of 2011

I used to blog about music, but I quit, because I realized how little I like reading music blogs. Why add one more?

I’ve left myself one music blogging indulgence, though: the year-end lists. I love year-end music lists, like this one. I used to pilfer these lists in January and get caught up on all of the previous year’s music. Then I decided to make myself into a more proactive music consumer and to measure that standard by my ability to assemble my own list in December. This is my third set of lists.

This list has the added benefit of being something of a collaboration with my musical compatriot, Landon. The two of us text one another music recommendations a couple of times a week, and so we decided to share our year-end lists as well. Here’s the link to Landon’s top 5 song list.

Two lists, then, both of them super short: top 5 songs and top 5 albums of the year. This post is the songs.

1. “Country Clutter” by Dolorean

“You know good n’ well/the way you treated me.”

It’s been my go-to since it came out in January.

2. “How Dare You?” by Thao and Mirah

“I swear it happens better/when it happens again.”

I listened to this about 15 times during a July trip to San Diego and back.

3. “We Don’t Eat” by James Vincent McMorrow

“We don’t drink until the Devil’s turned to dust.”

Landon and I actually discovered this one together when he was in CA last January. It stuck all year.

4. “Don’t Move” by Phantogram

“I’m not your drinking problem.”

This track is the perfect length for my commute to the church.

5. “Bye Bye Baby” by Hayes Carll (skip ahead to 0.50 for the start of the song)

“You kissed my hand and said you were beside me.”

What can I say? I’m a sucker for a banjo.

That these are my favorite songs of the year simply means that these are the ones I listened to most often, the ones I sought out, either by skipping to that song in my car or navigating to it on MOG or Rdio. There’s a much longer list of great tracks from 2011, and I’m happy to share that, but the fun of this exercise is having to choose five.

What are your top tracks from this year?

Watch here tomorrow for the top 5 albums of the year.