My Favorite Songs of 2012

Due to a change of employment I have have had a 40 minute commute for the past 8 months. It’s pretty much the absolute worst except for the fact that it gives me time to listen to mass amounts of music. In no particular order, here are some songs that I grew to appreciate this last year:

10. Jason Lytle: Last Problem of the Alps

Jason Lytle makes a very specific kind of mopey melodic pop-rock that seems pretty normal at first listen, maybe even slightly boring. BUT THEN you notice how interesting that weird synth part is, or how orchestral parts will pop in and out of his songs like someone scanning through the AM dial. Then after a while, you can’t stop listening to his albums over and over and you start slowly absorbing all of their sad majestic energy until you write long run on sentences about it.

9. The Wave: Miike Snow

Try to ignore the bizarre and slightly disturbing video (or maybe you’re way into it, in that case go nuts I guess) and just listen to this song. Writing catchy pop music that isn’t the same trendy noises over and over (synth heavy dance-pop lately) is something that not many people do anymore for whatever reason, so major kudes to these Swedish producer weirdos.

8. I’ve Been Loving You Too Long: Otis Redding

I’ve been listening to a lot of Otis Redding lately and I think there’s not a more indelible Otis moment than on this track when he sings “You are TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRED and your love is growing cold…” The explosion of “tired” compared to the pathos of the rest of the phrase should be beaten into the head of every singer as proof that you don’t have to be trying to blow the doors off the barn with every word.

That being said, the thing about Otis that I love is that he just totally goes for it. He tried so HARD. In fact, I have this hanging on my wall at work and it provides more inspiration than a thousand photos of people climbing mountain peaks or whatever:

try-harder

7. Wood Ox: Jeff the Brotherhood

Jeff the Brotherhood make such willfully DUMB music that it makes me laugh sometimes. Sample lyric:

I didn’t mean to make you mad

I didn’t mean to make you sad

I heard he’s gonna kill me soon

I need to hide out in your room

HAHAHAHA. I still really like this band because their particular brand of early-Weezer-meets-Motorhead-meets-lazy-stoners is just the thing to listen to on a Tuesday morning when you really need a Coke Zero but are still 20 minutes from your exit.

6. Do it Anyway: Ben Folds Five

It’s pretty weird that Ben Folds Five reunited and recorded a new album this year. I mean, I grew up sort of idolizing this band and I figured since they never made it out of the 90’s that the book was closed (similar sounding Ben Folds solo work notwithstanding).

I was not really even looking forward to the new album, but this song in particular really won me over. When Ben Folds plays with Darren Jesse and Robert Sledge the songs obtain a certain jazzy bounciness that is curiously absent in Ben Fold’s solo stuff, and this song is a good example of that. If you close your eyes when you listen to this, it almost feels like 1998 again.

5. 48 Roses: Mariachi El Bronx

I have a friend that kept telling me about some punk band called The Bronx that decided to start playing Mariachi music and that it was really good, and I was all like, “OK.” And then eventually I listened to it and it was super excellent.

I mean, if someone told me that you could successfully combine punk and mariachi and not have it sound like some kind of offensive Mexican minstrel show then I would have thought just the opposite! But I would have been wrong.

4. Just What I Needed: The Cars

I’m sure I’d heard this song before this year, probably lots of times. I think I saw a band cover this song and I realized how just really, really good it is. I then learned how to play it on the guitar (it’s super easy, FYI) and that thing happened where you gain a weird inside-out understanding of a song due to the fact that you’ve played it a bunch and you like it even more and it becomes your go-to karaoke song.

3. Plumage: Menomena

It’s all about the massive FART of the baritone sax (2:08). I live for that kind of stuff.

2. Soda Popinski: Javelin

Sometimes I get weirdly attached to songs (or things) that while I know are pretty dumb on an intellectual level, they get me right where it matters: in the GUT. This is a stupid little song that mostly just samples an old NES score but it speaks to my gut in unexplainable and possibly immoral ways.

1. Apocalypse Dreams: Tame Impala

AHHHHHHHHHH THIS IS GOOOOOOOD. Usually when I hear music, even really great music, I can at least sort of understand how it was created. You write some chords, come up with a melody and some lyrics and boom; song. Sometimes though, songs are just TOO GOOD, and you can’t even think of how a group of humans sequenced all these sounds in the first place.

Am I saying this song was written by super-advanced musical aliens? Probably.

Probably.

Music to Christmas To

I made a Christmas playlist for you guys. Click here to download it.

Image

Track Listing:

1. Santa Claus is Back in Town – Elvis Presley

2. Merry Christmas Baby – Otis Redding

3. Jul det’ Cool – MC Einar

4. Christmas Ghost – The Raveonettes

5. Christmas in the Room – Sufjan Stevens

6. ¿Donde Está Santa Claus? – Augie Rios

7. What Christmas Means to Me – Stevie Wonder

8. The Little Drummer Boy – Johnny Cash

9. El Niño – Willie Nelson

The Awful Sounds of Yesteryear

Let’s get real for a minute: teenagers are the worst. They’re loud. And not smart. But they think they are. And most worst of all, they have terrible taste in music.

Now, this isn’t one of those things where I complain about the teenagers of today because I myself am slowly circling the drain of death of aging—this is more like one of those things where I look back realize that I was just as much a turd back then!

For example: I unironically wore a pooka shell necklace for at least a year and half. I yelled stuff at people from moving cars (a classic teenager tactic!). I also had pretty lousy taste in music.

I was poking around in a closet at my parent’s house the other day when I unearthed a crate of CD’s that I hadn’t seen since high school. Here are a few of the gems I uncovered:

LOL. OK, so I liked skate-punk back then. Lots of kids did. The thing was, I THOUGHT I had AMAZING taste in music. I LOOKED DOWN on other kids for listening to Creed or whatever! To be fair I also listened to a fair amount of classic rock, but these are a pretty good representation of what I jammed out to in my formative years.

I listened to these CD’s recently because I have nothing better to do. (JUST KIDDING I’M SUPER BUSY DOING IMPORTANT THINGS WITH VARIOUS IMPORTANT BUSINESS ENTITIES.) Here are my modern impressions of these albums using my fully-formed adult-sized brain:

The Vandals – Hitler Bad, Vandals Good: Hmmm. Not as bad as I thought it was going to be. These guys are funny and don’t take themselves seriously and have some catchy tunez. B-

Replay Potential: Not great! I mean, listening to a funny song about mullets is pretty cool, but I’m not sure I’m going to ever want to hear it again. My time is just TOO VALUABLE NOW.

Lagwagon – Let’s Talk About Feelings: Uhhh, guys? Is this supposed to be so SERIOUS? Like, these lyrics are pretty HEAVY and DEEP for a trifling punk band right? Whatever. This would be good music to drink Mountain Dew to while you play Halo or something. C-

Replay Potential: Very bad. If the replay potential was an orange it would be old and rotten. Evocative imagery, I know.

The Ataris – End is Forever: WOW WOW WOW. The lyrics on these songs are so cringe-inducing I am physically getting tired of cringing! My cringe muscles are tightening up! I mean, these guys must have at least been in their twenties when they were writing this stuff, so it’s even weirder that this stuff is so BARF. Here is a sample lyric:

I play in my band
and write a lot of songs
about relationships
and how mine went wrong.
maybe I’ll meet that special
girl along the way
then she’ll break my heart
and leave me crying.

HAHAHAHAHA. F

Replay Potential: If the replay potential of this song was a grape—eh, you know the rest.

NOFX – The Decline: OK, so this one I still sort of like. Granted, the political ideology that the band expresses is more or less that of a college freshman who just read Howard Zinn for the first time, but I still kind of dig it. HOWEVER, I would take sophomoric, jokey, NOFX over angry Political NOFX every time. B+

Replay Potential: Umm, pretty good probably. But only when I’m in my car alone.

My Favorite Songs of 2011

Hey remember how I used to sometimes write about music on this blog? And make exhaustive year-end lists? And how in reality absolutely no one cares about what kind of music other people like no matter how much they may feign interest? And when you make list of the “best albums of the year” you are somehow implying that you actually LISTENED to every single album released and are therefore able to objectively judge them against each other, which of course is IMPOSSIBLE?

So in that spirit allow me to indulge in a list of my ten favorite songs of the year. Mind you that a few of these were not released this year, but whatever man it’s my list.

10. Whiskeytown: A Song For You

This song has been on heavy rotation for me for what seems like many years, and I just don’t ever seem to get sick of it. Maybe it’s the layered instrumentation, or the plaintive lyrics (originally a Gram Parsons song), but this song just does something to the pleasure center of my brain. It…tickles it maybe?

You should listen to this if: You enjoy mid-tempo ballads/crying in public/staring wistfully at things

9. Wilco: One Sunday Morning

The new Wilco album was very solid, and to me this song was the standout track. Basing a 10 minute song on two chords and a simple riff is a very Wilco thing to do, but it pays off in this case.

You should listen to this if: You would like to be lulled into a hazy sense of satisfaction like when you take a nap after eating a large portion of mashed potatoes.

8. M83: Midnight City

In a year when vaguely 80’s synth rock became de rigueur (otherwise described as “Drive soundtracky”) this song achieves the impressive feat of not only not being annoying, but featuring a non-awful extended sax solo. Well played.

You should listen to this if: You were born in the 90’s but want to pretend that you remember the 80’s/You un-ironically enjoy gated synth drums.

7. Frontier Ruckus: Mona and Emmy

I have a theory that the easier it is to describe a genre of music, the harder it is to write a good song in that style. For example, everyone knows exactly what bluegrass is and therefore it’s pretty tough to write a good bluegrass song since the genre’s hallmarks are so rigidly codified. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that this is just a really good folk-rock song in a world choked with mediocre ones.

You should listen to this if: You bought a bolo tie but are too afraid to wear it/You think the Oakridge Boys are criminally underrated.

6. My Morning Jacket: Holding Onto Black Metal

I say this as a fan, but My Morning Jacket are a weird band. They randomly vacillate between jam band antics, haunting southern rock, and space rock weirdness. This song falls firmly in the weird spacey rock category, but it’s got a vintage edge to it that I find delightful.

You should listen to this if: You like to rock, but not necessarily roll.

5. Radical Face: Mountains

Radical Face’s new album was fairly incredible and this track is just an example of the overall strength of the whole thing. I’m continually surprised at Radical Face’s (née Ben Cooper) ability to build spine tingling climaxes with relatively rinky-dink woodshed production values. Good job, man.

You should listen to this if: The idea of a concept album following several generations of a fictional family doesn’t sound totally insufferable to you.

4. Ryan Adams: Ashes and Fire

Every time Ryan Adams releases an album I try to contain my expectations because I’ve been burned so many times, and honestly, this year’s Ashes and Fire didn’t quite live up to the hype surrounding it as his “comeback record.” BUT, the title track is lovely. STRAIGHT UP LOVELY.

You should listen to this if: Just listen to it, OK? I’m tired of arguing about every little thing. Are you even listening to me?? Don’t look at me like that. I’m going to bed.

3. Ween: Flutes of Chi

I know I said My Morning Jacket is a weird band, but Ween makes them look like the Osmonds. However, Ween has their moments of transcendent normalcy, and Flutes of Chi is one of those. I like this song for a lot of reasons: it seems to calm and excite in equal measures and the melody is earwormy without being cloying. Also, I have to note that it’s 11 years old.

You should listen to this if: You like the smell of incense.

2. Wye Oak: Civilian

Wye Oak is an extremely likable band (a male/female duo! A cute blond singer!) that makes melancholic rock music, and the title track from this year’s Civillian is just outstanding. I sometimes wonder if shrouding lead singer Jenn Wasner’s voice in reverb is a good idea, but for this particular track it just works. IN SPADES!

You should listen to this if: You aren’t afraid of happiness.

1. El May: Hero

So, my most favorite song of the year is some random piano dirge by a no-name band. What gives? Well, this song is featured in a movie called The Baxter (it’s sort of a Howard Hawks-ish romantic comedy that is half parody and half warm-hearted homage to classic rom-coms) that I saw  this year.

ANYWAY, in the movie Michelle Williams plays a bookish, aspiring singer (Roger Ebert called her “as cute as two buttons”) who sings this song and it SLAYED me when I saw it, and therefore I formed some sort of weird attachment to it, even though I will freely admit it’s not the most dynamic song. I mean, I’m just being HONEST here. I could have picked a more hip song but I’m just being totally REAL with you guys.

You should listen to this if: Ummm, maybe you shouldn’t unless you see the movie first. Or do. Whatever. I can’t make all of your decisions for you.

Out of Sight

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I still find it incredible that the Beach Boys wrote a song extolling the virtues of Salt Lake City. Weird! I just listened to it again and the lyrics were HILARIOUS to me:

Down in Utah the guys and I dig a city called Salt Lake
It’s got the grooviest kids that’s why we never get tired of Salt Lake
And the way the kids talk so cool is an out of sight thing
And the number one radio station makes the town really swing yeah
Salt Lake City we’ll be coming soon

So, they like hanging out with all the groovy kids in Salt Lake? And the groovy kids talk so cool and it’s an out of sight thing? Ha, ha, Beach Boys! I really don’t think that the Salt Lake City of the early-to-mid sixties was any cooler than a slightly progressive nunnery. But whatever! I’m sure you had your reasons! They also like the fact that “(we) got the sun in the summer and winter time the skiing is great.” I guess I can’t argue with you there, Beach Boys. I also like the fact that we get sun and great skiing! Cool information!

I looked up this song on Spotify and I think maybe the most underrated aspect of that particular music service is the ability to instantly see hundreds of versions of cover songs. Entering “Salt Lake City” brought up so much weird stuff though! There was a super old blues song called “I Lost My Sugar in Salt Lake City” that many famous artists performed, including Louis Armstrong. Neat, sort of! There was a punk song about how much it sucks to live in Salt Lake City (apparently these guys never heard how groovy Salt Lake was from the Beach Boys!).

If you have Spotify, try it! Just type anything, like say, PINEAPPLE. I’m sure a bunch of weird songs about pineapples will pop up, probably.

TDOE Hall of Fame: The Coast is Never Clear by Beulah

Beulah is a band that unfortunately never really got a fair shake before they broke up in 2004. Initially they were linked to the Elephant 6 recording collective, a loose group of musicians whose ranks include The Apples in Stereo and the late, great Neutral Milk Hotel. Elephant 6 bands generally tended to be somewhat derivative of 60’s era psychedelic pop groups, but with a shambling, 90’s indie aesthetic applied like a thin layer of peanut butter.

Beulah, however, never quite fit in with the long haired burn-outs, introverted loners, and analog recording nerds of Elephant 6. For starters, they were just a little too damn slick and catchy. From their second release, When Your Heartstrings Break and onward, Beulah crafted some of the most ambitious and complex pop-rock compositions to ever grace the ears of their admittedly small but devoted fan base. Second, instead of the free-association pothead imagery of their lesser label mates, principle songwriter Miles Kurosky tended to fill his songs with obtuse and heart-rending tales of emotional distress.

This brings me to Beulah’s main reason d’etre: Combining sunny, orchestral pop sounds with some of the most lyrically dark turns of phrase ever committed to tape. I’ve heard other bands attempt the “sad song that sounds happy” gambit (heck, I’ve even written a few of them),  but no other band has so fully embraced the tension between dark lyrics and upbeat melody so successfully than Beulah does on 2001’s The Coast is Never Clear.

Take a listen to this track, called Gene Autry:

Amidst the goofy western references and galloping rhythm lies some truly messed up lyrical imagery including:

When I get to California,
Gonna write my name in the sand
I’m gonna lay this body down
and watch the waves roll in

and when the city spreads out
just like a cut vein
Everybody drowns, sad and lonely
well everybody drowns, sad and lonely
well everybody drowns, sad and lonely, alright

Taken on their own, these lyrics sound like leftovers from Trent Reznor’s personal diary, but when infused with such lush pop-orchestration they take on an ironic distance that gives the whole endeavor a astoundingly dense nature.

The Coast is Never Clear also manages to function as, in my opinion, one of the greatest driving records of all time. Seriously, there is not one clunker to be had out of the 12 tracks, and all lend themselves to sloppy sing-alongs while balancing a Super Big Gulp between your legs.

Welcome to the hall of fame, Beulah. You may be kind of a downer, but you sure do hide it well.

Purveyors of Cheese

Soon (meaning this Saturday), my friend Dan will undergo the sacred and ancient practice of plural single marriage. Boffo! Mazel! Et al.

He has asked the remaining members of Bandolier to perform a few romantic songs during the reception and Jessica, our token girl member, has decided to sing the immortal cheese-ballad, “If” by immortal cheese-ballad-purveyors, Bread. (Mmmmm, anyone else feel like some cheese bread now?) Here it is.

In my preparation for performing this song, I’ve listened to the lyrics many times over the past few weeks and Bread definitely manages to bring up some valid concerns, along with some interesting scientific issues as well!

Question 1: If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?

Answer: First off, if you can’t paint someone then you probably lack the artistic skill to do so. Are you a trained painter, singer-songwriter and Bread frontman David Gates? If not, then the answer seems fairly obvious. If you somehow are a proficient painter and you are still having trouble capturing the lifelike beauty of your special lady-friend, I would look into buying some fresh paint brushes or possibly an eye exam. Also, I’m not sure the old maxim, “A picture is worth a thousand words” actually applies in this case. Probably more like 200-300.

Question 2: If a face could launch a thousand ships, then where am I to go?

Answer: I am having some trouble understanding your logic here, Mr. Gates! What does that question even mean? By way of quasi-explanation, the next two lines are: There’s no one home but you, you’re all that’s left me too. Hold on…I still don’t understand what those words arranged in that order are supposed to mean.

So, if she’s already the only one home, then why do you need to go anywhere? Plus, if her beautiful face launched a thousands ships, you better stay home to fend off the thousands of Greek sailors who are undoubtedly coming to kidnap her and sacrifice her to Poseidon. I just think that maybe you’re over-thinking things, David Gates.

Gross, too literal 70’s metaphor: And when my love for life is running dry, you come and pour yourself on me.

Ha ha, really David Gates? That’s gross. Also, do you think David Gates ever said that to anyone in real life? Like, “Hey Lady, come over here and pour yourself on me for a while.” I hope not because again, gross.

Scientific accuracy issue: The final verse of the songs states: If the world should stop revolving spinning slowly down to die, I’d spend the end with you. And when the world was through, Then one by one the stars would all go out, Then you and I would simply fly away.

Hmmmm: So, basically David Gates is proposing a scenario where the rotation of the earth slows to a stop, causing the entire ecosystem of the world to slowly go extinct, finally capped off by the eventual bloating, implosion, and death of all the stars in the galaxy. One would also conclude that without any remaining molecular activity in the universe, all matter would eventually reach absolute zero leaving all finite matter drifting aimlessly in a frozen vacuum.

That’s some pretty dire sh*t for a love song there Mr. Gates. I mean, I guess he is fairly accurate scientifically, although the last line seems a bit optimistic to me. They won’t so much “simply fly away” as “slowly crumble into dust as the unavoidable ravages of time reduce them to their elemental particles.”

Conclusion: Since weddings are inherently cheese-fests filled with people saying things like, “You are my rock, my best friend, my everything babe!” and wedding videos that are 90% baby photos and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” performed by the dead Hawaiian guy, this song will be lovely for the occasion.