50 songs for 50 states: Colorado

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Rocky Mountain High - John Denver

In the end, there was only ever one song that could win for Colorado.  John Denver may sound corny these days, and just a bit too earnest for the ironic ears of the 21st century, but the man could write a song. And this is one of his very finest. In it you can hear the joy of the natural world, the grandeur of the mountains, and the tranquility they offer.

Other strong contenders were some country classics from giants of the genre: Townes Van Zandt’s “Colorado Girl” is everything that’s great about him. And The Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Colorado” is one of my favorites from them.

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50 songs for 50 states: California

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Oh, California. My adopted home, the muse of so many musicians over the years. How can I pick just one song for you?

This is almost certainly the most difficult state. You might make an argument for New York, but there the songs are really mostly all about one thing: the city itself. With California, the reach is expansive. California makes us dream.

Is your muse the beautiful city of fog by the Bay? Then you’ll want to make sure to wear flowers in your hair. Or keep an ear out for Otis Redding whistling down on the dock. You might catch the San Francisco Bay Blues, or you might lose your head there waiting for the fog to roll out.

Or go south, to the beaches of Malibu and Santa Monica, where the surf is high and palm trees bend in the wind. It’s a particularly powerful vision on such a winter’s day. But watch out for the vampires walkin’ through the valley. The celluloid heroes of Hollywood that drift around you.

And then there are the women. Those California Girls. Fine, fresh, fierce…you wish they all could be like that. Or maybe you hate California girls. Maybe you’re looking for a lucky little lady in the City of Light. Or just another lost angel?

Or maybe for you California is the land of Bad Religion, of The Descendents, of Social Distortion. It’s California Uber Alles.

Or it’s the world of Compton and Watts, of South Central, and you hear the refrain of gunshots and the stomp of police boots.

I could go on forever. But ultimately I still need to pick one song. And for me it came down to three possibilities. One is pure schlock, but such wonderful schlock. The second steps beyond the specificities to tap into something far more eternal. And the third…well, ultimately it had to be the third.

So the first one is Phantom Planet’s “California.” You may remember it as the theme song to The OC, and it (of course) is nowhere near the best song about California. But in some ways it’s absolutely the most appropriate.

The second is “California Stars” by Wilco and Billy Bragg, lyrics written by Woody Guthrie – most likely composed at some point in the midst of the Great Depression. It manages to feel absolutely at home in either era. It’s a timeless classic.

But, in the end, there was no other choice but this one:

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Campaigns are long – get over it

Today’s edition of “Fish, Meet Barrel” is provoked by an incredibly silly article in Slate (shocking, I know).

Alec MacGillis is full of sad:

It’s a quadrennial complaint, but I’m going to make it anyway, and make it earlier than it’s been made before, because the problem has somehow managed to get even worse: It is simply insane how much we’ve pushed up our presidential campaigns.

Okay, first of all, you’re way behind the curve here, friend. People have already been complaining about the early start to the campaign for years.  Getting in on the game now is like writing a bold post in 2015 on the subject: “it’s finally time for someone to say it: people sure are into kale these days!”

The 2016 campaign started in the spring of 2008, when Obama locked up the Democratic nomination and Hillary had to start thinking about her next shot. And it’s been going on since then.  It was going on in 2012, as various Republicans watched the Romney campaign and started making adjustments in their own policies and personas. It was certainly going on all last year. And now, in 2015, it’s been going on long enough that candidates have already had time to run, fail, and drop out.

Because look, campaigns are much more than handshaking in Iowa and New Hampshire, or debates. They’re a race for institutional support, party allegiance, and money.  If you want to be president, you’d have to be insane to think that your campaign begins the day you announce.

And here’s the other thing: that’s good. Being president is really, really important. It’s probably the single most important job in the world. Given that, it’s completely reasonable that campaigns are long and grueling affairs.  If you don’t want to read about it, you are more than free to ignore horse-race stories on the subject. But that doesn’t mean everyone else is obliged to follow suit.

And if you want to wax nostalgic for the old days when campaigns were short, you ought to at least acknowledge that it was only possible because there was very little democratic influence over the process before 1968. And even then, it’s not that the campaigns were shorter, it’s just that the invisible parts were longer. Campaigns have always been icebergs, with most of the important stuff happening below the surface. It’s just that now we have better techniques for interpreting what’s going on in the deep water.

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50 songs for 50 states: Arkansas

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Going Back To Arkansas - Big Bill Broonzy

One of the all-time greats from the early years of the blues, Big Bill Broonzy grew up in Arkansas, worked as a sharecropper and eventually went into the Army to go and fight in World War I. As the story goes: he returned home in 1919, dressed in his army uniform, only to be reminded forcefully of the depths of Jim Crow.  Rather than sticking around, he moved north to find a place for himself.

I recently finished reading The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson’s incredible study of the Great Migration, so I’ve been thinking a lot about experiences like these. About hard it must have been to simply pull up roots and abandon a place that has always been home. About how terrible the conditions must have been to inspire such mass exodus. About how the joys of your old home would still linger with you, simultaneous with your memories of the slights and the fear and the poverty.

I hear all of that here. It’s a song about the joys of his old home. About collard greens and the hamhock boiling, chickens crowing, a world of family and close ties, so different from the impersonal loneliness of the big cities of the North. The bayous and the rolling hills. The rich soil and farms.   It’s easy to understand why people left, why they had to leave. But it doesn’t make the good parts any less real.

Honorable mentions: “Arkansas” by another excellent old bluesman, Henry Thomas. “Arkansas Lovin’ Man” by Johnny Cash. And “The Lord God Bird” by Sufjan Stevens.

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50 songs for 50 states: Arizona

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

I thought about going with Wilco’s “Hotel Arizona” but ultimately couldn’t end up anywhere but here. I’m sure Arizona has plenty of nice features. And I have a number of great friends from Arizona. But honestly the state is defined for me by its crazy racist politics. And this song digs deep into it.  It’s a cut below the very best from Public Enemy, but is very much in the next tier. Just a great song, which really exemplifies Chuck D’s brilliant mix of utopianism and cynicism.

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50 songs for 50 states: Alaska

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Anchorage – Michelle Shocked

Epistolary songs are tough to pull off, but Michelle Shocked does a fantastic job with this one. It’s bittersweet, capturing the incredible distance of Alaska, its detachment from the rest of American life. You get hints of a deep sadness, but it’s never fully engaged. Is her friend lonely? Is she dismayed to have woken up and discovered herself to be a housewife in Anchorage? Does she regret subsuming her identity into that of her husband? It’s hard to see it otherwise, and yet…perhaps it’s simply a burst of pleasant nostalgia. After all, Anchorage is a beautiful place. She loves her children. Perhaps being ‘anchored down in Anchorage’ carries a certain freedom. The freedom to live a specific life and live it fully, rather than to be constantly restless. It’s a beautiful song that admits many possibilities.

Honorable mentions: my instinct was to go with “Stephanie Says” which might well be my favorite Velvet Underground song, but I decided that ‘the people all call her Alaska’ doesn’t quite meet the standard of a song being about Alaska. “Phantasies” by Stephen Malkmus was another strong contender, but didn’t quite make the cut.

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Beatles tidbits

A couple fun things about the Beatles I found on youtube today.

“Everyone Had a Hard Year” is a fragment of a song that would later show up in “I’ve Got A Feeling.” He wrote it in ’68 and you can really hear how much it sounds like some of the other stuff from that time. The guitar in particular is eerily reminiscent of “Julia.” Just a lovely song.

And this is a deconstruction of “Sgt. Pepper” which shows what they did with each of the four tracks. It is interesting simply to see and hear the individual parts. As always, the isolated vocal track calls attention to just how well these guys could sing. And we also get a chance to hear the always-underappreciated Ringo laying down a solid beat. But the really astonishing thing is the simple fact that they managed to make all of these songs with just four tracks.  I mean, the lead guitar and the horns are stuck on the same track!

George Martin was a genius.

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50 songs for 50 states: Alabama

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Alabama Pines - Jason Isbell

Today, we inaugurate this project with Alabama.  For me, this was an easy choice. Alabama has a strong bench of songs (from standards like “Stars Fell on Alabama” to Coltrane’s excellent “Alabama” to the classic “Sweet Home Alabama” to the somewhat loosely affiliated “Boulder to Birmingham”), but “Alabama Pines” is a work of pure genius from one of the finest songwriters on the planet.  It’s achingly sad: the perfect encapsulation of a disenchanted Southern spirit, of dead-end dreams and a weariness with the world. Isbell’s voice on the chorus just brings me to my knees every time I hear it.

In fact, on the very first state, I may have already discussed my favorite song of the whole project.  Things will get far dicier next week as I take on Alaska…  

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Top 25 albums of 2014

A year with many great albums and one transcendent one. It wasn’t quite the cornucopia that we got in 2013, but was still a very good year for music. I could produce a list 50 albums deep with stuff I genuinely enjoyed this year, but these are the 25 that have really meant something important to me, and which I expect to stick with for a long time.

This list is far more pop-heavy than any other I can remember constructing. It’s got two of the big chart-topping albums of the year, and a bunch more indie pop as well. I’m not sure if that signals a change in my tastes or in the musical landscape in general (certainly, the little indie rock boom of the last decade definitely seems to have been replaced by a return to synths and pop melodies). I think it’s probably a bit of both. But anyways, I’m going to declare 2014 to be the year I stopped worrying and learned to love the pop.

That said, the rumors of rock music’s death have certainly been exaggerated. You only need to check out the top couple albums on this list for proof.

25. AlcestShelter

Dreamy shoegaze, loud/soft dynamics, chiming guitars, indecipherable lyrics. If you like those things, you will like this album.

Highlights: Shelter, Voix sereine, Opale

24. Jon ConnorThe Late Registration Of A College Dropout Who Had A Dark Twisted Fantasy Of 808s And Heartbreak

It really doesn’t seem like this should work – a mixtape built entirely around the production from Kanye West songs – but somehow it does. Connor is not simply borrowing the beats, but is actively turning them to new purposes, and building something very impressive in its own right.

Highlights: We Don’t Care, Jesus Walks, Blame Game, Trust Freestyle, Doin My Job

23. Mark McGuireAlong the Way

This is the album that pushed me over the top on my dissertation. I discovered it in mid-November, and proceeded to listen to it obsessively for two weeks while working like crazy to get everything tied together and finalized. Space-synths, electronic beeps and bops, a sense of grandeur that doesn’t always pay off but is worth admiring nonetheless. Plus, his name is Mark McGuire! I look forward to albums on my 2015 list from Cal Ripkin and Roger Clemons.

Highlights: In Search of the Miraculous, The Instinct, Astray, The War On Consciousness

22. LiteratureChorus

RIYL: The Housemartins. Seriously, this band sounds a LOT like The Housemartins. Maybe a little bit more of the jangle pop side and a little bit less of the alt rock side.

Highlights: The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything, Court / Date, Chorus, New Jacket

21. AlvvaysAlvvays

Dusky and sweet on the surface, just enough darkness inside to keep you honest. Reminds me of the very best girl-group pop of the 60s, infused with just a touch of twee.

Highlights: Ones Who Love You, Next of Kin, The Agency Group, Adult Diversion

20. This Will Destroy YouAnother Language

Loud/soft post-rock. The soft parts tend to be better than the loud parts, but the whole thing is good.

Highlights: Mother Opiate, New Topia, War Prayer, Serpent Mound

19. Magic ManBefore the Waves

Great electro-pop. It suffers just a tiny bit from being a bit too one-note. But all that really means is that every song is riding the same glorious wave of big synths and happy times.

Highlights: It All Starts Here, Texas, Every Day, Apollo, Too Much.

18. LulucPasserby

If you like sun and you like things being dappled, you will like this record. It’s a delicate thing, making stripped down acoustic folk music. But there can be immense beauty in perfectly constructed simplicity.

Highlights: Reverie on Norfolk Street, Without a Face, Passerby

17. The Pains of Being Pure at HeartDays of Abandon

Doesn’t fulfill the promise of their last record, but remains a very nice album nonetheless. And in the end, there’s always room in the world for another record filled with jangly songs about feelings.

Highlights: Life After Life, Kelly, The Asp In My Chest, Masokissed

16. Rosanne CashThe River and the Thread

Rosanne Cash just keeps getting better with age. Half-remembered feelings coaxed out into the light which express themselves through a complicated mix of love and pain and sadness and nostalgia. Cash has lived in New York for more than two decades, but still remains intimately connected to the south and to the country music that birthed her. That bifurcated life infuses this record: the south is elegant, comforting, a historical fact, a living truth, a fading memory.

Highlights: When the Master Calls the Roll, Etta’s Tune, Tell Heaven, World of Strange Design, Modern Blue

15. The Lawrence ArmsMetropole

Another record that didn’t quite live up to my hopes for it. Oh! Calcutta! was a genuine punk masterpiece, and I’ve waited eight years for a followup. Unfortunately, this one lacks the heft needed to fulfill my expectations. Still, the more I stuck with it, the more I enjoyed it. Minor disappointment, perhaps, but when you come down to it, there really isn’t ever going to be an album from Brendan Kelly that I won’t love.

Highlights: Acheron River, Beautiful Things, Seventeener, Metropole, These Pigs Seem To Be Getting the Best of Me

14. Ariana GrandeMy Everything

My love for this album is really a love for the first half, which is just about as solid a run of pop songs as you’re likely to find anywhere, featuring the glorious bursts of “Break Free” and “One Last Time, the stark beauty of “Why Try,” and the stomping good time of “Problem.” While I enjoy the back half, which is more in the R&B songstress mold, it’s those glorious big pop songs at the start that draws me back in every time.

Highlights: Break Free, Why Try, One Last Time, Problem, Be My Baby

13. LightsLittle Machines

RIYL: CHVRCHES. This album never quite scales the heights of the best CHVRCHES songs, but is far more consistent throughout. It’s got a little bit more of a New Wave kind of vibe, but is definitely in that same wheelhouse. Just song after song of electronic indie pop goodness.

Highlights: Running With The Boys, Lucky Ones, Child, Up We Go, The Same Sea

12. SCool Choices

This was a genuinely surprising turn from Jenn Ghetto (formerly of Carissa’s Wierd), who expanded her sound significantly – producing a big record with some genuine pop flourishes. It’s a welcome change because, as much as I love her music, the unadulterated S has always been a little bit tough to consume in big doses. She needs to be cut with something a bit more effervescent in order to keep things from drifting too far down into the emotional abyss. So this record is a really nice proof of concept, which leaves me really excited to hear her stretch her wings a little bit more on future albums.

Highlights: Brunch,Vampires, Remember Love, Tell Me, Balderdash

11. NothingGuilty of Everything

Loud but delicate. Tender but sharp. Buried under a crushing weight but still somehow hopeful. Further description basically demands a series of 90s references. It’s a slightly more emotional MBV, a slightly more destructive Sunny Day Real Estate, an alternate-universe Mellon Collie that combined the tunesmithing of that record with the guitar waves of Gish. And more than anything else: this sounds to me like a lost Hum record circa 1996. Which is pretty serious praise from me because I freaking love Hum.

Highlights: This is not an album of standout tracks. You just need to let the whole thing wash over you. So: start with Hymn To The Pillory and continue from there

10. Run the JewelsRun the Jewels 2

I’ve got nothing to add that you probably haven’t read a bunch of other places. One of the best hip hop albums in a very long time. Powered by a white-hot rage, but not simply an expression of disgust. It blows apart our expectations and the resulting shrapnel cuts apart every sacred cow. It doesn’t resist the weaponization of art, but takes that as an opportunity. This is a call to war, one desperately needed in the America of 2014.

Highlights: Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck), All Due Respect, Blockbuster Night Part 1, Early, Angel Duster

9. Bing and RuthTomorrow Was the Golden Age

Organic ambient music. What it would sound like to dive into a snowflake.

Highlights: The Towns We Love Is Our Town, Postcard from Brilliant Orange, Warble, Reflector

8. Angel HazeDirty Gold

A hit-or-miss album with plenty of songs that don’t quite stick the landing. But there is just so much great stuff here that it’s well worth the investment. I love her most when she is rapping at top speed, with passion and a deep sensitivity, and least when she’s buried behind a wall of over-produced gloss. Fortunately, there’s plenty of the former.

Highlights: Black Synagogue, Planes Fly, Echelon, Black Dahlia, New York

7. Taylor Swift1989

As I said on my list of songs, this is the year I finally gave up the ghost on my Taylor Swift skepticism. Say what you like about her, but the woman sure knows how to write a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus song. Like, wow.

Highlights: Shake It Off, Style, Blank Space, New Romantics, Wildest Dreams

6. Brian Blade & The Fellowship BandLandmarks

These songs are languid but also composed, loose but purposeful, melodic without losing a sense of the weird. This is a jazz record, first and foremost, but I also hear strong elements of folk, R&B, blues, and rock. Maybe even a little doo-wop. But each element is parceled out in small doses, and finely balanced with other themes. The result is a album that richly rewards careful attention, but never demands it. It’s a comforting friend, a work of deep complexity, an inspiration, or a prayer. Maybe all at once.

Highlights: He Died Fighting, Embers, Ark.La.Tex., Shenandoah

5. GrouperRuins

Liz Harris’ music is reclusive, indecipherable. Whatever secrets it reveals come only in the barest of glimpses – between ambient sounds or the crackle of static. With this album, all devices are removed. There is only her, a piano, and the croak of frogs out in the dark night. The result is a beautifully intimate essay on the experience of dis-identification.

Highlights: Clearing, Holding, Lighthouse, Labyrinth

4. First Aid KitStay Gold

A genuinely surprising second-effort from these sisters. The wispy tones and beautiful harmonies are still there, but this is a far more muscular effort. It’s the rare sophomore album that follows through on all of the promise in the debut while also evolving and taking the sound forward. I’m truly excited to hear where this band goes from here.

Highlights: Shattered & Hollow, Stay Gold, Cedar Lane, Heaven Knows

3. Haley BonarLast War

From the very first listen, I knew I loved this album. And I’ve spent most of the rest of the year deepening that relationship. This is a dark record, full of sardonic wit and occasionally heavy instrumental turns, but it never feels oppressive. That’s in part because it’s just nine songs, barely over half an hour. And the final product is wonderfully balanced: from galloping garage pop to tender folk melody to wall of sound crashing down upon you. It can sustain these shifts because the underlying melodies are so incredibly strong. Each one sets out to deliver one specific feeling and absolutely follows through. It’s almost certainly the most tightly-constructed set of songs this year. Each one is a perfect little morsel, just waiting to be consumed again and again.

Highlights: Kill the Fun, From a Cage, Law War, Eat for Free, Bad Reputation

2. Cloud NothingsHere and Nowhere Else

I’m honestly sort of shocked to find this as my #2 record of the year. Turns out it doesn’t take much more than a couple guitars and a set of drums to melt my soul. This record snarls from start to finish. It doesn’t quite reach the peaks of the last Japandroids album, but it is a reasonably wealthy man’s approximation.

Highlights: No Thoughts, I’m Not Part of Me, Pattern Walks, Now Hear In

1. The War on DrugsLost in the Dream

This record single-handedly proves that rock and roll is still a vibrant genre, capable of telling us important things about who we are and who we might become. Combine Highway 61 era Dylan with the mid-80s Springsteen, mix in some Love Over Gold era Dire Straits, bring in the Heartbreakers as a backing band, and have Bryan Ferry produce the thing, and you’ll start to get the idea of what’s going on here. But in spite of all those references, Lost in the Dream never sounds even remotely dated. Adam Granduciel has somehow achieved the impossible: an album swimming in classic rock references that feels intensely specific to 2014. It’s easily my favorite album of 2014. Honestly, you could split the thing in half and end up with the two best records of the year. It’s that good.

Highlights: Red Eyes, Eyes to the Wind, An Ocean in Between the Waves, In Reverse, Under the Pressure, Burning, Disappearing

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Top 50 songs of 2014

This was a good year for music. Quite a few disappointing efforts from some of my old favorites, but plenty of new material to fill in the gaps. My top 10 songs are a bit weaker than some other years, but I easily found 50 tracks worth raving about, and could have gone quite a bit deeper. It was a year with a strong middle class.

I had a lot less time than usual to devote to making these lists (what with the obligation to finish my dissertation), so the commentary here is a bit more sparse than I usually like to provide. As always, only one song per artist.

If you’re a Spotify person, almost every song is available in this playlist.

Enjoy!

50. I Wanna Get Better – Bleachers (youtube link)
Do you miss the 90s? This song sure does!

49. 2 On – Tinashe ft. Schoolboy Q (youtube link)
A silky R&B throwback, a few synths, and a perfect guest spot from Schoolboy Q.

48. Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens – Tiny Ruins
A quiet interlude, somewhere near the intersection of folk and dream pop.

47. Birth in Reverse – St. Vincent
This song sounds like M.C. Escher took a jigsaw to a block of wood. I don’t really ‘get’ St. Vincent, but I do get this song at least.

46. We Go On – The Luxembourg Signal
Any year when I get to hear Beth Arzy’s voice is a good year.

45. The One That Lives Too Far – John Fullbright
Piano, guitar, the catch in the voice. This one hits just about every folk-driven singer-songwriter cliché. But you can get away with it if you stick the landing, which Fullbright absolutely does.

44. Superbia – deadmau5
If you had told me in January that arguably the prettiest song of the year would come from deadmau5…well, I would have been surprised. But here we are.

43. Coffee – Sylvan Esso
A slinky cyborg of a song.

42. On the Regular – Shamir
In the wrong mood, this song drives me bonkers – with its cowbells and boppy synths, his strangely androgynous voice, the choppy repetition. But in the right mood, those are all the things that make it so good.

41. Rather Be (feat. Jess Glynne) – Clean Bandit (youtube link)
There is absolutely nothing complicated about this song, and that’s ultimately what sells it. You’ve got your synths, you’ve got your sappy lyrics, you’ve got a good beat. Why complicate things?

40. Seasons (Waiting On You) - Future Islands
The search for ‘the next Joy Division’ has never taken off the way it has for ‘the next Dylan’ or ‘the next Springsteen.’ And I’m not saying that Future Islands are the next Joy Division. I’m just saying that if it were a parlor game, they’d be a leading candidate. It’s not even precisely that they sound like Joy Division. Same genre, yes, but much bigger, more tectonic. There’s just something about the attitude.

39. Logic Of Color – Wye Oak
Lots of reviews of the new Wye Oak album lament their radical shift in tone (from a guitar driven band playing loud/soft dynamics to the world of electropop), but as someone who never particularly dug their other stuff, this was actually a welcome bit of fresh air. The less organic textures provide a nice balance for Jenn Wasner’s voice.

38. Turtles All The Way Down – Sturgill Simpson
Based on the name alone, there was no way I wasn’t going to love this song. And the references to ‘reptile aliens made of light’ are just icing on the cake. If you think you don’t like country music, this is the song to test that hypothesis.

37. Plymouth – Strand Of Oaks
I couldn’t really ever find a way into this album as a whole. The big moment left me feeling flat. But this song has stuck with me like a comfortable old shirt that long outlasts its flashier competitors.

36. Don’t Wanna Lose – Ex Hex
Sleater Kinney is coming back in 2015. in the meantime, Ex Hex is keeping us more than satisfied.

35. Mercury Dime – Death Vessel
Death Vessel is a strong contender for the title of ‘band whose music sounds the least like their name.’ There are very few things in the world that sound less like a vessel of death than this lilting little song.

34. Primer Coat – Drive-By Truckers
My favorite song from this band in a long time. Beauty and resignation in equal doses.

33. Carissa – Sun Kil Moon
A meditation on the desperate need to try and impose reason on a world that refuses to conform. His cousin dies, pointlessly, without any explanation, in a freak accident. What can be recovered? What do we say about a life that has been lost? How do we move on?

32. Ruckus In B Minor – Wu-Tang Clan (youtube link)
The album as a whole is a bit of a sad coda to a brilliant career, one which asks the question: what if the Beatles had reunited in 1976 and Paul had insisted on closing the album with “Silly Love Songs”? But even if the album as a whole fails to really click, this song reminds us of the power in creative tension.

31. Crickets In The Rain – Allo Darlin’
Her voice when she sings “and I am grateful for that” is everything.

30. It All Starts Here - Magic Man
It gallops along, picking up speed the whole way, until you’re just about ready to burst into a shower of electro-pop goodness.

29. Miserable - Tokyo Police Club
One of those songs that just makes me smile every time I hear it.

28. The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything - Literature
Sometimes you just want a song that sounds like FUN. And when you do, this is the song for you.

27. Ones Who Love You - Alvvays
“And when the wheels come off, I’ll be an astronaut” – that about sums it up.

26. Driver - Perfect Pussy
A curse hurled into the uncaring night, the inescapable drone of words beyond comprehension, the adrenaline rush of fight or flight. Punk rock for the 21st century.

25. He Died Fighting - Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band
Come for the percussion, stick around for the melody. I don’t quite know what ‘post-bop’ jazz is, but I’m pretty sure this is it.

24. Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) Feat. Zach De La Rocha - Run The Jewels
Gets in your face from the first second, and doesn’t back down one inch over the course of the song. The guest spot from Zack de la Rocha seals the deal.

23. Brunch - S
My favorite Jenn Ghetto song in quite a while – possibly since her days with Carissa’s Wierd. Far more energetic than her usual fare, and driven by a beautifully-picked guitar line.

22. Running With The Boys - Lights
Somewhere in between CHVRCHES and Katy Perry, in the best possible way.

21. Last Night Bus - Hello Saferide
Her specialty is the finely-drawn character portrait, captured in just a few perfectly constructed lines. This song includes four or five examples.

20. Break Free (feat. Zedd) – Ariana Grande (youtube link)
This song is to other songs as Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream is to regular chocolate ice cream.

19. Everything We Touch - Say Lou Lou
I cannot wait for them to release an actual album. Dreamy pop music has never sounded so good.

18. Dawn in Luxor - Shabazz Palaces
If this is the future of hip-hop, then sign me up.

17. Weigh True Words - I Break Horses
I was really disappointed in this album as a whole, but this song alone is enough to redeem things in my eyes. The glitchy beat is a stark departure from the shoegazy textures that made their debut so good, but at least on this one song, it works beautifully.

16. Reverie on Norfolk Street - Luluc
A quiet Sunday morning, the sun peaking through the kitchen window. The feeling of comfortable love, encapsulated in song.

15. The Towns We Love Is Our Town - Bing & Ruth
Somewhere in between classical and ambient, this song breathes in autumn and exhales the spring.

14. Shake It Off – Taylor Swift (youtube link)
2014 is the year I finally joined the T Swift bandwagon, and it was this song that did it for me. Is it complicated? No. But who cares? It’s just a great, great pop song.

13. Jokerman - Built to Spill
Built to Spill covering Dylan, what’s not to love?

12. Kill the Fun - Haley Bonar
Tightly wound around that skittering percussion, held aloft by her beautiful voice. The synths sparkle and the beat goes on.

11. Life After Life - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Jangly indie pop at its finest.

10. Acheron River - The Lawrence Arms
This lacks the cutting edge that sets the very best Lawrence Arms songs apart, but is just so unbelievably catchy that it doesn’t bother me.

9. No Thoughts - Cloud Nothings
Snarling, emphatic, aggressive. Rock and roll like it was meant to be played.

8. Boom Clap – Charli XCX (youtube link)
And the ‘best chorus of the year’ award for 2014 goes to…Charli XCX.

7. Clearing - Grouper
This song tells truths that exceed words; they can only be felt.

6. Parade - The Antlers
The Antlers album really didn’t click for me the first few times. It’s almost schmaltzy with all the tinkling pianos and soaring verses. But on the sixth or seventh listen to this song, something changed and the aching beauty suddenly became clear.

5. Shattered & Hollow - First Aid Kit
I fell for this band because of “Emmylou.” This is the song that made me realize that it was more than just a crush.

4. Bloodlines - Mimicking Birds
A delightfully weird, perfectly beautiful song. This is indie rock the way it was meant to be done.

3. Red Eyes - The War On Drugs
I could listen to this song for months on repeat and never get tired of it. It’s so dense, a concentrated burst of rock and roll, full of passion and pathos and glorious rollicking energy. And the moment at about 3:35 when the full band returns is the single best moment of music in 2014. It gives me shivers.

2. Black Synagogue - Angel Haze
At her best, Angel Haze is probably my favorite rapper in the world. This song is full of rage and empathy and she spits it all out at 150 MPH.

1. When the Master Calls the Roll - Rosanne Cash
This is a song you spend an entire lifetime hoping to write. Beautiful, expansive, heartbreaking, honest. I’m not sure it could have come from anyone but Rosanne Cash.

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