About a year ago I, without meaning to, made a shift in my music listening. I wanted to find new (to me) music to love. I also, unintentionally shifted away from the “a la carte” way of listening and started to listen to albums in their entirety more. Here is a list of my top 5… with some honorary mentions and supplements added in.
1. “American Football” by American Football
This album was an instant hit for me. The band, and all the material was completely new, but it was from a genre and a time (1999, one year after I graduated high school) that I was familiar with, and the nostalgia cut through. It’s got that emo vibe, with a lot of musical substance, lyrics I can latch onto, and a pretty good balance of “this makes me ache” and “this makes me want to move”… with a leaning towards the ache. The standout track, without a doubt is “The Summer Ends”. It’s all ache, but just lovely enough to have a slight smile throughout. The track, much like many tracks from my younger years, defines a moment for me. A moment in my life, my marriage, and literally… a moment at the beach on a cold November’s day….
Here’s a homemade music video from a previous blog entry:
“L’Ami du Peuple” by Owen
If I’m honest, this one deserves to be #2 on the list, but since it is a solo project by the lead singer of American Football, I’m clumping it with #1. Scaled back, but not quite down to singer/songwriter classification, with a heavier emphasis on the lyrics and vocals. Seems to somehow capture the nature of long term relationships, in a way that feels bittersweet. (with lyrics like “Are you tired? Cause I’m wide awake” and “Love is not enough” ) It’s just a cohesive, thoughtful, collection of songs that I can listen to straight through. Sounds great on Vinyl. This one led me to several other Owen albums of equal standing
2. “Modern Vampires Of The City” by Vampire Weekend
I think that fall’s music reflected what was going on in my life at the time, and I think that this album, and Vampire Weekend in general, reflected my desire to make a shift towards a dancier, more upbeat, smiling time…. while not completely forgoing the achey undertones. This album has the ache/move balance, with a heavy hand on the moving. It forces me out of my chair, makes me shimmy my shoulders, but also makes me sigh. There’s a hopefulness, a brightness (with substance) in this album that can help a person throw the curtains open during the cold of winter… during the darker days. I spent a lot of time with this album, and my standout tracks shifted. “Everlasting Arms” harkened me back to the days when I listened to worship music, with lyrics like “Hold me, in your everlasting arms”. The album is infectious, without being at all thin, and the lyrics are there if you want them, but can fade into the background if you just want to wiggle around the living room.
3. “Carrie & Lowell” by Sufjan Stevens
Spring has 2 albums, and this one reflects the utterly achy, and deliciously sweet. The tenderness in this album is so thick you could swim in it… and that’s kind of what I did. It is certainly a straight through listen, but not the kind that you play in the background while you’re going about your business. This is for a long drive at night or for simply sitting, hand on chest, getting lost in grief. Thank goodnes, he doesn’t send you over the edge… This one does the near impossible… it puts you smack dab in the middle of someone else’s memory lane…. with the words, with the tone, and really… with something a bit transcendent. It perfectly captures the tenderness shared between parent and child, in a way that feels pure.
4. “Sound & Color” by Alabama Shakes
This one simultaneously feels completely current and completely classic. All at once it feels like R&B, Southern Rock, Classic Soul, and Indie Alt. This album, and this female fronted band, make me jealous! But in a way that never bleeds into hatin’. It feels like the music I want to create, but I just don’t have quite enough skill or experience to tackle. It resonates! This is probably the perfect blend of ache/move. I can not listen without moving some part of my being. I love and respect the music, the arrangements, the beautiful use of negative space before bringing in those drums like a crashing wave…. but… above all else is the exceptional vocal. It’s an instrument all it’s own and she has total mastery of it. The power, and then the subtlety… The grit, and then the smoothness…. The conviction in her voice is palpable. And somehow, not one of these parts overshadows the other.
5. “American Soft” by Chris Staples
Although perhaps not a household name across the populous, Chris Staples is absolutely a household name for people of a certain age in a certain region. He fronted the ever popular and influential Twothirtyeight, which was a scene staple (see what I did there?) in Northwest Florida in the 90s and has continued to make great music. Admittedly, I’d never really checked out his post-twothirtyeight catalogue until I was prompted first, oddly enough, by a very populous source… an NPR “top songs” list, and then again by news that he’d be playing locally. I seriously fell in love with this album. At first I assumed it was because of the twothirtyeight nostalgia, but it is simply a damn good album. It motivates me to write songs and to take small twists and risks that I wouldn’t think to take. The lyrics are a great blend of clever and easy. It doesn’t feel tried. The phrasing is natural, and still…. surprising… I love it. The music itself is just easy… As is his voice. It feels well crafted, but not pushed. I also like this one for it’s straight-through listening. I listened to the album on repeat that first day, and then made arrangements to make the show… Tomorrow night actually. I made sure to see him (and others) play during the twothirtyeight reunion tour a few years ago, but now, I’m excited about this new music to love.
“Primitives” by Roger Sellers (by way of “Bones” by Son Lux)
Both albums are great, straight through listening. Both are heavily produced, synthesized stylings of something that might be considered a post-rock hybrid that feels a lot like a movie score at times. The Son Lux album is a little darker, but thoroughly enjoyable. The Roger Sellers, who I know ZERO about, gets my creative juices flowing. The segways between songs include nature sounds amidst synthesized sounds and they flow from one track right into another. It’s imaginative, but not too odd-ball for me. I don’t write music anything like this, but I found myself having to push pause, grab my guitar, and doodle around. There are also a couple of tracks that are great to run to. I don’t want to call this background music, but it definitely leaves you room to multi-task, while feeling inspired.
And finally, a few artists who may not have made the “complete album” list, but who’s tracks have found their way onto several playlists over the year and who I plan to spend more time with are (in no particular order): Phantogram, The War on Drugs, The Good Life, Otis Redding, and Sister Nancy.