I know this is almost a month late, but I'd like to share the music that stands out to me from last year.
These are listed in the order in which I heard them.
Putting the Days to Bed - The Long Winters
At the beginning of the year, I was diving deep into the music of John Roderick after getting to know him through his podcast, Roderick on the Line (some episodes are a little ... more challenging, but this recent one about a roadtrip adventure is pretty amazing). I really enjoy most of his songs on most of his band's albums, but it was their most recent album (from 2006!) that I keep going back to.
The song that stands out for me is "Hindsight," mostly because of this great line: If you're my anchor / then I'm throwing you over the side.
Carrie & Lowell - Sufjan Stevens
This one is the album of the year. I've been a Sufjan fan for many years now and have eagerly awaited every new release. Carrie & Lowell - a sparse, almost-entirely acoustic meditation on the life and death of his mother - may have surpassed them all. I think I've listened to the album more than anything else in the past year.
Even more than listening to Carrie & Lowell over and over again, what made this album stick was seeing Sufjan perform it live. I was able to see two different shows on his current tour - one towards the beginning and one towards the end. Hearing these songs live was one of the best musical experiences I've ever had. My brother and I even took an awkward picture with Sufjan:
It's hard to pick a single song out of the album - they all move me - but I think "The Only Thing" captures the overall feeling of the whole work. It's heartbreaking and beautiful.
Should I tear my eyes out now?
Everything I see returns to you somehow
Should I tear my heart out now?
Everything I feel returns to you somehow
A recent addition to the Carrie & Lowell experience is this remix of "Blue Bucket of Gold." This is close to the way Sufjan and his band perform the song live. And I can't get enough of it.
Blurryface - Twenty One Pilots
Having come across Twenty One Pilots last year through their album Vessel, I was in the perfect position to dive into their newest release. Blurryface was certainly different - at first I was slightly hesitant to embrace the more electronic sounds they chose for this album - but it displays so much of what I love about this band.
The duo simply don't seem to care about fitting in any particular style or genre. On this album they seem to gravitate towards a reggae-tinged sound("Ride," "Lane Boy," "Polarize," "Message Man") but then it swings around to something very pop ("Doubt"), a song that sounds like it might be from the 80s ("Hometown"), or something piano-driven ("Tear In My Heart" or "Goner"). I love their variety.
"Stressed Out" is still the song that stands out for me. It's a perfect example of what these guys do so well - write heartfelt songs without seeking to fit in.
Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to when I was young,
How come I'm never able to identify where it's coming from,
I'd make a candle out of it if I ever found it,
Try to sell it, never sell out of it, I'd probably only sell one,
It'd be to my brother, 'cause we have the same nose,
Same clothes homegrown a stone's throw from a creek we used to roam,
But it would remind us of when nothing really mattered,
Out of student loans and treehouse homes we all would take the latter.
The Sun As It Comes - The Lonely Wild
This is an example of when you go to a concert, don't know anything about the opening act, and then are utterly amazed by them.
I saw The Lonely Wild open for The Family Crest in Pittsburgh. Before the show, someone told us that they sound like "a Quentin Tarantino movie" - that still feels like a good description to me. Their music could be the soundtrack to Kill Bill.
The whole album is good, but the final track - "Buried in the Murder" - is the song I have put on repeat while driving.
The Exitus and Reditus of Andrew Darkstar Parrish - Dear Other
One of the great benefits of The Harmonium Project's work in downtown Steubenville is seeing bands like Dear Other. This group lives in the area and blew me away when I saw them last summer. Since then, I had been waiting for them to release some of their music so I could hear it again.
The Exitus ... (I'm not going to type out the whole name) did not disappoint. With a complex name like that, you shouldn't be surprised by the complexity of the songs - most of them clock in at 6 minutes or more. On an EP with only 5 songs, that provides for a lot of space to do something interesting.
I love the scope of this piece - and it is a complete piece that makes the most sense when you listen to the whole thing. It tells the story of a young man feeling fragmented, assaulted by his own emotions, arguing with reason, and eventually moving towards wholeness - and it all seems to take place in my hometown, providing an emotional connection for me.
Some of my favorite parts are dialogues between the narrator and his neighbors. This section from "The Shadow Cast" is one of the high points of the album:
NEIGHBORS: Boy, get up!
N: We think you had a heart-attack!
A: Impossible, see, I was just, uh-
N: How many fingers are we holding up?
A: [pause] Three?
N: Four! Can't you kids keep away from drugs?
A: [taking offense] I was just dreaming!
N: [skeptical] Mhm.
A: Or possibly the subject of a vision, or a Marian apparition!
N: Sounds like drugs.
A: Well it's my condition. But I swear I saw Heaven open up! And furthermore-
N: We've heard this one before, the one where your eyes see the glory of the coming of the Lord.
A: Yep, that was it. In incomparable cool he sits on ideal geometric shapes and into the ground he spits fire, healing water, blood, the love and life of a Father-
N: [interrupting] Look, have you got some place to be?
A: And he said to me-
N: We've got things to do besides listen to you.
A: I am your judge,
N: the one that you ignore
A: present in the present
N: and at the end of the world.
A: How'd you guys know?
N: We've got a lot in common
us and the Lord
making minimum wage
at the grocery store
watching you live one life
while you pretend your living more.
Here's to another year of cool music to discover!