Favorited ex.fm Songs

Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Top 40 Albums of the Year (1-5)

The long awaited final installment of the countdown is here! For the previous parts go here: 6-10, 11-20, 21-40.

I didn't put too much thought into the groups that these were divided into other than breaking things into manageable parts to write about each day. However, the top five do break away really nicely because I love all 5 of these albums. So with that said, onto the countdown...

5) Mates of State - Mountaintops
For those that don't know, Mates of State are a husband and wife indie pop duo. Both sing while Kori plays keyboards/synthesizer and Jason plays drums. I used to be a pretty big fan back in the day, but I haven't listen to the band too much in the last couple years. Because of that, I didn't really have any sort of expectation when I listened to the album. Thankfully I did actually listen though because I was hooked almost immediately. The first track, "Palomino," is really the band at its best. If this had been the only stand out track, I would have been more than satisfied, but "Sway" and "Mistakes" are two other favorites that along with solid tracks all around them make Mountaintops one of the best albums of 2011. This is the band's 7th full length that I own, and in my opinion it is absolutely their best album to date. Consider me fully back on the Mates of State bandwagon and eagerly awaiting anything they choose to record in the future. I really wanted this Mates of State album to be higher for all of the reasons described above, but the four albums above it are great too, so it ended up at a very respectable number 5.

4) The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
While I hadn't strayed from The Decemberists quite like I had for Mates of State, their last album, an ambitious attempt at an indie rock opera, was my least favorite of their releases to date. However, as I discussed on the blog right after "The King Is Dead" came out, this year's album was a wonderful return to an indie folk style that is much more akin to my liking. I've actually already written posts about "Don't Carry It All," "Calamity Song," and seeing the band in concert in April, so I don't have too much more to add. I loved the album in January when I picked it up, and it has remained one of my favorite albums throughout all of 2011.

Since I've already written about "Don't Carry It All" and "Calamity Song," check out "June Hymn" below.

3) Tom Waits - Bad As Me
Obviously, the blog name alone can assure you that I'm a pretty big Tom Waits fan. When this album was first announced I had a post expressing my excitement. After the album was released, I outlined a post that would have been titled "Tom Waits On Life" or something of that sort and that would have used lyrics from the album to give life lessons, but unfortunately school and life (but mostly school) got in the way. Maybe I can still write it at some point, but for now I can just say that even a 62 year old Tom Waits can still write phenomenal music. Most of the songs are short and characterized by his gravely voice and experimental instrumentation that fans have grown to love over the years. The impetus to do a wisdom of Tom Waits type post was lines like "Everybody knows umbrellas will cost more in the rain" (a good description of supply and demand) and "Heavens to murkatroid, miners to coal. A good woman can make a diamond out of a measly lump of coal." If his voice turns you off, you obviously won't enjoy the album. On the other hand, if you like a unique sound from a legend with witty lyrics this will be an album for you, and it is an excellent addition to the over 20+ albums that Tom Waits has recorded in the past almost 40 years.

The song below, "Bad As Me" is my favorite song off the album. Also check out the song "Satisfied," which features Keith Richards on guitar.

2) Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
It seems like Justin Vernon of Bon Iver has been everywhere since his 2008 album "For Emma, Forever Ago" burst onto the scene. Since then, he formed Volcano Choir with members of Collections of Colonies of Bees (also from Wisconsin) and recorded an album with them. He also recorded a Bon Iver EP, recorded an album with a collection of 20+ musicians called GAYNGS, guested on a couple tracks of Kanye West's 2010 album that saw rave reviews all over, and guested on various other albums and songs. Also during that time, Justin Vernon joined his old high school jazz band for a concert to help raise money for a trip the band was taking to New York for a jazz competition. I actually had the pleasure of attending that concert at Eau Claire Memorial High School, and it might just be the best concert I've ever attended. The uniqueness of having a well-known artist sing his own songs with a jazz arrangement and covering old jazz classics was truly a unique experience that I'm so glad to have experienced. It was really cool seeing an artist that had gained fame so quickly return to his roots and come across as so humble and grateful for everything he had achieved. Thankfully the concert was recorded and released as an album called "A Decade With Duke" that can be purchased from Amazon or various other music vendors.

I imagine there are few things tougher for an artist than following up a well-received debut album. Some artists will try to duplicate what made their first album successful only to fail to catch lightning in a bottle twice. Rather than trying to replicate his previous album, Justin Vernon took some chances, and came up with another brilliant album. The music is beautiful, and it is great hearing a hard working artist evolve and get noticed for it (although The Grammys listing him in the "Best New Artist" category is kind of a joke). Anyhow, the music speaks for itself. The songs are sort of ambient too and this is another great headphones album.

I could have sworn that I had posted the video for "Holocene" previously, but I don't see it, so here it is (again?).

And now...

The dramatic reveal...


the number one album of 2011...

1) Middle Brother - Middle Brother
Middle Brother is an alt country/indie folk collaboration of one member each from the bands Deer Tick, Dawes, and Delta Spirit. "Super groups" can be a risky endeavor and often don't live up to the sum of their parts, but Middle Brother appears to be the exception. (Side note: I really like the Monsters of Folk collaboration too, but probably not as much as I liked M. Ward or Bright Eyes individually). I wasn't too familiar with any of the originating bands when I first heard the album back in March. Usually I will wait until I can find an album on sale to buy it if I'm not already a fan of the artist, but after listening to two tracks from a free stream I stopped and immediately purchased the album because I was already sold. Since then, I've listened to the album at least a couple dozen times, and the luster has hardly worn off at all. Many of the songs are played loose and fast, having the sound of a band already a few drinks in during their set.

It was close for me between Bon Iver and Middle Brother for album of the year, but when it comes down to it, I think I've returned to this Middle Brother album more often. That coupled with the initial thrill when I first discovered them, and the persistent joy the album has brought me throughout the year make Middle Brother's debut album my album of the year for 2011.

Here is the track "Middle Brother" from the album Middle Brother by the band Middle Brother. Got that straight?

I hope everyone enjoyed the countdown! I'll have a post with some other miscellaneous favorites in the next day or two and then it is on to 2012. I'd love to hear from others what albums (or anything else) they enjoyed from 2011 and what they are looking forward to in 2012.

Thanks to anyone who read this blog over the past year, and I hope everyone starts 2012 off with a bang.

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Top 40 Albums of the Year (6-10)

If you missed the first 2 installments of my top 40 albums, you can check out albums 21-40 and 11-20. And now onto the first half of the top 10.

10) Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
I wrote about this album almost a year ago in one of my first posts on the blog here. Really not much has changed since then. As I noted before, the album is a bit of a deviation from his normal hushed, acoustic style, but in my opinion the change is welcome and really well executed. I listened to the album a lot more in the first few months of the year than I have lately, but it is still a very enjoyable listen when I do get around to it.

9) Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Explosions in the Sky is another band I have previously covered here. This time it was due to their name's tie to the Fourth of July, rather than to talk about their new album however. That being said, there isn't a whole lot new to be said about the album (at least by me). If you're familiar with their instrumental post-rock style, you won't be too surprised by anything on the album. It's just another great addition to their catalog. When discussing The Antlers' "Burst Apart," I said that they would be first or second on a list of the best artist albums to lose yourself in while listening on headphones. This Explosions in the Sky album would take the other one of those top two spots.

8) Childish Gambino - Camp
Childish Gambino is the hip hop altar ego of actor/writer/comedian/all-around extraordinaire Donald Glover. Allegedly he came up with the name using a Wu-Tang Clan name generator, which if true, is wonderful. If you've read entries 40 through 9 on this list, you can tell I don't listen to a ton of hip hop, but Donald Glover brings something different that I find myself enjoying. He's not Will Smith, he still swears and boasts about his sexual conquests, but he also uses lines like "No live shows cause I can't find sponsors for the only black kid at a Sufjan concert" and "I ain't Mumford, I ain't tryin to have sons." References like that as well as his general wit and humor separate him from other artists for me. I still didn't expect to enjoy the album as much as I have, but I've found myself returning to it quite a bit over the last month or so, especially when I need something to pump while driving alone.

7) Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
This is the second album by Smith Westerns, but it is the first one to come across my radar. It is a slight deviation from the type of music I prefer (classified on Wikipedia as glam rock), but the guitar riff that kicks off the album on "Weekend" is one of my favorite album intros of the year. I'm really not sure I can add much of value to any discussion about this album. I enjoy the guitar play and find the songs to be catchy, but that's just me. And like I said, I know nothing about this mysterious genre of glam rock. So my advice is to check it out. Maybe you'll like it. Maybe you won't.

6) Wilco - The Whole Love
Wilco has been making albums since 1995, and this album ranks among their best. The album kicks off with "Art of Almost," an over 7 minute long track that ends with a pretty rockin' guitar solo that showcases Nels Cline's fantastic abilities. If you get a chance to see the band live, his guitar playing along with Jeff Tweedy's singing and stage banter are more than worth the price of admission. The album is bookended by another long track, the 12 minute long "One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)," another favorite off the album, and a more sweet sounding track than the dissonant opener. The albums most immediately accessible track is likely the first single, "I Might," which can be listened to below and comes in at a less time-consuming 4 minutes. I've enjoyed each of the last couple Wilco records, but all in all "The Whole Love" is a nice return to previous form and a really excellent record.

Below are three of my favorite tracks from these 5 records.

"Walking Far From Home" by Iron & Wine

Weird video but great song. "Weekend" by Smith Westerns

"I Might" by Wilco
Wilco - I Might by antirecords

Tomorrow I'll have my top 5 albums of the year, and I hope to have a miscellaneous round-up posted on New Years day or shortly after along with a look ahead to 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Top 40 Albums of the Year (11-20)

Without further ado, here is the second installment of my top albums of the year. Albums 21-40 can be viewed here. Just like yesterday 8 of these 10 albums are $5 or less on Amazon, so get buyin!

M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
M83 is the second French band on my countdown (along with Jamaica). While DJing on a car ride home from my grandma's house for Christmas, my dad asked how they got their name, so I can now tell you they are named after Messier 83, a spiral galaxy in the constellation Hydra. Do with that info what you choose. The album has a kind of ambient electronic/indie pop sound. I'm not familiar with their earlier work, but I plan on looking into their back catalog after really enjoying this album. My favorite song on the album is "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire" (or "Tell Me A Story"). I don't think I could do it justice with any explanation, so you'll just have to listen to it below. If you can't quite get behind a kid telling a story for a song, I can assure you their other tracks are voiced by adults.

19) Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - Scandalous
Black Joe Lewis is a soul/blues artist from Texas. I remember hearing him get a lot of buzz from some of the blogs I read when he released his debut album two years ago. I tend to gravitate toward a lot of more folky music sometimes, but if you're looking for something to get you bobbing your head and dancing around, you could do worse than giving Black Joe Lewis a listen.

18) William Elliott Whitmore - Field Songs
Nobody has accused Iowa of having a booming music scene, but fortunately they do have William Elliott Whitmore. In 2009 his "Animals in the Dark" was my #1 album of the year. That was my first exposure to WEW and unfortunately that's an awfully tough act to follow. This album is more in keeping with the sound of some of his releases before "Animals in the Dark". It's not quite up to the high bar of greatness that he set, but he still knows how to use that absolutely wonderful gravely voice to play some really solid rootsy music.

17) Death Cab for Cutie - Codes And Keys
I'm having a hard time figuring out what to say about a band like Death Cab For Cutie. For the first year or two of undergrad they were my favorite band, and I swore by them. There are only probably 5 or 6 artists over my life that have had a sustained run as an unquestioned favorite (which will probably end up being a blog post at some point). So while I'm not the fanatic I once was, I still have a soft spot for them. Thankfully Ben Gibbard and company have done a really good job over the years churning out solid albums and this one is no exception. They may not be my favorite artist any more, but I still enjoy almost everything they release. If you're not already a fan, I doubt this album will change your mind, but if you are, it should a welcome addition to your collection.

16) Blind Pilot - We Are The Tide
Blind Pilot are one of the lesser known artists to me on this list. I know that they are an indie folk/indie rock band out of Portland, but that's about the extent of my knowledge. On my first couple listens to this album I enjoyed it, but nothing really stuck out too much and I sort of dismissed it. Fortunately I came back to it enough times to allow it to really grow on me and to see it steadily climbing my list of favorites for the year. I've found myself going back to this one more often than several others by artists that I've enjoyed for years. Blind Pilot can consider me a new fan eagerly awaiting their next release.

15) JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound - Want More
I don't keep up with the soul or blues or R&B scenes like I do the indie pop/indie rock/etc scenes on various blogs. Fortunately JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound has come onto my radar (along with Black Joe Lewis and #11 on this list). In this case, it was because of a meeting of these various scenes. Sometime last year JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound released a cover of Wilco's "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart," which is one of my favorite songs from an all-time great album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." Since then, I've decided to keep tabs on them, and I'm thankful I did because this album is a real joy for the ears. I've put a video of that cover below so that others can become exposed in the same way that I did, but I also HIGHLY recommend checking out the song "Want More" as well as the whole album by that name.

14) The Antlers - Burst Apart
Few bands can bring about as emotional of a response to their music as The Antlers. In 2009, they released the album "Hospice," which contained "Two" and "Bear," two of the most emotionally intense songs I can recall recently. That whole album was fantastic, and I feel like sometimes I don't rate them highly enough because it's hard to just put the songs on and sing along and listen in the background. So keep in mind that if this album were about 10 places higher, it wouldn't be out of place. "Burst Apart" took me a while to get into because it is a slight departure from "Hospice." Since music can be experienced in so many ways and has so many sounds, it's hard to compare across these elements. If this were a list of the best albums for putting on headphones and just becoming lost in the music "Burst Apart" would likely find itself in the top one or two spots.

13) Ezra Furman & The Harpoons - Mysterious Power
I know exactly two (maybe two and a half) pieces of information about Tufts University. Guster was formed there and Ezra Furman & The Harpoons was formed there (the half is that I think it is somewhere on the east coast). I think Ezra Furman can be a bit hard for some people to listen to at times. The music can sound chaotic and his voice can seem shaky, raw and nasally. But I think that's a lot of the charm also. The songs are full of energy, every once in a while you'll get a Little Richard like howl, or a scream of some sort. It may not be the type of thing I always want to listen to, but at times there is nothing better than just putting this band on and singing along at the top of your lungs.

12) Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
It's amazing to me that a band could manage to succeed in this world while making it almost impossible to Google them. Their debut album in 2009 was called "Album." If you're not already popular, I don't know how someone types in "girls album" and comes across your band. Well, it seems to be working out for them anyhow. They suffer from the same thing as some of these other bands on the list for me. I'll rarely go out of my way to listen to this record, but whenever I find that I am listening to it, I really enjoy it. With that being the case, it couldn't crack my top ten, but there is no shame on being just outside of that.

11) Charles Bradley - No Time For Dreaming
Charles Bradley's story has been told over and over in various places this year. I don't think I could do it justice in such a small recap, but I would suggest heading over to his website and checking out his bio here. Just know that life hasn't come easy for him, but at the ripe old age of 63, he was able to release his debut album this year, and the world is a better place because of it. If you're at all inclined to enjoy soul/funk/R&B, make sure you give this one a listen. At the bottom of this page is a link to his song "No Time For Dreaming," which is one of the catchiest songs I've come across this year. After listening to it yesterday afternoon, I found myself just periodically loudly bursting into the chorus of the song throughout the rest of the day.

And just like yesterday, if you made it all the way to the end, enjoy some of my favorite songs from these releases.

A great cover of Wilco's "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" by JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound.

As promised above, M83's "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire"

A wonderful song from soul singer Charles Bradley's debut album
Charles Bradley - No Time for Dreaming by isaidahip

Same time tomorrow for albums 6-10!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Top 40 Albums of the Year (21-40)

Well school really got the better of me these last few weeks, but I'm back with some end of the year round-ups. I've got a top 40 albums list planned that will be broken into 4 parts over the next 4 days and then some other miscellanea the first day of the new year if all goes to plan.

This is the first year I've had this blog, but I've actually posted end of the year lists before over on last.fm (2008, 2009, 2010). Those lists are a good reminder that these end of the year lists are completely subjective and a product of a specific time. If I remade this list a year later (or even a month later), it would probably be fairly different. This is just meant to be a snapshot of how I feel about the year's releases as 2011 winds to a close. So with that out of the way, enjoy! (And let me know in the comments which albums you think I've left out or just if you want to chat about some of the ones that are on there).

Also, I should note that this is a great time to bolster your music collections. 18 of the 20 albums on this list are currently available for $5 or less over at Amazon, so go check some of them out.

40) Carlos Forster - Family Trees
This was the debut album by one of M. Ward's friends. M. Ward also produced the album, which isn't a surprise when you listen to it.

39) The Horrible Crowes - Elsie
This is a side project of the lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem. It didn't catch me as much as their last two albums did, but it is a good listen.

38) Beirut - The Rip Tide
This is the 3rd album by Zach Condon, who apparently is younger than me.

37) Memphis - Here Comes A City
Memphis will probably sound familiar to anyone who likes the band Stars. One of the two members, Torquil Campbell is also one of the Stars singers. This album could have been placed higher. I always come away thinking I really enjoyed it when I finish listening.

36) North Highlands - Wild One
I admit to not knowing much about this band or album. I only gave it a couple listens, but it came across as really catchy when I did. It is one I'll return to in the new year, which could send it moving up or down this list.

35) Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness
Hello Sadness is the follow-up to the similarly well-titled Romance is Boring from last year. Their albums have some infectious energy that make listening to them a fun experience.

34) The Vaccines - What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
This is my favorite album title of the year due to the fact that it is their debut album. "If You Wanna" and "Norgaard" are two infectiously catchy songs among my favorites of the year, but the album as a whole dragged a little too much to be placed higher.

33) Blink-182 - Neighborhoods
I actually haven't listened to this album more than a couple times, but it seemed enjoyable when I did. Maybe I'm still just giving them some good will for how much I loved their last release, their self-titled album back in 2003.

32) Okkervil River - I Am Very Far
As has been the case for most of their releases, I enjoy it, but I don't find myself craving it ever.

31) Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
Early in the year I discovered Middle Brother, a band composed of members from Dawes, Delta Spirit and Deer Tick. This led me go back and listen to those originating bands. Dawes may be my favorite of the bunch, but none of them have quite lived up to that initial excitement I got listening to the new Middle Brother record.

30) Tennis - Cape Dory
Tennis is a husband/wife duo that according to Wikipedia met while studying philosophy in college. I knew there was a reason I liked them.

29) I Build Collapsible Mountains - The Spectator & The Act
This is the indie folk solo project of a Scottish musician who got his start in a post-rock band called The Gothenburg Address. He also put out a really good self-titled EP this year.

28) The Black Keys - El Camino
I just bought this album about a week ago. My initial impression is that I don't like it as much as Rubber Factory, their only album I am super familiar with, but it is enjoyable nonetheless and may grow on me more.

27) Destroyer - Kaputt
This album has one of the more unique sounds I heard this year, blending indie pop with jazz. The saxophone gets a bum rap in popular music, but Destroyer did their darnedest with this album to change that. For that, I commend them.

26) Jamaica - No Problem
Jamaica is actually a French band. This is a good upbeat electronic/indie pop or indie rock album. There are some pretty catchy tunes on here.

25) Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
Ideally I would have talked about Laura Marling in a post already. I was unfamiliar with her until I saw her open for M. Ward a few weeks ago, but she really won me over by being charming and delightful on stage and playing some really good songs.

24) The Head And The Heart - The Head And The Heart
The Head And The Heart is an indie folk band from Seattle. Technically they originally released this album two years ago, but it just got a national release through Sub Pop this year, which is the first I'm hearing it, so it goes on the list.

23) The Kills - Blood Pressures
I've enjoyed The Kills before, but I think this is the first album that I enjoyed the whole way through.

22) Kathryn Calder - Bright And Vivid
Kathryn Calder is a member of The New Pornographers, and apparently she released an album last year too, but this is my first exposure to her. I was sold on her from the very first song on this album. I'm not sure what it was, but it really kept my attention.

21) Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines
If I redo this list in a month or two, this album may end up 10 places higher. After every listen I come away thinking just how great and catchy and well-crafted the album is, but for some reason it still isn't one that I find myself going back to over and over and over again, so for now it is stuck on the outside of the top 20 looking in. Fun Wikipedia fact: Telekinesis is apparently the brainchild of one guy from Seattle but on tour he is joined by Cody Votolato, younger brother of Rocky Votolato (an old favorite of mine).

Congrats to anyone that made it all the way through that! Here are a few videos of some of my favorite songs from this part of the list.

A great regretful break-up song by The Vaccines.

Dawes performing a live version of album closer "A Little Bit of Everything" for Minneapolis radio station, 89.3 The Current.

And a song from Telekinesis, the top band on this part of the list:

Come back tomorrow for albums 11-20.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Countdown to M. Ward: 1 Day

We're almost there guys! Today's album is "Post-War" which was released in 2006. I love every M. Ward album, but Post-War may just be my favorite album ever. Now obviously, I'm an M. Ward homer, but it received pretty universal acclaim when it was released, so I'm not thinks Post-War was a great album. The album is certainly his most accessible and is where I would recommend those new to his music start before branching off into his other releases.

I've previously (sort of) written about the songs "Chinese Translation" and "Poison Cup", so I'll move in a different direction today. That being said, more than half of the tracks either have a 4.5 or 5 star rating on my iTunes, so there is no shortage of good ones to choose from, which means due to my indecisiveness, I won't be able to pick just one.

The first track is a song called "Requiem," which is one of the more upbeat songs he has recorded. Lyrically the song is exactly what the title suggests, a requiem for someone who "was a good man and now he's gone." The video feels just as nostalgic as the music. Check it out!

The second track is one of my favorite short songs ever. It clocks in at under 1:45 and leaves you wanting more when it ends. The song is "Magic Trick." The actual track has the feeling of a group of people getting together and just starting to have fun messing around playing something they all know. In it the refrain is:
She's got one magic trick
Just one and that's it
She disappears
I found a live version on YouTube in which he changes this from third person to first, which I love. I'm sure everyone has known someone that seemed that way and most people have probably felt that way about themselves at time. I know I'm guilty of "disappearing" a lot. The acoustic version is really slowed down and a very different song, so I really recommend finding the original to listen to as well. In all honestly you'll probably like it more than this acoustic one, but I feel like posting this one now. Anyhow, enjoy and come back tomorrow for the final installment in the "Countdown to M. Ward" series when the countdown hits zero!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Countdown to M. Ward: 2 Days

Thursdays are a bit too busy, so I won't be able to do much more than post a song today, but we're down to 2 days!

Today's song is from the 2005 album "Transistor Radio." I debated between two different songs to post, but I'm going to have to go with "Paul's Song." The song features a great pedal steel guitar and seems to be about life on the road. The song features the great refrain of:
"Well every town is all the same
when you've left your heart in the Portland rain."
It's a feeling that is plenty easy to relate to for anyone who has been traveling or just far from somewhere that they wished they were instead. I've only been able to visit Portland once in my life, but I loved it, which probably contributes to my enjoyment of this particular song. Anyhow, give the song a listen because it is a great one!