150323 favorite songs of each year of my life–2015


Thanks for reading (and listening).

I have no idea what my favorite songs of 2015 will be. Nothing so far this year has caught my ear. I am open to suggestions. And I hope The Wrens are not lying about releasing their follow-up to Meadowlands this year. I would buy that based only on the strength of Meadowlands.

I am serious about suggestions. And if I find something good, I will let you know.

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150322 favorite songs of each year of my life–2014

I have three favorite songs of 2014.

The first is “Palm Wine Drunkard” by Jolie Holland from her album Wine Dark Sea. The songs on Wine Dark Sea are all in a state of decay, barely holding together and about to collapse. And Holland’s vocals match the music. It is truly a wonderful thing. Loose does not begin to describe what is going on here.

For a moment, let’s get literary. The title of the song, “Palm Wine Drunkard”, is a nod to Amos Tutuola’s 1952 novel The Palm-Wine Drinkard–which is apparently a classic of African literature. The title of the album, Wine Dark Sea, is a nod to the Odyssey and the Iliad in which “wine-dark sea” describes the waters around Crete. The lyrics of “Palm Wine Drunkard” contain a nod to Heraclitus:

And then I kissed all my diamonds
I got my hands on the dice
And I screamed and I raved and I begged and I prayed
I could step into that river twice

Who has not wanted a second chance, begging and praying to step into the river twice?

My second favorite song of 2014 is “A Simple Design” by The Juan MacLean from the album In a Dream.

With the retirement of LCD Soundsystem I was looking for music to recreate for me the LCD Soundsystem experience–something close to LCD Soundsystem. This was a mission fraught with risk; electronic music can be really really bad. I stumbled onto John MacLean who performs as The Juan MacLean.

The Juan MacLean seemed like a good prospect. MacLean records on James Murphy’s record label–DFA Records. (Murphy led LCD Soundsystem.) And MacLean had hired Nancy Whang (a member of LCD Soundsystem) to do vocals for In a Dream.

Alas, “A Simple Design” is not LCD Soundsystem. (It lacks the spontaneity and force of and LCD Soundsystem song.) But I like it well enough–particularly this lyric:

Time after time, when what you’re hoping to find
Is not a simple design, but a headache
When everything you’ve built comes falling down

“A Simple Design” reminds me of San Francisco. While on a business trip, I downloaded the album before a long (pre-St. George marathon) run. While listening to The Juan MacLean, I ran from my downtown hotel to the Marin Headlands across the Golden Gate Bridge.

My third favorite song of 2014 is “Knock Knock Knock” by Spoon from the album They Want My Soul. “Knock Knock Knock” has some of the discordant, distorted guitar riffs that I love.

And it has whistling!

Posted in best songs of the 2010s, favorite songs of my life, jolie holland, music, music of the 2010s, spoon, the juan maclean | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

150321 favorite songs of each year of my life–2013

When I was a little boy, my mom would play records on the console stereo while she worked. One of those record albums was by the cowboy singer Frankie Laine. (Laine sang the theme to “Rawhide“–the TV western.)

One of Laine’s songs was “Cigarettes, Whiskey, and Wild, Wild Women”. As a little Mormon boy, I knew cigarettes were bad. I knew whiskey was bad. And I am sure I sensed that wild, wild women were bad (but I had no inkling why).

My mom taught me that our listening to those songs did not mean we thought smoking and drinking were okay. We could sing along. But we would never indulge. Fifteen year later, my mom was one of the few parents who did not have a cow when Eric Clapton’s version of J. J. Cale’s “Cocaine” got played at a stake youth dance. She trusted us to make right decisions–in the face of music about addictive substances.

I felt I needed to offer that explanation before describing my favorite songs of 2013 because there are both songs about alcoholism. I think I may be drawn to these songs because there is real pathos associated with addiction–the lying, the loss of self-control, the loss of self-respect, the personal and family devastation. When written with candor, songs about addiction capture a gritty and painful aspect of the human experience. A song about addiction that is true can and should break your heart.

My favorite song of 2013 is “Waltz About Whiskey” by a duo called Mandolin Orange from their album This Side of Jordan. (I know. I know. The band name is just a little too cute.) The harmony is wonderful. And the lyrics capture an alcoholic’s indifference about the losing the love of a good woman:

I remember the night she sat down beside me
she cried love was a ring that won’t end, well I was handed a lie
now the only thing I know of a ring is the circle my glass leaves behind

My second favorite song of 2013 is “Gin House Blues” by Eric Clapton & Andy Fairweather Low from the soundtrack to Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival of 2013. The song is an old Nina Simone number.

Lord, I don’t want no clothes
I don’t even want no bed
To lay my head
I don’t want no clothes

I don’t event want no bed
To lay my head
I don’t want no pork chops and green
Just give me gin instead

Simone struggled with alcoholism. And Clapton has had his own troubles. If anything, both songs function as a warning.

Posted in andy fairweather low, best songs of the 2010s, crossroads guitar festival, eric clapton, favorite songs of my life, mandolin orange, music, music of the 2010s | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

150320 favorite songs of each year of my life–2012

I am not so enthusiastic about 2012. Maybe it is that the music was not so good. Maybe it is because, in only three years, 2012’s music has not had a chance to grow on me. Here are my three favorites songs of 2012 (so far):

  • It’s Only Life” and “Simple Song” from The Shins’ Port of Morrow album – These are very good songs. But they do not rise to anywhere near my favorite songs by The Shins.
  • Addis” from the album Advaitic Songs by Om – Om is a trio. Two of its members are guys who left the “stoner doom metal band” called Sleep. I am not much of a fan of stoner doom metal–as you may have guessed from the paucity of stoner doom metal songs in these “favorite songs of way year of my life” posts. But Om is not Sleep. Om plays music based on Tibetan chants and devotional music of the Middle East. “Addis” is the only Om song I own. It has a very nice cello part. I am ambivalent about the band’s music; I am not sure Om’s deep droning bass and guitars are consistent with the sacred references in some of the band’s songs.
Posted in best songs of the 2010s, favorite songs of my life, music, music of the 2010s, om (band), the shins | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

150319 favorite songs of each year of my life–2011

It took me a while to notice. But in the last couple of years I realized the 2000s and the burst of great new music are over. Since the end of the decade there has simply been less to be excited about. What I have enjoyed since 2010 has generally not included new artists; it has been work by bands I was enthusiastic about in the 2000s.

With that deflating introduction, I have three favorite songs of 2011:

  • Santa Fe” by Eilen Jewell from her album Queen of the Minor Key – Jewell is from Boise. Like Jolie Holland, Jewell’s music is grounded in the old-timey tradition. (I think I heard the term old-timey in the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”. I would not use it otherwise.) She does explore other genres. “Santa Fe” is part of a sub-genre made up of songs that reference New Mexico: “Santa Fe” (different song) by Bob Dylan, “New Mexico” by Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, “Hearts and Bones” by Paul Simon, “Route 66” by Manhattan Transfer, etc.
  • Out On The Weekend” by Doug Paisley from the album Harvest Revisited – “Out on the Weekend” is the opening track of Neil Young’s Harvest. The Doug Paisley version comes from a track-by-track recreation of Harvest created by Mojo (the music magazine). Harvest Revisited contains tracks by a number of up and coming indie and alt country artists. The raw Americana of “Weekend” appeals to me.
  • Tree By The River” by Iron & Wine from Kiss Each Other Clean – Linda bought me the Kiss Each Other Clean CD as a gift in 2011. She knew I loved Iron & Wine’s Shepherd’s Dog album. When I listened to Kiss Each Other Clean, I was (not entirely) surprised to find it rife with profanity. I loaded only the clean tracks onto iTunes. The best of these is “Tree by the River”.
Posted in best songs of the 2010s, doug paisley, eilen jewell, favorite songs of my life, iron & wine, music, neil young | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

150318 favorite songs of each year of my life–2010

I love The Black Keys. Like the White Stripes, they are a guitar and drum based duo, but their hearts are deeper in delta blues than the Stripes. Brothers is probably their most accessible album. The song I have listened to most is “Everlasting Light“. But I love the instrumental “Black Mud“; it is a tribute to the legendary blues guitarist Muddy Waters. (If you listen closely to the early Rolling Stones, you will find that Keith Richards shamelessly pilfered licks from Waters.)

My third favorite song of 2010 is “Home” by LCD Soundsystem from the album This Is Happening. Happening turned out to be the last LCD Soundsystem album. James Murphy gracefully retired the band in 2012.

With “Home”, Murphy takes the electronics down a notch, producing a sweet and unsentimental mashup of home and relationships. To that extent it reminds me of “Naive Melody (This Must Be the Place)” by Talking Heads.

Finally, I have to mention the album Women and Country by Jakob Dylan (Bob’s son). The album surprised me. All the songs are strong. Although Jakob explores different musical genres and styles, the artistic voice is consistent; the perspective is both bleak and resolute. My favorite cut is “Lend A Hand” and its call to join the rescue:

Roll your sleeves up
Hold back the dam
Fill these bags with sand
Every young boy, woman
And every man
Has got to lend a hand


Posted in best songs of the 2010s, favorite songs of my life, jakob dylan, lcd soundsystem, music, music of the 2010s, talking heads, the black keys | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

150317 favorite songs of each year of my life–2009

“These are the days, my friends. And these are the days. My friends.”

Philip Glass’s “Knee 1” from his opera Einstein On the Beach may be my favorite song of all time. It was not written in 2009 but the version I listen to most is from the soundtrack to Glass – A Portrait of Philip In Twelve Parts–a documentary released in 2009. (My version is shorter than the version linked above.)

I find the song comforting. I don’t know why. “Knee 1” overlays numbers that are sung, numbers that are spoken, and words that are spoken. It is random. And it is not random.

I think it may mirror the fragmented processes of thought. Layered and always counting. And on some level I do believe that “these are the days, my friends.”

Posted in best songs of the 2000s, favorite songs of my life, music, music of the 2000s, philip glass | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment