Each year, I seem to stumble upon a few songs that tend to be as much therapeutic as they are entertaining. And this year is no different.
What does prove to be different is the year itself – at least more so than the norm. But before we get to this, I’d like to provide a little context to this year’s “best of.” In an attempt to over simplify, I have recently been sitting on the notion that we encounter the world in two distinct ways…
One, we look outward. We see life as a collective of experiences that are largely driven by others and external circumstances. In many ways, we need this perspective. It gives us an opportunity to explain life by what is happening around us and/or “to” us. We critique. We blame. We reject association. And we/I wish for something very different. This is the basis for the first playlist, This is America, which seems timely in light of a country that is ripe with ego, angst, and division.
Two, we look inward. We recognize (or admit) that we encounter the world through self. It’s all about me – whether we realize it or not. And this too makes sense. I mean, is it even possible to experience life any other way? Regardless, the second playlist, This is Me, is curated with this in mind. Speaking of…
THIS IS ME
So, what’s different this year?
Generally speaking, I have started to hold “different” or “change” very loosely these days. Sure, each day has moments that are unlike any other day. But when we speak of ourselves, we are simply referring to a collection of characteristics and experiences regardless of its current state. In other words, “me” isn’t changing per se; I just get to include new thoughts, experiences, and perspectives as part of my collective self – regardless if deemed “different” or not. In the end, I’m still me.
If it isn’t obvious already, “me” tends to deconstruct and analyze just about everything. I’m learning how to just accept and embrace this about myself (medication apparently helps). This unavoidable obsession has also led me to ask a few questions regarding myself, my job, and my current capacity.
In short, Anna and I have decided to open another Blackberry (in La Grange) this year. In addition, I have been honing in on where I am most successful and most “me” in my role at Rule29. Add all this up, and I have decided to restructure “what I do” as they say. And while we are still working on some details, I will be pulling back from my position at Rule29 beginning in a couple of weeks. The current plan is that I will free up time in order to help expand Blackberry while also creating additional space to better serve a handful of clients and projects as a Creative Producer (which will continue to happen in partnership with Rule29 and beyond). Again, plenty of figuring left to work out.
As you may guess, this has largely occupied my decision-making space (which is fairly limited. Again, I am a nine for those who know what that means). Aside from this, I have continued to work through what life is like beyond 40. A year ago, I may have blamed everything on “mid-life.” Now, I’m just grateful for the imaginary line I’ve crossed in which I am able to more-so embrace my interests, wants, and who “me” is.
With this as the context, a few of my highlights from the year are passing the “Executive Bourbon Steward” certification, writing a book on bourbon with the R29/Wonderkind team (thus the certification), and doing our annual Michigan/Mackinac trip with the fam. Anna and I are continuing to experience new “learnings” (as we like to call them) from being married over half our life (crazy) – all of which have undoubtedly provided new ways in which we see each other, the world, and ourselves. One of the harder or “different” things of the year was experiencing what it’s like to send your eldest child to college. Spoiler for those who haven’t done it yet… lots of sadness.
THIS IS US
As far as family updates...
Anna is still at the helm at Blackberry and has successfully pulled through 6 years of existence. Having decided to open a new location, she has been using her gifts to wrangle all details, which is a ton of “figuring” and more importantly “doing,” to pull it off. Grace left for Hope College (Holland, MI) where she is learning how to navigate free time, late nights, and life’s biggest questions as a philosophy major. Emily is “raising herself” (as she likes to say) as a junior by navigating her packed scheduled, which includes theater, improv, working or “running” Blackberry, watching “This is Us,” and mastering a manual transmission. Phineas has successfully integrated into the middle school years and has finally stepped up to be the boy we’ve been raising him to be… a master at Fortnight, where he has crossed the 100 win threshold. We’re so proud.
Lastly, as always, it is my hope that you enjoy the music. I have no expectations that you will like all of the songs included, but it is my hope that you find a new song or two that could welcome an experience – whatever that experience may be.
Bob (and fam)
P.S. Like always, the only requirement to access is that you tell me what your favorite song(s) from the album were and/or ones from your own list!
THIS IS AMERICA
01. THIS IS AMERICA (Childish Gambino) - You could call this the title track to this year’s favorites. Yes, let’s do that. This is the title track. If you were a fan of the fantastic(ly underrated) show, Community, you’d recognize that Childish Gambino is actually Donald Glover – no relation to Danny Glover, contrary to popular belief. And while he’s a great actor, he’s an even better artist. This is (Glover’s commentary on gun violence in) America. Also, the best music video of the year. Watch it first. Then listen.
02. RANK & FILE (Moses Sumney) - I was told months ago by @iekokoro that Moses Sumney should be on the Favorites this year. She was right. While Sumney also collaborated with other artists such as Sufjan Stevens and James Blake this year, this song is off of the Black in Deep Red, 2014 EP (not to be confused with the year it was release, 2018). This is Sumney’s commentary on the state of America’s police “force.”
03. Make Me Feel (Janelle Monáe) - Aside from being on of the most beautiful humans in the world, Monáe appears to be one of the few that will have a successful crossover between film (i.e. Moonlight) and music. This song is about freedom. And really, what could be more American? Listening to this song over the Fall, I kept thinking this song is very reminiscent of Prince. Come to find out, Monáe and Prince were close friends. In fact, they collaborated together collecting sounds for this album. And although he didn’t officially co-write the song, he has obviously made a substantial impact on Monáe.
04. MISSING U (Robyn) - Many people think Robyn is new to the music scene in light of Honey’s (her latest album) success. But Robyn, who is Sweedish, has been at it for a long time… she signed her first record deal at the age of 15 (she’s turns 40 this year) and has been making music ever since. She is no stranger to the favorites either as she was the lead singer for Röyksopp’s “Do it Again” single that was on the 2014 Favorites. Regardless, missing u (all).
05. THINK IT OVER (Wild Child) - A song about “attempting” to start over. These guys are from within the city limits of Austin. Think it over.
06. THANK U, NEXT (Ariana Grande) - Wait, now that I’ve “thought it over” a bit (see what I did there?), this song may actually be more American than a song about freedom. Other than whatever the hell our President is tweeting, it was released on the heels of our nation’s greatest news story of the year… Pete Davidson and Ariana’s relationship… and then engagement… and then breakup. It’s the embodiment of all that is American pop culture. So much so, that the music video is a coming-of-age-rom-com-mash-up-revival. And while the “next” aspect is a little much, the general sentiment of the song is one of thoughtful gratitude. Thank U, Ariana.
07. ACE (Noname, Smino, Saba) - Every so often, talent emerges that is undeniable. Fatimah Warner (a.k.a. Noname), a native of Chicago (Bronzeville actually), has it. I first witnessed her skills when she appeared with Chance on SNL performing “Finish Line / Drown,” which ended up on the 2016 Favorites. Her talent shows up in full on Room 25, which can be experienced via this song as it somehow beautifully and organically weaves thoughts on whiskey, Obamacare, Morgan Freeman, vegan food, the NFL, and Barefoot Contessa – in what will all feel like one continuous breath.
08. GEYSER (Mitski) - This is Mitski’s second appearance on the Favorites after “Your Best American Girl” in 2016. Mitzki has deemed this her “vaguest” song to date (my favorite kind of song) – wanting you to experience as you seem fit. I love the organ intro here that seamlessly moves from a spacious and patient emotional build to an inevitable burst of angst (i.e. “geyser”). The question seems to be what (or who) the “one” is…
09. ADDICTIONS (Lucy Dacus) - One of my favorite albums of the year (Historian). Anna and I had the privilege of seeing Dacus this Fall. She has the ability to go from robust “rock” (for lack of better words), such as this one… to folk-ish… to spacious and ambient – and yet all seem to carry the same amount of emotionally intensity that drives her music. The premise here is whether you want to admit it or not, we all have addictions… and relational ones tend to be a familiar and comfortable one for many of us. Side note: “I’m just calling ‘cause I’m used to it / You’ll pick up ‘cause you’re not a quitter” is such a great line.
10. YOUR TRUE NAME (The Radio Dept.) - Interestingly enough, The Radio Dept. is also from Sweeden, and has also been around for about as long as Robyn. While they have not released an album since 2016, they did release a couple of singles this year, including this one. While the song has a bit of pep in its step, its held in tension through its lyrics (about power and abuse in relationships).
11. YELLOW BIKE (Pedro the Lion) - You would have to rewind the favorites back to 2004 (when they were on CDs) to find the last time Pedro the Lion made the playlist. This is because Pedro was dismantled after the 2004 album Achilles Heel when David Bazan went solo. Bazan, of course, has been fairly frequent on the favorites in one form or another ever since. As accustom to Pedro’s early work, “Yellow Bike” carries a bit of a narrative thread that draws parallels from David’s first bike (ride) and going on the road as a musician later in life – largely alone. David has always been a smart and clever lyricist – often leading the listener into a narrative and/or metaphor, only to leave them hanging on the punch line at the end. Here, he is able to do just this as he hints to his reasons for going back to Pedro the Lion (and a band). On a related note, I was fortunate enough to do some work with David this Fall on the Pedro tour – helping to film for a soon-to-be-released documentary on Bazan called Strange Negotiations (premiering at SXSW). Stay tuned.
12. DISARRAY (Low) - I came across this song and the next one back-to-back late this summer. I have still kept them next to each other as they seem to fit beautifully together. “Disarray” is the closing song to Low’s latest album, Double Negative. This song (and album) not only seems to speak to our collective state (in which Low sees as fairly bleak), it is also written from within this space. Not going to lie, you’ll feel this one. It’s heavy. The song is carried by a pulsating electronic repetition that may even come off a little abrasive. If you are familiar with Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, there may be some familiarity with some of the sounds, which is not necessarily a coincidence as the producer (B.J. Burton) produced both albums. My encouragement is to embrace and experience it. It’s also a perfect setup for…
13. MONO (altopalo) - You’d think these guys come from California (Palo Alto), but they emerged out of the NYC music scene after meeting at NYU. One of the most innovative songs I’ve heard in a long time. Call it an analogy. Call it an apology.
14. I SHALL LOVE 2 (Julia Holter) - If you are not familiar with Julia Holter, you’ll soon realize why she is hard to categorize. Indie? Chamber Pop? Electronic? Avant Garde? Experimental? In some ways, this is the point. I’m not sure she cares to be placed into a traditional musical genre. Holter seems to be wrestling here between a declaration of love and outside judgment (of this love). It feels familiar. And culminates with a collective choir that is worth the song alone.
That is all. That is all. There is nothing else.
this is me
01. GRATITUDE (Big Red Machine) - I am not sure there is a better song to intro this year’s “Side B” or “This is Me” playlist. Big Red Machine is yet another one of Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) collaboration-side-projects. This time it is with The National’s Aaron Dessner. Not only does this song set the tone for the playlist, it embodies a personal theme-of-sorts of the year…. As Anna and I have both explored new ways of approaching the world and making (big red) decisions, we’ve embraced an idea that has emerged out of a (conscious) leadership forum we have been a part of the last couple of years. The big idea……? “You can’t fuck it up.” Vernon/Dessner are playing with a similar question/angst here, which will soon be obvious. And before you write off the statement, it is worth sitting on the idea and/or question… Can you? Can you fuck it up?
02. COLOGNE (Haux) - This song kept showing up on “Phosphorescent Radio” in my car this year. Haux is from London. But apparently love (and heartache) work the same way it does there as it does here. Haux (Woodson Black) is playing with the idea of “place” as a source for memory and comfort. Just substitute your own city as needed. Speaking of Phosphorescent…
O3. C’EST LA VIE NO.2 (Phosphorescent) - There are few artists in rotation right now that have the ability to prompt reflection by simply a familiar voice. It must be due to the 1000x I listened to “Song for Zula,” but Matthew Houck (a.k.a. Phosphorescent) holds this power right now. I get triggered every time.
04. ME & MY DOG (boygenius) - One of the best shows of the year was boygenius, which is really Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker’s side project. They each played their own solo sets and then joined to play through much of their joint EP that was released this Fall. In light of the collaboration, you are often left wondering if they share a common language and reference point in their writing – which in this case, seems to a draw to fantasizing to cope with a relationship. I do think Harley (our dog) would enjoy the view though.
05. ANY OTHER WAY (Tomberlin) - (Sarah Beth) Tomberlin is new to the scene. And when I say “scene” – I mean secular music in general. Growing up as daughter to a Southern Baptist pastor, Tomberlin was banned from listening to anything not pre-approved by her parents – obviously creating a fairly sheltered-home-schooled life. Her sound, age, and background is similar to Julien Baker’s – which I am assuming is an inevitable parallel that is being made in the indie scene. This is her debut album and is a collection of songs she has written since coming out from her parent’s wings. It is interesting (or ironic) though, isn’t it? Deny your kids access to the world only to have them deny everything you hoped they would not. Still, the question remains… is there any other way?
06. CONTROL (Liza Anne) - Apparently this is a female-artist kind of year… Liza Anne is yet another story of a young college dropout that left for a career in music. Liza Anne is exploring something that is familiar to most… a pull to hide in fear of being fully known. I’ve been there. Hell, I am there. The question remains… why? Why do we prefer “spiraling out of control” to being full known?
07. FOR OUR LOVERS (VII) (I.E. Kokoro) - As many of you know, I’ve been working with and producing for Kelly Reed (I.E. Kokoro) for the last few years. Kelly is moving into somewhat of a prolific stage as she is sending me new music on a frequent basis these days. “VII” or “For Our Lovers” is off of her latest full album, Decalogue, which tackles each of the 10 Commandments from a particular perspective. Although I included one of my other favorite songs (“iii”) on as a pre-release last year, this is another favorite – chosen, in part, as it showcases Kelly’s talent as both a lyricist and vocalist. As in the previous song, this is a song about hiding – drawing inspiration from the seventh commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” while telling the story of Ted Haggert (former Colorado Spring’s megachurch pastor that was exiled after being “found out”). Don’t listen out of context, listen to the whole album.
08. SLOW DISCO - PIANO VERSION (St. Vincent) - Annie Clark did a second release of her MASSEDUCATION (2017) this year, but as an acoustical/piano only version. It’s called MassEducation – you know… to try and help with any possible confusion. Annie’s slow (disco) vocals paired with a bold and simplified piano accompaniment is nothing less than mesmerizing. “New York” would have been here if it wasn’t on last year’s favorites via MASSEDUCATION.
09. SYMBOL (Adrianne Lenker) - Do you know what the symbol of your love is? Listen and find out…
10. MOTION SICKNESS (DEMO-BONUS TRACK) (Phoebe Bridgers) - As mentioned, Bridgers is part of the boygenius tri-fecta. While I went to this show for Dacus and Baker, this acoustical version of “Motion Sickness” stood out to me. I love the line… “I have emotional motion sickness.” Seems about right.
11. BAD THINGS TO SUCH GOOD PEOPLE (Manchester Orchestra & Julien Baker) - Speaking of boygenius, although Julien Baker didn’t release an album this year, I loved that she covered this song, which is one of my all time favorite Pedro (the Lion’s) songs. Oddly enough, I got to watch Baker and Bazan solidify a mutual appreciation for each other over a weekend (Festival of Faith and Music) a couple of years ago, where I had the wonderful opportunity to an enjoy an evening out with both. On another, but relevant note, I have a soft spot for Manchester Orchestra. Simple Math.
12. HISTORIANS (Lucy Dacus) - Each year, an artist gets two spots on the favorites. And because I couldn’t chose between “Addictions” and “Historians,” Dacus gets both. Slow. Patient. Thoughtful… If this song wasn’t so beautiful, it would be quite sad. Dacus’ question for you: “If past you were to meet future me / Would you be holding me here and now?”
13. REPEAT UNTIL DEATH (Novo Amor) - Novo Amor is the moniker for Ali John Meredith-Lacey of England. This song is all feeling with a purposeful build to the last verse. Best song title in the collection.
14. JULY 27, 2018: TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE (Sleeping at Last) - Before I explain why this song is here, I do want to mention Ryan’s Ennegaram collection that is VERY MUCH worth a listen to anyone who does or does not know what the Enneagram is (that means everyone)! In fact, Grace has a a little presence on “Four” - you can listen here to find out where/what.
Okay, if you recall from last year, I concluded the playlist with Ryan’s (SAL) song ”August 21, 2017: Total Solar Eclipse,” which we had the opportunity to experience together. Well, this year I find out that he’s doing a song on the total LUNAR eclipse. And guess which day it falls on? Yep, my birthday. I mean, how many people get a song that is titled as their actual birthday? A perfect cinematic conclusion to the “This is Me” side. Thanks Ryan. I know it was more for my birthday than the eclipse. ;)
I was wondering if we were finally at a point where everyone is just streaming? I am assuming so. Thus, I am only including the streaming links below. If anyone just got your first iPod, let me know and I’ll see if I can get to you.