Each year, I wonder if come December my motivation to compile this list will fade... and every year (typically the day after Christmas), I find myself digging through the year's played, repeated, and saved music – as if it is somewhat of a reluctant rhythmic discipline. It may be surprising to some, but I have a perfectionistic side about me (a 1-wing for those that know what that means)... so it's difficult for me to just "pick a bunch of frequently played music" and throw it up as the favorites. I can't seem to escape the process of fully listening through every marked song, album, or list and asking whether or not this particular song has offered (and continues to offer) a meaningful experience, whether it be for reflection or pure enjoyment.
So, here they are again... 67 nominated songs widdled down to 29.
But before any downloading/listening begins, a little context would prove helpful. Each year a theme-of-sorts (personal or otherwise) starts to surface and this year is no different. To no one's surprise, 2017's political landscape has only seemed to elevate the social angst and division across the country (its own subplot that will be evident midst much of this year's music). Personally, I've struggled quite a bit with my relationship to this reality – wanting to blame, swear, fight, and/or avoid. But if I'm honest (which this yearly rumination tends to welcome), my struggles go well beyond a disdain for our President. This has simply been another space in which I've realized that 40+ has left me no closer to truly understanding myself... what I believe in, what shapes me, what enables me, what I need, and what I want (the ultimate avoidance of a 9 - again, if you know what that means). In fact, the past year or so has put me on a path to both reflect and redefine.
Part of this rediscovery has led me to understand that I am generally an enmeshed ball of stress and anxiety – enough so where I've finally chosen to go on medication for a period of time (which has been great actually). I provide this context in order to understand the first playlist, the "Dark Side" (...of the moon, as some might say) – a space in which I've become somewhat familiar. At the same time, I'm not sure I would have any sense of understanding the "Other Side" (Playlist #2) if it weren't for the former.
I am beginning to believe that whether you are knee deep in the dark and/or other side, these are merely labels by which we describe our experience(s). We tend to consider the dark to be "bad" and the other to be "good." But what if the opposite were true? Or what if we are asking the wrong question all together? What if we are so consumed with deciphering what's "good" and "bad" that we miss that both, as a whole (in their totality), are perfect as they are? While I struggle with comprehending and/or experiencing this idea myself, I do invite you to ponder the sentiment as you listen, if you listen.
As far as family updates... we have enjoyed a full year in our new home, which we absolutely love. Anna continues to grow and strengthen Blackberry as we have not only expanded our existing space, but are contemplating another location. She has also joined a leadership forum (as have I), which has radically pushed our existing paradigm in all walks of life. And midst the plenty that has been unearthed, we have finally acknowledged that midst the joys of life, marriage is hard (I know... a surprising discovery, yes?). While we had convinced ourselves that we had 22+ years of experience and wisdom, we have now discovered that our so-called "wisdom" is that we haven't figured anything out – that we still have lots of (un)learning to do. It has been surprising to us that we are the only couple that has faced such a reality.... right? ;) Regardless, we have chosen to dive in and see this year/process as a gift.
As for the kids... Grace (17) has successfully applied to 10 colleges – though it feels like Anna and I applied too. Now, the wait. Emily (15) has emerged as one of the most organized and disciplined individuals I know – immersing herself into school, theater (where she has landed a couple of roles), and a broad social network. Phineas (10) has mastered the rosters of both the NBA and NFL – which has paid off for me as I turned over coaching duties for two of my fantasy leagues, where he took us to the playoffs in both. We have also added a new member to our family – Harley (Davidson), who is our 11-month old golden doodle (who happens to be black, not golden) and keeps us laughing, chasing, and scolding every moment of the day.
As far as myself, other than what I've already shared, I have "apparently" started to collect whisk(e)y and would be pleased to share with anyone who is interested – except for maybe the 23 year old Pappy that I just picked up :).
Lastly, as always, it is my hope that you enjoy the music. I have no expectations that you will like all of the (29) 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 download is that you tell me what your favorite song(s) from the album were and/or ones from your own list!
the dark side
01. OH BABY (LCD Soundsystem) - After taking a 7 year hiatus from writing/performing, James Murphy (aka LCD Soundsystem) has released his “comeback” album, American Dream. On "Oh Baby," Murphy pays tribute to Suicides’ “Dream Baby Dream” track, pulling in a few samples/melodies to drive the song. I put a lot of weight in the first track setting the tone, and this one was perfect. There are only have a few artists left on my list that I still want to see live and LCD Soundsystem is one of them.
02. EVERYTHING NOW (Arcade Fire) - I wasn’t super stoked about Reflektor and honestly, was uncertain about this album as well; however, Anna and I had the opportunity to see this show with our friends Rachel/Chad this fall and it was an unbelievably energetic (disco) ball of fun. I shifted with this song.
03. DNA (Kendrick Lamar) - This album (DAMN) has been the go-to-running-playlist since it came out. This song is unbelievably raw, rich, and deep with insight into what it means to be born within the black culture/heritage. And in a hip-hop-rebuttal-f-u kind of way, Kendrick decides to take Geraldo Rivera head on by sampling his absurd statement (via FOX News) regarding To Pimp a Butterfly and the state of black youth as a result of hip-hop. What an ass.
04. SPLIT STONES (Maggie Rogers) - This is a single Rogers (featured last year on the favorites with “Alaska”) released a couple of months ago - largely comprised of sounds she recorded on a hiking trip in Oregon in 2013. After reading a few interviews/commentaries with her, it’s apparent how much detail, care, and love she puts into each of her songs. It is evident here.
05. DIE YOUNG (Sylvan Esso) - This is Sylvan Esso’s (real name: Amelia Meath) third year in a row to make the favorites (after “Hey Mami” and “Coffee”). According to Nick Sanborn (the other half and producer), this song came out of a lyric drought and depression of Amelia, which is often where the best stuff is created (and found)... a sentiment in which I can resonate. Maybe we should all dip into the state ever so often... anyone?
06. ON HOLD (The XX) - I love a great female/male lyric toss and catch, particularly with a little 80s (Hall & Oates) in the mix as well. Hall commented that he loves it when people engage/utilize his lyrics (assuming he gets paid of course).
07. SLIP AWAY (Perfume Genius) - An early favorite (album) of the year… in fact, this is 1 of 2 on the favorites list. A song about forbidden love, which is somewhat of a precursor to the follow-up song on the “other side.”
08. THE SYSTEM ONLY DREAMS IN TOTAL DARKNESS (The National) - I’m guessing if we charted the total # of songs written every year and their content, we’d see a spike in 2017 in regards to socially/politically charged songs. This track is another contribution to the commentary, which seems to be the primary/only way that an artist, such as (Matt) Berninger, “can explain it.”
09. OVERBOARD (Lo Tom) - If the vocals sound like David Bazan, it’s because they are. David loves a good band… and well, this is a good band. Actually, this foursome are good friends that simply enjoy playing together – and have a long history of doing so. Lo Tom is TW Walsh (Pedro the Lion and plenty of other Bazan projects), Trey Many (Starflyer 59 and a Pedro member), and Jason Martin (Starflyer 59). This is one you just turn it up and see what happens.
10. CAVE (Future Islands) - I absolutely love Sam Herring’s voice. He said this is (notice a theme yet?) about a “desperate need to let go of your ideals.”
11. THE BUS SONG (Jay Som) - Jay Som is really all things Melina Duterte – who you would never pick out in a lineup if guessing who’s behind the music/vocals. Duterte writes and plays all the music on Everybody Works, her debut full-length album, which got a lot of attention this year. Listen and you’ll know why.
12. NEW YORK (St. Vincent) - There is no shortage of songs about NYC, yet St. Vincent has carved out her own expression to the great city. I stood at the Twin Towers for the first time this past month; subsequently, the song takes on new meaning. For Annie Clark (St. Vincent), this song weaves her own path to success as a musician with a particular (friend) relationship. According to her feature on Song Exploder (one of the most fantastic music podcasts out there), the lyrics actually began via a text (the first line) to a friend, who had just moved away. While “motherfucker” may seem harsh here, it’s actually a “term of endearment.”
13. AMERICAN DREAM (Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton) - I debated about putting this song on the favorites via the original artist, LCD Soundsystem, who just released the song this year. This said, I stumbled upon this cover via Emily Haines, who showed up on the favorites a decade ago. Having always been mesmerized by her voice, I actually prefer this version… and find it endearing how much she is obsessed with this song (calling it “addictive”).
14. BIKING (Frank Ocean) - I didn’t listen to much of Frank Ocean until last year’s Blonde album, which was fantastic. Ocean decided to throw out a few random singles this year… and it’s debatable if this one or “Chanel” is the better, but I very much appreciated the bike metaphor. Jay Z opens the original release, but honestly, it just sounds like unnecessary “fill-in” for the “feat.” title, so I’m including the solo version here instead.
15. BLINDED BY YOUR GRACE PT. 2 (Stormzy feat. MNEK) - Stormzy is a self described “grime” artist (a genre that emerged from the UK). Stormzy said he wanted to produce a song that was a reflection of a church choir and that MNEK could “go to church with it.” This is grime meets gospel soul. And oh yeah, it happens to be about what seems to be my life's quest in understanding and experiencing.
the other side
01. OTHERSIDE (Perfume Genius) - Mike Hadreas’ (aka Perfume Genius) voice is a trigger for me. It causes me to pause. This song mesmerized me the first time I heard it... I absolutely LOVE the simplicity of the piano/vocals that acts as a prequel of sorts to the (surprising) sound by which Mike is known for. I teared up for numerous reasons. And when I read Mike’s (who is gay) background to the song, I only grew in appreciation and empathy. I have included it here as find it applicable to understanding the full context.
“When we recorded this song we had the studio set up like a makeshift church. We arranged lines of chairs like pews and had each person sing seated, facing a microphone at the front of the room. Everyone in the studio sang, including some friends of the engineer that were nearby.
Hymns have always sounded like sung spells to me. I never felt included in the magic of the God songs I heard growing up — I knew I was going to hell before anyone ever told me that I was. People found comfort in this all-knowing source, but I felt frightened and found out. I developed some weird and very dramatic complexes. It took me a long time to not think of the universe as a judgmental debit-credit system. I haven’t completely shaken it, but I no longer think that I am overdrawn with God. Grace is not something you earn, its always there. I find this idea a lot more fun. I guess this song is a collection of little prayers that are helpful to me.”
02. PURE COMEDY (Father John Misty) - It’s no secret that I have struggled with an “organized” and/or “finalized” set of beliefs since I was young. FJM is tackling it head on here…
”And how’s this for irony/Their idea of being free/Is a prison of beliefs/That they never ever have to leave.”
This is not just a commentary on Christianity, but the numerous ideologies our culture is comprised of – as if it’s an inescapable reality of existence. And while I’m aware there is “the other side of the story,” I believe one of the most helpful postures we (we = humanity) can assume is opening ourselves up to the curiosity of critique. There is no doubt this song is positioned as an external critique, FJM leaves us with a subtle “inclusive” shift at the end… P.S. Close your eyes as you listen and you can easily imagine a 1978 Elton John singing it to you.
O3. LORDE (Liability) - Emily, my daughter, sings (beautifully) non-stop at home. Lorde is frequent in the rotation and I’ve continued to be appreciative of her insane voice and ability to create at this level, and at such a young age. This ballad is ultimately a commentary on the relationship she has with herself, midst the acknowledgement of her new reality.
04. MYSTERY OF LOVE (Sufjan Stevens) - Anna and I went blindly into a Sundance premier early this past year. I knew nothing of the film other than the name, Call Me By Your Name. Much to my surprise, Sufjan’s music (songs that I had not heard yet) was all over the film. Better yet, when I engaged the director after the film during the Q & A on the choice for Sufjan, he pointed out that he was sitting on the row behind us. I was deeply honored to meet Sufjan and have a brief conversation about the film, which by the way, was my favorite at Sundance this past year (out of the 14 I saw).
05. IF YOU NEED TO, KEEP TIME ON ME (Fleet Foxes) - The lyrics/liner notes of this song is subtitled “January 20th, 2017” (Inauguration Day). Again.
06. IF WE WERE VAMPIRES (Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit) - I originally had this song on repeat, because there is a melody that is SUPER reminiscent of my friend JJ Alberhasky’s “Good Advice,” which took me some time to place. Aside from this, this is a classic love song – questioning the notion that “forever together” is counterintuitive to the present.
07. ALLEYWAY (Anna Tivel) - My method of honing in on favorites is simply to throw songs that catch my attention into a “for consideration” playlist. I don’t know how this one got there or anything about Anna Tivel (other than she is from Oregon), but I like this song.
08. MARY (Big Thief) - When I was in college, one of my favorite things to do was to come home and play the piano. It felt comforting, like home. This song emerged from singer/songwriter Adrianne Lenker (aka Big Thief) when she sat down at the piano on her return from college, where she met her lifelong friend… Mary.
09. THE GREATEST GIFT (Sufjan Stevens) - Sufjan was busy this year… releasing the soundtrack to Call Me By Your Name, a single called “Tonya Harding” (which is, in fact, about Tonya Harding), and what is essentially the b-sides/leftovers from Carrie and Lowell. This song is from the latter and embodies the depth of Sufjan’s faith and theology – a call to love (one another) much to the delight of God. But don’t miss one of Sufjan’s trademark lyric moves in which he juxtaposes a seemingly random reference (“Asa Lovejoy loss the toss” – the story behind the naming of Portland, Oregon) to the mystery of his faith… something only Sufjan seems to be able to pull off.
10. APPOINTMENTS (Julien Baker) - Baker showed up last year on the favorites after spending a weekend with her (amongst others) at the Festival of Faith & Music. In fact, I didn't realize until after I had already done the playlist order here, but myself, Julien Baker, Kelly Reed (i.e. kokoro), David Bazan (the next 2 on this playlist) – along with friends Sam Curley and Eric Kuiper grabbed dinner/drinks one night after the FFM and here they are all again... :) For being so young (21), I was super impressed by her posture, depth, and insight to music, faith, and culture. Baker is seemingly battling depression here – something that I wasn’t familiar with until this year. Another interesting note...
11. iii (i.e. kokoro) - I was fortunate enough again to be asked to help produce Kelly Reed’s (i.e. kokoro) latest album, DECALOGUE, which will be released in a couple of months. In short, the album is 10 songs, written in 10 days, about 10 laws. More specifically, it's an exploration of the 10 Commandments through America's past, present and future. No doubt, this is some of Kelly’s best work – both lyrically and compositionally. While it’s full release isn’t until 2018, it’s 99% complete and I wanted to include one of my favorites on the album (and one of my favorites to mix). This is “iii”, which is an exposition on “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God name in vain.” I invite you to stay connected in order to track the release.
12. CARE (David Bazan) - To no surprise to those familiar with the yearly favorites, I’m not sure there has been a year without a Bazan/Pedro track. David and Bob (his manager) mentioned that the album came together from start to finish in a week. This is just a testament to Bazan’s prolificness and profound ability to consistently emerge with an evolved sound and lyrical depth. Having had the opportunity to host David again this year, this was my favorite (new) song – both live and on the album. It's somewhat comforting to be reminded that we “all need major healing.”
13. THINKING OF A PLACE (The War on Drugs) - I’ve placed these two songs at the end in order that you (hopefully) don’t simply skip them (as this one is 11+ minutes long), but that you experience them as they are meant to be experience – with patience. Adam Granduciel, who reminds me of a young Springsteen, seems to be experimenting with what expression looks like without normalized bounds. And what you get is a close-your-eyes kind of an experience of what Americana (or in this case, a particular place of Americana) sounds like.
14. AUGUST 21, 2017: TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE (Sleeping at Last) - I knew I wanted to end the favorites with this song the moment I heard it. Here’s the setting… Ryan (aka Sleeping at Last) asked myself and two friends (Justin/Brian) to do a little road trip on August 21st for the Total Eclipse. We hopped in his Tesla and basically chased good weather until we somewhat randomly ended up in Hopkinsville, KY, which apparently was an epicenter for eclipse viewing (i.e. NASA was there with us). We camped out for a few hours until moments before the eclipse began, when the world seemed to be on a gigantic dimmer switch.
Well, Ryan had written/produced this song prior to the eclipse in order for it to be a soundtrack of sorts. In fact, it’s exactly 2:40 long, which is the exactly length of totality (at least where we were), and it is a mesh-of-sorts to his "Sun" and "Moon" song. Brilliant by the way.
So, I decided to pull out my headphones, cue up the song, and experience totality along with the music. Words cannot describe the experience. It was incredibly eerie, emotional, and spiritual… and hands down one of the most transcendent experiences I’ve ever had. And this song was ABSOLUTELY PERFECT. I invite you to listen with eyes closed... or with "eyes open" (whether they are actually or not).
to Your iTunes, etc... (Includes All 29 Songs)
i.e. kokoro's "iii" (meant to be #11 in the "Other Side" playlist).