Here’s Part 2, part the final.
17. Animal Mask – The Mountain Goats
When Beat the Champ started streaming, someone I knew from Oberlin said “The Mountain Goats are officially dad rock. We’re the dads.” John Darnielle isn’t the messy punk of 20 years ago, and his reflections on his childhood and abusive stepfather in “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” taste different, more composed, than the rebel wail of “This Year.” “Animal Mask” is literally dad rock: it’s a song celebrating the birth of a child, wrapped and masked in wrestling metaphors. He’s a dad now, obviously a much better dad than he ever had. And with him, we’re the dads.
I drove to Columbus from Oberlin one Wednesday night near the end of the semester with my friend Robert to see the Mountain Goats. I skipped class after we got back at 2AM. Some things stay sweet forever.
16. FloriDaDa – Animal Collective
Speaking of dad rock: The cutoff-wearing mustached Bushwickers who fell in love to “Summertime Clothes” almost seven years ago, who have started to reproduce or will soon, are not going to be able to get away from this song. Their toddlers are going to latch onto this refrain and not let go.
I can’t think of a quirkier way to drop an album than these guys did with Painting With, blasting it on the speakers in the fifth circle of hell a.k.a. an airport on the day before Thanksgiving. Airports have to be some of the world’s least cool places (exceptions: Narita and Phoenix) but for a few hours on the worst travel day of the year, Baltimore Airport was too cool for the rest of the world.
(15.5) Little Lights – The Punch Brothers
I very nearly left this off the list because I first heard it in 2014, lying on the floor of Clonick Hall at Oberlin during an advance listening party a few days before finals.
15. Queen’s Speech 4 – Lady Leshurr
“Brush your teeth” has to be the best burn I’ve heard all year. It’s so simple and ingenious. Those three words are something you heard probably every night from your parents or other authority figure until you didn’t have to be told. Lady Leshurr turns her haters back into sniveling five year olds with bad breath with three words and doesn’t even imply anything about their sexual prowess while she’s doing it. And yes, she does dance around with a toothbrush in the video, strutting down a Birmingham street and blocking traffic, neon graphics and all.
14. La fuite – Alphatra
(excerpt from my journal, July 30 – Miss Hall’s School)
The beds here are so small and the floors so thin and I can hear the guys screaming at the pool table late into the night. It would be almost impossibly cramped but what I’d do to spend the night with someone I wanted to spend the night with. I’m hungry for physical contact, and the heat of the day and the mists of the night aren’t tempering my appetites. I went running and made a whole playlist but just ended up listening to Alphatra’s “La fuite” on repeat. I hoped it would do something to level me out but I’m strung even tighter than ever. Fucking hell.
13. Anecdotes – Joanna Newsom
“Anecdotes” is an apt title for a Joanna Newsom song. I started being able to really appreciate her voice just recently and I can’t fathom her capacity for imagery and wordplay. Divers; life-risking birds, scuba suits, the promise of life held in an egg.
(“Anecdotes” is sadly not available online.)
12. Wyoming – Heather Woods Broderick
Heather Woods Broderick finally steps into the spotlight after singing behind Sharon Van Etten and others. If she was waiting this long so she could brew up the bittersweet and delicious Gliders, it was worth the wait. “Wyoming” builds slowly, the roar of the loneliness of traveling across empty, rocky roads. Wistful and resigned at first, planting her feet in the spring thaw’s mud by the end.
“I’m a house, and you’re Wyoming. ” Usually I don’t relate to lyrics like “I’m a (noun 1) and you’re a (noun 2) but I’ll make an exception for “I’m a house and you’re Wyoming.” A house: cozy? organized? full? small? contained? stable or unstable? I’ve never been to Wyoming, but I’ve been to South Dakota, and I remember the skeletons of abandoned farmhouses in blackened boards, set back from the road. A house can be a lot of things. So can Wyoming. I think it’s on us to decide what it means.
11. Coffee – Miguel
Vibrating with a deep, enveloping joy. Silly Love Songs meets Intercourse With You. Bad puns included.
10. Dimed Out – Titus Andronicus
IT means “turned up to 10.” Get it? 10? Dimed out? Patrick’s voice hasn’t aged a second since he was screaming “Your life is over” on Airing of Grievances, and no matter if you cringe at the words “93-minute rock opera,” Dimed Out is still a really great song. This whiteboard animation just makes it better.
9. Jonah – Briars of North America
Fragile yet full of hope, gathering conviction with every word. Gideon Crevoshay’s haunting falsetto lights one candle and uses that to light a sea of tiny flames. Warmth to embrace, not to scorch.
8. Peasantry or Light! Inside of Light! – Godspeed You! Black Emperor
“The band vocally disdains higher authority of all stripes; it famously donated its 2013 Polaris Music Prize winnings to support music programs in Quebec prisons, and here radical publishing house PM Press had a table right next to the T-shirt vendor. Still, there was something undeniably devotional about the atmosphere, starting with the first shushes from the front guard of fans and not dissipating until the last player had left the stage. The experience was almost like prayer, an affirmation of whatever force makes twisted dead trees into rich soil, levels mountains, and takes the moon into its bloodstained mouth, only to give it back again.”
(Boston Globe Sept. 29)
from that time I reviewed Godspeed You! Black Emperor during a lunar eclipse
7. Alright – Kendrick Lamar
I hang out with old folkies quite a lot, and sometime I hear them wonder why we don’t have more protest songs everyone knows. Most folkies are probably not listening to hip-hop because _there_ are your protest songs, your chants, your political truths told through music.
Hip-hop has been protesting since it was born, and To Pimp a Butterfly takes on police brutality, toxic masculinity, racism, capitalism, all the issues facing Americans today in its intense hour-plus journey. Alright has transcended its slot in the story, standing on its own and becoming a shout of resilience. “We gon’ be alright.” Four words. Nothing more to learn. Hear it once and it’s already in your head.
6. Silhouette – Julia Holter
Where did she find the fulcrum between three chords and the truth and grand tapestries that demand your full intellectual attention? Collaborating with Michael Pisaro one moment, tossing out beautiful baroque pearls of pop the next, I truly don’t know what she’ll do next and I love it.
5. The Rest of Us – Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld
When I’m feeling disillusioned and fatigued at work, around 3pm when the light is going (it gets dark very, very early on the eastern edge of the time zone) I stand at the ninth floor window and listen to The Rest Of Us, or sometimes In The Vespers, and I watch the endless stream of headlights through the financial district. The beat rolls ceaselessly, unseen wheels turning and gears grinding and Colin Stetson’s saxophone growling. This is the sound of the unease caused by the 24 hour news cycle, clicking refresh to bring more news of the next atrocity, the next moment’s memorial hashtag.
4. Fourth of July – Sufjan Stevens
I didn’t find out that my Papa Joe had died until almost 24 hours later. He died the day the Dandelion Romp (Oberlin’s contra dance festival) had ended. My partner had already left, returning to Boston. I had gone and tried to work on schoolwork – I remember not much getting done – and then went to my housemate’s senior double bass recital. He invited the audience to move around and interact with the dance majors that he had gotten to improvise to the music. I wore my flowiest circle skirt, and I danced like the air was made of Jell-O. We went back to our house and ate the mangoes that his parents had brought, and I drank two glasses of wine even though it was a Sunday and had class in the morning, because I had less than a month left of being a college student and didn’t care.
The next morning I woke up to a call from my brother who assumed I knew what had happened. I wasn’t surprised, because he’d been very ill for a long time, but there’s no softening the moment when someone moves from here to not here. I floated, disconnected, through my classes. I took the day off work, walked to the Arb and sat down by the front pond and listened to “Fourth of July” on repeat. The soft echoing piano, like a heart monitor, something sighing above like an Ohio wind. Life moved in slow motion. Sufjan got it right.
I called my Nana from the Arb and asked her to promise me she’d try to eat something.
Make the most of your life
While it is rife
While it is light
3. Way it Is, Way it Could Be – The Weather Station
i’ve been listening to this on the regular since June, but last week I heard the lyrics for the first time. I sat down while I waited for the T at Davis Square, and tried not to cry. Delicate as her voice is, those lyrics hit like an eighteen-wheeler if you’re in the right place and frame of mind to hear them.
2. Kill V. Maim – Grimes
I don’t get into dustups on the Internet as often as I used to, but when I do, I blast this and it overrides any fear I have of getting blasted back. This song’s right hook baseline and consciously cotton-candy vocals twist our expectations of feminine people into caricature and subversion all at once. There is no better battle anthem. Get me some vampire cheerleaders.
1. Cranekiss – Tamaryn
Falling forward into a swooning dream and never hitting the ground. A voice behind four veils spiraling and spiraling around. The melodies are modular. Sing any fragment on top of another and they both crystallize into new shapes, washed in silver haze. I could not stop listening even when I tried.
It was a pretty great year for music.