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So there I was, walking down Franklin Street in Oakland earlier this year. Carrying an umbrella and my Thai takeout lunch in a paper bag. Skipping merrily along to the jaunty tune playing in my headphones. It was raining heavily that spring day, and just as I passed three 50-something Asian ladies standing in the doorway of a bubble tea shop, I stepped on the metal grate covering one of those sidewalk freight elevators. My feet flew out from under me. My lunch sailed through the air in a beautiful arc and rotation that I’m sure would have looked poignant in slow motion, then landed in a 6-inch-deep puddle. I landed flat on my back. It took a moment for my senses to re-calibrate and make sense of what was going on. First I was aware of the drops of water now pelting me in the face as my umbrella lay yards away. Next I registered the gasps of horror on the faces of the three ladies. And then, slowly, my brain began to process the music still playing in my ears:
Everything, everything, everything, everything, everything is awful!!!
That, my friends, was 2018, in all its mortifying, capricious, senseless absurdity. I can think of no better soundtrack. Continue reading
Even the shittiest of years can produce moments of musical transcendence. The tumult of 1968 gave us Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, Sweetheart of the Rodeo and Bookends, for starters. Stephen Foster probably wrote some pretty melody or other in 1861. And in 2017, there were these 30 songs that I fell in love with. Some are firmly rooted in the current alternate-timeline nightmare that, somehow, no time traveler has managed to yet fix. Some just have a good beat and you can dance to it.
As I always make a habit of pointing out, my rankings are semi-objective, based on the number of times that I actually played a track plus a convoluted handicapping system to give a boost to songs released later in the year. This year, the shameless pop song that caps this list would have been No. 1 with or without the assist. And I have to own that. I mean I do. I am proud to put out this list with that song at the top. Blast it with the car windows down.
Like many of you, I read an awful lot of dispiriting, confounding news stories this year. For me, it was usually while I was riding a crowded bus on my way to work in downtown Oakland. Sometimes I’d look up from my phone and take a look at all the diversity—the mingling and mixing of cultures, ideas and ideals—that is one of Oakland’s great strengths. And then I’d look down, read another depressing headline, and furrow my brow.
The soundtrack for this push and pull between hope and gloom was the songs below, one of which was usually playing on my earbuds. It contains a fair amount of mixing and mingling, as well as a few political songs expressing outrage and protest.
Regrets? I wish there was some more local music on the list (which I always determine based on the actual number of plays I logged throughout the year). As it is, there is a single San Francisco act below. My new year’s resolution is to make a better effort to explore Bay Area artists in the next 12 month.
Without further ado… Continue reading
Facebook page, though. Check ‘er out.)Ha! You thought this blog was done for. Surprise! I’m back. (Fair warning, though: There might not be another post until New Year’s Eve 2016. I am, however, staying somewhat active with posting both music- and planning-related stuff on this site’s
Only 25 songs this year (*insert frowny emoticon here*), because I didn’t feel like I listened to enough new music in 2015 to warrant the usual 30. (Grad school, it seems, has a way of eating into not just blogging time but music-exploration time.) I feel strongly about these 25, though. They are all imminently listenable songs that any other aging wannabe hipsters out there should be able to get behind. You’ll find plenty of Americana and unobjectionable modern indie pop, a little bit of garage punk, some female-fronted ‘90s grunge throwbacks, and (this being 2015, after all) some trendy ‘80s synthpop throwbacks. Soooo much synthpop out there. If only synthpop could somehow counteract carbon emissions, climate change would be as quaint a concern as the hole in the ozone layer. (The hole in the ozone layer isn’t a concern anymore, right? I’m just assuming because I haven’t heard anything about it in 20 years.) Continue reading
I basically haven’t posted anything new to this blog since my 2013 year-end roundup. It’s been a busy year full of new challenges and responsibilities, but I’ve continued to listen to new music and compulsively keep track of what got played the most. This year’s list begins and ends with a pair of unlikely (but long-overdue) reunions from bands that haven’t released albums in nearly a decade.
A few other trends on display:
- The feminist in me is happy to report that women vocalists are represented in half of the Top 10—assuming you count Neko Case on The New Pornographers’ track (and why wouldn’t you?)—including the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.
- I managed to sneak in one hip-hop track and two electronic/dance tracks, but, as usual, this is a pretty rock-centric list with a little bit of twang thrown in.
- I kept finding myself wanting to either use the word “raging” or “haunting.”
OK, I’ll see you in 2015—hopefully sometime prior to December.
Meanwhile, Elsewhere on the Web: My “Bay Area Mixtape 2013″ featured on the official Avenue Live blog
I meant to do a post as part of my End of the Year Rankstravaganza specifically focused on Bay Area bands and musicians. Of course, I didn’t get around to it. As it got later and later in January, I said: “Bah! Why bother? At this point, who is going to be interested in hearing what I thought about last year’s local music?”
Avenue Live, that’s who! Avenue Live is a Foster City-based start-up that is preparing to release an app that lets performers, venue operators, bloggers and other music geeks create their own interactive radio streams. The folks behind this service have been reaching out to people they think will help the app catch on, and they have evidently mistaken me for someone with influence. At any rate, they asked me to submit a list of my favorite songs of 2013 by Bay Area artists for their blog, and I obliged them because I love spreading the word about good music. Continue reading
I only did a countdown of five albums this year, rather than what has been the customary 15. Beyond these five, I wasn’t convinced that I truly loved the other albums I listened to in 2013. I might end up loving them, but the jury’s still out.
The verdict is in on these five, though. I’m confident I’ll continue to return to them regularly in coming years. They’re full of strong songwriting and make cohesive statements as a whole. Two were unexpected releases from legendary artists who’d seemingly called it quits. All are at least somewhat artsy and experimental while keeping the proceedings somewhat poppy and accessible. Because that’s what I go for.
If that’s what you go for, too, then you should totally be listening to these albums: Continue reading
Once again, I’m turning this in a few days past deadline. No matter! It’s still not too late to celebrate 2013, which in my musical estimation was a year of songwriters singing about specific places, of longer-than-long-awaited follow-ups, of gorgeous melodies, of Bowie-esque glam rock and of actual Bowie. There’s lots of Americana, some blistering noise rock, several Bay Area artists and very little rap (sorry!) to be found on this year’s countdown. So, you know, the usual. I hope you enjoy these tracks half as much as I did.
And away we go! Continue reading
These are the posts where I gush about some song that I’ve got a huge crush on at the moment, and you put up with it and listen because you’re a good friend.
“I’ll Trade You Money for Wine,” Robbie Fulks
There’s songwriting, and then there’s masterful songwriting. Chicago-based singer Robbie Fulks has done everything from major-label roots rock to slick countrypolitan to traditionalist honky-tonk, but through it all, his songwriting never fails to do anything less than impress. The man can tell a complete story with compelling characters, wit, wonderful turns of phrase, meter, melody and rhyme in less than four minutes. On his 12th album, Gone Away Backward, there’s very little to distract from Fulks’ mastery of songcraft–just his twangy tenor voice and a small gaggle of acoustic instruments. The opening, for example, features nothing more than some Carter Family picking and scratchy fiddle that can’t help but recall the last time Fulks led off an album with a stark, Appalachian-folk morality tale, “In Bristol Town One Bright Day” off 2003’s Couples in Trouble. “I’ll Trade You Money for Wine” traffics in the same sort of ominous lyrical imagery, but this time it’s being delivered by the town drunk rather than a prophetic narrator, and morality gets turned on its head. Continue reading
Perhaps no band’s lyrics better lend themselves to pseudo-academic analysis than those of The Decemberists. The Annotated Decemberists is an attempt to puzzle through the Portland, Oregon, group’s entire catalog song by song—examining all the obscure vocabulary, historical references and poetic subtext—or go crazy trying.
This one is like a dream you can’t quite remember upon waking, but once you fall back asleep you’re instantly back in the moment. If asked, I couldn’t hum you more than one line of this song, but in the context of the album, it’s instantly familiar and comforting. Slow and somber, the lyrics are impressionistic, aside from a clear, early reference to the victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius—a tragedy that may or may not keep coming up throughout the song and may or may not serve as a stand-in for the tragedy of 9/11. Who knows? The meaning of a dream is rarely overt. More likely, you’re left with just the feelings it inspired—and everyone you describe it to is going to have a different interpretation. Continue reading