It seems late in the year to finally be posting my end-of-year CD playlist, but that's how my life goes now that I'm taking care of my son. I haven't even gotten the CD to everyone on the mailing list yet, but I think enough people have it that I can post this. There was no year-end letter like there was last year -- I just didn't have the time or energy for it this year. Maybe next. But I did start off the playlist with a brief note:
First, a word: Music for me this year was a sort of dichotomous thing. I listened to a fair amount of new (to me) music, but there were also a lot of old songs—songs I'd not listened to in a decade or more—that crept into the mix. I blame my son, Oscar. One of my favorite things to do is to hold him, walk, and sing to him. The songs I know best, for some reason, are those songs I listened to in the '80s and early '90s. No idea why this is. But after singing some of them for a while, I decided to go to iTunes and start buying some of that music, or to unearth my CDs that were gathering dust and to rip them. Regardless, it's been fun, rediscovering this music, singing it to my son. Because even if I can't do it well, singing is one of my favorite things. And, so far, Oscar doesn't complain about my vocal talent.
1. “Joy” - Dan Jones - One Man Submarine
In a lot of ways, I feel like this song, which comes off Dan's 2003 album, is my theme song from the last few years. Learning how to let joy into my life has been the hardest and the best thing I've ever done. Dan is a local musician headquartered in Eugene, Oregon, and he's a friend. I've gushed about his music before so maybe I don't have to do so again, but, man, I like his music.
2. “The Disco Song” - Au Revoir Simone - Verses of Comfort, Assurance and Salvation
I recommend you go to Pandora.com. Type in the name of your favorite bands and prepare to be made happy. Pandora will play songs that are similar to bands you like. Many of the songs on this collection are ones I heard for the first time there. This song is a nice little piece of pop magic. The band consists of three keyboards and a drum machine, but, to me, there is nothing cold or mechanical to this song. I especially love the vocals.
3. “A Pillar of Salt” - The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine
I spent most of the Summer listening to nothing but The Thermals. My first exposure to the band was on the CD anthology, A House Full of Friends (which has spawned several cuts on past CDs, and which was given to me by the excellent Lani Schreibstein). For some reason I decided to look up this band online and was instantly blown away and had to have all three of their albums. Loud, bombastic, angry, too-clever-for-their-own-good—this was a band after my own heart. They are a deliberately low-fi band, and I think that just helps to bring their excellent song writing to the front.
4. “L.A. County” - Lyle Lovett - Anthology Volume One: Cowboy Man
I have a weakness for murder ballads and this one, by one of my all-time favorite song writers, is one of the few I feel I can sing to Oscar. Most are kind of explicit, but Lovett is literate enough to leave some details to the imagination. Johnny Cash's more blunt Sam Hall was a contender for this CD.
5. “That's Alright Mama” - Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash - Dylan/Cash Sessions
Speaking of Cash: I'd heard of this recording of him and Bob Dylan before but I'm way too lazy to try to hunt down such things in record shops, so I thought I'd never get to hear it. Imagine my delight when a blog I read (Boing Boing) pointed to an internet radio station that posted the entire album and made it available as free mp3 downloads! Cash is cool. Dylan is cool. The two together are nearly transcendent.
Note: No link for this entry as the site that originally posted the songs, Aquarium Drunkard, has taken them down. I would still recommend visiting that site because it has so much great, free music. While I was searching through their archives looking for the Dylan/Cash songs, I saw at least a dozen things I need to go back and get.
6. “How We Operate” - Gomez - How We Operate
This is one of only two music recommendations from my friend and collaborator, Todd Demong. And he made it two years ago while we were at San Diego Comic Con. I finally downloaded the album and I really like it. I'll start listening to Todd more often, I guess. Oh, and for your information, the other recommendation was Vampire Weekend—an album I bought this year but haven't had much of a chance to listen to yet. I'll let you know what I think.
7. “Bird on the Wire” - Lilac Time - I'm Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen
My first exposure to the songs of Leonard Cohen was on the tribute album I'm Your Fan. A lot of those songs only sound right when I'm hearing the covers. This is one of those songs. I sing this to Oscar a lot, I think it's a lovely little song. I know nothing at all about the band that sings this song, but I suppose I should look into them....
8. “Crazy” - Violent Femmes - Crazy EP
Last year Gnarls Barkley did a cover of Violent Femmes' "Gone Daddy Gone." It was...serviceable, I guess. Nothing special. Well, this year Violent Femmes returned the favor and did a cover of Gnarls Barkley's big hit, and they've really made it their own. It's creepy and atmospheric just like the best of their original work. It makes me hungry for more from them.
9. “Pearl/Ebony” - Mill Race - Diary '05-'08
With the arrival of Oscar into our lives, Melissa and I sort of faded from the Salem music scene, but one of the few events I actually left the house to attend was the Mill Race CD release. Only Mill Race and their complicated, energetic unclassifiable rock could tear me away from Oscar for an evening. I keep waiting for this band to be discovered by a much wider, non-local audience. I'm confident it'll happen.
As an added web-only bonus, here's the entry I wrote about seeing the Mill Race CD release show. I cannot deny that I likes me the Mill Race.
10. “Shakin' Shakin' Shakes” - Los Lobos - By the Light of the Moon
A favorite since I was in high school. Los Lobos is probably the best band I have never seen perform live. They alternate between blues-fueled rock, mournful ballads, and Mexican traditionals. What is not to love? I remember when I first saw the band—a photo in a magazine, or on MTV, or something—and I thought, “Oh, my God, those guys look just like my uncles!” And they still rock. Hard.
11. “I Like Giants” - Kimya Dawson - Remember that I Love You
Okay, here's a confession that may earn me some bitter enemies: I did not like 2007's indy-darling hit, Juno. Not at all. However, I loved the soundtrack which featured Kimya Dawson, late of The Moldy Peaches. This song is not from the film, but it gives you a good idea of what she's about. Low-fi, irreverent, but ultimately upbeat. I think of her music as a sort of fusion between punk and coffee-house folk. However you define it, it uplifts me when I listen to it. Oh, and for those with kids who are looking for music that they can listen to along with their kids: Dawson has an album of kids' songs called Alphabutt that's really good.
12. “Fire Escape” - Fastball - All the Pain Money Can Buy
This song serves as testament to my love of pure pop music. I like to sing this to Oscar. Oscar also loves the pop.
13. “Naked As We Came” - Iron & Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days
I get the sense that I have come very late to the Iron & Wine party. How could I have missed them all these years? They seem right up my musical alley with their folksy ways and their well-written lyrics. I'm sure that if Iron & Wine featured a female vocalist, I'd have discovered them years ago....
14. “The Town that Never Was” - Eux Autres - Cold City
Portland-based Eux Autres continues to make me smile. Melissa and I saw them play back in 2007, and we spent some time chatting with drummer and vocalist, Heather. She was so damned nice that it made me like their simple, pared down music even more.
15. “Three Little Birds” - Elizabeth Mitchell - You are My Little Bird
These days Melissa and I are always on the lookout for kid-friendly music that will not drive us insane. Elizabeth Mitchell, who earned her chops fronting the grown-up indy band, Ida, fits the bill. She has a lovely clear voice and her songs are compulsively singable. This album gets a lot of play in our house.
16. “Here Comes the Sun” - The Beatles - Abbey Road
I sing this song to Oscar most mornings as we go through the house opening up the blinds, letting the sun shine in. Oscar seems to enjoy it.
17. “Last Favor” - The Finches - Human Like a House
Found via Pandora.com. This song is sort of a template for everything I like about a certain type of pop music. It's pared down, it's got sweet lyrics sung by a clear-voiced woman. What's not to like? I could listen to music like this all day long, until an urge to hear Violent Femmes and The Thermals kicked in, anyway.
18. “A Little is Enough” - Pete Townshend - Pete Townshend Live: A Benefit For Maryville Academy
One of my favorite albums as a kid was Townshend's Live at the Deep End. I had it on cassette and listened to it until the tape wore out. For some reason I never replaced it or bought it on CD. After Oscar came along, I started singing a few of those songs to him. Then, a few months ago, I found this Townshend live album on my laptop's iTunes. I have no recollection of buying or downloading it. It is there as if by magic. It's not Deep End, but it does have this version of “A Little is Enough” that I like quite a bit.
19. “Pink Champagne” - Venus Hum - The Colors In The Wheel
This is my favorite of the songs I found using Pandora.com. I have seen this band listed as Electronica. Electronica? Okay, if you say so. I like that the song is sexy without being overtly sexual. I think a lot of that is the singer's voice, which makes me want to purr when I listen to it. Have I shared too much?
20. “How We Know” - The Thermals - Fuckin A
Two songs by the same band? I figure I'm justified since their three albums were all I listened to for months on end. Enjoy.