My Favorite Songs of All Time

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With this post, Swim Into The Sound has officially reached 100 articles! I’ll admit between the dreary weather and burnout at work I’ve felt less than inspired to post here regularly this year, however 100 blog posts is a big deal, and I wanted to make sure that I did it justice. I’ve got dozens of different ideas for articles jotted down in digital notes across various devices, but it felt ingenuine to put up “just another” write-up as my one-hundredth post. 

This January I celebrated all of the site’s recent achievements, and of course, the Favorites page has an ongoing list of our best articles, so I didn’t really want to focus on the blog from either of those perspectives. Instead, I’ve decided I’m going to do a write-up on something straightforward but important: my favorite songs of all time. 

My desktop has a 100+ song playlist of my favorite songs all meticulously organized, ordered, and ranked. While that playlist still receives some regular updates, the top 15 or so haven’t changed in a number of years, so I figured why not highlight all of these tracks in one place to celebrate the site’s recent milestone? Without further adieu, I’m excited to share my 15 favorite songs of all time.


15 | Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment - “Sunday Candy”

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Two years after Acid Rap had cemented itself in my life, I was eagerly waiting to see what Chance the Rapper would do next. Suddenly on a late May evening in 2015, an album called Surf was uploaded to iTunes for free. Released under the name “Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment,” Surf was a collaborative project that combined the artistic powers of Chance The Rapper, trumpeter Nico Segal, and a host of other Chicago musicians. 

Making sure to savor every ounce of this new release, I wanted to ensure my first listen was special. I downloaded the album, grabbed a couple of hard ciders, and spent the evening in my backyard listening to Surf on a night that was just warm enough to enjoy without a jacket. 

Surf wasn’t quite the Acid-Rap follow-up I was expecting, but it ended up being a release I enjoyed nonetheless. The record is a joyous, warm, and creative outpouring that’s filled to the brim with collaborative spirit. As my first listen came to a close, the record began to wrap up with the penultimate “Sunday Candy,” a bright and loving gospel track that finds Chance reminiscing about his grandmother’s role in his life. These expressions of love are all wrapped around a sunny, infectious chorus courtesy of Jamila Woods that radiates with happiness and a vibrant zeal for life. My first listen of the song left me breathless, tearful, and overjoyed. To this day, “Sunday Candy” still has the power to make my day a little bit better merely by its presence. 

14 | Band Of Horses - “The Funeral”

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While I have an overall preference for Band of Horses’ sophomore record, there’s no denying the brilliance of “The Funeral.” Far and away the band’s most popular song, “The Funeral” revolves around a sparkling guitar line and poetic lyrics that address loss and separation. At some point in the late-2000’s the song entered the pantheon of iconic alt-rock tracks alongside the likes of “Mr. Brightside,” and “Skinny Love,” yet no matter how many times I hear “The Funeral” in a bar, in a movie, or in a commercial, the song manages to disarm me completely. There’s something profoundly spiritual and awe-inspiring lying at the emotional core of “The Funeral,” and that feeling hits me harder each time I listen to it. 

13 | The Flaming Lips - “Do You Realize??”

Around the same time that I was discovering indie rock, I was also introduced to The Flaming Lips. While the entirety of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots was a mind-bending discovery back in high school, “Do You Realize??” was anything like I’d ever heard in my life. Tackling death from an honest and straightforward perspective, the song genuinely made me consider what all my relationships meant to me. It made me think about the inevitability of it all, and what kind of life I wanted to share with those around me. I’d like to think it gave me a greater appreciation for life as a whole, not just existence itself, but life as it was happening. Because one day all of this will be gone, so why wouldn’t you savor every second? Good or bad, life is a gift, and it’s easy to take that for granted. 

12 | My Morning Jacket - “I Will Sing You Songs”

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I still remember my first time hearing “I Will Sing You Songs.” After having My Morning Jacket’s discography on my iPod for nearly three years, I’d put off listening to them only for “I Will Sing You Songs” to come up on shuffle and stop me in my tracks. Almost instantly, I was swept up in the song and found myself frozen by its slow-moving melody. For nine minutes the song carried me gently into an expression of love and adoration that I felt down to my bones. It was dream-like, transportive, and absolutely gorgeous; precisely what I needed to hear at that moment. Years later, It Still Moves has become one of my favorite alternative records of all time, and “I Will Sing You Songs” remains it’s shining, perfect centerpiece.

11 | Radiohead - “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”

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Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is one of the most well-paced songs in Radiohead's discography. Starting out with a winding guitar lick and hi-hat keeping time, these two instruments set the scene for an explosive tale of flirtation, heartbreak, and love lost. Within a few beats, the bass enters the fray, and suddenly the song ignites like an engine. Within an instant, all of the instruments fall into a fast-paced groove as the guitar jangles underneath Thom Yorke’s moody humming. Depicting a series of drunken college nights filled with missed connections and possible love, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is a nonstop, evermoving journey that can only end in one way. The song continually mounts until every element is exploding to life with color and the song reaches its emotional fever pitch. Everything is humming at the right frequency, beguiling the listener in the most well-crafted and artistic way. 

10 | Sufjan Stevens - “Oh God, Where Are You Now?”

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I’ve already written at great length about my love for Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan, but “Oh God, Where Are You Now?” is the single-song encapsulation of why I love this man’s art. It’s the song that led me to Sufjan. The song that carried me through countless winters whether I was alone or surrounded by loved ones. This song is everything that I love about the Earth, and art, and creativity, and beauty. It’s a haunting, spiritual, and heart-rending question of existence all wrapped in memories that make me feel like I’ve lived this story a hundred times before. It’s the soundtrack to my heart and the death of each year. An absolutely stunning and beautiful track that’s quintessential to my existence. 

9 | Funkadelic - “Maggot Brain”

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I first heard “Maggot Brain” in middle school knowing nothing of George Clinton, Parlament-Funkadelic, or even rock as a whole for that matter. I’d barely dipped my toe in the water of psychedelia, and even less in instrumental music… which explains why this song felt so revelatory when I’d first experienced it. “Maggot Brain” begins with a disarming spoken word introduction followed by ten minutes of the most soulful guitar work I had ever heard...or have ever heard. Split into two halves, the first section of “Maggot Brain” reads like a eulogy. A wordless loss that commemorates the unspeakable feeling of discovering a loved one had passed. This builds up into an eruption of emotion found in the second half in a transition that flows seamlessly and makes sense on a cosmic level. The journey contained within the song can be read in many different ways, and I hear a different pathway each time I relisten to the piece. Truly a powerful condensation of the human psyche. 

8 | Radiohead - “You And Whose Army?”

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There aren’t many words you can make out in “You And Whose Army?” Sure, you can hear the title (also about the closest the song ever gets to a chorus), but what’s left is a mush of phrases that are practically left up to the listener’s imagination. Individual words may make their way through, but for the most part, I love “You And Whose Army?” because it’s an endlessly-interpretable song. These delicately-delivered lyrics are placed above a gently-strummed guitar and Yorke’s own hums in the background. Midway through the song, these fragile elements meet a more precise bassline, rigid drumbeat, and shaky piano that all carry the song to its wounded emotional climax. “You And Whose Army?” is haunting, beautiful, and foreboding all at the same time. Everything feels at once obscured and perfectly in place. 

7 | Pink Floyd - “The Great Gig In The Sky” 

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One of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had wasn’t at a church, on a vacation, or in a relationship, it was listening to “The Great Gig In The Sky” in my backyard all by myself. Yet another album I was handed in middle school, I must have listened to Dark Side of the Moon dozens of times trying to figure out why everyone thought it was so great. It was on t-shirts, referenced in pop culture, and obviously meant a lot to everyone older than me… but I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out what made this record so great. Years later, I put the album on during a warm summer evening and let the LP carry me from beginning to end. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and “The Great Gig In The Sky” was the emotional climax of that journey. From the introductory dialogue, the way the instrumental lifts, and of course, Clare Torry’s brilliant performance on vocals, there’s nothing quite like “Great Gig” out there in the world. To this day, I’ve still never found a song that captures the hard-to-grasp emotions tied to life and death as well as this song does within these four minutes.

6| Explosions In The Sky - “Have You Passed Through This Night?”

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For my money, there’s no song more frisson-inducing than Explosions in the Sky’s “Have You Passed Through This Night?” Centered around a sample of dialogue from The Thin Red Line, this is one of the only songs in the band’s discography to have any sort of lyrical content whatsoever. Maybe the decision to center a track around these words is what makes it even more powerful. 

As you listen to the gentle guitar strums laid carefully underneath this sample, a sudden gunshot cuts through the song. Then we hear the titular line. Then a slow-moving guitar. Then a series of increasingly-powerful drum strikes. The song then mounts for the remaining four minutes creating one of the most beautiful builds in the entire genre of post-rock. Truly a moving piece of music that instills a sense of something greater just beyond the next mountain. Absolutely awe-inspiring. 

5| The Cribs - “Be Safe” 

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Generally speaking, I am not a “lyrics guy.” I tend to take songs as a whole without necessarily focusing on any one individual element, including the words being sung. That goes for just about every song except for “Be Safe” by The Cribs. An anomaly within their discography, “Be Safe” finds lead singer Ryan Jarman ceding control to Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo for long-winded spoken word passages that act as collages of random visuals placed over a ceaseless instrumental bed. Beginning in a definitively-negative headspace, the song finds its narrator complaining about “One of those fucking awful black days when nothing is pleasing” and how they hate everyone around them. Our narrator explains that he could change, but he knows his old self will always catch up no matter how hard he tries. Suddenly, without warning, The Cribs’ lead singer Ryan Jarman enters the song with a bright and shimmering chorus that seems to give our narrator hope:

I know a place we can go
Where you'll fall in love so hard that
You'll wish you were dead

From here, Ranaldo describes life through a series of abstract flashes, each of which brings a beautiful glimpse of the world into the listener’s mind. As these images pass through your headphones, the song gets brighter and picks up its pace. The words become more positive until they culminate in an escalating rallying cry of “Open all the boxes!” before one last scene-setting outro. It’s undeniable poetry. A reversal of mood that captures these two vastly different feelings and how one person or event can turn your life around in such a short amount of time. It’s a reminder that sadness isn’t permanent, and that the world is beautiful. That it always has been. 

4 | Queens Of The Stone Age - “A Song For The Dead” 

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It only took a few listens for Songs For The Deaf to become my favorite album of all-time back in middle school. The record was unlike anything I’d ever heard and introduced me to a vast array of genres that I’m still shocked all work in conjunction with each other. At this point, Songs For The Deaf has been my favorite album for over one decade, and “A Song For The Dead” is just one of the many reasons why. If you were to ask me why this song spoke to me specifically, I’d answer with one word: drums. 

Featuring Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters on percussion, “A Song For The Dead” is a marvel of precision instrumentation. It’s a middle-finger-extended ‘fuck you’ rock track that’s propelled by Grohl’s unrelenting presence on the drums. Beginning with a single organ note and hi-hat keeping time, a guitar sets the scene followed quickly by a series of drum fills courtesy of Grohl. Within seconds, Grohl lays down a swaying drum beat, and the bass enters mimicking the guitar line perfectly. Josh Homme’s trademarked snarling vocals throw the listener headfirst into song’s desolate, desert-themed hopelessness, all the while Grohl’s cymbals crash, snare snaps, and sleigh bells jingle. 

One of the best moments come in the songs final seconds where several fakeout endings are tied together by multiple drum solos and an unrelenting guitar line. This is one of the few songs I know every molecule of, and I have to give Dave Grohl props for contributing such a major element to the track’s structure. 

3 | Sharks Keep Moving - “Like a River” 

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Picture this: It’s summer. You just graduated high school. You dropped your date off at her house, and now you’re going for a long drive through the countryside with your windows down as you watch the sun set over rolling hills in the distance. That’s what listening to “Like a River” is like. 

Helmed by Minus The Bear’s Jake Snider, Sharks Keep Moving was a short-lived jazzy-math rock band from Seattle featuring members who would go on to form groups like Pretty Girls Make Graves, Botch, and The Blood Brothers. The band produced one full-length, two EPs, and one split in their five-ish years together, and despite their relatively-small output, every song managed to strike a chord in the heart of a high-school-aged Taylor. 

While every song is worth a listen, “Like a River” is the crown jewel of Sharks Keep Moving’s discography. Front-loaded with a narrative tale of drunken love, the song is half storytelling, half gorgeous instrumental. Throughout the first half, Snider paints a scene of meeting a woman at a bar and becoming immediately infatuated with her. Ending the tale with a half-drunk rallying cry of “Get up / Let’s Walk,” the song then floats the listener along a river of sound with an instrumental that adds some color to the narrative brush-strokes laid earlier in the track. It gives just enough time for the listener to meditate and fill in the blanks of the story, whether that be with the words they were just handed or recent experiences in their own life. It’s a transformative piece of art that manages to clock in at 11-minutes long, yet not overstay its welcome. It’s pure contentment, captured to music. 

2| Radiohead - “Nude”

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I know what you’re thinking… another Radiohead song? But hear me out, “Nude” is the perfect Radiohead song. A love song at its core, “Nude” may not be as popular as “Creep” or as catchy as “Karma Police” or as versatile as “Exit Music,” but it manages to reach another level entirely. Lying somewhere between the groovy approach of “Reckoner” and the lyrical content of “True Love Waits,” “Nude” was a long-shelved Radiohead track that took literally one decade to see the light of day.  

Centered around a pristine bassline, careful drumming, and a reversed vocal bed, “Nude” is a world-shattering love song. The defeated lyrics are sung in Yorke’s highest falsetto as Colin Greenwood’s bass rumbles lovingly below him. Meanwhile, Philip Selway’s drums fall into perfect synch with Johnny Greenwood’s gentle guitar plucks, and all of this swirls behind gorgeous orchestral swells that mount with each word.

There’s no other word with which to describe “Nude” other than beautiful. Each element works in perfect synch for a song that emulates love, loss, heartbreak, and sorrow all within the space of four minutes. Those feelings crest as Yorke belts out “You’ll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking” before the song is carried out by a build of double-tracked hums that feels careful, practiced, and achingly beautiful. A rare example of a song that was worth the ten-year incubation period. 

1 | Minus The Bear - “This Ain't a Surfin' Movie”

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Well, here we are, my favorite song of all time, and I don’t even know where to begin. “This Ain't a Surfin' Movie” is perfect — a song of love, beauty, and escape that feels like it was tailor-made for me specifically. 

I first discovered Minus The Bear back in high school around the same time as Bon Iver, Portugal. The Man, and half of the other songs on this list. Specifically, I remember hearing “Pachuca Sunrise” (the band’s most popular song) and “Fulfill the Dream” on a friend’s iPod and being nothing short of blown away. Minus The Bear’s music just made sense to my brain, like it was something I’d been waiting for for years and finally found. Both of those songs coming from the same record, I decided to give the rest of Menos El Oso a listen, and wouldn’t you know that I loved it almost instantly. 

My favorite song on the record jostled around from time to time throughout high school, but a piece of me was always impressed with the way the band ended the album on such an abjectly-beautiful and warm note with “This Ain't a Surfin' Movie.” Depicting a beach-side evening alone with a lover, “Surfin’ Movie” is a song about physical and emotional paradise. A day spent in the arms of a lover in a beautiful place where nothing else matters but you and the connection to that other person. It’s quite literally the most powerful, moving, and loving thing I’ve ever heard put to music. 

Keep in mind, this song comes after ten other dancy, catchy, groovy songs that soundtracked my high school years, so there’s absolutely some added power there, but even still, “Surfin’ Movie” caps off not just this album, but our list as my favorite song of all time. 

To this day, I still remember sitting in the parking lot of a 7/11 back in high school with my childhood friend. We were riding the high of having just attended our first Minus The Bear concert, drinking AriZona’s, listening to Menos El Oso, and reveling in what we had just seen. I remember feeling speechless once the album ended, wishing I could live in that feeling forever.

“This Ain’t A Surfin’ Movie” is a marvel to listen to. It’s a monument to love and an absolute artistic achievement. It’s something that I’m lucky to have found, and fortunate enough to have felt. It’s simply perfect. 

You can listen to a playlist of all these songs here.

The Second Annual Diamond Platters: Swim Into The Sound’s Ancillary End of the Year Awards

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Most end of the year lists suck. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in the process of putting together our own “best of” as you read this, but each December we see the exact same thing: dozens of publications all rushing to push out ten pages of clickbait listicles intentionally-ordered to cater debate (and clicks) while simultaneously falling in-line with the broadest most commonly-held opinion. There’s nothing technically wrong with “List Season,” but most of it just comes off as going through the motions, and I believe there’s a better way to reflect what happened over the previous year. That’s why I created The Diamond Platters

As you can tell by their name, The Diamond Platters are the highest honor that can be bestowed upon an artist. They are an extravagant and one-of-a-kind accolade representative of artistic achievement and abject opulence… Just kidding, this isn’t anything that grandiose. 

While the name is poking fun at the seriousness of List Season, The Diamond Platters do serve a purpose: they’re a way to circumvent publishing “just another” end of the year list. This is a look at the past 365 days in music through a unique (and sometimes hyper-specific) lens. These awards allow me to draw attention to releases that may not get discussed on a typical publication’s end of the year list. Most importantly, it’s a way to celebrate the year in music without pitting artists against each other. Unique categories for the unique music listener, because not everything fits into a list of 50. 


Best Cover Song

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Winner: The Regrettes - “Helpless”

2018 was a great year to be a fan of Hamilton. Not only did the show finally come to my city, but we also got a new one-off single, and to top it all off The Regrettes released their incredible cover of “Helpless.” Like a pop-punk counterpart to The Hamilton Mixtape, The Regrettes took an already goosebump-inducing song and transformed it into an empowering power-chord shred-fest that somehow works just as well as the original. 

Runner-up: Phoebe Bridgers - “It’ll All Work Out”

Last year Tom Petty passed on October 2nd. Less than two weeks after his death I caught Phoebe Bridgers live and witnessed as she closed out her set with a heart-rending cover of “It’ll All Work Out.” It nearly broke me. One year later on October 2nd Bridgers re-opened that emotional wound when she released a deluxe edition of her debut album featuring a full-studio rendition of the same cover.  

 

Remake/Rework of the Year

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Winner: Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

Remastering an album is one thing. Re-recording an album, amending it, and adding onto it is a different thing entirely. Indie darlings Car Seat Headrest did just that when they revisited their 2011 Bandcamp breakthrough earlier this year. Originally recorded entirely by Will Toledo in Garageband, the 2018 version of Twin Fantasy finds the songs backed by a full band, improved production, and an actual budget. The remake remains faithful its predecessor while simultaneously making just enough new additions to make it feel relevant and fresh, all while retaining the same core message that made the album resonate so deeply seven years ago.

Runner-up:  TTNG - Animals Acoustic

Possibly one of the most seminal albums of the entire math rock genre, TTNG’s debut full-length has built quite a reputation for itself over the past ten years. When the band revisited their zoological release in a fully-realized acoustic style this fall, they did so in the most careful, reverent, and precious way possible. 

 

Mini Wheats™Award For Hardest Shit I Experienced All Year

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Winner: Denzel Curry - “Sumo”

Cursed with the mixed-blessing of a meme-adjacent hit, “Ultimate” became the standard Denzel Curry was held to for better or worse. While Imperial, 13, and TA13OO prove his artistic talent undeniably, “Sumo” is the sequel to “Ultimate” we’ve all been waiting for. Featuring yelled vocals, blown-out instrumentation, and hard-as-bricks lyrics, “Sumo” will be a staple of the gym playlist for many years to come. 

Runner-up: Carnage x Lil Pump - “i Shyne”

Bolstered DJ Carnage’s destructive production, “i Shyne” finds Pump at his most ignorant, shouting boasts over an out-of-control hype-up beat for two and a half minutes. 

 

Stone-Cold Chiller

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Winner: Dylan Mattheisen of Tiny Moving Parts

Every once in a while you have someone that just makes your day on social media. Maybe it’s a friend, perhaps it’s a crush, but sometimes it’s a band. When he isn’t singing, shredding, or tapping on his guitar, the frontman of Tiny Moving Parts can be seen smiling across the world and enjoying life on social media. Aside from putting out a new record in 2018, this was also a year of personal progress for Dylan as he shared his weight loss journey with fans in between beaming selfies and adorable musings. Always happy to meet fans at the merch booth after shows, Dylan is a stand-up guy and the definition of a stone-cold chiller.

Runner-up: Caroline Rose of Caroline Rose 

Caroline Rose is a special crystal angel full of rainbows and dreams. Whether she’s releasing one of the best sophomore records of 2018, charming viewers with her music videos, or uploading goofy goings-on in her downtime on tour, Caroline’s red-hued antics are a constant social media delight.

 

Holdin’ It Down: Award for Most-needed Genre Makeover

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Winner: Bloodbather & Jesus Piece - Metalcore

While there were undoubtedly some early indicators like Knocked Loose, Code Orange, and END, the metalcore revival has never felt more real than it did in 2018. Between Jesus Piece’s Only Self and Bloodbather’s Pressure, it’s safe to say that the genre is back in safe hands and experiencing and refreshing second wind. May it never truly die. 

Runner-up: Shame & Heavy Lungs - Post-punk

Forecasted by the arrival of IDLES’ Brutalism last year, genuine, angry, gray, UK-based Post-punk is back in full-force in 2018. Back in January, England-based Shame kicked off the year with a world-rocking debut album, and more recently the IDLES-adjacent Heavy Lungs released a banger of a single following an angry little EP of political tunes. 

 

“Continental Breakfast” Award For Most Inoffensive Sunday Morning Easy Listen

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Winner: Hovvdy - Cranberry

Named after 2017’s collaboration between Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, sometimes you just need slow-moving hangover music. While Cranberry is definitively much more than that, their music certainly is easy on the ears.

Runner-up: Yo La Tengo - There’s a Riot Going On

Yo La Tengo’s fifteenth album is a half-ambient relaxing descent into utter bliss. More like a float tank than a collection of songs, There’s a Riot Going On is a wonderful record to throw on in the early hours of a crisp Sunday morning as you contemplate whether or not you want to make eggs. 

 

Most Important Song Of The Year

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Winner: Stella Donnelly - “Boys Will Be Boys”

Boys Will Be Boys” is a song about the aftermath of sexual abuse. Specifically, it finds Donnelly talking to one of her close friends who, after confessing what had happened to her, explains why she’s to blame for her own rape. It’s an exorcism of pain — a condemning piece of art that’s more powerful than anything I’ve taken in this year, music or otherwise. 

Runner-up: Field Medic - “Let Freedom Ring 2”

If you were to ask Field Medic why he recorded a sequel to “Let Freedom Ring” he may tell you he had to. He may tell you it was an exercise. He may tell you it was a way to air his grievances and get his thoughts out into the world. Whatever the case, “Let Freedom Ring 2” is a raw, honest, and transparent assessment of where America is in 2018. It’s a middle-finger-adorned callout as much as it is a plea for sensibility… and we’re at the point where even that would go a long way. 

 

Most Fabulous Christmas Bop

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Winner: Sufjan Stevens - “Lonely Man of Winter”

Having launched, organized, and ran a Sufjan Christmas blog this December, the back half of my year has been absolutely dominated by Sufjan’s Christmas music. While I gave his 100 Christmas tracks dozens of spins as I usually do, this season felt extra special when fans received a long-obscured loosie from the days of Christmases past. Crisp, cold, and frigid, “Lonely Man of Winter” is a realist Christmas song about feeling a distinct lack of jolliness during a season where that seems to be a requirement. 

Runner-up: August Burns Red - “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”

August Burns Red may have released a highly-influential metalcore album early in their career, but their vast body of Christmas work has always been a personal favorite of mine. Needless to say, when we got a six-song EP of holiday tunes earlier this season, it practically made my year. Hearing lead guitarist JB Brubaker shred out the melody to “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” was exactly what I needed to ignite my Christmas spirit. 

 

Best Cover Art

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Winner: SOPHIE - Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides

Shiny, soft, synthetic, glossy, reflective, and smooth are just a handful of the adjectives that come to mind when one finds themselves face to face with the cover to SOPHIE’s debut record. Turns out these words also accurately describe the futuristic dance music contained just behind this cover, all while taking the viewer by surprise and making them want to know more. In other words, it does everything an album cover is designed to do.

Runner-up: Nas - Nasir

An image of five black children lined up against a wall with their hands up in the air says more than I ever could, and almost says more than Nasir does in its 26-minute running time. 

 

Best Gibberish

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Winner: Kanye West - “Lift Yourself”

In the confusing lead-up to Kanye West’s eighth album, anything could have happened. While the aftermath left me and many other fans deeply-conflicted, pretty much every Kanye fan could agree on one thing: “Lift Yourself” was a masterstroke. Clocking in at two and a half minutes, the song was uploaded to Kanye’s site late on a late May evening. Like most fans, I clicked play, vibed out to the classic Kanye soul chop, and then proceeded to bust out laughing when he starts aggressively scatting. I can’t think of any other moment this year that evoked such a strong reaction from me, and for that, I must commend Mr. West. 

Runner-up: Future - “King’s Dead”

Picture this: you’re listening to the newest Jay Rock song. It features Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake. You’re taken aback by the song’s rapid-fire bars and powerful beat. Then halfway through, the instrumental pauses and Future busts out a raspy ode to Slick Rick and Juicy J’s with the line “La di da di da / slob on me knob.” You are shocked. You try to brush it off, but you keep coming back to it. What was once an off-putting and perplexing yelp soon becomes something so stupid it’s catchy. You can’t help but love it. That’s how I feel about “King’s Dead.”

 

Live Album of the Year

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Winner: The National - Boxer Live in Brussels

Often cited as one of their best records, The National’s performance of their 2007 record is everything a live album should be. Bearing faithful renditions of their wine-drunk songs, the band also manages to inject some moments of surprise into this recording. Whether it’s a vibrant horn break on “Slow Show” or a series of distressed guitar solos leading up to a frantic yelp of a chorus on “Squalor Victoria,” the band was able to breathe new life into these classic indie songs. Plus, with engaging crowd responses throughout, and just the right amount of banter, Boxer Live in Brussels is proof that, much like a fine wine, The National are only getting better with age.

Runner-up: Mac Miller - Tiny Desk Concert

While it’s only three songs long, Mac Miller’s Tiny Desk Concert remains one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen all year. Released just one month before his passing, this video became one of Miller’s final moments in the public eye. Fortunately crystalized on film for the rest of time, the video is a 17-minute encapsulation of the type of soul, charm, and artistry he was possible of. 

 

Porch Beer Album of the Year

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Winner: Bonny Doon - Longwave

Sometimes you hear an album that jangles just in the right way. That kicks up just enough dust and casts just enough of an amber-coated summer breeze. A record where the drums are light, the vocals are relaxing, and the bass is played just in the pocket. The kind of music that you can close your eyes, sip your beer, nod along, and enjoy the absence of worry. That’s Longwave.

Runner-up: Nap Eyes - I’m Bad Now

Practically punk compared to Bonny Doon, Nap Eyes’ third record I’m Bad Now is a lovely and light-colored Lou Reed-esque jaunt that’s as pleasing and flavorful as it is relaxing. 

 

One for the Streets

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Winner: Young Dolph - Role Model

At the end of the day sometimes you just need to turn your brain off. There’s no need high-minded metaphors or far-reaching artistic goals, and luckily Young Dolph is striving for neither of those on Role Model. Featuring some of the most audacious, enigmatic, and hilarious bars I’ve heard all year, Dolph’s fifth studio album is 44-minutes of braggadocio, all delivered at a shockingly-consistent quality. Everything’s a banger, and we’re all better off for it. 

Runner-up: Sheck Wes - MUDBOY

Outside of Playboi Carti, it’s hard to think of a single artist who pervaded the hyped-up online sphere more than Sheck Wes. While his popularity had been brewing up for some time now, a Travis Scott co-sign, Drake name-drop, and perfectly-timed album release all converged into the perfect storm of hype and success. 

 

Best Album From Last Year That Took Until 2018 To Discover

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Winner: Field Medic - Songs From the Sunroom

Earlier this year I discovered Field Medic through a stroke of Spotify luck and almost immediately turned around a short review gushing about his poetic folk music. The album has been a constant companion of mine throughout the year, and my discovery felt affirmed when I saved Field’s hat during a Remo Drive mosh pit over the summer. Clever, romantic, and emotionally-raw, Songs From The Sunroom is a lovely and personable release that’s as charming as it is inventive.

Round-up: Surf Curse - Nothing Yet

The modern surf rock scene walks an intoxicating mix of fast-paced aggression and laid-back good nature. While it may sound contradictory, this balancing act is a feat clearly mastered by Surf Curse on their sophomore album which also happened to be the soundtrack to my summer this year. 

 

Best Music Video

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Winner: Childish Gambino - “This Is America”

This is America, and it’s terrible. After producing a transformative funk album in 2016, Donald Glover returned to rap with one of this year’s most impactful singles. “This Is America” has a lot on its mind: gun violence, police abuse, and institutionalized racism are all tackled in the space of four minutes. Not only does Glover eloquently address all those topics, he also managed to deliver this message over a beat that bangs so hard the song’s both catchy and accessible. The music video itself is a striking, twisted, and hypnotic bit of long-shot cinematography that half a billion viewers found impossible to look away from… much like America. 

Runner-up: Charli XCX - “1999”

We have to go back. Not to do anything different, but just to enjoy it all again. On this nostalgic bop, the underground pop queen teams up with Troye Sivan to recreate some of the 90’s most iconic moments. From Matrix dodges to Skechers advertisements, the mix of wistfulness, commitment, and innovation is simply too impressive to ignore. 

 

“It Me” Award For Verbose And Awkward Lyrics That Most Closely Mirror My Internal Monologue

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Winner: Retirement Party - Somewhat Literate

There’s something to be said for representation in music — representation not just in race, gender, religion, or culture, but in thought and personality. Even upon my first listen, I could tell that Somewhat Literate was the most I’d identified with a lyricist in some time. Opening and closing with the airing of her own hypochondriac-fuelled grievances, lead singer Avery Springer spends the rest of the record weaving nervous stream-of-conscious tales fraught with overthinking, awkwardness, and self-deprecation. In short, it feels like someone took my brain and transposed it onto jittery garage-filtered pop-punk.

Runner-up: Illuminati Hotties - Kiss Your Frenemies

Much like Retirement Party, Illuminati Hotties’ debut album represents a similar verbose and overwrought self-criticism. With songs about doughnut dates and searching for a fourth job to pay off her college debt, Sarah Tundzen was able to capture the average Millenial’s quarter-life-crisis with depressing accuracy. 

 

Freestyle Maestro

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Winner: Tyler, The Creator - Various Loosies

If nothing else, Tyler wins this one for the sheer amount of freestyles he gifted fans this year. Most of them under two minutes long, the ex-figurehead of Odd Future released somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen freestyles this calendar year alone. While not all of them wound up on the major streaming sites, tracks like “Okra” and “435” alone should prove Tyler’s proficiency as a freestyle titan.

Runner-up: Saba - “Nice For What Freestyle”

While I found myself extremely disappointed with Drake’s Scorpion, I was glad that someone took the time to salvage the album’s best beat and transform it into something with a little more substance.

 

Biggest Glo-Up

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Winner: Tay Keith

I’m not going to pretend I was up on Tay Keith before “Look Alive,” but unless you’re big into Southern hip-hop, it’s likely that 2018 was the first time you heard his iconic producer tag. While some deride Tay Keith for making the same type of beat over and over again, he’s seemingly produced hundreds of songs this year alone, and there’s something to be said for respecting the hustle.

Runner-up: Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves has been making country music for over a decade at the time of writing, so it’s hard to call her an undiscovered force in the country scene, but Golden Hour sparked conversations across the music sphere when it became a certified crossover success. Balancing at the perfect intersection of country, pop, and indie, Musgraves proved that you don’t have to relegate yourself to one lane. 

 

Song of the Year

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Winner: Saba - “PROM / KING”

PROM / KING” is a seven-and-a-half-minute two-part hip-hop epic that packs as much personality, story-telling, and raw honesty as the entirety of Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. The first half of the song finds a sixteen-year-old Saba reconnecting with his estranged cousin Walter back in high school. Saba recounts his traumatic prom night experience over a woozy Chicago jazz beat for three minutes until exactly halfway through the song when everything stops. There’s a brief moment of silence, and then the song explodes into a new pattern now propelled by a bombastic drum beat. From there, time flashes forward to 2017 as Saba paints a picture of his first successes as a musician and his growing bond with Walt. As the instrumental grows faster Saba’s flow increases and you get the feeling of an inescapable danger. Eventually the story unfolds, Walt is involved in a fatal stabbing, and Chicago claims another life. As the beat gets faster, so do Saba’s bars. He eventually raps until he’s out of breath, seemingly collapsing from exhaustion, but then making way for a posthumous outro sung by Walter himself. It’s harrowing, beautiful, and painful all at once. In a year where hip-hop was largely dominated by lyrics about money, women, and opulent flexes, it’s refreshing to hear a song with a message and a story. “PROM/KING” is an artistic achievement. A feat. A warning. A memorial.  

Runner-up: Mac Miller - “2009”

For one month “2009” was a poignant reflection on nostalgia, addiction, and innocence lost. Then Mac Miller died, and all of those feelings became amplified ten-fold. With his passing, an already-great track became the penultimate swan song of an artist we lost just as he was reaching his prime. It makes you equal parts heartbroken and thankful to have shared the world with such an incredible artist.  

 

Most Anticipated Project of 2019

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Winner: Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen’s 2016 record My Woman opened up my world musically and philosophically. While last year’s b-sides collection temporarily satiated my hunger for more Olsen, I absolutely cannot wait to see what she’s been cooking up for us over the last two years.

Runner-up: PUP

The Dream Is Over was one of those rare records that was so good it crossed musical boundaries. From indieheads to emo boys to hardcore punks, there seemed to be nothing but praise for the Canadian group’s sophomore effort. With tracking finished back in May, we should be on the receiving end of some heart-rending thrashy punk rock any day now.

November 2018: Album Review Roundup

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As I settle in for my first-ever winter here in the midwest, I’ve found myself thankful for ice scrapers, Dr. Martens, and lots of good music. It may already be colder outside than I’ve ever experienced in my entire life, but at least November gave us got lots of great new music to keep warm. Here are some of the month’s best albums.


Metro Boomin’ - Not All Heroes Wear Capes

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After taking a short hiatus earlier this year, the biggest producer in the rap game has returned to his rightful space at the top of the modern music landscape. With 21 Savage and Travis Scott features aplenty, Not All Heroes Wear Capes is a producer-led playlist the like of which we rarely see anymore. From Crooning Swae Lee tracks to worldly dance songs, even a fast-paced Drake feature, everything about the album seems scientifically-designed to succeed. Indicative of the goodwill he’s built up in the industry, the record earned Metro a well-deserved #1 spot on the Billboard chart, perhaps signaling a new era for the unspoken heroes of the rap game: producers.



boygenius - boygenius

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In 2015 Julien Baker released Sprained Ankle and it destroyed me. In 2016 Lucy Dacus released No Burden and it moved me. In 2017 Phoebe Bridgers released Stranger in the Alps and it robbed me of happiness for a full calendar year. Now in 2018 the three musicians team up to take down my emotional state once and for all with boygenius, a 6-song EP of smoldering emotional destruction. With voices that intertwine, unfurl, and cast a spell on the listener, boygenius is a siren song of sadness and emotions all entangling like a string of Christmas lights.



Sufjan Stevens - Lonely Man of Winter

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I love Christmas. I love Sufjan. I love Sufjan’s Christmas work. Originally recorded in 2007, “Lonely Man of Winter” has existed for over one decade as a single vinyl record belonging to Alec Duffy who originally won the track in a Christmas Song Exchange with Sufjan himself. Since 2007 Duffy held yearly listening parties of the song for friends and family (complete with hot cocoa), but now the track has been released to the world in both its original form and as a 2018 Doveman remix featuring Melissa Mary Ahern. Adding onto Sufjan’s already-massive 100-song Holiday Canon, “Lonely Man of Winter” is a lush, crisp, and bitter look at the holiday season. The single also includes “Every Day Is Christmas,” the track that won Duffey the honor of guarding this Sufjan rarity. Overall, Lonely Man of Winter is a welcome throwback to the heyday of Sufjan’s Holiday powers and a song that makes me feel like the entire world has received an early Christmas treat.


August Burns Red - Winter Wilderness EP

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Aside from Sufjan Stevens, August Burns Red is my next favorite creator of Christmas music. While the group initially dipped their toe into the genre with a headbanging rendition of “Carol of the Bells” back in 2008, the metalcore act eventually unveiled their full Christmas spirit in 2012 with their full-length holiday album Sleddin’ Hill. Releasing one additional Christmas single every season from that year forward, the group has now returned with Winter Wilderness, a six-track EP of holiday offerings. From spicy originals like “Avalanche” to traditional classics like “What Child is This?” and even some out-of-the-box deep-pulls like the Home Alone Theme, this EP has a little something for every type of Christmas fan.


Vince Staples - FM!

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Vince Staples feels like rap’s odd man out. His debut double-album Summertime ‘06 made waves in insular music communities, Prima Donna attempted to cultivate his fanbase, and Big Fish Theory pushed the boundaries of the current hip-hop sound. He’s tried everything he can, and never really broken through to a mainstream level of acceptance… not that the man himself is too concerned with that. On FM! Vince takes listeners through hectic two-minute chunks of a would-be terrestrial hip-hop station. Featuring interviews, sneak peeks, and surprisingly-accessible bangers, FM! feels like the synthesis of his high-concept aspirations with the kind of radio-ready hits he often finds himself circling around. Only time will tell how deeply this resonates with his current fanbase, let alone connects to the audience just outside of it.


Liance - The Rat House

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When he’s not penning ambient music as Ministry of Interior Spaces, James Li creates heart-rending indie songs under the moniker Liance. Inspired by true events, The Rat House acts as a companion piece to Bronze Age of the Nineties, both of which recount the events of his college years spent in Michigan. Featuring densely-packed multi-part folk epics, bite-size personal tales, and Sufjan-esque instrumentation, The Rat House is a more than worthy successor to his full-length. And clocking in at just 14 minutes, it’s a wonder he was able to pack such deeply-emotional and universally-human feelings into such a small amount of time.

Read our full review of The Rat House here.


Takeoff - The Last Rocket

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Takeoff has always been my favorite Migo. While I definitely understand the poppy appeal of Quavo and the hard-edged bars of Offset, Takeoff’s untouchable flow is often my favorite component of any Migos song. While he’s often unfairly named last as anyone’s favorite Migo, The Last Rocket is irrefutable proof that he can stand on his own as an artist, creator, and voice to rise above the crowd. The second solo Migos release of the year following QUAVO HUNCHO, Takeoff’s turn at the wheel sees him crafting everything from grimy gangster tracks to raspy confessionals, all with expected proficiency and accessibility.


Fleet Foxes -First Collection 2006-2009

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Way back in 2006 a group named Fleet Foxes emerged from a rainy corner of Seattle, signed to Sub Pop Records, and released one of the most important folk records of the decade. Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut, alongside albums like For Emma, Forever Ago, acted as an entry point to the indie music genre for hordes of directionless teenagers (myself included). Now one decade down the line from that album’s release, the band have returned with a wistful and comprehensive four-disc compilation of demos, outtakes, and b-sides. It’s interesting to listen to First Collection and wonder what songs might have become iconic classics had they released back in ‘08, but for now, all we can do is listen, reflect, and appreciate the hearty wilderness of Fleet Foxes’ early years.


Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs

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Spring of 2015 was a weird time for me. A major transition in my life combined with the changing of the seasons compounded into a mixture of anxiety and claustrophobia that felt like an uphill battle to overcome. Extensive listening to Earl Sweatshirt’s second album I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside definitely didn’t help alleviate that feeling. Now, nearly four years after his sophomore record, I’m in a much better spot, and the public has finally got its hands on Earl’s long-awaited follow-up. The unceremoniously-named, Some Rap Songs is a dissonant, blippy, and insular hip-hop album that’s as enigmatic as it is reclusive. With most of the songs hovering around one-minute-long, the tracks clip forward with muffled Madlib-esque beats and effortless flows. A dense, personal, and abrupt album that forces you to lean in, listen, and absorb it fully.

Quick Hits

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  • Action Bronson - White Bronco: Embracing his go-to husky flow, Bronson makes a brief outing to discuss food, women, drugs, and fashion in this mixtape released the second the clock struck midnight on Halloween.  

  • Sun Kil Moon - This Is My Dinner: It’s basically a sad podcast.

  • Sia - Everyday is Christmas (Deluxe): The Australian pop star revisits her fabulous Christmas bops of yesteryear, adding on a trio of cheerful oddities.

  • Rostam - In A River: Technically just one song recorded in three different styles, Rostam’s newest single still feels rich enough to gorge out on in the most decadent and delicate way possible.

  • Ellis - The Fuzz: Dreamy and lonely indie rock songs beamed across a pastel canvas that’s burning slowly.

  • Nap Eyes - Too Bad: A two-song sample platter of the group’s lovely and laid-back indie rock tunes that drip with Lou Reed-inflection.

  • Smino - NOIR: Fast-paced and hyper-lyrical jazzy raps straight from the soul.

  • Hopeless Records - Songs That Saved My Life: From Dance Gavin Dance to Wonder Years Frontman Daniel Campbell, this comp organized by Hopeless Records is packed with mutual appreciation and admiration sure to warm your inner pop-punk kid’s heart.

  • Grapetooth - Grapetooth: A wildcard new signee in the Polyvinyl lineup, Grapetooth’s self-titled debut exceeds expectations as a groovy, synthy record that mixes throwback instrumentation with distinctly modern lyrics and deliveries.

  • It Looks Sad. - Sky Lake: Dreamy, swirling, atmospheric indie rock with an electronic infusion.

  • Architects - Holy Hell: Anthemic metalcore recorded in the wake of guitarist and founding member Tom Searle’s death.

  • Lil Peep - Come Over When You're Sober Pt. 2: Elaborating on the intoxicating mix of emo and trap we witnessed on the preceding album, this sequel is a swan song to Lil Peep’s life, and proof that one’s impact can last beyond death.

  • Macseal - Map It Out: Jangly heart-on-sleeve pop-punk that’s as pleasant as it is earnest.

  • CupcakKe - Eden: Horny, Hungry, and Hilarious, Mrs. CupcakKe is the exact type of emcee we need in 2018.

  • IDK - IDK & FRIENDS :): A start-studded producer-led EP of bangers.

  • Anderson .Paak - Oxnard: Funky hip-pop with stellar Dre production and passionate vocals.

  • Tyler, The Creator - Music Inspired By Illumination & Dr. Seuss' The Grinch: Following his iconic contribution to this year’s Grinch reboot, Tyler doubles-down with an EP full of Grinch-themed hip-hop cuts.

  • Smashing Pumpkins - Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.: While this may be one of the best records the group has put out recently, Billy Corgan is still a bad person, and that makes me want to dislike this album.

  • Mike Will Made-It - Creed II: The Album: The mastermind behind some of hip-hop’s biggest hits tries his hand at his own Kendrick Lamar-esque curated soundtrack for this year’s biggest sports drama.

  • Jaden Smith - The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story: While he’s a meme to some, Jaden Smith is actually surprisingly personable and proficient when he focuses on rapping.

  • Memphis May Fire - Broken: Synthetic and sterilized metalcore that’s stretching desperately for maturity and emotional resonance.

  • Tenacious D - Post-Apocalypto: The gut-busting and earnest soundtrack to Tenacious D’s post-apocalyptic animated series of the same name.

  • Like Moths To Flames - Dark Divine Reimagined: Three songs from the band’s 2017 record revisited in a heartfelt acoustic style.

  • Something Merry - EMO-TION: A wide range of indie/emo/pop-punk darlings sharing their takes of Carly Rae Jepsen’s monumental E•MO•TION, all for a good cause.

  • Oneohtrix Point Never - Love in the Time of Lexapro: Songs for drugged-out space cowboys.

  • Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, Clams Casino, and Fish Narc - Spider Web: Five goth rap tracks from an ex-pop-punk icon.

  • J.I.D - DiCaprio 2: Impactful and compact bars from the most outstanding member of this year’s XXL Freshman Class.

  • The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships: This is probably what they were listening to in “San Junipero.”

  • Mac Miller - Spotify Singles: Two posthumously-released cuts that showcase Miller’s unique voice and sense of style.

  • Lil Baby - Street Gossip: His third release of the year, Lil Baby keeps his hot streak alive with another helping of catchy, personable, and flex-worthy trap.

  • Meek Mill - Championships: Mother. Fucking. Heat.

  • Ski Mask the Slump God - Stokeley: Hip-hop that jumps between vocal-chord-destroying shouts and hyper-dense rapid-fire bars.

  • Jeff Tweedy - WARM: A soundtrack from the Wilco frontman that goes hand-in-hand with his memoir from earlier this month.

  • Thomas Erak - The Whole Story: The Fall of Troy guitarist spreads his wings in a snarling and technical 22-minute crowdfunded solo EP.

  • Peewee Longway - State of the Art: A trapped-out hip-hop release for the streets.

  • The Alchemist - Bread: Four star-studded slow-moving rap tracks alongside their instrumental counterparts.

  • David Bowie - Glastonbury 2000: Two hours of David Bowie live goodness.

  • Oliver Houston - Mixed Reviews: The final release from the Grand Rapids emo rockers.

  • The Mountain Goats - Aquarium Drunkard's Lagniappe Session: A mini-offering of Bon Iver, Robin Trower, and Godspell covers.

  • Wavves - Emo Christmas: Two surfy Christmas cuts from the recovering party animals.

This month we also heard new singles from Saba, Desiigner, Juice WRLD, Ice Cube, Shame, JPEGMAFIA, Emarosa, Hozier, 2 Chainz, Kodak Black, Saba, Girlpool, The Regrettes, Weezer, Preoccupations, Amine, Manchester Orchestra, Slaves, A$AP Rocky, Vulfpeck, Mono, Iceage, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sharon Van Etten, Jeff Tweedy, Travis Scott, Kim Petras, Grimes, Phoebe Bridgers, Kaytranada, American Pleasure Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Conor Oberst, Big K.R.I.T., The Beths, Offset, Cold War Kids, Say Anything, Jay Rock, AFI, Blood Orange, Arctic Monkeys, Men I Trust, Deaf Dog, Chance The Rapper (Times Two), and Saba.

Say Yes To Michigan: A Physical Exploration of Sufjan Stevens' Third Album

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One year ago I published my write-up on Sufjan Steven’s Michigan, and in the three years I’ve spent running this blog it’s still the thing I’m most proud of. It took many hours, revisions, and relistens to hone that post to a point where the words accurately captured my affection for the record, and even then my relationship with the album has evolved in the past 12 months.

This fall I accepted a job in Detroit and moved out to the Great Lake State from my hometown of Portland, Oregon. While there are plenty of reasons why taking that job was an objectively-good career move, I’d be lying if I said my love for this record didn’t influence my decision in some way. 

So back in September I packed my belongings into my car and spent five days driving across the country to a state I’d never been to, where I knew nobody, and knew almost nothing about.

On my way across the state line, I stopped at the welcome center, took photos, and (of course) queued up Sufjan’s Michigan on my phone. I also made sure to keep my physical copy of the record handy for any photo opportunities that may present themselves, and I quickly realized that there would be many. 

Using a state map from the visitor center, I sat down with Genius, Google Maps, and my copy of the record to plot out how many different locations Sufjan names throughout the course of the record’s 66-minute running time. Turns out it’s a lot.

What the process looked liked.

What the process looked liked.

While it’s far from comprehensive, I’ve gone out of my way to visit the sights, sounds, and feelings captured on Sufjan’s third record. I’m not going to pretend this is anything more than a glorified iPhone-quality photo gallery, but I view it as an amendment to last year’s Michigan write-up. It’s a physical manifestation of my love for the record and how much it has impacted my life both spiritually and literally. 

This post is a documentation of my life and how Michigan continues to intertwine with it every step of the way. 


Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)

City of Flint Water Plant

City of Flint Water Plant

City of Flint Water Plant

City of Flint Water Plant

 

For the Widows in Paradise, for the Fatherless in Ypsilanti

Ypsilanti City Hall

Ypsilanti City Hall

 

Say Yes! to M!ch!gan!

Bagley Pedestrian Bridge

Bagley Pedestrian Bridge

 

Holland

Holland

Holland

Big Red Lighthouse

Big Red Lighthouse

 

Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)

The Spirit of Detroit

The Spirit of Detroit

 

Romulus

Romulus Historical Museum

Romulus Historical Museum

 

Sleeping Bear, Sault Saint Marie

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

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They Also Mourn Who Do Not Wear Black (For the Homeless in Muskegon)

Muskegon State Park

Muskegon State Park

 

Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)

The Redford Theater

The Redford Theater

The Marquee of Redford Township

The Marquee of Redford Township

 
Yours Truly Enjoying Sleeping Bear, running to the top, and only getting a little scared

Yours Truly Enjoying Sleeping Bear, running to the top, and only getting a little scared

A Very Sufjan Christmas

The following is a welcome post from our sister site A Very Sufjan Christmas. Follow us at @SufjanChristmas on Twitter or @SufjanChristmas on Instagram to enjoy daily song write-ups this December!


The holidays are our greatest gift. Regardless of surface-level differences in how we celebrate this time of year, the one thing we all share is tradition. It doesn’t matter if you observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or nothing at all, every one of us have rituals we use to get us through the winter. It’s the coldest, darkest, most inhospitable time of the year, and that’s easier to get through when we’re closer to other people, both physically and psychologically. Tradition is survival. Tradition is human.

That is the true meaning of Christmas. 

Not presents.
Or Santa Claus.
Or even Jesus.

Christmas represents universal tradition. A communal coping mechanism evolved on a species-wide level for the purpose of survival on both a physical and spiritual level. Over time, Christmas has been twisted to mean hundreds of different things. The truth is Christmas is what you make of it, and that’s what makes it the greatest holiday in the world. 

While Christmas has endured in the pop-cultural landscape for far less time than the holiday itself, it has still been around long enough for millions of different traditions to develop. From Coca-Cola popularizing Santa Claus to Montgomery Ward’s creation of Rudolph, there are a seemingly infinite number of touchstones that we share as a culture. Movies, TV, music, food, smells, shapes, and symbols all seep into our head from a young age, giving us a complicated, tangled web of connections and bonds to this complicated and tangled time of year. 

Oppositely, there are just as many individual traditions that we carry out on a much smaller scale. Whether it’s watching A Christmas Story with your family or making the same cookies every year with your roommates, there are both universal celebrations and personal ones. Among this delicate balancing act of traditions, vacations, gifts, and rushing around it’s important to slow down and have a personal escape during this hyper-communal time of year. For many people, one of the newest additions to this Personal Christmas Canon is Sufjan Stevens’ holiday music. 

While you may recognize him from his contributions to 2017’s Call Me By Your Name, Sufjan has been creating soul-affirming and critically-acclaimed folk music for nearly two decades. Aside from landmark artistic creations like Illinois, Age of Adz, and Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan has also displayed his personal devotion to the holidays with a catalog of two multi-hour Christmas compilations. 

Religion, Christianity, and family have been a constant throughline of Sufjan’s discography, so the Christmas holiday proved to be both a fascination for Sufjan as well as a synthesis of all these themes. Releasing one EP a year from 2001 to 2011, Sufjan has birthed to exactly 100 Christmas songs over the course of one decade. Some original, some covers, some standards, each entry is lovingly-crafted and amounts to more than 4.5 hours of Christmas spirit. These songs are collected on Songs For Christmas and Silver and Gold, two releases that have warmed the hearts of indie fans and Christmas lovers alike. 


A Very Sufjan Christmas is a blog dedicated to every one of these songs. Much like we all celebrate the holiday season in our special way, every listener has a unique connection with Sufjan’s extensive body of Christmas-based work. As such, each post on this website will tackle one specific Sufjan Christmas song from a different writer’s perspective as we countdown the days till Christmas. Maybe they’ll talk about their experience with Sufjan, or their memories attached to that one song. Maybe they’ll just write about the music itself. 

These songs are a window into the traditions and lives of the writer. There are few albums that have opened this many spiritual doors for this many people, and that’s why these songs must be celebrated. These are the soundtracks to Christmases past and the inner lives of music fans the world over.

You’ll quickly find that each song is a beautiful work worthy of its own celebration. Whether this is your first experience with Sufjan, or you are a long-time fan, we hope you find as much connection, warmth, and joy in these songs as we did when we first heard them. We hope you connect with these stories and that they allow you to reflect on your own traditions and those of your family. Most of all, we hope you enjoy the music and we wish you a very Sufjan Christmas this year. 

Welcome to our Winter Wonderland. 

Love, Kyle, Taylor, and the rest of the A Very Sufjan Christmas Staff.