Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Favorite Songs of 2016

The master list had about twice as many songs, because even though the albums of 2016 felt generally underwhelming (read: I'm feeling detached and it probably has nothing to do with the records at all), all of those generally underwhelming songs had at least a song or two that was solid gold.

30. Descendents - “Without Love” (Hypercaffium Spazzinate)
Still got it. Still doin’ it. The Descendents were one of the very first bands I discovered when I got into punk rock via Blink-182 and they occupy a special place in my heart.

29. Bon Iver - “00000 Million” (22, A Million)
As is always the case, the last track on the Bon Iver LP is my favorite. The man just knows how to bring the house down at the very end right before the lights come up.

28. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam - “A 1000 Times” (I Had a Dream That You Were Mine)
And the year’s “Young Folks” goes to… Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, “A 1000 Times”! That is to say, I feel like very soon I won’t be able to walk down the street without hearing this song, to the point where I will grow to hate it, which is no fault of the song, but a testament to its instant appeal via Leithauser singing the absolute hell out of it.

27. Frightened Rabbit - “I Wish I Was Sober” (Painting of a Panic Attack)
Frightened Rabbit used to be one of my Top 5 favorite bands. They claimed the top spot of my favorite albums of 2010 with The Winter of Mixed Drinks, and I didn’t even like that one as much as I loved their sophomore LP The Midnight Organ Fight. Since Mixed Drinks, the band has gotten progressively more dour and the records a little harder to swallow. Scott Hutchison, who has such a gift for bleak humor, abandoned the humor altogether and left only the bleakness. I liked Pedestrian Verse just fine, and his gifts as a songwriter are in fine shape but man, the songs on that record were pretty dark and the songs on Painting of a Panic Attack are even darker.

26. Sad13 - “Less Than 2” (Slugger)
Speedy Ortiz never quite grabbed me, but Sadie Dupuis solo project Sad13 absolutely did. Like most things involved with musical taste, I can’t really explain it, other than that after hearing “<2 a="" first="" for="" i="" in="" it="" listened="" row.="" span="" ten="" the="" time="" times="" to="">

25. Lambchop - “In Care of 8675309” (FLOTUS)
This record is totally insane, and that’s not even by Kurt Wagner standards, considering most Lambchop records are always a little insane. With all of its electronic manipulation and expansive soundscapes, FLOTUS was too dense for me to crack open this year, but the opening track is intensely beautiful.

24. Pinegrove - “Old Friends”/ “New Friends” (Cardinal)
Man, I can’t even pick one. Cardinal came in at #5 on my favorite albums of 2016 list but I feel like their sound is what 2016 is gonna sound like when I think about it ten years from now.

23. How to Dress Well - “Lost Youth/Lost You” (Care)
I feel like this one came up a LOT on shuffle, and maybe that’s because it survived so many processes of weeding out because it’s so damn good. It’s a fragile, white boy R&B number with big feelings, and though I feel like I never give How to Dress Well a shot because man, that’s an awful band name, Tom Krell sings his ass off and I need to give him more credit from now on.

22. PUP - “Familiar Patterns” (The Dream is Over)
Immediate inclusion for any song that refers to a group of peoples as “riff raff.” Immediate exclusion for any musical artists named Riff Raff.

21. Angel Olsen - “Shut Up Kiss Me” (My Woman)
You ever listen to an artist and think it’s going to be a goddamn shame if they’re not the biggest, most well respected songwriter on the planet in ten years time? Because that’s how I feel when I listen to Angel Olsen, who is an absolute powerhouse. She’s already a gifted singer and songwriter of considerable prowess, but the thing that sets her apart is that you get the feeling that she is only going to get better.

20. Tancred - “Pens” (Out in the Garden)
Hello? What year is it? I feel like I have fallen through a wormhole and been transported to the Pacific Northwest circa 1994. These tunes, this sound… Here’s another one where I randomly clicked play on the video and immediately slotted it into the Top 20 songs of the year.

19. Rooftop Vigilantes - “Psychopathic Communication” (Let it Be)
On the night Alex Chilton died, I went to see Rooftop Vigilantes at the Replay. They covered “September Gurls” and at the end of the set, went to play it again but wanted someone else to come up and sing it and of course I went up there because I love that song. But I only really knew the first verse and a half and the chorus and it’s one of those embarrassing moments that will occasionally come out of nowhere like a Randy Orton RKO and send a shiver down my spine. I then walked home in a blizzard, fell down on Kentucky Street and ripped open the knee of my jeans, and skinned my knee. And as embarrassing as that is, it’s tied to how much I love this band and loved seeing them play.

18. LVL UP - “She Sustains Us” (Return to Love)

If I’m gonna knock Beach Slang for sounding too much like the Replacements, I should definitely be knocking LVL UP for sounding too much like Neutral Milk Hotel. AND YET. There is an unseen quality that doesn’t irk me. It might be that this track (and this record) feels more like a throwback to the halcyon days of Elephant 6 and those fuzzed out guitars and harmonies and sweet simple little solo riffs sustain me.

17. Against Me! - “Boyfriend” (Shape Shift With Me)
Against Me!’s career arc feels like an episode of Behind the Music and, based on the energy of Shape Shift With Me, this band doesn’t even feel like it’s halfway done. Easily my favorite Against Me! record since As the Eternal Cowboy, and that is thanks to ass kickers like this that let Laura Jane Grace really fucking wail. Her voice has always been this band’s greatest asset, and goddamn if she doesn’t tear the house down here. Also, Shape Shift With Me is the hands down album title of the year.

16. Sturgill Simpson - “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)” (A Sailor’s Guide to Earth)
The tender lead-off track from Sturgill Simpson’s third album might not be the album’s showstopper (the lead single “Keep it Between the Lines” and his cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” are the ones that bring the house down here) but it’s the one that made me fully commit to the journey. The song’s concept of missing your loved ones whilst out on the road is a time honored one, but the way Simpson sings to his newborn son about how much he wants to be there with him gets me choked up every time. I mean, just pulling up the lyrics “When I get home it breaks my heart/ To see how much you’ve grown” made me misty eyed. It’s powerful stuff, and Simpson delivers it with such conviction it doesn’t come across as sappy (although it helps that the songs opening piano ballad feel gives way to a brassy soul song midway through).

15. Crying - “Premonitory Dream” (Beyond the Fleeting Gales)
Crying wooed me with their evolved version of chiptune, and truly stole my heart when I saw that they called their fanbase “Crylons.” Beyond the Fleeting Gales was the best indie pop record of 2016 (that I heard at least) and its leadoff track is a powerhouse that sets the table, serves you the meal, and gets you ready for 9 more fabulous variations on that theme.

14. Car Seat Headrest - “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” (Teens of Denial)
Despite having more albums under his belt by the tender age of 24 than most bands produce in their whole careers, Will Toledo continues to forge his own path. He’s still beholden to some pretty obvious influences (Teens of Denial feels like a modern Modern Lovers record) but his willingness to take chances (like having a song cribbing the melody from “Just What I Needed” devolve into a cover of “Just What I Needed” and having Ric Ocasek sue to get it off your record, which is pretty great) and let it all hang out like a big shaggy indie rock dog, well, I gotta respect that. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is his most triumphant statement yet, in a career that seems destined to be littered with triumphant statements.

13. Hallelujah the Hills - “The Girl With Electronics Inside” (A Band is Something to Figure Out)
I know Guided by Voices released an album this year, but this is the best Guided by Voices song of 2016.

12. Modern Baseball - “Mass” (Holy Ghost)
This brisk little number covers the well trod ground of “missing your girlfriend on tour” songs, but what Jake Ewald makes it feel fresh by packing a crapload of details and a crapload of feeling and a crapload of wry songcraft into a sub-two minute track that you just stand back and go, “Goddamn.” It’s rare to find great lyrics that are just as good on the page as they are in the song, but lines like, “But here I am Valero bathroom/ Whose paid to keep these things cliche/ Bury me beneath New York State/ It’s the only place where I feel dead” and the line about writing down the jerk gas station attendant’s name and immediately sympathizing with her for having to work such a shitty job are great any way you look at them.

11. AJJ - “Junkie Church” (The Bible 2)
It was tough to pick a favorite track from The Bible 2. It’s just such a great album album. “Junkie Church” won out because the last verse in the song was maybe my favorite verse of the year. Plus, and I mentioned this in the Favorite Albums list when talking about The Bible 2, the repeated references to Milky Way candy bars really spoke to my soul.

10. Jeff Rosenstock - “Staring Out the Window At Your Old Apartment” (Worry)
Jeff Rosenstock, where have you been all my life? Oh, right, playing in a band I never listened to even though that band (Bomb the Music Industry!) is well within my wheelhouse but you can only get to so much stuff with so little time and you chalk it up for a loss but then hey, at least now you have a whole new discography to dig through and that’s pretty cool. Where was I? Oh yeah, right, Rosenstock, the prodigal one. Last year’s We Cool was such a staple that I wasn’t ready for Worry and filed it away under “Gonna be regretting not putting this on the list in April 2017.” This song kicked me right in the pants, though, because there really is nothing more depressing than seeing a decorative surfboard up in your friend’s old apartment where their records and books used to be.

9. Conor Oberst - “Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)”/ "Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out" (Ruminations)
“It costs twenty dollars/ To visit Fallingwater/ It’s a perfect house where no one lives” is one of my favorite lines of the year. I'm also a huge fan of the spontaneous album, and the magic that can be made when things aren't worked to death. I'm cheating here because why not.

8. Kevin Devine - “I Was Alive Back Then” (Instigator)
Kevin Devine’s Instigator traffics in power pop vibes pretty much throughout, but the last track on the records vibrates with the deep and raw personal truths that I live for. When listening to music, nothing is more satisfying to me than finding a songwriter willing to lay everything out there for all to see.

7. The Hotelier - “Two Deliverances” (Goodness)
I didn’t think Goodness quite reached the intense emotional peaks of its predecessor (and it certainly wasn’t a requirement as the band can make whatever the hell they want), but this song sure as hell did. I'm probably on the wrong side of history with this record, because even in the week since publishing my favorite albums list I feel like I didn't slot it high enough after a couple more listens.

6. Martha - “Curly & Raquel” (Blisters in the Pit of My Heart)
Song of the Year if you’re judging only on a track that was able to find all of my joy sensors and overload them so that my brain turned into a big euphoric puddle. In a year where Los Campesinos! (weirdly) didn’t release a record, Martha picked up the slack in the punk-tinged indie-pop department and “Curly & Raquel” only edges out the other six or seven songs from the record that could occupy this slot because it was the first one I heard.

5. Big Thief - “Masterpiece” (Masterpiece)
Man alive, sometimes you stumble onto a music video and put it on because you like the band’s name and you end up with one of your favorite records of the year. I love it when that happens, and I love the title track from Big Thief’s magnificent debut LP. I feel like this track exists outside of time and it’s so damn hard to pull that off.

4. Frank Ocean - “Ivy” (Blonde)
Here’s the requisite “I checked out this big record outside of my comfort zone and it was incredible” pick of the year. I put Blonde on as a way to push myself outside of my indie rock wheelhouse a little bit and this one knocked me on my ass so hard I fell through the floor. It manages to be beautiful, heartbreaking, innovative, passionate, genre bending and an ear worm all at once and, yeah, just give Frank Ocean a license to print money ok? I’m on board.


3. John K Samson - “Winter Wheat” (Winter Wheat)

There are five or six tracks from John K Samson’s new record that could occupy this slot, but it goes to the title track because it was my post-election salve. I woke up that Wednesday morning, heart still in my stomach, beginning to process the horrors ahead, and put this album on while I made breakfast for Rosie. I put it on because Winter Wheat feels like an album about having hope and persevering and doing one’s best to create a better world. There are copious incredible lines scattered throughout Winter Wheat (as there are with any album associated with Samson) and in the wake of the election results, the line “We know this world is good enough because it has to be” (lifted from a novel by Miriam Toews) put me at ease. In Samson’s own words, “That’s exactly what I want the heart of this record to say. Not this idea that we should be complacent about how the world is, but the fact that we have to accept certain things about who we are and we have to survive.”

2. Joyce Manor - “Last You Heard of Me” (Cody)

Joyce Manor’s knack for short songs with sturdy emotional backbones was what immediately drew me to their records moth-to-flame style, but this song is in a league of its own. In two and a half minutes there’s a build, and then there’s a burst, and in between there is a short story about a night out at a karaoke bar that turns from meet-cute to a twists into a meditation on detachment and a knowing unwillingness to commit to anybody and glimpsing a cycle of bars and one night stands that effectively goes on indefinitely since the song ends without giving us any more than that. The songwriting is deft and the track is infinitely replayable and you realize that even this early in their career, and even though these guys are young as hell, they’ve basically already mastered their thing, and just looking at the growth models leads me to believe these guys are going to be making songs of this caliber for a very long time.

1.Mitski - “Your Best American Girl” (Puberty 2)

I would love to see the slow motion replay of how I came to this track. Certainly Mitski’s Puberty 2 had been on my periphery. Though I quit reading music reviews in 2016, things would pop up in my newsfeed or I’d see the grades in passing while scrolling through the AV Club. I think I saw the cover, thought it was some sort of electronica thing, moved on, found out it had guitars and pulled up the single on Youtube. And I sat there on some random night in the first days of Summer, and five seconds after the chorus hit I quietly muttered to myself: “Song of the year.” “Your Best American Girl” was a no doubter. The songwriting--both sonically and lyrically--is exquisite. Gorgeous, emotionally fraught, heartbreaking, all the things that go to make a compelling listen, right there from an incredible new(ish) voice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My Favorite Albums of 2016

The back bit of 2016 is usually when I do most of my music consumption these days. I have my favorite records I carry through the first 9 months of the year, and spend the last three frantically trying to make sure I didn’t miss anything. But given that 2016 ended up being one of the worst years in recent memory, there was little time or drive to engage. Mind you, I was DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER in 2015 and underwent a surgery where I had my throat slit ear to ear and 2016 was still more emotionally exhausting and stressful.

I can’t tell if 2016’s gloom and doom shaded my usual enthusiasm or if it was just a down year records-wise. From January on it felt like every record I was looking forward to didn’t quite live up to my expectations. It’s not that they were particularly lofty, it’s just that in almost all cases the ones I wanted the most weren’t as good as their predecessors. That’s entirely subjective, but it still seemed weird, and most of those albums made the list.

Which is to say, this list feels diminished, and it feels diminished because I feel diminished and I just couldn’t get my head in the right place to listen to music. I feel like my heart’s not in it. Even when I was enjoying music, there were only a couple records this year that took over my life. The periods of takeover were shorter than usual, but it’s still a miracle to find ANY album that has that power. I think a lot of this detachment can be chalked up to my attention span, which was very bad this year, and especially after the election. You try to have hope, but then reality avalanches its way back into your headspace and you just play videogames or listen to Fantasy Football podcasts until the bad thoughts are abated.

The silver lining of the broken attention span led to a list of Favorite Songs of 2016 that is as long as my arm. I am and have always been an Album person, but this is one of those rare years where my Favorite Songs list feels like a more accurate picture of my listening habits in 2016. The other elephant in the room is that I spent the first five months of the year listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat and it jacked up the Album of the Year picture pretty immensely. Since Hamilton was released in 2015 it is disqualified from entry, so what to do? Here are the 15 albums I listened to the most this year. While I didn’t love all of them, I did like them enough to listen to them dozens of times.

Honorable Mention Division
15. Rooftop Vigilantes - Let it Be
(High Dive)
This was the only record I bought in 2016 because I love these guys and seeing them live at the Replay on what feels like a weekly basis when I was still living in Lawrence was a great privilege and pleasure. That this band never really got their due despite writing some of the best songs I have ever heard is one of those things that breaks my heart if I think about it for too long. This one's another winner, and only on the honorable mention list because there is a huge toy princess castle blocking the LP collection.

14. Modern Baseball - Holy Ghost
(Run For Cover)
Though I’m a geek for bands with two singers/songwriters splitting an album in half, Holy Ghost ended up feeling top heavy. I just much preferred Jake Ewald’s songs to Brendan Lukens’ and I think the even split (read: the first half of the album is Ewald, the second is Lukens) makes the album feel uneven whereas interspersing them would make for a more satisfying listen. It’s like Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, where the A Side is all the hits I love and the B Side is a bunch of weird stuff that I never listen to. And while I prefer Ewald’s more idiosyncratic songwriting, Lukens’ “Just Another Face” is probably the best song on the album. Despite not living up to You’re Gonna Miss it All, Holy Ghost is a better record. That doesn’t make any sense, I know, but I always evaluate but  Modern Baseball continued maturing their sound and their stock is still very high in the little personal bubble where I live and evaluate the hard work of people far more talented than I.


13. The Hotelier - Goodness
(Tiny Engines)
The Hotelier’s breakout 2014 record Home, Like Noplace is There was my second favorite album of that year, and the one I still listen to the most from that terrific 2014 class. Needless to say, hopes were very high for this one, and I listened to it a ton, and it never quite lived up to my (probably outlandish) expectations. Goodness has an entirely different energy than its predecessor, and I never quite locked into it despite listening to it a ton on nightly runs during the summer. I kept hoping things would click and they never quite did. That’s not to say I think it’s a bad record, I mean, obviously it’s not, considering it’s here on this list. It’s a contender for the Retroactive Best of 2016 list I mentally compile when I realize I find that I’m listening to records from the previous year with much more gusto than I did upon their release. One thing I did love about this record is Christian Holden’s songwriting, which is as strong as ever.


12. Kevin Devine - Instigator
(Procrastinate! Music Traitors)
My goodness does Kevin Devine know how to churn out blissful power pop. His name has floated around my orbit a little bit for the last ten years or so but I don’t think I’d ever listened to one of his albums until this one--thanks to its excellent album cover, which easily garners the Album (Art) of the Year award, if only because it so vividly resembles my own childhood--and goddamn. Just goddamn, Kevin. A fistful of earworms and emotions. Outstanding work.


11. Mitski - Puberty 2
(Dead Oceans)

There was a moment at the end of the summer where I listened to “Your Best American Girl” for the first time and the second that chorus crashed in, I said “album of the year” under my breath. While that didn’t exactly end up being the case, it’s still an excellent album anchored by Mitski Miyawaki’s outstanding songwriting and emotive and perpetually heartbroken vocals. Musically I couldn’t get around how much the lead off track “Happy” reminded me of the lead-off track from the last St. Vincent record and that shaded the rest of the album upon repeat listens. The most important takeaway was discovering that Miyawaki is as an absolute force to be reckoned and wrote some of the most incisive, fearless, and powerful lyrics of the year.


Top 10 Division


10. Tancred - Out of the Garden
(Polyvinyl)
This one came out of nowhere when I randomly saw the video for “Pens” and latched onto the track’s fierce late 90s Kill Rock Stars vibe. The rest of the album bears all of the hallmarks of that era’s golden age (with debts owed to Sleater-Kinney, Julie Ruin, and Kathleen Hanna) but never feels like a tribute act. Instead, Jess Abbott gleefully blends crunchy post-grunge guitars with a sturdy pop sensibility to craft these muscular little earworms. I only listened to this album a few times in one marathon session and that was enough to warrant a spot on the list, which is really a testament to this record’s solidness.


9. PUP- The Dream is Over
(Sideonedummy)
PUP’s approach to pop-punk is a weird roundabout one that has the energy of the angst and power chords stuff I grew up on but a tendency to slow it down, get weird, and absolutely bury songs in euphoric sing-a-long chants, choruses, and whoa-a-ohs. But then there’s “The Coast,” a creepy retelling of an Inuit story about a girl pulled into a frozen lake by monsters and the versatile closer “Pine Point” is a murky rumination on a Yukon ghost town. These two songs break up the hyperactive energy and make for a surprisingly well-rounded record (by traditional pop-punk standards) that I was able to return to again and again this year whenever I needed a solid kick in the pants.


8. Crying - Beyond the Fleeting Gales
(Run for Cover)
Crying’s sophomore effort might be the most remarkable album of the year, if only because of the stylisic chasm that divides it from its predecessor. Crying’s debut--2013’s Get Olde--was Nintendo-heavy chiptune with some vocals laid in to get drowned out. A novel concept--a chiptune band with a singer! These almost sound like pop songs!!--but short on execution. Beyond the Fleeting Gales sounds like a different band. The Nintendo synths have been mellowed into an idiosyncratic digital orchestra, and as fun as chiptune can be, it’s never a genre that would be mistaken for beautiful. And here’s Crying, building something ecstatic and weird and retro and totally fresh. And that’s before I even get into Elaiza Santos’ vocals, which burrow deep into the core of my bitter, blackened heart and unleash the fervent love for twee pop I buried there ten years ago.
7. AJJ - The Bible 2
(Sideonedummy)
The Bible 2’s predecessor--my Favorite Record of 2014, Christmas Island--set the bar pretty high, and while I didn’t think it quite surpassed that record’s insane, ramshackle majesty, it’s still pretty goddamn great. I didn’t immediately take to it as I did Christmas Island, which seems to be a trend with AJJ records (I was cool on Knife Man after being all in on Can’t Maintain). Uncovering the album’s overarching concept was key to my engagement. That, and how Sean Bonnette can break your heart by making reference to a Milky Way Lite and calling back to it five songs later. It’s another forward step for a band that keeps making them and I reserve the right to retroactively bump this one up a couple spots when I REALLY get into it. The Bible 2 is Rosie’s pick for Album of the Year. That’s cheating, because this was the one that was always on in the car. It has been the CD occupying my CD player since its release, as I usually keep one in there when I don’t want to go through the trouble of plugging in my phone. As a result, I was treated to my 2 year old daughter singing along to lines like, “I love you cuz I love you cuz I can” and “I saw white worms I saw white worms” and saying things like, “I LOVE THIS MUSIC!” That’s all a proud papa can hope for when he’s introducing his progeny to “the good shit.”
6. Big Thief - Masterpiece
(Saddle Creek)
Man oh man does this record have a big heart. It feels like you’re right there with the band, sitting on the floor of someone’s living room, watching them tell you these beautiful little stories. The record is unassuming and loose, at times haunted, at times broken hearted, but always pulsing with this sense of the deep truths being revealed in plain sight. It's a small marvel, and the title track is one of the songs of the decade.

5. Pinegrove - Cardinal
(Run for Cover)
After a few cursory listens I filed this one under “I bet I’ll be super into this next year.” Then I listened to the album while driving home from work in a snowstorm and it clicked so hard it vaulted into the Top 10. Those records always end up being my favorites. Well, not always, but sometimes you can just spot something special but can’t quite comprehend it and you know it’s good and you know it’s gonna click and when it does it’s gonna be a lifer. And Cardinal definitely feels like a lifer. It’s a tremendous testament to distance and displacement, with equal footing in alt-country and emo revivalism. And now that I have wrapped my brain around it, I can almost guarantee I’ll be kicking myself for not placing it higher on the list in a few months.


4. Joyce Manor - Cody
(Epitaph)
Joyce Manor’s placement has a lot to do with their 2014 album Never Hungover Again, which, if you stripped out the pesky “Best Album of 2016 Must Have Been Released in 2016” caveat to this list, would be my album of the year. I listened to that album obsessively, and when the new one came out, I listened to that one obsessively too. I just can’t tell you enough how much I love sub-two minute songs and how amazing Joyce Manor are at making 20 minute LPs you can listen to over and over and over and over and over and over again.


3. Conor Oberst - Ruminations
(Nonesuch)
Conor Oberst takes a break from his band to make a quick record of stripped down tunes and goddamn is it good. It’s basically his version of Springsteen’s Nebraska with way more harmonica. I did not expect to love this record as much as I did, but there I was this fall, looking for something to listen to and using Ruminations as my default album to put on for every occasion. It’s raw and messy and real and really damn good stuff. Ten or so years ago, right after the release of Cassadaga, I bought an original pressing of Letting off the Happiness at the Lawrence Antique Mall for $30 with the intent of flipping it since it was currently going for around $300 on eBay. “This is probably peak Conor Oberst, right?” I thought. I hung onto it, and it survived the Cancer Cull because it’s a monument to how wrong I was.


2. Martha - Blisters in the Pit of My Heart
(Dirtnap)
Martha have filled that void in my heart left by Daniel Blumberg when he left Yuck. That’s not to say Martha crib the heavy 90s alt rock influences from Yuck’s first record, but there’s something in that British vocal delivery and the ramshackle pop songs that scratches that same itch. Martha operate in vintage twee pop territory filtered through the lens of brash pop punk power chords. The singer can’t sing, but that’s how I like my singers, so of course this is one of my favorite records of the year. And of course this thing has hooks that a bunch of proper singers would kill for. This one is distilled joy from end to end.


1. John K Samson - Winter Wheat
(Anti)
My fierce love and loyalty to the songs of John K Samson barely needs an introduction. The Weakerthans were the key to transforming me from a young, angry punk rocker into a more sensitive, musically adventurous young man, and he’s my favorite songwriter of all time. Without question. John Darnielle, Craig Finn, and Dan Bejar are all up there, but Samson speaks directly to my soul. His songs have been there for all of the major moments in my life, because I always found a way to tie the major moments in my life to one of his songs. When Jenny and I started dating I had “The Reasons.” When we were driving to the hospital to deliver Rosie, we listened to Samson’s debut solo record Provincial as we radiated with excitement and fear and the prospect of our world being totally upended in a matter of hours. I also listened to that record a lot when I was in the hospital recovering from my thyroidectomy and modified neck dissection in 2015, notably “Letter in Icelandic from the Ninette San” when my guests had gone home. His songs have always given me hope, and I question as a hardline cynic whether or not I would have any had I never heard “Aside” for the first time when I was venturing out from Propagandhi and felt my sonic world seismically shift. Winter Wheat is another masterpiece in a catalog littered with them. Generous, deeply gratifying, a gift. 2016 was full of emotional exhaustion and political anguish, but the quiet activism of Samson’s songs makes for a perfect soundtrack for terrible times.