20. Matthew E. White - “Take Care of My Baby” (Fresh Blood)
I saw Mr. White open for the Mountain Goats when we were living in Minneapolis and he was a delight. And then I forgot about him. And then I randomly got this album, put it on, and holy shit, I was grooving around the bedroom. How can a big white dude like that sing with so much soul?
19. Waxahatchee - “Poison” (Ivy Tripp)
“Is this on Merge?” I asked Jenny when we listened to this album in the car right after it came out. Sure enough. Merge Records. Makes sense, since this sounds like a Merge record from the 90s. Just the distortion on the guitars, the raw, earnest vocals, the general heartswelling vibe. Katie Crutchfield forever.
18. Wilco - “Magnetized” (Star Wars)
The Song Exploder podcast did an episode where Jeff Tweedy discussed his process and how it birthed this track and it was the most inspiring thing I heard all year. Listen to it here. The chorus is so simple and beautiful and full of sweet affection for Tweedy’s wife, but never sappy, as is his way. Though I lost the man, the man hasn’t lost it.
17. Sufjan Stevens - “Eugene” (Carrie & Lowell)
I know the detail of the man who taught Stevens how to swim calling him Subaru is meant to draw out a really sweet sort of reaction, and I’m a sucker. It’s tough to pick just one track from Carrie & Lowell, as the sonic and thematic link between the tracks is so strong, but “Eugene” is the feeliest.
16. Julien Baker - “Sprained Ankle” (Sprained Ankle)
It takes guts to put yourself out there in song, but it takes more guts to do it on a track that is stripped down to its bones. A little plucked guitar and some atmospherics are the only thing that keep Baker’s raw vocals company. It’s a little monument that says it is OK for music to be simple and beautiful.
15. The Tallest Man on Earth - “Dark Bird is Home” (Dark Bird is Home)
I’m a sucker for any song that has strings come in towards the end. It’s an easy triumph, and the strings that crash in on this track’s climactic moment are excellent. I do not understand how this album got a universal “Eh” from the rock chump community.
14. Bill Ryder-Jones - “Tell Me You Don’t Love Me Watching” (West Kirby County Primary)
Though the rest of West Kirby County Primary is pretty standard folky brit-rock, the opener is a slow, lurid scene. It could come across as trashy, but there’s enough self-deprecation to make the guy watching his ex from afar a sad and mournful thing.
13. Titus Andronicus - “Fired Up” (The Most Lamentable Tragedy)
TMLT is a lot to unpack, and its two most immediate and accessible tracks come back to back in the middle of the record. “Fired Up” edges out “Dimed Out” because I’m a sucker for big, anthemic choruses and calls to action and the Springsteen that resides in the blood of these New Jerseyites. Excuse me while I find a brick wall to run through.
12. Laura Stevenson - “Claustrophobe” (Cocksure)
I’m pretty sure Laura Stevenson is my spirit animal. I feel like these days I want to find music that matches the sound of my spirit, and the prechorus and chorus of this track is pretty much a perfect match. Strangely, this song kept coming up on shuffle. I had the whole album on my phone, in addition to ten other albums, and this one was always the first or second song that would pop up when I shuffled. So maybe the universe was trying to tell me something. If so, it worked.
11. Mikal Cronin - “Turn Around” (MCIII)