Writer's Guide to Music

LISTcavage: 17 Songs From 2017

listcavage17albums.jpg

Adam Vitcavage liked lists long before Buzzfeed figured out how to monetize them. So now he wants to share his love of lists with you. Each week, he’ll round up a list featuring anything anything pop culture related from literature to music to cool designers that you should buy prints from. Welcome to LISTcavage.

Are you over all of those end of year lists telling you why the same group of songs are the best of the year? Okay, I get it. Kendrick Lamar is king. Kesha went from that singer with a dollar sign in her name to producing one of the most beautifully heartbreaking albums of all time. Those are great. But here are 17 songs from 2017 that might have flown under the radar. Or not. Either way, check out this playlist.

“Yours” by Now, Now

Their first single in half a decade“SGL”—was NPR’s seventh favorite song of the year and my first. Their second single was more synth-filled, but just as catchy. Cacie Dalager’s vocals over Brad Hale’s instrumentation is alt-pop heaven.

“Same Dark Places” by JR JR

After an episode on stage, Josh Epstein wrote this infectious song about how we all might have similar demons, which is okay as long as we know where to find the light. He and Daniel Zott have been slaying for years, but, according to Twitter, they plan on just releasing a slew of singles for the next year or so.

“Runaway” by A.W.

A.W. released quite a few albums under their previous name Allison Weiss. Those albums were lovesick ego power ballads that were terrific. Now, they shifted their sound and wrote one of the catchiest songs of the year alongside Tegan Quin from Tegan and Sara.

“Call It Off” by Chvrches (Tegan and Sara cover)

Since I mentioned the twin sisters earlier, I figured I should include one of the covers from their 2007 album that was re-released with unique covers. Lauren Mayberry is one of my favorite vocalists right now and this is one one my favorite Tegan and Sara songs. It was a perfect match.

“Recite Remorse” by Waxahatchee

Katie Crutchfield's "Out in the Storm" album got a lot of recognition in the indie world this year lead by “Never Been Wrong.” It was the slower burning “Recite Remorse” that resonated with me so much though. Her vocals and the ambient chords are the perfect sonic blend that I’m always seeking.

“Management of Savagery” by Richard Edwards

He was the leader of a pretty popular (in the cult sense) band called Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s. This is a random song off his official debut album that I just really love. He told me in an interview that it was inspired by how awful ISIS made him feel. So that’s… pretty different

“Objects” by Big Thief

They’re is another premiere indie band from 2017 with a lot of songs getting a lot of street cred. This song is a deep, deep, deep cut from their album that just has a lot of short, sweet guitar riffs.

“Never Start” by Middle Kids

These Aussies have five songs to their name and I’m cheating by suggesting you definitely listen to their most popular “Edge of Town” along with this song. Both are just the type of indie rock that you would imagine being in a Michael Cera movie ten years ago, but with the refined taste that the indie blogosphere has come to demand now.

“North South East West” by Japandroids

These guys were topping all of the "best of" lists a few years back, but I haven’t seen too many people crushing on their recent album as much. Maybe it's worse? I don’t think so and this song is definitely catch. Check out their older stuff if there’s even an inkling of “oh yeah, that’s nice” when listening to this song.

“Take It” by Jay Som

Jay Som was actually the breakout band in the alternative world. Melina Duterte created it all herself from the crunchy guitars to the no-gimmick drumming. “The Bus Song” was in most people’s (including myself) top indie rock songs of the year. But I always had a soft spot for this track that’s nearly at the end of the album.

“Guardian” by Tigers Jaw

These guys sound like your favorite band from high school. They perfected that power pop punk vibe and have a lot of fun playing live. It’s easy to turn on any of their songs and feel nostalgia even though they released this song in 2017.

“Ride It Out” by TW Walsh

This man is criminally underrated in mainstream rock. The stuff he does my layering so many pleasant sounds but giving them all space to breath is outstanding. He’s a jack of all trades and he has mastered them all.

“Hot Thoughts” by Spoon

Speaking of giving room to breath, this song does so much, but it’s not in your face. It’s fun, but in the kind of way that sneaks up on you.

“Treasure” by Company of Thieves

Company of Thieves put out two unique records a few years ago and then basically disbanded. Genevieve, their lead singer put out some ultra pop music, but they reunited this year and recorded this single that blends their old quirky rock with some poppy undertones.

“Inner Lover” by Land of Talk

While everyone is shifting toward poppy synths, Land of Talk keeps it absolutely dreamy on this song. From Elizabeth Powell’s vocals to the soft snare drum hits. It’s relaxing without being tiresome.

“Shades” by Alexandra Savoir

I don’t actually know too much about Savoir and honestly haven’t listened to her album that much, but this song kills me. That funky bass tickling my ears in the background is just… *mwah*.

“Praying” by Kesha

Screw what I said in my intro. This song is too gorgeous not to put on this list.

Musical Foliage: 10 Songs for Autumns Past and Present

Photo credit:  Denis Collette

Photo credit: Denis Collette

Editor’s note: Toward the end of the summer, I asked music gurus Rob Masiello and Mike Nelson to compile a list of fall music. It turned into a weepy email exchange that lingered for weeks. There are some great tunes on this list, but brace your heart for whatever palpitations, longings, or stirrings that may result.—Daniel Ford

Rob Masiello: I should preface by saying that I'm at my moodiest during the fall, and my playlist selections will shamelessly reflect that.

Mike Nelson: The things I associate most with the fall are apples, foliage, and getting sick for an uncontrollable amount of time. My criteria for music that fits the bill here is going to be super weird.

Rob: I'm going to take your apple reference and run with it, even if that makes this selection a bit too on-the-nose. Fiona Apple's "Parting Gift" is the perfect soundtrack for regretting your summer fling. "Oh you silly, stupid pasttime of mine" she scoffs, full of scorn where other songwriters would be tempted to imbue such a line with wistfulness. Apple's trademark sardonic wit ("you looked as sincere as a dog does when it's the food on your lips with which it's in love") pairs exquisitely with that crisp autumn air.

Mike: We're only one song in, and you've already introduced me to a beautiful song I had never heard before. Without even glancing at the lyrics, you know it's a song about heartbreak (or at least a break-up) from the style and from her changes in cadence and volume. Like Fiona, I, too, associate the fall with breaking up. I don't know why; I can't recall any major breakup in my life happening at this time of year. At least not after like, eighth grade, and if I'm going to sit down and figure out who of the many out-of-my-league ladies dumped me during the fall in middle school, we're going to be stuck on this email for months.

So if we're talking breakups, heavy emotions, and not wanting to let things go, I have to make my top pick "Bell Bottom Blues" by Derek & The Dominos. There's no better musical manifestation of hopeless, forbidden love than D&TD's “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.” And if you don't know the story behind that, I highly recommend you look back on it.

But like, if we want to keep things light, let's just pretend "Bell Bottom Blues" is about summer going away and how sad Eric Clapton was that summer was leaving. Yeah. Summer.

Rob: I'm glad we've wasted no time delving into the depressing aspects of the season (I certainly played no part in steering it that way). For me, fall has always been about leaving, about endings. My inability to process summer's passing is no doubt somewhat juvenile, but I am who I am.

Anyway, "Bell Bottom Blues" aches. And it's a more fleshed out rock song than anything I'll likely offer up over the course of this conversation, so anyone reading this who doesn't feel like falling asleep would be wise to check it out.

I'll also dig back into the ‘70s and submit Nick Drake's "Place to Be." Anything in his catalog would be suitably autumnal for these purposes, but when Drake sings, "I was strong, strong in the sun" on this track, that glimmer of hope amplifies the tragedy of a talent gone too soon.

Mike: Yes. The acoustic bouncing around the room and the soft voice with a little hint of "raspy" at the start makes you feel like Drake just woke up and started singing this as he rolled out of bed in the morning. I, personally, have never slept with a guitar, but I imagine if you do it enough times you figure out how to snap right into a tune.

I want to dive down this rabbit hole with you and just scream Ray Lamontagne's "Like Rock & Roll and Radio," but these first few songs have me down, and I'm sure they have the seven readers of this post down as well. Fall isn't just coming down from the summer, there's a certain excitement to fall. Sure, nature is dying all around you, and winter is com…winter is close. But going back to school was as fun as it was dreadful. For me, I liked only the whitest of music when I was in school. Classic rock. Grunge. Dave Matthews Band. But over time being a DMB fan exposed me to a bunch of great other musicians they had on as guests or as opening acts.

Which brings me to Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. I could spin a wheel and pull out any song of theirs, but I'll roll with "The Sinister Minister," which was their first song I had ever heard a clip of. I once heard this band described as the Harlem Globetrotters, and I have a tough time disagreeing with that except "Futureman," which is a pirate that plays a "drumitar."

I'd love to take a deep dive into the lyrics for you, Rob, but...well...there aren't any.

Rob: I'm glad you think we'll get seven readers. I'm thinking maybe five (including me and you) and then Daniel can read it two more times and get us to seven. Not to try and one-up you on bad taste, but my favorite band in high school was Evanescence, so...

I won't pontificate anymore about why fall is the worst season, but I'll never forgive you for calling it exciting. I'll have to give a listen to the Fleckstones when I'm not at work. I'd try to roll with something sonically similar for the sake of ~flow~ but since I've never heard them, I'll just have to wing it. (Side note: somewhere in the course of this week, I remembered that Fiona Apple has a song called "Pale September," and I'll never forgive myself for not using it.)

I'll evade the singer-songwriter fare for a moment for something a little more lush (but still hushed and lovely). Mutual Benefit's songs always let the light peek through, even though the passage of time never seems far from the band's thoughts. "Advanced Falconry" is probably the closest thing to a straight-up love song I'd ever put on a playlist, but it makes me swoon even in these chilly months.

Mike: My third pick is going to be extremely literal and come with a great deal of recency bias. Last night I saw one of the great live acts around: Future Islands. Their album, “The Far Field,” is easily my top album of 2017 so far, but I have to roll with their biggest hit: undeniable all-time jam, "Seasons (Waiting On You)." Not just because it's an awesome song, but also because the lyrics sync up pretty perfectly with this weird little "what is fall?" discussion we've had. This is what fall is: just whatever comes between summer and winter. We're being tugged between these two rascals:

"As it breaks, the summer will warm/but the winter will crave what is gone/will crave what has all...gone away"

As for your Mutual Benefit tune, it's funny, I had never heard them (him?) before, and I had the new Andrew Bird album queued up right behind it. And from the first 20 seconds or so, I thought it had skipped "Advanced Falconry" and jumped right into the Andrew Bird album. Beautiful tune. I'm saving that one to the archives. Thanks for the listen.

Rob: I just have never been able to get on board with Future Islands. Probably simply because some horrible guy I knew in grad school always told me how great they are. It's not fair, but it is what it is. But "Seasons" is a jam, and the band's performance of that song on Letterman a few years ago is a must-see for anyone who hasn't yet.

The ‘80s/new-wave-y sound of Future Islands is inspiring me to get straight up corny with this next song. I can't listen to Rod Stewart's "Forever Young" without crying (fight me), so it'll be the only track I skip when listening to our completed playlist. But summer is over, the kids are going back to school, youth is fleeting, etc. It's maudlin and maybe even tasteless, but so am I, so whatever.

I've now sat with this email open for about 30 minutes, debating if I really want to hit send and include Rod Stewart on our playlist. Here goes nothing.

Mike: Somebody hurt you real bad once, didn't they?

I don't mind having Rod on the list one bit, though my song choice would have been a little different, and here's why! I've been binging on “The Office” for a little while now, since I never watched the show in its entirety, and I can only assume Netflix will pull the plug on it before the year is through. The British version—aka the original, aka I can hold it over every basic chump that I watched that before the American adaptation—has a phenomenal theme song, pulled from Rod's "Handbags & Gladrags."

And so now I come to a theme we have totally flown past here: the fall means television is back! Or, at least, it meant that when most TV shows were watched on a weekly basis and not just dumped into an app for us gluttons to ravage without any consideration to the elements of pacing and time in art. There are some shows I still watch on a weekly basis—most notably “Survivor,” which I will likely never stop watching—but it feels like forever since the last time I gathered around the TV to watch a show's premiere besides “'vivor,” and that brings me to college when I would gather in my friend's dorm every Thursday night to watch “The O.C.” I never had a fake ID, so I wasn't old enough to get out to the bars yet on Thursday. Get over it.

Anyway, the show's theme song, Phantom Planet's "California," is one that not only stands out as a real song that could hold its own without the "theme song" tag, but it puts you directly in a place and time in life. And for most of the show's viewers, I think it also means you're being suffocated by enough drama to make you cry.

Rob: Wow, with TV premieres you've uncovered a whole new dimension of the season I hadn't even thought of. That Phantom Planet song is perfect because it's pure nostalgia, both for the memories it unearths in anyone aged 25-40, as well as the general wistfulness of the song itself. My dream job would be deciding which songs to put in TV/movie credits. How do I land that? Anyone know a guy? Actually, it's probably better for the world that I don't have that job. No one would want to hear "Forever Young" as the theme song for “Rugrats.”

So I guess this will be my fifth and last song. I believe Daniel's original request was for five each, and any more than that would probably be self-indulgent anyway. I could throw a curve ball here, finish with something buoyant and optimistic. But instead I'll stay planted in this weepy niche I've carved for myself.

“Songs About Leaving” by Carissa’s Wierd (intentionally misspelled) is perhaps my favorite album of all time, and contains the most autumnal music you will ever hear. It is one of those albums that just feels special, and you want to hold it as close to your heart as possible. The track called “Low Budget Slow Motion Soundtrack Song for the Leaving Scene” feels like the most appropriate way for me to end this piece.

The cascading melody and piano flourishes are as delicate as one last leaf clinging to a bare November tree. Singers Mat Brooke and Jenn Champion blend their voices, but sound like they’re each singing the same words from seedy hotel rooms on opposite sides of the country. The whole album is exquisite, and in all seriousness, I hope it touches at least one person reading this the way it touched me.

Mike: Okay, ya know what, Rob? I tried. I tried to bring you up and make you happy, and now I'm giving up. Yes, that song was beautiful, but come on man, all is not lost. It's perfect weather outside, basketball season just started...you're not going to drag me down with you into the winter music pit. Not yet, at least.

I had so many options to consider with my last pick. Do I pick a song where I can tell a great story to go along with it? Do I pick something ironic? Do I pick something I discovered in the fall, making this selection unnecessarily literal? No. I do none of these things.

The fall, for most of my life...hold on, let me do the math on that real quick...okay, yeah, for most of my life has meant going back to school. And when I think of the music I listened to in school, I think of ‘90s rock. Grunge, alternative, washed up classic rockers trying to get one last paycheck, it was all there. And despite the many, many contenders for this slot, I have to go with "Interstate Love Song" by Stone Temple Pilots. No song embodies the music I grew up with quite like it. If I even just hear someone say "the '90s," that song comes in my head. It's probably some kind of disease, but it's not one I'd ever want cured. On the scale of 0 to Perfect, this song comes as close to Perfect as possible for me.

Follow Writer’s Bone’s fall playlist on Spotify!

Get On Up: 5 Songs to Make You Smile While You Work

Photo courtesy of  Grammerly

Photo courtesy of Grammerly

By Daniel Ford

During our recent podcast at Brookline Booksmith with a foursome of horror authors, Sean Tuohy asked an intriguing question:

Can writers talk about happy things?

Sure, authors spend a lot of time torturing main characters—both emotionally and physically—but they must be able to unplug and enjoy things like a bouquet of puppies or a surprisingly warm review from The New York Times, right?

To find the answer to Sean’s question, I compiled five songs that just might melt your brooding writer façade. Feel free to add your own happy tunes in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

“Take It Slow” by The Mallett Brothers Band

Key lyrics: You can't slow down/You can't sit still/But the morning comes like they always will/When the sun comes up you gotta fill that cup /And your flat tire runs on the ground/And you're getting real low cause you're hanging round/Baby, can't you see/You gotta let it be

Maybe those pages kicked your ass today. Maybe you got some bad news from a literary agent or publisher. Maybe you’re screaming at your blinking cursor as if it’s the root cause of all your subpar ideas.

Your motor may always be running, but you can’t let it overheat. Take The Mallett Brothers Band’s advice: Take it slow for a couple minutes and “just let it slide.”

“Hold On” by Alabama Shakes

Key lyrics: You got to come on up/You got to hold on.

When Brittany Howard tells you to get on up, you do it!

“You Make Me Feel So Young” by Frank Sinatra

Key lyrics: The moment that you speak/I wanna go play hide-and-seek/I wanna go and bounce the moon/Just like a toy balloon

Obligatory Frank Sinatra song. But seriously, you can’t feel anything but young, fresh, and in love when you listen to this tune. You’ll also want to run through the park like Phoebe from “Friends.”

“This Magic Moment” by The Drifters

Key lyrics: Sweeter than wine/Softer than the summer night/Everything I want I have/Whenever I hold you tight

Yeah, I know, this song is used every time the boy finds the girl, kisses the girl, or wins the girl in any movie or television show set in the 1960s. You know why? Because this song never fucking gets old. You’d have to be heartless to find any fault with it. Plus, Michael “Squints” Palledorous…

“How Bad We Need Each Other” by Marc Scibilia

Key lyrics: You know I can get so high on myself sometimes/I keep on drifting a million miles from this planet/But what a shame it would be to look back on our life/And realize that I've taken you and me for granted/Not gonna do it now

Boy, do we badly need the sentiments found in Marc Scibilia’s exuberant, hopeful lyrics or what? The world is a mess, which is all the more reason we should find ways to stick together and stay positive rather than shrink from the gruesome news and divide ourselves.   

The Writer's Guide to Music Archives