songs

LISTcavage: 17 Songs From 2017

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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.

Nostalgia and Melancholy: 9 Songs To Ease You Into Autumn

Photo courtesy of Cristina Cianci

Photo courtesy of Cristina Cianci

By Robert Masiello

“I sat listlessly on my porch at home, crying over the way summer would not come again, never the same.”—Sylvia Plath         

I’ve always hated autumn. I realize this puts me in the minority of New Englanders, most of whom embrace the season’s brisk air, bright foliage, and pumpkin-flavored whatever. Don’t get me wrong, I see the appeal—the nights are more comfortable for sleeping, the clothes are more fashionable, the restlessness of summer finally simmers, and the world slows down. But this season is also tied to an undercurrent of melancholy and decay. The days are shorter, and darkness nestles itself into the workday little by little. The leaves, though vibrant, are ultimately an ode to impermanence. Even the air is sinister, teasing us with a feeling of crispness before ushering in more biting temperatures. Fall is deceptive, masking atrophy with beauty.

I don’t liken my disdain for autumn to emotional maturity. In fact, it may well be evidence of the opposite, of an unwillingness to let go of the past and find hope in transitions. My tendency for bouts of nostalgia probably doesn't help matters, with the onset of fall serving not only as a reminder of the fleeting joys of summer, but also missed opportunities and unmet expectations. By the time fall comes around, we’re well into the second half of the calendar year, and callously reminded that time is relentless. Fall doesn’t care that you worked too much this summer, or that you never made that one last beach trip. Fall is unconcerned with the tedious coursework that awaits you at the start of a new semester. Fall is a cruel gesture, and in its path leaves naked trees and frostbitten grounds.

So maybe you’re like me and embrace autumn the way one embraces a root canal. Or maybe you’d just enjoy a wistful, subdued soundtrack to ring in the cooler months. Either way, here’s a playlist intended to comfort the sad souls this September.

“September Come Take This Heart Away” by Carissa’s Wierd

Before Ben Bridewell went off to make tepid country rock with Band of Horses, he was a member of Carissa’s Wierd (intentionally misspelled), a band that created some of the most elegantly mournful music of the early ‘00s. Any song in their brief but powerful catalogue aches with longing, but perhaps none more so than "September Come Take This Heart Away." 

“This room has so many windows, too many windows/I’ve sat and watched the trees framed to fade outside,” singer Matt Brooke begins. It’s the sound of feeling powerless against the march of time, and being forced to confront change and disappointment.

“Immunity” (Asleep Version) by Jon Hopkins

This is the reworked title track from Jon Hopkins’ fourth album, released as part of a gorgeous EP last year. Most of the electronic elements are stripped away in this version, revealing a naked piano ballad with ethereal vocals provided by King Creoste. It’s an unspeakably moving arrangement, with lyrics that mourn broken promises and letdowns. This song’s beauty is almost otherworldly, and proof that restraint and minimalism often yield the most breathtaking results.

“The Mark” by Cold Specks

Canadian singer-songwriter Al Spx, who records as Cold Specks, has a weathered, soulful voice that belies her age of 27. A truly gifted lyricist, she gives just enough detail in her songs to create a storyline, without making anything too obvious. This track from her 2012 debut seems to tell the story of a man who lost his infant son to either miscarriage or illness.

“Cross your heart and remember me, a good father and a bad seed,” she murmurs, downtrodden but resilient. By taking on the voice of her subject, she imbues the song with warmth and empathy, despite its dark subject matter.

“Fields of Our Home” by Tallest Man on Earth

The Tallest Man on Earth’s latest album “Dark Bird is Home” opens with this stunner. It begins as a rather conventional folk song, propelled by Kristian Matsson’s Dylan-esque vocals. But in the final verse, his voice unexpectedly gets shrouded in reverb, lending it both intimacy and vastness. The overall effect induces chills of the highest order, and Matsson closes by asking, “Is this a lifetime or some years?” It perfectly encompasses the way a moment, a year, or a lifetime can feel simultaneously infinite and fleeting.

“Tiny Gradations of Loss” by The Caretaker

The Caretaker captured ears and hearts with his 2011 release “An Empty Bliss Beyond This World.” A poignant meditation on Alzheimer’s and the restorative power of music, this conceptual album sounds beamed in from the memories of your great-grandparents. "Tiny Gradations of Loss” (starts at 36:03) masks a cheerful piano melody with static and glitchy interruptions, as if the moment of joy it captures is just on the verge of fading from memory permanently.

“All Equal Now” by Belong

Belong’s 2006 masterpiece “October Language” is perhaps one of the most mysterious albums in recent memory. Recorded in pre-Katrina New Orleans and donning ominous song titles such as “I’m Too Sleepy, Shall We Swim?,” the album can’t help but feel a bit prophetic. The music recalls Tim Hecker, and the shoe-gaze elements give it a harrowing, claustrophobic feel. This standout cut begins delicately, and builds to a deafening squall of noise. And yet, despite the harshness of the track’s second half, it never loses the warm ambient textures it begins with; the white noise buries the warmth, but doesn’t eliminate it. As such, it’s actually somewhat hopeful and indicative of rebirth.

“Gigantic” by Eddi Front

Eddi Front appeared out of nowhere in 2012 with a brief collection of stark piano ballads that sounded far too sophisticated for an unknown artist. There’s little information available about her, but her debut album is allegedly due for release this year. In the meantime, check out this title track from her earlier EP.

“Ive always been slow to get off of some drugs, to let go of some loves,” she admits, coming to terms with romantic loss. But the song isn’t all hopeless floundering: “I’ll crawl out of this hole soon enough,” she promises, able to see beyond the rubble.

“Never Anyone But You” by The Clientele

Few modern bands sound as distinctly “British” as The Clientele, and even if their discography doesn’t take many risks, the songwriting is reliably strong. Their brand of nostalgic Brit-pop is heavy on charm, but also has a ghostly quality that gives their material added depth. “Never Anyone But You” uses autumn as a metaphor for death, and even if that doesn’t sound particularly novel, the band pulls it off masterfully. The lyrics emphasize the way that memories color our emotions, even well after an event or relationship has ended: “So that summer passed, but I was never the same when I got home… there’s a phantom in the gaps between my bones.”

“Bonfire” by Memoryhouse

As expected given their name, Memoryhouse are unmatched at evoking nostalgia and yearning. The band has been mostly quiet since their debut LP dropped a couple years back, but this highlight is still an ideal soundtrack to chilly autumn nights. Singer Denise Nouvion pleads“lets get cold together,” grasping at a relationship on the verge of disintegrating with the onset of a new season. Her crystalline voice adds comfort to the sparse musical backdrop, like a sweater that fits tight in just the right places.

If any authors, writers, or musicians are interested in submitting a post for consideration, email admin@writersbone.com or tweet us @WritersBone.

For more writing playlists, check out our full archive.

Skeleton Crew: 5 Songs To Transform Your Demons Into Prose

By Daniel Ford

I couldn’t very well let the likes of Brian Panowich, David Joy, Michael Farris Smith, Steph Post, and Dave Pezza have all the fun.

I’m currently in the re-writing/editing phase of my debut novel, and along with an assist from authors Scott Cheshire, Anne Leigh Parrish, and the aforementioned Steph Post, as well as Dave and my writing muse/goddess Stephanie Schaefer, music helps me ignore the skeletons in my closet and embrace the better angels of my writer’s soul.

I’ve long maintained that good writing—that writing that violent wrests you away from realityshould read like the author wrote it while on fire (Ross Ritchell’s The Knife and Elliot Ackerman’s Green on Blue are excellent examples). Not flames of desperation, but of an inescapable, all-consuming earnestness that should ignite your own passion for your words and prose.

Here are five songs that might also help light your fuse.

Zac Brown Band “All Right”

This is a good place to start:

“I'd have a lot to give/If I still gave a damn.”

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young “Love the One Your With”

God, did I force my main character into some crappy situations while I listened to this song. Poor bastard didn’t even see it coming.

“Don't be angry, don't be sad/Don't sit crying over good times you've had/Well there's a girl sitting right next to you/And she's just waiting for something to do.”

My favorite version of this song is on Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “4 Way Street,” but for YouTube purposes, this version featuring four old guys with suspect vocals getting bluesy will do just fine (there’s also nothing like a Neil Young guitar solo to get you going on a Friday afternoon).

Elton John “Take Me to the Pilot”

I’ve long past the point of being objective about Elton John, but I defy anyone to find a subpar version of this song. It can’t be done. Talk about love on fire:

“If you feel that it's real I'm on trial/And I'm here in your prison/Like a coin in your mint/I am dented and I'm spent with high treason.”

And as the video above proves, this song only gets better with age.

Johnny Cash and June Carter "Jackson"

Jesus Christ, what a love affair. Between June Carter's growl and Johnny Cash's swinging hips, I'm surprised the set in this video didn't burn down. This is exactly how I wanted every relationship my main character had to sound: blistering, desperate, and just a little bit angry. 

Zac Brown Band “Let it Rain”

Fuck it. Why not end with one more tune from Zac Brown Band’s brilliant “Dave Grohl Sessions, Vol..1?”

After you’re done with the first draft of your novel, you have to celebrate. I opened up a bottle of single malt scotch, eased back in my desk chair, and smiled the widest grin I could muster. You’re certainly not at the end of the road, but you’ve hit a major milestone, so enjoy the moment. Let your skeletons darken your door a final time, and then calmly, confidently extend your middle finger.

Daniel Ford

Daniel Ford

Daniel Ford is an author based out of Boston, Mass. His work can be found on Amazon, Writer’s Bone, JCKonline.com, and HardballHeart.com. Follow him on Twitter

If any authors, writers, or musicians are interested in submitting a post for consideration, email admin@writersbone.com or tweet us@WritersBone.

For more writing playlists, check out our full archive

Sad and Big: ‘I Never Learn’ and the State of Music Criticism

Lykke Li

Lykke Li

By Robert Masiello

Is music criticism dead?

This has been the subject of much dispute lately, with various journalists and even artists offering their two cents. In response to the ongoing debate, composer Owen Pallet recently published an article which attempted to explain the “genius” of Katy Perry’s hit ‘Teenage Dream’ using solely music theory. It was an interesting turning point for the discussion, not to mention humorous, but did not quite resolve or expand the issue. Even Pallet himself seemed to be acknowledging the soullessness of such an exercise. But the question remains: is theory the only valid way to assess music, or is there value in subjective critiques?

To explore this issue in-depth, let’s look to Swedish songwriter Lykke Li’s latest album, “I Never Learn.” Her third release is a breakup album in the truest sense, full of moody, sweeping torch songs. Although the album has garnered praise from music criticism titans such as Pitchfork Media and Consequence of Soundothers have been less receptive. Drowned in Sound states that “it has a tendency towards bombast and shallow self-indulgence,” while The Guardian opines that the songs are “just sad and big.”

And herein lays the fundamental problem of music criticism: it is bullshit. It relies more on the attitude of the listener than the songs themselves. Most modern music reviews are simply a masturbatory exercise by the writer rather than a thoughtful analysis. I will demonstrate this by presenting two contrasting reviews (both written by me) for seventh track on “I Never Learn,” ‘Never Gonna Love Again.”

1. Worst of all is the albums seventh track, "Never Gonna Love Again." The song is almost laughably overblown as well as overproduced, sort of like slapping an Instagram filter onto a cheesy 1980s power ballad. “Every time the rain falls, think of me,” pleas Li, consumed by selfishness. So obsessed with her own misery, Li seems to have forgotten that wallowing is not a flattering trait, in a person or an album.
2. “I Never Learn” peaks with its seventh track, the soaring "Never Gonna Love Again.” Cavernous production gives the song an atmospheric quality as Li launches into a heart-wrenching chorus. “Every time the rain falls, think of me,” she pleads, terrified of evanescing into her ex’s past. It’s a selfish ode to love lost, but also profoundly human.

The above analyses are nearly identical in describing the song, but differ drastically in my own attitude. As a lowly blogger, I probably have no clout as to whether or not you purchase this album (I personally find it impeccable). But the gods over at Pitchfork do have influence, and it’s a sad truth that subjective opinions can determine an artist’s success. At the very least, reading a review will influence the way a listener hears an album, whether said listener wants to believe it or not. Now I certainly recognize that I am not the first person to make these points, but I would like to offer a way that subjectivity and music criticism can coexist.

An album should not be judged based on its intended goals, but how well it achieves its goals. This will buffer the influence of a reviewer’s attitude and provide a basis for a more valid analysis. Previously cited reviewers knock “I Never Learn” for being too sad, too monotonous, and too indulgent. That’s like criticizing a chocolate cake for being too…chocolate-y. Their opinions seem to represent a general dislike for breakup albums, rather than stating why “I Never Learn” fails as a breakup album.

Anyone who’s ever been dumped knows that heartache is typically followed by a period of mourning and self-indulgence. So of course the album is self-indulgent; it was born from late nights, red wine, and long drives. And spanning a slight 33 minutes, the record is hardly overdone. As such, criticizing Li for selfishness and bombast is irrelevant and unproductive. The album proudly flaunts the irrationality of heartache, even in its title, and that’s what makes it an unequivocal success.

On the final song, Li sings “save your heart for my heart, we’ll meet again.” It’s a foolish, beautiful, and devastating sentiment to conclude a new breakup album classic.

8 Sexy Sad Songs You Can Take to Bed…Even If You’re Alone

"Michael" by Gem Club makes our list.

"Michael" by Gem Club makes our list.

By Robert Masiello

Sadness and sex are inexorably linked.

The French understand this, coining the phrase le petit mort (a little death) to describe orgasm. While this directly references the release of tension following intercourse, there is something philosophical and altogether darker at play here as well. Their choice of words seems to indicate a yearning that remains intact even following sex. The intensity of the moment is met with an inevitable comedown, where we are forced to recognize the impermanence of fulfillment. The songs below capture the dichotomy between love and loss, between want and apprehension. They exist in the space that dominates so much of our emotions, yet remains nearly indescribable.

So maybe you’ve recently experienced a breakup. Perhaps you masturbate like Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive. Or maybe you realize just how fleeting love and sex truly are. Whatever the case, here’s a list of the sexiest sad songs (or is that saddest sexy songs?) you’ll ever hear.

“Bedroom Wall” by Banks

Banks is a young artist who will likely become a major presence this year. Her vocals drip with nostalgia for ‘90s R&B, while the airy electronic arrangements are very of-the-moment. On this track, she pines for another’s attention, wondering why he doesn’t recognize their potential. “Been losing all my shit for you ‘cause I’ve been thinking about putting my body on top of you” she sings alluringly. But she also sounds defeated, nearly torn apart by desire. It’s a spellbinding song that seduces as much as it aches.

“Corsicana” by The Antlers

No band is better at finding beauty in sadness than The Antlers. This track is one of their gentlest yet sultriest, using a burning house as a metaphor for a collapsing relationship. Celestial backing vocals swell over a delicate piano melody, and yet the song manages to stay grounded. It perfectly captures both the smoke rising towards heaven and the ashes collapsing down to earth. “We should hold our breath with mouths together now,” sighs Peter Silberman, seemingly torn between lust and indifference as the walls start to cave in.

“Unfold” by The xx

We are all guilty of embellishing relationships in our own heads. We strive to create meaning, twisting words and phrases to convince ourselves that the object of our desire wants us back. “Unfold” captures this perfectly. “In my head, you tell me things you’ve never said” coos singer Romy Croft over a spacious beat. When her voice entwines with her male bandmate’s for the chorus (“Let it unfold,” they plead), it’s both gorgeous and devastating, like waking from a dream that ends too soon.

“The Wilhelm Scream” by James Blake

“All that I know is that I’m falling, falling, falling…” sings Blake on his signature track, and you’d be forgiven for assuming that he’s falling in love. But halfway through the song, things get twisted. Ominous noises and hazy production envelop the music, suffocating his vocals and creating a sense of dreamy claustrophobia. “I don’t know about my love, I don’t know about my dreaming anymore…” he mutters through the distortion, wondering if he’s in too deep.

“Escape Before the Rain” by How to Dress Well

Songwriter Tom Krell records as How to Dress Well, a woozy electronic/R&B project. Imagine Justin Timberlake on codeine singing in a blizzard. His debut album “Love Remains” pairs his vulnerable falsetto cloaked with crackling, lo-fi production. While subsequent releases have been more accessible and confident, his debut still casts a spell. This standout track drapes a simple piano line over nearly inscrutable lyrics, but the mystery adds to its power; it’s unclear if he’s looking to escape with a lover, or from a lover. A whiff of apocalypse adds urgency and depth to this sparse ballad.

“Michael” by Gem Club

This Boston band’s sophomore album oozes romance and warmth, but their trademark melancholy still runs strong. “Michael” is one of the shortest and most direct songs they’ve recorded. It depicts a daydream, longing for someone who remains maddeningly out of reach. The song ends rather abruptly and leaves the listener wanting more, symbolizing the frustration and ache of unrequited love.

“I Need My Girl” by The National

The National isn’t a band one would typically associate with “sexy,” but they’ve never been more unabashedly romantic than on this track from their stellar 2013 release. The song’s narrator recognizes the imperfection of his relationship (“Remember when you lost your shit and drove the car into the garden?”), yet wants nothing more than to be back in the arms of his lover.

“Body Butter” by Kevin Drew

“Get the body butter baby, let’s go party all alone,” Drew beckons at the beginning of this wistful song, accompanied by a lighthearted strum. At first it sounds like a getaway, a retreat with his lover from the chaos of existence. However, a close listen reveals that he is reminiscing; the body butter and steamy nights are just memories that he’s grasping onto. “You wore my hands out…” he repeats, indicating both longing and exhaustion from a tumultuous relationship.