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The Best of 2017

Another trip around the sun and time again to post my collection of the songs that caught my attention most in 2017. While Spotify has certainly helped introduce me to more music than I could ever have imagined, I still find myself hoping some of my old favorite bands will debut some new stuff that I’ll really love. But whether it’s an old artist or a new kid on the block, it all comes down to whether a song strikes me as “Best of” worthy or not.

This year, I only discovered 12 tunes that fit the bill. I’ve included videos for each song below along with a little commentary. Have a listen and I hope you enjoy. Happy holidays and all the best in 2018!

For Spotify lovers, click here for my playlist.

Need the MP3 files? You can download a zip file here.


1. “Hot Thoughts” – Spoon                            

Ah, new stuff from the boys from Austin, Texas. And it doesn’t disappoint. Probably my favorite album of the year with this one as its standout track – replete with groovy guitar licks, background bells and Britt Daniel’s hushed vocals. This marks the ninth Spoon song I’ve included in my annual collection – more than any other artist. Guess I like ’em.


2. “On Hold” – The xx 

Originally released at the very end of 2016 as the lead single of The xx’s new album, this duet between Jamie xx and Romy Croft is a slow burn with a great sample of Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That.” A real departure from their quieter, more serious early stuff.


3. “Emoji of a Wave” – John Mayer 

Off John Mayer’s terrific new album, this track about love and heartbreak was a real standout this summer. A powerful ballad that was fun to sing out loud in the car, especially when he cries out “oh, honey!” Give it a try!


4. “Prom” – SZA 

Solána Imani Rowe, better known as SZA (short for Sovereign Zig-Zag Allah), broke big this year with her “Ctrl” album. While not one of its singles, I really liked this cut about growing up (at least that’s what I think it’s about). Fun fact: SZA has written songs for the likes of Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Nice company!


5. “Feel It Still” – Portugal. The Man 

Immediately catchy, I knew right away this song was “Best of” material and I filed it away for later listening. But then it happened – I started hearing it EVERYWHERE – on the radio, in commercials, in movie trailers. So am I sick of it now? A little. But it’s too damn catchy not to include.


6. “I Miss Those Days” – Bleachers 

Also appearing in my 2014 collection, Jack Antonoff returns with a real pop anthem that speaks to the power of nostalgia. Ah, the good ol’ days.


7. “Skyline” – Broken Social Scene 

Seven years since their last release, this Canadian group features a rotating cast of musicians (including members of Feist and Stars). While a bit repetitive lyrically, the shimmering acoustic guitar and drumbeat throughout is what hooked me at first listen.


8. “Second Nature” – Neil Finn 

As an unabashed fan of anything by Crowded House, front man Neil Finn’s new solo effort is unique. Each track was recorded live in the studio in one take with Neil at the piano along with the other musicians, string section and chorus singers belting out this toe-tapping number about young love. The video shows the recording session.


9. “True Feeling” – Galantis 

Galantis is a Swedish electronic dance music duo consisting of Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklöw, who have been together since 2007. This song, off their second album release, is a slow burn at first, but then kicks into gear with a beat that dares you to stay off the dance floor. Pure pop bliss.


10. “No Distraction” – Beck 

Beck is back with one of his sunnier compilations to date. Recorded with producer Greg Kurstin, Beck and Kurstin ended up playing nearly every instrument themselves. Lots of good tracks to pick from, but this one hit me the hardest. From its Fixx-like opening to its Bruno Mars-like chorus, it sounds like he’s having a ton of fun.


11. “Friends” – Sure Sure 

My random find of this year’s batch. Sure Sure, a four-man group out of L.A., put out this single that sounds like a fun, barroom sing-along.  Love the plunky piano and the feedback-heavy bass & drums. Real simple stuff that tickles my “pop” funny bone.


12. “My Mind Is for Sale” – Jack Johnson 

Someone had to be first. In the wake of last year’s presidential election, Jack Johnson penned a tune with his thoughts about our new Commander in Chief.  No matter which side you’re on, I think we can all agree he crafted a fun, bouncy single nonetheless. A fitting song to end this year’s collection. Cheers!


 

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The Best of 2016

In a year when we lost so many talented music legends (so long to Bowie, Prince, Sir George Martin, Glenn Frey, Earth Wind & Fire’s Maurice White, Leonard Cohen and more), maybe it’s fitting that I’m thinking to myself “Where has all the good music gone?”

2016 was not a great year for new music discoveries (or presidential elections), but I’m happy to share the 14 songs that did make me sit up and take notice.  A real hodgepodge of new artists and old favorites.  I hope you enjoy.

You can click on the videos below to hear each track, or if you’re a Spotify user, feel free to listen to my playlist here. Happy holidays and all the best in 2017!


1. “Humbug Mountain Song” – Fruit Bats

This little indie band out of Chicago, who first made my collection way back in 2005, makes a welcome return to form with this foot-stompin’ ditty.  Love the twangy banjo and mysterious lyrics.  Pass the moonshine!


2. “Midas Tongue” – Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop

Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam pairs up with Jesca Hoop for this slightly spooky duet. With its plucky guitar beat throughout, I’m not quite sure what they’re singing about, but it works all the same.


3. “Off the Ground” – The Record Company

This good ol’ fashioned bluesy rock song – not known for its lyrics (a bit repetitive I’d say) – would feel right at home on any Classic Rock station today.  The three-man group out of L.A. reminds me of the band Morphine with that bass-heavy guitar.


4. “Atomic Number” – case/lang/veirs

A super group of sorts with Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs but not a power number.  Instead we get a soft, acoustic gem that features the lead singing of Ms. Case (one of my favorite female voices out there).  Here’s hoping her next collaboration is back with The New Pornographers.


5. “All We Ever Knew” – The Head and the Heart

After breaking through in a big way back in 2011, this Seattle six-piece group delivers the poppiest sing-along of the year replete with a syrupy chorus of “la-la-las.” What can I say, I love pop songs and this one sure fits the bill.


6. “The Bird” – Anderson .Paak

One of the newcomers of the year.  Born as Brandon Anderson Paak, he first hit the scene in 2012 as Breezy Lovejoy, but changed his name again to Anderson .Paak with this breakthrough album.  A jazz/hip-hop hybrid undoubtedly influenced by Stevie and Marvin.  Love the smooth piano and trumpet bits woven underneath a solid bass line.  Mmm.


7. “Cool Papa Bell” – Paul Simon

While we may have lost such legends as Bowie and Prince, thank God we still have living legends like Paul Simon.  At the ripe ol’ age of 75, Rhymin’ Simon’s still going strong with his ever-evolving sound.  Love the wordplay in this one (especially his sly use of profanity) and nod to Cool Papa Bell, one of baseball’s fastest players ever.  Wall-to-wall fun!


8. “Midnight. Hallelujah.” – Jonatha Brooke

After treating fans with her first ever one-woman musical called “My Mother Has 4 Noses,” Jonatha returns to her roots with this gospel-driven hymn. Taut songwriting from another one of my favorite female voices.  It’s a crime she’s not more well known.


9. “If I Ever Was a Child” – Wilco

Another year, another Wilco song makes my collection.  Almost a given it seems.  This go-round, “front man Jeff Tweedy is at his most low-key and wistful with vocals that sound like they were recorded with a baby sleeping in the next room.” (Rolling Stone)


10. “One More Night” – Michael Kiwanuka

Following up on his terrific 2012 debut effort, Michael Kiwanuka is back with the same soulful punch.  A simple, straightforward song that grows on you with repeat listenings.


11. “In a Drawer” – Band of Horses

With backing vocals by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. fame, Ben Bridwell and his Band of Horses deliver this bouncy number about finding it.  Kind of a silly song, but damn if I don’t love the hooks!


12. “Longer” – Lydia Loveless

A pop/rock nugget with a country vibe from Ms. Lawless, who’s making a name for herself this year after 8 years in the biz.  As the Boston Globe puts it, “Loveless continues to manifest a remarkable combination of bruised vulnerability and desperate longing, alongside a tough, self-deprecating resilience.” That about sums it up for me.


13. “White Ferrari” – Frank Ocean

Last appearing in my 2012 collection, Frank returns with this mood-shifting ode from “Blonde” that includes a line right out of The Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” to help recapture a joyride at age 16.  Mesmerizing tune.  And listen for a cameo from Bon Iver toward the end.


14. “Drive It Like You Stole It” Sing Street Soundtrack

Last but not least, a fun song from the “Sing Street” movie soundtrack. Written by Gary Clark, one of my favorite singer/songwriters from the ‘80s (anyone remember the band Danny Wilson?), it’s played toward the end of the film and really captures the sound of that decade (reminiscent of Hall & Oates, Huey Lewis and others). If you haven’t seen it yet, you can find it on Netflix. Definitely one of my favorite films of the year (directed by the guy who also gave us the music-driven movies “Once” and “Begin Again”).

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The Best of 2015

As 2015 winds down, it’s time again to reflect upon the year that was. And, boy, what a year. Team Crimmins took on the Big C and finished strong, while the Mets took on the rest of the league and finished second best. And in the world of music, some old favorites and solid newcomers reminded us that we should never underestimate the healing power of listening to your favorite songs at full blast.

Here are my favorite 15 tunes of 2015. The ones that made me tap my toes, air drum, sing in the shower, and help forget about whatever crap was trying to bring me down. Powerful stuff.

You can click on the videos below to hear each track, or if you’re a Spotify user, feel free to listen to my playlist here. Either way, I hope you enjoy this year’s collection. Happy holidays and let’s go Mets!


01. “No Room in Frame” :: Death Cab for Cutie

From its opening words, “I don’t know where to begin…” this seemed to be the perfect first song for this year’s collection. Death Cab has made the cut in previous years and the combination of Ben Gibbard’s voice and a relentless beat that builds throughout is what gets me every time.


02. “Silent Movies” :: Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear

One of the newcomers of the year, Madisen Ward and his Mom, Ruth (The Mama Bear), gave us this fun foot-stomper that would sound perfect in just about any bar in the world. That’s Mama Bear on the guitar (at the ripe ol’ age of 63). You go girl.


03. “Random Name Generator” :: Wilco

So Wilco puts out a super secret album this summer (“Star Wars”) and just about every critic out there goes gaga over it. Not me. It sounded a lot like a random collection of leftovers that they just wanted to record. But the opening guitar riff of this track stayed with me, and Jeff Tweedy’s playful lyrics seemed to fit perfectly with the title.


04. “South” :: Hippo Campus

Another relative newcomer, Hippo Campus released this cut from their second EP. The 5-piece band out of St. Paul, Minnesota has supported such acts as My Morning Jacket and Modest Mouse. Now it’s their turn to shine.


05. “I Can’t Think About It Now” :: Dawes

At 6 minutes 15 seconds, Dawes wins longest song of this year’s assortment thanks to an extended guitar solo. But it’s the singing right after the solo that really grabs me (at the 5:08 mark). Truly memorable.


06. “The Less I Know the Better” :: Tame Impala

This number challenges Wilco’s track for opening guitar riff of the year. And the singing reminds me of a cross between Phoenix and Alan Parsons Project. Right up my alley.


07. “Big Decisions” :: My Morning Jacket

I was really looking forward to hearing this album, but other than this track, the album mostly disappointed. Great sense of melody by Jim James and the gang. Love the driving drum beat, too.


08. “Look It Here” :: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

These guys came out of nowhere this year with their single “S.O.B.” that received a ton of airplay. But it was this cut that appealed to me even more. A real Motown throwback complete with the requisite horn section.


09. “Losing Touch” :: Albert Hammond, Jr.

A welcome return to the collection for Mr. Hammond, former guitarist for The Strokes. And he puts the guitar to good use on this one. I hear a cross between George Harrison and Fountains of Wayne.


10. “Chateau Lobby #4” :: Father John Misty

I really enjoyed this album and this track in particular. Not quite sure what the song is about, but it sure is pretty. Love the Mavericks-like Spanish horns towards the end. ¡Arriba arriba!


11. “A Little Smile” :: Joe Jackson

Joe’s back! Yep, the guy we all thought was done back in the ‘80s makes a welcome return with this little ditty. Good to hear he hasn’t lost the knack for churning out pop gold.


12. “Sedona” :: Houndmouth

The quartet out of Indiana has been around since 2011, but I only discovered them this year. This folksy sing-along pays homage to the city in Arizona when it was known as “Little Hollywood.”


13. “Jules Verne” :: Korey Dane

Stumbled across this one from this rookie’s debut effort. An energetic acoustic standout from a guy out of Long Beach, CA. His lyrics get a bit garbled at times, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Kinda like Michael Stipe in the early days—you couldn’t tell what the heck he was singing and you didn’t care.


14. “10,000 Emerald Pools” :: BØRNS

The collection ends with two bands with the Scandinavian vowel letter ø. Go figure with this singer-songwriter, who hails from Michigan. His real name is Garrett Borns. Here’s his explanation: “I think the O with the stroke looks like a zero and I like that because it goes along with the concept of ‘borns’ and re-birth and zero as a number of no resistance.” Aha, now I get it 😉


15. “Trustful Hands” :: The dø

OK, at least this duo is actually French/Finnish, so the slashed “o” makes sense. According to Wikipedia, the band’s name is derived from the first note of the solfège scale and is pronounced as the English word “dough.” It is written with the letter Ø and the “D” often in lower-case to resemble a half note. Sounds logical to me. All I know is they also borrowed part of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Listen for it.


 

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The Best of 2014

It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since I decided to post my annual “Best of the Year” collection online. Not only has it allowed me to share my favorite songs with a wider net of folks, but it’s also saved the world from more @#$%! plastic (all those CDs and jewel cases).

I’ve culled through my list of potential selections for this year and am happy to share my top 14 for 2014. Pop continues to bubble underneath throughout (what a surprise), but, hey, at least I’m consistent.

Here’s hoping you enjoy what you hear and discover some new artists in the process. Happy holidays!

UPDATE: 

You can listen to these songs on Spotify. Click here.

 

1

“Seasons (Waiting on You)” Future Islands

Coming out of nowhere, Future Islands (a trio from Baltimore since 2006) introduced this infectious synthpop number that seems to be a staple on everyone’s Top 10 list this year. And rightly so. Love the driving bass line and the lead singer’s gravelly voice.

Future Islands

 2

“Do You” Spoon

Along with Wilco, Spoon ranks way up there as one of my favorite groups. And 2014 saw them deliver this damn-close-to-perfect pop confection that packs a wallop. Impossible not to toe tap to this one.

Spoon

3

“Back in the World” David Gray

A return to form for David Gray after a four-year break. Not only is he back, but back with a bang with this acoustic/electro anthem. “The only way to be” indeed.

David-Gray

4

“Latch” (featuring Sam Smith) Disclosure

Unquestionably one of the breakout stars of 2014, Sam Smith lent his silky voice to the UK duo known as Disclosure. Originally released in late 2012, the song rode Mr. Smith’s popularity wave here in the U.S. and became a sleeper hit almost two years later.

disclosure

5

“Shadow” Bleachers

A secret side project of Jack Antonoff’s while on tour with his band Fun., “Shadow” played on heavy rotation in my car this summer. Said Mr. Antonoff, “Except for a small group of people, most of which happened to be members of my immediate family, no one was aware that this music, or this album even existed…even though it existed so deeply to me.”

Bleachers

6

“Wrong” Pablo Nouvelle

My random find of the year…I’m still not sure which music blog featured this one. This Swiss producer samples snippets from Lianne LaHavas’ “They Could Be Wrong” with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” to create a slow-burning piece that conjures up emotions of tenderness, angst, and wonder without ever singing a word himself.

Pablo Nouvelle

 7

“Take Me to Church” Hozier

Andrew Hozier Byrne, a 24-year-old Irishman who goes by his middle name on stage, broke through in a big way this year thanks in part to a viral hit on YouTube. But what’s the meaning behind the catchy chorus? According to Hozier, “It’s about electing some new form of worship—something worthwhile. Something that’s worth loving. Something that’s tangible and real.”

Hozier

8

“Gotta Get Away” The Black Keys

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are back with a great road trip tune that evokes old classic rock hits from the ’70s. And you can tell they’re having a lot of fun with this one. I mean with lines like “I went from San Berdoo to Kalamazoo just to get away from you,” what could be better?

Quebec Festival D'ete 2013 - Day 3

9

“Luna” Bombay Bicycle Club

Thanks to an introduction from my daughter, Haley, this track from the four-piece band out of London took me back to the sounds of the ‘80s. Shades of OMD anyone? Electro-pop at its best.

Bombay

10

“Are You Getting This Down?” Jonatha Brooke

One of my favorite female singer/songwriters, Jonatha changed things up a bit this year by opening her one-woman, off-Broadway play “My Mother Has 4 Noses” in NYC. Although I missed the show (dumb!), the soundtrack featured this poignant ode to her Mom and her struggles with dementia.

Jonatha Brooke

11

“Blue Moon” Beck

Appearing in the collection again after a 9-year hiatus, Beck’s lush and folksy first single from “Morning Phase” was met with more critical acclaim. Slow and brooding, it provides a moment to pause, reflect and revel in Mr. Hansen’s first work since 2008.

Beck

12

“Fever Dream” Young Summer

DC-based singer/songwriter Young Summer (born Bobbie Allen) released this moody, synth-driven number that the folks from Noisetrade introduced to me this summer. Holy tribal drumbeat, Batman!

Young Summer

13

“In Conflict” Owen Pallett

First appearing in the collection back in 2010, Mr. Pallett (out of Montreal) returns with another electronic/orchestral mix that directly strikes my pop funny bone. Especially when the chorus kicks in around the 1:45 mark. “There is nothing to lose” with this one.

owen-pallett

14

“They Want My Soul” Spoon

I told you I loved Spoon. So much so that I had to include this second helping (the title track from their latest album). Yep, Britt Daniel and the boys out of Austin, TX have my soul.

Spoon 1

 

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The Best of 2013

What was I listening to this year? Well, every December it’s a struggle to pare down a long list of possible favorites to just 20 or so. But this go around was tougher than usual, and it was hard to select even these 13 songs for 2013.

Bad year for music? Not if you read the music blogs; they all say it was one of the best. Guess I was too busy doing other things instead of listening to music (God forbid!), or my ears just don’t agree with the new sounds the kids are laying down these days. Anyway, enough of my rant. Have a listen and see what you think. And as always, I hope I introduce you to one or more songs that you might’ve missed this year. Happy holidays!

UPDATE:

You can listen to these songs on Spotify. Click here.

Night Beds1. “Ramona” :: Night Beds
“The brainchild of Rocky Mountain-reared, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Winston Yellen, Night Beds occupies roughly the same lonesome and lamp-lit/earthy and expansive musical campsite as contemporaries like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes” (Allmusic.com). This cut comes off their first full-length studio album. Here’s hoping for more releases down the road.

 

Divine Fits2. “Ain’t That the Way” :: Divine Fits
Released as a single in June – a full 10 months after last year’s debut – Britt Daniel channels his inner Spoon for this rocking cut that must’ve been deemed too good to make the album. That makes 2 years in a row for the DFits (no one calls them that…I just made it up…not sure it’s gonna catch on).

 

Hey Marseilles3. “Bright Stars Burning” :: Hey Marseilles
First appearing in my 2010 collection, these Death Cab for Cutie sound-alikes from Seattle released their 2nd album last March under the radar. I’m a sucker for this kind of music, but it’s getting harder and harder to find. Makes the discoveries all the sweeter, I guess.

 

Dawes

4. “From a Window Seat” :: Dawes
One of my favorite bands out there now, these Jackson Browne and CSNY inspired crooners know how to make good old fashioned pop/rock music with a little country twang. One of the better albums I listened to this year.

 

Father John Misty5. “Nancy from Now On” :: Father John Misty
Officially released back in April of last year, this track off Father John Misty’s “Fear Fun” album somehow eluded my ears till the early part of 2013, so it makes the cut. Hey, it’s my blog, so my rules! Allmusic.com loves the “legitimate yacht rock chorus,” which just about nails it for me.

 

Bastille

6. “Pompeii” :: Bastille
Dead asleep on the couch after a Red Sox playoff game, Fox jarred me awake when they used this song in a video montage to celebrate Boston’s victory. Reminds me of the opening “ooga-shaka” chants at the beginning of the ‘70s classic “Hooked on a Feeling.” Also sounds like 3rd Eye Blind “if you close your eyes.”

 

Mayer Hawthorne7. “Her Favorite Song” :: Mayer Hawthorne
I always thought Mayer Hawthorne was Mr. Mellow, but this track (and the rest of the album) has a soulful groove that caught me off guard. A very pleasant surprise. I also like the Sergio Mendes-sounding female backup singer (Jessie Ware).

 

John Legend8. “Open Your Eyes” :: John Legend
Oh, that voice. I mean how can you not love John Legend’s sound? This cover of an old Bobby Caldwell track is a bit repetitive, but who cares. Just turn up the volume and listen to the man sing!

 

 

Villagers9. “Nothing Arrived” :: Villagers
Last heard on my 2010 collection, Conor O’Brien returned in 2013 with a new Villagers album that included this single. A simple track that mesmerizes as it builds.

 

 

Little Radar10. “Coming Clean” :: Little Radar
A random find from this 4-piece band out of Austin. Not sure how I came across this drums-driven, guitar-drenched number. I probably stumbled upon it reading one of the many music blogs I follow and thought it was pretty dope. Yep, even us old guys can say “dope.”

 

Ivan and Alyosha11. “Running for Cover” :: Ivan & Alyosha
Taking their name from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Tim Wilson and Ryan Carbary began playing together back in 2007. “Although based in Seattle, Ivan & Alyosha create a sound that’s distinctly Californian, with acoustic instrumentation and bright vocal harmonies that evoke the West Coast’s summery, Southern locales” (Allmusic.com). Off their debut album after a series of EP releases.

 

Fitz and the Tantrums12. “6am” :: Fitz & The Tantrums
Fitz and company burst onto the scene (and into my year-end collection) back in 2011. They returned this year with new stuff that didn’t disappoint. “Six in the morning and I’m still awake…” Yeah, no wonder Fitz, you’re too busy churning out danceable, blue-eyed soul.

 

Alabama Shakes13. “Always Alright” :: Alabama Shakes
From the “Silver Linings Playbook” soundtrack, I discovered this gem last winter and always wondered how it was left off their debut album that had just been released 6 months earlier. Sorry for the swear word in the first minute, but I couldn’t find a “clean” version. Deal with it. 🙂


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The Best of 2012

2012 sure did deliver plenty of unforgettable moments — from ugly scandals to memorable movies, TV, and books; big sports stories to big storms; and even a presidential election. Music-wise, the year included some great debuts as well as the welcome return of some of my old favorites. It’s always hard to narrow down my top picks to a mere 20, but I hope you enjoy the final list below.

For Spotify lovers out there, my Top 20 playlist can be streamed here.  Want even more? I’ve created a playlist for the “20 Next Best” (i.e. the near misses) that you can listen to here.

Happy listening and all the best in the new year.

UPDATE:

You can listen to these songs on Spotify. Click here.

1. “I’m Getting Ready” :: Michael KiwanukaKiwanuka

The debut of the year and a great track to kick things off.  Simple, soulful and soothing.  Reminds me of a male version of Tracy Chapman. Definitely a talent to keep my eyes (and ears) on.

Black Keys2. “Lonely Boy” :: The Black Keys

This track first came out back in early January, but has stuck with me all year.  That guitar riff sounds an awful lot like T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”.  A great driving song.

3. “Splitter” :: CalexicoCalexico

These guys have been around forever, but I’ve never really stopped to check out their trademark Tex-Mex sound til this year.  Love the driving guitar and horns in this one.

Bahamas4. “Lost in the Light” :: Bahamas

Bahamas is the stage name for Afie Jurvanen, a Canadian musician who released his 2nd album this year.  This slow, brooding track has an unhurried, beautiful build that I love.

5. “Would That Not Be Nice” :: Divine FitsDivine Fits

Britt Daniel took time off from Spoon to put together his Divine Fits side project.  While the album was a bit uneven for me, this track felt very Spoon-esque.  Very nice!

Kathleen Edwards6. “Change the Sheets” :: Kathleen Edwards

A welcome return for Ms. Edwards, who last appeared in my Best of 2005 collection.  A cross between Shawn Colvin and Neko Case, the Canadian singer-songwriter sings her heart out on this one.

7. “Sweet Life” :: Frank OceanFrank Ocean

Just as he sings, “The best song wasn’t the single.” This is another album that I didn’t love, but I dug this track that reminded me a lot of vintage Stevie Wonder (especially the chorus).

Delta Spirit8. “California” :: Delta Spirit

Another in the long list of songs about California, this super-poppy (and a bit cheesy) breakup song grabbed me immediately with its never-ending drumbeat and harmonies.

9. “Something to Believe In” :: Citizen CopeCitizen Cope

Returning from a long hiatus, Citizen Cope (aka Clarence Greenwood) continues to impress with his blues/soul/reggae/folk sound. One of his more upbeat tunes.

Mumford10. “Babel” :: Mumford & Sons

After first appearing on the Best of 2010, Mumford and the boys return with another acoustic-filled, scream-singing track that starts off strong and never seems to let up.

11. “Myth” :: Beach HouseBeach House

A slow, majestic song from this dream pop duo’s fourth album.  It sets a mood that’s a bit stark and sonically-rich – like spending some down time at a summer beach house 😉

Lumineers12. “Ho Hey” :: The Lumineers

First heard in commercials for Microsoft and Bing, this catchy sing-a-long became a fast favorite.  Off their debut album, looks like the Lumineers (out of Denver) have a bright future.

13. “Let Go” :: EverestEverest

Another tune I came across in a TV commercial (for Corona beer).  Technically, the album was released in 2010, but since I only first heard it this year, it makes the cut.  House rules.

Ben Howard14. “Only Love” :: Ben Howard

Off his debut album, Ben Howard channels his best David Gray and Ray LaMontagne with an acoustic folk sound straight from the tropics. Simple and straightforward.

15. “Aubben” :: The HoneydogsHoneydogs

One of my favorite groups of the late 90s/early 00s returned this year with another standout effort. Not sure what Aubben is, but glad Adam Levy and the guys from Minneapolis are back!

Of Monsters16. “Little Talks” :: Of Monsters and Men

A big hit in their native Iceland, Of Monsters and Men hit it big here too in 2012 with their debut and this peppy, horn-driven number.  Lead singer reminds me of Bjork.

17. “No One Else but You” :: Brendan BensonBenson

Brendan Benson, a power-pop guy who’s also played with The Raconteurs, released his 5th album this year with a track and a guitar lick that sounds like it was stolen from George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass”.

Pinback18. “Proceed to Memory” :: Pinback

I had written these guys off for dead after last appearing on my Best of 2004 collection.  But 2012 saw their return with another sonic, atmospheric goodie that hits all the right notes.

19. “Home” :: Phillip PhillipsPhillips

You couldn’t miss this one from the TV coverage of the Summer Olympics. A Top 40 fave for most of the year, I didn’t want to like it, but finally gave in to its acoustic guitar charm.

Kiwanuka20. “Home Again” :: Michael Kiwanuka

How to follow “Home”? How ‘bout “Home Again”, song #2 from Mr. Kiwanuka and a good way to wrap up this year’s collection.


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The Best of 2011

People often ask me what type of music I like most. I can never seem to pinpoint one particular style, because I love so many. But upon further reflection, for me it all boils down to good “pop.” From the fun “story” songs of the ‘70s to the techno-heavy ‘80s and beyond, I always seemed to gravitate most to tight arrangements with memorable lyrics and inspired vocals. And looking over this year’s collection, all 20 tunes have a pop sensibility that hit my musical sweet spot. Some faster, some slower, but all right on the mark. Hope you agree.

UPDATE:

You can listen to these songs on Spotify. Click here.

1. “MoneyGrabber” :: Fitz & The Tantrums 

Probably the first song I heard this year that I immediately knew would make the collection. Love the smooth, horn-drenched vibe that echoes the old Hall & Oates sound. Remind anyone of “Out of Touch”? Just a little methinks.

 2. “Lost in My Mind” :: The Head and the  Heart

Spare and elegant with driving acoustic guitar and piano throughout, this sextet out of Seattle delivered the debut of the year. Love the lines “How’s that brick laying coming? How’s your engine running?”

3. “Sweet Louise” :: The Belle Brigade 

This brother & sister duo are the grandchildren of film composer John Williams (talk about good genes). With pop hooks straight out of the Fleetwood Mac songbook, their debut album was produced by Matthew Wilder (of ‘80s one-hit wonder “Break My Stride” fame).

4. “Charlie Parker” :: I’m from Barcelona

With its 22 members (yep, 22!), I’m from Barcelona’s third release draws quick comparisons to The Polyphonic Spree. And this leadoff track kicks it all off with a sunny, sing-along homage to jazz great Charlie “Bird” Parker.

5. “My Mistakes” :: Eleanor Friedberger 

Better known as one half of the duo the Fiery Furnaces, Ms. Friedberger struck out on her own this year and delivered this toe-tapping nugget. Make no mistake about it, the girl is obviously ready for the solo spotlight.

6. “Helplessness Blues” :: Fleet Foxes

The Fleet Foxes’ 2nd album and another tune to make my annual collection. With their signature baroque, folk-pop sound, it seems like 2 songs in 1: Simon & Garfunkel in the first half and an ode to owning an orchard in the second half. Epic and gorgeous!

7. “Came Out of a Lady” :: Rubblebucketrubblebucket

I don’t think I want to know what the title means, but this track sure is catchy. The overwhelming horn sound gives it a ska-like feel, but overall it’s just a great feel-good song with funky lyrics. Thank you Paste Magazine for this one.

8. “This Is Why We Fight” :: The Decemberists

Cited as “a concise and rustic country-pop collection”, this track from The King Is Dead is my favorite with its acoustic, banjo-picking, harmonica-filled, R.E.M.-esque sound. So come to me, come to me now! Sing it, Colin Meloy.

9. “Here to Stay” :: Abbie Barrett 

As random a find as they come, I love this little ditty from Boston-based Abbie Barrett and her backup band The Last Date. Thank God for the Web for uncovering hidden gems. Don’t think I’d ever hear this one on the FM dial 🙂

10. “We Are the Tide” :: Blind Pilot

Making their return to my collection (after first appearing 2 years ago), Blind Pilot does it again after adding 4 new members to their Portland-based outfit and churning out a catchy combination of mellow folk and West Coast indie pop. Nice encore, guys!

11. “Tiny Hands” :: Forbidden Friends 

This first single from Hutch Harris’ (front man for The Thermals) side project was described as being influenced by the sound and feel of the Violent Femmes. Love the line, “Never knowing if you’re real.” Pure pop at its best.

12. “Lament” :: Mount Moriah

An alt-Americana duo out of North Carolina, Mount Moriah caught my ear by surprise this year with a simple little song that grabs hold and doesn’t want to let go. Love Heather McEntire’s voice! And something tells me we’ll be hearing a lot more of it to come.

13. “I Stand Alone” :: Theophilus London 

Thank you 90210 for introducing me to the 2nd release from this Brooklyn native. Upbeat and bouncy with flashes of 80’s funk, “I Stand Alone” reminds me of Seal crossed with Lenny Kravitz with a dash of The English Beat. And you gotta love the name!

14. “Sun of a Gun” :: Oh Land

With its driving, bass-filled club sound, Denmark’s Oh Land (a.k.a. Nanna Øland Fabricius) makes her debut with this infectious track and puts her Royal Swedish Ballet training to good use with one sweet little dance number.

15. “Tongue Tied” :: Grouplove 

A late addition to the collection thanks to the new iTouch commercial. This five-piece group out of L.A. reminds me of Modest Mouse with a little New Order techno-beat underneath. Who says advertising is good for nothing?! 😉

16. “100 Other Lovers” :: DeVotchKa

With a sound best described as “polka-rock” or even “circus music”, this track from the Denver quartet’s sixth album is a moody, swirling piece that brightens any day. But go ahead and try to make out most of the lyrics. I dare ya 🙂

17. “You and Me” :: Penny & The Quarters 

Originally recorded some 40 years ago, “You and Me” finally made its worldwide debut this year in the film Blue Valentine, thanks to a recommendation by its co-star Ryan Gosling. With a raw and soulful demo sound, it won the hearts of audiences, including mine.

18. “You Are a Tourist” :: Death Cab for Cutie

Just call me a sucker for Ben Gibbard’s voice. After last appearing on my 2005 collection, Death Cab returns with an optimistic ode to finding your way in the world. Nice guitar work, too. But it’s that golden voice. Like butter!

19. “Calgary” :: Bon Iver 

Speaking of voices, Justin Vernon’s 2nd album highlights his hushed, falsetto sound to great effect. And the brooding, slow-building “Calgary” creates a sonic landscape complete with quirky orchestral touches for that voice to flourish.

20. “Questions for the Angels” :: Paul Simon

Simon’s latest marks a return to form. In particular, “Questions for the Angels” really jumped out at me; a slow Brooklyn pilgrimage that examines heavy topics like humanity and the meaning of life (and billboards of Jay-Z). A good way to end this year’s collection.

 

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The Best of 2010

It’s that time of year again…everyone’s putting together their lists for “Best Albums of the Year”. But in this new iTunes Age, albums are sadly becoming a thing of the past and single tracks rule. I mean, who has time to listen to a whole album anymore, right? Instead, I’ve gathered my favorite 20 tunes from the past 12 months to create my own “Best of the Year” album of sorts. Have a listen and happy holidays!

UPDATE:

You can listen to these songs on Spotify. Click here.

1. “Airplanes” — Local Natives

From the opening moans to the driving drum beat and harmonies, this is a last-minute discovery of mine in 2010. Apparently this California-based band was one of the few indie darlings that “flew” under my music radar.

 

2. “Dear Friend” — Emanuel and The Fear

Wasn’t sure how to describe this one, so turned to a fellow blogger’s recap that said it best: “The song’s first tones evoke Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” before spilling to a lighter-than-air series of strings and Ben Folds-style piano. All of this swirls into an ethereal bridge before the band finds a second movement recalling the most earnest of Stevie Wonder melodies.” Not to mention the nice Burt Bacharach-style horns in the beginning. A pop nugget for sure.

3. “Twenty-Two” — Wakey! Wakey!

A fun sing-along song from frontman Michael Grubbs, otherwise known as the man behind Wakey! Wakey! Complete with a screaming refrain and cool whistling. Me likey! likey!

 

4. “Rio” — Hey Marseilles

No, not a remake of the Duran Duran classic, but an infectious Latin-flavored, hand-clappin’, string & horn-heavy track from this seven-piece group out of Seattle. ¡Ole amigos!

 

5. “Mystery Zone” — Spoon

One of 2010’s first album releases, Spoon once again makes the cut with a tune that begins and ends with an abruptness that always catches me off guard. Almost as if the song goes on forever, but we only get to hear the first 5 minutes. Mysterious stuff.

 

6. “Hannah” — Freelance Whales

Definitely the winner of this year’s strangest band name, this Queens, NY group strikes a nice balance between fast-paced lyrics and a slow-moving refrain. Love how long it takes them to sing “rooftops”.

 

7. “Shadow People” — Dr. Dog

Not sure where these guys have been hiding, but sure glad I found this head-bobbing track off their 6th album. Guess some good things do come out of Philly after all…sorry, KB! 😉

 

8. “Loxtep” — Annuals

A haphazard find from the sextet out of North Carolina, this track is “filled to the brim with whizzing computer noises, south of the border rhythms, post-production studio effects, and toots from every instrument imaginable.” Perfecto.

 

9. “Dominos” — The Big Pink

Hard to believe that a song that repeats its refrain as often as this one does is so darn fun to listen (and sing) to! Big sound from just a two-man act out of the UK.

 

 

10. “Kandi” — One eskimO

The only track to feature a female vocal (albeit a supporting one). Another find from early this year that surely endured. Love the simple acoustic guitar and “baby, baby, baby, baby.”

 

11. “Walk Me Down” — Gospel Claws

One of the harder-rocking songs in this year’s collection from an indie ensemble out of Tempe, AZ. In addition to the driving drums and relentless guitars, the track finds time to reveal its softer side, too. Reminds me a little of My Morning Jacket.

 

12. “Dilly” — Band of Horses

Pure pop from the quintet out of Seattle. I’ve been listening to this quite often since the summer and still don’t know what Ben Bridwell is singing about. But I sure love the melody!

 

13. “Walls” — Shout Out Louds

A shout out for Swedish pop with a driving beat. One of those bands I barely know anything about, but turns out this is the 3rd tune of theirs I’ve included in my year-end collections.

 

14. “Ship of Promises” — Villagers

From the Villagers’ (aka Conor O’Brien) debut album, this track’s pulsating pace first captured my attention in June.  A solid album, too.  Looking forward to his follow-up.

 

15. “White Blank Page” — Mumford & Sons

Spare and folksy with strong, emotional vocals, this track from London’s Mumford & Sons debut transports you to another place and time.  Something tells me this is just the beginning of something big with these guys.

 

16. “Zorbing” — Stornoway

Stumbled upon this one while reading another blogger’s “Best of the Year” posting. Hard to pinpoint what I like most: “Is it the horns? Is it the static in the attic? That feeling of electricity? Those deep baritone harmonies?” Methinks, all of the above. But what the heck is zorbing?!?

 

17. “Another Bad Night’s Sleep” — The Silver Seas

Sounding very much like a younger Josh Rouse (when he used to play more up-tempo stuff), this lead track from The Silver Seas’ second album digs its pop hooks into you and doesn’t let go. Ahoy matey! 🙂

 

18. “Do As I Say Not As I Do” — Ed Harcourt

A welcome return for Ed Harcourt, who graced my 2002 collection with his debut album. Another fun, toe-tapping tune from the chamber-pop master. Always a great lyricist, this song is no exception.

 

19. “You and Your Heart” — Jack Johnson

Damn you, Jack Johnson! Just when I’m ready to turn my back on your laid back, surfer-dude sound that’s beginning to rub me the wrong way, you churn out this track that I simply can’t ignore. Catchy as hell with that upfront guitar work.

 

20. “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” — Owen Pallett

This final track goes out to my pal Scott. How’s this for a “less than masculine”, “light in the loafers” closer? The perfect mix of electronic music and orchestral arrangements. I saved the best for last!

 

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The Best of 2009

Music You “Aught” to Hear

What will this first decade of the new century be remembered as?  “The Zero’s”?  “The Turn of the Century”?  “The Aughts”?  Well, with the end of 2009 comes the end of the “whatever you want to call it” decade and a chance to introduce you to more new music.

So sit back, relax and enjoy this year’s favorites.  It’s music you “aught” to hear.  Happy holidays!

UPDATE:

You can listen to these songs on Spotify. Click here.

 

P.S.  In case you’re interested, the artist who appeared most often over the decade is Jack Johnson (6 times), followed by Spoon and Ryan Adams (with 5 appearances each).

 

1. “The Great Defector”  Bell X1
Irish rockers, who have been around since 1999, make a splash in the States a decade later with a tune you’d swear was a lost Talking Heads classic.

 

 

2. “Lasso”  Phoenix
Hard rockin’, toe tappin’, pop number by this French indie band, who can be heard in the recent Cadillac TV ads.  Guess the French are good for some things. 😉

 


3. “Beat of My Heart”  Noisettes
Fronted by the stylish lead singer Shingai Shoniwa, the Noisettes shake things up from the UK with this soulful groove off their second release.

 

 

4. “Shoulda Shut It”  Backyard Tire Fire
Based in Bloomington, IL, this alt-country trio delivers a hook-filled, laid-back melody about a man who’s “in the business of regret”.  Who isn’t? 😉

 

 

5. “Great Ocean”  Dan Dyer
Must confess this one’s a bit older than the others, but can’t believe I missed it the first time around.  This boy’s got the pipes!  Similar to Lenny Kravitz, who discovered him in Austin.

 

 

6. “People Got a Lotta Nerve” – Neko Case
On hiatus from her guest appearances with the New Pornographers, Neko goes “animal” with references to killer whales and sharks on this fun mix of harmonies and jangled guitar.

 

 

7. “Harold T. Wilkins”  Fanfarlo
A British chamber quartet, who busted on the scene with their sweet, simple sound complete with rolling drums and prickling mandolins.  But who the heck is Harold T. Wilkins?

 

 

 

8. “Heartbeat Radio”  Sondre Lerche
The perfect track for this collection. The opening line, “Tell me what you think about this song…,” echoes my thoughts exactly. Sondre’s slam against current state of the radio biz. Thank god for NPR!

 

 

9. “Glass Brigade”  Little Tybee
A brand-new, Atlanta-based trio named after a small nature preserve off the shore of Savannah.  I dare you not to tap your fingers (or feet) to this one.  Go ahead, I dare ya!

 

 

10. “Flaming Arrow”  Jupiter One
Named after the spaceship from TV’s “Lost in Space”, this pop nugget soars with its catchy refrain, “You build me up, you burn me down.” Danger, Will Robinson!

 

 

11. “Feeling the Pull”  The Swell Season
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the sweethearts who won an Oscar with their “Once” soundtrack, have ended their relationship but still make beautiful music together with this powerful acoustic piece.

 

 

12. “When She’s Near”  Fiction Family
A collaboration between Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman and Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins, the duo takes a turn performing their best XTC impersonation.  Andy Partridge would approve.

 

 

13. “Get Better”  Mates of State
While released in ’08, I didn’t discover this husband & wife act until this year.  Seemingly cemented into our car’s CD player this summer, this track was a particular favorite.

 

 

14. “Natural Reaction”  Gomez
Not seen on the “Best of” collection since 2006, Britain’s Gomez returns for their 4th appearance with another acoustic guitar-driven selection. Naturally.

 

 

15. “Go On, Say It”  Blind Pilot
Hooked from the opening drum beat, this moody, acoustic number from an emerging twosome out of Portland, OR makes them this year’s Fleet Foxes.

 

 

16. “Sick Muse”  Metric
Out of Canada, Metric’s frontwoman Emily Haines, who’s also worked with Stars and Broken Social Scene, belts out this dance-rock delight with hooks galore.

 

 

17. “Niagara Falls”  Harlem Shakes
Named after their favorite dance move, this Brooklyn-based quintet pays homage to the upstate NY tourist attraction with a piano-led piece that starts off sounding very Kinks-ish.

 

 

18. “Worries”  Langhorne Slim
Thanks to the Traveler’s ad with all those little red umbrellas flying about, I finally got around to listening to Mr. Slim, who’s been at it since 2004.   Has that timeless, bar room piano sound.

 

 

19. “Dreams”  Brandi Carlile
Reminding me of a female (and peppier) version of Roy Orbison, Ms. Carlile rocks out with a track “that gets under your skin and cuts to the bone.”  Dream on, Brandi! 🙂

 

 

20. “My Friend the Sun” – Holsapple & Stamey
Former leaders of the underground 80’s band the dB’s, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey reunite and get back to their jangly-pop roots.

 

 

21. “Talk to Me”  Peaches
Merrill Nisker, the edgy Canadian electronic diva, barks her demands in this dance floor-ready number. A bit of a departure for the “Best of” collection. 🙂

 

22. “Sunrise on Avenue C” – James Maddock
The final tune in this year’s collection (and the longest) finds the return of James Maddock, who released his last effort with the band Wood 10 years ago. Soft and serene, it extols the magic and beauty of a brand new day in the East Village. Welcome back, James.

Cheers and thanks for listening.  Now get ready for “The Ten’s” (or is it “The Decade After That Other Decade”??). 🙂

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The Best of 2008

Making master mixtapes was cool, making my own CDs was even cooler, and art directing the packaging was always a great way to get my creative juices flowing. But we’re almost a decade into a new millennium, and it’s time for another change…time to take this show online.

It’s out with the old and in with the new: mixtapes and CDs are taking a backseat to mp3s and all things digital. Last year, the “Best of” collection tried to be more environmentally-friendly, with 100% recycled packaging and a little packet of basil seeds to boot. Once you’ve gone green, you can’t go back to plastic, right? So, you’ve got to take the next step. Keep it simple…and downloadable.

I hope you enjoy this year’s collection, and I hope I’m able to turn you on to some new artists you may not have heard yet. While the format continues to evolve, my passion for discovering new music lives on.

Happy holidays and happy listening!

UPDATE:

You can listen to these songs on Spotify. Click here.

escovedo1

Track 1: Always a Friend” — Alejandro Escovedo

Hooks you right from the opening guitar plucks… an adult version of Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”.

alibi-tom

Track 2: Fire” — Alibi Tom

A very random online discovery. Love the driving beat throughout and the name of the band ain’t bad either. 😉

josh-ottum

Track 3: Freedom” — Josh Ottum

This song always makes me happy. Impossible to frown when listening to this toe-tappin’ pop nugget!

ra-ra-riot

Track 4: Can You Tell” Ra Ra Riot

“Oh baby, baby, baby please!” Love the strings and driving bass line throughout. Truly de de delightful!

the-bridges

Track 5: Pieces” — The Bridges

Off the debut by this sister/brother/cousin group from Alabama and produced by one of my all-time faves, Matthew Sweet. Sweet refrain indeed.

coldplay

Track 6: Viva La Vida” — Coldplay

Probably the song of the year. One of those rare songs that you never get tired of… just as my interest in Coldplay was beginning to wane.

newton-faulkner

Track 7: Dream Catch Me” — Newton Faulkner

First hit single from this promising British singer/songwriter (cracking the Top 10). Cool album cover, too.

nada-surf

Track 8: See These Bones” Nada Surf

Sounds a lot like The Shins, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Decemberists… probably why I dig it.

via-audio1

Track 9: We Can Be Good” — Via Audio

Four college roommates get noticed by Spoon’s Jim Eno who goes on to produce their debut in Austin, TX. They will be good.

vampire-weekend

Track 10: A-Punk” — Vampire Weekend

Four more college buddies from Columbia score with the breakout album of the year, fueled by tremendous music blog hype. Not sure what the heck they’re singing about, but it’s awfully catchy.

wisely

Track 11: Through Any Window” — Wisely

A quiet, acoustic number to pause and reflect. His voice is a dead ringer for Michael Penn.

guillemots

Track 12: Clarion” — Guillemots

Last featured on the 2006 collection, the Guillemots return with this infectious groove.

fleet-foxes

Track 13: Drops in the River” — Fleet Foxes

While their debut album is making all of this year’s Top 10 lists, this baroque pop band out of Seattle first caught my ear with this beauty from their “Sun Giant” EP.

the-kills

Track 14: Cheap & Cheerful” — The Kills

Lead singer W (aka Alison Mosshart) channels her inner Joan Jett/Chrissie Hynde with “a rhythm forged out of coughing, slamming doors and high-maintenance sass.” You go, W!

yoav

Track 15: Club Thing” — Yoav

Sounds like something they should play on “Project Runway”… an electronic vibe with a “club-oriented aesthetic.”

byrne-eno

Track 16: Strange Overtones” David Byrne & Brian Eno

Everyone’s favorite T-Head reunites with the band’s old Producer to deliver a welcome return to form.

my-morning-jacket

Track 17: Sec Walkin” — My Morning Jacket

Mixed reviews for their “Evil Urges” album, but thankfully it includes this breezy country dittie. Love the falsetto harmonies.

brooke-waggoner

Track 18: Hush If You Must” — Brooke Waggoner

This year’s Feist or a kinder/gentler Tori Amos. Classic piano from this 23-year old who cites Chopin as her most influential classical composer.

ting-tings

Track 19: That’s Not My Name” — The Ting Tings

Shades of 80’s one-hit wonder “Hey Mickey” by Toni Basil, this Manchester duo is making a big splash here in the States. Rumor has it the song is about the singer Fergie whose real name is Stacy.

matt-hires

Track 20: Honey, Let Me Sing You a Song” — Matt Hires

Big thanks to Paste Magazine for opening my ears to this simple, acoustic strummer. Kid’s got a future.

bon-iver

Track 21: Skinny Love” — Bon Iver

One of the new darlings of the indie music scene, Bon Iver (stage name for Justin Vernon) croons and shouts his way through this moody melody.

paddy-casey

Track 22: Become Apart” — Paddy Casey

A huge hit in his native Ireland, Paddy hit the States this year looking for similar success. Here he sheds his folksy roots with a slickly produced pop anthem that was in heavy rotation at the Crimmins house this summer.

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