Best of 2015 (A Personal List)

December 30, 2015 at 6:22 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

One of my favorite recurring posts that I do is a top 10 list of my favorite albums from 2015. I effed it up last year and didn’t do a list (spoiler: the top album was Taylor Swift’s 1989), but I won’t be repeating that mistake again!

Here are my personal rules for this list: 2015 needed to be the first time I heard the album–I couldn’t have heard more than a single off of any of the albums released prior to this year and they had to be albums by a single artist/group, no compilations.

If you’re curious, here are my top 10 lists from 2012 and 2013. A lot of really wonderful music showed up for me in 2015, and top to bottom this might be my favorite group of tunes yet, though had I done one for 2014 the combo of Yes!/1989/Lights Out probably would have given this one a run for it’s money. Actually, that’s a lie, but it’s mostly because of the album that takes the top spot on this list. If you know me, you already know what it is, but are you willing to wait for it?

10. Chasing Rubies (EP); Hudson Taylor (2013)

The #10 album on my list is actually an EP, consisting of 4 songs from the Irish folk duo Hudson Taylor. I love acoustic guitars and sweet harmonies; this album has both in spades. What it lacks in length it makes up for in quality, and the fact that I’ve listened to it about a thousand times lets this album sneak onto the list. Though all 4 tracks are wonderful, my favorite is “Butterflies.”

9. The Silent War; The Silent War (2015)

I discovered the Silent War quite by accident when they opened for The Weepies at a show in Portland this summer. I was immediately impressed enough to get this album (or rather have my friend Rebecca buy me their self titled album, since she insisted on paying me back for the Weepies ticket. Great idea, Rebecca!). This album, coincidentally, also features an acoustically oriented duo in Garrison Starr and Adrian Gonzalez (who you might know from The Rescues). My favorite track off this album is “Some Kind of Soldiers,” which features one of my favorite lines in ANY song from 2015 – this is the silent war/this is what we’re fighting for/reclaiming victories that we’ve already won. I can also award myself some serious hipster points for this entry, since their album is not yet out in digital format. You’ve got to have a physical CD. I assume that will change shortly, but for now…super underground. Where’s the line to renew my Portland card?

8. Days Are Gone; HAIM (2013)

If you had asked me 4 months into 2015 “Jordan, what’s your best album of 2015? I would have given you the #2 entry on this list. However, I would have quickly added that it barely grasped that spot, because this album is GREAT. How it took me 2 years to get on the HAIM train I’ll never know. Eventually, though, I did get on, and I LOVE this album. “Jordan,” you say, “what the hell is it doing all the way back here at #8 then?” Sadly, there was a lot of fantastic music this year, and I honestly think it’s mostly recency bias that pushes Days Are Gone to the back of a logjam at the midsection of this list. I could have put 5-8 in any order and I would have felt good about myself. For better or worse, though, it ends up here. My favorite track off this album is “The Wire.” It rhymes with fire, which is what this album is.

7. Safe Travels; Jukebox the Ghost (2012)

In what I feel is most appropriately described as a musical blend of Billy Joel and A Great Big World, Jukebox the Ghost is an outfit I first heard this year opening up for Ingrid Michaelson at Edgefield. While they have a more recent album as well, it paled in comparison to 2012’s Safe Travels. This album is both excellent AND takes the listener on an emotional roller coaster. You can be rocking out one moment and listening to what is almost an introspective lullaby the next. I really enjoy these guys. My favorite track on the album is “Don’t Let Me Fall Behind.”

6. So There; Ben Folds & Ymusic (2015)

Ben Folds is one of 4 artists gracing this list that have appeared here before (I guess I know what I like), but So There might be one of the more interesting selections I’ve ever put on a favorite albums list simply because the last 3 tracks of the album are 3 movements of a concerto. I am not usually big into instrumental music, but I really enjoy what he’s done blending something of a pop sound with the classical music genre. My favorite track on the album, however, is “I’m Not The Man,” which…woof. Feelings.

5. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful; Florence + The Machine (2015)

Florence + the Machine is a longstanding favorite of mine, and she did it again with How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Chock full of jams and ballads (and jammin’ ballads), this album is big and beautiful. It feels more purple than blue to me, though, for whatever that’s worth. It also contains what might just be my favorite song of 2015, “Which Witch.” Not only is it fantastic wordplay, it’s definitely the song I belted in the car most in 2015. It’s definitely the reason this album moved to the front of a crowd of really solid albums I talked about in the Days Are Gone section.

4. Sirens; The Weepies (2015)

We’re out of the logjam section now! The final 4 albums on this list are just SO. DAMN. GOOD. There’s a clear winner, sure, but this is where we ascend to the next musical tier in my mind. The Weepies make another appearance on an end of year list for me, and add an extra layer of awesomeness by introducing me to the #9 album. The Weepies are absolutely one of my favorite bands, and Sirens, recorded while Deb Tannen was going through cancer treatment, is a beautiful piece of work. Not much I can say about the Weepies that I haven’t said before, but from the first haunting chords of “River from the Sky” I was hooked on this record. It’s incredibly hard for me to pick a favorite off this album; every track is a win. However, if pressured, I would pick “Crooked Smile.”

3. What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress; Sara Bareilles (2015)

The first musical on this list (oh no…have I said too much?) isn’t exactly a musical at all, but rather a collection of songs from the new Broadway musical Waitress. In fact, if you didn’t know better you might assume this is just a Sara Bareilles album. It’s quintessentially her, and reminds me a lot of Kaleidoscope Heart. The fact that she brings in Jason Mraz to do the duets with her doesn’t hurt, either. Fun fact about Waitress: it’s the first Broadway show with an all female creative team! It’s the kind of progressiveness you might expect from one of the premier artists of our time. I love Sara Bareilles, and I love this album. My favorite track is “I Didn’t Plan It,” which is both musically awesome and exceptionally appropriate for people in the midst of transitions.

2. Carrie & Lowell; Sufjan Stevens (2015)

Sufjan Stevens…another longtime favorite, another artist with an album on this list. I got the chance to see him perform last summer, and my god it was worth every penny. The man is brilliant. This album is brilliant. A sort of love letter to his late mother, this album drips with emotion. I will also always love it because I listened to it a ton in Asia, and that association will always stick with me…falling asleep on the other side of the planet, listening to the strum of a guitar. The opening track, “Death with Dignity,” remains my favorite.

1. Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording); 2015

How does a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar? Listen to the musical Hamilton and you’ll find out! I could talk until I’m blue in the face about how wonderful this music is, how important it is (on a number of different levels), about all the cool musical and historical things that happen in this show…but honestly, if you’re reading this you probably know me and therefore are painfully aware of my love for Hamilton. I love this show for a number of reasons, but I might most love it because my first term of grad school was really hard in a lot of ways, and Hamilton was there for it. There were days when literally the only thing getting me through was this show – days where I was stressed and upset and wanted to give up. But Hamilton didn’t, and neither did I. In the darker moments this show was there for me, in whatever ways, and I will always be grateful for that. #1 in my heart and #1 on this list for 2015. My favorite track? So hard to pick…but either “The Room Where it Happens” or “Hurricane.” You could probably convince me in 5 minutes to change my mind to any song in the show, though.

 

Honorable Mention: Forest Fires (EP); Axel Flovent (2015)

 

I’m always looking for new tunes, so if I egregiously whiffed on something in 2015, let me know! Maybe it’ll make it onto next year’s list 🙂

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Lo! How A Rose

December 1, 2015 at 8:14 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s December 1st, so obviously I’m listening to Christmas music. It’s a rare break from Hamilton, but I’ve already listened to a bunch of that today, so we can call it good. The rain is falling outside, which is nice. Makes things feel a bit more normal. I’ve only got a few more papers and one more final before I reach the end of my first term of grad school! This quarter system is kind of crazy. Not sure I see the appeal over semesters, but regardless it goes by incredibly fast. I just finished my final presentation today in my sociology class – I think it went OK, but I also know that I’m my own harshest critic, so it probably turned out decently.

Lo! How A Rose ‘Er Blooming is one of my favorite Christmas songs. Not my FAVORITE Christmas song – that title has been held for quite some time by O Come O Come Emmanuel, but it’s still pretty great. I’m fairly sure that the song has some kind of allegorical significance of its own, but when I think about the song I like to think of myself as the rose, springing from tender stem. I think a lot about the process of becoming, of being. Who am I? Who do I want to be? This public policy program is helping me discover some of those things. To borrow from a completely different song for a moment (from the musical Waitress – you’ve GOT to listen to Sara Bareilles’ album version of a bunch of songs from the show) there’s a line in particular that relates and that always gets me. It goes “What if I never see/myself ever be/anything more than what I’ve already become?” Woof. How do I reconcile this notion that I am enough, just me, right now, with the person I want to become? How does a person exist in the moment while still moving onward and upward? I need a bad idea. Just one.

Anyway, the rose! I like the image of a flower – growing, sprouting. I like the idea that beautiful things can spring from unlikely places. I enjoy the idea that in the darkest moments something can blossom and remind you that there are things in this world worth cherishing. I suppose if I was more the religious type I would tie this into miracles, or god giving people signs, or Jesus swooping in during our darkest hour – when the night was half spent, as it were. However, that’s not me, so I would rather think about taking the time to notice. Notice the beautiful things that are blooming around us all the time that we may not always be mindful of (this, of course, isn’t mutually exclusive with all the Jesus-y stuff if that’s more your style).

Grad school can be challenging. I often have doubts – not about my chosen course of study or my dreams and goals, but about myself. I try to remind myself that I have the capacity to chase my dreams; that I have the capacity to lift others up. I can be better. When I’m not doing well, I can choose to try again the next day. I am surrounded by every opportunity, and a whole bunch of excellent human beings every day. We can all raise each other up. It’s pretty cool, really. That’s how life should be.

In less fun news, I messed up my back a little doing deadlifts yesterday. Nothing super serious, but I am hobbling around a bit when I’m not taking ibuprofen. A good reminded not to be sloppy with form when you’re lifting ~50 pounds more than you weigh, for sure. I have no doubt I’ll be back in commission soon enough. I gave myself an early Christmas present, too, signing up for the Vancouver USA half marathon (it’s in June). One of my goals is to run a sub 2:00 half marathon before I turn 26, so this is my chance! That probably means I need to start running again.

Speaking of starting again, I’ve probably spent enough time procrastinating and writing. As far as bad ideas go, though, writing is a pretty good bad idea.

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