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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I Didn’t Plan It

November 13, 2015 at 8:20 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Plans are funny things. We try to predict the future (with mixed success), but there’s always going to be something that jumps out at you unexpectedly. I’ve been listening quite a bit to Sara Bareilles’ new album “What’s Inside,” which is a collection of songs from her new musical Waitress. It’s really good – you should listen to it. One of the main themes that resonates with me, though, is the idea that life throws things at you that you can’t expect. You can either let that throw you off, or you can embrace the challenge.

I didn’t plan it / but the light turned red and I ran it / and I’m still standing 

I understand it / a story written by my own hands / life biting right at your heels

I used to think to myself “how different can grad school be from undergrad?” The answer is that it can be oh so very different. You don’t know what you don’t know, as they say. Still, it’s an exciting time, and we do try to plan to the best of our ability as to how best to get through it. I’ve decided on a thesis topic, which is pretty exciting! We technically call our theses “MPP Essays,” but functionally it’s the same thing. There are just slightly different semantic requirements, is all. Fortunately, I get to choose what I do my thesis on. Grad school is really challenging, though. Part of that is on myself and my own time management skills, and some of it is because there’s a ton of material to get through. Everyone keeps telling me that the first term is the hardest, so I’m holding on to that. For instance, this weekend I have 2 papers due Monday, one due Tuesday, and an Economics exam on Wednesday (just worth like 30% of my grade, no big). This, of course, on top of my GTA research. One the one hand, what a great opportunity! On the other hand, holy shit this is going to be a busy weekend. I don’t help myself too much by procrastinating on a Friday night, but I tell myself that writing myself into a better state of mind isn’t the worst way to spend it. A little self care is important, too. That’s my plan!

I didn’t plan it / taking back what’s been taking for granted / ‘cuz I can’t stand it / I’m sick of the way I’ve been waiting to break free

I need saving / And a good mistake needed making / maybe you need the same thing

Shifting gears, I’ve also been thinking somewhat about long term plans. What am I going to do after grad school? Am I going to die alone? Is it too soon to be thinking about the post-Grad School dog that I’m invariably going to get? Should I already be feeling guilty about wanting a pug when there are lots of wonderful shelter dogs? Are these really the plans to be making when the final sprint to the end of the term is staring me in the face? Will I ever break my habit of writing entire paragraphs of rhetorical questions? (The answers, if you’re curious, are: doesn’t matter yet, probably, of course not, yes – but I could get TWO dogs…they could be friends!, it’s all about balance, and nah that ain’t me, respectively)

Ok, time to be productive. #notthrowingawaymyshot

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