If I Ran the 2017 Grammys

If I Ran the 2017 Grammys

I’ll always be the first to complain about the Grammy Awards, but the nominees for this year’s show…aren’t that bad? They do have Views up for Album of the Year, so they still suck.

A few ground rules:

1) I’ll give the real nominees with my prediction for the winner in bold. Then I’ll give you who I would have nominated, with my choice for the best in that group in bold.

2) We all know the October 1st, 2016-September 30th, 2017 qualifying dates are stupid, but we’re going to keep them in the interest of chaos. I can’t fix everything about the Grammys. So no Alicia Keys, but Adele’s 25 (from 2015, but released after October 1st, 2015) is fair game.

3) For the four major awards (Album, Record, Song, New Artist), I’m realistic. Drive-By Truckers and Terrace Martin made two of my favorite albums in the qualifying year, but they would never be nominated for Album of the Year. However, Chance the Rapper and Justin Bieber also released albums I loved, and they’re plausible options for Album of the Year. But when it comes to the genre awards, anything goes- hence, artists like Parker Millsap, Tedashii, and PUP getting nods over more popular acts in their respective categories.

4) Genre boundaries are fuzzy- Relient K’s album could really fit into pop or rock, Angel Olsen and Mitski could easily be considered rock instead of alternative, NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot are unabashedly Christian bands that make rock music, etc. So I went with my gut. I don’t have your gut, so if you disagree with me on whether or not Justin Bieber belongs in the pop or R&B category, sorry.

5) Forget the 5-nominee limit! Sometimes the Grammys do this; a genre will have enough contenders that they’ll fit 6 nominees into one category because of a tie. I’ve often wondered why more award shows don’t open categories a bit more. If there are enough albums that truly deserve to be in the conversation, why not include them and draw more attention to more great music? Let’s have a little anarchy! Except in the 4 main categories, which will continue to have the rigid 5-nominee rule, because too much anarchy is a bad thing.

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Album of the Year

Real nominees: 25, Adele
Lemonade, Beyoncé
Views, Drake
Purpose, Justin Bieber
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson

My nominees: Lemonade, Beyoncé
Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest
Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper
Purpose, Justin Bieber
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson

grammys03Last year I had 3 albums in common with the Recording Academy. This year I have 4, which is either encouraging or disheartening, I haven’t decided which. Personally, I’d give the award to Chance; Coloring Book is the most fun I’ve had with music for as long as I can remember. But after Beyoncé lost to Beck 2 years ago, and considering she’s never won this award (and the last artist of color to win it was 9 years ago and it was Herbie freaking Hancock), it’s hard to imagine this going to anyone but her. Adele is the other frontrunner, and though she has been an unstoppable force in the industry this decade, 25 wasn’t quite the runaway hit that 21 was. Sturgill Simpson could be the dark horse. He seems to be the old guard’s representative here, which I’m sure he would find ludicrous.

It’s fun to see Bieber’s album honored with this nomination, since I felt like I enjoyed this album more than a lot of people did, but maybe the Recording Academy is recognizing his year-long domination of the charts. The inclusion of Views here is probably a similar recognition of all the hit singles on the album, even though everything on that record that’s not a single is pretty much drivel. I’d prefer to recognize the best rock record of the year, Car Seat Headrest’s breakout Teens of Denial, which is both emblematic of where rock is right now as well as its deconstruction.

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Record of the Year

Real nominees: “Hello”, Adele
“Formation”, Beyoncé
“7 Years”, Lukas Graham
“Work (feat. Drake)”, Rihanna
“Stressed Out”, Twenty One Pilots

My nominees: “Formation”, Beyoncé
“No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz)”, Chance the Rapper (nominated for Best Rap Song)
“Ultralight Beam (feat. Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin & The-Dream)”, Kanye West (nominated for Best Rap Song)
“Black Beatles (feat. Gucci Mane)”, Rae Sremmurd
“Work (feat. Drake)”, Rihanna

Kanye West Yeezy Season 3 - RunwayI’ve got no problem with “Hello” in this category, I just thought its songwriting was its best asset, so I put it in the Song of the Year category. “Formation” and “Work” were world-beaters this year, so they totally belong. The inclusion of Lukas Graham and Twenty One Pilots is laughable and shows just why the Grammys are out of touch. They think Graham and Twenty One Pilots belong in the same category as Adele and Beyoncé, as if history won’t remember Twenty One Pilots as a less talented Maroon 5 and Graham as a less talented Shawn Mendes.

How did “Black Beatles” not make it on this list? It was the sleeper hit of the year, both virally and on the charts. And the fact that nothing from Coloring Book was singled out is preposterous, though maybe the Academy isn’t ready to embrace a mixtape. So I picked the mixtape’s best single, the joyous “No Problem”. But no song’s production or performance was as perfect as “Ultralight Beam”, which was an open door into hip-hop’s gospel nirvana.

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Song of the Year

Real nominees: “Hello”, Adele
“Formation”, Beyoncé
“Love Yourself”, Justin Bieber
“7 Years”, Lukas Graham
“I Took a Pill in Ibiza”, Mike Posner

My nominees: “Hello”, Adele
“Fill in the Blank”, Car Seat Headrest
“Love Yourself”, Justin Bieber
“Can’t Stop the Feeling!”, Justin Timberlake (nominated for Best Song Written for Visual Media)
“Vice”, Miranda Lambert (nominated for Best Country Song)

grammys07Lukas Graham is back in this category, and I’m still not sure why. Mike Posner makes his first appearance, and I’m not sure why. “Formation” is a great song, and deserving of all kinds of attention, but I think the steak-eaters of the Academy are probably going to stick with “Hello” for this one too. It would have been nice for a rock song or an Americana song to get a nod here, so why not “Fill in the Blank” or “Vice”? And how did the earworm of the year, “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”, get no recognition aside from a nomination related to its video? However, I’ve got a soft spot for Bieber’s “Love Yourself”, a mean, mean song that’s impossible to forget.

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Best New Artist

Real nominees: Anderson .Paak
The Chainsmokers
Chance the Rapper
Kelsea Ballerini
Maren Morris

My nominees: Anderson .Paak
Car Seat Headrest
LUH
Maren Morris
Margo Price

grammys09How nice to see Anderson .Paak and Maren Morris get some Academy love. They’re two artists that released two of the best albums in their respective genres. And they’re actually new! That’s nice in this category. Speaking of which, Chance the Rapper is not new. But he’ll probably win on star power alone. Clearly the Academy isn’t on the Car Seat Headrest train, but if they had been, they’d belong here for sure. God forbid the Chainsmokers win this, even if “Closer” was one of the top-charting songs of the year. We don’t need to encourage all the bad DJ duos in this world. A better option would have been LUH, a boyfriend-girlfriend duo that defy categorization. Not sure who Kelsea Ballerini is, but good for her. I would’ve thrown some love Margo Price’s way, since she was Americana’s other breakout artist.

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Best Alternative Album

Real nominees: 22, a Million, Bon Iver
Blackstar, David Bowie
The Hope Six Demolition Project, PJ Harvey
Post Pop Depression, Iggy Pop
A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead

My nominees: My Woman, Angel Olsen
22, a Million, Bon Iver
Blackstar, David Bowie
Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, LUH
Puberty 2, Mitski
A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead
Light upon the Lake, Whitney

grammys11I think everyone knows Bowie is winning this category for his final album, if only because everyone is so sad that he’s gone. Blackstar is a great album, but Radiohead’s and Bon Iver’s albums are more impressive. PJ Harvey and Iggy Pop are probably in this race on reputation alone, since you’d hardly place their albums among their best. I can’t understand why the Grammys don’t use this category to celebrate up-and-coming artists like Angel Olsen or Mitski, instead of legacy acts not in need of the attention. LUH and Whitney are a couple of new acts that also deserve attention, though their nominations would have been a pipe dream.

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Best Americana/Country Album

Real nominees: Big Day in a Small Town, Brandy Clark
Ripcord, Keith Urban
Full Circle, Loretta Lynn
HERO, Maren Morris
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson

My nominees: Big Day in a Small Town, Brandy Clark
American Band, Drive-By Truckers
HERO, Maren Morris
Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, Margo Price
The Very Last Day, Parker Millsap,
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson

grammys13The Academy has gotten better and better about recognizing the best in country music. The fact that Sturgill Simpson is nominated for Album of the Year is not only awesome, but a sure sign that he will win this category. Maren Morris and Brandy Clark are deserving nominees. Loretta Lynn is a legend, but Full Circle is a covers album of songs she release years ago, so maybe the Academy could have spread the love a little bit? Drive-By Truckers have  never been nominated, AND they’re a legacy act- wake up, Grammys! Margo Price and Parker Millsap are newcomers worthy of some love for their strong efforts.

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Best Christian Album

Real nominees: Poets & Saints, All Sons & Daughters
American Prodigal, Crowder
Love Remains, Hillary Scott & the Scott Family
Youth Revival [Live], Hillsong Young & Free
Be One, Natalie Grant

My nominees: The Burning Edge of Dawn, Andrew Peterson
American Prodigal, Crowder
Floodplain, Sara Groves

grammys15Yeesh. This wasn’t as bad a year for Christian music as my low number of nominees makes it seem. You could easily make the argument that NEEDTOBREATHE’s, Relient K’s, and Switchfoot’s albums belong here, but I’d argue those albums are less overtly Christian and fit more easily into other genres. Andrew Peterson has been a favorite for a while, and Crowder’s second solo album is just as satisfying as his first. But Sara Groves, who has somehow never even been nominated for a Grammy, released the strongest album in this group in both theme and quality. As far as the actual award? I have no faith that the Academy will actually listen to any of these albums, so let’s assume they give it to Hillary Scott by virtue of her membership in Lady Antebellum, which is a Grammy favorite for some reason.

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Best Pop Album

Real nominees: 25, Adele
Dangerous Woman, Ariana Grande
Confident, Demi Lovato
Purpose, Justin Bieber
This Is Acting, Sia

My nominees: I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, The 1975
25, Adele
Dangerous Woman, Ariana Grande
Purpose, Justin Bieber
Made in the A.M., One Direction
Air for Free, Relient K

grammys17Not a lot of discrepancies between my nominees and the Academy’s. Can’t argue with the inclusion of Adele, Ariana Grande, or Justin Bieber, though I prefer Bieber’s album of faux-mature soul to Adele’s album of legitimately mature torch songs. Sia and Demi Lovato are fine, but where’s the love for One Direction, who keep churning out great big albums of unabashed boy band music? I wouldn’t expect the Academy to recognize Relient K in this category, though Air for Free is a return to pop-punk form for the classic pop punks. And I love the adolescent ambition of The 1975’s I like it…, which is long and naïve and wonderful.

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Best R&B/Urban Contemporary Album

Real nominees: Malibu, Anderson .Paak
Lemonade, Beyoncé
Ology, Gallant
We Are King, KING
ANTI, Rihanna

My nominees: Malibu, Anderson .Paak
Lemonade, Beyoncé
Freetown Sound, Blood Orange
The Glory Album, Christon Gray
Blonde, Frank Ocean
Unbreakable, Janet Jackson
Love & Hate, Michael Kiwanuka
ANTI, Rihanna
A Seat at the Table, Solange
Velvet Portraits, Terrace Martin (nominated for Best R&B Album)

grammys19Last year’s most stacked category was Americana/Country, but R&B/Urban Contemporary is the clear frontrunner here. Auntie Yoncé will no doubt win here, and she should, but Rihanna and Anderson .Paak may have won in slightly lesser years. KING and Gallant are fine, but Solange deserved recognition here with an album that may be even better than her sister’s. Terrace Martin is nominated in a different category, which was a pleasant surprise, since his Velvet Portraits was one of the most underrated albums of the year. Strangely, Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable (which holds up to her peak) went largely unnoticed. Michael Kiwanuka and Blood Orange would have been more left-field choices, but both of their albums were protest masterpieces. And I’d like to give Christon Gray some love. A lot of Christian R&B is formal or confined to a gospel style, but Gray makes beautiful soul music that would fit in with much of trap soul, catching Christian R&B up to modern times.

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Best Rap Album

Real nominees: Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper
And the Anonymous Nobody, De La Soul
Major Key, DJ Khaled
Views, Drake
The Life of Pablo, Kanye West
Blank Face LP, ScHoolboy Q

My nominees: Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper
A Good Night in the Ghetto, Kamaiyah
The Life of Pablo, Kanye West
This Time Around, Tedashii
Jeffery, Young Thug

grammys21Somehow the Academy thinks Drake’s Views is worthy of recognition over Coloring Book, since they gave Drake the Album of the Year nod, so it’s safe to assume that he’ll win Best Rap Album. Any of my nominees are twice the album Views is. Tedashii’s EP, This Time Around, is a fourth of Views’s runtime, and is still twice the album Views is. Young Thug’s best release to date, Kamaiyah’s debut mixtape, and West’s mishmash of a record are all more worthy of recognition than Views. But the most worthy of them all, the sign o’ the times, the songs in the key of life, the thriller of the year, was Chance’s Coloring Book.

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Best Rock Album

Real nominees: California, Blink-182
Tell Me I’m Pretty, Cage the Elephant
Magma, Gojira
Death of a Bachelor, Panic! at the Disco
Weezer, Weezer

My nominees: The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us, Beach Slang
Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest
H A R D L O V E, NEEDTOBREATHE
Cardinal, Pinegrove
The Dream Is Over, PUP
Where the Light Shines Through, Switchfoot

grammys23No wonder people think rock is dead. You could do worse in 2017 than a lineup of nominees that includes Blink-182, Cage the Elephant, Panic! at the Disco, and Weezer, but you could also not nominate a lineup that sounds like it’s from 10 years ago. And the inclusion of French heavy metal band Gojira is baffling, but at least it’s interesting. Let’s assume Weezer wins the actual award, since the album was a return to what Weezer does best: power pop hooks.

You can tell the Academy doesn’t listen to current rock music, because the year’s best rock band, Car Seat Headrest, didn’t make the cut. People who actually listen to rock music were talking about them all year, as well as breakout bands like Beach Slang, Pinegrove, and PUP. I included 2 of Christian rock’s stalwarts, NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot, because they continue to defy the odds and release great music years into their careers.

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Music Bummys: Best Songs of 2015

Music Bummys: Best Songs of 2015

Top Twenty-Five: 25-11

songs0125. Ben Rector, “Paris”: I vividly remember falling in love with my wife in Norman, Oklahoma, but when I listen to this song, I momentarily believe every second of it happened in France.

 

songs0224. Nao, “Apple Cherry”: I don’t have Apple Music, so I haven’t heard Blonde yet, but it’s hard to fathom anything on it being smoother or sexier than this.

 

songs0323. Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta”: Kendrick doesn’t do diss tracks, he does atomic bombs.

 

1545closed_GLUE22. John Moreland, “Cleveland County Blues”: There’s a lot of great folk music being made right now, but this is an Oklahoma-centric anthem that expresses what heartbreak is like out here in flyover country.

 

songs0521. Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”: The Shakes took a leap in their newest album, and the psych-blues on this single are the perfect example of their newfound looseness.

 

songs0620. Sara Groves, “I Feel the Love Between Us”: Groves is an all-timer at this point, and this love song to marriage fits into her canon easily.

 

songs0719. Drake, “Hotline Bling”: If earworms are an art form, then “Hotline Bling” is its Campbell’s Soup Can: distilled down to its purest form, and walking the fine line between brilliant and stupid.

 

songs0818. Jason Isbell, “If It Takes a Lifetime”: Sobriety sounds downright impossible on the highlight from Isbell’s Something More Than Free, but he also makes it sound like the only option.

 

songs0117. Ben Rector, “Fear”: It still feels new to hear Ben Rector’s single “Brand New” on the radio, but I feel like I’ve had “Fear” with me my whole life.

 

songs0916. Shura, “2Shy”: A lot of pop songs take a direct approach to love and sex, but “2Shy” is the rare song that gets the subtle what-ifs exactly right.

 

songs1015. Tame Impala, “‘Cause I’m a Man”: Residing somewhere between AM and FM radio, “‘Cause I’m a Man” has nothing to say about sexiness or coolness, and everything to say about stumbling through life like a drunk.

 

songs1114. Chance the Rapper, “Somewhere in Paradise (feat. Jeremih)”: The first real hint of the gospel heights he would reach on Coloring Book, “Somewhere” is Chance’s freedom song, so it’s ours too.

 

songs1213. Kendrick Lamar, “The Blacker the Berry”: TPAB is Kendrick grappling with what it means to be black in America in 2015, and “Blacker” is its thesis.

 

songs1312. The Tallest Man on Earth, “Sagres”: I love Kristian Matsson’s music for its simplicity, but “Sagres”, a lament for the emptiness that follows a broken relationship, benefits from the space that his expanded production creates.

 

songs1411. Kacey Musgraves, “Biscuits”: Country music thrives on wordplay, and with couplets like “Mind your own biscuits / And life will be gravy”, Musgraves is clearly the queen of the genre.

 

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10. Miguel, “Coffee (F***ing) (feat. Wale)”: I think it’s important to keep the mystery and spontaneity alive in relationships. But “Coffee” makes the passionate case that sex should be as regular as your morning coffee. Feel free to argue with him, but he seems pretty insistent here.

 

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9. Jack Ü, “Where Are Ü Now (with Justin Bieber)”: Two years ago I would have told you I hated EDM. I would have told you it was cold and emotionless, that it lent itself to drug use, and I would have saved special derision for Skrillex. And now his song with Diplo and Justin Bieber is one of my favorite songs, so you might as well not listen to anything I’m saying now because it’ll soon be obsolete.

 

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8. Rihanna and Kanye West and Paul McCartney, “FourFiveSeconds”: This was such a left turn from everyone involved that people didn’t seem to know what to do with it. The proper response was total and complete submission to its effortless soul. Paul McCartney’s written countless hits, and Rihanna and Kanye have done big things in 2016, and yet this is the song from all of them that I keep going back to the most.

 

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7. Justin Bieber, “Love Yourself”: This is a mean-spirited song disguised as a ballad which is a sort of cruel deception, but I don’t care. It’s essentially a diss track, a kiss-off with a perfectly nonchalant delivery and some truly unforgettable lines. We know Ed Sheeran wrote it but if Biebs didn’t contribute the line about his mom not liking Selena (and she likes everyone), I’ll be crushed.

 

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6. Alessia Cara, “Here”: Nothing was more satisfying than seeing this song, which is about a loner hating a party, turn into a party song. It’s like comic book movies becoming mainstream, or Kawhi Leonard outplaying LeBron in the 2014 Finals. Sometimes the popular kids lose, and the outcasts get a chance to shine.

 

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5. Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”: If this was a list of the most important songs of the year, “Alright” would be at the top. Shoot, it may be the most important song of the century, let alone 2015. But this is my list of my favorite songs, so it’ll have to settle for a lowly #5. That being said, no song on this list gets me as pumped up, especially in the face of all that’s happening in the world. I know it’s not a song that was written for me or people like me, but I feel such compassion for the black community that I can’t help but sing along.

 

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4. Blood Orange, “Sandra’s Smile”: Dev Hynes’s Freetown Sound from earlier this year is the closest thing we’ve had in the 21st century to What’s Going On. I was disappointed to find that he hadn’t included last year’s “Sandra’s Smile”, an elegy in honor of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old black woman found hanged in a Waller County, TX, jail cell. But upon reflection, “Sandra’s Smile” belongs on its own. It’s a beautiful song and would fit right in with the tone of Freetown. But as a statement it stands alone, and should, so that history remembers Sandra Bland, and the thirst for justice her death aroused.

 

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3. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, “Sunday Candy”: Another, less Chance-centric example of his contagious joy in song form. Off of Surf, the debut album of Chance’s musical collective in Chicago, “Sunday Candy” is an explosion of pleasure. It starts with the playful opening piano and Chance’s soft rapping. Then it balloons into a gospel choir and a full-blown jazz orchestra. We know from Coloring Book that Chance and Donnie Trumpet know how to pack their songs with joy, but nothing they’ve made does this as effortlessly as “Sunday Candy”.

 

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2. Sufjan Stevens, “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”: This song may be the polar opposite of “Sunday Candy”. Where “Sunday” is overflowing with joy, “No Shade” is soaked in suffering. Written after Stevens’s struggle to cope with the death of his mother, the song expresses his inability to find comfort anywhere. As someone who has professed to be Christian and whom many assume is Christian, Stevens showed all his cards with this song. If Christ is supposed to give me peace or freedom or joy, why don’t I feel those things?

 

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1. Leon Bridges, “River”: I tend to be skeptical of comparisons to all-time legends like Sam Cooke, but Leon Bridges earns them. There was a soulfulness in Cooke’s music that no one since him has matched. I’m not prepared to anoint Bridges as his reincarnation just yet. But I’m willing to listen to arguments in favor. The first time I heard “River”, I knew I was hearing something deeper than just a nice-sounding soul song. It starts with the timbre of Bridges’s voice, which reaches an unimpeachable level of purity. It continues with the perfect sparseness of the production: just an acoustic guitar and a tambourine, and backing vocals from a choir. The purity of Bridges’s voice and the production are a reflection of the purity of the song’s spirit. Bridges, on this song, is a deer, panting for water, knowing that there is only one river that will satisfy his thirst. Only the most profound of hymns can articulate that need for Jesus with sufficient artistry; add “River” to their ranks.

Another Twenty-Five

Adele, “Hello”
Andrew Peterson, “The Sower’s Song”
ANOHNI, “4 Degrees”
Carly Rae Jepsen, “All That”
Caroline Spence, “Trains Cry”
Chromatics, “Just Like You”
Courtney Barnett, “Depreston”
Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian at Best”
David Ramirez, “Hold On”
Gungor, “Us for Them”
Jamie xx, “Loud Places (feat. Romy)”
Janelle Monáe, “Hell You Talmbout (feat. Wondaland Records)”
Janet Jackson, “No Sleeep”
Jimmy Needham, “Vice & Virtue”
Justin Bieber, “What Do You Mean?”
KB, “Ima Just Do It (feat. Bubba Watson)”
Nadia Reid, “Call the Day’s”
Nao, “Inhale Exhale”
Rihanna, “Bitch Better Have My Money”
Sam Outlaw, “Country Love Song”
Samantha Crain, “Elk City”
The Weather Station, “Way It Is, Way It Could Be”
The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”
The Weeknd, “The Hills”
The White Buffalo, “Where Is Your Savior”

Past Top Tens

2014

FKA twigs, “Two Weeks”
Strand of Oaks, “Goshen ’97”
The War on Drugs, “Red Eyes”
John Mark McMillan, “Future / Past”
First Aid Kit, “Waitress Song”
Sia, “Chandelier”
Jackie Hill Perry, “I Just Wanna Get There”
Taylor Swift, “Out of the Woods”
Parquet Courts, “Instant Disassembly”
Sharon Van Etten, “Your Love Is Killing Me”

2013

Patty Griffin, “Go Wherever You Wanna Go”
Disclosure, “Latch (feat. Sam Smith)”
Jason Isbell, “Elephant”
Sky Ferreira, “I Blame Myself”
Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford, “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)”
David Ramirez, “The Bad Days”
Drake, “Hold On, We’re Going Home (feat. Majid Jordan)”
Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”
Beyoncé, “Rocket”
Amy Speace, “The Sea & the Shore (feat. John Fullbright)”

2012

Jimmy Needham, “Clear the Stage”
Trip Lee, “One Sixteen (feat. KB & Andy Mineo)”
David Ramirez, “Fire of Time”
Lecrae, “Church Clothes”
Usher, “Climax”
Andrew Peterson, “Day by Day”
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra, “When We Were Young”
Frank Ocean, “Bad Religion”
Christopher Paul Stelling, “Mourning Train to Memphis”
Alabama Shakes, “Hold On”

2011

Adele, “Someone Like You”
Cut Copy, “Need You Now”
Gungor, “You Are the Beauty”
Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues”
Miranda Lambert, “Oklahoma Sky”
Jay-Z & Kanye West, “Otis”
Matt Papa, “This Changes Everything”
Over the Rhine, “Days Like This”
Gary Clark Jr., “Bright Lights”
Bon Iver, “Beth/Rest”

2010

Andrew Peterson, “Dancing in the Minefields”
Hot Chip, “Take It In”
Ben Rector, “Dance with Me Baby”
Kanye West, “Runaway (feat. Pusha T)”
Broken Social Scene, “World Sick”
Arcade Fire, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
Gungor, “The Earth Is Yours”
Kanye West, “Power”
The National, “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
Surfer Blood, “Swim”

Quick Listen: The Pinkprint by Nicki Minaj (2014)

nickiminaj

I find no popular artist more frustrating than Nicki Minaj. There aren’t many better rappers than Minaj at her best, an opinion she’s come very close to making fact time and time again- but in spurts. While features (Kanye’s “Monster”) and her own individual songs (“Super Bass”, “Beez in the Trap”, “Feeling Myself”) are incredible, she’s never sustained that kind of quality over an entire album. It might be because every album she’s released has been super-long for some reason (Pink Friday was 13 tracks, not bad, but Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded was 19 and The Pinkprint is 16) or because there’s always an out-of-place, sugary pop song shoehorned into the mix (this time it’s “Pills n Potions”, but past culprits were the treacly “Starships” and “Last Chance”, which featured Natasha freaking Bedingfield). All that being said, The Pinkprint is her best album yet, even if it’s not that good. It’s at least interesting, which is more than you could say for her first two albums.

Quicker listen: Minaj just keeps throwing stuff at the wall, but this time more of it sticks.

February 2015’s Album Hits

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Drake, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late: Releasing a mixtape seems like a copout for Drake at this point. His last album, Nothing Was the Same, solidified his status as a hip-hop titan, someone who can hold his own against Kanye and Jay (and Wayne, though pretty much anyone can do that now). Even if it is super lowkey, If You’re Reading This works really well as a reminder of Drake’s undeniable knack for this game. Nothing Was the Same was an industry takeover, so I guess If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late is like Drake raising his hand in the wake of Kanye’s recent singles and saying, “Hey, don’t forget about me. Look at how good I am when I’m not even trying.” Favorite song: “Jungle”

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The Vespers, Sisters and Brothers: This Nashville quartet’s last album, Fourth Wall, was one of my favorite albums of 2012. Their willingness to bend folk music in unconventional ways was refreshing in the wake of the Mumfords’ and Lumineers’ ho-hey folk-rock. It’s funny how unconventional sounds conventional three years later; the first couple of songs on Sisters and Brothers are uplifting but staggeringly normal and boring. No matter though- they hit their stride on the third song with the willfully weird “New Kids” and never look back. Favorite song: “Thirst No More”

Bonus EPs

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Jimmy Needham, Vice & Virtue: Jimmy Needham took a break from the Internet last summer, and it seems to have revitalized his songwriting. This EP is only 3 songs long, and one is a sharp spoken word track, but Vice & Virtue is the most exciting Jimmy Needham release from front-to-back since his first album. Needham has embraced his soul roots and doubled down on a funkier sound, setting the stage for a killer full album. Favorite song: “Vice & Virtue”

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Dave Barnes, Hymns for Her: Similar to Needham’s EP, Hymns for Her is the most exciting Dave Barnes release since…his first album! Barnes recorded the EP out of the desire to record something “more mature”. He definitely succeeded, and in the process got away from overproducing his songs and got at what made his music great in the first place. It’s sort of a throwaway record, but it’d be nice for him to go this direction on an LP in the future. Favorite song: “Good Day for Marrying You”

Retro Bummys: Best Albums of 2010

The reason for this 2010 Bummys season is simple: I hadn’t done one yet. Every year since I started college I had done a Top 10 movies and albums, starting with Facebook notes and transitioning to WordPress in 2012. Yet, somehow, some way, I skipped 2010. Honestly, I felt bad. One of the best years for music in recent memory, and I totally ignored all of 2010’s texts, tweets, and Facebook messages. It probably had something to do with 2010 being a terrible year for movies. Oh well.

Anyway, I needed to make amends. The Best Albums Bummys were the hardest; I count so many albums from 2010 in my favorites. The fact that Big Boi, Broken Social Scene, Jars of Clay, Jimmy Needham, Local Natives, and Vampire Weekend were all left out of the Top Ten was a complete shock to me. But 2010 killed in the album department. Terrible year for movies. Wonderful year for music.

Links in the albums’ titles are to streaming services, mostly Spotify.

Top Ten

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10. The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth: Few albums elicit as much joy from me as The Wild Hunt. This Swedish folk troubadour has such a love for the effects of simple music. It showed on his break-through album in his unforgettable yelp and his first-rate finger-pickin’.

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9. High Violet by The National: And so began the rock critics’ switching of allegiances from dad-rock to sad-rock, two terms that completely devalued what The National did on High Violet. It was easy to overlook the balance they struck between self-serious and self-deprecating, since the music sounded so serious. But High Violet is full of insightful commentary on middle-age life with its own brand of humor.

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8. The Guitar Song by Jamey Johnson: If you don’t like county, you probably wouldn’t have liked The Guitar Song, because this was a lot of country. The Guitar Song was 2 discs and 25 tracks of hard-boiled, deep-fried country music. Jamey Johnson always made country music for his fans and not for the radio, so his songs were actually about real life- hence, songs with titles like “Can’t Cash My Checks”, “Heaven Bound”, and “California Riots”.

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7. Astro Coast by Surfer Blood: It’s impossible to talk about Surfer Blood now without mention of their frontman’s accusations of domestic violence. The story was appalling and has colored all the music they’ve made since. But this album of perfectly calibrated pop rock can’t be sullied; I have too many fond memories of marveling over the riffs and clever lyrics.

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6. Beautiful Things by Gungor: Gungor rose into prominence around the time that David Crowder Band was struggling for a new direction to take worship music after having cemented themselves in the genre’s firm foundation. DCB had a knack for melody unparalleled until Gungor, whose songwriting abilities were matched by their willingness to push the instrumentation into the outer limits of the genre’s reach. They pushed farther on their next record, but Beautiful Things was when it became clear they were providing new ways to worship God.

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5. Counting Stars by Andrew Peterson: This was music at its simplest but most powerful. Peterson was content to remain within a certain stylistic framework, and he milked it for all its potential elegance. He didn’t reach as far as he would two years later on Light for the Lost Boy, but he hints at it on “The Reckoning” and “You Came So Close”, filling out maybe the most beautiful album of the year. He received a lot of attention for the album from Christian publications, but somehow he remains underrated. For me, Counting Stars made Andrew Peterson one of my top three favorite musicians.

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4. Brothers by The Black Keys: The Black Keys have gotten so good at what they do, their last few records have almost sounded bored. That wasn’t a problem with Brothers. Brothers was the sound of master surfers riding the biggest wave of their lives without ever wiping out. Their professionalism was matched only by their populism, filling their best album with hook after brilliant hook. Even more impressive, they were able to equally modulate their prowess across speeds, from the slow “Everlasting Light” to the speedy singles “Tighten Up” and “Howlin’ for You”.

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3. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West: Well, at least he was self-aware. And I use the term loosely, since VMA-gate seemed to belie a complete lack of self-awareness. At the very least, he’s self-aware enough to know that he’s dark and twisted and egotistical enough to assume that his fantasies are beautiful. But all three adjectives are appropriate- this is a dark and twisted album, full of confessionals that would make an NFL player blush. And it’s also beautiful, full of the kind of music even geniuses only get one chance in their lifetime to make.

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2. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire: Arcade Fire are a huge band, both in numbers and in ambition. Even a throwaway song like “Empty Room” was wall-to-wall sound. Arcade Fire had already waged war on the suburbs before in both Funeral and Neon Bible, so naming their third album The Suburbs may have seemed redundant, but it actually functioned more as a purging. On The Suburbs, Butler and his band poured out all the pain of growing older and coming of age in emotionless environments. It’s no wonder Reflektor sounds looser and freer; they buried all their demons on The Suburbs.

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1. The Monitor by Titus Andronicus: The pinnacle of emo and the peak of pop-punk, even though Titus Andronicus would probably deny those labels while pissing in your face. In 2010, when I was facing life after undergrad, these songs became my anthems- internal anthems, since I wouldn’t advise singing these out loud on the bus or anywhere else public. The profanity alone would get you thrown out of restaurants, not to mention the anxious existentialism that would depress everyone around you. A concept album that framed a young man’s migration from Jersey to Boston loosely within Civil War imagery, The Monitor managed to be both full of fun and totally angsty at the same time. With my graduation from OU pending, The Monitor provided me with a rock opera worth rolling my windows down and belting, as if I didn’t have to care about anything.

Another Fifteen (alphabetical by artist)

Into the Morning by Ben Rector: His style will never garner much critical attention, but to those of us who have submitted to his easy-going affect, Ben Rector means nothing less than bliss, and this was his most blissful album.

Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi: Big Boi showed off why he was every much Andre’s equal when it comes to his flow and that he was nearly as off-the-wall with his production choices.

Forgiveness Rock Record by Broken Social Scene: Criminally overlooked that year, Broken Social Scene were known for their status as a collective of indie rock minds, and the variety on Forgiveness Rock Record is a testament to that- it could have been messy, but the range comes off more generous than anything else.

Thank Me Later by Drake: I’d forgotten how many hit-worthy songs were on this album, but it makes sense, since Thank Me Later was far more commercially inclined than Drake’s next two releases, proving that he could do mainstream rap as well as or better than anyone.

American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem: Not as appealingly hangdog as their first album, The ’59 Sound, but its more polished sheen didn’t take away from the sense that the band was still telling real stories.

One Life Stand by Hot Chip: Electronic nerd-pop shouldn’t be my thing, but this record totally was.

The ArchAndroid by Janelle Monáe: R&B has become one of my favorite genres, which I think you can trace back to this album. It opened my eyes to the lack of limits within the style.

The Shelter by Jars of Clay: Albums based around high-profile collaborations are usually boring, low-risk affairs, but The Shelter was a joyous, highly-listenable affair. Jars of Clay kept up their streak of defying expectations.

Nightlights by Jimmy Needham: I prefer Needham’s earlier, more stripped-down records, but Nightlights is chock-full of songs that should have been hits on Christian radio, if we lived in a world without the Fall.

This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem: More inscrutable than their universally-beloved Sound of SilverThis Is Happening was nevertheless a worthy final statement for the great electronic band.

Gorilla Manor by Local Natives: Before Gorilla Manor, indie rock was just a genre that sounded cool, but Local Natives’ debut included a lot of songs that touched a nerve in my 21-year-old self.

Body Talk by Robyn: Robyn’s brand of robo-pop has been severely missed since she rocked the known world with Body Talk.

The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens: Sufjan was never a normal dude, but he went all in on weirdo with Age of Adz, nevertheless making beautiful, meaningful songs with everything and the kitchen sink.

Contra by Vampire Weekend: So far, Vampire Weekend still hasn’t eclipsed the sunny blast of indie-pop from their self-titled debut, but Contra got real close.

Gemini by Wild Nothing: Wild Nothing’s Gemini had a blazed-out nostalgia to it that hooked me and continues to stir up wistful emotions even today.

Future Top Tens

2013

Jason Isbell: Southeastern
Beyoncé: Beyoncé
Laura Marling: Once I Was an Eagle
Patty Griffin: American Kid
Sandra McCracken: Desire Like Dynamite
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience
Beautiful Eulogy: Instruments of Mercy
Kanye West: Yeezus
KaiL Baxley: Heatstroke / The Wind and the War

2012

Andrew Peterson: Light for the Lost Boy
Lecrae: Gravity
Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE
Japandroids: Celebration Rock
David Crowder*Band: Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])
Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball
Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
The Olive Tree: Our Desert Ways
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra: Fable
Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city

2011

Gungor: Ghosts upon the Earth
Adele: 21
Over the Rhine: The Long Surrender
Bon Iver: Bon Iver
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
Drake: Take Care
Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin’
Beyoncé: 4
Matt Papa: This Changes Everything

Music Bummys 2014: Best Albums of 2013

Drinking game for you as you read this: take a shot every time I use the word “folk”. I’ll buy all these albums for whoever gets through the entire thing before falling asleep on their keyboard.

(Please don’t actually do this. I’m not about that life- the life of you getting drop-dead drunk or the life of buying twenty-five albums for anyone, even my loved ones.)

Links are to the albums on Spotify.

Top Ten

music1010. Heatstroke / The Wind and the War by KaiL Baxley: Music has always been a mishmash of genres, though it does seem like it has become more common to fill your sound with the echoes of disparate styles. Baxley’s album (really, a double EP) is an amalgamation of folk, blues, rock, gospel, even hip-hop. Some albums with all these sounds combined may come off as messy. But Baxley’s songs are tight, and the styles he draws from make for a cohesive vision. To paraphrase my good friend, Rust: music is a flat circle; everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.

music099. Yeezus by Kanye West: Yeezus could not be more different from the other rap albums on this list. Where Beautiful Eulogy and Drake find their niche in quiet production and thought-provoking lyrics, West doubles down on the latter and obliterates the former. The instrumentation on Yeezus has been dubbed “industrial”, but that’s not quite accurate. A better word would be the one Daft Punk ascribed to it: “primal”. It’s the sound of rap being reborn.

music088. Instruments of Mercy by Beautiful Eulogy: Beautiful Eulogy doesn’t sound like much of anything else. There are hints of A Tribe Called Quest in BE’s members and their chill flows, but Beautiful Eulogy are a style all their own. It suits them, the intellectual lyrics combined with the buoyant production. The three members (rappers Braille and Odd Thomas with producer Courtland Urbano) draw from all sorts of genres to fixate you on their honest ideas. The result is a thesis statement of uncommon joy.

songs087. The 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake: Over a year after its release, I can’t help feeling this album was totally underrated at the time. Expectations were high, which, let’s be honest, was Timberlake’s doing, what with the neverending marketing campaign and the pretentious assertions in the media that he was reaching for “great music”. Now that we’re away from the hype machine, The 20/20 Experience sounds like truly great music without the ignominy of a lack of a hit single or the burden of pleasing the critics. It’s a slice of retro-soul with hooks from beginning to end.

music066. Desire Like Dynamite by Sandra McCracken: It’s hard not to write about this album in the context of the hard year McCracken has had. She and her husband, Derek Webb (see below), announced their pending divorce in April. This album was released in January last year, over a year before. Webb appears on a few of the songs, and it’s always heartwrenching. But McCracken’s lyrics and beautiful voice are so powerfully focused on Christ’s return and the redemption he promises, it manages to convince you this music is an artistic triumph with effects that will outlast her personal turmoil.

music055. Inland by Jars of Clay: Inland is Jars of Clay’s least gimmicky album yet. That’s not to say Jars of Clay has relied on gimmicks before this, only that you can look back on their discography and pigeonhole every single one of their albums: Jars of Clay is the precocious debut, Who We Are Instead is the folk record, Good Monsters is the rock record, The Long Fall Back to Earth is the one where they went electric, and The Shelter is their late-career, collaboration record. I suppose Inland is the mature record? But that implies the rest of them were somehow immature, and you could never say that about Dan Haseltine’s lyrics or the band’s musical prowess. Inland, as a whole, isn’t doing anything different soundwise, and it doesn’t strike me as covering different ground lyricwise. But the band seems less prone to angst, as if they’ve begun to fully embrace their role in providing encouragement to those younger than them. Okay, it’s official: Inland is their grandpa record.songs014. American Kid by Patty Griffin: Patty Griffin has operated on the fringes of the mainstream for so long, it’s easy to forget the influence she’s had. Artists from the Dixie Chicks to Miranda Lambert have covered her work. Taylor Swift writes Griffin’s lyrics on her arm at her concerts. You could argue the current Americana boom wouldn’t be possible without her; for all the fakers in the scene, her authenticity is responsible for the real deals. American Kid isn’t my favorite record of hers, but it seems like her most personal. Griffin’s father recently passed away, and his ghost is all over the album, directly in “Go Wherever You Wanna Go”, as she celebrates his freedom from this world, and indirectly in songs like “I Am Not a Bad Man” and “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida”, song in which she takes on the persona of a man striving to justify his existence. But nothing haunts this record more than Griffin’s voice; whether she sings from a character’s perspective or her own, her voice commands your attention.

music033. Once I Was an Eagle by Laura Marling: It’s nice to have mystery in life. You’re not supposed to know everything about people, even the ones you love the most. You need a certain distance in order to remain relevant. Laura Marling lives in that distance. It’s the area between people who think they’re in love, but who learn they never really knew each other in the first place. It’s the space between the people in a one night stand after they’ve realized what they did together wasn’t worth the subsequent awkwardness as they lie in bed. It’s the nothingness at the center of the rolling stone’s many transient relationships. You wish for stability and steadiness for Marling. But then you worry she’d lose her poignancy, and you lose yourself in her album’s spare beauty.

music022. Beyoncé by Beyoncé: I was going to write about Beyoncé when she first released it, but I struggled with what angle to take. It’s easy to write about anything you love, but it’s difficult to write about something you’re not sure you should love. But I already addressed my issues with the album’s sexuality in my Best Songs post, so I’d much rather take up this space with my love for the album. When Beyoncé was released out of nowhere last December, it felt like the purest pop statement imaginable, which is impossible considering how much money the Carter family is making right now. But Beyoncé eschewed the regular format for releasing an album, making it clear that this was hers; even if she didn’t write the songs, the full product, the album as a whole, the songs in their collected form (including the explicit videos, which I haven’t seen), are her statement. It’s a statement of feminism, yes, and a statement of a woman owning her sexuality, and a statement that pop music has taken a step back and it’s time to go forward. But more than that: it’s a statement that no one is going to unseat her as the queen.

music011. Southeastern by Jason Isbell: Listen to an album enough times, and you begin to see the seams. The machine shows its gears a little bit at a time, and you sometimes lose appreciation for the song as you discover how it’s managed to hook you. This can’t happen with Southeastern. There’s nothing to hook you on this album. I supposed it has the allure of the Americana megalith that has become the new “alternative” to mainstream music, but Jason Isbell is outside of that. He had his break in Drive-By Truckers, which is an outfit full of people who couldn’t care less about trends; they made songs and whole albums about dead classic rockers during his tenure, as an example. Southeastern does have a convenient narrative- Isbell made it having been relatively newly sober and non-relatively married. But Isbell addresses his cleanness only once, in “Stockholm,” as he laments being enamored with his captor (in this case, addiction). The rest of the album is preoccupied with death, loss, and the end of things, with at least two songs about his funeral, at least two that address the deaths of the people around him, and one about a province in Australia. Closer “Relatively Easy” ties a bow on those themes, but not a pretty one; you come away from Southeastern supremely moved, and “Relatively Easy” is Isbell’s reminder not to get too worked up about death. Compared to the rest of the world, our lives are easy. Compared to the rest of the world, our deaths are probably easier too.

Another Fifteen (alphabetically by artist)

Doldrums by Andrew St James: Like early Bob Dylan if his home base was the Bay Area? I’d rather compared him to Van Morrison. His style is far more free-flowing and melodic than Dylan’s early-period, straight-laced protest folk.

Reflektor by Arcade Fire: One of the more obtuse albums of the year, and the most divisive. My feelings on Reflektor go back and forth; I’ll love it one listen, then feel ambivalence on the next listen. Regardless, Reflektor is an ambitious statement of a rock album that tackles subjects other bands are really willing to face head on in songs like “Porno” and “Afterlife”.

The Civil Wars by The Civil Wars: Civil Wars, we hardly knew ye. Who knows what really happened to Joy Williams and John Paul White, but whatever it was, you can hear it all over their self-titled second album. Spite, regret, and general darkness are just dripping from their words as they expand the depths of their acoustic folk sound from their first record with slow-roasting production.

The Rooster by David Ramirez: Your EP better be super good for me to include it on this list. Ramirez is an Austin singer-songwriter, specializing in blunt folk that either excoriates himself or certain trends he finds reprehensible, which is kind of what folk used to be if you think about it. Over the past year, his songs have connected with me with a consistency like no one else’s; if he had transferred this quality to a full album, it surely would have been near the top.

I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You by Derek Webb: This one hurts, though I won’t pretend to have any special insight into Webb’s relationship with McCracken (see above). But it’s hard to hear Webb sing so clearly about relationships with what sounds like wisdom and joy. Even so, the songs speak for themselves, and I Was Wrong is full of great ones.

Nothing Was the Same by Drake: He’s a better rapper than most of the rappers and a better singer than most of the singers; put that together, and what have you got? One Aubrey Drake Graham, whose Nothing Was the Same may not have been the cohesive thesis statement that Take Care was. But Nothing does have the greatest album cover of all time (arguably).

Tape Deck Heart by Frank Turner: You could describe Turner’s sound pretty accurately as folk-punk, but this was the best pure rock album of the year. Turner sounds like the kind of man who needs to parse through his relationships’ demons by letting loose a little bit. If so, this album probably did the trick.

Quiet Frame; Wild Light by Golden Youth: Gungor released only one album last year, but you’d be forgiven for confusing Quiet Frame for one of theirs, especially since it’s better than I Am Mountain. Where Gungor found themselves caught up in abstract ideas rather than the straightforward gospel-sharing from their first two albums, Golden Youth keep it simple. In only seven songs, Quiet Frame celebrates all the ways God blesses us in this life.

The Electric Lady by Janelle Monáe: No one does Prince like Monáe these days, especially not even Prince. The Electric Lady is a continuation of the android concept from her brilliant ArchAndroid. As devoted as she is to that concept (and maybe after a third album she’ll have it beaten into me), her devotion to kinetic R&B is what keeps me coming back.

Trouble Will Find Me by The National: If you hate consistency, you’ll loathe The National. They aren’t concerned with things like “changing our sound” or “growing as a band”. They’re content to make the same brand of soft rock till they die out, puncturing relationships with indelible images on album after album, and Trouble Will Find Me is no exception to their greatness.

Meet Me at the Edge of the World by Over the Rhine: Over the Rhine are a group from Ohio who have received this blog’s praises before. They’re a lot like Patty Griffin: operating outside the mainstream, but influencing a ton of people in their genre. Meet Me at the Edge of the World is their most subdued album yet, and it projects serenity from beginning to end.

Muchacho by Phosphorescent: If you like Kurt Vile, you’ll love Phosphorescent. That is, of course, unless you don’t like your songs to have energy or sound like they’re full of life. Where Vile fully embraces the stoner sound without actually lighting up, it’s easy to imagine Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck with a joint in one hand while he skydives into an abyss.

Talented 10th by Sho Baraka: The most underrated album by a Christian last year, probably because Sho drops a bunch of N-words on one of the songs. But focusing on the profanity is missing his point. Talented 10th is a front-to-back dissection of life within black culture from a Christian perspective, and Sho came so close to unseating Yeezus from the top ten that you have to give this a listen.

Nobody Knows. by Willis Earl Beal: This was the peak of Beal’s troubadour powers. He’s backsliding into self-parody at this point, but Nobody Knows. was a full album’s worth of his best material. He does meandering folk better than anyone, and it’s my hope that he gets back to this level soon.

W.L.A.K. by W.L.A.K.: Grantland’s Jalen Rose and David Jacoby held a bracket for who has was the best hip-hop group of all time. Seems like they overlooked one, #amiright? W.L.A.K. (Alex Faith, Christon Gray, Dre Murray, and Swoope) are new, but they make quite the impression on this album that made the best of all their distinct styles.

Previous Top Tens

2012

Andrew Peterson: Light for the Lost Boy
Lecrae: Gravity
Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE
Japandroids: Celebration Rock
David Crowder*Band: Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])
Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball
Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
The Olive Tree: Our Desert Ways
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra: Fable
Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city

2011

Gungor: Ghosts upon the Earth
Adele: 21
Over the Rhine: The Long Surrender
Bon Iver: Bon Iver
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
Drake: Take Care
Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin’
Beyoncé: 4
Matt Papa: This Changes Everything

Music Bummys 2014: Best Songs of 2013

Music Bummys 2014: Best Songs of 2013

I thought I was doing pretty well this year- only 15 of my top 50 songs could be considered Americana. I felt like maybe I was branching out, instead of allowing my predisposition towards folk music to dominate my music consumption. But then I realized half of my top 10 is Americana, so maybe there’s just no changing me. But apart from Americana you’ll find a lot of baby-making R&B, a bunch of alternative Christian music you won’t find on KLUV, some EDM (Wow, is that an EDM song all the way up at #2?), 2 freaking country songs, and Michael Bublé, whose presence on this list should be enough proof that I could care less what the critics thought were the best songs of 2013.

Links to the songs are in the titles. I tried to link to only clean videos, hence no links to Beyoncé videos.

Another Twenty-Five

50. “Demon to Lean On” by Wavves
49. “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” by Superchunk
48. “Seven Seas” by Golden Youth
47. “Sufferer (Love My Conqueror)” by Hiss Golden Messenger
46. “Body Party” by Ciara
45. “Lay My Burden Down” by Aoife O’Donovan
44. “Do What U Want (feat. R. Kelly)” by Lady Gaga
43. “It’s a Beautiful Day” by Michael Bublé
42. “Two Fingers” by Jake Bugg
41. “Play by Play” by Autre Ne Veut
40. “The Way (feat. Mac Miller)” by Ariana Grande
39. “Drunk in Love (feat. Jay-Z)” by Beyoncé
38. “The Mother We Share” by CHVRCHES
37. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
36. “Still Fighting the War (feat. Jimmy LaFave)” by Slaid Cleaves
35. “I Wish I Wish” by Sam Amidon
34. “Avant Gardener” by Courtney Barnett
33. “In the Garden” by Sandra McCracken
32. “Relatively Easy” by Jason Isbell
31. “Diane Young” by Vampire Weekend
30. “Like a Rose” by Ashley Monroe
29. “Exile Dial Tone” by Beautiful Eulogy
28. “Long Way Down” by W.L.A.K.
27. “Inland” by Jars of Clay
26. “Song My Love Can Sing” by Doug Paisley

Top 25 Songs

25. “New Slaves” by Kanye West: West has mastered vulgarity; his use of obscenities in his music has become as much an art form as his sampling. Yeezus as a whole is brilliant in how it denudes our society’s fake morality. It’s hard to feel sorry for Kanye specifically, but the fact that even rich black people continue to experience discrimination is a problem he makes undeniable.

24. “Wasting My Young Years” by London Grammar: London Grammar is probably more famous for appearing on Disclosure’s album, but their biggest statement came on their own album. “Wasting My Young Years” is unapologetic in its melancholy. Luckily, frontwoman Hannah Reid’s voice is ethereal enough to keep you getting down in the dumps.

23. “I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You” by Derek Webb: This song is heartbreaking in the wake of Webb’s divorce (see below). But the sentiment is still potent. Webb courts controversy elsewhere, but on “I Was Wrong”, he clearly articulates the art of forgiveness.

22. “The One That Got Away” by The Civil Wars: Maybe the passion and spite bursting forth from this song is imagined. I don’t care. We lost something great when Joy Williams and John Paul White decided to part ways. R.I.P.

21. “Afterlife” by Arcade Fire: I have a feeling this song will rank higher on this list in a few years. The highlight of their ambitious double album Reflektor, “Afterlife” wrestles with the question of what happens after things are over, oscillating from relationships to life itself. The lyrics never answer the question, but the music that carries on after the words appears to suggest that there is at least something.

20. “Ask Me To” by Courtney Jaye: A purer pop song wasn’t released last year. Forget Neko Case. The best power-pop released last year was by Courtney Jaye.

19. “Honest Affection” by Kye Kye: The best thing to come out of Estonia since…hm. Not sure what else has come out of Estonia recently, now that I think about it. Apparently machinery and equipment. Who knew? Anyway, the members of this band are from Estonia, and it’s pop like you’ve never heard before.

18. “Blood on the Leaves” by Kanye West: Seeing as it samples Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit”, “Blood on the Leaves” was already going to be a heavy song. Add to that its apparent topic of abortion, and it’s hard to imagine a more depressing song. But “Blood on the Leaves” is everything that has made Kanye West great, from his use of Auto-Tune to the ingenious sample to the singularly angry lyrics- it’s a synthesized miracle of a song.

17. “Hourglass” by Sandra McCracken: As the other half of the previously mentioned divorce (see above, Derek Webb), McCracken’s 2013 album had the potential to be equally heartbreaking. But the subject matter she deals with is less ripe for ironic interpretation. Instead, McCracken focuses her beautiful voice on dream-like visions of what we have to look forward to when Christ returns, of which “Hourglass” is the pinnacle.

16. “Royals” by Lorde: I wonder if “Royals” had been less ubiquitous last year, would I love it more or less? It’s hard to say; on one hand, maybe I’d feel more superior about myself for liking an unheard gem. But on the other hand, if I ever say “Jet planes, islands,” you know to say “Tigers on a gold leash”, and that’s pure joy.

15. “Where Were You” by Ghost Ship: I can’t say for certain if any other songs have the book of Job as their source material. But I doubt any capture the meaning of that book so fully both in their lyrics and music. Taken from Job’s closing diatribe from God, essentially asking where Job was when God created the world, the instrumentation builds into a chaotic paean to God’s power and, ultimately, His great mercy.

14. “Recovery” by Frank Turner: I didn’t know I needed Turner’s brand of folk-punk until I heard it. “Recovery” apparently plays on radio stations in areas that still value good radio, so, naturally, I’ve never heard it in Oklahoma. Instead, I get excited every time it comes on my iPod, and I rock out to it behind my wheel as I try to master every lyric in this wordy masterpiece about how difficult self-improvement seems.

13. “Dark and Dirty Mile” by Jason Boland & the Stragglers: Here is an example of why I’m a liar when I say, “I like all kinds of music- except country.” Here is an example of country at its simplest and best. Here is an example of a band that understands country is most profound when dealing honestly with the darkness in this world.

12. “Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell Williams)” by Daft Punk: If there was a more ubiquitous song last year, it was called “Blurred Lines” and it was hypnotically odious. “Get Lucky” comes dangerously close to the same mysogyny; you’re not sure Pharrell is trying to take advantage of the girl who’s “up all night for good fun” or if she’s in on the game. But by the time Nile Rodgers hits his solo on the bridge, you’re sure it’s the latter, because you’re dancing and singing and you’ve stopped thinking.

11. “Stoned and Starving” by Parquet Courts: I was surprised when this song didn’t end up in the top 10. It’s such a timeless piece of punk, following frontman Andrew Savage as he looks for a snack to quench his munchies, about nothing and brilliant at the same time. I guess it’s at #11 because I followed my heart with the next 10 songs, something I’m sure Savage and Co. would shrug at amid ample feedback.

songs1010. “The Sea & the Shore (feat. John Fullbright)” by Amy Speace: I know I’ll alienate the vast majority of my readership with this reference (so like 4 of you), but this song by Speace always evokes the story-song emotion of Jason Robert Brown’s best songs in his musicals. The delivery by both Speace and Fullbright is less theatrical than, say, Norbert Leo Butz or Andrea Burns. But the imagery is just as evocative, detailing the story of the sea’s unrequited love for the shore with gossiping shells and an interloping moon. Speace, who has a background in the theatre, gives the more emotive performance, while Fullbright is a nice, more subdued complement. The combination leaves me with a feeling of longing every time.

songs099. “Rocket” by Beyoncé: Goodness, this song is sexy. Another appropriate word for it is “sex-ful”, as in “full of sex”. This might be the most explicit song I’ve ever heard that never actually references anything explicitly. For that reason, I can only commend this song with the caveat that I can’t imagine this being anything but a stumbling block to those who aren’t married (and I can’t link to the video for ANYONE). And for those who are, I haven’t quite worked out in my head if listening to something like this is right or wrong. Trip Lee may have put it best when he posed the question to Beyoncé on his blog, “Is there a way to celebrate married sex without publicly flaunting one’s own sexuality and tempting others to lust?” I don’t know the answer, but if there’s a way, Beyoncé has paved it.

songs088. “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake: Timberlake’s album was a disappointment to many, and it wasn’t quite the blockbuster everyone expected. But “Mirrors” was everywhere in my life last year. A refreshing ode to commitment and how the one you want to spend the rest of your life with sometimes sneaks up on you, “Mirrors” was a nice change of pace from everything else on the radio. In the context of his album, “Mirrors” stands out from the retro-soul Timberlake sometimes overreaches for. It sounds like the song Timberlake’s whole career has been building towards, the culmination of his best musical and personal qualities.

songs077. “Hold On, We’re Going Home (feat. Majid Jordan)” by Drake: I say this as someone who loves Drake and his music, but the best thing about “Hold On” is that it doesn’t even sound like a Drake song- or at least what the radio thinks of as a Drake song. “Hold On” sounds out of time, like Drake’s voice could be coming from the future or the past or some alternate version of the present. The lyrics would be vaguely creepy, except the chorus is vaguely comforting, like the girl really does belong at home with Drake, like it would really be her home. Even if the lyrics are stalkerish, “Hold On” has the same key ingredient as other restraining order songs like “Every Breath You Take” or “Happy Together”: an indelible melody. That lilting chorus was the difference last year between a meme and an all-time great song.

songs066. “The Bad Days” by David Ramirez: Ramirez came out of nowhere last year to become one of my new favorite artists. An Austin native, he has an authenticity in his songwriting that most folk artists only dream of. Here, Ramirez is encouraging his significant other (Wife? Girlfriend? Ramirez is a mystery.) to hold on to the good times. Few love songs have a line in their chorus as strong as “You’re still my girl in the bad days”. Even fewer can top it in a verse with a line as blunt as “I pray that the times that our love is sweet / Outweigh the days that you hate me.”

songs055. “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” by Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford: This song shouldn’t be on this list. It’s an old song with a long history in folk music, covered by everyone from Pete Seeger to Bob Dylan to the man that Inside Llewyn Davis was loosely based on, Dave van Ronk, to freaking Jeff Buckley. But I can’t help but love the version sung by Llewyn and his dead partner (voiced by Mumford in the movie). It might be the harmonies deceiving me, but I think it’s more than that. “Dink’s Song” is always sung very sparely, but I think T-Bone Burnett filled the song out well while still preserving the simplicity that is essential to its charm. And the harmonies help.

songs044. “I Blame Myself” by Sky Ferreira: Sky Ferreira doesn’t give a damn about her bad reputation, except when she does. “I Blame Myself” is the song of a woman who does care what others think about her, but contrary to the title, I don’t think Ferreira is really blaming herself. The whole tone of the chorus is defiant, as if her insistence that any woman should be blamed for their own involvement in sexual harassment is totally and completely sarcastic. Fitting, with all the domestic abuse charges flying around in sports news lately. This should be required listening in the NFL. They won’t be able to get it out of their heads either.

songs033. “Elephant” by Jason Isbell: For the longest time I couldn’t choose a favorite song from Jason Isbell’s Southeastern. But “Elephant” stands out every time I hear it. When you hear it in the context of the album, it might not stand out, since it’s surrounded by great songs. But “Elephant” is far and away Isbell’s best song yet, solo or with the Drive-By Truckers. I don’t know if the girl dying in this song is supposed to be a metaphor or if she was real in Isbell’s life, but his portrait of her is devastating. It’s hard to imagine I’ll ever hear a more truth-filled song about dealing with death.

songs022. “Latch (feat. Sam Smith)” by Disclosure: Never. Then a metronomic beat kicks in, with syncopated flourishes. Then Sam Smith’s voice slides in, and comfort. This sounds like a human song now. His verse ends, and synths wash over me, still comforting. Smith is back, but he sounds less human now. He sounds sure of his relationship, but the music isn’t sure. The bottom slips out from under him. Now Smith is wailing, and desperate. Not human. No, not human at all. What’s happening to him? WHAT’S HAPPENING TO HIS VOICE? WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME? WHY AM I SINGING WITH HIM? WHY AM I SINGING FALSETTO? WHY IS MY HAND IN THE AIR LIKE A DIVA? WHAT IS HAPPENING? I’m hooked. No, latched. Never.

songs011. “Go Wherever You Wanna Go” by Patty Griffin: I saw Patty Griffin at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton earlier this year. She was predictably incredible, if you like her brand of Americana, and I don’t- I love it. I went into the concert excited to hear a wide range of her songs, but mostly ones from my favorite album of hers, Children Running Through. I liked American Kid at this point, but it wasn’t my priority that night. Then, near the end of her set, Griffin played this song. I already thought it was the best song on American Kid. But when I heard it that night, it took on new meaning for me. Griffin wrote the song for her recently deceased father. As I listen to it, I think of Griffin’s joy at the idea of her father finally being free from the demons of his life, whether they were the heavy ones of war or the routine ones of having to pay the bills. I don’t know what Griffin’s ideas of heaven are, but this song gets close to my idea of heaven’s freedom. That night, at Dan’s Silverleaf, when Patty Griffin swung into the final chorus of this, one of her most wonderful songs, I thought of my grandparents, all dead. I thought of their full lives, and the peace they have in heaven, if that’s where they are. I thought of my parents, all the hard work my mother and father put in to give my sister and me opportunities; all the ways my dad serves at church, giving up time and energy in a way that he would never call a sacrifice; all the hours my mom spent taking care of me and my sister, just her, when my dad was away on business trips. I thought of what it must be like to know your parents are finally free of the hard kind of work and pain and giving so much. I suppose when that happens I’ll think of this song. I’ll be older, and the meaning will have only deepened.

Previous Top Songs

2012

“Clear the Stage” by Jimmy Needham
“One Sixteen (feat. KB & Andy Mineo)” by Trip Lee
“Fire of Time” by David Ramirez
“Church Clothes” by Lecrae
“Climax” by Usher
“Day by Day” by Andrew Peterson
“When We Were Young” by Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra
“Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean
“Mourning Train to Memphis” by Christopher Paul Stelling
“Hold On” by Alabama Shakes

2011

“Someone Like You” by Adele
“Need You Now” by Cut Copy
“You Are the Beauty” by Gungor
“Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes
“Oklahoma Sky” by Miranda Lambert
“Otis” by Jay-Z & Kanye West
“This Changes Everything” by Matt Papa
“Days Like This” by Over the Rhine
“Bright Lights” by Gary Clark Jr.
“Beth/Rest” by Bon Iver