Sam’s Choice: My Top Songs for 2013

SamsAnother year has come and almost gone and with it I have discovered more new music.  And since I’m such a swell guy I’m going to share my favorites with you here.  If you’re interested in my past lists you can take a look at 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009.

And just a qualifying note before I get started…while most of these songs came out in 2013, that isn’t necessarily my criteria since I make playlists according to seasons of the year and then cull my year-end list from them.  So if a song catches my ear and I’ll always remember it for whatever season it was, then that’s where it goes.  So without further ado, I present to you the songs I’ll remember 2013 by…

Teach Me To Know by The Lone Bellow

Look, I can’t say anything more about The Lone Bellow that I haven’t already said, but just trust me, if you aren’t listening to them you’re missing out, and if you haven’t seen them live, then you haven’t lived.  Right, right, Zach is a friend of mine and I am likely the most biased observer of theirs ever, since I’ve been going to Zach’s shows for 10 years now, but these folks bring an energy and vigor to their music and stage that most bands would only dream about.  To be in the audience when the show turns from concert to sing-along is remarkable and I’m just selfishly glad these guys are finally getting some national recognition because that means they’re touring more now and I get to see them play live more.  Just buy their album already.  Also, might be worth it to buy stock in guitar strings since Zach kills about 2 sets per show.  Dude is intense!

Always Alright by Alabama Shakes

I first heard this song when my Wonderful Wife and I went to see the movie Silver Linings Playbook and I remember thinking “Hey, that sounds like Alabama Shakes but I have all their songs and I’ve never heard this.” Of course the song was released on the soundtrack to the movie and then about 2 weeks later Alabama Shakes played on SNL and laid down the above performance.  As my Wonderful Wife and I watched she turned to me and said “Holy cow, when did they get so tight?”  And she was right, these kids went from local band made good to legitimate stars with this phenomenal performance.  It’s a toe-tapper of a jam and definitely one of the best songs of the year.

Most People by Dawes

Dawes was one of those bands that I always kinda liked and thought were good but never really paid too much attention to.  And then they opened for the above Alabama Shakes at a show we went to this summer and I really enjoyed their set.  Like a lot.  Enough to re-evaluate my previous position on them and they are now one of my favorites.   They’ve got a good laid back rock vibe while telling cool stories in their songs.  This song is a perfect example of why I like them so much and why they made this list this year.

Miracle Mile by Cold War Kids

I’ve been a big fan of the Cold War Kids since their debut album so I was pretty excited about their new stuff coming out this year and this song definitely did not disappoint.  It’s vintage Cold War Kids, catchy, fun, and edgy without being too much of any of those things.  And I love that these guys have such a distinct sound that you can always know when a song is theirs, even if you don’t know it.  The piano, the voice, the vibe; it all combines to make great music and that’s why I love it.

Time to Run by Lord Huron

Lord Huron was probably my favorite band discovery of 2013.  My best mate James texted me one day and said “I’ve been listening to this band Lord Huron and I really think you’d like it”.  Since he and I have similar taste in almost everything (seriously, music, movies, sports, sense of humor; all the same) I had a pretty good inkling I’d like them and I was right.  Their entire album is fantastic and I actually spent a ton of time listening to them as I went on my runs this summer and fall.  Their music has a sort of fast-paced dreaminess to it that seemed to make my running pace work well and so I just kept listening to them.  And never tired of them either.  Really good stuff. (Sidenote: My Wonderful Wife is way cooler than I am.  After listening to Lord Huron for about a week I said to her “Hey, I really like this band Lord Huron.  You should check them out.” I played her a song and she said “Oh yeah, these guys are great.” Pretty sure the lesson here is marry someone cooler than you and you’ll always have good music around.)

Down Below by Overseas

I really like Pedro the Lion so it is no surprise that another David Bazan project would end up on this list.  But if you read the note about my Wonderful Wife above, then let me also say that she got me a gift subscription to Paste Magazine for our anniversary this year.  It is a digital release that includes a sampler of music each week and one of the first weeks I got it, this song was on it.  It drew me in and now here it is on this list.  I’ve definitely gotten a good amount of great music this year from that subscription and if you’re looking for some good new tunes, I’d highly recommend you check it out.  Have I mentioned my Wonderful Wife is cooler than I am?  She is.

Birmingham by Shovels & Rope

Besides Paste Magazine, the other ways I discovered new music this year was the greatest local radio station ever, Birmingham Mountain Radio, a public radio station out of Minnesota that I discovered on a business trip, The Current, and NPR’s music show The World Cafe (quick tangent: One night I got in my car to run an errand and as I turned it on The Lone Bellow were being featured on The World Cafe and I heard Zach speaking and it was weird and awesome at the same time…).  If I am driving in my car from 7-9pm there is a really good chance I’ll be listening to The World Cafe and likely hearing some new music and that is how I first heard Shovels & Rope.  Their song Birmingham is not only named for the city in which I currently live, but is also a great modern folk song, so here it is as one of my favorites for this year.

The Ceiling by Wild Feathers

What can I say? I’m a sucker for a catchy song that breaks down into a rollicking jam that has 4 guys on guitars rocking out, jumping up and down, and standing on drum sets.  It’s just a given.   So yeah, when I heard this song I knew that it’d end up here because it encompasses so many of my favorite elements like a slow build, a frenetic peak, and a catch rift to hold everything together.  I am nothing if not consistent.  Enjoy.

Wake Me Up by Avicii

Speaking of catchy, this song takes the cake for this year.  It falls into some nebulous category that I like to call Pop Rocks (not to be confused with Pop Rock) and I can’t really define it but to say that it contains some kind of an unexpected dance/synth break in it that is so dang catchy I just want to listen to it over and over again.  It’s another toe-tapper head-bobber that I always am a sucker for and that’s why it ended up on this list for 2013.

Ride On/ Right On by Phosphorescent

This song is a funky jam that has an insanely catchy hook and any song that makes use of an organ is usually going to be something that I enjoy.  I first remembering hearing this song in the background while working and as The Current continued to play it, I finally stopped and listened to it and realized that I really enjoyed it.  Plus the whole Ride On/Right On thing strikes me as kind of a cool play on words, so there’s that too.

Heavy Bells by J. Roddy Walston & The Business

I have no idea what in the world is happening in this video, but this song is pretty awesome.  It’s a hard-edged funky song that really rocks and is yet another product of The World Cafe.  And there is something about the crazy hard chorus combined with the catchy hook from the verses that contrasts together to make a whole song that just kinda feels like a frenetic episode of something that just leaves you out of breath when you’re done.  Might not be for you, but I love it.

Shake by The Head and The Heart

This is the first single off of their new album that came out this year and in my humble opinion it is the best.  It showcases all of the things that have made this band take off into the national consciousness including a driving beat, a meandering piano rift, strong vocal harmonies, and general music making merriment.  And handclaps.  I’m always a sucker for handclaps.  So anyway, these guys are good and their sophomore album is good stuff.

Wildfire by John Mayer

It has never been a talent issue with me and John Mayer.  Dude has absurd guitar skills, there is no doubt about that.  But I banished him to the No-Listen List for a few years after a few of his less-than-desirable interviews came out and he did a few things that I found kind of objectionable.  But with his apparent transition to bohemian hippy and the movement of his music with him, I’m back.  I really love this song (and to be honest I went back to his last album and really liked some of the songs there too) and just how light-hearted and fun it is.  It’s just a good song and I’m glad he’s back to making good music and seems to be happy and free and not all moody and weird (though sometimes you go through those phases to come out the other side, so it’s cool John).

Tape Deck by Jack Johnson

This is my favorite track off of Jack’s stellar album that came out this fall.  It just seems to capture the innocence and excitement of a high school garage band and having seen Jack play this song live in Nashville I could that he just really enjoyed it.  In fact, getting to see him play at the historic Ryman Auditorium (the Grand Ole Opry used to be there) was an incredible night.  He seemed so relaxed and into his songs and really seemed like he was having the time of his life playing with his band.  He played a bunch of old stuff to go along with his new stuff and (The Lone Bellow notwithstanding) that show was one of the better shows I’d been to in a while.  So if by some small chance you’ve not picked up this new album, you need to check it out.

When We Were Younger by The Careful Ones

This was a pretty late entry into this list…like I was working on this post and this video got posted by a good friend of mine that knows good music so I checked it out and I loved the song.  Such a hauntingly beautiful sound that drew me in immediately.  Apparently this is the first song from their new album that comes out later in 2014, so check back with me next year to see if they have another song that makes the list…but for now, just enjoy this lovely song.

So that’s about it for now.  Sorry I haven’t been more bloggy in recent months but having twins is kind of a time/energy/free time drain.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my boys and wouldn’t trade them for anything, but blogging hits low on the priority list right now…but hopefully things will level off in 2014.  But thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed all the songs.

Love and Sweatpants!

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Sam’s Choice : Top Songs For 2011

It’s that time of the year again folks.  Yes, the time has come for me to post my highly anticipated and talked about (not really in either case…) list of my favorite songs from 2011.  As always, these are not neccessarily songs that came out this year (although I think that most, if not all, of them did), but just the songs that will make me think about 2011 when I hear them because this is the year I discovered them and subsequently wore them out with tons of plays on my iTunes. And few things are as subjective as musical taste, so these are just my favorites.  But hopefully there is some stuff you like here too.

Programing note: the ordering is mostly just in the order that I think they sound the best, not necessarily in order of my favorites (though the 5 five-star songs did lead off the list…so maybe subconsciously they did.) Anyway, here we go!

1. Rock n’ Roll is Free – Ben Harper

This is the ultimate starter song.  The opening funky bass line with slow guitar and snare build into the jangling guitar rift and they just make your feet want to move.  Leave it to Ben Harper to create my favorite rock anthem of the year and to do it with such a catchy tune that even though I listened to this song all year it never got old.  Turn the speakers up loud when you listen to this one, because it only gets better as it goes on, showcasing Harper’s considerable shredding ability on the guitar (which we all knew was there all along).  And could there be a better opening song for this list?  “Rock n’ Roll is free so come and get it!”

2. My Body – Young the Giant

Another foot-tapping anthem holds the number 2 spot this year.  Young the Giant kills this song with a frantic energy that really makes this song’s catchy hooks and distorted guitars leap out of the speakers and into your head.  I love the “take a breath slow down” at about the 3 minute mark that leads straight back into the frenzied finish.  I saw these guys play this song live on TV this year and the energy they brought was about what I thought that it would take to make this song work live and they threw themselves around the set with reckless abandon and made me think they actually loved making music.  Anyway, I just love this song.

3. Free My Mind – Katie Herzig

This is a great poppy and dancy song that is filled with fun hooks and loops.  The fact that Katie has an incredible voice to sing over all of the great beats is what really pushes this song over the top for me.  Frankly, this song just sounds like summer to me (I have no idea what that means, but it just works…maybe fun, light, airy and dreamy).  I also really love the string arrangement in this song that closes it out as it just wraps things up in a nice bow.

4. The Whole Love – Wilco

This song encompasses everything that makes Wilco my favorite band.  A simple growing start that slides into a full hook that pervades the entire song the rest of the way.  Simple yet complex.  Layered yet stripped down.  This song just draws me in and makes me want to listen to it over and over again.  For me, if a song ends and I immediately want to reach down and replay it, that means it’s probably going to end up on this list.  This was by far the best song on Wilco’s pretty stellar release that happens to be titled after this song.  (Sidenote: The day this album came out I was in the den reading while K (my wife) was watching T.V.  This song came on one of the shows that she watches and I immediately recognized it and said “Hey!  That’s the new Wilco song!” I’d heard it twice at that point.  I’m not sure what this story means, except that I really just love this song.)

5. Hold On – The Alabama Shakes

Wow.  It’s tough to make a song any better than this.  I heard this song once on internet radio (HT to Birmingham Mountain Radio here) and knew that it would end up here.  The funky guitar hook with the great interludes and quiet intensity of singing drew me in immediately and has become on of my favorite songs of all time.  My head bobs to the rhythm every time I heard and I bet yours will too.  Bonus points here for the ending with the piano and fuzzed out sound.  I’d never heard of this band before but they’re on my list to see sometime in 2012.

6. Powerful Stuff – Sean Hayes

Leave it to Subaru to not only create the car that I bought this year, but to also introduce me to one of my favorite songs.  This song has such a great laid back vibe with the catchy guitar rift and Hayes’ homey feeling voice.  Couple that with the great snap breaks near the end and the funky beat and I’m sold.  Just like on the Outback.

7. Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars

My choice for folky, funky song of the year.  This song has a hauntingly catchy quality to it that keeps you humming it even after it has ended.  I love the little parts where the instruments drop out and only the voices and the percussion sound through, which only add to the greatness of this song.

8. Take Me – Jesse Payne

My love for all the songs Jesse Payne has created has been well documented before on this blog, so I’ll spare you.  But even so this song is vintage Jesse.  It has a raw feel to it that is catchy and toe-tapping.  It builds and descends.  It makes use of horns and and an organ.  And then it starts a final move towards the end at about the 3 minute mark that really finishes things off well.  Just a great song and I’d encourage you to buy all of his music.

9. Alabama Pines – Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

Another song that comes to you courtesy of Bham Mountain Radio (seriously, just find this station on the internet and start listening).  Another great folksy song with great guitar rifts and a strong beat (sensing any kind of a theme here?).  There is something about this song that just feels right, which is really saying something since I’d probably more inclined to favorite a song about California than Alabama.  So it must be good.  Even if it does have a little twang to it…but maybe that’s the appeal.

10. Down in the Valley – The Head and the Heart

We enter double digits with a song from my favorite discovered artist of the year.  I don’t think that there is a song by these guys that I’ve heard that I did not like immensely.  It’s got all the hallmarks…piano, stings, guitar, and good beats combined with catchy hooks and slow builds.  Yep, that’s me alright.  And this song would be great in and of itself, but then it kicks into another gear at about the 2 minute mark that really tops things off.  The frantic build up to the finish ensured it’s inclusion in this list and the fact that this is my favorite newly discovered band of the year. (Sidenote: After listening to this band for about a week I remarked to K that I had found this band that I really liked and that I thought she should listen to…and when I told her it was The Head and the Heart she said “Oh yeah, I’ve been listening to them for a while now.  They’re really good.”  Well then.)

11. Keep You Right – Blind Pilot

This is my second favorite newly discovered artist of 2011.  I heard these guys on NPR doing an interview and I liked the snippets of songs they played and their remarks so much I came home that night and got my hands on a ton of their stuff.  This songs has great vocal harmonies and wonderfully melodic backing instruments.  All the pieces are there; guitar, piano, drums; but the way they put them all together sets them apart.  Great song.

12. Roll Away Your Stones – Mumford and Sons

This songs starts with an incredible instrumental opening that leads into a frantic folk song.  In a way, it’s almost like walking from a fancy dinner into a hoedown.  And I think that it is the juxtaposition that makes it so great.  And again, all the things that I love combine to make a great song that moves back and forth from fast and slow, almost like it’s letting you catch your breath.  Tough to beat as far as musical talent goes. And I just love when the chorus of voices join the singing.

13. Chisel and Pick – Through the Sparks

This is just a really catchy tune.  It has a jangly hook that makes use of the piano and then brings in horns and other voices to make a finished product that is ragged and yet smooth (if that makes any sense…).  This is a great track but I really love the way that the end sort of descends into chaos and finishes.

14. Steal Your Heart – Augustana

This song is exactly why Augustana is one of my favorite bands…that is it is catchy, smooth, has a great chorus, and incredible instrumentation.  This is off of their third album and all of three of them are really, really good records.  These guys really seem to enjoy playing music and I feel like that shows through, especially in a song like this.  The cool drum stop at the end doesn’t really hurt anything either…

15. Empire – Rococode

This is a Canadian band that recently formed and contains some guys that I semi-know, who also happen to have played with Tegan and Sara.  This is the first single off their album that is coming out early next year and if this song is any indication, it is going to be a good one.  This song has a great rhythm to it and is pretty much everything I am looking for in a great indie-rock song.  A catchy chorus rounds it all out and makes for the inclusion in this list.

16. These Days – Foo Fighters

What more can I say about Foo Fighters that has not been said?  This song has everything we’ve come to expect from them including great guitar rifts, catchy hooks, incredible drumming and Dave Grohl singing his head off.  For me, this was the standout track on their great new album that came out this spring.  If you haven’t seen the documentary that came out at the same time I’d urge you to do so, as it is really, really good.

17. Allies – MuteMath  NOTE: This is not Allies as there was not a copy available and Warner Brothers does not allow uploading to sample.  So this is Blood Pressure, a good song in it’s own right but not on the list…

As a rule, MuteMath albums are best consumed whole.  Therefore, while it is annoying that I could get a stream of Allies for you to listen to, Blood Pressure works too.  Either way, the new MuteMath album that came out this fall was fantastic.  As was their introduction concert in a small venue with like maybe 400 people or less.  Just get the album already and be done with it and then go see them when they come to your town.  Thank me later.

18. Royal Blue – Cold War Kids

Again, the Record company foils any attempt to get people to listen to their music…so the above is about a third of the song for you to listen to.  Either way this track is a great song by Cold War Kids that features a strong bass line, a great guitar hook, and a catchy chorus.  Even better, it includes some hand claps (which I am always partial to) and a slow fadeout, which is great. Pretty typical of most Cold War Kids stuff, so I’d encourage you to check out their stuff.

19. The One You Should’ve Let Go – Zach Williams & The Bellow

Zach himself best describes his own music “It’s like trying to catch lightening in a shoe box.”  That’s about right.  There is literally nothing else about this man or his music that I can say that I have not already said on this blog.  So watch the video, enjoy the music and buy the album when it comes out later this year.

And that concludes…oh wait.

Honorable Mention for Most Played Out Song of the Year – Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People

It’s sad frankly.  I really, really liked this song a lot.  And then every radio station and DJ and retail store caught on that it was a good song and started playing it non-stop everywhere I went and I could not escape it.  And thus, it got overplayed.  I did not want to add it to my list but I guess it fits my criteria from above and K said that I had to since it was apparently THE 2011 anthem.  So here it is.

And that is all the songs that were fit to play in my Top 10 (give or take 10) for 2011.  Love or leave ’em, these are the songs that I loved this year and will remember forever as 2011’s best songs.

Love and Sweatpants.