The approaching end of the year triggers an avalanche of year-end, best-of lists, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We organize our lives into arbitrary chunks of measured time, and when one chunk finishes and the next one starts up, a little bookkeeping gives you a better idea of the kind of year you went through. Did you see a lot of movies? Did your musical tastes focus exclusively on weepy teenpop? If so, what’s wrong with you?
For my own amusement, I’m going to do my own music list for this year, with a little explanation of each one. I do not in any way guarantee that the albums/songs listed were released during the 2011 calendar year, only that all of this music accompanied me on my stumble through this year. Also, the list is in no particular order, so look elsewhere to determine ultimate musical dominance.
1. “High Violet” by the National. I’ve written about this album before, but it continues to have a complex emotional narrative for me. And the strange imagery and word usage pushes my creative brain into interesting directions.
2. “Year of the Black Rainbow” by Coheed and Cambria. Lord help me. I shouldn’t listen to any measurable amount of this band’s material, because of the terrible lyrics. I’m a word guy. I am the enemy of awful plots and awkward rhyming. But somehow, the music gets its hooks into me and I forgive the absurd sci-fi back story (which included a talking 10 speed bicycle at some point, and people infected with the MONSTARR virus. I’m serious). And, to the lyricists credit, there are a few rare instances where his words creep out of nonsenseland and make it into some mildly compelling shape.
3.”Hurricane J” by The Hold Steady. I like the entire “Heaven is Whenever” album, but I’ll focus on this track as the best-in-show. It’s about a guy realizing his girl can be much more than her current life will allow her to be, and he’s a part of that problem. To give her the chance to grow and thrive, he has to end the relationship. Here’s the lyric that gets me sniffly:
“Jessie, let’s go for a ride
I know a place that we could stop and kiss for a while
I know a place that makes you smile
I know you’re gonna say what I know you’re gonna say
I know you’ll look at the ground, I know you’ll probably cry
You’re a beautiful girl and you’re a pretty good waitress
but Jessie, I don’t think I’m the guy”
4. “Grey Britain” by Gallows. Holy crap. If you’ve only been exposed to broken heart pop-punk, take a lick of this and find out what real punk tastes like. So angry, and so socially conscious. They’re not calling for violence or overthrow, they’re warning that violence is on it’s way.”There ain’t no scapegoats left to blame.We brought this on ourselves, and we could have been the change.”
5. “Depression Suite” by The Tragically Hip. I rediscovered this song just a few weeks ago, and digging through the lyrics led me to a couple of very moving books and a thoroughly enriching experience. About camaraderie through hardship, making your own opportunities, and seeing it all through. Sure, you could bail on your current situation and exile yourself to the oilsands, but “don’t you wanna see how it ends? When the door is just starting to open?” That line made me think about life and that, despite the adversity or the chance that I won’t succeed, I still want to go on the ride and see how it all plays out.
6. “Sainthood” by Tegan and Sara. I feel such an emotional resonance to their songs, and they are both incredibly smoochable. Yes I know they are lesbians, and no I would not try to smooch them at the same time. I’ve said too much.
7. “Watch The Throne” by Jay-Z and Kanye West. Combining the two guys onto one record took the quality level up to almost 100%.