Category Archives: Music

Best of 2016: Music Edition, Part 2

The musical theme of my year seems to be strong women and emotional ballads. Hey, I can think of many worse themes. Music is wonderful during happy times, but these are the kind of songs to get you through the tough times. Here are my top 5 songs of 2016!

5. Lady Gaga, “Million Reasons”

At first I was skeptical about the new Lady Gaga album, but soon I was living for it. After going to theatrical extremes on her previous efforts, she was wise to move in a more personal direction. I love that Gaga is so in earnest with everything she does, even the songs that don’t work, but “Million Reasons” definitely works for me. Besides the country-twinged melancholy, my favorite part is the play on words between needing a good reason and a good man to stay.

4. Tegan and Sara, “Dying to Know”

“Dying to Know” became a sneaky favorite off of Tegan and Sara’s new album. The jittery vocals and instrumentation fit perfectly with lyrics about wondering how your ex is doing now. In true Tegan and Sara fashion, a potentially depressing topic is softened by an infectious beat. With the album’s throwback vibe, you can imagine yourself as the protagonist in a John Hughes movie.

3. Lykke Li, “Sadness Is A Blessing”

Since Lykke Li still hasn’t blessed us with new music, I went back to her previous album instead. Wounded Rhymes is great all-around, but “Sadness Is A Blessing” has the best blend of melodrama and genuine emotion. My English major heart loves a song that sounds like it could be sung by the heroine of a Victorian novel. To say “Sadness is my boyfriend / Oh sadness, I’m your girl” is an act of defiance hidden by words of acceptance, something Jane Eyre knew all about.

2. Beyoncé, “Sorry”

My spring was dominated by Lemonade, the latest Beyoncé album. I loved it for its depiction of female experience—both the parts that are specific to my experience and the parts that aren’t. “Sorry” is catchy and angry and crass and amazing. Surely we can all agree that “He only want me when I’m not there / He better call Becky with the good hair” is a couplet of lyrical genius. This is another downright dismissal for the ladies (and gentlemen) to revel in.

1. Sia, “Alive”

“Alive” was released in 2015, but I didn’t pay any attention to it until this year. When I really listened to the song, it resonated with me on a very personal level. Sometimes you’re at a point in your life that needs a survivors’ anthem. I love how her vocal delivery toes the line between pretty and pained, and that juxtaposition is always exciting to me. What could be more primal than declaring “I’m alive”? Sia turns those words into a powerful declaration of strength.

Come back tomorrow as we start on the movies!

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Best of 2016: Music Edition, Part 1

It’s my favorite time of year on Courtney Coherent: Best Of Lists! We begin, per usual, with my top 10 songs. Any song first heard in 2016 is eligible for inclusion, but since I’ve been making a concerted effort to buy new music, almost every song was released this year. Give a listen to numbers 10 through 6!

10. Ingrid Michaelson, “Hell No”

I suppose there’s nothing groundbreaking about this song, but I just enjoy it. There’s something endlessly pleasing about the way the lyrics trip off each other, particularly in the chorus. Plus the sing-chanting style is especially fun for singalongs. Instead of being angry or sad, this breakup song is a downright dismissals. And I always give bonus points for referencing Johnny and June.

9. Little Big Town, “Better Man”

Anyone craving some old school Taylor Swift (me, apparently) was pleasantly surprised when Little Big Town released “Better Man,” which was written by the queen of confessional songwriting herself. The band’s gorgeous harmonies add musical depth, and the lyrics are breakup song gold. To get personal for a moment, after a year of crappy dating experiences, I needed this in my life.

8. Fitz and the Tantrums, “Roll Up”

Fitz and the Tantrums is happy-making music. I gladly invested in their new album and danced along in the car. “Roll Up” is my favorite for its sweet lyrics and raucous chorus. For some reason, it brings to mind a wedding reception flash mob or another unabashedly joyful event. The song also made an appearance on my gym playlist, where quality upbeat indie pop is always welcome.

7. case/lang/veirs, “Atomic Number”

The collaboration between Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs was my favorite chill-out album of the year. (If you don’t know of Veirs, she’s notable in my world for being a Carleton alum.) Among many gorgeous songs, “Atomic Number” stands out for blending these three unique voices into the most eerie harmonies. As soon as each woman delivers one of the first three lines, I’m turn to mush.

6. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, “High Dive”

“High Dive” wasn’t love at first listen, but then one day I really heard it and something clicked. I bought the album the same day. This song has all the romantic trappings of travelling home and headlights in driveways, perfectly suited to Andrew McMahon’s vocal style. Most of all, “High Dive” feels like such a genuine expression of love: “You dance with your headphones on / And I could watch you all night long / Dancing to someone else’s song.”

Come back tomorrow for my top 5 songs of the year!

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Album Superlatives: Tegan and Sara’s Love You to Death

Love You to Death

Best Song for Wistful Self-Reflection: “That Girl”

Love You to Death is Tegan and Sara’s second album of gorgeous electropop. While I loved Heartthrob, this album is an even more cohesive and consistent effort. “That Girl” sets the introspective yet catchy tone for the album. Tegan has spoken in interviews about wanting to move her songwriting toward reflecting on herself in relationships, rather than placing blame. That theme holds true throughout the album, which makes “That Girl” an ideal opening track.

Most Likely to Make You Contemplate Your Ex: “Dying to Know”

This is one of the most musically interesting songs on the album. The layering of heavy and quick beats gives “Dying to Know” the jittery feeling that you might get when running into an ex. My favorite element is the vocal delivery, which switches between staccato rhythms and drawn-out notes. This song might talk about unhappy emotions, but it’s impossible to be sad while listening to it.

Most Flirtatious Song: “Stop Desire”

If you want a straight-up catchy tune about love and lust, “Stop Desire” is for you. I knew from the first listen that this would be one of my favorites on the album. I love music that takes time to fully appreciate, but there’s nothing wrong with a little instant enjoyment. The lyrics call for an end to game-playing, which any single person can appreciate, and the chorus is made for dancing.

Best Tortured Ballad: “White Knuckles”

“100x” is a strong contender for this title, but “White Knuckles” is a more emotional listen for me. In the opening bars, the distant echo of “Knuckles turn white” hooks me instantly. While “100x” is sedate in its regrets, “White Knuckles” feels fresh. Sara proved herself to be the ballad queen on Heartthrob, and I’m so glad that she continued to explore that side of her songwriting.

Best Sing-Along Song: “U-Turn”

This was one of the songs released ahead of the album, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until I heard it in the car. Apparently my laptop speakers couldn’t capture the quirky beats and bouncy chorus. “U-Turn” is a love song that might be too late, another example of Tegan exploring her own faults as a romantic partner. The Verge describes Love You to Death as pop music for grown-ups, and this song is a perfect example of how mature lyrics can still be fun.

If you want to hear these songs for yourself, they’re all posted on the official Tegan and Sara Youtube channel. Pardon me while I go listen to this album for the rest of the summer. I already have tickets for their concert in September!

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Three Women Singing Pretty

I love Patty Griffin with what John Green might call “an evangelical zeal.” But for my ten years of fandom, I had never seen her in concert. My opportunity finally came on the Use Your Voice tour, which meant seeing her on stage with Anais Mitchell and Sara Watkins. I saw Anais back in 2012 with my old roommate Lisa, and I’ve been a big fan ever since. Sara Watkins was a member of the bluegrass band Nickel Creek, now a solo artist. Even though this show wasn’t going to be all Patty, all the time, I knew it would be a cool experience.

Winter 2016 010

The show was in the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine University. It’s a fairly intimate setting, appropriate for this type of mellow performance. Although the show started a little late, we were blessedly spared an opening act. (Yes, I’ve seen some good openers in my time, but it’s hard to be patient when the main event is so close at hand.) Patty Griffin was the de facto leader of the group, being the oldest and most famous. This earned her the center microphone, and her songs opened and closed the show. Other than that, the show was a “round robin” with the women taking turns picking a song. While one was playing her song, the others would provide harmony vocals, instrumentals, even percussion.

All three women are beautiful vocalists, and hearing them harmonize was a dream. As the opening number, Patty’s song “Love Throws A Line” presented an enthusiastic and unified group. The downside of solo artists in a group format is hearing fewer songs from each artist. Given that limitation, I would have loved to see all three of them have a role in every song, even though I imagine that would be more challenging musically. Overall the alternating format was a wise decision though. If you only know one or two of the artists’ music, there’s never a long wait between familiar songs, which keeps the audience engaged.

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My personal highlight was Anais playing three songs from Young Man in America, an album that I absolutely love. “Dyin’ Day” and “Young Man in America” already have beautiful harmonies, so they were perfect for the group. Anais also brought the house down with “Why We Build the Wall,” a song from her folk opera Hadestown. As she pointed out, the song was written ten years ago, but it feels eerily appropriate for the current political landscape.

As for Patty Griffin, her voice is impeccable in concert. She’s released nine studio albums, so six songs are barely going to scratch the surface of what a fan might want to hear. I would have happily traded one or both gospel numbers for a couple of songs from American Kid. A solo concert is definitely still on my to-do list. That being said, it was lovely to see her in this setting, collaborating with and supporting other female artists. I was feeling the folksy feminist love.

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Best of 2015: Music Edition, Part 2

There’s something very personal about sharing the songs that I loved most in a given year. All psychoanalyzing aside, these five songs give a good snapshot of what’s been exciting me musically. Maybe some of them will resonate with you as well. Here are my top 5 songs of 2015!

5. Troye Sivan, “FOOLS”

I knew Troye Sivan as an adorable Australian YouTuber, but in the past two years he’s revealed himself to be a crazy-talented electropop musician. Two songs in my top 5 is unprecedented, but I listened to these songs a lot this year. “FOOLS” is an emotionally raw track about holding on when you shouldn’t be in love with someone. I love the stubborn attitude of the lyrics and the background chorus of people yelling “Only fools!” in the final minute.

4. Bastille, “Bad Blood”

I love you, Taylor Swift, but Bastille has a superior “Bad Blood.” Although this song is a couple of years old, I first heard it on ALT 93 in 2015. The song demands your attention from the opening seconds. The vocals are deep and relentless, particularly in the chorus, giving the impression of rock-and-roll sermon. And if we’re sermonizing, letting go of bad blood is probably the preferable message.

3. Tove Lo, “Talking Body”

In the workout song category, “Talking Body” comes out on top. Its play count on my iTunes will not allow me to ignore it. The vibe is positive and a little bit naughty, which seems to be my ideal formula for workout music. Plus this song talks about bodies, so y’know, it feels appropriate. I’ve attached the clean version to this post, but I’ll be honest, that’s not the version in my music library.

2. Adele, “Water Under The Bridge”

Picking an Adele song was a struggle, in part because I love many songs on her new album, but also because she’s not allowing her music to be streamed online. Luckily, “Water Under The Bridge” is an absolute favorite, and there’s a legit video of her performing it on The Tonight Show. This performance doesn’t quite capture the epic choruses that I love on the album. Still, the song possesses the strength and vulnerability that make me love Adele oh-so-much.

1. Troye Sivan, “WILD”

When I first heard “WILD,” I wasn’t sure whether I found the children’s voices cool or annoying. Clearly I landed on cool because it was my jam this fall. You won’t often hear me talk about production, but Troye Sivan’s music has so many unique components. I find myself singing “Leave this blue neighborhood / Never knew loving could hurt this good” around the apartment without realizing it. It’s an ecstatic, delirious love song—three-and-a-half minutes of pure joy.

Tomorrow we move on to the movies!

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Best of 2015: Music Edition, Part 1

Picking my favorite songs came with a new challenge this year. In January I started going to the gym, so a lot of the new music in my life was geared toward workout playlists. But are those necessarily the ones that I consider the best? In the end I chose a few highlights from the workout realm and otherwise chose favorites from everyday listening. Any song that I encountered for the first time in 2015 is fair game, whether it was released this year or ten years ago.

10. Florence + the Machine, “Third Eye”

I wasn’t over the moon about the third Florence + the Machine album, in part because it has less of the bombast that I enjoy in their previous albums. However, “Third Eye” is one track that scratches that itch. I love the imagery of the chorus: “There’s a hole where your heart lies / And I can see it with my third eye.”

9. Fitz and the Tantrums, “6am”

This year a lot of my exposure to new music came from ALT 93, a new alternative station. I was somewhat familiar with Fitz and the Tantrums, but hearing them on the radio regularly inspired me to actually buy an album. “6am” is my favorite for jamming in the car, a soulful groove with a mix of male and female voices.

8. Beth Orton, “Sugar Boy”

Rainbow Rowell makes playlists for her novels, and “Sugar Boy” is on one of the playlists for Carry On. I listened to Beth Orton a bit in high school, but not the Trailer Park album. Her husky voice is particularly well-suited to this song. “Told you I loved you / You beat my heart black and blue” is one lyric that always gives me fond flashbacks to Carry On, as strange as that may sound.

7. Bleachers, “Rollercoaster”

“Rollercoaster” was on my very first workout playlist, so it has a special place in my heart. I find it energizing from start to finish, and the romantic yet slightly off-kilter lyrics are just my taste. I can highly recommend it as a way to keep things peppy while doing cardio—or, you know, cleaning the apartment.

6. Patty Griffin, “You Never Asked Me”

I love sad songs. I love Patty Griffin. Give me a sad Patty Griffin song, and I am mush. “You Never Asked Me” is a heartbreaking piano ballad with a simple message to an ex-partner: “I don’t believe in love like that anyway / The kind that comes along once and just saves the day.” Please excuse me while I go weep in the corner about how beautiful this song is. (If you’re interested, I reviewed the entire Servant of Love album here.)

Come back tomorrow for my 5 favorite songs of 2015!

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Album Superlatives: Adele’s 25

Adele 25

Most Likely to Make You Contemplate Past Relationships: “Hello”

“When We Were Young” might be the more popular choice for this category, and I agree that it’s a gorgeous song. “Hello” just gets me on a visceral level. Being upset by the realization that your ex is over you isn’t the prettiest emotion, but it’s probably a more common experience than wanting to “photograph you in this light.” And who better than Adele to make ugly emotions sound pretty?

Best Kiss-Off: “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”

It wouldn’t be an Adele album without at least one song calling out an ex-lover. Most of 25 takes a more mature stance, looking back with wistfulness or even understanding, but this song looks back with a wink. Congrats on your new relationship…because I’ve realized you suck anyway. The jaunty melody compliments the message perfectly.

Best Anthem for Exhausted Singles: “Water Under The Bridge”

It’s not the most lyrically sophisticated song on the album, but the sentiment strikes a chord. In a similar vein to La Roux’s “Let Me Down Gently,” Adele asks her lover to be kind when he leaves her because “our love ain’t water under the bridge.” The beautifully layered chorus is perfect for belting along in the car (while conveniently not being able to hear yourself).

Best Song for Moody Self-Reflection: “River Lea”

As a songwriter Adele has a similar gift to Taylor Swift, in the sense that she can write specific, personal lyrics that somehow also feel personal to her listeners. Underneath the specificity is a song about recognizing how our past is an inescapable part of who we are, for better or worse. It’s also one of the most musically invigorating songs on the album.

Most Likely to Make You Cry: “Million Years Ago”

I haven’t actually cried while listening to this song, but it’s the most likely culprit. Adele singing in her lower register is spine-tinglingly beautiful, and the simple arrangement keeps the focus on her vocals. The lyrics are particularly appropriate for someone in her late 20s coming to grips with the next phase of life. I guess it’s handy that Adele and I are the same age.

It’s almost impossible to pick favorite songs on this album, but these are a few highlights. I know I’ll have 25 on heavy rotation for the foreseeable future.

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