Category Archives: Music

Best of 2017: Music Edition, Part 2

2017 saw album releases from huge artists like Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, and I devoured them along with everyone else. It strikes me that most of these songs have a positive leaning, which happily reflects a year of positive changes in my life. I hope you enjoy numbers 5 through 1!

5. Ed Sheeran, “Happier”

Ed Sheeran’s new album had a lengthy run in my car rotation this spring. He doesn’t exactly break new ground, but the album is a satisfying installment for fans. In a lineup of perhaps one too many love ballads, I gravitated toward the relative simplicity of this heartbreaker. Can’t most of us relate to the conflicting emotions of seeing a former love happy in their new relationship? I’m always a sucker for vulnerability, and no one can pine quite like Ed.

4. Spoon, “Hot Thoughts”

“Hot Thoughts” is an irresistible groove from the very beginning of the year. Spoon is another band that makes me feel nostalgic, this time for college, and this song takes the best of their signature sound and makes it feel current. I love the hushed and twitchy vocal delivery throughout. As some of you have probably figured out, a high-quality sultry song is always welcome on my playlist.

3. Cage the Elephant, “Whole Wide World”

Cage the Elephant is perhaps my favorite band on alternative radio today. Oddly enough, “Whole Wide World” is a song that I knew from the Will Ferrell movie Stranger Than Fiction. Bringing the two together was a match made in my personal heaven. The earnestness of the lyrics is offset just enough by the raucous backdrop of guitars and strings. Guaranteed to lift your spirits.

2. Lorde, “Green Light”

I believe I had an initial distaste for this song when I heard it, probably because it doesn’t sound like “Royals.” Yet I kept listening, and before long it was in my music library. If the images are a little off-kilter, everything is reconciled by Lorde’s powerful voice. Most importantly, the bridge and chorus are unstoppable. With its echoes of The Great Gatsby, the sentiment of “waiting for that green light” propelled me through much of the summer.

1. Taylor Swift, “Call It What You Want”

Now you know that I’m being honest with you. As much as I love a good indie band, Taylor Swift was the biggest musical moment of the year for me. There are many interesting directions taken on Reputation, but this sweet and infinitely catchy song is my favorite. When “Call It What You Want” was released, I joked to my friend Lauren that “this is my life now.” With production by Jack Antonoff, the layering of sonic elements is sublime. I defy you not to smile when she repeats, “At least I did one thing right.” It’s a grownup love song for a person who still makes you feel like a romantic.

Tomorrow we go to the movies!

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Best of 2017: Music Edition, Part 1

The time has come, my friends, for the Best of 2017! First up, my top 10 songs encountered this year. This half of the list is mostly populated with songs that I listened to during my summer walks. It was a transitional time in my life, and these triumphant songs kept me hopeful. Feast your ears on 10 through 6!

10. alt-J, “In Cold Blood”

I can’t understand half the lyrics of this song, but for some reason that doesn’t lessen my enjoyment. From the moment I heard the opening lines of binary on the radio, I was hooked. Typical of an alt-J song, I listen in anticipation of hearing that one great line—in this case, the crooning of “In cold bloooood” slightly after the two-minute mark. It’s bizarre, melodic perfection.

9. The Wind and The Wave, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” 

I’ve never been averse to a good cover song, especially when it makes a creative departure from the original version. In this case, The Wind and The Wave turn an iconic 1980s tune into a toe-tapping, country-tinged indie rocker. You can have all your nostalgic Breakfast Club feels with a modern twist and be reminded of the emotion behind the synthesizers.

8. The Revivalists, “Wish I Knew You”

This song was all over alternative radio this year, but somehow I never got sick of it. Must be due to the unrelenting forward motion of the groove and the lyrics. True to the band’s name, “Wish I Knew You” takes you to church, provided the church is connected to a dive bar music venue. The pace is also perfect for a determined walk around uptown.

7. The Killers, “The Man”

The Killers bring me right back to high school when their album Hot Fuss was all the rage. I wasn’t sure about “The Man” when I first heard it, but its tongue-in-cheek swagger quickly grew on me. The lyrics are basically a series of proclamations that are great for car singalongs—my personal favorite being “USDA certified lean!” Also check out “Run For Cover” off the new album.

6. Bleachers, “Don’t Take The Money”

When he’s not busy making pop music gold with Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff is creating his own magic as Bleachers. Like “Rollercoaster” two years ago, “Don’t Take The Money” was an exercise anthem for 2017. I love the range of Antonoff’s voice, and I can’t get enough of the bombastically pleading chorus. “You steal the air out of my lungs / You make me feel it.” Yes please!

Come back tomorrow for the top 5!

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Gettin’ Nostalgic with Tegan and Sara

Ten years and a few months ago, Tegan and Sara released their album The Con. It’s an album full of heartbreak and anxious hope, which happened to be just what I needed at that moment in my life. I was eighteen years old and about to leave for college. Music helped keep me sane during those first few months of intense homesickness, and in particular, walking around campus with The Con playing on my iPod. Definitely one of the formative musical moments in my life.

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That’s why I was incredibly excited when the band announced a ten-year album anniversary tour. I feel like at one point I probably said that my ideal Tegan and Sara concert would be for them to play The Con in its entirety, and this tour intended to do just that. Best of all, I was able to attend with my friend Lisa, who loves this band and album as much as I do. Our second floor balcony seats at the State Theatre were perfect for a low-key but emotional concert.

Perhaps this is a nerdy observation, but I loved the stage design for this show. The twins were on a lighted platform in the middle of the stage, which gave a more intimate feeling to a large theater. The backdrop featured album art from The Con and, for the second half of the show, smaller lights that looked like stars. There were two additional band members on keyboard and guitar.

Like much of Tegan and Sara’s work, The Con often deals with sad lyrics in deceptively upbeat ways. Not the synth-pop of their recent albums, but the quirky indie rock that came before. Although these songs were decidedly moody to begin with, this tour has new arrangements that make them moodier still. My personal favorites were “Knife Going In,” which was rendered deliciously creepy, and the last two songs from the album, “Dark Come Soon” and “Call It Off.” The other band members were utilized for eerie harmonies and atmospheric effects.

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After playing through the album tracks, they played seven other songs from their repertoire with arrangements that fit the mood of the show. At my last Tegan and Sara concert, I was dazzled by Sara singing “Now I’m All Messed Up,” and now I’ve had opportunity to hear it again. There was also a slowed-down version of “The Ocean,” one of the best Tegan tracks off of Sainthood. I almost universally love acoustic versions of songs because you can appreciate the meaning and emotion of the lyrics, which made this an ideal show for me.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Tegan and Sara concert without storytelling and banter between the sisters. There was a running bit about Sara being the cat and Tegan being the dog of the band. They also told a hilarious story about Sam Smith sitting in front of them on an airplane and not knowing how to act. Even though stage banter is one of the hallmarks of the band, their pop tours leave less room for chatter. I was happy to be back in the realm of banter.

The Con X Tour is partially in support of the Tegan and Sara Foundation, the twins’ new organization to support LGBTQ women and girls. One of my favorite things about going to concerts for artists like Tegan and Sara is feeling surrounded by a loving and inclusive community. The angsty twentysomethings who recorded The Con are now changing the world. It’s a beautiful thing.

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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 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.

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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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