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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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Best of 2014: Music Edition, Part 1

2014 was a good year. I saw tons of great movies and read some wonderful books. Feeling that I was in a bit of a music rut, I also made a point to buy some new albums. Any song that I first encountered in 2014 is eligible for the list, but most of these were actually new this year. Here are my favorite songs of 2014, numbers 10 through 6!

10. Ingrid Michaelson, “Time Machine”

Another year, another solid pop album from Ingrid Michaelson. Actually she slowed down her pace for Lights Out, taking two years between releases, and her patience pays off with one of her strongest albums to date. There are many good songs, but “Time Machine” is classic Ingrid. It’s catchy with a simple yet appealing premise and definitely worthy of singalongs in the car.

9. The Black Keys, “I’m Not The One”

I came by this song in a roundabout way. The TV show Scandal played a cover of “I’m Not The One” by soul singer Bettye LaVette, which eventually led me to the Black Keys original. It’s a male breakup anthem in the tradition of “Free Bird,” rather charming in the singer’s easy admission of being unavailable. This song was the soundtrack to some of my more broody moments of 2014.

8. Josh Ritter, “Bright Smile”

“Kathleen” was my favorite song in 2011, but I somehow went until this year without owning any Josh Ritter albums. Cheapo to the rescue once again. Although Hello Starling has several gems, “Bright Smile” is a deceptively simple love song that sticks in my mind. It’s the kind of song you would want someone to sing under your window, if you like that sort of thing.

7. Ed Sheeran, “Runaway”

“Runaway” is just as catchy as “Sing” or “Don’t,” but without being mercilessly overplayed by radio. It’s Ed Sheeran’s other collaboration with Pharrell Williams, in which he talks about leaving home as a teenager. “Runaway” manages to communicate genuine emotion on top of an impeccable groove.

6. Beyoncé, “XO”

I was a ridiculously huge Destiny’s Child fan in middle school, and I’ve had a soft spot for Beyoncé ever since. Although I was tempted to pick “Drunk In Love” as my favorite from her latest album, “XO” is the song that makes me the happiest. For me it’s all about that sublime buildup to the chorus, and then, musical bliss.

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

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Best of 2012: Music Edition, Part 1

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — the time for best-of lists! Just like last year, my lists are open to any song/movie/book that I encountered for the first time in 2012. Let’s kick it off with my favorite songs of the year. Here are numbers 10 through 6.

10. Fiona Apple, “Get Him Back”

I realize that I’m one album behind in the Fiona Apple catalog, but I recently stumbled upon a used copy of Extraordinary Machine at Cheapo. I was familiar with some of the songs from sharing music with college friends. Among the unfamiliar offerings, this funky tune quickly became a favorite. I love the gleefully sinister tone when she sings, “Wait till I get him back.” Is she going to get him back or get back at him?

9. Ingrid Michaelson, “Ribbons”

This year Ingrid Michaelson released Human Again, which features some top-notch breakup songs. As I mentioned in my album review, I like to think of “Ribbons” as a continuation of “Parachute,” which appeared on last year’s best-of list! Maybe I’m just a sucker for flying metaphors.

8. Fleet Foxes, “Montezuma”

“Montezuma” could be the most beautiful song of the year. I heard it quite frequently on The Current and eventually added it to my own music collection. The harmonies are what initially grabbed my attention, but the lyrics make it more than just a pretty song. “Oh how could I dream of such a selfless and true love? / Could I wash my hands of just looking out for me?”

7. Tegan and Sara, “Closer”

Tegan and Sara want to make us dance, and I’m more than willing to let them. “Closer” is a genuinely sweet song about the anticipation of new love. If you aren’t singing along by the end, well, you definitely aren’t me. I can’t wait for their new album in January! (More thoughts on “Closer” and the upcoming album can be found here.)

6. Taylor Swift, “State Of Grace”

Taylor Swift is my not-so-guilty guilty pleasure. I must admit, it was hard to pick a favorite song off her new album Red. So many of them make for great singalongs in the car, including the classic Swift ballad “Begin Again.” In the end I had to pick a triumphant love song because I love a triumphant Taylor. I’ve heard the sound of “State Of Grace” compared to U2, and I think it’s an apt comparison. The dramatic flair suits Taylor nicely.

Come back tomorrow for the top 5!

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Music March: Ingrid Michaelson’s Human Again

So far 2012 has been a year of new music. I’ve purchased three albums that also happen to be relatively new releases, and I thought it was time for their blog moment in the sun.

I’ll start with my most recent acquisition:  Ingrid Michaelson‘s Human Again. It’s gotten press for being somewhat different from her previous albums. In my opinion, it’s hands-down her best since Girls and Boys (2006). With its two cover songs and three live recordings, Be OK (2008) seemed like a hastily thrown together followup to a breakout record. Everybody (2009) was released less than a year later, and while it was a more traditional studio album, her songwriting just didn’t capture my attention as it had on Girls and Boys. As I mentioned in a Best of 2011 list, Ingrid tends toward lyrical and musical simplicity, and sometimes she is very successful with that tactic (see “The Way I Am”). However, I felt like her last two albums were relying too much on cuteness over cleverness.

Human Again was released two-and-a-half years after her last album, and the extra time and effort shows. It shows in production value, but more importantly it shows in song selection. This feels like a complete album, as opposed to a few quality tunes and a lot of filler. Ingrid has proven herself capable of subtlety as a songwriter, infusing deceptively simple love songs with darker undertones. For example, the first song on Girls and Boys is called “Die Alone.” It’s ostensibly about having found love, but “You make me feel like maybe I won’t die alone” isn’t necessarily the most optimistic sentiment. And I loved that about her:  the odd combination of whimsy and cynicism.

I don’t think that Human Again should feel like a departure for Ingrid fans of yore. I see it as a return to form. It has the highs and lows of a balanced album, the fast-paced moments of happiness or anger and the slowed-down moments of sadness or romance.

Two of my favorites are “Ribbons” and “End Of The World.” “Ribbons” is one of several feisty breakup songs and contains some of those deceptively simple lyrics that I love. It recalls the flying metaphor found in the song “Parachute,” but reveals that love was not such a parachute after all:  “I’m not flying / I’m not flying, am I?” And don’t tell me I’m reading too much into it because I’m quite pleased with the idea that I am not.”End Of The World” is simply irresistible because it was inspired by watching zombie apocalypse movies. A zombie apocalypse love song!

Another standout track is “Ghost,” which just happens to have this lovely lyrics video to accompany it. Ingrid fans and curious blog readers, I hope you enjoy.

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Best of 2011: Music Edition, Part 1

And so it begins. Prepare yourself for five straight days of the Best of 2011. I’m kicking it off with my ten favorite songs of the year. Here are numbers 10 through 6.

Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Way Over Yonder In the Minor Key”

I have a weakness for alt-country music. I first heard this gem in the movie Love and Other Drugs, then again months later on The Current. The second time around, something resonated with me. It could be Billy Bragg’s voice or the pleasure of joining in the refrain of “Ain’t nobody that can sing like me.” Sometimes a simple song is all I need.

Elliott Smith, “No Name #3”

Good Will Hunting has been one of my favorite movies for years. In 2011 I finally invested in the soundtrack. (A used copy, of course.) The album hinges on six beautiful tracks by Elliott Smith. All are subtle and haunting, but “No Name #3” is decidedly my favorite. There’s something about the way he sings “Everyone is gone / Home to oblivion” that makes it the perfect soothing song.

Ingrid Michaelson, “Parachute”

Okay, I technically heard this song back in July of 2010 when I saw Ingrid in concert. I’m still including it though because I didn’t take much interest in it until 2011. Anyone who has heard her albums knows that Ingrid is a hit-or-miss type of songwriter. Her hits tend to be lyrically simple (like “The Way I Am“) and insanely catchy (like “Parachute”). Supposedly Ingrid didn’t record “Parachute” at first because she thought it was too poppy for her. Something must have changed her mind, and we have this pop confection to show for it.

Gillian Welch, “One Little Song”

Did someone say alt-country? Gillian Welch’s Soul Journey album was one of my best finds this year. That is to say, I found it at a used music store in Uptown. I already featured this particular song once, but it deserves a second mention. I love the way it flows effortlessly between verses. Most of all, I love the message, which is that there’s always a song left to sing.

Robyn, “Indestructible”

My love for Robyn is already welldocumented on this blog. I was familiar with “Dancing On My Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend” when I bought her album Body Talk. Then I discovered a new favorite in “Indestructible.” Like all of Robyn’s best songs, it has real emotion behind the electronic beats. I highly recommend it for rocking out in the car, preferably while driving to happy hour with your coworkers.

Check back tomorrow for the top 5!

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