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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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Gettin’ Poppy with Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift 1989

When mentioning Taylor Swift previously on my blog, I’ve referred to her as my “not-so-guilty guilty pleasure.” However, I’ve changed my opinion on guilty pleasures, partially thanks to this video by wise YouTuber Ze Frank. Why should we feel bad about finding enjoyment in something like a movie or musician when our enjoyment doesn’t harm or even affect anyone else?

My friends already know that I’m a fan/generally fascinated by career choices of Taylor. To the criticism that she only writes songs about her ex-boyfriends, I have long called sexism. The majority of songs refer to love and relationships, often inspired by the musician’s real life, but you don’t hear this criticism about male artists. And let’s be honest—if I had her songwriting skills in my late teens and early 20s, I probably would have written angry songs about my exes too. Whether or not you like her public persona or her style of music, it’s self-evident that she’s good at what she does.

Okay, justification over, album review starting. The big announcement preceding 1989 was that it would be a full-fledged pop album. This should have surprised no one considering the singles released off of Red and other comments made by Taylor. As most reviewers have pointed out, she’s been welcome in the pop realm for a long time. Still, the official announcement caused me some anxiety. I think I can speak for many fans when I say that the appeal of Taylor’s music is that she creates a sense of intimacy. Each new album feels like a friend catching you up on her love life for the past two years. She can tell a story with specificity, but the feelings are vivid enough to apply to your own life. I worried that if she moved further into the land of Max Martin-produced radio hits, some of that intimacy would be lost.

Entertainment Weekly expresses a similar concern in their 1989 review, proving once again that they are the reviewers closest to my heart. However, our opinions differ somewhat on the result. Although I miss the presence of some classic T. Swift piano ballads, to me 1989 feels almost as personal as her previous albums. (Yes, I said “almost” because there is a discernible difference.) Entertainment Weekly seems to detect a greater loss, but I think our opinions can come to a happy medium. All comparisons aside, this is one catchy album.

The majority of 1989 was written with super-producer Max Martin and Shellback. I can happily say that I like these songs better than most of the trio’s collaborations on Red. The lyrics still have that Swiftie flair, which goes a long way toward making listeners feel at home. In “Blank Space” she pokes fun at her reputation as a serial-dater in a way that can still apply to anyone with a few ex-boyfriends stacked up. Both collaborations with Jack Antonoff (“Out Of The Woods” and “I Wish You Would”) are favorites of mine and add interesting layers to the musical landscape. Taylor also wrote a song with Imogen Heap (“Clean”), so I can’t fault her taste in other musicians.

Assuming they don’t have a deep-seeded hate for pop music, I can’t imagine that people won’t enjoy this album. I know it will be in heavy rotation in my car for the foreseeable future.

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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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Good Coverage

I love cover songs. Sometimes I love a cover more than the original version, which makes me feel a little blasphemous. I know some people hate to hear their favorite songs reinterpreted. Once I played a friend the stunning version of “Comfortably Numb” by Dar Williams and Ani DiFranco, and he complained that they had “ruined it.” I strongly disagree, of course. If I’m going to enjoy a cover song, it can’t be just a rehashing of the original. I believe that it takes real artistry to present another musician’s work through your own musical lens.

So today, in honor of cover bands everywhere, I’m going to share with you four of my favorite live covers. Studio versions of cover songs would be much too difficult to narrow down to four or five. These are just a few that have crossed my path and made me smile in the last year or so.

Taylor Swift:  “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay

Taylor Swift is one of my not-so-guilty guilty pleasures. This song suits her voice very well, and her simple rendition allows me to appreciate the lyrics in a new way. Plus she sings within my (very limited) range, so I can feel cool when I sing along.

Tegan and Sara:  “Dancing In The Dark” by Bruce Springsteen

Skip to the 1:05 mark on this video, unless you long to hear about how Tegan and Sara’s stepdad loved Springsteen. I had to include this one in honor of my Karaoke at the Reub partners. Our rendition can’t be topped, obviously, but this is a close second.

Avril Lavigne:  “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha

I won’t try to convince you that Avril really brings out the nuances in Ke$ha’s lyrics. Still, the song and Avril are well-suited for each other. If nothing else, you can covet her sparkly microphone.

Ani DiFranco:  “Angel From Montgomery” by John Prine (and Bonnie Raitt)

The clip is just audio, but it’s well worth listening, I assure you. Sometimes I forget that Ani DiFranco has pipes. If you only listen to one of these songs, let it be this one. She will break your heart and make you like it.


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