Spotify playlist link:
- Jonathan Coulton: “All This Time” from Solid State – Solid State may not have really worked as a concept album or graphic novel, but it had some good tracks, including this one, which is every bit as good as classic JoCo. Also check out the awesome video.
- Kesha: “Spaceship” from Rainbow – Kesha shows both her Nashville roots and her millennial sensibilities in this banjo-lead track, which could have been co-written by Sufjan. I didn’t know I needed a Country-SciFi track in my life, but apparently I did! This is for all those people who feel like they don’t belong here.
- Beck: “Dear Life” from Colors – I prefer the more upbeat Beck, and this track delivers, with its jaunty piano and unexpected chord progressions. Add some depressing lyrics for some cognitive dissonance for an excellent recipe. And of course, there is a quirky lyric video.
- Aimee Mann: “Patient Zero” from Mental Illness – My favorite track from Aimee Mann’s latest album. As always, she excels in clever wordplay—I really enjoy the musical layering at the end of the track. Listen closely to hear Jonathan Coulton singing backup.
- Sylvan Esso: “Radio” from What Now – A catchy, almost radio-friendly track that also critiques pop music and the industry, culture, and fame machine behind it. The quick detuning right at the beginning of the track warns that this isn’t a typical pop hit. I dare you to try *not* to dance. You can watch a live, completely re-imagined acoustic version of the track here. Warning: there is an explicit phrase in the 2nd verse.
- Somi: “Gentry" from Petite Afrique – Not many songs about gentrification, but this jazzy track about New York from an African immigrant hits home. The chorus features a masterful word trick switching between “I want it back” and “I want it black”, and also having the music devolve into African drumming. Somi has a great voice with a large range and color.
- Halsey: “Now or Never” from Hopeless Fountain Kingdom – Just a nice, tight, present pop song with a log of space.
- Chris Thile: “Falsetto” from Thanks for Listening – Thile puts the “false” in “falsetto” in this ode to the age of “fake news” from his album of collected Songs of the Week, originally heard on Prairie Home Companion, which is now called Live from Here. Extra credit for note placement of the word “falsetto” while Thile sings into his falsetto. And as always, good mandolin work. Is “Froggy” a symbol of the alt-right or Trump…?
- Lorde: “Supercut” from Melodrama – I really like the concept of this song—looking back on a relationship and seeing only the good things in a relationship, like a highlight reel, but then remembering that there were some bad parts, too; but maybe those the good parts were worth the bad parts? The pre-chorus is the best part of the song, a welcome interruption leading to a simple but effective chorus.
- I’m With Her: “Little Lies” from Little Lies —This is the title track from the first EP of this acoustic newgrass supergroup of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan. I was able to see them perform this summer, and their music is all about the magic of the three voices working together. This song is delightfully quirky, starting and ending in an expected place. I’m excited about their first full album coming out next year. Note: I’m With Her as a band name was coined before the Hilary Clinton campaign adopted the motto. Here's a link to the YouTube video.
- U2: “The Blackout” from Songs of Experience – U2 keeping it simple doing what they are good at, with a rocking, sing-along song about our political moment, both in the US and the UK. Check out the video, too.
- Taylor Swift: “New Year’s Day" from Reputation – If you can get past the sex and myth-making on Reputation (can Taylor write a song not about her “Taylor Swift” character on a Taylor Swift album?), the music is actually pretty good, overall better than her last album, 1989, though perhaps without the stand-out hits. This statement from my review of 2012's Red is still true: “most of Taylor Swift's songs are invitations to ride on her emotions. What I think she's best at is bringing out (or bringing back) strong emotions from the past or present." I think this is still true on Reputation—it is just that a few of the emotions petty and/or shallow or otherwise hard to relate to. This song is one of the exceptions, with Swift back to her country-esque confessional mode instead of her trying-to-be-R&B-catty-mode. On a somewhat unrelated note: Swift really should have actually written a chorus for "Look What You Made Me Do".