I am working on a “Best of 2018” post, but odds are that won’t be posted for a little while. As I was thinking about the songs that defined 2018 for me, two songs in specific came to mind. As mentioned in the post “Woke Up Hurting” in May the lead singer of Frightened Rabbit, Scott Hutchison killed himself. I had already been listening to FRabbits a lot in 2018, but starting in May that went into overdrive. I’ve listened and re-listened to each of their albums many times, but The Midnight Organ Fight has become a favorite. This was the record that launched the band which had started out as a solo project for Hutchison. In 2018 they had begun touring on the 10th anniversary of the album. I had listened to this album before, but it really did not hit home until this year.
The two songs from the record which I have listened to almost once a day (at least) are “Modern Leper” and “Heads Roll Off”. Each of these songs has powerful lyrics (as typical with Hutchison’s writing). They performed them both earlier this year as a part of the MOF tour, and these two are taken from their AV Club Sessions.
A line from “Heads Roll Off” has become the rallying point for fans of FRabbits since Hutchison’s death. It has been heartwarming to hear about the impact Hutchinson has had on other singers and regular folks. Singers continue to honor his legacy, and fans have donated thousands of dollars to mental health organizations in the months since Hutchison passed. Like many of those regular fans, the line also sticks with me and will definitely be a motto for 2019 and beyond.
“While I am alive I’ll make tiny changes to Earth”
I will be the first to admit that the last few months I’ve not been listening to a lot of music or artists that I did not already know. However, I have stumbled on to a few artists who are new to me that I just cannot get enough of. The first such band is ISLAND , an English alternative band. They recently released their first full length record Feels Like Air. The album is fantastic. I first heard of this band while traveling in Ireland this past May. They reminded me a bit of Catfish & The Bottlemen, with a little less volume. Here is “The Day I Die”.
The individuals in this group are not new to me (well 2 out of 3), but together they create an indie sadness super-group! With the collective voices and talents of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus they are boygenius. They combine the best parts of their solo work, and add a little more electricity to this joint work. They only have 6 tracks on their self-titled EP, but they are all fantastic. The best performance besides their amazing Tiny Desk Concert is “Me & My Dog” from The Current.
Nashville based songwriter Phosphorescent was unknown to me prior to this year. I am not sure why as his music is pretty similar to what I often listen to. The song I first heard was “Song for Zula” which a beautiful and sweet song. It was one of my most listened to songs of 2018. His newest record, the 2018 release C’est la vie has been on pretty constant rotation in the last few months. His style ranges from more traditional Americana to a bit more soulful, but his lyrics are always thoughtful.
One of the songs from this new record, “C’est la vie No. 2” is one such song. He was at the Innings Festival this year, but unfortunately I chose to see another act. Hopefully I will get to see him perform in 2019
I’ve found myself going back to music from my past this summer. That is pretty unusual for me. But, that does not mean I am not listening to new music, just less of it.
Last year at LouFest I got to see and hear the amazing Middle Kids, hailing from Australia. I had never listened to them before, but was hooked after hearing the first song. Their debut record Lost Friends came out in May and the song “Mistake” has been a constant on repeat for me. I feel like they are from the 90’s but with a sweet indie vibe.
I was fortunate to see Norwegian singer Aurora open up for Alt-J during Coachella Weekend. As much as I love Alt-J, I was more excited for Aurora as I’ve been listening to her for a couple years. A few days before the show she debuted the song “Queendom” which has a positive message and a nice dance beat. In 20 years I am sure that Aurora will be her generation’s Bjork.
The summer of 2018 saw a much needed resurgence of British rock in my life. That was kicked off with the newest record from Snow Patrol. The mid-2000’s saw Snow Patrol as a soundtrack for many of my fondest and toughest times. I immediately listened to their newest record Wildness as soon as it was released, and the song “Don’t Give In” hit me on the first listen. The lead singer of Snow Patrol has seen some hard times, and he sends us all a message with this song.
This is not the first time The Decemberists have been highlighted, and it will not be the last. I am just days away from seeing them (at the time of writing) and I cannot wait. I’ve loved the new record I’ll be Your Girl and the song “Once In My Life” quickly became my favorite. I would recommend reading about the creation of this video for the full effect. It is a simple, yet beautiful song of hope.
In rare fashion, I will end the post with a love song. Young the Giant is one of my favorite bands to see live. They are amazing performers, and write spectacular song. This song is no exception. I feel such joy listening to this song. This video is all something special. Here is “Simplify”.
What are your songs of Summer 2018?
It is no surprise that I listen to a lot of singer songwriters. I post about a lot of them here. If you aren’t a fan of them, well, you may want to stop reading. Except you would regret not listening to these songs.
There are times when you know singers know each other, and there are other times when they use their relationship to make something incredible. Two of my favorite sad singers, Phoebe Bridgers and Noah Gunderson (who both were featured in this past post) joined forces to each perform one of their own songs with the other. The result was this beautiful “mashup” of “Killer” and “The Sound”. I’ve watched this 20 times…at least.
Two other singers who have joined forces are Welsh singer Novo Amor and English singer Ed Tullett. Novo Amor has a voice reminiscent of Bon Iver, but I think he packs more emotion. The 2017 collaboration album between these two singers, Heiress, has been getting a lot of airplay from me. One of my favorite songs off that record is “Vantablack”.
The northern Midwest is home to many amazing songwriters. S. Carey, who is a member of Bon Iver’s band, is one of them. I like to think I can hear his native Wisconsin in his music as I see pictures of cold winters and green summers when listening to his at times minimalist and other times lush sounds. His newest record, Hundred Acres, has turned into one of my favorite records so far this year. I like all the songs, but this video for “More I See” seems to show some of what I feel when listening to him.
Both S. Carey and Novo Amor were recommended to me (the latter being recommended by the band Paper Lights). What other singer songwriters should I be listening to?
I am not a musician, but I feel like covers are often times the best way for one band/artist to show they have respect for another band/artist. Now that may not always be the case. My favorite cover is from Travis who covered Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” which is a damn revelation. But, I do not know if Travis really respects Spears, or whether or not they did at the time they did this cover (almost 20 years ago).
Sometimes, the band’s are very upfront with their love of the original song (and/or artist). The reason I decided to write this post is due to a cover released today from Manchester Orchestra (side note: their 2017 record Black Mile to The Surface was my favorite record of the year). Today Manchester Orchestra wrote a note to their fellow southerners, Avett Brothers, about the song “No Hard Feelings”. This song has a ton of emotion as it was written after Seth Avett’s separation and divorce from his first wife. The song also plays a role in one of the more emotional moments in the very beautiful documentary May it Last. While I adore the Avett Brothers version, I love what Manchester Orchestra did with the song.
Delta Rae frequently has a cover (or two) in their live sets. Sadly, I’ve never seen my favorite cover of theirs live. Before I heard this song, I always thought that they seemed like a modern re-imagining of Fleetwood Mac. Their cover of “The Chain” seems to illustrate that pretty well.
The Cure is one of my first musical loves (still are). There are probably thousands of covers of their songs. One of my favorites is one of the newest by one of my favorite bluegrass bands, The Infamous Stringdusters. Bluegrass bands cover a lot of music. So its no surprise, but this song has been reborn in strings. I cannot listen to their version of “Just Like Heaven” enough.
Finally, The Head and The Heart seem fit for singing covers. The newest song to become a part of their set is “Don’t Dream It’s Over” originally from Crowded House. The song has some amazing harmonies between Jonathan and Charity, which make it even more perfect.
What are some other amazing covers?
I am very interested in where a band or singer comes from. I think that they are ambassadors of their home, but also I think it at times can show in their music. From the more blatant (The Killers) to a more subtle approach (Trampled by Turtles). When I first listened to The Pines I could sense their home in the music. They are from small town Iowa, but spent some time in southern Arizona before settling as a band in Minneapolis. Listening to the music its easy to pick up on the feeling of open spaces and small towns. This music feels like the north woods of the upper midwest, but also the desert expanses of the southwest. There is a melancholy in the music, and a sadness, but there is also hope.
Over the last two weeks, I think I’ve listened to their most recent album of original material, 2016’s Above The Prairie at least a few dozen times. It is difficult to not listen to the entire album in one sitting its a compelling progression of songs. There are three songs off this record that I cannot get enough of. The first is also the first song on the album “Aerial Ocean”. I love the mix of the very “country” sounding slide guitar, and the very ethereal synthesizer.
The next song is the second song off the album, “There in Spirit”. The song is haunting and reeks of a realistic despair.
The final song is the last song on the album, “Time Dreams”, which features the words and voice of John Trudell, a Native American activist, writer, and actor. There is so much beauty in this song.
I have listened to the other Pines albums on Spotify, but they definitely do not strike me like this one does. That is not to say that they aren’t also amazing.
I know the year is young, but I’ve already been jamming out to some new music (and enjoying some new music videos as well).
First up is CHVRCHES with “Get Out”. The “video” is interesting, and the song is catchy as hell. I have a love hate relationship with CHVRCHES (not unlike that with The XX), but if this song is any indication, I will enjoy the forthcoming record.
The Decemberists are unique. They tell stories, their sound changes, but they are still such a strange and weird group. Their newest single “Severed” is a departure from their folky ways, but it is still every bit as Decemberistic(?) as every song they’ve ever released. The video is amazing, and is politically relevant, which we know I love. I cannot wait to see this band for the first time (!!!) at Innings Festival in March.
I’ve been enjoying English punk/folk singer Frank Turner for a few years. I’ve always enjoyed his raw sound. Despite many of his forefathers in the English punk/folk scene being explicitly political (think Billy Bragg), Turner has typically stayed away from those tones. His newest song, “1933” is very much a departure. He addresses the neo-fascist thinking that exists in our current environment while still having the typical Turner “lets go have a drink” ethos. I do quite love the statement “don’t go mistaking your house burning down for the dawn”. Such a vivid picture of our world today.
We all know how I feel about Moby. So it is no surprise that his newest single “Mere Anarchy” is here. The video is dark, but I think that is where Moby is (in his view on the world) at this time. If this song is any indication, I am looking forward to the new record.