Archive for the 'Lists' Category

Top 10 Albums 2019

December 27, 2019

Happy 10 Year Anniversary to my top 10 list being hosted here at It’s been a journey. Maybe I’ll write a thing about my decade of musical consumption but for now it’s all I can do to get this top 10 list out the door for the 5 people who read it, and also for myself.

Last year’s list was very strong in the top 5, many/all of which would make my top 25 releases of the decade probably. This year’s list is much less strong in the top 5. I don’t think any of them would make a decade top 25, but it was very difficult for me to cut the list down to 10.

According to my poorly kept “2019 Albums I’ve Listened To” playlist, I listened to over 40 new releases this year. Trends in things listened to:

  • Still lots of women
  • more punk-leaning rock than in the recent past
  • less rap
  • A couple big disappointments from reliable top 10 appearers (New Pornographers, Chance the Rapper).
  • My most anticipated release of the year was not quite everything I was hoping it would be, but it still ended up I think still narrowly being my favorite release of the year.

But let’s take it from 10 and work our way down:

10. The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons

Listen on Spotify

This album came with its own podcast, and both were enjoyable. In fact, if it were not for the podcast, I probably would have ignored this album even more than I did. Thank you, John Darnielle, for your work. Come to St. Louis more so the Becker Family doesn’t have to plan our family vacations around Mountain Goats concerts.

9. Pup – Morbid Stuff

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I don’t know much about this band that apparently has been making music for awhile. I started listening to them because I bought tickets to go see the Illuminati Hotties open for them at Delmar Hall. And then I got really into it. Maybe the hardest thing to happen to this list in ever, or at least since the last Japandroids album came out.

8. Oso Oso – basking in the glow

Listen on Spotify

Like Pup, Oso Oso scratches a lot of nostalgic rock itches. This one is more early Weezer/Ozma vibes.

7. Jenny Lewis – On The Line

Listen on Spotify

“I wanna listen to Jenny Lewis” is something my 2-year old says a lot. I try to talk to her about what we’re listening to in the car or in the home, and I don’t know if the name “Jenny Lewis” stuck in her head, or if she has a genuine preference for her, but I’m proud of her none the less.

This isn’t my favorite Jenny Lewis solo project (#TeamVoyager) but it’s got a lot of great tracks on it and I like it more every time I listen. Go see this lady in concert. Her voice will destroy you.

6. Big Thief – Two Hands

Listen on Spotify

Sometime in 2018 Spotify started playing Big Thief’s “Masterpiece” really heavily in all my playlists. And I loved it. What an amazing song. I kept trying to get into Big Thief albums and generally coming up short. Fortunately they released two albums this year! I liked the first one a lot, but Two Hands really hit hard for me.

So here it is. This is Big Thief’s 4th album in as many years, which is pretty wild.

5. Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center

Listen on Spotify

Phoebe Bridgers was robbed from a top 5 appearance on my 2018 top 10 list when I found out her brilliant debut album Stranger in the Alps cam out in 2017. Tough break. But here she in 2019 with longtime favorite Conor Oberst with a strong collaborative effort.

If you like Conor Oberst, and you like Phoebe Bridgers, you’ll probably like this. I love both, and while this is neither of their best work, it feels like it was made just for me… so, thanks!

4. Bon Iver, i,i

Listen on Spotify

Bon Iver’s prior release, 22, A Million hit #6 on my 2016 list, but I think that was a bit generous. 3 years later, I don’t think I ever really got that deeply into it. i,i is profoundly difficult to type but otherwise better in every way. It does a good job combining the more interesting sonic ideas in 22, A Million with the more conventional songwriting of his first two albums.

3. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience – The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

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Baseball is my favorite sport. The Lonely Island are my favorite rap comedy group. Mark McGuire defined my baseball fandom in my childhood. A Lemonade-style concept album/movie by the Lonely Island about Mark McGuire & Jose Canseco’s steroid-fueled 1989 season with the Oakland Athletics is more than I could have ever asked for.

The concept delivers in every imaginable way, both visually and as a stand-alone album. All of these jokes feel like they are written just for me. I also have learned a lot about the earlier parts of Mark McGuire’s career, which I hadn’t previously delved into. Everything from here below was a legitimate contender for #1

2. Rosie Tucker – Never Not Never Not Never Not

Listen on Spotify

Heartfelt jams, clever lyrics, chill vibes, great guitars. Rosie Tucker’s debut hit me hard when it came out early in 2019 and it’s stuck with me the rest of the year through. It’s warm and welcoming and delightful.

1. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

Listen on Spotify

Just some things that happened in the Vampire Weekend Universe between 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City and 2019’s Father of the Bride: Rostam Batmanglij left the band, Bassist Chris Baio released 2 solo albums, lead singer Ezra Koenig started hosting a show on Beats 1 and released 2 seasons of an Anime TV show called Neo Yokio on Netflix. Also he had a kid with Rashida Jones. And during most of these events, the Vampire Weekend album was perpetually almost done.

Modern Vampires of the City remains my favorite Vampire Weekend album by a long shot, and Father of the Bride may be my least favorite. But the album reflects the time & the diverse interests pursued in that time. It’s the most varied and least cohesive album of their catalog, but still holds together alright. Lead single, Harmony Hall is one of the most joyous songs this joyous band has ever released. It was also great to see them live in St. Louis while the Blues were winning the Stanley Cup. That was a joyous evening.

Thanks for reading. Maybe I’ll be back with a decade retrospective or something.

In the meantime, here’s my two 2019 Spotify Playlists:


Top 10 Albums 2018

December 27, 2018

I don’t know what happened (OK, I have some guesses: parenthood, losing control of the music played while I work 100% of the time, trying to please a group of 3 people with my workday music selections when I do have them), but I didn’t listen a ton of new stuff this year. But I did listen to some GREAT stuff. Four of the releases on this list would probably have topped my list in 2017.

Another thing is that my list is pretty much full of women. Eight releases of the 10 on this list are fronted by one or multiple women. The previous high over the last 13 years was 3.5 (.5 is for artists like The New Pornographers that split their lead singer duties between men and women).

I hesitate to mention this, because as many women who are on this list have pointed out “women who make music” is not a genre of music, nor is it the most notable thing about their music. But, it is a statistic I’ve been keeping track of for four years now, and it is a fact that for me, women made the vast majority of my favorite music in 2018.

There are a couple other notable things about this list. There’s an EP on it for the first time. I put it in the middle of the list, because I might rank it #2 or #3 in terms of quality but this is a list for full length albums and I didn’t feel comfortable with that. So there it is as #5.

Another thing is that there’s no rap music on this list for the first time since 2011. A few albums (Pusha T, Cardi B, Lil W) almost made the cut, but here we are. Also I considered including Chance’s 6(?) singles as an entry, because they are incredible, but they weren’t all released at the same time and were never presented as a single collection, so I opted out.

Here’s a Spotify playlist with 1 song from each of my top 10 entries.

Here’s all of my top 10s since 2006 in a spreadsheet with some charts and stuff

And, here’s a list.

10. CHVRCHES – Love is Dead

Listen on Spotify

Is this the worst of CHVRCHES 3 albums? It certainly is. Is it still pretty good? Yeah. There are some good tracks on here. This is the most electronic/dancy this list gets.

9. Moonface – This One’s For The Dancer & This One’s For Fhe Dancer’s Bouquet

Listen on Spotify

I have stated on numerous occasions that Spencer Krug is my favorite musician doing work. I saw him TWICE this year, both times with the band Wolf Parade (the first and second times I’ve seen them in my 12 years of being a fan).

This CD came out after those tours. It is too much. It is very long, and there are artistic choices made that make it fairly difficult to digest. But there are gems, and there is a lot of marimba which is just a gorgeous sounding instrument.

8. Snail Mail – Lush

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Got most of our legacy acts out of the way all the way in the lower spots of the list. Including this one, 6/8 of the remaining spots on this list are female fronted acts that I had never heard of before this year. Neat.

This album feels like a lazy summer day where it’s a little too hot to do anything. The songs, even the uptempo ones like standout track “Pristine” kind of melt over you. There’s also a song called heat wave that really sounds like a heat wave makes you feel.

I just learned while writing the paragraph above this one that Snail Mail (Lindsey Johnson) is 19! She was born in 1999. That means we’re only a year or two away from someone born in the 2000s making their debut on this list.

7. Natalie Prass – The Future And The Past

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Natalie Prass, releaser of my 2nd favorite album of 2015 is back with a completely different amazing sound. While 2015’s self titled debut had a breathy Joanna-Newsom-ness about it, 2018’s The Future and the Past is filled with funky anthems & protest songs for 2018.

Apparently she had a whole album recorded and then the 2016 election happened and she said “Nah, I’m not feeling this” and started over. So here are some jams. Jams for women, jams for not giving up, jams for love. Track 2, Short Court Style is one of my favorite jams of the year.

6. The Beths – Future Me Hates Me

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There is only 1 person named Beth in this band, as far as I know, and according to her Twitter handles she goes by Liz. Also, according to their Wikipedia page they are from New Zealand, which may be a geographical first for this list? That doesn’t sound true but I can’t think of any counterexamples and I’m not going to look it up at this time.

This album is full of punchy one liners delivered with beautiful clarity by Liz/Beth and her mail band members. Great harmonies, with still an approachable rawness that makes you want to sing along. Who doesn’t want to yell “I will go out tonight, I’m gonna drink the whole town dry”?

5. boygenius – boygenius

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This is the first EP I think I’ve ever included in the history of this list! BoyGenius is a 3 woman supergroup consisting of Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker (Listed in ascending order of popularity and loosely descending order of how much I’ve enjoyed their independent output so far to-date, though my lack of appreciation for Julien Baker I think is just due to me not spending enough time with her!)

This 21 minute EP packs in an incredible showcase of all three musicians unique talents. The way their distinct voices harmonize is a true joy. First track, Bite the Hand is a great example of that. Second track, Me & My Dog which features Phoebe Bridgers on vocals, is probably my favorite song of the year.

Finally, I just want to say that this show was the most moving musical experience I had in 2018. Can’t wait to hear more from all 3 boygeniuses, both separately and if we’re lucky, together!

4. Illuminati Hotties – Kiss Yr Frenemies

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I didn’t know this band existed, and then I saw them open for Diet Cig at Off Broadway this year and I was impressed at the show and impressed with the album which is still in my CD player in my car. I change this disc only a couple times a year.

Good solid rock album. Lot of fuzzy guitars, dramatic changes in dynamics, songs about being young and sleeping on your friends couches and trying to figure out what the fuck is going on.

3. Lucy Dacus – Historian

Listen on Spotify

Night Shift, the opening track on this sublime album, has to be in contention for one of the best breakup songs of all time? It’s a big six and a half minute epic, a showcase for Dacus’s musical and vocal range.

The rest of the album is almost as good. The lyrics throughout paint vivid portraits of people in various states of broken relationship. But it’s not just the lyrics! The music is full and gorgeous and there are some moments like the penultimate Pillar of Truth where things really get loud and fun.

2. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

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Is this album, a song-for-song re-recording of Car Seat Headrest’s 2011 album of the same name even eligible for a 2018 best of list? I don’t know what the consensus is on this, but it’s eligible for mine!

Car Seat Headrest achieved a great growth in acclaim and recognition with their 2016 album Teens of Denial. That’s the album that put them on my radar. So mad props to their label, Matador, for letting them follow that up with such an unconventional idea.

I love this album just as much as I loved Teens of Denial and now that I’ve spent a lot of time with both the 2011 (Now referred to as “Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror)” and 2018 Face to Face version of Twin Fantasy, I think it was an excellent call to revisit the songs.

The roughness of the 2011 release has its own charms (and mentions of Dan Bejar) but the 2018 version is better in pretty much every way. It is not polished to the point of losing the character of the first recording, but rather the increased quality and production are used to highlight what made these songs great.

1. Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog

Listen on Spotify

Many thanks to the ever morphing voice of Frances Quinlan for everything she did to improve the quality of my 2018. The main thing she did for me was release and tour behind this album.

The hooks on this album are plentiful, creative, and gripping in all kinds of different ways. The melodies are all beautiful, the lyrics are all interesting and Quinlan’s delivery remains the star of the show throughout.

9 songs, 40 minutes. Not a single second worth skipping.

Here’s a Spotify playlist with all 10 of these albums on it.

Musical Overview, Including Top 10 Albums – 2017

January 8, 2018

Musically, I was feeling pretty distraught at the end of 2016, with the death of (the best music library in the history of the world). I wrote a lot about it. In 2017, I started out with a replacement but quickly abandoned in and have fully given myself over to Spotify.

Here are some things I noticed:

  • I bought significantly less music this year streaming music v. When I was pirating it. Like probably a 50% drop. Anecdotally, after one year, my paying $8/month for streaming is a net loss for artists, compared to my prior behavior. So, do with that what you will.
  • For these lists, I’m not 100% sure I took into consideration everything I listened to this year. For previous “best of” lists, I’d go into iTunes and sort by date added to see what was eligible. There is no such (manageable) feature for the Spotify universe. So I was a bit at the mercy of my memory. I think I got everything, but I’m not sure.
  • The things I go back to my iTunes library for, because they aren’t on Spotify: Joanna Newsom discography and old Lil Wayne mixtapes.
  • I discovered some great new things through Spotify’s weekly Discovery and Release Radar playlists. Two of my top 10 albums came to my attention this way, and four of the artists in my Runners Up section.
  • Overall… I think I like my Steal Things + iTunes + buy things system better, but this one is definitely less work.
  • I still go to about a live show a month, I’m still listening to new music, and still listening to new artists.
  • Here are my top 100 songs of the year, according to Spotify. (Spoilers? I’m not even sure this link will work for you?)

I also have a daughter now. Thet’s cool. But that also means that I’m not writing as much this year. Only publishing one year-end music piece, so let’s just dive into the top 10. Runners up are after that. Playlists and Spotify links mixed in. Here’s a highlights playlist:

Top 10:

10. Conor Oberst – Salutations

Conor Obers - Salutations

Conor Oberst, most known for his angsty work as the lead singer of Bright Eyes is a long-time favorite of mine. In 2016 he released an album called Ruminations, which was the last thing cut from last year’s top 10 list. In 2017, he released the same damn album, but with a full band this time and a handful of new tracks. Some of the versions of the old songs are worse, some are better. But amongst the new songs there are some real standouts. If you stopped listening to Conor Oberst when you exited puberty, try picking him back up again.

9. (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket

(Sandy) Alex G - Rocket
Apparently this dude’s been kicking it for awhile but 2017 is the first time that (Sandy) Alex G has come to my attention.

He’s got some janglin’ low-fi pop sensibilities that wouldn’t be out of place in an early Elephant 6 setting. It’s mostly guitar, drums, fiddles & the like but there are a few really noisy tracks that aren’t my favorite.

8. Wolf Parade – Cry Cry Cry

Wolf Parade - Cry Cry Cry
Hey, a new Wolf Parade album… and it’s pretty darn good, if you like Wolf Parade albums. I’d call it my second favorite one after their unstoppable debut which is easily a top 25 album of all time for me. (No, that list doesn’t actually exist)

Co-Lead-Singers Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner do their their thing, switching who sings lead more or less each song and it seems like they’ve got some of their original energy back. Still bummed I’ve never seen them live.

7. The Mountain Goats – Goths

Mountain Goats - Goths
Mike & Sandy Becker (those are my parents) Family Favorite™️ the Mountain Goats are back, with another album that isn’t my favorite Mountain Goats album, but has some solid tracks on it.

Mountain Goats albums are good forever, and I often find that listening to one a couple years after its release has better results for me. I think I saw them live 3 times this year?

6. Japandroids – Near to The Wild Heart of Life

Japandroids - Near to the wild heart of life
Kind of forgot this album came out in 2017? Almost missed the list. Everyone’s favorite Canadian Indie Loud Rock Duo is back with their most ambitious release back… and I don’t like it as much as their previous two less ambitious releases. BUT it is still really good and loud and they should make music together forever.

5. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Kendrick Lamar - Damn.
This was at the top of almost everyone’s album of the year lists, but it did not connect with me the same was as his previous two albums. Who knows. Still great work, still one of the most interesting and important artists making music today.

4. Tristen – Sneaker Waves

Tristen - Sneaker Waves
Jon & Lydia Becker Family Favorite™️ Tristen is at it again with one of my most personally anticipated albums of the year. Sneaker Waves does not disappoint! Perhaps this is in contention for my Favorite Tristen Album.

Go see her live, whenever you can. I think Lydia and I paid to see her as an opener 2 or 3 times this year for various artists, and she was able to win over every crowd of people who had no idea who she was.

3. Spoon – Hot Thoughts

Spoon - Hot Thoughts
It should be illegal to be as consistently good as Spoon is. I think this is my favorite Spoon album? That sounds crazy to say, but I guess there it is.

2. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3

This, on the other hand, is my LEAST favorite Run The Jewels album. A ringing endorsement for the #2 album on my list? That said, it balls extremely hard.

I think when it comes down to it, I think Killer Mike is the most interesting lyricists out there. EL-P makes some of the best beats out there. This album tries some new things and while it is generally successful, it doesn’t have the same urgency as their previous two releases. But I think this was close to my most played album of the year because it’s so much damn fun.

1. Dieg Cig – Swear I’m Good at This

Diet Cig - I swear I'm good at this
So. Much. Fun.

Another loud rock duo, like the Japandroids, except this one is led by a woman, and they are from New York not Vancouver. This is a discovery for which Spotify’s algorithm’s gets 100% of the credit. They must have been pushing it pretty hard because it came up independently for both my father and I and we both recommended it to each other.

2017 – Runners Up & Odds & Ends

Trophy Dad – Dogman EP
Susto – & I’m Fine Today
Destroyer – ken
Why? – Mow Lhean
Mister Heavenly – Boxing the Moonlight
Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell Live
Sufjan Stevens, James McAlister, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner – Planetarium
Yucky Duster – Duster’s Lement EP
Oso Oso – The Yunahon Mixtape
The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions
Jens Lekman – life will see you now

See you again next year.

p.s. I did update my data sheet for the past 12 years of lists, if that interests you:

10 Years of Top 10 Lists: Data

January 10, 2016

I’ve been writing Top 10 Albums of the Year lists for over 10 years now, but this year marks 10 years of lists which are published on the internet. If you’d like to take a walk down memory lane, go for it:
2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015

One of the most amazing parts about this, to me, is that all the links still work, across Facebook Notes, Tumblr and for the last 6 years, this very website here. Things have broken though: images embedded from elsewhere on the web, all download links, and who knows what else.

Well, I like data so I decided to take this 10 year milestone as a chance to draw as much as I can out of these top 10 lists. So I made a Google Sheet and I went to work.

Here are some charts. Some have some explanation and others should be more self explanatory. Click on the charts to see bigger versions with interactive data in a new tab.

Does my list contain popular opinions?

Are the opinions on my list widely held? This first chart aims to find out. I put in the Metacritic scores for all 100 albums on my list (when available) and averaged them out for each year. Some years 2-3 albums weren’t available so there are less than 100 data points to work with here.

My list is pretty steady from year to year with my “least popular list” at an average score of 76.1 and 3 of my most popular lists all topping out just above 81.5. Metacritic states that a score of 81-100 is “universally acclaim” and 61-80 indicated “Generally Favorable Reviews”. I put a trend line in there as well which seems to indicate that things are getting more popular:
List's Average Meteoritic Score

Some other trends

Here I took 5 different data points and put them all on one confusing chart.
The red line indicates how many artists made their first appearance on my list that year. Obviously, the first year, that would be all 10 of them.
The blue line indicates how many new artists have showed up on my list that year. This line is troubling because it’s definitely trending downward, meaning I’m listening to less new artists. Boo Jon.
The other three lines are demographics: How Canadian is my list? How female is it? And how many entries on my list are by eponymous artists?
That first chart was a little cluttered, so I made another one that is a 3 year average (one year before, one year after, when data is available):

The Regulars

The last 3 charts attempt to visualize some of my favorite artists of the last 10 years by documenting how frequently they show up on my list, how they rank in the top 10 and finally if they are in multiple bands throughout the years.
Here are all the bands that appear more than once:
Here are how bands with multiple appearances usually rank (shorter bars are best here):
And finally here are the individuals who are leads or co-leads in multiple bands that appear on the list:
For clarification:
Panda Bear is in Panda Bear & Animal Collective.
Dan Bejar is in Destroyer, The New Pornographers and Swan Lake.
Dan Boeckner is in The Handsome Furs, Divine Fits and Wolf Parade (though Wolf Parade never appears on this list!)
Britt Daniel is in Divine Fits and Spoon.
Rostam Batmanglij is in Vampire Weekend (though probably a bit of a stretch to call him a lead) and Discovery.
Spencer Krug is in Sunset Rubdown, Moonface, Swan Lake and lots of other bands that aren’t on this list.
John Darnielle is in The Mountain Goats and Extra Lens which I think was a 1-off project.
And Tim Kasher is in The Good Life, Cursive (not on any of these lists!) and of course, Tim Kasher.
There were a couple surprises for me in this chart:

  • Conor Oberst, despite being one of my favorite artists and in a ton of bands like Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos and Monsters of Folk only has 1 top 10 spot over the last 10 years
  • There’s only 1 Spoon album in my last 10 years of top 10s? That’s crazy
  • Anyway. That’s all for now. The data is available to anyone who’d like to look at it on Google Drive!

    Top 10 Albums – 2015

    January 10, 2016

    2015 was almost the year that I switched from my time-honored tradition of buying & illegally downloading music to buying & legally streaming music… but alas, it was not. I tried Apple Music for the whole 3 month trial and while I found it pretty nice in a lot of ways it couldn’t break my old habits. I still torrent whatever I want and buy whatever I like. So it has always been, so it will probably always be.

    What other things didn’t change in 2015? I still can’t find a way to get interested in EDM, I never stopped listening to Run the Jewels 2, and I still am writing a list of my top 10 favorite albums of the most recent year. Spoiler alert: this list is not that exciting. There’s only 1 artist on here that hasn’t appeared on previous Top 10 lists. Yikes. Will 2015 be an anomaly of will it mark the start of me being an OLD PERSON?

    Oh well, let’s get to it.

    10. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi

    Listen on Spotify
    Death Cab for Cutie - Kintsugi
    Death Cab’s guitarist quit sometime between their last album and this one, but Ben Gibbard is still pretty much doing the same thing he’s always done. I find the sound of Death Cab albums comforting even when I don’t think the songs are quite as good as they have been in the past, so here’s this album with a top 10 spot.

    9. The Good Life – Everybody’s Coming Down

    Listen on Spotify
    The Good Life - Everybody's Coming Down
    Tim Kasher (Cursive, The Good Life) is a regular on this list, but The Good Life haven’t put out an album in a long time. Everybody’s Coming Down checks all the regular Kasher boxes (drinking & breakups) but I think this is his best work since his untouchable 2000-2004 run. This has a bigger, louder sound than previous Good Life records and I think it works well. Bonus tip: If you ever get the chance to see any of his bands live, I think you should do so.

    8. CHVRCHES – Every Eye Open

    Listen on Spotify
    CHVRCHES - Every Eye Open
    CHVRCHES 2013 debut The Bones of What You Belive took me awhile to warm up to but ended up being one of my favorite albums of the year. Once you’ve warmed up to that, their 2015 followup Every Eye Open should take no time getting used to, because it’s very very similar.

    That said, It’s still very good. Poppy tunes, fun beats, etc… They definitely didn’t reinvent their sound for their sophomore album but that’s probably a good thing. What’s going on here works.

    7. Holy Sheboygan – THREE

    Listen on Spotify
    Holy Sheboygan! - THREE
    If you haven’t heard of Holy Sheboygan, you are forgiven. However, there are no excuses for not checking them out if you’re reading this list and especially no excuse if you read this list last year. Their latest release (or at least most of it?) is even on Spotify!

    This CD (probably an EP?) is a big winner for me and my wife. If you’re looking for some chaotic but accessible pop music check this out. It’s endearing and beautiful and happy and sad. Special standout track: Swim with me.

    6. Destroyer – Poison Season

    Listen on Spotify
    Destroyer - Poison Season
    Easily in my top 3 Canadian musicians, Dan Bejar’s Destroyer is back with another tale of mystery and intrigue. This album contains beautiful string and horn arrangements and melodies which serve as backdrops for Bejarian classic lyrical contradictions like “The writing on the wall wasn’t writing at all”.

    The album’s thematic core, Times Square/Poison Season (not sure what to call it) is particular beautiful, with different versions at the beginning, middle and end of the album.

    5. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

    Listen on Spotify
    The Mountain Goats - Beat The Champ
    Becker Family Favorite™ The Mountain Goats did not disappoint in 2015 (they never do) with their 2015 release, Beat The Champ, a concept album about professional wrestling at the time when it was still a regional affair.

    I’ve never been a huge wrestling fan, beyond a brief stint with N64 classic “WCW vs. NWO Revenge” but as always, lead singer/songwriter (of our generation) John Darnielle finds ways to find the humanity in stories and people that you don’t think you care about.

    4. Joanna Newsom – Divers

    (Not on Spotify… hates streaming. Purchase on iTunes here.)
    Joanna Newsom - Divers

    Otherworldly enchantress, wife of Andy Sandberg, “the world’s most famous harp player”, Vicoria’s Secret Commercial Music Contributor, second cousin twice removed of former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom… these are just some of the ways to describe Joanna Newsom.

    Divers, her first album since 2010’s overwhelming triple album Have One On Me, is a compact logical evolution from that ambitious event. The strengths of this album are the strengths of all Newsom albums: clever use of a uniquely beautiful voice, lyrics which may require a dictionary, and thoughtful arrangement of an ever-growing bag of instrumental tricks. While this might not be her strongest work, if you were just starting with Joanna Newson, this is perhaps your gentlest route into her beautiful world.

    3. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

    Listen on Spotify
    Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

    Thank God for Kendrick Lamar. Rather than remaking Good Kid, M.A.A.D. city (which would have been awesome!), this Compton rapper started from scratch to create something completely different. Kendrick, who is almost certainly the most lyrically proficient rapper making popular music right now, is pushing himself on every level here. The music is challenging, the lyrics are challenging and the story line is ambitious.

    This album is asking and addressing questions that I have the luxury of never having thought about as a white person in America. It is good to be challenged, to think, and to have perspectives broadened. It is good to listen to voices other than your own.

    2. Natalie Prass – Natlie Prass

    Listen on Spotify
    Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass

    Welcome to Natalie Prass, the lone newcomer on this list. This was one of the first albums I listened to in 2015 and it stuck with me throughout the year. It’s short, there are repetition of motifs and themes throughout, and the melodies and arrangements are seeping in a vaguely familiar nostalgia.

    Prass’ voice is breathy and beautiful. And she writes lyrics which are immediately simple and memorable. One point of consternation: album closer “It Is You” is too much for me.

    1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

    Listen on Spotify
    Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
    What is there to say about an album that speaks so clearly and with such focus for itself? Carrie and Lowell is an album that Stevens wrote about his complex relationship with his mother (Carrie) and stepfather (Lowell) following his mother’s recent death.

    The songs buck Stevens trend of plunging headfirst towards musical decadence and pulls everything back as far as it can go here. There are no more instruments or words than necessary. Stevens has always felt like an artist on the verge of quitting and becoming a recluse, but albums like this show what a tragedy that would be. He has a unique way of reaching into the soul of a personal experience and making it universally powerful.

    21 Netflix Christmas Movies, Ranked

    December 23, 2014

    Christmas movies, right? There are so many to choose from, and there are tons of new ones being made every year. So how do you know what’s good and what’s garbage? It turns out, most of them are garbage. High budget or low budget. TV specials or blockbuster releases. Big name actors or nobodies. It doesn’t really matter much.

    But if you sit down to watch a ton of them, as my wife and I did this Holiday season, you’ll find something to like about almost all of them. And something to hate about almost all of them. But I have to say that this exercise did put me in the Holiday spirit. We picked movies, pretty much at random, by what sounded good to us at the moment and was also available on Netflix. We ended up getting through 21 movies, only 2 of which I’d seen before

    Lots of these movies are pretty much the same. If you’re looking for some clichés to incorporate into your next Holiday film, here are some that we noticed:

    • Single moms with kids trying to find them a new husband
    • Plays at the end
    • Women who are in their mid-twenties and are too busy with their careers to find the right man
    • Terrible people from any walk of life can be visited by 3 ghosts

    Anyway, we hardly made a dent in the Netflix Christmas collection, but here’s my incredibly arbitrary ranking of the movies I did watch:

    21. Christmas with the Kranks


    Bad. A couple decides not to celebrate Christmas, and does a poor job communicating the reasons to their neighbors who are crazy. There’s a twist, but it isn’t interesting.

    20. Snowglobe


    Bad. Girl can’t find a relationship and falls in love with a dude in a snow globe. Non-hilarity and annoying family dynamics ensue.

    (Snowglobe and Christmas with the Kranks were the first two movies we watched on this marathon. I wonder if they were actually the worst, or if I just wasn’t in the Bad Christmas Movie Spirit yet)

    19. Happy Christmas


    Lena Dunham and Anna Kendrick. What’s not to like? For me, the answer to that question is almost always Lena Dunham. And also, Anna Kendrick’s character is kind of unlikeable in this film. But everyone learns something in the end, and this movie isn’t really about Christmas. It might be a decent movie, but it probably won’t bring you the Christmas spirit.

    18. Christmas Cupid


    The girl from Snow Globe is back … well, not her character, but the same actress (and Cash Money Records Recording Artist). Also an ABC Family Movie. It’s the worst version of the Christmas Carol on this list. (There are 4.)

    17. All I Want For Christmas


    Fine. Two kids get their parents back together for Christmas and it works. I wasn’t really paying attention during this one.

    16. Holidaze


    Not a stoner holiday movie, unfortunately. This movie tells women they shouldn’t pick careers over marrying and having children. Or tells them they can do both. Or something. Also, Walmart is bad. Small town businesses are good.

    15. I’ll be home for Christmas


    Meh. JTT is at a boarding school in California. He has to be home by Christmas Eve at 6pm to get his Dad’s Porsche. Along the journey, he finds out that some things are more important.

    14. A Christmas Kiss


    An artsy type, but also up & coming decorator or something accidentally makes out with her boss’s boyfriend. Love trumps career or something.

    13. Dear Santa


    A 30 year old woman who didn’t graduate from college and has been mooching off her parents and living in Manhattan for 8 years, I guess, doesn’t have a job. Under the threat of being cutoff by her parents, she finds a man. It turns out well. Kind of cute.

    12. All American Christmas Carol


    Wow, another Christmas Carol… who cares? YOU WILL, when you watch this terrible white trash version. There are 3 ghosts, and the ghost of Christmas Past is a 17 year old girl who gets wasted at a party when she’s supposed to be teaching a lesson. What’s not to love?

    11. The Nightmare Before Christmas


    What’s the bigger sin? That I had never seen this movie before, or that I didn’t really pay attention while it was on? Either way, this seemed pretty good. Had some good musical numbers. Maybe will watch again some time. Sticking this in the middle of the list.

    10. Love, Actually


    I used to argue that Love Actually wasn’t a Christmas movie, but after watching so many Christmas movies this year, I take it back. It is at least as Christmasy as most of the movies on this list. I also used to not like this movie, but I take it back. It’s at least as enjoyable as half the movies on this list. It is also the only movie on this list with nudity, including the one with Lena Dunham.

    9. Scrooged


    Bill Murray plays a modern-day scrooge as a TV executive… the catch is that they are putting on a live TV musical of A Christmas Carol. It’s pretty good, but not as good as you might hope Bill Murray in a Christmas movie would be.

    8. 12 Dates of Christmas


    Speaking Of Bill Murray, this is a Christmas take on Groundhog Day. Also, not as good. But plenty cute enough, I think. A girl eventually finds love on Christmas and learns a life lesson or something.

    7. Holiday Engagement


    A girl’s fiancé dumps her right before Christmas, and she hires an actor to play her fiancé. It’s fun. Things work out.

    6. 12 Dogs of Christmas: Great Puppy Rescue


    Some stuff happens. They put on a play and save a dog adoption place and keep dogs from getting killed or abused as race horses. It takes place in the 30s maybe, but they do a poor job keeping the piece in the right time-frame. There’s a cute play at the end.

    5. Christmas Angel


    This is a cute one. A little girl finds that the Christmas wishes of her friends are magically coming true. Also, just like in a lot of these movies where there’s a kid, there’s a single mom who finds a new husband.

    4. Holiday in Handcuffs


    This is the campier lower-budget version of Holiday Engagement. Naturally, I liked it more. Clarissa Explains what it’s like to kidnap a dude to impress your family, and have it all work out in the end. Good.

    3. Coming Home for Christmas


    Surprisingly good. Though, if you’re picking it because there’s a dog on the cover, you’re going to be a bit disappointed. Two sisters have a big falling out, and 5 years later they decide to start talking to each other again, to fix their parents marriage at Christmas time.

    2. Switchmas


    Favorite new (to me) Christmas movie of the year. Two kids who kind of look alike and get shipped off by their parents to visit other relatives meet in O’Hare, and decide to switch destinations. One is Jewish and celebrating Hannukah. One is Christian and celebrating Christmas. There’s a play at the end.

    1. The Muppet Christmas Carol


    I almost feel bad including this on a list. It is in a league of its own, especially amongst the other crappy Christmas Carol stories on this list. Funny, touching and brilliant. Almost makes me want to read the book, which I’ve never done.

    Top 10 Albums – 2014

    December 17, 2014

    Welcome, one and all to my top 10 list! Sorry if this one takes awhile to load… got a lot of embedded Spotify playlists and things this year. If you’d like something to listen to while you read, I’ve even created a “Mangosquash’s Best of 2014” playlist right here for your listening pleasure. It features a track from my honorable mentions as well as every artist on the top 10, except one who isn’t on Spotify (No, It’s not Taylor Swift.). Anyway, you can check that out here:

    It’s tough to find a theme in my list this year, and perhaps even tougher than in previous years.. There’s a lot of poppy stuff here, but my two favorite albums of the year were definitely not pop, definitely pretty serious, and definitely very very different.

    Here’s some cool stuff: 5/10 of the artists here have never made a top 10 list of mine in any form, and I was not familiar with them before this year. Also 5/10 of the albums have a female as at least one of their lead singers. 2/10 Artists have released their own coffee this year. 1/10 Artists is remaking their whole album with cat noises in 2015.

    I will say, at the time of writing this, I haven’t read Pitchfork’s Top 50 yet, but through the Twitter grapevine, I have found out that we do have the same #1 album. So that’s something. Enough with the chitter chatter. Let’s dive in:

    10. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

    Prior to Brill Bruisers, The last time the New Pornographers released a CD was 2010’s Together and it featured at #5 of that year’s top 10 list…. 4 years might seem like a lot of time between albums, but I think at least 2 of the leads of this group would consider the band a “side project.”

    Since the last release, Dan Bejar has released 2 EPs and an LP as Destroyer, and Neko Case and AC Newman have both released solo CDs as well. Other singer, Kathryn Calder, who’s taken an even more active roll in the band on this album, also appears to have released some work. What I’m saying is, these folks haven’t been idle

    Every New Pornographers album is good, and this one is no exception. This release could be the band’s most raucous ever. Standout tracks include the opener, Brill Bruisers, and War on the East Coast. Perhaps the reason this album didn’t rank higher on the list is that the Dan Bejar tracks, my favorite part of most of the supergroup’s output, aren’t particularly strong here. It’s a good listen none the less!

    9. Ortolan – Covered in Black

    Here’s something new! Ortolan was the second band ever to take the stage at St. Louis’ new venue, The Ready Room. They were touring with Of Montreal at the time, and when I wrote-up a review of the show, they got but a single paragraph of mention. Fortunately, I followed through and picked up their CDs because hey, they are really good.

    These ladies are on Sounds Familyre records, which I always assume means that they get to hang out with Sufjan Stevens a lot. This assumption draws me to make comparisons that may or may not be there. But the songwriting seems to share themes of spirituality and allusions to religion that may be missed if you aren’t looking for them

    I think that there’s a wide appeal with this album, perhaps if you enjoyed my previous year’s recommendation of Tristen as an artist to watch out for. Standout tracks on this CD include “Votes are In” and album closer, “Miles”.

    8. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

    I’m pretty sure Conor Oberst isn’t making albums as Bright Eyes anymore, but I can’t seem to find a source for that information. Either way, whether it’s his former main vehicle, Bright Eyes, his punk band Desaparecidos, his folk supergroup Monsters of Folk, or his self titled releases, for me, Conor Oberst is always worth checking out.

    Upside Down Mountain is my favorite Oberst release, perhaps in 10 years. No, I don’t think it is as good as Wide Awake/Digital Ash era Bright Eyes, but I do think it really finds Oberst making the best of his adult self. The songs here are well developed, have big hooks and are fun to listen to.

    Standout tracks include: “Governor’s Ball”, “Hundreds of Ways” and “Enola Gay”

    7. tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack

    So, I missed tUnE-yArDs’ first two releases and I still haven’t listened to them yet. Don’t know why. But Damn, is Nikki Nak a fun album. This might be the second poppiest thing on this list, but in a very world-music type of way

    There’s an incredible dichotomy between the fun, loud and crazy instrumentation on each track, and their often incredibly serious subject matter. Every song contains some kind of blunt social commentary.

    If you like crazy pop music and appreciate an enthusiastic eccentric vocal style, check it out!

    6. Spoon – They Want My Soul

    Don’t you just sometimes wish that Spoon would release something that wasn’t so solid?

    I mean solid in a lot of different ways. In stark contrast to the songs on the previous album on this list (tUnE-yArDs) which often feel on the verge of falling apart, each spoon song is built on a foundation that could support a skyscraper. Spoon songs and albums sound solid, and are of solid quality and are predictably good. They’ve done this shit for 8 albums since 1993!

    This album, They Want My Soul, is even more solid than usual and I don’t mean that to sound boring. This is probably my favorite Spoon album since 2007’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”, and more than any other album on this list, it’s just a solid rock album.

    5. Holy Sheboygan – TWO

    Want a good funky folk album about love and life? You’re going to want to check out this release (It might be an EP? I’m not sure.) from Holy Sheboygan. I saw them perform this year at 2720 Cherokee, where I was going to check out music and art from my friend Lawton Hall who was in town touring from Wisconsin. I was really impressed, so I bought their cassette tape. Only later that day did I find out my cassette player no longer works, but it came with a free download code, so I was in the clear.

    This release, at 22 minutes long (OK, so it’s probably an EP.), is so good all the way through. It’s also tackling some ambitious subject matter. Finding love, the purpose of life, materialism, indefinite detention of prisoners… everything you could want is all here.

    Also, there are fun instruments. They don’t have a “drummer” but on their Facebook page they do list two people playing “trash”. Milk jugs feature prominently. There’s also plenty of horns, saxophones and strings. TWO has a big full sound. I could be wrong, but I think many of the people in this band have some kind of advanced musical degree. But the music is accessible and fun. Anyway, be on the lookout for more from these guys. I think they could blow up!

    4. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

    Jenny Lewis is pretty great, right? Per her Wikipedia page, she made her acting debut in a Jello commercial and went on to play parts in TV shows and made for TV movies forming Rilo Kiley in 1998. She made, by my estimate, 3 great albums as Rilo Kiley and was a contributor to the Postal Service’s only album. More recently, though, she’s released some pretty but also pretty forgettable solo albums, and also a project called Jenny & Johnny which I’ll admit I haven’t listened to

    The Voyager is the first Lewis album to captivate me since Rilo Kiley’s 2004 release, “More Adventurous” and I think it shares a lot in common with that string of great Rilo Kiley releases. The hooks are big, the stories told in the lyrics are good, and Lewis’ voice is still as beautiful as ever. We’ll probably never get another Rilo Kiley CD, and that’s for the best, but this CD is a reminder of why I might still want one.

    3. Kishi Bashi – Lighght

    Kishi Bashi is a classically trained violin player who used to be in Of Montreal. According to his Wikipedia page, he’s also toured with Regina Spektor. If you haven’t listened to his albums, or heard of him, you may know his work from this Microsoft Windows 8 commercial

    Of all the albums on this list, this was the one I listened to the most this year. This was my album of the summer, driving to and from Michigan and it’s the best (and the last) pop album on this list. I can’t believe it didn’t get more attention. The track I included on the Best Of mix at the top, The Ballad of Mr. Steak, is the most infectious song of the year. If you’re looking for fun pop music, this is your album

    2. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

    People die. People die for strange reasons. People are in the process of dying. You are in the process of dying, right now. If you’re not interested in thoughts like this, this probably isn’t the record for you, because that’s about all that’s here. Sure, there’s a track about loving your mom. There’s a track about loving your dad. There’s a track about early sexual encounters. There’s a track about attending a Postal Service show. But even these are framed by death.

    But there is poetry found in death, and Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek is out to find all of it that he can. This premise is laid out in the album opener, Carissa. Kozelak’s second cousin, who he didn’t know that well, is 35 years old. She had 2 kids as a wild teenager, but turned her life around and is now an RN. She dies one night, because her trash explodes as she’s taking out. It’s hard to find meaning in a story of senseless tragedy, but these reflections on mortality are as interesting a way as any to tackle the topic.

    1. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

    My city, the city of St. Louis, has had a lot of national attention on it since Mike Brown was killed on August 9. Protestors in Ferguson and in cities around the United States have been out daily to share their messages and questions of righteous anger and frustration. Why is our justice system so broken? Why do black people, in every neighborhood and in every economic and social class, get treated so poorly? Why do white people (like myself) get the benefit of the doubt? How have we allowed our country to remain in a state where so many people feel so hopeless from the time they are born?

    These are the types of questions I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about lately, and I don’t have any answers. I’m trying to do my best to listen to what others are saying and Killer Mike, who makes up 1/2 of Run The Jewels, is one guy who’s saying something. While the biggest artists in Hip Hop have stayed mostly silent, Killer Mike has been out there. He’s written op-eds in USA Today and on Billboard. He’s been on CNN. And then, as fate would have it, on November 24, hours after the Ferguson Grand Jury decision came out, Run the Jewels took the stage at The Ready Room in St. Louis Missouri. It is my biggest regret of the year that I wasn’t here to see this show. Before the show, Killer Mike came out, and made this speech in tears. The audience doesn’t really understand what’s going on, but this is powerful stuff:

    Run The Jewels is two 39 year old Rappers who have come together after long solo careers. Killer Mike is from Atlanta, GA and first gained exposure as a part of Outkast’s Dungeon Family collective. He appeared on their 2000 record, Stankonia. El-P is a white dude from New York. Together, they are the most dynamic thing happening in hip-hop. Run The Jewels 2 is the band’s second album in as many years, and it is insane. These are two best friends doing what they love together. This collaboration plays well not only in music, but when they give interviews together. Check out this crazy piece about El-P’s Steven Seagal obsession in The Onion’s AV Club.

    Run The Jewels 2 is not for the faint of heart. It’s loud, vulgar, violent and should offend everyone. Social problems are addressed aggressively throughout the album, but most directly on tracks “Crown”, “Lie, Cheat, Steal” and “Early”. Killer Mike and EL-P are asking questions too, and these questions are uncomfortable.

    But damn, if it isn’t the most fun thing released this year. Amongst these tough questions are two friends just having a blast. The intensity and urgency with which both the beats and the verses are delivered makes for one wild right, from start to end in 39 minutes. If rap isn’t your thing, this isn’t going to be your thing either, but this is a really special album.

    Top 10 Albums – 2013

    January 18, 2014

    4 years in the same location. This is certainly a new record for my top 10 list, and though this blog has been neglected/abandoned this year, it’s nice to have everything in the same place.

    I had a great year listening to music this year, and still believe in the album as the best way to listen to music. Perhaps the fact that I’m saying that though indicates that I don’t really believe it. Who knows? In 2012, 7 artists were new to my top 10 list, and this year that number is down to 4.

    I had a wild ride through October and November where I was seeing about a concert a week, but despite that fact, I only saw 4 bands that made the top 10 list live this year.

    It’s been a tradition that I’ve provided download zips for past top 10 lists… but I’m not going to this year. If you’d like to hear the album, you can click on the Spotify link, or find it on YouTube or whatever. If you can’t figure out a way to listen to the album, get in touch. Without further ado, here we go!

    10. Tim Kasher – Adult Film

    Tim Kasher had an incredible run 2000-2004 chugging away as Conor Oberst’s second fiddle on the Omaha scene. Tim Kasher released 5 albums and a couple EPs over this period of time, and some of them are among my favorite albums ever. Specifically, Cursive’s Domestica and The Good Life’s Album of the Year.

    I’ve kept up with his work with varying degrees of interest since that time, but I hadn’t really gotten into an album since this one. Adult Film is more Good Life than Cursive, but it still rocks pretty hard. Standout tracks: A Raincloud is a Raincloud, Truly freaking out.
    Listen on Spotify

    9. of Montreal – Lousy with Sylvianbriar

    of Montreal’s another band who I was into for a long time. Unlike Kasher’s music, which I thought got kind of boring, of Montreal’s music just got too weird for me, and I lost interest.

    With Lousy with Slyvianbriar, of Montreal takes a sharp left turn from their hyper-sexualized-pschadelic-disco-pop and basically makes an accoustic country album. This isn’t too crazy, as they started out as a more acoustic pop band, but it’s pretty unexpected twist, and it works out pretty well. But it’s still pretty weird. Standout tracks include: Triumph of Disintegration, Belle Grade Missionaries
    Listen on Spotify

    8. Fur Trade – Don’t Get Heavy

    So, here’s a new band, but a sound you might recognize. Fur Trade is a side project of Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat (Who’m you’ve probably heard of) and Parker Bossley of the Gay Nineties (Who’m you might not have heard of. I haven’t.) Now, I’ve never listened to a Hot Hot Heat album, so I wasn’t expecting much when I grabbed this one.

    But hey, it’s good, maybe even really good. This album is one of two that falls into my annual category of “Who’s going to make a better Islands album than Islands?” (The next answer is #7)

    This album is a rocking good time. The album starts out with a really strong 1-2 punch, so check those two out: Don’t Get Heavy and Kids These Days
    Listen on Spotify

    7. The Little Ones – The Dawn Sang Along

    I literally don’t know anything about this band. They weren’t reviewed on Pitchfork, and the people who formed the band were a part of Sunday’s Best, another band I’ve never heard of. I probably stumbled across this CD when it was on a torrenting site’s top 10 and had the tags “indie, pop, rock”. Those are all things I like

    And it turns out this album is really good. Those tags are pretty good indicators of what you’re in for. It’s a great pop rock album. It’s got good beats throughout. I think maybe on this list, it might be #2 or #3 on an “appealable to the largest amount of people” ranking.

    Check out tracks: Argonauts and Little Souls
    Listen on Spotify

    6. Kanye West – Yeezus

    Hating Kanye West appears to be back in style and stronger than ever in 2013, and I won’t deny that he makes it pretty easy. He says dumb things in interviews, he marries weird people, etc… I understand if you don’t like Kanye West.

    But he is doing real work, musically. His previous full-length, 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, was my favorite album of the year, and I just listened to it again this week. It’s incredible. This album is not that good, by a long shot, but it’s also wildly different.

    I still haven’t got on board with this IDM or whatever the kids are calling it these days, but Kanye’s keeping up with the times. He’s built a huge platform for himself and he’s not sitting on his ass making Graduation over and over again, raking in more money. He’s doing interesting things. He’s setting himself up over and over again for criticism and failure, and (at least musically) he keeps succeeding.

    This album took awhile to grow on me. Maybe 3 times through I was still unsure about it, but it’s strong all the way through from the schyzophrenic “On Site” to the topless Kim Kardashian “Bound 2”. There’s a reason that artists as diverse as Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Daft Punk and Rick Rubin want to work with this guy. No matter how misguided you might think he is, he cares passionately (often to a fault) about the work he’s doing, and will go to whatever ends he deems necessary to get it done.
    Listen on Spotify

    5. Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium

    Unlike Tim Kasher and of Montreal, where I kind of lost interest for awhile, I’ve given all of Okkervil River’s albums a good hard effort, and things have been in decline (on my estimation which is obviously of little consequence) since Black Sheep Boy, which capped a string of 3 phenomenal albums. Both Stage Names and Stand-Ins (which maybe doesn’t count as an album?) were both pretty good.

    2011’s I Am Very Far was decidedly average though and after seeing a decidedly below average show in support of the album, I was worried my Okkervil River days were nearly over.

    This album is very good though. Not BSB good, but at least Stage Names good, and the St. Louis tour date was decidedly great. This is a concept album about a boyhood in New Hampshire in the 1980’s, and if that sounds too quaint to you… it might be. But if you think “oh that might be interesting” then you’ll probably like this album.

    Looking at the track list, it’s hard to recommend just a few tracks here, but let’s see how you like: On A Balcony, Down The Deep River & Pink Slips
    Listen on Spotify

    4. Tristen – Caves

    You might remember Tristen from her #6 appearance on the 2011 list with Charlaten at the Garden Gates. This follow album seemed to take a long time to get out. Maybe I only think that because I backed it on Kickstarter.

    But anyway, Charlaten was a very nashvill-y album, and this one is too. But there are more drum machines. I don’t have a lot to say about this, other than I love her voice and I think you will too. Check out the tracks “No One’s Gonna Know” and … I don’t know “Monster”. They are all good though.
    Listen on Spotify

    3. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

    This one took a lonnnnggggg time to grow on me. There are discussions on record of me not liking this album. I still stand by the fact that CHVRCHES is a stupid band name, but I can no longer say that this is not one of my favorite CDs of the year.

    This is an electronic pop album. Listen if you like “The Postal Service”, maybe? But it’s definitely less minimal than that. It’s big, it’s fun, and it might be just as good. This is solid stay awake, multiple listen road trip material.

    Check out “The Mother We Share”, “Gun”, “Recover”, and then be confident that if you listen a few times, the rest of the album is as good as these three tracks.
    Listen on Spotify

    2. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

    I keep waiting for this band to disappoint me. Their debut seemed like such a flash in the pan, their second album seemed like an acceptable continuation of their first album, but what about that third album? They have to get worse, or get boring, right?

    WRONG. Modern Vampires of the City is as good as Vampire Weekend’s debut, and it is completely different. Sure, it’s still kind of ivy-league pop-rock. But they strayed well out of their comfort zone here, most notably by writing some great slow songs. I can’t and won’t say what my favorite Vampire Weekend album is, but this is definitely in the conversation. Also, it gives me hope that this band has a lot more potential than I thought they did.

    Every track is great, but I guess check out “Dianne Young”, and “Everlasting Arms”. My favorite track though, is “Hannah Hunt”, but it’s a bit of a grower
    Listen on Spotify

    1. Moonface – Julia With Blue Jeans On

    If Spencer Krug is putting out an album, under any name there’s a good chance it’s going to show up on a Top 10 list for me. (Except for those Wolf Parade albums after the first one. Don’t know what went wrong there.) Moonface has been an amorphous project with the only fixed piece being Spencer Krug himself, and this one is the most concentrated form of this vision: Spencer Krug, his voice, and a piano.

    It’s easily my favorite Moonface album and maybe up there with my favorite Spencer Krug album under any name. (Sunset Rubdown was his other main band. They only put out 3 albums but all of them were close to my #1 album of the year when they came out.)

    If this album were by anyone else, it might not have made such an impact on me, but I just love this guy’s voice and his style of writing so much. I guess standout tracks include: “Love the House You’re In” and “Black is Back In Style”.

    To be clear, these top 3 albums were kind of a tossup. In a tossup though, Spencer Krug always wins for me.
    Listen on Spotify

    Thanks for reading. See you again in 2015.

    Top 10 Albums – 2012

    January 17, 2013

    Now that I’ve got 3 top 10 lists (2010, 2011 and this one) all in one place, I can say without doubt that this is the latest I’ve published my top 10 since 2009 (I’ve found my 2009 post on Tumblr, but all it gives me is a vague “3 years ago). So I’m late and I’ve no excuse.

    Anyway, listened to a lot of new music from a lot of artists I wasn’t familiar with this year. 7/10 artists on the top 10 list are making their first appearance on a Jon Becker top 10 list, though many of them have A) been around for awhile or B) Are a permutation of another band who’s made the list. Even though I’ve listened to a lot of music this year, I’m not sure this is my strongest list. My writing of the list is especially weak. It is what it is.

    Wanna download it? Click the images to go to the download link.
    The host I’m using doesn’t seem to like my files. Will look for a solution Don’t all you kids just use Spotify these days anyway? Here we go:

    10. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

    The Divine Fits (fronted by Wolf Parade/Handsom Furs Dan Boeckner and Spoon’s Britt Daniel) had so much promise for me. I love Dan Boeckner’s Handsom Furs, and I love the way Spoon sounds (and certain Spoon songs). These two seemed destined to make a fantastic album together. I loved the teaser song for the album, “My Love Is Real”, and then the album came out, and that was my favorite song on the album.

    A Thing Called Divine Fits pretty much has the feel of a Spoon album with Boeckner singing half of the tracks and adding his synth parts. It’s good, but it isn’t as good as I wanted it to be. The cover of Nick Cave’s “Shivers” though is top notch, and got me to listen to the original version.

    9. Shearwater – Aminal Joy

    Shearwater is fronted by Jonathan Meiburg, once a member of Okkervil River. This is my favorite CD of this band. In a 1 word description, I’d say this band is pretty. The vocals are pretty, the arrangement is pretty and the songs are pretty, but maybe to a fault? I think that this album has the best songs and it’s the first album of theirs that has been able to captivate me.

    8. Moonface – Heartbreaking Bravery

    If you’ve been following this list, you may know how much I love Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Moonface [in order chronologically, not by my preference of his projects]). If you asked me my favorite musician, I’d probably say “Spencer Krug”. This CD is lacking in gripping content however. I really liked it, but I’m not so sure how fit it is for general consumption.

    7. The Mountain Goats – Transcedental Youth

    Songwriter extrodinaire & my favorite liberal tweeter John Darnielle is at it again. This may be my favorite Mountain Goats album since Get Lonely, which was the album that got me into the band. You should get this album, and you should get all other Mountain Goats albums. He is an incredible songwriter, writer, and thinker. He also might be a little crazy.

    The album’s opening line “Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive” might be my favorite line of the year. I don’t think that there are any throw-away tracks on any Mountain Goats albums, but this album never really grabbed me. I blame myself. Go see The Mountain Goats when they come to your town. You will have an incredibly enjoyable night.

    6. Oberhoefer – Time Capsules II*

    In 10-7, we covered known entities for avid readers of the annual Top 10 list (read: very few). Here, we break new ground, and there’s a lot of new ground further up the list to come. This is exciting news!

    Here’s a band that I can’t really tell you anything about. I never did much research on them. But this CD is some wonderful pop-rock. With titles like “Away FRM U” “Yr Face” and “oOoO”, you might be led to believe that this is a different type of band than it is. Instead, it’s just some great rock music that I think everyone should enjoy. Also, it sounds like it might end up in commercials. I’m not sure if it has or not.

    5. The Magnetic Fields – Love at the Bottom of the Sea*

    Hated by every critic and longtime Magnetic Fields fan (I think all music critics are longtime Magnetic Fields fans), Love at the Bottom of the Sea is the first Magnetic Fields album that has ever grabbed me. So, I’m not sure what that means. But this album is solid pop musically and lyrically all the way through. I’d call it “cute” and maybe that’s what other people don’t like about it. Murdering ex-boyfriends, rhyming with obscure cities in Wyhoming, bad word play etc. It’s all here and I think it’s fantastic. Get it.

    4. Alex Winston – King Con*

    So, I don’t love every song on this album, but the songs that I do love, I love so much.

    If Joanna Newsom had a more accessible voice & vocabularly and wrote poppier music, it might sound like this. Somehow, I mean this in a good way. Tracks 1-7 are a non-stop bombardment of one great track after another. Particular hits are Velvet Elvis, Medicine and Locomotive.

    But track 7… If you were just waiting for a baller song about Sister Wives, this one is for you. If you weren’t waiting for a song like that, you’ll be wishing you were after you heard it. It’s. So. Good.

    Everything on this album is pretty similarly paced, but I promise if you download this you’ll enjoy some tracks from it.

    3. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, M.A.A.D. City

    Disclaimer: I’m late to this game. I don’t know when the CD came out. I don’t know anything about Kendrick Lamar. I haven’t listened to his first CD. I only listened to it AFTER Pitchfork gave it Album of the Year. So, my opinion is like 300% invalid.

    That said, this album has been the only CD I’ve had in my car for a month now. It’s serious, it’s funny and it sounds good. Read what other people have to say about it.

    All that said, this album is an incredible story told in the form of a really fun album. Every song is great. I’ve been listening to it non-stop for the past 2 weeks. If I started listening to this album earlier in the year, I’d like to think it might be a notch higher on the list, but… It is what it is.

    2. Family of the Year – Lorma Vista*

    This album is so good. So good. I’m astounded that it didn’t get more attention. This is what California pop music should sound like. Forget your drony boring Beach Coast Best House bullshit. Give this thing a listen! Pay attention to this band. Get this CD anyway you can. Pay them and make them come to St. Louis. Make Pitchfork review their album, for God’s sake.

    1. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

    Winter 2009: My second to last semester of college, and I’m taking a bunch of classes that have nothing to do with my major, like drawing. I’m working on my final project, which is 6 or 7 pieces that are all closeups of different parts of a foosball table. Probably took my 20 hours or so, and the whole time I was working, I was listening to the Japandroids first album, Post Nothing.

    Summer 2012: Played in recreational Ultimate leagues on Mondays and Wednesdays all summer and pretty much every game I went to, I was doing damage to my car speakers and my ear drums listening to the Japandroids second album, Celebration Rock.

    There’s a certain type of album that lends itself well to being associated with a specific place and time, even when the place and time aren’t relevent to the content of the album, and the Japandroids hit the nail on the head for me. Celebration Rock is a masterpiece in loud, pure rock.

    Top 10 Albums – 2011

    January 9, 2012

    So, I work in an office now and I think in terms of hours, I listened to more music than ever in 2011. I listened to lots of new music, some old music but explored little new territory. My goal to review 1 album a week fell woefully short, but I’d say I listened to 30-40 new albums this year, which is fine.

    I saw a lot of great bands live this year including (in alphabetical order): Bon Iver, Bright Eyes, Dan Deacon, The Decemberists, Destroyer, Mates of State, Mister Heavenly and Weezer (x2!). The most surprisingly good show I saw of the year was Tristen (opening for Ezra Furman and the Harpoons). I don’t want to rate these concerts from best to worst.

    I will, however, tell you the three worst:

    3 worst concerts of 2011

    3. Okkervil River – The Pageant

    This was my 3rd time seeing Okkervil River and the previous times had been fantastic. This show didn’t live up to my hype. Also, Will Sheff didn’t sing a verse of Westfall

    2. Girl Talk – The Pageant

    This was my 3rd time seeing Girl Talk. The first time was great. The second time sucked. blah blah blah (full review here).

    1. Oh No! Oh My! – Off Broadway

    So I didn’t find out about this show until the day before, and I got excited because I had seen these guys do a 30 minute set at Lollapalooza (2006?) and it was awesome. I had their first CD and the EP after that and I loved them. Apparently they had a newer CD that I never heard about. I wasn’t concerned about this though.

    So there were hardly any people at the show and the band… (it makes me angry to write this) ONLY PLAYED ONE SONG OFF THEIR FIRST TWO RELEASES. The entire remainder of the (short) show was all off their new album. I respect artists for sticking to mainly songs off their new albums. It’s good to be accountable to your new albums. But when you only have TWO FULL LENGTHS, how can you not play at least 3 or 4 songs from each of them? poo-on-you I say. I downloaded their new CD after the show, and I thought it sucked. But I am 100% sure I am just bitter.

    The Top 10!

    Now for the top 10. Some notes: I’m particularly short on real critique this year, so these reviews will be no longer than necessary. About 1/2 of these CDs I reviewed earlier this year, and I’ve put links up to those reviews. There’s no rap and very little not-real-music on this year’s list.

    If you click the images, you will be taken to a magical land where you can download the CD

    Jan. 19 update: Yo, Megaupload got shut down. Maybe will rehost files elsewhere if there is interest. Leave a comment.

    10. Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde

    Click image to download!

    Listen if you like: Summer, big guitars, chilled out but with pop hooks and not boring.

    9. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

    Click image to download!

    I was pretty sure I was done with Iron & Wine prior to this CD. Turns out, no. I’ve reread my earlier review and I stand by it.

    My initial review of Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

    8. Mister Heavenly – Out of Love

    Click image to download!

    So, the Nick Diamonds/Nick Thorburn is a favorite of mine. He’s been in bands like The Unicorns and Islands. Here, he’s the front man of Mister Heavenly with the drummer from the Shins & Modest Mouse (Joe Plummer) and Honus Honus from Man Man. Michael Cera also toured with the band as the bassist for awhile.

    Diamonds at his best writes some of my favorite weirdo pop songs and he’s near the top of his game here. Standout tracks are Bronx Sniper and Pineapple Girl. The whole CD is pretty great though.

    7. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

    Click image to download!

    My favorite songwriter. Becker family favorite. Lead singer John Darnielle triumphs again. My earlier review is just fine. However, I wouldn’t say the CD bloomed as much on repeat listens as I thought it would. Also, it is still my goal to do a mashup of “Teach Me How to Dougie” and “Never Quite Free.”

    My initial review of The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

    6. Tristen – Charlatan at the Garden Gate

    Click image to download!

    Tristen Gaspadarek is the only artist on this list that I had never heard of when 2011 began. All of a sudden I was at a show for a band I wasn’t familiar with, (Ezra Furman and the Harpoons) and the opening band comes on and it’s just a duo, a girl singing and playing the guitar and a guy doing… whatever the song called for.

    So I’m sitting at a table when Tristen starts, just talking to friends. They start, and (the way I remember it) we stop talking, not to be polite, but because this singer’s voice was a force to be reckoned with. With a sound that I imagine only a special combination of whiskey, cigarettes and touring can produce, this tiny 28 year year old girl belted through a set of fresh stripped down country songs and made her voice the primary instrument. I was blown away.

    I bought the CD and was a bit disappointed to find a full band and a bit prettier more restrained vocals. That said, it’s a great CD full of songs about murder, sex, drugs and other things that make for decent stories.

    5. Moonface – Organ Music, Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped

    Click image to download!

    Not too long ago, you may have read that John Darnielle is my favorite songwriter. Now, you will read that Spencer Krug is my favorite musician. Here are some things these artists have in common: I’ve done art projects on both of them and they are both pretty well respected in indie-rock circles.

    This CD, Organ Music, is the second (or third, depending on how you look at things) release from Moonface, which is Spencer Krug’s solo project. Their prior release was called “Marimba and Shit Drums” and was just one long track. Much as “Marimba and Shit Drums” was a CD of marimba and crappy sounding drums, this one is a CD of organ music. There’s also drum loops here.

    It’s a kind of short CD with kind of long songs. While most of Krug’s work with Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade has been pretty well structured, this is a little more exploratory. If you want to listen to it, give it a shot, but it may require some getting in to.

    4. Mates of State – Mountaintops

    Click image to download!

    What do 4 of the 5 bands ranked 4-8 on this listen have in common? They put on kick-ass shows at the Firebird this year. I saw Mates of State on Halloween and they were dressed up with the lead singer, Kori Gardner dressed up as a police officer, and husband Jason Hammel (and the two other male members of the band) dressed up as prisoners. Great already… but then towards the end of the show, they all stripped off their costumes to reveal Cardinals shirts… a week after the Cardinals won the world series. The crowd went wild!


    Mates of State is a long-time favorite of mine. They are a husband & wife, organ & drums duo from Austin, TX and they’ve been writing great and cute pop songs for a long time. This is my favorite CD of theirs since Team Boo. It’s so good that it is featured on Burger King commercials.

    3. Destroyer – Kaputt

    Click image to download!

    Already reviewed this! Like it now more than I did when I reviewed it. If this was a list of 80’s saxophone revival albums, this would have been #1.

    My initial review of Destroyer – Kaputt

    2. Decemberists – The King is Dead

    Click image to download!

    Who would have thunk that restraint, focus and lack of narrative could make for the best Decemberists album ever? I say best, but I’m not sure if it is my favorite. Anyway, this CD was the first one I reviewed this year and it is full of great short songs. Put this on a shelf. It will age well.

    My initial review of Decemberists – The King is Dead

    1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

    Click image to download!

    Jon Becker has the same #1 as Pitchfork 2 years in a row. What a loser.

    …pfffft. I say.

    I was late on the Bon Iver bandwagon. I didn’t listen ’til their first CD until a year after it came out, and I thought it was great. This one is even greater though. I would like to think that we’ve all gotten to the point where we have gotten over Bon Iver’s narrative and can just love his tunes.

    This CD warms the heart. It’s beautiful from start to finish. Most importantly, I don’t think any of it is boring. I could not have said the same thing about For Emma. While I wouldn’t call this a particularly strong best CD of the year for my list, I would say it definitely deserves the spot.

    So, that’s my list. What can we take away:
    1) No rap this year. I probably listened to more rap than ever this year, but nothing cracked my top 10 list.
    2) If you tour in St. Louis, there’s a good chance you’ll make this list. Smith Westerns, The Mountain Goats and Iron & Wine are the only bands on this list that I didn’t see in concert this year.
    3) Office jobs are great for listening to a lot of music but not necessarily great for taking in and making impressions about music. That still requires a bit of attention and work, and I feel I lacked in that department this year.

    More blogging this year? We’ll see how it goes.

    2010 Best Albums of the Year