At the end of each year, I make the same New Year’s Resolution: listen to more music. And Iike most everyone else, my resolutions fall woefully short. 2021 has been a banner year for me in listening to less music, but can you blame me? The seductress that is YouTube is awfully alluring when you don’t have to worry about your boss peaking over your shoulder to see what you’re up to. You’re telling me that I can entertain my eyes and ears at the same time while pretending to work? I’m sold.
For sure, working from home has impacted my listening habits, but don’t get me wrong here, I still love it. I was originally skeptical of my ability to stay at home for the majority of the day, but I’ve realized (like most others) that it is actually quite great. It is amazing how so many of us were conditioned to commute every single day and work 8 long hours in an office when the reality is that most of us who work behind a screen can be just as productive in the comfort of their own home. I can’t imagine going into an office full time anymore. But, being home has it’s share of distractions: errands, taking care of my space, my girlfriend, my phone, my dog, wondering if it’s too early to crack a beer and sit outside for a while, watching the relative lack of neighborhood drama unfold while that wasp eerily hovers outside your office window – hell even my record collection – all cursed distractions from being able to browse through Spotify and listen to 100 odd tracks a day like I used to in the “before times.”
And yet, like clockwork, this playlist somehow comes together. Let’s overanalyze.
It’s super heartwarming to hear Tyler, The Creator be so genuinely happy on “Blessed,” an interlude from his very good Call Me If You Get Lost (but let’s be real, it’s no IGOR). It’s 58 seconds of artist at the top of his game appreciating his success……Shame on me for not immediately enjoying two very popular songs to come out this summer, “Kiss Me More” (is this just a “Say So” rewrite?) and “Good 4 U” – which hooked my way into my brain probably because it’s essentially Paramore’s “Misery Business” – but that combination of upbeat pop-punk guitar and sarcastic lyricism is too much to ignore for this aging millennial. If this is the direction pop music is going, I’m all for it.
Speaking of pop-punk throwbacks, one of my high school pop-punk favorites, Sugarcult, is putting out a re-release of their debut album, and they released a little extra goodie in the form of an Elvis Costello cover in “No Action.” On the hierarchy of pop-punk, it’s pretty play-by-numbers. But it’s still nice to hear new (old) material from a band that never got their due…..and while we’re on the subject of pop-punk guitar music, Beach Bunny, and more specifically their album Honeymoon, has gotten a lot of play from me this summer for doing the whole poppy guitar thing pretty well, “Cloud 9” closes that 25 minute album with a bang.
I’m not jealous of the guy who has to choose the songs for an eventual Coldplay greatest hits album. They’ve been doing this thing called being one of the most popular bands in the world for 20 years now and they always seem to have at least one interesting single per record, regardless of the quality of the rest of it (see: “Orphans,” “Adventure of a Lifetime,” “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”). This time around, it’s “Higher Power” a Max Martin produced song (that’s all I really had to say, that’s why it’s on the playlist) that pleases all of my Coldplay post-Viva La Vida needs.
It’s been raining a hell of a lot, but there were a few days here and there where it wasn’t (right?). A song like Surfaces’ “Hideaway” fits in nicely with the idea that maybe the sun will shine again….Speaking of sunny days, the Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky” is made for staring into the endless void above us, getting a bit lost in the music, and thinking about how flatly unfair the guitar work of Duane Allman is.
You never know where you’re gonna stumble on a song. We moved into our new house in May and with moving in comes a lot of trips to Home Depot…that’s where I stumbled upon “Heard it in a Love Song” an admittedly corny slice of the late 70s that features some neat piani. Fun fact: there was no one named Marshall Tucker in the Marshall Tucker Band, which ranks somewhere between there being no one named Lynyrd Skynyrd in Lynyrd Skynyrd and no one named Molly Hatchet in Molly Hatchet on my scale of “alrighty then.” Then you come back from Home Depot to inevitably mow the lawn, put up a door, or fix a toilet – which is where the spoken word haze of “Avant Gardener” comes in with the classic line: “The paramedic thinks I’m clever ’cause I play guitar/I think she’s clever cos she stops people dying.”
l don’t buy into the “watch this Netflix show” hype, but I did with Queen’s Gambit, and it ended up being really engaging despite my complete lack of chess skills. Shocking Blue’s “Venus” features in a scene when the main character is at her absolute lowest, drinking heavily and dancing around her house. We’ve all been there. Bananarama’s cover is great too, but hi-NRG or not, that chord progression on the chorus grabs you.
“Freaking out the Neighborhood” is a song I generally knew of before this summer, but I paid more attention to it after it was recommended a live performance with a fan playing “the chords” on YouTube. A great addition to almost any playlist. By moving into a quiet neighborhood of mostly older people, did we freak out the neighborhood? Probably not…..I always love when my favorite albums get re-released with hidden gems, and Guster’s “On My Own” is an example of that. Ganging Up On the Sun which is an album that I come back to quite often, and now I have even more reason to do so.
Turnover’s Peripheral Vision is an album that every single snobby indie fanboy knows of and claims to be their little secret, but I’ll just lay my claim right here that I knew about this album as far back as 2015. It’s okay that you’re late, better late than never. It’s an album that just keeps on giving for me, this time around it’s “I Would Hate You If I Could,” with it’s lyrically heavy verses eases into a wonderfully blissful chorus. It’s that mix of downtrodden lyrics with hopeful, chiming guitars that makes this whole album so addictive.
There’s always one or two late additions to any seasonal playlist, and with the late August release of CHVRCHES’ Screen Violence, “Lullabies” makes a last minute showing here. How great is this band? Whether they’re laying the synths on heavy, or paring it back for a more restrained showing. It’s probably the most “live” they’ve ever sounded – those twinkling guitars and steady bassline really do it for me. You’ll most likely being seeing another song from this incredible album on the Fall playlist.
“Overnight” is a song that was recommended to me by my girlfriend. It’s been harder and harder to directly hear what other people are listening to nowadays with the whole “people are disgusting” vibe that COVID has revealed – I don’t always agree with her choices in music (thanks for ruining Big Thief for me Stace), but this one’s a keeper….When’s the new Beach Fossils album coming out? It’s been four years since Somersault and I’m desperate to hear more from this band. “L.I.N.E.” (which stands for “love is not enough”) is actually a cover….speaking of covers, how about Nirvana’s timeless cover of the Meat Puppets’ “Oh Me” – it blows the original out of the water. I got super into their Unplugged album this summer. Again, this is a song that I’ve known for a long while now, and it finally gets a spot of a seasonal playlist.
I’m not super into Mac Miller’s discography – I get why so many can relate to his lyrics and the general slacker style that he had for most of his career, but I’ve never really understood the obsession over much but “The Spins.” But, Circles is a different animal – laid back, it really paints a clear portrait of Mac’s mindset in his final year or so. This is a beautiful album from front to back that reminds me of someone like Lennon at his peak, or the laid back nature of John Mayer circa Continuum. “Good News” is one of many highlights from that album for me….it’s always fun falling in love with a new band – Crumb is a band that I’ve come to appreciate more and more over the past year or so, and “BNR” is a great hypnotic slice of what they do best, making you feel like you’ve been on a long journey in only a few minutes.
Hazel English’s hazy cover of “California Dreamin'” is an absolute highlight for me from this playlist. She does covers so well (see: her contributions to Day Wave’s “PDA”), I can only hope that she does more. A great, softer twist on an already great song…I’m still conflicted about the inclusion of Cowboy Junkies’ “Sweet Jane”– another cover, and another last minute addition to the playlist, but to frank, probably one that will end up being skipped over a lot (there’s always one) to get to “These Days,” the final track on the playlist and the final one from Still Woozy’s debut album. I do think Still Woozy is a bit overrated, but the album was solid. Looking forward to what he’s going to do next.
Should I write more? Should I write less? What am I doing with my life? Will it ever stop raining? Please answer these questions for me in the comments, and listen to the playlist below.