20220518

Top 25 Arcade Fire songs

Spurred on by the release of WE, a conversation with my son, and Consequence of Sound's "Every Arcade Fire Song Ranked from Worst to Best" post, I decided it was time to work on my own Arcade Fire list. I am thankful to my friend John handing me Funeral back in 2004, and have been a huge fan ever since. In fact, they are one of the few bands who I love and own a full discography without ever seeing them live--hopefully will remedy that one day.

My Arcade Fire listening is closely related to my family. I got married the year Funeral was released, and did not yet have kids when Neon Bible dropped, so we listened to both of those a lot as a couple on road trips.

When The Suburbs was released two of my children had been born, all three of my kids have grown up listening to that album, and it is a family favorite. One of my favorite vinyl listening experiences is when The Suburbs vinyl came in the mail, my wife and I sat down in my office after our babies were asleep and listened to the album in full with the lyrics in hand. We were both hooked immediately.

Reflektor and Everything Now are far less family friendly. I love Reflektor, but most of my listening has been solo. And Everything Now is by far my least favorite Arcade Fire album, and I have only really played three of the songs for my family. We all absolutely love "Put Your Money on Me".

I am thankful WE is another family friendly album, and we have already played it a few times in the car. "Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)" immediately became my wife's favorite Arcade Fire song, and jumped into my top-5. As a parent, these lyrics resonate deeply:

"Lookout kid, trust your heart
You don't have to play the part they wrote for you
Just be true
There are things that you could do
That no one else on earth could ever do
But I can't teach you, I can't teach it to you
Lookout kid, trust your mind
But you can't trust it every time
You know it plays tricks on you
And it don't give a damn if you are happy or you're sad
But if you've lost it, don't feel bad
'Cause it's alright to be sad
Lookout kid, trust your body
You can dance, and you can shake
Things will break, you make mistakes
You lose your friends, again and again
'Cause nothing is ever perfect
No one's perfect
Let me say it again, no one's perfect
Right
A lifetime of skinned knees
And heartbreak comes so easy
But a life without pain would be boring
And if you feel it, it's fine
I give you everything that's mine
I give you my heart and my precious time
Lookout kid, trust your soul
It ain't hard to rock n' roll
You know how to move your hips
And you know God is cool with it
But some people want the rock without the roll
But we all know, there's no God without soul
Right
A lifetime of skinned knees
And heartbreak comes so easily
But a life without you
Would be boring for someone like me
And if you feel it, it's fine
I give you everything that's mine
I give you my heart and my precious time
(Precious time)
(Give you everything)
I give you my heart and my precious time
Unconditional
It's unconditional
It's unconditional
No matter what you do
It's unconditional"

After a couple of days I narrowed Arcade Fire's 79-song catalog to 25, but putting them "in order" has proven impossible. With that in mind, I ranked my top 5, and then otherwise I grouped the songs in the order I rank the albums.

Top 25 Arcade Fire Songs:

1. "City With No Children" (3:12)

2. "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" (5:26)

3. "Wake Up" (5:35)

4. "Put Your Money On Me" (5:53)

5. "Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)" (4:34)

The next 20 songs are ordered by my album ranking preference and not how I prefer each individual song:

NUMBER ONE:

The Suburbs
"The Suburbs" (5:15)
"Ready to Start" (4:16)
"Modern Man" (4:40)
"We Used to Wait" (5:01)





NUMBER TWO:

Funeral
"Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" (4:48)
"Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" (5:13)
"Crown Of Love" (4:42)
"Rebellion (Lies)" (5:11)





NUMBER THREE:

WE
"The Lightning I" + "The Lightning II" (3:02 + 2:34) (Note: While most of Arcade Fire's "numbered songs" stand alone, these two are inseparable and the same, continued work.)
"Unconditional II (Race and Religion)" (4:21)





NUMBER FOUR:

Neon Bible
"Keep The Car Running" (3:29)
"Intervention" (4:19)
"Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" (3:58)
"No Cars Go" (5:44)





NUMBER FIVE:

Reflektor
"It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus)" (6:43)
"Reflektor" (7:34)
"We Exist" (5:44)
"Here Comes the Night Time" (6:31)





NUMBER SIX:

Everything Now
"Creature Comfort" (4:44)
"We Don't Deserve Love (6:29)




20220122

Best of 1989

1989 was the year BEFORE the year I began buying my own music. However, the #10 album on this list I did hear in full as Batman was the first PG-13 movie I ever saw. My parents were extremely hesitant, but I begged and begged and finally got to see it in the theater. I turned 13 in 1989, so it was only fitting, right?! 

And I got the Lego Batmobile for Christmas just last month, which was definitely the most fun (and longest--almost 9 hours!) Lego build of my life. My Batman obsession is going on strong now since watching the 60's show reruns as a young kid in the 80's.

Top 10 albums of 1989:

1. The Innocence Mission- The Innocence Mission

2. The Connells- Fun & Games

3. The Cure- Disintegration

4. Lifesavers Underground- Wakin' Up the Dead


5. Toad The Wet Sprocket- Bread And Circus

6. The Violet Burning- Chosen

7. The Crucified- The Crucified

8. 10,000 Maniacs- Blind Man's Zoo

9. The Choir- Wide-Eyed Wonder

10. Prince- Batman Motion Picture Soundtrack

20220117

Best of 1988

While I know and love a ton of music from 1986 and 1987, 1988 is a challenging year. Even finding 10 albums I "know" and enjoy is a challenge. I only own three on vinyl, and none on CD or cassette. 

In 1988, the year I turned 12, I didn't really listen to music, except what my parents listened to and random top-40 radio in carpools to school and practices. And what my parents listened to was: Sandi Patti, Bill Gaither, Michael Card, GLAD, etc. Even my favorite album of 1988 I didn't listen to at the time. I was vaguely familiar with Amy Grant, but I definitely did not hear Lead Me On in full until probably the early 90's. The only other artist listed below that I definitely heard in 1988 was R.E.M.'s singles on the radio. The top 5 below I had all heard and knew by the end of the 90's, but then numbers 6-10 I didn't even discover until after Y2K.

Top 10 albums of 1988:

1. Amy Grant- Lead Me On

2. R.E.M.- Green

3. Tracy Chapman- Tracy Chapman

4. Adam Again- Ten Songs by Adam Again       

5. The Choir- Chase the Kangaroo

6. The Church- Starfish

7. The Pixies- Surfer Rosa

8. Cowboy Junkies- The Trinity Session

9. My Bloody Valentine- Isn’t Anything

10. Sonic Youth- Daydream Nation

20220114

Best of 1985

As 2022 begins, seems only fitting my first blog post of the year is my top albums of 1985--ha! But I do have some gaps to fill in with my lists--notably 1988 and 1989. While those are coming, I am going to start with 1985 as I actually have "a lot" of vinyl albums from that year, at least compared to much of the 80's. Just pulled these off my shelves:


What's weird about writing these eighties lists is that I heard almost none of this music at the time. I turned nine in 1985, and the only artist below I was remotely aware of was Amy Grant--but even with her I didn't become a fan until I was 12 or so. I might have heard a Tears for Fears and a-ha song on the radio, but most of these artists and albums I didn't discover until the late 90's or later. Also, I only really "know" three of these albums in full. I have listened to them all, but this year in music is still largely a mystery to me and may always will be.

Top 10 albums of 1985:

1. Tears For Fears- Songs From The Big Chair

2. Steve Taylor- On The Fritz

3. Amy Grant- Unguarded


4. R.E.M.- Fables Of The Reconstruction

5. The Connells- Darker Days

6. The Jesus & Mary Chain- Psychocandy

7. Kate Bush- Hounds of Love

8. Til Tuesday- Voices Carry

9. Stevie Nicks- Rock A Little

10. a-ha- Hunting High And Low


20211222

Best of 2021

IMG_2190[Furnace Fest 2021, photo by me]

What impacted my listening habits the most in 2021? LIVE MUSIC. The return of concerts was huge for me, all fans, all musicians, and the entire music community. I believe music exists primarily to be experienced live. While of course I listen to it primarily at home on my turntable, at work on my computer, and in my car, the experience--key word, experience--of seeing musicians perform their compositions live in concert radically elevates the impact. The communal and downright spiritual component of a live show cannot be replicated through listening to recordings.

Pre-COVID, the last concert I attended had been June of 2019 (Blank Books and Brother Bird in Detroit). Then during COVID, planning for Furnace Fest began, and I knew I had to attend and take part. The festival was inevitably delayed for a full year, but I was fortunate enough to attend in September. And that, along with three other shows this fall, dictated what music, and what kind of music, I listened to most in 2021: heavy stuff. After my 2020 listening was dominated by primarily quiet folk, both prep for Furnace Fest and the experience itself reignited my love for hardcore, punk, metal, etc. You'll see that clearly in the top 20. See my Furnace Fest video recap here, and all my concert photos here.

Next, where does Evermore go? Released digitally on December 11, 2020, I will forever think of it as a "holiday album" as I listened to it incessantly this time last year. But then the vinyl dropped in May of 2021. So, is it my #2 album of 2020 (behind folklore)? Or is it my favorite album of 2021? Currently leaning towards the first option, because of how it is paired with folklore. So while you won't see Taylor Swift in my list below (except under best reissues), for the second year in a row I listened to Taylor Swift WAY more than any other artist. And not just because of folklore and Evermore, but also due to her contributions to Big Red Machine (in my top 20 below), and the spectacular re-recordings and reissues--the "Taylor's Version" of Fearless (April 9, 2021) and Red (November 15, 2021).

This also hints at a larger issue--vinyl manufacturing. So many albums moving forward are going to have digital releases one calendar year, and vinyl releases the next. That is unless the artists and labels hold on to the digital until the vinyl is ready. From my list below, both Sleigh Bells and Bent Knee released new albums fall of 2021, but the vinyl is not due to ship until Feb. 2022 at the earliest. And then with the case of a couple albums in my top 5--Thrice and The World Is...--the digital albums were released a couple months before the vinyl. One of my favorite experiences, listening to an album for the first time on a turntable, is a rare occurence right now and only possible with extreme patience.

I put together three best-of playlists recently, two on Apple Music and one on BNDCMPR (the new and only way to compile a playlist of Bandcamp tracks). All three playlists are about an hour long, albeit different thematically. The first playlist I randomly created one night in November, and picked some of the longest and best songs of the year--only took seven songs to fill the hour. I have gravitated towards really long songs my whole life (when I deejayed in college I had a regular feature of shows where we'd only play 6 minute-plus songs, the opposite of what radio typically leans to).

 

The second playlist is more of a traditional best-of list, and I defaulted towards shorter songs to represent more (18 songs):

 

And the final is more random and represents some lesser-known and under-represented 2021 releases:

Top 20 albums of 2021:

1. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die- Illusory Walls
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Collaboration and experimentation are two of my most important attributes in music. And this album and band--with no principle songwriter--is a perfect example of that. I was recently listening to a podcast interview with Chris Teti, guitarist in The World is, as he described how Illusory Walls was written. Each member of the band first of all has the ability to present ideas to everyone else, and secondly has the freedom to modify and change ideas that the other members have presented. It is a unique and rare model, the the fruits are awesome. 

I have been a fan of The World Is since I saw them open for mewithoutYou in 2016 (photos here; the only song from the band I knew prior to that show was "January 10, 2014"). I eventually fell in love with their 2015 album Harmlessness, and have followed them closely ever since. They are a band essentially defined by collaboration, and if you check out their Wikipedia band-member infographic, you'll understand why:

Their changing and at times extremely large group of band members has in generally been positive, but at times, it was far from productive. Many fans, journalists, and members of the band themselves thought it best they break up, however, not only did the five core members stick together--they became the strongest and most cohesive unit of the bands' dozen year history.

Bello, Teti, Cyr, Buttery, and Dvorak have now formed the tightest and most powerful line-up The World Is... has ever had. The layers upon layers of guitars are aggressive and intricate, but the dueling vocals of Bello and Dvorak are melodic with meaningful, relevant lyrics. I was thankful to see them perform in Ann Arbor this fall, and the show was significantly better and tighter than when I saw them 5 years prior.

Illusory Walls is broken into two parts, both 35 minutes in length. But the first part is nine songs, and second part is only two songs--one 15 minutes and the other almost 20 minutes in length! The 19:44 Fewer Afraid is my favorite song of 2021.


2. Middle Kids- Today We’re The Greatest
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Middle Kids is arguably my favorite band of the last few years, right up there with the band next in this list. They dropped Today We’re The Greatest on March 19, which was perfect timing for spring break and summer roads trip with the fam. My middle child watched the YouTube premiere for the video for the song "Questions", and it became maybe her favorite song of the year. This is catchy, pop-rock goodness.

The first five songs are killer, the best stretch of music in this band's history--the include the poppiest and folkiest songs in the band's catalog. The middle of the album blends and drags a bit before finishing with two awesome songs, including the title track finale, perhaps the best song on the album. While as a whole I prefer 2018's Lost Friends, this was easily the most listened to album of the year by my family of five. Sadly, we were to go see them in concert in Detroit in October, but the venue had mandatory vaccination. I agreed with the policy, but my two daughters were too young at the time and I was unwilling to attend without them.

3. Manchester Orchestra- The Million Masks Of God
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

The earliest Christmas gift I bought this year was in June when I ordered tickets to see Manchester Orchestra in March 2022 at the Fillmore in Detroit. They will be surprise stocking stuffers for the whole family.

While I have been a fan of Manchester Orchestra for 15 years, they reached a new level with 2017's A Black Mile To the Surface. This is a continuation of that sound, and is nearly perfect. I don't find the individual songs on Masks and good as Black Mile, but the album is designed to be listened to as a whole, and is stunning when you take the time.

4. Thrice- Horizons / East
Hometown: Irvine, California
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Thrice is my favorite post-2000 band. However, everything since 2009's Beggars had been a little disappointing for me. I find the band at their creative peak with The Alchemy Index, and finally, after a decade, Thrice has returned to the experimentation that defined them prior to 2010. 

Thrice is held together by their rhythm section, and the bass and drums have never sounded better here. An argument can be made, that while this may not be the best Thrice songs, they have never been recorded more effectively and it sounds AMAZING.

I have now seen Thrice six times since 2007, and while I mourn that there are some songs I'll never hear them play again, I am generally OK with that because they still sounds great. A friend went with me to the show who doesn't really know Thrice, and I explained to him that the band played none of my top-5 favorite Thrice songs, but I I knew they wouldn't, and I was OK with it. My favorite part of the set this year was when they played "Buried in the Sun" and "Just Breathe" back-to-back, as those are my fav songs from each of the most recent two albums.

5. Turnstile- GLOW ON
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on band webstore

As far as music defined by the live experience, Turnstile is the 2021 essential example. While I listened to and enjoyed GLOW ON prior to seeing them at Furnace Fest, that show was next-level. The band, and crowd, was so energetic and having SO MUCH FUN. Here's my video of them playing "Holiday":


6. Bent Knee- Frosting
Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts
Format purchased: Vinyl (pre-order due to ship in February)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Had never even heard of Bent Knee prior to October, but when I saw they were opening for The World Is in Ann Arbor, I began checking out some of their older music. However, nothing would prepare me for what I would experience with their live show--absolutely stunning. While the opening band Gates was strong, and I of course love the headliner, Bent Knee as live performers blew them all away. The show also happened to be the digital album release party for Frosting, and most of the songs played were from it.

7. Wolf Alice- Blue Weekend
Hometown: London, England
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on band webstore

Wolf Alice's 3rd album is probably also 3rd in my personal rankings of their full-lengths, but it does show development and front-woman Ellie Roswell can sing far better than I ever realized.

8. Laura Stevenson- 
Laura Stevenson
Hometown: Long Island, New York
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp



9. Mogwai- As The Love Continues
Hometown: Scotland, UK
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp



10. Starflyer 59- Vanity
Hometown: Riverside, California
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp



11. Big Red Machine- How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?
Hometown: Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp



12. Brother Bird- Gardens
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
Format purchased: Digital
Listen/buy on Bandcamp




13. Chvrches- Screen Violence 
Hometown: Glasgow, Scotland
Format purchased: Vinyl
Listen/buy on Bandcamp




14. Sleigh Bells- Texis
Hometown: New York, New York
Format purchased: Vinyl (due to ship in February 20222)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

Another debut comes in next, with the perfect band name for 2020. While I spent most of the year listening to singer-songwriter music, this was the first and best heavy album I got into. It is all over the place stylistically though, and isn't always hard.



15. Julien Baker- Little Oblivions
Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp



16. Kississippi- Mood Ring
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Format purchased: Digital
Listen/buy on Bandcamp





17. Gretta Ray- Begin to Look Around
Hometown: Melbourne, Australia
Format purchased: Digitial
Listen/buy on Bandcamp




18. Wednesday-
Twin Plagues
Hometown: Asheville, North Carolina
Format purchased: Digital
Listen/buy on Bandcamp



19. Spirit Breaker- Cura Nata
Hometown: Michigan
Format purchased: Digital
Listen/buy on band webstore



20. The Connells- Steadman's Wake

Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
Format purchased: Digital
Listen/buy on Bandcamp




Top 5 EP’s of 2021:

1. This Beautiful Mess- Second Mountain Songs
Hometown: Utrecht, Netherlands
Format purchased: Vinyl, but awaiting shipment from the Netherlands
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

One of my top 5 releases of 2021 as whole, and I was able to interview Arjen van Wijk and Lydia van Maurik over Zoom in January in a feature I published in July to correspond with the release fo the EP.

2. Natalie Schepman- Fresh Water in an Empty Vase
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Format purchased: Digital
Listen/buy on Bandcamp



3. Overcoats- Used to be Scared of the Dark
Hometown: New York, New York
Format purchased: Digital
Listen/buy on Bandcamp



4. Michael Knott- All Indie EP II
Hometown: Huntington Beach, California
Format purchased: Digital
Listen/buy on Bandcamp



5. Aaron Sprinkle- Certainty

Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee (weird to type that instead of Seattle, but as long as he has lived there, I guess true?)
Format purchased: Digital
Listen/buy on Bandcamp



Top 5 singles of 2021: