My favorite songs of 2018

This list doesn’t feature songs released 2018. I’m a little slow. Some of these songs are from the 90s, and I’m just now catching up. Some of these songs were ever-present in my CD player in my young adulthood, and I’m re-discovering them.

(Yes, I made a Spotify playlist.)

Let’s hit it …

The Tragically Hip – Bobcaygeon 

Gord Downie was considered a national treasure in Canada, and the Hip’s farewell concert was a major television event.

When Downie passed away, a vigil was held in Bobcaygeon, a small town about 160 kilometers from Toronto. Downie had no particular tie to the town, choosing it for this song because it rhymed with “constellation,” but the band later performed there even though it’s not a big town that attracts a lot of touring bands as big as this one.

It’s a simple, beautiful song propelled by Downie’s wonderfully expressive voice.

Video

The Tragically Hip – Nautical Disaster

A sprightly little tune about survivors’ guilt. Must have been one hell of a nasty breakup to compare it to the sinking of a German ship in a World War II naval battle that few people survived.

As with Bobcaygeon, it’s a repetitive melody, but the rhythm is unpredictable, and Downie builds the drama with his authoritative delivery.

This is one of the songs they performed on Saturday Night Live when fellow Canadian Dan Aykroyd (neither the host nor a cast member but appearing in several sketches to prop up a disastrous season) pushed for them and did the intros.

Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons – Green Eyes

There are a few perks to being a fan of a relatively obscure band. I had interacted with Angela on social media a few times before I saw them, but I figured she couldn’t possibly remember every fan she meets online. Then I went to Hill Country BBQ, where I was the only person sitting on my half of the front row. (Attendance was rather spotty, mostly a few curiosity-seekers who wandered downstairs from the restaurant, but they didn’t seem to mind.) I looked up after they took the stage and saw her smiling and waving. I looked behind me, thinking she couldn’t possibly be waving to me. She was.

Afterwards, I chatted with her for a bit, posed for a selfie and got a big hug. I also talked with bass player Billy Zehnal, who has kids around my kids’ ages.

Her songs are often about young love. Dandelion Kisses, which they stretch out with an atmospheric intro in their live performances, is a bittersweet tune in which the protagonist knows the man she’s with is in love with someone else and will eventually win her over. (I often find myself yelling at no one in particular: “Angela, you deserve better than that!”) This one is a little less complicated.

Check out the solidly produced “Stereogram Session” or check out the fun live version.

Nicole Atkins – Listen Up

I’ve also interacted with Nicole a bit on social media, especially when she was hosting a show on SiriusXM. I’m not sure she knows who I am, but she high-fived me on the way out of her concert at The Barns. And this happened …

(I didn’t say that I was so startled that I let out an awkward “Hi!”)

For some reason, she just happened to start and finish in the right aisle where I was sitting, taking advantage of the acoustics to sing sans microphone. At the start of the show, she walked through — starting right next to me — singing the wistful Neptune City, which was recorded with a lush arrangement but sounded great with simple guitar chords. After her set, she once again headed into the aisle and sang an a cappella Over the Rainbow, then strode down the aisle to leave. I had my hand up to wave, and she high-fived me.

Yeah, I’m a 48-year-old fanboy. So sue me.

I wish she’d sung a couple of my old favorites — the foreboding Vultures (one of the songs I practice on drums) or the fun Girl You Look Amazing (which had a video that would’ve been a hit if MTV still played music) — but her new stuff is good as well. For this one, she did another entertaining video.

I’d say she should do comedy, but I wouldn’t want her to waste that gorgeous voice.

PJ Harvey – Man Size

Not sure why her breakthrough album Rid of Me popped back into my head after 20 years or so, but I’m glad it did. She skewers gender stereotypes throughout with raw guitar and some odd time signatures (11/4 here, which is a lot of fun to play on drums).

I think 50 Foot Queenie was the bigger hit, and I’m listening to that one, too. But I flipped a coin and chose this one.

Our Lady Peace – Starseed 

I associate this one with my drives back to Duke when I found too many excuses to go back and visit my friends. It’s back with me now because it’s a terrific drum part that I plan to pitch when School of Rock does its adult session. The drummer, Jeremy Taggart, was 18 years old when he recorded this — the Wikipedia entry for the album says recording was delayed for his high school graduation.

Video

Metric – Dressed to Suppress 

OK, THIS is a new one. I’d worried that Metric had fallen off a bit since their brilliant album Fantasies, but Art of Doubt is a powerful return to form. Emily Haines adds subtle inflections throughout that aren’t just for show — they highlight and illustrate the point.

Video

Belly – Mine

They’re back! And the new album matches up pretty favorably with the two they released in their 1990s heyday. WHFS would’ve loved this one.

Drummer Chris Gorman is also an artist, and he’s made intriguing videos for this one and Shiny One, in which Tanya Donelly sings about parenthood over a rumbling bass groove and soaring guitars. The Shiny One video seems to be paying tribute to their hit Feed the Tree, for which the video was set in a forest.

And check out the live version of Mine, which is more ragged here than when I saw them live, but it captures Tanya’s joy at being back on stage with her band as well as bassist (and cancer survivor — let’s keep Obamacare, OK?) Gail Greenwood’s propensity for cool rock-star poses.

Screaming Trees – Dying Days

Not sure I heard this one way back when it was released. I mostly knew Screaming Trees for Nearly Lost You, as I think most of us did, as well as All I Know. This one was a reflection on all the tragedies in the Seattle music community, but I actually find it uplifting somehow.

I’d recommend not watching the video for this, which is just contortions of a grotesque bit of album art, but put it on in the background and listen.

Or just listen to …

the full Spotify playlist! It also includes a few extras, such as …

Heart, Barracuda — Believe it or not, our local School of Rock has a girl who can sing this. That’s some serious talent.

The Mars Volta, Cotopaxi – Believe it or not, our local School of Rock has musicians who can work their way through the crazy time signatures here.

Rush, La Villa Strangiato – The School of Rock Rush show director has challenged the gang to play this one.

Chris Stapleton, Midnight Train to Memphis – I don’t listen to a lot of country, so I’m going to call this “roots rock” instead. Great voice, and I have fun playing this one with the snare drum tuned way down low.

The Stone Roses, Love Spreads – I will come up with a reasonable drum part for this. I will come up with a reasonable drum part for this. I will come up with …

Motley Crue, Dr. Feelgood – Another drum-workout track.

Rancid, Rejected – Believe it or not, School of Rock has a bass player who looks like a shy, studious girl who can play this part.

Throwing Muses, Sunray Venus – Tanya Donelly’s stepsister, Kristin Hersh, is still going strong, and she’s had the same trio now for a couple of decades.

The Cardigans, I Need Some Fine Wine And You, You Need To Be Nicer – A perennial. That’s my jam, period.

And I’ve included some comedy. Enjoy.

 

 

Best non-prog uses of odd time signatures

This one’s mostly for the music-major friends who have recently befriended me on Facebook. And the Popdose gang. And anyone else who likes seeing weird old PJ Harvey videos.

These three songs all have odd time signatures. And yet they rock. They’re not some sort of prog-rock “Hey, look at us, we’re so sophisticated because we can count to 13” mathematical exercises. Here goes:

The verses — in 11/4 — are the easy part. The choruses are more erratic, not easily described in one time. Alternating measures of 9/4? Rapidly switching from 3/4 to 2/4? Hard to say.

Then near the end, it slams into 4/4. Brilliant stuff.

I put the downbeat number in the middle. This is Tori Amos’ sprightly little ode to her own miscarriage.

It’s moving and quite intense, with verses that seem timeless. (Most of the time, it’s 13/8, but she throws in a couple of twists at the intro.) The gentle choruses are in simpler triplets. Then, like PJ Harvey, she resolves to something simple for the climax of the song.

The live version from Jools Holland’s wonderful show Later omits a transition into that thrashing section at the end, which you can hear on the studio version that I apparently can’t embed. Even after hearing this song 100 times or so, I sometimes get chills around the 2:50 mark. The video projects a completely different dramatic storyline on the song which, like Tori herself, is strange but compelling.

In both versions here, Tori has a secret weapon — the always excellent Matt Chamberlain on drums.

And we’ll close with one in which Chrissie Hynde just decides to skip a beat in each line of verse, giving us a skip between 7/4 and two bars of 4/4. Don’t crank this up at work — lyrics are a little suggestive. So suggestive I still don’t even know what she’s talking about. I probably shouldn’t.

I’m going to try to update the old blog more often, but I can’t promise anything.