Keep Each Other Here

I want to share a song with you that I have really liked ever since first hearing it six weeks ago on The Bob Edwards Show. Edwards was interviewing Boston musician-poet (and former subway busker) Meg Hutchinson about her song “Gatekeeper.” It’s inspired by a man named Kevin Briggs, whom Hutchinson had read about in a 2003 New Yorker article called “Jumpers: the Fatal Grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge” (cf. The Bridge). The full interview is available for downloading, but here’s the transcript of the relevant portion:

So, I’ve never met Kevin. I read a New Yorker article maybe five years ago about suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge. And he was featured in the article — he’s been a patrolman there for many years; I don’t know if he still works on the Golden Gate bridge. But it was his job to ride up and down and look for jumpers, and figure out who was at risk and have a conversation that would save them. I thought, you know, he must do something very dramatic in order to keep people from jumping at that moment when there’s nothing left for them. And I was so struck in the article by the fact that he very humbly said, “I just ask them two questions. I ask them, ‘how are you feeling,’ and ‘what are your plans for tomorrow?'” And that seems so bold, because we know the answer — we know that people are standing there with no plan, and feeling terrible, or not feeling at all. Maybe so low that they’re not even feeling. But it seemed to me that if he’s willing to ask that ordinary question, rather than high emotion — which might frighten people even more — to just approach them like it’s a normal day… that that’s the thing that saves people. And in 200 interventions he had never lost anyone.

So I called the song “Gatekeeper” and I think of him as this gatekeeper to this other world, you know, where we might have lost many people. So I would really like to meet this man. I don’t know how to find him, but if anyone does, I would love to meet him. I was very struck by the work he does.

And I think every seventeen minutes someone in this country kills themselves. And if anything else, we’re destroying people of that demographic especially — affluent, educated people — if anything else was taking them down, there would be such alarm. That would be headline news. I mean, we even think about the death toll from the Swine Flu, and how much fuss there’s been about that. Now, you know, the numbers are very similar. And how can we not still talk about that? Or if we talk about it, why is it such an abstract concept still to us? And military deaths… we talk about casualties from the actual war, but the casualties when soldiers come home are devastating, and that’s still something that we shy away from. So to think of this man who’s doing this work, even in this very small way in his life, that story is something that I think about often and think, how can we do more of that? How can we all be gatekeepers even in the way that we ask questions of each other and can we not be so busy.

Meg Hutchinson – “Gatekeeper” – from The Living Side (2010)

[audio:http://kevers.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Meg-Hutchinson-Gatekeeper.mp3]

For B.W.

2009 Book & Music Recap

This is the first part of my annual recap of my year in media. Tomorrow I will probably look back at the movies of ’09.

I didn’t really keep up with music this year as much as I normally do. But in no particular order, the releases I was most fond of from this year were:

1. Dan Auerbach – Keep It Hid
2. Chuck Ragan – Gold Country
3. A.A. Bondy – When the Devil’s Loose
4. Avett Brothers – I and Love and You
5. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – s/t
6. The Monsters of Folk – s/t
7. M. Ward – Hold Time
8. Mindy Smith – Stupid Love

I should probably confess to loving half of Only By the Night but hating myself for it.

The books I read this year are listed below. I again fell short of my goal, but in this age of illiteracy I consider any number over zero to be a personal triumph.
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Anti-Statism, Relativism, Prosperity Gospel, etc.

So I took a trip to Myanmar this week. I’ll blog about it later. In the meantime I have a bunch of tabs of stuff I’ve been meaning to share and I’ll have to just dump them w/o much comment because they’re slowing down Firefox.

  • The Atlantic: “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” by Hanna Rosin. Short answer is No, it didn’t… but the name-it-n-claim-it prosperity gospel probably contributed a little at least.
  • “Who’s Afraid of Relativism?” by Carl Raschke – summary & review of the first two chapters from Merold Westphal’s book Whose Community? Which Interpretation? Raschke is expectedly excellent:

The term “relativism” nowadays is routinely and indiscriminately used as a handy synonym for “postmodernism” by Christian and cultural mossbacks in the same way that “deconstruction” is taken as the first thesaurus entry for nihilistic devastation of the entire legacy of Western culture.  Pondering the “relativity” of the symbolic order – Einstein’s special and general theories notwithstanding – is generally regarded in these same circles as akin to taking a puff of Ouachita Gold and then inhaling.  That is, it is the first tragic slip on the slipper of the slippery slope to reprobation and incurable insanity.

  • The A.V. Club is trying to sum up the past decade. One of their lists is “The Best TV Series of the ’00s” wherein Arrested Development is somehow not #1 and NBC’s The Office bribed someone to earn an entry. I remain unimpressed by Judd Apatow’s TV work (I did like most of Funny People though, fwiw).
  • They’ve also got a big 50-entry list of “The Best Music of the Decade” which I will say is not the worst list I’ve ever read. Arcade Fire got robbed, of course, losing out to Outkast and (FFS!) Kanye; “this is an outrage” “how dare they” et cetera. No My Morning Jacket at all. Zilch. Actually, with all due respect to Win Butler & Jeff Tweedy, I may have to give my vote to “Best Album of the Decade” to Mr. Lamontagne for “Trouble.”

What a Sick Rollercoaster

On the bright side:
My TEFL class, unlike almost everything else so far, has been more or less just like I imagined it. On Monday I woke up just before 9am ready to meet the taxi by 9.45am… only for Rosie, the dorm mama, to come grab me at 9.30. Lo and behold, who should be waiting for me in the taxi but a fellow GIC-er from Chicago. At the TEFL International office, there were — hallelujah — more gringos just as overwhelmed as myself. There were 10 of us total, but a mother/son duo dropped after the 1st day. We range from ~21 through ~61, but the contingent of twentysomethings is obviously the majority. Three of us are Midwesterners, and all three of us live in the same student residence.

The office/school is about a 30-minute walk from our dorm, but I think we’re going to stick with taxis in the morning — because it’s ~$1/ea/day & only 10 minutos — and then walk home when we quit around 4.30 or 5pm. We start at 10am and lunch is from 1-2pm. I’ve discovered that GIC is basically an optional intermediary between prospective students & TEFL International — I’ve had zero contact with the former, but have found the latter nothing but professional. The classes have been suitably rigorous but not overbearingly difficult. Among our class I feel comfortably average: not the most educated or well-traveled, but not the least; not the best at Spanish, but not the worst; not the best teacher (so far), but not the worst, etc etc. All of us have some previous cross-cultural experience — some quite extensive — but only one of us isn’t a U.S. citizen (he’s British). I will post photos later because our school (just one floor of a perhaps 3-storied place) is really nice — I love the central patio/garden that all rooms encircle & look out upon.

Surprise-of-the-week has been our sessions learning Gaelige, the language mainly spoken on the far west coast of Ireland. One of our teachers is an ex-hitchhiking, globetrotting Irishman so over three days he’s modeling, via Gaelige, how we’re supposed to teach English to speakers of other languages. It’s intended to simultaneously (and perhaps this is the main goal) help us feel what it’s like to try to learn a language cold. So this builds empathy with our future students, demonstrates our school’s preferred teaching method/paradigm, embarrasses all of us… ie, a rollicking good time. Unbelievably frustrating though.

So far I’ve mostly laid low and done homework, etc but last night I went with a couple TEFLers + random expats to a La Bomba de Tiempo show at Ciudad Cultural Konex, a place that resembles (formerly was?) an enormous warehouse. The show was basically like a percussion rave, though occasionally with other instruments — last night featured a sick flautist. It was pretty crazy to see hundreds of BsAs hipsters dancing like mad to just drums + flute. Glad I went, even though I actually left after about 80 minutes or so in order to a) do my homework [LOL skool] and b) get to bed on time and c) preserve my hearing. God I’m old.

On the dark side: (more…)

Miscellany

1. Thanks to everyone who sent me birthday wishes. I am shocked to see 3-0 bearing down on me. 

2. Congrats to my little brother Kraig for getting engaged to Laura last Saturday. He will be the first Cole to get married and nobody’s surprised.

3. Kraig & I took the GRE on Wednesday. That test is hard as hell. I had two goals: get a 700 on the Verbal section, and/or a combined total of 1200+. I made one of these goals. Kraig and I were both happy with our scores so that’s excellent news.

4. It’s -10° outside. My moustache instantly freezes if I venture out.

5. Please remember that my phone does not have texting capabilities. I’ve gotten a couple messages recently and, alas, cannot read them.

6. Win Butler and his crazy band put out a DVD called Miroir Noir that is pretty awesome. It’s mostly Neon Bible material with 2 Funeral songs. I highly recommend this if you can get a copy. Here’s a teaser:

Favorite Singles of 2008

Here are 20 of my favorite songs released in 2008. As usual, I’ve agonized over this list and have changed it numerous times. Like always, I only picked one song per album (otherwise artists like Bon Iver & Robert Forster would just completely dominate this list) and they’re only loosely ranked by preference.
So for better or worse:

1. MGMT – “Time to Pretend” from Oracular Spectacular

[audio:01 – Time to Pretend.mp3]
The first 60-ish seconds of this are irresistibly awesome.

2. Bon Iver – “For Emma” from For Emma, Forever Ago

[audio:08 for emma.mp3]
Possibly my favorite album of the year.

3. Langhorne Slim – “Rebel Side of Heaven” from Langhorne Slim

[audio:02 Rebel Side Of Heaven.mp3]
This dude isn’t always consistently great, but I dig a lot of this album and this song in particular.

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A defense of John Vanderslice

September 11 by Gerhard Richter
Chief among the faults of my decrepit Mazda is the almost complete lack of a sound system. After 18 years, all that’s left is the right front speaker, a speaker that was undoubtedly pretty cruddy even its prime. Now it’s fairly staticky and to hear anything while driving (especially over my roaring engine… what exhaust pipe?) you have to crank the volume until distortion and fuzz is pretty much the norm. So on the one hand, it completely sucks. But there’s a certain charm, especially since “fuzzy” describes a lot of good music anyway (shoegazer, etc). It gives rock ‘n roll a certain raw sound, an immediacy that has some lo-fi appeal to me. If you need to hear clear highs and sharp lows… well forget it. So, great for The White Stripes but not so hot for jazz or most classical.

Listening to John Vanderslice’s Emerald City often reminds me of music in my Mazda. Describing Emerald City, Jason Lymangrover says “audiophiles may be disturbed by the overdriven acoustic guitars… that give an unnerving sensation of blown speaker cones.” This sums up a lot of what I love about the album though, since it’s the way I hear almost all music in my car and since I’ve come to afford a certain fondness for that over-amplified acoustic style.

There’s another major reason I love Emerald City and it has to do with Vanderslice’s themes of dread, angst, and general malaise mostly stemming from September 11th. I agree with David Raposa that the “concluding thesis ‘looks like September won once again’ hangs over the entire album.” Except I consider this a great thing, whereas Raposa finds this to be Vanderslice’s primary problem. I think Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible is a post-9/11 album as well and consider these two of the very best albums of 2007. Musically, Raposa concedes that “Vanderslice is on top of his game” and calls the writing “eloquent.” But where Metacritic scores Emerald City an 8.2 and I’m liable to push for a 9, Raposa and Pitchfork settle for a pretty weak 6.2. I feel justified in bitching because Raposa’s review is a nice lesson in missing the point. He never explains why obsessing over 9/11 should be considered a weakness.

Heath pointed me to The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing by Richard Hugo. It’s a short but supremely wise book, applicable to more than just poetry. In chapter 2 there’s a relevant discussion:

If you are a private poet, then your vocabulary is limited by your obsessions. It doesn’t bother me that the word “stone” appears more than thirty times in my third book, nor that “wind” and “gray” appear over and over in my poems to the disdain of some reviewers. If I didn’t use them that often I’d be lying about my feelings, and I consider that unforgivable. In fact, most poets write the same poem over and over. Wallace Stevens was honest enough not to try to hide it. [Robert] Frost’s statement that he tried to make every poem as different as possible from the last one is a way of saying that he knew he it couldn’t be.

Likewise, I do not mind that “lightning” plays the same role for Vanderslice, nor do I think it a fault that the poem he continuously writes is one about September 11th and how to deal/confront/understand that day and its aftermath. For me, further complicating emotions are wrapped up in 9/11 because of where I was in my life then: barely graduated from high school, days away from starting college. Throw in a new country with a new president, and “time of transition” seems like an understatement. If 9/11 does not loom large in Raposa’s conciousness, it is not a shortcoming or failing (I’m not charging him with being callous or uncaring), just one more way of making our way in this world. To criticize an entire album on this one point is fairly suspect in my opinion. If Raposa would prefer different vocabularies, different stories, different themes then he might simply pass on reviewing an album he’s pre-disposed to dislike.

Of course, all this discussion of 9/11 may lead you to falsely believe Emerald City is nothing but heavy-handed references to crashing planes. There is not a single weak song on the album, but “White Dove” (mp3) is a clear standout for me and does not even obliquely mention the Twin Towers. In it Vanderslice tells the story (comprised of truthiness no doubt) of a conversation with his elderly neighbor. She apparently had an eight-year-old daughter who was kidnapped and then brutally slaughtered even after they paid the ransom. It’s a truly heartbreaking song, told in tones reminiscent of Sufjan Steven’s “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” Except here the anger is even closer to boiling over, and the song is poignant for the juxtaposition of the fact of violence with the metaphor of peace (white dove) — Vanderslice rightly points out that in the face of extreme evil, simple questions of justice, mercy, and forgiveness suddenly take on new, complicated/ing dimensions.

Hello Sunshine

Relatively Clean Rivers – Hello Sunshine mp3Phil Pearlman Gadahn circa 2004

“Listen up and I’ll tell a story / about an artist growing old,” sings Daniel Johnston, presumably referring to himself. Tonight these lyrics remind me of Phil Pearlman instead. The two men aren’t even wholly dissimilar: both are outsider musicians, both are legendary figures in certain limited circles, and both have led extreme lives (though in very different ways). In fact, extremes run through the Pearlman story in many ways.

Philip Pearlman was born in 1947 to a Jewish urologist and Protestant housewife, but was apparently raised pretty agnostic. He started playing music early and became your stereotypical Californian hippie: protesting the Vietnam war and playing in various musical “happenings” — groovyspeak for jam sessions. The most famous of these was called Beat of the Earth, a loose collective that recorded epic psychedelia in loose, unorganized gatherings. Their self-titled 1967 debut is essentially just two, 60-minute tracks and is now a prized collector item — if your specialty is obscure 60’s psych-folk of course. Pearlman’s next effort was The Electronic Hole in 1970, an interesting experimental musical grandfather to more modern psychedelic groups like Elephant 6.

Nearer to the mid-seventies, the story takes a slightly more unconventional turn. As the story goes, Pearlman is walking along the beach (maybe high, maybe not) and finds a Bible on a bench. Reading it gives him a spiritual epiphany and he promptly converts to Christianity. It’s just after this, in 1975, that he records Relatively Clean Rivers, celebrating his born again life and new perspective. It’s another album that’s attained cult-like status within a peculiar underground scene. Some have compared it, perhaps oddly, to the Velvet Underground. In retrospect it seems a misguided comparison save for one fact: both groups inspired a lot of other people to make music. It’s through one of these fans, Jeff Tweedy, that I first heard of Relatively Clean Rivers, starting down my Pearlman rabbit hole via Wilco.

Relatively Clean Rivers – Easy Ride mp3

Thing is, after Relatively Clean Rivers, that was pretty much it for Pearlman. He married, settled down, and had four kids. Except Pearlman really took the hippie aesthetic to heart: he moved out to a rural country farm with no electricity and no indoor plumbing. Phil Pearlman changed his name to Phil Gadahn (a play on “Gideon”) and started raising and slaughtering goats. He claims to have invented a “humane” way to kill the goats, which he then sold to the Muslim butchers down the road who appreciated his approach. This is where the story could, maybe should, end. Typical hippie musician shuns our materialistic, consumerist, warmongering society and leads extremely stripped-down existence in the middle of nowhere. Or maybe sell the story this way: tortured artist finds God, records masterpiece, disappears into wilderness and obscurity. I have no doubt that Phil Pearlman would still be remembered in 2007 simply because of his musical legacy. Except in many ways, Phil Pearlman is now most famous, in the mainstream at least, for who he fathered.

The story of families are almost always more interesting than any single, isolated life. It’s why we love Oedipus Rex and One Hundred Years of Solitude. In terms of father-son sagas, it might be hard to beat King David and his murderous, long-haired son Absalom. But lately I’ve preferred the Phil Pearlman and Adam Gadahn story.1 Because as it turns out, one of the four children Pearlman raised on that goat farm in California, one of the four kids who would illicitly crowd around a small battery-powered TV against their hippie father’s wishes, would later end up becoming Azzam al-Amriki: radical Islamic fundamentalist, al-Qaeda operative, and, as of 2004, the first American convicted of treason since 1952.

How do you go from the son of humble Christian goat-farming beatkniks to a top suspect on the FBI’s Most Wanted list? There are no quick quips here, no relatively clean answers. Born in 1978, Gadahn did perhaps have a pretty atypical childhood. Homeschooled out there on the farm with his siblings until 16, he then moved in with relatives in the city where he developed an intense, year-long obsession with death metal music. Like his father, young Gadahn also recorded some epic 60-minute songs, though his feature slightly more screaming and atonal gothic chants.

In 1995 it all ended however, and fairly abruptly. While browsing AOL at his grandparent’s house, he began reading up on Islam and became more and more convinced of its truth. Gadahn undoubtedly remembered the neighborhood butchers his father sold goats to. He would later describe these Muslims as completely unlike the monstrous murderers the media portrayed. He officially converted under Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, then imam at Islamic Society of Orange County. This is the same Dr. Siddiqi who presented President Bush with a Koran after 9/11 and made clear to Bush that the peace-loving religion of Islam in no way condones such brutal attacks. This is tragically ironic in that one of Siddiqi’s former students – the son of a Christian hippie, former death metal obsessive is now an Islamic extremist absolutely convinced that flying planes into buildings is a completely reasonable way to express disagreement. For after staying with the Islamic Society of Orange County, the now-renamed Yahiye Gadahn got involved with followers of a fundamentalist, and violent, strain of Islam.

A trip to Pakistan in 1998 seems to have completely sealed the deal. He married an Afghan refugee and, after starting low, worked his way up the al Qaeda ladder. In more recent years he’s been the face for messages from Osama. Now known as Azzam the American, he’s the bearded white kid you’ve no doubt seen on TV: with finger raised for effect, Azzam’s always condemning us, urging converts, and promising the complete annihilation of the American way of life.

The typical American way of life, it should be noted, is something Azzam/Adam never really had. But you can’t pin his radicalism on that no more than you can tie it to his love of death metal. I think it’s natural to feel a lot of sympathy for his parents. The last time his mother spoke to Adam on the phone, she asked him about his accented English. He flatly informed her that he hadn’t spoken English in 8 months. Neither parent really grants interviews anymore. I don’t blame them.

It seems obvious that to some, Phil Pearlman is a pretty unusual character. He did, after all, homeschool his kids on a goat farm that didn’t have electricity. On the other hand, I can’t help but still see Phil Pearlman as just one more beat dude who lived his ideals. He dropped out to get away, like many of us have desired, to rebel against a lot of what actually is wrong with this world. But unlike his wayward son, Dad never wanted to actually kill all those yuppies in LA with fancy cars and homes, and their slavish pursuit of the almighty dollar. The contrast between peace-loving father and radically violent son couldn’t be starker.

For his sake, I still think of Phil Pearlman as a happenin’ psych-folk musician and not in the ignominious terms of heartbroken father to Azzam al-Amriki, America’s most wanted terrorist traitor. I, for example, really love the groovy Phil Pearlman of Relatively Clean Rivers. An optimist who inscribed the record jacket with these words:

“Here’s a story I hope you’ve all been waiting to hear it’s about
L.A. skies, tsetse flies, alibis,
And a European-Oriental-Asian-Caucasian-Negro-African-American
Soldier, sitting in a ditch somewhere, near a Sigh-Gone city or farm
Somewhere, wanting to drain the malaria out of some
Crocodile infested swamp maybe,
Hoping we can all get together, the Arabs and the Jews,
And melt down weapons into water sprinklers,
Tractors, shovels and hoes,
Irrigation pipes…”

Relatively Clean Rivers – Journey Through the Valley of 0 mp3


———————————————————————————————————–
1
As for brothers, lately I’ve also been really intrigued by the story of Edwin Booth, highly-revered Shakespearean actor, and John Wilkes Booth, deluded assassin of our greatest president.

Sources:

  • Azzam the American
  • Radical Conversion
  • Beat of the Earth
  • Becoming Muslim
  • Peace, Love, and Death Metal
  • Joshua Tree

    I’m almost ashamed to admit that I don’t listen to much of U2, arguably one of the greatest rock bands in the world. I know a bit about the band and can, surprisingly, name members beyond “Bono.” But I essentially just own some singles, Achtung Baby, and All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Oh, and Joshua Tree.

    Oh Joshua Tree. Really, I’ve only been listening to music for the last four or five years. I mean really listening to music, something not a whole lot of people actually do (hence the popularity of Hinder and radio’s Delilah). But in my admittedly-still-forming musical vocabulary, there is simply no stronger opening to any rock/pop record1 than the mind-altering trifecta of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “With or Without You.”

    As I’ve said, I’m really not a U2 groupie in the way that my former roommate, a Mexican biology major, was. He could deftly dissect Bono’s vocal range (lamentably dwindling) with some authority. I can’t tell you even the most basic facts about the Zoo TV Tour. I can only sit here and proclaim proudly that I am perpetually enslaved to the power of the auralgasm that is the first three tracks of Joshua Tree. And this, I think, makes some people nervous.

    Maybe this is because it’s an album from 1987 or because some songs have been unfortunately co-opted by such entities as Ross & RachelTM. But it’s probably mostly because of Bono. Guys like me don’t usually like guys like him and it’s essentially because of aesthetics. 98% of the music I listen to does not feature a frontman with large, colored sunglasses and an inability to not wear at least one article of leather clothing at all times. I’m fundamentally trained to despise rock stars who play at the Super Bowl one day and schmooze with politicians the next. But Bono is and does all these things. And he does so just because he fucking wants to. Not to look like a badass (though he is) or because it helps sell records (though it does). I legitimately think it’s simply because it’s natural to him the way wearing Chuck Taylor’s or eating peanut butter & pickle sandwiches is for me. I don’t question it. Bono doesn’t question the “point” of campaigning to end Third World debt. It’s just what should be done and Bono sees no reason he can’t be one to help toward that end (and he’s doing a brilliant job of it, I might add). He’s an authentic guy who realizes that everyone’s “authentic” personality contains arbitrarily manufactured elements. And one who realizes that making money, a shitload of it, off your music is not an evil soulless thing to do.

    But honestly I wish Bono weren’t even relevant. Because even if he were a pretentious asshole sellout or “this generation’s Martin Luther King, Jr” (as my non-black, non-hippie friend once declared), it wouldn’t even matter when you listen to Joshua Tree. Those first three songs are the three best reasons I can think of to shut Nickelback the fuck off and let yourself purposely be transported to a beautiful realm where the streets have no name. A place where the lame can dance and the deaf can hear and Bono can rock out next to a confused unemployed college drop-out living in Suckville, Ohio.


    1Except MAYBE Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But probably not.

    Best music of 2006


    Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears: December means year-end lists and oh giggity do I love lists. A pretty good year in music if you ask me; what follows is my much-agonized mix, a combination of “best of,” “my favorites,” and an “2006 sampler.” These 30 are loosely in order but many of the rankings are dependant, obviously, on my mood and/or the alignment of the moon & stars…
    Read more … »

    3. TV on the Radio“Wolf Like Me” from Return to Cookie Mountain
    Undeniable power. One of my favorite musical moments of ’06 starts around 2:20 — you’ll know what I mean when you hear it. Also, guitarist Kyp Malone wins Best ‘Fro + Beard Combo.

    4. Destroyer“European Oils” from Destroyer’s Rubies

    5. Band of Horses“Funeral” from Everything All the Time

    6. Midlake“Roscoe” from The Trials of Van Occupanther

    7. The Decemberists – “Sons and Daughters” from The Crane Wife
    Frank at Chromewaves sums it up perfectly for me: “It’s funny, I never think I’m an especially big Decemberists fan until they release a new record, and I’m reminded of how singular, engaging and idiosyncratic – and with their latest record, moving – their music can be.” My Crane Wife epiphany came somewhere in the middle of “The Island” where I just stopped whatever I was doing and said, probably out-loud, “Holy shit this is fantastic.” That song, however, is 12 minutes long so I went with “Sons & Daughters” instead since it’s also great and much more accessible.

    8. Beirut“Postcards from Italy” from Gulag Orkestar
    Beirut is essentially just 20-year-old Zach Condon and I really have to give props to any single individual who can re-create an entire gypsy band all by himself. Oh, and there’s a good brass part to this song and I’m a sucker for horns.

    9. My Morning Jacket – “One Big Holiday” from Okonokos
    I’m cheating a little here since technically this song is off 2003’s It Still moves but this is actually the live version from a concert at the Fillmore. MMJ kick so much ass that I had to sneak them on this list one way or another.

    10. I’m From Barcelona – “This Boy” from Let Me Introduce My Friends
    It’s tempting to label I’m From Barcelona (who’re actually from Sweden) as a “guilty pleasure” — after all, they kind of stand in stark contrast to the rest of the “serious artists” on this mix. But you know, I’m From Barcelona (let’s also note what a truly shitty band title this is) makes some ridiculously infectious music that’s provided me with hours of musical bliss. This 29-member collective seems a bit less cultish than The Polyphonic Spree (though the Spree only have 24 members: noobs!) but share the same OMG-SO-HAPPY aesthetic. Their songs are short, simple, and a lot of fun. They make me smile and hit repeat and that’s enough to qualify for the list this year.

    11. The Stills – “Destroyer” from Without Feathers

    12. Shearwater“Seventy-four, Seventy-five” from Palo Santo

    13. Final Fantasy“This Lamb Sells Condos” from He Poos Clouds
    Nerdy boy wonder Owen Pallett first found acclaim by arranging the strings for The Arcade Fire’s Funeral. Final Fantasy is his own geeky creative outlet, love songs to Zelda included. -10 points for the horrible album title though, Owen.

    14. Cold War Kids“Hospital Beds” from Robbers & Cowards

    15. Tobias Froberg – “God’s Highway” from Somewhere In the City

    16. David & the Citizens“The End” from Until the Sadness Is Gone

    17. Danielson“Did I Step on Your Trumpet?” from Ships
    I was going to post this or the other song I really love, “Ship the Majestic Suffix.” There’s probably a pretty good chance I went with this one simply because of the title. Daniel Smith is one of those Christians that nobody in CCM listens to but is a fairly well-regarded artist in the secular underground. His voice may be a bit off-putting at first but his stylings can really grow on you.

    18. Jeremy Enigk“World Waits” from World Waits

    19. Sufjan Stevens“The Henney Buggy Band” from The Avalanche

    20. Guillemots“Made-up Love Song #43” from Through the Windowpane

    21. Islands – “Rough Gem” from Return to the Sea

    22. Two Gallants“Steady Rollin'” from What the Toll Tells

    23. Elected – “Not Going Home” from Sun, Sun, Sun

    24. Sparklehorse – “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” from Dreamt For Light Years In the Belly of a Mountain
    Anybody who’s been clinically dead for two minutes, as Mark Linkous has, deserves a few minutes of my time. It’s been five years since the last Sparklehorse album, but Linkous is back and apparently doing better than ever.

    25. Sunset Rubdown – “Stadiums & Shrines II” from Shut Up I Am Dreaming

    26. Grizzly Bear“Knife” from Yellow House

    27. Ray Lamontagne – “Gone Away From Me” from Till The Sun Turns Black

    28. Joseph Arthur – “Too Much to Hide” from Nuclear Daydream

    29. Joanna Newsom“Cosmia” from Ys
    Eek, if I had to predict the “Song Most Likely to Be Hated by the Majority of My Readers” it would have to be this gem. I mean there’s no middle ground here – either her voice is completely unbearable or totally bewitching. Now I was by no means an instant fan of Newsom’s music and really struggled with “getting it” for a long time. But somehow I just kept coming back to her crazy songs, vocal squawks and squeaks and all. Newsom, to me, is punk rock done by pixie and she’s provided 2006 with some of the most creative and original work out there.

    30. The Hold Steady“Chips Ahoy” from Boys and Girls in America

    So who else did I miss? Which songs completely suck ass? Leave me a comment and let’s start a internets fight!

    p.s. – most mp3’s provided by Insound, the rest are from various corners of the web.

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