“I’ve found my thing, and that’s what I stick with,” a friend once told me, when I was trying to push her into some new music. Her thing was Superchunk. She owned a lot of Superchunk records.
Me, I’ve always been the type to make music push me into uncomfortable places — both sonically and lyrically. And you can hear that on this year’s Skeleton at the Feast mix. (Here’s the backstory on Skeleton at the Feast and just what the hell is going on, for any newbies.) To wit:
- Atlanta-based Algiers delivers an electrically charged gospel song with a choir that sounds like it’s trapped in the bowels of hell.
- Brandi Carlile joins the Old 97’s as the voice of God, chastising Rhett Miller: “You’re pretty thick so I’ll say it twice: I’m not so nice. I’m not so nice.”
- Dressy Bessy’s sugary pop ditty may deliver the wryest political wink. “There’s no room for angry people trying hard to get along. There’s nothing if not heroes taking roll and folding cards.”
- Jason Isbell’s “White Man’s World,” is as much about male privilege as white privilege. It’s like he knew the whole Weinstein thing would happen.
It may seem like a dark lot, but well, these are dark days. And, I swear the songs were chosen before Jenn’s dad died and I lost my job. But there’s no denying there’s some damn good driving beats here. These songs either motivate me or somehow bring me peace.
I hope, this Christmas, they do the same for you.
Brad & Jenn
p.s. — I’m trying something new this year with a Spotify playlist, to make for simpler listening for you folks. Heads-up, though: On the version I’m physically sharing with friends, there’s another track: Sam Phillips’ wonderful “World On Sticks,” which isn’t on the Spotifier. If you’re playing along at home, it should be Track 3 on the mix, between Leonard Cohen and Dressy Bessy. You can hear it on this episode of “All Songs Considered”, but really you’re just gonna want to buy the whole “Human Contact Is Never Easy” EP from her. In her place on the Spotify list, I’ve dropped in a performance by Jake Xerxes Fussell (see next note).
p.p.s. — I’ve added some track-by-track thoughts down below. And honorable mentions and also-rans this year go to Jake Fussell (whose entire “What in the Natural World” is unbelievably good, but a baseline rule for SatF contention is that the music be an original work. Which may be a stupid rule.); Rhiannon Giddens, who had three songs in contention; and the Dropkick Murphys for either “First-Class Loser” or “4-15-13”. OK, enough already. Here’s the music.
Brad’s meandering track annotations:
- Strand of Oaks, “Quit It”: The entire album is not as strong as 2014’s “HEAL,” but damn, he hits this track outta the park.
- Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker”: This 2016 track slides in because it came in after we’d already nailed down the 2016 disc before this album was out. Also, because listen to it. RIP, buddy.
- Sam Phillips, “World On Sticks”: From an album that was supposed to be out in 2017. Can’t wait for the full set.
- Dressy Bessy, “Lady Liberty”: So sweet. So evil.
- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, “Unfolding Above Celibate Moon (Los Angeles Nursery Rhyme)”: Jenn hates this song, and I love this song. She usually gets one veto, but I forbade her from exercising that right on this song. So here it is. You’re welcome, I hope.
- Residente, “Desencuentro”: It’s half in Spanish and half in French, and I only have a fleeting idea what it’s about, but this is a perfect little pocket orchestra in 4+ minutes.
- Algiers, “Cry of the Martyrs”: So the first three tracks on Algiers’ album are ohmygod good. I basically blindly picked which one to include.
- Craig Finn, “God in Chicago”: Another close decision between this track and the following one, “Rescue Blues.” This one won because it sounds like nothing else on the record. FWIW, this album is better than any of Finn’s work with the Hold Steady.
- Woods, “Love Is Love”: I usually don’t hold high hopes for EPs, but the six tracks — or five, really, if you factor in the fact that there are two iterations of the title track — on this one are stronger than many artists’ full albums.
- Nicole Atkins, “A Little Crazy”: The title is not the only thing here that sounds like an homage to Patsy Cline. If it starts off too country for your taste, hang on for the chorus and you won’t press the skip button.
- Hurray for the Riff Raff, “Pa’lante”: This record should be a contender for album of the year. Also, I’ve always wanted a tattoo, but held out until I could figure out what to stamp on my body permanently. The word “pa’lante,” which essentially means “go for it,” may be the winner.
- Perfume Genius, “Otherside”: Stick with it to just over the one-minute mark. “Then the universe opens up,” says Jenn.
- Arcade Fire (feat. Mavis Staples), “I Give You Power”: One of the most powerful political statements of the year comes from the Canucks, god love ’em.
- Old 97’s, “Good With God”: This song beat out the titularly similar “Jesus Loves You” for two reasons: It’s in a minor key and Brandi Carlile is the voice of God.
- The Mountain Goats, “Rain in Soho”: I love me some Mountain Goats, but their album “Goths” disappointed me but for two songs. This is one of them.
- Moses Sumney, “Doomed”: That voice…
- Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, “Rumors”: Discovered late, Sharon Jones sounded like a vet out the gates. And then she died. Cancer’s a bitch, but I don’t think she ever complained. I know she refused to wear a wig onstage after losing her hair. You go, girl.
- Otis Taylor, “Jump to Mexico”: Can I go with you, Otis?
- Jason Isbell, “White Man’s World”: I love this song. I think I actually love “If We Were Vampires” a bit more, but it makes Jenn cry, and no one wants that.
- J.D. McPherson, “Lucky Penny”: This guy’s got a few records out, but this is the first one I’ve heard. A little rockabilly, a little blues, all awesome.
- Kevin Morby, “1234”: His second record in 2 years is solid, start to finish. This should’ve been the last song on the album, instead of Track 3. But I fixed this mistake on my mix.