It’s that time of year when I feebly try to encapsulate 12 months into 80 minutes of music. “Skeleton at the Feast” is our annual selection of favorite songs for the year — “year,” give or take a couple of months overlap. We used to burn this to a CD to give to our friends as a small DIY gift. Truth be told, we still do this for about 10 die-hard friends. But now, with the worldwide interweb, we can offer it to e’erbody, thanks to music streaming and junk.
There’s more backstory to this tradition, which you can read about in the original post, all them years ago. Or you can just hit play and enjoy the tunes.
The liner notes:
You’ll find in this collection, artists who have been chased from our nation, who were scared to admit their sexual identities, who suffered strokes, who felt shackled by religious expectations, and who suffered other indignities, frustrations, depressions.
Yet they’ve found the strength to retake their names, to declare themselves, to confront their obstacles in an attempt to overcome them. And they do all that while rocking out, or dropping a wicked dance beat, or building a wall of sound that would shame Phil Spector. They pass to us strength and sinew through song.
Foremost, these tracks were chosen for the caliber of the music, not the message. But damn, it’s nice to hear them together in a collection of sentiments we can really get behind.
May they fortify and bring you joy in the coming year.
–Brad and Jenn
And some track-by-track thoughts:
- Eels, “You Are the Shining Light”: There are four great songs on this album, and all could’ve ended up here. But this one has the stankiest guitar.
- Father John Misty, “Date Night”: Makes me super glad I’m not in the dating game these days.
- Janelle Monae, “Pynk”: That alterna-power-chorus will not be denied. She also meets our criteria of singing sweetly about something pretty shocking. Go, grrrl.
- Scott Miller, “Lo Siento, Spanishburg, WVA”: His best album in about four outings, rivaling Miller’s earliest solo stuff and the fantastic work of the V-Roys (may they rest in peace).
- Moses Sumney, “Rank and File”: It’s hard to get on “Skeleton” in consecutive years, but Sumney earns it here, buddy.
- Shame, “Concrete”: The two lead singers counterpoint throughout this record, and the scruffier-voiced guy reminds me of The Clash or the best stuff from The Alarm. The music is not far afield from those two references or other ’80s post-punk like U2.
- James, “Busted”: My favorite track from James this year is essentially a B-side from an EP that preceded their full album release.
- Brandi Carlile, “Hold Out Your Hand”: This is like two very different country songs that come together by the third go-’round as the song morphs into something more akin to The Dropkick Murphys than any country artist I can name.
- Yusuf / Cat Stevens, “Blackness of the Night”: I didn’t expect much from Cat’s resurfacing. But he delivers a sweetly delivered indictment of society and a meditation on death, all with a warm voice that hasn’t aged now that old-age has broken.
- The Devil Makes Three, “Paint My Face”: Speaking of fathers and sons, this anti-war anthem delivered to a child (I presume) breaks my heart. Every. Damn. Time.
- Car Seat Headrest, “My Boy (Twin Fantasy)”: Mr. Will Toledo re-records an entire album of his with a real studio budget. The whole thing is good, but my friends know I have a soft-spot for the whole Wall-of-Sound thing. Hence, this song selection.
- Four Fists, “Joe Strummr”: “We don’t fight, we don’t write, even when the war’s outside our door.”
- Matt Costa, “Sharon”: I’d almost written Costa off as nothing but the musical equivalent of a Wes Anderson film, and then he releases the album “Santa Rosa Fangs.” Which sounds like the soundtrack to the film Wes Anderson should be making.
- Traveller, “Western Movies”: The song surfaced a couple years ago and hooked me, but this power-trio of Americana singers just released the containing album (and launched a “farewell tour”) this year. Jenn says this song finally lets her understand why I love crappy westerns, which makes me weep for our marriage.
- Screaming Females, “Black Moon”: I could point to the powerful resolution of the chorus. I could point to the strong, lovely Pat Benatar-esque warble. But, really, they had me at “Screaming Females.”
- Onlyness, “Comfortable”: Imagine a chill song by “A.M.”-era Wilco that questions the existence of God by addressing him (a la XTC’s “Dear God,” I guess). From there, imagine a condemnation of cube-farm workforces, and from there, imagine finding the impetus to getting off your ass and doing something. Then, imagine all that happening in 2 minutes, 22 seconds.
- Ezra Furman, “Suck the Blood from My Wound”: If Springsteen wrote a “Nebraska”-themed song with the energy of the “Born to Run” record, and if his love interest were named Vincent instead of Mary or Rosalita or Sandy, you might get this.
- Okkervil River, “Pulled Up the Ribbon”: Will Sheff hasn’t recorded anything this hooky or musically urgent in years. Would that the whole album were this strong.
- Angie Aparo, “Bicycle Kings”: You may think the Siri co-singer is a gimick, but it was actually a tool Aparo used to compose songs while recovering from a stroke that took his voice. Hell of a comeback record from the ATL penman who wrote Faith Hill’s No. 1 hit “Cry.”
- Adventure Violence, “Predestination Paradox”: Don’t ask me what the words are. I can’t hear them either. But I love the lo-fi-yet-hard-rockin’ aesthetic here.
- Sam Phillips, “Teilhard”: Another re-recording here. Phillips turns what once sounded like a sweet, cute song into something ominous and icy.
- Spiritualized, “I’m Your Man”: When this band was more electronic than electric guitar, the homage to Pink Floyd was harder to hear. But here they just give “Dark Side of the Moon” a big tongue-kiss, and it sounds fantastic.