Amongst all the nerdy year end lists that have flooded us the past month, this here may possibly be the last – but definitely the nerdiest. A bold statement, perhaps. Nerdy, in this case, equals loving. Noboby puts down this much effort into hunting down the songwriters for a plain old list, if it weren’t for the passionate love of music I have inside. Nobody.
Often, I’m lost for proper adjectives trying to describe the superbness of what I’m hearing. So much so, that I’ve actually invented a new word of my own for occasions when nothing gets even close to adequately doing the job: phantomenal. ‘Fantastic’ and ‘phenomenal’ combined. Phantomenal. Useful, isn’t it?
For the fifth consecutive year, you have at hand one of the most unique year end lists there are. I’ve been on Skype, e-mail, Messenger and telephone. I’ve been backstage interviewing at every venue in town. I’ve been sat down in an empty smalltown hotel lobby with Hannah Aldridge (#25), both of us hungover trying to piece together not only the night before but also the details of how the beautiful title track of her latest album was created. I’ve quite possibly worn out most of my business connections trying to get requests through to those beloved artists whom I’ve sensed had a tale to tell, but hopefully both myself and the good people I’ve harassed have been richly rewarded for every profound narrative that has come in return.
The lyrics to this year’s #1, depicting life taking the unthinkable turn, are the most painful and sadly beautiful you’ve probably heard in 2017. Until you’ve read the story behind them, that is.
The themes cover a lot of ground: racism (#36 and #7), precursors to the #metoo movement (#62), money woes (#83), friendships gone sour (#65), existentialism (#86), the now-defunct Welsh coal mining industry (#20) and – naturally – love in every shape or form. Musically, we’re in some cases given the grand tour of studio creativity.
Oh, and before I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, one more thing: if there’s any single song you need for your New Year’s Eve festivities, it has got to be ‘Resolution’ by Desperate Journalist (#35) in which singer Jo Bevan recalls the memorable, to say the least, rollercoaster of a celebration she experienced a couple of years ago.
Now, get on with it and check out all the songs and stories over the next six pages.
They’re nothing less than phantomenal.
To all artists who have contributed with invaluable insight behind the curtains: Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!
Spotify/TIDAL links at the bottom of each page.
100. Frankie Rose ”Red Museum”
(from Cage Tropical)
99. The War On Drugs ”Thinking Of A Place”
(from A Deeper Understanding)
98. Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions ”Sleep”
(from Son Of A Lady)
97. Porches ”Find Me”
96. Penny And Sparrow ”There’s A Lot Of Us In Here”
95. Hurray For The Riff Raff ”Hungry Ghost”
(from The Navigator)
94. Calexico ”End Of The World With You”
93. The Fresh & Onlys ”Wolf Lie Down”
(fom Wolf Lie Down)
92. Fleet Foxes ”Fool’s Errand”
91. Beak> ”Sex Music”
90. King Gizzard And The Wizard Lizard ”Sleep Drifter”
(from Flying Microtonal Banana)
89. Hiss Golden Messenger ”Jenny Of The Roses”
(from Hallelujah Anyhow)
88. Joey Bada$$ feat. Schoolboy Q ”Rockabye Baby”
(from ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$)
87. Obliques ”Instant Pleasure”
”There are things in life, whether it’s a friendship, a street, a time of year, a film, a conversation that touches you. Something that kind of reminds you of what it is to be alive…”
86. Beck ”Colors”
”Like almost the entire album it was made with Greg Kurstin who is an old friend of mine. He’s played on many of my records and we’ve toured together, so we’re like old bandmates. We got together about four or five years ago in his studio and started to write songs together. This was one of the first ones we worked on and we just spent a number of years building the songs and layering ideas, developing them, experimenting and trying to find a sound and creating an identity for this record. Building the whole musical world around it. This is one of the early songs we did. Dear Life, Dreams and Colors I think were the first ones.
To me, the meaning behind the title Colors is about the things in life that are colourful, that represent life. It could be the simple things, like one of those days you’re walking around and you notice things about the world. I don’t know if you get that feeling, at least I get it, where you’re just glad to be alive. Those moments remind you while you’re in your problems, your struggles and difficulties and whatever is going on. The things that just take you out of everything, you know. So that’s what I wanted the record to represent. There are things in life, whether it’s a friendship, a street, a time of year, a film, a conversation that touches you. Something that kind of reminds you of what it is to be alive. I think it’s that appreciation of being alive after difficulty. In the face of periods where there wasn’t so much hope. Where you can find grace again in the world. So trying to put that into some kind of music. It was something I didn’t know exactly how to articulate what I was putting into the songs.”
– Beck Hansen
”Sometimes shamelessly running away from life’s unavoidable mishaps is the first step to processing them and learning how to move on…”
85. Bully ”Running”
”‘Running’ is about learning to adapt to new situations. Sometimes shamelessly running away from life’s unavoidable mishaps is the first step to processing them and learning how to move on.”
– Alicia Bognanno
”…a sort of pep talk delivered from your own personal coach. Its for the times when you want to quit. At the time I wrote it, I was hearing the word ‘No’… a LOT and I needed encouragement…”
84. Jesca Hoop ”Memories Are Now”
(from Memories Are Now)
”For me, ‘Memories Are Now’ is a Go Get it Anthem and a sort of pep talk delivered from your own personal coach. Its for the times when you want to quit. At the time when I wrote it, I was hearing the word ‘No’… A LOT and I needed encouragement. Writing this song was like concocting a tincture for the hard times. A little drop to help reset your mind for hanging in there and riding it through to better times.”
– Jesca Hoop
”I think money woes are pretty universal though, and what better place to cryptically harangue about them than in a jaunty punk tune…?”
83. Protomartyr ”Here Is The Thing”
(from Relatives In Descent)
”‘Here Is The Thing’ was one of the last songs we wrote for the album. We all thought the album could use a looser, groove-based one, maybe in the spirit of ”Uncle Mother’s” or ”Tarpeian Rock” from previous albums. Greg has said the guitar line is influenced by The Country Teasers song ”Golden Apples” and I can hear that. Once I knew it would come after ”A Private Understanding”, I felt I could write the lyrics as a sort of continuation of the subject matter in that song, but focus more on the state of Detroit in relation to it. The way the song moves sounded ”jaunty” to me, so I felt it could be more humorous or, at least, be more ridiculously wordy.
One of my biggest fears is not fully understanding how money works: how to get it, keep it, and not have it control my life. The fact that many people in America, including me, have to forgo basic medical care because it’s financially out of reach is truly disgusting. I think money woes are pretty universal though, and what better place to cryptically harangue about them than in a jaunty punk tune?”
– Joe Casey
”…we told more lies than we should and generally did more damage than the body should bare in one night, so I guess because of that I always felt like there was a sort of hazy nostalgia…”
82. The Rural Alberta Advantage ”White Lights”
(from The Wild)
Nils: ”I feel like White Lights was the first of the new songs that I started working on for the record. We’re always going back to older ideas and reworking them but the simplicity of the opening chords sort of came out of nowhere as did the first line ”It’s been a while, I swear that I’ve admired the view”.
At the time we’d wrapped up most of the touring for Mended With Gold, and I was missing the pull of being on tour but at the same enjoying falling back into the domestic routines you miss when you’re travelling like weekend coffees and walking the dog, that sort of thing.
While the opening line came quick, the rest of the lyrics came together closer to the actual recording of the song. I remember the weekend before we were about to go into the studio I was hanging out with some close friends of mine, some I hadn’t seen in a while and most of which I’ve known for close to two decades. We stayed up later than we should, told more lies than we should and generally did more damage than the body should bare in one night, so I guess because of that I always felt like there was a sort of hazy nostalgia to the song, like having an intimate conversation to a close friend.”
Paul: ”I think this song came alive when Robin laid down her harmony on the chorus. It’s also really fun to play.”
Robin: ”I remember at practice while we were writing the song, Paul busted out these Keith Moon drums, and it all sort of magically fell together quickly after that. The organs were recorded off my Nord Electro, which was exciting for me because it’s been my main live keyboard for 6 years, so there was sentimental value attached. Our producer Leon Taheny has a really great ear for how accenting certain timbres can totally sculpt a song and even determine how the listener experiences a song. Sonically the bridge and outro make me picture Tom Petty walking into Studio 54 or something; he really made the organs shine. Leon can make something sound very classic without ever seeming uncool.
I love a good rock duet. I think I was thinking about the Neko Case performance of ‘Evangeline’ from the live Sadies record, and the Emmylou Harris part from ‘We Are Nowhere And It’s Now’.”
– Nils Edenloff, Paul Banwatt and Robin Hatch
”It really has nothing to do with indie music, which I don’t listen to very much of. To me it’s more new wave/power pop/country sounding. I was thinking of early Nick Lowe and people like that…”
81. Sea Pinks ”How Long Must I Be Denied?”
”This song started life about five or six years ago with a riff. I wasn’t writing riff based songs much at the time. The riffing was like a new connection happening in my guitar playing brain. It kind of stuck out from the start, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I had some dummy words for it. The original chorus was ‘Shake hands, here’s luck and goodbye’ a quote from A.E. Hausman which I read somewhere second hand. It was much slower at this point. The riff and half song kicked around for a couple of years before I tried it out with Sea Pinks. We worked up a version of it for inclusion on Dreaming Tracks (2014) which had lyrics closer to the final version. At that point I was thinking of finishing Sea Pinks and putting out an album under a different name, and this song would have been the first track on that album. But it didn’t quite work out that way. Anyway the version we recorded sounded all wrong.
Finally I dug it up again for Watercourse. We had it down by now, the bass and drum parts were improved from the previous version and it was much faster and leaner sounding. I also finished off the words. The key line is probably ‘never gonna hear me asking you twice’, immediately before the chorus which proceeds to ask twice. The title becomes a rhetorical question because I know it won’t be answered or even heard by the person or people it’s aimed at. Another key line is ‘I don’t wanna know why’ – implying I already know the reasons for this. Then it flips things around, becomes ‘you know you’re wasting your time/ I won’t be waiting in line’. It’s all very over the top of course and meant to be taken with a pinch of salt. But I suppose it’s about defiance apart from anything else, about wanting something you know you can’t have, and turning that emotion to your advantage. It’s about not being defined by that rejection, but subverting it, even being empowered by it.
Watercourse is really like two mini albums in my mind. I put ‘How Long’ at the start of side two as it marks a break from the softer, more dream pop stuff on side one. It really has nothing to do with indie music, which I don’t listen to very much of. To me it’s more new wave/power pop/country sounding. I was thinking of early Nick Lowe and people like that. I’m still not fully satisfied with the sound of it. It’s a little too polite. It’s one of those songs that keeps being redefined when you play it. We’ve never actually played it live though because the guitar line is so slippery to get right and sing at the same time. Some songs you write in ten minutes, some take six years (and counting). I suppose as a writer it keeps things interesting, at least. ”
– Neil Brogan