Tuesday, December 17, 2013

End of Year Mixtapes Special Edition: My Top 25 Tracks of 2013

Are you ready?! Are you ready to feel all the feelings?

I know I am.

That's right: It's Year Three of my End of Year Mixtapes Special Edition blogtastic music celebration! My top 25 tracks of the year! (For a blast from the past, check out my favorites in 2012 and 2011.)

Let me preface this year's list by saying a couple of things. One, this is not the place to celebrate Yeezus. (Or Miley. Or Robin Thicke. Though I will still agree/argue that "Blurred Lines" was catchy as fuck.) Two, it was a little hard to focus on finishing this, as THE QUEEN—yes, duh, Beyoncé—just dropped her surprise album last week, and I've pretty much listened to nothing else since. That said, I wasn't quite prepared to change this list into 14 Yoncé songs and ignore all these other tunes that have been near and dear to my heart.

So, let's do this! Behold, the songs that had me hitting replay again and again.

I hope you enjoy them even a fraction as much as I do.

25. Laura Mvula — “That’s Alright”

You know how I love my Brits. And while I enjoyed the entirety of Laura Mvula’s album, Sing to the Moon, this track was a clear standout for me. Her other songs, “Like the Morning Dew” and “She,” might showcase her classically trained voice more, but this song (and video) showcases that she is a boss. This stomping, snappy bizness starts off with her declaring, “I will never be what you want and that’s alright” — followed by my favorite, “Tell me, who made you the center of the universe?”

24. Jay Z featuring Beyoncé — Part II (On the Run)

I just can’t help myself. I love when these two collaborate. “She was a good girl until she knew me” — uh huh, Jay, uh huh. Wonder what it’s like being married to the Queen? (Oh wait, I think I just found out this past week. Ahem, "Drunk in Love" ... which is terrific, aside from the troubling/confusing Ike Turner reference. The fuck, Mr. Carter?) Wait, I'm getting off track here. The return of Bonnie and Clyde!

23. Foxygen — “No Destruction”

2013 started off with a bang, thanks to Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, which I promptly fell into a deep, deep obsession over. This song absolutely delighted me, and made me want to sing to any Logan Square hipster who annoyed me: “There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.”

This summer I saw Foxygen perform at Pitchfork, and I think singer Sam France actually thought he was scaling that Blue Mountain he sings about as he climbed all over his set with his pants constantly falling down. He was absolutely off his rocker, and I loved every minute of it.

22. Marques Toliver — “Magic Look”

My love of Lianne La Havas led me to first stumbling upon Marques Toliver, and that promptly turned into love of his beautiful violin-playing and soulful voice. He put on a great performance at Lincoln Hall this year—which included him scolding audience members who wouldn’t put down their damn phones and stop chatting—and afterward I met him and was exactly as dorky and awkward as you would imagine. “If Only” was a close runner-up for my favorite on Land of CanAan, but there was just something about “Magic Look” that was just, well, magic.

21. Arctic Monkeys — “Do I Wanna Know?”

I was late to the game with the new Arctic Monkeys album, and then was pleasantly surprised how much I loved the whole damn thing. This song killed me, with: “(Baby we both know) / That the nights were mainly made for saying things that you can't say tomorrow day.” Well, shit.

20. John Legend — ”Made to Love”

John Legend is my husband. Yeah, yeah, so he had to go and get married in real life or whatever, but it doesn’t stop me from loving him, his new album, and this one in particular.

19. Low — “Just Make It Stop”

When I first heard this song in January, I was feeling all kinds of smug that I could listen to this tear-jerker and not weep. I was lucky enough to see Low twice in Chicago this year. While I was maybe having a wee bit too much fun at Pitchfork to get too sentimental about anything, when I saw them the second time, with the Chicago skyline behind them and a warm breeze blowing (yes, it was a warm, gentle, breeze, don’t take this away from me), I’ll be damned if I didn't choke back a tear during the few minutes this song played.

18. Kelly Rowland — “Dirty Laundry”

When I first heard this song, it felt like a swift kick in the gut. On top of the fact that it’s a beautiful, personal song, it’s an important one, too. I listened to it again and again. I still cry when I listen. Kudos to you, Kelly Rowland.

17. Rhye — “Open”

“I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs.” And from there, Rhye had me. Woman was one of my favorite albums of the year, and this track in particular just slays me. I said it before; I’ll say it again: "I wanna make this plain / Oh, I know you're faded / Mmm, but stay, don't close your eyes"

(For some puzzling, yet awesome, reason, Rhye released two videos for this song, so I’m sharing my personal favorite of the two.)

16. Phosphorescent — "The Quotidian Beasts"

I was listening to the Phosphorescent album non-stop right around the time I was reading Cheryl Strayed’s amazing book, Wild. So that might have had some influence on the fact that this song made me want to run off to the wilderness alone and just howwwwwl. But, umm, maybe that’s only me?

15. Blood Orange — "You're Not Good Enough"

Ohmygod, Dev Hynes. I loved you at Pitchfork, I loved your album, and most importantly, I love this song, even if you tell me, “I never was in love / you know that you were never good enough”:

14. Disclosure featuring Sam Smith — “Latch”

My devotion to Sam Smith has been pretty well documented here this year, so this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. And while I do recognize that this is a Disclosure song featuring Sam Smith, whatever. It’s all about Sam Smith for me. And yes, this beat certainly helps.

13. Alice Smith — “Cabaret”

Alice Smith released She, her follow-up to For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me (only one of my favorite albums of all time) this March, just in time for my birthday, and just in time for me to spend the better part of my year blaring this song way too loud into my earbuds. Maybe cause no one has ever demanded, “Where are you going with your life?” and sounded so damn great.

12. Lion Babe — “Treat Me Like Fire”

I kicked off the Mix Tapes in 2013 with this one, and I still quite agree that there was no better way to start the new year than with this: a big, sexy ROAR. Lion Babe, aka Jillian Hervey, aka Vanessa Williams’ daughter, aka lioness goddess. I mean, Lion Babe. You’ll see.

11. Tegan and Sara — “Goodbye, Goodbye”

Tegan! Sara! My darlings! My long-standing love affair with these two took a turn this year, when they transformed into a pop smash, and I couldn’t be more delighted. While I did wish the teenyboppers surrounding me at Lollapalooza this year knew a single word to any of their older songs, I can’t blame them. Cause I was freaking out right along with them when this song played, jumping up and down, yelling, “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!”

I spent many winter mornings at the start of 2013 walking downtown with Heartthrob blasting, feeling alternately defiant during this track and then crushed and defeated when it segued into “I Was a Fool,” one of my other favorites from the album. So let’s stick with the fun defiance, shall we?

10. Arcade Fire — “Reflektor”

Look, just cause Noel Gallagher has a bunch of gripes about Arcade Fire doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them. This “sleek, dark disco epic” got a little help from David Bowie and had me constantly singing, “Entre la nuit, la nuit blah blah” to myself with delight.

9. J Cole featuring Miguel — “Power Trip”

I’m just going to ignore completely how utterly creepy this song becomes when you pair it with the music video. But know that I recognize that, okay? Okay? The point is, it still hasn’t gotten old every time Miguel comes in and sings, “Would you believe me if I said I’m in love?” I believe it. And that second verse just kills me. I can’t help myself.

8. Volcano Choir “Byegone”

Dammit, Justin Vernon. I don’t even know what it means when you say, "Tossin' off your compliments, wow/Sexing all your Parliaments" — and I don’t care. This song explodes right from the start, and I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that at certain times, I’ve listened to it and felt like my heart might burst.

“Set sail! Set sail! Set sail!”:

7. AlunaGeorge — “Your Drums, Your Love”

Because: “I’ve been treading water for your love / whether I sink or swim, it’s you I’m thinking of.” That’s all.

6. Eleanor Friedberger — “Stare at the Sun”

“If that was goodbye, then I must be high” — YES! Yes, exactly! Good god, how I’ve been loving Eleanor Friedberger this year. I got to see her perform at Empty Bottle in June, and it was magic. (I saw her again more recently, opening for Colin Meloy, and that was NOT magic, but I’m pretending that didn’t happen.) This song makes everything okay! Everything!

5. James Blake — “Retrograde”

"So show me why you're strong / ignore everybody else / we're alone nowwww"

Well fuuuck, James, I wish we were. My god, I feel so much.

4. The National — “Demons”

Any year that The National releases an album is bound to be a great one for me. Any year that The National releases a new album and I get to see them play live is an even greater one. And that I did, in the boiling heat at Lolla this year, as I beamed into the sun while Matt Berninger and crew rocked my face off like always.

It’s pretty tricky for me to pick a favorite when it comes to these guys — I mean, “Graceless”! “Hard to Find”! “Pink Rabbits”! — but there was just something about this one I just can't get over. “When I walk into a room / I do not light it up / Fuck” gets me every.fucking.time.

3. HAIM — “Falling”

HAIM! I first felt the butterflies of a crush last year, when HAIM squeezed their way into my top 25 of 2012 with “Don’t Save Me,” but this year marks a full-blown, head-first love affair. This song starts off their terrific, terrific album and sets the mood just right.

2. Local Natives — “Colombia”

Back in March, I shared maybe one too many feelings in a post about Local Natives, but I don’t regret it. I don’t have the space here to fully explain what this song means to me. This song obviously has nothing to do with me, but it has everything to do with me. Somehow, someway, I hope my mom can hear it.

1. Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu — “Q.U.E.E.N”

Finally, my number one, my Q.U.E.E.N. Oh my fucking GAWD, I love this song so, so much. It's six minutes of electric-lady badassery. Or, as I wrote before, "Where does one even BEGIN with this song and video? The lyrics are gold. The beats are gold. The outfits! The dancing! BADOULA OBLONGATA!"

So, going into the new year, I think we should all remember two things. One: "Even if it makes others uncomfortable / I will love who I am"; and two:

The booty don't lie. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tis the Season

I am really getting in the Christmas spirit this year. Maybe it’s my new Christmas tree. Maybe it’s because my annual reading of Holidays on Ice had me laughing my ass off on the train to myself even more than usual. Maybe it’s my “Let It Snow” Spotify playlist. Maybe it’s from watching Christmas Vacation on a twice-weekly basis and texting quotes to my cousins nonstop.

Whatever it is, I’m going with it.

Yesterday I read this article, “The sentimental, cynical, undying charm of A Christmas Story,” in which the writer makes a lot of wonderful points, not just about that movie, but about the holidays in general. She writes:

"But what happens after that perfect Christmas, when you get the ultimate shiny, exciting thing you asked for, then realize it can’t get better than this? A Christmas Story doesn’t say, but we adults know what happens: The wanting of mere things starts to lose its glittery seasonal appeal. The magic of childhood yuletide fades, and eventually morphs into something else.

There’s a moment in the season-two Christmas episode of The Wonder Years—a TV series that does a much more sentimental version of the narrated-flashback trick from A Christmas Story—when narrator Kevin Arnold describes that transformation as one where the holiday stops “being about tinsel and wrapping paper” and starts “being about memory.” If you believe that’s what happens to Christmas when we grow up, then it makes total sense that narrator Ralphie looks back on the Christmas Story December with such wry wistfulness. It’s because very soon after, possibly the following year, Christmas turned into a time for him to look back, instead of looking forward.

The warm, achingly bright glow of nostalgia is what makes Christmas such an emotional holiday, and it’s also what draws some people to A Christmas Story."

First off, anyone who references The Wonder Years in an article about anything knows exactly what she’s talking about, in my humble opinion. But it’s the part about “the warm, achingly bright glow of nostalgia” that I think is so on point.

My childhood was packed with special Christmas memories. Going to my grandparent’s house on Christmas Eve, with our “Christmas Classics” or “A Very Special Christmas” tapes blaring in the station wagon (later, the Taurus). My brother and I would sing along to Jim Nabors’ “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and Run DMC’s “Christmas Is,” laughing hysterically to ourselves. While at my grandparent’s, we’d all help decorate their tree, one with those absurdly enormous multicolor bulbs and silver tinsel that got everywhere. My grandma would always let me set up the nativity scene on the windowsill, something that filled my child heart with joy and pride. On the way home, we’d usually give my great-grandma, Nannie, a ride home, and Mom would sit in the backseat next to me, a blanket over us as I rested my head on her shoulder and we looked out the car window in awe at all the Christmas lights on the houses.

On Christmas morning, my brother would run to my room to wake me up at an ungodly early hour, where we’d immediately run to the living room and squeal over our newly-filled stockings and presents under the tree. Then we’d run to our parent’s room, where we’d immediately get shot down about them getting up at 5 a.m. to open presents.

So we’d put on the shortest Christmas movie imaginable—typically, How The Grinch Stole Christmas (what is that, like 35 minutes long?)—and then run back again to wake them up. By this point, they’d usually cave, and as they made their coffee, we’d start passing out the presents. Stockings came first, followed by the presents. I always got to start the rotation of unwrapping, because I was the youngest.

Usually after all the presents were unwrapped, you’d find me in the recliner, already reading one of my new books while surrounded by wrapping paper. Next would be a Christmas breakfast, also marking the moment when Dad would inevitably try to play his Three Tenors Christmas album or Mom would try for Gloria Estefan. Afterward, we’d spend the day with my dad’s side of the family, which included two of my favorite Christmas memories with my Grandma Hamm—the year she gave me sugar cookie dough as a gift, and then the infamous year when she gave my younger cousin Claire peanut butter, which Claire promptly started eating with her fingers in the middle of the room, much to the aggravation of my Aunt Linda and the delight of me.

The point is: I was one lucky kid. I don’t have any sad or bad memories of the holidays, just ones like these. The last year my mother was alive, I was 17, a senior in high school. She almost died of a blood infection just a week before Christmas, but by Christmas Day, she was back home, feeling better—or at least putting on a hell of a show for all of us. I actually got sick that year, coming down with a fever on Christmas Eve, and I unwrapped those final presents with my mom in the room with a cold washcloth on my forehead, burning up with fever. But it didn’t matter: she was there. We were all together. It was a gift.

The holidays were the hardest after she was gone. They’re still hard. But we’ve had a lot of time for new traditions, and new family members to celebrate with, like my dad’s girlfriend, Debbie, who insisted I needed a Christmas tree for my apartment and knew just how much I would love to have some of my mom’s old ornaments. We have my one-year-old niece Polly, who could make even the coldest Grinch smile when she winks one of her gorgeous brown eyes, one of her new tricks. (I can only assume she'll be reading Dickens by her 3rd Christmas.)

So yes, I get a little emotional at the holidays, like when I burst into tears when I found the snowman ornament, the last ornament I ever picked out with my mom. I miss her terribly at this time of year. But I also know that I will always have those memories with family, and more to create with family and friends. Nothing can take away the memory of leaning my head on my mother’s shoulder, and staring at the holiday lights with delight.

Happy holidays to you all, and I hope, if there’s anyone special you’re missing this season, you have great memories to cherish, knowing that no matter how much time passes, those will always remain.

Now let’s drink some eggnog and make merry! It's getting too real around here.

And don’t forget:

“And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse!”