Top Songs of 2021

I live in a weird music bubble. I don’t listen to the radio, and at my age I don’t really have any peers left who listen to new music with any kind of passion. So, I discover things on my own, either via browsing the Apple Music store or through the occasional bits of music news that leak through. I don’t even use Spotify or stream music–I purchase it. This makes me a throwback, I know, but it makes the music much less disposable and much more enjoyable for me. (And has the added benefit, I think, of putting more money into the artists’ pockets.)

I’m not going to pretend to have a particularly elevated taste or even know much about music. I really don’t. I have zero musical ability, and I actually quite like that. It’s one of the few artistic things I enjoy purely as appreciation and not so much examination. But I do have taste, of a sort. All the music I like is GOOD. Feel free to disagree (I know you will).

At the end of every year, I make two playlists. One is my Top 10, and the second is my Top 11-20. I segregate them this way because I want my Top 10 to be a TRUE Top 10. I force myself to make difficult choices to create a truly excellent playlist worthy of being revisited, and then the 11-20 list is what is leftover. Still great songs, but just not Top 10. Both lists are ordered for listening pleasure, not by ranking.

There are a few rules that govern these lists. They are as follows:

1. No artist may appear twice in one list, even if they had some truly excellent songs that would otherwise qualify.

2. Any song I discovered in the past year is fair game, no matter what year it was actually released. No matter how late I came to the party. (See: West, Kanye)

3. When trying to pick between two great songs, greater weight is given to the song released during the current year.

This year, a theme emerged in the songs I like best: being a jerk. Whether it’s identifying jerkiness in others or being self aware enough to recognize your own jerkiness, there’s a lot of reflection and regret going on in these songs. I’ll let my future self suss out whether that’s just the year in music or something I’m working out within myself.

Also, it’s a 50/50 split between male and female vocalists. That’s pretty cool. I like the variety.

So, here, by no demand whatsoever, is my Top 10 and Top 11-20 playlists. All songs are either the clean versions or homemade edited versions. If you choose to wade in, I highly recommend the following listening order:

TOP 10

1. All My Favorite Songs – Weezer

2. Ringside – Julien Baker

3. Runaway – Kanye West feat. Pusha T

4. brutal – Olivia Rodrigo

5. Amy Shark – Amy Shark

6. Better If You Don’t – CHVRCHES

7. Locust Laced – Sleigh Bells

8. Needle – Middle Kids

9. I Lied – Lord Huron & Allison Ponthier

10. In My Room (At My Piano Version) – Brian Wilson

TOP 11-20

11. True Seekers – Sleigh Bells

12. Extreme Ways (Reprise Version) – Moby

13. Somebody Desperate – The National

14. Happier Than Ever – Billie Eilish

15. I Made It – Andrew W.K.

16. Flathead – The Fratellis

17. Bad Neighbours – Middle Kids

18. In the Car Outside – The Killers

19. Sometimes – James

20. Funeral – Phoebe Bridgers


What I’m Listening to #intimeslikethese

I swear if I see one more commercial that starts with some somber woman intoning the words “In difficult times like these…” I think I might pop. This is a time in which we are all seeking comfort, but I don’t look for or need it from a Subaru advertisement. God help me if I ever do.

Where I actually find a lot of solace is in things like prayer and family. And music. Music is big for me. I have no actual talent in the creation or performance of music whatsoever, so the listening of it is something I do purely for pleasure, not for examination or study.

I recently came to the conclusion that the song No Hard Feelings by The Avett Brothers (see below to listen) is perhaps the most beautiful song released in the last couple decades or so. (Argue with me if you want, but that just means you haven’t heard it.)  It’s a song that didn’t strike me immediately on first listen, but my appreciation of it has grown and grown over the years. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the lyrical content, which (to me) is about the relief waiting for us in the next life when old hurts and regrets are wiped away and we are reunited with our loved ones and our Savior, with whom we will “shake hands laughing.” It’s just gorgeous.

My cousin Carly added the song to her “Being Held” playlist, the idea of which I quite like. There is a need to reach beyond this virus and all the turmoil it’s causing in our hearts and in our streets and in our hospitals. I think we’d all like to “be held” right now. And, as a person of faith, I’d like God to do the holding. Metaphorically speaking, I believe He is, and a playlist that reminds me He is there and always present is a good thing.

So, here’s my “Being Held” playlist. All of these songs are either about God or make me think of Him. They may not have been intended as such, but that’s what they are to me. And, when it comes to music, I think what it means to me is the most important thing.

Maybe you’ll find a few gems in here that will help you, too.

(Note: If you build this for yourself, I recommend not hitting shuffle. I sequenced this sucker!)

  1. Slow Your Breath Down – Future of Forestry. A good reminder, especially #intimeslikethese.

2. No Hard Feelings – The Avett Brothers. Chills every time it reaches the climax.

3. This Road – Jars of Clay. You’re gonna see a lot of Jars of Clay on this list. This song is like a warm blanket.

4. Before You Were Young – Travis. Not hard to imagine who is singing this song.

5. Open Arms – Elbow. Makes me tear up. This is what I want God to say when I return home.

6. Hymn – Jars of Clay. “So melt my pride that I may in your house but live…”

7. Division – Moby. No lyrics, just a vibe.

8. Help Me – Johnny Cash. This is speaking to God from a desperate place. A prayer given by a man at the end of his life who has said a lot of them.

9. I Don’t Mind – Phantom Planet. Whatever the Lord needs to inflict upon me, I’ll take it because I know it’s worth it. I don’t mind.

10. Oh My God – Jars of Clay. Now, in almost every instance I view exclaiming “Oh my God” as using the Lord’s name in vain. This is Jars of Clay crafting an entire song around the idea that there actually is a circumstance in which using that phrase is appropriate. What they come up with is absolutely devastating. This lays me flat every time, and it’s in my personal Top 3 favorite songs.

11. I’ve Been High – R.E.M. This always, always lifts me up.

12. Let Your Heart Hold Fast – Fort Atlantic. “For this soon shall pass like the high tide takes the sand…”

13. Morning Light – The Hunts. This song, sadly, is not available on YouTube, and is even difficult to find commercially. It’s worth tracking down though, believe me. A sweet song about turning the “darkest night into the morning light.” (A huge theme in a lot of my writing.)

14. Worlds Apart (Live) – Jars of Clay. A plea to God to “take my world apart,” which is a good thing to do when your world is bad. (Find the live version off their “Furthermore” album, if you can.)

15. Outro – M83. I think it’s a synth, but I wish the organs in our churches sound like this.

16. Bathed in Sunlight – Fort Atlantic. Wouldn’t we all like to be? Even I, who prefers dark rooms to the outdoors, want that sunlight.

17. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing – Jars of Clay. Probably my favorite hymn, and this is the best rendition of it.

18. Til Kingdom Come – Coldplay. Coldplay actually did a straight up, no-holds-barred Christian song, and I feel like people forgot about it. More overt than anything U2 ever put out.

19. On the Nature of Daylight – Max Richter. No lyrics, but the feeling this song evokes is extraordinary. I find myself thinking in cycles, life and death, that sort of thing. I think about God.

That’s it, those are the songs I’m drawing the most comfort from right now. Anything you would add to it? What are you listening to that’s bringing you to a better place?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Misc. YouTube Shenanigans

A few short video pieces I’ve done lately. Enjoy.

Bad Robot, the production team behind Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol released a handy little app called Action Movie and over the Christmas break I had a lot of fun with it with family and friends. See for yourself at the link above!

My wife and her friend planned a double date and Skywalk, the new trampoline arena just outside of town, is where we ended up. So friggin’ much fun. I’ve been back twice more since.

I was driving to work the other day and the fog was incredibly dense–more dense than what you’ll actually see in this video because it cleared up a bit before I actually pulled out my iPod. This song, “The Devil’s Work” by Miike Snow, came on and the mood was just perfect. I took the video to try to capture that mood. It’s all cars and streets, but I quite like this one.

My Top 10 Songs of 2011

What follows is my list of favorite songs of 2011. I consume a lot of music, but I don’t hear everything. I don’t even hear everything the year it comes out. So keep that in mind as you read this list. This is MY 2011. It may not bear complete resemblance to the actual 2011.

Song’s are in ascending order of preference, from 10 to 1. Click on the song titles to go to YouTube to hear the them. (Sorry, can’t embed on this blog.)

10. Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes – I wasn’t entirely sold on their second album, but the Fleet Foxes built an evocative, perfect song in “Blues.” This is what I want the Foxes to sound like all the time.

9. Young Blood – The Naked and Famous – I thought about not even including this song just because it’s been used in every commercial and movie trailer that came out this year. But. But… I can’t deny it’s a great song and I discovered it long before the mainstream public did and fell in love with it based on its own strengths. So here it is at number 9.

8. Colours – Grouplove – This was tough. There are so many Grouplove songs I love, but this one with the stuttering lyrics and pounding rhythm was the first I heard. And it’s still the one that resonates most strongly with me (though Love Will Save Your Soul is a close second).

7. Headlong Into the Abyss – We Are Augustines – This one hits the sad/inspirational sweet spot that I’m always a sucker for. The dude’s voice is odd and I can barely understanding what he’s saying, but the emotion is so clear that this song means whatever I want it to and changes from moment to moment. I never want to read the actual lyrics.

6. Open Arms – Elbow – The only song to ever really make me cry. When I hear the chorus, I imagine my God speaking to me in the moment of my death, saying the words I long to hear. Maybe that’s a nutty thing to read into a pop song, but there it is. I feel this one down deep.

5. Video Games – Lana Del Rey – This is the newest song on this list. The lyrics paint such a beautiful, sad picture. If you’re aScott Pilgrim fan, imagine if it wasn’t a comedy and Knives Chau got to sing a ballad. This is exactly what she would sing. Exactly. Haunting and spectacular. And when her voice goes light and airy at end of the line “I heard that you like bad girls honey, is that true?”–man, that kills me.

4. We Are Young – Fun. – This band and Grouplove are the finds of the year for me. This is just a perfect singalong track that I can’t believe it’s not already a huge hit on the radio. It may be, I dunno. I don’t listen to the radio. Can’t wait for the full album in 2012. Just a stunning song. I dare you to resist it.

3. Numb – The Airborne Toxic Event – My current favorite band and the best song off their second album. Why this wasn’t a bigger hit, I’ll never know. Love the guitar on this. Such a great sound. Pop mechanics with an emotional undercurrent. That’s Airborne’s stock in trade. This is one of their very best.

2. Tigers – The Submarines – I played this song so much this year that one day my wife and daughter just started singing it together spontaneously. I had no idea they even knew it. The song is addicting. I dunno why, but as soon as it’s over I want to start it up again. Great duet about the challenges of being a couple. A married couple, from the sounds of it.

1. Faster and Louder – Peter Furler – I’m really surprised to find this one at the top. Peter was the leader/songwriter for the Christian band Newsboys for more than two decades. He left the group to do his own thing a couple years ago and then unexpectedly came out with a solo album. Dude is in his 40’s and you can’t tell by the album. Faster and Louder is his new credo. His rebellion against an artist’s tendency to slow it down as they get older. Mellow it is not. Peter’s pop sensibility is finely tuned and the clever lyrics he deploys here put this song on the top of every mix I made this year. The drops are insane. Can’t hear this one enough.

That’s it! You can listen to my Top 10 2011 playlist on Spotify right here. Which tracks stood out for you this year?

New Music – November, 2011

I buy a lot of new music. Well, as much as my budget will allow. I buy music for the feeling it creates within me and the thoughts it inspires. You should know I have no musical talent. When I say I play music, I literally mean I’m hitting “play.” You should not take this to mean that I don’t know what I’m talking about. My taste rules. Here’s what I’ve picked up recently:


Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto – Coldplay and I have had an on again/off again relationship over the years. I’ve never understood the hate they engender, but there is a quality to some of their songs that does tend to grate on me. Translation: they can get whiny. I’m happy to report that with their latest effort they’ve gotten decidedly more cheery. There’s a real joy that permeates Mylo Xyloto. Unfortunately, I’d say this is their weakest effort melodically. With the exception of Every Teardrop is a Waterfall and the Rihanna part in Princess of China, it’s hard to identify a standout moment. There’s no Viva La Vida or Clocks or Kingdom Comehere. All that said, I play it through about once a day. I like cheery. Grade: B-

Grouplove – Never Trust a Happy Song – This band came out of nowhere for me. Lead single Colours does a neat trick where certain words get repeated like they’re stuck in a grove on a record and it never gets not fun. Every track sounds like a single from a different era of music, but all filtered through Grouplove’s particular sensibility. A fun, fun record that I could not recommend more. Other standout tracks: Love Will Save Your Soul (Elora’s current favorite song), Itchin’ on a PhotographTongue TiedGrade: A-

Angels & Airwaves – Love Pts. 1 & 2 – It’s hard to not love AVA. They rock, but their message is all positive. If you need darkness and sadness in your music, best to move along. These guys are looking to inspire you and they will. not. stop. until they do. This two-part release suffers from a bit of sameyness, but when it works, it works. Single Surrender is a stand out, as are tracks The Flight of Apollo and We Are All That We Are. Honestly, there’s so much here that I’m still digesting it. I admire it more than love it right now. Grade: B-

Mates of State – Mountaintops – I love Mates of State, but this record just kind of fell flat for me. They’re a husband and wife duo, and, honestly, sometimes I wish the dude would just shut up. His voice can get super annoying, but usually the melodies win out. I loved this record the first two times I heard it, but after that I’ve been getting diminishing returns. Sad, that. Stand out tracks include: Palomino, DesireGrade: C


Mumford & Sons – Hold on to What You Believe  Not a single so much as a new song I grabbed off their new live album. They lyric is what sells it for me, which includes the lines Hold on to what you believed/In the light/When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight. As a person of faith, that’s a powerful message. It doesn’t hurt that the song is pretty awesome.Grade: A

The Rifles – Long Walk Back – A fun stomper/hand clapper that will make you get up and move your feet to it’s rootsy backbeat. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with this one. I’m not a huge Rifles fan, but this is what great singles are made of.Grade: A

R.E.M. – We All Go Back to Where We Belong – This is R.E.M.’s final single and while I appreciate the appropriateness of the lyric, the Burt Bacharach horns and vibe makes this song feel out of place with the rest of their catalog and not a great capper to a fantastic career. I’m even one of those weirdos who thinks late period R.E.M. is pretty great and I can’t really recommend this song to anyone buy die hards like me. Grade: C+

Real Estate – It’s Real – Real Estate is the new IT band. A mix of surf and indie sensibilities, this is the kind of music that just puts me to sleep but that gets hailed by critics as amazing. I don’t get it. Grade: C-

Fun. – We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monae)  I don’t know how this isn’t all over the radio. Maybe it is, actually. I don’t listen to the radio. One of the catchiest singalong choruses to come along in a while. It’s kind of dumb, but I can’t deny how great it is. Grade: B+

Have you heard anything great lately? Tell me about it!