LISTS, MUSIC

Sing Me Something That I Know: Jimmy Eat World’s 100 Best Songs, Part I

It was 17 years ago when Jimmy Eat World entered my life and never left. 

My introduction to the band was “The Middle.” I know that doesn’t make me different from a lot of people. But it hit me in a very particular way that winter. As a 15-year-old high school freshman, it was the perfect go-for-it rocker that combined everything I wanted from a band. It’s still their most enduring song, the one you still hear on the radio or at a wedding or in a Taylor Swift Apple ad.

But that was just the start. I couldn’t know at the time what Jimmy Eat World would end up meaning to me in the intervening near-two decades.

They started as a punk band in Mesa, Arizona in the early ‘90s, eventually releasing albums both commercially and critically-acclaimed, and today still play before thousands of adoring fans every year. The band, comprised of Jim Adkins on lead vocals and guitar, Tom Linton on vocals and guitar, Rick Burch on bass and Zach Lind on drums, is still creating music that perfectly blends power-chord driven alternative rock and an unrivaled pop-rock sensibility imbued with pure, unadulterated human emotion.

At almost every step of my adulthood, they’ve been there. On the day in August 2018 when I drove all of my belongings to my first, newly-purchased house, “The Middle” came on the radio 5 minutes prior to my arrival. It was serendipitous, but not unexpected. Jimmy Eat World, after all, had guided me for my entire adulthood. It made all the sense in the world for them to be there for me at that moment.

“The Middle” isn’t solely the subject of this post, though. Neither is the masterpiece of an album from which it originated, 2001’s Bleed American

This post is about their music, and all it has meant to me.

Because “The Middle” was the gateway for me to the rest of Jimmy Eat World’s discography, I learned they had two previous major-label releases: 1996’s Static Prevails and 1999’s Clarity. Static is a gem with indelible songs but was clearly the work of a band still trying to figure out who they were.

Clarity is a much different story. It took me a little while to really get into it, but that summer of 2002, around the time I saw them live for the first time at Portland’s State Theatre, I fell hard for it. Suddenly Jimmy Eat World was no longer just a band with a hit record and a few other good songs. They were artists who had made something that was ostensibly a pop/punk rock record but had so much more to it. There was a sophistication to the sound, a maturity and sincerity to the approach in this style that went beyond anything I’d ever experienced as a listener. It’s essentially a perfect album and has aged beautifully over the last two decades.

But in 2002, these songs blew my mind: the idea of a rock band with punk roots being able to do this wasn’t something I thought possible.

From there, I learned about the treasure trove of deep cuts they’d done dating back to their first album in 1994. I pored over Singles, their 2000 release of B-sides. The Portland show would mark the first of 11 times seeing them live in the intervening years, including a show earlier this year back in Portland. My high school years ended with the much-anticipated release of Futures in 2004, followed by the Stay on My Side Tonight EP during my freshman year at UNH and Chase This Light in 2007.

To date they’ve put out three stellar albums since I left college: Invented in 2010, Damage in 2013 and Integrity Blues in 2016. A new album, their 10th, is called Surviving and will be out this month.

While so many bands that hit it big around the turn of the century have floundered creatively, outright disappeared or turned into eternal punchlines, Jimmy Eat World keeps going, the way they always have, with no signs of stopping.

They’ve taken cues from a vast array of influences, including but not limited to: Bruce Springsteen, the Cure, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Fugazi, the Pixies, Pavement, Metallica, Elliott Smith, Def Leppard, Rocket from the Crypt, the Buzzcocks, the Velvet Underground, Tom Petty, Archers of Loaf, Jawbreaker, Nirvana and Built to Spill. They’ve covered the likes of Wilco, Superchunk, Prodigy, George Michael, Guided by Voices and…Taylor Swift. And in the end, they’ve created a polished, emotionally-driven pop-rock sound all their own, one that has led to commercial success for many but can easily be traced back to “The Middle” hitting it big.

With each release, they’ve constantly challenged themselves and their listeners, never sticking to a cookie-cutter formula of what they’re supposed to be. They’re a much different band now than they were in 2002 when “The Middle” hit #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and thankfully for them and their fans, they’ve never tried to make the same record over and over again.

I know many think of them as the band that did “The Middle” and they maybe know “Sweetness” too, but I firmly believe them to be one of the most important, influential and consequential rock bands of the last three decades and the proof is in their dedicated legion of fans and all the bands who say they wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for them. I could give myriad examples of their influence, but one has stood out recently: one of this year’s most critically-acclaimed rock records, Oso Oso’s basking in the glow, owes a debt of gratitude to Bleed American-era Jimmy Eat World.

Jimmy Eat World Live

Jimmy Eat World, Boston MA, 2018.

The journey for nearly two decades of following this band has been an incredibly rewarding one for me personally. They’re the only band that I fell in love with from my teen years that I still keep up with religiously, that I will always go see live whenever they’re in town, and that I’ll always greatly anticipate every time they’re coming out with new music. And I am rarely if ever disappointed by any of it.

Their music has always given me strength and the belief, when I need it, that I can be a better person. In short, being a fan of their music has helped make me the person I am today.

So, in honor of their upcoming 10th album, and 25 years since the release of their first album, I’m presenting the following list of what I believe to be the 100 best songs from Jimmy Eat World. Because of how long this ended up being, I’ve decided to split this up into two posts, with 100 to 51 today and 50 to 1 at a later date.

Usually with these lists I parse between “favorite” and “best” and while I try my journalistically-trained best to be objective, there was a lot of sentimentality and emotionality to this project for me. So I will just say these are the ones I think are the best. These types of things are supposed to spark discussion anyway.

I didn’t really have much criteria for this. These are all songs that Jimmy Eat World have done in some form or another, released officially or unreleased. One song will actually appear twice in different forms. I included all the songs from three different albums, but that first self-titled record doesn’t have anything here because, well, it’s not very good. Sorry guys.

The one thing I debated was whether or not to include cover recordings. They’ve done so many, and so many great ones, that I figured the list would be incomplete without them. So they’re in there.

Next to each song I included where and when each song was initially released and I relied on information from Discogs.com for many of them. I am not 100% positive how accurate that is, but I figured it was better than nothing. You can also listen to each song in the YouTube links in each entry title.

Also, for shorthand in many places, I refer to the band by their initials. I had some consternation about this, and I know the band regrets their name because that abbreviation could be construed as a slur (none of the guys in the band are Jewish). But understand that I don’t mean any disrespect by it, this is a very lengthy piece and that shorthand has been used by fans of the band for many, many years.

Lastly, I made a Spotify playlist here of as many of the below songs as I could find on that particular service. It will also be embedded at the end of this post.

I’d say that’s enough yammering from me. Now, onto the list. Enjoy.

  1. “Jen” (Futures promotional/international bonus track, 2004)

I had to start this with “Jen” in tribute to my fellow longtime fans who have used it as an inside joke for 15 years. This completely absurd pop/punk marvel was incredulously supposed to be on Futures but apparently lawyers stepped in and said it sounded too much like “Pop Goes the World” by ‘80s shitpop safety dancers Men Without Hats. It’s too bad only because that meant “Jen” missed out on its ultimate destiny: to be played over the closing credits of a straight-to-DVD American Pie sequel. All joking aside, this song is a ton of fun and seeing them play it live someday would be unreal.

  1. “Christmas Card” (Blueprint/Jimmy Eat World Split 7”, 1996)

I wish “Christmas Card” had made it on Static Prevails. It’s an early example of them lending their hand at the Pixies-inspired loud/soft dynamic that was a staple of their ‘90s recordings. Plus, Jim goes places with his voice on this one that hint at the kind of singer he’d become. It’s also the earliest example of an interesting and not-entirely-expected theme in the band’s music: Christmas, and the impact it apparently had on Jim’s life, is a thread through the early years of JEW’s catalogue. I’m guessing Jim got dumped around Christmas one year, but I’m not sure he’s ever talked about it (the reference here to “December 23” will pop up again in a song that’ll show up later on here).

  1. “Nothingwrong” (Futures, 2004)

I have a lot to say about Futures on the whole. It was a real departure for the band, an interesting career pivot right after their most popular record. One of the songs that most exemplified that pivot was “Nothingwrong.” You could argue that during their post-Clarity popular phase, “Nothingwrong” was the closest thing they’ve ever done to actual metal, at least over the course of an entire song. The opening pounding drums and heavy guitar riff of “Nothingwrong” represent some of JEW’s hardest rock sounds of their career. Also: the “Nothingwrong” demo from the Trombino Sessions includes Jim screaming unintelligible nonsense before the last chorus, and had that made the final mix this song would have ranked much higher here. It’s hilarious, terrifying and amazing all at once.

  1. “World Is Static” (Static Prevails, 1996)

Every song from Static Prevails is on this list. That’s not to say it’s a great record, it’s really more because the songs have been with me for so many years. “World Is Static,” for example, isn’t really the worst song on Static Prevails and while it doesn’t do a ton for me, it does have its merits: an outstanding guitar performance by Jim and Tom, and a fun understated chorus. However, this is also One of Those Early JEW Songs Where Jim Screams Through Whole Sections and You Can’t Really Understand What He Says (there’s an acronym there but I’ll spare myself figuring it out and you reading it). Anyway, “World is Static” is fine and I’m glad it exists, because I’m glad SP exists in general. I’ll have more to say about it shortly.

  1. “Movielike” (Invented, 2010)

Part of what made Invented such a cool record was the band’s decision to present the songs from a young woman’s point of view. One of the most vivid examples of this comes on “Movielike,” which kicks off with stomping percussion before acoustic guitars take over and Jim spins the tail of a young lady down on her luck in the big city. People can get swept up in the romanticism of a new start, a new person, a fresh way out, but as Jim sings in “Movielike,” it doesn’t always work the way you want. “Nothing movielike / Nothing magic / People just tire to fight / The constant battle.” It’s not the most hopeful song, but it’s a good track from an underrated record.

  1. “77 Satellites” (Opener 7”, 1995)

This is one of the band’s first polished products. It’s really incredible the velocity at which they went from being so raw on their first record to being a band that genuinely sounded like they belonged on Capitol Records. This, then, may be a good opportunity to give a brief history lesson on these guys: the band got together in Mesa in 1993 with Jim, Tom and Zach along with bassist Mitch Porter. Porter left the band sometime after they recorded their first self-titled record and Tom’s childhood friend, Rick, joined thereafter. The lineup hasn’t changed since then. As Jim tells it, the guys tried to get their name out there as promoters and after booking Christie Front Drive to play a Phoenix gig, they recorded a 7” with them that was discovered by an A&R guy from Capitol. So, while the guys were still teenagers, they had a record deal with a major label. Anyway, “77 Satellites” rocks and has an accordion on it which shows the band was willing to try weird stuff even early on.

  1. “Pain” (Futures, 2004)

I felt obligated to include “Pain” on this list because it was the lead single from their second-most popular album and a semi-popular song in its own right. The choppy guitar work is a highlight and exemplifies some of the darkness Futures is best remembered for. They still play it live at almost every show, and as far as JEW songs in the greater pop/rock lexicon it’s one of their most well-known. But…I certainly don’t love “Pain” and never really have. “IT TAKES MY PAIN AWAY!!!” was sort of a running joke among my friends for years. I never really bought the emotion they brought to the song. Anyway, that’s all I have to say about “Pain.”

  1. “Distraction” (Chase This Light bonus track, 2007)

Political songs for JEW can often be hit or miss. Their best one will show up in Part II. “Electable (Give It Up),” which appeared on the proper CTL album, is probably their worst. It so happened they succeeded much better with bonus track “Distraction,” a skittery rocker with a stark message about the fakeness of our politics. “Always have a good distraction,” Jim blasts out. The lyrics also make the George W. Bush era of political discourse seem quaint by today’s standards. And, what a rocking solo riff during the breakdown over a typically-great drum track from Zach. Just a great rock song that a lot of people probably never heard when it came out. We are far from done with the songs that should have been on CTL but didn’t make it.

  1. “Thinking, That’s All” (Static Prevails, 1996)

Here’s the first JEW song ever heard on a major-label release. From that prickly intro to Jim’s pronounced wails, “Thinking, That’s All” pops immediately and sets the tone for the rawness of the overall sound of Static Prevails. I’ve always had an affinity for Jim and Tom’s vocal interplay during the choruses, with Tom’s even-keeled pronouncements juxtaposed against Jim screaming at the top of his lungs. And, the song has one of the most affecting, thought-provoking and extremely true lyrical couplets from the band that endures to this day: “Hate wins / Don’t stop.”

  1. “Splash, Turn, Twist” (Salt Sweat Sugar single, 2001)

I always felt bad for “Splash, Turn, Twist” that it didn’t actually appear on the proper BA album, because it was probably good enough to be there. It’s got a great, driving groove with Zach hitting the hi-hats and cymbals at just the right times, those fun melodic guitar bits galore and “ahh-ahhs” in the breakdown. There’s room for Jim’s usual invective here too: “so much for ‘see you around’” he sings. “Splash, Turn, Twist” is an overall solid JEW song from probably their best era. Also: this one showed up a few years later on the “Wedding Crashers” soundtrack, although I can confirm it isn’t actually in the movie, because one of the times I paid to see it in the theater that summer was solely to see if it was there. I was disappointed, but fuck is Vince Vaughn funny in that movie.

  1. “Just Tonight” (Futures, 2004)

You’ll notice three songs already on this list from Futures. It’s probably the most polarizing (pardon the song name pun) album they have for me. My general opinion all these years later is it’s the album where some of their highest highs are accompanied by some really low lows. Now, that’s not to take anything away from “Just Tonight.” It fucking rips. It’s a tour de force performance especially by Zach, who I don’t know has ever used more drum fills in any one song. The solo isn’t anything too special but gets the point across. The anger that became the hallmark of this album’s sound is apparent in just about everything on “Just Tonight.” It also has its share of cringe-worthy lyrics (“A little water please / I taste you all over my teeth”), but like much of Futures itself, the good far outweighs the bad.

  1. “Love Never” (“Love Never” single, 2018)

JEW put out two new songs in 2018 as they prepared to record their 10th album. “Love Never” and its B-side both made the list, and while the B-side is in my opinion much better, “Love Never” is a fun power-chord driven rocker that would have fit just about anywhere in the band’s history. “Love ain’t never been your friend / Love never gonna hear what you’re demanding,” Jim warns his subject. Ultimately, this one is a “Middle”-esque song about picking yourself up and not letting the things that happen in life get you down. It’s also got a fun solo late, which the band hasn’t done a lot in recent years. “Love Never” will appear on Surviving, giving it a second life when the new album is released this month.

  1. “Caveman” (Static Prevails, 1996)

I’ve already talked about “77 Satellites,” on which Tom sings lead vocals, but the first of his lead performances from Static Prevails to appear here is a good time to drop this little bit of news that might be a surprise to some fans of Jimmy Eat World: Tom was the band’s primary lead singer up through SP. There are many Tom songs to come on this list, and “Caveman” represents a nice mid-album vehicle for Tom. Quiet guitar lines and crickets chirping over the intro give way to Tom singing about monsters living in backyards and some great palm-muted riffs later on. Tom doesn’t have the greatest voice in the world but he always but everything he had into all his songs. Much more to come on Tom’s songs.

  1. “Heart is Hard to Find” (Invented, 2010)

The hand-claps! You have to love the hand-claps here. I can safely say this is the only JEW song to feature liberal use of hand claps as a rhythmic instrument. (People who used to frequent the JEW message boards back in the day will remember some jokes about “timely hand-claps” in songs but I can’t remember the genesis of that. [UPDATE: My old friend Bridget from the JEW forums reminded me that two guys were credited for performing “timely handclaps” on a Bleed American song that will be discussed in the 2nd part of this list. So there you go. Thanks Bridget!]) “Heart is Hard to Find” kicks off Invented with a renewed energy after the sheeny filler that made up so much of Chase This Light. “Heart is Hard to Find” almost has a folky sing-along feel, not exactly a typical approach for these guys. Jim goes for it with the vocals and it’s one of the few songs they’ve done with both a full chorus and full orchestra. Also: I’m pretty sure this is the only JEW song to include a variation of the word “fuck” in it.

  1. “Softer” (Jimmy Eat World EP, 1998)

I find it hilarious all these years later that Jimmy Eat World did a fucking EP for Fueled by Ramen (the label that produced early success for Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Paramore, The Academy Is… and others). But, the guys took advantage while Capitol was refusing to release Clarity. Besides a couple songs that ended up on that LP, there were two other songs used as B-sides that both have a lot of merit from that great era of the band, and they landed back-to-back on the list. “Softer” is a creeping, angry jam, utilizing an array of keyboards and a bazillion different guitar sounds. It’s ultimately a fun one and it’s easy to lose yourself in the hypnotic guitar, keyboard and vocal breakdown in the song’s second half. Jim can’t keep down the medicine in “Softer” and it’s equally hard to keep down this awesome, little-known jam.

  1. “Roller Queen” (Jimmy Eat World EP, 1998)

“Roller Queen” also appeared on the aforementioned Fueled By Ramen EP. (In the course of my research I discovered that this EP was actually their first successful release and allowed them to move into their first office space in Tampa. So there’s that.) It’s a much different song than “Softer” and without a doubt hinted at the weird studio places they were about to go with Clarity. The extended, repetitious outro of “Roller Queen” could be viewed as a precursor of another, more famous song with an extended, repetitious outro they were about to release that I will discuss in depth in Part II. 

  1. You Were Good” (Damage, 2013)

Damage is the only major-label JEW album that doesn’t feature an “epic” closing song. Instead, “You Were Good” is mostly just Jim and his acoustic guitar, summing up this “adult break-up record” with a devastating accounting of a relationship’s death. It doesn’t go for the jugular: “You Were Good” just lets the world know quietly how Jim’s narrator feels about the other person at the end of their road. “Either you’re just bad at cheating / Or there’s something in your heart you wished I knew,” Jim sings matter-of-factly. “Yeah it’s sad / But baby, here we are.” I guess a song doesn’t need huge sounds and lots of instruments and voices to be epic.

  1. “Pass the Baby” (Integrity Blues, 2016)

Forget the first three and a half minutes of this song, which are allegedly about the “unintended consequences of manipulation” according to Jim. Whatever. Everything changes after a soft interlude when suddenly the drums start crashing and Jim, Tom and Rick launch into a bone-crushing, chill-inducing prog-metal riff that would make Tool think “fuck, why didn’t we do that?” Underneath is one of the single-best drum performances of Zach’s career. This came out of nowhere on their 9th record and is the biggest “what the actual fuck” moment of their entire recording catalogue. I still love it after many, many listens. And it’s a live show-stopper now, too, and one I suspect they will play at most shows the rest of their careers.

  1. All the Way (Stay)” (Surviving, 2019)

The most recent song to appear on this list is the first dedicated single from Surviving. The band announced their 10th album and debuted “All the Way (Stay)” this year on Sept. 23, which happens to be Bruce Springsteen’s birthday. That’s appropriate because “All the Way (Stay)” could easily be a super-poppy Bruce song, all the way down to the unexpected-yet-perfect Clarence-esque sax solo near the end. I’m almost 100% positive “All the Way (Stay)” is the first JEW song with saxophone, and it’s indicative of the chances the band is still willing to take this late in their run. It also features the return of their longtime collaborator Rachel Haden, whose voice pairs perfectly with Jim’s, and who we will hear from many more times on this list.

  1. “Game of Pricks” (BBC Evening Session, 2001)

Here’s a cover, this one of a classic from Ohio lo-fi masters Guided By Voices. As I mentioned before, I debated if it was the right thing to include covers on this list, but I think you’ll discover that these efforts are among the best work they’ve done and can’t be ignored. For “Game of Pricks” the JEW version is slightly faster than the original and clocks in at just under two minutes. In that time, the band spun a perfect encapsulation of where their sound was as they worked on building Bleed American up. It’s got a fantastic ringing guitar line throughout and doesn’t hold back in his rendition of Robert Pollard’s simple rocker. 

  1. “Appreciation” (Damage, 2013)

Kicking things off on Damage, “Appreciation” lives over a rocking riff and sets the tone lyrically for the record on the whole. In the lead-up to its release, Jim referred to Damage as “an adult break-up record,” and there’s a lot of that sense within “Appreciation.” The chorus starts with “we build, we box, we carry on,” there’s an acknowledgement about the small things that get missed over the course of a long-term relationship, and before you know it, you’re living a life you don’t want to live. “You know I want time / I know you want space,” Jim adds in the second verse. “Appreciation” is a long way off from many of the songs on Futures that still seemed to be about high school dramas, and the band was better off with a more mature lyrical approach through a record like Damage.

  1. “Dizzy” (Chase This Light, 2007)

One of the staples of Jimmy Eat World: as mentioned before, all but one of their major-label releases ends with a grand, epic-sounding closing song. The first of the “epic closers” to appear on my list is “Dizzy.” “Dizzy” gets a bad wrap for not being as good as some of the others to come on this list (it had a very tough act to follow as you’ll find out later), but it still gives me chills after many listens. It will always take me back to my junior year of college and the Red Sox winning the 2007 World Series a few days after CTL was released. It still feels so huge after all these years. JEW doesn’t play this one live much anymore, but when they used to, Jim would scream the “Jesus, is there someone yet” part at the top of his lungs. It was pretty chilling. (Go to about the 3:30 mark of this video and you’ll see what I mean.)

  1. “Action Needs An Audience” (Invented, 2010)

When I met Tom before a show in Boston in 2007, I asked why he hadn’t had a lead vocal performance on any JEW record since Clarity in 1999. He responded simply: it was band policy that he could only sing lead for songs he wrote. So, in the three years between then and Invented, he apparently wrote “Action Needs An Audience.” The first live appearances of the song in the 2009ish range actually had Jim on lead vocals. It was surprising, then, that when Invented came out and Tom was singing it. It’s a complete rocker, with a kick-ass main riff, and overall a song that would have fit perfectly on the early JEW records. Any song with Tom singing about the illuminati and prophesying about the end of the world is exactly what I would want from a song of his. “Action Needs An Audience” was apparently all Tom could muster so far this century because it’s the only song he’s written for 20 years now and there is no indication he wrote anything for Surviving. And, that’s OK! Because Tom is the man and this song rocks.

  1. “Take ‘Em As They Come” (Chase This Light bonus track, 2007)

I wish more bands would do things like this: cover little-remembered songs by major artists and effectively make them their own. You’d have to be a pretty big Bruce Springsteen fan (and in turn, a pretty big Jimmy Eat World fan) to know this one ever existed. “Take ‘Em As They Come” was originally recorded during The River sessions but never made the album, and wasn’t released until 1998 on the Tracks box set. The guys in JEW have never exactly hidden their affinity for the Boss and his impact on their sound (in particular his influence on their most popular song) and they paid tribute with this fantastic cut from the CTL sessions. They brought their trademark energy, phenomenal guitars and an all-time Jim vocal performance, and did their hero proud with this one. In fact, I’d argue their version is better than the original.

  1. “Big Cars” (Futures Trombino Sessions, 2004)

In an attempt to capitalize on the success of BA, the guys got back into the studio for a new record with Mark Trombino (who had produced Static, Clarity and BA and had been the drummer in one of their favorite bands, Drive Like Jehu) a little faster than they should have. They wound up scrapping those sessions, there were hurt feelings, Trombino called Jim “a pussy” in print, but years later they smoothed it over and Trombino produced Invented. Several of the songs they worked on for Futures ended up on the Stay On My Side Tonight EP. Demos from the sessions leaked and “Big Cars” is the best of the unreleased songs that came out of it. It’s the only song on my list to never have any kind of official release (even “Jen” was released internationally). I enjoy it because of how diverse the music is here despite it clearly not being a fully-baked and finished mix. Lyrically, I think this was an attempt by Jim to come to grips with the sudden fame “The Middle” and Bleed American brought them (“Camera’s on / Fixed on one face and all tears / What a scene / Fly us in and they’ll all cheer”) that they never actually tried to do on record. I’m not sure why “Big Cars” never actually got released; it’s certainly good enough. Maybe they’ll revisit it someday.

  1. “Pol Roger” (Integrity Blues, 2016)

The epic closer of Jimmy Eat World’s most recent LP is “Pol Roger,” and no, the song isn’t about expensive champagne (for the record, Jim quit drinking sometime before they made Damage). It’s instead named after a room in a hotel, allegedly in Scotland, where all the rooms are named after wine or champagne. At this point in their career, the band had been around and touring for over two decades, so it’s not like hotel rooms are alien to them. I always took “Pol Roger” to be about life on the road. Jim told Kerrang! that the idea behind the song is that when you can be alone without being lonely, “then nothing can really touch you.” That feeling of untouchability permeates through the song because, as an epic closer, it feels huge and that feeling is earned from the first second. “Pol Roger” is an amazing way to end a truly amazing record.

  1. “In The Same Room” (Static Prevails, 1996)

The guys in JEW got an incredible opportunity to record their first major-label album at a very young age. And, in getting work with Trombino for the first time, they explored a lot of the studio space with songs like “In The Same Room.” It’s sort of a slur to use the “e”-word with JEW, but it’s hard to describe a song like “In The Same Room” as anything other than, well, that “e”-word we aren’t supposed to say when talking about the band. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Because it’s a really solid song, Jim doesn’t really scream, and the radio-transmission touch at the end was a cool departure for them that they called back later in the song. So much of SP is the band figuring out who they were, and “In The Same Room” is a great example of where they were going.

  1. “Sparkle” (German compilation, 2004)

I had a hard time finding an official release for “Sparkle,” which the band started playing live in the Bleed American era. I had a bootleg recording of the band playing it around this time, with Jim saying something about how they decided to play it after “a last-minute change in their gameplan.” I never figured out exactly where the recording came from, but it showed the potential that song always had. Eventually, the band recorded a proper version of it that ended up initially appearing on a German compilation the same year Futures came out. The syncopated guitar lines, big-sounding choruses, and Jim singing about catching the sparkle fading from behind his subject’s eyes make “Sparkle” a highlight from this era.

  1. “Integrity Blues” (Integrity Blues, 2016)

As I hinted at this during the “Pass the Baby” entry, an amazing thing about JEW at this point in their career is their relentless desire to challenge themselves, to reach for new places with their sound, to not settle for the same thing every time out. On the title track to Integrity Blues, the guys go for something they’d never tried before: a full-on symphony providing the only music. Besides Jim’s voice, I don’t think anyone from the band appears on this song. It’s sort of like their version of “Eleanor Rigby.” You can’t really call this rock: it’s effectively a piece of chamber music, and an amazing one at that. It’s also a singularly great vocal performance by Jim, especially during the final stretch. I remember hearing this one for the first time (which Jim would do solo acoustic) and being so grateful this band was still so willing to try stuff like “Integrity Blues.”

  1. “Episode IV” (Static Prevails, 1996)

This is probably my favorite individual vocal performance by Tom. It’s so understated and soothing, and is probably the best register for his voice overall. It’s sort of an early Matt Berninger thing he has going on in “Episode IV.” The lyrics aren’t earth-shattering but nonetheless showcase some depth from Tom: “Let’s disappear / We’ll take a trip / With no return / To outer space”; “We’ll dance off time / To the songs we’ve never liked.” It also builds up before the final chorus with some strong mid-’90s guitar sounds.

  1. “Over” (Stay On My Side Tonight EP, 2005)

Arriving at college in the fall of 2005, I didn’t have the easiest time adjusting to my first taste of life away from home. Luckily, I had some new JEW songs to keep me company when SOMST was released in early October. I dutifully went to my local music shop, bought a copy and didn’t stop listening to it. The EP had three new original songs (plus a Heatmiser cover and a truly bizarre remix of a Futures cut that didn’t make this list) and I felt an immediate sonic kinship with all three of them. “Over” is a faithful rocker with winding guitar lines and some typical great Jim lines about a break-up. “I really need to hear how great I am / Because I can’t even get up out of bed”, “Last words from a dying scene / You’re over me”, and this killer breakdown part: “Before you’d have a chance to call / I’ll be on the next train home / Add it to the endless list / Of all the things we’ll never, ever know.” This is Jim at his most self-loathing, which often makes for his best art.

  1. “Cut” (Invented, 2010)

For a long time, “Cut” was my favorite song from Invented. I don’t feel that way anymore but it doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated by what they were able to accomplish with it. “Cut” is so different from anything the band had done to that point, and with a very slow build up towards the end (the song sounds melodically very much like a slowed-down version of George Michael’s “Faith”). Jim’s voice does uncharacteristically strain a little bit during the chorus, but that makes it all the more real. “I’m not cut for this no more,” Jim sings throughout, and you can feel his strain from beginning to end.

  1. “Get It Faster” (Bleed American, 2001)

The angriest of all the BA songs was a portend of what was to come on Futures, and the type of searing, blistering venom that has shown up sporadically through the rest of their records. After so many pop-rock songs come and go on BA, there is suddenly this brooding, space-alien creeper, the opening of which should have soundtracked Spock and Kirk landing on a desert planet. Then Jim starts singing about cheating getting it faster, not caring if his subject is angry and wanting to do right but finding out that CHEATING GETS IT FASTER amid pissed-off guitars and drum crashes. But, what’s the best part of the song? No doubt, it’s the call-and-response guitar breakdown, one that was always so fun to hear Jim and Tom recreate live back when they used to play it regularly (and man, do I wish they would go back to playing it). Anyway, CHEATING GETS IT FASTER!!!!

  1. “Open Bar Reception” (Chase This Light bonus track, 2007)

Here’s another of the excellent CTL-era non-album tracks, many of which are better than songs that actually appeared on the album. “Open Bar Reception” continues a lineage of songs with interesting percussion, cutting things here and there and moving around to make a collage of different sounds. I’ve never really been able to tell if this song is just about hooking up at a wedding or something more significant. (Is it from the perspective of the groom? Because why would someone randomly at the wedding have hired a band they wished was a little better? There are a lot of ways this one could go.) But the lyrics are fantastic: “Why should we be anything but strangers / In clothes that we don’t own?” and an unexpected reference to an early Prince song, one that I don’t really think would be played at a wedding. I love “Open Bar Reception” and wish more people knew it existed.

  1. “When I Want” (Futures bonus track, 2004)

Leaving “When I Want” off the proper Futures release was probably a good call. The cheery acoustic guitars throughout “When I Want” would not have really fit alongside all the brooding darkness of that particular record. I could have seen this one saved for CTL, though (it probably would have helped make that one a better listen overall. I know I’m ripping CTL a lot in this piece so far, but I love it like I love all JEW albums and will have a lot more positive things to say about its songs coming up). “When I Want” is in the great line of songs by the band that sound happy on every level musically but lyrically are just devastatingly sad. This number depicts what is probably about to be the end of a relationship, and one that doesn’t sound like a particularly healthy one to begin with. But of all the extra songs in the Futures era, this might be the best one.

  1. “Hear You Me” (Bleed American, 2001)

One of the B-sides from Weezer’s 1994 Blue Album was titled “Mykel and Carli.” It was about sisters Mykel and Carli Allan who were Weezer superfans. Sadly, they lost their lives in a car accident traveling to a show in Salt Lake City in 1997. They had befriended the guys in JEW sometime before that, giving the band a place to stay in LA. They were the inspiration for “Hear You Me,” the first thing the band ever did that could be classified as an acoustic ballad (that original Weezer song features the words “hear you me” throughout). It’s the song at every show where everyone used to hold up their lighters, and now hold up their cellphones. Jim’s plaintive vocal, highlighted by Rachel Haden’s beautiful harmonies, add a perfect touch to the poignancy here. When someone I know or respect passes away, I sometimes find myself saying “may angels lead them in” as my own prayer. This song is a beautiful gift, the kind of tribute anyone would want.

  1. “Claire” (Static Prevails, 1996)

It’s almost unfair to untether “Claire” from “Call It in the Air,” which comes up later on this list. They are back-to-back on Static Prevails (I actually got to see them performed back-to-back at that first Portland show) and have lived a combined life for all these years. But I couldn’t really do that for this list, so this is where we find “Claire.” It’s another loud/soft rocker for the band who, as I have said and will say a lot, were still trying to figure out how to be band when they were making this record. So, the lyrics overall to this song are kind of nonsensical, mixing in profundity (“One last goodbye / May last the rest of your life”) with WTFness (“Learn your restricted ropes / Paint a cross on your left hand”). But, “Claire” is a sign of the band trying out a sound they would soon perfect.

  1. “The Most Beautiful Things” (Jebediah & Jimmy Eat World Split 7”, 2000)

I’d argue the band’s most prolific stretch of musical output were the four full years from the start of 1998 until the end of 2001. Not only did they release their two best albums, but they put out several EPs and 7-inches with indelible, lasting songs. One of those is the appropriately-named “The Most Beautiful Things” from a split 7” they did with Jebediah (another song from that single will appear closer to the end of this list). At turns hard rock and at times melodic-based and almost dream-poppy, “The Most Beautiful Things” is a joy through and through, marked specifically by the high-harmony breakdown with dramatic xylophone strikes. Also: when I was in high school I put together a mix of non-album JEW songs, burned it on a CD and called it “The Most Beautiful Things.” I suspect it is kicking around my dad’s house somewhere. Many, many songs on this list were surely on that mix CD.

  1. “Always Be” (Chase This Light, 2007)

The finger-snaps! Those freakin’ finger-snaps! One of the catchiest songs on an album teeming with them, “Always Be” leapt out of the speakers the first time I heard it. It’s a pop-rock marvel, the kind of highly-produced song that CTL was knocked for, but it’s still masterfully done and a very fun listen after all these years. I love the visual of the first few lines: “One of us has to drive / One of us gets to think.” Also: I’ve never been able to decide if the music video for “Always Be” (link above) is brilliant or ridiculous. I lean towards ridiculous (Jim singing by himself on a museum bench was definitely a choice; I am pretty sure this is also the last music video they appeared in themselves) but I hope those kids eventually got together.

  1. “Lean” (Damage, 2013)

“Lean” is a simple rock song on an album full of simple rock songs (it literally starts with the lyrics “you keep it simple at the start) but it stands out among the others on Damage because of how frantically it moves, with the huge choruses and bigtime guitars throughout. From a lyrical standpoint, I have a theory as to what “Lean” is about. As mentioned before, Jim said he stopped drinking around the time Damage was made. So, while I don’t specifically know if “Lean” is about Jim’s efforts for sobriety, there are hints at universal themes of needing to lean on partners for help in times of trials and tribulations. “I’m not asking for a fix / I just need you close to reach,” Jim says, as well as, “When I think I’m so messed up / And when you think you’re so messed up / Gotta keep in mind that we’re just us.” Damage might be an adult break-up record, but “Lean” is about finding that person to lean on and not letting go.

  1. “Rockstar” (Static Prevails, 1996)

Another strong Tom-helmed rocker on SP with some fun guitar runs. “Rockstar” showed their early proficiency at putting together intricate guitar rock songs (remember, at this point the guys in the band were all about 21). They were still finding their way on SP but “Rockstar” is a good example of them starting to find that path. I don’t have a ton more to say about this one other than that the music video (linked to above), which was probably the first one they ever did, is absolutely hilarious to watch now because of how fucking young they look. Hopefully they got off the set in time to get back for their Blockbuster shifts.

  1. “12.23.95” (Clarity, 1999)

It took just over 40 songs but we have finally entered the Clarity portion of the program. Spoiler alert: we’ll get to all 13 of Clarity’s songs before we’re done with the full list. We start with “12.23.95,” which despite being the lowest Clarity song here is still an incredible piece of music and one that’s grown on me significantly through the years. It’s the first genuinely weird song in their chronology, with distorted feedbacky guitar loops, mechanized drum beats and what really sound like Casio keyboard notes (Jim later admitted video game music was influential on the sound here). The lyrics in “12.23.95” are scant, pretty much just a few lines sung over and over before Jim finishes with “Merry Christmas, baby” a few times. Remember how I said there was a Christmas theme running through some of their earlier songs? On “Christmas Card,” Jim makes a reference to “December 23.” So, there clearly was something there. It remains a mystery to this day.

  1. “Firefight” (Chase This Light, 2007)

Some of the early criticism of CTL involved the lyrics. Generally, JEW’s lyrics are pretty straight-forward. Everything will be just fine, I promised I’d see it again, let’s get out of this place…you know the drill. But then you have a song like “Firefight” with some really out-of-left-field stuff. For example, anyone want to guess what the hell “love is quartz and breath the second hand” means? Why is there spit in Jim’s blood? “Are these still the eyes of a temptress”? Huh? Anyway, this song as a terrific propulsive guitar riff through the choruses and is a highlight on an album that could have used a few more of them. Just don’t try to make sense of the lyrics.

  1. “Last Christmas” (“Last Christmas” single, 2001)

Covering George Michael’s “Last Christmas” shortly after BA dropped assured JEW of one thing: their affinity for Christmas in their songs would at least result in getting airplay during the holiday season for the rest of time. It helps that their version of “Last Christmas” is such a strong effort. You’ve probably heard this and didn’t even know it was them. They take the ‘80s Christmas classic and add their own touches of mechanized percussion, acoustic flashes and winding electric lead notes. Now, when you walk into Macy’s in December, there’s at least a chance you’ll hear some Jimmy Eat World while shopping for your aunt or cousin.

  1. “My Best Theory” (Invented, 2010)

The lead single from Invented doesn’t have a ton of correlation to the rest of the album, but regardless, it rocks pretty hard and is generally the only song the band still plays live from it. When I think of the general sound the band stuck to for a solid majority of their songs in this decade, I’d say “My Best Theory” set the tone for all that followed. Jim has said the song is about “finding individuality in a world where extremes are more and more presented as your only option.” So, there’s that. Also: what the earthly fuck is happening in the music video I linked to above? This is around the time the band stopped appearing in their own music videos, and this is what we get as a result. It is seriously nightmare fuel. The weirdest part is the Daft Punk-looking dudes with beaks. Let’s just move on.

  1. “Believe In What You Want” (Clarity, 1999)

You’ve probably noticed to this point I haven’t said much of anything about Rick. It’s not his fault, but JEW’s sound doesn’t rely on bass guitar to be its fulcrum on like 99% of their songs. It is much more about the interplay and power of Jim and Tom on guitar and Zach on drums. But, Rick has had a few moments through the years to shine, and perhaps the best of those early moments comes on the rumbling bass line of “Believe In What You Want.” Also: “Believe In What You Want” was the name of the band’s making-of documentary for BA, which has several hilarious bits including Tom telling an interviewer his name was “Switchblade” and spelling it out after the other three guys had truthfully followed the interviewer’s instructions. The guys have always said Tom was the funniest guy in the band for a reason.

  1. “Your House (2007)” (Bleed American Deluxe Edition, 2008)

There is only one song on this list that will technically appear twice, although the versions are different enough that I don’t feel wrong about including them both. I purposefully didn’t listen to the studio version or leaked live audio of “Your House (2007)” before seeing them live in Boston that fall, and my patience was rewarded. That was one of my favorite times seeing the band, a true fan’s set at a small venue shortly after Chase This Light was released (that was the aforementioned show where I met Tom beforehand). Both “Your House” versions are based on lush acoustic guitar, but “Your House (2007)” takes a more complex approach to the overall instrumentation and adds some different vocal touches. There were a lot of ways this could have gone wrong, but this song was always in the right hands. Also: I once asked Zach on Twitter why they picked this song to re-do for the deluxe BA release and he said there…wasn’t a reason. They just went for it. Now, you know.

  1. “The World You Love” (Futures, 2004)

Jim has spun some excellent opening lines in his career, and on “The World You Love” he spun perhaps his greatest: “I got a story, it’s almost finished / Now all I need is someone to tell it to / Maybe that’s you.” It was the start to one of the most beautiful songs they’ve ever done, one with a high school sensibility (“I fall asleep with my friends around me”) but hints at sadness about letting go. That guitar solo hits and it’s hard not to feel something immediately, those pangs of nostalgia. This may be a good time to mention “The World You Love” also happened to be a big deal to me around my graduation from both high school and college; “the world we loved forever gone” felt so real to what I was going through. But, at the edge of some despair, Jim digs in, and says he won’t give in for any amount, as Zach drives the song to a different level of euphoria in the last chorus. Now, don’t that feel like sunshine, after all? 

  1. “Here It Goes” (Chase This Light, 2007)

If you fed “The Authority Song” meth, you’d get “Here It Goes.” Imagine my surprise, as a 21-year-old hearing CTL for the first time in my dorm room, and getting to the point late in the album when “Here It Goes” came across my speakers. It’s the closest thing to EDM this band has ever done or will ever do. It’s a dance song (there literally are dance moves described in the chorus) and the lyrics are mostly gibberish, but good lord is “Here It Goes” a blast. The eternal question about “Here It Goes” has always been: what if they put it out as a single? They haven’t really released another song like it since, so I guess that wasn’t a question the band ever wanted to answer.

  1. “Your New Aesthetic” (Clarity, 1999)

I know I said “Get It Faster” was the portend of what was going to come on Futures but if you want to go even further back you can look at “Your New Aesthetic” as the real spiritual grandfather of that angry, metal-inspired style. When you listen to the post-hardcore influences JEW had, like John Reis’ bands or Fugazi, what the band was going for with “Your New Aesthetic” makes a lot more sense. This was about as close to that post-hardcore style as the band ever got on an official release, and did they ever rip it. Lyrically, the band had clearly been disillusioned with their experience at Capitol Records and how bands actually get famous, and that comes through in spades. And the song’s stark, overall message is summed up in the line over the final pre-chorus rush: “Sing now while you still can.”

Stay tuned for Part II, songs 50 to 1 on my list, coming soon. Thanks for reading.

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LISTS, MUSIC

LIST: My 10 Favorite Songs of 2019 So Far

It’s time for my annual July 1 mid-year favorite songs post! There’s already been a ton of great music this year so cutting it down to 10 wasn’t easy.

Below you’ll find YouTube clips of my favorite songs of 2018 so far and an embedded Spotify playlist as well. You can also find that playlist here. The songs are presented in alphabetical order by artist.

Enjoy!

CHARLY BLISS – “CAPACITY”

GIRLPOOL – “HIRE”

HATCHIE – “OBSESSED”

JAY SOM – “SUPERBIKE”

JULIEN BAKER – “RED DOOR”

LOCAL NATIVES – “GULF SHORES”

THE NATIONAL – “RYLAN”

SHARON VAN ETTEN – “SEVENTEEN”

TAME IMPALA – “PATIENCE”

VAMPIRE WEEKEND – “HARMONY HALL”

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LISTS, MUSIC

LIST: My 10 Favorite Albums of 2018

After posting my favorite songs of 2018, I’m now ready to unveil my 10 favorite albums from another outstanding year of new music. For your reference, here are my favorite albums lists from 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Before I get to my long-form thoughts on the 10 best albums I heard this year, here are albums 20 through 11 on my list, accompanied by one song from each.

20. Blood Orange Negro Swan (“Saint”)

19. Robyn – Honey (“Honey”)

18. Kurt Vile – Bottle It In (“Loading Zones”)

17. Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine (“Gratitude”)

16. Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog (“How Simple”)

15. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (“Star Treatment”)

14. Wild Nothing – Indigo (“Partners In Motion”)

13. Flasher – Constant Image (“Pressure”)

12. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel (“Nameless, Faceless”)

11. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (“Nervous Young Inhumans”)

Here they are, my 10 favorite albums of 2018:

mitskibethecowboy10. Mitski – Be the Cowboy

People loved Mitski’s last record, Puberty 2, but for some reason I couldn’t get into it. That was not this case with this year’s Be the Cowboy, a stunning treatise that flips gender-based tropes on its ear and puts toxic masculinity in its rightful place. These songs are statements from the ever-talented Mitski Miyawaki, spanning all kinds of genres and never losing its pace across a record that just explodes over 32 minutes. My favorite track here is the disco-flavored jaunt “Nobody,” where Mitski’s isolation sounds downright danceable. Be the Cowboy puts Mitski in league with fellow indie iconoclasts like St. Vincent in overall inventiveness and amazingness.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever_ Hope Downs9. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs

The five Aussie dudes who make up Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever play with an unbelievable amount of energy at their live shows. It’s an energy that served them well on their full-length debut this year, Hope Downs. These songs are overflowing with hooks, riffs and licks from their three-guitar attack, with none better than the uber-prescient “Mainland,” a song that doubles as an endorphin-rush rocker that also deals with immigrant hardships. They’re a fun band who made an endlessly fun record. Also, if you feel as icky as I have about continuing to listen to Real Estate, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is a more than adequate substitute.

320x3208. Kississippi – Sunset Blush

Philadelphia has become something of an indie rock Mecca these last few years; it probably has something to do with the cost of rents in Brooklyn. What started with the War on Drugs and Kurt Vile developed into blossomings for Waxahatchee and Sheer Mag and now Kississippi, a tremendously promising rock band led by Zoe Allaire Reynolds. On her full-length debut, Sunset Blush, Reynolds chronicles the journey of self-discovery across 10 standout tracks with none better than the cutting “Cut Yr Teeth,” a jam Reynolds says is her fighting back against the people who held her back for years. Now that Kississippi is out there, nothing should ever hold Reynolds back again.

Hatchie_ Sugar & Spice EP7. Hatchie – Sugar & Spice EP

I typically haven’t considered EPs for this list in the past, but two were so good in 2018 I couldn’t deny them spots. The first you’ll read about comes from Australian newcomer Harriette Pilbeam and her indie pop outfit Hatchie. Across five songs in a brisk 19 minutes, Pilbeam and her crew weave tales of love on Sugar & Spice against sugary sweet guitars and synths and Pilbeam’s multi-layered vocal stylings. It doesn’t get any more melodic and blissful than what she does on “Sure,” “Sleep” and “Sugar & Spice” and more longing and beautiful than her efforts on “Try” and “Bad Guy.” I can’t to hear what Pilbeam can do across a whole album.

Golden hour Kacey Musgraves6. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

I love music. However, for most of my life, I’ve consistently held scorn for just one kind of music: the formulaic and brainless country drivel that’s been churned out of Nashville for decades now. I like a lot of stuff you’d call country, but just don’t play me anything you’d hear on a modern country radio station. So, I was thrilled this year when what was ostensibly a country record scored massive crossover appeal AND turned out to be awesome. Kacey Musgraves flipped those decades of formula on its head with Golden Hour, a daring and richly successful venture. “Lonely Weekend,” “Butterflies” and “Love is a Wild Thing” take new spins on old ideas. “Space Cowboy” is one of the most cleverly-written breakup songs I’ve ever heard. “High Horse” is a genius dance track that doesn’t lose its country roots. Musgraves opened a new world with Golden Hour, one I’m so glad exists.

Soccer Mommy5. Soccer Mommy – Clean

I do wonder if someday, perhaps very soon, 20-year-old Sophie Allison will regret naming her band Soccer Mommy. The quality of the name of the band thankfully has nothing to do with the quality of the band itself. On her studio debut, Clean, Allison displays outstanding songwriting chops across a varied and diverse collection of melodic guitar rock tunes. There’s the breezy and fun “Last Girl,” the contemplative ballad “Blossom (Wasting All My Time),” the vitriolic fervor of the Local Natives-tinged “Your Dog” and the Liz Phair-inspired fare of “Skin” among the highlights. On standout “Cool,” she imagines herself as a high school badass (“I want to be that cool”) amidst rollicking guitar on a song that crackles before whomping to a downbeat finish. If you can get beyond the name, there’s so much to like when it comes to Soccer Mommy. Allison is just finding her stride with Clean.

boygenius_st4. Boygenius – Boygenius EP

For a certain segment of the music-loving population, the emergence of Boygenius this year more than qualifies as a supergroup in today’s landscape. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus are three insanely-talented singer/songwriter/guitarists, all under 25 with disparate but connecting styles. They recorded their self-titled EP in four days in LA earlier this year and toured this fall, closing each show with their songs blending Dacus’ unforgiving guitar rock, Baker’s contemplative and emotive renderings and Bridgers’ folksy, humorous sensibilities. The result is a reckoning of immense power, leaving a trail of unworthy subjects in its wake. “Me & My Dog,” a Bridgers-led tour de force, examines a failed relationship from start to finish; the Dacus-helmed “Bite the Hand” pulls no punches with a former lover while Baker and Bridgers harmonize; Baker’s “Stay Down” brings her signature emotionality to a song where she observes “I look at you / And you look at a screen.” The biggest collaboration here is the searing, visceral “Salt in the Wound,” a true put-down of the music industry (“Trick after trick / I make the magic / And you unrelentingly ask for the secret”) where all three take the lead and amidst a maelstrom of sounds there’s a ripping solo from Baker. There’s still room for softness, with the three idyllically wishing for an escape to “Ketchum, ID” on the acoustic final track. I hope beyond all hopes these three artists find time to continue making music together. But if not, this EP is a gift certain to age well.

Lucy Dacus_ Historian3. Lucy Dacus – Historian

Lucy Dacus returned to the indie consciousness late last year when “Night Shift,” the first single from her second full-length album Historian, popped up online. Her debut, 2016’s No Burden, was a solid effort pointing towards something more for her as a guitarist, songwriter and singer. With “Night Shift,” it was immediately obvious she’d arrived at “something more.” The track builds behind Dacus’ matter-of-fact lyrics about a former companion. But, midway through, things shift: guitars and cymbals crash while her warm voice maintains composure. In the last chorus, she unleashes a chill-inducing wail, eviscerating her ex in memorable terms. “Night Shift” wound up being the first song on Historian and sets the scene for this incredible effort by Dacus, a record dealing at different turns with loss, heartache, alienation, how relationships evolve and how people change. On “Nonbeliever,” Dacus recounts a friend who left her hometown in search of something more. “If you find what you’ve been looking for / Write us a letter and tell us what it is / Everybody else looks like they figured it out.” On the expertly-crafted penultimate track “Pillar of Truth,” Dacus sets the death of her grandmother against an incredible rock song. “I’m weak looking at you / A pillar of truth / Turning to dust.” Later on her voice breaks again, bringing her grief and pain fully to bear. This is heady stuff for Dacus, and the stuff that makes Historian such a great album. I’m so excited to see her once again go for “something more” next time.

Beach House_72. Beach House – 7

I first became aware of Beach House around the release of Teen Dream in 2010. I was drawn immediately to Victoria Legrand’s room-filling voice and evocative synthesizers and Alex Scally’s spellbinding guitar work. You feel their best songs right in your chest. For the last 10 years or so, the term “dream pop” has been bandied about so much it’s lost any semblance of meaning. Basically, any band that sounds like My Bloody Valentine with synthesizers gets labeled as dream pop. But to me, any dream pop act gets stacked up to the best work of Beach House and ultimately has paled to what they’ve done. Despite this, the two albums they released in 2015, Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars, represented a slight creative lull for Legrand and Scally. It sounded like they were getting bored with their formula. So, for their seventh album, appropriately titled 7, Beach House razed their house to the studs and started over. They took nearly a full year to perfect 7 and throwing out old recording rules allowed them to expand their sound in creative, unexpected and fully rewarding ways from start to finish. There’s the winding snyth romp of “Dive,” the dramatic and charging “Dark Spring,” the creeping dread of “Lemon Glow,” the dreamy bliss of “Woo” and the unforgettable twists and turns of “Drunk in LA.” It’s as successful a reinvention of any band in recent times. Amazingly, a beloved, established indie rock band stripped down their sound to almost nothing, built something completely new that only they could have done and released probably the best album of their career. Guys, this kind of thing just doesn’t happen anymore. Bands don’t, or in most instances can’t, operate this way, not in 2018. We’re so much better for bands like Beach House, willing to take bold chances.

snailmail21. Snail Mail – Lush

Lindsey Jordan, the lead singer, guitarist and creative force behind Baltimore-based Snail Mail, was born 10 months before the Patriots drafted Tom Brady. Whenever you’re done feeling old, I want to tell you about Jordan’s superlative debut album, Lush. Buzz started to build around Jordan and her guitar pop cohorts this spring with the release of a couple advance singles and that buzz still hasn’t subsided. Her skills on guitar are extremely advanced and her gnarly voice emits both a youthful innocence and a wiseness beyond her years. There’s no telling what she’ll accomplish. But for now, we’re just seeing the beginning with Lush. There’s a power here that you can feel on the finger-picked wonder of “Let’s Find An Out,” the longing aching of “Stick” and “Anytime,” the tear-inducing emotions of “Deep Sea” and the indie guitar brilliance of “Heat Wave.” These are songs with something to say beyond teenage angst and heartache. It’s art, on a deep level. As successful as this album is as a whole, it’s the second track that stands out most. “Pristine” comes across with its rolling opening guitar line, crashing chorus cymbals, Jordan’s devastating lyrics about a love never maintained and an outro with blissful, powerful guitar stylings. She’s dealing with perhaps her first taste of heartbreak, and truly understanding her feelings for the first time in her life. It’s breathtaking to witness. “Don’t you like me for me? / Is there any feeling better than coming clean?” She’s finding her way, in her own way, and she found the right way with “Pristine.” After so many listens to Lush, I still can’t believe someone so young could do something so complete, so emotionally-cutting, so perfectly-crafted. It’s the type of record that makes you get down on your knees and thank your higher power of choice that there are still kids who want to make great rock records, who have ambition to be something great and aren’t afraid to show it, and who despite only knowing all the bullshit awful things that have happened in the world this century aren’t so jaded and downtrodden that they can still make art like Lush.

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LISTS, MUSIC

LIST: My 25 Favorite Songs of 2018

All year, I keep track of my favorite music and now that it’s December, I’m ready to share with you what made the cut for my favorites of the year, starting with my 25 favorite songs of 2018.

I’ll let the songs speak for themselves in this post and reserve longer thoughts for my 10 favorite albums post later this month.

I considered songs for this list that had any kind of release (be it on a single or an album) in 2018. And, as always, I only included one song per primary artist to ensure no one artist dominated the list.

Here are my favorite songs lists for 2012201320142015, 2016 and 2017.

Lastly, I created a Spotify playlist of these songs here and embedded at the bottom for your listening pleasure (the playlist is meant to be listened to as a 25-1 countdown, despite the numbers next to each song).

Enjoy these awesome songs and stay tuned for my albums post.

25. SMASHING PUMPKINS – “SILVERY SOMETIMES (GHOSTS)”

24. CHVRCHES – “GET OUT”

23. DAVID BYRNE – “EVERYBODY’S COMING TO MY HOUSE”

22. BIG RED MACHINE – “I WON’T RUN FROM IT”

21. ARCTIC MONKEYS – “FOUR OUT OF FIVE”

20. ROBYN – “MISSING U”

19. UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA – “HUNNYBEE”

18. JANELLE MONAE – “MAKE ME FEEL”

17. JAY SOM – “PIROUETTE”

16. COURTNEY BARNETT – “CITY LOOKS PRETTY”

15. FLASHER – “MATERIAL”

14. WILD NOTHING – “LETTING GO”

13. CAR SEAT HEADREST – “BEACH LIFE-IN-DEATH”

12. KACEY MUSGRAVES – “BUTTERFLIES”

11. JOHN MAYER – “NEW LIGHT”

10. MITSKI – “NOBODY”

9. KISSISSIPPI – “CUT YR TEETH”

8. SOCCER MOMMY – “COOL”

7. JIMMY EAT WORLD – “HALF HEART”

6. HATCIE – “SUGAR & SPICE”

5. LUCY DACUS – “PILLAR OF TRUTH”

4. BEACH HOUSE – “DIVE”

3. ROLLING BLACKOUTS COASTAL FEVER – “MAINLAND”

2. BOYGENIUS – “SALT IN THE WOUND”

1. SNAIL MAIL – “PRISTINE”

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LISTS, MUSIC

LIST: My 10 Favorite Songs of 2018 So Far

It’s time for my annual July 1 mid-year favorite songs post! There’s already been a ton of great music this year so cutting it down to 10 wasn’t easy.

Below you’ll find YouTube clips of my favorite songs of 2018 so far and an embedded Spotify playlist as well. You can also find that playlist here. The songs are presented in alphabetical order by artist.

Enjoy!

BEACH HOUSE – “DIVE”

CAR SEAT HEADREST – “BEACH LIFE-IN-DEATH”

FLASHER – “MATERIAL”

JIMMY EAT WORLD – “HALF HEART”

JOHN MAYER – “NEW LIGHT”

KACEY MUSGRAVES – “BUTTERFLIES”

LUCY DACUS – “NONBELIEVER”

ROLLING BLACKOUTS COASTAL FEVER – “MAINLAND”

SNAIL MAIL – “PRISTINE”

SOCCER MOMMY – “COOL”

 

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LISTS, MUSIC

LIST: My 10 Favorite Albums of 2017

After posting my favorite songs of 2017, I’m now ready to unveil my 10 favorite albums from another outstanding year of new music. For your reference, here are my favorite albums lists from 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Before I get to my long-form thoughts on the 10 best albums I heard this year, here are albums 20 through 11 on my list, accompanied by one song from each.

20. Future Islands – The Far Field (“Beauty of the Road”)

19. Big Thief – Capacity (“Mythological Beauty”)

18. Passion Pit – Tremendous Sea of Love (“Hey K”)

17. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (“HUMBLE”)

16. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice (“Continental Breakfast”)

15. Real Estate – In Mind (“Darling”)

14. Spoon – Hot Thoughts (“Hot Thoughts”)

13. Lorde – Melodrama (“The Louvre”)

12. The Courtneys – The Courtneys II (“Silver Velvet”)

11. Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins (“Three Rings”)

Here they are, my 10 favorite albums of 2017:

10. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

Julien Baker wrote and recorded Turn Out the Lights at 21. She approaches her music with stunning pathos and maturity for someone so young, asking lofty questions of herself and the world. It’s a recipe for a heart-wrenching record with 11 beautifully-crafted and extremely soft songs. As best I can tell Turn Out the Lights is completely absent any percussion, with the focus on guitar, piano and Baker’s expressive vocals. If I could sum up a theme, it’s Baker grappling with the pains of becoming a fully-formed person. “The harder I swim, the faster I sink” she sings over and over at the end of “Sour Breath.” It’s a battle everyone faces, but not everyone can enunciate it as clearly as Baker, and that’s what makes this record so special.

9. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

Lots of people claim to be, or have reputations to be, what Annie Clark really is: an artist. She uses music to paint vividly-colored pictures and puts on visually-captivating live performances providing a window into her mind. On MASSEDUCTION, her fifth album as St. Vincent and first alongside mega-producer Jack Antonoff, Clark reaches brave new places in pop, rock, electronic and everywhere else that interests her, with eclecticism recalling everyone from Bowie and Prince to Billy Joel and INXS. There’s massive power-pop on “Pills” and “Fear the Future”, galactic funk on the title track, gothic snyth slinks on “Los Ageless” and Killers-style loud/quiet fun on “New York.” There’s even devastating, tender country-tinged rock on “Happy Birthday Johnny.” Clark might fear the future, but her own is secure.

8. The xx – I See You

In the five years between the xx’s second album, Coexist, and this year’s I See You, the proverbial “other guy” in the trio, Jamie xx, became an indie star. His 2015 debut In Colour topped all the year-end lists and was hailed as a house/EDM masterpiece and made him more popular than the band he shares with Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. It’s no surprise, then, that I See You captured more of Jamie xx’s keen sampling talents than the band’s previous releases, while still showcasing the myriad vocal, lyrical and guitar/bass talents of Croft and Sim. We hear that awesome mix on many of I See You‘s highlights, like the rousing opener “Dangerous”, the sandblasting “Say Something Loving”, the dramatic “I Dare You” and the joyous “On Hold.” It’s a gorgeous mix, and a very promising one of them going forward.

7. Haim – Something to Tell You

The Haim sisters are everywhere now. This wasn’t difficult to predict after their debut Days Are Gone broke them into indie-pop superstardom in 2013. They’re accessible, not just in their personalities but their sound. Plus, how many other bands put out videos with choreographed dance moves these days? Second albums are always the toughest, but Something to Tell You lived up to the loftiest of expectations. Danielle, Este and Alana kick so much ass here: “Little of Your Love” is their most fun son to date; “Want You Back” crackles from the first note; “Walking Away” tests the waters of sultry R&B; “You Never Knew” is ’70s California rock redux at its finest. You can tell how much of their own hearts and souls they put into each of these songs. It’s all there, it’s all them: Something to Tell You doesn’t just succeed. It soars.

6. Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Patiently, we waited for Japandroids to return. 2012’s Celebration Rock was truly something to celebrate, one of the best pure rock records of the decade, the ultimate cathartic expression. And then after a few years of tours, there was nothing from Brian King and David Prowse. For a long time. But they resurfaced late in 2016 and in January came Near to the Wild Heart of Life. Like Celebration Rock, it contains eight life-affirming rock songs, tying together a loose narrative about getting out there and experiencing the world. From short rockers, to epic rockers, to acoustic and electric road trip songs, to fiery love songs: it covers the gambit of emotions, and all of it feels so real. In a tough year, these guys provided a much-needed lift. That’s something to celebrate.

5. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

After turning 40, James Murphy decided he wanted to do something besides being the LCD Soundsystem guy. So in 2011 he broke up the band, played a sold-out farewell show at Madison Square Garden, and disappeared into the ether, occasionally resurfacing as a producer and doing weird things with sound. But all along, I suspected LCD Soundsystem wasn’t done. It took a while after the initial announcement of their reunion, but in September, the fourth LCD Soundsystem arrived. American Dream is an LCD Soundsystem record at its core: a genre-bending mix of indie dance punk, inspired by Bowie, Eno and Byrne, unstuck in time and not sounding like anyone but LCD Soundsystem. American Dream contains several pantheon-level LCD songs, including the star-soaring title track, the scathing, bile-filled “How Do You Sleep”, the synth-dance jam “Tonite” and the “All My Friends”-recalling, winding, world-beating “Call the Police”, my favorite song of 2017. You may ask: is American Dream as good as Sound of Silver or This is Happening? Here’s a better question: does it matter? This exists. And it’s awesome.

4. Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm

Perhaps my favorite development in indie rock these last few years has been watching Katie Crutchfield grow into an elite songwriter. Cerulean Salt was good and Ivy Tripp was even better, but Crutchfield and her Waxahatchee mates made the leap on Out in the Storm this year. She keeps her shit simple, sticking to guitar, bass, drums and the occasional keyboard. But what she gets out of that simple structure has grown increasingly impressive despite trying out many different kinds of songs. On Out in the Storm, she’s got breezy, summery rock on “Never Been Wrong” and “Silver”, harsher indie power on “Brass Beam” and “No Question” and soft acoustic tones on “A Little More” and closer “Fade.” But it’s the quiet, building drama of “Recite Remorse”, a mid-album showstopper, that hints at Crutchfield’s expanding prowess. She weaves an vivid breakup tale that socks anyone listening in the gut. “I saw you as a big fish / I saw you as a conquest / And I know it’s easy for you to walk away / You would never ask permission or rue the day.” Crutchfield may be Out in the Storm, but she makes it a place you want to be, too.

3. The National – Sleep Well Beast

Matt Berninger, the Dessners and the Devendorfs are now seven albums into their run as the National. They’ve cemented their place among the most acclaimed bands of this century, with a rabid following and the ability to headline festivals and sellout large venues. The easiest thing in the world for them, then, would’ve been to just make another National record. Instead, they made Sleep Well Beast. Sure, it contains their trademark broodiness and songs of deep melancholy and the debilitating, crushing depression of everyday humanity. But instead of relying on their typical sonic formulas and structures, they went a new, experimental route. The result is an eclectic mix that sounds simultaneously like a bold new direction and the National being the National. Cuts like “Day I Die”, “Guilty Party” and “Carin at the Liquor Store” are outstanding yet they don’t stray much from the band we’ve known the last 15 years. Things get weird, however, with the synths and odd voice effects on “Walk it Back”, “I’ll Still Destroy You” and “Dark Side of the Gym” among others. On lead single and album centerpiece “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”, the band completely goes for it, with strange vocals, synths, big-sounding choruses and, of all things, a guitar solo. Sleep Well Beast may not be the National’s best record, but it’s certainly their most ambitious. And that’s something to admire for a band that could’ve grown comfortable.

2. Jay Som – Everybody Works

Melina Duterte came out of nowhere (OK, she came out of the Bay Area, but still) over the last year to dazzle us with her talent as a songwriter, guitarist, singer and performer. Her profile has risen exponentially thanks to her Jay Som project’s near-perfect major-label debut, Everybody Works. Like Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker on my favorite album of 2015, Currents, Duterte plays every instrument on Everybody Works herself, a stunning accomplishment for a work of such shimmering complexity. This is the literal definition of bedroom pop: Duterte turned her bedroom into a studio and recorded Everybody Works there. The result is a beautiful statement melding dream pop, baroque pop, alt-rock, shoegaze, R&B and so much more that makes it hard to believe Duterte is only 22. You hear different influences throughout: My Bloody Valentine-inspired fuzz on “1 Billion Dogs”, Wild Nothing-style dreaming on “Remain” and Smashing Pumpkins-like dirge on “(BedHead)”. But these songs are undeniably part of something new Duterte is working to perfect, best exemplified on album centerpiece “Baybee”, which starts slow and builds to a gorgeous, ’80s-style pop jam. Beyond the music, Everybody Works is a work in stunning maturity. When she closes the album on “For Light” by singing over and over “I’ll be right on time / Open blinds for light / Won’t forget to climb”, her longing is painfully real. It’s a fitting sentiment to end Everybody Works, an intimate portrait of an artist as a young woman.

1. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

When Adam Granduciel and his War on Drugs cohorts released Lost in the Dream, I named it my favorite album of 2014 and wrote that it was an outlier for the times as a great guitar-driven rock record. Three years later, that pronouncement feels happily out of date. Each of my 10 favorite albums this year could be classified as a “rock” record. Maybe that says more about my own tastes, but I’d like to think guitar rock has made a resurgence. At the center of this is Granduciel. When we look back on this time in 30 years, the War on Drugs could stand out strongest. I say that because my favorite album of 2017, A Deeper Understanding,  blazes its own trail and builds on the band’s legend. It’s not just that all 10 songs here are knockouts; they’re confident yet vulnerable, layered sonically but relatable lyrically, and sound like no one else besides Granduciel could have made them. It’s so successful because of the care, attention to detail and emotion Granduciel, a noted studio perfectionist, puts into them. You feel it on the propulsive opener “Up All Night”, the expressive guitar journey of “Pain” and the high-flying circus act of “Holding On”. You experience it throughout the 11-minute opus “Thinking of a Place”, with the monumental hook that detonates early on during “In Chains”, or on the tender moments of “Knocked Down” and “Clean Living”. And you cannot avoid it on the album’s emotional center, “Strangest Thing”, a slow-burner that becomes a towering inferno with Granduciel’s blistering guitar solo 4:30 in. I don’t know yet if A Deeper Understanding is as good as Is This It, Funeral or High Violet. But it’s in the conversation among the best rock records of this young century so far.

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LISTS, MUSIC

LIST: My 25 Favorite Songs of 2017

All year, I keep track of my favorite music and now that it’s December, I’m ready to share with you what made the cut for my favorites of the year, starting with my 25 favorite songs of 2017.

Like last year, this has been such a great year in music I’m doing 25 songs instead of 20. Keeping with tradition, I’ll let the songs speak for themselves in this post and reserve longer thoughts for my 10 favorite albums post later this month.

I considered songs for this list that had any kind of release (be it on a single or an album) in 2017. And, as always, I only included one song per primary artist to ensure no one artist dominated the list.

Here are my favorite songs lists for 2012, 201320142015 and 2016.

Lastly, I created a Spotify playlist of these songs here and embedded at the bottom for your listening pleasure (the playlist is meant to be listened to as a 25-1 countdown, despite the numbers next to each song).

Enjoy these awesome songs and stay tuned for my albums post.

25. U2 – “YOU’RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME”

24. FLEET FOXES – “THIRD OF MAY / ODAIGAHARA”

23. PASSION PIT – “I’M PERFECT”

22. THE SHINS – “NAME FOR YOU”

21. PINEGROVE – “INTREPID”

20. BEACH HOUSE – “CHARIOT”

19. SPOON – “CAN I SIT NEXT TO YOU”

18. KENDRICK LAMAR – “DNA”

17. BIG THIEF – “SHARK SMILE”

16. REAL ESTATE – “STAINED GLASS”

15. GRIZZLY BEAR – “MOURNING SOUND”

14. THUNDERCAT FT. MICHAEL McDONALD & KENNY LOGGINS – “SHOW YOU THE WAY”

13. ST. VINCENT – “MASSEDUCTION”

12. THE COURTNEYS – “MINNESOTA”

11. JULIEN BAKER – “TURN OUT THE LIGHTS”

10. COURTNEY BARNETT & KURT VILE – “OVER EVERYTHING”

9. THE XX- “I DARE YOU”

8. JAPANDROIDS – “NO KNOWN DRINK OR DRUG”

7. HAIM – “YOU NEVER KNEW”

6. THE NATIONAL – “THE SYSTEM ONLY DREAMS IN TOTAL DARKNESS”

5. WAXAHATCHEE – “SILVER”

4. JAY SOM – “BAYBEE”

3. LORDE – “GREEN LIGHT”

2. THE WAR ON DRUGS- “STRANGEST THING”

1. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM – “CALL THE POLICE”

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