Five years and counting of Speakers in Code, and we have finally decided to catch up with ourselves. This isn’t so much of a list than it is a collection of all the songs we love in one place. So, we’re not calling it “The Best Songs…” We’re just calling them our favorites from 2010-2014 — no more, no less.
They are listed IN ENTIRETY below, or in groups of 50 (so you can listen individually to each track). They are in no particular order. We couldn’t rank these gems if we tried.
But, we did write a line or two about them, so we hope you enjoy that, too.
(Note: Songs released in 2015 are not included.)
Find them below, or on these pages:
GROUP 1 GROUP 2 GROUP 3 GROUP 4
Subscribe to the majority of the list on Spotify here.
Full list for your listening convenience:
Speakers in Code
“A Little Bit of Everything” – Dawes
When I saw Dawes perform this at Lollapalooza a few years ago, Taylor Goldsmith sang “stupid fucking ring” instead of “stupid little ring” and it sort of made sense and it really gave me the chills. One word, that’s all it takes sometimes. Seriously, though, what a timeless, amazing song this is.
“Working Titles” – Damien Jurado
Quite literally all I can say about this song is to quote lyrics at you, from late in a verse: You wrote about me on every new record / And I’ll show up in a title of your song / I only hope somebody requests it. It’s another song about hope — those have been my favorites over the last few years for a lot of reasons — but it’s one that doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. The idea that a song might not be the one requested just wrenches at all the softest spots in my heart, and something about Jurado’s rhythmic lyrical delivery doubles that resonance.
“Post Script” – Typhoon
Unconditional. Whenever that word is used in a song, and when the song is as good as “Post Script,” it always leaves a mark on me.
“One Sunday Morning” – Wilco
A long, long Wilco song that closes The Whole Love, and it used to open many of their shows. “Bless my mind I miss being told how to live.”
“Fire’s Highway” – Japandroids
Rock for the sake of rocking is hard to do, but when it’s Japandroids, you can always count on quality. And here’s the best start I can give you.
“We Used to Wait” – Arcade Fire
From the opening repetitive plunk of that piano, you know you’re in for something emotional. The song delivers, painting a picture of the disposable nature of our surrounding, lifestyles and ultimately lives. Downtown will become wilderness again one day – we just won’t be here to see it.
“Sweet Ride” – Courtney Jaye
Sweet, sweet Courtney Jaye. I dare you not to fall in love with her voice on “Sweet Ride.” I certainly did, and I’ve never ever ever let go.
“The Hours” – Beach House
I went into my first Beach House concert almost cold. I knew two songs; I did not know “The Hours.” But some woman standing in front of me was doing this sort of gypsy dance to it, and it had me hooked. Now, I can’t get enough.
“Honey & I” – Haim
If you think Haim hasn’t exploded yet, wait until they open for Taylor Swift this summer. This is their best song.
“The Weary Kind” – Ryan Bingham
“This ain’t no place to fall behind.” That line really resonated with me a couple years ago at the exact moment I needed to hear it.
“Perth” – Bon Iver
Atmosphere y’all. Pure, heavy, soul crushing atmosphere. It’s a song that incites cinematic visions in even the lamest of souls. The marching roll of those drums, flowing guitars and lyrics that hearken back to each and every heartbreak we’ve experienced throughout life. But in the end, it suggests a ray of sunshine – gawd is it needed after crying through the first 2/3 of the track.
“The Woodpile” – Frightened Rabbit
Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit has written some of my favorite songs, including “Poke,” “Yes I Would,” “My Backwards Walk,” and this amazing freaking song that I still repeat whenever I hear it. “Would you come back to my corner?”
“Pauvre Coeur” – Jillette Johnson
One of my favorite singers, writers, artists. Jillette Johnson has it all, and if you don’t know her already, just give it time.
“Rambling Man” – Laura Marling
“But if I sit here and weep, I’ll be blown over by the slightest of breeze.” That’s another way of saying, “don’t feel sorry for yourself, but Laura Marling never did take the easy road in songwriting.
“Cover Me Up” – Jason Isbell
If this song doesn’t make you want to fall in love just so you can put it on a mix for someone, I think you might be doing life wrong. Southeastern is full of genius songwriting, and “Elephant” deservedly got a huge amount of praise, and “Stockholm” was on my favorite songs of 2013 list when I made that list, but “Cover Me Up” remains the one that I love the most, and play the most.
“Copenhagen” – Lucinda Williams
“You have disappeared,” sings Lucinda Williams. “You have been released.” About the death of her manager and friend, Frank Callari. Not many can write a song like Williams.
“Putting the Dog To Sleep” – The Antlers
One of the saddest songs I know by one of the best live bands I know. The other song by them you need to hear is called “Two.” Well, come to think of it, there are many songs by The Antlers you need to know. But, it’s 2015, and there’s like two hundred streaming services that all will tell you they’re the best. So, get to work.
“Killed the Lord, Left For the New World” – This Will Destroy You
This ethereal masterpiece will aid in your quest to transcend space and time. Listen late at night while stargazing.
“Hard Way Home” – Brandi Carlile
I tell everyone who will give me a few seconds about Brandi Carlile. Problem is, I’ve come to believe most of them think she is some kind of coffee house singer-songwriter, which is simply not true. She’s one of the most dynamic artists that I know, and I can still sing every freaking word to this song.
“Goddess” – Banks
If image means anything, and I believe it does, then Banks is a master of creating some kind of dark, brooding pop-electronic persona. Hundred bucks says her blood is red and black. “Fucking with a goddess and you get a little colder…”
“Hopeful” – Josh Ritter
This song. My God, this song. This song was my light at the darkest point in a long, dark set of years. My days are much lighter now, but this song still resonates in that spot right under your ribcage where the best songs resonate.
“Avant Gardner” – Courtney Barnett
I’ve learned throughout life many people don’t listen to lyrics. They’re stupid – and here’s proof. Courtney Barnett pulls off everything from poetry, to plays on words, to hidden drug references, all in the same song. She’s the Jimmy Page of lyric writing, and she’s only 4? years old! God help us if she continues to get better than this…
“Lonely Fortunes” – Ha Ha Tonka
“We’re never gonna have much,” Brian Roberts of Ha Ha Tonka sings on “Lonely Fortunes.” “Myself I’d take such as a compliment.” This song still really takes me back to one of the best periods of my life. And it probably always will.
“Bloodbuzz Ohio” – The National
If I were a betting man, I’d place five whole dollars on the probable fact I’ve sung “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bee-ees” more than any other lyric I’ve ever memorized. I sang it showering, driving and vacuuming the carpet. Actually, insert any situation here, and I probably at least hummed that lyric during it. Holy shit I just did it while writing.
“Gimme Something Good” – Ryan Adams
This is why Ryan Adams is still more than relevant: he can take off as much time as he wants and deliver a song like “Gimme Something Good.”
“Everything is Embarrassing” – Sky Ferreira
“You know I’m tryin’, I was always tryin’.” With the help of Dev Hynes, Sky Ferreira can’t possibly be beat. Here’s a great performance of it.
“The Storm” – Geoffrey Louis Koch
“Sometimes the one you love dies before forever ends.” This is exactly why Geoffrey Louis Koch is a great songwriter. Epic song.
“Circuital” – My Morning Jacket
I still wanna drive 100 mph rolling down an open freeway listening to this song. One day. Yes, one sweet day.
“Ramada Inn” – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
“She loves him so, she does what she has to.” Probably Neil’s best song in the last 10 years. I love cranking it on vinyl and just letting it rip. Wish I could see him with the Horse one last time.
“Half Moon” – Blind Pilot
“So hold up high how faint your reasons / Don’t you forget you come from nothing.” This is a dear, dear song to me for reasons that I can’t possibly explain. I have a t-shirt that displays these words, though, so if you ever see me wearing it, ask, and I might tell you.
“Dear in Your Headlights” – Blondfire
“I don’t want to be like that, I don’t want to be like you.” The opening is still immediate thunder every single time I hear it: it just makes me wanna dance. Not every Blondfire song is the same, but the best ones make me want to forget my worries and just slip away.
“Chosen” – Blood Orange
From the spoken intro to the magical way Dev Hynes sings the chorus. This man just bleeds creativity and passion, breaking barriers along the way. “Another day and I’ll lose / But I don’t want to choose.” What does that mean to you?
“Gunshot” – Lykke Li
One shot, that’s all you get. And sometimes it’s a gun shot from Lykke Li.
“Bruises” – Band of Skulls
I simply love the unpredictable pace of this song.
“Loud Song” – Old Lights
What happened to St. Louis’ Old Lights? Because I need more songs like this. Love the long intro.
“Miracle Mile” – Cold War Kids
“I’ll be alright if I could just see you.” Haven’t we all felt like that at least a hundred times in our lives? But you gotta hear Nathan Willett belt it out. That’s the sauce right there.
“Psychopaths” – Collin Herring
“What are you running for again?” Whatever it is that makes this song tick — anger, curiosity — I loved it from the first listen. And I’m still not tired of it. Hell, the whole album, Some Knives, is wonderful
“Blank Space” – Taylor Swift
I hadn’t given Taylor Swift much thought before 2014, aside from having spent six days in 2012 obsessed with “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together”, but last year, my boyfriend and I were long distance, and one of the ways we stayed close while not seeing each other as much as we’d have liked was to listen to the same podcasts, and then dissect them. And those podcasts we shared were all, to a fault, obsessed with, in a good way, Taylor Swift. So by July I found myself kind of stockholmed into caring about Tay Tay, and by the time 1989 dropped, I genuinely cared about Tay Tay, and that record became another thing that my guy and I shared an obsession with. So “Blank Space” might be a song about a trainwreck of a relationship, to me it’s a dance party in my living room and a turntable I bought for him just so we could listen to “Blank Space” over and over on repeat on vinyl. And also, come on: that video is amazing. I’ve always wanted to ride a horse standing on its back.
“Sirens” – Pearl Jam
The more mainstream side of Pearl Jam can still be very, very good, and “Sirens” is one of the best songs the band has recorded in the last decade. “I didn’t care before you were here.” Thanks, Eddie.
“Atomic Man” – Portugal. The Man
“After you, Hell should be easy.” Or easier. Whatever the case may be, Portugal. The Man keeps getting better because they don’t take it easy.
“Desert Island Feeling” – Mutual Benefit
This song works well late at night while alone and contemplating issues of the self or interpersonal relationships. I have been coming back to this song for years and it always helps me traverse difficult emotional states.
“Gold on the Ceiling” – The Black Keys
I didn’t really “get” this song until I heard it live, and then I couldn’t stop playing it for weeks.
“Change” – Kopecky
“And don’t you know…don’t you know you’re made for me.” We change, we grow, we move apart. And sometimes we come back.
“Gone Again” – Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band
I first experienced Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band while they were on tour with Dead Confederate in September 2010. My friends and I were the only people at Cat’s Cradle early enough to catch their opening slot, and it was a transformative experience. The timbral richness and odd-time grooves inspired me, but I still remember the awe-inspiring experience of seeing “Gone Again” performed live. Slow to build but extremely gratifying, “Gone Again” is catharsis at a tectonic pace.
“Swimmer…” – Amanda Shires
When she sings, “The way you walked into the room…” well, my heart kinda moves. You know that feeling?
“Still Into You” – Paramore
I dare you. DARE YOU to reason with me why this isn’t one of the best pop songs in the last 5 or so years. Hayley 4 lyfe.
“Hero” – Family of the Year
You probably know it from the excellent film, Boyhood, but I know it from randomly hearing it at Lollapalooza in the afternoon sun a few years back. See, music festivals serve a musical purpose.
“I Am Not Waiting Anymore” – Field Report
Any song that talks about a being in a “windowless room on a credit card” has my attention.
“A Little Less” – Jill Andrews
“A little road somewhere.” See, that’s what makes this song great — just that little, perfect opening.
“Nobody Dies Anymore” – Tweedy
The more I listen to Sukierae, Tweedy’s debut album, the more I love it. And there is something about this song — the way that it refuses to speed up, the way that Jeff Tweedy sings, the way that it ends with, “I love how every song ends.”
“Even If I Don’t” – Rachael Yamagata
“I miss you most in the morning, most every morning.” Sigh.
“Clementine” – Sarah Jaffe
I respect that Sarah Jaffe quit writing songs as catchy as “Clementine,” but damn: remember how good this was? (Still is.)
“Dearly Departed” – Shakey Graves
Featuring Esme Patterson, this is the catchy side of Shakey Graves, and it even has hand claps. Shakey, Esme, and hand claps: Love me that trio.
“Tarifa” – Sharon Van Etten
I think of every relationship I’ve ever been in, and I often think of this song. I actually think of so many Sharon Ven Etten songs. “Can’t remember, I can’t recall, no. I can’t remember anything at all.” Except I can.
“Paris or Amsterdam” – Basia Bulat
“Now anytime I hear a laugh as bright you come to mind.” Makes me think about so many people I know. Or used to know.
“Lay Low” – Shovels & Rope
“You probably knew; your love is like glue.” This song is like glue — sticking and holding ever so slowly until it’s finally attached to you permanently.
“Do You” – Spoon
The best song from last year’s incredible They Want My Soul. And believe me, it was tough to pick.
“Burnin’ It Down” – Steve Earle
Steve Earle sticks the landing when he delivers the boom: “Thinking ’bout burning the Walmart down.”
“For What It’s Worth” – Stevie Nicks
Stevie’s latest solo stuff has been hit or miss, but sometimes there is a bulls eye out of nowhere. And here it is. “Still forbidden…still outrageous.”
“Goshen ’97” – Strand of Oaks
The solo is courtesy of J Mascis, and it doesn’t disappoint. “Goshen ’97” is just a small part of the greatness of Strand of Oaks’ HEAL. “I was lonely but I was having fun…”
“Floating Vibes” – Surfer Blood
Shit, I just love the beginning: how it builds and the rawness AND crispness of it. L”Forget the second coming, I need you in the here and now.”
“I Was a Fool” – Tegan and Sara
“Do you remember me as devout?” Tegan and Sara might have “gone pop” on their last album, but it sure did work out okay.
“45” – The Gaslight Anthem
I showed up late to The Gaslight Anthem party. Luckily, this flame was still shining bright and took me in.
“Make It Out West” – The Greencards
The Greencards have always been one of my favorite bands since I saw them play at Gruene Hall. This standout track features Sam Bush.
“Rivers and Roads” – The Head and the Heart
“I miss your face like hell.” Something about the way that line is used in this song. That’s the magic of The Head and the Heart.
“Stubborn Love” – The Lumineers
This song is the heart and soul of their breakout album. And I don’t care how many “hey’s” and “ho’s” you have in you.
“Numbers Don’t Lie” – The Mynabirds
The Mynabirds are one of my favorite bands of the last five years, and it all started with this song.
“Simple Song” – The Shins
There is something nostalgic about this song. Some kind of longing that is simply perfect.
“The Wild Hunt” – The Tallest Man on Earth
“I left a nervous little boy out on the trail today.” Sort of like leaving your cell phone at home and imagining a brave new world.
“Red Eyes” – The War on Drugs
This should have been in like every John Hughes movie, right?
“Tall Boots” – The Wild Feathers
“I promise to never leave, oh where would I go?” Yes. Perfect every time I hear it.
“To Myself” – Tift Merritt
I imagine being on a train looking out a window listening to this song. And I imagine it being so perfect, so freeing that I would never want to go back from where I started. Thank you, Tift Merritt.
“Troubled Times” – Tim Easton
A throwback sound of sorts. Tim Easton can really sing and play whatever he wants, and it sounds superb.
“Breakneck Speed” – Tokyo Police Club
“I remember when our voices used to sound the exact same.” Totally remember listening to this on a very, very cold night in the car driving back from their show.
“Field Song” – William Elliott Whitmore
William Elliott Whitmore is really happy to go to work in this song, and I always found that refreshing.
“Beautiful Girl” – William Fitzsimmons
Some might say every William Fitzsimmons album sounds sadder than the one before it, but man, how gorgeous is “Beautiful Girl”?
“Til The Casket Drops” – ZZ Ward
ZZ Ward runs on spirit and sass. She’s also crazy talented with her voice and words. And she can even rap when she wants to.
“Backstreet Freestyle”- Kendrick Lamar
Okay, I could pick so many songs by Kendrick Lamar. But it’s this one. It’s always this one.
“25 Bucks” – Danny Brown
This one features Purity Ring, but the star is still Danny Brown, who raps really, really fast.
“Unfucktheworld” – Angel Olsen
There’s a reason why so many people think Angel Olsen is so great, and part of it is because she can make something so quiet sound so loud.
“Lover, Where Do You Live” – Highasakite
Convenience and dreams — they do not often go hand in hand. And I think that’s what this song is all about.
“Brainwash” – Cillie Barnes
That opening piano line gets things going for “Brainwash.” And I just really like the way Cillie Barnes sings.
“Civilian” – Wye Oak
It feels so raw, and I love the way that it builds into the atmosphere.
“You Are Not Alone” – Mavis Staples
Written by Jeff Tweedy, this just sounds like it was made for Mavis’ voice. “I wanna get it clear to you…”
“February Seven” – The Avett Brothers
This is simple, but I like simple, and that’s when The Avett Brothers are at their best. You know I’m right: see, “If It’s the Beaches,” “I and Love and You.” Do I need to go on?
“Lost in the Light” – Bahamas
I saw this cat once in a dark dump of a rock club, with back-up singers flanked to his left. It was an exquisite, dense experience.
“Poison & Wine” – The Civil Wars
Man, I miss The Civil Wars. I don’t know why they broke up and neither do you. But dammit, Joy and John Paul were magic together and it’s a fucking shame they threw it all away. “I don’t love you, but I always will.” Makes a lot of sense now.
“I’ve Been Accused” – Cory Chisel
I’ve heard Cory Chisel sing this damn song live so many times, but believe it or not, I’ll take the studio version any day of the week. Because let’s face it: when you nail it, you just do. And he did.
“Take Me To Church” – Hozier
“My lover’s got humor.” Delivery with range — that is what Hozier does really well.
“Deep Dark Wells” – Joe Pug
“As long as you’re not finished, you can start all over again.” I love that. It’s so easy to forget that in life.
Stay Alive” – Jose Gonzalez
Written by Ryan Adams, and I know what you’re thinking — why didn’t RA sing it? Well, listen to what Jose Gonzalez did with it. That’s why.
“This Is Why We Fight” – The Decemberists
Although I will never be completely in love with Colin Meloy’s voice (or maybe it’s just how he sings), this one always does it for me.
“Generator ^ First Floor” – Freelance Whales
Not entirely sure if this band is still a band, but what a way to open up a debut album.
“Only a Clown” – Caitlin Rose
Caitlin Rose has some sass in her, and I kinda like it. But that’s for another blurb. This is a great song because of two things: Rose’s voice, and the way she belts out the chorus; and whomever is playing the guitar. Could be Rose, I am not sure, and the Internets aren’t telling me.
“Kings & Queens” – Brooke Fraser
The lovely Brooke Fraser turned to pop last year, and a crazy thing happened — it worked. Turns out, she’s a boss when it comes to beats and this kind of stuff that I’m not so qualified to write about. But I like it, and sometimes that is good enough. Hell, sometimes that is the best thing.
“Shake It Out” – Florence + The Machine
They say females don’t headline festivals, but last I looked, Flo is about to headline Lollapalooza with Paul McCartney and Metallica. And it’s because of songs like this.
“Strong”- London Grammar
Hard to label a voice “unique,” but dammit, Hannah Reid’s voice is just that. When I heard her sing this live at Lollapalooza — even with the EDM stage booming in the distance — it was magic.
“High Hope” – Glen Hansard
It’s okay if you miss the Swell Season, I get it. But did you listen to Glen Hansard’s last solo album? I mean.
“The Lion The Beast The Beat” – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
One of the best rock songs of the past decade. There’s a reason why it opens the album, because it takes you to a certain place. A place of rock. And that’s what Grace Potter sometimes does.
“She Lit a Fire” -Lord Huron
“Last I saw her she was dancing on the moon.” Ever seen a Lord Huron show it a hot, sweaty club? It’s a little like that.
“Right Time” – Nikki Lane
Pretty sure that Nikki Lane would drink me under the table. She probably parties at bars where people get knifed on the regular.
“Fall In Love” – Phantogram
Phantogram put on one of the better shows I saw last year because it simply never wavered; instead, the beats kept coming in waves. And then, boom! This song.
“The Mother We Share” – CHVRCHES
Have you ever seen CHVRCHES? Did you notice the way that it appears lead singer Lauren Mayberry just doesn’t seem to give a fuck? I mean that in a good way. It can be mistaken for ambivalence, but I’m not so sure. I just think she’s a rare breed, and so is this song.
“Boyfriend”- Best Coast
Now if this isn’t a beachy sun-soaked anthem.
“It’s Time” – Imagine Dragons
They get a lot of shit for their fame, but when they are good, they write songs like “It’s Time.” Maybe anthems aren’t for everyone, but this one is for me.
“You and Your Heart” – Jack Johnson
“You and your heart shouldn’t be so far apart.” Ah, the best of Jack Johnson starts with that line.
“Gun” – Sam Quinn
“I never thought that I would hurt you — I hurt you.” The ex-everybodyfields member once release a hell of a solo album, and this was the best track.
“Hotel Plaster” – Nicole Atkins
I feel like Nicole Atkins recorded this in a dilapidated castle. Probably not true, but the beauty of music is that it can take you places.
“The Rumors Are True” – David Wax Museum
“Ohhhh when we were young.” I hate to break it to you, but you’re gonna get old. Those aren’t rumors, those are facts. And the fact here is that you’ll be singing this song if you give it a try.
The Roadside Graves – “Liv Tyler”
I went through my lists of my favorite tracks from the last five years, and as I compiled them and listened to them and all of that, the one I kept coming back to was “Liv Tyler”, a nearly seven minute slow burn from Jersey’s The Roadside Graves. It’s almost everything I shouldn’t love in a song, from topping four minutes to the crazy tempo shift as it rumbles to the end, but, man, after five years, I still love this song without reserve.
“Serial Bowls” – Futurebirds
Stoner jam rock (I just made that up maybe) never sounded so good, an the best part of this song is — you guess it — the jam at the end.
Kacey Musgraves – “Follow Your Arrow”
In case you weren’t getting enough mind your own damn business attitude from Kacey’s latest single, “Biscuits”, “Follow Your Arrow” (from 2013’s Same Trailer, Different Park) still cheers me up every single time some nosy coworker gets all up in my stuff. And I can’t say I don’t enjoy making lots of noise, either.
“Emmylou” – First Aid Kit
I suppose any band could write a song about Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, etc. Some even have. But are any this good? No.
“Helplessness Blues” – Fleet Foxes
Although the Fleet Foxes are basically no more (or maybe it’s one of those popular hiatus things), they sure did go out with a bang: “Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see.”
“Tattoos” – Frank Turner
In 2013, when Tape Deck Heart came out, “Recovery” was my favorite song on it — the one that made my year end list. But the more I listened to the album, the song I played over and over again was “Tattoos”, the bonus track about those of us who ink things permanently under our skin. It was sealed when Frank, bless him, played it for me at a show the week before my birthday. It’s slight and it’s silly, but it means something to me: if we had the luck to live our lives a second time through, we’d be sure to get the same tattoos.
“Isn’t This World Enough?? – Admiral Fallow
SiC pals Admiral Fallow never stop impressing me, but this song from 2012’s Tree Bursts In Snow just lights up the day every time I hear it.
Lydia Loveless – “Steve Earle”
Last year’s Something Else took Loveless’s songwriting and musicianship to a totally new place, but this song from 2011’s Indestructible Machine still makes me laugh my head off and wonder if, while sharing a label with Steve’s son, she ever did get to meet him.
Caleb Caudle – “How’d You Learn”
Another 2014 gem, albeit one that got a lot less radio play than some of the others on this list, another song that makes me think of long weeks apart from somebody I love — but gave me the hope to get through it, and the line home doesn’t share you with the places you’ve been still consistently rips my heart out and tap dances on it.
“Play by Play” – Autre Ne Veut
2013 saw some sort of indie-soul movement that’s still somewhat inexplicable in its timing. As a child of a father stuck on the Motown side of the 1960’s, it was right up my alley. And while hundreds of songs spawned by this movement still tickle my fancy on the daily – “Play by Play” remains THE go-to-song when the sun goes down.
“Ways To Go” – Grouplove
Easy to like because of their energy, Grouplove brings it all together for “Ways to Go,’ which I’m surprised isn’t the soundtrack to more commercials (and I totally mean that as a compliment).
“Seasons (Waiting on You)” – Future Islands
When we covered this song in 2014, we compared it to a beach music song on drugs, and looking back, that was some smart-ass-shit. It still sounds like that, and watching it propel this band to stardom makes total sense framed in that light. It’s accessible while not overtly sounding accessible – guarantee you my mom would bristle at first, but end up bopping that permed head in no time.
“Oblivion” – Grimes
Not too much to say about this song other than it was fucking inescapable for the entire year of 2012. It was on every radio station, including the country station. It was in commercials, it was played in TV shows, sporting events, funerals, bar mitzvahs, KKK ceremonies – even on MTV! And while we may be sick of it now, it was certainly our jam for at least 3 months. That’s a lot.
“Walkin on a Pretty Day” – Kurt Vile
We could have gone one of five ways when including Kurt Vile on this list, but we decided to go the catchy, springy way this time around. A breath of fresh air after his crushing Smoke Ring for my Halo LP, this jam just beacons you to turn the radio up, grab a drink and walk around whatever hood you hail from.
“Video Games” – Lana Del Rey
It was snowy when I first heard this song in 2012. I’m guessing it was January based on that time frame, and I listened to it while driving down an un-cleared road. It was sheer scene-setting-perfection. I remember it being loud. And beautiful. And one of those songs that made you want to memorize the words and understand what could drive such beauty.
“Giant” – Matrimony
I saw them perform this in a St. Louis club called Off Broadway to around 30 people, and it was spectacular. It was like they were playing to 3,000. And that’s why Matrimony will succeed.
“Kiss Quick” – Matt Nathanson
“I’ve got a line out the door who all think they can save me.” The first time I heard that line, I knew I loved this song.
“Laredo” – Band of Horses
Guitars, man. Sometimes they’re just instruments. And sometimes they sound like the ones being used in “Laredo.”
“Harder Than Stone” – City & Colour
“Some day I will walk away,” Dallas Green sings. I don’t really believe him, but I believe in this song and its beautiful chorus. Makes you want to sing, you know?
Twin Shadow – “Five Seconds”
White people can’t dance. I know that. You know that. It’s horrible when they do – and even though I live my life by a strict “no dancing in public” rule, I couldn’t help myself when Twin Shadow blasted into this during a 2012 set. Rules are made to be broken? I dunno – but this song makes me want to dance fight with someone. Dance fight to the death!
Vampire Weekend – “Step”
Is that a harpsichord? I’m not sure, but this song screams upper-west-side money. The music itself would be something a stuff old guy would listen to while taking tea – but the lyrics as cheeky as modern music gets. Mixing hip hop phrasing with pure poetry – it all combines into a sound that’s never been created – and it’s a gorgeous creation when it’s all said and done.
“Have One On Me” – Joanna Newsom
Joanna Newsom’s 2010 double LP Have One On Me is bursting with spectacular music, but this sprawling, eleven-minute track should be essential listening for any aspiring songwriter. Newsom leads the us through a splendid landscape of fantastical creatures and evocative imagery that only becomes richer upon repeated listening.
“Finish Those Cigarettes and Go to Bed” – Josh Tillman
Tillman’s soundtrack to The History of Caves was one of my favorite records of 2013 and continues to be in heavy rotation. “Finish Those Cigarettes and Go to Bed” is a stark, beautiful reminder of how to subtly evoke many emotions.
“Hedron” – BadBadNotGood
BadBadNotGood are a post-bop jazz trio from Toronto and their 2014 release, III, is a facemelter. “Hedron” is a prime example how deftly they synthesize brooding jazz improvisation and hip-hop breakbeats to create enjoyable, stylistically interesting music.
“She Found Now” – My Bloody Valentine
Going 22 years between dropping albums results in high expectations for the finished product to live up to, or even exceed, previous efforts. Luckily My Bloody Valentine traversed this difficult situation tactfully, releasing mbv to widespread critical acclaim. “She Found Now” introduces the album, and its everything one could ever hope for in a My Bloody Valentine song; gauzy and atmospheric, with a hefty dollop of androgynous vocals mixed in perfectly.
“Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume” – mewithoutYou
Visceral and poetic, the music of mewithoutYou will grab you and not let go. This track is particularly intense, but traversing its winding narrative is an extremely gratifying experience.
Main Theme – Andrew Hale (L.A. Noire Original Soundtrack)
Video game soundtracks sometimes suffer when taken out of their in-game context. Not the case for the music of L.A. Noire. It draws heavily on 1940’s jazz to create an atmosphere of authenticity for the mid-century crime drama it accompanies. Even outside of the video game world that it soundtracks, the music is breathtakingly beautiful and moving in its own right.
“Reno” – Colour Revolt
Colour Revolt are the most under appreciated band of the last 15 years. Someday they will be recognized as the infallible powerhouse that they are, but until then we have two albums and the best eponymous EP of all time to remind us how excellent they really are. “Reno” is off their final album, The Cradle, and is evidence enough to argue their greatness, but I urge anyone to check out their entire discography.
“Who The Waves Are Roaring For” – Colin Stetson
Colin Stetson is imbued with superhuman saxophone powers that allow him to craft otherworldly soundscapes that retain a fundamental human quality. This instance sees Stetson accompanied by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on vocals and the juxtaposition of the clanging, reedy horn with Vernon’s delicate falsetto makes for an arresting listening experience.
“All You Need Is A Wall” – The Books
Rarely does a song move me upon first listening like “All You Need Is A Wall” did. This song is relatively stripped down by The Books’ standards but this unpretentious production is beneficial creating a relatable piece of art. The Books can get a little heady sometimes, but this track is life affirming and poignant in a very grounding way.
“Moses” – Chelsea Wolfe
Doom queen Chelsea Wolfe is quite prolific, but I’ve never gotten over the first time I heard “Moses.” Opening with shrill white noise and a gloomy drum machine beat, the song quickly materializes around crunchy guitars and layers of Wolfe’s ghostly vocals. Really great stuff for a long, rainy drive.
“Sweetest Kill” – Broken Social Scene
Broken Social Scene are, to me, the perfect band. There’s so much diversity and quality in their back catalog that there is surely something for everyone and if not, one of the countless side projects that they have spawned will certainly appeal. “Sweetes Kill” is from the band’s last album, Forgivness Rock Record, and it’s easily the darkest track on that LP. It broods with such intensity that it requires two bass players and the video is about cutting up your significant other with an ax. Great stuff!
“Turning Tables” – Adele
For all the shit Adele gets, 21 was a pretty damn great album. This was the one I always replayed while painting my old kitchen (yes, imagine that scene). So it gets the call again.
“Hold On” – Alabama Shakes
Why they hardly ever play this live, I will never know. Maybe it’s because they know how hooky it is, and they probably don’t want to be known for just one hooky song. But still.
“Let ‘Em Eat Cake” – Alexz Johnson
Alexz Johnson should already be a star, but that’s not for me to decide. And it’s because of songs like this. Confident, amazing singer, a hint of every damn good thing worth your time.
“Burn.flicker.die” – American Aquarium
“And by every now and then I mean most of the time.” I love that line because it comes after, “Every now and then she still crosses my mind.” Gold.
“Coming Down” – Anais Mitchell
Devastating. I played this so many times when my heart was shattered a few years ago. It means something different to me now, though, and that’s okay, too.
“Liar” – Annie Stela
The ultimate “fuck you” song, if you ask me. Annie Stela tells it like it is. Plus, she screams.
“You Never Need Nobody” – The Lone Bellow
You want passion? Look up the word and you will find a photo of The Lone Bellow. This song might start playing, too.
“Say You Love Me” – Jessie Ware
Okay, a little cheesy, and it was on that diamond commercial. But hey, I’m the king of cheddar.
“Little Too Late”- Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers
“It’s a little too late to die young.” The groove is the cake. And Nicki Bluhm is the icing.
“Bright Lights” – Gary Clark Jr.
When you think about it, I really don’t know if there’s much of a difference between John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. Oh wait, I just figured it out — it’s this song.
“Shock To My System” – Gemma Hayes
“You were right, I was half alive,” Gemma Hayes sings. And really, it’s the way she sings it that makes this song so delightful. Find her other work, it’s wonderful.
“KMAG YOYO” – Hayes Carll
While I wait for a new Hayes Carll album, this will be playing on my stereo.
“Blue Ridge Mountain” – Hurray For The Riff Raff
The multi-talented Alynda Lee Segarra leads New Orleans’ Hurray For The Riff Raff. If you don’t know where to start, may I suggest “Blue Ridge Mountain.” Go on, stream it now.
“Me and You” – Jake Bugg
His voice isn’t for everyone, but maybe that’s what makes him special. Or maybe that’s just what I like about music: being perfect is often a flaw.
“Head Underwater” – Jenny Lewis
“But when the walls came down, the shit got real.” Again, sometimes it’s only a line that makes me perk up. There’s a lot of these moments on Jenny Lewis’ The Voyager, but this one is the best.
“Wake Up” – Jenny Owen Youngs
I just like the way she sings. With abandon, with force, with nothing left. But there is plenty left.
“Midnight City” – M83
I’ve loved this song since 2011, but it was watching a friend jump out of his reception-hall-chair and literally bounce about 50 yards to the dance floor when the DJ dropped it at my wedding that cemented it in my heart forever. It will always be a song that illustrated the sheer power of pop, and its ability to make anyone and everyone a star for a moment or two.
“Song for Zula” – Phosphorescent
Strings. Sparse bass. Driving beat. They’re great – but what truly sets this song apart are the weak and seeming strained vocals that give it a sense of emotion that sets it apart. Don’t get me wrong, the entire thing comes together beautifully, but it’s the way it’s sung that makes it seem less produced than it could have.
“A New Life” – Jim James
Jim James has a knack for capturing a moment, and there is none better than the opening of “A New Life.” Oh, and this line: “Let’s get one thing clear, there’s much more stardust when you’re near.”
“Erase Me” – Kid Cudi
Featuring Kanye, but does Kid Cudi really need him here? Probably not.
“Somebody That I Used To Know” – Gotye
I don’t know what the future holds for Gotye, but I will always love this damn song.
“Runaway” – Kanye West
The best version of “Runaway”is still this one. “I’m so gifted in finding what I don’t like the most.”
“Blue Hotel” – Kate Tucker & the Sons of Sweden
Love the voice, love the guitar, love the overall atmosphere of Kate Tucker and the Sons of Sweden. Find their album, The Shape The Color The Feel.
“Sidecar” – Kathleen Edwards
For now, Kathleen Edwards is out of the game, having decided to open a coffee shop. But we were left with “Sidecar,” so that’s okay.
“Coffee Cups” – Langhorne Slim & the Law
“What are we doing up still, drinking wine out of coffee cups.” Langhorne Slim and imagery go hand in hand.
“Toes” – Lights
Somewhere along the line I started to believe that pop music equaled little or no talent. I’m sorry I ever listened to that bullshit. Lights is talented as they come.
“Say Anything” – Tristan Prettyman
I used to sing this at dusk, driving down these dusty back roads, just thinking. I would listen until my mind was clear, until the stress from the day’s work had vanished. A good song should do that. This does.
“Wings” – Birdy
The melody is perfect, and what I mean by that is its fucking intoxicating to the point that its immediately interesting and arresting. And, oh yeah, Birdy is only 19.
“Mountaintop Removal” – Lissie
“What’s the use in making something new,” Lissie sings. “If all that made us must be ruined.” I could have picked three or four from Lissie’s last album, but she sounds the most alive on this one.
“Colombia” – Local Natives
One of the saddest songs that exists. “Am I giving enough?”Kelcy Ayer sings. Is it ever enough? Can it ever be?
“Tennis Court” – Lorde
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Lorde. She walked out in front of at least 30,000 people, and when she was totally in her groove, she performed “Tennis Court.” It was only the third song of the set.
“Black Roses” – Escondido
Whenever I listen to this song, I feel as if I’m in the desert with Jessica Maros and Tyler James of Escondido. The wind is blowing, it’s getting dark, and there’s coyote howling. Music often does strange things to my mind, and that’s when I know it’s good.
“Let Me Back In” – Explosions in the Sky
If I could make one suggestion, it would be that each and ever one of you see this amazing band live at least once in your life. And when that happens, you should be so lucky to hear this song.
“Fairytale” – Cowboy Junkies
Michael Timmins is ridiculously good at what he does: writing lyrics. Come to think of it, he’s a bad ass on guitar, too, but let’s stay with words for right now. His skills are on display on “Fairytale,” and his sister, Margo, never sounded better.
“I Don’t Want to Change You” – Damien Rice
Sometimes I get tired of the whole “Don’t take no for an answer” mantra. Enter Damien Rice and when he sings, “I don’t want to change your mind.” How fucking beautiful and confident is that? Love or leave it, how ’bout them apples?
“Go Home” – Lucius
Young singers take note: one of the reasons why Lucius exploded is because of this song, and they way they sing it.
“Point of Creation” – Marketa Irglova
A hymn about starting new. Are all hymns like this? If not, all hymns should be sung by Marketa Irglova.
“Patti and Robert” – Mason Jennings
“Patti was a universe, complete and incomplete.” That’s like the perfect definition, and it somehow makes the song shine brighter than most.
“Just Friends” – Deer Tick
John McCauley is such a versatile songwriter, and “Just Friends” is exhibit A. Exhibit B is a song called “Easy.” And with that I rest my case.
“I Forget Where We Were” – Ben Howard
“Hello, love, my invincible friend.” Sometimes all it takes is a line like that to light up a song. It completely changed my mind on Ben Howard: from good songwriter to great songwriter.
“Guttersnipe” – Bhi Bhiman
If you ever get a chance to hear Bhi Bhiman belt this one out live, don’t hesitate to get your booty to the music venue where it’s gonna go down.
“California” – Delta Spirit
Try running to this song — seriously, it won’t seem so bad (unless you’re one of those people who actually like to run). Anyway. When Delta Spirit is good, they are “California” good.
“Sonsick” – San Fermin
This one was catchy to me, but it didn’t vault into “best of” territory for me until I saw it performed live, after that – it became superglued into my psyche. Like a musical laid down on wax, this song is the female perspective of a longer dialogue that runs throughout San Fermin’s eponymous debut. Male and female play equal roles, but from a song standpoint. Female wins.
“Rill Rill” – Sleigh Bells
Remember when Sleigh Bells dropped their first LP? How it was so damn loud you felt your eardrums would be pounded through your skull and rip out of the top of your head, annihilating your brain and killing you instantly? This song was the melody band-aid that kept your shit together, and unsurprisingly, it’s the one that left the most lasting impression.
“Ain’t Much More To Say” – Matthew Mayfield
“I have a crippling fear of seeing you again.” Do you have anyone like that in your life? (Or should I say, anyone who used to be in your life.)
“And It’s Such A Drag” – Matthew Ryan
“It doesn’t even make you sad.” That’s the worst part of breaking up, right? One person always isn’t sad, or at least they play it off as such. Maybe sadness comes later. Or maybe nothing was ever real. Matthew Ryan wrote a song about all of that, and that’s why it’s on this list.
“Desire” – Meg Myers
There’s going to come a day — and probably very, very soon — where Meg Myers is going to be playing this song for thousands of people. And that’s going to be a great day.
“Clone” – Metric
“It’s too late in the day to turn it around, or change my mind.” Isn’t that the truth, though? We’re all enamored with this idea of “it’s not too late,” when the reality is that the prime of life is finite. One of Metric’s best.
“Nothing To Show For” – Nathaniel Rateliff
Somewhere along the way, maybe we all fall into the trap thinking that guarantees exist. They do not. And after listening to this song for the first song, I think Nathaniel Rateliff knows that, too.
“Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” – Neko Case
Not many artists could pull a song like this off, but Neko Case is rare when it comes to authenticity. If you’ve never heard this, I suggest listening to it alone for the first time.
“Fires in the Backyard” – New Animal
This reminds me of dusk at summer, maybe right after a BBQ. And the lights from a nearby pool are glowing.
“Came Back Haunted” – Nine Inch Nails
For all I know Trent Reznor hates lists like this. But hey, “Came Back Haunted” has gotten me through a workout or two, so there’s that.
“Lifetime” – Noah and the Whale
Apparently, Noah and the Whale broke up on April Fool’s Day. Totally thought that was a joke. Good news: we’ll always have “Lifetime.”
“Cigarettes” – Noah Gundersen
Comparing love to cigarettes is not easy, but Noah Gundersen manages. This one really only works in the depths of winter, but life isn’t about waiting. So play it now.
“Cherry on Top” – Oh Land
I saw Oh land perform this once. Her hair was blue, and she was wearing a really awesome jacket. She’s the real cherry on top.
“The Hunter” – On An On
“They’ll pray for you to come back.” Infectious electro-basement-pop. I totally just made up that genre.
“Meet Me At The Edge Of The World” – Over The Rhine
Over the Rhine do what they do, and there will never really be any reason to change that. Unless they want to something different. And they would probably good at that, too.
“It’s Spiritual” – Patrick Sweany
Now, this dude can play. Do yourself a huge, monumental favor: find where Patrick Sweany is playing and go see him.
“Wild Old Dog” – Patty Griffin
Patty Griffin is a crown jewel who always seems to stay out of the spotlight. And she does whatever she wants: like write songs about wild old dogs.