The tunes that carried me through

My favorite music has taken on new meaning in this strange year of our Lord, 2011.  Good music has been even more of an escape for me as it’s been even more necessary coming home from working at the office or school surrounded by a foreign language and, many times, horrible music.  There were a few hours in the states where I considered not bringing my laptop computer.  That would have been my worst decision since writing a college paper titled “Why Women Love Jane Austen”.

The following lists of favorite albums and songs of the year is not a list of new music.  By my standards, I did not accumulate a lot of new music this year for obvious reasons.  I did get some new tunes from friends and also distributed some as well.  I was very happy to see my friend Erin’s blog in which five of the eight albums she lists were from my collection.  Check it out.

My list consists of some new tunes, but mostly songs and albums I’ve known for years, but come to mean something new across the ocean .

Top songs

“Pork and Beans” by Weezer
Thailand can be conservative, especially through the eyes of Peace Corps (shirt tucked, face shaved, hair short and collared shirt).  This is understandable as they want us to give a good impression, but I’m a t-shirt and shorts kind of guy.  I can follow the rules, but not without a song like this in my head.  Listen.

“I ain’t gonna wear the clothes that you like / I’m fine and dandy with the me inside / One look in the mirror and I’m tickled pink / I don’t give a hoot about what you think.”

“I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You” by Tom Waits
Listen.

“Power” by Kanye West
I surprised myself when I bought his newest album before leaving.  I surprised myself even more when I started to really like it, especially this track.

“Lost in translation with the whole fuckin’ nation / They say I was the abomination of the Obama Nation / Well that’s a pretty bad way to start a conversation.”

“Samson” by Regina Spektor
Always loved this biographical tune told in the first person from Delilah’s perspective, but fell in love with it even more just before leaving.  It’s sad, which I always enjoy.  Listen.

“I cut his hair myself one night / A pair of dull scissors in the yellow light / And he told me that I’d done alright and kissed me ‘til the morning light.”

“Empty” by Ray LaMontagne
As stated earlier, I love sad songs.  The sadder and more depressing, the better and Ray LaMontagne is the master of these tunes.  I owned all of his work with exception to the album with “Empty” on it, which was introduced to me by my friend Joe.

“Will I always feel this way? / So empty / So damn strange.”

“Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga
For those under the age of 45 or with kids, I don’t have to introduce this one.  I was not allowed to give my buddy Erin music without her giving me everything by Lady Gaga on her computer.  Although I’m not as gaga as Erin, I do dig the Catholic girl from New York.

“I want your horror / I want your design / ‘Cause you’re a criminal as long as you’re mine.”

Most played songs added to my iTunes in 2011
5 – “Walk” by Foo Fighters
4 – “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga
3 – “Wonderful (The Way I Feel) by My Morning Jacket
2 – “Empty” by Ray LaMontagne
1 – “I Should Have Known” by Foo Fighters

Top albums

No Code by Pearl Jam
If this were a numbered list, this would be No. 1.  I will never forget the moment, after not listening to any of my music for the first two weeks in Thailand, when I put in my earbuds and listened to No Code.  The tranquility of “Sometimes” was so soothing and the crash of sound that follows with “Hail, Hail” never sounded so good.  Probably Pearl Jam’s least accessible album, No Code has never sounded better to me.

“Up here in my tree / Newspapers matter not to me / No more crowbars to my head / I’m trading stories with the leaves instead.”

Wildflowers by Tom Petty
It’s been one of my all-time favorites since I bought it over 15 years ago.  Great albums like Petty’s second “solo” album only get better when you can introduce them to someone else and you can watch them love it like you did the first time you heard it.

“Don’t say a word about what we’re doing / Don’t say nothing little honey bee / Don’t tell you mom / Don’t tell your sister / Don’t tell your boyfriend little honey bee.”

For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver
In the same way I feel more patriotic since leaving the states, I also appreciated the works of Eau Claire’s own Justin Vernon.  It’s fun to hear other volunteers say how much they love Bon Iver and then I step in and tell them where the band comes from and where I was living the last eight years of my life.  No, I didn’t know him, but I’ve seen him out and about on more than one occasion. 

I always enjoyed For Emma, Forever Ago, but it’s not one of those albums you fall in love with on first listen – at least not for me.  It has taken me a few years to fully appreciate it.  There’s a good chance Bon Iver’s new album will be on next year’s list.

“That was Wisconsin / That was yesterday / Now I have nothing that I can keep.”

Aha Shake Heartbreak by Kings of Leon
The more I listen to the southerners second album, the more I love it and the more I don’t like their big hit Only By Night.  I’m happy to know I was a Kings of Leon fan before they got big in the states.

“Taper jean girl with a motel face” (I’d give a better quote if I could understand anything the lead singer said.)

The Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green
This album is so much fun!  Erin describes it well here

“It’s looking like a limb torn off / Or all together, just taken apart”

Wasting Light by Foo Fighters
Since their release of The Colour and the Light, every album was just “another Foo Fighters album.”  They were good, but nothing any better than the last.  Dave Grohl and Co.’s new album could easily be their best.  “I Should Have Known” is the closest to a Nirvana reunion we’ll see with all living members playing.

“I should have known / There was no other way / Didn’t hear your warning / Damn my heart gone deaf.”

Circuital by My Morning Jacket
Quickly becoming one of my favorite bands, the boys from Louisville’s new album has been one of the most listened this year.  Lead singer Jim James’ – also a member of Monsters of Folk – writing ability only seems to improve.

“I’m goin’ where there ain’t no fear / I’m goin’ where the spirit is near / I’m goin’ where the living is easy and the people are kind / A new state of mind “

Purple by Stone Temple Pilots
Perhaps it was because, before I left, I thought, I don’t need to rip STP to my computer; I can live without them for two years, that made me crave the mid-90s rock band so much.  Once I got their first three albums back on my computer – and Purple, my favorite – they never sounded better.

“Drivin’ faster in my car/ Fallin’ farther from just what we are / Smoke a cigarette and lie some more / These conversations kill / Fallin’ faster in my car.” 

Bone Machine by Tom Waits
You want depressing?  Tom Waits has got it.  I got this right before leaving and I’m so happy I did.  Perhaps my favorite Waits album.

“What does it matter? / A dream of love or a dream of lies / We’re all gonna be the same place when we die … we’re all gonna be just dirt in the ground.”

A Ghost Is Born by Wilco
Along with My Morning Jacket, Wilco has recently entered the second tier of my favorite bands.  Also on the second tier are Beck, Tom Waits, The White Stripes, Radiohead, The Beatles and David Bowie.  I don’t know why I waited so long to get the last album to complete my Wilco collection, A Ghost Is Born.  Aside from the masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it could be my favorite.

“Once in Germany somebody said ‘nine’ / One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine.” (It’s better heard than read)

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3 thoughts on “The tunes that carried me through

  1. Hi Jeff!
    Just read your post about the meaning of music in your life. Very moving! I hope 2012 is a better one for you.
    I see that you’re a fan of Ray LaMontagne. You might enjoy the music of Cdn musician Dann Downes. I’ve included a link to the track he’s released for Christmas.

    Merry Christmas! And keep up the great work overseas.

  2. Just thought you should know, based on your Bon Iver comments, Justine Vernon is a former student of mine. In case you’re wondering, he is very good at math 🙂

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