Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An iTunes-created top 15 artists

It's facebook viral survey time again!

Directions: open iTunes and sort your songs by number of plays.  List the top 15 distinct artists that appear in terms of plays and the most-played track by each (along with the number of plays). Eminem and Eminem feat. xyz and variants thereof are not distinct artists, as much as iTunes may think they are.  Write something about each of them.  Tag me in your note.

1. "Greater Than," Vedera, from Stages (38).  Okay, this one is going to take a little explanation.  Two and a half years ago, suggested that I listen to a little EP called Stages from a band called Vedera.  It was awesome.  It's three songs of brilliance; if you want them to, they can tell a cohesive story, and if not, they're perfectly amazing in isolation.  But the best part was that Vedera hyped the EP as a preview of things to come with their second full-length album, also called Stages.  The full-length didn't quite live up to the EP, but I still listened to it far, far too many times back in fall 2009.  "Greater Than" is both the first and best track on the album, explaining its gratuitous number of plays.

2. "Sing Me Spanish Techno," The New Pornographers, from Twin Cinema (30).  In a year that also saw the release of The Everglow, Plans, Illinois, and Picaresque, Twin Cinema still managed to be a standout album.  This was the first song I heard by the New Pornographers--tragically, not until 2010!--and it made me an instant fan.  Energy, imagery, and creative lyrics make this song a worthy addition to the list.  Go listen to it.

3. "Careful," Paramore, from Brand New Eyes (20).  Yep, guilty as charged, I'm into Paramore.  The only surprise here was that my most-played Paramore track wasn't from Riot!, because that album is seriously good, and I will defend it with every ounce of critical credibility that I have.  "Careful" is a fine track too, with enough energy to have been on Riot! and slightly more sophisticated lyrics.

4. "Australia," The Shins, from Wincing the Night Away (17).  Love this song, love this album, love the Shins.  It's so happy--how could you not love it?  Some highlights are grin-inducing lyrics like "faced with the dodo's conundrum," a vague theme of breaking out of the mold and doing what makes you happy, and an absolutely delightful music video.

5. "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid," The Decemberists, from The Hazards of Love (15).  The Decemberists have a lot of material that's tough to explain to a non-fan, and Hazards takes the cake for furthest out there.  It's also irrationally my favorite Decemberists album--I think the theater/folk/prog experiment paid off.  This song is essentially the end of "Act I" of the implied musical; it's about the shape-shifting protagonist William trying to escape the clutches of his jealous forest-queen mother.  And in the context of Hazards, that not only all makes sense, but is really entertaining, both narratively and musically.

6. "Jewel to Sparkle," The Juliana Theory, from Love (14).  A little surprised this showed up until I remembered how often I listen to the Juliana Theory at the gym.  They might be the most under-appreciated rock band of the 2000s, and if they're known at all, it's for Emotion is Dead.  It's a fine album, but Love is probably better and certainly under-rated.  It contains a lot of harmonic and instrumental explorations not normally associated with circa-2003 emo rock, which it what makes it such good music.

7. "Daniel," Bat for Lashes, from Two Suns (13).  My friend Andrew and I have a fine tradition of listening to the Pitchfork "top ten albums of the year" every January.  2009's was particularly terrible (some trash from Animal Collective was apparently the "best"), but the one bright spot we came across was Bat for Lashes.  And by bright spot, we meant this song and maybe two or three more on Two Suns.  "Daniel" is an out-of-place techno-inspired track on an album that feels like an opiate-induced day-long dream; it's Bat for Lashes at its most accessible and musically sound.

8. "Someone Else's Arms," Mae, from The Everglow (12).  Absolutely a travesty that this track is so far down on the list, it's possibly my favorite song from possibly my favorite album of all time.  My love for The Everglow defies explanation, but it involves some combination of personal significance and musical brilliance.  Of all the songs on it, "Someone Else's Arms" rocks the hardest and leaves the strongest impression.

9. "Desecration Smile," Red Hot Chili Peppers, from Stadium Arcadium (12).  Not being a huge Chili Peppers fan in general, I was pleasantly blown away by Stadium Arcadium. It has a few weak tracks on it; "Desecration Smile" is not one of them.  It might be about a relationship, or drugs, or nothing at all, but it hardly needs lyrics considering its modal, brooding melodies are so intriguing.

10. "Shady Grove," as performed by Among the Oak and Ash, from Among the Oak and Ash (11).  Very cool.  I've never been shy about admitting that I like a little folk and bluegrass garnish to go along with my steady diet of indie pop, which explains why I took to AtOAA so readily after hearing them on Paste Magazine's podcast a couple of years ago.  "Shady Grove" is an old American folk song, with thousands of renditions out there, and Garrison Starr's simple banjo-accompanied version is as good as any of them.

11. "Bohemian Like You," The Dandy Warhols, from Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia (11).  I claim to be a Dandy Warhols fan on the strength of this album alone; in fact, I've never even heard any of the other albums, I just assume they're a fraction as good.  My friend Nicholas shared this album with me back in 2005, and this track was an instant favorite: "Bohemian Like You" made fun of the hipster culture before it was cool to make fun of hipsters.

12. "Help I'm Alive," Metric, from Fantasies (11).  In the wasteland of music that was 2009, Metric somewhat quietly released by far their best album, managing to incorporate their dance-y unconventionality from previous albums without being nearly as aggressively in our faces about it.  "Help I'm Alive" is far more interesting than it deserves to be for how much it repeats, but Emily Haines and company make me want to hear the insistent, driving chorus each of the dozen or so times it shows up.

13. "We Are What You Say," Sufjan Stevens, from A Sun Came! (10).  Hardly a shock that a Sufjan Stevens song shows up on this list, the only surprise being that it's from A Sun Came! instead of the more recent The Age of Adz or the more brilliant Illinois.  Along with "A Winner Needs A Wand," "We Are What You Say" opens Stevens' debut album with a surprisingly hard-rock take on Middle Eastern folk.  Complete with slightly unconventional instrumentation and structure and vaguely-religious-but-draw-your-own-conclusions lyrics, "We Are What You Say" laid the foundation for more than a decade's worth of experimentation by Sufjan Stevens in the realm of indie folk.

14. "Barrowland Ballroom," Amy MacDonald, from This Is The Life (10).  Every season, Starbucks releases a "Have You Heard" compilation that has historically done a pretty impressive job of picking out the next big thing in indie-land.  I first heard Amy MacDonald on the Fall 08 edition, which also included current indie darling Bon Iver.  I wasn't as impressed with his music as I was apparently supposed to be, but "This Is The Life" convinced me to buy Amy MacDonald's album.  Most of it isn't as good as the title track; "Barrowland Ballroom" is one of the few songs that's probably better.  Once styled as "the UK's answer to Katy Perry, except she can actually sing," MacDonald pilots her spirited contralto through a stride piano-driven track about doing awesome things with people you love.

15. "Close Call," Rilo Kiley, from Under the Blacklight (10).  Even though they're the two most different-sounding Rilo Kiley albums, Blacklight and Take-Offs and Landings go back and forth for the honor of "Matt's favorite Rilo Kiley album".  Blacklight must have won out, at least over the two-year span that this iTunes library has been racking up plays.  Like every good Rilo Kiley song, it's a Jenny Lewis vocal showcase with just a hint of country

Currently listening: "My Lovely," Eisley, from Room Noises (only 3 plays?  what?)

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