Size of the Moon
Coffee - Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso is possibly my favorite band. I can’t say enough about how complex and beautiful the music is. The lyrics, her voice, everything just creates these perfect little worlds that we get to live in for a few minutes. There’s more SE to come so I’ll say more then.
California - Robert Ellis
Robert Ellis’ albums are typically sort of Nashville Country - very good country, but pretty traditional. I could always hear something else in his songs though but hidden way under the surface. When he came out with this album, and this song in particular, that changed. He’s doing so many interesting things musically and the writing is fantastic. This is a haunting song. It takes a simple story about a relationship that has ended and turns into something so much bigger. Something that makes you really understand how it feels to need to walk away from everything with very little hope that anything will ever change. The word cosmic. The word past. The word future.
Shark Smile - Big Thief
Big Thief is a band that I didn’t know much about until recently, but now they are definitely one of my favorites. I can’t quite work out what this song is about but I know it involves two people that are so in love that they crash their car while trying to kiss. It’s sweet and heartbreaking and I love it. Adrianne Lenker is the songwriter and some of her solo songs are included later.
Lost In The Light - Bahamas
Bahamas also tops my list of favorites. “If someone could see me now, let them see you”. That line shatters me. Writing a song that says anything new about being in love is next to impossible, but he’s done it so beautifully and made it seem effortless. On top of that he is an absolutely incredible guitar player - which also comes off as sounding effortless. Trust me, it’s not.
Vancouver Time - Leif Vollebekk
Leif Vollebekk is one of the best singer/songwriters I’ve heard - and somehow almost completely unknown to most people. I saw him at the Firebird last year and only 6 people showed up. It was insane. He usually plays an electric keyboard or piano, and does so with a level of soulfulness that you rarely hear in modern music. The same is true for his voice. This record has been my go to lately. Seriously, play this album on some quiet evening, dim the lights, drink some wine. The last song on the record Rest is an 8 minute masterpiece. If you don’t fall in love with him after hearing this song, go watch his video for the song Elegy. If you don’t love him after that I can’t help you.
What You Don't Do - Lianne La Havas
I know almost nothing about Lianne La Havas other than her music is what should replace almost all the pop garbage that is currently on the radio - and that Prince was a big fan. How she hasn’t exploded in popularity yet boggles my mind.
No Matter Who - Margaret Glaspy
This entire album is great. She’s an amazing songwriter, singer, and guitar player. Her voice goes from highway gravel to birdsong in the span of 2 minutes and 57 seconds. So good.
Size of the Moon - Pinegrove
Okay, Pinegrove. They sound like an average indie rock band, I know, but it’s a trick. I promise. There is something else going on here that elevates them to this magical place. The problem is that I can’t put it into words. You need to listen to the whole album a few times. Something clicks eventually and I don’t know what, but it definitely has to do with the songwriting. The lyrics are… not what indie rocks songs are about. And not sung in this way. The songs are like a conversation, a deeply personal conversation. They are so honest they almost make me blush. The music only makes sense when you consider that. It has to sound this way in order to show you what feeling this way sounds like.
Your Best American Girl - Mitski
Mitski is blowing up. Her new album was at the top of most best of lists last year. A lot of her music hasn’t entirely connected with me yet, but this song has. It’s pretty and mean and loud and out of control and about complicated relationships and her voice, I mean HER VOICE, and I would absolutely love to see her live.
Yellow Eyes - Rayland Baxter
When something turns your world upside down. When a paperclip reminds you of a friend. When you’re lost. Completely. When you don’t care. When you see that nothing can fix it. When you can write a song that describes these feelings in under 3 minutes.
If I'm Unworthy - Blake Mills
Blake Mills is a relatively unknown musician that almost every musician looks up to. He has helped produce, write, and play guitar on so many amazing albums from Norah Jones to Lana Del Ray. He made two solo albums to explore some song ideas he had and they are both so so good. Two of my very favorite albums that exist in the world today. If I could snap my fingers and have new music from anyone it would be him. This song is about being so in love but not being sure if you’re good enough, or whether or not you’re worthy of the power you have over that person. I’ve never heard another song about that.
The Arrow and the Aim - Nadia Reid
This song took my breath away when I first heard it. Her voice floats in a dense landscape of sound that hits like a wave. I have no idea what it’s about but it sounds like something that’s been dug up from deep inside the ground. Something ancient and made of gold.
Cape of Diamonds - Fionn Regan
This isn’t usually what Fionn Regan’s music sounds like. He's a folk musician from Ireland. And a very good one at that. Acoustic guitar, stripped down, pretty vocals. This new album though… someone turned on all the lights. There are drums, organs, weird digital future stuff. It’s a massive transition for him and usually massive transitions are not smooth - but in this case somehow it is a perfect fit. Opening all these new doors has allowed him to write songs about things he never would have otherwise. I’m excited for what’s next.
Emery - S. Carey
S. Carey is the drummer and supporting vocalist for Bon Iver. I thought that was going to be a hard thing for him to shed when he released his solo album - but then I heard it. It’s a gorgeous collection of songs and completely stands on its own. It was hard to select one song to represent the album, so I really recommend listening to the whole thing.
On Every Page - The Tallest Man On Earth
The Tallest Man On Earth has been one of my favorite songwriters for over 10 years and he keeps putting out consistently great music. Kristian Matsson is from Sweden and the way he uses language is brilliant. He mixes concepts and phrases in his songs in ways that no native English speaker would think to do. He also uses very strange guitar tunings which gives his music this overall feeling of being slightly off-kilter, but also of something completely new.
Everything Apart - Foxwarren, Andy Shauf, D. A. Kissick
In Another Life - Foxwarren, Andy Shauf, D. A. Kissick
Andy Shauf is my favorite new musician (new to me). These two tracks are actually from a recent album that he put out with some friends, but I’ve also included a few from his other albums. I love the way these two songs work together so I didn’t want to split them up.
Bright Leaves - Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Most of the members of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin went to Drury and I was friends with the drummer (who wrote/sings this song). While in school they had a hit on the TV show The OC and kind of blew up for a minute. After school they shuffled some members around and put out two really great albums. This song is really simple but so beautiful, and I wake up a lot of mornings with the melody in my head.
Kill the Fun - Haley Bonar
I don’t know a lot about Haley Bonar, but I’ve loved this song for a long time. The frantic drums and guitar never slow down. This is my kind of dance music.
Love Survive - Michael Nau
Michael Nau is a relatively new musician that has been putting out some great music. His albums sound old and new at the same time. There are a lot of nods to classic soul and R&B, but it isn’t really either of those things. He’s using the same palette of colors but painting a completely new picture.
Defense - Sarah Jaffe
I’ve been following Sarah Jaffe’s music since I heard her song Clementine in 2010 (I highly recommend it). She’s reinvented herself a few times over the years and most of her albums end up sounding very different from one another. Like most musicians, her recent songs have been a response to our digital culture - embracing new digital instruments while also pushing back, asking questions. Her newest album Bad Baby is also highly recommended. I was very close to including one of her newer songs Synthetic Love, which I listen to on a loop sometimes, but it’s just a bit too long to include on a playlist and kind of its own object.
Between the Bars - Elliott Smith
Besides inspiring every single musician around today that makes anything worth listening to, Elliott Smith wrote songs for us. It’s not sad or depressing music, but it has the incredible power to connect with people who suffer from life. When you’re at the bottom, hearing his songs can surround you like a blanket. When you just can’t stand to listen to another happy upbeat song. He turned himself inside out and wrote songs that are sensitive, dark, and more human than anything else I’ve heard. It’s cathartic to listen to. To know you’re not alone and there’s someone out there in the world who is there, feeling it. I’m sure this music has saved lives - people listening with no one else to turn to. He truly was an angel.
Smoke Signals - Phoebe Bridgers
Bridgers is an incredible songwriter and guitar player. She’s been through a lot in her 24 years and her mature writing abilities reflect that. When I first came across this song I immediately recognized her talent. The line “One of your eyes is always half-shut, something happened when you were a kid. I didn’t know you then and I’ll never understand why it feels like I did” makes my throat catch. I also recommend her album Stranger in the Alps which has so many incredible songs on it. As a side note, she also just put out an album with Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes.
Clean Up - JR JR
I know very little about JR JR but I’ve found myself listening to this kind of music lately. For a long time I hated any song with digital instruments but I’m starting to understand it now. There is a blending of traditional instruments with these computer generated sounds that create this really strange environment. It’s something that can be easy to miss when you hear a song like this but there are so many deep layers of things happening musically. I also can’t tell you how many time I’ve thought to myself “If I don’t get home soon I’m gonna freak out”.
How Could You Babe - Tobias Jesso Jr.
This album came out in 2015. Listen to the song and then read that again - 2015. Also, he’s our age. This song is as good anything Elton John or Randy Newman ever wrote. It’s an astonishingly good piece of writing that feels like a classic already. I really think people will still be listening to this song in 50 years - and I don’t think that about many songs these days. Tobias has written songs for a lot of popular musicians including Adele, who tweeted a link to this song, finally getting him some much deserved attention.
What Happened Today - Bridget Kearney
Bridget Kearney is another new artist that is mixing the old ways of making music with the new. This also feels like a classic song to me for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on. The instrumentation section in the middle could easily be the backdrop of a roller rink circa 1976. Slow skate. Disco ball. Colored lights. Cotton candy. This is her first album (that I know of) but I expect good things coming from her in the future.
Beautiful Strangers - Kevin Morby
Even though this song is about a series of recent terrible events, it somehow addresses them with such grace and positivity. I love it for that reason and many others.
Biloxi - Hiss Golden Messenger
Hiss Golden Messenger is easily one of my top 5 musicians. Michael Taylor is sort of an enigma that only a relatively small number of people know about, but those people are obsessed with him. This is true even though his albums are always raved about by even the most critical sources. I’m just glad I found him when I did and I’m excited to share his music with you. Every song on this album is fantastic so it was hard to pick just one. Go listen to his albums Heart Like a Levee and Hallelujah Anyhow.
Early to the Party - Andy Shauf
I listened to Andy Shauf’s album The Party probably 15 times before I started to see what he was doing - then I was in love with it. I’ll save you the time so you can listen to it and enjoy it in the same way. Every song on The Party revolves around a single party one night. There are snippets of conversation from fighting couples, drunken admissions of love, recurring characters, the same events seen from two different points of view, dancing by yourself late into the night, and showing up way too early. This album is such an interesting and difficult writing challenge and he just totally nails it - it pays off once you start to see all the connections between the songs. This song stand alone but should also really be listened to as part of the larger collection.
Illinois - Anna Tivel
Anna Tivel is new to me and when I first heard this song I was stunned. The song is perfect and the lyrics are that lovely combination of sharp and soft, dark and light. She says more in 3 minutes and 33 seconds than most novels do in 300 pages. She paints a heartbreaking picture of someone searching for a new home, a new love, a new life. The line “the radio, the rain, the road” is amazing. I recommend her album Small Believer and her new song Fenceline (although I prefer her acoustic version on the Audiotree Live Album).
Song For Zula - Phosphorescent
This is a really weird song (and album) by Phosphorescent. He usually write these stark, lo-fi songs with almost nothing else but an acoustic guitar - listen to his song Wolves to see what I mean. I love those songs alot but this song is just so… so much bigger. It’s full of ideas and music and it’s probably the longest song on the playlist but it’s worth it.
Underwater - Porches
This is a good example of the music I used to be really turned off by, that I’m now finding myself being drawn to more and more. I don’t know why. If you listen to more of his music you’ll see that it’s disconnected from time. He’s doing something new but I struggle to explain it. I think it’s that he truly doesn’t care about making music for other people’s sake.
Lover I Don't Have To Love - Bright Eyes
This song is from an OLD Bright Eyes’ album. Everytime I hear this song I think about how ahead of its time was musically. It’s an amazing song. It’s dark, powerful, muddy. It’s being disconnected, roaming the street all night. It’s for love or something like it. It’s for blurry eyed sunrises.
The Glow - Sylvan Esso
This is from the newest SE album and there aren’t enough words to describe how much I love it. It’s a perfectly written snapshot of her teenage years, about growing up, and about all of the people that did the growing up with her. If I haven’t already mentioned this you should really listen to all of these songs with headphones.
How Now - Snowblink
I know next to nothing about Snowblink but this song is great.
Arm's Length - Kacy Hill
Kacy Hill wrote this song right before she went on tour with Kanye as a model/dancer… that’s a weird thing for sure, but her songs are so good. The music is dancey and borderline clubby, but it works so well with her incredible voice. Again, why isn’t this what’s on the radio these days?
When I'm Gone - The Elected
After Jenny Lewis left the band Rilo Kiley the guitar player Blake Sennett started The Elected. It was short-lived project that only put out 3 albums but they’re all great. When I first heard their song Go On I thought my CD broke about half way through - when I realized it hadn’t I was instantly taken with them. I had never heard anything like it. This is another song that feels completely ahead of its time (2011) and fits nicely among the others on this playlist.
Good Thing - Michael Nau
This is another great song from Michael Nau. There is something about the funk bass & drums, the thin piano, and his mellow vocal style that makes this sound familiar - but then there's this whole tinge of psychedelic mixed in that makes it unique.
From a Window Seat - Dawes
Dawes has so many great songs. I could have added ten more and not felt bad about it. This song stands out though and it’s one that I listen to and think about all of the time. I love that it takes place on a plane. I love the characters that are described and how he guesses at their personalities. I love the weird little samba drum thing that happens around 2:45. I love his search for meaning in everything around him. “The conversation between the rivers and the freeways”. Instantly depressed I’ll never write a lyric that good. I recommend this whole album and also Nothing Is Wrong… and North Hills. Really just throw a dart.
Bad Luck - Michael Trent
The one and only Michael Trent - the other half of Shovels and Rope. This is from his solo album before he was officially making music with Cary Ann (even though she sings on this too) and it’s one of my favorite records. I actually fell in love with this collection of song years before Shovels and Rope was really a thing and as much as I love the new music I come back to this record all the time. Cary Ann had two solo albums before S&R that are very good too. Go listen to her song Dresden Snow. It sounds so different but it’s an absolutely stellar song.
Emotions and Math - Margaret Glaspy
Another great song from Margaret Glaspy. I can relate.
Paul - Big Thief
A sad, but also sort of sexy song about discovering that someone else can’t make you happy if you can’t do it yourself. The chorus is full of complicated hazey imagery, full of pain and hope, and I have no idea what it all means but I love it.
Alaska - Maggie Rogers
Maggie Rogers wrote this song as part of a college project. Through an odd series of events it was played for Pharrell and devastated him. He basically experiences the exact range of emotions I have every time I hear an amazing new song. He was so smitten. And he was so right. It’s a fantastic song. I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times and the raw power still comes through.
Elegy - Leif Vollebekk
If you took life’s moments, the ones you can’t forget, the ones that are always in the space between other thoughts, and shook them up in a bottle. A complicated tangle of memories, regrets, hopes. Each line a story. Looking for the thread that connects everything. Hoping that there is a thread that connects everything.