Thursday, April 20, 2017

Two songs: Jay Som "The Bus Song" and Big Thief "Mythological Beauty"

I've been listening to two female-fronted indie songs on repeat lately: Jay Som's "The Bus Song" and Big Thief's "Mythological Beauty."  Here are a few words about them:

Jay Som's track is light and buoyant, building quickly from a single guitar and whispery vocals into an immersive pop song. During that buildup, Som describes someone's aversion to the bus, and then, suddenly, Som and a bunch of otherwise silent singers confidently exclaim, "but I like the bus!"  Even though this exclamation accounts for, like, a second of the song, I love it (and can't get it out of my head). It's such a triumphant assertion, breaking from the song's otherwise contained sound. Plus, it reminds me of The Replacements's "Kiss Me on the Bus," which is never a bad thing.

Comparatively, Big Thief's song is more subdued. I was drawn to it when I saw the album art, an infant held by a boy with an expression of fear and resentment. It's a fitting picture for a song partially about teenage pregnancy and giving away one's unborn child. Despite these layers of sadness, though, the song is hardly bleak; its rhythmic guitar and steadily tapping drum maintain its spirited pace, and its chorus--well, its chorus is too majestic to be bogged down by sadness.  There, each sound is given space to breathe; listening to the chorus with headphones is like the sonic equivalent of gazing at twinkling songs--sounds flicker in and out, and you're there to absorb the beauty. This beauty comes from the lyrics, too: the singer repeats,  "You're all caught up inside / But you know the way," lines that nicely capture the song's delicate teetering between melancholy and optimism. 

I also appreciate how the song so gracefully ebbs and flows. At one point, the singer's voice bleeds into a swelling, screechy guitar when she describes her mother "soaking up blood with your eyes" after a freak accident. Shortly thereafter, the song comes to a near halt, with just a gentle guitar and soft vocals. I think the song doesn't sound disjointed because the lyrics are so well-written; even though the narrative moves across time and between characters, the song's portraits are lucid and engaging, so when the tone of the lyrics changes, it sounds natural--logical, even--that the instrumentals follow along. In other words, the song earns its payoffs, both quiet and loud.

I really like these songs, is what I mean. Especially this cutting, jaw-dropper of a line, which kills me every time: "there is a child inside you who's trying to raise a child in me." 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Teen Suicide - "It's Just a Pop Song"

Highlighting some of my favorite songs of 2016.

This year I listened a lot to Teen Suicide's sprawling, 26-song It's the Big Joyous Celebration, Let's Stir the Honeypot, an album reminiscent of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness in its hugeness, ambitiousness, and incredible diversity of sounds, styles, and genres.  And while many songs stand out on the album, one has consistently blown me away: the self-effacingly titled "It's Just a Pop Song.
This song has everything I look for in music: sharp, thought-provoking lyrics, an infectious melody, and a massive, well-earned emotional and sonic climax.  

The song opens with a desolate soundscape--as we hear only a few chirps of animals before given any sign of human presence--and the ensuing music, languid guitar jabs and sighing vocals, only fills this empty sonic space with a defeated air.  The lyrics further build on this despair, contrasting a question about living ("Where do your loyalties lie?") with one about death ("And who gets my royalty checks when I die?"), the words "loyalties" and "royalties" joined together in a bleak, bitingly ironic internal rhyme.  

But the song doesn't stay so morbid.  Its momentum rapidly builds--the guitars pick up speed, the vocals grow louder and grander--and then the singer unleashes this jaw-dropper of a line, which crystallizes how the song will balance its surge of euphoria and depths of despair:

You know the flares they fire from sinking ships?
I haven't felt like this in awhile.

Finally, the song's tension bursts into a huge, ebullient chorus, featuring a joyous and radiant melody that seems to counteract the song's initial gloom.  But, even while the music swells, the lyrics keep the song grounded, as the singer merges quotidian observations and questions ("what if I move to Boston?") with more alarming concerns ("should I go on Suboxone?"). To these questions, the band forecloses any answers, instead hopelessly attributing such questions and observations to the potentially meaningless ephemera of a "pop song."  Even as an incendiary guitar emerges in the foreground, burning through the song's vocals, the song won't completely shake its pessimism, pulling the listener simultaneously between transcendent highs and nihilistic lows.

The song, then, besides being one of the best-sounding tracks I've heard all year, expresses a fascinatingly deep ambivalence about the meaning of art and even human existence. On the one hand, it echoes a message of despair, reducing deeply human concerns to the transience and perhaps even predictability of pop music. But, then again, the sheer power and beauty of this song, particularly its massive, gleaming crescendo, rejects its title's dismissiveness and challenges its lyrics' hopelessness.  Not all songs (pop or otherwise) are equal, and while the lyrics invoke a shared hopelessness that seems to render all human experiences equal(ly pointless), the song's sound, and the feelings it evokes, are unique, extraordinary.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Albums of the Mid-Year (2016)

With The Wilderness, Explosions in the Sky have released their best album since The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place.  The record showcases a band working both within and outside of their well-known brand of post-rock: yes, stargazing guitars and blistering drums still define their work, but the band also continues to diversify its instrumentation and, more notably, eschews their effective-but-well-trodden soft-loud formula for songs that genuinely surprise.  Instead of the seven-to-ten-minute epics that build to explosions, we get shorter songs that yield different payoffs: the radiant warmth of "Wilderness," the ever-building, wiry guitars on "Tangle Formations," the visceral burst on "Infinite Orbit," the distorted sirens on "Losing the Light," and the jarring shriek on "Colors in Space."  Then there's "Logic of a Dream," perhaps the band's most adventurous and effective song to date: a track that captures the illogical "logic" of a dream for all its beauty, horror, and flat-out weirdness.  The song reproduces the ways a dream can be beautiful, rational, and even profound and then, in an instant, terrifying, chaotic, and senseless.  Perhaps even more impressively, the song marries hypnotic and alluring sounds with nightmarish noise in a compressed six-and-a-half minutes of music.  For nearly two decades, the band has been making lengthy songs whose finales elicit powerful reactions from listeners, but here the group demonstrates an ability to evoke strong reactions in seconds, not minutes--to frighten and comfort listeners several times over without sounding rushed or unorganized.  Fear, bliss, chaos, order organically bleeding in and out of one another--what a wonderful depiction of a dream, and a microcosm of life.

(more later)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Album of the Year: Sufjan Stevens's Carrie & Lowell

It was one of the many 2 AM nights in March when, taking a break from whatever novel I was reading for comps, I discovered that Pitchfork was streaming Sufjan Stevens's new album. So I decided to listen casually to it as I continued reading, but I quickly found Stevens's soft, sober vocals and jarringly minimalist instrumentals wholly absorbing.  Few albums have struck me so suddenly and powerfully: I distinctly remember sitting in my chair, paralyzed, with tears welling up in my eyes as Stevens so gently--so graciously!--described the night of his mother's death: "The hospital asked should the body be cast / Before I say goodbye, my star in the sky. / Such a funny thought to wrap you up in cloth / Do you find it all right, my dragonfly?"

A weathered photograph of a man and woman with the album title and artist written on the image in whiteListening that night, the album's profound and complex emotions slowly unraveled before me, and I became helplessly captivated. Not much has changed since then.  Upon countless listens, I've found myself awed by Stevens's descriptions of love, heartbreak, depression, and devotion, all of which he centers around his relationships with his often-absent and deeply troubled mother (Carrie) and his heroically loving and seemingly consistently present stepfather (Lowell).  In his storytelling, Stevens proves extremely generous, as he's exceedingly appreciative of his stepfather and, most powerfully, forgiving and understanding of his emotionally and often physically unavailable mother.  When discussing Carrie, Stevens actually never shows resentment; rather, he succinctly and dispassionately recounts his mom's past negligence ("When I was three, maybe four / She left us at that video store") and insurmountable distance ("I just wanted to be near you," he devastatingly repeats in "Eugene").

Even when depicting his despair, Stevens often finds moments of brightness: he ends an otherwise devastating "Should Have Known Better" with a glimmer of optimism ("My brother had a daughter / The beauty that she brings--illumination") and begins the crestfallen "Eugene" with comedy, describing how his name was frequently mispronounced as "Subaru."  These lighter moments provide much needed levity and hope, considering that C&L's centerpiece features the constant refrain "We're all gonna die."  This album, then, is heavy, as its subject matter damn near requires, but Stevens brilliantly allows a few strokes of light to gleam in the record's otherwise immense darkness.

One of my favorite moments of the album's brightness comes on "The Only Thing," when Stevens sings "I want to save you from your sorrow" and the song's slow pace quickens with gorgeous, chimey guitars.  It's subtle, sure, but there's this jolt of hope, of optimism, that nicely and almost necessarily counters the existential doom of the previous "We're all gonna die" declarations.  Lyrically, the line is especially poignant because Sufjan obscures whether he sings from his own or his mother's perspective.  Who's saving whom from sorrow?  The opaque language here, and elsewhere, is wonderfully fitting, as Carrie, Stevens's album explains, left such an imprint on Stevens that he doesn't seem ontologically separate from her.  Thus, her words and perspective meld imperceptibly with Sufjan's.  Despite wanting to be "near her," Stevens now finds Carrie both impossibly distant and hauntingly omnipresent.  Though this realization sounds bleak, on this line it's incredibly moving: both mother and son want to rescue the other from despair, and the song's sudden burst of momentum implies that they each might succeed.

2015 was an amazing year for music, but no record could match Carrie and Lowell's awe-inspiring blend of beauty and emotional depth.  Echoing both despair and hope, the album explores the pangs of rejection and the intense suffering one experiences during a mother's death.  That Stevens can do just that so elegantly, so tactfully, is amazing, but he uses his sorrow for something more: a plea for empathy and forgiveness.  By forgiving his mother, Stevens offers the most powerful articulation of unconditional, enduring love that I've ever heard played to music.  For that reason alone, C&L is a classic, the greatest album of the year and of Stevens's impressive catalogue.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Top Albums and Songs of 2014

Top Albums:

10. Real Estate - Atlas
9. This Will Destroy You - Another Language
8. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else
7. Grouper - Ruins
6. Explosions in the Sky - Lone Survivor OST
5. White Lung - Deep Fantasy
4. Knuckle Puck - EPs
3. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
2. The Antlers - Familiars 
1. Joyce Manor - Never Hungover Again

Top Songs:

And here's two-and-a-half hours worth of music to hold you over, with some words below:

Joyce Manor - "Catalina Fight Song": Yes, a one-minute song is my favorite of the year. I've been playing "Catalina Fight Song" nonstop -- and often on loop, something I almost never do -- and it still sounds as fresh and compelling as when I first heard it. Recalling Guided by Voices, Joyce Manor craft songs that are catchy, passionate, and, most of all, succinct. Listen to the guitar that sears through the drums midway through "Catalina." A typical band would've let that guitar play out and cut the opening verse neatly in two, but Joyce Manor refuse to waste a second here, so the vocals keep flowing, their rising intensity matching the amplifying noise.  "Catalina" becomes a minute-long crescendo without all the build-up preceding it, though the song really explodes in the last ten seconds and then abruptly concludes. After such a climactic minute, I feel stunned when the music suddenly ceases.  Somehow, though, I muster the strength to click my radio dial to the left...and then the song repeats.

Knuckle Puck - "Gold Rush": When you hear great pop-punk, it sounds so damn easy -- it really is a formulaic genre -- but few bands truly get the music right.  Often the vocals are too whiny, or the guitars are too distorted, or the hooks simply aren't catchy enough.  But when all a song's pieces do come together, you can recognize a classic instantly.  That's how I felt with Knuckle Puck's "Gold Rush," a song that begins with an urgent exclamation: "If I don't start sleeping on the floor again I'll be testing out my patience,"  This intensity is sustained the whole song through, but what's most remarkable about the track is its fluctuating dynamics: it is not three minutes of pleas, which would quickly grow irritating. Instead,  the vocals are always moving at different speeds and volumes that it's surprising how much you can hear in less than three minutes. (They buy into another pop-punk maxim: brevity is key.)  The group foregrounds the emoish vocals during the verses and bridge, where the band maximizes the poignancy of its universally relatable lines like "I swore I wouldn't feel this way anymore." Then there's the noisier chorus with jolting guitars and staggering drums, not to mention an addictive chorus which I always catch myself involuntarily singing around the house.  Nearing the song's end, the band uses a vocal effect so that the singer's voice swells up, making "Gold Rush" feel gigantic, epically important, which is part of the point: pop-punk magnifies our basic emotions (happiness, sadness, jealousy, anger), which to some seems melodramatic but to others feels like the whole damn universe condensed into a song. Knuckle Puck convince me that whatever they're feeling really matters, and for the three minutes I hear "Gold Rush," I'm totally lost in their world of emotions.

Flying Lotus, ft. Kendrick Lamar - "Never Catch Me": Best hip-hop song of the year.  Few rappers could keep up with Flying Lotus's spazzy beats, but Kendrick accelerates his vocals to blazing speeds, faster than anything heard on his impeccable good kid, m.A.A.d city.  Also check out the stunning video, which shows two young children rise from their coffins and dance through their funeral procession.

The Antlers - "Palace": After releasing Hospice, a devastating concept album acclaimed by critics, I feared that The Antlers might've peaked too early.  But the group's followup, Burst Apart, revealed a band eager to experiment sonically and starting to cultivate a distinct sound.  Following an underrated EP (Undersea), these guys have released the most beautiful and unique work to date: Familiars.  The album is ironically named: this music sounds totally dissimilar to other experimental/stoner indie/alternative music.  In fact, it's even a departure from previous Antlers albums.  Yet this is also a distinct Antlers record, one that no other group could have made.  Listen to how that inimitably angelic falsetto is paired with the ethereal soundscapes we heard on Burst Apart, in addition to warm, brassy horns, which simultaneously cut against the lofty sounds (bringing more earthy tones to the spacey keys) and increase the ambiance.  It's easy to get lost in these warm and oozy sounds until the vocals demand your attention midway through the song during the climactic exclamation.  Listen for individual parts, listen for the whole, listen closely or zone out. This song proves incredibly rewarding and durable.  Seems like they didn't peak too soon, after all.

The War on Drugs - "Under the Pressure":  It's so easy to get lost in the lush soundscapes of this gorgeous record.  We get more of the gauzy shoegaze that we've heard on previous War on Drugs albums, but here the melodies are richer and the songs flow more freely.  Take the album's opener, which ebbs and flows for nine minutes of carefully orchestrated guitars, keys, and muted horns.  It feels otherworldly and transcendent, but the Dylan-esque vocals always keep the song grounded enough that it doesn't loft away into ethereal nowhereland--the foreboding vocals shade these dreamy sounds with dreariness.  We witness this mixture of dreaminess and dread when singer Adam Granduciel admits that he's "trying not to crack under the pressure," and then the song briefly ruptures, all of its pent-up tension suddenly released.  As beautiful as this moment is, it's also the song and singer cracking.  Beautiful moments that capture Granduciel's lowest points.

Real Estate - "Had to Hear":  I liked this group's past album, Days, better than its newest, but this opener epitomizes everything people adore about Real Estate: laid-back vocals, catchy (and deceivingly intricate) guitars, and subtle but moving lyrics.  I just love the line "I don't need the horizon to tell me where the sky is/ It's a subtle landscape where I come from."  Gets me every time, even if I can't pinpoint why.  Maybe it's just a North Jersey thing (these guys are from a town about 15 minutes from me).

The Notwist - "Kong": A lot of publications vaunt Future Islands's "Seasons" as the indie pop song of the year.  I like the song (it made the cut), but give me "Kong" every time, a track that plays like a poppier version of Built to Spill, with the instrumental prowess of a Tokyo Police Club.  This one needs high volume -- let it be the (somewhat morose, but hey it's indie!) jam to your future summers.

Cloud Nothings - "I'm Not a Part of Me":  I still think CN's last album was better, but this song--and the performance of the whole album at the Bowery earlier this year--is superb.  It's no "Stay Useless," but it rocks hard and closes the record with a bang.

Explosions in the Sky - "Waking Up":  By now EITS have mastered the whole soundtrack thing.  And the whole making absolutely gorgeous, wordless music that conjures every bittersweet moment of your life, eliciting near-paralytic states of awe and introspection.  Yeah, that too.  This song brings lightness to a dark film (Lone Survivor) and a largely dark soundtrack, and it offers the chimey guitars and loud/soft dynamics one expects of an Explosions song.  What makes this one special is that the "explosive" crescendo is gentler, and dare I say prettier, than most EITS songs.  And the band operates under time constrains that their albums lack, pulling off an emotionally gripping, wordless song in under five minutes.  This track isn't to be missed by any EITS fan.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Obsession and Joyce Manor's Never Hungover Again

According to my LastFm, I've listened to Joyce Manor a staggering 590 times the past three months.  That's roughly 6.5 songs per day.  Considering the group only has released two LPs, containing a total of twenty songs that amount to less than 40 minutes of music, 590 listens is an obscene amount of repetition.  It's a minor miracle I haven't played out--or completely buried--"Catalina Fight Song," a track that I've played 65 times (and counting) in the past quarter of the year.  Yet Joyce Manor, and particularly the group's newest album Never Hungover Again, has endured triumphantly, sounding as fresh and invigorating as it had in my earliest of listens.

Although I think Never Hungover Again (NHA) is a beautiful and compelling album, I actually don't want to write about it here.  Instead, I want to record my experiences listening to NHA because the album has evoked a response I've only encountered a select few times: loving an album so much that it becomes an absolute obsession, something that won't leave my head and that demands constant replaying for mere temporary satisfaction.  That description sounds a lot like addiction, and maybe it is, but this addiction is a wonderful one. I love the yearning for NHA, the anticipation of putting the record on, and the euphoric rush when those first staticky notes of "A Christmas Card" blast from my speakers.  After listening to the less-than-twenty-minute album in its entirety, I almost inexorably find that one mere spin insufficient.  The craving persists.  So I return to these handful of songs again and again, sometimes even putting one song on repeat--which I almost never do, generally because 1) I fear I'll overplay and thus ruin a good song and 2) I'm often satisfied after one listen and want to move elsewhere.  But my experiences with NHA have been very different.

As I said, despite my near lifelong love of music, this kind of obsession with an album has only happened two other times in my life: in 2003, when I could not be separated from Coheed and Cambria's (still excellent) The Second Stage Turbine Blade, and in 2006, when I listened almost incessantly (seriously, incessantly) to Cursive's Happy Hollow.  During the former, I remember one school trip when I left my CD player at home and actually felt feelings similar to withdrawal: anxiety, loneliness, intense sadness, longing, fixation.  I also distinctly recall my great relief upon returning to my bedroom and experiencing the cathartic close of "Everything Evil." I couldn't have waited another minute to hear that album; I had been separated all day from that which mattered most to me, and such distance was unbearable.  The second instance was when the newest album from Cursive, my favorite band for at least half of a decade, leaked.  Of course I had a copy shipping, but by the time it arrived, I had probably listened to the album fifty times.  And I write this with no exaggeration-- I'm talking about consecutive hours of listening from start to finish, and then repeating.  Maybe there was food (there was probably food), but otherwise, no interruptions.  That album was partially so special to me because I had discovered Cursive in 2004, a year after they released The Ugly Organ, and had spent years in awe of the group's near-impeccable (and for me life-changing) catalogue.  Happy Hollow, though, was my first chance to hear a record at the same time as everybody else.  And I loved that.  I didn't want to hear anything else then, and when you were around me that summer, you probably didn't hear much else...

Eight years later, after hearing so many amazing records from all the amazing bands I love, only now am I experiencing these obsessive tendencies again.  Why now, and why this record?  I can't be sure.  I've been inspired and deeply moved by music since 2006, but nothing has brought these intense emotions of insatiable longing and continued (but temporary) satisfaction. The second song on NHA is called "Falling in Love Again," and I think that's a fitting explanation for what I'm presently enjoying.  I truly love this album.  It's a real pleasure to feel this way about music again -- to have a silly 20 minutes of sound overwhelm me with happiness when I hear it and burn with desire when I can't.  I do not think NHA is the best album I've heard since 2006--no doubt about it, really--so I can't pinpoint why this record has affected me so powerfully.  Maybe love works in mysterious ways.  Ugh, I know, I know, it's corny to talk this way about an album, but I feel all the symptoms.  So there.

The thing about this kind of love, though, is that it's fleeting.  Someday, the desire to hear NHA will fade, which saddens me even as I'm so thoroughly enjoying these listens.  While rocking out, I sometimes think in the back of my head "How long will this feeling last?"  "Are you playing this album too much?"  "Maybe give the record a break..." I've become so attached to this album that I'm constantly afraid I'm going to lose it -- that the power of NHA will fade and the record will become just another CD on my shelf.  Joyce Manor actually best sums up these paranoid fears in "Catalina Fight Song," the band's best track to date, when they sing, "You wonder how long something can last. Pretty sure most people don't think about that..."  I do wonder how long this obsession will last -- hell, maybe I'm writing it out of me as we speak, though that'd be a real shame.  But I'm going to try to take the band's advice and stop wondering about when NHA will lose its charm.  Instead, I'll enjoy this wonderful, intoxicating love for as long as it persists.  Who knows if I'll ever feel this way again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Top 50 Albums, 2010-14

Pitchfork's recent list motivated me to create one of my own.  So here's a song from each of my favorite albums from the past four-and-a-half years, starting with #1: Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city.

Note: #49 isn't available on Spotify but can be heard on Youtube.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Songs for a Snowfall

We New Jerseyans and New Yorkers might get a foot of snow tomorrow, so what better time for a wintry playlist?  Let these excellent tunes accompany your shovelling, snowball fights, and/or (spiked?) hot chocolate drinking.  The snowy soundscapes presented here range sonically and emotionally, capturing the many paradoxes--stillness and movement, warmth and frigidity, renewal and death, love and despair, youth and experience--that winter embodies.  Enjoy, and stay warm!

1. Bon Iver - "Blood Bank." A song about falling in love in winter: And the snow started falling; we were stuck out in your car.  You were rubbing both my hands, chewing on a candy bar.

2. Bright Eyes - "Gold Mine Gutted." Beginning as a love story, this song ends by describing a lover's possibly fatal drug addiction: Only smoke came out our mouths on all those hooded-sweatshirt walks. ... All those white lines that sped us up; we hurry to our death.  Well, I lagged behind, so you got ahead.

3. Kanye West - "Street Lights." Whereas the other two of Kanye's "lights" songs ("All of the Lights," "Flashing Lights") are celebrations of his fame and success, "Street Lights" captures an isolated and despondent West, who turns a cab ride (in what feels to me like a snowy New York) into an existential journey: I know my destination, but I'm just not there.

4. LCD Soundsystem - "Someone Great." The song's cold, brooding, mechanical sounds epitomize not only LCD's album title, Sound of Silver, but also the numbness one feels after losing "someone great": There shouldn't be this ring of silence, but what are the options when someone great is gone?

5. Explosions in the Sky - "Snow and Lights." Moving from heavy snowstorms to light flurries back to a climactic blizzard, "Snow and Lights" lives up to evocative its title without saying a word.

6. Vampire Weekend - "Step."  (See the post below): They didn't know how to dress for the weather.  I can still see them there huddle on Astor: snow falling slow to the sound of the master.

7. Minus the Bear - "Hooray."  Describing a snowball fight and "warming on alcohol" in bars, "Hooray" celebrates youth--or acting youthfully--and the weather that brings out our joyful qualities: It's cold, and snow's actually on the ground of this no-snow town.  And instead of cars, streets [are] trafficking in sleds.  Men become boys again.

8. Crystal Castles (feat. Robert Smith) - "Not In Love."  Synths are ideal for capturing frigid sounds, but the sleety waves of synthesizers here are especially effective--and appropriate for Smith's unfeeling exclamation, "I'm not in love." 'Cause it's cold outside; when you coming home?  'Cause it's hot inside; isn't that enough?

9. Arcade Fire - "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)."  The imaginative opening lines from Arcade Fire's debut remain among the group's best poetry: And if the snow buries my neighborhood ... Climb out the chimney and meet me in the middle of the town.  And since there's no one else around, we let our hair grown long and forget all we used to know.  Then our skin gets thicker from living out in the snow.

10. The XX - "Shelter."  "Shelter" reminds me of watching snow fall from behind a pane of glass: the separation between coldness and warmth is thin.  This song's warm guitars and Croft's shaking, almost insecure voice shatter that barrier, allowing these conflicting feelings to coexist in an unsettling love song: I find shelter in this way: undercover, hideaway.

11. Bright Eyes - "Something Vague."  Conor Oberst epitomized so many of my adolescent winters that he gets to make two appearances here.  On what may be his angstiest, but also one of his finest, albums, a young Oberst quivers as he paints a sad portrait of an alcoholic: You see your breath in the air as you climb up the stairs to the coffin you call your apartment. And you sink in your chair, brushing snow from you hair, and drink the cold away.  And you're not really sure what you're doing this for, but you need something to fill up the days.

12. The Good Life - "A Golden Exit." The final song from The Good Life's Novena on a Nocturn represents both bitter ends (of relationships, even of life) and cathartic renewals: I can feel the chill in the air between us.  I can feel a winter coming; we're frozen in our stares.  ... I woke up this morning to the silence of falling snow.  These graces of beauty have left me so cold.