Liz Phair – “Canary”

Year: 1993

Album: Exile In Guyville

If the story is true that Exile In Guyville is a track-by-track response to Exile on Main St., then is “Canary” Phair’s “Sweet Black Angel“? Is Phair singing from the perspective of Jagger’s chained slave who, in a sense, acts as a canary trained to only speak a few words and come when called? If so, Phair has taken out the Stone’s political message (no judges murder here) and focuses on the imaginary chains of learning and earning one’s name for love or something more romantic. Is it forced or voluntary? That’s left to the listener to decide. But if there’s no Stones comparison to make, you can just hear “Canary” as a beautiful piano ballad sung in Phair’s genuine melodic do-not-fuck-with-me utterance that indie musicians have been trying to replicate for over 20 years. She’s still one of the best to ever sing it.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Billy Bragg – “Moving the Goalposts”

Year: 1991

Album: Don’t Try This at Home

We all know Billy Bragg can write a good protest song, but his ballads are so lovely and underrated. I can only think of Bob Dylan who can do so much with so little. “I put on my raincoat to make it rain / And sure enough the skies opened up again.”

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Bark Psychosis – “Absent Friend”

Year: 1994

Album: Hex

One of those Friday nights again. You’re driving alone in your car on your way to somewhere – it’s not important where exactly. It’s the Midwest. Everything is quiet. It’s summer. It’s nice out. You were invited to go somewhere, a friend’s party or whatever. There will be people there that you know. It feels good to be included, and you want to be happy. You take your time. Your iPod’s on shuffle and Bark Psychosis comes on. You don’t know much about them. They sound British. They sound sad. You can’t understand the lyrics. It’s OK. They sound pretty and woozy and you’re standing outside of it, as if you’re watching the sound float around you. It’s the sound in your head. It reminds you of something. Either you’d like to be somewhere else or you’re on your way to somewhere else. The voice in your head is trying to tell you something. Everything is going to be alright. You’ve heard it before. You want to believe it. You’re exactly where you should be. You’ve told yourself that many times. The feeling comes and goes. It’s OK to feel it, since it’s such a beautiful night out and this song sounds good on your crappy car speakers. You’re lucky. Not everyone has nights like these. It’s OK to feel it. Everything will be OK in the end. Hopefully. Probably.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Modest Mouse – “Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset”

Year: 1996

Album: This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About

Ironically enough, this song is great to listen to while watching a sunset. The lyrics are especially great.

It’s surreal to think that Modest Mouse is now twenty years old…

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Jim Guthrie – “Dark Flute”

Year: 2011

Album: Sword & Sworcery LP soundtrack

Last week there was a great Verge profile on Sword & Sworcery LP, a mobile game celebrating its five-year anniversary which Andrew Webster fittingly called a weird and beautiful game.

The game, created by Toronto artist and game designer Craig D. Adams, was a blend of pixel art and Zelda-like puzzles that felt like a throwback to old-school console gaming while also embracing the modern, self-aware aesthetic of mobile games that are now being played on devices that are just as, if not more, powerful than your old NES. It’s a game that could have only been made in the Internet age; It even embraced Twitter-like dialogue, with everything delivered in under 140 snarky characters (you could even tweet your progress using the hashtag #sworcery, but that’s a bit overkill).

One of the game’s notable strengths is its original score, composed by musician Jim Guthrie. The music creates a memorable mood for a game that focuses on the feeling of living in another world instead of simply playing through. The standalone soundtrack is great, but the real joy is hearing the music played whenever you interact with the pixel world. Everything you touch, press, hit, etc creates sound that plays along to the backing track of whatever surrounding you’re in. This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s 8-bit melodic beauty that I haven’t encountered in any other gaming experience.

I recommend checking out the game, and right now it’s $2 on the app store.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Donald O’Connor – “Make ‘Em Laugh”

Year: 1952

Album: Singin’ in the Rain soundtrack

“Make ‘Em Laugh” alone, with its incredibly silly and impressive dancing by Donald O’Connor and its smart lyrics, could be the reason why you should watch Singin’ in the Rain. Fortunately the rest of the movie has aged well, and it is pure Hollywood bliss for all the non-cynics in the room. Maybe it’ll make you want to get up and dance too.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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The Who – “Much Too Much”

Year: 1965

Album: My Generation

It’s fun listening to the debut albums of famous bands and hearing what works and what doesn’t. With the blessing, or curse, of hindsight, I can look back on a first album and keep the standouts while laughing off the forgivable throwaways. The Beatles, Radiohead, and many more GOAT-worthy bands have had shaky debuts that might have sounded great when they came out but are now measuring yards to judge how far they’ve come.

The Who’s debut release, My Generation, gave us the famous title track, still the definitive Who statement, and the also excellent “The Kids Are Alright.” But what about the other ten songs? What if I was alive in 1965 and picked up this record? Would I have cared enough about “Much Too Much,” “The Good’s Gone,” or “La-La-La-Lies” to keep my tabs on Pete Townsend and company? I say yes in 2016, but I can’t trust my bias of growing up in a culture where I’ve only known The Who as one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time.

I guess the old saying is true: Time heals most bad songs. (“Much Too Much” is not a bad song)

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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