20 Songs For September 2015

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Every month I make a playlist of the songs, old and new, that I listened to the most this month, and I write about why I picked each each song. At the bottom is a Spotify playlist with all these songs.

Grandaddy – “A.M. 180”

(This month Grandaddy announced that they were making a new album. It was the perfect excuse to go back through their discography and rediscover some great songs that I forgot about. Under the Western Freeway and The Sophtware Slump are the two albums you want.)

The New Pornographers – “Use It”

(I don’t listen to the New Pornos a lot, but when I do I really get into it for a couple of listens. Twin Cinema is a great starting place for newbies.)

Elvis Costello – “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”

(This month I went through a pretty intense, albeit brief, early Costello phase. This is one of his best singles off his debut album.)

Tweedy – “Nobody Dies Anymore”

(This is one of those songs that you can listen to a million times and each time you hear something new that will blow you away, whether it be in the cryptic all-meaning lyrics or in the disarmingly simple arrangements. This is also a great “Summer is ending and Fall is finally here and it makes me sad but it also makes me glad” kind of song. Sukierae has really grown on me and I can see it gaining some sort of cult status, much like how 808s and Heartbreak was a low key influential album until Pitchfork decided to do a thinkpiece about it.)

Blink-182 – “What’s My Age Again”

(Because I turned 23 this month…)

IGBO – “Creamy”

(It was on one of my Friday Mixtapes, yet I still love this song oh so much.)

R.E.M. – “King Of Birds”

(See my note about Elvis Costello.)

Craig Finn – “Newmyer’s Roof”

(I’m a big fan of this album, especially this song. It’s a genuinely strong song that tackles 9/11 and doesn’t try and force or exaggerate any dishonest feelings for the sake of imagery or patriotism.)

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “Bottled In Cork”

(Ted Leo was one of those musicians I always heard about from friends to check out. For one reason or another I never did, but this month I was finally given a specific starting point: The Brutalist Bricks. It’s a fun album, bouncing around between different styles and, like the best rock & roll, it never takes itself too seriously. If you like this then you’ll want to check out the rest of his work.)

Bob Mould – “The Descent”

(I ignored this album when it came out 3 years ago because I wasn’t a Hüsker Dü fan back then. Now I know better, and Silver Age is a worthy solo album that makes a case for Bob Mould The Songwriter instead of Bob Mould The One Guy In Hüsker Dü.)

The Libertines – “Anthem For Doomed Youth”

(Anthems For Doomed Youth is a great album in the same way that the most recent Strokes albums are great; it’s good music that has virtually no hype or press trying to turn it into an event. All you have is the music, but for some people that’s not enough. Oh well. It won’t convert you into a Libertines fan, but for the rest of us it’s a nice thing to have another Libertines album in the world, especially one this good.)

Gillian Welch – “I Want To Sing That Rock And Roll”

(Like a lot of musician I love, I discovered Gillian Welch through Ryan Adams. She sang and played instruments on Heartbreaker and she was an associate producer and performer on the Grammy winning and essential listening O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Time (The Revelator) is a great album if you also like Heartbreaker.)

Deerhunter – “Breaker”

(I’ve always liked the idea of Deerhunter, a band that combines nearly every great genre of the past 30+ years, throws them into a magical blender, and churns out Amazing Southern Americana Gothic Rock that is brilliant down to the very jangly riffs that they steal from their fellow Georgia neighbor R.E.M. However I can never finish an album without getting bored. Both Microcastle and Halcyon Digest are considered masterpieces (and they probably are) yet I can never listen to them from start to finish. Sometimes it’s just too ~weird~ man. However “Breaker” is already my favorite Deerhunter song because it sounds like the Deerhunter that I want to fall in love with. I’m sure that this new album won’t be the masterpiece that triumphs Halcyon Digest (though you ever know), but I have a feeling that this new album will be this band’s gateway drug.)

Josh Ritter – “Right Moves”

(Josh Ritter is one of my favorite songwriters, and when he premiered a new song off his upcoming new album I celebrated by listening to all his albums. The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter is probably the album I’ve listened to the least, but I still fall in love with the wide range that this album covers.)

The Promise Ring – “Is This Thing On?”

(The best part of this year’s emocore revival is probably all the old albums that I’ve discovered from the late 90s and early 2000s. Nothing Feels Good (a very emo album title indeed) is getting a reissue, thus I play this song in celebration.)

Ryan Adams – “Bad Blood”

(Of course.)

Buffy Sainte-Marie – “Ke Sakihitin Awasis (I Love You Baby)”

(I had no idea who Buffy Sainte-Marie was when she beat out Drake at this year’s Polaris awards. So I wrote about her.)

Built To Spill – “Velvet Waltz”

(I was going to go see Built To Spill this month so I spend some time with their old albums. It didn’t work out, but at least I have a few new favorite BTS songs.)

Jeff Tweedy – “The Ballad Of The Opening Band”

(I usually try and stick with one song per artist, but this song is one of my cornerstones of my Fall Playlist, so it belongs here.)

The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – “You Can’t Live There Forever”

(This Album Is Not The Masterpiece That It’s Hyped Up To Be & That’s Ok Because Because It Still Has A Lot Of Great Songs.)

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Fall Spotify Playlist: Autumn Sweater

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Yesterday was the official beginning of Fall, which means it’s time to break out the pumpkin spice latte (or Oktoberfest), sit out on your porch and read a book, or finally take that road trip you’ve been meaning to do before it gets too cold outside. No matter what you end up doing this Fall, these songs will fit the many moods of the changing leaves.

Happy Fall!

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The Poetry of Ryan Adams

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(Photo by Neal Casal)

Ryan Adams is the greatest artist of all time an artist known for his idiosyncratic interpretation of several different musical styles. His favorite music is metal and/or punk rock, but he’s written some of the best Americana music of the past 20 years. He also wrote the best album not made by The Smiths, produced a Fall Out Boy EP, and is about to release his Taylor Swift cover album. And there’s that GAP commercial he did with Willie Nelson. The point is that he can do it all.

His ability to maneuver through various styles is a testament to his skill as a writer, especially with his lyrics. Even in his early days pinned as the next Gram Parsons, his way with words added depth to his deceivingly simple arrangements (“I was born into an abundance of inherited sadness”, “I’m as calm as a fruit stand in New York and maybe as strange”, etc). And even when he moved beyond Americana, Adams’ lyrics didn’t lose any of its potency or imagery but simply adaptive to its surroundings. I don’t always know what he’s singing about (bullets from a candy gun?), but very few writers can express themselves so well in a furious punk jam, a soft acoustic ballad, or anything in-between.

So how does Adams sound when you only have his words and no music? You get Infinity Blues and Hello Sunshine, his two poetry books that showcase a writing totally unhinged, unfiltered, and (mostly) unedited.

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“my money goes to old fucking men in chair uptown / married for twenty years / who lie to me / and say, / ‘one day you will laugh'”

“SOS Searchlights”

Infinity Blues, published in 2009 by Akashic Books, feels like something Adams has been wanting to release for several years, a sort of build up of lyrical prose that probably didn’t match well with any of his music. There are 144 poems, though a poem can be a free verse spanning many pages, a short story told in essay-form, or just three lines (“don’t just stand there / say something / say something” – Say Something). There’s no sense of filter or form for Adams’ writing, and maybe that’s the point – to express what he couldn’t express on his records.

“Hollywood / I could go there / because it kills everyone equally”

– “Annihilator”

Like a lot of his music, the poems here are various shades of melancholy, from the angry and spiteful to the lonesome and wishful. One minute he’s talking about his father the drunk, the next he’s comparing a girl to a lighthouse, and so on. Many of the poems are about very abstract visualizations, but the highlights here are the most direct and personal. Sometimes he’s addressing his critics head on like in “Joy”:

“I am trying to show you something

about yourself

not me

that a person can do anything

and

that is what hope is

so,

with all due respect,

fuck you if you dismiss this”

And sometimes it feels like he’s just talking to us, like in “c’mon, let’s go”:

“so go outside and watch the stars come up

don’t get caught up in way that it’s designed

it isn’t for us

to analyze

it’s up there for us to feel”

Though for all its melancholy, there’s plenty of humor to lighten up the mood. The titles of his poems sound like inside jokes or fake names for the metal bands he’s always wanted to start. The first line of “I Refuse” reads, “I refuse to edit*”, and the * refers to a note from the editor saying that the poem was originally 32 pages long. You’ll either laugh or roll your eyes, depending on whether you’re a fan or not. None of these poems will probably change your mind about his music, so this collection is very much for the fans.

“what’s more important – / first kiss or last?”

 – “Blue Wars”

But as much of a fan I am, I’ll admit that there were times when I thought the poems were too long and weren’t actually saying much. This quote from John Ciardi, one of the many translators of Dante’s Inferno, does a good job confronting this issue:

“Poetry is not made of words but of word-complexes, elaborate structures involving, among other things, denotations, connotations, rhythms, puns, juxtapositions, and echoes of the tradition in which the poet is writing. It is difficult in prose and impossible in poetry to juggle such a complex intact across the barrier of language. What must be saved, even at the expense of making four strings do for eighty-eight keys, is the total feeling of the complex, its gestalt.”

Adams is saying a lot in his poems, and a lot of it feels like too much, but he’s painting a picture using the same word-complexes that makes his music so great. He is a master of creating an overall mood, which is made clear in these poems.

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“i don’t go to bars / my body is a prison already / why drown it”

“FutureFucked”

Hello Sunshine, also published in 2009, is a shorter and less demanding read that generally follows the same mood as Infinity Blues. Since this collection is a quicker read, I recommend reading these books together to get the full experience.

Here are a few of my favorite poems from Infinity Blues:

For My Father, the Drunk

When I shave I save the mustache

for last

it reminds me of my dad

and I wish I had a dagger

I would put it in my chest

this is the place

he would not feel it best

for my heart

it is his

as he held me back

when my mother’s hand broke the glass

through the door

to grab my shirt

and try and kill me some more

when I moan about things I cannot change

and all that money

that I could have saved

but spend

killing her pain

THAT is my mother’s wish

I tuck myself into bed

but

I will never rest

she turned me into a shark

maybe from the poison

and roaches

that crawled over my brother’s face

in housing

unfit for children

where someone got raped

raped

and beaten

black and so blue

no love even now at 33 will ever get through

with the words as a shield

and a metal vest

this is the place where I feel best

paranoid

and hopeless

I take my pills for days

I take my pills for days

I was a nightmare dreams could never save

poor girls who tried

became saints in a book I bind with my veins

one sunday

this will pass

but not go away

screaming my way out from the ass-end of bars

I was back then nothing but scars

but for my father,

the drunk,

who married a stripper when I was five

I hope you close your eyes peacefully

and die

*

pa-paw special

the truth is

i am always

getting my

feelings hurt

because they

are bigger

than me or

my hands

and i have

my grandfather’s

hands

capable and daring

digits

ten

far from

zero

making

somethings

out of nothings

being a believer

these were things

he liked

and pranks

he loved them

i miss him every day

i miss his laughter

and his football commentary

and eating t.v. tray dinners

with him

and his war stories

and how

he loved my grandmother so

so

so much

he had a hat

he had a cane

he had an overcoat

and a suit for when

needed

and he fought in two wars

and cried cried sometimes

silently

as i sat beside him

both of us looking

out into the light

shifting through

the spaces in the

leaves of the

magnolia tree

in front of the

house

where i really

grew up

he couldn’t stand

Dave Letterman though

the way i can’t stand

Carson Daly

so there was that

but

easily forgivable

for the man who

said to me once,

“Ryan, you are not like other children

you are special and it will be tough

but just never forget this

if you never forget anything in your life…

Never…

Bet…

Against…

Yourself.”

my grandfather

That is who i would like to be

when i never grow up

for growing in.

*

The Statue of Liberty Is French, Asshole

Shock sets in

the blast of the hot air touches her face

like a lover might have

with hot electric sand mouth

and cabinets inside her

made of grot

from over the ocean

a witty french girl with spikes

almost mossy

a shade of green

sick tone

the statue of liberty

is on the outs tonight

for a hot bang

in the

stinking piles

of garbage in Brooklyn

Oh, you know

roof parties

and

and sensible girl gives it up

one night a week

i mean

one night a year

in that same

that

same dress

how

are

they to know that

those

easy boys all of them those easy boys

you

are

so

stupid

fuck you

says the Statue of Liberty

to Brooklyn

pissing

into

an

ocean of

dead

bodies

*

Lighthouse

when a woman leaves

she leaves

and leaves

with scents

and all the smells

of the house

when a house is calm

go

with

her

she takes with her the essence

of a place

painting the insides invisibly

while you were not looking

or shall i say, i

 

when a woman leaves

her smalls

are small

hells

each much nastier than a sting

burned into your bed

in a fiery ring

and with her went the candles too

white ones, delightful ones

lit from time to time

shining

when she left she took the pictures

too

no diety confusion

or something

either way my retinas are masked with shadows of lines of the burn mark of her face inside

tonight i missed

that scent

that smell

which is why i sleep with her sweater

it is still there

fading in the rest of a wooden ship

with a white flag

and battered sail

from storms passed

where calm is now

a lighthouse is a lighthouse with or without

a light

*

And here is my favorite poem from Hello Sunshine:

Moon

So Moon…

you seem distant

dull even

lifeless

but

so much projection around you

so much projected onto you

the sun, for one

all up in your business at night

it is so hard for you to hide

and

you wallflower satellite

so many sing songs for you

in your name

you are unmoved

you neither like

nor dislike

it

the attraction

you feel distant and you hover in place

if this were the prom

you would be back arched onto the gymnasium wall

watching the others dance

indifferent

but you also feel no pressure

even though

the sea it relies on you to know when to give and take

itself to the land

its tide entirely up to you

you don’t remember how

you don’t remember when

the sea gave you that power

you don’t care

back up against the wall

band playing a slow dance number

lipstick smeared on every other shoulder

moon,

wow

they love you down here

but

you don’t care

you’re so cool

moon

so cool

*

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Spotify Playlist: The Open Road

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There’s still plenty of summer left, which means you still got time to get in your car and take that road trip you’ve been meaning to take since you read ‘On The Road’. Or you can go visit your grandma who lives an hour away. Or you can go to the store and pick up some toilet paper. No matter where you’re going, you’ll need some good tunes for the road.

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Week In Review (3/6/15)

Action Bronson – “Baby Blue (ft. Chance the Rapper)

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Toro Y Moi – “Buffalo”

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Best Coast continues being Best Coast and wrote another song about California (but it’s still good)

I dig the Nightcrawler feel (in style and not in Jake Gyllenhaal’s creepy eyes).

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NEW MY MORNING JACKET YA 2015 YOU GO!

The Waterfall comes out May 4th.

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The “Blister in the Sun” guys are back with a new song called “Love Love Love Love Love”

You know, that one song.

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Brent Faiyaz – “Be”

https://soundcloud.com/brentfaiyaz/brent-faiyaz-be/s-Oe4RU

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For Esmé reminds me of CHVRCHES and it makes me so happy

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Got 12 minutes to spare? For Föllakzoid’s new music video for “Electric”, you should make time

This is what Chilean psych rock sounds like.

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Watch Ryan Adams play Patrick Swayze and Natalie Prass play Wendy Fraser on this live Dirty Dancing cover

I would buy an Adams/Prass cover album of Dirty Dancing songs in a heartbeat. Here’s the original.

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Another week, another great track off the upcoming Chromatics album

The fact that this album still doesn’t have a set release date is breaking my heart while I groove on the dance floor in my scorpion jacket.

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This Carmen Rizzo remix of Low Roar’s “Breathe In” is so good

Think if Thom Yorke wrote songs for Sigur Rós.

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Braids – “Taste”

*

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Headphone Nation’s 100 Favorite Songs Of The Decade (So Far): 2010-2014

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Am I an idiot for thinking that I can only pick 100 songs to share with y’all and not feel guilty about all the other music that I’m leaving out? Is this list completely bias? Am I brain-dead from trying to write about why I love every single song on this list?

The answer is yes.

Reminder: this is a list of MY FAVORITE songs of the decade, not THE GREATEST songs of the decade. There is a key difference. Same rules apply to this list as they did for my favorite albums of the decade so far.

Also make sure to check out the spotify playlist with all these songs at the end of this list.

Alright, let’s begin.

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One Sentence Reviews Of Headphone Nation’s 40 Favorite Albums Of The Decade (So Far): 2010 – 2014

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Congratulations – you made it halfway through the decade. How does it feel? Did you come up with a good nickname for this decade yet? Is it as catchy as “The Noughties”? What were the highlights?

It’s easy to get caught up looking back at a particular year (or years) and try to pick out the few highlights that defined the year out of all the countless events. For any pop culture publication, it’s a cheap, bias way to get more hits, and it usually doesn’t do the year justice to what it was actually like.

But hey, we all love to make these lists, and we all love to read these lists.

One of the ways to define a decade is by the most popular (i.e. the easiest to define) musical trends of the time: the 60s were the age of Psychedelia, the 70s saw the height of Big Hair Music (heavy rock and disco), the 80s were the dawn of Indie and MTV, the 90s the mass takeover of Pop music (Grunge-Pop, Britpop, Rap-Pop, Noise-Pop, Trip-Pop, Boy Band-Pop, Riot Grrrl-Pop, it goes on), and the last decade saw the boom of the streaming revolution that we’re still in the middle of. Obviously there were more to these decades than those broad themes, but it gets the job done.

So what is the trend that will define this decade? Is this the age of Doomsday Disco (EDM, Reflektor), Mumblecore (what much of “Indie Rock” has become), or Black Stadium Rock (Kanye West and the realization of his Thriller-sized ego)? Or will we just clump together all this music, much of it angry and noisy, and call it “Great Recession Music”?

It’s too early to tell – we’re only halfway through this decade. There’s no telling to what we’ll be listening to within the next five years and what albums will come to define this decade. So to try and find any sort of pattern in the beginning of 2015 is challenging and probably not necessary.

But like I said, we all love these lists – so let’s have a little fun.

Below is a list of my 40 favorite albums released between 2010 and 2014 and the albums that have defined this decade for me so far. I tried to make things more interesting by describing each album using only one sentence. Of course you cannot properly sum up an entire album in one sentence – but it’s fun to try to anyways!

Please note – this is NOT a list of the GREATEST albums of the decade. This is just a list of my personal favorites, and I hope I introduce you to some great albums that you might have missed in this decade. If this were a GREATEST list, then there would be some albums that I wouldn’t have omitted and some that I would have taken off. For example, Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 good kid, m.A.A.d city is without a doubt one of the best quality albums of the decade, but I have no personal attachment to it – I just like it because it’s good.

There are also lots of albums that I’ve heard are great but I’ve never sat down with and listened to all the way through (Frank Ocean, Grimes, Tame Impala, etc). When I do my inevitable End-Of-Decade list at the end of 2019, some of those albums might appear after I listen to them more.

Also, some of these albums on this list aren’t necessarily “good”, but there’s something about them that I absolutely love or can relate to. Maybe it’s because it’s from a favorite artist, or maybe I have a strong association with that album and where I first heard it or who/what it reminds me of. No matter the reason, these are the albums that I loved the most in this decade so far.

And yes, there’s a good chance that I left out one of your favorite albums. Please forgive me.

This list is in alphabetical order, and click on each album cover for a link to a song from the album.

 

Alright, let’s begin.

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Playlist: 20 Songs For December 2014

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This month’s playlist comes a little earlier than usual, since I will be away from my computer from Christmas till New Years.

Here are my 20 songs for December 2014:

1. Mad Season – “River Of Deceit”

2. J Mascis – “Me Again”

3. Galaxie 500 – “Decomposing Trees”

4. Eels – “It’s A Motherfucker”

5. Jake Bugg – “Broken”

6. Elliott Smith – “Everything Reminds Me Of Her”

7. Buena Vista Social Club – “Chan Chan”

8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Into My Arms”

9. Bikespeed Champion – “Overgrown”

10. Intimate Stranger – “Imaginary Conversation #1”

11. Ryan Adams – “By The Way”

12. Sunny Day Real Estate – “Seven”

13. Beyoncé – “Blow”

14. Vulfpeck – “Fugue State”

15. Goldfrapp – “Strict Machine”

16. Spoon – “Out Go the Lights”

17. The Libertines – “Can’t Stand Me Now”

18. D-Angelo & The Vanguard – “The Charade”

19. Guillemots – “Little Bear”

20. Aimee Mann – “Wise Up”

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Headphone Nation’s Year In Review: 2014

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What better way to end 2014 than to give out some superlatives? As with any sort of end-of-year review, these awards reflect my personal taste and shouldn’t be taken as the final say on the year. Really my hope is that you’ll check out some new music that that you’d otherwise miss.

Also, make sure to click on the album cover for a link to a song off that album.

Alright, let’s begin.

 

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My 25+ Favorite Songs of 2014

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Another year, another playlist of my favorite songs of the year. This year’s playlist has a particular mix of random greatness, from gloriously loud guitar rock to jazzy electronics and everywhere in between. This year wasn’t as full of epic pop songs as last year, but there are still plenty of quality songs to hear from 2014.

Enjoy!

 

*p.s., as time goes on I’ll add other great songs from this year to this playlist that I forgot to include, twenty-five is just a good starting point.

 

 

Against Me! – “True Trans Soul Rebel”

Alvvays – “Adult Diversion”

Cloud Nothings – “I’m Not Part of Me”

Flying Lotus – “Never Catch Me (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”

Gerard Way – “No Shows”

Hamilton Leithauser – “Alexandra”

The Hold Steady – “Spinners”

Honeyblood – “Super Rat”

Lana Del Rey – “Brooklyn Baby”

Mastodon – “The Motherload”

Matt Kivel – “You and I Only”

The Men – “Another Night”

Modern Baseball – “Fine, Great”

Parquet Courts – “Sunbathing Animal”

Real Estate – “Had To Hear”

Reigning Sound – “My My”

Ryan Adams – “When The Summer Ends”

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 – “IMF”

Sharon Van Etten – “Tarifa”

Spoon – “Do You”

St. Vincent – “I Prefer Your Love”

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Lariat”

Strand of Oaks – “Goshen ’97”

Sun Kil Moon – “Micheline”

The War On Drugs – “Red Eyes”

AND MORE!

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