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20-11 – Stop. Feel. Be Still and Listen.

May 15, 2014

Here is the second installment of my self-indulgent countdown of best albums. This is 20-11, in no particular order other than the fact that they are all the next level up from 30-21.

These albums are all albums that I know will stay with me for life; when they are played, they steal my attention away from whatever my surroundings are. They make me feel something only great music can, and they never get stale or old.

20-11 – Stop. Feel. Be Still and Listen.


The Ruminant Band – Fruite Bats

The Ruminant Band - Fruit Bats

My roommate back in college showed introduced me to Fruit Bats latest album Tripper one afternoon and I found myself listening to it over and over. Then, I discovered The Ruminant Band and I haven’t stopped playing it.

Folk rock at it’s finest – also one of my favorite genres if not my favorite. I love the wit of Eric Johnson’s songwriting – often times sarcastic, but completely accessible, and charming. Ruminant Band is easy listening and lots of songs featuring the tambourine – which isn’t featured enough in modern day rock if you ask me.

His melodies and falsettoed singing style puts me in a good mood whenever I hear it. Fruit Bats can do everything from instrumental break down, then feature Johnson solo on the guitar on tracks like Singing Joy to the World and Beautiful Morning Light.

It reminds me of growing up in a small town, with the endless open sky, where the world feels at peace with itself.

Give your lovely lonesome head a rest in the beautiful morning light. 

Then there are songs like Hobo Girl that sound the band travelled through time from an old west saloon jam out, a time when the whole saloon would stomp and clap along with the old piano and acoustic guitar. It even breaks down into loud bar-like conversation and laughter.


There’s No Leaving Now – The Tallest Man on Earth

There's No Leaving Now


The first notes of this album gives me the chills every time. It’s folk music with soul. When I wrote this part of the post, I put the record on and had to hold off on the other albums until it was complete. I couldn’t end it on my own terms, it just didn’t seem right.

I’d always enjoyed Kristian Matsson’s songwriting. This doesn’t have the energy of his past albums, but it more than makes up for it with tranquility. This album is smooth and a reflection of beauty for the ears and you don’t feel like you’re getting yelled at like much of his past work (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it can become exhausting).

Songs like Revelation Blues comes in fuzzy as if coming out of an old phonograph. You feel like you’re in the scene from the album’s cover as you listen. You can almost feel the gentle breeze carrying the notes into your ears.

Then there are the lyrics – like a Swedish Walt Whitman, Matsson’s lyrics are poetry.

When your train of thoughts is always passing here / with it’s fallen paint and it’s broken gears / it’s the damn revelation blues / when you see the path and know you won’t be the last, oh lord…I always want to bring you something, / but sometimes it’s just roses dyin to young.

Matsson carries the songs through with his intricate but equally melodic finger-picking leaving you to feel the hope he seems to have dug deep to find himself in this mess of a world we live in.

But we will end up somehow / with a peaceful mind / and you’re leading me now.


Sergent Peppers and the Lonely Hearts Club BandThe Beatles


One of the most revolutionary albums, if not the most revolutionary album of all time. I was introduced to it in my songwriting class and once in context of the times, it’s an astonishing piece of music. (I even got to write a paper analyzing Fixing a Hole, one of the most underrated songs by The Beatles in my opinion).

The Beatles spent five months in the studio recording day and night and putting everything they had into each and every note played. The amount of precision is unrivaled.

The songs are diverse from each other, combining rock, pop, big band, psychedelia, jazz, blues, Indian classical, circus, etc.

I find myself smiling like an idiot with excitement when I listen to the record. It’s getting better all the time!

Sgt. Peppers is going to be something I listen to for ideas for the rest of my life.

It’s difficult to think of an instrument that isn’t in the mix of this record other than maybe the didgeridoo.


Beggars – Thrice


This just in – rock ‘n roll lives.

This record rocks from beginning to end – full of dynamics, busy beats and grooves, and screeching guitars.

Thrice wrote this record to celebrate the imperfections in music. After they took a Sgt. Peppers-like approach on The Alchemy Indexes, they went in the opposite direction for Beggars – even producing it themselves. They kept in the feedback, string scratches, and voice cracks most producers would’ve cut. Even the cover hints to this theme with Be scratched out and Beggars written underneath with pen.

Songs like The Weight send chills down my spin when Dustin Kensrue sings the opening distant-sounding lyric leading the rest of the band into an epic groove that makes you want to get up in your seat and stomp around.

My favorite track on the album – In Exile, is haunting yet groovy. The rhythm drives the lyrics through the human condition – that feeling that we don’t belong on this earth. My heart is filled with songs of forever / a city that endures when all is made new / no I don’t belong here, I’ll never call this place my home / I’m just passin through.  The song ends with Kensrue wailing Ohhh’s over Tepe’s organ.

Thrice has always been a huge inspiration for me. They did things the right way – all writing the music together with no ego’s. No one man was there to outshine the others (at least until the end) and that genuine feel comes screeching through. Everyone needs a good pump-up album, this is mine.

If there’s one thing I know in this life / We are beggars, all


The Shepherd’s Dog Iron and Wine


This album made me completely rethink the limits of folk. I had no idea Sam Beam would go in this direction when the album was released – a drastically different direction from his previous, almost solely acoustic work.

The strings swirl around in the back overtop giving the album an almost mystical feel – as if you’re listening to something that came from some other time. It’s filled with imagines and narratives that rival the mind of Cormac McCarthy.

No one is the savior they would like to be / the love song of the buzzard in the dogwood tree / with a train full of horses laughing through the traffic line / and the cradle’s unimagined sense of time.

Every time I hear the song Boy With a Coin, I want to get up and start dancing and clapping – then the song, like many others in this record, falls down into a psychedelic bridge, as Beam sings a drawn out, Heyyyyy Awwhh. I love how his voices matches with what is going on with the interments behind it throughout the album. His calming, almost whispered melodies intertwine with side and lap steal guitar effects.

No one on the corner had a quarter for the telephone / Everybody bitchin, “There’s nothin on the radio!”


Fear Fun – Father John Misty


It’s hard to put this album in words. It’s a leap forward in the indie rock/folk scene. A drastic turn away from Josh Tillman’s previous work (under the monicker J. Tillman). He even told a few of my friends at South By Southwest that it’s hard for him to respect anyone who likes his J. Tillman stuff.

In an age where Justin Beiber, T Pain, and Lady Gaga dominate the music headlines, Father John – I guess I’ll call him – is the flamboyant, witty, sarcastic rock star that has been missing since the days of Queen and the Rolling Stones. He seems to have found something worth finding while writing this record- and I suspect it was himself.

His lyrics are full of unique insights into our Babylonian reality (or unreality depending on your perception) – yet hilarious, and confusing as all hell.

The thing about it though, is that it all sounds so effortless. His voice is one of the most powerful and versatile around it drapes over the swirling echoes of atmospheric guitars and pulsing percussion. Heck, the record even comes with a weird and metaphysical novel in the liner notes.

It takes the listener to a place outside of time.

Oh, pour me another drink / and punch me in the face / you can call me Nancy


I ran down the road / pants down to my knees / screaming, “Please come help me, that Canadian Shaman gave a little too much to me!” / And I’m writing a novel, ’cause it’s never been done before.


Hummingbird Local Natives


You can’t help but be in a good place once this record reaches it’s end. It’s a record of reflection and appreciation. It makes me feel grateful for what I have with its striking harmonies singing lyrics such as, Hold your summer in your hands, till your summer turns to sand…Silver dreaming brings me to you.

The record is intense and laid back at the same time. It reminds me of my trip to the Oregon coast last summer, enjoying the endless beach and sun, the driving and peaceful sound of the ocean’s tide – an existence of tranquility, where everything seems okay and laced with beauty.

My roommate and I saw these guys in last fall and it was one of those shows that left me in awe. Their harmonies were flawless, and their energy contagious. This is a band where it is clear that no one member outshines the others, not because no one in the band is capable of doing so, but because of the music – they are a tight unit.

Breathing out only to breath in / I know nothing’s right, but I’m not convinced / I can’t let it happen, just let it happen / just don’t think so much, don’t think so much!


Strange Negotiations – David Bazan


One of the most fascinating people in the music industry in my opinion. If you don’t know Bazan’s story, I recommend looking him up on wikipedia or something. He quietly controls the Seattle music scene and no one knows it – travels around the country in his minivan and plays shows in people living rooms – it’s his songwriting that is matched by only an elite few.

Unlike his previous solo stuff, this record is full of driving bass lines – just like all of his previous stuff, it shines with cynicism, yet it more upbeat and optimistic by sound.

You’re a goddamn fool / you’re a goddamn fool /you’re a goddamn fool / you’re a goddamn fool / and I love you, yeah, I love you

I’ve seen Bazan at two different living room shows, and if you ever get the chance I highly, highly recommend attending one. You come away from the show thinking, “that dude is real.” He is as genuine as anyone who makes a living playing music – and probably more honest.

In these strange negotiations / man, they really are gettin’ me down / strange negotiations / feel like a stranger in my hometown / strange negotiations / you know, I’m lookin’ for my way around / all these strange negotiations 


Falling Faster than You Can Run – Nathaniel Rateliff


I wouldn’t be surprised if this moved its way to the top ten a few years from now, once it’s really had the chance to sink in.

Rateliff’s voice is perfect. He can be shrill, soft, loud, and no one wails quite like the guy.

The dynamics throughout this album are flawless, and there even a few songs with a good groove going – which is part of what separates this record form his previous release.

When you’re rollin in it long enough / you’re shit won’t even smell…I don’t know a goddamn thing!

If a song from this record ever come up on a playlist, I find attention completely focused on my ears by the time it’s over. It stops me in my tracks every time. There’s an amazing control to the dynamics, never getting too carried away, almost always holding back just enough for you to want more, and when Rateliff does break into his wailing, you feel his voice like a wind.

But a wave / could carry you away / or leave you somewhere else / or leave you in the flame / so let the dirges ring / I’ll be there to burn with you


Bon Iver – Bon Iver


I wish there was room for eleven albums in my top ten, unfortunately though, ten is ten. This album is staggering – one of a kind – absolutely beautiful.

Bon Iver won a grammy for this, and though I typically don’t find a whole lot of meaning in such awards, the fact that it penetrated the music scene like it did speaks volumes to how great it is. It’s not your typical grammy winning album in any way. It’s slow paced and the lyrics are typically difficult to understand, but there is a feeling that surrounds the album like no other I’ve heard.

It is the ultimate be still and listen album. Once it starts spinning, my surroundings disappear and time stops.

The notes swirl and weave together into euphoria.

Somewhere baby it’s part of me a part from me / you’re laying waste to halloween / you fucked it friend / it’s on it’s head / it struck the street / you’re in Milwaukee, off your feet / and at once I knew I was not magnificent / strayed above the highway aisle / jagged, vacant, thick with ice / and I could see for miles, and miles, and miles

Words really can’t approach many of these records, but especially this one. So, all I can say is be still and listen to it and you’ll know what I’m trying to get at.


To be continued…

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