Biographical Mix, 2010: Getting Better

It's January 1st, 2011 and I've already begun to notice a trend for the new year, one that actually started last night: optimism.  I was kind of taken aback by the volume of optimistic comments I saw on the various social media sites I frequent.

Yes, such optimism is generally a part of every new year, but it seemed more prevalent this year, far more so than last year, that's for sure.  Given the state of the world (not to mention a Republican controlled House of Representatives), it's hard to believe that so many people are coming out of 2010 and into 2011 expecting something better.  But that seems to be the case.

And why not?  We've all been in a very deep hole for a very long time, and while we might still be below ground, we're considerably closer to the surface than we have been in years.  For all the doom and gloom, the talking heads and spin, things are getting better.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it feels like we're actually moving towards it.

This was very much the case for me, personally.

A reminder for anyone new to these "Biographical Mixes" of mine: these songs are the best of what I listened to over the last calendar year, and usually includes music that was not released in said year.  I listen to a lot of music over 12 months and I'm on a fairly regular search for new bands to get into.  Because of this, the new music I listen to in any given years isn't usually from that year.

As a matter of process, I create a new mix for each quarter of the year, so when the year comes to an end I have four mixes which I then distill down to one.  Usually, any songs I deem "slow" or "sad" or the like ends up on a completely different mix, so while this is, in theory, a "Best of What I Listened To in 2010," it's is made up of only non-depressing music.  Perhaps someday I'll share my depressing stuff on this blog.

Okay, without further ado, my "Best of 2010" list...

"Mercury" by Chris Walla and J. Robbins
"Once, Twice, Again!" by DARTZ!
"Feel Good Together" by Drummer
"Living In Colour" by Frightened Rabbit
"Get Better" by Mates of State
"Bottled In Cork" by Ted Leo
"Left & Right In the Dark" by Julian Casablancas
"Up In the Dark" by the New Pornographers
"Hang On" by Weezer
"X's On Your Eyes" by +/-
"Enjoy the Silence" by Nada Surf
"Forced to Love" by Broken Social Scene
"Credible Threats" by One AM Radio
"Generator First Floor" by Freelance Whales
"Eyes On the Prize" by Eulogies
"Black Sheep" by Metric and Brie Larson
"Beat the Devil's Tattoo" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
"Long Day" by Medications
"Perfect" by Sounds Like Violence
"How Heavy This Axe" by The Sword
"A Horse Called Golgotha" by Baroness

 Up next: Best albums actually released in 2010...

Biographical Mix 2009: Pop Culture

I can only assume that anyone reading this has been anxiously awaiting this moment ever since I started posting these things. After all, you're getting this one fresh, as it just happened, as opposed through the misty, water color memories of the previous years.

Since this is fresh, I'm going to take things a bit further and expound upon each of my choices, mostly because I like to over think things.

For those who don't remember how this works, this is a mix comprised of my favorite songs from 2009. It's a fairly good sampling of what I listened to this year, which means that many of these songs came out before 2009, but I just got around to listening to them this year.

As should be very clear, pop culture played a huge influence on me this year, and I'm not entirely sure why.

Without further ado, my 2009 Biographical Mix:

"Returning to the Fold" by The Thermals

I discovered this band through the TV show "Chuck." I love more or less everything about the show, and the music has been no different (my most recent slow mixes are filled with songs from "Chuck."). This is a great song for driving around and singing at the top of your lungs.

"The Twist" by Frightened Rabbit

Yes, another band I discovered because off "Chuck," leave me alone. Okay, by and large it's angsty Scottish (I think) alternative type music, but it's really likeable angsty Scottish (I think) alternative type music. It's also really catchy while also being incredibly sad and danceable.

"Just Drums" by Tapes N' Tapes

Wow, I just now realized that this is another gem from another TV show, this one being "Big Love," a show I just like, not love. But some guy named David Byrne picks out the music for that show, so it's always a safe bet they'll have some good tunes. I barely made out this song in the background of a scene, but it was enough to catch my interest. The rest of the album was okay, but this song is pretty great.

"Hellodrama" by What Made Milwaukee Famous

This is my favorite song off of a great album, "Trying to Never Catch Up." Shockingly enough, it has nothing at all to do with a TV show. I'd actually heard about this band for a while before I actually gave them a shot, and I'm glad I did.

"Basement Parties" by Matt Pond PA

Again, not a band I discovered because of a TV show, although they are favorites of Josh Scwartz's music producers, as they can be heard on both "The OC" and the aforementioned "Chuck." I generally enjoy any song that makes me think of college, and this is one of those.

"Rally" by Phoenix

I had a good run there but, yes, this is also a TV discovery, from the 3rd season of the late, great "Veronica Mars." It seems that these guys are a big buzz band now, but it's news to me. I like this song because it's poppy and happy and good.

"Wilco (the song)" by Wilco

Okay, well, let's be clear about this one: yes, I first heard it on a TV show (the Colbert Report), but I've been a Wilco fan for a while now. I had the recording from the show and played it to death well before the album version finally came out. Sure, it's cheesy, but it doesn't shy away from that cheese.

"The Fixer" by Pearl Jam

Yes, it was only appropriate that Pearl Jam released a new album this year, as this was also the year that I caught back up with this band. I enjoyed their latest record well enough, and this was easily my favorite song. A pop song by Pearl Jam? Who knew?

"Ascending" by ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead...

I like Trail of Dead and I really like this song, but I'll be honest, none of their albums have hit me the way "Source Tags and Codes" did. I like how they've expanded their vocals over the years, but it seems to have come with a loss of guitar hooks.

"Welcome Home" by Coheed & Cambria

Yes, well, I couldn't go too long without another pop culture induced choice. I have yet to see the move "9," but I absolutely loved the trailer, in no small part due to this song; it's epic. This song also represents the extent of my exposure to Coheed & Cambria.

"Last Call" by Thursday

Sure, maybe it was the fact that this album came out right around the time I started jury duty, but it just clicked with me. I enjoy Thursday, even if they are generally lumped in with much less talented "screamo" acts. It was actually hard for me to pick just one song off of their last album, but the super emo side of me couldn't resist a song that ends with the repeated chorus of "Everything is fine," when it most obviously isn't.

"Radical Adults Like Godhead Style" by Sonic Youth

I go through Sonic Youth phases and the last three months of '09 was one of them. Honestly, there's not much more to say than that. They creep up again and again over the span of most of my mixes for whatever reason. They've put out such a huge catalog of music that I feel like I'm constantly playing catch-up with them. Hell, I still haven't listened to their latest yet and that came out months ago.

"Into the Mirror" by Minus the Bear

Oh, Minus the Bear, the band that makes me think of college like no other band makes me think of college, which is a bit strange, given that I don't even think they existed when I was in college. No, it's their music that makes me think of college -- something about their lyrics just speak to me in that way.

I was a bit disappointed with their last album, but this two song single and recent acoustic release has redeemed them in my eyes. They're starting to get less angular and more groovy, which I'm perfectly fine with.

"Thunder$stroke" by Beaten Awake

I always feel weird when I put band with people I know (or have known for years) in them on these lists, like I'm cheating somehow or playing favorite. But, damn, if Beaten Awake's second album isn't impossible to ignore. I had a really hard time picking a favorite song, but sold out and went with the single. Sure, I wish the vocals were a bit more to the forefront and it's a ridiculously catchy vocal line, but I can look past that.

"Substitution" by Silversun Pickups

There are moments, when I listen to the Silversun Pickups, when I can find no other way to describe their music but Grunge 2.0 (you know, if we stopped 1.0 before it got completely awful, thank you very much Seven Mary Three). There are also times when I listen to the Silversun Pickups where I wonder why I don't listen to them more. They're like the Smashing Pumpkins before Bald Billy went insane, but with something more important to say.

"I Bet You Look Good On the Dance Floor" by the Arctic Monkeys

Never let it be said that I'm a trendsetter. It's a catchy song, what can I say?

"Can't Stop Partying" by Weezer

Ditto. I'd go into details, but I just wrote a whole damn blog on Weezer.

"Time to Pretend" by MGMT

Again, I'm probably behind the cool kids curve on this one, as I didn't really listen to much MGMT until this past year. This is the kind of dance music I like -- the kind that doesn't require any actual dancing.

"Left Behind" by CSS

I will say this much: CSS could be the revelation of 2009 for me. It would have been pretty easy to assume a lot of different things about this band, from the stupid Ipod commercial to the cutesy singer and dance beats. But they cover a pretty wide range of music styles on their (so far) two albums. It's also impossible to not love a band that features a musical homage to Death From Above 1979.

"Stadium Love" by Metric

Great title for a great song by a great band -- makes it a good choice, I'd say. Really, I can't say enough about the title of this song. The lyrics are fairly abstract, but the music is just so huge that calling it anything other than "Stadium Love" would have been kind of sad. I can only assume that the riff came before the words.

There it is -- took me weeks to write, but there's my mix for 2009. Enjoy. I'm off to watch Chuck.

Biograhical Mix, 2008: The End Is Here (for now)

And here we are, at long last, to the final of my annual mixes. Thankfully for you, gentle reader, the next one is just three short months away. Looking at it now, I can say with some confidence that there will be some surprises on there, unless something very strange happens between now and the end of the year (and given the year I've had, chances are probably good).

Anyway, this mix is a good one, and features the return of an old favorite, as well as the return of an old, old favorite (pre-dating the mixes for the most part). It also has a nice flow, given how it begins and how it ends, which is kind of a nice bit of symbolism for this last entry.

"Rays of Pinion" by Baroness
"Jaguar Pirates" by Jaguar Love
"Being Here" by the Stills
"Everybody Get Dangerous" by Weezer
"Ice on the Wing" by Nada Surf
"Long Division" by Death Cab For Cutie
"For the Birds" by What Made Milwaukee Famous
"Tearing Up the Oxygen" by Martime
"A-Punk" by Vampire Weekend
"Supernatural Superserious" by R.E.M.
"Ghost Under Rocks" by Ra Ra Riot
"Lilacs" by Matt Costa
"No One's Gonna Love You" by Band of Horses
"Light for the Deadvine" by People In Planes
"Development" by Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip
"No Lucifer" by British Sea Power
"Salute Your Solution" by the Raconteurs
"The Standard" by Self-Evident
"All Nightmare Long" by Metallica

I spent seven months of that year without a job, so I had a pretty deep backlog of music to listen to (as I had nothing else to do but sit at my desk, listening to music and looking for employment). I actually had some much music to listen to in 2008, that I can guarantee that a few of the tracks on my "Best of 2009" mix will be from albums that came out last year and I just never got around to until this year.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this stroll down nostalgia lane with me. Don't you worry your pretty little heads -- I have a whole new series of columns set to go in the very near future, which only a few of you will read, and even fewer will actually understand or appreciate, they will just be that specific.

Huzzah!

Biographical Mix, 2007: Repeat Offenders

Spinto Band reads my blog! Or, at least, they read the last one. Most of you who read this do so through Facebook, but the blog is imported from a blogspot site. Well, turns out Spinto Band found my last entry and commented on it! Pretty sweet.

While I had a fairly steady stream of new music on rotation during 2007, there seemed to be an awful lot of new albums from bands I already listened to coming out each month. There are also a few bands on here that I came late to the party to, although at least one of them only won me over because of this specific album, as their other stuff isn't as interesting to me (there, that's a little mystery for you to solve).

"Intro: A Song of Fire and Wine" by Trail of Dead
"Stand In Silence" by Trail of Dead
"Song for Clay (Disappear Here)" by Bloc Party
"Turn On Me" by the Shins
"Letter From An Occupant" by The New Pornographers
"Well Thought Out Twinkles" by Silversun Pickups
"The Last Word" by Solea
"Blood Red Blood" by Voxtrot
"Impossible Germany" by Wilco
"Make It Wit Chu" by Queens of the Stone Age
"Good to Sea" by Pinback
"Burying Luck" by Minus the Bear
"The Underdog" by Spoon
"Sewn" by the Feeling
"The Beat That My Heart Skipped" by Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip
"Tranquilize" by the Killers
"Silver Lining" by Rilo Kiley
"Open Bar Reception" by Jimmy Eat World
"Summer Is Coming" by Matt Pond PA

You know, looking over that list, I realize just how average a lot of those new albums were. Each of them had great songs, but none of them were just devastatingly great like some of the earlier releases. Even the initial Voxtrot full length didn't really match up to the litany of EPs that came before it, but that was an awful high bar to match. I was really disappointed in Minus the Bear's effort and I LOVE Minus the Bear. I think Pinback might have the best new release by a band I already listened to for this year (there's an award for you).

Only one left! Or, at least, only one left this year!

Biographical Mix, 2006: Hell Yes

This mix is freaking awesome.

I don't say that lightly, either, as I'm quickly approaching my 20th mix. But I was extremely energized during most of 2006, and I think the music on this music reflects that. I don't know where it came from or what it was about, but clearly I was ready to party.

The biggest influence on me was my discovery of a little web site called Emusic.com. For those who don't know, Emusic charges a flat monthly fee for a certain number of downloads per month. At the time, I paid $15 a month for 65 downloads. Granted, they didn't have any major labels, but that didn't particularly bother me. And, yes, 65 songs is a lot of songs in one month, so I ended up downloading entire albums by bands without really knowing what I was getting into. It was great, though -- I discovered a lot of great music this way.

I also discovered some great bands through Soma FM's Indie Pop Rocks internet radio station. Credit where it's due, I say.

Oh, and this was also the time when Indie 103 was alive and kicking in Los Angeles. It was a great station which, of course, no longer exists.

Heck, now that I write it all out, 2006 was like some kind of magical, musical nexus.

"Cosmopolitan" by Nine Black Alps
"Oh, Mandy" by Spinto Band
"Sucker Punch" by the Pale Pacific
"New Comes and Goes" by Oranger
"Softer and Warm" by Voxtrot
"Destroyer" by the Stills
"Catastrophe" by Rainer Maria
"Pyrite Pedestal" by Pretty Girls Make Graves
"Hooray" by Minus the Bear
"Pantomime" by Engine Down
"Zodiaccupuncture" by Aesop Rock
"Steady As She Goes" by the Raconteurs
"The Things We All Carry Around" by Some By Sea
"Little Dawn" by Ted Leo
"This All Can Become Completely the Same" by Bats and Mice
"Metal School" by Spoon
"Food For Worms" by Milemarker
"The Zookeeper's Boy" by Mew
"Telegraph Avenue Kiss" by Thursday

If I were ever in a band again, it would be a band like Nine Black Alps. Not many people know them, but they're more or less a straight ahead rock band with lots of energy. Also, some day I'll throw a party and play only the obscure hip hop acts that I like and the only person dancing will be me. This mix also features a song from Rainer Maria's last album...and Pretty Girls Make Graves' last album, for that matter. And Some by Sea's last album. Geez, that's a downer.

The big discover in this year was, of course, Voxtrot, who have gone on to become one of those bands that I managed to spread, like a virus, to all my friends. The same can be said of "Oh, Mandy" by Spinto Band, which was actually played at my wedding, and more than a few people actually danced to it.

Only two more mixes left! Will your favorite band suddenly pop up? Will an old band make an unforeseen return? And what of the mix currently in process? The suspense is killing me!

Biographical Mix, 2005: Disjointed

Really, looking at this mix makes me wonder if I was more than one person during the course of 2005. I came pretty close, really, but I think most people would claim the same thing, given the circumstances. There's something about meeting someone that you will spend the rest of your life with that amplifies everything -- the good and the bad. I suppose you could compare it to birth, in that there's an awful lot of pain for something that's ultimately wonderful, and for every moment of morning sickness, there's that first kick, which makes it all worthwhile.

I could go on, but needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), 2005 was a mind boggling one for me. While I met Nicole the last month of 2004, this was the year that our relationship got serious...and that seemed to stick, what with us being married now and all. Still, there are more than a few songs on this mix that involve, to some extent, wrapping your brain around being in love, and allowing yourself to be happy, two things that are far harder for most of us than they should be.

"Survival 101" by the New Transit Direction
"The Rat" by the Walkmen
"Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" by Arcade Fire
"One With the Freaks" by the Notwist
"The Widow" by the Mars Volta
"Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" by Stars
"Will You Smile Again?" by Trail of Dead
"Little Thoughts" by Bloc Party
"Perfect Situation" by Weezer
"Ear, Nose, and Throat" by Troubled Hubble
"Popular Mechanics for Lovers" by Beulah
"I Turn My Camera On" by Spoon
"We Will Become Silhouettes" by the Shins
"The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" by Sufjan Stevens
"Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead" by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
"Blankest Year" by Nada Surf
"Lydia, You're Fading" by Oceanographer
"Ten Years Ahead" by Soundtrack of Our Lives
"Juicebox" by the Strokes
"For Miles" by Thrice

Aside from themes, it's interesting to see how Nicole's presence in my life indirectly affected this mix. She's the one who finally got me to listen to the Arcade Fire. We also watched the OC together, and a decent number of these songs came from that show. One of our first dates involved seeing "In Good Company," and there's a song from the soundtrack on here.

On the music industry side of things, 2005 was significant for two reasons. First, it featured new albums from big bands like the White Stripes, Coldplay, and Weezer, all of which were pretty disappointing and, ultimately, exercises in playing it safe. Weezer's the only one to make the cut on this mix, and that's mostly because I like the lyrics.

The other big industry related aspect of this mix is that it would be the last one made up of songs I ripped from actual CDs. Come the new year, I would stop buying CDs all together, going so far as to rip all the ones I already had and taking them to Amoeba for cash. The digital revolution had finally hit home.

While this mix might be disjointed in both style and substance, next year's mix would end up being one of my all time favorites.

Biographical Mix, 2004: Best Yet?

I might not actually be referring to the mix in that title. As I look back on my Christ-like existence (by which I mean I have now been alive for 33 years), I have a hard time finding a better single year than 2004. Sure, there have been other years where good things have happened to me, but 2004 was different. As god as my witness, 2004 was there that I became...happy, or at least as close I could come. It was a magical, transforming time in my life. Really, I should have a 5 year anniversary party for it.

So this mix means an awful lot to me, wide range of music and all.

"All These Things That I Have Done" by the Killers
"A Line in the Sand" by Q and Not U
"Time Is Running Out" by Muse
"Vindicated" by Dashboard Confessional
"Lossleader" by Nine Days Wonder
"Get Saved" by Pilot to Gunner
"East School" by Dignen
"Caring Is Creepy" by the Shins
"Spitting Games" by Snow Patrol
"Stones" by Sonic Youth
"Still In Love Song" by the Stills
"Say Hello to the Angels" by Interpol
"Float On" by Modest Mouse
"17 Years" by Ratatat
"Fortress" by Pinback
"Hands Up" by Walking Concert
"23" by Jimmy Eat World
"Fall to Pieces" by Velvet Revolver

This mix is also very specifically divided by parts of the year. Everything from the Shins through Modest Mouse came from that summer which, not to beat a dead horse, was one of the best summers I've ever had.

What's truly amazing to me is that the year was already one of my best by the time December 1st rolled around. That was the day I finally met Nicole face to face, and her influence on these mixes would become obvious pretty quickly...

Biographical Mix, 2003: The Love Affair Begins

Apropos of nothing, some day I would like to start a blog entitled "Damn This Inebriated Brain!" I'm saving that for when I'm famous, though.

And lo, in the darkness, there would come a light. And said light would be kind of sappy and a little poppy and occasionally even cheesy. But I would love the hell out of it, even until this very moment. Yes, 2003 was the year that I rediscovered Nada Surf.

Laugh all you want, but I love me some Nada Surf. They're overly sincere, but their lyrics are generally abstract enough so that they don't sound trite. Hell, an argument can be made that half of their songs don't make any kind of sense. And, sure, I generally dislike singers who feel the need to rhyme everything, but when the end result is as bizarre as some of Nada Surf's songs are, I'm more than willing to look past that.

While discovering Nada Surf's classic album "Let Go" might have been the most enduring musical moment from 2003, I'd be remiss if I also didn't mention Pretty Girls Make Graves. Their first full length is unbelievable, and just the perfect blend of pretty much everything I love about music. I was blown away by it. Their second record was good, but couldn't really match up. After that, they lost a guitar player and added a keyboard player and the band I once knew and loved had morphed into a completely different thing. Still, the day I first heard Pretty Girls Make Graves will always be an important one to me.

And off we go.

"The Getaway" by Pretty Girls Make Graves
"It's Over" by the Fire Theft
"Happy Kid" by Nada Surf
"Sound of Settling" by Death Cab For Cutie
"This Is Our Emergency" by Pretty Girls Make Graves
"Hands Down" by Dashboard Confessional
"CT Catholic" by Rainer Maria
"Killian's Red" by Nada Surf
"Fade Out/In" by Palo Alto
"B" by Pinback
"2+2=5" by Radiohead
"Ears Ring" by Rainer Maria
"Teen Titans Theme" by Puffy AmiYumi
"Get Your Hands Off My Woman" by the Darkness
"Art of Losing" by American Hi-Fi
"High Wire Escape Artist" by Boy Sets Fire
"Silhouette" by Thrice
"Signals Over the Air" by Thursday
"Absent Stars" by Year of the Rabbit
"All That's Left" by Thrice
"Asleep in the Chapel" by Thursday

Yes, that's the theme song from the Teen Titans cartoon; it's awesome.

I went through a bit of a screamo period, too, with new albums from Boy Sets Fire, Thrice, and Thursday. I also think "Long Knives Drawn" could be Rainer Maria's best album.

This was a good year for music, although not a particularly good year for me. Next year, however, would be both.

Biograhical Mix, 2002: The City of Angels

Of all the questions to be asked about the 19 (currently working on 20th) mixes like this I have made, there is one that had a definitive answer: Which mix has the best first song? You will find no better way to start a mix than the way this one begins.

For what it's worth, I spent the first 5 months of 2002 living in Atlanta. I then drove back to Ohio, and then flew to Los Angeles. There's very clearly a song on here specifically for that drive out of Atlanta (and, in theory, my flight to California). Most of these songs seem to take a turn for the fast paced, which only seemed appropriate given my new surroundings. While the "underground" music that seeped into Ohio from New York, DC, and Chicago seemed much more experimental and heavy, it just felt right somehow to listen to upbeat, singalong type music once I got to Los Angeles. If I'm ever independently wealthy, I'd love to research and write a book about the differences in the underground music scenes from the west coast and the east coast -- and the north coast, for that matter. They all seem very much rooted in some sense of geographic identity.

Anyway, with all that in mind...

"Party Hard" by Andrew WK
"California" by Phantom Planet
"Hate to Say I Told You So" by the Hives
"City of Angels" by the Distillers
"Another Morning Stoner" by Trail of Dead
"Diazapam" by Karate
"Disco" by the Butchies
"You Are Invited" by the Dismemberment Plan
"It's Over" by the Fire Theft
"Get Free" by the Vines
"Paris In Flames" by Thursday
"Fell In Love With a Girl" by the White Stripes
"Beautiful Disaster" by American Hi-Fi
"Cochise" by Audioslave
"All Systems Go" by Boxcar Racer
"Clocks" by Coldplay
"Light Rail Coyote" by Sleater Kinney
"Eastern Wave" by Three Mile Pilot
"Taste of Ink" by the Used
"Keep Fishin'" by Weezer
"No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age

Seriously, there was a point over the summer when I listened to just the Vines, the Hives, and the White Stripes. It was all very strange. I blame my exposure to KROQ.

I will say this: moving to a new city caused me to latch on to music in a way that I hadn't really done before. Going forward, I would keep track of release dates and end up buying a new CD nearly every week. I'd never really been a part of that ritual, but I found that I needed new music every week -- it brought me a sense of stability, akin to new comic book day on Wednesdays.

Perhaps that will be my next stroll down memory lane -- a biographical mix of comic books.