Breathe Owl Breathe is delightfully eccentric and charming. Their soft, giddy folk-pop creates an atmosphere that blends fairytale and a reality that clearly comes from their Michigan roots, giving their songs a strong, fanciful personality. I recommend listening to their album “Magic Central” while driving along Lake Michigan in August with the windows down.
2. Stars, “Bitches in Tokyo”
Stars has been one of my all time favorite bands for quite a while now, and yet I always forget about them in the flurry of other music. Then, at precisely the right moment, I remember that they exist, that I love them and that all of their songs relate perfectly to my excess of feelings. I am a sucker for their combination of soft, eloquent vocals and intense instrumental arrangements. “In Our Bedroom After the War” is a powerful album by a subtly powerful band.
3. The Rosebuds, “Leaves Do Fall”
I had forgotten how much I love The Rosebuds — and this song — until they played here in the fall. I grew up surrounded by a lot of good folk music, so I have a nostalgic love for it. The Rosebuds combine that lovely folk sound with a grittier edge that gives it what I have heard aptly described as a “Southern gothic” feel, that is effectively used in this deceptively upbeat song about desperate lovers.
4. Robyn, “U Should Know Better”
Robyn is one of the wonderful, simple pleasures of my life and this album literally always makes me want to get off my ass and dance. If I were going to be a Swedish pop star, I would want to be Robyn. This is not my favorite song of hers — for those curious, that would be “Cry When You Get Older” — but it features Snoop Dogg and references to the Pope, so what’s not to love?
5. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, “Young Adult Fiction”
The entire album has the ability to make you feel like you’re watching your friend’s band play in someone’s basement. There is an endless energy that drives a song that might just be about having sex in a library or it might be about growing up, loss of innocence and broken hearts.
6. The National, “Racing Like a Pro”
The first time I heard this song, from their 2007 album Boxer, I really hated it. This is music that requires and deserves repeated listening. There is something lovely and soothing about Matt Berninger’s voice that just makes me want to drink something warm and take a nap. Their songs range from overwhelmingly chill to more high energy and driven, but his distinctive baritone holds it all together.
7. 2Cellos, “Hurt”
A ridiculous cello duet covering Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails — or at least that’s what I’d like to think. There is some seriously cool stuff going on in this song. It still manages to convey the intense emotion of the lyrics, despite being entirely instrumental. For those who outlive me, please take note: I would not complain if you played this at my funeral.
8. Beirut, “Santa Fe”
Being a former ska aficionado, I have a long and lasting thing for songs with horn parts, and this is a lovely one. Beirut references a widely varied selection of genres as influences and it shows in their music. Zach Condon, Beirut’s front man, is a native of Santa Fe and the lyrically simple song manages to evoke an interesting relationship to his home city. Plus, it’s mad catchy.
9. Modest Mouse, “Black Cadillacs”
Indie rock at what is debatably it’s finest. Modest Mouse holds a weird nostalgia for me, especially when I realize that I was twelve when this album came out. A little angrier, a little further from their usual sound, this particular song is delightfully snarky and fed-up, things with which I obviously identify. My roommate flips tables to Awesome Snakes, I flip tables to this.
10. Dio, “Holy Diver”
“Between the velvet lies/ There’s a truth as hard as steeeel/ The vision never dieeees/ Life’s a never-ending wheeeeel!”