“Revelation” Jason Falkner
Jason Falkner is one of our most slept-on pop genius superstars. If this is the first you’re hearing of him, go directly to the streaming service of your choice and dive in. There is no wrong place to start. I come back to this one at around this time every year, as the days finally begin to get longer and my seasonal affect disorder starts to fade away. This song tells me spring is in the air, and that I’d better pull it together. “Why am I down when there is life all around?” is a question we should all be asking ourselves, at all times.
“Different Times” Sense Field
Jon Bunch, the lead singer of Sense Field, passed away a few weeks ago at age 45. I’ve been neck-deep in them ever since; his voice was so clear and plaintive and beautiful, and his lyrics were so direct. I remember hearing this one on a CMJ compilation back in 1996 or so, and listening to it on repeat for about a month. “You’ve chosen a brilliant time to learn how to be strong” is a line that stops me in my tracks every single time.
“So I Fall Again” Phantom Planet
Brie Larson just won a well-deserved Oscar for “Room,” which I watched last week and am still not fully over. Good for her! But for me, the real takeaway from the ceremony is that Brie goes out with Alex Greenwald, the almost criminally handsome lead singer of Phantom Planet, who really should have been a much bigger band. Brie Larson is crushing it all the way around.
“Animal” Nada Surf
I respect the hell out of Nada Surf. They could have packed it in after “Popular.” They could have changed their name and dodged the one-hit wonder curse. But they kept plugging away, they found a sound that is all their own, and they made me love them. The new album “You Know Who You Are” came out a couple of weeks ago, and is lovely from start to finish.
“Overnight” Wild Feathers
So is the new Wild Feathers record “Lonely Is A Lifetime.” Does the fact that I like them automatically make them “dad rock,” even though I don’t have kids? Does it matter?
“Do You Know What It Takes” Robyn
BREAKING: Gay guy likes Robyn. And of course her more-recent material is groundbreaking and glorious, but this song is a delicious slice of early Max Martin ‘90s Euro-pop, and it must be acknowledged.
“Bang Bang Bang” Mark Ronson
Mark Ronson is a genius and a style inspiration, and this is one of the five best pop songs of the last decade.
“The Stars Are Ours” Mayer Hawthorne
Steely Dan had a baby with Hall & Oates in 1981, and that kid is all grown up now. This song makes me want to borrow my mom’s convertible and go cattin’ around with my friends. I am 45 years old.
“Run Away With Me” Carly Rae Jepsen
BREAKING: Gay guy also likes Carly Rae. For real though, “E*Mo*Tion” is a classic, and I can’t believe it wasn’t a huge album, but I don’t even know whether anybody has huge albums anymore, so whatever.
“You Go Down Smooth” Lake Street Dive
A lot of people recommended Lake Street Dive to me a couple of years ago, but I let my unconscious biases steer me away. I saw their semi-retro styling and their stand-up bass, I noticed that Ellen Degeneres was a fan, and I feared the worst. I pictured Karmin. I thought: “that lead singer is going to pull out a ukulele, and then she is going to rap.” I said: “Oh, hell no.” I was of course dead wrong: they are great, and no song in the last five years has brought me more pure pleasure.
“Turning On Blue” Tommy Keene
Tommy Keene is an American treasure, the first rock artist who I felt like I had conjured up out of my subconscious. He’s a perfect example of what people call “power-pop”: crunchy guitars over bubblegum choruses. His 1986 major-label debut “Songs From The Film” was an album I listened to over and over again, to the point where I had to re-purchase the cassette. Twice. It slipped through the cracks, which was bad news for him, but great for people like me who like to be the only one who knows about awesome things. This is from the album “Ten Years After,” which he released a decade later, which is now two decades ago. God help us.
“Mr. Brightside” Killers
Brandon Flowers is an Osmond and a Latin pop star rolled up into one ridiculous package, and it took seeing him live to really fall in love. But I did, and I did.
“Something About You” Level 42
Each year, we talk a lot about “the Song of the Summer,” and that’s all well and good, but just as important for me is the Song of the Spring. That slice of pop goodness that accompanies the thaw. The thing that’s playing when you wear shorts for the first time since September, when you can play outside or put the top down, when you start to believe that summer is really going to happen again. This was that song for me in 1986, when I had just turned 15, and a driver’s license and freedom and all of life lay tantalizingly just out of reach. It still works.
“Turn It On Again” Genesis
My standby karaoke jam has always been “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” by Jermaine Stewart, but a recent reevaluation of Phil Collins has me thinking this should take its place.
“We Used To Wait” Arcade Fire
There’s a decent amount of nostalgia in “Party of One.” Not just for the music and pop-culture of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but for a moment when every thought wasn’t broadcast in real time. When, if you had something you wanted to tell a friend, you had to hold on until you could reach them on the phone, or see them face to face. When you had the luxury of missing someone. This song captures that feeling perfectly.
“The City” Dismemberment Plan
I love this band, I love this song, and when I listen to it on a long run, I find that I involuntarily break into a dead sprint at the chorus. “The City” will trick you into interval training, is what I’m saying here.
“Mixtape” Butch Walker
“Party of One” is a mixtape of sorts, a life seen through the lens of the music that pushed it forward. Mixtapes are my favorite method of communication with the world. They let me enlist the help of more-talented people to get my point across, they mark moments in time (I mean, if I had a crush on you during my 1993 Buffalo Tom/Juliana Hatfield period, you knew it, and you knew them), plus they let me trick people into listening to Tommy Keene. And nowadays you don’t even need a double-cassette deck; some meditation on the subject matter, a few clicks on Spotify, and you’re off to the races.
“Constructive Summer” Hold Steady
“Party of One” comes out June 6. We’re gonna build something this summer.
“Center Of Attention” Guster
As someone who lives largely inside his own head, I relate to this song probably more than is healthy. But listen: I got a book out of it.
“This Is Easy” Marshall Crenshaw
It is a very strange thing to have written a memoir. You have to break your parents in to the idea that they will have to read about you having sex. You think about reaching out and giving a heads-up to the friends and co-workers and exes whose names have been changed, whether they were innocent or not. You pull a chunk out of your heart, and then it goes off to some plant somewhere to get printed and bound, and you can’t touch it for a while. It is a time of heightened emotions. I am, in other words, freaking all the way out. And when I find that I’m freaking out, I generally reach for this song. May it have the same effect on you.
“Demons” Frank Turner
“At this truth we have arrived: God damn, it’s great to be alive.” What more needs to be said?