Top Ten Things of 2014 (the year of Spotify)

Becoming an adult means losing parts of yourself. This is an irrefutable fact, but because life happens fast and relentlessly, it only becomes obvious during the holidays, when the world stops for a few days and there’s suddenly enough time and space to notice what’s been missing.

This is why my yearend lists always come too late – I cannot make a lucid assessment of the past 12 months until all the clutter and noise have finally faded away with the sated holiday haze. In the stillness, I have realized that I cannot write my Top Ten Things of the Year list this year; at least not in the way I’ve been doing it for the past few years, for the simple reason that there just weren’t enough amazing things to list. I can probably come up with something that includes True Detective, Boyhood, a few Mad Men episodes, Silicon Valley, the new J Mascis record, Joshua Ferris’ new novel (particularly the wonderful opening chapter), the San Antonio Spurs’ offense, and a few fillers, but I don’t want to comply with a set of rules I made up just so I can get to number one, which is really all I want to write about.

I just want to make a list that sums up my year in Spotify, which is the number one thing of 2014, and nothing even comes close.

Spotify’s entry into the Philippines early this year was really the beginning of this week’s journey into self-rediscovery, which is really as corny and as 100% true as it sounds. My first impulse upon being presented with a new technology that offers a vast library of music practically for free was to immediately dig for the lost sounds of my youth – songs heard through the grainy UHF mirage of 120 Minutes and mixtapes of Groove Nation Sessions (Toti Dalmacion’s criminally unheralded radio show on NU 107 during the mid-90s) that have long disappeared.

This list, therefore, is a mix of old discoveries, old rediscoveries, and a few new releases that dominated my year. This is an honest list. It does not pretend that the only songs that mattered this year were released this year. That never happens. I know you’ve read a hundred yearend lists by now, but this isn’t like any of them. I do not claim to be current. I only claim to be accurate.

Honorable mentions:
“Ahprahram” by The Sugargliders (discovery)
“Crickets in the Rain” by Allo Darlin’ (new release)
“Popkiss” by Blueboy (rediscovery)
“Lightning Strikes” by Lou Christie (discovery)
“Shallow” by Heavenly (discovery)
“All of a Tremble” by St. Christopher (rediscovery)
“1st Grade Love Affair” by Shoestrings (discovery)
“City of Night” by Nicholas Krgovich (new release)
“Don’t Look At Me (I Don’t Like It)” by The Lovely Eggs (rediscovery)
“Make It Easy On Yourself” by Burt Bacharach (rediscovery)

10.) “Miss Fortunate” – Jim Ruiz Set (discovery)

Jim Ruiz has made a career out of trying out every genre that can possibly be found in vinyl bargain bins, so this first earnest stab at bossanova (that I’m aware of) makes so much sense and is kind of genius for being so long-overdue. It’s always been the most obvious, and therefore most overt route, which is why he’s teased the world with all those country-western and 60s jazz and pop since the days of The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group. “Miss Fortunate” is exactly what you’d think a bossanova Jim Ruiz would sound like – fun, earworm-deadly, and somehow original.

9.) “You And Me” by Alpaca Sports (new release)

After a promising string of singles and EPs, Alpaca Sports seemed destined to disappoint with their debut album, which was advertised as a collection of all their best singles plus a smidgen of new material. It didn’t. The new songs were as spectacular as their young classics, and “You And Me” stands tall as the shiniest proof of this band’s consistency. Sealed With A Kiss could’ve easily been my favorite 2014 release. It definitely was my most anticipated. But another album came literally out of nowhere this year to knock this winsome Swedish couple off their almost guaranteed perch. We’ll get there soon.

8.) “500 Up” by Sloan (rediscovery)

This was one of the first songs I fell in love with on MTV’s 120 Minutes, yet somehow, in the deteriorating crevices of my brain, I couldn’t produce its title from memory. It took me years and an unbelievably cheap music app to finally do it. “500 Up” now makes sense in retrospect as Sloan’s lone earnest attempt at “Alternative Rock,” because in my years of searching for this song and buying their CDs at random, I began thinking that maybe I just imagined it. How could a classic 70s-style power pop band have made a grungy song? Could I have conjured it? Could my subconscious have written one of the best Alternative Rock songs of the early 90s?

Well, no. I’d gladly trade my fake brilliance for the pleasure of rediscovering this song.

7.) “Go With Love” by Swan Dive (discovery)

I thought I’ve already heard the best Swan Dive ballads that exist (“Where Am I Going?” and “Goodbye September”), but then I unearth this gem and it instantly reinforces my belief that Molly Felder may be the greatest female singer no one’s heard of (which makes Swan Dive the greatest duo no one’s heard of).

Unfortunately, for reasons that remain a mystery, Swan Dive’s old albums have disappeared from Spotify, which means I’ll have to make do with its Youtube existence, which I hope doesn’t go away anytime soon.

6.) “Catholic Easter Colours” by Northern Picture Library (discovery)

After rediscovering Northern Picture Library this year, my opinion of Bobby Wratten has now completed the ideal arc, from underrated (discovering Field Mice), to overrated (listening to a lot of Trembling Blue Stars), to properly-rated (Spotify). Northern Picture Library was Wratten’s adorable doodling after Field Mice’s standard C86 guitar pop and before Trembling Blue Stars’ clunky brooding. The results were uneven, but the high points were really high, as evidenced by “Catholic Easter Colours” – a 7-minute masterpiece of triumphant melancholy, one that Wratten has since tried so hard, but has failed, to match.

5.) “Wishing Her Away” by Jim Ruiz Set (discovery)

This is perhaps the peak of Jim Ruiz’s sporadic career as a genre-chameleon. “Wishing Her Away” is an achievement in bourbon-soaked lounge-pop, which is amazing, considering that he pulled off in one swing what the likes of The Aluminum Group and Cousteau have tediously hammered at for years.

4.) “Hard Drive” by Evan Dando (rediscovery)

I saw and heard Evan Dando perform this live during his Manila concert earlier this month and it is now one of my favorite Evan Dando songs. It doesn’t even matter that it was written by acolyte Ben Lee, because it was clearly written specifically for a former grunge-era pin-up-turned-junkie flameout. You can only sing “This is the hard drive / this is the ocean / have you ever felt yourself in motion?” convincingly if you’re over 40 and you’ve been through the shit he’s been through.

The declarative litany of “Hard Drive” is hardly matter-of-fact: it sounds like a recitation of failures and reassurances. And it’s hypnotically moving. When the current’s taken you so far, all you can really do is make an honest accounting of your life’s accumulations. You see the clothes you wear now, the street you walk on, the house you’re building. And then you see the love you’ve always had, and your tone changes just enough for your song to hurt.

3.) “From Paddington to Penzance” by The Hit Parade (new release)

My biggest surprise discovery of the year is also my number one favorite album released this year – The Hit Parade’s Cornish Pop Songs. It opens with its best song – “From Paddington to Penzance” – a delicious explosion of pure pop reverie. I had no idea The Hit Parade were still around, let alone producing the best new music of 2014 by simply being stuck in the late 80s and being blissfully oblivious of every music fad that has happened since.

“From Paddington to Penzance” is as delightful a journey into regret as you’ll ever hear. Julian Henry’s voice is still impossibly youthful, that when he sings: “many years ago and many miles away, I threw it all, I threw it all away,” it sounds doubly poignant, as if he’d travelled into the future only to find himself yearning for the past. Rarely do sugary-sweet pop songs come with this much gravity and this much poetry, but perhaps it takes years of perspective to write lines like: “in your death chair, looking up at the moon, raining remnants of a burst balloon.” The Hit Parade has resurfaced as a one-of-a-kind treasure: pop geniuses with teenaged hearts and middle-aged minds.

2.) “You As Just A Memory” by The Hit Parade (rediscovery)

The aforementioned discovery was only stumbled upon after making this rediscovery. I damn near cried after finding this song again. The experience was akin to stepping back in time and seeing your younger self, unable to warn him of the pitfalls ahead. Tellingly, my sister missed the opening words to this song in her mixtape that I listened to for a decade before it was lost, words that I have now discovered to be: “stay with me ‘til I grow old.”

This was my favorite break-up song at a time when break-ups were only theoretical and fictional, when pretty pop songs were my only gateway to the ugly realities of adult life. I do not listen to this now with a newfound context – I find that impossible. Every time I hear the line: “I’ve got faith in what will be, so come on girl, put all your trust in me,” the memory of a lie I once believed comes back. I don’t want to let it go.

1.) “Paris” by Northern Picture Library (rediscovery)

This song used to exist in my memory as an incomplete loop. I remembered the guitar solo, the verse, the refrain, but somehow not the chorus which I now consider the most paralyzingly beautiful part of the song I thought I already loved so much.

“Let me dream of Paris,” Annemari Davies sings, as if willing her wishes into reality through her levitating voice. I don’t know why this chorus failed to stick all these years. Maybe it just resonates more at this age, when dreaming of things that have passed you by becomes life’s refrain. When I think of Paris, I remember walking along the Seine early in the morning, which was the last time I remember being at peace, not worrying about life because it felt as if I had left it in a faraway place. When I think of this song, I remember being in senior high school and being frightened by a future I vaguely knew would be disappointing. This song is now complete, with no more parts missing, and everything makes sense.




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