Category Archives: Music

2023 in Music: Spotify Unwrapped

This year I listened to 62,011 minutes of music (more than 97% of users), accounting for 7,645 songs, 3,550 different artists, and 118 different genres. My most played genres of 2023 were alt-z (huh?), pop, indie pop, modern rock, and rock.

Here’s 2021 and 2022 data to compare.

My Top 5 Songs of 2023

Kind of a girl-powered punk/pop vibe in my top songs. More of that in my 100 top songs of 2023 playlist, though it does start to diversify a bit.

  1. “Say It to My Face” by Meet Me @ the Altar (played 44 times)
  2. “I Don’t Even Like U” by Royal & the Serpent
  3. “Sweet Sensation” by Luna Aura
  4. “Feel More Okay” by Caity Baser
  5. “Unavoidable” by Melina KB
Continue reading 2023 in Music: Spotify Unwrapped

U2: Songs of Surrender

Today U2 released a four-album collection of remakes of their classic songs. It’s called Songs of Surrender, following the recent releases Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

So yeah, they reimagined classic songs (worried yet?). Most of them are calmer or quieter, stripped back to acoustic guitar or piano. In some cases Bono has tweaked the lyrics (he’s often said songs are unfinished and these versions are more of what he intended).

My early takes on these things often change, but here’s my initial reaction:

  • Classics: It’s interesting to hear U2 revisit some of their classics and offer a different take. It’s why some live versions are often better than the original recording. But most of these are classics for a reason. “Pride,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Beautiful Day”? You’re not improving on those songs.
  • Old songs: Perhaps the greatest opportunity here is to revisit some old songs and give them a fresh sound. “40” is a good example, sounding a little less jubilant and more contemplative with Bono’s aging vocals. There are a few other older songs, but they didn’t grab me right away. I’m surprised there are so many more classics.
  • New songs: Some of U2’s latest albums have been their worst. So this is a good chance to rework some of those so-so takes. And here we have a few successes. “Lights of Home” and “The Little Things That Give You Away” sound good. “Song for Someone” also sticks out, thought not sure it needed a retread.
  • Bigger changes: “Bad” and “Walk On (Ukraine)” are songs where I noticed more significant lyric changes. I don’t know if it’s better (time will tell), but it’s interesting. (“Walk On,” specifically, was rewritten to shift away from Aung San Suu Kyi and focus on Volodymyr Zelensky.)

I don’t know if U2 did anything here that’s going to blow anyone away. I’m not sure if they’re going to have any new singles (does they still do singles?) or get the kids interested in an old rock band’s quieter take on their old songs.

And I’m guessing that’s not the goal. This feels like a project for the fans. Or maybe themselves (I can’t image fans were clamoring for this). It reminds me of the album Double Take from the Christian rock band Petra that came out in 2000. It’s maybe interesting to fans, but unnecessary.

What do you do as an aging rock star? U2 has been reinventing themselves for 30 years, and this might be acceptance that they’re getting old. It’s about the opposite of the rock ‘n roll geezer weirdness of “Get On Your Boots” (“sexy boots!”). This album, paired with their Las Vegas residency, seems to indicate a new chapter. A quieter, stripped down, semi-retired chapter.

As much as I love U2, I have to admit it’s disappointing. But I also have to concede their recent albums are far from their best work. They have some great moments here and there, but a lot of it just doesn’t connect.

It’s not fair. A bad U2 song would be a hit for anyone else. I’ll likely play this album a lot because there’s something just good about U2, even when they’re stripped down or not at their best. And what can you expect? Not every album can be Joshua Tree.

I just keep hoping for a Johnny Cash-like late chapter in U2’s career. We’re not there yet.

(This LA Times interview with Bono and the Edge gets at some of these critiques.)

2022 in Music: Spotify Unwrapped

It’s the time of year when we rehash the year with lists, so here’s my year in music. It’s courtesy of Spotify Unwrapped again, which is still a goofy, app-only, mess of a user interface. But oh well, the basics are there.

I listened to 47,914 minutes of music (more than 91% of users), accounting for 5,964 songs, 2,691 different artists, and 83 different genres. (Here are last year’s stats for the sake of comparison.) I play music while I work, often tuning the music out if I’m really focused, so that’s why I have such ridiculous stats.

Supposedly my top five genres are indie pop, pop, stomp and holler, rock, and alt z (what is alt z?).

Top Songs

  1. “Hot & Heavy” by Lucy Dacus (41 times)
  2. “Holiday (Green Day)” by Half Past Two
  3. “Glowing Review” by Maisie Peters
  4. “Love Me More” by Mitski
  5. “The Story of Us” by Taylor Swift

I’m always looking for a good ear worm, so here are some highlights from my top 100 songs:

  • “The Last Great Sweetheart of the Grand Electric Rodeo” by Sarah and the Safe Word
  • “Cannonball” by Avril Lavigne
  • “My World” by Koren Grace
  • “Who Are You” by Diet Cig
  • “Growing Up” by The Linda Lindas
  • “Raise Up” by Semler
  • “Got Away” by Kady Rain
  • “Under You” by Charly Bliss
  • “F*****g Up What Matters” by Tegan and Sara
  • “Road to Paradise” by TAT
  • “Rehab” by People Planet
  • “Full Metal Black” by The Royal They
  • “Irrelevant” by P!nk
  • “Gay Kids” by Rachel Kurtz
  • “Scotty Doesn’t Know” by Maddie Ross

My Top 5 Artists:

  1. U2 – I listened to 2,236 minutes of their music. That puts me in the top 0.1% of their listeners. No real surprise there.
  2. Five Iron Frenzy – I listened to a lot of Five Iron leading up to their Denver show, so no big surprise there either.
  3. Maisie Peters – She’s one of my favorite new discoveries this year.
  4. Taylor Swift – I don’t even think I listened to her new album that much, so it’s probably older stuff.
  5. Tegan and Sara – Between their new album and the debut of their High School TV show (which is 1990s retro wonderful), I’ve had them on repeat.

Last year my top 3 were Five Iron, U2, and Taylor Swift, so I guess things haven’t changed much?

Spotify Wrapped: My Year in Music

So Spotify does this clever thing where they look at your listening stats and spit out a bunch of fun data. Unfortunately, they do it in this goofy app experience that’s pretty awful. But I pulled out the fun bits…

I listened to 43,344 minutes of music (more than 90% of users), accounting for 2,358 different artists, and 166 different genres.

Supposedly my top five genres are indie pop, ska, stomp and holler, bubble grunge, permanent wave. (I don’t know what half those words mean.)

Continue reading Spotify Wrapped: My Year in Music

Oh, Minneapolis

What a crap week. It’s bad enough dealing with a pandemic and all the stress and worry that entails. Then police violence and the murder of George Floyd. Then tear gas and more violence and more death and Minneapolis burning. I don’t have the words.

(Speaking of words, people like to quote Martin Luther King Jr. about non-violence, but he also spoke about riots. Some context on those comments is especially helpful.)

Since I don’t have words, two songs come to mind this week.

Let the People Be Free

The first is a protest song by Jayanthi Kyle called “Hand in Hand.” It was written in 2014 and, because of course, the lyrics are still quite relevant:

The day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
But while my sister ain’t equal & my brother can’t breathe
Hand and hand with my family, we will fill these streets …

Mr. Policeman
I can’t breathe
Lay down your weapons and your badges and listen to me

Jayanthi is also in a chorus group called Give Get Sistet that’s pretty amazing. Nobody is doing performances right now, cuz pandemic, but they’d be an ideal group to bring in right now.

Oh, Minneapolis

The other song I thought of was Ben Kyle’s “Minneapolis.” The lyrics aren’t nearly as applicable, but the mournful “Oh, Minneapolis” captures about how it felt this morning to see images of the city smoldering.

O Minneapolis,
I saw you and Saint Paul kiss
Neath the moonlight in a Mississippi mist
Never saw a thing as beautiful as this
Oh Minneapolis

Rain down, purple rain (I wanna hear the sound)
I wanna feel the royal rain on me
I wanna feel the holy water running like a holy stream
I wanna be baptized in the city in the Mississippi

U2 Songs of Experience

The new U2 album, Songs of Experience, came out today. For the last several U2 albums, I’ve blogged my impressions as I listen to the album for the very first time.

It’s a silly thing to do because I’m not very good at writing about music. But I like capturing my first impressions and then coming back later to laugh at my first take.

So here we go…

  1. Love Is All We Have Left – Weird slow intro. The reverb vocals are even weirder. Sets a unique tone for the album, thought not sure I like it.
  2. Lights of Home – Sonic shift from that opener. Seems to have a different feel from what I expect from a U2 song. I like the chorus better than the verses. “Free yourself to be yourself” bridge with the piano is interesting.
  3. You’re the Best Thing About Me – This is kind of a weird pop-rocker hybrid. Initially it struck me as so-so, but it’s growing on me. (This came out early as the first single, so hearing it again now with the album, it feels more familiar and I’m definitely liking it more.) “I’m the kind of trouble that you enjoy.”
  4. Get Out Of Your Own Way – The intro music feels so U2. The intro vocals are a little weird and breathy… ah, there’s Bono. The breathy part of the “Get out of your own way” in the chorus is kind of weird… and that’s a mouthful.. but the rest of the chorus is great. I like the repeats. “Nothing’s stopping you except what’s inside, I could help you but it’s your fight.” Hearing this again (it was released early), I like the rhythm in the verses. This feels like a quiet favorite.
  5. American Soul – The beginning of this does not sound like U2 at all. That guitar sounds a little more U2, but it’s different. I like it. The chorus sounds like another U2 song, I can’t place which one though.
  6. Summer of Love – This is slower and somehow more melodic. I liked the bridge, I was waiting for some soaring vocals but we barely got those. Meh.
  7. Red Flag Day – Seems like a very different album rhythmically, and I don’t mean drums and base but the rhythm of the vocals. This one feels catchy.
  8. The Showman (Little More Better) – Nice: “Singers cry about everything.” This reminds me of a song I hear on the radio and think, “That’s dumb, I don’t like it.” Some phrasing or the way they sing something seems annoying. But they keep playing it, and I start to like it. I don’t get that feeling often from a U2 song, but this song is totally it.
  9. The Little Things That Give You Away – This is the slow verse U2 song that’s itching to turn into an anthem on the chorus. We get hints on the first chorus, we’ll see if it picks up as it goes. The bridge sounds familiar (like another U2 song I can’t place). Now it’s picking up. I’m curious to see how this one holds up to repeat listens.
  10. Landlady – This song really didn’t catch my attention, until the last minute or so. That part felt catchy. Otherwise meh.
  11. The Blackout – The beginning sounds like several different old U2 songs (again, I can’t place them). Love the bass. I love these driving rockers. Second verse, is this about Trump? Seems like this one will be better live.
  12. Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way – Sometimes it’s just interesting to hear U2 make music. They’re trying to do new things, not just cranking out more U2-sounding songs. That doesn’t always work. This song feels like that kind of experimentation. Parts of it work, parts of it don’t. Parts of it feel familiar, parts of it feel unique.
  13. 13 (There Is a Light) – Is this our quiet album closer? The chorus is super familiar—where have I heard this before? Is this a reprise of another song? Oh there, it is, “A Song for Someone” from the last album. Interesting choice there—I’ll need to compare these versions.

It’s always hard to judge a new album after hearing it for the first time. Am I liking it just because it’s U2? Is it initially catchy but won’t last?

I think it’s fair to say U2’s last several albums haven’t been major hits. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb seems like the last one I thought, yeah, I like that. No Line On the Horizon still feels kind of fuzzy in my mind (what are the hit songs? None? “Moment of Surrender” and “Magnificent” are my favorites, but probably not hits). Songs of Innocence likewise felt short on hits (though “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” got radio play and is probably my favorite).

Songs of Experience feels lacking in a signature single. I like “The Blackout,” but other songs feel like they’ll need to grow on me.

We’ll have to revisit these thoughts and see how wrong I am. (My previous takes on Songs of Innocence, No Line on the Horizon, and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.)

I Love the Shadowlands Record by Romantica and You Should Too

Shadowlands by RomanticaTwin Cities band Romantica has officially released their new album, Shadowlands, after a five-year hiatus and a one-year delay. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s worth the wait.

Last year the band crowd-funded their new project and recorded it in a barn south of the Twin Cities. One of the rewards was a  pre-Valentine’s Day show that I gushed about.

While the new album was done, and lucky backers like myself got copies, it never quite released publicly. Turns out the album landed a record deal and an official release, which happened last week. Now you can listen to the album on Spotify or Apple Music and buy a copy on iTunes or Amazon.

And you should buy a copy. It’s good. Continue reading I Love the Shadowlands Record by Romantica and You Should Too

Happy Easter Music Mix

Holy Week began yesterday morning with the waving of the palms. We stood outside our church on the corner of Ford Parkway and Macalester, savoring the little bit of sun that offered warmth against the bitter Minnesota cold. It may have been the first day of spring, but it was still in the 30s. We waved our palms to sing Hosanna, to fight back the cold, to celebrate the march toward Easter.

So with that backdrop I offer an Easter music list.

I’m always making mix CDs for my wife, and as I started another list for her, I realized I was collecting a lot of gospel songs. Most of my mixes are pretty random, so I decided to lean into the theme.

The result is a collection of music that speaks to faith and spirituality and hope and the gospel. I’m well beyond saying this is “Christian” music, but it is a collection of hymns, psalms and laments, tinged with that old-time gospel sound.

  1. “Little Light” by The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers
  2. “What Wondrous Love Is This? by Chelsea Moon & The Franz Brothers
  3. “Not Enough” by Caedmon’s Call
  4. “Here it Comes” by Romantica
  5. “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word” by The Welcome Wagon
  6. “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash
  7. “Purpose (live)” by Cloud Cult
  8. “Hand in Hand” by Jayanthi Kyle
  9. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Rattle & Hum movie version)” by U2
  10. “Be Thou My Vision” by Ginny Owens
  11. “All the Poor and Powerless” by All Sons & Daughters
  12. “The Transfiguration” by Sufjan Stevens
  13. “Lamb of God, Have Mercy” by Gospel Machine
  14. “People of God” by Gungor
  15. “Poor Man’s Son” by Noah Gundersen
  16. “This Little Light” by Mavis Staples
  17. “This No More” by The Vespers
  18. “Amazing Grace (featuring The Lily of the Valley Gospel Choir)” by Justin McRoberts
  19. “40 (live)” by U2

Continue reading Happy Easter Music Mix