For what will be my last 5 Songs of the project, I’m listing a small selection of songs that have been very important to me over the length of the last decade. These are the songs that I discovered in one of the 10 cities and haven’t let go of since.
Neko Case – Star Witness
I feel like I write about this song once every six months, which makes it the perfect choice to kick off this list. I first heard it on a Paste Magazine compilation (back when they had a print edition) while I lived in Charlotte, but it wasn’t ’til I was living in Philadelphia and working for that infamous store that I got my hands on the full album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I loved that album as well as each of Case’s subsequent releases, but when it comes down to it, “Star Witness” is still the song that has my heart. Beautiful, sad and stark, it’s Case at her absolute best.
The National – Slow Show
Like Neko Case, I was introduced to the National through the Paste music sampler, and I have similarly been obsessed with all of their music ever since. Although their song “Fake Empire” first grabbed my attention, it was “Slow Show,” the romantic centerpiece of the excellent Boxer, that cemented the band as my go-to band for sad sack moments of quiet desperation, of which I’ve had many over the years. And even though the age 29 has come and gone, and thus I will never be able to post these lyrics on Facebook for a lover, it still remains one of my favorite paeans to longing and desire.
Mirah – Don’t Die In Me
I was introduced to Mirah by my college girlfriend’s roommate, and though I haven’t followed her career all that much lately, there was a brief period in which I was fairly obsessed with her music. Her devotees might tell me she’s released better albums since C’Mon Miracle and I’d be willing to accept that, but nothing is going to change how I feel about “Don’t Die In Me.” For years, this was my poetry-writing-song. There was just something in the abstractness of the lyrics mixed with the directness of the music that inspired me. Even now, when it comes on I’m washed over with memories and a fuzzy feeling of loss, the sense that the past is past and I can only march forward.
The Decemberists – The Engine Driver
The first person I became friends with in Charlotte has remained one of my best friends throughout this whole decade. In that first year of my project, she and I exchanged essentially our entire music collections. I had the entire libraries of Radiohead, Ryan Adams and probably a bunch of Christian artists I rarely listen to anymore. She had a whole slew of indie bands that Pitchfork loved then hated then loved again (and probably now hate), including one of the most divisive artists under the “indie” banner, the Decemberists. Even as the band has lost their ‘hip’ cred, they’ve remained a favorite. And yes, “The Engine Driver” is a cheesy song for a writer (of fictions) to list as one of his essentials, but there it is. No shame: It’s over the top and excessively romantic and that’s all I want from my PNW folk music. Deal with it.
The Mountain Goats – No Children
Bleak as shit? You bet your ass. Kind of heartbreaking? Certainly. Filled with uncensored expressions of humanity? Absolutely. This may be the quintessential Mountain Goats song, so be warned if this is your first experience of them. By no means do I want to suggest that this is their definitive sound as each album has its own vibe and unique sensibilities (and themes, usually), but this exemplifies what John Darnielle does best: Craft unflinching portraits of the darker side of life. In the context of the album, Tallahassee‘s, longer narrative, “No Children” is one of many rough chapters in the lives of a couple whose marriage and lives are falling apart. Out of context, it comes off like the ultimate ode to shitty relationships. However it is experienced, “No Children” reveals a sad truth: Sometimes the person we’re closest with is the one who is doing us the most harm.