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january 2016

Jens Lekman, "Postcard #50":

A perfectly lovely little lullaby that seems like it would have been perfect to save for the closing "Postcard #52"——the first words in the lyrics are "The last postcard...", and it's got that dreamy end-of-album feel that would have been an ideal way to close out this series. We'll see how the next two tracks go——I'd hate to see him have a closer like this and then end on a weaker note.

Jens Lekman, "Postcard #51":

The most album-ready track I've heard from this series in at least a couple of months. It still needs a bit of polishing, but with a proper studio session, this one feels like a pretty standard Jens track that would at least end up as an extra track on an EP if not an actual album cut.

Jens Lekman, "Postcard #52":

So this is it: the final track in the series, posted on December 31 in the same year as the first track, which was posted on January 2. This is a formalgoodbye to his listeners who have stuck through this project with him, breaking the wall between storyteller and audience as a way to acknowledge and complete the shared experience of the past year.

Not a terrible track, but I still wish he had closed out with "Postcard #50", which could have accomplished the same goal in a less overt and more nuanced way. But Jens isn't always about nuance, and that's one of the things that I love about him, so it's an ending that's very fitting.

So thank you, Jens, for 52 weeks and 52 new songs. I wan't always convinced that you'd be able to pull it off, but I was fascinated with watching you try, and happy to see you fulfill your goal.

So Jens actually did release the full 52 Postcards tracks in a year's time, although he had to cram a whole bunch into the last few weeks to meet that deadline. At some point I'd like to give them all informal titles and sequence them to get the album or two's worth of decent tracks into a more listenable form. But that project will have to wait for another day...

Been reading a book about the Smiths, so I've gone back down the rabbit whole with their entire catalog. I still can't get over what a great band they were. My first love, and always my truest...

Okay, so it's now 2016, and I never posted by favorite tracks and albums from 2014. So I'm going to do that now, and immediately follow it oup with my favorite tracks and albums from 2015 because I've already seen how this can get away from me if I don't stay on top of it.

Unlike the past couple of years, when I haven't ranked tracks and simply listed my favorites in alphabetical order by artist, I feel strongly enough about the songs from 2014 to put them in a ranking order. As when I've done this previously, these 10 tracks are in reverse order, so my favorite track is the final listing:

Cibo Matto——"Deja Vu"
I really, really wanted the new Cibo Matto, Hotel Valentine——their first album in 15 years——to take us back to their 90s glory days, but it only does so occasionally. The wonderfully sprawling mess of "Deja Vu" is one of those times, though, and it's good enough to deserve a spot on this list.

Tune-Yards——"Water Fountain"
If the rest of the songs on Nikki Nack were as good as this one, it would have been album of the year. This song clearly belongs in the top 10, but it probably lost a few ranking spots because of the overall mediocrity of the source album.

Liars——"Vox Tune D.E.D."
The best way to describe the sound Liars craft when they make something with a beat is "evil dance music". Mess is a whole album's worth of these songs, and "Vox" is the standout among many strong efforts.

Hamilton Leithauser——"11 O'Clock Friday Night"
This is from the first solo album from the former Walkmen frontman, and it doesn't stray too far from the style and sound from that band. That's a good thing if you're a Walkmen fan, which I am.

Rural Alberta Advantage——"On the Rocks"
Mended With Gold is my least favorite RAR album, but I'm still pretty in love with it. This song got a boost that helped it get into the top 10 after I saw them perform it live——as much as I like the recorded version, it's just a shadow of the song that they play in concert.

Stars——"No One Is Lost"
Stars often get labeled as the poppy lightweights among the brooding Canadian indie rock goliaths like Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, and Broken Social Scene, but there's something charmingly innocent about them that I've always had a soft spot for. This anthemm for the afraid, the alone, the dying (i.e., all of us) could serve as the band's career mission statement.

Robyn Hitchcock——"The Ghost in You"
I don't know that I've ever included a cover song on my year-end best-of lists before, but this Psychedelic Furs cover is completely deserving. One of the rare times when a cover version takes an already great song and somehow makes it better.

Drive-By Truckers——"The Part of Him"
I almost gave up on this band, but English Oceans was their strongest effort in years (and easily their best album since Jason Isbell went solo), and "The Part of Him" is the standout track that reminds you of everything you ever loved about the Truckers as storytellers while simultaneously showing you they still have a few musical ideas left to explore.

Tokyo Police Clube——"Argentina (Parts I, II, III)"
This is the rare 8+ minute track that I'm in love with every second of. It doesn't hurt that it's essentially four different songs (or three songs and an extended bridge) knitted together in a single track that circles back on itself. This is the best song (or EP condensed into a single song) this underrated band has ever written.

Run the Jewels——"Oh My Darling Don't Cry/Blockbuster Night Part 1"
Yes, technically these are two tracks, but they are undoubtedly meant to be heard together. I haven't heard a stronger 1-2 punch from a group in a long time, and even after listening to these songs dozens of times, my blood starts pumping a little faster each time they come up on my shuffle playlists.

And here are my favorite albums from 2014. Same deal as the singles, these are in order from least to most favorite, so my best album of the year is the last one I write about:

The So So Glos——Blowout
For my pop punk entry, it was a close call between this debut album and Teenage Retirement from Chumped, and the So So Glos won out by a hair. This is a little bit like Titus Andronicus without the angst and emotional baggage, and although it's not quite as meaty as Titus Andronicus, it's still just as listenable.

Smashing Pumpkins——Monuments to an Elegy
I seriously thought the days when I would even consider including a Smashing Pumpkins record on a year-end best-of list ended in 1995, but this is a concise, impactful record that will remind you of what you loved about the band when you first heard them. Yes, it's hard to ignore Billy Corgan's annoying public (and, I suspect, private) personality, but for the first time in a long time, he's left it out of the writing and recording process, and the result is an album that's well worth your time if you still have any affection for Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie.

Camper Van Beethoven——El Camino Real
Another band I never thought I'd be putting on a best-of list in the 2010s, especially since the last I knew they were completely defunct as of 1990 or so (althoguh they've apparently put out four records since the turn of the century). This record is different than the stuff I loved in the 80s, but it reminds me of it in an indefinable way——the spirit is still there, even if the musical approach is a little different.

Rural Alberta Advantage——Mended With Gold
I don't know why more of you don't love this band. This is the wrong place to start if you haven't heard them before, but once you're hooked, this will stand up pretty well next to the rest of their catalog, and it defnitely got a lot of listens from me this year.

Drive-By Truckers——English Oceans
I always thought this band was too prolific, releasing overstuffed albums far more often than they needed to, and I think this record proves me right. After releasing records each consecutive year from 2008-2011 that each had only 3-4 worthwhile tracks, they took a three year break and returned with English Oceans, their best record in a decade. It's still stuffed with songs, but the time off clearly resulted in higher quality songwriting, so it doesn't feel nearly as long as some of their more recent albums. And losing Shonna Tucker didn't hurt either——the compulsive need the band had to include 2-3 of her songs on each record automatically meant there would be at least 2-3 songs I would hate.

This album is sort of a mess. But in a good way. If they had been able to sustain the momentum of the first half through to the end, this might have ranked even higher.

Stars——No One Is Lost
This album gets bonus points for being especially poignant with its ruminations on death, love, loneliness, and finding a way to stay positive through it all in a year when I saw four friends and family members battling cancer, including two friends who are my age (meaning that, for cancer, they got it pretty young). I've given up using these lists as a platform for recommending music to other people and/or showing off my taste. I just like what I like, and I like this.

TV on the Radio——Seeds
Another solid record from a band whose track record seems almost unbelievably consistent and innovative, two words that don't often get to spend time together in the world of music. They're definitely more mellow, but that doesn't mean less adventurous.

St. Vincent——St. Vincent
I don't love this album as much as Strange Mercy or even Actor——I don't feel the same emotional connection to this more mechanized version of Annie Clark——but it should tell you something that it still ended up my second favorite album this year in spite of this.

Run the Jewels——Run the Jewels 2
A full throttle assault that caught me completely by surprise becuase I somehow mananged to never hear their debut album, which it somehow improves upon even though that seems pretty impossible to do. Killer Mike and El-P are both forces in their own right as solo artists, but together they are unstoppable.

And now, as promised, the 2015 singles. Ranking these as well, so my favorite track will appear at the bottom.

The opening track on Ivy Tripp, this might be the song that sounds the least like what I was expecting from Katie Crutchfield after the brilliant Cerulean Salt. But that might also be why it's turned into one of my favorites from this record.

The title track to Grimes' follow up to her breakthrough Visions encapsulates the best of the new directions she explores on this record. It's shinier and poppier than the songs on Visions, but it's still her sound, only with a little more sunshine, like someone installed a skylight in an otherwise dark and claustrophobic recording studio.

Blur——"Ghost Ship"
This song is exactly what you might have guessed a more mature, more laid back version of Blur would sound like in 2015 if you were trying to guess where they'd go circa 1995. There's a 21st century yacht rock compilation just waiting to be built around this track.

Hot Chip——"Huarache Lights"
Hot Chip have always been dance-oriented, but this is probably their most club-ready track ever, and although it lacks the emotional punch of some of their best work, you don't really mind because it's just such fun to listen to.

Girlpool——"Befoe the World Was Big"
I could have gone either way on this band from the description: two girls playing stripped-down, minimalistic bedroom guitar pop with no percussion. But the album is great, and this is my favorite song from it, based mostly on the lines "I still remember how it felt/Standing next to you/Wearing matching dresses before the the world was big."

Titus Andronicus——"Fatal Flaw"
Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles has overtly encouraged comparisons between his band and fellow New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen, and on this song he comes as close as he ever has to writing the anthem that Bruce might have written if he had grown up more influenced by punk than by traditional rock. Somewhere there's a better universe where Titus Andronicus and the E Street Band are banging this one out at the Stone Pony together.

Sufjan Stevens——"Should Have Known Better"
Carrie and Lowell is a quiet, subdued, reflective record that seems like a direct reaction to the pomp and complexity of Age of Adz, and this track might be the standout in a collection of intimate, heartbreaking revelations about Stevens' childhood. It's a quiet prayer to a god who's not listening, and it's as beautiful as any hymn I've ever heard.

Wilco——"Random Name Generator"
I think the last time Wilco sounded like they were having this much fun was on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's "Heavy Metal Drummer". "I kinda like it when I make you cry/A miracle every once in a while" is one of the best couplets Jeff Tweedy has written in the long time, and this song is one of the rare times in recent memory where the band's musical accompaniment to Tweedy's free-association lyrics each make the other better.

Iron & Wine——"Freckled Girl"
This song is from a collection of leftovers from the early days of Sam Beam's recording career, which puts them in the same timeframe as the songs from The Creek Drank the Cradle and The Sea and the Rhythm. As good as the songs from those records are, it's hard to imagine how this song didn't make the cut——it's one of the best things he's ever recorded, and that's saying something for a man who has recorded at least a couple dozen truly great songs in his career.

PWR BTTM——"West Texas"
This was the first PWR BTTM song I ever heard, and they had me hooked within 30 seconds. I listened to this song over and over while I waited for their debut record to be released, and then I listened to it a bunch more in the context of getting obsessed with the whole album. The killer lines (since it seems to be the killer lines that heavily influence the selection of songs for this best-of singles list) that sealed the deal as soon as I heard them: "The stars above me are the same ones above you/I've been trying to play it cool/But I still love you."

And here's my top 10 favorite albums of 2015, from least to most favorite:

El Vy——Return to the Moon
A charming little side project from the National's Matt Berninger that gets bonus points for references to the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, and the Smiths. Musically a little different from the National, but mostly in ways that work well with Berninger's vocal style.

Titus Andronicus——The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Despite the big talk from frontman Patrick Stickles and the ambitious double album format (triple of you get it on vinyl), this is not Titus Andronicus' masterwork——the remains The Monitor——but once you clear away the chaff (this totally didn't need to be a double album), there's a very solid collection of songs in here.

Iron & Wine——Archive Series Volume No. 1
As good as any of Iron & Wine's pre-instrumentation days even though Sam Beam says these were songs that weren't meant to be heard by anyone except his friends and family. What a shame if they had actually stayed that way...

Grimes——Art Angels
A long delay between your breakthrough record and it's much-hyped, much-anticipated follow up is usually not a good sign, but Grimes put in an A+ effort here. Possibly even better than I was hoping for.

Blur——The Magic Whip
Half of this record doesn't sound like the Blur we know and love at all, but that doesn't matter. Half of it does, and it somehow all blends together into a very compelling album when taken as a whole.

Jens Lekman——Postcards
I have to give Jens credit——52 songs in 52 weeks is no mean feat. Even with the expected throwaways and weaker tracks, there's still at least an album or two of good material in here. Someday I'll sort through it all and tell you which entries and in what order.

Wilco——Star Wars
This is not an album that's going to stand up to the amazing trilogy of Summerteeth/Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/A Ghost Is Born, but it's somewhere in the neighborhood of the albums that bookended that run, Being There and Sky Blue Sky. There are year's when it wouldn't have made my top 10 at all, much less at such a lofty position, but it gets bonus points for relatively weak competition this year and for the surprise at having another decent Wilco album after I'd pretty much given up on them.

Sufjan Stevens——Carrie and Lowell
This melancholy whisper of a record strikes some of the same chords with me as the first material I ever heard from Sufjan, the demos and outtakes from the Michigan sessions. I do like some of his more ambitious, orchestral pieces, but it's also nice to hear him go back to basics and make something so simple and so pure.

Waxahatchee——Ivy Tripp
After Cerulean Salt, I had impossibly high expectations for the successor, and it came really, really close to measuring up to even my unrealistic hopes. If not for Ugly Cherries, this easily would have been my favorite record this year.

PWR BTTM——Ugly Cherries
Yes, the band name is awful, in just about all the ways you can be immature, and the album name isn't a whole lot better. But this is as good a collection of songs I've heard on a debut album from 21 year olds in a long, long time. "West Texas" and "Dairy Queen" are the ones that get you immediately, but this whole album stands up pretty well——even the weaker tracks have moments that are revelatory.

The last two years have not been amazing for music, at least from the stuff that has struck a chord with me——the only artists, either previously known to me or new to me (or new period) who have really gotten my attention are Waxahatchee, Run the Jewels, and PWR BTTM.

True, there have been a suprising number of good albums from older artists who I actually didn't think would produce a worthwhile record again (or maybe even produce another record period)——groups like Wilco, Drive-By Truckers, Smashing Pumpkins, Camper Van Beethoven, Blur, etc.——and while as a longtime fan of these groups that's cool to see, it has me wondering if I'm officially entering an age where my musical taste is just too out of step with the really interesting stuff that's happening today.

My obsession with Waxahatchee and PWR BTTM, whose audiences when I went to see them live were probably about half my age, my contradict that, but I'm also objective enough to note that both of these bands are influenced by classic rock sounds from the 70s and the 90s, so they don't necessarily make an argumen for doing something cutting edge. You could even make the same argument about Run the Jewels——they are trading in classic late 80s/early 90s rap sounds and bringing that style up to date with better production and meaner flows.

Based on everyone else's end of year best-of lists (which for once I'm only lagging behind by about a month), I made a few new purchases a couple of weeks ago, including Hop Along's Painted Shut, Destroyer's Poison Season, Car Seat Headrest's Teens of Style, and Jim O'Rourke's Simple Songs.

I had been on the verge of buying Painted Shut for a while——there were times when I'd listen to previews of it and I was half in love, and there were times when it all sounded the same, and worse, it all sounded like something I'd already heard before. But when it showed up on severl best-of lists and I listened to it again, it caught me when I was in the former phase, so I ended up buying it.

It turns out, now that I've listened to it in-depth a few times, this one is going to end up in the latter category for me——it's just a little too derivative for me, and although there is a strong nostalgic attachment to the sound they're trafficking in, it's something that I'm so familiar with that none of the songs really stand out to me even though none of them are bad.

I don't know. I could probably swing back the other way on this one if it catches me on the right afternoon, the right car ride, the right moment of sadness or joy. But I'm not counting on that happening.

I'm a big fan of New Pornographers, so I've tried to get into Dan Bejar's solo project Destroyer for a while now (Destroyer's records usually get even better reviews than the Pornographers' records), but nothing ever clicked with me. So given that this one explicitly seems to be referencing 70s soft/prog/jazz rock, a genre I've never really explored or even liked, it's an odd place for me to start.

I think it stems from when I was watching Stephen Merchant's HBO series Hello Ladies, which mined that genre pretty heavily to set its mood, and my realization while hearing the songs within the context of the show that they weren't all completely awful led me to get sort of obsessed with that period without investigating it any further than the songs they used on the show.

Anyway. This album reminds me a lot of the tone and style of the songs they used to soundtrack Hello Ladies, and I think that's what got me to buy it. And now that I've listened to it a bit, I don't know if I actually like it or whether it just satisfies that very specific itch that I get very infrequently, but which when I do get it I get very intensely.

Car Seat Headrest, the moniker used by 23 year old songwriter Will Toledo, was a band I was sort of fascinated with on-paper, but which didn't always click with me when I listened to previews of their music. I was on the verge of buying the debut album for Matador (before that, Toledo self-released 10+ albums on Bandcamp between 2010 and 2014, and most of the songs on Teens of Style are re-recorded versions of tracks from those albums) several times, but couldn't quite pull the trigger until a couple of weeks ago.

Of the four albums I purchased that were influenced by their inclusion on year-end lists, this is the one that I'm liking the most so far. It doesn't work very well to shuffle the sunbaked, echo-y, shambling tracks on Teens of Style, but listening to it start to finish——listening to it as an actual album——it holds together very well. It sounds a little like what Brian Wilson might have produced as a teenager if he preferred the guitar to the piano and if he was a baritone, but which only owes a debt to the Beach Boys in the same way that a band like Animal Collective is indebted to them.

Toledo has been touring with a full band, and he's supposedly working on an album of all-new material that will be released in early 2016, so I'm curious to see how recording with a full band and having the resources of a real label will affect his sound. But I'm pretty happy with this record so far, and while I discovered it too late for it to be included on my own personal best-of list for 2015, it certainly could have gotten there if I had bought it back when it was released.

Jim O'Rourke's Simple Songs was the album that I was most looking forward to hearing from this batch of purchases, based on both the reviews and the previews I had heard.

The only reason I hadn't bought it prior to now is that it wasn't available through iTunes or Amazon, which is where I've been trying to buy my music these days, and the digitial format that was available for download on the record company web site wasn't one that was immediately compatible with iTunes. But since I was in a buying mood, I downloaded it, found a free FLAC to MP3 converter, and got it loaded into my library.

And although it's not a bad album, it's just not as strong as I expected it to be. I think part of that is the expectations I put on it——if it had been described more as a low-key, off-kilter effort (which is what it is——it reminds me a great deal of Tweedy's Sukierae) and not O'Rourke's most direct collection of rock songs in years (which is how it was almost universally described), I might have been able to hear it differently and experienced it for what it was.

As it is, those expectations still hang over it for me even though I now know that the descriptions I read are the problem. However, if it was a really great record——instead of just a good one——those preconceived notions about what I thought it was going to be would have been swept away. So while I don't exactly regret this purchase——I have gotten in the mood to listen to it a couple of times——this is not a record that would have ended up on my own personal top 10 albums list for 2015.

My friend Sarah, who I've known since college, passed away last Thursday night after a two year battle with colon cancer. She is the first person from my peer group who has died from a disease like this (although unfortunately not the only person from my peer group who has gone through this fight), which would be tough enough, but she was also such a light in this world that it's hard for me to concieve of her not being a part of it anymore.

I got to see her over the summer, and spend time with her fiancee and her two daughters, both of whom seem as though they're going to be just as vibrant and caring and smart and amazing as their mom was, and it warmed my heart to see how much music was a part of their lives. For example, I happened to visit on the day of the annual student talent show at one of her daughter's schools, and her youngest sang (with props) Donna Summer's version of "MacArthur Park". And later, when we called my son on Facetime to say goodnight, she and her girls all sang the Beatles' "Penny Lane" to him a capella.

She loved dance music, especially 80s dance music, and loved it unrepentantly and joyfully. I really wanted to share some contemporary music in that vein with her after that visit, but I never got the chance, and one song especialy sticks with me as one she would have liked: Stars' "No One Is Lost", the title track from their most recent album.

She would have liked the dance element certainly (this is a regular entry on my running playlists), but I think the lyrics would have appealed to her as well: it's a song for those who are afraid, who know they're going to lose, who know they're going to die (i.e., all of us), and celebrating——dancing——in the face of these certainties while underscoring the central message of the album: no one is lost.

Sarah really believed that about people, that we're all special and we can all make a difference, and we're all important. And that's how she made each and every person she encountered feel: special and important and someone who makes a difference in the world. Without having met her, this might sound like hyperbole in praise of the recently departed, but it was completely true. I've never met another person like her, with her boundless energy and bouyant spirit and sincere love for her fellow human beings and the world we all inhabit.

This planet is a lesser place without her, but her light shines on, always. It will never be lost.

The Smiths book that I referenced earlier this month is called The Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of the Smiths 1982-1987, and it was sent to me by my friend Tom. It was a nice surprise——I remember this book being referenced in the band biography of the Smiths called A Light That Never Goes Out by Tony Fletcher, but I never followed up to purchase it even though I was intrigued by the description.

This book is unlike any other musical biography/band history I've read before in that it's a detailed look at the entire catalog——a recounting of each and every song the band recorded, inlcuding how it was written, how and where and by whom it was recorded, and any musical or lyrical sources/influences. It provides a unique view of the band's process, and while it was mixed in with notes about the relationships in the band and how they were growing/detereorating, how the band's fame was growing, and how the events that eventually led them to part ways, it's the construction of the songs that's at the forefront.

My only small criticism of this book is that, if you were reading it without having actually heard the music, you could get the mistaken impression that both Morrissey and Marr were hacks who stole their musical ideas and lyrical phrases from other artists and writers, although that couldn't be further from the truth. Even when Marr is telling you that he borrowed a riff from a certain track, only a highly trained musician would be able to recognize those roots in the song that he made out of that reference. And similarly, even though Morrissey would borrow a phrase from one of his favorite writers and playwrights, sometimes verbatim, the transmoration it undergoes in his hands makes it uniquely his own.

But since this is a book that really is only for diehard fans——a casual listener who wanted to know more about the band's history would start with a more dramatic, story-oriented biography, like the Tony Fletcher book——that's really a small criticism. For what it's trying to be, and what it succeeds admirably at being, it's a near-perfect book for a near-perfect band.

It still breaks my heart to think that if Morrissey had allowed the band to have a manager, or hadn't flown off the handle with Marr decided he needed to take a break from the band for a few weeks, they might still be together, or at least have made a few more records. But now that I have a broader view of musical history, I realized how rare this band was, and that we're very lucky that we had five amazingly productive years and seven albums worth of material to remember them by, seven albums with only a small handful of tracks that are somewhat less than brilliant. There are bands that stick together for 20 years and don't accomplish as much as the Smiths, and I'm grateful for every note they shared with us.

After the Smiths book, I went on a mini musical biography spree, and the next book I read was titled simply The Clash, which told the story of the rise and fall of this band through the first person accounts of the band members.

I don't know that I've read a book about the Clash before, but between the extensive liner notes from The Story of the Clash, Vol 1 and movies about the band like The Rise and Fall of the Clash and The Future Is Unwritten (which focused specifically on Joe Strummer), I feel like I knew most of the stories recounted in this book already. Still, it was a good quicky read, and I got it for a bargain price.

The final musical biography that I read was on Game Theory/Loud Family frontman Scott Miller, who died unexpectedly at age 52 in 2013. Game Theory and Loud Family were two of my favorite bands, and it was heartbreaking to hear of Scott's premature death, especially as it was accompanied by the news that he had been working on a new Game Theory album——which would have been the band's first in 25 years——when he passed away.

The book does a pretty good job of going through not only the various lineups of Scott's two bands, but also a decent amount of detail about the recording sessions for the songs (especially the Game Theory material) and the tours in support of the records. And even though each of the three bands I read about in this stretch had very different methods of making their music, one thing that struck me that is probably true of most bands is that you don't ever really get a break from being in the band——when you're recording, you're preparing to tour; when you're touring, you're writing songs for your next record; and all the time you're rehearsing. It's no wonder that most bands don't make it past three or four albums, especially if they have to have day jobs and don't make enough money from their music to take a few months off in between album cycles to recharge their batteries.

One of my college friends, who I ended up living a mile away from when we moved to Atlanta a few years ago, mentioned while we were having a drink one night that he had heard rumors that Miller's death had actually been a suicide, a possibility that broke my heart even further. I struggled myself with depression and thoughts of suicide, and Game Theory was one of the bands I turned to for hope, consolation, and recognition that I was not alone in my sadness and confusion about the world.

Unfortunately, this book confirms that this was the case, although it does not give any details as to the method or guess at any potential motives. But it also paints a rich portrait of an intense musical genius who went through multiple tumultous personal and musical relationships and breakups, one who saw and felt the darkness in the world but who tried to turn himself back to the light with his humor, kindness, and love of creating and playing music. The fragility that is so evident in his music and lyrics was also present in the rest of his life, but so was a tremendous well of inner strength.

I don't know how that strength failed him in the end, especially with a wife and two young daughers who he clearly adored. I've become more understanding of people's decision to take their own lives over the years. I was absolutely disgusted by Kurt Cobain and felt no sympathy for him at all, but as other artists whose work I have loved have chosen that path——people like Hunter S. Thompson, Elliott Smith, and Mark Linkous——and as I have grown older and come to have a different understanding of the grey areas of the world that weren't so obvious to me in my youth, I've become more sympathetic to people who commit suicide.

Without being able to know their pain specifically, or to really understand their decisions, I can at least understand that they were suffering, and that their self-inflicted deaths were but a symptom of that suffering, one that might not have had the devastating impact had they had a different day, or a different week, or a different phone call, or a different word.

Even though the biography of Miller doesn't give us much information about Scott's decision to end his life, a look at his life as a whole shows him veering close to the edge many, many times. That doesn't make his suicide a foregone conclusion by any means, but it does allow us at least to see that this path wasn't a complete surprise given the context of his entire existence. It still hurts like a motherfucker though.

My first purchase of the new year was Eleanor Friedberger's third solo album, New View.

I have a real soft spot for Eleanor, and I really liked her first two solo albums, although I liked the second one a little bit less than the first. And I've tried and tried, because I really want to like this record, but after several listens, it just hasn't made much of an impression on me at all.

I was optimistic about this record——there was a track called "False Alphabet City" that she released as a single but chose not to include on the record that I really liked, and the first couple of of tracks she shared from the album were good enough, but taken as a whole, this record is too content, too meandering, and too unfocused to be good. And the decision to leave off "False Alphabet City" is baffling——it easily outshines anything on this record.

She's playing in Athens in April, and I'm still likely to go to that show if my scheudle otherwise allows it——I've never seen her live (except once with Fiery Furnaces, but they were opening for Wilco in a symphony hall, so I didn't get the intimate space that her nuance demands), and despite the general blandness of this new material, I have a feeling she's probably a pretty compelling person to see perform live, especially in a small space like the one she's playing in Athens.

I'm still a fan, but I wish my first record of the year had been a little more worthwhile, especially given how long it's been since there was any new music I was interested (Grimes' Artangels, released way back in November, is the last record I bought on the day of its release). Let's hope it's not a harbinger for the rest of 2016.