Ginger Alford is mega awesome person that is 1/3 of the band TRAVELING. You might know her from GOOD LUCK. She sings and plays bass, and is an inspiration to more people than she probably realizes. Ginger was also in ONE REASON and a BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN cover-band with Paul Baribeau.
… Ginger has a totally great Instagram feed, too. That makes her multi-media. But her songwriting is where you get a window into a world of friendship, love and courage that is like a lighthouse shining out of Bloomington to punks and underdogs across the country…
Why? – Sod in the Seed EP/ The Mumps, etc LP
This band is indescribable genre-wise so I’m not gonna bother. Their albums are always amazing lyrically, somehow alternatingly too-cool aloof and then uncomfortably soul-bearing. The question always coming up for me is, how honest is the singer being? Is he really an epically sensitive asshole, or does the easy-to-cry sex-obsessed character who admits he might “go through your purse” have any relationship to the real person? No idea. The song “Twenty Seven” from the EP may be my favorite Why? song to date. The rhythm goes on a slow-down/speed-up rollercoaster within each sung line that I don’t think could be mapped on musical notation. It might be a birthday song for a recently ex lover, like a belated last gift or a memorial to the relationship. Sometimes I think it’s fruitless to de-construct a metaphor too much. If you trace every word to it’s origin it stops adding up, but if you just stand back you already know what it means.
John K Samson – Provincial
It probably surprises no one that I’m a Weakerthans fan and that I’d enjoy Samson’s solo material. At the bookstore I work at we have a copy of a book he recently put out called “Lyrics and Poems” which mostly contains his song catalog arranged as a poetry chapbook. It seemed self-indulgent at it’s face but I was kinda blown away by how well his lyrics presented themselves without musical context as self-contained punches to the gut. Provincial has a particular focus on driving, and the archetype of canada as a land of longing buried under snow. Check out the pulsing “Highway 1 West” with the repeated refrain “Too far to walk to anywhere from here” for the epitome of the empty, snowy north.
Taylor Swift – Red
I feel like it’s cheating to put a Billboard#1 pop album on this list, but if I’m being honest I’ve just listened to this too many times not to include it. Maybe it’s a product of spending a lot of time this year working in a restaurant where the kitchen dances to the top40 pop station. But still Taylor stands a cut above all the rest of the radio and it’s hard to explain why. I love a personal story and following Taylor’s love life is like a movie and an album all in one. My favorite song “Holy Ground” has a driving rhythm guitar/drum syncopation that makes me think of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and the line “I guess we fell apart in the usual way, that story’s got dust on every page” sums up most of the album lyrically. I’ll make no excuses, it’s pop songs about love, just really good ones.
High Dive – self titled
This is a Bloomington band made up of three of my favorite people in the world. Toby Foster writes fantastic songs that have the critical eye of a punk but center around sincerity and thankfulness. Maybe that’s the Bloomington ethos showing through; there’s warmth that’s palpable during their live shows. It reminds me of what I love about punk, the togetherness that we hope for and that we struggle (and sometimes fail) to express to each other. The song “Clean” is about growing up in punk and seeing the dead ends its politics can lead you to, but it ends with the mantra “I want to be made clean.” I totally feel that.
The Fault in our Stars – John Green
Ok, so this is a book not a record, but it’s the best one I read all year and I’ve gotta get that out there. At a time when “young adult novel” has become synonymous with really badly written accounts of dating a vampire or living in the dystopic future THIS is the book that I want to save the genre from quality extinction. It’s about teens with cancer, but it’s funny and interesting and real, and never once verges into Chicken Soup for the Soul territory. It has a “book within a book” story, and international travel, and jokes about teenage PDA, and I actually laughed out loud reading it. Despite the heavy topic there’s no “message” the book is trying to hit you over the head with, but somehow it feels like you are just being a witness to real lives, and that witnessing is important enough.