Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Last 17 Days - 5 Years Later

Over the years, 217 (or just 17) and I have been inseparable. It's ridiculous how much I love it, but I'm cool with that because it's also ridiculous how much it actually shows up in my life. Exactly five years ago, I was counting down the few hours I had left as a 17-year-old. I wanted desperately to capture who I was at that point in my life. Each of the 17 days leading up to my 18th birthday, I made a list: my 17 favorite movies, the 17 most influential places in my life, the 17 most memorable moments from my 17 years. It's all here on my blog. On the final night, I left myself some encouraging words along with a video talking about the whole thing. The entire experience was incredibly rewarding because of the intensity with which I reflected on my entire life up to that point.

Now, on my last day of 22, I regret not having repeated the whole thing. I want to remake the lists to see what's changed, record another message, and more. Truth be told, I didn't realize I was in the five-year anniversary of the 17-day countdown until it was already halfway over. I haven't had the time to put anything together since, and I although I'll probably get around to it in the months ahead, I want to write briefly about these five years while I'm in the moment.

What, exactly, has happened in those five years? Two of them, the first and the last, were spent at the University. Two more were in Germany, where I served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints. The remainder of the time was scattered. I had a metal bar inserted into my chest and removed 3 1/2 years later. I contracted Lyme Disease from a tick in Hof, Germany. I developed and then defeated skin cancer. I had two implants to finally complete my smile. I began working full time. I started channels on Twitch and YouTube. I'm currently building up a personal radio station. I made a few short films, composing a song for one. I went to dozens of concerts, watched and played hundreds of movies and games. I took my song collection from 4,700 to nearly 12,000.

And 217? Holy wow. The CVC code on my credit card was 217. My extension at work is 217. God welcomed me to me mission with 17, the station at which I happened to be dropped off at when I got to the MTC. There were, of course, dozens of less significant instances and probably a few I can't remember at the moment, but enough of what happened in that time. What about who I am? What's changed there?

The shear amount of information I poured out on all of those blog posts five years ago was overwhelming, even to me as I look back. On the final day, however, I centered the entire endeavor on the two most valuable parts, both of which I will replicate today. First was a list of the 217 most influential songs in my life, which do more to describe me than anything else could. I'll remake that list according to 22-year-old Kyle and stream it on my web radio station all day tomorrow. The second was a simple summary of who I was at that time. Here it is, exactly as I wrote it at 17:
  • I am passionate, but extremely hesitant to show it.
  • I am driven by music. It's in my mind, in my heart, in my dreams, in my future. It is everything right now.
  • I am full of imagination and creativity. I love exploring others' ideas and I'm extremely passionate about my own ideas.
  • I am thrilled to live righteously. I've sorted things out in my life and I'm ready to let my spirit take me where it wants me to go.
  • I honestly don't want to go to college; music and writing are where I belong. They are what I truly aspire to.
  • The thing I want the most right now: to fall in love. There, I said it. I cannot wait until that day...
  • I am thankful for every little thing that has put me where I am today. I realize that I have great potential. I know that I am fortunate. I am ready to take advantage of it.
And now, as a 22-year-old:
  • I consider creativity paramount to my happiness, with storytelling above all. I'm proud of what I've done with it so far, but I'll always hunger for more. I'm also intent on finding more people who care for what I create.
  • I am thoroughly obsessed with music. I am convinced there is no limit to my love for it because every year, it's somehow stronger than the year before. As long as it is there, I cannot be broken.
  • I wish I had more time to do all that I want to. I think that one day, I'll pick something to focus on, but for now, I'm spread thin between numerous aspirations, unsure of where I belong.
  • I'm continually astounded at just how active my mind is. It keeps me awake for hours every night. It is endlessly imaginative and thoughtful. It continually berates me with school-induced stress and insecurities. It is both my greatest friend and my worst enemy.
  • I love my God. I haven't been the most diligent in seeking out those things I know He wants for me, but my faith in Him is unwavering and I find much comfort in that.
  • I'm deeply saddened that I have not yet found love. I am lonelier than I've ever been before and I'm desperate for that to change. I feel like I have much to offer, but no one who wants it.
  • I am anxious to build my empire, but it would pain me to do so alone. The right time is coming soon, I think, and I can hardly wait for that day.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Best of 2015 - Songs

Nearly 1,000 songs make up the music portion of my year, equal parts returning favorites and newcomers. It is, without a doubt, the single strongest list of songs I have ever presented to anyone.

Let me give you an idea of how much this list means to me. I spent about ten minutes deciding my favorite movies of the year. About another ten went to the games. Twenty or so were devoted to the albums. And the songs? 4 1/2 hours. I started with all 960 and eliminated them one by one. No joke. I wanted to get this right.

It wouldn't be hard to find out that some of these songs were first performed in previous years (one of these even showed up in 2012), but because I've always been an album kind of guy, I am tying them to the year in which they are released on an album: 2015.

This list was not dictated by a critical eye on musicality or any research into the artistry hidden beneath. My heart alone decided and even though I'm giving you an extra set of 17 on top of the normal 51, it was broken a few times by cuts I did not want to make. I urge you to spend some time with these. They have been so good to me.

68. In This Love - Stick Figure
67. City of Stone - The Hope Arsenal
66. Temptation - Active Child
65. David - Passenger (***language warning)
64. Phoenix - Kaskade ft. Sasha Sloan
63. Stillness In Woe - Purity Ring
62. Too Late To Die Young - Beach Slang (***language warning)
61. New York - Boy
60. New Bohemia - Transviolet
59. Waiting For Love - Avicii
58. Pieces - Ms Mr
57. 17 New Years - Polyenso
56. Disarm You - Kaskade ft. Ilsey
55. Sticky Fingers - Above & Beyond ft. Alex Vargas
54. Monument - Mutemath
53. Beautiful Now - Zedd ft. Jon Bellion
52. Broken into Better Shape - Good Old War

51. Without You - Oh Wonder
50. The Gates - Young Empires
49. Dawning - The Hope Arsenal
48. Making Plans - Above & Beyond
47. Past Life - Lydia (***language warning)
46. Above The Clouds Of Pompeii - Bear's Den
45. Dazzle - Oh Wonder
44. Waiting Room - Ace Enders
43. Too Late - The Paper Kites
42. Run Away With Me - Carly Rae Jepsen
41. Uncover Your Eyes - Young Empires
40. Pure Grinding - Avicii
39. Tell Me What You Want From Me - Good Old War
38. Downtown - Majical Cloudz
37. No Trouble - The Weepies
36. Little Wanderer - Death Cab For Cutie
35. We Were Here - Boy

34. Verge - Owl City ft. Aloe Blacc
33. The Lovers Side - Shake Shake Go
32. Paint My Mind - Lydia
31. Daughter - Sleeping At Last
30. Where Snowbirds Have Flown - A Silent Film
29. Us For Them - Gungor
28. White Blood - Oh Wonder
27. Crystals - Of Monsters and Men
26. Message in the Sand - A Silent Film
25. Words - Passenger
24. Hit My Heart - Boy
23. Soldier, Poet, King - The Oh Hellos
22. Heart Hope - Oh Wonder
21. Our Own House - MisterWives
20. 5AM - Amber Run
19. Cast Away - Etherwood
18. Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance) - Silversun Pickups

17. Lone Digger - Caravan Palace
"They don't know what they're missing."

One of the stranger songs you'll find here, "Lone Digger" intrigued me in the beginning. I returned to it several times, trying to decide if I liked it or not. It's obvious what came of that. Rap, strings, jazz, electronica... it has a little of everything and I wish I had more of it.

16. Georgia - Lydia 
"...back when we were trying to find somewhere to rest our bones."

Ever since 2007, when I found Lydia, I'm been able to count on them to release a real gem every time they drop an album. This year, there were actually a few of them, but "Georgia" stands at the forefront. For me, its the perfect mix of their discography up to this point... dialogue from an old school movie like in their first album, a soft piano intro reminiscent of the middle years, and the vocal style of their recent work. A superb track.

15. The Shade - Metric
"The embers of a fire, still burning as they die, stay bright to keep us side by side."

Song of the Summer 2015. I remember the same day my dad told me about it, I promptly bought it and listened to it 20 years in a row and then multiple times on every boating trip this summer. I still haven't tired of it. Great summer-themed lyrics, awesome instrumentation, and oh so catchy.

14. Peanut Butter Jelly - Galantis
"Visualize it."

I was secret hoping this song wouldn't make it so high on the list, but I couldn't resist the truth of just how much I enjoy it. The music video's sketchy at points, but hilarious, as is the song itself. It's infectious, though, and so much fun.

13. Dancin' To The Sound Of A Broken Heart - Galantis
"Bear with the madness... us against the world."

Galantis twice in a row! Shortly after Christmas, my sister came into my room asking for suggestions for a song to choreograph a dance to. Although I hadn't heard it yet, my eyes went straight to this song and I thought it was perfect. Its crescendos are stupendous! This was ultimately my pick for the song I listened to at the moment 2015 turned to 2016, which is kind of a big deal.

12. Mountain At My Gates - Foals
"Dark clouds gather 'round. Will I run or stand my ground?"

My dad kept recommending the new Foals album to me, but it wasn't until I found out they were opening for my favorite band this year that I gave it a shot. Their live performance of "Mountain At My Gates" was one of the most captivating I've ever experience and I've been addicted to this song ever since. Guitar solo of the year, first off, and then that hard-hitting segment that follows... outstanding.

11. Livewire - Oh Wonder
"Your love will take me higher and higher."

Play counts are a bit jumbled now that I use iTunes at home and Google music on my phone everywhere else, but I'm nearly certain that "Livewire" is my most played song of the year. Somewhere in the process of becoming increasingly enamored by it, it picked up the identity "the song I'm definitely going to play at my wedding reception". I find the verses very easy to relate to,  and can't wait for the chorus's 'livewire' part in my own life. This song will not soon be forgotten.

10. Ragamuffin - Silversun Pickups
"Fighting fires with water guns, this ragamuffin has swallowed enough."

I love the album as a whole, but this is as far as my favorite band makes it in the song list. "Ragamuffin" is the sort of song I consider epic. A solid six-minute length complete with multiple strong sections and a dynamic progression. The gradual crescendo in the first half is awesome. It belongs in some big scene in an action film, but for now I'm satisfied with it blasting as I cruise down the highway.

9. Clearest Blue - CHVRCHES
"Will you meet me more than halfway?"

Another crescendo-based song, Clearest Blue has what is probably my favorite musical climax of the year. "Will you meet me more than halfway!?!?" and then bam... I LOVE that moment. Best when heard at an above-reasonable volume in downtown Salt Lake in my experience. Doesn't last long enough.

8. Dust - Trevor Hall
"...hoping one day you will see that what's inside of you is what's inside of me."

Each year, there's some definitive point at which we hit a new level of songs, a group that's somehow clearly more sacred to me than the others. This time, we begin with that extra meaningful set a bit earlier than usual because of the high quality of music present. I can't express how much I love this song's lyrics. It's sad, really sad, but sincere. To be honest myself, I think 2015 was the loneliest year of my life, which is largely why I fell so deep into the music of the year, but songs like "Dust" lifted me higher than I would have been without them.

7. Burning Your Eyes In The Sun - Ace Enders
"Looking for the worst? Well, the worst is gonna grab you."

The highlight from my favorite songwriter, "Burning Your Eyes In The Sun" made me appreciate him even more. I've heard others speak of creative kindred spirits, of finding an artist that speaks to you more than any other. Ace Enders is that person for me. To think of all of the tears of joy over the years and then remember that I actually met him this year adds a cherished weight to this song and those to come.

6. I Found - Amber Run
"I'll use you as a focal point so I don't lose sight of what I want."

"I Found" is solemn, but precious. I love the music video. I love the vocals. I love the composition. It's another sad one, but I'm not saddened by it, if that makes sense. I find it relieving to connect with its message, to empathize with its story simply because it is so heartfelt and well-thought out. Songs like these are the ones that bare a musician's soul and I cherish that part of music.

5. Kill V. Maim - Grimes
"I'm only a man and I do what I can."

I'm laughing out loud at this one. Sometimes, a bizarre track manages to get pretty far up on the list. This is the most bizarre of them all and I am obsessed without reservation. "Kill V. Maim", as Grimes' rage song, won me over straight away and will not let me go. You may cringe or roll you eyes. I just headbang the whole dang song long.

4. Through Houston - Anadel
"I close my eyes and I see his hand tightly clasped inside your arm and I wish to God that it was mine."

We have a lot of this sort of song on the list this year, one of desperate hope only barely surviving the maw of encroaching despair. It begins "I watch the coast for signs of life. Was this storm just in my troubled mind?" and carries on from there as my favorite song of the years in terms of lyrics. For the first half of the year, it flew high above the rest of the playing field, but alas, it was not to be #1.

3. Agape - Bear's Den
"I don't wanna know who I am without you."

It's a difficult toss-up between these top three songs. I'd be happy with any of them as #1, but I feel I've got them in the right order nonetheless. First off, kudos to Bear's Den for teaching me a fantastic new word. Agape (aah-guh-pay) is a word for love in its purest form, completely free of all sexual implication, as in the love a soldier has for his brother in battle or the love God has for each one of us. It can, of course, still be applied in a romantic sense, which the song does in a touching way. I found this one in the last week of the year and I'm incredibly grateful for that.

2. Waves - The Dear Hunter
"In the breaths between the ones we meant to breathe, I had my head under my feet."

I knew I'd found something special the first time I watched this music video and heard its song. (Best music video of the year, by the way). The drums are perfect. The strings are perfect. The backing vocals are perfect. Each element adds so much to the song and in the end, the piece is quite complex and I can't help but envy the talent behind it. It flows so nicely. It sounds amazing.

1. All We Do - Oh Wonder
"All we do is chase the day."

This turnout gives me slight deja vu from 2012, where it was neck-in-neck between song #2, an ode to love with a fantastic music video, and #1, a much more mellow, sober song. 2012's #1, however, spoke of undying love. "All We Do" is much less hopeful, drawing attention to the sad shortcomings of human nature. "All we do is hide away... all we do is lie in wait...all we do is play it safe." But the song doesn't strike me as one entirely depressed by these truths, but rather as one that has come to terms with them. Some dreams die. Some days are failures. Some endings don't seem right. C'est la vie. It's a profound message, but, musically speaking, simplicity wins another year.

Best of 2015 - Albums

My annual best songs list is certainly a stronger showcase of any particular year's best music, but I'll always listen to music by albums, the books to their songs' chapters. My favorite songwriter, my favorite band from my high school years, and my current favorite band all brought something to the table. How did they fare against 2015's newcomers? Here are the strongest musical narratives of the year. The numbers in parentheses represent how many songs from each album made it into my best song countdown.

10. We Are All We Need - Above & Beyond (2)
Above & Beyond has been working on music continually since I first found them seven years ago, but We Are All We Need is their first record in a long time. As a sizable collection of years of work, this album offers many excellent tracks that, although originally unveiled alone, mesh very well with one another. In a year where I invested more time and money into electronic albums than ever before, this 15-song set is the best I heard.

9. Blue Leaves - Etherwood (1)
Etherwood is also a DJ, but his unique sound seems more at home in the R&B genre. Defined largely by its rapid drumming and simple piano lines, his music is some of the most refreshing I've stumbled upon in recent years. The album as a whole can feel monotonous at times, but enough variety is applied to the prevailing pattern throughout its run time that I found it a very strong project in the end.

8. Islands - Bear's Den (2)
Islands is another album that spans years of work, but it's the band's debut. I was firmly impressed by at least half of its ten tracks, which was exciting because I found quite a few similar-sounding bands this year that simply did not live up to my initial impression while Bear's Den went well beyond. I applaud the band for the emotional power that so effortlessly flows through their compositions. As an aspiring songwriter who struggles to do the same, I find it truly extraordinary.

7. Broken Into Better Shape - Good Old War (2)
Broken Into Better Shape is loads of fun. It's not particularly bold musically speaking, and some may even call it generic, but I find joy in every song. This feel-good set of songs won over more of my time than any other as the year came to an end. I think its messages are both heart-felt and eye-opening and its general optimism was a great transition into a new year.

6. #HIRAETH (2)
One of my favorite moments of the year was meeting my favorite songwriter, Ace Enders. He's worked in a few different bands over the years (including I Can Make a Mess, winner of my 2010 and 2013 albums of year), but never before has he released a full-blown solo album. Its release came as a total surprise in the middle of October and I quickly fell in love. It would rank higher if not so short, but it actually provides a good amount of extremely catchy songs in its short span. I couldn't have expected anything less from Ace.

5. We Were Here - Boy (3)
We Were Here is another fairly short album, which nearly discouraged me from picking it up at all. One third of its songs made it into my songs list so I'm glad I did. Boy's songwriting is simple, but almost immediately latched onto my heart in a way I can't explain. Its honest words are a major part of it, but I'm not so sure what it is about the music itself that I just can't get enough of. More likely than with the other albums on this list, this is one I think most everyone can enjoy.

4. Cathedrals - The Hope Arsenal (2)
Cathedrals is so obscure that I couldn't find the version of the cover that isn't an advertisement online, which is a real shame because I was shocked by its overwhelming beauty. This is the year's best kept secret. Massive orchestral pieces and folksy acoustic guitar tracks combine to construct an original journey for which the gorgeous album cover is a good.

3. Run Wild - Lydia (3)
Lydia, once my favorite band, has had hit-and-miss records for the last several years. There are always a song or two I really enjoy, but their last three albums weren't my favorite. This year, however, they won me back in a big way with Run Wild, so much so that I attended two of their concerts this year and snagged the chance to meet the whole band. I love this album from beginning to end.

2. Better Nature - Silversun Pickups (2)
The Silversun Pickups!!! With The Dangerous Summer recently disbanded, my "favorite band" position became a void that needed to be filled. The Silversun Pickups rose to the occasion by reminding me how much I've loved them over the years and throwing another excellent album into the collection. I was honestly disappointed after the first playthrough, but after a few months of listening, along with their thrilling SLC concert, I was sold.

1. Oh Wonder - Oh Wonder (6)
That's right. Six songs from one CD. Never before has an album had such a strong presence among my favorites. A brand new couple, Oh Wonder set out last September to write and release one song every month for a year. The result (and then some) is this self-titled album, 15 songs strong, which I've decided is one of the best albums I've heard in my entire life, nearly perfect according to my personal taste. No matter who you are, I highly recommend at least one full playthrough. It's the very best I have to offer this time around.