Originally from Michigan, I’ve always held a deeply rooted attachment to Midwestern culture — especially when it comes to music. Nearly all of the artists I included in this playlist, share connections to the Midwest. A few, share the identity of my home state. But all of them share one defining characteristic — they’re phenomenal creators of sonic art.
These artists hold special places in my mind and heart. Having personally followed each of them through various bands and creative projects, these songs are my top picks in 2018. As listeners, I encourage you to do more than just click through these songs, sampling them for temporary satisfaction. I hope you dive in and internalize these songs, as I have. I hope you reach out and let them touch the broken parts of your soul. But ultimately, I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for. These songs are yours now. Enjoy them!
“Wrong Side” – Noah Gundersen
Seattle native, Noah Gundersen is one artist that I sincerely believe can do no wrong. In addition to his contributions to groups like The Courage, Beneath Oceans, Young in the City, and Glorietta — his 2017 album White Noise is one of the most comprehensive works of art that I have ever heard. His capacity for subtle poetic gentleness is intoxicating. As a songwriter, everything Noah Gundersen does makes me wish I had somehow thought to do it first.
The SISTERS / Gundersen single, “Wrong Side” is an eloquent collaboration that captures a feeling of listless. Gundersen softly explicates, “It was just like you promised. We were better off in time. Your memory is soft around the eyes. And I’m mostly being honest when I tell you that I’m fine. Until I wake up in the middle of the night on the wrong side.” The lyrics beautifully paint a picture of lost love and the personal insecurities that come with longing for someone that once meant everything.
“Burn My Lights Out” – Colyer
Steven Colyer is one of those Michigan musicians I have admired for years. His former band, Your Best Friend, released a three-song EP, Setting Sail, that is consistently on my list of songs I’d want to listen to if I were stranded on a desert island. Since then, he’s temporarily explored diverse musical personalities under the concealed monikers of Native America, Hot Talk, and Island Police. After making the trek out west to Los Angeles, he settled on identifying with his own last name, and Colyer was born.
Burn My Lights Out is the first track on Colyer’s Beachwood Dr – EP. The soulful blues-rock ballad unequivocally details the unrequited sting for the one that got away. “It makes me dizzy now when I’m trying to forget. The one that got away but the feeling never left. Honey straight from the hive — sticky, leaving me low. Put my hand in the hive. Honey, where did you go?” It’s difficult not to relate.
“Approval” – The True Blue
Formerly the post-hardcore outfit Alive, In Standby, these Michigan natives once toured with veteran groups like Our Last Night and I See Stars, quickly gaining substantial regional success. After surviving some crippling lineup changes, the four remaining members of Alive, In Standby made a substantial decision to start over, coining the phrase, “Out with the old, in with the blue.”
The True Blue altogether abandoned their more aggressive influences for a softer, and certainly more sincere palette. Vocalist Chris Koo writes with unmatched heart-on-your-sleeve emotion, detailing experiences that are eerily and sometimes uncomfortably relatable. On “Approval” he sings, “I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been let down, left out here to drown. And is it bad? You’re the most recent thought I had. Curled in a ball on the bedroom floor. Paranoid, nervous, insecure. The worst part — It’s self-inflicted. I do it to myself.”
“Is It Far Or Is It Close” – Author
I first discovered this Minnesota based trio, after the release of their jaw-dropping single, “Want.” Their blend of gritty rock’n’roll and glistening, atmospheric pop is what solidifies Author as one of my top bands in 2018.
The lyrics on Author’s 2018 album’s title track, “Is It Far Or Is It Close” spiral in a prayer-like inquisition. Something I admire to a fault is the ability any musician has to bring spirituality (or questions of the soul) into a song, in a way that doesn’t feel religious. Author perfectly captures that balance on “Is It Far Or Is It Close,” asking somewhat rhetorically, “Are we all just floating by, speckles in our eyes. Are we just as safe inside, or are we all preoccupied? Where do we go? No one really knows. Is it far or is it close? There’s beauty, I suppose. Everywhere we go.”
“Paradise” – The Neighbourhood
For years, I subscribed to such a wide-reaching plethora of music, answering the commonly asked (and somewhat insulting) question, “You like music? OK, what’s your favorite band?” was quite literally impossible. But somewhere along the line that changed. Surprisingly, The Neighbourhood now comfortably occupies that top spot. No band has made me feel as much as The Neighbourhood has. Their sophomore album Wiped Out! was, without a doubt, my top album of 2015 and still regularly rotates through my daily soundtrack.
“Paradise” was a stand-out track on the band’s third EP of 2018. With the release of three EP’s and a full-length album, the collection of releases creatively formed a sentence (Hard To Imagine The Neighbourhood Ever Changing). The band’s recent work has been, disappointingly less poetic than previous releases, but still maintains that classic Neighbourhood atmosphere. These “Paradise” lyrics, in particular, stuck with me: “No matter where I go, I’ll never have control. Wake up feeling paralyzed. No one makes it out alive in paradise.”