My 10 Favorite Bands + Musicians (With a Spotify Playlist)
Music has always been important to me, and I have my parents to thank for that. I don’t remember one childhood memory that doesn’t have music playing in the background — from Shawn Colvin to the Beatles, and Chicago to the Eagles. We had speakers throughout the house (and the garden) to ensure every single room was filled with music from sunrise to sunset.
My tastes and opinions about music have evolved over the years, but the following bands and musicians have remained constant favorites. Through the difficulties of my parents’ divorce, the joys of riding in a convertible during the summer, and every moment in between — their songs have steadily played in the background.
1. The Shins
The Shins have been, and always will be my number one. Ever since I discovered them in 2007ish (how is that 10 years ago?!), I have been hooked. So no, I didn’t fully know about them when everyone else did after watching “Garden State.” It is difficult to pick a favorite album of theirs, since each holds specific memories in different chapters of my life. High school can be defined by Oh, Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow, and Wincing the Night Away. And Port of Morrow was released while I was overseas in Italy (on my birthday, actually!), so I listened to it non-stop in some of the most unbelievable settings — and on planes, trains, and lots of museums. Their latest album, Heartworms, is so tied to the first year of our marriage. In fact, a common love for The Shins is one of the things that bonded Brandon and I in the beginning of our relationship, and we ultimately played “New Slang” after the first kiss at our wedding. We are seeing them live at the Ryman in Nashville this November, which I think will be very different than (but equally as magical as) seeing them at Red Rocks in Denver back in the summer of 2012.
2. Manchester Orchestra
This band has a song for nearly every mood you’re in — from mellow and content, to angry and amped up. I listened to Manchester Orchestra during some of the darkest moments I’ve yet experienced, in addition to some of the brightest. Andy Hull certainly has a unique voice, the band is talented, and each song can go from quiet orchestral tones to a garage-band screamo vibe in seconds. But I think the reason I keep coming back to MO is their overall intensity, passionate lyrics, and the emotional rollercoaster they can induce. I listened to Simple Math non-stop overseas, so that one is truly special to me (but is usually not someone’s first pick). But if you’re wanting a uniquely Manchester Orchestra experience, listen to the COPE album followed by its acoustic companion album, HOPE. Their latest album, A Black Mile to the Surface contains some of their finest work — especially if you notice the smooth transitions from “The Alien” to “The Sunshine” and “The Grocery.” Gosh, but Mean Everything to Nothing (released in 2009) is classic MO as well. I’m going to stop recommending every album, I promise...
3. Bon Iver
This is no surprise. Bon Iver has so many stereotypes tied to them, as they emitted a certain unwashed-hipster-smoking-a-cigar-and-spinning-a-vinyl impression back in 2009. Regardless, they have remained one of my favorites to this day. I dove right into For Emma, Forever Ago in high school, and their self-titled album in the summer of 2011. Their latest album is a stretch from the original Bon Iver, but remarkable and ridiculous in its own way. One summer, I went on a somewhat spontaneous road trip with friends to Colorado, we all saw Bon Iver at Red Rocks, then I saw them play the following week back in Arkansas (where I was living for the summer). Believe it or not, the Little Rock show was far more magical than Red Rocks, as there was a lightning storm in the middle of the concert, and they continued playing, in surprising Woodstock-esque fashion. Warm summer rain, Skinny Love, a lightning storm, and friends — you can’t get much more picturesque (or predictable) than that.
4. José González
José and I go way back. I heard his cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” back in high school and was immediately hooked. His voice and overall sound are so effortlessly soothing, providing the perfect background music that you don’t overtly notice, but still appreciate. His live acoustic videos solidified my love for him when I was obsessed with watching La Blogothèque on YouTube in college. (Here’s an excellent example of his raw, pure talent and subtle ability to place you in a trance.) Many know I was obsessed with “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (but seriously, it is a beautiful movie), which was made even more beautiful because of its soundtrack. It contains several songs by José González and his side project, Junip. Last year, Brandon and I saw José play in Denver on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate my birthday — and it was an overwhelming experience. He played with a group of six young musicians playing the viola, violin, cello, clarinet, flute, trumpet, and saxophone. Put Vestiges & Claws on during a laid-back afternoon (or maybe while you’re working), and you will not be distracted or disappointed.
Well, this is overwhelming. Everyone loves Coldplay, so I’ll keep this short. I have lots of junior high and high school memories of listening to A Rush of Blood to the Head and X & Y. Do you remember when “Clocks” was the biggest discovery of the decade?! While I love the party that Coldplay always throws (I’ve seen them live three times, and the party is real), I have a special soft spot for their mellow, romantic tracks. Think: the hidden track on “Everything’s Not Lost,” “Green Eyes,” “Til Kingdom Come,” “Swallowed in the Sea,” “Now My Feet Won’t Touch the Ground,” “Reign of Love,” “Yellow,” “Magic,” “Everglow,” etc. I walked down the aisle to “Til Kingdom Come” so that one will always be extra special.
6. Fleet Foxes
This band is so quintessentially Seattle, which may subconsciously play a role in my deep-rooted appreciation for them. After a three-year hiatus (that lasted way too long), Fleet Foxes recently released an album that has been a mainstay during our summer of traveling across the country. However, Helplessness Blues is by far my favorite and most-listened-to album of theirs, and I can prove it by singing each and every word of it, from “Montezuma” to “Grown Ocean.” But let’s get to the point — if you aren’t listening to Fleet Foxes this fall, you aren’t living your best life.
7. Tame Impala
Listen to Currents and you’ll understand exactly why Tame Impala is on this list. That album is flawless from start to finish, and I’ve tweeted about that more than once. While I appreciate their older stuff — especially trancy songs like “Feels Like You Only Go Backwards” or “Jeremy’s Storm” (that make you forget what day it is) — this latest album is a true piece of art. I think this is the only artist I listened to while living in Nashville during my carefree summer of 2015, so I have a special affinity towards it.
8. Modest Mouse
If I hear just five seconds of any song off We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, I am immediately transcended to the daily 40-minute drive to school with my brother, Jeremy. We listened to that album for a solid year straight, I think. I have my siblings to thank for introducing me to the good stuff. Unfortunately, I haven’t spent enough time with their latest album, Strangers to Ourselves, but I loved what I heard. To an impressionable high schooler, Modest Mouse exudes a certain rebellious, class-skipping persona — the latter of which I did a time or two.
9. Washed Out
Brandon and I have listened to Washed Out's latest album, Mister Mellow, quite a few times, but Paracosm is our first and greatest love. This is our go-to suns-out, windows-down album. I mean, listen to “It All Feels Right,” and tell me you’re not automatically having a better day. If you aren’t feeling it, you can always listen to “Feel It All Around” and get transported to Portlandia in a heartbeat.
10. James Taylor
I had to throw a childhood classic in here. For some unexplainable reason, James Taylor is the most soothing, comforting, and warm sound for my soul. James Taylor has always reminded me of my dad, and not because they share the same first name. His peaceful melodies played in our house from as early as I can remember — and when I danced with my dad at our wedding just last year. We danced to James’ “You’ve Got a Friend” and then Brandon and his mom danced to “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” by Randy Newman (you know, the Toy Story song). It was all very precious and nostalgic on so many levels.
What about you?
Are any of these on your favorites list? More importantly, what are yours? Comment below, on Facebook, or on Instagram!