xtina

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Wires and Waves Reads

This blog post is part of a weeklong celebration of feminism started by Kelly Jensen.

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I am a feminist because I am a human. Many people mistakenly assume that a self-declared feminist is playing the victim. I do not see myself as a victim. I am not writing to defend feminism. I am writing to tell you what feminism means to me.

Being a feminist means developing empathy for all types of people because feminism should be for and about everybody (this is a very basic generalization of the concept of intersectional feminism). I am trying to do this by reading, listening to, and sharing perspectives of people who do not look like me. I typically try to read books that meet that qualification, as I think books are one of the best ways to learn about and develop empathy for other people.

I recently read Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give, and Thomas’ protagonist, Starr Carter, embodies both badassery and real feminism (that is: “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (Merriam-Webster)). Starr is a black teenager who leads two different lives. At home in Garden Heights, she can be herself. At her private school, she must be less “ghetto”; in effect, she must act white. After witnessing a cop kill her best friend Khalil– a young, black man– Starr’s dual personalities collide as her city protests. She is afraid that publicly announcing this fact will cost her some friendships; she is also afraid of being called out for abandoning her friends and her neighborhood.

Identity struggles are nothing new, particularly for teenagers. Starr’s struggles in particular are important due to the forced way in which she must confront them, as well as their relevancy to current events. Starr has a few school friends who grow tired of her “rants” on racism. In a conversation with one particular friend, Starr says she is tired of being expected to go along with her friend’s feminist agenda while being expected to keep her mouth closed about social justice.

If your feminism does not include people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, non-binary people, people who are disabled, and people of all religions, then who is it for? I was inspired by Starr’s activism and her reconciliation of herself with the lives of all the people she loves, even, and especially, people who make mistakes. The Hate U Give was a phenomenal book, and I recommend it to everyone.

Also, the other half of this ol’ blog, Zach, created a playlist featuring music by cool ladies.


 

Words are good (Xtina Reads)

Hey, pals. It’s a little dusty around here. Actually, it’s a little smudgy. Anytime I try to get my computer out, Ben bangs on the keyboard like a sitcom character pretending to work when the boss comes by.

As always, I have been reading a lot lately. I am a little bit behind my goal, only because I have been reading more nonfiction books. The book I just read (Angela Davis’ Women, Race & Class) was the impetus for this blog post.

The world is a tumultuous and uncertain place always, but general human rights in our country seem to be dangling on a pretty thin thread as of late. People, I love you (even if I have social anxiety and hate going anywhere with people).

I think that fear drives most of the hatred certain people or groups harbor for other individuals or groups. When we get to know our neighbors, we are less likely to hate them. When we learn about another person’s struggles, they become more human and less of an abstract threat.

I am not very good at meeting people because, again, crowds of people intimidate me, but I do get to know a lot of different people at my job. I do like to read, though. I try to mostly read books written by people who do not look like me. I don’t pretend to be enlightened or anything, but the books have taught me many things. I love the books, guys. I encourage you to check out one, two, or all of the books on this list. Report back with a full book report. This can include a mixtape, a diorama, or a long-form essay.

Thank you and good night.

  1. Women, Race & Class– Angela Y. Davis
  2. Bad Feminist- Roxane Gay
  3. You Can’t Touch My Hair– Phoebe Robinson
  4. It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel– Firoozeh Dumas
  5. The Underground Railroad– Colson Whitehead
  6. One Crazy Summer– Rita Williams-Garcia

Xtina’s Favorite Albums of 2015

2015 brought me some of my favorite albums of all time. The majority of these came out earlier in the year, which is great because I didn’t do much music-listening after the baby was born. Too much stress. My favorite albums don’t conveniently fit into the top ten formula, so  it’s a good thing I’m not writing for Rolling Stone or Pitchfork, I guess.

Anyway, it’s naptime, so I’ll stop rambling

Carrie and Lowell– Sufjan Stevens

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I expected this to be my favorite album of 2015, and I was right. I should play the lottery. This is Stevens’ most personal album to date. It addresses his largely absent mother, a woman who suffered from addiction and mental illness, and the three consecutive summers he spent with her and his stepfather. Prominent themes include regret, death, love, fear, failure, and forgiveness. You know, just a few lighthearted topics. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment (name that obscure movie reference) because I love this album. I can’t stop listening to it, and it hurts just as much (in a good way) each time.

I Love You, Honeybear– Father John Misty

I loved FJM’s first album. It was sardonic, funny, and generally entertaining. His sophomore release provided all that and more. He drops the persona somewhat, choosing to sing about love, fear, failure, marriage, and the level at which some people (including himself) suck. I’m sensing a theme here. There are some songs on this album that I related to so well it was eerie. On “The Ideal Husband,” he runs through a litany of his failures, and then asks, “Wouldn’t I make the ideal husband?” almost threatening his wife to run while she still can. He repeatedly addresses the irony of being cynical and in love, two states of being that typically do not go together. As an added bonus, it is hilarious and a perfect album to sing along to in the car.

To Pimp a Butterfly– Kendrick Lamar

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I’m not even going to feign a knowledge of hip hop. I’m an emo purist through and through, and “branching out” for me looks like adding some Americana to my playlist. And yet… Kendrick Lamar’s album hit me HARD. I don’t say this as a boast, but I have never been so affected by this type of music. I get chills every time I listen to it. To Pimp a Butterfly is so important on both a personal level and as a mouthpiece for a movement. Like Father John Misty, Kendrick Lamar addresses personal and larger failures, but he also finds a way to convey hope. And the music is so varied; he calls to mind everything from funk to early 90s hip hop, arguably providing the most varied album on my list.

Coming Home– Leon Bridges

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This debut album by a young Bridges (I can say that because I’m a month older than he is) straight up feels like someone dug it up out of a 1965 time machine. I wasn’t alive then, obviously, so what do I know, but it feels like authentic ’60s soul music. The songs don’t stray too far from typical soul music themes (scorned love; a reverence for God, woman, and home; a desire for self-improvement) but it feels so fresh. Coming Home is the perfect sing-a-long album, and Bridges is just SO. damn. cool. And it’s like he doesn’t even know it!

1989- Ryan Adams

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Adams got some flack for covering this album. People said he was trying to show how serious he was and Taylor Swift wasn’t, but I don’t think that was the intent at all. In fact, he has said that he recorded these songs as a type of therapy, and he did not intend to release them. It wasn’t until Swift herself heard them and encouraged him did he do so (free publicity?!). Anyway, this album is beautiful. I liked 1989; it’s fun, fresh, and lyrically pretty good. But Adams’ version feels like an entirely different album. It feels sarather than invigorated, hearkening back to perfect sad albums like Springsteen’s Nebraska and anything by the Smiths, really.

Kinstugi- Death Cab for Cutie

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This isn’t my favorite Death Cab album of all time, but it’s pretty damn good. Also, it’s the breakup album we all wanted when we heard he and ol’ what’s her name divorced. It includes the best of the last album– perfect vocals– with the layered, intricate music it lacked. Also, I love a little snark. (Aaaalso, I hate the word “snark.” I feel like Gossip Girl.)

 

You know you love me. XOXO, Christina

 

(Honorable mentions include My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall, Beach House’s Depression Cherry, and Desaparecidos Payola.)

 

 

“I don’t know where to begin” (Christina’s Sufjan Stevens album review)

How do you talk about things that you love? I found Sufjan Stevens in his heyday (among my friend group, at least) and I know how beloved he is, but it’s still always difficult. Something I especially love about Sufjan Stevens’ catalog is how different it is while remaining tied to the core of who he is (or who I perceive him to be). He did Age of Adz, a fully electronic album, and managed to make it so personal that it gutted us. I’ve always loved his more stripped down stuff, but not because I hated the more musically full songs. It’s like having water and oxygen– you need both to live, right? I don’t know.

Carrie & Lowell tells the story of Sufjan’s often fraught relationship with his mother, a woman who suffered from mental illness, and his stepfather, the man who raised him. Apparently his mother passed away recently, so this album is an exploration of the feelings surrounding that. It’s a pretty heavy and intimate album lyrically and musically, in spite of how stripped down it is. It still has a few electronic moments, especially on songs like “Should Have Known Better,” but it manages to feel more raw than anything he has done. Several moments on the album remind me of “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” a song that is so dark it is sometimes hard to listen to. However, since they are personal to him, it feels more like a window into who he is.

I can’t get over how this album makes me feel, and I am not sure how I know how to fully explain it. I hope you listen to it and enjoy it as much as I do. You can find it on Spotify, but I would recommend buying it.

Of Course We Know (Xtina’s Song of the Day)

Do you know what it’s like when your favorite band (a band who hasn’t put out an album in over five years, mind you) announces a new album and releases song after song in just a few short weeks? It’s like heaven. I think, if heaven exists, that feeling just floats through the air all the time.

Well, that has happened to me three times already this year (Modest Mouse, Brand New, Sufjan Stevens). Anytime I get bummed about less than desirable things, I have to remember this beautiful string of events. I am here to share the newest Modest Mouse song, “Of Course We Know.”

It’s a lazy (in a good way), lolling type of song, and I love it. Listen and enjoy:

New Death Cab for Cutie (Xtina’s Song of the Day)

Death Cab for Cutie released a song off their new album today. I can’t say for sure what “No Room in Frame” is about, but it feels like a sassy breakup song with L.A. and the person who brought him there as well as a return to Gibbard’s native Seattle. It’s fairly poppy as far as Death Cab songs go, but I love it. Ben Gibbard is one of my favorite writers, as I have said again and again, and this song didn’t let me down. Give it a listen.

The Great Grammy Debacle of 2015

This is what really mattered at the Grammys anyway.

When I went to bed the night of the Grammys, I was kind of mad. I felt like Beck deserved that award, and it was annoying to hear both: a) he isn’t a real artist and this album wasn’t a contender and b) “Who is Beck?”

I like Beyonce as much as the next breathing human being, but I did not have the same transcendent experience when I put on Beyonce as I did when I put on Morning Phase. In fact, I turned it off. I just wasn’t as impressed as I felt like I should have been. However, after reading this incredibly articulate and informative article, I have changed my mind.

Morning Phase was a beautiful album, but from what I hear, it’s pretty identical to Sea Change. It’s some of his best work, but it isn’t groundbreaking. Beyonce broke ground. Young girls who, at an age where eating disorders and self-image issues run rampant, are proclaiming themselves feminists or, at the very least, appreciating themselves a little more. Furthermore, as the author of the Texas Monthly author writes, Beyonce broke album sale records in a time when people aren’t buying albums. Honestly, people who like Beck are usually the people who buy albums. The mainstream pop culture isn’t selling albums– it’s selling singles.

Finally, as the article notes, there is the issue of race. Beck’s album didn’t do anything for white people except make them have spiritual experiences while driving through the Sandia mountains (that would be me). Beyonce’s album did a lot for people of color and everybody else. As we have seen in the Oscar nominations, the movie and music industries are completely white-washed. Two thoughts:

1) Thank God Iggy Azalea didn’t win though, right?

2) Did you know that Kendrick Lamar won 2 Grammys? They didn’t even put it on the show. I think we could have done without some of those weird-ass collaborations.

So now I can sleep at night. And I can agree with Kanye again because we are on a rollercoast that only goes up, my friend.

Winter Music Preview (or the season in which I go broke)

January, February, and March are notoriously a-hole months, especially if you live in a place in which winter is an actual thing. It’s cold, dark, and dreary, and you see no end in sight. (I take exception to this idea because I love winter. Leave me alone, everyone!)

However, winter 2015 is going to be one for the books–and by books, I do mean the pocketbooks. The checkbooks? I don’t know. So many incredible albums are coming out in the next few months, and, of course, with new albums comes tours. I’m not really in the position to be dropping loadz of cash on stuff, but oh well. Carpe diem. C’est la vie. Music is the little, innovative engineering tool that keeps the wheel turning and all that stuff. Without further ado, I present to you the albums I am most eagerly anticipating. What are you looking forward to?

Sleater-Kinney- No Cities to Love (January 20)

Anyone with ears can tell that Sleater-Kinney’s newest (and surprising) release is going to be incredible. I feel like this album came out of necessity, as if it were just bubbling out of all them and they had to release it. It has so much energy. Stream the album over at NPR now.

Belle and Sebastian- Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (January 20)

I’ve been a Belle and Sebastian fan for about ten years now, which is a long time when you’re only 25. Their music is sensitive, witty, and fun, all adjectives that also describe me (except for that last one, but two out of three isn’t bad). Related side note: I hate dancing and anything that involves big crowds of happy people. Therefore, the first time I heard “The Party Line,” I was like, “WTF, B&S?” But after many listens, I have grown to love it. I feel like it’s a dance-y party song for people who hate dance-y party songs. The ultimate introvert party song. You can also stream it on NPR.

The Decemberists- What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (January 20)

Father John Misty- I Love You Honeybear (February 10)

I don’t know what I did to deserve someone as perfect as Josh Tillman (AKA Father John Misty), but I’m not complaining. He’s hilarious, witty, a fantastic dancer, a perfect songwriter and storyteller, and he wrote one of my favorite love songs of all time. I’ve been listening to “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” on repeat since it came out. It is SO good. Apparently, the album is a concept album about falling in love with his wife, photographer Emma Tillman. I don’t know how he does it. Go buy it now!

This is where things get serious.

MARCH, YOU GUYS!

Death Cab for Cutie- Kintsugi

Death Cab just announced the album this morning, complete with track listing and album art, over on Paste. Chris Walla is also on the album, which is exciting for many reasons, namely because he departed the band a few months ago. I loved Codes and Keys, but it didn’t have the killer songwriting for which Ben Gibbard is known. I am eagerly anticipating the return of one of my favorite writers on this album.

Modest Mouse- Strangers to Ourselves

I think the whole world collectively high-fived the air when they announced this. We have been waiting for this for so, so long. Also, their first single, “Lampshades of Fire,” is the shiiiiit.

OKAY.

As I was writing this post, my favorite husband called me to tell me the most exciting news of my life.

SUFJAN STEVENS IS RELEASING AN ALBUM IN MARCH.

SUFJAN STEVENS IS RELEASING AN ALBUM IN MARCH.

SUFJAN STEVENS IS RELEASING AN ALBUM IN MARCH.

He is my #1 favorite musician in the whole galaxy. Read more about the album here. I’m crying tears of joy!!!!!

The Best Books I Read This Year (2014)

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I read a lot of books this year. As of today (12/19), I have read 58, which may not seem like much, but take into consideration the fact that I did most of that reading between August and now. I read some pretty terrible books, but I also read some great ones. Some were published in 2014 and others weren’t. I re-read old favorites and gained new ones. I didn’t do as much writing as I would have liked, but we’ll call this year an intake year, a learning year. Without further ado, I present to you the best books I read this year.

The Funniest and Most Thoughtful 

Yes Please– Amy Poehler

 Amy Poehler is hilarious. We all know it. We also know that she is exceptionally thoughtful and intuitive as well as a grade-A badass. Her book, Yes Please, testifies to that in a grand way, but it doesn’t feel like something we’ve heard before. She writes serious essays, joke-y essays, and talks a lot about how much she loves her children and her friends. She writes about her time with the Upright Citizens Brigade, SNL, and the in-between times. She writes about the difficulty of going through a divorce as well as the importance of a strong work ethic. I love her. Many funny books are not as thoughtful as this; she’s the greatest.

The Best Self-validating and Encouraging Book on Feminism

Bad Feminist- Roxane Gay

 Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist is another book that is both funny and thoughtful. She talks about rape, Beyonce, the Bachelor, playing Scrabble, race, and prejudices. She acknowledges the ways in which she “fails” as a feminist, which is the takeaway message of her book. I blogged about it here.

The Best Book about Adult Female Friendships

Friendship – Emily Gould

Okay, a lot of books exist on this topic. Many are good. Many are incredible. However, this one gets the intricacies of female friendship more right than many other similar novels I have read. The main characters, Bev and Amy, are ridiculously close and dependent upon each other, but they aren’t constantly braiding each other’s hair or talking about boys like the stereotypes lead you to believe. I don’t know, maybe some best friends do do those things, but Friendship felt much more similar to any friendship I have had.

The Best Book by a Mountain (the band, not the animal)

Wolf in White Van- John Darnielle

To be fair, I haven’t read any books by actual mountain goats and John Darnielle is the only consistent member of the band the Mountain Goats, but this really was one of the best books I read this year. There’s always a worry when someone you love crosses over to something else, but I wasn’t that worried since he is such an accomplished songwriter. His book, though, feels different than his music. Sean Phillips, the protagonist, is quiet and closed-off, rarely divulging his emotions even as he describes tragedy after tragedy. Read my review here.

Best One about a Family

Everything I Never Told You– Celeste Ng

I read a lot of books about families, so this is an important one. Some creep at the library asked me what books I like to read. When I said fiction, he said, “Oh, like Tom Clancy or John Grisham?” I wasn’t concerned about being a book snob, but I didn’t want to tell him what I did like. If I had, I would have said something along the lines of “dysfunctional families/complex relationships.” Ng tells the story of a family’s unraveling after the favorite daughter dies in a mysterious accident. Her prose is so precise and poetic that it feels like an intrusion upon something sacred. Read my review here.

Best One about a Sad Kid

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets- Evan Roskos

This is another favorite topic of mine. Do you remember the first time you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? How Charlie’s pain was both so exquisite and precise, and how his joy was laden with trepidation? Roskos’ book has all those same feelings. However, it doesn’t feel like another Chbosky novel (but when can we get one of those?). I want to give this book to high school Christina so she feels validated or at least less alone in her emotions and her obsession with dead poets.

Best Non-required Required Reading

I am Malala- Malala Yousafzai

This book is so important. It gave me an quick education on Pakistan and Middle East issues as well as the selflessness of Malala. I suppose we all already knew how selfless she was, but I had no idea that she and her father had been speaking out in favor of education for a long time. It would be easy to just call her brave, and while she is that, she is so much more. She loves her home and her people, and she believes that they deserve the best. She is doing incredible things.

Best Book about Fanfiction (by my favorite author)

 Fangirl- Rainbow Rowell

If I could  marry any writer, it would be Rainbow Rowell. She is the most incredible at capturing frustration with relationships and oneself in a way that feels so real it’s like watching your life play out on the page. In this book, she tells the story of Cath and Wren, twin sisters once bound by Harry Potter-like fan fiction whose college experience tears them apart. Where Wren acts out, Cath retreats. All of Cath’s expectations about college turn out to be cruel fantasies; pretty soon, the only thing she can do without feeling like a failure is write Simon Snow fan fiction.

P.S. In the book, Cath is working on “Carry on, Simon” which is her own full-length fan fiction novel. Bits of the story are included at the beginning of each chapter. WELL……Rowell is publishing a book next year called….Carry On. I am so excited. I’ve never read fan fiction, so I kind of feel like a phony, but I love her.

The Best Book about Angry Teenage Boys

 Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe– Benjamin Alire Saenz

I didn’t know what superlative to give this one. The “angry teenage boys” bit is somewhat misleading. Only one teenage boy is angry (Ari). Dante is sometimes sickeningly happy. When Ari and Dante meet the summer after sophomore year though, they hit it off. Ari learns important lessons about love and honesty from Dante, and his incremental release of his anger feels so, so significant. Also, I love reading books where the parents aren’t just Charlie Brown adult-type characters. Ari and Dante’s parents are just as complicated and just as integral to the story as the boys themselves. This book was so good. That is all I can say before I start crying.

The Best Book that Dismantles the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” idea

The Beginning of Everything- Robyn Schneider

For the record, I hate the phrase “manic pixie dream girl.” I think it’s a way to diminish girls who are feminine, cute, and funny as weak. Being feminine, cute, and funny is cool. So is being feminine, hot, and serious or not as feminine, beautiful, and sarcastic. All variations of women are great. Except murderers. I digress. In this book, Ezra Faulkner (named after Ezra Koenig, GUYS) is in a car accident that renders him unable to play tennis. In turn, his friends abandon him. When he meets Cassidy Thorpe, she helps him to realize important truths about himself. Except he didn’t really need her to realize those things and she has her own issues to deal with. So BOOM, YA fiction trope busted.

The Best other Book by my Favorite Author about Landline Telephones

Landline– Rainbow Rowell

Remember the good old days of landline phones? Despite what old professors think, I have used many such phones in my lifetime (YES, I KNOW WHO THE BEATLES ARE). In Rowell’s most recent book, she tinkers with the idea of a failing marriage in a unique way. No, she doesn’t cheat on her husband. No, she doesn’t leave him to travel to India and do yoga with guys in puka shell necklaces. After her husband Neal takes the kids to his parents for Christmas without her, workaholic TV writer Georgie falls into a slump, staying at her parents’ house in her high school bedroom. One night, her phone rings and it’s Neal. But not Neal. It’s Neal from the past. This premise sounds silly, but again, Rowell wins at depicting complicated, loving relationships without relying on common stereotypes. I could read this every day.

The Best Book about Haiti

An Untamed State- Roxane Gay

Again, to be fair, this was the only book I read about Haiti. Gay’s first novel tells the story of Mirelle, a Haitian-American who is kidnapped when she visits her parents in Haiti. The following weeks are difficult to read and, eventually, devolves into a kind of numbness that mirrors Mirelle’s own numbness. This book was hard to read, but in an important way. Gay makes the bad even worse by pairing it with reflection scenes in which Mirelle’s tenacity, stubbornness, and love are apparent in ways she cannot express during her kidnapping. Phew.

The Best Book about Nigerian Immigrants

Americanah- Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Well, we all know Adiche now because of Beyonce’s sampling of her in “Flawless.” But did you know that she is actually flawless? And she was never even a member of Destiny’s Child. In her book, she follows Lagos teenagers Ifemelu and Obinze as they fall in love and grow up, grow apart, and move around the world. Although Ifemelu moves to America, she never feels quite American or accepted, and she can never escape the memory of Obinze, the man who was supposed to follow her but never made it. I would rank this book up there with Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland in the way it captures the difficulties that immigration and differing ideals can have on a relationship rooted in the same upbringing. Although I’ll never know how Ifemelu feels, I caught a glimpse of her difficulties. As such, I would recommend this to anyone and everyone looking to expand upon their own experiences (which should be everyone, right?).

Xtina’s Favorite Albums of 2014

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Friends, I heard a ridiculous amount of good music this year, from new (to me) artists to some of my old favorites. I had the supreme blessing of seeing both Ryan Adams and Conor Oberst tour for their new albums. Jenny Lewis put out her first incredible album in years, and she really went above and beyond. St. Vincent went full-on weird with incredible results. Jack Antonoff put out a solo album. Sharon Van Etten released the most raw, heartbreaking album ever. And Taylor Swift, that high school drama student, finally made an album that I like. Thank you, TS. I’m so grateful. I heard Pianos Become the Teeth for the first time, and it fused 2005 me with 2014 me in the most pleasant way. Stacy King of Eisley put out her second solo album, and it was even better then the first. Beck put out an album that I heard for the first time while driving into the sunrise deep in the Sandia mountains, and it was a transcendent experience. And finally… Circa Survive. I have followed and loved this band since day one, and they never cease to surprise or impress me. This album was the product of extreme turmoil and strong friendships, and both are evident in the emotional carnage that is Descensus. I love music, and 2014 was a good year for it. 2015 looks especially promising, with releases from Kendrick Lamar and Modest Mouse and probably other great people. Anyway, enjoy. See you dudes later.

14. Taylor Swift- 1989
13. Bleachers- Strange Desire
12. Angel Olsen- Burn Your Fire For No Witness
11. Spoon- They Want My Soul
10. Phox- S/T
9. Jenny Lewis- The Voyager
8. Sharon Van Etten- Are We There
7. Sucre- Young and Free
6. Pianos Become the Teeth- Keep You
5. Beck- Morning Phase
4. Ryan Adams- S/T
3. St. Vincent- S/T
2. Circa Survive- Descensus
1. Conor Oberst- Upside Down Mountain