I’m keeping a list of all the new (released in 2014) albums I listen to this year. I started keeping track to make the process of picking my year-end top 10 easier, but it’s turned into this great motivator — how many can I get to by December 31? It’s shallow to view someone else’s art as an opportunity to drive up a personal statistic, but I’d guess (this is the first time I’ve kept track like this, so I can’t be sure) that I’ve already surpassed the number of new albums I listened to last year, so this whole list-keeping thing can’t be all bad.
My biggest ally in this effort has been NPR’s First Listen series. A fresh handful of albums becomes available for streaming each Sunday night/Monday morning, which tends to make the transition out of the weekend a little more pleasant. And NPR’s been on a roll — First Aid Kit, Hamilton Leithauser, Conor Oberst, Sylvan Esso, Sturgill Simpson… it’s been a gold mine lately. It’s grown into a vital wellspring, and the fact that I’ve never made it all the way through a week’s offerings gives it a bottomless feel (as does the stylistic diversity).
I was excited to see that NPR posted PHOX’s self-titled debut this week. I heard a little about the band during a recent episode of Sound Opinions, but not much, and I dove into the First Listen without reading the accompanying write-up, which makes what happened next so remarkable.