Let me start by saying that I did not select Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly as my favorite record of 2015. So this list at least has some novelty going for it. I read as many as five different lists from major music publications with Kendrick Lamar foisted up as the best tent-pole record of the last year. Hey, I liked the record as much as the next guy… okay, maybe not quite as much as the next guy since it’s not even on this list. Let’s just say I liked it fine, but it didn’t hold my attention the way that these 25 records did. It wasn’t ever played on repeat. My kids don’t subconsciously know the lyrics to “King Kunta,” (I’m awaiting my Father of the Year award. Please don’t take the “Baby Got Back” situation into account.) and I don’t own it on vinyl. That’s maybe the true test these days. Did I like the record enough to pick it up on vinyl? I’d wager that almost all of these records wound up in my vinyl stacks.
Also, my apologies for the lateness of this list. You probably don’t care about 2015 anymore and that’s gravy. But in my Killer Jams list I promised a subsequent Best Albums list. I don’t break promises. No, that’s not true either. I occasionally forget about promises, but I do not intentionally break them. Forgetting and willingly refusing are two completely different forms of betrayal.
30 Hz 25 Best Albums of 2015
…and yes I still call them “albums.”
Adele, Alabama Shakes, All Dogs, Amason, Beach House, De Lux, The Decemberists, Father John Misty, Floating Points, Joanna Newsom, Lower Dens, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Ratatat, Sleater-Kinney, Wolf Alice.
25. Wilco – Star Wars
And on the seventh day, Wilco created Star Wars, the record nobody f’ing new about. One day it just appeared, a fluffy white cat on the cover, apropos absolutely nothing. I thought I was being pranked, quite honestly. I didn’t take it seriously at first. Then slowly the album opened up. I just kept coming back, uncovering new moments of that rough and irascible Wilco beauty.
Welcome, Backstage Blogathonners! And a special thanks to our hosts Movies Silently and Sister Celluloid. This is my tardy entry that was written and stored away in December, waiting for the blogothon dates to arrive… and yada yada yada… I completely forgot to post the thing. Better early and late at the same time than never.
Backstage at A Night at the Opera
Research has proven that the Marx Brothers have turned more people into classic movie fans than any other act in show business. There are pie charts and Venn diagrams to back this theory. It’s fact. Incontrovertible. Contained on certified documents stored in the vaults of the First National Bank of Freedonia.
I couldn’t have been more than six or seven when my parents first showed me a Marx Brothers movie – Animal Crackers. The result? A lifelong love affair with classic cinema. Well, I attribute that to the Marx Brothers and a whole bunch of Universal horror flicks I devoured one special Halloween. Special props to The Invisible Man.
Get lost, guy. This isn’t about you.
At such a tender, innocent age, I couldn’t fully grasp Groucho’s wordplay or keep up with Chico as he sparred, in staccato fits and spurts. No matter how much I consciously understood, the Marx Brothers enchanted me through physical comedy and dialogue with the rhythm and unpredictability of a great jazz improvisation. Though I eventually grew to understand the finer linguistic machinations of Groucho’s acerbic wit, the brothers Marx were always immediately accessible. I’m embarrassed to admit, however, that it would be years before I realized Groucho’s mustache was actually *gasp* painted on. I was slow on the take there.
Movie awards season just kinda gets me down. A bunch of films created to win awards win awards. A bunch of actors that took roles with the purpose of winning awards win awards. Sometimes a movie stumbles into fame and fortune — although most likely that fame is fleeing and that fortune is minimal. We all still talk about The Artist constantly, right? (For the record, I do really like The Artist.)
Sometimes I care, personally, about the outcome of the Oscars or Golden Globes. Sometimes. For example, I cared last year when I wanted Michael Keaton to win all the awards in the history of awards. Call it nostalgia. Call it misplaced energy. I still have VHS tapes containing Touch and Go and The Squeeze, dubbed from VHS rentals. (In case you’re not keeping track of your largely forgotten 80’s movies, those are both Michael Keaton films.) Remember when you could actually exhaust the tape’s will to live? It was a badge of honor. I wore out my first VHS copy of Batman (1989) and wear that invisible badge with pride. More pride than any of my legitimized Cub Scout badges. Like the one that I earned in part for holding a glass of water at arm’s length for a certain amount of time or balancing on one foot. Lunacy. Pure, sash- and patch-clouded lunacy.
But I digress.
Nowadays, the biggest kick I get from Oscar season is winning my own Oscar pick ’em pool… which once had about 30 people involved… and now is just my wife and I betting who scoops litter boxes for a month. Once upon a time I sought out the Oscar nominated films and watched just about every one. This was also a time during which I was employed, at least partially, by my willingness and ability to write about such things. Times have changed. I’ve seen a few. I’ve missed a bunch. I spend more time watching older movies and random-ass spy movies I find on YouTube than I do frequenting theaters to watch this year’s Oscar bait. Not because I don’t want to go to the theater — it’s one of my absolute favorite things to do in this world — but because these movies don’t necessarily interest me much anymore. The pandering for awards, the pandering for press about receiving awards, the press pandering about these movies for readership. It’s a vicious, lugubrious cycle of self-gratification. Even the battle cries about “snubs” and “inequity” in the nominations have become prosaic. I can’t even tell anymore when I’m actually supposed to dust off my pitchfork or when it’s just a drill.
Back to points. I watched roughly 200 movies in 2015. Only about 20 of those were in the theater. Most of them were first time viewings. Instead of contributing to the vicious cycle of criticizing the Academy Awards, I’m going to dish out some of my own nominations. My field of contestants? All of the movies I viewed for the first time, from 1903 through 2015, are in the running. The process is arbitrary, subject to my increasingly eccentric tastes and, best of all, completely unpredictable. Whatever strikes me as memorable, meaningful, poignant… the criteria is simple: Entertain me! Thrill me! Make it all about me.
Right. Let’s get this started. I don’t have the cash to pay an actress to read a teleprompter with video screens in the background, so here’s Myrna Loy in a bathtub instead. (So I borrowed the bit from The Big Short. Sue me.)
White Denim frontman, James Petralli, goes solo, and quite frankly, should remain solo. “The Hardest Way” is better than anything produced by White Denim. Soulful and layered. The last 30 seconds of decadent, tinkly piano rock your world. I wish I’d had more time with this record before judgment day.
49. “Breaker” – Deerhunter
I couldn’t decide whether this song was Top 20 or off the charts entirely. And then it was a different Deerhunter song. And then I told myself to stop being insane. I replaced “Breaker,” slapped it right in the middle and called it a draw. Serenity now. Bradford Cox’s vocals on “Breaker” are as fluid and succulent as they’ve ever been. Yes. “Succulent” is definitely the word I wanted there.
48. “Rien à faire” – Marie-Pierre Arthur
In keeping with the Francophilian nature of this 2015 countdown, 30Hz went full Québécois with this pick. This Canadian pop singer reminds heartily of Feist. Her music blends pop-vocals, retro-orchestration with sweet, saccharine hooks. In French!
47. “Sister of Pearl” – Baio
Vampire Weekend’s bassist released a curious, schizophrenic record full of genre indecision in 2015. “Sister of Pearl” feels like Vampire, and the dilly-dilly-dilly-dee-doo guitar on this track contracted at least a couple of minor but readily curable diseases because it was so damn catchy.
46. “Button Up” – Sheer Mag
Binford Tools presented this punky, garage rock band. (Because Binford Tools presented the fictional TV show “Tool Time” with Tim “the Toolman” Taylor, and Tim “the Toolman” Taylor always wanted more power. Which is probably what Sheer Mag said whenever they powered up their amps. In their garage, which was probably full of tools. And hopefully a poster of Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
45. “Bad Blood” – Ryan Adams (Taylor Swift cover)
Ryan Adams’ cover album of Taylor Swifts 1989 shook my world for a couple of reasons.
1. I was forced to consider whether I actually liked Taylor Swift.
2. Adams poured himself into crafting Ryan Adams songs out of another artist’s songwriting — an artist who most likely doesn’t gel with the tastes of most Ryan Adams fans.
I chose to champion “Bad Blood” because I disliked Tay-Tay’s chart-topper and found this down-tempo transformation to be pure magic, like Santa Clause magic for indie-music geeks.
44. “Bros” – Wolf Alice
You might not know the band or the name of the song, but surely, most probably, you’ve logged Ellie Roswell’s sublime indie-pop vocals as a highlight of 2015.
43. “I’m Stupid (But I Love You)” – Okay Kaya
Expect massive things from this largely unknown UK singer-songwriter, and by massive I mean someone somewhere will likely recognize her at a coffee shop. Not that she’s not supremely talented (because she’s a huge talent), just that the ceiling for UK singer-songwriter omnipresence is rather low. I stumbled across her Soundcloud page earlier this year. Her flinty, falsetto-lite vocals unearth emotions. Stuff you wanted dead and buried. But there they are, back in your life, because feelings, man.
42a. “Gibraltar” – Beirut
42b. “No No No” – Beirut
The Siamese twins of the countdown. The first two tracks on Beirut’s No No No, Zach Condon’s first record since 2011’s The Rip Tide, feel as inseparable as peanut butter and jelly or Statler and Waldorf. I could not pick one without the other. Even if the album could be considered a lesser overall production, Condon’s sound is an warm blanket, an afghan woven of strings, horns and velvety vocals.
41. “Between Me and You” – Brandon Flowers
As the frontman for the Killers, Flowers has specialized in anthemic fist-pumping ditties with sing-along choruses. As a solo artist, he’s more milk chocolate-gooey with a chewy caramel center. Flowers’ debut, Flamingos, churned out a collection of tracks of variable utility, watered-down, desperately wanting to be loved. His latest, The Desired Effect, succeeds in trying less hard. It succeeds because he strips away the pretense. This is a record that plays 80’s influences like they’re merely buttons on a soundboard. The Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beat and Springsteen on speed dial. His lyrics are often comically banal, but the songs are catchy. Put simply, Flowers is a pop star. This is pop music. Don’t take it too seriously.
40. “Essence” – Jade TV
I don’t know a goddamn thing about this band. I Shazamed them during blog radio on Sirius XMU one afternoon. Now’s as good of a time as any to figure out what makes this jangle-pop band that out jangled DIIV tick.
*Google search for Jade TV*
Jade TV is James Allen. He’s from Grand Rapids, Michigan. His Bandcamp page says he “has a flair for navel-gazing jangle-pop.” His Facebook page says Shoegazer Alive 9 proclaimed Parallel Moments to be a Top 20 Dreampop Album of 2015 (#9!).
Thank you for joining me for Google Searching with 30Hz.
39. “Age of Transparency” – Autre Ne Veut
Four members of a jazz ensemble stumble out of a long day of rehearsals. They’re all like “Let’s go get two-for-one margaritas.” Well, it just so happens that the bartender at Tito Loco’s has a pleasant, welcoming voice that beckon drunks into the abyss. After four rounds of ‘ritas, the musicans took their instruments outside and began busking. At 2am, the bartender came out and joined them. To this day, the cello player claims her beatboxing (they were sadly without a drummer for a few key original compositions) to be “the fruit of the gods.” Some of this is true. Some of it is only true in their memories.
38. “Beneath the Brine” – The Family Crest
This is called “orchestral indie-rock.” I’d not heard of that micro-genre until now. I’ll add that to my list of nonsense music terms. But in a way, the nomenclature makes sense. Their wiki page claims that the band is made up of 7 core members with hundreds of additional performers for performances and recordings. You know, like an orchestra. The brainchild of frontman Liam McCormick, The Family Crest came together as a result of public flyers, Craigslist posts and friends of friends of friends. The Family Crest scoffs at you Broken Social Scene. They scoff.
37. “Mystery” – Boxed In
Boxed In aims to fill the void of piano-laden indie-pop left by the disappearance of the band Keane. If you don’t remember the band Keane, you might not have a piano-laden indie-pop void that needs to be filled. The band balances the piano nicely with driving backbeats and catchy hooks. They’re not breaking new ground, but oftentimes the ground doesn’t need to be razed — it just needs some new landscaping. Like a nice shrubbery.
36. “Ship to Wreck” – Florence + the Machine
So you know Florence + the Machine. Not much new to say here. So here’s a story I read on The Guardian about Florence Welch. She once drank so many martinis with Kanye West and Lykke Li that she passed out in the Bowery Hotel in New York City and yada yada yada she woke up with a chipped tooth and the hotel room on fire. Rock is not dead, it’s just got flaming red hair and responds to the name Flo.
35. “Greyhound” – Kississippi
It was only a matter of time before a band took Mississippi and swapped in the ‘K.’ I suppose we can also look forward to the hip-hop variation/Pharcyde collaboration “YourMamassissippi” in the (hopefully) near future. All certain prophecies and unfortunate band nomenclature aside, the band Kississippi released a 6-song EP in November that deserves your ears. Buy it here. This is the sound of your primal, subtextual sadness. This is your id’s schadenfreude-filled collect call regarding the damaged state of your ego.
34. “To Die in L.A.” – Lower Dens
The song that would have been a Michael Mann or a William Friedkin movie from the 1980’s if it’d had more neon and rolled jacket sleeves and maybe starred William L. Petersen. Maybe less William Friedkin because he’s made some stinkers. You can’t go wrong with Michael Mann… and you can’t go wrong with the Lower Dens.
33. “Space Song” – Beach House
In 2015, Beach House dropped 17 records, comprised 47% of all XMU airtime and rescued 22 puppies from shelters. Their best moment, however, was this dreamy ditty with recursive bleeps and bloops and swaths of melancholy synth.
32. “Empty Threat” – CHVRCHES
The best CHRVHES song you don’t know. (I’ll give you a hint: it’s track #7 and happens just after the one where the dude sings.) This is the CHVRCHES song that incites fist pumps and impromptu sing-a-longs. The deconstruction followed by a rise to denouement at the 2:45 mark is like “the move” in Seinfeld. Other CHVRCHES songs attempt “the move” and “the move” is still good, but it eventually gets back to “Empty Threat” that they stole “the move” and it’s all quite a fracas. You could lose a good car mechanic over “the move.”
31. “Should Have Known Better” – Sufjan Stevens
Signing about nostalgia, missed opportunity and general sad things through a hangover whisper backed by a bit of acoustic guitar plucking, but not too loud because the other patrons at the Waffle House don’t want to hear all Sufjan’s problems, because they’re, like, eating waffles. It’s just so Sufjan to disrupt the Waffle House stasis.
30. “Loud Places” – Jamie xx (feat. Romy)
People had multiple orgasms over this Jamie xx record. I faked a couple just to be polite. The exception: this track featuring Jamie xx’s The xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft. If you need a clarification about all the x’s, Jamie xx is the solo/stage name for producer/DJ Jamie Smith. Jamie xx works with Romy in the band The xx. They make really good music together.
29. “Don’t Wanna Fight” – Alabama Shakes
From xx synthetics to authentic roots/blues rock. It’s Curtis Mayfield-inspired funk/gospel with vocals by a female James Brown (the bombastic vocalist Brittney Howard). The star of “Don’t Wanna Fight” is the furious bassline. If you can curate a life where that bassline is the soundtrack to everything you do, you’re doing it right.
28. “Älgen” – Amason
The Swedish supergroup released their debut LP Sky City back in January. This is intersection of Fleetwood Mac and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. For discriminating listeners who like their music familiar, finely crafted and sometimes in Swedish.
27. “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” – Father John Misty
Father John Misty might be the Denis Leary of contemporary indie-folk. He clubs you upside the head with heavy-handed storytelling and a sock full of modern malaise and then tells you to fuck off, but you still like him because he seems like such a swell guy… other than the assault and the swearing.
26. “Water Under the Bridge” – Adele
A song you don’t know from a little-known UK crooner you probably don’t know. I mean, she’s not even on Spotify.
25. “Stonefist” – HEALTH
The opening of “Stonefist” is what you hear when you stick your finger in a light socket. Fun fact: This killer electro-thumper was the first track slotted into my “Finals” list.
24. “Air” – Waxahatchee
I feel like making some arbitrary, completely subjective assumptions that I can’t possibly assume without sounding like a bit of a gobshite. (Speaking of gobshite I once had the lead singer for Frightened Rabbit explain to me the differences between gob, shite, and gobshite. That was a brilliant conversation.) Anyway, now for the arbitrary and completely subjective assumption. Waxahatchee is one of the Top 7 mid-minor indie bands of which you’ve never heard. If you’ve heard of Waxahatchee, I’m certain you’ll agree. (Did you follow that? Did you see what I did there? Since this is a one-sided conversation I can’t tell if you’re keeping up.)
23. ” Lousy Connection” – Ezra Furman
Ezra Furman looks like a 14-year old that one day stumbled out of bed and decided to make a sweet-ass record based on the notion that retro is effin cool, man. The truth is that Ezra Furman is 29. He’s claims to be “gender fluid.” Without going into the logistical particulars about that detail, let’s just assume that it means he’s got a great ear for appropriating classic 1950’s/60’s hooks into modern soundscapes.
22. “Sea Saw” – Swami John Reis and the Blind Shake
Surf guitar experienced a micro-renaissance in 2015. Swami John Reis and the Blind Shake have conjured a shredding collection of surf guitar riffs that make certain people say “This sounds like that song from Pulp Fiction.” Not people I know, surely. The people I know are probably trying to make surf guitar sounds with their mouth. I hereby proclaim this phenomenon to be the new beatboxing.
21. “Margarita” – Mas Ysa
Pronounced MAAS ee-sa. This is the stage name for Thomas Arsenault, a Canadian musician, composer and visual artist. “Margarita” is Thomas mourning the death of his mother. He’s asking questions about the meaning of it all. He searching for the spiritual reasons behind her early passing. But ultimately this melancholy dirge uncovers hope and uncertain serenity. Beautiful, tragic, soaring and simply great pop music.
20. “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” – Natalie Prass
Prass’ perfectly fragile, retro-styled vocals are only undermined by the confidence with which she blends 60’s era pop music with folk and country. The former Jenny Lewis bandmember struck out on her own in 2015 and released her self-titled debut record with this being the Killer Jam to remember.
19. “Let It Happen” – Tame Impala
I bumbed “Let It Happen” up a couple of notches on the countdown for two reasons. First, the record, overall, was frickin’ fantastic and you could easily justify the place of 5 or 6 different tracks on a Top 100 2015 Countdown. Second, I slept on the last Tame Impala record. I became obsessed with 2012’s Lonerism sometime in 2013 and the track “Elephant” probably would have been a Top 10 Killer Jam. So it goes. Cheers, Tame Impala. Also, my bad.
18. “Feel You” – Julia Holter
Julia Holter’s ode to random, arbitrary, public butt groping. It’s not, of course, but when I lived in Cambridge, MA there were frequent reports about a man who went around grabbing women’s butts. Harvard so concerned itself with reports of “the Groper” that you’d have thought they had a Defcon alert system dedicated just to his serial groping. I mean it’s not funny, the groping of innocent college girls, but the reports themselves tried so hard to avoid certain words, the thesaurical dance around the topic became hilarious. Maybe you had to be in the thick of it, on the hard-ass streets of Cambridge, Mass, to understand the humor. But anyway…. back to the countdown.
17. “King Kunta” – Kendrick Lamar
THIS. This is the song for which I’ve been waiting from Kendrick Lamar. I just wish the rest of the record lived up to this brilliant bit of rap bravado and lyrical swagger.
16. “S.O.B.” – Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
I’m wondering how long I have before my daughters start actually listening closely to the lyrics of songs like, say, “S.O.B.” N.R. & the N. S. released a perfectly listenable, roots rock record that goes down easy, like a perfectly balanced Mint Julep.
15. “Fade Away” – Susanne Sundfør
The sleeper synth-pop vocalist of 2015. In her home of Norway, Sundfør is a massive superstar, a big f’ing deal. It’s easy to see why. Sweeping electronic orchestrations, organs, Abba-esque pop hooks and vocal precision. It’s disco. It’s chilly electro-pop. It’s artful sonic craftsmanship with a timeless bassline.
14. “Open Your Eyes” – School of Seven Bells
After the 2013 passing of founding member Benjamin Curtis (due to the rare T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma), I thought we’d heard the last of School of Seven Bells. The band formed as a trio with Curtis and twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza. Along the way Claudia left the group, and in 2014 School of Seven Bells was just Alejandra Deheza. It turns out there’s still more left to be told. Before Curtis’s death, the band had nearly completed a full length LP. That record, to be released in February 2016 is called SVIIB. If you’ve followed the band through their career, there’s no way “Open Your Eyes” won’t choke you up a bit. Zero percent chance.
13. “Witness” – Makthaverskan
I don’t know one other song by this band. I’m not even sure Makthaverskan really exists. And what kind of name is Makthaverskan anyway? Can they ever spell that the same way twice? Am I even spelling it correctly? Did they even make a whole record? Why didn’t I listen to anything else they recorded? Did I make this song up? Why do I have it in my “Hits List”? Someone had to have recorded it. It’s not like it’s the Gorillaz with cartoons and stuff. OMG. Did I do it? Did I record this track while on a bender? Why didn’t anyone tell me was talented in the art of shoegaze? I’m really f’ing good, you guys!
12. “begin again” – Purity Ring
I asked @bsidesnarrative to contribute a guest blurb because I’m all blurbed out:
“Chill Canadian electro-pop. One half CHVRCHES. One half Heart. One half W.B. Yeats.”
11. “Annie” – Neon Indian
In a review I wrote for this Neon Indian record for Spill Magazine, I questioned whether “Annie” was the best song on the record or just the introductory hit of cocaine to get you coming back for the deeper cuts. To answer my own question, I kept coming back for the deeper cuts but “Annie” is still the best song on the record.
10. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
I did a 180 on this band (well, it’s really just one guy, but whatever) in 2015. I completely dismissed their first records, but fell madly, deeply, truly in love with Multi-Love. This song is a sly daytime disco groove that guarantees a chair dance out of me. When people praise Jeebus for that Tame Impala record (also great), I ask if they’ve also given Unknown Mortal Orchestra due consideration. (Have you?)
9. “Still” – The Japanese Hours
This is the sound of perfection. It’s slotted at #9 because it’s so goddamn perfect I hate it just a little bit.
8. “Depreston” – Courtney Barnett
It should be noted that I am not, per say, a huge fan of Courtney Barnett. I find her influences too immediately present. “Depreston” is the first track from Barnett that truly feels like her own. Like she’s finally stepped out from behind Dylan and Liz Phair and Pavement and Lou Reed to share a sweetly melancholy musical journey through her own modern malaise.
7. “Infamous” – Basia Bulat
I might be Basia Bulat’s biggest fan. To me she’s like Canadian Taylor Swift. I’d be all gushy fanboy if I met her, stumbling over sequences of words that only make sense after three martinis and a plate of nachos. Basia Bulat released one song in 2015. Here it is!
6. “4th and Roebling” – The Districts
This little band from a tiny town between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA creates honest rock & roll hooks. They occupy a slightly more sober bar-band territory in the vein of the Libertines or maybe Phantom Planet. The sonic range of the Districts might be minimal, but “4th and Roebling” scratches a very particular itch. Even the smallest of itches deserves a scratch.
5. “Run Away With Me” – Carly Rae Jepsen
In early 2016, Carly Rae Jepsen’s playing a rather small venue here in Pittsburgh in 2016 that’s normally reserved for small- to mid-level acts. I’ve taken a poll and it seems that there’s no way I can go to this show (most likely by myself) and not be “the creepy old guy.” Cue sad 30Hz.
4. “Pray For Rain” – Pure Bathing Culture
The label “dream pop” feels marginalizing, like somehow “dream pop” can’t be profound enough to be both poppy and thematically dour. I read a review for Pure Bathing Culture’s sophomore album Pray For Rain that likens the band to the happy/sad drama masks. I quite like this notion. I’m sorry I didn’t think of it myself.
3. “Flesh Without Blood” – Grimes
I have nothing new to say about Grimes that hasn’t been said by the dozens, hundreds, beeeelllions of other music writers/bloggers/bl-ggers detailing how Claire Elise Boucher’s latest array of songs rocked their respective worlds. I’ll just say what is true about most great music. Grimes brings me back to the moment, the individual seconds of a song. I’m pulled into the layering of electronic soundscapes and beats. Her perfectly imperfect vocals of limited range but infinite utility. The way she uses repetition and subtle variances on that repetition as the song progresses. She’s just bloody brilliant.
2. “Downtown” – Magical Cloudz
This is the sound of our collective disillusionment. Our struggles to be better than ourselves. Our worries that our best is never enough.
And if suddenly I die / I hope they will say / That he was obsessed and it was okay
1. “Leave a Trace” – CHVRCHES
Surprise! I bet you didn’t think I’d put a CHVRCHES song at #1! I hope nobody Spoiled it for you on Twitter. Like maybe me when I sent out my daily CHVRCHES tweet. I wanted to be more creative here. I want to pull some revelatory track out from my hat of obscure ditties to shock and amaze you, reader. But I’d be a fargin’ liar if I said I listened to any song more than “Leave a Trace” or any record more than CHVRCHES Every Open Eye.
Friends don’t let friends create year end “Best of” music lists. It’s not good for your health. It’s an endeavor riddled with self doubt and soul searching that no one should be forced to endure. Even upon completion, the victory is Pyrrhic. You finish just to be done. You finish so you can stop scanning your list of 1800+ songs in your 2015 Smart Playlist. You finish so you can stop sifting through the “To Listen” playlist on Spotify. You finish so you can stop moving that Deerhunter song all over the rankings. There’s that bit of hackneyed wisdom about knowing when you’re done with a piece of writing — when all you do is remove or replace commas. Well, substitute Deerhunter in for the comma and you’ve got how I decided I needed to walk away from this list. Hit print. Run for the hills.
I will not declare 2015 a banner year for music. 3/4 of the year I spent complaining with fellow year-end lister and writer Michael Smith (@bsidesnarrative) about how 2015 was utter shite. And then the CHVRCHES record came out and I was appeased. The final few months rescued this year from the precipice, like storm clouds parting to reveal a triple rainbow. Cue unbridled squeals of euphoria.
10 Years, man! 10 years!
I freaked out! I made a list of songs. That’s what I do!
Speaking of unbridled squeals of euphoria, this list represents a milestone. This is the 10th consecutive year I’ve compiled a “Best of 20xx” list of songs with Michael Smith. It’s a bit of a benchmark for us. In 2015, I challenged Mike to put together a list of the best songs from 2005 — the catch: he had to fit it all on one CD. Yes, we were still making mixtapes on CD back in 2005, you wee lads. We even sent them to each other IN THE MAIL!
The following list of 100-ish songs best showcases the music that moved me in 2015. The artists and songs that chose me in 2015. Am I going to pretend that I’ve composed a list of the “best” songs produced in all of music in 2015? Of course not. I’ve listened to a lot of music, but there’s just so much out there to discover, so much to absorb. “Best” doesn’t always mean most enjoyable. I’ve picked a subjective list of tracks that resonated at the frequency of 30Hz. I hope you discover some new artists on this list that strike a chord at your respective receptive frequency as well.
Spotify listified (minus a few artists not on Spotify):
“Wildfire” – Mynabirds
“Waitress” – Hop Along
“Powerful Man” – Hop Along
“Octahate” – Ryn Weaver
“Here” – Alessia Cara
“Fuck the Government, I Love You” – Ariel Sharratt and Mathias Kom
“Affairs” – Skylar Spence
“Boys Life” – Small Black
“4 Degrees” – ANOHNI
“Bamboo” – Hinds
“Deja Vu” – Giorgio Moroder (feat. Sia)
“Pylon” – Lakker
“Shame” – Young Fathers
“Wherever Is Your Heart” – Brandi Carlile
Commence the Top 100 Songs of 2015! I mean, 101.
101. “Ripe 4 Luv” – Young Guv
This song is almost too happy. I’m like, hey song, let’s have a little moderation with the happy. And then I realize the lyrics are actually a slice of downer behind the peppy little synths and snappy beat. And I’m like WHOA, SHUT UP when I remember that this this funky power pop outfit is the brainchild of Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook.
100. “Feel the Lightning” – Dan Deacon
Dan Deacon is one of those artists that just hangs out on the periphery of my musical frame of reference. I always download his stuff and I like it but I never f’ing love it as much as everyone else. He’s the dude that hangs out with a bunch of people that are almost my friends and I nod to him at parties even though I can’t remember his name. In 2015 he finally said something interesting and I was like, “Dan Deacon, that’s very interesting. Tell more about that.”
99.”Touch” (Canvas Remix) – Shura
Canvas reduced Shura’s original silky, sexiful ballad to its component parts and clipped the vocals into jittery starts and stops, emphasizing the bass and airy synth. Some days I prefer the original. Today I prefer the remix. Both are good. Yes. Let’s just have both.
98. “Them Changes” – Thundercat
Due to a guest spot on Kendrick Lamar’s record, Thundercat is suddenly everybody’s favorite supporting player, but I’m pretty convinced everyone just has the retro-toon warm and fuzzies for Lion-O. Thundercat, bassist/singer/composer, produced this epic, funky 16-minute “mini-album” called The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam (“EP” is just soooo 2013.). Plus, the video features Thundercat dressing as a piano playing samurai. You’ll have to perform harakiri to get the bassline out of your skull.
97. “Feeling OK” – Best Coast
I’ll forgive you if you forgot that this Best Coast record came out in 2015. Hell, I forgot about it until five minutes ago. But we’re okay. It’s okay. My final list wouldn’t be complete without this sing-songy ode to false fronts and put-on placidity.
96. “Cat Food” – Aesop Rock
Remember when Drake and Lil Wayne were in some stupid tickle fight about who was the better rapper? Pfffft. That’s like two cotton balls arguing over being the sharpest tool in the shed. Fine. Come up with your own analogy if you don’t like mine. I’ve got 96 more of these to write.
95. “Today” – Jam City
Jam City (a electronic DJ/producer named Jack Latham) released a handful of finely crafted low-key electro-jams in 2015. You probably haven’t heard of Jam City until just now. So, you’re welcome. Don’t say I didn’t give you anything this holiday season.
94. “That Kind of Girl” – All Dogs
Not punk, per say. Just really loud pop music from this Columbus, Ohio quartet.
93. “Pass On Through” – Gun Outfit
L.A.’s Gun Outfit has been dubbed Sonic Youth’s folky doppelganger. To me they sound like a method-acting bad (method playing?) that’s spent the last week in a saloon on the set of a John Ford-esque Western directed by Noah Baumbach. Tie all those connections together and you win a prize.
92. “Saint Claude” – Christine and the Queens
French pop diva Christine could have had any one of three songs in this particular slot. Pick one of “Tilted,” “iT,” or “Saint Claude.” Consider #92 on my countdown a Christine and the Queens Choose Your Own Adventure Special. “Saint Claude” won the day probably because the lyrics are in French and the chorus is in English. Eccentric stylistic choices like that French tickle my fancy.
91. “Drive Past My House” – Summer Camp
The best pop music never even sniffs the radio. UK’s Summer Camp blends in with the dozen of other indie-pop bands that draw heavily on the 1980’s for inspiration. Elizabeth Sankey’s voice interplays nicely with the synths on this track, elevating it above the kitschy kindle incinerated to create Summer Camp’s laid-back rager about a girl that’s had it up to here with all this stuff.
90. “Electric Indigo” – The Paper Kites
Sometimes you hear a band and know instantly that it’s gonna be your jam. A bit of jangle-pop guitars, whispy and wanting vocals, dabble of electronic effects, some more jangly guitars.
89. “Fantasize the Scene” – Circuit Des Yeux
Truth time. I don’t know how to pronounce this artist’s stage name. Her real name is Haley Fohr. She’s from Chicago. She sings like how I’d imagine a Viking demi-god. Her music is entrancing, meditative and defies categorization. It’s laid-back… but urgent and demanding. If you honestly give Haley Fohr your ear, In Plain Speech will melt you.
88. “Vortex” – John Carpenter
The piano provides a glimmer of hope in a tragic soundscape of blissful, haunting synth and droning guitar. It’s vintage scoring from J.C. without the movie to go with it, but I’m certain that that nonexistent movie is amazing.
87. “If I Were You” – Holy Holy
I don’t know where I first heard the Aussie duo Holy Holy. I’m going to attribute this one to Twatter-quaintance @boinzy. By the time I set about compiling my “Final” list of tracks for 2015, I’d accumulated 4 different tracks from Holy Holy’s When the Storms Would Come. Let’s put this number in perspective: I had more Holy Holy songs in my preliminary list of 200+ than CHVRCHES songs. They’re like Band of Horses playing Neil Young covers.
86. “Every Little Bit Counts” – !!!
The !!! (or Chk Chk Chk) album avoided my ears until this past week. There’s a chance this song could have been Top 20 if it had wormed its way into my brain earlier. See how arbitrary this list thing is? “Every Little Bit Counts” isn’t the most innovative divergence from !!!’s regular output. BUT IT IS F’ING CATCHY AS SHIT. In case you missed it, I used capital letters for emphasis there because exclamation points seemed redundant.
85. “Happyness” – Molly Nilsson
The mysterious Swedish-born electronic artist this year dropped Zenith, a remarkable full-length LP. I was lucky enough to discovered her music through the excellent Gorilla vs. Bear music blog. She sings in a frequency normally reserved for drunken sailors.
84. “Reign” – Prinzhorn Dance School
Minimalist. Post-punk. The End.
83. “Cranekiss” – Tamaryn
I Shazamed this track three different times. I suppose it’s a miracle I remembered to include it on the list. Cocteau Twins by way of 1990’s-era shoegaze.
82. “Endlessly” – Guster
@bsidesnarrative says that Guster is my Neutral Milk Hotel. If that means that everything they do is worth mentioning and I will always and forever *heart* Guster… then yes, they are my Neutral Milk Hotel. Just simple, lovely, and underappreciated music. They’ve lost some of their bongos along the way to being proper adults, though, and that’s a shame.
81. “Run for Your Life” – Big Grams
Big Boi jumps in and whips this track into a frenzy. I’m dodging bullets but I’m sending back these missiles. Phantogram’s wooden block backbeat and Sarah Barthel’s vocals provide drastic counterpoint to Big Boi’s ballzy bragaliciousness.
80. “IF” – Paul De Jong
The co-founder and cellist for The Books explores the space-time continuum atop his string orchestration and acoustic dalliance. Beautiful and rambling, “IF” is at once experimental easy listening and challenging post-rock for the ears of the ne’er do well.
79. “Where You At” – The Bohicas
Reminds of the last British guitar-driven rock explosion, circa 2006. Bits of the Strokes and the Kooks and plenty of other “the” bands featuring people that hopefully say “blimey” quite a bit. 2 minutes and 49 seconds of shredding with a driving, incessant beat. Bob’s your uncle.
78. “Anything” – TOPS
A beautiful little Chromatics-like pop ditty with a synth-line to die for. TOPS released two songs in 2015 and both are worthy of year-end listing. Let’s try this one more time with a toy piano, eh? Just a thought. I do love me some sincere toy piano tinkling.
77. “Mr. Rebel” – Guantanamo Baywatch
The great mind-meld between Buddy Holly and Dick Dale that we’ve all been dying to hear.
76. “Hummed Low” – Odessa
Bouncing rubber ball. Rhythmic, lusty vocals with a tribal cadence. Ethereal, minimal, soulful.
75. “I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)” – The Dead Weather
Placed this Dead Weather song here because I love the transition from “Hummed Low” to “I Feel Love.” The primal, cathartic explosion after the outro of the Odessa song and the blast of Dean Fertita’s Jack White-brand guitar shocks the system with pinprick tinglies.
74. “Call It Off” – Shamir
Shamir exploded onto the indie landscape with the thumpy (but remedial) “On the Regular.” This bouncy dancehall track better uses the artist’s androgynous countertenor. The breadth of Shamir’s music has no true categorization, but I like Lizzie Plaugic’s (of CMT) description best: “a wad of pink silly putty dipped in glitter.”
73. “Ships & Lanterns” – Receivers
The Montreal-based band stormed onto my radar in December courtesy of a post on the excellent Said the Gramophone music blog. Epic vocals. Soundscapes like a cold front enveloping the entire Eastern seaboard.
72. “Come Home Now” – Day Wave
Happy times wall of sound for manic depressives. The jangly, guitar-laden refrain rescues lost souls. Formed in 2015, the band has only released a handful of tracks. Bring on the LP, fellas.
71. “Occupied” – The Radio Dept.
30Hz Killer Jams vet The Radio Dept. returns to the countdown with this challenging dirge that unfolds in four distinct parts over 7-plus minutes. You know what they say about a Radio Dept. songs. If you don’t like the weather, just wait 2 minutes.
70. “Dime Store Cowgirl” – Kacey Musgraves
Obligatory Country music track for 2015. It’s a good thing Kacey Musgraves is out there crafting pop ditties with a twang so I don’t have to look too hard to satisfy my arbitrary Country/Western quota.
69. “Singularity” – New Order
It’s New Order! I love New Order! Earned it’s slot due to the sonic deconstruction at 2:19 followed by the rebuild. Who’s Peter Hook again? (Also, what a twat that Peter Hook is.) Just listen to the bassline here.
68. “Can’t Feel My Face” – The Weeknd
There’s a hefty slice of Michael Jackson embedded in The Weeknd. His King of Popness comes out in full force on “Can’t Feel My Face” before shifting into Prince-mode for the refrain. At first I thought his greatest talent was keeping that Jean-Michel Basquiat hair atop his head, but now I’m a believer.
67. “Lampshades On Fire” – Modest Mouse
“Lampshades” feels familiar, like it’s been around since the dawn of Modest Mouse. The I Ching of Modest Mouse, reminiscent of the sonic breadth of the band and the band’s perpetual rage against the twilight. Or the rage against being pigeonholed. They’re raging against something most of the time, but in the nicest possible way.
66. “Strange Hellos” – Torres
This is what happens when you scorn this woman.
65. “Gray Duck” – Doomtree
Doomtree’s 2015 album All Hands is all up in your bizness from the opening moments. “Grey Duck” is a relentless lyrical assault, and the video features the freakiest looking duck this side of Howard.
64.”Clearest Blue” – CHVRCHES
I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry. There. Now that I’ve gotten those apologies out of the way… here’s the first of three CHVRCHES songs on this countdown. It’s the part when the song stops being a garden-variety amazing CHVRCHES song and goes into synth-bananas overload at 2:14 that makes it a keeper.
63. “Silhouettes (I, LI, LII)” – Floating Points
“Exhale,” a movement in three parts.
62. “La Belle Fleur Sauvage” – Lord Huron
Apparently I’ve got a thing for the French this year. Lord Huron’s not French; they’re an indie folk quartet from Los Angeles by way of Okemos, Michigan. Founding member Ben Schneider did complete his visual arts degree in France, though. “La Belle Fleur Sauvage” recalls the undulating rhythm lines of Johnny Cash, creating a blissful slice of plodding folk-inspired musicianship.
61. “Realiti” – Grimes
There’s a heaviness here that hasn’t manifested in other Grimes soundscapes. The result is a song that feels more like a composite of emotions rather than discretionary beats. As the song builds, you can be forgiven for awaiting a dub-step drop that never arrives. “Realiti” has a steady pulse.
60. “Cream on Chrome” – Ratatat
Ratatat’s earworm boasts nothing deeper than an infectious groove on repeat. And sometimes there’s just nothing wrong with finding your groove and sticking with it for 4 minutes. Most days, I’d kill for groove that lasts more than 4 minutes.
59. “Return to the Moon” – El Vy
Flashes of memory fragments rendered as nonsensical, lyrical gibberish. Childhood malaise seeping into the present consciousness, regurgitation through weary eyes now longing for the simplicity of youth. Plus, Matt Berninger drops an Eat’n Park reference.
58. “You’re So Cool” – Nicole Dollanganger
Nicole Dollanganger looks like a cupie doll that packs heat. Her often ribald lyrics betray something sinister… yet playful beneath the wide, doe-like eyes. “You’re So Cool” is inherently a love song, of sorts. Yet the words betray the violent ID lurking beneath the warm, sonic placidity. She sings about “the skulls of the high school champs you keep in rows above the bed.” Post-apocalyptic Barbie is coming for your ear holes.
57. “Dopamine” – DIIV
DIIV could have played some of their sweet jangly guitars over a broadcast of Let’s Make a Deal and I’d have tossed it no lower than 80 on the countdown.
56. “Hold On” – Papa
Skin deep anthemic indie-pop thumper with a raucous bassline and sing-a-long aspirations.
55. “Coastal Love” – Honne
A beachside jam band. New York ex-pats. A few plastic tubs for drumbs. Someone found a bongo in the weeds. The guy with the sad eyes and Hello Kitty tattoo has the voice of a trashcan Sinatra.
54. “Sedona” – Houndmouth
“Sedona” is the track that fillibustered itself into the Top 100+. Houndmouth’s done better stuff. Houndmouth’s even produced better songs on this record. But here it is, filling the angsty Americana-rock void left by Deer Tick.
53. “Go” – The Chemical Brothers (w/ Q-Tip)
When I was 17 I tossed a penny into a fountain and wished that the Chemical Brothers and Q-Tip would collaborate because it would be omyfuckingawd epic. The backlog in that particular wish-giving fountain might be 20 years long, but my patience has finally paid off.
52. “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around” – Chromatics
Three years ago, the Chromatics were the first band to earn the #1 spot on my Killer Jams and Top Albums countdown. “I Can Never Be Myself” is a tease, a fuzzy, droning synth-pop tease of further greatness. The Chromatics operate on a different spiritual plain than the rest of us. But it’s okay, because they’re here to shepherd us with synthesizers.
51. “The Wolf” – Mumford & Sons
I’ll be that guy. Fine. Straight talk. The Mumford & Sons record isn’t a crime against humanity. It isn’t worthy of your scorn and it certainly isn’t worthy of being a 2015 punchline. But that’s where we’re at. Mumford & Sons achieved unfortunate media omnipresence with their 2nd record, Babel. The indie fans that championed their debut Sigh No More jumped ship because the band became too mainstream or too poppy… or “they just weren’t that good to begin with.” Now, oh boy, the band dared to shift their sonic spectrum. THE MONSTERS! BURN THEM! As a result the mainstreamers said Wilder Mind wasn’t a Mumford & Sons record, and the indie fans still consider the band an untouchable Top 40 commodity. ENOUGH ALREADY! If you can honestly say that this Mumford & Sons record didn’t have a few Killer Jams, that you didn’t find anything to enjoy about it, fine, FINE, I’ll accept your honest plea. Mea culpa. But let’s get a few things straight. Their first record actually was fantastic. Their second record was still quite good, if it fell short of rivaling Sigh No More. And this record is different. It’s not an abomination. Wilder Mind is still a good record. It’s not going to throw the planets out of alignment with it’s pure resplendent brilliance, but it’s still a far cry better than 95% of the shite out there demanding your attention. That said, maybe this is higher than necessary because I’m trying to make a point… or something.
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.