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30Hz Top 100 Songs of 2015: Part 2

50. “The Hardest Way” – Bop English

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.

By jdp

Pittsburgh-based freelance writer, movie watcher and vinyl crate digger. I've interviewed Tom Hanks and James Bond and it was all downhill from there.

30Hz Top 100 Songs of 2015: Part 2

by jdp time to read: 14 min