I’m not going to come out and pick the records of 2016 that I most admired. When listening to music what good is “admiration”? I admire lots of records that don’t inspire me to toss them on the record player. What good is an intellectual exercise in choosing music that appeals strictly to your objective, rational thought? No. I’ve never been here to tell you which records you *should* listen to. I’m going to tell you the records that lived on my turntable and in my CD player — the ones I played ad infinitum, the ones I played without conscious requiring a conscious decision-making process.
And as usual, I wouldn’t want to disappoint with a litany of selections cribbed from Pitchfork or NPR or god forbid Rolling Stone or SPIN. I will change the channel faster than you can say Car Seat Headrest. I didn’t toss on Solange or Beyonce when I needed a groove. I found both of those records to be pretty much just sorta overrated. And I was unable to really connect with David Bowie’s final album beyond a couple of gutpunch songs. Leonard Cohen’s climbing my favorites but I just haven’t spent enough time with it. I know. I know. Heresy. But it doesn’t just get a bye because it’s Leonard Cohen’s last record either.
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.
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.