Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 25 Songs of 2015

Well, here come my favorite songs again.

This year was chock full of tunes that really kicked me in the feel-goods. And lots of Beach House. I can't remember the last time I had such a hard time narrowing down what songs I should include. Which is interesting, because from an album perspective this wasn't the most impressive year to me. But individual songs kicked all sorts of azz.

I mentioned Beach House. You'll notice they've got quite a few tunes here. That's what happens when you put out two FANTASTIC albums in a year. Some of you duders may not like when an artist has multiple entries on a list like this, but...I list what I truly loved. So suck it.

That's about all I have to say about it I suppose.

Each song links to a video of it. Dig in.
(Here's the rest if you want: 50-26)

25\\Want to Want Me\\by Jason Derulo
I was actually a little mad at how much I liked this song when I first heard it. How dare Jason Derulo make such a sugary sweet throwback nugget! And when he hits them high notes? It's just too much. I give up.
24\\Ewok\\by Kidkanevil ft. Ocean Wisdom
Kidkanevil came out of nowhere to provide some of my favorite music last year after I found his album in the Tokyo Tower Records. I've been following his moves since then, and was blessed with this rambunctious number. I know nothing about Ocean Wisdom, but his raps over this nasty beat managed to impress in a year full of impressive rap. Plus, Star Wars.

23\\Dear Skorpio Magazine\\by Neon Indian
In an album full of Sega Genesis grooves, this one was surely the most funky. Sneaky sly lyrics, and them shimmery synths make for a helluva good time. I think I'll go play me some Sonic the Hedgehog now.

22\\In the Heat of the Moment\\by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Uncle Noel always seems to hit me where it counts. A prime example of the elder Gallagher's melodic prowess and straight forward goodness, this one just rolls right along like it's existed forever. And his voice has rarely sounded better. Another notch on the man's belt, for sure.

21\\Stonemilker\\by Bjork
It's kind of hard to single out one track on the heart-wrenching Vulnicura. But if any of them deserve props it has to be this soul melting opening track. "Moments of clarity are so rare, I better document this" she sings, and as an introduction it perfectly sets up the story she's about to tell throughout the album, thematically and aesthetically. Those strings, that restrained beat, and that legendary VOICE. It's one of the most beautiful things she's done in a career full of beautiful things.

20\\What Do You Mean\\by Justin Bieber
Back in the day, I was known to enjoy a Bieb tune or two (especially when I thought it was Taylor Swift singing. Oh how things have changed!). Innocent pop, I thought. But nothing could have prepared me for how much I really did enjoy this one when it dropped. Suddenly I heard a little Timberlake in there and for a moment I allowed myself to think, "Is this actually good??" Yes. Yes it is. Very good. The album it came from was even decent, even if it didn't quite match the goodness from this single. Also, anyone else think Mario Cart when those flutes come in? No?

19\\Sleep Sound\\by Jamie xx
Oh how I wish the entirety of In Colour was as flawless as the first few tracks. For some reason it just wasn't so for me. But hot damn do those opening bangers bang. What gets me with this one is the bass. It is lovely hearing it go up and down in some nice headphones. Hard to beat that. Also, this was my New York theme song when I visited over the summer. Just seemed to fit the buzz of the city. Good stuff.

18\\Your Loves Whore\\by Wolf Alice
Nothing said "The 90's" quite like Wolf Alice this year. What a lovely, fuzzy alt-ballad this one is. It grooves along rather smoothly for most of the track, but when it lets loose for the finale and that ending line of "I could only love you more" soars through the air, it's one of the most euphoric moments of the 2015. Gives me goosebumps every time.

17\\Somewhere Tonight\\by Beach House
I'm fairly vocal about my love of Victoria's angelic sighs. But I dare say she has never sounded better than she does in this dreamy waltz. This is easily the best closing track they've done as a group, and certainly the best closer of the year in my book. All albums should strive to end with such perfection.

16\\Fourth of July\\by Sufjan Stevens
There is no shortage of heartbreakers on Carrie & Lowell, but this one certainly goes for the gut more directly than the others. Set up as a conversation between Suf and his mother's ghost, the whole thing is soaked in an eerie sadness. Every line ends with a pleading term of endearment (the best of which is "my little Versailles"), and it's certainly hard not to feel the punch of every repeated "We're all gonna die," especially as the final one signals an abrupt and unsettling end to the song.

15\\Small Poppies\\by Courtney Barnett
That first opening strum had me. And though it goes on for just a second under the 7 minute mark, not a single moment is wasted. The bluesy guitars grow in intensity and Courtney lays her hazy words over the top effortlessly. There's a moment her voice cracks early on as she sings "but I'm suuuuuure it's a bore being you." It's a righteous dig and perfectly flawed. Just like the song.

14\\Boys Latin\\by Panda Bear
There's not much to the lyrics. But it doesn't matter, they're just a vehicle for the melody anyway. Noah Lennox is no stranger to a lush construction of sound. His music is consistently some most sonically rewarding in existence. But "Boys Latin" accents just how vital his voice is to what he does as it bounces back and forth, right to left, and all around your head. One of my favorites in an impressive career.

13\\Rough Song\\by Beach House
There's a line in which Victoria sings "Shut the door, she'll have no more, another vodka cocktail party" right with the melody of her organ. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I realized she wasn't actually saying "mother f$#@in' cocktail party." Something about a sharp lyrical jab like that from Victoria just seemed perfect. But, thankfully the rest of the song brings an appropriately sharp emotional brevity that lends itself to the line regardless. One of the darker ("rough?") songs of their catalog. And as a result, the best track on a nearly perfect album.

12\\We Are Golden\\by Daniel Johns
Before this year, I never quite imagined I'd ever hear Daniel singing over such a thumping beat. But hearing it makes total sense. It's also fun and refreshing to hear a more straightforward approach to his lyrics. In other words, the fact that Daniel Johns made such a perfect synth-pop dancehall banger like this is simultaneously surprising and not surprising at all. What else could I have expected from one of my favorite artists of all time?

11\\The Less I Know the Better\\by Tame Impala
(Kind of an EXPLICIT video in the link, be warned).
Perfectly capturing the ache of seeing a former lover with someone else and the delusion that one day they'll see the folly of their ways and come crawling back. Anyone who's ever messed with the game of love can relate to it. So the song already has that going for it. But it certainly helps that it's spread over a tasty bass line.

10\\Lean On\\by Major Lazer & DJ Snake ft. MO
I have to give full credit to my wife for this one. I dislike Diplo as a human usually, so I'm not normally keen on caring about anything Major Lazer related. But, when your wife blasts it on her bluetooth speaker on a near daily basis for awhile, it sneaks up on you. Then all it took was hearing it on some huge speakers at an outside event, and I was hooked. Little by little this earworm grew until it breached my top ten. It's a perfect pop nugget, and my favorite mainstream tune of the year.

9\\Waking the Jetstream\\by The Go! Team
Another flawlessly executed pop gem from The Go! Team. Sometimes I wonder where they dig these out. So simple, so old school yet so contemporary. About as timeless as a pop song can be and full of a nostalgia you didn't know existed. Back in 2011 they put out one of my favorite songs of the decade in "Buy Nothing Day," and "Waking the Jetstream" nearly matches that perfection on every level.

8\\Genocide\\by Dr Dre ft. Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius, Candice Pillay
(Sorry, guys, no link. Dre wants you to subscribe to Apple Music.)
Can't remember the last time a hip-hop track scored so high on my year end lists (might have been "Still D.R.E." actually). But the first time I heard this one wasn't too long after a trip to California where my buddy Greg and I went on an evening drive to LA. Dre captured the feel of that drive in this sliding, nasty groove. Another song that hearkens to the old days while still sounding appropriately modern. And while Dre isn't necessarily known for his rapping as much as his beats, he stands up with best-rapper-in-the-world Kendrick verse for verse. But my favorite part? The soulful acapella break towards the end, just after Kendrick melts our faces with a "f@#$ your ___" screed to make yo' momma cry.

7\\Stillbirth\\by Alice Glass
Fresh off a not so friendly split with Crystal Castles, and Alice Glass sounds PIIIIIISSED. A response to the abuse of that relationship, and abuse in general, it is pure audio vitriol. I was a mild fan of Crystal Castles, but this tune blows away anything I've ever heard from that project. Alice's voice sits on top of the mix just enough to properly emote, and the song is all the better for it. A month or two ago, I sat in a waiting room blasting this song on my headphones and I think I scared the bloomers off an old couple near me. I turned it down to be polite, but I smiled at the accomplishment.

6\\Sparks\\by Beach House
I did not like this song when I first heard it. Which really disappointed me. The off-pitch organs were just too much for me. But when the album dropped and I heard it in context, something clicked. "Just like a spark." Those organs suddenly served to enhance the soaring beauty of the rest of it. Alex Scally does one of the better My Bloody Valentine impressions in awhile, and Victoria gives us a hazy but almost hopeful vision as her lyrics move through the dark and into the light. "Just like a spark."

5\\Should Have Known Better\\by Sufjan Stevens

Few things are as painful as regret. "Should have's" abound in this tune. But there is a a line of hope in this song that gets my eyes misty almost every time. I read in an interview that Sufjan's experiences with his mother led him to think he would never want to have children. He didn't have a lot of faith in the parent/child dynamic, after all. But in the second half of the song, he repeats the line "My brother had a daughter, the beauty that she brings, illumination." That same interview spoke of how seeing his brother with his own child renewed his faith in such things. It's that glimmer of hope that stands out to me on this one.

4\\Surrender\\by Daniel Johns
When Daniel Johns first started sharing his first new music in 8 years, I'm not quite sure what I expected. Something along the lines of St. Vincent's "Birth In Reverse" would've made sense to me after Silverchair. But what we got instead were a few morsels of silky post-R&B goodness like this. "Surrender" was the third track he shared from the Aerial Love EP, a sampling of what to expect on his first full-length, Talk. And though I was pleasantly surprised by the first two offerings, it was this one that truly had me spinning. Soulful and smoove, groovy and chill. It was hard to believe this was the same person. Of course, Talk itself ended up being pretty fantastic. But it was this non-album first dose that stuck with me most throughout the year. Welcome back, Dan.

3\\Let It Happen\\by Tame Impala
I know the word "epic" gets thrown around way too much, it is. One of the most immaculately produced tracks on one of the most immaculately produced albums of the year. The whole thing sounds like blasting through a portal into the unknown. Knowing that Currents is essentially a breakup album, "Let It Happen" comes off as a bit of a mantra, opening the album with a declaration of survival. "I will not vanish and you will not scare me" he sings.  The layers and the grooves build until the only obvious bit of guitar on the whole album shines through like a battle cry, giving us one of the very best musical moments of the year. "Maybe I was ready all along" he repeats to the end. It's grand, it's inspiring, and yes... it's epic.

2\\Eugene\\by Sufjan Stevens
This song is a hymn. A subtle, honest reflection of the soul and small memories of summers in Eugene, Oregon. It's not all sad, mentions of a swim teacher calling Sufjan "Subaru" always makes me chuckle. But every line of "I just want to be near you" breaks my heart. Within its short length, we hear moments of nostalgia, sadness, doubt, fear, loneliness, regret, and praying to what he cannot see. This is a man I've never met, I don't know anything about him other than what I've read online or heard in interviews. And yet, every time I hear "Eugene," I want to cry right along with him. That's rare for me in music, to be so emotionally affected. And it's even more heartbreaking to hear that last line, and know we're not his intended audience: "What's the point of singing songs, if they'll never even hear you?"

1\\Gosh\\by Jamie xx
It starts pretty plainly. "Nothing too fancy about this thing..." I thought. For about two minutes you're wondering if this will go anywhere. And suddenly it does. The bass rumbles in, and a high pitched squeal drops from the sky like a meteor. And what initially seemed pretty plain and eventless slowly morphs into the most eventful thing all year. Suddenly you can see the cosmos. You can feel humanity. You can dance with God. Or is it "Gosh?" Suddenly a word to censor perceived blasphemy takes on a new meaning. "Oh my gosh! Easy, easy!" chants the samples. Apart from the out of body experience, my first thought upon hearing this tune was that I wanted to see it live. It's certainly rare that an electronic song can evoke such a reaction. But "Gosh" comes across as very alive, very organic, and very communal. When I hear it, I want nothing more than to join mankind in unified bliss and dance the night away. If you're gonna sample that link, do me a favor and make sure your headphones and/or speakers are worthy. Forever and ever, amen. May Gosh bless you.

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