This is a collection of my favorite songs of 2015. I don’t intend this to be an authoritative list, and I’m aware that it very much reflects my personal bias. There’s no metal or country on it. I can appreciate Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me” and Alabama Shakes’s “Sound and Color” as brilliant songs, but it didn’t draw me to listen over and over again the way all of these did. These are just the songs that made me think, “Yes. This. I need more of this.” If you think I left something obvious out, it might be because I didn’t hear it, so I’d love you to tell me about it.
With that in mind, here we go…
35. High By the Beach – Lana Del Rey
I’m very in favor of gun control, but Lana deserves to be able to shoot down those pushy paparazzi helicopters anytime she wants. No one makes malaise sound more romantic.
34. Like A River – My Morning Jacket
A song for an autumn day with the wind at your back, wandering to a conversation with an unknown outcome.
33. La Soufriere – CFCF
Aurora borealis panning from one ear to the other. Voices sprouting from each other like ice crystals, each clearly from the same source but not exactly the same shape or size. A wave that rises and never breaks, just builds and dissolves.
32. Shut up and Dance – Walk the Moon
I spent this summer at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, writing program notes for the concerts given by the fellows (ages 18-30). I listened to every piece I wrote notes for, often having my headphones on tuned in all day. There was always something I had to listen to – almost always. So when I didn’t have anything to listen to, I wanted to devour the most delicious catchy pop tunes I could find. And that, in the summer of 2015, was this.
My brother was a counselor at the camp we used to go to when we were little, and got sick of this song because he had to listen to it so much at the camp dances. (It’s safe for kids, no sex and no swearing, and it’s definitely going to get butchered by KidzBop if it hasn’t been already.) I guess the thrill lies in what isn’t being pushed onto you, even if what’s being pushed is something you enjoy.
31. Brobdinangian Chutzpah – Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band
I was drifting through Davis Square on HONK! festival weekend and encountered a lady in a skeleton hoopskirt who invited me to sit awhile, have some tea, and come dance to this crew. I had barely slept enough to stand, but they tore into their first grooves and I couldn’t stop myself from dancing the next hour.
The studio recording of this piece, (and their new album, released this year) isn’t online anywhere. You may have to find them live. If you’re near Boston, that’s not hard. You’ll probably find them. Or maybe they’ll find you.
“Chutzpah” runs from the beginning of the video till about 4:20.
30 Cream on Chrome – Ratatat
Observe here a healthy specimen of the uncommon Instrumental Ear Worm. You’ll notice the barbed-wire hook, punchy power chords, and streaks of synthesized material are right where they should be to ensure it replicates over and over.
29 Trap Queen – Fetty Wap
On the surface, the melody is the most boring thing ever. One figure for the verse. One figure for the chorus over and over again. Instant earworm, but it’s somehow a good earworm. The genius lies in that shifty, pounding beat and those synth chords that can’t decide whether we’re in major or minor. One thing’s for sure: we’re in the key of driving slow with the windows down.
28 I Bite Through It – Oneohtrix Point Never
If someone ever decides to port Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash to the screen, Daniel Lopatin must score it. Garden of Delete is an album of love songs for the narrow line between human and android and cloud-consciousness, and “I Bite Through It” is the most haunting of them all. When we can flip through tabs with a flick of our irises, we will be able to shift gears as quickly as this.
27 Academic – New Order
Who put Bernard Sumner’s voice in an acid bath? He’s got a new bite.
26 Apparition – Stealing Sheep
The colors are bright but not the PC Music bright that hurts to look at or listen. (NB: I can’t listen to SOPHIE. It triggers misophonia.) I’ll take Stealing Sheep’s trouble, trouble over Taylor Swift’s any day.
Below, find my personal favorite music video of the year. Last year artistically morose contra dancing got its day with Sylvan Esso’s “Coffee,” and now we’ve got some artistically morose morris dancing here – as morose as May Day pastels can be.
25. Make it Holy – The Staves
Shatteringly soft, determination in clean harmony and a muted march.
24. To Die In L.A. – Lower Dens
I always seem to have a song like this on my year end lists. Last year it was The War On Drugs’ Red Eyes, which took us from speeding on midnight summer suburban roads onto the highway, going nowhere in particular and exulting in the journey. Less Springsteen, more New Order on this one. Less Jersey, more city. The same A major chord as the very beginning feels like something completely different in the chorus. Listen on an elevated train at night. (For the Boston/Camb/ervillains: I suggest the Ashmont-bound Red Line, between Kendall and Charles/MGH.)
23. The Schuyler Sisters – Hamilton Original Broadway Cast
Attn US History teachers of the world: Remind your shiny-eyed students that not everything in the musical is historically accurate, and then lean back and smile because Lin-Manuel Miranda just did a little bit of your work (work) for you. Look around, look around, a revolution’s happening on Broadway, and Renee Elise Goldsberry, Philippa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones are harmonizing the anthem.
22. 2Shy – Shura
There aren’t many modern love songs about being shy, or being awkward. Our music favors the bold, the assertive, the pursuer and the pursued, with no room for the shy people in the corner. This song blooms like an underwater flower swaying. slow dancing in the current.
Disclaimer: I didn’t watch the video before writing about it. And yep, there’s your enchantment under the sea. Looks like I’m not as original as I hoped.
21. Molly – Palehound
As a new resident of Boston I am hopelessly out of touch with the local non-classical music scene. Now that I’m starting to discover what can be found here, maybe I’ll pay a little more attention next year. If 120 Minutes were still around (before it went to shit) I’d watch it every night, wait for them to play the video for this, and get frustrated when I couldn’t tell if the fuzzy static was supposed to be there.
20. Romeo – Chairlift
Totally wired and pulsing with potential energy. Drum break sounds like a pummeling from an ancient fighter video game. Caroline Polachek is singing like it’s the best Yeah Yeah Yeahs song since 2006. The wig in the video doesn’t do anything to lessen the similarity. Listen when you have to write (or do something) like you’re running out of time.
19. Sunday Candy – Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment
This is the best family love song of the year, maybe of the decade if you tie it with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’s “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects. Chance the Rapper may or may not believe in God but you can bet he believes in his grandma and the power of gospel music. Believes so hard that he didn’t swear on this one song so she could listen. That’s love.
18. Can’t Keep Checking My Phone – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Some love songs are timeless. This one is not. It could only have been written now. Please Mr. Postman, handclaps and all, for a kind of complicated way to love that doesn’t get sung about much, that I hope will get sung about more. (Personal bias.)