As always, the year must end. And I will feel compelled to put together lists because I’m like that. Lists are comforting to me.
So below are the twenty songs I loved best this year. Some are obvious. Some are less so. But the are all my 2015.
20. Adele “Hello”
It’s the same thing she always does, but she does it perfectly every single time. With vocal bombast, soaring strings, and a video that was shot by Québécois cinema’s enfant terrible Xavier Dolan, Adele returns to the music world with a tear in her voice and on point eyeliner game. As far as divas making me cry go, she seems to be the best at it.
19. Drake “Hotline Bling”
Canadian hip hop had a banner year this year, with both Drake and the Weeknd making huge waves internationally. Drake, always the more commercial of the two, landed back in the top ten with this slinky groove, based on a sample from a classic Timmy Thomas track, and then followed it up with a video made for parody, where Drake does a resplendent dad dance. Nerdy cool for the win.
18. Kacey Musgraves “Dime Store Cowgirl”
Kacey Musgraves made waves a few years ago with her début major label album, daring to push lyrical boundaries and making the Nashville establishment nervous. She continues on her latest album, but the sweet vocals, humble lyrics, and a melody reminiscent of early Dolly, “Dime Store Cowgirl” delights in all the correct ways.
17. Ceza “Suspus”
I don’t know how these things fall in to my lap, but my affection for Istanbul’s music scene probably leads these things right to my inbox. I still don’t speak the language outside of food items, so the lyrics remain a mystery to me. But damn, it evokes a mood with those beats, and Ceza has some serious flow. It is as slick as anything coming out of the US, Canada, or the U.K. and maybe he just shows up some of our own superstars a bit there.
16. Dawes “All Your Favorite Bands”
Dawes is forever going to be a running joke for the A.V. Club’s commentariat class (do not skip the comment section on the second link. Trust me). Yes, they are so Laurel Canyon it hurts, and damn it, they do that so well. Years of snarking doesn’t make them any less good as a band, and this year, they decided to actually try and make me like them for real.
Okay, I’ve never hated Dawes. I’m too much of a folk-rock fan to do anything but like Dawes. But the laid back nature of the band meant they never made a long-lasting impression. Until they got me right in my ice-cold heart with the sentiments of my favourite bands staying together and an El Camino that never die ( I’m more of a GTO girl myself, but the point stands).
Well played, Dawes.
15. City And Colour “Lover Come Back”
Alexisonfire’s recent reunion tour on the festival circuit* has not stopped Dallas Green from writing for his acclaimed alt-country /folk side project. Living in Tennessee has upped the twang in Green’s music, but the melodies are as lovely as ever, his voice is strong, and his song mixes desperate joy and lonely heartbreak to create one very beautiful moment. Top points for a proper dancer in the video. Such lines.
*true story- writing this took me down an Alexisonfire rabbit hole, and I really need to write about “This Could Be Anywhere in the World” soon.
14. Young Fathers “Shame”
My major discovery from 2014 returned in 2015 with a great record. Slicker this time around, over indie dance beats that skip and drop, with vocals that hoot and holler while propelling the beats forward. Such a great band that will take hip hop far. Love a band that can drop the c-word than say “where’s your gall?” with their next breath.
13. CHVRCHES “Clearest Blue”
The glorious Scottish band comes back better, streamlining their electronic blips into a cheerier, less claustrophobic sound. Make no mistake, though, the band can still tear your heart out. Lauren Mayberry’s voice just shines as she pushed herself further. They bring the 80s with them with their synths, and they make my argument that the 80s pop scene is unfairly treated by music nerds around the world seem less crazy.
Glorious, glorious dance pop.
12. The Weeknd “Can’t Feel My Face”
A love song for cocaine should not exist. Certainly not one so damn catchy.
And the Michael Jackson is strong on this one.
I want to disapprove, but I’m too busy singing and dancing.
11. Kurt Vile “Pretty Pimpin”
I’m continually impressed with Vile’s laid back style matched with neo-stoner folk guitar chops. Whatever he took to inspire the lyrics of this slice of slacker mysticism must be shared, promptly, with the rest of us. A playful little ditty.
Warning to those who dislike the nasally vocal stylings of Bob Dylan- Vile may not be your cup of tea.
10. Jason Isbell “24 Frames”
I’ve lost contact with the Americana genre over the last decade. This subset of folk music can be really precious at times and some artists take purity to an extreme. But Jason Isbell, a former Drive-By Trucker’s guitarist, makes the genre seem accessible once again. On his best solo album to date, his electric guitar picks up a 90s harshness, and he sings of connection and the fleeting nature of relationships. Gorgeous song. “You though God was an architect, now you know he’s like a pipe bomb ready to blow.” What a fantastic line.
9. Kendrick Lamar “Alright”
What a gifted man. What a chorus. How can five words be so epic? How can a song that acknowledges the struggle still happening in black neighbourhoods in the U.S. be so…. joyous? The song took on a life of its own as it became the “Fight the Power” of a new generation of civil rights activists. It’s power cannot be denied. It’s groove cannot be smacked down. And Kendrick? He’s the pied piper.
8. Jamie xx f. Young Thug and Popcaan “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”
There is a disturbing amount of happy sounding songs on my list this year. I must be cycling up. That could get interesting. Watch this blog in case of mania.
Jamie xx must know what I mean. His day job band, the xx, has been part of my mopey music soundtrack of the past few years. This seems- uncharacteristic. Lyrically, Young Thug and Popcaan gladly succumb to bragging and cliches, but man, that music is just magical. It’s got the gospel influence, it’s got some laid back Jamaican stylings, it is just celebratory.
I just want to dance some more.
7. Julien Baker “Sprained Ankle”
This is more typically me.
The young singer songwriter breaks you over and over in two and a half minutes. Her little girl voice over top of gentle picking and delicate melodies is devastating. “I wish I could write songs about anything other than death” she sings off the top. She keeps it steady for the rest of the song, drawing you in to her world. It’s short but oh, so sweet.
6. Titus Andronicus “Dimed Out”
Titus Andronicus are pretentiously named after Shakespeare’s bloodiest and most complex play, I pretentiously named my blog after a ridiculous line in a Phoenix song pretentiously named for a hysteria. Patrick Stickles and I have a lot in common. So when I heard “Dimed Out” for the first time, I was uplifted and -dare I say- happy. A rousing, punked out, ferocious and fast call to arms for all us defeated and devoid of hope, Stickles will not cave. A giant “fuck you” with a sing along chorus.
5. Vince Staples “Jump Off the Roof”
This was a tough one. I went back and forth between “Norf Norf” and this song. As addiction and suicide play with Vince’s brain, whether it’s his own demons or the demons of someone else, cowbell and choirs soar. There is something compelling with the avowed agnostic Staples still praying to God before jumping off that metaphorical roof. Staples is the antithesis of Kendrick Lamar. The hope isn’t in “Jump Off the Roof”, but he’s still looking to fly.
4. Courtney Barnett “Pedestrian at Best”
I have seen the word “deadpan” used time and again for Barnett’s delivery style. It’s apt in this case. She’s not trying to be Lana or TSwift and attempting to do things she really shouldn’t vocally. For what she lacks in vocal prowess she makes up with being brilliant musically and lyrically. “Pedestrian at Best” is full of clever rhymes and beautiful use of words not typical in a pop song. There is an honesty to the bitterness inside, and she matches it with a jagged indie guitar sound that sometimes jerks when it should just lay low. She’s being fawned over by critics to the point of possible overexposure, but she might survive if she keeps writing fantastic song like this.
3. Sufjan Stevens “4th of July”
The loss of a parent, even a distant one, changes your very way of being. The conversations had at the end can haunt you. The last conversation I had with my mother was not so much a conversation as the nurse and I pleading with her to stay in her bed as she was too weak to walk, but her stubborn self insisting she needed to go home and take care of her family ( ah, mum). She would die the following day.
I will most definitely be discussing Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell in my albums list. But of all the songs that tore me apart this year, “4th of July” is the one I cannot escape in my head. Children look for answers even as adults from their parents as they try to make sense of what was and what will be in the end. Carrie abandoned Sufjan as a child and he saw her during the summers. There is a tenderness and fondness running through the song, and a deep love. There are no accusations or bitter recriminations. Sufjan, while playing Carrie’s part in the song, is tender and sorrowful, but also supportive and matter-of-fact. She tries to stop the tears of her son, but also bluntly points out that death is inevitable. Sufjan plays this conversation out over a beautiful, simple, atmospheric keyboard line. Forgiveness is often touted as the answer to all our ills. It’s not. But it’s important to try to forgive as hate is poisonous. Thanks to Sufjan for reminding me of this with this achingly beautiful song.
2. Protomartyr “Why Does It Shake?”
Well, illness and death plays a part in this one, too (see, back to normal). The incredible Detroit post-punk band slows it down, digs deep, and gets grimy. Joe Casey is never going to be a great singer, but he is effective for Protomartyr. His sludgy sing-speak style works great on “Why Does It Shake?” The band who named themselves after the theological event of the first martyr (St. Stephen to most) and have philosophical discussions about eternal life while grinding out dirty rock and roll can possibly be one of those life changing bands. You just have to have faith that Detroit can save rock and roll again.
1. Grimes “Flesh Without Blood”
I’m still not even sure WHY I am in love with this song. It’s just so good.
Grimes has been one of my favourite acts the last few years, an angelic voice teamed with fierce musicianship and the ability to create interesting and vivid soundscapes, all in a teeny Canadian girl. Part pop song, part EDM majesty, part something indescribable, it’s the future of music in one delightful package. It’s been playing non-stop since I’ve gotten the album and I cannot stress how fantastic the song is enough. The best part is she’s reached accessibility without sacrificing the totally oddball magnificence of Oblivion or “Go”. How awesome is that? Remaining true to oneself while allowing others to see the beauty that is your weirdness! If only every artist-person- were so brave.
Maybe when I remember what the English language looks like I’ll come back and say something cohesive and helpful. But I will say that I have a mad girl crush on Claire Boucher and I do not care who knows it.
I’m going to listen to the song on repeat another thousand times. Okay?