Best of 2015: Songs!

Now that it’s halfway into January, I finally have time to do my personal best-of lists. As a critic, I’m obliged to do a “Best Of” list, but that can be viewed over here. Here is my “best of,” list, less capitalized, less formal. Posted right below is a Spotify playlist of 75 songs that I loved from 2015. It’s not in order of love, but ordered to make a nice playlist. I was originally going to make a 50-song one but there were too many songs I was leaving out (quick shoutout – I finalized this playlist and realized I forgot Selena Gomez’s “Good For You,” I love that song, so 76 songs). Under the playlist you’ll find a spelling out of my top 25 with a short description. Listen at your leisure.

 

spotify:user:amcnal2:playlist:5dzcokWcJN6TpKyqvOq2Vu

Top 25 Songs of 2015! (Relative. Take with a grain of salt.)

#25. “I’m a Ruin” – Marina and the Diamonds – This is an utterly tragic, introspective look into personal failures. As Marina sings about the inevitability of ruining someone in a relationship, we feel it. With a big chorus and a guitar rhythm that masquerades as catchy, this song doesn’t shy away from emotion.

#24. “Thunder & Lightning” – Motorhead – Lemmy’s last album on planet earth gave us this parting gift, an angry, raging song against…ambition? It doesn’t matter. This is premium Motorhead, and an unexpected final track from an ambivalent legend. Wherever you are, Lemmy, rock on.

#23. “Dreams” – Beck – Beck’s follow-up to the Grammy-smashing “Morning Phase” is proving to be funkier, with this single. Although lengthy, “Dreams” is an energetic jam like 90’s Beck. Unlike 90’s Beck, it’s focused and polished, ready for the radio.

#22. “Switchblade” – Holy White Hounds – I know nothing about this band/artist, and I only came across this song on western Massachusetts rock radio (in between Seether and Disturbed, probably). What I do know is that it’s a cool, innovative rock song that uses the provided instruments very well. I don’t know where this person or these people are right now, but I bet they’re wearing leather jackets.

#21. “In the Clouds” – Diamond Youth – The band responsible for my favorite song of the emo revival (“Cannonball”) put out another solid song in this pop-punk track. While their debut album was middling, this song from the album’s mid-point is a strong vocal track, layered over gaze-y guitar.

#20. “In the Night” – The Weeknd – One of 2015’s biggest breakout artists put out an album full of bangers. This was my personal favorite, as The Weeknd channels his inner Michael Jackson in a song about pain. Even a song as dark as this did well on radio – because the Weeknd is that good.

#19. “Truffle Butter” – Nicki Minaj (feat. Drake, Lil’ Wayne) – One of my favorite albums of the last year ever is Nicki Minaj’s “The Pinkprint.” This track was only on the expanded version but served as the fifth single. It’s one of the least subtle songs on the whole album, especially when Lil’ Wayne raps about a woman snorting cocaine off his penis. That probably didn’t happen, but who cares, it’s a fun song.

#18. “Price Tag” – Sleater-Kinney – The opening track to Sleater-Kinney’s comeback album is about, well, the economy. Sl-K always had a political message, and in the 10 years since their original departure, it’s welcome to see they’re still angry. It’s a raging pseudo-punk song with a brutal chorus. If they weren’t angry, what would Sleater-Kinney even be?

#17. “Feel Right” – Mark Ronson (feat. Mystikal) – Throughout his career, Mark Ronson has made an effort to bring other musicians into the mix, especially ones that might be out of their comfort zone. But “Feel Right” digs deep, bringing long-lost Mystikal back into the fold. On one level, the song is creepy, knowing Mystikal served time for sexual battery, but on the other hand, it’s a groovy song that shows an underappreciated rapper at his prime. Your call.

#16. “Sometimes” – Heems – “Sometimes” served as a mission statement for Heems’ first proper solo album, “Eat Pray Thug.” Unlike other rappers, Heems serves to point out differences and paradoxes in his own life. The album – which will be in my top list – serves as two parallels. Heems loves New York, he was a student when he watched the towers fall on 9/11. New York doesn’t love Heems, an Indian man. The whole album sets up a political parallel, but in “Sometimes,” Heems examines what it’s like to be human. Very sad and very funny, which are congruent, and exactly the point. Catch the topical ‘Mad About You’ reference.

#15. “WTF (Where They From)” – Missy Elliott feat. Pharell – If this is a song of what’s to come on Missy Elliott’s first album in 11 years, then rejoice. The song is a rapid-fire attack on Miley Cyrus young girls who appropriate black culture, with Pharrell in his truest form. Make way, Missy is back.

#14. “Sucker” – Charli XCX – This song stands as my favorite opening track of 2015, a surprisingly tough competition. No one can open an album like Charli XCX – “If you wanna bang, well fuck you, sucker.” Its just a great, energetic pop banger through and through.

#13. “The Metal East” – Lightning Bolt – The band Lightning Bolt has been going strong almost as long as I’ve been alive, and their 2015 album “Fantasy Empire” showed no signs of stopping. “The Metal East” is a ripping noise-rock song designed to make you sweat and let me say, I’ve seen it done live, and it is loud and magnificent in every single way.

#12. “Run Away With Me” – Carly Rae Jepsen – One of the best pop songs of the year wasn’t released as a single, and it kills me that I don’t know why. Although her sophomore album sold well in England and her native Canada, it didn’t in America, and we missed out on a real masterpiece. Please, buy E*MO*TION.

#11. “Motel” – Meg Myers – Rarely is indie-pop this affectionate. Actually, that’s not the right word to use, because this song is downright existential. Over relatively simple music, Meg Myers is able to transform a simple tale about someone holed up in a motel room into a sad tale. Throw in an audio sample of a 23 year old Townes Van Zandt interview, and you’ve got yourself the saddest pop song of the year. Myers’ voice in the background of the song is going to rip through your spinal chord.

#10. “Acetate” – METZ – Although their second album doesn’t stand up to their first, Canadian noise-rockers METZ put out their best song with “Acetate,” an extremely metrical and sweaty song with just a hint of a groove to it. Unlike some of their non-stop songs, this one has a lengthy breakdown section that leaves the ending pummeling you even harder. Coincidentally, I just saw this band last month, with opening act…

#9. “Trash” – Bully – …Bully! This might be from a debut album, but the folks over in Bully sound weathered. Namely, they sound like they ate nothing but Dinosaur, Jr. and Pavement records for breakfast. Their debut album alternates between alternative and more noise elements, but “Trash” is the most abrasive of the album. Alicia Bognanno’s screamed vocals propel the song into very angry territory.

#8. “Lampshades on Fire” – Modest Mouse – The first album from Modest Mouse in nearly a decade was subpar, but the leadoff single ranks among my favorites of their career. An environmentally-friendly single rocks with a steady beat and a vocal rhythm that could only belong to Isaac Brock. Modest Mouse at its best.

#7. “Don’t Wanna Fight” – Alabama Shakes – The most emotionally charged rock song of the year came from ‘Bama, with Brittany Howard’s vocals howling above the rest of the song. An ode to a troubled relationship, the band draws emotion from volume and intensity, escalating a quiet beat into a wholly consuming tune.

#6. “Figure It Out” – Royal Blood – I think this song technically came out in 2014, but I first heard it in the latter half of 2015. Inspired by bands long gone, Royal Blood have crafted a near-perfect ode to garage rock, but with better production. “Figure It Out” is like the best part of Foo Fighters mixed with the best part of Count Five. Bring it on.

#5. “Death” – Viet Cong – The longest song in this playlist, this 11+minute odyssey is post-punk at it’s finest. The band, lambasted for their offensive name, still put out an impressive debut, culminating in this noisy epic. It is an aural assault, with repeated guitar rhythms being driven into the brains of the listener. The closing song of the year, listen to as much as you can.

#4. “Let It Happen” – Tame Impala – One of the most sonically engaging songs of the year, Tame Impala’s intro to “Currents” is like this generation’s “Blue Monday.” This song builds even as the vocals disappear, into a sonic abyss, carrying a ship throughout. I cannot overrecommend listening to this song with headphones – it’s a journey. Without full engagement, it’s background music.

#3. “Pedestrian At Best” – Courtney Barnett – Courtney Barnett had a career year in 2015, releasing an acclaimed debut and a flurry of great singles. This is her at her best, no strings attached. Poetic lyrics that alter between apathetic and angry mix over Malkmus guitar rhythms, resulting in a song thats far more fun than it should be. Like the 90’s? Listen to this.

#2. “Flesh Without Blood” – Grimes – Grimes went for gold in 2015, finally releasing her follow up to “Visions,” after scrapping a whole other album. Although the album was inconsistent, certain songs struck out, namely the first single. At first, I was somewhat cold to it. But it got stuck in my head almost immediately and still hasn’t left. With a pop-punk bassline and ambivalent vocal line, it’s a song to pay attention to. The nod between “Remember when we used to say……./………I love you almost every day” is utterly devastating in its dual meaning.

#1. “King Kunta” Kendrick Lamar – Look, “To Pimp a Butterfly” is one of the greatest hip-hop albums, ever. No ifs, ands or buts. The album’s mission statement was also my favorite and most played track of 2015. It’s funky as hell, which drives the song through the political and introspective lyrics. The album has a bunch of different messages, and they all come into play on this song. It’s a whirlwind of political, social, and personal remarks to America, with looks at Compton, Kendrick as a kid, Kendrick as an adult suffering from depression and a premonition of the Drake/Meek Mill beef. There’s simply no one like Kendrick working today. In any genre.

(Also a quick post-posting shout to “Magnets” by Disclosure/Lorde and “<” by Waxahatchee, which originally sat at #25 and #24 before I realized I had forgotten “Trash” and “Acetate”)

If you don’t want to sparse through my 75 song playlist to hear these, then listen here:

spotify:user:amcnal2:playlist:6jNIpYyDWO4q38UhCiA5Bk

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Grimes – “Art Angels”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Flesh Without Blood,” “Kill V. Maim”

Grimes has never been known by one genre. She’s sometimes included in witch house, but she defies one of the basic principles of the genre. Her stage name – Claire Boucher, offstage – is short and easy to remember. “Grimes.” Template witch house artists do the opposite, names that can’t be found on Google. Like M△S▴C△RA, or ///▲▲▲\\\ (pronounced ‘Horse MacGyver’), or oOoOO. Her new album, her fourth, is predictable only that we’ve come to expect anything we haven’t heard from Grimes before. “Art Angels” is, more than anything, a pop album.

“Art Angels” is a very mixed album. As always, Grimes blends many influences and ideas to create a wholly original, bastardized sound not unlike the baby on the cover. It isn’t as consistent, this time around, although the high points are just as high as ever. The album takes a much more conventional format, overall. This might be due to Grimes famously scrapping the album she was working on last year because she felt it was “too depressing,” keeping only “REALiTi,” an altered version of which shows up here. Something about the album feels familiar, in the song structures, as if Grimes was leading us by hand into a dark forest but keeping us from being afraid.

Generally, the album’s better songs are the ones that have density and energy. “Flesh Without Blood” is one of the catchiest songs of the year, regardless of lyrical content. There are catchy tunes throughout. “Easily” is a dancy (if not somewhat lacking) song. “REALiTi” and “World Princess, Pt. II,” although similar, are both exceptional and engrossing late-album bangers. “SCREAM,” which heavily features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, is also an excellent track.

“Belly of the Beat” might be the album’s lowpoint, a largely acoustic track that might sound better if there was a different artist’s name attached to it. Some of the ‘lighter’ songs are disappointing. “California” borders on being too poppy, especially as it’s placement as the first real song, after the intro “laughing and not being normal” (which is a great track, while we’re on it). It centers itself as a lyrical ode, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before.

Still, you have to pride Grimes on trying new things. She’s included just about everything she can into her music, and she’s even made conventionality work for her. “Art Angels” tells us that, yes, Grimes can occasionally do wrong. But even when she does, she’ll right it on the next song and she’ll still sound great when she does. Her vocal screams – you know the thing she does – permeate the album, breaking up the songs from being too radio-friendly (“California” lacks them, and suffers because of it). It’s also impossible to ignore the power she holds. Grimes learned how to play multiple instruments after recording her last album, the near-perfect “Oblivion.” She does everything herself now. After realizing that only men were being allowed to use the production equipment for her music, she’s begun producing herself. Now she writes, performs all music, produces, choreographs shows and designs the album art and videos. And the video for “Flesh Without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream” is really something. And although she defies all genres, she’s generally lumped in with electronica music, which is chronically male-heavy. Grimes can release albums that aren’t perfect, and it doesn’t really matter, because she can tell young girls listening that they can do this, too. It’s why the collaboration with Janelle Monae makes sense – they’re two drastically different artists, but they’re both energetic, genre-bashing feminist singers.

Sorry. Went on a little tangent there. But Grimes is an incredibly important musician, and even if this album is frustratingly inconsistent, it could stand as her bid for greatness. “Flesh Without Blood” probably isn’t going to pick up any radio play, but it’ll gain more new listeners than “Genesis” or “Go” did. I’m worried about her next projects, that Grimes scrapped an entire album and ended up with an album like “Art Angels,” which flirts with greatness but rarely gets to it. But, she remains one of the most interesting artists in music today, and the album works well enough for the listener to forgive the sagging moments. “Art Angels” works because Grimes makes damn sure of it.

-By Andrew McNally