Music to Your Ears – Best of 2015

So you’ll notice that Music to Your Ears was on hiatus for the first week of 2015, and technically with this past Monday’s revelation that the great David Bowie had passed away, we didn’t really cover anything new. That’ll be remedied in next Monday’s edition, but for now, I have one last thing to say about 2015. With my year-end lists, I’m terribly succinct and the music one is definitely the one closest to my heart. I always want to be precise with my choices and reasoning for them, so it took me an extra week to get the Best of 2015 Music to Your Ears list out to you. Without further adieu, my top ten albums and songs of 2015:

Albums

Honorable Mentions

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Better Nature – Silversun Pickups

Easily the best work they’ve put out since 2006’s Carnavas. Outside of a few songs from Swoon, the band has been relatively quite since their breakout hit “Lazy Eye”. Lucky for us they’ve written some well-thought out twinkles for us a decade later, including “Connection” and “Friendly Fires”. Worth a listen, at the very least.

New Glow – Matt & Kim

Strangely enough, their worst work in a while – which for them is still actually pretty good. After three stellar, but similar sounding albums (I still forget which album some songs came from), they actually stepped out of their comfort zone and attempted to experiment with some funky sound electronics. While not in my top ten, and not their best to date, still a well put-together album. They’re definitely not getting stale, but as the duo ride through their 30s, we’ll likely see them evolve into something a little different.

Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

A bit too dreamy for my tastes, but the whole album is so well put-together I can’t forget to mention it. Named after Stevens’ mother Carrie, who passed in 2012, and Lowell, his step-father who helped found the label Asthmatic Kitty, from which Stevens releases all his work. The lyrics are simply phenomenal, and if the tempo were a bit more captivating, it would be more than its haunted tone.

American Beauty/American Psycho – Fall Out Boy

Earlier in the year I was telling people that this was definitively my favorite Fall Out Boy record, and I stand by that. It’s just not as good as what’s coming. What they have done, however, is one of the poppiest, funkiest efforts out of the group yet. “Uma Thurman” is a thumping ballad to your favorite movies, “Irresistible” and “Centuries” are instant classic and “Immortals” was well utilized in the great Disney animated film from 2014, Big Hero 6.

Fall Out Boy

A Head Full of Dreams – Coldplay

I loved this supposed denouement of Coldplay so much, it hurts that I’m keeping it out of my top ten. The band found a way to mix every single sound they’d attempted over the course of their career that it was simply impressive. Tracks such as “Everglow” and “Army of One” are as dynamic as anything the group has put out in their long career. I honestly don’t want them to stop, but if they do, this is a fantastic bow.

Guitars and Microphones – Kate Pierson

After many decades of bringing us the delightful sounds from her band The B-52s, Kate Pierson has branched out for only the first time to gift us a solo album. Why she hasn’t done this before is beyond me, because my goodness is this a beautiful piece of work. Songs like “Wolves” and single “Mister Sister” will likely land on the songs list below, and it’s one of the finest blocks of female empowerment this side of Mad Max: Fury Road. Yes, it may cater to the weird, but Pierson’s voice is too gorgeous to pass over. A difficult 12th place is unfortunately where she ends up, but here we are.

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World – The Decemberists

Okay, so I guess by having seven runners-up I ended up having a nice little top 17…but it’s difficult, come on now. The Decemberists released their seventh album a year ago Wednesday, but even with the album the oldest on this list, it still resonates as much as any other. The songs are more concise than 2009’s sloppy The Hazards of Love, 2007’s experimental The Crane Wife or 2011’s forgettable The King is Dead. The best music the band had put out was a brief b-sides EP reflecting that last album, entitled Long Live the King and this most recent album sounds like they re-discovered their groove finally. In addition to this, late 2015 saw another b-sides EP called Florasongs. I have to say the band bookended the year with a solid effort, and if the album included all of that, it might have slipped into the top ten. Or, if there weren’t some surprising newcomers and comeback kids…


 

10. Kindred – Passion Pit

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From the very beginning of Passion Pit’s newest project, your mood will be uplifted. To date, singer Michael Angelakos has brought us some wearily upbeat tunes – whether it be the epic (2012 song of the year) “Take a Walk” or the early gem “Let Your Love Grow Tall” Angelakos’ tenor vibrato has jammed it’s way into our heads like majestic earworms. The pulsating pumped-up beats of the indielectronica – as they put it – group have earned a deep place in my heart just from their last album Gossamer, and from the moment this new one reaches the end of instant classic “1985 (Lifted Up)” I knew this would be in my end of year top ten.

One of the biggest aspects of Passion Pit’s music has been on how we can all get down on ourselves, and Angelakos actually came out with the news that he almost committed suicide during the making of his previous album Gossamer. I’m not going to lie, it colored how I listen to their music now. There’s a sweet sadness behind his voice, an innocence undercut by the brutality of mental illness. It’s become a constant reminder of humanity in music, as is not only illustrated by this band, but several others including the Dresden Dolls, Lady Gaga and the band who took my number one spot for song…you’ll have to wait for that, but for now take a listen to the key tracks and try not to feel a fondness for the liberating vocals of Kindred.

Key Tracks: Whole Life StoryDancing on the Grave, Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)

9. Drones – Muse

 

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A lot of people dismissed this album as overproduced babble, a stark attempt at a concept album centered on the theme of drone invasion of privacy. I’m only going to say this about that sentiment: Sure, the boys from Muse may have taken a page from Bono and U2 in recent years, but they present the message in such a way that the melodies transcend that stuffy conceit. The last two albums from Muse were high-end productions that saw the group utilizing electronica far beyond their typical space genre.

Songs like “Reapers” show the band taking a step up instrumentally, after taking a step back with the computer beats in The Resistance and The 2nd Law. Matt Bellamy’s overreaching vocals lift the work in ways he never has before, and generally the band seems more invested in the music for the first time since 2006, when their fantastic Black Holes & Revelations debuted. I am in for the concept, even, as drones are the subject du jour, so it only makes sense to sing a theme around invasion of privacy. Perhaps the public was just inundated too much and over them too quickly to make a piece of art about them, but Muse always lent itself to that strange technological type of vehicle. Perhaps if this had been their last album it would have done better, but as it is, it brought them well back into my good graces.

Key Tracks: MercyRevolt, Psycho

8. Liberman-Vanessa Carlton

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Yes, that Vanessa Carlton. This is no Ordinary top ten list. Vanessa Carlton has blossomed over the past decade and a half since she hit it big on the pop songstress market. Liberman is named for Carlton’s grandfather, and simply put is her most honest work to date. At first I wanted to place a latecomer to this spot, another “one-hit wonder” from around the same period, Maria Mena. She had an album released in December entitled Growing Pains and it’s sort of fitting that I had to choose between the two. They’re both of a similar conceit, that of realizing that time wasted was never actually lost to time, but rather trapped in our memories. If we struggle with that, we only have to lean on the optimism of more adventure to find better chances at love and happiness.

Carlton has produced quite a gem of an album here. The piano is played with such fierce urgency that the whole album feels like she’s been waiting for someone to listen to her regurgitate her confessions. It makes for a dizzying display of brutal honesty disguised beneath her sweet voice. In fact, Carlton sounds a bit like another chanteuse that released an album this year as well, Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino. Much like their dour release California Nights, Carlton has a lot to prove to us, not the least of which is that she is still relevant.

When she finally breaks it down with an acoustic guitar and the wish that you “tell her all your darkness,” Carlton calls on us to join her in the world she’s been hiding in. She hasn’t just re-invented herself, Vanessa Carlton has turned in her best work here. Despite this sounding like she’s gotten too serious, the playfulness is still there, in her vocals. It’s the same Vanessa Carlton, grown up and back from traveling the world.

Key Tracks: OperatorNothing Where Something Used to BeMatter of Time

7. The Desired Effect – Brandon Flowers

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Take note, everyone. Make sure you have trumpets in your songs, I’ll immediately change my tune about you. Brandon Flowers gave us one of the worst albums of all time in 2011 with Flamingo. His earnest attempts at becoming Bruce Springsteen had already gotten stale years earlier with his band The Killers, and this included over the top lyrics, misplaced percussion and half-baked vocals. It seemed like the guy needed a lot of rest, let alone a re-vamp. I was certain not only he, but the band, were finished for good. Yet, in 2012 he went ahead and produced another album with the group titled Battle Born. While that was fine, it still bore the rust from their strange Bruce-rock era. I thought it was good that he’d gotten it out of his system and would finally be able to try again in a few years to get back to the electronic roots that had made them famous.

And here we are: Flowers has finally given us the album he’d always wanted to give us. Never before has Brandon Flowers sounded like the Boss himself, but he pulls it off majestically. The moment the trumpets erupt, announcing the arrival of a well-rested vocalist, I was hooked. Evoking 1980’s The River, among other Bruce classics, Flowers is obviously breaking in with a play on his song “The Ties that Bind” – this time it’s the appropriately named “Dreams Come True”. By the time we get to the album’s signature song, “Lonely Town,” we know Flowers has finally gotten his wish – to not only sound like his hero, but make an album worthy of that master’s success.

I could go on with comparisons between Brandon Flowers and Bruce Springsteen, but all I want to convey to you is that the man is back, and I highly anticipate the regrouping of The Killers in 2016 as the embark on another tour and album release. Never did I think he could pull it off, but the boy from Vegas finally made it sound like he’d been beaten down in the shore towns of New Jersey. Whether you want to accept it or not is up to you, but he absolutely got me to buy in.

Key Tracks: Lonely TownCan’t Deny My LoveDiggin’ Up the Heart

6. My Love is Cool – Wolf Alice

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Wolf Alice is the only freshman band on this list, actually, as all the others were several albums in, or producing their first solo album at the very most. Hailing from London, the four piece actually burst onto the British scene with an EP that made people…Blush because of its nude cover art. They weren’t a gimmick, either, as proved by their first album that finally brought them stateside.

The subtle thrills you’ll get from songs like “Turn to Dust” and “Bros” will lure you in towards their harder stuff. Once you get to single “Moaning Lisa Smile” you will surely be hooked by the fuzzy guitars and warm melodic hooks spouting from singer Ellie Rowsell’s mouth. They sound like they’ve been at this for years, showing a maturity beyond musicians their age. I’m hopeful that this won’t peak (much like Silversun Pickups did, at least radio-wise) with their next album, but for now we have this blistering debut.

Key Tracks: Lisbon, Soapy Water, Fluffy

5. Tell Me I’m Pretty – Cage the Elephant

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I reviewed this in December when I first began this column, but I do have to say that of all the “rock” bands out there, the only one better than Wolf Alice was Cage the Elephant this year. It’s no coincidence that 104.5 in Philly plays some of the best contemporary rock, from making Of Monsters and Men a household name to pushing great albums from the likes of AWOLNATION and Dead Sara. The end of the year saw a ton of play from Cage the Elephant’s latest, especially hit tracks “Mess Around” and “Too Late to Say Goodbye”. Speaking of which, the latter song is certainly the best jealousy song this side of Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?” I’ve said plenty about this, so let’s move ahead.

Key Tracks: Too Late to Say Goodbye, Cold Cold Cold, Portuguese Knife Fight

4. Know-it-All – Alessia Cara

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Reminding us all of Lorde’s blistering debut Pure Heroine in 2013, Alessia Cara seemingly came out of nowhere. There had been signs, such as her YouTube channel blowing up all through 2014. My first introduction to her came en route to work one early morning in October, though, the same as most people. She blew the radio apart with her clever anecdotal verse “Here” and the rest of the year seemed fascinated with what the 19-year-old ingenue would do next. She’s turned sex appeal on its head (like the aforementioned Lorde) by displacing all the fervor around her and just pointing to her music and lyrics as her effort towards public notice. I worried at first that “Here” would make Cara a one-hit wonder, but then I took a listen to the rest of her album Know-it-All. “Seventeen” and “Outlaws” solidified the idea that Cara has a sumptuous sound about her, and the songs maintained their hold on my brain for weeks afterwards.

“Outlaws” in particular has stuck with me after all this time, it’s got a piano beat behind that makes me want to get up and dance, simply put. I could see being in a blues joint in Brooklyn and this girl comes on stage and tears the place down with this song. It’s not bombastic by any accounts, but it definitely brings attention to the upbeat lyrics. In a year in which my favorite albums were total downers, this was the cheeriest I could get, although with songs like “I’m Yours” and “Wild Things” Cara seems to have already gone through a lifetime of struggle before her time came. Her contralto lends itself to help her seem older than she is, a worldly sound that reminds of Ellie Goulding and Adele by way of the East Coast. Before the album had even dropped I couldn’t wait for more. The future of female vocalists is incredibly promising.

Key Tracks: Outlaws, Overdose, Seventeen

3. Lovers Know– The Mynabirds

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The first I need to mention about this album is that it made me openly weep at how beautiful it is. The seventh track, “Shake Your Head Yes” struck me in such a way that I was brought to tears. Simply put, it’s a gorgeous all-encompassing emotional ride, much like the rest of this album. I’d enjoyed the last album Mynabirds put out, 2012’s Generals, especially her fantastic song “Body of Work”. I expected great things from this album as well, not realizing it would blow me away from the first moment.

Mynabirds is the brainchild of Laura Berhenn, who’s toured extensively with Saddle Creek musicians such as Bright Eyes, so as soon as you hear the album, you’ll understand the style of music this stuff derives from. The moment the song “All My Heart” begins, you know that Berhenn has poured everything she’s got into this third album, and it shows in spades. I don’t think I could do much more justice to this than mentioning that she is a master at instrumental romance, combining percussion, synthesizers and acoustic with an undercutting bass that belies her greatest gift, her timbre, her voice.

Key Tracks: SemanticsOrion, Wildfire

 

1. Strangers to Ourselves-Modest Mouse

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Anticipation can be a bitch. Modest Mouse’s last effort, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, came out back in 2007. I was a junior in college, had just met a girl and everything was riding high. That girl dumped me three months later, I was only six months from graduating, and the world was far ahead of me. I suddenly was struck with the notion that the album would always transport me back to that hopeful period of time, the honeymoon in which I’d fallen for this college girl. I could only sit and anticipate the next time an album would debut from one of my favorite bands, Modest Mouse. They had helped me end high school with a bang, with 2004’s Good People Who Love Bad News.

2009 was probably the worst year of my life, for reasons I don’t have to divulge here, at least yet. Suffice it to say, this album was far off in the horizon for Isaac Brock, Jeremiah Green, and the rest of the band, which for that brief period of time included The Smiths’ Johnny Marr. He would go on to join another favorite band, The Cribs (who also narrowly missed having an album in the honorable mentions, For All My Sisters). Like that rhythmic traveler, I was lost in time for the year and found myself bound to retail and not realizing my potential. Three years later, I was still sorely lacking new Modest Mouse music, albeit the small four track EP from that black year, No One’s First and You’re Next. Nothing special came from that album, except the reminder of how good the previous albums had been.

Then came 2015. My heart shattered, my mind twisted, I needed Modest Mouse back in my life. As soon as their first single “Lampshades on Fire” debuted, my fears were assuaged. I knew my band was back, and with a vengeance. A seven-year hiatus can take a toll on the quality of an entertainer, but despite the band being sorely missed, it was like they had never left. That’s the thing about good friends, you can pick up right where you left off. The fifteen songs on this album are feats of a genius, and this was an easy pick for best album of the year. Second single “Coyotes” only confirmed this.

On a second listen I noticed the absolutely breathtaking “Ansel” where Isaac retells the adventure his family took down to New Mexico, where his brother went missing. The aftermath of that has obviously taken a toll on his mind, and here he releases the results of that tragic mission. Songs like “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box” and “Wicked Campaign” are so lyrically brilliant, it’s difficult to remember that we live in a time with such great poets. I’m sure Brock owes as much to David Bowie as any other musician that came after, but if we need to look for the next great lyricist, he’s right in Washington.

Key Tracks: The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box, Of Course We Know, The Best Room, Wicked Campaign

1. Every Open Eye – Chvrches

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Once in a while, an album comes along that you listen to for the first time and you realize that it’s been a part of you for your entire life. I’m not sure there’s a better way to articulate it, but as you listen it’s as if you knew the lyrics before they were sung, the beat was a part of your soul, and the instruments were laid out in your head this whole time. That’s how the top three albums are. It’s difficult to put into real words why this album means so much to me, but a lot of it holds to the similarity in potential subject matter as it relates to one of my other favorite pop culture items this year: FXX’s sublime romantic comedy You’re the Worst.

In that show, main character Gretchen revealed this season that she has depression. Not the craziest of storylines, but one that was handled with such gravity and grounded in reality that it impacted me greatly. I’ve known family and friends with depression, as well as bi-polar disorder, which is a strongly related disease. As it is, Lauren Mayberry, singer of CHVRCHES has stated in the past that her music stems often from a place she struggled with while in heavily abusive relationships. Without going into terribly minute detail, I had similar enough experiences over the past three or four years. After the strain of a emotionally crippling relationship, any relief you can find is wonderful. To have someone that sings the words out of your head, so much so that you can relate to it as if you wrote the songs yourself, that’s something else.

As soon as I heard the lyrics of the first two singles I knew this was the album I’d been hoping it evoke in me. When their first album, The Bones of What You Believe, hit in 2013 I didn’t take too much notice – that is, until I heard the song “Lungs” which basically played out what kind of relationship I was going through. I’m not going to go into any more detail, unless we all want to relate the past four years of my life in music…I actually could go into a whole piece just on Chvrches’ music and my relationships, or even recent music and how it relates to the brain during a relationship. That could be interesting, but for now I’ll just say I wanted this album to reveal to me everything I’d been feeling in my life in 2015. And here it was, that very representation of my frustrations over the past year. The blistering “Never Ending Circles” starts as if already halfway through the song, followed up by amazing single “Leave a Trace” from which those lyrics above derive – they start off an album with a one-two punch that tells you you’re in for an emotional roller coaster.

Following that up, the erratic “Keep You on My Side” showcases a lover begging to be heard, which balances nicely with hopeful “Make Them Gold” and “Clearest Blue” which is the highlight of the album. From there the album bounces back and forth between somber and serious – “High Enough to Carry You Over”, “Afterglow” – and bouncy and fun empowerment – “Bury It”, “Empty Threat”. Interesting fun fact, I saw the band towards the end of September, as the leaves began to fall and the temperature began to cool (before weirdly never cooling until now for real) – the band was performing outdoors at Central Park’s Summerstage – when a fan yelled out to singer Mayberry – “Marry me!” Here’s her response, which exemplifies the recent mood around the indie circuit:

At that same concert, one of my favorite concert-going experiences occurred. Take a listen to the video below for that song “Clearest Blue” and I promise you a quite good song that gets more and more uplifting as the song progresses. Well, the sky had threatened rain the entire concert, and sure enough on the final song of the set (Clearest Blue) the rain began to drizzle. When the song burst wide open at the 2:10 mark, the lights from the stage flew across the audience illuminating the steady precipitation in a clearest blue. It was probably the most rapturous moment encapsulated in a live song I’ll ever experience. The chances of it happening like that are slim to none, so I urge you to get out to as many shows as possible so you get a moment like that yourselves. Just makes albums like this even better.

Key Tracks: Clearest Blue, Empty Threat, Bury It, the whole thing, just go get it now


Songs

 

Honorary Mentions:

LA Devotee – Panic! at the Disco
Can’t Get Enough of Myself – Santigold

These two are early nominees for best of 2016, as they came out within the last two weeks as singles, but are preliminary tracks for upcoming early 2016 releases. I’m going to count them there, but they certainly are some of the catchiest tunes I’ve heard in a long time. Immediate classic, both of them.

Sophia So Far – Goodnight Radio

I heard this track as part of the film Before I Disappear by Shawn Christensen. It comes at the midway point of the film, totally uplifting the story and perfecting the film as an underrated gem hiding on Netflix. Christensen was for the longest time the front man of one of my favorite bands, stellastarr* – but they appeared to take a hiatus as Christensen went off and won himself an Oscar for the short version of the aforementioned gem. Hopefully he dedicates himself to both, he’s got a lot of vision to expend.

Girl Crush – Little Big Town

Now, I typically do not like country music. Little Big Town has done some great stuff, though, and they’ve established themselves along the border between country and pop. With Girl Crush dropping at the end of 2014, it technically counts as a great song from a year past. However, I didn’t hear this until late August and it absolutely blew me away. The vocals, the lyrics, the story that unfolds, it’s all one of the greatest heartbreaking songs, which is ultimately the cornerstone of a fantastic country tune. Apparently this was controversial on country radio as well, because people didn’t pay attention and misinterpreted it as a lesbian song. That just gains it even more points in my book.


 

Okay, so I definitely struggled to narrow this down after choosing 100 different songs to put in my Best of 2015 list. Even my 26th song, “Running Behind” by Holychild could have been number one, but someone there are 25 impressive songs above it for me. Because of that, I’ve compiled all of them into a Spotify playlist you can listen to as you read along with this! Check it out below and read my top choices below:

30: Bury It – Chvrches

29. Wildfire – Scavenger Hunt
28. Headfirst – Secret Someones
27. Nobody’s Empire – Belle & Sebastian (best intro to a song this year)
26. Running Behind – Holychild
25. Catch – Dresses (peppy, fun band that livened up my autumn)
24. All My Heart – The Mynabirds (set the mood for a tonally awesome album)
23. Too Late to Say Goodbye – Cage the Elephant (a better Bond song than this year’s was)
22. Empty Threat – Chvrches (highest octane the band goes, pumps me up every time)
21. I Will Be There – Odessa (sweet melodic voice enraptures you in this singer’s debut)

20. Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf) – AWOLNATION

The raucous sound of this song reminds you that Awolnation has some of the wildest beats around, as well as some of the coolest videos to match. No, I’m fairly certain this wasn’t based on the Doctor Who episode, Whovians, but it would be rad if it was. I didn’t pay too much attention to the album Run, but I think I have to go back and take another crack at it. Aaron Bruno seems like a genius musician and, I think, a testament to his genre.

19. Death With Dignity – Sufjan Stevens

This soft soliloquy is one of the most enriching songs of 2015 – Stevens has always been a bit coy for my tastes, but here he presented one of the most touching singles of the year. I could easily imagine this being played at a hipster’s funeral, and not in an ironic way.

18. One Time Thing – The Airborne Toxic Event

2008’s self-titled album brought one of the greatest songs of that decade (and I believe my 2nd favorite song of 2009, I’ll have to -ahem- check my records) “Sometime Around Midnight”. I didn’t quite write the band off, but I didn’t think they’d bring us something as nearly as epic as that ballad about forlorn love. Well, here we are again, as they’ve brought us the perfect example of the gnawing uncertainty brought about by a one-night stand with that one person you think might turn into something more. I think the band must have a knack for romantic entanglement songs, they certainly “get it”.

17. Shut Up and Dance – Walk the Moon

This is the first on the list of one of the more popular radio hits – honestly it ended up being a tad overplayed during the summer…but it’s just so damn uplifting I couldn’t discard it. I expect that I might have had this higher, even in my top five, if it hadn’t been so overplayed. I’m certain in a year or two when it fades into the collective background I’ll appreciate it even more once again, but for now – check out their fantastic album Talking is Hard. Picked it up on a whim, and all the songs are as good if not better than this one. “Different Colors” is a particular gem.

16. Clearest Blue – Chvrches

I mentioned in my review of the album Every Open Eye above that this was very possibly the song where I had my most poignant concert-going experience. I’ll stand by that, and it’s most of why this song ranks so highly. Of the actual song production, it’s engineered beautifully, the instrumentals only bolstering the brilliant lyrics.

15. I Won’t Follow – Secret Someones

I discovered this band in a cover of “Walk Like an Egyptian” they shared with underrated indie band Jukebox the Ghost, but really fell in love with them for this song. The song culminates with one of my favorite musical tropes, when the instruments fall out behind the rising vocals, and singer Bess Rogers lifts those vocals stupendously.

14. Want to Want Me – Jason Derulo

The second of those aforementioned “radio hits”- I actually sincerely believe this was the hottest song of the summer. It had me eager to move every time I was stuck in hot July traffic listening to Z100….and I know I’m not the only one. So I appreciate that this is the same guy who brought us “Wiggle”….but he actually brought us one of the sexiest songs in years. Kudos Derulo.

13. Lifted Up (1985) – Passion Pit

I brought it up in my review of the album, but Michael Angelakos definitely has a penchant for delivering us uplifting songs with a tempered, somber tone. This is one just up a Passion Pit fan’s alley, dripping with nostalgia but tainted with remorse. It reminds me of the master stroke by MGMT, “Kids” wherein the singer waxes poetic about how his childhood rapidly faded as he’s aged. “Lifted Up” could easily be that song’s cousin.

12. Here – Alessia Cara

What a debut – I was sitting in traffic, feeling a little down about the impending winter weather, when this half-rap spoken word ballad about feeling out of place at a party came on. Well, it struck me right where I needed it, and I know a lot of people agreed. I don’t mind that her meteoric rise at the end of 2015 was due to this strange song. Not only was it great, but it led me to her wonderful album, with songs like “Outlaws” that made it better.

11. The Wolf – Mumford & Sons

As each new Mumford & Sons album approaches, I think I’m going to consider them having sold out and gone mainstream. Then the songs filter out and I fall in love with them all over again. This album was no exception, and “The Wolf” was the standout among a crowd of stellar tracks. The beat is pretty much the best part about this song, but Marcus Mumford’s earnest vocals also help the otherwise typical romantic lyrics.

10. Geronimo – Sheppard

So my tenth choice is actually a bit of a cheat, as it was released in Australia all the way back in April 2014. However, as is often the case, the song was the first single of an album that took its sweet time getting stateside. The official American release was this past year, so it’s technically viable. Like the band Holychild, or an earlier Australian release – Gotye – I might have heard their songs a year or so before the official debut, but either way here we are. The song is fantastic. I never would have expected something so peppy to pop up this year and blow me away, but I kept returning to this gem of a single. Try not to get caught up in its infectious catch and keep tapping your feet through each subsequent verse. I guarantee it’ll become a part of your workout before long, like it did mine. These are the type of songs perfect for exercise playlists.

9. The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box – Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse has always been weird – case in point, this video. The part that solidifies this as the first of two Modest Mouse songs in my top ten this year is that this is lyrically the most inventive and poetic song of the year. Take a look at this line:

It’s a water color weekend,
All the trees are turning colors now.
We’ll probably never get there,
Bring your candy taster, time wasters around
And we’ll fuck with their minds.

Genius. Pure poetic genius, at least in my opinion. I wish I could write something even remotely close to this and make it come off as sounding halfway intelligent. If nothing else, this is a good introduction into the band’s older repertoire, stuff like “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine” or “Custom Concern”. If anything, maybe the weird will bring more fans to their cause.

8. Born Again Teen – Lucius

Like an drug-fueled ’80s rave injected with a double dose of harmononic convergence that plays over a stylish synth groove, Lucius first single from their upcoming album Good Grief is irresistible fun. Listening to this again a couple of times, it reminds me so much of St. Vincent and her recent self-titled album. The rest of Lucius’ composition is a fever dream, as if you have to race out with this song to gather up the rest of the new songs. If anything, this makes me anticipate March just a little bit more.
7. Cheerleader – Omi

This is the last of the radio hits to crack my top twenty of the year, and while it too was heavily overplayed, the infectious beat and pop hook was so damn fun that I can’t help but to still enjoy this. I don’t hold any shame in loving this song, and while Omi seems like he’s only going to play out as a massive one-hit wonder, I can’t help but to hope he has something else up his sleeves. For sure I’ll at least remember this summer fondly.

6. Lonely Town – Brandon Flowers

I mentioned how awesome it is that Brandon Flowers was finally able to achieve near nirvana in his quest for zen via Bruce Springsteen. Well this is what finally convinced me he’d made it. The setting is a teenager’s house as her family is out for the night. She dances around listening to a cassette playing ‘Lonely Town’, bopping to the trumpets as they swell along with the microwave popcorn she’s cooking. This is absolutely my favorite video of 2015, and it made me a believer again in Flowers as songwriter, singer and musician in general.

5. Shake Your Head Yes – The Mynabirds

It’s the simplicity of this song that broke my heart. As you might have guessed, if you’ve read this far and all the detail I’ve expounded upon, this is the song that made me openly weep. You’re never too sure what an artist means with their lyrics, and I actually misheard one verse – “Am I a liar? / Am I an optimist?” – although it’s still so poignant in the middle of such an upbeat song that it still applies in spite of my erroneous interpretation of “Am I alive? / Am I an optimist?” Obviously the real lyrics make a tad more sense, but either way the hopelessness behind the words is in stark contrast to the style in which singer Laura Berhenn presents those startling words. It struck me at the right moment and caught me off guard, relating to me that we all feel lost even in times of great optimism. Denying ourselves from the truth only causes us to hide it even deeper.

 

4. Adelaide – The Good Mad

Fun fact: Bassist Andy Fischer-Price is the son of Scott Fischer, famed climber who perished in the 1996 Everest disaster recently depicted in the 2015 film Everest (he was played by Jake Gyllenhaal). What does this have to do with the song? I can only think that from tragedy stems art, or something along those lines – and while I don’t think his father’s premature death has colored his life, Andy and his sister have in fact recently climbed Everest themselves, cathartically experiencing the very place that brought such blackness to their lives. The impressive thing about this song reaching so high a summit on my list is that it came out of nowhere – I don’t recall how I discovered it, though it was likely on Philadelphia’s 104.5 radio station – where I typically discover catchy new rock pieces. I also have to imagine that the members of the band stir up their own tragic feelings to make something so beautiful as this – interesting theme I’ve noticed with all these songs is that there’s a hopelessness driving the lyrics in an otherwise punchy instrumental base. The violin in this signifies that there is something off-putting, but you would otherwise jam out to the speedy guitar and drums. Lovely tune indeed, however.

3. Wicked Campaign – Modest Mouse

Like my favorite Modest Mouse song, ‘Ocean Breathes Salty’, this is a more controlled type of Isaac Brock, albeit one uber-fans didn’t really recognize around the same time I caught the band for the first time, in 2004. Like most of that album Good News for People that Love Bad News, the band had a wacky but grounded sort of tone that allowed for poetic rambling about drug abuse, lasting friendships and long lost summer love. Here, in ‘Wicked Campaign’, Brock breaks it down and lets us know he’s settling for the acceptance of daily beat-down reclusiveness. The tin-can percussion undercutting his lyrics lend the tune a rustic feel, and I’ve always felt they’ve been at their best when letting this sound into their subdued performance. Brock rumbles his voice low later in the song, further down the rabbit hole than most of us ever really realize. Much like these other songs, hiding behind happy oblivion is better than whinging about all the tragedy around us. Things really aren’t so bad as we put our mind to it.

2. Bad Believer – St. Vincent

For the longest time I was convinced this would be my top track of 2015. Fun part of that is that it’s a bonus track to a deluxe edition of Annie Clark’s recent self-titled St. Vincent album from 2014. ‘Bad Believer’ follows a struggling religious youngster that tries in vain to prove that she’s good, but continually ruins those around her, such as her mother or the priest or . Singing “What do you know, I’m just a bad believer” you get the sense that she knew she was doomed this whole time, but really just enjoys the ride she’s been taken along with her religious family.

1. Leave a Trace – Chvrches

It’s going to be extremely difficult to put into words, yet again, why I loved the output by Chvrches this year. ‘Leave a Trace’ is highly exemplary of what kind of relationship I went through the past few years, and I’d definitely love to eventually write an article detailing verse by verse why the lyrics specifically relate to events in my life. Suffice it to say, I don’t always see the representation being exclusively for me, but rather the person in my life singing about me. Here in ‘Leave a Trace’ Lauren Mayberry sings that

I will show restraint
Just like we said we should
You think I’ll apologize for things I left behind
But you got it wrong
And I’m as sane as I ever was

I was absolutely convinced that it was a perfect representation of an event that occurred to me around the time of this album’s release. I swore that I was finally justified for being so bitter that someone could possibly fall out of love with me. As I listened to this song more and more and more, it slowly dawned on me that it wasn’t my voice, but rather hers, having to deal with this sad person she’d once loved that couldn’t handle his own reality. Well, it actually spurned me into dealing with that harsh truth and start reacting as if I’d actually been wrong to act the way I had been acting – tortured embittered paramour. If nothing else, I’d finally realized, obviously too late, that cathartic resolutions in broken relationships have to come from both sides if we’re ever going to be able to move on. I’d been placing all the blame on the one who’d severed the connection, simply to fuel my own despair. This perfect song enabled me to see what I’d been missing for the past year, so I have to thank them for it.

Fun fact – this is I believe the first time that I’ve selected a song from my top album to be my top song of the year. I usually differ on that, because there’s some single (see my number 2 this year) that rises above every great album. Every Open Eye was so complete a record, though, and so relatable and so beautiful, especially Mayberry’s vocals that I couldn’t separate the two from the top of my brain. I’m certain that they’ll both end up on my tops of the decade when I get to it in 20120, and even tops for perhaps my entire life. I think at some point soon I want to do a retrospective on favorite albums over the years and see how they hold up. It’s obviously too soon to do this, but as the years go on, I’ll eventually return to this and see how much it’s truly affected my life, as all great music has done .


 

So, there it is. Again, I took too long because I’m too precise and it’s difficult for me to articulate why I love a certain song or album. I’ve got to start this in November at this point if I ever want to finish around New Year’s Day next year. Well, at least I got it out before February this year!

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