So I suppose I should finally do this.
I won’t say this was the toughest time I’ve ever had putting a list together. While some years the songs kind of sort themselves, there have been plenty of Decembers when I’m still trying to figure out what to include and in what order right up until I made my list public. But, as I wrote last week, this has been a tough musical year for me to crack.
It’s been such an odd year that I’m throwing out a rule that I’ve generally held to hard-and-fast: songs must be from the current calendar year. In the past, if I didn’t discover a cool song or album until the calendar year after its initial release – especially if it was a late-year release – I would not include it in the next year’s Favorites list.
Because, you know, rules I guess.
I’m throwing that out not once, but twice this year. It’s a brave new world, friends!
Also, this is not a true countdown. The songs listed below are generally in order of preference, but other than my Song of the Year, no numbers are attached to any of them. Forgive me, Casey.
One more note before we get to the list:
SOME OF THESE VIDEOS CONTAIN NUDITY AND/OR STRONG SEXUAL CONTENT
Watch with caution if at work, kids are around, or you’re using your in-laws’ wifi.
“The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box” – Modest Mouse
Another charming yet goofy song in MM’s long career of them. I hear a strong “Rock The Casbah” influence to the music.
“Gimme All Your Love” – Alabama Shakes
Brittany Howard is a force of nature. While the hype for their 2012 debut album was so over-the-top that it had many doubting this year’s Sound & Color upon it’s release, her epic howl quickly won many of those critics over.
“Deeper Than Love” – Colleen Green
The most honest and depressing song of the year. Shortly after the cold, sterile bass and drum loop begins, Green throws this opening line at us:
Someday I hope for a lover to kill me
It’s the closest I can hope to get to anybody.
Green confesses every one of her hangups that prevent her from having a successful relationship on this track. It’s brutal and troubling, but because it is so sincere, it is also amazing.
“Let It Happen” – Tame Impala
Tame Impala is one of those bands that I often like the idea of more than their actual music. I admire their willingness to experiment and go in odd directions. But I often find listening to their entire albums a chore.
I love this track, though, as its epic sprawl delivers on all the band’s promise.
“Autodidact” – Swervedriver
One of the best, and most underrated, bands of the early 90s came back in 2015 after 17 years without releasing an album. While it didn’t hit the heights they reached back in 1993, I Wasn’t Born To Lose You was thoroughly enjoyable. This is its finest track.
“Lisa Sawyer” – Leon Bridges
It takes guts to turn the clock back to 1963 and craft your sound and image around a time that not only predates today’s young music buyers, but most of their parents as well. Bridges’ debut album was one of the finest of this year, and this ode to his mother was its fabulous centerpiece.
“Sagres” – The Tallest Man On Earth
Lush and warm and wonderful. Yet another amazing artist from Sweden.
“Web” – Thee Oh Sees
This is some hot goddamned rock and roll right here.
“To Die In L.A.” – Lower Dens
“Gates Of Dawn” – Heartless Bastards
The first of two sets of songs that I have a hard time separating. In this case, it is because their lead singers have some similar qualities. And both bands harken back to my youth. Lower Dens sound like a mid–80s, fringe Top 40 hit from a synthy, art rock band while Heartless Bastards mine the bluesy side of that era’s Heartland Rock.
“Pretty Pimpin” – Kurt Vile
I was a bit disappointed by Vile’s album b’lieve i’m goin down… But this track is a fantastic take on the “I’m not sure who I am anymore” song, done in a distinctively Vile style.
“Laced” – DMA’s
Derivative of many bands in many ways. But it’s still a delightful little song.
“Tiny Prayers” – Restorations
(October 2014 release) A song I can relate to in so many ways, as I feel a bit stuck between the most recent chapter of my life and figuring out how to begin the next. I often feel like I’m wasting time without accomplishing anything. While I don’t measure time in how many coffee cups are scattered around the house, that image certainly resonates with me.
“Continental Shelf” – Viet Cong
Not sure if this is goth, industrial, post-punk, or some brand new sub-genre I don’t know the name for. I do know it’s the hardest rocking song of the past year that stayed in heavy rotation on my music devices.
“Dreams” – Beck
One of the biggest songs of last summer, this struck the perfect mood for the season when it came on and you were sitting near a lake, pool, or just in your backyard. And this may be the best unofficial, user-created video ever, featuring shots from the 1979 TV movie Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
“Out Of The Woods” – Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift
I don’t often include covers in my year-end list, especially one that is as gimmicky as Adams’ covering Swift. But, as you know, I loved his version of 1989 and while several of his songs could have made the list, I loved this one the most. The original is a huge, glossy, Roxette-esque scorcher. Here Adams turns it into a somber, beautiful, tear-jerker.
“Queen Of Peace” – Florence + The Machine
Florence Welch is an absolute treasure.
“Leave A Trace” – CHVRCHES
No sophomore slump for these Scots. And proof that even a “guitar-rock” lover like me sometimes gets swept up in songs that are big and shiny. And, yes, I love that Lauren Mayberry has become a feminist icon with her fierce, passionate, public proclamations that women should not be objectified, dismissed, or held to different standards than men because of their sexuality.
“False Hope” – Laura Marling
Filling the “brooding, female, singer-songwriter” slot that Emma Ruth Rundle and Angel Olsen filled last year. This song smokes.
“Kansas City” – The New Basement Tapes
So many reasons for me not to like this song. 1) I’ve never been a Bob Dylan fan. 2) The whole idea of taking a bunch of “lost” Dylan lyrics and turning them into an album performed by an all-star cast 40 years later seems like a huge gimmick to me. 3) I’m not terribly fond of Mumford and Sons, and Marcus Mumford takes the lead vocals on this track. 4) While Johnny Depp hangs out with a bunch of musicians I like, his appearances always strike me as opportunistic. Sliding in for the absent Elvis Costello on this track was yet another reason to doubt it.
Thing is, I love this song, and it’s not just because of the title. I love it because it’s a great freaking song. And it was part of what was a pretty great year for my hometown.
In fact, I really like the entire album, although I did not listen to it front-to-back until just a few weeks ago, nearly a year after its release. Yep, this is the second song that was released late in 2014 that I’ve slid into this year’s list. Although in this case, at least it didn’t hit high rotation on the radio until deep into spring, so it’s kind of a ’15 track.
“Pray For Rain” – Pure Bathing Culture
Just a beautiful, bouncy, and thoroughly infectious song.
“Fool For Love” – Lord Huron
“All This Wandering Around” – Ivan & Alyosha
Two more songs that feel joined to me. I first heard them around the same time. They had a similar sound and feel. They remained in my high rotation for several months. Both were great for cranking up and listening with the windows down on a summer day. Lord Huron touches up against that neo-Heartland Rock vibe I’ve dug so much in recent years. And I&A have a blissful, AM radio feeling.
“Depreston” – Courtney Barnett
Barnett made a name for herself through songs full of wry, often hilarious, observations about everyday life. Sometimes her humor was a bit difficult to find, layered beneath her laconic, Aussie delivery and slacked-out, surfy guitars. But digging for it always brought a tremendous payoff.
This song, though, was a break from that formula. There are the same wonderful observations about the mundane that other writers may miss. But rather than humorous, here they are tender and touching.
There’s the wonderful opening section, where Barnett agrees (reluctantly you can’t help but believe) to leave the hip, young part of town for the suburbs and domestic bliss with her partner. As she guides us through her tour of a potential home, her attention drifts from its architectural features to the artifacts of its previous occupant. Containers filled with coffee, tea, and flour. Photos of a man serving in Vietnam. Curiosity of how much the woman who lived there last first bought it for. Already filled with mixed feelings about her new life, Barnett seems overwhelmed by the life she has stepped into.
And the closer – a simple, repeated rejoinder from the real estate agent eager to defeat her reservations and close the deal – is the perfect coda.
If you’ve got a
Spare half a million
You could knock it down
And start rebuildin’
The D’s Notebook 2015 Song of the Year
“California Nights” – Best Coast
Listen, I love Best Coast. The album from which this comes, and which it is the title track for, was probably my most listened-to album of the year. But there’s always been a depth missing in Bethany Cosentino’s lyrics that keeps her songs from being timeless rather than momentary loves. And, frankly, comparing this to my Song of the Year from recent years, it just doesn’t measure up.
All that said…this was Best Coast’s finest album yet. And this was the song Cosentino was born to sing. It is bigger, more dramatic, and just better than anything she’s written and sung before. The hazy guitars and rolling bass evoke the earliest days of The Verve. Cosentino absolutely soars through her lines. And Bobb Bruno’s solo is the perfect punctuation. It’s a song easy to get lost in, and once it’s complete, you want to go back and listen again. In a year that seemed subpar to my ears, that’s enough to make it my favorite.
- One huge example: Okkervil River’s “Down Down The Deep River.” It’s one of my five or six favorite songs of the past few years. But as it was released late in 2013, and I didn’t begin listening to it until 2014, it missed the ’13 list. And then I held it out of last year’s list because, technically, it was a year-old. Remember, I’m the same guy who didn’t turn on one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history because my turning the TV off had clearly caused the turn around. If I ever go to a therapist, I think I know where we’ll start our discussions… ↩