Well, it’s nearly the middle of February already – so it seems as good a time as any to wrap up this round up of the previous years best songs. They don’t call me The Timely Content Kid for nothing. Also some might call having 25 songs on a top 20 list something of a cop out. To which I have no real argument.
It was a great year for music though and I think this list demonstrates just how good. Especially since it was a year in which I didn’t find much time to delve into all that much hip hop – Busdriver and Milo narrowly missed the cut for the list but that was about it for my rap listening in 2015, bar a couple of L’Orange produced albums – and almost completely ignored what was by all accounts an excellent year for black metal. It was a year of Too Much Music and this, for better or worse, is how I spent it. And given how much fun I’ve had putting this list together I’m leaning towards, “for better.”
Part 20 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
“You fucked each other and dried out in the light of day/you must get in the car and drive/and wait for the moment you forget what day it is/and what you did not say.”
So ends She Calls After You, a vivid sketch of the afterglow and aftermath of a one night stand (or maybe a one last fling). Pete Simonelli’s spoken word pieces often come with a little sting in the tail but few are a simple and devastating as those last few words. “And what you did not say.” As a piece it’s defined as much by what it leaves out as by what it does say – the nature of the relationship is never made clear, the context of this short walk of shame is never outlined for us. All we know is that as a second person protagonist we’re, “less of a presence than an urge to be moving on.” That we have no choice but to leave and to try our best to shake the regret of leaving. It’s an exercise in weary fatalism that makes the act of quiet retreat sound as thrilling as a car chase, right before the searing guitars ebb away to set the stage for that cutting dénouement.
There are subtle layers of shimmering guitar that drip and glide like rain down a window before the crunch kicks in and it marches towards it’s churning crescendo. I sent my review on Echoes & Dust to guitarist Kevin Thompson who took issue with me comparing Enablers to Slint, pointing out that he’s been ploughing this furrow before they were even a thing. In my defence I find it baffling that people who rave about Breadcrumb Trail and Good Morning, Captain don’t spend their days screaming about the virtues of Enablers similarly narrative based post-punk/post-rock/post-whatever songs from the nearest available rooftop. But after several months with The Rightful Pivot since writing my review I’ve realised just how much they’ve evolved in the 12 years since End Note. It’s lazy shorthand I should probably be put to bed.
Part 19 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
Notch up a second appearance for Patrick Kinlon in this years list (the first being Drug Church’s Aging Jerk). That’s a first in the long, illustrious 2 year run of this feature. Well played.
I like Self Defense Family best when they’re playing with a straight bat. As enjoyable as the longer, more obtuse numbers on Heaven is Earth are – for instance the title track and opener In My Defens Self Me Defend – they just don’t stick in the mind for me quite like their neat and tidy 3 minute numbers do. Everybody Wants a Prize for Feeling is probably the best example of the poppier end of their work – a catchy post punk yell-along song coloured by a whimsical melodica backing and capped off with a ragged, hollered chorus of “I feel! I feel! I feel!” it clings to your brain like some kind of mind limpet.
Kinlon often writes his lyrics in first person from the point of view of some character or other, but it’s not always clear what his point is amidst all the seething and arch shouting. Usually his wry, myopic company is enough to sell a track all the same but every now and again you get a blast of clarity like the repressed, frustrated narrator of Everyone Wants.. and it cuts through like a draught of fresh air in a stuffy room.
Part 18 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
Another track I wrote about in Wanton Miscellany #2, That Battle is Over stayed on my ‘current listening’ spotify playlist for pretty much the whole year. I never did quite get into Apocalypse, Girl as a whole but this track was amongst the most startlingly brilliant things I heard all year.
If it wasn’t for me watching this video on whim me and Jenny Hval’s work would never have gotten along. I tried listening to Apocalypse, Girl on the advice of some usually reliable sources and immediately hit a brick wall. The free poetry delivery of the opening track was too worthy, too self-consciously in my face for my taste. Perhaps that had something to do it being a drinking alone on a Tuesday sort of evening, but it was a bit too much.I didn’t get it. “Why is this woman singing about rotting bananas?” I wondered. “What was that about beckoning the capitalist clit?”
Then I saw this. I watched as Hval walked through a house full of sketches of traditional ‘womanhood’ – baking, reading to a child at bedtime, applying lipstick. I witnessed as she took a seat and lit a smoke as they gradually disintegrate – humorously, horrifically. l listened as she intoned, “Statistics and newspapers tell me I am unhappy and dying,that I need man and child to fulfill me,” with equal amount of sneering and of fear. And I listened as she shoved a stick into the sand to redraw the battle lines of the 21st century. Simply, eloquently, angrily: “You say I’m free now, that battle is over, and feminism is over & socialism’s over. I can consume what I want now.”
And that’s how Jenny Hval made a fan out of me.
Part 17 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
Father John Misty might be a bit too popular for this here blog. He made the top of many an AOTY list for 2015 after all and I’d be risking my reputation as a Pointless Contrarian if I were to start agreeing with people, especially Indie Tastemakers.
Lucky then that the record didn’t make a great deal of sense to me as a whole. Despite it’s attempts to puncture its own sense of smugness, going out of it’s way to show how knowing it is about it’s own sense of self-importance, I couldn’t help but feel that I Love You Honeybear was still a bit too pleased with itself for my liking. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but ultimately it felt like it was trying to have it’s unappetising looking cake and eat it. So I checked out.
Later I heard The Ideal Husband by chance during one of the three or four occasions I tuned into 6 Music throughout the year. It’s slightly ramshackle nature seemed kind of appealing all of a sudden and it’s lyrics seemed to strike the right note of both revelling and revulsion in the worst aspects of the male ego in a way that reminded me of Greg Dulli’s work, so I threw it on my current listening spotify playlist. It ended up being brought with me to St Ives for me and my partner’s annual trip down there with her family. With no internet connection of any kind in the flat we stayed in the songs I had on my phone were the songs I had for the whole week. And I kept coming back to The Ideal Husband. It accompanied me during a few nights where I had more than a few too many drinks – through drunken breakdowns and bouts of bracing self-loathing. It’s not a song you’d really want to strike a chord with you. But there I was belting out the line, “wouldn’t I make the ideal husband?” with the same knowing snarl as Misty, three sheets to the wind on the end of a pier wondering what the hell I was doing with myself.
I listened to Honeybear again since, thinking it might have been my way in, that I might finally see what all the fuss was about. But I still got nothing out of it. The Ideal Husband is a one off moment of connection I guess. A brief instant where me and Father John Misty shared a knowing glance across the bar, from one fuck up to another. But I still wouldn’t want to have a drink with him.
Part 16 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
I spent a decent chunk of 2015 singing Hey Colossus’ praises to anyone would listen. And to a fair few who wouldn’t. Before getting around to reviewing both their 2015 records at the same time (here at WD we* pride ourselves on our** efficiency) I’d been screaming at people in supermarkets and yelling at passing cars to try and get the word out. “They’ve taken it to the next level!” I’d be saying into their terrified faces, “you’ve got to hear In Black & Gold!” Eventually it struck me that using this here blog might be more socially responsible, even if it would mean speaking to a smaller audience than the usual Saturday afternoon Tesco crowd.
At the time I said this about Hop the Railings:
“Hop the Railings is propelled along with the kind of almost motorik rhythm that can put some verve into the most languid of steps as gradually builds quietly to something of a stealthy crescendo. I’ve been listening to it on my morning walk to work and I swear I’m getting in 5-10 minutes earlier than usual. Unfortunately it also has the kind of don’t-give-a-fuck swagger that can lead to wanton jaywalking – there’s been at least on instance of me stepping out into traffic at the “if something’s worth doing/it’s worth doing wrong/you better run along” refrain, feeling so full of piss n’ vinegar that I figured that the cars better get the hell out of my way if they know what’s good for them.”
I stand by that awkwardly phrased sentiment. And I can also happily report that I’m yet to be involved in any accidents that listening to Hey Colossus was directly responsible for.
Part 15 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
Back in August I wrote this about L. Caution Pt. 3:
“Petrels is London based producer/illustrator Oliver Barrett and the album Flailing Tomb is a mythologically themed album and an ode to the chasing of lost causes. That alone is the bio of someone after my own heart – throw in the fact that the second half of the record is based on an unused alternate score to Godard’s Alphaville and I’m completely sold. L. Caution Pt. 3 is the sublime finale to the record and a track that forces me to invoke the ultimate music scribe cop-out and say – it’s impossible to describe. And to say: just listen to it. Go on. Whatever you’re doing – stop it. Unless it’s open heart surgery this is more important. Few things have been released in 2015 that are even close to the euphoria of this track – and if any more come within touching distance of it then this will have been a damn fine year indeed.”
Few did come with in touching distance – despite it being a damn fine year. Being the prolific wee blighter that he is Barrett has already got a couple of new things up on his bandcamp page and I’m already getting a good feeling about 2016.
Part 14 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
I wrote about these guys briefly in Wanton Miscellany #2, saying that their record Further Out was so unassuming it had almost passed me by. It took some time but it eventually worked it’s way to being one of my favourites of 2015. I changed my mind again after that – fickle beast that I am – possibly due to an unforeseen period of relative serenity and borderline happiness. It became a bit like a perennially bummed out friend – sure you love them but when you’re on top of the world it can feel like a drag to spend time in their company. With friends you’ll do so all the same (unless you’re a really shitty friend) but records are easy to ignore. They just sit there until you need them next.
Before I knew it I was back to being slumped in an office chair with nothing but an endless sea of tedium around me and a window full of gray sky in lieu of any kind of view. It felt good to welcome Further Out back into my life then. Doyle Martin’s voice sounds oddly comforting when you’re down – it’s like having the lazy, drawled moan of depression itself serenading you. Whether the lyrics are angry or sad, sarcastic or earnest they’re all delivered in the same pitch. It brings to mind a Jets to Brazil line from one of my all time favourite songs: “some make exhaustion a mode of expression.” In Outta Spite the line, “Assign meaning to your ritual..” manages to sound like both a decent piece of self-help advice and a biting indictment of the pointlessness of your routine, particularly when it drifts through your headphones at the precise moment you drop your work bag in the same spot you do every day. 5pm, near enough on the dot. Kettle on, start dinner. Disintegrate into daydream and muscle memory like sugar in water. “..and slay any beast.” Yeah, sure.
Oh, and that guitar tone. You could take a bath in that fuzz and come out cleansed.
Part 13 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
My biggest regret of 2015 was having to give up 2 tickets to finally, finally catch the Mountain Goats live in Bristol in November. I bought the tickets 6 months in advance. Everything was planned. I’d waited so long to get the chance to bellow along with John Darnielle, and then..
Still, at least I got another fine album to listen to Beat the Champ might not be his best ever record but it was packed with highlights, great choruses, memorable one-liners. It’s up there with some of his best despite being an album entirely about wrestling of all things. Darnielle manages to find the human drama in things – Heel Turn 2 is sung from the point of view of a babyface tired of not being on top and, as the title suggests, turning heel. There aren’t many songwriters who can turn that into something that sounds deeply personal – I imagine there are legions of fans singing,“Throw my better self overboard/shoot him when he comes up for air/become unhinged/get revenge/I don’t wanna die in here,” as if it was written for them and them alone. I wouldn’t know of course. Sigh.
It almost feels trite at this point to say that Darnielle is one of the best songwriters of his generation. But in case you don’t already know that – he is. he really is. See for yourself – you owe it to yourself to find out just how good he is.
Part 12 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
Every Passing Hour doesn’t feel like a night time song but thanks to a couple of occasions I’ve listened to it in the dark I can’t help but think of night when I’m listening to it. The first time I was walking to the train station for the first train to London on a work trip, passing by more students taking the post-revelry walk home than people starting their day like me. The other time I was heading home for Christmas by megabus to save a few pounds, trundling through the cold streets with my head rested against the window. When I listen to Every Passing Hour I see streetlights smeared across the black sky by sleep-addled eyes and think about the pair of frustrated guys trying to convince their utterly hooned friend that yes he could walk if he’d just get his drunk ass up off the pavement.
It’s funny how these things memories attached to songs. Every Passing Hour sounds like it deserves a more bucolic scene, but hey. That’s city life for you. Helios, aka Keith Kenniff, suffered for me in being one of those artists who seem to capture exactly what they’re going for so well on a relatively early release that no matter the quality of what followed I wasn’t all that interested. I convinced myself Eingya was all the Helios I’d ever need. But I gave every new record a listen to reaffirm my faith in that records unassailable Heliosness.
Every Passing Hour, and the rest of parent album Yume, changed that. This song might be the single most beautiful thing he’s released. I’m not sure if it’s a new creative peak or whether I’ve just found myself in a place where I’m more open to Kenniff’s work but either way this is a truly breathtaking piece, starting in unassumingly melancholy ambience and building to a mini-masterpiece of longing that made nondescript sleepy Welsh streets hum with meaning on cold winter mornings.