Top 10 songs of 2015

In recent years, I haven’t listened to enough new music to put together a to 10 list. This year, however, was a great year for music. I listened to a lot of new albums, and actually made it out to three gigs.

A couple of weeks ago, Gavin asked a few of us to what out a top 10 dogs of the year. Will has already put his list together. I’ve also been discussing some of my choices with my brother on Facebook.

And so, After a week or of agonizing over my favorite albums and looking for the stand-out tracks, I can finally announce my top 10 tracks of 2015:

  1. “Dead Fox” by Courtney Barnett
  2. “24 Frames” by Jason Isbell
  3. “La Loose” by Waxahatchee
  4. “Homonovus” by Speedy Ortiz
  5. “A New Wave” by Sleater-Kinney
  6. “Back to You” by Twerps
  7. “All Your Favorite Bands” by Dawes
  8. “I Can’t Explain” by Surfer Blood
  9. “I Can Do No Wrong” by American Wrestlers
  10. “I Don’t Wanna Relax” by Joanna Gruesome

You can listen to my Best of 2015 – songs list on Spotify.

If you’re interested in delving deeping into what I’ve been enjoying this year, there is also a Best of 2015 – albums list. 

The Peel mantra

Any time I hear a piece of music I don’t like, I just assume it’s my problem.

John Congleton, in his interview on All Songs Considered, says that this is his mantra. He borrowed it from none other than John Peel, who said this shortly before he died.

I haven’t been able to find where John Peel said this, but I like it. Congleton gives a bit more on why he chosen this quote as his mantra.

Somebody spent the money, spent the time. They put everything they had into this. No matter how bad he thinks it is, it’s just a bummer for him that he can’t enjoy it. And I think it’s very brave to feel that way.

I’ve been doing something similar of late. For books, music, movies, television programs I don’t like, I’ve been saying “It’s just not for me” and moving on. (In my more cynical moments, I say,  “I’m not the target demographic.”)

I like the Congleton/Peel mantra more, though. I like the fact that it honors the effort people have put into creating something, whether it appeals to me or not. I like that it implies that with a bit of effort, I can understand why other people enjoy something I don’t. I like that it acknowledges that as I grow and change, so do my tastes, that something I strongly disliked before can become something that I love.

Passion in context

Is this a model of creation? If we make music—primarily the form, at least—to fit these contexts; and if we make art to fit gallery walls; and if we make software to fit existing operating systems: is that how it works? Yeah. I think it’s evolutionary; it’s adaptive. But the pleasure and the passion and the joy is still there.

This is a reverse view of things from the traditional Romantic view. The Romantic view is that first comes the passion, and then they outpouring of emotion, and then somehow it gets shaped into something. And I’m saying well, the passion is still there, but the vessel that it’s going to be injected into and poured into: that is instinctively and intuitively created first. We already know where that passion is going.

When David Byrne started performing music from his CBGB days in Carnegie Hall and Disney Hall, he realized that it didn’t sound as good in these grander venues. He began wondering about how venues shape the music that is performed in them. This utterly fascinating talk on how architecture helped music evolve was the result.

The flow of music

She could not listen good enough to hear it all. The music boiled inside her. Which? To hang on to certain wonderful parts and think them over so that later she would not forget — or should she let go and listen to each part that came without thinking or trying to remember? Golly! The whole world was this music and she could not listen hard enough…

The music did not take a long time or a short time. It did not have anything to do with time going by at all. She sat with her arms held tight around her legs, biting her salty knee very hard. It might be five minutes she listened or half the night.

Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, p.107

My 15 Albums

So, my brother has taken to tweeting his memes instead of tagging people in facebook. I’ve posted this on facebook, but I I’ll probably just post this type of stuff here (at least the memes I find interesting). So here goes:

Think of 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of, musically shaped your world.

  1. The Police – Synchronicity – 1983 (1983-1984)
  2. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II – 1969 (1985, 1987)
  3. Paul Simon – Graceland – 1986 (1986-1987)
  4. REM – Fables of the Reconstruction – 1985 (1988)
  5. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique – 1989 (1991, 1995, 2000, 2009)
  6. Sonic Youth – Dirty 1992 (1992)
  7. The Master Musicians of Jajouka – Apocalypse Across the Sky – 1992 (1993)
  8. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless – 1991 (1993)
  9. David Byrne and Brian Eno – My Life in the Bush of Ghosts – 1981 (1994)
  10. John Coltrane – Blue Train – 1957 (1995)
  11. Stereolab – Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements – 1993 (1995)
  12. David Bowie – Hunky Dory – 1971 (1996)
  13. Radiohead – O.K. Computer – 1997 (1997-1999)
  14. Mississippi Fred McDowell – The First Recordings – 1997 (2001)
  15. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? – 2007 (2007-2008)

I feel badly for not including too many albums from the last 8 years. The problem is I just haven’t had enough time to determine whether or not they have a profound effect on me. These are the albums that I keep going back to time and again.

Update: I’ve created a Spotify playlist with 8 of my 15 favorite albums (the other 7 aren’t available on Spotify).

My Favorite Albums of 2008

  1. Fleet Foxes

    Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

    One of those albums I kept hearing about before I listened to it. I thought it was overhyped, but I was wrong. Do I feel kind of lame for putting it at the top of my list when it’s on the top of everyone else’s list too? Yes, kind of lame, thanks for asking. I mean, no! Not lame at all. Listen to it. It’s amazing.

  2. SVIIB - Alipinisms

    School of Seven Bells – Alpinisms

    I was very tempted to put this at number one, but I felt I couldn’t because I discovered them so recently. Nevertheless, this has quickly become an album that I’m returning to again and again. I discover something new and exciting every time I listen to it.

  3. David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

    David Byrne & Brian Eno – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

    Did I want another My Life in the Bush of Ghosts? Yes. Did I get it? No. Do I love it anyway? I do, but it took a while to grow on me. Once it did I realized that even if the album isn’t ground-breaking, it’s one that I’ll be listening to for a long time to come. This was also a perfect model for how to release an album. I had listened to the entire album several times before I bought it. When I bought it, I received the mp3s and flac files immediately. The CD was released and arrived in the post few months later. Not only did they make it easy for me to decide if I liked the album without having to buy it or break the law, they made it easy to get the digital files in the format I wanted. Maybe it was ground-breaking, after all.

  4. White Denim - Workout Holiday

    White Denim – Workout Holiday

    These guys were one of those record store discoveries. I was browsing in Resident in Brighton when this album came on. After three songs I was hooked. I immediately bought the CD and haven’t looked back since. Every song is energetic and fun, and they’re from Austin.

  5. African Scream Contest

    African Scream Contest

    This is a compilation of psychedelic funk from Togo and Benin in the 70s. Every single track is amazing. Imagine James Brown on acid or Os Mutantes out of Africa. Aw, screw it, don’t imagine anything. Just listen to this.

  6. Seedy Seeds - Count the Days

    The Seedy Seeds – Count the Days

    I absolutely love this album. They remind me of some of the Elephant 6 bands, specifically Apples in Stereo and Dressy Bessy. Only with more Casio keyboards and a kind of bluegrass edge. I keep listening to them, usually when I just need something to make me smile.

  7. Flight of the Conchords

    Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords

    Not only are they hilarious, but they are today’s preeminent musical chameleons. My personal favorite – Boom – makes me smile because it reminds me of Yellowman. Of course, their Bowie impersonations are fantastic, too.

  8. Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs

    Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

    This album didn’t make a huge impression on me. I thought it wasn’t nearly as strong as previous Death Cab albums (e.g. Plans and We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes). Then Joanne managed to get us tickets to see them live. Seeing them perform I Will Posses Your Heart changed all that. This album is more subtle than previous albums, but has now become one of my favorite Death Cab albums.

  9. Vampire Weekend

    Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

    Another album that I almost didn’t put here because I got sick and tired of hearing about it, but I keep coming back to the album. It’s another one I love listening to, and it makes me smile. Especially when they’re doing their homage to Peter Gabriel. (It gets even better when Peter Gabiel covers Vampire Weekend.)

  10. Blitzen Trapper - Furr

    Blitzen Trapper – Furr

    Another recent discovery. I considered putting it higher on the list. The whole album is pretty good, but the title track is probably my favorite track of the entire year. In fact, it is so perfect it’s fast becoming one of my favorite songs of all time.

Death Cab For Cutie

I Will Possess Your Heart

I’ve been a fan of Death Cab For Cutie for a while now. I discovered them while I was living in France. Hearing their earlier albums always brings back memories of hanging out in our very small living room, drinking wine with Steve.

I never had the chance to see them live, though. Possibly because their music is rather sedate. Complex and amazing, but often sedate. I just didn’t think that they’d be very interesting live.

I was proven very, very wrong last week on Monday. Joanne managed to win us tickets to see Death Cab for Cutie at Koko, as a part of the iTunes Live: London Festival (did they come up with that name by committee?).

The whole show was great. Ben Gibbard has an amazing stage presence. He is energetic and clearly loves what he does. I shouldn’t have expected anything less from a Seattle band, to be honest.

The highlight of the show was I Will Possess Your Heart. It seemed to last forever — though not as long as the wall of sound at the end of the My Bloody Valentine gig, which I should blog about. I Will Follow You Into The Dark was equally amazing, though for different reasons. It was Ben Gibbard solo with a guitar. After treating us to a lush and intricate musical arrangement, he proved that he was equally capable of making incredible songs even when they are stripped down to the very basics.

The day after the show, I listened to Narrow Stairs, their new album, again. I’d listened to Narrow Stair twice, but it didn’t really strike me. Of course, I’d listened to it through the crappy little speaker in my MacBook. This time, I listened to it through headphones. It was a completely different experience. I now love the album.

Bag that Uke

Sugar Kane Ukulele Bag

Sugar Kane is an unabashed ukulele player. She sings an great little ditty about a dancing bear that makes me chuckle each time I listen to it. But SK had a problem. She had a beautiful uke, but nothing to put it in. So she made herself a ukulele bag and posted the results on flickr. That generated a lot of interested from the thriving ukulele community. So now she’s made a whole lot of bags, and she’s selling them over on MySpace. You should go there and check them out now. They’re mighty fine.

Stupid Amounts of Fun

It all started with the Sanford and Son post over on Aquarium Drunkard. Joanne and I were grooving to the smooth sounds of Quincy Jones, but we craved more. No, not more Quincy Jones. That would would have been the sensible option. No, dear reader, we wanted more cheesy television theme tunes from yesteryear.

So, we headed on over to Television Tunes.com. Oh, yes, they’re all there. I’ve just spent the last two hours to listening to pretty much every 80’s theme tune out there. Why were so many of them crappy light jazz? The Jeffersons still stands up, though I never realised that it was actually a gospel song.

I knew all the words to Good Times, but I’m pretty sure I had no idea what a “temporary lay off” was when I was a kid.

And when are they going to make a Welcome Back Kotter movie? As Joanne pointed out, Ben Stiller could easily take on the role of Mr. Kotter. The only problem is who would play Vinnie Barbarino?