2015: I Know That She’s Right

A standout year for new music—I know, every year produces its share, but 2015 was for me another 1992 or 2004. That I wrote about three albums from this year (the most for a single year in a decade) speaks to it, along with all the great ones I didn’t include: Edge of The Sun, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, How Big How Blue How Beautiful, FFS, Art Angels—all of them worthy of their own entries, denied primarily for space restraints (this project isn’t called 100+ Albums), each one represented here by a standout track, with “Nobody’s Empire” increasingly looking like Stuart Murdoch’s best song nearly two decades after If You’re Feeling Sinister.

At this year’s end, I even sent out an annual mix CD to friends, something I hadn’t done since 2010 (and haven’t again at this writing.) The first 17 tracks here more or less replicate that mix: a parade of perennials (Marling, Cracknell, Gryner, Sufjan, etc.) with a few one-offs and some newbies woven in (Vampire Weekend’s bassist’s side project Baio; Courtney Barnett cannily channeling The New Pornographers while still sounding like her eccentric self.)

The remaining 20-odd songs are split between good stuff I couldn’t originally fit on an 80-minute CD (Grace Potter’s disco-rock extravaganza, Listenbee’s EDM-folk mashup, the first good Madonna song in a decade) and, as always, gems I didn’t encounter until the following year or two: Susanne Sundfor’s superior Swedish synth-pop, Natalie Prass’ classy, out-of-time balladry, and of course, Carly Rae Jepsen. The much-praised E*MO*TION is more a solid collection of singles + filler than a Classic Album to me, but oh, what singles, especially “Boy Problems”: so blissfully, self-assuredly perfect and sophisticated teen-pop, it nearly got me through the following year.

Go here to listen to my favorite tracks of 2015 on Spotify:

  1. Belle and Sebastian, “Nobody’s Empire”
  2. Years & Years, “Shine”
  3. Florence + The Machine, “Queen of Peace”
  4. Destroyer, “Times Square”
  5. Laura Marling, “False Hope”
  6. Baio, “Sister of Pearl”
  7. Calexico, “Miles From The Sea”
  8. Robert Forster, “A Poet Walks”
  9. Sarah Cracknell, “Hearts Are For Breaking”
  10. Twin Shadow, “When The Lights Turn Out”
  11. Emm Gryner, “The Race”
  12. Jose Gonzalez, “Let It Carry You (Dino Soccio Mix)”
  13. Roisin Murphy, “Unputdownable”
  14. Sufjan Stevens, “Fourth of July”
  15. Metric, “Fortunes”
  16. Courtney Barnett, “Elevator Operator”
  17. Marina and the Diamonds, “I’m A Ruin”
  18. Hot Chip, “Dark Night”
  19. Jamie xx/Romy, “Loud Places”
  20. New Order, “Academic”
  21. Susanne Sundfor, “Fade Away”
  22. Lianne La Havas, “Tokyo”
  23. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Boy Problems”
  24. Matthew E. White, “Rock & Roll Is Cold”
  25. Grimes, “Flesh Without Blood”
  26. The Weepies, “No Trouble”
  27. Grace Potter, “Alive Tonight”
  28. Deerhunter, “Breaker”
  29. Natalie Prass, “Why Don’t You Believe In Me”
  30. Beirut, “Perth”
  31. Tanlines, “Pieces”
  32. Listenbee, “Nottamun Town”
  33. Madonna, “Joan of Arc”
  34. Lord Huron, “Dead Man’s Hand”
  35. FFS, “Piss Off”
  36. Christine and The Queens, “Tilted”
  37. The Radio Dept., “This Repeated Sodomy”
  38. Ivan & Alyosha, “It’s All Just Pretend”
  39. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, “I Need Never Get Old”
  40. Tracey Thorn, “Let Me In”
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2014: Just Some Kid From Boston

Behold, the first year since 1989 where nothing makes the cut for 100 Albums (although 1991’s selection was a compilation.) My top three of the year (Jill Sobule, Future Islands, The New Pornographers) should all make my Top 50 of the Decade list (coming January 2020!), but probably not that list’s top ten, hence their exclusion here.

On that note, I began 100 Albums in 2014 thinking I’d breeze through it in two years or so. I’ll write more about this when I reach the end; just know that as I began foraging through the past, I didn’t overlook the present. Look at all the great tracks from this year: Cibo Matto’s (artistically) triumphant return (not to mention Ben Watt’s, and Erasure’s, and Tori Amos’ and even Suzanne Vega’s!), sterling debuts from Betty Who, Lake Street Dive, Alvvays and Sylvan Esso, breakthroughs from Perfume Genius and Owen Pallett, best-songs-yet from Jessie Ware and Lykki Li, a spooky Lana Del Rey gem and even a collaboration from two of my fave artists (The Both = Aimee Mann + Ted Leo) with a leadoff single named after my hometown.

Still, the 2014 track currently giving me all the feels is “Late Bloomer” from Jenny Lewis’ The Voyager (itself probably a lock for that end-of-decade list.) Clocking in at over five minutes, it’s almost a throwback to classic folk-rock story songs like “Maggie May” or “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, but filtered through Lewis’ delicately puckish demeanor; it also sports a melody so inviting and generous I’m surprised the song isn’t more of a standard five years on.

Go here to listen to my favorite tracks of 2014 on Spotify:

  1. Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting On You)”
  2. The New Pornographers, “Champions of Red Wine”
  3. Betty Who, “Somebody Loves You”
  4. Cibo Matto, “10th Floor Ghost Girl”
  5. Mac DeMarco, “Salad Days”
  6. Gruff Rhys, “American Interior”
  7. Perfume Genius, “Queen”
  8. Lykke Li, “Gunshot”
  9. Lake Street Dive, “Bad Self Portraits”
  10. Jill Sobule, “Wedding Ring”
  11. Ben Watt, “Forget”
  12. St. Vincent, “Digital Witness”
  13. Nicole Atkins, “Girl You Look Amazing”
  14. Suzanne Vega, “I Never Wear White”
  15. Stars, “From The Night”
  16. Erasure, “Reason”
  17. Tori Amos, “Promise”
  18. Lana Del Rey, “West Coast”
  19. Sylvan Esso, “Coffee”
  20. Owen Pallett, “The Riverbed”
  21. Leonard Cohen, “Almost Like The Blues”
  22. Spoon, “Inside Out”
  23. Todd Terje with Bryan Ferry, “Johnny and Mary”
  24. Alvvays, “Archie, Marry Me”
  25. La Roux, “Kiss and Not Tell”
  26. Jessie Ware, “Tough Love”
  27. Clean Bandit with Jess Glynne, “Rather Be”
  28. The Both, “Milwaukee”
  29. Broken Bells, “Control”
  30. Jenny Lewis, “Late Bloomer”
  31. Sharon Van Etten, “You Know Me Well”
  32. Royksopp, “I Had This Thing”
  33. Emm Gryner, “End Of Me”

2013: Love Me While It’s Still A Crime

I got married in September 2013 and traveled to Cuba that December—neither has anything to do with music but the latter at least explains why I never got around to compiling any semblance of a 2013 mix until now. Random Access Memories was easily my favorite LP of that year, but Heartthrob, Tegan and Sara’s aim-for-the-fences dance pop effort wasn’t far behind. While I don’t return to it as frequently today, leadoff track “Closer” is the first song that comes to mind when I think about 2013.

Re: 2013, I also recall Haim’s Fleetwood Mac-goodness, Eleanor Friedberger’s disarming ode to being clumsy in love, unusually strong comeback singles from Alison Moyet and Pet Shop Boys, the loveliest Vampire Weekend song to date (though the recent “Harmony Hall” gives it a run for its money), the most blissful melody you’ll ever hear from Washed Out, an epic Arcade Fire disco explosion, a choice cut from Goldfrapp’s better-with-each-year, atypically pastoral Tales Of Us, a Sam Phillips song as classic as anything on Martinis and Bikinis and Laura Marling convincingly staking her claim as a “Master Hunter”.

I didn’t hear John Grant’s “GMF” until the following year; on that first listen, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing (the title is a NSFW acronym), but I knew it was a great, self-deprecating anthem for the ages before it was over.

Go here to listen to my favorite tracks of 2013 on Spotify:

  1. Tegan and Sara, “Closer”
  2. Bastille, “Pompeii”
  3. Haim, “If I Could Change Your Mind”
  4. Daft Punk feat. Julian Casablancas, “Instant Crush”
  5. John Grant, “GMF”
  6. Disclosure feat. London Grammar, “Help Me Lose My Mind”
  7. Goldfrapp, “Drew”
  8. Jessy Lanza, “Keep Moving”
  9. Cut Copy, “In Memory Capsule”
  10. Sky Ferreira, “I Blame Myself”
  11. Eleanor Friedberger, “When I Knew”
  12. Alison Moyet, “Love Reign Supreme”
  13. Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”
  14. Atlas Genius, “Electric”
  15. Camera Obscura, “This is Love (Feels Alright)”
  16. Pet Shop Boys feat. Example, “Thursday”
  17. Iron & Wine, “The Desert Babbler”
  18. Boy & Bear, “Southern Sun”
  19. Emma Louise, “Boy”
  20. Neko Case, “Man”
  21. Mavis Staples, “I Like The Things About Me”
  22. Washed Out, “All I Know”
  23. Sam Phillips, “You Know I Won’t”
  24. Laura Marling, “Master Hunter”
  25. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Mosquito”
  26. Vienna Teng feat. Glen Phillips, “Landsailor”
  27. Vampire Weekend, “Step”
  28. David Bowie, “Valentine’s Day”
  29. Florence + The Machine, “Over The Love”
  30. Jessie Ware, “Imagine It Was Us”
  31. London Grammar, “Strong”

2012: My Life Has Just Begun!

Two-thirds of the tracks below are culled from two Spotify playlists originally posted at the end of 2012: Someone Who Looks Smashing In Athletic Wear (a lyric from Sinead O’Connor’s ferocious cover of John Grant’s “Queen of Denmark”) and You Enjoy Sucking On Dreams (a lyric from “Serpents”, the first Sharon Van Etten song I ever heard.) Scanning my music library, I came up with a dozen more tracks I encountered in subsequent years (many of ’em in 2013, like “Default”, “I’m Getting Ready” and “The Diaz Brothers”.) Also made a few substitutions (“Sovereign Light Cafe” a more enduring Keane song than “On The Road” (but not by much, really); “Dirty Paws” one of my favorite songs ever as opposed to the merely catchy “Mountain Sound”) and a handful of subtractions (Deep Sea Arcade, The Shins, Regina Spektor)–to keep this at forty tracks, process of elimination inevitably sets in.

Looking over what’s left, I sense a lack of cynicism and weariness I’ve cultivated in the years since—to me, this looks like an utopian ideal of an annual mix: career highlights from Saint Etienne and Stars (both of whom I saw in concert that year), great returns from such veterans as Aimee Mann, Dr. John, Fiona Apple and Patti Smith and a few oddities that continue to age beautifully: Claudia Brucken’s late-period Bowie cover, Emm Gryner’s cool Hall & Oates cover, Josephine’s out-of-time cabaret-pop ballad (discovered by me three years later on an episode of Quantico, of all places) and a cheeky, sublime novelty from The Ting Tings’s flop follow-up LP to their 2008 hit debut: “Next time I’m gonna get it right / I’m gonna paint my face like the Guggenheim,” yelps Katie White, incessantly. Fun fact: until I looked up the lyrics today, I thought she was singing “play my bass at” instead of “paint my face like.” Either way, it’s glorious gibberish.

Click here to listen to my 2012 playlist on Spotify.

  1. Saint Etienne, “Tonight”
  2. Tanlines, “All Of Me”
  3. The Magnetic Fields, “Andrew In Drag”
  4. Django Django, “Default”
  5. Diamond Rings, “Runaway Love”
  6. Stars, “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It”
  7. Jens Lekman, “Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder”
  8. Jessie Ware, “Wildest Moments”
  9. Hot Chip, “Let Me Be Him”
  10. Rufus Wainwright, “Bitter Tears”
  11. Sinead O’Connor, “Queen of Denmark”
  12. The Ting Tings, “Guggenheim”
  13. Aimee Mann, “Labrador”
  14. Imperial Teen, “Out From Inside”
  15. Miike Snow, “Bavarian #1 (Say You Will)”
  16. Twin Shadow, “Run My Heart”
  17. Martha Wainwright, “I Wanna Make An Arrest”
  18. Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife”
  19. A.C. Newman, “They Should Have Shut Down The Streets”
  20. Metric, “The Void”
  21. Calexico, “Splitter”
  22. Sharon Van Etten, “Serpents”
  23. Gossip, “Move In The Right Direction”
  24. Dr. John, “Revolution”
  25. The Gaslight Anthem, “Here Comes My Man”
  26. Keane, “Sovereign Light Cafe”
  27. Bat For Lashes, “Laura”
  28. Emm Gryner, “She’s Gone”
  29. Michael Kiwanuka, “I’m Getting Ready”
  30. Patti Smith, “April Fool”
  31. Andrew Bird, “Lusitania”
  32. Josephine, “House of Mirrors”
  33. Ben Folds Five, “Away When You Were Here”
  34. The Mountain Goats, “The Diaz Brothers”
  35. Bettye LaVette, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”
  36. Of Monsters and Men, “Dirty Paws”
  37. A Fine Frenzy, “Now Is The Start”
  38. Field Music, “(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing”
  39. Claudia Brucken, “Everyone Says ‘Hi’”
  40. Beth Orton, “Mystery”

2011: Let Me Hear That Song

Kaputt and Northern Gospel, 2011’s two albums that I wrote about here will both likely end up high on my best-of-the-decade list at next year’s end; looking over the songs below, I can see more than a few placing high on the adjoining tracks list: M83’s 2011-meets-1986 anthem, Iron and Wine’s Christine McVie pastiche, Ivy’s house-pop resurrection, Wilco’s catchiest tune (without Billy Bragg), kd lang’s finest ballad, Lana Del Rey’s still-startling debut and R.E.M.’s sweet last gasp.

And that’s not all! Don’t forget Jens Lekman’s cautionary note to the lead actress of a Lars von Trier film, spirited one-shots from alt-country rocker Jessica Lea Mayfield, garage punks Those Darlins’ and Aussie duo An Horse (it was the golden age of discovering new music through iTunes’ free Song of the Week), awesome cover versions from James Blake and Kris Delmhorst, the eerie, Norah Jones-led “Black” (made immortal by Breaking Bad late that year), and of course, Kate Bush’s 13-minute paean to fucking a snowman.

As for The Rapture’s urgent, exuberant dance-rock opus (also a last gasp from them), it’s not a Bee Gees cover—it’s much better than that.

Click here to listen to my 2011 playlist on Spotify.

1. Wilco, “I Might”
2. Those Darlins’, “Screws Get Loose”
3. Atlas Sound, “Mona Lisa”
4. Beth Ditto, “I Wrote The Book”
5. Jens Lekman, “Waiting For Kirsten”
6. Smith Westerns, “Weekend”
7. Jessica Lea Mayfield, “Blue Skies Again”
8. Destroyer, “Kaputt”
9. Emm Gryner, “Heartsleeves”
10. Iron & Wine, “Tree By The River”
11. PJ Harvey, “The Words That Maketh Murder”
12. Kate Bush, “Misty”
13. M83, “Midnight City”
14. The Kills, “Future Starts Slow”
15. Junior Boys, “Playtime”
16. James Blake, “Limit to Your Love”
17. Lykke Li, “Youth Knows No Pain”
18. Kavinsky featuring Lovefoxxx, “Nightcall”
19. Paul Simon, “So Beautiful or So What”
20. Kris Delmhorst, “Tonight She Comes”
21. Lana Del Rey, “Video Games”
22. Ivy, “Distant Lights”
23. St. Vincent, “Strange Mercy”
24. Lady Gaga, “Marry the Night”
25. Florence + The Machine, “What The Water Gave Me”
26. My Morning Jacket, “Outta My System”
27. Cut Copy, “Need You Now”
28. Raphael Saadiq, “Movin’ Down The Line”
29. John Maus, “Hey Moon”
30. Laura Marling, “The Beast”
31. R.E.M., “Uberlin”
32. kd lang & The Siss Boom Bang, “The Water’s Edge”
33. Danger Mouse & Daniel Luippi feat. Norah Jones, “Black”
34. Gillian Welch, “Scarlet Town”
35. Meshell Ndegeocello, “Chance”
36. Lindsay Buckingham, “That’s The Way Love Goes”
37. Washed Out, “Amor Fati”
38. An Horse, “Dressed Sharply”
39. The Rapture, “How Deep Is Your Love?”
40. Tune-Yards, “Bizness”

2010: So Far Away, But Still So Near

My 2010 top ten albums list is a good example of how such things are prone to being forever in flux. Only Laura Marling (my then #4) made the 100 Albums queue. The top three are still beloved, but there are other Tracey Thorn and Charlotte Gainsbourg albums I love more (the Hot Chip one is good–just not interesting enough for a 1000+ essay.)

Going through my selected tracks below from that year, most are predictable (Belle and Sebastian, The New Pornographers and Goldfrapp on one of my year-end mixes? Who saw that coming?) Still, a few curveballs remain: actual pop/EDM hit “Stereo Love”, which I might’ve heard on Kiss 108 while getting as haircut; “Shark In The Water”, one of my favorite one-hit-wonders (and it wasn’t even a hit here!); “This Charming Life”, Joan Armatrading’s best song in well over twenty years (not that I’ve heard much in the interim); and “Melancholy Beach”, a Gorillaz song you’d easily mistake for Blur in a blind listening test (I know, like most Gorillaz tunes.)

“Dancing On My Own”, however, completely owns this year (and I didn’t even hear it until that November at the earliest.) As excellent as Robyn’s new album Honey is (released three days ago and already a lock for this year’s top ten), nothing on it compares to what will always be her signature crying-on-the-dancefloor anthem, about which I would change absolutely nothing.

Click here to listen to my 2010 playlist on Spotify.

  1. The Divine Comedy, “At The Indie Disco”
  2. The New Pornographers, “Crash Years”
  3. Hot Chip, “Hand Me Down Your Love”
  4. Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Dandelion”
  5. VV Brown, “Shark In The Water”
  6. Belle & Sebastian, “I Didn’t See It Coming”
  7. Laura Marling, “Hope In The Air”
  8. Tracey Thorn, “Hormones”
  9. Vampire Weekend, “Giving Up The Gun”
  10. Broken Bells, “The Ghost Inside”
  11. Best Coast, “Boyfriend”
  12. Fitz and The Tantrums, “Breakin’ The Chains of Love”
  13. Corinne Bailey Rae, “Paris Nights/New York Mornings”
  14. David Byrne/Fatboy Slim feat. Theresa Andersson, “Ladies In Blue”
  15. Goldfrapp, “Alive”
  16. Grafitti 6, “Annie You Save Me”
  17. Janelle Monae, “Wondaland”
  18. Laura Veirs, “July Flame”
  19. KT Tunstall, “(Still A) Weirdo”
  20. Metric, “Eclipse (All Yours)”
  21. Spoon, “The Mystery Zone”
  22. Field Music, “Let’s Write A Book”
  23. Edward Maya feat. Vika Jigulina, “Stereo Love”
  24. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, “I Learned The Hard Way”
  25. Guster, “Architects & Engineers”
  26. The Gaslight Anthem, “American Slang”
  27. Gorillaz, “On Melancholy Hill”
  28. Robyn, “Dancing On My Own”
  29. The Radio Dept., “You Stopped Making Sense”
  30. Scissor Sisters, “Invisible Light”
  31. Joan Armatrading, “This Charming Life”
  32. Arcade Fire, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
  33. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, “Bottled In Cork”

2009: Desperate For Some Kind of Contact

No joke—The Black Eyed Peas spent 26 consecutive weeks leading the Billboard Hot 100 this year (with two songs); Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga also dominated radio, while Animal Collective topped the Village Voice Pazz and Jop album poll. None of these appear on my playlist, although it does feature artists who came in at #’s 2, 3 & 4 on Pazz and Jop (respectively, Phoenix, Neko Case & Yeah Yeah Yeahs.)

If any trend emerges from this mishmash of indie singer/songwriter stalwarts (Metric, Jill Sobule, Andrew Bird) and still-hanging-on veterans (Morrissey, Pet Shop Boys, Chris Isaak), it’s an increasing propensity for lounge-pop, albeit in various guises: modern indie (The Bird and The Bee), jazzy easy listening (Pink Martini) and orchestral ’60s throwback (Camera Obscura), among others. Everything old’s also new (yet) again: Moroder-like synth-disco (Royksopp), Kate Bush-esque new-wave splendor (Bat For Lashes), British pop-punk both snotty (Art Brut) and sublime (White Lies).

Throw in a handful of UK number ones (La Roux, Lily Allen, David Guetta) and you’ve got a shimmering time capsule of end-of-the-decade Anglophilia. Oddly enough, it took a few years for the one of the most Anglocentric, of-its-time tracks to fully register: Imogen Heap’s “First Train Home” is essentially Sarah McLachlan laptop music but those last, crescendoing fifteen seconds always get to me.

Click here to listen to my 2009 playlist on Spotify.

  1. The Tender Trap, “Sweet Disposition”
  2. Florence + The Machine, “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”
  3. Camera Obscura, “French Navy”
  4. Super Furry Animals, “Helium Hearts”
  5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Hysteric”
  6. Morrissey, “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris”
  7. Jill Sobule, “San Francisco”
  8. The Bird and The Bee, “My Love”
  9. Chris Isaak, “We Let Her Down”
  10. Bat For Lashes, “Pearl’s Dream”
  11. Pet Shop Boys, “The Way It Used To Be”
  12. Lily Allen, “The Fear”
  13. Metric, “Gold Guns Girls”
  14. Emm Gryner, “Young As The Night”
  15. St. Vincent, “Actor Out of Work”
  16. Vienna Teng, “In Another Life”
  17. La Roux, “Bulletproof”
  18. Andrew Bird, “Fitz and the Dizzyspells”
  19. Pink Martini, “Splendor In The Grass”
  20. Neko Case, “I’m An Animal”
  21. Kings of Convenience, “My Ship Isn’t Pretty”
  22. Gossip, “Heavy Cross”
  23. Phoenix, “Fences”
  24. Royksopp with Robyn, “The Girl and The Robot”
  25. White Lies, “Death”
  26. David Guetta feat. Kelly Rowland, “When Love Takes Over”
  27. God Help The Girl, “Come Monday Night”
  28. Junior Boys, “The Animator”
  29. Serena Ryder, “Little Bit of Red”
  30. Art Brut, “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes”
  31. Sondre Lerche, “Heartbeat Radio”
  32. Imogen Heap, “First Train Home”
  33. Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, “Goodnight Oslo”