I forewent using grafs in the first three lists in favor of bringing depth to the year’s rankings via a list of ten “moments” in which music played a central role in creating a memorable experience or set of experiences. Thank you!
Fifteen Favorite Singles of 2015
Ten Favorite Albums of 2015
2. Carly Rae Jepsen - E•MO•TION
3. Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass
4. Grimes - Art Angels
5. Empress of – Me
6. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
7. Julia Holter - Have You In My Wilderness
8. Joanna Newsom – Divers
9. Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete
10. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell
*Disqualified by the year of its release, the Album of My Year was Mitski’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek
Ten Films I Saw This Year Which Used Sound or Music In Innovative Ways To Remarkable Ends (Alpha order)
Inherent Vice (2015)
It Follows (2015)
This Video Promoting Madison’s Newest Mega-Apartment Building (2015)
You’re Sleeping, Nicole (2015)
We Are Your Friends (2015)
Ten Musical Moments from This Year, Isolated As Specifically As Possible
At this year’s Pitchfork Mohawk showcase at SXSW, which coincided with my year’s first wave of Peak Natalie Prass, Natalie passed roses from her stage setup to a handful of audience members, including me, while singing “It Is You.” I am glad my face didn’t end up on any video I’ve seen from that set, because I’m sure it would have depicted a silly display of overwhelming joy. I carried this joy (and flower) with me back to Madison like a souvenir of a dream to waking life.
Them Apartment Changes (or, Mud On The Floor)
As my roommates and I made our annual valiant plunge into the deep-cleaning frenzy that precedes apartment move-out this August, one roommate introduced me to Thundercat’s “Them Changes” just as I felt I’d completely run out of steam. The song gave me at least another 45 minutes’ worth of energy. Now every time I hear it I’m transported to the Cloroxy stress dungeon that was our place on that evening, and that’s somehow a great thing.
From across the room at Thanksgiving (and again at a mid-December family party), I heard four or five of my cousins, ranging the full spread of the tween-to-teen age spectrum, singing Sophie’s “Lemonade” a cappella. Evoking the thrill of hearing a high school classmate of mine singing along to Panic! At the Disco for the first time, I found myself once again a witness to navigation of internet-centric culture through channels of influence into the Real World of People. For someone who can pinpoint with warm feelings the first time he heard Kyary Pamyu Pamyu or even “Hotline Bling” from a passing car’s stereo, it was an exciting moment.
“The Epic” Meal Time
Throughout my young adult life, my parents have made impressive efforts to appease me through my excitement about nerdy cultural fandom, patiently listening to my periodic reports to them regarding updates on rappers’ careers and my takes on internet-centric microgenres. On lucky occasions I’m sometimes immediately struck with the realization that an artist I’ve come across will genuinely appeal to members of my family. This Thanksgiving Eve, I showed my father Kamasi Washington and we had a meaningful moment (sustained through several hours) while prepping for the next day’s meals while listening to The Epic in full, followed by this year’s Thundercat and Kendrick releases. He continues to let me know he’s been listening to and discussing these artists with other people, which makes me feel all fuzzy.
Night Drive in the Vivid Dream
Not long after the release of Art Angels, two friends and I made our way home from seeing Mac DeMarco at Milwaukee’s tremendous Riverside Theatre. After a slice apiece from Pizza Shuttle, Art Angels soundtracked our late-night return to Madison in an otherwise dialogue-free segment of the night drive. Half-asleep and feeling doubly alive, the backseat darkness afforded me an exceptional early opportunity to focus intently on the album’s lyrics and lush environs.
Life in the Vivid Practice Space
Living in the practice space for my friends’ band Tarpaulin, as I effectively did for a month or two this year, afforded me the distinct opportunity to hear the evolution of a young band—determining parts, learning songs, taking breaks on our porch. Shouts to Alejandra, Will, and Mary, whose band ended up being one of the primary themes of my 2015.
By Once or Twice I Mean Maybe a Couple of Hundred Times
Little-known fact: The release of this single was the result of a direct effort from Scooter Braun to improve my serotonin levels. After a long week of work, on the day of this song’s release, I rushed home to experience one of the final sunny Friday afternoons of 2015 and listened to “Sorry” first intently, then loudly; while dancing, then jumping. Even if “Sorry” was all we got from JB this fall, it’d still be a triumph of a year for him.
Transference at Eye Level
I know Clearance are exhausted of heaving about Pavement, but I can’t hold back on including this moment. Imagine, if you must, that one of your all-time favorite dormant bands pulled off some sort of black magic that brought them back to the studio to record a new fantastic record that was neither bastardization nor retread. Imagine, also, that they came to your town at the height of your reawakened fandom and played a show at one of the smallest places in town, loudly bringing this new album to life while facing you at eye level from a distance of about three feet.
My ego did its best to tell me that this experience was a product not of black magic (or psychosis) but rather by a fresh Chicago quartet—one indebted to no one but themselves—but my lizard brain refused to relay anything aside from assurance that I’d fallen through the past two decades and was witnessing something off the an intimate stop on a tour supporting Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. I have almost never experienced such a physiological response to a show; witnesses might report that in a matter of minutes I was reduced to a whooping, quivering display.
Brandon Hears Caribou in a Best Western and Bursts Into Cheer
Often when I find myself especially eager for an upcoming concert and don’t mind knowing the setlist in advance, I will assemble and listen repeatedly to a playlist based on the order of a recent show’s played songs (shouts to setlist.fm). This spring, about a week prior to seeing Caribou play the Metro, I finished a day of business travel by ironing some shirts in a hotel room while listening to a playlist I’d made based on the current tour’s setlist. This serene moment gave way to bouts of bliss as the coarse and un-mixed home concert proved that even if Caribou shows were reduced to a solo iTunes DJ set, they’d retain the power to be life-affirming.
Good Times and Car Rides
Releases like “We Found Love In a Hopeless Place,” “Mirrors,” and basically all of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy will forever remain engrained in my mind as Car Singalong Records. These songs’ turn-up is universal—who’s going to reject the space to move your arms a dance floor provides?—but something about blaring pop music in a confined vehicle tends to add a striking depth to these recordings. Performing in tandem with Rihanna, Justin, and Kanye for a live audience of three, one, or none flips the dynamic of fan/artist as one listener’s vocal response becomes a new focal point for the other co-passengers present. Records’ solo vocal lines become chorus takes and conversational interjections take on the role of Migos ad-libs. Reframing the in-vehicle listening experience as a performance, bookended not by openers and a curfew but by gas station stops and cd changes, can give a car the respect it deserves as a transformational space for experiencing music. Where else can a person feel the effects of a pop song so fully while sitting down?
For me, Jamie xx’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” was Summertime ‘15’s far-reaching windows-down pop song. This summer, few cars in which I found myself passenger or driver did not make haste in airing the 3 ½ minute banger to party-start. In Colours takes sweet time in navigating the aching, fluid bulk of its run time before making the oblique flip to its Good Times, but Good Times The Single is as perfect a starting point as any—as any—to accompany shutting the car door, firmly planting feet under dash, and facing gleaming face towards headliner. That the sample’s lyrics clearly reinforce the role of this track is almost beside the point. “I know / there’s gonna be…”