Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Top 20 Tracks Of 2015

You know last year, I did my first ever Top 10 list and I'm all set to do the same for 2015. However, there was a lot of great music in 2015 so it would seem rather silly to simply limit myself to only 10 choices like I did in December of 2014 in this post when that was sort of an arbitrary number. So I'm going to go with 20 this time out because...just because.

(Really, it's because I don't want to leave out too much in this year of great tune-age and even 20 seems like not enough!)

So, while I work on my Top Albums of 2015 list -- a list that may or may not be more than 10 choices -- here's My Top 20 Tracks Of 2015 list in roughly order of release.

(Details of band and label websites in the links to my reviews of each release, where appropriate.)

Kenixfan's Top 20 Tracks Of 2015

1. "Sledgehammer" by Evans The Death (From Expect Delays)

The superb second album from the U.K.'s Evans The Death, reviewed by me here, dropped early in 2015 on Slumberland Records (Fortuna Pop! elsewhere). It was anchored by the vocals of Katherine Whitaker whose pipes brought a lot of passion to indie churners like "Sledgehammer" and the other tracks on Expect Delays. Recalling bands as disparate as The Long Blondes and The Shop Assistants, the tunes of Evans The Death are exactly the sort of indie that this world needs more of.

2. "Wasting Time" by Young Romance (From The Wild EP)

London duo -- sort of -- Young Romance have only dropped a handful of tracks in the last 2 years but they've all been winners. The striking and soaring "Wasting Time" was no different. A kiss-off and affirmation simultaneously, the cut is borderline shoegaze and so much more. More details on the Wild EP are here in my review.

3. "Crawling Back To You" from Young Guv (from Ripe 4 Luv)

Hands down winner of the award for track I played most in 2015, "Crawling Back To You" by Young Guv is a crushingly good bit of power-pop crunch. I think I gushed about this album, out on Slumberland Records, quite a bit back in this review and I'm happy to rave a bit more here. Look, there are a few other cuts on this release that could have -- and should have -- also been on this list but this one wins due to sheer re-play-ability.

4. "Walls Closing In" by Dot Dash (from Earthquakes and Tidal Waves)

Nowhere was the addition to the band of Minor Threat guitarist Steve Hansgen shown to be a good idea than on this cut from album number 4 from D.C.'s own Dot Dash. Earthquakes And Tidal Waves was produced by Mitch Easter -- and he's apparently soon going to produce album number 5 -- but the results were gloriously not jangle-pop a la early R.E.M. and instead something more muscular. Original DD guitarist Bill Crandall was fantastic, sure, but Steve Hansgen brought a real sense of punk power to the band to bolster Youth Brigade legend Danny Ingram's pounding on the kit. If the band sometimes sounds like half a Dischord band and half a Creation one -- Terry Banks was in St. Christopher, after all -- the tension between those 2 styles is what seems to be driving the band now. "Walls Closing In", more than any other cut on Earthquakes And Tidal Waves, reviewed by me here, is the perfect example of that stylistic tension in the band. Good thing bassist Hunter Bennett can play with such panache as his bass intros here are some of the musical high points on this record.

5. "She Writes A Symphony" by The Lilac Time (from No Sad Songs)

The return of The Lilac Time was one of the bright spots in my year as a music fan. Stephen Duffy and crew unleased the superb No Sad Songs, reviewed by me here, in the spring and the album seemed to be the perfect set of pastoral pop to soundtrack drives in a blooming countryside. I'm being poetic but this music brings that out in me, maybe nowhere more so than on the achingly beautiful cut below.

6. "Cool Slut" by Chastity Belt (from Time To Go Home)

I think Time To Go Home is going to show up on a lot of Best of 2015 lists in the near future and probably rightly so. In my review of the album, I tried to get at why I was so reluctant to get on-board with Chastity Belt but I was eventually won over by a cut like "Cool Slut" which managed to be funny and smart in equal measure.

7. "Lost Again" by Mac McCaughan (from Non-Believers)

He's done a lot of projects over the years, but Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan really surprised fans with his excellent and heartfelt debut solo album, Non-Believers. In my review of the record, I tried to highlight how Mac managed to channel some Eighties electro-pop vibes in the service of his set of tunes and nowhere was that mix of New Order-and-Merge more apparent than on "Lost Again", the early single from the record. A testament to te supremely underrated songwriting skills of McCaughan, "Lost Again" could have been amp-ed up and made into a Superchunk song, of course, but Mac wisely chose to turn it into this ruminative number.

8. "I Can't Breathe" by The Jet Age (from Destroy.Rebuild)

D.C.'s The Jet Age really crossed a threshold with 2015's Destroy.Rebuild. After releasing a string of concept albums, main-man Eric Tischler wisely decided to simply focus on the tunes this time out. And while one can still trace Tischler's love of The Who through the bass-runs of Greg Bennett and drum-fills of Pete Nuwayser, it was Tischler's Kevin Shields approximations on this one that really stole the show. I didn't mention it in my review of the album, but highlight "I Can't Breathe" was, obviously, inspired in part by the last words of the tragically lost Eric Garner. Tischler turned that tragedy into one of his sharpest tracks ever, one that sounds like the perfect update on the Swervedriver template, as well as the ultimate Jet Age cut.

9. "Ong Ong" by Blur (from The Magic Whip)

This may be the only song out of the 20 here that's from an album I didn't bother to review on this site. Blur's The Magic Whip was a pretty solid affair, one that had special resonance to me due to the Hong Kong references, as heard on this number. Shortly before my wife and I left the former British colony for America, the local papers were littered with news of Albarn and co. camping out in the city to record some new music. I sorta got sick of the hype back then in 2014 when I was there, but now when I hear him sing about "Kowloon emptiness" I get a bit nostalgic, naturally. If The Magic Whip had come out earlier, I bet I'd have been playing this one everyday as I rode the ferry from Lamma Island to Central and back again.

10. "Rest And Be Thankful" by Linden (from Rest And Be Thankful)

Linden's "Rest And Be Thankful", from the album of the same name, was one of those tracks that sort of caught you by surprise in 2015, as I hopefully got at in my review of the album. Riding a real Teenage Fanclub-vide on this one, the former BMX Bandit really hit a peak here. The additional musicians on this one, like Stuart Kidd, deserve some praise too. This may have dropped in the summer but this is the sort of tune that is gonna warm my heart long into winter.

11. "Getaway" by Jaill (from Brain Cream)

I knew nothing about Jaill before I got the album and I wrote my review in an attempt to try to pin down the appeal of the band. There's nothing earth-shaking here but every cut is catchy and the band has a sort of easy slacker-ish charm that is hard to resist. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the instantly memorable "Getaway" which seems familiar and fresh even on first listen.

12. "Be What You Are" by The Cairo Gang (from Goes Missing)

If I knew nothing about Jaill at first I guess I could say the same thing about The Cairo Gang. The tracks on Goes Missing, reviewed by me here, are all uniformly good and interesting. However, it was the sublime Phil Keaggy-meets-Todd Rundgren pop charms of "Be What You Are" that thoroughly captivated me. If the whole album had sounded like this cut, it may have ended up my fave record of the year.

13. "Fixations" by Gardens and Villa (from Music for Dogs)

The awkwardly-named Gardens and Villa make great, perplexing tunes that straddle a fine line between early, glam Roxy Music and the witty electro-pop of Sparks and MGMT. If Music for Dogs, reviewed by me here, was a pretty solid affair, it was never going to be as great all the way through as early single "Fixations", was it? That cut dazzled my eardrums and I'm still not sick of it yet as I keep telling people about this utterly fabulous single, one of the real musical high-points of 2015 for this listener.

14. "Dream Date" by Salad Boys (from Metalmania)

If New Zealand's Salad Boys are gonna get compared to The Clean and other Kiwi acts by writers like me, it's with good reason. The band has quicly earned its place next to Kilgour and his crew through its brand of guitar rock. However, one must acknowledge the utter infectiousness of lead single "Dream Date" which seemed to be more a Weezer or Pavement cut than a Clean one. I dare you to get this riff out of your head after you play it!

15. "You Can't Always Be Liked" by Expert Alterations (from You Can't Always Be Liked)

Baltimore's Expert Alterations may have left Slumberland Records for their debut full-length release but, never fear, 'cause the Slumberland gang was represented on this one by the mixing of Archie Moore (Black Tambourine, Velocity Girl). Archie's expert work made Expert Alterations sound like indie geniuses on most of this album, perhaps nowhere more so than on the title track on You Can't Always Be Liked, reviewed by me here. The cut seems to combine the best bits from classic singles from The Wedding Present and The Sundays but it remains a unique jam all the same, one that instantly elevated Expert Alterations to serious contenders level. And, as if you needed me to tell you this, the rest of the album is just like this and just as great.

16. "The Milkman's Horse" by The Libertines (from Anthems For Doomed Youth)

I didn't post much about the return of The Libertines 'cause it was simultaneously over-hyped and a bit of a letdown. That said, Anthems For Doomed Youth was a decent album, if a mixed bag. Sounding nothing like The Libertines and everything like the best parts of Barat's Dirty Pretty Things and Pete's Babyshambles, the record is a hard one to love but "The Milkman's Horse" jumped out at me on first listen. Maybe it's those "Get out of my dreams, you scum" lyrics or the slow build of this kiss-off/re-affirmation but whatever, this song at least joins the ranks of the best things these 4 have committed to tape ever, as far as I'm concerned.

17. "Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon" by The Chills (from Silver Bullets)

It's no secret around these parts how much I loved Silver Bullets by The Chills. My review positively gushed over this return from one of my favorite bands ever and why shouldn't I have gushed when the results were this grand? Silver Bullets is an album that manages to span every era of the band and yet the standout track is one that took enormous risks musically, making it a breathtaking bit of business. As Martin Phillips explained to me in a recent interview, the pieces of "Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon" existed separately and then were put together when the band was making the album. The overall effect is a sort of chamber pop that retains the usual warm humanism of Phillipps' best stuff while breaking some new ground sonically. Recently released as a single in a shorter version, the cut is still one of the year's best in any version.

18. "Ever Before" by Boys (from the Kind of Hurt EP)

Insanely catchy, instantly memorable, and altogether affecting, "Ever Before" by Boys is the sort of thing you want to tell all your cool friends about. The cut, from the Kind of Hurt EP from Boys, is one of those songs I played a lot this autumn. Boys is fronted by Nora Karlsson from Holy and the songs here are all worthy additions to the library of my new favorite label (PNKSLM). A few words from me about the Kind of Hurt EP are here.

19. "Best Employed New Beau" by Soccer Team (from Real Lessons in Cynicism)

I tried very hard in my review of Real Lessons in Cynicism, the second album from D.C.'s own Soccer Team, to highlight how much the band have managed to update the Dischord template. Simultaneously sounding nothing like most of the past Dischord bands that still get so much attention, Soccer Team make smart, expertly-played indie of the sort that is sometimes in short supply in the USA. The supple charms of "Best Employed New Beau" are darn hard to resist. Let this cut be your gateway drug to the addictive appeal of Soccer Team.

20. "The World Isn't That Big" by The Foetals (from Meet The Foetals)

Jolan Lewis may have suffered trough some real health issues this year but Meet The Foetals, the debut one from his new project, finally saw release only a few days ago. The Foetals make music every bit as memorable and affecting as that performed by his 2 other, earlier projects (Temple Songs and The Pink Teens) but here the tunes are more concise, the focus sharper. Lewis has sacrificed none of his indie genius even as he has delivered some of his best tracks in years. "The World Isn't That Big" is a bit world-weary, and a bit trippy, but it's also a perfectly constructed, big pop song, and the best way to end this list of my favorite tracks of 2015. More details on Meet The Foetals are in my review of the record.