Sunday, January 3, 2016

Pop Candy Arcade Playlist: The 100 Songs of 2015, 1-20

Another year, another moment where I take a break from writing about movies to chronicle the past twelve months in music.  It's a season where I shift between pure frustration and getting really excited about pop culture again and again as I browse the lists of others and work obsessively at adding and subtracting from my own accumulated playlist of songs I'm ready to pack into an electronic time capsule.  2015's collection is the 7th annual edition of this nonsense, and I've gotta say: I love looking back at past years even if I do go a little crazy organizing these things.

As per usual, the caveat: this is not a music site.  It's a film site, and also a one-person operation. I like making playlists, I like sharing sounds I've enjoyed, and I'm very into archiving my own tastes.  That said, this is a list far more about compiling a very subjective set of artifacts and not really about placing labels on the "best" possible songs of the year. They're the best to me, certainly, even if they're not always the most musically ambitious. 

Let us begin. Presented with minimal commentary and in no real order, Part 1 of the 100 tracks of 2015:  

1. Grimes / "REALiTi" (Demo version)  This is the year many of my friends finally acknowledged Claire Boucher, and I've rarely felt so justified.  Grimes dropped Art Angels, the pitch perfect electro-pop album that marks a career shift and a bigger, louder presence.  "REALiti" is an anthem for all seasons. 

 2. Jamie xx ft. Romy / "Loud Places"  Speaking of anthems, xx bandmates Jamie xx and Romy Madley-Croft come together once again for a dazzling, slow motion high.  It's like a silent plea in the middle of the best night ever.

3. Kendrick Lamar / "Alright" A jam, but an important one as smart and pointed as it is catchy.  Like all of To Pimp a Butterfly, "Alright" is is a musically layered, lyrically dense piece of work that only becomes more impressive with repeat listens.  I'm still unpacking the layers of this album.

4. David Bowie / ""  The Blackstar album hasn't dropped in America just yet, but the single - and wonderfully bizarre music video - have made their mark.  As a well-documented Bowie fan, I'm a little bit biased, sure, but I'll be damned if this isn't hard evidence for Bowie's unprecedented ability to fold in chameleonic shifts with truly individual themes.  This is not a one listen judgment. Give it time, let it hit that 5:30 mark.

5. Tame Impala / "Let It Happen" Do we dance? Do we eat all the acid and stare at black light posters? Do we do both and let the record false-skip and stutter and transport us to some nonsense place?  Look to the song title.

6. CHVRCHES / "Clearest Blue" I'll be honest: I did not immediately take to CHVRCHES. There was something about them that seemed overpolished, too clean, too sparse, lacking the messy dimensions their lyrics seemed to demand.  With their second album, though, the Scottish group has ripped a page from the New Order playbook and are nailing it.  Goth electro-pop for the win.
7. Carly Rae Jepsen / "Run Away With Me"  If you're still one of those people who hears Carly Rae Jepsen's name and thinks only of "Call Me Maybe" you're woefully behind the times. Jepsen was screwed by her label this year, with delays, small scale tour stops, and an severely short-sighted lack of promotion for her 80s-touched album Emotion.  She hit a critical home run, though, and "Run Away With Me" is just one in a series of brilliant pop gems.  This is 1989 for everyone outside the squad.

8. Panda Bear / "Boys Latin"  Panda Bear makes music that hypnotizes me, plain and simple. It's noisy and mechanical and lumbers in a way that certainly isn't for everyone, but when the right sounds start to come together there's nothing to do but stop and listen.  I recommend this live. It was like being on the moon.

 9. Lana Del Rey / "High By The Beach" LDR knows what we want from her and delivers. Every song is a cinematic super-blend of nihilistic futility, bad romances, and dead eyed youth.  As a friend put it about this particular track? "That bass, tho..."
10. Siouxsie Sioux and Brian Reitzell / "Love Crime" Siouxsie Sioux materialized to offer the gothiest goth love song possible for the final moments of the Hannibal series finale.  Is it the gothest thing to happen on network television in this century? Probably, and jesus did it make me happy.

11. SEXWITCH / "Helelyos" And meanwhile, Natasha Khan (aka Bat for Lashes) went to the studio to interpret some Moroccan and Iranian tracks and well, apparently was overcome in the process.  SEXWITCH was born: a wailing, primal, psychedelic experience that feels like a mini-break on Wicker Man's Summerisle.

12. Lower Dens / " To Die In L.A." There is much to write about Jana Hunter and Lower Dens, and not nearly enough space to do so here.  Hunter's voice has real power, but here is restrained, a poppier, fresher version of Beach House's Victoria Legrand.

13. Courtney Barnett / "Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go To The Party" Once again, Barnett says what every semi-anxious person is always thinking, but does it with rock star swagger. "I wanna go out but I wanna stay home"? That's a chorus that speaks my language.

14. Dr. Dre (Ft. Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius, and Candice Pillay) / "Genocide" It wasn't quite what we were expecting from Dre's return, but it is a meeting point between his polished production values and the jazzier chaos of collaborator/contributor Kendrick Lamar.
15.  Roisin Murphy / "Exploitation" Moloko's eccentric front-woman resurfaces after a bit of a hiatus with a minute epic that makes collaged polyrhythms and clatter sound slicker than seems possible.
16. Disclosure ft. Lorde / "Magnets" Caracal is a less exciting album than Disclosure's first foray, but "Magnets" is its "Latch": a dance track that swells alongside its vocals and knows just when to turn to a silent moment and rebuild.
17. Petite Meller / "Baby Love" Petite Meller is a French pop star who looks like a Kabuki-painted Lolita and cultivates a pastel aesthetic somewhere between Wes Anderson and early Sofia Coppola. She's also responsible for releasing a bonafide pop contagion (in the best way): "Baby Love" is the best bit of ebullience you probably missed this year.

18. Rae Sremmurd / "This Could Be Us"  I can't explain why I love this song, but I do. It's a weirdly innocent summer jam, teasing and silly even as the sibling duo sasses the song's subject: this could be us but you playin'.
19. Drake / "Hotline Bling"  Resistance is futile, people. It's going to come on, and you are going to dance, and it's going to be a good time. It doesn't matter how much you want to argue about Drake's narcissism or the shit quality of the lyrics, sometimes the thing that makes a song "good" is a little bit of something other than, well, the actual music.

20. Alessia Cara / "Here" That Isaac Hayes (/ Portishead) sample + that brilliant account of every house party ever + that total disinterest in participating beyond her social circle = yes.

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