By Ted Boggess ’19
So who else is nostalgic for 2015 already??? It all seems so long ago: I was a freshmen, just starting my first semester of college, there was something called a “Left Shark”, Frank Ocean was just getting ready to release his new album, for real this time….
Plus, if nostalgia for the previous year has already set in, perhaps I can be excused for the timing of this list. I’ve been thinking about the top songs from 2015 more or less since the calendar flipped but only just now got to putting these thoughts to words. It’s been, what, like 9 months since the year’s ended, so I’ve had plenty of time to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Anyway, the songs, in classic bottom-to-top order:
15. “The Joke Explained” by Wilco (from Star Wars) Wilco, especially recent Wilco, is one of Those Bands that make a lot more sense if you see live. I know for certain this song wouldn’t have made the list if I hadn’t. They played all of Star Wars in order at the show I went to, but I didn’t catch onto it at first because, I recall thinking, this song was too good to have been released by Wilco in 2015. Turns out…
14. “Better Go” by Mal Blum (from You Look a Lot Like Me) I won’t lie, Mal Blum opting for the full-band electric sound instead of solo-act-with-acoustic-guitar takes away a bit of the immediate enjoyment from this lo-fi-friendly reviewer, but the songwriting is still there, and “Better Go” is a bass-driven rocker that I never expected out of them, so it alone may be worth the trade-off.
13. “I Don’t Feel So Mad at God When I See You in Your Summer Dress” by Geoff Berner (from We Are Going to Bremen to Be Musicians) IDFSMAGWISYIYSD takes the Song Title of the Year Award for certain. And it checks the “token klezmer song” box too, what a deal! In all seriousness, Geoff is a hidden Canadian treasure, definitely worth exploring if your accordion tolerance is high.
12. “Box Batteries” by Mac McCaughan (from Non-Believers) It’s on Non-Believers but I prefer the single version over the album one. It’s exactly the kind of song that someone McCaughan’s age and position in music should be writing. Well, that and more Superchunk songs, of course.
11. “Pretty Pimpin’” by Kurt Vile (from B’lieve I’m Goin Down…) When someone says, “you’ve got to hear this song, it’s so funny” to me, it conjures up unpleasant images of cheesy novelty acts parodying the Pop Hit of the Week, and nothing worth listening to more than once. However, “Pretty Pimpin” is A) an amazingly well-put-together tune and B) coincidentally hilarious. Kurt Vile just gives off this vibe, man.
10. “Price Tag” by Sleater-Kinney (from No Cities to Love) WHEN THE COST COMES IN, IT’S GONNA BE HAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIGH!
9. “I Saw My Twin” by Hop Along (from Painted Shut) On this list just because it mentions West Virginia in the chorus? A cynic might say so but there’s a lot more to both Hop Along and this song than the geographical references that I can’t resist. Nobody else can make “I saw my twin working in a Waffle House” sound so chilling.
8. “Midnight Blue” by John Vanderslice (non-album single) New song released as a single b/w a Songs: Ohia cover that’s also worth listening to. It’s frenetic in a way that JV doesn’t usually go for on his albums. Wouldn’t complain if the next one sounded more like this. Or if he makes something as beautiful and sad as Dagger Beach next time, that’d be fine too. What I’m saying is: I want another John Vanderslice album.
7. “Kill V. Maim” by Grimes (from Art Angels) Grimes was the closest I came to breaking the only one song per artist sort-of-rule. I chose “Kill V. Maim” over “Flesh without Blood” but either one of them could’ve been on here. I’m still stuck halfway through 2016 at just how much ground this song covers in 4 minutes, and how it’s made up of tiny parts that just start to get obnoxious over repeated listens but they still just sound so cool, Grimes is so cool, I want her to be my friend.
6. “Unmasked!” by The Mountain Goats (from Beat the Champ) My favorite band released my least favorite album by them last year. Even a subpar Mountain Goats album has at least one classic track on it though, and “Unmasked!” – my favorite exclamation mark-punctuated piece of media from 2015, closely followed by Jeb Bush’s campaign slogan – is that song. It’s a slow one, too. No one’s gonna be shouting the chorus (if it even had one, really) like “This Year”, and that’s fine. I’m just glad John Darnielle can capture my attention with just his guitar and his voice even now, 24 years after Taboo VI: The Homecoming rocked the indie rock landscape.
5. “King Kunta” by Kendrick Lamar (from To Pimp a Butterfly) And I don’t even like hip hop that much. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. If we had to choose one song from last year that everyone had to agree on, can’t it be this one? Not, like, The Weeknd or some shit like that? Just Kendrick, and his yams manipulating Bill Clinton with desires.
4. “Leave a Trace” by CHVRCHES (from Every Open Eye) “Leave a Trace” might be a perfect pop song. I really don’t have much to say other than that…I’m glad this isn’t an album list, because there’s a good chance I would’ve had to admit enjoying the CHVRCHES album more than anything else last year.
3. “Under a Rock” by Waxahatchee (from Ivy Tripp) Katie Crutchfield has absolutely nailed this type of music. She’s made three killer albums of confessional, melodic, blurring-the-line-between-solo project-and-band indie rock, and that’s not even taking into account what she accomplished with P.S. Eliot. Ivy Tripp might be a slight step down from the first 2 but this song is one of the finest she’s ever written, up there with “Grass Stain” and “Swan Dive”…And not like this is a prerequisite for “top tier Waxahatchee song”, but “Under a Rock” fucking rocks, too.
2. “Mountain Lion” by Mint Mile (from In Season & Ripe) “Mountain Lion” doesn’t give a shit. It saunters effortlessly through one of the catchiest melodies I’ve heard in a long time – Mint Mile makes it look easy. Andy Cohen and Tim Midyett have been making music together for two decades now – maybe it is easy for them. Maybe Andy can dick around on acoustic guitar and Tim can make up some lyrics and BAM – they’ve got an amazing song in like 15 minutes. Now Tim needs to release “City of Speed Traps” this year so I can put it on the 2016 list.
1. “Sprained Ankle” by Julien Baker (from Sprained Ankle) I didn’t know which song was going to be #1 when I started this list, but I didn’t think it’d be this. I figured it’d be “Mountain Lion” or “Under a Rock”, or maybe “King Kunta”. As soon as this one came up on the playlist that all went out the window.
There are different types of sadness in music. There’s a kind of grand, reaching sadness that rock bands like The National and Okkervil River are able to tap into, the type of knowing sadness, sadness for a specific thing or person, or (quite often) all humanity as an objective and removed spectator. Julian Baker channels a different kind of sadness. The sadness in her music is deeply personal: every line screams there is something that is wrong wrong with me. Sprained Ankle is a deeply internal-looking record that I can’t listen to all the time but when I can it hits like nothing else. Like the rest of the album, the title track is very sparse musically, which is all the better for Baker’s voice and lyrics to take center stage.
I’ll be listening to Julien Baker as long as I still feel sad – that is to say, for the rest of my life.
Spotify playlist of the 15 songs (minus the Geoff Berner one, sadly not on Spotify) here. Stay tuned for my article on the top songs of 2016, coming out tentatively in, like, November of 2019.
Honorable mentions: “Trying” by Bully, “Bridgeburner” by Mutoid Man, “Grey Hair” by Waxahatchee, “Flesh without Blood” by Grimes, “Pedestrian at Best” by Courtney Barnett, “Alone at the Party” by Eskimeaux, “Playing Dead” and “Empty Threat” by CHVRCHES, “Times Square” by Destroyer, “Get Old Forever” by Jeff Rosenstock, “Everybody Does” & “Go Home” by Julian Baker, “Saint Peter Upside Down” by Craig Finn, “The Word Lisa” by The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die.