As with 2014, my list of favorite songs from 2015 is put together according to a certain loosely-structured formula. The songs are first arranged by sheer volume of plays as compiled by my last.fm account. Duplicate artists are excluded — a dictum that doesn’t apply if one is a cover — as are songs that tally as perennial favorites.
01. Burial, “Temple Sleeper” (358 plays). I write freelance for a living, so I listen to music constantly as I research, draft, and edit. This year, I wrote and wrote and wrote until I burned out a week or so ago. There were entire days this year during which I listened to nothing but this song by Burial. I’m bonkers about Burial anyway; I’ve never yet gotten tired of listening to “Untrue” (2007) on repeat. When the “Temple Sleeper” single dropped in January, it became an instant favorite.
02. Sia, “Chandelier” (284 plays). “Hostage” was my most-listened to Sia track in 2014, and this year, I found that the more I listened to “1000 Forms of Fear,” the more wonders, comfort, and karaoke ecstasy I drew from it. For a sold-out Pinhook karaoke in February, a benefit for the LGBTQ Center of Durham, hosted by Sylvan Esso, I wanted to sing “Hostage.” Of course, the only Sia that the Singsnap app had available at the time was “Chandelier,” so I devoted myself to learning it, having not really paid attention to it while the song was busy conquering Earth previously.
My friends Alexis, Julia, and Derek agreed to do backup dancing during the performance. In front of a packed Pinhook, my friends and I went to town. It was an absolute highlight for me; one of the best moments of the entire year. Our mischief was mentioned in the Indy, and that article gave a title to what became, not only one of my favorite art-pieces, but the banner image for most of the episodes of Pinhook karaoke that followed.
“coordinated outfits and choreographed routines,” by Melvin Peña
That Sia record hasn’t been long out of my ears. I keep returning to it, song after song, and locating within it all of the things, among them, strength, empowerment, perseverance, and release. It’s just a glorious pop monument.
03. Badbadnotgood & Ghostface Killah, “Ray Gun (feat. DOOM)” (224 plays). Despite an erratic release schedule for his own projects, I don’t think there’s been a year since 2004 that the metal-faced villain, DOOM, hasn’t appeared in my list of top or favorite tracks, usually in a guest-starring role. That’s certainly the case here, as he pops up for a touch in my favorite hip-hop record of this year, “Sour Soul.”
The album is a collaboration between Toronto’s jazz/hip-hop trio BadBadNotGood and Tony Starks of the Wu-Tang Clan. As another writing-friendly record, I’ve probably heard the entire thing through at least 60 times this year, and this song way, way more than any other.
04. Felicia Day & Neil Patrick Harris, “My Eyes” (122 plays). Pinhook karaoke matters to me, and little brings me more unfiltered joy than taking the stage and rocking the mic. When Alexis asked me to duet with her on a song from “Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” in July before she moved away, I had a lot of work to do.
I still haven’t heard the entire production, which I know is shameful. I’ll work my way around to it at some point! I loaded the particular song she wanted to sing, “My Eyes,” onto my mp3 player and listened to nothing else until I mastered it utterly. Our karaoke performance ruled! It was so much fun being the NPH to Alexis’s Felicia Day.
“my eyes,” photo by Maria Williams
05. Flash Chorus, “Elastic Heart” (109 plays). You know what else is excellent, liberating, and restorative? Choir practice. When my first Monday-night drinking choir dissolved in the spring, I felt a little bereft. Good things and pure joy are rarely long-lasting. I knew that successor Flash Chorus would arrive with autumn, but had no idea whether it would be as fun or transportive. Well, on our first night in September, the first song we sang happened to be exactly the one I was most absorbed by at that moment — Sia’s “Elastic Heart” — and the results were magnificent.
In the weeks leading up to the Flash Chorus premiere, my excitement for choir practice was at fever pitch. All through the summer, I’d missed the community and camaraderie that inevitably manifested every Monday. On anticipation alone, I designed an art-piece blending the album covers of the two tracks we were slated to sing; the aforementioned “1000 Forms of Fear” and of Montreal’s “The Sunlandic Twins.”
“so many red flags,” by Melvin Peña
If “Chandelier” got the most plays by numbers alone, the songs that did the most work for me this year off that Sia record were “Elastic Heart” and “Big Girls Cry,” both of which I’ve trotted out at various Pinhook karaokes. Even now that the fall season has ended, that first song and that first Flash Chorus video remain my very favorite of the whole run.
06. Daddy Issues, “Fuck Marry Kill” (108 plays). When a track plants a flag in my ears on first listen, no matter when it comes out, it’s almost guaranteed to make the year-end list one way or another. Greensboro’s Daddy Issues released their first and only LP, “Fuck Marry Kill,” in early November, a couple of months after the vicissitudes of life meant that the band’s dissolution had already occurred.
Just like their live show, the entire record is wonderful, full of life, happiness, and wild energy. The band announced ahead of time that, with no tour forthcoming — and thus, no need to invest the record’s earnings back into the live act — they’d donate all sales to Girls Rock NC. At only $7, you really have no excuse not to buy it immediately.
07. Axons, “The Athlete” (99 plays). It’s inspiring to me when people I know maintain a consistent dedication to both their work and creative lives. Civil rights lawyer by day, rock star by night, how Chicago’s Adele Nicholas keeps these balls, and many others, in the air is beyond me. One of Adele’s several musical projects, Axons, released “Unmanageable” in December 2014.
I went bonkers for “The Athlete” this year. It’s marvelous and speaks to the simultaneous rush and peril of lives in constant motion. With too much to do and too many goals to meet, the weight of expectation and risk of failure, when do we make time for reflection or connection? I had this song on quite a lot as I bounced back and forth between Raleigh and Durham and it always made me happy.
08. Mikal Cronin, “Change” (96 plays). I have neither the time, energy, or patience to hear every new record as it comes out just for the sake of staying current. The way I listen to music now means that, while I listen to tons of it, I do so based on what catches my ear, feels comfortable, or fills a particular need. Mikal Cronin’s “MCII” came out in 2013, but it wasn’t until fall of 2014 that certain tracks really started to connect with me.
I knew that 2015 would bring with it a number of significant changes and departures. What I didn’t anticipate was a flood of others that I was ill-prepared for and ill-equipped to handle on my own. I’ve been stronger in the past, and better at embracing the idea that “faith in change is something you can find.”
09. Phil Cook, “Ain’t It Sweet” (84 plays). If you know anything about me, you know that, to my mind, North Carolina is the best. The music of North Carolina started calling to me when I was visiting the Triangle during a school break in 1997 and heard a tune from Whiskeytown’s “Strangers Almanac” on local radio. Ten years later, on a different stopover in NC, my brother Peep and I went to see Megafaun play at The Pour House. Once I moved back in 2009, I started seeing Phil and Brad Cook everywhere; if there was a band I liked, one or both seemed to be playing with them.
For his own part, Phil Cook, whether he is supporting another artist or playing on his own, is a perpetual purveyor of ecstatic joy in performance. Perhaps my favorite 8 minutes of live music all year was at Duke Gardens in June. Backed by an all-star roster of talented musicians, including Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath, Phil and his pals delivered an all-conquering rendition of Willis Alan Ramsey’s “Northeast Texas Women.” All props to Dan Schram, who preserves these incredible moments, conferring boons upon us all.
What a treat and a pleasure it was when anticipation started to build for Phil’s first major solo record, “Southland Mission.” As with many of the things and people that I spend a deal of time contemplating or treasuring, Phil’s record inspired its own celebratory art-piece.
“dem cook boys, tho,” by Melvin Peña
10. Sweden, “Waterloo” (81 plays). As far as making art goes, one of my secret dreams and goals has long been to design an album cover. I was fortunate enough to be handed that opportunity in 2015. A group of my pals — Will, Rochelle, Alexis, Julia, Andrea, and Ricky — got together at various times to record an album of folk covers of Swedish pop hits under the aegis of Sweden – Band.
“sweden – band,” by Melvin Peña
I still can’t believe that a piece of art I created is visible all over the planet on services from Spotify to iTunes. By far, my favorite track on the record is a cover of ABBA’s “Waterloo.” Every time it comes on, it makes me smile and laugh, and I can’t hear it once without having to listen to it several times in succession. Same goes for the video version, which is totally bonkers. It’s a song and a record that sound like friendship to me.
The Mountain Goats, “Blood Capsules” (67 plays). It wasn’t the next one in the queue as far as play-count goes, but this is my list and I can do whatever I like! I — and my baby puppy — love that 2015 Mountain Goats record, “Beat the Champ.” One of my deepest hopes is that Flash Chorus one day takes a crack at “Foreign Object,” which, in concert, became an instant shout-along classic.
“beat the champ,” by Melvin Peña
That said, the track that made me feel the best this year was actually from the 12″ that came with the deluxe package from Merge Records, “Blood Capsules.”
Hooray for music! Listening to it, singing it, playing it, or witnessing it being played, music rules. I’m looking forward to what jams I’ll be overwhelmed by in 2016!