31 December 2015

top 50 traxx of 2015 (10-1)

<-- 20-11

10. "Soap" by Melanie Martinez

Pulling off a concept album for your debut is pretty ambitious, but Melanie Martinez dove headfirst into themes of childhood abandonment, neglectful parents, and teenage self-esteem struggles to create something very special in Cry Baby. It's certainly no surprise that her music lyrically resonates mostly with younger folks (or adults who haven't been to therapy), but the production is equally noteworthy. As evidenced by this and a handful of others on the list, 2015 was the year of the anti-chorus -- no singing a hook here, just popping bubbles.

9. "Keeper" by Ester Dean

I said it in a previous entry but it's worth repeating: I love Ester Dean, and I wish more people knew about her. Not only is she a brilliant songwriter, her views on gender and sexuality are extremely progressive. I would read a book on Ester Dean's ideas about sexual identity. This track, in which she unashamedly tells a guy how she got his woman, is such a perfect snapshot of who she is as a person and artist.

8. "Bury It" by CHVRCHES

Every Open Eye was my favorite LP of 2015. Each song is a standout of electronic bliss and angelic vocal melodies. "Bury It" comes on the strongest of any of its tracks, opening with raging sawtooth synths followed quickly by Lauren Mayberry's powerful voice at its most emphatic. A definite highlight of the year was being there when they brought out Hayley Williams to sing it with them in Nashville.

7. "WTF (Where They From)" by Missy Elliott

Easily the most anticipated comeback of 2015, and whoooooo did Missy deliver! She delivered herself to a new young audience that embraced her and reminded those of us in our 20s why she's been the queen of hip hop for almost 20 years now.

6. "Begin Again" by Purity Ring

A track that stirs emotions and makes your spine tingle, this first single from Purity Ring's latest album is an effervescent nighttime swim in a motel pool while the vacation air makes you reflect on your life choices.

5. "F Q-C #7" by Willow Smith

The Pinkett-Smiths have raised their children to be independent, confident thinkers and artists, and though they both say a lot of insane shit, they sometimes harness their egocentrism into interesting art. Willow is a great singer; she holds some powerful notes in this track, which feels like playing hopscotch on a sunny day. I wish I could say more about this song's production or even the rest of the album, but she's either already running from the project or just has a bad promotion team, because I can't even find a track listing.

4. "Bitch Better Have My Money" by Rihanna

This is more than a song; it's a goddamn revolution. A decade after we first met her, Rihanna has managed to remain relevant and edgy in all the right ways. This track was on the soundtrack to every night you've been out since it came out, its thumping, grinding bass and shoutable hook almost a call to party arms. The final quarter of the song goes totally off the rails into a rage -- presumably when the titular bitch is getting his comeuppance for failure to pay.

3. "Leave A Trace" by CHVRCHES

I was so nervous that CHVRHCES would never make a song that made me as happy as "The Mother We Share" does, BUT THEY DID. Like most of the tracks on Every Open Eye it starts with a crash, yet still finds ways to push and pull as it moves along. Certainly not a happy song (I consider it a spiritual cousin of "Walking On Broken Glass"), but one that is not without hope -- even just in the sense that experiencing loss and rejection is part of the human condition.

2. "Won't You See" by GL

WHAT A JAM! Bassline is funky as hell, snare drum is poppin, killer vocal hook. Dance-pop perfection. The Nu Shooz comparisons are fair.

1. "Flesh Without Blood" by Grimes

Grimes was on my radar before this year, but for some reason it took me this long to actually sit down and pay attention to her music. Her landmark 2012 track "Oblivion" is about being afraid to walk around at night. Now, three years later, we see a more confident, comfortable artist who still hasn't lost the awkward charm that makes her performances and live persona so enjoyable. Like "Leave A Trace" above, this too is about moving on after a breakup, but Grimes ends up in a better place. In fact, she tells you quite bluntly: "I don't care anymore."

Top 50 of 2015 Spotify Playlist

30 December 2015

top 50 traxx of 2015 (20-11)

<-- 30-21

10-1 -->

20. "Hurt Me" by Låpsley

Another young artist, Låpsley's voice is like thick molasses. Her powerful contralto stands up so well to the loud production on this track that it's easy to get lost in either. The hook has the instantly-singable simplicity of a '90s pop radio ballad.

19. "Living As A Ghost" by GEMS

Have you ever heard a song and thought, "I had no idea the world needed this music, but in retrospect how were we all living without it?" That is how I felt after my first listen through of the amazing debut by GEMS, Kill The One You Love. It's sleek, calculated, bassy, and makes you feel warm and rhythmic. This track has my favorite hook of the collection, and I love its oddly abrupt ending.

18. "Want To Want Me" by Jason Derulo

I've probably had the biggest change of opinion on any musical artist in my lifetime on Jason Derulo. In 2010, he was a punchline to me; someone to whom Gaga gave the front 5 feet of her massive stage to sing over a couple of tracked songs before she brought the house down. 2014 was the beginning of these changes, and 2015 moved him so much further in the right direction that here he is in my Top 20. This is a serious jam that basically exemplifies what is great about modern R&B pop music.

17. "Circles" by machineheart

I think the Vanic remix of this track is probably the better known-version, but the original of this exercise in pop purity did it for me. The kind of track that just makes you bounce inside and out.

16. "I Really Like You" by Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly's sophomore album Emotion might be the most underappreciated of the year. It was to '80s music what It Follows was to '80s slasher flicks: Art made by artists who deeply respect that era and created something that was tonally and thematically in that moment without being a reductive copy. Baffling to me that it barely barely barely barely barely barely cracked the Top 40.

15. "Hey QT" by QT

I'm pretty sure this track is some kind of inside joke that I don't get, but I don't care; it's incredible. QT seems to be more performance art than music career. She's a character being played by a British artist named Hayden and promoted a (fictional?) energy drink called DrinkQT. She never breaks character, though, so we're all sort of left not knowing whether to laugh while we dance.

14. "Cranekiss" by Tamaryn

You could dub this track onto a cassette and play it for the world's hardest-core My Bloody Valentine fan, telling them it's your favorite shoegaze cut from a local band's homemade tape release that you bought at their show in a dive bar in 1991 and they'd believe you. Again, as with so many alternative songs, it's only "retro" in spirit; this track is still somehow perfectly 2015. Gorgeous vocals that have the crisp flow of a garden pond and saccharine drum crunches are the toppings on the many layers of just-melodic-enough distortion guitars.

13. "Age Of Consent" by Parallels

This is the first time a cover has ever made my top songs of the year, but it feels justified. While definitely faithful to New Order's original, Parallels succeeds in making it their own by polishing up the rough edges of the rhythms and vocals and giving it more of a glistening finish that suits their style. The decision to make it a duet was a brilliant stylistic choice too -- it becomes a conversation rather than a plea into the night sky.

12. "Electric Love" by BØRNS

Somehow, 23-year-old Garrett Borns pulls off a glam rock song with a classic rock tinge that omits everything that was obnoxious about those genres in their heyday. His voice is sublime, and his distored guitar's riff will make you think of Norman Greenbaum in the best way.

11. "Deadwater" by Wet

I've been watching Wet perform this song live for three years now, so it was great to finally get a studio version of this incredible downtempo pop song about the struggle to find motivation in the face of certain defeat. Their debut album FINALLY comes to us at the end of January 2016!

28 December 2015

top 50 traxx of 2015 (30-21)

<-- 40-31

20-11 -->

30. "Sledgehammer" by Fifth Harmony

Fifth Harmony were formed on The X-Factor in summer 2012, but it took them until February of this year to release their debut album. I'm not sure how "worth it" the wait was, but this track is a banger of the highest order.

29. "Elastic Heart" by Sia

Despite her on-stage masking, Sia does not shy away from sharing deeply personal parts of herself in her music. These lyrics find her vulnerable as ever, a strong-willed woman who seems to have found the one person that she's scared can break through her walls.

Supported by another video of excellent Maddie Ziegler dancing, this time also featuring Shia LaBeouf being the wonderful strange person that he is.

28. "Trap Queen" by Fetty Wap

Trap music arguably had the best year of any on-the-rise subgenre, and this track led the charge. I love the groan of Fetty's voice, I love seeing a successful musician not shy away from a disability, and I love his adorable child.

27. "Sorry" by Justin Bieber

I have accepted the fact that Biebs has finally grown into himself and is now an actual musician and you should too. The fact that his music gets more compelling and complex the more creative control he takes of it speaks volumes. I bounced back and forth several times on whether to include this track or the lead single, and since they're about equal in lyrical mediocrity, it came down to composition; this one sounds better as an acoustic track.

26. "Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix)" by Omi

You could easily make the argument that this is the #1 pop song of 2015. Not only was it around every single turn of the dial, flip of the station, trip to the stadium, and shuffle of Spotify, it's an earworm of the highest intensity. We'll all be whistling this hook for the rest of our lives, so thanks for this musical infection, Omi.

25. "You Know You Like It" by AlunaGeorge and DJ Snake

This is absolutely a case of the remix making the song (in terms of having a US hit, anyway). The original is a bouncy little UK garage track that never stood a chance outside Britain. As soon as it fell into the hands of a French DJ, though, an international club banger was born.

24. "When You Go" by Avec Sans

Gorgeous downtempo electropop from a British duo with a French name. I'm a sucker for any song with a hook you can sing after hearing it once.

23. "Do What You Like" by Taio Cruz

For reasons that aren't clear, Taio Cruz has had a hard time getting his fourth album out, but considering the over-year-long struggle it took to get his third one finally released in the US in late 2012 (when it was released elsewhere nearly a year earlier), we could be waiting a while. In the meantime, Taio gave us this midtempo R&B dancepop ditty, whose fantastic synth bass line recalls mid-'80s Jeffrey Osborne and Al Jarreau.

22. "Fuck It" by Ester Dean

I love Ester Dean. Adore her. This woman is an unsung hero of the music industry, working largely unnoticed but writing massive hits for Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Beyoncé, and others. She finally had a proper release in 2015, an EP called Miss Ester Dean. It's my favorite non-single release by any artist this year. Its six songs perfectly showcase everything that is great about her songwriting and powerful, palpable voice. You hear the pain in her voice as her high notes in this track wail her frustration with this relationship -- she's over it, has nothing left to lose, and is embracing her right to feel better.

21. "Firestone" by Kygo ft. Conrad Sewell

Kygo sort of made my list last year for his remix of Seinabo Sey's "Younger," and he's back with more of his popcorn synth sounds and piano-based bass lines. For his first solo single, he tapped indie-rock-voiced Conrad Sewell, whose high voice contrasts surprisingly well with the treble-heavy production.

Here is a bonus video of an adorable small Swedish child reproducing the hook from this song on some small sequencers.

20 December 2015

top 50 traxx of 2015 (40-31)

<-- 50-41

30-21 -->

40. "Hit The Quan" by iLoveMemphis

iLoveMemphis is the stage name of 22-year-old Richard Colbert, who wrote this track after watching Rich Homie Quan dance in his video for "Flex." He claims that he spent just $35 recording it. The video is tongue-in-cheek almost to the point of irreverence, featuring various Viners and Snapchatters doing the dance while a stunned Colbert tries to cope with his sudden spotlight. This is pop music at its most fun.

39. "Ex's And Oh's" by Elle King

Elle King is kinda like if Adele were from the American southwest. This is her debut single, and that's pretty damn impressive. She delivers the song with appropriate snark and grit, and the line "they always wanna come but they never wanna leave" is just pure pop brilliance.

38. "Imperium" by Madeon

You probably know Madeon from his "Pop Culture" mashup video, in which he recorded himself making a live 3-minute song built purely from samples of top 40 hits with a MIDI controller. That video was enough to get him noticed by Yelle (for whom he opened later that year), Lady Gaga (with whom he co-wrote and produced the songs "Venus," "Mary Jane Holland," and fan-favorite "Gypsy"), and Columbia Records, who finally released his debut album this year. The entire thing is a sharp, neon blend of vaporwave and French house, but this track stands out as a perfect theme song for walking around at night in a leather jacket with sunglasses on.

37. "Love Myself" by Hailee Steinfeld

Self love is a popular theme in millennial music, because, contrary to what our parents seem to think, we're pretty bad at it. Steinfeld presents this message through the lens of picking herself up after a bad breakup, but the message is further reaching. The chorusing in both her voice and the backing vocal track gives the hook an anthemic feel -- it's meant to be yelled and repeated as necessary.

36. "Nasty Freestyle" by T-Wayne

Another track that owes its success to usage in Vine and Instagram videos, but don't let that detract from Texas rapper T-Wayne's talent. He lays down one hell of a freestyle. This is my favorite kind of rap track -- done for the love of the flow.

35. "Cool For The Summer" by Demi Lovato

Yes, the lyrics are atrocious and her vocal performance is nothing special, but the production on this track is some of the best of the year. The kickdrum almost spits at you, and distorted guitars provide perfect dissonance to her saccharine vocals.

34. "Bombastic" by Bonnie McKee

Bonnie McKee has worked mostly behind the scenes as a songwriter for the better part of a decade. This is only her second single (I don't count the weird Christmas one), behind 2013's on-point banger "American Girl." This release is a nice blend of everything that's great about Gwen Stefani, Ke$ha, and Katy Perry when they're at their best, all wrapped in Bonnie's love of all things egregious, colorful, and retro.

33. "Information" by Eliot Sumner

A beautiful new wave rock song delivered with the detachment of the early-'80s greats of the genre and the disaffected snarl of '90s alt rock. It took me way too long to figure out that she's Sting's daughter.

32. "Velcro" by Clairity

Nashville's Clairity is a 17-year-old singer/songwriter whose husky voice recalls some of the indie greats of the last decade. Her debut EP Alienation includes "Scarecrow," a great track about self-consciousness, but she won me over with the Yaz sample here and awkwardly adorable lyrics like "crush a bag of pretzels."

31. "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd

Nobody had a bigger 2015 than The Weeknd, who topped the charts for nine weeks and received a pile of Grammy nominations for his sophomore album, Beauty Behind The Madness. The dude is poised to be the next pop powerhouse, probably largely due in part to the fact that his songs have no pretense whatsoever. He sings relatable songs about 5 a.m. hookups and recreational drug use, but masterfully writes his songs in such a way that they still receive widespread airplay. This snappy ode to a coke-fueled relationship kept asses moving this year despite its morose lyrics.

18 December 2015

top 50 traxx of 2015 (50-41)


40-39 -->

50. "Watch Me (Whip/Nae-Nae)" by Silentó

There have been many great hits over the years that have spawned their own dance crazes, but this might be the first time an artist has chosen to amalgamate multiple popular club dances from the last decade into one song. The track ends up serving interesting double duty as both an ode to the neighborhoods from which these dances arose and a call to get your ass on the dancefloor. (By the way -- Silentó is 17. WHAT?!)

49. "Computer Dating" by Eurotix

Eurotix is a duo from Sweden comprising producer Larry Forsberg and singer Dennis Alexis Hellström (who, in the interest of journalistic integrity, has been a friend of mine for about a decade). Their music, though rooted in italo-disco club sounds, is actually quite melancholy. Most of their lyrics pine for lost youth, making the album almost a harbinger of the future of this generation of young gay men with Peter Pan complexes.

This track, however, has nothing to do with being sad about being old -- it's just a cute song about a computer trying to find love on the Internet. Hmmm...maybe they've made a solid prediction for the future here too.

48. "FourFiveSeconds" by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney

Much like last year's entry from 5SOS, "Amnesia," this is an extremely carefully crafted pop tune written by a gaggle of folks who have made careers living and breathing the stuff, and Kanye West.

47. "Out The Speakers" by A-Trak and Milo & Otis ft. Rich Kidz

I know -- this is a really strange inclusion; I agree. But this song was positively inescapable this year. It was in a Mountain Dew commercial that seemed ubiquitous, and on every dance floor that you spent a night on. It's a solid benchmark for the state of club music in 2015.

46. "Nobody Love" by Tori Kelly

Kelly has flawless control of her beautiful voice, which shines in this tune that is half Jessie J's "Price Tag" and half any of Mariah's catalog from 1994. I would love to hear her sing some Taylor Dayne style soulful synthpop.

45. "Somebody" by Natalie La Rose ft. Jeremih

The production on this is brilliantly minimalist. It barely has a drum track, and what little it does is 95% synth clapping and snapping sounds. It relies mostly on its harmonious synth bass. I also love its origin story, which reveals it to be the product of brilliant pop musicians having fun with each other in the studio.

44. "Sparks" by Hilary Duff

"I'm not a kid anymore, okay?!" is a popular theme on pop albums made by former child stars. Until "you can promise castles, treasures, babies, I don't care," the least subtle "Damn it, I am grown!!" lyric had been Miley assuring us that she can't be tamed. What it lacks in subtlety, though, it certainly has in likability, singability, and whistleability.

43. "Neighborhood" by Strange Names

New wave music is back in a big, big way. Synthpop has never disappeared completely, but for many years it was mostly a cheap imitation of older sounds rather than innovative. These last few years have seen it almost become a continuation of last decade's indie rock movement -- which I love, because new wave music was born out of punk rock. It's almost like this stuff is New New Wave.

42. "Pretty Lovers" by Client Liaison

Rather than repeat everything I wrote about the last track, I'll just note that I happened to like this track a little better.

41. "Player" by Tinashe

Starting off like a cool breeze and never getting overly excited, this track is sultry smoke from a fog machine that you're looking at your boyfriend through on a dancefloor, telling him only with your eyes that you know something -- and he better watch his ass.