As the year closes, naturally I must compile experiences and interests from the period into data and statistics.
Okay, maybe I’m not being quite that heartless, but last.fm sure makes it easy to indulge that desire. I scrobble (almost) all of my music to last.fm as I enjoy having a record of my listening habits for both reference and analysis. This year I finally found a solid app to do so from my phone, too, though my scrobbles lack what I listen to at work, which is a lot, as well as about half the year of listening on my phone. Therefore, as we head into 2016, I’d like to look back on what I listened to the most in 2015 (not necessarily my favorite releases from the year — my musical discovery process is best described as ‘stumbling across things years after release’).
Cloud Nothings (904 plays)
In 2015 I returned to the embrace of pop-punk, infused with my newfound affection for noise pop and the authenticity that indie promises. Cloud Nothings’ first two album releases, Turning On (2009) and the self-titled Cloud Nothings (2011), chug along with effortlessly catchy hooks and explosions of distorted sound. Attack on Memory (2012) and Here and Nowhere Else (2014) perhaps lack the charm of earlier releases, opting instead for a more mature alt-rock sound, and I’m partial to the first two for their lightness; it’s indie pop-punk to chill with, that exude a loving and playful fun.
I discovered them on accident in January of 2015, while browsing through Amazon for some CDs. Here and Nowhere Else showed up as a recommended release and I immediately fell for “Now Hear In,” an ode to commiseration and comfort as Dylan Baldi repeats, “now I can feel your pain, and I feel alright about it.”
I found my favorite tracks in those early releases (both on Turning On, actually), in “Morgan” and “Whaddya Wanna Know,” which capture the exuberance I associate with Cloud Nothings. “Morgan” repeats the same structure for maximum listener imprint, as a self-aware, disembodied voice chimes in at 2:20, “again and again.” “Whaddya Wanna Know” slows things down a bit, featuring an almost hypnotic chill that climaxes in the chorus’ falsetto. I challenge anyone to walk away from Turning On and Cloud Nothings without at least one hook caught in their brain and a bit more spring in their step.
Top & Notable Tracks: “Rock” (61 plays), “Whaddya Wanna Know” (58 plays), “Now Hear In” (55 plays), “Giving Into Seeing” (52 plays), “Can’t Stay Awake” (41 plays), “On the Radio” (39 plays), “Morgan” (27 plays), “Stay Useless” (22 plays)
Brand New (728 plays)
I guess I remembered that Brand New is one of my favorite groups this past year. I nearly matched all my plays from 2010-2014 in the span of 2015. I went deeper into their discography than I had ever before, both official and unofficial releases. Most significantly, this year marked the first time I heard “Out of Range,” an unreleased track that’s been floating around the internet. It’s a sparse, almost hollow track about detachment and a desire for belonging that haunted me on-and-off for weeks: “Am I a torn up, tattered, worn-out piece of fabric, not suitable to stitch up a rip? / ‘Cause I’d like to be tightly braided, gold and silver bracelets, / The type you like to wear ’round your wrist.”
Bonus points for listening to the song at 1.5x speed, which brings out its Modest Mouse vibes and influences.
This year I also gave Daisy (2009) another chance, after writing it off on my first listen in 2013 as too heavy. It remains a difficult, dark album, but one that I began to digest and admire. The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me (2006) will always be my favorite Brand New release, but Daisy definitely isn’t the disappointment I first wrote it off as.
Top & Notable Tracks: “Out of Range” (128 plays), “Mene” (45 plays), “Limousine (MS Rebridge)” (35 plays), “Jesus” (29 plays), “Sowing Season (Yeah)” (22 plays), “Noro” (14 plays), “Untitled 02 (Morissey)” (14 plays)
Perfect Pussy (524 plays)
I fell in love this year in the backdrop of a Perfect Pussy concert, then another, and then another. I saw them in March at Webster Hall, in September at Riis Park, and then in October at a car wash in Brooklyn. They blew me away each time.
Perfect Pussy combines riot grrrl frontwoman Meredith Graves with angry, emotive punk. The lyrics smack you with a frank rawness, Graves shouting over distorted instruments “since when do we say yes to love?” in “Interference Fits” off their 2014 release, Say Yes to Love. It would be a crime to frame the group as merely the supporting acts to Meredith Graves, however. Drummer Garrett Koloski put on an incredible show at every concert as he hammered away in fashionable socks (or no shoes at all), guitarist Ray McAndrew went through something like three guitars at Riis Park, and their keyboardist adds a persistent, droning noise to bind songs together. A Perfect Pussy set isn’t x amount of songs, it’s a single, heart-pumping experience.
Pigthe (322 plays)
I took a journey deep into the internet to find Pigthe. Back in 2009, I found a group called The Middle Ones on Myspace. They’re a sweet little folk-pop group that plays with vocal harmonies, and I listened to them on-and-off for years. These days you can check them out on Bandcamp.
Anyway, I was browsing a small forum that’s filled with indie music, and a user posted about a Middle Ones cover album, Chants, done by friends of the group, aptly named The Peripheral Ones. The songs offer a nice twist on songs I’ve had in the back of my head for years, particularly their covers of “Drops” and “Young Explorer.” But the crowning song for The Peripheral Ones comes in “Morningtime,” which includes, in their words, “a lyrical interpolation of Super Bass by Nicki Minaj.” Yeah, really.
It’s a creative and fun album for fans of The Middle Ones, and I’m sure those who have never heard of them can enjoy it too… for free download, via Bandcamp.
Having loved these covers so much, I set out to find the individuals who contributed to Chants. The Bandcamp page lists a number of Twitter accounts, but the only one that led me to more music was @pigthe. Available on Pigthe’s Bandcamp page are two albums, one free and one name your price, that share charms with The Peripheral Ones, with perhaps a more humored, indie-rock tinge. Check out, for example, the slow-build “Spider-Man” off Welcome Back to Viridian (2011), which opens with “there’s nothing I love more than Spider-Man, / there’s nothing I adore like being sad,” the source of that sadness being the singer’s beef with Marvel’s handling of the Spider-Man character. The song eventually closes with a chant, “it’s stupid what they did to Jackpot, / it was stupid wiping the memory of Mary Jane, / it’s stupid pretty much any time there’s magic involved, / it’s stupid if it’s anywhere near the words ‘Brand New Day’.”
You can find even more via their website’s discography page.
Top & Notable Tracks: “2-way thing” (28 plays), “Hit Me, Baby” (26 plays), “Fill In The Gaps” (23 plays), “Spider-Man” (21 plays), “International Wallflowers Anthem” (19 plays), “‘orange juice’” (17 plays), “Any Other Name” (14 plays), “hell.” (9 plays)
Those were some of my top, new (to me) artists for the year, but there a few songs I would be remiss not to mention for my 2015 compilation.
“Make Out Time” (186 plays) & “Everything Stays” from Adventure Time
The Adventure Time soundtracks, curated by Casey James Basichis and staypuft, fantastically compliment the (children’s) show’s nuclear fallout, Feudalistic future. “Make Out Time” is a short and sweet track from Season 6’s “Breezy,” in which Finn battles against depression and apathy with random hookups after learning what a disappointing, deadbeat criminal his father is.
“Everything Stays” hails from the Stakes mini-series; Stakes turns the focus to Marceline the Vampire Queen, who must make peace with her past and her vampirism as she battles against old foes. It’s a dreamy track that grapples with permanence and mortality, complimented by a gentle bass and ambient soundscapes.
“Cut me out” by Trust Fund (130 plays)
Ellis Jones released his début album, “No one’s coming for us,” under the Trust Fund moniker in 2014. Trust Fund mashes together indie-rock and pop influences to build a unique track in “Cut me out” that simultaneously feels like every song you’ve heard in the background of a car ride and an absolutely unique collision of cymbals and apologies. Of “Cut me out,” Jones says,
I wanted this song to sound like Elliot Smith. Stefano’s guitar parts made this into a proper song. The ‘Fragile Alien’ bit I sort of pasted in from a different song so it has a different tune to the first verse. I felt smart when I did that. The lyrics do a lot of twisting around needlessly, but basically the message of the song is “sorry.”
The song may be contrite (“I’m sorry if I accidentally implied, / I’m sorry if I explicitly promised, / I’m sorry if I swore on lives other than mine, / My cat, my dog, my sister, / I hope they’ll be alright”), but nobody in the video goes without an enormous grin for more than four or five seconds total.
“Me & U” by Cassie (122 plays)
My tastes thus far seem rather unified in genre, spanning the broad range of alternative rock with a proclivity in indie. I’ll throw a wrench in the works and introduce my other passion: R&B, pop, and hip-hop throwbacks from the late-90s and early 2000s. Off her self-titled 2006 début, “Me & U” spells out frank desire and sexuality accompanied by a heavy beat. More than a few of my morning commutes to school were spent listening exclusively to this dark, sexy track.
“Fourth of July” by Sufjan Stevens (82 plays)
Somehow I’ve gone my entire life, up to this point, without ever listening to a Sufjan song. At the behest of a good friend, I dove into his massive discography and fell in love with the first track that turned up in a playlist she gave me. “Fourth of July” is a simple, heart-wrenching track about the death of Stevens’s mother (which inspired the entirety of his 2015 release, Carrie & Lowell). It grabs and hypnotizes the listener with its sparse piano and looming ambiance as Sufjan repeatedly croons, “we’re all gonna die.”
“Angels” by The xx (71 plays)
For whatever reason, it took me three years to check out The xx’s sophomore album, Coexist. It’s a fantastic album that expand the whisper-tunes of their début, but shines in the acclaimed “Angels,” which features their iconic restraint. It manages to mesmerize despite its minimal instrumentation and plain, though heartfelt lyrics: “The end is unknown, / But I think I’m ready, / As long as you’re with me.” It deserves the praise.
“Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups (60 plays)
In my early teens, I’d pass the time by plopping myself in front of MTV’s station that just plays music videos over and over. Watching it for hours a day, I grew familiar with their lineup, and waited with fervor for them to repeat favorites like Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” and Relient K’s “Be My Escape.” Among those tracks (though aired far less frequently than Fall Out Boy) was Silversun Pickups’s “Lazy Eye.” I paid it little attention, at the time, but something dragged it out of the recesses of my brain during this past summer.
The song cloaks itself in a chill strumming and smooth vocals until it peaks at 2:45: “Still the same old decent lazy eye, straight through your gaze / That’s why I said I relate, / I said we relate, it’s so fun to relate.” It’s an ardent, tender track with instantaneous charm and surprise.
“Cookie Thumper” by Die Antwoord (31 plays)
I saw Chappie this year. It was fucking weird. I liked it.