Music Lists 2015
As originally published 12/31/15 on a now-deleted Facebook page
I usually take play count into heavy consideration when determining my favorite albums of the year. If I listened to something 500 times, I probably liked it more than something I listened to 20 times, right? Right. This metric by no means decides placement, but it certainly carries influence.
My top played album this year was “In Rainbows” by Radiohead, a 2007 masterpiece that made international news for its innovative pay-what-you-want release strategy. I downloaded it sometime in mid-2008 and paid $0.
Sometime along the way, I purchased “In Rainbows” on CD and it supplanted “Continuum” by John Mayer as my favorite album ever. This fact may come as a shock, as it’s almost heresy to admit in 2015 that you still listen to CDs or that someone as well-regarded and super cool and highly relevant as John Mayer isn’t your favorite musician anymore.
But, yeah, I still listen to CDs. Here’s how it goes down. I groggily get into my car on the way to work in the morning. I cycle through the radio while fixing my collar and making sure I shaved all the way. After a few too many “living like we’re renegades” and “hello from the other side’s” and “Hey ho honey I’m good, I could have another but I probably should not because I’m in a relationship and IT’S GENERALLY A BAD IDEA TO CHEAT ON SOMEONE BUT LOOK AT ME I’M NOT CHEATING I DID IT I’M AN AMERICAN HERO (But just in case you didn’t know, I COULD have cheated. And I didn’t. But I could have.) ’s,” I turn off the radio. I grumble like the Dallas Cowboys just threw another 7-yard dump pass on 3rd and long and turn off the radio.
After about 5 minutes of continuing to give podcasts a shot, I stop listening to whatever I subjected myself to that day. Then, I decide to listen to some new music but remember I can’t use Spotify because AT&T sucks monkey ass and charges exorbitant fees for extended data usage. Of course, it’s hard to get mad about the fees when you consider the price of monkeys these days. I don’t like it. But I get it. If I know one thing about corporations, it’s that they will always pass along the burden of payment to the consumer when it comes to funding the largest forest orgy network in the nation.
This whole thing happens every day before I finally return to the refuge of CDs. And it’s always “In Rainbows.” The album soundtracks a perfect commute: motionless but transportive, gloomy but affirming.
Before I know it I’m up a few flights of stairs and turning on a late-2000s Windows laptop that hasn’t been touched like that since I was in grade school. Emails flow in and out. I occasionally unhook the coffee life support machine for just long enough to use the bathroom. Microsoft Excel lets me know it could have finished what I spent all afternoon on in two minutes. Someone makes a bad joke in a conference call. That’s the rat race, baby.
I started this year coordinating trade shows and assisting with project management as a temporary employee in the in-house Marketing Department of multinational digital marketing agency. After a few months, I received a cross-departmental promotion to do project management for small businesses that had purchased the company’s SEO package. That stands for Search Engine Optimization and basically means I was responsible for the details, status and implementation of strategies to get these companies found via Google and other search engines. In August I accepted a job elsewhere to do the same thing but with more creative flexibility and for bigger businesses.
Everything has happened fast. I’ve been in the workforce for a little more than a year now, but my progression and relative inexperience make me feel like I’ve been at it for 40. Obviously I haven’t, but I can’t shake the feeling. Call me an entitled millennial. And while this worries me, I am far more paralyzed at the thought that 40 years in the workforce might only feel like one.
At the end of my workday, I make note of outstanding tasks and upcoming meetings, check email one last time, and head out to the parking lot. I hop back in my car and “In Rainbows” picks up exactly where it left off. This simple continuum reminds me that I have a life outside of work, and in my mind, I pick up where I left off, too. It’s motionless but transportive, gloomy but affirming.
I don’t know if this specific phenomenon has a name, but I want to call it “euphonic compartmentalization.” It’s an unwieldy name, yeah, but it’s a sensation that highlights an unwieldy life structure. Plus, “frindle” was already taken.
The form of euphonic compartmentalization I experience with “In Rainbows” has likely endured since the advent of tapes and CDs. Anyone who has actively sought out driving music has at some point experienced this strange, transitional “snap back to reality” moment. Diametrically, people who passively listen to the radio will not hear the same song when they return to their cars unless it’s that damn song about renegades, which they WILL hear again because it’s always on every radio station everywhere. I imagine an overbearing, destructive radio producer yelling, “Play Renegades again! Again! Play it again! Play Renegades gain!” at interns until they break.
Euphonic compartmentalization is relatable in the way that masturbation is relatable. It’s not a unique experience but it is generally experienced uniquely. However, unlike the nauseating immortality of masturbation, euphonic compartmentalization has embarked on freefall nosedive toward death.
With new options for active music listening like Spotify and Apple Music, people can play music through their phones or their watches or their glasses or their butts probably. When they get out of a car, they can keep listening to the chosen album or playlist. They can continue listening at their computers, on treadmills, wherever. It keeps going. All of our devices are connected, and if they aren’t yet, they will be. Tell me I’m wrong. Euphonic compartmentalization is going to the wayside, and with consumer technology moving from our desks to our pockets to our bodies, compartmentalization as a whole is dying, too.
The days of only talking to work people at work and only talking to family members at home and only talking to friends while out aren’t necessarily over, but they can be. This is a lingering lifestyle characteristic of a bygone era. Music can continue when we enter a different room. So can conversations. So can jobs. So will jobs.
We can have everything we want at all times, and unless we step away for peace of mind, we will. This is empowering when you know what you want and terrifying when you do not. You can only step away for so long.
I grew up wanting to be a journalist but pivoted after weighing priorities. Writing remained a comfortable intersection of skill and passion, and I stumbled into digital marketing to create “content,” a buzzword for web pages and blog posts comprised of predetermined high-value phrases. I thrived but remained unhappy and unfocused, working for the sake of working rather than with purpose. That’s the word — purpose.
Looking back, my proudest accomplishments this year transpired outside of work. Running, travelling, and podcasting goals all drove me forward, but this progress never occurred within the “In Rainbows” sandwich of working hours. Instead, I worked and snapped back. I compartmentalized. Music has consistently helped me refocus.
If I am correct in predicting that new technologies will continue to fragment the abstract barriers that forged compartmentalization in the past, I should adapt by focusing my efforts toward something I will pursue with unabashed intensity. I do not plan on getting married or starting a family in the near future, so I have room for creativity.
Regardless of the kindness and intellect of everyone I have met throughout my first full year as a professional, I have not and will not find the passion I seek in Search Engine Optimization. Maybe this will change down the road when I do get married, start a family, and reprioritize again.
Nonetheless, after much consideration, I have accepted a new job at a Plano company called Music Audience Exchange. I will be a Marketing Manager, writing about the music industry and doing, you know, business things.
I am very, very excited about this opportunity. My mind has raced in every direction since I made the decision. While I still do not have a succinct career goal, I have absolute confidence that this is the right path. I cannot wait to harness perpetual connectivity toward an intense passion, and I have very high expectations for myself. I am looking forward to a future where music never stops.
Without further ado, my top 25 albums and top 50 songs from 2015 are listed below. Please remember that musical taste is objective, and these are fully definitive lists that considered every album and song released this year. If something you liked isn’t on here, it’s bad. Objectively bad. You’re bad.
25. Neon Indian — Vega Intl. Night School
Favorite Tracks: Annie, The Glitzy Hive, Slumlord, Techno Clique
24. Beach House — Thank Your Lucky Stars
Favorite Tracks: Majorette, All Your Yeahs, Rough Song
Beach House also released another album this year called Depression Cherry. If you liked this, you will like that. If you liked that, you will like this.
23. Beirut — No No No
Favorite Tracks: No No No, Fener
22. Grimes — Art Angels
Favorite Tracks: Flesh Without Blood, Belly of the Beat, Realiti
21. Deafheaven — New Bermuda
Favorite Tracks: Luna, Baby Blue
20. Sleater-Kinney — No Cities To Love
Favorite Tracks: Price Tag, No Cities To Love, Bury Our Friends
19. Alabama Shakes — Sound & Color
Favorite Tracks: Don’t Wanna Fight, Gimme All Your Love
18. Foals — What Went Down
Favorite Tracks: What Went Down, Mountain At My Gates, London Thunder
17. Skylar Spence — Prom King
Favorite Tracks: Fall Harder, Bounce is Back, Fiona Coyne
16. Tennis — Ritual in Repeat
Favorite Tracks: Never Work For Free, I’m Callin’, Bad Girls
15. Big Grams — Big Grams EP
Favorite Tracks: Lights On, Goldmine Junkie, Drum Machine
Big Boi from Outkast and Phantogram from Phantogram came together to create this beauty. Great things coming from them down the road.
14. Lower Dens — Escape From Evil
Favorite Tracks: Ondine, To Die in L.A., Société Anonyme
This is like Beach House but more fun.
13. Ducktails — St. Catherine
Favorite Tracks: Headbanging in the Mirror, Heaven’s Room, St. Catherine
This is like Real Estate but less fun.
12. Drake — If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Favorite Tracks: Energy, 10 Bands, Know Yourself, 6 God, 6PM in New York
Drake is one person, and he has almost singlehandedly rebranded the city of Toronto. I visited the “6” this year with my buddy Brian (a real person, not my second identity), and Drake significantly influenced that decision. They seemed to appreciate what he’s done for the city. Every bar we visited played his music, and the hourlong warmup before the Raptors game we attended featured exclusively Drake songs, with the exception of one song by The Weeknd, another Toronto native. I’m not sure if this is normal, but it’s definitely noteworthy. That would be like hearing exclusively DJ Khaled in Miami or hearing “Walking in Memphis” everywhere you go in Memphis. The key is to stick to your roots. Bless up.
Drake had an amazing year. I don’t need to recap it. Everyone already knows. “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” dropped randomly one night and dominated the Internet for weeks and is just a mixtape. Can’t wait to see where he goes with the much-hyped full length album “Views From the 6” next year.
11. Vince Staples — Summertime ‘06
Favorite Tracks: Lift Me Up, Loca, Lemme Know, Señorita
10. Gang of Youths — The Positions
Favorite Tracks: Poison Drum, Magnolia, Radioface
Voted by me as the “second most likely band in this list to have a different name in five years.”
9. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment — Surf
Favorite Tracks: Slip Slide, Wanna Be Cool, Sunday Candy
8. Wavves & Cloud Nothings — No Life For Me EP
Favorite Tracks: How It’s Gonna Go, Come Down
7. Jamie xx — In Colour
Favorite Tracks: Gosh, SeeSaw, Loud Places
6. Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp A Butterfly
Favorite Tracks: King Kunta, Hood Politics, The Blacker the Berry, Mortal Man
This is as good of a place as any to talk about what went down at Mizzou this fall. My alma mater made international news when a black graduate student protested racial inequality by going on a hunger strike. His ultimatum was the University System President had to step down or he would starve to death. This was the culmination of months of alternate protests following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, a primarily black town two hours east of Columbia. This was the culmination of years of racism manifested via isolated incidents that progressively felt less and less isolated. This was the culmination of centuries of discrimination and racism.
A week into the hunger strike, the black players on Mizzou’s football team joined the strike, refusing to play until the University System President was fired. The next day, the entire football team and staff stood in solidarity with the protesting black players. There was debate regarding the motivations behind this move, but what matters is the story made national headlines overnight and the University System President resigned the next day. The student on the hunger strike ate after a week.
Classes were cancelled. The University Chanceller was fired for unrelated reasons. Various protests and counter-protests ensued, and both “sides,” a loose term for how politicized the issue became, made questionable judgment calls. As nightfall descended, threats appeared on anonymous social media sites and the Student Body President, a strong leader before and throughout the protests, publicly announced confirmation that the KKK was on campus and he was in communications with the National Guard. This caused widespread panic and students evacuated campus to hide, sending thoughts and prayers that nothing terrible happened. A few hours later, it came out the the Student Body President was entirely incorrect, and he went silent for a few days. The protests died down as well, and my boots on the ground (aka friends at school) unilaterally described the post-protest atmosphere as “eerie.”
Later in the week, the football coach announced his diagnosis of lymphoma as he started to receive questions about his motivations in the beginning of the protest. The nation turned its attention away and the semester continued with both “sides” actively and passively discounting each other’s recollection of events.
In theory, the hunger striker got what he wanted: a national conversation and a new University System President who does not ignore racial issues. However, his message was lost somewhere along the way. As people debated the “what’s” and the “who’s” of the entire ordeal, they forgot about the “why.” Here’s why. All other facts aside, the hunger striker, Jonathan Butler, thought the experience of being black on Mizzou’s campus was so bad that he risked his life just to be heard. Debate the morality of the protesting methods all you want, but downplaying the racism that spurred their very existence is at best willfully ignorant.
I have no more editorialization to make to the story, because there’s very little else I feel comfortable adding. I experienced the events from a distance and have never been on the receiving end of overt, subtle, or institutionalized racism. I can’t know what it’s like and I won’t pretend to. I write in the first-person because it’s the only experience I do know.
Kendrick Lamar made an incredible album this year, but it wasn’t made for me. I enjoyed it. I learned from it. I love how “Alright” morphed into a guiding song for protests. If this were a “best of” list, “To Pimp a Butterfly” would be first. But it’s not. It’s a “Brian’s Favorites” list and he’s sixth.
5. CHVRCHES — Every Open Eye
Favorite Tracks: Keep You On My Side, Clearest Blue, High Enough To Carry You Over, Empty Threat
Well, anyway… CHVRCHES made a great album and you should see them live sometime!
4. Viet Cong — Viet Cong
Favorite Tracks: Bunker Buster, Death
Voted by me as MOST LIKELY BAND IN THIS LIST TO HAVE A DIFFERENT NAME IN FIVE YEARS! This was my favorite new band this year — they have a unique, refreshing sound that may not appeal to everyone, but it captured me and held me hostage for so long that I’m the primary story on Season 3 of Serial.
3. Father John Misty — I Love You, Honeybear
Favorite Tracks: Chateau Lobby #4, The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt., The Ideal Husband, Holy Shit
This guy comes off as pompous and narcissistic but he writes a hell of a song. I didn’t like this album at first and forgot about it until I saw it in “Master of None” and my friend Brandon told me I would, in fact, like this album. He was right. It’s unbelievable. The lyrics are completely honest and beyond clever. His inflection and pacing cannot be done justice with text but here are a few that can stand alone:
Someone’s been told too many times they’re beyond their years
By every half-wit of distinction she keeps around
And now every insufferable convo
Features her patiently explaining the cosmos
Of which she’s in the middle
Oh, and love is just an institution based on human frailty
What’s your paradise gotta do with Adam and Eve?
Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity
What I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me
2. Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell
Favorite Tracks: Should Have Known Better, Fourth of July, No Shade in the Shadow of The Cross, Blue Bucket of Gold
This is about his dead parents. It’s haunting, but, man, is it beautiful. Makes for perfect lowkey background music or emotional wreck foreground music. One of the few albums on this list I would feel comfortable recommending to anyone.
1. Tame Impala — Currents
Favorite Tracks: Let It Happen, Eventually, The Less I Know The Better, New Person Same Old Mistakes
I was talking to someone the other night who hit the nail on the head about this album’s appeal. “Currents” sounds like it will get old but never actually does. It’s immediately infectious and full of gripping melodies that make it difficult to stop listening. It’s like a good song on the radio that you hear multiple times a day for a month and eventually grow to hate. All year I listened exhaustively to this album and not once got bored.
I ran multiple long-distance races while listening exclusively to this album. “Let It Happen” was the song and mantra of my summer and then the song and mantra of my fall and then the song and mantra of my winter. And I found comfort in “Eventually” after a rough but necessary breakup. I haven’t pinpointed what exactly this album does to retain its longevity, but I cannot deny it persists. My personal album of the year, without a doubt.
- The Weeknd — Beauty Behind The Madness | Because this album had, like, five number one singles. They all sound the same it’s a great sound.
- Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) | Because, despite the rave reviews, I stubbornly waited until two days ago to listen to this. It would have been way higher.
- Run the Jewels — Meow the Jewels | Because some random dude made a Kickstarter for Run the Jewels to remake their album “Run the Jewels 2” (№3 on last year’s list) using only cat sounds and they actually did it! The cat album raised more than $60,000 and they donated all of the profits to charity.
- Paper Ceilings — Baseball | Because the guy who made this is a good person and “Royce Clayton” succinctly captures childhood sports heartbreak better than most sports journalism
- Adele — 25 | Because someone will find me and kill me if I don’t acknowledge this exists
50. El Vy — Return to the Moon
49. Radiohead — Spectre
48. Sleater-Kinney — Bury Our Friends
47. Modest Mouse — Ground Walks, with Time in a Box
46. Tennis — Bad Girls
45. Neon Indian — Annie
44. Big Sean — All Your Fault (ft. Kanye West)
43. The Weeknd — Tell Your Friends
42. Death Cab for Cutie — Black Sun
41. Vince Staples — Señorita (ft. Future)
40. Wavves & Cloud Nothings — How It’s Gonna Go
39. Sufjan Stevens — Should Have Known Better
38. Jamie xx — Loud Places (ft. Romy)
37. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment — Wanna Be Cool
36. The Arcs — Outta My Mind
35. Hella Zealous — Cover Up
34. Big Grams — Goldmine Junkie
33. CHVRCHES — High Enough To Carry You Over
32. Animal Collective — FloriDada
31. Alabama Shakes — Gimme All Your Love
30. Father John Misty — The Ideal Husband
29. Vic Mensa — Down On My Luck
28. Modest Mouse — Lampshades on Fire
27. Lower Dens — To Die in L.A.
26. Ratatat — Nightclub Amnesia
25. Fall Out Boy — Uma Thurman
24. Kanye West — All Day (ft. Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom, Paul McCartney)
23. Purity Ring — stranger than earth
22. The Weeknd — The Hills
21. Foals — Mountain At My Gates
20. Grimes — Flesh without Blood
19. Viet Cong — Bunker Buster
18. Kendrick Lamar — King Kunta
17. Miguel — a beautiful exit
16. Drake — Back to Back
15. Big Sean — I Don’t Fuck With You (ft. E-40)
14. Tame Impala — New Person, Same Old Mistakes
13. CHVRCHES — Empty Threat
12. Alessia Cara — Here
11. Kurt Vile — Pretty Pimpin
10. Drake — Know Yourself
9. Jamie xx — Seesaw (ft. Romy)
8. Father John Misty — Holy Shit
7. Kendrick Lamar — The Blacker the Berry
6. Drake & Future — Jumpman
5. Gang of Youths — Poison Drum
4. Tame Impala — The Less I Know The Better
3. Sufjan Stevens — Fourth of July
2. Alabama Shakes — Don’t Wanna Fight
1. Tame Impala — Let It Happen
Like always, if you have any suggestions for albums or songs I may have missed, please share.
Lastly, I want to offer a sincere thank you for reading. I worked hard on this and very much appreciate everyone who gave it even a little time of day.
Happy New Year!