CBK Favorite 30 Tracks of 2015 So Far

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Welcome to another “best of” list feature on this blog. This time it’s gonna be my favorite tracks of 2015 so far. I’ve alphabetized them. Let me know what your favorite songs of 2015 are so that I don’t miss any when the end of the year rolls around!

1. Beck – Dreams
Alright this song is pretty cheesy and a bit lackluster, but I can’t deny Mr. Beck Hanson. It’s pretty heavily produced and doesn’t really have too much signature Beck originality to it, but man am I excited to hear a more upbeat, poppy Beck. What I need now is an album more akin to his singles from 2013, specifically “Defriended.”

2. Björk – Family
At the time of this writing, June 22nd, 2015, this song still gives me goosebumps after repeated listens from half the year. “Family” comes after the massive centerpiece of “Black Lake” on Vulnicura and carries almost more emotional weight, which is accentuated with a bludgeoning, hammer of a beat in the first half of the track, courtesy of assisted production from The Haxan Cloak. The strings on this song are especially elegant and devastating and while they’re paired against the destructive electronics, they still stick out in the immense din. The second half of the song is where washes of synthesized choruses flood the mix, smoothing away the damage done by the first half; much like finding rare sanctuaries of solace among a storm of pain. Truly a beautiful track that will stay with me always.

3. Braids – Sore Eyes
The newest Braids record is super good. I was never too huge into this band but I found that the straightforward, synth pop sugar rush of this song/record is what I needed to unlock my passion for this band. Now this isn’t just a typical synth pop track off of a typical synth pop record, it’s lyrically dense (see track Miniskirt) and has a killer balance of piano and pulsing electronics, plus great vocals. This track is pretty addicting, which is apt since the lyrical matter is about addictions and watching porn, interestingly enough.

4. Bully – I Remember
I’ve never had a breakup with a long-time significant other, but I feel like this song is the word-for-word description of flipping through a mental photo album from a relationship long past. With great, biting imagery from lines like “I remember the way your sheets smelled,” and “I remember what you do on Christmas,” explaining the deep minutiae that might be forever etched into your brain after a relationship, I’m not sure if I ever want that to happen to me. We’ll see!

5. Chastity Belt – Joke
In my opinion, “Joke” is the track that best showcases Chastity Belt’s skills on their newest record Time To Go Home. The track is slow, catchy and starts off with the phrase “Nothing serious; everything’s a joke.” Other song titles like “Why Try” and “IDC” also develop this slacker pathos, but I feel like this song portrays it the best. The end also has a heavier, jamming part but keeps it concise, feeling like a natural progression rather than a frivolous noise session. I can’t say enough things about this record and band. I can’t wait for more music and the chance to see them live.

6. Chromatics – I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around
Hey remember when we were supposed to get a Chromatics record this year? Well the year’s not over yet, but it was promised in 2015’s first quarter and there’s no word yet besides three singles, which are all pretty good. “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around” is my personal favorite, since it’s basically a snapshot of what Chromatics are all about. It’s a wistful, driving song about love, but maybe something about “bad” love? A love that changes someone? Something like that. Also, the instrumental is classic Italians Do It Better (their record label) faire, which is something that seems to be only done well by them only. Please Chromatics, let’s get this whole record soon.

7. Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – The Rest Of Us
I was a fan of Colin Stetson before this record, but with the addition of the stellar violin playing of Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire, I’m over the moon. Now this track isn’t the best at showcasing Stetson’s unbelievable skill of the saxophone, but I feel as though this song has the best balance of violin to saxophone, along with best balance of machine-like intensity to eerie uneasiness. Would love to get another record from these two.

8. Downtown Boys – Monstro
“SHE IS BROWN! SHE IS SMART!” Sure, this track cannot apply to me in any way, but the message is still there and super powerful and boy do I appreciate it. I’m not usually into many “protest” bands, matter of fact I can’t really think of any off my head, but I can say Downtown Boys are my favorite. I definitely appreciate this song more after seeing it performed live a multitude of times and getting the whole preface dialogue before it with the rallying saxophone melodies and ecstatic guitars going the entire time. This is the kind of band that needs to get big in the indie scene. There are too many losers that need this kind of message in their music.

9. Drake – Know Yourself
Gotta hand it to “Know Yourself,” the song that single-handedly got me sort of into Drake. I gotta admit, I was never too into him; not really sure why. But I gave If You’re Reading This a chance earlier this year and I’m glad I did so I can get the countless pop culture nuggets this track has already established, such as the legendary beat change and the wise words of  “I was runnin’ thru the six with my woes.” Sure, I’m not too much of a fan of the dialgue at the end, but MAN: this song is hot. I can’t even try and deny it.

10. Elvis Depressedly – New Alhambra
Undoubtedly the best track off the album of the same name, “New Alhambra” is a dreamy, swirling track with a simple melody. There are other quirks about this song that really get me as well, like the strange clipping song effects during the chorus. In fact, I’m not really sure what those are, but they add a lot to the track. It’s also the longest track on the record, which helps elongate the atmosphere to a level that’s recountable.

11. Eskimeaux – The Thunder Answered Back
If you’re noticing a trend here on these track descriptions that goes something like “this song is the best representation of all the ideas on the record” and you’re getting tired of that, then skip this blurb. Short version: it’s a damn good song. Obviously. Long version: this track has so much depth, it’s unbelievable. There are so many things going on in the song: the repeating, muffled vocals in the background, the subtle arpeggiating synth line and group shouting in the climax of the end, and of course the lyrics: “it must feel like fucking hell, to be a patchwork of yourself” being a prime example. Listen to this album.

12. Father John Misty – When You’re Smiling And Astride Me
If you read my album description from a bit ago, you’ll know that this album has sort of worn down on me a bit. Sure, I do really like it, but it’s no longer the pride and joy of my 2015 experience like it was earlier in the year. However, this swooning track right here is still a go-to soundtrack for luxuriously romantic playing out in my head. I feel as though a lot of the love songs on this record have sarcasm slathered on them, but this one is lavishly sincere, in my eyes. Especially with the instrumental. Get me on this gospel train, please.

13. Grimes – Realiti
Technically, this song is a Oblivion-era b-side but I’ll let it pass as a 2015 track. The reason I like this song so much is that it’s a breath of fresh air after the festival fuel blast of “Go,” Grimes’ last song she put out. I like the song, it just doesn’t fit into the Grimes “traditional canon,” if you will. I’m all for artists expanding and experimenting with their sound, but I guess in this case I’m just selfish. This song is lovely and I can dance to it with my girlfriend like her previous material, so I’m really okay with it.

14. Holly Herndon – An Exit (ft. Amnesia Scanner)
If you’ve ever wondered what an existential panic sounded like, I feel like this is pretty close. One of my friends said that this song should be used for psychological torture. Whenever I think I’m not going to let this song get the best of me, it gets the best of me. My stomach gets in knots, my fingers lock up, my joints strain… the list goes on. Something about the urgency paired with this chord progression is just downright mind-bending. This is one of the most powerful, original and fantastic songs on this list; a true example of what Herndon and her music is about.

15. Hop Along – Texas Funeral
It was really tough trying to pick one ultimate standout track from this near-perfect album. But the anthemic line of “none of this is gonna happen to me within my lifetime” won the battle. Hop Along is too good of a band not to know about. Just listen to this song and you’ll know.

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Holy Ghost! – “I Wanted To Tell Her (ft. Nancy Whang & Juan Maclean)” (Ministry cover)

This song is everything I love about Holy Ghost! and The Juan MacLean.

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CBK Favorite 15 Albums of 2015 So Far

This is a list of albums I think you should listen to but hey what do I know?

1. Ava Luna – Infinite House
Gonna start off with some immediate praise: man, do I love this band! This record might not be as immediately strange and janky as Ava Luna’s last record, Electric Balloon, but it pours on what the band does best: blend silky-smooth grooves in with jagged riffs and artful experimentation. If you know me, you know that I love the grooves and riffs. Woah, here we go – an album that I really like.

2. Björk – Vulnicura
Earlier this year when Vulnicura came out and I was on a complete Björk high, I played her 1997 album, Homogenic, in the car with my friend on the way to a party. My friend hadn’t really listened to Björk before and I explained that she just released a new album that I’m obsessed with and this is one of her older ones. He was shocked to find that Homogenic came out in 1997, since it apparently sounded “so futuristic.” I’d like to think that the same scenario might play out in 2033 with people thinking that this album sounds so futuristic, which is does. Through the assisted production of Arca & Haxan Cloak along with her marvelous ear and talent as a backdrop, Björk was able to once again create an album that definitely seems rooted in 2015, but contains sonic traces of things that sound like they were brought back from a time machine. I’m not even going to get into the songwriting since I don’t want to crawl under my bed and writhe for a few hours. It’s too nice out. This was by far my most anticipated record of 2015 before the year began and it is currently my ultimate favorite. It’ll be tough for anything to beat it.

3. Chastity Belt – Time To Go Home
Hey. I graduated college. You know what album was there for me every step of the way? Well, not this one completely, but it was there for the final stretch. This record has a ton of fun, lazy melodies that are easy enough to put on at hangouts, but also to self-reflect to. Lots of these songs have to do with partying hard, but there’s a second side of this fun, throw caution to the wind type song that has to do with how you feel afterwards: should I keep boozing it up on weekends after I graduate? Am I going to continue having this much fun or should I live it up while I still can? Can I control myself? It’s introspective records like these that really got to me in my last year of college and hey here I am now. Unemployed.

4. Colin Stetson & Laura Neufeld – Never Were The Way She Was
I’ve been fond of Stetson’s music before this release but this is definitely the first record I’ve really clicked with on a personal level. This is definitely thanks to the wonderful violin playing of Laura Neufeld, which adds another dimension to the mechanical, vaguely human skronking and chugging of Stetson’s incredible saxophone playing. Even though Stetson is able to add multiple melodies to his own playing alone, the additional counterpoint of Neufeld’s violin provides a varied experience among Stetson’s previous discography. A good example of this would be on the track “The Dark Hug Of Time” where Neufeld’s violin is providing a sonic backdrop to Stetson’s mutated saxophone shrieks, playing out like a strange film scene in my mind. Check this one out for sure.

5. Eskimeaux – O.K.
This is probably the newest album to join the Top 15 at this point in the year but oh boy does it deserve to be there. I associate Eskimeaux with recent, NY-based acts such as Mitski, Porches., and Frankie Cosmos, which is appropriate because they all share members//tour together. I also associate them because it’s powerful, exposed music that a twenty-something like me can really identify with. Musically, it’s lush and varied, yielding bold, instrumentally dense tracks along with bare, solo acoustic songs, similar to last year’s albums from Mitski and Frankie Cosmos, another parallel. This formula is clearly working on me.

6. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
I’ve listened to this album the most this year so far, by far. I kind of got sick of it. In fact, listening to it now as I write this little blurb, I’m still a little sick of it. Isn’t that a shame? Well, back in January-March, this album was my obsession. It embodied my sad, vitamin D deprived soul in the harshest winter I’ve ever experienced. This album seriously had it all: it’s got the sappy love songs, it’s got the sappy sad songs, the goofy tracks, the sap tracks, etc. Also, musically, c’mon now. It’s gorgeous. It’s definitely got some rust on it now that I’m checking it out again, but it’s still healthily in the Top 15.

7. Holly Herndon – Platform
Ever wonder what music of the future sounds like? Or rather, music centered on problems that feel like the future but are closer than they appear? Herndon’s second album delves deeper into humanity’s complicated relationship with developing technology, specifically computers and the internet, along with its impact on art as a whole. Music wise, it’s a treacherous journey through vocal manipulations, warped field recordings, anxious electronics and one lone ASMR track. It’s like a glorious chorus of the future straight into your brain from your tablet device.

8. Hop Along – Painted Shut
Before this album came out, I was really worried that it wouldn’t live up to my massive expectations following their 2012 album, Get Disowned. But I should have known, with a voice like Francis Quinlan, there’s no way anyone can have their expectations let down.  You can’t doubt the majesty and power of that voice. It’s seriously out of this world and the first thing I tell people about Hop Along, usually paired with “yo you GOTTA listen to this.” It’s got some catchy riffs, too! I love this album so much.

9. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
What can be said about this album that hasn’t been already said? There are classes based on analyzing this album, for goodness sake. I guess in my own words, I can say it’s a magnificent triumph for so many different dimensions of music and life. It’s socially conscious without being lamely preaching, the instrumentals are lush, inventive, and shows a mind that was organically brought up on positive influences and wants to continue being a positive influence for his community & the world. A must-listen for fans of all types of music.

10. Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching
Really didn’t expect to like this one as much as I do. I surely enjoyed their previous LP but this one really connected with me on a deeper level. I think it was definitely in part to the massive album centerpiece track “Tiger” which I’ve already geeked out about to many friends. Another factor was seeing them live to realize that they easily translate the sound from their record to the live space – it sounded just like the record with all the great nuances with playing in a live space. It was wonderful.

11. Mount Eerie – Sauna
Sometimes when I’m nostalgic for the brutal, seemingly-never ending winter that we were put through this year, I just put this on because 1. I listened to this album a bunch at the beginning of the year when times were frozen and because 2. it literally sounds like the fierce forces of nature coming together to wipe out whatever shred of hope you still had in your body. There are pristine moments, where things are quiet and the snow is falling softly, but there are others where the wind is ripping at your face and you feel like you can’t see a foot in front of you. It’s a massive experience, especially the two drone tracks on here. Truly the full Mount Eerie experience.

12. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper
Not really sure what to say about this one, honestly. There’s actually a good deal about this album that I wish were different. I wish there weren’t the 30-second interlude tracks that have great song names. Shadow of the Colossus? That’s my favorite video game. So epic- if could have been a sweeping, epic track. Davy Jones’ Locker? With the deep, murky synths on this record it could have had some aquatic samples in there. Where are tracks like “Untying the Knot” that were on his teaser EP from 2014? But clearly, the things I like about this album do outweigh a lot of my complaints enough to put it in my Top 15. I really like the fat, jiggly synths used on this album, especially on the tracks “Boys Latin” and the ethereal moments like on “Tropic of Cancer” and “Lonely Wanderer.” It’s no Person Pitch or even Tomboy; but I’ll definitely take it.

13. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Oh man, oh my.  I don’t think I was emotionally ready for this record when I first listened to it. I’m being completely honest when I say that; the first time I listened it washed over me like nothing had happened. However, one night when I decided to listen again, I stopped everything I was doing and just listened. Then I teared up. Then I went to bed. It really tore me apart. I’m not used to Sufjan doing that to me. I’ve gotten used to Sufjan being bombastic and colorful on albums like Age of Adz and All Delighted People. Not even his two state albums encroach this emotional territory. It’s so clearly about his life experiences that you’re sucked in, like looking at a sentimental photo album of his life. Woof, man. Woof. That’s all I gotta say.

14. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
Definitely one of the grooviest albums on this list. I seriously didn’t have many expectations for this album since UMO’s first two albums yielded a few great singles and nothing more. What we got on this one were a few great singles and a bunch of other equally good tracks. This album is a swirling, soggy dream of psychedelia and boy am I into it. When tracks are effortlessly stuck in my head for days, I’d say something has gone right.

15. Viet Cong – Viet Cong
Calgary-based band Viet Cong’s debut EP, simply titled Cassette, was my favorite EP of 2014, so I had high hopes for their debut album, especially since this band is the product of the dissolution of another one of my favorite bands, Women. Well, in June of 2015, I still have not found a flaw in this record. If you’re looking for thunderous yet jangly post punk songs, have this be your first pick.

+ 1: Sunflower Bean – Show Me Your Seven Secrets EP
I don’t normally rank EPs along with albums in my top album lists, but this EP would be up there for sure. Yeah, 2/3 of the songs on this EP have been released before, but damn. They’re some really good songs. And they’re really sweet people.

 

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Elvis Depressedly – “New Alhambra” [2015]

By and far the standout song from this record in my mind. Slow & melancholy but still contains strains of a catchy pop song. Reminds me of sadder Foxes in Fiction, in a way.

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Dan Lambert – “Charley Town”

I just discovered the treasure trove of reissued goodness that is Numero Group Records, which is a label based in Chicago that focuses on putting out old/forgotten/under-appreciated/unknown cuts of music. What kind of music? That part doesn’t matter, as long as it’s good. They’re similar to Light In The Attic Records, in that they just put out a ton of stuff that they think deserves some light and love.

This particular track is the 12th song off of a compilation of solo guitar artists from the 60s and 70s. Super soulful, rich and lovely. I downloaded a bunch more compilations that I hope to get to soon, since I don’t have to listen to music for my job anymore. Also I don’t have a job! Woo! Hope you enjoy.

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Jamie xx – “Loud Places (ft. Romy)” & “Gosh” [2015]

To be honest, I’ve never truly been into The xx or any of their side-projects, Jamie xx included. He’s had a few tracks that I’ve dug a little bit, including some off of the collaboration with Gil Scott-Heron We’re New Here, but nothing has really WOWED me.

However, these two new tracks off of his upcoming album In Colour are breaking that trend. I’m very into both of them and the very different directions both take. “Loud Places” is a feel-good pop song with great vocals from Romy and a modern RnB backdrop. It’s also not super over the top electronic either, allowing the track to be at least more accessible to some.

The second, “Gosh” starts as a heady, grimy track with some signature deep, British sounding growls and deep bass. But wait a second, in the second half of the track, there’s this really euphoric melodic section that slides in real unassumingly. It starts as a bassy, deep synth melody that subtly ascends and totally changes the direction of the song. It just keeps going higher and higher until there’s some really blissful piano, bringing the track back into consciousness. I really like electronic tracks with a subtle narrative like that. Jamie xx could have just kept the “oh my GAWSH” grime beat from the beginning of the song and continued it for the whole thing, but he just slipped this cool, progressive melody that catches everyone off guard, all while the original grounding rhythm plays. It reminds me of Quirke’s track from last year “Break A Mirrored Leg,” if anything.

Definitely check these two out, highly recommended.

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Alice Cohen – “Cascading Keys” [2012]

I just recently delved into the world of now defunct(?? I hope not) record label Olde English Spelling Bee, a purveyor of weirdo ambient, electronic, pop, rock and folk records. Most of their catalog came from around 2009-2012, which in my mind make sense. That era of music for me, especially 2010, was super-saturated in slightly lo-fi synth pop projects that sites like Gorilla Vs. Bear and Altered Zones were eating up.

Alice Cohen’s 2012 album Pink Keys is one of my favorite discoveries. Glittery, strange bedroom pop with some awesome melodies and 80s retro synth action. Here’s the first track, “Cascading Keys.”

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