Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas – Beach Slang
Mike: I listened to Beach Slang a lot in the latter half of 2015, and the only reason they haven’t featured more prominently in our albums list is because – as Dan pointed out to me – they only really do one song over and over. But what a song! I mean their style of music is everything I love about rock music: anthemic vocals, fuzzed out guitars, no pretension, jangly bits, a punk rock beat. But there really isn’t a lot of depth to them. For me that’s not really a criticism: I’d rather hear a band do one thing and do it brilliantly than be a half arsed jack of all trades, and “Bad Art & Weirdo” ideas nicely typifies everything that is great about Beach Slang.
Picture This – Kero Kero Bonito
Brendan: I’m a bit of a Japanophile – and no, not the tentacle-porn loving type. It’s hard to spend two years in Tokyo and not absorb a fundamental appreciation for the Japanese style of doing things, and this goes for j-pop too. You just end up liking the analog video game, shit I’m falling through a rainbow, ow my ears are filled with pinball machine noises, typical of j-pop music – nay, you end up loving it, which is probably why Picture this by Kero Kero Bonito made it into my top pop tracks. They’re a British unit, but damn they blast a polished j-pop sound that would rival any true j-pop outfit.
Coffee – Miguel
Mike: I’m not really much of a fan of R&B as a genre. I’ve got nothing against it, it’s just not my thing. But “Coffee” is a fucking tune man! A super catchy lyric about coffee as a thinly veiled metaphor for having sex in the morning (the album version of the track rather unnecessarily replaces the word “coffee” with “fucking” in the chorus just in case you weren’t absolutely sure what he was talking about) with a hint of electronica and psychedelics thrown in. The accompanying album Wildheart was pretty shit hot too. I get it now.
Wide Open – Chemical Brothers
Dan: It’s easy to disregard The Chemical Brothers as a bunch of washed out old has-beens banging the drum (machine) for a bygone era that has been surpassed by so many drops and distorted synthesizers. If you’d said ‘The Chemical Brothers have a new record out this year’ to me in 2005 I would have put down my Nokia flip-phone, made a ‘Pfffft’ noise and gone back to thinking about what a spanner George W Bush was. It’s is true, the Brothers Chemical did sort of fall off for a bit, precisely because they seemed to be set on releasing ‘Chemical Bros. versions’ of existing style of electronic music. This year’s ‘Born in the Echoes’ record is a decent listen because is takes the music back to what they were good at.
This is in part why the album didn’t make my top albums list; it is pretty much like a compilation of the less anthemic tracks of Exit Planet Dust and Dig Your Own Hole, but Wide Open is a truly beautiful song if not a club banger. One of the Chemical Brothers great skills was bringing in superb collaborative artists, and in the spirit of Noel Gallagher on 1997’s Setting Sun, Beck provides the longing and sad vocals over a simple beat.
In much the same way that the remixes of Setting Sun were the floorfillers, the remixes of Wide Open are probably more likely to be heard in clubs but the original, with a stripped down drum-line works as a bitter-sweet pop song
L.S.D – A$AP Rocky
Dan: At. Long. Last. A$AP was an interesting album. It was interesting seeing a rapper who was definitely typecast into a style of music try and break out of that. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. The choice of L.S.D (abbreviated from Love Sex Dreams) as a second single was an illustration of A$AP Rocky’s new experimentation. Sounding like a psychedelic motorway drive, the lysergic slow-jam references a girl that you’re not quite sure is really there or part of the dreamscape. A far cry from getting Wild for the Night, the song is reflective and touched with something…sadness? Maybe he’s just looking at his hands. There’s patterns in his skin he’s not noticed before. He should really concentrate on the road.
Coat Check Girl – Jeff the Brotherhood
Mike: I’ve been following JEFF the Brotherhood on and off for a while now, and although I’ve always liked them I kinda always thought their songwriting chops were a bit weak up till this point (with the exception of “Hey Friend” which I love). That changed for me the first time I heard “Coat Check Girl” – they’ve really stepped up their songwriting chops here. Four minutes of pure adrenaline layered with an ultra catchy melody to create a song as rock and roll as Definitely Maybe-era Liam Gallagher vomiting whiskey down the front of a Ramones tshirt whilst punching Bono in the bollocks. This is pretty much my entire taste in music compressed into one song.
A New Wave – Sleater Kinney
Mike: The whole No Cities To Love album that this track was taken from was superb but this was the so that totally floored me and converted me to a Sleater Kinney fan for life. The harmonies, that chorus, those high kicks! Fucking hell if this isn’t what rock n roll is all about, then what is?
Under A Rock – Waxahatchee
Mike: Another song that’s not left my playlist all year, “Under a Rock” is a fucken TUNE man. It’s folky and rocky and grungy in all the right places, and arguably sports the finest melody of any tune in 2015. It’s accompanying album Ivy Tripp is well worth checking out too.
Shutdown – Skepta
Dave: Imagine having worse timing than Dizzee Rascal. He’s off doing novelty electronica collabs with Robbie Fucking Williams while grime is just now reaching an American audience and blowing up without him. Of course there have been people soldiering on and making grime music throughout and in between these peaks in mainstream popularity – Skepta is one of them. Contrary to Dizzee’s child prodigy success story a decade ago, Skepta’s rise reads like a long-deserved payoff after years of hard work writing, producing, label management and rapping in the middle distance of the grime scene. There’s nothing technical that sets “Shutdown” miles apart from other decent grime songs, but something about the confident flow, lyrical attitude and the nonchalantly menacing delivery ensured its breakthrough success. And, as if to cement the fact that Skepta has finally arrived at prominence, Lily Allen attacked him at a party in September. So there you go.
Fame and Fortune – The Libertines
Dan: I was as surprised as anyone when The Libertines actually managed to release a new album this year. My proverbial bow-tie spun when, upon first listen, I discovered in aghast amazement that it didn’t suck harder than ‘2004 Pete Doherty’ over a blackened bit of tin-foil. It might seem strange then, that I’d pick a song from said album that sounded so much like an Up the Bracket-era B-side. Well, okay. It stems from what I liked about The Libertines in the first place; the rough anthems that came off of as tunes you could bellow along with. I never thought Pete Doherty was a poet and that Babyshambles were a bit crap because, other than Fuck Forever, they didn’t have the stuff you could sing along to. Fame and Fortune is a martial stomp, drawing on the grubby bonhomie of a wasted night on the slosh. It fits the bill.
The Benefit of Confrontation – Santiparro, feat. Will Oldham
Brendan: Okay, so I’m an old Will Oldham fan from long ago. My teenage years were steeped in that wailing Palace Music/Brothers sound and although I don’t keep up with all Will does these days, I’ve always had a fondness for the man’s artistry. Then I stumbled onto this little ditty by Santiparro and it has earned some heavy playback on my devices. The acoustics in this song are wonderful and complemented really nicely with gentle vocals that slowly grow as the song progresses. Will Oldham’s artistry isn’t missing on this song either and his “oooo-ooo” in the chorus is exactly what was needed to give the song a unique sound. This heartfelt ditty from Santiparro’s True Prayer is by no means the exception and there are plenty of tracks worth checking out on the album, perhaps on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
You have lived many lives
To free the mind
It just takes time
To be the light
Rips in the Paper – Malik B and Mr Green
Mike: It was a toss up between this and the more upbeat “We’re Gonna Make It” from Unpredictable but I went with the darker “Rips in the Paper” because it was the song that got me hooked on these guys in the first place. Everything about this song fucking kills it: the spooky “whilsted” backing, the way the beat propels the song along, and of course Malik B’s fluid rhyming. Hip hop doesn’t get much better.
Animals – Dr Dre feat DJ Premier
Brendan: Well, it’s not too difficult to fathom why this is one of my top tracks for dirty old 2015 as this Dre collab with DJ Premier is exactly as good as you’d imagine it to be. What’s better is it’s Dre’s, uh, how do I put it, soulful message track. Each Dre album seems to have one of them. We heard Ghetto Boy on The Chronic and The Message on 2001 denouncing street violence, and Animals seems to fill that gap on Compton. Initially titled FSU (Fucking Shit Up), it’s an angry track and was lyrically inspired by the police manslaughter of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and it certainly captures the collective ire that was prevalent in 2015. The production is perfect and to me is the climax of the album. Big juicy g-funk beats with a deft Premier edge, you know, those chubby strings and horns driving things along. Anderson Paak has the perfect lilting vocals introducing the track before Dre kicks on, spitting as he does. Sadly, Talib Kweli recorded a verse that never made it into the final mix which is a shame but maybe, one day, it’ll find its way into the daylight. This track got some heavy rotation from me along with several other monsters on Compton.
And the old folks tell me it’s been going on since back in the day
But that don’t make it okay
And the white folks tell me all the looting and the shooting’s insane
But you don’t know our pain
California Nights – Best Coast
Mike: Best Coast are a strange beast. Their lyrics rarely stretch beyond a 14 year old’s poetry and their song subject matter draws from one of two subjects: love, or their beloved home state of California. And yet there’s just something about them – they’re absolutely one of my all time favourite bands. They have beautiful layered melodies courtesy of lead singer and songwriter Bethany Cosentino, and their short, sharp burst of punk infused indie crunch pop are as near to musical perfection as you can as far as I’m concerned.
2015 was the year that Best Coast inevitably signed to a major label and released a slightly slicker version of what they’ve been doing all along, hopefully to a much deserved wider audience. And while California Nights is as good an album as anything they’ve done (and a great starting off point if you’re interested in checking them out) I also felt that it lost a little bit of something in the process. A few of the songs are just a little too slick, the guitars a little too compressed, that the balance is just a tiny bit of. For a band where lyrics are and musical variation are not strong points, minute things like can make a difference to the end product.
The one place that they broke their formula was on the albums title track. Although the lyrics are as simplistic as ever (but hey, if you love the band as much as I do, that’s almost part of their appeal) they use their new major label studio time to great effect here, serving up a psychedelic tinged slow burning belter of a song that just serves to remind you what a great band they are. Just don’t expect too much depth, and Best Coast are everything you need.
Hinterland – Lonelady
Mike: To be honest, I know fuck all about Lonelady, except that this song has been stuck on my Spotify starred playlist – and consequently, in my head – for most of the year and I still haven’t got sick of it. Sort of a pop tune with Krautrock leanings, it’s catchy as fuck and those guitar riffs are just rad as fuck. Her album of the same name is great too – I admittedly haven’t given it as much attention as it deserves – but this is the definite standout.
Gosh – Jamie XX
Dan: I maintain that Jamie xx’s In Colour doesn’t really have any natural singles and it works, albeit superbly, as an album however, if the ubiquity of Gosh is anything to go by I am wrong. It was pretty much impossible to go anywhere in 2015 and not hear the colon rumbling bass and the fuzzy “Oh My Gosh” sample. Despite sounding like a clip from a bygone era of rave, Gosh was in danger of becoming the ‘Wandering Eye’ of the year; played to death anywhere where there was coffee and food was served on something other than a plate. It was literally EVERYWHERE. Which was good. Okay, not everywhere. Not your girlfriend’s place. She still listens to Red Hot Chili Peppers. Break up with her.
Way Too Much – Wavves
Brendan: Wavves. *shakes his head* Wavves, right, you know what I mean? Ha! Wavves! They’re just one of those bands that everything they touch turns to gold. The single Way too much was no exception. The track bursts into action with their punchy punk rock with its trademark just-enough-sloppiness, and doesn’t cease. The track length weighs in at a mammoth 2.33 long so you’d be mad to not chuck it on repeat for the sake of rinsability. This track always puts me in a good mood.
Later on, I don’t hope to find myself laid out in pieces
I’ve been scattered and divided for the reason, I don’t know
And it’s hurting so much
Twist My Fingaz – YG
Mike: YG’s “Twist My Fingaz” was an absolutely huge tune in 2015, and rightly so. This is old school west coast g-funk at it’s finest, but there’s nothing old school about YG’s rapping. There was no album to accompany it though so keep an eye out for that in 2016, it’ll be huge.
Did I mention this song’s lyrics are great too? Well, they are:
Hold up, I really got something to say
I’m the only one who made it out the West without Dre
Empty Threat – Chvrches
Dan: It almost seems as if we need to set up some sort of handicap system where other bands who aren’t Chvrches get priority treatment on ‘Best of Lists’ to compensate for the fact that they aren’t Chvrches. Take Grimes out of the equation and basically the battle for catchiest, most energetic and flat-out best pop song of the year came down to Clearest Blue and Empty Threat, are both sung by Lauren Mayberry. Definitely the natural successor to The Mother We Share, Empty Threat is an urgent stab of dance music which you’d have to be some sort of frog not to take to immediately. Listen to Empty Threat and you are left asking yourself “Are men at a disadvantage in music…” *strokes neckbeard, dons fedora and takes to Men’s Rights sub-Reddit for a cry-wank*
California – Grimes
Mike: It’s pretty tough to choose a single standout track from an album amazing as Grimes’ Art Angels. “Flesh Without Blood” and “Kill VS Maim” are definitely up[ there, but the highlight on an album full of highlights is definitely “California”.
Dan: I am going to come clean on this: I had (and I am still not totally disabused of this notion) that ‘California’ in this song refers to a person. I mean, it makes sense given the lyrics: a high-energy wailing swan-song to a lover that will, if she’s honest, be back. No-one would write a song about a state, least of which a state with as little cultural inspiration as California.
King Kunta – Kendrick Lamar
Brendan: King Kunta was one of my most played tracks according to my Year of Spotify. I never grew tired of it and even as we crack on with 2016, should it come on whilst I’m on the shuffle, it’ll get played; none of this, Oh, I’m over it, I’ll just skip this track business.
Musically it just kind of jives along and gets your foot tapping, but as most musical commentators have noted, Lamar’s vocals have an improv feel that draw you in further. Lyrically, the more you listen to it, the more intriguing it gets. Is he just jamming? What’s he mad about? What is the yams? Yes, Kendrick, I do want the funk and I am gon’ take it.