Unpopular opinion: I don't completely hate year-end list season.
In the introduction to my interview with Astra Taylor earlier this year, I quoted a particularly striking passage from her book: "It may seem counterintuitive at a time of information overload, viral media, aggregation, and instant commenting to worry about our cultural supply," she writes. "But we are at risk of starving in the midst of plenty."
That resonates on several different levels for me. Even in an age when we're constantly surrounded by endless streams of vital, radical art, sometimes you miss something totally life-changing. If you're not clicking fast enough, some form of magic can appear and then disappear from your glowing screen in the time it takes to clear the other three tabs you have open. We all have reading lists and bookmark folders that we never see the bottom of. The triple-disc future punk masterpiece that a friend-of-a-friend in the Midwest just released on B*ndcamp might never make it to your dash, because more often than not, the algorithms fail us. Reading and listening and watching all amount to work in some form, and maybe the week one of your favorite bands released a new 7-inch you were just burnt out on screen time.
Listicles are fucking stupid, ranking art is pointless, enumerated reviews are still the worst, and anyone who thinks "worst-band-names-of-the-year" clickbait has any sort of value needs to get a grip. This has nothing to do with any of that. The point of these lists, for me anyway, is to reflect and remember what happened over the course of 12 months in a culture that doesn't want us to remember anything for more than 12 minutes.
FAV SONGS 2015 (all unordered)
Broken Water - "Love and Poverty”
It's nearly impossible to choose a favorite track from Wrought, one of my favorite records of the year, one that laces empathy and humanness through its incantations on power and money and surveillance and the police state. This song just haunted me all year, its weary but cathartic dream punk cutting into the ways economic disparity is at the root of injustices we see all around us: on our screens, in the street, in history books. It contains the most heartbreakingly pronounced three words in any punk song I heard this year: "His-tory's co-llec-ted tears," starts the song's final verse. "Used to wash the feet of proprietors. If you hate those with less than you, who can help? Lift your eyes to the puppeteers who cast and pull what strings? Love and poverty, there's just no need for all this scarcity / Scape goats for the police state over petty theft, yet we trust dollar bills and uniforms with guns?"
Downtown Boys - "Wave of History”
There are lessons for all of us within the bright and beaming explosions on Full Communism, and this song serves as a reminder: these struggles are systemic and rooted in history. Know your history, know your context.
DJ Haram - "Basic" ft. Moor Mother Goddess
"Bands are not speaking up about the injustices going on in the world as much as they use to," Camae Defstar a/k/a Moor Mother Goddess said in an interview for this site in June. "Everything is mad soft." True, which is why Camae's own work is so vital: it is literally the opposite of soft. Her performances are radically commanding, her words kicking and punching towards truth. It makes sense that this track, a collab with DJ and noise artist DJ Haram a/ka/ Abdul Kadir, was released through the radical new artists and activism site, The Spark Mag. "Look ma, we made it / only lost 100 thousand comin over on those slave ships," Camae sings. "Mothafuckas I'm jaded / I'm in one big room and everybody basic / let's face it / these mothafuckas just can't take it / they call it hatred but its more than that."
Sammus - "Three Fifths"
Sammus a/k/a Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo is a rapper, producer, and PhD candidate in Cornell's Science and Technology Studies program. Her work draws on everything from sci-fi and the struggles of being an artist in academia, to gender, power and police brutality. "Three Fifths" (produced by D Nisz) is "a song about the cost of being viewed as subhuman," she explains, "a track forces listeners to remember those who have paid the ultimate price for being black in America."
Heems - "Patriot Act”
For all the art and articles trying to make sense of surveillance culture this year, there is often still a lack of emphasis on the most urgent parts of the conversation: who does surveillance affect most disproportionately in post-9/11 America? What systems of oppression does surveillance work to protect? This is something that Himanshu Kumar Suri, a/k/a Heems, deals directly with at a few different points on Eat Pray Thug, but nowhere else is he as crushingly plainspoken as on "Patriot Act". Heems was a kid going to school in downtown Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and for a month after the attacks his school was used as a triage center; from then on he went to school in Brooklyn, where the school hired shrinks for the students. "Maybe I should have seen one," he raps here. "From then on they called us all Osama / This old Sikh man on the bus was Osama / I was Osama / we were Osama / Are you Osama?" In under four minutes he spells out small details that speak volumes: rushing out to buy flags for the doors, donating to the local white politician, changing his name to something shorter to not be deemed a 'troublemaker.' "The FBI harassed one of my dad's friends so much he packed up his stuff and took his family / And they moved back to Pakistan / They would come at night and they would wake them up and make a mess, and the mess upset his wife." It's a track that stares you right in the eye with no-bullshit didactic delivery, spelling out his story of growing up brown in NYC through the 00s, a narrative that never stops needing to be heard.
Shopping - "Why Wait”
Why Choose is urgent UK post-punk on the instant-gratification culture we live in, on the illusion of choice, on everything-happens-so-much sensory overload. And this song gets right at its heart: "Why wait, when it's all at my doorstep? Why wait when it's all at my fingertips? Why choose when I just want it both ways?"
Try the Pie - "Thomas”
I am grateful for this song, its careful, twanging indie-pop and Bean Tupou's bright voice grappling with the people and places of past lives, making sense of how everything and nothing changes. Most of all, I am grateful for this hook, full of reflective wonder: "It must be straaange to be the one who stays the same."
Gauche - "Payday”
From my most-listened-to cassette tape of the year, Get Away With Gauche.
Sheer Mag - "Button Up”
Earlier this year a friend described Sheer Mag as "the band all punks agree on" and I could only laugh because it's so true, and I think that's part of what makes them such a powerful force. How could anyone fight these fight songs? These words are energizers: "When you see something that makes you sick / do you button up or do you bleed?"
Aye Nako - "White Noise"
If you haven't read the Aye Nako interview from The Miscreant earlier this year, you should. Here is what Mars had to say about this song in that interview: "I wrote a song called 'White Noise' about how whiteness is centered in everything, how it taught me to hate myself for being black, how when I was a kid I used to pray to God that I could be white, how my Filipino mother didn't think it was necessary or important to teach me to speak Tagalog that way we can come off as American a/k/a as white as possible, how it scares me that white supremacy doesn't even need white people to perpetuate it and how white people are going to demonize me for saying any of this out loud because how dare I ask for respect, for more than the bare minimum." Read the rest here and listen to The Blackest Eye.
Adult Mom - "Survival"
Unshakable hooks are one way to inject songs about survival with power and strength, which is so expertly done here. This tune was forever stuck in my head this year, and I'm thankful for it.
Fred Thomas - "Bad Blood"
There is so much messiness all over All Are Saved, and it's beautiful. When life felt like a mess this year, listening to this record, and this track in particular, told me that to be living any other way would be a waste.
Waxahatchee - "Poison"
I realized this year that there are similarities in reasons why I love Waxahatchee records and why I love Greta Gerwig films: the ways they provide a license to feel disoriented, to feel like you're always in search of some steady ground in a world of insecurity, to feel okay about that. Like American Weekend in 2012 and Cerulean Salt in 2013, Ivy Tripp saved me this year when everything felt dark. This hook was comforting to have in the more confusing months: "travel the world ivyyyyyyyyy trippppppppppin' with no spotlight."
Alice Cohen - "Looking Glass"
Alice Cohen's excellent 2015 album, Into the Grey Salons, contemplates image, consumption, escapism, and performance. The album was inspired by an old extravagant department store in Philadelphia, where she grew up, but its alienpop melodies and mathy dissonance resonate universally. This is one highlight.
Trans FX - "Why I'm Not Where You Are"
Only about one minute, but a perfect sonic distillation of subtle alienation and low-key longing; somber synths, clipped rums, and one inescapable, stretched-out thought: "I'm ... waiting for ... someone ... that I know ... to ... get off a plane ... the relief ... of my burden."
All Dogs - "That Kind Of Girl"
All summer, I loved singing along to Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion at 2AM with my Silent Barn co-workers, night after night, as we mopped the floors, counted the till, and tried to get buzzed stragglers to go home. But every time I heard that chorus on "Your Type"-"I'm not the type of girl for you / and I'm not going to pretend / that I'm the type of girl you call more than a friend"-all I could hear was Maryn Jones' skeptical, scraping shout: "WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?"
Worriers - "Chasing"
Imaginary Life is another instant-classic collection of Lauren Denitzio's musings on gender, identity, and language. Its closing track is less politics, and more pure fun, but one that just struck a chord with me this year.
Courtney Barnett - "Depreston"
This year I was introduced to the phrase 'saudade' via an interview with a filmmaker who described it as 'a deep longing for something that maybe never happened or didn't exist, but this sense of loss that you feel anyway'. That is the sort of deep and satisfying sadness evoked within me when I hear this song; its personally only relatable in a rough sense, but whenever it ends, I can only ever hit play again.
Show Me the Body - "Vernon" (ft Wiki)
The sound of claiming agency amid oppressive state-controlled "public" spaces.
Holly Herndon - "Home"
The sound of claiming agency amid oppressive state-controlled "private" spaces.
Sleater-Kinney - "A New Wave"
Kendrick Lamar - "How Much a Dollar Cost"
Grimes - "Realiti"
G.L.O.S.S. - "Outcast Stomp"
Split Feet - "You're A Ghost"
Speedy Ortiz - "Raising The Skate"
Cold Beat - "Broken Lines"
Girlpool - "Crowded Stranger"
Malportado Kids - "Bruja Cosmica"
Majical Cloudz - "Are You Alone?"
Shellshag - "90s Problem"
Empress Of - "Water Water"
Protomartyr - "Dope Cloud"
Joanna Gruesome - "Jerome (Liar)"
Jenny Hval - "The Battle is Over"