The year in music: Best songs of 2015

December 29, 2015
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This wasn’t a huge year in music for me. I didn’t go to any shows, and I bought very few albums. I didn’t even make a single playlist on Spotify. Instead I was busy working, writing, and mommying, and I often felt stretched to the limit just juggling those things.

But that also means when I did make the effort to listen to new music, it had to be good. And there were some standout tracks this year. Here are 15 of my favorites.

You can also check out my best-of lists for 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Magnets (ft. Lorde) • Disclosure

I’m an old married lady now. But if I were still hooking up on the regular, this slinky, rattling tune would be my hookup jam.

 

Can’t Feel My Face • The Weeknd

Song of the year AND soundtrack for girls’ weekend with my high school besties.

 

Hotline Bling • Drake

Goofy dancing? Check. Video inspired by artist James Turrell? Check. Music that’s reminiscent of the Wii shop? Check. The result is a catchy, earwormy song that stays with me for days, as well as a video that always stops me in my tracks.

 

Kurt Vile • Pretty Pimpin

Every time I hear Kurt Vile, I find it difficult to believe he hails from Philly and not Joshua Tree. So when I found out his latest album, b’lieve i’m goin down…, was recorded at Joshua Tree’s Rancho de la Luna studio, the whole world suddenly made some kind of sense again.

 

Beck • Dreams

Even the worst Beck song is better than most other songs that dropped this year. (And maybe this isn’t the worst Beck, but it’s not the best Beck either.)

Chairlift • Ch-Ching

Soulful pop laced with stanky brass means this new Chairlift track is dangerously danceable.

 

Tame Impala • Let It Happen

This song is everywhere. I don’t know if I even like it anymore or if it’s holding me hostage.

 

Missy Elliott • WTF

Someday we’ll realize this is Missy’s world, and we’re all just marionettes in it.

 

Father John Misty • Holy Shit

I have a hard time choosing between all the wonderful, wry songs on I Love You, Honeybear, so I really labored over this decision. Today this one is my favorite. Tomorrow it’ll be “Bored in the USA.” And no matter my pick, Josh Tillman is brilliant. And beautiful. My god, look at that gorgeous man-beast.

 

Shura • 2Shy

Decades ago someone must have slipped a little bit of the ’80s into a time capsule. When it was opened in the spring of 2015, this is what came out.

 

Ezra Furman • Body Was Made

A body-positive, gender-fluid song that is a little bit Lou Reed, a little bit E Street? YAAASSS, BISH.

 

El Vy • Return to the Moon

El Vy is a collaboration between the awesome Matt Berninger, vocalist from The National, and Brent Knopf of Menomena, so that’s already enough to hook me before the song even starts. But the cleverly wrangled lyrics and classic New Order vibe are what keep me coming back.

 

Alessia Cara • Here

Alessia Cara has put words to much every party I’ve ever attended.

 

Diet Cig • Breathless 

This song is my 20s exactly, plus it has that tinny, garage-band sound I love.

 

Courtney Barnett • Pedestrian at Best 

(Trigger warning: Clowns.) Courtney Barnett must be my sarcastic spirit animal. I always find myself shaking my fist in the air and banging my head along to “Give me all your money, and I’ll make some origami, honey!” and I don’t even know why.

 

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats • S.O.B.

My friend Lizi turned me onto this song, and it was an instant gift. I can’t tell you how many times it rips through my head on an average day. Also it neatly sums up my 2015.

 

So that’s me. What made the cut for your Best of 2015 list?

Cooleyhighholiday: A Christmas Miracle

December 23, 2015
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The Ghost of Christmas Past just reminded me of this story, which took place a few years ago.

A friend of mine, an opera singer, was booked to perform at a local Indian casino during the tribe’s holiday party. I tagged along, but I don’t remember why. Probably for free food.

While my friend crooned Christmas carols, I sat backstage on a rickety metal chair. A couple of guys were sitting back there too, and they laughed when the chair almost tipped me onto the floor. They were nice, though, and we had a ridiculously good time for people hanging out in the wings of a dusty stage. I don’t even remember everything we chatted about, only that we laughed a lot.

One of the guys complimented my friend’s singing and said she’d be a tough act to follow.

ME: Oh, you sing?

GUY: Yeah, we have a group.

ME: Sweet. What’s your group called?

GUY: Boyz II Men.

You guys, Boyz II Freaking Men.

Boyz II Men served as the soundtrack for my formative years. I owned “Cooleyhighharmony” on cassette, and when it wore out, I bought the CD. More of my backseat makeout sessions were set to “I’ll Make Love to You” than other jam. And I’ve been to more than one prom with the theme, “End of the Road.”

So when I realized these dudes were actually Boyz II Men, I did the only thing I could do. I launched into the Michael Bivins rap from “Motownphilly.”

“Now check this out
One day back in Philly
Four guys wanted to sing
They came up to me I said
What’s your name? (Boyz II Men)
Ya know what I’m sayin’.”

It’s a horrible flaw of mine that I sing celebrities’ songs to them. Usually the musicians aren’t happy about it. But in this case, the guys played along, launching into the “dum dum dum dah dah” harmony — a little Christmas gift to me.

If my baby made a mixtape

November 20, 2015
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My 15-month-old son is really into music. But despite my best efforts to indoctrinate him with Ramones and the Clash, New Order and the Cure, R.E.M. and Sonic Youth, he insists on being his own person with his own particular preferences. The nerve!

His musical palate right now is situated somewhere between Burning Man and an episode of “Scandal.” I don’t know how that’s going to shake out as he grows up, but in this very moment, his taste rocks.

Here are some of his favorite jams:

Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing • Stevie Wonder

 

Tell Me Something Good • Chaka Khan and Rufus

 

Take It As It Comes • J. Roddy Walston & the Business

 

i • Kendrick Lamar

 

Alright Alright Alright • Mungo Jerry

 

Lovely Day • Bill Withers

 

Janglin • Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

 

Friend of the Devil • Grateful Dead

 

I Love You and Buddha Too • Mason Jennings

 

6AM • Fitz and the Tantrums

That last one is no surprise, as E is up at 6 a.m. EVERY DAMN DAY.

My son’s name is the title of an action movie

September 15, 2015
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My son, Everest, shares a name with a movie, Everest, that will be released this Friday.

So it’s funny when I hear TV commercials boom, “The ultimate challenge is about to begin: EVEREST.” Sometimes I find myself looking at my own wild Everest, nodding along, like, “Yes! This voiceover guy is talking about my life.”

That’s why I took some of the movie marketing and mashed it up with my child. The results make me wish every baby came with movie taglines.

summer deals!

 

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Questioning authority

July 29, 2015
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My son turned one recently, and that milestone brought an enormous package of emotions along with it, most of which I don’t even know how to unpack yet.

The point is that his birth — and the frenzied period of time that led up to it — has been on my mind a lot lately. When I went past my due date, my doctor insisted on inducing labor, even though I wanted to wait for the baby to come naturally. I begged for more time. I offered to go to the hospital every day and have additional tests to make sure the baby was still thriving, even though it meant paying for those tests out of pocket.

For this my doctor labeled me as “noncompliant,” and made a note in my file that I was a problem patient. She scheduled my induction and said if I didn’t show up to the hospital, she’d drop me as a patient and I’d have to deliver the baby on my own. The more I tried to reason with my doctor, the angrier she became, which was incredibly frustrating for both of us.

I cried. I didn’t understand why, if my baby was healthy, my doctor wouldn’t allow me to have the birth I wanted. Why didn’t I have the right to be in charge of my own body? I wasn’t making an outrageous request; I was merely asking for time.

Eventually I submitted. I was too vulnerable and frightened. I didn’t have the strength to question the doctor’s authority, even though I was certain I was right, and I ended up with a surgery that could have compromised my health and the life of my son. One year later, I still wonder if I would have had a better birth experience had I been more assertive and stood up for what I believed.

All of those memories were fresh as I watched the Sandra Bland arrest video, and it reminded me of my own standoff with an authority figure. The escalating anger and frustration. The questions that were met with aggression. A situation in which mere protest became a threat to someone with the upper hand. The dehumanization that followed.

The difference is that Sandra Bland didn’t waver. She knew her rights, and she didn’t cave. She displayed the courage I wish I had.

Do you remember those “Question Authority” bumper stickers? I used to have one of those, slapped across the inside of my locker in high school. It’s a phrase ripped from a Benjamin Franklin quote: “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority,” because it’s a good thing to challenge conventional thinking, to assert opinions, and to be critical. Somewhere along the way, that part of me fell silent.

I don’t know where to place all the rage and sadness I feel over Bland’s death. I don’t even know if my feelings matter, since this isn’t about me. It’s about the complex, sticky web of injustice, and the lack of empathy for those who at their most vulnerable. How do we even start to fix that?

My friend, Natashia Deón, posted this on Facebook when asked, “What can I do now?”: “You have your wisdom, your voice, your vote and your poetry. Even if you’re not a poet, the ACTIVE pursuit of justice is poetic. Be brave and Godspeed.”

This is what I want to do moving forward. I want to listen and learn from others, and cultivate empathy and compassion in the face of fear and injustice. I want to find that tiny voice inside that has been silent for far too long. More than anything, I want to be brave and outspoken, always questioning. Always, always questioning.

I hope you’ll join me.