Life is basically sad and hard as well as a sublime gift, a cliffdrop as well as a stargaze, and this year I tried to be less consumerist in my relationship to finding new music since why let capitalism pollute more in me than it already has. This was the year, of course, of groundshifting political cataclysm as well as death after death; it was also the year, for me, of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Anonymous 4’s medieval Marian hymn anthology The Lily and the Lamb, Captain Beefheart’s Doc at the Radar Station, Billie Holiday’s Solitude, Ornette Coleman, Atrium Musicae’s Al Andalus, Unwound, Incredible String Band’s Wee Tam, Augustus Pablo, Paul McCartney’s Run Devil Run, and finally getting the hang of Elvis through his Valentine Gift for You collection. So through it all I chose not to rush or cram; I listened, then, to less new stuff. Here’s what I loved best of what I did hear.
First, songs I loved this year (including songs from last year I got around to in the last twelves months) that I loved even if I didn’t love, or never heard, the rest of the albums they were from. Playlist here. Starred songs aren’t on Spotify.
Edit: In talking about a few of these songs I shared stories of folks’ experiences that weren’t mine to share. These have been cut.
Songs: “Doing my face with magic marker”
Adele, “Send My Love (to Your New Lover).” Seattle’s Top 40-ish, silly “hip hop and hits” station, KUBE, got amoeba’d into the even more Top 40 “Power 93,” where you can hear a lot of Justin Bieber and Juicy J and Taylor Swift and Drake and, it turns out, Adele, who I’ve never intentionally listened to, until this song made something more joyful out of a rainy drive home in a borrowed car with a cranky kid and groceries.
Afous D’Afous, “Tarhanine Tegla.” I knew this Sahara-wide hit only because of Sahel Sounds. C cried watching the music video for how it made her miss what she knows is her heart’s home.
Beyonce, “Sorry” and “Formation.” My two from Lemonade.
Blood Orange, “Best to You.” Dev Hynes, like few other male singer-songwriters besides Tricky, can write R&B for women singers that (in this one male listener’s opinion) centers their own emotions and their own consciousness– treats them, in other words, like subjects— instead of as props for male ego or furnishing for male fantasy. This was my favorite from Freetown Sound. Honorable mentions: “E.V.P.,” “But You.”
Jherek Bischoff, “Ca(s)siopeia.” The least filmic and for me most affecting from this record of ambient chamber music. Really this whole record stirs my heart when I put other things down and attend to its big visual gestures and eerie textures, but this is the song whose emotional effect was biggest for me.
Christine & the Queens, “Tilted.”
Chromatics, “In Films.” The second pre-release single from a record by now more than a year delayed, one of those hooks where the doubled-keyboard-and-guitar has been compressed into one big heavy blur of sound and Ruth Radelet floats over the whole thing.
DIIV, “Dopamine.” Still trying to understand what to make of this self-mythologizing martyr wreck of an artist, but I get this one now. This song, trebly and echoey and delicate and nervous and sexless and circling back on itself, sounds like drugs to me.
Missy Elliott, “WTF (Where They From)” (ft. Pharrell). Finally got this one at Dance Church.
Ariana Grande, “Into You.” Whenever I listen to it, I wind up listening to it three times in a row. Max Martin’s clockwork sense of song construction complements Grande’s impeccable vocal control (which I find annoying on her plentiful dippier material) and I nod along until there I am lipsyncing. Honorable mention: “Greedy.”
*I.F.O., “Nibiru” (ft. Afrika Bambaataa). Afro-futurist old school party music building to a single hot-blooded climax/blastoff.
Janet Jackson, “No Sleeep” (ft. J Cole). Honorable mention: “Dammn Baby.”
Julia Brown, “All Alone in Bed.” My favorite from the last album by Caroline White and the busy Sam Ray (also of Ricky Eat Acid) under this name. An Abundance of Strawberries feels a little historical— a “notes on the canon of bedroomy indie pop”-type record, with less ecstasy and sparkle than (say) Unrest or the Spinanes or Saturday Looks Good to Me— but this song’s unprepossessing lift and joy still moves me.
Junior Boys, “Over It.” I like how these guys, album by album, refine and tend to their sound in that studious, grownup way of studious, grownup bands; I like the move on Big Black Coat toward chilly, Detroit-ish techno, though the sound means that Jeremy Greenspan is more reserved about his desperation and mopeyness than on their earlier records.
Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts, “Back to Manhattan.” Sometimes a single emotional moment can contain a whole world; sometimes very gentle and gradual change is best at conveying a shock or unexpected loss (I won’t spoil this song’s).
Main Attrakionz, “My Story.” My favorite from a whole album of rapping over New Age!
Massive Attack, “The Spoils” (ft. Hope Sandoval). Now that Daddy G Marshall has rejoined Robert Del Naja, “bringing the black back to Massive Attack,” my hopes and longings for their next full-length are currently astronomical. This one, with Hope from Mazzy Star over a slow-moving hibernal melody, is my favorite from their stuff this year.
*Joanna Newsom, “Time, as a Symptom.” I wish I were different, but a decent chunk of Ys, half of Have One on Me, and most of Divers missed me completely. I connect with Newsom’s presence live, and her empathy means the preciousness of the music doesn’t feel self-absorbed, but only when the tune is perfect (“’81,” “Cosmia”) or she’s seized and shaken by her own poetry (“Sawdust and Diamonds”) do I love it on record. This one’s the latter. Dig the Finnegans Wake quote!
DeJ Loaf, “Hey There” (ft. Future). Liz! Remember driving across the California desert in our rented gas-monster listening to rap on satellite radio?
Frank Ocean, “White Ferrari.” I love the weird paradoxes of Frank Ocean’s music— luxury blues alongside sensory pleasure; gnawing loneliness alongside grownup reflection; musical asymmetry and refined, detailed production— but I wind up finding the albums too subtle and slippery when I take them as a whole. This tune, movement by movement (Cait pointed out the Beatles quote to me, and now we sing the title to each other during any odd pauses in conversation), is my fave from Blond. Honorable mention: “Self Control.”
Rihanna, “Needed Me.” Honorable mention: “Kiss It Better.”
Tinashe, “Ghetto Boy.” The difference, I guess between an album and a mixtape-you-pay-for, like Tinashe’s Nightride, is expectation, I guess: “this till the next thing.” Tinashe is a great, weird, mystically-inclined R&B singer stuck treading water with poppy material (so-so features with Juicy J and Chris Brown) while her label looks around for a way to make her big; Nightride‘s neither as broad as Aquarius or as idiosyncratic as Amethyst, but I’ll take it till the next thing, especially this sublimely beautiful tune. Honorable mention: “Company.”
Wimps, “Old Guy.” I’m 33; my already huge forehead is growing into a widow’s peak; I fall asleep after three drinks; my sister-in-law had to explain to me what “turnt” meant; I’m the old guy at the party. Honorable mention: “Take It as It Comes.”
Young Thug, “RiRi.” JEFFERY was the first of these syrup-thick Auto Tune’d contemporary Atlanta rap records I could fathom. The loopy childish brutality of Thug’s lust and neediness are sometimes too much for me, but the guy has a sound out of which he can sculpt endless musical shapes and he sounds so happy doing it– like E-40. This one (maybe named, with fannish enthusiasm, because of that hook?) was my fave. Honorable mention: “Webbie.”