December 18, 2015

The Middle Eight's Favorite Songs of 2015

I'm back for my annual list of favorite songs. Did you miss me?  If so, check me out Twitter, Soundcloud and/or Tumblr. 2015 was a year of unexpected pleasures. I celebrated my birthday with friends in Los Angeles (and loved it, much to my surprise) and spent a few amazing weekends in New York. All of that was soundtracked by the songs below, listed in no order. I hope you find something new.

[the page may load slowly because of all the embedded players]  

1. White Light Shura SONG OF THE YEAR #1 (it's a threeway this year)
You have to stick with the monolithic 7 minute version. This track was, for much of the summer, my pick for the best song of 2015. There is a shimmery breakdown at 4:40 followed by a stunning rev back up with a wicked guitar solo at around 5:45. Who does that anymore?  Note that Shura’s other big single this year, 2Shy, is a like a Janet song that didn’t make Unbreakable

2. Take Me Away Janet Jackson SONG OF THE YEAR #2
From a near perfect comeback album. No one really knows how long Janet, Terry and Jimmy worked on Unbreakable – the whole thing is shrouded in pleasing mystery – but the songs sound as if they cooked for a long time. Like many of Janet’s records, the ad libs alone are thrilling – I always repeat the bit at 2:40 when she she sings, “take me away, awww just take me away “ 

Listen to Take Me Away on YouTube

3. Cool On Fire Daniel Johns SONG OF THE YEAR #3
You may not know his name, but you may remember Daniel Johns for two reasons: in the 90's, he was the Jodie Foster-lookalike lead singer of Silverchair. Later he became famous as Natalie Imbruglia’s husband. This track, for me, is about the intersection of desire and vulnerability: “It was getting a little hard / Not to think about each other..  It was getting a little harder / Trying to keep it undercover /  I was feeling insecure / Trying to get your body close to mine.”Mmmhmm. I know.

4. I Want You Wrabel
Wrabel was recommended to me, like Daniel Johns, by Chartrigger. By sheer dint of positioning behind the above track on a summer vacation playlist, I became obsessed with this story of clinging to someone who's done you wrong. “ …don't know why I want you, when I know you're the wrong thing / Don't go, you're the only thing that makes me feel something… and I want you.”

5. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful Florence + The Machine
Hard to choose my favorite lines from Flo’s open-hearted title track, inspired by the big sky of southern California (which I too discovered in 2015). Is it “What are we gonna do? / We've opened the door, now it's all coming through / Tell me you see it too  / We opened our eyes and it's changing the view.. “ or this beautiful description of a lover: “And every day I wore your face / Like an atmosphere around me / The satellite beside me.” Find me a more perfect string arrangement than what carries the final two minutes of this song out.

Listen to How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful on YouTube

6. As Far As I Could Get Florence + The Machine
Never released digitally – this is the b-side to the 12” limited release of the album’s first single. But it’s perfect. Again, it’s suffused with Los Angeles:

7. Messiah Madonna 
We’d been yearning for so long for this Madonna, wrapping love and religion into a mystical song that recalls her Ray Of Light spirituality. 

Listen to Messiah onYouTube

8. Shine Years and Years
It’s very hard to choose one song from the flawless debut, Communion. This one wins for its romantic hook: “It's you that I've been waiting to find,” but I love the chorus lyric that captures the kind of perfect life moment you relive in your head for… years and years: “I'm holding it all tonight, unfolding it all tonight…  It's you that I've been waiting to find.” Olly is so ebullient – he’s the sweetest pop star.

9. Paris Fickle Friends
My favorite indie pop group keeps releasing one sweet single after another, with a now recignixael sound. Paris pushed the boat out a bit with a mellower tempo.

10. I Can Change Brandon Flowers.
WHO KNEW this oughties dear would come back and slay with his second solo album (and hairstyle)? It was so left field – and probably not a little due to producer Ariel Rechtshaid. Leave it to the pleasingly ambiguous Lafleuer to build a perfect up-tempo moment of a sample from Bronski Beat’s coming-out classic, Smalltown Boy.

11. Criminals MS MR
"I just wanna be a criminal with you." I never got this band until I heard this track (and the equally strong Painted) from their second LP.  It's really all about Lizzy's voice, isn't it? It has a crisp edge that I love - you can't fuck with her. 

Watch Criminals on YouTube

12. Cold Rae Morris feat. Fryars
I don’t know who they are either…. and I don’t know that her LP had much impact, but Cold is airtight. The video is clever too, though they look like two librarians smirking through an experience they didn't expect to have.

13. Better Than That Marina And The Diamonds
Wins for the best middle eight of 2015: “Well, I guess it’s just what humans do / Hook up with other people until it all falls through / And when it’s over they go out and try and heal their pain / Hook up with another lover, do it all again…  I’m not passing judgment on her sexual life / I’m passing judgment on the way she always stuck her knife / In my back ever since we were starting out / Suspicious from the start, I always had my doubts about you.”

Listen to Better Than That on YouTube

14. Never A Woman White Sea
Another song recommended by a friend on Twitter, Never A Woman that takes its time and eases up next to you until you end up spending the weekend with it.

15. Lights Hurts
This band has embarrassed me from album two onward. But this track, produced by… yep, Ariel Rechtshaid, is a perfect disco jam. It was accompanied by the most electrifying video of the year. In fact, I doubt I would have even bothered to play this track were it not for the revelation of Theo as a dancer extraordinaire in this clip.

Watch Lights on Vevo

16. What Do You Mean? Justin Bieber
I know. but here we are: Donald Trump is a leading contender for President and I’m trilling on this little douchebag. He's made a song so well suited to both himself and the zeitgeist. I even felt defensive for him when Lena Dunham accused him of contributing to rape culture with these lyrics, which I read as a genuine reaction to the mysteries of women: “What do you mean? / When you nod your head yes / But you wanna say no?”  Had the no and yes been reversed, Lena would have had a point. Whatever.

Watch What Do You Mean? on YouTube

17. Water Under The Bridge Adele
The ballyhooed 25 didn’t really ballyhoo me, but I appreciate the (much needed) jauntiness of this track – and a very pop vocal from her. 

Morten is still hot. Thank God. I think he has the Paul Newman gene that will keep him in the game until he drops dead.This is the melancholy title track of their back-from-the-dead album. They're one of those bands that keep fake retiring.
19. Loudspeaker MUNA 
Each year my list has several artists or bands that have yet to release an album. MUNA is sparking new female trio from Los Angeles nails modern pop. The vocalist is fantastic and all three of their released songs are strong. Looking forward to 2016 with these women. "If I feel like crying, I won't hide it."

20. North Circular Real Lies
So distinctly British. I love the East London poetry of this piece, one of the more melancholy on their debut album: "Suicide bridge and the morning watch / The royal fumes and fate wires and the things that pick up and kick off / And the roar of the spit on the roads, the central reservation / The rapturous players at the petrol station."

Listen to North Circular on YouTube

21. My Boy My Town Mabel
First, Mabel is the lookalike daughter of Neneh Cherry and Cameron McVey. Her musical pedigree is pretty epic, but Mabel delivers on this track, which has a strong Jessie Ware vibe. It's smooth af. Discovered on December 19 and put on this list on December 21. BAM.

Watch My Boy My Town on YouTube

22. The Point Of It All Anthony Hamilton
From the Empire soundtrack. [Pause: COOKIE!] This is a rerecording of an earlier song, but this simple piano version is an instant standard. "I can't stay away from you baby / Don't wanna be without you... Whenever we're apart / It damn near starves my heart."

Listen to The Point Of It All on YouTube

23. Pressure Off Duran Duran with Janelle Monae and Nile Rodgers
The best Duran single in about 15 years. With Nile's slinky guitar, it's a worthy follow up to Notorious. This is a pure summer party anthem and it makes me so happy. "Something is happening to me, maybe it's happening to you you YOU?"

What did I miss? Let me know!

Here are some songs that made it to this list and were cut and added and cut at various times:

Lana Del Rey High By The Beach Kwabs Look Over Your Shoulder Lianne La Havas Unstoppable Little Boots No Pressure Years and Years Memo (actually the whole LP), New Order Superheated Brandon Flowers Can't Deny My Love

Image by me. It's Pasadena in March 2015. 


dishy said...

Justin Bieber just no
No no

Vix said...

So pleased to see you back! Love seeing your best songs of the year- some new discoveries for me that I'll check out.

xolondon said...

Thank you Vix. So nice to get that comment! I may try to do an album list. We'll see... famous last words.

Anonymous said...

Let the explorations begin!