And so we come to another tradition in my stream of year-end rituals. The day after sharing my top ten albums of the year, I turn to the individual songs that thrilled me the most. In this instance, I don’t intend or purport to name this quintet as the absolute best of 2015, although they can certain all jockey for that title. Instead, this is simply a way for me to celebrate a few more exceptional musical creations. That means I’m largely eschewing music from any of the ten albums cited yesterday. As with most rules, there is an exception.
Kacey Musgraves, “Biscuits”
My favorite album of the year contains what is likely my favorite single of the year. This song exemplifies the abundant charms of Musgraves’s Pageant Material, especially in the playfully ingenious use of language that still radiates plainspoken simplicity. On any given day, I might hold up a different bundle of lyrics as the lines I adore the most. For today I’ll go with: “The holiest of holies even slip from time to time/ We’ve all got dirty laundry hanging on the line.” Hell, I’ve even got a favorite cover version (albeit one toward which I have a strong personal bias).
Carly Rae Jepsen, “Run Away with Me”
I watched with mighty skepticism as Jepsen’s album Emotion collected rave reviews bursting with shocked delight, even though I was very happy a couple years ago to unashamedly tout the pleasures of her breakthrough single. When I finally listened to it, I wasn’t a full convert (the throwaway songs push it too close to earning the dreaded “uneven” tag), but the peaks are pure bliss. At its very best, I can imagine this as the music Debbie Gibson would have made if she kept progressing creatively after Out of the Blue. I mean that as about the highest of praise I can bestow on a pop record.
Waxahatchee, “Under a Rock”
I didn’t know I wanted a throwback to the alternative music of the mid nineteen-nineties, when the influence of grunge dappled every last thing little morning dew, but here we are. That opening “Maybe” is the sound of whole era of college radio condensed into a single word. Somewhere, Tracy Bonham is collecting spiritual residuals.
Holly Miranda, “All I Want is To Be Your Girl”
“The days are short/ But the nights are long/ We could fuck in the sun/ And dance ’til dawn/ And all I want is to be your girl.”
Janelle Monáe and Wondaland Records, “Hell You Talmabout”
Nothing less than a sonic gut-punch. Let the protest guide the music, let the music underscore the protest.