As a tradition, I cash in my coins for an iTunes gift card and spend the last week of every year looking through various top music lists for new (to me) music. I’m still listening through a lot of the music, especially some of the full albums I purchased, but here is a quick and dirty list of a few stand-out songs from 2015. (Warning: some songs are NSFW)
6. “Soubour” by Songhoy Blues
Until the lyrics come in, this song rings out like a blues-rock anthem. When the vocals come in, everything changes as the seamless melding of the band’s traditional Mali roots and lyrics fuse together with the blues. The history of blues is rife with the infusion of African influences. Here the influence goes the other direction. And this wasn’t the only African song to make it onto “best of” charts in the US this year. I’m hoping this is a sign of increased diversity to come to our radios in the states.
5. “Pedestrian at Best” by Courtney Barnett
This song rings out with that sort of speech-song that I relate with Sheryl Crow or a band like The Killers (and further back to The Talking Heads). Usually, these kinds of ambiguously pitched vocals hold little appeal to the trained singer in me. Here, her control over inflection and intonation combined with the hypnotic rambling rhapsody of her lyrics pulls my along against the punchy music from the band beneath it.
4. “Killing Strangers” by Marilyn Manson
Again, another song outside of my usually comfort zone. I’m not a huge Marilyn Manson fan. I am a huge fan of blues, though, and this song is a fantastic pared down blues-style riff song. I think Manson’s growling voice fits perfectly, and the amount of restraint musically and vocally shows an artist who no longer needs to show off or prove anything. As far as I’m concerned, Manson can just drop the mic after this.
3. “What You Don’t Do” by Lianne La Havas
I’m a sucker for neo-R&B, a style that has been hovering on the outskirts of the mainstream pop-world for what seems like ages. Lianne La Havas came pretty close to breaking through with this song which saw major radio play. I love how close it sticks in structure and harmony to a traditional Motown shuffle while using just enough electronic sounds and processing to make it feel almost futuristic.
2. “S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
The same vain as neo-soul, but a slightly different branch. This is less Motown, and more a mash-up between Ray Charles and Sam Cooke with maybe just a tinge of James Brown and a twist of country thrown in. Go ahead. Take a listen. Tap your feet, or just give into it and dance about the room.
1. “Whiskey and You” by Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton delivers one of the most sensitive, vulnerable and artistic vocals I have heard in years. A whiskey tenor with a powerhouse voice, he pulls back with such restraint, accompanied just by his guitar. It is such a risky, bold, and naked performance. It’s easy to sound good with a full band…to bury the vocal inconsistencies in a wash of drums, guitar, reverb, and autotuning. But what Stapleton does here is not only incredibly difficult, it’s near perfect.