Feature: Year-End Mixtape

pedestrianatbestHey, kiddos! We’re well into December, and you all know what that means! Countless music publications, both online and otherwise, are jumping the gun a little bit and offering their “best of 2015” picks. As of this writing, there are 26 days left in the month of December, which is more than enough time for a group or artist to drop a game-changing piece of work. It seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened. I still have a lot of albums to get through before I make a definitive list of the “best,” but I’d like to offer some sort of feature that spans the past year. With this in mind, I present a list of ten great songs from this past year. Some of these artists will make another appearance on my “Best Albums” list in a few weeks, some not. For helpful browsing, I’ve included the album title as well. You’re right. I am a wonderful person.

10. “The Wait” – Tobias Jesso, Jr (Goon)

This slight, pretty tune is driven by a finger-picked acoustic guitar and provides a nice change of pace from the other, more piano based songs. While elsewhere, Jesso channels the melancholy and wry lyricism of Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, “The Wait” could be a White album-era Paul McCartney track. As I believe I said in my initial review of this album, some songs aren’t really a product of their time. Some songs are ageless.

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9. “Te Amo Camila Vallejo” – Desaparecidos (Payola)

Conor Oberst is a little much for some people. Whether he’s performing as Bright Eyes or heading the hardcore punk outfit Desaparecidos, Oberst’s sloganeering, arm-sleeve politics and general emo-ness imbue anything he creates with a sense of deep sincerity and idealism. When the tempo is up, and the guitars are crunchy, that enthusiasm can be an asset. Try not being moved by the triumphant chorus. Try it!

8. “You Know More Than I Know” – Iron & Wine w/ Ben Bridwell (Sing Into My Mouth)

One of many gorgeous standouts on this covers album, this John Cale song sparkles in the hands of Sam Beam and Ben Bridwell. Excellent slide guitar and piano work take this one to the next level.

7. “Heaven Sent” – Best Coast (California Nights)

Though I’ve blasted Best Coast in the past for their rhyming-dictionary lyrics and the fact that all their songs kind of sound the same, I can’t deny the wrecking-ball power of “Heaven Sent.” A bright spot of energy and light on an otherwise kind of disappointing album, this track is why we have mix-tapes.

6. “Pedestrian at Best” – Courtney Barnett (Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit)

So Australian, her middle name is literally “Melba” (literally), Courtney Barnett broke through big time this year with her excellent record Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. Barnett’s detached, ironic vocals and stream-of-consciousness lyrics highlight her sharp wit and biting acidity.

5. “When I Was Done Dying” – Dan Deacon (Gliss Riffer)

Dan Deacon is an artist that works primarily in the medium of electronica. Obviously, this is a rock site, which is why you won’t find any mention of Kendrick Lamar’s album (which is better than at least five of the albums mentioned here) However, I think “When I Was Done Dying” has enough in common with the neo-psychedelia of groups like Animal Collective and Neutral Milk Hotel to be included here. There’s definitely a sort of madcap energy present that reminds me of the Beatles at their goofiest.

4. “How to Forget” – Jason Isbell (Something More Than Free)

Speaking of sobering meditations on love and loss, Jason’s Isbell’s got those in spades! The alt-country rocker delivered up his strongest collection of songs yet this year, and he did all of that after getting more or less sober! It usually works the other way around. Remember when Keith Richards stopped doing heroin? Just kidding. That never happened.

3. “March of Progress” – Viet Cong (s/t)

Don’t get too attached to the name “Viet Cong.” The band has announced that they are in the process of changing it because it’s evidently too offensive. Apparently, there was a war or something like 45 years ago. I’ve never heard of it, but that’s only because I’m a millenial who gets all his news from Buzzfeed and sponsored content.

Whatever the name of the group, their debut LP was one of the highlights of this year. Incorporating elements of punk, new wave, and krautrock (sometimes in the same song), “March of Progress” is a good sample of the group’s range.

2. “The Drum/Something Soon” – Car Seat Headrest (Teens of Style)

Fuck it. I couldn’t decide. These two songs appear next to each other on Car Seat Headrest’s great record Teens of Style, and are both endlessly catchy slices of low-fi pop. So I broke the rules. I’ll turn my back on all of my beliefs if you’ll just listen to this album! It’s surprisingly easy, as it turns out I have very few beliefs.

1. “Last Year” – Joanna Gruesome (Peanut Butter)

It was always going to be this song. From the moment I heard it, I knew “Last Year” was going to be the one. Sure, the album Peanut Butter is on my short list for best album of the year, but this track still rises to the top. Anarchic punk crashes and breaks, reforming into a sweetly lush chorus. A killer opener to a killer record.

You’re welcome, America!

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