As we like to do at the close of every year, Speak Into My Good Eye invites bands from all over our coverage scope to share their favorite releases. We say good bye to another great year of music in 2015 as
Adam Recktenwald of NJ electronic project Arenal give us his top singles selections.
Check out his choices and stream Arenal’s recent remix of Adele’s “Hello” below.
Every year for the holidays, I put together a playlist of my favorite songs of the last twelve months. This year, I’m using Spotify for our listening purposes, and before you jump on me about the evils of Spotify’s awful royalties, the greater evil would be just handing you the MP3s like I usually do. Especially since I’ve included four artists I know personally, please support any music that you like with your wallet! I’m also including these “notes” in case you want a shortcut through all three hours of music. Enjoy!
PS – I wouldn’t be vain enough to include it on this list, but I did release a new full-length this year, Sentimental Ventral Tegmental, and I’d be so happy if you downloaded it and listened to it a million times: http://arenal.bandcamp.com.
Grimes – “REALITi”
Grimes’ new full-length, Art Angels, presented an issue for those of us in love with the ghost-like harmonies of Claire Boucher, as she thundered out of the gate as a full-fledged pop star, singing louder and clearer than ever before.
The link between the old and new can be heard acutely with the demo and album versions of “REALITi”. As I slowly acclimate to Grimes 2.0, I hold on to the demo version as my favorite song of the year. “REALITi” perfectly captures that gradual loss of innocence that comes simply from getting older; perfect for those Monday mornings where it might take a little extra effort to start the commute.
Hot Chip – “Huarache Lights”
Somewhere along the line, Hot Chip became one of my favorite bands. And while Why Makes Sense? isn’t as complete a statement as their past few albums, it’s still absolutely charming, managing to add a few more options to their sound, like those random out of leftfield hip-hop breaks.
Janet Jackson – “Night”
There’s a whole subgenre of “indie R&B” that grew up on Janet and has adapted her quirks, so it’s nice to hear her back with her first album since Michael’s death delivering a rock solid album filled with great songs like “Night” that harken back to her classic sound.
Missy Elliott – “WTF (Where They From)”
There were two things we all remember from Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime extravaganza. One of them was a poorly choreographed dude in a shark costume. The other was when Missy Elliott appeared out of nowhere and stole the whole damn show.
After some false starts with newer leaked material, Missy is back in full effect with “WTF”, a super-fun, dance yourself silly track that also serves as an effective Miley Cyrus diss track. Yes, that Pharrell verse leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s so nice having Missy “Misdemeanor” back in our lives.
Chairlift – “Ch-Ching”
“Ch-Ching” may strike as a large departure for the duo, but Chairlift’s new work comes after finding out Beyonce was a Chairlift fan and spending a week with her in the studio. The influence seems to have opened up a new door for the already superlative pair.
Chromatics – “Shadow (Michel’s Runway Edit)”
While Johnny Jewel sits patiently on the Chromatics full-length Dear Tommy that was supposedly finished back in April (?!), he has graciously released a few tidbits throughout the year, including this excellent single.
New Order – “Singularity”
It’s always difficult to get excited about post-Peter Hook New Order efforts, but Music Complete is a really enjoyable collection of tunes that not only sounds appealingly like classic New Order, but doesn’t come across as stale as a statement like that might imply.
Aphex Twin – “diskhat1”
Richard James has emerged from hiding and is releasing tons of music. No, that does not make sense. Neither does the premise of this album, in which all the live instruments are supposedly controlled by computers.
Just trying to imagine the configurations is daunting, but the end result is a collection of pseudo-hip-hop instrumentals that are probably the most fun things he’s ever produced.
Jamie Woon – “Sharpness”
Surprises abound: If you were looking for a quiet, old fashioned and funky R&B album, I don’t think I would have pointed you in the direction of Jamie Woon, whose debut, Mirrorwriting, was a seminal example of British garage/bass/dubstep (pick your genre signifier) thanks to co-production by Burial, but this time around he’s delivered just that: a soulful selection of vocal-focused tunes with a minimal, live backing band.
Oddisee – “Want Something Done”
Amir Mohamed is the best kind of “socially conscious” hip-hop: someone who knows that optimistically wanting the world to be a better place and writing about it is not a selling point in his genre but still goes ahead and records it anyway.
The lyrics “I’ma help the people close to me / They help the people close to them, and then hopefully / Friends of their friends, friends heed the notion / We started off locally, now it’s changed globally / That’s the way it’s supposed to be“ were the best rays of sunshine I heard on a record all year.
Kendrick Lamar – “Momma”
Great art allows empathy, and in the year of the necessary resurgence of the Civil Rights movement through #BlackLivesMatter, To Pimp a Butterfly channels entire communities through Kendrick’s exploration of self.
Kendrick feeds off the Flying Lotus/Thundercat funk of last year’s You’re Dead! and speaks in a schizophrenic chorus of voices to deliver one of the year’s best albums.
Oneohtrix Point Never – “I Bite Through It”
When OPN opened for Nine Inch Nails in 2014, he did so with a blistering, bass rattling set that avoided his fallback ambient trails and delved into a harder, more “metal” sound that comes to fruition here with bizarre compositional strategies that flip from graceful serenity to sincere headbanging.
Holly Herndon – “Chorus”
Speaking of odd compositional strategies, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what is going on in the choral sound collages assembled by Holly Herndon, especially when exactly the disjointed mess of oohs and aahs swerving between the speakers congeals into a defined yet illusory impression of a beat.
Skylar Spence – “Ridiculous!”
Despite the massive influence of Daft Punk, there aren’t many out there producing straight-up French-style, disco-influenced dance music in 2015. Skylar Spence (you might remember him as Saint Pepsi) doesn’t care what the current trends are and heads right back for Discovery territory with a great collection of funky beats on Prom King.
Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique – “Set Me Free”
Robyn trades her partnership with Royksopp for a collection of silly and enjoyable clubby tracks. These songs are the last project of the late producer Christian Falk, and Robin canceled tour dates due to the passing, giving the joyful EP an unintended air of sorrow.
Ellie Goulding – “Love Me Like You Do”
Try to forget that this tune exists because of five songwriters answering the soundtrack needs of a ridiculous film adaptation of bestselling Twilight fanfic.
“Love Me Like You Do” is an outright classic, pairing Goulding’s fantastic range with impressive production that strays from the morose trappings of Adele or Sam Smith and elevates to the drama of Bjork’s “Play Dead,” making for the best track to grace Top 40 radio all year. Also recommended: “Something in the Way You Move” from November’s Delirium.
Dollys – “Anywhere”
I was really happy to help Kickstart my old student Natalie Newbold’s band Dollys’ first full-length Oh, Please. The trio has real talent and sought to record the entire album using traditional analog equipment with live takes and no digital trickery. The results are honest and wonderful songwriting that’s truly a team effort. Since Oh, Please, Dollys have released another pair of stellar singles, neither of which are on Spotify. You can download my favorite, “I Know” at https://dollys.bandcamp.com/album/i-know-imitators
Courtney Barnett – “Elevator Operator”
When was the last time you really thought of a contemporary lyricist as clever? Barnett’s turns of phrase and observational tales are more akin to a short story writer, as demonstrated by her album opener where a man playing hooky has a rooftop run-in with a woman of a certain age, leading to a central miscommunication and a catchy chorus.
Veruca Salt – “Eyes on You”
How good did it feel to have Veruca Salt reunite after all these years? On twitter, Fluxblog’s Matthew Perpetua lamented the sad state of critics’ endless task-taking of VS “stealing” the sound of the Breeders, which always ignores the obvious: Veruca Salt were the better band.
No, Ghost Notes is not the pop rock classic that Eight Arms to Hold You remains to this day, but it is filled with the fun and vigor and cathartic feels that made a release like 1996’s Blow it Out Your Ass such a delight. With so many 90’s acts jumping on the nostalgia paycheck train, it’s nice to know some can be such a pleasure.
Sleater-Kinney – “Fangless”
Speaking of glorious reunions, Carrie Brownstein, just off her own refresher with Wild Flag, gets the gals back together to tear things up with wicked ferocity. If Carrie’s memoir is any indication, SK was both a form of therapy and a form of torture, so it’s wonderful to get such an unexpected album that ranks with their best.
Lightning Bolt – “Runaway Train”
I haven’t listened to Lightning Bolt since 2003’s Wonderful Rainbow. Frankly, it’s amazing that an act that consists of a pitch-shifting bassist and a crackling drummer with a mic taped to his face could have such longevity. Their newest, Fantasy Empire, proves that with time comes a maturity of sound as they widen and deepen their bananas approach.
Chipocrite – “Monkey Torture”
I reached out to Paul a few years back to present his approach to Chiptune (composing and programming on a Game Boy) to our high school students, and he graciously agreed. His sound has evolved tremendously with the addition of a full complement of real instruments, resulting in full-blooded, rock-out material like “Monkey Torture” (Yes, that is indeed a The State joke). Visit http://chipocrite.bandcamp.com to download Wordplay in its entirety.
CHVRCHES – “Leave a Trace”
Straight-forward synth-pop fun.
Christine and the Queens – “Tilted”
French pop act Christine and the Queens are just starting to get some play here in the states. The sound ranges from gentle and controlled pop like “Tilted” to somber elegies. I prefer the former, but both are worth a listen.
Young Galaxy – “Body”
I am always eager to get my hands on new Young Galaxy ever since their perplexing mix of existential dread and swinging synthpop debuted with 2011’s Shapeshifting. Their new album Falseworks doesn’t disappoint.
The highlight is the Dan Lissvik disco-powered “Body,” a song that rides a weird line between a conversation between lovers about objectification and something more transcendentally sci-fi about defining one’s own corporeality.
Wet – “Deadwater”
If you’ve never heard of Wet, take a second to watch Yours Truly’s gorgeous profile of the band here http://bcove.me/yctoht3d , then enjoy their newest single, “Deadwater” and join me in waiting for their eventual, breakthrough full-length debut.
Carly Rae Jepsen – “Gimmie Love”
I don’t care how manufactured Jepsen’s second album may appear (she was rumored to demo over 250 songs in preparing Emotion), it resulted in some really terrific bubblegum pop music that should rival anything on the charts. Maybe Jepsen is destined to be more of an Annie than a Taylor Swift, but as long as she keeps making fun music like this, that’s fine with me.
Jamie XX – “Hold Tight”
Grimes “REALITi” may have been my favorite song of 2015, but the second I put on Jamie XX’s first full-length, I knew it was going to be my clear pick for favorite album of the year.
Jamie wisely contributes existing work like “Sleep Sound” in manageable sizes and incorporates the talents of his friends from the xx on multiple tracks.
The album works as a demonstration of Jamie’s power as a producer, a composer and a songwriter, effusing mood and tension throughout, and while there is one wild tonal misstep (the lauded summer jam “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”), that slip isn’t enough to discount the complete package In Colours presents as a monument to the current state of dance music.
ANOHI – “4 Degrees”
Antony of Antony and the Johnsons and Hercules and Love Affair fame returns with a new moniker and bold and brash production from the unlikely pairing of Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never.
“4 Degrees” was released in conjunction with the global climate talks in Paris, savagely pinpointing the links between luxury living and the death of the environment. Powerful stuff.
Nicolas Jaar – “Fight”
Jaar kept busy this year, releasing an alternate cinematic soundtrack to the avant garde art film Pomegranates for free online and, more recently, a series of singles titled Nymphs. This is the latest, a curious blend of danceable beats and vocal chopping that adds an upbeat endnote to a fascinating year for Jaar.
Chemical Brothers – “Wide Open”
26 years of being electronic music’s most reliable pair earns Ed and Tom some latitude, which they used to create some daring and unfortunately forgettable pieces on their newest, Born in the Echoes. The highlight of the album is this collaboration with Beck (raise your hand if you don’t immediately recognize his voice here either) which proves the Chem Bros still have the songwriting chops even as they endeavor into experiments to which I may not want an invite.
Arthur Russell – “Lucky Cloud”
I became somewhat obsessed with Arthur Russell this year. I’ve listened to his work casually before, but after watching the moving 2008 documentary Wild Combination about his career, his recording habits and the efforts to posthumously preserve and release his tapes by Audika’s Steve Knutson, I went down the rabbit hole of Russell’s entire discography.
Knutson released Corn this year, a collection of alternate recordings, including this newly released version of “Lucky Cloud”. I highly recommend watching Wild Combination on Vimeo at: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/arthurrussellmovie and diving in like I did. (You can also listen to a wonderful cover of “Lucky Cloud” by Sam Amidon here: https://youtu.be/85S8QKZyo-E)
Beirut – “No No No”
I hadn’t heard Zach Condon’s voice roughly since 2007 when his Flying Club Cup took off, and hearing his baritone and accompanying fluttering brass section again was a real joy.
Joan Shelley – “Over and Even”
In 1998, I got my paws on a copy of a personal fave, Tsunami’s A Brilliant Mistake. And while Joan’s delicate and measured vocals are a far cry from Tsunami’s Jenny Toomey, “Over and Even” brought me right back to that direct sound of the classic Simple Machines releases from years ago. Heavenly.
Glen Hansard – “Winning Streak”
Hansard, singing with a harmonizing Sam Amidon and Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), delivers a timeless optimistic beam of sunshine.
Roadside Graves – “Acne/Ears”
The Graves make it clear they are “just happy you’re listenin’,” but trust me, you’ll be happy you’re listenin’ too, especially when the confessional tone swells into a loud barroom rocker. Download the entire album here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/acne-ears/id1022528940
Honah Lee – “You Should Stay”
Is it weird to say I’m “proud” of my pals Tim and Anthony for perfecting their unique brand of party punk? Seems like the wrong word, as their songs are a weird concoction designed specifically for drawing you back into the wildest night of your life, but “You Should Stay” from their new full-length 33 on 45 might be the purest distillation of their strange brew, so drink up. Download 33 on 45 here: https://gtgrecords.bandcamp.com/album/33-on-45
Titus Andronicus – “Lookalike”
“Lookalike” is pulled from TA’s latest, an hour and half long punk odyssey that spans two discs. And while it’s kind of unfair to reduce the behemoth to this short blast, I’m hoping this particular one sends you looking for the rest.
Warpaint – “No Way Out (Redux)”
I’m always grateful for new music from Warpaint, especially when they lock into one of their patented spooky grooves like this. There’s a longer cut of this song out there if you want more.
Björk – “Family”
Vulnicura is a soul-crushingly dark look at the destruction of Björk’s relationship with Matthew Barney. It’s also her best work in years. “Family” gets to the core of the story, exploring the “death” of the unity between her marriage and their child.
Four Tet – “Evening Side”
Thought we’d finish with a nice long reverie from Four Tet. The A-side, “Morning” is equally as lovely.