At the end of each year, I compile a list of “songs of the year” that I email to my friends (and send to Image) on December 31. These songs are probably not the best of the year, but I don’t know how I would be able to figure those out anyway (Jessica Hopper has a piece on this in her 2015 book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic).
Instead, these songs are all songs that were released (and I heard and liked, for whatever reason) in 2015. A lot of times it was because they were among the only songs I heard—2015 was a busy year for me. I went to precisely one concert (an utterly stunning one, by Sufjan Stevens) and purchased about five albums. I still care about music, but I don’t obsess over the surface details—band members, release dates, guest lists, record labels—like I used to. What can I say? I’m a grown-up.
I do think these songs are worth listening to, though. Here they are, in four loosely arranged parts. I hope you find something new that you like.
Sad Songs (Let’s Get This Over With)
- Bjork: “Stonemilker”
- Death Cab: “No Room in Frame”
- Sufjan Stevens: “Blue Bucket of Gold” (Remix)
I’ve been listening to Bjork and Death Cab for about fifteen years apiece, and both made their best records in a decade this year. They’re both divorce albums—Bjork’s is clear-eyed and visceral, Death Cab’s subtle and understated. Stevens’ is a record about his estranged mother’s death, and this remix comes close to getting at the grandeur of the tour in which the acoustic songs of Carrie & Lowell became shimmering, cascading bursts of transcendence.
Shouting at God (or, Faith)
- mewithoutYou: “D-Minor”
- Refused: “Dawkins Christ”
- Emery: “Thrash”
I like the way this group of three songs works together. mewithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss wrestles with personal and theological demons; Refused does a crude, hot-blooded, post-hardcore/metal indictment of all religious ideologies (including pop atheism); and Emery’s “Thrash” is a brutal track that depicts the stoning of Stephen, ending in a gospelly beatific vision.
A Somewhat Confused and Surprisingly Long Dance Party
- Mates of State: “Staring Contest”
- Breakmaster Cylinder: “Reply All Theme”
- Roman GianArthur feat. Janelle Monae: “No Surprises”
- Erica Campbell: “I Luh God”
- DC Talk: “Love Feels Like”
- We Are the City: “Keep on Dancing”
A cute love song by my favorite neo-prog-pop duo, the theme song of a great podcast about the Internet, an R&B Radiohead cover, a trap gospel track, a reunion of one of the biggest Christian rock groups of the 90s, and a religiously-minded, dancey, indie-rock group from British Columbia: I just DJed your next post-evangelical hipster dance party! You’re welcome.
Faith (Part II)
- Torres: “Sprinter”
- Lauryn Hill: “Feeling Good”
- Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus: “The Bright Field”
These songs are commendable and their stories interesting, but somehow I feel like to “explain” them in the conventional music journalist way would be to cheapen them. (I’m slowly trying to write a book about the purpose of music criticism, so perhaps you’ll see what I mean, eventually.) Instead, I will reproduce “The Bright Field,” a poem by R. S. Thomas, which is spoken in the final song, in its entirety below. I think this sums up these songs, and, in fact, a lot of songs.
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Image depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
+ Click here to make a donation.
+ Click here to subscribe to Image.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.