With 2015’s approaching close and the music news cycle slowed down to a halt, it’s time to reflect on highlights of the year, or in my case, its nadirs. I cobbled up a playlist of my favorite darker, slower songs that were released this year. These songs are the ones that always stick with me most powerfully. Combing my listening history and the ‘Beet archives, I plucked an even forty tracks in total, released this year, that affected me. Check the playlist right below and read on for a snippet of info on the artists, in order presented.
Leapling, I photographed in February on the release of Vacant Page. On a recent re-listen, I stumbled upon “Slip Slidin’ Away” and was motivated to make this mix. They regularly play Brooklyn’s smaller venues. We included “Crooked” in Beet Box.
Natalie Prass I photographed in July, and she’s probably my most listened to new artist. The arrangements on her self-titled debut struck me hard this Summer, (even though the record released in January) and I know they’ll linger in my heart well into 2016. “Reprise” isn’t the first song of hers I’d recommend to a new listener, but I’ve come to adore it as a dreamy rework on “Your Fool.”
Majical Cloudz‘s “Downtown” came to my awareness via the Kaiotic Music playlist a month ago, and its somber tone and self-deprecating vibes resonates for me.
Memoryhouse are a band I’ve been a fan of for years; They live and breathe dreamy downtempo pop and were quiet the past couple years. Now, they’ve released “Arizona” recently as a primer for a 2016 campaign and I dig it.
Shigeto, on the Ghostly label, is an expert at creating electronic soundscapes on the minimal side. I think you’ll dig “Need Nobody” a lot if you’re remotely into that sound.
Empire Circus, from Ireland, released this piano led-track recently as a lead in for a big next year. The second half of the song just soars, and the music video accompanying it really helps drive that home.
Stornoway, are a folk band from Scotland I’m a huge fan of. Bonxie, their third album, came out this Summer and it was a major oversight on my part that I missed it until just before I started putting together this playlist. It doesn’t seem like they played NYC around it.
Mutemath, I had the privilege of photographing at an intimate show at Baby’s All Right. The band, known for their bombastic synth-rock compositions, usually sneak in a mellower track or two per record. “Stratosphere” is that one from Vitals their fourth album and first independently of Warner. Mutemath returns to NYC in March at Terminal 5.
Made in Heights, a reclusive dance-electronica project, made waves with their independently released album, Without My Enemy What Would I Do. They never toured on it, unfortunately. A lot of the songs have melancholic tones on them, which made selecting “Lunette” rather difficult.
Villagers, I photographed twice this year, and am a true believer in his (Conor O’Brien) music’s quality. This year’s Darling Arithmetic went in a minimalist direction, and its lead single “Courage” is a resolute anthem that embodies the less is more mantra.
Courtney Barnett, has dominated the indie scene this year, with a meteoric rise around her debut album. I had the pleasure of seeing her and her band at a Bowery Ballroom gig that hit all the right notes. “Depreston” is the chill song from the record.
Tobias Jesso Jr, had a real year too, and was caught in action at Baby’s All Right in March. His music is a revival of emotional, classic pop. “Just a Dream” isn’t an album single, but the piano led track does wonders on its own merits.
ON AN ON, released And the Wave Has Two Sides.., in Summer, whose morose electronic rock sound became my anthem. “Alright Alright” is one of the more upbeat tunes from the record. I lived vicariously through Matt James’ coverage of them in Boston after I was unable to attend the NYC dates on their sole tour. We also included “Its Not Over” in Beet Box.
Low have been a long running band, hailing from the Midwest and played here a few times this year. Just recently, I heard “Lies” from Ones and Sixes and immediately was drawn to its power. I’m in the process of learning about their past discography and looking forward to the opportunity to see them.
Beach House, if there’s anyone who had a year it’s this duo. They released two albums in 2015, both of high quality, and one a total surprise. “All Your Yeahs” is one of the lead tracks from Thank Your Lucky Stars, and believe me, I was thanking them all the time when I had that album on repeat. They have a trio of sold out shows at Webster Hall in March. Matt Esposito photographed them when they were touring Depression Cherry in CT.
Oh Wonder, are a British duo that nail a sweet spot between electronica and soft pop. “Landslide” was the first song I heard from them and it’s stuck with me. They have two shows next month, 1/28 at Bowery Ballroom (sold out) and 1/29 at Music Hall.
John Grant, I photographed at LPR around the release of his third album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. Grant has a way with words that allows him to be funny, serious and massively vulnerable at the same time, and the transition to live is one he hits out of the park.
Ava Luna‘s “Steve Polyester” is one of the weirder, abstract tracks on Infinite House, an album whose sound is all over the place, for better far more than worse. If you like “Steve Polyester”, you can buy a sweatshirt of it. I photographed them twice this year, and they’ll be back on the 3rd at Secret Project Robot headlining a Planned Parenthood benefit. We included “Coat of Shellac” in Beet Box.
Tamaryn released Cranekiss this year, whom Kim Fox photographed. This song “Last” just nails that sort of distorted, damaged music I love. It feels like being in the middle of a hurricane of emotion. Tamaryn will be teaming up with DIIV on New Years Eve at Bowery Ballroom.
No Devotion, if ON AN ON made my anthem of the Summer, than No Devotion’s Permanence was Autumn’s. The hard atmospheres, dark tones, melodic consistency all had me high. Not to mention all the drama around the redemption story of Lostprophets and Geoff Rickly’s finding belonging fronting a new band. “Permanent Sunlight” is one of the brighter moments on the record. I photographed them with Nikki Gertner at the once concluded Maxwells back in October.
Ra Ra Riot put out “Water” just recently as a lead single for next year’s Need Your Light. The song is just an instantly likable Summer anthem, and the way this Winter’s going, it may just feel right to keep vibing along to it. They’re at Webster Hall on March 4th. Kim Fox and Matt James documented them from separate cities on a brief tour last month.
Zachary Cale nailed it with Duskland this year. The Brooklyn folkster signed to No Quarter records for the record’s release, and I photographed him in action at Baby’s (& also with Villagers at Union Pool solo). Check Beet Box for “Sundowner” of his too.
Beirut‘s No No No was a well received extension of their discography this year. They played a bunch of shows around it but it never aligned for me, alas. “Perth” is a fun little jaunt in the middle of the record I’ve locked on to.
Death Cab for Cutie lost one of their core guitarists, Chris Walla, but still put out a great record in Kintsugi. Matt James saw them in January at Music Hall well in advance of their Summer MSG performance. If you dig “Ghosts of Beverly Drive,” Tycho did a sweet remix of it too.
Father John Misty took me a long time to warm up to, but after finding my way to attend his performance on a fine Summer’s eve at Central Park I became a fan. “Bored in the USA,” a sardonic tune about American dissatisfaction, is now forever linked in my mind to that night.
Keep Shelly in Athens, had a bounce back year after switching vocalists in 2014. We missed them at LPR unfortunately, but if you’re into dark, downtempo electronica you should be an instant fan of Now I’m Ready‘s direction.
Pure Bathing Culture, Matt Esposito photographed at Baby’s in Autumn and was kind enough to invite me along. They had just released their record, and its lead track, “The Tower,” stays with me most forcefully. We had “Pray For Rain” on Beet Box too!
Turnover, just came my way recently, and won my heart quickly for making an album worth of songs that feel like a blend of dream pop and post hardcore.
Braids, the Canadian synthpop trio, put out Deep in the Iris, filled with sincere tracks. We saw them with Purity Ring and Alex Burgos covered them headlining at Baby’s. “Happy When” is a more abstract, slower track from the record.
Lower Dens style of reserved, sometimes-ominous rock are a staple for this sort of playlist, and put out the well regarded Escape From Evil this year. I photographed them at Baby’s All Right, and they’ll be back with Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Warsaw on Feb 19th.
Haelos, released an EP, Earth Not Above, this Spring, and the UK act will be playing their NYC debut shows on the 30th & 31st of March at Baby’s and Mercury Lounge. They hit my sweet spot of dance and melancholia just right with that EP.
Seoul, I missed this group during the several times they played here after releasing I Become a Shade. An album with a title like that merits an inclusion. Trust that you’ll find solace in their music.
EL VY, a collaboration between members of Ramona Falls & The National made a debut this year with Return to the Moon, a downtempo, smartly written and catchy record. They sold out consecutive nights at Bowery Ballroom in Autumn.
Car Seat Headrest, I just saw at Baby’s. “Maud Gone” caught my feelings with its rough edged tones. Unfortunately, I got the impression its songwriter, Will Toledo, didn’t enjoy playing it live very much, which made me debate a while on whether or not to include this on its list as my interest in the act waned. I still cherish the song though.
Vallis Alps are another act I got from Rick Marcello of Kaiotic Music. The repeating chorus and chiming sci-fi bleeps of this Australian synthpop tune lured me in contentedly. No word on if or when they might visit here.
Roman a Clef, I photographed way back on a harsh January night. One of my favorite bands this year, but sadly they didn’t gain much traction. I’ve never played their record, Abandonware, aloud without getting some positive comments from around the room. The prominent ’80s vibes gives them a throwback appeal without being kitsch. Hear them in our Summer edition of Beet Box.
Future of What, a Brooklyn synthpop trio, released their debut album at the start of the year, and I photographed them at their release show at Baby’s. Similar vibes to Bent Denim, but a better sense of production and some elements of dance. They were in Beet Box along with Leapling.
Lane 8 have the danciest inclusion on this playlist with “Rise.” I love these sorts of ambient-electronica dance tracks. The rest of the album goes dancier and is vocal heavy, where “Rise” takes you on a seven minute, chilled out journey.
Balthazar, out of Belgium, released Thin Walls this year on PIAS. “Bunker” is a melancholic rock tune that is a highlight of the album for me. They were only here during CMJ. At least we included “Then What” in Beet Box! They conclude this playlist at spot #40.