2015: Favorite 50 Songs

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series



PART 2: “VOID” mixed by Adam Devlin


Matthew Revert

“Prediction”

[Kye]

Like the best things in life, Matthew Revert’s Not You was pleasingly peculiar and inexplicable, sometimes amusingly obscene, with “Prediction” — a song consisting of a single repeated phrase foretelling a future banality we’ve already lived through, intoned over clatter and static — happily proceeding to the illogical conclusion (absence/truth) of whatever it was that might have maintained the album’s tenuous grip on the label “singer-songwriter” (Bizarre storytelling? Using a guitar to play “notes”?). Words reduced to semi-sensical sounds, the absurd reduced to absurdity, pointlessly profound or profoundly pointless, just like life: What more could you possibly want from anything?

Ahnnu

“The Racer”

[Leaving]

With Perception, Leland Jackson took the evolution of his Ahnnu moniker to yet another new level, using surface crackle, loops, noise, jumps, and effects to create a soundworld of crossover, where hip-hop walked hand in hand with field recordings and the lines that existed between such varied realms of music-making came to a cerebral peak. “The Racer” was just a luminary fragment from within that realm, and it shined beyond the confines of the album from which it came. With its coarse and fanciful juxtapositions of tonal contrast, it hinted at the scope of the album while showcasing Leland’s aesthetic vision as an artist. A magnificent milestone in the Ahnnu canon, “The Racer” emphasized the rate at which this incredible producer continues to remain a cut above the rest.

Foodman

“Awa Buro”

[Orange Milk]

Foodman loves to confuse us. The nearly non-musical pieces that made up the Japanese producer’s sublime COULDWORK shed all vestiges of conventional tone and structure to sketch out some twisted railway tour of the husk of a carnival, all looped metal shards and demonic clowns screeching for our attention. “Awa Buro” confounded even deeper, because Foodman applied his post-footwork deconstruction tactics to beautiful ends. The song dripped with bass bursts and clattering hi-hats, but alongside the interwoven central synth melodies, this percussion lulled more than it disrupted. We wiped away tears as we two-stepped obliquely across the empty fairgrounds.

Carter Tutti Void

“f = (2.7)”

[Industrial]

Duh! But if you know the trio’s music, then you know that Carter Tutti Void’s presence on this mix goes beyond a simple verbal connection. The former Throbbing Gristle members joined Nik Void for their second full-length album overall this year, and the finale of the LP was simultaneously numbing and hallucinatory, as the intermittent guitar ringing seemingly conveyed an incurable mental anguish in response to the dichotomy. The characteristic thumping had us spiraling down the rabbit hole, and how much control did we have over our fate? Inexorably; at least Alice’s trip was more of a float than a careen.

Wes Tirey

“Old Ohio Blues”

[Cabin Floor Esoterica]

“Old Ohio Blues” sounded out of place in 2015, as its true-to-life folk tale was spun in stream-of-consciousness like hobo balladeers of yesteryear. Wes Tirey played as the countryside whisked by, delivering a railcar sermon of leaving his old Ohio home for the mountains of North Carolina to be with his betrothed, only to watch love fade. A song as darkened as the hollar in which Tirey wistfully lamented, its warble hissed across the static of time as he rode. But his ghost will keep haunting this place, until he is freed from these “Old Ohio Blues.”

Levantis

“Jamaican Greek Style”

[Technicolour]

After the chaos of Ghettoville, Romantic Psychology 1 opened things up by tying a few things down, and its creator pushed things forward by stubbornly holding back. R.P.1’s elliptical fades, submerged melodies, and pixelated snares derived their emotional weight from the almost-absence that coursed through them. Coming in at nearly 10 minutes, “Jamaican Greek Style” took up almost a third of the album’s playing time, and its virtues typified Romantic Psychology 1 as a whole. Its constraints felt organic, its transitions intuitive, and its mastery of ambiguous moods unique to the artist. “Jamaican Greek Style” was the sound of an idea melting into being before the glare of a broken laptop screen — it’s probably Cunningham’s finest work since 2012’s R.I.P.

Prurient

“Greenpoint”

[Profound Lore]

You wanted to be a part of something big and important, so you moved to New York. Your post-industrial neighborhood doesn’t grow so much as decay and rebuild; there’s no more space. Is it cold in here? You live near the East River, and last winter, the water was full of shards of ice or broken glass. You’ve met people. Your art has found its home here, but you aren’t satisfied. Is that a good thing? You’ve been drinking too much. Your landlord is raising the rent. Where will you go? And what is that object floating in the river?

Arca

“Mutant”

[Mute]

Mutant, the globby, cocked centerpiece of Arca’s 2015 masterpiece, was sound desiring cinema, wanting it as a lover — a deeply sexual, sensational trip into transmorphic revelry. Cinesexuality is a concept that describes intense feelings toward film, conjured by psychic tension and release that reflects physical sexual experience. That tension crested in the track’s first minute, as erotic machines pummeled and lifted human screams and explosive squeals; it was released as the severe-pleasure caved in, subverting the brutality with shy, softer synth-work. Mutant’s cinephilic pacing indulged in its own ability to destroy and caress in equal measure, meandering through sentiment and violence in a fluid dom-sub continuum that continuously exchanged into inter-sex.

ZS

“Corps”

[Northern Spy]

Jazz is the teacher. Funk is the preacher. Minimalism is my co-pilot. My other car is a copy of the full album? ZS, in its 2015 trio form, was an aerodynamic smear of so many familiar avant-garde tactics defamiliarized by relentless musicianship and deployed prudently, precisely. In the instance of “Corps,” they traveled the terrain of a motorik-ish (always an -ish) riff, the narrative coalescing and dissociating according to a hidden geography. The year is ending and experimental music in the rock or jazz idiom mostly plodded along procedurally, like the detective TV show. But we continued to listen and watch, if only for moments like “Corps,” when the procedure melted away, and the tension of the form reappeared anew… ish.

Jenny Hval

“Holy Land”

[Sacred Bones]

It’s weird discovering that Norway also has a “Bible Belt,” that this experience is not uniquely American. One thinks of these full-of-God yet godforsaken places, where pure devotion reigns as youth populations dwindle in the religious statistical category. I understand an affinity to live and yet not live, as it might be the thought of an afterlife or rebirth or the transference into the body of another person or thing that keeps one from feeling the crushing guilt of having wasted the last hour liking pictures on Instagram or aimlessly driving through empty streets. “Holy Land” was supposed to be the coda of another song that didn’t make the album, yet the simplistic lyrics and abstract movements reached their idea(l)s just as well as any other track on Apocalypse, girl.

Click next to hear the “ALLEY” mix by Monet Maker.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


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