Thursday, December 31, 2015

Craft Tunes: Choice Cuts Volume 14

In no particular order, I've selected the favorite tracks from 2015's playlists for our fourteenth annual Choice Cuts end-of-year mix. Here they are:

1. Overboard -- The Silver Lake Chorus

Ben Lee wrote and performs the solo in this song, from The Silver Lake Chorus-- which "performs choral arrangements of indie music." Yeah, I know, sounds so very Silver Lake-y. But Ben Lee knows how to craft an infectious pop tune, and this is one of them -- attached to a striking multi-part chorus. (Thanks to TSLC for correcting me -- that's not Ben Lee doing the solo, but one of their talented members!)

2. Wild Things -- Alessia Cara

I've been listening to a lot of top 40 radio toward the end of this year, and during a recent drive up to Sacramento, Alessia Cara's "Here" was in heavy rotation. I was drawn to the song's sample -- Isaac Hayes's "Ike's Rap II," which was the core of one of my favorite tracks of the 1990s, Portishead's "Glory Box." Cara's voice is remarkable, and "Wild Things" is a fantastic follow-up.

3. Don't Wanna Fight -- Alabama Shakes

Brittany Howard does it again -- that raw grit in her voice as she screams, "I don't wanna fight no more!" is powerful.

4. Flesh Without Blood -- Grimes

Claire Elise Boucher, better known as Grimes, has a sound that one magazine described as an "alien love-child of Aphex Twin and ABBA." I'm not sure if that's a good thing, but this song is.

5. Monster (feat. Avelino) -- Jacob Banks

Jacob Banks is part of a new wave of soul artists with a throwback '60s sound. "Monster," with its hypnotic chant, is a little more modern, and a song that will stick with you.

6. Greek Tragedy -- The Wombats

"Greek Tragedy" may be better known for its disturbing video, in which every member of the Liverpool-based band is brutally murdered. I decided to post a live-- and less graphic -- video here instead.

7. Multi-Love -- Unknown Mortal Orchestra

I don't think the term "psych-rock" does Unknown Mortal Orchestra justice. I've been a big fan of the band, led by Ruben Nielson, in the past, and their third album is well worth picking up.

8. The Emotion -- BØRNS

Spin calls "The Emotion" a "twinkling, gorgeous soliloquy." The pained chorus from Borns -- sorry, BØRNS -- is indeed beautifully haunting.

9. The Scene Between -- The Go! Team

Ten years ago, I was intrigued by The Go! Team's use of sampling and odd vocals on catchy tunes like "Huddle Formation." In 2015, "The Scene Between" kept the fun cut-and-paste sound but added more depth and maturity to the mix.

10. 40 Watt -- Elel

Technically from 2014, but "40 Watt" and Nashville's Elel reached me in 2015. One blog calls it "indie-pop cotton candy for the ears." Hey, nothing wrong with that!

11. Pay No Mind (ft. Passion Pit) -- Madeon

Passion Pit had a new CD this year, and it was... just OK. I was much more excited by the band's collaboration with French producer Madeon, "Pay No Mind." The video is trippy too.

12. Long Way Down -- Robert DeLong

On a rare date night this year, Maria and I saw Robert DeLong perform at the Natural History Museum last February as part of its "First Fridays" series of events. Perhaps that makes me a little partial to "Long Way Down," but it's also just a strong track.

13. Hard Time -- Seinabo Sey

Writes The Guardian: "Seinabo Sey, with her motley take on pop, surely puts up with a lot of hyphenated descriptors. The singer-songwriter is Swedish-Gambian for starters, daughter of late musician Maudo Sey and his partner Madeleine Sundqvist. Then, there’s the issue of categorising her sound. As is the case with so many musicians of her age, the 25-year-old rummages around in a grab-bag of influences to make this tightly performed, if not slightly over-polished, debut." I found "Hard Time" in a blog post of songs that "public radio can't get enough of."

14. Chains of Love -- The Arcs

Dan Auerbach, the singer-guitarist-songwriter of the modern-blues duo the Black Keys, finds a lower-key (pun intended) but still soul-infused sound with side project The Arcs. Rolling Stone writes: "the bleak R&B beauty "Chains of Love," Auerbach hands the chorus to the female singers Mariachi Flor de Toloache, who haunt the space behind the beat and spindly guitars like a ghostly Shangri-Las.

15. Never Ending Circles -- CHVRCHES

From the second release from Scottish synthpop band Chvrches -- sorry, CHVRCHES -- I fell in love with lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry's sound all over again.

16. Ocean To City -- High Highs

One of my favorite songs of all time is Ocean Blue's "Ballerina Out of Control." Perhaps it's just a weird coincidence, but High Highs' "Ocean to City" has a very similar beautiful-yet-melancholy sound to it.

17. Feeling Ok -- Best Coast

As the Los Angeles Times noted, "Feeling Ok" (yes, the "k" is not capitalized here) seems on the surface to be celebrating life in California, a.k.a. the Best Coast. Yet singer Bethany Cosentino doesn't seem 100% convinced -- and that says a lot about the conflict and contradictions that come from living in our sunny SoCal world.

18. O Mother -- Son Little

2015 will be remembered for a lot of things, including how the #BlackLivesMatter movement helped finally once again shine a spotlight on the plight of young African American men and women. Son Little, who hails from Philadelphia, wrote "O Mother" while touring in Europe while headlines in the States were focused on the fates of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. “Racism and violence are global problems,” he told the New Yorker. “But our particular brand in America is what makes it hard for black men to breathe.”

19. 1998 (feat. Banks) -- Chet Faker

Producer Chet Faker originally released "1998" in 2014; this reworked version includes the equally soulful Banks picking up a verse as well. (Sorry, no relation to Taylor Swift's "1989.")

20. TV -- Colleen Green

I suppose this should be my anthem, right? "TV is my friend/ And it has been with me everyday/ From an early age/ TV is my friend/ And it has been always there for me/ In time of need"

21. Madre Tierra (Oye) -- Chayanne

Puerto Rican Latin pop star Chayanne has sold more than 30 million albums, yet I'm sure you probably haven't heard of him. I was introduced to "Madre Tierra (Oye)" because the Blogger Kid's 4th grade class at his Spanish immersion school sang the song in the spring. I figured it was appropriate to end this year's mix with the song... followed by a bonus track, below!

22. Madre Tierra (Oye) -- Franklin Spanish 4th Graders

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