15 new tracks I loved in 2015

Processing a year of change through music has cultivated a special place in my psyche for a few tracks that have resonated with my first months of young adulthood. End-of-year lists are kind of tacky and a bit conceited, but I thought I’d put together a list of my favorite music that came out this year for kicks and to document and remind myself of the music that soundtracked my year.

Here’s 15 tracks that meant something to me this year, from the nostalgic to the dissonant, from shaking-everything-out to somber walks home, r&b grooves to feminist power ballads. And because alphabetical lists are boring, I went ahead and ranked them too!

#15. M.I.A. — “Borders”

“Guns blows door to the system
Yeah f*ck ’em when we say we’re not with them
We solid and we don’t need to kick them
This is North, South, East and Western”

M.I.A. challenges Western preconceptions of the world, particularly those who live in poverty or under repressive regimes. Despite a month of xenophobia, misinformation, and prejudice regarding refugees fleeing violent conflicts that they had nothing to do with, we also saw humanity’s generosity on full display with families, cities, and states opening up their homes and communities to refugees finally finding the security that most of us have never had to worry about. M.I.A., a Sri Lankan refugee herself, takes the xenophobes, who I’m sure I’ve met almost all of through the phones at my internship, to task in “Borders,” portraying only young male refugees in her music video, a deliberate choice to display the targets of bigotry front and center. She asks “What’s up with that?” to tackle our hypocrisy — which now might ask us why mourn Paris but not Beirut?

#14. Makthaverskan — “Witness”

The flamethrower-guitar dude chained to the top of a truck in Mad Max: Fury Road might as well have been playing Makthaverskan’s “Witness.” This track brings an intensity to surf/dream-rock that makes it the perfect workout song. No other song this year had this much capacity to give me a motivating type of rage that could only be expressed through an all-out sprint. Can even imagine them belting out “WITNESS ME!!”

#13. Shamir — “On the Regular”

“Haters get the bird, more like an eagle
This is my movie, stay tuned for the sequel”

Shamir is who he is — the kid who wanted a guitar before he wanted a bike. Good thing he found one, because now he makes some of the best dance music out there. More cowbell.

#12. Ibeyi — “River”

I missed Ibeyi at the 9:30 Club here because of class, so it is was the first time I questioned my decision to start graduate school. I’ve since forgiven my qualm, eased by listening to this track over and over again.

#11. Leon Bridges — “Smooth Sailin’”

I don’t really know
Her destination
But I got a feeling I
Get to be your passenger

This song is the budding of new relationships, with Leon Bridges bringing 1960s R&B/soul freshly into 2015. It’s about those early moments when you’re getting to know someone knew and tell yourself to be bold by making risky jokes and exposing your personality. Those moments are filled with adrenaline and sweetness, and when they land, you connect with your affection, and you can’t help but swing around like Leon does.

#10. Lower Dens — “To Die in L.A.”

Lower Dens frontwoman Jana Hunter doesn’t have a lot of words on “To Die in L.A.,” but you can almost imagine her on stage, eyes shut, soothing us on through an unearned breakup. I first heard of Lower Dens in an NPR interview with Jana, where she offered up this wallop: “There’s almost a type of person I’ve been drawn to in my life — reckless, charming, beautiful in their way — and I’ve been that person, too…Part of loving them is recognizing that the world we live in will eat them alive.”

This album led me to delve in to the concept of emotional intelligence as a way to understand why it’s so tough to move on after four years living next door (or in the same room) to your best friends. I’ve grown increasingly accepting of my own emotional vulnerability and openness, realizing that to externalize the confusing persistence and recurrence of feelings I thought I was over is the best way to comprehend them.

#9. Jamie xx, Romy — “Loud Places”

I go to loud places
To search for someone
To be quiet with

There’s a consistent futility in going out to dance clubs to find someone who we can share quieter everyday moments in life with. You can’t hear each other talk or even see each other very well even if you do get close enough to interact with them while you’re both surrounded by other “options” and “competitors.” We forget that everyone else inside is just there to groove and maybe find someone to connect with too and instead look at them with jealousy or lust. Even when you go just to feel through the music and move, it’s a crowded place physically and mentally. But every night still can feel full of potential, so we keep going to loud places.

#8. Tame Impala — “Let it Happen”

This song sends me on loops. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted from Tame Impala. Give it a whirl.

#7. Kurt Vile — “Pretty Pimpin”

Kurt Vile’s catchiest song off of his new album is at also his brightest and contradictory. It’s a comfortable jam, but also troubling since it’s about a personal identity crisis. He’s getting older and maybe losing his mind a little bit. Feels a little guilty to take so much joy from his existential crisis.

#6. Majical Cloudz — “Downtown”

“And we’re going downtown
Cause we feel like running around
Is it really this fun when you’re on my mind
Is it really this cool to be in your life”

Majical Cloudz has a quiet kindness to his voice that I really enjoy. In this song he’s feeling the fluttering of an exciting relationship — someone he can go out and laugh with, but also brings out the doubt that comes with any new connection that feels a little too good to be true. He can already tell this person means so much to him — if it goes wrong, “I’ll write you into all of my songs.” Same.

#5. Miguel — “coffee”

A close friend of mine once said that Miguel is my spirit incarnated in an r&b singer. I got to see him perform live at the Landmark Festival here in D.C. a few months back, and he was captivating, dressed down shirtless in tight red pants and a fur overcoat. Miguel is emotional, sexual, and smooth, never moreso than on “coffee,” a song about the early honeymoon period of a new relationship where you can’t get enough of each other.

#4. Grimes — “Flesh Without Blood”

Grimes trashed an entire album’s worth of songs when she was writing the followup to her excellent Visions from 2012. This could warrant a perfectionist label, and indeed on “Flesh Without Blood,” she’s gone a bit pop, but also brings production nuance, pulse, and lightness reminiscent of some adventurous k-pop. I’ve been anticipating this album ever since I saw her live in Beijing in 2013 where she credited her intense dancers with inspiring her to write more. The New Zealanders we met there jumped up on stage and made her cry with their love for her music. It’s music to walk home quickly to on a Friday evening, ready for a break and nights to let loose.

#3. Torres — “Strange Hellos”

Breakup rage, lingering love, tongue-in-cheek hopes that the ex finds what they’re looking for. This is the breakup song of the year, and we needed it. Torres puts more deep, growling emotion into her voice than anyone else I heard this year. She rules, and her whole new album, Sprinter, deserves all the attention it’s getting.

#2. Tame Impala — “’Cause I’m A Man”

“But I have no voice if I don’t speak my mind
My weakness is the source of all my pride, I’ll tell you why
Cause I’m a man, woman
Don’t always think before I do”

It makes sense that two cuts from my absolute favorite album of the year would make it on my top tracks list. Tame Impala slayed me with Currents, to the point that I’ve got even the interludes on repeat.

We’ve talked a lot about gender identity and feminism in 2015, probably the most progressive year so far for gender politics as we move closer to emerging from entrenched hegemonic masculinity to at least starting to burn down the gender binary and hierarchy. “Cause I’m A Man” isn’t armed with a deep sociopolitical message, but connected with me for those moments where you catch yourself saying or doing something you know comes off ignorant and immediately want to correct yourself.

It can get “tiring,” but it’s so important to continually be called out and call others out for everyday misogyny, because we need to empathize with women who are pretty tired themselves of the social barriers to choice and mobility they’ve faced for centuries. Nonetheless, we all are human and say things we don’t necessarily mean. We screw up with friends, SOs, and strangers, and chalk it up to being human as Parker does in “Cause I’m a Man.” But the important part is to recognize and understand how your gender places a lens over how you see and interact with others in the world, and to engage with the discomfort that comes with often tense conversations about gender. We probably shouldn’t immediately judge a man who holds open doors for women or asks to pick up the tab as a blatant misogynist, but we also can’t promote defensive “nice guy” culture when faced with the fact, hopefully obvious to all by now, that women take care of themselves perfectly fine and that some might be offended by men acting in the name of our warped understanding of chivalry.

Our conversations about feminism and gender roles are strengthened when we match them with the issues of traditional masculinity. Masculine gender expectations push young men and boys to act out aggressively, shudder emotional expression, and project entitlement, confidence, and protectionism in everyday life. Perhaps Parker is acknowledging that as a man, he has been taught a certain way to gain friends and influence others by projecting his manhood with confidence. This is damaging to men who, like myself, often feel uncomfortable buying women drinks or initiating flirtation at the risk of being perceived as having reciprocal expectations, but yet still feel like it’s our “role” to do so if we want to get someone’s attention. So sometimes when we screw up in relationships, the cultural values ascribed to us in our upbringing are partly to blame. But it’s all of our responsibility to recognize this, withhold judgement, and have real conversations about the intentions behind our words.

#1. Courtney Barnett — “Pedestrian at Best”

“Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you
Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you
Give me all your money, and I’ll make some origami, honey
I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny”

I knew Courtney Barnett’s breakout album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit would be one of my favorites of the year immediately when I heard this single. I put her directly up on the pedestal that she warns against in the chorus here, but through the dozens of daily commuting playlists I’ve put her music on, she hasn’t disappointed once.

This track is raw, it’s pop, it’s punk, it’s loud, it’s intense. The fact Barnett is probably one of the best lyricists and run-on-sentence practitioners out there today doesn’t hurt either. I mean read this stuff:

“my internal monologue is saturated analog it’s scratched and drifting I’ve become attached to the idea it’s all a shifting dream bittersweet philosophy I’ve got no idea how I even got here I’m resentful I’m having an existential time crisis what bliss daylight savings wont fix this mess under worked and oversexed I must express my disinterest the rats are back inside my head what would Freud’ve said”

She can’t figure out who she is in life, let alone in this verse. When I doubt my place in grad school, whether I’m happy with D.C., or spinning through crises about being a 23 year old unpaid intern, Barnett helps me realize that we all go through the same crises. It’s this penetrating self-doubt, pressures of adulthood, and expectations of others that comes crashing in at once when we are at our most vulnerable. Sometimes the best way to deal with it all is to rage out with punk anthems like “Pedestrian at Best,” my favorite track of the year.