Alrighty, culture vultures, time for our annual round up of favorites. Every pundit on the planet seems to be in agreement about how hard a year it’s been, geo-politically and otherwise, so thank God the opposite appears to be true aesthetically. Lots of wonderful stuff appeared. These are predominantly personal picks, albeit ones with an eye, as always, toward Mocking-resonance (click here for TV):
- Sing Slowly Sisters by Robin Gibb. The term “lost classic” gets thrown around so often that when one actually surfaces, it often gets re-lost. Such is the case with Robin Gibb’s second solo record, the one he recorded in 1970 when he was on break from The Bee Gees, but never released. Bootlegs have long confirmed it as being a characteristically dour affair (who else would sing a lament about dentists in East Derbyshire?), but the scrubbed-up sound on this year’s reissue reveals much more than that. Had it been released at the time, Sing Slowly Sisters would have gone down as a (if not the) crowning achievement of late 60s baroque pop. I’m serious. Robin stacked this thing with classics (title track, “Life”, “C’est La Vie”, “Everything Is How You See Me”), and come to find out, not all of them are downbeat. The absurd number of outtakes betray a man experiencing an almost desperately fecund period of creativity. Though whether anyone needs an 8-minute, organ-and-voice version of “Return to Austria” is doubtful.
- Hysteria by Def Leppard. I took a deep and non-ironic dive into the power ballad genre this year, and “Love Bites” came up at the top of the pile (“When I Look Into Your Eyes” by FireHouse not far behind), leading me to finally give these guys a serious listen. I am so glad I did, particularly their Hysteria record. The lyrics may be over-the-top stoopid at times, but man, the hooks simply don’t let up. Turns out there’s a lot more to the New Wave of British Metal (NWOBM) than a bunch of awesome album covers.
- High Land, Hard Rain by Aztec Camera. Last year I stumbled on the genius of Roddy Frame, but it wasn’t until 2015 that I made my way to what is widely acknowledged as his best record, 1983’s debut High Land, Hard Rain. Truly boggles the mind to think this was recorded by a 19 year-old. It may be the only guitar music of the era that’s on par with The Smiths.
- David by David Ruffin. Another unreleased slice of brilliance, this time from the late Temptation. That voice! Apparently Motown refused to put it out in 1971 because of the singer’s “bad attitude” (codeword for substance abuse, I suspect). Given the quality of the material they were feeding him, the guy must’ve been pretty impossible if they were willing to ditch it all. “Don’t Stop Lovin’ Me” would’ve been a hit for sure, and it’s not even the best track here. The title of “You Make Me Do Things I Don’t Want To Do” warrants a mention, as does Ruffin’s adultified version of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. Heaven Help Us All, indeed.
- Only Visiting This Planet by Larry Norman. Shame on me for taking so long to check out the godfather of CCM. Only thing I’ll say in my defense is that I had no idea he was so funky or uncorked (or that the production was so badass). “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus?” is a masterpiece.
Twelve Favorite Songs Released in 2015
- Superheated – New Order
- The Last Song – Brian Wilson
- Pay No Mind – Madeon
- Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars
- Cause I’m a Man – Tame Impala
- Under a Rock – Waxahatchee
- Revolution Song – Noel Gallagher
- Ship to Wreck – Florence + the Machine
- The Freedom to Read – Bill Fay. Let us never forget the day that William Tyndale made an appearance on Pitchfork.
- Somebody Was Watching – Pops Staples
- ii) Gold – Mikal Cronin
- Odell – Lowland Hum
Ten Favorite Songs Discovered in 2015
- Wallflower – Peter Gabriel. Doubles as the Good Friday find of the year.
- In a Broken Dream – Python Lee Jackson. As if we needed any more proof of Rod’s gifts.
- Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young – Fire Inc. As much as I adore Bat Out of Hell and Bad For Good and “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, this song may be Jim Steinman’s highwater point. I almost included “Making Love Out of Nothing at All”, which Jim gave to Air Supply, as it encapsulates his most Gospel sentiment. Alas, it doesn’t touch the same ridiculous heights as this one.
- He Reached Down – Iris Dement. A perfect song.
- The Walls Fell Down – Marbles. For about ten years there (1966-76) The Gibb Brothers could do no wrong, this being one lesser known example. Might suggest this as an offertory at church.
- What You Gonna Do? – The Pengwins
- You’re All Forgiven – The Idle Wilds
- Reflections of My Life – Marmalade
- Surf’s Up – Meat Loaf
- The Lord Loves a Rolling Stone – Spooner Oldham
Five Favorite Albums Released in 2015
- Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett. Can’t remember another talent emerging so fully formed and fresh in quite some time. The lyrics have gotten the most press, but the music is perfectly pointed without sacrificing any listenability. Funny too.
- Carrie and Lowell – Sufjan Stevens. As much as I sympathize with his point of view, Sufjan has never been much of a personal go-to musically, but seeing this one performed live ranks as perhaps the most transcendent concert experience of my life. Seriously.
- I Love You Honeybear – Father John Misty
- Honeymoon – Lana Del Rey
- Carry the Fire – Dustin Kensrue.
Biggest Disappointment: The Magic Whip – Blur. Great production, but they forgot to write any decent songs. Nothing on here packs anywhere near the punch of the first reunion single, “Under the Westway”. The new Duran Duran was pretty lackluster as well.
Most Underrated Release: Anthems for Doomed Youth – The Libertines. Now that’s how you write a reunion record–by mythologizing the reunion itself. The songs, with perhaps one exception, manage to stand up with their previous work, too.
Guiltiest Pleasure: All things Brandi Carlile, especially the Bear Creek record. Radiohead rewrites don’t get more chilling than her “Pride and Joy”.
Favorite (Advice) Columnist: Heather Havrilesky
“Long Reads” We Got the Most Mileage Out Of: Leon Wieseltier’s “Among the Disrupters” and Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s “The Coddling of the American Mind”. Honorable Mention would be Alan Jacobs’ “Code Fetishists and Antinomians”.
Speech That Left Us Speechless (in a Good Way): Pope Francis to Congress
Most Relevant Onion: New Nike Running App Tells You What You’re Really Running From
Favorite Toast List: Every Single Church History Pun I Have Been Unable To Keep From Making, Carefully Collected In One Secure Location and Signs The Vaguely-Named Building In Your Local Strip Mall Is Actually A Church And Not A Coffeeshop-slash-Art Space”. Mallory’s talk at XOXO, which borders on stand-up, was unbelievably great too (and deceptively wise).
Favorite New Yorker Cartoon/Cover: This One
Funniest Photo Essay: Santa Pictures Not Picked Up
Most Relevantly Hilarious Television Not Mentioned in Last Week’s List (By Mistake): “The Bible Story” episode of The Jim Gaffigan Show
Books and Literature
Favorite Non-Fiction I Read This Year: The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. A close second would be Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg. John Gray’s The Soul of the Marionette was pretty spectacular as well. Look for our annual theology book round-up in January. If you can’t wait, check out our recent Gift Guide for a few contenders.
Favorite Poem Published in 2015: “Bible Study” by Tony Hoagland