Hello again everyone, Kevin here writing my final annual music review blog. Instead of an awards blog I’m just going to list my favorite songs of the year as a going away present to myself. I’ve had fun writing about the billboard 100 since 2011, but I feel the time has come to switch mediums into film and television criticism since I still feel that A) The Film and TV genres still award creativity, and B) There’s still an audience for people who want to movie read reviews and show theories. I’ve witnessed the rise and fall of many artists, one hit wonders, and internet stars over the last few years, and I’m tired of living in an age of accelerated one hit wonders.
2011 was the year I felt I didn’t have to be ashamed of my generation’s pop music anymore (though 2013 nearly made me eat those words), and the following couple of years made me realize that every year of this past decade has been incredibly different with the music styles that have come out. Now that’s not to say that we haven’t had some great music, it’s just that I don’t want to be an indentured servant to trying to change the Billboard 100 forever. So without further adieu, here are my top songs for 2015.
1. Ariana Grande- “Focus”
I’ve always had something of a fan crush on Ariana Grande since I first heard her back in 2014 as I really love her voice, and dig the style of her songs. I enjoyed “One Last Time” in the first part of this year, but I posted this song since I feel like this her most edgy song with it’s risque lyrical content and the unique style of the music video. I like they include the horn section towards the end of the song as well. Lastly, this is one of the more different sounding songs on the top charts right now, and I enjoy listening to it for that reason.
2. Adele- “Hello”
Speaking of 2011, I’m a hardcore Adele fanboy because I often credit her for saving modern music from the bullshit and creative stagnation of 2010 (Refer to: “Call me Mr Flintstone, I can make your bed rock”). When her song “Rolling in The Deep” first came out, I felt very happy as I knew things were going to change on the charts. It’s been five years now since Adele broke into the scene, and when she came back her first single “Hello” was a huge success. I love that she’s continuing her story of how she misses her ex lover that was the basis for her album “21” from 2011. The song itself is a wonderful combination of sadness and melancholy, and Adele’s emotive and powerful vocals add to the soul of the song as their centerpiece.
3. X Ambassadors- “Renegades”
This particular song is one that I’ve personally taken into my heart as I’ve felt like a renegade and an outcast my whole life due to having lived with Autism Spectrum Disorder (given how the video helps promote the differently abeled). I love how the song builds into something from the opening chords of the guitar, into an enjoyable verse, and then to an amazing chorus. Plus I love that line “The Spielbergs, the Kubricks” as those two reshaped modern cinema together as friends, despite the differences in their styles. The lyrics are deeper than your average pop song these days This’s a theme about unity, something the world is really lacking right now.
4. Breaking Benjamin- “Failure”
Growing up as an angst ridden teenager in the 2000s had many ups and downs, and the band Breaking Benjamin in my mind perfectly captured that struggle of growing up with depression and anxiety (with their music). And dammit, they sound awesome doing it along the way. I’ve been waiting since 2009 for these guys to release an album like “Dark Before Dawn”, and it’s amazing flagship single “Failure”. I love this song because even as I approach my late 20s, these guys still release songs that speak to my soul. I have a powerful love of songs that start off slow, but quickly build into something much grander and powerful. Breaking Benjamin has been mastering that style since their first album “Saturate”, and this hard hitting anthem about struggling with the fear failure is no exception. There was some controversy a few years ago over lead vocalist Ben Burnley suing his old band mates for the rights of the band name, but I’m glad to see the new members of the band haven’t changed the core elements of what I love about this band’s sound.
5. Breaking Benjamin- “Angels Fall”
As such, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I should post this band’s second single of the year, Angels Fall. I actually saw Breaking Benjamin live last Summer, and they sound very consistent to how they do in the studio. As for the song, “Angels Fall” is more dramatic than “Failure”, and I find it to be the better song as well. I say that because I enjoy the visuals that singer Ben Burnley uses to paint a picture of the heavens themselves struggling to reclaim what they once were. It reminds me of my past struggles to better who I am as an individual. I’m happy that this band’s album this year was so successful, I can’t think of any other band that deserves said recognition more than Breaking Benjamin.
6. Five Finger Death Punch-“Wash it All Away”
Five Finger Death Punch has always been something of an anomaly to me in that they are probably the most popular metal band of the current decade, yet many metal purists swear them off as not being “real metal”. Well, this song to me shows that FFDP doesn’t really give a damn that you dislike them. They care about their fans, not their haters, and they also care about trying to help veterans. I suspect that the members of FFDP are conservative, but they’ve (wisely) side stepped getting involved in most politics. As for the song it’s self, I really enjoy the chorus of the song as FFDP knows how to write songs around a powerful refrain. I also someone will come wash away the evils of this world, God knows there’s too much evil in it now.
7. Sam Smith- “Writings on The Wall (from Spectre)”
I first heard this song when I saw Spectre back last year when it first came out, and I’ve got to say this song is probably the most grandiose song on the list. I say that because Smith’s vocals and the old school Bond brass band accompaniment offer grand choruses, and the emotive piano tells of a softer side to the man we know as James Bond. Smith does an amazing job carrying the type of tone that sets such a great film, and the man has one hell of a voice. It rivals Adele’s performance on “Skyfall” from 2012. Bravo!
8. Taylor Swift- “Style”
I’m not normally a fan of Taylor Swift’s music as I think her song writing as too simplistic, and she reuses the same lyrical content over and over, but that’s not the case with this particular song. This song has a great mellow beat, a relaxing feel to it, and a chorus that tells of how Swift’s love will never go out of style. I enjoyed some of the songs off of her latest album, and I feel no shame in admitting that I’m not afraid to listen too music marketed to a largely female demographic. Why? Because my masculinity isn’t toxic or frail.
9. Nathaniel Rateliffe and the Night Sweats-“S.O.B”
That last comment had a strong Feminist undercurrent to it, but I may have to revoke any brownie points for posting a song with a sexist word in it (“b*tch”). All the same, the song itself isn’t sexist, it’s just a sort of throw back to the Doo Wop era where the song’s singer is asking for drinks to drown out his troubles. I love the strong old school feel of this song, as half is only A’capella vocals, and the other half is an old school rockabilly band playing during the chorus. Not to mention how catchy said chorus really is. And I how things look with current events, I sure could use a drink myself.
10. Marcus Miller- “I Can’t Breathe FT. Chuck D and Mocean Worker”
Speaking of current events, 2015 was a year of social and political unrest as cops gunned down minorities, and protesters stopped traffic on highways to prove that black lives matter. This groovy song is a direct reference to the police murder of Eric Garner, who inspired the hashtag “I can’t breathe” as he needed an inhaler before he died. This came off the album Afrodeezia by virtuoso bassist Marucs Miller who set out to create an album that emulates African American music through out modern history. I posted this as my final song because Marcus Miller is a personal hero of mine. I discovered his work after learning bass myself. The rapper on this song is named Chuck D., and his words paint the picture of struggle and unrest that was experienced this past summer. Beyond the sobering subject matter, I love just how funky sounding the instrumentation sounds on this song. The bass playing really is the central focus, and it delivers in creating some amazing musical textures.
With that, I conclude my blog post by saying I’ll keep trying to promote small bands that haven’t “made it” in the big leagues yet. But I’ve also come to realize why modern pop music sounds the way it does is to cater to the demand of modern day audiences, while the further down the chart you go the more progressive things become. I know no that everyone shares my visions and opinions musically, but I’m happy that my readers have read my rantings and semi-educational analysis on music. it’s been fun, I’ll see people again when The Walking Dead returns on February 14th.