Monday, December 7, 2015

100 Songs for 2015



I should have known better / Nothing can be changed / The past is still the past / The bridge to nowhere

2015 spread out in all directions, like water seeking its level. It was the best year ever, and it was the worst year ever, and my suspicion is that we're going to be saying the same thing about next year, too. Maybe all years are going to be like this now.

How will you remember 2015? Will you remember the profound joy of seeing gay marriage legalized nationwide, or the bitter sadness of an epidemic of gun violence? Was it the year that the transcendent magic of Stephen Curry changed basketball forever, or the year that the looming shadow of concussions permanently impacted the way we watch football? Is our narrative properly centered on human progress, another step in a slow march toward enlightenment, or instead on the unbelievable number of people who still stand on the left side of escalators during peak commuter hours oh my god what is wrong with all of you?

There are 100 songs here, and they are artifacts of a year when everything happened at once, where every day was terrifying and hopeful in an ever-changing ratio. What did we learn this year? Did we learn anything?


Life is so incredibly long / Like a kiss on the bridge / Between two nervous-ass kids / Terrified of doing everything wrong

I got lost in 2015, and looking back I'm not sure how it happened. I lived so much of 2015 inside my own head, which is a gloss on the fact that I lived so much of 2015 inside my office, but that's not quite right, either. Every day I was presented with basically the same set of operative facts, and my reaction to them fluctuated wildly from day to day. Today everything was fine, and it seemed like everything could continue to be fine into the foreseeable future. Yesterday everything was hopeless, had always been hopeless, would probably always be hopeless.  The day before I had sketched out a series of major life decisions, all of which were vital and must be undertaken immediately. The day before I was content to stay the course. During that time, nothing had really changed.

In conversations with distant relatives, friends with whom I had lost touch, the catch-up capsule summary of my life was the same as it had been the year before, the same as it had been two years before, and the unasked question on their faces was always "... still?"

The answer was that we had to buy a big house in a rainy city far away.

The answer was that we had to buy a small house in a formerly terrifying city nearby.

The answer was that we had to buy a tiny condo on the beach in Australia.

In the end, we didn't do any of those things.

I assumed that the next step would always make itself known to me, because it always had in the past. But that wasn't happening. The fact that I knew so many of the answers meant that maybe I just wasn't asking the questions right.

How did I get lost without making any wrong turns? Hadn't I learned anything?


All of this made me think about Max Martin.


There's an XKCD about the joy of someone you know learning something wonderful about the world. Every day is a chance to spread the word about the largely meaningless things that make us unreasonably happy.* 

If this blog is nothing else, I hope it's that. 

In 2015, the random thing that I must share with the world is Max Martin's list of songwriting and production credits, because Max Martin has written every good pop song of the last twenty years.

Just look at it. It's like looking directly at the sun. I feel like I should take off my shoes in its presence as a sign of respect. The Lennon/McCartney of our generation is an anonymous long-haired Swedish guy. And why not?

Earlier this year, there was a fascinating New Yorker feature on Martin. Every detail is a revelation (Before he gave "... Baby One More Time" to Britney Spears, he offered it to both TLC and Robyn!), and Martin seems like the coolest person who has ever lived. If anyone has cracked the code of pop music, it is him. If anyone has sequenced the genome, if anyone has split the atom, if anyone has seen the face of god ... it is Max Martin. And yet, the question unanswered is, well, what exactly does that mean? The New Yorker profile eventually throws up its hands and ends on kind of a sour note:
And yet, for all his success and influence, there is something missing in Martin’s oeuvre, when compared to the Beatles’s. It’s not the quality of the songs—history will judge whether they have what it takes to endure. It’s the absence of a broader political and cultural framework in which to place the songs. The story of the Beatles, from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “Let It Be,” is a story of the sixties—politics, war, protest, drugs, free love, and how the songwriters responded to those forces. The hits are embedded within albums that offer rich, complex musical statements, and insights into the artists’ personal development and changes. What story does Martin’s string of No. 1s tell, from “… Baby One More Time” to “Can’t Feel My Face,” his most recent? What changes do they trace? The songs are all about the same thing, more or less, which is not the same thing at all.
If we assume that Max Martin has the answers, well then what was the question? How is he doing this? There are four Max Martin songs on the list this year, and I have no idea what they all have in common, beyond the fact that they are all shimmering bulletproof miracles that continue to make me happy every time I hear them. 

If you devoted your life to the study of Max Martin's songcraft, you would never be able to write the next Max Martin hit single.

So ... do you think he knows what he's doing? Could he explain to you why it works? Does Max Martin know what the sound of 2016 will be?

I don't think he does. I think he's trying to figure all of this out in real time, just like we are. He's just better at it than anyone else.


So what is the common thread that ties all of these songs together? What is the common thread that ties 2015 together? Were these songs the soundtrack to our greatest triumphs, or the solace we found in confusion and failure?

Even on a song-by-song basis ... are these happy songs or sad songs? It feels like it's never been harder to tell. Bouncy tracks with biting lyrics that can stop you in your tracks, stripped-down laments with a message of hope.

This list includes songs about long-retired wrestlers and Mexican angels of death. Joyous Jamaican dancehall laughing in the slums and ferocious K-pop mean-mugging in what looks to be the near future. Old friends and the previously reviled. Stream-of-consciousness bursts finished in under two minutes, and slow burns that seem to take all day in even reaching the first chorus. Bands exploring new sounds, and those studiously trying to recreate the sound of 1999. Or the sound of 1963. A singer born in 1992 doing a flawless impression of a band who played their first show in 1983. A singer whose biggest hit came in 1997 covering one of the defining songs of 2013. Bands whose very existence seems to be a symbol of youthful exuberance ... and Third Eye Blind. Seriously, Third Eye Blind is still making music in 2015, and somehow it's great. So what does it all mean? What does it all mean?

My answer today is, "I don't know." My answer has always been, "I don't know," but I feel like the depths of not knowing changed in 2015. Before, I knew I didn't have all the answers, but I thought it was at least possible that one day I would find them, that all contradictions and distortions would be resolved, and that truth would be revealed to me. Any confusion was temporary. Now I'm not so sure.

Trying to find meaning in a year, or in a collection of songs, or in almost anything really, is just inviting a spiral into uncertainty. I used to think it was a kind of temporal uncertainty, a solvable problem we were all working on at our own pace. Now I feel like that uncertainty is at the heart of the exercise, and that in some weird way the uncertainty might be the meaning itself. I don't think we're ever really going to figure anything out, and the best we can do is understand that this might be a good thing. The uncertainty is what brings us together. I don't know, and you don't know either, and hey, at least we have that in common.

So here are 100 songs, 100 attempts by brilliantly talented people to make sense of a little piece of life at one specific point in time. Kendrick Lamar is trying to make sense of the world. Lauren Mayberry is trying to make sense of the world. Jason Isbell is trying to make sense of the world. Max Martin, god-king of pop music for all of eternity, is trying to make sense of the world.

And none of them will.

But isn't it fun to see how close they can get?


(1)  Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta” (video)
(2)  Fred Thomas – “Cops Don’t Care Pt. II” (video)
(3)  Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – “Sunday Candy” (video)
(4)  Titus Andronicus – “Dimed Out”
(5)  CHVRCHES – “Empty Threat”(video)
(6)  Belle & Sebastian – “Play For Today”
(7)  DMA’s – “Your Low” (video)
(8)  Jason Isbell – “Palmetto Rose”
(9)  The Mountain Goats – “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” (video)
(10)  Carly Rae Jepsen – “Your Type” (video)
(11)  Frank Turner – “Glorious You”
(12)  Christine and the Queens – “Tilted” (video)
(13)  Waxahatchee – “Under a Rock” (video)
(14)  Natalie Imbruglia – “Instant Crush” (video)
(15)  Chi Ching Ching – “Watchy Wyah” (f/ Hard Fi Deal Wid) (video)
(16)  Autre Ne Veut – “Age of Transparency” (video)
(17)  Champs – “Vamala” (video)
(18)  Bully – “Trying” (video)
(19)  Trails and Ways – “Jacaranda” (video)
(20)  Carly Rae Jepsen – “I Really Like You” (video)
(21)  Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen” (video)
(22)  Demi Lovato – “Cool for the Summer” (video)
(23)  CHVRCHES – “Clearest Blue”
(24)  EL VY – “Return to the Moon”
(25)  San Fermin – “Jackrabbit” (video)
(26)  Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – “Step Brother City” (video)
(27)  Torres – “Cowboy Guilt”
(28)  Decemberists – “Mistral”
(29)  Jason Isbell – “24 Frames”
(30)  Waxahatchee – “Poison”
(31)  Mark Ronson – “Leaving Los Feliz”
(32)  The Sidekicks – “The Kid Who Broke His Wrist”
(33)  Sufjan Stevens – “Should Have Known Better”
(34)  Desaparecidos – “City on the Hill” (video)
(35)  Hudson Mohawke – “Ryderz”
(36)  FIDLAR – “40 Oz. on Repeat” (video)
(37)  The Libertines – “Gunga Din” (video)
(38)  Frankie – “New Obsession”
(39)  Tori Kelly – “Nobody Love” (video)
(40)  Little Mix – “Black Magic” (video)
(41)  Hot Chip – “Hurrache Lights” (video)
(42)  Leon Bridges – “Better Man” (video)
(43)  Titus Andronicus – “Fatal Flaw” (video)
(44)  Mikal Cronin – “Made My Mind Up”
(45)  The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face” (video)
(46)  Craig Finn – “Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son” (video)
(47)  The Very Best – “Let Go” (video)
(48)  Destroyer – “Dream Lover”
(49)  Years and Years – “King” (video)
(50)  Neon Indian – “Annie”
(51)  DVS – “Tomorrow Is Here”
(52)  Petite Meller – “Baby Love” (video)
(53)  Snakehips – “All My Friends” (f/ Tinashe & Chance The Rapper) (video)
(54)  Fred Thomas – “Every Song Sung To A Dog”
(55)  The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – “January 10th, 2014” (video)
(56)  Despot – “House of Bricks” (video)
(57)  Courtney Barnett – “Depreston” (video)
(58)  Ra Ra Riot – “Water”
(59)  Sofi de la Torre – “Mess” (video)
(60)  FIDLAR – “West Coast” (video)
(61)  Craig Finn – “Roman Guitars”
(62)  Leon Bridges – “Coming Home” (video)
(63)  Björk – “Stonemilker” (video)
(64)  Third Eye Blind – “Everything Is Easy” (video)
(65)  Major Lazer – “Lean On” (f/ MØ & DJ Snake) (video)
(66)  Grimes – “California”
(67)  Allie X – “Prime” (video)
(68)  Kacey Musgraves – “Dime Store Cowgirl”
(69)  Kanye West – “All Day”
(70)  CL – “Hello Bitches” (video)
(71)  Madeon – “Nonsense” (video)
(72)  Chic – “I’ll Be There” (f/ Nile Rodgers) (video)
(73)  Brandon Flowers – “Can’t Deny My Love” (video)
(74)  Passion Pit – “Five Foot Ten”
(75)  Madeon – “Pay No Mind” (video)
(76)  Dan Deacon – “Feel the Lightning” (video)
(77)  Beach Slang – “Dirty Lights”
(78)  Frank Turner – “Josephine” (video)
(79)  Mewithoutyou – “Magic Lantern Days”
(80)  Modern Baseball – “The Waterboy Returns”
(81)  Belle And Sebastian – “Nobody’s Empire” (video)
(82)  Sleater-Kinney – “A New Wave” (video)
(83)  Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” (video)
(84)  Demi Lovato – “Confident” (video)
(85)  Phoebe Ryan – “Dead” (video)
(86)  Grimes – “Flesh Without Blood” (video)
(87)  Skrillex & Diplo – “Where Are Ü Now” (f/ Justin Bieber) (video)
(88)  Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – “Full Possession Of All Her Powers”
(89)  The Sidekicks – “Summer Brings You Closer To Satan”
(90)  Beirut – “No No No” (video)
(91)  Tanlines – “Pieces” (video)
(92)  The Tallest Man On Earth – “Sagres”
(93)  Beck – “Dreams”
(94)  Turbo Fruits – “The Way I Want You” (video)
(95)  Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz – “Karen Don’t Be Sad”
(96)  Miguel – “Hollywood Dreams”
(97)  Florence + The Machine – “Ship To Wreck” (video)
(98)  The Mountain Goats – “Choked Out”
(99)  Purity Ring – “Heartsigh”
(100)  The Colourist – “When I’m Away”


And new for this year ... A YOUTUBE CHANNEL!

While we were all making fun of the decline and fall of MTV, most artists just kept making music videos, and why not? 62 of the 100 Songs for 2015 came with honest-to-goodness music videos. Be your own Carson Daly. Be your own screaming tween holding up a homemade sign. Music videos are back! TRL is dead, long live TRL!


* For years, I was most evangelistic about making sure that everyone knew that Vince Carter literally jumped over a 7'2" French guy named Frederic Weiss in the 2000 Olympics. Thanks to the magic of the GIF, I can make you all watch it right now:

He jumps right over him! If you knew me in college, there is a 100% chance we spent five awkward minutes together waiting for a video clip of this dunk to download. I am so much happier for its existence.

1 comment:

  1. If you haven't heard it already, I highly recommend Eskimeaux's O.K. Probably my favorite album of the year.