February 14, 2016

Write on Music’s Favorite Songs of 2015

Even later than last year, it’s Write on Music’s Favorite Songs (in alphabetical order) of 2015:

The 1975 – “Love Me”: Clearly these brazen British upstarts were schooled at some point on '80s Duran Duran and INXS, not to mention David Bowie’s '70s plastic soul gems like “Golden Years” and “Fame,” because this bit of slinky rock ‘n’ roll delirium boasts all such influences with the utmost of ballsy irreverence. It’s all uphill from here, lads.

Adele – “All I Ask”: Nostalgia is a crucial theme throughout Adele’s third LP, 25, but on this particular song (co-written with Bruno Mars) nothing means so much as the here and now. “It matters how this ends,” Adele sings, her almost bittersweet desperation acknowledging that, whatever becomes of the fateful moment at hand, it will never be this good again.

Alabama – “Come Find Me”: Whether they're singing about young love or "maybe we ain't that young anymore" love, Ft. Payne's favorite sons have evoked authentic, in-the-moment intimacy in a long line of classics, from “Feels So Right” to “Face to Face” to “When We Make Love.” Here, lead singer Randy Owen takes the band through one more.

Banditos – “Still Sober (After All These Beers)”: This sputtering, snarling blast of Southern indignation raises the kind of high-octane, honky-tonk ruckus your Saturday nights have likely been lacking for too damn long.

Cloves – “Don’t You Wait”: 19-year old Australian-born, London-based singer/songwriter Kaity Cloves — who goes by her surname — conjures a somber yet almost unwittingly sensual ode to (first?) love, the song’s minimalist arrangement accentuating an utterly enthralling vocal.

Darlene Love – “Forbidden Nights”: Save for a few notable exceptions (like her annual Christmas appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman, and her 2011 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), this legend’s career largely and preposterously played out in the shadows of history. Yet with her current LP, Introducing Darlene Love, the lady at last receives her due on record. Overflowing with joyous, immaculately sung songs written to order by the likes of longtime fans Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, and Elvis Costello, who penned this particular selection, the album is a hard-won triumph.

Dwight Yoakam – “V’s of Birds”: While this proverbial honky-tonk man is best known for turning out Bakersfield-bred, rockin’ country hits like “Guitars, Cadillacs” and “Fast as You,” the highlight of his latest LP, Second Hand Heart, is this melancholy, gospel-tinged ballad. Written by veteran singer/songwriter and guitarist Anthony Crawford (who recorded his own version on his 1993 self-titled album), Yoakam draws on the lyric’s metaphorical imagery to summon one of his most moving performances in years.

Glen Hansard – “Her Mercy”: Fragile as a hymn at first, the music builds — with drums and guitar leaning into the mix while select brass punctuates later passages — until a choir unites with Hansard’s increasingly inspired vocal in a climax of exhilarating reward and resonance. The Irish singer/songwriter is no stranger to composing and performing impassioned works, but with this one he’s outdone himself. Stunning.

Grace Potter – “Look What We’ve Become”: The problem with a lot of contemporary dance music is a lack of originality, how it unironically boasts recycled beats and rhythms without adding anything imaginative or otherwise satisfying to its grooves. Having transcended her jam-band roots to embrace this disco-rich throwdown, however, Potter clearly doesn’t have that problem.

Holly Miranda – “All I Want Is to Be Your Girl”: This could very well be the most fun, naughtiest song of the whole damn year. Miranda’s been making music for a while — well over a decade — and she’s earned her fan base the old-fashioned way: touring her ass off, releasing copies of her music at the gigs in each town she plays. Maybe this song will reach a wider audience than much of her previous work, but who knows? One thing’s for sure, though. It’s irresistible. Seriously. Go ahead, turn it on, turn it up, and try not to dig it… You’re welcome.

Jason Isbell – “If It Takes a Lifetime”: Hard lessons and memories of hard living inform Isbell’s latest LP, Something More Than Free, and in this song that opens the album he runs through a bunch of both. This side of Springsteen, no one is writing narrative-based songs with as much insight and resourcefulness as Isbell, and it’s astounding to consider that he’s only now just hitting his stride.

Keith Richards – “Trouble”: The man’s got more riffs than any guitarist’s got a right to possess, and this gnarly groove — courtesy of a jam session between Richards and producer/drummer extraordinaire Steve Jordan — is just the latest incriminating example in a devastating mountain of evidence.

Leon Bridges – “Coming Home”: The song’s throwback/Sam Cooke vibe may hearken back to bygone era, but the Fort Worth, Texas talent performing it evokes the sort of innate soul and songwriting chops that are nothing short of timeless.

Lianne La Havas – “What You Don’t Do”: Gifted with gobs of talent — so much so that even Prince took notice, inviting her to sing on his 2014 LP, Art Official Age — the British-born La Havas complements old-school R&B with ultra-modern pop with beguiling results like this highlight from her current album, Blood.

Nadia Kazmi – Father Knows Best: At turns coquettish and brashly sirenic, Kazmi tears through this shameless rocker like she could’ve stood on the CBGB’s stage circa 1977, dodging beer bottles with a wicked grin on her face and attitude to spare. Check out the EP from which this track is found, LAMB, for more ear-splitting, soul-stirring moments like this.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds – “The Right Stuff”: In an era inundated by disposable singles, Noel Gallagher still makes albums worth listening to from start to finish. What’s more, since splitting from the Oasis fold in 2009, he has evolved into an even more intriguing and eclectic artist, experimenting with all sorts of sonic textures and styles — not unlike his mate Paul Weller has done since disbanding The Jam and The Style Council. Altogether, the results, like this dark and sensual slowburner, are intoxicating.

Tame Impala – “’Cause I’m a Man”: When Kevin Parker’s Australian outfit released its most recent LP, Currents, word was it sounded a bit like disco-era Bee Gees, and this song in some ways evokes a comparable disposition and mood to music heard on Main Course and Children of the World. If that’s indeed where Parker gleaned inspiration, good. More power to him, actually, because this here is a bold, synth-drenched tour de force.

Tess Henley – “Wonderland”: Calling to mind ‘70s R&B classics from the likes of Minnie Riperton and Natalie Cole, the title track to this native Washington singer/songwriter’s current EP demonstrates the seamless, soulful maturity of an artist living up to the full measure of her talent. The foundation Henley has crafted on her two previous albums (High Heels & Sneakers and Easy to Love) proved her musical instincts and potential were aimed in the right direction. Now that promise is paying off in a major way.

Tobias Jesso Jr. – “How Could You Babe”: On his plaintive, piano-driven debut LP, Goon, this Canadian singer/songwriter often brings to mind ‘70s-era defining works by Harry Nilsson and, in a sense, Carole King. Yet the unguarded vulnerability he expresses throughout its songs — and especially on this one — is singularly breathtaking. As if composing one of the year’s most compelling debuts wasn’t achievement enough, Jesso found out (with the rest of the world) that a song he’d co-written with Adele, “When We Were Young,” was included on her latest album, 25, which has sold eight million copies to date in North America. All in all, a not-too-shabby 2015, Mr. Jesso.

Wolf Alice – “Your Loves Whore”: With a slew of rave live reviews already under its collective belt — including memorable sets at festivals from Reading to Glastonbury — this nascent British rock quartet delivered the best rock debut of 2015 (My Love is Cool), a feat this fierce track proves in spades.