Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My year in music: embracing the digital single

Many critics who have written Best Music of 2015 lists have referenced the sheer volume of music this year. I must be the anomaly because I struggled to find music this year. But this year was a year of transition in the way I consumed music, and maybe that got in the way of discovery.

I embraced Google Play a few years ago, and I think 2015 was the first year that I preferred to buy albums online rather than CDs at The Electric Fetus and then digitize them. The reason was a cable, an RCA-to-headphone-jack cable that allowed me to play music from my smartphone to my home stereo. The $6 cable allowed to to play any song, any artist, any playlist with the same clarity as a CD (very nearly).

The deal was sealed when my Dad bought me a Google Chromecast that allowed me to cast the music wirelessly from the phone to the stereo. I plug the conversion cable into the Chromecast now, and with one button, the phone actually turns on the stereo, switches it the the right input and plays the music. When I'm done, the stereo shuts off. This is being done with a 1997 Onkyo system.

CDs are dead to me.

Like I mentioned before, I struggled to find many great full albums this year, but there was still some great stuff. Here are some of the new songs I listened to the most this year, most of them digitally:

Deerhunter, "Snakeskin" off the Fading Frontier album: I've never been a huge Deerhunter fan. I've seen them open for Spoon and wasn't impressed, and Bradford Cox reminds me of a younger, taller, skinnier Tom Petty. "Snakeskin" is a cool tune though with a funk guitar thing going on.

Kendrick Lamar, "King Kunta" off the To Pimp A Butterfly album: I'm not a rap guy, but every once in a while...His "Swimming Pools" off the good kid, m.A.A.d city album hit me the same way.

Car Seat Headrest, "Times To Die" off the Teens of Style album: This is the new band discovery I was most excited about this year. Teens of Style is a collection of Will Toledo's best home recordings while he was in college. Now signed to Matador, he's got his major label debut coming out in 2016. He's a garage rock version of Brian Wilson.

The Arcs, "Outta My Mind" off the Yours, Dreamily album: Dan Auerbach is best known for his interpretation of the blues, but he's not bad at funk/soul either. This is my favorite work of his since the Black Keys' Brothers album.

Desaparecidos, "City On The Hill" off the Payola album: The lyrics are about South American political dissidents, but the music Conor Oberst and his side-project band put to it rocks out. The whole album is worth checking out.

Tame Impala, "Let It Happen" off the Currents album: I'm a rock guy who dabbles in dance/electronica. I didn't warm to Tame Impala's rock-oriented Lonerism in 2012, but found this 6-minute song off the electronic Currents more compelling.

EL VY, "Return To The Moon" off the Return To The Moon album: This is a side project from Matt Berninger of The National and Brent Knopf, formerly of Menomena. It's a shockingly upbeat song from guys who have put out some very dark stuff. More funk guitar, so you see the pattern here.

Lianne La Havas, "What You Don't Do" off the Blood album: This is the best pop song I've heard in a while. With that voice, I would guess she will be a lot bigger in a few years.

Wilco, "Random Name Generator" off the Star Wars album: This is the most fun song off an album that was released for free with no warning. Naming the album Star Wars is fun, right? Or the reason for a lawsuit...

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, "Do The Get Down" off the Freedom Tower album: I've been listening to Jon Spencer for more than 20 years and the man simply rocks out in a way that no one else does. Now that he's older, he doesn't scream "Blues Explosion!" in every song, but I forgive him if he forgets sometimes.

Alabama Shakes, "Gimme All Your Love" off the Sound & Color album: This is the best song off the most amazing album of the year, so it deserves my #1. They created something that's so much more than the southern rock of their first album. Justin Timberlake called it "perfect," so I'm gonna stop selling you on what's already sold.

Now I need your suggestions. This is the best time of year to find new music, so send it my way.