best of 2015: songs

vscocam barn copypicking just ten songs to represent an entire year in music is no easy feat, but such is the plight of a minimalist music website.  the following tracks shaped the dimestore’s trajectory in 2015, from unexpected email submissions that proved riveting to a wide swath of midwest hip-hop to gorgeous post-rock soundscapes.  our picks run in alphabetical order, and you can click on the title’s link to navigate away and hear each track; dig in below.

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shake it loose coverastronauts, etc. – “shake it loose”

almost every track from mind out wandering would have pulled its weight in this slot, but “shake it loose” is a particular hallmark due to its kaleidoscopic union of pop and psychedelia.  anthony ferraro and his quintet of astronauts lock into an indelible groove right on the initial downbeat, the interplay between the guitar’s rise-and-fall motif and the rhythm section’s meticulous subdivision at the end of each phrase informing both the framework of ferraro’s vocal and the ensemble’s gradual abandonment of structure in favor of a more textural exploration.  if “shake it loose” sounds almost unfairly organic during its dreamlike sequence, that’s because it is; the entirety of mind out wandering was recorded straight to tape without ever passing through a computer, allowing each note on the album to resonate with an extra degree of authenticity.

chairlift ch-chingchairlift – “ch-ching”

caroline polachek worked with beyoncé during chairlift’s interim between full-length projects, a fruitful partnership that may have dictated the duo’s first new single in nearly three years.  “ch-ching” subverts chairlift’s penchant for constructing massive sing-along hooks by trimming the first two choruses down to sultry finger snaps and eerie vocal twists on the song’s titular sound.  still, even as the final refrain hits in all its harmonized glory, “ch-ching” retains the notion that chairlift are now comfortable outside the nostalgic confines that defined their earlier work.  there’s genuine potential for moth to be a truly cosmopolitan album.

day wave headcaseday wave – “drag”

jackson phillips drew a lot of justifiable comparison to dylan baldi’s early output as cloud nothings this year: both projects hone(d) in on home-recorded pop songs and a reverence for the guitar as a pivotal melodic instrument, but phillips’ work as day wave occupies remarkably different sonic territory.  to illustrate this point, look no further than “drag,” the earworm that first put day wave on the internet’s radar in 2015.  phillips, a percussionist by trade, puts faith in an old drum machine to anchor the song’s robust foundation while he turns his attention to an ostinato guitar motif that molds the concrete of “drag” into a majestic skyscraper.  effervescent synth countermelodies soon blossom from the track’s confident chorus, dutifully weaving throughout phillips’ slightly-downtrodden lead vocal and the bevy of arpeggios he stacks on top.  day wave takes unabashed influence from the beach boys and new order; “drag” proves that to be quite the winning combination.

foxing – “the magdalene”

st. louis quintet foxing crafted one of this year’s most affecting post-rock albums.  dealer is largely devoid of the agitation that pervaded its predecessor, the albatross, but the tension that is released is done so with remarkable poise.  “the magdalene” is a deeply personal confessional that exposes the psychological trauma conor murphy suffered during a religious upbringing, wrought with sexual suppression and guilt.  but foxing is incredibly deft at turning grief into catharsis, and “the magdalene” eventually spills over into a lush b-section where simple melodies of all timbres intertwine, propelled by a surging and syncopated rhythm section.  when murphy cries out “watch me come / undone” in his falsetto, chills linger.

isaac vallentin hederaisaac vallentin – “stewardess”

isaac vallentin wins our informal award for best blind album submission via email; if you haven’t heard hedera yet, go listen.  “stewardess” is the track that got us hooked, with its arpeggiated blueprint slowly morphing into an exquisitely subdued post-dub groove.  vallentin thrives at moving fluidly between genres throughout hedera, and “stewardess” is a microcosm of that ability; his deep, sonorous lead vocal ties everything together and ushers in a chorus of chiming synth pads for a final triumphant statement.  in a year when james blake remained dormant, vallentin delivered murky musings with equal aplomb.

kendrick lamar – “king kunta”

what’s left to write about to pimp a butterfly that hasn’t already been written?  kendrick lamar’s lauded third album reigned relatively unchallenged as the definitive piece of hip-hop in 2015, trading out the grit of good kid, m.a.a.d. city for soul samples and jazz-inclined collaborators from a resurgent l.a. scene.  “king kunta” brings the funk in the most defiant way possible, as kendrick accosts industry opportunists and fair-weather fans over a swaggering thundercat bass line while maintaining his status as a dominant lyricist in the game.  but the song’s oxymoronic title is a reference to the notion that a man is only as powerful as his the color of skin; despite achieving financial and critical success, lamar’s very existence is often systemically viewed as sub-par.  “king kunta” is an easily digestible snapshot of an incredibly dense and experimental personal odyssey, a suitable gateway into the strain of hip-hop kendrick lamar created for himself.

ick jenkins wave[s]mick jenkins – “your love”

mick jenkins teamed with a handful of producers on his new ep wave[s] for a plethora of directions; perhaps not surprisingly, his union with the perpetually in-demand kaytranada yielded the most enduring results.  “your love” is a far cry from the introspective consciousness that pervaded last year’s the water[s], with jenkins crooning and rapping about a potential transcontinental romance over an aqueous bass line paired with warm synth interjections.  it’s the closest thing to blatant r&b that jenkins has ever proffered to his audience, and “your love” slowly became our low-key song of the summer.

sayth body pillowsayth – “under water • under ice”

sayth’s collaborative work with north house across body pillow is the result of a budding friendship, but it’s also a glorious intersection of two critical young voices in minneapolis’ diy scene.  “under water • under ice” is the ep’s resolute opening statement; north house’s wobbly arpeggios stumble through his diligent snare work while sayth constructs a grim narrative for the “generation of ‘i’m fucked when i turned twenty-seven.'”  but the track’s hook fights valiantly to make the strongest impression, with sayth staring adversity and listlessness in the face and offering more positive – albeit sometimes defiant – alternatives.

out may 5th via ruby yacht/the order labelscallops hotel – “lavender chunk (ft. hemlock ernst)”

it’s a testament to rory ferreira’s unwavering dedication to create provocative and indelible art that one of his projects is represented in year-end contention for the third year in a row.  scallops hotel feels like a cleansing alternative to ferreira’s more recognized output as milo, a no-risk solution for him to explore new facets of production or to alter his songwriting approach.  plain speaking yielded some of ferreira’s most readily accessible and pointed work to date; “lavender chunk” cycles through a simple ostinato with an extended guest verse from samuel t. herring’s alter ego hemlock ernst, but ferreira hops on just in time to deliver a remarkably fluid stream of consciousness, largely devoid of the non-sequiturs that had been his crutch.  more than anything, “lavender chunk” will endure as poignant, with the outgoing statement quickly morphing into an unsettling mantra that reflects the state of things in 2015.

tame impala currentstame impala – “yes i’m changing”

tame impala was our shameless self-indulgence of 2015.  during the waning days of summer, when the dimestore headquarters packed up again and moved back across the country, currents supplied a palette of driving music that was more than adequate.  “yes i’m changing” soundtracked sunset ventures through the cascades one night and sunrise journeys through the rockies the following morning, its undeniably pristine arrangements only slightly quelled by a sub-par car stereo and a flighty aux cord.  kevin parker deserves some sort of award for writing the most prominent bass lines on psychedelic records, as “yes i’m changing” rumbles through a closing chapter in life under the direction of a low-end presence that continuously flirts with melodic territory.  in a year marked with a handful of new beginnings, “yes i’m changing” hit home.

listen to a new song from day wave

day wave 2
photo courtesy of the artist

jackson phillips will release more music as day wave in the form of a 7″ single, out november 6th via a united kingdom upstart boutique called house arrest recs.  last month he shared the synth-happy a-side “come home now,” which pairs nicely with “you are who you are.”  the b-side is mellow in contrast, shifting the timbral focus back to the guitar with a sonorous opening riff that navigates the lower realm of phillips’ telecaster.  as we’ve come to expect from day wave material, the chorus on “you are who you are” is instantly memorable, with a deft vocal melody floating through the breeze.  take a listen.

listen to a new song from hazel english

hazel english 1
photo courtesy of brandon c. long

if the production on hazel english’s new single sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because it probably is.  jackson phillips, the creative force behind day wave, teams with his fellow oakland resident for “fix,” a warm slice of nostalgia that fits perfectly into the earliest days of autumn.  the song blends english’s bleary vocals with phillips’ signature combination of single-note guitar lines and simple drum programming well, but “fix” really comes into its own towards the end, as it slows to a half-time feel to allow english’s cries of “i want to feel alive” to take on a more melancholic quality.  take a listen below.

listen to a new song from day wave

day wave
photo courtesy of the artist

after releasing a string of singles earlier this year that culminated in a very strong debut ep, jackson phillips is already prepping more day wave material.  the oakland-based artist will release a new 7″ on november 6th via united kingdom upstart house arrest recs, and today he’s shared its a-side.  “come home now” continues to channel phillips’ affinity for a home-recorded aesthetic, though his muted, reverb-tinged vocals are accompanied this time by a brassy synth structure that fiercely competes for immediate attention with phillips’ signature arpeggiated guitar lines.  the beefed-up arrangement may be a nod to day wave’s exodus from the bedroom to the stage, but “come home now” also finds phillips becoming more comfortable in his role as an incredibly poignant lyricist; the song’s melancholy chorus perfectly belies its sunny exterior.  take a listen to “come home now” below.

listen to a new song from day wave

day wave
photo courtesy of the artist

jackson phillips will release his first ep as day wave, headcase, this friday.  the five-song effort is the culmination of the oakland singer-songwriter’s desire to learn guitar and to approach songwriting from a different angle, resulting in breezy, jangly pop songs heavily indebted to joy division and the beach boys.  headcase began streaming in full yesterday, and that means you can finally listen to its title track.  “headcase” contains some of the most honest lyricism phillips has offered to date wrapped inside soft synths and bernard sumner-inspired guitar melodies.  take a listen below.

listen to a new song from day wave

day wave
photo courtesy of the artist

jackson phillips gained significant traction earlier this spring with “drag,” his third offering under the moniker day wave.  his hazy home-recordings immediately conjure up a brand of nostalgia befitting of its attached similes and metaphors, but pushing past the aesthetic yields a lyrical persona with which we can all empathize.  on “we try but we don’t fit in,” phillips captures the union of youthful hesitancy and buoyancy quite accurately with the monster hook of “i made a mess / with all of my friends / i made a mess / i’d do it again,” but it’s the subsequent delivery of the song’s title that really grounds it in a more frustrating reality.  “we try but we don’t fit in” comes with the announcement of the debut day wave ep, headspace, out july 17th.  take a listen to the track below.