Another year is about done, and ringing in our ears are a lot of great songs that have seen the light of day this year. Instead of the usual album lists, this year we’re listing songs, and instead of the usual ten choices, we’ve limited it to five. It’s an exercise I’m not sure we’ll repeat, as limiting music obsessives like the KUTX staff to only five choices proved difficult. It did, though, lead to some remarkably varied choices, and some surprising similarities. Read on, and enjoy the music! – Jeff McCord, music director, KUTX
John Aielli, M-TH 7-9a
1. “Can’t Get Enough of Myself” – Santigold
We all need more self confidence. Half the songs in the world are about how I can’t live without one person or thing or another.
2. “Solo un Sueno” – Grupo Fantasma
The whole album is great. Especially like the sound of this one.
3. “Southern Eyes” – Joe Ely
An instant classic. You can just see those southern eyes rolling up from under those long lashes. Scarlet O’hara to Carrie Rodriguez and more.
4. “How Do You Get ‘Em Back” – David Ramirez
A lover’s despair so fits David’s beautiful voice.
5. “Strange Encounter” – Father John Misty
Father John can do no wrong. He’s had many wonderful songs this year; this is one of them.
1. “Bullets” – Wild Child
One of the more tame Wild Child songs from Fools, it sounds like it could have been an acoustic cover of a Zombies deep cut. Kelsey Wilson’s voice provides the perfect ceiling for the stringed floors and ivory piano walls in this gingerbread house of a song. Bonus points from me since I got to play trumpet on this live during their European tour send-off show, along with some other Sip Sip horn players.
2. “Blue and Green” – Wicker
The debut single of Lauren Burton’s full band project Wicker, “Blue and Green” is three-and-a- half minutes of ‘50s/‘60s dreamy guitar and warm vocals. It’s like the sonic forced perspective of nostalgia.
3. “Them Changes” – Thundercat
Thundercat gets funky with this Brothers Johnson-esque groove featuring Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus. What’s not to like?
4. “Strong Legs” – Dreamboat
The title track from Dreamboat’s debut record makes for the perfect road trip song. Multi-layered guitars and horns on top of ever-changing drum rhythms and a really fun song structure.
5. “Every Night” – Walker Lukens
I’ve got a soft spot for sampling and looping, which makes Walker Lukens one of my favorite local acts. Every time (every night?) I see this song live, he nails the vocal loop on his sampler just as well as it sounds on the studio recording. If you’re listening on-the-go, it’s impossible not to strut to this one.
Bill Childs, Spare the Rock (Sundays 6 p.m.- 7 p.m.)
1. Craig Finn – Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son
As a Minnesota kid almost precisely Craig Finn’s age, his music (Lifter Puller, The Hold Steady, and solo) has resonated for me for a long time — but never more so than his newest record, Faith in the Future. The Hold Steady’s rightfully legendary live shows I think sometimes distract from Finn’s songwriting (and it sometimes gets sort of dismissed as “literate” like that’s a bad thing), but this record brings middle age, muddled faith, and the midwest all together in a way that’s still somehow fun to listen to.
2. Molly Ledford & Billy Kelly – The Dichotomous Key
I do the family show on KUTX (Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child, Sundays at 6 pm), so I have to include at least one song from a record aimed at kids — but I think I’d include this on just about any 2015 list. Ledford is from the veteran indie kids’ band Lunch Money, out of South Carolina, and Kelly’s in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and together they’ve written perhaps the most unlikely record nominated for a Grammy this year — it’s singular, entirely about trees, and this ludicrously catchy song is about…a way to methodically identify any tree by answering a series of binary questions.
3. Quiet Company – Seven Hells
The best opening of any record I heard this year—thunderous, aggressive, and yet melodic—and it’s a beast of a record. Like Finn’s, Transgressor is a record about maturing and struggling, and while it’s not as much about One Big Thing as their We Are All Where We Belong, it’s just as personal and satisfying to listen to.
4. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects
Leave it to Sharon Jones to prove that there is still a reason to do holiday records. It’s a Holiday Soul Party is exactly what is promised: a party from start to finish. This song actually appeared on their 2013 Soul Time, and it’s one of the few originals on the record. It is everything you love (or should love) about Sharon Jones, with her ever killer backing band The Dap-Kings, and it makes you hope (and pray, if you’re so inclined) that she’ll again beat cancer and be around for years to come.
5. Sleater-Kinney – Price Tag
My daughter’s high school English teacher declares Sleater-Kinney to be the greatest rock band in history, and I have trouble constructing an argument for why he’s wrong. The real surprise is that they put together, nearly a decade after going on hiatus, this great of a record. Urgent, tight, intense: it’s an amazing album and opens with this song that demands your attention.
Michael Crockett, Horizontes (Sundays 7-10pm) and Global Grooves (KUT-HD3 Fridays 2-6pm
1.”Felicidade” – Seu Jorge (from album “Músicas Para Churrasco Vol.II”)
Brazilian singer of Bowie songs in the film “Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou” sings a song of happiness on his latest album.
2. “Amor Platónico” – La Guacha w/Kevin Johansen (from the album “Fácil”)
This Chilean band was my favorite discovery at SXSW 2015. The song “Platonic Love” features the vocals of Soledad Del Rio and Alaskan transplant Kevin Johansen.
3. “To’ My Love” – Bomba Estereo (from album “Amanecer”)
A love song from Colombia’s Bomba Estereo’s latest album with some bi-lingual word play. To’ (Todo or All) my love. To my love. I love Liliana Saumet’s haunting voice.
4. “Hay Que Venir Al Sur” – Orquesta Discoteque w/Natalia Clavier (from album “Música Moderna”)
A 1970’s hit by Italian singer Rafaella Carrá reinterpreted by Argentinian singer Natalia Clavier (Thievery Corporation) backed by Venezuelan guitarist Jose Luis Pardo’s (Los Amigos Invisibles) Orquesta Discoteque.
5. “All The People” – Jovanotti w/Sinkane (from album “Lorenzo 2015 CC”)
Multi-lingual Italian rapper Jovanotti teams up with English/Sudanese singer Sinkane on this hopeful anthem.
Jody Denberg M-TH 5-8p, Fridays 12-4p
1. “Betray My Heart” – D’Angelo & The Vanguard
Not future soul, not retro soul, but soul for NOW.
2. “Servant Of Love” – Patty Griffin
Always great to hear Patty playing piano, and this song not only sums up one of the best Austin-made albums of the year but the artist herself.
3. “Let It Happen” – Tame Impala
No need to overthink this band or album, just, well, Let It Happen.
4. “Pedestrian At Best” – Courtney Barnett
Smells like twenty-something spirit.
5. “The Beigeness” – Kate Tempest
Poet, playwright, songwriter, rapper and force of nature.
The best artist I first heard at SXSW 2015.
Jacquie Fuller, asst. program director
1. “I Love You, Honeybear” – Father John Misty
Dark, woozy, soaring, profane, unabashedly tender – a love song for the apocalypse. This song’s got layer on layer of audaciousness – strings, lap steel, piano, Josh Tillman’s melodramatic crooning – and feels like, at any moment, it might collapse under its own weight. Nope. Still standing, even after a year of repeated listening.
2. “Let It Happen” – Tame Impala
I’m not sure if this song is about fame, or trying to cope in a world gone bonkers, or drugs, or all three. But who needs drugs when you’ve got the euphoric, never-ending trip that is this song? With nearly eight minutes of soaring synth and stuttering loops, you’re constantly asking, “Are we there yet?” And are perfectly fine when the answer is “No.
3. “Ain’t That Easy” – D’Angelo & The Vanguard
This one came out very late in 2014, so I’m squeezing it on to my 2015 list. There’s some seriously magic s*** happening here: jagged chord changes, layered harmonies, that vocal flip from falsetto to baritone, and an aggressive groove. Form follows function here: this song refuses to let me go.
4. “Baby When I Close My Eyes” – Sweet Spirit
Austin rocker Sabrina Ellis’ vocals are sugared sandpaper, and on this track, they ride one of the grooviest bass lines I’ve heard since 1978. A dark, sexy, disco acrostic from a distant future where we all wear leotards to work.
5. “Loud Places” – Jamie XX
With some help from Romy Madley-Croft’s butter-smooth vocals, Jamie XX creates a dance track about loud places that’s remarkably quiet. It’s both celebratory and wistful, perfectly capturing the intimate cocoon that’s created by a relationship, and the lonely-in-a-crowd void that’s left when it’s over. “Loud Places” was, ironically, my respite when the noise of the world got too loud.
Laurie Gallardo, M-TH 8-11p
1. “Snakeskin” – Deerhunter
How can you NOT dance to this one, I ask you?! Rompy-stompy, poppy, disco-groove-like goodness.
2. “Shut This Down” – Prince
The man, the myth, his Royal Purple Highness, flies all over the musical map on this album, but this track in particular packs a rockin’ punch in only the way Prince can. Yes, I’m jealous of him. That jerk.
3. “Don’t Wanna Fight” – Alabama Shakes
You can do no wrong with all the tracks on Sound and Color, but this one has some of my favorite vocals by front woman Brittany Howard. She is a powerhouse and a rock ’n’ soul goddess to boot.
4. “Baby When I Close My Eyes” – Sweet Spirit
Loving the sweet, sweet vocals of fiery front woman Sabrina Ellis that pair so well with these dance/rock rhythms. Super sexy and strong.
5. “Mountain At My Gates” – Foals
More irresistible pop-and-riffs with a finale that NME recently referred to as sounding like “the first ever Dalek post-rock band.” Well, this Dr. Who fan says well done to Foals for that achievement.
Art Levy, Sundays 10a-2p
1. “Prayer” – D’Angelo & The Vanguard
Yeah, yeah–technically, it was released in the dying days of 2014, but D’Angelo cast a big shadow across 2015, musically, thematically, and emotionally. Protest music that’s personal; intensely introverted while still being open-hearted.
2. “Pretty Pimpin” – Kurt Vile
Philly’s constant hitmaker downshifted into darker territory this year, but it fits him well. Inventive folk-rock you can file next to your Neil Young LPs.
3. “One” – Moving Panoramas
Songs don’t get much catchier than this one. My award for “longest amount of time a song was stuck in my head.”
4. “That’s Love” – Oddisee
Hip-hop with an incredible soul/jazz vibe and Marvin Gaye-inspired rhymes.
5. “Baby When I Close My Eyes” – Sweet Spirit
Punk, soul, disco–it all comes together on this song. Sweet Spirit owned Austin this year, quickly becoming one of the best bands in town.
Jeff McCord, music director, Fridays 6-9am
1. “Pedestrian At Best” – Courtney Barnett
“I love you. I hate you. I’m on the fence…” The one song of 2015 that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck the first time I heard it. Full of confusion, rage and self-deprecation, Barnett’s rant explodes with promise only hinted in her previous EPs. The album is extraordinary, but ‘Pedestrian’ is singular: emotionally raw, visceral, funny, sad and relentless – in short, everything a great rock and roll record should be.
2. “Betray My Heart” – D’Angelo and the Vanguard
While I keep finding new favorites on this extraordinary album, this song is the one. Hooks come in all fashions, but it’s the ones missing the sharpest barbs that truly dig in. D’Angelo’s seemingly tossed off tale of betrayal from his first album in over a decade (!) is not only the best song of the year (OK, a few weeks shy of the year), it’s the best song I’ve heard IN years. Nimble, long, free structured and jittery, D’Angelo’s vocal performance carries home an ear worm that won’t stop digging.
3. “The Art of Fear” – The Grassy Knoll
Pulsing, thundering and ominous, this genre-bending three minutes comes from the album Electric Verdeland Vol. 1, the first recording from this band led by Austin’s Nolan Green in several years. Panoramic and almost guileless.
4. “Cause I’m A Man” – Tame Impala
Another wondrous, deep collection from the highly creative Kevin Parker. Currents is one of the best records of the year, but this song, which tries to offer up gender as an excuse, is the pop song of the year. Spacey, soaring and ambitious, with layered Smokey Robinson falsettos and a clunky and potent DIY quirkiness.
5. “Deep River ” – Dave Douglas
Douglas lost his older brother to cancer this year, and Brazen Heart, his new recording with a new band, is a tribute. Yet in a year where we lost two giants of American music, Ornette Coleman and Allen Toussaint, “Deep River” also plays, consciously or not, as a perfect elegy. Loose, emotive, and as deep and soulful a piece of music as anything the trumpeter has recorded.
Rick McNulty, Fridays 7-11p, Saturdays 2-6p
1.“Oh Man The Future” – De Lux
This tune has two chords and is a pastiche of the heyday of Byrne-Eno collaborations. Somehow the dystopian monologue and the cheap-sounding instruments make this incredibly charming.
2. “Turned Out Light” – Thee Oh Sees
The best two minutes and five seconds of rock and roll glory you’ll hear all year. Harmonic guitars, marching drums, and completely incoherent lyrics.
3. “Ain’t That Easy” – D’Angelo & the Vanguard
By far the best album of the year, this song distills the mojo down into one song. As hazy and intoxicating as anything on There’s A Riot Goin’ On.
4. “Multi-Love” – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
As it unravels over a space funk milieu, the year’s best song about threesomes feels like a midnight skinny dip. The lyrics sound Icelandic at first, but once you pick out “She wants to bury me in Austin under Uchiko,” you never forget it.
5. “Times To Die” – Car Seat Headrest
This thing is so far off the rails that it’s invented a new form of transportation. It veers from a makeshift home demo into a cathedral of bliss while smashing into every street light along the way.
Elizabeth McQueen, Saturdays 10a-2p
1. “Let It Happen” – Tame Impala.
This ode to letting yourself be swept away by whatever it is inside of you that has been be threatening to overtake you is just the jam I needed in 2015.
2. “Rebel Rebel” – Sweet Spirit
Sweet Spirit is definitely my favorite new band, and lyrics like “Youth is a waste, get some lines on that face” make me want to run down a hill at top speed while tearing off my clothes and then jump into Barton Springs.
3. “Bored in the USA” – Father John Misty
This song leaves me in a pool of bourgeois sadness. In a good way.
4. “Ibeyi Remix” – Riders Against the Storm
One of my favorite bands remixed one of my favorite songs and made it even better. Plus Qi sings in Haitian Creole!
5. “Karen Don’t Be Sad” – Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz
This should be mandatory listening for all young girls. Miley Cyrus + the Flaming Lips = something I can totally get behind.
Audrey Morton, Fridays 11p-3a
1. “Trying” – Bully
My mantra for a chunk of the year. It’s grungy, raw and girly at the same time.
2. “I’m In Love With My Life” – Phases
Upbeat and peppy, makes me hopeful. The video kinda kicks butt, too.
3. “10,000 Emerald Pools” – BøRNS
Haunting, but addicted to the lead singer’s voice and harmonies. Beautiful.
4. “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)” – AWOLNATION
Love the beat, love the lyrics, have always loved the band.
5. “Hello” – Adele
I loved her album 19 and knew instantly this was another love for me. This song is so emotional and nostalgic.
John Parsons, Saturdays 6-10a
1. “Eventually” – Tame Impala
It’s hard to pick a favorite from Tame Impala’s Currents, but the sheer dynamics of this song is what keeps me coming back. It’s a straightforward break-up tune with a mid-tempo amble serving as the grounding emotional centerpiece for a huge sounding album. But on its own, it’s a massive piece of moonrock spiraling in space. And you gotta love a song so good that everyone’s trying to get a piece of it.
2. “And You’re Always On” – Jared Leibowich (Jared Zoltar)
Austin’s The Zoltars has been providing a consistent, impressive alchemy of dreamy garage rock and introspective storytelling for a few years, but when frontman Jared Zoltar came clean about his real last name and put out his debut solo album this year, it floored me to hear what a great songwriter he’s become. “And You’re Always On” is more of a mesmerizing strut than most of the Zoltars material, and had me transfixed from the first time I heard it.
3. “My Me” – T. Hardy Morris
It’s the simplicity and earnestness of this song that always gets me. Every time the Dead Confed alum switches from minor to major key as the hook descends, pulling in that rich pedal steel with it, I damn near weep it’s so tight and pretty.
4. “Re Run Home” – Kamasi Washington
A banner year for the experimental jazz saxophonist, contributing to acclaimed albums from Kendrick Lamar and Thundercat (and last year, FlyLo). He also unleashed a sprawling triple-disc (!) debut, including this manic nugget of gold that opens the third disc. Bold, bright, textured, rhythmic; this is what jazz should sound like in 2015.
5. “High Rise” – Cross Record
This song caught me completely off guard when I first heard it. I was thinking, “oh a nice, dark, folksy tune,” and then BAM with the Pixies-style drum fill and piercing guitar. The duo’s new album, Wabi-Sabi, comes out early next year, and they live and record right around the corner at their studio and ranch in Dripping Springs, so I’m excited to see them perform around town.
Trina Quinn, M-TH 2-5p
1. “The Blacker the Berry” – Kendrick Lamar
The most important song of 2015.
2. “Hi-Line” – Heartless Bastards
Erika Wennerstrom is so Metal without even being Metal! Can’t wait to hear what she plays on her upcoming My KUTX set.
3. “What” – Broncho
A simple tune and I can’t stand still when I hear it! It’s so damn catchy. We’re going to hear it in a commercial soon.
4. “Take Me To A Party” – Sweet Spirit
Yay for upbeat songs about broken hearts! You’ll be singing that chorus in your sleep.
5. “Lisa Sawyer” – Leon Bridges
Step into the Leon Bridges time machine. I love the cadence of his wordy delivery and this throwback sound. Mom’s favorites are old R&B and soul, so it’s familiar, but fresh.
Matt Reilly, program director
1.”Give Me All Your Love” – Alabama Shakes
I love the turn this song takes in the middle. It’s a timeless sound and if you can’t dig it I can’t dig you.
2. “Speed Trap Town” – Jason Isbell
Absolutely heartbreaking. As I get older I understand songs like these more.
3. “If You Wanna” – Sweet Spirit
I want to go to Mexico! I want to go to Mexico!
4. “Mist and Shadow” – The Sword
Sabbath inspired metal from this Austin outfit whose new album was produced by Adrian Quesada. Mmmm… Sabbath inspired metal.
5. “Turned Out Light” – Thee Oh Sees
I love riff rock. This is an amazing riff that made me almost buy a Trans Am and do donuts in your front yard.
Jay Trachtenberg, M-TH 12-2p
1. “One” – Moving Panoramas
Austin all-women trio…that incessant, driving beat hooked me from the get-go.
2. “The Beigeness” – Kate Tempest
London poetess/playwright/author/rapper……….she blew me away at SXSW…..spoken word with electronic beats…….literate, conscious, intense!
3. “River” – Ibeyi
Twin Cuban/Parisian sisters whose beautiful harmonies evoke the spirit the ancients while keeping it fresh and modern.
4. “Earth Not Above” – Haelos
Title track from London band’s EP debut……….channels mid-90s trip hop for the 21st century.
5. “Luv Jones” – Charles Bradley (with LaRose Jackson)
“Screaming Eagle of Soul” tones it down to a slow, sultry simmer……Yeah, baby!
Taylor Wallace, Saturdays 11p-3a
1. “Buffalo” – Toro Y Moi
This is a go-to-song when someone at work or at the party inevitably points to you and says, “hey, put some music on.” It fills any dull room or vapid party with a groove that can only be resisted by those who aren’t into having fun.
2. “Trillo Talk” – Wild Child
Earlier this year, I broke off a 3.5-year relationship. Fast forward seven months, and Wild Child releases the most appropriate breakup record. Even though I never felt the need to grieve over my relationship, this song socks me hard in the feels. The feels of vindication.
3. “Thank God for Girls” – Weezer
Thank God for Rivers Cuomo. Since 2000, I find myself hard-pressed to love anything from Weezer as much as anything on Pinkerton (the sole exception being 2009’s “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”)). Then the world was bequeathed this tune: a song recognizing and celebrating women as strong riveters, salutary caretakers, and all the in-between things we do so well.
4. “Bump That Bass” – Holiday Mountain
Holiday Mountain went from a trio to a duo in 2015, but upped their ante on the weird (with much rejoicing on my part). With a slight change in sound, Holiday Mountain is ending 2015 by letting 2016 know that they’re here. Also the best music video of 2015 (bear > left shark).
5. “Wild Child” – Thunderbitch
All hail Brittany Howard, the Thunderbitch. If your favorite track on Alabama Shakes’ Sound and Color is “The Greatest,” this is the album you’ve been searching for. She took us all by storm and surprise by dropping this previously unmentioned album back in September, causing me to spend money on music faster than ever before. Named the 2015 “Powerhouse Woman in Music” by Billboard, Howard continues to be an inspiration, a revolutionary, and a soon-to-be Rock ‘n’ Roll icon and legend.