Christmas Mix List: Top 7 Songs Of 2015

(Pictured: Yekaterina Golubeva in Leos Carax’s Pola X)

golubeva (edit)

This year was as challenging emotionally as it was musically. Although I heard a lot of good music not as much of it stuck with me or had a personal resonance. I ultimately chose songs that were the most honest about the state I was in, eliminating others that I appreciated in a critical way- among them FKA’s “Figure 8,” Crystal Castles’ “Deicide” and Majical Cloudz’s “Your Eyes” (if you’re curious, you’re curious).

The result is a list that’s much shorter and contemplative. It reflects the time that has passed. I’ve worked, maintained my relationships, read good books, written, created new things and found comfort among favorites both old (MST3K, Grey Gardens) and new (Pola X, Mad Max).

All seven songs are available here (via Box). Simply click to download and add them to your library.

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01 stonemilker

1) Björk – “Stonemilker”

For most of the year the only song I had on this list was “Stonemilker,” the opening track of Björk’s devastating break-up album, Vulnicura. It’s impressive for its artistry alone, but its subject matter is just as striking. Writer Moze Halperin noted, “As she did in ‘Hyperballad,’ she stands over an emotional cliff, now wondering if her lover will prevent her from finding out what her body will sound like ‘slamming against those rocks.’ Given what she reveals immediately in the liner notes, we know he won’t — didn’t.”

A few days later Björk revealed the cover art for Vulnicura‘s CD/LP release (see above), which made Halperin’s description all the more appropriate and visceral. Upon seeing it I realized that the song didn’t only impress me, but was speaking for me. This was a year of mourning life-long relationship changes that were as violent as a break-up. Fortunately there were places to go and people willing to help after getting up from my own fall, and most of their advice harkened back to the song: “Show me emotional respect.”

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02 flatlands

2) Chelsea Wolfe – “Flatlands”

This year Wolfe released the sonically heavy, metal-influenced Abyss, which I liked quite a bit, but found myself returning to “Flatlands,” a track from her 2012 album, Unknown Rooms: A Collection Of Acoustic Songs. I had listened to this live favorite changing lyrically and sonically until it reached this final incarnation. I always felt it summed up a part of my life philosophy.

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03 love

3) Mica Levi – “Love”

After putting it off for months I finally sat down and watched Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin. I had low expectations but it blew me away, not only as a horror film but as an interpretation of the female experience. It is also the first film Scarlett Johansson performance I’ve enjoyed since Ghost World (2001).

Mica Levi’s score was a strong component of the experience, stretching and altering notes until they become alarming or nauseating. In the midst of my depression I confided to a friend that this kind of music summed up how I was feeling- floating, disconnected and alien. Months later I still can’t think of a better way to describe that time, but was grateful to find something to help me articulate it.

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04 unfucktheworld

4) Angel Olsen – “Unfucktheworld”

“It’s not just me for you
I have to look out too
I have to save my life
I need some peace of mind

I am the only one now
I am the only one now
I am the only one now
You may not be around
You may not be around”

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05 avril 14th reversed music not audio

5) Aphex Twin – “Avril 14th Reversed Music Not Audio”

Richard D. James surprised fans when he released slews of unreleased tracks on his Soundcloud page (now removed) including two new takes on “Avril 14th,” a favorite off of Drukqs (2001). One of them, “Avril Altdelay,” became one of Pitchfork’s “Best New Tracks” nearly a year later. The other intrigued me all the more, in which James plays “Avril 14th” backwards note by note, creating something just as lovely as the original.

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06 the cold song

6) Klaus Nomi – “The Cold Song”

Another version of “The Cold Song” made my list for last year, which led me to exploring Klaus Nomi’s music and life. I was effected and kind of heartbroken by the brevity of his story, but while he was part of the New York scene he shone like a comet. There was no one who looked or sounded like him and that remains the case today. His voice and look are singular; his songs somewhere between opera and avant-garde pop, his look a marriage of Weimar cabaret and the future.

Nomi’s career was brief and somewhat later in life before dying of AIDS in 1983, back when the disease was still considered “Gay Cancer.” Most of his friends were too terrified or self-involved to visit him. Of all of his original works and opera arias “The Cold Song” remains a favorite, enough to repeat its placement here. It’s also worth viewing his last performance of the aria in Munich, which he performed six months before his death.

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07 observatory mansions

7) Nicole Dollanganger – “Observatory Mansions”

If I had my way, a large chunk of Dollanganger’s work would make up this list. I’ve only been aware of her for a few months but her skills as a vocalist, producer and songwriter have quickly propelled her to the all-time favorites category. Her songs remind me of the slowcore confessionals of Lisa Germano and Stina Nordenstam, only a generation behind (or taking the torch).

Dollanganger’s songs are not for the faint of heart. The subject matter is as delicate as it is dire, with references to infanticide, starvation, fisting and various forms of death. In fact, death hangs like a cloud over all of Dollanganger’s work like the scent of old books and effluvium, but there is a transcendent quality that makes it all the more gorgeous. What’s more, the songs are autobiographical. “I would say 90% of the time it’s from things that I’ve experienced,” Dollanganger acknowledged in an interview with Noisey.

In the case of “Observatory Mansions,” it’s the refrain that has put it here (“Heal me up again…”). Both Dollanganger and I have tragic backstories and been knocked down many times. This song is a prayer for those who are on the verge of getting up and trying again.

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Happy Holidays to all. Until next year…

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