Kim Taylor Bennett. Falling over.
Here’s how 2015 started for me:
Go to bed at 8 AM in London on January 1. Get nudged awake at 2 PM by my friend Oli who says, “Kim, go catch your plane!” Get taken to Gatwick by my ex who helps me reorganize my two wildly overweight suitcases. He also provides me with his shoulder to cry on, which I use extensively. Get the shakes, vow never to fly on New Year’s Day again, sleep on the plane. I then land in New York at 9 PM to this text from my friend Jaimie who was supposed to be moving in that very day: “KIM WHERE ARE YOU SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAS HAPPENED.”
Yes, that’s right, all caps. While I’m still on the tarmac I learn that there was a fire in my apartment in Brooklyn around 7 AM on New Year’s Day. No one was hurt. Damage to the apartment? Status unknown. There are lots of hilarious, ridiculous, and tragic elements to this story, which I’ll spare you because this is supposed to be a round up of my year in music, not my personal life, but let it be known:
- The genesis of the situation started with a party at my place called “The Oracle.” Please note: I was unaware that this event was occurring.
- Halogen lamps are dangerous and ugly and should never be left on and unattended anywhere near a mattress.
So obviously this Christmas I’m traveling back to the UK again to visit my mom. I’ve booked a flight back on New Year’s Day! What a twat. But anyway—this year in music? Bananas! I’m only going to talk about the good stuff because being neggy is a bummer and, much like fellow editor Dan Ozzi decries End of Year lists every December, I say the same thing about Worst Of lists every year. As Weezer put it: Why Bother?
I’ve written a lot about my favorite albums and tracks already: Like The Cribs’ For All My Sisters and Alpine’s Yuck, both still awesome, and I’ve already gushed about longplayers by Carly Rae Jepsen, Tame Impala, Bieber, and Miguel, which are genuinely some of my favorite records this year. So here is a haphazard list of some artists I loved and some things I wrote and some pieces Noisey put out in 2015—organized with no rhyme or reason—below.
Best Sex Album
Miguel’s Wildheart. Duh. Obviously. If you want a critical analysis of this record then head over here where I wrote considerately about his musical raunch and dexterity. According to Spotify I streamed Miguel 252 times in the past 12 months. I like him a lot. So much so that one day I came to work, and, after eating one too many dumplings at lunch, sat in my desk chair like Miguel. Extremely casual. Then Dan Ozzi took a picture and it looked like this (above).
Article I Had the Hardest Time Writing
Hard to know where to start with this one. I first interviewed Julian Casablancas in 2001, in Brighton, England. I was the music editor of my student paper and it was The Strokes' first ever UK headline show, and although I've interviewed him sporadically in the intervening years, when Casablancas came out with his 2014 album with The Voidz, we decided to do a proper big Noisey cover on the whole shebang. The story, from our first interview to me getting it out the door and up online, took six months. Partially because it's hard to pin Casablancas down and partially because I had a tough time writing it. There was so much to fit in, so much history with the band, history between us, so much of The Strokes imprinted on the popular music culture, so much to try to unravel. I spent a lot of late nights tip-tapping. I spent a lot of time pushing Casablancas for more. But ultimately I'm really happy and proud of this piece (which wouldn't have ended up the way it did without my compatriots Kyle Kramer and Eric Sundermann to help me with perspective, amongst other things.) It's an honest portrayal of a difficult subject. And I think he's been more candid and real here than he's been in years. I'm glad it went up on Noisey.
Artist I’m Glad Exists
Next spring ANOHNI (formerly Anthony Hegarty) will release her album Hopelessness, a collaboration with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never and if the first single they dropped is anything to go by, it’s going to be fucking awesome. And I hate writing swear words. “4 DEGREES” is a protest song and every tune on the LP will plough a similar lyrical furrow. I was lucky enough to snag the first interview with her about this new project and we talked about everything from the US government’s lack of transparency, to personal culpability for the environmental crisis, to the American media’s bafflement tactics when delivering news, and much, much more. I’m stoked that there are still artists keen to challenge and question and look at the world and themselves critically while making kickass music. Thanks ANOHNI.
Interview I Perspired in Most Heavily
Madonna. I interviewed Madonna. The first artist I ever saw in concert way back in 1987. So yeah you can imagine, when you have a slim 20 minutes of one-on-one time with the Queen of Pop, you’re gonna sweat bullets. Pretty much the only thing I was thinking while we posed, and posed again, and again was, “Madonna is nestled in my armpit and that armpit is sweaty." NB: we took about 12 pictures before she settled on one she liked—one where she's not under my arm—and obviously she deleted all the bad ones. I also feel like I should apologize to Madonna I feel oddly responsible for the Drake-Coachella-kiss debacle. I feel like I planted the seed in our interview. Sorry Madge.
Article I Shed the Most Tears Over
I feel like I’ve written a variation of the following sentences at least 10 times in the past month: “In late 2013 Benjamin Curtis, one half of School of Seven Bells, passed away after a ten-month battle with T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. He was 35.” It gives immediate context to where School of Seven Bells are at—they were a once inseparable duo, in music and in love and in friendship, and now singer Alejandra Deheza is unmoored, moving through grief, and creating once again. School of Seven Bells’ final album, SVIIB, will be released this coming February, so I got in touch with Alley to talk about the last of their material, but more than that, we talked about Benjamin, about their relationship, and his affect on people, and how it was that they came together and fell apart in one sense, but remained together in every other.
I was blown away not only by Alley’s candor, but also by their story. In all the sadness of his untimely passing, her talking about Benjamin was an amazing reminder of the power of love (yes that's right Huey). It made me feel optimistic and their upcoming album is unequivocally my favorite collection from their catalogue. While pulling together the article—You’ll Fall In Love Again: The Story of School of Seven Bells—I cried while talking to Alley, I cried privately while listening to the record, I teared up a bit when I interviewed Benjamin’s friends and family, and when the piece was finally published, I cried when our mutual friends reached out to share more memories of him with me and to tell me how much they loved the piece. My favorite memory of Benjamin is also the last time I saw him: I was over at his manager Ryan Gentles’ apartment one evening in early December 2012 and a bunch of us sat round in front of the fire playing Cranium. It was a pretty standard game night—a lot of drinking and laughter and high fives. I was on a team with Benjamin and my little sister and we totally annihilated the competition. An inconsequential memory I guess, but I’m glad I have it all the same.
Best Use of a Vacuum Cleaner in a Video
Noonie Bao really came out of nowhere for me. A songwriter who's penned tunes for Charli XCX and Rita Ora, she's also been putting out solo stuff for a minute, but none of it is in the same league as "I'm In Love": the perfect storm of Scandi-pop and highlife guitars and a video that's very, uh, what??? I tried doing this move at home with my vacuum cleaner while dancing to Carly Rae and it ended in disaster and a self-inflicted, accidental bald patch. Oops.
Song That Makes Me Feel A-OK Even When Life Sucks
Day Wave first started making waves (sorry) on Soundcloud earlier this year, a skinny kid from Oakland with puppy dog eyes and knack for the happy-sad melody. Yes, it’s very Drums, and yes the actual drums can be very Is This It-era Fabrizio, but what’s wrong with that exactly? NOTHING. Everything that he’s released this so far—his Headcase EP and the Come Home 7-inch—is designed to make you feel divine even if you're disonsolate and “Drag” is peak Day Wave.
The Artist I Most Enjoyed Watching Live
Christine and the Queens was hands down my favorite discovery of 2015. I talked to her after her first ever US show at SXSW and found her to be utterly charming, and her live show and music—check out her eponymous debut album now—even more so. It's a very louche kind of pop, theatrical in parts but never trying too hard. She's an entertainer, joking with the audience, pulling them in. She sings in both English and French, flanked by elastic-limbed Vogue dancers, herself gliding across the stage like a young Michael Jackson in ankle-exposing menswear. This combined with her phenomenal voice and pop nous makes her one of the finest artists to emerge from this year's fray. Watch her full live set above.
Speaking of Christine, a London-based gentleman called Michael Lovett contributed some excellent bass maneuverings on her debut album, but when he's not doing that, or playing keys and whatnot with Metronomy, he has a solo project called NZCA Lines. It's been a minute or three years since the last album, but his second effort is coming in 2016. First single "Persephone Dreams" is an excellent tease. An analog-synth wet dream with steel drum accompaniment, and a video that features a black hole babe. There she is with a devouring galaxy of emptiness on the inside. We've all been there.
Best Second Single
"The One" by 19 year old London-based singer Dua Lipa. Sigh. The way her husky voice cracks the teensiest bit on the high notes. The synths. The hypnotic beat that runs the entire song. This playful run-all-around-LDNtown-video. This is only her second official song and I’m already obsessed. And envious of her brows.
Song I Really Love But Am Sort of Irritated by Too
It’s incredible given the Drake “Hotline Bling” overkill that this song still stands up. Especially as the lyrics, which Kat George thoughtfully ripped apart in her essay—Who Is Pop Music’s Good Girl and How Do We Get Rid of Her?—are the tip of Drake’s rather irritating perpetuation of a type. But this tropi-yacht-pop-booty-call song is a chill banger. Kyle Kramer wrote about it much more eloquently on Noisey’s Top 50 Tracks of the Year list, so I’d head over and read that.
Most Accomplished Second Record
Purity Ring's sophomore effort, Another Eternity, was the soundtrack to the first quarter of my year—a sparkling, catchy collection of weirdo synth-pop—although it's distinctly less weird than their first. It's Purity Ring, but bigger, shinier, and insanely high-def. From the TNGHT-angled "Stranger Than Earth" with its trap-like booms, to the house-y synth stabs of "Begin Again," to the quivering frequencies of "Push Pull," the Canadian duo really crushed it here.
Series I Most Enjoyed Hosting
This is a slight tangent because it’s a film show that’s over on Vice.com, but in the past year I’ve interviewed some really incredible people for VICE Talks Film (and VICE Meets)—like director Gaspar Noé, documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer, Benicio del Toro, and my personal favorite, Kevin Bacon! But back in April, not long after I caught the electric screening of the film at SXSW, I spoke with Brett Morgan about his Kurt Cobain doc Montage of Heck—undoubtedly the most hotly anticipated music doc of the past decade. Watch the video above for some interesting insights into Cobain, his upbringing, C Love, and more.
Best Video Which Features Both Oral Sex and Basketball
"Yes I'm Changing" is my favorite song off Tame Impala's third record Currents, but the video for "The Less I Know the Better," directed by CANADA (you know the guys who did El Guincho's "Bombay"), features all the best things in life!
1. Oral sex
4. Choreography with a gorilla
5. A love interest who looks like Sissy Spacek
6. And the song is obviously incredible too. That bass line alone. Kevin Parker, I don't say this often, but you are a genius.
Best Throwback Song That Isn't a Throwback
Ronnie Vanucci Jr.—The Killers' drummer—released his second solo album this year under the moniker Big Talk. The album's called Straight In No Kissing, which is also the best LP title of the year incidentally, and "Animal Husband" is definitely the best song from it. It's Springsteen gone sparkly 80s power pop. Thanks Vanucci.
Best Classic Band Revisited and Adored
What's up Steely Dan! I know everyone was kind of mocking Spotify's Year In Music app which broke down your listening habits of the year, but I found it quite useful. As I mentioned before, Miguel was number one, followed by Carly Rae, Bieber, Tame Impala, Blur, and Steely Dan. Yup, Steely Dan. Noisey's Guide to Steely Dan was a big hit back circa Coachella, when we had the music man behind Night Works break down exactly why these 70s rock stars still rule today. Also, I had no idea they were named after a steam-powered dildo. I don't really understand how that might work but it sounds dangerous. I have to go listen to "Dirty Work" again. BRB.
Best Perfectly Knowing Video
Josef Salvat, the Aussie-born, London-based pop crooner is finally dropping his debut album in the early months of next year! Finally. I've been relentlessly pressing repeat on the few tracks of his that exist in the ether since "Till I Found You" broke my heart and put it back together again in 2014. "Open Season" was his big single from 2015 and the above video strikes an excellent balance between cheeky, knowing, and stylish.
Artist I Can't Believe I Never Saw Live Until a Few Weeks Ago
Grimes live. Holy cow. Hair whipping like Bey, bounding all over the stage like a tween after one too many Skittles, giggly-cute, but utterly assured, Grimes stunned. Even with the flu. And she didn't even play my favorite song off Art Angels, "Flesh without Blood," which is Cyndi Lauper-like perfection. Read Emma Garland's extensive Noisey profile on her.
Earlier this month I came home after dinner and danced around my apartment with my roommate for three hours to Blur and Bieber. Just Blur and Bieber. I don’t know what came over me. (Alcohol.) Anyways, Blur returned this year with their first album since Think Tank and honestly, I really didn’t think they’d ever release another record ever. I thought they might just keep doing greatest hits sets around the world until Alex James keeled over from drinking too much fizz. And yet here we are with The Magic Whip which is fantastic—a combination of spry, wonky, old school Blur (“Go Out,” “Lonesome Street”) and Gorillaz-leaning polished pop (“Ghost Ship,” “Ice Cream Man”). This year I watched them at Music Hall of Williamsburg and Madison Square Garden, and although I enjoyed both shows, seeing them at MSG made me miss their performances in the UK. Their lyrics are so deeply embedded in the culture of that small grey isle, there's nothing that goosebumps the skin faster than seeing the band tear it up on their home turf (check out the above video of them live at Hyde Park in 2009). I recently called up Dave Rowntree, Blur's much underrated drummer and renaissance man, and made him Rank Blur's Records, which was not only informative (man, England in the 90s: what a time to be alive), but also very funny too.
Best Question Tweeted
Thank you Jessica Hopper for opening up the conversation about sexism in music.
Best Week on Noisey
2005 Week of course! 'Cos nostalgia is funnnn and 10 years ago indie became a serious force to be reckoned with, or was it indie rock’s death knell? Check out Lizzy Goodman’s essay Losing Our Edge: 2005, The Year the Mainstream Hijacked Indie Rock for a comprehensive take. As part of 2005 week, Dan Ozzi and I also spent some time rewatching Garden State. And then Dan wrote this article about how 2005 was the year we realized GS was as deep as a puddle and Zach Braff read the piece and got super weepy about it. Awkward.
Band Who Also Survived a Fire in 2015
My fire is nothing compared to the fire that decimated three full apartment blocks in the East Village, one of which just happened to be the home of Public Access TV. Luckily they were all the way on the West Coast when the gas explosion tore through their spot. This is what happened. May there be altogether less fires in 2016. Amen.
Kim Taylor Bennett tired of looking back on 2015. Bring on the new year and follow her on Twitter.