SONGS

DCMD’s Top 20 D.C. Songs of 2015

By D.C. Music Download | Best of 2015 Lists, Features

Continuing on our “best of” coverage is the top D.C. songs list of 2015. This is always our most difficult (but also fun) list to put together–before making our final selections we spent weeks carefully curating and writing our thoughts behind our final picks. Similar to prior years, this list isn’t in any sort of particular order–with so many different genres and sounds represented below, it would be impossible to do so. We’re stoked to finally share our favorite songs of the year and hope you enjoy looking back with us on some of the great tunes that’ve come from D.C.!

Also check out our Best Concerts Photos of 2015 list

 

“Afrikaner Barista”–Beauty Pill

What I found most interesting about Beauty Pill’s return performance with Paperhaus in early September was the way in which they could mix elements of physical and synthetic, mainly in their reliance on both electric guitars and esoteric instrumentation. “Afrikaner Barista” is a perfect example of these elements, a track characterized initially by a bluesy shuffle and a basis in physical drums and piano, but slowly devolves into eclectic static and drum machine accents. By the end of the track, as brass solos and a trumpet layers syncopate with industrial synths, Beauty Pill takes it all out until we’re just left with Chad Clarke’s mystical repetition of the words, “here again” as it all fades to black. By this measure, “Afrikaner” is one of Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are’s standout tracks, and its synthesis of alternative rock and electronica is to be lauded as a standout of this year’s releases. –Connor McInerney

 

“Fire”–Louis Weeks

In 2014, Louis Weeks released his debut album shift/away that affirmed his place as one of the area’s top producers. The record set a high bar for his next album, haha, but Weeks was able to pull it off effortlessly thanks to songs like “Fire” that attest to his unmatched creative prowess. “Fire” illuminates with sparkling synths and thundering drums that roar with an orchestral-like sound. When Weeks released the song in March, it was clear that haha was an album that should be on everyone’s year-end list. –Stephanie Williams

 

“Tiles”–Swings

In his long and admired career, James Brown was referred to as the hardest working man in show business due in part to his awe-striking live shows and his ability to churn out hits like an assembly line. This year, Swings have earned the right to be called one of the hardest working bands in show business. The D.C. trio entered 2015 with their self-released sedately-poetic full-length debut, Detergent Hymns. Then, in an act which defies logic, struck gold again some ten months later with Sugarwater, put out by indie Shangri-La harbingers Exploding in Sound. Sugarwater’s lead-off single “Tiles” retains all the lovely and laconic downtempo arrangements found on Detergent Hymns. “Tiles” begins with pretty peels of clean guitar but then cooly needle scratches the record, with schizophrenic jilts and scraps of auto-tuned vocals. Here’s to another year of great bands not playing it safe. –Jamie Robash

 

“Temptation”–Stronger Sex 

D.C. doesn’t make a lot of music that I would consider “epic,” and I’m glad most of our lovable punk-influenced bands tend toward relatable and fuzzy, yet endearing music. But “Temptation” by Stronger Sex is the rare snack that manages to pull off a grandiose, dramatic sound while avoiding pretension and having a ton of fun.

The song’s extravagant sounds include deep synths, organs and drum machines that together feel like the perfect blend of classic rock and alien-industrial music. And when paired with clever, biting lyricism the track becomes an unlikely anthem for both self-righteousness and self-loathing. It’s been out since January, so give it a listen if you haven’t already. I guarantee you’ll be belting along with Johnny Fantastic’s “who’s gonna save my ass from walking on broken glass” in no time. –Lindsay Hogan

 

“History”–Kokayi feat. Mikki

Under a compilation album that House Studio put out this year, D.C. virtuoso Kokayi unveiled his feel-good single “History” featuring singer Mikki. The song is one of those precious moments where we get to hear Kokayi’s impressive vocal chops take center stage as he takes “History” to new heights. By the end, you’ll find yourself singing along and bobbing your head to the song’s infectious, bouncing beat.–Jenna Robinson

 

“Friends Who Know”–Soccer Team

Veteran D.C. band Soccer Team made a big return in 2015 with their album Real Lessons In Cynicism, released via Dischord Records in OctoberIt’s their first full-length record in nearly 10 years, but Soccer Team managed to come back stronger than ever with their latest release. “Friends Who Know” exemplifies the smart, straightforward indie rock that can be found on their 14-song album. It keeps its laidback, temperate sound the entire way through, which hypothetically could seem monotonous after some time, but there’s such an entrancing element to Ryan Nelson and Melissa Quinley’s vocals that keeps you hooked to the bitter end.–Jenna R

 

“Delta”–Flavor Waster

After D.C. hardcore outfit Caverns disbanded, their two former members Kevin Hilliard and Patrick Taylor began putting together a completely different sort of project, intending to get away from the more spastic environs they had traversed with Caverns. The pair eventually morphed into a quintet with the addition of vocalist Jodi Jones, drummer Martin MacAlister, and multi-instumentalist Ryan Burke.

Their lead single, “Delta” was the first introduction to their debut It’s Always Sunny When You’re Cool. With “Delta,” Flavor Waster wasted no time in proving themselves as a worthy accoutrement to the D.C. scene. “Delta” packs punchy tribal beats and wiry guitars over which Jones softens with her gently introspective, choir-like vocals. But don’t be fooled, “Delta” is by no means lighthearted. As it is propelled forward, there are dark industrial interludes and hardcore-inspired drum fills, which the careful listener will notice are placed there with orchestral precision. –Jamie R

 

“Blue”–Polyon

In 2015, D.C. trio Polyon managed to release not one but two great EPs. Their Three Songs EP in March was a solid debut for the band, but Blue stood out as one of my favorite releases of the year. Polyon take their influence from the ’90s grunge and sludge rock bands of years past and puts their own distinct stamp on both genres, cultivating an otherworldly space-rock sound that makes “Blue” such a fun listen. –Jenna R

 

“Team”–Babeo Baggins feat. Babenstein and Babe Simpson

Aside from starting the Tumblr-born rap collective Barf Troop, Babeo Baggins also found success with her mixtape Posi+ive that boasted collaborations with names like Childish Gambino. As Baggins was going through some dark moments in her life, she channeled her frustrations into something more uplifting for her 11-song release. On one of the record’s best tracks, “Team,” Baggins enlists the help of Barf Troop’s Babenstein and Babe Simpson as they serve up one fiery dig after another at their critics who’ve ever doubted their skills. —Jenna R

 

“Sun’s Early Rays”–The Max Levine Ensemble 

While The Max Levine Ensemble’s most recent release Backlash, Baby has only been out since the end of Nov., I’ve been bumping “Sun’s Early Rays” and its sweet pop-punk vibes since its well-produced, narrative music video came out in October. Perhaps fitting with its doomsday-inspired video and the pairing of major and minor chords that creates a dramatic tension in the music, “Sun’s Early Rays” has been one of those spine-tingling earworms that, along with the rest of TMLE’s music, represent some of the best qualities of the DMV scene in 2015; it is both infectious in its melody and serious in nature. Well-produced and driving, the somewhat cryptic nature of frontman David Combs’ lyrics are both catchy and haunting. Only The Max Levine Ensemble could package the notion of “patiently awaiting disaster” in a way that has such replay value and is not completely depressing. –CM

 

“Pattern Matching”–Stranger in the Alps

Steve Kolowich’s joyous, playful wordplay is what makes this song great. Witty quips like “Metaphysical trainer/told me I’m weak in the knees,” “I told the circular saw/I ain’t cut out for this,” and “I’ve got the whole sky in front of me/But I ain’t free/I’m pattern matching” never fail to make me appreciate the gift that clever, well-thought lyrics can be. The music isn’t bad, either. A swift, pattering beat, sunny slide guitar, and light, plaintive fingerpicking all mirror the playfulness of the lyrics and make for a pleasant listen on a long Sunday afternoon drive. –Gregory Ayers

 

“Opposite Directions”Makeshift Shelters

It’s interesting to think about how big Makeshift Shelters could had been if they opted to stick around. In their infancy, the few songs they had on their Bandcamp page were still just as polished and impassioned compared to their recent work–from the get-go, they were on the fast-track to becoming one of D.C.’s most promising new bands. Eventually they were able to release an album before breaking up for good, with one of my favorite tracks being “Opposite Directions,” which displays that unfiltered emotional intensity that I first fell in love with. –Jenna R

 

“Big Day”–More Humans

One of the first D.C. bands I covered for DCMD was More Humans, who released their EP Demon Station a little over four years ago. Compared to Demon Station, Hot Cloud shows the band exploring new sonic territory and not confining themselves to one cohesive sound.  The fruits of their labor, like their standout track “Big Day,” ended up being some of the best rock music to be released this year from D.C..–SW

 

“Melt”–Young Rapids

Young Rapids is a band that consistently delivers quality music–from their 2012 album Day Light Savings to their most recent album Pretty Ugly, the quartet’s dedication to their craft is admirable. More so, they’ve also improved their songwriting quite a bit between these two releases. For Pretty Ugly, Young Rapids dove deeper to explore heavier topics, enhanced their overall production quality and made a substantial effort to experiment with various soundscapes for their new record. Highlights like “Melt” never get tiresome to listen to, even after multiple plays. —Jenna R

 

“Steven & Tiwonge”–Beauty Pill 

Beauty Pill crammed an unbelievable amount of storytelling into their three-and-a-half-minute song, “Steven & Tiwonge.” It details the actual events of a couple in Malawi who were jailed for their sexuality. But instead of turning this into a political song, Beauty Pill used this intense anecdote as a backdrop to a lyrical study of duality in relationships.

Steven and Tiwonge are each given their own verse to narrate their attempted escape from imprisonment. Repeated listens uncover their subtly dueling perspective and cleverly demonstrate how different personalities respond to crisis. It’s a heartbreaking song, not only for the tragedy of their situation, but for the tiny empathetic details, the indecision and the doubt. –LH

 

“Coltun’s Pinky Crusher”–Les Rhinocéros

The sonic freakout that is “Coltun’s Pinky Crusher” was one of the most memorable songs of the year. It’s a gritty, spazzed-out single from Les Rhinocéros’ latest album, Les Rhinocéros III, that’s a completely unpredictable first-listen the entire way through, mashing up punk with worldly sounds, off-kilter loops and a bunch of other crazy effects that’ll nearly make your head explode…with joy.–SW

 

“Gimmie Mine”–Heavy Breathing

Throughout rock music’s brief history, there has never been a shortage of prodigious frontmen and women who possess that certain mystique which lures audiences into their favor.  Over time, the best of them have possessed a combination of snake charmer vocals and an offbeat stage presence. After several failed attempts to find a singer of such ilk, the three former members of The Apes who form the self-described “robo-psych” outfit Heavy Breathing opted for the instrumental approach, substituting found sounds and mutilated audio clips to work in place of vocals. In the short amount of time allowed for retrospect, it’s impossible to imagine a song like “Gimmie Mine,” a kaleidoscopic fugue of tribal-beats, wild synths and hazy guitars, scattered with echoing and indistinct vocal samples.  In the end, “Gimmie Mine” won’t leave you wanting.  –Jamie R

 

“Living as a Ghost”–GEMS

When Lindsay Pitts sings in the chorus that she’s “living as a ghost/living in a dream,” I believe her because the block of synths she sings over is so thick her melody can’t help but float behind them, lost in the sound. The words are nearly drowned out. It’s a beautiful mix of emotion and craft, a My Bloody Valentine-esque fever dream realized not in distortion but on the dance floor. –GA

 

“Unique”–GoldLink ft. Anderson .Paak

D.C. MC GoldLink hit another milestone in Nov. after releasing his debut album, And After That, We Didn’t Talk. The soulfully-delectable song “Unique” flaunts a bright and bouncy production, complete with a slick guest appearance from Anderson .Paak, a rising name who recently worked with Dr. Dre on his new album. It also presents an opportunity for listeners to hear GoldLink’s singing at work. –SW

 

“Crosshairs”–Hemlines 

It feels like in this day and age, most bands tend to play it safe when it comes to making music. Rarely do you come across a band like feminist punk rockers Hemlines who challenge issues head-on in such an impactful, fearless way. Their song “Crosshairs” soars with blazing guitar riffs and Katie Park’s vocals that build up with unwavering vehemence as the song powers forward. It’s one of the empowering songs from their latest EP, All Your Homes, that you should get acquainted with if you haven’t had the chance to give it a listen–Jenna R

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