Writing about music can be a weird job. At The FADER we work to identify trends and champion rule-breakers, but the way everyone experiences a special song is ultimately personal. So as we round off the year, here are a few moments in music that really hit us hard. We’re not saying this was the best stuff, but it defined where we were.
This spring, I moved to New York to work at The FADER. It was the sixth time in 10 years that I’ve Marie Kondo-ed my life and started fresh, with new bars to become a regular at and new friends to do it with. It’s harder to disentangle yourself from your phone number and your postal code the older you get, and this time it took me months to update the signature on my personal email. Even now, there are moments after I wake up when I don’t know what city I’m in. In response, I’ve found safe harbor in nostalgia, always looking for the few constants that can thread my jigsaw of a life together. I spend hours on YouTube looking for grainy old clips of my favorite college bands playing in shitty venues, or rereading the acknowledgements pages of books I once loved.
Late in the summer, I became obsessed with an album I hadn’t listened to since 2002—P. Diddy & Bad Boy Records’ We Invented The Remix. I couldn’t find it anywhere. It’s not on iTunes, Spotify, TIDAL. Eventually, after weeks of hunting, I claimed it on eBay for $20. I realized I’ve been listening to Puff’s adlibs—a-ha, a-ha, take that, take that—for close to two decades, like he’s some old friend who pops up once in a while. Flipping on my headphones’ noise-canceling switch and playing songs the rest of the world has forgotten has felt strangely empowering, like standing on the right side of a two-way mirror. On a late subway ride home when everyone else is drunk, or at work when conversations rage on around me, it’s just Puff and I, still here after all these years. Take that.—RAWIYA KAMEIR
It’s become inconvenient that I’m not sure when I started dating my boyfriend, because the question of how long we’ve been together comes up a lot. The answer is something like six years. In 2015, we both achieved some things we’ve been working toward, independently, for a while. I’m proud of him and proud of myself. I’ve also realized that I don’t know what I want to happen next, which is an exciting feeling but also a scary one. Maybe that’s why I’m devastated by the certitude of Rich Homie Quan’s “Take My Hand,” a really happy song about marriage, from April. The hook is an ecstatic scream: Baby let’s get marriiiiieeeed/ I’m gonna give you a child/ Take my hand, I’ma take yours too. On the second verse the beat falls away and Quan’s at his best, hoarse and clear, saying Hate to see you sad at me. It should be said that this fairy tale has been partially unraveled by real life, in this year where a surfaced Quan song contained lyrics about rape—he apologized—and another seemed to reveal he’d slept with his cousin. But even disregarding all of that, this song’s conviction is so hopeful and so cruel. The overwhelming love it pictures is familiar and lovely to me, but it’s nothing like my relationship, which is reasonable and still being figured out.
After that song gave me a rush, other things happened. I enjoyed so much music this year, and keep remembering and forgetting what I liked. That guitar string scratch on “FourFiveSeconds” after Kanye says If I go to jail tonight. Jacquees’ background yodel on “Amazing.” When Wiki was on stage with Skepta, and how Kacey Musgraves’ childlike assurance that no one can be everyone’s “Cup of Tea” helped me cope with the inherent discomfort of managing people. One night in August, Jamie xx played a Boiler Room set in Brooklyn. Vic Mensa was there and so was Kelefa Sanneh; Mary H.K. Choi was wearing sweat-proof pants. Before Young Thug arrived to perform his “Good Times” verse, Jamie DJed. The room was small, like a Greenpoint living room. Standing at the back, unable to see over the person in front of me, I heard the opening notes of “Hold Yuh,” one of my all-time favorites, and shouted into Mary’s ear that I’d never heard this version, which sounded wonkily perfect, like it was recorded live. Later that night, I realized that Gyptian himself had actually been onstage performing. Then it was November and, looking back, I remembered the Quan song, and thought again that it makes marriage seem rewarding. But now, when I feel uncertain about the future and get a little upset about that, I think about that Jamie xx party and how during most good times, you don’t know you’re having them.—NAOMI ZEICHNER
Duncan's wedding playlist bombed.
I got married this past summer at an old house in rural France, and spent much of the month leading up to it working on a big eight-hour playlist—a single soundtrack spanning from our low-key ceremony with its Lorrie Moore readings to the night’s final song. It was nice to save money we’d otherwise have spent on a random countryside band or DJ, and heartwarming to pause at different points in the day and notice, at our actual wedding, so many personal deep cuts. When people showed up it was Bill Evans’ “Peace Piece.” Cocktails were over Blake Mills and Hawaiian slack key guitar. As the sun went down over dinner on the lawn, Lewis’ “I Thought the World of You” warbled tipsily into Alex G.
Maybe to you this sounds painfully twee, in which case, you probably also wouldn’t like my plan for the night’s dancing: old soul music. Around 10 p.m., my laptop started in with Aaron Neville and Al Green—but it soon became apparent that 96 was way too dignified of a BPM for such an occasion. People were tired and wine-drunk; it was go in or go home. “Can you just put on Unicorn Kid?” my just-become-wife whispered, and I did. We did a hardstyle dance we taught ourselves off YouTube seven years ago, and I felt really, really lucky.—DUNCAN COOPER
This past May, exactly three years after college graduation, I rented a big house on Lake Tahoe with 10 friends from school. The day before we got there, Jamie xx released “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” a song featuring Young Thug and Popcaan from his In Colour LP. With its prominent soul sample and unshakeable optimism, it sounded like something from The Big Chill soundtrack re-imagined for a post-everything palette, and was sort of a no-brainer choice for the trip’s official theme song. We listened to it a lot, like multiple times a day, but it was in no way the only memorable music moment from the trip. For example, when we pulled into the driveway of the house for the first time, we played “Africa” by Toto as loud as it would go, and there was an impromptu sing-a-long to Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One” the next morning before breakfast. My friend Pat taught himself the great, John Carpenter-esque It Follows theme song and played it on the creepy-sounding, kid-friendly keyboard he found lying around the house. And on one night, driving home from some dive-y watering hole, we listened to “Love and Death,” a beautiful, bittersweet song by Ghanaian artist Ebo Taylor. It was real dark out, but you could catch glimpses of the moonlight-specked water between pine trees as we cruised around the perimeter of the lake. At eight minutes, it’s a long song. But that night, it wasn’t long enough.
Some other moments: watching Girlpool win over the crowd at the Waxahatchee show in April. Being way too sick to see Arca and Total Freedom DJ the opening party for Bjork’s MoMA show, but going anyway. Singing along to “Family Is Family” by Kacey Musgraves with my country-loving big sister. Catching Skepta in a jam-packed sweatbox under the J train. Listening to Primus in the car with Daniel Lopatin while reporting the Oneohtrix Point Never feature. Too-good-to-be-true live sets from Total Control, Amnesia Scanner, Sheer Mag, and probably a lot more that I'm forgetting. What a time to be...—PATRICK D. MCDERMOTT
Over the past few years, very irregularly and on a whim, I have made recordings on my phone. It started with the almost electrical buzz of a cemetery full of crickets in Pittsburgh during a visit to VIA Festival in 2011. Over the following couple of years there was a dramatically soundtracked car journey through winding forest roads in Bulgaria, exultant birdsong on a porch in upstate New York, and the gentle lap of a fjord in Oslo, Norway. I am very far from a field recording fanatic, and I didn't have a use for the recordings. I just wanted them. Playing them back, I realized why: like scent, certain sounds can be a shortcut to memory. They act as little time-space machines, instantly transporting me back inside the moment it was recorded; an audio secret diary only I can decipher.
2015 was, for a multitude of reasons, a grind. It took a trip to Cape Cod in August to hit the reset button: sea water heals mind, body, and soul. In the process, I remembered about the recorder on my phone and went wild. I caught crashing waves punctuated by the call of indignant seagulls on Nauset beach at sunset, the nightly chorus of insects in the garden of the cottage I was staying in, and a life-affirming torrent of rain on the one overcast day of the week. This time though, instead of homing them on my Soundcloud page, I was taught how to load them into an Octatrack, an ingenious piece of gear that can hold a billion samples and allows you to compose with them. I built crude loops and stitched them together, and I listened with delight as the beginnings of a track emerged. My interest paused there; I don't have anything close to the patience required to be a producer. But I’ll go into 2016 with a renewed appreciation for those who spend their lives shaping memories into music.—RUTH SAXELBY
Owen had a moment with Sufjan Stevens in the Australian rainforest.
This spring I visited Cairns, a Northern Australian town with a tropical climate and a bad attitude. You wouldn’t want to sit outside at night, because of screeching bats and swarming midges, so I spent the evenings with movies in my motel room. I watched the Disney family movie musical Enchanted, which was one of the last things I’d joked about with someone who’d passed away. The movie was sweet! As the Carrie Underwood theme song played over the end credits I felt sad, but also grateful to have known him, even though I never really knew him that well.
That week, I took a day trip to the rainforest. On an old wooden railway travelling through the mountains, putting on music didn’t feel right, so I listened to the clacking of the train’s wheels and the hum of its engine. The destination turned out to be signposted and landscaped like a theme park attraction; I bought an iced coffee. Walking away from the main strip, I went off the edge of the map I’d been handed at the ticket kiosk earlier into the wet, hot rainforest. I remember thinking how the foliage rustles and bird calls sounded exactly like a sleep machine’s ‘rainforest’ setting. After 10 minutes, the path opened out into a clearing, where boulders made a bridge across a river and its little tributaries. I found a spot in the middle, sat down, and put my headphones in. I closed my eyes, looped “Should Have Known Better” by Sufjan Stevens a few times. I’d been playing the album it was from, Carrie and Lowell, the whole trip, but this time I really listened to how he sang about loss, and finding hope in life’s little things. Then, I walked back to the village. I still had thoughts about him, but they seemed lighter after that.—OWEN MYERS
Liz's lowrider playlist was filled with hope.
In a year characterized by institutionalized violence, widespread misrepresentation, and main-stage prejudices, I found myself frequently repeating what can only be described as mantras. “It’s not that deep,” a Rawiya Kameir staple, got me through bruising personal and professional moments. Meanwhile “low and slow,” the lowrider motto, was more of a big-picture incantation, meant for dulcifying the brutality of the 2015 news cycle.
“Low & slow as fuck” was also the title of a lowrider playlist by my friend and fellow L.A. native Kevin Hayes. 135 songs deep, “low & slow as fuck” was on constant rotation all year long. It opens on Sonny Ozuna’s honeyed “Put Me In Jail,” and only gets better from there—think The Intruders, El Chicano, even Barbara Mason. When I listen to it (which really is almost all day, every day) I read or draw or nap or even, sometimes, think about 1958, when a panicky California government amended its vehicle code to outlaw lowriders, effectively criminalizing a form of creativity unique to Mexican American residents.
The creativity it took to circumvent and survive that institutionalized suppression feels more relevant now than ever. And listening to the golden music that will forever be entwined with L.A.’s most important automobile subculture is the best possible reminder of that. Bajito y suavecito in 2016, please.—LIZ RAISS
I was sitting on my ex-boyfriend’s couch the first time I heard Brooklyn/Philly band LVL UP. Their 2014 album Hoodwink'd was on repeat all the nights my ex and I stayed up until 4 a.m. pounding beers, and it remained in my head when we would finally collapse into bed. Hoodwink’d was the only album I listened to for a while.
Just about a year after that first introduction to LVL UP, I saw them by myself during this fall’s CMJ. Not only does fall make me nostalgic, it's also when I met my ex. And, as soon as I got to the show, I ran into the girl I had been living with during the time of that turbulent relationship—someone from a past life, basically. So to hear LVL UP play tunes from Hoodwink’d in that partially outdoor Williamsburg car wash on that sunny-yet-chilly autumn day was pretty harshly reminiscent of old times, and simultaneously very urgently now. Lines like I’m no good at being alone, but here I go stood out like the sorest thumbs ever. But, despite the pangs of nostalgia for a time when I felt totally ripped apart, instead of hurting, I felt really proud. I’m good alone. I'm good at being me. It may have taken all the ups and downs of 2015 for me to learn that, but that’s okay. Here I go.—LEAH MANDEL
Aimee did some anger-listening to Angel Haze.
I’ve been drawn towards extremes in music this year: my breath caught in my throat the first time I felt the rage of ex-Crystal Castles member Alice Glass’ “Stillbirth,” and some nights I would soothe my head with the electronic screams of Berlin producer Lotic’s Agitations or the weirder, sadder wails of Future. Fury can be so comforting; particularly when living with the mental fall-out of an abusive situation, as I’ve been. For me, 2015 was a better year than the one before—but for so many people who have lived through so many kinds of abuse (or at least in my experience), there’s an inarticulable anger that lives on long after the fact. That’s why Angel Haze’s return to music in September felt like the wolf’s howl I’d been waiting to hear. When their mixtape Back To The Woods first came snarling out of my speakers, I was rapt; I wanted to be the person who could powerfully draw on my hurt like that, who could go to the dark places in my head to see light.
It was almost 11 p.m. U.K. time when I interviewed Haze, who was soundchecking in L.A., for The FADER. My roommates were home, but I had spent the evening in bed wearing headphones, listening to the mixtape, and feeling like I was having the most frank conversation I’d ever had about what trauma (and getting over it) feels like. Over Skype, Haze told me in thick and fast speech about nightmares, flashbacks, and how they had ultimately found peace in dealing with PTSD—“Starting to understand my brain and my tendencies helped me understand myself as a person. Tragedy becomes triumph if you let it.” After hanging up, I burst into tears. Good tears. The kind where you just get the words knocked out of you by someone else’s bravery. The kind where you wake up the next morning feeling stronger.—AIMEE CLIFF
One fateful week during my first N.Y.C. summer, I was lucky enough to have four euphoric live music experiences, three nights in a row. The coincidental streak began with catching Natalie Prass on a balmy July night. I particularly lost it when she performed her cover of Janet Jackson’s “Anytime, Anyplace,” and again when she did “Bird of Prey.” The following afternoon at work, I freaked out because I saw that Cousin Stizz was playing two N.Y. shows. I gathered pals to see him pop up at Kinfolk on a Thursday night, and lo and behold, “No Bells” live was out of control.
On the last night of this lucky streak, I trekked to Palisades for my second time seeing Mitski. There were definitely multiple tear-jerking points throughout her set, but the ultimate power moment was “Drunk Walk Home,” during which I lost my shit [see the video above]. After Mitski I rolled dolo to catch Stizz part two, and my mind was blown when he and the small-but-mighty crowd rapped their collective asses off to “Shoutout.” Experiencing these incredible shows one after the other (plus the fact that it was Slurpee season) left me at a cumulative stokeage-level of 'off the charts.' Summer in the city rules 😤.—NAZUK KOCHHAR
Myles listened to Kacey on drives to the beach.
My boyfriend has a nickname for his car. I love the car too, but not enough to use its given name. This summer we spent a lot of 43 minute long rides in the car with the top down, on the way to the beach in Queens and Long Island. Sometimes we had friends in the back seat which was nice, but mostly it was just us, which was nicer. Just my man and the sea (and his car).
We listened to Kacey Musgraves' Pageant Material on every ride. From turning on the first track and wailing the initial hiiiiiigh time together, we were in beach mode, on a country time adventure. He always asked me to skip the "slow" tracks, and I didn't even mind. (I'd get "Late To The Party" into the mix whenever I could, since it's about us, y’know). Sometimes "Family is Family" got an encore, and that was cool too. I made him listen to that one part of "Cup Of Tea" a thousand times and ranted about how brilliant the arrangement is. We'd drink Italian sparkling water from curvy glass bottles and leave our empties clanging around in the back for days. I'd reach over across the seat for his glasses and throw him a goofy look. Pure gravy.—MYLES TANZER