The 90 Best Songs of 2015

by PopMatters Staff

3 January 2016

 

50 - 41


50

Fleur East
“Sax”


X Factor finalist Fleur East should have stolen the crown from competitor Ben Heanow last year, but as is the case with most of these television talent competitions, the “talent” aspect and originality are rarely winning components in the equation. Having already flourished at the top of the the UK iTunes chart for her cover of Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s horn-drenched “Uptown Funk”, Fleur and her clever production team sought to recreate that success with her debut single “Sax”. Without seeming like a bargain budget rehash, the 28-year-old performer easily delivers one of the most infectious songs of the 2015. Her recent performance on the British reality show that made her a household name proved that the ladies of pop better up their game. With curly locks and killer legs to rival Tina Turner, a voice like a female James Brown, and sweltering moves to challenge Queen Bey, this funk-laden, stiletto-stomping banger screams instant chart smash from the opening moment she shouts, “Give it to me” to the blaring horns of its conclusion. Expect the frenetic hype surrounding Fleur to continue once her debut studio album, Love, Sax and Flashbacks, featuring producers Darkchild, Babyface and Fraser T. Smith, releases.—Ryan Lathan

 

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Sun Kil Moon

49

Sun Kil Moon
“Garden of Lavender”


It would be easy to interpret many of Mark Kozelek’s choices since the release of Benji as (paraphrasing Spacemen 3) baiting bloggers to make music to bait bloggers to. And bait is the word, as some music bloggers have inserted themselves into the singer’s narrative and then subsequently cried foul when he followed their lead by involving them in his songs, which were then covered by the writers, and so forth. Throughout, Kozelek stays at the front and center of the coverage. He wins.

But that’s the sideshow. Universal Themes, an exceptional album, is additional evidence that Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon has little time for dwelling on others’ designs for his musical direction. The ten minute-long “Garden of Lavender” is a perfect example of his current mode. As a writer, Kozelek has embraced something close to what James Wood called “hysterical realism”. Kozelek intertwines past and present actions and thoughts, and their justifications, and their results, all in settings specific to his life, memories, fancies and senses. His words search for all time, so not to lose any.

Nearly three minutes in, when many songs would be winding down, “Garden of Lavender” takes a most unexpected, melodic and emotional detour prompted by the sight of cats. Yet the songwriter doesn’t stay in this space for the duration, moving on to memories of concerts, travel and a kiss. Here maplessness is part of the appeal. To follow Kozelek along these paths is to see particular details rouse universal themes.—Thomas Britt

 

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The Tallest Man on Earth

48

The Tallest Man on Earth
“Sagres”


The town of Sagres is located on a promontory along the Portuguese coast, and it’s the spot that lyricist Kristian Masson, The Tallest Man on Earth, finds inspiration for this breakup song’s opening lines, “We were travelers so blind / Went to where the world did end”. Physical travel and the journey of a personal relationship are paralleled, each a symbol for the other, both clouded by uncertainty: “Was I ever part of knowing / With your hands in mine?” The song quickly rises beyond its immediate reference points and grows, not unlike Don Henley’s “End of Innocence”, which it strongly echoes, into an all-inclusive statement on these our troubled times. “Now what is left in here?” Matsson asks, and then catalogs a collection of counterpoints before concluding, “It’s just all this fucking doubt”. The breathy exasperation that he puts into the line is an exhalation of all the stress that has been built into the question itself. The world at large should sigh so deeply.—Ed Whitelock

 

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Run the Jewels

Review [2.Feb.2017]

47

Run the Jewels
“Rubble Kings Theme (Dynamite)”


A good hook is all a track needs sometimes. I think most would be content to hear Killer Mike and El-P rap the phone book at this point, but I for one am glad to hear a non-cat related RTJ project come out this year. There’s plenty of fantastic music for the era that the Rubble Kings documentary covers, so it’s unusual that they’d commission new music for its score, but one couldn’t imagine a more badass or appropriate tune for an opener than this. Killer Mike glides so smoothly in and around the beats that he makes it seem effortless, and El-P gets a bonus point and smiley face sticker for his use of alliteration.—Timothy Gabriele

 

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Natalie Prass

46

Natalie Prass
“My Baby Don’t Understand Me”


Natalie Prass unique talent emerged like a quiet storm. This opening track of her self-titled debut was exactly the kind of statement that did it. “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” is a building, break-up anthem which displays Prass’ chops like none other. She begins in a meek, speaking tone and develops into her rounder, more vibrantly on-the-note style, without ever belting. Live in Brooklyn, Prass did a lot of talking about the process behind writing certain songs. It was easy to imagine “this song representing all of the highs and the lows of that experience—it being both uplifting but also confessional. It’s that tension which places it in the pantheon of great country(-esque) songs. In the end though, it’s the underlying warmth that stands out. Orchestrated and arranged by the Richmond, Virginia label-that-runs-on-love, Spacebomb Records, each element of this quietly expansive track oozes with generous consideration. If that weren’t enough, they just re-recorded it live after touring the world, and round two sounds similarly terrific.—Ryan Dieringer

 

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Jill Scott

45

Jill Scott
“Closure”


Jilly From Philly did it again! One of the best songs of her entire catalog—and without question the shiniest highlight from 2015’s Woman—this track has the perfect lyrical blend of humor and power. Place that on top of an uptempo soul groove that bleeds both R&B, and what you have is a kiss off of delicious proportion. Need proof? Listen to the Woman herself: “Don’t be expectin’ no breakfast in the morning / You got all you gonna get / This is it / This is closure”. A staccato bass line that rocks more than it rolls? Check. A hilarious spoken outro that ties the whole thing together? Check. More attitude than she’s had in at least a decade? Double check. Just zone in on the way her voice cracks as she growls the song’s namesake and you’ll quickly realize the true meaning of “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”—Colin McGuire

 

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Travis Scott

Review [6.Sep.2016]

44

Travis Scott feat. Kanye West
“Piss on Your Grave”


Though officially a Travis Scott track, “Piss on Your Grave” is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Yeezyâ„¢ corporation as Kanye puts on a livewire performance, spitting “I use your face as a urinal / then do the same at your funeral” with unfathomable venom. “Piss on Your Grave” is a rage bazooka with DGAF rock-swagger, but it’s not just the lyrical ferocity that makes it unique; it’s the psychedelic blues-rock riffs, the hulking, chaotic drums, and the overwhelming sense of chaos. For a minute there we were worried that the great lumbering train of Kanye’s artistry had reached the end of the tracks, but between this and his McCartney collaborations, we know there’s still plenty of steam left in the engine.—Adam Finley

 

43

Rizzla feat. Odie Myrtil
“Iron Cages”


The catchiest and best song off of the year’s most killer dance EP is from an artist whose massive talents at hybridity and fusion lead him to form new genres with every SoundCloud drop before he dropped his debut this summer. “Iron Cages” in name sounds theory-heavy, name-checks Max Weber and all, but at its core it’s about that remarkably fluid rhythm track, the languorous plucks of guitar, and Odie Myrtel’s bold kiss-off: “Don’t think I’ll be falling / For your shit anymore”. The Fade to Mind/Night Slugs crew, somewhat impossibly, continues to dominate underground club music a solid five years in and with this gorgeous single Rizzla is now leading the pack. Rather than resorting to sampling Aaliyah, Cassie, and all, they’ve become competitors. And this stands side by side with the most adventurous R&B/pop out there.—Timothy Gabriele

 

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Protomartyr

42

Protomartyr
“Why Does It Shake?”


A mere transcription of the lyrics to this song should be enough to demonstrate why it’s such an achievement. “Why Does It Shake” makes the familiar Springsteen-esque narrative of defiance in the face of adversity feel like its never been written before. A three part song, each hook packs more Detroit pathos than the last. Each part is supremely memorable. The second time I heard this song, it was like I had heard it a hundred times. The thin, haunting arrangement, pierced by the occasional burst of blistering post-punk, seems designed to shelter the central question, “Why Does It Shake the Body?”, from the unmentionable darkness of its answer.—Ryan Dieringer

 

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Majical Cloudz

41

Majical Cloudz
“Downtown”


Majical Cloudz’ magnificent Are You Alone? isn’t without its bleak moments. Automobile atrocities. Sleeping pills ‘n’ alcohol. Wasted Lives. Shattered dreams. Cigarettes and suicides. But on the joyful showstopper “Downtown” Devon Welsh tosses the grim reaper under the bus and races off to find his true love. It’s utterly, wonderfully life-affirming. Today we can dance to the Beatles, go downtown, run around and cherish a moment of heavenly bliss in each other’s arms. Fuck tomorrow! “I’m going CRAZY!” Welsh cries from the highest mountain, “Crazy for YOU!” Life, if only for four minutes, is a beautiful, beautiful thing. “Downtown” is for lovers.—Matt James

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