best-songs-of-2015

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The 90 Best Songs of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with fabulous songs. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 90 songs as best of the year.

90. Panda Bear – “No Mans Land”

For whatever reason, Animal Collective always deliver really solid EPs. There was Grass, Water Curses (still my favorite Animal Collective release), Fall Be Kind and now Panda Bear’s got his own EP Crosswords, which does more than enough to continue the streak of quality extended players. “No Mans Land” is one of the standouts, sound like Paul Simon on salvia singing over some nasty techno riff. Pretty awesome. The other four tracks on the EP are all very good, begging the question, Why didn’t we get to hear these on Grim Reaper? The four new originals are easily better than tracks like “Lonely Wanderer” or “Tropic of Cancer”, which I though weighed down what was already a pretty hazy slog of an album. No bother though, this track and accompanying EP are killer, Panda Bear’s most solid release since Person Pitch. — Casey Hardmeyer

89. Shigeto – “Pulse”

Shigeto’s percussion heavy production has never sounded this atmospheric. Thanks to the stuttering vocal sample and the eerie keyboards floating around in the background, it’s easy to get lost in the haze. Those clear and clanking chimes hold down the song wonderfully, grounding it when the track could so easily dissipate into mist. It also absolutely deserves the seven minute run time as Shigeto adds layer after layer. The effects are subtle, but by the time a shimmering hi-hat comes in over a trap like snare at the halfway mark, it feels like Shigeto sliced two songs together perfectly. It’s an uneasy, but danceable, bliss. — Nathan Stevens

88. Murder By Death – “Send Me Home”

As with many of Murder By Death’s numbers, “Send Me Home” unfurls with a rich, cinematic ambience. Opening with the fleeting organ notes of a church hymnal, it’s soon augmented by Adam Turla’s dusty baritone and a strummed guitar seeming to emanate from a southwestern desert. Sarah Balliet’s mournful cello then winds its way in, amplifying the pathos as Turla assumes the guise of a terminally ill man pleading for a merciful death. It can be an uncomfortable listen, the song masterfully putting you in the positions of both the narrator and the person he’s addressing, leaving you to wonder what you would do in either’s shoes. Musically and lyrically, there is a shiver-inducing synergy. — Cole Waterman

87. Gary Clark Jr. – “The Healing”

What is this? A new single that rocks? Rare as unicorn teeth, but here it is. He throws everything in: portentous guitars, impassioned backing vocals, super orchestral splashes thrown around for kicks. Essentially it’s a track about itself and music in general, the “healing” in the song being the healing of “The Healing”. The theme saves the day because lyrically “The Healing” is not that interesting. The only thing better than a song about itself is a song where the singer references himself in a “Move over, Rover / Let Jimi take over” type manoeuvre. Word of advice for young Gary, there can never be an excess of rock. No-one has ever earnestly complained, “This song rocks too much.” So feel free to cut loose. The end of the track could have benefited from just that. — Paul Duffus

86. Speedy Ortiz – “Raising the Skate”

From the outset, the song rumbles and pummels its way forth, unrelenting as a steamroller. Over sidewinding guitars and a bass that vibrates menacingly, vocalist Sadie Dupuis sings with the fierceness of being on the verge of starting a one-person insurrection. The confidence she exudes could cause one to cower before her or fall behind her in her mission. Come the bridge, the riot dies down for a respite, the guitar strings flickering and Dupuis’ voice shifting to a serpentine whisper. When the resurgence happens in more calamitous fashion and Dupuis again snarls, “I’m not bossy / I’m the boss”, any lingering doubt regarding her sincerity is incinerated. — Cole Waterman

85. Preoccupations – “March of Progress”

This was a colossal year for drumming. Mike Wallace’s tom drums are probably the coolest thing that has ever been recorded, and account for three exhilarating minutes of (soon not to be named) Preoccupations’ six-minute epic, “March of Progress”, off of their self-titled debut. But just wait. Part deux (2:52) takes a turn for the indie rock Willy Wonka, sailing (with increasing speed!) towards the song’s sublime, upbeat outro (4:45). Each movement is so minutely expressed, so thrillingly differentiated, that in six quick minutes you have seen all you need to see of post-punk in 2015, which looks almost nothing like anything that has come before it. — Ryan Dieringer

84. Sleater-Kinney – “A New Wave”

There is a tired and true sign of when you’re listening to a stellar, life-changing album: your favorite song always changes. Although opening salvo “Surface Envy” satisfied the hard rock kids that inexplicably thought a reunited Sleater-Kinney would somehow be soft (scoff!) and the chorus to No Cities to Love‘s title track served as a rousing weather-based rallying cry to be sung aloud at every stop on their long-anticipated tour, it was “A New Wave” that served as what is arguably the single most succinct pop moment of the band’s entire career. It features a deft melody line and ascending chorus that outshines most of the glossy Top 40 productions that wish they could make their performances sound as effortless as Sleater-Kinney does here.

The song sucks you in before the guitar solos and drumming on that bridge threaten to make it, your speakers, and your very skull collapse completely in unison. “No one here is taking notice,” the girls shout at the top of the chorus, but for the band themselves, the inverse is true: everyone is taking notice, because with a song this good it’s impossible for anyone to tear themselves away. — Evan Sawdey

83. Hiatus Kaiyote – “Breathing Underwater”

This group was initially sold to me as a kind of space-damaged iteration of retro-soul revivalists the Dap-Kings, but their whole album was brimming with neo-soul affectations, smart arrangements, and such a definitive personality right out the great. When I hear “Breathing Underwater”, I hear a bit of everything: jazzy undertones, Jill Scott sensibilities, and the kind of vibe that Prince would love to have in one of his touring outfits, but even more than that, I hear a group bursting out the gate with something really unique on their hands. Terrible band name aside, keep this on your radar, as their full-length, Choose Your Weapon, is already one of 2015’s sleeper surprises. — Evan Sawdey

82. Blur – “Go Out”

“The Puritan” and “Under the Westway” were certainly welcome additions to the Blur ouvre when they were released as a stand-alone single in 2012, even if they seem to lack the hallmarks of a team effort, and skewed a bit closer to Damon Albarn’s solo and Gorillaz output. Best to just appreciate it, because it wasn’t a given that any more new music would be forthcoming. Then, “Go Out” appeared, somewhat unexpectedly, and turned out to be pretty much exactly what you wanted: Graham Coxon’s trademark restless scratching guitar, Alex James and Dave Rowntree’s loping rhythm section, and Albarn swapping his long-favored la-la-la’s for a jaunt down to the “lo-o-o-o-ooo-caaal”. “Go Out” was an instantly rewarding, celebratory first taste of what The Magic Whip would bring. — Ian King

81. Delta Rae – “Run”

If a classical composer, a musical theater lyricist, and a folk troubadour walked into a bar and wrote a song, Delta Rae’s “Run” is close to what might emerge. The song opens with staccato strings and piano and then adds acoustic guitar, electric bass, and drums to preface and then cushion Brittany Hölljes’ operatic vocal. “Run” is the first full-length song on Delta Rae’s After It All, a baroquely conceptual album about frontier mythology and a long-term relationship that modulates between ecstasy, fear, and regret. The six-piece band builds songs around dramatic string quartet parts and earnest refrains like “I want to run to feel again”, and “Run” matches its lyrical theme — chasing love, opportunity, and the natural grandeur of the American West — with a quick BPM and an ambitious vocal workout for Hölljes, which she nails consistently and even seasons with a Björk-like yelp on the final “I want to run!” — Annie Galvin

80. Christopher Paul Stelling – “Scarecrow”

One of the standout tracks from his Anti- Records debut Labor Against Waste, the mournfully beautiful “Scarecrow”, finds Christopher Paul Stelling equating the lonely fortitude of a scarecrow on a hill with that of Christ, isolated, then punished “for what he held inside his heart that he could no longer hide”. It’s a statement on the burden of being a truth-teller in these highly divisive, reactionary times. The song’s chorus serves as a tonic, a prayer or mantra: “Breathe, breathe it out / Lay your burdens down to rest / Breathe through the doubt / Never let them get the best of you.”

Stelling’s longtime partner Julia Christgau adds a bright, keening vocal that counters the weariness of the lead, offering a sense of hopefulness against the troubles of the world. Stelling made his Newport Folk Festival debut in July. The set was so well-received he was given an encore, during which he and Christgau performed this song. As a testament to hopefulness in the face of an indifferent world, Stelling knelt on the stage and proposed to Christgau at the song’s conclusion. She accepted, to a wave of applause. — Edward Whitelock

79. Death – “Look at Your Life”

Trailblazing punk band capitalizes on decades of esteem by releasing a new album decades after its initial run. Album tanks and stains the discography. Such was the state of the Stooges in 2007, as well as Black Flag in 2013, a year that saw that band fracture in a number of ways. Death, a group whose present visibility comes from the relatively recent discovery of its groundbreaking punk recordings from the early 1970s, avoids this pitfall by delivering the goods amid late-career acclaim. The dynamic “Look at Your Life” from 2015 album N.E.W. commands listeners to consider the nature of their existence. The structure of the song corresponds to the lyrical premise. It’s a song that refuses to settle, alternating fast-tempo punk rock with silences, with a tight rhythm section, guitar solos, and a mid-song moment of reflection. Compositionally, “Look at Your Life” is somewhat similar to System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” but without that song’s fixation on death. — Thomas Britt

78. Charli XCX feat. Rita Ora – “Doing It”

Youth in 2015 is threatened. I don’t mean just the British or American youth (especially the former), but I also state that the ideal of youth has been pulverized. In this context, “Doing It” sounds like a pop miracle. For little less than four minutes, Charli XCX and Rita Ora (who adds a lot more than simply radio allure to the track) detain the sound of invincibility, which for a group of twentysomethings somewhere in the world means staying all night, never slowing down, being united forevermore. Indeed, the whole spectacle sounds pretty dumb — and I’m convinced it was thought out this way — but who cares about that when “Doing It” is pure bubblegum perfection? — Danilo Bortoli

77. Björk – “Stonemilker”

“Moments of clarity are so rare”, Björk sang, and she couldn’t be more right. The stormy, black waters of Vulnicura were devoid of light, outside of the sentinel that was “Stonemilker”. A graceful introduction to Björk’s ninth album, “Stonemilker” was the lighthouse in the midst of a howling tempest. Stately strings, languid percussion, and Björk’s ever brilliant vocals created a somber, yet healing, foray in to one of Björk’s finest records. It didn’t just harken back to “Joga” and “Hyperballad”, it stood strong as its own piece of gorgeous work, a song that nestles itself comfortably as an excellent performance in a discography filled with them. — Nathan Stevens

76. Blood Orange – “Sandra’s Smile”

Listen to any one of Devonte Hynes’ songs, and you can pick up on the deep pangs of emotion that he infuses in every note. “Sandra’s Smile”, like many of Blood Orange’s songs, wears its heart on its sleeve, even as the subject matter of the song makes that heart heavier than usual. In the face of tragedy, Hynes can barely bring himself to keep going. Still, as the chorus slowly builds, he finds the strength to hold on, even in the face of a hopeless situation. There are almost too many ideas for Hynes to wrangle into one song; the fact that he does it and makes it into something great is all the more impressive. — Kevin Korber

75. Braids – “Taste”

“You’re exactly what I like… exactly”, le mot juste, not just with regards to the perfect word, but how it’s sung. Like licking your lips to collect all the sugar water left over at the bottom of your lemonade. The joyous backing music calling to mind the pounding of the heart near a crush. With references to Perks of Being a Wallflower and White Noise, this is a heady song aiming directly for the heart. — Brian Duricy

74. Bully – “Six”

Without ever using the word itself, Alicia Bognanno compacts more ways of speaking love to another in this song than it seems able to contain. Maybe this is because sibling, same-sex, and platonic love get so little play in rock, even in the feminist grunge from which Bully derive most of their ideas before inverting them with the self-consciousness that Courtney Love couldn’t afford. After a sort of familial trauma — accidentally breaking her sister’s arm — Alicia searches for concrete penance that is more powerful for (finally!) decentering her feelings of love in favor of the good that love can do, and mean, for another person. It’s a form of knowledge: “They don’t know you’re great, but I do”. She only feels something herself when she refuses to allow her broken arm to set — a token to her sister. — Michael Opal

73. Father John Misty – “The Ideal Husband”

“The Ideal Husband” opens with “Julian [Assange] is gonna take my files”, immediately tying in to a common fear that our pasts will forever come back to haunt us. Against this backdrop, Father John Misty goes on the offensive, reeling off a despicable litany of his failures as a human. The track builds to a swirling climax as he plows through the darkness to arrive at his lover’s house and profess his love, finishing the grim self-assessment with “Let’s put a baby in the oven / wouldn’t I make the ideal husband?” In The Ideal Husband, the play from which this beleaguered tale takes its name, Oscar Wilde wrote, “Sooner or later, we shall all have to pay for what we do.” In Misty’s universe, no truism has ever been truer. — Adam Finley

72. Jake Xerxes Fussell – “Raggy Levy”

North Carolina’s Jake Xerxes Fussell is as much historian as musician on his excellent, eponymous debut album, and “Raggy Levy” is the best evidence of this. Originally a stevedore tune from the Georgia shores, Fussell’s version feels both uniquely his and deeply indebted to his own past. Though Fussell makes structural and melodic changes to the song as he does in other places on the record, it still rings with the grit and fortitude of all other work songs of the Georgia Sea Islands. Despite all that history, Fussell’s take never sounds old-timey. Instead, every time he belts out that phrase, it feels all the more fresh, all the more vital. — Matthew Fiander

71. Lera Lynn – “Lately”

True Detective‘s second season may have been maligned, but what’s undeniable is the haunting depth in the original songs delivered by Lera Lynn as a junky barroom chanteuse. Aired in the finalé, “Lately” is her strongest number, and most distinct from the pack. Pounding drums and phasing synth effects create a mood of pure ominousness. A warbling guitar part swirls around Lynn’s smoky voice, which seems to be emerging from a cocoon metamorphosed into a new resolve. “There’s no future… There’s no past” Lynn sings, infecting you with the lust to launch yourself on a suicide mission, simply for the glory that will come with it. With the bulk of her material, both in True Detective and outside of it, being firmly in the alt-country realm, this clattering dirge is something apart, and a galvanizing number it is. — Cole Waterman

70. U.S. Girls – “Damn That Valley”

As long as there’s armed conflict there will always be a place for songs like “Damn that Valley”. Meghan Remy addresses the issue of how the macrocosm of war affects the defenseless, seen through the lens of a widow who’s lost her husband in service of a greater good. History has taught us time and time again that a solider’s job is a particularly thankless one, and Remy is unafraid to make a point even if she’s fully aware that having pride in combat is an intrinsic part of American culture. Notwithstanding the serious subject matter, “Valley” couldn’t be a more tuneful listen – Remy airs her grievances with irked resignation in her usual high-pitched delivery, set alongside a dub-influenced sample that appropriately supports her call to arms. Remi has donned many guises in the past, but as “Valley” fiercely proves, she’s further exercising her pop smarts whilst remaining fiercely independent. — Juan Edgardo Rodriguez

69. The Go! Team – “What’d You Say”

Sounding like a crate-digging 45 with dust-and-sugar-clogged grooves, slotted right near the front of a girl-group box set, this is lo-fi at its most artificial. That is not to say inauthentic, its just that composer Ian Parton wants to gush over the pleasures of Spectorian production rather than communicate emotional truths. Nevertheless, he gives us a crunched AM blast of self-betterment and self-assertion, with the most indelible hook of the year when the song tells you how to listen to it: warbling and half-audible, “What d’you say? / Anyway”. The memorably ductile female vocalist sings with confident, textural post-postmodernism (Ian doesn’t fold in everything that exists; instead, all the things he likes); her craft-focused, work-for-hire stylings create a musical self you only wish all those crate-dug, one-off 45ers had — a dreamy self rousing you from the idleness of dreams. — Michael Opal

68. Sufjan Stevens – “Fourth of July”

In spite of so much progress, death will always be an inevitable work of nature. Sufjan Stevens comes to grips with that realization in the grieving “Fourth of July”, a tender, though starkly sinister track in which Sufjan has a conversation with her mother as she lies on her deathbed. Carrie & Lowell is teeming with many reflective and heartrending accounts, but what makes “Fourth of July” so remarkable is how it vividly transports usinto that precise moment where his life is about to take a drastic change. A sullen, minimal piano conveys his every word with a quiet eloquence, giving himself unconditionally despite their troubled relationship. “We’re all gonna die” he intones with an almost callous matter-of-factness. Yet those words are delivered with such gravitas that it ends up offering a peculiar sense of comfort. — Juan Edgardo Rodriguez

67. Miranda Lambert – “Little Red Wagon”

Released in 2014, Miranda Lambert’s Platinum album was a kaleidoscopic journey through country womanhood, where each song shone a new facet of femininity. “Little Red Wagon” is the whole album in microcosm. This cover of Audra Mae’s indie barnburner gives Lambert a chance to swagger and taunt, even while she makes fun of the shitty car parked in her yard and declares her love for her apron. (She does not, however, introduce anyone to her stove.) Along the way, Lambert demonstrates why she keeps winning vocalist honors at the CMAs: she renders every line larger than life, even the unwieldy one about “backyard swagger”. She and her well-mixed band of studio pros bask in our adoration; but like Ludacris doing “Move” or Jagger singing “Get Off of My Cloud”, they also deliver an exhilarating middle finger to you, me, and anyone who’d try to step to them. — Josh Langhoff

66. Holly Herndon – “An Exit”

Critic Suhail Malik says art will create in the individual a sense of either “escape” or “exit”. You will either “escape” the world and retreat into yourself, or use the art as an exit strategy to drive yourself towards new ideas of your own. The standout track from the astounding album Platform combines Herndon’s innovative laptop collages with a sneaky vocal performance that morphs into an utterly gorgeous chorus, during which she muses about the concept of an exit strategy. “What could we be, with will and belief? Why stay apart, when we can leave together?” Just unresolved questions. It’s up to listeners to decide for themselves. Such is art. — Adrien Begrand

65. Young Thug – “Check”

If 1995 was the year of Blur vs. Oasis, then 2015 ought to be remembered as the year of Future vs. Young Thug. Hyperbole? Yes, but there’s no denying that both occupy a large chunk of the trap rap universe. Whereas Future’s lyrics often showcase honest and less-than-glamorous glimpses of his life, Young Thug is pure absurdity and exaggeration; “If cops pull up, I put that crack in my crack / Or, I put that brack in my brack” should be the most quoted line this year. That said, constant partner-in-crime London on da Track often gives Young Thug gorgeous piano-based beats to add extra layers to Thugga’s music: hearing Young thug sing “I got a check” over these sobering piano twinkles doesn’t come off as a brag, though it does come off as a great hook all the same. To pick a few lines and quote them would be selling this song short as I couldn’t convey Young Thug’s autotuned delivery, but hearing him run through the sex climax at the end of the first verse is good times. — Marshall Gu

64. Alessia Cara – “Here”

Not bad for a YouTube star, right? Actually, it’s almost unfortunate that Alessia Cara has that background — a song like “Here” is so raw and fresh and angry and good that if you try to dismiss her as a flash in the pan or someone who “just got lucky”, give this track three spins and proceed to never question the singer again. Cara celebrated her 19th birthday in July, but so many of these words are staggeringly world-wary that it wouldn’t surprise you if something like this came from someone double her age. The hip-hop feel, from the music to the cadence, adds a layer to Cara’s blend of soul that we haven’t really heard since Amy Winehouse. Huge words, sure, but if anyone appears to have the edge that made the dearly-missed star great — and not just good — it’s Alessia Cara. Should be scary fun to see what’s next. — Colin McGuire

63. Ruby Amanfu – “Cathedrals”

For most people, travel just reinforces the idea of home. But there are those for whom travels creates a sense of disconnection, a feeling like they never belonged anywhere. That sense of desperate, terrifying restlessness infuses “Cathedrals”, a cover of Jump, Little Children that sounds utterly timeless. Amanfu sings in a hushed, wide-eyed tone as she explores the great museums and churches of the world. She’s nagged by the feeling that she needs to go home — to feel connected — but just where home is remains elusive. It’s a uniquely human struggle presented in a deeply human way, and it makes for one of 2015’s best performances. — Adam Finley

62. Deafheaven – “Brought to the Water”

The eight-plus minutes of “Brought to the Water”‘s blackgaze meets contemporary piano ballad rings in Deafheaven’s 2015 genre-bender release, New Bermuda. A turbulent metal intro fades into an emotional, brief, contemporary piano piece, sounding as natural as how autumn flows into winter. Simply arranged, roughly a third of “Brought to the Water” carries some of black metal’s core tenets forward: dissonant, raspy vocals and a bleak outlook courtesy George Clarke; loud, adynamic, distorted guitars; and Dan Tracy’s “d beat” blastbeat drums. The soundscape’s ideas flow subtly and logically.

Sunbather, Deafheaven’s previous release, generated controversy and debate as it propelled the nascent genre to the forefront. Subsuming the caustic bleakness of black metal and post-rock with the distorted, dreamlike carriage of shoegaze, and the melodic appeal of pop, the innovative blackgaze is able to switch directions in an instant. The music presents a challenging, invigorating listen, especially for a fan of the many flavors of heavy metal. With New Bermuda, Deafheaven has proven that its follow-up effort is as equally strong as its breakout album. “Brought to the Water” has helped cement the band’s place as a genre forerunner, and as a creator to watch. — Erin Stevenson

61. Swervedriver – “Autodidact”

In the years leading up to Swervedriver’s much-anticipated comeback album, frontman Adam Franklin worried that his band would be unable to match the sound and intensity of its scorching ’90s work. He needn’t have. Leading off the excellent I Wasn’t Born to Lose You with an urgent call-to-arms from Franklin’s and Jimmy Hartridge’s dueling guitars, “Autodidact” is both a reaffirmation of the band’s power and a confident look to the future. Franklin’s lyrics have not lost any of their cleverness or swagger, either. The song is an ode to Swervedriver’s long-standing relationship with car culture, among other things, Franklin envisioning every drop of oil as nothing less than an offering to his holy crusade down the highway. By the time those guitars go into overdrive at the end, “Autodidact” once again has you thinking that Swervedriver still sounds like the coolest, most dreamy pile-up in the world. — John Bergstrom

60. Ashley Monroe – “On to Something Good”

Ashley Monroe’s The Blade, one of the year’s best country albums, contains its share of heartbreak. But it opens on a note of hope. Co-written with Barry Dean and Luke Laird, two of the best and most successful of Nashville’s current crop of songwriters, the album’s first single “On to Something Good” has an overall positive demeanor. With a great melody, she sings about feeling like things are turning around; she’s been found, she’s feeling good about taking a new direction. That feeling of hope comes from leaving. She doesn’t know where the road will take her, and that’s what makes her happy. That makes it a quintessential country song even with all the happiness. She’s committing to a positive attitude, but she knows the attitude will fail her: “I’ll ride this train ’til it runs out of track”. That’s part of what makes this song such a success, that it questions itself within itself. There’s success also in the tune-first, smiling way she sings a song aware of its own inevitable demise. — Dave Heaton

59. Drake – “Know Yourself”

In retrospect, this summer’s Drake/Meek Mill beef was doomed to fizzle. Because at its core was a diss with no teeth. So what if Drake uses ghost writers? Nobody delivers a hook like him these days. Take the chorus to “Know Yourself”, his chilly, languorous ode to the ins and outs of crew-dom. The phrase in question — “Runnin’ through the six with my WOES” — is a fog of codes and acronyms, written by Atlanta rapper Quentin Miller. It doesn’t scream “hit song”, even after Drake’s first calm, robotic pass through it. But then it cycles back, and the synths pool up from the murk, and he clips those syllables triumphantly. This is when the goosebumps come, and we learn that execution is at least as important as creation. — Joe Sweeney

58. Algiers – “Blood”

A bass rattles in followed by tensile handclaps which keep the beat well below a healthy heart rate. This postpunk hymn is to be sung as the nightmare resumes in a dying culture (“death is at your doorstep / And you’re still playing games / So drown in entertainment”), as the bodies lay in the streets while their assailants figure out how to cover it up. Not since The Staple Singers covered “Masters of War” has a deep baritone gospel voice sounded this grim and effectively righteous. There could be no better moment for this type of voice to come hurtling back from our past to knock the present on its ass as we continue to “squander… what [the past] tried to save”.

This is not just a song about black erasure and the disappearance of the 20th century’s struggles behind the simulacrum of 21st century virtual living. It’s also the flipside of punk’s “no future”, a howler that eulogizes what is lost rather than revels in the nihilism of burning what’s left. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopefully, premature. — Timothy Gabriele

57. John Moreland – “Sad Baptist Rain”

Inspired by John Moreland’s days in the Oklahoma hardcore scene and the fleeting dream that is youth, this is one of numerous highlights on his latest, High on Tulsa Heat. With a memorable chorus and imagery that would make most poets sit up and take notice, this is one of the rare songs that places exactly you in the moment. The buoyant bassline, unshakable hook and ass-wiggling beat don’t hurt either. What does it all mean? Well, it’s just specific enough for a rock ‘n’ roll fan to make their own fantasies or carve out their own meaning. And that’s meaning enough. — Jedd Beaudoin

56. Hot Chip – “Need You Now”

Hot Chip have always held a few emotional stunners in-between the neon-colored dance hits but nothing, nothing, has come close to the soul-crushing quality of “Need You Now”. Flipping a boogie sample from 1983, Hot Chip shift the titular shout from a war cry to a plea. Over rain-soaked electronics Alexis Taylor uses his boyish voice to channel Charlie Brown like depression, a distant cousin from the jubilant vocal work of “One Life Stand”. He sounds wounded, dealing with the sort of trust break down that completely destroys a person, at the edge of tears as he admits he’s “tired of being myself”. In a year where Bjork detailed her devoice through song and Earl Sweatshirt exorcised his demons on record, “Need You Now” still stands as a monolithic sadness. — Nathan Stevens

55. Cam – “My Mistake”

Cam’s Welcome to Cam Country EP introduced her to audiences at the beginning of 2015 and then stuck with them all year; the four songs reappear on her debut LP Untamed, released in December. Her biggest hit in 2015 was the riveting ballad “Burning House”, which stands apart from the current trends of the genre. The same applies to the more rollicking “My Mistake”. This one resembles ’80s country hits more than current hits, and is an incredibly cheery song about misguided one-night-stands, taking heartache for granted and rolling with it as a fact of life. There’s next-to-no judgment, next-to-no wallowing, and it’s from the point of view of an independent woman, a good contrast to the macho-country that dominates the airwaves. The chorus: “He’ll be gone before the morning light / but he’s my mistake to make all night”. Cam sings that in a careful, thoughtful, precise way that’s also filled with carefree confidence. — Dave Heaton

54. Quiet Company – “Understand the Problem”

Quiet Company’s high energy power-pop provides big hooks and easy sing alongs. “Understand the Problem” fits that description perfectly, jumping from hook to hook to hook in every section of the surprisingly layered song. It’s all catchy all the time with no low points to make the listener long for the chorus to come back. Lyrically, the song doubles as a wrenching mea culpa from frontman Taylor Muse to his wife. He explains his guilt over leaving her as essentially a single mom when he goes out on the road and a whole host of other issues. It’s good that the song is so damn catchy because it balances out the lyrics. Even the song’s acoustic coda does double duty here. Musically it’s a quiet contrast to the hugely energetic main song, but listen closely and you’ll hear Muse whisper, “I wish I was someone else / I wish that you loved someone else”. That duality makes “Understand the Problem” a huge songwriting achievement. — Chris Conaton

53. Joanna Newsom – “Time, As a Symptom”

To be fair, every moment of Joanna Newsom’s latest outing, Divers, is a work of art. Channeling equal parts Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell, and Elton John into a quirky and unique vision, she fills each song with musical magic. However, it’s the record’s concluding piece, “Time, as a Symptom”, that proves to be its most breathtaking journey. The first half of it consists only of Newsom’s voice and piano playing, which meld into haunting poeticisms and Rhapsodical melodies. From there, new timbres (including percussion, strings, and vocal counterpoints) are added every few measures, culminating in an overwhelming flurry of heavenly sounds. Like all works of genius, it takes several listens to sink in fully, but once it does it will never leave your soul. — Jordan Blum

52. Tobias Jesso, Jr. – “How Could You Babe”

“How Could You Babe” ain’t a cool song. Tobias Jesso, Jr. pines and cries, and then he hopes, but to what end? He spills his heart out with a calculated mastery, as if he’s been doing this for years, playing those major chords with such raw emotion that you can’t help but immediately think of the last time you felt a deep-seated anxiety over a loved one. It’s instantly familiar, and yet timeless, evoking a simplicity and purity that could only be written by an artist who’s still discovering his place in the world. Songs like this resonate because they give the vulnerable a sense of worth, a reason to relive those painful memories until full autonomy is reclaimed. — Juan Edgardo Rodriguez

51. The Dead Weather – “I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)”

Dubbed “so explosive” by guitarist Dean Fertita, the Dead Weather embodies a scruffy, hedonistic, and visceral sound. With lead single “I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)” from 2015’s mammoth Dodge and Burn platter, the tune presents a tasteful, blistering, bluesy rock cadre sporting a serrated, engaging edge. Slightly more accessible then most fare on 2009’s Horehound or 2010’s Sea of Cowards, “I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)” readily invokes drummer Jack White’s It Might Get Loud co-star Jimmy Page’s iconic Led Zeppelin. The bulk of the ever-so-slightly chaotic tune is melodically defined by Jack Lawrence’s fuzzed-out bass guitar tone, with higher octave stabs deftly interwoven and joined by Fertita. White’s groove, a relaxed tempo, drives the song and allows vocalist Alison Mosshart’s confident, forward lyrics plenty of breathing room. While the pressure-cooker of the recording studio might crush some acts, the live, full-band atmosphere acts as a moving stimulus for White and company’s latest sonic insurrection. — Erin Stevenson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Yeezy™ 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

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

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

40. FKA Twigs – “Figure 8”

When you have the gall to declare an album one of the best debuts by a woman auteur since Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside you’d better hope like hell the artist follows that up with something special enough to prove they’re not a flash in the pan. This track from FKA Twigs’ recent EP is indeed a stunner. Structurally it builds from the skeletal, minimal R&B of LP1, but there’s even more darkness before, not only in the skittering beats and the shockingly simple three-beat riff, but in the roars of noise that blast into the track as if Khanate is sitting in. Toss in some wicked, pitch-shifted rapping to offset her tasteful and highly sexual vocal acrobatics, and you’ve got another major statement by an artist who’s looking more and more like a visionary with each passing year. — Adrien Begrand

39. Freddie Gibbs – “Fuckin’ Up the Count”

This song says classic to me in so many ways. It has that cinematic grip on narrative you get from seminal Kendrick. The story sticks you and sticks with you. The Rhodes production has that rooted, vibey feel that digs the track deeper into its sense of reality. There’s a real struggle that Gibbs is digging up from memory but exacting in the present. It’s a nice gritty departure from the more imaginative stuff on Piñata. — Ryan Dieringer

38. Everything Everything – “Distant Past”

“Drag my tongue across the sand”, sings Jonathan Higgs on the opening of “Distant Past”, one of the strangest, catchiest rock songs of recent memory, which features pitch-shifted voices, thrilling group harmonies, and a bass hook so deep that it feels like your very soul is being tugged with each iteration of it. The band has put out several good albums but no great ones (and even the set this is from, Get to Heaven, is a glorious mixed bag), but the group’s keen pop instincts and Higgs’ batshit insane lyricism coexist in perfect harmony here, resulting in a one-of-a-kind outre rock number that intrigues, beguiles, mystifies, and energizes all at once. “Soon. I’ll. Be the best around”, Higgs intones in his rapid-fire stutter-stop verses, and at this rate, you’re genuinely inclined to believe him. — Evan Sawdey

37. Elle King – “Ex’s & Oh’s”

Elle King’s takes double entendres to a new level on “Ex’s & Oh’s”. King boasts that her many boyfriends (the “Exes” of the song) can’t stop wanting her because of her sexual prowess. She gives them powerful orgasms (the “Oh’s” of the title). In other words, “They always want to come (cum) but they never want to leave”. She’s the boss who can take them or leave them — and she always leaves them. King belts her braggadocio over an insistent percussive beat and a slithering guitar line that sounds dirty in a good way. She struts like a rooster instead of playing chicken and turns gender stereotypes on their head as she rocks out. — Steve Horowitz

36. Julia Holter – “Feel You”

“Feel You”, the lead track on Julia Holter’s Have You in My Wilderness, is such a strange construction, but it’s beautiful in its strangeness. Essentially a pop song, it’s a quite unconventional one, built on vocals which follow an off-center, stuttering beat melody until the created tension breaks with each swooping chorus, highlighted by sympathetic orchestral strings. At times the song feels sky bound, but the spoken passage near the conclusion brings it back down to earth. And let’s not forget the harpsichord with which the track opens, a daring way to start a song: with an old instrument associated with classical and medieval music leading us into what’s actually a very modern song, full of life and the promise of possibilities. — Rob Caldwell

35. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Piss Crowns are Trebled”

Inviting “Piss Crowns are Trebled” into any ‘best songs’ competition feels at least a little bit unfair. Like a Soviet Olympic team from the ’70s, Godspeed You! Black Emperor have an uneven advantage over their opponents. At almost 14 minutes, “Piss Crowns are Trebled” is roughly one-third of Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, the Montreal collective’s first album of all-new material in over a dozen years. Technically, though, it’s still just one song, so you have to let them participate. The climactic highlight of Asunder is a show of their inimitable, unflagging strengths. A sense of impending doom? Check. Swirling sturm und drang? Check. A finalé that leaves you both empty and whole? Check. — Ian King

34. Death Grips – “On GP”

Stefan Burnett has consistently demonstrated that he’s willing to get in your face to get a point across, even if that means on-stage aggression. MC Ride in “On GP”, however, goes a step beyond, putting Burnett on the edge of a figurative cliff, welcoming the grim reaper and, at that time, the “end” of Death Grips. With a goodbye letter penned on a napkin and an abrupt departure from a Nine Inch Nails tour, the band left a mark on their fanbase and detractors, allowing for listeners everywhere to wonder who the next Death Grips would be. They were more than experimental hip-hop, and deserved to be larger than life — or death. If the band dies, then what’ll be the next underground act to pile on to? “On GP” leaves part of the band’s history before they decided to come back again. — Dustin Ragucos

33. Rival Consoles – “Looming”

“Looming” is a closer which flexes itself across a series of incipient lulls and emergent flourishes. It begins with characteristically innocuous humming and percussion, only to turn prophetic and swell into a volley of croaking tremors, computerized streaks that convey an intense longing for something they spend the rest of the cut wending towards. Yet their wistful tinge perhaps implies the unattainability of their object, the impossibility of transforming the human race into the realization of their idealized movements and sentiments. And so, in the end, they refute their own claim to naturalness or humanity by lacking the very defects, errors and imperfections that make nature and the human what they are. — Simon Chandler

32. Jason Isbell – “If It Takes a Lifetime”

This is a song about a man whose spirit will not be broken despite all signs that maybe it should be by now, an uplifting chorus and a sense of something positively spiritual, and a reminder that at the end of the day, one way or another, no matter the odds, there’s still love somewhere in the world. Isbell incorporates elements of rural America in a way that’s never forced or ironic. Songs like this are not easy to write but perhaps they’re easy to listen to and so is the case with this one: It seems to have been inspired by something greater and thus inspires us to achieve something greater as well. — Jedd Beaudoin

31. Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”

Mix one part drug anthem with one part love ballad, add generous layers of Auto-Tune and skittering beats, sprinkle in dashes of warbled “Yeahs” and “1738s”, and you get one of the most unlikely smash hits of the summer, Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen”. A drug-soaked confection flavored by the exuberance of RGF Productions, “Trap Queen” introduced the relatively unknown rapper from Paterson, New Jersey to the world. On the surface, the song seems simple and repetitive, and for that reason, many thought Fetty Wap was destined for one-hit wonder status.

But the song’s economy of composition belies its complexity. For example, the syncopation of the chirping synthesizers in the verse thickens into the heavy trap-booms of the bass in the chorus, and Fetty himself demonstrates unique vocal dexterity, nimbly jumping from baritone croons to interjecting wails, as he stacks hooks on hooks on hooks. With three other charting singles from his self-titled debut, Fetty Wap appears poised to establish himself as one of the more versatile and potent hip-hop artists of this generation. — Ethan King

30. Kacey Musgraves – “Biscuits”

Like 2013’s breakthrough single, “Follow Your Arrow”, “Biscuits” is all about contradiction: “I’ve never gotten taller making someone else feel small / Pouring salt in my sugar won’t make yours any sweeter”. Like “Follow Your Arrow”, “Biscuits” has a lot of the same set-up, including the same tempo and opening chord. But unlike “Follow Your Arrow”, which employed basic pop ingredients like male cheerleaders, “Biscuits” is pure contemporary country, and some of the best available this year. Kacey Musgraves is smart as whip as seen in her lyrics, but even better are the way she sings them: the choruses in “Biscuits” are a delight, and make this an instant highlight from Pageant Material. — Marshall Gu

29. Chelsea Wolfe – “Carrion Flowers”

There are listeners out there who don’t find solace in darkness. Chelsea Wolfe may change that. How pitch black and hope-crushing can the neo-folk singer’s album, Abyss be? Well, dip your toe into the deep waters of “Carrion Flowers”, and soon you’ll feel the pull to submerge yourself more deeply into Wolfe’s terrifying music. (Listen to this song in a trailer for Fear the Walking Dead, if you dare). Those who are brave enough to surrender will find themselves seduced by the song’s sludgy and distorted sounds. “Carrion Flowers” makes music that is less note-based and more animalistic. — Dustin Ragucos

28. Skylar Spence – “Can’t You See”

The name Skylar Spence is a new one for Ryan DeRobertis, who previously recorded albums under the name Saint Pepsi. (The change came, presumably, because enough people asked him why he hadn’t chosen Saint Coke.) Though the Saint Pepsi project was associated with niche genres like vaporwire, with Prom King, the 2015 full-length debut of Skylar Spence, DeRobertis reveals himself to have been a bonafide pop genius in disguise all along. “Can’t You See”, the chief jewel in this Prom King‘s crown, contains genre multitudes: Discovery-era Daft Punk, vocal harmonies from the Beach Boys playbook, and funky guitar figures are but a few ingredients in this potent sonic stew.

Like any good student of art, DeRobertis makes clear his influences and simultaneously folds them into each other, to the point that the final result is something stunningly new. “Can’t You See” is both quite like a tune you’d hear on a One Direction album and yet nothing like that at all. DeRobertis’ ability to tap into the pop uncanny is matched by few of his peers, and if “Can’t You See” is any indication, he’s just getting started — and what a start it is. — Brice Ezell

27. And So I Watch You From Afar – “Animal Ghosts”

It’s that riff. That headbang inducing, royally epic riff. Ok, well it’s not just the riff. That primal, shimmering thing is one of the best pieces of guitar work this year, but everything else around it had to be immaculate to match it. From the roaring chords in the background, to the chugging guitar and bass, to the choir shouting the guitar on to victory, absolutely every minute detail is produced to usher in a cry of “ADVENTURE!” And cry out it does, in appropriately sweeping fashion. All hail the riff. All hail “And So I Watch You From Afar”. — Nathan Stevens

26 . Dâm-Funk – “Missing U”

Where other contemporary funk practitioners take on a slightly broader, often more organic approach to the genre, Dâm-Funk is at his best exploring the synthetic. On the mid-tempo ballad “Missing U”, he coos and swoons with the best of his ’80s peers, creating a sound very much of its time and inherently timeless. Being able to transcend time and space seems to be the album’s primary goal, playing with the idea of time and space within a funk context to create a series of songs that fit right alongside their influences, from Prince to Zappa to Junie to any number of interchangeable groove merchants. — John Paul

25. Belle and Sebastian – “Nobody’s Empire”

Belle & Sebastian’s ninth LP begins with a five-minute song that concisely sums up everything the band has been up to for the past 20 years while also breaking new ground. The latter comes mostly in how recognizably autobiographical the song is. It tells of Stuart Murdoch’s seven-year struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome. His songwriting and band have roots in this period where he struggled to leave the house. Shadows of the story have appeared throughout the band’s catalogue, but nothing like this mini-epic, which tells a harrowing story of inner struggles and the healing process.

Take the stereotype of shy indie kids who never seen the sun and make it a real-life pain-filled story of a man dealing with thoughts of life and death, heaven and hell, seeking saviors. That alone makes the song a pivotal, perhaps game-changing representation of Belle and Sebastian’s career. Even better, the song musically, melodically summarizes the group’s career highlights — and does so with elegance and precision. — Dave Heaton

24. Autre Ne Veut – “World War Pt. 2”

At least for the first couple of listens, “World War Pt. 2” can be skeletal and jarring, whereas “World War” — from Autre Ne Veut’s 2013 album, Anxiety — was warmer, downbeat but soothing. Does the sequel really pick up where the first left off? Maybe. Is the accompanying video, directed by Allie Avital, at least a little bit NSFW? Quite possibly. Does the whole piece make for an unsettling experience? Probably. But in a compelling, artful way that draws you in? Definitely. — Ian King

23. Leon Bridges – “Coming Home”

Of all of the soul revival acts of recent ilk, it would be a hard argument for anyone to pose that there’s one closer to the mark than Leon Bridges. Right out of the gate on his debut album, Bridges establishes that he’s more authentic than poseur with the titular “Coming Home”. Whilst paying respects to the Cookes and the Arethas that founded the era of R&B that his vibe absolutely resonates, it’s in the gentle, reassuring sincerity of his voice that he’s able to drive his music more towards the realm of validity, and not nostalgia-dipped cheese. “Coming Home”, in particular, has all of the makings of an ageless love song. — Jonathan Frahm

22. Rabit – “Snow Leopard”

Rabit kicked the doors down with “Pandemic”, so it’s inevitable that “Snow Leopard” would sound a bit softer in comparison. Not by much, though; this gets as harsh as grime can get, but the aggression is contemplated. The percussion is measured for effect, arriving at its loudest when Rabit knows it’ll have the most impact. Everything on “Snow Leopard” is deliberate, like a great cat stalking its prey in the woods. Just as with any predator, it’s gone before you realize, and you’re left in a completely different state from where you began. — Kevin Korber

21. The Mountain Goats – “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero”

Possibly the catchiest song on the Mountain Goats’ excellent Beat the Champ album, “Chavo Guerrero” is anchored by a triumphant chorus and a simple, slightly distorted acoustic guitar riff. It’s partially a biography of the career of the titular wrestler and partially a first-hand account of why Chavo was such a hero to frontman John Darnielle growing up. With brevity and humor, Darnielle manages to explain Chavo’s appeal; Guerrero was a dependable force for good at a time when Darnielle spent most of his home life dealing with an abusive stepfather. The unabashed brightness of the song fits right in with Darnielle’s vision of Guerrero as a shining beacon of heroism. “Chavo Guerrero’s” combination of songcraft, heart, and storytelling places it among the best of the Mountain Goats’ output. — Chris Conaton

20. Battles – “The Yabba”

This is fun. “The Yabba” comes at you like a seven-foot samurai doing a war dance (Samurai didn’t do war dances? Well just go with it.) like a seven-foot samurai doing a war dance in full battle dress, creeping closer and closer with each stuttering step. You know what’s coming. He’s going to tear your face off at some point and you’re just waiting for it to happen. You know the drill. “The Yabba” starts with squeaks and squelches akin to mangled radar pings; the splurge gets more and more distorted; all the pieces assemble; drums kick the door down; and guitars rush in after, guns drawn. You get the idea and you know what’s approaching but you can’t resist. And of course with Battles there’s the usual obnoxiously goddamn brilliant playing from all concerned. It’s a big imposing beast of a track. — Paul Duffus

19. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment – “Sunday Candy”

“I don’t wanna be cool”, sings Chance the Rapper on a different song from Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment’s Surf. “I just wanna be me”. And, true to his word, there’s nothing cool about “Sunday Candy”, the Chance-fronted album highlight about going to church with his grandmother. Mixing a gospel lift and a fake-out hook from Jamila Woods that slyly threatens to go sexy (“You gotta move it slowly / Take and eat my body like it’s holy”), but swerves to evoke both the Eucharist and peppermints at granny’s, the Social Experiment makes Chance’s tribute truly feel like coming in from the rain. Grandma Chance has plenty to be proud of. — David Bloom

18. Grimes – “Realiti”

Claire Boucher is proving to be a twisted firestarter. Wonderfully so. During a lengthy absence split between scrapping entire albums, recording the vibrant Art Angels and mischievously teasing moustache-twirling hipsters as if it were an Olympic sport, she quietly unleashed this knockout of a tune. “REALiTi” was apparently an unfinished, “What this old thing?” demo that was all but rescued from the trash and encrusted in old pizza but in our reality it’s one of 2015’s brightest electro-pop bangers. Luxurious, characteristically trance-like, it rolls over warm waves of heavenly melody and throws up more colours than a rainbow. Major League Pop for Tomorrow’s World. Even the video’s ace. Oh and for what it’s worth, this so-called “Demo” version surely trumps the “Proper” Art Angels version right? — Matt James

17. Joanna Newsom – “Sapokanikan”

A song that already feels remembered, it teeters on melodic and structural stability but never solidifies into the coherent repetition that would allow it to endure hummably. This is impeccably modulated mimesis: how better to illustrate the inevitable collapse of empire, love subject to mortality, and the pointillist haze of faded historical detail? Newsom’s associative references bypass linear history to create a transhistorical emotional self, and the song shifts along with her: twinkling, plaintive, exuberant, tragic. While her alignment of violent colonization and the overextension of empire as equivalent tragedies under the banner of eroded human accomplishment is lazy ethics, the ribboned piano melody and marital percussion subtend a genuine work of postcolonial phenomenology. Moral, mortal, and existential compromise rarely sound so inviting, but there she is, inviting you. — Michael Opal

16. FKA twigs – “Glass & Patron”

FKA twigs isn’t a stranger to odd, obtuse sounds that channel wavelengths of near-nightmarish imagery. But while “Glass & Patron” possesses that method to her madness, it also holds within its dimly-lit atmosphere empowerment. She breaks the fourth wall, telling her audience that, while she has an omniscient control within her groove — being the one behind the camera — there’s the appreciation for those committing to tableau (i.e., her audience) waiting to be pictured. FKA twigs is the blend of Aphex Twin, Tool, and David Bowie that the music landscape had been waiting for. “Glass & Patron” shows her mixture well. — Dustin Ragucos

15. Titus Andronicus – “Dimed Out”

Titus Andronicus stretched out on their 93-minute epic The Most Lamentable Tragedy, but “Dimed Out” makes it clear that they could still hit us with a flashing burst. Patrick Stickles’ quick-fire lyrics somehow convey both a frustration of the mind and a fire in the belly, and if the narrator is in full on revolt and removal from the world around him, well all that destruction never sounded so much like building. The group chorus is bracing, the drums crashing, and the hooks slicing with precision and just enough melodic sweetness to make the fury of the song all the more appealing. “Dimed Out” is this epic album’s righteous venom boiled down to its most potent dose. — Matthew Fiander

14. BØRNS – “Electric Love”

“Electric Love” is the musical equivalent of diving under a shimmering wave, if the water were filled with glitter and mermaids were singing three-part harmony underneath. The song takes 30 seconds to assemble its parts, opening with a dreamy arpeggio and drums, then adding the swung rhythm guitar part and an onrush of backing vocals as the song crests and floods the eardrums with the ecstatic, almost campy abundance of glam pop at its best. “Electric Love” is a shout-it-from-the-rooftops celebration of new love, or at least the variety of lust that quickens the pulse like a sugar high. While its choruses push the vocal melody and instrumental layering to a climax, the song really succeeds by virtue of its dynamics: the retracted scale of its verses and its diaphanous bridge serve to throw those maximalist refrains into even sharper relief. — Annie Galvin

13. Oneohtrix Point Never – “Mutant Standard”

What is the mutant standard? From the track, the criteria must include thick beats ricocheting along the walls of your ears better than any ASMR video could. The standard also includes portions of the ether seeping in from a crack in the wall. Oh, and one can’t forget that it should sound like something from an N64 Bomberman game. Finally, it’s urgency should be… Nevermind. Screw it. Whatever “Mutant Standard” is — whatever its rubric lays out — Oneohtrix Point Never nail it, probably pursuing something like the Cyborg Standard while looking at their marks. — Dustin Ragucos

12. Rudimental – “We the Generation” feat. Mahalia

The music and video for this song really capture Rudimental’s ebullient spirit. At first, Mahalia seems to shy away from the camera the way a lover does from the object of her affection. She’s flirting, but can’t help but make her feelings known. The band picks up on this and reward her their warmth and liveliness. The video offers a glimpse of life where just playing, cooking, and hanging out with friends is all that matters. — Steve Horowitz

11. Tame Impala – “Let It Happen”

With its steady dance groove, effects-heavy textures, and far-reaching melodies, “Let It Happen” hits a pinnacle for a contemporary indie pop more indebted to classic disco records than Pavement or the Pixies. “Let It Happen” coordinates indie rock’s two separate modern obsessions — psychedelic rock and disco — in a substantial and unique way, weaving together two styles still at odds with each other through streams of melody that pass between distorted guitars and synthesizers, vocoder and the human voice. Even if one doesn’t appreciate the direction Tame Impala took with Currents, it’s decidedly of its time, paradoxically forming an exchange between divergent retro sounds to create one of the more modern sounding indie rock albums of the year; “Let It Happen” is both the album’s overture and its thematic peak. — Colin Fitzgerald

10. Alabama Shakes – “Gimme All Your Love”

One characteristic that made Alabama Shakes’ 2015 album Sound & Color so impressive was the band’s use of dynamics. There’s perhaps no better example than the earnest and powerful “Gimme All Your Love”. The song effortlessly alternates between a staccato fuzz guitar attack and a loose, laid-back Motown groove. In the driver’s seat is Brittany Howard’s sultry croon, which gets fiery during an emotionally charged chorus. The band then work into a punchy disco jam before easing back into the song’s refrain. “Gimme All Your Love” is the perfect combination of raw rock ‘n’ roll energy and southern-tinged soul that make Alabama Shakes such a great American band. — Richard Giraldi

9. Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta”

Is “King Kunta” a diss track or a slogan? It’s neither: this is Kendrick Lamar laying himself out, looking at the success that could be at his feet and spitting in its face. The song is a microcosm of its parent album, a surprisingly uncommercial left turn from an artist who seemingly had it made. On “King Kunta”, Kendrick makes sure you know that this was no flight of fancy. He is who he is, and you can either take him or go with some lesser rapper who relies on a ghostwriter to get his rhymes done. Your call. — Kevin Korber

8. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Run Away With Me”

Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion opens with a blaring saxophone riff soused with distortion, charting out a far different sonic territory than her more familiar realm of bubblegum pop. In contrast to “Call Me Maybe” and “I Really Like You”, “Run Away With Me” swoons with the libidinal textures of ’80s inflected pop. Shedding her squeaky-clean persona, Jepsen flaunts the elasticity of her voice, using the verses’ whispery intonations and the chorus’ layered hooks to assert her desires for pleasure. No longer passively coquettish, Jepsen becomes a “sinner in secret”, taking us on a spontaneous tryst through the city streets at night, reveling in the lust-inducing synthetic shimmers. Altogether, “Run Away With Me” develops a more-in-control Jepsen, and it delivers a contemporary pop anthem rivaled only by those of Taylor Swift. — Ethan King

7. The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”

Up until 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness, the Weeknd wasn’t known for bouncy, “Smooth Criminal”-esque radio pop. The dark universe of his Trilogy mixtape collection is often formless and ambient, with his pitch-perfect falsetto gliding atop textured synths and undulating beats. What a hat-trick “Can’t Feel My Face” is, then: produced by Ali Payami and the radio pop guru Max Martin, the track blends together the Weeknd’s bleak subject matter with a rubbery bassline and a pristine chorus. Given the song’s subject matter — comparing being in love with indulging in drugs (or perhaps the other way around) — it says something interesting about the world that this song is so pervasive in Top 40 radio. Or maybe the blissfully unaware public is simply too entranced by the Weeknd’s channeling of Michael Jackson to notice the moral trouble lingering beneath the bass. Either way, “Can’t Feel My Face” is a fascinating and irresistible evolution in the Weeknd’s career, a natural pop breakthrough that’s well-deserved. — Brice Ezell

6. Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood”

With 1989, Taylor Swift took a cue from the Michael Jackson Thriller handbook, and created an album designed to have something for almost everyone. “Bad Blood’s” role in that formula was a song for anyone who was hurt enough from the loss of a friendship to want to take up their fists and meet their former bestie in the courtyard at midnight. Kill Bill style. Relationships are almost expected to end, especially when you’re young. There are literally thousands of musical salves for that kind of hurt. For the death of a friendship, there are far fewer remedies. Probably because those are the ones that end up hurting the most. Taylor Swift’s towering, cathartic blast, fueled by Kendrick Lamar’s peerless verse raises the stakes of “Bad Blood” to a Sergio Leone western. — Sean McCarthy

5. Chvrches – “Leave a Trace”

The first single off the Scottish trio’s follow-up to 2013’s massive The Bones of What You Believe shows the band sounding stronger and more confident both as musicians and songwriters. Sleeker than the band’s synthpop of old, the lavish “Leave a Trace” is a perfect, sparkling showcase for singer Lauren Mayberry, who not only sound so much more assertive on record than she ever did before (a couple years of intense touring will do that) but hardened, both vocally and lyrically: “You think I’ll apologize for things I left behind / But you got it wrong / And I’m as sane as I ever was”. That’s a kiss-off line that Taylor Swift wishes she could write. — Adrien Begrand

4. Chris Stapleton – “Tennessee Whiskey”

“Tennessee Whiskey” marks the beginning of an immense rise for Chris Stapleton in 2015; he first proved his chops to millions around the world in a performance of the song with Justin Timberlake on this years’ Country Music Awards. While that joint live version might always be the revered staple in what’s bound to be a myriad of performances of the song for Stapleton in the future, what it marked for him long before his CMA appearance was a tremendous propensity towards artfulness that suits his craft. Stapleton took one of Coe & Jones’ more recent chestnuts and reinvented it into penultimate listening with its new status as a passionate burner. — Jonathan Frahm

3. Courtney Barnett – “Pedestrian at Best”

After a pair of EPs that landed glowing notices in all the right places, Courtney Barnett’s debut LP was more anticipated than most. Which explains why its first single sounded like something written to exorcise a second-album curse. “Put me on a pedestal / And I’ll only disappoint you”, shouts the Aussie singer/songwriter over a pummeling garage-rock hook, out-snarking any potential critic before they can reach for their keyboard. Loud and ragged and sarcastic as hell, the track relentlessly blocks the hot-take impulse in our brains. It’s a joyful riot of anxieties evaporating. — Joe Sweeney

2. Jamie xx feat. Young Thug – “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”

The concept of “song of the summer” is trite and usually rewards formulaic, prosaic pop. Thank goodness for 2015, then, when one of the consensus songs of summer features breezy steel drums, a bacchanalian dancehall introduction, a warm sampled hook, and two verses from the year’s most polarizing rapper that would make Freud blush. Few songs have the power to teleport you back to where you were when you first heard them or made exceptional memories to their soundtracking, but credit Jamie xx and pals making this song memorable. — Brian Duricy

1. Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”

Rarely in recent decades has a major single felt so vitally in-tune with current events as Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”. From the LAPD’s protest of Lamar’s BET performance atop a squad car to protesters in Cleveland breaking it out during a demonstration, “Alright” clearly resonates throughout the world-at-large. Melding tortured verses about struggle and racism with a more airy, uplifting chorus it manages to bring a hopefulness and clarity to the heavier themes that dominate the rest of Lamar’s massive and thorny opus To Pimp a Butterfly.

“Alright” is a dense, complicated song that weaves between gospel images, snapshots of police brutality and the personal toll that being black in America can take. Because of its complexity, it may be less obvious candidate for a generational anthem than songs like “We Shall Overcome”, “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” or “Fight the Power”. Still, its outspoken and unapologetic blackness make it feel totally at home within the political climate of post-Ferguson and Black Lives Matter America. Whether it still feels as vital in five, ten or 40 years remains to be seen, but its impact in 2015 is undeniable. — John Tryneski

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This article was originally published in December 2015.

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