The 90 Best Songs of 2015

Photo by Austin Rich on Unsplash

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

Next Page





Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".


Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.


Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.


On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.


Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".


Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?


London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".


Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.


Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.