The top 20 songs of 2015
Before I start off this list, I should give out a disclaimer. I know feathers are going to be ruffled regardless, as is the nature of end of year lists, but maybe some clear communication will leave some of those feathers un-ruffled. This is a top 20 SONGS list. Not albums. There were some truly fantastic albums this year, in particular, To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar, and Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens. No songs from either of the aforementioned albums are on this list because while I enjoyed the songs in the context of the albums, I didn't feel like any of the individual tracks stood on their own enough for me to add them to this list. This applies for all other great albums of this year, but I felt like I had to mention these two particular standouts. Now that that's out of the way, onward to our list!
20. The Weeknd - I Can't Feel My Face
I'm not going to lie, I resisted this song's advances when I first heard the melodies wafting in through the nation's airwaves. However, I can't resist the delectable funk and driving beats behind this pop smash. This song broke my pre-existing expectations of what I formerly considered a very one-dimensional artist; the change of pace from Mr. Weeknd's normal fare came as a pleasant surprise. It was quite the war of attrition, but I can happily say that my cynical side lost out at the end of 2015.
19. CHVRCHES - Leave A Trace
80's synth-driven pop has been steadily rising in popularity in the past few years, and CHVRCHES are the group doing it the best. Lauren Mayberry's voice is filled with infectious emotion when she hits her strident high notes, while that lovely retro percussion makes sure that your feet are moving.
18. RATATAT - Nightclub Amnesia
RATATAT returned with a vengeance after a 5 year hiatus this year, dropping a new album of their inimitable style of music. "Nightclub Amnesia" represents a refinement of RATATAT's style, integrating the driving rhythms of previous hit "17 Years" and adding some fantastic pacing with a more industrial sound.
17. FOALS - Mountain at my Gates
So much energy goes into this track that it makes you want to get up and run a marathon! The instrumentation here is the star of the show, with expertly blended and balanced guitar rhythms and melodies intertwining until bursting into energy during the chorus. The layering of this instrumentation really adds to the intensity of this song, so when that chorus hits it really HITS.
16. Blended Babies - Make it Work (feat. Anderson Paak, Asher Roth and Donnie Trumpet)
This psychedelic concoction of Hip-hop and R&B from LA brings together a couple rising stars and a veteran emcee. Insanely talented Anderson .Paak's smooth-but-rough vocals gently sandwich Asher Roth's clever bars and Donnie Trumpet's signature instrument pierces through the song in what culminates to musical bliss. Great for a rainy winter day.
15. Austin Basham - All is Well
This one came from out of left field. Unknown artist Austin Basham from Austin(hue), Texas delivered one of the most memorable folk tunes of this year. This song isn't reinventing the wheel, but the patient buildup of this song makes it feel like an incredibly personal epic journey. The tempo change accelerates the pace of this galloping ride through the countryside and the finish will leave you on an adrenaline high.
14. Tame Impala - Disciples
This year Tame Impala also decided to cash in on the 80's nostalgia that has taken the music industry by storm. While I wasn't a huge fan of their synthesizer-driven efforts on the album, they left behind some of 2011's Lonerism in some of the songs. "Disciples" is one of these tracks. While the album fast-forwards to the 80's, "Disciples" stays behind for a riff on the best of late 60's psychedelic rock. My only complaint is that it's too short!
13. Langhorne Slim and the Law - Strangers
Looking back at my favorite moments of 2015, I caught myself recalling "Strangers" playing while road-tripping through a stretch of California's most beautiful mountains. The song stands without fond memories however, with its tasteful banjos and Langhorne's wistful lyrics evoking equal amounts of nostalgia and hope. Grab some friends, a car, and don't forget to blast this as you embark on an adventure!
12. Ryan Adams - Bad Blood (from '1989')
Creativity isn't the first word that comes to mind when speaking about cover songs, but Ryan Adams' re-imagining of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" is the closest thing we have to engineering an alternate reality where T-Swift stuck to her original music style. A feat of such scientific innovation has to be commended. Oh, did I mention that you now have two versions of this song stuck in your head now? Thanks Ryan Adams.
11. Alabama Shakes - Don't Wanna Fight
It's build a long time since I've heard Brittany Howards crackling screech penetrating the simple fibers of this song, but the gestation period since its release in April has given me ample time to reflect upon it. In danger of being over-played on the radio, "Don't Wanna Fight" stuck with me because it simple doesn't sound like anything else released this year. The entire song crafts an anxious, frantic tension below the surface, which at times bubbles over as the repeated chorus repeats itself into madness. A wonderfully dark - yet funky - soul track with plenty of emotion behind it.
10. Oh Wonder - All We Do
If you've been following my Artist of the Week series, you'll know that I called Oh Wonder to be the breakout artist of 2015. While they haven't reached the astronomical success of some of 2014's breakouts, like Hozier or Sam Smith, Oh Wonder's following is still extremely impressive, given their independent status. Turn the lights way down, close your eyes and enjoy one of the most intimate releases this year with "All We Do".
9. James Bay - Let It Go
When he's not giving Pharrell a run for his money in funky hat contests, James Bay is using his fingers and vocal chords to weave a hypnotic spell for his listeners. The delicate vocals and feathery guitar work on "Let It Go" compliment each other perfectly. The minimalist nature of the instrumentation puts the focus square on Bay's vocals, highlighting how touching his lyrics are among the most sensitive for breakup songs of the year.
8. Jamie xx - Loud Places (feat. Romy)
If you're an aspiring musician and looking for examples of how to pace songs, listen to Jamie xx's "Loud Places". The crescendo that this song builds up to is incredible, with delightful little bits of instrumentation and vocals all layering onto each other. The entire album was lauded for its creativity, but it seems like every little bend in the road of this song holds a new surprise. As soon as you've processed that last bit of awesomeness, the song provides another moment, picking up steam until your brain is overwhelmed with this lush freight train of sound.
7. Julien Baker - Something
If James Bay's "Let It Go" was one of the most sensitive breakup songs of 2015, the award for most gut-wrenching, emotionally draining breakup song certainly goes to "Something". You can literally hear the point in song where her heart breaks - right as her voice goes from a soft, mellow purr into an anguished, throaty wail of despair. Another song with absolutely incredible pacing, taking notes from the musical geniuses over at Explosions In The Sky.
6. Bruno Mars - Uptown Funk
Girls hit your Hallelujah - WHOOOOO. Oh man, it feels like forever, but "Uptown Funk" actually came out at the start of 2015! The arrival of this song signaled that 2015 was destined to be the year of mainstream funk revival, with some major artists funking up their sounds, as seen in entries #20, and #11 on this list. "Uptown Funk" is the biggest, loudest, grooviest, and catchiest of them all, so much so that I still haven't gotten tired of hearing it on the radio. Long live the funk.
5. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment - Sunday Candy
While this song was technically released as a single in 2014, the full album was released this year so I'm including it, pedants. "Sunday Candy" is an absolute gorgeous song from top to bottom, featuring brilliant mixing on its gospel/soul/tropical instrumentation that feels rich and deep without seeming too busy. The vocals are similarly top-notch, with Chance's sing-songy, twisty-turny rhyme schemes dovetailing perfectly into Jamila Woods' soul-filled voice. The writing here is really good, an overarching metaphor comparing the time spent with Chance's grandmother as a special treat, aka Sunday Candy. Did I mention that this chorus is both epic and infectious at the same time? So good.
4. Galantis - Peanut Butter Jelly
Looking back at all my favorite songs of the year, I'm as surprised as you are to see this song as high on the list. Featuring silly lyrics like "Spread it like peanut butter jelly/ do it like I owe you some money", I thought this song was going to be more of a temporary enjoyment - a guilty pleasure. Months later, and the song is still a guilty pleasure, so I had to do some introspection as to why it had so much staying power. I think its unique production has something to do with it. The energetic disco rhythms are uniquely complimented by swelling soul strings, resulting in an addictive song that will definitely get you moving! I would expect nothing from the creative minds at Galantis, one of which, Christian Karlsson, is a member of one of my personal favorite bands, Miike Snow.
3. Towkio - Heaven Only Knows (feat. Chance the Rapper)
Simply the greatest hip hop song of 2015, full stop. Combining elements of soul and gospel music with future bass, the daring melding of genres pays off in spades for the young Chicago rapper. The track starts off with an bouncy, piano-driven melody before going into overdrive for the second half. Chance's verse here is insane - when he raises the key of his voice and then rhymes "omnipotent", I instantly knew this song was destined to be a classic. As if his verse wasn't enough, the song explodes into a gospel-choir chorus, with the electronic sounds of the future perfectly synergizing with the classical orchestration of yesteryear. Masterpiece.
2. TODD TERJE - Alfonso Muskedunder
In an interesting twist, this is an electronic artist that is doing the opposite of a trend this year - moving away from the nu-disco/dance sound. That's because TODD TERJE is ahead of the musical curve, creating an absolutely dazzling musical soundscape that is more jazz than anything else, but integrates key elements of funk, bossa nova, and even prog metal. The result is a devilishly psychedelic tune that feels like the soundtrack to an old-fashioned heist movie. Don't miss the music video either, which perfectly compliments the psychedelic themes and free-flowing production of the song.
1. Louis the Child - It's Strange (feat K.Flay)
The competition was stiff for this year's song of the summer, but the late entry of Louis the Child's "It's Strange" stole the throne from its many worthy competitors. The song is a perfect combination of the two biggest trends in electronic music right now - the marriage of the xylophones and steel drums of tropical house and the wobbly, deep bass of Flume-inspired future trap. That this song manages to bring these two styles together cohesively is one accomplishment, but to do so in with such panache is something entirely else. The song starts off by lulling you into a false sense of security with K. Flay's nonchalant vocal delivery and a steady, relaxing melody. Enter the drop. Again, the beauty of this song lies in playing with your expectations, so the sheer grooviness of this drop really hits you. Careful listening to this one in public places, as you're going to spontaneously break out into dance every time you hear those delicious wubs.