Top 50 Songs of 2015

top 50 songs of 2015 Alessia Cara20. Alessia Cara – “Here”
from Know-it-All (Def Jam/UMG)

Good heavens, how much of the 1990s can you cram into one song? Obviously this track is built on a signature sample of “Ike’s Rap II” from Isaac Hayes’ Black Moses, used multiple times in that decade by artists up to and including Tricky (“Hell is Around the Corner”) and Portishead (“Glory Box”). But can we talk about this Canadian chick’s flow? Most of her music seems to draw a nice line between indie soul and Beyonce’s girl power. “Here,” however, places Cara in the role of uneasy partygoer revisiting a bygone era of sing-song rap and New Jill Swing: “I’m sorry if I seem uninterested/Or I’m not listenin’, or I’m indifferent/Truly I ain’t got no business here/But since my friends are here, I just came to kick it.” Alessia, lemme introduce you to TLC and Lauryn Hill and Salt ’n’ Pepa. You can kick it with them, too. – AB

top 50 songs of 2015 Waxahatchee19. Waxahatchee – “Air”
from Ivy Tripp (Merge)

Sometimes the best songs are the simplest. Stylistically, there’s nothing mindblowing going on in “Air.” It’s guitar-driven indie-pop with minimalist rhythmic elements and one hell of a hook. Sure, it sounds great, but that’s not the strongest appeal of Katie Crutchfield’s performance here. No, that prize goes to her succinct, cutting lyricism (detailing a particularly flawed attempt at monogamy) and her gut-wrenching vocal performance. On “Air,” you can feel Crutchfield’s pain at her inability to relate to a possible suitor’s “all-in” approach (“You were patiently giving me every answer as I roamed free“) as the weight of disappointing someone she cares for melts into every word. And did I mention how riveting the hook is? — ATB

most promising artists of 2015 Shamir

18. Shamir – “Call It Off”
from Ratchet (XL)

In this year’s Class Act column, I nodded to Shamir Bailey as my favorite new vocalist of the year. And while that voice is absolutely astonishing (they have a counter-tenor range and know how to use it), there’s a lot more to Bailey’s talent than simple singing ability. Shamir has the unique ability to combine together elements that shouldn’t work together for a mesmerizing result. On “Call It Off,” those powers are put into hyperdrive for a bubbly, house-influenced anthem about knowing when to call it quits on a bad situation. Between the hyperactive production and high-intensity performance, it’s not a vibe every artist could pull off. But Shamir isn’t exactly an every-artist, are they?  — ATB

top 50 songs of 2015 fka twigs17. FKA twigs – “figure 8”
from M3LL155X (Young Turks)

When the video for M3LL155X came out I was instantly transfixed by the darkly seductive opener, “figure 8,” and by the image of the wonderfully distinctive Michéle Lamy, wife and muse of fashion designer Rick Owens, with a headpiece resembling an anglerfish. Centering the video on Lamy, I read it as a kinship, a nod to this extraordinary woman who doesn’t conform to traditional norms, whose eccentricity is refreshing in an industry that often privileges homogeneity. In an interview with Zane Lowe, FKA twigs spoke about feeling lost and a little despondent following the release of LP1 and finding solace in dance, specifically in the voguing community. When she sings “let me live through your vice,” there’s longing for kinship and a desire to relinquish expectations and to move freely. Talking to Lowe, twigs comments, “it’s difficult to keep hold of who you are and what you want to do.” So it seems fitting that twigs would gravitate towards voguing, a form that is highly individualistic, and Lamy, a woman with uncompromising style. And “figure 8” is an uncompromising FKA twigs song, sparsely melodic with shades of the grotesque, and thoroughly hers. — JI

Chelsea_Wolfe-2015-cred_Shaina_Hedlund

16. Chelsea Wolfe – “Iron Moon”
from Abyss (Sargent House)

Chelsea Wolfe is the only songwriter in the world that can make emotional pain sound very literally like the end of the world. In fact, much of her fourth album Abyss was inspired in large part by her own disorienting and terrifying experiences with dreams and sleep paralysis. “Iron Moon” was born not of her own psychological wounds, but those of a stranger halfway across the world. Wolfe wrote the song after reading about a Foxconn worker in China who committed suicide and the works of poetry that he left behind, and her dramatic reinterpretation is as heartbreaking and as crushing as she’s ever sounded. “Iron Moon” is stunning in an almost literal sense; the explosion of doom metal guitar in its opening riff hits like a cannonball to the belly. There’s no ambiguity about it: This song is heavy. And yet it’s also quite intimate, Wolfe cooing at a whisper pitch during its soft, waltzing verses. But the riffs return, the pain flares up, and what might have ended up the song on Abyss with the highest bar of entry becomes its most vulnerable and approachable, as well as the one with the most devastatingly simple hook: “My heart is a tomb/ My heart is an empty room.” — JT

deafheaven

15. Deafheaven – “Gifts for the Earth”
from New Bermuda (Anti-)

Leave it to Deafheaven to feature prominent tambourine on one of the best black metal tracks of 2015. For a band that’s been passed off by more ‘kvlt’ metal listeners as a genre-mashing gimmick, the genre-bending quintet switch up their influences with an admirable frequency. But on “Gifts for the Earth,” they out do even themselves, launching into a pulsing, indie-rock inspired riff, with just a touch of blackened atmosphere. For a second, it feels as if a different band has taken over entirely, until George Clarke breaks in, his perfect, goblin-like vocals setting the tone for the rest of the song. Clarke, along with his band, then take us through their first ABAB song structure, narrating a peaceful, long-awaited death with relative calm before erupting into an explosive climax. The song’s true catharsis, though, comes at the end, with an Oasis-inspired outro that ends New Bermuda—a rather emotionally taxing record—with a feeling of morbid tranquility, echoed in Clarke’s parting words: “Then further downward so that I can rest/ Cocooned by the heat of the ocean floor/ In the dark, my flesh to disintegrate into consumption for the earth.” – ATB

top 50 songs of 2015 Algiers

14. Algiers – “Irony. Utility. Pretext”
from Algiers (Matador)

Any pull on the lever of music’s slot machine might put genres next to each other where the resulting hyphenate might legitimately surprise and intrigue. Is it me, or shouldn’t we expect to hear or see more instances of “industrial soul” or “gothic soul”? Sounds legit, yet few acts drill down there: Soulsavers, certainly, and maybe Massive Attack fit the bill. Hearing Algiers’ experiments out of Atlanta, I get the sense they could lead a charge of artists under that thematic umbrella. Franklin James Fisher’s impassioned yell kicks back against centuries of institutionalized racism— “They swapped the dogs/And the cross/For sublimated forestalling”—in front of dramatic and dark synth-funk, continuing traditions of both genuine R&B and many different flavors of Afropunk. Here, Algiers travel through Front 242 as a stop on their journey from Fishbone to clipping. – AB

Chvrches13. Chvrches – “Leave a Trace”
from Every Open Eye (Glassnote)

If there was pressure on Chvrches in the run-up to the release of their second album, the Scottish trio certainly weren’t showing it, casually tossing out one of the best singles of the year as its flagship track. “Leave a Trace” has ice in its veins, content to remain mid-tempo while serving as a brutal last goodbye to one of lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s exes; she hasn’t made her career out of breakup songs like a certain Miss Adkins, but based on this evidence (“Take care to leave a trace of a man,” indeed), she damn well could. The juxtaposition of its mid-tempo feel and its fiery sentiment— not to mention the song’s clinical synth hook—helps it to shine. It may not have been the uptempo stormer that many had been expecting as Every Open Eye’s first single—those would come later—but it was the song that informed the blueprint of the record: a refinement of previous efforts rather than something explicitly new, introducing a bolder, more confident, just downright better version of a band now armed with the sort of songs that could take the world by storm. – GO’M

health_loma_vista.0.012. HEALTH – “Stonefist”
from Death Magic (Loma Vista)

This is it: The heaviest pop song of 2015. There’s no point in racking your brain in a vain attempt to find another contender. There isn’t one. Even the closest runner up is a safe distance from “Stonefist,” either too accessible to brave this level of industrial grind or too gnarly to pass as pop music. “Stonefist” is a musical marvel, really, so punishingly distorted that it could pass for Nine Inch Nails during their mud-caked-fishnets prime, which isn’t all that hard to believe, since HEALTH did in fact tour with Trent Reznor & Co. back in 2009 after releasing “Die Slow,” a track that first suggested the Los Angeles noise-rock outfit was headed down such a menacing, beat-laden path. But it does something that most industrial tracks don’t—it sounds like a hit. In fact, it’s even a love song. “Stonefist”’s most abrasive and crushing elements are wrapped around a vulnerable core, vocalist Jake Duzsik owning up to something that neither party of a bad relationship wants to admit: “We stay possessed by what we lost/ And we both know, love’s not in our hearts.” It’s not devastating or tragic. In fact, it’s almost mundane. But HEALTH have always been more about broken ribs than broken hearts— at least with “Stonefist” you can dance the throbbing black-and-blues away. — JT

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11. Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”
from Fetty Wap (Universal)

After all the covers and the parodies and thinkpieces and the parodies of the thinkpieces about “Trap Queen” fade from our collective memory, what we’re left with is an exceptional song that works on so many genre levels. It’s a pop earworm, a trunk-rattler and a crooner’s showcase, all at once. And its subversion of a common trope of rap love songs—instead of showering her with gifts, he asks her to partner with him in the illicit business that their circumstances have presented them with—is positively progressive. When “Trap Queen” elicited such a massive response among so many demographics, the pessimist in me was somewhat wary, because I worried this audience would find ways to dismiss or laugh off the song despite it being one of the most earnest love songs in recent memory. But on the other hand, all of that comes with the territory of mainstream acceptance. It remains no small miracle that a one-eyed kid from the Paterson, New Jersey projects made it to the pop charts with arguably the most ubiquitous song of the year. And people don’t seem likely to tire of it, or him, any time soon. — LG

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