2015 was a phenomenal year in music. Join me in counting down the best 100 songs from the past year.
100. Natalie Prass | “Why Don’t You Believe In Me”
Disguised as a fairly typical unrequited love song, the lead single off of Natalie Prass’s self-titled debut is a metaphor for her music career. Prass knows that she makes great music; she’s just waiting for other people to get the memo. “I don’t think I’m the most talented musician or the best singer, but I work really, really hard,” Prass said of her efforts. On Natalie Prass, it shows.
99. Carnage | “I Like Tuh” (feat. iLoveMakonnen)
“I like tuh make money, get turnt
I like tuh make money, get turnt
I like tuh make money, get turnt
Got the white girl twerkin’ like the work”
98. Speedy Ortiz | “Raising The Skate”
The Ban Bossy campaign was launched in 2014 as an attempt to highlight and discourage the double standard of assertiveness in children: as their site says, “when a boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader’. But when a girl does it, she’s called ‘bossy’.” Speedy Ortiz front Sadie Dupris takes this to the next level in “Raising The Skate” with her drawling chorus of “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss!” If her music is any indication, I’m inclined to believe her.
97. Little Mix | “Hair”
Perrie and Zayn broke up! While this development undoubtedly broke the hearts of millions of 1D shippers (or gave them hope, depending on who you ask), it led to an absolutely killer single. Every indication from Zayn’s twitter is that he is, in fact, a dick (as Perrie sings); she gathers the talents of all the other band members as they act like supportive friends. “Delete his number! Ignore him in the club!” It’s an immensely satisfying track, and Little Mix’s best one yet.
96. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment | “Nothing Came To Me”
An instrumental interlude on a Chicago rap album shouldn’t make me cry. But that’s exactly what “Nothing Came To Me” was able do do upon first listen. We see a huge range of emotions in the Cara Delevingne-starring teaser video. The sheer amount of emotion that comes through on this track (especially from Donnie Trumpet’s beautiful playing) is incredible, and the sharp dissonances from the shrill trumpet resolve themselves into lovely, soothing harmonies.
95. TĀLĀ | “The One” (feat. How To Dress Well)
This song is essentially the anti-“Wannabe”: a huge middle finger to friends meddling in your relationship. It also includes my favorite use of the word “basic” in a song all year (“You can run and tell your basic friends, yeah/ I want it like all the time.“)
94. Omi | “Cheerleader”
I gotta be honest: I fucking hate the new music video for this song, and it almost ruined “Cheerleader” for me. What was originally a beautifully honest ode to getting a girl who puts the “better” in “better half” now comes across as a statement of wanting the hottest girl around, regardless of personality. The westernized objectification of women in the new video (which, mind you, was supposed to be an improvement) is grossly off-putting. Luckily, the music will stay as the video fades from memory, and I’ll have pretty trumpet and harmonic piano chords to keep me company.
93. Alessia Cara | “Here”
What a debut! Alessia Cara’s antisocial R&B-style banger “Here” immediately gave her more depth than her comparable contemporaries (including Lorde, perhaps the most obvious comparison). It’s said that the quietest people are just observing, taking in their surroundings to gain an advantage in the future. Cara inserts lighthearted cynicism using that claim with this hilarious line: “Hours later congregating next to the refrigerator/ some girl talkin’ ’bout her haters, but she ain’t got none“. Cara isn’t gonna fall for your bullshit.
92. Heems | “Sometimes”
Heems is a rapper with inherent contradictions; a liberal arts economics graduate of Punjabi-Indian descent whose most famous hit is a celebration of all things Yum! Brands. He explores those contradictions in his always half-joking manner on “Sometimes”, which sees Heems spit over the best beat of his career.
91. Passion Pit | “Where The Sky Hangs”
Man, Passion Pit’s at their best when they go R&B slow-jam on us. “Where The Sky Hangs” — the highlight from Passion Pit’s somewhat disappointing Kindred — uses beautiful synthesized chords and a sweet bassline groove to exhibit the classic Passion Pit formula of “upbeat instrumental, sad lyrics.” Lead singer Michael Angelakos pleads with his wife to not give up on him, despite his shortcomings. Because without her, he’d be nothing.
90. Nick Jonas | “Jealous (Remix)” (feat. Tinashe)
The original “Jealous” was a powerful, driving pop song, but Tinashe’s Remix made it sexy. Jealousy makes people crazy. Jonas’s paranoia in this song seems honest, but the edited lyrics (“You’re too fucking beautiful, and everybody wants your sex“) make the track even more raw. Tinashe, who has been on an absolute roll in 2015, gives the track a 90s-R&B aura that only strengthens on repeated lyrics. I almost forgot the best part, which is Jonas on the chorus: “I still get jealous!!!”
89. Jason DeRulo | “Want To Want Me”
We all saw it coming: Jason DeRulo creates the most Michael Jackson song of 2015. Wait, what?
88. D.R.A.M. | “$” (feat. Donnie Trumpet)
It takes guts to rap over a emotional, chorded, looping piano line. But that’s exactly what Chicago rapper D.R.A.M. does in “$”, which features beautiful, vibrant production from Donnie Trumpet. Nearly every rapper outlines his rags-to-riches story, but few do it with the deftness and restraint of D.R.A.M. It’s a warning to other rappers trying to make it big in this overcrowded hip hop scene. “This be that shit that make a n**** get off his ass and get money,” he sings on the hook. Hopefully some follow suit.
87. Cakes Da Killa | “Serve It Up”
It’s simply one of the hardest, most charismatic, most quotable bangers of the year.
86. Dux Content | “Snow Globe”
One of the most underrated electropop songs of the past decade is Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch”. The magical innocence of this dancefloor ballad is so incredibly endearing (to me, anyway), but for some music elitists that wide-eyed innocence can be off-putting. “Snow Globe”, a collaborative project between two of PC Music’s best producers (A.G. Cook & Danny L. Harle), captures that magic better than any song since the former’s release. “When I was young, I believed in anything so true“, the anonymous singer reminisces. The track eventually builds into a beat so powerful that you’ll believe just as much.
85. Leon Bridges | “Better Man”
It’s hard to not be endeared to the golden-voiced, honest boy routine that Leon Bridges plays within his music. The biggest reason behind this is his believability: after hearing this song, the listener truly believes that Leon Bridges wants to be a better man. The old-timey doo-wops, the saxophone solo, and the traditionally cheesy lines (“I’d swim the Mississippi River/ if you would give me another start, girl“) just add to the charm.
84. Father John Misty | “I Went To The Store One Day”
Father John Misty’s I Love You Honeybear is an album about a lot of things, but at its basis, it’s a dedication to Josh Tillman’s wife, Emma. After listing all the ways that meeting Emma has changed Tillman’s life, Josh finishes “I Went To The Store One Day” (the album’s closer) with the perfect two lines: “All ’cause I went to the store one day/ ‘Seen you around, what’s your name?’”
83. Kanye West | “All Day” (feat. Paul McCartney, Allan Kingdom, & Theophilus London)
Despite the near-universal critical acclaim of his recent releases My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus, Kanye West has actually seen his album sales drop steadily. There’s not much commercial appeal for the rap-rock of Yeezus. So it was a breath of fresh air to hear Kanye just spit again on “All Day”. This is the most radio-friendly single from Kanye since “All Of The Lights”; here he affirms that not only is he the best producer in hip hop, but he’s one of the best MCs as well.
82. Tobias Jesso Jr. | “Can’t Stop Thinking About You”
Just about every minute of Tobias Jesso Jr.’s fantastic debut, Goon, is beautiful. But perhaps the prettiest musical phrase of the album is the piano melody on “Can’t Stop Thinking About You”, which creates dissonance and relieves tension just as the lyrics would indicate. This album opener sets the stage for the beauty of Goon, and serves as a fantastic introduction to Jesso.
81. easyFun | “Laplander”
On his excellent Deep Trouble EP, Finn Keane (a.k.a. easyFun) follows strict formula of smooth, sweet vocals and jittery synthesized explosions of sound. “Laplander”, one of PC Music’s best songs yet, has the throwaway lyrics of most dance songs, but the beat behind it makes it one of the most immediately danceable tracks of 2015.
80. Waxahatchee | “La Loose”
Katie Crutchfield, who records as Waxahatchee, makes music that sounds like a 90s teen drama. “La Loose”, more than any other track on Ivy Tripp, echoes that sentiment. The casual uncertainly of Crutchfield’s relationship with whomever the song is addressed to, combined with the fun “Ooh, ooh, ooh,” chorus, make this a summer song for midwestern liberal arts college students.
79. LIZ | “When I Rule The World”
This SOPHIE-produced track feels like the future of pop music. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it simply bangs for me.
78. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment | “Wanna Be Cool” (feat. Jeremih, Big Sean & Kyle)
The appeal of “Wanna Be Cool” can be boiled down to Chance The Rapper’s impeccable selection of features. All of the artists featured on this track are decidedly uncool. Like Jeremih, dismissed as a novelty act after the worldwide success of “Birthday Sex”. Or Big Sean, who has never been taken seriously within mainstream hip hop. Or Kyle, whose insistence on making pop music while masquerading as a rapper rubs hip hop purists the wrong way. I think Kyle puts it best: “If a cool guy’s cool in the middle of the forest, nobody fucking cares“. Just be you.
77. Miguel | “leaves”
Aesthetic can play a huge role in expressing feeling; just like it’s easier to cry to a somber folk album in January, it’s great to pound a gangsta rap record in July. So when Miguel’s lover in “leaves” breaks up with him, he waits for the trees to grow bare and the grass to turn brown. But in Los Angeles, the leaves don’t change. “How could it be over, when I never saw it coming?” he sings.
76. SOPHIE | “Vyzee”
ohhhhh myyyyyy goddddd this song fuckingggg bangsssssss.
Never thought I’d hear “Imma ride in that pussy like a stroller” on a Jamie xx song.
74. Kehlani | “The Letter”
A fierce, powerful, Beyoncé-style voice isn’t necessary for a woman to make great R&B music. Case in point: newcomer Kehlani, whose single “The Letter” conjures more emotion than most songs we’ve heard this year. It’s a gut-wrenching ballad addressed to her mother; casually beautiful at the start (with it’s limited piano melody), but devastatingly poignant as the song moves forward. “If you weren’t going to guide me, why bring me into the light?” she sings. “Maybe I didn’t deserve you.”
73. Mark Ronson | “Uptown Funk” (feat. Bruno Mars)
I gotta be honest: I didn’t think Bruno Mars had it in him. I thought he was going to be just one in a long line of faceless R&B artists that fade out after their 15 minutes of fame (e.g. Iyaz, MKTO, Outasight, etc.). I was wrong. Bruno Mars is a bona fide ROCKSTAR at this point in his career, and “Uptown Funk”, with its 14 weeks at no. 1 on the Billboard charts, sees Mars reach his peak. Julio, get the stretch!
72. Fetty Wap | “679” (feat. Remy Boyz)
It’s really hard for me to get over just how hilarious the hook is on “679”. The opening line says “I got this sewed up.” Don’t get it? It took me a long time, too. See, Fetty Wap only has one eye, and he often goes without a prosthesis. So despite the figurative meaning of something being sewn up (something being set in stone or locked down), the literal meaning is way funnier: getting his eye sewn shut so people don’t have to see inside. Oh yeah, and the song’s a banger that belongs equal parts blared out of car windows and blasted at parties. 1738!
71. iLoveMakonnen | “Second Chance”
Atlanta MC iLoveMakonnen is at his best when he is at his most melodic. “Second Chance”, a beautifully-arranged bit of pop music, is a great follow-up to the tenderness of Makonnen after last year’s stunning “Wishing You Well”. Superproducer DJ Mustard, busting out of his typical production style, creates a powerful piano ballad all about the sorrows that arise when you realize what you had all along was perfect.
70. Hannah Diamond | “Hi”
How “social”, exactly, is social media. When I tweet, which I’ve done over 16,000 times, do people actually read it? It says that I have over 800 followers, but why don’t I get that many engagements on anything? “Hi”, the return single from PC Music starlet Hannah Diamond, deftly explores this issue. “I don’t wanna be alone in my bedroom writing messages you won’t read,” Hannah pleads. If that’s what social media entails, I’m not sure I do either.
69. Lil B & Chance The Rapper | “Amen”
“Amen” might be the most #based of any track from Lil B & Chance The Rapper’s collaborative mixtape Based Freestyles. It’s an intimidating nine minutes long, long enough to listen to three Vince Staples tracks, but the length works in the track’s favor. It’s a slow, strolling beat, bookended by hand snaps, with two MCs who love what they do freestyling (for better and for worse). The most satisfying moment in the track comes halfway through; Lil B sings a wonderful melody of “oh”s which dominates the flow throughout the track. It’s incredible that Chance and Lil B were able to make this mixtape just off the tops of their heads, but that’s just a testament to their talent.
68. CHVRCHES | “Clearest Blue”
“Clearest Blue”, the best song on CHVRCHES’ underwhelming-but-still-good sophomore album Every Open Eye, is an exercise in build. CHVRCHES fans are used to having constant reaffirmation and sugar rushes of pop magnificence, so when a song takes two whole minutes for the beat to drop, it comes as a shock. But the immense satisfaction gained from that drop can be likened to the synth breakdown on “Tether”: it turns what seems like a dud into musical excellence.
67. SOPHIE | “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye”
Yep, a semi-anonymous pop song with no percussion, an unnamed vocalist, and a male producer simply turned out to be one of the sweetest songs of 2015. It’s a reconciliation after a breakup, a rekindling of lost love. It’s a difficult thing, breaking up; you know everything about a person, but sometimes have to act as if it never happened, even if you want it back. Chemistry between people is rarely lost; that’s partly why we work so hard to maintain relationships even if they’re toxic. On “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye”, it’s one of the few reconciliations that actually succeeds.
66. J. Cole | “Wet Dreamz”
Music takes itself to seriously far too often. Narratives are hidden in figurative language and the true meaning of songs is obscured far enough that even the best analysts have trouble understanding the point. That’s why “Wet Dreamz”, J. Cole’s best song, is such a breath of fresh air. While the rest of 2014 Forest Hills Drive falls into that trap of self-seriousness, “Wet Dreamz” tells the simple story of a young Jermaine trying to hit it for the first time. He goes through all the questions and worries that adolescent men experience, and the twist at the end is immensely satisfying and worth sticking around for.
65. Kacey Musgraves | “Biscuits”
Kacey Musgraves is tired of all the judgment that’s constantly passed around from person to person. Her progressiveness has made her as divisive as any country star in recent memory, and her anti-judgment anthem “Biscuits” follows the same formula that made Same Trailer, Different Park so engaging: tackle something a little bit risky, make a sweet country instrumental, and let Kacey’s natural likability shine through. It boils down to a pretty solid result.
64. HANA | “Clay”
To be honest, I didn’t give HANA a chance at first. Her musical associations (which include Lana Del Rey and Lorde, two of the most boring personalities in music) didn’t really fit into what I knew I liked. That all changed when I heard “Clay”, HANA’s first single, for the first time. Simply put, it’s beautiful; the emotional fragility of HANA coming through while attempting to break off a possibly emotional relationship is simply more real than anything either of the aforementioned associates have ever put out. There’s an entire career’s worth of maturity here: “Now I’m going that way, and you’ll never find me/ five year’s older today, molding clay.”
63. Shura | “2Shy”
It’s hard to start a relationship when you have social anxiety. The lyrics of Shura’s beautiful “2Shy” are generally standard-fare for popular music, but the synthesized arpeggios that fit into this 80s beat are wide-eyed and innocent. The one true moment of poignance on this song is in the bridge; Shura is afraid to talk about her relationship, and wants to talk about film. However, she also wants to say “I love you” but can’t find the courage. Maybe she’s just too shy.
62. Julien Baker | “Everybody Does”
Self-deprecation is a recurring theme in Julien Baker’s devastating Sprained Ankle, but the hardest-hitting moment might be on the social anxiety-themed “Everybody Does”. “I’m a pile of filthy wreckage/ you’re gonna wish you’d never met me,” sings Baker. “You’re gonna run, it’s alright, everybody does.”
61. Jeremih | “Planes (Remix)” (feat. Chance The Rapper)
This song is so silly. Jeremih, with his comically high-pitched vocals, spends the entire song keeping up the “planes = air & weed = high” metaphor. He describes himself as the “pilot”. It’s stupid, but endearingly so. Thankfully, it’s surrounded by a lush, brassy instrumental courtesy of Chance The Rapper associates The Social Experiment, and Chance has a little fun with it too: “I’ve got the golden ticket.”
60. Nao | “Inhale, Exhale”
Nearly every facet of “Inhale, Exhale” is distinctive in some way. The thumpingly crisp drums, the funky and heavy bassline, and Nao’s grainy English drawl all set this track apart. Yet the most distinct aspect of this song might be A.K. Paul’s production; it fits the weird postmodern minimalism of he and his brother’s style perfectly.
59. Travis $cott | “Antidote”
Travis $cott’s underrated Rodeo takes this new Atlanta hip hop sound and makes it theatrical and beautiful while dark and jagged. The simple melody and copious use of AutoTune within lead single “Antidote” is clear Atlanta-core, but it’s the dark and foreboding synthesizers that make this track distinctive. Like the rest of Rodeo, it’s great music for vibing out to, especially in the dark of night.
58. Meek Mill | “Lord Knows”
I sing in the community chorus here at Drake, and last semester we sang one of the most influential pieces in popular music history: Mozart’s Requiem. It was an emotionally draining effort, with themes of death and religion, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So you can imagine my surprise when the opening strings of the Lacrimosa movement from the Requiem are the first sounds that the listener hears on Philly rapper Meek Mill’s excellent Dreams Worth More Than Money. On “Lord Knows”, Meek Mill bombards the listener with boast after boast, and coupled with the ominous instrumentation and brutal drums, it’s one of the hardest tracks of 2015.
57. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die | “January 10th, 2014”
The area of Mexico along the Rio Grande is one of the most dangerous developed places in the world for women. Many are sold into prostitution or slavery, and when they die, nobody bothers finding out why. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die were fascinated by the story of Diana the Hunter, a woman who murdered bus drivers along the Rio Grande to call attention to women’s plight. The story is surprisingly tender; it’s a story of female empowerment (“I am an instrument, I am revenge, I am several women“), but it also shows exactly how rare it is for women to be in positions of power. “Are you afraid of me now?” sings a female vocalist; “Well, yeah,” a male replies.
56. Father John Misty | “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment”
Cynicism is difficult to accomplish without sounding like an asshole. Luckily, the one thing that prevents that reaction — self-awareness — is exuded in bounds on Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear. No song expresses cynicism as hilariously as “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment”, which drops lyrical bombs like “She says, like, literally, music is the air she breathes … I wonder if she even knows what that word means/ well, it’s literally not that,” and “I hate that soulful affectation white girls put on.” It’s a great deconstruction of unintentional cultural appropriation, and perhaps the funniest song of the year.
55. Bleachers | “Entropy” (feat. Grimes)
Maybe Grimes should stick to making great, accessible pop songs instead of weird, distorted electronica. “Entropy”, which is surrounded by an excellent Bleachers (formerly of fun.) beat, sees Grimes explore the social constructs of how a relationship is supposed to be. She sings, “How can something so free, feel so rehearsed?” In relationships, why do we stick to what society has defined as “proper” instead of following our own path?
54. Action Bronson | “Baby Blue” (feat. Chance The Rapper)
Action Bronson should *only* write verses. There are very few rappers alive who put less filler between the hooks. The amount of quotable lines on this track (“I may not be flawless, but I’m gorgeous/ Just like a horse is“) is incredible, and it’s all capped off by a hilariously petty Chance The Rapper verse (“I hope you get a paper cut on your tongue/ I hope your dreams dry like raisins in the baking sun”) that turns into him rescinding those sentiment, simply wishing for his ex to be happy.
53. Snakehips | “All My Friends” (feat. Tinashe & Chance The Rapper)
Sometimes going out just isn’t that fun. In college, especially, there’s a cultural expectation that we ‘pre-game’ at our dorm, then head our separate ways to our drinking location of choice (either a bar or frat house). Unfortunately, sometimes we’re not just in the mood for that shit! “All My Friends” captures that feeling of being alone in a crowd, there are dozens of people around, but you’re stuck within your own thoughts.
52. Eskimeaux | “Broken Necks”
One of the most difficult things friends can do is fall in love. We’d do anything for our friends, but it can be terrifying to profess love to them (after all, is it worth ruining the friendship over?). You can only do so much for someone without expecting something in return, and Gabrielle Smith, AKA Eskimeaux, expresses these frustrations eloquently: “You were breaking your neck trying to keep your head up/ I was breaking my neck trying to stick it out for you“. Yet at the song’s conclusion, Smith seems to come to a resolution: “Nothing in the world is holier than friendship.”
51. Tobias Jesso Jr. | “Leaving LA”
Tobias Jesso Jr. moved to Los Angeles to jump-start his music career, but after what is assumed to be a particularly difficult breakup with Alana Haim of Haim, he immediately moved back to his native Vancouver. The emptiness and audible space in the early moments of “Leaving LA” elicit a feeling of denial; unfortunately, if the girl was the only thing keeping you there, what’s the point of staying? “Move town, there’s nothing else around here without her.”
50. Carly Rae Jepsen | “All That”
When did Carly Rae Jepsen gain 1) musical variety and 2) acclaimed collaborators? Both are featured in the Prince-inspired ballad “All That”, the most downtempo song on Jepsen’s excellent E•MO•TION album. Dev Hynes (also known as Blood Orange) co-wrote and produced this song, and the 80s-style synth leads match Jepsen’s vulnerable coo. And that bridge? The one that sounds like the Backstreet Boys’ “Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely”? Gorgeous.
49. Hudson Mohawke | “Ryderz”
This is going to be my entrance music when I’m a professional wrestler.
48. Waxahatchee | “Air”
Have you ever dated someone that *should* be perfect for you, but it somehow doesn’t work out? Katie Crutchfield’s brutal honesty on “Air” outlines the issue poignantly: the stagnation of monogamy becomes too much, and you want something else despite having all you would ever need. The skeletal instumental of “Air” is a perfect metaphor for the rawness and emotional vulnerability of a breakup.
47. MisterWives | “Reflections”
New York City-based indie pop band MisterWives don’t make music to be analyzed. Their music doesn’t have layered vocals or heavy connotations. But what makes “Reflections” stand out is the full-force kick-ass pull-yourself-together chorus from lead singer Mandy Lee and Nile Rodgers-style guitar vamps that drive the refrain above and beyond your average pop fodder.
46. Grimes | “Flesh Without Blood”
In the seemingly eternal lead-up to Grimes’ masterful Art Angels, it was accepted that Claire Boucher would have a more accessible sound in her new music. And while that assumption was true, with “Flesh Without Blood” (the lead single for Art Angels), we simultaneously got exactly what we expected and something we didn’t even know we wanted. Her combination of catchy and experimental is best exhibited in this single; she combines relatively rudimentary melodies with strange production quirks and pitch-shifted vocals. It’s a power-pop song for the future.
45. Jack Ü | “Where Are U Now” (feat. Justin Bieber)
I can’t believe a collaboration between Skrillex and Justin Bieber ended up becoming the (at the time) best songs of their careers. Bieber is incredibly likable and believable in his “I’m down, so where are you?” schtick. The instrumental is remarkably low-key for the bombastic Skrillex, and the pan flute-sounding altered vocal sample in the bridge just adds to the charm. This was one of my Songs of the Summer, and it gave Bieber the music and lyricism to go along with his remarkable vocal talent.
44. ZHU | “Automatic” (feat. AlunaGeorge)
Man, this is the type of music I expected out of Disclosure after their excellent debut, Settle. Nonetheless, while Caracal was a massive disappointment, we have ZHU and the always-excellent AlunaGeorge to tie us over into better dance-house. I love the piano flourishes that show up on this track, and adding tambourine to the off-beats of a house song is almost never a bad idea.
43. Kiiara | “Gold”
This song is how I imagine being cool sounds. Cool, that is, meaning white suburban cool where the seventeen year-olds wear Urban Outfitters and watch Orange Is The New Black and smoke a lot of weed. These kinds of kids are deceptive and conniving; they have all the freedom in the world without any of the responsibility. Kiiara misses her lover at a party, but gets quick revenge: “Your brother was a good substitute for you.” Yeah, that kind of cool.
42. Chance The Rapper | “Angels” (feat. Saba)
Chance The Rapper is quintessentially Chicago, and “Angels” (produced and featuring entirely people from Chicago) is his anthem for his city. The use of regional sayings (“doo wop do bam!”) and gospel influences transport us to a historically black church in south-side Chicago. This song makes me want to buy a White Sox hat, grab a slice of Deep Dish, and walk down Michigan Avenue with a boombox. “City so damn great I feel like Alexand!”
41. Le1f | “Koi” (prod. SOPHIE)
One of these days, SOPHIE is going to get his due credit as perhaps the best producer of music today. On “Koi”, the best song yet from ultra-charismatic queer rapper Le1f, the swooshing slide-whistle synthesizers and EDM-influenced beat perfectly complement a story of unwanted attention. I’ve described SOPHIE’s music as “maximalist minimalism”, meaning the production is loud and boisterous while maintaining a sense of sonic space. “Koi” might be the best demonstration of that yet.
40. Wet | “Weak”
On paper, Wet are a simple bedroom pop outfit. It’s difficult to point out exactly what makes their music so game-changing, but I think I’ve found the solution: their style. Their music is just so damn pretty, it’s hard not to love it. On “Weak”, what starts as a minimalistic pop song builds and builds into a cascade of strings, guitar strums, and synthesizers. It’s also a tragically sad song; “You kept me out of my head, out of my mind, out of my dreams,” sings Kelly Zutrau. “Please don’t leave me; you are all I’ll ever need.”
39. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die | “I Can Be Afraid Of Anything”
On The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die’s epic Harmlessness, the highlight of the music is the sheer emotional strength and inflections of the vocals. These emotions show up more so on “I Can Be Afraid Of Anything” than anywhere else on the album. It’s an anthem for depression, a song so emotionally draining that every listen is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. The first half of the song’s seven minutes is spent wallowing in sadness, but later speeds up in tempo and adds pop rock themes to fit the narrative. “I’m climbing out,” yells Tyler Bussey; “You can smell life here, what we call life above the ground.”
38. Julien Baker | “Sprained Ankle”
“Wish I could write songs about anything other than death,” sings Julien Baker on her debut single “Sprained Ankle”. Its a beautiful piece of emo-folk, with the appropriate amount of twinkly guitars and tender, but full, vocals from Baker. Life is exhausting; this, we all know. It’s a marathon, but when there’s a setback, it can feel like the ankles of life are sprained.
37. Carly Rae Jepsen | “Warm Blood”
On E•MO•TION, an album stocked full of great pop songs, “Warm Blood” stands out as the best. It’s a truly sweet song, free of the cynicism or uneasiness of most radio-friendly singles. Carly Rae Jepsen goes through the motions as a cute, klutzy girl (“You stop me there, but I keep on talking“) and proclamations of love (“I would throw in the towel for you, boy“). The track gets even sweeter when you imagine co-writer and producer Rostam Batmanglij singing it: “You lift me up, then catch me when I’m falling for you.”
36. Beach House | “Sparks”
My favorite musical experience of this year is somewhat romanticized, so bear with me. My family and I took a trip to Ireland this year, and the most beautiful part of the country was the rolling, green mountains of Tralee in the southwest. As we drove through in our tour bus, the dreamy methodicism of “Sparks” took over and became the perfect backdrop for the beauty of Tralee. With the Atlantic Ocean to my left, towering hills to my right, and a clear blue sky, I found more beauty in that moment than just about anything else in recent memory.
35. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment | “Familiar” (feat. King Louie & Quavo)
Part of the appeal of fun, enjoyable, relaxed hip hop is the sheer quotability of some of the lines. “Familiar” a highlight from Donnie Trumpet’s Surf, may be the most quotable rap track of the year. From the earworm of a chorus (“Forgive me, but you look familiar“), to King Louie’s lamentations about “regular” women (“If this bitch from Paris, then Paris is terrible“), to Quavo’s surprisingly sweet coos (“Her momma doesn’t like me ’cause I’m a rapper so icy“), this is a track for maxing and relaxing.
34. Tame Impala | “Cause I’m A Man”
“Cause I’m A Man” is the culmination Tame Impala’s evolution from psychedelic rock into disco-R&B, and it’s the bassline that really seals the deal. Kevin Parker pleads with his lover that he’s just a man, and doesn’t think before he acts. Despite the stupid mini-controversy that came along with this song’s release, the intricacies of the arrangement have kept me coming back.
33. Kanye West | “Only One” (feat. Paul McCartney)
Kanye West is the most controversial and notorious musician alive. His critics have spawned from an inherent hate of hip hop from Kanye standing up for what he believes is right. Pretty much every criticism is a result of ingrained racism. That is what makes this lullaby so sweet; Kanye is comfortable with who he is, and he has all the love in the world for Kim, North, and his late mother.
32. A$AP Rocky | “L$D / Excuse Me”
New York rapper and principal member of A$AP Mob A$AP Rocky has perfected cloud rap. On his sprawling, excellent 2015 album At.Long.Last.A$AP, Rocky creates the perfect hip hop backdrop for any moment of psychedelia or introspection. “LSD” and “Excuse Me” are actually separate tracks that follow each other, but they were combined for the vivid “LSD” music video. The interjection of braggadocio between Rocky’s (surprisingly!) tender singing makes this track a great way to slow down your life. Despite Rocky’s insistence that L.S.D. stands for “Love Sex Dreams”, we know the true meaning.
31. Grimes | “REALiTi”
Claire Boucher, who records mysterious electro-artpop under the name Grimes, has never been one to make warm music. So when she dropped “REALiTi”, her most accessible pop song and only her second song since 2012, the comfort of the chords combined with the four-on-the-floor beat and Grime’s airy voice came as a shock. It’s an emotional anthem for the merits of driving a relationship forward; “Every morning there are mountains to climb”.
30. Wet | “It’s All In Vain”
Brooklyn, NY-based pop outfit Wet were perhaps the most consistently phenomenal act of 2015. Between singles off their upcoming debut Don’t You and beautiful covers of great songs (including Adele’s “Chasing Pavements”), everything they put out was golden. That includes “It’s All In Vain”, which keeps in tune with the musical aesthetic that Wet have created for themselves. The somber lyrics are sad, as usual, but the instrumental arrangement and Kelly Zutrau’s vocal performance are what make this single great. The first time that chorus washes over you, you’ll be floored.
29. Tame Impala | “Eventually”
It’s hard to be broken up with, but what popular music explores far less is the difficulty of the relationship’s severer. “Eventually”, a highlight from Tame Impala’s impressive Currents, explores this point of view deftly and honestly. “It feels like murder to put your heart through this,” Kevin Parker wails over rough, fuzzy guitars and punchy drums. Then the song becomes much gentler: “But I know that I’ll be happier, and I know you will too… eventually.”
28. Kendrick Lamar | “These Walls” (feat. Bilal & Anna Wise)
Kendrick Lamar wrote every hook on this album. That fact alone is stunning, as the incredibly sexy opening melody (sung by the impeccable Anna Wise) sounds like it was written by prime Janet Jackson, or even Prince. Sex makes men do crazy things, as Kendrick spits, “When you play this song, rewind the first verse/ … About me and her in the shower whenever she horny/ … About her baby daddy currently serving life.” He’s in a relationship with somebody whose child’s father is serving life in prison. If these walls could talk, they’d reveal a lot.
27. Tobias Jesso Jr. | “How Could You Babe”
Denial is the hardest stage to get through after a breakup. Combined with jealousy, those feelings create a toxic cocktail of depression and self-loathing that hurts more than any physical pain. Tobias Jesso Jr. expresses this pain well; on the final chorus, his normally tender voice breaks into a wailing scream as he asks, “How could you?”
26. Earl Sweatshirt | “Grief”
On I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Earl Sweatshirt grows progressively more paranoid about other people. Because all he sees is “snakes in the eyes of these n*****“, he’s distrustful and refuses to understand the concessions other rappers make in their music. Earl doesn’t put choruses or “hooks” on his songs, so it cuts deep when he refers to other MCs as “fishy n***** sticking to eating off of hooks“. The lurching, screeching, creaking beat makes the listener physically tired. Good grief.
25. Natalie Prass | “My Baby Don’t Understand Me”
What changed? Where did the charming, caring, empathic man I fell in love with go? These questions aren’t easy to answer after being with someone for so long, and Natalie Prass’s fragile voice carries the listener through it all. “I don’t feel much,” Prass sings; “I’m afraid I don’t feel anything at all.”
24. Rich Homie Quan | “Have You Ever”
Introspective Quan is the best Quan. The beautiful church bells in this beat are the perfect backdrop to Rich Homie Quan asking the most important questions in his life. “Have you ever had a homie fuck your girl? Have you ever had to off a n****?” As an upper middle class white guy from Iowa, I can safely say I don’t relate very well. As for this: “Have you ever had your sideline and your favorite girl/ in the same room, same bed, same place? Fucked ’em same bed, same day?” Who knows?
23. Kendrick Lamar | “King Kunta”
“King Kunta” may be the most satisfying song of 2015. Kendrick’s best “fuck the haters” anthem sees him position himself as the king of the ‘slaves’; that is, the king of the oppressed black population in America. He’s a multimillionaire, but wants to return to his native Compton to be a leader for his people. Kendrick certainly leads in this song; when he tells the listener, “By the time you hear the next pop, the funk shall be within you/ *POP*“, you DO feel the funk. After a listen, you’ll have only one question on your mind: “What’s the yams???”
22. Tyler, The Creator | “Fucking Young”
The only redeeming factor of Tyler, The Creator’s immensely disappointing Cherry Bomb, “Fucking Young” makes me uncomfortable. A song about a 21 year-old who’s nervous about his love for a 15 year-old girl shouldn’t be this pretty. Tyler goes through all the justifications (“When you’re 35, I’ll be 41“), yet he sounds like he’s having trouble even making himself believe that it’s normal. Tyler knows he has to get out, but love trumps all: “This is more than a crush/ I just might be in love!”
21. The Mountain Goats | “The Legend Of Chavo Guerrero”
I’m so grateful that loving professional wrestling isn’t a guilty pleasure anymore. On The Mountain Goats’ Beat The Champ, their love letter to the greatest fake sport, their musical efforts match the fantasticality of WWE. “The Legend Of Chavo Guerrero” is a great piece of indie pop that shows the lead singer’s personal relationship with wrestling: it was an escape from his abusive stepfather. He sings, “He was my hero when I was a kid/ You let me down but Chavo never once did/ You called him names to get beneath my skin/ Now your ashes are scattered on the wind.” Take that.
20. Giorgio Moroder | “Déjà Vu” (feat. Sia)
The legendary disco producer Giorgio Moroder, responsible for most of Donna Summer’s excellent discography (including mega-hits “Hot Stuff” and “Last Dance”), returned in 2015 to release his first new album in 30 years. The clear highlight, “Déjà Vu”, is a pure sugar rush of energy. The arpeggiated strings and the Nile Rodgers-style guitar riff combine with Sia’s consistent vocals on the chorus to make a track that is nigh impossible not to dance to. Ironically, déjà vu isn’t experienced on this track; it feels like the future of disco.
19. Kendrick Lamar | “Wesley’s Theory” (feat. George Clinton & Flying Lotus)
“Every n**** is a star.” Those are the first words we hear on Kendrick Lamar’s epic To Pimp A Butterfly, and there couldn’t be a more perfect mission statement for Kendrick’s music. The Boris Gardiner sample leads the album, but “Wesley’s Theory” is nothing like Gardiner’s upbeat blaxploitation. It’s a mysterious track about Kendrick’s newfound success. The ominous plinks of synthesizer (courtesy of Flying Lotus) and Thundercat’s schizophrenic bassline drive the song over the top. Hell, even Dr. Dre himself leaves a voicemail about Kendrick’s efforts to stay relevant; like he says, “Anybody can get [the spotlight]; the hard part is keeping it, motherfucker!”
18. Leon Bridges | “River”
Austin, TX soul revivalist Leon Bridges seems ripped straight out of 1963. His music evokes the greatness of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, and the wonderfully lo-fi and simple live instrumentation of “River” transports the listener back to the heyday of old-school R&B. The most important event in the United States from 1963 was Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech; if there wasn’t already a perfect soundtrack to the civil rights movement (courtesy of Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”), “River” would fit in beautifully.
17. Vince Staples | “Norf Norf”
There haven’t been many better explorations of life in the hood as a child than Vince Staples’ debut, Summertime ’06. Staples exudes the rare combination of intelligence, introspection, and street smarts that we expect out of great rappers. “Norf Norf” is the highlight; from the ominous, driving Clams Casino beat to the hard-hitting hook (“I ain’t never ran from nothing but the police“), this track is the distillation of every theme from Summertime ’06. Finally, the opening line (“Bitch, you thirsty/ please grab a Sprite.”) might be the best rap lyric all year. Northside Long Beach!
16. Missy Elliot | “WTF (Where They From)” (feat. Pharrell)
What a comeback! Miss Demeanor clearly hasn’t lost any of her luster from mega-hits like “Get Ur Freak On” and “Lose Control”. The sheer personality exuded on this track from both Missy and an absolutely hilarious Pharrell is infectious. Hearing this track has me chomping at the bit to find out what Missy might do next.
15. Julien Baker | “Go Home”
I’ve been walking again, I go out and forget To tell any of my friends “Where you going?” “I’m just drunk,” The side of the road, in a ditch, when you find me I wanna go home, I’m sick There’s more whisky than blood in my veins, More tar than air in my lungs, the strung-out call I make Burnt out on the edge of the highway I’m sorry for everything, please come and take me home
I quit talking again, I know you’re still listening To see if I sleep or pierce my skin Needles to the world outranks the folds in my arms The sickening black And I haven’t been taking my meds Lock all the cabinets Send me to bed
I know you’re still worried You’re gonna get scared ’cause I’m alone again And make my insides clean with the kitchen bleach But I’ve kissed enough bathroom sinks To make up for the lovers that never loved me And I know my body is just dirty clothes I’m tired of washing my hands God, I wanna go home
14. Father John Misty | “Holy Shit”
While the song’s title is a thinly veiled double entendre, the religious, ideological, and philosophical questions posed on “Holy Shit” are some of the most thought-provoking I’ve ever heard. This bastardized version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” leaves listeners with a lot to digest about relationships (“Love is just an institution based on human frailty“), mainstream history (“That’s now myth, that’s now real“), and how it all fits together (“What I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me“).
13. Kendrick Lamar | “The Blacker The Berry”
If you’re a white person listening to this song, it better make you uncomfortable. Kendrick Lamar has never been this angry. He’s focusing that anger towards the systematic oppression of black folks in America. But Kendrick isn’t one-dimensional. He’s embraced the celebrity life. He sees himself as a hypocrite. The first line of every verse is “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015“, but the real bomb is the final line: “Why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street, when gang banging made me kill a n**** blacker than me? Hypocrite!”
12. Natalie Prass | “Violently”
If you know anything about my music taste, you should know this: perhaps my favorite musical feature is a beautiful, vibrant, flourishing string section. “Violently”, Natalie Prass’s best song, has that string section. It starts so quiet and unassuming and expands to soaring heights. The lyrics see Prass explore a new relationship. When you meet someone new, someone perfect, you want to know anything and everything about them; you want to know them violently.
11. Miguel | “Coffee”
“Drugs, sex, and Polaroids” sounds like quite an unrealistic motto for most, but not for Miguel. One of modern music’s sweetest yet corniest songwriters, Miguel is a man without much shame. There isn’t any hesitation on his part; if he likes you, he’ll let you know. Bluntly. But on “Coffee”, the lyricism is defter than most of his songs. He lists the little things he loves: his woman’s hair, her eyes, her aura. “I wish I could paint our love in vibrant hues,” Miguel sings. “Pick a star in the sky, we could both say good-bye.”
10.Justin Bieber | “What Do You Mean”
Has there ever been a song release with as much hype and anticipation as “What Do You Mean”‘s? The 30-day countdown included contributions from an incredible variety of celebrities, athletes, and musicians, including Shaquille O’Neal, Ellen DeGeneres, and Miley Cyrus. This is the first time I’ve interrupted my sleep to listen to a song; I woke up early in the morning to be one of the first to hear “What Do You Mean”, and, incredibly, it didn’t disappoint. We got a sweet, tender, danceable pop song that isn’t even #problematic! Put it on repeat a million times, and I still won’t get tired of it.
9. M.I.A. | “Borders”
I think the defining characteristic of what makes M.I.A.’s “Borders” such a powerful song is the sheer poignancy of it. On the verses she lists the issues that have characterized young, liberal America in the year 2015: identity politics, race issues, the idea of privilege, etc. But for “Borders”, perhaps the closest thing to a refugee ‘anthem’ in a year where Syrians have needed it the most, it’s clear that these refugees couldn’t give less of a shit. Privilege isn’t even registering on their minds as they escape from tyranny, jumping into the unknown. If we can’t take the time to assist them, we’ve already lost our humanity.
8. Father John Misty | “Chateau Lobby #4” (In C For Two Virgins)
Masculinity and a tough-guy I’M STRAIGHT persona are overrated. Wanna get the attention of a girl? Be skeletally and deeply honest about your love. “People are boring, but you’re something else I can’t explain/ You’ll take my last name”. “You left a note in your perfect script/ ‘Stay as long as you want’; I haven’t left your bed since.” Finally, with what might be my favorite love song line ever recorded, Father John Misty expresses his inherent cynicism: “I haven’t hated all the same things as somebody else since I can remember.” Mutual hate of other people can bring even opposites together.
7. Tame Impala | “The Less I Know The Better”
The prettiest song on Tame Impala’s magnificent Currents, “The Less I Know The Better” is, on its surface, a song about unrequited love. But it’s clear that Kevin Parker, the mastermind behind Tame Impala, has experienced this unrequited love firsthand. Loving someone with nothing in return is one of the worst feelings in the world, and Parker’s pained vocals mix wonderfully with the warm, sad synthesizers to evoke that feeling. “I was doing fine without you, ’till I saw your face,” Parker sings; after breakups, it truly is better to know less.
6. Frank Ocean | “At Your Best (You Are Love)” (Aaliyah cover)
Much has been said about the late Aaliyah being taken from us too soon, but over a decade later, her influence drives on. Frank Ocean’s take on “At Your Best” (originally performed by the Isley Brothers and later covered by Aaliyah) at once heart-wrenching and uplifting. Sometimes, when we’re sad, we just need reaffirmation that we matter. Being told that we’re a positive, motivating force within someone’s life accomplishes just that.
5. Sufjan Stevens | “Should Have Known Better”
There is no better artist in modern music at making deceptively simple and emotionally devastating songs than singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. “Should Have Known Better”, the highlight of Stevens’ vulnerable ode to his childhood, Carrie & Lowell, is despondent for the first half (“When I was three/ three, maybe four/ she left us at that video store“). Then that major-chord electric piano kicks in, and suddenly everything in the world is looking up; it’s up to the listener to act on it.
4. Grimes | “Kill V. Maim”
Man, this song kicks so much ass! Girls, as children, are told to behave far more often than boys, simply as a result of unnecessarily ingrained societal norms. Grimes, whom tumblr would say is #problematic but is actually one of the most progressive artists out there, takes on this issue with an absolute burst of sonic energy on both the bridge and the chorus. “B-E-H-A-V-E never more!” she screams like a Cali-girl cheerleader; if you’re wild, be wild as hell, and don’t let anyone stop you.
3. Wet | “Deadwater”
This song was my introduction to Brooklyn-based trio Wet, and despite the relative lightheartedness of the water/wet combination, this band takes itself very seriously. It’s a great expression of Wet’s obsession with the liquid, and how it can be applied metaphorically to many situations. Alcohol is the “deadwater” in this instance, which is the obvious take, but the beauty in this song is in the ocean-deep instrumentals; it’s a combination of pop, R&B, and the slightest bit of country sprinkled in. “Shaky when I’m on my knees/ there are better things for me,” Kelly Zutrau sings on the chorus; as she lets a bad influence wash away, there is the slightest trickle of something positive on the horizon.
2. Jamie xx | “Loud Places” (feat. Romy)
Despite the title, “Loud Places” may be the quietest track of 2015. Romy’s beautifully muted vocals spin a tale of unrequited love; she goes to these clubs and parties (loud places) to hook up, but her love goes there to find someone even better. The stunning vocal sample on the refrain (“I have never reached such heights/ I feel music in your eyes“) feels like an ecstatic crowd, bringing the listener to dizzyingly soaring highs, but Romy is somber; after all, sometimes humans are at our loneliest when we’re surrounded by people.
1. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment | “Sunday Candy” (feat. Jamila Woods)
I don’t think there’s a stronger person in my life than my Grandma Jody Maxted. The hardships she’s had to live through, especially in regards to family, would break most people. Yet she remains among the kindest and most loving people I’ve ever met. She’s one of my biggest fans, and I’ve been blessed to have her have such a huge impact in my life.
“Sunday Candy”, the lead single from Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s wonderful Surf, is Chance The Rapper’s ode to HIS biggest fan, his grandmother. He lists all the ways great grandmothers express love: “… with her eyes, with her belt, with her hands, with her money/ I am the thesis of her prayers.” The gospel vocals of the beautiful Jamila Woods, the lighthearted plink of the piano line, and the infectious happiness of Chance make this song a treat to listen to.
One more thing Grandma does for me more than any other: motivates me to be religious. That reminds me: “I should bring my butt to church!”
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What a great year in music. Did I miss anything that you really enjoyed? Disagree with any of the selections? Comment or let me know on Twitter at @KlynParker. Thanks for reading!