2015 was a mediocre year for music, in my opinion. A lot of the albums from the likes of Kanye West, Rihanna, Frank Ocean, Radiohead and others just didn’t materialise or the stuff that did just didn’t live up to the hype (looking at you, Kanye) and the albums that did appear; Drake’s album, Kendrick’s, Dr. Dre’s (!), Ty Dolla $ign’s among others, failed to appeal to me or turned out to be mediocre.
Saying that, there was some great shit that was dropped from the unlikeliest of sources. So if I were to characterise 2015, it would be the year of surprises – both good and bad.
Without further ado here are the 10 songs, in order, that I think are the best of the year:
Honourable Mention: Lean On by Major Lazer & DJ Snake (feat. MØ)
‘Lean On’ is an exemplary dance song. It is deceptively simple and laid back but, at least in my opinion, that simplicity hides a huge amount of restraint and skill on the part of DJ $nake and Major Lazer. It would’ve been so easy for the chorus to transform into this huge wall of noise, but instead the producers/DJs concentrated on making it groovy as hell. And thanks to that expertise, I feel like ‘Lean On’ is pretty much timeless.
10) Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves
I hate country music that isn’t Johnny Cash. It is so bland and boring as it endlessly repeats the same corny platitudes without an ounce of creativity or self-awareness. Kacey Musgraves is the one exception. On the surface she seems like your typical ‘country gal’ but underneath it all she is really forward thinking. In ‘Pageant Material’, she sings – almost mournfully – how she can’t be like all those other Southern girls who live for beauty pageants because of her own strengths/faults. But Kacey realises that she is better for it. It is catchy, sweet and has a great message that is the best criticism of beauty pageants since the film Little Miss Sunshine.
9) E·MO·TION by Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen is a pop star who I wish was much more popular than she is. I don’t know why people don’t listen to her or why ‘Emotion’ wasn’t a big hit. I think it is just a fantastic pop tune. I mean, it has a massive chorus and interesting lyrics where Jepsen misses her ex but wants him to miss her more so he will go back to her. This is accompanied by an 80s tinged synth-pop production. It is just delectable, and I especially love the vocal effect on the chorus where her voices gets a bit fuzzy and broken. It really conveys ‘Emotion’.
8) Doing It by Charli XCX (feat. Rita Ora)
My enjoyment of ‘Doing It’ is very similar to ‘Emotion’. It has a huge chorus and is just…different from a lot of the pop music out there, even the stuff that Charli XCX has written for other people. She has a really unique writing style and a voice that I enjoy. In a genre of music that is regularly infected with cynicism, I like that there is no edge or darkness to the song. ‘Doing It’ is just a cheerful and bubbly song about reuniting with friends. It reflects what reunion’s should be: celebratory. An absolute JAM!
7) Hotline Bling by Drake
I shouldn’t like ‘Hotline Bling’. My head says I shouldn’t. But goddamn it, Drake has done it once again and made an utter anthem. Why should I dislike it? Well the lyrical content is just creepy as hell. My thoughts on why it is so damn creepy is summarized by this superb picture. Despite that however, this song is just an ear-worm. “I know when that hotline bling, that can only mean one thing” coupled with the strange easy-listening beat – a fantastic simulacrum of a song you year when you are on hold – just forces itself into your head and never leaves. Hotline Bling is the song that just keeps on giving the more you listen to it.
6) Omen by Disclosure (feat. Sam Smith)
I was once again disappointed by Disclosure’s album as something about their style just doesn’t gel with me. There were two songs that did, however, and the better of the two is ‘Omen’. Yes, you could say it is just Disclosure and Sam Smith (shudder) trying to ape ‘Latch’ but the song is just so…cool. It makes me think of dancing in a club – for some reason in slow motion -and looking good whilst doing it. It isn’t as energetic as ‘Latch’, but ‘Omen’ is better for it in my opinion. I love the song despite my extreme distaste for Sam Smith’s music. That is the highest compliment I can give this song.
5) Blacker the Berry by Kendrick Lamar
I think I am one of a dozen or so people who didn’t enjoy To Pimp a Butterfly. I just found it rather boring, if I am honest. Plus, I do not enjoy Kendrick Lamar’s rapping. There are some exceptions, however, songs like ‘A.D.H.D’, ‘Compton’ and now ‘Blacker The Berry’ are too good to dislike. I just love how ANGRY K.Dot is in this song. It feels like he is screaming at you through your speakers, much like N.W.A in the 80s. The lyrics reflect his delivery with their power: “I’m black as the heart of a fucking Aryan”. That right there is the best line I have head in 2015. In a year of rap songs sacrificing lyrics for hooks, ‘Blacker The Berry’ and Kendrick Lamar as a whole is carrying the torch for lyrical rap music.
4) Cause I’m a Man – Tame Impala
If you asked me six or so months ago for my opinion of Tame Impala I would’ve told you that they were a shitty rip off of The Beatles (who are shit anyway). Well fast forward to the release of Currents and I have to admit that they made a hell of an album. It can get a bit samey, but there are some seriously good tunes on there. And I think ‘Cause I’m a Man’ is the best. It might be because of my love of rap music, but it isn’t often you have a man examining the problems with their own gender or themselves in such an open and honest way. You can feel Kevin Parker lamenting the choices he felt he had to make “cause [he’s] a man” throughout the song and feeling cathartic for it. It is something everyone should do, regardless of gender.
3) Empty Threat by Chvrches
I am a big fan of Chvrches. I like their music, their politics and Lauren Mayberry’s voice is powerful and yet sweet. But even I felt that, if I am honest with myself, Every Open Eye was almost a bit too much of a retread of the previous album. The best song on the album, and probably the best song Chvrches have ever made is ‘Empty Threat’. It has the perfect blend of a anthemic chorus, touching bridge, epic sounding production and uniquely ‘dark-yet-positive’ evocative lyrics the band are best known for. ‘Empty Threat’ is now my go-to song whenever I fancy a bit of Chvrches.
2) Can’t Feel My Face by The Weeknd
I’ve liked The Weeknd for a long time, ever since his first mixtape in fact, but he does have his problems that stem from his style. There is only so much six-and-a-half minute epic songs with cavernous production where he moans about some woman, does a lot of lean and complains about being numb. I Can’t Feel My Face is such a breath of fresh air that I still can’t believe he made such a turn. Yes, you could say The Weeknd sold out for getting mega pop producer Max Martin to do a beat for him…but when the results are this good then I can’t blame him. It is just so fucking funky that whenever it is on I want to get up and dance. I Can’t Feel My Face is a song I have heard a million times on the radio yet I derive a lot of enjoyment out if it. The song shows The Weeknd’s range and adaptability that I didn’t really know he had until now. I Can’t Feel My Face is an absolute classic of a song and hell, even Tom Cruise likes it, so not much more needs to be said.
1) REALiTi (Demo Version) by Grimes
This is going to be a strange choice. If I were to guess, the demo version of ‘Realiti’ wouldn’t be the song most people would choose if they were to pick a song from the utterly brilliant Art Angels. There are several reasons why I chose this song over more immediate stand outs like ‘Flesh Without Blood’ and ‘Kill V. Maim’. The most important is that this demo was the first thing I ever heard from Grimes back when it was released earlier in the year. I instantly fell in love with it. I love how the entire thing is just washed out in evocative synths that really conveys a mixture of melancholy and nostalgia. “oh baby every morning there are mountains to climb, taking all my time away from you” is just a lovely chorus that makes me think of life getting in the way of a time-limited relationship. The ‘real’ version is dancier and Grimes’ lyrics are more understandable, but there is something about the subdued drums and singing that just does it for me. This is my song of the year by a country mile.
Other great songs released this year:
Leave a Trace by Chvrches, Nocturnal (feat. The Weeknd) by Disclosure, Bodyache by Purity Ring, Somebody To Love by Kacey Musgraves, Flesh Without Blood by Grimes, All Day (feat. Theopdous London, Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney) by Kanye West, Gang Bang Anyway (feat. Schoolboy Q & Jay Rock) by Game, Alive by Arca, Cool For the Summer by Demi Lovato, Good For You by Selena Gomez, Want You To Want Me by Jason Derulo, Horses to the Stable & Saved (feat. E-40) by Ty Dola $ign, Your Type by Carly Ray Jepsen and finally Hello (feat. Andre 3000) by Erykah Badu