Exclusive Features
Anniversaries, Cover Stories, Editorials,
Interviews, Lists, and Comprehensive Rankings

Top 50 Songs of 2015

on November 30, 2015, 12:00am

nicole dollanganger natural born losers40. Nicole Dollanganger – “You’re So Cool”

Natural Born Losers

Nicole Dollanganger earns her frequent comparisons to Lana Del Rey, but she’s a version of Del Rey that hangs out in dungeons rather than swimming pools. The Canadian artist often sings of love in a fatalist sense and from the perspective of one who’s felt the worst of its barbs, but she’s the ghost just as often as she’s the one being haunted. The other artist Dollanganger instantly recalls is Claire Boucher’s Grimes, and that’s no coincidence; Boucher started a new record label (Eerie Organization) just to release Dollanganger’s work. “You’re So Cool” justifies her confidence with its sparse, ethereal guitar track and mesmerizing vocal performance. “When I’m good, I’m very good/ But when I’m bad, I’m better,” Dollanganger sings in the chorus. In anyone else’s hands, it might sound a little teasing, a little playful. But there’s a slippery kind of desperation in Dollanganger’s high-pitched voice, the kind that hints at something menacing lurking beneath the surface. –Collin Brennan

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

__________________________________________________________

rihanna anti new album release Top 50 Songs of 201539. Rihanna, Kanye West, Paul McCartney – “FourFiveSeconds”

Anti

Rihanna and Kanye West both had highly anticipated records, and “FourFiveSeconds” gave fans an unexpected glimpse of what might be in store. (The track has officially been tapped for Anti, but could also appear on Kanye’s new record, according to Rolling Stone.) The collaboration, which also includes Paul McCartney, is remarkable in its own right, fusing together McCartney’s gentle acoustic guitar strumming with ’Ye singing and trading off pared-down verses with Rihanna. The mellow instrumentation, assisted by a subtle organ interlude, diverts from the track’s lyrical message: being true to yourself in the face of the haters while feeling like you’re about to lose your shit. (“See all of my kindness is taken for weakness,” Kanye and Rihanna harmonize on the song.) Sure, the concept of dealing with fame isn’t revolutionary territory for ’Ye, but as the world eagerly awaits Yeezus’ follow-up, any clue to the lyrical or sonic direction it may take is enticing. –Killian Young

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

__________________________________________________________

All Dogs Kicking Every Day38. All Dogs – “That Kind of Girl”

Kicking Every Day

Maryn Jones was 2015’s patron saint of heartbreak. Her work with Saintseneca and her solo debut as Yowler showcased her remarkably poignant lyricism and affecting vocals. But her role fronting All Dogs saw her embracing her stirring ethos with a greater energy. Each song on their debut, Kicking Every Day, explores dejection and loneliness in profound ways. On “That Kind of Girl”, however, she steps away from the loathing and delivers a revitalizing anthem. Blistering guitars swirl underneath her vocals as she delivers the killer opening line: “And I know that I’m always fucking up your world.” She clearly and concisely distances herself from being somebody else’s excuse for not moving on, even going as far as wishing her former lover “clear water, love, and health.” In breakups with martyrs, someone is bound to be vilified. In the aftermath, Jones is just making it clear that she’s not that kind of girl. –Dusty Henry

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

__________________________________________________________

Julia-Holter-have-you-in-my-wilderness37. Julia Holter – “Feel You”

Have You in My Wilderness

When Julia Holter thinks incessantly about rain, she ends up with one of the sunniest-sounding tracks of the year. Don’t be surprised; Holter is nothing if not disjointed, a constantly distracted dreamer whose lines seem to always reach the verge of completion before cutting off and somehow smoothly run-landing into an unrelated one immediately. “You know I love to run away from sun,” she sings while the world’s brightest string-and-vocal choir glows around her. Later, “the memory of your piano” stops her verse dead in its tracks — underscored by a harpsichord, of course. If it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, that’s more or less the point; she’s not trying to know anything here — she’s trying to feel. –Steven Arroyo

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

__________________________________________________________

artworks 000126249679 9ujawi t500x500 Top 50 Songs of 201536. Wondaland Records – “Hell You Talmbout”

One of the joys of pop music is its escapist quality. It’s typically light, fun fare, but that doesn’t mean it can’t go for the jugular when the occasion calls for it. To that end, “Hell You Talmbout” is powerful protest music for the millennial age. Anchored by militant percussion and an army of impassioned backup singers, Janelle Monáe and Wonderland Records deliver a piercing commentary on Ferguson and the vicious cycle of racial hysteria that has seemingly followed it since. There are no winners or losers, just the frustration that comes with trying to exist in a world where racial strife continues to rear its ugly head. Few other songs this year drive home such a powerful message so effectively, and that’s a win in and of itself. –Ryan Bray

Listen: Soundcloud

__________________________________________________________

Protomartyr-agent-intellect35. Protomartyr – “Ellen”

The Agent Intellect

So much of 2014’s Under Color of Official Right sounded driven by disgust, frustration, and sardonicism. It was a powerfully cathartic record, something that crackled and burned like a trashcan fire to warm yourself by on a cold, dark night in a depressed urban setting. That’s not to say they were all grit and grime, but nothing compared to the soaring blue-toned prettiness of “Ellen”, the climax of Protomartyr’s excellent follow-up, The Agent Intellect. But that dually sweet and teary beauty comes when one takes on the role of their own dead father singing to the wife he left behind. Joe Casey leaves behind his steely yelp and mumble for an almost warm tone when taking on the role, describing the endless wait he will endure to reunite with her. “I’ll pass the time/ With our memories/ For Ellen/ I took them on ahead/ I kept them safe/ For Ellen,” he sings, eventually fading everything to silence — but then it all rises back up. That denial of finality is a tear-wrenching moment of utter beauty from a band usually bombastically barking about the collapse of civilization and proves to be one of the year’s most uplifting rock moments. –Adam Kivel

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

__________________________________________________________

Florence-Machine-How-Big-How-Blue-How-Beautiful-Stream34. Florence + The Machine – “Ship to Wreck”

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the type of sweeping grandiosity that Florence and the Machine bring to the otherwise unassuming indie rock arena. But, fuck it, sometimes you just have to turn your brain off and give in to a good song when you hear one. So I’ll stop protesting and say that “Ship to Wreck” represents Flo and company at their best — wrapping her powerful vocals, a catchy melody, and highbrow lyrics into a perfectly poppy cocoon (“I can’t help to pull the Earth around me to make my bed” has to be in contention for lyric of the year). The song is a testament that big doesn’t always equate to bad, especially if you can bring a song down to earth with a delicate ear and a heavy heart. –Ryan Bray

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

__________________________________________________________

Circuit des Yeux - In Plain Speech new album33. Circuit Des Yeux – “Fantasize the Scene”

In Plain Speech

Who would’ve thought that, in another album exploring social disconnection through her low register and lots of effects pedals, Haley Fohr would make her Zeppelin move with “Fantasize the Scene”. Aside from the title conjuring Robert Plant’s whim, her shadowy finger-plucking takes on a Page-like weight, and the lyrics find Fohr raking the dust of the failure of a potential relationship — as with so many classic rock songs, a shambled romance instills the same dread as an apocalyptic wasteland. But unlike Fohr’s previous work under the Circuit des Yeux nom de plume, there’s a glimmer of hope among the heartbreak. “Maybe I’ll meet you there/ In a world where we’ll go all the way,” she ponders. That makes “Fantasize the Scene” not about disconnection, but potential connection, which in turn, makes it not her Zeppelin move, but her Haley Fohr move. –Dan Caffrey

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

__________________________________________________________

Natalie-Prass-SB006-Cover-Art-Lo-Res-132. Natalie Prass – “My Baby Don’t Understand Me”

Natalie Prass

Lots of long-term relationships don’t work out. And when they don’t, they usually survive way, way, way longer than they should. Have you ever met a divorcee who said, “Oh yeah, my partner and I ended our marriage at the exact right time”? Me neither. Romance is like a mosquito in that way, draining the lifeblood of a couple before they even know the proboscis has punctured their skin. By the time they realize that all is lost, they’re already husks of their former selves. Natalie Prass knows this, and that’s why “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” is such a slow burn. On the opener of her self-titled debut, she doesn’t hold off on revealing her pocket orchestra of horns, woodwinds, and strings, but she does keep it circling her voice with hesitant steps. You want the orchestration to explode; you want that moment of catharsis where it propels a breakup into a triumph, but like I said, these things take time, and Prass waits a full minute-and-a-half before kicking everything into high gear. Even then, the arrangement retreats to the periphery again after the chorus. Only during the uplifting final crescendo (about 4:30 in) do we know that the separation is a good thing for both parties, which makes “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” not only the most observant and realistic breakup song of 2015, but also the best. –Dan Caffrey

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

__________________________________________________________

Miguel Wildheart31. Miguel feat. Wale – “Coffee”

Wildheart

Miguel spent the majority of the summer seducing crowds across the US with his soulful crooning (and eight-pack). The LA native’s latest record, Wildheart, truly feels like a throwback snapshot of the City of Angels: a soundtrack for finding love — or sex — on neon-drenched boulevards on sultry nights. No song better exemplifies this than the lead single, “Coffee”, with its eager, skittering synths and excited drum hits. Sure, on the track, the evening leads to “drugs, sex, Polaroids,” but what elevates Miguel’s songwriting over rote R&B fare is his subsequent compassion and attention to the intimacy of sex. As the song winds down, the instrumentals give way to simple, swirling synths and Miguel’s stripped-down vocals. There’s something sweet and beautiful about the way he gently sings, “I don’t wanna wake you/ I just wanna watch you sleep/ It’s the smell of your hair/ And it’s the way that we feel.” –Killian Young

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

__________________________________________________________

55 comments