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Top 50 Songs of 2015

on November 30, 2015, 12:00am

Vince Staples - Summertime '06 album30. Vince Staples – “Señorita”

Summertime ’06

Vince Staples is much more than the Dennis the Menace of Long Beach. Sure, he agitates the suburbs, beefs with baby boomers, and there was even a weapon in his back pocket as he came of age. But it’d be a mistake for the Mr. Wilsons of the world to write off this brilliant 22-year-old emcee as a disrespectful, young troublemaker, especially after Staples demonstrated real maturity with a look back on one of the most impactful summers of his life. “Señorita” — lead single off the two-disc Summertime ‘06 — finds an introspective Staples tracing the street warfare and police state of his childhood back to present-day controversies. It’s candid and shocking, especially when you realize how Staples’ previous struggles continue to haunt his outlook. But it’s also remarkably cathartic to hear Staples go on an angry tear while the sounds of minor piano chords and Future’s rapid-fire chorus sound off in the background. –Dan Pfleegor

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UMO album29. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”

Multi-Love

The tension between digital and analog is baked right into the beat of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”. Handclaps compete with a wobbly synth for the listener’s attention, much in the same way the attractions and distractions of the modern world compete with a deeper, more organic understanding of our own bodies. Even Unknown Mortal Orchestra frontman Ruban Nielson is caught in the gap between man and machine, his voice heavily processed as he laments his insatiable desire for contact via technology.

UMO’s disco-infused Multi-Love is an album about dueling identities, and no song better highlights how we’re all really two people: one that exists in the here and now, and another that’s drifting off in the digital somewhere. It’s an unsettling thought, but Nielson and his band make it more palatable by couching it inside a funky melody that’s ready for the dance floor. Sure, it might be some cold, futuristic dance floor where nobody touches and everyone moves to the beat alone, but it’s still a dance floor. –Collin Brennan

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ELDER-Lore-2LP-PREORDER28. Elder – “Compendium”

Lore

Elder have never been much for keeping things succinct. It’s the sprawl that they’re after, and “Compendium”, the lead opus on the trio’s 2015 riff-fest, Lore, gives listeners just about all the meandering prog metal mayhem they can handle. Taking the best parts of bands like Black Sabbath, Sleep, and Hawkwind to heart, it’s a loud, dense tour de force that keeps you hanging on for all 10-plus minutes. On a list full of catchy three-minute pop joints, Elder represents the metal contingent this year by moving swiftly in the complete opposite direction. –Ryan Bray

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Sleater Kinney Sub Pop Reunion27. Sleater-Kinney – “A New Wave”

No Cities to Love

Hiatus be damned, Sleater-Kinney never really went away. The trio of Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss actually became vital to more and more people (including the band members themselves) as the project hibernated – circumstances that made returning the right way all the more critical. “We needed to reboot the band for the present time,” Tucker explained to NPR following the release of their return album, No Cities to Love. “We needed to think critically about what in our music we relate to the most now: the melody, the story, and the energy.”

Those essential elements can’t be ignored on the album’s third single, “A New Wave”, a song that latches on immediately, prods a universal nerve, and bounces furiously in our headspace. “No outline will ever hold us/ It’s not a new wave/ It’s just you and me/ … Invent our own kind of obscurity,” echo Tucker and Brownstein on the choruses. Whether we opt to apply those lines to the three reemerging as a band or internalize them to be about staking claims and carving out spaces in our own lives, the song brims with the unique amalgam of fervor, defiance, and celebration that has defined Sleater-Kinney’s return. –Matt Melis     

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kanye west so help me god Top 50 Songs of 201526. Kanye West feat. Allan Kingdom, Theophilus London, Paul McCartney – “All Day”

In 1999, Paul McCartney sat down for an interview on the British talk show Parkinson and spoke about the birth of his child, Mary. He describes hanging around the hospital and seeing a Picasso painting of a man playing a guitar and trying to figure out what two-finger chord the figure was playing. McCartney then plays the audience a whistling tune he wrote based off this chord. Fast-forward to 2015: McCartney resurrects this same whistling on the end of Kanye West’s rap odyssey, “All Day”. Not only that, but McCartney’s melody basically becomes the root that the entire song grows out of. For an artist like West, who has prided himself on being a purveyor of fine art, it’s fitting that his song would be birthed out of a Picasso painting and assisted by a living Beatle. It’s a feverish track, giving West room to embrace his braggadocious mindset with the perfect canvas. Not just that, but it’s further proof that West is looking deeper into his own work than he may get credit for. –Dusty Henry

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Carly Rae Jepsen EMOTION album25. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Run Away with Me”

E•MO•TION

In a year when pop music hit new heights of excess and over-stimulation, Carly Rae Jepsen boiled things down to their essence: passion, desire, and compelling vocals. No song displays that as succinctly as “Run Away with Me”, a clarion call of ’80s synths, gang-shouted hooks, and a skipping beat. She delivers the chorus like marching orders, her romantic interest no longer hinged on a maybe. Feeling “up in the clouds/ High as a kite” isn’t exactly groundbreaking writing for a pop love song, but Jepsen has a way of delivering every cliche as a heartfelt truth. Simply put: Her seemingly endless well of sincerity and positivity is utterly charming. Jepsen describes herself as “an old-school romantic at heart,” and, as such, it’s unsurprising that her songs lack the cough medicine sweetness, sidelong darkness, and winking acknowledgment of artifice that riddle other pop albums. She believes in this kind of all-encompassing passion and love, and that comes through loud and clear on “Run Away with Me”. –Adam Kivel

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D'Angelo Black Messiah24. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – “The Charade”

Black Messiah

Black Messiah came out at the close of 2014 on the heels of unspeakably tense moments throughout the country spurred by police brutality. “The Charade”, in particular, is a song of solidarity and hope in the face of this incredible injustice. Unsurprisingly, it is the most poignant, lyrically developed track on the album. With most D’Angelo cuts, the focal point is buried deep in the pocket that drummer ?uestlove burrows; and while his lyrics always express bare-naked emotion, they don’t often require further study. “The Charade” lays it on thick, giving the listener lines that are tucked just enough below the surface that they demand a Google. It’s a song filled with stunners, like, “All the dreamers have gone to the side of the road, which we will lay on/ Inundated by media, virtual mind-fucks in streams,” and, “Relegated to savages bound by the way of the deceivers/ So anchors be sure that you’re sure we ain’t no amateurs.” With the agonizingly slow rate of progress this country is known for, “The Charade” is sure to remain a communal statement of truth and yearning for years to come. –Kevin McMahon

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TORRES-sprinter-1500x150023. Torres – “Strange Hellos”

Sprinter

Explicitly stating true, deep-seated love and hate — particularly hate — can be a very difficult thing. There is, however, always a breaking point at which the pains of the fallout from expressing yourself seem far easier than the pains of keeping it inside. “Strange Hellos”, the opener to TorresSprinter, represents that breaking point for Mackenzie Scott. “While writing that song, I was reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, and he writes about getting your true loves and your true hates onto the paper,” she told Pitchfork. “Strange Hellos” does just that, mixing it all into a single explosive track.

The song opens with a stunningly direct address, Scott singing to Heather, a woman going through her own personal issues but who has also clearly wronged Scott in some deep way. “Heather I dreamt that I forgave/ That only comes in waves/ I hate you all the same,” she sings with an icy calm, over muted percussive plucks. The fire burns brighter as the track goes on, Scott’s voice shredding and cracking as the guitars burn brighter and the cymbals splash heavier. She gets her hate out on the page, but she gets some love out too, likely part of why this is so explosive: “I love you all the same,” she repeats in the second verse, the hurt feelings from the end of a relationship still carrying an extra hurt from the weight the love once held (and maybe still does). The track feels like it could burn up at any moment, an incendiary introduction to one of the year’s most cathartic, compelling records. –Adam Kivel

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Social Experiment Surf22. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – “Sunday Candy”

Surf

There was plenty of socially complex hip-hop to go around in 2015, much of it delivered by Chance the Rapper on Surf, his ensemble dramedy with Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment. But the album’s best song is also its simplest. Yes, “Sunday Candy” is about going to church and loving your grandma. So, it makes sense that, musically, it takes its cues from old-school Chicago soul music, drawing a warm bath of gospel vocals from Jamila Woods and full-bodied piano that sounds best when played on — when else — Sunday, of course. This is holiday piano, living-room piano, the kind of piano where your entire family huddles around the ivories while the elder matriarch tickles them. Lots of terrible events have happened in Chance’s stomping grounds over the past 12 months, events that he outright addressed both within his music and elsewhere. But it’s also important to keep positive things on one’s mind during tragedy, and as “Sunday Candy” and the recent birth of his daughter prove, 2015 was a year of family for the young rapper, as every year, even the darker ones, should be. –Dan Caffrey

Listen: Spotify

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majical cloudz are you alone album stream Top 50 Songs of 201521. Majical Cloudz – “Downtown”

Are You Alone?

Though given ample time to find love in this world, the knowledge that love may end makes us crazy. Sometimes we’d rather not bother at all. Devon Welsh knows this and still doesn’t care. This arrives near the end of “Downtown”, his most devastatingly beautiful piece of pop yet, as the Majical Cloudz songwriter’s voice lowers to a heavenly chant. “There’s one thing I’ll do, if it ever goes wrong/ I’ll write you into all of my songs,” he gently sings and then brings a revelation, a flash of motivation: “And if suddenly I die/ I hope they will say/ That he was obsessed, and it was okay.” Welsh floats over this enraptured swell, an ending that spreads like sun streaming through rain. It’s not the only moment during the album, Are You Alone?, where Welsh puts his love boots on to go stamping the earth into tender submission. But, unlike Impersonator, there’s no defeatism here. He’ll fall from grace and sail away on a perfect purring organ droning over drum echoes. The message in “Downtown” is straightforward, implying there’s solitude that comes with loving someone, the answer to the question asked by his album’s title. And, yes, we might be alone, but this transcendent ode to borrowing pain from the past to illuminate life whether it’s with someone or not — it makes it feel okay. –Lior Phillips

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