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Top 50 Songs of 2015

on November 30, 2015, 12:00am

adele 25 album new Top 50 Songs of 201520. Adele – “Hello”

25

Over four years had passed since Adele’s platinum-selling 21, and the British singer had mostly stepped out of the spotlight since “Skyfall”. Then, suddenly, the powerhouse vocalist burst back onto the scene with the mournful, piano-driven “Hello”. Although musically similar to her early work, the lyrics dealt with her new record’s overarching themes of coming to terms with growing up, motherhood, and relationships. And, of course, the singer’s soaring voice took center stage, rising throughout the haunting chorus: “Hello from the other side.”

“It sounds a bit morbid, like I’m dead,” Adele told Rolling Stone. “But it’s actually just from the other side of becoming an adult, making it out alive from your late teens, early 20s.” Just how great was the public demand for new Adele? The music video shattered Vevo records for most views within 24 hours of its release (27.7 million), also becoming the fastest to 100 million views. –Killian Young

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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grimes art angels album stream listen Top 50 Songs of 201519. Grimes – “Kill V. Maim”

Art Angels

“You only like me when you think I’m looking sad,” sang Grimes on another song from this year’s Dimension X pop masterwork, Art Angels. I personally fall into the opposite category. Visions, Halfaxa, and the rest of Claire Boucher’s back catalog may not be sad in the Merriam-Webster sense of the word, but each album has a cosmic darkness to it that, for me, never successfully dovetails with her pop sensibilities. It’s kept me from being a fan for quite some time. On, Art Angels, however, Boucher hoists those sensibilities out of the haunted well and into the sunlight, which results in songs like “Kill V. Maim”. I don’t necessarily get that it’s about Al Pacino as a transgender vampire, although it could definitely score a film about Al Pacino as a transgender vampire, perhaps a scene where he struts into a nightclub and sinks his bedazzled fangs into an enemy’s jugular while strobe lights flash around him. That’s dark (Boucher’s yelps become raw-throated screams for “Don’t! Know! Me!”), but danceable (she chants like a cheerleader on the chorus), and whatever the opposite word is for sad. For Grimes, that probably means something more complex than just “happy.” –Dan Caffrey

Listen: Spotify

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Future_56_Nights_(mixtape)18. Future – “March Madness”

56 Nights

No one in music had a year like Future Hendrix. After trying to push his sound towards the mainstream on 2014’s Honest, which disappointed critically, he spent the next year pushing the landscape of modern rap towards where he was. With a now legendary run of releases from Monster to DS2, Future crafted an uncompromising body of work that may be the best of his career. Plagued by addiction, depression, and heartbreak, Future made masterpieces delving into the desperation that comes from trying to fill a void with drugs and sex, less glorifying a lifestyle than lamenting the tragic feelings of loss that drove him to where he is. This is most evident on “March Madness”, the single from 56 Nights, his mixtape with DJ Esco, in which he addresses all these issues and more, including racially charged police violence. With 808 Mafia & Tarentino’s thunderous production, Future synthesized all his pain into his most immediate and memorable song of a landmark year. For four minutes, listeners could understand the allure of giving into destructive impulses to get through the darkness, even if they still felt as empty at the end of the day. –David Sackllah

Listen: Spotify

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Leon-bridges-stream-coming-home-album17. Leon Bridges – “River”

Coming Home

On his debut album, Coming Home, soulful singer-songwriter Leon Bridges pays tribute to the greats: Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and Al Green. While it’s a blast to hear him grooving and twisting, adorable to hear him sing about his mother, it’s the stunning “River” that brings to bear the true depth at which Bridges has delved into the spiritual waters of his musical forebears. “It’s basically the turning point, really just surrendering to God,” Bridges explains on the song’s Genius page. “The river represents being Baptized, and really just turning everything to God.” The song swims in the same waters as so many soul songs looking for absolution. Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” sings of being born by the river, and Bridges wants to leave behind his pains and sins, to return to that purity. There are also more obvious echoes of Green’s “Take Me to the River” — both sing of the overwhelming power of love as a river, but Bridges’ version of dipping into the Jordan is purely spiritual. As such, his crystalline voice rings sweet and true, an astonishing thing that radiates beauty. –Adam Kivel

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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The xx - Jamie xx - solo new album16. Jamie xx – “Gosh”

In Colour

If 2015 made anything clear, it’s that young Jamie Smith — better known as Jamie xx — is one of the best producers on the market. “Gosh”, the opening track from his solo debut, In Color, is a resounding introduction to the variety of sound the record amalgamates. Within five minutes, the listener is exposed to UK garage, drum & bass, and dub, with high-pitched synths adding a simplistic veil of melody that brings it home. It’s a track so invested in movement that the hi-hat sample Smith chooses sounds a lot like the heavy breathing of an inexhaustible club-goer. “Gosh” is also a stark reminder of what the producer is capable of when not confined by the sleepy guitar-driven spirit behind The xx. Although Jamie xx’s solo popularity pales in comparison to that of his band, “Gosh” is one of the first steps toward his inevitable eclipse of them. –Kevin McMahon

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autre ne veut age transparency stream album Top 50 Songs of 201515. Autre Ne Veut – “Age of Transparency”

Age of Transparency

The six-minute centerpiece of Autre Ne Veut’s Age of Transparency sounds like a pop song that’s developed an anxiety disorder. It sounds like a glitch in the Matrix or a nightmare in which you take a lavishly appointed elevator to the top of a skyscraper, only to look down and see that the floor has dropped out from under you. Nothing about “Age of Transparency” sounds safe, least of all Arthur Ashin’s voice, a powerful weapon that the singer wrestles with rather than controls. This same principle of instability governs the piano and saxophone tracks, which flutter about like a hundred different moths in search of a flame. Autre Ne Veut is often lumped in with “indie R&B” artists like How to Dress Well and Twin Shadow, but Ashin’s music is becoming more distinctly his own with each album. The version that appears on Age of Transparency is unhinged and unpredictable, but also recognizably human. The album’s title track best exemplifies this, with its mournful lyrics and cabinet of alluring imperfections. A breakdown (or a breakup, for that matter) has rarely sounded so brutal and so beautiful at once. –Collin Brennan

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Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think Sometimes I Just Sit14. Courtney Barnett – “Depreston”

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

There’s a lot that Courtney Barnett does well. She’s apt to flex muscular guitar, shoot off lines with self-deprecating humor and sly self-awareness, and evoke indie rock luminaries with her tone, her melodies, and her authenticity. But “Depreston” is a different beast, easily the prettiest song she’s written yet and the one that broods with the most existential longing. The story is simple: Barnett and a significant other go house-hunting in the Melbourne suburb of Preston, but quickly the little quips about the town’s suburban crime and the house’s features turn to something more reflective. Like the best of songs, the place it ends is far from where it begins, with the singer discovering the house she looks at is a “deceased estate,” making all the ephemera in the home puzzles for her to search for meaning. It’s all pretty heavy and the better for it, with Barnett saying about that song: “When I write songs like that, I just try and hone in on the smaller details and focus on a small occasion, like that day or that moment, and extract everything out of it.” And that’s it; the moment winds up bleeding with sadness, empathy, and longing that makes everything else, even half a million dollars, seem small in comparison. –Philip Cosores

Listen: Spotify

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Heems Eat Pray Thug13. Heems – “Flag Shopping”

Eat Pray Thug

Growing up in Queens, NY, of Punjabi-Indian descent, rapper Himanshu Suri (aka Heems) was 16 on September 11, 2001, attending school blocks away from where the towers fell. Over the course of Eat Pray Thug, his first studio album since the end of Das Racist, Suri delves into what life was like for him and other Indian-Americans living in post-9/11 NY. The boldest statement comes from “Flag Shopping”, which outlines the steps that he and others like him took to adapt, from shortening their names (“They want to Toby us like we Kunta Kinte”) to buying American flags to display around their homes. While Suri is not Muslim, his songs explain how rampant Islamophobia affects anyone who is perceived in a certain way by many Americans, regardless of their actual ethnicity or religion. At a time when fear and hate is spreading again, you can already find individuals draping themselves in American flag paraphernalia while appearing on news programs. “Flag Shopping” was already one of the most powerful songs of the year in how it addressed racism in America and unfortunately remained one of the most relevant throughout 2015. –David Sackllah

Listen: YouTube

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Bully Feels Like12. Bully – “Trying”

Feels Like

The search for clarity is a quest we all undertake at some point, but it’s usually an intensely personal one. With “Trying”, Bully frontwoman Alicia Bognanno makes it public in equally intense measure. She openly “question[s] everything,” from her pregnancy status to her “stupid degree,” all those things a twentysomething beats themselves over. There are no answers, either, as she repeatedly belts out, “Why am I?” during the song’s concluding moments. But it’s screaming about that hair-pulling self-doubt itself that feels cathartic, not the solving of the problem, and that’s amplified by the music itself. Bognanno can move from surprisingly sweet harmonies to scratchy yelps in an instant, swayed by the type of fuzzy guitar lines and can-kicking bass that call to mind the perky angst of ’90s indie rock in all the right ways. This bewailing uncertainty would creep into uncomfortable territory if presented any other way. “That song is definitely stuff I don’t have dinner conversations about,” Bognanno told NME about the track. “But it feels good to sing ‘cos it’s so brutally honest, it’s almost a stress-reliever.” Listening to it provides the same kind of release for the same reasons: It’s refreshing to just scream about it sometimes. –Ben Kaye

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kendrick lamar to pimp a butterfly vinyl release11. Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta”

To Pimp a Butterfly

On first listen, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly isn’t exactly inaccessible — there’s just a lot to sift through. Even eight months later, we’re still poring over the bitch’s brew of free jazz, spoken word, funk, and obscure samples. We’re still marinating on lyrics that explore so many facets of black culture and Lamar’s own life: poverty leading to self-hatred, self-hatred leading to rapping, rapping leading to wealth, wealth leading to more self-hatred, and all of it leading to love, both for one’s self and their community. “King Kunta” addresses many of these themes head-on, but also functions as a traditional braggadocio rap. Just because Lamar’s boasts have more to do with black empowerment than materialism doesn’t make them any less sneaker-stomping or dick-swinging. Just because he opts for a beat from the mighty Mausberg (himself gunned down in Compton when he was just 21) over the improvised horns found elsewhere on Butterfly doesn’t make the song any less intelligent. The thump actually makes it more intelligent, dropping the brain into the stomach for a hit that’s both cerebral and visceral. Come for the party, stay for the message. –Dan Caffrey

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