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Top 50 Songs of 2015

on November 30, 2015, 12:00am

the weeknd new album beauty madness1 Top 50 Songs of 201510. The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”

Beauty Behind the Madness

Consider Abel Tesfaye’s quick ascension to the peak of pop startdom complete. Social media has been carrying Tesfaye and his music as The Weeknd on its shoulders for the better part of a half decade, but it took an irrefutable crossover smash to complete his transformation from buzz-worthy boy wonder to certified R&B superstar. “Can’t Feel My Face” is that monumental single, the kind that artists who aspire to scale pop music’s great heights hope and dream for. Arguably the breezy boy-girl jam of the year, the song captures the current musical zeitgeist perfectly. It’s relaxed, cool, sexy, funky, and fun, soaking itself in the kind of escapist chill that the eager twentysomething crowd he caters to would bottle up in a heartbeat if only it had the opportunity. But like all great pop songs, the true value of “Can’t Feel My Face” is derived from the way it makes you feel. Adele’s pipes can leave you legless, Katy Perry songs make you want to party, and so on. “Can’t Feel My Face”, on the other hand, makes listeners feel damn near invincible in its celebration of young love. It revels in a place that’s uncorrupted by the stresses and demands that exist outside of its bubble, opting instead to drink in everything the present has to offer. It’s a song that plays out like a millennial fantasy, and it works like a charm. –Ryan Bray

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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The Most Lamentable Tragedy new album09. Titus Andronicus – “Dimed Out”

The Most Lamentable Tragedy

For god’s sake, lukewarm just doesn’t cut it in this world anymore. If you want to breathe in life, you better crank it up a notch, tackle it with your whole heart — feel its weight pressing down on you so that the dark textures and shattering core feel so heavy it’ll burst right open. Rock titans Titus Andronicus understand this, and “Dimed Out” emerging during Act II of their five-act rock opera, The Most Lamentable Tragedy, is such a damn near flawless move that you’ll need a vaudeville hook to peel you away. It’s music with enough heart and wordsmithery to make listeners feel the ground shake; “Whatever’s inside, let it climb out,” sings Patrick Stickles, and nobody can fault this virtuoso laying claim to rock’s cruel heart. “I Lost My Voice (+@)” did a good job on the promise of blending punk anarchy and basic rebellion, and Stickles’ voice — a voice that feels like blissed-out chaos — uses the fickle-as-fuck world as a sieve to sift through the emotional wreckage of life. But when an amp is “dimed out,” every sound parameter is set to maximum volume, while knowing you can always switch the toggles back if needed. One of Titus Andronicus’ biggest assets has been their ability to build the empathy necessary to transcend their loud lyrics and fall back on the other side — that hard-hitting defiance is toned down by way of warm, rhythmic throb. So, you’re here, you’re there, being significant, being nobody, wondering why the past haunts you, wondering how to live life at full volume and speak about the pain of the past. Here’s a song that just speaks. Like a contemporary confessional — no preacher, just a band pushing passed muck and mire. Two minutes and 58 seconds is yours. –Lior Phillips

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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alabama shakes sound and color08. Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight”

Sound & Color

Musically, “Don’t Wanna Fight” shows why Alabama Shakes are alone atop the ranks of any perceptible deep soul re-emergence. With a fury that bubbles up along Zac Cockrell’s bass line, the song digs its heels in with a stalking rhythm and Heath Fogg’s simply classic funk guitar parts. Few vocalists can hold a candle up to Brittany Howard’s powerful pipes, from the falsetto chorus to all the subtle inflections of the final verse. The opening squeal perks you up and arrests your attention before you can even grasp what’s just happened, leaving you scurrying to pick up your jaw as you follow her into the lyrics.

For those unable to gather themselves after that crooning white rabbit, you’d be surprised what’s articulated in those words. It’s easy — and not necessarily inaccurate — to take Howard’s lyrics to be about relationship struggles, but there’s a greater connotation in there. The chorus (“I don’t wanna fight no more”) isn’t just referring to a lover, but to society. In a year where division seemed a disturbingly dominant trend in headlines, social media posts, and the mouths of political leaders, this song encapsulates the futility many of us feel. “Attacking, defending/ Until there’s nothing left worth winning,” Howard sings out in frustration. “Your pride and my pride/ Don’t waste my time.”

Too often modern society is at war with itself, and too often we can’t express the resulting exasperation. From chords to choruses, “Don’t Wanna Fight” does so potently. –Ben Kaye

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Sufjan Stevens Carrie and Lowell07. Sufjan Stevens – “Should Have Known Better”

Carrie & Lowell

“I needed to extract myself out of this environment of make-believe,” Sufjan Stevens said of Carrie & Lowell’s creation, citing the myriad behavioral extremes he cycled through both during and after his mother’s death. Carrie was his mother, but she was also a stranger. Stevens spent his youth creating narratives for her in his head, creating chapters upon chapters of what-ifs and maybes. To confront the reality of her, then, left him without a foothold. “I was trying to gather as much as I could of her,” he continues, “in my mind, my memory, my recollections, but I have nothing.” There’s an immediacy to “Should Have Known Better”, a sense that you’re sitting alongside Stevens in the hospital. Love, hate, desperation, resentment, hope, acceptance — each has its place in the grieving process, but none are so simple to step aside to make room for the next. They exist in fluidity, coalescing then separating.

Against gentle acoustic finger-picking and bright keyboard, “Should Have Known Better” eschews reflection on these topics for the immediacy of living with them. Beneath a “black shroud,” Stevens slips in and out of despair, pleading for simplicity (“be my rest, be my fantasy”), grappling with regret (“I should have wrote a letter”), withering beneath painful memories (“When I was three, three maybe four, she left us at that video store”), and grasping at the hope that lives within his niece. Stevens’ best songs have always felt like a stream of consciousness, places where concrete images flicker in succession, giving way to deep wells of emotion. “Should Have Known Better” is one of these songs, but bears a sepia-toned tenderness that separates itself from the kaleidoscopic grandeur of Illinois and Age of Adz. The standalone images he conjures (“the neighbor’s greeting,” “Rose of Aaron’s beard,” “a drunken sailor”) are so abstract that they register as mere wisps, touchstones that perhaps only Carrie herself would understand. “Should Have Known Better” exists within that space where Stevens was “trying to gather as much as I could of her.” That he fails to do so gives it its power. This is grief. –Randall Colburn

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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drake hotline bling Top 50 Songs of 201506. Drake – “Hotline Bling”

How did a thirst plea set to a Mario Kart click track become one of the biggest singles of the year — and Drake’s biggest single to date?

That’s part of the 6 God’s alchemy. He’s at his most powerful when he’s at his most pathetic, and in 2015, nothing could better undercut the bite of singles like “Energy” and diss track “Back to Back” than “Hotline Bling”, a return to the classic Drake look of pining after someone who’s moved on with her life. He even goes back to the “good girl” epithet that he scattered throughout 2013’s Nothing Was the Same. It’s condescending and absurd to want a woman to be “good” for you even when you’re not around, sure, but the object of Drake’s whining is out there having the time of her life, and he knows it better than anyone.

What turns Drake songs into wildfire memes isn’t the lyrics but the way he bends them, and “Hotline Bling” is less about him than it is about her. “Ever since I left the city, you,” he sings in one gulp, drawing out the last word and giving it the most space. And then there’s the way he turns “bling” from a dated noun into a verb that’s unmistakably now. It might be the least boring way to describe your phone lighting up late at night. We love Drake when he’s absurd and he knows it, and he’s never hit the sweet spot of his persona quite like he does on “Hotline Bling”. He indulges our own ridiculous longings and clears space for us to laugh at ourselves, too. Long live peak Drake. –Sasha Geffen

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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