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Top 50 Songs of 2015

on November 30, 2015, 12:00am

grimes art angels album stream listen Top 50 Songs of 201505. Grimes – “Realiti”

Art Angels

After the success of singles “Genesis” and “Oblivion” in 2012, Canadian producer Claire Boucher fell under the pressure of her fans, critics, and, most importantly, herself when trying to top her songwriting as Grimes. “Realiti” was the first taste we got of Art Angels — even though she said, at the time, that it wouldn’t surface on this year’s LP — which allowed it to shape what we expected to come. In many ways, Grimes herself is an angel. By gifting listeners the opacity and honesty of her role as Human Making Music Who Refuses to Settle, she reminded us what it means to come to terms with yourself and what you’re capable of, particularly when you’ve been dubbed the leader of Tumblr aesthetics instead of, well, your musical strength.

Like her rejected Rihanna demo “Go”, “Realiti” takes the ideas of big pop and flattens them into a single, cohesive, handclap-decorated song with late-night questions of mental endurance rephrased as lyrics. “Every morning there are mountains to climb/ Taking all my time/ When I get up, this is what I see,” she sings, later adding, “I wanna peer over the edge and see in death/ If we are always the same.” Reality may be daunting and death may be warped, but Grimes isn’t afraid anymore. Each word is stated coolly. “Realiti” is a much needed reminder that solitude is a necessary evil, progress is a damaging endurance test, and we have the ability to reshape reality into a playful challenge as long as we give ourselves time. –Nina Corcoran

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Kurt Vile b'lieve i'm going down... album artwork04. Kurt Vile – “Pretty Pimpin'”

b’lieve i’m goin down

Kurt Vile is a musical magician. On “Pretty Pimpin’”, the lead single off his latest album, b’lieve I’m goin down, he manages to make somber introspection catchy, layering contemplative lyrics over the infectious guitar lines that have become his signature. The song’s opening lines, “I woke up this mornin’/ Didn’t recognize the man in the mirror/ Then I laughed and I said, ‘Oh silly me, that’s just me,’” are the thesis statement of a wandering meditation on the nature of self and what it means to change. While “Pretty Pimpin’” features synth from Rob Laakso, backing vocals, electric organ, and the percussion of Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, this is a song painted in guitar and words. With the latter, Vile uses the image of himself at a bathroom mirror to refract his own insecurities about who he wants to be and the man he actually is. His desires take the form of a third-person pronoun at odds with the narrator (although both are not much for brushing their hair), a parallel that plays out in wistful melodies and hazy refrains. It’s the words unspoken that perhaps speak the loudest, the subtle hieroglyphics of a lyricist well-versed in the Elliott Smith school of combining majesty with melancholy. Speaking with Consequence of Sound earlier this year, Vile defined his career as “[having] to climb step by step to the top of the world.” Whichever step “Pretty Pimpin’” has left him at, there can’t be many more to go. –Zack Ruskin

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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The xx - Jamie xx - solo new album03. Jamie xx ft. Young Thug & Popcaan – “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”

In Colour

This relentlessly optimistic jam from the triumphant In Colour bases its magic in a sample from a 1971 song by The Persuasions before taking off with a verse from Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan. Jamie Smith, aka Jamie xx, blends finger-snap beats with Atlanta-bred rapper Young Thug’s joyfully debaucherous raps and Popcaan’s lilting, island-accented singing. It’s nearly impossible to listen to this song and not smile, not only because Young Thug seems to take great joy in repping some of the most fun (and sometimes head-scratching) innuendos you’ve ever heard (e.g., “I’ma ride in that pussy like a stroller” or “We gon’ ball, Walter Payton”).

Throwing around terms like “instant classic” is clichéd at this point, but it’s hard to imagine a world in which this song isn’t held up as an example of what some of the best music of this year, or even this decade, could be. As popular music increasingly resists pigeonholing, it seems fair to say that songs like this one could be seen as the way forward, even though it’s hard to imagine the outcome of this particular collaboration in the hands of a producer less capable than Smith. What he has to offer others who may come after him, though, is a flawless, seamless sensibility and vision, a tireless creativity that will likely inspire a whole generation of beat-driven kids in their bedrooms with laptops. But for now, as Young Thug says, “Good times, there’s gon’ be some good times.” –Katherine Flynn

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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tame impala currents02. Tame Impala – “Let It Happen”

Currents

Long regarded as a studio rat, it should have surprised no one when Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker emerged out of a quiet period with a first taste of his next album as elaborate as “Let It Happen”. ”To me, it sounds totally different from anything ever,” he told Under the Radar, adding, “I’m hoping that’s how it comes across to other people, as well.” Running nearly eight minutes, the song blurs the boundaries between producer and band, striving for similar builds and releases found in EDM. For a project previously known as a psych rock band, the boldness of the move was grossly underplayed, mostly because Parker made the song still fit within the Tame Impala oeuvre. When placed in the context of 2015, “Let It Happen” didn’t seem like a complete reinvention, but just the ambitious next step from an artist looking to put out the best product of his career.

And he did. It’s the best song he’s ever written from the best album he’s ever made. In a live context, the numerous transitions earn their own mid-song rounds of applause, like he’s taking the audience up and down on a roller coaster as notable for the smoothness of the ride as the drastic shifts within it. Midway through, the song takes a sort of break and sounds like a record skipping, only to see a wave of symphonic strings gently redirect the forward momentum. It manages to make what is regarded as the worst sound in existence seem fresh and beautiful in its own right. It’s enough to make a generation of fellow studio rats dive back into their bedrooms, the bar now set unrealistically high for what a lone person can cook up in a studio when given some time and resources. And the lasting lesson: If the goal isn’t to make something different than everything that came before, you aren’t trying hard enough. –Philip Cosores

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly01. Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”

To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar’s magnum opus, To Pimp a Butterfly, has no shortage of beautiful and dark songs that encapsulate the Black American experience. “Complexion” is a soulful number that tackles colorism with an outstanding guest verse from Rapsody. “i” taps into self-love, while “u” flips the script and goes in on self-hate. “The Blacker the Berry” castigates murderers of every creed and code. The body of work is almost exhaustingly thorough, but “Alright” sticks out like a reasonably intelligent person at a Trump rally. We’re ushered in as a choir’s soulful harmony meets Pharrell’s patented four count start. Lamar screams, “Alls my life, I had to fight,” referencing Sophia’s heartfelt soliloquy in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and then we’re guided through Lamar’s complex yearning for some version of Eden.

“Alright” is buoyant, festive, serious, personal, and all-encompassing. Only a song so brilliant in so many ways could earn the honor of becoming a protest song, effectively dethroning “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, a gospel hymnal that’s been widely considered the Black American National Album for more than a century. Over the last couple of years, police brutality, systemic oppression, and racism have become a focal point in the American consciousness. It’s nothing new — Richard Pryor spoke on it years ago, as did Dick Gregory and a host of other impossibly smart comedians. Rodney King was beaten like a rag doll and the officers who did so were punished with a slap on the wrist. As a new laundry list of names enter the fold — Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, the victims of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church terrorist attacks, etc., etc., ad infinitum — “Alright” has played as an antihistamine to the pain that’s so frequently been doled out to Black Americans.

If time, history, and practicality are any indicator, we’re probably not going to be alright — at least not in this lifetime. But the point of gospel is having faith in what isn’t there. You have to have faith in something that isn’t exactly tangible, a deep and spiritual faith. “Alright” isn’t about determination; it’s about forgetting cold, harsh reality and hoping for something brighter and better if only for three minutes and 39 seconds.

“Alright” is the gospel song we need in these trying times, and gospel is also about community — your brothers and sisters, if you will. Above all, “Alright” is a damn fun song, and that’s what puts it leagues ahead of tracks with similar content. In 2015, all across America, in the clubs, bars, and concert halls, dozens and dozens, sometimes hundreds or thousands of black and brown and white and yellow folks have proudly and joyfully screamed, “We gon’ be alright.” With that kind of love, fuck practicality, time, and history. Maybe we actually will be alright. –H. Drew Blackburn

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Listen to the Top 50 Songs of 2015 on Spotify.

01. Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
02. Tame Impala – “Let It Happen”
03. Jamie xx feat. Young Thug & Popcaan – “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”
04. Kurt Vile – “Pretty Pimpin'”
05. Grimes – “Realiti”
06. Drake – “Hotline Bling”
07. Sufjan Stevens – “Should Have Known Better”
08. Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight”
09. Titus Andronicus – “Dimed Out”
10. The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”
11. Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta”
12. Bully – “Trying”
13. Heems – “Flag Shopping”
14. Courtney Barnett – “Depreston”
15. Autre Ne Veut – “Age of Transparency”
16. Jamie xx – “Gosh”
17. Leon Bridges – “River”
18. Future – “March Madness”
19. Grimes – “Kill V. Maim”
20. Adele – “Hello”
21. Majical Cloudz – “Downtown”
22. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – “Sunday Candy”
23. Torres – “Strange Hellos”
24. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – “The Charade”
25. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Run Away With Me”
26. Kanye West feat. Allan Kingdom, Theophilus London, Paul McCartney – “All Day”
27. Sleater-Kinney – “A New Wave”
28. Elder – “Compendium”
29. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”
30. Vince Staples – “Señorita”
31. Miguel feat. Wale – “Coffee”
32. Natalie Prass – “My Baby Don’t Understand Me”
33. Circuit Des Yeux – “Fantasize the Scene”
34. Florence + The Machine – “Ship to Wreck”
35. Protomartyr – “Ellen”
36. Wondaland Records – “Hell You Talmbout”
37. Julia Holter – “Feel You”
38. All Dogs – “That Kind of Girl”
39. Rihanna, Kanye West, Paul McCartney – “FourFiveSeconds”
40. Nicole Dollanganger – “You’re So Cool”
41. Ought – “Beautiful Blue Sky”
42. Alessia Cara – “Here”
43. Janet Jackson – “No Sleeep”
44. Hop Along – “Happy to See Me”
45. John Carpenter – “Vortex”
46. Tink – “Ratchet Commandments”
47. Disclosure feat. Sam Smith – “Omen”
48. Kelela – “Rewind”
49. Ezra Furman – “Lousy Connection”
50. Lana Del Rey – “Honeymoon”

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