The Best 20 Tracks of 2015
As 2015 comes to a close, we can finally take a breather and look back at the year. It's been a real rollercoaster in the realms of politics, identity, art, society and pretty much everything else and more apparent in the world of music than pretty much anywhere else. There has not been a single year in the last twenty where music and the world around it have intertwined so closely. Be it D'Angelo's sudden release of Black Messiah and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly providing the perfect soundtrack to racial tension in the US, or Kanye West's ability to infiltrate pretty much every facet of popular culture, music has never been more important this generation.
With this newfound relevance comes further experimentation, refinement and a whole gamut of new ideas. Be it young upstarts making their first real marks on the industry, or faces from the past returning to the forefront with a stylistic regeneration; be it young kids from London council estates, or international megastars, everyone has something to share with the world. This list started as a top 10, then a top 15, then a top 20. If that doesn't say something, then we don't know what will. With that, let us begin.
Blood Orange: ‘Sandra’s Smile’
Formerly known as Lightspeed Champion (how could we forget that ridiculous floppy hair), Dev Hynes has undergone something of a reinvention in recent years with his new project, Blood Orange. Dedicated to Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in police custody in a Texas jail earlier this year, this song is beautiful in its simplicity, with a pounding bass-line and orchestral strings over the chorus.
Kanye West: ‘All Day’
What can one say about Yeezus that has not already been said? It takes a genius to so perfectly bring together the past (Paul McCartney), the present (Yeezy himself) and the future (young vocalist Theophilus London), and put into a raw and aggressive package. Although many thought that the album Yeezus was a slip up for Kanye, ‘All Day’ proves that he has not lost a step.
Kendrick Lamar: ‘King Kunta’
In a year where race relations are at the forefront and the role of people of colour in modern society is undergoing something of a flux, in comes K.Dot, killing the game all over again, while at the same time bringing some legitimate social commentary to the table.
Stormzy: ‘Shut Up’
This young South East London based grime spitter has been going from strength to strength in the last 12 months, with critically acclaimed single after critically acclaimed single, and even a BET Award. ‘Shut Up’ is easily one of the best UK grime songs in a very long time and, beyond that, one of the best songs released anywhere in a long time. A flowing account of an urban youth.
The Weeknd: ‘Can’t Feel My Face’
Despite winning the award for the most abstract haircut in all of music today, The Weeknd is a man that knows how to craft a delightful pop song and ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ is a pretty clear example of that. With the simple funk-influenced production and lyrics that could either be in reference to a painful love or a brick of cocaine, this is one of the biggest bangers of the year
Remember when we said earlier that Drake is a pimp? After managing to completely and totally maim Meek Mill in their beef earlier this year, Drake decided that he literally doesn’t care anymore and decided to send for pretty much everyone in the video for this tune. This is a track that sums up the paranoia and loneliness that comes when you reach the top of the mountain.
Courtney Barnett: ‘Pedestrian at Best’
Channelling Patti Smith, Courtney Love and Bob Dylan, this song oozes a kind of inarticulate angst. With meandering yet poetic and witty lyrics, Miss Barnett manages to perfectly sum up the trappings of being a twenty-something millennial in a world ruined by the prior generations. Hell, it’s getting us angry just thinking about it!
Grimes: ‘Kill v Maim’
2015’s Art Angels has been something of a departure from Grimes’ earlier ethereal, almost creepy style. Replacing the obscure and droney production with unabashed poppy force, ‘Kill V Maim’ shows Miss. Boucher’s versatility as a producer, singer and artist. With a ridiculously catchy hook and obscure references to Enlightenment-era classical liberalist philosophy, what’s not to love?
Beach House: ‘Sparks’
This Baltimore-based dream pop duo have been going from strength to strength as of late, with two album releases in the space of about two months, as well as a critically-acclaimed tour; but the high point of their year has to be the release of ‘Sparks’. With all it’s droney, shoegazey, ethereal goodness, this is a song that would bring a tear to the eye of any shoegazer.
Fetty Wap: ‘Trap Queen’
One of the year’s shockers, this track went from relative Soundcloud obscurity to being one of the biggest songs of the year. A strange synthesis between r&b, trap and more traditional gangster rap, ‘Trap Queen’ is a love song for the modern age. With one of the catchiest hooks you’re likely to hear, it’s impossible to not shake something to this song.
Joanna Newsom: ‘Sapokanikan’
For fans of Newsom, the sudden release of this track was an amazing surprise and for those who had never heard of her before, it was a welcome awakening to one of the most unique artists in music today.
Drake: ‘Hotline Bling’
What needs to be said? Look at that goddamn turtle neck. Drake is a certified pimp.
Tame Impala: ‘The Less I Know the Better’
‘The Less I Know the Better’ from Aussie band, Tame Impala, is one of the most danceable tracks of the year, but if you listen closely enough to the lyrics, there’s a bittersweet element that will make you want to punch Trevor right in the face.
Sufjan Stevens: ‘John My Beloved’
With a nickname like Sad-jan Stevens, you should probably know what to expect, however the melancholic and sparse style of this tune strikes an interesting chord.
Kurt Vile: ‘Pretty Pimpin’
One of the most introspective tracks of the year, former War on Drugs front man, Kurt Vile, sings about losing your identity and the perceived inauthenticity of the alternative rock scene. Deep stuff.
Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars: 'Uptown Funk'
Mr. Ronson’s prolific production provides the perfect background to Bruno Mars channelling the spirits of Michael Jackson and James Brown – which he does to mixed success, but you can’t deny how catchy a song this is.
What a year it’s been for the UK grime scene and few songs emphasise this like ‘Shutdown’, one of the biggest UK songs of the year fullstop.
Wolf Alice: ‘Giant Peach’
This initial single from Wolf Alice’s debut LP, My Love Is Cool, is a rip-roaring summer anthem built from top to bottom with the kind of youthful vigour that will either inspire you or make you reminisce.
Death Grips: ‘Billy Not Really’
The ever enigmatic Sacramento-based experimental rap crew showcased their seemingly endless and limitless versatility once again, with pretty much the entire song being made up of Bjork samples.
Rihanna: ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’
‘Bad gyal’ RiRi leaves us in no doubt that she is still running things, turning the traditionally patriarchal excess of hip-hop on its head and delivering one of the most controversial and talked-about videos of the year.