And now the thrilling conclusion.
Welcome back once again. Today, we are counting down the 10 very best songs of 2015. If you missed the last two entries in this series, covering #50 to #31 and #30 to #11, you can find them at the links provided. Now, though, it’s time to reveal the best songs of 2015.
“What Went Down”
What Went Down
“Holy fuck.” That was pretty much the only thought that circulated in my head after I got done with my first listen from the lead single off of Foals’ fourth album. Foals have always had a degree of heaviness to them – they started off as a math-rock band, after all – but they have never sounded as ready to break some motherfucking faces as they do here. Yannis’ voice is practically snarling in the listener’s face, Jack Bevan hits those skins like he’s trying to bust down a wall, Walter Gervers’ bass is so filthy that it starts to resemble a men’s porno mag, and then, when it seems like it’s about to peak, the song collapses… purely so it can build itself back up again to an even more vicious, furious peak and then drop. I genuinely thought that Foals were about to drop the Album of the Year after unveiling this, as that same thought circled my brain: “Holy fuck.” Swiftly followed by, “let’s play that again.”
09] Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett has a way with words. Throughout her brilliant debut full-length, she weaves self-examinating tales about anxiety, lying awake in bed at 4am, and trying to impress hot swimmers, with a dry wit and a wonderful turn of phrase. She’s brilliant at this, basically, and she peaks with Side A’s closer “Depreston,” a song about house-hunting in Preston. In Barnett’s hands, though, the subject ends up becoming this gorgeously melancholy reflection on the encroachment of adulthood and the responsibilities and mundanity that come along with it. Stripping back the fuzz and letting her guitar just sit in the middle of the mix, all awkward and shy, enhances that mood tenfold and the song’s slow fadeout over an improvised-feeling guitar solo is one of the year’s best outros.
Pagans in Vegas
“The Shade” is the best pure pop song 2015 had to offer and it’s not even by an actual pop act. If Metric wanted to, this could have been one of the biggest hits of the whole year. It bursts forth from the speakers from the very first note, desperate to please, desperate to get to the hook, desperate to get lodged into your ears. The 8-bit synth line gives off the impression that that’s the hook, then Emily Haines’ beautiful cascading vocals in the verse appear and one thinks that that’s the hook, then the synthesised bass rumbles along and you think maybe that’s The Hook, but then it turns out that this was all just the build-up and the chorus proceeds to explode with pure joy, every hook previously teased coming together like Voltron to create The Monster Hook as Haines exclaims “I want it all!” In a perfect world, this would have torn up radio stations the world over. Instead, it’s just 2015’s Best Kept Secret. Somebody really needs to get Metric a better promoter.
“Leave a Trace”
Every Open Eye
One day, CHVRCHES are going to write a bad song. Statistically, I mean. It has to happen eventually, there is no way that everything they write is going to remain at best a masterpiece and at worst is merely great. It can’t happen, nobody is this good forever. Not content with somehow bettering The Bones of What You Believe, one of 2013’s finest albums, like it ain’t no thing, they also had to go and write one of the best lead singles of this whole decade because, shit, who else was going to? Drake? The key to “Leave a Trace” is that Iain Cook and Martin Doherty know exactly how much is enough. Lauren Mayberry’s voice is one of the very best and most distinctive in all of music right now, so you need to back it up sufficiently, so that it doesn’t feel like The Lauren Mayberry Show, without drowning it out, because why in God’s name would you voluntarily dilute the power of that voice? And the guys strike that perfect balance as well as landing on a gorilla-sized melody for Mayberry to attach her defiant, inspiring lyrics and voice to. One day, CHVRCHES are going to write a bad song. I pray to the Maker that said day is a long way off yet.
06] Kendrick Lamar
“The Blacker the Berry”
To Pimp a Butterfly
“The Blacker the Berry” is incredibly uncomfortable to listen to, and that is absolutely intentional. Over four and a half minutes, Kendrick proceeds to practically scream through his anger and disbelief at the extent of institutionalised racism in 2015, forcing the listener to confront what he and an entire race have to live with and how they feel on a daily basis. Cultural appropriation, racist stereotyping, rigging the system to near-guarantee that black men without degrees will end up in prison at some point in their lives… They’re all lined up one after the other, fired off with such a venomous intensity – “I’m black as the heart of a fuckin’ Aryan” – that it feels like the revolution could start any second and be completely justified in doing so. But Kendrick also takes aim at self-perpetuating black culture, too, criticising them and himself for feeding into the White narrative through gangbanging and black-on-black violence, closing on the complexity of being a self-described “hypocrite” even when you are speaking the truth. And then the song exits with a return to the Jazz that permeates so much of the album, although everything still feels unresolved and there’s no satisfaction. Why should there be, after all, with the year that’s just gone?
05] The Go! Team
The Scene Between
The Scene Between
I very nearly cried when I first heard this song. It was very early January (the 5th, to be exact) and I was absolutely miserable, enveloped by the usual crushing loneliness that comes from me returning home for the holidays, the immediate misery-causers that are Academic Essays, and my general anxieties and such flaring up again. It was definitely one of my downer periods (as previously detailed here). Then, out of nowhere, I got an email in my inbox informing me that, after 10 months of teasing, The Go! Team were back. I could not mash that link fast enough.
The Go! Team are a straight shot of pure joy. It is physically impossible to listen a Go! Team song and not feel re-energised and ready to take on the world. They are just that good at embodying pure joy and happiness without ever tipping over into being sickly saccharine, and “The Scene Between” is one of their finest examples of that yet whilst subtly changing their sound to straight-up indie pop. The redline-bashing everything, that sweet melody running through the middle of it, the minor staccato chopping-up of the voices during the post-chorus. By the time the chorus re-appeared for the final time, I was on the verge of tears. One of my favourite bands were back at exactly the time I needed them most and, for those 3 minutes and 48 seconds, I felt happy again.
“A New Wave”
No Cities to Love
I have a secret that I am very ashamed to admit: until late November of last year, I had no idea who Sleater-Kinney were. I mean, I’d heard “Oh!”, but I had no idea who Sleater-Kinney were. I voluntarily spent 20 years on this Earth missing out on Carrie Brownstein’s unique guitar slaying, Corin Tucker’s heavenly banshee wail, and Janet motherfucking Weiss’ impeccable drumming, as the trio dropped one of the strongest run of albums (from 1997’s Dig Me Out through to 2005’s The Woods) I can recall any artist ever making. I proceeded to spend much of 2015 rectifying this misdeed, spurred on by the exceptional brilliance of their reunion record No Cities to Love.
Picking a best track from this album – this brilliant, stunning album, why in God’s name are you not listening to it right the fuck now – mainly comes down to which one you’ve just finished listening to, but “A New Wave” has always stood out to me even from the first listen. It’s basically a theme tune for the band, or any group of kick-ass female best friends who are bonded for life, as Carrie and Corin proudly plan to “invent our own kind of obscurity” whilst Carrie “destroys a room with this love.” Corin’s downtuned guitar bounces along, Carrie shreds the ever-loving fuck out of hers, and Janet invests the beat with the new-wave groove that the song demands without ever getting needlessly showy. And then the breakdown hits and it’s “The Woods” all over again for 20 wonderful seconds.
Look, I went through 20 years of life deprived of Sleater-Kinney, I’m not about to let the same thing happen to you. Mush! Go buy their back catalogue now! Thank me later!
03] Wolf Alice
“Your Loves Whore”
My Love is Cool
Let’s just take a moment to appreciate how absolutely perfect the first 90 seconds of this song are. That gradual introduction of each of the song’s elements, like each band member is silent and in darkness until the spotlight flicks onto them and it’s time for them to do their thing. Joel’s skittering yet steady drum beat enters first, then Joff’s descending guitar lines start the build, Theo’s complimentary bass heightens said build, a whisper of feedback from Ellie’s guitar pushes the build to breaking point, then in enter the chords and a lackadaisical yet heartfelt “aah” sits on top of the resulting concoction. But it turns out that we’re not done as, with a “chug-a-chug-a” of the first guitar, this stratospheric and achingly beautiful guitar line appears out of nowhere and sends the song into near-transcendental territory.
Seriously, this is a guitar line that is so beautiful, so absolutely perfect that I cannot believe that it hasn’t been done before. It has to have been. It cannot have taken until 2015 for somebody to write this specific perfect guitar line – the closest I’ve come is a minor similarity in “Pug” by The Smashing Pumpkins. That’s why this song is so high on this list, it’s for that one guitar line that appears twice and for a total of roughly 40 seconds in the entire song. The rest of the song is fantastic – a perfect amalgamation of various disparate strands of 90s alt-rock yet still sounding Now, the kind of song that would have fit in perfectly in The Bronze on Buffy (which is not mean to be an insult) – but that one guitar line pushes it over the top for me. I could listen to it for hours.
02] Neon Indian
VEGA INTL. Night School
The funkiest, most eminently danceable, and just plain fun track to come out in 2015 was by one of the figureheads of one of the late-00s quickest flameout movements. This is not exactly a massive surprise, and not just because Alan Palomo has done straight-up dance tunes before under the VEGA moniker. Even way back during Psychic Chasms, the high point of Chillwave’s brief time in the spotlight, Neon Indian were bringing the funk – I’m pretty sure the only thing stopping “Ephemeral Artery” from being a club mainstay is its svelte 2 minute 40 runtime and the squelchy-ness of the whole thing – so for the group to drop a song as dancefloor-ready as “Slumlord” is only really a massive surprise if you haven’t been paying proper attention.
Even still, though… sweet lord this song is just unreally good! There are hooks coming from every single conceivable angle, the progression from the aimless synth warbling intro into the eventual groove of the main song brings a smile to my face every time, Alan’s vastly improved singing causes the chorus to soar with the power of a thousand jet engines and the verses and bridge to practically just exist as more choruses, and the extra little flourishes, like the squelchy title refrain that embeds itself seamlessly into the groove and the super-funky bass work, work to make the song feel so alive and freeing. And when it finally climaxes in what is only technically the next track – “Slumlord’s Re-lease” – with a trip to the land of Italo Disco, there is not a single still body in the house, and if there is then that person can be medically declared dead.
01] Jamie xx
“Loud Places (Feat. Romy)”
Like it was ever going to be anything else. This is the perfect song for damn near every occasion. In a lonely, downbeat pit of sadness? “Loud Places.” At a party with a few of your friends just shooting the shit? “Loud Places.” Staring out the window at the world below feeling melancholy? “Loud Places.” On the bus worried that your last interaction with a friend might have changed everything for the worst? “Loud Places.” At a gig surrounded by a good 1,000 other people losing their minds and having the time of your life? “Loud Places.”
“Loud Places” is both anything you need it to be at that particular moment in time, and a singular piece of artistic brilliance. Every piece is perfectly placed – those emotive piano chords, that pinging guitar, that extra ascending-descending percussion, the rumbling bass, that euphoric “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” sample – clearly agonised over endlessly during its creation and yet sounding so incredibly natural. Romy’s guest lyrics and pitch-perfect vocal are filled with emotion, functioning as either a bitter kiss-off or a hopeless lament depending on how you’re feeling. Its subtle, beautiful groove that is aimed squarely at the introvert yet is still able to foster room-wide connections because of the sheer outpouring of heart when the chorus kicks in. And then the noise cuts out, leaving only Romy and the piano, a conclusion that feels whole even as it, at the same time, feels like an ellipsis.
The xx have always held a power over me, I have to admit. Having stumbled upon them in Year 10 of Secondary School, their debut was, and still is, a beautiful little hole I can crawl into for comfort whenever I feel down. Coexist slipped free during my first year of Sixth Form and did much the same for that horrendous period of my life. Jamie, Romy, and Oliver (who doesn’t appear on this song but does appear on “Stranger In A Room”) just seem to get me like no other band can, yet I am still struck, even now after a good 150-odd plays over eight whole months, at just how much Jamie has ended up locking onto me and my mind with this song. When he finally dropped it at the end of his set in Manchester on October 16th, I felt… free? I honestly don’t know what the correct descriptor is, to be honest, but I felt stripped of any worries and fears and anything like that for four absolutely perfect minutes as I and 1,000 strangers grooved away in pure bliss, not caring about the world on the other side of the venue doors.
In the now five years that I have been doing these lists, I have not had a #1 song that was this far ahead of everything else released that year, that connected this much with me, that is this perfect. So, no, it was never going to be anything else. It couldn’t be anything else. “I have never reached such heights.”
Callie Petch took you to higher places you can’t reach without them.