Back in June, we did the best albums of 2015 so far, but not the songs. Which is a shame, considering that 2015 has had some particularly good songs (and some bad ones as well, but who need them?). So at the end of 2015, we’re not going to do a ‘list’ but a collection of our favourite tracks and singles from this year. Let’s begin.
Joke // Chastity Belt
Chastity Belt came back better than ever in 2015, improving on their debut No Regerts, in almost every way imaginable. One of the more experimental tracks that they toyed with was ‘Joke’, where they go beyond their typical tales of parties and indie-rock pop to tap into something more like lengthy meandering jams. The highlight of the track is Lydia Lund’s deep resonating guitar line that cuts right through the track and showcases a more introspective and serious side to Chastity Belt. An improvement in every way.
REALiTi (Demo) // Grimes
Yeah, sure, the new version of ‘REALiTi’ feels more polished and is lengthier, but the original impact of ‘REALiTi’ in ‘demo’ form was hard to shake off. The instrumentation is less of a blur and Grimes’ singing comes on in leaps and bounds. It also pre-empted what Claire Boucher would perfect on Art Angels with her personal lyrics and also more pop-oriented sound. Don’t worry, an Art Angels cut makes the list later on.
Let It Happen // Tame Impala
‘Let It Happen’ was like the stepping stone to the disco-infused psych that Tame Impala would make on Currents as there was still some remaining traces from their all-conquering Lonerism album: Muscular guitar riffs, obscured vocals and extended jams. However, the bassline was more muted and there was a dance-ability with ‘Let It Happen’ that hadn’t occurred before. Tame Impala were going to new, neon-lit pastures that were a long way away from the psychedelia revivalists they had been pegged as. Funnily enough, it was an excellent evolution which makes total sense and didn’t detract from their previous psych fame.
Mr Fish // Pile
Probably a more underrated track from the best rock band on the planet – Pile. Pile’s last album, 2012’s Dripping, was stupidly good but wasn’t exactly followed up too well when You’re Better Than This came out. Never fear, ‘Mr Fish’ is still a great song in the middle of a half-decent album. It has Pile’s stop-start rock machinery in play and Rick Maguire’s often hilarious but self-lacerating lyrics about fate being taped to his back and waking up in the middle of the ocean. One of the best rock bands right now on fine form with ‘Mr Fish’.
Betsy On The Roof // Julia Holter
Julia Holter struck gold on the ambiguous and open-ended ‘Betsy On The Roof’, a piano ballad where her vocals come front and centre. Unlike her previous records, where extra instrumentation could blur her voice, the simple team of Holter and a piano makes a timeless song which develops even more in the later half when extra instrumentation builds on the simple template with strings and wonky pianos pirouetting around the Holter as a pivot. We might not know Betsy or why she’s on the roof, but the less we know here, the more magical it seems.
What Went Down // Foals
What Went Down (The album) was an unfortunate miss for Foals, who promised aggression and power with the opening title track, but rarely followed it up elsewhere in a retread of Holy Fire, but the track itself was huge and festival-worthy. The build-up was classic Foals, but the aggression was entirely new and was exciting. Frontman Yannis Phillippakis’ lyrics about ‘When I see a man / I see a liar’ is so simple but effective, but it’s foreboding and dark, like he knows something we don’t. Foals have come a long way since Antidotes, but ‘What Went Down’ is a sign that they haven’t lost it just yet.
Black Lake // Björk
We really didn’t see this coming. Who would have guessed after more than twenty years since her debut Björk would write one of her best songs ever? ‘Black Lake’ is the sound of Björk breaking down over ten torturous minutes, recounting the space after her break-up from a longtime partner. Even though she’s already broken, he’s ‘woven into the fabric’ of her, unable to disconnect and forget about. The electronic touches take a backseat on the track for the most part, with strings forming the emotional climax where a single note is held for an extended period and engulfs everything else. It goes so loud, then cuts off for Björk to re-enter and continue dissected in minute detail the ‘apocalyptic obsessions’ of her ex. Painful, but beautiful.
Desire // Dilly Dally
As if the spirit of grunge hadn’t been rehashed enough recently, Dilly Dally came into 2015 and offered a new turn on the genre. That turn is called Katie Monks. Her vocals, like someone chucked razorblades down Kurt Cobain’s throat, lit up ‘Desire’ from great grunge to Dilly Dally’s go-to anthem. There’s soft spots in Monks’ voice at parts and Liz Ball’s fuzzed out guitar glides over the top. The song’s message is simple but Monks turns it into something darker with her vocals, like desire is something to be loved and feared at the same time. Creepy and delicious all at once.
Clearest Blue // CHVRCHES
You knew from the moment that ‘Clearest Blue’ starts that this song will not end without an emotional climax. And that’s what happens at the mid-point. CHVRCHES’ electronic fist-pumping comes in as Lauren Mayberry’s vocals rise with the lyric ‘Will you meet me more than halfway?’ and a mini-firework display goes off just for this song. ‘Clearest Blue’ is pop bliss, compacted in under four minutes and delivered lovingly by CHVRCHES. The rest of the album is just as good, check it out.
On GP // Death Grips
It seems so long ago that the hype for Jenny Death was off the scale. Back then, it was meant to be Death Grips’ final statement since they had ‘split up’, but now they’ve announced Bottomless Pit, it’s almost cheapened the album. Still, ‘On GP’ was a standout with its lyrics about death and suicide and more organic instrumentation courtesy of overblown guitars and drums. Death Grips made the wise choice not to repeat the experimental rap that they had been making by instead combining MC Ride’s shouty delivery with industrial-metal style guitars and drums. Where can they go now?
No Cities To Love // Sleater-Kinney
Sleater-Kinney are one of the few reformed bands to actually come back with a record that equals their back catalogue. The difference might be that Sleater-Kinney never actually called it quits, they just left for a while. Those creative spirits have been refuelled, the politics of the band comes back in a different way (critical of consumerism), but ‘No Cities To Love’, the title track is probably the best example of Sleater-Kinney coming back better than ever. Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein trade guitar and vocals and Janet Weiss is the steady rock of the band on drums. Everything is peachy and just like it was back in the good old days. S-K forever.
Time, As A Symptom // Joanna Newsom
In Joanna Newsom’s world of high-concept albums, Divers was the icing on the cake of her career and the album that she crafted. A simple piano song turns into a string-assisted lesson in restraint and patience. ‘Love is not a symptom of time / Time is just a symptom of love’ sums up the album as extra instrumentation builds around those powerful lyrics. Divers was an exploration in many senses, but Newsom’s final judgement is a sad but true resignation of what she has discovered through the album.
Piss Crowns Are Trebled // Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress was a confusing album from Godspeed. Most of all because it seemed almost rushed after their 2012 album ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, and the entire album itself was based on an extended jam from that album’s live setting. ‘Piss Crowns Are Trebled’ is pure, unfiltered Godspeed, minus the ‘field recordings’. They build up to the final crescendo with jagged guitars layering on top of one another until they can burst to the surface with the help of strings and marching drums. Once they finally do erupt, the fuzzed guitars have clarity and an operatic grandness to them. You wouldn’t expect anything else from Canada’s best export.
Space Song // Beach House
Nestled in the strong opening third of Depression Cherry is ‘Space Song’, which is the closest a song has ever sounded to space. The plink-plonk keyboard arpeggios and vast guitar lines belong in a space shuttle in the middle of space, floating out into nothingness. Similarly, Victoria Legrand draws comparisons between being lost in space and the eyes of someone you love. It’s pretty, it’s endless, it’s Beach House making dreamy pop once again.
Snakeskin // Deerhunter
Bradford Cox being a frontman is the rock ‘n’ roll spectacle that hasn’t been seen for decades and he comes out with all of his funky strutting on ‘Snakeskin’. The verse is the clearest Deerhunter have ever been and the chorus chord progression is so simple but makes perfect sense. ‘I was born already nailed to the cross’ goes the opening line, but Cox is far from having the old Jesus complex. In fact, his later lyrics are almost Bowie-like in their persona-crafting. The latter half of the track descends into Halcyon Digest dreaminess, but the front end is what you come for.
Strange Hellos // Torres
Early on in 2015, Torres came out of the blue with ‘Strange Hellos’, which sounded like early PJ Harvey possessed by the devil. It was a world away from the folk of Torres’ self-titled debut. It was a brutal catharsis of a woman called Heather whose mother is mentally ill, but Torres won’t let herself pity Heather just because of her mother. Her vocals get torn up, especially when she sings ‘I hope you find what you’re looking for’ in front of grunge power chords and crashing cymbals. This song stayed with us all the way through 2015.
Borders // M.I.A
A late entry for the best songs of 2015, ‘Borders’ is culturally important to the state of the world right now. M.I.A. breaks down the borders of everything – the state, the roles, the hierarchy. The beat is modern and takes inspiration from the fluttering high-hats of trap music, but M.I.A.’s vocals are the same as they have always been. M.I.A. repeatedly asks ‘What’s up with that?’, putting into perspective that what people are doing right now, they aren’t even questioning. They don’t question the borders that those in power set up in order to segregate the population. In most cases, they don’t even recognise it as borders.
The Answer // Savages
Listening to ‘The Answer’ for the first time is like being thrown into a mosh pit with no prior knowledge of what a pit is. It’s harsh, confusing and you’re likely to get hurt somehow. For ‘The Answer’, it builds on the noisier moments of Savages’ debut Silence Yourself by using the entire length of the track to stampede on the listener instead of pockets of noise-rock. Jehnny Beth, vocalist, uses love as a weapon and is skeptical of it, but professes it to be the ‘answer’. It’s dark post-punk at its most aggressive, taking more from the punk origins than anything Joy Division ever made.
Kill V. Maim // Grimes
Grimes is back, like promised! ‘Kill V. Maim’ was a highlight from Art Angels, combining an ever-present poppy guitar and fidgety drums that echo around. According to Grimes, the song is from the perspective of a transgender, vampire Al Pacino (no lie), but it’s easy to see that the song could easily be from Boucher’s viewpoint to. ‘I’m only a man / I do what I can’ could refer to the pressure piled on top of her after her critically-acclaimed Visions and the shout-worthy ‘Hey / Don’t be hateful’ chorus is just plain asking for the fans and critics to have fun with whatever music Boucher makes. We can get behind that, for sure.
Ship To Wreck // Florence + The Machine
‘Ship To Wreck’ sounds so simple that it must have been done before. ‘To wreck / Did I build this ship to wreck’ continues the water themes that have always run through her records, despite her producer telling her not to write any more songs about water. We love the water and Florence can write songs about water all she wants as long as those songs are as good as ‘Ship To Wreck’. Florence’s vocals are something else, but that’s a given by now. She just lets her voice go and everything else just comes naturally.
Hopeless // Screaming Females
Prior to this year’s Rose Mountain, Screaming Females were one of the best rock bands you’d never heard of. They broke out properly with Ugly in 2012 (produced by Steve Albini), but Rose Mountain was the logical next step. They smoothed out their sound, turned from a DIY punk band into a DIY rock band and ‘Hopeless’ happened. It’s one of Marissa Paternoster’s most personal songs and structurally, it’s a formulaic rock song. But the way Paternoster’s unique vocals rise in the last half is what makes her one of the best front-people in rock. It didn’t have the wild guitar solos of other Screaming Females songs, but somehow it hit even harder.
King Kunta // Kendrick Lamar
No record better defined the current civil rights movement in the US than To Pimp A Butterfly. It came out at the right time, with the right message. ‘King Kunta’, an early cut from the album, was a funk-fest with a powerful message wrapped around it. Referencing the runaway slave from Roots, Kunta Kinte, Kendrick draws comparison between his own rise to fame and King Kunta, whose enemies hate to see him succeed. Thundercat’s bassline contribution is the thing of funk legend, showing of Lamar’s knack for building the rap dream-team, especially with the use of George Clinton (Funkadelic, Parliament) and Snoop Dogg on the rest of the record. A highlight of To Pimp A Butterfly.
I Admit I’m Scared // Eskimeaux
Eskimeaux can typically be a quiet, personal listen, but ‘I Admit I’m Scared’ was scarily relatable to Gabrielle Smith’s perspective. Loneliness, sadness, utterly freaking out all come into ‘I Admit I’m Scared’ as Smith sings about everything she says ‘spewed like sparklers from my mouth’. The instrumentation was also a step up for Eskimeaux; drums and fuzzy guitars replace the acoustic guitar that opens the song as a small choir gathers around Smith for the finale yell of ‘If I had a dime for every time I’m freaking out / We could fly around the world or just get out of your parent’s house’. ‘Twee’ would be a disservice to Eskimeaux – this was brutally emotional.
Elegy To The Void // Beach House
Beach House’s last two records, Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Star, showed a movement into the bedroom intimacy that laced their first two records. But ‘Elegy To The Void’ came from beyond the bedroom, creating vivid imagery from consciousness-plucked words like ‘Freckle-faced young virgin’ and ‘Diamond maiden chained’. The arpeggiated guitars make a welcome return, as does a churning organ, but the evolution of Beach House in the form of shoegaze elements (the distorted guitar line) show Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally pushing beyond dream-pop again. If this song really is a reflection on death, Beach House made the endless void seem as dreamy as possible.
Time To Go Home // Chastity Belt
Another band to make a re-entry into the end-of-year collection is Chastity Belt. ‘Joke’ may have been their song of experimentation, but ‘Time To Go Home’ summed up the entire record within four minutes. After two records of partying hard, Julia Shapiro ends with a repetition of ‘Time to go home’, after she realises that she might not have a good time after all, or maybe she’s just too drunk to go on. Just listen to that thundering chorus with haunting backing vocals. It doesn’t sound like the band that once made a song called ‘Pussy Weed Beer’. Sure, in the right place at the right time ‘Pussy Weed Beer’ makes complete sense, but ‘Time To Go Home’ is the comedown from it all.
That’s it. 25 of the best songs of 2015. Coming into 2015, we knew Tame Impala, Grimes and Beach House were on the horizon (if we’re talking usual album cycles), but who would have guessed there would be a Sleater-Kinney reunion, Kendrick Lamar’s social documentation of To Pimp A Butterfly and Blur would finally make peace? (the less said about the album, though, the better). Despite the hype, there’s yet to be any big developments from Kanye and the anticipation for Radiohead’s next album will probably mean we’ll all be disappointed when it actually comes out. But that’s 2016 and beyond, so let’s just try and enjoy 2015 for now.