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20 Favorite Songs of 2015
—with playlist in ascending order.
20. Janet Jackson – “Night”
The variety of Unbreakable—genuine variety, not just by way of career highlight retreads—bends my sympathies in every direction, so I had to use a Twitter poll to nudge me toward the right song. “Lessons Learned” didn’t rate, and not even the happiest laugh since “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” could help “Broken Hearts Heal.” Nope, “Night,” the restless and dizzying disco production at the album’s center, was the answer I was looking for.
19. Miguel – “Waves”
Heaven in the morning turns into coffee in the morning turns to this world-destroying single that wasn’t. Luckily I still believe hit songs are an illusion.
18. The Radio Dept. – “This Repeated Sodomy”
My two favorite subtextually (if not actually) gay Swedish pop groups returned with new singles this year. “Ruins” continues The Mary Onettes’ fascination with watery sounds while the longer-absent Radio Dept.’s two singles use exaggerated song lengths to broadcast the group’s warring tendencies. This second one has a lyrical nod to the house-y “Occupied” but makes its statement in five less minutes. Bookended not by rum and the lash but by blurry guitar, cymbal and snare, “sodomy” charges the air of a song that at first seems too sweet and simple to hold it.
17. Fetty Wap – “Again”
Except for the one tasked with resolving an ebullient hour, here’s the debut album’s longest song, with the refrain Fetty just can’t walk away from. I’ll concur. Amusingly, I came to him as an album artist, after he’d handily compiled his own prefab Cadence Classics and called it Fetty Wap (Repetitive? Irrelevant: Albums set their own rules, and listeners of the future will find this one thorough and useful), but this time I don’t mind singling out a favorite.
16. Evans The Death – “Expect Delays”
An album of the same name has another dozen thrilling bummers where this came from (the one called “Bad Year” apes Thin Lizzy, etc.), but this centerpiece tracks the longest distance between the swooning crush of the chorus and the blank terror of “it gets dark early.” No distance at all, really.
15. Beach House – “10:37”
Earlier — A copy of House Made of Dawn on the nightstand helps name “the sense of limitless space [song] achieves even in silence.”
14. Tinashe – “Dreams Are Real”
I’m told Tinashe has real hits but I’ve still only heard Amethyst, the project she recorded in her bedroom last Christmas. I can’t say for sure what’s at stake in her bid for solitude, only what’s made plain by the gentle reset of the music and its eventual destination: “The future is mine.”
13. Dawn Richard – “Swim Free”
What could have been Blackheart’s breather is instead its most breathless and dazzling moment, with a skeletal beat just as unpredictable as when the big moment’s going to land.
12. Colleen Green – “Wild One”
What’s deeper than love? Letting him go.
11. Hop Along – “Powerful Man”
Like she’s fresh from a fiction workshop that exalts the concept of voice, Frances Quinlan sings with an unyielding intensity that’s inextricable from the authority of her
song short story writing. As she twists open the line “I was the only other adult around,” the band anticipates the outcome a few syllables before the listener does.
10. Waxahatchee – “La Loose”
The kind of fun that results when a songwriter decides to mess around with a drum machine for the first time and gets carried away layering melodic parts. Then again, Katie Crutchfield has always had a way of making her triumphs sound like firsts.
9. Jenny Hval – “Sabbath”
Hval almost forgets melody when she’s storytelling and almost forgets words when the melody takes over. “Sabbath” comes off like it’s juggling multiple layers of sound and text but really it’s the one-thing-at-a-time-ness that makes it so imposing.
8. Chromatics – “Just Like You”
In February I was certain this song had been excerpted from an album that already contained it, but now I’m starting to doubt the album exists. Clear aesthetic parameters don’t make the Chromatics sound any easier to mass produce. A few handmade songs in one year is pretty good work.
7. Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta”
Some thought Kendrick was generally advocating his feeling of hypocrisy on “The Blacker The Berry,” then white writers kept receiving the chorus of “Alright” as if it included them (if “we gon’ be alright” meant us, it wouldn’t need the gon’, right?). That “King Kunta” is the To Pimp A Butterfly single least vulnerable to misinterpretation should not be counted as one of its virtues, but it’s what allowed me to keep enjoying it as an outsider long after its moment had passed.
6. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – “Sunday Candy”
I’d say it gives me faith in the future, but why wish the future on artists who so joyously cast themselves in the moment?
5. Jazmine Sullivan – “Let It Burn”
I don’t listen to enough R&B to rate this song’s genre excellence but as personal expression it’s magnificent. Maybe not the best-written of Reality Show’s eleven women but the one who’s most elevated by performers finding life between the lines of the script.
4. Young Guv – “Kelly, I’m Not A Creep”
Wouldn’t it be nice?
3. Girlpool – “Chinatown”
Earlier — “As soothing and luxurious a sonic postcard from a life in progress as the Luna or Destroyer songs of the same name.” By late summer, the slowed and softened album version had supplanted the single version in my listening, but newcomers will want to start here, with the guitar’s clear melodic statement and the sharp sting of the harmonies.
2. Susanne Sundfør – “Fade Away”
I missed this as a single last December so I include it as an album track: One Love Song. Not the first time this year I heard of a love that “never goes out of style” amid sequencers and booming drums, but this time a genuine stylishness follows. Cue microwave ding, synth line pure as Kraftwerk. A song that sounds like an ending, but it’s not. Placing it after “History of Touches” would be much too cute, a response where none is needed.
1. Björk – “History of Touches”
Earlier — “Three minutes of a body’s night panic and solace, the music suggesting a slightly less turbulent space just above or outside the glowing bed.” The song grew more luminous as the year went along. I hadn’t even begun thinking about the album’s conceptual framework and timeline yet, or noticed the “3 months before” in the lyric sheet.
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