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Let’s not stand on ceremony. We all know why we’re here. It’s that wondrous time of year when we get our list on and celebrate the best and worst of the year. In this here scenario, we have the very best 25 tracks of 2015 as decided by HeadStuff contributors in diplomatic fashion. How diplomatic? Well, Kanye didn’t make the cut so you know that I didn’t rig the thing. Yeezy does appear, however, in the list of honourable mentions below, 25 other great songs that while excellent in their own right, didn’t make the final cut.
Get it all (well, there’s a couple of no-shows but we can’t help that) on Spotify RIGHT HERE.
All Tvvins – ‘Thank You’
ANOHNI – ‘4 Degrees’
Bitch Falcon – ‘TMJ’
Brand New – ‘Mene’
The Chemical Brothers – ‘Wide Open’
Chromatics – ‘I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around’
The Cribs – ‘Burning for No One’
Deafheaven – ‘Brought to the Water’
DILLY DALLY – ‘Desire’
East India Youth – ‘Manner of Words’
Girl Band – ‘Paul’
Grimes – ‘Realiti’
HEALTH – ‘NEW COKE’
Hollywood Undead – ‘War Child’ (no, really)
Jape – ‘Séance of Light’
Justin Bieber – ‘What Do You Mean?’
Kanye West – ‘All Day’
Lupe Fiasco – ‘Mural’
Mylets – ‘Trembling Hands’
SOAK – ‘B a noBody’
Tinashe – ‘Party Favors’
Titus Andronicus – ‘Dimed Out’
Villagers – ‘Hot Scary Summer’
Wolf Alice – ‘Bros’
Young Fathers – ‘Shame’
Personal Note: ‘NEW COKE’ really should have made the final cut. Gutted.
COMMENCE PROPER ACTUAL FINAL OFFICIAL LIST
25 | Sufjan Stevens
‘Should Have Known Better’
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Few songs, if any, are so imbued with regret to the degree that ‘Should Have Known Better’ is. And yet, it feels like the wrong person is repentant. Sufjan Stevens was compelled to write the song and the album it’s taken from following the death of his rarely present mother who when “he was three, three or maybe four, left [him[him]the video store”. It’s the singer, however, who feels he “should have wrote a letter” and regrets not reaching out. This is what grief does; there is no right or wrong, only a longing to understand that which cannot be understood. Some brief respite is found as the mournful and melodic acoustic work is complemented by some heavenly electronics and the singer recognises the past as a “bridge to nowhere”, instead focusing on his radiant niece. On any other album this would be the optimistic note to end on (here, it is only track two) but Stevens is too emotionally honest and has too many painful questions to render into anguish-filled if exquisite songs. | Mark Conroy
24 | TELL NO FOXX
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Good lord, that chorus. Brooding and brilliant, ‘Dust’ is the kind of song you hear once and absolutely need to play about 78 more times without interruption. It’s not shy about wearing a most bruised heart on its sleeve, either. Thankfully, vocalist Brian Sillery is more than up to task of making his stark words sing, his conviction meeting a simply beautiful arrangement in admirable earnest. Keep an eye on this lot, they could well be something special. | Dave Hanratty
Read our interview with TELL NO FOXX here.
23 | Kurt Vile
Former wager of The War on Drugs Kurt Vile has always seemed so painfully genuine and playfully aloof, that of course the only person he could ever really be at odds with is himself. “I woke up this morning and didn’t recognise the man in the mirror” is one of the first lines we hear in what will surely prove to be one of the year’s most enduring tracks. Amidst the soul-crushing mundanity of modern life, the monotony of something like brushing teeth hurls Vile into a self-questioning, existential daze. As the song progresses, our singer regresses, starting off as an “I” before Vile reduces himself to a “he” and then finally a “boy”. He’s older, supposedly more mature and yet feels no less unworldly, naïve and uncertain. But hey, do any of us? If all this head-scratching rumination sounds a bit too weighty for your morning Weetabix, then don’t worry as Vile ensures it more than palatable with sumptuous finger-plucking, breezy guitar lines and some grade-A whimsy. | Mark Conroy
22 | Overhead, The Albatross
‘Big River Man’
Though their long-awaited debut album has essentially become Dublin’s answer to Chinese Democracy, you let instrumental heroes Overhead, The Albatross away with tardiness when they break out something as genuinely stunning as ‘Big River Man’. Not every song can go from an immediate crash of sound and fury into more pensive environs without losing a step but this is the kind of glorious, life-affirming reach and ambition that Overhead are fast making their calling card. | Dave Hanratty
21 | Alessia Cara
Alessia Cara was one of the year’s surprise packages. Formerly one of the many young artists trying to make a name for themselves on YouTube, ‘Here’ appeared almost out of nowhere – she basically had no other songs until five months later when the decent Four Pink Walls EP was released. It’s a great little pop song, with a catchy chorus and an overall sentiment (being stuck at a party where you don’t really like anyone) that is relatable for almost everyone. Its beauty is really in its simplicity (as it is with many great pop songs) and you get that feeling that this one will be popping up on playlists and radio stations, if that still exists as a platform, for many years to come. | Joshua Hughes
20 | Le Galaxie
‘Put The Chain On’
Let’s just get this out of the way: yes, the opening bars of ‘Put The Chain On’, and consequently Le Galaxie‘s major label debut, very much recall the Flashdance theme tune. Then you revisit the ’80s Moroder number and realise that the Dubliners have managed to make that iconic synth line even more gigantic and lustrous. Seizing their moment, it introduces a band finally ready to rub shoulders with the M83s of this world on record. And in a moment, Mick Pope takes command, stepping up a level vocally, as he does time and again on Le Club.
A towering melody that’s as epic as it is elusive lyrically, Pope is cruising in rapture, and maybe, in love? Sure, you won’t grasp a clear message with lines that speak of “40 sunsets on the edge of our life” but they sound fecking tremendous nonetheless. Chiefly, the singer is hooked on a sound, with ‘Put The Chain On’ placing a sublime aesthetic marker down for the rest of the album – evoking nostalgia for sun-drenched video memories and midnight LA drives on the right side of the highway, all the while being unmistakably the work of one of Ireland’s greatest modern outfits. Le Galaxie opened Le Club with a victory lap. What a feeling. | Craig Fitzpatrick
Like that? Enjoy Mick Pope dropping all kinds of film and TV science on the HeadStuff Podcast.
19 | Unknown Mortal Orchestra
‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’
[soundcl[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/196826455" params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166" iframe=”true” /]Known for being a lo-fi outfit, Unknown Mortal Orchestra went full-on mischievous with ‘Multi-Love’, blurring the lines between mean and sheen to such an extent that if you’re not listening hard enough you wouldn’t notice the bubbling sounds of the notes or the dim clarity – or lack thereof – of Ruban Nielson’s vocals. ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’ catches UMO at their best. Lithe and mobile, they use a range of effects and instruments, as well as brief spacious interludes, to give this song the feel of a dark, uninhibited piece of sexy Latin fever, all the while maintaining a degree of modern pathos. With their use of soul infusions, UMO get across the bluster and the hidden desires of the Internet age. Fantastic. | Bryan Grogan
18 | Tame Impala
‘Let It Happen’
[soundcloud [soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/195390231" params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166" iframe=”true” /]ite the fact that Tame Impala are no strangers to electronica, ‘Let It Happen’, the first track off this year’s Currents, is still a bolt from the bluey swash of the sea or sky. Though possibly not the most gorgeous song on the album, which could go to any number of contenders, like ‘Eventually’ or ‘Yes, I’m Changing’, ‘Let It Happen’ is almost fashioned in the structure of a suite made up of a host of different and stunningly trippy parts, humming along for almost eight minutes without ever leaving the listener dry. In so doing they bring together the propensity for lengthily evolving and devolving tunes in the mode of psychedelia and the resounding aural pleasure of electronica. | Bryan Grogan
Read Adam Duke’s take on Currents here.
17 | Girl Band
‘Pears For Lunch’
I’ve never watched Top Gear with my trousers down, but Dara Kiely has. Just one of his brave, strange Holding Hands With Jamie admissions, it sits alongside other tortured shouts about looking crap with your top off and eating too many bananas on album highlight ‘Pears For Lunch’. As a disorganised but very deliberate memoir of a fragile mental state, his words are as compelling as his delivery and have obviously been a talking point in 2015. Yet it is the tsunami going on underneath that has the most visceral impact, and it is Girl Band’s uncompromising approach to music-making that has won them so many fans. Brooding and on edge throughout the verses, a portal to Hell opens up on what could possibly be called the chorus and starts noisily vacuuming you in. Semi-naked Top Gear as the stuff of nightmares? Truly shocking. | Craig Fitzpatrick
Mark Conroy was also mesmerised by the visceral Holding Hands With Jamie. Read his take here.
16 | Marilyn Manson
Within about two seconds you realise that Marilyn Manson gives a shit again, and that’s before he takes over one of the most swagger-laden beats of 2015. On the surface, ‘Killing Strangers’ is a stunning dark pop strut, armed with glorious production as a most lethal weapon. It also manages to do the ‘politically on the nose’ thing in a far superior way to the entirety of Muse’s wretched Drones record from this year. Lines like “We’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones that we love” and “We pack demolition, we can’t pack emotion” are hardly revolutionary but there’s serious conviction here as Manson rediscovers his focus, aiming his ire at worthy targets and trading vicious blows with a gorgeously assembled blues-groove composition courtesy of Tyler Bates. Seriously, that final guitar rise just after four-and-a-half minutes? You’d almost go to war for it. The Pale Emperor, indeed. | Dave Hanratty
15 | Post Malone
Taking the Internet by storm, then-unknown Dallas, Texas-born rapper Post Malone dropped his highly acclaimed debut single ‘White Iverson’ in February. A track that Post came up with after getting his hair braided and braggingly comparing himself to the legendary Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson declaring “I’m the new three” – Iverson’s legacy being synonymous with his #3 jersey. The basketball metaphor-filled track is an ode to ‘The Answer’s’ All Star and NBA MVP career and how Malone feels he can have a similar impact to the rap game as Iverson did on basketball. The song – over FKI production – perfectly blends singing and some rapping as Post drops punchline after punchline about doing drugs, partying with women and name dropping NBA stars. | Ciaran Carrick
14 | Joanna Newsom
‘Leaving The City’
Joanna Newsom, beloved “queen of the indies” as she is, is perhaps the only current artist of her stature/popularity who could take five years to release new music and have it not feel like an age. Before this year, her most recent record was the 2010 triple LP monster Have One On Me, and many of us are still digesting its dense lyricism and cryptic concepts to this day. ‘Leaving The City’ and its parent album still carry the 60 ideas per minute torch of previous works but it’s all presented in a more relatively compact package. This is what makes it one of her most exquisitely concocted songs, for the simple fact she doesn’t need 17 minutes to weave a cynical, broadly viewed tale of a couple perhaps naïvely throwing themselves into more committed pastures. Although ‘Leaving The City’ has some rarely seen percussion work, its Newsom’s fiery vocals—most evident on the heart pounding chorus—that gives the piece its rhythm and its life-force. | Mark Conroy
Mark fell for just about all of ‘Divers’. Read those words here.
13 | The Weeknd
‘Tell Your Friends’
It is appropriate that Kanye West, one of the men who saved R&B, has a hand in this particular writer’s personal shout for the very best song of 2015. Coupled with a visually sumptuous video, ‘Tell Your Friends’ disguises itself as a boisterous ‘What’s my name??’ shout out. In fact, it is actually a brutally honest tale of life’s hardships and successes. “I was broken, I was broken, I was so broke” sounds straightforward but The Weeknd imbues the confession with Michael Jackson levels of downtrodden yearning. A masterpiece. | Paul Casey
Joshua Hughes dove head first into the Beauty Behind the Madness and this is what he found.
12 | Father John Misty
‘Bored In The USA’
Listening to a Father John Misty record, one might find themselves wondering where exactly the line between sincerity and sarcasm lies with the man born Joshua Tillman. Here is an artist who openly admits that the decadent, neer’do’well beatnik character he portrays on stage is one he has constructed for his music yet simultaneously spends much of his sophomoric album I Love You, Honeybear writing heart-on-the-sleeve proclamations of love to his new wife. ‘Bored in the USA’ – the album’s soaring centerpiece – seems to exist somewhere in the middle ground. Part sweet piano ballad, part acerbic critique of modern America. Beneath all the snide asides, canned laughter and orchestral flourishes exists a song that manages to be humorous, scathing and beautiful all at once. | Robert Higgins
11 | Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg and Jon Connor
‘One Shot One Kill’
While gangsta rap’s meteoric fall from (dis)grace some time in the mid-’00s has to be seen as positive thing in terms of hip-hop’s maturation as a genre, the return of Dr. Dre was a reminder of that primal itch that the sensitive, introspective likes of Drake just can’t scratch. You don’t want to get swallowed up in a world where violence, misogyny and general misanthropy are the lyrical orders of the day, but dipping in every now and again can supply some glorious comic book/action flick-style thrills.
On Compton as a whole, even Dre himself gets reflective, adding complexity to his trademark sound by taking sonic cues from the young guns. ‘One Shot One Kill’, however, is devastatingly simple. Blunt braggadocio over a ragged, rollercoaster guitar riff, it’s as bracing a track as you’ll hear in 2015. Snoop swaggers out of a chronic coma sounding mad as hell and more engaged than he has in decades. Even if he’s working with ghosted lines, his delivery is imperious. Somehow relative newcomer Jon Connor then goes on to almost trump ‘Tha Doggfather’, attacking the beat with real hunger and dead-eyed ambition, reminding the listener: “you are now not in the presence of nice guys.” Long after the nice guys finished, ‘One Shot One Kill’ is still on repeat. | Craig Fitzpatrick
Want to read a thoughtful 2,000-word essay on Compton courtesy of Big Joshua Hughes? DO IT NOW!
10 | Vince Staples
“I ain’t never ran from nothin’ but the police,” Vince Staples scrupulously declares while the eerie dead space of ‘Norf Norf’ creeps up your nostrils, as though the young Angelino is musing from within the metal bars and concrete cinder blocks of a shadowy prison cell. Using the time to ponder his North Long Beach origins (“where the skinny carry strong heat”), Vince lays out the love-hate of LA gang life with such rich detail you can almost taste the bitter pavement, depicting a world where getting high with your girl can be shattered by chaos, and going to school brings the unwelcome caveat of leaving your gun on the bedside locker. | Dean Van Nguyen
Mark Conroy reckons Summertime ’06 is the second best hip hop album of the year.
9 | Kendrick Lamar
There are times on To Pimp A Butterfly when Kendrick Lamar does sound conflicted, or like a young man weighted by the desperate times that spurred him to create the most conclusive outline of the Black Lives Matter movement: an era when blood spilled on the streets of Ferguson, Cleveland and New York once again laid bare the all too familiar trappings of being born a black American.
Amid the freestyle jazz interludes, slam poetry verses and live recordings that lay out Lamar’s currently unparalleled book of rhymes, ‘Alright’ stands out as an arms-in-the-air anthem, rallying cry to assemble and soothing therapy to the bloody trauma. The Comptonite puts faith in himself, his brethren and the virtue of their fight, doggedly convinced that the righteous road they walk will lead to fulfillment. “Alls my life I had to fight,” he screams, referencing Alice Walker’s 1982 novel The Color Purple – a sad reminder of the distance already run.
‘Alright’ is not what you’d call traditionally catchy. The hi-hats rattle, the Spike Lee-esque saxophone does its own thing, Kendrick’s rappity-rappin’ is complex, and Pharrell’s chorus chants of “Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright” don’t exactly roll off the tongue. Yet the song has been heard ringing through protests across the US, claimed by groups who will probably continue to bellow that hook until their faith flickers out – that is, in forever and a day. The time will come when Kendrick will barely be able to claim ownership of the anthem he created. I’m sure he’ll be alright with that. | Dean Van Nguyen
Joshua Hughes – and many others – reckons To Pimp A Butterfly is the best hip hop album of 2015.
8 | Rihanna
‘Bitch Better Have My Money’
Rihanna’s best ever single rumbles into view like a brand new foreign car with the power of a Panzer tank under the bonnet. The sledgehammer trap-infused beat – all concrete pillars and hard angles – comes down on the pavement hard, but the silver-toned pop singer reigns the madness in with a relentlessly hawkish vocal, beating her chest with tossed out barbs, ferocious imagery and rasping syllables (“Like blah, brrap, brrap!”) RiRi has promised her forthcoming album Anti will be both “soulful” and “aggressive”, but ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ was only the latter – an unremitting, taught number that never releases that tension. | Dean Van Nguyen
It’s rich of Rihanna to be financially demanding when we have been begging, no, pleading with her for the last three years to release her eighth album. Even though it’s officially named Anti, it hasn’t been released at the time of writing this but it exists somewhere in the world. ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ came at a time when we really needed it. We were parched and it washed over us like the final scene of Mad Max: Fury Road. Those in need of Anti were left positively dripping if ‘BBHMM’ was a sign of what’s to come. Rihanna is synonymous with badass and she goes full mafiosa with this thunderous cock-slapper of a song. | Louise Bruton
7 | Drake
Who knew that with tender pony steps and a delicate side shuffle that Drake could hypnotise so many into loving the gentle calypso song ‘Hotline Bling’? The Canadian continues to play the role of the Sad Ex-Boyfriend as he laments the fact that his old mot is having more craic than him. If it weren’t for the shimmying beat that has us all shuffling like the last man standing at a wedding, we’d batter him and tell him to get a grip but as soon as we hear that opening beat, we know that it can only mean one thing. | Louise Bruton
6 | Kendrick Lamar
‘The Blacker The Berry’
The day after Kendrick Lamar won Best Rap Song & Performance for “i”, the happy song promoting self love at the 2015 Grammy Awards, he dropped the contrasting ‘The Blacker The Berry’. The second single off To Pimp A Butterfly, the racially-charged song that celebrated Lamar’s African-American heritage tackles racism, hypocrisy and hatred head on. Upon a deeper look, it places a spotlight on both Lamar’s and indeed the black community’s struggle with racism and and events such as the death of Trayvon Martin. Kendrick talks of the hypocrisy of black men’s mourning of Martin’s death while also committing violent acts against other black men. The song also shares its title with the novel The Blacker The Berry by American author Wallace Thurman which deals with similar themes of racism. | Ciaran Carrick
Kendrick Lamar was just one of many big names discussed during our special hip hop episode of the podcast.
5 | Grimes
‘Kill V. Maim’
In between the manic pitch-shifting vocals, the pounding percussion and the web of electronic melodies, you can almost hear a penny drop for Gwen Stefani, M.I.A., Lady Gaga and a host of others; ‘This is how it’s meant to be done’. See, ‘Kill V. Maim’ is not the first time an artist has combined varied elements of cheerleader chants, pop effervescence and a sense of defiance, but surely it’s never been done this well. Claire Boucher aka Grimes has somehow bedded all these seemingly random elements into some sort of ebullient apocalyptic rave – in a song written about Al Pacino’s Godfather Part II being a gender-fluid, time-travelling vampire.
Mad as a box of frogs, but in the most impressive way imaginable. Part pep-rally, part K-pop party, part punk riot, it’s what you imagine would soundtrack a nightclub scene in the Manga version of Skins. It’s not a song that burrows its way into your brain, but rather one that slaps you upside the head and dumps you into white-water rapids, from which escape seems all but impossible. Not that it matters, when the ride is this much fun. | Colm O’Regan
Mark Conroy was suitably impressed by the wild ride that is Art Angels. Read!
4 | The Weeknd
‘The Hills’ is a horror movie, one given the seal of approval by the late, great Wes Craven himself. Like Kiss Land before it, The Weeknd uses the backdrop of noir Hollywood to paint a bleakly gorgeous picture. ‘The Hills’ is perhaps the closest to the material on Trilogy and anchors the mood of Beauty Behind the Madness firmly in the fucked up category even as Max Martin pulls a masterful pop switcheroo with the rest of the album. | Paul Casey
3 | The Weeknd
‘Can’t Feel My Face’
I’m in a shop a few days ago and two idiots strike up a sneering back and forth when they cop ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ on the radio. “I don’t get it”, says one. “Me neither”, barks the other. “Why can’t he feel his face? What’s the problem?”. Thankfully, most souls were unable to resist the pure uncut pop sensation of the summer, a bouncy, bulletproof Michael Jackson-inflected, Max Martin-assisted stride into mainstream flashbulbs that may well have alienated those who were there when Abel Tesfaye traded in anonymity and smoke-scattered musings, but goddamn if it ain’t an instant hit. (But ‘The Hills’ is even better, tbh). | Dave Hanratty
2 | Selena Gomez
‘Good For You’ (non A$AP Rocky version)
EDM and R’n’B have invaded Top 40 playlists to the extent that it’s hard to find 30 seconds of pop music without some sort of dynamic shift, beat drop, or – of course – a guest rapper. Granted, A$AP Rocky eventually got involved in a version of this tune, but it’s in its purest form that ‘Good For You’ really shines. This is pop music’s equivalent of a lap dance. It builds up to a point where you’re just waiting for the big payoff, yet it never arrives… and its all the better for it.
Sultry and sexy, without reverting to the in-your-face sexualisation of some of her contemporaries, Selena Gomez delivers tantalising come-hithers in a breathy tone that almost makes you forget that you’d be dealing with Bieber’s seconds. It’s Lana Del Rey without the psychotic undertones, bolstered by supreme balance of confident control and a hint of vulnerability, as slick rhythmical verses complement an earwig of a chorus. | Colm O’Regan
Andrea Cleary was charmed by Selena’s Revival. Check it.
1 | Kendrick Lamar
Not only is ‘King Kunta’ the best song of the year, it also has an absolutely tremendous video to match, full of Kendrick Lamar’s trademark hidden-depths. It is an homage to various other videos shot at the Compton Swap Meet, including 2Pac’s ‘To Live and Die In LA’, boasting delightful dance moves to boot. The hook is infectious while the beat is so funky that it isn’t surprising to learn that it’s actually a reworking of James Brown’s seminal ‘The Payback’ and contains elements of Ahmad Lewis’ ‘We Want the Funk’.
Lamar is also a fine lyricist, delivering words that can make you laugh (“I swore I wouldn’t tell/But most of y’all sharing bars/Like you got the bottom bunk on a two-man cell”) and – more often – think (‘’The yam brought it out of Richard Pryor/Manipulated Bill Clinton with desires” – where “the yam” represents life’s evils). A musician at the top of his game, practically every major hip hop release this year features at least one Lamar feature (or in Dr. Dre’s case, several) while To Pimp A Butterfly is perhaps also the best album of 2015. | Joshua Hughes
Almost all of the above can be listened to in order via Spotify UP IN THIS HERE LINK.
For further adventures in musical musing, check out the HeadStuff 2015 in Music podcast.