At the beginning of the year, I wrote that 2015 was going to be a great year for music, and I was not wrong. 2015 was blessed with so many great releases, including a couple of delightful surprises by artists that returned from self-imposed exile with their musical powers undimmed. More than any year in recent memory, 2015 felt like a reward for patience, as long-anticipated albums were finally released and proved well worth the wait.
Below is a list of my favorite songs from 2015. However, rather than try to rank them, I’m simply listing them in alphabetical order by artist.
“I Got It” by Eons D
To Pimp a Butterfly was, without a doubt, the hip-hop release of 2015. But truth be told, I listened to Eons D’s Physics on Paper EP far more often. Working with fellow producers Tone Jonez and Knaladeus, Eons D delivered one cut of soulful, jazz-inflected hip-hop after another. Musically, the EP just flows and flows. Which makes it all the easier for the thought-provoking lyrics to slip in and work their way into your heart and mind.
On “I Got It,” Eons D wrestles with the idea of Christian praxis: how, exactly, does one live out Christian convictions in a world where women are abused and abducted, celebrities and media figures spout hollow platitudes, and racial tensions run high? By the song’s end, Eons D has raised more questions than he’s answered, and all that’s left is a humble request: “Lord help me, I don’t want to be religious/Lord help me, I just want to make a difference.” Considering how often hip-hop seems defined by swagger and bravado, such humility is inspiring.
“Alice” by Carlos Forster
I’ve been a fan of Carlos Forster ever since I heard his golden voice fronting the sterling indie-pop group For Stars. However, there’s very little that’s “pop” about 2015 Disasters. Instead, Forster’s latest is full of lo-fi psychedelia that owes as much to The Flaming Lips and My Bloody Valentine as anyone. However, the lo-fi haze does nothing to blunt his songs’ emotional effect; if anything, it allows them to envelope the listener more fully, increasing their emotional impact.
Case in point: “Alice,” the album’s final song, in which Forster warns his young daughter about the heartache she’ll inevitably experience as she grows up. Against reverb-drenched piano, cavernous drones, and sad strings, he sings “Everybody knows/But no one wants to tell you/That everybody goes” before concluding “I wanna tell you just how much I love you.” As the song winds down, he repeats a single, plaintive word — “Smile” — as he fades out, a sad-yet-perfect audio representation of both a father’s undying hope for, and waning influence on, his child. (Read my full review of Disasters.)
“Aetherium Dub (Original Mix)” by The Green Kingdom
There was about a three-week stretch where I listened to The Green Kingdom’s Vapor Sequences non-stop, especially during late-night coding sessions. Michael Cottone’s hazy, highly ambient take on dub music was just the sort of thing for those times when I was staring, bleary-eyed, at code around one or two in the morning. The shimmering, morphing electronics and faint, pulsing beats make for a hypnotic listen, while some distant, forlorn trumpet adds some emotional warmth to the song’s otherwise austere nature.
“Reality” by Grimes
I was initially taken aback by just how unabashedly and straightforwardly poppy the first singles from Grimes’ Art Angels were (e.g., “Flesh Without Blood,” “SCREAM”). I suppose I was looking for more of the skewed poppiness that typified 2012’s Visions; in my cynicism, I thought she was toning down her sound. (Or, dare I say, selling out.) But then I heard “Realiti” and realized I was totally fine with the newer, poppier Claire Boucher. “Realiti” is the closest Grimes has come to an honest-to-goodness club banger; it’s full of soaring beats and synthesizer crescendos, and Boucher’s helium-filled “little girl lost” vocals are full of wonder and urgency (“Oh, I fear that no life will ever be like this again/’Cause your love kept me alive and it made me insane”).
“Interference” by Holly Herndon
The opening seconds of “Interference” are a swelling chaos: countless snippets of melodies, beats, and vocals collide and ping pong off each other like subatomic particles in a cloud chamber. The effect is rather sterile and artificial-sounding… at first. But there are several amazing things about “Interference.” First is how surprisingly listenable, and even poppy it gets. Second is how emotional and joyous it sounds. By the mid-way point, “Interference” reaches a euphoric moment as Herndon’s homemade software generates wave after wave of abstract, kaleidoscopic sound. The result is a song that, while definitely not pop music in any technical sense, sounds like the best parts of a million pop songs collapsed into a single entity, and in the process, sounds like nothing else you’ve ever heard. (Read my full review of Platform.)
“Set a Candle in the Night” by In Gowan Ring
Psychedelic folk music often hides behind layers of hazy sound and abstract arrangements that sound totally mind-blowing man but at the expense of forging any true emotional connection. Not so with In Gowan Ring’s “Set a Candle in the Night.” The song doesn’t eschew the hazy and psychedelic entirely (hence the ghostly choir lurking in the song’s background) while singer/songwriter B’eirth muses on doubt, despair, and even something like a religious experience. Accompanied by an organ and some gracefully picked acoustic guitar, B’eirth sings “And the angels singing choir… They pierce my breast and flood my mind/The Light Eternal leaves me blind and struck dumb at the cross.” It’s one of the most hushed, subdued moments in B’eirth’s considerable repertoire, and without a doubt, one of the most beautiful.