Headphones at the ready.
I don’t write about music. I’ve written about most entertainment media since I started writing on the Internet in earnest a good 8 years ago – moving from TV, to movies, to videogames, to back to movies again – but I’ve refrained from writing about music, primarily because I’m continually haunted by the three times I had done so back in the dark ages of 2008 when I had the writing style and skill of a chimpanzee suffering from Tourettes. Plus, although I love my music and have a very discerning taste, I’ve never been quite able to articulate why most music pleases my ears beyond generic platitudes. There’s basically not much separating me from the average NME contributor, so I refrain from writing about music.
Every year for the past five years, however, I have put together a full-on list of my favourite songs of the previous 12 months – with each artist only being allowed one entry, and bearing in mind that I haven’t heard everything that’s been released each year – and throw them out there for the world to see/hear. It’s a process that’s a great deal painful, as I agonise over what songs make the cut and where those songs end up slotting, but I love doing anyway as it allows me to take stock of where I am musically right now and I get to hold up my list as the pure and simple “these are the best songs of the year” fact that it is – my music taste is one of the few things I’m very defensive of.
The lists from 2012 to 2014 were posted daily on a music social media site called This Is My Jam at a rate of 1 per day throughout January, with only the Top 31 getting properly aired, and I had planned to do the same this year. Unfortunately, that site closed down at the end of September, leaving the list without a home. But then I remembered, “I have a website now where I can post whatever crap I want!” And so here we are. The first time that the world at large will learn my full Top 50, the first time I’m posting something non-film/update-related (that’s new) on my site, and the first time I’ve written about music since I was a Shitty Goddamn Teenager™. All new-y newness. Be gentle.
So, here they are. Today, we’re covering numbers 50 to 31, with 30 to 11 coming tomorrow, and the top 10 hitting on Friday. These are the Top 50 Songs of 2015. Accept no substitutes (unless I approve of them).
50] Le Galaxie
The Human League’s “Dare” is best known for its two monster singles – “Don’t You Want Me” and “Love Action” – but the album is actually much darker than those two tracks would have you believe, all paranoia and darkness to match Phil Oakey’s lyrics about breakdowns, cheating partners, and the assassination of JFK. But even in its most oppressive moments, the album is still more-than-danceable, acting as what feels like the only natural release from that constant crushing tension. “Carmen” has clearly been taking notes, since the only thing that marks it as not being a “Dare” outtake are Michael Pope and MayKay’s distinctly 2015 voices barking out lines like “learn to love the machine” and “we’re waiting for the next wave” like they might be the last things they’ll say before the Gestapo take them away. This is not an insult.
Get My Own
Shave My Head – Single
Everything about Slutface is designed to be provocative. The radio unfriendly name, their bratty snot-nosed vocals, the furiously feminist lyrics, the feeling that all of their songs seem about 10 seconds away from falling apart completely. But in a rock landscape that mostly seems content to avoid saying anything about much of anything when it’s not just talking about itself, a little provocation makes for a nice change, especially when said provocation comes in the form of an incredibly fun song railing against un-equal pay and refusing to be scared to walk home alone.
48] The Juan MacLean
Here I Am (Octo Octa Remix)
La.Ga.Sta. Late Summer Compilation Vol.5
“Here I Am” sounds ready to soundtrack the runway at a fashion show. It has the exact amount of modern class required to back super-gorgeous supermodels strutting down a runway whilst wearing garish and garishly expensive garments. It’s cool, it’s classy, it’s now. Octo Octa’s remix sounds like the mid-set rest-high that’s dropped at the perfect moment by the top DJ on Mass Effect’s Citadel. It feels like it’s come directly from the future, with the space left by the constantly oscillating synths, and Nancy Whang’s various “boy”s and “away”s looping like the madness mantra she describes in the main lyrics, projecting just the right amount of cool coldness to invoke emotional dancing feet. This is a disco I want to be in the middle of.
47] The Maccabees
Something Like Happiness
Marks To Prove It
The Maccabees are my Beach House – they come along roughly every 3 years, drop an album that fits near-perfectly with my state of mind at the time and acts like a nice warm hug for 40 to 50 minutes, and then disappear again until the time is right. “Marks To Prove It”, even with the careening 200 MPH rush of the title track, is more of the same and it’s a formula that still works gangbusters on me. It’s best exemplified by “Something Like Happiness”, a song that demonstrates exactly why Mumford & Sons have yet to write a single worthwhile song despite this following roughly the same formula as them: sincerity. Even though Orlando Weeks is singing in purposefully vague terms, I believe that he genuinely can’t truly describe the titular feeling, I believe that the band agree with him and want to try and approximate that feeling, because even during the skyward “woah-oh-oh”s there’s still that melancholy at the heart. They can only make something like happiness.
46] Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Can’t Keep Checking My Phone
The funk has always been within Ruban Neilson. He may have spent much of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s career trying to suppress it by playing up the lo-fi aesthetic, but you can’t keep the funk down forever. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” is what happens when it all explodes at once, faking out with a rather cinematic opening before the handclaps and tambourines crash the party, and then it’s nothing but booty-shaking and fun times for the next three-and-a-half minutes. Frustrated sexual desires about partners off gallivanting in the rainforests have rarely sounded this freeing.
Thought I Was A Spaceman
The Magic Whip
There’s a temptation to knock Blur’s big return LP for being aggressively mid-to-low tempo, what with the fact that mid-to-low tempo works have been pretty much the only things that Damon Albarn has been knocking out so far this decade, but to do so would be to forget that Blur’s best album is, has, and always will be “13”. “The Magic Whip” doesn’t come close to that downtempo, emotional masterwork, but if your only exposure to it was “Thought I Was A Spaceman” then you’d be forgiven for thinking that it really did. Tapping into that special kind of melancholy that Albarn, Coxon, Rowntree, and James are so adept at, the song floats along on the gorgeous panning piano drones with Damon lamenting past failures, before suddenly picking itself up and, as Damon recalls “Hyde Park”, soaring off into space on a bed of beautiful synths.
44] The Chemical Brothers
Under Neon Lights (Feat. St. Vincent)
Born In The Echoes
“Under Neon Lights” refuses to release. Conventional dance music logic dictates that the tension has to be released at some point, usually with a massive powerful drop of some kind. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, however, are way too smart to go and blindly follow the rule book that they helped write, and so “Under Neon Lights” spends 4 and a half minutes fixated on the moment when you realise that you’re about to end up on a real bad drug trip and that there’s nothing you can do about it. The synths stab, the hi-hat almost never stops being rattled, and Annie Clark’s voice circles the speakers, being twisted and turned in nearly every single conceivable fashion, practically taunting the listener about a release that never comes, not even at the start of the next track.
Glitterball (Feat. Ella Henderson)
Call me old fashioned, but I like my Dance music to have some real emotion. Having grown up in my early years during that sweet spot in the early 00s where it seemed like damn near every Dance song was a crossover smash that could tear up radios and dancefloors simultaneously, I have a sweet spot for Dance tracks that aim for the heart as well as the feet. “Glitterball” is basically 3 minutes and 48 seconds of euphoria, communicating the rush of love at first sight in both Ella Henderson’s powerful vocals and the reverb drenched major piano chords and string flourishes. By the time the track disappears, leaving behind the choir to carry home the post-chorus, you’re either in love with the thing or you’re just incapable of feeling joy.
Beautiful Blue Sky
Sun Coming Down
Ought sound like Talking Heads and The Fall. Unless they radically change their sound, those comparisons are going to follow them around for all eternity. Yet that needn’t be a bad thing, as evidenced by “Sun Coming Down” centrepiece “Beautiful Blue Sky” (as well as everything else they’ve done, they’re a pretty great band). “Sun Coming Down” is an album built off the back of repetition, impersonality, and a complete lack of genuine release, and it all comes together brilliantly in almost 8 exceptionally well-paced minutes – the constant descending bass scale, Tim Darcy’s David Byrne-like endless meaningless repetition of generic conversation starters (“fancy seeing you here”, “how’s the family”) – before halfway through suddenly releasing as Darcy exclaims “I am no longer afraid to die, cos that is all that I have left”. It’s a subtle release, but the space that suddenly opens up on the track causes it to feel like a legitimate breakthrough.
41) Bhi Bhiman
Moving To Brussels
Rhythm & Reason
Sometimes, you don’t need to write excessively long and fancy explanations as to why certain songs are great. Sometimes, when you’re very lucky, their mere existence just does it for you. “Moving To Brussels” is one of those songs. It’s just an incredibly simple Blues song with a fun keyboard melody that’s super catchy and propelled by a lovely little voice. There’s nothing fancy, nothing earth-shattering, just solid fundamentals executed brilliantly. Also, the video’s pretty damn great.
40) Tame Impala
Let It Happen
How does one follow up the best record of 2012? I mean, when you release an album as brilliant as “Lonerism” and a song as near-perfect as “Elephant”, you’re inviting a whole load of pressure on yourself. Expectations are raised, all eyes are on you, and people scrutinise your every move. That kind of pressure can be crushing, yet Kevin Parker’s first taste of “Currents” managed the seemingly contradictory skill of sounding incredibly confident and unbearably anxious at the same time. “Let It Happen” tumbles along, sounding incredibly frayed yet feeling completely effortless, like there was no other way that this song could end up. Even the broken-record loop in the middle feels fitting despite the song sounding prepared to fall apart there and then.
39) Circa Waves
Circa Waves manage to capture the exact feeling of being 17. Even for those of us (like myself) who never got to experience that feeling of hanging out on a balmy Summer’s day with your closest friends as you fritter away the supposed best days of your lives on nothing in the slightest bit meaningful, Circa Waves can communicate that experience to you as if it really did happen. “T-Shirt Weather” practically radiates sunshine and optimistic good times, acting like a lost classic from the days of the Indie Landfill, the kind of song that feels like it’s been with you for most of your life after only your first listen.
Franz Ferdinand and Sparks is the kind of leftfield-seeming collaboration that is actually so perfect in theory that one wonders why it hadn’t happened sooner. Technically, it did, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the two bands actually got their shit together and finally put out the damn record. And lo, in practice, it was almost as brilliant as it sounded on paper, with Franz Ferdinand in particular sounding re-invigorated after their so-so last album. And though “Collaborations Don’t Work” is objectively the star of the album, “Johnny Delusional” is the one I keep coming back to, managing to turn yet another “you’re such a perfect person and I’m a weird creepy guy how could you ever want me whaa” track into an incredibly funny and self-aware time thanks to the Franz wit – “Some might consider me borderline attractive from afar” – and the go-for-broke-ridiculous Sparks instrumentation – at times, one could mistake this for a very self-aware Queen song.
37) Cattle & Cane
So I’ve tried to figure out some kind of fancy clever reason as to why, out of all of the songs that have ended up in my inbox since I started my run as Hullfire Radio’s Head of Music, this is the one that has stuck with me the most, and not just because it seems to be the only thing that ever comes up when I check in on the Auto DJ stream. The best I can come up with is just “it’s pleasing to my ears.” The harmonies in the chorus feel nice, the vocal interplay feels nice, the instrumentation is quite lovely. I don’t know, in all honesty. All I know is that I find it maddeningly catchy and that I feel a smidge peppier whenever and wherever it pops up.
Ever been in the middle of a mosh pit? It’s simultaneously surprisingly fun and absolutely terrifying. Bodies flinging themselves in every possible direction, not caring what happens or who they crash into because, above all else, appreciation and expressing said appreciation of the music that is currently being played is paramount. There is no control, everything could fall apart at any second, and that fear that it could is with you no matter how much fun you’re having. “The Answer” is that experience, playing out over 3 minutes and 30 seconds of pure pummelling force, stopping only for a moment to let you catch your breath before barrelling back into the finale. It’s terrifying, it’s fun, and it’s bloody brilliant.
Dreams – Single
Beck Hansen has been a lot of things – alternative rapper, sad folksy balladeer, whatever the fuck “Mutations” was – but prior to “Dreams” he’d never been a blatant Top 40-chaser, even “Midnite Vultures” is decidedly off-kilter from what Pop music is ‘supposed’ to sound like. Yet “Dreams” explodes out of speakers with a determination to be every single radio station’s go-to Summerjam for the next few years. Not that I’m complaining about any of this. In fact, if anything, I’m slightly annoyed that Beck hasn’t tried to go full-Pop sooner given how natural and completely in-character “Dreams” sounds and feels. But, even when he goes full-Pop, Beck still can’t resist throwing in an off-tempo breakdown and two f-strikes, almost like a reminder that he is Beck Hansen and he can do and be whatever the fuck he wants.
“Lights” is downbeat without ever getting moody. Its introspective without becoming miserable. Its chorus is a release without forcing the song into being some kind of stadium-bound crowdpleaser. It’s a song aimed directly at those who feel alone and want to dance, but can’t escape that loneliness for long. Even when the synthesised trumpets creep into the fray during the chorus, the focus never leaves the effect caused by that lack of connection. “I just wanna see you dancing.” For one brief moment, expose yourself to the dancefloor, then retreat back inside again.
33) On An On
It’s Not Over
And The Wave Has Two Sides
There’s a sweetness and purity to “It’s Not Over”, almost like puppy love. The joy in Nate Eisland’s voice as he sings about the amount of love he has for his partner, how they’ve weathered tough times, how he refuses to ever give up on them, and his desire to get them both to the dancefloor, is just so palpable and infectious. Even the “Hey! Hey! Hey!”s are unabashedly dorky! The motorik beat and swimming synths just add to the track’s incessant charm, all creating a result that could probably win over even the most stone-hearted “romance is DEAD” cynics. Dammit, it’s just so pretty!
32) The Prodigy
The Day Is My Enemy (Feat. Martina Topley-Bird)
The Day Is My Enemy
Contrary to what you and most everyone else believes, the best part of Gorillaz’ classic 2005 “Demon Days” album are the 30 seconds during “All Alone” where Martina Topley-Bird shows up to drop one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever heard. Her voice is heavenly, capable of aching with emotion that can also double as a commanding force, and The Prodigy make outstanding usage of it on their sixth album’s title track. She gets just 10 words, but her delivery makes them insanely powerful as she sits high above the militaristic chaos unfolding below her, providing the perfect counterpoint to 4 and a half minutes of pure intensity. Just raw, hard-hitting, non-stop power.
31) The Wombats
The Wombats are virtually unrecognisable from where they started back in 2007, and it’s really for the best. Their best moments on “A Guide To Love, Loss & Desperation” were fast, fun, 3 minute Pop songs anyway, so going full-Pop was pretty much their only option if they were to avoid falling into the same pit that claimed bands like Reverend And The Makers. And so – following on from the very enjoyable halfway-house of 2011’s “This Modern Glitch” – the first taste of a 4 years older Wombats turns out to be an arena-sized full-tilt Pop monster with a super-catchy chorus and all the modern pop production trappings, yet losing none of Murph’s simultaneously ridiculous yet charmingly idiosyncratic and insecure lyrics. And lo and behold, it was pretty fucking sweet!
Come back tomorrow for #30 – #11.