Here's our list of the best songs of 2015 so far:
15. Jessica Pratt – “Games That I Play”
“People’s faces blend together like a watercolour you can’t remember,” sings Jessica Pratt. It’s one of the most beautifully-crafted lines written this year, and holds more weight than the combination of the Los Angeles-native’s pop contemporaries’ best tracks. Pratt’s Kate Bush-esque vocals are delivered delicately over a gently strumming guitar, before the song switches up halfway through to an incredible ‘70s-remeniscent sound, beautifully complimenting the change in tone and increased frustration reflected in the lyrics: “Were you coming to me to tell me that you’re mine?” she asks her lover, before admitting that “this motion is sickening”. Achingly gorgeous, “Games That I Play” is an understated gem in a collection of meticulously-crafted songs.
14. Lana Del Rey – “Honeymoon”
Released during the height of the summer, “Honeymoon” is the first look at Lana Del Rey’s upcoming album of the same name. Hugely orchestral, it incorporates the aspects that she does so well: Bad boys, doomed relationships, and never-ending love. “We both know it’s not fashionable to love me,” she croons in an almost whisper over lavish strings; this stunning ‘50s blue-eyed soul-inspired song proves there are many reasons to do just that. It’s a slow-burning and tragically beautiful track that breaks through the simplistic familiarity of modern pop.
13. Jessie Ware – “Champagne Kisses”
“Who’s fault is this / That I’m crazy about you,” British soul singer Jessie Ware questions on the opening line of “Champagne Kisses.” While the majority of her second studio album, Tough Love, revolves around love, this song stands out in particular with its immaculate production, Ware’s soaring vocals, and the vulnerable lyrics. “All I want is your love,” she hopefully wishes, before admitting that, “This love is supreme / That’s why I always give in.”
12. Jamie xx – “Loud Places (ft. Romy)”
For British musician Jamie xx, his 2015 debut studio album In Colour succeeded primarily in perfecting minimalism. However, the single “Loud Places” breaks somewhat from that formula, with the smooth vocals of Romy layered beautifully over a meticulously well-crafted collection of instruments and pulsating beats. “I’ve been to loud places / to search for someone to be quiet with,” Romy sings, before her lonely voice is joined with choral background singers, echoing drums, and a fantastic climactic second half that is unlike anything else released this year.
11. Taylor Swift – “Style”
Like many of Taylor Swift’s tracks, it’s often easier to love-to-hate the lyrical themes—and even the artist—than to admire the musical talent underneath. But with a fantastic blend of pulsing guitar, echoing drums, and effortless vocals, there is no avoiding the fact that “Style” is one of Swift’s most accomplished and uplifting songs. By echoing the sound of the song’s parent album, 1989 (2014), Swift’s lyrical message seems to be almost prophetic: “We never go out of style,” she sings, and neither will this track.
10. Brandon Flowers – “Never Get You Right”
“They’ll never get you right,” warns Brandon Flowers (lead singer of The Killers), in a seemingly innocent but truthful critique of society’s lack of collective understanding. Combined with fantastic reverbed vocals and heavy bass and guitar, Flowers’ vocals soar effortlessly across a wide range of notes, conveying a real sense of wanting to lend a helping hand to those who feel misjudged. “Don’t give into the pressure,” he sadly proclaims, “It isn’t going to stop / Because the world goes on around you / Whether you like it or not.”
9. Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney – “FourFiveSeconds”
Though it is painfully easy to poke hole’s in Kanye West’s attempt at ‘singing,’ “FourFiveSeconds” is in fact one of the most original and unique tracks released this year. “I think I’ve had enough / Might get a little drunk,” sings Rihanna, before Kanye West chimes in with typical character: “Hold me back / I’m ‘bout to spaz.” The song reaches a climactic mid-section with Rihanna almost breaking down: “But I just can’t apologize / I hope you can understand,” before Paul McCartney’s guitar work creeps out from beneath the vocals, providing a gritty and unstructured listen.
8. Kacey Musgraves – “Biscuits”
“Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy,” country singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves sweetly sings over simple, banjo-infused instrumentation. It’s innocent enough, but the underlying message is nothing if not biting: “I burned my own damn finger poking someone else’s fire.” It’s a witty and finger-pointing critique of society’s obsession with finding the faults in others, when in reality, “We’ve all got dirty laundry hanging on the line.”
7. Florence + the Machine – “Third Eye”
Whilst Florence + the Machine’s 2015 album was, on the whole, meant to be a scaled back effort in comparison to her earlier work, “Third Eye” is a stunning accomplishment and a return to the over-the-top production and vocals that she does so well. “There’s a hole where your heart lies / And I can see it with my third eye,” she shrieks over a fantastic mesh of echoing drums, claps, piano, and guitar strums heavily reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac. But fear not: “Third Eye” is the most Florence + the Machine song that Florence + the Machine have ever made, and the standout track of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015) by a long shot.
6. Kendrick Lamar – “u”
In producing probably the most formally ambitious track on To Pimp A Butterfly (2015), Kendrick Lamar shows a level of vulnerability that would make even the most fearless artist uncomfortable. Using the framing device of drinking away his troubles in some remote hotel room, he recounts the ways he failed himself and others with an brazen level of specificity. The amount of blame he piles on himself comes through in his voice—hoarse as if it was his 50th take. The song is even better in the context of its counterpart, “i,” a triumphant ode to himself that shows what a fascinating contradiction his music can be.
5. Perfume Genius – “Fool”
Though any song from Perfume Genius’ (Mike Hadreas) new album, Too Bright (2014), could have made it onto this list, “Fool” stands out as his most accomplished and striking song yet. Beginning with ‘70 synths accompanied by snaps and clicks, the song progresses into a stunning mid-section in which it’s hard to decipher between Hadreas’ piercingly high vocals or a screaming guitar. But beneath the immaculate production, the lyrics proclaim a dark and unsettling truth: “I made your dress / I laid it out / On the couch you bought / That I picked out.”
4. Grimes – “Realiti”
Although just a demo that was initially not even meant to be released, Grimes’ latest track in anticipation for her new album, REALiTi (2015), is a stunning retro expedition into the loss of innocence while growing up. Discussing the reality of absolute bliss of childhood over pulsing synths and airy vocals, the former McGill student admits: “When we were young we used to live so close to it / And we were scared and we were beautiful.” Having since grown up, she has realized that “Every morning there’s mountains to climb,” but with the irresistibly catchy tune, it’s hard not to feel excited about living life for life itself.
3. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment – “Sunday Candy”
In nearly four minutes off joyful, unbridled nostalgia, Chance the Rapper brings the best marriage of rap and soul since Kanye West’s first few albums. Connecting religion and family in a way that doesn’t feel hokey or forced, Chance sing-raps his way through an ode to the time he spent in church with his grandmother with a palpable sense of reverence and love. Jamila Woods’ soulful hook underscores these themes, and the track’s cacophonous production overflows with brassy energy, while also lending it a modern edge.
2. Sufjan Stevens – “Should Have Known Better”
It’s not until you lose someone that you properly appreciate and value everything they did for you and the impact they had on your life. On “Should Have Known Better,” the most heartbreaking song on a tear-jerking album, Sufjan Stevens faces this painful reality: He painfully admits, “I should have known better / I should have wrote a letter / Explaining what I feel / That empty feeling,” over a slowly growing multitude of instruments that blend and compliment each other, resulting in an understated but emotional epic final minute. “Don’t back down / Nothing can be changed,” he concludes, realizing that moving on is only possible with accepting the past, no matter how hard it might be. After all, “the past is still the past / A bridge to nowhere….”
1, Courtney Barnett – “Depreston”
One of the most understated yet encapsulating artists of the year, Courtney Barnett captures the very 21st-century notion of feeling out of place in the world around you and the desire to break free from it. “You say we should look out further / I guess it wouldn’t hurt us / We don’t have to be around all these coffee shops,” the 27-year-old Australian singer-songwriter hopefully sings to her partner, only to realize that the only place she can afford is a deceased estate needing to be knocked down and rebuilt. “It’s got a lovely garden / A garage for two cars to park in / Or a lot of room for storage if you’ve just got one,” she continues, but at the end of the day, “It’s [just] a Californian bungalow in a culd-e-sac.” “Depreston” is perhaps the most millennial song ever written.