BEST SONGS OF 2015
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.
These are my 100 favourite songs of 2015: songs I love more than fruitbowls, commas and national parks.
I follow just one arbitrary rule: that no primary artist may appear twice.
I made similar lists in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The best way to browse this list is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.
You can also download the complete 100 songs, in three parts:
Said the Gramophone is one of the oldest musicblogs. We try to do just two things, well
: finding good songs
, and writing about them
. We don't mess about with tour-dates, videos or advertising. We post new songs and old songs, write impressions, stories, essays, clumsy dreams of what we hear.
Said the Gramophone has four authors: Emma Healey, Sean Michaels, Jeff Miller and Mitz Takahashi; this list is all Sean's dumb doing - don't blame the others for my bad taste.
If this is your first time at Said the Gramophone, I hope you'll bookmark us or subscribe via RSS. You can also follow me on Twitter or read my weekly column in The Globe & Mail.
Among these 100 artists, 38 are mostly American, 29 are Canadian, 18 are British, 3 are Australian, 3 are French, 2 are Nigerian, 2 are Swedish, and there is 1 Congolese, 1 Irish, 1 Kiwi, 1 South African and 1 Saharan act. This is the way it worked out; it certainly isn't perfect.
48 of the frontpeople/bandleaders are female-identified - the highest number, by far, since I started counting in 2011. 48 are male-identified, (at least) 1 is transgender, and there are 3 mixed-gender duos.
My favourite songs of the year do not necessarily speak to my favourite albums of the year. Songs and LPs are entirely different creatures. My favourite albums of 2015 were Fadimoutou Wallet Inamoud's Isswat, José Gonzalez's Vestiges & Claws, Ian William Craig's A Turn Of Breath, Drake's If You're Reading This It's Too Late, Arlt's Deableries, Julia Holter's Have You In My Wilderness and Carly Rae Jepsen's EMOTION.
Some songs that you heard in 2015 may have been omitted from this tally because I heard them before this year, and included them in my Best of 2014.
- Mbongwana Star - "Malukayi" [buy]
In 2015, no piece of music so transfixed me as Mbongwana Star's "Malukayi". It summons an entire landscape. It moves like weather. Mbongwana Star is a group formed by two Congolese men in their 50s: Coco Ngambali and Theo Nsituvuidi, former members of Staff Benda Bilili, who play music from their wheelchairs. They recruited younger players from Kinshasa as well as the trip-hop producer Liam Farrell, who got his start with hip French new wave bands like Taxi-Girl. The result is extraordinary, incendiary: like Portishead, the xx or FKA Twigs, it seems like a whole new sound, a whole new dream of sound. It is the score of a city, with all its flashing lights, and the score of a countryside, with bonfires, bullfrogs, acres of black sky. It is a masterpiece of production: leaping voices, distant spirits, taut bass, ringing cymbals, the circling riff of Konono No 1's amplified likembé. (Thank you Michael Barclay.)
- Skrillex and Diplo ft Justin Bieber - "Where Are Ü Now" [buy]
I suppose part of the marvel of this song is the surprise. That this collaboration between Diplo, Skrillex and Justin Bieber feels neither manic nor demented, that it doesn't pander. That it moves with such purpose. Some may be turned off by its palette of sounds - EDM, mainstream dubstep - but pop music shifts and slips; if you wish to track its treasures, you need to shift as well. You need to let your bias slip. Skrillex's drum sounds, his build and bass drop - on "Where Are Ü Now" these are stunning, sharply beautiful. This is music for moving to but it's also a kind of refracted blues. Bieber seems mournful, he seems almost lost, and that lostness gets chopped and subdivided, syncopated. When he calls out to his absent lover that calling gets manipulated, twisted into a kind of woodwind or birdcall. It's Justin's voice inside that "flute" hook. You can try to sing along.
- Majical Cloudz - "Downtown" [buy]
A love-song that seems painted like a line across the horizon. A straight line, steady and even, almost indiscernible. Montreal's Majical Cloudz make their songs from synths and loops and then the sturdy baritone of Devon Welsh's voice. It is sturdy even when it is smitten, even when it's dotty. "Nothing you say / will ever be wrong," he marvels. "I'm running with you / as fast as I can / singing to myself 'I Want To Hold Your Hand.'" Welsh knows that he is love-sick. There is a reckless swoop to the way he sings. But devotions like these mend wild pleasure with quiet, almost heartbreaking sincerity. Despite the nods to Petula Clark, the lyrics about how "cool" and "fun" this feels, or Welsh's silly declaration that he's "going crazy / crazy for you", all this kookiness is mediated by quiet, radiant conviction. Perhaps it'll pass. Perhaps, one night, that clear horizon will disappear into a black sky. Welsh knows it could; he's a fool undeterred. "There's one thing I'll do / if it ever goes wrong," he promises. "I'll write you into all of my songs."
- Erykah Badu - "Hotline Bling (But U Cain't Use My Phone Mix)" [buy on iTunes]
Drake did it first but Erykah Badu did it better, exchanging cool dejection for something more sad and more sly. Its central conceit is still the stuff of country songs: the memory a former lover's late-night calls, the way "that hotling bling / [could] only mean one thing". But Badu seems to have more remove from the situation; she's less forbearing with her recollection of her ex and his habits. She's funnier. And yet besides her evident wit, Badu imbues "Hotline Bling" with something else as well. There's a certain melancholy: old, cold melancholy, a wound scarred-over. (OK, Drake's video is still tops.)
- Grimes - "REALiTi (demo)" [buy Art Angels]
Lush and beguiling, catchy as anything in Claire Boucher's catalogue before or since. Although Boucher kept working on "REALiTi", releasing another version on Art Angels, I'm much fonder of the demo - organic, darkly tropical, with "I'll Remember"'s synth strings and "Oblivion"'s sense of guarded momentum.
- Fetty Wap - "Trap Queen" [buy]
Fetty Wap's not getting rich on lyrical originality. "Trap Queen" has all the subgenre's familiar themes - money, drugs, gangs, girls. But the New Jersey MC has a gift for delivering rhymes: each of "Trap Queen"'s lines rises and falls in a tidy arc; each one feels like a hook. Mix this with airy synths, chords poised at the edge of dancing, and you have a trap song meant for repeat and repeat and repeat, for wafting out the lowered window of a million passing cars.
- Sheer Mag - "What You Want" [buy]
Emma wrote: This song sounds like it feels to wear your jean jacket and tough-guy sunglasses for the first time since the endless drag of winter; it sounds like you felt the first time some beautiful party genius taught you to call it a JJ instead of a jean jacket, to say "blaze a jang" instead of "smoke a joint." It sounds like my heart sounded the first time I ever played a plugged-in electric guitar, like a keyhole in the side of a tallcan, like your best friend biting the grass stains off your knees.
- Fadimoutou Wallet Inamoud - "Wana Le Nouveau" [buy]
Music of the Sahara desert's after-dark, as an unwed woman sings over a group of men's low chant. There is a certain courting to these songs, I understand; this is not primordial music, nor prayer, it is as modern as ringtones, sung by young people kicking up dust. Inamoud is married now, she no longer sings, but maybe some of these men are still chanting their sigadah, thinking of her voice, remembering how it sounded in the air.
- Carly Rae Jepsen - "Run Away With Me" [buy]
Finally EMOTION is released this week and I can tell you to buy it. Only if you like pop music, pop for sugar rushes in the blood, the simple satisfaction of a widely shared thrill. Only if you can admire a pop song that uses saxophone for all its velocity, saxophone or maybe synth-saxophone, it doesn't matter. "Run Away With Me" is tender and colossal, sweet and heavy, a sledgehammer swinging through a wall and the sun-kissed hills on the other side.
- Shura - "Touch" [buy]
Soft and gorgeous R&B, full of longing, like a pearl, nearly perfect.
- Michael Feuerstack - "Clackity Clack" [buy]
A song that unfolds like a tired-out fist, drums precisely stumbling. (While I'm mixing metaphors: the fiddle's a magician sawing your assistant in two.)
- Dilly Dally - "Desire" [buy]
Hot and heavy as a fever: the shriek of guitars, Katie Monks' rippling lust, grunge incandescing in the dark.
- Kendrick Lamar - "The Blacker The Berry" [buy]
A hip-hop polemic, monumental & funky & scalding. A song against white supremacy and all the ways it is upheld.
- Young Galaxy - "Body" [buy]
Sumptuous dancefloor music - blurring glitter in the black of night. Sounds flicker and skitter as Catherine McCandless sings about absence, presence, the physical fact of an unreliable body. Just a tower of sounds, full of reach and wobble. (Full disclosure: Young Galaxy commissioned me to write a short story to accompany their terrific record.)
- CHVRCHES - "Empty Threat" [buy]
CHVRCHES' songs like long columns of jewels, staggered gems, dotted lines on a night-black road, gleaming headlights on invisible hills, cats' eyes, cats'-eyes, one harvest moon and another harvest moon and did you know eclipses occur in sequence, regular sequence, once every xx months.
- Kiiara - "Gold" [soundcloud]
Want and desire already cut up by disappointment, frustration. Snaps and droplets, space and reverb, the bone-on-bone blossom of a knee-on-knee collision. Emma called it like pure electrical current; hums through you head-to-toe, too dangerous to grasp bare-handed.
- José Gonzalez - "Open Book" [buy]
José Gonzalez's outstanding latest album is as dry-eyed as the better part of his work; it's as serious, dusk-lit and meditative. Gonzalez is a singer-songwriter from Sweden but here he is deeply indebted to West African guitar music, Touareg song circles, riffs and handclaps born in the desert. (I, uh, also wrote about this song as the sci-fi story of a summer planet.)
- Justin Bieber - "What Do You Mean?" [buy]
A song that lives or dies on its chorus - the play of the production, the pleasure of its darting. This playfulness makes up for the lyrics, where Bieber's like a hacky, misogynist stand-up comic. There's also something fascinatingly 'off', mildly clumsy, about the song's undergirding sound: that ticking clock, vaguely threatening, all of us trudging slowly toward death.
- Julia Holter - "Feel You" [buy]
With stately strings and harpsichord, perfectly composed drums, Holter sounds as if she's standing at the crossroads between Haim's San Fernando pop and Judee Sill's Laurel Canyon folksong.
- Basia Bulat - "Infamous" [pre-order]
A fizzing rocket, a fiery roman candle, a singer celebrating as her heart breaks in two.
- Dick Diver - "Waste the Alphabet" [buy]
The clue is in the name: despite what you may assume, "Dick Diver" is a reference to the protagonist in F Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night. They are an Australian quartet playing brilliant, clever jangle-pop - only mildly raunchier than musical cousins like Belle & Sebastian and The Clean. But a song like "Waste the Alphabet" is much more than the sum of its influences: it's poised and catchy, thrilling, spinning on the head of a pin. And boasting one of the guitar solos of the year.
- Brandon Flowers - "Between Me And You" [buy]
The Desired Effect, by Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, will be deeply disarming to anyone who loves 70s touchstones like Springsteen or Fleetwood Mac. Not because Flowers has the same gift for language - even a gem like "Between Me And You" has some lyrical clunkers. But the production is great and, more important still, the songs themselves are splendidly formed. Arcing verses, flowering choruses, small details that reward multiple listens; "Between Me And You" deserves a thousand jukeboxes, a million slow-dances, maybe even a couple tattoos.
- Kurt Vile - "Pretty Pimpin'" [buy]
Despite the good-times chorus, Vile's lazy drawl, "Pretty Pimpin" is an unrestful song. Apprehensive, chafing, Kafka's Metamorphosis re-interpreted by Tom Petty. It seems like music for a road-trip but properly, probably, it's custom-built for a (nervous) breakdown.
- Rozi Plain - "Actually" [buy]
What humble genius is this, mellow and pipey? This winter I will just curl up around Rozi Plain's voice, her magnificent bassline. (Previously.)
- David Bowie - "Blackstar" [buy]
Ten minutes of sound that probably represent David Bowie's most future-facing music in 20 years. Luscious saxophone curls around Bowie's doubled and uncanny voice, mingling with thin synths, off-tempo guitars, flute, stabs of dub and acid house, complicated stop-start drum patterns that make it seem as if there's a Replicant at the kit. And yet "Blackstar "is seamless: I can't quite decide if it makes me feel bewildered or calmly, confidently serene.
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "The World Is Crowded" [buy]
Blue-eyed soul recorded inside a digital watch.
- Julien Baker - "Something" [buy]
What a break-up song. The sound of a heart just emptying out.
- This Is The Kit - "Silver John" [buy]
A rosy apocalypse - folksong of pretty guitar, winding organ, Kate Stables' briared voice.
- The Acorn - "In Silence" [buy]
A song of funky, uncanny folk - shaded voice, prowling bass, - and then suddenly the balance is upset, the avalanche triggered, all the air in the room rearranged by an exhilaration of drums.
- Tirzah - "Make It Up" [facebook]
Tirzah sings in hopscotch sing-song over a skipping, spiritless vocal sample; she's asking her absent lover to come home but it's not clear that Tirzah really cares, that she even truly minds. The song's not about that loving entreaty, in the end: it's about the confusion of the thing, Tirzah's dazed presence and this dry, mesmeric mantra. Produced by Micachu's Mica Levi.
- Jamie xx - "Gosh" [buy]
At first it's a bit like a Jamaican 45 crossed with a washing machine, but soon the clatter gives way to a warm, lazy keyboard melody - noodly and sunset-toned, drawn from a different landscape than the rest of Jamie's work. A balmy breeze; an unexpected guest; dumb contentment, floating in on a cloud.
- Yo La Tengo - "Before We Stopped To Think" [buy]
"Before We Stopped To Think" was originally recorded by a band called Great Plains. Their version is winsome and jangly, with a thin line of synthesizer. Yo La Tengo, on the other hand, make the song drowsy and sincere, the kind of drowsy/sincere that happens at the very end of a night, in the early morning, when the stars are at their loudest, your voice is worn out. (Thanks, Charles Steinberg.)
- Christine and the Queens - "Saint Claude" [buy]
French pop with the interesting (time-honoured) tactic of making the chorus en anglais - a break from what's come before, a change of affective key, a switch from frilled and elegant to something a little clumsier, vulnerable. The words themselves aren't great, or those soppy strings, but "Saint Claude"'s full musical landscape, that sunlight dancing on ice - it's enough to make this track compulsive, a little treasure.
- All Dogs - "That Kind of Girl" [buy]
Jeff wrote, nouveau-nineties gold that perfectly balances catchy riffs with heavier bursts of fuzzy catharsis. I wrote something dumb about songs as physical things. Fact is, this is raw and open, proud, loud voices and surging guitars. (Thanks, Hamza.)
- Demi Lovato - "Confident" [buy]
Lovato's swagger, the mountains of horns, percussion like a marching band, a crowd at an arena. And also: fingersnaps, glitches, "Beautiful People"'s gallop of pounding tom and overdriven bass.
- Janet Jackson - "No Sleep" [buy]
"No Sleep" opens and closes with what is literally a quiet storm. Janet's first new song in seven years is absolutely sweltering. It'll steam up your windows, it'll tangle in your sheets. For thirty years, R&B like this has been keeping lovers up: from Janet to D'Angelo to Jessie Ware and now back to the youngest Jackson, showing off the power of murmurs, a certain BPM, rain and thunderclap.
- Receivers - "Ships & Lanterns" [buy]
Pieces placed together, a still-life on the table. Hear a heart's bass guitar, a singer's rayed voice, a cannonade of bass and tom. Hear electric charge, raining harmonies, something like a melodica. Some songs you can sing; others you need to duck underneath.
- Lady Leshurr - "Queen's Speech 4" [buy]
"Queen's Speech" is a series, not a song. Four volumes of freestyles - 1 2 3 4 - with more yet to come. "Volume 4" is the best of them: playful, confident, like a game that's already won. "I'm on the roads / caravan," she raps. "Lemme do this fast - Ramadan." Leshurr is an MC from Birmingham but her sense of rhyme and one-punch punchlines remind me of Lil Wayne (whom she quotes). If only Lil Tunechi were releasing work this giddy and alive.
- Ian William Craig - "Either Or" [buy]
Distorted voices, tape whirr - this startling record like a clouded, indecipherable chorale.
- Langhorne Slim & the Law - "Wolves" [buy]
There's a particular alchemy to making music in the tradition of the singer-songwriter. How do you make a song neither straight-ahead nor feral; balanced in the middle, bravely safe? "Wolves" is that, beautifully. Ragged but not too ragged. Soft but not too soft. A song about freedom, gauging and calibrating the compass-needle, in the footsteps of Arlo Guthrie, Billy Bragg and Bright Eyes. (Thanks, Charles Steinberg.)
- Tame Impala - "The Moment" [buy]
Like a cruise missile, a sharklike super-weapon, something travelling on soundwaves to your inner ear. Somehow "The Moment" sounds louder, purer, realer than almost everything in the world. (I think it's the brilliant, ultramarine drums.)
- Drake - "Know Yourself" [buy]
If "Hotline Bling"'s being represented by Erykah, Drake will stand with this. A song that feels like a dimly lit dream. "Running through the 6 with my woes"; prowling through the city with your crew; a track that asks for real things to stand & stay, for fake things to fall; that prowls and prowls and prowls and runs and runs, under tracking lights.
- Low - "What Part Of Me" [buy]
Spend twenty years honing your craft, studying your books, practicing your scales, running your course, writing your rhymes, hitting your ball, repeating your tenses, learning your tools, tracing your circles, swimming your laps, dancing your steps, loving your loved ones, sitting on your cushion, carrying your weight, and then listen to all that you will have.
- Naytronix - "Mister Divine" [buy]
Tune-Yards compatriot Nate Brenner abandons the quirky funk of his 2012 debut in favour of sleepy, summery dream-pop. These four minutes unfurl with almost perfect ease: gorgeous and lazy, oddly nostalgic, evoking The Sea and Cake, The Zombies, Yo La Tengo at their most intimate. I keep imagining "Mister Divine" as the soundtrack to an imaginary Peanuts special, Charlie Brown on a melancholy pilgrimage down the Camino de Santiago.
- Destroyer - "Times Square, Poison Season I" [buy]
A kind of overture, introducing Poison Season's themes and leitmotifs, offering its most important lyric for the very first time. "Times Square!" Dan Bejar enounces, chewing the scenery, relishing the diphthong, turning the phrase's two syllables into three. But my favourite part of "Poison Season I" is the stuff that happens on this track and not quite anywhere else: the sighing synth; the bare, eerie piano motif; the thick, expressive strings, carrying more weight (and more grace) than they're later permitted to. Bejar begins with the word "Jesus" and ends with the words "Times Square!" but the poetry that happens in between feels drawn and quartered, measured line by the line. Each lyric is a balance of nonsense and intent, like notes to confuse a future descendant.
- Young Fathers - "Nest" [buy]
Feel-good rock from a crew that is usually much more dour (and much more hip-hop). Here they proffer reassurances instead of threats, apologizing to everyone they've wronged. A little soppy but still I'll take it - they sound like a jollier TV on the Radio, with piano, cheers, the promise that a "pendulum has swung."
- Wolf Alice - "Bros" [buy]
A track that seems drawn from the same universe as Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps" or Twin Sister's "I Want A House" - but stickier, more tangled, its longing hampered by tons of baggage. A song of friendship, barrelling friendship, kindred spirits in a three-legged race.
- Wilco - "You Satellite" [buy]
Greatly benefiting from Nels Cline's comet-trail of electric guitar, "You Satellite" is like an object plunging through the atmosphere, ripped apart by winds. And Jeff Tweedy seems like nothing more than a distant narrator, a pensive stargazer; above his head, something bursts into flame.
- Olivare - "When I Look Around" [soundcloud]
Olivare is the mysterious collaboration between an unsigned Montreal beatmaker, an outsider folk-singer, and one of Canada's most acclaimed bedroom producers. "When I Look Around", their first release, is just superb - a song of peace and Jesus, change and refinement, like Hold music for the space between limbo and what comes after.
- Alabama Shakes - "Dunes" [buy]
This wonderfully peculiar song has Brittany Howard's pleading vocals and the whole band's thundering guitars, but beyond the drought and lightning storm there's above all a sense of mischief. "I don't know whose fuck to give," Howard sings, and you can hear the way she's balanced precariously between giving and not giving one F. Led Zep's seventies riffs are filtered up through the stuff of Wilco or Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Dunes' psychedelia seems founded on nothing more freaky than the fact of being a plain human being with a wacked-out human heart.
- The Weather Station - "Tapes" [buy]
"Tapes" tells the story of listening to another person's songs; of hearing another person's voice, on a cassette, after their death. Tamara Lindeman sat and heard - the sound of footsteps, the sound of a "high, strange voice, the sound of a singer drawing a song into being." She sings: "Trying to sing what you meant, late at night - it was too important." Imagining the departed singer and their little recorder: the melody murmured into midnight air, before forgetting. But this line might also stand for what the Weather Station is attempting: trying to sing the same important thing, the same scant song, years later. Trying to hear and know and repeat what the other person felt; to be an echo, down the procession of the hours.
- Lil Mama - "Sausage" [video]
Exultantly absurd, a banger and mash of reconstituted Vine clips, reappropriated raps and throwback hip-hop rhythm. Among its allusions: Slick Rick, Wu-Tang Clan, Kelis, Fetty Wap, Dionne Warwick, Mary J. Blige. If Kanye West had dropped this number, everyone'd be marvelling at his daring. Most of pop music rests on giddy juvenilia, and Sausage is assured, virtuosic, the magpie act of a brilliant collagist. Put it in your bun.
- Sophie - "VYZEE" [buy]
Not unlike a squeaky handjob.
- Jessie Jones - "Lady La De Da" [buy]
With its strings and sitar, Jones' voice like Grace Slick's, "Lady La De Da" obviously owes a lot to the past: to the days of white rabbits and red doors (painted black), crystal ships and pale blue eyes. The today-ness of it is subtler, hidden in the angle of the arrangements, the flavour of the production. Jones has recorded five minutes of acid soul, gorgeous and electrifying, that lives at once in 1967 and 2015. It's like going back to a familiar place and finding it completely changed.
- D.R.A.M. - "Cha Cha (original version)" [buy]
Let us consider the possibility that "to cha-cha" is to peform a particularly tricky move on Nintendo's Super Mario 3. I present this song as evidence. Should the premise be borne out, we may soon discover that "swag" is a Minecraft building material and the "International Players Anthem" is a theme-song for UGK's Counter Strike clan. Admittedly, D.R.A.M. explicitly submits that the act of cha cha has something to do with nice folks in a Latin bar. In fact, "to cha cha" may mean to, uh, actually cha cha. Neither Mario nor Luigi appear in the video for the song. I'd posit that the plumbers are all implied. They are subtext. They are passing back and forth under the surface of this track, in bright green pipes.
- Kehlani ft Coucheron - "Alive" [buy]
Kehlani's voice, her bandmate's guitar, her chorus-catchy, radio-friendly R&B - a secret gone kaleidoscopic, copied to a hundred thousand hard drives.
- Georgia - "Move Systems (Georgia vs Stella Mozgawa Drum Version)" [buy]
Georgia's a London-based songwriter whose taste for battered, collagist pop recalls early MIA. She also plays drums. Here, she improves her debut album's best track by enlisting the help of another drummer, Warpaint's Mozgawa. Working together, "Move Systems" becomes an absolute avalanche of a song - rock'n'roll that spills down the slope, skidding on rhythms and the oil-black overdrive of its bassline. Georgia sounds furious, impish, all-powerful; she sounds like Cyndi Lauper remixing Nine Inch Nails.
- Natalie Prass - "My Baby Don't Understand Me" [buy]
Easy to be seduced by Prass based solely on the arrangements - splendid orchestral soul, with great bass and guitars, horns and woodwinds. But on songs like this the songwriting's there, too - marvel at the chorus when it arrives.
- TUNS - "Throw It All Away" [website]
A sensational cut from three superstars of 90s Halifax pop: the Inbreds' Mike O'Neill, Sloan's Chris Murphy, Super Friendz' Matt Murphy. Like a Beatles record revved up to today's hungry speeds.
- Alessia Cara - "Here" [buy]
Sometimes a familiar sample is like a key into a lock - you're wide open, alert, undone by a memory. Cara's "Here" rests on the vivid presence of her voice, but for students of older songs it also benefits as well from a looped four seconds of strings. This is a track about a feeling most of us have known - alone in the corner of a party, not quite happy, introspective, suddenly grown - but it also becomes about whatever Portishead's "Glory Box" was about, whatever Tricky's "Hell Is Round The Corner" was about, whatever Isaac Hayes' "Ike's Rap II" was about. Songs exist in relationships with other songs; this song can be "here" and there, too.
- Arlt - "Les oiseaux cassent" [buy]
One of the greatest bands in the world with another scratched jewel, another ruined canvas. A song of "breaking birds", wrong and perfect, like a pleasant miniature and a malignant ringing in your ears.
- The Dream - "Black Magic" [website]
I fell really hard for "Black Magic", moved to pieces by its original video (which has since been removed from the internet). Through this lens, "Black Magic" was an anthem for social justice. Without it, "Black Magic"'s politics aren't exactly radical. But it's still a lovely humanist love-song, a return to form for Terius Nash after several years as a mediocre shit-head.
- The Wainwright Sisters - "Lullaby" [buy]
Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche improve upon their father's 1973 original, slowing it down, emphasizing the contrast between comely chords and bone-tired exasperation. Whereas Loudon was an insomniac who had exhausted himself, Lucy and Martha sound like aunts and mothers at the ends of their ropes, singing gently through gritted teeth. "Shut up and go to bed / Shut up and shut your eyes / ... Shut up and count some sheep / do me a favour, don't bitch in your sleep." Bleakly hilarious, beautifully performed.
- Weaves - "Tick" [buy]
I keep submitting to this track, lying down on the highway of song and getting run over. Its veering guitars are like black and yellow convertibles, fabulous hornets, leaving tire-treads across my day. Singer Jasmyn Burke (formerly of RatTail) exults in the noisy summer of it all - she shrieks like Corin Tucker or Jack White, throws her wailing radio into one of Toronto's ravines.
- Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld - "The Rest Of Us" [buy]
A restless duet, Stetson's saxophone and Neufeld's violin out on the same search, lighthouse beacons sweeping the sea, flashlights in forest, and maybe, very slightly, the Doctor Who theme as well.
- Enya - "Echoes in the Rain" [buy]
Enya returns to the site of "Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)", and who can blame her? So long as there are suckers for polished couplets, nifty hooks, synthy synths, synthy staccato strings, millionaires singing "hallelujah". (Previously.)
- Wizkid ft Drake and Skepta - "Ojuelegba (Remix)" [facebook]
Fool winter into summer.
- Partner - "Hot Knives" [bandcamp]
Emma wrote: Finding this song feels like one of those moments in a movie where the character wakes up and thinks, oh god, maybe it was all just a dream. And later, they dig in their pocket for their keys but instead they find something else. There's that look we all know, crossing over their face. And then they uncurl their fist, zoom in, and we see it: some token carried over from the other world, the better one. The gold coin, the note. Proof, shining. Incredibly, impossibly real. // This song is that, except it's about doing knife tokes.
- Michelle McAdorey - "Two Tickets" [buy]
A voice high and wavering, a nod across the water to Isla St Clair and Sandy Denny. Taken from McAdorey's first album in 12 years, "Two Tickets" has a sound more country than folk - except for that voice, all the reflections in it.
- Hop Along - "Powerful Man" [buy]
Frances Quinlan is omnipotent, omniscient, scaling buildings in a single yowl. And yet this noisy jam is a song of impotence, fear, retreat. The tension there - between agency and regret, a melody's question and its resolve. / (Thanks, Vinny Francois.)
- Yemi Alade ft Selebobo - "Na Gode" [buy]
All this cheerful gratitude. Nigerian pop-star Yemi Alade makes it sound easy - "na gode," she sings, thank you in Hausa - as if getting over hardship is as simple as lifting your voice.
- Joanna Newsom - "The Things I Say" [buy]
All of us have cherished artists whose roads diverge with ours. Newsom, once my favourite living songwriter, parted ways with me several years ago. That's OK; I am sad, not resentful. Many people love her recent wonders, those complicated story-songs, intricate and awe-inspiring, deep with references, pretty as Fabergé eggs. But I liked her more when she was stranger, when her music seemed less domesticated; when the songs were shorter, wronger, impulsive and direct. I need "Peach, Plum, Pear" more than "Sapokanikan". Accordingly, most of Divers isn't for me. Except for this. The lonesome chords, the backwards trick of the ending, the crooked images and perfect rhymes. "Our lives come easy and our lives come hard / we carry them like a pack of cards." I will take "The Things I Say"; I'll put it in my pocket.
- Ariel Sharratt & Mathias Kom - "Fuck the Government, I Love You" [buy]
A stupid, genius love-song; a New Year's tale of anti-folk, courtship, wine, rap and revolution. Burning Hell's Sharratt and Kom abandon conventional meter to find romance in awkward places, and it's outstanding.
- Carnage ft ILoveMakonnen - "I Like Tuh" [buy]
As you may have noted above, I have a deep affection for songs that are dumb and also sincere. Something about the decision to use lousy tools for earnest ends; it's not unlike the Jackass series, someone's idea that "the best way to make a piece of genuine entertainment is to punch myself in the face." There's an absurdity to that, a sweetness. Here, tenderhearted ILoveMakonnen repeats the same few lines over and over, stupid lines, stupid repetition, but there's a charmingly childlike aspect to his singsong explorations, as if he might discover something new by singing it a little different. For a beat, Carnage takes a slobbering club wobble and appends an unexpected piano coda - like the comedown from an acid trip, universal revelation in a shiny squib of guano.
- Katie Moore - "Baby Can I Hold You" [buy]
This Tracy Chapman cover, by one of Canada's loveliest singers, is full of sorrow and aglow with hope. The performer has had years to consider her apology. "Words don't come easily," she concedes."Like, 'I love you.' / I love you." But hope is a double-edged thing. Perhaps, after three easy minutes, the listener will regret the comfort they drew from that gleaming rhodes and welcoming guitar, from Moore's voice, from the rising tide of violin. Perhaps, after three easy minutes, they will find themselves sitting in uneasy silence. Yes, hope is a double-edged thing. It is a reason to keep going, a barricade against despair. But it's never a promise. There's no guarantee of a happy ending.
- Deforesters - "A Song for the Reptoids of Denver International Airport to Sing" [buy]
Giddy, raucous pop-hardcore from Toronto, painted as brightly as the murals around the corner from DEN airport's baggage claim. For fans of Titus Andronicus, Constantines, and all the heavier things. Set it as your alarm clock. (Thanks, Sam Sutherland.)
- Domenique Dumont - "La Bataille de Neige" [buy]
Strange soundtrack for a snowball fight, but so it is: a new song like an old song, half-coconut clip-clops and a dying dub 45, paradise on pause.
- Bully - "I Remember" [buy]
An exultant fuck-off, a scoaring self-inventory, a terrified goodbye, an anguished asking, or none of the above, while guitars cry havoc and the black sky doesn't give a shit.
- Jamie Woon - "Movement" [buy]
Woon's the true inheritor of Justin Timberlake's ambitions circa FutureSex/LoveSounds; "Movement" is soulful, funky and softly experimental, Timbaland filtered through dubstep's sounds, with a fourth-minute twist.
- Adele - "When We Were Young" [buy]
The chorus to Adele's "Hello" was one of the very best things released this year; too bad the rest of "Hello" is such an agonizing snooze. You don't want it in your home collection: better you go on hearing it out in the world, scraps of mighty refrain and none of the verses. Or listen to a marching band do it. But the best full song on 25 is this, "When We Were Young", written with Canadian indie troubadour Tobias Jesso Jr (for more of him, see last year). Adele's still shooting those arrowheads of longing, those short perfect darts, but even in its humbler moments the song gives off some glints. The bassline, the heart-tugging chords, it feels like something torn from a Muppet Movie songbook. In a good way.
- DeJ Loaf ft Big Sean - "Back Up" [buy]
Bare as a hand in the air, empty, stop-sign. DeJ Loaf's rhymes fit like LEGO into IRock's rolled-back drum machine; looks back to DJ Clent with a steady gaze, no hesitation.
- Ought - "Passionate Turn" [buy]
"Passionate Turn" is a song about a relationship that died in the distance between home and the road. But I can't work out if it seems sad or happy, triumphant or trounced. Part of the song's ambivalence is in the way Tim Beeler Darcy sings. Chameleonic, swinging from proud to forlorn, angry to wry, it's as if Darcy's face and feelings aren't quite in sync. The other part is Ought's music: these rangy guitars, warm but discordant, with a fortitude passed down from punk rock. Perhaps the passionate turn, the moment of clarity, is neither a victory nor a defeat; just the shape of things as they are.
- ANOHNI - "4 Degrees" [buy]
ANOHNI is Antony Hegarty, whose incredible, fluttering voice is at the forefront of the group Antony and the Johnsons. As ANOHNI she works with the electronic/dance producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, building a soundscape of terrifying scale: smashing drums, boiling synths, tidal waves of brass. The title is an allusion to the temperature rise that experts say would doom us, and Hegarty's refrain - "It's only four degrees" - is both the activist's rallying cry and the polluter's excuse. She never lets herself off the hook. "I want to burn the sky, I want to burn the breeze," she sings. "I want to see the animals die in the trees." Angry, mournful, awake to the fact that so long as we are not saving the world, we are damning it.
- Quivers - "Ridin' on the Hearses" [buy]
"Ridin' on the Hearses" commemorates a partnership with happy, defeated noisiness; with the Go-Betweens' soft-shoed swagger. A chorus that splits open beautifully, "You and I will go ridin' on the hearses / til we break down." And horns at the bridge, waiting for the guitars."What is love but a series of curses? / In the end it's always worth i-i-it." The slipperiness of the end of that line, the perilous slide. Jumping a fence, you sometimes get cut.
- OMI - "Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn radio edit)" [buy]
This trifle was quite possibly the song of summer 2015. Like a kite, it seemed to get caught on every gust of air. Completely inoffensive but occasionally there's a need for that: a coconut water, a Werther's original, perfectly & temporarily satiating, something that won't leave a mark.
- Petite Noir - "Chess" [buy]
An R&B of subtle tactics, pieces of rock'n'roll, genders slipping, voices darting, furtive and big-hearted.
- Danny L Harle - "Awake for Hours" [buy]
PC Music's Harle with a song that sounds like a crashing jukebox, a remix of a remix, joyful & cartoony & smokin', banana-peel, virtuoso. (Previously.)
- The Adam Brown - "Can't Sleep" [buy]
Years in the making, the Adam Brown's album Sometimes I Try follows a full cycle of alternative rock trends. Back when the band got started, the kids were thronging to exultant, catchy guitar hooks - from Nada Surf, Sloan and Fountains of Wayne CDs to commercial classics by Weezer and Foo Fighters. Yet electric guitars lost ground in the late 2000s: chugging power pop gave way to digital drum machines and acoustic ho hey. Happily for this song, everything is nineties again in 2015: plaid's back, and The X-Files, and the Adam Brown's glorious, cascading guitars.
- Svantana - "Workin' In A Cocktail Bar" [soundcloud]
A silly, brilliant remix of the Human League's 1981 single, "Don't You Want Me", with most of the words taken out. As idiotically perfect as a cocktail umbrella, a diamond-cut piece of fruit.
- The Weeknd - "Often" [buy]
Sometimes the Weeknd's particular flavour of misogyny is too much for me. Here it's OK: there's enough desire in it, power uncertainly held. Sex and drugs, a hook-up like eyelids over eyes. Emma an essential read.
- Sufjan Stevens - "All Of Me Wants All Of You" [buy]
Not unlike the Weeknd, in its way; something dark and ambivalent in "All Of Me Wants All Of You"; sex and text-messages, a thick cloud you're dwelling in. My favourite on Carrie and Lowell for the confusion at its heart, the not-quite-right; powerful, ugly, pretty.
- Beirut - "Gibraltar" [buy]
Zach Condon sings a line of maybes, ambivalences, nothing Beirut or Gibraltar about it. A chunky piano riff, shaker and drumskins, the snake-snap of percussion.
- Ty Dollar Sign ft Charli XCX and Tinashe - "Drop That Kitty" [buy]
Sometimes you find that part of your soul is yearning for a track about moving body-parts around. As precise as jawbreakers from a jawbreaker machine.
- Deradoorian - "A Beautiful Woman" [buy]
Prismatic guitar-riffs and Angel Deradoorian's refracting voice, Alice (of Wonderland) after her first handful of cake. (Thank you again, Michael Barclay.)
- Marie-Pierre Arthur - "Rien à faire" [buy]
Québec's Marie-Pierre Arthur in an homage to Fleetwood Mac, heart full of verve. (Thanks, Kevin Laforest.)
- Tori Kelly - "Nobody Love" [buy]
Hopeful and rainbow-coloured, a love-song in sidewalk chalk.
- Coldplay - "Birds" [buy]
Coldplay don't have anything to teach us. But they're still learning, now and then: new sounds, faster gallops, a motorik backing for those wistful couplets, Edge-like guitars, that supervised cresting.
- Mac Demarco - "TheWay You'd Love Her" [buy]
A song like a very wobbly garden. Or like a melting bouquet, an ice-cream cone, a warped record by lonely Teenage Fanclub. DeMarco's abandoned the Montreal sound for a Brighton beach breeze: he's sailing or sallying, moony-eyed, askin' for a girl or a guitar solo to take a risk on him. This is, I would say, a ditty. Slap it on a flexi disc and send it in the mail.
- Cosmo Sheldrake ft Anndreyah Vargas - "Rich" [buy]
Ramshackle hip-hop, whimsical and light, redeemed by every time its cat purrs.
- Jib Kidder - "Appetites" [buy]
Stuart took the bucket and and went out into the yard. Across the pungent mud and over the pricking fence, into the shadow of the barn. There were tiny starry twinkles at the corner of his sight. The sheep smelled like sheep. They baaaed like those toys at the shop on high street, a sour sound like cherries. Stuart put down the bucket. He thought to himself, I am high. He rubbed his face and fetched one of the sheep, grabbed it by the collar, but then he had to let it go so he could rub his face again and plug in the razor. Sun was roaring into the barn through the gap in the rafters. Straw was flying like ticker-tape. The baaaas like cherries. The sheep looked this way and that. It smiled like a happy grandma. It was skinny and weird, hot and animal. Stuart felt like a field of cotton, a field of soft fluffy cotton like you see on TV.
And that's 2015's century of songs, or the way they seem today. There are so many that didn't make it, that I wish I were pointing you to. Thank you to everyone who sent some favourites in. There will be so many I've missed (there are so many I'm already remembering). Maybe make your own suggestions in the comments.
At Said the Gramophone we spent the year writing about as many wonderful songs as we could, and old songs too, treasures kept in chests. If you're new to the site, please come again (or subscribe). We update almost every weekday, penning tales about the tunes that make us think YES
Thanks for reading, sorry for the broken links, please support these artists with your money. (Invest in things that are important.) Be kind to each other, burn things down, do better.
Posted by Sean at December 7, 2015 9:00 AM
Mbongwana Star Yes! Yes! Yes!
Fascinating list — I've only heard of four or five of them, I don't have ANY of them in my collection, and I suspect I would actively dislike many of the choices. That said, if I were to to take the time (and considerable effort) to list my "top 100" your response to my list would be similar to my response to yours. The sheer amount of available music is staggering — something for everyone, too much for most of us. Thanks for your list and your comments...
Congrats on another brilliant list. Listening now - being exposed to so many new tunes that are cracking me open. So good guys. And beautiful writing!
Always look forward to this list. Never disappoints!
I can't thank you (all of you) enough for the music and the words on here... so thank you.
aces as always Sean! is there a spotify playlist of this lineup yet?
Awesome list :) I need to check out some of these soon. Perhaps you would like Colleen's "Captain of None" and Tropic of Cancer's "Stop Suffering"?
Thanks Sean. My friends and I use your yearly list to start and an email chain about what we've found through the year and are always introduced to new material. May you live a thousand years and never list Alicia Keys again!
i look forward to this post every year! thanks for everything you all do!
Sean, this is one of my favourite parts of the year's end. Thank you & lots of love!
lovely as always Sean, thank you.
Every year, I come to this site in early December and refresh and refresh and refresh until this post eventually shows up. I then download the 3 zips, upload the mp3's into my ipod, then drive around town for the next few weeks sifting through your list. I then make my own list of favorites from your favorites, chipping it down to about 20. I then listen to those 20 songs over and over again until spring. Thanks for helping me yet again to have a wonderful winter soundtrack for my life. Your blog is a gift.
Thank you so much, I look forward to your list every year!
I love this list every year, thanks again for the sterling effort. And to compliment this list, here's my own Top 50 Tracks of 2015. The difference being, my tracks are more electronic music based: http://theletter.co.uk/blog/top-50-tracks-of-2015. Enjoy!
Always love seeing what you choose. Every December I download the newest set of 100 songs, my wife and I listen to it in heavy rotation over the next couple of months, and we invariably buy a handful of albums as a result. Thanks for continuing to introduce us to new sounds!
(I agree about the earlier mix of "Realiti" being superior to the album version—Grimes should have vocal reverb; it's part of being on 4AD.)
Thank you for this, which is now a holiday tradition for me.
Just gotta echo the sentiments above - I look forward to your list every year and always discover a bunch of gems that find their place in my daily rotation of songs... thank you so much!
Love your end of year lists! Always find so many tracks that absolutely floor me! Have been checking out and looking forward to these lists every year since 2012.
You guys rule!
I, Donald Trumpet, endorse this great website Said the Gramophone and their consistently boner-inducing end of year lists.
That is all.
Donald ('The Trumbone') Trumpet
(A.K.A POTUS 2016)
about said the gramophone
This is a daily sampler of really good songs
. All tracks are posted out of love
. Please go out and buy the records
To hear a song in your browser, click the
and it will begin playing. All songs are also available to download: just right-click the link and choose 'Save as...'
All songs are removed within a few weeks of posting.
Said the Gramophone
launched in March 2003, and added songs in November of that year. It was one of the world's first mp3blogs.
If you would like to say hello, find out our mailing addresses or invite us to shows, please get in touch:
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Please don't send us emails with tons of huge attachments; if emailing a bunch of mp3s etc, send us a link to download them. We are not interested in streaming widgets like soundcloud: Said the Gramophone posts are always accompanied by MP3s.
If you are the copyright holder of any song posted here, please contact us
if you would like the song taken down early. Please do not direct link
to any of these tracks. Please love and wonder.
"And I shall watch the ferry-boats / and they'll get high on a bluer ocean / against tomorrow's sky / and I will never grow so old again."
about the authors
is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors
. Follow him on Twitter
or reach him by email here
. Click here
to browse his posts.
writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This
is her website and email her here
is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True
and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter
is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker
in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here
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wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here
to browse his posts. Email him here
wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star
. Click here
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our favourite blogs
(◊ means they write about music)
Back to the World
A Grammar (Nitsuh Abebe)
A London Salmagundi
Words and Music
Gorilla vs Bear
Clouds of Evil
The Dolby Apposition
Awesome Tapes from Africa
Pitchfork Reviews Reviews
i like you [podcast]
Wattled Smoky Honeyeater
The Clear-Minded Creative
Passion of the Weiss
Juan and Only
Then Play Long (Marcello Carlin)
Coming Up For Air (Matt Forsythe)
my love for you is a stampede of horses
It's Nice That
Song, by Toad
In FocusAMASS BLOG
The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross)
My Daguerreotype Boyfriend
The Hood Internet
things we like in Montreal
le pick up
au pied de cochon
vices & versa
+ paltoquet, cocoa locale, idée fixe, patati patata, the sparrow, pho tay ho, qin hua dumplings, caffé italia, hung phat banh mi, caffé san simeon, meu-meu, pho lien, romodos, patisserie guillaume, patisserie rhubarbe, kazu, lallouz, maison du nord, cuisine szechuan &c
drawn + quarterly
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blue skies turn black
montreal improv theatre
cinema du parc
yoga teacher Thea Metcalfe
The Morning News