This week, instead of our usual Songs of the Week post (which will return next week), we asked Vulture editors to pick their 2015 songs of the year. You'll find all of them conveniently located on our Spotify playlist.
Alabama Shakes, "Sound & Color"
Alabama Shakes were one of 2015’s subtle winners, due in large part to an admirably multifaceted sophomore LP, Sound & Color. The title track and opening number there is so cinematic, Apple used it to sell people on the graphic wonders of the iPad Pro — a cosmic commercial that I’m slightly ashamed to say made me appreciate the scale of “Sound & Color” even more (it would not be the first time an Apple ad has pulled that same trick). From the kid-friendly flutter of the xylophone to the increasingly unhinged orchestra à la Radiohead, “Sound & Color” combines a lot of small, familiar sonic tricks to create something new and big, with singer Brittany Howard’s call and response at the center. The Shakes are the most exciting middlebrow rock act right now, and this song is another testament to that. —Jillian Mapes (@jumonsmapes)
Erykah Badu feat. André 3000, “Hello”
When we think of such extraterrestrial minds as Erykah Badu and André 3000, it’s hard to imagine either of them concerned with the politics of modern technology like the rest of us basics. Then Badu goes and drops an entire mixtape dedicated to the subject — particularly the language of phones — as an extended reading of Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” Turns out, Badu and Dre’s only lasting loveline exists on a cell-u-lar device, and it’s through that newfangled thing (to Dre, especially, I’m sure) that they still confront unrequited love the way teenagers do. Their voices practically float over the light-as-a-feather production. Romance in the digital age is a difficult art, but these two old souls have clearly solved the mystery. —Dee Lockett (@dee_lockett)
Julien Baker, "Something"
In August, I called this my favorite song of the year. It was a bold claim, with four more months of music yet to come out. But guys, I nailed! As a person with a job, I tend to first hear all music while doing something else, especially when it's an artist I've never heard of. "Something" was no different, at least at first. But then Julien's voice came in, and I froze. Typically, that happens with some jarring belt, but Julien did it through the power of vulnerability. The song sounds as if it were written and recorded in the exact moment the events that inspired it took place. When she sings, "I can't think of anyone, anyone else," you feel like that is truly the case as she's singing. I choked up upon the first listen. I still choke up now. (While you're here, you might as well read my interview with her.) —Jesse David Fox (@jessedavidfox)
Justin Bieber, "Sorry"
This Caribbean-tinged song is one of the breezier, sultrier songs on Justin Bieber's album. He's been doing the R&B game justice since Journals, but Purpose really knocked it out of the park, and this single is the best that Bieber has ever released. It's addictive and frantic while managing to have a laid-back groove that will warm you with good feelings while you're shaking it on the dance floor. "Sorry" manages to sound brand-new and inventive every time you listen to it, which is all you ever need from a pop song. —Ira Madison III (@ira)
Blur, “My Terracotta Heart”
This bittersweet traipse through the winding, sometimes-turbulent relationship between Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon doesn’t sound immediately Blur-y, but it has all the best qualities of what made the Britpop band iconic. The interplay between Coxon’s slippery guitar riffs and Albarn’s desolation, and the dry, persistent percussion that never wavers, seems to cover the entire emotional spectrum of the band’s decade-long lapse between albums. —Greg Cwik (@)
Cat’s Eyes, “Door No. 2”
Peter Strickland’s licentious drama The Duke of Burgundy has been slighted as the year’s “other lesbian movie,” falling below the more marquee-friendly Carol, which is a grave injustice to a masterful film. Duke is as profoundly sad as it is funny, its earnest look at BDSM, deeply saturated visual palette, and fairy-tale aura unlike anything else to appear onscreen in 2015. One of the best parts of the film is the sublime score by alt-pop duo Cat’s Eyes, which comprises the Horrors’ Faris Badwan and soprano Rachel Zeffira. “Door No. 2,” a slightly altered reprisal of the cleaner “Door No. 1” (Cat’s Eyes play with a lot of the same structural ideas that Krzysztof Komeda did with his iconic Rosemary’s Baby score), lasts less than two minutes, but it conjures a powerfully sensuous feeling, those rhythmic moans getting closer and closer with each repetition, the harpsichord accruing more notes until it reaches the climactic crescendo. —GC
Chance the Rapper feat. Saba, “Angels”
Was there an artist more woke in 2015 than Chicago's Chance the Rapper? He always put his city first. On SNL, he debuted a song that features Chicago R&B’s past (R. Kelly) and future (Jeremih), a repeat gesture for Chance, who, back in October, transformed Colbert’s Late Show set into a South Side playground. “Angels” celebrates juke, footwork, hyperlocal lingo, and all the cultural richness of Chicago that Kanye West works into his own music — a fact Chance alludes to throughout the song — but that a perpetual state of war has threatened to erase from public memory. Not on Chance’s watch. —DL
Dan Deacon, "When I Was Done Dying"
I found myself returning to this song again and again throughout the year when I needed to reset my brain. I recommend listening to it very loudly on headphones, as that's the only way to unpack the lyrics and Deacon's delightful panoply of warbling chirps, gurgles, blips, blobs, and tales of rebirth. —Lauretta Charlton (@laurettaland)
Deafheaven, “Gifts for the Earth”
The first 30 seconds of New Bermuda’s closing track could easily be mistaken for a Mineral song, with the clean guitars whirring in lovely harmony. Really, if George Clarke’s shrieking didn’t drift into the song like whorls of fresh air in a hot room, you might not even know this was a Deafheaven song. Mostly devoid of the band’s early black-metal trappings, “Gifts for the Earth” is almost a straight-up post-rock song, its affability a daring move from a band that cut its teeth on distortion and guitar chuggage. Purists be damned, this song — this album — mingle genres that have always stayed as far apart as boys and girls at a middle-school dance. —GC
Drake, “Hotline Bling"
Adele may have dominated album sales just before Thanksgiving, but no one dominated 2015 quite like Drake did. If You're Reading This It's Too Late and What a Time to Be Alive are full of hits, but this random iTunes single that didn't even accompany a new album was a thing of beauty. For those who listened to it on its release, it might have gotten stuck in your mind just a tad, but when the video was released, there was absolutely no avoiding it. This song and everything around it is the culmination of the Year of Drake. It inspired memes, covers, and the best part is the song itself is just really damn good. —IM
Fall Out Boy, “Uma Thurman"
To deny that Fall Out Boy are awesome is to deny happiness in your life. Evolving from an okay pop-punk band to a band that secretly made one of the best R&B albums of the last decade (the Babyface-produced Infinity on High), they've been killing the game without the recognition they deserve. They've never truly made a bad album, and American Beauty/American Pyscho is one of their best. The true standout of the album is "Uma Thurman," which sounds like Weezer's "Hash Pipe" on steroids. Who knew we'd live in a world where multiple rock bands have sampled the theme from The Munsters? —IM
Grimes, "Kill v. Maim"
Just as “California” proved that Grimes was capable of outwriting the pop majors, another Art Angels highlight established her dominance over the “sinister Jock Jams” genre dominated in recent years by Sleigh Bells and PC Music in very different ways. Sonically, “Kill v. Maim” makes slipping into the front row at SoulCycle seem like no bigs (hahaha), while lyrically, Grimes essentially takes Marilyn Monroe’s tired “Well-behaved women seldom make history” quote and twists it into a mantra you’re not embarrassed to use. —JM
Charles Hamilton feat. Rita Ora, “New York Raining"
This song featured in the first-season finale of Empire was the one sign that, despite what you think of her, Rita Ora can sing. The up-tempo R&B track has horns blaring and a jazzy, lounge atmosphere that's an ode to the magical city of New York. Charles Hamilton and Ora play off each other well, delivering one of the actual best R&B collaborations of the year (sorry, Omarion). —IM
Jenny Hval, “That Battle Is Over"
“That Battle Is Over,” by the Norwegian artist and writer Jenny Hval, asks tough questions about identity and quietly demands the answers from the listener. Over a hip-sauntering beat that’s as much lounge act as it is Portishead, Hval whispers, “What is it to take care of yourself?” and presents the options: Is the key to happiness in what science and society suggest, or does it come from following our own instincts astray? By the time the song ends, you still won’t know, but you also won’t be able to stop wondering. —JM
Hop Along, "Waitress"
Oooh boy, I was so cheesed off that Lindsay Zoladz got to write about "Waitress" for Songs of the Week back in March that I wrote a 1,700-word profile of the band, filled with all the superlatives I had in my bag of superlatives. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings I needed to get out because so rarely am I this thunderstruck by an artist. The band's 2015 release, Painted Shut, is, hands down, my favorite record of the year, and "Waitress" remains my favorite song off it. Despite it being my first exposure to the band, I've never grown tired of it. It's a truly dynamic song. The instrumentation pushes and pulls — builds and relieves — so even on the 50th listen, it's still surprising. —JDF
Jamie xx, “SeeSaw”
Channeling Brian Eno (as well as Brian Wilson), Jamie xx imbues In Colour with a kind of ineffable cohesion, something you can’t describe but you can feel. You feel it in the structure, in the soundscape, in the unexpected instruments rendered somehow familiar. He builds a narrative that reveals itself through the album’s architecture, each song adding another story. “SeeSaw,” a song whose beauty grows with each listen, reveals an emotional vulnerability. Reverb-steeped notes echo as Romy Croft’s vocals, clipped and culled and layered like so many stitches in a quilt, proffer an elegy for a love betrayed. The brilliance of the song lies in its texture, and the way Jamie xx makes electronic instruments feel as natural as any acoustic instrument. —GC
Jamie xx feat. Young Thug and Popcaan, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (GoodTimes)”
Every year, there’s an unspoken division between the Song of Summer according to the charts and the Song of Summer according to the streets. The summer of 2014 saw Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” versus Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga,” but 2015 bridged the two metrics considerably with both Fetty Wap and Silento making a legitimate run until the Weeknd exploded. But the Song of Summer according to the blogs this year belonged to Jamie xx. For his debut album, the xx beat-master fully dove into the Caribbean influence that’s always driven his remixes by slapping, of all people, Young Thug and Popcaan on a steel-drum-heavy dance-hall riddim that generously samples the Persuasions. It should’ve been a head-scratcher for all the wrong reasons, but instead, it’s the brightest spot in an already iridescent year for dance music. Demi Lovato and Maroon 5 both dropped tracks with “summer” in their titles, and still, nothing captured the season like “Good Times.” —DL
La Bagatelle Magique feat. Maluca, "Love Is Free”
If you want a master class in dance music, ease into your education with dance-pop veteran Robyn and her latest side project, La Bagatelle Magique, formed with the late dance experimenter Christian Falk and her keyboardist Markus Jägerstedt. She tried this kind of one-off gratification with Röyksopp last year to great effect. As a whole, that mini-album (as she categorizes these things) is far worth mentioning, but if we’re talking individual tracks, none of it holds a candle to “Love Is Free." Dance to it on your own or with thousands. —DL
Kendrick Lamar, “The Blacker the Berry”
You don’t earn 11 Grammy noms playing it safe, and in just under five and a half minutes, Kendrick made the riskiest song of the year by declaring himself “the biggest hypocrite of 2015.” What does it mean to occupy a black body in present-day America? Ta-Nehisi Coates won a National Book Award and earned Genius recognition trying to answer that. For Kendrick, it means wrestling with an inherited, systematic sense of self-hatred. It seeps into every thought, every action; it makes you want to rip off the black skin you could be shot for. It makes you want to murder anyone else who’s black like you. It makes you want to take your own black life. All of Kendrick’s words (Vulture has named some of his best) are steeped in vitriol aimed at an omnipresent oppressor, whether it’s “the heart of a fucking Aryan” or himself, for feeling powerless to break the cycle. Why did Kendrick "weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street, when gang-banging made [him] kill a nigga blacker than [him]?" Because not even writing the new Black National Anthem (“Alright”) can erase a lifetime of guilt the black body’s born to bear. —DL
I’d buy Miguel’s Prince bona fides over the Weeknd’s MJ comparisons any day — especially after Wildheart. No album made me want to simultaneously speak out and shack up more this year, with the latter category of songs epitomized by “FLESH.” One way of looking at R&B’s recent obsession with sounding more twisted than ever is that the genre’s striving to emulate the true nature of sexuality; in this arena, “FLESH” doesn’t quite reach FKA Twigs levels, but if you generally don’t mind Miguel’s slight lingering cheesiness (“I’m a slave for your flesh,” he growls, “woman put me right where I belong”), the song is a dark rapture. —JM
Travi$ Scott, "Antidote"
I saw Beyoncé twice this year, and both times she and her incredible dancers (a.k.a. my spirit animals) performed an all-too-brief routine over a sample of this song. You could say I've been trying to re-create this exact moment at various parties ever since.—LC
Kamasai Washington, “Change of the Guard”
To call The Epic “ambitious” is to dilute the meaning of the word. Washington and his murderer’s row of prodigious jazz musicians open the three-hour album with a wholly accessible 12-minute jazz-theory lesson; “Change of the Guard” touches every major composer from the second half of the 20th century, from Herbie Hancock to John Coltrane, Miles Davis to Charles Mingus. Fingers scurry across piano keys as cymbals crash in rolling waves. The song, like the rest of the album, has the liveliness and limberness of free jazz without the confusion. “Change of the Guard” displays Washington’s understanding and appreciation of the jazz greats; the next two hours and 50 minutes make a persuasive argument that Washington is vying to join them.—GC
Rarely do you find songs this good that are based on a visual joke. The title of the song is a symbolic homonym, as it is both the mathematical symbol for less than and the musical symbol for a crescendo. Katie Crutchfield sings, "You're less than me and I am nothing," over and over as the music builds. Considering the antithetical meanings, the song takes on a unique mixture of sweet and sour — it's optimistically pessimistic — imbuing it with a messy humanity. People aren't just one thing, and Crutchfield is brilliantly able to capture all the contradictions and inconsistencies here. —JDF
When you first hear Kelly Zutrau's voice on this track, you might think she sounds like Enya, which already wins her some points, but as the song progresses, her voice takes on a different dynamic; there's a clarity and distinction to it that, as I learned seeing the band open for Tobias Jesso Jr. earlier this year, does not give way in a live setting, nor does it get tiresome after repeat listens. Wet have been called a sort of indie-R&B act, but I hesitate with that designation because their sound, particularly Zutrau's voice, is not that. Maybe she's more Lisa Stansfield than Enya. Maybe both comparisons are off. Listening to this song, I keep trying to put my finger on who or what Wet sound like, but I always come up with answers that don't quite work well enough. So I keep listening, and it never gets old. The band's debut album, out next month, will surely be one of 2016's best. Too soon? Nope. —LC
Zedd feat. Selena Gomez, “I Want You to Know”
Selena Gomez's album Revival is fire. There's plenty of tracks that are some of the best pop music produced this year, like "Kill 'Em With Kidness" and "Me & the Rhythm." But the song that announced the arrival of a new, fiercer Gomez was this dance track with en vogue producer Zedd. It's not like anything else on the album she released later in the year, but the thundering beat and her breathy vocals delivered what will be a welcome staple in clubs for years to come. —IM