One of music’s finest qualities is that, for all its unifying power, it strikes different people in radically different ways. There is value in recognizing consensus, in appreciating the work that resonates with a broad swath of humanity, so every year the Stereogum staff teams up to generate a list of the year’s best albums. It’s not easy to agree on which musicians strung together a compelling collection of songs — scrutinizing and debating a collaborative list is part of the fun — but that task is a lot easier than settling on which of those songs shined the brightest. So when celebrating the finest individual tracks of the past 12 months, we defer to the profoundly personal.
As was our practice in 2013 and 2014, rather than scraping together a unified list of the year’s best tracks, each member of the Stereogum staff ranked their 10 favorite songs of the year. Our usual restrictions were in place: No song could appear on more than one writer’s list, and all of our choices had to be available on either Spotify or SoundCloud so that we could share them with you in playlist form. Otherwise, anything and everything was fair game.
Each of us adores an abundance of music, but at the expense of many deserving contenders, we managed to wrangle 12 months of sensory overload into the eight meticulously assembled time capsules below. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did. –Chris DeVille
In October, for the first time in 12 years or so, I started paying for streaming music. I rarely use my Apple Music subscription, though, and I have yet to tune in to Beats 1 radio. I’m still listening almost exclusively to MP3s. I suppose it’s also old school that many of the songs that resonated most with me this year were singles from label-released albums that I enjoyed front-to-back. There was Colleen Green’s clever, caustic pop-punk. Clearheaded, roots-rock tales from Jason Isbell. The nervy but assured Fall-isms of Ought. Kendrick Lamar’s powerful exposition on racial politics. Those releases all landed on this site’s 50 Best Albums Of 2015 list and heavily rotated collections from A$AP Rocky, Tamaryn, and Pure Bathing Culture get honorable mentions in my book. The LP is not dead! I guess Beck is the outlier here, since “Dreams” came out six months ago and the followup to Morning Phase still hasn’t been announced. It’s his funkiest song in this century, the artistry so undeniable Taylor Swift brought it to the Staples Center. So in summation this was a banner year for cohesive album-length statements and also for a Beck song that is my ringtone. At least you don’t have to pay extra for that anymore.
I can never bring myself to put anything sad or moody on one of these lists. When it comes to single-serving songs, the hook, for me, rules over everything else. I like bright, bold melodies and instantly memorable hooks. I like anthems. And that encompasses pretty much everything on this list. The one marginally sad song is a garbled, zoned-out Future track that still boomed out of thousands of passing cars this summer. Or maybe it’s the graceful glide of a Justin Bieber comeback hit, the one that people thought was rapey when really it was just about romantic confusion. The happiest is also the catchiest: The Iggy Azalea-jacking R&B jam about dressing better than everyone. The hardest is the British grime banger about shutting down fashion shows. And some of the best moments come from ostensibly indie acts who made their best-ever pop songs: Jamie xx teaming up with a reggae howler and a rap revolutionary to make pool-party gold, Chvrches weaponizing Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” riff, Tame Impala more or less rewriting Madonna’s “Live To Tell” into something dick-centric. And that makes sense. After all, right now, everything is the margins.
I listen to lots of music that isn’t metal at all, and if this list were a 100-percent accurate representation of my favorite songs of 2015, it would include a whole bunch of those non-metal songs: Grimes’ “Belly Of The Beat”; Car Seat Headrest’s “Something Soon”; Carly Rae Jepsen’s “When I Needed You;” Hamilton’s “Wait For It”… But there are eight writers contributing to this feature, and of that group, I’m the only one who regularly listens to and thinks about metal, so I decided to limit my focus here to include only metal songs, to show some additional love to the genre I love most. Furthermore, how does one compare Horrendous’ “Sum Of All Failures” to Ellie Goulding’s “On My Mind”? I’m a huge fan of both, but they’ve got entirely different standards and goals. Anyway, the 10 songs below represent a remarkable year for metal. Listening to them back to back, I notice some shared sensibilities: These are all spacious songs, humongous songs. They all feature some unfairly sharp hooks; they all build to some pretty euphoric climaxes. They’re not songs that beat you down; they’re songs that lift you. I’ve listened to each of these songs at least a hundred times and I’m not sick of any of ‘em. So I’m glad I don’t have to compare this stuff to anything else, because how could anything else compare to this?
For the first time in what feels like a decade, albums meant more to me than singles this year. So many songs captured my imagination, but usually in the context of excellent tracks piling up into a transcendent whole. Even in that macro state of mind, certain micro moments seized my psyche: the resounding saxophone drop that inaugurates “Run Away With Me,” Kevin Parker’s voice laser-beaming across the cavernous chorus of “Eventually,” that breathless upward guitar spiral that bursts out of “Luna” for a few precious seconds before plunging back into hell. “Dimed Out” so electrified me that I must have played it 15 times in a row the day it came out. I cannot stop bouncing whenever “Jumpman” is on. I often sing the “My Way” chorus to my newborn daughter because it is catchy and I am a dork. And while some of these songs felt like treasured secrets among the initiated — the tender tandem of “Make It Holy” and “Vacation,” for instance — others seemed more resonant the more universal they became. Oppressed people will be chanting “Alright” for years. All people will be singing “Hello” at karaoke for decades. Even in a year dominated by complete bodies of work, these fragments stood out — and since nobody seems to know the difference between an album and a mixtape anymore, consider this one more stunning collection of music in a year full of them.
In a year where it seemed like increasingly worse shit happened every day, I started to feel more disconnected and jaded than ever before, so I turned to songs to help me ride out the highs and the lows. The ones I gravitated towards and kept on a loop tended to fall into two categories: glittering, immediate bursts dedicated to things like scorned desire (“When I Needed You”) and celebratory narcissism (“Picture This”), or dark pits that felt familiar and cathartic to sink down into (“I Can Be Afraid Of Anything,” “Deathless”). There are tracks that deal with crushing, resolved disappointment (“Flesh Without Blood”), colossal indifference (“Bad Blood”), bitter longing (“Sandspurs,” “Just Like You”), finding your voice against all odds (“The Thunder Answered Back”) — I may have had a hard time mustering up any enthusiasm for this year, but thankfully these were here to put words in my mouth and feelings in my head, even when I found it difficult to articulate them myself. As one of the songs below pleads, “God grant me the strength to know what is a brain problem, and what is just me.” 2015 was a banner year for music, and we should be thankful for that, because it’s probably one of the years we needed it the most.
Gabriela Tully Claymore
When I made this list last year, I had a few Major Life Themes in mind, but this time around, I wasn’t really sure what my own personal “year in music” should look like. 2015 was one of the most tumultuous, exciting, terrifying, fun years in recent memory, and there are so many artists that I can thank for picking my sorry ass up off the ground at low points. And so, this list is about strength. It’s a collection of songs that I listen to when I need to feel like I’m standing 10 feet-tall, staring my enemies down with my eyebrows raised like: “Whaddup?” They’re all spit-fire declarations of power; aggressive, over-the-top assertions that “I Am The Best.” Inaugurating the list is “Jump Off The Roof,” a song that displays Vince Staples’ confident-as-fuck wordplay at its finest despite its dire content, and boasts my favorite one-liner of the year: “Then it’s fine baby girl, I don’t need a rubber/ Nothing wrong in the world with another mother.” “Miniskirt,” “Sabbath” and “Raising The Skate” are all unflinching discussions of gender dynamics, feminist anthems in their own right. The bravery heard in those declarations echoes back in the music of Hop Along, All Dogs, and Mothers, all of whom never hesitate to make huge, internal revelations public, exemplified when Frances Quinlan growls: “The world’s gotten so small and embarrassing!” Indeed, it has, but when that feeling gets to be too much, I just hole up in my apartment with the similarly claustrophobic I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside on repeat or dance to “Big Rings” until it feels like there’s a little more breathing room out there in the universe. And when I’m tugging at my chains, ready to bounce back, “Kill V Maim” will soundtrack my return. Bring on 2016.
My initial intention going into this list was to use it to spotlight personal favorites that didn’t make it onto our 50 Best Albums list — honorable mentions in song form, basically. And to some extent, that’s what it ended up being, as only four of these tracks come from albums on that list. The problem with my plan, though, was that I just couldn’t leave those four off. This is supposed to be a list of favorites, and you don’t get to choose your favorites, not really; they choose you. They’re the ones that stay with you unbidden, the ones you can’t shake, the ones you throw on a party playlist and savor alone in your room and play to impress a crush. They soundtrack moments both extraordinary and mundane, accumulating interlocking patterns of meaning and memory as their play counts rack up. It’s hard to say exactly what they mean to you because they mean so many things, while simultaneously meaning nothing more than the precise sequence of sounds and words that combined in just the right order to laser themselves into your gray matter. Sequences like Frances Quinlan’s voice finding 12 new ways to tear itself to shreds as she sings “the witness just wants to talk to you” over the guitar breakdown at the end of “The Knock,” or Arthur Ashin wrestling cinematic abstraction into an actual pop song midway through “Age Of Transparency,” or pretty much all of “TV.” These are my songs. Maybe they’re yours, too.
I thought 2014 was a blurry and transient year, and then I spent something like half of 2015 on the road — working on tours, traveling for profiles and festivals, etc., etc. It was a year defined by places and friends far-flung from one another, versions of my life that might not intersect whatsoever, but then sometimes did in strange ways. It often felt like I was flitting in between different narratives that proceeded alongside each other — parallel, but with me filling a different role in each. So, my favorite songs of 2015 came together similarly to 2014’s list: this is the music that followed me around the country (or various countries) over the course of 2015. “Loud Places” sounds like sunrise walks in Barcelona and life reverberating between grey-faced, industrial architecture in Helsinki. “Go Out” soundtracked the first step outside into dozens of nights in a dozen places. “Fired Up” was the sound of the Northeast, which is the sound of home; it reinvigorated me whenever I felt totally burnt out and frayed. That unshakeable drumbeat in “Compound Fracture” pounded in my head on countless mornings, whether in Los Angeles or Colorado or Las Vegas, only rivaled by the spiraling swagger of “Pretty Pimpin.” These have become little memory capsules for me, in a way more extreme manner than music usually does anyway. They’re the markers that define the frenetic and winding road my life took until I found myself back here in New York, maybe stationary for the first time in a long time. It’s been a hell of a year. I’m glad these songs are around to always remind me of that.
Here are all the songs collected into one convenient playlist: