We skipped 5 Best Songs last week because of Christmas; we probably could’ve skipped it this week because of New Year’s, but man, the songs were stacking up. Anyway, if we were going for accuracy rather than consistency, this list would be titled The 5 Best Songs Of This Week And Last Week, as a few of these things actually came out before Christmas and we couldn’t just ignore them. Whatever you want to call it, you couldn’t possibly ask for a more bountiful holiday haul than this one.
Maybe I don’t actually like Thom Yorke when he’s angry? He’s pretty good at growling, and his low-end grumble has been responsible for a handful of incredible moments. But even on Radiohead’s “A Wolf At The Door,” a song on which Yorke does his best featherweight Tom Waits impression, the real jackpot was when he scraped off the gravel and bursted into sweet melodic coos — the withering, worried soul behind his protective fatherly exterior. When I first heard Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, the album Yorke released by surprise last fall, I was taken by its rhythms, textures, and the sense that Yorke was delivering a powerful statement. A few months later, the album hasn’t had the staying power I expected, but this new B-side has already lodged itself among the highlights of his solo career. Melody has always been Yorke’s strongest suit, and with “Youwouldn’tlikemewhenI’mangry” he delivered his prettiest song all year. All the quirks of Electronic Yorke are in place — that is, it sounds like it was downloaded from a cyborg’s dream space. It stands out, though, for that soaring falsetto, unimaginably powerful in its fragility. –Chris
There are more than a few moments of solid gold to be found on the “Down 4 So Long” remix, most of which spill out from artfully penned lyrics. Always hyper-articulate but never too serious, Ezra Koenig raps, “I hate myself, I think Americans are wack, but other countries got me feelin’ weird like afternoon naps.” His verses are a fuck you to New York elitism, but Koenig knows he’s implicated in it and isn’t afraid to be self-disparaging, “Went to the Hamptons and I thought I was the man/ till Mary Kate said my Ray-Bans were off-brand.” Despot’s verses are less tongue-in-cheek, but just as clever: “Got a way with words you lucky you got away with your life.” Cushioned by Makonnen’s original hook, the song is a tidy celebration of all three artists. –Gabriela
Getting dumped sucks, but at the very least you’re left on a receiving line of unbridled sympathy — people are going to feel bad for you, regardless of whether or not it’s deserved. Sometimes it sucks more to be the person doing the dumping, the one openly admitting that maybe they’re better off alone. “Georgia” is a song about breaking up with someone who people tend to think is just “such a nice person,” and having a hard time figuring out why you don’t appreciate them in the same way. It’s an immersive work of self-reflection that hangs on the gut-punching moment when Maryn Jones sings, “I can say that I’ve changed/ But you know I’ll stay the same/ I don’t want to hurt no one/ I don’t want to be alone/ I just want to learn how to love.” An eloquent reformulation of, “No really, it’s not you; it’s me.” –Gabriela
Miguel stepped back from the spotlight this year, opting for features and behind-the-scenes work, but returned before the end of the year to drop a frustratingly short tease of an EP lest we forget about him. “nwa” is perhaps the most exciting of the three new songs — even though “coffee” seems destined for single-dom — and melds together the sultriness of Kaleidoscope Dream with the experimental bent of his Art Dealer Chic EPs. The track would come across as indiscriminate if it weren’t brushed with Miguel’s consummate professionalism and sheen. On first blush, the hook feels buried, but it really shines on repeat listens, squirming itself into a raunchy chant: “This is something for my OGs/ Little mama, mami wanna throw me way back/ She get it till she OD/ She wanna ride with a NWA.” Miguel bolsters his West Coast cred with a throwaway verse from veteran Kurupt, but the real draw here is the hypnotic vocal take from Miguel. In a self-effacing move, he practically whispers through the hook, begging you to lean in to listen rather than putting all of himself up front. The beat similarly dissolves into the background, turning to an elegiac, almost woodsy choral melody by the song’s end. –James
I started 2015 by kissing my wife, turning off the TV, and pressing play on “Only One.” It was a good way to start. There’s so much tenderness in this song, so much gorgeous convergence. I couldn’t hold back my smile upon hearing Kanye’s voice cascading against McCartney’s keyboard and coming up with something naked and pure. It made me thankful that these guys are alive, that they’ve each given me so much joy, that they both lived long enough to cross paths and craft this lullaby together. It made me thankful that my wife and I are alive too, that we bring each other joy, that we lived long enough to cross paths and create what I can only imagine will be the most wonderful baby in the world later this year. And it made me thankful that my parents and hers are still around to encourage and reassure us face to face, that they’ll get to hold their grandchild in their arms, that they probably won’t have to transmit their love across the bounds of time and space. I’m sure they’d find a way if they had to, though. Love is like that. –Chris