For the life of me, I still can't understand why this song didn't take off with the same velocity as this pair's 2013 smash Latch. It's certainly not the fault of Smith's incomparable croon, seemingly capable of reaching out and grabbing any single note at any given time. It's also not Disclosure's unfathomably crisp, immediately kinetic backdrop, all swooping synths in the verses, and funky bass upon the choruses. Omen is my favorite radio hit of 2015... and it wasn't even really a hit, so what do I know? Sonically robust and structurally forward-thinking, it's a track that should have entered the party playlist canon the second it reached the radio, but at least I'll have it in mine.
Through all the esoteric art that Noah Lennox has cooked up over the years, be it going solo as Panda Bear, or with his parent band Animal Collective, there's been an almost omnipresent warmth and lushness. Come to Your Senses only has makes time for that type of non-sense in its closing minute, dedicating the other six to dredging you through Lennox's throbbing swamp of synthesizers. It's a sludgy, bass-driven banger from a guy who's hardly ever been associated with anything of the sort, a repetitious sound world that proves leering and alluring at the same time.
Is it cheating to have two songs from an album that literally only has four tracks slated among my best of the year despite neglecting to include their parent LP from my top 50 list? Perhaps... ok, fine, probably, but hear me out. The two other tunes included on Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress are bordering on obnoxious with their melody-hating, incessant drone, while the disc's opener and closer are far too massive to be ignored. Peasantry, which serves as the record's first act, hangs its entire ten-and-a-half minute frame work on a single foreboding riff that seems bent on world domination. Trembled, by contrast, is much more varied in scope, a show-stopping finale with distinct movements and seemingly endless possibilities, a monument of a song that occupies just under 14 minutes without ever loosening its grip. Each forgoes the emotive, unforeseeable samples that have steered some of the band's past triumphs, focusing on the sonic strength of their towering instrumentals. Over two decades into their career, and still no one does 'big' quite as well as Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Look, sometimes all you really need is an amazing chorus. Not that To Die in L.A. isn't a great song otherwise; the boucey guitar-and-keyboard interplay makes for a zippy introduction, and Jana Hunter is already out there hitting those searing high notes more or less from the word go. But that moment, right after the minute-and-a-half mark, marks one of 2015's most eye-popping musical moments, and proves in the process that even a tidal wave can sneak up on you. Those whining violins and kaleidoscopic harmonies strike with such sudden force, lending a sense of desperate yearning to a song that was previously close to the chest. It's like riding a roller coaster, where the slow ascension creates fun out of anticipation, but doesn't hold a candle to the drop.
Earl Sweatshirt's sophomore studio album, I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside, marked a drastic change of directions for the young MC, largely tabling his famously knotted lyrics in favor of dreary tales of self-hate, and producing all but one track by himself. Grief represents his greatest accomplishment as a beat-maker so far, a depraved, lurching instrumental that sounds as if the rapper broke all of his equipment on purpose before hitting record. The rhymesmith's bars walk that tight rope between piercing honesty and over-earnestness, the aggression in his voice lending heft and urgency to the pain and helplessness that stick out like a neon sign in the song's vast darkness.
Is that pure, unaltered bliss exuding from the mouth of Father John Misty? What had previously seemed impossible has now come to be, a Josh Tillman solo effort that plays like a celebration for every moment that it's on, that wonky, summertime strum guiding us to an autumnal horn section that feels straight out of the Beirut playbook. This isn't the love-song joy you'll find other singer/songwriters muse upon in their every waking moment; Tillman celebrates hating all the same things as his new lover, even singling her out as one of the only non-boring people in his whole entire world. Like much of I Love You, Honeybear, the lyrics here are ingeniously-crafted punchlines that actually hit at deeply-rooted feelings and tensions of everyday life, but while in the embrace of this film school cheater, Tillman appears to have finally found comfort, and he's over the moon about it.
With the likes of Drake, Future, and Young Thug sitting atop the hip hop game from a popularity standpoint, rap continues to move away from the cold, hard bars that defined it in the early-to-mid 90's, but thank god we have King Push to show us that the old ways are still alive and well. Powered by a warped, ominous beat and a somehow-not-blasphemous Biggie Smalls sample, the track is a masterclass in stream-of-consciousness flow, Terrence Thornton hitting on any number of subjects from Donald Trump to the San Antonio Spurs... and selling dope, because this is a Pusha T song. These three glorious, fleeting minutes serve as a testament against anyone who would argue that rapping well is rapping fast, the track's intricate web of word play and reference easily running laps around your brain despite their mid-tempo delivery.
Tame Impala used 2015 to wipe the slate clean on what has already been an overwhelmingly successful career, throwing out the sound that made Lonerism one of 2012's most beloved albums in favor of an immaculate 80's sheen that allows frontman Kevin Parker to fully move to the forefront. The Aussie's misty falsetto wafts all over the album, as do his stunning bass lines, none more so than the one that takes center stage on closer New Person, Same Old Mistakes. Experienced in headphones, the track has innumerable fills and frills that pop up and disappear, constantly changing the color of their surroundings, but that burly, rolling 4-string remains a constant, driving force.
You never quite know where Vince Staples is coming from, and something tells me he likes it that way. The Long Beach MC's lyrics glorify violence and street life at almost every turn, but somewhere between the production, his delivery, and fleeting moments of clear-eyed rumination, Staples clearly has more on his mind than embodying crime and corruption. A storyteller if ever there was one, the rapper flies through his bars here as though his mouth can't quite keep up with his mind, rejecting both wordplay and euphemisms almost whole-sale in favor of just telling it like it is. The beat, as cooked up by Clams Casino, is about as subtle as you'll ever hear played below tales gun fire and hand cuffs, a masterwork of calibration that requires attention to be appreciated in full, much like the work of Staples at large.
Perhaps not the most specifically personal track on Sufjan Stevens' unfathomably intimate 2015 LP, Carrie and Lowell, Bucket finds its way straight into your heart through its relative broadness. There are a million different ways to lyrically pine for one's affections, but there's something powerful about just how nakedly Stevens pleads "tell you want me in your life." His sincerity is not to be doubted, and neither are the instrumentals, comprised of a slow, lavish piano line, etherial, angelic background vocals, and a lo-fi fuzz that hangs over everything like a grey fog in the early morning. Sufjan might have made his name on the enormity of both his sound and vision, but Bucket argues that he might be most effecting when he's nearly all alone.
Incase you missed the rest of this list, I'm not exactly a metal guy, but neither are an enormous portion of Deafheaven's dedicated fans. The five-piece out of San Francisco employs the very same machine gun drums and indecipherable screams that tend to turn wusses like me away, but their music also visits some genuinely beautiful places, like a hybrid between Lamb of God and Explosions in the Sky. These two styles don't succeed in spite of each other, but rather perform beautifully in concert, as witnessed on Baby Blue, a 10+ minute epic whose lovely opening passage gives way to speaker-destroying madness in a manner that's downright cathartic. New Bermuda is an album defined by pent-up tension, and its eventual release, opener Brought to the Water absolutely pummeling your ears into submission before finally allowing a soaring guitar progression to burst through the frontline at the 3:30 mark. These are two mammoth efforts on an album that allows for nothing less, each vacillating between the jagged darkness and the comely light on their long, breath-taking journeys.
The best Dodos songs are sort of like wind-up toys where the turning of the crank has all been done before you've ever pressed play. Try as I might to love their more down-tempo offerings, the music of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber is at its best while traveling at light-speed, Competition proving this fact all over again. Kroeber's drums seem incapable of stopping, their frantic sprint opening the track all on their lonesome, and refusing to ever leave or let up. Long matches him every step of the way, layering one guitar on top of another, blitzing through his riffs without a thought of looking back. There's also a nearly unplaceable emotional element, the tune's unuttered sense of mourning most obvious as Long intones the song's title twice in the closing moments, his subtle change of delivery alluding to feelings that otherwise go unexpressed.
Father John Misty has an incredible knack for being bleeding-heart authentic and smart-ass sarcastic at the very same moment, but that doesn't mean that he can't play completely to one side every once in a while. Store is an elegant ballad constructed of a single acoustic guitar and an occasional smattering of violins, and the words that Josh Tillman utters here read as completely honest. A weary but impossibly deep-felt ode to the woman he loves, the song is aware of both the cruelty of the world and its author's own futility, but is able to ultimately find comfort by embracing that life raft that is love. If the closing notes don't make you feel something deep in your chest, I'm not sure what will.
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2015
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2015