Wednesday, 9 March 2016

In Retrospect: Top 50 Songs of 2015

One of my biggest pet peeves in the music industry is the rush on reviews. The pressure for new content, all the time means that writers are forced to formulate opinions on things before they've really sunk in, before they've had time to step away from the detail long enough to see the bigger picture.

With that in mind, I've taken the left-field decision to wait a few months to publish my retrospective view of 2015, in the hope that I would still be at peace with my decisions. For the most part I think it's worked, but see what you think below...



50) Cheer Up London – Slaves"Put another 0 in your paycheck/ Are you done digging your grave yet?"
With a whimsical glint in their eye and penchant for a novelty lyric, it’s easy to dismiss Slaves as a one-night stand of a duo. While debut Are You Satisfied felt a little one-dimensional at times, it was when they went political that things really worked - ‘Cheer Up London’ was a corker, a working-class knees up at the expense of rich bankers and consumer culture, with a simple but effective chorus.

49)Weathered – Jack Garratt "And if I never let you go/will you keep me young?"
Tipped at 2016’s next big thing, all eyes on were on Jack Garratt towards the tail end of 2015. He still has a long way to go, but the subtle prettiness of ‘Weathered’ had a certain glitter, building steadily to a crescendo of almost soulful layers. His beard game ain’t bad either.





48)Fourth Of July – Fall Out Boy'You and I were fireworks"
It was way back in 2013 that Fall Out Boy promised to Save Rock And Roll, but it took them until their sixth record to really sound like themselves again. An altogether more coherent record, 2015’s American Beauty/American Pyscho had many radio-ready moments, but it was ‘Fourth Of July’ that would nestle best into a greatest hits set, heavy with emo-longing in it’s analogy of fireworks and relationships. Glad to have you back boys.



47)New Americana – Halsey
"They're Monaco and Hamptons bound/but we don't feel like outsiders at all"
Defining herself as “tri-bi” (biracial, bisexual and bipolar) with a fierce feminist attitude and brightly coloured hair, Halsey was something of a gift to equality in 2015. Becoming a poster child for the tumblr generation at breakneck speed, ‘New Americana’ was her opportunity to tell the world who she really was with an achingly cool couplet - “high on legal marijuana/ raised on Biggie and Nirvana”. Settling itself into the A-List of Apple’s Beats One and lauded the world over, expect to see a lot more of her face in 2016.

46)Cool For The Summer - 
Demi Lovato
'Got my mind on your body and your body on my mind"
If you like your pop music with a hefty side order of innuendo, be very glad for the existence of Demi Lovato. In a year where casual dating went mainstream (thanks Tinder) ‘Cool For The Summer’ is ‘I Kissed A Girl’s hipper cousin, ready to get down and dirty with whoever is offering. With shedloads more personality than the average Disney starlet, Lovato’s strength has always been the rawer side of her personality, which flourishes here - her playful, coquettish delivery over that rocky melody is almost too much to bear.

45)World Pleasure – Peace"Maybe I was not born brave/Maybe I was born good looking..."
Considering the waning success of their fellow class of 2013 ‘B-Town’ gang, Peace must be doing something right to stay on people’s lips. 2015’s Happy People felt like a long time coming for fans who were teased by it’s standout tracks throughout 2014, but it didn’t disappoint. ‘World Pleasure’ was the highlight – six minutes of Stone Roses-meets-Ian-Dury-meets-every-Manchester-band-ever that practically came with it’s fingers knotted, ready to give your mate a leg up onto your shoulders at a festival. Bucket-hat-bants at it’s best.


44)Dreams – Beck"Nothing's gonna get me in my world"
Strutting around onstage with Taylor Swift, accepting apologies from Kanye and casually dropping one of the riffs of the year like it ain’t no thing – where the hell is the old Beck and how long can we keep him locked in that cupboard? From ageing chin-stroker to ad-sync legend in the space of one year, the song behind it all was ‘Dreams’, funk-rock stomper that promises ‘Nothing gonna get me in my world.’ It’s a world we want to live in.



43)Sea Castle – Purity Ring"I could build a big machine/ Draw pictures for the walls"
Making the move from too-cool-for-school to electro-pokemon-masters, Canadian’s Purity Ring made serious strides for longevity with the highly polished Another Eternity. Difficult as it was to pick a standout song, ‘Sea Castle’ wins by a nose. Darkly dramatic with a crushing chorus, it has an impeccable live routine to match - next time you’re bored, stick some broken mirror pieces to a pair of gloves and have some fun with the lighting. Science CAN be cool.




42) Drag Me Down - One Direction"With your love nobody can drag me down"
It can’t be easy making a record when all you can hear is the sound of a million hearts shattering wherever you go. Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction was about as shocking as Kimye having a quiet night in, and there was no denying that for a while, the future looked bleak for the world’s biggest band. With a long overdue hiatus imminent, ‘Drag Me Down’ is a fitting mission statement to leave people with – with the love of their fans, nobody could drag them down. N’awww.


41) Go With It – The Internet feat Vic Mensa"Girl, just go with it/Lose control, just roll with it..."
Were you feeling the Frank Ocean-sized gap in your life in 2015? Us too. Luckily, Odd-Future Graduates The Internet did the best to comfort us with Ego Death. Vic Mensa’featuring ‘Go With It’ was the ultimate daydream - cruising down the freeway with the wind in our hair, bae at our side and a bottomless bag of Cheetos to delve into as the heat haze shimmers into the distance. Intoxicating.
40) Bitch Better Have My Money/ Four Five Seconds – Rihanna
"Don't act like you forgot/I call them shots"  
Although far from perfect, what was most exciting about these tracks is what they suggested about Rihanna’s future – a much more eclectic affair that prioritized artistic performance over shock value.







39) Way Too Much – Wavves"This conversations getting boring/I've given up and now I'm on the ground"
At times frustrating in their own self-consciousness, waves hit their stride on way too much ‘drinking too much/smoking too much’, telling the tale of the average slacker’s week without any sense of irony. This new simplicity suits them – a flyaway riff underpinning a middle-finger emoji of a chorus.





38)Letter To The Team – Tellison"Remember all the floodlit nights and pyrrhic victories/Remember all the lives we changed, or thought we changed at least "
Brand New with all the angry bluster blown out of their sales, ‘letter to the team’ is the sound of glorious defeat ‘of defeat on defeat’. What lead vocalist Stephen Davidson calls ‘ a form of catharsis for the terrible, crippling guilt I feel some nights when the wind is right and I can’t sleep’ over being both the frontman and the manager of Tellison, it’s a darkly humourous tale that shows why they’re one of Britain's more-endeared small bands.



37) Heavy Weather – Billie Marten
"The rain is ours and we are lovers"
Delicate and considered, conscious of it’s own space and purity, 16-year-old Billie Marten’s debut sounds like it’s already been around for decades, in the best possible way. A mainstay of late night radio 1, it’s the sonic comfort you need on a rainy Sunday, tucked away with a comfy blanket and an endless supply of tea – the simplest of pleasures.





36)Love Myself – Hailee Steinfeld"I know how to scream my own name"
Yet another actress-turned-popstar, it would be easy to write off Hailee Steinfeld as yet another vacuous #squadgoals member with about as little to offer as her breakout film, Pitch Perfect. You’d be wrong – her EP Haiz was five songs of well-rounded gold, the jewel of the crown being the irresistable sexual DIY of 'Love Myself'.




35) Leave A Trace – Chvrches"I will wipe the salt off my skin/ And I'll admit that I got it wrong"
Every open was their play for world domination – bigger choruses and bolder themes meant that for the first time, people stopped talking about Lauren Mayberry’s feminist politics for long enough to realise that gender doesn't matter when the music is this good.






34) Magnets – Disclosure feat. Lorde"Let's embrace the point of no return"
The one moment on the record where a lazy approach actually works for the benefit of the record – the sleepy clacks and clocks perfectly match Lorde’s otherworldly delivery ‘pretty girls don’t know the things that I know’. A feminist fatale






33) Holy – Pvris 
‘You can right all the wrongs just to feel you belong,/But simply calling out sins don't bring you closer to God.’
Challenging the motives behind religion while gliding through classic emo and electronica, Pvris are much more than the budget Paramore the press would have you believe – activists for gay rights, social justice and just plain self-contentment, their alternative poster-band status is well deserved, underpinned by glossy little numbers that never compromise heart.


32) WW1 Portraits – The Maccabees "And I lay here beside you and I’m golden now"
A hint too much introversion may have led to a slightly underwhelming 5th record from the Maccabees, but Marks To Prove It still had it’s moments, WW1 Portraits being one of them. Gaining pace steadily, Orlando’s inimitable voice tiptoes over gentle percussion before putting it’s foot firmly down for a purposeful guitar lick that instantly recalls memories of all their best material so far.



31) Unstoppable – Lianne La Havas"Let's be at peace, we'll fly/Our hearts collide/Can't escape the magnetic side"
Lianne at her most comfortable, soaring vocals over a beat with a spring in it’s step, the sound of new love on a new york sidewalk at the height of summer. 5.29 Minutes of summer (minus Joseph Gordon Levitt)




30) Vertigo – Mini Mansions feat. Alex Turner"Our love's in stereo/ Isn't it finer in mono?"
Enter the lounge lizards – taking time off from Queens Of The Stone Age, side project Mini Mansions couldn’t be 70s if they tried. On wait, they can – insert Alex Turner's sleezy offering and you end up with a late-night could AM offcut, all drainpipe jeans, cuban heels and gold chain dangling suggestively from lazy fingers. Dangerous, but irresistible.



29)A.D.I.D.A.S – Little Mix
"We been busy doing all Fifty Shades/While we listen to Drake/We on that hot love and emotion"
Cheeky and enduringly modern, Little Mix’s ability to move with the times has made them the most legitimate  X Factor winner in history. While Salute may have been an impressive ode to Destiny’s Child’s gender politics, the risqué feminism went one step further on Get Weird with the perky 'A.D.I.D.A.S', a lusty bunny boiler of a track that namechecks Drake, 50 Shades of Grey and a good old fashioned Brazilian wax, More OMG’s than a Grazia subscription.



28) Shutdown – Skepta "A bunch of young men all dressed in black dancing extremely aggressively on stage, it made me feel so intimidated and it's just not what I expect to see on prime time TV..."
Poking fun at the public’s reaction to the ‘savage’ Kanye brits performance that invited skepta and his crew onto stage, you can’t argue with the confidence of Britain’s grime linchpin. One moment he’s sitting front row at London Fashion Week, the next he’s sharing the mic with Usain Bolt. Always with tongue firmly in cheek, he’s an artist only London could have produced, and we love him for it.

27)Love Me – The 1975 
"You look famous let's be friends/And pretend me protray something important"
Perpetual peddlers of the mundane, the 1975 were a band we really weren’t expecting to make an appearance on this list after their popular but personality-lacking titular debut. But we’re all for second chances, and what a second chance ‘Love Me’ was. Considering that the last time an indie band tried to take a jab at celebrity culture it ended up in an OK Mag wedding and a failed career (hello preston and The Ordinary Boys), we had our trepidations, but ‘Love Me’ was a complete law unto itself – part Bowie, part INXS, it managed to scissorkick it’s way around the potential cheese and head straight for the hearts of the masses. Kudos. 

26)Oino – LA Priest "How long's it gonna take to rewind time?"
Head honcho of the delightfully-weird Late Of The Pier (way ahead of their time), any project of Sam Dust’s was always going to be interesting, to say the least. While debut album Inji was a little hit and miss, it certainly wasn’t boring. ‘oino’ was it’s biggest earworm, bleeping and bonking it’s way to space and back in a way that would have made the late david bowie proud.





25) When We Were Young – Adele"We were scared of getting old/It made us reckless"
While the rest of the world was losing it’s collective shit over ‘Hello’, we were more concerned with when we were young, a less obvious single but equally dramatic. Nostalgic without playing the victim, it does exactly what Adele does best – creates music that almost every human on the entire planet could relate to on some level.





24) Trap Queen - Fetty Wap"Married to the money, introduced her to my stove/Showed her how to whip it, now she remixin' for low"
1738! At face value, ‘Trap Queen’ was yet another eye-roller of misogyny, but dig a little deeper and you have an oddly romantic ditty about setting up a cocaine empire with your best girl. Not exactly the apprentice, but a dark American dream nonetheless.






23) On My Mind – Ellie Goulding"You were talking deep like it was mad love to you/You wanted my heart but I just liked your tattoos"
We have a career definer! Anchored by a vaguely hip-hop beat, ‘On My Mind’ truly suits Ellie Goulding’s unusual voice, a breath of fresh air for an artist who has sometimes struggled to sound truly like herself. Is a really a diss to Ed Sheeran or a more abstract ‘F-you’ to a series of exes? Perhaps we’ll never know, but either way it sounds badass.



22) The Less I Know The Better – Tame Impala
"Oh my love/Can't you see yourself by my side?"  
Positively emanates cool, the first time Kevin Parker truly slots into the genius territory so many have desired to fit him in. one second it’s 70s psychedelia, the next it’s very modern regret – retro futurism at it’s best.





21) Crazy In Love – Beyonce"I still don't understand?Just how your love can do what no one else can"
How do you top one of the biggest pop singles of all time? Flip it entirely on it's head and play heavy on it's sentiments. Beyonce 2k15 turns ‘crazy’ into something truly unhinged and ominous, about as creepy and predatory as the film it soundtracks.



20)Downtown – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
"If I only had one helmet I would give it to you"
West side story in 21st century form, ‘Downtown’s brilliance all lies within it’s complete non-conformality. With a structure that leaps from the expected slick-raps and punning anecdotes to THAT huge chorus, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are proof that hip-hop CAN be family friendly.





19) I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times – Jamie XX
Good times, there's gon' be some good times/Remember we used to pull up and let 'em fight?/That's that hood time"
Wonderful as they were/are, The XX were never the life and soul of the party. Opting for 4am vibes rather than 11pm bangers, it was a bit of a shock to all to see one of their members burst into full colour in 2015. ‘...Good Times’ does exactly what it says on the tin- commands hands into the air, hips to twitch and shoulders to roll.



18)Holding On – Julio Bashmore
"I don't know why/why I adore you"
The guy all the hipsters held close to their penfield-clad hearts, Julio Bashmore was often a little too cool for school, leaving the more regular of us a little cold to his charms. In 2015, that all changed – he threw all pretense out the window and made a record of stone-cold radio winners, creating some of his best work in the process. The wonky sample of ‘Holding On’ became a summer anthem, hopefully making it that wee harder for young Bashmore to look back.

17) Wings – Little Simz "Give me back my wings/see/I just wanna fly again/Wanna try, fail, try to try again"
Focused, conscientious rap from a girl everybody wants on their team – Kanye, Drake…you name them, they’re a fan. It’s no surprise why – Little Simz is one of the most intriguing young writers to come out of London in a really long time.




16)Can’t Feel My Face/The Hills – The Weeknd
" And I know she'll be the death of me/at least we'll both be numb"
While his buddy Drake was distracting the dancefloor with his dad moves, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye was skulking in the shadows, spiking drinks and trying to pull. And he didn’t do a bad job – 2015 was the year his name went bigtime, at the hands of two highly polished pop crossover hits. Sleazy, dark and predatory ‘I’m just trying to get you out the friendzone…I just fucked two bitches 'fore I saw you’, ‘The Hills’ isn’t going to win the Weeknd any gentleman of the year awards, but then neither is comparing the intoxication of love to downing a fistful of cocaine as he is wont to do on ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’, possessor of the most original chorus of the year. If romance isn’t the Weeknd’s strong point, then it’s a good thing Michael Jackson worthy drama is. 

15)What Went Down – Foals 
"When I see a man I see a lion/When I see a man I see a liar"
Listening to post-antidotes Foals can sometimes feel like a tempestuous relationship – when things are good they are sublime, but boy, when they’re low they are seriously dark. Fumbling around in a fog of seeming complacency as one of Britain's biggest new bands, they’ve underwhelmed in recent years but do still know how to pull out a single – ‘What Went Down’ took that dark and used it as rocket-fuel, a positively demented-sounding Yannis howling his way through the chorus like somebody battling for their freedom. Peril suits this band.

14)Doing The Right Thing – Daughter
"And they're making children/And they're making love?With their old excuses"
(Long read here)







13)Real – Years & Years
"I broke my bones/Playing games with you"

(Long read here)








12)Coffee – Miguel 
"We talk street art and sarcasm/ crass humour and high fashion"
The man Zayn Malik dreams of being, Miguel walks the perfect tightrope between sultry and sleazy on Wildheart, an album that comes coated in baby oil and silk blouses. Coffee was isn’t masterpiece – a Pinterest-perfect Sunday morning with an edgy undertone that held it just out of smaltzy territory.





11)Where R U Now – Jack U
"I gave you the key when the door wasn't open"  
The catalyst for the tropical house movement, the combination of Skrillex, Diplo and Justin Bieber sounds like most people’s idea of room 101. They proved the world wrong with a song that redefined the term banger, a perky, surprising ditty that made perfect use of Bieber’s new-found smooth croon.





10)X Marks The Spot - Coldplay"Put my hands up/To the sky and it's alright/Wherever you are, I'll find that treasure"
Here at SIS, we’ve always preferred our Chris Martin with a little more cold, and a little less play. From the unrequited love of shiver right through to the dark glitterdust of 'Magic', there’s something quite special about them when you strip off the lights and led wristbands. While you couldn’t deny the fun of euphoria-by-numbers adventure of a lifetime, it’s the gently pulsing rnb of the albums hidden track 'X Marks The Spot' that really solidifies their future.

9)Run Away With Me – Carly Rae Jepsen"Baby, take me to the feeling/I'll be your sinner in secret?When the lights go out..."
Borrowing heavily from the same explosive chorus methods that made Taylor Swift’s 'New Romantics' or Katy Perry’s 'Teenage Dream' such a triumph, it seems Justin Bieber wasn’t the only Canadian to undergo a massive transformation/Justin Bieber’s protégé also underwent a massive transformation in 2015. Out went the cheesy novelties; in came the pop producers for a lesson in songwriting. It could have been paint by numbers atifice, but the magic formula of 80s influence, Swedish producer Shellback and Jeppo’s undeniable charm made run away with me one of the best pop tracks of the year.


8)Bros – Wolf Alice 
‘I’ll keep you safe/ you keep me strong’
A simply but enduring tale of childhood friendship, Bros was accompanied by an equally touching video, this revamped version for 2015 was polished just enough to give it new resonance, destined to provide montage for a million of festival arms round shoulders sing-alongs. Call your BFF and tell them you love them – wolf alice will take receipt of all your feels.




7)All Day – Kanye West 
"Don't really matter what I make, boy, you know I still go wild/Like a light skinned slave, boy, we in the mothafuckin' house"
The song behind the moment of the year (THAT Brit Awards performance), all day is kanye getting back to basics…albeit basics that were almost impossible to play on the radio. Jumping between straight-up bravado ("I don’t let them play with me/I don’t let them talk to me no kinda way’) and vowel stretching wordplay ("20g’s for them yee-zays offa ebay"), it lay the path for which ‘The Life Of Pablo’ was to follow – Kanye back to his very best.



6)Drag – Day Wave
"And I know that I still hang around|And I bring you down?And I'm just like that"
Ever wondered what social anxiety might sound like? Day Wave are the comfort on your dark days with ‘Drag’, an encapsulation of the unavoidable worry that you are weighing heavy on your loved ones but try as you might, you can’t seem to get out of it. Taking the upbeat nostalgia of the drums and gently grinding it beneath the heel of a scuffed converse high top, day wave brings out all those 
feelings you thought were buried amongst dog-eared polaroids and friendship bracelets, bringing them blinking into the daylight.


5)Here – Alessia Cara
"I don't dance, don't ask, I don't need a boyfriend/So you can, go back, please enjoy your party/I'll be here"
(Long read here)









4)Fourth of July – Sufjan Stevens 
"Sitting at the bed with the halo at your head/Was it all a disguise, like Junior High/Where everything was fiction, future, and prediction/ Now, where am I? My fading supply" 
Celebrity is a million miles away for most people, but whether you’re famous or not, there are few emotions as universal as the heartbreaking loss of a loved one. Playing it out in the spotlight, Sufjan Stevens concept album is dedication to his late mother is a rewarding if harrowing experience, none more so than 'Fourth Of July'. A scrapbook of memories from his childhood, some more sepia than others is crushing it’s honesty, culminating in the sorrowful realization ‘we’re all gonna die’. Wincingly beautiful. 

3)What Do You Mean – Justin Bieber 
"Don't want for us to end/Where do I start?"
The biggest musical reinvention since stars in their eyes was last on ITV, bieber is following the trajectory from pop puppet to serious musical contender with a slew of hits. The standout was what do you mean, a breezy hook that turned even the most begrudging into a paid-up belieber as he promises to be ‘more straight forward’. Fourth wall suitably broken down, his bid for serious musical kudos is looking ever more likely.




2)Hotline Bling/You & The 6 – Drake
"Ever since I left the city you/ started wearing less and going out more" 
(Long read of You & The 6 here)

2015 = the year Drake turned from sensitive emo-rapper to the worlds hottest meme, saved by his ability to self-deprecate. Aside from all the tennis emojis and dad dance moves, 'Hotline Bling' was an instant classic – breezy samples and a hooky chorus that sat at artistic odds with the depression of watching the girl you love as she starts ‘wearing less and going out more.’ Where Kanye is critiqued for self-worship and egotism, drake knows the value of humility and honesty and plays it perfectly. 


1)Alright/The Blacker The Berry – Kendrick Lamar
"We been hurt, been down before/Nigga, when our pride was low/Lookin' at the world like, "Where do we go?"/Nigga, and we hate po-po/Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho/Nigga, I'm at the preacher's door/My knees gettin' weak, and my gun might blow/But we gon' be alright"
With barely a (black panthers) whisker between them, the top spot sees ‘Alright’ and ‘The Blacker The Berry’ take the top spot in a position of equality. Modern anthems for the Black Rights movement, both these songs deserve the top spot as they are opposite sides of a coin – a peaceful protest sitting alongside an angry rally. Blacker the berry is full frontal, an almost uncomfortable listen, where alright’s message is undeniably positive, refusing to accept that there is any other place for black people in American than exactly where they deserve to be – in equal footing with wider society. All hail King Kendrick: he is the poster boy of a counter-movement that is only just beginning to gain it’s full traction. 

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