#MusicMonday: Best Tracks of 2015
[photo courtsey of link]
It’s the mosttttt wonderful timeeee of the yearrrrrr. No, not Christmas, fools. As I explained in my “Best Tracks of 2014,” the only thing that excites me about the holiday season is the opportunity to channel nearly all my energy into my most satisfying neurosis – ranking. In fact, as soon as January 1 hits, I will start a new Spotify playlist in preparation for this time next year. But that is neither here nor there.
There was something a bit ominous about 2015 – look no further than “Gosh’s” urgent shouts, Summertime ’06’s rusty beats, DS2’s nihilist vision, and Rihanna holding a rich white lady for ransom in her “BBHMM” video. Where 2014 was all about turning up to the beat of DJ Mustard’s peppy “hey’s,” 2015 was more about turning down, a soundtrack to those strange early morning hours, elusive and surreal, to the more sinister aspects of living fast. And for people like me who tend to be play it pretty safe, these songs provide a hypnotic escape from the daily grind. Merry Christmas ya filthy animals!
Listen here: Best Tracks of 2015
“Gosh” – Jamie xx
Any music worth listening to should evoke sex or death, and Jamie xx’s In Colour opener educes both poetically. While “Good Times” originally jumped out as the album’s standout, “Gosh” grew over time, much like the song itself, which builds majestically over four and a half minutes. The track starts out sparse, sampling late 90’s BBC Radio 1 show One in the Jungle. “Oh.My.Gosh!” the MC shouts with hypnotic urgency over bulging bass-lines. “Easy! Easy!” – he continues – “Hold it down! Hold it down!” (The unaired episode belongs to jungle rave culture, in which the MC would stand on stage with the DJ and keep the crowd hype.) Then at about 1:55, the track becomes sunnier – Jamie xx’s fierce production skills wrap the song in a warm blanket, transforming it from minimal and ominous to layered and buoyant, culminating in what Stereogum calls a “happy melancholy.” And watching this beautiful slow build amidst Jamie xx’s cool confidence under the glow of kaleidoscopic lights at Oakland’s Fox Theater this summer cemented “Gosh” in my mind as the best track of 2015.
2. “White Iverson” – Post Malone
Post Malone had just 406 Twitter followers when “White Iverson” dropped. Now he has over 130,000. Regarding the song’s overnight success, Malone told XXL:
"When I wrote it, I didn’t know that people [were] gonna fuck with it as much as I did. I didn’t plan on releasing it any time soon either, but it leaked somewhere and we just said ‘fuck it’ and recorded it."
In this sense, Post Malone the paragon Internet rapper, a perfect example of the democratizing power of the web, where someone can go from a nobody to a dazzling star without the aid of a single white man in a suit. But this “weird unicorn of a song” is much more than just a powerful advertisement for Soundcloud.
My friends and I were recently discussing the “sexiest song of 2015.” While many a Jamie xx track was mentioned, I see “White Iverson” as the hands-down victor, with Malone’s smooth croon: “I’m saucin’, I’m saucin’, I’m saucin’ on you.” It’s a simple but unique way to express romantic enchantment, ripe with hardly coded prurient connotations. The track finesses the difficult balance between swagger and sweetness, between lust and innocence. And when he switches his flow in the middle of the second verse (“Bitch I’m saucing / I do this often…”), Post Malone proves himself as a lyric force to be reckoned with. I’m excited to see how many Twitter followers he gains in 2016.
3. “Rewind” – Kelela
Since Kelela’s debut Cut 4 Me in 2013, I’ve been wanting more from the alluring D.C.-born, L.A.-based artist (oh, hey, nice trajectory girl!). But as is so often the case when I’m looking forward to something, Hallucinogen was different from what I expected.
While Cut 4 Me works as a perfect start-to-finish album, a cohesive whole that flows seamlessly from track to track, Hallucinogen is more scattered and experimental. But the EP gave us two great stand-alone singles – “Rewind” and “All the Way Down” – something the debut lacked.
Hallucinogen EP "speaks to narcotic that is loving someone," Kelela said about the title in a statement. This particular single addresses that initial spark of human connection (and, ultimately, it’s ephemerality): “Baby, don’t blink when I’m watching you, and I can’t rewind.” With it’s emotionally resonant theme and catchy chorus, it’s a song that, as it’s title suggests, begs to be played on repeat – as we reach longingly (and in vain) for that now elapsed spark.
4. “Flesh Without Blood” – Grimes
Just when I thought I couldn’t like an album more than Visions, Grimes gives us the near-perfect Art Angels. I’ve always distinguished between album-albums – albums that work as a coherent artistic narrative (Cut 4 Me) – and single-albums – albums that are good mainly because they contain a few bangers (Hallucinogen). In very rare cases the two are not mutually exclusive and that is Art Angels, which is cohesive but chock-full of jams in a way I haven’t seen since M.I.A.’s Kala.
Like “Rewind,” “Flesh Without Blood” speaks to the transience of human connection. While it sounds like Grimes is mourning a breakup (“remember when we used to say ‘I love you almost every day’”), Grimes tweeted that she “doesn’t write about love anymore.” The song is rather about another familiar experience – losing a best friend, the fading admiration for someone you once revered (“I don’t see the light I saw in you before”). But the main reason I picked this track is not for its melancholic truths, but rather because it makes me want to hit the club. God bless Grimes for getting us sad girls off Tumblr and onto the dance floor.
5. “Bitch Better Have My Money” - Rihanna
In its year-end re-cap, Pitchfork referenced Amy Schumer’s “I’m Sorry” skit, which mocks even very successful women’s compulsive need to apologize. But “when Rihanna released ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’—arguably the least apologetic song of the millennium, if not in the whole of recorded music—it felt like a revelation, a corrective, a necessary and instructive text.”
There was something about Rih belting “turn up to Rihanna while the whole club fuckin wasted / every time I drop I am the only thing ya’ll playin’” that made me happy to the point of tears. The above quote helped me piece together why this song – and this line in particular – had such a profound impact. We don’t hear Rihanna go on feminist tirades about women in the industry a la Nicki Minaj (no shade Nicki; you can do no wrong in my eyes) because she doesn’t have to. Whether it’s smoking blunts with the vigor and frequency of Snoop Dogg, posting nude photos to her Instagram, or her prioritizing her relationship with her best friend Melissa over her finding a boyfriend, Rihanna is unapologetically herself, completely unconcerned with societal expectation. And she looks fierce as fuck doing it. And that is what I like to call a feminist icon.
6. “Cell U Lar Device” – Erykah Badu
I often tell people that my friend slash muse – known close friends and the Internet as Damirmathly – invented “Hotline Bling.” For months before the song came out, she was repping both ~Island Vibez~ and the term “1-800” like it was a part-time job. Then came the video, which appeared to be taken directly from Damir’s tumblr. So given that she 1-800-called-it, I’m going to defer to her briefly:
DAMIR NOTES: Even though I kind of hate to admit it, we all know it’s true: Drake’s “Hotline Bling” was the song of 2015. The video, the fresh beat, the album art, Drake’s dance moves, Turrellian vibes, headsets, baby pink, soft glow, glasses of champagne out on the dance floor, running out of pages in your passport --- come on yall this is us.
THAT SAID, for me it was Queen Erykah Badu in having the unadulterated swagger to remix what tastemakers are calling “the song of the year,” a track by someone famous for his public beef, in turn producing something even better than the original, that really cracked it wide open. If “Cell U Lar Device” is not a signal of the impending matriarchy, I’m not sure what is.
7. “Planes” – Jeremih
I never thought a song about the joining mile-high club would grace my top 5 list, but in 2015, I gave up on trying to predict the future. Things never turn out exactly how you expect them to anyway.
“Planes” in many ways reminds me of “White Iverson.” I was therefore hesitant to include them both on this list. But they both succeed brilliantly in embodying that intoxicating 2015 turn down, in striking the perfect balance between salacious and romantic. For these reasons, I am able to excuse disgustingly misogynistic lines like “I ain’t babysitting, but my kids all on your couch” and include “Planes” among my favorite tracks of the year.
8. “Girl” – The Internet
Despite being far from a household name, Kaytranada won’t answer my emails, but I still think he’s among the best producer/DJs out there. And when combined with the former Odd Future members that compose The Internet, the result is mesmerizing. “Girl” is yet another hypnotic turn down, but fortunately eschews the rampant chauvinism of “White Iverson” and “Planes.” And god bless Syd Tha Kyd for paying artistic tribute to oft-neglected experience that is lesbian love. As Rolling Stone put it: “Syd reappropriates the satin romanticism of classic Seventies soul for 21st-century girls who want to be with girls.” More please!
9. “Trap Queen” – Fetty Wap
Despite that “Trap Queen” was technically released in 2014, it didn’t gain traction until 2015. The song’s power has since become pervasive. Anyone who has been inside a club or near an elementary school recess in 2015 knows this. And two weeks ago during my very first soul cycle class, when the instructor made us all cycle with one eye closed to the beat of “Trap Queen” (a nod to Fetty’s missing eye from a childhood case of glaucoma), I was made fully aware of Fetty’s omnipresence.
And while it’s tempting to despise the omnipotent, it’s hard to hate Fetty because he’s weird as hell and unabashedly honest. When Pitchfork when asked him his favorite song of the year, he responded: “It's no surprise that my favorite music this year is none other than my song, ‘Trap Queen.’” Bask in your glory Queen!
10. “Antidote” – Travi$ Scott
When I interviewed 18-year old Dev09 this fall, I asked her about her weekend, to which she responded: “[it was] pretty fucking great from what I remember, if it had anthem it'd Travi$ Scott's Antidote.” I took this to mean Dev got considerably faded, as Travi$ Scott himself announced this as a track for the “real ragers.” It details popping pills while simultaneously hot-boxing a car, warning passengers not to open the windows and “let out the Antidote.” The track doesn’t exactly reach the philosophical depths of “Rewind” or “Flesh Without Blood,” but it’s catchy as hell, and nails that moody trap ‘n’ b sound that has defined 2015. And for real, who opens the windows during a hotbox? That is an an important public service announcement if I’ve ever heard one!
11. “Demon” – Shamir
12. “Shutdown” – Skepta
13. “2Shy” – Shura
14. “Know Yourself” – Drake
15. “Check” – Young Thug
16. “Scud Boots” – Hudson Mohawk
17. “Love/Paranoia” – Tame Impala
18. “B.L.O.W.” – Tory Lanez
19. “Drama” – Drake, Roy Woods
20. “Art Deco” – Lana Del Rey
21. “All Day” – Kanye West
22. “She Ain’t” – Julio Bashmore
23. “U Mad” – Vic Mensa, Kanye West
24. “Reason” – Spooky Black
25. “Hotline Bling” – Drake
26. “Dumb” – Jazmine Sullivan ft. Meek Mill
27. “Back Up” – Dej Loaf, Big Sean
28. “Peanut Butter Jelly” – T.I., Young Thug, Young Dro
29. “Lovesick” – Mura Masa
30. “Fuck Up Some Commas” – Future
31. “gfg” – Miguel
32. “Whatever I Want” – Colleen Green
33. “Should Have Known Better” – Sufjan Stevens
34. “Venus Fly” – Grimes, Janelle Monae
35. “Full Circle (feat. Boxed In)” – George Fitzgerald
36. “You Made Me” – Dev09
37. “Pilates” – DonMonique
38. “Fine Whine” – A$AP Rocky, Joe Fox, Future, M.I.A.
39. “Trust Me Danny” – ILoveMakonnen
40. “Jump Off the Roof” – Vince Staples
41. “Blasé” – Ty Dolla $ign, Future
42. “All The Way Down” – Kelela
43. “Constantly Hating” – Young Thug, Birdman
44. “oui” – Jeremih
45. “Loud Places” – Jamie xx, Romy
46. “Funeral” – Shy Glizzy
47. “Sorry” – Justin Bieber
48. “Don’t” – Bryson Tiller
49. “Delirious” – Susanne Sundfor
50. “Levitation” – Beach House
By Anna Dorn