The 50 Best Songs of 2015

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The 50 Best Songs of 2015

As with our 50 best albums of 2015, arriving at a consensus for the 50 best songs is a long, demanding process. A ridiculous 302 songs were nominated by Paste editors, writers, freelancers and interns, exactly one more than last year’s 301, which feels like progress. We limited the final results to one song per artist, which made for some interesting statistics—in particular it affected Father John Misty, who had no fewer than 8 different songs from I Love You, Honeybear nominated, which makes sense for our album of the year.

As with the albums list, we hope this list of songs will be a jumping-off point for your own musical exploration and spark a healthy conversation about the best music of 2015.

Without further ado, here are the best songs of 2015.

50. Jason Isbell – “If It Takes A Lifetime”

As Eric R. Danton wrote in his review of Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free, “Isbell has over the years become a more patient lyricist, carefully honing his words into needle-sharp points that penetrate without making a visible mark. That’s not to say his songs leave no trace. Isbell’s increasing skill as a storyteller, and the natural affinity he has for melody, combine to make Something More Than Free a masterful piece of work.” That mastery is evident on “If It Takes a Lifetime,” an easy-sounding encouragement that things will all work out in the end, no matter how long it takes. “I thought the highway loved me, but she beat me like a drum,” Isbell sings. “My day will come, if it takes a lifetime.” – Bonnie Stiernberg

49. King Khan & BBQ Show – “Alone Again”

Bad News Boys, Mark Sultan and King Khan’s first full-length effort since 2009’s Invisible Girl, was a long time coming, but it was exactly what we hoped for from the garage-rock duo, and there’s no better evidence of that than the excellent, doo-wop-heavy “Alone Again.” Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another six years to hear more like this. – Bonnie Stiernberg

48. Broncho – “Class Historian”

Every year has its “is this annoying, or awesome?” indie pop hit, and Broncho’s “Class Historian” is undoubtedly that song for 2015. Despite (or, let’s be honest, because) it consists of primarily “duh duh duh duh duhs,” you’d be forgiven for just passing on, but it’s an earworm that grabs hold and refuses to let go, even after multiple listens—and there’s been no shortage of listens in the Paste office, complete with singalong lyrics. Sometimes that, and a bit of fuzzy guitar, is all you need to make one of the most memorable indie pop songs of the year. – Jim Vorel

47. Palehound – “Molly”

“Molly” begins with a tight guitar riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities to Love, but it quickly becomes clear that this brand of rock ‘n roll is a little bit dirtier and more raw. Ellen Kempner’s delivery is acerbic and never lacking in conviction as she verbally abuses the song’s “selfish” title character and her various flaws, and implores you to take her side: “Cause she only knows how to love all alone, in a bed stained by old friends / I swear, you better stick with me.” One gets the feeling that she may not be telling the whole truth, but you want to believe her, because the takedown is just too fun. After all, in the end, history is written by those who craft the most persuasive songs. – Jim Vorel

46. Hot Chip – “Huarache Lights”

Written by Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard as they geared up to spin records at London nightclub Plastic People, “Huarache Lights” is exactly what you’d want from an album opener, or the first song of Hot Chip’s recent tour dates. It was a reminder that you are in the capable hands of the best dance pop band around. And, like all of this group’s best work, it captured that scintillating thrill of when you’ve reached the peak of your high and the music you’re hearing as you crest that wave is the absolute best in the world. – Robert Ham

45. Joanna Newsom – “Divers”

If Joanna Newsom’s voice and harp often sound ethereal, on “Divers” they threaten to float away. But the song is balanced by a countering piano, one of the details that often feel perfectly executed on her album of the same name. The story of a woman in love with a pearl diver feels like an old English folk tale with details that almost allow you to taste the salt water in the air. It’s unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. – Josh Jackson

44. Wolf Alice – “Bros”

Wolf Alice doesn’t just split the difference between rock and pop with their heady single “Bros,”—they capture the intensity of childhood friendships and adult wistfulness that maybe (just maybe) we can do it all over again. Like the Cranberries giving into their feral side, frontwoman Ellie Rowsell raises her cotton candy soprano to a shout, imploring, “Are you wild like me?/Raised by wolves and other beasts?” A wild anthem for unburdened times; we should all be as lucky to have bros like this. – Laura Studarus

43. Purity Ring — “Flood on the Floor”

Purity Ring’s “flood on the floor” is the stuff of which mortal sin is made. Deep in the heart of some godforsaken den of iniquity, stowed away within the seediest bowels of an urban hellscape, “flood on the floor” must bleat away, dripping as it does with the ragga-bomb residue of EDM, of dorm room dubstep, of the deluge of feeling designer drugs can give you when waiting for that coveted “drop.” It’s seemingly a far cry from the pop the band’s put out before, if only because of that aforementioned “drop,” otherwise sumptuous with the kind of eviscerating imagery which singer Megan James so lovingly details in practically every song she touches. “Don’t forget the way she pushed the water inside,” James reminds, then later: “Knitting lace out of lashes powdered with ashes.” In her mouth, seduction isn’t all that far from violation—and in “flood on the floor,” there is no better way to represent that than with the “drop,” the secret weapon of all college-friendly dance pop. And the drop comes, of course. It comes hard: When at each chorus the metaphorical floor falls out of the song, a flood follows. And instead of validating the worn-out tenets of brostep, the song goes full Noah—at each chorus, the world is wiped clean, ready to be flooded, and then cleansed, again and again. —Dom Sinacola

42. Deerhunter – “Living My Life”

Does anyone really know what’s going on in Bradford Cox’s brain? With more blurred lines to his name than Thicke, the Deerhunter frontman’s genre-gobbling career has seen the musician hopscotch from punk, to folk, to rock, to genres us mere mortals have yet to invent proper names for. His band’s newest album Fading Frontier ranks among the raconteur’s most accessible works, Cox exorcizing a year’s worth of anxiety (“Will you tell me when you find out how to conquer all this fear/“I’ve been spending too much time out on the fading frontier”) against beds of acoustic guitars and drum machines. Given his particular string of challenges (he was in a near-fatal car accident last year), the titular refrain plays heavy not just with emotional resonance, but rather emotional release. – Laura Studarus

41. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear – “Silent Movies”

Madisen Ward absolutely radiates sincerity, and not just because he has his watchful mother on stage next to him every time he’s performing. “Silent Movies,” the immediately arresting stand-out track from the duo’s excellent debut album Skeleton Crew, sets your toes to tapping even as it states a case for the questionable notion that “silent movies make more money.” It’s an ebullient jam that, at its heart, seems to encourage the listener to stop caring about what others think and simply live, live, live. You’d be heartless to not want to take them up on the suggestion: “When you dance they call you funny, so how ‘bout we get real funny, girl?” Ward’s booming vibrato and finger-picked guitar melody couldn’t merge any more perfectly with the steady, driving rhythm of his mom’s well-worn acoustic. – Jim Vorel

40. Jamie XX – “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”

This might very well have been the song of the summer for many of us. The biggest single off Jamie XX’s explosive debut LP, In Colour, saw Jamie hand-picking one of hip-hop’s most gregarious MC’s in Young Thug and looping him into a Caribbean-leaning xylophonic composition. “Good Times” has a certain shine to it that is positively Jamie XX at his brightest. Dancehall singer Popcaan brings an island club bravado to pair with Thug’s bouncy swagger, that made “Good Times” a purveyor of trans-oceanic vibes. It’s success is ultimately in Jamie’s ability to elevate UK club memes in America and beyond, and the mission is fully realized with a distinct accessibility on the strength of Thug’s Southern swag. – Adrian Spinelli

39. David Bowie – “?” (“Blackstar”)

David Bowie’s new album doesn’t drop until next year, but the single, the appropriately enigmatic “?” (pronounced “Blackstar”), is already here, and it’s a doozy. It’s a nearly 10-minute opus, full of spooky sax and weird chants that eventually evolve into a rocking midsection where Bowie sneers “you’re a flash in the pan, I’m the great I am”—and he’s right. This is a return to form, the best he’s sounded in years. It’s bizarre, melodramatic at times, and almost totally inscrutable lyrically, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. This is classic Bowie. – Bonnie Stiernberg

38. JR JR – “Gone”

Arguably the happiest song of the year, “Gone” was JR JR’s first single off of their latest album, JR JR. With an infectious whistle melody, vocal harmonies and a bass line straight out of the disco era, it’s hard to keep still while listening to this track. The song is about letting go of the pressure of what others want for you, with the chorus “I can’t be everything you want me to be/ Finally, I can see the light through the leaves/ But it’s all gone.” The music video for this track (which we premiered at Paste a couple of months back) showcased the ideology behind the song, with people abandoning the pressures of others and dancing to break free. Unlike other tracks with the same message, this one comes across as fun, never phoney. – Annie Black

37. Beirut – “No No No”

The Zach Condon of 2015 still has the voice of a troubadour, but that voice is much less likely to be applied in a wordless wail of pure emotion, to the beat of a gypsy-flecked Balkan folk tune, than in his Gulag Orkestar days. His slurred vocals now channel their pathos toward more refined pieces of pop music, a stylistic evolution that divides his fanbase somewhat but represents a logical progression from the esoteric toward the universal. “No No No” is quite lyrically simple—it basically has only one verse—but like so many Beirut songs, it’s less the content of the words and instead Condon’s wonderful instrumental arrangements that carry it forward and make it memorable. In that dimension, the virtuoso has skillfully merged more sounds of synth and keys into the horns and strings he once favored to create a crossover success that was an obvious choice to lead his first LP in four years. – Jim Vorel

36. Gin Wigmore – “Written in the Water”

“Written in the Water” picks up sonically where the best songs off the Kiwi singer’s 2011 album Gravel & Wine left off, with a rollicking, dangerous swagger that screams she’s a girl not to be trusted, although you’d be likely to forget that the moment you stared into her eyes and fell into those deep, dark wells—or at least the ocean of eye shadow around them. Wigmore possesses a voice that is unique in pop-rock/neo-soul today, a gravelly shout that immediately set her apart and made her a force to be reckoned with. The lyrical content of “Written in the Water” is as dark as most of her songs tend to be, but as with the other great Gin Wigmore tunes, its macabre nature compels not introspection but an irresistible urge to dance until you drop. – Jim Vorel