Like last year, my year has been framed more by songs than full albums. Lyrically it was a magnificent year, and one where so many established greats quietly released new records (Decembrists, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Low). It was also a rocking year for female vocalists and bands, and my Top 30 Best Songs Playlist reflects that.
1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens released the most moving record of the year, a devastatingly sad and beautiful return to his singer/songwriter roots. Stevens unpacks issues surrounding mental illness and the reasons his mother abandoned him with ice cold honesty. Becoming a parent opens up all sorts of emotional vulnerabilities and at least for me, seeing this record performed live was a life-changing experience. For further reading you can’t do better than this Pitchfork interview.
2. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett released the best debut album of 2015, a confident and casual authentic celebration of rock. The raw guitars and basic progressions are the best thing to happen to Garage Rock in a long time. Barnett’s thick Australian accent and direct lyrics encourage the most unlikely singable moments (and my favourite lyric of the year) “I think you’re a joke but I don’t find you very funny.”
3. Ryan Adams – 1989
Ryan Adams’ cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 is the best guilty pleasure of 2015. When he sings “That’s How You Get The Girl,” he’s really saying how he lost the girl, and much of the album is this kind of antithesis/call and response that plays with Swift’s original. It’s basically the best pop record turned into the best breakup record.
4. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m going down
Kurt Vile is the most sophisticated slacker on this list. He ditched his electric guitar for a more mellow sound incorporating piano and banjos. It’s a perfect alluring record that balances fun and soothing in a lazy acoustic fashion.
5. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
6. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
7. Olafur Arnalds & Alice Sarah Ott – The Chopin Project
Father John Misty’s cheeky and wry record was constant positive highlight of the year, filled with love and a healthy dose of cynicism. Alabama Shakes’ second record turned out to be a ballsy swamp-Rock statement that they’re edgy and soulful and ready to experiment. Olafur Arnalds and Alice Sarah Ott released the most inviting Classical Pop album of the year. The simplicity in their approach to Chopin come across as effortless and familiar while the acoustic detail they capture with their instruments is an audio feast.
8. Sleater-Kinney – No City To Love
9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
10. Torres – Sprinter
Sleater-Kinney reformed this year to release a tight collection of hooks and melodies. I don’t know their back catalogue but this record starts, goes determinedly forth and conquers in just over 30 badass minutes. The new Godspeed album is the most succinct record of their sound to date, immediately recognisable but more refined. It’s beauty lies in the band favouring a more subtle classical approach rather than their familiar Noise Rock style. Torres released an impressive debut album filled with honest songwriting and raw emotional delivery. She keeps it mature though and along with her minimalist band she created the best Grunge song ever (see playlist).
There are still many of this year’s releases that I’m listening to. I’m not quite into the Wilco yet but I’m a big fan and I’m trying. I’ve just discovered Youth Lagoon and Rhiannon Giddens, both of whom may have made the Top 10. Finally it’s long overdue but I’m also getting into these artist’s records: Natalie Prass, Shamir, Fred Thomas, Joan Shelley, Julia Holter.
Below are the Spotify, Apple Music and iTunes playlist versions of my top 30 Best Songs of 2015. I did sequence them but feel free to hit shuffle if that’s how you roll. Some are from my best albums, most are songs that consistently had me turning up the volume.
Here’s the Apple Music playlist, I’ve just noticed that “Harrison Ford” by Darlingside isn’t available on Apple Music or iTunes but you can listen to it here on YouTube. I’ll add a Youtube playlist next year when all of the songs are available or have videos.
Update: Here’s the Soundsgood player with all the tracks across various platforms.