- 20. No Good by Amy & The Engine
Kicking off the list with a group of indie newcomers from Boston. This wonderfully catchy tune is taken from their debut EP TaneMania, and is driven by a simple surf-rock guitar melody, a snappy drum pattern, and cleverly constructed lyrical phrases. Although it’s technically not part of the official track-list, it can be found hidden in track 6, Baby (I Know), on Spotify, and definitely deserves way more attention than it will probably ever get.
- 19. Bitter Water by The Oh Hellos
Led by a tightly strung banjo, this energetic throwback-anthem feels like a classic folk song sent from the 15th century. The lyrics are very poetic in nature, and there is a great sense of vocal harmony between the two front siblings, Tyler and Maggie. It’s a warm and enveloping dance jam from start to finish, proving plenty of soul and rhythm to keep you tapping your feet. Gather some friends, make a bonfire, and have a blast!
- 18. Boy Problems by Carly Rae Jepsen
Things get really funky on this delicious slice of post-disco greatness from Canada’s answer to Taylor Swift. Carly Rae may not have totally re-invented her good-girl image with her latest album EMOTION, but it is by far her most consistent release to date. Boy Problems is a standout cut, particularly because of how groovy it is. The polished production and the thick slap bass are very reminiscent of 1990’s Daft Punk, but without feeling dated or derivative in any way. Looking for the perfect party-starter to shake up your local club? Here is my recommendation.
- 17. Blue Ural by Jimi Tenor
Hailing from the land otherwise known for power metal, Jimi Tenor plays a mean saxophone and makes jazz music like in the good old days. Blue Ural is a wonderful example of his technical abilities, as well as his sharp ear for impeccable musicality. It sounds like something you would find on a Mission Impossible soundtrack, with lots of sneaky horns, groovy lounge pianos, and a rhythm section that is cool as hell. Contemporary big-band Jazz at its finest.
- 16. Nightcrawler by CZARFACE
Wu-Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck and underground hip-hop duo 7L & Esoteric have joined forces on this grimy yet colorful rap gem about a guy who is not afraid to get cocky and dirty if he has to. There are some incredible bars to be found on this track, and the whole piece flows seamlessly between a sampled female voice, the hard-hitting verses, and some type of comic-book-esque narration towards the end. It’s a classic example of bragging and dissing, but with an extra twist of super-villain looniness.
- 15. Stars Pt. 1 by Art Vs. Science
It’s really hard to describe the effect of this almost 6-minute long trip through psychedelic disco-funk. It starts off with a strange guitar strumming pattern, slowly rising until a spacious keyboard comes in and fills the air with acid. It’s very mesmerising, just like the record on which it belongs. It also doesn’t really fit into any specific category, but I guess you could classify it as art pop with a strong twist of neo-psychedelia. The most strangely enthralling song of 2015, if I had to give it some sort of title.
- 14. Empty Threat by CHVRCHES
I’ll be the first to admit that I absolutely despise the sound known as euro-disco, which runs through the veins of this electro-pop sugar bomb. It is soaked in a sea of synthesizers and programmed beats, but somehow still manages to feel organic and exciting. Perhaps it’s because of lead singer Laurel Mayberry’s vocals, which are as mesmerizing and magnetic as they are sweet and fragile. The songwriting is also above and beyond what you would expect from this genre of music. I usually can’t stand it, to be honest, but CHVRCHES have pulled together such an exceptional piece here that transcends the obvious, defies conventions, and avoids every pit it could’ve fallen into.
- 13. Mountain at My Gates by Foals
It’s been a good year for these british rock heads, having achieved their highest charting album in the US to date, and also producing this gold nugget of a post-britpop single. The track has those alternative mid-1990s sensibilities that made bands like Oasis and Blur so revered back in the day. The killer riff, the groovy rhythm, and a chorus so infectious that it lingers with you long after you stop listening. No wonder why it caught the american airwaves.
- 12. Good For Me by Jon Foreman
Part of the Switchfoot frontman’s Wonderlands EP-series, this very subtle and subdued blues-tinged tune is a surprisingly meditative and sober look into the mind of a person who starts to question the world around him, and whether or not modern society is the cure or just a disease that wants to bring him to his knees. It’s very haunting and eerie in the way it glides along like a soldier marching to his certain death, while brass instruments underscore the impending doom. I’m quite astounded by how well Foreman managed to create such a moody and bone-chilling atmosphere. I start to shiver just by thinking about it.
- 11. Run by Seth Sentry
This killer cut from the Australian rapper’s newest release might just be the hip hop recording of the year. With a simple drum beat and a melodic guitar sample looping throughout the verses, it is instantly memorable. The infectious sing-along chorus further cements its pop appeal, while thematically Seth delves into themes of growing up in a small town, causing trouble and rebelling against authorities. It’s one of those tracks you just randomly start humming without even consciously thinking about it, and believe me when I say that’s a good thing.
- 10. Up&Up by Coldplay
Adventure of a Lifetime may be the sure winner in the mainstream singles department, but it’s also far from the most interesting cut on the London-based rock band’s new album, A Head Full of Dreams. Up&Up is every bit as infectious as anything else in the Coldplay catalogue, featuring grand choruses and a fantastic solo by Oasis-frontman Noel Gallagher. It’s the kind of song that slowly unfolds into more layers, until it sounds like a choir singing to the heavens above. It’s also very uplifting and full of optimism – something we desperately need these days. The most inspirational song of the year, if you will.
- 9. Empire of the Clouds by Iron Maiden
Easily claiming the title of being the year’s longest song, the 18-minute heavy metal ballad about the tragedy of the french zeppelin R101 is truly the magnum opus of Bruce Dickinson. In many ways Iron Maiden have created their own Stairway to Heaven, but instead of the guitar, the piano is the centre piece of the composition. Similarly to the Led Zeppelin classic, it starts off slow and quiet, then gradually opens up and unfolds into more and more musical layers. It’s very theatrical and epic in its progression, culminating in guitar-solo heaven, sweeping string sections, and a galloping drum-rhythm that sounds like thunder bolts and lighting. An essential listen.
- 8. Our Own House by MisterWives
Quite possibly the song on the list that is best tailored for modern radio. It’s really hard not to get caught up in the funky guitar work and the dance-driven rhythm section, and it’s even more impossible to avoid the blissfully catchy chorus. It’s the kind of perfect indie tune that deserves to be propelled out of the underground and into the mainstream. It doesn’t sound like every other industry-fabricated nonsense. It has a unique fingerprint that is all its own, making it much more compelling and impactful than your average pop replica. Also, how often does a band successfully manage to incorporate dynamite saxophones into the mix? Our Own House is high on spirit, low on generic instrumentation, and fueled by nitroglycerin that will keep your body moving for days.
- 7. Only These Words by Chris Cornell
There is something so honest, pure and direct about the new Chris Cornell record, and this heartfelt acoustic ballad is no exception to that. Cornell sings about his daughter, painting a romantic picture of a little girl born to a king and queen in a castle down a long road. By the end of the song, the little girl’s alarm clock rings out, and she is now in the real world. No more castles and no more kings and queens. But she’s still a princess nonetheless, Cornell points out as he tells her that one day she’ll get her handsome prince who will love her with all his heart, just like her father does. In a world that is so emotionally guarded, I found it extremely refreshing to hear someone say that “I love you” is “all we want to hear”. Sometimes it’s better to just be straight-forward and say what you actually feel, without being too intellectual about it. Everyone deserves to hear how special they are, and this is their song.
- 6. New World Towers by Blur
When these brit-pop pioneers released their somewhat unexpected comeback album, The Magic Whip, I think most of us were surprised by just how good it was. I’d go as far as to say it’s the best LP they’ve ever created, and New World Towers is a great example of Damon Albarn’s ability to write a thoroughly haunting and atmospheric mood piece. Like the record itself, the song is very mellow and downbeat, evoking a sense of melancholy and wonder at the same time. It’s also incredibly picture-esque in the way it describes the great city of Hong Kong, from the green neon lights to the glass arcades – not just in the painterly lyrics, but also through the slow-moving guitar waves that come and go, underscoring the calmness and reflective state of mind.
- 5. How Much A Dollar Cost by Kendrick Lamar
It’s no easy task to pick out just one fruit from this hip hop cornucopia, but if I had to select one piece from To Pimp A Butterfly that would best sum up the genius and tremendous musicality of this masterpiece, it would most definitely be track 11. Backed by a grinding beat and a sensual brass section, this song unravels almost like slam poetry. Kendrick is not so much rapping here as he is letting out a stream of conscious spoken words. He’s telling a story, and the music is really there to set the tone and pace. The execution is so effortless and confident, from the soulful piano to the dirty bongo drums. A sure top bid for best recording of the year.
- 4. Trouble by Cage The Elephant
Taken from the band’s upcoming forth studio album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, this feverish psych-rock ballad harkens back to the 1960’s garage mentality, keeping the melody simple and the narrative straight, while building around the core rhythm section with subtle guitar licks and faint bass drum pulse-beats. The single was produced by Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys, and his low-fi production sensibilities definitely come through on this track. It sort of reminds me of what Tommy James did on Crimson and Clover. I think we have another classic on our hands here.
- 3. Do The Damage by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
The award for best rock song of the year goes to Oasis-frontman Noe Gallagher and his never-ending talent for crafting bullet-proof crossover singles. Ironically enough, Do the Damage is not even on the standard version of Chasing Yesterday, the songwriter’s latest album, which is quite a shame considering how instantly memorable it is. The track has a very urgent quality to the lyrics and the instrumentation, throwing in organs, blazing saxophones, a seismic wave of thunderous guitar riffage, and rapid-fire piano chords. Gallagher’s voice is particularly strong and penetrative on here, adding an extra layer of spice to this red hot psychedelic dish.
- 2. Patience by Amy & The Engine
Second spot goes to a powerfully intimate and deeply tender acoustic jangle-pop diamond, dealing with the fact that we are living in the most stressful, fast-paced time the world has ever seen. Everyone wants to grow up, preferably sooner than later, but no one ever seems to consider slowing things down and enjoy the small moments in life. We’re all simply too busy to have fun and be present. The instrumentation reflects this idea so perfectly, maintaining a relatively quiet tone all the way throughout, even during the galloping chorus. It brought great peace to my heart when I first heard it, and I highly recommend checking out the attached music video below. Watch out for these guys! They have have so much potential to unlock. A true force to be reckoned with.
- 1. You In January by The Wonder Years
Clocking in at number one is the 11th track from the Pennsylvanian pop-punk pioneers’ latest album, No Closer to Heaven. This is the kind of naked songwriting that will leave you breathless when it’s over, completely blown away by how raw and unflinching it is. The reason why it tops the list is not because it breaks any new musical ground or re-invents the art of the brokenhearted love song. But what it does so well is treat our ears to something rarely found in popular music these days, which is honesty. The lyrics are so beautiful, poetic and figurative, and every word that comes out of Dan Campbell’s mouth sounds like it was plucked straight from his own personal journals and diaries. It is so urgent and real and confessional, almost like someone sharing his most inner thoughts and feelings with me, even if he might embarrass himself in the process. That level of commitment and passion is something I find extremely noteworthy in this day and age, and that is why it ranks as the year’s best for me.
Mathias Folsted Film/Music/TV critic, columnist, and news-writer
An aspiring filmmaker, film critic and YouTuber. Previous experience include extensive work for the largest danish film site, www.filmz.dk, where I served as junior editor, film critic, columnist, and news writer. Also a graduate from the European Film College, I've been a lover of motion pictures for as long as I can remember. My criticism is always honest, but above all emotional.