2015 for me has been the best year for music in a while. So many good songs have been released that it has been virtually impossible to pick thirty standout tracks. But that is what I have done, with this list being not a complete summary of the year in music, but a list that contains some of my favorite tracks from the year. Hope you also appreciate some of the best music that has been released this year. – Sam
David Bowie – “Blackstar”
Entry one of my best songs of 2015 list is the wonderful ten-minute masterpiece that is “Blackstar”. This song is the newest entry on the list, with its experimental alt-jazz and fantastic dark video mesmerizing me from the get-go. I can only hope for good things from the album in January.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”
The second single from UMO’s brilliant album Multi-Love, this track is a dance-pop club banger. As soon as I first heard it, I noticed how different it was from their other work and that is when I began to realize there could be a good album that followed it. I was right.
Leon Bridges – “Coming Home”
Leon Bridges has brought Sam Cooke-era soul back to prominence. His debut album was as old school as they come, with his silky smooth voice and delicate backing instrumentation bringing classic soul into the 21st century. Coming Home was the lead single and from the get-go he had me hooked. What a voice, what a sound.
Quantic – “Creation (East LA)”
The British producer pulled one out of the hat with this Bossa Nova influenced LA jazz track. From the opening percussion to the horns, this track has all the essential elements that make a classic fusion dance track. No question about this being one of the ultimate boogie tracks of the year.
Fat Freddy’s Drop – “Fish In the Sea”
This ten-minute funk fusion epic is one of the best tracks off the Freddy’s new album and quite frankly one of the best songs they have put out. It starts slowly and then builds before this all out funk jazz attack happens in the middle of the song, with raging horns and thundering beats. I just bloody love it. Listen to it, if you haven’t already.
Blur – “Ghost Ship”
From their brilliant comeback album The Magic Whip, Ghost Ship is a tropical reggae-influenced track with a slippery bass line and some awesome R&B guitar licks. The imagery in the lyrics of Hong Kong where the album was recorded also lends itself well to the music, with lines such as “I’m on a Ghost Ship drowning my heart in Hong Kong”. I love this track so much because of its sick groove and just the fact it is so un-Blur and quite Gorillaz-like. One of the standouts from what was a great comeback for the band.
The Phoenix Foundation – “Give Up Your Dreams”
The Wellington band came back with a fantastic dreamy alt-pop track that had overtones of New Order in both the vocals and melody. With its honest lyrics, driving synths, and searing guitars “Give Up Your Dreams” is definitely one of the best tracks to come out of Kiwi-land this year.
The Libertines – “Glasgow Coma Scale Blues”
The Libertines made a very good comeback album in 2015, with driving guitars and sing-a-long melodies ever-present. One of the standout tracks on Anthems For Doomed Youth was “Glasgow Coma Scale Blues”. This is a typical Libertines track with a scorching opening guitar lick, heavy rhythm guitar, Barat/Doherty harmonies and a rousing chorus. This song got me from the get-go and deserves its place in my top thirty.
Gary Clark Jr. – “Hold On”
Gary Clark Jr. came back with a solid R&B-infused studio album this year. One of the standout tracks was “Hold On”. The track opens with a falsetto vocal before transitioning into a Stax-influenced R&B/soul track complete with horn section. The track ends with Clark Jr. showcasing his guitar chops with some Hendrix-like riffing. Very impressive stuff from this modern day guitar god.
Leisure – “Hot Love”
Auckland act Leisure burst on to the scene earlier this year with the track “Got It Bad”. What made them even more interesting, was that for the first few months they did not reveal who they were and instead chose to let the music speak for itself. The second track they released “Hot Love” had an electro-soul feel and instantly hooked me. It was just so smooth and chilled and nothing else really sounded like it. Since its release, I eagerly wait for any new music from this group and cannot wait for a full album to drop.
Jamie xx – “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” feat. Young Thug & Popcaan
The British producer and The xx member released his debut solo album this year. The album contained the absolutely stunning “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times”, a track based on the sample of The Persuasions 1971 track “Good Times”. Featuring Young Thug and Popcaan, the track’s barbershop opening, sick beats, and catchy lyrics made it a favorite in electronic and alternative circles and one of the great trip out bangers of the year.
Paul Weller – “I’m Where I Should Be”
Oh yes, the Modfather released his best album in years with Saturns Pattern, a whirling kaleidoscope of electronica, psychedelia, soul and more. One of the standout tracks was “I’m Where I Should Be”, a soulful melodic pop track in the style of one of Weller’s previous bands the Style Council. The best part of this song for me is the bridge where there are some stunning chord changes that music nerds everywhere would appreciate. Top work Mr. Weller.
Tame Impala – “Let It Happen”
Tame Impala returned this year with their third album, the psychedelic electro-pop of Currents. Opening track “Let It Happen” is one massive trip of sorts, starting off almost as a dance club banger before morphing into the classic psychedelic Tame Impala sound. The key to any good album is the opening track because it sets the tempo for the rest of the album. And on “Currents”, these Aussie lads do just that. What an opener, what a statement.
Fazerdaze – “Little Uneasy”
One of the things that has impressed me this year is the quality of music in New Zealand, especially in the indie and alternative scenes. And one of these impressive musicians is the Auckland-based artist Amelia Murray also known as Fazerdaze. Her song “Little Uneasy” is a gorgeous dreamy pop tune that is full of melody and floats along thanks to a simplistic but very effective rhythm track full of swirling guitars. The DIY approach she takes to her music and the fact it is mostly recorded from her bedroom makes this track even more impressive. I expect to hear more good things from her in 2016.
Jamie xx – “Loud Places” feat. Romy
“I go to loud places” Romy sings at the start of Jamie xx’s stunning soul-infused electronic track off his critically acclaimed album In Colour. The first time I listened to this track I couldn’t help but imagine this could have been recorded in the late-70s, I guess this is largely thanks to the Idris Muhammad sample “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” which appears in the song. “Loud Places” is a very smooth track with a chilled feel to it and is Jamie xx’s second song to appear on my top thirty list. Jolly good show old chap.
Average Rap Band – “Mother Mary”
Tom Scott is a very talented lyricist and rapper and his latest project Average Rap band released their debut E.P this year. I was fortunate to see the duo’s first ever live performance at Real Groovy and I was impressed from the get-go with the jazz influences that Tom seems to have brought into his music. This particular track “Mother Mary” has quite a jazz fusion feel to it, something I really enjoy in hip-hop and was one of the standout tracks on what was a highly enjoyable little EP. The accompanying video of the guys photoshopped into video clips was also very clever. It remains to be seen how long this project goes for, as we know Tom does not stay on specific projects for too long before turning his attention elsewhere.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Necessary Evil”
Another stellar track off UMO’s brilliant Multi-Love was the slow trippy funk of “Necessary Evil”. The song is held down by some of the best beats of 2015, combined nicely with Ruban’s falsetto vocals. This was the song that sealed the deal for me when I first listened to Multi-Love as it was so unexpected and quite simply brilliant. Easily in the top ten grooviest tracks of the year.
Alabama Shakes – “Over My Head”
Brittany Howard and her band of throwback blues/soul rockers were back with their second album in 2015 and it was a stunner of an album that highlighted their musical progression since their debut. “Over My Head” is the album closer and what a closer it is. This is old-school gospel soul, simplistic yet grand with lots of moments that make the hairs on your neck stand up.That moment when the backing vocalists kick in with Brittany leading the charge is simply wonderful.
New Order – “Plastic”
The ultimate dance club banger of the year has to be “Plastic” off New Order’s brilliant comeback album Music Complete. I had absolutely no intention of listening to this album, but then heard it was getting a good rap, so I checked it out. And, I am glad I did as it is full of bangers like this wonderful throwback to the band’s glory days in the 80’s. “Plastic” is classic New Order and sounds like it could have been pulled from their great 80’s records. Peter Hook might be gone, and bitter about the band continuing without him, but the music isn’t suffering and this track proves it.
Courtney Barnett – “Small Poppies”
I love Courtney Barnett. She is such a talented vocalist and songwriter and her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is one of the true highlights of 2015. The album goes along in a summary indie-rock vain before out of nowhere this heavy blue song “Small Poppies” emerges, and it is simply wonderful. To be thrown completely as a listener and then taken on a journey of thrashing distorted guitars and a vocal that even the best blues singers would be proud of, one can only say props miss Barnett props.
Bailey Wiley – “Still On My Mind”
Bailey Wiley is an Auckland soul singer and another artist I discovered this year via a live performance. I saw her perform at Real Groovy and was instantly hooked by her amazing vocal performance of this particular song. Her delivery is so smooth, with a sort of “neo-soul” vibe going on, while the very simple instrumentation increases the potency of her vocals and is just what is required for this song. I look forward to seeing if she releases an album.
Tame Impala – “The Less I Know The Better”
What a song. The bass riff pounds, the vocals glisten, the guitar and synths sync together to hold the song down. When this track was released people were like oh this is rubbish its disco, its pop. Not me, I was like this is the best thing ever, and in my opinion “The Less I Know The Better” is the best track on Currents.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – “The Right Stuff”
Noel returned in 2015 with his second solo record Chasing Yesterday. Musically it was a big advancement from his debut, exploring prog, jazz, and psychedelic influences. The centerpiece of this advancement was a track called “The Right Stuff”. This is a prog jazz experimental piece complete with Pink Floyd-like sax riffs and female backing singers. It really is nothing like Noel has done before and proves that he can experiment musically when he wants to.
Kendrick Lamar – “These Walls” feat. Thundercat, Anna Wise & Bilal
This track reminds me a lot of Prince. The featured backing vocalists, the funky arrangements, and I also think Kendrick’s vocals on here sound a lot like Prince. There is an infectious 80s-like R&B groove to this track which is quite different from some of the more hard-edged tracks on To Pimp a Butterfly. This for me is a good thing as it gives the album some variety. “Complexion” is another track on the album that also does this.
Blur – “Thought I Was A Spaceman”
The Magic Whip had so many good tracks on it, it was always going to be hard to pick songs for my top thirty. With this said, “Thought I Was A Spaceman” was one of those songs that had to be there. This is Blur doing space alt-rock, with Damon’s atmospheric vocal-lines “thought I was a spaceman digging out my heart” and some really good drum work from the underrated David Rowntree, Then, of course, there is Graham Coxon, with his space guitar and amazing child-like vocals in the bridge driving the song home. This track is unlike anything Blur have done previously and for me rates very high up in the canon of best Blur songs.
Thundercat – “Them Changes”
Thundercat is one of the stars on the R&B and fusion scene currently. The prestige he is held in is seen in how he earned high profile spots on albums by both Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington this year. This track “Them Changes” is from his latest LP “The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam” and it is a beauty. The vocals are real smooth, while the funky clavinet-driven beats are reminiscent of the great 70s Stevie Wonder records. I’m sure this will continue to be a big track over summer.
New Order – “Tutti Frutti”
“Tutti Frutti” is another dance-pop banger off New Order’s terrific comeback album Music Complete. This driving dance track has an infectious groove that would have gone down a treat in Manchester in the 80’s, while it possesses a catchy chorus which sees Bernard Summer and Gillian Gilbert trading vocal lines. For me, “Tutti Frutti” is easily one of the best dance tracks of 2015 and would be great for summer parties.
Fat Freddy’s Drop – “Wairunga Blues”
All albums need a good opener to set the tone for the rest of the record to follow. On Fat Freddy’s Drops 2015 album “Bays”, the opening track “Wairunga Blues” does the trick perfectly. This song is a killer funk blues track with some banging horns and some smooth guitar licks. They lay down the marker straight off the bat with this booming track of which the rest of the album follows suit. If you get a chance, get along to a Freddy’s gig this summer, you won’t regret it.
Anthonie Tonnon – “Water Underground”
The New Zealand music scene is in a healthy state, as evidenced by the outstanding music released this year. One of the artists who a is testament to this is Anthonie Tonnon, who released a great album “Successor” this year. He was also nominated for a Silver Scroll with his track “Water Underground” missing out to UMO. What makes this song so great aside from the instrumentation and melody are the lyrics. This is a rare political song and tells a strong tale of greed and corruption, while looking at the exploitation of the environment in the name of profit. This for me is the best song to come out of New Zealand this year and showcased the promise that Anthonie Tonnon has as a songwriter.
Erykah Badu – “Medley: What’s Yo Phone Number / Telephone (Ghost of Screw Mix)”
My final choice for my top 30 songs of 2015 is Erykah Badu. The soul singer released a fantastic mixtape last month with some stunning chilled soul and R&B on it. One of the standouts was the smooth “Medley: What’s Yo Phone Number / Telephone (Ghost of Screw Mix)”. This is classic 90’s Badu and is so perfect to the point I cannot really describe its smoothness. Badu’s vocals are liquid gold, while the beats are just stunning. This is the perfect laid back summer R&B track, and is the perfect way to end the year with.