2015 was a year of grand triumphs for some, and of bitter defeat for others. Hip-hop saw the release of an incredibly acclaimed album, and the pop scene soared with the triumphant return of Adele. At the same time, indie veterans like Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie released LP’s to disappointment from fans and critics alike.
But all is not lost, as a new cast of characters appears to be emerging from the wings. Some have fully embraced the 21st century’s gradual shift toward a more intense, electronic sound. Others have rebelled into a sort of folk revival, painting lush and intricate scenes with the sparest of instrumentation. Either way, the face of music may look very different in a few years as these artists continue to grow and the stars of the 2000’s slowly wave goodbye.
We’re now halfway into this decade, and while some decry the music of this modern era, 2015 was home to a handful of standout tracks. Here are some of the ones I most enjoyed, in the hopes that you will enjoy them too.
“Sparks” | Beach House
Kicking Beach House’s fifth studio LP into high gear after its dreamy opening track is this dance of hazy vocals, guitar distortion, drum machine, and organ that is an atmosphere unto itself. What makes this track stand out from the rest of the material Beach House has released this year is the way it melds these seemingly disparate components so cohesively. Sonically, it’s unlike anything they’ve released to date, and I can only hope they continue to engage in such experimentation in the future.
“Should Have Known Better” | Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens went back to his roots in 2015. Nowhere on Carrie and Lowell are the electronic experimentations of The Age of Adz, and even the lush, orchestral Illinois seems but a distant memory. Yet with nothing but his guitar and his whispery vocals, Stevens spins his most mature and haunting album to date. “Should Have Known Better” is a deeply personal retrospective of the relationship between young mother and son, spun together by the poetry of its lyrics. In a world where music often equals cacophony, the track stands as a reminder that sometimes, simpler is not only better but far more moving.
“Stressed Out” | Twenty One Pilots
Loyal fans of Twenty One Pilots will complain that people only like this song because it has just now skyrocketed to popularity months after Blurryface‘s initial release. But the fact remains that “Stressed Out” is a tightly packaged synthesis of the band’s synth-driven alt-pop experimentation over the past six years. It features some of frontman Tyler Joseph’s most relaxed, precise, and deft
rapping aggressive poetry to date, and its lyrics strike a chord that fails to resonate with none. The world is a stressed out place, and the burden of making money inescapable, but at least there are still glimmers like this one in the top 40, reminding us of home when we were young.
“Hello” | Adele
It is almost embarassing for me to admit that a song with almost a billion views on YouTube from an album that has vastly outsold records I feel more deserving of acclaim is my fourth favorite song of 2015. But it’s true. I really do like this song. It eschews the aural bombardment that most #1 hits these days entails, and isn’t afraid to give its subject matter five minutes of space to breathe. And there’s no denying that while Adele’s voice may still be pointlessly auto-tuned, her delivery of the heartbroken lines in this song is moving in its emotion. Indeed, her powerful vocals help set this song a cut above the rest of the pop charts, and I won’t deny that it’s something of a triumph in an otherwise bleak mainstream musical landscape.
“Fourth of July” | Sufjan Stevens
Tucked amongst the many tear-stained tracks on Carrie and Lowell is “Fourth of July”. The album’s centerpiece, it’s also the track that deals most explicitly with his mother’s death, a theme that runs throughout the album. It’s a quiet serenade that invites one to listen intently, washing the listener in its distant, ethereal tones and its plaintive lyrics, even as the melody and the steady tempo of Stevens’ keyboard buoy the track until the end. Underneath the surface of “Fourth of July” is the tension of staying afloat amidst tragedy, but it never runs aground, musically or lyrically. Of an album full of gems, this one shines the brightest.
“Let It Happen” | Tame Impala
Of all the tracks on this list, “Let It Happen” is easily the one that takes the most risks. It’s also one of the most sonically complex, not just in the interplay between the sounds, but the artistry of the sounds themselves, from the nasally synth during the intro, to the more atmospheric chords that flow throughout the piece. And there’s no denying the cleverness of the way Kevin Parker utilizes the endlessly looped section in the middle. Simply put, “Let It Happen” is a work of art, and it might have been a masterpiece if it just hadn’t dragged itself out so long. But hey, even if you hate electronic-influenced music, give this track a spin, if just for the novelty of hearing how much Parker’s voice sounds like John Lennon’s.
“Space Song” | Beach House
Beach House never showed more consistency in their artistic vision than on their 2012 LP Bloom, but this year’s Depression Cherry did showcase a more refined sound that was absent from past releases. Nowhere did this sonic growth showcase itself more than on “Space Song”. Quite simply, it is the summation of everything Beach House has worked on up to this point.
I don’t think there’s a whole lot I could really say about this song, except that. Every moment is perfectly placed, from the way the Alex Scally’s shimmering guitar fades on the verse to showcase Victoria Legrand’s incomparable vocals, to the breathtaking ascending synth line on the refrain and the rhythmic intonation of the line “fall… back… in… to… place…”. It may not be Beach House’s most moving song (that honor would have to go to “Myth”), but it is a testament to their artistic ability, a late-night anthem whose dreaminess is sublime. And it is, in my opinion, the best song to emerge out of Anno Domini 2015.
So what do you think? What were your favorite songs of 2015? What do you look forward to most about music in 2016?
As always, thanks for reading through to the end, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the music. :) Cheers!
Blessings and peace to you.