It’s hard to believe it, but 2015 is already a fourth of the way done. It was not a light musical quarter by any means: in the past month we’ve seen high-profile releases from Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Death Grips, and many more. But what tracks stood out above the rest? We asked our staff to tell us a little bit about their pick for favorite song of 2015 so far. Read on for their selections, and be sure to check them all out in the Spotify playlist at the end.
Dan Deacon — “Feel the Lightning”
“Feel the Lightning” by Dan Deacon makes you do just that — feel an electrifying force pass your entire body. It is the perfect mixture of upbeat and hypnotic, catchy but complex, and successfully maintains the typical “Dan Deacon vibe” of collectively bizarre, yet intriguing electronic music.
Courtney Barnett — “Depreston”
In Courtney Barnett’s performance of “Depreston” for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts last year, she introduced it as being about house hunting in the Australian suburbs; however, if you’re familiar with any of her other work — like 2013’s “Avant Gardner” — you’re likely to already expect Barnett’s uncanny ability to extract the beautiful and the deeply human from the mundanity of everyday life. While “Depreston” certainly is an account of her visiting a house for sale, its narration –backed by a gorgeously simple and swaying guitar phrase — lets us experience Barnett’s realization that the house’s owner has recently passed away. While Barnett does a beautiful job of letting us feel the floating detachment she seems to have felt, she does it with an observant delicacy that can encourage us, too, to feel our experiences a little more deeply, to empathize more fully, and to notice the humanity where we might not otherwise do so.
Action Bronson — “Baby Blue (feat. Chance the Rapper)”
I’m leaning towards the catchiest song I’ve heard this year. The production from Mark Ronson is far glossier than anything Action has worked with before, but this experiment succeeds, turning his tone-deaf singing into a sing-along chorus for the ages. On his verses, Action Bronson continues the humorous and braggadocious tone of his debut album, Mr. Wonderful. Chance’s verse adds some tenderness to the meaning of the song, and Donnie Trumpet of Chance’s band the Social Experiment wraps up the song on a triumphant note. While Kendrick and Earl have us doubting everything we know, Action and Chance reminded us to let go and enjoy.
Tame Impala — “Let It Happen”
Tame Impala’s surprise single upset some neo-psychedelic fans who said that it “wasn’t psych” and “wasn’t the Tame Impala they know”. And they’re right. “Let It Happen” shows Kevin Parker growing musically and embracing a style that is foreign to the band’s previous work, yet still distinctly Tame Impala. Lonerism and Innerspeaker are masterpieces, but “Let It Happen” really excites me about the new influences and sounds the band will hopefully further expand upon on the upcoming album.
Jamie xx — “Loud Places (feat. Romy)”
Jamie xx is on two separate musical paths: 1) minimal pop with The xx and 2) dance music. “Loud Places” seems to tend towards the former: xx singer Romy pines for an old love, over a three-chord piano loop à la ‘09’s “Stars” and a serene, enveloping sub-bass thump. The new element is a repurposed vocal sample, written into the lyrics, that anchors the cascading chorus — “I have never reached such heights / I feel music in your heights.” In it, Romy’s dejection turns to vivid nostalgia as she’s sucked into step with one of the titular loud places. In the music video, multi-colored streamers fall in slow motion to surround Jamie and Romy. This moment, and “Loud Places” as a whole, is perhaps the best image of what Jamie’s forthcoming debut album “In Colour” plans to do: add a versatile color palette to the xx’s calculated simplicity, without sacrificing the clear emotional core. Jamie xx doesn’t see The xx and the dance-floor as mutually exclusive, and here he reconciles them.
Pinkshinyultrablast — “Land’s End”
This outfit of Russian shoegazers released an album this year to minimal critical attention. However, a few listens reveals their knack for melding the pure energy of shoegaze rock acts with smooth dream pop sensibility. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “Land’s End”, where they begin with some subtle guitar playing behind their frontwoman’s lovely voice before all but ending the song and embarking on a sonic journey through walls of noise and slick riffs. The energy of this new band pulsates through this track.
Modest Mouse — “The Tortoise and the Tourist”
I don’t care that I’m not 100% certain what this song is about — its varied guitar lines, sludgy bass, and spirited screams of “let’s pack up / let’s go” are catchy enough on their own to keep me listening to “The Tortoise and the Tourist”, in which Isaac Brock spins a curious and surprisingly impenetrable parable about undead tourism, mental isolation, and an omniscient jewel-bedazzled tortoise. Isaac’s always been good with metaphor, and perhaps the complexity of this particular one is why I love it so much, and why it’s the highlight of what is my favorite album of 2015.
Kanye West — “Only One”
The first song of 2015 is still among its most captivating. This Kanye release in particular was an event — one that earned excited text messages and giddy tweets. Surprise releases call for surprising songs, so it’s fitting that after the brutal minimalism of 2013’s Yeezus, West delivered its mirror image — not rapping over industrial beats but singing over a keyboard (beautifully played by Paul McCartney). Kanye’s lyrics, sang from the perspective of his late mother, may be a bit cheesy (“you’re not perfect but you’re not your mistakes”), but “Only One” is as much reversal of his previous sound as it is of his boisterous reputation. It’s a track from the man who once rapped “we’re all self-conscious/ I’m just the first to admit it” not out of self-loathing, but out of honesty. Auto-tuned and rough as ever, Kanye’s croon hasn’t been this effective since “Runaway” or this delicate since “Hey Mama.” When the chorus of wailing auto-tuned vocals — a West production staple of late — kicks in like an electric shock, it’s as if he’s calling the angels to join in.
Kendrick Lamar — “The Blacker the Berry”
Not since Tupac Shakur’s heyday has a rapper created such a successful combination of forceful racial-political message and absolutely mesmerizing production. Kendrick’s angry pride blisters in lines like “I’m blacker than the heart of a fuckin’ Aryan,” and his expression of racial consciousness as a popular music celebrity makes the critical issue of race in America accessible to a wide audience. And yet he complicates his take in the last line of the song, calling himself a “hypocrite” because of his past violence against other blacks. Its ability to spark such an important conversation — and remain a brilliant banger regardless — makes “The Blacker the Berry” the most important song of 2015 thus far.
Now that you’ve heard what we have to say, check out the songs for yourself: