Best of 15: The Hottest Jams of 2015

20. Bjork
Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
Throughout her glittering, 20-plus year career, we’ve seen Björk take on countless fascinating forms. We’ve seen her as a robot, an animated character, an academic, and, of course, a swan. But at no other time in her career has she pulled us closer to her true self than on her heartbreaking breakup album, Vulnicura. On its stunning opener, she lays her fear, frustration, and pain bare, imploring ex-husband Matthew Barney to “show (her) emotional respect.” It’s a startlingly direct command from a notoriously opaque, private artist, and it’s a jolting welcome to the difficult, yet beautiful world of Vulnicura.

19. The Staves:
“Make it Holy”
If I Was (Atlantic)
The entire Sugar Ray back catalog. The phone book. Even that awful Fast and the Fucking Furious song. I could listen to the Staveley sisters sing just about anything. So imagine my elation when they decided to pair their palatial three-part harmonies with delicate arpeggiated guitars and refined, considered songwriting. A fitting end to an excellent LP, “Make it Holy” evokes memories of sitting around a crackling fire, surrounded by the ones you love. It may sound cheesy, but those three-part harmonies just do it to me, man. *wipes single tear from cheek*

18. Foxing
Dealer (Triple Crown)
War is hell. I only know this because everything ever written, filmed, and sung about it tells me so. Josh Coll knows this too, but he knows it because his eyes, brain, and memories remind him every day. The Foxing bassist’s crushing post-mortem of time deployed in Afghanistan is the saddest song of 2015 and a sobering reminder of how many carry around invisible, onerous, unimaginable burdens left by the horrors of combat. It’s uncomfortable and heartbreaking, but also essential to anyone has either been touched directly or indirectly by war, which, sadly, is just about all of us nowadays.

17. Troye Sivan
Blue Neighbourhood (Universal)
Look, at this point we are all keenly aware of all the many awful things about the Interwebz, but the 20 year-old Australian YouTuber-turned-pop star’s e-story is a beautiful one. Marooned in a sleepy, conservative suburb outside Perth, the 20 year-old turned on his webcam and built a virtual community that topped three million, sharing his magnetic personality and myriad talents with kids in similar places. All of that led up to Blue Neighborhood, a stunning, vivid portrait about searching for color in a grey town. On its phenomenal centerpiece, “WILD,” Sivan distills all of the anxiety, expectancy, fear, and joy of first love into four intoxicating minutes.

16. Jenny Hval
“That Battle is Over”
Apocalypse, Girl (Sacred Bones)
One of the great statements of the year, the Norwegian songwriter’s fifth LP matches insightful, incisive prose about issues like sexuality, modernity, and femininity with diverse, accomplished art-pop arrangements and her evocative vocals. While it feels reductive to pull out one of the ten pieces that make up the stunning puzzle, I couldn’t make this list without one. “That Battle is Over” feels like the closest thing to a mission statement/CliffsNotes for the record. The concept of “taking care of oneself” is one of the album’s core tenants, and Hval pulls no punches here, weaving a portrait of the rampant anxiety of modern, (sub)urban ennui. “It’s fearful out here on the calmest seas.” Indeed.

15. Jens Lekman
“Postcard #7”
Postcard Series
No matter what else was happening in 2015, it brought me great peace to know that I’d get one new Jens Lekman song every week. His 52-track Postcard Series yielded a clutch of gems, but nothing touched me like this doe-eyed devotional. Emotional, even by the perma-sentimental Swede’s standards, “Postcard #7” paints a glistening portrait of how someone you love can just power you through any obstacle. In the wrong hands, lyrics like this could come off empty or cliché, but Lekman’s earnest delivery drives them straight through your ribcage.

14. Real Lies
“Blackmarket Blues”
Real Life (Marathon Artists)
After 18 months or releasing bulletproof singles (including my favorite song of 2014), the North London trio finally came through with the masterpiece their early singles deserved. Every great album needs a great opener, and “Blackmarket Blues” delivers, transporting listeners to the rainy London streets where our story plays out. From a phonebox, vocalist Kev Kharas introduces us to his late night world — the straight-through crew, the 5AM exodus, the crushing hangovers, the girls he used to know — and invites us to spend eleven engulfing songs exploring it.

13. Tame Impala
“’Cause I’m a Man”
Currents (Modular)
While its title could double as an odious meninist hashtag, Kevin Parker’s soaring “’Cause I’m a Man” is a refreshingly honest apology for the pathetic behavior that men (including himself and me) often get away with under the guise of masculinity. Parker uses his glorious falsetto to come clean, admitting his weaknesses while frustratingly admitting that he doesn’t have any excuses beyond empty male privilege. It’s of the most beautiful sounding songs of the year, filled with some of its ugliest truths. And it’s yet another example of a) how talented Parker is and b) how trash men are. The world needs more reminders of both.

12. Oneohtrix Point Never
“Sticky Drama”
Garden of Delete (Warp)
The best part of listening to Daniel Lopatin’s music is the hardest part about writing about it; none of it makes any goddamn sense. Though there are some opaque discernible influences, his music moves non-linearly, making it damn difficult to analyze and impossible to predict. His brilliant, beguiling, Garden of Delete, is (unsurprisingly) full of surprises. One of them is centerpiece, “Sticky Drama” — a sort of half 90’s industrial metal, half warped EDM masterpiece — which, as tweaked as it is, is actually one of the most accessible solo songs of his career. In just four minutes, it shifts from dainty harp-like keyboards to pitched-up pop vocals to Front Line Assembly freak-out to all of them coming together to form one horrifying, exhilarating crescendo.

11. Majical Cloudz
Are You Alone? (Matador)
Someone told me that growing up and falling love is supposed to mellow you out, but Majical Cloudz frontman Devon Welsh isn’t so sure. “Downtown” is a sweeping, gorgeous devotional about both sides of finding someone. On one hand, Welsh is ecstatic and overwhelmed (“Is it really this cool to be in your life?”), but he cannot help but worry about what would happen “if it ever goes wrong.” It’s a simple query, but Welsh delivers it with the kind of conviction and lyricism that is staggering and completely unique to him. He’s only two albums in, but he’s cementing himself as one of the finest storytellers making music today.

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