Willie Bee’s One-Oh-Three for 2015.

Here we go, here we go, here we go. The crowd have been screaming for it, the punters are waiting to soak it up, the critics have their knives out ready to carve up every wrong move. It is time for the third instalment of Willie Bee’s 103 for 2015. In 2013 it was the Drones with ‘Why Write a Letter You’ll Never Send Away’ and in 2014 it was Caribou with ‘Can’t Do Without You’. Hmmmm, The regrets, the tears, the indecision, the desires… the beats. This is what it is all about. Getting violently ill, not eating anything minus Maggi Two Minute Noodles and drinking lukewarm team and watching my two day growth extend into three, four, even five days… Jimmy Barnes would be disappointed… as I put together 103 of my favourite songs for the year. As I do every year, within a couple of months my mind will change – will my number 1 remain my number 1? That’s the beauty of perception, that’s the beauty of time and the beauty of the moment. Just like a bloody good song. Your year in music tells you a lot about your year in general. Why did you give so much time to a particular album, to a particular song? Maybe it doesn’t require that analysis – it just requires your gut feel. Once again, welcome to Willie Bee’s 103 – for Twenty-Fifteen. I need to go shave. 

103. Wrong Direction – British India

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In a word: It looks like I’ve just started writing my ‘in a word’ bullshit descriptors but I actually have gone 1-103 so I’m absolutely flogged. What an effort, what an achievement – anyway, this is reading like Inception – careening around like a bloke pulling burnouts on the Eastern Freeway, this track is one of British India’s best. They’ve retained their gut-busting desire to blow eardrums that featured so prominently in their early work, but they’ve continued to show that they are a nuanced and experienced rock band with the catalogue to match. Still one of Australia’s finest live acts, so the direction isn’t too awry.

102. Wandering – City Calm Down

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In a word: ‘‘Wandering’ is one of Bourke’s finest vocal performances on the album, where he seems to combine the profundity of Nick Cave and the delicate vulnerability of Matt Beringer to create a fragile landscape of a man losing grip on his own reality.’ – That was from my review of their debut album. It’s just a really telling song and one that plucks at the heartstrings. I’m a little biased on these guys, but a superb song on a superb Australian album – what more can you ask for

101. Wanna Be Cool – Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment

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In a word: The reason Chance is so cool in my eyes is that infectious desire to not fit into the circle – it’s cliched, but it’s so nice to see the direction of hip-hop moving away from gold plates, moet and all that green and back to a more grounded, realistic interpretation of the lives we lead. Big Sean, Chance and Kyle set up the foundation for Donnie Trumpet to lay out some a pretty geeky high school band landscape that is really quite glorious. ‘If you don’t get re-tweets, it don’t mean you say less, okay?
So I’mma post this shitty-ass selfie on IG/And I don’t care if anybody likes it or likes me, it’s cool’ – we’re all a little bit fucked, so why bother with the cool veneer.

100. Shame – Young Fathers

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In a word: Another song from Young Fathers shrouded in passion and a raw intensity that won these guys a Mercury Prize in 2014. They drive and push their anger into a frenzied attack on some anonymous source – ‘nothing but a barefaced lie is all you cunts hold on to’ – I love the way he curses, that’s what drew me to the song in the first place. Alright, that’s a lie, it’s just a good ‘fuck you’ song to the mfc who cheat the game.

99. Duplex Planet – Deerhunter

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In a word: ‘I don’t ever want to go back to the old folks’ home’. What I like most about this song is that it is open-ended. I think a lot of us have views of how a retirement home is run – some of us just think it is a place that we go to die in relative comfort – like cats under houses. However, there are all these side stories, lost loves, precious memories, life ambitions that have been fulfilled and now only sit in the head of the man slowly deteriorating. I know, depressing, but this song really made me think about those places even though the first line discourages us from every heading back to these stagnant places. Yeah, quality song on another quality Deerhunter album.

98. Aerial Love – Daniel Johns

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In a word: We need Daniel Johns, and I think he knows he needs us too. He’s a flawed, vulnerable man with a soul that seems to be permanently consumed with heartbreak and his own troubles. Name dropping the album title (Talk) before launching into the smooth af chorus, this direction makes sense. The song is rooted in the influence of artists such as How To Dress Well and Movement and we can only think that Daniel Johns has wanted us to come to this point of time for a long time now.

97. How Do You Do It – Empress Of

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In a word: Euphoric rise up the ranks story – putting up with the gritty underworld of a touring artist just struggling to get by, but she does it, for those moments when eyes connect with each other and nod in agreement. It sounds like those moments at gigs when you’re bobbing your head to a ripping tune and you catch eyes with someone else thinking the exact same thing and you both share a wry grin.

96. Solace – Fyfe

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In a word: What a year for the Fyfes. Nat Fyfe won the Brownlow and Fyfe crafted a song as good as this one – for an Australian, I can’t help but feel a lot of connection between this guy’s voice and Tim Freedman of ‘The Whitlams’. To be fair, this song may have been released before 2015 but it was on his EP of this year, Songs, so we will roll with it being eligible. The inspiration may have been how he was scrapped by a major label and thrown to the wolves. He has responded wonderfully well.

95. Restraint + Release – Gang of Youths

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In a word: The start of a good run for Australian music – this is another excellent track from a really solid album. Gruff and unapologetic – no wonder these guys covered LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’ in their Like A Version earlier in the year – they drive a message through and ride the bull until those eight seconds are up (Yeah, I know rodeo, ask me anything). Very affecting song, the sadness of David’s voice (first name basis) in this track fills my heart with so much empathy for the guy.

94. Apollo – Last Dinosaurs

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In a word: A fun ride – a very fun ride. This seems to be a song about playing another character in order to charm a person – lying to yourself, justifying the reason as a way to connect with someone who just makes your body sing – like a good banana on a Tuesday morning. All right, I’m getting delirious – however, yeah, this gets the hips moving.

93. Easy – Tiny Little Houses

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In a word: Phew. Fuck me, this is a lot of work. Existentialist track from Melbourne group focusing on mediocrity of living arrangements and hiding from the essential truth due to the connotations of opening up too far to reveal that inner goo. Well, that’s what I took from it anyway. This is a pretty messed up song when you get to that inner goo – ‘But i fear my second death/When someone says my name for the last time’. Striking.

92. You’re A Germ – Wolf Alice

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In a word: This London group surprised me at Falls Festival last year with an excellent set that transported me to Inner London suburbia with leeches sucking up their souls and stealing their youth away. Filling a hole left long ago by good old Garbage (the band, not general waste product), Wolf Alice are quality. This is a song that hits their demographic – reasonably well off, self-interested folk polluted by dickheads stepping on their turf.

91. Back to You – Twerps

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In a word: Another worthy Australian addition to this year’s countdown (which appears to be lacking the numbers it had last year – I feel like I need a quota) – still, this is a song that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Once again, a heavily relatable song for any twenty-something who compares himself to the bloke over the fence with their man cave and their friends… and their expensive beer. But you know, Imma be me, and you be you. Bloody enjoyable arrangement from a band who have attracted a nice niche following if their sold out shows at the Toff are anything to go by.

90. Can’t Keep Checking My Phone – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

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In a word: More phones, more OCD habits, more wanton desire. This really speaks to me after I text a lady and she takes more than bloody 24 hours to reply – or 168 in the case of another girl who I thought I had a pretty nice date with at a rooftop bar in Melbourne (wink face) – I ain’t mad, I ain’t mad, just disappointed, bitterly disappointed. Enough of the gratuitous mental disintegration, this is yet another cracker from UMO’s third album – the chorus line just makes me want to flap my wings into a frenzy.

89. Cell U Lar Device – Erykah Badu

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In a word: A rehash of old buddy Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ – it be cool, calm and collected. ‘If you’re calling because you are unsure whether you think this is a better version of the original but you’re confused if you’re just running on the old listener fatigue/backlash to popular releases AM frequency, press 3’. This is sick.

88. The Only Thing – Sufjan Stevens

 

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Sufjan Stevens performed Saturday at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival.


In a word: 
‘Do I care if I despise this, nothing else matters, I know;

In a veil of great disguises, how do I live with your ghost?’ Stop it mate, stop it. Searching for a connection to his twice lost mother, Sufjan tries to link up with his self-destructive mother in the same ways she lost herself. ‘I wanna save you from your sorrow’ – this man is just breaking his own heart and he can’t do anything about it. If you could see my face as I listen to this album you might understand my connection with this man. 3.50 – prepare to shred your heart into a million pieces.

87. The Answer – Savages

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In a word: Crunchy. A battlefield featuring all the emotions of our heart – coming back to the simple message; love is the answer. It might not seem right, it might not be right, but love is what we have to come back to. Every doubt we have, every guilty sideways glance, the trepidation, the torment – it’s all here on a platter.

86. Crazy – Thief

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In a word: This Australian artist has produced an addictive little pop number here with shimmering synth flooding the landscape seemingly in every way possible. He hits the mark, with an ice cool vocal performance Oscar Key Sung would be proud of – features a simple anecdote of how off his mindset is to be in love with a person however it all comes together in a neat little package of good quality synth pop.

85. King – Years and Years

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In a word: One of the pop songs of the year, this is a straight up ice cold killah of a dance floor jam. Cynicism of pop’s desire to go shallow and get people moving aside, this is an enjoyable romp that remains centred on the moment – be it some sort of weird relationship akin to King Macbeth and Lady Macbeth or the vulnerability of the King in chess – I don’t know, but I like the immediacy of the track.

84. Bird of Prey – Natalie Prass

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In a word: The central image of this track is that weird phrase ‘bird of prey’ who feasts on vulnerable pawns in the game of life. Here, the pawn is Prass who is sucked into a game of the bird of prey who is spat out once her flesh is all but chewed up. She manages to finally escape and produce a ditty Carole King would be proud of, however the wounds remain raw and deep.

83. What’s Normal Anyway – Miguel

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In a word: So many great songs on this album – this is a lament from an outsider who has come to terms with how he just doesn’t fit in with the mainstream, or the in crowd. He doesn’t need to, nor want to, for he is Miguel – unexpectedly one of the sexiest men alive; a grittier, more grounded version of Prince.

82. Loud Places – Jamie xx (ft. Romy)

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In a word: Back to his roots – Jamie xx calls on fellow The xx bandmate Romy to return to those wide expanses of gloomy solitude. ‘So you can be happy with other people and not me anymore? But remember how we shared those moments of long-winded philosophical discussions of the fate of the Roman Empire and how you cried after we first made love?’ It is a tender tale of a lover whose words have been swallowed by a loud place.

81. What Do You Mean? – Justin Bieber

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In a word: What do you mean What do you mean is in this countdown? Fuck me, this is a super-hyped track from little J-Biebz aka Redemption man. Everyone is talking about this man, and that’s just the way he (and I’m sure his management) likes it. This is just a gorgeous arrangement – with the metronome at just the right pace and Biebz cooing sweet nothings (rapey sentiments perhaps, but I don’t think he swings that way… I don’t know what I mean by that J-Biebz, don’t look at me like that).

80. 15 Years – Houndmouth

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In a word: A lot of should have known bettering this year, as Houndmouth laments a life on the county line with a ball and chain attached and days of reminiscing on the mistakes that have left us in such a predicament. Explosive country-folk song from a group having a lot of fun making some contagious noise.

79. Twilight Driving – Methyl Ethel

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In a word: A track from Australian trio that takes you to the heart of isolated Australian roads and lonely towns. When you live in Perth, you are only an hour drive from… another long, long drive down a road to nowhere. And haven’t we all subconsciously thought, ‘Twilight driving, gotta watch out for the roos’?

78. The Trouble With Us – Marcus Marr & Chet Faker

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In a word: Twangy, outrageously catchy track from these two who appear to be the face of a new frontier – expect a lot more releases from the two partners as they look to take the Triple J Hottest 100 crown and lock it up in vault where Chet keeps the rest of his golden jewels.

77. Paper Trail$ – Joey Bada$$

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In a word: Real talk from a young man on the rise. Sampling himself from ‘Unorthodox’ back in 2013, the man pins that tag to his chest and leads us through something of a contradictory outlook on American life. ‘They say money is the root of all evil, I say money is the route of all people’ – we’ve gone through it before, but the sentiment is clever and the production behind the song (DJ Premier) is first class.

76. Bad Blood – Nao

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In a word: A gritty arrangement foreshadowed by a voice of the ilk of Janet J seems to capture the middle ground of Nao’s headspace and her outward desire for another creature. It is a little otherworldly, but it grounds itself with biting wordplay and vivid imagery.

75. At Your Best (You Are Love) (cover… what are ya gonna do about it…) – Frank Ocean

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In a word: It’s Frank Ocean doing an Aaliyah/Isley Brothers cover, what more can I say? Astoundingly beautiful.

74. Open Your Eyes – School of Seven Bells

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In a word: The context of this song, and the album, is so deeply affecting that there are goosebumps rising in places that I haven’t explored for a while – the death of bandmate Benjamin Curtis (pictured) has inspired this song that soars and dips in mo0d – which sounds like an attempt to ‘celebrate his life, rather than mourn his loss’ as we hear so often at funerals. It certainly stops you in your tracks.

73. Family – Bjork

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In a word: Put a bitta Bjork on your fork with this cathartic, disturbing insight into her family life. A maddening and dense portrait of a broken family.

72. My Life as a Gun – Gold Class

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In a word: Ripping post-punk song that sounds like… no, fuck, you can make up your own mind on what it sounds like – it is a song that offers up what it promises, a determined and gut-churning spattering of a vision of the dark side of Melbourne – it grips and tightens its hold as it drags you along.

71.  Only One – Kanye West and Paul McCartney

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In a word: I know, I know, Kanye uses autotune here – but gee it is a clever little arrangement. Very touching sentiments, an appearance from McCartney – and it is really quite astonishing that these two are working together – it is a very worthwhile listen. ‘Tell Nori about me’ – if Kanye’s eyes were dry when he was singing that, I quit.

70. False Hope – Laura Marling

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In a word: Sometimes I read these things 1-100 (103 in my unique way – how altie mahn) so I’ll compare Jesso and Marling – Marling certainly has the superior voice in the traditional sense however both have a very strong way of creating landscape and context. She’d probably hate me saying this (we’re not friends unfortunately so it doesn’t really matter) but Marling is hitting punk Joni Mitchell areas in this song and it rocks and it rolls.

69. How Could You Babe? – Tobias Jesso Jr.

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In a word: A song that you swear was written back in the 1970s when Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and co were plugging away in New York wine bars. All you need is a wounded heart, a piano, a couple of backing singers and a 6 foot 8 man to sing about his blues and you get a really enchanting number.

68. Crunches – Alpine

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In a word: I wrote a review on this album when it was released from this Australian quartet and described ‘Crunches’ as one of the highlights of the album with ‘the hollowed drum’ and the ‘rolling beachy guitars’ that was reminiscent of Ritual Union by Little Dragon. I might have been listening to a lot of Little Dragon around that time, however I suppose it still does. The harmonies on the track keep you coming back.

67. Hello – Adele

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In a word: I like this song, I like the album but perhaps it is because I listened to ’21’ so heavily, I feel a lot more connected to her sophomore album. However, we are not here to compare two albums of high quality from one of the untouchable figures in pop music. ‘Hello’ is a genuine belter that displays Adele’s unapologetic trademark – that huge, majestic voice.

66. Down Low – Alex Winston

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In a word: This woman has amazing pipes – and she produces a showstopper here, depicting that mental masturbation that occurs when we meet someone of near perfection where we try to avoid placing them on that pedestal only to see every move we make fail in their presence.

65. Here – Alessia Cara

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In a word: This is a song that illustrates those feelings in many of us who don’t want to subscribe to the bullshit of ‘heading out’ and then being fair game and fresh meat for all the thirsty men trying to get themselves another notch. It’s a pretty tender, melancholy take on something that has become a societal problem.

64. Norf Norf – Vince Staples

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In a word: The idea isn’t anything new – the vicious cycle of gangbanging in LA however Staples brings something ballsy with a snarl as he talks of his origins at ‘Norf Side, Long Beach’ where he does nothing but run from the police. He captures the desperation and fear that pervades his community on a daily basis, and the tormented horn/wind instrument, (whatever it is I’m buying it) latching a gloomy landscape on the entire facade. I read a quote referring to him as ‘Chance the Rapper drained of hope’. Spot on.

63. Sparks – Beach House

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In  a word: Lush tones in a setting that is purposefully darkened to suit Beach House perfectly. The band released two albums in a year, an unbelievable result particularly considering the collective quality of both LPs. Sparks is another example of thoughtful melancholy that this duo seem to excel at.

62. Flesh Without Blood – Grimes

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In a word: Very accessible pop in comparison to a fair chunk of her other work – this is a rich and impressive that displays Grimes’ consistently improving vocal range. A journey into one’s sensuality and all those other ebbs and flows.

61. Ch-Ching – Chairlift

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In a word: ‘And the horns said’… that’s not a lyric in the song, but it should be. This track roams from the highest highs to the shade underneath where uncertainty reigns. Instrumentally bold and with a vocal performance to boot, we even get a finish to the song that comes off as something of a Dev Hynes-esque wail.

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60. Omen – Disclosure (ft. Sam Smith)

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In a word: Although their album was disappointing after an outlandish debut, reuniting with Sam Smith was a very smart move by Disclosure as Omen comes up a treat with both essential factors at their best.

59.  Dead Fox – Courtney Barnett

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In a word: What a year this lady had. Although I think ‘Pedestrian At Best’ had one of the best quotables in music this year – ‘Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you’, it was Dead Fox that struck me as the best song on the album – accelerating into bigger issues like ‘nicotine in the apples’ and ‘culling cars rather than culling sharks’ and then musing on her hayfever and the dead possum on the road – it’s zany and thought-provoking, just how we like our Barnett.

58. Lace – Movement

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In a word: Not quite on the level of ‘Like Lust’ or ‘Ivory’ however still a song of immense quality. We had the emergence of several Australian artists (Hayden James, Jarryd James) in the backwind of Movement’s huge 2014 and their efforts were commendable, however they couldn’t replicate the heavy, pressing sound that Movement have curated. Lace is another excellent example of this.

57. Another One – Mac Demarco

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In a word: I used to pretend to like Mac Demarco because I really liked a girl who was obsessed with him. Then I started to actually listen to the man with his slack-jawed strolling rock and the tight production and Mac became a friend. Off his mini album, this is a hopeful pick-me-up in the midst of a breakdown in a relationship.

56. Seeds – Moses Sumney

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In a word: This man’s whole life seems to be etched in sadness so it is unsurprising that this song is a crushing, self-revelatory exploration of his own broken soul. However, as this man has done before and will do again, his voice is so beautiful that you walk out of the experience feeling like you’ve listened to something deeply personal and mesmerisingly beautiful.

55. Son – City Calm Down

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In a word: Jack Bourke’s vocal performance on this song, and on much of their debut album, is remarkable. It is where they will set themselves apart from their ‘rivals’ and upcoming artists in their field. This song, sounding like something in between The Killers’ ‘Dustland Fairytale’ and Midnight Oil’s ‘Forgotten Years’ kills it. One of the finest Australian album releases of 2015.

54. In Time – FKA Twigs

 

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Words… something something… words

 

In a word: No denial here, I am in love with this woman. Once again she proved that she was not a one album wonder with a sublime EP that was surprisingly dropped this year. In Time is yet again a fascinating and intricate composition that suits the fka Twigs brand to a tee.

53. Shaolin Monk Motherfucker – Hiatus Kaiyote

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In a word: Sublime production, sublime vocal performance – this Australian band is a god send – their debut album won a throughly deserved Grammy nomination. Part of the new wave of excellent musicianship receiving its fair share of critical acclaim.

52. begin again – Purity Ring

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In a word: ‘Begin again, begin again, begin again’ the opening lyric of the song bounces out before fading into the shadows. It was nice to have Purity Ring back after a couple of years of being a bookmark to upcoming artists who evoke powerful visual imagery in their songs. Begin again is a dark and twisted song that sparks a sensual reaction.

51. Hotline Bling – Drake

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In a word: Song fatigue saw this nearly drop out all together but that wouldn’t have been fair considering how much I listened to it. The Super-nintendo inspired backing track is a game changer. And bro, how ’bout dem dance moves. Drake can do no wrong. Like Steph Curry, a man at the top of his game even if it doesn’t really make sense. See also: Back to Back and Know Yourself – stiff exclusions.

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50. Filthy Believer – BEA1991

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In a word: I lurrrrrve a good brass section – this song is full of surprises, transgressing from a quiet calm, to alarm, to an unnerving peace. World class pop song that leaves you wanting more despite not knowing whether to press your hand against your chin ala the thinker at the Gates of Hell or throw your body around the dance floor.

49. TURN AWAY – East India Youth

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In a word: You know what is annoying? Bolding things and then having to keep my cursor back to the right spot… Oh yeah, god damn – this is so East side Berlin. What a cop out. Nah, srs, this sounds like ‘Every Me and Every You’ if Pet Shop Boys had have originally had the song to work with.

48. Slumlord – Neon Indian

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In a word: We all swirl around in this life together, but sometimes we hit moments when all that swirling starts to go in the same direction and things get weird and really fucking kewl. This kinda sums Slumlord up. (Not helpful advice but I’m tired and it felt right)

47. Everyone Does – Julien Baker

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In a word: This is a beautiful song – rooted in genuine simplicity, exploding with Julien’s delicate and gorgeous voice. ‘Sprained Ankle’ is another wonderful song from Baker.

46. Sandra’s Smile – Blood Orange

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In a word: I love this man. This song is heavy, real heavy – Hynes said as much when he annotated it – Sandra Bland died in cloudy circumstances in her prison cell – and this song highlights his and wider society’s confounded state in this point of time when so skeletons keep dropping out of closets.

45. Clearest Blue – CHVRCHES

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In a word: The first of two tracks in the countdown – once more it is the incredible vocal performance of Mayberry that draws me in, and then the excellent production behind the voice helps create something that so many bands would kill for.

44. Change of the Guard – Kamasi Washington

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In a word: Just listen to the album. This man is truly incredible even if soul-jazz ain’t your taste. I mean, there are so many layers, so many twists and turns that it is impossible to do the song and the album justice. Fascinating.

43. Summer of Love – Waxahatchee

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In a word: A cruisy, whimsical song that sits in the nostalgic, young love section of any person with an attachment to the land we stand on. (Edit: I have no idea what that even means…)

42. Saint Claude – Christine and the Queens

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In a word: I’ve loved this song for a fair time and I still don’t have a clue what the song is about. With most of the lyrics in French, it is the delicious licks of Christine’s vocals (I presume her name is Christine and like looking up the translated lyrical content, I can’t be fooked googling the necessities) that have charmed me.

41. L$D – A$AP Rocky

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In a word: I don’t suit hallucinogens however this song presents itself as an advertisement for the use of a couple of tabs every now and then. Laced with a desire to slowly lock onto something, stare at it until you know all its curves and all its nuances. Such a cool change in direction for A$AP

40. Heaven Sent – Best Coast

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In a word: Great return from the duo who released an excellent LP in 2015. This track is classic Best Coast – Rollicking, no-nonsense Cali rock.

39. Divers – Joanna Newsom

 

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In a word: Multi-instrumentalist, most renowned for her use of the harp shows on the title track that she isn’t afraid to go her own way. A really lovely, intricate composition that comes with a sublime music video.

38. Waves – Miguel

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In a word: If this song was an murmur quicker it could have so easily been my number 1 – still, a call to the people to grab onto their hats and jump on board the M-Wizzle train. Don’t call him that, he probably doesn’t like it.

37. Hollywood – Tobias Jesso Jr.

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In a word: Man on piano sings about his move to Hollywood – his doubts, his fears, his premonitions. A really honest and sincere tale.

36. Roads To Rome – Breakup

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In a word: A band called Breakup dishing up songs that are littered in angst and lustful desire. Whodda thunk it? This is a really attractive song on the ear – straight out of the Ballet School (one of their tracks featured in my top 103 last year) book. Zany beats build and build until the luscious vocals produce a breathtaking chorus.

35. Mountain At My Gates – Foals

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In a word: Underrated album from a very good band. This is the pick of the album, with more anger and urgency pervading this song (and much of the rest of the album) that we didn’t hear on Holy Fire or Total Life Forever. A welcome progression from a band that didn’t have to prove anything.

34. 1999 – Active Child

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In a word: A masterclass in angelic, ambient pop here from Active Child. He captures the raw emotion of City and Colour and meshes it with beats that are simplistic and well paced. (Edit: I never realised how much he looks like Damien Lewis from Band of Brothers and Homeland – interesting… kind of.)

33. Smooth Sailin’ – Leon Bridges

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In a word: Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Took me a while, but this guy is a brilliant throwback – very clever arrangement on this track. Great album too.

32. Murmurs – Hundred Waters

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In a word: One of the first songs that caught my ear this year was this track. A heartbreaker relying on loops, reverb and a solemn piano arrangement, it never fails to strike a chord. That birthday line always hits me hard.

31. Them Changes – Thundercat (ft. Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington)

 

Thundercat
Images of Artists taken at live concerts

 

In a word: Three blindingly sublime musicians combining for a track that starts out sounding like an Isley Brothers song and ends as you walk out of a wine bar and into the chill of the very early morning commute back home. An unexpected collaboration that works – I’m not really surprised, but I’m very pleased it happened.

30. Don’t Wanna Fight – Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes, feature

In a word: Brittany Howard’s vocal work here is, bless, top notch. Jukebox soul, god damn. Sometimes I feel inadequate when I only leave two lines of writing on a song of this quality, but you know, there are other times when I think it looks quite nice and succinct – clearly this is not one of those times.

29. The Hills – The Weeknd

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In a word: The Weeknd at his self-destructive best. What a weird and wonderful life he seems to have, however this song lets you on a few more of those secrets he can’t keep from anyone – ‘drugs start to feeling like they’re decaf’ – boom.

28. True Affection – Father John Misty

father-john-misty-1

In a word: An anomaly in the album makeup, relying on sweeping electronic beats as backing rather than the raw, acoustic influences featured on a large majority of the album. It works though and you can taste and smell how isolated Mr Tillman is here and how incredible it would be to have a crazy conversation again and again and again. Pillows, Tyrannosaurus Rex, knives, watermelon, European Union, Angelo Lekkas, Sharknado, Ho Chi Minh. Wow.

27. Where Are Ü NowJack ü, Skrillex, Diplo (ft. Justin Bieber)

Justin_Bieber_mugshot,_front

In a word: Yeah, whatever. This is a brilliant song, a first class dance floor banger. Production values on point topped off by a very serviceable vocal performance from the redemption man himself, J Biebz. (Edit: Love that mugshot – just makes sense for the RM.)

26. Need You Now – Hot Chip

Hot-Chip

In a word: I’m torn here. Very underrated album from the masters of their domain. This song almost deserves a top ten place. But I’ll live with my decision – fantastic sample selection that adds another layer of tension to the song as Taylor’s vocal performance toes an emotionally wrought and perplexed humanoid line as only he and Hot Chip can do.

25. I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times – Jamie XX (ft. Young Thug & Popcaan)

jamie smith

In a word: Plenty of good songs on this album – but this is a cracker. The transfiguration from an old gospel song to something that finds its roots in reggae and back again – I enjoy the cultural journey that it takes you on.

24. Really Love – D’Angelo

d'angelo

In a word: Technically I dealt with this album last year but this is just such a beautiful song that I felt obliged to give it a nod. Spanish wine bar lit by naked flame as the couples dance with their cheeks gently touching. This is it.

23. Still Running – Young Fathers

young fathers

In a word: One of the best albums out of Britain in 2015, Still Running is reminiscent of early TV on the Radio and ‘Keep the Car Running’ Arcade Fire – frenzied control – evokes some pretty sick imagery when listening to it hungover and dazed.

22. The Blacker The Berry – Kendrick Lamar

king kunta

In a word: The anger and the passion that sits close to Kendrick’s heart reveals itself in explosive ferocity on this incredible rant-sermonic track. A lot of the contradictions of American society’s relationship with the African-American community are highlighted, ripped apart and then precariously glued back together.

21. Sunday Candy – Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment

sunday candy

In a word: Like being back in a high school musical, this is a treat for a blissful spring afternoon. Rhetorical question: Who the fuck doesn’t like a bit of Sunday Candy?

20. Silhouettes (I, II & III) – Floating Points

floatingpoints

In a word: Perfect mood setting song. So many shades of grey throughout the 11 minutes of remarkable ambient-jazz fusion… shit. A reasonable way to describe this – not quite a reasonable way to put it in any other context.

19. Cream on Chrome – Ratatat

ratatat

In a word: They released a great album this year, did Ratatat. This is the peak – very tight race with Abrasive which was very unlucky to miss out – however, the crunch and subtle diversity this track rolls with gave it the edge.

18. Eventually – Tame Impala

let it happen

In a word: Weirdly enough – I started writing these notes from #1 song and they have gradually got longer… Anyhow, who hasn’t found themselves reeling off a rendition of this track? – It is very moving actually – and clearly a very personal retelling of a relationship ready to be extinguished.

17. Should Have Known Better – Sufjan Stevens

 

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In a word: The magic of this song occurs at around the 2.35 mark of the song when things take a turn and a whole new breath of life comes into this saddening, crushing song. ‘I should have known better, nothing can be changed, the past is still the past, the bridge to nowhere, I should have wrote a letter explaining how I feel, that empty feeling’. My heart… My beating heart.

16. Coffee – Miguel

miguel

In a word: I was one of the few who didn’t mind Wale’s verse – I found the coffee wordplay to be really quite amusing. Nevertheless without his counterpart, this is liquid magic from Miguel. The metaphors, analogies – very clever lyrical work and smooth with just enough of a hit to keep us coming back – just like a good cup of coffee.

15. Alright – Kendrick Lamar

king kunta

In a word: ‘WE GON BE ALRIGHT!’ A catchcry for many, many decades to come. I can’t talk up this album enough – it is the perfect time, the perfect sound but its perfection lies in its gritty, raw nature. The fusion of flavours here somehow adds up to become a modern day pump of the chest when all you want to do as a group, a community or just as a human being is curl up into a ball.

14. Downtown – Majical Cloudz

majical

In a word: The Canadian duo have created something that could slot into any mobile phone commercial, epic wide shot in a romantic drama or just as you look out to the sea – I feel this may jump places in years to come – I just love this song so much. Beautiful.

13. Leave A Trace – CHVRCHES

chvrches

In a word: I just love CHVRCHES so much – their compositions are always layered with a contagious vulnerability – much of that can be placed on Lauren Mayberry’s shoulders. Her vocal performance here is razor sharp.

12. Pretty Pimpin’ – Kurt Vile

Kurt-Vile

In a word: Pretty’ Pimpin’ is pretty pimpin’. Brash and haughty, this is KV at his best. Those guitar licks. Magnifique. BYO beer, sunset and overinflated ego.

11. REALiti – Grimes

grimes

In a word: ‘Eeeeeyeeeeayyyyy’ – Grimes might not really like this song, but I find it a compelling expression of the lust to actually live – and that’s pretty gosh darned important, isn’t it?

10. Magnolia – Gang of Youths

gang of youths

In a word: Gripping rollercoaster that evokes memories of ‘Born To Run’ Boss. A window into a man’s confused fate. It is pretty incredible that this song came in light (or more aptly, complete and utter darkness) of a suicide attempt and it turned into a song that makes you feel elated and electrified.

9. Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd

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Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum

In a word: A performance and song reminiscent of Michael Jackson in the key of cocaine. Physically impossible not to move your body to this jam – cements the Weeknd as one of the biggest R ‘n B stars in the game.

8. Scud Books – Hudson Mohawke

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In a word: A resounding victory deserves a tune of epic proportions in order to celebrate – this is that fucking song.

7. Multi-Love – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

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In a word: Crispy, zany hooks combine with Rubin’s ghostly falsetto that laments on a lost love – or one becoming three and… turning half-crazy. It’s unusual that I feel kind of sorry for Rubin as his three-way arrangement with his wife and their lover starts to unravel. Maybe it should come back to the old adage of ‘at least you were able to experience it at all’. 

6. Ocean Drive – Duke Dumont

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In a word: Rich, luscious nocturnal jam that is as addictive as it is amorous. Wind down those windows.

5. Kill V. Maim – Grimes

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In a word: The production, the intensity, the B-E-H-A-V-E – an amazing internal battle that seems to be waged in a far off fantasy land but lands right on our doorstep. 

4. Let It Happen – Tame Impala

let it happen

In a word: Eight minutes of calculated bliss. That loop at 4 minutes 35. Shiiiiiiiit. Just when you thought it was all over – here we go again. Incredible.

3. Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins) – Father John Misty

father-john-misty-1

In a word: Dusty, raw and blistering love song. Absurdly beautiful. I witnessed the man play live last weekend at Meredith and unashamedly this song made me cry. He sums up what it is to be in love – no frills, no bullshit. 

2. King Kunta – Kendrick Lamar

king kunta

In a word: A masterclass in music worlds colliding. Best song on the best album of the year. ‘And the funk shall be within you’ at 2.44 – is a moment in time that always seems to release a mountain of serotonin over everyone whose ears catch hold of the magic. A proud, exceedingly robust track.  

1. Death With Dignity – Sufjan Stevens

sufjan.jpg

In a word: Simplicity. Grace. Sincerity. The most heartbreaking song I think I have ever listened to. And that’s all I gots to say on that matter. (For some reason Forrest Gump’s final moments with his momma and Jenny come to mind when I listen to this song and that in itself breaks me heart… Run Sufjan, Run.)

Here is the final list to feast your eyes on (minus the two songs that weren’t available on ol’ devilish Spotify.

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