Sound Affects special edition: 10 best songs of 2015
10. 'Gimme All Your Love'
One characteristic that made Alabama Shakes' 2015 album Sound & Color so impressive was the band's use of dynamics. There's perhaps no better example than the earnest and powerful "Gimmie All Your Love." The song effortlessly alternates between a staccato fuzz guitar attack and a loose, laid-back Motown groove. In the driver's seat is Brittany Howard's sultry croon, which gets fiery during an emotionally charged chorus. The band then works into a punchy disco jam before easing back into the song's refrain.
9. 'King Kunta'
Is "King Kunta" a diss track or a slogan? It's neither: this is Kendrick Lamar laying himself out, looking at the success that could be at his feet and spitting in its face. The song is a microcosm of its parent album, a surprisingly uncommercial left turn from an artist who seemingly had it made. On "King Kunta," Kendrick makes sure you know that this was no flight of fancy.
8. 'Run Away With Me'
Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen's "Emotion" opens with a blaring saxophone riff soused with distortion, charting out a far different sonic territory than her more familiar realm of bubblegum pop. In contrast to "Call Me Maybe" and "I Really Like You," "Run Away With Me" swoons with the libidinal textures of '80s-inflected pop. Shedding her squeaky-clean persona, Jepsen flaunts the elasticity of her voice, using the verses' whispery intonations and the chorus' layered hooks to assert her desires for pleasure.
7. 'Can't Feel My Face'
Until 2015's "Beauty Behind the Madness," the Weeknd wasn't known for bouncy, "Smooth Criminal"-esque radio pop. What a hat-trick "Can't Feel My Face" is, then: produced by Ali Payami and the radio pop guru Max Martin, the track blends together the Weeknd's bleak subject matter with a rubbery bassline and a pristine chorus.
6. 'Bad Blood'
Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar
With 1989, Taylor Swift took a cue from the Michael Jackson Thriller handbook, and created an album designed to have something for almost everyone. "Bad Blood's" role in that formula was a song for anyone who was hurt enough from the loss of a friendship to want to take up their fists and meet their former bestie in the courtyard at midnight. Kill Bill-style. Relationships are almost expected to end, especially when you're young.
5. 'Leave a Trace'
The first single off the Scottish trio's follow-up to 2013's massive The Bones of What You Believe shows the band sounding stronger and more confident both as musicians and songwriters. Sleeker than the band's synthpop of old, the lavish "Leave a Trace" is a perfect, sparkling showcase for singer Lauren Mayberry, who not only sound so much more assertive on record than she ever did before (a couple years of intense touring will do that) but hardened, both vocally and lyrically.
4. 'Tennessee Whiskey'
"Tennessee Whiskey" marks the beginning of an immense rise for Chris Stapleton in 2015; he first proved his chops to millions around the world in a performance of the song with Justin Timberlake on this years' Country Music Awards. Stapleton took one of Coe & Jones' more recent chestnuts and reinvented it into penultimate listening with its new status as a passionate burner.
3. 'Pedestrian at Best'
After a pair of EPs that landed glowing notices in all the right places, Courtney Barnett's debut LP was more anticipated than most. Which explains why its first single sounded like something written to exorcise a second-album curse. The Aussie singer/songwriter is loud and ragged and sarcastic as hell, the track relentlessly blocks the hot-take impulse in our brains. It's a joyful riot of anxieties evaporating.
2. 'I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)'
Jamie xx feat. Young Thug
The concept of "song of the summer" is trite and usually rewards formulaic, prosaic pop. Thank goodness for 2015, then, when one of the consensus songs of summer features breezy steel drums, a bacchanalian dancehall introduction, a warm sampled hook, and two verses from the year's most polarizing rapper. Few songs have the power to teleport you back to where you were when you first heard them, but credit Jamie xx and pals making this song memorable.
Rarely in recent decades has a major single felt so vitally in-tune with current events as Kendrick Lamar's "Alright." From the LAPD's protest of Lamar's BET performance atop a squad car to protesters in Cleveland breaking it out during a demonstration, "Alright" clearly resonates throughout the world-at-large. Melding tortured verses about struggle and racism with a more airy, uplifting chorus it manages to bring a hopefulness and clarity to the heavier themes that dominate the rest of Lamar's massive and thorny opus To Pimp a Butterfly.