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The 101 Best Songs of 2015


60. Kurt Vile, “Wheelhouse”

Few choruses in 2015 rock were more spellbinding than the instrumental refrain that crystallizes throughout b’lieve I’m goin down’s centerpiece, a spectral twinkle of guitar that briefly emerges from Kurt Vile’s picking before disintegrating and folding back into the song’s languorous main riff. “Sometimes I talk too much, but I gotta get it out,” the singer-songwriter unconvincingly confesses at song’s beginning. Uh, yeah, Kurt, we were just about to tell you to shut up. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER


59. The Weeknd, “The Hills”

Seduction as explicit horror; Abel Tesfaye playing the predator who knows that you’re in that big house all by yourself, and that you’ll run upstairs to the bedroom when he shows up, instead of out the door like you should. Distorted synth blasts play like Psycho strings in the intro, while that scream that introduces the chorus certainly doesn’t sound like ecstasy. “Who are you to judge?” the villain asks on the bridge, and to a certain extent, it’s a fair question— after all, we’re the ones who keep inviting him in. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER


58. Ciara, “I Bet”

Bit of a shame that it’s impossible to hear such a timeless-sounding, universal-feeling ballad without filling in Ciara and Future’s names to its pronouns (with Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson an implied “somebody better than you”). But “I Bet” so perfectly captured the frustration of breaking up with someone immature and predictable — enough so that they’d make a song like “Pussy Overrated,” for instance — that it almost had to be inspired by such a real-life and public breakup. “You acting like you upgraded me / I upgraded you!” Arguable point after Navyadius’ 2015, but this song was a strong enough argument for Ciara that her ex had to have the best year of his career to properly fight back. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER


57. D.R.A.M., “Cha Cha”

“Cha Cha,” the spurned godfather of Drake’s metastasizing hit “Hotline Bling,” is large-hearted and electric with love. Featuring a Magic School Bus reference, a Super Mario sample, and a beat that could get the whole block popping, this is an idiosyncratic classic that sounds like a smile. — JIA TOLENTINO


56. Pender Street Steppers, “The Glass City”

As glistening, immaculate, and fragile as the title would imply, gently gliding by on a faux-horn zephyr (borrowed from Frankie Knuckles) and unobtrusive bass thump. It’s techno as retro-futurism, and you almost yearn for a huge rock to come crashing through its utopian construction just to see how breathtaking the wreckage would be. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER


55. Beach House, “Space Song”

Like much of Depression Cherry, “Space Song” feels immediately familiar — thick with a foggy atmosphere, the track’s sweeping guitar and toy-drum percussion wouldn’t sound out of place on any of Beach House’s previous albums, particularly 2008’s Devotion. Still, refinements reveal themselves: the hi-def but low-lit production, the almost-antiquated synth that rises and fades throughout. For the refrain, brittle-voiced singer Victoria Legrand beckons, “Fall back / Into place.” That incantation needn’t be a sign of progress lost; it could instead underline the pleasure of resuming old habits. — KYLE MCGOVERN


54. Future, “F**K Up Some Commas”

When your song’s big enough to worm its way into a heel-cracking dance break by the world’s most beloved superstar (hey, Mrs. Carter), you know your year’s on fire. Though “F**k Up Some Commas” first sounded its sirens on Future’s 2014 tape Monster, it was his missile-after-missile-driven 2015 — and a prime appearance on Dirty Sprite 2 — that took the Kill Bill-lifted “We don’t give no f**ks, yeah” anthem to Pluto and back. Nostradamus Nayvadius, what mayhem you hath wrought. — BRENNAN CARLEY


53. Omarion feat. Chris Brown and Jhené Aiko, “Post to Be”

How do we love “Post to Be”? Let us count the ways: the choice spelling of the titular phrase, the way it’s permanently spiced up the act of grocery shopping, and even the throwaway throwback to reggae party-starter “Murder She Wrote,” largely courtesy of loutish lothario Chris Brown. Yes, all signs point to really?, but with Mustard on the beat and hip-hop sweetheart Jhené Aiko demurring as the third point of the snappiest R&B love triangle since “The Boy Is Mine,” well — that’s just the way it’s ‘pposed to be. — HARLEY BROWN


52. Diet Cig, “Harvard”

Every Ivy League put-down contains at least a modicum of insecurity. Diet Cig’s tirade against singer Alex Luciano’s ex — not to mention the new girlfriend who totally “went to school in Cambridge” — stops just short of complete catharsis. It’s tempered, beautifully, by a quivering hint of doubt before the guitar slams back in, doubling down with an epic f**k-you to status-boasting sweaters. And yeah, there’s no way she’s as loud. — JAMES GREBEY


51. Lim Kim, “Awoo”

No Stateside pop song this year breathed like this Korean emoji of a pop song, its verse’s synths popping like a benevolent Purity Ring and its chorus’ beats skittering like 45 RPM Timbaland. “Awoo” sounds factory-produced, but only if Willy Wonka’s calling the shots, making it a kinetic environment bursting with creativity, synthesis, and an intrinsic passion to get the job done with as much efficiency and fun as possible. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER


50. OMI, “Cheerleader” (Felix Jaehn Remix)

As if harkened by the exceedingly chill trumpet blare that signals OMI’s coming, “Cheerleader” swept over the world like the tropical breeze that it is. Sure, “not really” isn’t the firmest affirmation of monogamy when presented with a chance to cheat, but the not-totally-committal response fits the song. There’s just no need to draw a hard line about anything when the sun-soaked grooves are this laid-back. — JAMES GREBEY


49. Skepta, “Shutdown”

Hits like Skepta’s bleeping, chaotic, heavily accented “Shutdown” are the reason why singers like Rita Ora are bandwagon-jumping on grime. It’s the song that coined another iconic Drake-ism (laser-print “Trussssssssss mi da-ddy” on my coffin please) and helped Beats 1 programmers define the station’s early sensibilities, within the same horn-honking cacophony. — BRENNAN CARLEY


48. Young Guv, “Ripe 4 Luv”

Young Guv (a.k.a. Ben Cook, the guitarist for F**ked Up) couldn’t sound less hardcore in this power-pop-a-thon of a single. Emphasizing his readiness — or, more likely, randiness — for passion with breathy vocal layers and quick, sunshiney guitar strokes, the Toronto native is in so deep, he almost channels Woody Allen in Annie Hall: “Love” is too weak a word for what he seeks. — RACHEL BRODSKY


47. Courtney Barnett, “Depreston”

Looking for a fresh start, Courtney Barnett goes house-hunting on “Depreston,” the modest centerpiece of her knockout debut. Accompanied not just by her partner, but also by brushed percussion and gentle guitar, the Aussie singer-songwriter admires the amenities: the lovely garden, the pressed-metal ceilings, etcetera. But suddenly, after noticing the shower’s handrail and the photo of a young man in Vietnam, Barnett experiences a Proustian rush on someone else’s behalf. She doesn’t care about real estate; she’s realized that she’s standing in a person’s home, where they’d sit and think, or sometimes just sit. Knocking down and rebuilding would mean demolishing somebody’s life story — a story that has stretched on ever so slightly to include this epilogue, the most lovingly rendered song on an album full of future classics. — KYLE MCGOVERN


46. Christine and the Queens, “Tilted”

French crossover star Christine is unmatched in terms of pop sophistication, and “Tilted” foregrounds her wit-spiked voice, her easy sweetness, and her taut attention to the beat. The track pulses low, like light in an empty room; synth riffs materialize out of nowhere, and she dances on top of them as if in a dream. — JIA TOLENTINO


45. Lakker, “Pylon”

A thundering death march led by Dublin-bred, Berlin-based duo Lakker, “Pylon” blankets everything before it in despair. Lined with crystalline piano but dominated by radioactive waves of fuzz, it’s the kind of techno track that not only gets your heart pounding — it could also possibly level crops and turn fruit to ash. Phone-recorded church bells ring out in the second half, tolling for all who fall within the song’s blast zone. If Christopher Nolan can’t get Hans Zimmer to score his next film, this’ll more than do the trick. — KYLE MCGOVERN


44. Colleen Green, “Deeper Than Love”

Six minutes of sparse drum machine, ominous, one-note-at-a-time guitar, and casually catalogued intimacy fears. It’s just surprising (and disco!) enough to shake those Best Coast comparisons for this axe-wielding prankster/slacker once and for all. Call it “The Safe Space Dance.”DAN WEISS


43. Tink, “Ratchet Commandments”

One of hip-hop’s most exciting young MCs brings her stone tablets to the club, excoriating lesser-thans with a parental, I take no joy in this straight-facedness. Producer Timbaland, meanwhile, presents a unified front by standing in the back with his arms folded, like he would do when Aaliyah or Missy used to drop knowledge on fools. “Y’all can’t sit with us,” Tink chastizes, and she sounds more like Ms. Norbury than Gretchen Wieners, really just wanting her charges to realize their full potential. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER


42. Adam Lambert, “Ghost Town”

This glam-pop cheesecake scored a perfect gimmick once he had the title. First there’s a lonely-so-lonely acoustic lament and then the most unexpected synth drop of the year, giving way to — what else? — empty-saloon whistling. This jam is, in fact, big enough for the both of them. — DAN WEISS


41. RP Boo, “Bang’n on King Dr.”

“Bang’n on King Dr.” isn’t just another ecstatic issuance from one of footwork’s forerunners, it’s a history lesson too. The track’s named for the Chicago street — Martin Luther King Drive — that’s home to both one of the United States’ oldest Black parades and the earliest instances of the fleet-footed dancing that spawned the rhythmically asymmetrical genre. Boo uses the title as a self-affirmation that all of the globe-trotting forms that footwork has inspired — either with its kick-drum firebombs or deli-thin sample slices — stem from just a few kids throwing down on a street in Chicago. Gloating, but not undeserved. — COLIN JOYCE