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The 101 Best Songs of 2015

Florence-The-Machine-Ship-to-Wreck

40. Florence + the Machine, “Ship to Wreck”

“Ship to Wreck” perfectly encapsulates the majestic, barely controlled fury of Florence Welch — the standout single thrashes around like a maelstrom, an awful destructive force in the truest, awe-full sense of the word. But then her voice, a beacon of unflappable clarity, bellows out, propelling the sails of this pushed-too-far metaphor past the rocks and into the “rock.” If all the passion inflicted on her was a busted foot, then she got off lucky. — JAMES GREBEY

CalvinHarris-HowDeepIsYourLove

39. Calvin Harris & Disciples, “How Deep Is Your Love”

“Is it like Nirvana?” Not quite, but the Hakkasan kingpin’s emotionally sledgehammering ode to house music — borrowed from London’s young, hungry, and (as it turns out) ironically named Disciples — is as close to Top 40-friendly as EDM will probably ever get. “How Deep Is Your Love” is repetition as dance-floor meditation: Norwegian singer and co-writer Ina Wroldsen repeats the central, soothing question like it’s a mantra, lulling the dance floor even further into bliss with its pounding piano movements and cannonball crescendo. — HARLEY BROWN

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38. Childbirth, “Nasty Grrls”

For any lady who has ever gone a month without washing her bra, sneezed into a family-style meal, or neglected the litter box, this siren-punk ode to uncleanliness could be your life. Over droning, hypnotic guitar, Julia Shapiro sing-chants triumphantly (like the Raincoats’ famously atonal Ana da Silva) about all such manners of unsanitary stuff, while bassist Bree McKenna chimes in for emphasis: “We clip our nails on the bus / Pee in the shower.” So go ahead, wipe your nose on your sleeve. It’s a woman’s right. — RACHEL BRODSKY

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37. Prurient, “Dragonflies to Sew You Up”

Between Vatican Shadow’s bleak, synth-walled political critiques and his wood-chipper noise work as Prurient, it’s clear that the man born Dominick Fernow has an ear for darkness. Frozen Niagara Falls was meant to be his acoustic Prurient record; he never quite got all the way there, but “Dragonflies to Sew You Up” is reflective of a newfound humanity in his work, an understanding that for most horrors there’s a person who can be held responsible. To confront the darkness of your fellow man is far more terrifying than any Stygian abstraction. — COLIN JOYCE

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36. The Knocks feat. Alex Newell, “Collect My Love”

Sonically, this long-toiling production duo is nowhere near the kitchen-sink invention of Basement Jaxx at their rootiest. But song-wise, the Knocks’ brassiest throwdown builds on the point-and-shoot guitar vamps of 2014’s “Classic” with a steelier-lunged turn by Alex Newell and an airborne “baby, baby, ooh” climax. The love in question juices every roof-raising fillip; gotta catch ‘em all. — DAN WEISS

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35. Grimes, “Flesh without Blood”

Claire Boucher’s always been pretty cool with being uncool — she made a whole album inspired by Dune after all — but “Flesh without Blood” marks her dumpster-diving take on pop music’s new high. She rips muted guitar lines from Max Martin, fleshly vocal pulses from the Cocteau Twins, and jarring compositional mutations from her own early work. Out of the past’s trashy thrift-store assortment of forgotten pop ephemera comes the present’s treasure, unwieldy, otherworldly, and disgustingly beautiful. — COLIN JOYCE

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34. Galcher Lustwerk, “Parlay”

Hip-house the way the Jungle Brothers never imagined — a hybrid designed for the two genres to compliment each other’s most serene and hypnotic elements, rather than their most galvanizing and floor-filling. Which certainly isn’t to say that “Parlay” doesn’t groove, just that it feels more like the drive to The Thing rather than The Thing itself, its beat humming on like bridge sections underneath your wheels, its hook blinking like a turn signal. “I got some plans to carry out,” Galcher portends in monotone sing-speak. Whatever they are, by the time the song’s six minutes are up, he’ll be ready. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

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33. Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta”

For all of To Pimp a Butterfly’s depressive doubts and self-effacing second guesses, its most single-esque moment beats its own chest bloody with conviction. Kendrick recasts Roots’ Kunta Kinte as a Blaxploitation flick hero who’s avenged his right foot and amassed a bank account full of yams, all the while dissing rivals who use ghostwriters (“Most of y’all sharing bars / Like you got the bottom bunk in a two-man cell”). It’s a lot; all of Butterfly is. But you can shake your ass to it and it makes “Control” look like Kidz Bop. — DAN WEISS

CHVRCHESEveryOpenEye

32. CHVRCHES, “Clearest Blue”

There might not be a single moment in music in 2015 better than when, after a raw, pleading buildup to a tumultuous relationship (“You were the perfect storm / But it’s not enough, it’s not enough”), “Clearest Blue” explodes. And we mean explodes: CHVRCHES soar into a cloudless flight of synth rays, free — if only just for a moment — from the chaos of doubt swirling around them. “Every open eye” isn’t just awareness, it’s recognizing and holding onto those fleeting moments of serenity that make the hurricanes worth weathering. — JAMES GREBEY

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31. Bosse-de-Nage, “Washerwoman”

Finally, a black-metal song that properly uses the creeping dynamics of post-rock as the prelude to a climax apocalyptic enough to make the end of “Good Morning, Captain” sound like Belle & Sebastian. After four minutes of slasher-tense guitar-and-drum circling and another four minutes of guitar-and-drum holy-warring, “Washerwoman” audibly shorts out, because how much longer could it possibly go on, really? When your metalhead brother hears the name Godpseed You! Black Emperor, this is what he imagines them sounding like, and it’s even more beautiful than the real thing. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

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30. Chromatics, “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around”

Even before bandleader Johnny Jewel’s retro-futurist synth-pop ballads became the go-to audio cue for starkly lit streets and seedy dealings in all manner of Hollywood productions, Chromatics were set on making widescreen epics. “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around” pairs strobe-light synths and Ruth Radelet’s neon gaze with a droning kick drum that feels as blindly cinematic as a foggy night drive. The difference here is in the detail, the attention paid to raw emotions and internal convolutions (“Baby / I’m not the same me”) — the stuff that really makes plots move. After years of filming pretty landscapes, Jewel’s decided to zoom in, and it turns out he’s as skilled at character development as he is at cinematography. — COLIN JOYCE

Jamiexx-Gosh

29. Jamie xx, “Gosh”

Built with abstract but utterly personal intention, Jamie xx’s punishingly beautiful In Colour opener “Gosh” mimics life’s structure, filtered through a strict, spiritual, and transcendently kind lens. Throwaway words build into wheeling euphoria; the old samples loop and repeat, their pattern barely broken, and then, suddenly, unasked for — there’s a miracle. — JIA TOLENTINO

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28. Zara Larsson, “Lush Life”

Zara Larsson’s only 17, but she’s turning out beautifully seasoned sonic confections like a super-engineered Scandi-pop production line. “Lush Life” has gone quadruple-platinum in her home country of Sweden already (Rihanna who?), and it rocks the most delightfully delayed chorus of the year: “Now I found another crush / Lush life giving me a rush.” A foreign delicacy worth unwrapping time and time again. — BRENNAN CARLEY

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27. Waxahatchee, “Poison”

For the bulk of her third album under the Waxahatchee banner, singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield deals in subdued tones: the low buzz that begins opening track “Breathless,” the soft “ooh-oh-ooohh” that sails through lead single “Air,” the solemn piano that imbues second-to-last song “Half Moon.” As affecting as Ivy Tripp’s reflective mood is, there’s no denying the teenaged thrill that comes with hearing the clattering drums and woolly distortion of “Poison,” as Crutchfield stretches out the admission, “I-IIII watch you anxiousllllyyyy.” What follows is the most purely enjoyable piece of a very considered work — a yearning, flannel-clad rock song delivered with the economy of peak Guided By Voices. If the rest of Ivy Tripp feels like music to hibernate with, then “Poison” marks the moment you’re ready to return to the larger world, footing a bit unstable but eyes wide and heart open. — KYLE MCGOVERN

JasonDerulo-WanttoWantMe

26. Jason Derulo, “Want to Want Me”

It’s not easy to read the title of “Want to Want Me” without cuing up Cheap Trick’s 1977 jaunt of nearly the same name, but Jason Derulo’s steamy counterpoint to “It’s Too Darn Hot” takes care of that, and fast: Our horny R&B hero nearly trips over his own name trying to get to his lady’s house, the song’s bass synthesizers thunking along to his own titillated heartbeat. “Want to Want Me” might come in second to the Weeknd’s paean to ketamine in the race for the King of Pop’s throne, but it’s way more fun. Only Jason Derulo could make upside-down push-ups over an icicle-encrusted tub — an actual scene in the music video — actually kinda hot. Please pour us an ice bath, too. — HARLEY BROWN

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25. Kacey Musgraves, “Dime Store Cowgirl”

On its Dobro-dotted face, “Dime Store Cowgirl” jangles through a wistful rumination on hometown living when faced with the worldwide fame that comes with a high-profile Grammy win and a critically acclaimed major-label debut. “And I felt really small under Mt. Rushmore,” Kacey Musgraves remembers, before flipping what a woman once told her as girl — the discourteous diss, ”You’re just a dime store cowgirl” — into a chorus meant to bolster her own worth (“You can take me out of the country / But you can’t ever take the country out of me”). “Dime Store Cowgirl” is a reminder of one’s path; no obstacle is insubstantial, no journey inconsequential. Every step counts, especially when the Pageant Material star is leading the way. — BRENNAN CARLEY

Miguel-Coffee

24. Miguel, “Coffee”

The single version of “Coffee” added to Miguel’s EP original a mediocre guest verse — in which Wale compares his dick to a scone — but also an outro that takes the song’s heat and sends it stratospheric. (The ?WILDHEART edit wisely dropped the rap but kept the coda.) No other song this year made you so helpless; befitting its occasional “F**king” subtitle, it’s a song that keeps you in bed all day. — JIA TOLENTINO

NicoleDollanganger-You'reSoCool

23. Nicole Dollanganger, “You’re So Cool”

Like Bill Callahan’s Midwestern seer songs, Canadian songwriter Nicole Dollanganger possesses the ability to make songs of devotion sound morbid and turn funeral dirges sublime. “You’re So Cool” is her debut studio collection’s best example of a knack for profound morbidity — a second-person address to a serial killer who keeps the”skulls of all the high-school champs” as rotting trophies above her bed. And still there’s hope: As the instrumentation swells into biblical ecstasy, Dollanganger sings that in the future “there’s no death.” All of this twisted world will melt away, no more guts, no more glory. It’s a moment of bodily transcendence on a record that’s so fearfully and wonderfully fixated on the evil and disgust of these fleshy prisons. — COLIN JOYCE

CarlyRaeJepsen-RunAwayWithMe

22. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Run Away With Me”

Sound the horns and summon the hounds: Carly Rae Jepsen’s E*MO*TION opener cracks the heavens and launches their glories earthbound. Another Mattman & Robin entry on our list (even if the Swedish production game is as friendly as they say, Max Martin had better gird his loins), “Run Away With Me” gallops forward towards a sax-n-synth utopia from its very first notes, with a stunning chorus (“Baby / Take me / To the / Feeling / I’ll be your sinner in secret”) that Jepsen howls, demanding undivided attention, love, and partnership. It’s not an unreasonable request, when electro-pop pioneer Shellback aids backstage, boosting the song’s immune system to pitch-perfect health with echoing harmonizing and teetering drum pops. Sweet satisfaction’s never been so immediate. — BRENNAN CARLEY

21. Lindstrøm feat. Grace Hall, “Home Tonight”

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Within a career of 28-minute exegeses, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm’s peak just might be this relatively brisk nine-minute rollercoaster of shuffling urgency, pounding house piano, and lite, bubble-wrap synth pings. There’s too much build and suspense to be truly pop, but this standalone single is also too replete with full, spiraling melodies to be categorized as a mere floor-filler. Takeaway: Before the aural ecstasy bursts through the ceiling, you might as well dance on it. — DAN WEISS