The date was 15th December, 2014. For music journalists the world over, it was an evening like any other. The end-of-year lists had been published, and it was time to relax in front of the fire. Their work was done. No more sleepless nights. No more deadlines.
But D’Angelo had other ideas. With reckless abandon and utter disregard for the annual music publication calendar, D’Angelo released Black Messiah, one of the albums of the year, days after most end-of-year lists had been published. Music writers panicked. Many confusedly included Black Messiah on their ‘best of 2015’ lists. For others, Black Messiah was forever lost in post-list, pre-new year purgatory.
With that catastrophe in mind, we’ve held off on publishing our online end-of-year lists until the actual end of 2015. Granted, our list doesn’t include anything released in the past month – but it could have, if anything of Black Messiah‘s calibre had cropped up.
Here’s what we came up with as The Mancunion‘s top 10 songs of 2015, as chosen by our team of writers. We hope you agree with our pick for number one; we just couldn’t help ourselves.
10) ‘Boys Latin’ – Panda Bear
From Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, released 9th January via Domino Records
“Beasts don’t have a sec’ to think, but
We don’t ‘preciate our things, but…”
So goes the cyclical mantra of ‘Boys’ Latin’, an indecipherable song that speaks a purely instinctive language. Panda Bear’s interloping vocal melody embarks on a spiritual climb, while the song beneath gurgles, mutates and repeats like a living organism. Though it’s really just a straightforward song buried in murky arpeggiated synthesizers, it seems to exist weightlessly on its own plane, so much so that when the 4mins 42s are up, you feel like it doesn’t stop – it just floats away.
– Henry Scanlan
9) ‘Sparks’ – Beach House
From Depression Cherry, released 28th August via Sub Pop
Even though Depression Cherry has been viewed by some as a massive disappointment, ‘Sparks’ has quickly become one of Beach House’s most popular songs. Ethereal voices dubbed over by powerful shoegaze guitar break new ground for Beach House. Yet, Victoria Legrand’s vocals add a dreamy quality to this harshness, making the track feel brand and oh so familiar at the same time. Gorgeous!
– Cassie Hyde
8) ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ – Ought
From Sun Coming Down, released 18th September via Constellation Records
This song is so good it might actually be perfect. A slow-burning krautrock epic, never rushing. It revolves around breezy bass arpeggios, slowly ratcheting up as Tim Darcy takes us through modern life. Juxtaposing the horrors of neoliberalism—“warplane, condo,” with everyday mundanity—“I feel alright! Beautiful weather today!” the latter declared with absolute joy. Every time Darcy declares “YES!” it’s the most euphoric ‘yes’ you’ve ever heard. The hollow euphoria of normality. This might be my favourite song ever.
– Jacob Nicholas
7) ‘Shutdown’ – Skepta
Released 26th April via Boy Better Know (From #Konichiwa; release date TBA)
‘Shutdown’ is glaring and angry; defiant mockery of the mainstream screams loudly throughout. Skepta, and indirectly the entire UK grime scene, have been dragged kicking and screaming out of relative obscurity because of ‘Shutdown’’s popularity this year. Skepta and JME curated their sold-out Tropical Warehouse Project in October, and Drake (who raps on ‘Shutdown’), Kanye, and even Jools Holland are keen: “Man’s never been on Jools Holland when it’s Shutdown” Skepta quipped. Have these factors contributed to ‘Shutdown’ being one of the first UK grime songs to send shockwaves to the US? Like Skepta cares.
– Elinor James
6) ‘Pretty Pimpin’ – Kurt Vile
From b’lieve i’m goin down, released 25th September via Matador Records
Kurt Vile’s ‘Pretty Pimpin’ is a simple, toe-tapping loop of self-deprication, reflecting on his lacking understanding of himself. Looking at a stranger in the mirror he sings, “oh silly me, that’s just me”, tackling a melancholy topic with an appropriate dose of irony. With traces of the electric organ and sweet falsetto harmonies, this track is more down to earth and honest than previous Vile tracks. Yet far from being miserable lamentation of his own dwindling sense of self, Vile remains upbeat throughout, concluding, if nothing else, he is pretty pimpin.
– Cordelia Milward
5) ‘Malukayi’ – Mbongwana Star
From From Kinshasa, released 18th May, via World Circuit Records
‘Malukayi’, the hypnotic single from the crossgenerational Congolese outfit Mbongwana Star’s debut From Kinshasa, sits staunchly as that release’s centrepiece, the most weirdly fascinating song on an already fascinatingly weird album. It follows the pattern of a lot of great Congolese rumba: Not much happens at first, then something incredible happens, and then it keeps happening for however many more minutes you’re lucky enough to get. Its thrashing heavy-metal-on-a-dustbin-lid opening deceives, a manic adrenaline boost which inevitably precipitates a release, which here comes in the form of a goggle-eyed electric likembe riff, courtesy of fellow Kinshasans Konono No. 1, and a bassline so pervasive you can feel your blood cells tingling. And so it goes for six ecstatic minutes, as the song’s vocals, both pure and distorted, oscillate through the web of sonics, transmitting from Kinshasa to the moon, and beyond.
– Patrick Grealey
4) ‘King Kunta’ – Kendrick Lamar
From To Pimp a Butterfly, released 15th March via Interscope Records
It’s easy to overstate how culturally relevant Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is in 2015. So much so that some voices—Complex’s Justin Charity for one—questioned whether its significance overshadowed the music. Their argument: Was it really all that enjoyable? Well, it was. On ‘King Kunta’, Lamar’s blistering verses poured scorn over his lacklustre peers, borrowing James Brown’s lyrical flow from ‘The Payback’ and delivering barbed lines with tremendous ease. Though he may have claimed he was king, Lamar’s boasting chafed with the ambiguity of the music. Its self-assured G-funk thrust felt unsettled, the sound of hip-hop braggadocio taking a bruising as it teetered between angst and confidence, pretty much epitomising the album, which was rich with uncertainty and righteous anger. That said, it was undoubtedly a banger (just watch its music video) and a superior one at that.
– Jacob Bernard-Banton
3) ‘Cause I’m A Man’ – Tame Impala
From Currents, released 17th July via Interscope Records
While Tame Impala’s third record Currents saw Kevin Parker embracing new fields from disco to dance, second single ‘Cause I’m A Man’ is surely its pop pinnacle. First released in April, the track mixes a sluggish yet jagged bassline with a dreamy synth melody, an asset the band have really honed their talent for on Currents. There’s no shying away from a catchy chorus either, and the track’s popularity was faithfully paid tribute to by Haim on their official ‘remix’. The lyrics may have attracted some haters, but don’t listen to them—the injection of some tongue-in-cheek fun here is a key part of what makes Currents the psychedelic jewel in the 2015 musical crown.
– Elizabeth Ruston
2) ‘Bored in the USA’ – Father John Misty
From I Love You, Honeybear, released February 9th via Bella Union
In this beautiful tragicomedy masterpiece, Josh Tillman manages to take on Springsteen’s classic about the hollowness of the American dream with the ironic detachment of the modern age. The deceptively simple piano and strings ballad is filled with wry asides and observations. Although delivered in his arch persona, ‘Bored in the USA’ gives us a glimpse of the man underneath it all. The lampooning in the song is underscored by a sincere concern for the problems of contemporary life, ranging from the impact of consumerism to the side effects of anti-depressants. Were it not for the bizarre canned laughter pumped in at the end of the song, you wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
– Dom Bennett
1) ‘Where Are Ü Now’ – Justin Bieber
From Purpose, released 13th November via Def Jam Recordings
Remember the days when we all hated pop music on principle and generally felt so much better about our lives? When its now-heir apparent looked only to be a one-hit wonder, destined to fade back into the YouTube obscurity from whence he came? Well, for better or worse, those days are no more. It’s a strange world, Sandy. One where Bieber, Skrillex and Diplo are topping music polls featuring politically conscious works of art alongside solid Pitchfork-bait. This Triple Entente have given us EDM’s magnum opus. Jack Ü’s deep, bouncy and inspired production surrounds Bieber’s breathy, sexy delivery, a song as suited to the dancefloor as the bedroom. We’re all as surprised as you. Well done lads.
– Joe Connell