The 40 best songs of 2015

While some of the year’s biggest names didn’t get a look in on FL’s Best 50 Albums of Year, there is no denying that Justin Bieber, Major Lazer and The Weeknd have produced some of 2015’s most memorable bangers. And for every banger there has been a snarling slice of rock from Sleater Kinney, acerbic political vitriol from The Drones or a delirious pop anthem from Florence and The Machine. Here are the 40 best tracks that left their mark on FL.

The 40 best songs of 2015

40-31

30-21

20-11

10-1

40. Gang Of Youths – ‘Poison Drum’

Gang of Youths’ debut album The Positions boasted plenty of sprawling heart on tattered sleeve anthems but none better than the galloping single ‘Poison Drum’. The single release cut two minutes from the track, but the full six-and-a-half minute album version is a mini-epic stolen from the pages of a Bruce Springsteen (or Gaslight Anthem) notebook.


39. Father John Misty – ‘I Love You Honeybear’

Father John Misty’s second album might play on the surface like a series of reverbed devotionals to new love (right down to “the Rorschach sheets where we made love”), but there’s darkness seeping into every crevice. The title track is flooded with orchestral country grandeur but also nods to crashing markets and inherited flaws, while the video descends ever further into tragicomic despair. – Doug Wallen


38. Julia Holter – ‘Sea Calls Me Home’

From its ‘God Only Knows’ harpsichord and fractured chorus (“I can’t swim! Its lucidity! So clear!”) to its surprise whistling section and blown-out sax solo, ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ exemplifies the dreamy otherworld of Los Angeles composer Julia Holter. There’s nobody else today doing quite what she does, and her fourth album, Have You in My Wilderness, luxuriates in that uniqueness. Or, as Holter sings at the end of this song: “No recognized pattern.” – Doug Wallen


37. Best Coast – ‘Heaven Sent’

At her best when invoking the ghost of mid-90s alt rock on ‘Heaven Sent’ Bethany Cosentino twists all those dramatic guitars and dreamy vocals Best Coast do so well into a pop punk gem. On of the most immediately enjoyable moments on new album Califonia Nights. – Sarah Smith


36. Saskwatch – ‘I’ll be Fine’

Saskwatch travelled all the way to Philadelphia to cut their third album, recording with two members of beloved US band Dr. Dog. That pairing brings a waterlogged lo-fi edge to their bustling party pop, drenching it in psych fuzz and trippy colours without losing the assured vocal command of Nkechi Anele. – Doug Wallen


35. Teeth & Tongue – ‘Cupcake’

Melbourne band Teeth & Tongue are perennially underrated, due in part to frontwoman Jess Cornelius’ restless stylistic tourism. ‘Cupcake’ continues to blur genre lines, hooking along to an anxious rhythm section while punctuated with gnashing guitar and wan keyboards. It’s like a fever-like trance of a song. – Doug Wallen


34. Methyl Ethel – ‘Twilight Driving’

Methyl Ethel’s sun-warped lo-fi pop courts easy comparisons to Tame Impala and Animal Collective, but ‘Twilight Driving’ plays more like lost AM-radio gold. Picture a molasses-drenched Bob Seger, all steamed up with sax and imploring us to hit the snooze. – Doug Wallen


33. Action Bronson – ‘Baby Blue’

‘Baby Blue’ finds Bronson in peak braggadocious form throwing out memorable lines at will – including the splendid “I’m not exactly flawless, but I’m gorgeous just like a horse” – while Chance The Rapper also drops by with some of the funniest, most light-hearted insults of the year. Add breezy Mark Ronson production to the mix and you the cruisiest summer kiss-off of 2015. – Tom Mann


32. Dan Kelly – ‘Never Stop The Rot’

A new Dan Kelly song means a whole lot of memorable references and phrases, and ‘Never Stop the Rot’ doesn’t disappoint. Its off-the-cuff wryness recalls the later days of Pavement (or earlier days of Stephen Malkmus’s solo career), and as always it’s impressive just how much wordiness Kelly can cram into a radio-friendly single. – Doug Wallen


31. Mark Ronson – ‘Feel Right’

When he wasn’t busy teaming up with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Mark Ronson tapped Mystikal as the gravelly yet fluid voice of this super-tight homage to classic funk. While not quite another ‘Uptown Funk’, it salutes James Brown’s sweat-flying sermonising and soundtracks an especially memorable video. – Doug Wallen

30. ASAP Rocky – ‘Everyday’

Rod Stewart and Miguel are not singers you expect to hear together, but Stewart’s sample and Miguel’s modern interpretation both make perfect hooks for A$AP Rocky to ruefully boast about the price of fame over. Yeah, it’s not a new subject but like that sample from ‘In A Broken Dream’ it works no matter if this is your first time hearing it or your fiftieth. – Jody Macgregor


29. Miguel – ‘Coffee’

Miguel gets his smooth Frank Ocean on and then Wale comes along and compares his sexual technique to a scone, then namechecks 50 Shades Of Grey. What? If that puts you off, don’t worry, there’s a version of this song without the Wale verse; just pure Miguel sex jam, no bread products added. – Jody Macgregor


28. The Drones – ‘Taman Shud’

In anguished staccato, Gareth Liddiard calls out coal magnates terrorising the environment, media manipulators, witless nationalists, and internment camps. If Australians weren’t effectively repulsed by John Oliver’s repeated admonishing, ‘Taman Shud’ should tip them over the edge. It’s a sickening reflection of everything corrupt we hold dear and which deserves reexamination, from lionising murderers to gorging on Masterchef. – Jake Cleland


27. SOAK – ‘Sea Creatures’

SOAK’s songs are windows into her world, into what it’s like as a kid in Northern Ireland and how it’s probably not that different to what it’s like being a kid where you are now. ‘Sea Creatures’ is a teenage outsider anthem, but it’s also timeless classicist-pop. – Jody Macgregor


26. Sleater-Kinney – ‘No Cities to Love’

The title track of Sleater-Kinney’s kickass comeback album is just three minutes long, but it packs so much in there. From the trademark entwining of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s vocals and guitars to the barbed messages of their unflinching lyrics, this is a punky yet funky survey of modern emptiness, both within and without. It’s also one of the catchiest songs of the whole year. – Doug Wallen


25. Blank Realm – ‘Palace of Love’

It took Blank Realm five albums to finally record in a proper studio on their evolution from noisy experimentalists to unlikely pop geniuses. The Brisbane ensemble are at the top of their game on ‘Palace of Love’, which launches immediately into tinny glory while capturing the sheer deliriousness of love. Bolstered by tangled guitar and synth, dual vocals at the chorus and itchy momentum, the song ends on an ecstatic peak that’s absolutely contagious. – Doug Wallen


24. Sui Zhen – ‘Take It All Back’

Singer/songwriter/producer Sui Zhen explores her alter ego Susan in the unsettling video for ‘Take It All Back’. That’s also the premise of her new album Secretly Susan, which further develops her disembodied electro-pop for some of her best work to date. Like the video, this song is at once emotional and nonchalant, heartfelt and goofy. While there are whiffs of vaporwave and PC Music-style pop, Sui Zhen manages to stand outside trends, time and genre. – Doug Wallen


23. Florence & the Machine – ‘What Kind of Man’

Florence Welch has always been looking for catharsis by transforming personal calamity into the meatiest chorus she can find. ‘What Kind of Man’ introduced a more complex approach with layered guitars and horns and a saga of music videos reaffirming Flo’s place as the reigning monarch of turbulent, bombastic rock. – Jake Cleland


22. Ngaiire – ‘Once’

Ngaiire is no stranger to critical accolades, but ‘Once’ is a game-changing single for the suddenly hyped Sydney vocalist, who’s readying her second album. She floats along over the song’s hazy pulse, swinging between airy mood-setting and arresting emotional breakout. It’s modern electro-soul a la Chet Faker, flecked with old-school R&B, gospel and jazz while arriving at a thrilling new sound. – Doug Wallen


21. Twerps – ‘I Don’t Mind’

We all know how well Twerps can do frisky guitar-pop, but ‘I Don’t Mind’ shows off another side. Sprawling past the five-minute mark, it’s a Velvets-ish ballad marked by Marty Frawley’s communal-minded lyrics and Julia MacFarlane’s wispy harmonies. Just like that, it drops the bratty baggage of their band name. – Doug Wallen

20. Deerhunter – ‘Snakeskin’

While it turned out to be a red herring for Deerhunter’s seventh album, which is more cuddly than bristly, ‘Snakeskin’ remains a potent fever-dream of a lead single. Caught between T Rex and Sly Stone, leader Bradford Cox makes with a glam-funk strut and luridly boasts, “I was born with a snake-like walk.” It’s just as slinky and sexy as intended, a contagious snapshot of rock ‘n’ roll delirium. – Doug Wallen


19. Mini Mansions – ‘Veritgo’

Pysch-pop noir that slinks between bright Harry Nilsson melodies, doomy synths, and Alex Turner’s menacing vocals. If the Beach Boys had written the soundtrack to Snatch it would probably sound something like this. – Sarah Smith


18. Grimes – ‘Flesh Without Blood’

Between Kreayshawn and Blood Diamonds collabs, rumoured-to-be-rejected Rihanna bangers, and the introspective ‘Realiti’, Grimes had everyone guessing what Art Angels would finally sound like. ‘Flesh Without Blood’ was the first official taste. With its speedy pop punk riff, ‘Flesh Without Blood’ sounds like the kind of song The Veronicas should be making. Cleaner and more familiar than earlier singles, ‘Flesh Without Blood’ is as much Breakaway-era Kelly Clarkson as it is DJ Sammy; a snappy, compulsive return from one of pop’s least predictable songwriters. – Jake Cleland


17. Alpine – ‘Foolish’

This supremely airy single is the perfect introduction to Alpine’s second album, with its twinkling art-pop turns and Blonde Redhead-meets-Cardigans vocals. ‘Foolish’ even adds a sort of tropical disco edge, begging for a big-time remix. – Doug Wallen


16. Kurt Vile – ‘Pretty Pimpin’

b’lieve i’m goin down… is one of Kurt Vile’s most low-key albums, but its opening track turns out to be one of his catchiest singles. Musically it sounds like ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ via Tom Petty and J Mascis, but the secret of ‘Pretty Pimpin’ is its portrait of the disorientation found as close as the bathroom mirror, unsure what day of the week it is while brushing a stranger’s teeth. – Doug Wallen


15. Drake – ‘Hotline Bling’

When Drake first appeared in the technicolour Apple mothership set that was the ‘Hotline Bling’ video, throwing his best dad-at-the-family-reunion shapes, he immediately became a phenomenon. With a beat that jacks Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road theme and a chorus which makes a ringing phone seem like a personal triumph, ‘Hotline Bling’ is a deft mix of classic Aubrey cheek and understated bravado. Who else could make something as urgent as a hotline seem so casual? – Jake Cleland


14. Jamie xx – ‘Gosh’

Hearing big-ups for the UK massive isn’t something you’d expect from professional wallflower Jamie xx, but here it is. ‘Gosh’ takes the excited toasting of a jungle MC and uses it as build-up and effective coda for a gorgeous slice of downtempo reminiscent of Burial, and it works. – Jody Macgregor


13. Alabama Shakes – ‘Future People’

After a well-loved debut full of solid, traditionalist soul-rock it’s surprising to hear how forward-looking Alabama Shakes sound now. One of the best examples of that is ‘Future People’, which is closer to art-rock than the swampy, bluesy sound we’re used to. – Jody Macgregor


12. Major Lazer & DJ Snake ft. MØ – ‘Lean On’

This is the most pop Major Lazer have been, but it’s no sell out – instead, ‘Lean On’ feels like the latest clever move from a man who’s spent the last five years gradually infiltrating the mainstream. As shiny and accessible as the songs are now, those outsider influences – the dancehall, the moombahton, the reggae – are still there in Major Lazer’s music, just a little more subtly than before. ‘Lean On’ is Diplo’s perfect pop trojan horse. – Katie Cunningham


11. Bully– ‘Trying’

Alicia Bognanno, frontwoman of Bully, produced, engineered, and mixed their album at Steve Albini’s studios. It shows in ‘Trying’, which could be a lost Kim Deal song from the Pixies’ Albini-produced Surfer Rosa, and I can think of no higher compliment. – Jody Macgregor

10. Kendrick Lamar – ‘King Kunta’

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is a wildly ambitious and complex beast of a record that weaves jazz influences, complex lyricism, and soul-searching self-examination into an album that’s been justly acclaimed as an instant classic. At times the scale and scope of Kendrick’s project can be overwhelming to navigate but ‘King Kunta’ keeps things on the one with a James Brown beat and hooky call-and-response vocals. – Tom Mann


9. Hot Chip – ‘Need You Now’

The survival of a band as determinedly odd as Hot Chip – six albums now! – is wonderful, and so is ‘Need You Now’. One of their more serious songs, it’s a late-night dance track full of love and loss and poignancy. – Jody Macgregor


8. Tobias Jesso Jr – ‘Without You’

Classic ‘70s Californian singer-songwriter magic that just happens to have been released in 2015 by a heart-broken Canadian with a little help from Haim’s Danielle Haim on drums and super-producer Ariel Rechtshaid. – Tom Mann


7. Jack Ü (Skrillex and Diplo) ft. Justin Bieber – ‘Where Are Ü Now?’

Nobody but nobody had such an indomitable run of singles as Biebs on his apology tour. This collaboration with Diplo and Skrillex kicked it all off, uniting critical consensus and commercial success like 1989 before him. ‘Where Are Ü Now?’ sounded futuristic from the jump, working distorted samples of Bieber’s own vocals into a melodic hook next to a hyperactive beat which evaded the verses entirely. ‘Where Are Ü Now?’ made every other radio hit sound stale by comparison and finally awarded Bieber the broad credibility his fans had always recognised. – Jake Cleland


6. Taylor Swift – ‘Bad Blood’ ft. Kendrick Lamar

Hailed as propaganda for Swift’s #squad, ‘Bad Blood’s lyrical disappointment over a friendship gone sour makes it equally a you-can’t-sit-here revenge fantasy. ‘Bad Blood’ was an inimitable statement about Swift’s present and future as the godhead of pop. – Jake Cleland


5. Dick Diver – ‘Tearing The Posters Down’

Dick Diver’s crazy-good third album flirts with throwback power-pop in all the right ways, but they haven’t abandoned their tangled jangle. In fact, ‘Tearing the Posters Down’ opens with a veritable Byrds nest of it before Rupert Edwards’s vocals surface after a full 70 seconds of instrumental daydreaming. Sigh. – Doug Wallen


4. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – ‘Multi-Love’

The standout moment on Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s excellent third album, if ‘Multi-Love’ hadn’t dropped in the middle of winter it would be the summer jam of 2015. It is taut psychedelic-funk that pinches the skin while warming the blood with blissful musings of love times three. – Sarah Smith


3. Courtney Barnett – ‘Pedestrian At Best’

“Give me all your money and I’ll make some origami, honey.” Is there a better lyric this year? Barnett’s world-conquering ubiquity aside, this one song bottles everything that makes her great: grungy hooks, talky (almost rapped) vocals, and the kind of self-aware running commentary that’s all too rare in indie rock. – Doug Wallen


2. Tame Impala – ‘Let It Happen’

The first taste – and opening track – of Tame Impala’s third album Currents is a sprawling near eight minute marvel that breaks from loose psychedelia into a hypnotic groove that not even Houdini could escape. Guitars take a back seat to deep disco strut and a mountain of distorted funk, while Parker manages to sound both paranoid and fully unfurled for the first time in his career. The result is a near eight-minute marvel and one of Tame’s greatest moments on record yet. – Tom Mann


1. The Weeknd – ‘Can’t Feel My Face’

Abel Tesfaye’s transition from hipster concern to radio staple has exceeded even Frank Ocean’s rise, scoring two of the year’s most seductive hits: ‘The Hills’, and this year defining single. Singing druggy come-ons through a Jacksonian tenor, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ is Tesfaye’s transcendent orgasm in full climax, yearning and exploding through sharp claps and elastic bass bomps. It’s a sweat-slick singalong for anyone hoping to make love in the club. – Jake Cleland