The Best Tracks Of 2015 (So Far)

James Li

Miguel – “Coffee”

I’ll be honest, I’m not a coffee person. You’ll never find me at Starbucks and I’d rather have tea. But this morning-after slow jam from Miguel is irresistible, with its luxuriously plush 80s synths. Sure, Miguel comes off as a bit of a cornball, but among a field of jaded and disinterested alt-R&B singers, “Coffee” stands out as a breath of fresh air (or a cup of fresh brew). You’ll need some coffee in the morning after spending a night with this song.

Eskimeaux – “Broken Necks”

Gabrielle Smith, who records as Eskimeaux, is one of the most promising “bedroom pop” artists today, although if her Bandcamp tags are anything to go by, “flower punk” might be a better descriptor. There’s something delicate and raw about this surprisingly sweet break-up song: “open up your hands and accept that this has ended / nothing in this world is holier than friendship.”

Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”

I don’t know what to call this new strain of trap pop that proliferates virally through Soundcloud and Vine – think Young Thug or Rae Sremmurd or iLoveMakonnen – but “Trap Queen” is far and away my favourite example of this new sound. Fetty’s a mediocre rapper and the beat isn’t much to write home about either, but he has an ear for irresistible melodies and his joyous Autotuned crooning never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Helena Najm

Grimes – “REALiTi” 

Grimes has perfected the electropop of the future, which is characterized by her scintillating vocals and expertly crafted dance beats. Her trailblazing style has generated a lot of much-deserved hype, which will likely be brought to a head in anticipation of the release of her fourth LP in October. If this discarded demo is indicative of what is to come, then I’ll be sure to snatch a copy of LP4.

Kendrick Lamar – “u”

Despite not being one of the magnificent singles featured on To Pimp a Butterfly, this is one of the most harrowing tracks on the album, offering a more personal glance into Lamar’s struggles with fame and responsibility to his community. This heartbreaking track features an epic performance full of shrieks and tears that you cannot help but empathize with.

Viet Cong – “Silhouettes”

The band’s stunning self-titled debut set the year off right, with this particular track standing out as a personal favourite. “Silhouettes” touches upon the very real issue of intoxication within the more conceptual themes of the nihilistic album, and gives the band’s unlikely hit a humanist touch.

Stuart Oakes

Slutever – “I Miss America”

Slutever are a duo from Los Angeles who always seem to get tied up with Girlpool, but they actually sound a lot more like Dilly Dally (or at least this song does). “I Miss America” is all grunge, rough vocals and attitude, and the song makes me want to snarl, spit and lounge around my dirty apartment all day, safe in the knowledge that rules are just guidelines, someone pass a cigarette, whatever.

Father John Misty – “I Went To The Store One Day”

In which it is revealed to the listener that the ironic, deeply cynical Father John personage – a character that has dominated the last 41 minutes of I Love You, Honeybear – is really just a nice set of clothes designed to get us back to singer Josh Tillman’s apartment, and that the outfit is getting stripped at the door so that some real work can get done. It is a reminder that for all its tricks, cynicism can only go so far and, even if we have ‘seen it all’, a shot of naked, vulnerable sincerity can still cut through the white noise with enough power to send shivers crawling all around the spine.

Petite Noir – “Chess”

“Chess” sounds like South African Yannick Ilunga combined LCD Soundsystem with Majical Cloudz, restructured for maximum ambiguity, and then dared to exceed the sum of those influences.

Carey Roach

Courtney Barnett – “Depreston”

Maybe it’s because I spent this Spring navigating the insane and stressful world that is the Toronto real estate market, but “Depreston” really resonated with me. It takes a true artist to make something as mundane as house hunting sound poetic, but Barnett easily accomplishes this. Her signature dry humour and a soothingly repetitive guitar riff makes for a truly amusing track.

Father John Misty – “Bored in the USA”

“Bored in the USA” captures everything that makes Father John Misty so great; it’s witty, charming, thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining. Father John pokes fun at consumerism and the American Dream, but the pretty piano keeps it from feeling cheap or gimmicky. I never expected a ballad from Father John Misty, but it has quickly become one of my favourite songs of his.

Ibeyi – “Oya”

Ibeyi’s stunning debut, released this February, is one of the most interesting and unique albums of the year. Drawing strongly on their French, Cuban and Nigerian roots, twin sisters Lisa-Kiandé and Naomi Diaz have concocted a truly original sound that brings together contemporary alternative and traditional African influences. The sparsely arranged “Oya,” which highlights the twins’ gorgeous voices, is dark, haunting and incredibly beautiful.

Ayla Shiblaq

Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”

The transition from “u” to “Alright” is the musical equivalent of my mother picking me up after cutting myself on the playground at the age of four. The re-assurance that the feeling of inadequacy is a part of the human struggle was executed so masterfully with the sampling, the rumblings, the changes in tone that are just so raw. Shit, now I’m crying again.

Rihanna –  “Bitch Better Have My Money”

Rihanna is back, and I’ve certainly missed her. Her clever historical references, the wit, the music video that will fuel think pieces left and right, tune the perfect soundtrack for walking to pick up my pay-check, or just the soundtrack to being a bad bitch. Also, Mads Mikkelssen.

Sufjan Stevens –  “Fourth of July”

This track best encapsulates the beauty of Carrie & Lowell. Sufjan may not have grabbed my heart with his rhyming skills in his side project Sisyphus, but his light delicate instrumental paired with the reminder of our mortality in rhyming couplets shows me there truly can be beauty in the darkness. Yes, Sufjan, I guess we really are all going to die.

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