As I always do, in this exhausting labor of love, I have compiled my annual list of the top 40 songs of 2015, in the opinion of myself, Craig Ismaili. This list required a great deal of deliberation, and it is solely a reflection of my personal perspective, and should not be viewed as Garden Statement’s official top songs list. As a result, you will find a great deal of different genres from the ones we typically cover for this site. I have listened to a lot of different albums that have come out this year. Often times my selection is not even a single on the given band’s album, but is simply a deep cut I enjoyed a great deal. Other times, the band or singer’s smash hit single is represented. As is always the case, I have also only included one song per band/artist on this list, so as to spread the wealth and give 40 different artists the recognition they deserved for their standout tracks this year. I hope you enjoy the list I came up with. If you don’t agree with a selection, or would like to tell me what I missed, let me know in the comments. There is a handy Spotify playlist included again at the bottom of the list (with an Apple Music playlist coming soon!) for those of you who are short on time, but still want to hear what I have chosen.
40.Florence and The Machine – What Kind of Man
Florence Welsh’s voice is like Mount Vesuvius: volcanic, explosive, and devastating. The punchy guitars, handclaps, and vocal chants give this Markus Dravs-produced jam from Florence and The Machine’s third full-length a Brendan O’Brien-inspired feel, but in the end this has always been Florence’s show, and she performs as admirably as ever.
39. A Will Away – Be Easy
The closing track on one of the year’s best Extended Plays, “Be Easy” has a Listen and Forgive-era Transit propulsiveness to it, but with more intricate drumming. The bridge is easily one of the year’s best musical moments, with vocalist Matt Carlson singing “Take the weight off your shoulders” in what will be a singalong moment in live shows for years to come.
38. Mumford and Sons – The Wolf
The issue I think, that prevented me from enjoying Mumford and Sons’ newest full-length, Wilder Minds, completely is that it sounded like a knockoff Airborne Toxic Event. From lead single “Believe” to the end of the record, I kept waiting for them to break into a cover of “Sometime Around Midnight.” What I love about “The Wolf” is that it forges entirely new ground for the band, and it’s electrifying climax gets my blood pumping just thinking about it.
37. The Hotelier – Goodness, Pt. 1/Have Mercy – Collider
This pair of unreleased songs/B-sides from two of the world’s best emo bands unearthed themselves this year, Have Mercy’s as a pre-order incentive for their amazing fall tour, and The Hotelier’s as a lathe cut first sold exclusively on tour and then given as a Christmas gift. Both songs are incredible, and continue the traditions of the band’s last two records while not following directly sonically, but I couldn’t choose which to include of both songs, so I combined these entries together.
*Goodness, Pt. 1 not on Spotify*
36. Kacey Musgraves – Biscuits
“Mind your own biscuits, and life will be gravy.” How great of a statement is that? Okay it’s a little bit on the cheesy side, but it’s sung with such a tongue-in-cheek conviction that it’s hard not to fall in love with the sentiment behind Musgraves’ live-and-let-live anthem.
35. The 1975 – LOVE ME!
I think once we look back on The 1975’s ridiculously titled full-length I Like It When You Sleep for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, we will either remember it as the moment their stardom hit the next stratosphere, where they become the biggest rock band in the world, or the moment where they succumbed to the trappings of fame and made the most troubling, indigestible pop album of the century. It feels like it’s one or the other at this moment. “Love Me” is a step in the direction of the former, with a Talking Heads throwback sound and massive hook.
34. DNCE – Cake By The Ocean
In the initial draft of this list, I had songs by not one but two former Jonas Brothers on my list. So sue me, both Joe and Nick Jonas made pop jams this year, though Other Jonas (I couldn’t be bothered to look up his name for this) is probably a little jealous right now (I’m so sorry). “Cake By The Ocean” hits the list on the strength of it being the most danceable of the solo Jonas singles this year, it’s intentionally (I think) ridiculous lyrics, and unshakeable vocal hook.
33. Purity Ring – heartsigh
Any number of songs from this Canadian duo’s newest full-length, another eternity, could have made this list. The album faded down the stretch for me, simply as a factor of being released so early in the year, and as a result of a better female-fronted synth album dominating my listening habits from about October on, but heartsigh’s clap/drum programming and huge synth hook stood out to me a ton in the early going this year.
32. Smallpools – American Love
A second consecutive year in the top songs list for Smallpools, who reached last year with the single “Dreaming” which would reappear on LOVETAP, their debut released early this year. LOVETAP starts off with a fairytale-esque string arrangement before bubbling forth into one of the coolest riffs of the year in “American Love.” It’s eerily reminscent of the frenetic pace of Two Door Cinema Club’s Tourist History, and I mean that in the best possible way.
31. The Starting Line – Anyways
The Starting Line have released their first song in eight years! And they also proved they don’t give a damn about grammar! Syntactically interesting EP and song title aside, this song picks up right where the band left off with Direction, and seems like exactly what you would expect The Starting Line to sound like in 2015. Be on the lookout for their new 7” (featuring two other new songs) in 2016. Having heard it, I think it will bring old fans back to the band in droves, and could perhaps even pull in some new supporters.
30. The World Is… – January 10, 2014
This song, from the band’s surprisingly fantastic new full-length Harmlessness, reminds me in a lot of ways of Saves The Day’s Daybreak, in that it has several incredibly diverse musical sections, styles, and vocal approaches packed in. From the explosive climax (“Make evil afraid of evil’s shadow”) to the staccato middle section, to the shrieking guitar stop and starts of the intro, the song is one of the most diverse of the year.
29. meWithoutYou – Mexican War Streets
By far the most literary of any of the songs on this list, this song from the Philadelphia-based talk-rock band packs references to several Psalms, Deuteronomy, James Joyce, Dostoyevsky, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, among others. In fact, reading through their annotations on Genius.com reads like something of an English Literature major’s curriculum, something that obviously appeals to me pretty significantly.
28. Kendrick Lamar – Alright
The second song from Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly to appear on my annual songs list, “Alright” is a vast improvement on that previous installment (“i”). There were several other songs from To Pimp A Butterfly I could’ve picked for this list, including “King Kunta,” “The Blacker The Berry,” “Hood Politics,” and more, but the hook on “Alright” makes it too hard to pass up for this list.
27. Brand New – Mene
Pretty much without any warning, Brand New released a new song. The internet broke. When it finally returns, a trench has widened deeper than the one (STAR WARS SPOLERS) between Kylo Ren and Rey on Starkiller Base. On one side, people who hate it cause it sounds too much like X album. On the other side, people who immediately proclaimed it the song of the year. On both sides, impatience reigns as people wait for an album instead of being happy we even got a song. The cycle continues. Speaking of Star Wars, that’s perhaps the only thing on the internet that fuels more #hottakes than a new Brand New song.
26. Twenty One Pilots – Goner
The closing track off Twenty One Pilots’ Blurryface, which is itself centered around vocalist and lyricist Tyler Joseph’s uncertainty and anxiety, takes the band to their most vulnerable place yet. The song is Joseph’s most reserved performance of his career for just about ¾ of the song, then it goes maximal in the best possible way.
25. Hop Along – Waitress
This song from the Philadelphia-area band Hop Along won me over by being an absolutely honest portrayal of the dread of running into someone you absolutely never would want to run in to… at the most inopportune possible time. It’s funny, it’s self-deprecating, and it has one hell of a vocal performance.
24. Acceptance – Take You Away
The only song release more unexpected than Brand New putting out a new song this year was when Acceptance dropped a new song on Soundcloud out of nowhere, their first new song in almost ten years. Even more surprising is that by the first chorus it felt like they never left. They’re recording a new album(?) now with Aaron Sprinkle, and I can’t possibly contain my excitement.
*Not on Spotify*
23. Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment – Sunday Candy ft. Jamila Woods
A popular pick for song of the year closer to the midway point of the year, Sunday Candy is the ultimate laid back summer hip-hop jam. I haven’t particularly played in much since the warm weather went away, but I have no doubt it will get constant rotation in summers for years to come. That chorus from Jamila Woods is infectious.
22. Justin Bieber – What Do You Mean
2015, the year that everyone who didn’t already appreciate the heck out of Justin Bieber’s singles (“Boyfriend” is still an all-time jam), had to admit the swoopy-haired kid from that “Baby” video had developed into a pop-cypher. He taps into something incredibly universal on all three of the singles from his album purpose, with “Sorry” and “Where Are U Now?” also receiving constant rotation from me this past year, but it’s “What Do You Mean?,” the not-so-subtle anthem to enthusiastic consent that most quickly sums up this year in music.
21. Allison Weiss – The Same
A lot of closing tracks have stood out to me this year it appears, and this closing track from Allison Weiss’ far too under-the-radar release speaks to something in the human condition better than most any other artist this year is capable of. “Does anybody feel like kissing strangers when they’re sad… Does anybody wish they could change the way they are?” she asks rhetorically in the song’s first verse, before answering her own rhetoric. “It can’t be that hard,” she says, but just the fact that she has to ask if this feeling is universal indicates that, yes, it is exactly that hard.
20. Sorority Noise – Using
I challenge you to listen to the key change near the end of this song without wanting to scream at the top of your lungs. On a live note, I challenge you to see this song live without trying to launch yourself in the air for a crowdsurf. For a song so personal, introspective, and deeply moving, it has a certain universality to it which is admirable.
19. Dance Gavin Dance – On The Run
On their second full-length record with Tilian Pearson, Instant Gratification, Dance Gavin Dance took a bit of a step backwards from their last full-length, Acceptance Speech, but this song somehow combines 90s R&B with boy-band melodies, and Rise-core post-hardcore into one of the most disparate Voltron creations of music this year—and not only that, but it f***ing works perfectly. The left turn this song takes at 2:19 is one of the most exciting things that has happened in music all year long.
18. Misterwives – Not Your Way
Speaking of incredibly exciting moments in music from this year, when vocalist Mandy Lee counts in a half-time chorus near the end of this song, I clap my hands along with the song basically every time. It’s made me get some weird looks in public places on more than one occasion. The song has a great message as well, about female body autonomy.
17. The Japanese House – Clean
This Dirty Hit records band follows in the footsteps of labelmates (and future tourmates) The 1975, by releasing several well received Extended Plays leading up to a full-length debut that will undoubtedly launch them into the stratosphere. Those EPs stylistically owe a great debt of gratitude to The 1975’s own EPs and songs like Anobrain and Heads Cars Bending. I can’t wait to see where they go from here, but this title track from the second of the EP is a stunning composition.
16. Brandon Flowers – Can’t Deny My Love
The lead single from Brandon Flower’s The Desired Effect continues his trend of debuting solo projects with absolutely stellar songs which easily surpass by a hundred thousand miles the rest of the songs on said albums. “Can’t Deny My Love” could’ve easily fit in on Battle Born, and in the process would’ve been one of The Killers best songs ever. If only the rest of The Desired Effect had the same desired effect (I’m so sorry yet again.) This song just packs a hook that is absolutely undeniable (I’m so sorry, forgive me. It gets better I swear.) That distorted kazoo-sounding synth/guitar line that rips into the chorus is perhaps even more catchy than the chorus itself.
15. Pentimento – Sink Or Swim
Pentimento’s second full-length record I, No Longer, falls into the trap that a lot of young bands often fall into: Idol worship. They want to badly to be Jimmy Eat World at moments that it takes away from their own identity. But when they forge their own path, like on their single, “Sink or Swim,” the results can be incredibly impactful. Lines like “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” really spoke to me this year.
14. The Money Pit – Blackout
I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way right away, the single best vocal run of the year is not owned by Carly Rae Jepsen (though we’ll get to her in a moment), Justin Beiber, or anyone else I’ve already talked about on this list. It belongs to The Money Pit’s Nic Newsham, who absolutely slays a vocal take on this band’s dance/emo/indie debut. The mile-a-minute vocal run, “Who’s riding in the back, I think he’s wasted,” is so quick you may have missed it, but that melody is so infections I caught Ebola from it.
13. Enter Shikari – Dear Future Historians
This song has a close personal connection to me with my little brother. Outside of Enter Shikari being one of my favorite bands, and this being one of their very best songs, as justification for this song being on this list, here’s another reason why: My brother doesn’t particularly enjoy a great deal of music. He and I are kind of polar opposites in this way. I did, however, happen to show him Enter Shikari. Since he’s a big political buff, he was taken by their sometimes over-the-top political messages. Interestingly, though, he was especially taken with this song, a more personal number about the way one is remembered by future generations, and forging one’s legacy. I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this story, but just know that it’s a beautiful song in a really subversive way.
12. Motion City Soundtrack – I Can Feel You
While a vast majority of Motion City Soundtrack’s Panic Stations was a trainwreck (What the hell is “Lose Control” and how did the same person who wrote “Hold Me Down” right that?) this song stands out as one that could be among the very best of the band’s discography. The band allows “I Can Feel You” room to breathe in a way that feels really organic and benefits it greatly when the climactic post-rock bridge kicks in. I also think that for an album that was full of lyrical stinkers, this one in particular had some of Justin Pierre’s best lines in nearly half a decade (“Consumed with the promise of one last chance / Are you holding on? Cause I’m still holding on”).
11. Carly Rae Jepsen- Run Away With Me
How do I describe to someone how the girl who sang that “Call Me Maybe” song got to the point where she was the absolute face of the poptimist movement, and the bane of every anti-poptimist’s existence. For one, she absolutely has embraced the next wave of nostalgia in modern pop-music: 80s pop with a heaping helping of brassy jazz. Nowhere is that made more clear than from the opening moments of “Run Away With Me,” it’s audacious saxophone line greeting the listener and pulling them into the adventure in pop’s Narnia.
10. Drake – Hotline Bling
This pseudo remix of D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha,” a song you probably hadn’t heard until Drake remixed it, this song basically epitomized the Drake takeover that was 2015. If you want to know how hard it is to get a number one hit on the Billboard charts, Drake had the second biggest and most talked about music sensation of the year (and perhaps of this decade) behind Adele’s Hello, and this song still only peaked at number two. This song sparked the world’s funniest meme’s for about a month straight, started a new dance craze, and was an all-around cultural phenomenon, and on top of all of that was a fantastically composed piece of sublime pop.
9. Turnover – Dizzy On The Comedown
Turnover’s Peripheral Vision has a way of transporting you to a certain time and place every time you listen to it. It’s an instantly wistful record, and no song is more recognizant of that than this standout from the mid-section of the album. “Cause I still remember when you were afraid of the dark, and I told you to come, and you followed where I asked you to go,” sings vocalist Austin Getz, and it’s these types of hyper-specific memories which form in the heads of every listener of the album.
8. Petal – Heaven
I spoke much earlier about the key change in “Using” and how impactful that moment is. Well, take that and multiply it by about 10 and that’s how I feel about the key change in the final chorus of Petal’s “Heaven.” It’s a supremely confident move from a young singer/songwriter, and an extreme vote of confidence from vocalist Kiley Lotz in her voice to jump up the scale like that at that climactic moment of the song. It has a way of elevating this mellow love song into something angelic and worthy of the pearly gates that the song is named after.
7. Foxing – Night Channels
I wrote a lot about why I love Foxing’s Dealer for Absolutepunk’s Top Album’s countdown, but suffice to say Foxing is the emo band who understands the importance of song composition better than any of their contemporaries. They layer guitar tracks on top of each other astutely when they have to, give the drums just enough reverb to capture the emptiness of a section perfectly, and build to a climax like no other. All of these elements are present on the clear standout from their new album, but it’s the latter that bring a tear to my eye every time I hear “Night Channels.”
6. The Wonder Years – Cigarettes and Saints
Dan Campbell has said that The Wonder Years’ first three real records were a deeply personal trilogy about the act of growing up. This isn’t a particularly new concept, Anberlin did the same on their first three records, with the first being a duel of man vs. man, the second man vs. world, and the third, and conclusion was the struggle of man vs. himself. “Cigarettes and Saints” continues The Wonder Years efforts on No Closer To Heaven to turn their gaze outward. This particular song is a biting indictment on the pharmaceutical industry and their aggressive tactics which lead to increased pill addiction. “My whole generation got lost in the margins. We put our faith in you, you turned a profit,” Campbell belts in what is the album’s best moment.
5. Julien Baker – Everybody Does
So in the interest of full disclosure, I could’ve picked any number of songs from Julien Baker’s debut full-length Sprained Ankle, which I think is one of the most delicate, beautiful and heartbreaking singer/songwriter albums in more than a decade. Her voice can carry a song with such conviction, and sound at once so self-deprecating and empowered. When she sings “I’m a pile of filthy wreckage, you will wish you never touched,” you feel the pang of self-loathing, but the way the line curls up right at the end you also get an image of a sly grin twisting up from the depths. It’s amazing how her voice can explore two complete extremes of emotion simultaneously, but it’s one of the most amazing instruments of the year.
4. Microwave – But Not Often
This track from the band’s split with Head North summarizes why Microwave was easily my most played artist of 2015. The just have a way of phrasing simple ideas that just appeals to me in a way that no other band is capable of—and they’re perhaps the only band from our scene I’ve ever seen to use the word ornery in a song, and not only that, but the only band to rhyme ornery with ornery: “I’ve been watching your cues, and I know all the right moves, to get you ornery. So meet me in the bathroom and I will do what I do to get you ornery.” Okay so that doesn’t sound like a compliment once you write it out like that, but I swear, giving one listen to this split or the band’s debut Stovall will click into focus how accurate the above statements are.
3. Moving Mountains – Deathless
This track marks the moment I had been waiting for since November 26, 2014, Anberlin’s final day as an active band, the moment my second favorite band, Moving Mountains would return. Because of that context, no matter if this song lived up to the band’s previously sapphire discography, it still probably would’ve made the top 40 at some spot. Luckily, not only did Deathless (and the other new song “Abby Normal”) live up to the sterling legacy the band had built for itself since 2013’s exceptionally beautiful self-titled album, but it was perhaps even more beautiful, even more atmospheric, and exceptionally serene as anything from their previous three full-lengths. Deathless may well be the very best Moving Mountains song, and even the fact that it’s in discussion is a momentous achievement.
2. Noah Gundersen – Heartbreaker
Back to back 7+ minute songs, because I clearly don’t value my reader’s time (as evidenced by the now nearly 4,000 words I have already poured into this article and made you read through). “Heartbreaker” is exactly what the title says it is, a heartbreaking, powerful blues rock anthem in a decade where basically none of that exists. The song, tracked live in studio by Gundersen and his backing band, feels like the musical equivalent of blood-letting. As his howl reaches a crescendo, “heartbreaker, name-taker, ladies’ man,” he rips into a controlled, but incendiary, guitar solo, as the entire studio starts to rattle. You can feel the energy in the recording studio as the band tracked the song, and I think for that reason it has probably the best production of any song this year.
1. CHVRCHES – Clearest Blue
There is no moment in music this year more euphoric, more cathartic, and more climactic than when vocalist Lauren Mayberry sings with all the desperation her small, but deceptively powerful voice can attain, “Will you meet me more than halfway up?” and the bass drops in “Clearest Blue.” It’s a moment of pure musical nirvana. I don’t know how else to describe it. The blaring synths, the onslaught of drums programmed and otherwise that slams into you like a tidal wave. Essentially, Clearest Blue is the song the world’s greatest pop band made when they listened to an Explosions in the Sky record and decided, “We want to do that.” Over the course of this list, we’ve had pop-punk bands who want to be post-rock bands, metalcore bands who want to be post-rock bands, and emo bands who want to be post-rock bands, and now we have a pop act getting in on the fun as well. CHVRCHES just happen to do it best of all, And, simply put, as a result, “Clearest Blue” is easily my favorite song of 20