Top 10 Songs of 2015

10. “A New Wave” – Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney loaded its superb return album No Cities to Love with sonic rallying cries, and “A New Wave” is the most immediately gripping of the bunch. As Janet Weiss provides a typically tremendous propulsive rhythm, Carrie Brownstein spits each lyric in the verses with an attention-demanding sharpness. Just try not to ride the wave of empowering positivity with a balled fist raised high and pumping to the beat when the group chorus arrives.

9. “Deeper Than Love” – Colleen Green

While known for her pop punk aesthetic, Colleen Green is at her best when she lets tunes slow burn in the dark. On “Deeper Than Love,” she ruminates on her natural inclinations to avoid meaningful connections and love while wall of hauntingly fuzzed out bass sets the mood. She delivers lines like “And that possibility worries me the most / not harm or abuse or becoming a ghost / It’s the closeness, the intimacy / I’m afraid it might kill me” with a blunt calmness that’s as chilled as it is alluring.

8. “Turn Around ” – Mikal Cronin

After an opening crash of sound, stirring strings instantly lift Mikal Cronin’s “Turn Around” (from MCIII) to a soaring among the clouds pop level. The piano’s repeated lead line marries flawlessly to the forward-pushing force of the rhythm guitar, as Cronin sings earnestly about being in love and (more importantly) living in the moment.

7. “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” – Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie’s best single since Plans explores what happens when a relationship ends in metaphorical car crash. Ben Gibbard lyrically goes the the pain of pulling out all the cutting shards of glass out of his face, deals with the visual scars they leave, attempts to move past the haunting memories of the ghost of the passenger that once rode shotgun, and tries to get over the skittishness in order to return to the driver’s seat and take another ride.  The start-and-stop rhythmic guitar riff provides ample fuel to get the vehicle moving at a brisk pace, and once on the road there’s no point of glancing in the rear view mirror to look back.

6. “The Graduates” – Speedy Ortiz

Foil Deer found Speedy Ortiz playing around with its most stylistically diverse sonic palate to date, and “The Graduates” serves as the purest pop song in the bunch (granted, by comparative measure). Against a backdrop of the band’s clangy guitar riffs, Sadie Dupuis uses her always clever lyricism to craft a surprisingly  sweet song about falling in love as a misfit.

5. “Bound 2 Glory” – iji

Are there too many songs? Probably. Iji’s “Bound 2 Glory” weaves a picture of musical saturation over a buoyantly bouncy indie rock chords. And while Zach Burba posits “Does the world need songs? More regular songs? Stacks and stack and piles of songs? That’s millions upon millions upon millions of songs? Probably not,” the song’s philosophical conclusion is anything but cynical reflection. Making music is a crazy endeavor, but “Bound 2 Glory” captures the spirit hopefulness and unity that musical creation can foster. When Burba repeatedly sings “I’ve got your back” to put a bow on things, you believe him.

4. “Maggot” – Slutever

Embrace the filth. Slutever’s pissed off ode to living bug-infesting uncleanliness is grimy and grungy in all the best ways. Nicole Snyder’s dirty droning vocals in the verse give way to the hookiest chorus ever about insecticide. Kurt Cobain would’ve been jealous early Nirvana didn’t write this one.

3. “King Kunta” – Kendrick Lamar

There are certainly more important, more artistically substantive songs on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, but none of them come close to touching the unmitigated swagger of “King Kunta.” With the relatively stripped down feel of a killer beat and hypnotic guitar line, Lamar does the heavily lifting impassionately preaching a gospel of confidence, struggle, and his rise to the top of the hip-hop world.

2. “Trying” – Bully

Bully’s Alicia Bognanno burst onto the scene this year with the screeching howl of hello in the form of “Tying.” As the band expertly balances rock melody and edginess, her yelped words of fierce self-doubt and the self-aware reflection about the struggle to overcome it rings universally true. It’s rough around the edges in the best way possible.

1. “Flesh Without Blood” – Grimes

At it’s core, “Flesh Without Blood” is the same three notes repeated for nearly 4 1/2 minutes. What Grimes manages to build upon that simplistic structure showcases her pure genius. Each production layer she adds works brilliantly: her dramatic pixie queen vocals, scattered booming claps, reverb swells, momentary shifts in guitar tone,  digital whip cracks, and  jerky percussion flairs. It’s a hyper-kinetic whirlwind of pop perfection that loses none of its freshness or vibrancy even after hundreds of listens.