2015: Favorite 50 Songs

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series

PART 4: “CLIFF” mixed by Willcoma


“Summer of Love”


Maybe it’s the way Katie Critchfield leans into “summer” at the end of the second chorus, her fingers strumming those chords with a little extra force. Maybe it’s the realization of how she sings around her subject, her lyrics metonymously depicting loss and longing without actually invoking either. “Summer of Love” is a heart-sleeved sibling to “In The Aeroplane Over the Sea” and “Black Boys on Mopeds,” and like those songs, its power lies in the force of its conviction, as well as the artfulness of its evasions. Maybe it’s that this isn’t a song, but a time machine, taking you back to the bleary end of all your formative relationships.

Sufjan Stevens

“Death With Dignity”

[Asthmatic Kitty]

It starts with not knowing. It seems like such a distant cry from an atlas introduction. Sufjan Stevens knows better than anyone that all roads end, right? But what happens next? How do you begin again when you’ve run out of road? Here, in this Age of Adz, faith is often seen as “blind obedience,” but what about those who have trouble seeing clearly as the dust still settles? On “Death With Dignity,” Sufjan maps out these dead ends that have separated him from his mother throughout his life, throughout her death. It’s a crafting of a new beginning from nothing, a wavering, chasm-spanning act of faith from an artist who has, time and time again, let what spirit has moved him flow through us too, unimpeded (and this time amplified) by our own self-doubts.



[One Little Indian/Sony]

With “Stonemilker,” a cliff couldn’t be more relevant for an artist who has reached all emotional bounds. The song, the opening track on Vulnicura, is devastatingly personal (the only track solely produced by Björk). But it universally clasps our hearts in a day and age of social disconnection, her captivating lyrics resonating in water droplet rhythm surrender. “Who is open chested/ And who has coagulated?” It’s a small glimpse into our humanity, into the deterioration of feelings.

Julia Holter

“Feel You”


Truly listening — being present while still being in perpetual flux with everything else — can feel like running footless on hard ground during a rainstorm, never quite knowing what kind of insecurities lie up ahead. Momentum and intuition correct for every stumble, but falling is inevitable; embracing it is what keeps you going. But running (even toward what you cherish) isn’t love, and while I’m not sure what love really means, I guess that figuring it out lies somewhere in that impossibility of seeing who you’re waiting for. Feeling out relationships is just as much a process of momentarily forgetting where we’re going, where we want others. Sometimes, really listening is stopping and letting it all rush past in a brilliant flash of purposes and impossibilities. You feel me?

Rihanna, Paul McCartney, Kanye West


[Roc Nation]

How long was 2015? I wasn’t ready for it (were we ready for this song?), and it’s already four, five seconds from ending. “FourFiveSeconds” is a denim-sleeve-hearted anthem, Rihanna doing a little time, compressing our tics and hopes into a week, a weekend, a minute, a few seconds. It’s affective dissonances cast as temporal confusion. She thinks she’s had enough, might get a little drunk. But on the organ-bridge, the reason for this song, she knows about tonight, about right now. Make no buts about it (Kanye’s wild/positive voice, Paul’s pitch-shifted mania), this is Rihanna’s song. This is for our tomorrow, in a year.

Alex G

“Brite Boy”


“Brite Boy” is a shy bit of sea glass; a sand-caked, forgotten souvenir rescued from the beach dunes. Two lovers call and respond with foregone infatuation, singing promises to each other, ones they’ve repeated so many times they’ve taken on new inflections — perfunctory, like mantras. Love and marriage will solve us, she says in a languid, full-cheeked falsetto. If you come back, it will be okay, sings Alex G. They both know this is true. They both sing with the poise of pop, naïve and sweet and loving, the ideal duet. They are far apart; they do not hear each other.

Beach House

“One Thing”

[Sub Pop]

Chris Marker once said that memory is a layman’s prayer. Does that make retro-minded bands secular prayer-wheels? If so, in “One Thing,” a song about a tryst complicated by the tedium of familiarity, Beach House concoct a hymn that climaxes to an Hallelujah. And while sensuality was always a big part of dream-pop and shoegaze, it rarely reached the profane carnality of “One Thing.” A track that has nothing to do with tender lovemaking, but rather passive-aggressive, scornful fornication — striving for the impulse that makes you look at yourself in the mirror instead of the person you’re fucking. And that lets “One Thing” depict lust better than any other piece of music this year.

Heather Woods Broderick


[Western Vinyl]

I listened to “Glider” for the first time in the middle of a restless night spent half in bed. I struggle, as we all do, I think, with belonging. My college house doesn’t always feel like home, and there is no use denying that we need homes of varying shapes and sizes which may or may not be where we sleep and stay dry in the rain, or that life can be a constant and painful process of renegotiating, refurnishing, and abandoning these homes. People can give us a feeling of home, and when I lost someone this year, I listened to “Glider” and cried as if I had nowhere to go. I am, as I’m sure we all are, setting up camps here and there forever in a cycle of confusion and heartbreak I have no immediate interest in ending. Setting up camp is important and helps me to feel the full responsibility of being human. Heather Woods Broderick understands, with extraordinary sensitivity and vitality, that I still need songs for the days when I’ve had enough.

Joanna Newsom

“You Will Not Take My Heart Alive”

[Drag City]

Joanna Newsom’s lyrics are thoughtful, complex, and haunting, but on “You Will Not Take My Heart Alive,” her bewildering passion is even more pronounced than usual. The unabashed acceptance of the unspoken is on full display, deeper than leaping into a bottomless abyss of commitment. Interpret how you will; the poignant tone here is simply human. Before spilling the chorus, a refrain of the title, Newsom eases, “And I won’t come round this way again?/ Where the lonely wind abides.” Newsom’s harps and minimal synth have never mixed as well with her poetry as it does here.

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma

“Love after Love”

[Mexican Summer]

“Lucifer, furious and sad angel
rotting your innocence in a lake
I will not tire of licking the Moon
of putting my hands in the Sun
of burning my face in the love
I will not tire of cursing the light
I will not tire of shouting in dreams
I will not tire of telling you
that fog is fire and blood
is the fire that one bites
until you return
the innocence of my hands.”

Oswaldo Reynoso Luzbel (fragment translated by )

Click next to hear the “COUPE” mix by C Monster.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series

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