Year In Review | Top Songs of 2015
Bringing it through from 15 to No. 1...
by Joshua P. Ferguson
15) Woolfy vs. Projections "Jackie" — Permanent Vacation
One of the first posts we ever penned for Dialogue Inc was dedicated to the Cali boys behind Woolfy vs Projections. Seven years and two albums later, and this duo returned with some of its strongest material since The Astral Projections of Starlight. Thematically, Stations follows loosely—very loosely—from those early recordings set in outer space, but musically songs like "Jackie" don't miss a beat. The massaging arpeggios, cosmic synths and prog-rock sensibility, they sound as fresh now as they did when we first discovered them.
14) Howling "X Machina" — Counter
When Howling's Sacred Ground came out, we shared this song with a friend. We said something like, 'for us, this is the epitome of what deep house should sound like.' That's probably why in some form or another Kristian Beyer and Frank Wiedemann's Âme project has been everpresent in our top songs of the year. This time around, Wiedemann carries the torch with "X Machina," a bewitching brew of padded drums, glowing chimes and a mesmerizing turn from Howling vocalist Ry X.
13) 2 8 1 4 "Shinjitsu no Koi" — Dream Catalogue
We've had no shortage of 2 8 1 4 coverage these past few weeks. The duo behind Dream Catalogue and one of our favorite records of the year, they kick started our fascination with vaporwave and gave us one of the genre's most memorable moments of 2015, "Shinjitsu no Koi" which we described in our Vaporwave Year in Review feature: "Set to the din of pouring rain and the pattering chime of synth tones, the song builds into a thick swirl of ambient textures and '80s new age drums that are equal parts Vangelis and CFCF."
12) NameBrandSound "Can't Stop This" — Arena Yard
The broken beat movement may be largely dead and gone, but when scene veterans IG Culture and Alex Phountzi unite to turn out their versions of bass music, footwork and, yes, even a new millennium bruk beat or two, we're paying attention. Enter the "Spaceship" EP and "Can't Stop This." A kinetic mix of juke rhythms, dub and that inimitable West London style, it's easily the best footwork cut we heard from East of Chicago this year.
11) DJ Spinn & Rashad "Dubby" — Hyperdub
Speaking of Chicago, arguably the Windy City's most prominent footwork producers came hard this year with "Dubby." More than that, having lost Rashad too early last year, the track sees the prolific Chicago musician live on alongside his long-time collaborator DJ Spinn and a heavy dose of Danny Brown. From its swinging intro loop to its injection of deep UK bass to its jungle-meets-footwork beat, this is how Chicago footwork works in 2015.
10) Special Request "Amnesia" — XL
On we continue with the roll of heavy breakbeat and bass tracks that dominated our field of listening in 2015. Paul Woolford has never been a shy producer, nor is he short on certified club classics, but for our money it's his retro-future nostalgia trip as Special Request that gets our heart rate up. And this year, none did this better than "Amnesia," a monster of growling bass, classic rave breaks and a knee-weakening diva sample that elevates the proceedings from dubplate burner to truly memorable status.
9) Kuedo "Boundary Regulation" — Knives
Aside from Space Dimension Controller (who also showed up in our top songs of 2015), no one out there is doing dystopian, cosmic electronic music better than Kuedo. He blew us away with Severant back in 2011 and he returned this year after a relatively quiet few years with the EP "Assertions of a Surrounding Presence." It was no easy task choosing a highlight, but the menacing bass pulse and synthetic woodwind melody of "Boundary Regulation" rises to the top of an all around excellent outing from the UK producer.
8) Missy Elliott "Where They From" — Atlantic
What really needs to be said about this one? Missy Elliott, who forever changed popular music with cuts like "Get Ur Freak On" and "Work It," upends things yet again with a blistering production, sharp tongue and music video that proves just how much she's still got in her—no matter how long she's been away from the game. Kak-a-rak-a-rak-rak-a-rak-a-rak.
7) SCNTST "Kristall Edition (Fusion Mix)" — Boys Noize
Sleeper hit isn't the right way to describe SCNTST, but as we mentioned when we voted his 2015 LP Puffer our favorite of the year, we didn't see this guy or the genius of his record coming. And at no moment is this more true than with "Kristall Edition (Fusion Mix)", which we described as bringing "it all together in a swirl of jangling atmospherics, a crystalline chime melody and the faintest hint of a hybrid footwork-trap beat."
6) Die Verboten "E40" — DeeWee
If you need something to tide you over until the release of LCD Soundsystem's recently announced next record, Die Verboten is it. The brainchild of the Soulwax brothers, Riton and artist Fergus Purcell, this cosmic krautrock outfit sounds like the lovechild of LCD and Manuel Göttsching. Case in point: "E40," an epic slow burn of crunchy synths looping into infinity and eventually joined by punk bass and drums that churn in delightfully slight variations straight through to the 13-minute mark.
5) CHVRCHES "Leave a Trace" (Four Tet remix) — Glassnote
Four Tet has always been our favorite unlikely populist. A producer with chops that take him to the far reaches of house, techno, jazz and experimental music, he released an album this year consisting of two tracks, each stretching beyond 20 minutes a piece. And then he contrasted that with remixes for EDM megastar Eric Prydz and sugary indie-pop darlings CHVRCHES. And for all our love of his latest LP, it's this remix for "Leave a Trace" that captivated us most, teasing us with Lauren Mayberry's sunshine brightness until we've almost given up hope on the surprisingly techy drop that, yes, does eventually arrive.
4) Major Lazer "Lean On" — Mad Decent
Yes, it is arguably 2015's Song of the Summer. Yes, it is officially Spotify's most streamed song—ever. Yes, it became an inescapable phenomenon glimpsed on the radio, late night talk shows and Samsung commercials. No, none of these things dampened our instant and long-lasting love affair with that tropical house rhythm, those trap drum fills, that siren-like chorus or this breakout performance from Danish songstress MØ.
3) The Chemical Brothers "Wide Open" — Astralwerks
The heritage act of this year's list, the Chemical Brothers are creeping up on a 25th anniversary. And while not every moment of this year's Born in the Echoes resonated for us the way so many highlights from their long and storied past have, album closer "Wide Open" featuring Beck sees the duo hit a late career high note. It's decidedly on the mild side for the Chem Bros, but that's part of the charm. Equal parts subtle electropop and their signature big beat bounce, this may be the last we hear from these electronic-music legends, and if so, this is an unforgettable swan song.
2) DJ Koze "XTC" — Pampa Records
We feel pretty strongly about giving our own unique take on the songs that mattered most at the end of each year, but one song that was a ubiquitous favorite was this one from DJ Koze. It was a big year for the producer and DJ, scoring top marks for his DJ-KiCKs contribution, and turning every manner of head with this soaring deep house meditation on the joyful rise and eventual come down of molly-fueled all-nighters. Twice we're met with the truly odd deadpan vocal of a woman questioning her experience with the song's namesake drug. Is it off-putting? Is it cheeky? Is it heavy handed? Is it awesome? It doesn't matter. For one of Koze's more straight-shooting productions, it leaves you thinking and dancing—and that's probably why this track struck a distinct chord with so many of us this year.
1) Jamie xx "Loud Places" — Young Turks
Believe us when we say we thought long and hard before bestowing Track of the Year status on Jamie xx for the second time running. There was just something about the simultaneous joyousness, introspection, delicacy and bombast of "Loud Places" that we couldn't shake and, frankly, didn't want to. This is one of those songs that you hear and then repeat two, three, seven, 20 times in a row and don't notice. Rather, in its fading moments you're already poised to start it all over again. That right there is Jamie xx's charm. It's why his debut In Colours was beloved by so many (us included), why his distinct brand of electronic music has enviable crossover appeal, and why "Loud Places" beat out so many other quality tunes for our top slot here.
Jamie's not alone in the spotlight here. With support from the xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft and through a bold sampling move, Idris Muhammad, "Loud Places" is simultaneously an echo of soul music's past, Jamie's present and a statement about the potential of pop music's future. But this is not some grand design on the producer's part. It's just a testament to who Jamie xx is, his ear for gorgeous pop melodies, potent dance rhythms and his sweet—almost nerdy—devotion to making heartfelt music. And for yet another year, he won us over with it.