The story of music in 2015 goes like this: There are endless ways to listen to endless songs. Looking for something new? There's an algorithm for that. Prefer a human touch? Podcasts, blogs, Beats 1 (maybe!), good old terrestrial radio — take your pick. Honestly, we use all these and more. Many of these songs came to us via Soundcloud or YouTube, Spotify or iTunes. Many others showed up in our inboxes and demanded attention. Some of them we'd been waiting for for years. Some were complete surprises.
However they arrived at our ears, we've spent six months listening and arguing, collecting and sorting them all for you — not just in the list below (presented in alphabetical order by genre), but also in a player where you can actually hear each and every one. Click the launch link below to start. You can sort by one of nearly a dozen genres or select a playlist created by members of NPR Music's staff and our member station partners, or just hit shuffle and listen until you find a new favorite of your own. You can also find the list on Rdio and Spotify.
A two-piano translation of the most soulful aria from the St. Matthew Passion shouldn't work. That it does so beautifully speaks to the potency of Bach's music and a pair of sensitive players.
András Schiff, "Schubert: 'Impromptu in A-flat, Op. 142'"
Once a vocal opponent of the forte piano, Schiff's road to Damascus conversion results in a finely nuanced, transparent performance.
Bang On A Can All Stars, "Ghys: 'An Open Cage'"
A sly, silky recitation from John Cage inspires both fun and funk from bassist-composer Florent Ghys.
Bruce Brubaker, "Glass: Mad Rush"
Seesawing between gentle nostalgia and tempests of swirling arpeggios, an early keyboard piece by Philip Glass gets a compelling interpretation.
Bryan Hymel, "Rossini: 'Asile héréditaire'"
With a rare combination of brawn and bel canto elegance, Hymel launches 10 high Cs, making this punishing aria sound simple.
Gil Shaham, "Bach: 'Partita No. 3 in E I. Preludio'"
Even though he plays "straight," Shaham swings his solo Bach hard. His technique and intensity are just dazzling.
Hilary Hahn, "Mozart: 'Violin Concerto No. 5, III. Rondeau'"
Hahn's been playing this concerto for 25 years now, but her joy in it still rings vibrantly true — she doles out grace and muscle in equal measure.
John Luther Adams, "Sky With Four Suns"
Light from a low-hanging sun, mixed with arctic air, can trigger the illusion of multiple suns, or sundogs. Alaskan composer John Luther Adams thinks they sound like this.
Kronos Quartet, "Riley: 'One Earth, One People, One Love'"
NASA commissioned Terry Riley to write "Sun Rings," marrying sounds collected in space with a string quartet. This rapturous movement, with the cello at its fore, is mystical, magical and haunting.
MusicAeterna, "Rameau: Orage"
This little 18th-century shredder comes from the enterprising brain of Jean-Philippe Rameau and the limber band of conductor Teodor Currentzis.
Philippe Jaroussky, "Hahn: En sourdine"
Reynaldo Hahn's gently swaying music and Verlaine's rapturous poetry — set amid the "half-light cast by the lofty branches" — lend a cinematic feel to a love song elegantly sung.
Seattle Symphony, "Dvořák: 'Symphony No. 9, IV. Allegro con fuoco'"
Those strings. That brass. What a powerhouse performance!
The Tallis Scholars, "Pärt: Nunc Dimittis"
The timeless feel of contemporary composer Arvo Pärt's music, with its halos of sound and tolling bells, is heightened in a luminous, spacious performance by the preeminent early music choir.
A Thousand Horses, "Sunday Morning"
Just what the Southern rock doctor ordered. Co-written with singer Michael Hobby's second cousin Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes, this remedy feels so right.
Andrew Combs, "Nothing To Lose"
It's another tequila sunrise... The velvet-voiced Combs and his supremely savvy band capture the anomie of a lost country morning perfectly in this gently devastating ballad.
Ashley Monroe, "The Blade"
"You caught it by the handle, and I caught it by the blade": Dolly Parton's rightful heir lends grace to the breakup metaphor of the year.
Mary Beth Richardson has the classic blues wail of a bad woman feeling good and her band races her to the finish in this rollicking roadhouse tune.
Brandi Carlile, "The Eye"
Can you hear the echoes of "Landslide?"
Caitlin Canty, "Get Up"
The Vermont-born songwriter is going to feel right at home in Nashville if she can keep writing songs like this.
Cam, "My Mistake"
Even with 20/20 foresight, this country upstart can't stop two-stepping her way toward heartbreak.
Chris Stapleton, "Traveller"
Stapleton is young country's biggest heart and most soulful male voice, and this hymn of the open road is his irresistible anthem.
Clare Dunn, "Move On"
A humid summer come-on from a Colorado-raised country newcomer who's a little bit Florence, a little bit Bonnie and a whole lot rock and roll. That's her shooting out killer guitar licks, btw.
Daniel Bachman, "Song for the Setting Sun II"
In these eight minutes, the fingerstyle acoustic guitarist creates an entire world with a melody that knows its wounds and triumphs.
Della Mae, "High Away Gone"
The 21st-century queens of bluegrass go high, lonesome and holy on this fervent protest against mountain-top clearing.
Dwight Yoakam, "Second Hand Heart"
From country's favorite hillbilly punk comes a tender yet grand-sounding anthem about used-up black-and-white dreams and (almost) giving up on love.
Gretchen Peters, "Black Ribbons"
One of Nashville's great songwriters crafts a modern-day murder ballad about the tragic costs of the BP oil spill, and brings it to vivid Acadian life.
James McMurtry, "Copper Canteen"
"Honey, don't you be yellin' at me when I'm cleanin' my gun," begins the best song about marriage you'll hear this year.
Jason Isbell, "24 Frames"
Throw out all your self-help manuals: The South's new Springsteen shares how to survive life's little disasters in this reflective, jangly rocker.
Joan Shelley, "Stay On My Shore"
Envy every baby who will be rocked to sleep this year wrapped in warm blankets and Shelley's equally enveloping blend of lilting Celtic guitar and rich Appalachian harmonies.
John Moreland, "Cherokee"
Resigned to sadness, solitude and self-destruction, "Cherokee" is as gutted as a song gets.
Kacey Musgraves, "Dime Store Cowgirl"
A road trip song about finding yourself on streets paved with gold but missing the dirt roads of home.
Kelsea Ballerini, "Underage"
Country's hottest ingenue gets quiet and insightful on this vulnerable reflection on growing up too fast, the way everyone does.
Kristin Diable, "Time Will Wait"
Diable's bluesy rock gets Nashville glitz on this tambourine-bolstered barn-burner that rolls in like a summer storm and blooms like Southern magnolia.
Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear, "Silent Movies"
Kansas City, here we come! Americana's newly beloved mother-son duo resurrects the musical glory days of its hometown on this invigorating walking blues.
The Mavericks, "All Night Long"
Phrases writers have used to describe this killer cut from the Miami-born more-than-country mainstays: "salsa drenched," "salsa soaked," "salsa endurance rave." Also: "simply crazy sexy."
Mickey Guyton, "Better Than You Left Me"
Guyton is that rare thing: An African-American singer with her heart (and future, judging by fans' reactions) in country. To call this song of survival soulful is cliched, but it's also totally true.
Mo Pitney, "Clean Up On Aisle Five"
A new country traditionalist offers a love song that will have you weeping in front of your supermarket's cereal display.
Pharis & Jason Romero, "Ballad Of Old Bill"
The sweetest and prettiest folk song you'll ever hear that ends in a bear mauling, most likely.
Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen, "Til It Does"
Honky tonk music to make your heart melt from two princes of the Texas scene.
Rhiannon Giddens, "Black Is The Color"
The now-solo Chocolate Drops singer turns a hoary old folk favorite fresh with hip-hop beats and New Orleans flair.
Ryley Walker, "Sweet Satisfaction"
The choogle is real with "Sweet Satisfaction." The choogle is weird and burns some ecstatic fuzz, too.
Sam Outlaw, "Jesus Take the Wheel (And Drive Me To a Bar)"
Is it too much to hope Carrie Underwood covers this droll reworking of one of her biggest hits, imploring the Lord to work the miracle of a good shot of tequila?
The Staves, "No Me, No You, No More"
A rich, compelling folk song heavy with longing but buoyed by a sisterly three-part harmony.
Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, "The Only Man Wilder Than Me"
The Hag and the Redheaded Stranger — together 4ever.
Actress, "Bird Matrix"
A long, dazed journey into night from one of today's master musical hypnotists.
Northern Ireland's Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson can flex all they want after producing the electronic earworm of the year (so far).
Blanck Mass, "Dead Format"
One half of F*** Buttons resurrects the démodé corpse of industrial dance music with an injection of about 20,000 volts of new life.
Dude Energy, "Renee Running"
An elastic, technicolored leftfield hit by Los Angeles underground producer Diego Herrera, who also records as Suzanne Kraft.
Holly Herndon, "Morning Sun"
Herndon's 'net concrète' explorations for voice and laptop elicit powerful emotions without catering to ours.
Jack J, "Thirstin'"
The ascendent king of smoove dance music has your backyard day party soundtrack right here.
Keita Sano, "Bouzouk"
This young Japanese producer layers the bouzouki, a Greek lute-like instrument, on top of a 124bpm dance rhythm with startling results.
Levon Vincent, "Anti-Corporate Music"
Not surprisingly, you won't find this massive dance track on Spotify or Apple Music.
Madd Again!, "Duggu"
British MCs Killa Benz, Trigga and Specialist Moss will make you smile as they shout "Duggu!" over a bouncy Zed Bias beat.
Marcus Marr, "Peacemakers"
Give up the funk.
Mark Ernestus' Ndagga Rhythm Force (feat. Mbene Diatta Seck), "Yermande (Kick and Bass Mix)"
The former member of Basic Channel and Rhythm & Sound dubs out some excellent Senegalese mbalax.
Nils Frahm, "Ode"
We interrupt this crazy multi-genre mix for a brief dose of serenity.
Omar-S (feat. James Garcia), "I Wanna Know"
A raunchy club anthem from one of Detroit's most beloved dance producers. You'll be singing along to this soon.
The Jeremih collaborator breaks out in a big way on this epic tune that builds slowly toward catharsis.
Wiley, "From The Outside (Special Request VIP)"
The grime godfather gets the hardcore remix treatment from another U.K. heavyweight, Paul Woolford.
Willow, "Feel Me"
A haunting sample anchors this stunning debut single by U.K. producer Sophie Wilson.
A$AP Rocky (feat Schoolboy Q), "Electric Body"
Continuing a collaborative winning streak, Rocky and Q turn their attention to the opposite sex, mixing bravado with flirtation and inciting ass shaking as only they can.
Big Sean (feat. Drake & Kanye West), "Blessings"
Big Sean enlists Kanye and Drake to celebrate success and the struggle to achieve it. Quotable verses from all three (plus a hook so catchy that even Riley Curry knows it) make this an anthem for the grateful.
Boogie, "Oh My"
Boogie switches voices and squeezes in clever punch lines atop Jahlil Beats' manic keys and Long Beach riot starter 808s.
D.R.A.M., "Cha Cha"
Don't try to make sense of it. Just feel it wash over you. Feel the joy. Feel the happiness. Now cha cha with the rest of the world.
DeJ Loaf feat. Lil Wayne, "Me U & Hennessy"
What first appears to be a nice love song about staying in quickly unravels into an X-rated bacchanal for two (eh, make that three).
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, "Warm Enough"
NoName Gypsy, Chance The Rapper and J. Cole wax poetic about love, acceptance and forgiveness over a lush Social Experiment arrangment.
Earl Sweatshirt, "Mantra"
A broad declaration of defiance becomes a raw admission of guilt and infidelity — a perfect example of why Earl should be lauded not only for his technical skill, but also his ability to emote.
Father (feat. Richposlim), "BET Uncut"
A coquettish ode to the late-night block of raunchy hip-hop music videos that never saw the light of day. Settle in for the last minute.
Fetty Wap (feat. Drake), "My Way"
Hitmaker du jour Fetty Wap makes a passionate plea for a lady's attention while warning other suitors to keep their distance. Drake adds a verse of slick talk to take this one over the top.
Future, "F*** Up Some Commas"
Flame emoji production, earnest crooning and unintelligible raps come together to form the quintessential Future banger.
J. Cole, "G.O.M.D."
Hollywood Cole celebrates, mocks and laments nightclub nature over the course of three outstanding verses.
JME (feat. Skepta, Frisco and Shorty), "Don't @ Me"
Grime's biggest star of the moment delivers a topical rant for anyone who's ever been harassed on Twitter.
Kanye West (feat. Allan Kingdom, Paul McCartney and Theophilus London), "All Day"
Ye's most lighthearted single in years is still stranger than anything else on the radio, not to mention a masterclass in turns of phrase.
Kate Tempest, "Bad Place For a Good Time"
The intensity of the British poet and rapper's empathy backs you up against a wall, but she delivers her lyrics, about circumstances that make life feel unlivable, like a caress.
Kendrick Lamar, "King Kunta"
The funk will never die as long as guys like Kendrick are around. Continuing to zig while the rest of rap zags, K Dot invokes the main character from Roots to represent a new millennium "black man, takin' no losses."
Mick Jenkins, "P's & Q's"
A tremendous track, littered with smartly strung alliteration, from one of Chicago's most promising rappers. Keep an eye on him.
Oddisee, "That's Love"
The D.C. area rapper/producer meditates on the various incarnations of the sweetest four-letter word over uptempo percussion, soul-stirring organs and trumphant horns.
Open Mike Eagle, "Celebrity Reduction Prayer"
Mike swims against the current of social media addiction and the cult of celebrity over a jazzy track courtesy of Oddisee. Perspective never sounded so smooth.
Rae Sremmurd (feat. Nicki Minaj & Young Thug), "Throw Sum Mo"
Onika Maraj steals the show (as she is wont to do) and turns the tables on Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy in the brothers' follow-up to "No Type."
SPZRKT & Sango, "JMK"
A faithful tribute, "Jesus My King" stands up on Sango's production and SPZRKT's selfless lyrics and reaches for the heavens.
TT The Artist, "Thug It Out"
Baltimore Club returns to the national spotlight with its biggest hit since Rye Rye shook it to the ground and brought it back up.
TUT, "Live from Chattanooga"
A country rap tune brimming with homages, from live, blues-influenced instrumentation to an interpolation of a deep cut by Master P and company.
Vince Staples, "Senorita"
Vince Staples brings his LBC attitude to ATL trap with help from producers Christian Rich and a vocal sample from Future.
Wale, "White Shoes"
More Seinfeld samples from the D.C. rapper, but this song eschews laughs in favor of a reassuring message that things will turn out all right.
Young Thug (feat. Birdman), "Constantly Hating"
Young Thug wants to be sedated. How else can you explain the syrupy, somnambulant version of trap rap we get here and throughout Barter 6?
Anat Cohen, "Putty Boy Strut"
Stylized polyphony a la robot-age New Orleans jazz grows more familiar until you realize it was a FlyLo song, and that it sounds great on clarinet.
Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, "Nine South"
Electric piano, two saxes and the open highway. The bassist is the leader and beat landscaper and he's doing his job well.
Dafnis Prieto Sextet, "Blah Blah"
Next level Afro-Cuban pulse from a one-of-a-kind drummer who, thankfully, is but one of many to connect Havana and New Orleans.
Ernestine Anderson, "Just In Time"
Once, jazz singing wasn't a quaint mannerism with high buy-in. This song, recorded live in 1962 and just released, is a message from that lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.
Jacky Terrasson, "Kiff"
A playful bounce (think: '70s animated TV theme) played as modern piano-driven jazz with three percussionists, counting the vocalist/beatboxer.
Jamison Ross, "Deep Down In Florida"
A literally award-winning drummer, an actual Florida Man, didn't tell us he could sing the blues when he was winning his award.
JD Allen, "Jawn Henry"
A sax-bass-drums trio swings devastatingly hard, four bars at a time. It does that for six minutes.
Maria Schneider Orchestra, "Nimbus"
Lavish and unsettled and evocative of the natural world, with killer soloists like Steve Wilson on alto. Maria's back, y'all.
Petros Klampanis, "Minor Dispute"
An international band with a Middle Eastern bent and a string section makes flowing chamber jazz conversant in modern Greek.
Rudresh Mahanthappa, "Chillin'"
This is from a Charlie Parker tribute and features fast saxophone playing yet somehow sounds nothing like Charlie Parker. That's a good thing.
Sarah Elizabeth Charles, "Bells"
A song driven by both wordless and lyric vocals somehow manages to feel both tightly produced and urbane yet handspun and bespoke.
Tootie Heath, "I Will Survive"
Jazz elder drummer pulls out a spare R&B beat for a deranged, delightful trip around some familiar chord changes.
Vijay Iyer Trio, "Hood"
A go-anywhere piano trio salutes a pioneering Detroit house DJ with a precision experiment in acoustic real-time techno.
Bomba Estereo, "Mar (Lo Que Siento)"
This band continues to grow artistically at warp speed, carefully collecting influences from around the world and adding them to its Afro Colombian base.
Costa Rica's Colornoise sounds like a great band from the 70's you missed out on, but they are very much here now, with a tragic, spiraling, guitar-heavy track that will have you wanting more.
Daymé Arocena, "Madres"
The biggest myth of the decades old Cuba/U.S. standoff is that it produced cultural isolation. One listen to Dayme Arocena's voice and there is no doubt she heard as much Aretha as she heard Celia.
These two sisters ('ibeyi' means 'twins' in Yoruba) reflect the bottomless source of inspiration that is Afro-Cuban santeria culture and music as well as the infitnite ability of Cubans to connect the past with the future, musically.
Kali Uchis, "Ridin Round"
A saucy slow jam for cruising around in your lowrider from one of Alt.Latino's favorite young stars.
Kanaku y El Tigre, "Bubucelas"
A dissonant and melancholy offering from a Peruvian indie band now coming into its own, a song so beautiful it makes you want to have your heart broken again, so you can fully savor tunes like this.
Los Crema Paraiso, "To Zing With Your Girlfriend"
The fascination with Latin funk/jazz from the 1970's continues: Ruffled shirts, low riders and endless summer days. Wah wah guitars and funky Fender Rhodes electric pianos. They all rule!
A haunting folk tune gets a bumping club remix. ZZK records continues to prove that Latin American folk belongs on the dance floor as much as any imported style.
Sandra Lilia Vasquez makes the transition from Mexican folk musician to Brooklyn-based soul singer with the kind of style and talent that makes you say, "Of course she did."
Brandon Flowers, "I Can Change"
"I can change for you," the Killers front man sings on this dark slice of '80s-indebted pop-rock. Not that we'd want him to.
Carly Rae Jepsen, "All That"
With a hand from indie-pop savants Dev Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid, the "Call Me Maybe" singer saves a slow-burning, pulse-quickening last dance.
Elle King, "Ex's & Oh's"
An irresistible bit of braggadocio from a soulful pop singer whose delivery exudes gritty, playful charisma.
There is no color bright enough to capture the energy and unflappable spirit of this pop star-to-be's empowering directive to take charge of your own destiny.
Jason Derulo, "Want To Want Me"
The pop-loving R&B star often works hard to convince you of his sleazy bona fides, but he finds an easy, bubbly groove in this candid come-on.
Lunchmoney Lewis, "Bills"
Louis Jordan meets Fatboy Slim in this raucous lament about being broke by Miami native Lewis, a songwriter-to-the-stars turned ebullient frontman.
Meg Mac, "Roll Up Your Sleeves"
The young Australian singer makes her pitch for pop stardom with a sparkly, cooing bit of slow-burning, radio-friendly uplift.
Don't be deceived by the the title: This is a song appropriate for steamy nights in the bedroom, not early morning trips to Starbucks
Neon Indian, "Annie"
The pop equivalent of a trip to the waterslide park: splashy, noisy, a little bit overwhelming and totally essential when it gets hot outside.
Passion Pit, "Until We Can't (Let's Go)"
The latest pop gem from Michael Angelakos will remain a staple of spin classes for the rest of our lives.
Rich Homie Quan, "Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)"
A twerk-worthy bounce + the catchiest hook around town = Yet another hit for Mr. Quan.
Rihanna, "B**** Better Have My Money"
Rihanna's career is peppered with pop hits soaring and sweet, but the title here is a clear indication: "B**** Better Have My Money" showcases her more acerbic, assertive side, with intoxicating results.
Say Lou Lou, "Nothing But A Heartbeat"
Twin sisters Elektra and Miranda Kilbey-Jansson make euphoric pop music for the Internet age.
Seinabo Sey, "Hard Time"
A Swedish singer with Gambian roots, Sey taps into generations of continent-straddling bluesy soul, all in pursuit of a sound that feels right for this moment.
The Weeknd, "The Hills"
"When I'm f***** up, that's the real me." Ever self-aware, the singer takes his obsession with spiraling out of control one step further.
Featherweight pop that's all about the atmosphere of small details: Think early-morning dew clinging to the hem of a prom dress.
The reserved but evocative R&B duo from Maryland lets its music do the talking on a song that nearly landed on the cutting room floor.
Alessia Cara, "Here"
The freshly signed Def Jam singer rises to the challenge set out by a rich Portishead sample with a relatable track about FOGO, a.k.a. fear of going out.
Allen Stone, "Upside"
Blonde-haired soul genius Stone has always been dramatic. Here, he uses his chops judiciously within a perfectly modulated shouter's testament to love addiction.
The R&B veteran turns the idea of people watching on its head and questions why we find it so easy to sit on the sidelines when so much is at stake.
D'Angelo and The Vanguard, "Betray My Heart"
Spare yet madly funky guitar, an exposed hi-hat and that unmistakable layered falsetto we missed so much simmer together in a pocket too deep to escape even if you wanted to.
Hiatus Kaiyote, "Breathing Underwater"
This song is like a coral reef: strange, vivid, twisted, with hidden pockets of beauty. Snorkel in.
India Shawn & James Fauntleroy, "One Sun"
A sensual call for reciprocity anchored by a question embittered lovers ask each other millions of times each day.
J*DaVeY, "Strong Anticipation"
This synthy dance floor filler marks Jack and Brook's reclamation of their spot as leaders of the future soul movement.
MNEK, "The Rhythm"
Uzo Emenike, one of Britain's brightest young stars, gives the bros in Disclosure a run for their money on this bona fide floor filler.
Noname Gypsy & Jean Deaux, "Eye, Me."
Both hailing from the Chi, emcee Noname Gypsy and singer Jean Deaux lean into one another on this vulnerable portrait of temptation.
NxWorries (feat. Anderson Paak & Knxwledge), "Suede"
The versatile duo delivers the audio equivalent of Cadillacs and pinky rings. The opening line characterizes it best. Smooth than mutha...
OSHUN, "the next day"
Half neo-soul, half golden-era hip-hop, the teenaged, NYC-based duo toes the genre line as its members assert their self-worth.
Phony Ppl, "HelGa."
The Brooklyn soul quintet crafts what may be the sweetest song ever written about a cartoon character. Helga Pataki, this one's for you.
Pops Staples, "Somebody Was Watching"
Aided by Jeff Tweedy and Mavis Staples, among others, the great gospel legend gets a great and graceful victory lap 15 years after his death.
Prince (feat. Eryn Allen Kane), "Baltimore"
A tribute to Freddie Gray and the 2015 Baltimore protests that feels immediate and specific to this particular historical moment while fitting right into the last half-century's tradition of protest music.
Rico Love, "For The Kids"
A writer of hits for the elites of hip-hop R&B, Love saves one for himself. On the dramatic "For the Kids", he wrestles with a corroding relationship.
Tuxedo, "Number One"
A playful, PG take on what Snoop Dogg's "Ain't No Fun" would sound like if it was originally a wholesome funk record. It works.
100%, "Room 336"
Every breath is audible as songwriter Elaiza Santos struggles to recall an intimate encounter that may or may not have been real. When words fail, her guitar takes over, shrugging off the uncertainty and beckoning her back to sleep.
Alabama Shakes, "Don't Wanna Fight"
This is funk as blues, as a prayer, as a distinctly Southern thing that goes universal and strikes deep.
Algiers, "Irony. Utility. Pretext."
Cybotron meets Depeche Mode. It only took 35 years.
Anna B Savage, "I"
Savage's sparse, moving vocals open her neuroses like a vein, offering piercingly honest insight into a lover's scourge of insecurities.
Asaf Avidan, "The Labyrinth Song"
What about the voice of Asaf Avidan? How did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy. (We know him and he does.)
Beauty Pill, "Steven and Tiwonge"
Chad Clark's gorgeous and densely textured protest song acts as a double-sided mirror that refracts and reshapes this true story.
Benjamin Clementine, "Nemesis"
A startlingly unique voice takes art pop into new corners on this passionate spurned lover's waltz.
Blur, "Lonesome Street"
It is so, so, so, so great to hear Graham Coxon's guitar again.
Bully, "I Remember"
Former Steve Albini intern Alicia Bognanno doesn't hold back during these emotionally riveting two minutes.
Chadwick Stokes, "Horse Comanche"
The lead singer of the jam band Dispatch channels his inner Paul Simon while trying to make sense of our place in this world.
Chastity Belt, "Time To Go Home"
Young feminists start punk band in tiny college town; roll eyes at patriarchy, mansplainers, slut-shaming; move to big city; sign to national label; prepare for world domination.
Colleen Green, "Deeper Than Love"
If you can't empathize with this laundry list of insecurities, please Tweet us the name of your therapist.
Courtney Barnett, "Depreston"
Barnett's music lives in the borderlands between humor and poignancy. This thoughtful reflection on adulthood brought on by a particularly grim house-hunt leans toward the latter.
Death and Vanilla, "California Owls"
Dreamy Swedish indie rock that floats by on clouds of harpsichord and reverb.
Eskimeaux, "Broken Necks"
One of the catchiest, most endearing break-up songs you'll hear this year.
Father John Misty, "Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins)"
The louche character he plays on I Love You, Honeybear may or may not be a put-on, but Josh Tillman's Father John Misty finds utterly sincere redemption on this mariachi-tinged ode to love in L.A.
Girlpool, "Ideal World"
One electric guitar, one bass, two unusually and irresistibly frank voices in harmony. That's all this punk duo needed to locate the direct link between eardrums and heartstrings.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, "Peasantry or 'Light! Inside of Light!'"
The apocalyptic Montreal collective's best slice of epicness in 15 years.
Hayden, "No Happy Birthday"
Indie rock veteran Hayden Desser wrote this song for his non-verbal daughter. One of the legit tearjerkers of 2015.
Hop Along, "Waitress"
Frances Quinlan's voice would kill us even if the perfectly rendered lyrics, which detail the power dynamics at play in a mortifying chance encounter, didn't do the job.
Hot Chip, "Huarache Lights"
Just the latest irresistible single from a band destined to release one of the best greatest hits albums of the next 10 years.
Jamie xx (feat. Romy), "Loud Places"
The xx producer's reverential solo debut goes deep on feeling, with a dreamy lift from his day-job bandmate Romy Madley-Croft.
Júníus Meyvant, "Hailslide"
KEXP discovered this unsigned Icelandic singer-songwriter last year, and he's quickly become one of the most requested artists at the station.
Laura Marling, "False Hope"
The U.K. folk singer knows her way around world-weariness, but "False Hope" matches it with a gritty rock 'n' roll arrangement that suits her.
Leon Bridges, "Coming Home"
The young Fort Worth, Texas soul singer takes on what it means to be faithful — both to a partner and to a beloved, vintage sound.
Lord Huron, "Fool For Love"
The old-timey foot-stomping folk revival might be over, but that doesn't bother Lord Huron, who will just keep making perfect lost trail-blazing, rail-riding rock songs that could have been written in the 1930s and recorded in the '70s, thanks very much.
You can almost hear the blood spill from the Swedish post-punk band's urgent revenge fantasy, especially in Maja Milner's final wail: "My enemy, I bury you."
On this standout from the Grand Theft Auto-inspired album, Sarah Barthel snarls every gamer's raison d'être: Keep Yourself Alive.
Pinkshinyultrablast, "Holy Forest"
Hailing from St. Petersburg, Russia, this five-piece shoegaze act splits the difference between Slowdive and Lush.
Ratatat, "Cream On Chrome"
Your favorite hipster beatmakers return from hiatus with their best Saturday Night Fever strut.
Sleater-Kinney, "Price Tag"
An urgent snapshot of post-recession America from the beloved feminist rock band whose vital, unique sounds had been sorely missed for almost a decade.
Soak, "Sea Creatures"
She's still a teenager, but singer Bridie Monds-Watson already has a firm grasp of the ways the pursuit of love can make you feel like an outsider.
Son Lux, "Change Is Everything"
Though he sometimes favors minimalism, Ryan Lott's ecstatic ode to creation and reinvention is so stuffed full of sound that it alternately erodes and explodes.
Speedy Ortiz, "Raising The Skate"
Jagged and spiky, sloppy but controlled, "Raising The Skate" catalogs a manifesto's worth of sneering sloganeering, as Sadie Dupuis deadpans, "I'm not bossy — I'm the boss."
Sufjan Stevens, "Fourth of July"
The tear-jerking centerpiece of Carrie & Lowell, "Fourth Of July" imagines a tender conversation with Stevens' late mother. The sadness would be numbing if it didn't also convey such warmth of spirit.
Tame Impala, "Let It Happen"
The lead single and opening cut from one of rock's most anticipated albums of the year arrives on a disco strut and turns into an 8-minute workout.
Youth sports, religious hypocrisy, a crisis of faith — they're all here, wrapped up in the killer line, "There's freedom to and freedom from / And freedom to run from everyone."
Starring a Moog organ as heavy as Katie Crutchfield's lyrics.
Angela Hunte & Machel Montano, "Party Done"
Who would have guessed that the Soca smash of the year would be by the same woman who co-wrote "Empire State Of Mind"?
Anouar Brahem, "Deliverance"
The Tunisian composer and oud player meanders along the borders of jazz, classical and Arab music. He let the turbulent emotions of the 2010 Arab Spring uprising settle before turning them into music.
The dimly lit song might be named for the Turkish word for "speechless," but Ceza has a lot to say, ranging from social polarization and uprisings to the state of rap music today.
Dotorado Pro, "African Scream (Marimbas)"
An Afro-Portuguese staple in clubs and on cellphones across Lisbon, with marimbas grounded in — or is that floating over? — a base of thick beats.
Cairo-based keyboardist Islam Chipsy and his band get raw with it on this 10-minute lo-fi adventure.
Imam Baildi, "Argosvineis Moni"
This revamp of a 1947 Greek rembetika classic plays up its weird and wonderful flavor profile: Asia Minoric heartache leavened with mariachi trumpets and the playful scritch-scratch of a guiro.
Kassé Mady Diabaté, "Simbo"
Mali's supreme singer is a griot with gravitas — and five decades of experience. In an intimate, chamber music setting, he compares the great hunter Simbo to the all-seeing kingfisher bird.
Mbongwana Star (feat. Konono N°1), "Malukayi"
R.I.P. Mingiedi Mawangu.
Niyaz, "Tam e Eshq (The Taste of Love)"
Inspired by the life and poetry of Rabia Al Basri, the first female Sufi mystic, the Montreal-based band scores with a mesmerizing mix of rapturous vocals and electro-acoustic beats.
Sam Lee and Friends, "Bonny Bunch of Roses"
A tune from the Napoleonic (!) era that singer and "song collector" Lee learned from his elderly Romani (Gypsy) friend Freda Black, here beautifully retextured.
Tal National, "Zoy Zoy"
Niger's biggest band layers rhythm upon rhythm with sparkling guitars and joyful vocals on the title track to its latest album.
Bosse-de-Nage, "A Subtle Change"
The Bay Area black metal band perversely blends savagery and accessibility with hints of pop-punk and screamo.
Crypt Sermon, "Will of the Ancient Call"
This is majestic doom metal in the spirit of Candlemass and Dio-era Black Sabbath that doesn't mind getting a little dirty.
Downtown Boys, "Monstro"
If you're looking for more radicalism in your lead singers and more saxophone in your multi-lingual punk bands, look no further.
G.L.O.S.S., "Lined Lips and Spiked Bats"
You do not want to mess with these feminist punks or this seriously pissed-off anthem to smashing the patriarchy.
High On Fire, "The Black Plot"
All hail Matt Pike's glorious, buzzsaw guitar tone and his reptoid croak, the twin fuels for this this barricade-shaking rampager.
Lightning Bolt, "The Metal East"
There's a lit firecracker in your hand. You throw it at the clouds. Your reward: Everything turns purple.
In its ecstatic guitar shred and swelling MIDI strings, there's an absurdity to "Quetzalcoatl" that leaves you guessing.
Red Death, "Strategic Mass Delirium"
You have 50 seconds to psych yourself up before this thrashy D.C. hardcore band takes a gigantic swing and you're knocked the heck out.
Super Unison, "Recognize You"
High velocity punk that ain't afraid to shake a tail feather.
Visigoth, "The Revenant King"
You've rolled a critical hit! The Salt Lake City power-metal band gives table crusaders the anthem they so desperately need.