NPR logo The Complete List: NPR Music's Favorite Songs Of 2015

The Complete List: NPR Music's Favorite Songs Of 2015

These are the best songs of 2015, the ones we couldn't stop playing, the ones we shared, the ones we kept close all year long. Now we're happy to share them with you. Click on the "Launch the app!" link below and you'll hear more than 400 songs in a dozen genres. There's a playlist made up of the very favorite song of the year from more than 50 public radio hosts, a pack of songs that will serve as a little party starter should you be in need, plus selections from veteran musicians and the year's best new artists. There's so much here worth spending time with, from Adele to Zofo. We hope you find something new that you love, too.

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Rock

Alabama Shakes, "Don't Wanna Fight"
Brittany Howard's fiery vocals — reminiscent of Robert Plant and Tina Turner — make this one of the best rock songs in years.
– Dave Jackson, Jefferson Public Radio

All Dogs, "That Kind of Girl"
Scorching distortion and propulsive punk rhythms disguise heartache and fury before Maryn Jones twists the song into a satisfying kiss-off mantra: "What's that mean? / Stay away from me!"
– Mike Katzif

Andy Shauf, "You're Out Wasting"
One of the year's most arresting storytellers contemplates the late-night voices in his head, jealousy, greed and the emptiness of unrealized dreams.
– Robin Hilton

Anna B Savage, "I"
Just when the weight of Savage's husky voice and breathtaking, perfect insight into low self-esteem threaten to overwhelm it, this song cracks wide open and light floods in.
– Katie Presley

The Arcs, "Stay In My Corner"
The most romantic extended boxing motif you'll ever hear to express commitment during the hard times, from Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach and friends.
– Mike Katzif

Asaf Avidan, "Ode To My Thalamus"
No one sings like Asaf Avidan. His voice is gender-bending, gripping, chilling and classic. His words describes the physical sensation of the impending end of a relationship.
– Bob Boilen

Aye Nako, "Leaving The Body"
In its glorious opening minute, "Leaving The Body" could be a song about anything. By its closing notes it has become a survivor's tale stark enough to turn that triumphant intro menacing on a second listen.
– Daoud Tyler-Ameen

Beach House, "Levitation"
A winsome tone-setter for band that's long since mastered the art of buzzy, sweetly nostalgic dream-pop.
– Stephen Thompson

Beach House, "One Thing"
A career highlight revs the engine on the Baltimore band's dreamy formula, with a perfect Dean Wareham-soundalike guitar solo at the end.
– Jacob Ganz

Beauty Pill, "Afrikaner Barista"
Take a surreal funk song, work it, then flip it and reverse it into a kaleidoscope of sound.
– Lars Gotrich

Benjamin Clementine, "Nemesis"
The once homeless street busker with an unforgettable voice signs with Universal, wins the Mercury Prize and, on this heart-stopper, asks us to remember life's Golden Rule.
– Robin Hilton

The Big Moon, "The Road"
If we're really gonna get any deeper into a '90s/grunge revival, can we have more alt-pop earcandy like this bit of awesomeness by four young women from London? Incredible guitar + organ melancholia that also rocks.
– Piotr Orlov

Bjork, "Stonemilker"
This opening track to Vulnicura, her open-chested document of a relationship's end, is stunning, thoughtful, bitter and questioning in a way only Björk could achieve.
– Bob Boilen

Blur, "Lonesome Street"
It is so, so, so, so great to hear Graham Coxon's guitar again.
– Otis Hart

Boots, "I Run Roulette"
This is the most contagious tune from BOOTS' debut album Aquaria, mixing spare and muscular beats that are chilling and revealing.
– Bob Boilen

Bully, "I Remember"
If you're going to look back, you might as well fit your reminiscences into two huge minutes of white-knuckle rock 'n' roll.
– Stephen Thompson

Car Seat Headrest, "Something Soon"
What begins as an exploration of Will Toledo's neuroses builds to a fist-in-the-air anthem to conquer all.
– Kate Drozynski

Carroll, "Green Acres"
The perfect "lying on the couch looking out the window at a cloudy Sunday afternoon" song.
– Chris Ranck, Delmarva Public Radio

Chastity Belt, "Time To Go Home"
This throbbing pile of guitar drone embodies the feeling inside your head right at the point where the party has gone too far.
– Ann Powers

Circuit Des Yeux, "Do The Dishes"
Built around samples from a Laotian ethnographic record, this is an arpeggiated meditation on the feminism of the everyday.
– Lars Gotrich

City And Colour, "Lover Come Back"
Dallas Green's soulful voice carries the listener through equal amounts of joy and lovesick sadness.
– Kyle Smith, WYEP

Colleen Green, "Deeper Than Love"
Delving into seething insecurities over love and intimacy, Colleen Green masterfully unwinds strings of brutal lyrical honesty, all while maintaining her laconic cool.
– Mike Katzif

Courtney Barnett, "Depreston"
A series of mundane observations on a couple's low-rent move to the suburbs reveals a devastating portrait of middling humanity.
– Robin Hilton

Courtney Barnett, "Pedestrian at Best"
As Barnett's thickets of witty words spill out, her band blasts out an anthem worthy of the inevitable Nirvana comparisons.
– Stephen Thompson

Dan Deacon, "Feel the Lightning"
If Pee Wee Herman made a record with Brian Eno about fear and anxiety, the result would be close to this electronic cartoon pop tune by the brilliant and fun-loving Dan Deacon.
– Bob Boilen

David Bowie, "Blackstar"
Kendrick Lamar inspired this outré ten minutes: free jazz sax, formal strings, liturgical-lethargic vocals over caffeinated, terrible, beautiful rhythms. Dark, monstrous and design-minded, it's like a pop fusion score written for a Guillermo del Toro horror film that doesn't yet exist.
– Jason King

Deerhunter, "Snakeskin"
A surprising marriage of swirling psych-funk, self-deprecating lyrics of being boney, homely and lonely. The best music I've heard from Bradford Cox in ages.
– Bob Boilen

Destroyer, "Dream Lover"
Just in case you were wondering what it would sound like if the E Street Band stumbled into a Dan Bejar session.
– Rachel Horn

Diane Coffee, "Spring Breathes"
This sprawling, ambitious showpiece pays tribute to late '60s psych pop and early '70s glam rock with hairpin turns and gorgeous four-part harmonies.
– Robin Hilton

Diet Cig, "Breathless"
Cathartic pop-punk with boundless vitality and wide-eyed charm, especially in the way Alex Luciano revels in keen observations on escaping the pull of adulthood responsibilities (like owning a shower curtain) by watching Simpsons DVDs.
– Mike Katzif

Divers, "Breathless"
Divers exploded onto the Portland music scene this year on the back of incredibly intense live shows driven by expertly-crafted punk rock anthems, like this song from their debut album Hello Hello.
– Jerad Walker, opbmusic

Downtown Boys, "Monstro"
There is a better future, and these political party sax-punks scream a powerful call-to-arms "that nothing that they can do can push it away!"
– Lars Gotrich

El Vy, "Return To The Moon"
The National's Matt Berninger gets surprisingly funky and not-so-surprisingly obtuse in his fun side project's first single.
– Stephen Thompson

Eskimeaux, "I Admit I'm Scared"
These lines end this delicate yet tornadic tune stuck in my head as a perfect description of late teens/early twenties angst and made it a favorite all year: "And if I had a dime for every time I'm freaking out we could fly around the world or just get out of your parents' house."
– Bob Boilen

Ezra Furman, "Restless Year"
A frenzy of poppy synths, rackety percussion and a throbbing bassline, this song effectively blends Furman's visceral indie rock roots with his newer, glossier throwback sound. But there's no time to pin him down or clasify him anyway — it's just good to be along for the ride.
– Kelsey , The Current

Fantastic Negrito, "Lost in A Crowd"
The song that catapulted Xavier Dphrepaulezz and his band to victory in NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concert Contest last year is a blistering, soulful and blues-drenched tune inspired by the struggles of the working poor.
– Bob Boilen

Father John Misty, "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)""
It took a long time for Josh Tillman to craft this brilliant ode to his then-new love, and he struck sonic gold by wrapping his wit and vulnerability in lush strings, mariachi horns and one of the lines of the year: "What are you doing with your whole life? / How 'bout forever?" (By the way, she said "yes.")
– Carmel Holt, WFUV

The Front Bottoms, "Cough It Out"
Brian Sella's words spill out in bunches as he builds to an evocative and plainspoken confession: "I am delusional with love."
– Stephen Thompson

G.L.O.S.S., "Lined Lips and Spiked Bats"
You do not want to mess with these trans punks or this seriously pissed-off anthem to smashing the patriarchy.
– Lars Gotrich

Girl Band, "Paul"
A scream-of-consciousness steamroller that builds, resets, puts its shoes back on, paces around for a while, shivers, heaves and ramps up again. And again. And again. And
– Jacob Ganz

Girlpool, "Before The World Was Big"
The duo looks back on its youth in vivid, loving-but-ambivalent detail, then builds to something transcendent.
– Stephen Thompson

Gun Outfit, "Gotta Wanna"
This L.A. bummer-punk band rides the sweet spot between choogle and apache beat for three and a half zenned-out minutes.
– Otis Hart

Hayden, "No Happy Birthday"
Indie rock veteran Hayden Desser wrote this song for his non-verbal daughter. One of the legit tearjerkers of 2015.
– Otis Hart

Hop Along, "Waitress"
The vocal performance of the year, courtesy of Frances Quinlan, whose ragged pipes added a well-worn familiarity to detailed lyrics about being trapped by bad decisions, circumstance and casual cruelty.
– Jacob Ganz

Israel Nash, "L.A. Lately"
A Harvest era-soundalike for the 21st century that transcends its Laurel Canyon feel from an amazing singer-songwriter.
– Dave Michaels, WEXT

JD McPherson, "It Shook Me Up"
Didn't quite accomplish what you meant to do today? Let this song — McPherson's brand of retro rock 'n' soul at its best — express your pain
– Rachel Horn

John Grant, "Grey Tickles, Black Pressure"
Grant writes the funniest words about the most depressing things. This title-track to his 2015 album makes for a thought-provoking bit of pop sung by such a unique talent.
– Bob Boilen

Josh Ritter, "Getting Ready To Get Down"
One of the world's best songwriters. Josh Ritter's story songs feel so real.
– Chris Wienk, WEXT

Julia Holter, "Feel You"
A sweeping, string-laden song with a vulnerability buoyed by the delightful way Julia Holter breaks apart the syllables in "myth-o-lo-gi-cal."
– Lars Gotrich

Julien Baker, "Sprained Ankle"
In two minutes, Baker, still college-aged, entwines the need to create with the way that need can cripple, over a skeletal but radiant backing of voice and guitar.
– Jacob Ganz

Kurt Vile, "Pretty Pimpin"
The self-described "pop jam" on Kurt Vile's brilliant new album b'lieve i'm goin' down. The wordplay and phrasing in this song completely hooked me from the start.
– Russ Borris, WFUV

Lianne La Havas, "What You Don't Do"
There's a place for songs about romantic woes, but sometimes you just need a boundlessly joyful celebration of a happy, secure relationship.
– Rachel Horn

Lord Huron, "Fool For Love"
A sepia-toned campfire song about battling for honor and a woman's hand in marriage. It does not end well.
– Robin Hilton

Makthaverskan, "Witness"
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."
– Lars Gotrich

Martha, "Six Men Getting Sick Six Times (Mendable)"
Our favorite British pop-punks go acoustic on this touching song about love's recuperative power in the face of a ruthless world.
– Otis Hart

Michael Rault, "Real Love (Yeah)"
If the Cisco Kid was actually a singer-songwriter from Toronto.
– Annie Bartholomew, KXLL

Neon Indian, "Annie"
Slick and dirty downtown pop for the unremembered '80s, from a '00s survivor unafraid of playing hard to a new niche.
– Jacob Ganz

Palehound, "Molly"
It's not clear if she's referencing the drug Ecstasy or just a really horrible person, but either way Palehound's Ellen Kempner gets Molly in the crosshairs for a gritty, infectious takedown.
– Robin Hilton

Positive No, "Pedal Through"
Positive No's weirdness is balanced by its sweetness in a catchy pop song that's undeniably '90s.
– Lars Gotrich

Prettiots, "Boys (That I Dated in High School)"
Clever, honest, funny, and well put together — everything my high school boyfriend was not.
– Kate Drozynski

Protomartyr, "Why Does it Shake?"
Youthful bravado melts into the uncertainty of aging, and the Detroit band turns the words of a woman in the throes of Alzheimer's disease into a moving, guitar-stoked anthem.
– Greg Kot, Sound Opinions

PWR BTTM, "1994.0"
There's a lot to like here — guitar heroics, Matt Sharp-style synth lines, body glitter — but it all pales in comparison to that golden hook, cracked and wordless and completely unshakeable.
– Daoud Tyler-Ameen

Royal Headache, "My Own Fantasy"
Australia's Royal Headache has all of the grinding guitar, driving drums and furious energy necessary for a pounding punk song.
– Kate Drozynski

Saintseneca, "Sleeper Hold"
A masterful bit of hyper-catchy rock craftsmanship, with bold and searching words to boot.
– Stephen Thompson

Sheer Mag, "Button Up"
Killer riffs blasted through scuzzy, kicked-in speakers and Tina Halladay's ferocious howl ignite this boogie rocker like a spark on a pool of gasoline.
– Mike Katzif

Sleater-Kinney, "A New Wave"
Leave it to Janet Weiss to start a song in the middle of a drum fill. We'd probably have celebrated their return no matter what, but it's nice to know Sleater-Kinney still has weird ideas.
– Daoud Tyler-Ameen

Soak, "Sea Creatures"
She's still a teenager, but Irish singer Bridie Monds-Watson already has a firm grasp of the ways the pursuit of love can make you feel like an outsider.
– Stephen Thompson

Speedy Ortiz, "Raising The Skate"
With equal parts hilarious self-deprecation, wry honesty and ambiguous non sequiturs, Sadie Dupuis fires off an empowering call to arms for anyone who's ever felt underestimated by toxic people in their lives.
– Mike Katzif

Sufjan Stevens, "Fourth Of July"
The most devastating song from the year's most heartbreaking album finds the now deceased mother who abandoned Sufjan as child praying he had a good life without her.
– Robin Hilton

Sweet Spirit, "If You Wanna"
This Austin band writes catchy tunes that reveal several layers upon repeated listens. Also, I want to go to Mexico RIGHT NOW.
– Matt Reilly, KUTX

The Tallest Man on Earth, "Sagres"
Right out of the gate, this Kristian Matsson song engulfs you with wave after wave of beautifully lush sounds that are perfectly suited to a summer drive.
– Eric Teel, Jefferson Public Radio

Tame Impala, "Let It Happen"
7 minutes, 46 seconds, and I wish it was longer.
– Mac Wilson, The Current

Thunderbitch, "Wild Child"
Brittany Howard shows off her unmatchable snarl on a rock 'n' roll stomper that gives voice to all the women who didn't ask your permission, thanks.
– Rachel Horn

Title Fight, "Rose of Sharon"
As punk still experiences growing pains decades later, Title Fight spits into a dream of flanged guitars and jangly hooks.
– Lars Gotrich

Tomas Pagan Motta, "Up and Away"
If the amazing vocal — which conjures up Van Morrison, Tim and Jeff Buckley and somehow, Led Zeppelin — doesn't seduce your spirit, try resisting the alchemy of acoustic guitar, strings and pedal steel.
– Vicky Gregor, KRCC

Torres, "New Skin"
This song, from Mackenzie Scott's second album, Sprinter, channels Patti Smith and PJ Harvey and makes for a jarring song of discovery and fear.
– Bob Boilen

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, "Can't Keep Checking My Phone"
From its Tarantino spaghetti western start to its groovy "Purple Rain" end, this single by the Portland-by-way-of-New Zealand band is a cinematic treat for our ears.
– Joni Deutsch, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Vetiver, "Stranger Still"
When Vetiver's Andy Cabic gets a song right, he really gets it right.
– Otis Hart

Waxahatchee, "Breathless"
An insistent, seeping drone mimicks the stagnant relationship Katie Crutchfield's coolly disdainful lyrics describe.
– Rachel Horn

Wilco, "Magnetized"
This cryptic address from a Holden Caulfield-like anti hero is one of the most enigmatic and fascinating moments from an album full of captivating head-scratchers.
– Robin Hilton

Wolf Alice, "Moaning Lisa Smile"
"Moaning Lisa Smile" lures you in sweetly only to reveal its savage side, much like the twisted tale for which the band is named.
– Kate Drozynski

The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, "1/10/2014"
This vengeance-themed emo epic soars and stuns before closing with a call to action: "Make evil afraid of evil's shadow."
– Stephen Thompson

Worriers, "Good Luck"
Let's have a toast for the a-holes: Worriers claps back on every privileged jerk with an opinion, wrapping the words in ice-cold courtesy.
– Daoud Tyler-Ameen

Young Fathers, "Shame"
From the orchestrated chaos to the catchy hooks and children's choir, the Scottish trio's anthem for 2015 makes you feel no ... shame.
– Alisha Sweeney, Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir

Pop

Adele, "Hello"
The year's biggest and most universal cry-along ballad, and it got here just in time.
– Stephen Thompson

Alessia Cara, "Here"
In an exhausting year of terrorist attacks, mass shootings, police brutalities, Nepalese earthquakes, refugee crises, Trump xenophobia, Cosby allegations and HBO's humorless Season 2 of the The Leftovers, "Here" is a solid reminder, in no uncertain terms, that the party has been over for a long time.
– Jason King

Belle & Sebastian, "The Party Line"
Stuart Murdoch, already indie rock's answer to Whit Stillman or Jean-Luc Godard, locates the conformity jitters buzzing within disco's seductive sparkle. It's still fun to dance to.
– Jacob Ganz

Carly Rae Jepsen, "Making The Most of the Night"
An instant daydream: You're outside the club, hearing the distant echoes of Jepsen's vocal warmup, when suddenly she pops out of the stage door and yanks you inside.
– Daoud Tyler-Ameen

The Chemical Brothers feat. Q-Tip, "Go"
This is the mega hit of 2015 that should have been!
– Rita Houston, WFUV

Chvrches, "Clearest Blue"
The springiest synth-pop confection on an album full of them goes down smoothly no matter how fizzy it gets.
– Stephen Thompson

Demi Lovato, "Cool For The Summer"
God bless all of Lovato's awesome gender-unspecific summer-romance paean, but the main reason I couldn't stop playing this piece of bubblegum was that it contained my favorite Max Martin death-chord since "Teenage Dream."
– Piotr Orlov

Elle King, "Ex's & Oh's"
An irresistible bit of braggadocio from a soulful pop singer whose delivery exudes gritty, playful charisma.
– Stephen Thompson

Fall Out Boy, "Uma Thurman"
A fist-pumping crush song, built around a surf-rock jingle from a TV show about an undead suburban family. It's going to be so hard to explain 2015 Fall Out Boy to our grandkids.
– Daoud Tyler-Ameen

Fifth Harmony feat. Kid Ink, "Worth It"
Fifth Harmony and Kid Ink join forces for this frequently shifting display of swagger and self-satisfaction. It's an ego tripping, hook-laden blast of power pop and swirling sax.
– Sheldon Pearce

Florence + The Machine, "Ship To Wreck"
A big and brassy yet considered pop song about self-destruction for an outsized voice that always needed a step back to take it in.
– Lars Gotrich

Genevieve, "Colors"
An almost impossibly upbeat anthem of affirmation, "Colors" has been inching toward its inevitable ubiquity all year.
– Stephen Thompson

Grimes, "Kill V. Maim"
Claire Boucher delivers a merciless kick to the stomach with a synth-powered rager full of both fury and humor.
– Robin Hilton

Hamilton Cast Recording, "Wait For It"
A historical villain made flesh and blood before our very ears — and yet, Leslie Odom Jr.'s delivery is so transcendent that the context hardly matters. Anyone who's ever yearned can relate.
– Daoud Tyler-Ameen

Jamie XX feat. Young Thug and Popcaan, "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)"
My song of the summer, perfect on street-corners, beaches and three different types of dance-floors. Four artists (including The Persuasions, sampled here) who probably did not know of each other's existence in early 2014, now forever united.
– Piotr Orlov

Jason DeRulo, "Want To Want Me"
The prince of dirty-talking pop bares his sweet-talking side in an undeniable jam that was instantly destined for a share of the song-of-the-summer crown.
– Rachel Horn

Justin Bieber, "What Do You Mean?"
Pop's troublesome manchild turns in his version of a Janet Jackson vocal — dusky, introspective, ethereal — on this soca-kissed dance track. And it works.
– Ann Powers

Kehlani, "Alive"
Kehlani's 2015 mixtape You Should Be Here is a rollercoaster of emotions with a glimpse of hope at the end of the journey. And while you catch the brightness from the beginning, there's nothing like when you arrive: That's "Alive," the song where the R&B singer candidly embraces the bad to find peace and really — I mean really — enjoy the good.
– Erika Ramirez

Lunchmoney Lewis, "Bills"
Following in the patent-leather footsteps of Cab Calloway and August Darnell, this Miami-based pop polyglot offers a comically sharp take on trying to stay afloat in the debt economy.
– Ann Powers

Major Lazer, "Lean On (ft. MØ & DJ Snake)"
Diplo was the MVP of 2015 as far as I'm concerned; behind the boards on Jack Ü's "Where Are Ü Now" and MØ's "Kamikaze," it was tough to pick just one of his contributions for this list, but in the end I'm going with Spotify's most streamed song in the world this year.
– Travis Holcombe, KCRW

Marina and the Diamonds, "I'm A Ruin"
"I don't want to say goodbye, but baby I don't want to lie," Marina Diamandis sings to an erstwhile lover as she gives him the heave-ho. The lyrics leave open the possibility of reconciliation, but listen to the way she sings and it's clear he never stood a chance.
– Jacob Ganz

Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, "Uptown Funk"
If you're going to hear a song on the radio 15,000 times in a single summer, it might as well be this one.
– Stephen Thompson

Meg Mac, "Roll Up Your Sleeves"
The Australian teenager makes her pitch for pop stardom with a sparkly, cooing bit of slow-burning, radio-friendly uplift.
– Stephen Thompson

Mike Garry & Joe Duddell, "St Anthony: An Ode to Anthony H Wilson"
A soaring tribute to Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records, aided by the melody of New Order's "Your Silent Face."
– Otis Hart

Peaches feat. Kim Gordon, "Close Up"
The elctroclash provocateur is joined by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon for thumping, carnal domination.
– Robin Hilton

Ratatat, "Cream On Chrome"
Bee Gees beats filtered through the Brooklyn hipster brains of Ratatat for you to strut your stuff to.
– Kate Drozynski

Rihanna, "BBHMM"
A sandpaper-voiced Rihanna sounded like she just woke from a night of hard clubbing to record this dancefloor reparations jam that's personal, and maybe political if you do the math.
– Jason King

Ruby Amanfu, "Cathedrals"
A great covers artist excavates and curates as well as interpreting, and here Nashville's beloved young voice applies her burnt-sugar timbre to a true lost gem.
– Ann Powers

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.
– Stephen Thompson

Skrillex & Diplo feat. Justin Bieber, "Where Are U Now?"
Justin Bieber shed his kiddie image with this hauntingly spare and moody Skrillex/Diplo-produced summer track; call it tropical house, but it's too cool and interior for any tourist beach I know.
– Jason King

Sleeping With Sirens, "Go Go Go"
Pop-punk's punchiest young band offers a hot new take on the classic rock and roll theme of young hearts burning bright.
– Ann Powers

Susanne Sundfør, "Accelerate"
Forget what you thought you knew about Saturday night fever: This symphonic seduction from Norway's boldest diva/producer is what disco can be at its massive, lustful, sublime, dirty, perfect, all-encompassing best.
– Ann Powers

Tove Lo, "Moments"
The last single off the Swedish songwriter's long-legged 2014 album Queen of the Clouds is a perfect encapsulation of her method: flawlessly bombastic pop about the kind of flaws that add up.
– Jacob Ganz

Troye Sivan, "Wild"
Brighter than Bieber, sharper than Sam Smith, the YouTube-propelled wunderkind Sivan and his 22-year-old female producer, Alex Hope, reach the height of intelligent teen pop with this careful excavation of callow desire.
– Ann Powers

The Weeknd, "Can't Feel My Face"
Toronto's dreadlocked tenor lifted himself up out of the slumber of ambient soul to churn out this Scandanvian-produced dance pop blockbuster, and it stormed global radio. It's the strangest song ever to use drug-induced facial paralysis as a metaphor for seduction.
– Jason King

Jazz

Anat Cohen, "Pretty 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.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Becca Stevens Band, "Be Still"
Brilliant mix of quirky rhythm with a great pop sense.
– George Graham, WVIA

Brenna Whitaker, "You Don't Own Me"
The truth is easier to take when it's wrapped up in a killer song by a beautiful and talented newcomer.
– Luke Nestler, KDNK

Cecile McLorin Salvant, "The Trolley Song"
Salvant is the rightful heir to Sarah Vaughan. She's fresh, innovative and one a kind. She's got to be heard and seen to be believed!
– Melanie Berzon, KCSM

Charlie Hunter Trio, "Pho-Kus-On-Ho-Ho-Kus"
A trio jam both spare and full, weirdo-fringe and right-over-the-plate. Also, in Charlie's own words: "the nasty kind of stank on the beat."
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Chris Lightcap, "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.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, "Of a New Cool"
Drums on the left, drums on the right, a tapestry of winds and rhythmic colors up the middle. Just play it cool, boy; real modern-Miles-and-Gil "Cool."
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Dafnis Prieto, "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.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Ernestine Anderson, "Just In Time"
Once, jazz singing wasn't a quaint mannerism with high buy-in. This, recorded live in 1962 but just issued for the first time, is from that lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Harold Mabern feat. Gregory Porter, "Afro Blue"
Nice "up" beat, and it swings.
– Rashad Abdul-Muhaimin, WSHA

Jacky Terrasson, "Kiff"
A playful bounce (think: '70s animated TV theme) as modern piano-driven jazz with three percussionists, counting the vocalist/beatboxer.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

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.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

JD Allen Trio, "Jawn Henry"
A sax-bass-drums trio swings devastatingly hard in four-bar increments. It does that for six minutes.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Jose James, "What A Little Moonlight Can Do"
Never mind the moonlight; it's more about what James can do to the phrase "peepin' through."
– Rachel Horn

Kamasi Washington, "The Rhythm Changes"
A stand-out track from Washington's The Epic, incorporating R&B into a timeless, classic jazz tune.
– Bruce Warren, WXPN

Lionel Loueke, "Aziza Dance"
Another highlight from the polyglot band that speaks mixed meters, West African guitar, and all the groove idioms with interchangeable proficiency.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Maria Schneider, "Nimbus"
Lavish and unsettled and evocative of the natural world and with killer soloists like Steve Wilson on alto. Maria's back, y'all.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Mary Halvorson, "Cheshire Hotel"
A beautiful melody without buoy, made plastic by a solo guitarist's study of it: stretched, destroyed and ultimately affirmed with a coy laugh.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Mike Reed's People Places & Things, "A New Kind Of Dance"
On a sunny sort of shuffle, with swirling solos like Chicago crosswinds, an already tight band adds the joker card of Matthew Shipp's piano.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Orrin Evans, "Jewels & Baby Yaz"
With a thick foundation of stankface backbeat, splashed by jutting and elbowing piano, jazz brothers honor a progenitor of Philly neo-soul.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Petros Klampanis, "Minor Dispute"
An international band with a Middle Eastern bent and a string section makes flowing chamber jazz conversant in modern Greek.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Romain Collin, "The Kids"
Young trio builds and builds and stalls, interlaced piano tangling with itself. But wait for the whistling. Man, the kids these days.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Rudresh Mahanthappa, "Chillin'"
This is from a Charlie Parker tribute with fast saxophone playing but somehow sounds nothing like Charlie Parker. That's a good thing.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

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.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Terence Blanchard feat. The E-Collective, "Samadhi"
A great song for everybody that meditates.
– Aaron Cohen, WCLK

Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap, "All The Things You Are"
A song that's been done a million times and ways, essayed slowly and deliberately by voice and piano, with conviction that feels like instinct.
– Michael Bourne, WBGO

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.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Vijay Iyer Trio, "Hood"
A go-anywhere piano trio salutes a pioneering Detroit house DJ with a precision experiment in acoustic real-time techno.
– Patrick Jarenwattananon

Folk & Americana

Adia Victoria, "Howlin' Shame"
An incisive singer and songwriter fronting a spectral, southern gothic outfit, Victoria conjures a figure whose elusiveness makes her dangerous.
– Jewly Hight

Anderson East, "Satisfy Me"
He makes his home in Nashville, but East finds his way to Muscle Shoals with plenty of Wurlitzer, fat horns, a convincingly soulful rasp and a Ph.D. in TLC.
– Rachel Horn

Banditos, "Waitin'"
Banditos singer Mary Beth Richardson has a tiger in her tank, and in this classic barn-burner, she dares the boys in the band to catch up.
– Ann Powers

Bhi Bhiman, "Bread & Butter"
America's finest Sri Lankan soulman cooks up a true jam about hard work, serious partying and delicious breakfast foods.
– Ann Powers

Bill Fay, "Something Else Ahead"
Profound and deeply moving reflections on the very meaning of life from the British folksinger now two albums into a creative revival after a nearly 40-year hiatus.
– Robin Hilton

Brandi Carlile, "The Eye"
This close-harmony spine-tingler earns Carlile and the Twins, her brothers in music, a spot on the shelf next to Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
– Ann Powers

Buffy Sainte-Marie, "We Are Circling"
This new take on a song Sainte-Marie first recorded with the Sadies in 2014 epitomizes what's great about the legendary singer-songwriter: adventurous electronics meet Cree vocalizing in an anthem about gathering spirits and committing to joy.
– Ann Powers

Caitlin Canty, "Get Up"
A song about resiliency, about picking yourself up and moving forward. The Vermont-native, now Nashvillian, is backed by an all-star band featuring Eric Heywood, Billy Conway, Jeffrey Foucault, Matt Lorenz and Jeremy Moses Curtis.
– Linda Fahey, Folk Alley

Calexico, "Cumbia De Donde"
This bilingual collaboration between Arizona's beloved sonic wanderers and the vocalist Amparo Sanchez evokes the risky mutability of a life spent hopping and melting borders: I'm not from here, I'm not from there. De donde eres? I'm on my way.
– Ann Powers

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.
– Lars Gotrich

Darlingside, "God Of Loss"
The instrumentals are just as meticulous as the harmonies, the harmonies just as haunting as the lyrics, and the lyrics a testament to the Boston quartet's success to come.
– Larry Groce, Mountain Stage

Dave Rawlings Machine, "The Weekend"
This slice of mystery from Rawlings and Gillian Welch sounds like a lost Big Star song with Neil Young sitting in on the session.
– Ann Powers

David Ramirez, "Rock and a Hard Place"
Springsteenesque hard country about harder realities.
– Ann Powers

The Deslondes, "Yum Yum"
Deliciously twangy slide guitar sandwiched between a laid-back list of Southern comfort foods sung in a classic country four-part harmony. Mmm.
– Kate Drozynski

Erin Rae & The Meanwhiles, "Monticello"
Now, here's a song that proves patience is a virtue. Rae's delicate, detailed strokes yield an exquisite portrait of wistfulness.
– Jewly Hight

The Honey Dewdrops, "Same Old"
Just one of the highlights from the outstanding Tangled Country, a collection of often sad but still hopeful songs. "Same Old" mines some of the territory of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, with lilting banjo, gorgeous harmonies and tasteful pedal steel, and exemplifies this duo's simple yet beautiful music.
– Freddy Jenkins, WUNC's Back Porch Music

Houndmouth, "Sedona"
For a few minutes at a time, this midwestern quartet salvages the ruins of holler-along folk with a tune about faded glory set to a note-perfect evocation of a southwest sunset.
– Jacob Ganz

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.
– Ann Powers

Jason Isbell, "24 Frames"
"You thought God was an architect, now you know / He's something like a pipe bomb ready to blow" are the best lyrics anyone has come up with in a long time, rivaling Bob Dylan in his prime.
– Benji McPhail, KUNC

Jason Isbell, "Speed Trap Town"
Absolutely heartbreaking. Reality and Friday Night Lights come together in a beautiful song.
– John Aielli, KUTX

Joan Shelley, "Over and Even"
When the grooves on your copy of Joni Mitchell's "Blue" finally wear out, this is the only replacement you'll ever need.
– Jacob Ganz

Joanna Newsom, "Sapokanikan"
It's always a good thing when a "pop" song can deliver a cultural lesson, and keep unfolding ten listens in. When it happens to be by one of the smartest people in the room ... well, call that historic significance.
– Piotr Orlov

John Moreland, "Cherokee"
What words should we use when we talk to ghosts? This Tulsa native, known for hushing words with his mighty murmur, opens a line to the afterlife and shows how everyone's memory keeps that space alive.
– Ann Powers

Laura Marling, "False Hope"
The U.K. folksinger knows her way around world-weariness, but "False Hope" matches it with a gritty rock 'n' roll arrangement that suits her.
– Stephen Thompson

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.
– Rachel Horn

Lizz Wright, "Somewhere Down the Mystic"
Sensuality and spirituality blend seamlessly in Wright's mesmeric vision.
– Jewly Hight

Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, "Silent Movies"
Mother-and-son blues-folk may sound like a gimmick, but these two make it sing as part of a full-on charm offensive.
– Stephen Thompson

McCrary Sisters, "He Split The Rock"
The go-to gospel backup singers in Americana and country, the sisters bring the real heat on their own, testifying to displays of divine power with strenuous, virtuosic conviction.
– Jewly Hight

Patty Griffin, "Rider of Days"
This is how you survive a sweet love that's put on the brake: Keep flying, open to memory but powered by hope.
– Ann Powers

The Punch Brothers, "Julep"
Set within a complex but easeful arrangement that recalls both jazz and its African origin points, this view of a good life from heaven shows just how masterful this virtuoso outfit has become.
– Ann Powers

Rayland Baxter, "Yellow Eyes"
The vanilla-pop shimmer that turns this ode to a girl who deserves better is retro without being derivative, and you know Baxter know's he's the good-bad-not-quite-evil guy.
– Ann Powers

Rhiannon Giddens, "Black is the Color"
Confidence, exuberance, sex appeal and unmistakable, unbridled glee underwrite every second of the Carolina Chocolate Drops frontwoman's bold take on a Nina Simone staple.
– Katie Presley

Rickie Lee Jones, "J'ai Connais Pas"
She found her thrill (again) on the streets of New Orleans, and in this tale of a rounder past his prime the doyenne of coolsville does that city's musical legacies proud.
– Ann Powers

Ryley Walker, "Sweet Satisfaction"
The choogle is real with "Sweet Satisfaction." The choogle is weird and burns some ecstatic fuzz, too.
– Lars Gotrich

Sam Gleaves, "Ain't We Brothers"
In this modern Appalachian ballad, Gleaves introduces an unignorable hero: an openly gay, West Virginia coal miner fighting for his place in his community.
– Jewly Hight

Sam Lee & Friends, "Jonny O' the Brine"
The English singer and his bandmates transform an old Scottish Traveller song into an epic and completely cinematic experience.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

The Staves, "No Me, No You, No More"
Producer Justin Vernon gives this U.K. vocal trio the layers-upon-layers treatment, to glorious effect.
– Stephen Thompson

Steep Canyon Rangers, "Simple Is Me"
This veteran acoustic outfit delivers the best of both the string band and singer-songwriter worlds; the song's narrative and instrumental licks are equally engrossing.
– Jewly Hight

Watkins Family Hour, "Hop High"
A carefully supercharged vocal from Sara Watkins (with perfect harmonies from Fiona Apple) powers this fiddle jam from the all-star roots music revivalists.
– Ann Powers

Country

A Thousand Horses, "Sunday Morning"
Just what the Southern rock doctor ordered. Cowritten with singer Michael Hobby's second cousin Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes, this remedy feels so right.
– Ann Powers

Alan Jackson, "You Can Always Come Home"
Country's stalwart calm presence wrote this one for his kids, and any parent will get the sentiment.
– Ann Powers

Andrew Combs, "Suwanee County"
The sweetest homesick ode to a patch of land you'll hear all year.
– Ann Powers

Ashley Monroe, "The Blade"
Country loves a good metaphor, and Monroe picks a vivid one in this crushing ballad.
– Stephen Thompson

Cam, "My Mistake"
On the first of two noteworthy singles the California-bred country newcomer released this year, the lilting lift of its melody makes the lyrics' sex-positive realism feel irresistibly buoyant.
– Jewly Hight

Canaan Smith, "Hole In A Bottle"
With deft wordplay and a self-deprecating delivery, Smith makes country's old drink-away-the-work-week conceit feel fun and liberating again.
– Ann Powers

Carrie Underwood, "Smoke Break"
Country's inspirational queen lends her pipes to the cause of the 99 Percent in this compassionate power ballad.
– Ann Powers

Chris Janson, "Buy Me a Boat"
The song that paved the way for Janson's record deal is country's most charismatic take on working-class aspiration this year.
– Jewly Hight

Chris Stapleton, "Traveller"
From country's breakthrough lyrical voice, an instantly timeless slice of country soul that will lift you up wherever you perambulate.
– Ann Powers

Clare Dunn, "Move On"
This formidable guitar-slinger conjures teasingly impatient desire with her monster hooks and rhythmic propulsion. Listen hard, and you may even hear echoes of George Michael's "Freedom! '90."
– Jewly Hight

Corb Lund, "S Lazy H"
From Canada's troubadour, a clear-eyed, heartbreaking, semi-autobiographical cowboy song about development killing the old ways.
– Ann Powers

Della Mae, "High Away Gone"
The 21st-century queens of bluegrass go high, lonesome and holy on this fervent protest against mountain-top clearing.
– Ann Powers

Dwight Yoakam, "Second Hand Heart"
One of country music's most reliable veterans comes all the way back, his fastball intact.
– Stephen Thompson

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, "The Traveling Kind"
Old friends, bookends: this revered harmonizing duo reflects upon enduring friendship and those who have left this dusty road.
– Ann Powers

Eric Church, "Record Year"
Nobody blends clever and heartfelt as well as country's central outsider, and this Nick Hornby-esque song about deep listening afte a breakup is a prime example of his skills.
– Ann Powers

George Strait, "Cold Beer Conversation"
On the title track from his 29th studio album, the King of Country goes deep on the poetics of male bonding.
– Ann Powers

Gretchen Peters, "Pretty Things"
Peters manages to distill decades of negative thoughts into a single song that gives me goosebumps and makes my eyes well up every time I hear it.
– Elena See, Folk Alley

Kacey Musgraves, "Dime Store Cowgirl"
Hopefully Kacey Musgraves will inspire others to create authentic and smartly written country songs like this heart-warming tribute to her hometown of Golden, Texas.
– Cindy Howes, Folk Alley

Kacey Musgraves, "Late To The Party"
She's great at millennial anthems, but Musgraves shows her heart in her meditations on private life, like this gentle ode to monogamy.
– Ann Powers

Kelsea Ballerini, "Underage"
Country's hottest ingenue gets quiet and insightful on this vulnerable reflection on growing up too fast, the way everyone does.
– Ann Powers

Lindi Ortega, "Ashes"
Roy Orbison is smiling somewhere in his blue heaven, listening to torch queen Ortega's take on sublime heartbreak.
– Ann Powers

Maddie & Tae, "Fly"
This song is for the daughters breaking free, and the mothers holding their breath as they watch them spring from youth's ledge.
– Ann Powers

Maren Morris, "I Wish I Was"
At the starting gate of a big career, this 25-year-old Texan shows the swagger and the style of a young Bonnie Raitt.
– Ann Powers

Margo Price, "Hurtin' On a Bottle"
Pristine vintage country, clear of voice but bleary of eye, that never loses sight of the humor in taking out your pain on poor, helpless whiskey.
– Jacob Ganz

Mavericks, "Pardon Me"
Even the hardiest road dog has his day, and in this swoon-worthy balad, Raul Malo and his compadres locate the lonely soul of music's itinerant lifers.
– Ann Powers

Mickey Guyton, "Better Than You Left Me"
The spirits of Aretha and Patsy meld in this blast of uplift from one of country's most stirring young vocalists.
– Ann Powers

Mo Pitney, "Cleanup In Aisle Five"
A new country traditionalist offers a love song that will have you weeping in front of your supermarket's cereal display.
– Ann Powers

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen, "Til It Does"
Honky tonk music to make your heart melt from two princes of the Texas scene.
– Ann Powers

Sam Outlaw, "Jesus Take the Wheel (And Drive Me To A Bar)"
Is it too much to hope Carrie Underwood covers this droll complement to one of her biggest hits, imploring the Lord to work the miracle of a good shot of tequila?
– Ann Powers

Striking Matches, "Hanging On a Lie"
The word insinuating was invented for the subtle approach taken by this guitar-wielding, harmonizing Nashville power duo. Also the word sexy.
– Ann Powers

Thomas Rhett, "Crash & Burn"
Cowritten by Nashville's fave beatmaker Jesse Frasure and soulman Chris Stapleton, this hit for the roguish Rhett turns Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" into a hot country jam.
– Ann Powers

Turnpike Troubadours, "Time of Day"
A courting song made for dancing in a big field under Oklahoma stars from one of the Red Dirt country world's most congenial outfits.
– Ann Powers

Tyler Farr, "A Guy Walks Into A Bar"
Farr spins a familiar joke setup into broody country gold with his arrestingly abraded vocal attack.
– Jewly Hight

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, "The Only Man Wilder Than Me"
Two legends shoot the breeze and the world smiles.
– Ann Powers

Hip Hop

Big Sean feat. Drake & Kanye West, "Blessings"
Sean Don teams up with the king of the Internet and ... the other king of the Internet for a track that was destined to be, complete with an earworm of a hook. #wayyyyup
– Kiana Fitzgerald

Boogie, "Oh My"
A triumphant-sounding song that excludes hyperbole and prioritizes old friends, the old neighborhood and just doesn't need the east coast.
– Frannie Kelley

D.R.A.M., "Cha Cha"
One of 2015's most talked-about songs (it preceded and bears a notable similarity to "Hotline Bling"), "Cha Cha" is all charisma, elevating any party and any mood the second it starts to play.
– Erika Ramirez

Dej Loaf, "Back Up"
With a punching, singsong flow and an assist from Big Sean, Dej Loaf verbally jousts would-be nuisances over slapping 808 bass and clapping hi-hats in this sonic shoulder check.
– Sheldon Pearce

Dom Kennedy, "Represent (I Like That)"
Dom's latest LP, By Dom Kennedy provided 11 hit it and quit it tracks. On "Represent," his unmistakably west coast style and lethargic flow locked perfectly with J. LBS's production.
– Bobby Carter

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, "Sunday Candy"
It's a sweetly textured snack layered with uplifting lyrics and jubilant production, but the alluring hook, courtesy of Jamila Woods, is the richest part.
– Erika Ramirez

Dr. Dre feat. Anderson Paak, "Animals"
As the unofficial star of Dr. Dre's Compton LP, Anderson .Paak pulled out all stops on the Dre/Premier joint production. Speaking directly to the current civil turmoil going on in many U.S. cities, Paak raps, sings and ultimately steals the spotlight from the two most celebrated producers in hip-hop.
– Bobby Carter

Dr. Yen Lo, "Day 0"
Brooklyn street legend Ka and the producer Preservation made an album of rap music without beats, of psychological darkness of poetic justice and melodic tension. This was a stand-out.
– Piotr Orlov

Drake, "Hotline Bling"
Drake's dancing-in-an-empty-Turrell-installation video launched what seemed like ten trillion conversations about alternative masculinity in an era of self-regard, and even more ironic covers, remixes and remakes. But the song itself, set to that percolating Timmy Thomas sample, remains a sing-a-long anthem of petty regret and masculine self-loathing.
– Jason King

Drake, "Know Yourself"
Way back in February when If You're Reading This It's Too Late dropped, Drake was still the sad Batman of hip-hop, watching the pretenders and working twice as hard to keep the throne, and this was his midnight all-work-no-play montage theme.
– Jacob Ganz

Earl Sweatshirt, "Mantra"
The enjambment king on a compound fracture of a beat proving he can really rhyme over anything at all, even when his appetite is gone and he's so heartbroken.
– Frannie Kelley

Father, "BET Uncut"
Over a coiling synth loop that chimes like a game of Simon, Atlanta rapper Father warps BET's raunchy, late-night block into its own innuendo, pitching sex-positivity with a kink.
– Sheldon Pearce

Fetty Wap feat. Remy Boyz, "679"
A contender for rap song of the summer, this flirtatious party jam helped solidify Fetty Wap's rep as rap's most consistent feel-good hitmaker since Nelly.
– Timmhotep Aku

Freddie Gibbs feat. Black Thought, "Extradite"
Producer Mikhail flips Bob James's "Nautilus" to give Gangsta Gibbs and a rejuvenated Black Thought the perfect beat to remind us that they're two of the most skillful MCs around.
– Timmhotep Aku

Future, "March Madness"
An intergalactic beat + Future's infallible flow + perfectly timed ad libs = a legitimately lovely, debatably perfect rap song about nothing and everything.
– Kiana Fitzgerald

Goldlink, "New Black"
The Soulection all-star gets deep over lilting synths and a dancefloor ready Future Bounce groove.
– Timmhotep Aku

Janelle Monae & Wondaland Records, "Hell You Talmbout"
From present and past, the names of brutalized African-Americans keep coming in 5 1/2 minutes of controlled fury.
– Mark Mobley

Junglepussy, "Now Or Later"
JP could teach a class on "talking slick." Here she boasts her attributes and roasts subpar suitors with such finesse even her most biting insults seem sweet.
– Timmhotep Aku

Kamaiyah, "How Does It Feel"
An anthem for the 99 percent from an Oakland rapper who might know the answer this time next year.
– Otis Hart

Kate Tempest, "Bad Place for a Good Time"
This single does what Kate Tempest does best: It critiques our culture, its tedium, its ugliness and encourages ways to find peace and heart in moments that can feel hopeless and heartless.
– Bob Boilen

Kendrick Lamar, "Alright"
Faith, perseverance and bravery in the face of hate are recurring themes in black life, so it's only right that K Dot's single has become an anthem for today's struggle.
– Timmhotep Aku

Kendrick Lamar, "Complexion (A Zulu Love)"
With the issue of race constantly in question, "Complexion" is a soothing meditation and message for hope with lyrics that can open minds and a melody to change hearts.
– Simon Rentner, WBGO

Kendrick Lamar, "King Kunta"
Propulsive, muscle-flexing boast rap from the hip-hop album of the year. Weird, edgy, arresting and in-yo-face.
– Timmhotep Aku

Lady Leshurr, "Queen's Speech Episode 4"
Crossing the pond via placement in a Samsung ad, it's quick, quirky and funny from the English rapper's mouth to your ears (and mouth).
– Mark Mobley

Mick Jenkins, "Ps & Qs"
A tremendous track, littered with smartly strung alliteration, from one of Chicago's most promising rappers. Keep an eye on him.
– Timmhotep Aku

Missy Elliott feat. Pharrell Williams, "WTF (Where They From)"
The beat seems to have been recycled from the mid oughties, but anytime Missy — the most audacious, ambitious and subversive female auteur to ever play pop's game (sorry, Madge) — is back in the studio is a great day on this here Planet Erf.
– Jason King

Nicki Minaj feat. Drake and Lil Wayne, "Truffle Butter"
Alongside the usual suspects, Onika Maraj floats over a hard-hitting, slowed and throwed sample of a deep house track. Hip-hop artists, please do more of this.
– Kiana Fitzgerald

Rae Sremmurd, "This Could Be Us"
Atlanta's latest pop weirdos take a trip to the strip club to get over an ex, with predictable — but not entirely succesful — distractions.
– Jacob Ganz

Raury, "Devil's Whisper"
A young Atlanta rapper and singer marshals a choir for a forceful lesson about temptation delivered in shouts and stomps. Spacious and extremely musical — and he absolutely torched the Colbert show with it.
– Mark Mobley

Rich Homie Quan, "Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)"
"Flex" is spry and sunshine bright. It's goofy while it wisely plays its position. It is satisfying on every level; it's complete. This is why I was late for everything this year. Not turning it off for anybody.
– Frannie Kelley

Skepta, "Shutdown"
Songs We Love and it's shutdown. Year-end lists and it's shutdown. Best music of the year in the west hemisphere finally covets grime and it's shutdown.
– Otis Hart

Tate Kobang, "Bank Rolls (Remix)"
A local hit from 2000 became a viral hit in 2015 when Baltimore's Tate Kobang repurposed Tim Trees' "Bank Roll" beat for a freestyle ode to his hometown.
– Timmhotep Aku

TT the Artist, "Thug It Out"
TT's flavor of club dressed up like a rap tune, all chorus and hook and a breakdown hellbent on escalating that conflict.
– Frannie Kelley

Two Fresh feat. Towkio & Joey Purp, "Gettin Throwed"
The L.A. production twins amassed all of their hip-hop influences and dumped it into this track. From southern slang and 808's to the east-coast perfected drums, it's all there. Towkio and Joey Purp hammer it home with the captivating hook
– Bobby Carter

Vince Staples, "Senorita"
Beside a triple-time sample of Future's "Covered N Money," Vince Staples unpacks his gangland past with portrait-painting slant rhymes that stagger and strike in surges.
– Sheldon Pearce

YG, "Twist My Fingaz"
YG sounds like the rightful heir to the west coast crown, invoking Andre 3000's declaration of regional worth while cruising on a Terrace Martin-made slab of dark meat funk.
– Frannie Kelley

Young Thug feat. Birdman, "Constantly Hating"
Pastiche and the way we move now, reinventing the groove and plopping a vocal down right in the middle of where it's been. The beat is objectively, universally lovely and the man who landed it sounds like a happy accident.
– Frannie Kelley

R&B

Abhi/Dijon, "Jon B"
Maryland boys kick it on a song that doubles as an ode to a leading lady and a hat-tip to one of '90s R&B's unexpected frontrunners.
– Kiana Fitzgerald

Alina Baraz & Galimatias, "Can I"
Atop Galimatias' exquisite production, Baraz waxes poetic as she tries to convince a lover to leave their insecurities behind and join her in bliss.
– Kiana Fitzgerald

Allen Stone, "Upside"
The soul child of Chewelah, Wash. is at his very best when performing songs like "Upside." The downbeat jabs you in the chest and never lets up as Stone submits to the undertow of love.
– Bobby Carter

Bilal, "Satellites"
Bilal and Adrian Younge's collaboration is a psychedelic experience led by bass line and church organs. It's hard to not envision people being reinvigorated by experiencing it live.
– Erika Ramirez

Blended Babies feat. Anderson Paak & Asher Roth, "Make It Work"
The L.A. production duo took filtered keys, claps and a velvety bass line and added R&B's man of the moment. Finished with a verse from Asher Roth and Donnie's trumpet, this most definitely works.
– Bobby Carter

Bryson Tiller, "Exchange"
The rap-leaning R&B vocalist trademarks his brand of trap soul with this slow-winding cut, which distills K.P. & Envyi's "Swing My Way" into a smoldering profession of romantic equity.
– Sheldon Pearce

D'Angelo, "Betray My Heart"
The 2015 single from one of the best albums of 2014. Hopefully we won't have to wait another 14 years for more D'Angelo.
– Jody Denberg, KUTX

Disclosure, "Moving Mountains"
A welcome deviation from Disclosure's up-tempo electronic roots, this foggy composition creates perfect space for Brendan Reilly's subtle harmonies.
– Bobby Carter

Erykah Badu, "Cel U Lar Device"
We'll never know the true story of how or why Cerebellum Annie got in on the "Bling" "phenomenon." I like to think it was Drizzy's big payback — because she "doesn't really answer voicemail."
– Piotr Orlov

Erykah Badu feat. Andre 3000, "Hello"
A duet decades in the making brings together former lovers for a sweet meditation on romance in the digital age and the timeless complexities of love.
– Timmhotep Aku

Eska, "Shades of Blue"
An enchanting amalgam of soul, psych and pop, Eska's "Shades of Blue" summons the divine spirit of Minnie Riperton's "Come to My Garden."
– Ally Schweitzer, WAMU's Bandwidth

Hiatus Kaiyote, "Breathing Underwater"
This year, Nai Palm and the crew released Choose Your Weapon, their best offering thus far. On "Breathing Underwater," they held back on the technical acrobatics and returned to the irresistible groove.
– Bobby Carter

India Shawn & James Fauntleroy, "One Sun"
On one of few highlights from its Outer Limits EP, the duo, accompanied by tender bongo taps and a lightly distorted bass guitar, create the perfect ditty for a Saturday afternoon joy ride.
– Bobby Carter

The Internet feat. Kaytranada, "Girl"
If you've never heard an Internet song before, now's the time. Between the lyrics (sung from one girl to another) and the assist from Kaytranada, you can't go wrong.
– Kiana Fitzgerald

Jamie Woon, "Sharpness"
This is how you mark a return from obscurity. Producer (and NPR favorite for his work with Rhye and Quadron) Robin Hannibal provides the most fitting soundscape for Woon's steady falsetto.
– Bobby Carter

Janet Jackson, "Night"
Producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Janet —the most enduring three-way marriage in musical history — have been flirting with house beats since at least 1993's "Throb." "Night" might be no more than a sinuous and sexy album cut, but it rides high on that Minneapolis-inspired breakdown.
– Jason King

Judith Hill, "As Trains Go By"
This unexpected Ferguson-themed protest funkfest from the 20 Feet From Stardom star's brilliant Prince produced album Back in Time is what it would sound like if Natalie Cole, Betty Davis and Sly Stewart got together one night for a wild jam session.
– Jason King

Kelela, "Rewind"
The illimitable singer forgoes her usual laid-back sound by drenching herself in old-school Miami bounce vibes that would have been more than welcome at Freaknik '96.
– Kiana Fitzgerald

Lizzo, "My Skin"
Feminists have long understood that the personal is political; with "My Skin," Lizzo captures the pain and poignance of the Black Lives Matter movement with a candid, moving and deeply personal ballad about her own experiences as an African-American woman.
– Andrea Swensson, The Current

Mack Wilds, "Bonnie & Clyde"
The actor-turned-singer slices through a sparse soundscape of "oohs" and "aahs" as he paints a picture of infidelity and the complications that come with it.
– Kiana Fitzgerald

Mavis Staples, "Fight"
Staples' social conscience is as boldly articulated as ever, as the title suggests, and she's lost none of her charm or charisma.
– Stephen Thompson

Miguel, "coffee"
Miguel is by turns epic and intimate, sexy and innocent in this near-perfect love song.
– Amelia Mason, WBUR's The Artery

Mizan, "Looking For"
This Ethiopian-American soul auteur rocks a contemplative vibe, but the Cameo bassline in this new-relationship jam shows that she can shake off her doubts and get down.
– Ann Powers

Phony Ppl, "helGa"
An expansive and engrossing quasi-dedication to the misunderstood antagonist of the criminally underrated Nickelodeon show, Hey Arnold.
– Kiana Fitzgerald

Prince, "Baltimore"
The Purple One's tribute to Freddie Gray fits right into the last half-century's tradition of protest music even as it feels particularly immediate this year.
– Rachel Horn

SiR, "Love You"
"Love You" is all about mood. On top of trippy production, SiR's velvety vocals and songwriting is pure seduction: "I'm here for you ... I'm just here to love you, baby."
– Erika Ramirez

Son Little, "O Mother"
Have your heart broken by the soulful Philly singer-songwriter's gritty, aching callback to "Inner City Blues."
– Rachel Horn

Thundercat, "Them Changes"
One of the most devastating songs of 2015, without a doubt. If the fusion of funk and jazz isn't enough, add Thundercat's beautiful bass and the heart stopping lyric, "Nobody move there's blood on the floor and I can't find my heart ...," and you won't be able to pull yourself off the floor, either.
– Anne Litt, KCRW

Tink, "I Like"
Most of us know that Tink can sing and rap, sometimes even at the same time. But every now and again, it's good to hear the girl just lay it down vocally.
– Kiana Fitzgerald

Tuxedo, "Number One"
L.A. soulster Mayer Hawthorne and Seattle producer Jake One pay tribute to the Dogg Pound — and the sun and fun of L.A. — on this windows-down funk jam.
– Ann Powers

Ty Dolla $ign feat. Big TC and D-Loc, "Miracle/Wherever"
Ty, cologne in human form, recruits his incarcerated brother for the front half, a song about learning the hard way, and unleashes his dirty angel of a falsetto on the second, a song about being stuck off the realness.
– Frannie Kelley

Tyrese, "Shame"
Black Ty channels his inner Teddy and Marvin to deliver what he calls "his most transparent song to date."
– Bobby Carter

Electronic

Bicep, "Just"
Northern Ireland's Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson can flex all they want after producing the electronic earworm of the year.
– Otis Hart

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.
– Otis Hart

Branko, "Let Me Go"
One of the biggest surprises of the year, this track just oozed out of the headphones covered with '70s-inspired slow funk.
– Felix Contreras

Chaos In The CBD, "Midnight in Peckham"
The year's best underground dance music embraced smooth sounds and cosmic jazz, and no track combined both threads like this low-key anthem from the Rhythm Section International label.
– Otis Hart

DJ Sotofett & Karolin Tampere feat. Maimouna Haugen, "Nondo Original Mix"
Early morning lullabye for the dancers that make it to sunrise.
– Sami Yenigun

dJJ, "Just A Lil (Extended Mix)"
This underground track of the summer is an uncomplicated, feel-good club banger, complete with a hook made from R&B-vocal samples and low-pass filters.
– Otis Hart

Ducky, "Rain Dance"
Incredible bit of straight-ahead house pop made from a bunch of pieces better-suited to shinier, brighter and god-awfully louder dance music. It's the mature calm here that makes this explode when it does.
– Piotr Orlov

Ge-Ology feat. Mark de Clive-Lowe, "Moon Circuitry"
Fast, hard and funky, this is peak time club music packed with thwacking metallics and a blistering key solo.
– Sami Yenigun

Gonno, "Green Days"
One of the finest slices of Japanese psychedelic house music in a year where there was a small ton of it.
– Piotr Orlov

Harvey Sutherland, "Bermuda"
A feel good slice of squeaky-clean boogie, airbrushed with psychedelia.
– Sami Yenigun

Holly Herndon, "Morning Sun"
Herndon's 'net concrète' explorations for voice and laptop elicit powerful emotions without catering to ours.
– Otis Hart

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.
– Otis Hart

Idjut Boys, "Kenny Dub Headband"
The veteran London DJ duo pays tribute to fallen friend Kenny Hawkes on the finest song of its 20-year career.
– Otis Hart

Jack J, "Thirstin'"
The ascendent king of smoove dance music has your backyard day party soundtrack right here.
– Otis Hart

Kara-Lis Coverdale, "Ad_renaline"
The Montreal composer and organist explores the intersection of beauty and bionics.
– Otis Hart

Keita Sano, "Bouzouk"
Doesn't everyone need a little bouzouki in their lives?
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Lakker, "Pylon"
Dara Smith and Ian McDonnell made some of the most dramatic electronic music of the year, and "Pylon" captures the German duo at the peak of their power.
– Otis Hart

Levon Vincent, "Anti-Corporate Music"
Not surprisingly, you won't find this massive dance track on Spotify or Apple Music.
– Otis Hart

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.
– Otis Hart

Mateo Senolia, "Baldwin"
Up and coming house music producer Mateo Senolia sets a classic speech by James Baldwin from 1962 against a vibe heavy deep house groove.
– Garth Trinidad, KCRW

Omar-S feat. James Garcia, "I Wanna Know"
A raunchy club anthem from one of Detroit's most beloved dance producers with an existential question at its core: "Are you living enough?"
– Otis Hart

Percussions, "Digital Arpeggios"
Four Tet's finest production of the year didn't have his name on it.
– Otis Hart

Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique, "Set Me Free"
One of those primal dance-pop explosions — the kind where the vibe's not all happy-go-lucky and a question of mortality lies at its core — that makes me have trouble trusting listeners who do not feel it as I do. Divisive, in a good way.
– Piotr Orlov

Roots Manuva, "Facety 2:11"
Among the groove-oriented stand-outs on Bleeds, the kind of song that makes me pine for a more musically diverse hip-hop dance-floor in the U.S. (PS: check the production credit for a name that owned a large chunk of my 2015, I'm getting embarrassed writing/rewriting it.)
– Piotr Orlov

St. Germain, "Sittin' Here"
We've waited 15 years for the follow up to this French producer's worldwide hit album, Tourist, and he's blended African influences into his super smooth downbeat production style.
– Mark Wheat, The Current

Stephan Mathieu, "April im Oktober"
One of the digital avant-garde's most respected composers gets zen for Kompakt's Pop Ambient series.
– Otis Hart

Wiley, "From The Outside (Special Request VIP)"
The grime godfather gets the hardcore remix treatment from another U.K. heavyweight, Paul Woolford.
– Otis Hart

Willow, "Feel Me"
A haunting sample anchors this stunning debut single by U.K. producer Sophie Wilson.
– Otis Hart

With You. feat. Vince Staples, "Ghost"
So many hopes and victories for young Mr. Staples this year, but if he's also willing to rock the boat of hip-hop orthodoxy by getting on Switch's house beats, Vince's future will be even brighter than we've already imagined.
– Piotr Orlov

Latin

Alex Cuba feat. Alejandra Ribera, "Beautiful Mistake"
Alex Cuba has been pumping out flawless, pop-inspired alternative music lately, and picking up Latin Grammy and Grammy nominations in the process.
– Felix Contreras

Bomba Estereo, "Mar (Lo Que Siento)"
Whether embracing the party or beautifully pensive, this Colombian duo has always been hard to define. Turns out that's been its biggest strength all along.
– Jasmine Garsd

Bomba Estereo, "Fiesta"
The Colombian band Bomba Estereo is in it for the long haul. "Fiesta" is a multi-layered gem that captures the progress of a band that gets better and better with every release.
– Felix Contreras

Buyepongo, "Mulatu Para Ti"
World Beat. Afro Beat. Latin Beat. Whatever you want to call it, "Mulatu Para Ti" is the perfect introduction to this L.A.-based band's percussive approach to music.
– Felix Contreras

Dayme Arocena, "Madres"
Aretha. Celia. Santeria. What else do you need to know? Dayme Arocena raises the bar on this track.
– Felix Contreras

Disco Ruido, "Estacional"
Disco Ruido gets my vote as most underrated band of the year, and "Estacional" is just tip of the iceberg of its sound sculptures.
– Felix Contreras

Dom La Nena, "Carnaval"
"Carnaval" is a shining example of why I have no doubt Dom la Nena is becoming one of the major female voices in Latin music.
– Felix Contreras

Fea, "Mujer Moderna"
Two members of the punk trio Girl In A Coma stay true to the punk aesthetic while taking on society's treatment of women. You can almost hear the sneers in their music.
– Felix Contreras

Ibeyi, "Ghosts"
A tender and bittersweet elegy from this twin duo, on a track that's rendered in tones of R&B and Afro-Cubanismo, and raw with their honesty and their hurt.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Kali Uchis, "Rush"
This rising Colombian R&B star, who has released one flawless song after another, with impressive range, is this year's greatest gift to Latin music.
– Jasmine Garsd

La Santa Cecilia, "I Won't Cry For You"
This sneak preview of an upcoming album hints that the L.A.-based band is stretching its sound and vision behind La Marisol's amazing voice.
– Felix Contreras

Los Hijos De La Montaña, "Companera"
Luz Elena Mendoza has one of my favorite voices. Sergio Mendoza has one of my fav musical visions. Companera is a perfect example of what happened when they teamed up.
– Felix Contreras

Luzmila Carpio, "Tarpuricusum Sarata (Captain Planet remix)"
Over the years, Argentina's ZZK collective has perfected the art of mashing up traditional music with club beats. Luzmila Carpio, an indigenous Bolivian singer, is already a haunting singer; Captain Planet adds a touch of magic, and boom, it's an Andean club hit.
– Jasmine Garsd

Mariachi Flor de Toloache, "Let Down"
Certainly not the first all female mariachi band, but one who treates the genre with so much creativity.
– Felix Contreras

Nacao Zumbi, "Defeito Perfeito"
Just when I thought I had Brazilian music figured out, along come these guys with their stop-start funk groove. A gem, and a rare one.
– Felix Contreras

Sidestepper, "Come See Us Play"
Who doesn't want to hear something new from this these Colombian pioneers? It's been almost ten years since the last Sidestepper album, but "Come See Us Play," the first single from a new album out next year, has a familiar, genre-mixing sound.
– Felix Contreras

Ulises Hadjis, "Consecuencias y Reclamos"
When the world is giving you a hard time and you just want to find solace in music, this track will cure what ails you.
– Felix Contreras

¡Aparato!, "Blitzkrieg Bop"
I almost forgot how The Ramones version sounded after I heard this cover. No lie. ¡Aparato! vocalist Cat Mendez has one of the best voices in rock, in any language, any gender.
– Felix Contreras

World

A-WA, "Habib Galbi"
A super-catchy song fusing folk and electronic, sung in Arabic, from a trio of Yemenite Israeli sisters. Seek out the epic visuals in the video. (A combination tarboosh/snapback cap? Yes, please!)
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

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?"
– Otis Hart

Ceza, "Suspus"
The dimly lit song might be called "Speechless" (Suspus) but the Turkish rap star has a lot to say, ranging from social polarization and uprisings to the state of rap music today.
– Tom Huizenga

EEK (Islam Chipsy), "Trinity"
If you always suspected that the real genius in Omar Souleyman's band is actually his keyboardist, then you've next got to turn to Cairo's keyboard wizard, Islam Chipsy, and his band's solid wall of frenzied sound.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Jayme Stone, "Shenandoah"

Kasse Mady Diabate, "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.
– Tom Huizenga

Lim Kim, "Awoo"
The onamonapiac feline hook in the K-pop singer's "Awoo" would be pure kitch were it not for its playfully weird production. Oh, and you should really watch the video.
– Lars Gotrich

Mark Ernestus' Ndagga Rhythm Force feat. Mbene Diatta Seck, "Yermande (Kick & Bass Mix)"
The former member of Basic Channel and Rhythm & Sound dubs out some excellent Senegalese mbalax.
– Otis Hart

Mbongwana Star feat. Konono No. 1, "Malukayi"
The ideal soundtrack for a spaceman meandering through the streets of Kinshasa: next-level alienation and sonic disorientation, pure humanity.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Niyaz, "Tam e Eshq"
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.
– Tom Huizenga

Popcaan, "Unruly Prayer"
When the going gets rough, the best you can hope for is a rasta gospel number, and this one delivered so hard one could forgive the Drizzy shout out. "Tell the devil to keep his diss-tance, yeah."
– Piotr Orlov

Saad Lamjarred, "LM3allem"
215 million YouTube views and counting for Moroccan pop superstar Saad Lamjarred. The eye-poppingly fresh video (with costumes designed by artist Hassan Hajjaj) matches the stylistically polyglot electro/Arab pop/hip-hop track.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Seckou Keita, "The Path from Gabou"
The Sengalese kora player can cast a spell with the best of them. Serenity ... now.
– Otis Hart

Tal National, "Zoy Zoy"
Niger's biggest — and tightest — band layers rhythm upon rhythm with sparkling guitars and joyful vocals.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Xaos, "Pontos Blues"
A gloriously moody debut from Xaos that sounds both very ancient – packed with references to Greek folk tradition and American blues – and very new, with its layers of spacious and atmospheric electronics.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Classical

Anderson & Roe, "Erbarme dich (J.S. Bach)"
A two-piano translation of the most soulful aria from the St. Matthew Passion shouldn't work. That is does so beautifully speaks to the potency of Bach's music — and a pair of sensitive players.
– Tom Huizenga

Andras Schiff, "Impromptu in A-Flat, Op. 142 (Schubert)"
Once a vocal opponent of the forte piano, Schiff's road to Damascus conversion results in a finely nuanced, transparent performance.
– Tom Huizenga

Anthony de Mare, "Another Hundred People"
Daniel Bernard Roumain's dark deconstruction of Sondheim's show-stopper from Company generates a dystopian haze over New York's "city of strangers."
– Tom Huizenga

Bang on a Can All Stars, "An Open Cage (Ghys)"
A sly, silky recitation from John Cage inspires both fun and funk from bassist-composer Florent Ghys.
– Tom Huizenga

Bruce Brubaker, "Mad Rush (Glass)"
Seesawing between gentle nostalgia and tempests of swirling arpeggios, an early keyboard piece by Glass gets a compelling interpretation.
– Tom Huizenga

Bryan Hymel, "Asile hereditaire (Rossini)"
Why opera? Here's your answer. Hymel launches 10 high Cs with a rare combination of brawn and bel canto elegance.
– Tom Huizenga

Gil Shaham, "Partita No. 3, Preludio (Bach)"
Even though he plays "straight," Shaham swings his solo Bach hard. His technique and intensity are just dazzling.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Hilary Hahn, "Violin Concerto No. 5, III. Rondeau (Mozart)"
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.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Jonas Kaufmann, "Torna ai felici di (Puccini)"
The star tenor's muscular, mahogany-tinged voice captures both the anguish and Italian sunshine within an unjustly neglected Puccini aria.
– Tom Huizenga

The Knights, "Duet for 2 Violins and Strings (Reich)"
Minimalism reaches back to its roots in Steve Reich's nod to turn-of-the-13th-century composer Perotin, where strings drone, gently pulsate and wrap themselves around a sweet melody.
– Tom Huizenga

Kronos Quartet, "One Earth, One People, One Love (Riley)"
NASA commissioned Terry Riley to write "Sun Rings," marrying sounds collected in space with a string quartet. This rapturous and tender movement, with the cello at its fore, is mystical, magical and haunting.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Kuniko, "Rebonds - B (Xenakis)"
Japanese percussionist Kuniko Kato savors the hypnotic groove in the Greek composer's uniquely intense aesthetic.
– Tom Huizenga

Latvian Radio Choir, "Mercy of Peace (Silvestrov)"
A sublimely gifted choir exquisitely renders the Ukrainian composer's halos of sound, dramatic shadows and overtones of pure white light.
– Tom Huizenga

Nordic Affect, "Clockworking (Sigfusdottir)"
With cogs clicking and gears whirring, this mesmerizing chamber music from Iceland invites you to step into the workings of a giant clock.
– Tom Huizenga

Northwestern University Cello Ensemble, "Sky With Four Suns (John Luther Adams)"
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.
– Tom Huizenga

Olafur Arnalds & Alice Sara Ott, "Reminiscence"
Bored with perfectly recorded works of Chopin, the Icelandic composer and performer Ólafur Arnalds and pianist Alice Sara Ott went on a hunt for pianos with personality and recorded brilliant Chopin works and music, like this song, inspired by Chopin in intimate spaces on vintage gear. A compelling and deeply emotional record.
– Bob Boilen

Phillippe Jaroussky, "En Sourdine (Hahn)"
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.
– Tom Huizenga

Piotr Anderszewski, "Allemand from Suite No. 1 (Bach)"
The Polish pianist will seduce you, speaking Bach in supple, singing lines, elegant ornaments and a keen sense of the dance.
– Tom Huizenga

Roomful of Teeth, "Brad Wells, Render"
This vocal ensemble made its reputation singing the impossible (and getting some major props from Kanye) — but on this shimmering composition, they catapult into the transcendent.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

San Francisco Symphony, "Absolute Jest — V. Vivacissimo (John Adams)"
There are other sections in this piece in which composer John Adams lifts the San Francisco Symphony and the four soloists (the St. Lawrence String Quartet) into dreamier realms, but the last two movements are all about whirling kaleidoscopes of notes.
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Seattle Symphony, "Symphony No. 9 (IV. Allegro con fuoco) (Dvorak)"
Those strings. That brass. What a powerhouse performance. (And check out the spectacular "Amériques" by Varèse on the same album.)
– Anastasia Tsioulcas

Simon Smith, "Nostalghia (Silvestrov)"
Music can hold surprising power when stripped to its barest elements. Fragments of melody and half-recollected scales hang in the silence like unsettling memories.
– Tom Huizenga

Sonya Yoncheva, "Le jour sous le soleil beni (Messager)"
An evocative and rarely-performed aria sung by the pride of Bulgaria, a rising soprano with confidence and a creamy lyric voice.
– Tom Huizenga

Sumi Jo, "Simple Song #3 (David Lang)"
Victoria Mullova's plaintive violin, Sumi Jo's ardent soprano and David Lang's sweeping music give this uneasy love song from the movie Youth, ravishing gravitas.
– Tom Huizenga

Tallis Scholars, "Nunc dimitis (Part)"
The timeless feel of contemporary composer Arvo Pärt's music, with its tolling bells and halos of sound, is heightened in a luminous performance by the preeminent early music choir.
– Tom Huizenga

Tigran Hamasyan, "Bazum en Qo gtutyunqd (Your Mercy is Boundless)"
This fascinating merger of the old and the new sounds as if a choir of 5th-century Armenian monks interrupted Keith Jarrett's Köln concert.
– Tom Huizenga

Vesselina Kasarova, "Lyubasha's monologue (Rimsky-Korsakov)"
The veteran mezzo's voice has ripened to a full, luscious black cherry in this mournful, a cappella number from Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride.
– Tom Huizenga

William Schimmel, "Mahler 9"
Squeezing Mahler's 90-minute Ninth Symphony into a six-minute piece for accordion takes guts. To do it this creatively — with a cameo by Wynton Marsalis — takes genius.
– Tom Huizenga

Zofo, "Etude from the old country (Riley)"
Terry Riley's recipe of Latin-tinged dances and gently swaying pulsations gets an exuberant performance from a feisty piano duo.
– Tom Huizenga

Metal

Anna Von Hausswolff, "Come Wander With Me/Deliverance"
Recorded on one of the largest pipe organs in Scandinavia, this is a monstrous beauty about a desperate and dangerous love.
– Lars Gotrich

Baroness, "Chlorine & Wine"
The Dave Fridmann-produced "Chlorine & Wine," from the first album after Baroness' horrifying 2012 bus accident, is as much about healing as it is about resilience.
– Lars Gotrich

Bosse-de-Nage, "A Subtle Change"
The Bay Area black metal band upends savagery and accessibility with hints of pop-punk and screamo.
– Lars Gotrich

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, "Unnamed"
A rumbling, catholic piece of metal that crunches, chants and howls. An incredible return for the Seattle mainstay Tad Doyle.
– Lars Gotrich

Chelsea Wolfe, "Carrion Flowers"
The LA-based shapeshifter delivers dark, twisted ruminations on a haunted life. Doom metal never sounded so brutal or gorgeous.
– Robin Hilton

Crypt Sermon, "Will of the Ancient Call"
Majestic doom metal in the spirit of Candlemass and Dio-era Black Sabbath that doesn't mind getting a little dirty.
– Lars Gotrich

Dead to a Dying World, "The Hunt Eternal"
Over 17 minutes, the Dallas seven-piece alternates between blast-beaten violence and majestic ruin, with help from members of Baroness, Pallbearer and Sabbath Assembly.
– Lars Gotrich

Deafheaven, "Gifts for the Earth"
This is Deafheaven at its most exploratory, throwing its gauzy and metallic sonics to the wind with a melody inspired by Oasis.
– Lars Gotrich

Faith No More, "Cone of Shame"
Has there ever been a heavy metal song with finger snaps? Only the return of Faith No More could have guaranteed this kind of suave and haunting weirdness in 2015.
– Lars Gotrich

High On Fire, "The Black Plot"
All hail Matt Pike's glorious, buzzsaw guitar tone and reptoid croak that fuel this barricade-shaking rampager.
– Lars Gotrich

Horrendous, "Ozymandias"
Gotta love a death metal band that names a melodically wild track for a Percy Bysshe Shelley poem about dead idols, scraping away of the decay and making way for the new.
– Lars Gotrich

Iron Maiden, "The Book of Souls"
Lest we ever take Iron Maiden's reign for granted, 2015 gave us the band's most exhilarating album in a decade, including the theatrical title track. Up the irons!
– Lars Gotrich

Khemmis, "The Bereaved"
This is fuzzy and doomy and wizard-y metal, with a high, wailing voice that grips the heavens over Iron Maiden-like twin leads.
– Lars Gotrich

Kowloon Walled City, "Backlit"
There is defeat and then there is the heaving, rattling mass of sadness left by Kowloon Walled City.
– Lars Gotrich

Lightning Bolt, "The Metal East"
Wound up and wired, and making mischief of one kind or another for two decades. They'll eat you up.
– Jacob Ganz

Red Death, "Strategic Mass Delirium"
You have 50 seconds to psych yourself up before the D.C. thrashy hardcore band takes a gigantic swing and you're knocked the hell out.
– Lars Gotrich

Royal Thunder, "Time Machine"
A patient, methodical account of a love dismembered. "Relax," Mlny Parsonz sings, wounds still fresh. "It's gonna fade."
– Jacob Ganz

Satan, "The Devil's Infantry"
All hail Satan (the band) and its army of classic and wild heavy metal that never goes out of style.
– Lars Gotrich

Super Unison, "Recognize You"
High velocity punk that ain't afraid to shake a tail feather.
– Lars Gotrich

Tribulation, "In The Dreams Of The Dead"
The Swedish death metal band has come a long way from its debut, conjuring something far more cosmic and flamboyant that plays with tone and atmosphere.
– Lars Gotrich

VHOL, "The Desolate Damned"
What a time to be alive, ripping into the inter-dimensional vortex and discovering VHOL's psychedelic thrash bending our brains to its orbit.
– Lars Gotrich

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.
– Lars Gotrich

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