Noisey UK's Best Tracks of 2015 (So Far)
The amount of new music released each day is exhausting. Between attempting to have any semblance of a social life, feasting on a gluttony of social-media-cum-dating apps, #content and #takes, buying and cooking food, sleeping, putting various objects on or in yourself, and actually, y’know, holding down a job, it can be hard to keep up.
Luckily our job is music. We listen to so many sounds that we barely talk in real life. Come to our office if you don't believe us, it's just loads of people in hats listening to things on headphones, to the point that we converse exclusively on iChat. We're full to the brim with so much music that when we take a dump a little medley sometimes comes out.
This means you can trust us when we say that 2015 has already been a great year for music so far. With that in mind - get your favourites, repost and Soundcloud like buttons ready. This is Noisey UK's best tracks of the year. Basically: all the shit worth listening to.
10. The Japanese House - "Still"
British songwriter The Japanese House - signed to the same label as Ben Khan and Wolf Alice - first came on our radar with her debut track, "Still": a song that captures that feeling when you take someone back even after they’ve forced your heart up through your rib cage and onto the carpet, free for them to trample on as they please. The lyrics wallow in the conflicting feelings of that awkward reconciliation - “Maybe it’s alright”; “You’re all that I’ve got”; “I still wake up with you every morning like I'm still dead”. I can’t help thinking how much it sounds like Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek" repurposed for a generation 10-years-older than Trey was when Marissa shot him. Ryan Bassil
9. Novelist x Mumdance - "1 Sec"
Apart from imagining how badly I would have fared if I had been born in the Mad Max universe, and the foxes that shag outside my window, there have been few things that have kept me up at night so far in 2015. Except this Mumdance beat. It's the stuff of nightmares, a cold and terrifying instrumental, all square bass, bell tolls, and tortured screams. It’s no surprise that the bars Novelist was inspired to drop over it aren’t exactly lyrical Haribo Starmix.
“Lewisham McDeez” by Nov’s crew The Square might be the catchier track from his repertoire this year, but when “1 Sec” dropped back in January, it sounded like getting punched in the face on a cold winter’s night, each icy knuckle planting a different lyrical idea on your caved forehead: be them stories of violence, ambition, originality, or reality.
Back when we first started talking about Novelist, it was all about him being young, cheeky, talented. But this track shot the harsh light of day on his work, to reveal a young MC who sees right through street-level London like an X-ray vision boss man. Joe Zadeh
8. Nao - "Apple Cherry"
Let’s get this bit out of the way: Nao can occasionally share vocal ticks and sparse hi-tech production value with a certain FKA Twigs. But lets move straight on past those basic surface-level similarities, like a curling stone that couldn’t give a shit, because the East London singer/songwriter is probably responsible for the most inventive pop EP of the year. And this track is the opus.
“Apple Cherry” is about that moment when the fire is going out on a relationship, when you’re watching your love eat beef ramen with a badly blocked nose in Leicester Square Wagamama, and pondering whether you still want to sex this person exclusively. But then it wrestles majestically with that point, and challenges the utopian fantasies of single life by reasoning that love is tough and complicated, and you can’t just piss off when it gets less than perfect. These lyrics and her crystalline vocals, laid over warm synths and a scarce ticking beat, makes for a fragile concoction of sexual imagination and fearful sadness, the kind that can only usually be experienced by nibbling on edible underwear in a candlelit bath tub, alone, while listening to Champagne Papi.
There’s plenty of "love" ballads, there’s a plethora of "break up" songs, and there’s a butt load of "being single" tracks, but there aren’t many "we’re still in a relationship but we’re thinking about breaking up so one of us better start getting imaginative or this is going to end badly" songs. And I think we can all agree they are in dire need. Joe Zadeh
7. Girlpool - "Ideal World"
Whenever Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker pick up their instruments, it’s like a masterclass on simplicity as the most honest form of communication; their structures are spacious but the sentiments are loaded. Arguably, it’s the kind of music that could only come from a pair of teenage BFFs dealing with the shortcomings of life on planet earth for the first time, in unison. As Jayson Greene for Pitchfork noted, Tividad and Tucker “sing occasionally in harmony and occasionally in unison, but always together”, and for that reason Girlpool are significant not only in their unique use of the minimal, but in their expression of the power of female friendship. They are a gift to girls, from girls, and that's something so rare and precious that even Willow Smith wants to hang out and climb trees with them.
Taken from their first full-length with Wichita, “Ideal World” is a steadily paced narrative of self-discovery, disappointment, and the realisation that perfection is a total delusion :) Emma Garland
6. Sophia Grace - "Best Friends"
#Tbt January when, a mere week into the new year, an eleven year-old from Essex dropped a track that shit all over every other British pop star in the game. “Best Friends” was, and still is, a cultural phenomenon. With verses bigging up her girl gang and shutting down “stupid boys”, it is the sonic manifestation of prepubescent playground politics that wormed its unconsenting way into the ears of full grown adults. Some of whom dismissed it as cultural trash - the logical but no less irritating product of a post-Rebecca Black industry - while others hailed it as Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle” repackaged for an audience that still shops at Toys "R" Us.
Truly, there has never been a tween as divisive as Sophia Grace, and in a UK pop landscape that is seemingly on a mission to sell inoffensiveness as innovation, “Best Friends” is worth a shout out. Also, it fucking slays. Emma Garland
5. J Hus - "Dem Boy Paigon"
J Hus's success in 2015 is basically proof that underground rap in the UK doesn't need the music industry, radio, blogs or anyone to tell it how wonderful it could be if only it started dealing with some issues. Apart from one good-humoured session on Tim Westwood TV and and a few SBTV freestyles, J Hus has basically done no promo, yet his tracks are racking up views in the millions.
"Dem Boy Paigon" is a track about lazy wastemen who can't even get it together and all the women J Hus will shortly be stealing from them, but it's not really an insult, it's almost a motivational speech: if only you tried you could be more like me. There are trickles of dancehall auto-tune and afrobeats production, it's definitely not grime - despite it's nods to JME bopping his head to the beat - but nor could it be banged up with what's left of the "UK rap" scene. It's a force unto itself, an East London MC who needs help from no one. Sam Wolfson
4. Skepta - "Shutdown"
From hopping on stage with Kanye West at the BRITs, to #occupying a car park in Shoreditch, to giving one of the most powerful performances in Jools Holland history, Skepta has been having one hell of a 2015, and “Shutdown” is the soundtrack to all of it. Opening with a sample of Drake's exceptionally lit "truss me daddi" Vine, catapulting it to near-meme status, “Shutdown” is a certified #banger. But that's not all it is.
Originally released in March, over six million combined plays on Soundcloud and Youtube alone and a remix by Idris Elba later, and clearly the “Shutdown” effect isn’t letting up. Let’s not be romantic about it: it’s largely a time and place thing. Dropping just days after the BRITs performance, when everyone was still debating whether grime was being patronised or boosted by Kanye’s cosign, “Shutdown” reminded everyone exactly who was coming through, who was shutting down.
But the track also makes deliberate references to significant figures in black history, samples a recording of the racist comments people made in response to the BRITs, and sends a clear message to the state (“Me and my Gs ain't scared of police. We don't listen to no politician”). So yeah, “Shutdown” is absolutely the kind of song that would burn your face off if it were a tangible object, but it has long since transcended party status, it's now a cultural anthem. Emma Garland
3. Mura Masa - "Lovesick Fuck"
Being lovesick is a simultaneously horrible and enthralling part of the human experience. You care about someone so much you can’t act normally - hyperventilating through your day, perpetually checking your phone, feeling as though your stomach’s on its own personal rock'n'roller coaster, and going to the toilet more times than seems humanly possible are all symptoms of wanting someone you can’t have - because they don’t want you back or they’re away for three weeks and you’re missing them like the bones in your body. It’s an altogether transient feeling - one you can feel whether you’re in a relationship or not - and it’s something nineteen year-old Mura Masa captures perfectly. “I need you; I want you” - sings the hook. I don’t feel like there’s any better way to describe the track than using its title: it makes me feel like a lovesick fuck. Ryan Bassil
2. Jamie xx - "Good Times" ft. Young Thug and Popcaan
If you've read more than one review about Jamie xx's new album In Colour in the last month, you've probably noticed that sides have been drawn. Some see him as Jamie xx: creator of music that you can escape into and feel, temporarily, that the world might not actually be complete and utter shit. Others see him as Jamie xx: the Sam Smith of populist dance music who has produced an album that more people will listen to in the bath than in the club. In the transient world of blogging, there are no correct opinions. Having said that, if you don't think “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times” is a tune then you're probably shit fun on a night out.
You know how, sometime around late March, the sun will start to make an appearance in UK skies and suddenly it's dad bod's and outdoor barbecues as far as the eye can see even though it's only thirteen degrees still? Well Jamie xx has trapped that sentiment within the framework of nostalgic yet optimistic dancehall, and it makes me feel lush, and I don't even care if that's the most basic bitch thing anyone has ever said since "I'm the Charlotte of the group".
With Young Thug dropping hot one-liners like “I’ma ride in that pussy like a stroller” all over a sample from the Persuasions 1972 a cappella classic “Good Times”, combined with the fact that it is scientifically impossible to feel sad when Popcaan is on the mic, this track has so many vibes you could practically class it as a sex toy. It's like Notting Hill Carnival pissed on alcopops. Shit on it all you like for it's politics or lack thereof but, sometimes, good songs are just good songs ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Emma Garland
1. Earl Sweatshirt - "Solace"
It’s very rare for a piece of recorded music to portray a particular moment with complete honesty. Kanye West’s “Runaway” is one. Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” is another. Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”, Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows”, Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” are some more. They all capture very specific emotions: the nostalgia of a rare moment passed, the yearn to surrender to an all consuming love, the piercing threat of romantic rivalry. These songs don’t attempt to be anything; they simply exist as snapshots, making a single moment last a lifetime.
Earl Sweatshirt’s “Solace” is one of these songs. Recorded during sessions for I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside - a record that captured the generalised anxiety that comes from feeling crushed under the weight of each calendar day - the track feels like the consummate encapsulation of one moment that’s been stretched out across the last four years of Earl Sweatshirt’s career: the time since he arrived home from a correctional facility in Samoa and found himself heralded as the new heir to hip-hop’s throne.
“After Samoa and the shit that happened with my mom, after all that ‘Free Earl’ shit, I was super self-conscious about how I engaged my mom with the public,” Earl told Grantland earlier this year, speaking about how the hype surrounding his whereabouts while Odd Future blew up - the collective started a “Free Earl” campaign which led fans to believe Earl was imprisoned somewhere against his will, prompting Complex to run an investigative feature called “We Found Earl Sweatshirt” - strained the relationship with his mother, with fans blaming her for his disappearance. “I would be in a position to give an honest and nonbiased critique on my mom if there hadn’t been this immediate fucking negative image and stigma attached to her out the gate… That was the most fucked ever. People was all in her emails, people were calling her and shit”.
“Solace” is dedicated, in part, to her. More than that though, the track seizes a very specific mindframe - being physically and mentally incapacitated beyond exhaustion. Across ten minutes, there’s no mixing or second takes. At one point we hear Earl get up and leave in the middle of a verse. There are themes of rejection, betrayal, lack of personal belief, dependency, loss, mourning - all resulting in a sonic that captures general perpetual malaise. It’s a track imbued with a very personal pain, yet there is nothing in the lyricism that could be accused of navel gazing. Earl has received some flack before for work that has seemed meandering. But on "Solace", he’s precise, he says nothing more than he has to, the production is basic but effectual, and the whole thing feels taught and in control despite coming from a place that doesn't sound too great at all.
On “Solace” he offers complete transparency. As we wrote when we covered the track earlier this year, the name of the track is telling: it’s an exorcism. A moment to set feelings free and find comfort and peace as a result. It's also a brave track: something people who are deteriorating under the stress of the world can listen to and come out feeling a bit less shit. That’s what makes it the track of the year so far - better than your "Good Times" and your "Shutdowns". No one has captured the feeling of deep onset despondency so well nor made it sound so emancipatory. Ryan Bassil