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CBC Music's favourite songs of 2015

Editorial Staff

To put together this beloved list, we asked our producers and radio hosts to choose their favourite songs of the year. No easy task. Below you’ll find their painstaking choices, whittled down to the 23 songs they couldn’t live without in 2015.

It was so tough to pick one favourite song. (Just one!) So we cheated: we allowed some of them to pick two, if they wanted. We hope you’ll find a few new favourites in there, too.

Algiers, 'In Parallax'

This three-piece from the American South pulls elements of '80s post-punk, soul and gospel together into a quiet storm. On "In Parallax," from the band's self-titled debut, singer Franklin James Fisher belts out spirit-filled declarations against references to Old Testament icons and the chaotic theosophy of Revelations. All of it combines to make a thoroughly chilling, unmistakable, powerful modern gospel song.

— Brad Frenette (@BradFrenette)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Punch Brothers, The Phosphorescent Blues
– Patrick Watson, Love Songs for Robots
– Pops Staples, Don't Lose This
– Chvrches, Every Open Eye
– Mumford & Sons, Wilder Mind

A Tribe Called Red feat. Buffy Sainte-Marie, ‘Working for the Government 2015 Mix’

It might simply be fortuitous that A Tribe Called Red uploaded this track to YouTube on Canada Day, but I doubt it. (They released “Burn Your Village to the Ground” on American Thanksgiving.) The lyrics are smarmy observations about an intruder, a stranger, a "mercenary for hire" who works for the government and imposes the status quo. It's a remix of a song Buffy Sainte-Marie first recorded and released in 2008 (from her album Running for the Drum), but there's something about this that makes it profoundly appropriate for 2015. Musically, yes, 2015 was the year Sainte-Marie took home the Polaris Prize. But 2015 was also the year indigenous youth turned out to vote in record numbers, the year the federal government finally called an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, the year the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was finally released and, hopefully, the year Canadians were forced to confront the fact that their country was built on systemic violence against indigenous people. Sainte-Marie's voice yells out, "My country, your country!" and it feels like a call to arms. With A Tribe Called Red's beats, it also feels like a joyful call to reclaim it.

— Julia Caron (@cbcjulia)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
– Ibeyi, Ibeyi
– O Paon, Fleuve
– Mount Eerie, Sauna
– Arlt, Deableries

Carly Rae Jepsen, 'Run Away With Me'

This wasn’t chosen as the lead single on Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 album, and it absolutely should’ve been. The sax solo, the hushed (heart)beats, Jepsen’s title plea: it all builds to a dance jam filled with abandon. I’ve twirled to “Run Away With Me” at a wedding and relentlessly serenaded passengers in my car with the chorus. Nothing about the song gets stale. The culmination: “Over the weekend, we could turn the world to gold.” Simple. And perfect.

— Holly Gordon (@hollygowritely)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Florence and the Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
– Braids, Deep in the Iris
– Chvrches, Every Open Eye
– Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion
– Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love

Kendrick Lamar, 'Alright'

Kendrick Lamar released one of the most complicated, esoteric, dense and difficult albums of the year. To Pimp a Butterfly is also one of the most important, most urgent and most rewarding releases of 2015. A mix of funk, jazz, spoken-word poetry and rap, it’s a complex look at the state of America, from the point of view of the young Compton rapper. Over a summer stained by unprecedented levels of police violence against unarmed black Americans, “Alright,” the album’s fourth single, rose up as an anthem of hope amidst the overwhelming despair — a generation’s “A Change is Gonna Come;” its “Lift Every Voice and Sing;” its “There's a Riot Going On.” According to some, it became the “new black national anthem,” and is, by far, one of the most important songs of the year. Nothing symbolized this more than when groups of #BlackLivesMatter protesters across the U.S. could be heard chanting the song’s simple yet evocative chorus: "Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright." I challenge anyone to come up with a more powerful lyric of 2015.

— Jesse Kinos-Goodin (@JesseKG)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
– Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
– Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late
– Tobias Jesso Jr., Goon
– Yukon Blonde, On Blonde

Grimes, 'Kill Vs. Maim'

There’s so much to immediately love about this song: the catchy disco-goth beat, the off-kilter cheerleader chants, the vocals that descend into a guttural half-growl. Then, you find out it also has possibly the greatest premise of any song written this year: as Grimes told Q Magazine, it “is written from the perspective of Al Pacino in The Godfather Pt 2. Except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space.” Top it off with the gender-flipping lyric “I’m only a man/ do what I can” and altogether this song is a manic, catchy, cathartic masterpiece.

— Andrea Gin (@andreagin)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Grimes, Art Angels
– Destroyer, Poison Season
– Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
– Braids, Deep in the Iris
– Chvrches, Every Open Eye

Buffy Sainte-Marie, 'Power In the Blood'

The club-banger treatment of the song likely turned off some of the more staid folkies, but there’s wild subversiveness at work, and not just in upending conventional expectations of what 74 years old looks like. In fusing elements of powwow, electronic dance, dub, rock, country-noir, spoken word and vocal distortion, Sainte-Marie creates a truly unique mash-up. The dynamic energy and propulsive beat actually sound like power in the blood. Its momentum — equal parts military march, protester chant and heartbeat — is no accident.

— Andrea Warner (@_AndreaWarner)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Buffy Sainte-Marie, Power in the Blood
– Alabama Shakes, Sound & Colour
– Peaches, Rub
– Sleater Kinney, No Cities to Love
– Lianne La Havas, Blood

Courtney Barnett, 'Pedestrian at Best'

Released in January, Courtney Barnett's "Pedestrian at Best" was a power punch of clever lyrics and wisecracks. Barnett's powerful vocals and stage presence make it no surprise that she's been selling out shows all year. Just try not to listen to the entire song — on repeat all day. Barnett's album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is on several "best of 2015" lists (including mine), so do yourself a favour and check it out.

— Nicolle Weeks (@nikkerized)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
– Jamie xx, In Colour
– Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
– Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
– Lianne La Havas, Blood

Justin Bieber, 'Trust'

While everyone is crediting various producers for making Justin Bieber's Purpose such a strong album, let's not forget what drew them to Bieber in the first place: his voice. "Trust," available only on the deluxe edition of Purpose, finds Bieber back in the contemporary R&B camp, where he is totally in his element. Its slow, repeated four-bar groove, punctuated by a cascading piano sample, gives Bieber room to just let it flow.

"Sometimes the heart can see what's invisible to the eye, All you gotta do is listen to your deepest feelings, they don't ever lie."

Justin Bieber

Thoughtful lyrics, stylish vocals, a great hook and plush production values converge to make this my top song of 2015.

— Robert Rowat (@rkhr)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Zedd, True Colors
– Justin Bieber, Purpose
– Ne-Yo, Non-Fiction
– Snoop Dogg, Bush
– Disclosure, Caracal

The Fast Romantics, 'Julia'

If the chorus to this song doesn’t cause you to involuntarily sing at the top of your lungs while dancing on the spot, then you’re doing it all wrong. “Julia” is the lead single from the Calgary group’s upcoming followup to 2013’s Afterlight Blues, and it’s one of the catchiest, most joyous songs of the year, an essential addition to your New Year’s Eve playlist. And if that wasn’t enough, how about the accompanying music video featuring Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling? Let the party begin. — JKG

Mates of State, 'Staring Contest'

Mates of State returned this year with another sparkling anthem to remind you to kick cynicism in the pants and believe in true love, 'cause goshdarnit, when you're married to your talented bandmate/soulmate, anything is possible. Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel are 14 years, two kids, seven LPs and countless tours into their storybook marriage, and they are living proof that love is as real as their indie-pop talent. "Staring Contest" appeared in June and was some of their first new material in four years. With lyrics like, "It's all about you, I'm wild about you," it became a perfect soundtrack for a summer romance.

— Emma Godmere (@godmere)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Young Galaxy, Falsework
– The Lone Bellow, Then Came the Morning
– Joel Plaskett, The Park Avenue Sobriety Test
– Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, self-titled
– Grimes, Art Angels

Ghost, 'Cirice'

When Ghoulish Swedish metal monolith Ghost released 2015's Meloria, they unleashed one of the best heavy records the world has seen in years. Lead single "Cirice" perfectly encapsulates the band's unwavering commitment to its theatrical mythos paired with sludgy Sabbath worship. There hasn't been a metal band that's this much fun since Alice Cooper's heyday.

— Adam Carter (@AdamCarterCBC)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Ghost, Meliora
– Frank Turner, Positive Songs for Negative People
– Coheed and Cambria, The Colour Before the Sun
– The Wonder Years, No Closer to Heaven
– Terra Lightfoot, Every Time My Heart Runs Wild

Jamie xx feat. Young Thug & Popcaan, 'I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)'

Non-sappy reason why I loved this song: Jamie xx transformed the Persuasions’ “Good Times” into a sunny, modern earworm. Fused with steel-drum synths and the rhythmic flows of Young Thug and Popcaan, this track was the epitome of a laidback summer, constantly chasing after more good times before the sun set and the heat faded. Sappy reason why I loved this song: clinging on to the promise that there were good times to come got me through a very rough summer where I lost my father. It sounds silly, but it’s the only song I remember listening to the most during that time. It was a mantra I repeated to myself in the darkest of times. Additionally, Young Thug’s “stroller” verse also made me laugh every time, which was a bonus — and lo and behold, there were, and will be, more good times.

— Melody Lau (@melodylamb)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
– Beach House, Depression Cherry
– Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion
– Alabama Shakes, Sound & Colour
– Braids, Deep in the Iris

Rihanna, 'Bitch Better Have My Money'

Say what you want about Rihanna, but in her world, anything's believable — even kidnapping someone's wife for ransom. This track brings back memories of ODB and Kelis in simpler times. It's the kind of thing you might call a guilty pleasure, but try to stop yourself from dancing in your chair. Of course there are already a million remixes of the track, but here's the official one. — NW

Lord Huron, 'Fool for Love'

As an album, Lord Huron’s Strange Trails is lush — full of folky guitar arrangements, ranging from emotional ballads to foot-stomping anthems, with themes of infatuation and violence. One of the highlights from this release, “Fool for Love,” is a tale of adventure, determination and brazen romanticism. The instrumentation, featuring chimes, the twang of a guitar and a steady percussive gallop, along with the narrative of heading off into the wilderness and the antiquated notion of fighting hand-to-hand for a woman’s heart, are reminiscent of the American Old West. In the end, Lord Huron’s hero is left bleeding out in the snow, reflecting on his uninhibited heart — a tragic end to the hopeful romantic.

— Joan Chung (@notjoanchung)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Alessia Cara, Know-It-All
– Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
– Lord Huron, Strange Trails
– Oh Wonder, Oh Wonder
– Jamie XX, In Colour

Lake Street Dive, 'Call Off Your Dogs'

I have loved these Boston conservatory band geeks ever since I saw them set a dingy Brooklyn bar on fire with equal parts musical proficiency and party prowess. If you need proof this is a band of geniuses that has done their notation homework, try counting along to "Call off Your Dogs." See what they did there? They changed time signatures about a bazillion times and you were dancing too hard to notice.

— Talia Schlanger (@TaliaSchlanger)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Björk, Vulnicura
– Destroyer, Poison Season
– D'Angelo/The Vanguard, Black Messiah
– Tame Impala, Currents
– Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear

Africa Express, 'In C Mali'

I’m going to cheat. One of my favourite albums of 2015 also happens to be one continuous, 40-minute-long piece of music, so I’m going for that.

Terry Riley's minimalist masterpiece In C was written to be performed by any combination of instruments, and it is so freely structured that any ensemble’s rendition of it belongs as much to them as it does to Riley. Africa Express — a collaboration between Western and West African musicians headed up by Damon Albarn — owns this piece like no other ensemble I’ve heard. With instruments ranging from guitar to kamel n’goni, they spin 40 minutes of pure joy.

There’s no such thing as a recording of a piece that makes all others obsolete. But if I’m being honest, I can’t see myself listening to any other recording of In C for a few years, at least.

— Matthew Parsons (@MJRParsons)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Afiara Quartet & Skratch Bastid, Spin Cycle
– Africa Express, In C Mali
– Björk, Vulnicura
– Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical
– Vulfpeck, Thrill of the Arts

The Lone Bellow, 'Take My Love'

The Brooklyn-based Americana group released its sophomore album, Then Came the Morning, in January to critical acclaim. What started as an outlet for lead singer Zach Williams — to write and eventually learn guitar while his wife was recovering from an accident — has turned into a trio alongside Kanene Donehey Pipkin and Brian Elmquist. The three of them together create incredible hooks and harmonies that work both on the album and live in concert. Just listen to the chorus of "Take My Love" and you'll hear what I mean. After that, listen to the entire record and send along a thank-you card in 2016.

— Matthew Fisher (@MattRFisher)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– James Bay, Chaos and the Calm
– Foals, What Went Down
– The Staves, If I Was
– BOY, We Were Here
– Mumford & Sons, Wilder Mind

Alabama Shakes, 'Gimme All Your Love'

There is something about the explosive chorus of this song that almost brings me to tears. (Full disclosure: it literally brought me to tears when I saw them perform this live.) Lead singer Brittany Howard shows so much control and resistance throughout the track, making the words “Gimme all your looooove” all the more powerful when it comes charging through your speakers or headphones. The most satisfying four minutes of the year. — ML

Michael Feuerstack, 'Clackity Clack'

Every time I think Michael Feuerstack has outdone himself, he does it again. In 2014, one of my favourite songs of the year was "Out of Season," written by Feuerstack and sung by Devon Sproule from the latter’s record Singer Songer. But only a few months later, in the early winter days of 2015, Feuerstack drops The Forgettable Truth and I find myself yet again smitten with his brilliant songwriting. The song "Clackity Clack," in particular, beams like rays of moonlight bouncing off the winter water. Is it the perfectly distorted guitar? Is it Feuerstack's voice, or his words? Or is it the image of a man kissing world leaders and shaking babies’ hands that makes me hit replay, again, and again, and again? Maybe if I listen one more time, I'll figure out the magic. Let me know if you find the key to its beauty. — JC

Alicia Keys and Jussie Smollett, 'Powerful'

I want 2015 to burn in hell. Most of the back half of 2014, too, but pretty much all of 2015. Musically, there have been some high points, to be sure, but socially, if we’re at all honest, it’s been a terrible year for humanity on this side of the world.

Social media has put a long overdue spotlight on the number of deaths attributed to law enforcement just south of our borders, and what some are only now seeing is grim. As ever, frustration set itself loose in art. Janelle Monae's fervent reboot of "Hell You Talmbout" humanized victims of brutality and Kendrick Lamar’s "Alright" became a vital, empowering rallying cry. But it was a duet performed in the December mid-season finale of the l'il ratchet show that done good that caught me off guard the most.

Sure, it’s a ballad overblown for television purposes but it's not just about the song — it's about what the song represents. The importance of being able to capture the essence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and sing "I matter, you matter, we matter" to an audience of millions just ahead of the 10 o’clock news cannot be understated. Come through, Lee Daniels. Come on through.

— Judith Lynch (@CBCJudith)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– The Lone Bellow, Then Came the Morning
– Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
– Leon Bridges, Coming Home
– Rachel Sermanni, Tied to the Moon
– Joanna Newsom, Divers

Pokey LaFarge, 'Something in the Water'

Tom Power put it best when describing Pokey LaFarge: "He may dress like it's 1933 and he's in charge of the New Deal, but when he sings his brand of hybrid ragtime/blues/western/parlour songs, you begin to feel what this music was meant for: entertainment and joy." I'm not typically a folk music fan, but I'm obsessed with Pokey LaFarge's new album, Something in the Water, released in April on Rounder Records. It's hard to pick just one track. "Goodbye Barcelona" is a standout, with its dramatic Latin flair, but the title track is signature LaFarge with its humour, charm, vocal vibrato and sing-along chorus, all set to a country swing melody. Don't call it retro; call it timeless.

— Jeanette Cabral (@JeanetteCabral)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Pokey LaFarge, Something in the Water
– The Helio Sequence, self-titled
– Terra Lightfoot, Every Time My Mind Runs Wild
– Joel Plaskett, Park Avenue Sobriety Test
– Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, self-titled

Aurora, 'Runaway'

There are some musicians I am in complete awe of, and Aurora Aksnes, a.k.a. Aurora, is very high on that list. The 19-year-old Norwegian musician has accomplished more than many will in their entire lifetime, and she doesn't even have a full record out yet. I first heard Aurora through her song “Runaway” and was immediately mesmerized. What struck out immediately were her lyrics, which, admittedly, I usually ignore when listening to music at first. “Runaway” begins with "I was listening to the ocean/ I saw a face in the sand/ but when I picked it up/ then it vanished away from my hands." Along with the steady drum beat and humming, it immediately pulls you in. 2016 is going to be a big year for Aurora, especially after she drops her new record, All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, on March 11. — MF

Bob Dylan, 'Full Moon and Empty Arms'

To preserve its grandeur I don’t use the word “legend” very often, but watch as I use (and mean) it three times in the next few sentences. Folk music legend Bob Dylan released a wistful, raspy rendition of 10 standards popularized by another legend, Frank Sinatra. “Full Moon and Empty Arms” stands out to me as the most touching and heartfelt of the bunch, but others on Shadows in the Night are absolutely worth a listen. Dylan’s sad and smoky voice, contrasted against a smooth, sliding guitar and bowed bass, make the entire album reminiscent of old recordings by legend Tom Waits. This is a song you need to hear if you are a fan of any names dropped above.

— Amer Alkhatib (@ameralkhatib)

Top 5 albums of 2015:

– Bob Dylan, Shadows in the Night
– Tame Impala, Currents
– Beach House, Depression Cherry
– Ghostface Killah and BadBadNotGood, Sour Soul
– Bahamas, Pink Strat

Ben Caplan, '40 Days & 40 Nights'

Halifax musician Ben Caplan released the epic record Birds with Broken Wings in September of this year. The album, produced by the brilliant musical mind of Socalled, is full of rousing choruses, eclectic instrumentation, dramatic and spooky lyricism and songs that are distant cousins to both Tom Waits and Gogol Bordello. With more than 30 musicians playing on the record, you get a lot of flavours, including this track, “40 Days and 40 Nights.” When I played this for a colleague, he literally fell off this chair when we hit the chorus. There's a sense of urgency in Caplan's brooding deep vocal that builds into a release in the chorus joined by background singers imploring "I been missing my woman, 40 days and 40 nights." — JC