American Songwriter’s Top 50 Songs of 2015

 

Florence Welch + the Machine

40. Florence + the Machine: “Ship to Wreck”

Reportedly, producer Markus Dravs told Florence Welch she wasn’t allowed to write any more songs about water — one of her favorite motifs. Fortunately, she flagrantly disobeyed him and came up with this lung-busting anthem about sleeping pills, great white sharks, and her own penchant for self-sabotage.

twerps

39. Twerps: “I Don’t Mind”

It’s hard to make it look this easy. “I Don’t Mind” suggests a kind of slacker insouciance unearthed from some ’90s archaeological site, with the band repeating that title throughout the song, as if to say, oh well whatever nevermind. But “I Don’t Mind” doesn’t mean “I Don’t Care.” This is a solid and sneaky piece of songcraft, with its unpredictable rhyme scheme and simple declarations of indecision barely concealing the song’s darker implications. 

Leon Bridges

38. Leon Bridges: “Coming Home”

Leon Bridges is a cover band that plays originals. He’s obviously in love with ‘60s soul, in particular Sam Cooke and early Marvin Gaye, and he’s content to re-create rather than reinterpret that sound half a century later. However, his joy in sounding like his heroes animates rather than stifles a song like “Coming Home,” which is written as pastiche and performed as something more personal and more passionate.

Joe Pug

37. Joe Pug: “Great Hosannas”

Originally titled “Dogshit Fragment #69” when Joe Pug didn’t think it would make the cut for his latest album, this uncharacteristically bleak tune is a series of surreal images, each one more dreamlike and somehow more damning than the last: “Rolex watches, walk-in closets/ Floodlights trained on open faucets.” It’s his vision of an apocalyptic future where everything is slightly skewed, uncomfortable, sinister — or is he really talking about the present?

The Mavericks

36. Mavericks: “All Night Long”

Despite its unfortunate title and even more unfortunate album cover (has any other band married such great music to such terrible graphics?), Mono is the Mavericks’ baby-making album, with frontman Raul Malo rewriting “Let’s Get It On” as an Afro-Cuban slow jam whose towering horns mask the fidgety directness of his propositions: “Yo sigo pensando en ti / Y yo marie por ti,” he declares. “Tu nunca encontraras / Aiguien que te queria mas.” Google and blush.

roadside graves

35. Roadside Graves: “Gospel Radio”

New Jersey indie-rock lifers go all in on their best and most brutally personal album, penning memoiristic lyrics and crafting the kind of synth-roots arrangements that make The Gaslight Anthem utterly redundant. “Gospel Radio” is a candid spiritual inquiry that contrasts the boredom of Sunday mornings with the intense fervor of hearing a great song coming across the airwaves, and that coda is a well-earned moment of ecstatic clarity as well as a testament to the power of music to repair faith.

Joan Shelley by Vikesh Kapoor
Photo by Vikesh Kapoor

34. Joan Shelley: “Over and Even”

The title track to Joan Shelley’s second album opens with a peaceful domestic scene, cozy and cheery: “the scent of morning coffee, our cup is filling.” Quietly and gradually, however, the song hints at the great distance between their mugs of coffee and the great yearning that connects them. “How can the stars design it, to pull and move us?” she asks, punctuating the question with a graceful guitar theme. It’s not a defiant query to the heavens, but a gentle pondering of tragedies so mundane we forget to mourn them.

Bjork

33. Bjork: “Stonemilker”

Bjork traditionally leads with her eccentricities, which has made her one of the most original and unlikely pop stars of the last twenty years. On “Stonemilker,” which was written in the wake of her split from Matthew Barney, her weirdness only intensifies and humanizes her heartache. She pleads for mercy and “emotional respect,” in language that sounds almost clinical, as though she’s been practicing this speech and preparing for this confrontation for a long time.

Low

32. Low: “What Part of Me”

Low understand that there is immense power in simple repetition. This standout from their best album in years consists largely of one or two phrases repeated like mantras, with Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker subtly altering the lyrics to dramatic effect. “What part of me don’t you know?” becomes “What part of me don’t you own?” and the effect is hypnotic, even a bit queasy.

Lily Hiatt by Gregg Roth
Photo by Gregg Roth

31. Lilly Hiatt: “Somebody’s Daughter”

Lilly Hiatt makes no bones about being John’s daughter, not because it gives her a leg up in a crowded field of singer-songwriters but because that’s simply and inescapably who she is. “Somebody’s Daughter” explores that connection, but remarkably allows her to further distinguish herself from that particular somebody. This song and the album it anchors announce her as a significant and distinctive songwriter in her own right.

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