Written by: Matt Sloan
An end of year ‘Best Of’ tally is a nice way to provide ‘sonic snapshots’ of the music that has been introduced to me and found its way back onto my player time and again–like a familiar and appreciated companion.
In a follow up to my Top 20 Albums Of 2015 article I did, here, we recap on what I see as the best songs of 2015.
Some singles are from LPs that didn’t make the cut for best albums, but they’re good enough to stand on their own. Others are part and parcel of releases you should be hearing from again because they are simply that good.
I also just couldn’t settle on 10, so here you’ve got a whopping 20 to sift through, but you’ll likely thank me by the end of it.
Matt Sloan’s Top 20 Tracks of 2015
1. Star Horse – Slower Now
Star Horse hail from Stockholm, Sweden, where perhaps their Nordic environment has influenced them to create such pristine melodic shoegaze dreampop. Rather reminiscent of Lush, and in the best way possible. Particularly the vocals and melody lines do it, but wow – can they like do that again? More please. 2015 wasn’t a huge year for the band’s output in terms of quantity, but in terms of quality, they rocked it – this song tops my list and I’m definitely looking forward to whatever they’ve got coming around the corner.
2. Sounds of Sputnik – Overdrive
Released as a single on ‘REVOLUTION – The Shoegaze Revival’, this track is a perfect match of pristine vocals with the alternative rock stylings of Swervedriver. Ummagma’s Shauna McLarnon delivers the former while Sounds of Sputnik’s Roman Kalitkin joins with Graham Bonnar (Swervedriver, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Black Ryder) as the main driving force. Bonnar’s drumming is unmistakeable here, as anyone familiar with tracks such as ‘Son of Mustang’ can tell you. Everything you want from a memorable shoegaze track, but with a deeper meaning typical of most. The message is also in the bottle… err, I mean video.
3. Flyying Colours – Running Late
This is the most addictive shoegazey song I’ve heard in a long time, though it falls short of ranking in first or second place because of it’s predictability. I really like this band, ever since I first heard Wavy Gravy last year. They are among a handful of bands really putting Australia–Melbourne in general–on the international shoegaze map. Unlike many other gloomy shoegaze acts past and present, Flyying Colours always looks like they are having a blast and their energy is infectious.
4. Rodney Cromwell – Black Dog
Well, I did like the New Order album, but if you were less impressed with it than you were hoping, you should get your fill with this track instead. I love absolutely everything about this song – not a weak moment. Even the video reels with youthful positivity. Rodney Cromwell’s full LP ‘Age of Anxiety’ featured in my Top Albums of 2015 feature, but he also released the ‘Black Dog’ EP in the latter half of the year featuring a brilliant extended version of this track, as well as a number of excellent remixes. Rodney Cromwell definitely takes the positive dance vibe cake for 2015.
5. Ummagma – Lama
This is perhaps on par with another track on the ‘Frequency’ album, called ‘Orion’, but this one brings in a bit of the Stereolab factor. This is such a good track that it has attracted interest from the dreampop, synthpop, and shoegaze community alike. Their latest EP also includes 3 remixes of this song – by Cocteau Twins’ lynchpin Robin Guthrie, OMD’s drummer Malcolm Holmes, and 4AD-styled Lights That Change. While they are all great, the original is unparalleled.
6. Lilies on Mars – Stealing
I’ve already said plenty about this Sardinian-born, now London-based duo in my recap of the Best Albums of 2015, where their album ‘Ago’ ranked at #2. As for this particular track, I think this group is hypnotic just as much for Marina’s trance-inducing arpeggio factor as Lisa’s dreamy child-like vocals. The video is pretty trippy as well, written and directed by Doitforthemonster in their native island of Sardinia, featuring Francesca Re. If I had to sum this up in just a few words it would be graceful electro-trip radiance.
7. Omodada – All My Gods feat. Tik Tu
While Omodada (real name Lesik Drachuk) usually has a tendency towards a lighter form of psychrock, there’s a departure from that in this particular song. This is right up there with the offerings that catapulted Ukraine’s Onuka to rampant fame in Eastern Europe and well worth the listen. It begins with an ambient chill vibe and builds with each additional layer entering the picture, even with the brass brought in the way that another beloved song of mine (“Animals on My Mind” by the Departure Lounge) has done. Really fantastic musical suspense and angelic vocals from Tik Tu’s Natalia Bagriy. Taken from the album ‘Kimnaty’, I will be watching this Ukrainian artist more closely from now on.
8. A Shoreline Dream–Time Is A Machine Gun
A Shoreline Dream are somewhat of a dark horse in the underground music scene, who always seem to get lumped in with the shoegaze movement and, although I’m not absolutely familiar with their older output, in this track I can say that they seemingly teeter between alternative and prog rock. ‘Time is a Machine Gun’ carries a shadowy and storming dreaminess to it just the same, with elements reminiscent of The Church and The Damned in their ‘Phantasmagoria’ phase. Excellent production, vocals and guitar – very potent when woven together.
Listen to ‘Time is a Machine Gun’ here and enjoy their latest video for ‘The Heart Never Recovered’ here:
9. My Cruel Goro – Clash
This track differs genre-wise from pretty much anything else featured in this list. While most of this list is focused on the shoegaze, dreampop, and electronica genres, it seems I’m making an exception for My Cruel Goro and, I must say, this one literally grabs my attention (although the other two tracks on their self-titled debut EP are also very clever and unique). This group’s output is stunning and essential for any listener disenchanted with the general monotony of modern indie rock. My Cruel Goro belt out a fresh dose of punk-infused indie rock loaded with drive and with a cutting edge unseen in many bands these days. It’s no wonder they are often likened to early Clash, The Jam, and The Vapors, although the modern band I see most in them today is Ash. Go to it!
10. Beliefs – 1992
This outfit is evidence that Canada can gaze along with the best of them. I noted one Canadian band already in this list, so that’s score 3 for Canada so far (as there’s 1 more coming after this as well). Released by one of Canada’s best indie labels – Hand Drawn Dracula – ‘1992’ is the second track and lead single from the ‘Leaper’ album. This track kicks back to an era when shoegaze was still big and newish in the word, which comes as no surprise as the band members initially bonded over a mutual love of My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth.
11. A Copy For Collapse – No Failure
Such a brilliant track – I literally had this on repeat for a straight week upon first hearing it. As the most ‘gazey’ track and the first single released from the band’s 2015 album “Waiting For”, it seemed to be the most accessible one for me and indeed, it was one successfully invited me back again and again. It’s also accompanied by quite the beautiful video and brings to mind quite the summery warm innocent imagery evoked herein. Oh yeah, A Copy For Collapse is the brainchild of Daniele Raguso from Italy.
12. Pinkshinyultrablast – Kiddy Pool Dreams
One of the most famous Russian bands on the indie music scene (well, maybe the most famous), they are named after the 2005 album by noise-gazers Astrobrite. While Pinkshinyultrablast released their debut album ‘Everything Else Matters’ last year. this track ‘Kiddy Pool Dreams’ is not on the album. Definitely worth the listen. We mentioned another Russian band above too (Sounds of Sputnik). Both of them are laureates of the Jagermeister Indie Music Award, the most prestigious (and only) award of its kind in the former Soviet republic.
13. Clustersun – Hipgnosis (from the REVOLUTION shoegaze compilation)
One of the better known bands on the Italian shoegaze scene, this song exhibits elements of post-punk as well and what I could clearly call adventure movie music. Seems perfect for an action scene from a chase in some film. Everything is in its proper place and sounds brilliant. This is one of four tracks by Italian featured in the Revolution compilation, alongside Rev Rev Rev, Stella Diana and Weird. Darkish and loaded with energy, this song is the best the band has released thus far.
14. Etiquette – Brown and Blue
Here’s the third Canadian entry in this list – also coming from the Toronto-based Hand Drawn Dracula label. Etiquette evidently reflects the electronic side of the label more so than their fellow label mate Beliefs. Etiquette is comprised of a husband/wife couple, which is perhaps why there seems to be somewhat more harmony in their composition than is the case with so many other bands. With their skillful and attractive music, they are among a solid handful of Canadian bands, along with Grimes, Crystal Castles and Ummagma, who are conveying a new image of Canada as a hotbed of electronica and synthpop excellence.
15. The Virgance – Down The River
The Virgance is the solo project of Nathan Smith, who released two brilliant albums in 2015: ‘Hiko Shrine’ earlier in the year and ‘Paradigm 3’ later on. The character trademark of this music is that it is delightfully light and uplifting instrumental shoegaze. The one exception to this, from his latest LP, is this track ‘Down the River’, which features vocals from Shauna McLarnon from Ummagma. They are ever so fragile and, for the most part, woven into the fabric of the song in such a way to sound like an instrument rather than vox per se. Delightful, airy and enchanting. It was a toss-up for me between this ‘Paradigm 3’ track and ’25 Years’, but the vocals are the part that won me over on this one. Enjoy!
16. Cheatahs – Campus
‘Campus’ is an ambitious track that comes from the band’s ‘Sunne’ EP, released through Wichita Recordings in February 2015. It’s an awesomely dirty blast of guitars that is luck a rush to the head (like an overwhelming kiss rather than a punch), although it also has a surprisingly upbeat chorus. Nice juxtapositioning. This is one of the foremost bands on the shoegaze scene today, through Pitchfork really tore them apart over this last EP for being unoriginal and getting stuck “sometime between 1990 and 1994” in a sound that “really hasn’t gone anywhere since.” Whatever. While ‘Sunne’ didn’t make my ‘Best Albums’ list, this track certainly did
17. Lowtide – Julia/Spring
Continuing in the same vein as their impressive 2014 debut album, the band released this single in August 2015 with A/B sides. The first track ‘Julia’ is a cover of a little-known song by the French 1980s band Asylum Party. Lowtide’s version differs from the original New Order-esque post-punk version, but is also pretty good. As for the B-side ‘Spring’, it is delightful and shimmering but does seem a tad juvenile considering the one line “One of these days is not like the other” gets highly repetitive. Looking forward to see if they produce anything in 2016.
18. Jaguwar – Muffhead
Jaguwar is one of the more interesting shoegaze bands to emerge in Germany. Come to think of it, I can’t think of another one off the top of my head, unless perhaps Seasurfer, which is borderline anyways. Hailing from Hamburg, this outfit recently signed to an American label (can’t recall the name) and I look forward to learning what they will put out in 2016. As for 2015, they delivered the ‘I’ EP, which included this track ‘Muffhead’. A powerhouse they are, as demonstrated in this glaring wall of sound. Obviously inspired by My Bloody Valentine, they do a good job at carrying on this shoegaze (rather than the nugaze) tradition.
19. Schonwald – Neon
This Italian duo never fails to impress, famous for their ability to superb blend of gothgaze and dark electro pop. The music is addictive, driven by repetitive trans-like synths and droney female vocals, not to mention a reverberating rhythm section and layers of guitar. This song, derived from their 2014 album ‘Dream For A Fall’, was released as a single in March 2015. They also released another album in 2015 (‘Between Parallel Lights’), but I liked ‘Dream For The Fall’ much more… Anywave Records/ Manic Depression Records support them for both releases.
20. Xolo – Moonless
In 2014, Xolo released their debut LP ‘Future Home’ and finally they give us this track ‘Moonless’. It begins with a rather low-fi jangle mesh of post punk guitars, but about 12 seconds in, this transforms into a dreamier track. Something fantasic happens in a web spun here of ethereal vocals, delivered by Rebekkah Castellanos in a way somewhat reminiscent of Cocteau Twins. The other half of this duo, Justin Cefai, gives an outstanding performance as well.