If January is any indication, then 2015 is going to be a great year for music. This month was filled with terrific songs, from artists who are new on the map, like Natalie Prass, and familiar faces, like Sleater-Kinney.
Here are the 11 best songs from the first month of 2015:
Torres, "Strange Hellos"
At South by Southwest in 2013, Mackenzie Scott (who performs as Torres) looked like just another singer-songwriter, one of dozens of women singing indie-folk about heartbreak and loneliness. But when she opened her mouth, that all fell away. Torres's self-titled debut album continued that trend, featuring anthemic rock and punk vocals filled with passion and anger. On "Strange Hellos," the first single from her sophomore album, that anger hasn't subdued, but it has become controlled. "I was all for being real/but if I don't believe then no one will," Scott growls. It's the perfect kickoff to what promises to be a hell of a 2015 for her.
Tobias Jesso Jr "How Could You Babe"
The singles that have been released off of Jesso's upcoming album Goon have aimed to capture the heart and soul of the city: the loneliness, the hustle, the desperation. The latest single, "How Could You Babe," is the closest Jesso has come to writing a song that could be the backing track to both a good, long crying jag and a lonely stroll through Central Park. The beauty of this song is in Jesso's voice hovering over his piano playing, sliding into higher vocal registers to sing, "How could you babe," over and over and over again. Heartbreaking.
Natalie Prass "My Baby Don't Understand Me"
Natalie Prass finished recording her debut self-titled album in 2012, expecting to release it in 2013. Because she is signed to a tiny, tiny label, the finished project didn't roll out until this week. Fortunately, it was worth the wait. "I don't feel much...," Prass coos on "My Baby Don't Understand Me," but her trembling voice makes it clear that she feels everything. Deeply. Prassi's incredible vocals gain altitude thanks to her backing band, which keeps building this song into something pristine and powerful.
Katie Crutchfield, the singer-songwriter behind Waxahatchee, turned raw feelings into chords on her first two albums. But here, on "Air," she takes the intimacy of those albums and turns it into a passion that radiates. "Air" contains quirky lyrics like "I left you out like a carton of milk/ You were quick to query me/ but I wanted you still." But its steady drumbeat and chord progressions turn it into something more anthemic. The song is the first single off the forthcoming Ivy Tripp.
Misterwives "Our Own House"
"Came in like the breeze/ I felt it in my knees," lead vocalist Mandy Lee Duffy sings in the opening sequence of Misterwives' "Our Own House." Her wispy vocals mirror the lyrics. The indie-pop group released its debut EP Reflections last year, and it rose quickly in critical acclaim and popularity. Misterwives is a rarity in the 2015 music scene: a true pop band. On "Our Own House," they add horns to their usual lineup, creating a song that gains so much energy as it goes that by the end, the whispering intro seems like another planet.
Sleater-Kinney "No Cities to Love"
Sleater-Kinney released its first album in 10 years this year. The intensity of "No Cities to Love" feels stronger than ever before, even if the guitar riffs are shorter and the drums more reined in. That care, that precision and calculation, guides Sleater-Kinney now. On the second single from the album, everything that makes Sleater-Kinney a great rock band shines: the vocals are emotional and powerful, and the instrumentation is clean and fast. "No Cities to Love" is a reminder not just of how great Sleater-Kinney used to be, but of how great they are today.
Will Butler "Anna"
Arcade Fire's Will Butler will release his first solo album, Policy, in March. "Anna," the first single, mixes '80s synthesizers, spoken word choruses, and a funk baseline. Part of the goal of this record is to make people excited enough to pay attention when I'm 80," Butler told Pitchfork in January, comparing Policy to Neil Young's debut album. "Anna" isn't that iconic, but it's certainly catchy, and it has the energy of a new voice, even though Butler has been producing music for over a decade.
Frank Ocean "(At Your Best) You are Love"
"(At Your Best) You Are Love" was released by The Isley Brothers in 1976, but that's not who Frank Ocean honors in his cover of the song. Instead, his version clings tightly to Aaliyah's 1994 rendition, which appeared on her debut album. Built atop only Ocean's voice and a gentle piano behind him, "(At Your Best) You are Love" becomes a vulnerable, heartbreaking song that recalls much of the political unrest of the last few months, all without once mentioning it.
Marina and the Diamonds, "Immortal"
Welsh singer-songwriter Marina and the Diamonds released "Immortal," a single from upcoming third album Froot in January. It's a moody, sad-girl song with an electro pop background. "If I could buy forever at a price/I would buy it twice, twice," Marina sings on the track, a heavy reminder about the undying, immortal power of love. With her style, crooning lyrics, and the retro feel of the music video's visuals, Marina will likely appeal to fans of Lana Del Rey's 2014 album Ultraviolence.
Tove Styrke, "Ego"
One part pop and one part weird electronic textures, "Ego" is a song about lost love where the Swedish Styrke sings (in an upbeat tone, no less), "I wanna hold you/ but you're untouchable/ too cool/ caught up in your ego." The rolling drums in the background and the catchy chorus make it easy to imagine this being a radio hit along the lines of Tove Lo's "Habits (Stay High)."
Charli XCX featuring Rita Ora "Doing it"
Charli XCX released her sophomore album, Sucker, in late 2014. A fast, upbeat album with all of the features of a chart-climbing masterpiece, Sucker is catchy, fun, and surprisingly laid-back. This remix, featuring Rita Ora, could be Charli XCX's attempt to strike gold twice. Charli sang the riff on Iggy Azalea's "Fancy," which came out in March of 2014 and went on to become the song of the summer. "Doing It" has the same fun-in-the-sun vibes, but it's also perfect for a late winter house party.
The songs on this list that are available on Spotify can be listened to here: