There were some real heavy hitters who stepped up to the plate in Dallas music in 2015, some of them familiar faces and some of them (most of them, in fact) coming seemingly out of nowhere. Seeing the Queen herself, Erykah Badu, return with new music was one of the clear highlights, while Sarah Jaffe continued to explore territory ever further removed from her folky roots. But it was also a year marked by bold hip-hop that confronted the chaos of the world outside the local music bubble and, above all else, a year dominated by a young singer from Fort Worth. For all that, which songs were the best of the best in Dallas in 2015? We picked out 20 of them for you.
20. iill, "Herownin"
2015 was an intensive year for Dallas-based electronic outfit iill. They released a self-titled EP, disappeared, dropped down from a trio to a duo and were nominated in two categories at the recent Dallas Observer Music Awards. "Herownin," which utilizes analog recording and performance methods, is a snapshot of the band's first few months of the year, challenging themselves to be unlike anything else in the city. Still raw, analog and questionably human, iill are the farthest away from the mainstream — punk, but adapted for modern times and still not giving a hoot. Evan Henry
19. Doug Burr, "White Night Black Light"
Denton’s Doug Burr, as stellar a songwriter as we have in North Texas, has a powerful vocal style that effortlessly adapts to whatever style of tune he needs it to. This track form his excellent Pale White Dove album is a menacing, jumping force that features Burr doing what he does best: shining light on his poetically dark vision. Burr is a folk artist of the highest caliber, but don’t mistake him for a navel-gazing novice, as this tune proves his almost metal-like mettle with convincing authority. Kelly Dearmore
18. Cygnus, "Nexus Telecoms"
Cygnus released Radical User Interfaces this past October, his third release for Sheffield, U.K.-based Central Processing Unit. “Nexus Telecoms” stands out from the other four tracks as a melancholy piece of electro cyber-funk that bubbles up electronic percolations of synthesizers over a bed of funky drum machines. "Nexus" shows signs of Cygnus pushing the idea of electro into more romantic pastures; if robots made love, this would be a perfectly apt theme song. Wanz Dover
17. $kaduf, "Hydration"
Groveside Blues helped make $kaduf one of Dallas hip-hop's biggest discoveries in 2015. The young rapper seemed to come out of nowhere, paying tribute to classic hip-hop with a lyrical talent that’s “way harder to balance on a Libra scale.” But he quickly followed that EP up with a couple of tracks with a different, more ambient sound. “Drown in a Bottle” and “Hydration” are counterparts inspired by encounters with a local writer who shall remain nameless. “Hydration” is particularly infectious and conveys an emotional sophistication you wouldn’t expect from someone barely old enough to drink. The track even garnered some attention overseas and had some radio play in London. Jeremy Hallock
16. The Vandoliers, "Blaze of Glory"
With apologies to Jon Bon Jovi, we really dig the hell out of the Vandoliers’ wild-ass roots romper by the same name as his massive 1990 hit song from the Young Guns II soundtrack. As blasphemous as it might be, we prefer the version by the Vandoliers (a mix of members from the Phuss and Whiskey Folks Ramblers), damn it. Joshua Fleming’s punk vocals mix perfectly with the gritty, greasy licks, beats and fiddle runs on the track that may best sum up the successful year for one of North Texas’ best new acts. KD
15. Dezi 5, "Dallas, Bitch"
Outlandish? Maybe. An ode to LMFAO's "I'm in Miami Bitch?" Depends on who you ask. But that's what made this song such a party starter in 2015: It's completely off the wall, and completely Dezi 5. From Uptown, Metroplex to Tom Ford, Highland Park, "Dallas, Bitch" is a celebration of the clashing of upper-crust pretense and lower-class crunk that equals Dallas nightlife, all tied together with a ratchet beat and Dezi's balls-to-the-wall vocal approach. If you're not ready to dance yourself clean when you hear this one, you should probably check your pulse. Jeff Gage
14. Kaela Sinclair, "Original Sin"
Kaela Sinclair’s "Original Sin" is warm and sultry, with the feel of a tune that might find its way into an indie film or, even better, rotation on NPR. (She's a super-fan.) Her voice is a heavenly blend of dream pop with minimal and deconstructed instrumental accompaniment. If hers is just a passing glance, trying to steal our gaze, then we are definitely staring. Sinclair’s success this year has been hard earned and seems to be just the beginning of a healthy career (that we cannot wait to watch unfold). Sara Button
13. Pearl Earl, "Karaoke Superstar"
For Pearl Earl, 2015 was a hit-the-ground-running kind of affair. What Denton had known long before Dallas finally became clear thanks to “Karaoke Superstar," two words that before this year didn't mean a damn thing. Now it means it's time to put on those party pants and let the rock 'n' roll happen. With each performance, the Denton gals-and-a-guy have only gotten better, as evidenced by their recent take on the Nirvana classic “Breed” at the recent DOMA ceremony. So go forth and listen, sure enough you'll have to see them live. Once you do, you're like to have lived just a little more than you did before. EH
12. G.U.N., "Johnny Cage"
G.U.N. is Dallas’ trap star rapper and he plays the role to a T. On the high-energy "Johnny Cage," the rapper lives up to his Geeked Up Ni**a moniker, taking the cooking trend one step further with a breathy, catchy and aggressive hook that propelled the song to semi-viral status among Dallas’ youth and beyond. His cool, confident demeanor can be heard on all facets of the track from the hook to his flow and his calculated ad-libs. It’s an addicting track that garners as much attention as any rap song in heavy rotation on the radio. Mikel Galicia
11. TX Connect, "Clouds Like Leopards (Tape Redo)"
TX Connect has been quietly (or not so quietly for overseas listeners) building a discography of standout releases that adhere to the vintage club sounds of classic dance floor singles from decades past. Last June, he released “Clouds Like Leopards (Tape Redo)” on the four-track Hott EP, a compilation of various artists for U.K.-based Run Out Run label. The track is balanced by analog drum machines that propel cascading strings into explosions of acid synth. It's the classic sound of a dusty, 20-year-old club tune. WD
10. Buffalo Black, "Anamolies" (Feat. Lord Byron)
The pairing of Buffalo Black and Lord Byron was a long time coming. For several years they have been two of Dallas’ most progressive rappers and sharpest lyricists. Black doesn’t mince words with his sharp and biting verse about the plight of his melanin and others’ expectations of him while Byron stomps on the track, taking frustrated shots at racists and social hierarchies. The significant wordplay is almost buried under a pulsing and hypnotic beat, but Black’s melodic chorus nonetheless prevails. The song is disappointingly short but its message will leave an affecting impression on you for a much longer time. MG
9. Charley Crockett, "Trinity River"
Leave it to a New Orleans transplant to write the perfect ode to Dallas' equivalent to the Hudson River. But that's exactly what you'll get with Charley Crockett's "Trinity River." This track is velvet-infused Delta blues with the right amount of Texas twang to remind everyone of the grittier side of home. While Crockett might not be a born-and-bred Dallasite, his voice is reminiscent of the legendary voices of Leadbelly and Robert Johnson (who weren't from Dallas either), the godfathers of Deep Ellum, and he leaves us pining for more of that deep, Southern magic. Molly Mollotova
8. Lord Byron, "Lice/Dame"
Byron’s Digital Crucifixion presents plenty of contenders for top song of the year, but “Lice/Dame” is an intricate song that’s deeper than you’d think on first listen. A staple of Byron’s catalog is first-class wordplay and boastful proclamations but this track is much more introspective and self-doubting than we’re used to hearing from the artist. He creates a new dynamic and depth we don’t often hear from the young talent as he contemplates police brutality, his skin color and personal frustrations in a restrained frame of mind. MG
7. Rahim Quazi, "Ghost Hunting"
“Ghost Hunting,” the title track from Rahim Quazi’s third solo album, features an actual ghost on it. That part was recorded while in a haunted house in East Texas, and Quazi put it on a song about dealing with past broken relationships and childhood trauma. But this isn’t some song you only play around Halloween to scare pesky trick-or-treaters. It’s an elegant, dreamy tune from one of the best local releases this year. Eric Grubbs
6. Bobby Sessions, "Black America"
"Black America" is the sound of America in 2014, but it became the soundtrack to Dallas hip-hop in 2015. Inspired in part by (and name-checking) the death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York City police, and released on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Bobby Sessions made as clear of a statement as any Dallas musician this year with "Black America." "Life's hard as a n*****," goes the chillingly matter-of-fact hook, recited over a claustrophobic beat that's shrouded in gunshots. But if "Black America" once felt like a requiem, it's taken on an even more tragic tone as a predictor of what was yet to come. JG
5. Sarah Jaffe, "Vision" (Feat. Sam Lao and Zhora)
Sarah Jaffe completed an inspired reinvention in 2015 that she likely wouldn't call an reinvention. But with the release of her Visions EP, the Symbolyc One-anointed "Yung Jaffe" collectively blew us all away with her hip-hop inspired, figurative middle finger to those who would dare typecast her as just a singer-songwriter. At her EP release show at Trees she was supported by Zhora, Sam Lao and Blue, the Misfit, who all came together to perform the EP's title track in one of the greatest demonstrations of local star power this year. So, go on Yung Jaffe — make music the way that you want to. There are no complaints here. MM
4. Post Malone, " White Iverson"
As far as clutch plays went in 2015, not many people saw this one coming. A kid from Grapevine rapping about Allen Iverson goes viral? No way. But all the same, Post Malone released one of the year’s biggest tunes on the planet, an anthem for swaggin’ and saucin’ that instantly became a radio DJ’s livelihood. Racking up a whopping 56 million views, the music video "White Iverson" got more plays than Allen Iverson himself late in the 4th quarter. But while the gaudy numbers and celebrity endorsements (including Yeezy, Rae Sremmurd and Rick Ross) made "White Iverson" a flashy favorite, its tongue-in-cheek wordplay and clever self-awareness made it a perfect anthem for the $30,000 millionaire in us all. Jordan Dunbar
3. The Outfit, TX, "Revelations" (Feat. Sudie)
There may not be a more ambitious song released in Dallas in 2015 than "Revelations," and there certainly isn't one that does what it does more deceptively. At first, Mel Kyle and the Outfit crew might seem like they're puffing their chests — "Low down on them knees/Make a bitch believe" — but the backdrop of violence, poverty and racism soon takes over. And then the song cuts to static before changing direction completely. Suddenly it's a three-part suite, chopped and screwed and ground into grimy oblivion — a portrait of life on the streets, life in the South and a life lived with crazed animals. JG
2. Erykah Badu, "Hello" (Feat. Andre 3000)
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Erykah Badu had a year worth talking about, and we certainly did — several times over. While her remix of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” later titled “Cel U Lar Device,” took the Internet by storm and was the catalyst for new music from our Queen, resulting in the release of her But You Caint Use My Phone mixtape, “Hello” is the real gem of the project. On it, Badu and her ex Andre 3000 team up for a rework of the Isley Brothers’ “Hello It’s Me” and the result is a beautiful, sweet and smooth masterpiece. The bond the two share in their personal lives transcends the record and makes it all the more special. Plus, it just felt really good to hear two superstar talents release new music after long hiatuses. MG
1. Leon Bridges, "Coming Home"
"Coming Home" is a throwback, but that's not because it sounds retro. It's a throwback to a time when a short, sharp, perfectly crafted pop song was the gold standard, recorded live in a room and built on the back of serious songwriting chops. The fact that it's delivered by an old-beyond-his-years singer from Fort Worth only makes it feel that much more like a piece out of time. But saying that Leon Bridges "sounds like old R&B" does him, and "Coming Home," a disservice. It's the sound of being in the perfect place at the perfect time, plain and simple. And it feels a lot like home. JG