Top 50 Songs of 2014

I’ve been doing top songs lists for the past few years on Spotify (including a few retroactive ones), but this is the first time I’m actually doing a writeup for one.  I’ve also created a corresponding Spotify list which can be found here or by using the widget at the bottom of the article.  Of course, there are a few stragglers not on Spotify, so those I’ve linked directly from their entries.

50. Cashmere Cat – With Me.  Twitchy and turning on a dime, Cashmere Cat delivers enough melodies to fill an EP in a single track.

49. New Madrid – Manners.  This driving indie song, delivers some sweet guitar soloing in the second half.

48. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – CellophaneThe first four continuously-mixed songs off of I’m in Your Mind Fuzz all share a melodic theme and riff off of that.  Take the inclusion of this track as an endorsement of all four as a whole.

47. Hooray for Earth – Say Enough.  “Say Enough” is the only track off of 2014’s Racy that sounds like it could have just as easily appeared on Hooray for Earth’s previous album, True Loves.  The big, catchy melody shows Hooray for Earth at their anthemic best.  I credit the album’s production for this, as both times I’ve seen Hooray for Earth live (once opening for Bear in Heaven at the Grog Shop and again headlining at a small show at Mahall’s), they have come off as more of a noise rock group with new wave overtones.

46. Perfume Genius – Queen.  I really like Perfume Genius’ Too Bright as a whole, but the more rock side of the “art-rock” tracks appeal to me more.

45. Deerhoof – Paradise Girls.  I suppose “Exit Only” is the single from La Isla Bonita, but “Paradise Girls” showcases the loopy, playful melodies and rhythms I like most out of Deerhoof.  They’ve been pretty prolific over their 20 years – I still need to catch up on most of their back catalog – but I hope they can put together another 20.

44. Shamir – If It Wasn’t True.   Shamir put out a few new tracks this year, including the house/rap track “On the Regular”, but I’m going with the groovy house jam “If It Wasn’t True” at 44.

43. Ariel Pink – Put Your Number in My Phone.  Ariel Pink puts out two different kinds of songs.  Sunny, AM gold ditties and weird, record collector rock.  This shimmering track falls squarely in the former as a modern-day beach soft rock jam.

42. Shy Boys – Is This Who You Are?  Simple lo-fi rock done well.

41. Little Big League – Year of the Sunhouse.  A short but confident tune, Little Big League brings some rebelliousness to a laidback indie groove.

40. Francisco the Man – Progress.  The verses are musically simple, but the chorus has that dreamy shoegaze reverb draped over the guitar and vocals that I adore.

39. Bleachers – I Wanna Get Better.  I have no interest in the inconveniently styled band “fun.”, but this side-project song is super catchy.  The falsetto bridge is annoying, but mercifully short.  Extremely chantable – I give it 4 out of 5 chants.

38. Thom Yorke – Brain in a Bottle.  Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes comes eight years after Thom Yorke’s last solo album.  While The Eraser deployed plucks and warbling synths, Tomorrow’s unleashes warbling bass lines and warm, shuffling beats.  The Eraser provided a greater and more immediate reward, but 2014’s effort has a lot to like.

37. Cheatahs – Fall.  I first became aware of Cheatahs from their 2013 single “Cut the Grass”, which marginally whet my appetite for this year’s debut LP.  From the gauzy guitar distortion to the snare drum, “Fall” cribs most of its sound from My Bloody Valentine, but does it so very well when layered with lush arpeggios.

36. Katie Herzig – Forgiveness.  When I saw Katie Herzig live, she told the story of how her mother’s death after a battle with cancer had affected her and her music before playing “Forgiveness”.  The outpouring of emotion she put into her work on Walk Through Walls is never clearer than in the anguished cries of “Forgiveness.”

35. Hundred Waters – Murmurs.  I admit I hadn’t heard this song until I found it browsing Pitchfork’s Top 100 from this year.  Waves of vocals and swishes of harmony drape themselves over a simple set of piano chords, taking the song in unexpected directions.

34. Caribou – Can’t Do Without You.  It took me a few listens to begin to enjoy Caribou’s lead single off Our Love.  The lyrics are a repetitive, soulful mantra spread over four minutes of rising and falling synthesizers and drums.

33. Pional – It’s All Over (John Talabot’s Stormbreak Refix).  Pional’s original mix is a tiny, minimalist song on its own, but Talabot’s remix enhances this feeling by placing the original in a large metal room and dissecting it.

32. Faded Paper Figures – Horizons Fall.  Faded Paper Figures have been one of my favorites since I came across “The Persuaded” six years ago on Pandora.  Their early work was clearly for all The Postal Service fans who wanted a second album.  However, since then they’ve expanded their musical palette away from quiet clicks and coos to large synths and more guitars.  In this way, “Horizons Fall” is a throwback to simpler times with its simple, playful steel drum sounds and bright sonic colors.

31. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting for You).  Future Islands’ frontman Samuel T. Herring sells what would otherwise be a fairly bland song.  Check out this performance on Letterman.  Herring’s unfalteringly sincere performance and idiosyncratic dance evoke that of an old-school crooner, but injected with new life.

30. Hooray for Earth – Hey.  The opening track of Hooray for Earth’s second LP declares Noel Heroux’s art rock roots.  It’s big on drama and tension, setting the stage for an album that’s ultimately a big of a mixed bag.

29. Twin Shadow – To the Top.  I’m not as a big a fan as some of Twin Shadow, though I’ve always enjoyed his singles.  It consistently takes me a few listens to appreciate George Lewis Jr.’s work, but the big 80s drums and oversized guitar chords are what eventually won me over here.

28. Interpol – Same Town, New Story.  Thank goodness – finally an almost worthy successor to Turn on the Bright Lights!  The generic indie rock of Antics and Our Love to Admire did little for me outside of a couple singles and their self-titled album was sludgy and forgettable.  El Pintor finally brings back Joy Division-esque use of space and memorable melodies that made their debut so good.

27. Zammuto – Need Some Sun.  After a more-than-successful Indiegogo campaign, Zammuto recorded AnchorAnchor embraces a more collaborative band-focused environment than the mostly solo debut, which is admirable, but ultimately doesn’t produce anything quite as striking as “Too Late To Topologize.”  Some other favorites from this album are “IO”, “Great Equator”, and bonus track “Codebreaker.”

26. Perfume Genius – Grid.  “Grid” opens with a pulsing industrial growl and slowly ascends into an art rock spiral that threatens to spin out of control as Mike Hadreas’ vocals alternately quiver and wail.

25. QT – Hey QTDo we actually know who QT is?  I know that the music is created by A. G. Cook and Sophie, who may as well be a figment of our collective imaginations, too, but is QT real in any sense?  I suppose that’s part of the point of this post-ironic hyperpop project, which is made complete by hawking a fictional energy drink.

24. Swans – A Little God in My Hands.  Swans is hard to like.   I don’t mean this in a bad way; their albums just require repeated and ideally, uninterrupted, listens in the way that Godspeed You! Black Emperor or other post-rock bands do as well.  That isn’t to say one can’t enjoy taking in the bad-ass doom rock of Swans and appreciating that a group formed in the early 80s is producing relevant and strikingly originally music thirty years later.

23. Beverly – Madora.  I love a catchy alt-rock riff, which “Madora” delivers in spades.  The verses give us a wonderful Surfer Blood’s “Floating Vibes”-like riff and the chorus a lush shoegaze pairing of airy vocals and distorted guitar.

22. Aphex Twin – minipops 67 [120.2].  Thirteen long years since Aphex Twin’s last album.  One of my favorite artists came back not with anything strikingly new, but at least with material just as relevant as ever.  With Richard D. James, you can clearly the hear the work put into each note and every snare drum rush, while it somehow not being overproduced.  It’s pretty incredible that something like SAW II or Richard D. James Album could come out today on Warp Records and still seem fifteen years ahead of its time.

21. Flying Lotus – Never Catch Me.  Like much of You’re Dead!, “Never Catch Me” is a wonderfully off-kilter affair, featuring staggering kick drums and hi-hats that lag a fraction of a beat behind.  However, unlike much of the rest of the album, “Never Catch Me” is able to stand on its own.  The majority of tracks on You’re Dead! are shorter than two minutes, which makes for a fast-paced album, but doesn’t lend itself well to year-end top song lists.  If Squarepusher circa 2000 listened to more hip hop and was transported 15 years into the future, this is what you’d get.

20. Ben Khan – Savage.  Sassy guitar licks and synth riffs echo through “Savage.”  Ben Khan’s R&B vocal stylings are imbued with funkadelic life in this poppy ditty.

19. Mode Moderne – Strangle the Shadows.  “Strangle the Shadows” exists in the dark forests between Joy Division and shoegaze.  Lead singer Philip Intile haunts the song with a Morrissey-like yawp.

18. FKA twigs – Two Weeks.  The chugging and rumbling rhythms of “Two Weeks” dance around in stereo creating an unsteady platform for FKA twigs’ breathy but strong vocals.  Her odd rhythms create a lot of unresolved tension; a case in point of this is my girlfriend who grew agitated at the panning clatter of “Pendulum.”

17. Caribou – Silver.  “Silver” pulses with the warmth of a summer’s night, almost engulfing Dan Snaith’s icy, delicate vocals.  Like the sun rising, the song concludes with a key change and a bright new sound.

16. Hannah Diamond – Every Night.  OK, so, I admit this PC Music thing is a little weird.  The deliriously cheesy “Every Night” delivers everything you could ask for in an over-the-top, but still relatively simple dance tune.

15. Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys.  I’m not a lyrics guy.  My mind tends to treat vocals and lyrics as a pastiche of ideas and sounds, but “Just One of the Guys” is straightforward enough even for my instrument-centric ear to latch onto.  Plus, more 2014 props for Jenny Lewis for appearing in a TV episode of Comedy Bang! Bang!.

14. Blonde Elvis – Slow Fall on EgyptThis may be at #14 overall, but this baroque indie song has the #1 flute solo of the year, and isn’t that more important? 

13. Communions – So Long Sun.  “So Long Sun” is a perfect song for a sunny yet freezing January day as we say goodbye to a soon-to-be cloud-covered sun for three months.  Gorgeous dream pop.

12. Damien Jurado – Silver Timothy.  “Silver Timothy” feels as warm as “So Long Sun” is cold.  It feels like setting out on a psychedelic desert journey.

11. Tokyo Police Club – Argentina (Parts I, II, III).  Tokyo Police Club’s 2014 album Forcefield went even poppier than their previous work.  But while “Toy Guns” went too far, Argentina gets it right.  Sure, choosing a three-part song is kind of cheating, so if I had to choose a single part it would be the third.  Its grungy alt-rock chords of the chorus play nicely against the poppy verses.

10. Liars – Mask Maker.  Liars went all Justice-y on their most recent album and “Mask Maker” is the best melding of Angus Andrew’s droning vocals and electroclash.  The opening distorted vocalizations are so bizarre yet goofy, one can’t help but be drawn into this world of synthetic terrors.

9. Run the Jewels – Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1.  To call me a backpacker would be to give me too much credit with respect to hip hop knowledge, but there are some bad-ass songs I can’t help but play the heck out of.  I like bad-ass production in my rap and the thump and groan of the bass in “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1” more than satisfies this requirement.

8. Sophie – Lemonade.  Sophie shows us the strange intersection of bass music, wonky club music, and what would happen if you tried to put bubblegum through a percolator in “Lemonade.”  It’s hyperkinetic and bubbling to the point of boiling over.  “Lemonade” is the sound of pop eating itself, vomiting a rainbow, and then eating that (in a good way).

7. Run the Jewels – Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck).  You’d think that the sampled and re-cut vocal hook (“Run them jewels fast– run them– run them jewels fast”) would get tiresome after so many listens but nope.  It’s good to have some Zack De La Rocha back in our lives.  I know it’s cool to dislike Rage Against the Machine, but they produced some awesome stuff for the angry high schooler in all of us (again, I mean this in the best possible way!).

6. Panda Bear – Mr Noah.  “Mr Noah” is already much more memorable than most anything off of the last Animal Collective album.  Panda Bear has a way with using voice as an instrument and this song shows that off over an otherwise static layer of oscillating fuzz.

5. St. Vincent – Digital Witness.  Throw in a David Byrne verse and “Digital Witness” feels like it could have come straight off of Love This Giant.  The staccato brass is unceasingly catchy and St. Vincent’s “guitar as noise-maker” technique is perfect.  I also appreciate the sentiment of this track being rolled into her pre-concert anti-camera pronouncement.

4. Tacocat – Bridge to Hawaii.  With this great piece of surf rock, the delightfully named Tacocat dreams of a bridge from their native dreary Seattle to sunny Hawaii.  Also of note is their good-humored period piece “Crimson Wave.”

3. The War on Drugs – Red Eyes.  The relentless driving beat creates a sense of urgency throughout “Red Eyes,” while the reverb-drenched vocals pull the song into a dreamlike blur.

2. tUnE-yArDs – Water Fountain.  tUnE-yArDs and St. Vincent are my two must-see acts from this past year.  They’re very different; Merrill Garbus (and her backup singers!) spreads bright colors and humanity everywhere whereas Annie Clark possesses an art-rock austerity.

1. Ariel Pink – Black Ballerina.  “Black Ballerina” is possibly Ariel Pink’s funkiest song yet.  The bass line is undeniably fun and even the preposterous mid-song skit works.  The chorus is catchy and the incidental vocal clips and sweeps of guitar plucking fit together so well.  Because of this, it’s my song of the year.

Thanks for reading!

Arbitrary song of the day: Wish Mountain – Royal Wedding

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