Top Ten Songs of 2014
Hope you enjoy our feature on our favorite songs of 2014 – a list that, we hope, holds a little something for everyone, from the perfect guitar pop of Mac DeMarco to the epic panic of Swans to the blitzkrieg hip-hop of Run the Jewels. Here’s a link to a playlist so you can listen while you read.
Bonus Tracks – Worthy songs that didn’t crack the top ten.
The Antlers: “Palace” – Stirring, horn-laden opener to Familiars
Caribou: “Can’t Do Without You” – Domestic contentment via restless dance crecendo
Angel Olsen: “Dance Slow Decades” – Quietly epic centerpiece to Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Run the Jewels: “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” – El-P’s relentless production and Killer Mike’s mesmerizing verses
Wye Oak: “Shriek” – Lush electronic balladry from former guitar rockers
And the Top Ten:
10. Rubblebucket – “Carousel Ride”
New York art-funk collective Rubblebucket are a well-regarded live act, but their albums have tended to fly under the radar. This year, people missed “Carousel Ride,” one of the year’s most celebratory songs about professional atrophy – personal frustration recast as a horn bleating, drum pounding festival.
9. Owen Pallett – “The Riverbed”
Though he’s best known as a the go-to violin player for indie-rock royalty like The National and Arcade Fire (and his Oscar nomination for his beguiling score to Her), Owen Pallett has been a prolific solo artist both as Final Fantasy and under his own name. The highlight of this year’s In Conflict is this massive, propulsive master-class in musical arrangement.
8. TV on the Radio – “Trouble”
Seeds is a deeply uneven record, with some of TV on the Radio’s least compelling songs clustered in the middle. That being said, the record’s beginning and end feature some of their greatest songs – especially the penultimate “Trouble.” Dave Sitek’s glorious arrangement highlights vocalists Tunde Adibempe and Kyp Malone’s spine tingling harmonies in a song whose lyrics convey defiant optimism in the face of overwhelming struggle.
7. Perfume Genius – “Fool”
The vocal driven, percussion-less middle section of Perfume Genius’ “Fool” is the most startling, most unexpectedly transcendent stretch in any song this year. The track begins as a tasteful, adult-contemporary ballad before becoming completely untethered with Mike Hadreas’ plaintive, Sigur Ros-esque wail swallowing everything in its wake. Then we crash back into a galloping doo-wop finale. A mini-symphony.
6. Ty Segall – “Feel”
Restless garage revivalist Ty Segall has been on a tear lately, releasing several albums a year, becoming a Jack White-esque figure for the next generation of long haired rock fans. Manipulator is his most considered, polished record to date – which is not to say any of Segall’s energy is lost on this record. If anything, “Feel” is as close as a Segall studio recording has come to capturing his live fury. Over a driving bassline, Segall’s wailing guitar builds to an impressive, head-banging crescendo. The brat can play.
Note – this song isn’t available on Rdio. Check it out here.
5. Swans – “Just a Little Boy (For Chester Burnett)”
Over the course of its two-plus hour run-time (!), Swans’ phenomenal To Be Kind shakes the rafters on multiple occasions. But its best track is its quietest – “Just a Little Boy” patiently founders, like Nick Cave in a painkiller haze, until Michael Gira’s pinched wail of “I’m just a little boy” is greeted by a genuinely upsetting non-sequitor of crowd laughter. This is pure, distilled humiliation – like the memory of your first public embarrassment baring its ugly face in the present. And then Gira’s crazed howl of “I need looooove,” another round of laughter, and a wall of feedback. No other song set a dire mood as effectively as “Just a Little Boy” in 2014.
4. Mac Demarco – “Let Her Go”
I don’t know if anyone else crafted as many enduring hooks as Mac Demarco this year – “Let Her Go” is the best song on Salad Days, a record stocked with great singles. What makes “Let Her Go” stand out is its sheer effortlessness – that watery guitar, that rolling bassline, that instantly infectious chorus which smacks you in the face right away and doesn’t relinquish your attention for a perfect three minutes. Demarco apparently penned much of Salad Days in a post-tour bout of exhaustion – that weary resignation and odd bliss that comes with it bursts forth in every moment of “Let Her Go.”
3. Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
So much has been written about “Seasons” – that insane performance on Letterman, the revival of sincerity in indie-rock, lead singer Samuel Harring as normcore icon – that I don’t feel like I have anything to add to the conversation. What we have here, simply, is a perfect synth-pop song. The soaring melody already feels timeless. This is a song that people will be unabashedly belting out at parties, karaoke bars and in their showers next year, in five years and in twenty years.
2. The War on Drugs – “An Ocean Beneath the Waves”
People that dismiss The War on Drugs as classic rock mimics channeling Dire Straits and The Boss (I’m looking at you, Mark Kozelek) are denying themselves the in-the-moment experience of a new, great American rock band at their peak. Songwriter/bandleader Adam Granduciel has elevated and transformed classic rock tropes into something breathlessly modern. In “An Ocean Beneath the Waves,” a drum machine is swapped almost imperceptibly for a live drummer as the track builds and crests over the course of seven captivating minutes, climaxing in a thrilling guitar-led coda. No song inspired me to break the speed limit more in 2014 than this one.
1. Cloud Nothings – “I’m Not a Part of Me”
Cloud Nothings’ breathless, furious Attack on Memory was my favorite album of 2012 by a long shot. So it’s no small praise when I say “I’m Not Part of Me,” the final song on their new record Here and Nowhere Else, is the best song the band has written. Bandleader Dylan Baldi evokes 90s rock icons like Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. without ever feeling derivative – “I’m Not Part of Me” is both an ass-kicking rock track and a perfectly written chorus-verse-chorus pop song. For me, more than any other tune in 2014, this song landed as a classic, and grabs my undivided attention every time I spin it.