It’s time for all that Year End Music stuff! 2014 was one of my favorite music years in recent memory, so I’m very excited to read about all the stuff I missed (and maybe there’s a chance you might see something good from me).
Here’s the start of my favorite songs list. Stick around sometime in the next month or so for Best Songs Part 2, the Best Albums List, and Best Live Show Moments.
The self-imposed rules for my Best Songs thing: tracks must be from 2014, only one song per group (artists may repeat if in different groups), and I’m electing to keep advance singles from early January full releases off the list (which leaves Sleater-Kinney and The Decemerists off if only so I’ll stop listening to them for five minutes. Not that you should stop).
(Also if you want to see my hockey writing, be sure to visit BS Hockey. I’m over there now!)
Here we go!
25. “Trainwreck 1979” by Death From Above 1979 – I missed the first go-around with DFA. I’m delighted to have this playing now. Angry guitars and singing with a touch of melodic sense? “Trainwreck” is stuck in my head all time time.
24. “Word Crimes” by Weird Al Yankovic – This could arguably be a cheater pick (the original song being that ubiquitous 2013 hit). I’m willing to bend the rules ever-so-slightly for this, the definitive version. The killer music video is also worth a look.
23. “Better Than It Ever Could Be” by The Preatures – Not the highest point for these Aussies. Still a wonderful piece of power pop with an explosive chorus. The lead female singer digging in at the title phrase and the U2-lite guitars are great fun.
22. “Happy Idiot” by TV on the Radio – The drum beat is propulsive and paranoid and shows TVotR taking a successful step in an electronic direction. The guitar line just below the surface is the best detail in a dense song.
21. “Little Killer” by Merchandise – It’s hard to picture an anthem with low-mix (near-mumble) singing, but here we are anyway. That big opening guitar lick repeats over and over, and the eventual “little killer” line hits almost like a proper refrain would. Pump your fist anyway!
20. “Get Well” by Nothing – Picture the best of shoegaze (insane guitar distortion, near-whisper vocals). Now give it a clear verse-chorus with a memorable refrain sound. This economical song somehow overcomes that contradiction of style, balancing hook and noise. Nothing even grafts a coda breakdown (complete with closing solo that fits the overall style). It’s a satisfying way to dabble in art pop.
19. “Red Eyes” by The War on Drugs – I’m not sold on The War on Drugs (put me squarely in the “this is mostly boring meandering stuff” camp), with this as the main exception. “Red Eyes” breaks through the slow (aimless) burn by hitting a speed boost, introducing energized (if still unintelligible) singing, and repeating a great melodic figure throughout.
18. “Happy Alone” by Saintseneca – The big dark bass sound is the draw here, generating an irresistible atmosphere from the outset. Vocal harmonies and the occasional synth breakdown build a strange frame work for the solitude. The answer, of course, this the idea implied in the lyrics. There is no desolation in this song, nailing the “happy” part of this band’s “alone.”
17. “Void (feat. Liz Harris)” by The Bug – This is the sound of paranoia and claustrophobia. “Void” is desperately uncomfortable, a trait that somehow makes it intoxicating. When the pounding beat picks up it strikes deep. The ethereal semi-singing floats above the surface, between being there and sliding away. The whole thing ends up burrowing deep in your brain, just deep enough you’ll forget it’s there. Hours later, the song replays in the mind and you’ll realize just how beautiful terror can be.
16. “Warning” by Cymbals Eat Guitars – The best song on a very good album is a showcase for the guitar work of Cymbals Eat Guitars. “Warning” roars to life right away and never gives up its attack. The brief breaks only serve to heighten the emotion in the singing as the words echo about. And beneath all that gruff exterior is a pop song waiting for your love. Just wait for the drum fill to carry you into the refrain. It’s a giddy moment in a song full of energy.
15. “Haxel Princess” by Cherry Glazerr – Fuzzed out guitars are much better when given a direction and a sense of swagger. “Haxel” hits both traits in spades thanks to a slightly swung rhythm and a confident lead singer. The song is best heard as loud as possible, possibly on the biggest speakers or best headphones you have. The warm tones are all the more welcoming that way.
14. “Hotel” by The Antlers – I adore the desperation seeping from the soul of “Hotel.” The pained coo of the vocal delivery and the off-kilter drum pattern build the base. From there, perfect trumpets form a surprising center, sounding of regret instead of heralding some kind of success. “Hotel” explores balance between the past and future self, creating a lyrical tension (what has been done vs what can be) that matches the music’s mood.
13. “Glory” by Wye Oak – “Glory” starts with an assured drum, guitar, and bass, an enjoyable bit that could last well past its 1:28 and be worth a listen. Then the whole thing suddenly veers off the path, flipping the sound sideways to inject new synth noise and different singing. From here Wye Oak are not content to sit still. The band pokes and prods, deconstructing the core of the song to delightful effect. Somehow the more difficult path makes the performance more interesting.
12. “Romance and Adventure” by Allo Darlin’ – It’s so easy to fall for a song this bouncy and alive. Even considering the instruments alone, “Romance” has enough to merit mention. The picked guitars and brushed drums dance along pleasantly in your ears. Add in the wonderful singing, the first-person tale of a woman’s love, returning to her lover’s arms? Now we’re talking pop perfection in under 3 minutes.
11. “Alexandra” by Hamilton Leithauser – Leithauser’s voice was a key weapon with The Walkmen. His vocals were a sneering, near-screaming force that gave aim to the roiling guitars. On his solo debut you won’t mistake the voice for any other (the throat is the same, after all). The change is in the aggression. Leithauser’s energy is now directed in a warmer way. “I’m always thinking of you,” he tells the song’s namesake. The infectious stomp and peaceful multi-voice refrain (“Alexandra, Alexandra”) are quite a departure from the man behind “The Rat,” and it’s a shift that works.