Here we go with Part 2 of the Best Songs list! You can find everything here in one convenient Spotify Playlist if you’d like. Thanks for listening and reading along. The Albums list comes next!
10. “I Miss Your Bones” by Hospitality – The main hook here must be the most complicated expression of 4/4 time to come from a power pop track. That intro is mesmerizing with its onetwothreefourfive snare eruption (guitar and bass right along in time, too) out of nothingness and driving right into the heard of the song.
Once you’re aboard with that sleight of hand, Hospitality are left to breathe. The meandering, quiet final half is maybe just as intoxicating as the opening. Less flashy, sure. In its place is a Spoon-like guitar and a hypnotic repetition of the title. “I miss your bones, I miss your bones, I miss your bones,” she sings over and over until you believe.
09. “Coffee” by Sylvan Esso – It’s all about the strange electronic pulsing and sparse bells. That’s the core of the song’s music, and such limitation is remarkable. “Coffee” seems just a note or two away from collapsing entirely, and the minimal construction pairs nicely with the unexpected instruments. Amelia Meath’s singing flows smooth atop the light sounds.
The song’s best moment comes in the final chorus, a victory lap with accordion-like hums changing the chord and giving a real sense of triumph. Meath coos, “Get up, get down,” and even I can’t help but dance along.
08. “Seasons (Waiting on You)” by Future Islands – Samuel Herring is the breathing, bleeding motor that drives this song. It’s a tale of hearts growing apart, a song of regret and facing reality. Herring admits in just the second line of the song, “I’ve grown tired trying to change for you.” He grapples with the situation, slowly coming to terms with what has happened. “When people change, they gain a piece but they lose one too.”
And then the chorus explodes, sending the drama and emotion to impossible levels. The synths turn up and Herring delivers an exasperated “As it breaks.” It all manages to work because the heart-on-sleeve is delivered without irony and the melancholy melody is so powerful.
07. “Carried Away” by Sloan – The best piece of pure pop this year manages strings, vocal harmonies, and an electric piano all in a tidy 3:36 without any sign of bloat. The melodic focus is impressive. Each instrument and every singer: all tuned in to deliver hook after hook, layer upon layer of shining pop perfection.
The proper story of the thing is a bit silly under closer inspection (a woman in love with two men, the song in the perspective on one of those men). Thankfully, something this catchy needn’t be wholly sensible. You simply can’t listen without the refrain sticking in your head.
06. “The Prince” by Model Village – “Mid-tempo indie rock song with folksy character” hardly sounds special on paper. British group Model Village manage to pull attention with a warmth of sound and message. The electric and acoustic guitars weave beautifully, a male and female voice take turns and then blend to powerful effect.
But you can say that about so much in indie folk rock. The key difference is the calm sincerity. The two voices sing together, “Drink a long draught / You are appreciated.” It’s the de facto repeating phrase, but doesn’t go for an attention-grabbing volume boost until the outro. It’s a curious song, peaceful and well worth your time.
05. “Rent I Pay” by Spoon – Rock. Freaking. Music. The attraction here is the confidence on display, perceived or otherwise. Britt Daniel is in prime form, hitting his smoky delivery at max energy. The guitars chug and ring, finding the sweet spot between REM-jangle and distorted noise. Jim Eno hits the drums with deafening force. The bass thumps along, moving in and out from rhythmic lockstep to accent work.
It’s all so familiar, and yet never done quite like this before. It’s that core tenant of Spoon greatest: the song is most certainly theirs, but tuned, tweaked, teased out to a new edge of existence. And like the best of Spoon? It’s incredible.
04. “Talking Backwards” by Real Estate – I first fell for Real Estate with “It’s Real,” a song exploring the honest joy of a relationship. “Talking Backwards” takes the spirit of that track and reverses the story. The singer opens by saying, “We can talk for hours,” but it doesn’t lead anywhere. “We’re not getting any closer.” It’s miles removed from the simplicity of love in 2011.
The defeated chorus is resigned, “I might as well be talking backwards.” With such change in tone, the similar musicianship gets new context. Before, the clean guitar supported the pure tale. “Backwards” pulls pain and regret from each chiming pluck, a sad song that rewards repeated listens (even if the mood drags down).
03. “Oxygen” by Swans – The longest pick on my Top 25 list is at once the most terrifying and vivifying song of the year. “Oxygen” compares favorable to a cross between an obelisk, a rabid bear, and a wizened old man. And I mean that all in the most positive sense. The whole thing feeds off the repeating drum figure, pounding into oblivion for the first 3 minutes. Guitars and bass feed and wrap around the thuds. All the while, Swans leader Michael Gira snarls and rants in the gaps, spouting off about the oxygen.
It’s a harrowing 3 minute song. And then the whole band changes attack, all landing their notes in consecutive sets of three, building and building for 15 bars. Then all the sound cuts out and Gira is left alone to shout, “Feed me now! I’ll steal all the oxygen!” It should be the showstopping finale, but Swans know better than us. They take the moment to swing back into the old drum figure, only louder, with dissonant horn, and louder more maniacal taunting from Gira. It drives to the ends of the earth and into this year’s top 3.
02. “Brill Bruisers” by The New Pornographers – The opener to the album of the same name is bliss on bliss on bliss that jumps out from the silence and never lets go. Part singalong, part shoutalong, part quiet reflection, “Brill Bruisers” sets an incredible tone for the newest New Pornographers album. More important in this list, the thing stands apart and towers over most other tracks from the year.
There are three essential parts to “Bruisers” that keep me coming back. The first: the thundering drums. Kurt Dahl (in his final New Pornographers appearance) continues his streak as the band’s hidden weapon. The pounding accents perfectly, giving the “boo-BAH” even greater impact. The second: the interweaving, harmonizing vocals. It’s a hallmark of so many New Pornographers songs, and this is no different. Calder, Case, Newman, and co are loud and energetic. It’s an infectious delivery, so much so that I find myself singing, shouting, and grinning along while “Bruisers” plays even just sitting in traffic.
The final, and most important element: Carl (AC) Newman. The lead Pornographer is the primary songwriter here and pulls out all the stops. The hooks are relentless, the driving style isn’t his fastest track but one of his most forward. Newman caps it off with his best lead parts. It is so good.
01. “Another Night” by The Men – “Another Night” and its double A-side companion “Different Days” don’t seem to do anything new. They track well-worn classic rock territory. It’s all here: stomping beat, barroom piano, rawking guitar, even a Springsteen sax line and brass. Put this on for your parents and I’m sure it’ll hit home with them.
And somehow, “Night” feels completely right now. Maybe it’s the noise of it all. The track isn’t cleaned up for radio. It sound just like a night with a beer in the smallest venue you know. It’s alive and shaking the dust off the beams above. Maybe it’s actually the horn parts. For long stretches of the song, they carry the melody and give off a raw windy power. Heck, I can’t help but gravitate to the relentless piano that starts the song. It’s there all along but never comes back so high in the mix again. None of that feels dated, it’s all the sort of sound I want in rock today.
The final piece that sets “Another Night” out of time is the story of the song. It’s a universal breakup story, nothing out of place yesterday, today, or tomorrow. The band wails, “I just can’t stand to stay another night. Been so long since we got it right.” And the final push away is the most nuanced, sad, and incendiary: “Darling don’t you worry, soon you’ll see / That this whole world just keeps on spinning without me.”
The soured caring, the humanity, the broad-reaching scope of the song’s style are all irresistable. “Another Night” is my favorite song of 2014.