For the adults, I’m gonna be straight with you: it’s getting harder and harder to find good music. Aside from the reliable January, May, and September release windows, quality tunes are few and far between. 2013 was particularly dire, and 2014 took some intense scouring to find audio gold.
Basically what I’m saying is, you better appreciate this cuz it took some crazy prospecting to unearth all these.
The Top 25 Songs of 2014
25. A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon– Foster the People — Their sophomore record was a challenging listen, but ultimately satisfying. The easy, occasionally lazy hooks of Torches are nowhere to be found on Supermodel, but swirling psychedelia and a definite vision are.
24. Action Cat– Gerard Way — Most solo projects nowadays, particularly those of commercially successful rockers, tend to go in two directions: folk-pop and electro. So it was a nice surprise to find that My Chemical Romance’s former frontman went down neither of those avenues and instead went full 90’s with his first solo record. A little shoegaze can be heard in this first single as well.
23. You Got Caught– Kevin Drew — Broken Social Scene frontman’s understated new record is free from that band’s shambolic, raucous clutter, with more heartfelt lyrics to boot.
22. Bells of Paonia– The Fresh & Onlys — A verdant, sprawling track with almost no rhythm section, this song coasts along on a wash of massive, melancholic guitars that buoy the downcast lyrics.
21. Fractals– Keep Shelly in Athens — The Greek duo’s melodic approach to synth-pop has yielded nothing but sterling singles up to now, with this fourth offering featuring an extended shimmering keyboard outro.
20. First– Cold War Kids — A combination of Band of Horses’ cyclical guitar hooks and Imagine Dragons’ stomp-pop, Cold War Kids follow a great 2013 record with another surprise crowd pleaser.
19. Every Other Freckle– alt-J — The fantastically weird UK band tightened their focus on their sophomore release, reining in their every-instrument-ever approach for a more accessible record that at once sounds diverse and cohesive.
18. Got To My Head– WATERS — There’s a rare immediacy to this song, heard particularly as singer Van Pierszalowski launches into a loud yelp by the third line. It’s almost as if he can’t wait to get to the huge finale of the song where all the hooks converge in a giant high-five party.
17. Archie, Marry Me– Alvvays — Toronto’s biggest buzz band of 2014 deserve all the accolades they get, with their power pop style uncompromising in its authenticity.
16. Talk is Cheap– Chet Faker — Australian loopsmith Nick Murphy’s chilled out jams carve their own niche in the indie R&B scene and this one is a great representative of his sultry style.
15. Seasons (Waiting on You)– Future Islands — It was a pretty good year for Sam T. Herring and crew, becoming a meme on Letterman and scoring the #1 spot on Pitchfork’s Top 100 Tracks of the Year with this song. It seems people have finally caught onto the band’s strong songwriting and Herring’s unique voice, which has only gotten more visceral as the years have gone by.
14. Gimme Something Good– Ryan Adams — America’s most underrated singer-songwriter unsurprisingly releases another great record, with a first single that sounds like a classic rock radio staple.
13. Veto– SOHN — Unjustly shunned by the hipster elite, Vienna-based SOHN is another solid competitor in the indie R&B scene. Smoother than Active Child but not as decadent as the Weeknd, he specializes in cold, sterile atmospheres that evoke strong emotions while remaining sonically chilly.
12. Brill Bruisers– The New Pornographers — Completely unshackled by modern trends, “Brill Bruisers” is a song that could have existed at any time in the past two decades and sounded fresh. It lives up to its name, a muscular alt-rock jam in a climate where most acts don’t dare crank their guitars past 5.
11. I’m Aquarius– Metronomy — A sinister, brooding take on doo-wop, “I’m Aquarius” is a strangely hypnotic throwback that burrows itself into your brain with its two hooks and leaves you wanting to repeat it in order to find more dark secrets in its lyrics and analog hiss.
10. Visions- Saintseneca —
It’s a criminal offense that in 2014 the most popular “folk” acts are wimps who gently strum their ukeleles and banjos and sing aural pablum about Michelle Pfeiffer. Saintseneca are folk with guts. They’re bombastic and a little off-centre, like a scuzzier version of The Decemberists. “Visions” is pounding folk-punk, and in a just world would be the topmost representative of the genre on mainstream channels.
Most popular EDM songs nowadays get at least one thing wrong; most choruses are boring, or repetitive, or anti-climactic. Sometimes there isn’t even a chorus! This song is the rare exception that gets absolutely everything right. Starting off by taking an already endlessly melodic song, Zedd slaps a full-throttle beat and an even catchier synth hook on the chorus. He then does something rare and doesn’t kill the chorus momentum with stop-start backing synths. He then does something even rarer and puts lyrics over the second part of the chorus! It’s fan service of the best kind, resulting in a song that is a genuine candy-coated rush of adrenaline.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Leisure Cruise are from Australia or New Zealand. The prickly guitars, sprightly vocals, and sun-splashed melody sound like they’ve arrived straight from the Gold Coast. They’re actually from New York, and the band was inspired to form by a HURRICANE. It’s a wonderful ironic contrast to the boundless joy the song exalts.
Critics lambasted Coldplay for “selling out” with this song, produced by Avicii, but the truth is that it’s still essentially a Coldplay song. Tweak it slightly and it would fit on any of their other records; an acoustic version wouldn’t sound out of place on their debut Parachutes. They’ve always had a fascination with the celestial, most evident on 2005’s X & Y, all they’ve done here is dressed up their wide-eyed, widescreen yearning in a hip modern outfit. It happens to fit them very well.
When was the last time you heard a genuine guitar solo in a pop hit? Chances are it was probably Jack Antonoff’s other band, fun. He’s got one in here too and, for lack of a better phrase, it totally rules. Antonoff is the kind of guy who gets both rock and pop conventions and although he leans heavily towards the latter he incorporates as many Springsteen-isms (along with a vaguely Talking Heads-ish chorus) as he can into his craft. It’s an 80’s melody in a decidedly non-80’s song, an unabashed celebration of straightforward kitschy pop with rock sprinkled in at just the right moments.
Leave it to Moroder to effortlessly channel his inimitable style into a low-key indie track and make it sound completely natural, as if this is how the song had always existed. The earth-shaking piano stabs and vocoder are Moroder trademarks but coexist with HAIM’s guitar chug without any problems. The new disco drum track and soaring keyboards filling in the empty space of the sparse original, and the arrangement ends up bringing the melody to the heights it deserved.
Usually when an artist records a song, that’s it. They’re done with it, and it’s up to others to give it a remix. So if the song is good up until a point and then screws up, we as listeners are forever stuck with a disappointed feeling of a wasted opportunity. Dillon Francis himself took control here, realizing that the original “Without You” was good but lacked drive, and recreated it to give us a song that delivers on all cylinders. It’s a full-fledged concise pop EDM banger, better than every other Top 40 dance hit out there. The hook alone puts Avicii’s entire last underwhelming record to shame, and hopefully gets Francis on songwriting and production duty in the upper echelons of the industry.
Toronto’s most popular bands all sound nearly exactly the same: like a jangly, whimsical, upbeat Target commercial. So it’s comforting to hear that there are a few artists in the Big Smoke that break from that tradition. RLMDL is a one-man project that doesn’t really sound like what anybody else is doing. “Wildest Dreams” is simultaneously glacial and balmy, with swaths of deep January synths meeting a voice pillowed in July reverb. It also carries the unmistakeable spirit of Toronto in its blue-hued keyboards and rattling hi-hats. Sure, it’s Toronto 1984 as opposed to Toronto 2014, but it’s hard not to imagine the project’s mastermind Jordan Allen being influenced by the city’s industrial waterfront and flashy entertainment district. Look out for this one, Canada.
The general consensus among the music journalism community: this is, hands down, the best rock song of the year. And that’s an important distinction to make in 2014 where everyone is trying everything and genre crossovers are ubiquitous. This is not a pop rock song, it is not indie rock, hard rock, folk rock, psychedelic rock, or wizard rock. This is unadulterated rock music that contains Adam Granduciel’s heart and soul; a tumbling, effusive celebration of life itself.
And my favorite song of 2014 is….
After having their 2010 self-titled album critically mangled and losing their bassist, Paul Banks and company took a bit of a breather and dropped out of the spotlight.
They came back this year with the best song they’ve ever written.
A dark, sleek post-punk anthem, it gallops along on an uncompromising rhythm section, powering relentlessly even through the bridge where most songs would reprise a drumless intro. The bass and drums are in lockstep with each other, a tense partnership that proves Paul Banks fills Carlos D’s shoes pretty well. It all culminates with the percussion suddenly getting louder, then ebbing away like the waves in the song’s video, pulling the song out to sea and fading to black. It’s a genial touch and proves that in the end, Interpol were the best band that came out of the early-00’s NY revival.
The 10 Best Albums of 2014 –
Here are the most well-rounded efforts taken into consideration as a whole piece of work:
10. [This Is All Yours]- alt-J (Choice Cuts: “Every Other Freckle”, “The Gospel of John Hurt”, “Left Hand Free”)
9. [They Want My Soul]- Spoon (Choice Cuts: “Outlier”, “New York Kiss”, “Let Me Be Mine”)
8. [Turn Blue]- The Black Keys (Choice Cuts: “Fever”, “In Time”, “Bullet in the Brain”)
7. [48:13]- Kasabian (Choice Cuts: “Stevie”, “Bow”, “Doomsday”)
6. [Singles]- Future Islands (Choice Cuts: “Seasons (Waiting on You)”, “Spirit”, “Like the Moon”)
5. [Ghost Stories]- Coldplay (Choice Cuts: “A Sky Full of Stars”, “Another’s Arms”, “Oceans”)
4. [Supermodel]- Foster the People (Choice Cuts: “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon”, “The Truth”, “Pseudologia Fantastica”)
3. [Happiness Is…]- Taking Back Sunday– (Choice Cuts: “Nothing At All”, “They Don’t Have Any Friend”, “Better Homes and Gardens”)
2. [Ryan Adams]- Ryan Adams (Choice Cuts: “Gimme Something Good”, “My Wrecking Ball”, “Kim”)
1. ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
[El Pintor]- Interpol (Choice Cuts: “All the Rage Back Home”, “My Desire”, “Everything is Wrong”)
THE WORST OF 2014
What do you criticize when there’s nothing to criticize? As I’ve made perfectly clear, popular music isn’t in the greatest shape. I guess the most annoying trend this year was that there was no trend. A few artists tried to copy Pharrell’s “Happy”, with its 60’s throwback sound (“All About That Bass”, “Shake it Off”, “Bang Bang”), but there was no unifying 2014 theme. There wasn’t even a song of the summer!
There were, however, a lot of blatant corporate attempts at “big events” this year:
– Iggy Azalea’s various squabbles and public image.
– The indie rock Frankenstein that is “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors, a sickening menage of every commercial twee cliche there is.
– Nicki Minaj’s controversial lyrics and videos.
– Ariana Grande’s entire career, but more specifically, the desperate grab at a gimmicky hit song that was “Problem”.
– The engineered “love-to-hate-it” faux-outrage about that “Selfie” song.
– Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift’s hollow re-inventions.
All of these embarrassingly obvious ploys were utterly bereft of any semblance of naturally occurring popularity. It’s a sad display of the industry fumbling to create buzz without anything buzzworthy. They’re shoving these various stories into our faces screaming:
“Whoa! Look how EDGY Taylor Swift is now!”
“Whoa! Nicki Minaj used NAZI imagery in her video!”
“Whoa! Don’t you just HATE that Selfie song!”
There are just no big names anymore. The only legitimate event album of the year was Taylor Swift’s 1989. As far as big songs go, the Grammy nominees for Record/Song of the Year are essentially……the only songs people will remember from 2014. A measly 5-6 tunes, only one of which (“All About That Bass”) reached collective consciousness. Sad.
A few miscellaneous grumpy notes:
– Our Lady Peace tried to channel Modest Mouse/Passion Pit about 10 years too late and made a song so completely out of touch that the drummer left the band. The song was so bad it barely received any airplay. It was a trainwreck!
– Indie powerhouse TuNe-YaRds (or however you stylize it) had a chance for a breakthrough album and……totally blew it. Obnoxious lead single “Water Fountain” instantly killed all hype around the record.
– Pharmakon made what is perhaps the best example of “2 kool 4 skool” noise that people associate with unlistenable hipster drivel with the song “Bestial Burden”. It’s Yoko Ono level bad.
And that is that! Thanks for reading!