Year End Music Countdowns #13: 2014


We’re all adults here, right? If you aren’t, what are you doing on my blog, you weird baby? Get out of here! Go back to weirdbabycentral dot com.

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 MoonFoster 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.

Hesitant Alien

24. Action CatGerard 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 CaughtKevin DrewBroken Social Scene frontman’s understated new record is free from that band’s shambolic, raucous clutter, with more heartfelt lyrics to boot. 

House Of Spirits

22. Bells of PaoniaThe 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. FractalsKeep Shelly in AthensThe 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. 

Hold My Home

20. FirstCold War KidsA 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. 

This Is All Yours

19. Every Other Frecklealt-JThe 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.

It All Might Be OK - EP

18. Got To My HeadWATERSThere’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 MeAlvvaysToronto’s biggest buzz band of 2014 deserve all the accolades they get, with their power pop style uncompromising in its authenticity.

Built On Glass

16. Talk is CheapChet 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 IslandsIt 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.

Ryan Adams

14. Gimme Something GoodRyan AdamsAmerica’s most underrated singer-songwriter unsurprisingly releases another great record, with a first single that sounds like a classic rock radio staple. 


13. VetoSOHNUnjustly 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.  

Brill Bruisers

12. Brill BruisersThe New PornographersCompletely 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.

Love Letters

11. I’m AquariusMetronomyA 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

 Dark Arc

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.


9. Rude (Zedd Remix)- MAGIC!

 Rude - Single (Zedd Remix)

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.


8. Sailing- Leisure Cruise

 Sailing - Single

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.


7. A Sky Full Of Stars- Coldplay

 Ghost Stories

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.


6. I Wanna Get BetterBleachers

 Strange Desire

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.


5. Forever (Giorgio Moroder Remix)HAIM

 Forever - Single

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.


4. Without You (The Rebirth)Dillon Francis feat. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs

Without You (Remixes)

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.


3. Wildest DreamsRLMDL

 Bilingual EP

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.


2. Red EyesThe War on Drugs

 Lost in the Dream

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….

1. All the Rage Back HomeInterpol

 El Pintor

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:

This Is All Yours

10. [This Is All Yours]- alt-J (Choice Cuts: “Every Other Freckle”, “The Gospel of John Hurt”, “Left Hand Free”)  

They Want My Soul

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”)

Ghost Stories

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”)  

Happiness Is

3. [Happiness Is…]- Taking Back Sunday–  (Choice Cuts: “Nothing At All”, “They Don’t Have Any Friend”, “Better Homes and Gardens”) 

Ryan Adams

2. [Ryan Adams]- Ryan Adams (Choice Cuts: “Gimme Something Good”, “My Wrecking Ball”, “Kim”)   

El Pintor


[El Pintor]- Interpol (Choice Cuts: “All the Rage Back Home”, “My Desire”, “Everything is Wrong”)



Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 1.00.44 AM

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!

Lorde of the Rings

afqcomic189 LORDErings

When they inevitably remake the Lord of the Rings series after the Hobbit’s wrapped up, here’s a bit of inspired casting.

Ok no but serious, you think now that the Hobbit‘s done, New Line is going to let a moneymaker like the Middle Earth franchise go?? I guarantee you a Silmarillion adaptation is being planned. It’ll be a Maleficent inspired trilogy about the untold origin of Sauron, his relationship with Morgoth, his uprising and rule, and his downfall. Teenage Gandalf and teenage Saruman will be bffs and fight against him.



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IFL Science and Perceived Exceptionalism

So today humanity made a remarkable achievement you may not have heard about: a spacecraft landed on the surface of a comet.

Just kidding! Of course you heard about it. Everyone with access to even the most basic online news sources has heard about it because it is HEADLINE NEWS.

Screen shot 2014-11-12 at 2.57.29 PM

Ridiculous post, but OK, let’s give this person exactly the response they want to hear.

“LOL becuz most people are talking about Kim Kardashian’s butt!! You are the only smart person you know and you are so far above everyone else. The world is ignoring this, especially America becuz America hates that a dirty EUROPEAN agency achieved something LMAO. You are such a cool smart nerd for caring about this obscure development!! Bazinga 4 life!!”

Never mind the fact that three of the top trending hashtags on Twitter relate to this same story, all major news outlets have been following it, and it is also the top trending story on Facebook.

As much as I personally dislike when people get invested in topics simply to fit in with everyone else, I recognize that a need to belong is a human instinct and berating them for doing it reeks of the same haughty attitude I’m criticizing. I’m not saying “GTFO you are not a TRUE fan, poser!!”

But the perceived exceptionalism people develop just because they posted a link is intellectually dishonest, and not restricted to scientific stories.

You are not a special snowflake for jumping on the bandwagon of a viral story that everyone is talking about. You are not a special snowflake for linking to a Buzzfeed thinkpiece about gender roles in Disney movies. You were not a special snowflake when you dumped a bucket of water over your head and you were certainly not a special snowflake when you changed your profile picture to “Stop Kony 2012“.

You are “caring” without caring. If you don’t think something valid is a big enough issue in the world, get out of your chair and go and MAKE it an issue in the real world.

Thursday Thinkpiece: Is Music Dying?

Is Music Dying?

Yes, it is.

If you came to find that out but don’t feel like wading through a meandering thinkpiece, there’s your answer, now get out of here.


Music, both as a commodity and as an art form, is dying. A contentious statement, for sure, and easily misconstrued as sensationalist clickbait. The unavoidable truth however, is that popular music as a modern entity is now not only far beyond being lucrative, it is on its last legs as a legitimate creative medium. It’s not simply a lull in the cycle, it’s a total breakdown brought on by a multitude of factors, including streaming music and the revival market. Oh, and the fact that mainstream music sucks nowadays- but we’ll get to that later.


Recorded music sales have been in an indisputable decline for years, but nobody really cared that it had actually gotten pretty bad. HMV now values books and video games over  music. Big box stores like Best Buy have relegated their entire music section to a small section about 10 feet wide. Where there were once aisles of different genres available, now every CD is grouped together in one poorly stocked, shadowy corner of the store. Tim McGraw, Beethoven, Slipknot, and Lady Gaga all share the same shelf.

The inevitable Music: The Movie franchise.

Of course this is a slightly quaint argument, well-traversed by Metallica nearly 14 years ago when Napster reared its catlike head. However now the fact is taken apathetically rather than with any sort of outrage. Apple recently discontinued the once iconic iPod classic, a story that was overshadowed by people complaining “why is U2 on my PHONE??”. Devices solely devoted to playing just music are no longer a hot commodity. They’re barely a commodity at all.

Music itself just isn’t worth owning anymore. Not when streaming allows for anyone to have any song, ever, at any time. The youth market is now dominated by people, coincidentally enough, born in the year 2000- when Napster arose. These tweens and teens grew up in a time of mp3s, file-sharing, and torrents. Now that they are of age to be consumers, they don’t see recorded music as something you pay for. That is just not a possibility in their minds, not when their older siblings have been downloading free music for their whole life.

It was only this past month in fact that doomsayers such as myself were vindicated when it was revealed that not a single album in 2014 has hit Platinum certification.* I of course, had been saying this for months.

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 1.00.44 AM

It’s a little baffling as to why people didn’t see this coming. The summer of 2014 was the first ever to be missing its own anthem. Not a single song broke into cultural omnipresence, despite intense lobbying for Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”. **

Sorry, almost but not quite.

There was no Song of the Summer 2014. There just wasn’t. No Blurred Lines/Call Me Maybe/Super Bass/Poker Face/Umbrella.

meghan trainor all about that bass
Congrats, Ms. Trainor. 2014 music is all about your bass.

Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” has come close to zeitgeist levels, but it’s still not a bona fide smash hit. There have been only two songs that have hit the stratosphere in 2014…and they’re both songs from 2013. Frozen ballad “Let it Go” and Pharrell’s “Happy” are the sole offerings from the music industry ingrained in the public consciousness so far this calendar year.

But what if we were to set sales and careers aside? Even if the notion of an album has become antiquated, shouldn’t there still be a smattering of big singles? Yes, except for one simple problem: most popular artists just don’t have good music anymore.

It seems like a subjective stance, held by out-of-touch traditionalists clutching their “real” instruments and sepia-toned Rolling Stone photographs, but can you really argue it? Most songs deigned as hits nowadays have choruses that are flat and flavourless (see: Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”, Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven”, almost anything by Imagine Dragons) or entirely non-existent (see: 90% of EDM songs where the build-up leads to nowhere). Because music has become so devalued and easily produced, no effort is being put into songs pushed by the music industry. Why should they bother, when the returns are so minimal? It’s a hit-and-miss kamikaze mission. Throw out any repetitive loop, a I-III-V chord structure, and a lazy melodic hook (the two most overused sound either like ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down”…or the theme from Shrek)  and hope that something will stick in the public’s ears.  

Imagine Dragons with friend
Interesting that an anagram for Imagine Dragons is “Managed Origins”.

A common strategy that’s been pushed hard in recent years is the piggyback technique, where an industry-approved “rising star” is featured on tracks of established recording artists until they finally become a household name. It worked extraordinarily well with Nicki Minaj, somewhat with Ariana Grande, and bombed spectacularly with Skylar Grey, one of the biggest failures in recent history.

Legitimate stars are increasingly rare, in part because of the public’s short attention span, but also because the industry doesn’t allow for growth. It’s been streamlined so the focus is on a select few lucky performers, with a few minor players being swapped in and out each year and foisted upon us as genuine stars. (See: Ed Sheeran, 5 Seconds of Summer, Fifth Harmony, Emblem 3, Austin Mahone, Cody Simpson). Doted upon by the teen twitterverse but not really adding any sort of value to music or culture whatsoever. None of these acts are going to leave any sort of legacy, musical or otherwise. Not only do they leave minimal impact during their time on the charts, but none stick to a defined “sound” that they can claim as their own. Everyone can be lumped into one generic glob of genre.

Making matters worse is the fact that the industry peddles this faceless sound. Songs are written by one core team of evil producers (among them Ryan Tedder, Red One, Dr. Luke, Max Martin) and these are mixed and matched to whichever star they want to have a good year. Avril Lavigne, Pink, Katy Perry, Daughtry, Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna- they’re all drawing from the same pool of recycled filler.

This is not to say that there aren’t talented acts still left out there. There’s an abundance of artists in every genre with great ideas. They’re just not profitable. Kanye West released what was hailed as his creative apex in 2013 with his album “Yeezus”…off which not one charted.

So what’s happened to music in the public eye then?

is this music?

It’s a relic. Fortunately for music the rest of the media world is obsessed with nostalgia now, so in terms of sales it can latch onto that for at least a few years. Vinyl records are selling extraordinarily well because of this perceived cultural cachet, and legacy acts are doing very well live due to this as well. The wave is still fairly strong- classic rock acts are still touring and baby boomers are coming out in droves to see them, so any band from the 60s until the early 2000s have a safety net ready as long as their old fans are still around.

Newer bands can also find solace in performing live, as it will at least get them some money in the bank, if not any lasting success. Simply put, people want something to do and concerts are sometimes that something. Major festivals are even more of a something to do and millennials will come out regardless of who’s playing, if only to #document what they’ve been up to this summer. So chin up, local electro-ska outfit, you’ll have an audience for an hour or so at each gig.

these guys will like you for as long as the molly’s around

So what next? Probably more of the same. Fewer and fewer stars, more emphasis on the established ones. Music acts concerned more with developing a “brand” rather than music; being known for antics and personal drama instead of songs they play (see: Kanye West). 

One Direction are more of a brand than a band and can live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Some bands will be lucky enough to gain a cult following. The music industry itself is done for, shrinking exponentially every year. Once the nostalgia craze fades away there will be very little left to promote. Music will be just a side-note, and the notion of it being useful on its own merits will be laughable. It will obviously always play a part in other mediums, but by itself it will be considered pointless.

And people won’t care.

*- Taylor Swift just managed to score the (so far) only platinum record of the year, in the first week of November.

**- “Turn Down For What” has become a fairly large earworm/social phenomenon, but it’s mostly just the one line that people repeat. I’m not even sure who it’s by, just that Lil’ Jon is in there yelling.