Best Music of 2014

Top 50 Songs of 2014

on December 05, 2014, 12:00am
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It’s the first Friday of December, which means we’re a week into our 2014 Annual Report. But what better way to enjoy the weekend than with our Top 50 Songs of 2014? For this list, we handpicked the tracks that literally shook us this year — statements that not only captured the strengths of each respective artist, but the culture around them. Let’s just say the past 12 months have been pretty emotional.

Feel free to let us know what you think, including some tracks you’ll take into 2015 with you. Also, stay tuned as our 2014 Annual Report continues next week with our picks for Artist of the Year, Comedian of the Year, Band of the Year, Music Festival of the Year, and Top 50 Albums of the Year. For the following week, we’ll be heading to the theaters.

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buzzkiller Top 50 Songs of 201450. The Dead Weather – “Buzzkill(er)”

Jack White is one of the biggest rock stars in the world, yet you wouldn’t know it was him on “Buzzkill(er)” without paying close attention to the liner notes. White chooses to slink into the background, eschewing the spotlight and thus allowing singer Alison Mosshart to steal the show with her menacing vocals. Mosshart, in all of her usual glammy and blitzed glory, takes the listener on a slow prowl around the bowels of hell on this slice of Beefheart-inspired avant blues, which fits in perfectly with the rest of The Dead Weather’s repertoire. What’s more, it’s another solid entry in White’s personal discography and acts as indelible proof that the Third Man, who will be celebrating his 40th birthday next year, is not slowing down in the slightest. –Stevie Dunbar

Listen: Spotify | Rdio

Buy: Amazon

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restorationslp3 Top 50 Songs of 201449. Restorations – “Separate Songs”

LP3

If punk rock was a baby born in 1979, it has since grown into a grizzled 35-year-old with a drinking problem and no small amount of existential angst. Philadelphia’s Restorations specializes in this new brand of grown-up punk music. Of course, part of growing up is learning to embrace what you love. Here’s how singer Jon Loudon described the process behind “Separate Songs”: “We got to do all the things we like … heinous feedback, giant chorus, too many guitar solos.” All of the above are present on “Separate Songs”, and they add up to one of the year’s most enthralling tracks. Loudon employs his throaty bark to contemplate moving on from a long period of stasis: “Imagine not waiting for something to come along,” he shouts during the bridge. “Imagine going outside to hear the sweet sound of separate songs.” It’s a moving, introspective lyric, the likes of which you’d be hard-pressed to find in a punk song from the ’90s. Punk may be dead to some, but bands like Restorations prove that it just needs to be kicked awake every so often —Collin Brennan

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Buy: Amazon

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spooky black Top 50 Songs of 201448. Spooky Black – “Without U”

Should a 16-year-old Minnesota native be so adept at crafting delicate R&B? Probably not, but it’s 2014 and the Internet is both a playground and a library for the youth, and in some cases, we’re all better off because of it. Spooky Black’s “Without U” is arguably one of the strongest R&B tracks of the year, but you won’t hear too many people taking it seriously. The simultaneously soothing and unsettling track was paired with a music video that combined Spooky’s James Blake vibes with the Windows 98 aesthetic of Internet wunderkind Yung Lean, leaving Spooky Black in a confusing spot. Will he mature into a genre mainstay or will he fade into obscurity? I’m inclined to think this kid will be around for a while, already putting out some of the best R&B in recent memory and showing no signs of slowing down. –Pat Levy

Listen: Soundcloud

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disclosure-featuring-london-grammar-help-me-lose-my-mind-paul-woolford-remix47. Ariana Grande – “Problem”

My Everything

What’s a year-end list without a pop banger? Given its tight production and highly addictive nature, the hit single from music’s most prevalent pop pixie is the perfect one for the job. Ultimately, “Problem” deserves praise because all of its elements were perfectly groomed into one champion pop single. Audacious sax riffs, pristine vocals, a bouncy Iggy verse that actually adds to the song, and the universally known theme of still wanting that ex-someone regardless of the havoc he or she wreaks on your emotions make it a tour de force that’s nearly unbeatable by its pop counterparts. What’s more, Ariana Grande’s embellished vocals prove that she may very well rise as the next generation’s Mariah Carey, a frequently drawn comparison that she’s certainly aware of and tries to channel in her videos. Above all, “Problem” displays the most noteworthy characteristic of pop music in 2014: It’s dominated by women. –Danielle Janota

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Buy: Amazon

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ceg lose Top 50 Songs of 201446. Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Jackson”

LOSE

Even though Joseph D’Agostino’s voice often gets compared to Mac McCaughan’s, the similarity never crossed my mind until I read it in print. That’s because the two frontmen take completely opposite approaches to their songwriting, even when the subject matter is similar. For proof, look no further than both bands’ most recent albums (I Hate Music for Superchunk and LOSE for Cymbals Eat Guitars), both of which place a dead friend at their center. But where as McCaughan reflects on Dave Doernberg — an adult when he passed away, it’s worth pointing out — with empathetic joy, D’Agostino has a hard time connecting with his older memories of Benjamin High, who died when he was only 19 of heart disease. As a result, everything on opener “Jackson” has a sense of tired wanderlust, shifting from mournful piano to guitar bombast and back over six-plus minutes of trips to Great Adventure, fearing for your life in the pines, and other fading memories of adolescent New Jersey. This aimless sonic time-traveling questions why youth is so fleeting, and the answer, of course, is that there is no answer. No matter how much we talk about it, adolescence will always be just that: adolescence. A place that only exists in our past. A place we can never get back to. –Dan Caffrey

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Drake - Hold On, We're Going Home45. Hiss Golden Messenger – “Mahogany Dread”

Lateness of Dancers

When, on “Mahogany Dread”, Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor sings of how “the misery of love is a funny thing,” I can’t help but recall Irish scribe Samuel Beckett, who so famously assured us that “nothing is funnier than unhappiness.” Interpret it however you like, but I’ve always found such sentiments reassuring, a reminder that the best thing we can do in a dire situation is laugh. And the spritely organ that ripples through the coda of “Mahogany Dread” certainly sounds like laughter, bubbling up through strums and twangs that are only melancholy if you really want them to be. There’s no doubt that “Mahogany Dread” is one of Lateness of Dancers darker tracks, but that’s like saying “The Music Box” is one of the darker episodes of Little House on the Prairie. Yeah, there’s struggle here, but Taylor himself ushers us out with the assertion that “happy days are still ahead.” –Randall Colburn

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muppets most wanted Top 50 Songs of 201444. Bret McKenzie – “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)”

Muppets Most Wanted: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

In 2012, Bret McKenzie won his first Oscar for “Man or Muppet”, the hilariously existential anthem that propelled Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel’s much lauded Muppets reboot in 2011. For the film’s sequel, the Flight of the Conchords singer-songwriter toggled through some light FM and tapped into his inner Lionel Richie for “I’ll Get You Want You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)”, delivering a proper follow-up that could not only nab him another Oscar nomination but get everyone on the dance floor, too. This isn’t surprising. What always separated the Conchords from their comic peers was their ability to rise above the limitations of any traditional parody. They could make you laugh but ultimately win you over with familiar hooks and thoughtful lyrics. McKenzie has yet to abandon that formula — why should he? — and puts it to great use once again for Kermit & co. It’s the hit Chromeo never wrote — a song that could double as a theme for a villainous amphibian and a hearty first dance at a wedding. –Michael Roffman

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white lung deep fantasy Top 50 Songs of 201443. White Lung – “Drown with the Monster”

Deep Fantasy

Rather than try to outdo the mountainous menace of the doomy rock track backing her on “Drown with the Monster”, White Lung vocalist Mish Way takes a subtler approach. “The water looks good on you,” she repeats, while blithely pushing the object of her icy sneer under the surface. But from Way’s description of the song, she’s looking at herself: “It’s a song about my two biggest vices, but I’d rather drown with the monster than blow dry my wounds.” White Lung put out an unbelievable string of great tracks this year, but when it came to making a singular statement on an LP, they wisely chose “Drown with the Monster” to set the tone — and the dark, eerie track and Way’s explosive vocals do just that. –Adam Kivel

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alvvays Top 50 Songs of 201442. Alvvays – “Next of Kin”

Alvvays

Toronto indie pop outfit Alvvays burst onto the scene in 2012 but didn’t release an album until this July’s self-titled debut, a record that was truly a gift to the indie world for several reasons. Among those is the compact nature of the record, every song delicately mapped out without unnecessary frills or wasted space. “Next of Kin” stands out as the album’s best track, a succinct and hook-heavy song that displays exactly what this young band has going for them. The jangly guitar riff plays so well off Molly Rankin’s surprisingly romantic vocals about a friend drowning during a fun trip to the river. If they can put out such a dynamic, sugary pop song using that subject matter, there’s seemingly nothing this band can’t do. —Pat Levy

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sbr107 themen tomorrows hits 1440 Top 50 Songs of 201441. The Men – “Another Night”

Tomorrow’s Hits

Although 2014 saw plenty of great music, some feel there was a dearth of good ol’ high-quality rock. Perhaps that’s because some of the genre’s best was released way back in February. “Another Night” rings through with clear-eyed purity, the result of seven musicians in a studio together just “going for it,” as singer/guitarist Mark Perro put it. No overdubs, no canned sounds, just bloody-knuckled piano and a horn section all blaring together live, channeling E Street Band jubilation so well they could easily convince older fans the track was a long-lost B-side. Yet, at the same time, there’s the urgent modernity that The Men have become masters of as they devour genres and digest them through their instruments. It’s another example of how whenever you get that nagging feeling that people have forgotten how to rock ‘n’ roll, you can always count on The Men. –Ben Kaye

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