Best Music of 2014

Top 50 Songs of 2014

on December 05, 2014, 12:00am
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isaiah rashad cilvia demo e1390925420411 Top 50 Songs of 201440. Isaiah Rashad – “Heavenly Father”

Cilvia Demo

In October 2013, three months before releasing his first official project, Chattanooga-bred TDE prospect Isaiah Rashad popped up on hip-hop fans’ radars, rhyming with Black Hippy for a BET Hip Hop Awards cypher – a high-pressure situation for real, one demanding sheer cleverness, technical precision, and, above all, confidence so that he wouldn’t be totally buried by the on-deck Kendrick Lamar. “Heavenly Father”, on the other hand, is more a string of autobiography for the already-curious than an audition meant to intrigue the unfamiliar. Rashad adopts a singsong flow for the first two verses, sounding optimistic even with the recurring suicidal imagery — he’s joined in his sorrows by TDE labelmate and frequent collaborator SZA, who sings the soul-stirring chorus: “Heavenly father, why are you so far away?” Thanks in part to producer D. Sanders’ samples of The Crowns of Glory’s 1974 gospel song “Lord Hold Me in Your Arms”, it sounds closer to a humanistic Kendrick anthem than anything by Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, or Jay Rock: Asked about his regional affiliation (or lack thereof), the Scarface and No Limit fan told Complex, “I probably wouldn’t be part of [the California-based] TDE if I had a super Southern-sounding ass sound.” Then again, with his ability to make such an upbeat-sounding song sound this moving, Rashad could probably record a crunk revival album that makes us feel like giving him a hug. –Michael Madden

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screen shot 2014 10 29 at 5 01 40 pm Top 50 Songs of 201439. FKA Twigs – “Pendulum”

LP1

All people are stupid, and that’s not because we choose. The reasonable human has the natural need to be loved, and love is stupid. Use the basic A is to B, B is to C logic to work it out from there. “Pendulum” succeeds because it’s hyper-aware that this — the desire to love, to be loved, and the inevitable heartbreak — is fate instead of choice. It’s a realization that connects FKA twigs’ feathery voice to the weighty instrumentals. “So lonely trying to be yours/ When you’re looking for so much more,” goes the hook as the strings become titanic. Then comes the sense of self-loathing and loss. And it feels oddly familiar, possibly because we’re all slightly masochists at heart. But the pain comes across a bit sweeter here. –Brian Josephs

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mrtwinsisterlp Top 50 Songs of 201438. Mr Twin Sister – “Blush”

Mr Twin Sister

After a hectic year (count one diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a horrific tour bus crash, and an exit from the Domino Records roster), “Blush” comes off as a thankful sigh of relief. While much has been made about the doubt and stress that seep in through most of the lyrics, the key takeaway line is “If you could just read me, I would make everything right.” “Blush”, like Mr Twin Sister’s self-titled album as a whole, comes off as a band finally finding their own place in the messy landscape of modern music. By traveling a few light years away from their anime-inspired beginnings as Twin Sister (though I will always love “Gene Ciampi”), they’ve decamped and settled into a darker sound that reflects both the uncertainty of their future away from major indie labels and the beautiful “naivety” of being in a band. If Mr Twin Sister is their “shot at immortality,” then “Blush” is the first step. –Stevie Dunbar

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grimes go Top 50 Songs of 201437. Grimes – “Go”

Following a breakout year in 2013, Claire Elise Boucher (aka Grimes) has encountered numerous hurdles during 2014. While some have been her own doing (like the negative backlash following her ALS video and trolling Boiler Room), other professional distractions were unavoidable. As a sign of resilience, Boucher didn’t allow the dismissal of “Go” by pop-songstress Rihanna to torment her. Instead of trashing the track, Boucher supplied vocals for the festival trap-leaning single herself. “Go” highlights the beauty that can run between the drops of mainstage EDM and established a broader platform for OWSLA’s Blood Diamonds to showcase his disorienting pop soundscapes. Despite our appreciation, Boucher wasn’t too pleased with the general fan response to the cut, subsequently scrapping her forthcoming project and adding further allure to this one-off. –Derek Staples

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vic mensa Top 50 Songs of 201436. Vic Mensa – “Down on My Luck”

Earlier this year, rap critic Andrew Noz described recently inducted XXL Freshman Vic Mensa as “Chance the Rapper with less chances and more rapping.” That was a pretty phenomenal summation of his skill set until “Down on My Luck”, a pulsating hip house production with whirlwind raps delivered furiously in singsong. Mensa has always been a great technical rapper, one who understands structure and rap as craft, but he has struggled with rap as art, and having been thrown into juxtaposition with Chance, who understands both inherently, there is pressure to figure it out. “Down on My Luck” marked a key moment in his evolution as an artist and found him pairing his technique with true artistry. –Sheldon Pearce

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small town heroes Top 50 Songs of 201435. Hurray for the Riff Raff – “The Body Electric”

Small Town Heroes

On “The Body Electric”, the centerpiece of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s excellent album Small Town Heroes, lead singer Alynda Lee Segarra wonders, “Oh, and tell me what’s a man with a rifle in his hand/ Gonna do for a world that’s just dying slow?” Though the question is obviously rhetorical, this New Orleans folk outfit has heard one too many misogynistic murder ballads to not address a widespread history of careless violence in American music. Even though they signify forces of change in the genre, they’re also wholly reverent, not just of the Emerald City’s musical history but of the South’s vast traditions. –Josh Terry

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PUP34. PUP – “Reservoir”

Personal Record

The music video for PUP’s ferocious “Reservoir” takes a seedy punk club and transforms it into the Thunderdome. The weapons in this case are not sledgehammers but bass strings that slap across cheek flesh, microphones that bash into teeth, and cymbals that slice through chest cavities. “It isn’t apathy, I just don’t care if I die,” shouts lead singer Stefan Babcock, flashing a bloody grin that forces you to believe him. “Reservoir” is the second song on the band’s debut LP and the first that makes one thing abundantly clear: they’re not here to take prisoners. Their stance is by turns aggressive, snarky, and tongue in cheek (the last of which becomes all too literal when bassist Nestor Chumak gets a DIY skin graft in the same video). In any case, it stands as a refreshing change of pace from the rest of the pop punk landscape in 2014. Where bands like The Menzingers and Modern Baseball lean on wit and self-deprecating introspection, PUP plays it fast and loose. A song like “Reservoir” lands somewhere between violent and violently catchy; the only message these guys want you to take home comes in the form of a broken nose. –Collin Brennan

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roomsofthehouse Top 50 Songs of 201433. La Dispute – “Woman (Reading)”

Rooms of the House

Jordan Dreyer is not a big dude in stature, and seeing him for the first time creates something of a surprise when the big screams come from a figure of such unintimidating appearance. The spoken word portion of “Woman (Reading)”, a tool Dreyer uses repeatedly on La Dispute’s excellent third album, Rooms of the House, is a sound more befitting of Dreyer’s physical appearance, as he manages to find poetic expression without coming off trite or forced. Dreyer saves the forcing for the song’s latter half, when the band erupts into the post-hardcore wails it is known for. Sometimes forceful, emotional surges work, especially when they ebb and flow with the sentiment of song. “Sometimes I think of all the people who lived here before us,” Dreyer says as the song prepares to explode, adding, “How the spaces in the memories you make change the room from just blueprints to the place where you live.” The sentiment sums up the album in a line, proving big ideas, big sounds, and big feelings aren’t limited to big people. –Philip Cosores

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angel olsen burn your fire for no witness Top 50 Songs of 201432. Angel Olsen – “Unfucktheworld”

Burn Your Fire for No Witness

While Angel Olsen’s delve into rock on Burn Your Fire for No Witness paid off, the change-up didn’t come easy, and “Unfucktheworld” is a salute to her former strictly-folk self. Olsen recounts the rise and fall of a relationship, repeating, “I am the only one now” until it’s drilled through both her head and ours. We are alone. We are damaged. We are hopeless. It’s unclear if Olsen’s looking to fix the world or if she’s hoping someone will do the work for her. In the span of two minutes, though, she reaffirms the two inevitabilities we’re born knowing — loneliness and fear — and how they haunt us til the end. –Nina Corcoran

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togetherpangea badillac Top 50 Songs of 201431. together PANGEA – “River”

Badillac

A lot of together PANGEA’s excellent Badillac runs on explosive emotion and anxiety, a bundle of shot nerves and gritted teeth. And while standout track “River” still has that same energy, there’s something more buoyant running through its core. Guitarist/vocalist William Keegan starts out noting that “drinking 40s in the street means losing a day,” before brushing it off: “But so what? You’re bound to lose some things.” The album deals with losses and struggling with the push of society, and in this simple shrug, he makes way for the solution: a triumphantly catchy chorus about undeniable forward progress. “Lookin’ at the river ’cause the river can run,” he spitfires, each rippling iteration overlapping into the next. –Adam Kivel

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