Best Music of 2014

Top 50 Songs of 2014

on December 05, 2014, 12:00am
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julian casablancas tyranny artwork30. Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – “Where No Eagles Fly”

Tyranny

By 2013’s Comeback Machine, it was pretty clear that Julian Casablancas, along with the rest of The Strokes, had grown tired of their enviable standing as neo-garage torchbearers. That might not bode well for fans still waiting for a return to the raucous glory of Is This It, but fortunately the band’s members have found new ways to keep themselves relevant. Casablancas, for one, hit on something particularly intriguing this year on Tyranny, his first outing with his newly minted backing band, the Voidz. “Where No Eagles Fly” captures the record’s shifty energy pretty much head on, interweaving Bauhaus-style post-punk eeriness with flashes of industrial music and an inescapable new wave breakdown. The Strokes as we once knew them might be a thing of the past, but Casablancas, for one, is making some healthy steps in similar-but-different directions. — Ryan Bray

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Run the Jewels 2 Artwork29. Run the Jewels feat. Zack de la Rocha – “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”

Run the Jewels 2

In hindsight, Zack De La Rocha is an obvious choice to collaborate with Run the Jewels. Both artists have a penchant for hyper-aggressive aesthetics underlined with thoughtful social commentary. This has become especially important in a year marked by contentious jury decisions and police brutality. It’s easy to get lost in de la Rocha’s brutal vocal hook while each MC delivers a verse or two that challenges the system. Killer Mike calls out the “liars and politicians, profiteers of the prison” while El-P poignantly spits, “We out of order, your honor you’re out of order/ This whole court is unimportant, you fuckers are walking corpses.” Subtlety is thrown to the side as de la Rocha goes for the kill by outright comparing politicians to KKK Grand Dragons. For those who have been outraged by how they’ve seen the system operate in 2014, Run the Jewels have provided a platform to vent their energy. –Dusty Henry

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Perfect-Pussy-logo-608x608-500x50028. Perfect Pussy – “Driver”

Say Yes to Love

“Driver” flashes like a fistfight. You never really know where Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves is going to aim next. Her voice bunches and strains against the pound of the drums, the whine of electronics, that rough, steely guitar. One second she’s murmuring quick syllables under her breath, and the next she’s exclaiming stuff like “death comes last to the party!” She never lets the rhythms around her box her in. She lands words like uppercuts: “I eat stress, and I shit blood/ Buddy, I’ll tell you, it never gets better.” She has been lied to her whole life — “lies like ‘I will be protected'” — and on “Driver”, she finally gets to strike back at the endless stream of liars. –Sasha Geffen

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mygodisthesun27. The War on Drugs – “Under the Pressure”

Lost in the Dream

The clattering cymbals over the first 30 seconds of “Under the Pressure” could be downright nauseating. But you stick with it, because it’s the first track on Lost in the Dream, and what else can you do? The reward is one of the most gorgeous songs of War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel’s career. There’s a symmetry to the song’s theme itself, “standing in the wake of our pain” while we wait for something better to come along. Only about a minute and 45 seconds of the nearly nine-minute number consists of Petty-esque lyrics contemplating survival in the modern American urban sprawl, leaving the band plenty of road to drive into the dreamy mountains with their promise of possibility beyond. But much like Granduciel’s lyrics, it never actually reaches the final view, instead culminating in over two minutes of swirling drone. It’s all wistfully yet reassuringly relatable, a powerful thing considering it stems from one man exploring his own troubling emotions — and that’s a hallmark of any truly great song. –Ben Kaye

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BeckMorningPhase26. Beck – “Blue Moon”

Morning Phase

The sweetest use of mandolin this year, or the sweetest use of mandolin this year? Kidding aside, that instrument brings a certain glow to “Blue Moon”, with its sunbathed mix that already benefits from Beck’s recent resume as a meticulous producer for Thurston Moore and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Billed as a “companion piece” to Sea Change, his swooping 2002 breakup album, Beck’s Morning Phase ditched the now 44-year-old’s past genre charades in favor of a plaintive singer-songwriter disposition — and “Blue Moon”, as the album’s lead single, ushered in this new era in as comforting a way as possible. This is the Beck who sat teary-eyed upon hearing Johnny Cash praise his “Rowboat”, the Beck enamored with the possible reach of a straightforward folk song. With “Blue Moon” as your only indicator, you’d have no idea that this is the so-called slacker who recorded “Loser” over 20 years ago. May he always retain the reverence he’s had for songwriting since even before cynics initially dismissed that breakthrough single as a soon-to-be-forgotten prank.  –Michael Madden

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lana del rey ultraviolence25. Lana Del Rey – “West Coast”

Ultraviolence

Tell Lana Del Rey how to write a pop hit, and she’ll go ahead and take the opposite of your advice. Here’s a songwriter who thrives on inversion. Her following wanted more of “Video Games”, and she gave them bizarro-world, West Coast hip-hop-inspired songs like “Diet Mountain Dew” instead. Fans ate up the garish colors of Born to Die, so for her second album, she drained them down to sepia.

“West Coast” is a counterintuitive gem of a single, the sort of thing that rings beautifully from old car windows on hot summer evenings. It works because it shouldn’t; Rey builds to the chorus, her words fast and clipped, guitars straining against the tense, noir drums. Then she splits. The song slows down. “I can see my sweet boy swaying,” she sings, as though all of time has turned to honey just for her. “Ooh, baby, I’m in love.” –Sasha Geffen

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speedyortizepcvr900 Top 50 Songs of 201424. Speedy Ortiz – “American Horror”

Real Hair

“Slick” has never been a word used to describe Boston indie rock traditionalists Speedy Ortiz. Their tunes are rife with crunch and fuzz, and front woman Sadie Dupuis’ vocals and guitar work have always filled the sweet, gooey center. But on “American Horror”, from the group’s early 2014 EP Real Hair, the hooks sink just a little bit deeper, and Dupuis’ voice packs a slightly bigger wallop. No one was asking the four-piece to improve upon their sound after the 2013 release of Major Arcana, a torchbearer for ’90s noise rock, but they reach a kind of next-level transcendence here — “Baby, you feel so crazy/ You keep me up for a whole week,” Dupuis sings, in one of the most satisfying verses. Are we excited for Speedy Ortiz’s next full-length if it continues to build on the strength of “American Horror”? Boy, are we ever. –Katherine Flynn

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chromeo - white women23. Chromeo – “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)”

White Women

The ‘70s aesthetic has experienced quite a bit of a resurgence over the last two years (hello, Daft Punk, Pharrell, Usher, and Bruno Mars), but Chromeo have been kicking it under the disco ball since 2004’s She’s in Control, and that experience shows. Case in point? The Canadian duo — David “Dave 1” Macklovitch and Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel — have released quite possibly their best album to date in this year’s White Women, which is anchored by the electro-funk jam to end all electro-funk jams, “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)”. As in the past, sweaty, hip-shaking grooves show up to the dance floor in full force — only this time they’re injected with a welcomed sense of sophistication and vulnerability. “I get jealous/ But I’m too cool to admit it,” Dave 1 coos over arena-sized synths, his heart and his swagger trying to find a way to coexist. –Michelle Geslani

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TheDistricts_EP22. The Districts – “Rocking Chair”

The Districts

It typically takes a couple of albums and several years before a band finds its voice. Just don’t tell that to The Districts. None of its baby-faced members can buy a beer, but that didn’t stopped them from honing a potent, distinctive sound on “Rocking Chair”, the very first track off the Lititz, Pennsylvania, quartet’s self-titled EP. Atop a tightly woven foundation of blues, indie, and not-quite-garage rock, singer-songwriter Rob Grote’s vocals are gravelly and raw. Expressing pain, anguish, and self-destructive alcoholism (“If I drink some more, well I think I might drown”), he strains to be heard about the loud, distorted instrumental barrage of guitarist Mark Larson, drummer Braden Lawrence, and bassist Conor Jacobus. An incredibly cohesive offering from a band that’s just getting started, “Rocking Chair” promises a bright future for the neophyte rockers. –Henry Hauser

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Schoolboy Oxymoron21. ScHoolboy Q – “Man of the Year”

Oxymoron

“Man of the Year” is the best case of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When ScHoolboy Q dropped Oxymoron earlier this year, maybe he knew he’d be the “man of the year,” but with three other Top Dawg Entertainment artists dropping albums in 2014 and Kendrick Lamar constantly teasing a new project, he had some stiff competition. “Man of the Year” was a victory lap before the race even started. It’s not entirely unwarranted; Q has found himself a mainstream audience and plenty of bucket hat devotees. This celebratory anthem, which plays like one giant hook, helped establish his staying power. –Dusty Henry

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