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

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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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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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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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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

Listen: Soundcloud

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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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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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vince staples hell can wait cover e1416405383656 Top 50 Songs of 201420. Vince Staples – “Blue Suede”

Hell Can Wait

Claiming one of the gnarliest low-ends in recent memory, Vince Staples’ “Blue Suede” is that perfect cut to bang with the windows rolled down — if your aim is to disturb neighbors and activate car alarms with the excessive bass rattle. Yet, the lyrics are even more disturbing, as Staples recounts the turbulent culture of his youth. Staples is quick to polish his own sexist ego (“Half these hoes chauffeurs, half these hoes useless/ Fucked the face toothless, easy, so ruthless”) and is candid about the brutality his peers endured for that type of status, documenting the many scenarios that lead to those bouquets of red roses that adorn young men’s fresh grave stones. As America continues to deal with its own racial issue, Staples paints a stark reality, one where inner city youth will (literally) kill for the same privileges that are gifted to their more affluent neighbors. Staples’ visceral delivery echoes the deafening cries currently ringing in cities like Ferguson and Cleveland. –Derek Staples

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sharonvanettenarewethere Top 50 Songs of 201419. Sharon Van Etten – “Tarifa”

Are We There

Most of New Jersey native Sharon Van Etten’s songs have been less revealing in details than in their big, overpowering emotions. “Tarifa”, while still holding the raw power of deep pain and longing, feels more open and personal than most of her offerings. Named after a beach town in southern Spain where Van Etten and an ex spent a summer in love, swimming and overlooking Morocco, the song holds onto the better times while knowing that they won’t last. Over one of her most cathartic choruses ever, featuring Hammond organ and a Springsteen-esque horn section, she sings: “Tell me when/ Tell me when is this over?” Van Etten has always excelled at capturing the most crushing aspects of a toxic and dying relationship, and in an album full of these heartbreaking moments, “Tarifa” feels unflinchingly real. –Josh Terry

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st vincent18. St. Vincent – “Prince Johnny”

St. Vincent

Over the course of her short yet remarkable career, Annie Clark has written many excellent songs about docility, often in relation to expectations of gender, love, marriage, and human endeavoring on the whole. “Prince Johnny” is one of those songs, but for the first time, Clark is looking outward in empathy. “Saw you pray to all/ To make you a real boy,” she sings, describing a mysterious friend who appears to be both self-assured and uncomfortable in his own skin. Minus the glitchy, industrial crunch of its drumbeat, “Prince Johnny” is also probably the closest thing we’ll get to a bridge between the St. Vincent of yore and the St. Vincent of now thanks to its familiar emphasis on baroque-ness. But, more importantly, “Prince Johnny” is a reminder that no matter how much Clark’s art evolves, St. Vincent’s iconic character from parts of Strange Mercy and Actor — the housewife doomed to a powerless existence — isn’t dead at all. It’s just found a way out of the shackles. –Dean Essner

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ought more than any other day Top 50 Songs of 201417. Ought – “Habit”

More Than Any Other Day

Ought’s full-length debut found an unshakable foothold with “Habit”. It flaunts a mustered confidence, where a deep breath and shut eyes battle fear, only now in the form of wordy rock and roll. Sonically, it’s nothing new. But what Ought manage to do so well is jettison punk roots forward into a noisy wall of dissonant strings and electric piano. It’s the kind of semi-preachy, free yourself, repetitive build-up that aligns them with labelmates Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Colin Stetson while still setting them worlds apart from Constellation’s usual roster. Lead singer Tim Beeler guides the twinkling guitars through a story of belief with muddled grumbles similar to Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Alec Ounsworth, and Stephen Malkmus. The nervous anxiety bubbling at the core of “Habit” is addictive. It’s what turns Beeler’s trips and stutters into vocal illustrations, narrating a year of rising artists by one of their own. –Nina Corcoran

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caribou our love16. Caribou – “Our Love”

Our Love

Caribou, aka Dan Snaith, around the release of Our Love, spoke about the positive reception to his previous album, Swim, noting: “It changed my perspective on it, making me want to make something that was more outward looking — whereas in the past, I’d always made music for myself.” You don’t need to look beyond singles “Can’t Do Without You” and “Our Love” to realize that crowd-pleasing has taken Caribou to new heights creatively. The album’s title track features just those two words, “our love,” repeated over and over, while the song’s bass and electronic textures move the song up a steady incline. The last minute or so unfold like love’s climax, with the focused charge of a proton accelerator. It’s a moment that makes you long to hear the song in a crowd on a dance floor, a song that demands to be shared. Caribou made this for us, and the generosity pays off big time. –Philip Cosores

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Run the Jewels 2 Artwork15. Run the Jewels – “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”

Run the Jewels 2

Our own Pat Levy called Run the Jewels “quite possibly the strongest working relationship between a rapper and producer since Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg.” No one out there is ballsy enough to dispute that. El-P’s combo of production skills and rhymes paired with Killer Mike’s experience and sick flow is unbeatable. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” is the perfect combo of both men’s talents, with name-drops to MF Doom, Mike’s former collaborators Outkast, and even their own debut album — and then El’s schizophrenic beats build to a full attack. People have been talking about Kanye and Kendrick over the last few years, but neither of them have made a real step toward changing the game like Run the Jewels do on “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”. Killer Mike drops, “That fuckboy life about to be repealed/ That fuckboy shit about to be repelled/ Fuckboy Jihad, kill infidels
 Allah Akbar/ Boom from Mike and El.” And you know he means it. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” is the Run the Jewels battle cry, and anyone in their way, regardless of status, has been put on notice. El and Mike aren’t fucking around. –Nick Freed

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angel olsen burn your fire for no witness Top 50 Songs of 201414. Angel Olsen – “Windows”

Burn Your Fire for No Witness

“What’s so wrong with light?” This is the question that ends Angel Olsen’s breakthrough album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness. After a record full of heartache, sadness, and learning to cope, “Windows” is a sonic diversion and a change in tone for the album. The answer to the question is implied: There is nothing wrong with the light. It gives us life, warmth, comfort. It allows us to see, allows color to exist. But life sometimes doesn’t let us see light for what it is. We hide from it in darkened rooms, much like the scene for “Windows” sets up: shut in, prisoners of our own misery. Yeah, maybe it isn’t as easy to fix depression as opening a window. But Olsen’s stunning album closer presents a first step out of the darkness. “Wind in your hair, light in your eyes,” she coaxes, asking “Why can’t you see? Are you blind? Are you dead?” Sure, the answers to these questions are complicated, but if and when the willingness comes to answer them, hope comes with it. Things can be better. There is nothing wrong with the light. –Philip Cosores

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screen shot 2014 09 22 at 3 52 17 pm Top 50 Songs of 201413. Kendrick Lamar – “i”

There’s the belief that if you don’t get it, it wasn’t made for you. So, is that the case for “i”, which was seen by many as Kendrick Lamar jumping the shark? Perhaps. Lamar did say this one was for the folks locked in the penitentiary. And who the hell says we absolutely need to be talking about self-love? But the idea that this was jumping a shark or aimed toward a specific demographic feels dismissive. the charm of “i” isn’t in its message; it’s in its weirdness — from the video to the obvious Isley Brothers sample. Within that weirdness lies potential. This could be the start of a transformation for hip-hop’s young prince who’s been saying he’s on a mission — a serious one. But within that cloud of mystery lies a now-ness — that screaming a pledge to yourself is the only means to wish away the throes of the world. Catharsis is at the core of “i”, but it’s a stop on a journey. –Brian Josephs

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screen shot 2014 10 29 at 5 01 40 pm Top 50 Songs of 201412. FKA Twigs – “Two Weeks”

LP 1

While FKA twigs is one of many artists fueling the trip-hop revival currently sweeping the world, no one sounds quite like her. The sexually charged “Two Weeks” is indulgent and combative, but still highly vulnerable, perfectly displaying twigs’ mastery of her own vocal and instrumental design. In the fashion of other experimental R&B artists, most namely The Weeknd, she uses her chilly angel pipes to mask explicit lyrics like, “My thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in,” providing the overtly sexual female counterpart that the genre sorely lacked. The true brilliance of “Two Weeks” lies in the juxtaposition of aggressive lyrics and timid, breathy vocals, as they evoke a skin-crawling reaction from listeners, who feel like they’re hearing something a bit too intimate for anyone’s ears but Twigs’ own. The cavernous track cemented itself as one of the year’s best after the release of the lush video, which shows the exotic songstress reigning supreme in a golden utopia, the only land fitting for the goddess that FKA twigs truly is. –Danielle Janota

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warondrugs dream Top 50 Songs of 201411. The War on Drugs – “Red Eyes”

Lost in the Dream

I’ve been listening to “Red Eyes” nearly every day since it premiered early this year, and, aside from a carefree “whoo!” or two, I couldn’t recite a single lyric. This isn’t a slam; to me, The War on DrugsLost in the Dream is about a feeling, a translucent haze where memories gasp and influences effervesce: Springsteen, Roxy Music, Tears for Fears. There’s no youth, no age or ticking clocks here; “timeless” is a phrase we should never apply to new music, but I’m tempted to do so here.

That’s because, from the get-go, “Red Eyes” sounds like a song that echoed from your dad’s radio as he drove you to school as a kid. It’s the song you cranked up to drown out your parents arguing in the next room, the one playing when you first felt a tongue touch yours. The chorus isn’t words; it’s the riffs and the sound your mouth makes as it tries to vocalize them. It’s instantly recognizable, an entry point, an open door into an album that ambles and rollicks, the arena-ready single among so many slow burns and cerebral digressions. “Red Eyes” is a rock ‘n’ roll song in that old-fashioned sense. I’ll play it for my kids someday. We’ll air-guitar it together. And time will stand still. –Randall Colburn

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CHVRCHES-Recover10. Drake – “0-100”

Never has touting the upcoming release schedule for your label sounded so good. Drake, once a Canadian teen soap star meme, is now one of the most covered rappers in the game, as well as one of the most newsworthy musicians in 2014 and for good reason. Drake pulled a Drake and dropped “0 to 100/The Catch Up” during Hot 97’s Summer Jam, never a man to shy away from being the spectacle or stealing someone else’s shine.

Whether you love or hate the guy, that’s a power move, and power moves seem to be the only kind Drake makes these days. Aside from Young Thug’s “Danny Glover” and Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga”, there was no song in 2014 that brought on an instant turn up more than when the beat for “0 to 100” dropped; it was an undeniable force to be reckoned with. That’s been Drake’s motif lately; even if you don’t fuck with him, you’re gonna have to fuck with his music.

It’s unavoidable. He’s ubiquitous in a way that no other rapper can pull off. Who else can lay out their career narrative in a club banger one day and be selling custom lint rollers the next? (And still make it look good?) No one, honestly, and that’s the appeal of Drake. He pulls off things that no one else can in a way that no one else even wants to attempt. Going back to the aforementioned release slate announcement, Drake let the OVO schedule leak mid-song, implying that we should all be paying attention in early 2015 for a hefty amount of new music from his Canadian collective. Let me know when Kanye drops a loosie with his next album’s release date wedged into the middle like it’s just another lyric. –Pat Levy

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Perfume Genius - Too Bright9. Perfume Genius – “Queen”

Too Bright

When Mike Hadreas first emerged in 2010 with the honest, stunning album Learning, there were likely few who could imagine the Pacific Northwest songwriter being outspoken about, well, anything. Seeing him perform at the Matador 21st anniversary concert that year, his set was 20 minutes of tightrope-walking, barely able to hold the attention of the drunk Vegas crowd, with Hadreas needing the comfort of his boyfriend sitting next to him to get through the performance. The self-deprecating humor that is still present in Perfume Genius concerts was there, but, it felt like more than humor. It was self-deprecating from someone still learning how to like themselves.

Now three albums into an ever-fascinating and impactful career, Perfume Genius is able to release a song like “Queen”, virtually the opposite of the frightened, shaky singer who emerged five years ago. In concert, Hadreas plays the song on his feet, with shifting poses and confident outfits. He opens his eyes when he sings. He looks the audience in the eyes.

The sentiment comes later on the album Too Bright, when Hadreas says, “I don’t need your love, I need you to listen.” “Queen” is the actualization of this concept, with Hadreas sick of the bigotry and epithets, using typical language of slander as that of empowerment. “No family is safe when I sashay,” he sings with a wink.

During the run for his second album, the playfully titled Put Your Back N 2 It, Hadreas made some waves for the video for “Hood”, which featured a bear gay porn star and was deemed inappropriate by YouTube, despite showing literally nothing offensive (unless you find the very idea of two men showing affection offensive, and if you do, well, fuck you).

“I wish I was more confident,” Hadreas told The Guardian this year, “And I want to say in interviews that I am, but I know I’m not really matched to the music yet.” This makes “Queen” all the more impressive, as it is Hadreas using music to push himself. We’ve seen the strides on stage, and we can hear the strides in his music, and after a single like “Queen”, the sky seems like the limit for how far Perfume Genius can go as an artist. –Philip Cosores

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tswift1989 Top 50 Songs of 20148. Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”

1989

This wasn’t the Taylor we remembered. When “Shake It Off” rocketed across the internet last summer, it was impossible to avoid just how not country it was. It wasn’t a breakup song, either, not in the traditional sense. Instead of pouring her regrets over clean guitar, Taylor Swift was here to tell us that everything was going to be alright.

“Shake It Off” was out of character for Swift then, and it ended up being a little out of character in the context of the album that followed, 1989, which mostly chased down a darker ’80s pop template. But that album’s first single still ended up crystallizing the end of the summer and the months to come for many of us. Sure, it’s not the first song that’s been written about the haters and how they’re gonna hate, but hearing that Hakuna Matata mantra come from the same singer who wrote “I Knew You Were Trouble” felt, well, revelatory.

Swift’s got her fair share of haters. She just learned to stop thinking about them. As if to taunt the naysayers for even daring to laugh behind her back, she went ahead and landed her new maxim with one of the strongest hooks she’s penned to date. Maybe you’re still pop-skeptical, but just listen to the way she smiles with her voice when she rounds out each chorus. Listen to how she sings, “I never miss a beat/ I’m lightning on my feet/ And that’s what they don’t see.” She’s one of the most recognizable faces in the country, but there are still sides to her you’ve never seen.

Was there ever such a pure pump-up song to crash-land at the end of the summer? Swift can make her melodies ripple like it’s no problem. All she wants is for you to be able to throw out your reservations the way she’s thrown away hers. — Sasha Geffen

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Spoon - TheyWantMySoul7. Spoon – “Do You”

They Want My Soul

Just when you thought Spoon wasn’t any fun anymore, they go and cut a track like “Do You”. Though their 2010 album, Transference, was a hit with the critics, its detached, subdued sound came as an unwelcome surprise for fans of their spunkier side. The bleak LP contrasted starkly its poppy precursor, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, trading pep and pluck for dejection and cynicism. That’s not to say Transference was a misstep; the album explored the stifling emotions of alienation and ennui with an unguarded sincerity that felt bare and honest. Still, it didn’t seem like a Spoon record. Where were the effervescent harmonies, the carefree choruses, the whimsical wordplay? Rest assured, they’re back in full force on blithe, bubbly pop rock tune “Do You”.

According to lead singer and guitarist Britt Daniel, Spoon’s most recent album, They Want My Soul, has the band “getting back to the essence of Spoon; just having fun playing together … figuring out new ways of doing what we’ve always done.” And nowhere is this more apparent than on this, the album’s first single. Leading with chirpy backup vocals and jaunty acoustic guitar riffs, the Austin rock outfit alternates between playfully kvetching about an Indian Summer scorcher (“Someone get popsicles/ Someone’s gotta do something ‘bout this heat”) and bombarding an ex with pointed, scathing questions (“Do you run when it’s just getting good?!”).

Grafting airy falsettos onto an infectious melody, Daniel sounds pissed but decidedly upbeat. Atop Jim Eno’s punchy drums, the singer’s incessant, raspy intonations convey the guilty pleasure of pointing a finger at an erstwhile sweetheart (“Do you?/ Doooo you?/ Dooo-you-hoo!”). And despite some bickering between Daniel and co-producer Joe Chiccarelli (The Strokes, The Shins, My Morning Jacket), the densely layered production drives exactly the kind of “emotional, hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck” reaction that Spoon’s built its reputation on. Overflowing with rakish vim, the fresh and exuberant “Do You” is undeniably the product of a refreshed, resurgent band. Turns out a four-year hiatus was exactly what they needed. –Henry Hauser

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haim-falling6. Lykke Li – “No Rest for the Wicked”

I Never Learn

Following one of the worst breakups of her life, Lykke Li moved across countries and continents from Sweden to LA at 28. The result is I Never Learn, the most heartbreaking but accessible record of her career. Loaded with anthems about struggling with loneliness and sadness, perhaps one of the most gutting songs of the album deals with her own part in the end of her relationship. “No Rest for the Wicked” takes a bold step to subvert the standard “I’ve been wronged” trope in pop music; Li looks at her ended relationship with the complexity and nuance that breakups often deserve.

Not only is “No Rest for the Wicked” lyrically strong, it’s also a hell of a pop jam. Opening with a repeating piano riff, the track, which also served as the LP’s lead single, features cold but bombastic instrumentation anchored by Li’s magnetic voice. Written while she was packing for her move, the still-fresh pain in her voice is evident when she sings lines like, “I let my good one down/ I let my true love die/ I had his heart but I broke it every time.” While she’s admitting her own culpability, the song is so relatable that the sentiment is universal. In an album full of songs dealing with the traumatic fallout of a relationship (“Sleeping Alone”, “Heart of Steel”, “Never Gonna Love Again”), “No Rest for the Wicked” is an unrelentingly honest autopsy. –Josh Terry

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sia - 1000 forms of fear5. Sia – “Chandelier”

1000 Forms of Fear

If you flipped the radio on 12 months ago, chances are you would’ve heard a Sia-penned song without actually ever knowing it. She’s had a hand in Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and Ne-Yo’s “Let Me Love You”, as well as countless cuts by Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Christina Aguilera, but neither her name nor her face would likely have registered. For the longest time, this is how it’s been for the Australian pop singer and songwriter, especially here in America, where songwriting credits are usually an afterthought, unless you’re, say, that one dude from Fun. (To be perfectly honest, I once saw Sia on NBC’s The Voice a few seasons ago, and my first thought was, “Who the hell is that?” Obviously, a cursory Wikipedia search promptly shut me up.)

The ambiguity surrounding Sia’s persona changed this year, however, with the release of 1000 Forms of Fear. Though it served as her sixth full-length, the album seemed like her first real proper introduction to the world. Marketing budgets and major label support aside, the music easily spoke for itself, highlighting a more direct, confident, and committed Sia. No song better captured her “rebirth” than the massive lead single, “Chandelier”, a piercing and insightful look at the perils of partying too hard and how one can easily lose his/her emotional and mental footing when caught up in a life of booze-fueled bliss. On the semi-autobiographical song, Sia hits hard lyrically, but it’s her commanding vocal performance that really goes for the jugular — the chorus soars higher than any chandelier, and the intensity with which she sings is enough to knock the wind out of you twice over.

Even with its sonic power and chart-blitzing success, perhaps the greatest thing about “Chandelier” is how Sia chose to portray herself in both its corresponding music video and subsequent live renditions. Represented only by a blonde bob wig and never her face, she’s even gone as far as performing with her back to the audience and having actress Lena Dunham, as well as other random people (men and women), “stand in” for her at various events. The wig has since become a trademark of Sia’s, her own personal way of dealing with fame (or not dealing with it at all), of refusing to be reduced to a mere pretty face or glamorous press photo. “I thought it would be a funny joke that I’m getting away with,” she told NPR matter-of-factly. “And it was, partly, I don’t wanna go out and sell my soul, my body, my peace of mind.” Funny to think that most listeners still can’t identify Sia by face months after 1000 Forms’ release, but only by her music and that bob — something I’m positive she’s absolutely thrilled about. –Michelle Geslani

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daft punk get lucky4. Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me”

You’re Dead!

The great-nephew of Alice and John Coltrane, Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus) has long respected the raucous free jazz movement. Even before his artistic advancements and underground credibility earned him recording time with an array of touted studio musicians, Ellison was toiling away in his Los Angeles bedroom, solo, constructing dense, psychedelic instrumentals that would incite a new movement among experimental LA beatsmiths. Consummately ahead of the game, FlyLo pushed himself and his roster of collaborators to a new, uncharted astral plane during the sessions behind You’re Dead!. While some of these exploits were even too futuristic (or haphazard depending who one asks) to resonate outside of the beat community, Kendrick Lamar was able to tame FlyLo and co. with his own rhythmic dominance during “Never Catch Me”.

At the onset of the track, following a calming ivory run, Lamar offers some guidance into acceptance of the album: “Step inside of my mind and you’ll find curiosity, animosity/ High philosophy, hyper-prophesied meditation/ Reminisce on my wonder years and I wonder here/ Sentiments of my words ain’t been so sincere.” The controlled chaos of both the lyrics and instrumental offer an escape from the monotony of the everyday grind and (even without the aid of DMT or psilocybin) opens the portal into our shared existence. It’s a trip not everyone is ready to take.

Lamar was such a fan of the track, it almost didn’t make the album. According to Ellison, leading to the release of the LP, Lamar wanted to hold the song for his own album, a decision that Ellison fortunately thwarted when he passed along a collection of Captain Murphy beats for consideration on Lamar’s next solo project. You’re Dead! is one of those albums that will continue to grow in appreciation, and “Never Catch Me” serves as a pivotal inducement for repeat listens. –Derek Staples

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Against Me - transgender-dysphoria-blues3. Against Me! – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”

Transgender Dysphoria Blues

What separated “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” from every song in 2014 was conviction. No song carried the same emotional weight as Laura Jane Grace’s personal rallying call. It’s frank (“They just see a faggot“), it’s venomous (“You’ve got no cunt in your strut”), it’s tragic (“But we can’t choose how we’re made“), and it’s honest (“You want them to notice“). As the opening track of Against Me!’s sixth studio album of the same name, the track works as a rousing thesis for everything that follows: an ambitious portrait of self-discovery that’s scathing, tumultuous, and ultimately relieving.

“Those are the fears you go through when you transition,” Grace told Spin earlier this year. “You don’t necessarily know the person that you’re going to end up looking like or who you’re going to end up as. And that being said, I’m still in transition. My life is in a state of flux right now where I don’t really know where it’s going to come out on the other end. That’s terrifying.” What’s remarkable, then, is how Grace has never closed the door on that terror. Instead, she works out those ugly demons in the guise of an addicting punk song.

For the past few years, author Bret Easton Ellis has discussed ad nauseam, either online or amidst his remarkable podcast, the idea of a post-Empire culture, where today’s celebrities have shattered their traditionally conservative barriers in lieu of a new cultural transparency. “They want reality,” he argues. In that respect, Grace is leading the pack in the music industry, espousing personal truths that vilify her critics and vindicate her followers. It’s only fitting that Against Me! — an outfit whose MO has always been punk rock anthems — would be her proper medium. –Michael Roffman

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cloud nothings here and nowhere2. Cloud Nothings – “I’m Not Part of Me”

Here & Nowhere Else

“It starts right now.”

Them’s healing words. They’re what you repeat to yourself after a rattling shift even if you know they won’t mean anything yet, a lighthouse that the mind builds while it waits for the heart to catch up. When you actually believe them for the first time, that’s when the corner’s been turned. “I’m Not Part of Me” captures that turn, subdues it, and delivers it on a four-and-a-half-minute platter. This is a song; it has a bridge, a chorus, three verses, and no tricks up its sleeve. After seven tracks of full-band body-blows that contort at dizzying speeds, the impact of hearing Dylan Baldi’s solitary guitar rev up and start, inhabiting 100 percent of the space in the first 10 seconds, lets you know immediately that his Cloud Nothings bandmates have left the room; it’s only him now, which is to say his entire past is right here with him.

Grappling with the past to figure out the best way to carry it is, ultimately, what Here and Nowhere Else is all about. All your classic self-help-manual clichés are here, to be sure: “stay present” (“I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else…”), “let go of what you can’t control” (“…how to focus on what I can do myself”), and of course, Baldi’s slightly more palatable spin on “today is the first day of the rest of your life.” But they’ve never sounded more fresh than when stoically stated atop the most perfectly rounded composition Baldi’s written yet, and when he charges into those three notes that smack the sweet spot of his vocal register — “I’m not, I’m not you” — he stamps this as the breakthrough that the entire album builds towards, the point he becomes ready to fully own a life experience that’s his and his alone, and, better than any other song in 2014, a succinct explanation of what it means to let go of something. — Steven Arroyo

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futureislands singles Top 50 Songs of 20141. Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”

Singles

“Seasons (Waiting on You)” became Future Islands’ bright-lights moment in every possible way, but (yes) one in particular. In March, the supremely ticket-worthy Baltimore synthpop band brought the single — and frontman Samuel T. Herring’s overpowering stage presence, all speed skater-esque dance moves and chest-pounding sincerity — to the Late Show with David Letterman in light of the release of their fourth album and 4AD debut, Singles. And there it was: indie’s most memorable late-night performance of 2014, easily, not to mention the three million views it’s racked up since. “What a weirdo,” whispered some skeptical viewers, certainly, but another observation was more telling: “This guy is really into it.” Mr. Letterman evidently aligned with the second group (and maybe the first as well, who knows), as he brayed, “Nice goin’! I’ll take all of that ya got!” Same here, dude.

Where, then, does that leave the studio version? As Singles’ opening song, it kicks off Future Islands’ boldest pop statement to date, as William Cashion and Gerrit Welmers back up their frontman’s momentum with emphatic chord changes and surges in volume. “Seasons change/ But I’ve grown tired of trying to change for you,” Herring sings, and even though he doesn’t actually hock up his death-metal growl like he did on Letterman and elsewhere in Future Islands’ discography, he’s still plenty arresting. As fun as it is to watch Herring in all his confidence, it’s just as good to sit with “Seasons” on repeat: Have I mentioned how catchy it is, classy song-title parenthetical and all? Seasons do change, with each three-month interval bringing a similar amount of uncertainty — that much is certain. Good thing you can listen to this to your heart’s content, knowing Herring will always be there to remind us (presumably with a drunk-on-pure-passion look in his eyes) that we’re not to overlook the importance of gaining human connection before the credits roll. –Michael Madden

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Listen to the Top 50 Songs of 2014 on Rdio or Spotify

1. Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
2. Cloud Nothings – “I’m Not Part of Me”
3. Against Me! – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
4. Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me”
5. Sia – “Chandelier”
6. Lykke Li – “No Rest for the Wicked”
7. Spoon – “Do You”
8. Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”
9. Perfume Genius – “Queen”
10. Drake – “0-100”
11. The War on Drugs – “Red Eyes”
12. FKA twigs – “Two Weeks”
13. Kendrick Lamar – “i”
14. Angel Olsen – “Windows”
15. Run the Jewels – “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”
16. Caribou – “Our Love”
17. Ought – “Habit”
18. St. Vincent – “Prince Johnny”
19. Sharon Van Etten – “Tarifa”
20. Vince Staples – “Blue Suede”
21. Schoolboy Q – “Man of the Year”
22. The Districts – “Rocking Chair”
23. Chromeo – “Jealous (Ain’t With It)”
24. Speedy Ortiz – “American Horror”
25. Lana Del Rey – “West Coast”
26. Beck – “Blue Moon”
27. The War on Drugs – “Under the Pressure”
28. Perfect Pussy – “Driver”
29. Run the Jewels – “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”
30. Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – “Where No Eagles Fly”
31. together PANGEA – “River”
32. Angel Olsen – “Unfucktheworld”
33. La Dispute – “Woman (Reading)”
34. PUP – “Reservoir”
35. Hurray for the Riff Raff – “The Body Electric”
36. Vic Mensa – “Down on My Luck”
37. Grimes – “Go”
38. Mr. Twin Sister- “Blush”
39. FKA Twigs – “Pendulum”
40. Isaiah Rashad – “Heavenly Father”
41. The Men – “Another Night”
42. Alvvays – “Next of Kin”
43. White Lung – “Drown with the Monster”
44. Bret McKenzie – “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)”
45. Hiss Golden Messenger – “Mahogany Dread”
46. Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Jackson”
47. Ariana Grande – “Problem”
48. Spooky Black – “Without U”
49. Restorations – “Separate Songs”
50. The Dead Weather – “Buzzkill(er)”

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