2014 truly was a great year for music, so many great albums, many of them debuts, and so many great songs. Songs are the list today and for my list I thought the best way to choose each song was to weigh it based on a) the sheer amount of listens I got out of it through the year, b) the overall scope of the song (ie a simple song is great but a complex song that is just as fun is even better) c) the song’s ability to keep me hooked the whole way through and d) if it just gave me that gut need to dance or sing along with it. For this list I believe it’s safe to disregard the notion of covering as many lesser-known groups as possible, some are mentioned and really, these are just my favourite tracks, I’m sure tons differ. All points considered here’s my list, mind you the top half is in no particular order, the bottom 13 where noted are my top tracks and the bottom five are my favourite tracks overall.
The Good Tracks:
The Ting Tings – Do It Again
The Ting Tings have always had that sense of disco flair to their sound, but thanks to the Daft Punk disco-revival it truly feels like they’re set for a comeback. The song opens on a Nile Rodgers style riff and throughout the song has some great stop and go moments. One of the year’s best in disco.
Sam Roberts Band – Shapeshifters
“Shapeshifters” is Sam Roberts response to this new movement, and while is by no means even remotely a dance artist by any means, his stab at dance-rock worked. This track really surprised me as it was one of the few tracks that would come on 80% of the time I listened to the radio this summer, but I never minded.
The Preatures – Is This How You Feel?
While I’m by no means a country fan, I always love a light country tinge on my alternative music be it Neko Case’s country laden vocals(or even old repertoire) or just a bit of extra guitar twang. “Is This How You Feel?” mixes it all amazingly, the fighting vocals, the country twang, the sparingly used effects and a powerful solo. It all comes to make a great rock song from an Aussie band who sound like they’re from the American South.
Kimbra – Miracle
Honestly, I think Kimbra might be the best female vocalist in the world right now, her technicality and range is unbelievable, and she showcases it in just about every song she does, and her change here from female falsetto to almost bassy alto is astonishing. “Miracle” is probably the best Michael Jackson song to come out in over a decade, the Xscape album showed shimmers of the old king but it was a little off. Kimbra’s song hits the Jacko mark with finesse as Kimbra has some of the funkiest bass-lines of the year, and one of the most amazingly layered dance track to land this year.
tUnE-yArDs – Water Fountain
Most of the time Tune-yards music is a little too abstract or repetitive for me but with “Water Fountain” she focused her weirdness into a consumable song with some pop sensibility to it. The song feels tribal, which is her specialty making the song feel really primal and almost random at times but in a spontaneous way. There’s a very natural feel to the song in general and how catchy it is, making it a pop song you’ll never feel guilty about.
The Black Keys – Fever
It seems every year, no matter how much I’m less in love with the Black Keys latest album, their single is always stuck in my head for weeks. The second “Fever” pulled out that keyboard riff I was hooked, their simple blues-driven style will always hook me at least once an album.
Kiesza – Hideaway
Although I rarely get that into EDM, “Hideaway” managed to get stuck in my head and it’s really great to see a Canadian artist breaking into the EDM world usually reserved for Europeans or Americans.
Wampire – Wizard Staff
Immediately from it’s opening “Wizard Staff” reeks of 80’s sleaziness, the whole guitar sound just has that sleazy slow jam feel and there’s some amazingly 80’s keys playing in the back of this track. But the thing that hooked me on this track was the sax, it just sounds so perfect here and makes me ache for a sax revival.
Ex Hex – Waterfall
What better song to hail the return of female power rock than “Waterfall,” the guitar is vicious, the solo’s even more so and the vocal hooks are powerfully catchy. This more than the announcement itself has me unbelievably excited for Sleater-Kinney’s return as it proves that these artists haven’t lost their groove.
The New Pornographers – War On The East Coast
I never expected a track this vicious form The New Pornographers, the grinding nature of the song and the amount of cacophony they throw in it. The chorus is super addictive and the way the band uses the usually super pleasing instruments like saxophone and violin for more wrenching sounds is cool, and the guitar-like sound the band gets out of a harmonica here is the first praise I’ve given the instrument in years.
Foxygen – Coulda Been My Love
On what was very much their worst record, Foxygen did have a few instant classics on this record that made it sad they didn’t just go for an EP. “Coulda Been My Love” is a powerfully sad song that is possibly the bands most emotionally potent song as the sadness really feels like it’s palpable here, their seamless ability of melding ELO and the Stones here makes it undeniably listenable. It was hard to chose on this album, “How Can You Really” had dance but less emotion and “Everyone Needs Love” had some great musical moments and a McCarteney-like grandeur to it’s seven minute run-time but it does suffer from being hard to always put on.
Death From Above 1979 – Cheap Talk
DFA 1979 returned in power this year, and their best track seems to be a sort of continuation of older hit “Romantic Rights.” The bass driven verses are instant head-rockers, and the second the chorus riff kicks in you get instantly hyped up, and by the time the drums explode you’re jumping with excitement. This song proves that despite their long hiatus, the band does still have a few tricks up their sleeve.
Foo Fighters – The Feast And The Famine
I’m not crazy about the new Foo’s record but this single was the one sign that the band still has that early Foo’s spirit. The song is the first in a while to pull of the 50 decibel higher chorus trick that always turns me from foot tapping to air drumming, and it’s great to see that coming back a bit.
The Great Tracks:
La Roux – Let Me Down Gently
La Roux’s return this year was a great one, and this track is her most powerful yet. Its slow buildup let’s you into her anguish and then seems to completely stop before dropping you into the driving power ballad that it blooms into. The guitar/sax instrument complements her vocals great and the song goes from sad to dance-able in a heartbeat, going from weak to strong in one of my favourite drops all year.
Brody Dalle – Don’t Mess With Me
Brody Dalle proved in about 1 minute that mainstream hard-rock can be a place for women again, despite how many acts there are now, it still seems to be mostly hidden. This track sounds like the next awesome single from Queens Of The Stone Age (I wonder if her husband Josh has anything to say about that) and when her Courtney Love-esque vocals come in it’s commanding, powerful and badass. She might just be the next Love too, married to a rock legend, a powerful rock voice, attitude and a lot going for her with this album. Hopefully she manages to stay the nicer person though.
Mac Demarco – Passing Out Pieces
Most of Demarco’s music is pretty fun and goofy, but this year he decided to add synths for a much darker set of tracks on his Salad Days album. The autobiographical “Passing Out Pieces” opens on one of the most hypnotic synth-lines of the year, that feels soundtrack destined every time I hear it. The song is a great dark departure for Demarco and his kooky writing makes the song even better.
The Dead Weather – Buzzkill(er)
Another track that has my hopes high is this track from the Dead Weather, hinting at their upcoming album, it’s grimey, hard and sometimes cleverly deceptive. Everything seems to be where the band left off, vocals just as vicious, guitars even dirtier, bass as groovy and drums as loud. If the new album sounds anything like this we’re in for a great year of returns.
Angel Olsen – Hi-Five
Angel Olsen is another country-tinged artist that pulls me back into the sound. Her song’s brutal sadness, her utterly heartbreaking vocals and the tremolo distortion guitar gives a power to the sadness too. But the best part of the song is the one chorus line that flips the whole thing on a jaded, sarcastic tone that shows despite her sadness, Olsen still has her humour.
Tacocat – Crimson Wave
Tacocat’s “Crimson Wave” had me hooked on its gritty surf-rock from the start and its lyrics always seemed really catchy to me. But what put this track over the top for me was when I decided to put every single line in context of the song’s theme of lady issue and soon realized how hilariously they’d put euphemisms into every line. Lyrically this song is one of my favourites of the year and reaches almost Weird Al levels of cleverness.
Jack White – Would You Fight For My Love?
It’s important to note the difference between a good candy track and the rich meal tracks. Lazaretto was one of my favourite tracks this year by far, from its killer hooks and lyrics, and its bridge with an amazing riff, but it lost me on its end section. “Would You Fight For My Love?” is a beautifully made song, going from the powerful bass drone in its intro, the drum thuds and the beautiful piano mixed with a shrill female “ahh.” The lyrics are truly pained and are some of White’s best, lines like “But I’m afraid of being hurt that’s true/But not afraid of any physical pain/Just as I am always scared of water/But not afraid of standing out in the rain” are powerful visuals. The songs bass break and supreme production finishing in a sea of crashing and screaming is an amazing end to this powerful track.
The best, the best, the best, the best of the year:
Mark Ronson Ft. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk
Usually the top 40 stays off my favourite’s but when I listened to this song, I knew there was something special. When I listened to this song for the first time I immediately relistened about ten times and danced the whole time. This track’s retro-new mix is perfect and it’s by far the best pop song this year. It feels pop but also authentic in its execution, with very little in the way of over-production or synthetic instruments. It’s addictive, funky and has almost as much mind control as Gangnam Style did.
Phantogram – Fall In Love
“Fall In Love” is some of the heaviest bass in pop I’ve heard this year, the song has an unnatural nature to its beat structure that makes it very addictive. It’s parts dj parts instrumentalist making it a song that doesn’t feel fake either. The synth sound’s great, Barthel’s vocals are amazing and the dj elements, including the self-sampling, are perfect.
Warpaint – Disco//Very
This song reignited my love in a band, it kept me coming back to their new album and had me putting it on pretty much every day since I heard it. It’s exotic flavour is just not really heard much these days, it’s killer women motif is great and the the groove on this song is infectious. The song shows the bands almost Strokes level of synergy with a seemingly equal level of ability to jump in and out of the groove without losing anything. This song is vicious on the period table of elements and is eerie, scary and has powersong-like catchiness all at the same time.
Alvvays – Archie, Marry Me
There is something about Molly Rankin’s voice that entranced me from the first time I heard this band. This song just has so much power, the wail’s in the chorus, the cute little guitar licks that follow every “Hey, hey” and the passioned lo-fi recording of the whole thing make it the perfect song. Every part works perfectly and the song is both pained and happy at the same time, giving it the oh so strong power of ambivalence.
Run The Jewels Ft. Zack De La Rocha – Close Your Eyes (And Count To F***)
No song caught me off-guard like this one. It’s self-sampling at its best and it is as dirty as songs come. The bass and distorted guitar make it gritty as its vocals and the electronic feel that De La Rocha’s vocals take is amazing. The lyrics are out for blood taking everyone to task, from the justice system to the people that think it’s cool to rise against it half-heartedly. If one song was going to get me back into rap and hip hop, this is undoubtedly it. As far as the out of left field songs go this one definitely takes the cake for me, I wasn’t expecting this but I loved it more than most rock tracks and eagerly await the Meow The Jewels remix of it.
And that’s it, I’ll have the best album covers of the year coming by the weekend.