25. FKA Twigs – Two Weeks
Sultry down to its pulsating, electrified veins. Unabashedly sexy. Uncompromisingly commanding. Whip-cracking and snapdragon-y. Nodding to pop. Adherent to electronic. Mindful of RnB. Higher than a motherfucker. Get low and bow down to the queen. A coronation.
24. Sia – Chandelier/Elastic Heart
Some days, I think “Elastic Heart” is the better song. Most days, it’s my favourite of the two. And that’s not to disparage the force of “Chandelier” in any way — I don’t think there’s any doubt it has the hugest chorus of any pop song in 2014. I may just like “Elastic Heart’s” tempo and track a bit better. But this is splitting hairs. They’re both incredible songs. My non-denominational-deity, what a run Sia has been on the past few years. (There are no bonus points, but bonus points for the wonderful, bold, artistic video that accompanies “Elastic Heart”.)
23. Bombay Bicycle Club – Feel
My favourite tune from BBC’s latest full-length. This eastern-indebted ditty is awesome. It exemplifies the London lads’ talent, creativity, and sense of fun. It’s crystal clear they love music, and more than that, it’s clear they love exploring: sounds, rhythm, and the definition of the word “song.” That’s why I hold them in such high regard. And that electric guitar come-in at 2:36. Jesus Christ. Frankly, I’ve never heard a rhythmic, catchy, alt-pop, East-Indian leaning song before. I’m not sure another such song exists. Oh BBC. I’m forever tuned into your channel.
22. Sarah Bareilles – I Choose You
It might be difficult for some to see the appeal of “I Choose You”. Some might hear a straightforward pop song and shrug. Some might hear too much saccharine. Some might say any number of other things to denigrate the song. I won’t have any of it. It’s simply gorgeous. It’s Sarah Bareilles’ angelic vocals, the simple, humble, vulnerable lyrics, the way it all fits together so effortlessly. I found myself humming this tune more than almost any other in 2014.
Bonus: The Tea Party – The Maker
“The Maker” is my #1 cover of 2014. If I hadn’t already placed it on that list, it’d reside somewhere around here, up in the stratosphere of the very best tunes of the year. And since I already linked to the record version of the song, here’s an amazing live version.
21. La Roux – Let Me Down Gently/Tropical Chancer
I’m kind of surprised La Roux didn’t blast through all layers of the music landscape in 2014 with these tunes. Perhaps her 5-year hiatus from the scene was too long. I’d worried it was. People are fickle and people forget. It’s a bloody shame though, as several of her comeback tunes are sensational. “Let Me Down Gently” and “Tropical Chancer” are among them. The former was La Roux’s first comeback song, 5:40 divided into two distinct parts, with the come-in at 2:40 a delicious slice of fresh, synth-buoyed retro pop. The latter was the third song Elly Jackson released, and blew me away just as the first two had. It’s a slinky, sexy, sweaty piece of confetti. I let its rain drop unabated in my ears time after time. The gear-shift at 2:28 is so, so slick, and that background flute flourish adds the cherry on top of this delectable fruit salad.
20. Elliphant f. Mo – One More
Cons: simple tune; pretty bad lyrics, kind of shitty video.
Pros: it has enough swag to fill up every one of those soon-to-be-empty Target stores, it has Scandinavians, and it has the biggest fucking synth-pop drop of 2014 (2:02).
“One More” I played. One more time after it ends. One more for the Swedes. One more back to life.
19. One Direction – Night Changes
The group is bigger than their music at this point. The haircuts, the tattoos, the backlash, whether Harry still loves Taylor, if Harry would rather be Larry. All these things, important cogs in the machine I’m sure, but they’ve overshadowed the five English lads’ music.
That said, One Direction don’t really need to focus on the actual music any more. The jet’s on auto-pilot as it were, indeed, as it is until the group inevitably breaks up, probably soon.
Which makes the fact that this is their best song since “What Makes You Beautiful” all the more the striking. It’s a mature, mid-tempo juggernaut with harmonies from the heavens and a melody moulded by Midas. If this is their last huge hit, and it very well may be, they couldn’t have had a better last hurrah.
18. alt-J – Left Hand Free/Intro
Whether or not the story behind “Left Hand Free” — that it was written in half an hour to quell pushy label demands — is true is irrelevant. The song sounds like an effortless undertaking, like the most fun alt-J have ever had laying down a track. It’s a mouthwatering mound of sweets. Even though it’s probably the most straightforward tune the band have done, it’s undeniably quirky, undeniably alt-J. Joe Newman’s lyrics are often esoteric and/or undecipherable, and even on a track like this where you can mostly hear what he’s saying, there are still some parts that make you go wtf.
“Hey shady baby, I’m hot like the pa-rodigal son. Pick a petal (Bigger battle) eenie-meenie-minie-mo, and flower, you’re the chosen one” was a lyric I sang as much or more than any other in 2014. Fuck, alt-J are so good.
You might think a song called “Intro” (their second song titled “Intro”) would be basic, maybe boring, unfulfilling, skip-worthy. You’d be dead fucking wrong. That there is so much meat on this “Intro” is a testament to how talented the guys in alt-J are. Creativity is spilling from every orifice of their collective body. There are wonderful harmonies, effects I can’t put my finger on, and again, indecipherable lyrics. Oh, and a bad-ass, floor-rattling beat. The stuff these guys are capable of musically doesn’t seem real, because anything is possible. And I’m god-damn thankful for those impossibilities. Triangles in the air, everyone.
17. Against Me! – True Trans Soul Rebel/Black Me Out/Paralytic States/FuckMyLife666
What a massive, massive comeback. Their first album since White Crosses, their first album since Tom Gabel became Laura Jane Grace. I can only imagine the amount Laura Jane and the band had to process over the past few years. Does it sound like they’re confused? Like the music is unsure? Not a chance in hell. My jaw dropped when I first listened to the album. I knew it’d be one of the best of the year, even though it was only mid-January. I continued to listen to the album throughout the year, with the following four songs being talismans of my affection for the record. Grace has always had a way with clever and/or evocative lyrics and accessible, punchy riffs, and this sees her issue many more examples of that ability.
Gems like, “Black me out, I wanna piss on the walls of your house/I wanna chop those brass rings, off your fat fucking fingers, as if you were a kingmaker/As if, as if, as if, black me out!”
And, “Paralytic states of dependency/Our waking life’s just a living dream/Agitated states of amazement/Never quite the woman that she wanted to be.”
And maybe my favourite, “Don’t wanna live without bite, don’t wanna die without teeth…”
I have such affection for this band, this record, these songs.
Bonus: Paper Kites – Leopold Street (from 2012)
Possibly the sweetest (despite the weepy lyrics), most touching song I heard in 2014. It’s from 2012 though, so I didn’t include it as an official selection (haha, the rules). I can explain what I think of this song quite succinctly: I love it, dearly in fact, and it makes me think of love. Sometimes music’s a pretty simple thing, isn’t it.
16. Cold War Kids – First
“First you lose trust, then you get worried…First you get hurt, then you get sorry…First you get close, then you get worried…How am I the lucky one? I do not deserve, to wait around forever when you were there first…”
I’ve been a really big fan of Cold War Kids since their debut, even if they haven’t taken off like I think they’ve deserved to. And to my shock, five albums in, I think they may have just issued their best song. Some people might call that blasphemous, but I really do think “First” will stand alongside, if not above, “Hang Me Up To Dry”, “Hospital Beds”, and “Bitter Poem” when it’s all said and done.
15. Taylor Swift – Out Of The Woods/Blank Space
Outrageously catchy songs, both of them. It’s a crappy situation that I can’t find a quality link of “Out Of The Woods”, so I have to share the “live” version. The studio version is incredible. Ms. Swift seems to be running the music business at the moment, and she and her minions don’t want any unauthorized sharing of her hits. Save those pennies Taylor. Minor distractions from what are two absolute Goliaths. Swifty cannot release a non-gargantuan single. It’s around eight in a row that have been brilliant. I’m genuinely interested to see how long she can keep the streak alive. One more album?
14. Coldplay – Magic
My Favourite Coldplay song in many, many moons. In fact, probably since their first record, which is a looong time ago. I love the subtle beat that carries the first part of the song. I love that Coldplay have never done a song like this before, and I love that they felt frisky enough to try. I love that the tune’s insanely catchy. It’d probably be accurate to say I love the whole damn thing.
13. Cage The Elephant – Spiderhead/Telescope/Cigarette Daydreams
These songs are from a 2013 album. These songs made my Honourable Mention list in 2013. Yet, I don’t think I truly listened to them until this year, and toward the latter part of it at that. That was a mistake, but man, was it also a revelation.
Originally, I had these songs placed around #60. But it felt wrong. Shoplifting at you-know-they’re-closing-soon-so-why-not-help-yourself-to-a-little-sending-off-present-a-severance-package-of-sorts-ah-yes-that-sounds-nice Target wrong. Oh wait, that couldn’t be more right. But I digress. I figured out the best place to put these songs, and I’m happy they reside here, among the giants.
What struck me as I began to really get into these songs is that Cage The Elephant are a great band. I don’t know why this surprised me. They’ve hinted at greatness before. I don’t know what kind of blockage I had, but it’s better now. I see them for what they are: one of the coolest, most melodically inclined bunch of bad-asses cranking out tunes right now. They pay homage to Nirvana, The Beatles, and a bunch more, yet still come out sounding like no one else. That’s talent.
“Spiderhead”, the web of distortion, hooks, and crooked angles. “Spiders in my head, spiders in my mind/You may take my eyes, but baby, I’m not blind.” This tune is so bloody dynamic and fun.
“Telescope”, vision of the afar, sombre reflection, beautiful bed time story. The introduction in particular (about the first two minutes) is adorable, impeccable, and completely transfixing. I could listen to it forever. Maybe I will.
“Cigarette Daydreams” is the coup d’etat, sheer perfection, near transcendence. The melody is one of the best of the year, hands down. I’ve played it so, so, so much over the past couple months. I think I’ll play it much, much more. “Cigarette daydream, you were only 17/So sweet, with a mean streak, nearly brought me to my knees.” A simple lyric, but put to that combination of sounds, it’s wholly compelling.
12. La Roux – Uptight Downtown
With “Let Me Down Gently” and “Tropical Chancer” just a few spots down the list, the thought crossed my mind to combine all of them in one spot. But I couldn’t. “Uptight Downtown” is the best tune of the bunch, even though the other two are staggering slices of song in their own right.
It’s the romp-and-stomp decisiveness of the beat. It’s the quick-hit synths that guide the song like a hand-hold to a cuckold. It’s the lyric, “When did all these all these people, decide to change their shoooes, shoooes, shoooes.” It’s Elly Jackson’s assured, cooing vocals. It’s the rising temperature. It’s the grooviest song La Roux’s yet done. The fullest. And it’s that mountainous, mesmerizing chorus.
This should have been as big of a hit as the other gigantic pop songs of 2014. I’m not sure why it wasn’t. It was for me, and I’m happy as hell for that.
11. Maximo Park – Drinking Martinis/Midnight On The Hill/Where We’re Going/Brain Cells
It seems like whenever Maximo Park release a new album, I have their songs extremely high on my lists. It seems like I’m the only one in North America to do so. They’re so much an afterthought over here that if they even tour North America, they do it in a select few cities, none of which in Canada. I feel deep disappointment and shame for this. I don’t know why they haven’t connected with audiences here. I’m pretty sure their first couple albums did pretty well and garnered a bunch of praise. Then, it seems, people kind of forgot about them. I haven’t. They continue to be one of the most reliable outfits on the planet when it comes to crafting relatable, melodic, alt-pop gems. I’m convinced that in an alternate space/time/galaxy, Maximo Park are the biggest band around. I want to visit wherever that is. I just need to figure out how to get there.
I find sooooooooo much pleasure in the following four songs. And like many of the songs from their previous three albums, I can’t overplay them. The melodies and cores are so strong, so resplendent, that I never tire of listening to them. There is something about the way Paul Smith describes relationships, daily events, special events, life, that always grips me, takes me to another place. In this place, maybe I’m privy to his dreams, maybe he’s narrating mine. Maybe the point is to inspire dreaming. Yup, I think that’s it. And man, what a wonderful job he and his group have always done at that.