Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorite Songs of 2014

Here begins my list of favorite songs of the year passed.

This is the extra meat, for those that just love seeing big long lists from someone not that important at all. I enjoy so much music over the course of a year, well over a thousand songs. And, I just enjoy lists. So here, in all its glory, is my Top 50 songs (the "Top 10" will get its own prettier, more official post). May it warm your soul and kindle a flame in your heart.

Every song included in the list was a diddy that truly impressed me this year. Songs that were stuck in my head for extended periods of time, songs that I went back to over and over. Sure, there were more than 50, but it has to stop somewhere.

I tend to give a word or two about why each song made me tingle. The better the songs get, the more wordy the explanation. Read them, or don't. Whatever.

So put some headphones on, and hear what I hear.

50. SUFFERING | The War on Drugs
The subtle and sad guitar line is what hooked me to the rolling melancholia of this tune. Makes suffering sound so good.

49. TIBERIUS | The Smashing Pumpkins
Corgan's reliable chugging brings this one home with nostalgia. He's still got it.

48. HOURS | FKA twigs
Might be the sexiest song of the year. A deliciously warped groove to soundtrack your next make-out sesh.

47. FELLOW FEELING | Porter Robinson
Half Hans Zimmer, half Skrillex, all awesome. Kinda schizophrenic, but the most beautiful and forward thinking track on it's respective album.

46. FOOL | Perfume Genius
Some great white boy soul going down here. Sorta found myself wishing more tracks on Too Bright had a similar groove.

45. THE EPILOGUE | †††
A surprisingly light offering, as far as Chino is concerned. Very Depeche Mode, in all the right ways.

44. KILLING ME | Little Dragon
It's imperative this song be blasted as loud as possible when listening. That monstrous synth obliterates you so pleasantly.

Rocked up psychedelia directly from the mind of pop royalty. John would be proud. So would Tame Impala, for that matter.

42. SHRIEK | Wye Oak
Probably the most "Beach House" sounding tune on the album by the same name. Which is, of course, a very good thing. Jenn Wasner's voice soars to perfection.

This song was playing on a huge screen at Tower Records in Tokyo while I was there this summer. No better way to permanently embed a song into your psyche.

40. DO YOU FEEL THE SAME? | Hercules and Love Affair
Throwing it back to early 90's house will almost always hook me. The incredible vocal performance puts it above the other cuts from this album.

39. INAKUNARU | Kidkanevil (ft. Phasma)
The title translates as "to become naught," often used as a euphemism for death in Japanese. There is a subtle sadness to it, emphasized by the lonely, ghostly vocal.

38. TWO WEEKS | FKA twigs
No beating around the bush here. Half insistent obsession, half confident declaration, Twigs is sure she's the one, and the emotive vocal and scattered beat definitely back her up.

37. BIGGY | Warpaint
Warpaint's strongest tunes lie in a realm of ominous tensity, just like this. That dark synth and simple drum beat set the tone, and it all builds from there. So thick you could cut it.

36. BIRTH IN REVERSE | St. Vincent
Perfectly quirky, Annie Clark finally convinced me to pay attention a little more with the uptempo, face melting acrobatics of this'n. Rock on, Annie. 

35. ALPENGLOW | S. Carey
This beautifully soft number sort of snuck up on me as a surprise stand-out. For whatever reason, there's not a lot of quietness to my list this year. A nice respite.  

34. UPTOWN FUNK | Mark Ronson (ft. Bruno Mars)
Not a huge fan of Bruno generally, but hot damn does this one bounce. James Brown and MJ alive and well here. Don't believe me? Just watch.

33. YUME NO HAJIMA RING RING | Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
A disappointing lack of wacky barn-burners from Kyary this year, but I was quite pleased with this light-hearted pop number. 

32. UNDER THE PRESSURE | The War on Drugs
Such a breezy melody, you hardly realize it's an 8 minute track. If you're wondering, this one sounds fantastic while chillin' out by the waves on Newport Beach. 

31. KLAPP KLAPP | Little Dragon
It's pretty euphoric when that fat synth takes over the groove. And it just keeps on rollin'. Prepare for takeoff. 

30. NOSE GROWS SOME | Thom Yorke
Having messed with Radiohead's PolyFauna app a bit (which features much of the music found on Tomorrow's Modern Boxes), the otherworldly atmosphere of this track was magnified substantially. 

29. IT WILL END IN TEARS | Philip Selway
A lovely, but deceptively sad Beatle-esque piano ballad that expands into a spacey gospel chorus by the end. Simple, but very satisfying. 

28. KELLY | The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
POBPAH always have the jangly goodness, but a wonderfully bubbly vocal by A Sunny Day In Glasgow's Jen Goma put this one over the top. Fantastic and dreamy.

The most deliberately stripped down track on Everyday Robots, which makes it stand out particularly well. Swells of strings wrap around Damon's sad self-reflection, and it's beautifully heartbreaking.

26. BREAKING UP | Charli XCX
Tracks like this give Charli a good case for not only being one of 2014's brightest pop stars, but one of the year's best rock stars as well. Simple, teen-pop lyrics, but pure adrenaline. 

25. DIG | Nothing
The best Pumpkins song to come out this year (sorry, Billy). Perfectly fuzzy shoegaze pop.

24. ISN'T IT SO | X priest X
I literally came upon this song for the first time as I was constructing this list. It might be jumping the gun a bit to throw it so high so soon, but can you blame me? Nothing fancy, just an adorable, addicting synth-pop gem.

Quite a few interesting things going on in this track. After rapper Serengeti angrily vents a bit, he ends his verse repeating the mantra "I feel more comfortable now" as if he just had to get that wacky hip hop rant off his shoulder. Then Sufjan chimes in with some synth-pop sensitivity and it all boils to a wall of sound finale. It makes for one helluva listen, and a definite highlight on a very interesting album. 

22. I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE | Sam Smith
I was actually disappointed in the lack of solid songwriting to showcase Sam's talent on his debut album. Too often the songs were over cooked, which didn't do him any favors as he had to over compensate in his voice. But there were a few bright spots, namely this little ditty. A soulful gospel groove that let's Sam charge his voice with believable emotion.

21. MIDNIGHT | Coldplay
They might not pump out front to back classic albums quite as well as they used to, but I'll be damned if they don't surprise me with at least a song or two every time out. I've heard plenty of other artists create similar sounding tunes, but hearing Coldplay tackle a song like "Midnight" while still making it their own left me slow clapping in the wind. Well done, boys.

20. PARIS | Little Dragon
There is something so natural about how Yukimi flows her lyrics over the subtle grooves of this track. So effortlessly cool, so stylishly slick. The perfect song to dance to in your dreams. Sounds great on a bullet train to Kyoto, by the way. 

19. HI | Warpaint
Another brooding number from the ladies of Warpaint. I'd be happy with just that bass line and the swinging beat behind it, but the thing keeps building and growing and soon sexy becomes scary and vice versa... and then they've got ya. So choice.

18. SEASONS (WAITING ON YOU) | Future Islands 
I'll be honest, I still haven't heard more than one or two songs from this band. But this one is a doozy. And it's all because of singer Samuel Herring. The dude belts the hell out of this thing with such a nicotine drenched earnestness. Anyone else singing and it might fall on its face. (You have seen that Letterman appearance, right? WATCH IT.)

It is incredible how much Sean Lennon sounds just like his dad. But that's not all that makes this tune great. It's the brazen psychedelia, the Middle Eastern melodies, the wispy backing vocals and rolling bass of the beautiful Charlotte Kemp Muhl. It's a lot of things. And I don't know who made this video, but it's a wonderfully appropriate sensory overload.

16. LONELY PRESS PLAY | Damon Albarn
The found sound collage of this tune blurs the line between electronic and organic. It could just as easily be a live band as a programmed tune. And I love that. I also love the inherent detachment of it all. Damon sings of a loneliness soothed only by the superficial pressing of a button. Is technology the savior or detractor? Again, electronic and organic beautifully blurred.

15. GUESS AGAIN! | Thom Yorke
One of the best non-Radiohead tunes Yorke has produced. An eerie piano lulls over choppy beats and whirling ambience, and then the bass drops in. Up and down it goes, while Thom softly whispers a typically ominous melody. I don't say this about a lot of Thom's solo work, but it's almost Radiohead worthy. Which is a compliment considering it's probably just a doodle.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top 10 Songs of 2013

Previously on our Favorite Song Adventures:

Alas...The Top 10. 
You'd think it would be difficult narrowing down the 10 most essential tracks in such a year, but it was surprisingly cut and dry for me, for the most part. There were many tracks that were "Top 10 worthy," but these ten tracks were the absolutes. The ones that blew me away on first listen, and still deliver after the hundredth time. I was a little surprised how poptimistic my tastes were this year. But it was a good year for mainstream pop, after all.

Most truly great songs have at least one "goosebumps" inducing moment. The singer nails an impossible note, the guitars soar into space or melt your face, or maybe the chorus just knocks your brains down the drain. You find yourself rewinding it just to make sure you really did hear what you think you did. Each of these posses such moments, and they shall be made known.
And here we go...

10. TO THE LAST | James Blake
Mr. Blake does more with very little than most artists do with a lot. He's a genius minimalist of soul and "dub-step" (whatever that means these days). "To The Last" is a representation of everything James Blake does right, the perfect antithesis to the horror vacui of mainstream pop and R&B. And he tops it off with one of the most breathtaking vocal performances of the year. 
Moment of Glory: 34 second mark. Just after Blake opens up with his falsetto to the skies, he brings it back down and the bass drops right with him. Make sure you have proper listening accommodations, kids.

9. TAP OUT | The Strokes
When are people going to stop writing off this band? Sure, their recent albums haven't quite lived up to the early classics. But every time they release an album, I get at least one top ten song out of it. This year, we get the perfect soundtrack to cruisin' in your Ferrari convertible. Every element of this tune is clicking together in perfect harmony. And for the first time in a couple albums, they sound confident in their sound again. Swagger means a lot to this band, after all.
Moment of Glory: 56 second mark. The groove itself was chilling enough, on first listen, but specifically that moment when the guitars roll up and down in unison with surgical precision. Badass.

8. NEW YOU | my bloody valentine
Buddy Greg and I had our own little online listening party to mbv the moment we got a hold of the download (it was pretty late at night). I was a song or two ahead of him, and when I hit track 6, I about wet myself with delight and waited anxiously for Greg to catch up. A hypnotic loop with Belinda Butcher's classically understated voice sounding just like it did 2o years ago. Like the rest of the album, it fits just as perfectly in 2013 as it would have in 1993. Amazing how something so simple is so perfect.  

Moment of Glory: 1:53 mark.  Belinda's angelic sighs fuse into a perfect harmony, then reunite again around the 3:00 minute mark to ride it to the end. I could listen to that last two minutes for an entire album.

7. STRAWBERRY BUBBLEGUM | Justin Timberlake
I usually detest songs with food symbolism. Especially when it leads to awkward innuendo. But something about JT's beeeeauuutifully constructed 8 minutes of "Strawberry Bubblegum" makes complete sense. Perhaps the sensual melody and flawless production  makes up for it. And remembering JT on all those SNL episodes gives it a sly tongue-in-cheek humor. A little bit of all of that. But most of all, it's that second half. I'm a sucker for phenomenal vocal arrangements, and the last few minutes of this one is nothing but. Which reminds me... 

Moment of Glory: 6:16 mark. And all the way to the end. The first time I heard that bit I was pulling in from a drive, and I couldn't help but sit in my car those final few minutes, reveling in the complete bliss that is JT's voice multiplied. (I also thought, "Blueberry lollipop...?)

6. ROYALS | Lorde
One night, my wife leans over and says, "Wanna hear a cool song?" She played this video for me, and I was floored. She claimed she heard it on the radio and my response was "Since when does the radio play something this good?" I was stunned that such a minimal beat, incredible melody, and sharp lyrics could exist in one song and still be a mainstream hit. A few months later, she exploded. I know you've all heard it, and many of you are probably sick of it (which means you listen to the radio too much). But I still think this is one of the best vocal melodies and arrangements I've heard in a long time. I'm interested to see where this kid goes.  

Moment of Glory: around the 1:25 mark (1:46 in linked video). I was already taken by the chorus, but those harmonies in the second verse solidified it for me. Tis magical.
I usually hate ties, but I decided this spot needs to also include mention of her song from the EP of the same name. I was almost as enamored by this one's swirl of harmonies when I first heard it, and think it's better than any other song on her full length debut. So there's that.

5. THE WIRE | Haim
It was almost hard to decide which Haim song I liked the most. Them chicas know how to bust a tune. It came down to "The Wire" because, in the end, this was the one I just could not get out of my head.  I also think it is the quintessential Haim song. All three take turns on lead vocal, it's got the most independently powerful lyrics in an album full of them, and it just rocks all sorts of socks. They make so much better use of that beat than the Eagles did. 

Moment of Glory: about the 21 second mark. The first riff of "Well I know, I know I know, that you're gonna be ok anyway" without any backing instrumentation, and the moment that bass rolls right back in with the damn. That's when I knew this was the sheeyit. 

4. STILL INTO YOU | Paramore
I've tried to hide my respect for Paramore over the years. I secretly loved the hell out of nearly every radio single I've ever heard of theirs, but sometimes felt like maybe that's not something to necessarily be proud of. But the moment I heard this thing I said, "Ah, screw it." Hayley Williams has an amazing set of pipes, and she works them for all they're worth on "Still Into You." The lyrics are simple, sure, but not stupid. And that chorus, sweet sassy molassy, that chorus.
This is a flawless (and harmless) pop masterpiece. It's useless pretending this isn't incredible. So I won't. Just one thing though, Hayley - please grow your bangs back out.
Moment of Glory: 1:53 mark. I love when that second chorus starts up, this time with some great back up harmonies to go along with that insanely epic melody. That's what I'm talkin' about.

3. WHITE NOISE | Disclosure
(feat. AlunaGeorge) 
I was caught off guard when Disclosure dropped on the scene. Somehow I hadn't even noticed the hype surrounding them. When I finally did a little research, I came upon "White Noise." What...the...hell??? It's been awhile since a song by an artist I knew nothing about before hand knocked me on my ass quite like that. I've been craving that early 90's house sound for a few years, and artists like Hercules and Love Affair offered a taste of the old days. But this song is Grade A 100% certified nostalgic beef. Obviously it's contemporary enough to stay fresh, but let's just be honest with ourselves: This sounds an awful lot like 1992. And at the moment, that is a very good thing in my book. 
Moment of Glory: 1:36 mark. That electro-riff carries you along nicely through the first bit, but once that bass drops for the chorus (and the dude starts busting moves in the video), that's when Aluna Francis takes off. Suddenly you're dancing in space.

2. ONLY TOMORROW | my bloody valentine
Let me just mention how hard it is to find a good, modern picture of these guys. I swear they haven't taken a photo in 20 years either (hard to find good youtube clips of their songs too, incidentally). Anyway...

After the soothing opener "She Found Now" fades out, "Only Tomorrow" introduces you to some overdue face melting. It chugs along without a break, looping chords and melodies in typical MBV fashion, while Belinda Butcher tames the beast from within. What Kevin Shields does with these guitars is mesmerizing. The grinding screech of the rhythm sounds like it could take paint off of a wall. In fact, I don't doubt that it probably could if you played it loud enough. And loud is the only way to go, of course. Shield's purposely mixes his songs at a lower volume to give the listener room to raise the roof. So, if you are listening to this song for the first time, just know you probably aren't doing it right unless it hurts a tad. 
Moment of Glory: 1:28 mark. After Belinda finishes her first round at the mic, it sounds like take-off is initiated, and suddenly it all DROPS. The guitars fall, the drums pound and for a full minute (almost exactly), the listener is assaulted by a barrage of distortion and audio sandpaper. And it sounds wonderful.

1. GET LUCKY | Daft Punk
We've all heard this one by now. No need to hash out the details. You know it's amazing. And if you say otherwise, you're lying. Remember where you were the first time you heard those bits shared during SNL? I must've played this one hundreds of times. I was like a kid at Christmas hearing the Bots lay out their return, bit by bit. The marketing was fantastic. Not enough of that these days. The excitement was palpable. When the radio edit finally dropped, I downloaded it around midnight and listened to it on repeat for about an hour or so. I couldn't get enough of it. The album version is even tastier, a little more build, a little more reward. It has never gotten old to me, and is one of the best tunes in a stellar catalog. It is a perfect pop juggernaut, and deserves every bit of it's success this year in conquering the world. And it is my favorite song from one of the best musical years in recent memory. 

Moment of Glory: 2:20 mark (linked radio edit) or 3:26 (album cut). You probably know exactly what this is without tracking to it. The first time I heard those Robots stutter to life on this track, I kept playing it back over and over. It was DAFT PUNK! They were back! I still hear those electric harmonies and get goosebumps.

Well, that's it, kids. I'll be posting my favorite albums over at along with those hooligans. So stay tuned. 

Happy 2014