Friday, January 2, 2015

Top 14 songs of 2014

Wait... Top "14?!" Sure! Why not?

Now, this might look like a simple gimmick to correspond with the year. And while it is a happy coincidence, that fact was not involved in my decision to include a few extra morsels in my official "Top 10 Songs" this time around.

A top 10 has so much power to it. I mean, let's face it, most people don't give an elephant's haunch about what's beyond it. This is the hallowed ground of any list - an elite club reserved only for those special few that are truly worthy of spotlight.

Unfortunately, by definition, only 10 items can exist within a top 10. Because "math" and whatever. But the truth is, there are usually more than 10 that deserve the honor associated with being in the coveted, reverenced "Top 10." For this reason, I have also crowned four more tracks that to me just "felt" like they deserved it. Because they kicked that much buttock, and never left my head.

So, without further ado... my Top 14 Songs of 2014.
(Links to each track in the names)
Go here for 50-13

14. TOUCH | Shura
I almost lost this one. I found it by accident early in the year, but no album or EP exists, and iTunes didn't carry it. It almost got pushed aside, until I luckily rediscovered its glory later. Hovering synths and an honest, soft spoken lyric of longing and >BAM!< you've got yourself some gold. It's very European in the best way. I don't know where this girl came from and why she only has a handful of tracks circling the internet (all fantastic by the way), but she needs to put an album out. NOW. 

13. MINIPOPS 67 [120.2] | Aphex Twin
You'd think it would be hard to pinpoint a single moment that absolutely stood out on an album like Syro. But for me, it wasn't even a question. Sure, "aisatsana" stands out for being the only piano track on an album full of intricate electro-genius. And while it is pretty, that's not the one. "Minipops 67" takes the cake for a few reasons: a) being the first "single," it was the first any of us officially heard from Aphex Twin in 13 years. And it...was...glorious. b) it's a perfect storm of Richard D. James at his best, almost like a greatest hits all in one track. And c) I love hearing Richard's voice manipulated at the end. The man, the legend, back in full force, and vocalizing on a track! Something about that gave me goosebumps. And it still does. 

12. FAMOUS | Charli XCX 
Hot damn. While Sucker as a whole took a few spins to really get into, this song took no time at all. That jangly guitar intro, the thundering percussion, and Ms. Charlotte taking it to space in the chorus just like she's famous. I mean, HOT DAMN! I can't help but feel like it's both a celebration and a farce all at once. Almost like Lorde's "Royals," or Sophia Coppola's Bling Ring. Mocking the excess while blissfully enjoying it. Either way, it's pure pop bliss. The girl is legit. 

11. SILVER | Caribou
Is it possible for something to sound like it both came from space and also the depths of the ocean? That's kind of what Dan Snaith has done here. He took your basic break-up pop song premise, and turned it into a watery space epic. I suppose it doesn't really matter, because I feel like I'm floating while listening, which works either way. It can be hard to sound "original" in electronic music these days, but Caribou pulls it off with style here.

10. MORNING | Beck
For the record, this song must needs be played with the lush, heavenly intro track "Cycle," or it doesn't count. But, if you're a good person and have a soul you should already know that. Beck is a master at many sounds. He's a chameleon. But somehow he's always at his best when he's strummin' at a guitar and singing to the heavens. This track is the perfect opener to Morning Phase, and aptly titled, it sounds like a perfect sunrise. 

9. CALM IT DOWN | Sisyphus
(Explicit Lyrics)
First time I heard this thing I was at work, and I found myself unable to function for a few minutes as I re-listened and shared it with some co-workers. The production, the groove, the lyrics, the emotion. It makes me laugh, and it makes me kinda sad too. It's an epic song with multiple movements, starting with Serengeti's positivity rap, and capped with some soft introspection from the ever reliable Sufjan Stevens. In fact, Suf's lyrical spread on the end of this song just might be my favorite of any this year. "Shall I account for peace?/ Shall I resist it my way?/ Mine is the glory/ Mine is the praise." Such a diverse, surprising, and epic tune.

8. SICK TALK | Wye Oak
I'm a sucker for a few things. Two of them are great synths, and great bass lines. This song kicks my ass with both. It's so light and fluffy, but somehow so incredibly funky. And when that chorus comes to life...I can see fireworks. The lyrics are so subtle but effective and Wasner's voice is quickly becoming one of my favorites in the biddness. Incidentally, she also plays the bass and synths here from what I understand. So, basically, she's cooler than you. Anyway, such a simple but blissful few minutes of audio heaven. Puts me in dream mode.

7. PRETTY GIRLS | Little Dragon
I said it on a blurb from another track of theirs, but Little Dragon are the epitome of cool to me right now. Their songs radiate with an effortless charisma. "Pretty Girls" is a song that got stuck in my head as I wondered around Shibuya Tokyo with my wife this past summer. The jittery pop of the beat and the dreamy synths just fit the fashionable, hyper-futurism of the city while strolling across the busiest crosswalk on the planet. Fittingly, Yukimi sings about not getting stuck in the glory of the big life. It's a chill but grand piece of music that I've attached to some of my fondest moments of the year.

I wasn't sure what to expect of Chino Moreno's next side project. I enjoyed Palms from last year, but the side projects hardly ever match the highs of Deftones. But when I heard "Bitches Brew," I threw my hands in the air. This man is a damn genius no matter where he's at. The gritty energy of this track was unmatched for me this year, and it's easily the most "rockin'" tune in my list, let alone the album it hails from. Because of that, it's not the best representation of the album, but it's easily the best song on it. When Chino howls that first "From the flames/of the fiiiiiiiire!" like a warlock possessed, it sends chills up my spine. Also... I met Chino at the ††† show, and I may have pee'd a little.  

5. BOOM CLAP | Charli XCX
I knew very little of Charli XCX before I fully heard this song. I even saw Fault In Our Stars and didn't remember this song was in it. But when she released a Tokyo version of the video for it's Japan release, I decided to take a gander. BOOM. CLAP. I fell in love. One of the greatest pop songs I've heard in ages. Charli isn't afraid to lean on the side of cheese and pull it back just short of going over board, which makes for pop perfection. And this right here is the prime example of that approach firing on all cylinders. Carefree, mindless (in a good way), and impossibly fun. And when you feel like a party, that's all you need. 

(ft. Cuushe and submerse)
I laid down one night, listening to this song for the first time as I drifted to sleep. The beginning is nothing particularly fancy, although a good mix of bleeps and bloops. Suddenly, the bloops faded away, a dog started barking, and LIFTOFF. I kid you not, as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, I suddenly felt like I was soaring through space. Then the sprite-like Japanese vocals of Cuushe start swirling around, and I realized I was hearing something really special. When music can give you that out-of-body experience, there is nothing like it. As the song slowly drifted to an end, I felt my body float back down to Earth. I literally laid there with my eyes wide open, thinking about what I had just experienced. 

3. PENDULUM | FKA twigs
Every once in a while, a song will come around that sounds like nothing else you've ever heard in your life. I think back to songs by Radiohead, Bjork, Animal Collective, Sigur Ros. I also think back to my favorite song of 2011, James Blake's "Lindisfarne I/II"– a minimalist, post-R&B/soul song that sounds like it came from the future. Most of LP1 sounds like it's from the future, but "Pendulum" shares a similar aesthetic as "Lindisfarne" by reveling in it's deliberate pacing, it's open space, and heart wrenching emotion. It's really a straight forward love song, but the damn thing sounds like it came from 3014. The moment that gets me every time: at 4:20 the backing vocals take over the refrain "So lonely trying to be yours" and you can hear the heart breaking, the soul longing. A perfect song.

2. MAGIC | Coldplay
I've had a soft spot for Coldplay for these past 14 years. Through good, through bad, I'll always give them a chance. The investment doesn't always lead to reward these days, but I'll be damned if "Magic" isn't one of the greatest songs they've ever put to record. It's bravely minimal, it's surprisingly funky, and above all, it's irresistibly heartbreaking. Chris Martin is one of those nerdy dudes you just can't help but like. And hearing his heart break on this song is almost unbearable. I feel like I'm hearing an old friend cry about how he still believes in love despite his feel-goods being kicked in the ass. It's a simple, sad love song in a completely different way than "Pendulum," but I think it's the "bro to bro" empathy that has it edging Twigs by a hair. I just wanna give Chris a big ole hug.

1. LOVE NEVER FELT SO GOOD | Michael Jackson
(ft. Justin Timberlake)
Ok, I'll admit something right here. I fully concede this isn't the "best" song on this list. But there are a few facts that just set my being to flame - its an old school, unshelved MJ tune (which is refreshingly amazing, considering), and it's a duet with Justin-friggin-Timberlake. It's the former King of Pop on the same track with the current King of Pop! That right there is enough to get me giddy as a school girl in summer. When I first saw the video for this I nearly cried it was so glorious. But let's give the original tune itself some credit, because it is fantastic. This is vintage Thriller-era MJ, and it was only a leftover demo. MJ in his prime, putting a track to tape for someone else that he figured was just a placeholder. But, listening to it now is the sound of homage. A shrine to one of the most incredible entertainers the world has ever known. I like remembering him this way.