All the things that made 2014 a truly harrowing, politically and certainly emotionally charged year are the same elements that made listening to music–from major label artists to relative unknowns–an essential reflex. Whether a welcome distraction from (“Weird Al”) or a pointed engagement (Run The Jewels) in the conversation about what it means to exist in 2014, all the music I loved sort of formed a weirdly autonomous organism complete with a heart and central nervous system, able to make prudent and irrational decisions. In compiling my favorite tracks of the year, I tried to reconstruct that weird Frankenstein-esque creature, with the hope ultimately that it would not turn against me, its creator. Only time will tell.
Anyway, this whole week I will be bringing you my top picks of 2014 in Spotify playlist form, ten tracks at a time. Below you can check out the first ten and read a few words about why each song is great. I hope you enjoy and stay tuned all the rest of this week for 10 more each day! Also feel free to throw as many suggestions as you’d like in the comments!
OK Go – “I Won’t Let You Down”
This foursome (with a minor lineup change along the way) is responsible for the viral music video, which must be the hardest thing to be known for in 2014. Not only do you constantly have to best your last efforts (can’t just put out a shitty James Blunt take-off-your-clothes-and-jump-into-the-ocean video), but you also have to make catchy music to accompany each project. “I Won’t Let You Down” is a perfect reminder of why OK Go are still around–they make fun memorable pop music that sounds like an optimistic friends with a good attitude.
Tkay Maidza – “U-Huh”
Tkay is a 17-year-old singer-rapper from Adelaide Australia by way of Zimbabwe and the way she approaches music sounds like a fusion between Azealia Banks attitudinal raps and Charli XCX’s fringe pop sensibility. “U-Huh” is a pop song for one. Not that it wouldn’t sound great blasting through speakers at a house party, but when Tkay confidently sings, “They be like / But I don’t care,” I just imagine myself bouncing around my room brushing aside imaginary haters.
Saint Pepsi – “Fall Harder”
Transitioning from an adept Vaporwave producer to an actualized digital singer songwriter has to be a daunting prospect unless you are exceedingly capable and aware of your talents. This year, the Bandcamp/SoundCloud fan favorite, Saint Pepsi proved he is one of the best underground composers on the internet, and we are still playing “Fall Harder” full blast with windows down, arctic chill be damned. The clean 80s sheen on “Fall Harder” recalls some of the upbeat dance tracks on the French Duo Rincerose’s mid 2000s album Music Kills Me, which earns it extra points.
Todd Terje – “Strandbar”
The bearded, video game-loving Norwegian Todd Terje makes disco lounge music that sorely deserves to be retroactively inserted 16-bit platform video games. In a post-“Get Lucky” pop landscape, there is something exceptionally soothing about the friendly flourishes and familiar BPM of Todd Terje’s excellent album, It’s Album Time (yes he thinks its a silly name too).
Gerard Way – “Millions”
When Gerard Way split from My Chemical Romance a year and a half ago, it was certainly an “end of an era” moment for many who grew up brooding and loving to MCR’s discography. Now distanced, though certainly indebted to the “emo” label he never fully identified with, he is unfettered, able to make any music he wants. And to no one’s surprise it is heartfelt, but it is also brighter, which I hope indicates he’s enjoying making new material as much as we are enjoying having him back in the vast music ecosystem.
The Bug – “Pandi“
I honestly could have picked any track from this insane album from The Bug, which is excellent, but I chose to incorporate “Pandi” on this list because it is a song that reminds me most of John Carpenter films and scores. Listening to this song all the way through becomes an exhausting exercise in suspense and horror and I couldn’t shale the feeling that Michael Myers was lurking just around the corner after listening to this. Lock your doors, dudes.
A Sunny Day In Glasgow – “In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry In The Tradition of Passing)
Before My Bloody Valentine returned out the blue last year, A Sunny Day In Glasgow was making the best most innovative shoe-gaze since that monolithic band took what many thought would be a permanent hiatus. “In Love With Useless” is a study of entropy, wherein no matter how much energy or what kind of energy you put into something, you can never bet on anything being reciprocated. It might sound existential and sad, but if nothing is in your control, what point is there in being upset or sad about it all the time.
The Preatures – “It Gets Better”
If the last track bummed you out then fear not! “It Gets Better” by Australian rock band The Preatures is an uplifting beam of sunlight. The group recorded their debut album, Blue Planet, with Spoon drummer Jim Eno, and though each track sounds tight and focused, “It Gets Better” is the song I can most imagine in a cinematic moment, which for some reason is my metric for greatness sometimes.
Amen Dunes – “Lonely Richard”
Definitely picked up some serious mumblecore potential from Amen Dunes’ “Lonely Richard” the instant I heard it. The slowly sliding, buzzing guitar; the deliberate, calming vocals–can’t you just see Anna Kendrick making a grave young adult mistake in Joe Swanberg movie just before you hear “Have yourself a good time”? It is almost too perfect.
Spoon – “Inside Out”
Spoon has figured out how to do Spoon and one of the things they do really well that I have always loved is eerie atmospheric jams. Sure they can jam with the best of them and Britt Daniel has the raspy yawp of an alt legend, but their quieter output has always been the most curious and intriguing. “Inside Out” glows like a candle near extinction, flickering beautifully and even passionately before it burns out. Luckily Spoon shows no sign of doing the same, and I look very forward to having them around for a long while.