Monday, December 29, 2014

Pop Candy Arcade Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2014, 1-25

We find ourselves at the end of yet another year.  With each closure comes the obsessive and oppressive need to chronicle and lock a bit of pop culture away in a time capsule.  So, we build lists. Or, at least, that's how things work for me.  2014's song list marks the sixth time I've gone through the process of publicly documenting my taste and daring to call things "best," and though from time to time I've later discovered tracks that could have easily been at the top had I known about them, the most rewarding thing about the act of listing is that each of these really does serve to make some part of my memory all the more concrete.

As per usual, the caveat: this is not a music site. This is a film site, primarily, and a one-person operation.  I like making playlists, I like sharing sounds I've enjoyed, and I'm definitely into collecting my own thoughts.  This list is far more about compiling a very subjectively chosen set of worthwhile artifacts and far less about placing labels on the "best" possible songs of the year. They're the best to me, certainly, even if they're not always the most musically ambitious.

That said, let us begin.  Presented with minimal commentary and in no real order, the 100 best tracks of 2014...

Read on.

 1. Beyonce / "Partition"  Last year I was on top of my listing to include two tracks from Beyonce's surprise release ("Flawless" and "Drunk in Love").  The album was such a late in the year drop that it became not only the album of 2013, but of 2014 as well.  It's a brilliant piece of work, and with repeat listens the superior/favorite tracks have shifted for me over time.  "Partition" has remained rather steadily at the top as it mashes up all the boldest moves of the album in one bass-heavy swoop. It's confident, sleazy, and catchy as all hell.  All hail the Queen.

2. Caribou / "Can't Do Without You"  If you've been following these lists for awhile, you know I'm a big fan of Dan Snaith as Caribou.  Snaith as disappeared into other (similar) acts in the last few years, but there's something about the underwater repetitions of Caribou's sound that makes for the perfect, earwormy mellow drone.

3. FKA Twigs / "Two Weeks"  FKA Twigs may be the quietest artist to come out with the loudest bang this past year.  "Two Weeks" is a brilliant bit of wanting as eerily desperate as it is dripping in R&B sensuality, though the title may as well refer to the time it took her to blow up upon the single's release.

4. Perfume Genius / "Queen"  The line that says it all in this song: "No family is safe/ When I sashay." Yes. Yes.

5. Lowell / "Cloud 69" Early in the year this circled around some NPR spaces and music blogs for a minute and I immediately cataloged it as the first official entry on the long list of 2014 tracks.  It's big, brash, middle-finger to the world girl rock.

6. Run the Jewels / "Blockbuster Night Part 1"  It's unlikely that I'll actually put together a list of the best albums of 2014, but if I were to (and if I specified albums actually released in 2014), we'd be looking at El-P and Killer Mike's Run the Jewels 2 as right at the top.  Expect more of them throughout the list. Everywhere.

7. iLoveMakonnen ft. Drake / "Tuesday"  What the hell is this song?  Unclear. Why is this song? Unclear. What's the proper way to write out "iLoveMakonnen" and is this song called "Tuesday" or "Club Goin Up on a Tuesday"? Unclear.

8. Kelela / "The High" Goddamn this song should have been a thing. Kelela is a killer voice in the R&B redux, and one who's certainly not getting the attention she deserves.  More than "Two Weeks" even, "The High" sucks you in to a deep, googly eyed pit.

9. Leon Vynehall / "It's Just (House of Dupree)"  Leon Vynehall is a UK producer on the brink, and this track is a sparkly house beat with just enough of a ball queen sample  to immediately suck me in.

10. Future Islands / "Seasons (Waiting On You)" Best song of the year? Nah. Real good song? Yes. Future Islands is building up its new wave influence into surges of fresh, teen angst-rehashing emotions.  It's the kind of song that works for dancing if you're feeling good, or dancing while crying if you're feeling bad.

11. Alvvays / "Archie, Marry Me"  One of those big shiny distorted pop tracks that deserves a summer day with the windows down and no shame. Sing it loud, sing it loud.

12. Ought / "Habit" This is one of those songs that feels old and familiar, and you're pretty sure you've heard it before, like, it was on a mix with Pavement songs someone gave you once. But. It wasn't. It just appeals directly to that part of you that wants to accept it as an old classic without thinking through the way it sounds like so many other things (David Byrne, Parquet Courts, Pavement, etc etc).

13. Taylor Swift / "Style" 2014 is the year we all accepted Taylor Swift into our lives. It was a sudden, unexpected change, and I'm still startled by how much I enjoy the pop hooks on 1989.  These are studied, perfectly crafted bubblegum jams, and if you can resist the pull of "Style" I don't think we should hang out, really.

14. Jessie Ware / "Tough Love" Yes, Jessie Ware. Throw a little bit of Prince at it.  That will work.

15. Royksopp & Robyn / "Monument" The worst thing about the Royksopp & Robyn collaboration is that it's only six tracks.  That is literally the worst thing.  Everything else is great. These two acts together constitutes a peanut butter and chocolate situation.

16. Todd Terje feat. Bryan Ferry / "Johnny and Mary"  The slow, intensely moody track on Todd Terje's disco album (and a Robert Palmer cover). It's massively out of place in context, but I'm such a sucker for Bryan Ferry's breathy vocals over a downbeat that I's certainly not about to argue it.

17. Alt-J / "Hunger of the Pine"  No song uses a Miley Cyrus sample (from "4x4") with more impressively atmospheric results.  I've heard this song dismissed as a kind of overly try-hard confection, but I don't hear that.  It's a beautifully cinematic track that seems to simply grow and grow.

18. Andy Stott / "Faith in Strangers" Well now. Isn't this pretty? Stott's music tends to feel enclosed; trapped in a subterranean lounge.  "Faith in Strangers" is like leaving the basement and finding the light.

19. Beyonce / "Haunted" Currently my second favorite track on the album, "Haunted" pulls many of the same moves that make "Partition" work so well: it ebbs and flows from a bass-heavy intro to something smoother and then changes yet again.  The atmosphere is heavy, and, worth noting: the video is FANTASTIC.

20. Grimes ft. Blood Diamonds / "Go"  "Go" is the track Grimes penned for Rihanna, as the story goes, and it's a love it or hate it situation.  I can't speak to what irks the haters so much (though I'd imagine it's something along the lines of the dropped bass and the really very airy, straightforward pop nature of the song), but I can say that it's a dreamy dance track, and one that I really kind of just love.

21. Charli XCX / "Need Ur Luv" Let's state for the record how ahead of the Charli XCX curve I was: she's been a fixture on the year end list since 2012 (with "You're the One"), and it's about time she's getting some real attention for something other than singing backup on bigger, shittier pop tracks.  Charli XCX has been providing the soundtrack for the movie of my teenage dreams since her debut, and "Need Ur Luv" is yet another bratty, gum-snapping stomper.  I can't stop listening to this.

22. Elisa Ambrogio / "Superstitious"  I feel like this song wants something from me. I'm ok with that.

23. St. Vincent / "Prince Johnny"  St. Vincent is always far greater than her initial impression. Her songs are, more often than not, perfect specimens to a certain type of gently bent messiness.  She's an auteur figure in the midst of carving out, steadily, her exact sound.  Though in some ways her live presence strikes a more memorable pose, each track on this album is alien, odd, and completely her.

24. Cherry Glazerr / "Haxel Princess"  California garage rock from a trio of teenagers, this is track two on the movie soundtrack kicked off by a Charli XCX video.

25. Your Old Droog / "Loosey in the Store with Pennies" Your Old Droog's album was so good that people thought it might be Nas hiding behind a stage name to restart his career.   Nope. He's a 25-year old white dude from Coney Island, but one who can be counted as a real rap purist. He's got the right reverence, the right attention to sound and tradition to make an album that speaks to his hip hop love.

26-50 coming soon...

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