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20 Favorite Songs of 2014
—with playlist in ascending order.
1. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – “Another Life”
This was the year every sad old song that ever spoke continued to speak. The world could’ve found enough meaning in what it already had, but D’Angelo and company came along just in time and said, on behalf of millions now living: Unfair. And so, “in another life…” Later I read the lyrics and found out it’s a song of romantic adulation, but too late, the central, sole intelligible phrase had already allowed the song to billow to “Over The Rainbow” dimensions, for a new century of murkier longing. D’Angelo wants these songs to live to the fullest, and that extends to the method of articulation, too.
2. Withered Hand – “Horseshoe”
Only a child during the punk era but somehow Dan Willson has written its greatest postmortem since “You Can’t Put Your Arms Round A Memory.”
3. Foxes In Fiction – “Shadow’s Song”
Here it is (!), the song that gives way (differently than in concert) to what I described as “a tender, confounding melody, like an Alex Scally line plunked out on keyboard, collected as moisture by a rag and wrung out.” Hmm, maybe. Even more tender are Owen Pallett’s strings, so lovely Ben E. King might have used them.
4. Alvvays – “The Agency Group”
Not as Velvet Underground-obsessed as Bettie Serveert and so they keep it fairly simple and simply attend to the emotional intensity of their foggy notions. Thus, the most wrenching song Carol van Dijk never sang.
5. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – “In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing)”
Artist Of The Year: Jen Goma. For an amazing ability to belatedly join still-vital bands (class of ’09 especially) and make herself the MVP. Her vocal here, broken up into blinding flashes by a clipping, strobe light effect, earns a great album its obligatory centerpiece, in fine company with pre-Goma standouts “Shy” and “5:15 Train.”
6. Kendrick Lamar – “i”
Can’t really top my initial reaction: “Everyone who says it’s too positive should go jump off a cliff.”
7. La Sera – “Losing to the Dark”
Earlier — In emotional sequence, the song’s sarcastic rage (“what a shame it must be to have to be in love with me”—that hurts) precedes the weary beauty of Concrete Blonde’s “Joey,” whose narrator will banish the alcoholic ex-lover from her thoughts as soon as she finishes singing that she’s “not angry anymore.”
8. Martin Carr – “The Santa Fe Skyway”
Earlier — [Song’s] density of ostensibly mismatched cues (love the rapid fire horns punching holes in a sweeping string arrangement) would be disorienting without a killer melodic through-line seamlessly pulling it all together for orchestral pop brilliance. Song of the year, maybe. [Not quite.]
9. Young Thug & Bloody Jay – “4 Eva Bloody”
I get it, the way a normally wired person might look at the music that excites me most and ask, “Are these people bored or what?” For the first time since The Tough Alliance I don’t have to fear such a reprisal. Everyone loves Young Thug, because everyone’s drowning in messages while starving for language. Here’s a guy with a million ways of singing “hey, it’s me.”
10. Merchandise – “True Monument”
What can I say, I’m from Montana.
11. Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me”
Agreed, the only thing missing from Sonny Sharrock’s Ask the Ages was the ideal of a Kendrick Lamar verse and a passage of drum machine handclaps. In a way this is the inverse of “i,” and in a way it’s the same song. There’s a confounding synchronicity between “I love myself” and “you’re dead,” or maybe not. 2012 already taught us that Lamar treats art and death as equals, intertwined fulfillments of his life’s potential, each just as likely to precede the other.
12. Allo Darlin’ – “Bright Eyes”
See “4 Eva Bloody.” Yawns will be met with severe punishment.
13. Tennis – “Timothy”
It takes a canny band to know when to salvage a song from an old EP, put it right at the center of an album, and let it illuminate the best qualities of its new surroundings.
14. Death Vessel – “Ejecta”
Earlier — Island Intervals broadens [Joel Thibodeau’s] vocal environment to a nearly unimaginable degree. Opening track “Ejecta,” which renders Earth as a vast, creaking bellows, is an astonishing sound-world before Thibodeau has sung a single note.
15. Tori Amos – “Promise”
A private family dialogue made public by melody and generous sentiment.
16. EMA – “When She Comes”
Once again my favorite EMA song is the one where she seems to be playing to the beat of the creaks of her surroundings and where her lyrics are the most open-ended. The difference is that “Anteroom” consoled those who don’t get it right with the chance to try again (holy shit, I just realized: with the words “in another life”!), while “When She Comes” says this is it.
17. The Fresh & Onlys – “Who Let The Devil”
Majestically restrained. I’m not being florid or unnecessarily adverbial. This song has two things: majesty, restraint.
18. Sun Kil Moon – “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love”
After all that’s happened I still feel comfortable letting Kozelek’s love speak for my own.
19. Real Estate – “Crime”
With a clean guitar tone and groovy time signature, this song’s opening yields a surprise no matter how many times I play it. As purely musical an indie rock band as was ever widely celebrated, Real Estate, who I once feared threatened by an unkind economy, are here to stay.
20. Perfume Genius – “I Decline”
Back to the grid. Two years ago he worked the corner of it, endless, and now he’s found with the vision of an angel just above (then later, on “Grid,” he smashes the image, says no, something else). The sparseness of his language would be maddeningly ambiguous if it didn’t form such a tight pattern, and if he didn’t so frequently avow his clarity. The way he does that on the first song of Too Bright, held by his gentle piano chords and a thin high shimmer of guitar, is so spectacular I hardly needed to hear the rest.
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