The charms and specific pleasures of Gooey, like most everything Glass Animals does, are hard to put a finger on. After all, how do you explain to someone that a track that name-drops Pooh Bear is the year's sexiest without just playing it for them? From an opening that's so hushed you almost have to stick your earbuds further in to hear it, Gooey slowly adds pillow-soft pieces to its suddenly expansive mix, a myriad of electronic bleeps and bloops that glitter and seduce as they sneakily fill up the room. Band leader Dave Bayley's every word sounds like a secret being whispered in your ear, an unthinkably intimate performance of lyrics that are either complete and utter nonsense, or deeply knotted code describing a wellspring of lust, and just a few ideas on how to exorcise it. A nocturnal tune best suited for behind closed doors, Gooey puts Glass Animals on the map in a way where it's hard to see them falling off anytime soon.
I was trying to avoid ties... I swear, I really was. This is one of two you'll find in my top ten, and while the other got clumped together because of my complete inability to rank one above the others, this two-pack of The War On Drugs winners is impossible to break up by virtue of their similarities. The two most caffeinated tracks one an album that, to my mind, could have stood to chug another Red Bull or two, Red Eyes plays out like the radio-ready version of Ocean's epic slow-burn build. A remarkably brisk 5 minutes that probably caused more than a few people to subconsciously lean harder on the gas whenever it graced the airwaves, Eyes is an astonishing Tom Petty banger, fitted with ascending verses and explosive choruses, shouting defiance and mistrust toward a lover who would, "beat it down to get to (lead singer Adam Granduciel's) soul." Ocean is much more interested in lighting up concert halls than Alternative Rock charts, a 7+ minute foray into all manner of six string righteousness, Charlie Hall's speedy, steady drumming locked in at the same tempo all the while, propping up 2014's single greatest rock song. Or is that Red Eyes? I can't decide, so I won't. The moral of the story is this: if you want to write a towering, irrefutable slab of rock 'n' roll, you should probably shout "Whew!" somewhere along the way.
I know, I know, I know, but seriously, could you pick between your children? Leaving just about any song from Familiars off of my top 100 tracks was like pulling teeth, and now you want me to deny two of these three their claim to being the true album highlight? Sorry, folks, I just can't do it; all three just bring such different things to the table. If you're looking to head-bang, The Antlers' 2014 LP has allotted exactly one of its 53+ minutes to your cause, but what a ravishing rock out it is. It occurs at the conclusion on Director, a song that seems to waft weightlessly about in the air until it suddenly comes crashing down like a ton of bricks, with guitars that sing, drums that pound, and symbols that crash as though the world may be ending that very second. It's preceded on the album by Intruders, which takes an extremely different path to glory, wiggling about in its oddly bewitching nighttime sheen as vocalist Peter Silberman lyrics tell a story of inner turmoil through the lens of battling a doppelgänger. Nothing explodes, and the tempo largely refuses to budge, allowing the strife in Silberman's voice to take over, the troubadour engaging in all-out war fare with the unsightly parts of his subconscious. This latent anxiety is nowhere to be found on Parade, a song that might have a few lingering dark thoughts in its expensive brain, but still manages to play out like the very celebration of its title. Its autumnal sway grabs you from the very start, positively dripping with yesteryear romance, but its that horn section, a defining feature throughout the entirety of Familiars, that truly brings us home, blowing regal notes into the air as the song ends in defiant triumph. I'll let you figure out how to rank them against each other, because I just can't do it.
Never Catch Me---Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar
Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar have one primary thing in common; they like to go fast. Sure, Steven Ellison's lightning speed sound world is capable of slowing it down from time to time, and at this point in his career, I'm not sure there's anything Lamar can't do, but what makes Never Catch Me so exhilarating is the manner in which the two artists both challenge and bring out the best in each other. "I can see the darkness in me and it's quite amazing/Life and death is no mystery and I wanna taste it," Lamar declares as the song opens, his lone verse exploring that unknowable place between this world and the next, his ruminations proving just as beautiful and captivating as his flow is mesmerizing. The beat that FlyLow enshrouds him in is a jazzy, lithe little thing... until Thundercat's guitar busts the thing open right as Lamar's verse ends, turning our journey to the afterlife into a whirlwind of gorgeous chaos, pulling you into another dimension. One of the most unique, thoughtful, and celebratory songs about death you're likely to ever hear.
"We killin' them for freedom cause they tortured us for boredom/And even if some good ones die, fuck it, the Lord'll sort 'em."
Oh, dear god...
This pair of lines, uttered by Killer Mike as the MC attempts to incite a prison riot, is among the most brutal lyrics I've ever heard, but Close Your Eyes isn't exactly a song striving for either nuance or fairness. Run The Jewels 2's lead single is the most violent, nasty thing on the year's most violent, nasty album, a raging battle cry against the injustice endlessly perpetrated against the impoverished and incarcerated. The specifics of Mike and El-P's pro-manslaughter epic make the listener more than a little queasy, but the power of their anger, and the truly disgusting real-world events that serve as kindling to its fire, is awe-inspiring, intimidating stuff. One would have to go as far back as Rage Against the Machine to witness this level militant rebellion goading, which is probably why they invited that band's lead singer to close out the track, De La Rocha breathing fire as he spits his verse. It all takes place atop the most savage, exciting hip hop beat of 2014, a barrel of gunpowder set ablaze by the remorseless sentiments of all three rappers. Most rhyme-sayers have become less violent since hip-hop's 90's heyday, but Run the Jewels can't be bothered with the pulling of punches; their ferocity and insolence will be heard, wether you like it or not.
This right here is just party jam goodness, plain and simple, and while this genre usually lacks the gumption or staying power to be one of the year's best, Collards Greens is in some pretty damn rarified air. The track wastes no time in getting the people going, ripping open fleet bass drum and symbol interplay that's punctuated by snare drum pops, a beat that could pry movement out of a statue. That steady chug is the song's beating heart, but the arms, legs, and head of this beast are made up of the MC's who share the track. Quite easily the finest moment of Schoolboy Q's career so far, the outed lothario neglects proper flow in favor of a punchy, bouncy cadence, committing to mindless house party rambunctiousness straight away, opening his first verse by commanding, "Smoke this, drink this/Straight to my liver." A quick word of advice though; if you're really trying to make it to the big time, maybe don't let Kendrick Lamar steal your show right out from under you? He delivers his most memorable guest verse since Control, giving into the gravitational pull of all this gaudy incautiousness with lines like, "I'm famous/I blame this on you," and, "Biiache! This your favorite song." It's relentlessly chest-puffing and sophomoric, and yet somehow sounds just as natural coming out of his mouth as those aforementioned ruminations on the afterlife. The guy is just plain special, and so is this song, 5 minutes of pure indulgence that should be required listening at every game of beer pong or flip cup played nationwide.
In a lot of ways, I kind of feel like The Black Keys have been leading up to this song their whole career, but it was still shocking when, early last May, we finally heard them get there. Auerbach and Carney obviously take much of their inspiration from the musical stylings of yesteryear, but the degree to which they've previously foregrounded their sound has rendered a true trip to the past impossible. To boot, this kind of slow-burn-into-explosion structure has foiled them before, mistaking leaps in volume with a proper sonic journey. Something drastic must have happened between 2011's El Camino and now, because literally none of the accusations listed above could be leveled against Weight of Love, a song that takes its sweet time, grows with swagger and mystery that are impossible to turn away from, and then, when the time is right, explodes like a damn volcano. It's classic rock on a level that would make the canonical greats smile, that thumping bass sneaking around in the background, the echoing, reverberating guitar, those sublimely salty kiss-off lyrics. The boys have unlocked the secret of 'waaait foor iit' rock; crafting choruses that are immersive enough that you not only don't mind waiting for the big finish, but might even prefer the anticipation. This is an Accomplishment with a capital A, the very best song ever produced by America's biggest current rock band.
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2014:
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2014: