25. Stay With Me---Sam Smith***
This is grand, gaudy gloriousness, wrapped snuggly within gospel trappings. In case you weren't alive over the last couple of years, Smith is an English singer/songwriter who basically sounds like he swallowed a microphone, each note that leaves his lungs booming with power, even remaining in staggering control during the softer moments. Stay With Me basically exists as a showcase for Smith's golden pipes, a stayed sequence of piano chords and an occasional choir serving as his only noticeable supporting cast. That voice just takes over.
24. Gunshot---Lykke Li
Lykke Li likes to start her songs with humble openings, but don't let the hushed introductory notes of Gunshot fool you; this track lives up to its name. It all comes in at once; muscular piano, pleading ax, and Li's voice, ramped up with desperation and immediacy. Somewhere in this mix, Greg Kurstin mercilessly pounds on a snare drum, the sharp blasts sounding not unlike the discharge of a firearm. It's a fairly obvious trick, but the sound is powerful enough that, when paired with Li's hopeless cries, it hits you like a punch to the gut.
23. Happy Idiot---TV on the Radio***
Seeds didn't really give me a whole lot of confidence that TV on the Radio could return all the way to the peak of their powers, but if there's any true hope, you can find it here. Ironing out most of the wrinkles that made their sound so unique and esoteric, Happy Idiot is a bid for airwaves attention, a speedy creation fitted with groovy, down-trodden six-strings, and a dark, mysterious lead performance from Tunde Adebimpe. We're used to giving these guys a few spins before discovering what makes their music magical; HI hits you with the good stuff right away, even tacking on a zippy guitar outtro for good measure.
22. Refuge---The Antlers
"And you're already home, and you don't even know it," Peter Silberman gorgeously intones, and he couldn't be more spot-on. The closer from the band's latest, Refuge removes every last vestige of the sadness that has come to define their sound, ending the disc on a note of calm, confident triumph. This is the sound of coming up for air when you've been submerged under water, feeling the warmth of life rush quickly back inside you, ballooning marvelously in your chest.
21. Digital Witness---St. Vincent***
Who would have thought the banner-carrier from St. Vincent's latest would largely table her singular six-string virtuosity in favor of ecstatic horn blowing? Annie Clark never ceases to surprise, Digital Witness set in motion by a slew of sampled trumpets that seem to impatiently vie for your attention all at once. The chaos of the sound reflects the turmoil of the lyrics, Clark exploring the growing rift between real life, and life as represented through digital mediums, at times almost painfully bluntly ("If I can't show you, if you can't see me/What's the point of doing anything?). It's a distressed, frazzled, and caustic banger, but what a banger it is!
20. Brill Bruisers---The New Pornographers
The title track from The New Pornographers' latest hits like a tsunami of kaleidoscopic bliss. Everything comes alive at once, those fuzzy, grandstanding guitars, the splashy drums, and that joyously repeated "Bo, bah, bo, bah, bo, booh" rallying cry. This is Power Pop that wholly embodies both of those words, the size and sinewy structure of the track lording over eardrums, while the ascending chorus that sees A.C. Newman's voice scrape the ceiling is positively elating. You know when you're so happy that you almost start to cry? Brill Bruisers sounds kinda like that.
19. Budapest---George Ezra***
How endearing are the contented strums and wistful sentiments behind Budapest? So much so that I had uproot a sturdy portion of the songs cited below when I realized, in utter panic, that I had somehow left it off the first draft of this list. Ezra voice has a lovely roughness to it, a slight scratch that he wisely chooses not to sand down while offering to leave his many riches in pursuit of love. There's a steady gallop to the thing, powered by a dust-covered drum kit, the tiny plinks of keys, and the world's shiest guitar. Never threatening to leave its comforting mid-tempo, Budapest is one of those songs made of simple, familiar enough parts to where you probably wouldn't realize how great it was if your finger didn't always reach for the repeat button the second it ended.
18. Inside Out---Spoon
If this is how it feels to be warped and backwards, then sub me in, coach! The stunning centerpiece to Spoon's latest is almost painfully gorgeous, possessing an unchanging mid-tempo pulse that serves as our tour guide through the track's harp-fueled ruminations. On an album filled with speedy delights and killer hooks, the thoughtfully stayed sound world of this beautiful song really does make it feel as though, as vocalist Britt Daniel suggests, "time's gone inside out."11. Two Weeks---FKA Twigs***
17. No Rest for the Wicked---Lykke Li***
Leading up to the release of Lykke Li's I Never Learn, the Swedish songstress warned that her impending LP was a break-up album, primarily stocked with power ballads. One listen to this cut, and you'll know she wasn't kidding. While the whole disc is prone to melancholy and shame, Wicked is the track that really brings the firepower, opening with tidy, echoing notes from the very highest of piano keys, sucker punching you with utter bombast the second the chorus hits. Li's voice barely makes it over that towering wall of chord-driven misery, blaming the weak lovers of the world for, "letting them win without a fight." Everybody writes break-up songs; Wicked just happens to actually mean it.
16. In Our Prime---The Black Keys***
In which The Black Keys slow down for once. In Our Prime shares both the space and maturity that separate Turn Blue from the rest of The Black Keys' discography, this time paired with a sense of longing and nostalgia they'd previously managed to keep at bay. Dan Auerbach waxes poetically on the subject of a better time, Pat Carney seamlessly switching up the tempo just beneath him. Confidently staying in its lane and refusing to morph into a headbanger, In Our Prime is possibly the most emotional thing we've yet heard from these boys, ushered out on the wings of the world's most mournful guitar solo.
Yes, Whorehouse is the sound of opening pandora's box, but when this song is what's inside, why would you ever want to close it? A jaunty stomp that may have just escaped the loony bin, Whorehouse is 4+ minutes of prismatic insanity, a track that sees nothing wrong with throwing almost every vocal sample within a ten-mile radius into the same tune, and somehow being right. Like much of ceo's work, it's unrepentantly goofy and equally dazzling, ready to be the drum major in the world's most psychotic parade.
14. Problem---Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea***
This is 2014's radio single of the year, and it's not even close. I'm still trying to figure out where Grande fits those lungs inside that tiny frame of hers, but there's no ignoring their power, her voice leaping out of the blocks at the start of Problem, and only becoming more explosive there after. Borrowing Macklemore's horn section to rousing effect, the track may be about romantic strife, but it's hard to focus on heartbreak when the song is so busy pummeling you into party jam ecstasy. It's even good enough to survive guest spots from Big Sean AND Iggy Azalea! I didn't even know that was possible!
13. I'm Not Part Of Me---Cloud Nothings
The sleekest cut from the most ravishingly grungy album of the year, wherein Cloud Nothings finally let up on the snarling rush of Here and Nowhere Else, and write what might just be the best song of their career in the process. Please don't take that to mean the three-piece stops rocking, the song's sturdy engine of rollicking drums and warm power chords revving along while Dylan Baldi withholds his feelings ("I'm not telling you all I'm going through"). It's the most immediately tuneful track they've made in a while, but the last minute or so seeks to destroy all the evidence, everything crashing down and being torn apart before our very ears.
12. Take Me To Church---Hozier
Remember what I said about Sam Smith's Stay with Me, you know, about the piano chords and the power of that voice? Now take that, multiply it by two, and you've got Take Me to Church. Hozier broke the record for fastest rise to global fame with this track, four minutes that are emotional enough to bring you to tears, and powerful enough to score a LeBron James commercial. The patient, reverent verses act as bridges between the track's epic, howling chorus, an all-in confection of crashing instrumentals that only gains more gravity as Hozier's voice nearly cracks at the top of lines like, "I'll tell you my sins, and you can sharpen your knife." Take Me to Church grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you until you can't help but take notice.
The video for Two Weeks features FKA Twigs sitting upon a throne, and ruling over her subjects; could their be a more fitting visual for this song? For four straight minutes, you'd be forgiven for thinking Tahliah Debrett Barnett has literally taken over the world, lording over all with mercy and tyranny in equal measure. As if the rippling electronic production here weren't intimidating enough, Barnett treats the song as the most leering come-on you'll ever hear, threatening to steal a lover with lines like, "give me two weeks, and you won't recognize her," that bellow over the song's limitless expanse.