45. Transgender Dysphoria Blues---Against Me!
Wherein subtlety of both lyrics and instrumentals need not apply. The bluntly named title track from Against Me!'s latest wants nothing less than for its subject to pass by without you noticing, opting against analogies and metaphors in favor of a plain-spoken tales of the troubles that have met singer Laura Jane Grace since she came out as transgender. The topic makes this track (and the album it belongs to) remarkably singular in the masculine world of rock, but it would still be easier to ignore if not for those sizable guitar hooks and that catchy chorus.
44. Lost Queen---Pharrell***
Given that Pharrell had perhaps the best end of 2013/beginning of 2014 of anyone on the planet, it comes as a surprise that the sensual sway of Lost Queen never caught on like wildfire. Williams has always been a hardcore flirt, but LQ finds him operating from a place of commitment without ever having to wipe that other-thoughts-on-my-mind smirk off of his face, promising all sorts of premium treatment to his queen. It's a sweet, playful number, placed atop an inverted hip-hop beat.
43. Blue Moon---Beck
Beck's comeback album is all about beauty, so it should come as no surprise that its best song is also its most radiant. The ukulele strums that open the track might just be the prettiest notes heard in all of 2014, ushering us into the dusty, sublime sound world of the rest of the tune. Lovelorn cries reach up to the heavens, 'oh's and 'ah's glitter about in the margins, and all manner of orchestral grace notes mold BM into the statuesque beauty that it is.
42. Dangerous---Big Data feat. Joywave***
The first time I heard this song, I thought Hot Chip had better hurry up and call their lawyers; by my 54th listen, I started thinking they should probably up their game before these guys leave them behind. A sublime slice of sexy nerd rock, Big Data's 4+ minute coming out party is built from simple parts that are each turned up to 11, that bass hitting the ground with a force that you can almost feel on the ground beneath you. One might be initially inclined to giggle at these leering lyrics coming from such a meek mouth, but make no mistake; these guys are dangerous.
41. Flashed Junk Mind---Milky Chance
That's right, a Milky Chance song ranked above Stolen Dance; what are you gunna do about it, huh? While SD might be the band's global sensation, Flashed is the track that more perfectly encapsulates their appeal, a mid-tempo ditty that oozes sunny contentment from its every pore. Clemens Rehbein's voice still won't really blow you away, but its not meant to, his comfortable croon as approachable and gentle-hearted as the song itself.
40. Idle Delilah---Azealia Banks***
Broke With Expensive Taste doesn't wait around to start defying expectations; in fact, it catches you off guard nearly the moment you press play. Sure, the speed and size of those introductory clicks smack of 212, but the second the track rounds out, all bets are off. Banks sings in a lazy, lovely way, stretching or skipping through her notes as though playing hop scotch while the track comes to include exuberant guitar interruptions and a slew of jubilant bells. You're already all-in by the 2:20 mark, but the air-tight rap verse that Banks hits us with there is one hell of a cherry on top.
39. Fever---The Black Keys
There's something slightly off about Fever, which is exactly what I love about it. Pat Carney's drums seem to be tapping just a hair too slow, the ax play that has always defined their work is decidedly late to the party, and that central organ line sounds downright seasick. While most Black Keys songs tell stories of heartbreak and detachment but play out like big, bluesy arena rock, Fever actually sounds as though its caught its titular bug, these sweaty, downtrodden sounds finally matching their lyrics.
38. Johnny and Mary---Todd Terje feat. Bryan Ferry***
Johnny and Mary sticks out as It's Album Time's centerpiece for a variety of reasons; it's the only song in sight with a guest, the only one featuring vocals, and, perhaps most importantly, it slows everything waaaay down. While Terje spends most of his debut acting like the class clown, JaM is wholly straight-faced, Ferry delivering tale of domestic unrest in exquisite, exacting fashion, a swirl of synthesizers ebbing and flowing just beneath him like the tides of the sea.
37. i---Kendrick Lamar
When i first met the world back on September 23rd, the reaction was mixed to say the least. Here was Kendrick Lamar, our newly-annointed 'savior of hip-hop,' taking a hard left into the world of pop, even sampling The Isley Brothers' The Lady to happy-go-lucky effect along the way. By now, a solid 106 days after the fact, the court of public opinion has almost flipped entirely, and it's suddenly cool to like the new Kendrick joint. Lamar probably knew it all along; the masses were always going to be fussy when they got their first taste of his hotly-anticipated follow-up to Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and they were always going to end up over-powered by the rapper's tremendous rallying cry for self love, as well as the gonzo outtro that wraps the whole thing up.
36. Can't Do Without You---Caribou
Even before you know where the lead single from Caribou's latest is going, while it's still just a couple of synth notes with a repeated vocal sample on top, there's a warmth to the sound that's impossible to miss. The four words that serve as the song's title are the only lyrics to be found, chopped and screwed in a multitude of ways as the anticipation slowly builds, the promised beat drop finally landing and the 1:30 mark, wrapping listeners up in a big, bright hug.
35. Hickory---KOOL A.D. feat. Talib Kweli and Boots Riley***
KOOL A.D. will never be one of those MCs who needs a million dollars worth of production or a grand album roll-out, but with Hickory, the rapper takes a stab at something bigger than we're used to from him, and sticks the landing completely. Not only does that yesteryear beat downright tickle your eardrums, but young Vicky Vazquez finally invites some hip-hop artists of note to join him, reminding us of Kweli's verbose powers as well as Riley's infinite well of cool. This is the sound of good times being held by all.
34. Brooklyn Baby---Lana Del Rey
Who would have thought it would be Lana Del Rey giving us what is essentially a 2014 update on Cake's immortal Rock and Roll Lifestyle. Perpetually under-rated as both a satirist and a smart ass, Del Rey's sad girl stylings are perfectly adorned in BB's echoing, aching, grandiose production, but don't let the lush nature of the music distract from the prank she's playing with her lyrics. At its core, this is a tune about how the pop singer might just be too cool for her boyfriend, complete with wink-wink, nudge-nudge references to 'the freedom land of the 70's,' and beat poetry writers' propensity towards enjoying amphetamines.
33. Byebye, Big Ocean (The End)---A Sunny Day in Glasgow
It seems a bit odd to open your new album with a song whose title includes the phrases 'byebye' and 'the end,' but the song itself takes on a semblance of this backwards structure. An armada of distorted electric guitars rushes to greet you at the door, an aggressively front-loaded opening that slowly reveals further layers and textures just beneath, rather than building up to the big climax, like... you know... songs do. It's an impressive magic trick, but even with its unique construction, The End would be nowhere without Annie Fredrickson joyous, wide-eyed voice.
32. It's Over---Ty Segall***
It's Over opens with a steady rumble that seems to take place somewhere beneath the earth's surface, warning of a volcanic eruption that Segall can't wait to get to. This is just pure rock 'n' roll goodness, bursting at the seams with energy and mania, a warp-speed chug fitted with raging hooks and solos that threaten to tear the whole place down. I'll put it this way; if It's Over were hosting a house party, you'd absolutely want to be there, but never in a million years would you invite it to yours. The aftermath would be catastrophic.
31. minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]---Aphex Twin
And then there was the first new Aphex Twin song in 13 years. minipops met the world with a clamor usually reserved for larger sounding musical offerings, but I can't help but think the people to whom Richard David James' music means so much were thrilled to hear the guy stay the course. Over nearly five minutes, the track writhes and morphs an incalculable number of times, providing a treasure trove of details and grace notes waiting just below the surface to be discovered upon subsequent listens.
30. 212---Azealia Banks
Yeah, I know, I'm absurdly late on trumpeting the virtues of this track, but when a song's this good, I figure it's better late than never. By the time Banks' much-anticipated debut LP was released this last November, 212 was over three years old, but there was just no leaving this cut off of the album, the track serving as her vulgar calling card. The beat here is just ridiculous, a simple, speedy beast that steers the rapper in a plethora of different directions over the course of a jam-packed 3:25, but the thing that resonates most here remains the same as it always has; this girl can flow.
29. Murmurs---Hundred Waters***
Hundred Waters makes music you can get lost in, as the alluring expanse of Murmurs can readily attest. The track never needs to raise its voice to get its points across, the booms, pops, claps, and clicks that encapsulate the song reverberating over the seemingly endless abyss just below them. Nicole Miglis delivers a masterclass of controlled emotion and tone, each note that escapes her perfectly selected and calibrated to waft over everything like a thin, cold mist.
28. Talk is Cheap---Chet Faker
Chet Faker might be a much bigger deal down under than he is here, but if the electro-R&B crooner makes more tracks like this, the world will be next. A wheezy horn sets in motion a kaleidoscopic collection of sounds, a smattering of drum machine pops, twisted vocal samples, and nifty keyboard licks that prop up Faker's nonchalant pleas for affection. Relaxing and rousing in alternating turns, Talk is Cheap would take over the radio if us Yanks would let it.
27. I Decline---Perfume Genius
Too Bright is an album full of sonic variety, warped production, and stark changes of pace, but for its opening couple of minutes, none of these rules apply. Armed with only resplendent piano chords and the occasional whine of a violin, Mike Hadreas crafts a mournful ballad that takes on a stature and gravity that defies its humble trappings. This is heartbreaking disenchantment, communicated in the most elemental of languages.
26. Water Fountain---tUnE-yArDs***
Even by Merrill Garbus' standards, this is tremendous, glorious non-sense. Cherry pies, blood soaked dollars, riding the whip, bodily decay, and a two-pound chicken that tastes better with friends all somehow make their way into the lyrics of this loony track, but what's even stranger is how the power of Garbus' voice makes everything sound impossibly important. Three of the most exciting minutes of music heard in 2014, Water Fountain keeps adding more and more percussion, ramping up the RPM until the last minute or so morphs into a carnival of caffeinated bliss.