I think I’m getting older.
Usually, there are a handful of songs that become my whole life for a year. This year, that just didn’t happen. That’s not to say that I don’t really like these songs I’m about to tell you about, or that I don’t expect to listen to them for the rest of my life. In years past, my favorite songs became short hand for ways to understand what my year had been like, what I had been feeling in the 12 months that had passed.
This year, these songs are just songs I really like. I wouldn’t these songs to speak for me. I wouldn’t use these songs as a means of getting to know me. I would just put them on when I was trying to have a good time.
I don’t know what that is. It might be because I spent so much time working on my own music, and so little trying to branch out of the genres that I know I enjoy. Maybe it’s because I had less time to focus on music, what with a new job and an increasing serious relationship and all. Maybe it’s because music sucked this year (jk, music is awesome every year).
I’d like to think it’s because I’m finding myself more, and I need less shorthand examples to tell me who I am.
Whatever the reason, it’s nice to just like some songs and not feel like it means the world.
Without further preamble, my favorite songs of the year.
20-16: A Really Well Made Pasta
20) The Hold Steady – Almost Everything, Teeth Dreams: To a great many people, the Hold Steady is a band that has lost its fastball. I can appreciate that point of view, I guess, but then I hear a song like “Almost Everything,” which is as lyrically sharp as anything Craig Finn has ever written, and I think that’s all bullshit. This record marks the point where the Hold Steady really started writing stories about adults, not children. This song stands as the high water mark of the group’s mature era.
19) Vince Staples – Hands Up, Hell Can Wait: Vince put out two great records this year. Each one has a song that stands out among the others; it was between this anti-oppression growl or the dead-eyed reminiscence of an absent father. I picked “Hands Up,” because I’m still angry and confused and sad, and because sometimes context matters.
18) Shabazz Palaces – Motion Sickness, Lese Majesty: If Lese Majesty is a wonderful pile of angular space noise, “Motion Sickness” is the statement of work. This song sounds like rain. It sounds like something tape heads would play in college dorms in the 90s. It sounds like an album that hasn’t come out yet. It’s an incitement of modern consumerism, except it isn’t. It lasts exactly as long as it has to, presents a thousand little ideas, and leaves them all unexplored, yet satisfied.
It’s a mysterious fucking song.
17) Jesse Ware – Kind Of … Sometimes … Maybe, Tough Love: This is, hands down, the sexiest song of the year.
16) Liars – Pro Anti Anti, Mess: Liars are never going to be a dance group. It’s heart is too hateful, it’s mission too violent. That said, “Pro Anti Anti” is the most dance floor-friendly industrial song these ears have heard in quite some time. Fun fact: if someone puts this song on at a nightclub, it’s about to become that weird S&M room from the first Matrix movie.
15-11: Ice Cream
15) The Men – Pearly Gates, Tomorrow’s Hits: Sometimes, all it takes to make the top 20 is to record the best Rolling Stones cover you can. The Men have taken a lot of flack for moving in a more classic rock direction, but when the results are as good as this, I don’t know how anyone can complain.
14) Real Estate – April’s Song, Atlas: Real Estate continues to roll on peak chill, sounding like The Adventures of Pete and Pete all the while. Someone somewhere is writing a movie about living in South Orange, NJ, or Ticonderoga, NY, or Ambler, PA or wherever, and “April’s Song” is the setpiece for the big love scene at the end.
13) Iceage – The Lord’s Favorite, Plowing Into the Fields of Love: Iceage decided to stop being punks and start being Nick Cave. “The Lord’s Favorite” sounds like a band that decided to get as drunk as it could, then play a cow-punk song. The results are far better than they sound.
12) Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Shitsville, Pinata: There are more profound songs on Pinata (“Deeper”), more dramatic ones (“Real), more fun ones (“High,” Harold’s”), and more overall impressive and expansive (“Pinata”). There are, however, no songs that greater summarize the Freddie Gibbs experience. If you had to explain the Gary, Indiana’s worldview in one song, “Shitsville” is the one that tells the most complete story.
11) Run the Jewels – Crown, RTJ2: “Crown” is an odd choice for the year’s best Run the Jewels song. It’s really the only slow song on the whole album, and it isn’t the one that I would use to introduce people to the group. It sounds out of place with everything else around it (at least at first blush), and it’s a decidedly less exuberant song than anything else found on the record.
Still, it’s a song that hangs with me, largely because of the regret in Killer Mike’s voice when he tells a story about selling cocaine to a pregnant woman, only to have that same woman forgive him of his sins later in life. The hardest thing to do, at least for me, is to find a way to forgive yourself of the shitty things you do. This song shares that worldview, and explains it perfectly.
10) Together PANGEA – River, Badillac: I’m always going to have a soft spot for trendy cocaine garage music.
9) Rae Sermmurd – No Flex Zone: Hands down, the best radio rap song of the year. I can only hope that Young Thug’s influence continues to spawn rappers who are all about trying different flows and deliveries. These two teenage motherfuckers take more risks in their spit than Eminem has taken since 1999. Also, it’s cool that, even though 2014 was the year of DJ Mustard’s oppressive regime, Mike Will Made It remains a constant hit maker.
8) EMA – Solace, The Future’s Void: There is a part in “Solace,” right around the 4:15 mark, when all the music cuts away, and the song is all reverberating vocals bouncing off each other. It sounds like EMA is singing in a electronica cave. The words are procussive, yet smooth. A million voices, close together but never in unison, call and respond to each other; “beg / pray / beg / pray / beg / pray.” It’s a great moment, and it caps a great, quietly uplifting song.
7) Joyce Manor – The Jerk, Never Hungover Again: I’ve looked at the words to “The Jerk” a couple of times now, and they don’t mean fuck all to me. Seriously, look them up. This song could be about anything.
Lyrics really aren’t as important to me when a song has a rock-solid hook (like this one does), an engaging bridge (like this one does), and makes me want to yell at the top of my lungs (like this one does). Plus, I do like that part about “starting over again / with some farmyard friends / look them dead in the eyes / and say ‘I’m not like you,’” because it makes it seem like the song is about telling animals who the boss is.
6) Jeezy (ft Jay Z) – Seen it All, Seen it All: The Autobiography: This song makes me want to run through a fucking wall it’s so good. Jeezy’s really at his best when he’s lifting up the people around him, but he’s also pretty damn good when he’s rapping his ass of about his drug past over some Blockhead-sounding flute beats (we really need more flute beats). This is Jeezy at his most Wu-Tang and it is glorious.
5) Future (ft Andre 3000) – Benz Friends (Wachutola), Honest: It’s tempting to call this a lost Outkast song, but the reality is that Outkast never really seemed at ease being celebrities. And, while I’m not going to say that Andre 3000’s verses and Organized Noise’ production aren’t crucial to the song (the beat sounds like the ghost choir in that one Avalanches song), it’s really Future’s song. He oozes cool. He’d be a celebrity even if “Turn on the Lights” never hit. These cars never meant shit to Future, “Benz Friends” proves it. The is modern superhero music.
4) Sylvan Esso – Coffee, Sylvan Esso: My girlfriend thinks that Slyvan Esso sounds like “a woman with a boombox and a garbage can lid making ghost music.” The difference between her and I is that she sees that as a negative.
It’s hard to pick just one song off Sylvan Esso. The album is flush with idiosyncratic hits that single-highhandedly redeem all that lousy electro dream-pop of the last 3 years. I went with “Coffee” because it plays to me like a less drunk cousin of “Video Games.” There’s real sadness in this song, buried beneath a veneer of safe detachment. Plus, Esso’s an earworm machine. It’s a song that manages to be sad, hopeful, spiteful and pretty all at the same time.
3) Future Islands – Back in the Tall Grass, Singles: We must protect the continued success of Future Island at all costs. It’s more than just odd dad dancing, people!
2) Ought, Today More Than Any Other Day, More Than Any Other Day: Sometimes, my “one song per artist” rule really bites me in the ass. Ought put out more great rock music in 2014 than most bands will put out in a career. If you played More Than Any Other Day for eight people, there would likely be eight different choices for best song. I chose this one because all the best songs have 90 or so seconds of total nonsense before launching into something that sounds familiar and wholly new at the same time. In this song’s best moments, it takes old blocks and starts to plan something that’s never quite been done before.
1) Cloud Nothings – I’m Not a Part of Me, Here and Nowhere Else: These lists are really simple sometimes. Since first hearing “I’m Not a Part of Me” in March, I haven’t grown sick of it. It still gets stuck in my head, months after the fact. I hum it to myself while I do the dishes. I sing it under my breath as I absent-mindlessly putter around the house. I find myself singing snippets of the song in the car, even when other music is playing. It is, simply put, the most present song of my year, here and no where else.
I could make some points about the band’s further development from a bedroom dream-punk act, and how that matters in the larger context of the song. I could comment on the band’s seeming rejection of Attack on Memory‘s nihilism for something closer to calm. I could highlight the lyrics, which are simple enough to be meaningless or profound depending on what your’re looking for. I could point to the drumming, which drives the song even more than the riffs do, at least until the last 45 seconds, at which point you can almost feel, not hear but feel, the coming eruption. There are a lot of technical reasons I could elaborate on as to why this is the best song of the year.
Fuck all that. No other song stayed with me like this one did. That’s enough.