The 75 Best Songs of 2014

by PopMatters Staff

22 December 2014

From electro to Americana... from R&B to metal... from hip-hop to rockin' and poppin' indie... 2014 had something great for everyone.
 

From electro to Americana… from R&B to metal… from hip-hop to rockin’ and poppin’ indie… 2014 had something great for everyone.

 

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Future ft. Pharrell, Pusha T, & Casino

75

Future ft. Pharrell, Pusha T, & Casino
“Move That Dope”


Driven by the sleek muscle of Mike WiLL’s beat and a sinister recast of Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It”, rap radio’s most exciting five and a half minutes featured four verses so strong, nobody could agree on their favorite, let alone their favorite line. Even better, the verses spoke to one another across the choruses, like when Academy Award nominee Pharrell—sounding more energized than “Happy”—tipped his Gandalf hat to Pusha, then namechecked the fancy clothes Pusha claimed he couldn’t spell. Leave it to lucky s.o.b. Casino to crack wide the song’s implications in the last few seconds—“The J’s in my hood smoke that crack, say it give ‘em hope”—before turning his attention back to his wallet. Few aesthetic modes endure like a raised middle finger. Josh Langhoff

 

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Warpaint

Review [19.Sep.2016]

74

Warpaint
Disco/very


There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to what Warpaint’s Theresa Wayman, Emily Kokal, Jenny Lee Lindburg, or Stella Mozgawa are saying here, but they sure bring some rhythm to the affair. An eminently danceable tune, the four-minute track serves as a buoyant highlight of the band’s ambient self-titled album. Whereas a good portion of the album’s dozen tracks lull you along with a foreboding sense of release, “Disco/very” instead goes straight for the payoff, bubbling forth with a danceable groove and an infectious energy from the get-go. It’s not much of a practical endeavor to decipher the deeper meaning; it’s much more preferable to simply make like the band members do in the video and just rock this tune out instead. Jeff Strowe

 

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Meghan Trainor

73

Meghan Trainor
“All About That Bass”


Isn’t it just so damn refreshing to hear a great pop song? Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” came out of nowhere with its vaguely doo-wop structure, subliminally Caribbean undertones and a healthy dose of positive reassurance, making it the 2014 step-sister of “Call Me Maybe”. Youthful whimsy? Check. Intelligent commentary masked by sugar-filled innocence? Check. Cheeky metaphors? Check. Utterly unavoidable? Double check. In a world where the female end of the mainstream pop spectrum is bogged down by broken hearts and blank spaces, Meghan Trainor is far more than a mere breath of fresh air; she’s nearly a revelation. No television show background. No tabloid-worthy escapades. No celebrity dating games. Just a pocketful of song-writing credits and the ability to write an undeniable hook. If nothing else, “All About That Bass” is sonic proof that simple pop will forever find ways to shine through any popular culture trend, any changing business landscape, and any type of apathy that forces snobs to turn their nose to such blatantly fun music. Taylor Swift might have released a record about hating her haters in 2014; it took Trainor only one song to get her point across. No silicone Barbie dolls needed here—turns out that just some good, old-fashioned pop principles work just fine. Colin McGuire

 

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The War on Drugs

72

The War on Drugs
“Red Eyes”


Sometimes, the only way to work through any of your problems is through a long, lonely stretch of highway with the windows down, preferably just before a massive thunderstorm hits. Adam Granduciel of the War on Drugs must know this, because “Red Eyes” was the best song for driving anywhere in 2014. Granduciel doesn’t necessarily imitate as much as embody an early ‘80s Jackson Browne as a steady percussion drives a song where each chorus sounds like someone desperately grasping for something bigger in their life. “Surrounded by the night / And you don’t go home,” Granduciel sings. With a track like “Red Eyes”, home is the last place you’ll want to visit. The only challenge is not wanting to hit repeat because the rest of the tracks on Lost in the Dream are almost this good. Sean McCarthy

 

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Timber Timbre

71

Timber Timbre
“Hot Dreams”


If Isaac Hayes, David Lynch, and Elvis had walked into a hazy, smoke-filled bar in the middle of a red light district and written a song, it might have ended up sounding something like “Hot Dreams”, the title track from the Canadian band Timber Timbre’s fifth album. Slow, soulful, and cinematic, the song came closer to the hot-buttered soul of Hayes’ landmark ‘60s to ‘70s work than anything in a long time. But where Hayes took his sensuality over the top, Timbre Timbre’s Taylor Kirk took it underground, crooning with a restraint that barely belied the beads of sweat on his forehead. John Bergstrom

 

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Swans

Review [28.Jun.2017]

70

Swans
“She Loves Us!”


The best tracks on To Be Kind, Swans’ vast, frightening behemoth of a follow-up to 2012’s already vast and frightening The Seer, are those that zero in on a particularly punishing staccato groove and then just let it settle for five, ten, or, hell, 17 minutes. “She Loves Us” epitomizes that approach, except no, no, “settle” is all too passive and innocuous of a verb. This groove—seven clipped, menacing grunts set on repeat—mutates into a sort of grimacing military march as a sly “Hallelujah” chant emerges somewhere in the left channel and frontman Michael Gira barks incomprehensible evil over the cacophony of it all. Zach Schonfeld

 

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Sharon Van Etten

69

Sharon Van Etten
“Every time the Sun Comes Up”


After an album as searing as Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There, a closer like “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” risks feeling like an after-thought. The song sets off at an easy enough pace, but its reveal of Van Etten’s wry humor edges her ever closer to her song-writing inspirations, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave among them. Few songwriters today could treat lines like “People say I’m a one-hit wonder / but what happens when I have two?” in a way that seems at once utterly simple and highly profound, let alone follow it with something as bold as Van Etten does here. Others may highlight Are We There’s “Your Love Is Killing Me” for its extreme confessionalism, but “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” has just as much boldness and bite, and in more unexpected ways. Maria Schurr

 

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Shabazz Palaces

Review [31.Jul.2017]

68

Shabazz Palaces
“Forerunner Foray”


On Run the Jewel’s “Oh My Darling, Don’t Cry”, El-P may have claimed “I’m not from earth,” but no hip-hop track solidified extraterrestrial theories like Shabazz Palace’s “Forerunner Foray”. The synth lines spiral like a UFO coming in for a landing, and Ishmael Butler warps his voice like a more regal version of Madlib’s Quasimodo. When Butler spits, “time travel fast and far to the last ocean”, there’s no doubt he’s got the technology to do it. One part Tribe Called Quest, and one part Sun Ra, “Forerunner Foray” will sound like it’s from the future for decades to come. Nathan Stevens

 

67

Lykke Li
“No Rest for the Wicked”


On an album comprised solely of devastating, downbeat, minimalist exercises in misery, Lykke Li’s “No Rest For the Wicked” is the centerpiece, the one track that ropes the listener in the quickest. Built around a simple, plaintive six-note piano melody, Lykke Li and her longtime collaborator Bjorn Yttling create a lush sound from as few instruments as possible, utilizing thudding, Phil Spector-style tom beats, tambourine, and bass as the foundation for a track that wisely puts her vocals front and center. “I had his heart but I broke it every time,” she sings, that gutwrenching piano melody echoing through listeners’ heads long after. Adrien Begrand

 

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Leonard Cohen

Review [24.Oct.2016]

66

Leonard Cohen
“Did I Ever Love You”


Essentially two Leonard Cohen songs for the price of one, “Did I Ever Love You” offers a blend of scorched-earth gospel and misty folk release. First, Cohen growls over a Tom Waitsy piano ballad; next, female singers echo Cohen’s lines over a rolling Paul Simon-esque guitar figure and a shuffling rhythm. All the while, Cohen asks questions about the regrets and uncertainties of a relationship in the rearview mirror. The toggling tones, mournful and bittersweet, speak to popular problems, the mixed blessings of time: “The lemon trees blossom / The almond trees whither.” Elsewhere, Cohen sings, “Was it ever settled?/Was it ever over?”, as the strings swoop in to let his old lover off the hook. Some questions are better left unanswered. Steve Leftridge

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