This Top 50 Songs list is not organized in any other way than by perceived order of excellence, so when you have a look at the set of 10 below, you may be surprised at how thematically related almost all of them are to one another. It was a total fluke things worked out like that, and in fact I didn’t even notice myself until writing up this introduction. The overarching theme is love, whether you’re falling into it, out of it, or somewhere in between, which is a subject matter as old as music itself. I just looked it up, and apparently about 60% of all songs written today are about love, so I guess the similarities aren’t all that shocking after all. Anyways, let’s get right into it, shall we? This freight train keeps rolling on with #40-31 of the Top 50 Songs of 2014! Oh, and in case you missed it, here’s #50-41.
40. Zola Jesus – Dangerous Days [Video]
From a current pop landscape perspective, there’s not much you could consider new or different about “Dangerous Days.” It is not something you’d call “experimental” or “groundbreaking.” Yet this single from the Taiga record marks a significant shift in direction for Nika Danilova. She breaks away from her typically minimalist and occasionally left field pop sound into something more expansive/epic, more electronic and surprisingly dark. This is the first Zola Jesus song with the feel of a club hit, and it’s a very natural fit for her. That incredibly powerful voice sits right up at the front of everything like it should be, and that chorus is one hell of an auditory punch.
39. Sharon Van Etten – Your Love Is Killing Me [Video]
Some relationships feel like they’re impossible to quit no matter how hard you try. For every abuse you may suffer, whether it’s physical, mental or both, there’s something wholly great and loving making you believe that it’s all worth it. In “Your Love Is Killing Me,” Sharon Van Etten refuses to allow herself to fall back into that pattern, going so far as to metaphorically threaten violence to her own body so she won’t give in to temptation. “Break my leg so I can’t walk to you/Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you,” she sings. And while the message couldn’t be clearer, it’s Van Etten’s aching and shaking vocal performance that will completely destroy whatever emotional stability you thought you once had. Don’t be surprised if you can’t walk or talk or do much of anything but brace yourself while this song plays.
38. Mac DeMarco – Let Her Go
Mac DeMarco tends to favor a jangly guitar sound that feels equally upbeat, laid back and summery. He employs it pretty much as usual on “Let Her Go,” yet it seems on the surface to be a strange fit given what the song is about. “Tell her that you love her, if you really love her/But if your heart just ain’t sure, let her know,” he sings in the first verse. He’s that clear and plainspoken throughout the entire song, and the number of times he repeats the song title might make it seem like he’s advocating for the end of a romantic relationship. In actuality it’s a song about staying honest with your partner and speaking up when things are or aren’t working between the two of you. That sort of approach will help spare you from a lot of added drama. Ohhhh, the logic behind the simple and breezy melody makes so much more sense now!
37. Jenny Lewis – She’s Not Me [Video]
With age comes experience and wisdom. Jenny Lewis is by no means old, but she’s been around long enough to have lived through some things and gained a smart perspective from them. The Voyager is her most mature album to date, and a song like “She’s Not Me” provides the best example of how far she’s come. In it, she finds out that her ex is in a stable new relationship with a baby on the way, and begins to wonder if the only reason things are working out with this other girl is because she’s easy to deal with. “I bet you tell her I’m crazy,” she sings at one point, which is probably true since a lot of people say that about their exes (men in particular). We get the sense that she’ll be okay and has moved on from this past relationship, but the sadness and regret in her voice also suggests that maybe she’s still dealing with a lot of the same impulses that caused her to cheat and destroy the relationship in the first place.
36. Alvvays – Archie, Marry Me [Video]
It’s quite likely that you know a couple who have been in a romantic relationship for years and years but have yet to get married. Maybe it’s a lifestyle choice or not allowed by law. Or maybe it’s a different reason altogether. For the titular Archie, his argument for avoiding marriage is entirely financial. There are student loans to pay off, and even if they do get married, should things not work out he’ll wind up paying alimony. But Molly Rankin (or a character she’s playing) won’t take no for an answer. In “Archie, Marry Me,” she shoots down his arguments, professes her undying love, and even agrees to a courthouse wedding so they don’t have to spend any money. Riding a wave of feedback-laden day-glow guitars and with a chorus that’ll have you singing, “Hey, hey, marry me Arrrchieeee,” for days on end, if Archie doesn’t say yes then I will.
35. Ages and Ages – Divisionary (Do the Right Thing) [MP3] [Video]
If there was ever a song to get addicted to in 2014, Ages and Ages’ “Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)” is it. In case you haven’t heard it, first click the stream above so the song burrows its way into your brain while you read this. Repetition is obviously one of the keys to making this song work, but beyond that the positive, simple to understand message lifts you up no matter what mood you’re in and motivates you to do something good in this world. “Do the right thing, do the right thing/Do it all the time, do it all the time/Make yourself right, never mind them/Don’t you know you’re not the only one suffering,” is a chorus you can take straight to the bank. The harmonies and group sing-along only make it better and more compelling, If you’re ever in a room with a bunch of people who know this song, such as an Ages and Ages concert, prepare for a friendship and bonding experience unlike any other.
34. Owen Pallett – Song for Five & Six [Video]
There are a lot of really great songs on Owen Pallett’s In Conflict, and choosing just one for this list proved to be an almost futile task. Why “Song for Five & Six” ultimately won out was due to two reasons. The first is that the song best represents what the album sounds like as a whole. Pallett inched away from the orchestral pop of his earlier albums to incorporate more electronic elements, which have a strong presence on this track along with his work on the violin. Secondly, there’s the video, which pairs the song with interpretive dancing. Seeing the grace and fluidity of the song manifested in a very physical sense adds extra meaning to something that’s already meaningful. That said, do you agree…or disagree?
33. Sam Smith – Money On My Mind
In 2014, a majority of the world was introduced to Sam Smith via his massive hit single “Stay With Me.” That song got him an incredible amount of mileage and turned him into a superstar that earns a whole bunch of Grammy nominations. The more intense and astute music fan was introduced to Sam Smith in the summer of 2013, when his angelic voice appeared on a key track from Disclosure’s debut album Settle. That, plus his work with Naughty Boy on the hit single “La La La” cemented him in some circles as a guy who could elevate any dance track. Yet “Stay With Me” and a majority of his debut album In the Lonely Hour is slower and more ballad-oriented. “Money On My Mind” is one of his few solo standout tracks because it does have that upbeat and fun sensibility to it. While the subject matter is focused on declaring his independence as an artist, there’s a much broader and universal message here too that encourages people to stay positive and true to themselves. Sam Smith doesn’t do it for the money, he does it for the love. If only everyone operated this way.
32. Phantogram – Fall In Love
This is Phantogram’s big breakout hit, then again you could say that the synth-pop duo has been on the verge for years now. Despite having no hit singles, they’ve quietly built a huge following primarily through word of mouth and the fact that their unique combination of dream pop and hip hop styles has really caught on with the music community at large. By the time “Fall In Love” was released, Phantogram becoming a well-known commodity was pretty much inevitable, and this song gently nudged them over that edge into tons of radio airplay and a quick rise on the charts. There’s so much about this song that makes it worthwhile, from the intense, club-ready beats (and that bass!) to Sarah Barthel’s raw and desperate vocals. That it never became truly annoying or bothersome despite the immense exposure it received in 2014 is quite impressive on its own. It’s been easy to not just fall in love with this song, but stay in love with it.
31. Parquet Courts – Instant Disassembly
Your average Parquet Courts song moves at the speed of light. They always seem like they’re in a hurry, and are just tripping over one another to get out the door. That works for them and has made up the core of their last few very good records. On “Instant Disassembly” from Sunbathing Animal, the band’s first of two albums this year, Parquet Courts need a break. They are worn down to the point where according to the lyrics they’re “too tired to continue to speak.” As the song drags on for more than seven minutes, Andrew Savage’s vocals and all of the instruments feel like they’re just going to collapse at any moment. Instead of being a total drag to sit through, this provides an incredible opportunity to experience a different side of Parquet Courts – a side that finds them exposing more insight, intelligence and emotion than just about anything else they’ve ever done. Plus the whole thing has a very classic rock ballad feel to it, which one can hope that someday it truly will be.
Check out all of the Listmas 2014 posts by clicking here.