Welcome, dear reader, to the official kick off of Listmas 2014! For the uninformed, Listmas is the grand tradition here on the good ‘ol site that celebrates the end of the year with a series of ranked lists. It’s not really a new or novel idea, and in fact pretty much every site that covers music releases their own lists, though I suppose very few put it all together under one broad label like this. Yet the word has also become part of the jargon people use to talk about this list-making season every year. Anyways, it’s my sincere hope that you’ll keep checking back and reading the site over the next couple of weeks while the slow roll out of Listmas takes place. We’re starting this week with the Top 50 Songs of 2014 countdown, and following that up next week with the Top 50 Albums of 2014 countdown. There are currently designs for another extra list or two leading up to Christmas and the site’s annual holiday break, but I won’t go into detail on those yet because there’s still a good chance they might never be written or published. The last couple of years this endeavor has become increasingly difficult to put together, and resulted in delays that pushed a list or two past the holidays. So let’s keep our fingers crossed that everything gets done in a prompt and concise fashion this year.
Today we begin the journey of counting down the Top 50 Songs of 2014. Before we launch into this, a couple of quick notes. This list will be parsed out at the rate of 10 songs per post, ideally kicking off on Monday and ending on Friday. Along with the artist and song title, I’m pleased to provide different ways for you to hear each of the songs on this list. Some will be available for free download, but most will be streams through Soundcloud, YouTube or Spotify. The hope is to make all of this music as universally accessible as possible so you can hear everything should you so choose. Once the list is complete, I’ll include a link to a full playlist on Spotify where you can hear almost everything, as a few artists on this list don’t have or refuse to use Spotify. In regards to what you can expect, I’d say don’t make any assumptions and mentally prepare yourself to be outraged at some point. You’re not going to love every song, and the picks range from the very obscure to the super mainstream, even in the Top 10. No artist is featured more than once, though that rule technically doesn’t apply to collaborations or featured vocal spots. The goal is to spread the love as widely as possible, so hopefully that comes across in the end. So without further ado, please join me past the jump for Faronheit’s Top 50 Songs of 2014: #50-41!
50. Ramona Lisa – Lady’s Got Gills
The song title pretty much tells you everything you need to know about this song. The lyrics tell a fanciful (not to mention funny) story about a doomed romance between a woman who has gills and lives in the sea, and the doomed romance she has with a man who lives on land. It’s kind of like The Little Mermaid in song form, but with a massively addictive melody and chorus that will get stuck inside your head for days. This is one of the few songs on the Ramona Lisa record Arcadia that Caroline Polachek could have reasonably turned into this epic pop song with her main band Chairlift, but ultimately winds up sounding better with the more minimalist, 8-bit style arrangement. There’s also so much more going on here sonically than what’s on the surface that you need lots of repeat listens to catch it all.
49. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing) [Video]
Once you get past the mouthful of a song title, you’ve got to deal with this earful of a song. A Sunny Day in Glasgow manage to pack a whole entire world into just over five minutes, complete with wild left turns, chiptuned vocal samples and a lack of anything you could truly call a chorus. Really you could say this is a tiny ball of sonic happiness, as it gleefully bounces from one thing to the next with a driving beat and Jen Goma’s heartfelt vocals. “I feel so happy, I’m in love with useless,” she repeats over and over again excitedly, and with the sort of world-beating attitude that suggests she’s not going to let anything bring her down. This is what innovative shoegaze sounded like in 2014, and in this case the only reason you’d want to be staring at your feet is to plot out some wicked dance moves.
48. Azealia Banks – Ice Princess
Azealia Banks’ debut album Broke With Expensive Taste has a number of great tracks on it, but “Ice Princess” stands out from the pack for a couple of reasons. Firstly, while Banks likes to play with different characters and personas on tracks, on this particular one she’s chosen to imitate a gangster rapper. Her delivery becomes positively menacing as a result, as she goes on about stealing someone else’s man and then forcing him to pay for some diamonds, a Benz and some Celine pumps. The point is to expose and make fun of some cliches in hip hop. On the instrumental side of things, this track is a bit of a genre buster by pulling off some impressive and unexpected maneuvering from a traditional hip hop backing beat composed by AraabMuzik into a club pop song with elements pulled directly from Morgan Page’s “In the Air.” Such quick shots to the system are rare and worthy of high praise.
47. Merchandise – Green Lady
Sometimes a song isn’t so much great for its originality, but because it makes you recall other things. Merchandise’s “Green Lady” is the big final credits song to a long-lost movie from the 80’s. It’s completely epic and completely mainstream in the realm of such artists like The Cure, Prince and Simple Minds. The synths shine outward like laser beams, while the layered guitar chords hit low and serve as an instrumental hook since there isn’t one on the vocal side of things. Above all else, this seems like the sort of song that Merchandise has been destined to record for years now, the perfect display of their incredible talents. It’s just a shame this didn’t come out 30 years ago, when it would have been a gigantic hit.
46. Beck – Wave
Sitting right at the center of the Morning Phase record, “Wave” can also be considered the metaphorical crest or high point that the first half leads up to and the second half comes down from. Yet it’s also arguably the calmest song on an album filled with calm songs. The gorgeous string section has some light ebbs and flows to it, but primarily functions as a mellow drone to allow Beck’s mournful vocal to guide us out into the choppy waters. Like much of the record, this track is about surrendering to the void in order to achieve true peace and harmony. Never has giving up sounded so lovely and heartbreaking at the exact same time.
45. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks – Little Fang [Video]
“Little Fang” was the world’s introduction to Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, and it came as a bit of a surprise. Given how compulsively strange and wildly psychedelic Avey Tare (aka Dave Portner) has gotten on every Animal Collective record, not to mention a couple of solo ventures, this song was by contrast very straightforward and remarkably catchy. There still wasn’t any doubt about who was behind it, but having clear vocals, a fantastic chorus and a lot of lighthearted good will takes you quite a long way it turns out. You could almost say it’s the best Ariel Pink song not done by Ariel Pink. For those who always found Animal Collective to be too difficult to get into, here’s something simpler that also satisfies long-time fans.
44. Sinkane – Hold Tight
Ahmed Gallab aka Sinkane has been making records pretty consistently since 2007, and while I’ve often heard a track or two of his here and there in that period, very little of it has made me stop and demand to dig deeper into his catalog. That’s not meant to be a slight against him, just a byproduct of too much music available at all of our collective fingertips. None of us can hear everything. Why “Hold Tight” really drew me in was its ability to pull from a wide variety of genres (soul, funk, R&B, gospel, pop) and make them all work together in some monstrous yet compulsively addictive song. The lyrics are about sex and seduction, and as Gallab launches into his falsetto, it’s almost an impossible proposition to resist.
43. Cloud Nothings – Psychic Trauma [Video]
Thanks to the totally 90’s, slacker-sounding guitar chords at the beginning of “Psychic Trauma,” it’d be easy to think that Cloud Nothings might be trying to do their best imitation of Pavement. That’s not a bad thing, particularly as Pavement’s catalog remains quite vital today, but it’s also not something you’d expect a band like Cloud Nothings to try and do. Which is why about 43 seconds in it’s like a light switch turns on and the band springs to life. The pace quickens significantly and the guitars get heavier and heavier, building with tornadic force. Dylan Baldi’s vocals find that sweet spot between raw and rage as he sings, “My mind is always racing listening to you.” Yes, it absolutely is.
42. Hundred Waters – Out Alee [Video]
Choosing a single song from Hundred Waters’ The Moon Rang Like A Bell record is a whole lot more difficult than you might think, particularly if you’ve been listening to it obsessively since it came out. There’s a highly addictive quality to it, and in particular the first few tracks are all home runs. Why “Out Alee” wins this spot over the rest has to do with its rather brilliant combination of unconventional song structure and abject beauty. There’s not really a chorus to speak of, but the twinkling piano melody is as good as any vocal hook for imprinting on your brain. One could even argue there are some EDM-inspired drops at a couple points in the song, but more than anything else it resembles a rocket blasting off into space to dwell among the stars.
41. Ought – Habit [MP3]
If you took the CBGB-era versions of Talking Heads and Television from the late 70’s, put them together in a room and told them to collaborate on a song, the result would likely be very similar to Ought’s “Habit.” The track is a little bit punk, a little bit funk and a little bit rock and roll. It’s oddly beautiful on an instrumental level, and deliberately obtuse yet charismatic on a vocal level. Singer/guitarist Tim Beeler deserves a lot of credit for how he effortlessly slides between smooth singing, spoken word and outright screaming, sometimes all within the same minute. “There is something, something you believe in,” Beeler says at the beginning of the song. By the time it’s over six minutes later, you’ll have a new found belief in Ought.
Check out all of the Listmas 2014 posts by clicking here.