In the formidable challenge that is counting down the Top 50 Songs of 2014, today is the day we reach the halfway point and then keep going. The songs are getting progressively better, more epic, catchier, and more emotional. That’s how lists like this work. I hope you’ve enjoyed what’s already been covered in the previous two installments. Click here to see #50-41 in the countdown. Click here to see #40-31. Is there a theme to the set of 10 songs featured in this particular post? Not that I’ve been able to discern. You’ll find a couple of hip hop tracks, a couple of R&B cuts, a couple of synth pop numbers, and some other things that can sometimes feel like they’re straight out of left field. It’s nice to get a little unpredictable from time to time. So here we go: The Top 50 Songs of 2014 #30-21!
30. Sylvan Esso – Coffee [Video]
The duo of Sylvan Esso is effortlessly charming. Amelia Meath handles vocals and lyrics, while Nick Sanborn handles the beats, sound effects and instruments. Their sound is electo-pop, but with a folk edge. Beat-heavy, yet minimalist. The brilliant song “Coffee” best encapsulates the tender balance of these qualities across their self-titled debut album. Instrumentally the song is treated with a very intimate touch that might otherwise draw comparisons to The xx. And while the little bells and bleeps are all rightly endearing, it’s Meath’s warm, silky vocals and smart lyrics that really sell the track. She uses the physicality of dancing as a metaphor for the myriad of partners you’ll wind up in relationships with. “Sentiment’s the same, but the pair of feet change,” she sings with just a hint of sadness. It’s extremely compelling, and surprisingly catchy too.
29. Mr Twin Sister – In the House of Yes
Sometimes you connect to a song specifically because it reminds you of a classic sound from the past that you haven’t heard in awhile. In the mid-90’s, Bjork had this incredible knack for crafting tracks that had these French house-like beats twisted up with orchestral and piano elements to keep it eerily familiar yet fully distinctive at the same time. Nobody has really tried, let alone succeeded at recreating that sound, until now it seems. “In the House of Yes” may have that same initial feel, but Mr Twin Sister manage to transform it ever so slightly to bring this sexy and what might best be described as “fashion runway” quality that sucks you in and makes you want to surrender control to the melody. It’s a strange but also amazing feeling to have, and one that very rarely comes along.
28. Kate Tempest – Marshall Law
This is, quite possibly, the best written track of 2014. It’s also one you may not have heard considering that Kate Tempest is a relatively unknown entity in the United States. But she put out a pretty great record this year called Everybody Down that’s pretty unique when it comes to the hip hop genre. See, Tempest is less of a rapper and more of a poet (she is literally a published poet), so while there are rhymes and beats, her delivery is closer to telling a story or conversation than it is just spitting out line after line. “Marshall Law” is a perfect example of this, as it tells the tale of a video girl and a drug dealer with an inflated sense of self-worth who meet at some artsy party. There’s so much vivid detail and smart wordplay that these two characters really come across as fully fleshed out human beings motivated by their own emotions and maybe a little too much alcohol. Tempest even slightly changes her voice and delivery depending on who’s talking at any given time. While it may seem a bit ridiculous on paper, rest assured the whole thing is highly impressive and quite unlike anything else you’ll hear in 2014.
27. Ariel Pink – Put Your Number in My Phone
First, an apology. There are some misogynistic, predatory vibes radiating off of this song, and that’s not something I endorse, in spite of listing it as one of my favorites from this year. Let’s just say this is the auditory equivalent of a cigarette – you know it’s bad for your health, but it’s just so damn satisfying sometimes. “Put Your Number in My Phone” is vintage day-glo psych-pop from Ariel Pink, which is to say that sonically speaking it is a delight and remarkably addictive. The guitars sparkle and unfold with grace, and the vocals are equal parts relaxed and straightlaced. The hook and the harmonies are the real moneymakers though, making this probably the best Pink song since “Round and Round” a few years back.
26. First Aid Kit – My Silver Lining [Video]
If for some reason you’ve never heard a First Aid Kit song before, “My Silver Lining” is a perfect introduction to the Soderberg sisters. Rich, pastoral folk music with an alt-country edge and impressive vocal harmonies pretty much describes their sound perfectly. What words can’t ever truly convey are the feelings you get when listening to this song in just the right mood at just the right place. More specifically, if you’re driving down a highway at 75 miles per hour on a sunny day with farm land surrounding you, “My Silver Lining” should be blasting out of your speakers. Beyond the overall beauty of a track like this, the lyrics are also fiercely inspiring. It’s all about staying present in the moment and doing whatever is necessary to achieve your goals, because even though times can be tough and you may want to quit, you’ll find that silver lining if you just keep on keeping on.
25. Real Estate – Crime [Video]
As someone who is very slowly attempting to learn how to play the guitar, it seemed awful nice of Real Estate to release their song “Crime” with a guitar tab tutorial video on YouTube. It was when I attempted to play it that I truly realized their guitar work is far more complex than it seems. If you pay close attention to the lyrics as well, Martin Courtney doesn’t say a whole lot, but his economical word choices are smart and very to the point. Just a simple phrase like, “I don’t wanna die/Lonely and uptight” is specific enough to inspire deeper thought but also ambiguous enough that a wide array of people can relate to it. Between that and the shiny production work, “Crime” best explains why Real Estate stole so many hearts and minds in 2014.
24. iLoveMakonnen – Club Goin Up on a Tuesday (ft. Drake) [Video]
Is Atlanta rapper iLoveMakonnen going to be the next big thing? Thanks to a track like “Club Going Up on a Tuesday,” it’s starting to seem like it. While he definitely would have gotten there on his own eventually, it took Drake remixing the track and adding his own verse before it became the underground hit everybody knows today. It’s not often that you can say a remix or guest appearance truly elevates a song to a whole new level, but by changing his own voice and cadence to match what iLoveMakonnen had already done, Drake’s added verse kind of steals the focus away for a minute. But then that Auto-Tuned chorus hits over and over and over again, and by the time it’s all over that might just be all you remember. Well, that and Tuesday is now a hot night to go clubbing.
23. Banks – Beggin for Thread [Video]
In the wake of the Lorde explosion that was 2013, music prognosticators everywhere went on the hunt for the next big alterna-pop star. Names like Meg Myers and Tove Lo have been given prime exposure in 2014 with some hit singles on rock radio. While Banks technically falls into that same sort of category, she’s attained success via strong word of mouth, first through singles like “Waiting Game” and “Brain,” and then thanks to her debut album Goddess. Radio programmers and label people are just now catching up, and have chosen “Beggin for Thread” as the single that’s going to grab everyone’s attention. It is arguably her best song, with an extremely catchy chorus and an aggressively ominous beat to match her aggressively ominous vocals. Lyrically speaking, the track is about driving your partner to the edge of insanity and then being forced to deal with the consequences. In spite of all that apparent darkness, there’s so much fun to be had.
22. Tei Shi – Bassically
Goosebumps. That’s my body’s reaction just about every single time I play “Bassically.” It is, to my ears, a future hit. Actually, if you look at the Soundcloud plays, the song has reached over 500k in the two months since it was posted. Word is spreading, and if you’re not infected yet, please click the play button above and prepare to have your mind blown and your body shake. There’s so much to love here, but probably my favorite thing about this track is how it slowly builds. The beats get more insistent, as does Tei Shi’s voice. At around the two minute mark, there’s a calming moment and the vocals fall into a deep filter a la Purity Ring or The Knife before everything falls back into place. By three minutes in, the vocals are positively soaring sky high showing off an insane amount of range, and some synths join into the fray just to make the roar that much more forceful. You’ll want to dance and cry at the same time, but mostly just bow down to “Bassically”‘s overwhelming power.
21. Ariana Grande – Break Free (ft. Zedd) [Video]
This is the part when I say nice things about both Ariana Grande and Zedd. Actually, part of me wanted to choose Grande’s “Problem” instead thanks to it’s terrific hook and saxophone funk, but I couldn’t get past the…problem of Iggy Azalea’s presence. Zedd is a far better guest to have, because the guy knows his way around a beat. The candy-coated, insistent synths on “Break Free” feel somewhat standard and certainly inspired by J-pop (and Robyn), but Zedd adds little twists, hiccups and other bits to freshen the sound up a bit. For her part, Grande is in top form, belting out her verses and that absolutely dynamite hook in celebratory fashion. Lyrically, vocally and thematically, “Break Free” might as well be the 10 years later remake of Kelly Clarkson’s mega-hit “Since U Been Gone,” only it’s not being played everywhere nonstop and I’m not annoyed by it (yet).
Check out all of the Listmas 2014 posts by clicking here.