Music, News & Commentary

The top 50 songs of the year: part one (50 to 31)

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The lead-up to the holiday season is a time for reflection and contemplation; awkward family events, Christmas parties and hangovers. It’s also a time for ordered, numbered lists featuring the highlights of popular culture.
This is the first instalment of the top 50 songs of 2014 (the next two will be published next week) …

50. Thom Yorke — A Brain in a Bottle


When Radiohead front man Thom Yorke dropped his new album on an unsuspecting world via BitTorrent on September 26, it seemed the music commentariat was more concerned with analysing the distribution method than the music itself.
A similar climate greeted Radiohead’s In Rainbows back in 2007. But while that release demanded a discussion for its own musical revelations, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes wasn’t the sonic leap that Yorke’s predominant group has become renowned for. But it still featured some excellent examples of what has made him one of the most influential (the most influential, if NME is to believed) in the world.
A Brain in a Bottle is a twitchy, claustrophobic scattering of oscillating synths and beats. Over the top, Yorke enquires: “Lord, why has thou forsaken us?” It sounds exactly like what you think a Thom Yorke single would sound like, but that’s still pretty damn good.

49. Beck — Morning


No one was quite sure what version of Beck would emerge after his recent career hibernation. Morning Phase, his first proper album in six years, ended up being a resplendent lush record, reminiscent of the beautiful Sea Change record of last decade.
It seems that he has truly embraced the singer-songwriter aspect of his music, displayed recently in his Songbook release. Morning is an epically arranged, string drenched piece, resting upon slow tinkering piano lines and a soaring vocal take.

48. The Creases — Static Lines


Following their Triple J Unearthed breakout single, 2013’s I Won’t Wait, Brisbane-based The Creases continued to go from strength to strength. Their EP Gradient displayed the tuneful ear for a melody that sets them apart from many other slacker rock upstarts.
Static Lines is an honest description of a dying relationship and the sad moment of realisation that love has fled. Its heart-on-the-sleeve emotional honesty is reminiscent of the excellent debut album from The Vaccines a couple of years ago.

47. Swans — A Little God In My Hands


The resurrected rockers made perhaps their best album yet this year, following a triumphant return after a decade-plus hiatus. To Be Kind is a blistering effort and, at well over seven minutes, A Little God In My Hands is one of the shorter cuts from the album.
If someone were to tell you the track was the secret recordings of a demonic cult putting on a rock concert, you would barely bat an eyelid. Michael Gira seems to embody the Antichrist, with a shrieking “what’s my name” tip of the cap to The Rolling Stones. It’s hard to feel sympathy for this devil though. A Little God In My Hands certainly packs a punch. It’s a stomping, swaggering beast of a track that shifts from creeping to guitar lines to horns blasts and brutal attacks of sound.

46. Broken Bells — After the Disco


Brian “Dangermouse” Burton and The Shins’ James Mercer originally seemed like an odd pairing. But their second album under the moniker Broken Bells earlier is further evidence of how Burton has uncovered Mercer’s brilliant ear for a pop melody. After the Disco is appropriately funky, with a swaggering groove and falsetto chorus.

45. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks — Little Fang


Avey Tare’s solo efforts don’t seem to receive the gushing critical acclaim that his Animal Collective companion Panda Bear does. Nevertheless, Little Fang is a beguiling little pop song with a sideshow carnival atmosphere and endearingly catchy sing-a-long chorus.

44. ODESZA feat Moonsiren — Memories That You Call


ODESZA, comprised of Seattle-based duo Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, specialise in melancholic electronic pop. Memories That You Call has a zen-like tranquillity that is as capable of enticing listeners into dance as it is into a trance.

43. Coldplay — Midnight


It’s easy to hate Coldplay. They’re one of the biggest, most popular bands in the world and in front man Chris Martin have a figurehead who is unafraid to stand on the pulpit. Ghost Stories, their 2014 album, is packed full of emotional references to the collapse of Martin’s marriage.
But exhibit one in defence of Coldplay is Midnight. Collaborating with electronic wizard Jon Hopkins (who co-produced the Viva La Vida album and whom the band sampled on Life in Technicolour from the same record), Midnight is a beautiful electronic slow-burner that represents an experimental step forward for the group. Martin cops a lot of flak for his lyrics, but there is an understated sad beauty (“When I’m rolling with the thunder / But bleed from thorns / Leave a light on”) behind them.

42. Sia — Chandelier


This year, the Adelaide-born songstress continued a remarkable rise that shows no sign of slowing. One of the most popular songs of the year, Chandelier has fast become a favourite of TV talent shows with its spiralling vocal acrobatics. Behind its hedonism and calls to “drink, drink” lies an intimate, barely suppressed sadness.

41. The Kooks — Forgive & Forget


I had originally marked The Kooks down for a short-shelf life, but they continue to pump out catchy pop songs. Forgive & Forget is one of their best efforts yet. A classic break-up song (“You say you need someone to love you / But it ain’t me”) with an upbeat catchy-as-hell chorus and friendly upbeat tempo.

40. Lake Street Dive — Rabid Animal


Lake Street Dive met while attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and originally formed as a jazz ensemble. When they realised they shared a passion for contemporary pop they expanded their repertoire to include hits such as The Jackson Five’s I Want You Back and Hall & Oates’ Rich Girl.
Rabid Animal is a standout cut from their sophomore album, Bad Self Portraits. A stomping piano-based rock ‘n’ roll song built around Rachael Price’s wounded vocal howl, it’s a tale of sedentary middle-aged inertia, loneliness and desire.

39. tUnE-yArDs — Water Fountain


Water Fountain is a child-like nursery rhyme, shout-out-loud pop song and off-kilter R&B jam. Something sinister lurks beneath. Featuring references to Alice in Wonderland, it’s a sneering indictment of post-colonialism and the economic order, which Merrill Garbus’ high-octane energy propels forward at a relentless pace.

38. Highasakite — Since Last Wednesday


At the forefront of a yet another wave of Scandinavian pop, the Norwegian group Highasakite combine haunting melodies, obscure lyrics and grand chiming instrumentation. It’s not hard to see why they got the tap on the shoulder from Bon Iver to join his tour.
Since Last Wednesday is an ominous song about a man who mysteriously disappeared. Although we are told surely he “wouldn’t vandalise a house”, there’s a sense of willing denial about the song’s protagonist.

37. Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar — Never Catch Me


FlyLo isn’t really an artist who makes singles — his albums are brief flashes plugged together into an illuminating whole. You’re Dead! displayed his propensity towards jazz; Kendrick Lamar adds a rapid spitfire verse over the top, climaxing in what is about as close as can be described as a chorus on the album.
Despite its integral transient nature in the context of the album its lifted form, Never Catch Me Now is a swirling cut that stands impressively on its own.

36. Jamie xx — Girl


Alternating between his work with The xx and his own electronic production and remixes, Jamie xx continues to push himself and music in eclectic and fascinating directions. His previous solo output included the excellent Gil-Scott Heron remix album We’re New Here. Now with a couple of singles laced over 2014, Jamie xx is starting to prove his immense talents in constructing his own work.
Girl is a fluid bass-driven piece that lurches along at an ambling pace, comfortably at ease in a sweltering club floor, yet packed with a dense array of sound to be picked apart by a headphone listener.

35. M83 — I Need You


Anthony Gonzalez has kept a low profile following 2011’s smash, Hurry Up, We’re DreamingI Need You, which featured on the soundtrack to the dystopian teen flick Divergent, ticks all the classic M83 boxes: epic synths, moody ’80s reverb heavy vocals and a killer sax solo.
It’s a stunning exercise in stadium-sized rock crescendos which, matched with the simple yet hauntingly emotional refrain of “I need you”, is a timely reminder of what Gonzalez and co are capable of achieving.

34. #1 Dads ft. Ainslie Wills — So Soldier


Tom Iansek has had a massive year. In May, his band Big Scary received the Australian Music Prize for their fantastic 2014 album Not Art. His side project replaces Joanna Syme’s distinctive drum beats with a more simplistic rhythmic tap, but loses none of the hushed intimacy that pervades Big Scary’s best work.
So Soldier rests Ainslie Wills’ vocals atop a delicate bed of guitar lines to create one of those songs which feels both instantly recognisable, yet vibrant and fresh.

33. The Black Keys — Fever


It was the year of the backlash for The Black Keys. After a steady string of consistent blues rock, they exploded into mainstream consciousness on the back of 2011’s El Camino. No longer indie upstarts whose numerous appearances on advertisements could just be forgiven as a means to pay the bills, The Black Keys were tarnished by many with the brush of commercial sell-outs. Meanwhile, front man Dan Auerbach’s personal life became the source of tabloid fodder. They were the band that everybody couldn’t help but like, until suddenly, everyone did like them.
Fever roughly follows the template that worked so well for Lonely Boy a couple of years back: a haughty blues rocker, a jangling synth riff with a killer chorus to hold it altogether.

32. Cloud Nothings — I’m Not Part Of Me


Cloud Nothings aren’t reinventing the wheel, but a steady stream of solid, well-received releases continue to build their following.
With a ’90s retro revival in force and starting to percolate through many streams of popular culture, I’m Not Part of Me harkens back to some of the classic alt-rock songs of the era. It’s an unashamed rock song with a great call-and-return chorus.

31. FKA twigs — Two Weeks


Tahliah Barnett said the FKA twigs recording process involved throwing everything into the mix, before stripping parts back to reveal what lay underneath. The result is a gorgeously lush record, LP1, which reveals a new wonder on every listen.
Its centrepiece is the towering four minutes of tension that is Two Weeks. It’s hard to recall a song recently that dripped with such permeable sexual power. Barnett’s vocals jump from sweet to hushed and intense in moments; both beautiful and terrifying. The lyrics have a basic, primordial nature that is as thrilling as it is disturbing, as Barnett sweetly intones about a rival lover: “Pull out of the incisor give me two weeks, you won’t recognise her.”
[box]Picture: Tahliah Barnett (FKA twigs) in the film clip for Two Weeks[/box]

6 responses to “The top 50 songs of the year: part one (50 to 31)

  1. “Two Weeks” is as sexy as hell, but “Every Other Freckle” by alt-j is to me the epitome of desire and is also so whimsical. I literally cannot stop listening to their entire body of work, ad nauseum.

  2. I don’t envy anyone the task of putting together a Top 50 songs. However I am a little stunned to see so many “same, same” artists and songs near the top and a couple of stand-out, high energy and unique offerings from tuneyards and sia near the bottom. A very bland list.

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