In 2014, we were wowed by amazing tracks from Perfume Genius to ScHoolboy Q, Perfect Pussy to Taylor Swift, The War on Drugs to Sun Kil Moon. What these tracks have in common is their ability to convey certain messages with startling clarity. While there were countless other worthy songs released these past 12 months, these are the hundred that best showcase the variety of the year’s recorded output.
The top 50 is coming later today.
Drake, “How About Now”
Drake celebrated 2013 being crowned with the best song of the year, at least to these ears, with his Majid Jordan collaboration “Hold On, We’re Going Home”. He didn’t release an album in 2014, but then again, he didn’t have to. He innocuously released tracks on Soundcloud throughout the year, with one of the best being “How About Now”. That Jodeci sample is great, sure, but the best thing about “Now” is knowing Drake can only get better from here.
Pix, “A Way to Say Goodbye”
This dreamy track from Pix largely went under the radar, but those who noticed were rewarded with a subtly charming and mature track that expertly confronts the difficulties of truly ending a relationship, and how our feelings often bleed into a complicated, contradictory whole.
“Touch” is truly one of the most heartbreaking songs released this year. When Shura sings, “All I wanna do is go home with you / But I know I’m out of my mind,” there is no doubt that this relationship has run its course but is still fresh in her mind.
Grouper, “Call Across Rooms”
That “Call Across Rooms” can be considered as “quiet” even in the context of Liz Harris’ discography as Grouper speaks to how impressive it is what Harris is doing. Stripping back her sonic background, Harris sings alone with her piano. Her previous music found Harris trying to make sense of the past, and all the outside noise that influences our perception, while “Call Across Rooms” is Harris coming to terms with the isolation the future holds.
96. Clark, “Unfurla”
95. Jungle, “Busy Earnin’”
94. Arca, “Thievery”
Jamie xx, “Girl”
If there was a common thread among this year’s electronica, it was a collective answering to Daft Punk’s challenge to “give life back to music.” “Unfurla” and “Thievery” need no vocals or other live instruments to move breathing bodies, finding ways to affect us through intensity and restraint. On Jamie xx’s “Girl”, the twinkling, twilight atmosphere fits right in with the 2014 film Locke, equally understated and heady. It’s the birth of the paranoid android.
92. Avery Tare’s Slasher Flicks, “Little Fang”
YG, “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)” (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
YG’s triumphant 2014 came with the biggest co-sign a rising hip-hop artist could receive, with Kendrick Lamar assisting on this album cut from My Krazy Life. The song successfully adheres to the album’s big picture narrative while sticking out as confirmation that this new era of hip-hop can be as vital as those that came before it.
Tove Lo, “Not on Drugs”
After Tove Lo’s smash debut single, the cry for help “Habits (Stay High)”, it would be easy to pin Lo as the “next Kesha”, a self-aware version of the party girl image. But “Not On Drugs” rips that narrative to shreds, with the electro-pop jam showing us that she doesn’t need drugs to live a happy life; just your love. I guess she’s more like Kesha than I thought.
89. Ben Frost, “Venter”
88. Zola Jesus, “Dangerous Days”
The idea of an artist turning bedroom recordings into a legitimate music career isn’t that novel in 2014. But what makes “Station” a gem is Låpsley’s vocal manipulations, changing the song from a personal, isolated introduction, to a conflicted, dualist composition, with the young star duet-ing with herself. In late 2014, she was signed to XL, meaning the new year will provide us a better opportunity to discover the many sides of this new talent.
86. Trust, “Rescue, Mister”
85. Movement, “Ivory”
84. Wild Beasts, “Wanderlust”
Kendrick Lamar, “i”
“i”’s release shut down the many music-oriented regions of the internet, with a large debate centered around this question: Is the song any good? The answer is unequivocally yes, as much of a departure as it is from the masterful good kid, m.A.A.d. city. But despite the cheerful undertones the Isley Brothers conveys, the song also reads as a sign of the times when Lamar rips into his third verse, drawing a line in the sand as he asserts, “I went to war last night.”
82. Ex Hex, “Beast”
Spoon, “Do You”
Britt Daniel returned to his day job in 2014 as Spoon released another great album in They Want My Soul. This prerelease single found Daniel in pure frontman mode, with the rest of the band proving inspiration still runs rampant even this far into your career.
80. Son Lux, “Easy (Switch Screens)” (feat. Lorde)
Run The Jewels, “Blockbuster Night Part 1”
On Run The Jewels’ second LP, El-P and Killer Mike, already pissed off after their first album, frustratingly had even more to rail against on their second album. “Blockbuster Night Part 1” is a visceral, no holds barred celebration of realizing your voice still matters despite all the signs pointing the other way.
78. Ballet School, “Lux”
77. A Sunny Day In Glasgow, “In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing)”
76. Parkay Quarts, “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth”
75. Calvin Harris, “Pray to God” (feat. Haim)
Viet Cong, “Continental Shelf”
“Continental Shelf” harkens back to the days when The Killers and The Bravery were feuding, and those words, in that order, actually meant something. That’s not to say Viet Cong’s music is anything close to the glam-rock of the Killers, but their sound is reminiscent of those days when Apple was best known for their iPod and phone calls were answered with a flip of your phone.
73. Aphex Twin, “minipops 67 [120.2]”
72. Lydia Ainsworth, “Hologram”
71. Little Dragon, “Klapp Klapp”
70. Panda Bear, “Mr. Noah”
69. Flying Lotus, “Never Catch Me” (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
68. Sleater-Kinney, “Bury Our Friends”
Wild Beasts, “Mecca”
This sprightly track from Wild Beasts serves as a breath of fresh air after the claustrophobic “Wanderlust”. These guys have essentially perfected this brand of sensual, affecting indie rock, and when lead singer Hayden Thorpe dives into his falsetto during the chorus to sing “When the body goes the mind will follow, soon after,” Wild Beasts have reached a level of tranquility many strive for.
66. YG, “Bicken Back Being Bool”
65. Mr Twin Sister, “In the House of Yes”
64. Shamir, “On the Regular”
Amen Dunes, “Lonely Richard”
This understated single from Damon McMahon’s project Amen Dunes sounds like an unearthed 1990s alt-rock track. From the lo-fi production to the way the various stringed instruments merge into one, this is a song that dazzles in its simplicity.
ScHoolboy Q, “Man of the Year”
Let’s make no mistake: “Man of the Year” is one of the best rap tracks of 2014 thanks to that sample of the fantastic Chromatics’ track “Cherry”. That track’s melancholy is replicated on “Year”, creating an interesting juxtaposition from Q’s celebratory track and the heart-pulling sample.
61. Cam’ron & A-Trak, “Dipshits” (feat. Juelz Santana & Damon Dash)
60. Perfect Pussy, “Interference Fits”
59. Iceage, “The Lord’s Favorite”
Ought’s “Habit” begins innocently enough. Behind vocals that recall the glory days of Pavement, Ought rip into an emphatic, star-making cut that builds and builds till the habit forms. How did we get here, you can feel the band asking. Like many of us, it takes getting stuck in the mud to begin wondering where we are.
57. Sophie, “Hard”
Ariana Grande, “Problem” (feat. Iggy Azalea)
In 2014, Ariana Grande was simply too big to fail. Her sophomore LP My Everything received one of the biggest marketing pushes of a pop album this year, as every effort was made to put Grande on the A-list level. Somewhat strangely, she earned every bit of notoriety with her bid towards Top 40 domination, beginning with the brash, brassy “Problem”. Even Iggy Azalea’s verse warmed up as the year went on, proving Grande’s charm is inescapable and contagious.
55. Jessie Ware, “Tough Love”
54. Young Thug, Freddie Gibbs, & A$AP Ferg, “Old English”
The Antlers, “Hotel”
The Antlers’ specialize in a brand of indie-rock that can rattle you to your core. Though “Hotel” hardly acts as a punch to the face, the mixture of pain and strength in Peter Silberman’s vocals is enough to remind us all that no matter how hard, we can always move on.
52. tUnE-yArDs, “Wait For a Minute”
Future Brown, “Wanna Party” (feat. Tink & 3D Na’Tee)
“Wanna Party” is the most contradictory party song of 2014. While Tink & 3D Na’Tee are down for some debauchery, throughout their collaboration with Future Brown it becomes evident that living that lifestyle can be just as unfulfilling as staying behind adobe slabs all your life.