50. Azealia Banks, “Desperado”
Rustie, “Attak” (feat. Danny Brown)
Before a second of their Old collaborations was heard, the pairing of electronica artist Rustie and rapper Danny Brown made a ton of sense. Brown’s screwball, ADHD-effected rapping and Rustie’s combustible, pounding productions were a match made in heaven. The two reunited on Rustie’s 2014 LP Green Language, with similarly thrilling results. “Attak” is up there with Rustie’s great track “Slasherr” from a year ago in terms of intensity and exuberance. These two are secretly becoming one of hip-hop’s greatest weapons.
48. Mas Ysa, “Shame”
47. Cloud Nothings, “Psychic Trauma”
46. Vince Staples, “Blue Suede”
45. Ariel Pink, “Black Ballerina”
Real Lies, “North Circular”
It’s amazing what the human voice can do. Real Lies’ breakthrough 2014 single “North Circular” doesn’t rely on any vocal acrobatics or ear-catching melody to drill its way into your consciousness. The spoken-word lyrics push the feeling of nostalgia further than it could through a more traditional vocal performance.
43. Röyksopp & Robyn, “Do It Again”
42. Mac DeMarco, “Passing Out Pieces”
41. Tobias Jesso Jr., “True Love”
40. Kevin Drew, “Good Sex”
39. Jessie Ware, “Kind of… Sometimes… Maybe” (feat. Miguel)
38. Angel Olsen, “White Fire”
Tinashe, “2 On” (feat. ScHoolboy Q)
After last year’s great Ryan Hemsworth produced “1 For Me”, Tinashe doubled-down in 2014, trading in Hemsworth for DJ Mustard to provide the year with one of its greatest club hits. Tinashe positions herself as an extension of Rihanna’s weed-smoking, party girl image, albeit with her own specific identity. It’s about time we added room for another narrative.
Nicky Sparkles, “It's Your Life”
“It’s Your Life” was released on Nicolas Jaar’s Other People imprint in the Spring, and is one of the best dance floor tracks of the year. The message is as simple as it gets: “Get up, get down, get all around” goes the chorus, while the production recalls the glitter-pop Diamond Rings perfected on Special Affections. Before you know it, the song is over; but the sparkle remains long after the last note sounds.
35. Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”
34. ceo, “Wonderland”
33. How To Dress Well, “Words I Don’t Remember”
Swans, “A Little God In My Hands”
Swans’ harrowing “A Little God In My Hands” is, in the words of Kanye West, “a motherfucking monster.” Michael Gira’s vocals carry a frightening intensity, while the rest of the band builds a barbed-wire wall of sound. The reckoning is here for us all to hear. And it’s everything we feared it would be.
Perfume Genius, “Fool”
“Fool” marks a significant point in the evolution of Mike Hadreas’ Perfume Genius project. The song opens with welcoming synths and finger snaps, one of the most pointedly pop moments in his discography. The breathtaking middle section beginning at the one-minute mark draws us back to the quiet, heartbreaking truths of his previous LPs. The song comes full circle as those snaps and synths return to the fray, but now Hadreas is bleeding out on the carpet. Even in his new surroundings, the same fears remain.
30. Parquet Courts, “Instant Disassembly”
Jeremih, “Don’t Tell Em” (feat. YG)
One of the more curious cases in modern R&B, Jeremih has provided urban and Top 40 radio stations numerous hits the past few years without ever truly breaking through on the level of a Pharrell Williams or even Jason Derulo. “Birthday Sex,” “Imma Star” and “Down On Me” gave him some of the biggest R&B crossover hits of the past five years, while his 2013 collaboration with Shlohmo on “Bo Peep (Do U Right)” gave the artist newfound credibility in independent music circles. “Don’t Tell ‘Em” became his biggest hit to date, as the DJ Mustard-produced, Snap!-interpolated track was the perfect encapsulation of the prevailing trends in urban music in 2014.
28. Ariana Grande, “Break Free” (feat. Zedd)
Drake, “0 to 100/The Catch Up”
Drake is just playing with us now. While last year’s #1 song “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and early 2014 cut “Days in the East” found Drake honing his skills as an R&B singer, he flipped the script on tracks such as “Draft Day” and “0 to 100/The Catch Up”, with the latter instantly becoming one of Drake’s defining rap songs. “100” finds Drake breathing fire, fully in control of his own destiny.
Future, “Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)” (feat. Andre 3000)
The best OutKast song in over ten years, “Benz Friendz (Watchutola)” isn’t even an OutKast song. That doesn’t stop Future and Andre 3000 from turning in a track that hints at what OutKast in 2014 would sound like, when they aren’t reminding everyone that their back catalog still sounds ahead of its time. This is one of the more jubilant hip-hop tracks of the year, a symbolic passing of the torch from 3-Stacks to the future generation of rap.
Cloud Nothings, “I’m Not Part of Me”
“Stay Useless” was one of 2012’s best tracks, as Cloud Nothings expertly manifested the feeling of being stuck in neutral as time continues to speed past. The band outdid themselves this year with the pummeling “I’m Not Part of Me”. It’s one of the the year’s greatest mixes of a instantly gratifying hook and hard-charging instrumentation. The line between pop and punk has never been harder to identify.
24. Caribou, “Can’t Do Without You”
Run The Jewels, “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” (feat. Zach de la Rocha)
What’s crucial to remember when listening to Run The Jewels is that their anger and aggression stems from a very real place. Anyone that saw Killer Mike’s impassioned plea on CNN following the exoneration of cop/citizen-killer Darren Wilson in Ferguson knows as much already. “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” is a megaphone pumping out the strained voices of the voiceless, the seeing exposing society’s ills to the blind. What’s happening across this country is a sick game of hide-and-go-seek. Now, it’s Run The Jewels’ turn to count.
22. FKA twigs, “Pendulum”
21. Sharon Van Etten, “Your Love Is Killing Me”
20. Sun Kil Moon, “Ben’s My Friend”
19. Perfume Genius, “Queen”
Lana Del Rey, “Brooklyn Baby”
The direction Lana Del Rey took on 2014’s Ultraviolence most likely had record executives squirming in their seats. After successfully turning Del Rey into a Top 40 radio artist (thanks to a generic EDM remix of “Summertime Sadness”), they must have been chomping at the bit to team Del Rey up with the Avicii’s and David Guetta’s of the world. “Brooklyn Baby” and the rest of Ultraviolence is a complete rejection of her lone radio hit, with the Dan Auerbach-produced album finding Del Rey sitting comfortably in this organic, unprocessed setting. “Baby” is the best moment on her album, a sublime, sugary track that has Del Rey credibly singing about her love of jazz records, beat poetry, and hydroponic weed. Many thought they had figured Lana Del Rey out after Born To Die, but “Brooklyn Baby” shows us the depth of her character.
17. Real Estate, “Crime”
Mac DeMarco, “Chamber of Reflection”
“Chamber or Reflection” is a curveball even by Mac DeMarco’s standards. He ditches his dreamy, guitar-based pop for dreamy, synth-based pop, resulting in perhaps his crowning achievement to date. And while the overriding narrative of DeMarco takes aim at his perceived adolescent, goofy persona, “Reflection” is serious in its mission. He might still be a kid at heart, but this kid’s certainly got heart.
tUnE-yArDs, “Time of Dark”
Merrill Garbus has never been predictable. That her 2014 album nikki nack is her most streamlined yet says more about the uninhibited nature of her previous recordings than anything about her 2014 release. “Time of Dark” is one of many showstoppers on the album, and perhaps is the best example of what makes tUnE-yArDs such an essential listen. From humble beginnings, “Dark” builds till the siren sounds, and that’s when shit hits the fan. The song’s climax is one of the most dizzying, breathtaking things you will hear all year, proving Garbus’ claim that “there is no mountain I cannot climb.”
14. Todd Terje, “Johnny & Mary” (feat. Bryan Ferry)
13. St. Vincent, “Prince Johnny”
Nick Jonas, “Jealous”
Quick question: Who had Nick Jonas pegged as 2014’s best male pop star back in January? … That’s what I thought. But sure enough, Nick Jonas made a compelling case for himself to be considered as a part of the popular culture zeitgeist with the playful, buoyant “Jealous”. Critics of the song suggest Jonas is perpetuating the notion of men taking ownership of women, but “Jealous” never demands a woman to pick between being faithful and attracting suitors. Rather, the song shows us that no matter how far we progress towards a truly equal society, strong feelings will always remain. If anything, the song is proof that no matter how a man feels, it should not determine a woman’s actions.
11. Lykke Li, “Gunshot”
10. How To Dress Well, “Repeat Pleasure”
Taylor Swift, “Out of the Woods”
It’s hard to believe the story behind “Out of the Woods” could possibly be true. Taylor Swift, tabloid magnet, on a vacation with an unidentified boyfriend, getting into a terrifying accident resulting in a hospital stay. To keep that story top secret, Swift must have employed the same team that kept Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album under wraps. But then you remember this is Taylor Swift we’re talking about, as careful with the portrayal of the person we see as Beyoncé is with her image. “Woods” is the best moment on an album that defined pop music in 2014. The wounds are still fresh, if not on her body, certainly on her mind. Co-written with Jack Antonoff, Swift relives the whole ordeal with startling strength. “Are we out of the woods,” Antonoff and Swift sing on the song’s bridge. If she isn’t out of the woods yet, she sure as hell isn’t waiting for help to come. She’ll get out on her own.
8. Ariel Pink, “Picture Me Gone”
7. Spoon, “Inside Out”
Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting On You)”
One of the truly great stories of 2014, Future Islands went from marginal indie-rock band making exceptional music (see “Balance” for proof), to a stadium-sized anthemic rock band in the matter of a year. It all started with their defining performance of “Seasons” on The Late Show with David Letterman, which propelled them to must-see act at every festival gig they performed. But stage presence can only get you so far; you need the songs to back it up. And what a song “Seasons (Waiting On You)” is. The soaring synth-pop tune sounded just as good in the chill of winter as it did in summer’s humidity. This was arguably the year’s most universally beloved songs, a song we could all lose ourselves in, just as much as the band performing it on stage.
5. The War on Drugs, “Under the Pressure”
4. Future, “Move That Dope” (feat. Pusha T, Pharrell, & Casino)
“Party girls don’t get hurt,” begins Sia’s first legitimate solo hit, after writing Rihanna’s inescapable “Diamonds” and being featured on hits by Flo Rida and David Guetta. Sia’s refusal to perform in front of cameras gave that opening line added weight, as Sia is that girl on the outside looking in, or, better yet, on the ceiling looking down. “Chandelier” is thematically similar to her smash David Guetta collaboration “Titanium”. But whereas on “Titanium” Sia was an indestructible force, the Sia found on “Chandelier” is only indestructible because she put herself in a place where no one can harm her. It’s lonely at the top, but it sure beats being eaten alive.
iLoveMakonnen, “Tuesday” (feat. Drake)
“Tuesday” is the rare song that truly practices what it preaches. iLoveMakonnen sings, “I made my own style,” which one could surmise listening to the first minute of the song, which is as unique and genuine as music got in 2014. Drake’s marvelous work here even finds the rapper doing his take on Makonnen’s flow, to fantastic results. In terms of 2014 hip-hop, “Tuesday” has more personality than its peers, giving iLoveMakonnen one hell of an introduction.
FKA twigs, “Two Weeks”
Warning: do not play “Two Weeks” with your parents in the room. 2014’s most sexual song, “Weeks” is a triumph for FKA twigs, who somehow managed to keep all the idiosyncrasies of her 2013 EP and pair them with something more accessible and breathtaking. The song’s explicit sexual content is hidden under twigs’ delicate, light vocals. But don’t let her fool you. Then again, it’s not as if she’s attempting to hide her motives. She’s “higher than a motherfucker … thinking of new ways to do each other,” and by the time we get to the third verse, her “thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in.”
Artists such as Beyoncé and FKA twigs used their latest albums to explore female sexuality in explicit terms. It’s telling that songs such as “Partition” and “Two Weeks” surprised people with their content; it’s still far more acceptable for women to be sexual when considered as extensions of male sexuality as opposed to being the ones actively pursuing sex. It’s still okay for men to issue unwanted advances on women, to decide what happens to their bodies. FKA twigs asserts her own dominance of her body on “Two Weeks”. And for four minutes, we can imagine a world where twigs, and women everywhere, are not required to answer questions asked through a distinctly male perspective. They can finally live on their own terms.