Tuesday, December 30, 2014

James Courtney's Picks for the Best Songs of 2014

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2014 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge Alvvays - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Alvvays

2014 was an exciting year in music. And while I tend to think in terms of albums or EPs, the prospect of making a list of the ten best songs of the year forced me to focus on the power of individual songs. The process was rewarding and the list, a real doozy, represents my take on the absolute best songs of the year. Enjoy and, as always, we'd love to hear your version of things in the comments. These songs are in no particular order.

Alvvays, "Archie, Marry Me"
With this painfully gorgeous, delicately grungy, lo-fi indie-pop song, Canada's Alvvays introduced themselves to the world. It's one of several near-perfect moments of pop on their effervescent and glowing debut LP, but this one, with it's slightly off key chorus exhorting irresponsibility into commitment, is special.

Panda Bear, "Mr. Noah"
Noah Lennox, aka Panda bear, is everything that makes Animal Collective an occasionally enjoyable listen. His solo work has proven his ability to be experimental within a pop framework and keep it groovetastic. “Mr. Noah,” from and EP of the same name, is meant as an appetizer for Lennox's forthcoming 2015 release Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, and it has certainly left us hungry for more of his delectable, electro-acoustic genius.

Vince Staples, "Screen Door"
"Screen Door," is simultaneously the most enjoyable and the most grating track on Vince Staples' excellent Hell Can Wait EP. While other songs bump harder or seem more socially proactive, "Screen Door" is a hopeless song about the eternal cycle of addiction and the economy surrounding it. It's a delightfully unsettling song and my favorite by one of the finest young rappers around.

Sturgill Simpson, "Turtles All the Way Down"
Kentucky's Sturgill Simpson makes genuine psychedelic country music and embodies, personally, all of the contradictions therein. "Turtles All the Way Down" is a more or less traditionally rendered country song that reflects on experiences with drugs, various spiritual traditions and the meaning of life. It's well-written, impeccably delivered and virtually without precedent in contemporary country music.

Woods, "With Light and With Love"
From mildly banal psych-folk beginnings, Woods continues to evolve into a bonafide and brilliant psychedelic rock outfit. While this year's With Light and With Love (album) didn't quite gel as well as 2012's Bend Beyond, the title track is as good a contemporary psych-rock track as you'll find.

Father John Misty, "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)"
Even its voyeuristically personal feel can't stop this song from achieving universal truth and songwriting perfection. It is a love song that, for once, actually seems comfortable with the awkward and insanely risky actuality of really loving another human being. And, as much as I've tried to sing it in the shower, its beautiful vocal melody is every bit as tricky as it is immediately arresting.

Run the Jewels feat. Zack de la Rocha, "Close Your Eyes and Count to Fuck"
This song is an explosion. It rages irrationally and rails cynically. Its anger has no time for righteousness. And shout out to Zack de la Rocha for making it onto the best rap song of the year.

Angel Olsen, "Hi-Five"
Here's an anthem for all the unbearable loneliness in the world: loneliness of isolation, loneliness of togetherness, loneliness at the core. Angel Olsen offers an innocent hi-five to all of us ... and it is breathtaking.

D'Angelo, "1000 Deaths"
This December, D'Angelo hooked us up with a gift that none of us knew we wanted so bad. Surprise released, with even less warning than the original messiah, Black Messiah is an R&B masterpiece of rare proportions. “1000 Deaths,” is its defining moment—depressing, angry, mystical and hungry all at the same time. It is, at once, a lament and an exuberant celebration of inherent, if untapped, power. And that voice. And that all-star band—goddamn.

Conor Oberst, "Hundreds of Ways"
File this brassy and jaunty folk-rock gem by Bright Eyes' mastermind Conor Oberst in the self-help/positive affirmation section all you want—it's an instant classic and a timely reminder to rejoice in the now, no matter how difficult that gets.


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