2014: Favorite 50 Songs of 2014

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series


Mumdance
“Take Time (feat. Novelist)”

[Rinse]

It took all of four bars to realize that “Take Time” bangs. Mumdance’s instrumental was as punishing and spartan as it was pure fun. Constructed from just a 909, some clangy samples, and a bass blast, it was like someone had dragged musique concrète through the gutter and taught it how to make grime. However, unlike many of the best tunes to come out of the new wave of grime, it only got better with the addition of an MC, the 17-year-old Novelist. Suddenly, the empty space was filled in with perfectly poised piss and vinegar, and an exercise in avant-garde dance composition became a certifiable basement destroyer.

Death Grips
“Have a Sad Cum”

[Third Worlds]

What We DON’T Talk About When We Talk About Love. Not a tearjerker but a tear jerking. Also: tear (v.1; to pull or rip [something] apart or to pieces with force) + jerk (n.2/informal; a contemptibly obnoxious person). Fuck your friends’ music. All the Health Goth kids screaming in the club. Seven tabs of porn open in your browser. Punch a bitch in the face. Fall asleep with pizza in your bed. Delete? History. Call your mom up and cuss her out. Apologize. Death Grips killed themselves earlier this year, but not before releasing the first half of their final(?) double(!) album, which included this triumphant ode to morose masturbation. So don’t blow your load just yet, ‘cause these fuckers still got another half of an album cumming.

Chief Keef
“Shooters” [original version]

[Self-Released]

While we got a lot of shorties these days copping Chief Keef’s industry drill tracks, the Chicago rapper has been paving newer, weirder, and delightfully mixed-bag paths ever since parting ways with Interscope a couple months ago, even getting in the beat game with his own productions. But on “Shooters,” 12 Hunna was on the boards, providing Sosa a provocatively minimal banger to stage his exaggerated brutality and simplified, repetitious rhyme schemes. The official DJ-free version could be heard on Hustlenomic’s Clout Part 1 mixtape, but it was the disruptive drops and disgustingly violent sound effects of the “original” release that added a surreal component to the proceedings, with a machine gun at one point even metaphorically killing the song. These intrusions were obnoxious, three times as loud as they should’ve been, and humorous in an otherwise studied claustrophobia. They were perfect.

copeland
“Advice to Young Girls (feat. Actress)”

[Self-Released]

What I love about copeland is that, despite her ostensibly cold, steeled mug, she doesn’t mug on record. So while it might’ve only felt appropriate (given what little we knew) situating copeland’s dry, monotone didacticism within some non-threateningly non-sequitur in-joke, her words couldn’t have been more prickly and inciting. On a surface level, there was nothing ironic or sardonic or insincere about her “advice to young girls,” which was (despite our semiotic doubt) exactly why this cut was simultaneously infectious and horrifying. Like makeup applied shittily in your kitchen, it didn’t conceal imagined faults, exposing instead that “together, you’re strong,” that you can “face the city,” “face the night.” What was most affecting about “Advice to Young Girls” wasn’t that it induced anxiety about these situations (which it did), but that it left you vulnerable and, most critically, EMPOWERED as a result. So while aggregators kept painting a detached portrait of copeland as an enigma, perhaps a better comparison would’ve been Aretha Franklin; copeland’s “Advice to Young Girls” certainly made me feel like someone who mattered, a terrifying spike in self-esteem.

Arca
“Xen”

[Mute]

Finally. Your skin’s crawling, and your neck hurts like hell; but you’re out. Another shitty workday done. Headphones on. Hood up. Hock an aggressive snotball and pick up the pace. It’s colder and getting dark earlier… perfect. “Xen,” the titular and third track from Alejandro Ghersi’s massively twisted experimental debut Xen, squelches to life and quickens your thoughts (“Now this is what I wish that Aphex Twin shit sounded like…”) just as your boots hit the dismal back alley shortcut your significant other’s always nagging you not to take. Yup. There’s a couple of dudes loitering back there tonight. Fuck it. Too much momentum to stop now.

Yung Lean
“Leanworld”

[Self-Released]

Yung Lean’s always had a certain “haha, come here and look at this little Swedish kid rapping” quality about him. Even those who would seriously defend his work (like me) could probably admit there’s something strangely viral or shareable about his music. Well, all of it except for “Leanworld.” Like some of his best tracks, the lyrics barely needed to register for its ocean of promethazine-laced melancholy to wash over you. But unlike those others, it never “dropped” and certainly didn’t “bang.” It was weightless, and it was sad. Between Lean’s chant-like delivery and that descending square lead that damn near destroys me every time, it was pure sadboy concentrate, designed only for long and lonely nights.

Demdike Stare
“Past Majesty”

[Modern Love]

Like the escape sequence for the drab assembly-line ­scene of A-­side “Procrastination,” this bruiser strided heedlessly toward a future that became more unnervingly uncertain as it went. It was a running, flailing fight with all­too­obvious parameters: the way a hungry person will know why they are feeling despondent and still refuse to stop and eat. “Past Majesty” finally ceased in a slowly sizzling pool of its own doomy rust butter, only to have the spell broken with a classic drum sign­off to make the whole damnable marathon seem like a 70s hard rock jam. Like a rebel headed for the horizon or like a corduroy throw pillow spilling with beetles. It was of a curiously fetid majesty and a past that peeled on you. Approach with headphones.

Pharmakon
“Body Betrays Itself”

[Sacred Bones]

Violent rejection of a perceived intrusion is either one of our healthiest or nastiest habits. Intrusion from within is an especially paradoxical and unmistakable stimulus, and Margaret Chardiet’s screams on “Body Betrays Itself” exerted the self-rejecting/-preserving force reserved exclusively for such compulsions — nauseated crawls to bathrooms, zit popping, blood transfusion reactions, etc. There was no denying the physical disgust that filled Bestial Burden, horror at the realization that skin is just a glorified baggy marinating unrefrigerated meat, but the same wince-and-scream reflex followed the mental resurfacing of past shame, the instinctual protection of the ego being similar to that of the body. Did you know that throbbing pain doesn’t match pulse rate, but brain waves? Mind sounds are in body sounds, and “Body Betrays Itself” purged them all, flushing out our ear canals with vomit, anxiety, and putrefaction. Ubi pus, ibi evacua.

Triad God
“So Pay La”

[Self-Released]

With barely a mutter since their excellent 2012 mixtape NXB, Triad God and producer Palmistry returned in 2014 not with renewed fervor and excitement, but with exhaustion, desolation. “So Pay La” didn’t serve as a build-up to a release or to any sort of defined artistic statement. It was transition made audible, with Vinh Ngan’s dry, distracted mumbles at odds with the angelic drama propping up a pseudo spirituality whose serenity felt foreboding, even deterministic. More than just another example of the barely-tapped potential of these two artists, “So Pay La” was a gorgeous love song to the insularity and rumination that comes with waiting for nothing and expecting even less, his way of telling us — telling someone — to shut up and go away. It felt numb. We felt numb.

Andy Stott
“Violence”

[Modern Love]

It’s easy to trip out on the mayhem­gasmic imagery of Call of Duty. Whatever story they may slap on these games, the key selling point is ever the glazed glory of wanton destruction. This has only gotten sexier for everyone, though our peripheral walls wobble under the weight of life and death. “Violence” is the song Frank Underwood should be rattling the windows of his mancave with while he plays his first­person shooters. The song worked as a muscled objectification of rage electrifying a steadily creeping fog of pure void. When the pulverizing wordless chorus finally broke through, we were fused with that spark of gleeful devastation, and it stung a bit. “Violence” wanted to wake up from itself, but was deadly comfortable and only reclined back into its own ether. We did likewise.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series


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