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


More songs exist right now at the end of 2014 than have ever existed before. The same can be said of film, garbage, and human remains. Time functions in this manner. New songs pour into the anonymous abyss of iTunes at a rate faster than ears will ever hear them. While we sleep, the bowels of Spotify churn, its unloved songs playing back for each other in desperate corners of the database as an auditory Toy Story scenario sparked into being by the absence of human attention. The underground canon expands tape by tape in sidelong sessions known only to the fifty heads who sell out each limited edition. With infinite songs at the ready to reach us and to never reach us, curious listeners can experience the true freedom of selection and the true bliss of discovery, as they patrol what grumbling deity Steve Albini describes as the internet’s “great hall of fetishes” populated with “whatever you felt like fucking or being fucked by.” Alright.

Despite its graphic physical imagery, not unexpected from a man who named an album Songs About Fucking, Albini’s metaphor spins in a crooked orbit around the primary sensation that defines TMT’s inaugural list of favorite songs: pleasure — the pleasure of dialing up in an instant exactly what one loves; the joy of hearing an idea pushed beyond the boundaries of its precedents; the raw surprise of hearing unexpected sounds emerge from tools we thought we understood; the inverse delight in feeling disturbed or bewildered.

After pinpointing the sources of 2014’s most obvious euphoria, the prospect of a numbered list seemed to unnaturally confine and quantify our pleasure. So, instead, our favorite 50 songs of 2014 are united by five loose thematic moods that sketch out the physical zones best suited for listening: We raise our fists and sprint through another lap at the GYM. We balance between sense and nonsense from the VOID. We peek around corners and squint into the dim lights of the ALLEY. We feel time stretch into slow motion on the CLIFF. We put the top down and turn the volume up in the COUPE. We find what pleases us in each of these locations and loop our favorites until they become part of our individual emotional codes. We rejoice in how deeply we are able to love.


f(x)
“Red Light”

[S.M. Entertainment/K.T. Music]

I’ve read here and there that the lyrics for f(x)’s “Red Light” are deeply symbolic and meaningful. Naturally, that wasn’t what was most interesting or entertaining about the song. It was much easier to appreciate the craftsmanship of its execution — the odd pleasure from the buzzy, boxy synth line; the seamless integration of parts that could quite easily have been incongruously disparate — without having to dig into its lyrical meaning and whatever implicit or explicit messages, dubious or otherwise, it might have. I stuck to the simple and no doubt vapid enjoyment of its glossy pop artificiality (not intended pejoratively!), unalloyed by the necessity of actually “understanding” it; and in that respect at least, I’m pretty sure “Red Light” was unsurpassed this year.

QT
“Hey QT”

[XL]

In 2014, I confronted the abyss. The penetrating dark offered itself for inscription with my deepest fantasies. I stared, and saw nothing, and then soft clouds, glossy gum bubbles, pink slime pools, shiny masses of plastic legs, tits, arms, hair, the wetness of sweat and grease and millions of gallons of canned soft drinks. Vibrant matter dematerialized in the vast nothingness, reassembling into new forms and abandoning configurations at will. It was the sublime landscape of the imaginary, complete with secret fears and perversions. The sound of a familiar voice crawled out from the mouth of the abyss, screaming: “Hey QT!!!” I quivered, and stared still, unsure, seeming almost to fall inside, to become enveloped. After some minutes, I finally stammered in response: “Yeah?”

Sudanim
“Midrift (Neana on the Trak Remix)”

[Her]

Sudanim gave Neana some pristine source material for a remix, and since everything Neana touched this year turned to gold, the alchemy succeeded. In a year when machine noises dominated the grimy club sound of London, “Midrift” was a perfect example of using straight-up construction-site sounds to create a landscape made specifically for the club. Neana excelled at trusting a small slew of sounds and repeating them endlessly to create a perfect beat for dancing. The result was never annoying or oversaturated, but aggressively minimal in its palette and satisfyingly maximal in its density. The pure sounds that Sudanim used turned the original into a cracked-out version of itself, still recognizable yet simultaneously made anew.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
“Mottai Night Land”

[Unborde]

This Halloween, I was visited by exactly zero trick-or-treaters. (p′︵‵。) What happened to all that neglected candy? I could believe the truth — that I ate it all, handful by lonely handful, in an embarrassingly short period of time, generating a mess of wrappers that won’t decompose for centuries (×_×# ) — or I can believe it was all carried by a flying steamboat to “Mottai Night Land,” a magical place of innocent indulgence, where the peanut butter cups were transformed into glockenspiel mallets, the Kit Kats into toy piano keys, and the caramel creams into the stickiest vocal melody of 2014. In “Mottai Night Land,” nightmares became backup dancers, baked goods became a worldview, and excess became integral. “Mottai Night Land” forever, bitches. ☆*・゜゚・*(^O^)/*・゜゚・*☆

Kane West
“Power of Social Media”

[PC Music]

Digital marketing is a science. We should all have realized by now that, in the world of online, nothing happens by chance. Every GIF, Vine, video, or comment that we see is most likely the result of somebody somewhere’s social media marketing strategy. The truth is, social media — when used strategically over time — is the most powerful form of marketing and market research the world has ever seen. But it’s not a magic bean that grows overnight into business success. It’s a platform for real work. The art is knowing the best places to put that work so you get results and not just a lot of annoying people who think they’re your friends. And this is exactly what we’re going to talk about today. Chapter titles: I. :~~~)  II. ᴘʟᴇᴀsᴇ ʟᴇᴛ ᴍᴇ ᴅᴀɴᴄᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜɪs  III. ᴘᴜᴛᴛ-ᴘᴜᴛᴛ ɢᴏᴇs ʀᴀᴠɪɴɢ  IV. ɢᴏᴏᴏᴏᴅ ᴏʟᴅ ᴅᴀʏs  V. ᴛʜɪs ɪs sᴏᴍᴇ ᴀᴍᴀᴢɪɴɢ sᴛᴜғғ  VI. ғᴜᴄᴋ ʏᴇᴀʜ  VII. ғɪʀᴇ  VIII. “ғᴀsᴛ” ᴇᴅᴅɪᴇ sᴍɪᴛʜ & ᴊᴀᴄᴋɪɴɢ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇ sᴏᴜɴᴅ ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ ᴜɴᴅᴇʀɢʀᴏᴜɴᴅ

SOPHIE
“HARD”

[Numbers]

I like the music that SOPHIE makes. Last year, I thought that “BIPP” and “ELLE” were very good songs. This year, I thought that “LEMONADE” and “HARD” were very good songs. “HARD” was special, because it made me think about catwalks, liquorice, hairspray, and parties. I listened to it a lot of times because it was short and it made me dance. I hope that SOPHIE will make another song that I like soon.

DJ K-Duecez ft. Kuddie J
“T-Shirt & Panties”

[Self-Released]

Jersey club has garnered considerable attention in 2014 from both Jersey producers and UK producers, who are appropriating and mixing it with their own mechanical, grimy club sounds, creating new ways to appreciate the genre. One of my favorites this year was from Jersey producer K-Duecez (featuring Kuddie J, also Jersey), who reworked Adina Howard’s sultry but forgotten “T-Shirt & Panties” into hard-hitting Jersey club. While the track didn’t reinvent the genre, it proved that, when done well, Jersey club could provide an experience that was much more than about dancing. The main (almost only) lyric was endlessly sexy in an innocent way, so much so that it transformed into something meditative, even melancholy. But amazingly, the emotionality here not once sacrificed the danceability of the track.

100s
“Fuckin Around”

[Fool’s Gold]

Now filed under “should’ve been a Top 40 hit,” 100s’s “Fuckin Around” was much more than just a breakup song from a “pimp” to his “ho.” It was a personal empowerment anthem driving an Iggy Azalea-favored synth line into actually enjoyable territory while flipping the gender politricks of rappers like her and Nicki Minaj on their iconographic asses. Where they sell sex as a supposed tool for feminine empowerment, 100s sold sex for material wealth, not only by “pimping hoes” but also by offering his own physical affection in exchange for furs, dinners at Chez Panisse, and stays at the Claremont Hotel. And when that didn’t work out, oh well. “She said 100s but I love your ass, but that ain’t gon’ get my hair done.”

Future
“Move That Dope”

[A1/Freebandz/Epic]

Motion is right there in the title: Future wasn’t slinging dope, he was moving it. And movement has more than one possible meaning, especially to so versatile and physical a vocalist as this often melancholic, robot-voiced Atlanta rapper. Future usually flits between a range of moods and tones, but on this track, he was a relatively low-key presence. While Pharrell got most of the attention for his uncharacteristically excellent rapping, he still sounded like he was trying. Future, on the other hand, rapped with infectious enthusiasm with a bare minimum of effort. I mean, he took a song about high-risk work and turned it into Song of the Summer. All apologies to Terrence Thornton, but Future’s the one who was pushing things forward here. Without him, this song would’ve been just another super-sized cypher instead of this staggering work of motivational fortitude.

Powell
“So We Went Electric”

[Diagonal]

If Burial’s club revelations recall standing outside the rave and gazing inward, Powell’s emerge from aiming a rocket launcher at the side of Berghain, sticking a contact mic on that fucker, and letting it rip. His audaciousness shined through on “So We Went Electric,” the standout track from his Club Music EP. After the opening salvo, Powell treated us to one of his most memorable grooves yet, replete with skittering hot-swing hi-hats and a pulse that transcended the most clichéd of techno menace. His technique was incredible, really; “So We Went Electric” was a minefield of trap doors, a documentation of the urge to dance through the rubble of our rave dream.

White Suns
“Clairvoyant”

[The Flenser]

That drum beat is a knock at your door. Open it wide. Let them in. A swarm of insects with legs of shivered glass. Feel them moving over you. Feel them moving into you. Hear the white-hot agony singing up and down your spine until it all goes still, until you could almost believe you’ve blacked out, except for the wet, heavy sounds of something breathing in the darkness. It appears before your bleary eyes, your father’s face reflected in every facet of its mirrored visage, and you realize this ordeal is not meant to kill you. You realize you’ve been dying all along, dying of a poison coursing through your veins since birth. When the pain begins again, you no longer try to fight.

Scott Walker + Sunn O)))
“Herod 2014”

[4AD]

“Herod 2014” was Soused in microcosm. Its lyrics were acute, specific. They referenced baroque painters (Poussin and Rubens), German secret police (Stasi), Rodgers & Hammerstein (an abbreviated verse from “My Favorite Things”). But if one just managed to snatch a thread of them, out of context, they were terrifying, alien, and absurd. The hoarse braying incorporated with Sunn O)))’s oppressive guitar textures sounded elephantine, and yet the imagination of the listener could slip out of space, time, and the corporeal to allow the subconscious to suggest something horrific instead. “I gaze up at the night, at the asterisk’s blazing,” intoned Walker, as the thick smudgy guitars gave way to a spacious and shivering tonal clarity that mimicked his words.

Ian William Craig
“Before Meaning Comes”

[Recital]

Like Michelangelo’s quartet of unfinished slaves, “Before Meaning Comes” was an illustration of struggle, a concrete expression of beauty fighting for realization. Here, a lone female voice flickered like a dimming candle. With each utterance, she became more solid, more constant. In time, she was joined by others, and for two glorious minutes, they sang together in unearthly harmony. Then the voices began to stutter. Bit by bit, they were obscured by blossoms of negative space before lapsing into silence altogether. It was here where Ian William Craig was most poignant. In that sublime threshold, that razor-thin instant between voice and no voice, we were hearing ourselves, our own ache for all we could have been echoing back upon us.

Nmesh
“KΞΞP/////THIS/////”

[AMDISCS]

1. Growing up in Bolivia, some of my earliest musical memories involve Selena, yet I was unaware she had recorded any songs in English. “I Could Fall in Love,” an R&B ballad, was supposed to be her crossover hit, but it ended eulogizing her, released a few weeks after she was murdered. Despite my obliviousness and the fact that it sounded like a young black man singing, there was an unsettling familiarity to this sample. The complete surrender the voice sung about no longer involved a romantic capitulation, nor commented on the nature of extracorporeal vocals looped and deformed until all sense was lost. It was something else.

2. Nmesh trades in memories, not cheeky/nostalgic samples. He did not find Selena that way, though. His alarm clock was tuned to a local Latin radio, and he picked up these sounds there, half-awake. When I was in college, I loved listening to AM radios in the wee hours, usually when I pulled an all-nighter. You’d pick live DJ sets from plebeian parties, broadcasts for people about to start working the fields, fevered evangelists amid apocalyptic rants. I once even found the replay of a qualification match for the USA 1994 World Cup between Bolivia and Brazil. I used to record brief bits and put them online. Some might still be out there.

3. In his final days, Marconi believed that a fine enough filter would let him hear Jesus himself, as sound reverberated around us for eternity. I attested to that conviction when Selena’s voice, in a slumbered Spanish that sounded like an otherworldly occurrence or a robot unfamiliar with the language, broke into the middle of this track. Then I realized that Nmesh had found a way to make Marconi’s reverie possible, just changing regular ether for the internet, that realm where memory and imagination, specters and constructs, coexist, bleeding into one another.

E+E
“Big-Fire”

[Self-Released]

“Big-Fire” emerged as the cataclysmic centerpiece of E+E’s hallucinatory phronesis. The track evolved from being a celebratory paean of difference sung out in the darkness of historical evisceration, to a trial-by-fire cauterizing the past of its narrator. Of course, there was the opulent use of sonic triggers; their proximity towithin historical oppression helped sketch out a personal process of fear and trembling. As such, the references to cultural heritage we were hearing so vividly — the unification and courtship dances of cumbia and saya — found cadence and equilibrium in divine existential struggle, specifically the prophetic vision of the biblical burning bush. The symbol revealed itself as a sacred light: illumination, a burning heart of purity and potential love — a moment of clarity. Yet, the divine flame’s miraculous energy still carried with it a ruinous connotation: the pain of identification, the weight of history, narratives of oppression. Both salvation and struggle burned brightly in “Big-Fire” — a musical spark that signifies an actual light Elysia (E+E) gave us to see her.

Dean Blunt
“Forever”

[Rough Trade]

Dean Blunt’s talent for producing infectious music out of thin air, without the artifice of a musical “identity,” makes hell of busywork for PR people and critics, but his refreshingly amateur approach to art-making reaffirmed an essential adage of the creative spirit: Don’t Try. Or in Blunt’s case: Just Do It. “Forever,” like the album it centerpieced, was a monument to Blunt’s fuckless life force flow: too curious to categorize, all soft moans and saxophones and beats slashed apart with vague and endless desire. Uncompromising but unfolding with intuitive grace, it was a reassuring creation, a conduit of an everlasting art within.

Swans
“Screen Shot”

[Young God]

From now until the end of time, high school music classes that are learning compositional techniques will be sat down and made to listen to “Screen Shot,” the students’ minds slowly being crushed by the building layers of instrumentation, squeezing them tighter and tighter like a slowly-closing vice over the course of the seven-minute build-up, until the final wailing guitars kick in and the drums double up and the head of each kid in the class explodes while the teacher looks on joyously at the chaos and declares: “that’s the definition of a crescendo, you little punks!”

Lorenzo Senni
“Forever Headline”

[Boomkat Editions]

“Pointillistic trance” was the phrase used by a press release to describe Lorenzo Senni’s 2014 album, Superimpositions, and while the release more than exuded “pointillism” in the form of sharp synths, frequently stabbing, there was one track in particular that excelled at sending listeners off into pure mental whirlwind. “Forever Headline” was the longest track on the album, and with that, you might say that its potential for human envelopment exceeded that of the others. But in this respect, track length was secondary to the song itself, which was thoroughly disruptive by virtue of how brimming, uptempo, and relentless it was. Try focusing on a component for its duration. Try and have a wonderfully difficult time at it.

Peder Mannerfelt
“Evening Redness in the West”

[Digitalis]

As the only “vocal” cut on Peder Mannerfelt’s heavy-as-hell Lines Describing Circles, “Evening Redness in the West” certainly carried its fair share of the weight. Verbally, the lead-up was cinematic, a post-digital Leone: BARREN… HORIZON… FILTH… MESA… BOWIE KNIFE… and of course, the infinitely repeated BLOOD. Dirty West in Spirit, “Evening” read like the psychoanalysis session of a sideman who slipped through the cracks, away from the gunfire, only to see open wastelands filled with trash and flesh, the flash of knives and pounding of hearts echoed by buzzing, dusty synths.

Ben Frost
“Venter”

[Mute/Bedroom Community]

Choosing a standout track from Ben Frost’s unimpeachable A U R O R A is a bit like trying to grab a handful of dry ice: the album is there — you can see it, you can hear it — but it’s so damn hard to place into a wider context. “Venter,” however, did find a way to discern itself from the record on account of the surging, overlapping drum beats that formed a centerpiece around which the glassy synths and mind-blurring noises orbited, perfectly encapsulating the paranoid-and-on-the-run-in-some-future-dystopia vibe of A U R O R A.

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.

Steve Gunn
“Way Out Weather”

[Paradise of Bachelors]

With the motley din that passes from my desk through my ears, sometimes it’s old comfort from familiars that causes the biggest splash. Yet “Way Out Weather” may have been the most far-out song of the year, considering Gunn’s previous guitar meltdowns and how constructed — and dare I say poppy? — the eponymous lead seemed. That didn’t preclude a few psychedelic washes and spontaneous moments, but the warm cuddle of what one may deem traditional was more of a gamble on the pop-experimental spectrum than synth oscillations or ass gyrations. The soulful voice, breezy twang, and sincerity… it made me flush.

Jenny Hval and Susanna
“Black Lake”

[SusannaSonata]

When I last wrote about Jenny Hval and Susanna’s burnished sound tapestry Meshes of Voice, I focused on its form and structure, positing that how it moved through space with weight and grace begged some kind of external response (in my case, a 5/5 review). When I actually immerse myself in “Black Lake,” though (volume so loud it floods my senses), I realize it was my own lack of meaningful words and even noises (ah!) that strike me. Irrupting from its unfathomable yet innate source, “Black Lake” was at once arresting, beautiful, awful, and awesome, its sheer emotional resonance — sent into perpetual vibration by a mesh of voices — evidence that our deepest, darkest, blackest feelings were our most ineffable, unqualifiable, unimaginable. Vast as it may have been, then, perhaps its greatest advocate was that sensation Sir James Frazer called “trembling,” a physicality truer and older than those words caught in our throats.

Amen Dunes
“Splits Are Parted”

[Sacred Bones]

Sometimes it can be this simple: “Splits Are Parted,” from Amen Dunes’s spectacular Love, made ragged, breathtaking music with precious few adornments, simple music offering a simple promise: “I could love you/ I could make it easy.” With two guitar chords rolling out waves of murky ambience, two golden notes of a hook, and one well-placed cymbal crash, Damon McMahon concocted a spiritual experience of unsparing sentimentality. It was a poetic invoking of pained sympathy, forlorn but unpossessive, and even though its shape was familiar and its motions inevitable, it was altogether a new sensation, like falling in love again.

Future Islands
“Seasons (Waiting on You)”

[4AD]

I’m confused about Future Islands’ Twitter bio: “too noisy for new wave, too pussy for punk.” On the one hand, the band’s late-night talk-show brand of adult alternative isn’t “too noisy” for anything, really. On the other, what does it even mean to be “too pussy for punk?” Frontman Samuel T. Herring’s total emotional and physical investment in this essential dad jam (see the Late Show version) was one of the most “punk” things I’ve experienced in the Year of Our Lord, 2014, in which “punk” meant less than ever before. Considering the limited mobility of punk music proper as of late, I think Herring might’ve been the most Perfect Pussy of all.

Ai Aso
“Date”

[Ideologic Organ]

The fragile and microscopic ecosystem of “Date,” inhabited only by toy-keyboard arpeggios and Ai Aso’s wistful voice, was so precisely adapted that it didn’t matter in the slightest that this was at least the third time the song has appeared on one of her releases. This performance from Lone stripped away the textures and resonances of the original studio version and the guitar-led crescendo of an earlier live version to leave only a perfectly-formed skeletal remainder, replacing depth and dynamics with a sparseness that couldn’t help but draw attention to each sonic detail, each wavering note, each breath or hesitation. Every nuance of the performance mattered immeasurably. On “Date,” the most profound complexities emerged blinking from the simplest elements.

Vashti Bunyan
“Across the Water”

[FatCat]

Just in time for winter, a new Vashti Bunyan album arrived, complete with a new hibernal anthem to help us survive the cold and the warmth alike. “Every day is every day/ Can’t tell one from the other,” Bunyan sang on Heartleap’s opener “Across the Water,” managing to fill what might otherwise be a dreary lyric with a sense of childlike adventure and wondrous promise. Yet Bunyan’s songs weren’t just the experience of looking back on childhood; they were the sound of an adult re-becoming a child. “Across the Water’s” virginal snowfall didn’t try to erase the world-wearied background it was falling upon. Instead, it was told by someone who “lived on wit, got away with it” before finally “learn[ing] to fall with the grace of it all.” It was the sound of a childhood built upon a long adulthood, a new-fallen snow that covered all the brushy detritus and let us believe momentarily that things might stay this new forever.

Pure X
“Valley of Tears”

[Fat Possum]

I dunno if it’s because I’ll one day die listening to Pure X’s “Valley of Tears,” but every time I listen to it, I want to cry all the water out my body. Or that it reminds me of… Sun Araw drunk in Chinatown. Dual TKO. Fumes of the night circulating toxins of spirit: windows drawn, rivers on cheeks, and strained singing. Kneeling in Atlantic City sands. Holodeck Rex always representing. Alex Gray and homies. Geddes’s pup Murphy. Tapes on Burger Records. It’s been a good fucking year, y’all!

EMA
“3Jane”

[Matador]

There are many reasons why “3Jane” shouldn’t have worked: its anachronistic topicality; the fact that other musicians dealt with the issue in superior ways this year, integrating the medium into the message; its use of stale tropes (the “Be my baby” beat, the dissonant piano, etc.). Nevertheless, “3Jane” was The Future’s Void’s centerpiece. While in her solo debut album, Erika Anderson adopted folk songwriting as a grand idiom with which to articulate her persona, grasping a force comparable to mythmaking, in this song, she goes for a transparently confessional register. But just how it happened with her suburban adolescence tribulations in Past Life Martyred Saints, the experiences and emotions she invoked here are cleverly rendered universal. On the surface, this might be just one more track about our constant exposure via social networks, digital surveillance, and the blurring of the real and the virtual; yet, it was also a song about the naked vulnerability of the creative act, that vertigo one endures when putting an intimate portion of oneself on display — a process that today inexcusably took place through the digital and, hence, an anxiety we have all experienced with diverse intensities.

Sun Kil Moon
“I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same”

[Caldo Verde]

The long-form epicenter of Benji’s constant emotional outpour, “I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same,” weaved its rubato guitar progression through a free-associative series of reveries from Mark Kozelek’s life weighted with enough formative musical memories, paeans to melancholy, and deaths of loved ones to comprise its own decades-spanning filmic montage. Sigh-sung in a recurring cadence conformed to his dense strings of syllables, each verse sketched a standalone narrative capable of swiftly ransacking your defenses — especially Kozelek’s keened apology to an unnamed child he punched on the playground, charged in hindsight with a cyclical life-imitates-life significance after his subsequent spats of intra-industry, headline-fodder bullying.

Grouper
“Clearing”

[Kranky]

“Have you ever been in love?” I can’t say I have. What does that even mean? To be in love? I don’t know. I can’t know. It’s as alien to me as physics is to you. I know it exists, I know people get it and have it, but that doesn’t make it understandable. What is clear is this: Everyone I know, I care for; they just disappear and become someone else when it happens. I lose them. It never seemed right to me. In the end, it’s always the same: I end up alone, and the world turns inward. But maybe it’s better this way. Otherwise, I’d lose me and just end up hurting someone the wrong way. You don’t want that. Nobody does.

Every day this week, we unveiled 10 tracks that comprise our Favorite 50 Songs of 2014, with each day showcasing a new theme and its accompanying mix. We’ve already been to the GYM, VOID, ALLEY, and CLIFF. For our final theme, we’re taking the top down, turning the volume up, and going for a ride in the COUPE.


YG
“Who Do You Love? (feat. Drake)”

[Def Jam]

Apparently, living “the good life” comes packaged alongside the heavy pressure to flex. We know this well — hip-hop’s prosaic need to proclaim sexual and political “freedom” via cash money. But, somehow, “Who Do You Love?” came across as a gift that alleviated the angst-y male gaze from turning everything stone cold. Mustard was in peak form here; a four-bar minor-phrase, the kick, and the “hey” were all perfectly designed and ready-to-please. Perhaps more than any other rap track this year, the piece showed us the benefits of “lightness.” The Mustard/YG axis even coaxed “The Boy,” that one paradigmatic Toronto rapper, to deliver a tightly-packaged party drop instead of his typical meandering, self-referential goosebumpy thing. All-in-all, the “gift” of Mustard’s production allowed for an indulgent pleasure-ride in a lane wide enough for YG and Drake to blithely flex those six figures. They easily cruised from 0 to 60 to $600,000.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
“Thuggin’”

[Madlib Invazion]

Is Freddie Gibbs actually thuggin’? That vapid question has loomed over Gibbs’s career for the past half-decade, farcically culminating with him being shot at in front of a gentrified-ass Williamsburg record store and, thus, not really offering any kind of resolution to the argument. Alas, we here at TMT encourage amaurotic conviction over inconsequential debates, so don’t worry about Gibbs’s cred; instead, ponder how good Gibbs and Madlib’s “Thuggin’” is. One of many standouts from the duo’s phenomenal collaborative album Piñata, the track found Madlib collaging Rubba’s “Way Star” into an incredibly dynamic beat, while Gibbs juxtaposed a smooth delivery against the grit of growing up in Gary. Please don’t attempt to murder him again.

Beyoncé
”***Flawless (feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche)”

[Columbia]

If there were a good way of describing how women ALSO participate in mansplaining, it’d be the lyrics to Beyoncé’s “***Flawless (feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche)” [original version above]. And of course, it’d be in the most exhaustive tone, ‘cause having to explain yo-self ONE MORE TIME, gurrl; I ain’t sticking around for the war cloud. I’m a white guy, so tracks like “***Flawless (feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche)” typically get me [stereotype-dancing], but in all honesty, it’s a good outlet into a plethora of mindsets I’m not typically used to. Although, some girl at work told me she didn’t like “the weird sounds” in Beyoncé’s latest album, so she never really listened to it. Power to being alive, and “Fuck it!”

Bobby Shmurda
“Hot Nigga”

[Epic]

Crow sounds had a hell of a year. 18+ released a 7-inch that featured “Crow” as the A-side and later laid the track down for their EUREKA!’d full-length. Meanwhile, Jahlil Beats sent a WAV file via carrier crow over to Bobby Shmurda who then sent “Hot Nigga” over to Drake and then BAM: the crow sound is jetting over to work with Kanye on his upcoming while being named #2 on The FADER’s must-have beat kit of 2014 behind that “Hey” sample DJ Mustard puts in absolutely everything. AYYY, crow sounds caught a body ‘bout a week agoooo!

OG Maco
“U Guessed It”

[Quality Control]

“U Guessed It” came out of nowhere. Atlanta was calling itself weird, pots were calling kettles black, and we were four years removed from Flockaveli. FOUR YEARS. We were dying of thirst out there. It was like that Coors Light commercial where people go from being boring and sexualized to enjoying life and each other’s sexualization, except if the beer train was this song and on its way through East Atlanta. OG Maco’s energy was only amplified by the video of OGG and Rome Fortune falling through a hotel, mobbing in the elevator, yelling “HWAH,” making the world a better place for everyone.

Rich Gang
“Lifestyle”

[Self-Released]

A victory lap single released ahead of their compulsively listenable Tha Tour: Part 1 mixtape, Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle” coasted over London on da Track’s lush piano chords, G-funk synthlines, and bumping trap percussion into its pole position as the consummate summer jam for cruising in the coupe (or the yacht) with all your (rich) homies. Rich Homie Quan tried on a bouncy Andre 3000-core flow (“trouble trouble” […] “fist knuckle knuckle”), while Young Thug populated his double verses with the stream of freewheeling flows and upper-register volleys that we’ve come to cherish from Atlanta’s most consistently unpredictable MC.

FKA Twigs
“Two Weeks”

[Young Turks]

FKA Twigs’s defining song was once “Water Me,” in which she sang of affection-starvation over an Arca production so fragile a single thump could shatter it. Those days are over, idiot! That girl may have pleaded for growth, but the Twigs on “Two Weeks” thrived into the force and size of the damn sun. “You say you want me/ I say you’ll live without it,” she sneered, a sly power grab at the center of a song imploring “you” to be sensually consumed by her. If “Two Weeks” seemed straightforward production-wise, it’s because those tightly-sequenced blasts of synth and percussion were forced to fall in line with her command. “You know you’re mine,” she shouted, and yes, we know. We know.

iLoveMakonnen
“Club Goin’ Up on a Tuesday”

[Self-Released]

I used to be terrible at singing along to music — especially rap. I mean I couldn’t even get through the first line of the Fresh Prince theme song. That was before iLoveMakonnen. I have now sung along to every word of “Club Goin’ Up On A Tuesday” about three billion times, just in my car alone. But it wasn’t just the accessibility or simplicity that made “Tuesday” so beautiful. It was the rawness, the realness, the intimacy; the pure, confident, gentle delivery of a message and style that was both comforting and unfamiliar. But mostly it was for giving nerds like me some rap we can finally sing along to.

Hannah Diamond
“Attachment”

[PC Music]

Like an OS upgrade, “Attachment” swiped the foundations underlying our regular mental interactions with the what and the why of earworm pop and replaced them with a more attractive (and initially even irritating) version of the same thing, quickly wiping all memory of how this stuff used to operate. A creation of both the bedroom and the factory, PC Music’s beveled bass drop(let)s and blushing synth-puffs nestled close to Hannah Diamond’s slightly-off recitations of sweetness, gliding along serenely but trapped in a complex melancholy, daydreaming about horizontal intimacy in the flattened future.

Taylor Swift
“Shake It Off”

[Big Machine]

Is “Shake it Off,” as advice, good or bad? Is it advice, even? A command, maybe? Is there an option? Is the “it” that’s shaking [off] always and necessarily by definition not “me,” and if so, once off, where does it go? If I shake myself [off] down to the very, very, very bottom, and off, off, off “it” comes, what then is left? No blurb­space for answers, I guess, but I will say that I’ve heard this song probably at least as much as any other song this year, and I’m still happy when it comes on. And anyway, as far as I’m concerned, Tim Terhaar’s still got the final word.

[00:00] f(x) - “Red Light”
[03:08] QT - “Hey QT”
[06:28] Sudanim - “Midrift (Neana on the Trak Remix)”
[10:39] Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - “Mottai Night Land”
[14:33] Kane West - “Power of Social Media”
[19:05] SOPHIE - “HARD”
[22:02] DJ K-Duecez ft. Kuddie J - “T-Shirt & Panties”
[24:30] 100s - “Fuckin Around”
[27:14] Future - “Move That Dope”
[32:49] Powell - “So We Went Electric”

[00:00] White Suns - “Clairvoyant”
[05:27] Scott Walker & Sunn O))) - “Herod”
[17:42] Ian William Craig - “Before Meaning Comes”
[20:19] Nmesh - “KΞΞP/////THIS/////”
[25:49] E+E - “Big-Fire”
[31:22] Dean Blunt - “Forever”
[45:29] Swans - “Screen Shot”
[52:11] Lorenzo Senni - “Forever Headline”
[59:27] Peder Mannerfelt - “Evening Redness In The West”
[1:03:47] Ben Frost - “Venter”

[00:00] Mumdance - “Take Time (feat. Novelist)”
[03:33] Death Grips - “Have a Sad Cum”
[07:12] Chief Keef - “Shooters”
[10:17] copeland - “Advice to Young Girls (feat. Actress)”
[14:36] Arca - “Xen”
[17:46] Yung Lean - “Leanworld”
[21:42] Demdike Stare - “Past Majesty”
[27:22] Pharmakon - “Body Betrays Itself”
[31:46] Triad God - “So Pay La”
[34:32] Andy Stott - “Violence”

[00:00] Steve Gunn - “Way Out Weather”
[06:31] Jenny Hval & Susanna - “Black Lake”
[11:48] Amen Dunes - “Splits Are Parted”
[15:22] Future Islands - “Seasons (Waiting On You)”
[19:09] Ai Aso - “Date”
[22:01] Vashti Bunyan - “Across the Water”
[25:52] Pure X - “Valley of Tears”
[28:50] EMA - “3Jane”
[33:10] Sun Kil Moon - “I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same”
[43:35] Grouper - “Clearing”

[00:00] YG - “Who Do You Love? (feat. Drake)”
[03:39] Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - “Thuggin’”
[07:02] Beyoncé - “Flawless”
[13:16] Bobby Shmurda - “Hot Nigga”
[16:23] OG Maco - “U Guessed It”
[20:22] Rich Gang - “Lifestyle”
[24:41] FKA Twigs - “Two Weeks”
[28:27] iLoveMakonnen - “Club Goin’ Up on a Tuesday”
[31:55] Hannah Diamond - “Attachment”
[36:13] Taylor Swift - “Shake it Off”

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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