Thursday, January 15, 2015

Top Songs of 2014: 1-20

20. "City Wrecker" by Moonface (from City Wrecker EP)
"It is 2000 and whatever / I am still a city wrecker / but a different kind of wrecker"

1) Spencer Krug update: 12th appearance in the top 20 in 10 years despite the one artist rule (Wolf Parade / Sunset Rubdown / Swan Lake were active simultaneously) 
2) The City Wrecker EP marks the first time in forever that new music from Krug doesn't represent a complete musical change as Julia With Blue Jeans On was also just a man and a piano
3) "Jenny Lee" is a metaphor for the Expos, right?
19. "Fight Night" by Migos (from No Label II)
"If you know me / know this ain't my feng shui / certified everywhere / ain't gotta print my resume"

Pro: Listening to this song while running will probably improve your pace by 10%-15%
Con: Improved velocity may be accompanied by some shadow boxing during the chorus which makes you look like a total jackhole.
18. "Promises" by Ryn Weaver (from Promises EP)
"Cross my heart and hope to die / unless I happen to lie"

A lot of pop on the list this year. Economy must be pretty good. 
17. "i" by Kenrick Lamar (single)
"They wanna say it's a war outside / and a bomb in the street / and a gun in the hood / and a mob of police / and a rock on the corner / and a line full of fiend / and a bottle full of lean / and model on a scheme / yup"

good kid, m.A.A.d city missed the list entirely, but Kendrick makes the list twice this year (including his guest verse highlight on "Collard Greens") as we find ourselves liking K-Dot a lot more with larger production and a less languid flow. We know that may be a minority view. 

16. "I Love My Dad" by Sun Kil Moon (from Benji)
"When I was five I came home from kindergarten crying 'cause they sat me next to an albino"

We love ourselves some Sun Kil Moon. A couple top five songs over the last decade and several more appearances on the list. And Benji was a triumph. But his juvenile and one-sided "fight" with the War on Drugs was pretty embarrassing. So we're slapping a 15-slot restraining order on Mark. That said, for its sheer randomness no lyric made us laugh harder than the quote above.  

15. "Warsaw" by White Sea  (from In Cold Blood)
""cause I'll steal your men / and I'll seduce your wives"

M83's vocalist/keyboardist Morgan Kibby's debut ended up getting a lot less attention than it may have deserved. Very cohesive album, with several highlights.   

14. "New York Morning" by Elbow (from The Takeoff and Landing of Everything)
"Oh my god New York can talk / somewhere in all that talk is all the answers"

Elbow’s NYC anthem wasn’t the most prominent of its kind this year, but in a single verse the lads from Lancashire succinctly captured the city’s unrivaled balance of bullshit and wonder. 

13. "Rent I Pay" by Spoon (from They Want My Soul)
"Out amongst the stars and the stones / every kind of fortune gets old / every kind of line is gonna come back to me just as I go"

"Inside Out" is the better song, for certain. But "R.I.P." has that roll-down-the-windows-push-the-sound-system-and-sing/scream-along sound that makes Spoon the best rock band of the last decade... 

12. "Happy Idiot" by TV on the Radio (from Seeds)
"I’m a happy idiot / waving at cars"

...unless, of course, TVotR is the best rock band of the last decade. And similarly, tough call here between "Quartz" (which shows their mastery of the slow building track 1), "Seeds" (great closer) and "Happy Idiot", which is so damned likable. 

11. "I Was Jesus" by Hello Saferide (from The Fox, the Hunter and Hello Saferide)
"And I was both black and woman / so it was two fights to fight / I was burned out / and well that was it"

Swede Annika Norlin is a master at pop folk songs that are a bit heavy behind their humor. "The Quiz" is one favorite. As is this take on the world's great leaders coming back as women and failing miserably, including Jesus (disciples get distracted by her wet clothes during the loaves and fishes), Gandhi ("you look nice now that you don't eat") and MLK (see quote above). The lyric video makes us want to open champagne exclusively with sabers. And is that the "Heroes" riff? 
10. "Pink Chalk" by Zookeeper (from Pink Chalk)
"Let us save you from that fate / let us help you to retrace / 'cause the mind can be amazed"

Zookeeper's last (and only) LP was released in 2007, had our second favorite song that year and was our #12 album of the entire decade. They've also appeared on both Baby CDs. So yeah, we were pretty excited in November when we learned that the long awaited follow-up had come out in October.   
9. "Jubel" by Klingande (single)
"Save me"

After a 20+ year winter, sax solos are showing up frequently all of a sudden, none better or more infectious than here.  
8. "Back in the Tall Grass" by Future Islands (from Singles)
"It feels like winter / but it's the heart of the summer / we can't go swimming / as long as we slumber"

Great to see so much love for Future Islands this year. But while "Seasons" is the consensus centerpiece from Singles (and provided the instrumental behind this year's #44) we'll go with a different track, albeit one where Sam Herring sounds just as heart-on-his-sleeve emotive.  Of course, we once chose one of their B-sides from a random single as our #1 song of the year (in 2012), so our taste's don't even align with the band's.  
7. "Mr. Noah" by Panda Bear (from Mr. Noah EP)
"But he burns like a blaze inside / hey hey hey"

Animal Collective and Panda Bear make amazing sounding music, but it is always a bit easier to admire than it is to hum or sing along to. “Mr. Noah” may not ultimately represent a major change in direction for Noah Lennox (we'll see after listening to ...Meets the Grim Reaper), but he and band mate Avery Tare (at #21) created some lasting earworms in 2014
6. "Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!" by Kishi Bashi (from Lighght)
"And if your body is a penny and I’m / ready to throw it in the fountain of my many memories"

K. Ishibashi makes the list for a third straight year with the highlight from what may be our favorite album of the year. "The Ballad of Mr. Steak" and "Carry On Phenomenon" could have easily been in the top 20 but for the "one song per artist" rule. Sounds a lot like the best of ELO, if ELO wrote songs giving human characteristics to protein
5. "Tomorrow" by The Roots (from ... And Then You Shoot Your Cousin)
"’Cause you sleep from eleven to seven / and work hard from nine to five"

The Roots are plenty good on their own, but some of their greatest tracks are when they get a great vocalist and evoke classic R&B. It worked on “The Seed 2.0” and it works here. Kevin Eubanks never made this list.  
4. "Nara" by Alt-J (from This is All Yours)
"In my youth / the greatest tide washed up my pride / you" 

Alt-J’s sophomore effort flirted with more overtly commercial fare (“Left Hand Free” and the Miley Cyrus sample on “Hunger of the Pine”) but it was ultimately just as weird and dense as An Awesome Wave.  We've never really understood the lack of critical acclaim (Mercury Prize, notwithstanding). 
3. "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" by Against Me!  (from Transgender Dysphoria Blues)
"you’ve got no c*nt in your strut / you’ve got no ass to shake / and you know it's obvious / but we can't choose how we're made"

Difficult to pick a top track from an insanely strong album. “Black Me Out” or “Fuckmylife666” could have landed a top slot. But it’s the album’s title track that make the most impassioned statement from Laura Jane Grace (who, until recently, was Thomas James Gabel)

2. "Blue Moon" by Beck (from Morning Phase)
"Cut me down to size / so I can fit inside / lies that will divide / us both in time"

In his review of Morning Phase, Grantland’s Hyden suggests that while you can appreciate both albums, every Beck fans is at their core either a Midnite Vulture person or a Sea Change person.  Now, we here at ATHOM like Vultures just fine, but Sea Change is a significant favorite. And Beck did well by that legacy with its 2014 sequel.
1. "In Reverse" by The War on Drugs (from Lost in the Dream)
"I don’t mind you disappearing / ‘cause I know you can be found"

The incredible thing about Lost in the Dream (which led Metacritic’s year-end poll of music critics) is that its partisans all cite different tracks as the album’s strongest. Even great albums frequently have 1-2 clear standout tracks, but no fewer than half of the album’s ten tracks have shown up on top song lists scattered around the web.  This, like the music itself, is a throwback to the great rock albums of the past. “In Reverse”, however is an easy choice here. While track listing is becoming an antiquated concept in the era of digital music, playlists and the shuffle button, we’ve always been drawn to the closing track. A proper closing track to a great album should be both weary and uplifting. “Moonlight Mile” from Sticky Fingers and “I Believe” from Talking Book are classic examples. “Sons and Daughters” from The Crane Wife and “Mr. November” from Alligator are more recent examples. “In Reverse” takes it time to build and wanders like its characters, but in a year that itself was intermittently both wearying and uplifting, it is our #1 song. 

I’ll be here or fade away
never cared about moving
never cared about now
not the notes I’m playing
is there room in the dark
in between in the changes
like a light that’s drifting
in reverse I’m moving

Thanks for reading and listening.

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