Tuesday, December 30, 2014

the top 50 best songs of 2014

And now onto the third list, and by far one of the hardest to make. This year I discussed 210 albums and from there I had just under 700 songs that I considered eligible for this list. From there, the task of narrowing it down and ranking them was excruciatingly difficult, because I want to make sure this list was of the best of the best, and even with that I had to make some painful cuts. And once again, keep in mind these are not the hits. We have singles and deep cuts here, from artists who are defiantly mainstream to those lodged deep in the underground. And one more thing: for a song to land on this list, it has to have been released from an album I reviewed this year. If it was just a single, it doesn't cut it - but on a contrary note, if the single dropped last year or even the year before and the album was only released now... well, it qualifies in my books.

But enough wasting time, let's get this started with...

50. 'Very Much Money (Ice King Dream)' by Open Mike Eagle (from 'Dark Comedy')

There were a lot of records that viciously criticized hip-hop and its culture this year, and Open Mike Eagle's was one of the best. And yet 'Very Much Money (Ice King Dream)' was the song that stuck out to me the most, a gorgeous shimmering and melodic song with soft elements of glitchy percussion and a thick beat beneath it. But it's the lyrics that stand out the most, a hook that highlights the varied talents and intellect of Open Mike Eagle's friends and yet how society does not value them. And yet it's shrouded in dense references through extended symbolism tied to Adventure Time's Ice King that not just feels cohesive, but heartbreaking in its exploration of ego, anchored by Open Mike Eagle's downbeat, yet powerful delivery. It's complex, but it's the sort of rap song that definitely earns it.

49. 'Love Me Harder' by Ariana Grande ft. The Weeknd (from 'My Everything')

From a song that's exceptionally cerebral, we go to a track that has a much more base appeal, and as such is charting highly right now. Ariana Grande has never sounded more mature and poised until now, and placing up her up against The Weeknd's highly sexual lyrics proves to be a shockingly potent balance, which is really the centerpiece of the track. Coupled with a thick groove-heavy beat, mid-treble keys, a rich reverb-touched soundscape, and lyrics that take the frustration of sexual dissatisfaction into musical foreplay that ends up turning out hot as all hell. It was easily the best song off of My Everything, and if this is a sign where Ariana wants to take her music going forward... well, I'm onboard.

48. 'Everything's Gone' by Lydia Loveless (from 'Somewhere Else')

Lydia Loveless brought a lot of intensity to her followup Somewhere Else, most of it angry as hell, but 'Everything's Gone' opts for something more stripped back, yet no less wracked by real pain. A song that begins with Lydia leaving home for her dreams, but finding an even more turbulent life on the road - and yet by the time she comes home, she finds that home has vanished behind her, and even if she tries to recreate it, it won't be the same. And it's Lydia's delivery on the edge of tears that sells this song - sure, the thick acoustic strumming, the steel and electric guitars, they all help, but Lydia's rage and grief is what gives this song its punch, the sheer hopelessness of ever recreating that home. One of the most powerful and overlooked country songs of the year, and yet deserving of this slot.

47. 'Pour Cyril' by How To Dress Well (from "What Is This Heart?")

This track caught me by surprise, mostly because it's not one that originally leaped out at me. But after several listens, I knew it had to be on this list, if only based upon the instrumentation and production. The strings, the flutes, thick distorted keyboards, the horns, that final patter of a beat, and the sheer gorgeous swell of that crescendo. It's a defiant declaration of love that Tom Krell's thin, quivering delivery, balancing falsetto and his lower range that remains intimate all the way, with lyrics that don't exactly evoke a lot of thought but don't really need to either, a song that hits straight for the gut and definitely deserves a slot here.

46. 'Queen' by Perfume Genius (from 'Too Bright')

In response to Eminem's usual brand of crass commentary on the Shady cipher, Mike Hadreas threatened to stare straight into Eminem's eyes to crush him down and now in promotion of his new tour is selling t-shirts with Slim Shady in drag. Now I could make the argument that Perfume Genius is kind of playing into Eminem's brand of trolling, but Perfume Genius sure as hell isn't taking this lightly, and his album Too Bright and especially 'Queen' seem specifically designed to intimidate homophobes or any that would look down upon his sexuality. And 'Queen' is a stunning gutpunch - a sizzling guitar line, gorgeous shimmering keys, operatic backing vocals, crisp drumming, and lyrics that create a haggard, brittle picture of homosexuality, drag, or transgender individuals that some would brand as wretched or terrifying and just as provocative. And yet the song is triumphant and potent, reclaiming the image. Where Slim Shady might represent the worst of his kind, Perfume Genius becomes the mirror - before shattering his opposite.

45. 'Conclusions' by Frankmusik (from 'By Nicole')

Taylor Swift might have ruled the charts this year, but if I'm going to take synthpop that feels fresh and shockingly raw, Frankmusik is the unsung champion. Taking a powerfully melodic approach in a year ruled by percussion and reverb, his maximalist aesthetic finds a point of windswept balance on 'Conclusions', the tortured ending to the internal crises that rocked his album By Nicole. And I could go on about the surging piano line or the way he captures every note of emotion that comes in complicated breakups, but none of it would get there without one of the best vocal performances of his career. The sort of grand passion that tears at his vocal cords that shows talent and range beyond so many this year, and earns the drama. In a year where pop music was far too poised, refined and composed for my taste, Frankmusik brought raw, scorching reality.

44. 'Severed Crossed Fingers' by St. Vincent (from 'St. Vincent')

Graphic, gory, and yet perfectly human, 'Severed Crossed Fingers' was the moment where St. Vincent came back to earth and brought one of the most potent anthems of the year. On a record revolting against mechanical conformity and dehumanization, she found a primal moment of hope outside the rubble, with the gentle melody, blocks of fuzzy distortion, bells, cavernous drums and St. Vincent's exhausted delivery on one of the best crescendos on the record, she managed to infuse the song with a message of hope that feels both visceral and strangely comforting. After an album of bizarre alien moments, she needed a moment like this to ground the theatricality - and it ended up being one of the best songs of the year.

43. 'My Little Black Wedding Dress' by Lucy Hale (from 'Road Between')

The unexpected bonus track with one of the rougher gut punches in pop country this year, Lucy Hale takes the archetypal country wedding song with organ, steel guitar, and even accordion with some fantastic subtle piano flourishes - and then guts it. She desperately yearns for that moment at the altar, but instead is stuck alone hunting for something more, taking the elegance and exposing something much darker, the fantasy of being the bride everyone adores... except the colour is inverted, and while the dress fits her perfectly, it's a very different image. Lucy Hale sells the loneliness with heartbreaking power, and proves that she was the replacement for Taylor Swift we all needed and are better for her arrival.

42. 'Don't Change Gone' by Jason Aldean (from 'Old Boots, New Dirt')

Jason Aldean's album surprised me with how much it worked, but this song blew me out of the water. A steel-guitar and organ soaked country rock ballad that might be one of the most melodic songs he's ever written, it shows a maturity and vulnerability in heartbreak that the typically hard-edged and stoic Jason Aldean doesn't show. And it's really the lyrics here that stand out the most - the frustration between curdled anger and the weary resolve that she's moved on and he needs to as well. It's one of the few glimpses into real emotion from the antisocial, lone wolf country star, and the fact he sells it as well as he does over a defiantly simple melodic progression is powerful. He might not have completely won me over, but this song is a definite step in the right direction.

41. 'In Reverse' by The War On Drugs (from 'Lost In The Dream')

In this song, Adam Granduciel becomes a memory. The breakup, loneliness, and doubt of the album fades, leaving a sense of security and comfort that it's a moment of desperately needed relief, coming to grips with where he is, and allowing him to fade into the girl's past. And from the wet sheen of the guitar melody, precisely on point drumming, echoing synth line, and the Dylan-esque vocals, The War On Drugs crafted something special. But really, this song is on this list for the acoustic moment - subtle, simple, and yet instantly memorable as one of the most powerful moments on the album.  It's a moment of well-earned closure, and the fadeout over hazy waves, piano, horns, and a few lingering strums is damn close to perfect.

40. 'Body & Blood' by Clipping (from 'CLPPNG')

If this song isn't eventually landing on a gory horror movie soundtrack yet, it should. A greasy, dripping synth with fragments of fuzz, a thick pummeling beat with chainsaw whirring in the background, the echoing lo-fi sample, and lyrics that take traditional horrorcore imagery and flips it, giving the knife to a female serial killer who uses sexuality, clinical precision, and an meticulously detailed arsenal of tools to hunt her prey. It's industrial noise rap, and with Clipping's gleeful subversion, it eggs on the pseudo-gothic sociopath that has no problem ripping the clueless men who drool over her ass to wet, glistening chunks. And yeah, it's graphic, but if this is hip-hop taking more steps towards the darker side of industrial music, I'll definitely take it.

39. 'The Promise' by Sturgill SImpson (from 'Metamodern Sounds In Country Music')

It seems bizarre that one of the most striking moments on Sturgill Simpson's experimental and incredible record is a cover, and an unlikely one at that, of the hit from 1988 new wave group When In Rome. And yet Sturgill rebuilds the song into a richly psychedelic track, the reverb letting every guitar tone and harmony swell across the song, especially in the bridge. And his delivery is damn near perfect, displaying quiet desperate resolve that eventually transforms to a richly textured and impassioned plea that recalls Waylon Jennings at his best. It's not the only Sturgill Simpson song to make this list, or the strangest, but deserves it all the same.

38. 'Bones' by Casualties of Cool (from 'Casualties of Cool')

When 'Bones' begins on the self-titled debut of Casualties of Cool, the narrator is stranded alone with only fragments of music on a sentient planet looking to trap him in the depths of space - and 'Bones' is the song where the lurking spectre of his fear makes itself known. And while I could go on for hours about Che Aimee Dorval's icy delivery, the metallic click and textured strums that signify time slips away the trap closes its jaws, the mournful strings and piano, and the lyrics that assert just how implacable resistance to that paralyzing fear might be, the reason this song landed on this list is production. Wind-swept and huge, smooth and yet textured and subtle, this is the sort of creeping and unsettling song you don't see enough in country. Surrendering to the darkness has never sounded this beautiful - and terrifying.

37. 'Brave' by Jhene Aiko (from 'Souled Out')

With horns that feel pulled from a spaghetti western, an echoing guitar line straight out of a dreary noir, and a synth, textured beat, and vocal production straight from the eerier side of modern R&B, Jhene Aiko made a song that was simultaneously enticing and yet chilling. After an album full of songs seeing her retrace the same steps in a breakup - calling to mind the Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind motif that runs throughout the entire record - 'Brave' is a step into something new, a challenge to her partner to rise if he dares to stay with her, and while she hopes he makes it out alive, there's no guarantee. It's the moment that breaks the cycle, draped in old-school glamour with perfect framing and Jhene Aiko bringing some of her famous poise and presence. Souled Out was one of the most overlooked R&B albums of this year, and the fact that this song made the list shows exactly what so many have been missing.

36. 'Turtles All The Way Down' by Sturgill Simpson (from 'Metamodern Sounds In Country Music')

The lead-off single for Sturgill Simpson's stellar sophomore record, it was a song that brooked a fair bit of controversy thanks to its religious iconography and possible glorification of marijuana for its usage as a mind-expanding drug, but Sturgill Simpson's going deeper than that, showing his personal disillusionment with religion and only hunting for his brand of inner peace, all the while promoting that deeper connection of love. And yet all of the deeper meaning discussion tends to skip over the song itself, which is incredible. Exceptional guitar texture, rich tones, fantastic songwriting, rich layers of shimmering reverb as Sturgill Simpson's voice tumbles through space, it's a song drenched in the rich history of psychedelic country from themes to sound, and it's a damn great one to boot.

35. 'Nervous Girls' by Lucy Hale (from 'Road Between')

I can already see some of the criticisms for this song - yeah, it leans close to the Taylor Swift template of catering to a teenage audience, it touches on insecurities that Lucy Hale plainly wouldn't have to the same degree as an actress and professional singer and that can undercut the populism. But there's a difference here between 'Nervous Girls' and, say, 'Fifteen' by Taylor Swift, and that is in the framing and detail. Lucy Hale never places herself above or ever presumes to speak from wisdom, and flat out admits her own flaws to match the real pain of the stories she sketches in a few words. And the touch in the final chorus where she questions whether all of her and all those girls' insecurities based upon impressing some guy are worth it in the end lends the song a maturity you'd never expect. And with plenty of acoustic texture, steel guitar, and a strong melody to anchor Lucy Hale's surprisingly expressive vocals, it shows she can play to Taylor Swift's old audience - and actually do it better.

34. 'Silent Militia' by The Devin Townsend Project (from 'Z²: Sky Blue')

By all accounts, this song should not work. A song reportedly inspired by will.i.am and then interpolated from a melody originally composed by Dead Or Alive, adapted into a high energy extreme metal song, and yet somehow it just works. A blend of drums and beats with a hint of distortion, a rich tapestry of gleaming synths for background texture, all set against a surprisingly lightweight groove that kicks up its intensity with every scream from Devin Townsend. Hell, even the lyrics work, tackling the world's most sacred cow - what comes after death - with a potent rebuttal: who gives a shit? If you believe, it'll work for you, and Devin Townsend has no problem slam dancing right into the afterlife. 'Silent Militia' isn't exactly a song that demands all that much thought, but with grooves this good, once again, who cares?

33. 'Crawling Through The Window' by Arkells (from 'High Noon')

Now that's more like it. I remember being distinctly disappointed with the Arkells' third album for its lack of real sizzling power and complicated emotion, and yet this deep cut delivered both in spades. The story of two old friends living together in order to get over a breakup that cut them both deeply. At the end of the day, it's a song about the healing power of friendship, but when filtered through the brittle yet firm bassline, the layered riffs, and the richer piano melodies, it gains a surprisingly amount of power, blending masculine textures and bravado with detailed songwriting and real vulnerability. It's rare you get many songs that speak about male friendship in rock music that takes chances like this one, and it really grabbed a hold of me.

32. 'The Other Guy' by Jesse McCartney (from 'In Technicolor')

This song wouldn't work from the majority of other pop singers - mostly because in addition to raw sincerity and an incredible range, Jesse McCartney is a good guy, in the vein of old-school honour and chivalry. Wracked with real guilt about potentially being the guy the girl is cheating with to get over a partner, he challenges her to make a choice - and not explicitly him either. Sure, he'd definitely prefer it, but he knows its her choice, and she needs to make it. After all, he's been cheated on himself, he knows how that feels, and he won't be complicit in hurting someone else. The song's sheer moral fiber, backed against a pretty damn potent piano and strings combination to balance the sheer aching power of Jesse McCartney's voice, makes this song something special in a year of a lot of piano ballads - the world could use more guys who cared like Jesse McCartney, and more pop stars like him too.

31. 'The Second Stone' by Epica (from 'The Quantum Enigma')

You don't need to tell me that Epica overreached on their most recent album, trying to write a record about quantifying unknowable truths beyond the human mind, and 'The Second Stone' is no exception, trying to understand the complicated streams and theory of time itself and feeling one's mind unravel. But all of that theoretical musing doesn't get away from a pretty damn kick-ass symphonic metal song. Thick, chunky grooves, kinetic drumming that knows how to let the incredible swell of the strings on the chorus speak for themselves, gorgeous symphonic vocals, growled vocals that bounce off of Simone Simons' gorgeous singing, and a short but brutally effective guitar solo that proves that Epica is more than just an overblown symphonic act. There aren't many songs on this list I'd quantify as 'epic', but 'The Second Stone' definitely fits the bill.

30. 'People Live Here' by Rise Against (from 'The Black Market')

Granted, Epica aren't the only ones tackling unknowable truths, and if anything Rise Against's acoustic ballad is even more powerful. And while the guitars and strings have rich texture, it's the songwriting that's the star of this song. In this song, Ilrath looks out at the increasingly desolate state of his country, from religious intolerance to global warming spurring worse and worse storms to worshiping of the gun, all of which leads to thicker and thicker walls of isolation and a death of community. And while on some level he revels in the raw chaos that comes as the walls are torn down, he's also far too aware of the cost, and thus he turns to the heavens and howls to God that there are indeed innocents left below, and if he really cared, he'd do something. And while there's anger, there's more desperation and fear and grief mingled together, a plea for something to change. And looking out over the past year, you can start to see where he's coming from. Believe me, I didn't expect to include a Rise Against song on this list, but dear God, it was worth it.

29. 'Red Dress' by Lucy Hale ft. Joe Nichols (from 'Road Between')

This duet shouldn't work as well as it does, and I said back when I reviewed the album that it probably would have been better if Lucy Hale had gotten Scotty McCreery or something. But goddamn it, it doesn't make 'Red Dress' any less fantastic. A wistful song between two long departed lovers who have long lost contact with each other and only have memories, Lucy Hale and Joe Nichols sell it with a ton of passion. And while there is some grief, the tone of the song is more upbeat with the crystal clear guitar tones and deceptively simple hook. And really, the bridge is what seals the deal for me - the bells, surging strings, and surprisingly dense drum pattern. It might be lightweight pop country, but with this song, Lucy Hale and Joe Nichols show exactly how to do it right.

28. 'Telemiscommunications' by Imogen Heap ft. deadmau5 (from 'Sparks')

Yeah, this single was released last year, but the album dropped this year and this song is heartbreakingly beautiful - or beautifully heartbreaking, or both. Both Imogen Heap and deadmau5 are great producers in their own right, and they lend this the sparse pops of the beat a fantastic organic depth the rich piano melody fills. And yet Imogen Heap makes such a sparse song have layers of emotion - frustration, sadness, and an ever-encroaching feeling of emptiness as she tries to connect to with a long-distance partner through technology to maintain that spark - and yet she can feel it slipping away without real contact. And the painful thing about this song is the detail - how easy it is to get swept away in minutia and details and your own problems to forget those little gestures like telling a partner you love them. This modern love indeed...

27. 'Blockbuster Night Part 1' by Run The Jewels (from 'Run The Jewels 2')

A list of great songs from 2014 wouldn't be complete without at least one song from Killer Mike and El-P, and this was one of the best. An ominous lumpy beat set against menacing tapping percussion, Killer Mike and El-P trade verse after verse of bravado full of contempt for an established system that uses and exploits others, with bars overloaded with surprisingly intricate references and wordplay and still plenty of brutal punchlines. And for as much menace as the song contains - Killer Mike tells Satan to wait his turn when he pugnaciously pacing at the gates of hell - the feel of the song is freedom, the duo who is free of obligations, free agents in an world of actors on all fours. And it's comes to a world that needs to wake up - and according to Killer Mike, 'A fist to your face is fucking Folgers'.

26. 'Roundtable Rival' by Lindsey Stirling (from 'Shatter Me')

As dubstep has mostly faded from the public eye, Lindsey Stirling's second album found her exploring more territory with her fusion of electronica and classical violin - and with her explosive country rock track 'Roundtable Rival', she added grit to her violin, cacophonous percussion that rumble across the mix, and guitars that could snarl a harmony against her violin's nervous squeal. The melody isn't as skittish or jagged as Lindsey normally creates, but it fits better with the gargantuan stone-crushing grooves, thick wall of sizzling fuzz, and massive crescendos. No instrumental track created this sort of explosive, monstrous power while still maintaining a strikingly memorable melody, and it opens a whole new set of doors to where Lindsey could take her sound. Towards more country, rock, or even metal? Dear god, I hope so, because this track rocked.

25. 'Reckless Love' by Bleachers (from 'Strange Desire')

Bleachers' Strange Desire was a messy record filled with some the biggest highs of the year, and while there was one other song that was better than even this, the slow weary burn of 'Reckless Love' was a personal favourite of mine since the beginning. Creaking drums, textured guitars, a rich synth solo, and yet still a melody that recalls the best of Bleachers' 80s synthpop origins. Jack Antonoff's dips more into his richer lower range for this song, and it helps immeasurably, as his National-esque voice tries to recall why he's chasing a love that's driving him to exhaustion. And he knows he's far too mature to be in this sort of situation, and yet that doubt isn't enough to break the reforged connection even as his choice burns away his dreams. And while he pleads for the girl to leave and save him the choice, the song ends with him wearily still there at the end of the line. For a song about stasis and a bad situation that needs to end, it contains a powerful amount of drama.

24. 'Heavy' by The Glorious Sons (from 'The Union')

Every year needs a good fight song, and Canadian rock group The Glorious Sons dropped one of the best ones in years. A potent hard rock melodic groove with the guitars sputtering and raw, Brett Emmons' post-grunge vocals that can get visceral when they need to, and lyrics that do everything they can to emphasize the raw beatdown that's about to take place. And The Glorious Sons don't hold back and aren't screwing around - if you left your piece at home, that's your choice, but they didn't and there's a certain methodical ego to the track that walks the thin line between goading taunts and pure arrogance. It's bloody, drenched in old-school swagger and machismo, and a fantastic track that's perfect for someone getting their ass kicked. And we all need that song.

23. 'Painted Blue' by Sundy Best (from 'Bring Up The Sun')

Sundy Best spent the majority of their sophomore making high-energy, upbeat country tracks with pounding cajon and callbacks to Tom Petty. And thus ending the album with a heartbroken, acoustic breakup song that takes their raw exuberance and channels it darker is a surprising downer ending. No bitterness, just aching sadness after an album of putting it all on the line and being left hanging out to dry. Powerfully melodic thanks to the steel guitar and clean tones of the vocals, it's the writing desperately searching for some form of solace in a bottle that'll never come that makes this one a real gut-punch for me, and one of the main reasons I wish Sundy Best kept going darker - because they can pull it off.

22. 'Deeper' by Freddie Gibbs & Madlib (from 'Pinata')

Everything about Freddie Gibbs' 'Deeper' is old-school, and I mean that is a high compliment. His voice has the straightforward, hard-edged gangsta tone, and Madlib's production with the strings and lumpy bass line and choppy vocal sample. But really it's the lyricism that makes 'Deeper' stand out, as the girl on this song leaves Freddie Gibbs behind for a more legit guy - and considering she was originally a girl who was chasing guys who were more hood, he's baffled and frustrated by it. And yet it's the third verse that shows that when Gibbs runs into the new guy, out of respect for her he doesn't touch him, which shows a level of maturity you'd never get from most rappers - and then she comes back with the implication with the baby might just be Gibbs' after all. It's dark, grimy, mature gangsta rap storytelling, and goddamn it just works for me.

21. 'Call To Arms' by Frankmusik

Where 'Conclusions' might take Frankmusik's maximalist aesthetic to a break-up song, 'Call To Arms' might be even better by applying it to the sort of pump-up anthem with a huge populist vibe that's a perfect fit for his overblown production and incredibly explosive vocals. And there's so many instrumental elements that are a perfect fit: the stuttered beat to open the track, the brittle piano line underscoring the track, the distorted crunch of the beat on the chorus that matches the intensity of the horns, the gargantuan mix that can balance the melodic crescendo, and not to be outdone, the guitar leads that comes in on the third chorus that cranks it up to eleven. I hesitate to even call this synthpop - crank up the guitars a little further, this could be metal! It might not evoke much thought, but when it kicks this much ass, it doesn't need to.

20. 'It Ain't All Flowers' by Sturgill SImpson (from 'Metamodern Sounds In Country Music')

Easily Sturgill Simpson's darkest, weirdest track on his sophomore record, it's easily his best, with reversed guitar leads blending into a smoky, psychedelic sizzle, a stalking, ominous bass line, and Sturgill's haunted delivery that jumps from careful restraint to full-throated howls into the void that the richly textured lo-fi production. And the fact manages to pull off a noise-saturated twisted guitar solo that adds its own echoing cacophony to the darkness before being chopped into a warped looping acid freakout of an outro makes this track unlike anything else you will hear in country music this year - and it's awesome.

19. 'Whiskey & You' by Jason Eady (from 'Daylight & Dark')

If you had told me last year that one of my favourite songs of the year was a cover of a cover of a Tim McGraw song, I would have called you crazy. But Jason Eady's cover of 'Whiskey & You' is heartbreaking and so very sad. Taking Chris Stapleton's stripped back formula from his cover and pairing it with barren, empty production that subtly emphasizes his loneliness with hints of distant steel guitar and has the texture to every plucked string and break in Eady's voice. You can tell it's on the edge of his vocal range as his voice isn't as rich or soulful as Stapleton's, but I'd argue it works to his favour, fitting more in the feel of the everyman walking the lonely road that underscores every point of his album. In comparison, Tim McGraw doesn't stand a chance.

18. 'Atop A Cake' by Alvvays (from 'Alvvays')

I'd be tempted to put this song on this list for the melody line alone - irresistibly catchy, energetic, with a ton of breezy texture that displays some damn impressive harmonies, this is a song that will lodge in your brain for hours and never let go, the sort of retro-indie rock that might seem easy-going - until you delve into the lyrics. Coming off of an album trying to find traditional adulthood and failing miserably, this song gives narrator Molly Rankin seemingly the wedding she's always wanted - and the second thoughts, rampant sarcasm, and constant snide comments underscore a real panic as she feels control of her life slipping away. The song is walking a delicate line between shallow and bitingly obnoxious, and yet that sense of fear manifesting on the swell of the bridge nails it perfectly. Alvvays knocked it out of the park with their debut this year, and this song is the prime example.

17. 'Die & Rise' by Lacuna Coil (from 'Broken Crown Halo')

And here, I'd be almost tempted to give this song a slot thanks to its premise alone. From a disappointing album exploring zombie cliches, 'Die & Rise' completely flips the script and is written from the zombie's perspective - and it's glorious. Of course the zombie is going to be reveling in the sheer horrifying power of his new existence, and when backed against one of Lacuna Coil's best ever melodic grooves that has a ton of roiling crunch and howled vocals courtesy of Andrea Ferro on top form, it's the spark of unlife that this gothic metal record needed, and easily one of the best songs of the year.

16. 'Jazz' by Mick Jenkins (from 'The Water[s]')

On the surface, Mick Jenkins' 'Jazz' might not seem that distinctive from his water-themed mixtape that really should have been an album, with a damp eerie keyboard melody, lumpy beat, and Mick Jenkins' smoldering and assertive delivery. But it's the details that make 'Jazz' something special. The multiple meanings of the jazz beyond sheer music references, the sheer disdain directed at mainstream rappers and their model friends who are trying to put on airs they haven't earned, the submerged rumble of the chorus that eventually breaks free for off-kilter guitar interplay. It's a song glorifying knowledge and creativity over dishonest repetition, and for themes like that, I'll take water from Mick Jenkins any day.

15. 'Afire Love' by Ed Sheeran (from 'x')

When Ed Sheeran wrote 'Lego House' in 2012, I honestly thought he was never going to top it - and at the end of the day, I'm still not sure he has, but 'Afire Love' is a damn strong contender. The production is anchored in a gorgeously elegant piano line and a rich backdrop of strings, especially on the ragged outro, the subtle guest vocals and percussion accentuate how deep the mix stretches, and every acoustic strum comes through with surprising texture. But really, it's Ed Sheeran who is at his best here. Vocals that are more raw and impassioned than he's ever done and lyrics that recall the elements of storytelling that show him as a real rising talent about the loss of his grandfather to Alzheimers, what I love about the song is that while Sheeran does have grief he channels into his art, the song focuses more on how the loss affects those closer like his grandmother and family, which is surprisingly selfless. If we're looking for a singer-songwriter who is maturing into an artist I never thought I'd like, Ed Sheeran is at the top of my list, and I couldn't be more excited.

14. 'Jealous Gods' by Poets Of The Fall (from 'Jealous Gods')

Poets of the Fall's most recent album was polarizing for a number of songs, but their title track wasn't one of them - mostly because it shows exactly what the alternative metal band can do at their best. A simple but effective melodic hook, sweeping smooth production entirely anchored by piano and strings, enough guitar snarl and percussion to balance the epic sweep, and lyrics that match the grand scope through the simple act of amping up the relationship drama to mythological scale. it's a song quite literally for the slopes of Olympus or the halls of Asgard, and the person best epitomizing that scope is Marko Saaresto, who takes his rich baritone and amps up the raw power into a range I didn't think he could reach his chest voice but it sounds fantastic. This is a song with godly ambitions, and it damn near got there.

13. 'Bring Me Your Loves' by St. Vincent (from 'St. Vincent')

If Poets of the Fall were trying to make a divine struggle relatable, St. Vincent seeks to alienate. Blocky guitar progressions, a rigidly structured drum cadence that almost feels mechanical, a groove that feels hemmed in at every angle just seeking the right moment to explode, and that synth tone... I'm not going to lie, with a tone and production swell so reminiscent of Ayreon at their best, St. Vincent was destined for this list since the beginning of the year. The fact she paired it with starkly intimidating BDSM-inspired lyrics and vocals that toe the line between enticing coos and  edged demands intensifies that unearthly feeling and easily makes 'Bring Me Your Loves' one of the more chilling tracks of the year - and is amazing for it.

12. 'Make Em Purr' by Sage Francis (from 'Copper Gone')

There are rappers who can tap into complicated emotions or who are so skilled at describing their own struggles that they can connect on a deeper level. And then there's Sage Francis and this song, which is so uncomfortably intimate that it's kind of incredible it was released at all. I've never had pets - I'm allergic to cats and dogs - but this song hits hard and deep for anyone who has lived alone with themselves and their own internal neuroses terrifyingly well. I often say that relatability should not be a factor whether music is good or not, but Sage Francis is so descriptive in capturing the mundane moments and fusing it with a real narrative that you can't help but connect with it. It's bare-bones and simple, but rarely does a song hit me as hard as this one does. It's a tear-jerker, but it earns it - because it's goddamn incredible.

11. 'Lifeline' by Imogen Heap (from 'Sparks')

Yeah, I know this song was first released as a single way back in 2011, but it was on the album released this year so it counts - also, because it's amazing. The melody line is simple but beautifully framed by the windswept and subtly electronic production that makes every rickety transition in the song feel effortless, the beat is fragile yet unbreakable, and that key change after the strings on the interlude raises an already great song into something truly special. And yet Imogen Heap's perpetually hushed tone perfectly captures that panicked feel of the song of clinging onto some spark of hope in the face of impossible odds. Lyrically, it's uplifting, but the vibe is more serious, grounded in a sense of reality - and yet indomitable all the same. It may have taken a while to finally get here, but the album and this song were definitely worth the wait.

10. 'Here On Earth' by Dierks Bentley (from 'Riser')

It's rare when any music tackles religion, and its even rarer when that music is from country, let alone the mainstream. And yet this deep cut from Dierks Bentley isn't just tackling religion, it's critical of it, having lost his father and searching for some form of answer - and yet he doesn't get it. The emotionally parallels to Ronnie Dunn's excellent 'Cost Of Living' is stark and well-deserved, but Dierks Bentley goes farther with folk-inspired guitar flourishes, production that isn't afraid to soar on clouds of steel guitar and melodic fragments. And the fact Dierks Bentley is willing not just to show vulnerability but admit how small he feels in the face of all of it... folks, there aren't many artists who have the balls to do that, and when you pair it with the sound and production that will likely be country's future, you have something truly incredible. He might not have found answers, but he did deliver one of the best country tracks of the year.

9. 'Story 2' by Clipping (from 'CLPPNG')

I still don't think Clipping is entirely living up to their potential, and songs like 'Story 2' are the reason why. Not only does it fuse the trio's typical brittle and glitchy production with probably the best crescendo you will hear in rap music this year, it's another example of Clipping's brand of brutally dark, insanely well-constructed storytelling of the terrifying comeuppance of a former arsonist. The level of detail, the sense of panic, Daveed Diggs' ability to switch up his flow as the melody begins to boil - if Clipping can make songs as creative and dark as this, I want to see a whole album of stories, not just the two thus far. Because tracks like this are insane.

8. 'Red Eyes' by The War On Drugs (from 'Lost In The Dream')

Yeah, here's one of the choices that won't surprise anyone, and it's a song that's gotten critical acclaim for damn good reason. A song half paying homage to mid-80s synth-driven roots rock in the vein of Bruce Springsteen with the sort of meticulous construction that allows both texture and a rich melodic shimmer to effortlessly flow across the mix both in the guitar tones and keyboards, this song might have landed on this list thanks to melody alone. The fact that it's paired with beautiful interweaving harmonies and lyrics that are both dark and strained yet can match that feeling of hope you get with the explosion of that irresistible melody. Call it 80s navel-gazing designed for beer commercials - in a way it kind of is - but there's a reason why this stuff resonates as powerfully as it does.

7. 'Daylight & Dark' by Jason Eady (from 'Daylight & Dark')

It's a song about hungover mornings that captures every moment and texture perfectly, with unsteady steps away from a bed with a stranger inside as you walk away. And while you're aware that you probably did something you'll regret the night before, right now you're just trying to make sense of where - and who - you are. And while there is populism to this song, a question whether everyone else is in the exact same state, Jason Eady doesn't go through the motions of putting on a happy face, if he even could. Coupled with stellar steel guitar melodies, incredibly stark lyrical details, and the sad inevitability that the same situation will play out again and probably too soon, Jason Eady brings understated pain and soul to his brand of country that is all too real and is damn near perfect.

6. 'Mean Old Woman' by Sundy Best (from 'Bring Up The Sun')

The fact that Sundy Best wrote a song like this this early in their careers says buckets about their talent and potential. The intensity of the quick-strummed guitars, the surging tides of steel and electric guitar, the chugging bass groove, and of course, that thunderous cajon, there wasn't a more visceral and intense country song released this year. And that's before we get to the lyrics - and you know, I'm still on the fence here whether this song is just a punishingly dark murder ballad or an extended metaphor for fighting against the corrupting forces in country music and Nashville that might pervert true art. Either way, the intensity and incredible musicianship elevates Sundy Best among the best, and proof that the sun they brought up could scorch away any competition.

5. 'Vonnegut Busy' by Sage Francis (from 'Copper Gone')

There has always been two sides to Sage Francis, the side that is confessional and raw, and the side that shows a lyricist who is unafraid to slice his competition into quivering giblets. And on 'Vonnegut Busy', he's paired with a beat part unsteady guitar line, part trumpets echoing over the booming beat that emphasizes careening desperation with every bar - which fits, because Sage Francis' target is polite society that prefers to lie to the public than face the truth of how it exploits them. He's rarely sounded this on-point as a lyricist, especially in his double-time flow, one of the few songs where every single bar howls for change in one of his most politically sharp and detailed songs of his career. This is a song punctuated by the lyric 'do something', half sarcastic but half enraged for society to snap out of its miasma. And in a year like this, it's a message that needed to be heard.

4. 'I Wanna Get Better' by Bleachers (from 'Strange Desire')

If Bleachers had made an entire album like this, Jack Antonoff would be the go-to name in pop music, not the songs he co-wrote for Taylor Swift. As it is, 'I Wanna Get Better' is a modern synthpop anthem that shows Billy Joel in its lyrical cadence and delivery, the tone and sound of The Breakfast Club, and the hyper-modern half-neurotic lyrics of HBO's Girls - which the music video only intensifies, considering Antonoff's relationship with its creator Lena Dunham. And there's so much of this song that absolutely kills - the roaring guitars, the explosively textured percussion, the stuttering piano line, and Antonoff never being more on point as a lyricist as his own carefully constructed yet fatally flawd life is crumbling around him as he tries to infuse it with real passion. It's anthemic, it's epic, and if Jack Antonoff ever returns to Nate Ruess and fun., he set the bar almost impossibly high - and I want to see him top it.

3. 'She Don't Love You' by Eric Paslay (from 'Eric Paslay')

Until very late this year, this song has absolutely ruled my year - and on the first listen, you wouldn't think that. A slow, downbeat acoustic-guitar driven country song from a guy who everyone knows for some of his worst songs - and yet 'She Don't Love You' is breathtaking. A song about a lonely woman that doesn't feel condescending or bitter or trying to lead said lonely woman on, it's the sort of song that shows maturity, experience, and too much pain. And while I could go on about Eric Paslay's imperfect but perfect delivery, the neotraditional instrumentation and production that never feels overstated or melodramatic, or the lyrics that are broad enough to be populist yet narrow enough to be personal... this song gets its punch in the final lines. Not only does it change the entire song and reflect more than just one broken heart, it captures the drama of the situation perfectly. It's the best country song of this year, and I'm so happy that Eric Paslay is finally releasing it as a single, because it's probably the best song he's ever written. And yet...

2. 'Crown' by Run The Jewels (from 'Run The Jewels 2')

When I said last year that I wanted Run The Jewels to get more serious and political, I did not expect this. i didn't expect storm-soaked production featuring the perfectly placed contributions from Diane Coffee, one of the most solid groove-driven melodies of El-P's career with sizzling guitar interludes peppered with cracks of automatic gunfire, smoldering waves against shimmering synth fragments, the production is deceptively simple yet insanely complex and well-balanced. And that's before you even get to the MCs, where Killer Mike quiets his usual fire for a desperate, tortured verse where he prays for forgiveness for selling cocaine to a pregnant woman, and El-P... I'll be blunt, El-P drops the best verse of the year. I've never heard him ride a beat or deliver an emotive, incredibly complex verse like this that when placed against Killer Mike's chorus gains a whole new brand of darkness. And whether it's an indictment of the military industrial complex or any collective that would seek to empower its followers for violence, El-P doesn't mince words describing the horrifying process of dehumanization that takes place. It is a shockingly complex, poignant, emotionally roller-coaster of a song, and it very nearly was the best of this year. And I suspect many people might disagree with my choice, but here we go...

1. 'Jackie And Wilson' by Hozier (from 'Hozier')

I can't think of a song that does more to appeal to pretty much me than 'Jackie and Wilson'. A song drenched in references to classic R&B and soul, with a distorted guitar-drive groove, sharp percussion, a potent melody carried all the way through the track, gospel swell across the chorus, lyrics drenched in religious iconography that's almost gothic, and Hozier's perfectly poised, too smart and too earnest for his own damn good delivery. With the blend of Irish folk and forgotten soul references you can immediately see inspiration from Dexy's Midnight Runners' biggest hit 'Come On Eileen', especially in its tone, but the lyrics bring Hozier's typical world-weariness and hunger for more front and center, down on his luck until that girl to inspire him comes into full view. And for a brief second dazzling fantasies play out - albeit with Hozier's usual morbid tendencies and references to mythology, but it works perfectly.

And then right after the bridge, while he's been hoping for stasis, to preserve their moments for ever, look down on the world he considers beneath him, she's moved on. It's a song less about living above the corrupt, disappointing world but living in it, running on passion and life. And even though she's gone, Hozier muses whether anyone who'll follow will have that same passion - and yet when the chorus comes back in, he's not making a differentiation between her or anyone else. In other words, he'll find that someone - he just needs to live in the world to do it. 

And I'll be blunt, a list of songs like this, abstaining from any critical conformity, probably reveal more about me and my 2014 than anything else. But Hozier's 'Jackie And Wilson' leaves me on a note of hope, and I couldn't ask for anything more.

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