Picking a list of favorite songs can be an intensely personal thing, and sometimes it makes more sense to throw any idea of objectivity out the window. When we, your Stereogum staff, ranked our favorite albums of 2014, we did so as a unit, voting and arguing and finally coming up with a list that all of us could live with. But we, as a staff, could never hope to do the same thing with a list of songs. So we’ve done something different. As with last year, each one of us has picked 10 songs. These are our own personal favorites — not the best songs of the year, necessarily, but the ones that meant the most to us.
We didn’t collaborate on this list, except to make sure that our individual lists didn’t overlap — once a song was chosen by one writer, it was off-limits for everyone else. And because we hope you can use this to find a song or songs that you might like, we made sure we could do each of these lists in playlist form. If we could pick 10 favorites that were all available on SoundCloud, we did that. If we couldn’t, we made Spotify playlists.
Honestly, it wasn’t even difficult to pick 10 songs apiece without any crossover. The Stereogum staff of late 2014 is more fragmented, in its way, than it’s ever been before. We all have zones of expertise and preference, and the people who were into DIY noise-pop weren’t necessarily the ones who were into Atlanta strip-club rap. So here we have seven lists from seven very different writers and listeners. And every one of those lists has gold in it. We hope a few of these songs click with you the way they clicked with us. –Tom Breihan
Several of my favorite songs this year come from acts I had no familiarity with before we championed them on this site, and for someone who has to believe Stereogum has a greater purpose than celebrating alt-nation anniversaries, that’s encouraging. Among them is Vancouver Sade stan Nicholas Krgovich whose “Along The PCH On Oscar Night” we premiered back in July; it nails a decadent and lonely aura of ’80s Hollywood and splits the difference between Donald Fagen and Dave Longstreth. Somewhat amazingly, Tobias Jesso Jr is also a young Vancouver songwriter with tales of Hollywood disillusionment. His forthcoming True Panther debut is full of the sort of deceptively lived-in lullabyes I thought people stopped writing 40 years ago. “Passing Out Pieces” oddball Mac DeMarco lived in Vancouver for a while, too: What is with British Columbia guys this year? I should probably revisit that New Pornos LP. From the pop sphere, I couldn’t deny Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz (or as my daughter calls them, Nico Elephant Vinz) — their “Am I Wrong” wins this year’s honorary Sounds Like ’80s Sting award for excellence (shoutout Gotye ’11). Further down the list I don’t feel great about repping for Iggy Iggs, but the rapless “Problem” isn’t as much fun. Either way, I’m surprised I haven’t tired of that song: I have no nostalgia for C&C Music Factory and mostly no idea what Ariana Grande is singing (not that it matters?). It’s that A-major I think. Future Islands, Real Estate, Wye Oak, and the War On Drugs made four of the best albums of 2014, and this list has my favorite track from each. Not included is the theme to a certain viral Adult Swim short which I semi-seriously considered for 11 minutes. Like what.
I believe in hooks. Hooks can take a lot of different forms, but if a song doesn’t rattle around inside my skull all day, it’s never going to make my list. Against Me! made anthems worth admiring, but for all their socio-historical value, the best thing about them is their strident melodic immediacy. Migos, meanwhile, can take a risible and cliched conceit about beating the pussy up (and imply, via the “hit ‘em with the left, hit ‘em with the right” bit, that they have two dicks) and just make that nonsense sing. This playlist has room for Pacific Northwestern brat-punk and aqueous cloud-R&B and singer-songwriter indie-folk and rap-superstar chest-puffs, but they all have one thing in common, and that thing is the hook.
When we did this last year, I excluded any and all “metal” songs from my list, because I figured: I write so much about metal all year anyway, might as well spread the wealth. This year, I did the opposite, thinking: Seven writers are contributing to this thing, and I’m the only one in that group who regularly listens to metal, might as well give some love to the music that occupies most of my time, the music closest to my heart. I don’t mean to ghettoize metal, but I have trouble comparing it to other genres of popular music in much the same way I have trouble comparing non-fiction to fiction: There are different goals, standards, rules. So for this list, I ONLY considered metal songs. Just so we’re clear, I’m not trying to suggest these 10 songs are better than every single one of the 5 billion non-metal songs released in 2014 (though they are better than most of ‘em). I also picked songs that functioned as songs — verse-chorus-bridge songs; songs that succeed as well outside the album context as they do inside it. This meant leaving off material from some of my favorite albums simply because those albums were too monolithic to be properly represented by a single track. And I picked songs that leapt out from their albums even on first listen: songs with massive hooks; songs that chilled my blood or set it ablaze; songs that immediately differentiated themselves and threw everything else into sharp relief. As such, some of them are somewhat anomalous: slower, or more melodic, or more anthemic than the tracks that surround them in their natural settings. Nothing else on Pallbearer’s Foundation Of Burden, for instance, sounds like “Ashes” — in fact, the vocalist on that track is Joseph Rowland, not the band’s primary vocalist, Brett Campbell. But they’re great songs! And they elevate those albums. (There’s one even greater anomaly: “Ronnie Rising” is not a song, per se, but a four-song medley, and it’s not on an album but a tribute compilation. But it is fucking awesome.) Finally, these songs aren’t ranked so much as they are sequenced — when I started this list, I knew only that I wanted “Titan” at the top, and from there, I hoped it would hang together for anyone who just hit “play” and let it go. This may seem like a cop-out, but it would not have been possible for me to pick 10 songs from a universe of thousands, and then qualitatively assign relative values to those 10 songs. I’m not exaggerating when I say this: To me, all these songs are the best.
New movements in hip-hop usually sound “weird” at first, and as early as Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” MCs were scoring hits by singing out of tune. Still, rap radio and its Atlanta feeder system turned especially bizarre this year. I started out 2014 writing about Future, whose melting-spaceship banger “Move That Dope” did out to be one of this year’s best. But 12 months later, dude’s revolutionary robo-gurgle feels decades behind on rap’s ever-accelerating evolutionary chain. In the year of Young Thug and Migos and Rae Sremmurd and Awful Records, no song signified urban radio’s embrace of DIY strangeness like “Tuesday.” ILoveMakonnen’s combination of unpolished lo-fi sensibility, unabashed femininity, mush-mouthed falsetto crooning, and a lightheaded surreal streak borrowed from Lil B wouldn’t have made sense on the airwaves as recently as a couple years ago, but at this point his DIY space-meets-bottle service music sounds like pop’s vanguard. Which brings us to another big trend this year: Drake’s Midas touch. Aubrey’s out here scoring Grammy nominations for SoundCloud castoffs and making a hit out of any track he sees fit to jump on, ruling rap and R&B without an album to push. “Tuesday” is the intersection of those currents, and it sounds more like 2014 than almost anything else. As for the rest of these songs: DJ Mustard’s melodic minimalism became the through-line from which rap’s more iconoclastic acts deviated, and his streamlined synths never sounded better than on “My Nigga,” YG and company’s ode to male friendship. Run The Jewels’ strobe-flickering “Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)” offered a more aggressive spin on that dynamic, while Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj pulled off a female equivalent on “Flawless (Remix),” the song most likely to be stuck in my head on any given day. (I woke up like this, I woke up like this, I woke up like this, I woke up like this, I woke up like this, I woke up like this.) The other most unshakable hook I encountered arrived courtesy of a fresh-faced Aussie mall-punk boy band and involved the phrase “American Apparel underwear”; like rap music, life is weird sometimes. “Ski Vacation” is my favorite song to emerge from a back-to-basics indie rock scene that’s suddenly brimming with exciting bands. The rest of my picks are just unbelievably pretty, and in such an ugly year I retreated into them often.
Going into this, I knew it would be impossible to sum up the entire year in 10 songs: in this, my first official full year as a “music critic,” I listened to more things than I ever have before, and I enjoyed more things than ever before. Keeping up with everything is a constant struggle, but there are things that you return to consistently, and it’s much easier to figure out what’s special to you based on that. I’ve gotten pretty good at making an educated snap judgement as to whether a song is “good” or “bad,” but there were only a handful — a pretty generous handful — of artists who took up the entirety of my year. From there, I narrowed it down to songs that straight-up took my breath away, that made me stop and say, “holy shit.” And they all did so in wildly varying ways. We start off with one of the most joyously triumphant songs put to MP3, then transition to one of the most triumphantly sad. There’s blearing and angry punk tracks, softly gasped pleas, a song that turns cooking Brussels sprouts into an existential crisis. One relishes in twisting video game pastiche into something deliriously fun; another is a one-minute glitchy pop injection that features the best drop of the year. It’s a diverse list that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what a truly wonderful and diverse year it was, but all of these songs are as close to perfect as you can get.
Gabriela Tully Claymore
Choosing my favorite songs of 2014 wasn’t easy, but not in the same way that getting through 2014 wasn’t easy. There were a lot of albums that I played on loop and will continue to play well into next year, but there are also a lot of songs that are hard for me to listen to now, that remind me too much of crappy weeks I would prefer to forget altogether and never revisit. I tried to pay tribute to some of the songs that might have gone unnoticed this year, the artists who continue to remind me that nothing can rearrange a shitty day the way a refrain can. “Staring At My Hands” is an ideal prelude to what would otherwise be considered a fairly anxious, even depressing, playlist. Sometimes I like songs that are submerged in metaphor, but the straightforward lyricism of Bad History Month’s song embodies the kind of glaring honesty that I needed from music this year. Like “Staring At My Hands,” Ought’s “Today More Than Any Other Day” and Big Ups’ “Goes Black” grapple with larger themes of Capital-E Existence, while others on this list are more situational, more personal. I appreciate Little Big League’s “Property Line” for its pointed declarations, its specificity jarring and wholly relatable. I fall for Angel Olsen’s dampened romanticism and Mitski’s soaring and heartbreaking melodies every time I hear them. Sonically, this playlist is an experiment in dichotomy, but to me, every song on it sounds like shelter. There’s comfort in each, whether you find it in the porcelain lo-fi recordings or knee-to-the-gut post-punk sermons. I wish that I could bash 2014 over the head and list Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap” as one of my favorite songs of the year, but this is an attempt to lend some of the more visceral tracks their moment.
This year was a strange, transitional one for me, between moving back to NYC in April, and spending big chunks of the year traveling, often for pieces I was writing for Stereogum. Running from Tennessee to Texas to Florida (twice) to Puerto Rico to California (twice) to Iceland to Mexico to Las Vegas (twice). I love living this way — it’s a rush to drive around the Icelandic countryside, and it’s a rush every time I walk up those subway stairs into Manhattan after a prolonged absence. I like movement; it keeps everything exciting. It also makes everything frenetic and amorphous, and I’d sort of forget that, like, three months had passed. The music that stuck with me in 2014 was the stuff I carried with me through all these (occasionally surreal) experiences and places. They were the connective tissue. When it became difficult to think of where I’d been and when and how the time had passed, these songs were the signposts, with all sorts of sights and memories bound to them. The War On Drugs’ Lost In The Dream — easily my favorite album of 2014 — soundtracked just about every change in my life since January. There was something I recognized in the Philly band’s music, and it wasn’t just the aura of my home state. Lost In The Dream is a travel album. The whole thing sounds like places and people and things bleeding together into some vivid mess around you; it makes a lot of sense as a road companion. From there, I found myself repeatedly and increasingly drawn to the ethereal and dreamy, whether the endless refrains of TV On The Radio’s “Ride” and Elbow’s “The Take Off And Landing Of Everything,” or the dense synthscapes of Merchandise’s “Green Lady,” I Break Horses’ “Ascension,” and School Of Seven Bells’ heartbreaking, towering “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up).” These songs sounded like the way I was living in a weird, exhilarating year, but, paradoxically, they also grounded it all. They gave me a little sense of order.