26 December 2014

top 50 traxx of 2014 (50-26)

50. "Mmm Yeah" by Austin Mahone

Sometimes a song is fascinating just because someone had the idea for it to be made. Whoever thought to have an 18-year-old excellent dancer with marginal singing talent cover a relatively unknown '90s house track should be given some sort of pop culture award. Basically, this is on the list because the production team did a nice job with it, and Pitbull was here and I didn't run away screaming.

49. "Little Game" by Benny

A song like this would never have existed even four years ago. The concept is simple but powerful: A teenager lamenting the prevalence of gender roles in no subtle manner. The video is addled with predictable clichés and his voice is pretty weak, but the message is strong and clear. In some ways, Generation Z really does have their shit together.

48. "#SELFIE" by Chainsmokers

It may be the death of EDM music, but I'll be damned if it isn't a perfect snapshot of what it's like to be out clubbing with your friends in 2014. One of those rare pop culture moments when youth culture is represented realistically instead of in some watered-down, processed manner. Admit it: You have a friend that sounds exactly like this girl, and you hang out with her all the time and love her anyway.

47."Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars

Even Bruno Mars' obnoxious stage persona can't outshine Mark Ronson's brilliant production on this callback to Prince's mid-'80s stuff. I even hear a little Zapp & Roger in there.

46. "Who Needs You" by The Orwells

Some songs need to be shouted rather than sung. I fell in love with this track after seeing these dudes tear it up on Letterman. Their sound is an interesting blend of early-'00s indie rock and early '90s SoCal surfer rock. The simple guitar structures and bouncing rhythm make my head nod and put a giant smile on my face.

45. "Chick Chick" by Wang Rong Rollin

Call it experimental, or parody, or whatever you must, but this beat is killer. If you look closely at her face at 2:51, I think you'll see she isn't taking herself too seriously. Side note: I asked a Chinese-speaking friend if there are actual words in this song, or if it's all onomatopoeia, and she said that Ms. Wang is repeating the words for "hen," "rooster," and "little chicken." Go figure.

44. "Shower" by Becky G.

Lots of young talent on this year's list. Singer/songwriter Becky Gomez is just 17 and got famous after posting some of her remixes on YouTube. Dr. Luke produced this debut single for her, and it's a solid pairing.

43. "Closer" by FKA twigs

British trip-hopper FKA twigs' debut LP is somewhere between Cocteau Twins, Julee Cruise's Twin Peaks music, and Madonna's "Ray Of Light" era, and I am here for all of it. Incredible voice, amazing production, and an ethereal ambiance maintained throughout.

42. "Reflections" by MisterWives

MisterWives' lead singer, Mandy Lee, is American, but sings like a Scandanavian, and that's pretty rad. I'd call this track "indie disco" in that it almost directly lifts the riff from The Emotions' "Best Of My Love," but has a definite modern rock tinge.

41."Happy Little Pill" by Troye Sivan

Troye Sivan is a YouTuber who has built a sizable audience with his open-book lifestyle and endearing, relatable personality; he engages his viewers to the point of making them feel like they are his close friends. He also happens to have a pretty damn incredible singing voice, which we all knew thanks to his occasional cover videos. (Here he is covering a song that will appear later in this countdown, in fact.) He very quietly worked on an album and then dropped this debut single near the end of summer, to everyone's surprise. It features his very placid voice over modern minimalist electronic production, and personal yet relatable lyrics.

40. "Say You'll Be There" by MØ

I've been making these year-end top songs lists since 2003, and this is the first time I have ever included a cover. I love it because of all the risks that are not just taken, but clearly dominated. Covering a song is a risk no matter what, and the more well-known and beloved the original, the higher the standard the covering artist will be held to. A solo artist covering a song originally sung by multiple singers is also a challenge. This takes the original to such a different place, and in such a creative way. If MØ's name sounds familiar to you, it's because she is featured on Iggy Azalea's new song.

39. "Solo Dancing" by Indiana

Indiana is British singer Lauren Henson, whose breathy voice reminds me of fellow Brit Alison Goldfrapp. The production on this track actually calls to mind Goldfrapp's 2006 Supernature LP as well. Man, that was a great album.

38. "Ain't It Fun" by Paramore

Emo bands are going through something weird right now. (Have you heard anything by Taking Back Sunday lately?) Their members are getting older and seemingly less angsty, and it's being reflected in their music. They're still just as creative in their songwriting and performance, the music just isn't as angry or sad. It's fascinating.

37. "Holding On For Life" by Broken Bells

This track sounds like someone found a throwaway from am AOR record from 1980 and decided to record it with only slightly modernized production. It has a certain sensibility from that era that I can't discern exactly, but you'll know what I mean when you listen.

36. "Bang Bang" by Jessie J., Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj

If you don't like this track, you've had a shitty year, because it's the kind of song you hear once and it infects your brain for the rest of the day, even if you hate it. Thankfully, I do not hate it -- Jessie J may be the most understated artist in current pop music. Ariana has had quite a year, and certainly not without reason; her vocal range is quite impressive. There was probably no need for Nicki to be on this track, but no complaints from me -- she's always welcome.

35. "Howling At The Moon" by Phantogram

Phantogram's Voices was one of my favorite albums this year. It has the David Lynch quality that The Raveonettes were always so good at, but with a trip-hop sensibility. This particular cut had my favorite hook on the album.

34. "Visions Of You" by ROOM8 ft. Electric Youth

Twenty seconds into this track on my first listen, I was instantly reminded of the Jon St. James project Bardeux, which is a very VERY good thing. This track is everything I want in a Hi NRG song, from flawless female vocals to razor-sharp drums and synth kisses. Electric Youth's voice may sound familiar to you thanks to the vocals she provided on College's "A Real Hero," from the soundtrack to Drive.

33. "I Don't Fuck With You" by Big Sean

This track produces such a guttural reaction in me. You know that great tingle you get in your stomach after telling someone off when they really deserve it? It's like someone took that feeling and compacted it into four minutes of music.

32. "Amnesia" by 5 Seconds of Summer

Expertise from across the musical spectrum collaborated on this track. Brothers Louis and Michael Biancaniello, who worked with '80s and '90s pop/R&B acts like Mariah Carey, Shanice, and Narada Michael Walden, co-wrote "Amnesia" with Joel and Benji Madden from Good Charlotte, and Sam Watters of '90s R&B group Color Me Badd. The song's lyrics are morose, and the production appropriately builds to emotional crescendos in the chorus while quieting down for the intimate verses. It's a great showcase of 5SOS's talent -- they are actually a real band, after all.

31. "I Wanna Get Better" by Bleachers

Introspection is a rare commodity these days. It was refreshing to hear a song where someone decides to focus on self-improvement rather than blaming an ex or beating themselves up in pointless, unconstructive, self-centered hysteria. The video is hilarious.

30. "All Of The People" by Panama Wedding

Driving synths and breathy, gritty vocals are at the core of this indie pop headbanger. Panama Wedding's debut EP Parallel Play is damn solid, from this rhythmic jam to the softer and more intimate, carefully-constructed synth bubbles of "Uma" and the soft, glowing, "Feels Like Summer," four songs just feels criminally short. This makes my list not just because it's the single, but because it's the best one to crank while driving around at night.

29. "Am I Wrong?" by Nico & Vinz

This track marries several genres in one ear-pleasing package. The beat and syncopated rhythm recall calypso, the guitar riff is super new wave, and it's wrapped in a bow of modern R&B.

28. "Got It" by Marian Hill

There's been no shortage this year of white people emulating historically black musical styles. Very occasionally, it's done in a way that borrows rather than appropriates, such that the artist is doing something unique and artistically relevant, rather than making a cheap photocopy. This is a fine tune -- it's sexy, the production is airtight, and the vocal performance is the ultimate king.

27. "Jealous" by Nick Jonas

He probably has no idea, but Nick Jonas is the modern-day Nick Kamen: a gorgeous face making sign-of-the-times pop music. Note: This is not a complaint. I don't even mean to imply that his work is meaningless; if you were dating Miss Universe then you'd probably be able to honestly sing a song like this too.

26. "Cool Kids" by Echosmith

Upon first hearing this, I thought I'd somehow missed a college radio track from 2007. You can imagine my surprise to learn that this was indeed from 2014 and that the group's eldest member is 21. These kids have a sound that's poppy but still distinguishable from other Top 40 artists -- the kind of sound that lets your brain think, "I'll bet this is an Echosmith song" even if you've never heard it. Family bands are just in sync in a way that bands with unrelated members may find it chemically impossible to be.

Part II (25-1)