01 January 2015

top 50 traxx of 2014 (25-1)

Link to Part One (50-26)

25. "Turn Down For What" by DJ Snake & Lil Jon

The indisputable party anthem of the year. This song was so universally loved I'd go as far as calling this a modern classic, because I certainly don't think it's going away anytime soon. DJ Snake has impressively managed to create a signature sound amid the often reductive sea of EDM producers.

24. "Cheap Sunglasses" by RAC ft. Matthew Koma

RAC is the Remix Artists Collective, started by Portuguese artist André Allen Anjos in 2007. His website indicates that original music production is new territory, and that this year's album is the first collection of those songs. This adorable, bouncy, indie pop tune provides an era-appropriate metaphor for those fake individuals in our lives who may or may not be hiding behind expensive Ray-Bans.

23. "2 On" by Tinashe

Raunchy, sultry, slick, and bassy -- this track makes itself known in the club like smoke creeping in under a door, subtle enough to make you wonder if something is burning but provocative enough to let you know it's time to move.

22. "Doses And Mimosas" by Cherub

Falsetto vocals over a subtle drum & bass line lead suddenly (almost jarringly) into an angsty-teenage-white-boy chorus, but it's all in good fun. These dudes know what they are and clearly just enjoy making music together.

21. "Just Girly Things" by Dawin

The bedroom producer is still very much alive in 2014. A Vine featuring a clip of music produced by Dawin got popular on Vine, and he found himself in demand, which led to the production of this track and its accompanying music video, featuring a group of Viners. He's now signed to Casablanca Records. Do ya thing, Dawin.

20. "Dead Boy" by Bleached

Doing something that recalls a very specific era or sound is risky. Bleached is the brainchild of sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin, with some other folks who join them to play live. Their post-punk sound recalls the SoCal rock of the early '90s, and goddamn is it done perfectly. This entire album is driving around with your friends in a convertible on a sunny day.

19. "Kiss And Not Tell" by La Roux

Lots and lots and lots of synthpop fans have waited nearly five years to hear another La Roux album, and this year she answered our prayers. Her sound matured - this album was decidedly more new wave and less dance - but she's still doing what makes all her fans love her: Writing lyrics that would make even Lisa Loeb go, "damn, that's relatable," and packaging them into flawless pop songs.

18. "Never Work For Free" by Tennis

Like the Echosmith track from further up the list, this little steering-wheel drummer recalls college radio rock circa 2007, with a punk-rock drum riff, a savory guitar melody, and some ear-candy vocal motifs in the chorus.

17. "Out Of The Woods" by Taylor Swift

I've been a pop music lover and armchair critic for 28 years now, and when I read the first reviews of this album, I expected to hear something absolutely revolutionary. People talked about 1989 like it was this year's Like A Virgin, or Purple Rain, or The Fame Monster - a total game-changer. When I finally got to listen to it, I found a collection of mostly mediocre pop tunes peppered with Swift's trademark charm and quirk, but nothing revolutionary. This one track, however, may actually be the most brilliant thing she's ever released. The production is flawless, and when you listen, you feel like something is chasing you, yet her vocals remain tender and vulnerable, appropriate to the romantic lyrics.

16. "Mother & Father" by Broods

Loud, wall-of-sound production contrasts with soft-spoken, breathy vocals on this track from a New Zealand brother/sister duo. "I don't want to just be 'fine'" is such a brilliant lyric -- why settle for "fine"? There are better emotions and adjectives.

15. "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX

All feelings about the artist aside, "Fancy" was a legitimate landmark in pop music. It became a crossover hit right at the beginning of summer and undeniably had an impact on the direction of pop music and raised some important cultural discussions, the latter thanks mostly to the main artist's mouth. Charli XCX's inclusion was essential, so despite the main artist's missteps, it's a good thing this song made more people pay attention to her as well.

14. "I'm An Albatrouz" by AronChupa

The Swedes are still making the best dance music on the planet. One part tropey song used to put your viewers in Italy and one part EDM, with an almost cartoonish vocal performance. What's not to love?

13. "Boom Clap" by Charli XCX

Charli XCX's big break should have come last year when Icona Pop's "I Love It" became the jam of summer 2013, but it took being featured on Iggy Azalea's summer 2014 hit to finally make people start paying attention to her. Whatever path she's had to take, she deserves every bit of her success, as she is an excellent songwriter and composer and is usually the true backbone of any song she's "featured" on. This track was written by Charli and a handful of Swedes and was intended for Hilary Duff, but let's all be thankful that didn't happen.

12. "Water Fountain" by Tune-Yards

Lyrics about the plight of those affected by colonialism presented almost as a children's song. It begins as a clap-along, but by the two minute mark it reaches an emotional fervor that recalls African tribal music (yet, oddly, not in a way that feels cringy or appropriated).

11. "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile" by Sia

This has been a great year for both soundtrack songs and Sia, and this one ended up being my favorite of both. She managed to completely reinvent a song from the original Annie film that is obnoxious at best and turn it into something new and relevant.

10. "Jealous (I Ain't With It)" by Chromeo

Chromeo has yet to let me down. They're still cranking out disco house tunes that are wicked fun to dance to and never feel repetitive or reductive.

9. "1612" by Vulfpeck ft. Antwaun Stanley

You may recognize Vulfpeck as the band that scammed Spotify out of nearly $20k. All shenanigans aside, they are wicked talented musicians -- the kind of guys you can tell just get a kick out of hanging out and jamming together. This song has such universal appeal that it was equally loved by the rock-obsessed bass-playing friend who pulled it up at a party one night, and my mother, who thinks Pharrell Williams is the pinnacle of current pop.

8. "I Will Never Let You Down" by Rita Ora

I have no particular reason for loving Rita Ora, but I really do. Her fashion and vocals always seem to be on point. This song has the build/crash production that is endemic in modern pop, but there is a certain sensibility in the melody and in her delivery that makes it special.

7. "Younger (Kygo Remix)" by Seinabo Sey

I'm eventually going to have to take a trip to Sweden to track down the source of all the musical brilliance of its people. Is there something in the water? Is there some underground temple in a glacier that I have to track down and then perform a ritual of some sort? I digress; this woman's voice is incredible and the lyrics of this beautiful song should feel poignant to anyone 25 or older.

6. "Chandelier" by Sia

Sia is simply a brilliant pop song writer, of which her extensive resumé is proof. She claims that it started as a pop song like any other that she's written, originally intended for Rihanna, but that when it finally "came out," it had become something more personal and she chose to keep it for herself. This track extends beyond simply existing as a song; it is a performance. When she performs it live, she does so with her back facing the audience, which adds to the song's melancholy power. It is the raging, yelling inner turmoil of the outspoken extrovert who feels empty inside.

5. "Hideaway" by Kiesza

Kiesza is bringing back everything that was great about house music in its early-'90s heyday. We have a totally sexy bassline that actually carries the melody instead of supports it, flawless, high-pitched vocals, and a few breakdowns that feature the aforementioned and nothing else. Her follow-up single, "Giant In My Heart," is more of this pulsating goodness, and in true '90s club goddess fashion, she's only in her own video as the club singer.

4. "Anaconda" by Nicki Minaj

If I believed in the christian god, I might actually think Nicki Minaj is the second coming of Jesus. How could someone possibly take a sample from one of the most overplayed songs in music history and actually make a totally fascinating new song out of it? Speaking of her only as a rapper, she is unparalleled in the current scene; there's a damn good reason everyone wants her to feature on their songs.

3. "F For You (Remix)" by Disclosure ft. Mary J. Blige

Mary J. is arguably one of the greatest singers of all time, so it shouldn't be any surprise that she can sing house music just as well as the R&B (and, more recently, jazz!) that we already know her for, but OH MY GOSH. How incredible does she sound over these synths and drum machines?! I want an entire album of this, because it makes me audio intoxicated.

2. "Rather Be" by Clean Bandit

Clean Bandit are a group of extremely talented musicians who collaborated with a handful of singers on an album that combines house music and UK garage styles played with the sensibilities of classical music. Strings and pianos in dance music are nothing new, but Clean Bandit makes sure they're never riding backseat to a synth or a drum machine -- rather, they are co-pilots. Jess Glynne's smoky voice was a perfect choice for this cute love song.

And the #1 song of 2014 is...

1. "Don't Wanna Be Your Girl" by Wet

So simple in structure, yet this is a veritable emotional abyss. I've been lucky enough to see Wet live twice now, and the quiet strength of their performances is nothing short of stunning. Sure, 2014 was probably the perfect year for me to hear a song about having the inner strength to let go, but isn't that catharsis the entire reason we listen to music?

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