Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Best Music of 2014: The Annual Music Megapost

Hello friends and random internet readers, and welcome to the 2014 edition of the now seventh annual Ultimate Music Megapost! Every year I view this post as the ultimate culmination of my hobby, where I pull together every Saturday morning spent pouring through music blogs, every long drive soundtracked to my current favorite songs, and every excited purchase of a new album. This year, these songs have played over a transitional year in my life. This time last year I wrote my list sitting in a plywood room in Afghanistan. Since then I’ve returned, left the Air Force, moved from Arizona back to Washington, and found a new career. As always, music consistently follows me wherever I go.

Each year I highlight what I feel was the best music of that year in a broad range of categories and then open it up for what I hope will be spirited discussion.

As with every year, I must start with a disclaimer. I’m a big fan of music but by no means is this a profession, which means that I don’t get free music sent to me by bands. This means primarily two things: 1) I haven’t heard EVERYTHING, though I venture to say I’ve heard quite a bit and 2) there are sometimes things that get released in the year prior that don’t make it to my collection until the next year, meaning don’t bother getting spun up letting me know that a song was released in December 2013 but I do try to avoid going too far back if I can help it. If the point is to highlight good new music to the casual fan, then I do not want to leave off a solid track. I also try not to get carried away with single bands, so even if I might feel like one album was so good it might justify having seven songs on the list (as is the case with the new album from The War on Drugs), I’ll leave that commentary for the Best Albums section and diversify the Top 50. Almost every year there are albums where I could get carried away, so let’s just operate with the understanding that my top two albums this year each contributed at least three songs that would be in a more true Top 50.

As always, I welcome any and all commentary, both positive or negative. This is a massive project to undertake, and although I have fun with it and, let’s face it, barely anyone reads it, it’s always nice to know that people are giving it a try. It would make my day to know that I helped someone find a new band that they love, and the only way I’ll know that is if you tell me.

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Click Here or on the Spotify Logo to Listen to the Playlist

Top 10 Albums of 2014

10. Nickel Creek – “The Dotted Line”

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Biases are biases, and I’ll never pass up a chance to talk about Nickel Creek. This is an album I waited a decade for, and while it wasn’t as A+ perfect as their original triad, it’s still Nickel Creek making wonderful newgrass folk. “Love of Mine” is the best here, “Elsie” is an instrumental gem, and “Destination” packs the punch. Don’t make me wait another decade!

9. TV on the Radio – “Seeds”

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TV on the Radio have always existed a little on the periphery for me. I’ve always listened, but it’s never truly grabbed me. Until now. Seeds hits right off the bat with two stellar tracks in “Quartz” and “Careful You”, announcing the potential TVOTR have when their usual fuzzy and unique alternative rock is blended with just a touch of catchiness. Elsewhere, “Ride” holds down the middle of the album, “Happy Idiot” is a throwback pleaser, and “Seeds” provides the perfect closer.

8. Beck – “Morning Phase”

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Beck has changed a lot, but this new phase may be his best yet. The mood is set right from the onset with “Morning”; slow and mournful and thoughtful. From “Blue Moon” to “Country Down”, Beck waited a long time to release his best overall album.

7. James Vincent McMorrow – “Post Tropical”

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It’s rare to find an artist who so blatantly follows in someone else’s footsteps, yet does it so well there’s no room to complain. JVM stretches his falsetto and showcases burgeoning electronics under his typical folk style, practically a direct copy of Bon Iver before. So why does he get a pass and garner such universal acclaim? It’s because the album is absolutely impeccable. There’s barely a song better than “Look Out” this year, and “Gold” and “Cavalier” aren’t far behind.

6. Interpol – “El Pintor”

61z6hUlr5AL._SL1500_Interpol undeniably peaked with albums #1 and #2. Practically everyone agrees about that. They’ve churned out some okay albums with some pretty good songs over the last half decade, but staying power exists in individual songs on shuffle, not in the albums themselves. That finally changed with El Pintor, their best album since Antics rolled out back in 2004. All you need to do is listen to the first two tracks, “All the Rage Back Home” and “My Desire”, and it’s like welcoming an old friend back.

5. Mimicking Birds – “EONS”

Mimicking-Birds-Eons-608x608How small are Mimicking Birds? My wife and had the chance to have a great conversation with lead singer Nate Lacy after their Phoenix show, and the conversation extended beyond mere pleasantries. Small or not, Mimicking Birds have now crafted two truly fantastic albums. EONS expands upon their debut, growing less minimal, yet staying rather unassuming. The songs are much more lush and detailed, but the tracks still float by with ease. “Acting Your Age” is the highlight, but “Memorabilia”, “Night Light”, “Bloodlines”, and “Wormholes” lend EONS the kind of consistency that warrants it a place amongst the best albums of the year.

4. Marshall McLean Band – Glossolalia

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Here lies the surprise of the year. Based out of Spokane, Washington, the Marshall McLean Band deftly combines northwest indie with southern Americana. The slide guitar rules the day, and McLean’s religiously-drenched lyrics create an imagery that puts him in Iron & Wine territory. On “Sons of Thunder”, McLean’s drops one of the best lyrics of the year when he sings “oh Lord if my hands keep shaking, pass me the tambourine”. The thematic consistency really ties together Glossolalia. Whether he’s referencing Joseph on “Coat of Many Colors” or singing lines like “I am Jonah this is Ninevah” on “Sinking Ships”, McLean’s church upbringing lends rich subject matter for his songs.

3. The Antlers – “Familiars”

When the same band can make the most emotionally intense album I’ve ever heard (Hospice), and make Familiars, it’s a true testament to the talent of Peter Silberman and company. Familiars is lounge-y, jazzy, and drenched in a sad trumpet. In other words, miles away from the fuzzy and intense cacophony of electronics that underpin his other greatest works, like Hospice’s “Kettering”. Yet, here they are, making one of the year’s very, very best. “Palace” has Silberman’s voice hitting high points as only he can, “Revisited” is moving and introspective piece, and “Parade” has a simple and fantastic piece of guitar work layered over synths and Silberman’s languishing vocals.

2. Spoon – “They Want My Soul”

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Where to even begin? Spoon has been a longtime favorite and is often referred to as one of the most consistent bands in music. I regard 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga as one of the best albums ever made. They have written five five-star songs and 23 four-star songs. Yet count me as one of the many people who simultaneously enjoyed yet were underwhelmed by 2010’s Transference. At the time, I took the mild disappointment as inevitable when you’re following up an all-time great. But it was more than that. It simply wasn’t as memorable, and time has not been as kind to it. But then they come out with 2014’s They Want My Soul and change everything. Whether it’s throwback classics like “Rent I Pay”, summer jams like “Do You”, thematic holdovers like “They Want My Soul”, or straight up funky musical gems like “Knock Knock Knock”, Britt Daniel and Spoon come flying back with a vengeance. Much has been made of album highlight “Inside Out” though, and I feel much the same way. For a guitar driven band, “Inside Out” is the most unique thing Spoon has ever done, synthy and electronic and highly produced and featuring a harp of all things. Yet here it is, the most moving and introspective piece Daniel has ever composed. It’s a career-defining song for Spoon, yet it sounds like nothing they’ve never done before. And maybe that’s the point. Towards the end of the track, right before the synths truly take over the song, Daniel drops the perfect line: “Break out of character for me”.

1. The War on Drugs – “Lost in the Dream”

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The awards and recognition for The War on Drugs’ masterpiece album are starting to roll in, and I couldn’t be happier for them. Consequence of Sound and Paste’s #1 album of the year. Pitchfork’s #3. Amazon and iTunes’ #1 alternative album of the year. Stereogum and The Guardian’s #2 of the year. While I tend to have my differences with many of the publications, they are getting this one right. Lost in the Dream is easily the best album of the year. It’s a triumph of an album that will sit atop a select few albums getting repeat plays likely for the rest of my life. As music more and more turns towards EDM and general electronic experimentation, Adam Granduciel and company borrow from the likes of Springsteen, combining it with synth rock and Granduciel own grasp on lyrics and vocal delivery. Granduciel’s vocal delivery is often soaked in reverb and even slurred. His lyrics are patched together thoughts and feelings, evoking moods without a coherent story always emerging. His guitar work is as talented as I’ve ever seen. The result is a form of modern Americana rock that is alternatingly bursting and energetic while self-conscious. “Under the Pressure” and “Red Eyes” form the best paired tracks since LCD Soundsystem gave us “Someone Great” and “All My Friends”. There’s a commitment to be made here though. “Under the Pressure” clocks in at nearly nine minutes long. Six of the nine tracks are about six minutes or more. While the individual songs are brilliant, this album is an album. This is meant to be enjoyed in sequence, not shuffled. You need to feel the energy at the start, then let yourself drift into the soft “Suffering” and the expansive “An Ocean In Between the Waves”. “Eyes to the Wind” reveals such a state of weariness, encapsulated in the line “I'm just bit run down here at the moment”. That same weariness is expressed in the title of “Red Eyes” and in the opening lyrics, where Granduciel is “On my knees/To beat it down/To get to my soul”. It’s not all about lamentation though. On “Eyes to the Wind” the mood is down, but not out. All struggles are temporary. “So I'll set my eyes to the wind/But it won’t be easy”. On “Red Eyes” it’s captured in a single moment: the single greatest “woo!” every placed in a song, as dumb as that may sound. On the finale, the sprawling “In Reverse”, Granduciel finds acceptance. “I'll be here/or I'll fade away”, he sings. There’s just something so human about these songs. It’s not an album purely about struggle or purely about hope and acceptance. It’s just a chronicle of Granduciel’s thoughts, which are probably not unlike our own. That it’s set over music this amazing makes it all the better, and that’s its overall feeling is still so optimistic is comforting. It’s an introspective album that acknowledges the darkness that creeps in, but does not become consumed by it. And in an age where guitar-based rock is losing ground, it’s a savior. Woo!

Honorable Mentions:

  • Bleachers – “Strange Desire”
  • Broken Bells – “After the Disco”
  • Broods – “Broods”
  • Caribou – “Our Love”
  • Coldplay – “Ghosts”
  • Cold War Kids – “Hold My Home”
  • Foster the People – “Supermodel”
  • Great Good Fine OK – “Body Diamond EP”
  • The Hold Steady – “Teeth Dreams”
  • Lana Del Rey – “Ultraviolence”
  • Lost in the Trees – “Past Life”
  • NEEDTOBREATHE – “Rivers in the Wasteland”
  • Walk the Moon – “Talking is Hard”

Top New Old Songs

I wish this category didn’t have to exist, but I’m an amateur music reviewer who sometimes misses things. And since the whole point is to show you awesome music, I maintain this category annually to ensure that my follies in 2013 are rectified in 2014.

Autre Ne Veut – “Play By Play”

Foxygen – “No Destruction”

Born Ruffians – “The Needle”

Top Five New Bands

1. Marshall McLean Band

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2. Broods

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3. Hozier

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4. Great Good Fine OK

Great Good Fine Ok perform at The Westway on August 21, 2014 in New York City.

5. Sohn

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Ear Candy aka I’m Not Just a Music Snob and Here Are Some Pop Hits That I Liked

Ariana Grande – “Problem”

Charli XCX – “Boom Clap”

Christina Perri – “Human”

DJ Snake & Lil John – “Turn Down For What”

Drake – “0 to 100/The Catch Up”

Echosmith – “Cool Kids”

Passenger – “Let Her Go”

Sam Smith – “Stay With Me”

Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

Sia – “Chandelier” (#43 overall)

Top 50 Songs of the Year

50. Jack White – “That Black Bat Licorice”

While some songs are fuel or heartfelt lyrics and sweeping grandeur, some songs simply rock. Jack White has done this for a living, and on his newest effort he doesn’t do it any better than on this track, and propulsive track of energy and fun.

49. Augustines – “Weary Eyes”

Billy McCarthy has the kind of breathy growl in his voice that contains years of experience and struggle. This is bar rock with a little glimmer of hope, a touch of “woah-ohs”, and a whole lot of charm. “We laid on the roof, drank wine and we proved we could fix ourselves”

48. The Afghan Whigs – “Algiers”

Alternative rock vets The Afghan Whigs drop a track that evokes visions of a lonely roaming wanderer as it builds from pleasant acoustic guitar into a denser rock song.

47. Walk the Moon – “Aquaman”

Are the late 90’s retro now? Walk the Moon typically makes peppy, well-done pop dance tracks and has appeared on the list before with “I Can Lift a Car” at #10 in 2012. “Aquaman” is an outlier for them, a slow jam closer influenced by the likes of Phil Collins. I was suckered by Bon Iver’s “Beth/Rest” and I’m suckered by Walk the Moon’s “Aquaman”.

46. Phantogram – “Fall in Love”

Phantogram continue to exist on the underrated peripheral of electronic indie rock, and “Fall in Love” is another whirling example of the talent they so wonderfully displayed on the outstanding “Mouthful of Diamonds”.

45. Grimes ft. Blood Diamonds– “Go”

Grimes is a bit of a wonderful weirdo, alternatingly genius (“Oblivion”) and too odd to handle. And then there’s “Go”, an undeniably poppy diversion. Thing is, it’s an infectious and amazing poppy diversion.

44. William Fitzsimmons – “Fortune”

As Iron & Wine’s Sam Beem continues to expand beyond his acoustic guitar, it’s William Fitzsimmons who has become the standard bearer of bearded, hushed vocal coffee shop music. “Fortune” is the best of a solid album for Fitzsimmons, who wears woundedness on his voice as well as anyone.

43. Sia – “Chandelier”

I want to see this song live to see if Sia can really hit these notes. If she can, then wow. “Chandelier” is the very definition of soaring, and Sia’s voice strains higher and higher till it almost breaks. Of the year’s Top 40 hits, this is one is the best.

42. Highasakite – “Lover, Where Do You Live”

I knew nothing about Highasakite as this track began the live set opening for London Grammar. But as the synths washed over me I literally got chills. The Norwegian band has some serious musical chops, and this is a song worth turning up loud and letting it just grow.

41. The Black Keys – “Weight of Love”

The Black Keys’ newest album peaks at track one, when the nearly seven minute long “Weight of Love” stars of with a jam and propels forward. The album won’t stand the test of time, but the outstanding band’s catalogue got a great addition for the Best Of album somewhere down the line.

40. Bad Suns – “Transpose (Nicita Remix)”

Sometimes it’s hard to explain why a song sticks out, but as the year went on I found “Transpose” always on the tip of tongue. I’ve been humming and singing through “and I can’t stop, even if I wanted to” for nearly all of 2014.

39. How to Dress Well – “Words I Can’t Remember”

How to Dress Well might be able to set the nighttime mood as well as anyone. The start of this track is on the minimalist side, but stick around past the four minute mark when the song implodes on the soul of the song kicks in.

38. The Hold Steady – “Wait a While”

One of the best bands in music, led by the greatest modern lyricist, returns with an album that returns in some ways to the grittier bar rock roots of albums past. The standout is “Wait a While”, a cautionary tale for a girl that’s been burned: “Collecting boyfriends isn’t such a perfect hobby”, sings Craig Finn.

37. Sufjan Stevens – “A Little Lost”

It wouldn’t be the year end list if prolific Sufjan Stevens didn’t make an appearance. This time he’s hear Sufan-ing Arthur Russell’s “A Little Lost” a song that’s pretty much about how much he likes kissing. Yet it’s still amazing because it’s still Sufjan.

36. Lost in the Trees – “Past Life”

“Past Life” is dreamy and haunting and a little dark but, most of all, it will stick with you. The simple yet excellent percussion, the great guitar line, and Ari Picker’s vocals make for an excellent track.

35. Young the Giant – “Mind Over Matter”

There’s no “Apartment”, “Cough Syrup” or other bit of perfection on Young the Giant’s less inspired sophomore slump, but “Mind Over Matter” still carries a good bit a of weight. Sameer Gadhia, who has one of modern music’s best voices, soars on this track.

34. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Angel of Death”

Strange that a song that starts with lyrics so high school-ish in nature would end up being one of the more vivid storytelling songs of the year. Say what you will, but the verse about Cody, with his Kool Aid-stained mouth hanging out by the Arby’s, is one of the better lyrical pieces this year. Yes, some bits are sophomoric, but there’ a dose of reality here.

33. NEEDTOBREATHE – “Brother”

Speaking of the best voices in music, Bear Rinehart has a claim as well. “Brother” is another southern rock gem from the underrated NEEDTOBREATHE.

32. Cold War Kids – “First”

Long time favorites Cold War Kids, the kings of using the piano as a percussion instrument and mixing bar rock with alt rock, return with the second album in two years, and the star is “First”. At its heart it’s a middle-finger raised post-breakup song, but the real draw here is the music, and this is more than a toe-tapper. This one gets the whole body moving.

31. Bleachers – “Wild Heart”

One of the year’s bigger surprises to me was how much I enjoyed Bleachers’ album. Why? The combination of fun.’s guitarist with my first listen to forgettable lead single “I Wanna Get Better” left me thinking there was very little to be desired. But Jack Antonoff actually has some interesting things to offer, switching off between upper and lower registers very well and constructing some truly good tracks, the best of which was “Wild Heart”.

30. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – “Maps for the Getaway”

Longtime readers will know of my affinity for Andrew McMahon, more famous for Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. I’ve practically grown up listening to him, from high school through college and beyond. Here McMahon looks back at those times in a song about his wife. When he sings the line “Through all the autopilot years/The tears of joy, the face of fear/Now that we're not hiding/Somehow you're still riding in my car”, it might be my favorite lyric of the year. As a fan of McMahon I’ve listened to him pre-leukemia (the “autopilot years”), mid/post-leukemia (the “face of fear”), and as he looks through it all and sees his wife beside him in the car, I’m reminded that back in 2003 Andrew McMahon’s younger self soundtracked many of my trips home to visit my future wife. There’s no artist out there that means more to me personally.

29. The War on Drugs – “In Reverse”

As the closing song to the year’s best album—and frankly one of my favorite albums of all time—the nearly 8 minute long “In Reverse” ties together perfection so very, very well. Adam Granduciel’s vocal delivery is just so amazing. He sings in such a distant and thoughtful way here that it almost makes you feel like he’s having these reflective thoughts in that very moment. It’s a thing of brilliance, and when the song emerges from the meandering opening and really kicks it up a notch (3:15 in when he sings “and I don’t mind you disappearing”), it’s one of 2014’s single best music moments.

28. Interpol – “My Blue Supreme”

While the rest of music continues to move past Interpol as a meaningful band, I continue to champion them. This is not because I believe that they are doing anything revolutionary, but because I believe they have settled on a crisp style that is uniquely them to the point that adapting and changing makes them less unique. In short, don’t grow, Interpol, I love you just the way you are. “My Blue Supreme” is a good case study: you have the impeccable guitar lines, the buildup that occurs over Paul Banks hushed baritone, and the bursting chorus. It’s Interpol formula 101, which I believe makes it great.

27. James Vincent McMorrow – “Gold”

The beginning and the end of “Gold” bare little resemblance. The gentle harp strum with JVM’s breathy vocals quickly grows and grows until it bursts at the seams.

26. The Antlers – “Revisited”

Talk about setting a mood. Guided by a lounge-y trumpet, jazzy piano and percussion, and Peter Silberman’s emotive voice and descriptive lyrics, “Revisited” hits like a ton of bricks.

25. Spoon – “They Want My Soul”

The kind of song I’ve waited years for from Spoon. The song is both a throwback stylistically and a summary or years of thematic consistency from Spoon.

24. Marshall McLean Band – “Irons in the Fire”

I’m not sure there’s a simple lyric I’ve sung more this year than “Holy roller!”. Marshall McLean fuses indie rock and country deftly, blending it with religious imagery for some of the year’s best.

23. Lana Del Rey – “Brooklyn Baby”

At her best, Lana Del Rey is quite the performer, and despite the initial criticism she received it’s hard to deny there’s no one quite like her. “Brooklyn Baby” is her newest album’s best track, hitting its highest moments when Lana reaches into her upper register.

22. Foster the People – “Coming of Age”

Without a hit like “Pumped Up Kicks” you might not have noticed Foster the People excellent sophomore album, led by “Coming of Age, a perfect of indie rock and pop catchiness. This is an underappreciated band.

21. Fink – “Looking Too Closely”

The key to Fink’s amazing track is the forward motion. The slow guitar starts strumming a little faster. The soft piano gets a little louder. The drums become more and more prominent. The song builds, hits a highpoint, comes back down, and raises up again. It’s a gem.

20. Coldplay – “Midnight”

If you’ve never heard this song before, you might want to listen to it twice. The first time I heard “Midnight” I was disappointed it never broke out at the end, as Coldplay songs often do. But if you remove that expectation, “Midnight” is one of the moodiest and prettiest songs ever written by band who specialize in those things. Anyone who has seen its magic at work in the new Exodus trailer know how effective this track is.

19. First Aid Kit – “My Silver Lining”

The Soderberg sisters of Sweden’s First Aid Kit have always shown an adept grip over older American country. Here they combine their vocal talents with some modern twists to create one of the year’s best.


18. Hozier – “Take Me to Church”

Hozier—the monicker of Andrew Hozier-Byrne from Ireland—was my big pick to break out in 2014, and now it seems like he’s finally done that. His rich voice stands out, but it’s his incredible hold over lyrics that takes him over the top. Just the opening line, “My lover’s got humor/she’s the giggle at a funeral”, packs enough creative punch to outdo many of his peers.

17. Nickel Creek – “Love of Mine”

Welcome back, my friends, how I’ve missed you. There’s the soft mandolin. There’s Chris Thile’s voice. There’s the harmonies with the Watkins’. And there are the kinds of lines I remember: “for all these pretty words it wasn't her but love that I adored”. I missed you Nickel Creek. Don’t go away again.

16. Caribou – “Back Home”

The first of two Caribou songs high on this list, “Back Home” is one of the most cathartic tracks of the year. The breakout at the end is a swarming electronic symphony. Turn the headphones up loud.

15. Beck – “Blue Moon”

Who is this Beck? Announcing the tenor of the song by wailing the opening line “I’m so tired of being alone”, Beck creates something beautiful here. I dare say the best thing he’s ever done.

14. SOHN – “Artifice”

I liked “Artifice” at first. Kept it in my shuffle. Periodically, I’d add songs. And I’d delete many, making room for the new. “Artifice” always stayed somehow. The song is infectious and swirling.

13. Great Good Fine OK – “Not Going Home”

Talk about a debut album I can’t wait for. GGFO don’t even have a full length album yet, and last year they had the #38 song. This year they do even better, dropping the best electro-pop song of the year, an absolutely rousing track.

12. London Grammar – “Maybe”

Oh how I love Hannah Reid and London Grammar. I gushed over them through 2013, and by throwing an extra track onto their 2014 US release, I get to gush again. If I could make you love a band, I’d probably make you love London Grammar.

11. TV on the Radio – “Careful You”

A love song, TV on the Radio-style. Set over fuzzy synths and whirl of music, TV on the Radio drops one of the best sounding choruses of the year. Sometimes a band can stand to add a little melody to the equation, and here is the perfect example of a great band making a smart transition.

10. Family of the Year – “Hero”

Allow me to cheat. Like most, I heard this song in what might be the year’s best movie, “Boyhood”. It was released in 2012 originally, but has been rereleased on the movie’s soundtrack, so that’s my loophole! I’m happy to take the loophole too, because this is an amazing and moving song. It’s uncertain lyrics soundtracked a transitionary period in my life.

9. Broods – “Bridges”

As frustrated as I’ve been over the synth/bedroom electronica revolution at times, it’s clear that no matter how much styles change that there are some bands that just do it so well. Take “Bridges” for example, a song that is built over an electronic wave. But there’s something else here. The song is a rush of energy, at once swarming and catchy.

8. Marshall McLean Band – “Sons of Thunder”

I hope this band gets heard. I’m doing my part and I’d really love you love this one. I’ve always been a fan of Americana and alt-country. I love the steel guitar and many of the things country music brings to the table, even though I run away from modern pop country as fast as I can. Mold those country elements with Northwest indie and obvious Christian influences, and you have Marshall McLean and “Sons of Thunder”. Oh Lord if my hands keep shaking, pass me a tambourine. What a song.

7. Interpol – “My Desire”

It’s been years since Interpol dropped a cut like “My Desire”. The guitars that underpin this song are nothing short of incredible. You even have Paul Banks wailing into a bit of a falsetto. If you’re looking for the year’s best straight alt rock jam, look no further.

6. Mimicking Birds – “Acting Your Age”

This is one where you close your eyes. Nate Lacy adds a few more layers to his already incredible style, and creates a banjo-infused track that is worth obsessing over.

5. Spoon – “Inside Out”

Just when I think I can’t love Spoon any more than I already do, they drop “Inside Out” out of left field. Spoon is alternatingly fun and energetic, but this is their most introspective track yet. As Britt Daniels sings “mmmm and then they wash my feet” and the harp kicks in, it’s a brilliant music moment. “Break out of character for me”, he sings. And as the song keep growing, that’s exactly what happens.

4. The Antlers – “Palace”

Fun fact: if you don’t count the instrumental prelude on Hospice, I have five-starred the opening track on every album by The Antlers. There’s only 100 five-star songs, so that means something. “Palace” is another masterpiece by Peter Silberman and The Antlers. This is a song about reaching out to someone and saving them, although that description does not do it justice. When the song breaks out into the line “but I swear I’ll find your light in the middle, where there’s so little late at night, down in the pit of the well”, Silberman encapsulates desperation.

3. Caribou – “Silver”

Love at first listen. “Silver” once again proves what we learned with 2010’s “Jamelia”: that when Dan Snaith combines his production skills with his relatable vocals, perfection can happen. “Silver” has been on non-stop shuffle this year.

2. James Vincent McMorrow – “Look Out”

“Look Out” starts mildly enough, with JVM’s soft falsetto echoing over just a touch of a piano and a reverbing, distant striking of a drum. The chorus, however, introduces a totally new and improved JVM, borrowing from contemporaries like Bon Iver, but doing it so exceptionally well that all potential unoriginality criticisms are squashed. McMorrow’s gift is the sincerity in his vocals, which are soft for sure, but nonetheless striking and powerful when combined with the electronic cacophony that envelops the greatest segments of the track.

1. The War on Drugs – “Under the Pressure” and “Red Eyes”

As the year came to a close I had a hard time reconciling the fact that I knew that “Red Eyes” was possibly my favorite song in four or five years, but that its link to “Under the Pressure” is so unbreakable that the song stands taller when paired with its album predecessor. “Under the Pressure” opens this year’s best album and clocks in at nearly nine minutes long, signaling a clear intention that The War on Drugs are not here to make a cookie cutter album. “Under the Pressure” is a glorious alt rock track, led by a combination of swirling synths, driving percussion, and some absolutely stunning guitar work and lyrics from Adam Granduciel. When the song hits its zenith—right about when Adam belts out “Lying on my back/Loosening my grip/Wading in the water/Just trying not to crack/Under the pressure!”—it’s the kind of high you wait for all year from an artist or a song. To me, this makes it all the more impressive that the song is one-upped immediately by “Red Eyes”, the clearest #1 song I can remember. Seriously, I gave this year’s #1 song so little thought that it’s as if it was determined for me about a year ago when I first heard it. The song is a ball of bursting energy, growing on a lead guitar line, Charlie Hall’s propulsive drumming, and Granduciel’s reverb-drenched vocals, highlighted by the best “woo!” ever seen in music. It’s not just the song of the year, it’s the early front runner for song of the new decade.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Alt-j – “Left Hand Free”
  • Alt-j – “Nara”
  • Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – “All Our Lives”
  • The Antlers – “Parade”
  • Ariana Grande – “Problem”
  • Augustines – “Walkabout”
  • Avery Tare’s Slasher Flicks – “Little Fang”
  • Avi Buffalo – “Memories of You”
  • Band of Horses – “Neighbor (Acoustic at the Ryman)”
  • Bear Hands – “Giants”
  • Bear Hands – “Party Hats”
  • The Black Keys – “Turn Blue”
  • The Black Keys – “Fever”
  • Bleachers ft. Grimes – “Take Me Away”
  • Bleachers – “Like A River Runs”
  • Bon Iver – “Heavenly Father”
  • Broken Bells – “Perfect World”
  • Broods – “Coattails”
  • Caribou – “Can’t Do Without You”
  • Charli XCX – “Boom Clap”
  • Christina Perri – “Human”
  • Cloud Person – “Lighthouse”
  • Coldplay – “A Sky Full of Stars”
  • Cold War Kids – “All This Could Be Yours”
  • Cold War Kids – “Hotel Anywhere”
  • Copeland – “Disjointed”
  • DJ Snake & Lil John – “Turn Down For What”
  • Drake – “0 to 100/The Catch Up”
  • Echosmith – “Cool Kids”
  • Elbow – “New York Morning”
  • FKA Twigs – “Two Weeks”
  • First Aid Kit – “Cedar Lane”
  • The Fixators – “Colourblind”
  • Foster the People – “Pseudologia Fantastica”
  • Foster the People – “Are You What You Want to Be?”
  • Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting On You)”
  • Gaslight Anthem – “Get Hurt”
  • The Hold Steady – “Oaks”
  • How to Dress Well – “Precious Love”
  • How to Dress Well – “Face Again”
  • Hozier – “Work Song”
  • Hundred Waters – “Murmurs”
  • Interpol – “All the Rage Back Home”
  • Jack White – “Lazaretto”
  • Jack White – “That Black Bat Licorice”
  • Jungle – “Busy Earnin’”
  • Lana Del Rey – “West Coast”
  • Lana Del Rey – “Old Money”
  • Mimicking Birds – “Bloodlines”
  • Mimicking Birds – “Wormholes”
  • Mimicking Birds – “Memorabilia”
  • NEEDTOBREATHE – “Where the Money Is”
  • NEEDTOBREATHE – “Difference Maker”
  • Nickel Creek – “Elsie”
  • Nickel Creek – “Destination”
  • Ought – “Habit”
  • Panda Bear – “Mr Noah”
  • Passenger – “Let Her Go”
  • Portable ft. Lucio – “Surrender”
  • S. Carey – “Fire-scene”
  • Sam Smith – “Stay With Me”
  • The Shins – “So Now What”
  • Spoon – “Do You”
  • Spoon – “Knock Knock Knock”
  • Spoon – “Let Me Be Mine”
  • Spoon – “Rent I Pay”
  • St. Vincent – “Prince Johnny”
  • Sun Kil Moon – “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love”
  • Switchfoot – “Slipping Away”
  • Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”
  • Thom Yorke – “Guess Again!”
  • Todd Terje ft. Bryan Ferry – “Marry & Jonny”
  • TV on the Radio – “Quartz”
  • TV on the Radio – “Ride”
  • Walk the Moon – “Portugal”
  • The War on Drugs – “Suffering”
  • The War on Drugs – “An Ocean In Between the Waves”
  • The War on Drugs – “Burning”
  • The War on Drugs – “Eyes to the Wind”
  • The War on Drugs – “Lost in the Dream”
  • Wild Beasts – “Wanderlust”
  • William Fitzsimmons – “Centralia”
  • Young the Giant – “Camera”
  • Young the Giant – “Anagram”
  • Young the Giant – “It’s About Time”