To ring out 2014, I selected nine very good music tracks from the year. No, I’m not so arrogant as to pretend I found the best. (I know for a fact I didn’t, least of all because I made a point of going for songs you might have missed.) Scroll down to the end for the handy Rdio playlist with all the songs.
“Temporary Ground,” from Lazaretto by Jack White
I listened to all of Lazaretto, but this is the one that stuck with me. I’m lukewarm on country stylings generally, but here it works for me – the chord progression and those harmonies stab me right between the ribs, I swear. That vocalist is Lilie Mae Rische, who also plays fiddle on the track.
“Gato que Avanza, Perro que Ladra,” from MultiViral by Calle 13
Puerto Rican group Calle 13 (“Thirteenth Street”) is one of the most politically radical and musically exciting groups to come out of the reguetón (“big reggae”) movement, which has taken the Spanish-speaking music world by storm over the last few years. 2014’s album MultiViral featured a lot of notable tracks, including the titular collaboration with Julian Assange (?!), but this song – literally “Advancing Cat, Barking Dog” – is emblematic of their clever wordplay (trust us) and impish sense of humor.
“Nevermind,” from Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen
Cohen’s voice has been diminishing over the last ten or twenty years to a raspy, pained whisper, but it hasn’t lost any of its power; his new album Popular Problems is strongest when it leans minimally on his vocals and emphasizes his poetry. “Nevermind” is the best example of this: it’s brutally honest and painful to listen to, a gut-twisting meditation on war, 9/11, and the immigrant experience.
“Water Came Down,” by Rosie Lowe (single)
I fell in love with English singer-songwriter Rosie Lowe as soon as we stumbled across her. With her flawless production and her strong soul influences, she’s…well, I couldn’t ask for anything else. “Water Came Down” is maybe her most danceable song released to date, and is still pensive and full of heartache, even with all its heady grooves.
“What Is Love,” by Janelle Monae (single)
Sadly, Janelle Monae didn’t release a new album this year, but I’ll cheerfully take her single “What Is Love”. (It was apparently released on the soundtrack for Rio 2. Let’s forget that ever happened.) “What is Love” is a fun high-energy Caribbean call-and-response that smacks of Gloria Estefan and lets Monae’s effervescent personality bubble through.
“Girls Chase Boys,” from Lights Out by Ingrid Michaelson
It took me a little while to warm up to what we’re pretty sure is a drum machine and a synth in the background, but I did. “Girls Chase Boys” is cheerful, optimistic, brilliant pop. Plus, have you seen that music video? (I don’t recommend watching it at a conservative workplace.)
“Best Friend,” from Supermodel by Foster the People
Last year’s offering from Foster the People, “Pumped Up Kicks,” was sadly overplayed. “Best Friend” charted but hasn’t hit the same omnipresent saturation point that “Pumped up Kicks” did, which is delightful. It probably smacks too much of disco for a popular audience, but whatever – it’s great fun and provides a delightful showcase for Mark Foster’s voice. I’ll take it and clutch it gently, lovingly to my breasts.
“Another Night,” from Tomorrow’s Hits by The Men
Post-punk band The Men delivers an anthemic song with a powerful riff that moves through the song with a freight train’s energy. It almost makes you forget that the lyrics sound like they’re being sung by a pathetic loser who’s trying to keep his relationship going … which, somehow, makes the song all the better.
“New York Morning,” from The Take Off and Landing of Everything by Elbow
Elbow claims to play “prog rock without the solos”. I personally have little patience for prog rock, so this makes me feel a little dirty, but with a song like this one I’ll forgive them. “New York Morning” is a handsomely composed, delightful slow build. It arrives finally at a chord progression that never seems to quite resolve itself, moving itself in circles and humming like chimes. I could sit there, in that musical space, all day.