So Far Away – Axxa/Abraxas
Dan: Sneaking in at the beginning of the year, this song sounds like Teenage Fanclub a bit revved up, which I am aware doesn’t narrow it down much, but you should listen to it. Stoned vocals and sixties sounding guitar and that. Yeah, you’ll like it.
Kelly – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Mike: I was a pretty huge fan of Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s last album, 2011’s Belong, but for some reason I never really got into their latest one, Days Of Abandon, and I’m not quite sure why. All of the elements that I loved were there – albeit with keyboards mostly swapped out for janglier guitars, but I’m fine with that – but for some reason I just couldn’t be bothered this time round. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that over 6 months after it’s release the full album still isn’t available on Spotify in New Zealand so I had to download a pirated mp3 version like a fucking caveman.
The singles were all pretty good though, and the best was probably “Kelly” sung by Jen Goma, of the great shoegaze band A Sunny Day in Glasgow, which is an upbeat pop number of the finest quality, even if it does unashamedly mimic the bass riff from “This Charming Man”. Great tune.
Joyland – Trust
Dan: A very pretty song that sounds like trance, kind of. Good for having a coffee and listening to thinking “I don’t normally like electronica but I like this.”
Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
Mike: Say what you will about Ed Sheeran: I like him. The bulk of the criticism of him seems to come from the mere fact that he’s a pop star (and perhaps because he’s a ginge) but I think his music is great. It stands out in a world of bland pop music as something fresh and a bit different. And “Thinking Out Loud” is arguably his best song to date: a straight up soul number that brings to mind Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”. He puts on a great live show too.
Dan: An interesting thing about Ed Sheeran is he looks a lot like Riot Radio contributor Brendan. While I gather this is actually quite a lot less interesting to you, the reader, who may not know what Brendan looks like but I can gaurantee it is still the most interesting thing about Ed Sheeran.
Cannibal – Silversun Pickups
Mike: These guys just keep going from strength to strength. Usually sounding like a not-shit version of Billy Corgan’s current Smashing Pumpkins iteration, this song is a change of direction, marking the band’s first foray into electronica tinged rock. And it’s badass. The song is the band’s only new release in 2014, accompanying a greatest hits collection that seems a little bit premature after only three albums. Hopefully they’re not breaking up or some shit.
I’ll Be the First – Kill It Kid
Dave: Kill it Kid are rad and this song is rad. I’m sure when I say “blues rock” many of you will run away, but if I said “and really heavy too, with alternating male/female lead vocals, handclaps, harmonies, munted guitar virtuosity and energy to burn” perhaps some of you might come back. The album behind this single is out in some markets but not in NZ, but 2011’s “Feet Fall Heavy” and its lead single “Pray On Me” are worth checking out if this is your cuppa. Continuing the cherished british musical heritage of plain-as-day robbery at the expense of black american bluesman (to the point of pulling a Moby and straight up sampling some of them on the last album), this is perhaps not music in which you’re gonna enjoy multiple levels of appreciation. But shit me it bangs. It bangs hard.
Argentina Parts 1, 11 & 111 – Tokyo Police Club
Mike: “Argentina” is that rare thing: a song that injects new energy into the indie rock genre. A sprawling 8 minute, mostly upbeat, it moves through tempo and melody changes while always remaining focussed and more importantly, never getting boring. The accompanying Forcefield EP/ mini album is pretty fucking rad as well.
Killer Bangs – Honeyblood
Dan: Honeyblood were totally unknown to me up until the time I heard this song for the first time at a party. It was one of those moments where you ask “Who is this? This song rules!” and the person answers “What am I, your fucking slave, look at the Spotify playlist. Fuck!” and you say “Well, that was uncalled for, but okay.” Killer Bangs was the first song of Honeyblood’s I heard and my favourite but to be honest, the whole self-titled record is pretty good and pretty similar. Killer Bangs is a fun two-minute power-pop party that sticks in your head for days, and you find yourself singing on the train. Or if you don’t believe in public transport, at the wheel of your Hummer.
Damage – Pharoahe Monch
Dan: Over-all I was a bit disappointed with Pharoahe Monch’s ‘PTSD’ record. Most of the reason for this came from a lot of high expectations generally, and after seeing him in 2012 personally, it was going to be tough to match the intensity of both his performance live and his previous work. Another factor was probably that 2014 was such a strong year for hip-hop albums generally, it was up against some beastly competition. However, while the record was a bit ‘Hmmmm’, Pharoahe Monch’s unique rhyming style and odd tune structure produced some gems.
Damage is a shouty party tune and it has one of those hooks that you keep saying over and over again with a take on the “Let me slaaaaay your crew” which makes it a perfect addition to Oasis and Jay-Z’s ’99 Problems’ in the repertoire of ‘songs you bellow along to while inebriated’. If you can rap as fast as Monch can. Which you can’t. Sorry.
Inspector Norse – Todd Terje
Dan: One of the thing you find about dance music journalism, is the tendency to pick particular ‘cities’ as much as particular artists, or even genres, as being the trend point of new music. It makes a bit of sense; the petri-dish of experimentation is usually clubs as DJing in those clubs is how producers tend to make their crust. Unlike in other forms of performance music, it is perfectly fine for DJs to play literally the same music as their contempories and cross-pollination of a sound can happen quite quickly. This led to people talking with much rapidity in 2014 about The Oslo Sound.
Get Along Like U – Vertical Scratchers
Dan: This song is a fun slice of rock’n’roll that doesn’t sound like Jesus Lizard. That’s not an entirely facile comparison either – Matthew Taylor, founding member of the Vertical Scratchers, used to play in bands that bore the somewhat idiotic genre moniker ‘math rock’. Yeah, this song doesn’t sound like any of those bands.
Can’t Stop – Theophilus London feat. Kanye West
Mike: I’ve been following Theophilus for a while now and absolutely loved his early mixtapes and his debut album, 2011’s Timez Are Weird These Days is an absolute classic. His second album Vibes is decent too, but I’m really not digging his new down-tempo sound anywhere near as much as the more danceable earlier stuff. “Can’t Stop” is the standout for me though, and not just cause it features some up and comer called Kanye West. It’s a nice combination of the two rapper’s styles – Theophilus does his trip hoppy mellow chorus singing thing, while Kanye drops his usual self-aggrandising lyrics and adds some of the great production flourishes for which he’s known: female vocals built into a beat based around jazz drums etc.
Planet Key – Darren Watson
Dan: A disgusting bile-flecked diatribe against the Most Popular Prime Minister Ever enjoyed by people who think Dirty Politics is real. You can literally hear the tall-poppy syndrome vibrating through the chords and you can just tell the artist believes in a minumum wage and that feminism is a good idea. Makes me sick all over my keyboard to even think about it, which makes it EVEN HARDER to bash out comments on Kiwiblog than my short temper and limited intellect already make it.
Istanbul – Morrissey
Bren: Okay, so personally I’ve never really indulged in Mozza’a post-Smiths shenanigans as he always lacked the lack of colour that I found so appealing when he was with the Smiths. You know, that muted kind of whinge-a-thon that he is so good at. But dear fuck, Istanbul truly got me and it’s hard not to put this up there with anything else he’s done previously, collaboratively or otherwise.
Musically, it’s well-produced with an epicness behind the chorus of hectic, chugging, reverberating guitars, although – after a quick investigation apparently Mozzington opted for a cigar box guitar; fair enough, it works. His voice has held up exceptionally well and he still maintains that terrifically powerful sustain with the touch of a quaver that has always been so remarkable.
Swimming Pool – Emmy The Great
Mike: – Emmy The Great’s 2009 album First love is one of my favourite albums of all time, which is interesting (at least to me) because it’s not the sort of music I’m usually super into: fragile, singer songwriter odes to love and loss, it’s a truly beautiful and understated little album. She followed it with Virtue in 2011 which was pretty good but failed to recapture the magic of it’s predecessor, although it introduced some interesting new arrangements and instrumentation into the mix. Since then she’s been relatively quiet on the music front, spending most of her time writing for the likes of Vice and the Guardian.
So it was great to see her return with a new single at the end of 2014 (and an EP just released), and “Swimming Pool” is excellent. It’s another step in a new direction: taking the complex arrangements of Virtue and turning them up a notch, with rich guitar tones and haunting vocals over a dark brooding melody. It also features Tom Fleming from Wild Beasts on backing vocals.
I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store for Mrs The Great.
212º – Jasiri X
Dave: Jasiri X has made his name as a firebrand political rapper who physically appears genie-like at the sites of social unrest across America to shoot guerilla music videos. He was on site for Occupy Wall Street, in the public chamber in Madison, WI for the mass pickets against Gov Walker’s anti-union legislation, in Florida in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death, in Palestine going through checkpoints etc etc. And almost miraculously, with this level of contrivance and his fast work, his music is frequently excellent and organic. This year’s included a collab with none other than Chuck D, but it’s Jasiri X’s response to Ferguson which outshines all his recent work. He always sounds displeased, but this is real anger, and a song he says a couple of times in the lyric that he’s not entirely comfortable performing. In a handful of bars Jasiri X blends anger, history, justice with ruminations on the nature and morality revenge. It’s a powerful piece where this often high-concepts communicator hunches his shoulders a little and tells us how he really feels.
M.E.A.T. – Tomahawk
Dave: Last year I wrote about Tomahawk’s album ‘Oddfellows’ that it was a decent record but lacked any standout songs which really flexed, grooved and smashed like I knew they were capable of. This year they release this song from the same sessions but not included on the album as a single, and it really flexed, grooved and smashed like I knew they were capable of. I don’t know if holding your best cuts for off-album singles is the new digital distribution strategy or if this was just tonaly out of step with the rest of the album, but it sounds like a vibrant rocking weird-ass band again. Thanks for faking me out, fuckers.
Keep Watch – Wu-Tang Clan
Mike: The album received mixed reviews, but this song – the first of the Wu-Tang’s 2014 singles – was a classic. Released in March, I’m still listening to it without getting sick of it at the end of the year.
Go Away – Weezer feat. Beth Cosentino
Mike: I’m a Weezer fan from way back, but I failed to understand the hype around Weezer’s 2014 “comeback” album Everything Will Be Alright In The End. The only way it seemed to differ from previous Weezer failures was that this time around the shitty padding tracks were rock tunes instead of shitty pop and disco tracks. But like all latter Weezer albums, there were still a few good ones on there: opener “Ain’t Got Nobody” is pretty decent, as is “The British Are Coming”. But it should be no surprise to readers of this blog that my personal favourite was “Go Away” featuring Best Coast’s Beth Cosentino, which perfectly fuses the best bits of Blue Album-era Weez with Best Coast’s breezy summer pop.
Yellow Flicker Beat – Lorde
Mike: Not a huge year for Lorde, but what little she did release (all of it on the The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 soundtrack, which she also compiled). This included an excellent cover of Bright Eyes’ “Ladder Song”, and a collaboration of the so-crazy-but-somehow-it-works-really-well between her, Pusha T, Q-Tip, Stromae and the mighty Haim, all of which would’ve been included on this list were it not for the arbitrary rule I set for myself of one appearance per artist per list. So that leaves her one true original composition of 2014, “Yellow Flicker Beat”, a majestic slow burning number that bodes well for the quality of future releases. Also one of the top live artists I saw in 2014 as well.
Dan: The Hunger Games: Cockingjay Soundtrack single handedly changed the answer to the question “Who still listens to movie soundtracks?” from “the elderly and people who don’t like music but need some inoffensive music for an office party” to “Everybody.” Yellow Flicker Beat, the biggest hit on this record (made even bigger once Paul McCartney protégé Kanye West had a crack at remixing it), is definitely a Lorde song. Her districntive voice is, well, distinctive. If you don’t like Lorde you won’t like this song but since everyone seems to like Lorde, this is unlikely to be an impediment. Her vocals sound like that song you heard in the gym all the time, you know the one, Team. Yeah, that one.
I don’t like to bandy around the term ‘stark, clinical synthesisers’ willy-nilly, but it certainly has them in spades; and builds the song on them to create an epic sense of urgency. Like needing to go to the toilet. But in a good, danceable way.
The Museum of Broken Relationships – Veruca Salt
Dave: Veruca Salt were a huge band for me in the nineties. If you want better harmony-laden rock your only real option is the Beatles. I even followed the post-breakup 2000s “Veruca Salt” (Louise Post’s solo vehicle) with enthusiasm. So when it was announced that Veruca Salt were reforming with their original lineup and recording with the producer of their debut album I was pretty excited. The Museum of Broken Relationships is no let down. Named for a real place – an art space in europe which collects and catalogues the artefacts of failed love – it’s a fitting opening statement from the mending of the allegedly Fleetwood Mac-sized rift between Post and Nina Gordon. The song’s repeating four-chord pattern, varying only in intensity and emphasis, is unashamedly 90s rock (think ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’). Post’s habit from her solo period (now apparently referred to by the band as ‘Veruca Starship’) of borrowing from and stitching together parts of other songs is in effect here, with Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’ loaning “Jubilation, he loves me again” to an irony-laden chorus. The b-side “It’s Holy” is just as good also, reminiscent of the wonderfully bolshy, self-celebratory vibe found on 1997’s ‘8 Arms To Hold You’.
Years of War – Porter Robinson
Dan: As I pointed out in the ‘Top Albums’ blog post, ‘Years of War’ has some of the most god-awfully earnest nonsense lyrics. But is it ostensibly dance music. The epic ‘hands in the air’ bombast of the tune though means that loads of people probably chant along to it at festivals with names like ‘Visionquest’ or ‘Electric Saddle’. In between hugging their mates. But in, like, a totally platonic way.
Mike:The whole Worlds album fucking rules and ‘Years of War’ is as good an example as any of the great music contained therein.
Hot 97 Summer Jam – Chumped
Mike: I covered my love for these guys in the Best Albums of 2014 post but if I absolutely had to pick out one song from these guys it would this one. Angsty, ultra nerdy pop punk that can’t be faked, this is just garage punk rock at it’s absolute finest. Love love love.
Easy Rider – Action Bronson
Mike: This is probably my favourite hip hop song of the year. I’m pretty late to the Action Bronson party, but this song has every thing I love in a great hip hop tune: a swirling, psychedelic rhythm topped with ragged unapologetic lyrics loosely based around the classic movie with which the song shares its name. As close to a classic hip hop tune as any you’ll hear this year.
Ghetto Tales – DJ Mustard
Dan: 2014 was pretty much The Year of Mustard. His house-influenced bare-blocks production became synonymous with hip-hop and R’n’B, with the tell-tale verbal signature ‘MustardOnTheBeat’ appearing at the beginning of tracks by YG, Ty Dolla $ign, 2 Chainz, Kid Ink, and Tyga this year, and pretty much everyone else the year before.
He also produced a record, 10 Seasons, which was a massive hit. This is sort of where a musical preference issue comes in for me because 10 Seasons probably should have made the ‘top albums’ chart, at least for me, but not being a massive fan of most modern r’n’b it made a lot of the record pretty skip-worthy for me. Entirely personal.
The hip-hop tracks however, I was a fan of, and Ghetto Tales being my pick probably also highlights another personal musical preference for ‘hip-hop that sounds a lot like hip-hop I grew up with.’ Ghetto Tales is a narrative ‘life in the ‘Hood’ rap underpinned by stark slow electro beat. Probably the stand out part of the song is the homage to Eazy-E’s Dr Dre produced ‘Boyz in tha Hood’ in the line “Woke up around noon, I knew that I had to be in mid-town soon”.
Yep, I’m that much of an old sad bastard. However, if I was the type I might use this as an illustration of a wider point – DJ Mustard potentially represents as big a seismic shift in production, particularly on the West Coast as one particularly wealthy former member of NWA did – a simple distinctive sound that is shaping a new style of hip-hop.
Seasons (Waiting on You) – Future Islands
Mike:“Seasons (Waiting on You)” was always gonna be pretty close to the top of any list of great songs in 2014. Propelled by an amazing Late Show performance and David Letterman’s mocking/ tribute to singer Samuel T. Herring’s unique dancing style, Future Islands were suddenly on everyone’s radar. And while the accompanying album Singles was amazing too, it’s opener and first single “Seasons (Waiting on You)” remains the band’s standout breakaway hit.
As much influenced by the Smiths as it is by synth-pop acts like Depeche Mode or Hot Chip, “Seasons” is an emotive, danceable pop classic for the ages.
Like a lot of trends fuelled by journalists wanting free tickets to places, a lot of it was hot air. I don’t feel bad about not being able to name more than one stand out Oslo Sound producer because neither could most of them. This name was almost certainly Todd Terje. This isn’t simply because it looks like a typo of ‘Todd Terry’ – his unique blend of disco and house was called by some people with cocaine habits, space disco, and his studio album ‘Its Album Time’ was a big cross-over-to-the-mainstream hit.
All this is well and good but why then pick this one track? And don’t say because it is a pun on Inspector Morse. No one cares about Inspector Morse anymore (though, interestingly, the Inspector Morse ‘Cherabin and Seraphim’ episode from the early-90s has one of the funniest depections of tabloid ‘acid house moral panic’ of any TV show ever). Inspector Norse probably appeals to my old-as-arse sensibilities – Terje’s first single off the record bounces along with an eighties electrodisco pulse. It is almost impossible not to dance to. While it’s sound owes a lot to the last time RayBans were cool, the feel and the sheer catchiness of the tune owes as much to Escort and Crystal Ark of a couple of years back: shiny dance music with catchy pop hooks.
After the Disco – Broken Bells, Bigger Party – Speedy Ortiz, Black Mambo – Glass Animal, Alena – Yumi Zouma, Take Me – Sisyphus, Only You – Ellie Goulding, Eyes of the Muse – King Tuff, Undone – The Bird and The Bee, No Longer Silent – Cairo Knife Fight, I’m On Fire – Nico Vega, I Don’t Know You Anymore – Bob Mould, Girl – The Number Ones, So Now You Know – The Horrors