#20. “Stay With Me” – Sam Smith
In a lot of ways, 2014 was the year of Sam Smith. Riding high on the residual impact of Disclosure’s “Latch”, he released his stellar Nirvana EP in late January and from that moment, he had my attention. His unreserved emotional outpouring and his breathtaking vocal acrobatics quickly caught the attention of the general public when “Stay With Me” hit the radio. There are a few of his songs that could have made this list (“Nirvana” and “Lay Me Down” come to mind) but “Stay With Me” was his triumph. Read my review of the Nirvana EP right here.
#19. “You’re Love Is Killing Me” – Sharon Van Etten
In case the title didn’t give it away, “You’re Love Is Killing Me” is a big ol’ high stakes drama that gives me chills nearly every time I hear it. Like a contemporary Shakespearean heroine Sharon Van Ettan belts out the lines “Burn my skin so I can’t feel you, stab my eyes so I can’t see” like its just another tragic part of falling in and out of love. She broke out in 2012 with Tramp and she has only solidified her status as an elite indie singer-songwriter with this year’s superb Are We There.
#18. “Water Fountain” – tUnE-yArDs
WOO-HA! WOO-HA! Man, tUnE-yArDs have such a fun brand of weird and “Water Fountain” is the pinnacle of that towering strangeness. With complex rhythms, layered vocal chants and more ‘woo-ha’s than you can shake a stick at, what more could you ask from one of the indie world’s quirkiest acts?
#17. “Tuesday” – I LOVE MAKONNEN ft. Drake
I do not love I LOVE MAKONNEN but I do love this song. It’s irresistible and inescapable. I have a hunch that club owners across America have seen a bump in Tuesday night sales and they owe this song everything. Drake does typical Drake things. I LOVE MAKONNEN does whatever he does. No part of this song is particularly impressive but the sum of the parts is nothing less than a phenomenon.
#16. “Close Your Eyes (and Count To Fuck) – Run The Jewels ft. Zack De La Rocha
Run the Jewels just about burned 2014 to the ground and “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” was a big freakin’ barrel of lighter fluid. Powered by an assaulting sample of Zack De La Rocha’s voice shouting “RUN THEM JEWELS FAST”, this song is an irreverent, no holds barred anthem of attack.
#15. “Calm It Down” – Sisyphus
I discovered Sisyphus while taking a road trip to LA with a buddy to see Arcade Fire perform back to back nights at the Forum. We spent a significant amount of time in the car that weekend and Sisyphus provided a constant soundtrack for us. Consisting of singer/songwriter/genius Sufjan Stevens, rapper Serengeti and producer Son Lux, Sisyphus is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. As far as I know indie-electro-prog-rap isn’t really a thing but Sisyphus have already managed to perfect the genre. Their self titled debut album is somewhat hit or miss but the hits thoroughly took my breath away and “Calm It Down” is one of them.
#14. “Take Me To Church” – Hozier
“Take Me To Church” confidently sits on the shelf of ‘Songs You Couldn’t Escape in 2014’ but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a damn fine piece of music. Dark, passionate and desperate, “Take Me To Church” is a somewhat surprising crossover hit and it’ll definitely be one of those Coachella moments when 60,000 people pack his stage to hear this song and then immediately leave once he’s played it. But good on Hozier for making some magic happen when a choir group crashed his intimate show in Paris. Seriously watch this video. If doesn’t make you smile and/or give you the chills you might not have a soul.
#13. “An Ocean In Between the Waves” – War On Drugs
A buddy of mine called War On Drugs ‘Hipster Springsteen’ but on “An Ocean In Between the Waves” they sound more like ‘Hipster Dire Straits’. Over 7 minutes long and constantly changing, this track is what sold me on the band. Their extraordinary Lost in the Dream took a little while to warm up to but this song had its hooks in me the first time I heard it. The steady escalation and guitar work are an inspiration and even though its irrefutably derivative of some other artists, there is a real nuanced execution throughout this song and the entire Lost in the Dream album.
#12. “i” – Kendrick Lamar
I remember getting a text in the hours after this song was released from a friend claiming that this song will be in every TNT NBA commercial for the rest of the year. A few months later, the NBA season starts to ramp up and the first commercial I saw for NBA on TNT featured Kendrick Lamar’s latest. But how could it not? Kendrick has the entire world waiting with bated breath to see what he does for his next album. The only real teaser we’ve had is this groovy anthem of self confidence and even though the expectations are sky high, he has every ounce of talent, skill, confidence and will power to deliver another instant classic like good kid, M.A.A.D city.
#11. “Do It Again” – Royksopp & Robyn
Royksopp & Robyn offer a masterclass of electro-pop on this absolutely massive banger. Electro-pop singles have saturated the music landscape over the past few years with constant efforts from the biggest names in EDM to pair with the biggest names in pop to push the arms race forward. Then, with almost no warning the reclusive Norwegian electronic duo resurfaces with Sweden’s high priestess of pop. Game over.