Each of the past four springs, we’ve taken the opportunity to gather some of the best songs of Q1—a quick, unscientific snapshot of what’s caught everyone’s attention so far. Unlike our year-end lists, there’s no real method to the madness other than me spending a week listening to the suggestions of our staff and writers and picking the ones I like best. It’s really just a way for me to discover—and share—some great new music.
This year new bands seem to dominate the picks, though several established artists like Beck, Conor Oberst, St. Vincent and Drive-By Truckers had no problem getting our attention. The surprises for me were how much I liked a couple of songs by artists outside my usual playlists, namely Rick Ross and Against Me!. There are also a couple of noteworthy collaborations—Mountain Man’s Amelia Meath joins Megafaun’s Nick Sanborn in Sylvan Esso (I really wish they’d gone with MegaMountainMan), and Ted Leo and Aimee Mann form The Both.
I’m sure our opinions will change greatly by the end of 2014, but for now here are my 27 favorites songs so far.
27. MØ – “Pilgrim”
Scandinavia has long been a major musical player, but the three countries that make up the region are having a particularly strong 2014, especially from their ladies. While Lykke Li, Little Dragon, and First Aid Kit held down the Swedish domination of the music landscape, Norwegian Mr. Little Jeans and Danish MØ offered up strong debuts in the first quarter of the year, with MØ’s “Pilgrim” being not a particularly accurate representation of the region’s sound, but maybe a glimpse of the possibilities. The song is very organic sounding and lacks busy-ness or excessive production gloss, with just plain horns leading the charge to pop success. All of these artists do their best when emphasizing that which makes them unique, and “Pilgrim” is an ace example.—Philip Cosores
26. Gardens & Villa – “Domino”
When I was in middle school, I played the flute. It was an instrument that was maybe not the coolest in the band (the drummers nabbed that title) or the biggest (hey, tubas) but it was easy because most of the notes were the same as the recorder, which we all learned when they taught us to read music. Had I known you could make a flute sound as utterly danceable as Gardens & Villa does in the opening to “Dominos,” maybe I’d have stuck with it: beyond the earworm of a melody the instrument introduces, the track’s ambient vocals and pulsing beats will probably keep this song bouncing around in my head (and blasting through my car speakers) all summer long.—Dacey Orr
25. Beck – “Blue Moon”
Beck might have returned with some familiar folky tones on Morning Phase, but he still hadn’t abused too much of a good thing. A prime example, the down-tempo “Blue Moon,” which is unclear whether it was inspired by the crafty brew of the same name. What we do know: this lush, hummable (and great) tune and will have you headed back for seconds before the lunar cycle restarts.—Tyler Kane
24. Robert Ellis – “Still Crazy After All These Years”
Let’s file this one under “Great Achievements in Song Choice.” Robert Ellis’ tenor is perfectly suited to Paul Simon’s 1975 classic, and he manages to do the original justice while also making it his own, turning it into a nostalgic country lament and adding some fantastic guitar work. A lot of people who haven’t seen him live don’t realize that Ellis can truly shred, and his solo on this track is one step towards rectifying that, but ultimately it’s that voice that cleanly cuts through everything else and holds our attention on this gorgeous cover that should do Simon proud.—Bonnie Stiernberg
23. Conor Oberst – “Hundreds of Ways”
After years of silence from the frontman of Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst returned with a grab bag of ways for his fans to cope on Upside Down Mountain’s first single, “Hundreds of Ways.” Featuring beautiful, booming (and unexpected) production twists and turns from Jonathan Wilson, the single was a reminder of how good a great Oberst tune can be.—Tyler Kane
22. Hospitality – “It’s Not Serious”
Admittedly, my relationship with Hospitality’s latest full length Trouble, is getting, well, kind of serious. The first single, “I Miss Your Bones,” is designed to lure you in, but “It’s Not Serious” is a little more low-key, with understated instrumentals and a refreshingly blasé attitude toward romance. And honestly? On its most basic level, I love that this song’s got a dude walking me home and folding my laundry, but then immediately reminds him that doesn’t mean it’s serious. High five, Hospitality.—Dacey Orr
21. Nick Waterhouse – “It No. 3”
On his rendition of his old pal Ty Segall’s “It No. 3,” Nick Waterhouse smoothes out any garage-rock rough edges and adds the kind of slick instrumentation that…well, that makes it sound like a Nick Waterhouse song. But the heart of the song remains, with Waterhouse sounding positively menacing, especially on those “woh oh ohhhhh”s.—Bonnie Stiernberg