The 50 Best Songs of 2014

Music Lists Best Songs

Just as with our Best Albums of 2014 list, arriving at a general consensus for the Best Songs of 2014 proved an entertaining challenge. A whopping 301 songs got votes this year from our writers. To whittle that down to 50, we tallied the ballots and limited this list to one song per artist. And as with our Albums list, we hope this will be a jumping-off point, a way to highlight some of our favorites while sparking a conversation, so be sure to let us know which of your top tunes we missed in the comments section below.

Without further ado, we give you the Best Songs of 2014.

50. Total Control, “The Ferryman”
This instrumental off Total Control’s fantastic sophomore record is built on and propelled by a rigid bass line, which allows room for dripping synth noises and sneaky hi-hats to come at you out of the darkness. The song’s title can be interpreted a number of ways, and the music will take you someplace else altogether. Just another strange trip on an album full of them.—Mark Lore

49. Perfect Pussy, “Driver”
“Watch me, I’m kicking the wall,” Meredith Graves shouts at the opening of “Driver,” the closest thing to a standalone track on Perfect Pussy’s uppercut of a debut LP, Say Yes to Love. “Driver” isn’t so much a request for the listener to be a bystander, though, as it strikes a chord and resonates in its invitation to be a part of something, to facilitate changes in the norms. “Driver” allows the listeners to be both passengers on the journey and to take the wheel themselves. Graves leaves no doubt to where her journey will end. Referring to the aforementioned kicked wall, she concludes “I’ll break through it before I go.” Ideally, we’ll talk through the hole she creates, or we’ll kick through walls of our own. But yeah, Perfect Pussy is totally music to kick down walls to.—Philip Cosores

48. The Antlers, “Parade”
On “Parade,” The Antlers’ Peter Silberman lets the f-bombs rain in a most beautiful way. Yeah, you normally wouldn’t associate the word fuck with something gorgeous, but there is a looseness to the song, aided by the woozy horn section and the tipsy vocals that adds up to something cozy and warm. The album is called Familiars and “Parade,” like many songs on the stunning LP, revels in that sentiment.—Philip Cosores

47. The Hold Steady, “Spinners”
After an over-hasty victory lap on Heaven Is Whenever, “Spinners” was proof a-plenty that the Hold Steady had regained its focus for Teeth Dreams. It’s essentially a checklist of everything the band does well: enveloping guitar riff, fist-pump solo and vivid lyrics that set a scene while dispensing essential life lessons. “Heartbreak hurts but you can dance it off,” Craig Finn sings, and you just know he’s right.—Eric R. Danton

46. Tweedy, “Fake Fur Coat”
Though Sukierae was an album-length collaboration with son Spencer, Jeff Tweedy plays alone on this track, and he delivers a straight-up stunner. He picks out a timeless solo-acoustic guitar part that frames his drowsy voice on evocative lyrics at once oblique and poetic and as starkly confessional as anything he’s ever written.—Eric R. Danton

45. Allah-Las, “Every Girl”
The first time I heard this Allah-Las single, my ears instantly perked up at the opening bass riff. By the time the tambourine kicked in a few seconds later, I was sold, and when I reached the chorus, I knew I had found my personal favorite song of the year. “Every Girl” isn’t rocket science, but the best rock songs never are. It’s about being girl-crazy (“every girl’s the one for me”), and it spits out the names of potential beaus like it’s garage rock’s answer to Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5.” And oh my god, it’s catchy. Since that fateful first listen, I’ve cruised around with the windows down blasting this song more times than I can remember. I’ve brushed my teeth to it. I’ve danced solo to it in my apartment like I was starring in a Risky Business reboot or something. I’ve become completely evangelical about it, recommending it to anyone who’ll listen and some who won’t. In short, I’m obsessed and probably need help. But I don’t want your help, because I heard this song and I knew. I knew the way you know about a good melon;Bonnie Stiernberg

44. Prince, “BREAKDOWN”
“Listen to me closely as the story unfolds / This could be the saddest story ever been told.” So Prince begins the best ballad he’s released in more than a decade, and yet: this isn’t much of a story, nor is it really all that sad. Because “BREAKDOWN” is about, like much of ART OFFICIAL AGE, a pop and R&B icon who, at 56 years old, has never been more prolific, and now that means he’s accepted that his partying, philandering, chapless-buttcheek-ing days are behind him. In other words: here’s a Prince ballad that is no different from any other Prince ballad—all twinkling piano, insanely catchy falsetto, and pure lover’s devotion—only it may be his funniest. Because it’s Prince learning a healthy dose of humility, and he thinks that “could be the saddest story ever been told.” Also because there are laser beam noises.—Dom Sinacola

43. Mac Demarco, “Goodbye Weekend”
The streets of a city, at night, in the rain. Everything is obscure and muddled. People walk by, hunched under flimsy umbrellas, unable to get to their bar or restaurant or apartment or train station fast enough. They are dressed in dark, drab colors, indistinguishable from the dark and drab buildings they move between. Puddles project distorted reflections of streetlights. Vague outlines of shapes and figures bleed into storefronts and sidewalks and the blur of passing cars. But our hero is strolling, blissful and content, one heel in front of the other. He is leisurely twirling the rainbow umbrella keeping him dry. He is wearing white. His chin is up and he is smiling serenely. A wire hangs from each ear. He is listening to “Goodbye Weekend” by Mac Demarco.—Ryan Bort

42. Hospitality, “Rockets And Jets”
There’s more than a little of the UK’s ‘80s alternative sound in this track. A high-wire synth riff to open the song, sharp stabs of guitar, a heavier bassline and Amber Papini’s mellowed vocals all make “Rockets And Jets” a darker counterpart to the band’s energetic power-pop.—Eric Swedlund

41. Dum Dum Girls, “Rimbaud Eyes”
Dee Dee and company pay tribute to the late 19th-century poet Arthur Rimbaud on this driving goth-pop number. Like the rest of Too True, there’s a darkness to “Rimbaud Eyes” that marks a shift away from the Dum Dum Girls’ ‘60s girl group influences and a step closer to the likes of Siouxie and the Banshees, The Cure and The Jesus and Mary Chain. This is the song you play as you put on a bunch of shimmery makeup, maybe stomp on a rotting pumpkin and howl at the moon on Halloween—although as Dee Dee reminds us, “every moon is atrocious, every sun bitter.”—Bonnie Stiernberg

40. Ryan Adams, “Gimme Something Good”
“Gimme Something Good” was a fantastic way for Ryan Adams to announce that he was finally releasing his 14th studio album, and that song did not disappoint. Reflecting his earlier work, “Gimme Something Good” holds an energy that’s reminiscent of classic rock. And let’s not forget about that organ. Damn, we really did get something good.—Sarra Sedghi

39. BANKS, “Brain”
Jillian Banks’ debut LP features a number of production partners, but none mesh as symbiotically as fellow L.A. resident Shlohmo does on “Brain.” The song paints a confessional picture of a relationship not fulfilling expectations. The boy in the song is something BANKS should have “foreseen,” “blending into the scene,” afraid of being himself so as not to “threaten anything they say.” As BANKS completes the first verse, Shlohmo’s contribution takes over, adding tension for BANKS to virtually scream her sentiments again. The song comes across as the musical expression of frustration and anguish, opening a window into BANKS’ reality, whetting an appetite that would be satiated as the year progressed.—Philip Cosores

38. Cymbals Eat Guitars, “Jackson”
LOSE is a thick, twisty record about thick, twisty emotions—or at least that’s how it seems it would feel if you were experiencing it rather than just observing from a distance, puzzled. From its first track, the esoterically named “Jackson,” the album is a composite of tales of romance and tragedy and the melodramatic lines that lead from one to another, altogether reading like flowcharts of causality so dizzyingly inward-facing they form their own centrifugal force. With guitars rough and fuzzy like mold; with horns that scour the tension of painful memories like bleach; with woo-ooo choruses that lance light from festering sores: with “Jackson” begins an ode to stories told in languages understandable to no one but those who already know the ending. And somehow it’s a magnificently absorbing first chapter.—Dom Sinacola

37. Lykke Li, “No Rest for the Wicked”
This heavenly bit of reverb-heavy dream pop from the 28-year-old Swedish singer is the year’s most emotionally gripping breakup song. The instrumental is balanced beautifully between the chiming piano and the thundering drums, cradling Li’s vocals, full of heart-tearing loneliness and regret.—Eric Swedlund

36. Father John Misty, “Bored in the USA”
Like most Father John Misty songs, “Bored in the USA” is sad, beautiful and hilarious at the same time. There’s debt and fear of inadequacy in this portrait of American society, but in classic FJM form, there are also sarcastic pleas of “Save me, white Jesus.” When he sings “They gave me a useless education and a subprime loan on a craftsman home,” a laugh track kicks in, and the juxtaposition is brilliant. We can hardly wait for the rest of this album to drop next year.—Bonnie Stiernberg

35. alt-J, “Left Hand Free”
This is the song on This Is All Yours where alt-J becomes totally free, abandons the synths, and heads for the twang. It’s a complete and total outlier, which the band willfully admits is the “least alt-J song ever.” Apparently, they wrote it in 20 minutes to appease their U.S. label and give them what they wanted—a “big single.” And sure, maybe the song riffing on guns and spewing phrases like “Gee whizz” and “O-M-G” is meant to be a big joke on the U.S., but that doesn’t change that it’s the best one on the album. “Left Hand Free” represents alt-J gone catchy in a strange twist for the better. Turns out, a bit of songwriting convention combined with some of the band’s signature, spiraling weird, would lead to this—a carefree listen that embodies all possible associations surrounding the phrase “let loose.” Just watch the music video they released for it. It’s a pool party. I guess sometimes the best things arise out of accidents.—Alexa Carrasco

34. Yelle, “Ba$$in”
You don’t have to be a Francophile or even versed in the Romance languages to suss out the meaning behind Julie Budet’s lyrics on this riotous and delirious disco pop tune: she’s hot and bothered and ready to hit the sheets with a certain garçon. Recorded in glorious Technicolor by producer Dr. Luke, “Ba$$in” doesn’t go for sultry or coquettish. The four-to-the-floor beat and blinking bass line is the soundtrack for sweaty dancing, unfettered lust, and the hope that one will lead to the other.—Robert Ham

33. Sharon Van Etten, “Your Love Is Killing Me”
If Sharon Van Etten writes from the heart—and there’s not really any question about that—it’s a battered, bruised organ on this harrowing and powerful track from Are We There. Van Etten pushes her dusky voice to full-throated heights over crashing drums and waves of guitar and keyboards as she lists all the ways she will prevent herself from succumbing to a lover who gets off on the anguish he causes her. It’s part catharsis, part cautionary tale and completely riveting.—Eric R. Danton

32. Old Crow Medicine Show, “Sweet Amarillo”
After Old Crow Medicine Show’s collaboration with Bob Dylan on 2004’s “Wagon Wheel” turned a 1973 song fragment into their biggest hit, the band unsurprisingly jumped to attention when Dylan’s manager offered them the chance to complete a second unfinished gem. This time the result is “Sweet Amarillo,” a soaring pop-country classic-in-the-making grounded by the rootsy gravitas of Dylan’s influence and Old Crow’s string-band bonafides. Lead singer Ketch Secor reportedly reached for his harmonica when first working out the song’s sweeping hook, but Dylan countered with a request for the fiddle. Dylan was right and “Sweet Amarillo” reveals a band still boldly scouting the edges of its versatility.—Dan Holmes

31. Ty Segall, “Green Belly”
“I see the green in the belly of your eyes,” Ty Segall sings on “Green Belly,” and it’s easy to understand why one might be green with envy when staring him in the face. To be so notoriously prolific and still maintain the level of quality Segall has—this year’s Manipulator is arguably his best work—is pretty much unheard of. So yes, excuse us if we get a bit jealous as we listen to this gut-punch of an acoustic (!) track—Bonnie Stiernberg

30. Sturgill Simpson, “Turtles All the Way Down”
The dry production of the opening guitar strums takes you back to those perfect country records from the early ’70s. But the lyrics are far too abstract for a classic country record. “There’s a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane/Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain,” Simpson sings, alluding to the power of psychedelics. If this is the future of country, we’re on board.—Mark Lore

29. FKA twigs, “Two Weeks”
Though its followup “Pendulum” comes close, nothing on FKA twigs’ album kicks quite like “Two Weeks,” LP1’s first single and the closest she gets to a traditionally structured pop song. Its fluttering beats clench and scatter at each hook, while twigs’ voice rains down in sheets at the climax. With her gasping staccato, it’s a transparently sexual song, but the steamy details in the lyrics might not reveal themselves until the third or fourth listen.—Sasha Geffen

28. Tove Lo, “Habits (Stay High)”
Tove Lo is not one to shroud her lyrics in layers of allusion and obscurity. In “Habits (Stay High),” her anthemic debut single, the Swedish songstress spells out her own raw and destructive heartbreak in such a frank and unabashedly direct manner (“I’ve gotta stay high, all the time/ To keep you off my mind”) that it’s impossible not to become enamored with her honesty; she absolutely refuses to mince words, and the result is infinitely relatable. It’s not often, after all, that you get the chance to belt out lyrics to a breakup jam about the hedonistic indulgence of getting drunk, eating twinkies and puking in the bathtub, but we’re grateful to Tove Lo for the opportunity.—Christine Campbell

27. Jenny Lewis, “Completely Not Me”
Before Jenny Lewis jumped back onto all of our radar with her triumphant solo album, The Voyager, she foreshadowed her creative resurgence with “Completely Not Me” an exclusive track to the Girls Season Three soundtrack. Running under three minutes, it doesn’t take Lewis long to trot her falsetto onto the thinnest of ice, backed by subtle production by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij that recalls why we loved Modern Vampires of the City so much last year. The song might not have fit nicely on The Voyager, but as a standalone, it’s her best single in years.—Philip Cosores

26. Schoolboy Q/Kendrick Lamar, “Collard Greens”
There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the verses on this collaboration between Black Hippy members Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar; it’s all still weed, girls, and riches. But it’s the way the two play off the jazzy, popping beat (courtesy of Gwen Bunn) that gives this track such a delirious energy. Kendrick especially gets downright weird on his spotlight—dancing over the syllables of “I’m more than a man, I’m God / bitch touche en garde” or going into a stage whisper a few bars as he comes on to some unnamed lady. It serves to push Schoolboy to lay even deeper into the pocket, and come out swinging. The rest of album tries gamely to keep up with this raw shot of adrenalin but nothing on Oxymoron can compete.—Robert Ham

25. Girlpool, “Jane”
Jane punched Tommy in the mouth because he deserved it. That’s the premise of this Girlpool song sprinkled with high-pitched screeches and the magnetic combination of two young ladies in a back-and-forth battle of scream and song. Friends throughout the truly tough part of life—high school—Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker are like the baddest girls in school, screaming their girly rage through the hallways. But the duo isn’t cutting class just to frolic in the fun and play on their respective instruments. No, they have a message and they’ll sing it loud and banging. “Don’t ever feel imprisoned, feeling like your mouth is glued tight shut,” they chant on “Jane.” “You were born for a reason, share all your feelings/ If you are a Jane, put your fist up too.” By the end we’re convinced. We want to be a Jane even if we’re not. It’s the power of unison—two girls, together, wild and defiant, telling us to be ourselves. It’s empowering and fun as hell, too.—Alexa Carrasco

24. Phantogram, “Fall in Love”
Is it lame to say that I immediately fell in love with this song? Because I fell hard. The song’s electronic instrumentals against Sarah Barthel’s smooth voice are almost otherworldly, and the delicate string motif and soft keyboard backing the bridge tether you back. It’s like you’re floating, falling. Is “Falling in Love” going to be what the future sounds like? Because if so, I’m okay with that.—Sarra Sedghi

23. Caribou, “Can’t Do Without You”
In a time where we mostly associate EDM with brain-jumbling bass drops and drugged-out teenagers, Caribou is a reminder of the full spectrum of dance music. His first single off his excellent Our Love LP is “Can’t Do Without You,” which evokes Motown and R&B as much as it flirts with underground rave culture. Through the vision of the Canadian producer and musician, these don’t have to be mutually exclusive genres, and the song liquifies at its conclusion to something that is less definable. It’s something new. It’s music. And, it’s beautiful.—Philip Cosores

22. Cloud Nothings, “I’m Not Part of Me”
Cloud Nothings’ Here and Nowhere Else closer “I’m Not Part of Me” works lyrically as a breakup song, with Dylan Baldi finding healing in the line “I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else, how to focus on what I can do myself.” The song works structurally, with a hooky verse followed by a hooky pre-chorus followed by a hooky chorus followed by a hooky bridge. It works in terms of ambition, stretching out what would typically be a compact blast of a couple minutes in the past, without resorting to the drawn-out jams Cloud Nothings tend to include a couple times on their recent albums. But maybe most interestingly, the song works at hinting at something more than all of these more surface pleasures. “I’m not telling you all I’m going through,” Baldi repeats, indicating that mentally and emotionally, heartbreak may not be all that is at stake. We can hypothesize what is going on with the speaker in the songs, but by ending on this note, Baldi is building the mystery, leaving the listener wanting more, proving as clever as he is raw.—Philip Cosores

21. King Tuff, “Black Moon Spell”
From the second someone turns the gain on the fuzz pedal all the way up on “Black Moon Spell,” the opening track off King Tuff’s new album, it’s pretty obvious that both speakers and minds are about to be blown. The Los Angeles-based trio has developed a style of glam-garage rock over its past three LPs, and this title track encapsulates that space King Tuff has come to rule. Frontman Kyle Thomas plays the feedback-fueled main riff twice to open “Black Moon Spell,” and just before the third repetition, Ty Segall (who guests on the record) blasts the drums so ferociously that the only prescription is Thomas’ howls about the dark sorcery of his “Black Moon Spell.” The song is devious and mutinous, a pump-up song for an overall excellent record. —Hilary Saunders

20. Against Me!, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
The title track of Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues cuts right to the chase after Laura Jane Grace’s highly publicized tale of coming out as transgendered in 2012. Here, the songwriter gives every bit of grit she’s been known for with heartbreaking line after line: “You want them to notice/ The ragged ends of your summer dress/ You want them to see you like they see any other girl/ They just see a faggot/ They hold their breath not to catch the sick.” With an inbox stacked with albums retelling tales of lost love, sometimes recorded in cabins; or musings on the human condition; or on weirder days, food, Grace’s gutting honesty on this not-so-universal experience is the realest thing I’ve heard in…I really couldn’t tell you how long.—Tyler Kane

19. First Aid Kit, “My Silver Lining”
With “My Silver Lining,” First Aid Kit successfully tap into the same charmingly somber, country-tinged Americana that they’ve perfected with two (now three) albums’ worth of folksy gold. The Swedish sisters belt out world-weary lyrics far beyond their years; for two barely twenty-somethings, Johanna and Klara aren’t shy at all about living in the past and seemingly carrying a life’s worth of bad luck on their shoulders. Like old souls, they lament the swiftness of time’s passing (“There’s no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on/ And you’ve just gotta keep on keepin’ on”) but manage to forge ahead all the while, carving out a style that draws from the past yet is uniquely their own.—Christine Campbell

18. Temples, “Shelter Song”
Kettering, Northamptonshire. It sounds like the perfect place for two lads named James Edward Bagshaw and Thomas Edison Warmsley to start a home-studio project channeling the psychadelic prog-rock of ages past. But the band’s buzz didn’t come out of nowhere—Bagshaw had a modest hit in 2006 with his former band Sukie. “Shelter Song” was released as a single in 2012, but it’s new to us, a perfect little swirling love song to kick off the band’s 2014 debut, Sun Structures. East Midlands never sounded so good.—Josh Jackson

17. tUnE-yArDs, “Water Fountain”
The wildly creative project of the oft-face-painted vocalist, percussionist, looping queen and ukulele player Merrill Garbus, tUnE-yArDs has earned a reputation for non-traditional instrumentation and aesthetics. On Nikki Nack, tUnE-yArDs’ third LP and most complex effort to date, lead single “Water Fountain” reconciles that spirit with a touch more accessibility and commerciality. Garbus balances Haitian-inspired bang-on-a-can percussion and coy social commentary with an easily mimicked melody and grooving bass line, sparking those primal instincts to join in and sing along. —Hilary Saunders

16. The Both, “Milwaukee”
While Ted Leo and Aimee Mann both leave their fingerprints on the collaborative tracks that comprise their first album as The Both, “Milwaukee” leans on the Leo side of the fence hard, with its bluesy guitar leads and hand-clap-demanding tempo. The song commemorates the band becoming a band in Milwaukee, all while hinging the chorus on the word “nucleus” without sounding too ridiculous, and clearly plants the duo in the light they have always felt most comfortable—that of celebration and confidence.—Philip Cosores

15. Spoon- “Rainy Taxi”
Two decades in, Spoon sounds as urgent as ever on “Rainy Taxi,” the third track on They Want My Soul. With the addition of keyboardist Alex Fischel and producer David Fridmann, it’s also a busier mix than Britt Daniel usually opts for, but it works on this dark and desperate song. This is classic Spoon with subtle touches of something new. After “the brightest flash of apocalyptic ruin,” Daniel’s lyrics border on menacing: “If you leave, you better run away for good.”—Josh Jackson

14. 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

13. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, “Stranger to My Happiness”
A bout with cancer delayed the release of Sharon Jones’ Give the People What They Want, but when she made her return in January (just weeks after her last chemo session), she didn’t miss a beat. “Stranger to My Happiness” is a deceptively upbeat tale of jilted lovers, with Jones playing narrator and offering bemused warnings (“now if you think that’s a thing that only evil men can bring, let me skin this cat another way”). Despite the song’s title and subject matter, like anything Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings do, it’ll leave you grinning and feeling pretty great.—Bonnie Stiernberg

12. St. Vincent, “Birth in Reverse”
“Birth in Reverse” is Annie Clark’s stand against regression and banality in American society. Our protagonist seems to be starring in some bizarre sitcom, trapped in an ordinary existence where she takes out the garbage, masturbates and is “still holding for the laugh.” But Clark urges us to break out of our own four walls and reach for something bigger. “Laugh all you want but I want more,” she sings. “And what I’m swearing I’ve never sworn before.”—Bonnie Stiernberg

11. Angel Olsen, “Hi-Five”
“Hi-Five” wouldn’t sound out of place in a darkened honky tonk; it also wouldn’t sound strange soundtracking a Lynchian underworld. A perfectly plucked bass line a light dusting of cosmic fuzz takes it to a dark place, abetted by the opening line, “I feel so lonesome I could cry,” which sounds extra dreary when she holds that final note.—Mark Lore

10. PHOX, “Slow Motion”
Everything the young Wisconsin sextet does well shines on this first single from the band’s self-titled debut. Atypical elements—whistling, banjo and clarinet—are all incorporated tastefully, but the song’s (and band’s) true star is singer Monica Martin. Sultry, soulful and powerful, Martin’s vocals are absolutely captivating.—Eric Swedlund

9. Perfume Genius, “Queen”
“Queen” stomps heavy and deep, one note at a time. As far as fist-pumping bursts of triumph go, it’s a slow one. Sure, the keyboards innocently glisten, but Perfume Genius’s first single from Too Bright holds so much menace between its ribs. Mike Hadreas strikes a pose as a threat to the American nuclear family, while his verses talk around the threats his body can pose to himself. His voice’s constant quaver is suddenly dislodged from its usual melancholy piano backing, dwarfed by electric bass and choral harmonies, leaving him to make up the difference with the bite of his words alone. “Queen” unsettles the idea that you need to feel great yourself to shine bright. It’s okay if you wake up every day in a body at odds with the yearning inside it. It’s okay if you feel disgusting. Go get your gleam.—Sasha Geffen

8. Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
“Seasons (Waiting on You)” sees a universal experience portrayed with respect for the human condition, and Samuel Herring showcases an even-handed distribution of youthful longing and frustration with mature wisdom and perspective. Herring’s deep, husky and often untamable delivery peppers this spread with personality, sounding like an only son of Dracula raised in an ‘80s disco.—Philip Cosores

7. The War on Drugs, “Under the Pressure”
There’s so much to explore in the eight minutes and 50 seconds of “Under the Pressure,” the opening track on The War on Drugs’ excellent Lost in the Dream, but what hooked me the first time, in my car, came at the 4:08 mark. I was listening at the insistence (and persistence) of a Twitter follower, and though I could tell almost immediately that I wouldn’t be wasting my time—that this song was really, really good, and with it probably the entire album—it wasn’t until the halfway point that I really understood why. The lyrics are mostly expressionistic, and when you consider that even after multiple listens the Internet can’t decipher them all, you can imagine how well I understood Adam Granduciel on my maiden voyage. The melody was strong, though there was no chorus, and the energy had a pulsing, Springsteen-like urgency that I loved. What changed and clarified at the 4:08 mark, when the song seemed like it might be winding down, was as simple as a heavier drumbeat; on its face, nothing revolutionary. But what it did was expand the song into its true form, as something that wasn’t yet halfway over, and had life to spare. It made complete sense—this song had to be eight minutes long, had to to unfurl into controlled chaos, and had to grab you by the shoulders, like a mad genius, and make you see exactly what the fuck it was talking about. I love it, and I think when you look at the lyrics, you get closest to the theme when Granduciel sings, “You were raised on a promise / To find out over time / Better come around to the new way / Or watch as it all breaks down here.” The greatness, though, is in the driving impetus, the unspoken vitality and anger and exuberance and defiance that brings you to a visceral crest and lets you ride it just as long as you’ve got the spirit and the spine.—Shane Ryan

6. The New Pornographers, “War on the East Coast”
Dan Bejar outdid himself—and everyone else in the band—with this track from Brill Bruisers. It’s textbook power-pop, balancing hooks with heft and topping them off with inscrutable lyrics that are pure Bejar. In a way, this song set the tone for the album: when leader A.C. Newman joked early on that he wanted Brill Bruisers to sound like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Bejar responded with this song, and the race was on.—Eric R. Danton

5. Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar, “Never Catch Me”
Here Steven Ellison fulfills his nom de guerre, and floats, cross-legged, above a jazz mélange befitting a beat-maker who’s transcended all descriptors that would ever allow “Never Catch Me” on radio, on television, in anything but your heart. And here Kendrick Lamar slinks around the best combination of words ever uttered in the course of his career thus far, and not because he’s never sounded so effortless, or so confident, and not because he’s never felt so implicitly right, but because here he raps of death, of duplicity, and of embracing the end of all things as one would embrace a grandmother who has knitted you the perfect sweater, or as one would hug close your cousin at the airport: you try not to think about it often, but you’re glad when you spend some time with it and try to understand what it’s been up to lately. Here is everything Kendrick has ever wanted to say finally said. Here is the breathtaking accuracy of FlyLo’s vision, happy-sad ecstasy made sonic flesh as two artists at the epitome of their game yell, going full YOLO into the breathtaking beyond.—Dom Sinacola

4. Courtney Barnett, “Avant Gardener”
Courtney Barnett is a poet, and this song is why I love her. It was the lead single off her 2013 EP How to Carve a Carrot Into a Rose, but I didn’t hear the track until it released on this year’s The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. Once I heard it, I wasn’t just a Courtney Barnett addict, I was specifically an “Avant Gardener” addict. Barnett puts a smart twist on stream of consciousness and is so casual in her genius that listening to “Avant Gardener” is like hearing a clever story told by the coolest girl you know. In this song, she transports us to her backyard on a hot “mundane” Monday when she has an anaphylactic asthma attack. She’s intimidatingly cool, referencing Uma Thurman “post-overdose” and comparing her failure to properly use an inhaler to not being “good at smoking bongs.” It’s hard not to want to quote every line. “The yard is full of hard rubbish it’s a mess and/ I guess the neighbors must think we run a meth lab/ We should amend that/ I pull the sheets back/ It’s 40 degrees and I feel like I’m dying,” she tells us deadpan and twisted. Like an expert storyteller, every line propels the tale, yet her surprising use of rhyme makes it impossible to know where she’s taking us. We just have to trust. And trust we do.—Alexa Carrasco

3. Alvvays, “Archie, Marry Me”
As if this song weren’t already impossibly catchy, it’s also a marvel of structure. While singer Molly Rankin addresses her wary paramour in wistful tones, the roiling fuzzed-over guitars suggest there are more chaotic impulses lurking just below the surface of her rational, rather modest and drily hilarious requests for commitment.—Eric R. Danton

2. Ages and Ages, “Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)”
I’m usually not an obsessive person. Okay, my wife and I did blow through Friday Night Lights pretty quickly. And I am currently on three soccer teams. Then there was that five-pound bag of gummy bears I bought on Amazon earlier this year…But needing to hear a song daily—okay, maybe more than daily—only happens to me about once a year (my officemates can provide you with a list). This year’s musical addiction is “Divisionary (Do the Right Thing).” Even my kids know all the words. And hey, there are worse choruses to teach them than “Do the right thing, do the right thing / Do it all the time, do it all the time / Make yourself right, never mind them / Don’t you know you’re not the only one suffering.” Every song on Divisionary sounds like a bunch of friends having fun making noise—like Edward Sharpe without the cult-y vibe. But it’s the title track that you won’t want to get out of your head.—Josh Jackson

1. Sylvan Esso, “Hey Mami”
The Song of the Year should be one that makes you remember exactly where you were and how you felt when it first graced your senses. It should conjure up even the smallest details of that original moment. For me, the first time I heard Sylvan Esso’s “Hey Mami” was on a cross-country drive on Highway 10, in that dreary stretch of Texas that has absolutely nothing to look at for eight hours. I popped in a pre-release stream of Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut and was greeted to singer Amelia Meath’s gentle coo singing “Hey Mami, I know what you want Mami…Hey Mami, I know what you want Mami…” Her comfortably settling vocal intro felt similar to the album’s first single, “Coffee,” but about a minute and a half later, something happened. Producer Nick Sanborn dropped an explosive bass-boom to accompany Meath’s voice, and everything I thought I knew about Sylvan Esso up to that point was thrown out the window as my energy was rattled into motion and elation. These are the beautiful and lasting moments in music; the one’s you don’t expect, yet were everything you ever wanted.—Adrian Spinelli

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