The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Four: 40 – 21

We’re so close! Parts one, two and three… missed ’em? Not to worry? You can revisit them here, here and here. Let’s get down to some top 40 pop hits. Starting now.

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40. Fucked Up feat. J Mascis – Led By Hand

Here’s a strange proposition: The best Dinosaur Jr. song of the year did have J Mascis in it, but it wasn’t by Dinosaur Jr. In a standout moment from their exceptional Glass Boys LP, Pink Eyes and co. paid homage to proto-grunge wigouts while still maintaining their hardcore punk roots. There was perhaps no greater yin-and-yang in the year than when Mascis mumbled the song’s chorus as Pink Eyes let out a Roger Daltrey-worthy “YEAH!” atop of it. An unlikely pairing on paper, “Led by Hand” had everything making a whole lotta sense quite quickly. Follow it around.

39. St. Vincent – Digital Witness

What did Annie Clark learn from her time making music with David Byrne? Two major things. The first: Horns. They’re a weapon. Use them wisely. The second: Is something categorically weird in your song? Make it weirder. Taking this on board, “Digital Witness” is one of her finest tracks to date. Whether it was the spiralling pre-chorus melody, the stinging guitar wail or that all-encompassing hook, it was nigh-on impossible to deny the resonance of this rebirth. During one of the song’s many earworms, Clark boldly states “I want all of your mind.” You got it. Anything else?

38. The Kite String Tangle – Words

We’re still learning a lot about Danny Harley, the prodigious figurehead behind Brisbane bedroom phenomena The Kite String Tangle. Tracks like “Words” allowed us as listeners to edge slightly closer in this regard, and it was something to be extremely thankful for. A restrained exploration of post-dubstep balladry, Harley shrouds himself in light-and-shade contrasts, gently coaxing out confessional lyrics as distant lights flicker and glow on the outskirts. It shouldn’t add up that such depth and maturity has been achieved at such an early stage, but one would suppose The Kite String Tangle has always been against the odds.

37. Jane Tyrrell – The Rush

Lovers can fall hard and fast for one another, but where does one find oneself when fire turns to ice? It’s a complicated subject, and one that Tyrrell details with an outsider’s eye and an insider’s mind. She may have set up two characters in the song, but it’s safe to say that she sees more than just herself within them. Driven masterfully by the unmistakable drumming of PVT’s Laurence Pike, there are soaring highs and crushing lows that weave through the song’s relatively-short runtime. Tyrrell sees us through to the bitter end. It’s not like it’s her first time.

36. Ken Stringfellow – Kids Don’t Follow

If any song is stretching the friendship for its inclusion in a 2014 list, it’s surely this: A cover of a Replacements song from the 80s that was recorded in 2004 for a tribute album to the aforementioned college-rock legends that ultimately never came to be. This hazy barroom take on the anti-authoritative punk number came from acclaimed Posies and R.E.M. alum Ken Stringfellow; and collected dust until the release of a rarities compilation at the beginning of 2014. So, here we are. You best believe this sucker was worth uncovering. A smart, somewhat-sombre reworking from a truly underrated craftsman.

35. Babaganouj – Too Late for Love

Go Violets didn’t fade away, they burnt out. Their embers remain flickering within Brisbane’s still-thriving indie-pop village, as two of its members have resumed full-time positions in this little jangly garage outfit that could. “Too Late for Love” may have been born in the sunshine state, but it’s more European in flavour – there’s a strong dose of Camera Obscura, a hint of The Wannadies and sprinklings of Belle and Sebastian’s early work. None of this is said to deride the song, of course. It’s a reflection on how it immediately feels like home. May this band burn longer and brighter.

34. Kelis – Breakfast

Her milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, but what happens when one of those boys sticks around? Now in her thirties, Kelis is exploring the concept of finding love in wake of divorce. It’s quite an adult prospect, recurring on perhaps her most mature LP to date, Food. Many went with a helping of “Jerk Ribs” when asked to name the album’s standout, but it would be foolhardy to dismiss this triumphantly horn-laden take on neo-soul, complete with stunning chorus and adorable children’s backing vocals. Much like in life, “Breakfast” is the most important meal of the day.

33. Ben Howard – Conrad

A lot of pitch-black darkness took up Ben Howard’s second album – hell, it even took up most of the cover art. Positioned towards its latter half, “Conrad” allowed the LP to let a glimmer of light into the spectrum. It continues to look at where a past love went awry; and yet the song plays to the pop sensibilities that rewarded Howard such attention to begin with. Its shipmates are his exceptional guitar work, layered to the point of being a battalion front; as well as a hummed refrain that would even garner due respect from the Crash Test Dummies.

32. Luca Brasi – Borders and Statelines

Luca Brasi’s dues have been paid in full and with interest; and many within Australia’s punk community have spent the last few years in particular wondering as to when it would be their time. It was answered not with words, but an extremely loud action. The forceful, crashing drums, the stellar twin-guitar attack and the rousing, spirited chorus they always had in them… “Borders and Statelines,” contrary to its lyrics, will come to define this band in the very best way imaginable. There is a wolf in the throne room, and its name is Luca Brasi. There will be blood.

31. Swans – Oxygen

2014 saw Michael Gira turn 60 years old. He continues to haunt the realm of alternative/avant-garde music after thirty-plus years in the game with unfinished business. Amid an exhausting two-hour-plus release – the double-LP To Be Kind – came this truly terrifying beast. “Oxygen,” already a live favourite, can now officially stand as one of the biggest, boldest compositions to ever come out under the Swans moniker upon its long-awaited recording. Its opening moments are spent picking out one of the year’s most distinctive basslines; its dying moments forcefully hurls everything it has built up into the inferno. The in-between is unforgettable.

30. Death From Above 1979 – Right On, Frankenstein!

Yes, the most hyped new rock band of the year may well have been a bass-and-drums duo; but a vengeful return from the very band that made it cool in the first place made sure we all knew whose yard we were stepping into. “Frankenstein” fires off on all cylinders from its opening seconds, pounding through a barnstorming, breakneck dose of rock & roll that exists purely on Keeler and Grainger’s terms. Plus, it’s gotta be the best false ending to a song from this year: The dust settles, the bass rings out… then, POW! Right in the kisser!

29. Bertie Blackman – Run for Your Life

Another new Bertie Blackman album means another new Bertie Blackman. From the days of her favourite jeans to her flirtations with electronica on later releases, the chameleonic Blackman has rarely allowed herself to get too comfortable within a particular style in her decade-and-change of songwriting. “Run for Your Life” is no exception to this, although it would be wise to suggest she spend a little more time in this specific corner. She sounds right at home with the gated snare, thickly-layered synthesizers and the whoah-oh’d call and response. She may well have just stumbled across her own pop paradise.

28. Kiesza – Hideaway

Fred Armisen may have sung that the dream of the 90s was alive in Portland, but his radar was a little off. The dream of the 90s, friends, is alive in Kiesza, a twenty-something Canadian up-and-comer who dominated dancefloors throughout the entire year with this certified banger in her arsenal. From a crafting perspective, “Hideaway” is retro in the sense that it can appreciate that there was a “What is Love” and a “Rhythm of the Night” for every “Teen Spirit” and “Black Hole Sun.” Its spirit is alive and shuffling once again. Mash it.

27. Coldplay – Magic

In the year that the phrase “consciously uncoupling” entered the cultural lexicon, you could well have been forgiven for forgetting that Chris Martin actually made music this year. Sure, some people would like to forget it altogether, but that’s another story for another time. We’re here to talk about “Magic,” a single that allowed Martin and co. to recall the pop simplicity of their early days while connecting it to the fresh pain of a then-recent separation. If “Magic” proves anything, it’s that we can begin again. That, and Chris Martin can still write a bloody tune.

26. Tkay Maidza – U-Huh

Don’t let Tkay Maidza’s age fool you, nor the simplicity of her big-business single. MCs twice her age would kill for a flow so tightly syncopated, hooks this high in both quality and quantity and a beat as bright and boisterous as the one that fills the spaces of “U-Huh.” There are constant surprises around every corner in the current Australian musical climate; and Maidza is the latest to make a substantial impact. One hopes the fire spat here leads to a phenomenal debut LP next year. After all, as she puts it, “We don’t tolerate broke behaviour.”

25. Yoke – Jabiluka

A phrase as simple as “I never told her” is what centres itself thematically at the core of “Jabiluka,” so named after a mine in the Northern Territory of Australia. Each time it is uttered, there are further layers peeled back to reveal the pain, the regret and the loss that comes with delivering such a line. It’s conveyed emphatically, almost taking on new meaning with every repetition. Similarly, the song itself may externally feel like a Dev Hynes-flavoured slice of downtempo indie-pop, but further listening will see those very same layers revealing. A smart yet complicated song.

24. DZ Deathrays – Reflective Skull

Who gives a fuck about how many notes you can play? If you can play the right ones, in the right succession, you needn’t worry about a single thing more. The riff that “Reflective Skull” lives and dies by was not designed for any greater intellectual pursuit. It’s a primitive headbanger, locked into an undeniable stomping groove and launched forth with reckless abandon. Ironically enough, with its less-than-more approach, this could be one of the biggest sounding tracks that the Deathrays duo have ever put their collective name to. Altogether, now: DUN, DUN-DUN, DUN DUN DUN-DUN, DEWWWW DEWWWW DEWWWW.

23. Sia – Chandelier

Ten years removed from her previous signature song, the inimitable “Breath Me,” Sia Furler has penned herself a new standard; an anthem which will forever define her as one of not only Australia’s greatest singer-songwriter exports, but as a true mastermind behind pop music in the 21st century. Hyperbole? For Christ’s sake, go listen to that chorus again. Seriously. It feels like that Maxell ad campaign where the guy is being blown away by the sound in his chair. Maddie Ziegler may have given the song a second life, but it was all a part of Sia’s grander plan.

22. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

Don’t call it a comeback. Don’t even call it a reinvention. What we are seeing here is Brian Fallon and co. going out on a proverbial limb, gazing forlornly at what lies beyond. In leaving their comfort zone and exploring the possibilities of slower, more refined songwriting, Gaslight have undertaken a greater journey all with a single step. The title track from their latest record also served as one of their most striking, honest songs ever put to wax. It’s murmurs and whispers from a band defined by their shouts and screams, and it makes for a remarkable listening experience.

21. Tiny Ruins – Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens

The single greatest ode to love in 2014 came from the humble, warm abode of Auckland; where you’ll find the quaint, gorgeously understated sounds of one Hollie Fullbrook on the wind. The story is simply told, beautifully painted and pristinely arranged, as we follow the scent of young love through two uniquely different workplaces that somehow not only complement on another, but serve as a reflection on the resolute power that can come through finding love. Its greatest achievement, however, is its ability to accomplish all of this majesty in a decidedly slim 155 seconds. It just comes and goes.

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Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Two: 40 – 31

He’s at it again! Part one is here ICYMI.

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40. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

There’s an endless stream of great lyrics that flow through Modern Baseball’s second album, but perhaps its most telling moments come through its asides, its mumbles and awkward fumbles. “Yeah… about that…” comes with awkward pauses on ‘Fine, Great,’ while the line “I could not muster the courage to say a single word” practically falls over itself in ‘Apartment.’ It’s an awkward and uncomfortable record, but in a way it has to be in order to convey the dissatisfaction and blank, distant gazes that come with such sighing honesty among its smart pop-punk and understated alt-rock. Whatever forever.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Two Good Things, Notes, Your Graduation.

LISTEN:

39. DZ Deathrays – Black Rat
Spotify || Rdio

With the wizardry of Gerling alum Burke Reid guiding them, Brisbane’s finest party-starters maintained the rage on their all-important second album. It’s worth pointing out that there was far more to the album than what was presented on surface value: While DZ kicked their boots into several slices of snarling garage rock, they also found themselves slowing to a crawl and exploring the possibilities of more than one guitar – let’s try a half-dozen. Why not? Black Rat is the sound of a band expanding their empire, refusing to be either restricted or defined by what’s previously been laid out.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Northern Lights, Reflective Skull, Gina Works at Hearts.

WATCH:

38. Jane Tyrrell – Echoes in the Aviary
Spotify || Rdio

A supporting player that has had people begging for a lead, Jane Tyrrell is regarded as one of the finest vocalists to emerge out of Australia’s hip-hop community. Here, she takes those lessons learned and breathes fresh life into them. Assisted by a stellar team of producers and multi-instrumentalists, Tyrrell revels in deep, dark secrets; conveyed with the kind of sorrow that can only come from raw-nerve connections to every last lyric. At once breathily intimate and unreachably distant, Echoes is the sound of an artist taking flight for the very first – and certainly not the last – time.

THREE TOP TRACKS: The Rush, Echoes in the Aviary, Raven.

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37. Mere Women – Your Town
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

The bloodline of Mere Women runs through DIY punk, indie rock, basement electronica and warehouse post-punk. It fits in everywhere and nowhere at the exact same time; such is the nature of its genre traversing and integral versatility. Truth be told, there’s very few bands that quite match what it is that Mere Women do, and that’s never been more the case than on Your Town. Each note feels cacophonous, cold to the touch and bristling with anxiety and defeat. It all falls into place, painstakingly detailing what happens when things between people disintegrate into nothing at all. Truly jawdropping.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Our Street, Golden, Home.

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36. Outright – Avalanche
Bandcamp

There is no band in Australian hardcore right now more important than Outright. There is no band in Australian hardcore right now that will sit you down, shut you up and give you the severe reality check that you need the way Outright will. No album in Australian music this year was able to encapsulate such fury and such authoritative defiance like Avalanche did – and in such a short amount of time. How much more evidence do you need in order to see Avalanche as a milestone for its scene and its genre? Do we have everybody’s attention now?

THREE TOP TRACKS: A City Silent, Troubled, With Your Blessing.

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35. Megan Washington – There There
Spotify || Rdio

What kind of year has it been for Megan Washington? It’s all out in the open now. Everything. She’s publicly confessed to having a stutter, told all about a failed relationship that even had a wedding on the cards… hell, she’s even performing under her full name now. The details are not spared on There There, and its seemingly-cathartic release benefits both her and those that have always perceived her to be an excellent and important songwriter. This is Washington’s single best collection of songs, and those that investigate its innermost secrets are the ones that will be rewarded greatest.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Limitless, Marry Me, My Heart is a Wheel.

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34. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Spotify || Rdio

It doesn’t matter if it happened when she dropped her debut, when she teamed with David Byrne or even when she stole the show during SNL: You’ve fallen in love with Annie Clark. As St. Vincent, she has been responsible for some of the most arresting, envelope-pushing art-rock this side of the century. Not only was this reaffirmed on her self-titled LP, it showcased some of the finest examples of it. Whether she’s shredding with the flair of an 80s metal star or tiptoeing around delicate arrangements with the grace of a ballerina, the love affair remains in full swing.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Digital Witness, Bring Me Your Loves, Birth in Reverse.

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33. Tiny Ruins – Brightly Painted One
Spotify || Rdio

Hollie Fullbrook may be a particularly quiet artist, but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about her that will stun you into silence. She’ll be recalling a specifically-detailed story from her childhood at one point, falling helplessly in love with a nearby worker at another. What ties it all together is both Fullbrook’s knack for stunning melodies and impeccable, tidy arrangements incorporating warm horns, pinches of strings and her exceptional rhythm section. Brightly Painted One deserves to be seen, heard and known.

THREE TOP TRACKS: She’ll Be Coming ‘Round, Me in the Museum, You in the Wintergardens, Ballad of the Hanging Parcel.

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32. Slipknot – .5: The Gray Chapter
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

It was always going to be driving a hard bargain in order to make people care about Slipknot again. Six years have passed since their previous record, a tragic loss almost ended the band entirely and perhaps their best-known player exited the fold permanently. It’s either on account of this or in reaction to it, but The Gray Chapter is an album that overcomes every obstacle. It’s an album that makes the impossible possible, pounding its fists through the coffin and rising up to complete unfinished business. It’s the sound of a band who won’t go down without a fight.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Custer, Sarcastrophe, The Devil in I.

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31. J Mascis – Tied to a Star
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

On paper, an acoustically-oriented record from one of the most prominent, inventive electric guitarists of the past 30 years would appear to be fruitless, confusing and counter-productive. One pities the fool, of course, who would ever think to doubt or question the motives of one Joseph Donald Mascis, Jr. Whatever style of music he lends his formidable songwriting abilities to, the Dinosaur Jr. mainstay is sure to make it a worthwhile endeavour. Star marks his strongest solo album, delving into Nick Drake-esque introspect and sweetly-soft falsetto. It betrays what you know him best for, making it all the more fascinating.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Every Morning, Me Again, Wide Awake.

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