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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The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part One: 100 – 81

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We’re back once again with a retrospective on the year that was. Here are the 100 songs that made my year – not only the building blocks for my musical experiences, but my personal ones too. It’s been a pretty amazing time to be a music fan, as all of these songs will attest to.

Before you go any further, I compiled a supplementary playlist of 50 songs I really enjoyed in 2014 that just missed out on the top 100. You can stream it over at Spotify by either clicking here or streaming directly below:

Once again, I have to preface that you are completely allowed to not enjoy all of the songs on offer here. Or even any of them, for that matter. I do put it to you, however, that nothing here is “wrong” just because you’re not a fan of it personally or if something you do like doesn’t appear. If you feel so strongly, why not make a list of your own? I double dare you.

It begins…

– David James Young, December 2014

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100. Corpus – Awash with Monotone

Feeling everything and nothing all at the same time. It’s truly one of the more difficult feelings to describe; leaving Sydney duo Corpus to enter the colour scheme and add a little synaesthesia to the mix of their cathartic, tense blend of third-wave post-hardcore and millennium-turn alt-rock. It projects a sense of distance and immediate proximity; of immeasurable loss and momentous gain. Not telling you all – and yet, in doing so, telling more than one might have ever suspected. “Awash with Monotone” is stuck in a moment – and, thanks to some masterful songcraft, it comes out alive.

99. Childish Gambino – Sober

Donald Glover is gonna just keep on doing Donald Glover. You get the feeling that he was going to be doing that anyway, regardless of whether anyone was listening or not. After ending out 2013 with because the internet, which folks either destroyed or called album of the year, the artist formerly known as Troy dropped both a mixtape and a new EP within immediate succession of one another. This end-of-summer rnb bliss release proved to be the pick of the litter, particularly when the pitch-shifted outro throws a smart, avant-garde curveball. Now we’re so high.

98. The Felice Brothers – Cherry Licorice

“I don’t care if it sounds ridic’lous!” sneers Ian Felice after announcing that the song’s title is all he’s interested in chewing on. Nor should he – as a matter of fact, “Cherry Licorice” could well be one of the most carefree songs of the year. Landing somewhere in the middle between Bob Dylan and Bright Eyes, there’s a simple joy to be had here: With its warm accordion and jangly guitar, the brothers offered up some particularly pleasant confectionery. Bonus points for rhyming ‘ladies and gents’ with ‘excrement,’ while we’re at it.

97. Die! Die! Die! – Get Hit

Two words. Six letters. An endless cycle of repetition. After awhile, “Get Hit” becomes more than a song title and a chorus – it’s a mantra; a cathartic cry out at those that are holding you back or holding you down. It exists on a vicious cycle, and there’s no getting off. Each snare roll sounds like a haymaker to the jaw, while Andrew Wilson laments over the ultra-violence with radiating guitar noise. The Dunedin natives have rarely sounded this dark, this brooding or this flat-out furious on record before. Furthermore, they’ve rarely sounded this good.

96. Chet Faker – Cigarettes and Loneliness

We all know what a love song sounds like. You’ve heard them on the radio, you’ve sung along to them… hell, you might have even written a couple yourself. This, conversely, is what a “love without love” song sounds like. Faker revels in his thinly-veiled non-chalance during the track’s verses before letting a bit of that heartbreak out as the song progresses – a little bit here and there, until he’s basically on his knees and openly mourning his failed, unrequited love without love. “Cigarettes and Loneliness” is the sound of a man falling apart.

95. Jacob feat. Luke Hughes – Floors

Much like Nicholas Cage, “Floors” is gone in 60 seconds. It does a lot more in that time, however, than Cage ever managed with that lousy remake of his. Odes to a life on the road are nothing new (what’s up, Willie Nelson?), but the vantage point of knowing that there’s always a show to be playing somewhere adds hope and a new perspective into the mix. Luke Hughes, frontman for the late, great Thesis, subsequently bowls the track over entirely with a roared refrain that is delivered with both love and hate. That’s touring for you.

94. Pixies – Snakes

If you asked “How many people thought the new Pixies album was terrible?” you’d get a raised hand from more or less everyone in the room. Were you to follow that up with “How many people actually heard the new Pixies album?,” however, the majority of those hands would be gone from the air. Yes, the proto-grunge legends somehow ended up as underdogs in 2014; but amid the backlash came this left-of-centre gem. Boasting some outstanding guitar work from Joey Santiago and some classic Black Francis weirdness, there was more to the Pixies 2.0 than met the eye.

93. Angus & Julia Stone – Heart Beats Slow

In their time away from the shared spotlight, both Angus and Julia released solo albums. While both had their merits, they also proved that there’s something truly special about their work together. The songwriting is stronger, the vocals tessellate brilliantly and the left knows exactly what the right is doing at all times. It’s as if they exist in a hive mind. It would certainly explain how a track like “Heart Beats Slow” comes so naturally to the siblings – with its drawn-out groove and reggae-tinged rhythm, it brought in the gentle breeze of familiarity and sent us sailing once again.

92. Broken Bells – After the Disco

10 years removed from The Grey Album, Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton is still finding new ways to push the proverbial envelope and challenge his listeners in his approach to both songwriting and production. Indeed, “After the Disco” almost sounds like one of his famed mash-ups – a dash of the Shins, a Chic beat, some prog-rock keys and a Queen bass-line. A potential mess, the song instead lets its colours run into something truly beautiful. What was initially thought to be a one-off between Burton and James Mercer back in 2010 has found life again – and what a life.

91. Passenger – Heart’s on Fire

It may be clear to all and sundry that a certain song stands as what pushed humble busker Mike Rosenberg into international superstar Passenger. The cracks certainly began to show, however, with this live favourite – often performed alongside Ed Sheeran and inevitably one of the more tender, beautiful moments of any Passenger set. Its premise is one that’s so simple, it could have come from anywhere – Cut Copy even attempted it several years prior with the apostrophe removed. That is, of course, until Rosenberg begins to sing. It’s clear, then, that it came from the heart. Directly.

90. Angus & Julia Stone – A Heartbreak

The Stones are often classified under the banner of folk rock, but it’s rare that a song of theirs is able to be considered as more of the latter than the former. That’s where “A Heartbreak” emerges, here serving as both the opening number to their self-titled third LP and a potential mission statement. The song is simply resplendent in its aphotic corners, muted guitars and stomping drums. The blunt yet understated lyrical content further indulges the two in their collective darkside – at the very least, they indicate that we’re not on that big jet plane anymore.

89. La Roux – Kiss and Not Tell

Elly Jackson arrived late in the game of the 2000s – figuratively within its final months – but was there just in time to drop in classics of the decade such as “In For the Kill” and “Bulletproof.” There weren’t any new classics to be found on La Roux’s second album, but there didn’t need to be. Honestly, Jackson simply sounded happy to be back making music under the moniker again. Here, she further immerses herself in synth-pop with flourishes of early Depeche Mode, a pinch of ABC and some classic La Roux ambiguity. It feels like home once again.

88. Ed Sheeran – Don’t

The second single from Sheeran’s chart-smashing x (say it “multiply”) raised a lot of questions to a lot of different people. “Is it about Taylor?” openly pondered the screaming teenage girls that make up a fair slice of the pie chart detailing his demographic. “Is it about Ellie?” tweeted the twenty-somethings supposedly above teen fandom and yet unable to help themselves in a little gossip. The most important question came, though, from true pop afficionados: “Exactly what more will it take to prove that this kid isn’t fucking around?” A career-best single from a career that is still yet blooming.

87. Hockey Dad – Beach House

The term “sports-montage rock” is often used as derogatory slang for lifeless, paint-by-numbers music that blends into the background of tackling, goal-scoring and cheering footage. This is only being brought up to preface something that must be said without any intent to insult: “Beach House” needs to be incorporated into a skate video and it needs to be done post-haste. This scorcher is a blend of Vampire Weekend hooks (“Ay! Ay! Ay!”), Wavves guitar tone and bounding, youthful exuberance. Oh, and it would be totes wicked rad if there were some kickflips to go with it.

86. Postblue – Pig

Kids have seemingly always been in bands that ape the musical stylings of a movement they either weren’t alive for or are far too young to remember directly. This, of course, doesn’t mean that those acts should be directly dismissed – it’s not the influences, per se, but what a band does with them. In regards to Melbourne-via-Byron’s Postblue, it means taking the definitive traits of the grunge era – snarling vocals, Big Muff pedal stomps and smart loud-quiet-loud dynamics – and wheezing some fresh air into them. It’s been done, sure, but right now no-one’s doing it better.

85. Latham’s Grip – Anyone Else

Anyone who’s been in a rock band can attest to that unbeatable moment where an instrumental break is being jammed upon, the eyes connect around the room and, without a word being said, it just keeps on going. That’s a huge part of “Anyone Else,” and it makes the song all that much stronger. Where many bands would cut off, Latham’s Grip push until they get through to the other side. It works wonders on what’s already an exceptional cut of garage-dwelling alt-rock. “All I’ve got is who I am,” laments vocalist Jesse Hepplewhite at one point. Sometimes, that’s more than enough.

84. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah feat. Matt Berninger – Coming Down

Where did we lose Alec Ounsworth? The foundations of the little Brooklyn band that could came crumbling sometime after 2007’s Some Loud Thunder, but its leader never gave up hope – even when figuratively the entire band left. The road to redemption begins here, with what is easily the project’s strongest single since “Satan Said Dance.” A buzzing rhythm section matches up with churning post-punk guitar as Ounsworth pours his peculiar brand of paranoia over the top. Later, The National’s Matt Berninger turns up to offer an even gloomier viewpoint; and the class of 2005 lives on somehow.

83. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk

Mark Ronson rocking up all non-chalantly with a single in November is basically like that Bill Murray cameo in Space Jam – you didn’t see it coming and it took most of the run-time to actually happen, but it’s what you’re going to remember it for. Along for the ride is your boy Bruno Mars – once a fedora-tipping lovesick puppy, now a swagged-out smooth operator calling the shots. “Uptown Funk” is Prince, it’s Sly and the Family Stone and it’s James Brown, but there’s something more important about it. It’s the trumpets sounding the return of the king.

82. FKA twigs – Two Weeks

This ain’t no Grizzly Bear cover. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around. Over a dizzying, clattered trap beat, twigs approaches her lover in the song’s lyrics with all the subtlety and nuance of a Prince record – the mix makes it feel as though she’s practically singing directly into his ear and we’re eavesdroppers. Who’d have guessed that an ode to stoned, bestial sex would wind up as one of the sexiest-sounding songs of the year? FKA twigs has rightfully emerged atop the throne after some promising leadups to her debut. Your move, motherfuckers.

81. Röyksopp & Robyn – Sayit

Scandinavians having sex with robots? Sure, why not. An adults-only sequel to the pairing’s original collaboration, 2007’s “Girl and the Robot,” things get decidedly hot and heavy this time around – even with a strictly limited amount of words actually being spoken. It’s all in the beat – hammering, propulsive and incessant; mercilessly pounding away on the bass drum to ensure there’s not a single second across the five-minute runtime when you’re not a sweaty, dancing mess. If ever you needed proof that these three are a match made in Heaven, here it is. Let’s get freaky.

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