The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Two: 80 – 61

In case you missed out on part one, you can check out the previous 20 songs here. If not, then let’s get right back into it…

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80. Manchester Orchestra – Top Notch

Four albums in and Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull is still searching. Not just for himself, or some kind of greater truth; but for what can be found and what can be learned in the ways other people. He remains one of the poignant and powerful voices within contemporary indie rock, and this is cemented with the resolute, belligerent opener to April’s Cope. An occasionally-cacophonous affair, Hull remains centred at its core. “I know there’s no way to fix it” isn’t a line delivered with despair – it’s a line delivered with acceptance. The search continues.

79. sleepmakeswaves – Something Like Avalanches

The last twelve months have seen sleepmakeswaves translate their cult status among fans of local music into something far greater than any of them could have anticipated: top 40 chart positions, ARIA and Triple J award nominations and a reputation as our single greatest post-rock export. At the centre of this has been “Something Like Avalanches,” which lead us into their exceptional Love of Cartography while also serving as quite possibly their single finest moment. Its whisper-to-shout progressions, seemingly-endless array of left-hooks and bursts of energy tidily summarise why we’re dealing with one of Australia’s most important bands right now.

78. Run the Jewels feat. Zach de la Rocha – Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)

A hip-hop behemoth, an effortlessly-cool underground king and one of the true rock revolutionaries of the 90s – what could possibly go wrong? On what was one of the year’s most badass numbers, Mike and Jaime bark with authoritative force over malfunctioning, bass-gurgling beats; dropping references to everything from Al Pacino to The Anarchist Cookbook. This all happens before leading in the former Rage Against the Machine frontman on a verse that is potentially his most vital since The Battle of Los Angeles a whole fifteen years ago. Old dogs, new tricks and a certified banger to show for it.

77. Mere Women – Our Street

The idea of impermanence within the confines of a relationship isn’t something that’s often brought up in songwriting – we’re either at blossoming, tender beginnings or the hateful, bitter end. “Our Street” is a song that looks at that moment where you see the end in sight – the hook of “I’ve walked down this street so many times” is one of both familiarity and frustration through boredom. It’s backed by some of the best guitar sound on any record in 2014; as well as a minimal but noticeable shade of accessibility shining through the band’s art-rock exterior. Misery loves company.

76. The Decemberists – Make You Better

Colin Meloy’s days of drowning children, barrow boys and giant whales are behind him. That’s not to suggest that he’s lost any of his imagination in his hyper-literate songwriting, but more that he’s focused back in on reality. On his band’s first single in four years, he guides his acclaimed wordplay through a romance that seeks co-dependence and relit flames while maintaining an honesty about what it all means. It’s unpretentious in its delivery, and yet it still leaves an impact just as strong as any of their more melodramatic numbers. A great mind of modern music has rebooted.

75. The New Pornographers – Champions of Red Wine

Less than a year after dropping an exceptional solo LP, Neko Case was at it again; this time with the Canadian collective she made her name with all those years ago. Years have passed since the last Pornos offering, and yet it immediately falls back into place; albeit with slightly different surroundings. An earth-orbiting synthesizer leads the fray; which weaves in and out of a washed-out acoustic guitar, a sturdy kick-kick-snare backbeat and some truly beautiful vocal interplay between Case and A.C. Newman over a wordless Irish-folk-flavoured refrain. No time for losers – The New Pornographers are still the champions.

74. Modern Baseball – Two Good Things

Detached, disillusioned, dissatisfied, dissociative… this, people, is how youth of today are feeling. Modern Baseball did a better job than most (if not all) of reflecting this on You’re Gonna Miss It All, providing a song that’s both endlessly quotable (“Mathematically, that can’t be more than one end of a candle/Bottom of the night, can’t find my socks”) and meticulously crafted. As one of the more subdued moments of the album, it recalls The Weakerthans in structure, while also alluding to doo-wop (see the “da-da-da” rounds following the first verse) and late-2000s pop-punk. Here they are now – entertain them.

73. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – Divorce and the American South

Last year, Dan Campbell was asking himself “Did I fuck up?” on The Wonder Years’ “Passing Through a Screen Door.” Here, he flat-out confesses “I’m a fuck-up.” Well, sort of: He’s saying it as Aaron West, the titular character of his solo project. West pleads with his estranged wife on an answering machine, revealing more of his inner turmoil than he’d care to do in person. Little else touches Campbell’s solo performance, but they’re justified inclusions – pedal steel adds guiding lights to this sad country song; while a lone trumpet sounds out the finale with a trace of hope.

72. Hilltop Hoods – Cosby Sweater

Without getting into too much detail, it wasn’t a great year for Bill Cosby. His choice of clothing from the 80s, however, was doing just fine. Alluding to a famous photo of Biggie Smalls wearing the titular jumper, the Hoods returned to the limelight with one of their most fun singles yet from a thoroughly-consistent new album (a rarity if said album is your seventh). If the rollicking beat wasn’t enough, the energy and tongue-in-cheek cultural references (Oprah, Pat Benatar, chess legend Bobby Fischer) from MCs Suffa and Pressure ensured that it went over the line. And it’s all good.

71. Taylor Swift – Shake It Off

70. Death From Above 1979 – White is Red

A teenage romance ending in tragedy is as old as the hills – and even they’re sick of hearing “Last Kiss” over and over. It’s an intriguing concept, though, when it comes from a band normally inclined to skip the foreplay – their last album was called You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, for shit’s sake. “White is Red” recalls love turned sour on a late-night runaway drive going anywhere. It’s sprinkled with clear influence of heartland-rock storytelling, yet delivered in a manner best paralleled with the band’s “Black History Month.” A colourful song that also revels in its darkness.

69. Future Islands – Doves

Releasing the doves has always been a grandiose gesture going well over the borderline of the flat-out ridiculous. This kind of theatricality is brought to mind by the title alone of this cut from Future Islands’ fourth studio album, so imagine what happens when it actually kicks in with its arena-sized snare flams and John Oates synth-chimes. It’s yet another example of the band potentially coming off as too out-there, too cheesy, too goofy… and then just nailing it entirely. A pop smash best served with that slithery dance move Samuel T. Herring does that recalls SNL‘s “sloppy swish” sketch.

68. Royal Blood – Little Monster

The backlash for rock’s next big thing arrived just as quickly as the cover stories and Dave Grohl soundbites proclaiming them to be saviours of the genre. Wherever you ended up on the spectrum, it was hard to ignore a track like “Little Monster” – if for no other reason that it was a loud motherfuckin’ song. A hybrid of QOTSA at their most stoner-metal meeting Muse at their ballsiest, the track simultaneously kicks up dust and kicks out the jams. “You say you got nothing/So come out and get some,” offers bassist/vocalist Mike Kerr. Don’t mind if we do.

67. Slipknot – Custer

Dun-dun-da, dun-dun-da, dun-dun-da-da-da. It might look like a slap-dash use of onomatopoeia, but it served as a dog whistle to metal fans returning to the world of Iowa’s premier nu-metal survivors. Genre politics aside, the fact that the band is still standing at all after all they have been through is a miracle unto itself. To deliver a song like this, however – an all-guns-blazing sensory assault that makes a song like “People = Shit” sound like Jack Johnson – surely cements them as a band that have paid their dues in full and one that deserves far more credit.

66. Collarbones – Turning

It’s always important to note the creativity in each single from Collarbones: What can initially seem like something that’s going to collapse into itself steadily and surely turns itself into a pop-and-locking wonderland. It’s as if they’ve rearranged puzzle pieces where they were clearly not originally intended to go and created a different picture entirely. In this instance, it’s a choppy, jolting slice of electro-pop that’s as much rnb come-ons as it is Macbook-hunched techno. “You make me feel like someone new,” sings out Marcus Whale – and it’s enough to get you excited for who they may be next.

65. Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys

We’re past the casual sex and the pained relationships of Jenny Lewis’ days in Rilo Kiley. As she approaches 40, she finds herself considering her own position in relation to her friends, her public perception and the supposed ticking clock following her around. Of course, we all know that Lewis is far more than “just another lady without a baby,” as she puts it; but it’s hearing her come to that conclusion on her own accord that makes this dreamy pop number all the more worthwhile. Now, about that tour with Kristen Stewart and Anne Hathaway as her backing band…

64. Weezer – Back to the Shack

The first words out of Rivers Cuomo’s mouth on Weezer’s first single in four years are “Sorry, guys.” No shit. Who’d have thought the man responsible for Make Believe and Raditude would be rushing to make amends with the die-hards? Perhaps it was their extensive touring of The Blue Album that made him reconsider what makes a great Weezer song, but the mojo is very much swinging in this two-chord rocker. “Maybe I should play the lead guitar,” he considers, “and Pat should play the drums.” They do just that, and we’re rocking out like it’s ’94 all over again.

63. Oslow – Cliffy

Cliff Young – aka Cliffy – was an Australian power-walker who won a marathon with a simple but clearly-effective shuffling method. Whether this was an influence on the third single from Oslow’s exceptional second EP is anyone’s guess, but a) It’s fun to speculate; and b) It’s reflected in the band’s focus on the groove and the spaces that go between each note as opposed to filling every gap. Oslow are clearly winning the race when it comes to the field of forward-thinking indie-rock emerging from Australia, so you’d best catch up – at your own pace, of course.

62. TV on the Radio – Careful You

One of the more understated romantics in alternative music singing in French? That’s how you do it. TV on the Radio have rarely shied away from romance in the past, ranging from the yearning (“Will Do”) to the R-rated (“Wear You Out”). It’s a little more subdued here, with Tunde Adebimpe sending his heart-on-sleeve lyricism into the ether with cooing keys, buzzing bass and some truly old-school drum machine loops. This is how TV on the Radio enters their forties – not with a whimper, nor with a bang, but with a kiss. Stop the world and melt with them.

61. La Dispute – For Mayor in Splitsville

Each room in the house that was conceptually centred around the band’s third album – titled, er, Rooms of the House – allowed vocalist Jordan Dreyer to explore memories, lost lives and a seemingly-forgotten past that’s slowly pieced together. At this point, he’s come across a particularly-ruined space, triggering memories of his childhood, as well as both the proverbial and literal tonne of bricks that came crashing down in the demise of his adult life. It’s clear that when he screams “I guess, in the end, we just move furniture around,” he’s not just talking a couch and a chair.

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60 – 41

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INTERVIEW: TV on the Radio (USA), December 2008

No need to bullshit about here: TV on the Radio are one of my favourite bands of all time. I’ve seen them live four times, I own and love all of their music and they have been with me for a very, very long time. Nearly ten years, in fact. I’ve grown to love them more and more with every album, reaching fever pitch around the time that 2008’s Dear Science came out. How fitting, then, that this was when I would interview Jaleel Bunton, formerly the band’s drummer and now their bass player following the loss of the late, great Gerard Smith. Jaleel was a very cool cat – he was talkative, engaging and smart. I was beyond stoked with how this one turned out – and even looking at it now, my work here isn’t too bad. Definitely one of the better features I put together around this time.

Smith actually gets a mention in this feature, and I nearly cried reading over it again. He was a remarkable musician, and is dearly missed. TVotR are here at the end of the month for Splendour in the Grass – infuriatingly, not doing any sideshows. Hopefully, we’ll hear some new stuff soon.

– DJY, July 2013

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“Sorry, man!”

Jaleel Bunton has returned from his promise to be right back, apologising for the noise. “I just entered a very loud rehearsal space.” This is easily forgivable – Jaleel Bunton is a fairly busy guy, consistently on the move. He is one-fifth of Brooklyn-based avant-garde rockers TV on the Radio, who are headed to Australia in early 2009 on the back of their latest album, Dear Science.

Released in September, Science has topped Rolling Stone’s end-of-year list and earned high-ranking positions in many more. It was also the second record that Bunton was an official part of the band as its drummer. Certainly, one could see this as a cementing of the band as a five-piece; and Jaleel himself tends to agree.

“The band started as just Tunde [Adebimpe, lead vocalist] and Dave [Andrew Sitek, guitarist/producer]. From that, it’s now grown into a five-way collaboration – this is the first time where everyone wrote songs for the record. We’re still trying to journey to – œfind ourselves’ as a five-piece, and I think Dear Science was a big step in that direction.”

With tight, groovy jams like Dancing Choose and Golden Age, as well as full-band freakouts like DLZ andHalfway Home plentiful on the new record, Science sounds far more like a band-focused record than their last, 2006’s wildly successful Return to Cookie Mountain. Putting this to Bunton himself, however, reveals a little uncertainty to merit of such ideas.

“One thing I like about this band is that it doesn’t really adhere to the typical band script of – ‘we were best mates in high school, started playing in our garage, rented out a studio’ – we’re not like that,” he muses. “So it wasn’t really a focus to make it more of a band record; it was just a goal to make a record that all five of us that we were proud of. We wanted everyone to participate because we were all individual writers before we met.”

Having said that, there is still certainly lenience towards the core trio – Adebimpe, Sitek and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Kyp Malone. When asked which of the three Bunton personally connects with the most when it comes to songwriting, he notes that it really “depends on the song.”

“It’s pretty hard question to answer, y’know…” He pauses, then continues by stating that the band “all works together.” “It’s a little happy home… I mean, we definitely have our issues, but I’m impressed with the fact that everyone is able to keep their egos in check- that’s a part of art.

“Everyone has their different, particular talents,” he continues, focusing on particular examples. “Dave’s a really good producer, it’s something I watch and am really amazed by. And Tunde’s a fantastic melody writer. I work well with everybody with what they’re good at, to answer your question.”

If you have never experienced TVOTR live in any shape or form, you are most certainly in for a surprise. Perhaps the band’s most well-known performance is that of their appearance on Letterman a few years back, playing single Wolf Like Me. The already-dancey track was given a wild, rollicking renovation in the live environment – a credit, in particular, to Bunton’s Bonham-sized drums. Despite the impression that songs likeWolf were meant for the live environment, Jaleel explains that each song that this is simply not the case.

“I grew up studying how to play instruments; but I know a lot of people are limited by what their hands do and not what your mind is doing,” he says, elaborating on different degrees of musicianship. “When TV on the Radio writes or records, we write music to be recorded – as we want to hear it, not as we want to feel it.”

So what changes when it’s time to put the songs in front of a crowd? “It’s the exact opposite,” he states. “We’re more concerned with what it feels like than what it sounds like. This is the first time we’ve had quite a bit of live experience under our belt, making this record, so I think that’s slipped in subconsciously.”

Another staple of TV on the Radio live performances is bassist Gerard Smith’s near-obsessive refusal to face the audience whilst he plays. Jaleel laughs and describes Smith as “one of the single most puzzling enigmas on the planet.”

“There was no moment that made him the person that never turns around on stage – and if it did, it happened a long time before I met him. I will say this,” he continues as if giving an inside scoop, “I HAVE seen him,ONE time, turn around and wink at his girlfriend at the time in the audience. It lasted a matter of four seconds and it blew my mind!”

There is absolutely no doubt here – Jaleel Bunton is a charismatic, friendly and genuinely interesting man. If you missed out on tickets to any of their sideshows, and you are heading along to any of the Big Days Out, don’t miss your chance to catch Bunton in action with TV on the Radio. Hopefully, you’ll be excited as he is to be touring this festival. When asked if he was looking forward to the shows, he replies, “Are you kidding? I can’t believe I’m going to be travelling every day with Neil Young!”