Ready to read about 20 more songs? You can also listen to them, if you want to. It's entirely up to you. Here's part deux.
“Kira Kira Killer“ - Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
Striking the balance between bubblegum pop, jazz and a Mario Kart soundtrack, “Kira Kira Killer” is the ultra-catchy norm for Japanese superstar Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Layering the young singer’s high-pitched voice over bouncing pianos, delicate bells and a relentless rhythm, producer Yasutaka Nakata creates melodies seemingly designed to worm their way into your subconscious. The song’s psychedelic music video doesn’t shed any more light on the meaning behind the Japanese (and occasionally English) lyrics, but the pure exuberance on display is universally understood.
“War on the East Coast” - The New Pornographers
If A.C. Newman is the New Pornographer’s power pop warrior, Dan Bejar is the suave scientist that supplies each record with a few devastatingly catchy secret weapons. “War on the East Coast” is another classic example of the Canadian songwriter’s cryptic prose, referencing drowning cites and conflicts that surround the track’s narrator. This could easily be a grim dirge, but Bejar dresses his apocalyptic verses up in propulsive rhythms and triumphant melodies, while nonchalantly insisting that he simply doesn’t care.
“Dance Slow Decades” - Angel OlsenLaying out her misconceptions against the gentle strum of a guitar, Angel Olsen becomes increasingly frank as “Dance Slow Decades” builds towards its inevitable crescendo. It slowly becomes clear that she lacks a partner, but just before the track’s thunderous climax Olsen resigns herself to “dance because I know this one.” Somehow managing to be sad and empowering at the same time, it’s a haunting punch in the gut on a record filled with similarly lean and powerful tunes.
“Tie Up the Tides” - Quilt
The latest record from Quilt is filled with tracks that could be mistaken for B-sides from dusty ’70s psych records. “Tie Up the Tides” locks into an especially nostalgic groove, as the silky vocals of Anna Fox Rochinski float just above the gently churning swells of keys and guitars. Paddling back to shore with a soulful lilt, the Boston trio sounds content to go wherever the current takes them.
“Every Little Thing” - Röyksopp and Robyn
Re-teaming with Röyksopp for a miniature album, Robyn returned to earbuds everywhere this summer with a collection of songs that likely inspired quite a bit of solitary dancing. Those attempting to move in time to the slow-burning “Every Little Thing” probably only managed to sway, but it served as a welcome comedown from the repetitive, hip-shaking strains of “Do It Again”. It’s a chance to listen closely and admire the precision of this Swedish supergroup down to the last little detail.
“Then I Will Love Again” - Laetitia Sadier
Though I’ll always have a soft spot for Stereolab, it’s hard to miss the group too much when Laetitia Saider keeps making music that is every bit as good as the lounge rockers in their heyday. “Then I Will Love Again” is one of the more grandiose tunes from her Something Shines LP, which augments a bass melody with majestic strings and horns. Sadier’s calm and cool delivery is the the glue that binds it all together, a gentle cadence methodically attempting to reach beyond “the boundary reality is holding in place.”
“Feel” - Ty Segall
I took a trip to New York earlier this year and saw Ty Segall at Webster Hall, playing to a 16+ throng that became a sea of crowd surfing bodies about a minute into the evening’s first song. By the time Segall and his band made it to “Feel,” everyone on the floor seemed to be taking the title of the song to heart. I avoided the fray by staking out a spot on the balcony, but when the song’s pulsing bass kicked in and Segall’s guitar started to growl it was easy to see why you might want to take a quick dive from the stage.
“I remember when you walked out of Garden State, ‘cause you had taste” Daniel Britt quips in a song that could have started an embarrassing “indie feud” with the star of Scrubs. Instead, “Outlier” lives up to its name, sounding like no other track on They Want My Soul thanks to its driving tempo, floating keyboard flourishes and largely instrumental bent. Dave Fridmann’s fingerprints are all over this one, gently introducing some new sounds to the group’s deep catalog.
“Digital Witness” - St. Vincent
Annie Clark borrows the syncopated horns and post-modern obsession of “Digital Witness” from her 2012 collaboration with David Byrne, but the thematic redux seems calculated. Grappling with a culture that is increasing preoccupied with what’s happening on screens, the song contrasts analog verses with digital choruses while finding a subtle musical disconnect between physical experiences and lines of code. “I want all of your mind,” Clark declares in the track’s final stanzas, a simple request that—in a world of iPhones and Twitter—seems painfully idealistic.
“Play It Right” - Sylvan Esso
On its surface, Amelia Meath’s journey from NPR-approved a cappella folk singer to breakout electropop star is one of the more unlikely career transitions of 2014. As it turns out, her dulcet voice is the perfect compliment to producer Nick Sanborn’s minimalistic beats. “Play It Right” finds Heath doling out harmonies atop a wavering hook, lending a sense of humanity to a genre that is often revels in detached sterility.
“Rose 4 U” - Teen
For a large portion of the past year, I had a very difficult time getting the phrase “Look, here’s a rose for you” to leave my already cluttered mind. The fact that I didn’t get fed up with “Rose 4 U” and delete it from my various playlists is a testament to the quality of the Lieberson’s sister’s composition, which features a looping melody and billowing bass line slowly meld into a musical pendulum. Don’t listen to it unless you’re willing to be put under its spell.
“Low Key” - Tweedy
“Low Key” is to Jeff Tweedy as “Wilco (the song)” is to his long-running band. Both tracks are theme songs of sorts, apt descriptors of the artists that they represent written by a guy who has become an increasingly self-aware musician. “Low Key” is the Jeff Tweedy we’ve always known: A guy who likes to record deceptively simple songs with his friends (in this case, his son and the girls from Lucius) and nods approvingly after he nails a guitar solo. There’s no need to be flashy—it is what it is, and it’s pretty great.
“Montana” - Tycho
I doubt it was Scott Hansen’s intention from the outset, but he’s managed to make music that is perfect for dental offices. I was in the middle of a biannual cleaning when I heard “Montana” wafting softly from the speaker above my head, eliciting a small gurgle in my throat that my hygienist was kind enough to ignore. There’s just something about the track’s arpeggiated melodies and sweeping crescendos that makes you momentarily forget that there’s a person prodding your sensitive gums.
“Taking Chances” - Sharon Van Etten
2014 was a year of embracing risk for Sharon Van Etten, culminating in a self-produced record that contains some of her most immediate songs to date. She’s always had a knack for documenting heartbreak and a loss, but the wounds and discontent referenced on Are We There seemed rather fresh. The self-assured balladry of “Taking Chances” is as world-weary as always, but among those cathartic choruses is the assurance that there’s a lot to be learned from the act of risking everything.
“Fire on the Mountain (I-II-III)” - Wand
This short trilogy of melodies from Wand’s debut album is dressed up like another garage rock track, an illusion bolstered by its release via Ty Segall’s God? Records imprint. “Fire on the Mountain” contains the buzzing guitars and abrasive refrains that are commonplace within the LA scene, but the song’s three interconnecting movements betray its origins as a heady prog-rock tune. The repeated riff that closes out the track’s final two minutes is one of the most beautiful things I heard all year.
“Conversations” - Woman’s Hour
At times, the precise arrangement of “Conversations” seems impenetrable, devoid of the small imperfections which indicate that a group of human beings were responsible for its performance. Eventually I came to terms with the fact that Woman’s Hour must have practiced this song until they were sick of it. It’s the only way that I can explain the track’s unfalteringly calm and collected delivery.
“Dancing Venus of Aurora Clay“ - Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa
When I spoke with Dustin Wong and Takako Minekawa earlier this year, it quickly became apparent that these two musicians operate on the exact same wavelength. There’s an intensely playful quality to the handclaps and cascading fretboard runs on display in "Dancing Venus of Aurora Clay," a song that sprung from one of the the duo's many improvisational sessions. It's kind of music that could only be made by the kind of goofy yet earnest people who pose for promotional photos with tinfoil on their heads.
“Leaves Like Glass” - Woods
Jeremy Earl and his band have produced music at a prolific pace through their career, churning out annual records that draw upon the folk stylings of decades past. "Leaves Like Glass" is another one of the group's campfire pop songs, draped in strains of purring organ that sound as if they were pulled from the the Big Pink sessions. Combining a little Southern twang, some blues-indebted guitar wankery and a few jazz bass cadences, it's quintessential American music.
“Great Equator” - Zammuto
Riding atop a beat made from modulated record scratches, "Great Equator" is the kind of love song that only Nick Zammuto could compose. Steeped in double-tracked lyrics contemplating the theory of gravity and condensation, the track hums with the synthesized energy of a studio wiz playing with his toys. The subject of the track's sentimentality is undefined, but there's no mistaking the strong feeling that the tune evokes.
“Dangerous Days” - Zola Jesus
Pop stardom may not be in the cards for Nika Roza Danilova, but you can't blame her for grasping at it, especially when the resulting songs are this good. "Dangerous Days" retains the otherworldly ambience of her previous output and sets it against a throbbing kick drum, juxtaposing towering melodies with dark lyrics. Not so much a drastic departure so much as a slight reformulation, it's a stylistic change that is anything but dangerous.
I know you can hardly wait to eat my Favorite Records of 2014, but I still need to put them in the oven and bake at 425ºF. If you need a snack while you wait, you can re-read Part I.