Top 10 Songs of 2014

These are songs I thought were cool this year.

10. “Give Up” – PAWS

The PAWS album Youth Culture Forever dwells on the insincerity of old relationships as people grow up and grow apart. “Give Up” tries to parse though the bullshit of facades of indifference in a two and a half minutes of pissed off punk brilliance propelled by Josh Swinney wicked drumming. Burn bright, young and reckless glory.

9. “Forgiven/Forgotten” – Angel Olsen

Much of Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness employs a slow burning pace that allows her to meticulously melt listeners’ emotional innards. “Forgiven/Forgotten” provides an essential divination from that clip, speeding things up and allowing Olsen to get her fangs out and bite into your still beating heart. The ferocity in her delivery makes any proclaimed forgiveness seem like shaky footing, but there’s no choice but to dig your heals in and let her intensity wash over you.

8. “Hey Girl” – TacocaT

“Hey Girl” isn’t my favorite song off TacocaT’s awesome album NVM. In fact, there are probably four our five I like better (“This is Anarchy” and “F.U. #8” for sure. But throughout the year I kept finding myself sharing the anti-catcalling anthem the most. While there was (as always) lots of push back, I think 2014 was a significantly positive year as far as feminist awareness goes, and when discussions sprung up in person or online, I often found myself bring up the greatness of “Hey Girl.” Those I shared the song with greeted it with near universal approval. It seems reductive to label it a feminist “moment,” but however you choose to categorize this year’s strives to equality, TacocaT contributed in the most fun way possible. That counts for something.

7. “Taking Chances (Demo)” – Sharon Van Etten

The album version of “Taking Chances” from Are We There is superb in its own right, but there’s a haunting vintage air to Sharon Van Etten’s demo version that’s even more enthralling. The 7″ b-side has a feel of lo-fi distance that makes it sound like a track from some long forgotten 1930s gem. Van Etten coos like a ghost of a bygone era, giving the song an ever so slightly different emotional punch. It may not be polished, but goddamn it’s beautiful.

(Note: There was no version of the song online, so I had to crudely shoot this video myself. Hopefully it does the track a modicum of justice and doesn’t get pulled.)

6. “Everybody Knows” – Iska Dhaaf

There’s something ominous about the lead guitar riff in “Everybody Knows.” It’s consistently swirling overhead like the memory chopper blades above a long forgotten battlefield (this was the imagery in my head prior to the music video being release, which made said video strangely more creepy). Iska Dhaaf builds progressively more tension with each verse, and the momentary relief of the inescapably catchy choruses only offer a brief reprieve before more chaos breaks loose. It’s an artfully balanced rock song that can’t simply be hid in the recesses of the mind.

5. “Fallen Giants” – Kithkin

“Fallen Giants” is basically everything you need to know about the chattering forest indie rock of Kithkin distilled into 4 blisteringly energetic minutes. Cascading layers of floor percussion rhythms clash with frantic yelps and wailing guitar lines, Ian McCutcheon and Kelton Sears trade smoothly calm and wildly jittery vocal verses, and the whole thing ends in a ball of chaos. It’s so exhilarating that it’s almost exhausting.

4. “Bigger Party” – Speedy Ortiz

Rule #1 of a Speedy Ortiz party: Keep your friends close and Sadie Dupuis closer. While Speedy Ortiz followed up 2013’s Major Arcana this year with the Real Hair EP, the band’s best song came via Adult Swim’s free single series. “Bigger Party” is the poppiest Speedy Ortiz tune to date and Dupuis sly lyricism cuts sharp and she meta-laments “I only want to sing about murder in my songs / I have to use these metaphors just to say I like you” and delivers the hooky refrain with the hollow apology, “I’m sorry for the time that I made out with all your friends / I’m really a shithead.” It the perfect tune for a basement party she’d be sure to ruin.

3. “True Trans Soul Rebel” – Against Me!

“True Trans Soul Rebel” acts as Transgender Dysphoria Blues‘s, and by that token Laura Jane Grace’s, heartbreaking declaration of transgender arrival and defiance. While she get more personal regarding her own transsexual experience on other tracks, the poetic simplicity and poignancy of refrain of “Does God bless your transsexual heart? / True trans soul rebel” shows the authentic tattered heart of a fighter. And while that would be powerful in and of itself, the fact that she was able to turn those lines into an anthemic rock chorus that demands to be screamed along regardless of where you identify on the gender spectrum ingrains the song with power and serves as a testament to Grace’s songwriting skills.

2. “Losing to the Dark” – La Sera

Don’t neglect La Sera’s Katy Goodman and expect to get away unscathed. On “Losing to the Dark,” Goodman brims with confidence and eye-rolling sarcastic ire as she decries her lover’s rock and roll lifestyle (“How ’bout you write another song about how fun you are to drink with at the bar?”) and angelically quips “What a shame it must be to have to be in love with me.” The edge in her voice is bolstered further by the surrounding tones as guitarist Todd Wisenbaker shreds without abandon. It’s the a vicious takedown tied up in a pretty surf pop package.

1. “Cannibal” – Dude York

I’ve had the first 5 seconds of “Cannibal” stuck in my head all year and loved air drumming along with the downbeat playing in my head every time. The strength of the song is the leash-like control Dude York maintains; one moment the grip is loose as Peter Richards howls and guitar bends make a crazy scene, but with a quick yank things become taunt and instantly focused around Andrew Hall’s drum beats. It’s an invigorating audio tug of war that’s yet to grow old.

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Top 10 Songs of 2010

Songs. 2010 had a lot of them. Here are the 10 best, along a pithy reason as to why it’s on the list.

10. “Fuck You” – Cee-Lo You

Why it’s here: For the simple fact that any list without it would seem incomplete.

It’s shock value gimmickry prevents it from ranking higher, but on the strength of the musical orchestration alone it had to be here.

9. “Her Words Destroyed My Planet” – Motion City Soundtrack

Why it’s here: The combo of the guitar line and the effect used on the screams during the interlude lead.

Whatever producer Mark Hoppus did, the result is best single sound of the year.

8. “I Don’t Believe You” – The Thermals

Why it’s here: Bratty brilliance.

Heck, the song doesn’t even really fit with the other tracks on Personal Life, but it’s so snotty and brash that it doesn’t matter.

7. “You Wouldn’t Have to Ask” – Bad Books

Why it’s here: One word – Efficiency.

1:53 is all this slice of of flawless pop rock needs.

6. “Fragments” – Rocky Votolato

Why it’s here: Simple deconstructionism.

Votolato’s song about the troubled pieces that make up the mind is layered with luscious detail, but strip that all away and the core of Rocky’s voice and guitar is all that’s really needed to connect emotionally.

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Best of 2008 – Songs

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1. “Stay Positive” – The Hold Steady

From the Arcade Fire school of depressing songs that sound like joyous hymns comes this year’s best song, “Stay Positive”. As Craig Finn’s lyrics rumble over an organ drenched soundscape with muted power chords, the listener is presented with a somewhat bleak picture of a dying scene. But when the chorus kicks in there is full on euphoria. It’s rather difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes this song so great, but I can’t get it out of my head and I don’t mind. I guess that says enough.

2. “Don’t Trust Me” – 3OH!3

Look, I know that it’s not hip to like this song. I know that it’s target audience is 14-year old fake scenester girls. But it’s so good that I don’t care, and you shouldn’t either. Yes it’s ridiculous, but it’s also ridiculously catchy. I can’t not dance and clap along every time I hear it. With pulsating beats and deceptively clever lyrics, this is the anthem for your 2008 dance party. Plus who can argue with a lyric as brilliantly absurd as “Shush girl, shut your lips. Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips.”? No one. At least no one I want at my party.

3. “After Hours” – We Are Scientists

While We Are Scientists’ Brain Thrust Mastery might be the most disappointing album of 2008, the album’s first single, “After Hours”, is golden. An ode to nights on the town, the songs simple rhythm guitar part fits perfectly with the quick high open E-string lick. The does the time honored trick of constantly growing to crescendos with ease. It also stays with the We Are Scientist formula of no part of the arrangement (guitar, bass, drums) doing a similar thing, while adding a slew off small detail sounds by a wide range of instruments to the background. Overall, it’s just the perfect nightcap for anyone lit more by artificial glow than sunlight.

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