I’m three weeks late with this column, which was simply intended to list my choices for the best songs of 2014. I do this every year, and I look forward to it – but I figured this time I would address why I do it, and why those who find it tiresome should go screw themselves.
Generally, the responses to my lists over the past few years fall into three categories:
-“I’ve never heard of this stuff, Greg, but will check it out. Thanks!”
-“I’ve heard of two of these bands, and it’s nice someone else appreciates them too. Some of this stuff, though, is not for me.”
-“Greg, you suck. Your music sucks. I don’t come here for this shit especially when we should be impeaching Obama, etc…”
I’m good with all three responses, although the third one is always disappointing, as it reflects a stereotype the establishment media appreciates: that those on the right aren’t interested in popular culture, and anytime the topic comes up, they wave an angry rake at it. It still happens, sadly.
It’s a stereotype that Andrew Breitbart not only defied, but despised. Most of our conversations before he passed had little to do with politics. We talked almost always about culture and personal matters – and we shared an affinity and an obsession for “modern rock,” as it was sold to us on FM stations during our high school and college years. His tastes were more synth-heavy and new romantic; but he was a fanatical fan of The The, a band I knew little about but investigated because of him. He loved New Order, the Smiths, and could name check bands with the best lefty music snobs. He embraced music, and hated that some on the right deemed such pleasures as marginal.
It was a mistake to forfeit an entire realm to the left: that only they can enjoy alternative music, punk, rap, or anything that wasn’t AOR or country. Andrew knew that the sentiment was self-defeating, as did I.
Which is why when I find good music that no one has heard of, it really isn’t because no one has heard of it. It’s just that my likeminded brethren don’t bother to listen, when they should. If pop culture is a pool, it never hurts to dive into the deep end, once in a while. The bands I like are not obscure at all. Far from it. You don’t hear them in car commercials now, but you will hear them in car commercials later.
So here’s my list of the best songs of 2014. If you wish to leave a comment along the lines of “this sucks,” simply remember you’re doing your political adversaries their work for them. But if you do it anyway, please add what you think are better alternatives. Because, if you have anything better, I am always happy to hear it.
13. FUTURE ISLANDS – Seasons (Waiting on You)
Everyone loves this song, which in most cases would make me hate a song. But the tune is so catchy, so fun and emotional – it’s like a clingy affectionate panda. How can you hate a clingy, affectionate panda? The lead singer, however, is the strangest dancer since Elaine from Seinfeld. See for yourself in this clip from Letterman:
12. Caribou – Can’t do without you
Here you have a delirious dance monster that would give any kind of dismembered corpse a pulse. It all goes heavenly at around the 1:30 mark. If you don’t experience a rush of euphoria washing over your body, then nothing can help you at this point.
11. GOAT – Talk to God
A really heavy, droney, hypnotic psychedelic song about, I suppose, talking to God. It’s a religious experience, for sure. It almost makes me a believer – for music is a place where spiritual ecstasy can actually be felt. This is a freaky, strange, mysterious band. And in a world where we simply know too much about everyone, it’s nice to know so little about something so good.
10. THE BUG – Ascension
A cold dark serpent of a song that’s great for lonely bitter walks on long bridges. Robotic – intimate and remote – a scratchy procession as big and stark as an unrecognizable mass in your closet. Gloomier than Scotland.
9. JOEL GION – Tie: “Yes” and “Smile”
Both songs are psychedelic space nuggets filled to the brim with drippy infectious goodness. Good happy music to play after the Bug has severely depressed you. Buy the whole album and play it while you do laundry or the dishes.
8. TEMPLES – shelter song
I’ve said it before: they sound like a Tame Impala tribute band. But if you’re going to map your sound after a band, why not pick the best? And Tame Impala is pretty much the best. This song leads off their latest record – and it is a sixties-glam, boozy, swoozy, psychelic rock thing that can’t help but make you feel cool or groovy or happy. If these guys get huge, they must give 50 percent of all earnings to Tame Impala. As well as their first born.
7. I BREAK HORSES – Denial
What a luscious sliver of 1985. I hear this song, and I feel like I’m at a prom on a companion planet where everything is shiny and soft, narcotic and nocturnal. As pleasant as a liquid hug – this is the song you hear if you were making out to that red-haired girl from the Breakfast Club.
6. TY SEGALL – Stick Around
Every song on his last album “Manipulator” is stellar, but the final song is a confident swaggering crisp rocker that would have been an AM hit if AM still existed. This guy makes more songs in a week than most bands in a lifetime. What’s amazing is that almost every song is a memorable gem.
5. ARIEL PINK – Picture Me Gone
Every Pink album is a calamitous pile of great songs – a mountain of melodies and riffs and eccentric surprises. But then it always has one “masterpiece,” and this year, its this song. It’s this years “Round and Round,” his other great song from a few years back, which might be the tune of the decade. “Picture Me Gone” is a beautiful, mournful song about the digital era – and its accompanying video is as delightfully odd as the singer himself.
4. THE HORRORS – So now you know
I love their last album, and this is the best, catchiest thing on it. It’s a mid-tempo, lumbering melodic beast, and, like a musical hatchet, will stick in your head for months.
3. THE PRESETS – NO FUN
Another absolutely fantastic song that forces me to hit repeat the moment it’s done – it’s a delirious dance song designed for drugging or drinking or pretending to be drugging or drinking. As infectious as hepatitis A, B, and C, combined. What a smart, devious band this is. Just listen, once, and you’ll be hooked:
2. BLACK BANANAS – “Poweder 8 Eeeeeeeeight”
Tied for my favorite song if the year, I score such choices based on the number of times I hit repeat when I’m at the gym. I never listen to this song once, but three or four times in a row – always needing to relive the opening monstrous riff that combines Def Leppard, Van Halen, and the prescribed opiate of your choice. If goosebumps made sounds, it would be something like this.
1. WHITE FENCE – Arrowman.
My other favorite song of the year – possessing a chord change that would put early Kinks to shame. A perfectly pure few minutes of rock that I’ve listened to every single day since I got the record. From start to finish a glorious smack to your head. This fella Mikal Cronin can write great tunes. That’s it.