Way Too Indie’s 20 Best Songs of 2014
2014 was truly a mesmerizing year for the recording industry. Many songs captured the aura of something special and unforgettable ranging from a lo-fi prince, an esoteric R&B goddess, an alternative rock queen, and a heartbroken Swedish indie pop star. Our list contains tracks that managed to redefined genres and consequently solidified an artist place in music. We traveled back to the beginning of the year, explored the mid-year releases and reminisced over songs that came out over the last few weeks. Sounds tantalizing? Check out our favorite songs of 2014 below.
Way Too Indie’s Best Songs of 2014
#20 Alex G – “Soaker”
“Soaker” is a candid peek into the eyes of sluggish adolescent love. However, Alex G’s symbolism is anything but juvenile. This short and intimate track personifies the love of two people as equal to the density of water and glue. Alex’s introverted and steady singing builds rapport with the listener, and it’s easy to see why critics are keeping a watchful eye. His downhearted lyrics do not travel around the parameters of the truth. “Soaker” is a direct admission backed by casual and simple guitar playing. There is no climax, rising action, or resolution. He only presents his conflict. The song begins and ends with “All I ever do is soak through you.” It’s refreshing to hear that somebody doesn’t have all the answers to this thing called love. [Sami]
#19 Mr. Twin Sister – “Out of the Dark”
“I am a woman/but inside I’m a man and I want to be as gay as I can.” It’s a fitting line for a band that just added a male prefix to its female-gendered name, and it fits into today’s intersectionality conversations quite well. The band formerly known as Twin Sister clearly knew what they were doing when they made this line the most memorable part of their third album’s best song, “Out of the Dark.” Even against the already gripping 4 AM clomp of warbly, muted synths and clomping percussion, this pitch-shifted, robotically vocalized statement stands out audaciously. Its placement just before a louder, Thriller-meets-The-Knife groove is excellent thinking too. Subsequent sounds further establish an appropriately menacing, assertive stride, ensuring that this song is as fluid and dynamic as its narrator’s gender. [Max]
#18 Two Inch Astronaut – “No Feelings”
Has anyone embodied their label’s name this well? Two Inch Astronaut’s “No Feelings” is the standout track from their sophomore effort, Foulbrood, released on consistently excellent small label Exploding in Sound, and it quite literally explodes in sound. The dissonant guitars spanning its introduction lead to unsteady six-string shuffling during the first verse, and this tension is searingly resolved with an explosive chorus. Dynamic shifts outline the remainder of this song, and this constant switch between pummeling and reserved makes for uneasy but poignantly incisive listening. [Max]
#17 Chromeo – “Jealous (I Ain’t Wit It)”
Creating a sustainable algorithm that features shades of funk and electronic music requires really good chemistry. Rhythmic masterminds Chromeo have already perfected that art. “Jealous” is completely inundated in a thick sea of slick funky goodness. They downright live by the rule that funk is a way of life. This track is a fun burning tease that showcases their vulnerable side. Chromeo has created an anomaly with this sound. They function in a genre different from most, but still manage to polish songs that are sellable and commercial. This song is progressively powered by its up-tempo beats accented with catchy lyrics. This echoes summer music festivals, and even in the winter, it keeps warm and ready for June. [Sami]
#16 Mitski – “Townie”
Why wouldn’t Mitski Miyawaki’s dad wouldn’t want her to sound like this? “I’m not gonna be what my daddy wants me to be!” Mitski wails during the overblown, pounding chorus of the strongest track from her incredible third album Bury Me at Make Out Creek. It’s a lyric that almost anyone can relate to – who hasn’t rebelled against their parents here and there? – and it’s just as biting as the rest of the song’s words and guitars. The chorus’ first line, “I want a love that falls as fast as a body from the balcony, and/I wanna kiss like my heart is hitting the ground”, describes desire in an unusually precise and intense manner, and its follow up, “I’m holding my breath with a baseball bat/though I don’t know what I’m waiting for,” conjures images of paralyzing horror movie villains. The emotional depth of these lines sticks like the strongest of adhesives, and Mitski’s guitars only add to this deeply potent cocktail. The ridiculously distorted blur of her power chords shout as loudly as their creator’s voice; together, the two soar into a growling overdrive that no father could ever resist. [Max]
#15 Todd Terje – “Delorean Dynamite”
We used to think that the only thing stopping the computers from going full Terminator on us was their lack of language and emotion, but to disprove this notion, there exist electronic instrumentals that communicate pure dance and lust to us. Enter Todd Terje’s “Delorean Dynamite” as 2014’s shining example of this capacity for machines to strike our most sensitive nerves. It’s a song that doesn’t need inane lines like “Rock yo’ body!” or “Boogie to the groove now!” to make its listeners to do exactly that, and its disco overtones are bathed in Saturday Night Fever vivacity. Without any manner of words at all, “Delorean Dynamite” shakes, rattles, and rolls with a retrospective, jubilant groove that’s as confident as it is glorious. The constant shuffle of its warped, colorful synths pairs excellently with its jaunty drumline and peripheral splashes of feel-goodness across five-and-a-half addicting minutes of dancefloor dominance. When the machines take over, it better be as fun and sexy as this. [Max]
#14 Lykke Li – “No Rest for the Wicked”
Channeling heartbreak into one song is no easy task. On her latest album, I Never Learn, Lykke Li utilizes the disintegration of a relationship as the arc for her entire record. Much like the movie Blue Valentine, there is no happy ending. This track in particular is a sincere, self-inflicted tale. Her account is gripping and downward spiraling as she sings through the complete collapse of true love. From the miserably sharp piano notes to the climatic and confessional ending, this track reeks of someone slowly finding closure. The heavier the instrumental gets, the more open Lykke becomes.
The cover art for this album features Lykke guarding her heart with her hands. The irony of this track is that she reveals she was responsible for the breakup. There’s a deep, troubling, sympathetic remorse that concludes this track. This song beautifully depicts an unraveling state of mind. [Sami]
#13 Ty Segall – “Tall Man Skinny Lady”
There’s a bubblegum element to this track where tiny and sweet elements leave a sticky trace in your head. It’s pure rock and roll, and downright absolutely fun. There’s a live video on YouTube that is perfectly indicative of the above. The clunky drumbeats encounter Ty’s super charged guitars and when they both meet at the intersection, a cloudy mix of head banging goodness is created. The song is less about profound lyrics and more about parading rock music in a grand fashion. A track with only 11 lines isn’t looking to rely on its meaning. This track is only here to have fun. The energy boils to a hot temperature and “Tall Man Skinny Lady” ends at a pinnacle. [Sami]
#12 Mac DeMarco – “Passing Out Pieces”
We are living in the era of clickbait. BuzzFeed does it and so does Pitchfork. With competition so high, who has time to play it safe? When Pitchfork does it, they are essentially using musicians as tools for views. More specifically, when Mac DeMarco antics go viral, music blogs often try to outdo each other for the craziest headlines. “Passing Out Pieces” is a penned diary entry where Mac wonders about overextending himself to the public. He ponders on whether to be reclusive or accessible. It is a simple tale of celebrity that only some can understand. The one-track-minded instrumentals project noticeably in front as Mac shares just enough to make us feel concern. Sometimes it feels like a midlife crisis, and other times it feels damn near relatable. It’s his invitation for a smoke where Mac is waiting to bare his soul. [Sami]
#11 Chance the Rapper – “No Better Blues”
It takes seven seconds for this track to walk to a ledge and poetically jab society in the face. At forty-three seconds, everything descends into despair. Reinforced by a spoken word ambiance, “No Better Blues” evokes a poignant social commentary. Chance spells out negativity towards the simple building blocks of society. This tense satirical stance offers glimpses of how easy it is to be negative about anything. Chance growls, “I hate the optimistic smirks on the face of children.” He raps about his hate for rain, his wife, his job, and his home; however, he’s merely giving us a reflection of our own pessimism. It’s a nice warm blanket of contradiction that suffocates everything until the very end. Trudging drumbeats elevate his mockery and commentary. In his closing remarks, Chance points his fingers at those who are constantly being negative in a world with so many good things by saying, “I fucking hate you.” File “No Better Blues” next to “Paranoia”, because they both offer key insights into the darkness of human emotion. [Sami]
#10 Cloud Nothings – “Psychic Trauma”
Cloud Nothings’ radical shift from lo-fi bedroom guitar pop to visceral, seething punk rock continued in grand fashion with this year’s Here and Nowhere Else, within which third track “Psychic Trauma” best outlines this Cleveland trio’s unique spark. A slow dirge of an intro ascends into a furious chorus of motion-sickness drumming and a frenzied, asymmetric guitar roar, which then further evolves into a bestial display of songwriter Dylan Baldi’s vocal flexibility. The guttural, broken screaming that defines this section of the song follows a despondently sung chorus, a contrast that illuminates the primal power of Baldi’s resilient voice. It’s not long before a varied version of the verse and chorus appears, and these moments provide a nice appetizer for the noisy thrash that defines the song’s last minute. Here, guitars fly flagrantly, drums smash with the urgency of wartime weaponry, and a cathartic rush of dissonance and chaos fills the soundscape. Forget Baldi’s chorus complaint of “my mind is always wasted listening to you”; “Psychic Trauma” provides a challenging, brain-bending form of garage rock that remains uncommon in a ubiquitous genre. [Max]
#9 White Lung – “Drown with the Monster”
A track with this titular sentiment is probably a protest song. Press play, and the lacerating, borderline heavy metal guitar work suggests this initial notion to be true. Except it’s not: “Drown with the Monster” is a highly personal song, as are many of the tracks on its mother album Deep Fantasy, about overcoming all manner of doubts and inwardly directed hatred. The titular Monster isn’t a corporation or an awful war machine; it’s instead a representation of how mental instabilities can lead to situations as damaging as drug addictions and unhealthy relationships. White Lung vocalist Mish Way is known to write about self-empowerment rather than just complaining, though, and “Drown with the Monster” is a potent example of her lyrical style.
“Take these sights in!” Way commands during this song’s pre-chorus, a statement that shortly precedes her observation that “The water looks good on you, yeah.” Way knows that the monster can be drowned, and even encourages its captives to go down with it. “What better way to fix your problems than to fully take control of them?”, she asks over her band’s guttural guitars, frantic drums, and demonically heavy sounds. She’s got a right to ask: what makes this song so great is that Way is indeed fully control of the chaotic music below her voice. After listening to “Drown with the Monster”, the only addiction anyone will have is to this song. [Max]
#8 The War on Drugs – “Red Eyes”
Hearing “Red Eyes” for the first time was like hearing a pulsing wavelength that created its own mark in my head. A dichotomous wave pulled on my eardrums and created a thin layer of an intimate cloud set in a giant stadium. It was odd and ambient. Lead singer Adam Granduciel creates songs that are elongated and mystical. In just four minutes, the band had solidified its place on many top songs/album of 2014 lists. There is nothing overrated about this track. There’s a wondrous marriage of pianos, guitars, and magical synths. It’s easy to get lost in the sonically hypnotized instruments, but the lyrics themselves are standouts. They have definitive textures of heartbreak and partial hope. As Adam’s voice seemingly drowns out, he gets more personal and reveals that, “I would keep you here, but I can’t.” He slowly triumphs over the instruments, and it sounds both emotional and gratifying. [Sami]
#7 Shamir – “On the Regular”
This is my national anthem. Seriously, this should be a national anthem that clubs everywhere ought to be required to play. This colorful and personal hymn is Shamir’s personal statement to the world. The twisting disco sounds seem designed for the not so hidden whiplash of self-assured lines. The saucy chorus serves several nice and syrupy lyrics. Witty tricks like “Guess I’m never-ending, you could call me pi” demonstrate that Shamir is clearly coming into his own. With each new track, I am even more intrigued by his vibrant spirit, complexities and influences. [Sami]
#6 Jack White – “Lazaretto”
“Lazaretto” is Jack White at his most pompous state of mind. His voice is brawling and each energy source is elevated ten notches higher than usual. As soon as this track enters the party, it steps up as the confident guy at the center of the dance floor. Jack glides along the pathways of being bombastic, but he curves, and also punches critics with a solid blow by time the chorus comes through. His signature guitar playing drives a strong electric charge, and by the time you pull out your air guitar, Jack is already spitting that, “They put me down in the lazaretto, born rotten, born rotten.” For a long time, Jack has been walking the fine line of becoming an iconic musician and being a really outspoken personality who sometimes draws harsh criticism. Lazaretto, both the album and the single, is a tale of someone who is cognizant of both perceptions. Lazarettos are often used to quarantine sickly people from the public. Using it as a symbol for his self-reliant nature, “Lazaretto” becomes a self-fulfilling story. Jack shatters any shackles and jumps right through the negativity.
It’s bold and suggestive and that’s why it fits. A fuse is lit and everything is quiet for just one small second. A small tumultuous burn bakes to such a high temperature that everything is kicked into a high groovy atmosphere. It’s sonically satisfying as Jack sharply screams. The drums give an added boost as Jack says that, “I’m so Detroit I make it rise from the ashes.” The last minute is an exposition of violins, guitars, drum and blues rock heaven. Jack concludes by breaking out of the Lazaretto. [Sami]
#5 Angel Olsen – “Lights Out”
Angel Olsen doesn’t need lights to occupy a room; no, her voice can do that just fine. At an intimate solo acoustic session in a Philadelphia record store this past May, Olsen hushed a small crowd with the immense power of her singing, which consumed the room even at its quietest. She only played a handful of songs during this session since she had a full band show a couple of hours later, but she was certainly consistent, sticking with the mournful acoustic numbers in her catalog rather than the striking electric rockers from this year’s excellent Burn Your Fire for No Witness.
At the middle of both these two Olsen extremes as well as of Burn lies “Lights Out.” This solemn, lovelorn tale replicates the desolate guitar work of her drumless acoustic folk tunes in its verses, only to blossom into a more obviously electric, percussion-laced chorus. Each approach is equally haunting, and both fit perfectly within the framework of a single song. Olsen’s stirring sounds nevertheless play second fiddle to her words, which fans and critics alike praise for just how harshly they stick. “Lights Out” might contain Burn‘s most relatable, heartbreaking sentiment: “Some days all you need is one good thought strong on your mind.” Olsen’s pain is evident throughout “Lights Out”, but this line in particular drives home her emotional state, ensuring that some days, all you need is one good song strong on your mind: namely, this one. [Max]
#4 Caribou – “Our Love”
Dan Snaith, better known as Caribou (although he used to go by Manitoba), is a touring musician who also has a doctorate in mathematics. Clearly, Snaith is an incredibly intelligent guy, and his unusual mind has allowed him to consistently compose cerebral, hallucinogenic music for just over a decade now without losing steam. His smarts ensure that whatever experiments he undertakes will be successful, and the deep house exploration that is “Our Love”, the title track from his sixth album, is no exception.
“Our Love” continues Snaith’s Swim-era shift towards electronic music and away from shoegaze-psychedelic hybrids. That’s not to say this song isn’t trippy as hell (it is); rather, it just approaches mind-melting from a different angle. The rounded synth work and drilling drum machines of deep house form a cornerstone for this song’s woozy, R&B-esque psychedelia, imbuing it with both a resonant tug and a shifty beat. Snaith repeatedly croons the song’s title, and only its title, for roughly its first half, which features a short string section courtesy of friend and collaborator Owen Pallett. When these strings arrive, it’s clear that this song will be going to higher places quite soon, and a break roughly three minutes in confirms this theory. A low-rumbling synth pattern accompanies propulsive drum work that’s equally appropriate for both mindless swinging and blissful ruminations, eventually gaining volume and force to evolve into a swirling frenzy of dancefloor beauty. No wonder Snaith isn’t doing much talking; with instrumentals this poignant, who needs words? [Max]
#3 Perfume Genius – “Queen”
Shoving his piano ballad typecast moniker aside, Perfume Genius fully embodies a brazen pop star worthy of challenging negativity into a powerful statement. “Queen” features a stimulating juxtaposition between its muscular oomphs and its wailing instrumentals as Mike Hadreas takes menacing homophobic stereotypes such as “riddled with disease” and punches them with the triumphant and down right cocky resolution that “no family is safe when I sashay.” Mike’s bold soliloquy is a razor sharp gash in the face towards backwards sentiments. Self worth is a beautiful thing and no one expressed it better than Perfume Genius in 2014. [Sami]
#2 St. Vincent – “Rattlesnake”
“Rattlesnake” dominated the promotional campaign for St. Vincent’s fourth and best album, one which is also self-titled. When asked why she waited this long to self-title an album, St. Vincent, real name Annie Clark, said something along the lines of this being the album where, for the first time, she truly sounds like herself. An astute observation: the 8-bit synths of “Rattlesnake” in the album’s opening slot is a stance that Clark is here and Clark is now.
One of the weirdest-sounding songs ever recorded, “Rattlesnake” is a freakshow that only minds as witty, unhinged, and daring as Clark’s could ever achieve. Even though it’s so zany it sounds extraterrestrial, its story happened in real life, right here on Earth. While recording St. Vincent, Clark explored the desert behind the studio, and realized she was alone there. Having the freedom to roam in the nude, Clark did just that, only to eventually hear a rattlesnake hissing at her feet. Running home with no clothes on, Clark worried that she might die there alone, and that no one might ever find her. The fear and anxiety she might’ve experienced then is blatant throughout “Rattlesnake”, but it’s also coupled with funk and groove.
Clark’s matching of opposites isn’t an easy task, but Clark pulls it off fearlessly and damn near perfectly. Her verses’ wails of “wah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, ah!” overlie creaking, flashy synths and heavily reverbed drumwork, which all deftly anticipates the furious funk of her chorus’ guitars. “Am I the only one in the only world?” she asks often throughout the song, a question to which the answer is usually no. But change it to “Am I the only one in the only world crazy enough to pull this weirdo trickery off?”, and the answer is a clear yes. Add the decade’s most insanely laser-gun guitar solo to boot, and you’ve got a gem that only hints at the madness to come throughout the rest of the album. [Max]
#1 FKA twigs – “Two Weeks”
When this song first arrived here from whatever foreign land it originated, it was coupled with one of the most fascinating, endlessly rewatchable music videos in recent memory. First listens of the menacing, trap-oriented, sex goddess anthem “Two Weeks” were almost always accompanied with the Aaliyah-worshipping video, which begins with FKA twigs, real name Tahliah Barnett, decked out in gold atop some sort of well-deserved throne. As the video progresses, the camera slowly zooms out from Barnett to reveal that her seat is far taller than the background dancers (which might actually all be various edited-in copies of her), implying her grand power. The video’s images are not only impossible to shake when listening to “Two Weeks”, they’re also perfect partners to the assertive, bold sexual stance Barnett takes in this song.
In a culture where men are praised for their sexual prowess and women are shamed for it, it’s remarkable to hear a song like “Two Weeks”, in which Barnett simultaneously declares that she is an excellent sexual partner, that she is allowed to feel and express lust in the same manners as men do, and that she and only she is in control of her body and her decisions. These are brave statements in a still sadly backwards society, and Barnett is perfectly suited to challenge norms. The hype that brought her to her present state of universal acclaim stemmed as much from her unusual aesthetic and dress style as it did from her warped, fractured take on R&B; she’s been turning heads from the start.
It’s interesting, then, that “Two Weeks” is, sonically, the most straightforward, and thus far best, song in her catalog, with all due respect to the incredibly worthwhile “Pendulum.” Against its left-field music video and uncommonly expressed (but likely universally felt) sentiment, the song’s gently pulsing bass drums and waveform, glitchy synth track are conventional by FKA twigs’ standards. The lopsided rhythms and anxiously minimal digital sounds that command most of her songs are instead replaced with a standard pop song form and radio-friendly instrumental work. This dramatically contrasts the lyrical content, which uses an almost hilarious amount of profanity to get its message across. “Higher than a motherfucker dreaming of you as my lover” is the chorus’ lyrical anchor, and it’s maybe the most repeatable phrase of the year despite being unavailable for airplay. Likewise, “Give me two weeks, you won’t recognize her” is just one of many other memorable statements made here as well. The lyrics may be unsettling for some, but if that’s the sacrifice Barnett has to make to feel comfortable in the pop songwriting mode that’s unfamiliar to her, then it’s a concession damn well worth making. And comfortable she feels: not only is this her best song, but it’s both the year’s best and one of R&B’s strongest in quite some time. [Max]