Staff Picks: The Best Songs of 2014

Emertainment Monthly Music Staff
There were far too many fantastic songs from a multitude of genres released in 2014 to delegate this piece to a single writer. Therefore, members of the Emertainment Monthly music section have collaborated in effort to deliver a list of tracks just as diverse as our own tastes in music. So without further ado, here are some of our favorites. We hope you enjoy these songs as much as we do.
Speedy Ortiz – “American Horror”
Speedy is composed of home-grown Bostonians (who are currently based in Northampton) (yeah), and that shared hometown pride and charm finds its way into their frenetic, unrelenting energy, which is showcased on their latest single from their EP. -Anna Marketti

Cayetana – “South Philly”
This all-female indie/punk trio saved the best track for last on their debut LP Nervous Like Me. Driven by a slick bass melody and the strained twang of frontwoman Augusta Koch, “South Philly” wonder how one can keep their faith while immersed in the general decay of the titular neighborhood. While the drums and guitars roar and crash into oblivion, Koch’s shortened version of the opening lines feels like half an answer, leaving her true opinion on the matter ambiguous as the record fades. A gem capping off an amazing collection of songs, “South Philly” is an earnest grand finale if there ever was one. – Phillip Morgan

Angel Olsen – “May as Well”
It’s heartbreaking, but its minimalism accompanied by Olsen’s soothing vocals make “May as Well” oddly comforting and homey. – Tessa Roy

Gold-Bears – “For You”
Dalliance, the sophomore album by Atlanta indie/punk band Gold-Bears is a breezy, jittery, LoFi affair and lead single “For You” sits at the very peak of their fast-paced fuzz. With simply elegant melodies and Jeremy Underwood’s earnest vocals half-shrouded by buzzsaw guitars, the song emits a pleasantly hazy vibe as it passes by and allows you to experience everything at a comfortable distance. You may not catch every note of the melody or understand everything Underwood is saying at first, but that fuzzy tune is so instantly infectious you can’t help but howl along, making it by far one of Gold-Bears’ best yet. – Phillip Morgan

One Direction – “Fireproof”
British-Irish boyband One Direction surprised us all a little this year, taking on sounds and looks better suited for the twenty-somethings they are. “Fireproof” was the first taste the world got of a new direction, trading in “we’re like na na na” for “we must be fireproof” and the bubblegum pop for a folk-oriented sound. Brimming with hope, confidence, and maturity that wouldn’t have been believable on any earlier albums, it’s a testament to the progress they’ve made and the simple fact that boy banders grow up, too. Shut off “What Makes You Beautiful” and put this on instead. – Keely Chisholm

Somos – “Familiar Theme”
As the opening track on Somos’ debut LP Temple of Plenty, “Familiar Theme” sets the tone for the whole record, and it pulls no punches. The title feels pretty ironic in an album so averse to the gritty, straightforward aesthetic employed by most of the indie rock community in recent times, but the chord-pounding, seemingly offbeat chorus puts any notion of a lack of loud to bed. Held together under the low toll of bassist/vocalist Michael Fiorentino, this song sends Somos’ off-kilter jet engine of an album roaring out of the gate, demanding a return trip through the record every single time. – Phillip Morgan

Gwen Stefani- “Spark the Fire”
“Hollaback Girl” is arguably the most famous and well received song from Stefani’s solo career. Pharell produced the track so who better to collaborate with for “Spark the Fire” than the man behind her biggest hit. It shows too; “Who got the lighter? Let’s spark the fire!” is the pulse pounding hook that runs throughout the track. It has a similar feeling to “Hollaback Girl” as Stefani croons her rap-pop style. The lyrics are quirky, cool and seemingly nonsensical; like the track “Yummy” from her The Sweet Escape album. This is the kind of track that will get in your ear and run laps in the brain. Hearing it live would be quite the experience. And oh man is it catchy. This song is just a great, catchy and dance infused exercise. – Evan Slead

The Hotelier – “The Scope of All of This Rebuilding”
Of all the tracks on The Hotelier’s stellar LP Home, Like No Place is There, this one feels and sounds like the closest to falling apart at the seams, and it compresses all the strengths of the band in one blazing, irresistible package. Bassist/vocalist Christian Holden howls with utter desolation in his voice, and the band reciprocates his urgency with the most frantic mood-shifting song on the whole record, but the affair is traversed with such grace you can’t bear to tear your ears away. Filled to the brim with on-the-fly drum fills and clangy indie rock guitar work, this is a song that all but begs to be replayed, and it deserves it. – Phillip Morgan

Kal Marks – “It Was A Very Hard Year”
The perfect, appropriately titled anthem for what felt like a very hard year. Kal Marks’ gripping use of layered, echoing, repetitive instrumentation underlaying mellow, distant sounding vocals evoke that kind of lethargic, heavy feeling that seemed quite perverse in 2014. Fusing together grunge with garage rock, Kal Marks clearly illustrates to us through music that feeling when you find yourself pressing the snooze button again and again, exerting yourself as you force yourself up and out of bed. – Anna Marketti

Dikembe – “Hood Rat Messiah”
Mediumship is probably one of the weirdest indie/emo releases of the year in how deliberately slow-paced and heady its vibe is. “Hood Rat Messiah” shows Dikembe gliding between both dynamic extremes with the greatest of ease. The softer sections demonstrate the band’s knack for moody melodies and textural guitar work alongside subtly intricate drumming, while the louder passages remind you just how hard they can rock out when they want to. The record’s dreary atmosphere and sluggish pace may put you off, but Dikembe’s dark allure in their breakout single is tough to ignore. – Phillip Morgan

Cloud Nothings – “Psychic Trauma”
Picking up on the frantic, no-holds-barred energy heard in “Stay Useless”, Cloud Nothings strike back with another angry, yet eerily hopeful single. Their latest album Here and Nowhere Else brought critics to their knees, and the culmination of all the nothingness Cloud Nothings have worked up for themselves is heard in “Psychic Trauma”. Eventually decomposing itself into a dissonant mess of noise, the song is a roller coaster ride through a mental breakdown. – Anna Marketti

Tiny Moving Parts – “Whiskey Waters”
In a surprising break from all the other songs on their sophomore album Pleasant Living, TMP back off ever so slightly on the hyperactive drumming and blistering math-rock on this song. It still feels unquestionably like a Tiny Moving Parts track, but this time WITH AN ACTUAL HOOK amidst the noodly guitar and exasperated vocals of frontman Dylan Mattheisen. Make no mistake, Billy Chevalier is still a monster behind the kit, and the riffs are still lightyears ahead of three-chord pop-punk, but the calmed down approach is a welcome change of pace in an album bending over backwards to outrun itself. – Phillip Morgan

Tove Lo – “Moments”
There’s something so raw and honest about Tove Lo that makes her easily relatable. Take her grand, dramatic track “Moments,” for instance. “I’m not the prettiest you’ve ever seen… but on good days I am charming as fuck,” she sings. Aren’t we all? – Tessa Roy

Rozwell Kid – “Sick Jackets”
With a sound resembling 90s-era Weezer on Red Bull, “Sick Jackets” is one of Rozwell Kid’s hardest hitting cuts on their newest LP Too Shabby, complete with Rivers Cuomo-esque melodic guitar and bummer punk lyricism. Lest you condemn Rozwell Kid as mere 90s rehashers, they let their weirdness seep even deeper into their songwriting, changing up the tempo on the chorus and maxing out the quirkiness in both the lyrics and their delivery. The final dash to the end accompanied by chamber-pop “oos” hits like a ton of bricks even with the softer build-up beforehand, just another example of the band’s near-infinite bag of slacker-punk tricks. – Phillip Morgan

Andrew Bird – “Giant Of Illinois”
Andrew Bird is best known for his incredible, focused work with the violin; as well as his love for his home state. Creating intricate, detailed folk-pop, infusing references to the great Midwest, Andrew Bird is a pseudo-Sufjan Stevens. (Try saying that five times fast.) “Giant Of Illinois” is melancholy, and encapsulates his every emotion regarding the Land of Lincoln. Something I can easily relate to, being born and raised in Illinois. So maybe this is just me fangirling over a song about my home state. Oh well. – Anna Marketti

Perfect Pussy – “Driver”
With no warning whatsoever, the introductory track on their breakout album Say Yes to Love will throw you headfirst into Perfect Pussy’s aggressive, noise-filled, post-punk haze. As jarring as the constant feedback should be, the song has a pleasant ring to it almost in spite of itself, with the spooky keyboards just barely scraping a melody above the chaos bubbling beneath. Jettisoned into warp speed by borderline deranged drums and the hostile megaphone wail of frontwoman Meredith Graves, “Driver” is a swan dive into Perfect Pussy’s volatile mix of serenity, rage, and near-total confusion that is only fitting for such a wonderfully abrasive record. – Phillip Morgan

Bastille vs. Haim – “Bite Down”
Haim and Bastille both had breakout years in 2013. This year, they graced us with a collaboration. The track’s perfect balance of Dan Smith’s thick vocals with the Haim sisters’ skillful guitar riffing makes it one of the most memorable team ups of the year. – Tessa Roy

Xerxes – “Collision Blonde”
Collision Blonde is clearly a post-hardcore record, but the title track has the Louisville, KY quartet borrowing most heavily from old school new-wave/post-punk. With the bass leading the charge, the guitar sets the mood with gloomy chords and countermelody alongside unusually rigid drumming for a post-hardcore song. Without the tortured yelp of frontman Calvin Philley to reveal their true colors, this track could easily pass off as a particularly dark song by The Cure or Killing Joke. That said, there is an eerie beauty in Xerxes’ slowed-down approach, and it might just be their coolest-sounding track yet. – Phillip Morgan

Tycho – “Awake”
It’s hard to find words to describe a song with no words. (Ha!) Tycho pioneered a new brand of electronica in his upbeat, almost lyrical-without-lyrics tunes. We sense a story being told through his undulating synth tracks, creating the perfect background music for a sunny day laying on the sand, letting the ocean waves wash over your toes along with the music. – Anna Marketti

It Looks Sad – “Raccoon”
The highmark of the debut EP from Charlotte, NC post-punks It Looks Sad, “Raccoon” kicks off with a fun little melody alongside a subdued, punchy rhythm that grows and grows in intensity as the song progresses. By the track’s end, the band shifts into high gear, intertwining dual guitar melodies against increasingly erratic drums and the ever-thumping bass. But really it’s the gradual increase of complexity over the course of “Raccoon” that gives the song it’s remarkable quality and outs It Looks Sad as one of the superior newcomers to the post-punk scene. Now all they lack is a proper full-length. – Phillip Morgan

Hozier – “Take Me to Church”
This track would most definitely not be played in a church… But that doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly powerful, if not terrifying. Hozier’s bold, resounding “Amen, Amen, Amen” is unforgettable. – Tessa Roy

Little Big League – “Deer Head”
The low, haunting whisper of frontwoman Michelle Zauner makes the band’s sophomore album Tropical Jinx feel like a descent into the Twilight Zone, and the creeping pace and spooky guitars in “Deer Head” fully embrace the dark weirdness. As the songs plods along you can’t help but be drawn in by Zauner’s gloomily hypnotic vocals, only for the end of the track to suddenly kick into overdrive with the drums suddenly going berserk while the guitars roar along as she moans into oblivion. Little Big League are no strangers to ferocity, but to shift gears so fluidly hints there’s much more to this band than meets the eye. – Phillip Morgan

The Decemberists – “Make You Better”
Coming back from a three year hiatus and hitting too close to home, the newest single from The Decemberists upcoming album is heartbreaking and honest. Containing classic elements of Decemberists tunes with their poignant diction and feathery, hard plucked guitar, “Make You Better” is telling of how heartbreak can come from both sides, getting right to the core of maybe asking for a little too much or having expectations that are just a bit too high. People aren’t always who they seem to be when you first get to know them. But at the same time, it recognizes those faults and in a way celebrates them. Sometimes we need to make each other better. – Anna Marketti

Joyce Manor – “Christmas Card”
Much of Joyce Manor’s third LP Never Hungover Again has the band taking a slightly mellower approach to their brand of short-but-sweet LoFi pop-punk, but the slow-burn hook on opening track “Christmas Card” hits with the same crushing force as some of their faster, more raucous tracks. The diminished focus on speed and aggression enables Barry Johnson to vent his frustrations through somber singing rather than simply yelling his head off, and in an album full of brash, howling punk jams it’s a welcome change of pace. This song finds Joyce Manor at their most exposed musically and finds them just as exciting as ever. – Phillip Morgan

Perfume Genius – “Fool”
Perfume Genius’s hauntingly beautiful vocals are at their best in this glamorous track. The way in which his voice effortlessly floats over a synth-heavy beat is instantly mesmerizing. What can we say? It’s genius.  – Tessa Roy
Weatherbox – “The Fresh Prints of Bill Ayers”
The third track off Flies in All Directions, the band’s newest LP, is Weatherbox firing on all cylinders. The twisting melodies and jittery syncopated rhythms that permeate “The Fresh Prints of Bill Ayers” rocket through your ears like rollercoaster corkscrews, and their affinity for suddent tempo shifts and breaks keep you on your toes for the whole song as it simply refuses to calm down. Frontman Brian Warren’s clever, word-turning lyricism feels almost conversational in conjunction with the shouted call-and-responses of his bandmates, as though every part of the song reverberates around his words. The topsy turvy demeanor may lack some of the gritty urgency of Weatherbox’s more grounded songs, but its winding melodies make it simply mesmerizing. – Phillip Morgan

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