Likewise with our corralling of a set of 10 hearts that put pen to paper like bosses on our favorite front-to-back records this year, so goes another set of 50 that may or may not have even needed a record to house a genius sentiment. Alphabetically listed the same, ‘cause lyrics, they do finer things than numbers. And who are we to rank Lauryn Hill‘s perfectly frothy prison-exiting “Consumerism” rant over Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds‘ eight-minute beatnik mastery, “Higgs Boson Blues,” that fits Hannah Montana into a physics discovery that may ruin the romance of the unknown? We are nobody. And that is everything, lyrically speaking. To the top 50 class of 2013, thank you.
A portmanteau fusing ‘division’ and ‘visionary’, this late-year title-track addition for the band’s 2014 forthcoming sophomore effort takes every piece of shit-splattered hay thrown at the band since their 2009 debut, Alright You Restless – the loss of a mother, a father, a sister, three grandparents, and two very dear friends, for starters – and spins a handclap and foot-stomp piece of choral pop gold that showcases the resilience of the human condition so wonderfully you’ll be searching for the Church of AgesandAges. Just make sure you “do the right thing” and look inward: [LISTEN] – G.P.
Arcade Fire – ‘Afterlife‘
Now that Reflektor‘s olympiad marketing campaign has subsided and all the Achtung Baby comparisons have lost some air, Win Butler’s finest song to date can breathe, separate itself from the pomp and circumstance of the concept record dance, listen to its sprawling Haitian arena heart beat, circle and glow around Régine and ask simply, purely, forever and helplessly hopeful: “When love is gone/Where does it go?:” [LISTEN] – G.P.
Banks – ‘Waiting Game‘
A likely contender for next year’s One’s To Watch lists, the enigmatic Banks justified all her early hype with this stunning echo-laden fusion of synth drones, mournful piano chords and haunting choral vocals, while simultaneously positioning herself as a starker Taylor Swift with a blind item-esque admission of how a fellow musician –rumored to be recent touring partner The Weeknd – can no longer get away with declaring his love solely via the medium of song: [LISTEN] – Jon O’Brien
Aussie’s finest garage rock kick may not be the next Patti Smith, but damn does she have an angle on freewheelin’ street beat anti-cool, combining the fuck-its of Courtney Love with the class of Buddy Holly, here, with the core ethos of The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas – imploding inhibitions – framed around the word nerd dreams of a millennial heart looking to rewrite a history that hasn’t even had a chance to get started yet: [LISTEN] – G.P.
The dark prince of R&B, gets his Benjamin Button on with an album that packages nostalgia and uncensored longing into a cyclone of unrequited emotion. His voice is haunting and penetrating, and the heavy synth work adds a specter-like quality to his words. It was the lead single to his album, and a perfect introduction as it’s laced with the right amount of melancholy to help facilitate your own personal retrograde: [LISTEN]
No offense to Big Sean, but Kendrick literally ripped the shoe off his foot and beat him with it. It’s King Kendrick all day and he makes the best out of it by reminding his peers that he’s Top Dawg in this strata. Granted it was more a cheeky jab than a rip your jawline, Canibusian attack, but nevertheless it established that no lyricist – pop or otherwise – is complete without a few battle scars: [LISTEN]
Awfully foreshadowing the shit that just hit the fan for this poor NYC transplant, losing his dog and every single one of his possessions to a fire, it’s even more beautiful to see him take tragedy in stride with this as meditational existentialism credo, able to chocolate buttery nipple smooth R&B support what New Yorkers do best – dust themselves off and make time their bitch: [LISTEN] – G.P.
Just when you think you have a handle on Danny Brown, he flips the table faster than a Chinese acrobat. It’s the Motor City’s finest returning to his native soil, getting dark and gritty and vicious. No gimmicks or sleight of hands on this wild west Paul White composition, and even though there are more catchy songs on he album, this one lands harder than a Tyson right hook/right uppercut combo: [LISTEN]
Pronoun alluding to a fellow singer-songwriter she may or may not have had a heart for, this sunset folk ballad is just about the purest distillation of Case at her cathartic best, turning a fading conversation anecdote into a punkish scoff of a “blah, blah, blah” rumination, validating it in the same breathy twang of a moonlight ride with a yearning declaration that she’s “got calling cards/from 20 years ago.” So goes the true blue sweetness of heartache: [LISTEN] – G.P.
The epicenter of an LP cooked around the idea of the web destroying us all with endless “Googling curiosities,” The Bad Seeds stretch out on this eight-minute beatnik jam named after a physics discovery that may ruin the romance of the unknown, Cave fire-dancing until you see the whites of his eyes, dropping Hannah Montana and Robert Johnson references for kicks. And just when you think he’s gonna let loose and shove a white-hot poker in your face, he sits back and lets us all stew in poetic muck to make a spiritual point that hopefully won’t ever get old: [LISTEN] – G.P.
Old Smog roller Callahan’s in a good place on Dream River, an exultation on love and his usual naturalistic panache, opening his story with a parlor toe-tapper of a Westian meditation that can be channeled all day long with only two words said in a day’s work – “beer” and “thank you” – proving that if you want to be a good singer, you’ve got to be a better listener: [LISTEN] – G.P.
Another Americana warrior of the fuzzian order spinning heartache and change into cathartic gold, Cedermark took a Neil Young “Helpless” school of thought in which that place that spawned you fails to possess the healing magic you may think a return may bring, and instead of bellyaching, channels the pain into some “acid-damaged negatives of memories” to carry him forward, letting loose with a guitar tone that stretches out like a Utah sunset: – G.P.
The Civil Wars’ cover of the Portishead classic has been floating around since 2011, but was never formally released until Record Store Day of 2013. It came aboard the cover EP Between the Bars, but the lyrical theme of an addiction to an adulterous relationship fits perfectly into the “romantic metaphor for our personal tensions” vibe that they achieved with their self-titled earlier this year. Joy Williams’ vocal performance is positively haunting, possibly even better than Beth Gibbons’ original, which speaks volumes: [LISTEN] – K.E.
Featuring an opening line that couldn’t have made their intentions to smash the conventions of commercial dance music any clearer, the super-smart quartet then proved they could walk the walk as well as they talked the talk with an aptly-titled blend of Wolfgang Amadeus string loops, stuttering synths and skipping beats which brought the worlds of classical music and classic house together in the most effortless and effective manner since the remixes of William Orbit’s post-Madonna symphonies: [LISTEN] – J.O.
This power ballad, like all Coheed fare, fits into the Amory Wars storyline (our hero’s devotion to the mission cost him his wife), but stands by itself as relatable, regardless. Power ballads seem a bit cheesy no matter what, but this one somehow avoids that death-trap, possibly by opting out of vapid love story clichés. The album even came with a bleep-blooped remix if the idea of musicians playing instruments in 2013 weirds you out: [LISTEN] – K.E.
The iconic French dudes in motorcycle helmets may not have made The Dark Side of the Moon of EDM that they wanted to, but with a finer sequencing comb and more tracks like Noah Lennox’s (Animal Collective, Panda Bear) assist on this moment of dancefloor zen shaped beautifully around the breaking of shadows off bodies into the light, perhaps people would be synching up Ozian tales to Random Access Memories at the lion’s roar in 20 years. For the real now, though, ain’t nothing ‘random’ about the unity “Doin’ it Right’ beams: [LISTEN] – G.P.
Far more magical and indeed far less questionable this summer’s other ubiquitous hit, the dream team of Pharrell Williams, Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Daft Punk kickstarted the current disco revival with an intoxicating ode to making an instant connection which seemed to have been transported directly from the heady days of Studio 54. Despite eight months of overplay, its glittery guitar hooks, falsetto vocals and laid-back grooves still remain utterly impossible to resist: [LISTEN] – J.O.
Death Grips – ‘Birds‘
DG’s latest 36 minute surprise release of manic paranoia may not have had as many dark hooks as past cuts, but it showed a new side of the group – one that worries about “tomorrow,” and doesn’t tinge all of their issues with a sense of PCP-fueled invincibility. Instead, MC Ride shows the tiniest hint of vulnerability, reflected with the “blue bird” reference and wispy guitar sample here. It’s not their best, but in my book, it’s still better than the rest. Bonus points for continuing to innovate, even after releasing three full-length albums in two years: [LISTEN] – K.E.
Deerhunter – ‘Monomania‘
Following their previous orchestration in sparkling, ornate tapestries, Monomania’s rowdy squall was a welcome Bradford Cox distorted punk fist in the air, however ironic or tongue-in-cheek it may have meant to be, the five-minute title track is exuberant iconoclast fun, and quite perfect for the holiday/winter solstice here, Cox sneering for an “angel” substitute, that’d be just fine, if the dude’s not gonna get the wholesome option a.), man upstairs: [LISTEN] – G.P.
De La Soul – ‘Get Away‘
The Three Musketeers of rap. The Holy Trinity. The ’96 Bulls, one of the only groups from the fabled golden-era who realized that the sum was greater than the parts. After laying low – really low if you count Are You In?: Nike+ Original Run – the godfathers return with the lead to their forthcoming album. Everything about it – from the Wu-nod and flip to the history lesson – speaks of a triumphant return: [LISTEN]
Diarrhea Planet – ‘Kids’
Shitty name – har, har – clean values – that is, for a new generation of blue light pop awww chasers who don’t stock any gospel power behind self-control, “Kids,” with its gleam-the-cube guitar skater gnar and hair-whipping mount is just about the greatest middle-finger to guilt and the pressures of age put to wax in the past five years. It’s like four offspring of J. Mascis’ all discovering how to ollie, date and play the guitar at the same time. And we’re all freer for it: [LISTEN] – G.P.
Aggressive, “hardcore” music may get a bad rap, but there’s no denying that no one does the ear-drum stab or “WTF time-signature is this?” quite better than these guys, evidenced in the first four seconds alone. The message inside Puciato’s screams take an emo-y twist at times, but only when the band is going ballistic and you don’t even notice. When they break into catchy sections, he shows biting wit, and when everything culminates in a heavy bash to the brain, he brings the big guns anyone could fantasize shouting at an enemy you’ve just finished berating: [LISTEN] – K.E.
Disclosure – ‘You and Me‘
Thankfully free of any ukuleles, whistling hooks or samples of First World War marching songs, the impossibly youthful Lawrence brothers proved they could do no wrong this year by turning the typically twee Eliza Doolittle into a convincing two-step garage diva on a gloriously summery early 00s throwback which combined shimmering synth pads, rubbery basslines and Ayia Napa-friendly beats with a breathless and believable account of an intense ‘us against the world’ love: [LISTEN] – J.O.
Pop culture may have largely passed the Murphys by since The Departed left our collective consciousness, but not only have they been up to all kinds of good-guy badassery this year, they also released a record with some powerful anthems. The best of these is this ultimate Father’s Day present, scattered with Irish well wishes and working class grit, it brings “them feels,” as the internet would say: [LISTEN] – K.E.
This track is just beautiful. Producer Arca’s stripped-down beat avoids any sort of two-and-four back beat, giving an even dreamier feel to FKA’s rejection and yearning for self-improvement as she aims to win back her lover through a plant metaphor and a possible prostitution reference. Plus, she did it all in eight lines – nothing else this year came even close to creating or saying so much with so little: [LISTEN] – K.E.
Making a giant leap towards the mainstream, Foals brought math-rock to the masses on an infectious break-up anthem filled with tropical riffs, soaring pop melodies and tight disco grooves. Distancing himself from both his ex and the backdrop to their once-blossoming love, wounded frontman Philippakis may have insisted that he felt more alive than ever. But his hesitant delivery and unconvincing brave face suggested he was running away with his problems rather than from them: [LISTEN] – J.O.
Jimi Hendrix – ‘Izabella‘
Posthumous albums are hard to categorize, especially when you’re talking about a demigod like Jimi Hendrix. But the 12 songs of previously unrecorded material – meant as a follow up to Electric Ladlyland – portray a subtle but important shift for the legend, a return to his roots in blues and funk. It’s Jimi fanning the embers of another fire. And while it represents a notable sonic shift, the poignant political rhetoric is still heartily intact: [LISTEN]
When Lauryn Hill entered a self-imposed exile it was to reducate what she felt like was a miseducated mind. Since her return it’s been a one/two shot of unrelenting diatribes.”Consumerism” is the rock to Goliath’s head, and it’s filled with all the scathing ire and contempt and anxiety that a sane person would feel when returning to a seemingly alien world. No “Fu-Gee-La” harmonizing here, just fire from a cannon: [LISTEN]
Calvin Harris might have shamelessly tried to take some of the credit for “Fade” by claiming that its dramatic piano hook was lifted from “I’m Not Alone.” But the world’s richest DJ could only dream about producing something as classy as this 90s breakbeat throwback which instead of the usual hedonistic themes, found ethereal songstress Maiday poetically expressing her devastation at being abandoned by a man who was entirely oblivious to her undying devotion: [LISTEN] – J.O.
2014 is here and you’re plugged in 16 hours a day. You’re a text away from becoming a cyborg for good. But fear not, the reverend of folk rock funk arrives just in time to slow cook your soul back into reality. The altruistic chords and earth rattling break settles into your veins and turns metal into flesh. The negative space becomes hallowed and Jim James proceeds to dunk heads like John the Baptist: [LISTEN]
While the digital world was asleep, mouth agape with nothing floating around in the atmosphere but a stale breeze, J-Zone was up making fun of everything that needed to be made fun of and not giving a goddamn about it. His tirade on social media norms are spot on, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better you come to find out that he laced that incredibly funky beat underneath: [LISTEN]
Gareth Campesinos! (nee Paisley) has made heartstring-tugging cool again with several overlapping lyrical layers that reference everything from British political parties to Roman gods, all in the name of remembering the importance of love and death, with a side of judging our shallow celebrity culture. Perhaps more importantly, the energetic groove supporting the four-plus minutes of aural candy reminds of a slightly more-caffeinated version of mid-2000s Arcade Fire, which is a sound we’ve missed as AF settle into the indulgences of indie tenure, like injections of disco and dress codes: [LISTEN] – K.E.
When the world sleeps Julian Malone is awake waiting patiently with a pen and pad. His songs have come at a tempered pace and although there isn’t an album yet he still walks as if he owns the world. Not to be confused as a rogue ronin Julian does come with a family and in due time he along with his round table will come to usher in a new golden era: [LISTEN]
The second swath in a boundless confident stride of a five-song medley that opens this 23-year-old’s fourth record, whatever doofus broke her heart has long been etched into the permanent sting of Marling’s grace and growth, well on her way to tracing the footsteps of Joni Mitchell; an open-tuning soaring acoustic gem dancing around “chance,” “circumstance” and “romance” with the wisdom of a woman twice her age. Actually, hey thanks doofus heart breaker: [LISTEN] – G.P.
No “Best of List” would be complete without an appearance by a blossoming anarchistic from the Odd Future camp. Earl is an easy choice, as is Tyler and even The Internet, but it’s MellowHigh who strikes the strongest chord. The seething Left Brain beat heralds the apocalypse to which Hodgy and Domo come riding in on a pale horse flipping the bird. They divide, conquer, and head home to eat unicorn burgers: [LISTEN]
MGMT – ‘Mystery Disease‘
Sure, MGMT no longer delivers a constant stream of radio-friendly synth lines anymore, and some of their other stuff these days is too weird for most of us, but you still need to give it a listen if you haven’t yet. This dark, psychedelic trip represents the consequences of vice and the seven deadly sins through a twisted parasitic-plague metaphor, and it is the best song they’ve made yet – including the uber-catchy Oracular… singles that you normally associate with the *actual* MGMT sound. Come at it with an open mind, and your booty will thank you: [LISTEN] – K.E.
MS MR – ‘Think of You‘
The highlight from their criminally ignored debut Secondhand Rapture, New York doom-pop duo MS MR delivered one of this year’s most pissed-off kiss-off anthems as the fiery Lizzy Plapinger finally experienced a lightbulb moment about her poisonous, abusive and loveless ex on a majestic wave of propulsive beats, thudding piano chords and skyscraping melodies which would no doubt have become inescapable had it been recorded by the similarly dramatic Florence + The Machine: [LISTEN] – J.O.
Laura Mvula’s voice soared across 2014 like a condor. Her lyrics are empowering and echo Nina Simone, but instead of muck-racking her opposition like she would be entitled to she chooses simply to live by example. Her second single begins with a warm percussive embrace and ends with a sonic breakthrough, the recording and mixing making it lush and inviting. Freedom songs are her weapon of choice and she sings it with playful but regal elegance: [LISTEN]
Naughty Boy – ‘La La La‘
Naughty Boy may have fallen short of the top prize money on Deal Or No Deal but he hit the jackpot this year with a UK garage throwback which impressively managed to make a ‘la la la’ refrain sound meaningful. Indeed, used to drown out the venomous sermonizing that had begun to dominate a relationship, the phrase perfectly encapsulated the despair of a man pushed to the end of his tether while Sam Smith’s soaring tones and this year’s most adorable video also helped to heightened the emotions: [LISTEN] – J.O.
Pet Shop Boys – ‘Vocal‘
Recapturing the euphoria of the dancefloors around the time of the acid house revolution, a resurgent Pet Shop Boys ensured that a certain robotic French duo weren’t the only electro comeback worth bothering this year with a blissfully nostalgic club classic which saw a typically deadpan Neil Tennant express both surprise and joy at a ‘big fish, little fish, cardboard box’ anthem which gave just as much prominence to the singer as its four-to-the-floor beats: [LISTEN] – J.O.
Slowly utilizing more and more tools at his great Western disposal of heartache, Matthew Houck started playing around with 808 drum beats and a whirling string team to let things bleed this year with Muchacho. “Song For Zula” follows the record’s a cappella wake-up call with one of the finest track twos this year, setting the cinematic stakes for ‘Zula’ right and quick, denounce love of its ‘burning’ Johnny Cash fiery ring-isms and coloring it a “caging being,” his perfect wavering, spectral vocal print gaining speed and strength as it chases freedom: [LISTEN] – G.P.
A refreshing antidote to the never-ending wave of YOLO anthems which emerged this year, hip-pop’s most disarmingly charming duo revealed their disdain for the UK’s king of exploitative TV, Jeremy Kyle, made an enemy of Chelsea defender/national hate figure John Terry and blasted those artists who decide to pay for their YouTube view counts on a roaring 20’s diatribe against the state of today’s youth: [LISTEN] – J.O.
Serengeti – ‘Directions‘
Visit Chicago, and you’ll recognize the grid. Stay a bit longer and you’ll begin to internalize it. Before you know it you got a Ditka stache and you’re running from Skokie to Evanston like it’s the lakefront. And while not everyone can run a mile as fast as KD, you can still sit back and appreciate some sage advice from someone who believes “up” and “down” are legitimate compass directions. Yorke was right, total genius: [LISTEN]
Jumping between the seductive whispers and minimalistic R&B of Cassie, Ciara and co. and the kind of high octane noise-pop and vitriolic vocals that defined their first two albums, New York’s most brash and hyperactive duo appeared to mellow slightly here as they vowed to keep their friends close but their enemies closer while giving Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities a Bob Marley-inspired sheriff-shooting twist: [LISTEN] – J.O.
…Like Clockwork’s opener grabs the stoner metal reins with a paint-peeling detuned guitar, “traipsing through” lyricist Josh Homme’s inner hell. It’s not entirely surprising, as the Queens had a very rough 2010 to 2012, and as Homme put it, this was their way to “document” it and “move forward.” Their sense of irony (the Alanis Morissette kind) pervades the track, just as it does the other-shoe-dropping album title: [LISTEN] – K.E.
Tegan & Sara – ‘Closer‘
Responsible for one of this year’s most effortless reinventions, the Canadian siblings’ full-throttle venture into the pop world may have alienated some fans of their earlier hipster-friendly indie fare. But those who remained loyal were rewarded with a string of 80s-tinged synth-pop gems such as this nostalgic Starship-meets-Katy Perry trip down high school memory lane, where the anticipation of a possible physical connection often turned out to be more exciting than the actual reality: [LISTEN] – J.O.
TM chose the zany, Adult Swim-style trip “Bite” as their Vevo single off X’ed Out, and it makes sense as it better represents them. Still, their Weezer-performing-a-power-ballad remake of their own electronic interlude was the hidden gem of this album. Reinhart’s clever twist on an old idiom shows he also has a lyric game. Maybe not on par with his axe work, but still: [LISTEN] – K.E.
Lyricist Ezra Koenig’s professorial intellect sometimes results in a lyrical wank, but not so here. He paints a picture of a war-torn, possibly post-apocalyptic New York that’s been ravaged by imperialistic greed for land over a tune that can only be described as spooky. Chris Tomson’s snare march feels like the ramblings of a wounded old-timey drummer boy, while the organ and choir put you in the pew of a church. It’s understated, but still quite heavy: [LISTEN] – K.E.
Ernest Greene struck young hipster retiree gold when Portlandia adopted the hazy bedroom pop of 2009’s Life of Leisure staple, “Feel it all Around.” Seems to be the dude never stops feeling it, really, blasting the vibes out his spring window here in tenfold exuberant fashion, right up out the bedroom, into the car and forever on toward an ocean-sprayed sun chase. Skin to the sun, brah, this here’s your finest swirling rewind back to Summer and Spring 2013: [LISTEN] – G.P.
While Deafheaven’s brand of happy-hardcore with post-rock droning jams is great, it’s undeservedly stealing all of the metal “Best of 2013” nods thanks in part to Pitchfork. But, kudos to P-fork anyway for blurbing on one hell of a release by Bellingham’s relative no names Wild Throne (fka Dog Shredder). Their D-beat, math-punk ode to the Sisyphean aspirations not only has blazing riffs throughout, but radio-friendly vocals and a bridge Black Keys fans could dig. It’s like if a less douchey Keith Buckley from Every Time I Die did a record with Converge. Still can’t believe these guys aren’t huge: [LISTEN] – K.E.