On this gloomy Monday, MostyFilm is here to pleasure your ears. This is the best music of 2014. By the time you’ve finished reading – and listening – to this, your headphones will be twice as much fun as they are now.
The Mostly Pop Best of 2014
1 Taylor Swift: Shake It Off
Yeah, maybe Blank Space is the better song in many ways (and what a video!) but Shake It Off is like a cheat code to happiness in my brain. I just love it. The only real banger on the mostly-amazing 1989, it is the breeziest expression of 2014 you’ll find. Pure sax-honking, hook-laden joy from start to finish. Its absence from Spotify will make the embedded playlist below a sadder place for you.
2 La Roux: Uptight Downtown
I think this got the most positive feedback of any song I reviewed this year, and with good reason. The whole album is brilliant and this isn’t even the best song on it – that’s probably Get The Feeling – but it’s the best single so here it is.
3 McBusted: Air Guitar
The relief at having (most of) Busted back coloured my initial review. On reflection, this is actually MUCH BETTER than I claimed. I know! I’m surprised, too. Right up there with Year 3000 and What I Go To School For, the marriage of sparky pop-rock and goofy, self-deprecating lyrics makes it a disposable classic.
4 Childish Gambino: Sweatpants
One of those songs I liked at the time and has grown and grown on me. It hides a sharp edge under a woozy sprawl, which is the kind of thing I am contractually obliged to love.
5 Ariana Grande ft Iggy Azalea: Problem
Ariana Grande’s album is horrifyingly bad so who knows how this is so bloody amazing. Something went right. Really, really right. That sax again, the unexpected chorus, the fluttering harmonies… Edible pop.
6 Iggy Azalea ft Charli XCX: Fancy
Iggy Azalea was everywhere this year, so it’s inevitable she turns up more than once in this list. OBVIOUSLY Charli XCX is the senior partner here, because just like Ariana Grande, the Azalea album is so bad it’s obvious she can’t be trusted on her own. But this is great.
7 Jesse J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj: Bang Bang
Has a dragging irresistibility like a rollercoaster to nowhere, with Minaj’s verse providing the drop. Not the only time we see Nicki Minaj or Ariana Grande on this list, but I can’t imagine Jesse J will turn up again.
8 Mark Ronson ft Bruno Mars: Uptown Funk
You know what’s missing from 70s funk? A 21st century pop writer’s sensibility. Ronson and Mars have fixed it for you with one of the year’s real oddities.
= 9 Nicki Minaj: Anaconda
Meghan Trainor: All About That Bass
2014 was at some point declared the year of “Isn’t it nice to have a lovely big arse?”. Anaconda is maybe the filthiest song to ever reach #3 in the charts; a cut-up montage of the sleaziest bits of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back in a literal sense, rather than figurative as Minaj’s stuff usually is. The video is a bit… distracting, to the song’s detriment. In isolation the song holds up well.
All About That Bass loses points for Meghan Trainor doing the same running-hands-down-curves move in the video approx 500,000 times in 3 minutes. Neither actually represents anything like the liberated step forward they’re presented as being (because the message is basically fuck thin women which is just as damaging to women’s body image, innit?), but it’s interesting to see mainstream music embracing a different body shape for a bit, and they’re both fun songs.
The Best Albums of 2014
10. Wussy – Attica!
Indie Rock, Americana
Tracks: ‘Teenage Wasteland’, ‘Beautiful’
Poor old Wussy, Robert Christgau loves ’em, but no one else seems to care. A top 10 spot here will probably push them into the big time, though.
9. Wang Wen – Eight Horses
Track: ‘Welcome To Utopia’
There’s probably an essay to be written about how post-rock used to be all post-apocalyptic and Dystopian (F♯A♯∞) and now it’s all soaring crescendos and, well, welcoming people to Utopia. Nothing hugely original about this album (just think Explosions in the Sky), but I really liked those crescendos.
8. Angles 9 – Injuries
Experimental Big Band, Avant-Garde Jazz
Track: ‘European Boogie’
If you liked the Melt Yourself Down album from last year, or you’re a fan of vibes-men like Bobby Hutcherson or Mulatu Astatke, then check this out. Blog review here.
7. Yob – Clearing the Path to Ascend
Doom Metal, Sludge Metal, Stoner Metal
Yob somehow made it onto Rolling Stone’s AOTY list, at #50. Now, if they can only manage to get Bruce Springsteen to play on their next album, they’re guaranteed the #1 spot.
6. Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica
Southern Hip Hop, Jazz Rap, Conscious Hip Hop
Tracks: ‘Soul Food’ ft. Raphael Saadiq, ‘Lost Generation’
The hip-hop heads over on RYM were somewhat unimpressed with this, but I enjoyed the hell out it, mostly. Admittedly, there is a bit of a dip in the middle of the album (slower r’n’b or club joints) but when he’s fired up he delivers some of his best songs.
4. Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste
Hip House, UK Bass, Trap, 2-Step, Experimental Hip Hop
Tracks: ‘Ice Princess’, ‘Chasing Time’, ‘Yung Rapunxel’
Yeah, some of these songs may be a couple of years old by now, but the variety in the production (using a lot of UK garage and house) still makes it sound fresher than most mainstream hip hop artists who are all using the same producers.
3. Camera – Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide
Krautrock, Motorik, Post-Rock, Psychedelic Rock
Tracks: ‘Parhelion’, ‘Synchron’
Camera have served as Michael Rother’s backing band in live shows, so it should come as no surprise to hear that this sounds like prime Neu! or early Kraftwerk. And it’s flippin’ great.
2. Hail Mary Mallon – Bestiary
Abstract Hip Hop, East Coast Hip Hop
Tracks: ‘Krill’, ‘Hang Ten’, ‘Kiln’
Hail Mary Mallon, aka Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic – great beats, ridiculous lyrics, I didn’t even mind the skits. There wasn’t much to choose between the Top 10, almost any of them could have been #1, until…
1. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah
Neo-Soul, Funk, Psychedelic Soul, Funk Rock
Tracks: ‘The Charade’, ‘Back to the Future (Part I)’, ‘Another Life’
Had to be done, really. It’s an instant classic.
2014 was the first year I’d not written about music, in some capacity or other, for about 8 years. It was strange. I wasn’t ‘forced’ to listen to anything for reviewing purposes; I didn’t chase as many things down; and I didn’t have listening or writing deadlines. As such, more than for a long while, I tended to listen with the blood. These are the things that mattered:
David Kilgour & the Lucky Eights – Like Rain (from End Times Undone)
Steve Gunn – Milly’s Garden – (from Way Out Weather)
Grace Jones – Walking in the Rain 12″ Version (from Nightclubbing)
Fennesz – Static Kings (from Bécs)
Bernard Sjazner – Dune (from Visions of Dune)
Hallock Hill – Workbench Atheist (from Kosloff Mansion)
Run the Jewels – Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) (From Run the Jewels 2)
D’Angelo & the Vanguard – Prayer (from Black Messiah)
Todd Terje (feat Bryan Ferry) – Johnny & Mary (from It’s Album Time)
Earth – Even Hell Has Its Heroes (from Primitive & Deadly)
Lee Gamble – Oneiric Contour (from KOCH)
Mica Levi – Meat to Maths (from Under the Skin OST)
Richard Dawson – The Vile Stuff (from Nothing Important)
Sturgill Simpson – The Promise (from Metamodern Sounds in Country)
Mike Cooper – Sitting Here Watching (from Trout Steel)
The War on Drugs – Eyes to the Wind (from Lost in the Dream)
Hiss Golden Messenger – O Little Light (from Bad Debt)
The Prophet’s All Stars – Outside the City Walls (from Deeper Roots, Part 2)
How to Dress Well – Repeat Pleasure (from What is this Heart?)
Angel Olsen – Windows (from Burn Your Fire For No Witness)
The Lowland Hundred – 3 (from The Lowland Hundred)
Lewis – Romance for Two (from L’Amour)
Bastard Mountain – Meadow Ghosts (from Farewell, Bastard Mountain)
Slint – Washer (from Spiderland)
The Leanover – Life Without Buildings (from Any Other City)
Marissa Nadler – Nothing In My Heart (from July)
Spank the Monkey Is…
Refusing To Operate Inside Your Petty Genre Categories
As I’ve mentioned here in previous years, every December I put together a CD’s worth of favourite tracks from the year gone by, much to the bewilderment of youngsters who don’t know why music has to be constrained to physical media any more. Which is a fair point, but shut up, I do these things better with limitations. This year’s compilation is entitled Everywhere Is Monsters, and here are the 17 songs on it.
- Soil & “Pimp”Sessions – Love Immediately (from Brothers & Sisters)
- Kate Tempest – Marshall Law (from Everybody Down)
- Ylvis – I Will Never Be A Star (from Volume 1)
- The Unthanks – Mount The Air (single)
- Ringo Shiina – Private (from Reimport – Ports And Harbors Bureau)
- Lamb – What Makes Us Human (from Backspace Unwind)
- Harp And A Monkey – Walking In The Footsteps Of Giants (from All Life Is Here)
- David Bowie – Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) (single)
- Lykke Li – Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone (from I Never Learn)
- Rubberbandits – Dads Best Friend (single)
- Elbow – My Sad Captains (from The Take Off And Landing Of Everything)
- Robert Plant – Little Maggie (from lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar)
- The Roots – The Dark (Trinity) (from …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin)
- Jimi Goodwin – Panic Tree (from Odludek)
- Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – do do pi do (from Pika Pika Fantajin)
- Ed Harcourt – The Way That I Live (single)
- Eno*Hyde – Lilac (from High Life)
Full track-by-track analysis can be found in the usual place, but here are a few general thoughts. Firstly, as an old fart, I need to acknowledge that this is the first year where the majority of these tracks come from downloads, rather than physical CDs. I’ve been battling against the tide for some years now, but there’s no getting round the advantages of digital, even putting aside the increasing difficulty in finding places to buy CDs any more. For one thing, it’s helped me rediscover the art of the single: and that includes the surprising find that David Bowie’s new track Sue works a hell of a lot better in its radio edit than its full fat indulgence. For another, it’s made my frequent dabbling in Japanese music much more straightforward, as well as much less expensive: when the average Japanese CD retails at twenty-five quid before you even consider import costs, I’ll happily settle for an £8 set of MP3s any day. (Spotify UK, meanwhile, appears to be a bit behind the curve when it comes to J-Pop, so apologies for the couple of gaps in the attached playlist.)
As ever, there’s very little to tie these 17 tracks together in terms of style: there’s some jazz, some folk, some white boy rock and a surprisingly small amount of hip-hop. The lure of the novelty record is still strong, unfortunately, so I make no apologies for the two that have made it onto here. Ylvis’ sort-of-sequel to The Fox has a great premise – a record made by the less famous brother of the two guys in the band – and then takes it into surprisingly downbeat areas for a comedy tune. Not as downbeat as Rubberbandits manage, though, as their Dads Best Friend is a cross between a satirical overview of midlife crisis and a horror story on the same topic, all wrapped up with the best possible pronunciation of the word ‘tarantula’. Have a listen if you don’t believe me.