There's no real interesting way to say that there have been a zillion songs that have caught our attention this year. The new music we write about, feature, share with you, the random tracks we stumble across like rare beasts in the digital jungle of SoundCloud, our few hundred-odd Tracks of the Day. We amass each of them lovingly into a gargantuan collection like a deck of Pokémon cards.
But there comes a time when, well, you can only spend so long organising your Pokémon deck, arranging them by each one's type, by their HP, or alphabetically. Eventually you sit back, look at the scattered colours on your bedroom floor and, exhausted, ponder: Which are my actual favourites?
There can be any number of reason why you think a track is the best of the year. For you, it might conjure the happiest memory of the year. It might be that you've got addicted to it and have heard it so many times that it becomes part of your everyday routine, part of your physiology. It even might be the case, which is probably the most common answer - even though we do try to explain and extrapolate as much as we see fit - that you have no fucking clue why you like a song.
The best we can do is to say how we feel about a particular song. Each one is a moment in time, and the feelings that arise in the few minutes that make up these musical moments are all we have to go by, really. Technical brilliance only matters to those who are au fait with technicalities. Everybody feels, to some extent. That is the great leveller, the perfect qualifier. So here are our feelings, laid out for you, to show you how our guts reacted when we asked ourselves what tracks deserved to be deemed our favourites. Or, if you like, the best.
20. Doujinshi - 'lalala~'
A relative newcomer to producing, Doujinshi has had a rapid rise in the online underground, namely in a scene that has no particular name, but one that combines - for the most part - otaku-esque geekery and Japanese influences with hard, often trap-flavoured beats. His popularity is so much that he was able to turn his (now former) SoundCloud page into a home for a netlabel he's just founded, YUKYU, a hopeful answer, he tells me, to underground infighting. His track 'lalala~' took my brain by storm earlier this year and it hasn't let go since. Hence its appearance here. Not only is its skilfully chopped vocal sample (from 'Nijiiro' by Japanese singer Ayaka) incredibly joyful, but this is set to a soft, Pachelbel-aping synth line, sumptuous bass and insatiably nuanced beats. I catch myself either thinking about it or humming it every few days, which makes me wanna listen again, and all this makes me happy.
19. Drake - '0 to 100 / The Catch Up'
Essentially two separate tracks fused into one, Drake's versatility and lyrical ability has seen '0 to 100 / The Catch Up' notch up over 27 million views on soundcloud alone. Most artists would work their whole careers to create a track as striking as this but Drake just threw it up online as a treat to the fans. His next album will cause absolutely seismic waves if his standard of output matches '0 to 100 / The Catch Up'. It wasn't even the only huge track he released without warning as 'Draft Day' and 'Days in the East' were both uploaded with little to no fanfare as well as potential future album cuts like '6 God'. Drake is slowly creeping into the upper echelons of rap and he knows it.
18. The War On Drugs - 'Red Eyes'
The War on Drugs and its chief member and founder Adam Granduciel are known for slow-building songs that gather and grow over their duration, and whilst not particularly being an exception, 'Red Eyes' is instant and sudden. From the pounding drumbeat that carries the track, to the triumphant splashes of guitar, right through to the glorious, celebratory synths that scream Bruce Springsteen right in your face, it's a truly uplifting 2014 memory taken from a wonderful record.
17. Todd Terje - 'Delorean Dynamite'
After waiting a decade for an album, in a post-Chinese Democracy world, Todd Terje fans could be forgiven for limiting their own expectations for this long awaited debut album. I can only imagine when 'Delorean Dynamite' finally dropped as the lead single back in February that the faithful well and truly shat themselves with relief. Not only is it a banger, it's perfect. The only way it can be improved is if you play it twice.
16. Ariel Pink - 'Picture Me Gone'
Ariel Pink might have found himself in the midst of controversy this year regarding comments he made in interviews and on stage, but none of this has diminished his brilliant songwriting talent. His ability to create weird, oddball pop is as strong as ever and 'Picture Me Gone' finds him in poignant ballad mode. In the song he is a father telling his son that he can remember him after he is gone via the pictures on his iCloud storage. It's sad, it's touching, and it's perfectly fitting for the digital age we all live in. The chorus is a huge, lighters-in-the-air-moment, and it comes with a pretty disturbing music video too, if you're feeling freaky.
15. Spazzkid - 'Truly'
In previous years a relatively solitary bedroom-producer type, Spazzkid holds enough sway now to collaborate with a lot of different people. But perhaps sway isn't the right word; his collaborators are closer to being, or actually are, online friends. (Not only online but IRL friends too, of course). In Promise Remixes Pt. 1, for instance, he introduces a bunch of amazing artists who've reworked tracks from his Promise EP. A collaborator on that EP was Sarah, rapper/singer/speaker of Kero Kero Bonito. On 'Truly', her plaintive vocal flutterings in Japanese and English match Spazzkid's literally delightful sound, pockmarked with bubblesome beats and delicious candy synth, ornamented with clusters of combined electronic/glockenspiel melody, growing more bustling and busy as the track bounces its way along, spanning two continents through an online world almost littered with love. Working with different people like this shows Spazzkid's existing talents and future promise in producing, so get to know.
14. Baths - 'Ocean Death'
It seemed almost as if Caribou had the feels-riddled electronica market cornered this year with ditties like "Can't Do Without You", but then producer Baths (Will Wiesenfeld) came along and dropped this doozy into our laps. 'Ocean Death' is thoroughly chilling, with the lyrics in full (they're repeated a lot) being: "burrow into my/bury your body in my/burrow into my/bury your body in my/graveyard/I am the ocean/return to the earth through the water..." There could be romantic interpretation, potentially, but submerged beneath vast quantities of reverb and distortion, the vocals are anything but warm and fuzzy. They sound like the death rattle of a phantom chorister. A propulsive fauxtorik trembles underneath, with burbled groans and harrowing moans, sampled, working as a bassline along with a tidal synth. Songs can often make you feel many things - sadness, love, happiness, the desire to 'ave a fumble, but rarely do they strike fear into your beaty heart.
13. Future Islands - 'Seasons (Waiting On You)'
Inadvertently following in the footsteps of Kanye West's 'Black Skinhead' from last year, Future Islands' 'Seasons' gave 2014 its very own ubiquitous TV performance smash, but forget that for a second. 'Seasons' is more than a YouTube video and an unforgettable dance routine: 'Seasons' is passion and respect for the sweet simplicity of '80s dance-floor pop, drowning in frontman Stephen T. Herring's uncontrollable emotion. Drawing on the changing of the seasons to represent a harrowing parting of the ways between two people in love, there's a bittersweet acceptance stabbing at the heart of his story - like we said, this is more than a YouTube video and an unforgettable dance routine. And looking at where they've come since that Letterman performance, with 'Seasons,' Future Islands have well and truly planted their flag.
12. Saint Pepsi - 'Fiona Coyne'
Saint Pepsi's abrupt transition from critically-adulated vaporwave (the phenomenal Hit Vibes) to equally critically-adulated disco on 'Fiona Coyne' might have come as a shock to some, but in hindsight the stylistic shift makes sense. Whereas Hit Vibes openly embraced its devotion to the past's kitsch, 'Fiona Coyne' reimagines that camp in a more modern context. With the meekness of similar-sounding electro-pop acts dominating airwaves today (Capital Cities, Foster the People, and American Authors, among others), Pepsi's work is a breath of fresh air, welcoming the squeaky-clean guitars and straight-ahead rock beat with open arms. If nothing else, 'Fiona Coyne' is aural caramel, perfectly paced with expert build-ups and comedowns, and its gloriously overstated euphoria provides arguably the most satisfying four minutes of the year.
11. Alex G - 'Cards'
Lo-fi bedroom producer (though don't tell him that) Alex G, hailing from Philly and the city's Temple University, might only be 21, but with his 'debut' record DSU, he demonstrated a talent wildly beyond his years. Many have drawn comparisons between Alex G(iannascoli) and Elliot Smith, and while flattering, they're tenuous at best. Since when did Smith spend evenings singing as quietly as possible into Garageband so not to piss off his roommate?
'Cards', despite not actually being included on that outstanding premiere gambit, is probably the finest cut he's spewed out this year - and we're not short on those. He's about 10 releases deep into his Bandcamp career (not all this year, mind), but his public blossoming has only arrived since his cultish fanbase spilled over into the wider world of the Internet - in the midst of that, he dropped 'Cards'. Part Animal Crossing-woodwind, part scratchy guitar jangles, part hoarse-harmonied sweetness, it's a strange track to have excluded from DSU, given how ruddy marvellous it is.
It's only just over two-and-a-half minutes long, but in that time, Giannascoli fuses immense melody and warmth with the fuzz that comes with his hardware limitations. There are only a few tracks poppier on his album, but there are none that melt your insides so ably; it's a top notch slab of noise from one of the most acclaimed songwriters of the year.
10. Taylor McFerrin - 'Antidote'
'The Antidote' itself is a sumptuously organic percussion - shakers, woodblock clicks, sharp hi-hats - arranged in garage style, washed with waves of synth that inspire low-key euphoria. Guitar joins the party by the end, muffled with slight distortion and gentle wah-wah, ending the track with a sound that conjures exotic desert raves supplied with deliciously frosty fruit punch and an eternity of sunshine.
9. Grouper - 'Call Across Rooms'
Grouper, aka Liz Harris, describes 'Call Across Rooms' in a Vogue interview as, "on one level very plain and literal, about a letter I wrote for someone I loved and could not get along with." She continues, "On a more subconscious, poetic level, it is a letter to myself, as aspiration to love better." From the outside, the delicate haunt of Harris' vocals and piano arrangements are effortlessly haunting and profoundly pulling, making for an endearing new impression.
8. East India Youth - 'Heaven, How Long'
In January of this year, above Gulliver's - a small pub in Manchester's Northern Quarter - East India Youth stood in front of around 150 people and played a set like no other. Passionate thumps on his equipment - which he almost dropped from the stage - resulted in a cut to his forehead which bled throughout the show. He didn't even know he'd cut himself until I told him after he climbed off the raised floor - he was that focused. It's that sort of intensity and desire which is reflected in his Mercury Nominated Total Strife Forever, and more specifically in its shining star 'Heaven, How Long'. This guy builds tension like Vince fucking Gilligan: patience and meticulousness suddenly make way for a final explosion which, in the case of 'Heaven, How Long,' is akin to an adventure through outer space at breakneck speeds. Rapid-fire whacks of double-time kick drums push this fantastical odyssey to its climax, almost spiralling completely out of control to finish off the album's A-side.
7. Schoolboy Q - 'Break The Bank'
TDE's ScHoolboy Q provided us with one of the best rap songs of the year, 'Break the Bank' produced by The Alchemist. The piano chords sound like they come straight from a classic horror film. Four seconds shy of a six minute playtime, there isn't a moment where the song appears to drag. 'Break the Bank' made us reminisce on 50 Cent's early music. The same ruthless, energetic flow that we heard on songs such as 'Many Men' and 'Back Down' can be found in 'Break the Bank', along with a catchy hook. According to the rapper, he hated it at first but The Alchemist was able to persuade him and it's not hard to see why.
6. FKA Twigs - 'Two Weeks'
Tahliah Barnett's year can only be described as... 'not too shabby'. We gave her a bright, shiny 10/10 for her debut LP1, and in a rare occurrence, most outlets agreed. She also went and got a Mercury nod, and has been essentially solidified into many-a-mind as a consummate showwoman: from her enthralling live experiences, replete with avante-breakdance sections, chiaroscuro extravaganzas (extravaganzi?) and near-perfect vox, to her strident ambition in her AV magnum opuses.
However, sans quality tunes, she'd be falling flat. Fortunately, she clearly has the noise to back up her aesthetic aims and experimental visual elements. It's tough to select merely one from a cavalcade of greatness, but 'Two Weeks' is arguably the finest effort in her 2014 canon. The whirling darkwave vortexes, creaking percussion and rumbling bass are enchanting when slotted together, but it's Barnett's achingly honest voice/lyrics that make it stand out. Delivered via staccato bursts, she blurts as if mid-hysteria with sharp intakes. Semi-hyperventilating, she yearns for sticky romance and sweaty lust: "smoke on your skin to get those pretty eyes rolling/my thighs are apart for when you're ready to breathe in," is still one of the most captivating couplets of the year. Her unabashed approach to love and sex is sincere, compelling and with confidence - this ain't no Khia-esque gimmick, Barnett's just channelling our innermost.
5. Angel Olsen - 'Windows'
"What's so wrong with the light / wind in your hair, sun in your eyes / what's so wrong with the light." Put simply, this song will leave you emotionally drained. Press play with caution.
4. Sharon Van Etten - 'Your Love Is Killing Me'
Sharon Van Etten pouring her soul out as she sings, "Break my leg so I can't walk to you / Cut my tongue so I can't talk to you / Burn my skin so I can't feel you / Stab my eyes so I can't see," is one of the most arresting, heart-rending moments in music this year by far. It's so powerful, so utterly raw as Van Etten's voice shakes with emotion, at times becoming an unintelligible howl, that, by the end of its six minutes, there's little you can do but just stare at a wall and try to regain your faculties.
It's the kind of song that would stun a room, one that does not want to let go until its got everything out of its system. It's a unique experience, one that almost leaves you feeling weak at the knees, as the anger and heartache in her voice reaches boiling point, and one that sticks with you long after its six minutes are up.
3. Flying Lotus - 'Never Catch Me - (ft. Kendrick Lamar)'
Two of the most critically acclaimed artists collaborating so naturally this side of Run the Jewels' and arguably trumping them? Count us in. You see, there's a special beauty with 'Never Catch Me' in that it manages to combine everything that's perfect about its two lead contributors and enhance their performances as a result. It's as if they're working together in the kitchen a la Morecambe & Wise.
'Never Catch Me' is natural and delicate, framed suitably by the clattering percussion, but also as explosive and ambitious as any previous Flying Lotus release. The thick, dampened thuds of kick drum which punch the outro to the finish fall in and out of each beat, never quite settling where they're supposed to. Kendrick is at a canter the whole time too, drawing on his flawless technique to cram as much as possible into a the smallest spaces. He sounds furiously focused the entire time. To be blunt, 'Never Catch Me' is a highlight not only in 2014, but in the careers of both Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar.
2. Caribou - 'Cant Do Without You'
What we have in Dan Snaith is a master craftsmen. Not only with sound, where he is blessed as one of this generations greats, clearly... just listen through headphones, but this guy understands the human condition, he understands the ebb and flow we need to peak as one. With 'Can't Do Without You' he has mastered suggestion by repetition. The mantra like title paints a picture of your own choosing with your memories, as the music grows and grows and grows, and when you think it's peaked, it grows some more. It is the most glorious crescendo imaginable. I swear I will break something dancing to this before the night is over.
1. Perfume Genius - 'Queen'
'Queen' is one of those rare moments, which you get with only a handful of artists, where they take a bold leap into unknown territory and it actually pays off. In fact, the artistic evolution of Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, is one of the most exciting to happen in years. Gone are the quivering ballads and in comes the "cracked, peelin', riddled with disease" glam rock monster. The lyrics are a righteously defiant reaction against what Hadreas coined "gay panic", where ones (gay) existence causes others to be threatened or scared. In deconstructing this homophobic behaviour he has written a gay anthem. It is a complete triumph in every sense.