50. Alt-J – ‘Hunger Of The Pine’
The odds, we suspect, would have been very long indeed for anyone speculating that the first taste of new music from Alt-J since their Mercury Prize winning debut would feature a sample of Miley Cyrus. Even without her, ‘Hunger Of The Pine’ is a glorious curveball.
49. David Bowie – Sue (Or A Season Of Crime)’
Trust David Bowie to surprise everyone in 2014 with a completely batshit crazy jazz noir epic. Still experimenting well into his late 60s, Bowie keeps the youngsters on his toes. What a pleasure that the legend is still creating some of the greatest music, as he has been for decades.
48. Ariel Pink – ‘Put Your Number In My Phone’
Ariel Pink’s new album, ‘Pom Pom’, sounds like a bizarre collection of 1960s TV themes and homages to throwaway pop. ‘Put Your Number In My Phone’ does both, recalling both the theme from some lost ‘70s sitcom and the candy-flavoured tunes of flower power-era pop group The Association, albeit with a very modern twist on the lyrics.
47. Gruff Rhys – ‘American Interior’
Gruff Rhys has built a solid career on creating lush, immersive and fully-formed surrealist worlds outside of Super Furry Animals. ‘American Interior’ was a highlight of his fourth solo album. It darted and weaved masterfully, manipulating our expectations with aplomb.
46. Flying Lotus – ‘Never Catch Me’ (feat Kendrick Lamar)
From FlyLo’s album fifth album ‘You’re Dead!’, this track was the highlight. It’s a song about destiny, philosophy, heaven, perspective, inspiration and quantum jumps. It was probably written with a healthy amount of FlyLo’s favourite DMT nearby…
45. Sun Kil Moon – ‘Ben’s My Friend’
As the final track on Mark Kozelek’s album ‘Benji’, ‘Ben’s My Friend’ was a light moment on a record that explored, with grace and brutality, the many faces of human misery. Taken alone it was a song that saw the 47-year-old explain how an incident with Ben Gibbard of The Postal Service triggered a “meltdown”.
44. Juce – ‘Call You Out’
Juce jumped onto the scene in 2014 with tracks bursting with soulful vim and a vibe that was missing from British music. Unashamedly pop, the London trio won over fans and ‘Call You Out’, the signature tune, has staying power that’ll whet appetites for the band’s first album.
43. SBTRKT – ‘New Dorp New York’ (feat Ezra Koenig)
AKA the song which left genre-geeks scratching their heads this year. Is it dance? Is it indie? Shall we just call it batshit crazy? Yes, let’s. Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, full of sunshine, sings about “Gargoyle’s gargling oil” over some noises that sound like a family of foxes going through your bins.
42. Ex Hex – ‘Hot And Cold ‘
Before Sleater Kinney announced their return, Mary Timony busied herself with a new project, Ex Hex. Mining the sounds of all the best in glam-pop, ‘Hot And Cold’ was one of the standout tracks on their debut album ‘Rips’, all simple but striking guitar riffs and Timony laying down her frustrations with a relationship in a tangle.
41. La Roux –‘Uptight Downtown’
It took Elly Jackson five years to release her second record, by which point this lead single, originally written as a response to how she witnessed events unfold during the 2011 London riots (“Why are we fighting? I don’t understand/But the temperature’s rising tonight”), feels ripe to soundtrack the next inevitable disaffected youth uprising.
40. Sleater-Kinney – ‘Bury Our Friends’
‘Bury Your Friends’ hangs on Carrie Brownstein’s corroded guitar, Janet Weiss’ orchestral rim-taps, and Carrie and Corin Tucker’s exhortation, “exhume our idols, bury our friends!” Sleater-Kinney sound rattled by the world they’ve re-emerged in, but rightly cocksure that it’s theirs for the taking.
39. Protomartyr – ‘Scum Rise!’
‘Scum Rise!’ is Protomartyr grabbing men by the scruff of the neck and telling them to sort their shit out. Of course, it’s just as abject as those they rally against but they’re all too aware of it and therein lies the sad truth that makes their Fall-esque post-punk blasts of energy so engaging.
38. Morrissey – ‘Kiss Me A Lot’
‘Kiss Me A Lot’ was as coquettish as Morrissey got on ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’. Parps of brass and a Latin drumbeat in the intro were followed by handclaps and driving guitars. Here Moz was charged with love and lust, a feeling perfectly matched by slinky Spanish guitar and backing vocals.
37. Sharon Van Etten – ‘Every Time The Sun Comes Up’
Placed at the end of the profoundly heavy album (which recounted in gruelling detail the difficulties of Van Etten’s relationship), the glimmering, laid-back ‘Every Time The Sun Comes Up’ had a welcome levity to it, particularly in the gorgeously resigned chorus melody. A testament to the 33-year-old’s innate songwriting skills.
36. Noel Gallagher – ‘In The Heat Of The Moment’
Taken from the forthcoming ‘Chasing Yesterday’ record, Noel shows that the knack of writing a massive chorus has yet to escape him and the “na na na na” refrain here is one of the year’s most nagging ear worms. Give this another spin while you wait until March 2015 for the album.
35. Manic Street Preachers – ‘Futurology’
The title track serves as a manifesto for all that follows: a declaration of positivity to tee-up the rest of the LP and a reminder that right can trump wrong in the end. There’s a bubbling urgency and vibrancy and vitality here that was lacking from ‘Rewind The Film’, and a chorus that’s a mantra for belief in a greater good.
34. The War On Drugs – ‘Under The Pressure’
The opening track of The War On Drugs album sets out the vision of Adam Granduciel’s third album: Springsteen-eqsue melodies tied with motorik beats and unusual quirks. ‘Lost in the Dream’ has oft been described as a journey album, for travelling in planes and cars. This almost nine-minute track fits into that perfectly.
33. Death From Above 1979 – ‘White Is Red’
Death From Above do thunderous riffs as well as anyone. But swoony heartbreak? Here’s the evidence. ‘White Is Red’ is the sensitive jewel glinting in the the centre of their furious second album ‘The Physical World’. It’s a delicate flower, masquerading as a sauntering, leather-jacket-clad brute. A lovely surprise to us all.
32. Lana Del Rey – ‘Ultraviolence’
“You used to call me D.N / that stands for Deadly Nightshade / ‘Cos I was filled with poison / But blessed with beauty and rage,” starts the title track to Lana Del Rey’s second album. Yup, we’re straight into the dark romance of Del Rey’s world – and it’s just as enthralling as ‘Video Games’.
31. Cherry Glazerr – ‘Had Ten Dollaz’
Originally conceived as a 20-minute fashion song to be played while models strut their stuff on the catwalk, the track’s far more exciting when condensed into its four minute single version, coming on like a sullen, LA-cousin of Long Blondes’ mid-noughties classic ‘Giddy Stratospheres’.
30. Perfume Genius – ‘Queen’
Perfume Genius, aka Seattle-based solo artist Mike Hadreas, wrote the greatest track of his life for third album ‘Too Bright’. It’s a veritable anthem; empowering, rousing and dark. The song weaves and twists and turns all over the place, getting sweeter and sweeter. Seeing it live is goosebump-central.
29. Slaves – ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie?’
The Tunbridge-Wells two build a sense of dread paranoia with pounding drums and raw guitars, turning the experience of struggling to find a car in the wrong part of town into a thing of sheer terror. Thrilling.
28. Interpol – ‘All The Rage Back Home ‘
The first proper taste of Interpol minus flamboyant bassist Carlos D, ‘All The Rage Back Home’ teed up the band’s fifth album ‘El Pintor’ with a rejuvenated spirit. It was a return to the tremulous urgency of their early days, flecked with frontman Paul Banks’ trademark barked lyrical mysteries.
27. Taylor Swift – ‘Shake It Off’
The horn-filled song launched the new era of Swifty, the straight-up pop phenomenon. The subsequent album ‘1989’ secured Swift the record for fastest-selling record in twelve years. In a nutshell: Taylor Swift knows how to write a song of the year. There are half a dozen more of them on ‘1989’.
26. Mac DeMarco – ‘Passing Out Pieces’
In ‘Passing Out Pieces’ DeMarco progressed as a writer, using a synth bounce throughout to compliment those simple guitar lines. And he also progressed as a personality, admitting: “what Mom don’t know, is taking its toll on me”. Suddenly the Canadian’s life was a storyline to follow, and his fans were invited to immerse themselves in it.
25. Warpaint – ‘Disco//Very’
The track is so uninhibited and unhinged it sounds like it’s about to jump out the speakers, grab you by the neck and choke you, while smiling maniacally. According to NME’s interview with drummer Stella Mozgawa, surrounding neighbours in Joshua Tree were so perturbed by the sounds emanating from the band’s studio they called the police.
24. St Vincent – ‘Prince Johnny
“Prince Johnny is about a mixture of compassion and hopelessness that you feel for a friend who’s being very self-destructive, but you also know that you can’t save them,” said Annie Clark of this jewel. With a lurching drum machine, close harmony BVs and her idiosyncratic lyrics, Clark conjures a whole world in just a few minutes.
23. Damon Albarn – ‘The Selfish Giant’
Damon Albarn released his first solo album in 2014 and it was a real baring of his life. ‘The Selfish Giant’ is autobiographical, with references to drugs, Argyle Street in London and fractured relationships. With inventive production from XL boss Richard Russell and an earworm chorus, this track proved Albarn’s solo chops.
22. Run The Jewels – ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)’
A thundering four-minute boom, this ‘RTJ2’ single continued El-P and Killer Mike’s tradition for not just eviscerating rap mastery but hilarious song titles, too. Zack De La Rocha’s searing guest verse felt like a passing-of-the-torch: from one generation’s arch-rebel to today’s.
Jamie T – ‘Love Is Only A Heartbeat Away’
“Remember me for mistakes I’ve made/ I always did leave when I should’ve stayed”. Jamie T’s last verse on ‘Love Is Only A Heartbeat Away’ was one of the most intimate moments on his 2014 album. The darkness that characterised the record was rarely more apparent, but although he sounded weary, Treays subtly injected love and uplift.
20. Honeyblood – ‘Super Rat’
Never have brutal putdowns sounded as sweet as they do in the hands of Honeyblood, whose ‘Super Rat’ includes the lines “You are the smartest rat in the sewer” and “Your love is like a crocodile”. Those lines are dwarfed by the damning chorus: “I will hate you forever/ Scumbag sleaze, slimeball grease, you really do disgust me.”
19. Alvvays – ‘Archie Marry Me’
There was something surly lurking beneath the butter-wouldn’t-melt indie-pop dimples of Alvvays’ breakout single. Far from being the love song many adopted it as, thanks to its swooning chorus, ‘Archie Marry Me’ is actually an anti-marriage anthem: “forget the invitations, floral arrangements and bread-makers,” singer Molly Rankin croons.
18. Aphex Twin – ‘Mini Pops 67’
As well as having the only song title that you could easily drop in conversation, ‘Mini Pops 67’ is also the most accessible moment on the esoteric playground that is Aphex Twin’s ‘Syro’. Best ingested as part of the album as a whole, ‘Mini Pops 67’ stands alone as a taste of one of this year’s most accomplished works.
17. Iceage – ‘The Lord’s Favourite’
When they emerged from their cold Copenhagen hideaway back in 2011, Iceage releasing a song that sounded quite like The Libertines was unthinkable. ‘The Lord’s Favourite’ though, swapped bloody barrage for rickety chords, drums that sounded like the kit was falling apart and lyrics you could actually hear.
16. Shamir – ‘I Know It’s A Good Thing’
Shamir is the androgynous house diva with a tender heart that captured attention with the stunning ‘Northtown’ EP earlier this year. ‘I Know It’s A Good Thing’ is a James Murphy indebted highlight, the sort of bruised and brooding moment that takes you from the depths of dance floor despair into the eye of the exultant storm.
15. Kate Tempest – ‘Marshall Law’
On the almost-grime of ‘Marshall Law’, Kate Tempest presents an every day situation – people at a party, chatting, flirting, drinking, snorting – then takes it up a notch by rapping the inner-monologues of her lead characters: Becky, Marshall and Harry. What unravels is a modern day psychodrama.
14. Jack White – ‘Lazaretto’
Jack White is no longer a musician who values minimalism above all else. He is no longer a garage rocker, a punk, a White Stripe or a Raconteur. Instead, he’s a one-man Led Zeppelin. ‘Lazaretto’ – the first single from White’s album of the same name – features almost rapping, a fiddle solo, Spanish lyrics and metal riffs. Masterful mayhem.
13. Jungle – ‘Busy Earnin’’
No wonder this fizzing electro-funk ended up one of 2014’s biggest festival anthems: from core pair J and T’s slinking falsettos to the song’s anti-material message (“damn, that’s a boring life… too busy earnin’”) it’s a masterwork threaded with the sort of hooks bands spend their entire careers trying to nail. Jungle did it first time round.
Merchandise – ‘Little Killer’
Dazzling guitar lines from Dave Vassalotti – still a criminally underrated guitarist – and an undeniable chorus made ‘Little Killer’ sound huge. In steamrollering their dissonant punk past with a mega radio melody, Merchandise cemented their position as the boldest new band around.
11. Lana Del Rey – ‘West Coast’
Did LDR’s 2014 return go to plan? Hard to tell. All we know is that amongst the cancelled appearances, contested interviews and fractured live outings, she made an utterly compelling album. And Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach really brought out the shine when he produced ‘West Coast’.
10. Mac DeMarco – ‘Chambers Of Reflection’
On much of ‘Salad Days’, Mac DeMarco sounded like he couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed. With a sombre drumbeat and slovenly synths, ‘Chamber Of Reflection’ was its most reluctant song. He condensed perfect melody and misery into a glorious combination that showcased the 24-year-old’s soft side.
9. Royal Blood – ‘Little Monster’
Royal Blood screamed into 2014 with this Goliath second single. Coming out pre Valentine’s Day, “I’m your wolf, I’m your man/I say run little monster, Before you know who I am” proved a sweaty, lustful alternative to ‘roses are red…’ cack. Also contains typically Royal Blood how-is-that-a-bass-and-a-guitar solo from Mike Kerr.
8. Jamie T – ‘Zombie’
Jamie T’s long awaited ‘Carry On The Grudge’ might have showcased a more mature sound than his earlier material but this slice of catchy lad-pop is a welcome hangover from the songwriter’s first two albums. Singing about being a “sad sack, post-teen” and how he could have been a “love machine”, this is what the world was pining for over five long years.
7. St Vincent – ‘Digital Witness’
“People turn their TV on/it looks just like a window,” snapped Annie Clark on ‘Digital Witness’, a marching art-funk takedown of the internet age. Peppered with brass and squelching synths, it took a philosophical conundrum and updated it for modern times: if a tree falls in the forest but no one’s there to Instagram it, did it happen at all?
6. Kasabian – ‘Eez-Eh’
The first single from the ’48:13’ album made as big a statement as that shocking pink album cover. With its half-rapped vocals, Midlands vowels and daft electronic beats, ‘Eez Eh’ was the most exciting – and most fun – thing the Leicester band had put out in years.
5. Run The Jewels – Blockbuster Night Part 1
A dystopian thrum of steely beats and metropolitan synths zipping around in your headphones like drones around sci-fi film city tower blocks, ‘Blockbuster Night…’ saw El-P and Killer Mike rallying furiously against government hierarchies. “The fellows at the top are likely rapists,” spits El-P, with chilling conviction.
4. The War On Drugs – ‘Red Eyes’
This year’s ‘Lost In The Dream’ album gave the Philadelphia band their big breakthrough, but ‘Red Eyes’ gave them their first big festival moment – the track came alive at Glastonbury. Typical of the album’s driving Americana sound, ‘Red Eyes’ insistent beat, neat riffs and twinkling synths made for a moment of Boss-like glory.
3. Fat White Family – ‘Touch The Leather’
Proof that all the best bands come good exactly when they need to. Following six months of rabid, addictive gigs in the most unkempt of pubs across London (hello, south Peckham!), FWF’s catch-the-zeitgeist moment was an undeniable ‘fuck you’ to anyone who’d ever doubted the band.
2. Caribou – ‘Can’t Do Without You’
Caribou’s Dan Snaith is a master architect; he doesn’t write songs, he builds them. In ‘Can’t Do Without You’, a simple drum loop and a circling vocal is layered and layered until it reaches a glorious, wig-out crescendo that tantalisingly only lasts about 25 seconds. Festival fields in 2015 will lose their minds to its perfection.
1. Future Islands – ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’
Future Islands on Letterman was one of the pop culture moments of 2014: from one performance, a small indie band broke through. The video’s had 3million views so far. But it wasn’t all about that, it’s a beautifully written song with an intriguing melody and theme that struck a chord with so many people: change.