Best of 2014: The Hottest Jams of 2014

Only a few days late this year, but behold, my Favorite Songs of 2014! Hopefully, everyone had a safe new year and is looking forward to what should be a brilliant year of music in 2015. Thank you for your continued support and readership. It means a lot.

65. Angel Olsen: “Windows” from Burn Your Fire for No Witness
The final song from the St. Louis-raised folkie’s glorious second LP doesn’t employ many words, but it says a helluva a lot. Olsen’s desperate plea to a loved one who is seemingly uninterested in helping themselves is especially moving, as you can hear the weariness in her voice. It’s something that anybody who has been in her position can relate to. Here’s hoping that there was still enough strength in that voice to get through to whoever it was meant for.

64. Shamir: “On The Regular” (digital single)
One of the most playful songs of the year, the 20 year-old Las Vegan introduces himself to the haters and swats them away like Dikembe in one fell swoop. Armed with just some MIDI keys and a cowbell, Shamir Bailey’s enthusiasm is overwhelming, sing-rapping through a frenetic, explosive three minutes that’s perhaps the best indication of why there’s so much hype around him and why it’s so warranted.

63. Doss: “The Way I Feel” from Doss
Ephemera was a powerful weapon in 2014, but few captured wielded it as deftly as this anonymous American producer. This dreamy, romantic single straddles the line between mid-90’s, E’d-out rave and jilted teen’s LiveJournal, bubbling with both an intense desire for human interaction and crippling insecurity. So, you know, it’s basically the sound of high school.

62. Lauryn Hill: “Black Rage” (sketch) (digital single)
A song like this reminds us how much we miss the former Fugee’s powerful, distinct voice. As she is her wont, Hill speaks the truth here, laying out some harsh realities over the once-innocent melody from “My Favorite Things.” Hopefully, this “sketch” will result in some more fully realized paintings in the coming year. Lord knows we need them.

61. Throwing Shade: Sweet Tooth (f/ Emily Bee) from 19 Jewels
The kind of song that you can just melt into, the London producer’s ode to the human face is just as delicious as its title would suggest. Bee’s playful, flitting vocal is the perfect fit for Nabihah Iqbal’s ocean of synth molasses, and its wonky drum pattern gives it the tension it needs to keep the kettle boiling over. The whole thing hangs on a tightrope, constantly threatening to tip over but catching its balance at just the right time.

60. Jacques Greene: “No Excuse” from Phantom Vibrate
When I caught the talented Canadian live earlier this year, it became increasingly clear that with every project, he is moving further and further away from the constraints of the club world that he came from. While his music has always straddled that line (#sensitivehouse), the Marques Houston-sampling “No Excuse” seems more crafted for personal use than professional use, and that is by no means a bad thing. He’s always been a phenomenal DJ and producer, but it’s a joy to watch him grow as a songwriter, and I’d love to see what he’d do with a full-length album.

59. Tommy Kruise: “Hers” from Fête Foreign
From one Montreal native to another, Tommy Kruise’s “Hers” is a ghostly, evocative cut that is almost too pristine to add vocals to. Built around a timid keyboard line and his go-to trap hi-hats, Kruise laces a double helping of emotionality with two disembodied voices, floating menacingly above the fray. Also, make sure to check out its touching music video below, which is one of my favorites of the year.

58. Migos: “Fight Night” from No Label 2
The ATL trio’s triumphant No Label 2 was as enjoyable as it was unwieldy. Buried midway through its gargantuan 25 tracks was one of 2014’s most inarguable bangers. Combining Bay Area bass with Atlanta percussion, “Fight Night” managed to stay fresh even though it was playing ad nauseam out of the speakers at every bar, sporting event, and car stereo in America. That’s no mean feat.

57. Sicko Mobb: “Fiesta” (remix) (f/ A$AP Ferg) (digital single)
If there’s one out-of-towner adept to take on the frenetic sound of Bop’s lead dogs, it’s NYC’s most iconoclastic MC. Ferg’s sing-song flow is the perfect fit for one of the most joyous songs of last year, hinting the crossover potential in the Chicago’s most hopeful regional sound.

56. Young Chop: “Valley” (f/ Chief Keef) from Still
After taking over the hip-hop world in 2012, the Chief Keef has focused on interstellar domination, drifting deeper into the sonic abyss. As was true in 2012, producer Young Chop is his rock, keeping his otherworldly impulses grounded in the world where the rest of us inhabit. “Valley” is a perfect example of Chop framing his robo-crooning in an arrangement that supports him while calmly calling Sosa back down to earth.

55. OTF NuNu: “At The Top” (f/ Lil Durk) (digital single)
After crafting my favorite song of 2013, Lil Durk must have suffered through a wretched 2014. A major label debut never materialized, and much worse, he lost three well-known members of his OTF Crew (two to tragic deaths, one to jail). He gave one of his finest verses of the year to one of those slain — his cousin OTF NuNu — and it’s a devastating irony that only four months after releasing a song this triumphant, the 21 year-old MC was dead. Another young life ended too soon. RIP.

54. I Do Not Love: “I Like You Most” from IDNL.
Gregory Carl Miller’s icy, skeletal goth-pop is made for looking out of snowy windows, dreaming of longer days and warmer climes. Like his presumed heroes — Robert Smith, Peter Murphy, Morrissey — the Massachusetts native has a knack for matching his miserablist tendencies with just enough musical light to remind you that April will come and everything will be OK again.

53. ZMoney: “Dope Boy Magic” from The Greatest Trap Show on Earth
One of the hardest hitting beats of the year didn’t even really have one. Much of the Chicago MC’s gleeful stuntin’ anthem eschews percussion altogether, instead relying on earbud-shredding sub-bass to get your head nodding. A beat with this much negative space on it puts a huge onus on the MC to keep the song moving, but ZMoney’s charismatic flow is more than up to taking the wheel.

52. SD: “Circles” from Truly Blessed
Sadiki “SD” Thirston has never been one for following conventions. After outing himself as one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets as part of Chief Keef’s massive GBE imprint, he promptly bounced and went independent. His debut LP is a killer effort that incorporates R&B’s melodic sensibilities with lurching, druggy production and adhesive hooks. Above it all, SD’s versatile, affable vocals is an ever-present, keeping the whole thing ticking over.

51. Real Estate: “Crime” from Atlas
Our government should have a fund that guarantees that Real Estate makes a new record every two years until the end of time. We need a biennial dose of Martin Courtney taking on the issues facing the modern-day cool dads of America over languid, reverb-y guitars that remind us of driving aimlessly around the towns we grew up in. They’re the Prius of music. They may not be any of my friends’ favorite band, but they’re the one band that almost all of my friends can agree on. That counts for something.

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