Best of 2014: The Hottest Jams of 2014

30. J. Cole: “Be Free” (digital single)
Dorian Johnson’s interview with Al Sharpton in the wake of the murder of 18 year-old Michael Brown sticks in my head like no other moment this year. Johnson looks simultaneously shaken and poised, as he does his best to recount the final tragic moments of his friend’s short life. That heart-wrenching audio is captured in the North Carolina MCs protest song. It’s a fitting distillation of what so many are feeling in this country, and listening to Cole’s strained vocals intermixed with the audio gives “Be Free” a gripping immediacy.

Johnson’s final words in the song are “He (Brown) started to get down, but the officer still approached with his weapon drawn, and he fired several more shots, and my friend died.” That final phrase — “and my friend died” — has stuck with me the most. Because it’s not just Dorian Johnson who will never get his friend back. Tamir Rice’s parents will never get to see their son grow up. Eric Garner’s children will never get their dad back. The families of Ezell Ford, Darrien Hunt, John Crawford, and the countless others killed in these kinds of senseless tragedies will never get their daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, and friends back. That’s what hurts the most. Be safe out there, everybody.

29. FKA Twigs: “Two Weeks” from LP1
Tahliah “FKA Twigs” Barnett’s background as a dancer is all over her brilliant debut. While she’s an excellent lyricist and songwriter, the music she makes is body music, mirroring the contours of the human form in motion. As an unwieldy wall of undulating synths contort around her breathy, powerful voice, the 26 year-old wrestles complete control, dispatching lyrics like “feel your body closing, let me rip it open” with both a cool aloofness and overwhelming passion.

28. Yemi Marie: “Love Bop” from We Invented the Bop 2
Is America ready for an R&Bop revolution? I certainly am. The Chicago youngster’s electrifying amalgam should have been a huge hit, balancing the hyperactivity of bop with the melodic teeth of radio R&B to perfection. If this was a Ciara track, it’s hard not to feel like it would have been a smash.

27. Todd Terje (f/ Bryan Ferry): “Johnny and Mary” from It’s Album Time
There’s a lot to love about the Norweigan DJ’s nu-disco masterpiece, It’s Album Time, but none of it made the indelible impact of his haunting collaboration with Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry. Time has changed the 69 year-old’s once clean, virile voice into a gravely whisper, and those vocal crow’s feet give Robert Palmer’s happy-go-lucky original about an old couple a depth and gravity that’s hard to shake. Terje frames those vocals beautifully, employing a tapestry of keyboards that swirl hopefully above Ferry’s grounded vocals.

26. Run the Jewels (f/ Zach De La Rocha): “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) from RTJ2
In 2014, we need as many strong voices as possible, and as per usual, Killer Mike’s booming baritone answered the call. The brilliant RTJ2 is filled with radical battle anthems, and Mike and El-P’s finest comes with this double-barreled assault of the charlatans who are polluting the airwaves and Twitter feeds of America. De La Rocha doesn’t disappoint either, closing things out with a vintage verse. Like Zach’s been preaching since 1992, “Anger is a Gift.”

25. Mumdance: “Take Time” (f/ Novelist) from Take Time
You know that cliché about how the great ones make the hardest things look easy? When greeted with a Mumdance track that sounds more like a war zone than a beat, 17 year-old Lewisham MC, Novelist, doesn’t even break a sweat as he slaloms through explosions, syncopated hi-hats, and things that sound like sonic comets. It may not take a genius to see that this kid has a huge future, but it does take one to chew up and spit out a beat this challenging.

24. Hannah Diamond: “Attachment” (digital single)
It was impossible to escape the specter of PC Music is 2014, and few labels can claim that they’ve had more of an impact on independent pop music than the Londoners. Of the treasure trove of warped pop gems they released, Hannah Diamond’s testament to love in the mobile age stands out. From the childlike vocals to the Eastern keys to the “clop clop” bass, nothing on “Attachment” makes any sense in the context of current pop music, which is why it remained such a keeper.

23. Kyle Bobby Dunn: “Variation on a Theme by St-Dipshit” from Kyle Bobby Dunn & The Infinite Sadness
Kyle Bobby Dunn’s Soundcloud bio simply reads, “Canadian composer of sad guitar shimmering and speciality loops hopefully to bore you all to tears,” and while that is an inaccurate representation of his sound, it offers insight into the welcome humor he brings to a classically self-serious genre. In a fantastic year for ambient music, Dunn’s waves of guitar shimmered brightest, filling the speakers with amorphous, cinematic washes of feeling with just enough road signs to keep you on track.

22. MssingNo: “Brandy Flip” (digital single)
I left the anonymous Brit’s astonishing, “Xe2,” off my singles list last year, because it felt too much like a remix and have regretted it since. I’m not making that mistake twice. MssingNo has an incredible understanding of mood, and like many of his best tracks, “Brandy Flip” slowly unfolds mantrically to a storming climax. He’ll give you a little bit of it, then pull it back, leaving you starving for a resolution. And when it does come (about 3:30, here), it gives you even more than you thought you wanted.

21. Mr Twin Sister: “Blush” from Mr Twin Sister
The crushing fear of dying alone has never felt this good. “Have you ever felt like you would always be alone?” goes the rejuvenated Brooklynites’ back-seat disco masterpiece, but Andrea Estella’s gently forceful vocal makes you believe that it will all be ok, even as you’re affirmatively answering her question. The seductive soul searching is expertly contained in a languid, luxurious waltz, gracefully burrowing itself into those deep, dark places where all the feels are.

Posted on by TP1.COM in Best of '14, Featured

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