Best of 2014: The Hottest Jams of 2014

10. Mr Mitch (f/ Dark0): “Sweet Boy Code” from Parallel Memories
2014 was a banner year for grime. It was taken apart, put back together, and even thrown back to the beginning (more on that later). Two of London’s finest deconstruct-ors combine to put a weepy spin on the genre, melding forlorn woodwinds with my favorite vocal sample of the year. “Sweet Boy Code” moves slowly like an aqueous, amorphous orb, floating in sonic space and ready to glob on to any eardrums in its wake. It’s both an exciting indication of where grime is in 2014 and a window into the vast grime ocean that we still have yet to explore. These two will definitely certainly be at the forefront of those future expeditions.

9. Future: “Throw Away” from Monster
I am constantly amazed by the velocity of culture in 2014. Artists used to spend years and albums building a narrative — now, they seem to begin and end in minutes. Just six months ago, Future was the “kinder, gentler” Atlanta rapper. He was engaged to Ciara, dropping some of the most romantic songs in hip-hop (“Turn on the Lights,” “Anytime,”  “I Won”), and generally being charming. By late October, somehow the 30 year-old had up-shifted into Runaway Kanye mode, unashamedly picking through the unpleasant details of his break-up on the scintillating, Monster. It’s most stunning moment is its most difficult and unhinged. Future veers wildly from dead-eyed Patrick Bateman lothario to heartsick, jilted lover and back again. It’s hard to listen to. It’s sad. More than anything, it’s honest. As it turns out, a hell of a lot more honest than Honest was.

8. Karl x Johan: “A Better Tomorrow” (digital single)
It’s a pity that the Swedes’ widescreen power ballad didn’t come out twenty years ago, because it is absolutely made to be played (and heard) in a sold-out arena adorned with a sea of lighters. While it will probably never be played for more than 5,000 people, Karl X Johan’s starry-eyed love song made me feel like a 15 year-old who just heard “Open Arms” for the first time. It didn’t blow up like “Midnight City,” but it pushes all the same buttons in me that Gonzalez’s masterpiece did. The duo weave their voices together for ultimate anthemic effect, dialing up the emotionalism with technicolor synths, booming drums, and lyrics like “I could die every night with you by my side.” It’s cheesy, timeless, and just about everything I love about love songs.

7. The War On Drugs: “In Reverse”
The finest moment of one of the undisputed albums of the year, “In Reverse” is one of those songs that reminds us that there are always rays of light, even in the darkest rooms. Everybody who has ever battled through heartbreak (so, everybody) knows that it only really sinks in a few weeks after the first cut, and instead of wallowing in it (ok, he’s kinda wallowing), frontman Adam Ganduciel makes it sound mutedly triumphant. His stirring vocal reminds us that the pain isn’t unique — that it’s a necessary part of finding the kind of love we crave — and its expansive, malleable arrangement reminds us that change and motion is always around the corner.

6. Meridian Dan (f/ JME & Big H): “German Whip” (single)
There is no kind of hip-hop song that is more fun to listen to than a fun grime song. While the genre has a serious history of cutting social commentary and penetratingly personal lyrics, it also has a fun side with numerous classics about fast cars, weirdo British department stores, and good manners (sorta, not really). Boxer turnt rappa, Meridian Dan adds his name to the list of the artists who have achieved the latter with this gleeful ode to German engineering. Buoyed by a couple of memorable verses from JME & Big H and the twinkling keys and rolling percussion of The Heavytrackerz, the Londoner is a steady right hand on the top of the wheel, guiding the track along and gassing it at all the right times. I will probably never have my own German whip, but this track makes my Japanese whip feel just like the real thing.

5. Grouper: “Holding” from Ruins
Liz Harris has built her incredible career on creating a kind of alien intimacy, burying a deep, aching humanity under boundless layers of extraterrestrial sonic space. It’s what makes the bewitching, Ruins, such an impossible record to shake off. For the first time, Harris eschews much of the surrounding noise and pulls the listener close and sings in their ear. The most crushingly gorgeous moment of the break-up album comes near the end. Over a spare, step-wise piano line, the Portlander pulls all the blankets back, admitting “It’s in the morning when the sadness comes. The tears fall down in patterns on the window.” It’s a stark portrait of the early days of heartbreak, when the break-up is memorialized in days and weeks, not months or years. She manages, “there’s nothing left to hold here,” just before her vocals are drowned out by the driving rain — a nice reminder of the ephemeral nature of these things and that there’s always a new cycle ready to start when one ends.

4. Mark Kozelek: “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” from Benji
I could have picked three others (“Micheline,” “I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same,” “Carissa”) from the year’s (SPOILER ALERT) best album, but I’ll go with the song that made me cry at my desk on first listen. There are a lot of ways to express love. In unsurprisingly Kozelek-ian fashion, Mark Kozelek opts to express his love for his mother by obsessing about how his life is going to fall apart after she dies. It’s a morose, morbid way to think about it, but it’s true and beautifully written and composed. Instead of quoting a line or trying to describe how his masterful fingerpicking creates the perfect atmosphere for this kind of rumination, I’ll just encourage you to press play, close your eyes, and be thankful for those indispensable figures in your life. Then, call them and tell them you love them.

3. Skepta x JME: “That’s Not Me” (single)
Rarely does a throwback single sound so current. The North Londoners take us back to the 90s with the most exhilarating grime tune in years. From the infectious intro melody to Skepta’s rapid-fire chorus, “That’s Not Me” is 1000 mph (er, km/h) of pure, muscular energy. It’s one of those songs that no matter where I hear it, I can’t not spit every lyric along with the North Londoners. It’s fitting that two guys who have never embraced mainstream ethos would be the ones to breathe new life into a genre that was built on the same principles. The banger of the year.

2. Metro Thuggin (Young Thug x Metro Boomin): “The Blanguage” (digital single)
Without a doubt, 2014 was the year of Young Thug. While there are a litany of artists (Wayne, Gucci, Future, etc) who helped make modern hip-hop the most fascinating, progressive mainstream genre in music, nobody grabbed the reins and dragged the genre forward in 2014 like the 23 year-old ATLien. Though record label hell (fascinatingly chronicled by Buzzfeed) blocked him from releasing a proper debut LP, Thugger (né Jeffrey Williams) still released a treasure trove of essential material, none surpassing this re-skinning of Drake’s “The Language.” It may start rooted to Drake’s original, basic flow, but it slowly mushrooms out to a free associating, part-rapped/part-sang opus. Thug is guy who occasionally barely uses audible words, so conventions like “16 bar verses” and “rhyme schemes” are totally out the window, and you can hear him closing his eyes and just going wherever 2014’s best producer, Metro Boomin’s druggy, palatial production takes him. It’s a song that’s alive in a way that very few are, and I’m so excited to see where the most talented young artist in rap goes from here.

1. Real Lies: “North Circular” (single)
“The Blanguage” might be a more objectively impressive song, but I went with “North Circular” because nothing made me feel as much as this one did. And because this site is written by a suuuuch a fucking sap, that counts for a hell of a lot. The trio’s stirring night drive through the stretch of road that cuts through North London brought me straight back to the El Camino Real, Woodside Road, 101 North, and the many nondescript stretches of pavement that guided me through the formative nights of my childhood and adolescence. 

“North Circular” is one of those special pieces that conjures up all those feelings; it just washes me in nostalgia. Like its spiritual uncle — one of my all-time favorite songs, The Streets’ “Weak Become Heroes” — the track feels like it was made just for me, like it was sneakily written by one of my friends in the backseat when none of us was looking. Even though myself and singer Kev Kharas (and Mike Skinner) grew up well over 5,000 miles apart, Kharas’ beautiful, plainly poetic lyrics remind us that even though the road signs are different, we’re not. It may not be a particularly groundbreaking thesis to suggest that brilliant music reminds us that we are all the same — that we all want and feel basically the same things — regardless of race, nationality, creed, sexuality, and whatever else. In this case, “North Circular” reminds us that, when we were growing up, life was angsty and exciting and boring and intimate and lonely and beautiful and everything else in between. Just the way it still is and will always be. Bring on 2015.

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

Comments are closed.