What better way to ring in the new year than with a list of songs that somebody else liked? Here are my favorite songs of the year that was. Listen on the fancy playlist that hopefully is appearing below, and/or read my thoughts on each track, and/or stop reading now and start a good book. Like “Watership Down” or something. Got it? Great. Happy new year.
25. Ex Hex – “Waterfall”
Mary Timony’s new ensemble gins up a dynamite Ramones boogie, and gives us an idea of what it must’ve been like to court Dee Dee: “I want to show you my affection / But you’re on the floor.”
24. Jessie Ware – “Say You Love Me”
The kind of scorching R&B theater we took for granted when Whitney and Mariah were at their peak.
23. Kylie Minogue – “Fine”
This underappreciated pop star speaks directly to the people who line the walls of the club, staring at their shoes, afraid of how they’ll be perceived: “You’re gonna be fine/You don’t have to worry.”
22. Mark Ronson ft. Mystikal – “Feel Right”
I’ve heard that Get On Up was pretty decent. But I don’t need a James Brown movie. I have Mystikal. “Feel Right” is no “Hit Me,” but it still drowns our eardrums in joyful adrenaline, leaving you no choice but to believe lines like “I eat flames up / Shit fire out!”
21. Swans – “A Little God In My Hands”
When this angular funk groove gets pancaked by a dump truck of drunken horns, it makes Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” seem like “I Want Candy.”
20. Run The Jewels – “Blockbuster Night Part 1”
Just in case this beat’s Andre The Giant-playing-the-12-string-guitar thump doesn’t do the trick, Killer Mike is here to shake your ass awake: “Top of the mornin’ / My fist to your face is fucking Folgers.”
19. Jungle – “Busy Earnin'”
Perhaps the catchiest dance track to ever leverage the swagger of hardcore capitalists. We “can’t get enough,” indeed.
18. Mastodon – “High Road”
This song compares those who take the high road to plague-ridden rats. Whether or not you agree is immaterial – one listen to that magnificent, belching riff, and you’re following these guys down every tunnel.
17. St. Vincent – “Birth In Reverse”
What does Annie Clark see through the blinds? She hints that it’s something phenomenal, haunting, and American. Perhaps it’s her own reflection.
16. Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”
During a summer when Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor were appropriating hip hop tropes in queasy ways, “Anaconda” felt necessary, with Minaj transforming an old pop-rap punchline into something hilariously, defiantly, and indelibly new.
15. Future Islands – “Sun In The Morning”
A stunning ballad that dares to suggest one person can be all you need. It’s “Drunk In Love” for the quavering new wave set.
14. Migos – “Pop That”
Proof that humanity’s instinctual urge to procreate is directly related to our instinctual urge to dance.
13. Tune-Yards – “Water Fountain”
An elegy to a failed public works system presented as a gleeful jump rope chant. Shades of gray aren’t usually this neon.
12. Drake – “0 to 100 / The Catch Up”
A salve for those still irked by the flagrant falsity of “Started From the Bottom.” Drake claims that he left TV for hip hop because the money wasn’t coming fast enough. Then he admits he’s probably not the greatest yet, in a freewheeling flow that begs otherwise.
11. Hannah Diamond – “Every Night”
The chirping synths and Chipmunk vocals of the PC Music collective sound like a robot presenting evidence that it can love. And “Every Night” is its most convincing argument, if only for its charming brain teaser lyrics: “I like the way you know that I like how you look / And you like me too.”
10. Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All The Way Down”
A ballad about Buddhism and the cleansing power of reptile aliens. Now that’s what I call rebel country.
9. Azealia Banks – “Gimme A Chance”
There’s a difference between an artist making eclectic music and an eclectic artist making music. This track is the latter, transforming from brassy hip hop into a killer salsa tune so seamlessly, you almost don’t realize it.
8. Against Me! – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
Hearing Laura Jane Grace’s pain ferment into jet fuel was one of the only things in 2014 that made us believe hatred’s days are numbered.
7. Shamir – “On The Regular”
Throw together some cowbells, a few notes on a synth, and the breezy confidence of the precociously talented – and just like that, dance music feels new again.
6. Cakes da Killa – “Just Desserts”
Listening to a Cakes verse should qualify as an hour of cardio. “Coming at n***as like an avalanche,” he spews here, not even coming close to hyperbole.
5. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – “Betray My Heart”
If you can believe any famous person who claims to be true to themselves, it’s probably the one who waits 14 years to capitalize on his fame. And then does so with earthy aplomb over walking bass and squelching wah-wah.
4. Nicki Minaj – “Boss Ass Bitch (Remix)”
The Rosetta Stone of being a boss.
3. Sleater-Kinney – “Bury Our Friends”
“Patch me up/I’ve got want in my bones,” belts Corin Tucker on Sleater-Kinney’s first new track in almost a decade. She sounds like a boxer who’s feeling her second wind, a character in an action movie who the CIA convinces to come out of retirement with guns blazing.
2. Clean Bandit – “Rather Be”
When the alarm goes off, you’re holding your person, and you’d trade tickets to Paris for just another hour. Clean Bandit has made a dance song out of that feeling.
1. Young Thug – “Treasure”
Nobody sounds like Young Thug. And “Treasure” captures him at peak delirium, marveling at people who leave money on the table in enchanting quadruple time, his voice squawking and cracking and stopping and starting like a Lil Wayne tape played on a melting Teddy Ruxpin. If you pass up the chance to listen to this, its chorus immediately applies to you.
Honorable Mentions: Azealia Banks – “Chasing Time”; Behemoth – “In the Absence ov Light”; Cozz – “Dreams”; Craig Campbell – “Keep Them Kisses Comin'”; D’Angelo & The Vanguard – “Really Love”; Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me”; Michael Jackson – “Love Never Felt So Good”; ILoveMakonnen – “I Don’t Sell Molly No More”; La Sera – “Running Wild”; Nicki Minaj ft. Soulja Boy – “Yasss Bitch”; Sinead O’Connor – “Take Me To Church”; Pallbearer – “Worlds Apart”; Robert Plant – “Rainbow”; Rich Gang – “I Know It”; The Roots – “Tomorrow”; Sia – “Chandelier”; TV On The Radio – “Lazerray”; Sharon Van Etten – “Every Time The Sun Comes Up”; Young Thug & Bloody Jay – “Florida Water”