We’re a bunch of culture geeks here at Loser City, which means we love nothing so much as conformity, lists, and faux definitive rankings of things. With that in mind, this month we’re bringing you our Loser City Best Ofs, lists on lists on lists of our picks for top video games, comics, and everything else, along with personal lists from our authors on the things that kept us from crying now and then during this terrible, terrible year.
This week, we’re focusing on music.
The 21st century has been very good to singles, that format seemingly killed by the Beatles when they made albums that were more than just a hodge podge collection of 45s. Individual, bite-sized tracks have become the meal of choice for pop culture fanatics living in the modern world, which is why some of the greatest songs of the year didn’t necessarily go hand in hand with equally excellent albums. Single-driven artists like Lana Del Rey, Ariel Pink and happily disposable newcomer QT all made our songs list without being present for our favorite albums, but that doesn’t mean best albums alumni Run the Jewels, Against Me! and, yes, Taylor Swift didn’t get in on the action. The single was also where fledgling acts that are guaranteed future superstars showed off their promise, whether it was Angel Olsen, White Lung or Most Important Band You Haven’t Heard Yet BLXPLTN. We hope you’ll enjoy the 25 songs that we loved most in 2014, because while the year is freshly over, our romance with these tracks won’t fade for some time.
“Hey QT” by QT
A few months back I downloaded a BBC documentary about Living Dolls. They aren’t your typical mild mannered Ryan Gosling type with a giant doll/lover. These are men that for whatever reason dress up as Barbies, complete with dead eye holes and mouth slits through which you can see their tongues move when they talk. The documentary would go to and from commercial with small clips of the men jumping on trampolines in slo motion.
“Hey QT” is the sonic equivalent of those interstitials. Is QT a woman? Is it SOPHIE? Is it just sped up Hannah Diamond? All we know is that QT is an energy drink from the future or something and that he/she/xe/zir can write a catchy ass hook. “Hey QT” is not only the best pop song of the year, but also the most pop song. – Dylan Garsee
“Torpedo” by the OBGMs
A curious mix of early ’00s Scandinavian garage rock and Sonics throat shredding, the OBGMs’ “Torpedo” is a blast of infectious fun, perfectly calibrated to launch you onto a dance floor or a pit or a little bit of both. Other Toronto punk bands were more concerned with epic hardcore statements, but the OBGMs were a welcome new discovery in 2014 because of how easy their audio swagger made it to forget the chaos of the outside world for just a few minutes. And “Torpedo,” the single that preceded their excellent debut album, was an excellent calling card for their style of distraction, with its thrusting bass, erratic guitars, floor pounding beat and those maniacal vocals. – Nick Hanover
“The Motherload” by Mastodon
Mastodon’s Once More ‘Round the Sun goes conventional, down, slow, around, fast, mixes things up in miniscule ways and gives us a slew of songs that we might have heard parts of already. This sounds defeatist, but I want you to understand that this album thrives on the moments where it takes those parts and crystallizes them into something magnificent.
Track two, “The Motherload,” is a pretty damn-long moment. It’s probably the most poppy song on this list. It’s also endlessly listenable and represents everything settling into the right cracks for the Atlanta-based sludge group: drummer Brann Dailor takes over for lead vocals in a performance that will automatically have you twisting your face as you mouth the words, bassist Troy Sanders’ distorted voice echoes and beckons us to join something otherworldly and guitarist Brent Hinds drives a thundering guitar engine with a killer solo. “The Motherload” is exactly as Dailor says: “This time, this time, things’ll work out just fine/We won’t let you slip away” – Liam Conlon
“Can’t Do Without You” by Caribou
The art of determining what makes a perfect song has been the backdrop for countless discussions throughout history. Is it complexity, lyricism, melody, rhythm? Perhaps it’s just a song that you can lose yourself in, so hypnotic that you wouldn’t mind if it played on a loop for infinity. “Can’t Do Without You” is that kind of song, the dizzying peak of Dan Snaith’s decade-plus long career. It’s deceptively simple, a single line from a Marvin Gaye hit looped over and over until the words stop sounding like words, a beat that slowly builds up to a thrilling climax that never quite comes, ending with the quiet coda. The song is centered on one of the most basic sentiments, a deep longing for love, lust, and connection with another individual. Snaith captures that intense desperation perfectly here. – David Sackllah
“Ego Death” by Busdriver (ft. Aesop Rock and Danny Brown)
Busdriver playfully kicks off his ferocious Perfect Hair single “Ego Death” with a simple question that wound up being scarily prophetic in 2014: “Yeah, I understand what you’re saying but…is it sexier than torture?” In the case of “Ego Death,” there is an odd, broke down sex machine eroticism on display, but when the end of the year was mercifully heading our way and a devastating report on the US’s use of torture landed not with an explosive thud but the orgiastic moans of a thousand pundits going “this is the cost of freedom,” Busdriver’s surrealistic opening statement suddenly seemed a little too real. The rest of the track is lyrically devoted to the plight of being aware and halfway smart, of getting the sense that learning up your government’s shenanigans is the equivalent of “playing patty cake with Ira Glass,” i.e. boring, ineffectual and demeaning. Aesop Rock and Danny Brown at least were around to keep moody Dadaist Busdriver company, though, making his schizophrenic internal debate over whether we can make this better a little more sane, even if that intellectual plight is bound to drive us all pretty crazy in the end. – NH
“White Fire” by Angel Olsen
“Platinum” by Miranda Lambert
“Get Up” by Young Fathers
“Come here and do the right thing/Get up and have a party” goes the chorus of “Get Up,” a legitimate goddamn motherfucking party song on Young Fathers’ record Dead. And it’s a real rager, consisting of at least three distinct but cohesive movements and an arsenal of evocative lines (“I don’t think I could watch you posing dead” “all I got is my decadent credo” “When I get down to this/I’m a catalyst for a revolution”). Young Fathers’ produce a manic pace in “Get Up” with its nervous percussion and fast verses, only slowing things down to intensify the ominousness. The whole thing feels like a chase scene you can clap to. – Danny Djeljosevic
“A Little God in My Hands” by Swans
While Swans is a band better known for its large swaths of sonic terror than its discrete songs, “A Little God in My Hands” from this year’s To Be Kind is not only the band’s funkiest tune yet, but a definitive manifesto for their ecstasy-driven aesthetic. The song opens with a sickly bass line played against jagged guitar chunks and groaning synths, making for a diseased funk over which Gira sing-snears with reptilian swagger about shit, blood, creeping chasms, and a whole lotta love. Unexpected brassy eruptions that sound like the universe sneezing punctuate the song’s seven-minute runtime, eventually culminating in one of the most vile, muck-drenched codas of the year. On an album that oscillates between a manic, Stooges-like throb and a distended sense of beauty, “A Little God in My Hands” is the number that ties it all together with the line: “Eye full of Sun, hand full of mud/Oh Universe: you stink of love!” – Joshua Palmer
“Body & Blood” by clipping.
I recently talked about how clipping.’s CLPPNG creates a visceral, reverberating experience for the listener. Track two, “Body & Blood,” distills that into a beating heart. It opens with a sample that sounds like hydrogen peroxide dissolving in your ear canal. Touch yourself–you really are feeling it.
Soon the explosive beat thrusts you into the world of a woman whose sexuality is all hers. clipping. turns hip-hop paradigms on their heads with this female specter who has complete bodily agency and goes further to celebrate her predatory consumption of men: “She don’t need you for shit but your dick and your veins/And your guts and your (body and blood)”
Its murderous imagery plots out a winding narrative that keeps you waiting to hear more of MC Daveed Diggs’ brutal licks. It’s enveloping, disgusting and oh-so welcome. We should all be thankful that “Body & Blood’s” character manages the sublime: simultaneously fucking while fucking with the Patriarchy: “God’s son crucified on her necklace, hang just where breasts heave” – LC
“The Operator” by Half Waif
New York newcomer Half Waif introduced herself to me via a trio of stacked alien voices, demanding “Call me if you can/Tell me I’m the operator” before warning there’s “Lit flares in my hands/And I’m set to explode/I’m a minefield you marvel at/But don’t get too close.” The problem was I couldn’t help but want to get closer to “The Operator,” to wrap myself in the oddly warm digital piano textures, to rock back and forth to the lilting rhythms, the oddity of that opening cadence and the trebly quiver Half Waif indulges in before getting smoky and low in the verses. Though it’s a song about needing distance and careful maneuvering, it’s also an addictive introduction, the kind of flirtatious sonic greeting that makes you happy to take whatever heartbreak comes later as long as it gives you a few more minutes of unique pleasure. The bulk of Kotekan, the stunning album that birthed the song, may be more methodical and ornate, but “The Operator” is indulgence, pure and simple, and I’m nowhere near strong enough to take its warnings to heart. – NH
“Picture Me Gone” by Ariel Pink
When I read the lyrics to “Picture Me Gone,” I muttered a hushed “fuck” and laughed out loud at its references to selfies, iClouds, and “Find my iPhone” apps. But that’s the era we’re living in, so why not make a song that incorporates all that stuff? Good thing we’re talking about an Ariel Pink song, and Ariel Pink is kind of funny. This one’s about a deadbeat dad/apparent tech junkie whose whole life is lost after he dies due to his inaccessible hard drive. Which is haunting, but that’s what’s in store for our future — intangible data replacing the secret photographs in shoeboxes. “I downloaded this picture of my mom with a guy who’s not my dad.” It’s the song Super Furry Animals never got around to making. – DD
“Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” by Run the Jewels
There’s the twitchy, thunderous beat with the bass so forceful it rattles you. There’s the manic pitched up repetition of the track’s title. The pause El-P gives you after his introductory line, briefly letting you catch your breath. The goofy adlib Mike chimes in with. The way the beat changes abruptly towards the end into something even more spastic. The multitude of flows Mike spits. The ominous warnings of a “fuckboy jihad.” In three minutes and 25 seconds, Killer Mike and El-P give us more pieces to a great song than almost anyone else this year. As the tightest and strongest song on the duo’s defining statement of an album, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” hits like a sledgehammer that you can’t help but want to take another swing with. – DS
“Heart of Steel” by Lykke Li
Few contemporary artists do heartbreak the way Lykke “sadness is my boyfriend” Li does. “Heart of Steel,” the highlight of her most recent release, I Never Learn, is grand and full of longing, both desperate and noble at the same time. With a choir of backup vocalists, she delivers an epic chorus deserving of an “amen!”–a plea to a hardened heart not to give up, even now, especially now, after so much heartbreak. Lykke Li’s world is often a cold and hard one, and as you listen to “Heart of Steel,” it’s not difficult to envision her wailing out across a lonesome moor. This is by far the best 2014 had to offer in the songs-for-scream-sobbing-as-
“Blank Space” by Taylor Swift
“Face Down” by White Lung
White Lung’s excellent Deep Fantasy was one of the best albums of 2014 in any genre, led partly by the thunder of “Face Down.” Guitarist Kenneth Williams flies around the song with staggering speed, stirring up a whirlwind for singer Mish Way to plunge forth in. Way’s lyrics sting with vitriol, her target no less than “all the world.” White Lung reaches for the jugular here, clamping down hard as they thrash you around. Way affords no reprieve to her victim here, standing up for herself with this brutal rallying cry. Like every year, 2014 was filled with a bunch of assholes trying to stifle the voices of those who are continually marginalized or oppressed, and Way isn’t putting up with their shit. Ugly dies face down. – DS
“For the Deal” by UDF
Beginning with its ominous chimes and Martis Unruly’s declaration that he woke up in a trap, UDF’s “For the Deal” sets the kind of mood you’re more likely to find in a nouveau French horror film than a hip hop track. The threats lurking behind every boom of the beat are never made literal and instead the song creeps you out with implications and tense fatalist suggestions. A number of hip hop groups in 2014 released stunning sonically violent statements, but “For the Deal” flipped the formula by utilizing large swaths of silence in the mix to make its thunderous moments all the more brutal, which was par for the course for God’s Work, the masterful LP the UDF collective unleashed towards the end of the year. Stocked full of eerie masterpieces, “For the Deal” stood out as the ultimate expression of UDF’s Lovecraftian brand of Afro-Futurism, and though it may not be well known yet, there’s plenty to suggest this is just an early statement from the future dark lords of the genre. – NH
“Two Weeks” by FKA Twigs
There are some things in the world that are sexier than the jaw-dropping first single off FKA Twigs’ debut full-length album, LP1, but not many. Combine a pulsing, ominous beat, some sharp, gasping, and flawless vocals, and boldly evocative lyrics, and you get “Two Weeks,” a song that’s a better sex partner than ¾ of the people you’ve been with. It’s hotter, it’s bigger, it goes harder and quite possibly longer, and it moves in ways your ex just never could. The best part: while this song, and the rest of LP1, make it clear that FKA Twigs is a full-on goddess, she’s definitely no Venus; she’s something far cooler, darker, and more complex. If you’re still not convinced, go watch the goddamm music video and get back to me. – KH
“Hot Nigga” by Bobby Shmurda
One of the more interesting things about the breakout hit of the summer from the relatively unknown 20-year old from New York is that the beat, while instantly recognizable as Bobby Shmurda’s now, originally belonged to a 2012 song by Lloyd Banks called “Jackpot.” The beat is the exact same, from the ominous sirens to the thunderous orchestral sounds and the massive drop that comes in every 45 seconds. What makes “Hot Nigga” such a classic is Shmurda. The recently arrested rapper sounds dangerous, taunting and threatening with sentiments that seem downright scary in hindsight. While he raps about selling drugs since childhood, his incarcerated father, and championing for the release from prison of his friends, it’s not the authenticity that makes this song work so well. Shmurda’s energy is so magnetic, his energy so contagious, that he’s become a powerful force. From the hat toss of the Vine video to the ubiquity of the phrase “About a week ago,” Shmurda has left his mark on the cultural landscape. Due to unfortunate circumstances, he could very well be a one-hit wonder, but he showed us the brilliance in how dangerously unhinged great music can be. – DS
“Birth in Reverse” by St. Vincent
St. Vincent’s musical pairing with David Byrne may have initially seemed odd until you factor in their love of herky jerky rhythms and a lyrical obsession with the surreality of the suburbs. So no wonder St. Vincent’s most infectious and effective statement in 2014 was “Birth in Reverse,” a bizarrely sexual slice of suburban ennui, where taking out the trash requires a bit of self-love first and dogs barking nearby keep ruining the mood. The song’s insistent beat and fuzzed out sonics made it even weirder, like the whole thing was on the verge of a manic episode, flipping anxious between low and high. But when it gets to that chorus, it’s not so much manic as elastic, rubber banding between sweet melodic heights and Dada Funk. Even David Byrne doesn’t have moves like these. – NH
“Old Money” by Lana Del Rey
Until Celine Dion dies, my dream of Lana Del Rey performing “Old Money” during the In Memoriam section of the Oscars will remain unfulfilled. The next to last track on her way better than expected sophomore LP ULTRAVIOLENCE plays as a reaction to the criticism that her last record was the musical equivalent of a faked orgasm. Slowly building with a cavalcade of Lana-isms, descriptions of dark environments, lamenting getting old and ugly, weird restrained upper register vocal runs, the song almost climaxes to a Disney-level finale swirling in magic and sad girl realness. And then it stops dead in its tracks, repeats the first four bars, and ends. And you’re just left with blue balls and the faint scent of Chanel No. 5. Just like Lana wants. – DG
“Really Love” by D’Angelo and the Vanguard
For Black Messiah, his long-awaited (as in fourteen years long-awaited) follow-up to his near-deified Voodoo, D’Angelo gracefully unites the styles of his greatest predecessors: the anarchic funk of Sly Stone, the effortless joy of Stevie Wonder, the wry political savvy of Nina Simone, the earnest sexuality of Prince–but all these reference points almost seem unnecessary considering that the artist D’Angelo channels most strongly on Black Messiah is, well, D’Angelo. Nowhere is this more true than on the sensuous slow-burner, “Really Love.” The song opens with an extended prologue full of listless strings, sweet Spanish nothings, and slick flamenco guitar. Just before the whole thing crosses into the territory schmalz, the strings, guitar, and sparkling harp glissandi coalesce and the song proper blooms into a lush ballad reminiscent of “Feel Like Makin’ Love” from Voodoo. But this time around, D’Angelo ups the ante with some honest-to-god sophistication: jazz-inflected acoustic guitar rubs against a persistent bass groove while D’Angelo’s thickly layered falsetto floats above a string-and-winds arrangement that is never intrusive, but rather integral to the song’s subdued, sexy essence. There’s something utterly engrossing and ineffable about this near-perfect song, but hey maybe it’s just the magic of D’Angelo; how could you not love someone who’s in really love with you? – JP
“No Means Nothing” by Feral Future
One of the most incendiary of the new punk bands to emerge in Austin, Feral Future made their name in 2014 on their unflinching audio bravery and brutal live shows, but nothing encapsulated that better than “No Means Nothing,” a song that flipped consent dismissals with its portrayal of a wolf pack of women hunting down boys who don’t get wise. Much of the song’s potency is due to how crystal clear every lyric Arielle Sonenschein delivers is, and how viciously efficient the sonic maelstrom building behind her is, too. The band tensely escalates a sinister mood through the verses, the guitar simple and wiry, the bass carrying most of the weight until that apocalyptic chorus comes down and shatters the false placidity once and for all. Few songs packed as much of a punch this year as “No Means Nothing,” and fewer still were as vital. – NH
“Transgender Dysphoria Blues” by Against Me!
The first song off Against Me!’s album of the same name, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s utterly vulnerable and thrilling way of reintroducing herself to the world as the woman she really is. Marked by crisp and ferocious vocals, a melody made for singing along, and a thrashing guitar, this song is the band at its best. The lyrics are deeply personal, with affecting details about the ragged ends of a summer dress and “shoulders too broad for a girl,” and “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is all the more accessible and heartrending because of this specificity. – KH