For your viewing pleasure, I have compiled my annual list of the top 30 songs of 2014, in the opinion of myself, Craig Ismaili. This list required a great deal of deliberation, and it was compiled with the help of some of my trusted friends, including my co-hosts Madison and Don, but it is solely a reflection of my personal perspective, and should not be viewed as Garden Statement’s official top songs list. As a result, you will find a great deal of different genres from the ones we typically cover for this site. I have listened to a lot of different albums that have come out this year. Often times my selection is not even a single on the given band’s album, but is simply a deep cut I enjoyed a great deal. Other times, the band or singer’s smash hit single is represented. As is always the case, I have also only included one song per band/artist on this list, so as to spread the wealth and give 30 different artists the recognition they deserved for their standout tracks this year. I hope you enjoy the list I came up with. If you don’t agree with a selection, or would like to tell me what I missed, let me know in the comments. There is a handy Spotify playlist included again at the bottom of the list for those of you who are short on time, but still want to hear what I have chosen.
30. Jack White- “Lazaretto”
2014 was the year of the vinyl renaissance. While year-over-year vinyl record sales have increased every year since 2007, the medium hit a renewed creative high in 2014. No one was more creative with the LP than Jack White. His ultra-LP for his second solo album was jam packed with great features, but it helped that the music contained within was great as well including this super groovy title track.
29. Taking Back Sunday- “Flicker, Fade”
While the album it comes from was a train-wreck of epic proportions for the veteran rockers, Taking Back Sunday gave fans a glimpse of what could have been with this throat-shredding lead single, unsurprisingly featuring a great deal of backing vocalist John Nolan. Note to Taking Back Sunday, let John loose a bit more.
28. Hozier- “Take Me To Church”
The obligatory alt-rock crossover to pop radio takeover track of 2014, “Take Me to Church” has the added benefit of ubiquity when it comes to me making this list. No matter where I turned, someone somewhere was playing or singing this song. The Irish singer’s silky-smooth voice definitely makes the track a rewarding listen, but I am already wondering if this track is just in the flash in the pan. Anyone remember Daniel Powter? “Bad Day” was a good song…
27. The 1975- “Medicine”
This style of music from that band that your 15-year-old sister loves may not seem as immediately pop-oriented and catchy as the band’s self-titled debut (which came in at number 1 on Keep Calm’s 2013 albums list), but fans of the band’s EP before the self-titled will recognize the ethereal and ambient soundscapes The 1975 create on this track, which was released on the BBC’s rescoring of the instant-classic drive soundtrack. Definitely a very cinematic track.
26. Run The Jewels- “Blockbuster Night, Part 1”
On one of the year’s best hip-hop tracks, the hardest working duo in the genre Killer Mike and El-P trade verses over an ominous industrial beat. “My beats is bangin, fuck what you rappin, who produced you?” Killer Mike spits in his first verse, and it’s pretty clear that whoever anyone else has producing on their records isn’t doing as good a job as El-P
25. Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars- “Uptown Funk”
This undeniably catchy track harkens back to the late 70s-early 80s era, when the Commodores were still a marketable band and that funk/disco record wasn’t gathering dust on your shelf. Combine that with an absurd Trinidad James’ inspired refrain and you have one of the most unusual dance hits of the year. Anyone else notice how it also suspiciously sounds like the Ghostbusters theme?
24. Moose Blood- “Gum”
“Do you want to come over later to my house / watch American Beauty in the dark?” “Gum” starts with perhaps one of the best booty calls ever put to music. These British rockers channel the spirit of another UK-based band, Basement (who surprisingly came back with a new EP this year) while also providing a bit of nostalgic flair for adolescence.
23. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties- “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe”
The album that “St. Joe” comes from We Don’t Have Each Other, tells the fictional story of the worst year of titular character Aaron West’s life. In this song, Aaron must go home to his childhood house on Long Island and explain to his mother why his wife left him. It’s a heartwrenching tale told in a spectacular way. Vocalist/lyricist Dan Campbell frames the narrative before providing the listener with a conversation between Aaron and his mother. His mother’s final words to Aaron, “take the car and run,” are given an air of desperation by Campbell’s performance, in which he hits the highest note of his career.
22. Fireworks- “The Hotbed Of Life”
The heartbreaking conclusion to the deeply personal Oh, Common Life, “The Hotbed of Life” already has you in tears before the toy piano kicks in in the song’s bridge. But the loss of innocence caused by the death of a loved one and the passage of time explored in the first two minutes of the song are nothing compared to when vocalist Dave Mackinder sings the line, “height marks on a door frame, from when a year brought welcome change, now it all just feels the same,” and then that lilting toy piano kicks in over a somber vocal harmony. Pure devastation.
21. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness- “Maps For The Getaway”
Another closing track fittingly (this year definitely had a tremendous amount of great conclusions to albums). This track signals a newly optimistic start to Andrew McMahon’s life. The former Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate singer finds something to value: time with his family.
20. Kendrick Lamar- “i”
Marking a second straight appearance in the the song’s list (definitely should have been three, but I somehow didn’t include anything from good kid, m.A.A.d city on my 2012 list) Kendrick Lamar’s only solo song released this year makes the list partially because it has the best sample of the year (“That Lady” by the Isley Brothers), in part because it combines every aspect of his versatile delivery into one song, and in part because of how the bleak portrayal of the world in the lyrics contrasts with Kendrick’s own self-image.
19. Manchester Orchestra- “Top Notch”
The track that kickstarted the whirlwind year for Manchester Orchestra, “Top Notch,” in either its in-your-face Cope version or it’s stripped-back-but-still-sinister Hope version, works exceedingly well as an opening track. Besides containing one of Andy Hull’s best vocal performances of the year, the Cope version features a guitar riff which functions perfectly as an alarm blaring the audience to attention, while both versions feature the band’s trademark contemplative lyrics.
18. Circa Survive- “Schema”
For a band that has a song like “Get Out” in its back catalog, it’s pretty amazing that “Schema” is Circa Survive’s most aggressive song yet. Vocalist Anthony Green’s snarling vocals sound more minacious then they ever have before, and the bass line that follows the chorus of the song sounds like Nick Beard pulled it directly from a black metal album he was working on. So heavy, and so, so good.
17. The Gaslight Anthem- “Dark Places”
The Gaslight Anthem crafted one of the most perfect album closers in 2008 with The 59 Sound’s swansong “The Backseats.” It was a fire-brand of optimism- a rousing coda that looked to the future on an album that was so focused on the past. After taking two albums off from this type of anthemic conclusion, the band once again return to the well on their fifth full-length. “Dark Places” though goes where the aforementioned never tread. “One of these days something insides going to break, and we won’t get it back, now, baby,” Fallon sings. He steps, feet first, into the abyss of depression, and he’s not yet sure how to come back out the other side.
16. Charlie Simpson- “Haunted”
Do you remember the Jonas Brothers? Do you remember their breakout single “Year 3000”? Sure you do. You’re probably singing it now after reading that last sentence, weirdo. Well, you partially have to blame Charlie Simpson for that one, as the former boy band frontman was one of the writers behind that song. He has since graduated to crafting luscious folk and country influenced singer-songwriter fare with some of the most angelic sounding harmonies you will ever hear. On “Haunted,” he exercises his demons while delivering perhaps the most rock-oriented of any of his solo tracks so far.
15. Copeland- “Erase”
I could have picked most any track from Copeland’s comeback record Ixora and it would’ve been a worthy selection. “Ordinary,” the equal-parts touching and sobering look at domesticated life, or the closing track “In Her Arms You Will Never Starve” with its layered vocals are both standouts as well. But it is “Erase,” with it’s magnificent, soaring string arrangements, staccato almost-weeping piano composition, and soul-stirring vocal performance by Aaron Marsh, that provides the most impacting assault on one’s feels.
14. Gates- “Not My Blood”
There are a few things in music that fill me with pure, unadulterated bliss. One of these things is when a post-rock band executes the hold and release of a climactic build-up to perfection. “Gates” were masters of the art this year, with “Not My Blood” being their finest specimen. “Someday you’ll get what we deserve, the profits you had never earned,” singer Kevin Dye sings as the guitars swell, before nothing, just a few seconds feedback looping… and then the crash. The song ends with an emphatic twenty seconds of pulverizing crashes and swirling guitars. Masterfully done.
13. Seahaven- “Silhouette (Latin Skin)”
I am nearly convinced that if this song didn’t have more than a minute of almost nothing/ambient noise tacked on to the end of it, it would have been in my top six tracks of the year. As it is, the song is a perfect encapsulation of what made Seahaven’s Reverie Lagoon (Music For Escapism Only) so wildly frustrating. Just as it’s album title drags on, so do its tracks. There are moments of pure bliss on the record though, like the chorus of this track, with the words setting the scene marvelously with vivid imagery, “Silhouette, loose sundress, low sunset, baby.” It is a shimmering, gorgeous track which is reminiscent of that same sunset.
12. Sorority Noise- “Dirty Ickes”
No song this year starts off with a better kiss-off (no, not even anything on Taylor Swift’s 1989) than this track of Sorority Noise’s debut full-length album. “When we broke up, you told me to try and find myself, so I found myself in someone else’s bed. You can say that I’m a fool, but you’ve had four boyfriends since, and I have learned to love myself more than I could ever love you.” Burnnnnnnnnnnnnn.
11. Anberlin- “Harbinger”
Thus ends the career of one of the greatest bands to ever come out of the scene. The band’s farewell record Lowborn concluded with poetic aplomb. With a repeated refrain of “we’ll live forever, forever, we’ll come together,” swirling in the background, vocalist Stephen Christian sings the last words he will ever sing on an Anberlin record, over-top spiraling industrial sounds: “I don’t want to go now, but I’ve got to, for you to remember me, in this life.” It’s a bittersweet farewell, but it’s a remarkably fitting swansong.
10. Against Me!- “Black Me Out”
The past few years of Laura Jane Grace’s life have been filled with a lifetime of moments- some worth remembering and others not. But Grace has a different response to these snapshots, “I don’t want to see the world that way anymore, I don’t want to feel that weak and insecure,” she howls in this song’s first verse. Instead she responds with fiery angry, her indomitable spirit shining through on this, the closing track of Against Me!’s most important album of their career.
9. Have Mercy- “Two Years”
Have Mercy’s particular brand of heartbreak is tough to swallow at times. It’s only so often you can handle the burst of brutal introspection like, “I had a life and I had friends, and I miss all of them,” but even at his deepest depths of despair, there is still something so inviting about vocalist Brian Swindle’s portrayal of it all that the listener almost wants to follow him, like Alice, down the deeply troubling rabbit hole to emo Wonderland.
8. Modern Baseball- “Your Graduation”
Perhaps because they are millenials themselves, no band better portrays the growing sense of disillusionment that the millenial generation feels than Modern Baseball. On You’re Gonna Miss it All (which could itself be looked at as a reference to this generations obsessions with viewing the world through a screen) the band takes on this discontentment head-on. The album’s stand-out track“Your Graduation” is an honest look at one’s inability to recover after a particularly damaging breakup- complete with the faux-philosophical musings that these relationships often stir up. Its also one of the best damn pop-punk songs to have come out in a long time.
7. Taylor Swift- “Blank Space” (*Not On Spotify*)
A Taylor Swift song in the top 10? Do I have to turn in my emo badge? In an album full of absolute pop-jams, “Blank Space”’s star shines brightest of all. Is it because of the absolutely skyscraping pop-hooks, the memorable one-liners (my personal favorite: “Cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”) or something else intangible that makes “Blank Space” so delectable? It’s hard to say, but simply put, Taylor doesn’t give a fuck, she has nothing left to lose, and she knows it. It’s a dangerous, masterful combination of talent and recklessness, and when it comes to fruition, to paraphrase Swift herself, “it’ll leave you breathless.”
6. Pianos Become the Teeth- “Repine”
There are songs that sound dark, singers that sound tortured, and lyrics that are brooding, and then there is Pianos Become The Teeth. The band seems to transcend these mere adjectives into a more ethereal chasm of hopeless with each passing record. “Repine” is their most recent and harrowing reflection on the greatest human mystery, Kyle Durfey asking the question: “What are we without that end, without that death and darkness?” Haunting doesn’t do the track justice.
5. Walk The Moon- “Shut Up and Dance”
The great thing about this list is that we can have wonderful contrasts like this track and the track that precedes it on the list back-to-back. While Walk The Moon’s lead single from their newest record Talking Is Hard doesn’t exactly deal with the problem of death as it’s primary thematic content, it is also one of the year’s best tracks for completely differing reasons. It’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser. I have played this track for no fewer than 20 friends this year- each of which had never heard the band before, and without fail every single one of them was bobbing and singing along by the time the second chorus kicked in. It’s an incessant firecracker of a pop-song.
4. The Menzingers- “In Remission”
“If everyone needs a crutch, then I need a wheelchair / I need a reason to reason with you.” It’s fair to argue that the only reason this song is so high on my list is because the first time I heard this track I was on crutches. And while there is a degree of truth to that statement, it is also true that The Menzingers put out the best punk album of the year, and “In Remission” was the album’s call-to-arms. And just try not to shout along to the song’s conclusion. Try it. I dare you. I’ll wait here. Well, I didn’t wait- I have an article to write- but, you see, I told you I was right.
3. PVRIS- “St. Patrick”
Could this be the year of female-fronted synth-pop renaissance? Taylor Swift dabbled in it on 1989, while CHVRCHES have continued the success that “The Mother We Share” had last year with a series of powerhouse alternative rock singles. However, the clear visionaries in the genre are the newcomers out of Massachusetts, PVRIS. Vocalist Lynn Gunn’s performance on this track is nothing short of stunning, melding the lilting melodies expected of pop music with the breathy snarl of the band’s rock roots. “St. Patrick” is, I suppose unsurprisingly, easily my most played track on the year- the song’s pulverizing synth-pop serving pretty much any listening occasion.
2. Bleachers- “I Wanna Get Better”
It’s nearly 2015, and it’s about time our country had a real long discussion about the way mental health is stigmatized and treatment is not prioritized in our society. No one knows this trouble more than Jack Antonoff of Bleachers, who has been told pretty consistently since his other band fun. blew up in 2012 that he had no reason to be sad. That stigma makes “I Wanna Get Better,” the band’s debut one of the most important songs of the year and a rousing anthem for the cause of mental health awareness. That alone does not make it one of the year’s best songs, however. That honor falls to the tracks rousing, inclusive chorus, it’s memorable refrain full of chest-beating defiance, and some of the years most honest storytelling. “Cut out the pictures and I chased that feeling of an eighteen-year-old who didn’t know what loss was, now I’m a stranger,” Antonoff writes, and that sense of lost innocence is palpable and believable.
1. The Hotelier- “Your Deep Rest”
As I said in my albums of the year write-up, years from now we will look back on Home, Like No Place Is There as a classic in the emo genre. The Hotelier will hopefully be a lighthouse beacon, providing to future bands navigating the rough seas of the often exclusive and unstable music industry a glimpse of what they can achieve with great songwriting. No single track on the band’s breakout record will have as wide-ranging effect as “Your Deep Rest,” however. It has the ability to be the new generation’s “Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team),” a long-lasting high-water mark which will be remembered fondly and nostalgically for years to come. It even has a similarly disparaging and clever song title. Listen at 3:28 of this video. Can’t you hear it now, 10 years down the line, people screaming the words, “I called in sick, from your funeral,” in much the same way? I know I can.
If you don’t agree with my list, or just want to yell at me for including Taylor Swift in a “best” anything list, you can find me on twitter @TGSCraig.