Our 20 Favorite Songs of 2014

Although we’re already a few days into the New Year, we’ve been asked to select our top 20 songs for the past year. We’ve been pretty happy with the choices of indie music of 2014, which has been arguably the best year since 2009.

So for all the goodness without a lot of loquaciousness, here’s our Favorite 20 of 2014 (in no particular order).

1.  Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting On You)”

This is the number-one song on Sirius XMU‘s Top 41 of 2014, and for good reason.  This up-beat indie gem has all the chord-changes in exactly the right spots, a powerful chorus, and one head-scratchin’ ironic video to accompany it. This should be destined to be a classic.

2.  Perfume Genius – “Queen”

Dark, brooding, and absolutely beautiful, Perfect Genius came up with the perfect angst-anthem of the year.

3.  Che-Val – “My Beat”

We are completely smitten with the debut song we found on Twitter from husband-and-wife duo Kenny and Laura Cash from Connecticut. Che-Val‘s fun retro romp harkening back to ebullient pop of the ’80s is an impressive way to bust out of the gate.

4.  TV On The Radio – “Happy Idiot”
5.  TV On The Radio – “Careful You”

Synth-pop is rarely better than what TV On The Radio has put out in the past year on their sixth album “Seeds.” They knocked two out of the park with the perky “Happy Idiot” and the hypnotic “Careful You.”

6.  tUnE-yArDs – “Water Fountain”

This is truly Merrill Garbus‘s world we’re living in, and we’re okay with that. The Connecticut puppeteer has come up with an eclectic, eccentric, and completely original sound filled with intense passion and hilarity. While the album is great, tUnE-yArDs must be seen live to fully appreciate.

7.  Sylvan Esso – “Coffee”

We first heard Sylvan Esso when they opened for tUnE-yArDs at the Republic New Orleans.  Singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn were rather scruffy, looking like they stopped by the venue to play a few tunes between loads of laundry.  Regardless, the North Carolina duo were thoroughly mesmerizing, and their song about our favorite beverage only made us love them more.

8.  Alvvays – “Archie, Marry Me”

There’s something seriously ’60s about Alvvay‘s “Archie, Marry Me.” Is she singing about Riverdale’s favorite red-headed doofus? Probably not, but we’d like to think it’s Betty Cooper pining over Archie Andrews while gazing out the window into a warm afternoon rain and holding her Pee-Chee close to her sweatered breast. Ah, innocence…

9.  Empathy Test – “Throwing Stones”

Simply gorgeous. The debut single from Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf of Brooklyn’s Stars & Letters label is reminiscent of delicious ’80s synth pop like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Depeche Mode. We look forward to great things from this London-based duo in the years to come.

10.  We Are Temporary featuring Misfit Mod – “Machine Love”

We’re mad for this dark thriller that’s a collaboration of two severely underrated Stars & Letters acts, We Are Temporary and Misfit Mod (stage name for Sarah Kelleher). You should be, too.

11.  Foxygen – “How Can You Really”

Break out the go-go boots and hot pants, the sounds of the late ’60s/early ’70s is back! California-based Jonathan Rado and Sam France‘s sound conjures up long-lost audio images of Haight-Ashbury salad days pop at its finest.

12.  BABYMETAL – “Death”

Nobody, and we mean absolutely nobody, knows what to make of Japanese death metal act, BABYMETAL.  Fronted by three super-cute teenage girls (Suzuka Nakamoto as “Su-metal,” Yui Mizuno as “Yuimetal,” and Moa Kikuchi as “Moametal“) and backed by the hardcore grind of exceptionally good death metal riffs, you just don’t know how to react when you experience what is being slapped across your face. This genre is ordinary ruled by hairy ghouls who sound like Cookie Monster and look like one of Satan‘s minions, not fresh-faced angels in pig tails. BABYMETAL is a great novelty bringing a breath of fresh air to a rigid genre not known for irony, but it will only last as long as the girls are teens.

13.  Saint Pepsi – “Fiona Coyne”

If you hail from some snowy areas like most of us here, you may have childhood memories of riding in your parents’ car on sunny winter Saturday afternoons listening to really cool songs on the local radio station, and everything in Kid-dom is perfect. This song reminds us of that.

14.  Sleater-Kinney – “Bury Our Friends”

The Portland trio Sleater-Kinney is back. Wow, are they ever back. This teaser was released just before the year’s end in advance of their Jan. 20 release of their new album No Cities To Love.

15.  Interpol – “All The Rage Back Home”

That Jimmy Finnerty really knew his bands. For those who don’t remember, he was the Interpol-loving middle child played by Griffin Frazen in the underrated, off-beat ’00s TV show Grounded For Life. Interpol hasn’t lost a single step from their earlier days, and this masterpiece juxtaposed with dark and upbeat riffs is evidence of that fact.

16.  Phantogram – “Fall In Love”

How can anyone not fall in love with this tasty bit of synthpop? The only thing we didn’t fall in love with was Phantogram‘s overuse of strobe lights at their live shows, but they hit the mark perfectly with this dreamy tune.

17.  Sun Kil Moon – “Ben’s My Friend”

Perfect song for a summer road trip.  It made us want to be 20 and irresponsible again so we could drive our crappy cars across Jack Kerouac‘s America discovering angel-headed hipsters and cool jazz kicks.

18.  SBTRKT/Ezra Koenig – “New Dorp, New York”

So New Dorp is actually a place in New York. Who knew? I want to go there. Is it just me, or does anyone else think this would fit nicely on a Paul Simon album?

19.  Chelsea Light Moving – “Groovy and Linda”

We always thought the hippies of the ’60s were mostly posers along for the ride, but they seemed to have a great time regardless. Thurston Moore, formerly of the legendary art-noise band Sonic Youth, captures that pretty well in his own uniquely dissonant way.

20.  Spoon – “Do You”

A great comeback, a great song, and a great way to end a Top 20 list.

FRIDAY 5 ACROSS THE LIPS: Five bands we wish would get back together

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1.  LCD Soundsystem

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Years active: 2001-2011
Number of albums: 9 (including three EPs)

While I try to keep an open mind to all genres, I’m not a fan of what is generally known as “dance music.”  It might be because it seems like there isn’t much of a creative process in making it.  It might be because the lyrics to most dance songs seem vapid at best.  Or it might be because I have no coordination and can’t dance my way out of an open burlap sack with all the sides removed.  Regardless, it’s just not for me…unless that dance music is coming from LCD Soundsystem.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been a long-time fan.  I can’t go into the nuances of their music or tell you the different stages of their decade-long career.  I came to the LCD Soundsystem game late, perhaps two or three years before the breakup.  I became hooked to their clever, humorous approach to dance, which made it more appealing. What’s more fun than moving your hips to “Losing My Edge” while watching frontman James Murphy getting his face slapped repeatedly to the beat for four minutes and 27 seconds?  Or the thought of “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” where you can “Dance Yrself Clean (with Kermit and the Muppets)” with lots of “Drunk Girls“?

Yep, that was one dance party I wish never ended.

2.  The Smiths

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Years active: 1982-1987
Number of albums: 16 (including 10 compilations and one EP)

For some reason, Morrissey recently declared in a Billboard magazine interview that “I don’t know a single person who wants a Smiths reunion.”

Seriously?

I’m here to declare I’m that single person who really wants a Smiths reunion.  I’ll sit in the audience by myself if I have to.

I first heard the Smiths during my DJ days at the University of Denver’s student-run radio station, KAOS, from 1983-86.  It was a far cry from what I was used to during my high school days in central Michigan, where we were fed a regular diet of Bob Seger, Journey, and Billy Joel.  The most alternative thing we listened to at the time was maybe Cheap Trick (Patti Smith didn’t count because the only tune we heard her sing was actually a Bruce Springsteen song).

There was something off about the Smiths, but I loved it.  Morrissey’s velvety smooth voice interlaced with Johnny Marr’s dirty guitar work created an incredibly complex and gorgeous tapestry of juxtaposing sounds.  Couple that with the irony of Morrissey’s lyrics dripping with sadness, depression, and defeat against a wall of Marr’s joyously upbeat chords and you had something offbeat, fun, and as addictive as heroin-laced Dove chocolates.  I didn’t really know what to make of the Smiths at the time, but I knew I could never go home again.  And I was very good with that proposition.

3.  Das Racist

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Years active: 2008-2011
Number of albums: One studio album, two mixtapes

Remember when hip hop was clever and fun?  Yeah, I barely remember that either.  The likes of Sugar Hill Gang, Beastie Boys, and NWA are long gone and have been replaced by rappers slurring lazy rhymes with no irony, sense of humor, or any purpose.

Then along came Das Racist, three apparent slackers from Brooklyn with degrees from  Wesleyan University who employed humor, academic references, foreign allusions, and unconventional style of rap that hasn’t been heard in years.  Taking their name from the short-lived MTV show  Wonder Showzen in which a character constantly yelled “That’s Racist!” between skits, the trio intentionally or unintentionally set out to make rap fun again, which included songs about trying to find your buddy at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, a tribunal led by Michael Jackson, and the finer points of stalking.  Some saw them as a joke, others saw them as an important milestone in modern hip hop.

Incidentally, while the name was meant to be a clever homage to Wonder Showzen and how a serious accusation had become little more than a quip, it backfired as some thought the group was comprised of white supremacists, which is not the case.  All three are men of color who are definately not racists.

4. Sonic Youth

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Years active: 1981-2011
Number of albums: 30 (including four compilations and eight EPs)

I pretty much grew up with Sonic Youth, so I took the news rather hard when I found out they disbanded following the separation and subsequent divorce of guitarist Thurston Moore and his wife/bandmate, bassist Kim Gordon.  It was like losing someone you love who was also taking all her cool stuff with her.  It was devastating.

Sonic Youth is arguably most influential band of the modern rock era.  They did things with guitars that had never been thought of before, such as alternative tuning and playing the instruments with screwdrivers and drum sticks to create vast walls of dissonant sound.  They championed other indie bands, such as Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney, and Cell, after signing with Geffen’s DCG label.  They came out with 30 great albums in 30 years (not counting singles and bootlegs), nary a clunker among them.  They are the greatest band of all time.

Their fifth album Daydream Nation was enshrined in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2005 for being “…culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”  The Registry describes the album:

“Pioneer members of New York City’s clangorous early 1980s No Wave scene, Sonic Youth are renowned for a glorious form of noise-based chaos. Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo had previously performed with Glenn Branca’s large guitar ensembles, and their alternative guitar tunings and ringing harmonies attest to this apprenticeship. On Daydream Nation, their breakthrough album, the group’s forays into outright noise always return to melodic songs that employ hypnotic arpeggios, driving punk rock rhythmic figures and furious gales of guitar-based noise. Bassist Kim Gordon’s haunting vocals and edgy lyrics add additional depth to the numbers she sings.”

And now they’re no more.  Given three decades of unfettered brilliance, we’re fortunate to have such an in-depth collection of incredible avante-garde musical art from which to draw because they’re gone for good.  The world is worse for it.  One more show wouldn’t deaden the pain, but it might alleviate it a bit.

5.  Cell

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Years active: 1990-1995
Number of albums: 2

Cell had so much potential, but was a victim of being in the right place at the wrong time.  I first heard them when they opened up for Sonic Youth at Tuxedo Junction in Danbury, Conn., on July 2, 1992, to promote their first album, Slo-Blo.  That was about a year into the grunge era which, unfortunately, would only last a few more years as Kurt Cobain’s suicide on April 5, 1994, marked the decline of the genre.  As grunge went, so did Cell.  By 1994 they released their second and final album, Living Room, then they faded into oblivion.  During their short career, they produced some powerful guitar rock that was just as much on their albums as it was live.

FRIDAY 5 ACROSS THE LIPS: 180-Degree Covers

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This week Friday 5 Across the Lips looks at five original songs and the covers of those tunes that took a lot of artistic license.  

1. “Enter Sandman”  

Enter Sandman,” Metallica’s classic wall of sound from their self-titled 1991 album, is a dark, brooding, and slightly disturbing song about the childhood horrors of drifting to slumber; however, it becomes an ebullient big-band extravaganza in the hands of the squeaky clean Pat Boone.  You can almost see Metallica plotting with the monsters under the bed in the original; in the cover, you know Boone is leading them in a big, splashy dance number.

Original by Metallica (1991)

Cover by Pat Boone (1997)

2. “Black Diamond”

Recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Kiss has built a four-decade career on face paint, pyrotechnics, and straight-forward hard rock songs that has influenced a few generations of rockers worldwide to pick up guitars and follow suit.  The band has had a strong following in Japan since its early days that included a young musician named  Yoshiki Hayashi whom Kiss inspired to start his own metal band, X Japan.  Gene Simmons tapped Yoshiki to cover the song “I” from the universally ridiculed 1981 concept album Music From The Elder for the 1995 Kiss tribute album Kiss My Ass.  Yoshiki wisely distanced himself from that groaner and instead created a hauntingly beautiful classical arrangement of “Black Diamond” from Kiss’ 1974 debut album for the American Symphony Orchestra.  The resulting collaboration has been the only memorable contribution to the otherwise forgotten tribute album.

Original by Kiss (1974)

Cover by Yoshiki Hayashi and the American Symphony Orchestra (1995)

3. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

Blues rocker Rod Stewart was another disco casualty in the late ’70s as the dance genre infected the airwaves with its predictable beats and cliched sexually-charged themes when he released “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” on his 1978 album Blondes Have More Fun. In an effort to salvage Stewart’s rock cred, co-writer Duane Hitchings defended the song by claiming Stewart was actually spoofing the disco lifestyle.  Legions of disco fans might say otherwise as the disco classic hit number one on many dance lists and stayed there for many weeks.  A true spoof of the song’s disco lifestyle came 15 years later when the industrial supergroup Revolting Cocks came up with a much seedier version.  Its ironically blase hardcore delivery of Chris Connelly’s monotone vocals over Al Jorgensen’s grinding synth work sleazed up Stewart’s notion of a one-night stand being sweet, innocent disco fun.

Original by Rod Stewart (1978)

Cover by Revolting Cocks (1993)

4. “Hurt”

Cover songs rarely eclipse the original, but it happened with Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails exceptional song “Hurt.”  Cash was nearing the end of his life when he recorded the song and he knew it; his once mighty bass-baritone voice that made us believe he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die now strained with age, uncertainty, and loneliness.  Those he loved and the world he once ruled were gone.  All that was left was a vulnerable elderly man ruminating about a life that went way too fast.

Songwriter and NIN frontman Trent Reznor himself was moved by the cover.  In a 2004 article in Alternative Press, Reznor said, “I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.”

Original by Nine Inch Nails (1994)

Cover by Johnny Cash (2002)

5. “Superstar”

The biggest hit of the Carpenters‘ career was actually itself a cover, which many erroneously believe was originally recorded by the brother/sister duo.  Written in 1969 by Bonnie BramlettLeon Russell and Delaney Bramlett, it was given the working title “The Groupie Song,” before being renamed “Groupie (Superstar)” when recorded by Delaney & Bonnie and Friends Featuring Eric Clapton.  The somewhat creepy story of star obsession didn’t catch on even when it was later covered by acts such as Joe Cocker, Bette Midler, Cher, and Vicki Carr. It wasn’t until Karen Carpenter’s sweet, innocent voice brought to life the tragedy of the naive groupie’s empty, unrequited love.

The Carpenters had a legion of fans for several decades, but the most unlike were the art-noise indie icons Sonic Youth.  They recorded a gripping post-punk dirge for the late-Karen Carpenter, “Tunic (A Song for Karen)” on their 1990 album Goo that caught the attention of producers of the 1994 tribute album If I Were A Carpenter.  Most of the covers in the album featured top alternative rock bands of the day presenting rather straightforward renditions of Carpenters hits; however, the Sonic Youth contribution stood out with the group’s signature feedback guitar work and Thurston Moore’s throaty, whispering vocals that underscored a feeling of defeat and desperation.

While indie fans loved this version of the song that was later used in the soundtrack for the 2007 movie Juno, Richard Carpenter didn’t share the enthusiasm.  In a 2009 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Carpenter said, “At least when it comes to something like this, I will say I don’t care for it but I don’t understand it. So, I’m not going to say it’s good or it’s bad. I’m just going to say I don’t care for it.”

The Carpenters version (1971)

Cover by Sonic Youth (1994)

Kim & Thurston are divorced. It’s none of your business. Get over it.

Women’s issues blog Jezebel posted a rather inflammatory article about something that’s really no one’s business: the cause of divorce between Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, both of the now-defunct iconic indie band Sonic Youth.  Since then, it has spawned many “Team Kim” and “Team Thurston” responses.

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I’m a part of “Team Get Over It.”  I love Sonic Youth’s music and am sad that my favorite band is no more, but that doesn’t mean I get a say in the private lives of the band members.  Instead, I’m going to celebrate the incredible legacy they as Sonic Youth left behind.

Thurston Moore’s dalliance with black metal

With the possible exception of former Sonic Youth bandmate Lee Renaldo, no one does art-noise guitar better than Thurston Moore.  Moore learned at the feet of master Glenn Branca in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and Branca’s influence has lasted with Moore through three decades of the most original, brilliant, and influential no-wave.  He continues on with music somewhat similar to Sonic Youth in his new band Chelsea Light Moving, but takes a much darker, heavier turn as the guitarist/vocalist of black metal band Twilight.  What is at first blush an odd combination is actually a logical step for Moore’s grinding feedback-laden ax work.

While Twilight broke up several months ago, they are still moving forward with the March 18 release of III: Beneath Trident’s Tombwhich includes the track “Swarming Funeral Mass”: