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.

Ten questions with Che-Val

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Che-Val, an up-and-coming pop duo from Norwalk, Connecticut, comprised of husband and wife team Kenny and Laura Cash, has caught our attention with its upbeat tempo, catchy lyrics, and a clever video that showcases the Cashes’ charisma and swagger usually seen with long-established acts.  While the duo is hard at work on their forthcoming debut EP due early next year, Kenny also owns and operates a music studio while Laura teaches high school chemistry.

(Wanna listen to the MP3 instead?  Click My Beat)

Despite juggling two careers, marriage, and exceptional taste in Mardi Gras masks, Laura took time to answer our Ten Questions:

1. While Che-Val is a new band, your sound is exceptionally polished.  What previous bands/experience did you and Kenny have prior to your current project?

Thank you! Kenny is definitely the man behind the curtains when it comes to how polished we sound. He graduated from Berklee College of Music and plays the bass, guitar, keys, drums, and some clarinet (he even does the dishes too! Lol what a guy!). So he always incorporates a lot of live elements into the music, which really bring it to life. Kenny also learned a lot from being the leader of his funk band Decifunk during college and from playing in the Green Pasture Baptist Church band in the Bronx. Owning his own music studio (the Factory Underground studio), he has worked as the producer/composer of several projects that helped him to develop his own sound. One project close to his heart was the album his created with his young rap protégé, Lighta, who died in a car accident. Lighta really helped to shape Kenny’s sound, and we actually plan to feature his vocals on one of our tracks on our EP.

I was mostly a song-writer before this project. I had recorded a country album in Nashville that I loved! I was on the country route when I met Kenny and got back into pop music. Then we started to incorporate more of the alternative side more recently.

We also have great mixing engineers on board: Grammy-nominated John Shyloski mixed “My Beat” and actually directed the video too, and Nic Hard, who is mixing a couple of other tracks on the EP. Both have been vital and influential to our sound and to Kenny, who has also mixed a couple of tracks.

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2. How long have you two been married to each other?  How did you meet?

We have been married for three years this past July, but we’ve been together for seven years.

I met Kenny while accompanying a friend to record a hip hop hook in Kenny’s studio. Though I was recording a country album at the time, Kenny was impressed by my writing and wanted to start working together. Best pick up line ever (laughs) Just kidding! We actually started on the music first and the love came second. My friend whom I met Kenny through actually told me that Kenny was “off-limits” because he didn’t want me to mess up his business! But hey, now I get him discounts… so who’s laughing now?

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3. How did “My Beat” came about?

My Beat was meant to bring back that nostalgic vibe of going into a record shop or CD store and picking out the new album that you’ve been waiting for. You could be having the worst day, but somehow that experience and that excitement made it so much better. And once you have that album, it’s now a part of who you are. And that’s the meaning behind My Beat! Because it was a vibe we felt was lacking in the digital market. We even work into the lyrics artists that we did go shopping for or claimed as our beat (TLC, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, James Brown, etc)!  When doing the video for My Beat, we did retro stop motion animation with vinyl records to play with that concept too.

4. Can you tell us a little more about the upcoming EP?

The upcoming EP is titled Gone Mad and it’s now set for release in January 2015. It really plays with the dark and the light… the upbeat and the downtempo. It’s a little bipolar in an awesome alternative way. We have songs that lean more toward Lorde, Banks, and the Neighborhood… and then we have other songs that lean more toward Ellie Goulding, Icona Pop, and Madonna.  We felt it was more like putting together a favorite playlist.

We will be releasing another single in November 2014 before the album drops. The single is called “Don’t Give Up On Me” and it’s an acoustic ballad that we will be using to raise awareness for Parkinson’s disease, and we will be donating the profits to the cause. It’s a cause close to our hearts because Kenny’s mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about 10 years ago.

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5. What are your inspiration(s) for your music?

The inspirations for our music really can change daily.  One week it could be a real personal event that has happened in our lives the next it could be a tv show, something that happened in pop culture, or something more global. So being a chemistry teacher, I want to say… it could be microscopic or macroscopic!

6. Who are your influences?

While Kenny’s influences root pretty heavily in soul, rock, and hip hop mine are a little more pop and country based.  While you may find names like Prince, Led Zeppelin, Snoop Dogg and Charles Mingus on his top list, you’ll find Madonna, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, and Shania Twain at the top of mine! I am unashamed to say that Debbie Gibson and the Spice Girls have influenced me as well!

7. You both have impressive careers outside of Che-Val.  Can you tell us about those?

They couldn’t be more different lol.  I teach high school chemistry so it’s very schedule oriented and my day starts at 6 a.m.  Kenny owns a recording studio (The Factory Underground) so he may not get home until 6 a.m.  Because it’s his business you never know what duty he may be called to do so he has to be more improvisational about how he approaches day to day.

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8. How do you juggle both careers?

It’s definitely a challenge! (laughs) When I’m teaching, I give 100 percent to that and put all of my effort and energy into it because that’s what my students deserve (Sometimes I really feel like I have 120 children… that’s about how many students I teach!) And I really do love giving them an appreciation for science, because I have a Master’s degree in chemical engineering, and that is something that I am proud of! But after the long day, it is difficult to make sure I also give 100 percent to my music and practice my vocal exercises, promote our music, work on songwriting, record, and/or whatever is lined up for that evening. The couch can look very tempting after that point! But ultimately it’s a passion and I make time for both. It’s also super difficult to sing well after talking/teaching for like 7-8 hours, because it does take a toll on your voice. But I guess I am trying to invoke some superwoman powers here… either that or just hope for some snow days! Just kidding.

9. What do your fellow teachers/students think of your musical pursuits?

They don’t really know much about it! I try to keep the two separate so that during school I’m promoting the fact that right now, we’re in a learning space and it’s time to focus.  Though other teachers and students keep asking me to do the talent show!

10. What do you hope to achieve musically?

We are pretty invested in the community that surrounds the Factory Underground, which is Norwalk, Connecticut. When a lot of people think of Connecticut, they think super rich, but there’s actually a large income disparity.  Having successful music come out of this area can help break down barriers that are set up by the financial disparity and help bring other people to the area to work on music and arts.Che-Val banner with logo

Premium pop in a post-pop world: Che-Val’s “My Beat”

People are likely to think I’m making this up, but there was a time when pop music was actually fun.  It was still mostly put together by studio wonks who were more interested in song writing by committee to reach key target demographics than it was about laboring over song and lyrics to create something as memorable as it was danceable, but they were less obvious about it.  We didn’t have to endure hackneyed shows like American Idol and The Voice where pop stars are stamped out like license plates on a prison press.  We were at least left with the illusion that some talented people got together on their own and crafted an upbeat track to our life’s soundtrack.

This may be the illusion created by Connecticut husband/wife pop duo Che-Val.  There is little about them on the Internet…no names, no bio…not much other than a few pictures and one complete and infectious song, “My Beat.”  Based on this song, the two appear to be fans of ’80s dance pop, complete with a campy video dripping with appears to be intentional irony that looks like it might have seen some rotation time on early MTV.  Regardless, it’s raucous fun that will stick with you like Aquanet to a magnificent mane of ’80s hair.  I hope we hear more from them.

You can find their Website here, Twitter here, and Soundcloud here.