Rankstravaganza 2014: My 30 favorite songs of the year

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The unlikely reunion at No. 1 (courtesy of Nonesuch Records)

I basically haven’t posted anything new to this blog since my 2013 year-end roundup. It’s been a busy year full of new challenges and responsibilities, but I’ve continued to listen to new music and compulsively keep track of what got played the most. This year’s list begins and ends with a pair of unlikely (but long-overdue) reunions from bands that haven’t released albums in nearly a decade.

A few other trends on display:

  • The feminist in me is happy to report that women vocalists are represented in half of the Top 10—assuming you count Neko Case on The New Pornographers’ track (and why wouldn’t you?)—including the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.
  • I managed to sneak in one hip-hop track and two electronic/dance tracks, but, as usual, this is a pretty rock-centric list with a little bit of twang thrown in.
  • I kept finding myself wanting to either use the word “raging” or “haunting.”

OK, I’ll see you in 2015—hopefully sometime prior to December.

30. “Trainwreck 1979,” Death From Above 1979

I discovered this Toronto hard-rock duo a year or two after their 2004 debut album came out—just in time to realize that they’d already broken up. It was evidently a nasty breakup, too. The fact that they produced an imminently likable reunion album—picking up right where the group left off—is icing on the raging-bass-riffs-and-dance-rhythms cake. Glad to have you back, guys.

29. “L’audace,” Sims

Doomtree co-founder Sims starts off his third album by dropping a reference to polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and, later in the song, a famed Bohemian ossuary (that’s a room full of bones, yo). In the process, the Minneapolis emcee sounds full of fury, passion and revolution. That’s talent.

28. “Do You,” Spoon

Does it bother anyone else that there’s not a question mark in the title? Probably not. They’re all too busy losing themselves in the “do-doo-do-doo’s” of this hazy jam and celebrating the Austin foursome’s return after a four-year break.

27. “Tall Man Skinny Lady,” Ty Segall

The Bay Area songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has released an album every year since 2008, and that’s not counting all the singles, EPs and special releases he’s put out, nor his work with Fuzz, Sic Alps and a gazillion other side projects and bands. The man is prolific, and this funky, psychedelic shuffle proves he’s not out of ideas yet.

26. “Under the Pressure,” The War On Drugs

The opening statement to one of the best album of 2014? Paste, Consequence of Sound and a bunch of others think so. Sounding a bit like Bob Dylan wandering through a sprawling ‘80s FM rock dreamscape, the Philadelphia group plays just two chords for 9 minutes and manages to keep it fresh and entrancing.

25. “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” Bob Mould

A blustering bit of sweet, cantankerous pop-punk that’s nearly as rousing as his best moments with Hüsker Dü. Bonus points for the video’s self-deprecating, self-aware cameo by a mustachioed Colin Meloy.

24. “I Wanna Get Better,” Bleachers

For any fun. fan who has wondered whether all that manic pop energy is entirely Nate Ruess’ doing, guitarist Jack Antonoff has a side project he’d like to introduce you to that asks the question, “Why play 16th notes on a piano when you can loop a single chord?”

23. “Beneath the Brine,” The Family Crest

Speaking of manic energy, this San Francisco collective takes the melodramatic tendencies of symphonic pop to the breaking point on this track and emerges victorious. Not all the band’s songs are this operatic, but singer Liam McCormick’s stratospheric tenor is up to the task.

22. “What Goes Boom,” Pixies

Black Frances seems to have caught a lot of flack for Indie Cindy, an album composed entirely of tracks from three previously released EPs that have come out since he drove Kim Deal away (again). Leaving all that backstory and baggage behind, though, the album—and this opening track in particular—really does a good job of capturing the mixture of menace and pop hooks that made the band so influential in the first place.

21. “High Hopes,” Bruce Springsteen

Even though the Boss didn’t write this song—it’s actually a cover of a song by L.A. band The Havalinas—and he first recorded it two decades ago, this new version sure seems to capture the spirit of the current times in a quintessentially Springsteenian manner.

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