In 2014, that media dam holding everything back cracked at its very foundation, and sounds of all forms and sizes and orientations came gushing out from every direction. It was a milestone year for pop, both traditional and experimental as Taylor Swift viciously thwarted off haters with Kanye West level confidence and craft all while Kane West and PC Music reduced what was left into a sonic stuffed sock aimed at our aural genitalia.
Also, amidst all of this sonic detritus, emerged artists that have been crawling there all along, waiting for just this kind catastrophic, boundary shattering event from which they could profit $$$$$$. Drill, trap, and mixtape rap blew up like never before in 2014, sending oddballs iLove Makonnen, Future, and Lil Herb into a flickering limelight. That such grimy, violent, and insightful music made waves on FM radio this year was deeply encouraging in this age when inequality has once again become of topic of serious discussion.
But while artists like A.G. Cook, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and Sophie all seamed bent on inducing disorienting amounts of dopamine as a political statement about popular aesthetics, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, and Tink redefined soul music, casting all of this aforementioned gunk into a light of authenticity rather than irony, providing a lens through which anonymous, potentially fabricated characters like Hannah Diamond and Lipgloss Twins can be seen as truly moving.
In fact, of all of 2014’s genre resurgences, it seemed (at least at first glance) that folksy singer songwriters and indie rockers seemed most guarded. While Dean Blunt appropriated various kinds pop rock, calling into question rockist concerns such as authorship and authenticity, Amen Dunes and Sun Kil Moon wrestled with their own traditionalist forms, eking out sardonic yet painfully sincere expressions of love that pierced through all of that obfuscating reverb.
Yet while all of this undergroup goop infiltrated popular platforms, long-form pieces, unbound by radio’s necessity, snaked their way through into listeners’ ears as well, demonstrating that aesthetic space-time can be stretched indefinitely, making room for transcendence through prolonged devotion. Swans, OOIOO, and Fennesz all embraced this format beautifully, somehow giving their most magnetic AND massive performances yet.
Whether it be a two minute industrial pop song released exclusively on a five-minute, two-song single or a surprisingly cohesive eleven minute display of violence and resolve on a two hour plus long adventure through the Abyss, 2014 artists went BIG because going home wasn’t an option. And so, complicated by all of this churning, my Favorite Songs of 2014 list resisted hierarchy. Instead, I have arranged five 10-song lists grouped loosely by mood. Today, I start big and aim for spiritual release, not asserting that it is only through these forms that transcendence can be reached; rather, giving concrete examples for how one can find that transcendence in unexpected places:
- Ninos du Brasil – “Sombra Da Lua”
- OOIOO – “Don Ah”
- Swans – “Screen Shot”
- Fennesz – “Liminality”
- Guardian Alien – “Spiritual Emergency”
- Call Super – “Sulu Sekou”
- Jenny Hval – “Black Lake”
- Kevin Drumm and Jason Lescallet – “Anger Alert”
- Dean Blunt – “Grade”
- Grouper – “Clearing”