[sic] Magazine

Sub-Ed’s Tracks Of The Year 2014

Drawing to a close my now usual tri-part annual summary, I hereby present those cuts that have best soundtracked my year – the only rule being that each entrant could only be represented once in order to best share the love.

On heavy rotation throughout 2014, these tracks truly rock/humble/excite – delete as appropriate. Do make sure you get to the bottom of the list. In a just world all these tracks would be in the top 10. To help you explore this list I’ve painstakingly put together a Spotify playlist with all those tracks that Spotify has on its books (circa 90%).

No doubt you had your own favourites. Here are mine:

1. FKA Twigs – “Video Girl” (Alt-R&B/Glitch-Pop)

FKA Twigs, aka Tahliah Barnett, has been nothing short of a revelation in 2014. She’s taken the cut-and-paste, future R&B gauntlet and re-made it for now as well as for herself. It’s tailor-made urban for discerning catwalks, silk drawn over sexy pop. It’s the wonderfully choreographed story of her butterfly-like transition from being recognisable only as the “girl from the video” to becoming a star in her own right. “Video Girl” is an arresting tableau of stop-start glitch, sub-bass, wonky synth squelches, 808 rips, choral interjections and low BPM that really should have helped her walk away with a Mercury.

2. White Lung – “I Believe You” (Punk)

As per my write-up of the “LP”, you could drop the needle anywhere on the AOTY-winning Deep Fantasy and turn up gold. Seriously, each of its 10 sub-three minute romps are worthy of this place. “I Believe You” takes the silver though because of its sheer impact. Frontwoman Mish Way is on explosive form. The guitars slice at break-neck speed. The blows rain in from all angles and it winds itself up like a circle pit. How they close on such a tight finish after all this is absolutely amazing too.

3. Amen Dunes – “Lonely Richard” (60s Psyche)

There’s more to music than chords and choruses. Sometimes there’s genuine magic in how it all coalesces and the largely acoustic “Lonely Richard” is liberally sprinkled with such pixie dust. Guitar slides add earthbound grit to the psychedelic exchanges, but it’s the interplay between the seriously strong (yet totally casual) melody and Damon McMahon freak-folk of a vocal that do the damage. The 60s just keeps on giving.

4. Lydia Ainsworth – “Moonstone” (Alt-R&B/Glitch-Pop)

This phenomenal laptop glitch-pop is brilliant even before Lydia Ainsworth swoops a vocal over her cut-and-paste beat. If FKA Twigs didn’t already have this wave of this sort of thing sewn up Ainsworth would be crowned alt-pop queen as we speak. That said she is a smidge weirder. Think Julia Holter and Laurel Halo only as produced by PC Music.

5. Zig Zags – “Brainded Warrior” (Biker Fuzz/Rock)

Intentional typo and all, “Brainded Warrior” is dumb and gloriously fun. It’s pedal-to-the-metal rock in which there is nevertheless “a thought process behind how stupid” it is. Accordingly then there’s a degree of the tongue-in-cheek to their Sabbath-shredding and Motörhead-brand fuzz. It’s an absolute miracle how this doesn’t suck balls. Embrace it.

6. How To Dress Well – “Face Again” (Alt-R&B/Pop)

Tom Krell is going for glory, his recent material staying true to his bedroom R&B aesthetics but setting its sights on much grander stages all the same. “Face Again” is a bit of an anomaly then, pitch-shifting his trademark falsetto into deep and dark spaces whilst also finding out just how low his sub-bass will go. Naturally, it’s wonderfully done.

7. Bon Iver – “Heavenly Father” (Singer-Songwriter/Drone)

New Bon Iver material doesn’t come along every day so it’s wise to savour it when it does. Taken from the Wish I Was Here soundtrack, the jaw-dropping “Heavenly Father” further alienates Justin Vernon’s For Emma fanbase, incorporating blatant drones into his increasingly R&B palette. It basically demands repeat plays until you’re up to speed.

8. Gold-Bears – “Chest” (Indie-Rock/Noise-Pop)

Put together a dream indie band and I challenge you to come up with one as perfect as Gold-Bears. First there’s that pop-punk vocal borrowed from The Thermals, then the fuzz and jangle of bands like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. Add to that the sing-along-ability and anthemic qualities of Neutral Milk Hotel and you’ve got a track like “Chest”.

9. Future Islands – “Sun In The Morning” (Synth-Pop)

Enjoyable music doesn’t have to make any sense and “Sun In The Morning” certainly doesn’t. It’s helped by the fact it’s an example of top-drawer synth-pop and by Sam Herring’s ridiculous club-singer crooning. “She feeds me daily soul,” he sings bafflingly, but it really doesn’t matter as that synth and choral backing are, indeed, pure sunshine.

10. Verma – “Regolith” (Post-Punk/Psyche-Rock)

“Regolith” is part of a spectacular one-two combo that blasts Sunrunner open. They’re so good in fact that if Verma had maintained the pace it could well have been album of the year. The formula’s quite simple too. Take driving post-punk guitars. Repeat them out to psychedelic length. Insert a cold vocal. Shroud in black noise and hit warp speed. Enjoy.

11. Lorelle Meets The Obsolete – “What’s Holding You?” (Psyche-Rock)

There are very few opening tracks to rival Chambers’s “What’s Holding You?” At one fell swoop it launches the Mexican duo of Lorelle and The Obsolete into the realms of power psyche, the onslaught pulsing louder and louder until it feels like the blood will burst from your ears, which it might if it weren’t for Lorelle’s ethereal vocal and a space-rock sweep.

12. Leisure Birds – “Geodesic Lines” (Psyche/Kosmiche)

Jake Luck’s retro-futurist lyrics are reverbed to the point of mysticism throughout Leisure Birds’ superb Tetrahedron album, as much at home on the spectral title track of that LP as they are during this insistent standout, a track which writhes around like ritualistic overlords Goat attempting to communicate through interpretative kosmische.

13. Big Ups – “TMI” (Post-Hardcore/Sludgecore)

Find me a better tumble of guitars from this year and I’ll be ever-grateful. “TMI” stumbles from spoken-word post-hardcore to sludgy screamo-thrash in the flick of a wrist and it’s utterly thrilling as it goes. We’re repeatedly asked “Do you feel anything?” Honestly, in response, a righteous headache coupled with a weird sense of complete inner peace.

14. Ashrae Fax – “The Big Lie” (Post-Punk/Goth)

Taken from their first new album since 2003, urgent synth slashes and a brilliantly dark vocal set the scene, the track latterly screeching around like Siouxsie Sioux’s own banshee intent on haunting both the Cocteau Twins and Grace Jones with nought save a drum machine. A triumphant return for one of the most underrated bands around.

15. Karen O – “Rapt” (Singer-Songwriter/Lo-fi)

Definitely one of this year’s most surprising releases, mercurial Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O’s hyper-intimate collection of tour-bus recordings about real-life love and its complications struck home because of its honesty and vulnerability. “Love’s a fucking bitch,” she muses heavy-heartedly here. We’ve all been there. Sniff.

16. Austra – “Habitat” (Electronic Pop)

Is that trance? You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m off my rocker at this point. Anyway, to answer the question: yes and no. Despite first appearances, “Habitat” is, in fact, thinly-veiled darkwave/synth-pop, but such is the strength of Katie Stelmanis’s quivering vocal that she could be singing a downbeat John Lewis commercial and I’d still be on board.

17. Shunkan – “Wash You Away” (Singer-Songwriter/Fuzz Pop)

Fuzzy Kiwi songwriter Marina Sakimoto, aka Shunkan, the Japanese for “in the moment”, has the knack of making forlorn masterpieces that feel like they’ve been with us for years. How this is the product of someone so under the radar and not topping lists the length and breadth of the Internet beats me. Expect big things for her in the near future.

18. Sharon Van Etten – “Our Love” (Singer-Songwriter/Alt-Pop)

“Our Love” is car-crash songwriting. Sharon Van Etten’s deeply abusive love story is tough to stomach but impossible to ignore. Late-night FM keyboards and the slow crunch of a drum machine mingle in harmony with her stunningly high-register vocal, lyrics which can’t help but strangle in her throat as she fails to keep her emotions in check.

19. White Hex – “Sisters” (Post-Punk/Goth)

An irresistible shimmer, a deep bassline, high-end from The Cure canon, a really smart speaker-shifting chime and a frosty vocal. It’s really not rocket science. Aussie darkwave of the calibre of “Sisters” may not be shifting serious units or generating significant column inches but, by God, it makes for tremendous listening nonetheless.

20. Kikagaku Moyo – “Kodama” (Sitar/Psyche-Rock)

What a groove. “Kodama” is one of the coolest tracks from this year and make no mistake. Kikagaku Moyo are Japanese longhairs and in their native tongue they coo around the fringes of the 60s, spidery sitar in tow. It’s that nagging riff that grabs the headlines all the same, pure funky propulsion. Far out, man.

21. Black Lips – “Boys In The Wood” (Garage-Rock/Rock ‘n’ Roll)

There’s a space reserved in this list every year for Black Lips. From another strong LP comes “Boys In The Wood”, a bluesy rock ‘n’ roll slow-riot that struts to its own tune though inevitably it’s whisky, girls and trailers that they find in the back-woods. This one’s not for the moonshine porch though. It’s got juke joint written all over it.

22. Gun Outfit – “Lola’s Tears/Buried Deep” (Alt-Country)

Coming from a tour-only tape, “Lola’s Tears/Buried Deep” may be tough to come by (you can still download it in places though), but it’s worth the effort seeking it out for it’s an atmospheric and queasy document that tells of nights spent alone under the stars, misty-eyed and bottle firmly in hand. Only outsiders offer unique perspectives such as this.

23. Perfect Pussy – “Driver” (Garage-Punk/Lo-fi)

Ever-NSFW when it comes to Google, Perfect Pussy’s “Driver” is just over two minutes of mangled garage-punk fury. It hits with intense waves of feedback and face-stinging barrages from firebrand frontwoman Meredith Graves, which bury the track’s rough-and-ready melody. Proves the old adage that the best things come in small packages.

24. She Keeps Bees – “Greasy Grass” (Blues/Folk-Rock)

Always at the fringes of the party She Keep Bees are now in with the in-crowd thanks to their excellent Eight Houses LP on which the blues-rock duo enter folkier territory. Right on cue, the ever-intensifying and impressive “Greasy Grass” charts General Custer’s last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn: part Patti Smith fervour and PJ Harvey storytelling.

25. Honeyblood – “Super Rat” (Indie-Rock/Fuzz Pop)

Despite a ropey lyrical opening, the Honeyblood ladies and their “Super Rat” quickly step it up to become a fuzzed-out indie-rocker high on charming hooks and sugar-sweet vocals that swell periodically into a typical Glaswegian slanging match to rival The Pogues at Christmas time. Shout-along indie-pop for the kids that adults can enjoy too.

26. Conor Oberst – “Night At Lake Unknown” (Singer-Songwriter)

Formerly untouchable, knock-out songsmith Conor Oberst has his rivals these days so every now and then he has to release a track as effortless as “Night At Lake Unknown” to let them know who’s still boss. He’s slowed his pace in recent years and he’s on sleepy form here too. To these ears it just makes his delivery that bit more beautiful.

27. Angel Olsen – “Forgiven/Forgotten” (Garage-Rock/Fuzz Pop)

Angel Olsen’s transformation from folky Siren to fuzz-pop goddess is remarkable. The simplicity she brings to both is commendable, the stomping drums and driving guitar lines in two-minute wonder “Forgiven/Forgotten” here judged immaculately. She doesn’t forget the power her tender vocal brings though, helping to bridge two complementary worlds.

28. Delay Trees – “Perfect Heartache” (Indie/Dream-Pop)

Hearing this track is literally like falling in love. It’s a bolt from the blue (Finland, actually) that stops you in your tracks with its beauty, the heart-swelling chorus soaring in highly identifiable emotion. It’s a picture-perfect centrefold of jangling dream-pop that your likes of Real Estate would wet-dream all over.

29. Mirel Wagner – “Oak Tree” (Singer-Songwriter/Folk)

Already a master of timeless song-craft, Wagner breathes personality into the decades-old via strange perspectives, this absolutely classic-sounding song told in whispers as from a buried corpse, Wagner multi-tracking herself against ghostly moaning and an unstoppable wave of emotion. Track of the year 1964 no question.

30. Cheatahs – “Leave To Remain” (Shoegaze)

The allure of shoegaze is still strong and tracks like “Leave To Remain” prove why. It comes from a fairly middling album of soupy ‘gazing but leaps above its contemporaries with one simple surge of repeated guitar. Granted it’s an eruption that owes everything to My Bloody Valentine but that doesn’t stop it from being crazy exciting.

31. Tomas Barfod – “Pulsing feat. Nina K” (Electronic Pop)

The bounce-tacular “Pulsing” features an absolutely irresistible squelch from Danish producer Tomas Barfod (of WhoMadeWho) over which guest vocalist Nina Kinert turns in a mesmeric quiver. If all pop were this well-manicured I probably wouldn’t have to spend my days trawling the nether regions of the Internet in order to get my musical kicks.

32. Ben Frost – “Nolan” (Electronica/Experimental)

A fizzing, muscular brute from the Aussie composer that nick’s label-mates Swans’s bell chimes and sets them to dark-arts beats and tunnel-vision percussion. The result is an overwhelming cacophony of crumpled electronics that threaten the established order of audio and art only to still beckon you forward with fragmented melody.

33. Les Big Byrd – “Vi Borde Prata Men Det Är För Sent” (Psyche-Pop)

Utterly beguiling stuff from Sweden’s Les Big Byrd, “Vi Borde Prata Men Det Är För Sent” (“We should talk but it’s too late” – thanks Google translate) is pretty psychedelic-pop of the highest order. It’s the type of song you can close your eyes to and drift on by atop a summer’s cloud, that foreign language twist only enhancing its fragile otherworldliness.

34. Parquet Courts – “Instant Disassembly” (Punk-Rock)

I may be in the minority but, to date, my relationship with Parquet Courts (or Parkay Quarts) has been a bit indifferent. Happily, all seven minutes of “Instant Disassembly” do a good job of convincing me otherwise. It’s a splendidly lazy punk-rocker that coasts along on good-times vibes bringing to mind the likes of Television and Modern Lovers.

35. Halasan Bazar & Tara King th. – “Rot Inside” (60s Psyche)

Halasan Bazar and Tara King th. got together for a very classy collaboration this year and “Rot Inside” was its highlight, Béatrice Morel-Journel and Fredrick Rollum Eckoff dueting like Nancy Sinatra making eyes at a stoned Ian McCulloch, gloomy Farsifa oscillating away like Crystal Stilts caught in some sun-bleached cactus-chapel limbo.

36. Dignan Porch – “Harshed” (Indie-Rock/Lo-fi)

There’s an art to economy and Dignan Porch get it spot on here. From 30 seconds in, “Harshed” is little more than a solitary riff and a cryptic chorus line repeated ad infinitum. There are brief concessions to gnarly fretwork, but this one’s all about mid-fi power, the band eking every ounce of muscle out of their wailing axes.

37. Eagulls – “Possessed” (Post-Punk)

There’s a primal graunch to “Possessed” that propels it forwards. Cement mixer guitars, borrowed in part from Kevin Shields, swirl angrily around George Mitchell’s shout and the whole thing snowballs towards a chest-beating, lung-busting conclusion. Expect energetic newcomers Autobahn to pick up precisely where Eagulls left off in 2015.

38. Ought – “The Weather Song” (Punk-Rock)

“The Weather Song” is all over the map like Fred Talbot (pre-Operation Yewtree), its jarring guitar spikes matched only by frontman Tim Beeler’s frenetic yelp. Reeling tempos shudder and pop between iconic-sounding choruses. Breathless and messy it’s how punk-rock should be. Smart and sassy it’s also got pop nailed too.

39. Purling Hiss – “Six Ways To Sunday” (Indie-Rock/Fuzz-Pop)

From humble strumming to an arms-wide masterclass in anthemic indie, the majestic “Six Ways To Sunday” unfurls at a leisurely eight minutes, its fuzzy rock so melodious the guitar is fundamentally part of the rousing chorus. It’s the kind of track that can improve a bad day, a comforting shoulder on which to lean, a big brother that’s got your back.

40. Arca – “Xen” (Electronica/Experimental)

There are fragments of numerous tracks in Xen’s title track and they rain like audio confetti in the disparate mix; stabbing synth loops, blunt force beats and a playful line of clipped crescendos intertwine towards the track’s breath-taking climax. At times you can practically see the brush strokes of this cutting-edge producer at work.

41. Zola Jesus – “Hunger” (Electronic Pop)

As per Grimes below, if you’re gonna make pop music then engage at least part of your brain whilst doing so. The dynamic beats of “Hunger” are undeniably Zola Jesus’s most commercial material to date, some of her most powerful, immediate and arresting too; her soaring vocals exploring a basic chorus structure as well as the usual loftier peaks.

42. Protomartyr – “Scum, Rise” (Post-Punk)

Protomartyr feature in all the taste-making lists this year thanks to tracks like “Scum, Rise”, during which broadsides of post-punk angles jostle for position and frontman Joe Casey sneers his commands against a back-drop of grey percussion and reverbed guitars captured in splendid isolation. It’s an all-too-brief sub-three minutes TBH.

43. tUnE-yArDs – “Real Thing” (Singer-Songwriter/Alt-Pop)

This year Merrill Garbus dug deeply into African-American history, decorating her multi-tracked, kitchen-sink madness with vocal snippets that originated on the open savannah before mutating into gospel harmonies. Strong, hand-clapped rhythms dominate alongside clipped R&B in the killer “Real Thing” and it’s pure celebration.

44. Is/Is – “Before The Stars” (Dream-Pop/Desert-Psyche)

Portland-via-Minneapolis ladies Is/Is (eep, unfortunate band name) make spooky, reverbed dream-pop built on a high-and-lonesome drizzle of acoustic guitar and tambourine. What follows is all very atmospheric, a ghostly ebb-and-flow that erases these desert Sirens’ footprints in the sand almost before they’ve had time to register.

45. Thee Oh Sees – “Penetrating Eye” (Garage-Psyche)

John Dwyer is unreal. His productivity is astonishing even after threatening a yet-to-materialise hiatus for his superb Thee Oh Sees project. “Penetrating Eye” is absolute business as usual too: in-the-red garage-psyche excess in which Dwyer revels in casting himself as some maniacal shaman, his church of guitars and pedals riffing around him.

46. Old Testament – “Trip Light” (Psyche-Rock)

Old Testament is Jason Simon of Dead Meadow and on “Trip Light” he explores windblown Americana and psyche-country, if such a thing exists. It moseys along unsteadily, quivering harmonica lighting the way, buzzing pedals bringing up the rear. The hype machine would probably explode if this had been written by Spiritualized.

47. Grimes – “Go feat. Blood Diamonds” (Electronic Pop)

Pop princess Rihanna turned the song down so Claire Boucher released it herself. Opinion was somewhat divided and Boucher eventually scrapped a whole new album because “it sucked”. Sure, it’s all about the “drop” and features chart-ready beats but here’s one corner of the Internet at least that thinks she may have been a bit hasty.

48. Esben And The Witch – “No Dog” (Post-Rock)

Post-rock is desperately unfashionable but Esben And The Witch have been trying to further its cause with dark atmospherics for a number of years now and in “No Dog” they have probably their most convincing statement yet. Its backbone is thunderous bass work; Rachel Davies’s coo an excellent and sometimes urgent counterpoint.

49. Blank Realm – “Falling Down The Stairs” (60s Psyche)

The standout cut from a charming LP; here these bloodshot Aussies ride a ramshackle groove over six luxurious minutes, infectious organ chatter bubbling away under strong melodies and a pleasingly off-key chorus. This is music made by people just for the fun of it and it shows, smiles beaming out of the psychedelic waltz like hippies high on life.

50. Pink Mountaintops – “North Hollywood Microwaves” (Indie-Rock/Psyche-Pop)

I’m still unsure if this is genius or cobblers, Stephen McBean and co. ramping up the sax-abetted power-pop only for a simultaneously bubblegum and X-rated rap from Annie Hardy (of Giant Drag fame) to rip apart the track’s tail end. As Hardy alludes to, however, what’s certain is that it’s nonsense as catchy as a number of venereal diseases.

The best of the rest (no particular order):

Swans – “Screen Shot” (Experimental Rock)
ILL – “Secret Life” (Post-Punk)
Beverly – “You Can’t Get It Right” (Garage-Pop/Surf/Girl Group)
Yvette – “Mirrored Walls” (Noise-Rock)
Dream Police – “Hypnotized” (Psyche-Rock)
The Men – “Different Days” (Punk/Rock)
Nick Mulvey – “Fever To The Form” (Singer-Songwriter)
Bloody Knees – “Never Change” (Grunge/Rock)
Thurston Moore – “Speak To The Wild” (Alt-Rock/Punk-Rock)
Strand Of Oaks – “Goshen ‘97” (Heartland/Indie-Rock)
Ak’chamel – “Lowlands Of Hteklum” (Psyche/Ritual/Chant)
La Sera – “Losing To The Dark” (Garage-Pop/Girl Group/Indie-Rock)
Solids – “Haze Away” (Punk-Rock/Noise-Rock/Pop)
Menace Beach – “Fortune Teller” (Indie/Alt-Rock)
Bernard + Edith – “Poppy” (Alt-Pop/Experimental)
Warm Widow – “Dog Heaven” (Post-Punk/Indie-Rock)
Gem Club – “Speech Of Foxes” (Melancholy Piano-Pop)
Cloud Nothings – “Psychic Trauma” (Punk/Grunge/College-Rock)
Halls – “Aside” (Melancholy Piano-Pop)
Straight Arrows – “Don’t Tell Me” (Garage-Psyche)
The Icarus Line – “Leeches And Seeds” (Experimental Rock)
Colourmusic – “Dreamgirl ‘82” (Psyche-Rock/Noise)
Cherry Glazerr – “Haxel Princess” (Garage-Rock/Fuzz-Pop)
Beck – “Blue Moon” (Singer-Songwriter/Americana)
Ma – “Party On The Blvd” (Garage-Pop/Lo-fi)
Papercuts – “New Body” (Indie-Rock/Dream-Pop)
Feral Ohms – “Super Ape” (Biker Fuzz/Heavy Psyche)
Honeyslide – “Only When” (Shoegaze/Rock)
Gambles – “You Won’t Remind It” (Singer-Songwriter/Synth-Pop)
What Moon Things – “Astronaut” (Folk/Post-Punk/“Dreamo”)
The New Pornographers – “Born With A Sound feat. Amber Webber” (Indie-Rock)
Fear Of Men – “Green Sea” (Dream-Pop)
Pure X – “White Roses” (Indie/Dream-Pop/Downbeat)
HTRK – “The Body You Deserve” (Synth-Pop/Downbeat)
Warpaint – “Love Is To Die” (Dream-Pop)
Wild Beasts – “A Dog’s Life” (Indie/Pop)
Woods – “Leaves Like Glass” (Psyche-Folk)
Morgan Delt – “Barbarian Kings” (Psyche-Pop)
Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Warning” (Indie-Rock)
LVL UP – “Soft Power” (Indie-Rock)
Arthur Beatrice – “Councillor” (Indie/Pop)
Peaking Lights – “Hypnotic Hustle” (Electronic Pop/Dub)
Last Ex – “Nell’s Theme” (Soundtrack-Psyche/Atmospherica)
Girl Band – “De Bom Bom” (Grunge/Noise Rock)
Human Hair – “Sleeping” (Post-Punk/Indie-Rock)
Jupiter-C – “Holiday” (Synth-Pop/Downbeat)
Goddam Nobody – “Cut And Paste To Waste” (Singer-Songwriter/Lo-fi)
Goat – “Goatchild” (Psyche-Rock)
Alvvays – “Archie, Marry Me” (Indie-Pop)
Ultimate Painting – “Central Park Blues” (60s Psyche/Pop)