Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Best Tracks of 2014: 25-11

25. Taylor Swift - Shake It Off

Taylor sheds the last remnants of her country roots and ends up with one of her best singles to date in the form of a gleeful shrug towards her detractors. What's that, you're not a fan of that spoken word breakdown? Haters gonna hate.

24. Black Portland - 4 Eva Bloody

Breakout star Young Thug teams up with fellow Atlanta rapper Bloody Jay, and the pair just spend the whole time shouting each other out! Thugger handles the ecstatic hook, while the theme-park beat, courtesy of Tripp Da Hit Major, shoots for the charts rather than the streets.

23. Danny L Harle - In My Dreams

Heartbreak with a candy coating. 'In My Dreams' skews towards the pop side of the fast-growing PC Music canon, but never seems content to rest on a single idea for more than a few seconds. It's a buoyant mess, all tethered together by that incredible hook. Even better than 'Broken Flowers'.

22. Future - Move That Dope (feat. Pusha T, Pharrell & Casino)

This is the sort of thing that Future and Mike Will should be making all the time. Casino's verse, cruelly excised from the video edit, is easily the best one here. The beat, one of Mike Will's finest to date, is the real reason to keep coming back.

21. Run the Jewels - Oh My Darling Don't Cry

The ATLien and the NY felon deliver the year's most quotable rap song? Well, surely home to the highest number of different flows. Maybe the funniest? Certainly the only one to have a guest spot from Michael Winslow of Police Academy. One thing's for sure - I want to get a business card like El-P's.

20. Iggy Azalea - Fancy (feat. Charli XCX)

Let's be honest - the real star here is Charli XCX, whose world-conquering hook made 'Fancy' the official song of the summer. The beat is such a titanic rip-off that it's a genuine shock every time I fail to hear it open with "Mustard on the beat, ho!" But hell, it's a good rip-off, even doing enough to earn its own 'Weird Al' parody. Well, that and a seven-week uninterrupted spot at the top of the Billboard 100.

19. Young Thug - Stoner

One of many tracks where Young Thug sounds like he might genuinely have just crash-landed from another planet. The elastic snap of his cadence gives way to a codeine-addled slur at a moment's notice. His ad-libs sound more demented than ever. Yet it all adds up to an alluring smoker's anthem, helped in no small part by a numbingly simple hook.

18. Ab-Soul - Tree of Life

Ab-Soul's These Days... was a poor follow-up to Control System, and probably the worst TDE album since their profile first soared in 2011. 'Tree of Life' is a real keeper though. It'll take you a few spins just to spot all the instances of tree wordplay ("I got most of you muthafuckers stumped / Rap like I go to church but works in the trunk"), and there's plenty of other great Ab lines to savour over a shuffling, restless beat. An uncredited Joey Bada$$ on the bridge precedes the wonderful last verse. 

17. Ringo Deathstarr - Chainsaw Morning

With a little tinkering, this could be Ringo Deathstarr's pitch for the big leagues. The chorus hook is definitely stadium-sized, with drum fills and full-neck guitar slides to match. The little electronic stutter and cooing vocals that begin the track are a wonderful feint - after that it just soars. Skygaze might be a more appropriate term.

16. Sun Kil Moon - Ben's My Friend

Sun Kil Moon's Benji was critically adored in most corners, but some of those longer pieces just didn't click with me. More often than not I found myself skipping ahead to the final track, a breezy number that could easily pass for an outtake from the last Destroyer album, sax solo intact. Mark Kozelek nails the stream of consciousness style, his lyrics tripping over themselves in the final verse as his mid-life crisis unspools. Not a lot happens in this story - Kozelek gets writer's block, lunches with his girlfriend, worries about his mother, has an existential crisis following a Postal Service concert - but it's beautifully evocative, the twilight at the end of a record consumed with death.

15. Isaiah Rashad - Shot You Down (feat. Jay Rock & Schoolboy Q)

A seven-minute monster of a track. The beat lopes along, accomplished without ever getting in the way. Rashad has rarely sounded so animated, really selling the chorus where he threatens to end sensitive flavour of the month MCs. The best bit though is Jay Rock's career-high verse, further cementing his status as TDE's most slept-on rapper.

14. Real Estate - Talking Backwards

Real Estate's third album Atlas dealt in cleaner textures, lifting the gauze filter and letting us focus on the construction of the songs. 'Talking Backwards' always reminds me of Television's 'Marquee Moon' - not for the sound, but the way in which all the parts interlock perfectly. There's a crisp, autumnal feel to proceedings, which goes some way towards disguising the frustration of the lyrics, a familiar study of communication breakdown in a relationship.

13. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Shitsville

"Motherfuck euthanasia, I'll lace your food up with razors / make you gargle with saltwater, excuse yourself from my table". Freddie Gibbs is one of the toughest rappers going, and on first sight his hard-edged street bars might seem an uneasy fit with Madlib's dusty soul productions. No worry - the two veterans have been working together for longer than you might expect, and here their styles complement each other perfectly. Madlib layers seasick strings over ominous bass pulses, and Gibbs' message is a threatening reality check - nobody is invincible, so you'd better watch yourself.

12. Cloud Nothings - Giving Into Seeing

Some of the best songs have moments - 0:44 in Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah, 2:52 in Arcade Fire's Wake Up - those precious few seconds that are worth entire catalogues from lesser bands. Giving Into Seeing isn't operating at quite the same magnitude as those examples, but it's close. It's a taut, driving indie rock song that barrels its way through the opening two minutes before the texture suddenly shifts and the guitar falls to the back of the mix. The song builds again, surging upwards and culminating in a thundering rush of drums at 2:54, followed by a frantic sprint to the finish line.

11. Vince Staples - Blue Suede

Before this year, Vince Staples was probably best known as an Odd Future affiliate, in particular for his storming guest verses on Earl Sweatshirt's album Doris. In 2014 he released a bunch of songs over two excellent EPs, and 'Blue Suede' is the pick of the lot. The siren noises hark back to Dr. Dre's sinuous G-funk, and the tectonic bass reimagines it through a contemporary trap filter. Staples is one of the most exciting young voices in hip-hop, and this is his benchmark.

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