Finally, the top 20 for Willie Bee’s 103. It has been a diverse and interesting year of music. Debuts, returns, re-runs, creamed crap, people whinging about there being nothing good to listen to, too many raunchy videos, too much Taylor Swift (they’re wrong), a lack of guitars, a lack of female drummers and a lack of Chumbawamba, Baha Men, Wheatus and Eiffel 65. Okay, it is unlikely that anyone minus the actual members of those bands are whinging about the latter (and even then they’re probably pretty happy people have forgotten about their music), but it is safe to suggest that everyone is a critic these days. The safest thing to do is to shut off your computer (after you read this), and get down to your local music discotheque, music beer, pub, tavern or jukebox and soak up the treble clefs and harmonies. It’ll be nice for the band or DJ or harmonica player to realise that the spirit of music is not dead, and never will be dead. Someone, somewhere will always be searching for that beautiful song, that inimitable sound and that splendid high note.
With that sentimental sidenote out of the way, here is my top 20 for 2014.
20. Vic Mensa – Down on My Luck
WB comment: When I first listened to this track, I was convinced I would not listen to anything sexier than this number. Slick and uber-polished for a newcomer with a killer hook and a dominant deep-house beat that feels like quicksand to any other movement than genuine fuck it, let’s dance.
19. Andy Bull – Talk Too Much
WB comment: My favourite Australian artist Andy Bull has the voice of a very attractive woman and the biting wit of a young Hugh Laurie. Or something like that. He’s a very good piano player too. Enough with the constant cooing of my vicious man-crush and onto the 19th best song of the year, Talk Too Much. The never-ending negative self-talk has been given the arse in favour of lush synth, liquid ice-cream harmonies and a killer message.
18. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
WB comment: Ben Howard, surfer-cum-heartbreak kid, has the vision of a lost puppy dog. He’s ever-longing for clarity, you can’t quite understand him, but your heart bleeds with him for you can understand just how he feels. I Forget Where We Were mentions Syria in its opening lines but Howard is at his best when love curls out of his mouth and into our souls.
17. I LOVE MAKONNEN ft. Drake – Club Goin’ Up on a Tuesday
WB comment: This song shouldn’t make me want to get absolutely fried in a club on a Tuesday so much but as opposed to Kanye’s Bound 2 last year, this isn’t questioning weekday clubbing, but simply saying that it could be a pretty decent idea. A slow grinding cloud of noise rumbles over both Drake and Makonnen as they smirk about making this shit their own. And it is good shit.
16. Perfume Genius – Queen
WB comment: ‘Don’t ya know ya Queen… Whipped… Heaving’ Perfume Genius groans at the beginning of Queen… and he doesn’t relent from there. This is a bold, engrossing and intoxicating single. Although parts of the song come off as an ode to a tortured artist, this isn’t a self-defeating cry for help. This is a clenching of the fists, knowing exactly what time it is… a time to sashay.
15. Asgeir – Kings and Cross
WB comment: His accent attempts to deceive my ears and yet I hear the man clearly, this is a travelling song. Or at least, it is how I now perceive it because I carried it with me throughout my Japanese sojourn. Earlier I made the comparison between Asgeir’s sound and Justin Vernon, and this is pretty easy to do when a man uses his falsetto more than his natural range. With more thought, Asgeir is a clever arranger of quirky synth, mixed with his soft-falsetto and a nod to an Icelandic vibe. He is a real talent.
14. Sylvan Esso – Hey Mami
WB comment: This song comes across as something like a schoolyard chant we all would have come across as a young kid. In fact, it is a damn fine song about the displeasure of unwanted advances from perverted men. That drop at 1.17 takes it from innocent schoolyard fun to the persepctive of a smuttier, perverted older man.
13. The Cairos – Obsession
WB comment: A dark, noisy single from these Brisbane lads that sits upon a crunchy bass-line. The insatiable search for pleasure with or without consequence, but not without internal contemplation, Obsession is a beautiful song in a way I can’t quite explain.
12. Phantogram – Fall in Love
WB comment: This is an arresting track, that really makes you appreciate Sarah Barthel’s lusty vocals. A challenging song that still holds onto a tinge of warmth, Fall in Love is damn seductive and makes you wanna lick your fingers clean of the soft, gooey taste of sex, knowing full well that you’ll want to taste it again, and again.
11. Seinabo Sey – Younger (Kygo Remix)
WB comment: A song that really attacks our most centralised vulnerabilities in a most obvious way. ‘You ain’t getting any younger, are you?’ Well, no, I’m not. And we can’t do anything to stop that. Sey’s powerhouse vocals and Kygo’s excellent additions allow this song to reach the heights the original didn’t get to. This year’s equivalent to Don’t Wait from Mapei, it is not so much a warning as a wake-up call.
10. How To Dress Well – Words I Don’t Remember
WB comment: What sounds like a confused tale of love, turns out to be a pretty determined ode to dedication and commitment. Sure, it is nothing new, but Krell makes it sound fresh and challenging. It isn’t so much about true love, but the importance of not letting the concept of love and sentimentality get in the way of a good connection.
9. Chromeo ft. Solange – Lost on the Way Home
WB: You know what you are going to get when you tune into Chromeo. Twangy 80s infused bass lines in the vortex of a space-aged Hall and Oates cover band. They’re good fun, but as a duo in their mature years (band age of course), fresh meat is a requirement. Solange adds that to this track and it becomes a slow reunion between two lovers in this sensitive twist on what you would expect from a Chromeo track.
8. Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk
WB: Ronson, one helluva producer and Mars, a gifted vocalist. Pretty fair combination. Together they have reignited the funk in the cheesiest way possible. And it really does work. Maybe it was just the right time, right place for a song like this to be produced and really it is just a horrible piece of music that will head to the dustbin of history soon enough… Ahhhhh forget that, Julio, grab the stretch!
7. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting on You)
WB: What a breakout year Future Islands have had. Despite being active for over a decade, Singles is the spiritual arrival of this band, and Seasons is the vehicle that has guided them there. It is a damn good synth-pop song… but what makes it great is the flamboyance, the utter-lack of fucks given by Samuel T Herring and the emotion that radiates in his voice.
6. Movement – Ivory
WB: The Australian release of the year in my books, Movement’s Ivory is a lesson in how to produce meaningful soul in the 21st century. The sultry lead vocals, the vicious guitar breaks and the almost irrational uncertainty the song leaves the listener with makes it one of the most intriguing listens of the year… (Edit: For some reason this song reminds of a really melancholy, alternative universe version of ‘Rock Your Body’ by JT… weird man, weird.)
5. Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar – Never Catch Me
WB: That brilliant moment when two forces collide and they create something even greater. This is the feeling that I had when I heard this track for the first time. Steven Ellison and Kendrick Lamar. Two men at the top of their games combining in this frenzied, attack-dog beat that is so utterly enthralling that you’ll be breathless by the time Kendrick has left the building and Fly-Lo is just dropping the freshest of experiences.
4. Bombay Bicycle Club – Luna
WB comment: This song carries all the elements of a great pop song, without the inherent predictability. Great harmonies, unique lead vocals, a strong bass line and clever drum patterns within the scope of a song that builds and builds as it moves toward crescendo. The wall of noise it becomes from the tiny spark it began as, is perhaps a fair analogy for Bombay Bicycle Club’s progression as a band. Play it as the sun sets on New Year’s Eve.
3. The War on Drugs – Under the Pressure
WB comment: Americana baby. As we whizz down Route I-95 from Philadelphia to New York City, we veer through Segar, Dylan and into Springsteen territory as you race against the anxiety that weighs you down. Who knows if you’ll make it out alive, who knows if you’ll release yourself from the pressure. And if you do, you’ll get to listen to this song as some sort of a victory march. And Holy mother of Jesus, you’ll enjoy the ride.
2. FKA Twigs – Two Weeks
WB comment: Speaking of sex… FKA Twigs has just gone and upped the game with this track. How do you compete with perfection? You don’t. This is just an unbelievable track. Perfect balance between the ramping up of the passion of the vocals and the synth and bass, FKA Twigs has created the intimacy of her bedroom and the comfort of two lovers locked in mutual admiration and it is so compelling.
1. Caribou – Can’t Do Without You
WB comment: My Song of the Year. Why? Because it all just adds up. And I still don’t get why this song has captured my imagination so incessantly. It swells and swells until everything explodes into a drug-infused frenzy of everything beautiful in the world. For a few moments, everything just kinda makes sense.
(The list minus the Spotify-shunners)
So there you are. I’ll release my top 25 albums sometime soon. For the time being, enjoy a safe and beautiful end of 2014 and a vibrant start to 2015.