Friday, December 19, 2014

Best of 2014: Songs

Putting together this list was a lot harder this year. I had a feeling this would be the case, as the year continued to develop and I just wasn't that excited about any new music. There were a couple of bright spots, but mostly I was underwhelmed by releases in 2014. It was a combination of these two issues: first, fewer bands I like released albums in 2014, compared to 2013; and second, those who did release albums tended to release albums that didn't resonate with me. That's just the way it happened this year, and that's fine. On the other hand, I listened to and discovered a lot of old music this year that has greatly enriched my life, directly related to not having a lot of new releases to be excited about. So there's good to be found in either situation, for sure.

But in the end, with a lot of listening and thought, and with a bit of creative thinking, I was able to put together a list. So here they are, without further ado, my top 10 songs of 2014:


1. Seabound - Black Feathers

It's so weird to me that my #1 song of the year is a slow song!  I can't quite get over that. It completely makes sense that I would like a band called Seabound, who makes albums that are called things like Speak in Storms, though, right? Anyway. I started off listening to the more dance-y songs on the album first, but when I heard "Black Feathers" I had that feeling. You know the one, the one where your heart feels like it's about to break, but not from sadness, from beauty. It's that beautiful. And the lyrics depict a sorrow that really resonates with me - the idea of shutting off who you are because society kills your spirit, and your spirit ends up lonely and afraid.

I knew for most of the year that one of the songs from this album would be on my top 10 list, but I never would have guessed it would be this song, until it kept creeping up on me, in my mind, and in my heart. I was also thinking last night about how polar opposite this song is from last year's number one song. Kind of like how this year has been polar opposite from last year.

We ceased to ask
the most important things
conditioned into silence
we learned to shut our wings

let go
the humble spiral
from tiny to immense
let go
black feathers
and not a single friend

2. Solitary Experiments - Trial and Error

Oh, this song. Oh, Solitary Experiments. This is a band I only discovered this year, and only found out about in Germany last year. When I heard this song, off of their late-2013 release Phenomena, it quickly became one of those songs I listened to over and over and over again. It was on my running playlist, but more than that, it helped me through a really tough early part of the year. I've spent a great deal of time this year seeing time pass me by and wondering if life has any meaning at all -- and if it does: how do I find it? How can I figure out what life means to me, and what do I need to go through to find out? This song, more than any other song I've listened to this year, echoed my fear and cynicism, and that was of great comfort to me.

Time passes by and you are afraid
Everything seems lost and it's much too late
Maybe this life has nothing more to offer

You reached the goal but can't deny
You are not really satisfied

But in the end you must learn to suffer

3. Aesthetic Perfection - Oh! Gloria

Another song that is rooted in a specific period of time for me. This entire album is, actually. I can't listen to any song on it without thinking of last winter. And while 'Til Death is a fantastic album, there wasn't any question that "Oh! Gloria" is my favorite from it. When I listen to it, I remember countless afternoons riding my bike down the Embarcadero after work, belting out the lyrics without a single care about who could hear me. I always timed my daily album listen so that I'd get to this song after I could put in both ear buds (ie, on the Embarcadero, a glorified sidewalk where bikes are allowed, aka, it's safe for me to put both ear buds in). It's a perfect song on a perfect album and I can't really say anything more than go listen to it, there's something for you there.

Why don't you come along with me,
We can erase our history

Oh no, Gloria, why are you so far away?
Oh no, Gloria, was it supposed to be this way?
Set up our foreign watchers,
Set down on shallow hell
The seas are getting rougher,

How long until we drown?

4. Maximo Park - Midnight on the Hill

Mäximo Park has held the title of "favorite band of all time" for me since 2012. This year they released their most mature and beautiful album yet, Too Much Information. I immediately was able to pick out the best track on the album. The best thing about Mäximo Park is their lyrics, and of course Paul Smith's Geordie accent (YES PLEASE READ ME THE PHONE BOOK OR DICTIONARY, THAT'S FINE, YES, JUST KEEP TALKING). Uh. Anyway ... erm. This song is a tale of youthful freedom, of the kind of nights we all remember from when we were young. This is a song that makes you feel like you're actually back there, and that's why it's so incredible. Also: this band. They are so great. If you're into British indie rock and aren't listening to them, you really should.  I'm talking to you, Arctic Monkeys fans.

I tell my secrets to a perfect stranger
It was midnight on the hill
A sudden silence; too much information 
We were struggling with our will

What happened next? I would like to know
Funny how the moments come and go

5. Melotron - Stuck in the Mirror

Confession: I only heard this song for the first time last week. And oh my gosh, it just came on Sanctuary Radio right now, it's on right now you guys!!! Anyway, Melotron is a band I've vaguely had on my radar this year, but it wasn't until last week, when I saw they had a new music video for another great song, "Du bist es nicht wert" that I realized they had a relatively new album. As it turns out, it's a greatest hits compilation, with 22 tracks on it. I got so excited, thinking that maybe one of these songs could solve my dilemma of not having enough songs for a top ten songs list. The moment I heard "Stuck in the Mirror," which is located about halfway through the 22 songs, I knew. Sometimes you just know. This song is so beautiful. It's one of the few songs on the album that's in English, and the beauty of the chorus stops me in my tracks every.single.time. So not only is it on the list, but it shot up to #5 without much inner debate.

What is love when I love to hate you?
We're still the same

We're stuck in the mirror

6. The Birthday Massacre - The Other Side

The Birthday Massacre just doesn't make missteps in their career. It's really amazing how they continue to top themselves with every album release. I waited so patiently (not patiently) all year to hear Superstition, which I backed on Kickstarter a year ago, and I tried so hard not to hype it up to myself too much beforehand. Well, there was nothing to worry about. It's a beautiful album. And as I listened over and over that first day, I immediately latched on to The Other Side. It's almost at the end of the album, and it's a slow song -- what is wrong with me, right? I should get my temperature checked, with multiple slow songs on my top 10 songs list. But it's clearly a massive, powerful song, guitars and more guitars and oh yeah, the lyrics:

In summer I drowned you 
In winter I found you 
As the world falls apart around me, 
the serpent is dreaming
I don't know this feeling

As we break through the other side

7. Surveillance - I Was There (feat. Carolyn Powers)

Surveillance is a side project of Assemblage 23's Tom Shear, and Tom Shear is amazing, and everything he does is amazing, but this is really powerful music, darker, EBM-ish, kind of reminds me of really great electronic music from the old days. That's what first drew me to this album.Also: both "Surveillance" and "Oceania" are references to Orwell's 1984 and the police state. Therefore, and quite obviously (once you listen to it) this album is a concept album about the police state we're currently living in. It's an extremely powerful collection of music. My favorite track is the first one, and the one that most reminds me of my days dancing to house music in dark, smokey warehouses, though the subject matter of the song is anything but carefree. It's important, and particularly given current events in the last couple of months, it feels more salient than ever.

I was there when cells slammed shut
Gathered up and caged like beasts
But freedom isn't lucrative 
There's money to be made

 I was there when the fuse was lit
A thunderclap of heaven's wrath
A million voices crying out
But I never did a thing 

I was there for the awful end
Bodies strewn in ashen piles
They told us they'd keep us safe
And they never learned a thing


8. Painted Palms - Spinning Signs

Painted Palms are one of the most popular local bands in the bay area right now (though I heard they're not really an SF band anymore, as of recently, that's beside the point). Their shows are sometimes notoriously difficult to get into around here. I first saw them with Gabe last February at a Noise Pop show, and it was a really special show, though we were laughing at them at the time because they're hipsters. But truth be told -- there's just something about them, and we kept coming back to them, time and again. And they've really stepped up their game as the year has progressed. Gabe and I have seen them a couple more times since then (I actually consider them "our band" though I don't think I've told him this yet) and each time has been better than the last. They sounded truly fantastic the last time, at Treasure Island in October. And "Spinning Signs" has always been my favorite of their songs. It's perfect sun-drenched Beatles-inspired surf-pop. and it has that wistful, heartbreaking feeling to it, like "the good days are over now... </3"

Girl you got it inside out
Those liquid days
They never change
Riding through the river waters
with that look still on my face

Why can't any other words get past my mouth?
Can't ever seem to let my mind out
I'm just talkin' to the things in side my head

Gettin' further away

9. Lucius - Turn It Around

I dislike every other song Lucius has ever made. There. I said it. It's way too folky for me and really, it's the type of music I really hate these days. But somehow they managed this song, too, and from the first time I heard it, I knew it would be this year's random song of the year. I really wish I liked more female vocalists, but I don't, so I'm going to take it where I can get it. This song hits every sweet spot for me, and the lyrics resonate, and the video is all 60's Mod ... perfection. Pop perfection.

She closed the door with the intention of not looking back
But missed her step because she didn't have a steady track
She can't be bothered by the mistakes she's made
But she's forgetting that's what guides you to the rightful path

She's looking through the wrong end
She's looking through the wrong end
She's looking through the wrong end of the telescope

Turn it around, turn it around

10. Combichrist - From My Cold Dead Hands

I hemmed and hawed for weeks about whether I really waned this song to be on my top 10 list. I love Combichrist, but their most recent album just hasn't done it for me, overall. "From My Cold Dead Hands" is the best song on it, and really the only song I like. Just because it factored heavily into the first part of 2014 for me doesn't mean it deserves a spot on the list, right?

Except, I realized, after taking an extra two weeks to consider it, that's exactly why it deserves a spot on the list. It isn't my favorite song that came out this year. It doesn't light a huge fire under me. But I've spent a lot of time listening to it, and it brings back memories of 2014, and that's what this list is all about. So, you bastards, even though you're basically a metal band now, you still made the list. ;)

They will enslave us
My mind is free
A new world order
Where we'll be slaves
Under a system
Control our lives

Where we'll be punished
For how we live
Elimination
Free will is killed
From my cold dead hands


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So there you have it, my top 10 songs of 2014. Please give these songs a listen, and please share this with anybody you know who might want to find some new music. I hope that 2015 is a more inspiring year, though really, if I was able to come up with 10 songs on a down year, I'm feeling pretty good about my chances.




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