31 December 2014

2014 in Review: Muzak

Welcome ya'll to the Final Day of 2011. We got room for about one more post this year, so we'll talk about music. Yeah we skipped TV. The winner was True Detective, followed closely by Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. No more debate there. But music! Let's talk about music! Like we usually do here, let's start with a big list of every remotely good or interesting single to drop this year, forming a heady 2014 Capsule in roughly chronological order:

Singles of 2014:

"Sweatpants" by Childish Gambino
"Drunk in Love" by Beyoncé
"Cookie" by R. Kelly
"Turn Down for What" by Lil' Jon
"Dark Horse" by Katy Perry
"Hell of a Night" by Schoolboy Q
"Happy" by Pharrell
"Girls Chase Boys" by Ingrid Michaelson
"Fragile" by Tech N9ne ft. Kendrick Lamar, ¡MAYDAY!, and Kendall Morgan
"Pompeii" by Bastille
"Hey Brother" by Avicii
"Stolen Dance" by Milky Chance
"Talk Dirty" by Jason Derulo
"All of Me" by John Legend
"Glory and Gore" by Lorde
"West Coast" by Lana Del Rey
"#SELFIE" by The Chainsmokers
"The Worst" by Jhené Aiko
"Fancy" by Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX
"Digital Witness" by St. Vincent
"Problem" by Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea
"I Mean It" by G-Eazy ft. Remo
"The Writing's on the Wall" by OK Go
"Stay With Me" by Sam Smith
"I Wanna Get Better" by Bleachers
"Boom Clap" by Charli XCX
"Rude" by MAGIC!
"Wiggle" by Jason Derulo ft. Snoop Dogg
"Tacky" by Weird Al
"Chandelier" by Sia
"Seen It All" by Young Jeezy ft. Jay-Z
"Come Get it Bae" by Pharrell ft. Miley Cyrus
"Flawless" by Beyoncé
"Back to the Shack" by Weezer
"Habits" by Tove Lo
"Left Hand Free" by alt-J
"Shake it Off" by Taylor Swift
"All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor
"This is How We Do" by Katy Perry
"Anaconda" by Nicki Minaj
"I" by Kendrick Lamar
"Blank Space" by Taylor Swift
"Animals" by Maroon 5
"Lips Are Movin'" by Meghan Trainor
"Tuesday" by ILOVEMAKONNEN ft. Drake
"Black Widow" by Iggy Azalea ft. Rita Ora
"Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
"Take Me To Church" by Hozier
"I'm Not the Only One" by Sam Smith
"Love Me Harder" by Ariana Grande ft. The Weeknd
"Break the Rules" by Charli XCX
"The Heart Wants What it Wants" by Selena Gomez

So let's narrow that down. A couple songs clearly rise above the rest, and I would think they're all pretty obvious. At least for anyone who follows the Summer Jam. My picks for the Best Singles of 2014:

"Drunk in Love" by Beyoncé: They could still be overplaying this on the radio and I couldn't get sick of it. Queen Bey always puts a crazy amount of passion in her songs but her ode to drunk banging is her crowning achievement. #SURFBORT.
"Habits" by Tove Lo: I always think "Tone Loc" which is something else altogether. Tove Lo squirms around this track before finding some sublime confidence in a painful elegy to coping drug use that really shouldn't be suitable for Top 40 Radio. But hey, that's what that rhythm is for.
"The Worst" by Jhené Aiko: Is there a better voice that debuted this year than Aiko? This is R&B ballad is smooth, chilling, and full of heart-wrenching pain all at the same time.
"Blank Space" by Taylor Swift: I love the pop version of Tay Sway who seems to be super-aware of the public perception of her and who is in turn determined to undermine that through essentially meta-songs like this and "Shake It Off" where she's also hijacking youth phrases and culture to stand up for herself. They hate us cuz they ain't us.
"i" by Kendrick Lamar: I've had an awful lot of pop here, so let's finish with Kendrick. He's sampling the Isley Brothers' "Lady" so much he might as well be just rapping over the song, but he elevates it with his personal brand of self-effacing rapid-fire rap that has this real bitter edge to it that lends an outstanding fury to the audial experience.

This was also an outstanding year for the Music Videos. Here are my picks:

"Dangerous" by Big Data ft. Joywave

And it's not just the busty chicks running in slow motion! I swear! If I wanted just that I can watch Flo Rida's "Run" anytime I want. "Dangerous" is full of all these subversive misguided marketing elements revealing the stupidity inherent to a corporate culture that only follows what tests well. And yes, I can watch this all day for the chicks. Until they start attacking and eating people. See, it turns that sexiness on its head in fabulously gruesome ways.

"Tacky" by Weird Al

The single-take thing and the celebrity-lip synching are both kind of played out (tacky, if you will), but this video plods along until Jack Black arrives and just kills it with this infectious fat impish glee. This is the musical equivalent to Birdman (2014).

"7/11" by Beyoncé

There's so much going on here. Maybe it's one of the most successful ladies in music making the kind of video on the cheap she could have been making her first year in the business. Maybe it's the slightly subversive element of letting those back-up dancers be a little more sloppy, natural, casual, and fun. That's it. This video just looks like a hell of a lot of fun. Most artists aren't comfortable looking this stupid, but part of Bey's confidence is why we love her.

"I Won't Let You Go" by OK Go

I'll freely admit that OK Go kind of sucks musically, so I feel like they make all these crazy videos in order to bring attention to themselves. And for sure they're pretty immersive, but the music ends up just oddly accompanying the tracks as white background noise rather than anything I'd be dying to hear on Spotify. "The Writing's on the Wall" is more visually impressive, but "I Won't Let You Go"  is more technically impressive, so we'll go with that. They are really creative when it comes to these videos, just kind of shitty musicians.

"Sweatpants" by Childish Gambino

This was one of my favourite songs of the year and by far the most interesting music video. From its impossible single take aspects to its slow burn intensity shared with absurdity, it's completely engrossing. There's a slowly degrading loop, doppelgangers, and a descent into the self that's rarely seen in such a bumping driving upbeat track like this. Ending with a sharp segue into "Urn" adds to the dreamlike nature of the video and also lets you come down after the mind-tripping intensity of the video piques to match the song's climax. It's awesome.

Albums of the Year:

Rock: Everything Will Be Alright in the End by Weezer.

"Ain't Got Nobody" feels like every song off the Green Album, which just perfectly reassures Weezer faithful this is getting back to their roots. "Back to the Shack" says this much more explicitly. Everything else that follows delivers on that promise as Weezer's blend of ear-friendly punk, pop, and falsetto rock congeal into an album that is surprisingly both familiar and experimental.
Best Tracks: "The British Are Coming," "Cleopatra," and "Foolish Father."
Runner Up: Everyday Robots by Damon Alburn

Pop: St. Vincent by St. Vincent

No, not the Bill Murray movie, as Google seems to always want to direct me to when I search this album. Annie Clark St. Vincent has a lot of hard rock mixed with grungy synth in this breakthrough album. There's a reason why she was the best singer to join with Nirvana for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction. She spits that hot fire while the background sounds like Rezopolis. It's such damn good ear candy that feels like David Byrne was put through a glitter freeze blender.
Best Tracks: "Huey Newton," "Bring Me Your Loves," and "Severed Crossed Fingers."
Runner Up: 1989 by Taylor Swift

Hip-Hop: Run the Jewels 2 by Run the Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P)

That first track hits you with the unashamed intensity of a full speed bull and this album never lets up. It's a gothic brutal hip-hop that oozes with awesome beats and epic mastery of the spoken rap. Killer Mike and El-P have never been gods in the rap game, but they support and trade blows with each other like the best in the game. This hasn't really gotten the credit it should have, because the album doesn't contain one radio-friendly track, but if you're in a mood to put a scare into some white people, let this riff for an hour.
Best Tracks: "Blockbuster Night Part 1," "All My Life," and "Love Again."
Runner Up: Oxymoron by Schoolboy Q

Artist of the Year:

This year was a real formative one for many future superstars, among them Sam Smith, Charli XCX, Meghan Trainor, and Ariana Grande. It was also an epic return to relevance for Weird Al, who for one week completely dominated every chart imaginable. Other weird bits of musical dominance came from Movie Soundtracks - last year's Frozen ruled the roost with thirteen total weeks at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 (it was also 2014's highest selling album somehow). Guardians of the Galaxy proved to have an even more incredulous feat, also hitting #1 despite containing no original songs, and no song made after 1979.

Pharrell and Beyoncé also had big years, but that happens all the time with these two. This year's Big Artist, without question, is Iggy Azalea. She had a one-two punch this summer with "Fancy" and "Problem" and then continued slaying it, teaming up with Rita Ora for "Black Widow" and then closed out the year with "Beg For It." It's an exceptional line-up of very popular songs that are actually pretty damn good.

Iggy's a household name now. But will she continue her output or fade in the background? How much did you hear about Macklemore this year? That's what I'm talking about. Macklemore just ran out of songs on The Heist, but I think that Iggy's output can be a bit stronger and we could be talking about her again this time next year. She's a strong enough presence. Who am I kidding, Macklemore is also awesome, who knows what will happen. But at least she can always claim 2014 as her greatest year ever.

So, that's it, folks. Crank up your radios, make sure to catch True Dectective, and have a Happy New Year!

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