Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Chartered Territory: The Riviera's Top 40 Songs of 2014

And so we come to it at last! It's taken me a while, but here's my top 40 songs of 2014. There are a few things to mention/ say before we get into the list. Firstly, much like the albums chart I published last week, these songs are ranked in the order in which I have listened to them and enjoyed them most throughout the year. You could, in theory, swap numbers 1 and 2 around; both of them have brought me an equal amount of joy and have proved equally as addictive, so by the point of thinking about their positioning like a shroom-fried psychiatrist you're kind of splitting hairs. Essentially though, this list is much less theory based than the albums list; they're all just excellent songs, with no real margin between them in their brilliance. They're mostly just listed in an order that I feel is most fitting. Also, this list is a mixture of both singles and album tracks. I don't listen to the radio enough to put together a list of tracks that have been officially released as singles, so there's probably plenty here that you've heard and plenty that you haven't, which is a healthy thing, I think. 

Secondly, in the new year I'm planning on re-launching this site (sort of) properly. It won't be as active as it once was, but my plan is to produce two reviews a week (maybe more if I manage to squeeze them in). These will mostly be Rock and Metal reviews, since those are my primary listening preferences. However, when there are notable/ attention-grabbing releases from outside of that world I'll certainly give them the coverage they deserve; for example, I'm already planning on reviewing the new albums by Joey Bada$$, Father John Misty and Mark Ronson. I'm planning on publishing reviews of the new releases by Dirty Beaches and Gnaw Their Tongues before the 31st, so they'll hopefully be up over the course of the next few days. 

Thirdly and finally, just a quick note to say thank you for your continuous reading and support! The site doesn't see much action these days which gives you even less of a reason to bother with it, but to those who do I say thank you very much! I don't really do this for anyone other than myself but when people do check out the stuff I write it makes it all the more worthwhile. 

Anyway, let's get into it. Here are my (un)official top 40 songs of the year. There's a Spotify playlist compiled for your listening needs at the bottom, as well as youtube links for every track listed. Enjoy, and have a very merry Christmas and an equally as grand New Year!



40. Grouper- Lighthouse

Liz Harris' 10th solo LP under the moniker Grouper, "Ruins", was perceived across the board as one of her most affecting and delicate to date. The 5-minute misty, morose and distant piano funeral march of "Lighthouse" was one of it's most tantalising moments, irreversibly sad but also somehow a friend in dark times. 

39. Full of Hell & Merzbow- Blue Litmus

It was occasionally hard to spot just what influence Japanese noise maverick Merzbow had on his collaborative project with US grindcore brutalists Full of Hell this year, and despite being one of these moments, the piercing, unfathomably harsh 2 minutes of "Blue Litmus" was one of the album's most primal, disgusting and electrifying moments. Sonic abuse is this collision's forte, and here it's delivered on a number of garishly brilliant levels. 

38. Comeback Kid- Should Know Better

Just like the rest of Comeback Kid's brilliant, erm, comeback album "Die Knowing", "Should Know Better" made me want to grow my hair long, drink stupid amounts of Dr. Pepper and thrash around on the concrete drive outside my house until I feel off and cracked my elbow. This is the most exhilarating kind of nostalgia trip. 

37. Objekt- Ganzfeld

Along with his excellent debut full-length "Flatland" this year, TJ Hertz released the brilliant "Ganzfeld", which saw him take Aphex Twin's abstract breakbeat blueprint and add discordant but beautiful layers of hazy oddness and atmospheric bleepery. 

36. Caribou- Dive

One of the slower, more sensual moments from this year's critically acclaimed "Our Love", Dan Snaith produced a textured slow-burner that emphasised his ear for reflective beauty and imperative warmth over everything else. If the warm tides of synth don't make you feel like you should be on a Mediterranean beach in mid July glazing over then there's nothing for you here. 

35. Dirty Beaches- Pacific Ocean

A very recent listening experience for me, but one that caught me straight away with its intensely deep and minimal but gorgeous droney crawl. It's easy to imagine the entire expanse of a shimmering but unknown mass encaptured by these 7 or so minutes. 

34. The Twilight Sad- Last January

Frost-bitten, bitter and lonely yet rhythmic and epic in equal measure, the finest track from The Twilight Sad's excellent return LP "Nobody Wants To Be Here..." spends it's first half as a hypnotic post-punk rush before climbing to a cascading, life affirming climax in its final throes. Nothing else on this list spells out "Winter blues" quite like it. 

33. Mallory Knox- She Took Him To The Lake

Mallory Knox are a band who, up until a couple of weeks ago I was quite happy to stay well away from. However, a couple of decent reviews of their new record meant that this gorgeously sad 7 minute wonder from the Cambridge quintet has been getting a fair amount of repeated plays recently. It ends up at soaring levels of atmosphere that very few other bands of this ilk seem to be capable of generating. 

Unfortunately the site won't let me imbed the right video properly, so you can access the song here via youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvXSYQ6N7bQ

32. Scott Walker & SunnO)))- Brando

The whole of this collaborative projects album "Soused" was a bit like an especially warped nightmare, or one of the more hallucinogenic scenes from The Shining, but "Brando" was nails-on-a-blackboard level of odd. Droning, cacophonous and intoxicating, Walker's assertions that "a beating would do me good" helped in no way to lift the track's twisted core out of its sublime darkness. 

31. Todd Terje- Inspector Norse

Although initially released in 2012, the inclusion of "Inspector Norse" on Todd Terje's debut "It's Album Time!" earlier this year was a most welcome one. Deliriously groovy and unashamedly cheesey, it's far harder to NOT have fun to this piece of percussive, sunny and woozy synth worship than to enjoy it. 

30. Sleaford Mods- You're Brave

If Nottingham duo Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearne proved anything this year, it's that left-wing working class Britain still very much has a righteously bitter and angry voice. Williamson's hilarious depictions of a first-rate, drug-addled loser in "You're Brave", via anecdotes of wanking in toilets and stealing friends, tied in perfectly with the overall sense of hopelessness that hits when he concludes "oh, aren't we all just pissing in the rain?". 

29. Godflesh- New Dark Ages

Everything about the opening track to Godflesh's blinding comeback LP "A World Lit Only By Fire" screamed "CLASSIC FUCKING GODFLESH!". From the outrageously thunderous and filthy riff to the clanging and motorik bass playing and the nail-grittingly harsh beat-down halfway through, there was absolutely no doubt that the masters of brutal industrial noise rock were back. 

28. Father John Misty- Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)

The Former Fleet Foxes man has a new album dropping in February, and "Chateau Lobby #4...", the first track to drop from it, shows Misty expanding his song-writing chops in increasingly humourous, joyous and catchy ways. The slightly raunchy but lovely brass- inflected ditty is (hopefully) a fine indicator of what to expect upon the album's release. 

27. Run The Jewels- Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) ft. Zack De La Rocha

EL-P and Killer Mike's furious anti-oppression vitriol is backed by an addictive loop of Zack's "Run Them Jewels fast" refrain, before the Rage Against The Machine man himself drops one of his best verses to date. "I'm Miles ahead of you, you can sip my Bitch's Brew...". One of Hip-Hop's most splendidly fiery releases in 2014. 

26. Busdriver- Bliss Point

The award of one of Hip-Hop's more intellectual and quick-witted moments in Hip-Hop could have gone to any one of the tracks on Busdriver's 10th album "Perfect Hair", but "Bliss Point's" tongue-in-cheek attack on tabloid music journalism over a beautifully bubbling and abstract beat was its most prolific moment. 

25. Elbow- My Sad Captains

Easily one of the most melodically memorable and handsome things Elbow have ever released, Guy Garvey's poetic metaphors for times spent drinking and catching up with old friends via the narrative of a ship's crew proves just how masterful he and his band can be compositionally. 

24. Enter Shikari- The Last Garrison

From it's bracing, furious first 20 seconds to it's almost-One Direction-worthy belter of a chorus, "The Last Garrison" saw the much maligned St. Albans quartet slide closer than ever to pop territory, but with their life affirming sense of epicness and melody still fully intact. "HANDS UP AND THANK FUCK WE'RE STILL ALIVE". 

23. Wiley- On A Level

Over these three minutes of squelchy, old-school grime bass Wiley spits with the kind of vitality that is more than enough evidence that he's still one of UK Grime's most crucial frontrunners. 

22. St. Vincent- Digital Witness

Easily the sassiest thing Annie Clark has ever put her name, "Digital Witness"'s brass-lead, cocksure Prince-esque stomp saw her steer away from the virtuosity of her last album but into much more immediate and celebratory territory. 

21. Leon Vynehall- Butterflies

A track released separaretly to his full-length debut "Music For The Uninvited", the beauty of "Butterflies" was in its revolving-door percussion sequences and meditative, repetitve synth loops that dripped with summery heat. 

20. Animals As Leaders- Nephele

The word "epic" gets thrown around all too frivolously these days, but in terms of the monstrous closer to Animals As Leaders brilliant "The Joy Of Motion" this year it certainly applies. One second grindingly djent-y and ferociously heavy, the next soaring above the stratosphere via huge melodies and furious guitar solos with a particularly '80s shimmer, it was perhaps the band's finest 5 minutes to date. 

19. Primordial- Born To Night

Starting off with 4 minutes of eerie, enchanting solitary guitar strumming and then launching into a ravenous Grand Magus-esque groove of rollicking, reverberating riffs and scorching vocals, the former Irish Black Metal veterans veered into totally assured classic metal territory with a sense of grandeur and imperative force that very few others managed to conjure in Metal in 2014. 

18. Sun Kil Moon- I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love

There isn't much that can be said about the most affecting moment from Mark Kozelek's opus "Benji" other than you just need to listen to it. This is a song to make grown adults weep. 

17. FKA Twigs- 2 Weeks

The first single to drop from Tahliah Barnett's "LP1" was, weirdly, almost an immediate hit. I say weirdly, but in an age where experimentation in r'n'b is almost favoured over Jason Derulo re-hashing old techniques then it makes the success of the breathy and sublime "2 Weeks" all the more satisfying. 

16. Liars- Pro-Anti Anti

Ghostly, weird, noisy and with a myriad of bubbling and pretty synth meshes to boot, "Pro-Anti Anti"'s oddball beat-down was everything that they do almost better than anyone else, as well as being a fantastic spokesperson for the whole album, "Mess". 

15. EyeHateGod- Nobody Told Me

Though their self-titled album wasn't as captivating or consistent as it perhaps could have been, it did contain some of the finest riffs the masters of Sludge have ever put to wax. "Nobody Told Me"'s swaggering, hefty and swamp-mired groove is most certainly one of them. 

14. Wild Beasts- Daughters

A rare excursion into a more political and sociological sphere lyrically for the Kendal quartet, "Daughters" was a bleak, cold but important portrait of what our children may face if the cultural climate and levels of austerity don't change soon. There's an underbelly of anger and despair running it's fingers over the track's skin, summed up perfectly by the discordant power-synths that run the song over the finish line. 

13. The Bug ft. Flowdan- The One

One of the most formidable partnerships in UK dub and bass music proved in abundance on The Bug's "Angels & Devils" that once again they can produce some of the most hard-hitting music in that vein, and the punishing "The One" was the epitome of that. The Bug's brutal, rattling drum barrage and screeching, siren-esque synths that surrounded the hook were as prominent and exciting as Flowdan's monstrous, non-stop delivery. 

12. Mogwai- Ex Cowboy (Cava Sessions)

One of the extra tracks released as part of the re-issue of Mogwai's finest album "Come on Die Young" earlier this year, "Ex Cowboy" in a live setting proved that they had just as much (if not more) finesse, dynamical skill, and were still just as good at making a chest-thumping racket as on record. Majestic. 

I've had to upload the studio version of the track as the re-released live version doesn't appear to be on youtube. You can hear the Cava Sessions version via the Spotify playlist below. 

11. Trap Them- Savage Climbers

Much slower burning but just as discordant and incinerating as their most brutal, riotous work, "Savage Climbers" sounded like what seeing a deranged, almost starved-to-death, mud-caked man claw his way out of a sewer after 15 years of depravity might be like. Ryan McKenney's bellows of "Chuck your rights to ruin!" embody a distinctly political flavour, and in times where social justice seems to be falling short across the globe, he's never sounded more prolific. 

10. Manic Street Preachers- Walk Me to the Bridge

The utterly glorious first single from the latest Manics album was so THEM that, had it been any less euphoric it may have been seen as somewhat parodical. Thankfully, James Dean Bradfield's vocals sounded stronger than they had done in years, and the song's entire oeuvre was wrapped in so much conviction, emotion and massive sound that it was nigh on impossible not to feel your heart-strings tweak a little bit, the presence of Richey Edwards lurking all the while and upping the emotional ante. 

9. Every Time I Die- Idiot

"All I want is for everyone to go to Hell/ It's the last place I was seen before I lost myself/ All I want is for everyone to come to Hell/ There we can be free and learn to love ourselves". Not only was "Idiot", the final track on Every Time I Die's splendid return to form "From Parts Unknown", one of the most unforgiving and savage things they'd written in years, it also saw Keith Buckley's lyricism reach new levels of directness and emotion. 

8. Skepta ft. JME- That's Not Me

The biggest Grime song of the year. The most addictive, catchy and melodically pleasing too, bar one song...

7. Mumdance ft. Novelist- Take Time

...And here it is. Mumdance's penchant for pushing Grime out of its comfort zone reached its ecstatic pinnacle here, with "Take Time"'s bruising bass slams and searing, high-pitched synth stabs on the hook. Young MC Novelist proves that any time the old Grime vanguard might look like they're dwindling in terms of presence or talent, there's plenty of fresh-faced connoisseurs to pick up the pieces. 

6. Mogwai- The Lord Is Out of Control

The slowest, most atmospheric and genuinely moving song on Mogwai's "Rave Tapes" was saved for its final grace. Keyboardist Barry Burns' vocals and fed through a vocoder, making them impossible to make out but adding so much to the building, soaring beauty of the track's lush instrumentation. Also perhaps the best music video of the year. 

5. Taylor Swift- Blank Space

There was no song in 2014 that summed up what a guilt-free, well written and highly addictive pop megahit should sound like better than Swift's "Blank Space". Delivered with brooding yet confident emotion, as well as not running anywhere close to the mundanity most of the stuff that passes for poetry in chart music does these days, "Blank Space" was both a huge breath of fresh air and a sigh of relief. It, along with the slightly more irksome "Shake It Off", was the most pure and joyful that pop appeared all year. 

4. Run The Jewels- Oh My Darling Don't Cry

Production wise, this was the nastiest, grimiest and noisiest thing EL-P had conjured since his 2012 LP "Cancer 4 Cure", and it was all the more addictive for it. He and Killer Mike meanwhile, were as visceral, audacious and clinical with their rhyming as ever. The song oozed dark, oversized arrogance from every pour, and with its catastrophically brutal finale of a whirlwind of almost non-musical synth excursion, you'd be a fool to either doubt or deny it. 

3. Swans- Oxygen

Again, I could have picked any number of songs from Swans' latest Godlike masterpiece "To Be Kind", but in the end I went with the most brutal; the most nose-flattening, the most pummelling, the most repetitive, the most excruciatingly loud. "Oxygen" recalled the visceral, no-holds-barred abandon of Swans' earliest work in the way that it was unrelenting in its barrage of impeccably tight drumming, filthy and fast paced bass plucking and ear-drum bruising stabs of brass. UGH!

2. Mark Ronson- Uptown Funk (ft. Bruno Mars)

Yes OK, so it smacks a bit of the Nile Rodgers Bandwagon that's been affirming its place since Daft Punk's "Get Lucky", but in the case of "Uptown Funk" it really doesn't matter. Infectiously groovy, irreversibly cool and yet so deliberately simple, all of Ronson's vigour oozes into the track until it confirms him as perhaps one of the most capable pop song writers to be doing it. Bruno Mars' vocal delivery is slightly less remarkable, but he still fits over the perpetual sunshine funk pretty perfectly. Try not having fun to this song... I DARE YOU. 

1. Caribou- Can't Do Without You

"Can't do without can't do without can't do without can't do without, can't do without can't do without can't do without can't do without...". It was always slightly arduous to see Dan Snaith ever topping his incredible 2010 single "Sun", but he's apparently done it, and with the kind of silky, smooth, textured and euphoric ease with which he writes his most infectious songs. Whenever you're in a bad mood, or want to evoke memories of glorious summers you wish had never ended, then "Can't Do Without You" is here for you; encouraging, beautiful, and life affirming. Career affirming for Snaith, too.

The Riviera's Top 40 Tracks of 2014 Spotify Playlist


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