This is always the hardest list to compile. While certain albums may tower above the rest (though that actually wasn't the case this year), the act of choosing our favorite songs, from the hundreds and hundreds of new songs we heard in 2014, seems a bit more personal and a whole lot more arbitrary. Still, we've done our best to put together a list of the one hundred tunes that defined the year here at PMA, and next week we'll be publishing individual staff lists that run down each of our unique takes on what happened in music this year.
100 Gorgon City, "Ready For Your Love"
99 Tegan And Sara, "Everything Is AWESOME!!! (featuring The Lonely Island)"
98 The War on Drugs, "Eyes To The Wind"
97 Savages, "Fuckers"
96 White Lung, "Snake Jaw"
95 Kyla La Grange, "Cut Your Teeth"
94 Damon Albarn, "Everyday Robots"
93 Neneh Cherry, "Blank Project"
92 Julian Casablancas + The Voidz, "Human Sadness"
91 Isaiah Rashad, "R.I.P. Kevin Miller"
90 Trust, "Capitol"
89 Rick Ross, "Sanctified" (featuring Kanye West & Big Sean)
88 Lewis, "I Thought The World of You"
87 Sun Kil Moon, "Micheline"
86 Supreme Cuts, "Gone" (featuring Mahaut Mondino)
85 Perfect Pussy, "Interference Fits"
84 YG, "Who Do You Love?" (featuring Drake)
83 Liars, "Vox Tuned D.E.D."
82 White Sea, "Prague"
81 Angel Olsen, "Lights Out"
80 Against Me!, "True Trans Soul Rebel"
79 David Bowie, "Sue (Or in the Season of Crime)"
78 Strand of Oaks, "JM"
77 Beck, "Country Down"
76 Baths, "Ocean Death"
75 Phantogram, "Fall In Love"
74 Zola Jesus, "Dangerous Days"
73 Real Estate, "Talking Backwards"
72 Shabazz Palaces, "Forerunner Foray"
71 tUnE-yArDs, "Water Fountain"
70 Hundred Waters, "Murmurs"
69 SBTRKT, "NEW DORP. NEW YORK" (featuring Ezra Koenig)
68 Lana Del Rey, "Brooklyn Baby"
67 Ariana Grande, "Break Free" (featuring Zedd)
66 Jessie Ware, "Tough Love"
65 The War On Drugs, "Under The Pressure"
64 Todd Terje, "Johnny And Mary" (featuring Bryan Ferry)
63 Andy Stott, "Faith In Strangers"
62 Sharon Van Etten, "Every Time the Sun Comes Up"
61 Azealia Banks, "Ice Princess"
60 Swans, "A Little God In My Hands"
59 Mac Demarco, "Passing Out Pieces"
58 Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, "High" (featuring Danny Brown)
57 Future, "Move That Dope" (featuring Pharrell & Pusha T)
56 Ought, "Today More Than Any Other Day"
55 Lykke Li, "No Rest For The Wicked"
54 Charli XCX, "Boom Clap"
53 Jamie xx, "Sleep Sound"
52 Grimes, "Go" (featuring Blood Diamonds)
51 SOPHIE, "Hard"
50 Rustie, "Attak" (featuring Danny Brown)
49 Azealia Banks, "Chasing Time"
48 Drake, "0 To 100 / The Catch Up"
47 Beyoncé, "Partition"
46 A. G. Cook, "Keri Baby" (featuring Hannah Diamond)
45 Spoon, "Inside Out"
44 Alvvays, "Archie, Mary Me"
43 Aphex Twin, "minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]"
42 Mr. Twin Sister, "Blush"
41 Röyksopp & Robyn, "Do It Again"
40 How To Dress Well, "Repeat Pleasure"
39 Tinashe, "2 On" (featuring Schoolboy Q)
38 Real Lies, "North Circular"
37 Vic Mensa, "Down On My Luck"
36 Sharon Van Etten, "Your Love is Killing Me"
35 Perfume Genius, "Grid"
34 Cloud Nothings, "I'm Not Part of Me"
33 Flying Lotus, "Never Catch Me" (featuring Kendrick Lamar)
32 QT, "Hey QT"
31 Shamir, "On The Regular"
30 Beyoncé, "Flawless (Remix)" (featuring Nicki Minaj)
29 The Antlers, "Palace"
28 Wild Beasts, "Wanderlust"
27 Lana Del Rey, "West Coast"
26 FKA twigs, "Pendulum"
25 Schoolboy Q, "Man Of The Year"
24 Run The Jewels, "Oh My Darling Don't Cry"
23 Sun Kil Moon, "Ben's My Friend"
22 Nicki Minaj, "Anaconda"
21 St. Vincent, "Digital Witness"
20 Ms. Lauryn Hill, "Black Rage"
19 Ariana Grande, "Problem" (featuring Iggy Azalea)
18 Spoon, "Do You"
17 Beyoncé, "XO"
16 Future, "Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)" (featuring André 3000)
15 Kendrick Lamar, "i"
14 Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, "Little Fang"
13 Taylor Swift, "Blank Space"
12 The War On Drugs, "An Ocean In Between The Waves"
11 Against Me!, "Transgender Dysphoria Blues"
"Can't Do Without You"
For those of you who plan on browsing through the staff lists this year, I’m going to spoil it for you: I have this song at number 1. Structurally exquisite, delightfully ambivalent, melodic, poignant, Dan Snaith’s sound has never been this crisp or joyous. “Can’t Do Without You” is a go-for-broke, crowd-pleasing, all-purpose anthem, both a seamless hybrid of Snaith’s many talents and a dazzling reinvention. It makes you feel so much with so little. Snaith’s voice has always been something of a sticking point for his detractors, but his featherweight falsetto is perfect here, creating terrific juxtaposition with the concave vocal loop. As far as dance music goes, this is as openhearted as they come. Snaith essentially starts things from scratch here, building a skeletal outline to a prismatic, overgrown spectacle across four quick minutes. When the inferno collapses in on itself, the glowing embers reveal the heartbreaking depth of the obsession: “You’re the only thing I think about/It’s all that I can still do”. The repeat button is your friend here. I can’t do without you, either. — Brendan Frank
09 St. Vincent
Prior to its release, Annie Clark described St. Vincent as “a party record you could play at a funeral”, and no track fit that bill better than “Prince Johnny”. A character study at heart, Clark’s tale of the tragic, titular character was St. Vincent’s epicenter. It contains the best fragments of all of St. Vincent’s previous records – the queasy melodicism of Marry Me, the pop futurism of Actor, the compositional heft of Strange Mercy, all brought into focus by tremendous production from John Congleton – and stitches them together into something extraordinary.
“Prince Johnny” is nebulous, restricted to a drip-feed of information that practically begs for a sequel. The appeal is in the contradictions, and this song is brimming with them. In the end, however, the obtuse lyrical details end up being unseated by Clark’s vocals. She puts everything into this one, so much so that it’s easy to overlook the dimpled arrangement growing into a tangled musical mesh. The Prince himself may have his flaws, but it’s hard to find one here. — Brendan Frank
"Drunk In Love" (ft. Jay Z)
It still baffles me that “Drunk in Love” got as much airplay as it did. The song's infrastructure—a steaming, silky melange of sparse bass, power vocals, sass-rap, and vulgar catch phrases (“surfbort,” “fatty daddy”)—follows no mainstream recipe whatsoever. In fact, it actively combats a stereotypical “hit” construction. It takes Yoncé almost two minutes to reach a quasi-chorus that consists of nothing but her belting the word “loo-oo-ove.” But no one notices these peculiarities because of the song’s overarching horsepower, a tour de force from the music industry’s king and queen.
With “Drunk in Love,” Beyoncé subliminally enlightened all of her worshippers to the huge potential of a five-and-a-half-minute trap song. Too erotic and not hooky enough to be considered pop, the mega-anthem requires more than just idle attraction from any listener. You probably didn’t even like it the first time you heard it. But because of its precise details (the witty banter, the constant crescendo, the sexy giggling), Bey doesn’t let you let it go, either. “Drunk in Love” is a very impersonal product—one that took many producers, songwriters, and months to incubate—that somehow ended up quirky, carefree, and brilliant. It epitomizes the self-titled album’s excellence in its ability to remain somewhat amorphous, but feel so accessible. — Matthew Malone
"Tuesday" (ft. Drake)
Let’s be real: Before radio stations nationwide began pledging allegiance to Xans in an Advil bottle, “Tuesday,” stood about as good a chance of eating shit on the sidewalk as it did of annihilating the Top 40. Which is to say: Either/Or. It would either succeed remarkably, or it would fail miserably, but those were the only two possible outcomes. Whichever fate “Tuesday,” would realize, it would do so about a million miles from the middle.
These are the bets you take without question.
iLoveMakonnen has worked too hard to be dejected by the contrarianism. His brand of R&B — a syrupy, viscous auto-tune timbre rap-singing about pink narcotics and graveyard shifts — is off-kilter at best, and production collaborations with Sonny Digital (and, more recently, Mike WiLL Made It) have done nothing to deter the nuances, but he has logged too many hours to doubt himself. This, at its most reductive, is the focal theme of “Tuesday.” It illustrates exactly how much work iLoveMakonnen has put into the curation of his product, and that work pays off to a truly ridiculous degree here.
We need to talk about how Drake is a human Swiss-Army knife. He has made regular work lately of showing off some totally cool thing he can do that no one seemed to know about five minutes ago. In the case of “Tuesday,” he jumps up an octave and legit sings for 48 bars. And it sounds fucking great, elevating the track by perfectly complementing Makonnen’s sauntering, lethargic vocal amble.
Spoiler alert: “Tuesday,” did, in fact, dominate the back half of 2014. Is it because iLoveMakonnen grinded early and often to earn his spot? Sort of. Do Drake verses pretty much always make things better? Well, yeah. But “Tuesday,” wins because Makonnen is proud of his product, and his conviction shines through with zero ambivalence. — Austin Reed
06 Future Islands
"Seasons (Waiting On You)"
With an album title as brazen as Singles, you’d better lead off with something like this. At this point, it’s hard to decouple – sorry, consciously uncouple – “Seasons” from that one of a kind performance on Letterman. As far as late night appearances go, vocalist Samuel T Herring’s livewire performance is about as canonical as it gets. If you’d already heard the studio version of “Seasons”, the Letterman gig was still flooring; if you’d never listened to Future Islands before, it was hard to imagine a more striking introduction. Herring gets into the trenches and fights for every breath, delivering one of the most affecting vocal performances you’ll ever hear. Personification can be a tricky line to walk, but Herring makes it work through pure conviction. When the buzzing guitar threatens to drown out his voice during the chorus, he ups his game, dragging his words through the mud with all of his strength to make sure they cross the finish line. Future Islands lunged for the heart and the jugular here, and the result is the best song on the best album of their career (so far). — Brendan Frank
05 Todd Terje
Disco has returned. Well, its modern renaissance broke into the mainstream in 2013, when Daft Punk’s output owed a greater debt to white-suit-clad John Travolta than to their peers in the early French house scene, and Terje has actually championed 70s-influenced electronic dance music — not EDM, mind you — since the mid-2000s. Hell, even this very song was first released in 2012, as the flagship track of the It’s The Arps EP. Confusing timeline aside, “Inspector Norse” works in a multitude of ways: It’s a 7-minute instrumental joyride of a single that still doesn’t last long enough, and the celestial whoosh that cuts to bumping synth bass and kick-hit-kick-hit percussion is a perfect way to open It’s The Arps. Yet, on It’s Album Time, Terje’s 2014 debut LP on which the song also appears, the track gets the closing shift and instead says farewell on the way out. This lets the record’s new tracks shine before remembering that the best song hasn’t even come on yet. And when it does... disco has returned, but in a way that nobody else has been able to bring it back yet. — Derrick Rossignol
04 FKA twigs
You don’t have to delve deep on the internet to find writing that associates FKA twigs, the angel-voiced creator of cutting-edge deconstructed trip-hop, with words like “witchy,” “haunting,” and “sinister.” As twigs, Londoner Tahliah Barnett playfully scrambles sub-dom dynamics beyond conventional recognition, spinning them into something unstable and uneasy: abjection looks suddenly like empowerment until, oh wait, it suddenly no longer does. “Two Weeks” is in some ways an emblematic FKA twigs song, but the reason it became her large-scale breakout this year probably has something to do with the fact that it cuts the coy shapeshifting and gets right down to business. “Two Weeks” is mildly ambiguous in that it seems to arise from a state of intense longing, but it’s one of twigs’s most straightforward songs, an outright display of sexual power and voracity designed not so much to seduce her would-be lover as bully him into submission. Over stuttering low-end electronics, she breathily intones lascivious threats that combine sensuality and bodily violence in frightening ways. When she tells the addressee, “Give me two weeks and you won’t recognize her,” one wonders whether the singer is suggesting her skill in the bedroom alone will cause the addressee to forget his other lover or whether twigs has something more literally disfiguring in store for this poor “her.” In the universe of twisted interpersonal power dynamics brought to chilling life in “Two Weeks” and throughout LP1, both implications seem like very real possibilities. The year's sexiest track is also its most disturbing. — Samuel Tolzmann
03 The War On Drugs
It seems insane to believe that Kurt Vile leaving your band can be a step in a positive direction, but such was actually the case for The War on Drugs, for all parties involved. Vile’s solo output has been overwhelmingly fantastic since the amicable split, while co-founder Adam Granduciel and the others soldiered on and became better than they’ve ever been. With 2014 came Lost In The Dream, the group’s most successful and best effort to date, preceded by the throwback lead single, “Red Eyes.” The transition between airy opening synth swell and the locomotive opening verse is brilliant, like pulling out of the driveway and heading cross country on a journey to recapture the spirit of 70s and 80s Americana with methodology that appeals both to a modern indie crowd and their fathers. That’s actually what “Red Eyes” pretty much does in Episode 8 of the first season of Halt and Catch Fire, AMC’s wonderful 1983-set period drama the chronicles the trials of an emerging computer company. As the crew heads out to take their underdog PC to an important convention, a drumroll and Granduciel’s “Woo!” sets them on their way and, for both the song and the show, builds a strong bridge between the era in which it was created and that by which it was inspired. — Derrick Rossignol
02 Perfume Genius
“Don’t you know your queen?” scoffs Mike Hadreas at the outset of “Queen.” If you didn’t before, you certainly do now. At first, “Queen” seemed like one of those songs that might make a bigger splash for its video – directed by SSION, the clip is certainly a rivetingly bizarre affair, all half-made-up faces and super-jumbo shrimp and suicide cults of cheerleaders. But the song’s got so much going on in it, the video is really just doing all it can to keep up: there are saccharine choirs, decadent harpsichord hooks, sludgily muscular guitar riffs, and that’s just the start. As an introduction to the new, improved, and much angrier incarnation of Perfume Genius, it couldn’t be more fitting, a dizzy, gaudy confection of a pop song laid atop something uglier and crueler, a song that’s less about being bruised and more about inflicting bruises. Hide your spouse, hide your kids: “no family is safe” when Hadreas sashays, and he’s never sashayed with more venomous glee than on “Queen.” — Samuel Tolzmann
There have been a few songs more misunderstood than Sia’s “Chandelier.” These include “Born in the USA” (not exactly rah-rah), “The One I Love” (not exactly heartfelt), and “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” (regardless of Seinfeld’s final clip show, not exactly bittersweet). Do I need to add that “Like a Virgin” isn’t about being touched for the very first time?
“Chandelier” describes the devastating effects of severe mental illness and — what is often a corollary — substance abuse. It sounds like a YOLO anthem, a celebration of carefree boozing. When Sia sings “one-two-three/ one-two-three drink,” our cue, apparently, is to gulp down copious amounts of Jäger and emulate a shit-faced Tarzan. Just ignore the rest of “Chandelier,” which quickly descends into a prolonged plea (“Help me, I’m holding on for dear life”). Its soaring chorus turns gruesome, when you consider a bit of rope and the singer’s neck are in danger of swinging, alongside Swarovski crystals, from the song’s titular ceiling fixture. Pass the bottle, brah.
Still, “Chandelier” is unambiguously victorious despite its bleak lyric (no doubt why many listeners have been led so far astray). Sia Furler has found a second, very lucrative, career penning hits for A-list pop stars. And yet she saved “Chandelier,” her greatest achievement since Claire Fisher drove eastward on the Six Feet Under finale, for herself. This is not the imaginary construct of a seasoned songwriter. Sia has lived — and survived — these wrenching words. Hence, the song’s overwhelming sense of triumph, made real through dance on its astonishing video, also a showcase for a twelve-year-old phenom named Maddie Ziegler. When Sia performs live nowadays, she hides from her audience. (Maddie helps out when needed.) But as “Chandelier” plays, Furler might as well be centerstage, in full view, alone and emotionally naked. — Peter Tabakis