We're only halfway through 2014, but this year is already gloriously overstuffed with great music. Even if nothing else worth hearing comes out until January, it's still a boom year, just like 2012 and 2013. (Where the hell were all these songs in the grim days of 2008 or 2009?) We'll all need another six months just to catch up. So here are my 25 favorites so far: punk rockers, glam rappers, cheese-pop divas, dance-floor monsters, songs about hair, songs about love and a couple of songs about underwear. All these songs are guaranteed to make the second half of your year louder.
1. Parquet Courts, "Raw Milk"
All I was hoping was that these Brooklyn guitar twits would knock off the exact same album they made last time. Was that so much to ask? But Parquet Courts had different plans – Sunbathing Animal is so confident, so devious, so funny, so expansive, so loaded with surprises, so smart in places where you'd settle for clever. (And not a single track that sounds like Pavement. Crazy!) "Raw Milk" is their shaggiest guitar buzz: Andrew Savage and Austin Brown serenade the kind of girl who invades your soul and invites all her drunk dogwalker friends to crash in your room but you don't mind because she's there. (And then she leaves.) I can't resist quoting Robert Christgau's 1981 review of the second Psychedelic Furs LP, because it applies so perfectly to Parquet Courts: "I loved the first Furs album because it seemed so disposable; I love this one because it doesn't."
2. Nicki Minaj (featuring Soulja Boy), "Yasss Bish"
A word from Mick Jagger in 1973, commenting in the NME on glam rock: "I think all this posing stuff is going to be tolerated until – let's say, oh, the middle of 1974 and then it'll be dead." Now that it's the middle of 2014, all hail Nicki for showing why glam posing is alive and well. "I am the queen because I'm a machine," indeed.
3. Sharon Van Etten, "Your Love Is Killing Me"
When I saw Sharon Van Etten three nights in a row last year, opening for Nick Cave, her new material sounded so intense, she had me jotting down lyrics on my ticket stub to make sure I'd remember later. (As if I could forget.) "Your Love Is Killing Me" is the torch ballad that kills me on Are We There, her powerful (and scary) (and funny) (and sad) (but mostly scary) break-up album, like Elvis Costello's "I Want You" stretched to 47 minutes. "Everybody's knees knocking at the fear of love"? Maybe it's just the fear of this song.
4. Future, "T-Shirt"
The party in Future's mind never stops, even when he's the only one invited. The ATLien hip-hop rocket man's second album Honest is damn near flawless (the flaw, i.e. the gag-inducing Kanye duet "I Won," is the radio hit). Much as I love the posse cut "Move That Dope," Future sounds more himself when he's by himself, just because it suits his spaced-out solipsism. In "T-Shirt" he rides the Nard&B bass, with AutoTune juice running down his lungs. At first I thought he boasting "we Novoselic," which I was totally down with – turns out he's really saying, "like when I was selling rocks." Whatever, never mind.
5. Perfect Pussy, "Interference Fits"
A noisy destructo-spaz punk mess that somehow feels like an R&B slow jam, raging with emotion. Meredith Graves buries her voice deep in the mix, until the guitars cut dead and she yells, "Since when do we say yes to love?" It's the closest Perfect Pussy come to a conventional rock song, which isn't all that close. But the pain threshold of the music is a reminder that love is the most life-wrecking catastrophe you could ever say yes to.
6. Lil Jon & DJ Snake, "Turn Down For What"
All these years after "Get Low," Lil Jon's ball sweat has aged like fine wine. The Atlanta crunk king teams up with a French trap DJ to create a brain-eating dance-floor menace for which we should all be grateful. Since when do we say yes to crunk?
7. White Lung, "Face Down"
Feminist aggro from Vancouver, starring Mish Way and her band of punk hellions. The superb new Deep Fantasy is even louder and meaner than their 2012 breakthrough Sorry. In "Face Down," Way tramples over the syllables like they're strangers blocking her path to the bar. Get behind her or get run over.
8. Protomartyr, "What The Wall Said"
The Protomartyr album is such a weird mix of elements – it took me 20 listens or so to like it, but then I started craving it all the time. Glad I kept it in the "one more chance" pile so long. These Detroit dudes make the guitars wobble every which way on Under Cover Of Official Right, while misery goat Joe Casey runs the emotional gamut from "I Stare At Floors" to "I'll Take That Applause." (He looks and dresses like a boozy young P.J. O'Rourke – when he steps onstage, it looks like he's there to serve the band a subpoena.) In "What The Wall Said," Casey moans about sitting alone in his room, playing Alice In Chains on repeat, listening through the wall to eavesdrop on other people's lives, even though they're probably as dismal as his. ("You're always nervous night will come/And you're laughing out of every hole" – yeesh.) Yet he's so funny about how screwed up he is, you keep rooting for him to escape that room.
9. 5 Seconds of Summer, "She Looks So Perfect"
"I made a mixtape straight out of '94/I got your ripped skinny jeans lying on the floor" is the greatest lyric in the universe, more or less. I love how these Australian teen-pop barette-melters cram every single hit from the Total Request Live summer of 1999 into three minutes of girl worship, from Blink 182 to the Backstreet Boys. "She Looks So Perfect" is their answer to LFO's "Summer Girls," except 5 Seconds of Summer switch from "I like girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch" to "You look so perfect standing there in my American Apparel underwear," tweaking LFO the way LFO tweaked New Kids on the Block. Somewhere, Casey Kasem is smiling.
10. EMA, "So Blonde"
When 5 Seconds of Summer sing about that "mixtape straight out of '94," they probably have this EMA song on it – since "So Blonde" echoes practically every second of the summer Live Through This came out.
11. The Hold Steady, "Almost Everything"
Last summer I saw a Japandroids show where they dedicated "The House That Heaven Built" to Craig Finn, saying, "Thanks for letting us steal so much shit from you." Well put! Nobody's written as many great songs as the Hold Steady over the past decade – nobody's even close. My favorite from Teeth Dreams (this week) is the acoustic "Almost Everything," which you could call a power ballad, except it's about total exhaustion. Finn could be singing about a road trip, a romance or a band, but either way he's in a situation where it's too late to let go. When he sings "The Waffle House waitress asked us if we were Pink Floyd," you can't tell whether he thinks it's funny or pitiful. Both, probably.
12. Ariana Grande & Iggy Azalea, "Problem"
One of my favorite cheese-pop genres is the sound of a wussy girl trying to talk tough. Last year's winner was Selena Gomez's "Slow Down," but this summer it has to be Ariana. My favorite part of the video is how Ariana keeps trying to sing with her fingers in her mouth – not even Mandy Moore tried that move. "Problem" is the least Max Martin-sounding Max Martin record ever, a C&C Music Factory tribute with sax belches, wubba-wubba-wubba breakdancers, and a sub-Freedom Williams klutz-rap interlude from Iggy Azalea, the smoothest Australian MC since Michael "Mediate" Hutchence. Docked a notch or two just because that "less"-vs.-"fewer" grammar issue is one of those things that make me go hmmm.
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