Rob Sheffield's Top 25 Songs of 2014 So Far

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13. Cloud Nothings, "I'm Not Part of Me"
Another narrowly avoided brush with maturity from Dylan Baldi, and here's hoping he has many more years' worth of those. Would Baldi's songs hit anywhere near this hard without drummer Jayson Gerycz? Glad we'll never have to know. Baldi sings like he already realizes he'll lose this girl, just like he'll lose the girl in his next song. But hold on tight to that drummer, dude.

14. Vic Mensa, "Down on My Luck"
The 21-year-old next-school Chicago MC trips through the inner-city melancholy of 1980s Detroit techno, with hip-hop desperation behind the sleek beats. Good life, good life, good life, good life.

15. Ought, "Gemini"
These Montreal arrivistes spend most of their great debut, More Than Any Other Day, going for wintery postpunk. But they end with this 7-minute heart-of-darkness power-strum guitar rave, which is as close as they get to uplifting. Tim Beeler ends by chanting the words "want it," and even if he doesn't get what he wants, he sounds overjoyed that he can muster up enough emotional energy to want something. You probably know that feeling.

16. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, "J Smoov"
Let's face it – "try to sing like Al Green" is the last advice any sane person would give Stephen Malkmus, but that's why advice sucks and this song kills. It's the loosest, warmest moment on his excellent Wig Out At Jagbags, a Memphis-soul lover-man ballad, complete with trombone solo. Malkmus sings the line "end of the season" over and over, but he doesn't seem sad – more like he's lounging on the back porch, watching some dark clouds roll away.

17. Priests, "Right Wing"
Priests roll with the proud tradition of politically agitated D.C. bands, as Katie Alice Greer sneers her commands ("Worship me politely"? okay!) with a preacher-brat edge of confrontational humor. It's the new wave side of Bikini Kill that flourished in Reject All American and carried over to Le Tigre. And "I'm not trying to be anythiiiiing" feels like a powerfully sad line about turning 23.

18. The Old 97s, "Longer Than You've Been Alive"
"Love is a marathon, sometimes you puke" is a worthy motto for a band who've stuck around this long, finally aging into the grizzled country-punk vets they always wanted to be. The Old 97s started out as Dallas artistes playing grown-up—the charm of a song like "W.I.F.E." was that it was obviously written by a kid who'd never had one. But for all the stellar records they've made—my sentimental fave is 2001's Satellite Rides – they've never sounded stronger than on this twenty-years-of-this-shit celebration. Best line: "Most of our shows we're a triumph of rock/Though some nights I might have been watching the clock."

19. Sevyn Streeter feat. Chris Brown, "It Won't Stop"
I liked this sex-in-the-Jeep R&B jam on the radio, but its greatness did not fully register until it hit my local karaoke bar, where it became a surefire night-ruiner (at least for anyone unfortunate enough to hear me try to sing it). Sevyn rocks the boat like Aaliyah, goes boom like an 808 and sings "When you gimme that thunder, you make my summer rain" like her thunder only happens when it's raining.

20. The Young, "Metal Flake" 
These psychedelic Austin kids are the ticket if you’re in the market for a summer guitar record — nothing that asks you to think deeply or emote, just sun-dazed guitars that coat your soul in industrial-strength reverb dust. "Metal Flake" (from their massive new Chrome Cactus) swerves from the Stooges to Crazy Horse, from Spacemen 3 to the Dream Syndicate, in just four minutes.

21. Toni Braxton & Babyface, "Heart Attack"
I've been a BraxFace shipper since the Boomerang soundtrack, so I couldn't be downer with their duet-comeback ode to love, loss and the persistence of boy-girl solidarity. Bonus points for stealing the vocal hook from the Cure's "Let's Go To Bed." Suffer on in style, B&B.

22. Tacocat, "Crimson Wave"
A surf song, of course, inspired by the cramps as well as the Cramps. From the kickiest grrrl-punk band to cop a palindrome name since Emily's Sassy Lime.

23. Todd Terje & Bryan Ferry, "Johnny & Mary"
Given Bryan Ferry's long-running failure to comprehend what is cool about Bryan Ferry, it figures it took this upstart Norwegian disco DJ to help him – by giving him an old Robert Palmer song that was basically a love letter to Bryan Ferry circa 1980. (Palmer would have killed to be Bryan Ferry the way Bryan Ferry would have killed to be Otis Redding.) It's poignant to hear how raspy and decrepit Ferry lets himself sound here. The glam god sounds as sad and worn-out singing this song as Bill Murray sounded doing Roxy Music karaoke in Lost in Translation.

24. Nothing, "Bent Nail"
Shoegaze feedback overkill from Philadelphia – violently loud, yet cozy and soothing. If you have any clue what the singer is so depressed about, you're listening way too hard.

25. Morrissey, "Oboe Concerto"
Are we supposed to believe it's a coincidence that Morrissey gets ill and cancels his U.S. tour right after Miley goes viral with her distinctive Caligula-would-have-blushed rendition of "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"? Please. Morrissey and Miley actually have loads in common (both like to stick out their tongue, both fight the tyranny of shirt-wearing, neither has any sense of shame). I'm still hoping for Moz's version of "We Can't Stop." But "Oboe Concerto," the show-stopper ballad from his new album, is the saddest, heaviest, realest song he's recorded in a decade, as Morrissey raises a glass to mourn his absent friends. And he won't stop, because he can't stop.

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