Whether you regularly tune into the Top 40, rave to new tunes at the club or headbang in the car, 2014 has been a damned good year in music. New rock bands (many of them British) have been storming the Album charts, homegrown talents have taken the states by storm and the clubs have been filled with a renaissance in fantastic music you can actually dance to (to quote Knife Party “Oh my god what the fuck is this disco shit, what happened to the dubstep?”). Although there is fantastic music in all genres – and criticising music is always so difficult – there are a few singles which stand out as being absolutely essential listening for 2014. Here is my essential playlist to send out 2014 in style.
Mainstream Pop/Chart Music
Although usually a barren wasteland of boring rap music pasted on the top of repetitive dance music, this year there have been some truly incredible pieces of music released at the very pinnacle of popular music.
Sam Smith – Stay With Me
This beautiful ballad by the incredible British talent is beautifully simple – just a few chords on the piano and a bass drum thumping – it is a heartfelt and extraordinarily powerful insight into this young artist’s soul. The simple story of a man yearning for love and never quite getting what he wants is a truly extraordinary piece of music.
Say You Love Me – Jessie Ware
Though Jessie Ware has never quite cracked the mainstream in the way she deserves, it’s probably a good thing. By remaining on the fringes she can make music with touches of all genres and really delve into a topic with some real heart. The simple song tackling the heartbreak of loving another more than they love you manages to cut through all the rubbish cliches usually found in love songs and finds a way to be empowering and beautifully melancholy. With the help of Ed Sheeran’s songwriting (echoes of which can be heard in the choral section towards the end) this should have been Ware’s breakthrough single but as it is, it’s simply one of the best songs of the year.
Marilyn Monroe – Pharrell Williams
Although it was the increasingly irritating Happy which got the airtime, attention and – inexplicably – an Oscar Nomination, Pharrell William’s Marilyn Monroe was easily the standout song on his comeback record G.I.R.L. The driving funky bass beat and strings are built on by some simple funky guitar, a smart staccato beat and Pharrell’s incredible vocals. Try and resist boogying along to this one.
Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson feat Bruno Mars
It’s refreshing that Mark Ronson has made such a name of himself from sticking to funky music without straying too far into the mainstream and with his latest tune he takes us back to the eighties with one of the most catchy and entertaining songs of the year. The reliably talented Bruno Mars’ vocals show that there is more to him than just singing entertaining love songs and Ronson shows that he still has the talent to match his reputation.
6 Words – Wretch 32
What is most commendable about Wretch 32’s 6 Words is that this is the same artist who made club classic Traktor. In 6 Words The British rapper has made a truly incredible dance tune which not only has a pounding, physical chorus but an emotional core in the vocals. This is no generic club tune pieced together with a random assortment of words. It’s an honest and romantic message to his ex girlfriend and mother of his children. It also happens to be a fantastic ‘tune’.
Although Dubstep has long since left the mainstream, those who inflected Dance music with real meat and heft during that trend remain. Thankfully, real quality dance music is taking the charts and underground alike by storm.
Gecko (Overdrive) – Oliver Heldens feat Becky Hill
Although the original Gecko track is an absolute monster of a house track, the addition of Becky Hill (from The Voice) and her vocal really drags the tune into the mainstream. Heldens continues his streak of impressive and catchy House music and still manages to inflect each of his tunes with the meaty bass lines which make them not only successful on the radio but played out loud. Turn up the bass and enjoy.
Take U There – Jack U Feat Kiesza
Still known for bringing Dubstep to the masses with his breakout EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, Skrillex partnered up with producer Diplo to produce one of the most thunderous and dirty sounding dance songs of the last year. Despite being resolutely alternative, Take U There also has the infectious dance vibe which make Skrillex so good at crossing from underground to the charts. There’s a reason why he’s so popular.
RariWorkOut – Lethal Bizzle feat JME and Tempa T
The fun in Lethal Bizzle’s music has always come to the fore but with RariWorkOut there is an element of self-deprecation and parody which makes it even more enjoyably addictive to listen to than ever before. Also, it just happens to have one of the dirtiest sounding bass lines and catchy chorus to feature in a grime record since Dizzy Rascal’s Bonkers. Whatever a RariWorkOut is it’s damned catchy.
Bullit – Watermat
What is it which makes Bullit so good? It is simply one of those dance tracks which instantly hits that animal urge inside you to just jump, drink and to party. It may be a relatively sedate dance track in terms of speed but its pounding beat and unique, retro sounding melody are far from slow and made it an instant hit this summer. It is quite simply the best dance track of the year.
Rock and Alternative
This year has seen an incredible resurgence in rock making the mainstream once again. Whether it’s established bands like You Me At Six, Slipknot and Lower Than Atlantis getting hours of daytime airplay on the radio or new bands breaking through, rock music has proven that it will always strike a barre chord with its legions of fans.
The Last Garrison – Enter Shikari
Enter Shikari’s message of a “revolution of the people” continues with this extraordinarily catchy tune. They’ve wisely dropped the Dubstep element but the EDM infused Hardcore Rock is still here alongside the trio of vocalists. Although their message can be a little cloying at times, the music is still some of the most diverse, imaginative and explosive music in any genre. It’s my favourite song of the year and bodes very well for the album in early 2015.
Hey – Slaves
This two minute belter from a two piece which make as much noise as a bull in in an orchestra pit shows that you need no more than a guitar, half a drum kit and punky sense of drive to make a hell of a single. Is it the most accomplished piece of music this year? Perhaps not, but by god is it impressive from two young lads guaranteed to go places.
Kathleen – Catfish and The Bottlemen
Another single from a debut album, Catfish and The Bottlemen are more than just a fantastic bandname. This Indie anthem has strains of aggressive indie-rock reminiscent of The Arctic Monkeys and some of the best of classic rock. Rhythmically interesting and with the power of a good rock song this is one from a band destined to be the next big thing.
Why Do You Hate Me? – Marmozets
This catchy little punk come pop-rock tune is a hybrid of just about everything you need for a cracking rock song. The catchy riff, meaty bass, imaginative drumming and a scratchy, rough vocal from a talented female vocalist make for a confident single brimming with potential. The anger of a young rock band is tangible here but the talent of an experienced and innovative band also leaks out in the solos and the constant shifting rhythms. It’s an astounding single (and incredibly assured album) from a young but talented band.
Write About Us – King 810
King 810’s Album Memoirs of A Murderer is probably the most frightening album released this year (and this is a year in which Slipknot’s return scared the bejeezus out of parents everywhere). The band’s violent past haunt this powerful track which tells the story of the friends of the band who are imprisoned or dead. It’s an incredible piece of music; ominous, haunting, violent and telling a story which needs telling. It’s an extraordinary listen.
Ten Tonne Skeleton – Royal Blood
With an explosion of noise comes one of the finest rock bands to come out of Britain in years, Ten Tonne Skeleton is simply one of an album full of unmissable, heavy but accessible rock music. Royal Blood’s massive – and instant – success has surprised some but when you listen to this incredible band’s debut album the success is just buried there waiting to be unleashed. It’s tight, it’s meaty, it’s catchy, it’s innovative and it’s an amazing achievement for two talented guys, a drum kit and a bass guitar. If you listen to one album this year then make sure it is Royal Blood, even those who aren’t too bothered by Rock will be sucked in. It’s fantastic.
Did we miss your favourite? Comment and listen to the playlist below!
Header image rights; Sony Music