30. Kendrick Lamar – i
Considering the dark, gritty street narratives of good kidd, Madd city, I don’t think anyone would have predicted Kendrick would chose an Isley Brothers-sampling joy-filled anthem as his return. The reason the motivational cut worked so well is K dot’s enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his perspective personal.
29. Mr. Little Jeans – Good Mistake
I could have listened to the pulsing bassline of “Good Mistake” on repeat for infinity, but I primarily loved how it cleverly serves the narrators purpose in hiding a secret. As Mr Little Jeans aka Monica Birkenes expertly outlined over the dark yet danceable production, those secrets weigh on the recidivist rule-breaker.
28. Fences – Arrows ft Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Macklemore caught a lot of hell this year, but his appearance on Fences’ inescapable “Arrows” was well-placed. The Seattle emcee’s rapid-fire rhymes balanced expertly with Fences’ sunny vocals in a tale about fighting for your passions despite naysayers.
27. Shakey Graves – Dearly Departed ft Esme Patterson
2014’s top track list doesn’t feature as many alt country/Americana tracks as the last few iterations, but there was plenty to love in those realms of music. One of the best came from Shakey Graves collaboration with Esme Patterson that featured passionate guy/girl harmonies and foot-stomping rhythms that emulated the earnest reflection on a relationship.
26. Jessie Ware – Say You Love Me
Jessie Ware called in the big guns for help on Tough Love and you couldn’t go much bigger than having Ed Sheeran co-write “Say You Love Me”. Ware unleashed her full vocal range as she beautifully outlined her hopes of mutual admiration. Bonus points for the dramatic effect of the choir to close the song.
25. Taylor Swift – Shake It Off
The best way to explain my trepidation of including a Taylor Swift on this list is probably my wife’s response when I asked how hard I’d be judged. “eh. You always tell me Pop music shouldn’t have any bad stigma with it, it’s called Popular because it sounds good to a lot of people. So what I’m saying is ‘haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate’”. There you have it.
24. FKA twigs – Two Weeks
The confidence FKA twigs exhibited in attempt to woo a spoken-for man on “Two Weeks” isn’t something heard often in R&B, but then again she doesn’t give a damn about R&B. Her direct approach was nearly as jarring as the schizophrenic soundscape and demanded listener attention.
23. Milky Chance – Stolen Dance
Newcomer Milky Chance had a worldwide hit on his hands with “Stolen Dance” and its easy to see why. The tale of a lost love (or addiction, depending on your interpretation) scintillates with fluttering string work, hand claps, and an addictive melody.
22. Sturgill Simpson – Turtles All The Way Down
Sturgill Simpson’s vocals sound like they were from country & western’s (that’s right, western) yesteryear, but the subjects of “Turtles All The Way Down” weren’t typical of the genre, past or present. The astral opus was a hallucinogenic trip through Simpson’s battle with religion, but also a perfect commentary from a drugged out musician.
21. Sam Smith – I’m Not The Only One
Sam Smith’s 4th single from In The Lonely Hour portrayed the narrator in a simple and popular position of heartbroken, but Smith’s passionate vocals lent him to this story-line better than most. The piano-heavy cut was perfect for Smith’s “down on my luck” predicament, but bridge has ramped up the production’s beauty with a grand epiphany.