[Music] Top 20 Tracks of 2014, Part One (#10 – #1)

Tracks #20 – #11 Recap 

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10. Ben Khan – Youth, 1992 E.P.

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Available to buy on iTunes

On his debut E.P., London-born musician Ben Khan melds spirited guitar licks with soft, sugary synths and his own smoky tones. Standout track “Youth” adds gun clicks and spectral wails, providing an adventurous soundscape that offsets the cautionary lyrics. One to watch.

See also:Savage”, “Drive, Pt. 1

9. Coldplay – “Magic”, Ghost Stories

Available to buy on iTunes

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Gone are the homogenised chunks of Sky Sports advert-friendly pop-rock that Coldplay been both praised and reviled for over the years – “Magic” is a tasteful (and possibly unrequited) love letter recounted over bristling bass plucks, soft piano and ghostly atmospherics from producer Paul Epworth (Florence and the Machine, Adele).

With his voice front and centre throughout, Chris Martin’s pained falsetto splinters at all the right moments, but it’s the emotional sucker punch of a one-sided conversation come the finale that makes the band’s chart resilience something to cherish.

See also: Midnight

8. Veruca Salt – “The Museum of Broken Relationships”, TBA

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Available to buy from iTunes 

A reunion of Veruca Salt’s original line-up was so inconceivable for fans of the Chicago alt-pop-rock foursome that to see high-profile publications such as Pitchfork and Rolling Stone – who gave the group’s final record together a damning one and a half stars back in 1997 – come out to praise their latest track “The Museum of Broken Relationships” was merely icing on the cake.

It was only fitting, then, that this uncoiling bundle of frothy garage rock drips with Generation X apathy. “He loves me again” frontwomen Nina Gordon and Louise Post sing before clarifying their own stance on the matter: “I. DON’T. CARE!” The track breaks down into a storm of dark, jagged guitar and elated whoops, celebrating the re-arrival of a group who’ve transcended the need for industry approval.

See also:Seether“, “Volcano Girls

7. Ella Henderson – Ghost, Chapter One

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Available to buy on iTunes

Under normal circumstances, a two year wait between a X Factor contestant’s elimination and the release of their debut single is never a good sign. With a new roster of starry-eyed singers cropping up every year, it’s all too easy to slip through the cracks of the public’s consciousness. But the emergence of Gabriella ‘Ella’ Henderson this year is a rare case of a talent being nurtured, not just juiced for a quick buck.

Paired with One Republic frontman and don of the noughties power-ballad Ryan Tedder, Henderson concocted the gospel-tinged “Ghost”; a fusion of dry, testy verses and a tsunami-sized chorus, with an enraptured performance from Henderson that will make you a believer.

See also: “Believe” (Cher cover)

6. Cher Lloyd – Bind Your Love, Sorry I’m Late

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Available to buy on iTunes 

A self-proclaimed “brat” during her time on X Factor UK, Cher Lloyd was ill-served by the faux-urban EDM of “Swagger Jagger”, her first and only No. 1 single. Lloyd’s real strengths lie in either sweet’n’sour bubblegum pop (“Want U Back”) or graceful, rock-tinged torch songs (her cover of Shakespeare’s Sister’s “Stay”), with this cut from her latest album being a glossy combination of both.

See also:Sirens“, “I Wish” [feat. T.I.]

5. Beyoncé – Drunk In Love [feat. Jay Z], Beyoncé

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Available to buy on iTunes

On the closest thing Beyoncé’s guerilla album campaign had to a lead single, Mr. and Mrs. Carter update their marital status from “Crazy” to “Drunk” – and the shift is palpable.

In 2003, Bey was love’s bewildered victim. The symptoms were wild and incapacitating, but relatively innocent. Fast forward a decade and she’s a motor-mouthed potty-mouth with an obvious addiction. As endlessly quotable as they are, Bey’s punky, twisted verses also reveal a strong character at home with not only her sexuality, but her very being. To think millions of listeners have been exposed to a revered female saying she has no complaints with her body is a wonderful thing.

Jay’s Anna Mae faux-pas robs the song of a crack at full-on brilliance, which is a crying shame considering he otherwise adapts quite well to the track’s kinky irreverence, a tone kick-started by a sumptuously reverberating bass, finger-clicks and a Hatsune Miku-alike warble that may be very well be the best call to the dance floor since Britney famously declared her arrival. Bitch.

See also: Partition”, “Haunted”, “***Flawless

4. Katy B – Crying For No Reason, Little Red

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Available to buy on iTunes // Read our review of Little Red

There was a time in early 2014 where Brixton-born singer Katy B looked set to join the likes of Diana Vickers, Little Boots and Alexandra Burke in the Hall of Spurned British Females, pop stars who fell prey to the British music industry’s fickle nature. Tastemakers championed Katy as the Next Big Thing back in 2011, but last year saw the singles preceding her sophomore record struggle to go Top 10. As anyone who’s ever had a teary jive to “5 AM” will tell you, quality wasn’t an issue. So what was one of pop’s most lovable ingénues to do?

“Crying For No Reason” once again proves that every record label should have access to a big red button with the name “GUY CHAMBERS” on it. As a producer, Chambers is no stranger to commercial resurrections – even mid-campaign, as the success of Robbie William’s career-saving hit “Angels” will attest too – and his collaboration with Katy is a sprawling ballad, with spacey synths running parallel with an earnest piano riff before the song suddenly shifts towards breakstep territory.

Much of the excitement comes from the production being consistently on the verge of a Robyn-style dance-the-tears-away breakthrough, but Chambers never lets the clattering percussion overwhelm his star. Katy has never had a better showcase for her pure, gently accented voice, and the dexterity with which she ramps up the drama in the final chorus is captivating. In carefully choosing which buttons to push, she demonstrates the difference with painstaking acrobatics and simply flinging oneself from an unwise height.

See also: Still“, “Everything“, “Aaliyah” [feat. Jessie Ware]

3. Shamir – “If It Wasn’t True”, Northtown E.P.

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Available to buy on iTunes 

Las Vegas-born teenager Shamir Bailey boasts a raw, Nina Simone-alike timbre, one that effortlessly surfs the chilly house beats of his debut EP. On break-up track “If It Wasn’t True”, he summarises big emotions (“We can’t speak without a single shout”) with a knowingly dead-eyed delivery – that is until he trips what sounds like a nest of mechanised hornets, just in time for a last-minute eruption of relationship angst.

See also: I Know It’s A Good Thing“, “Sometimes A Man

2. Kelis – “Rumble”, FOOD

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Available to buy on iTunes // Read our review of FOOD

Thematically split between the joy of an estranged ex handing back their key and a last-minute appeal for them to stay, the swampy “Rumble” is almost a duet. But for every squall of “Baby, don’t go!”, there’s a dose of the iconoclastic diva we know and love (“We don’t need therapy / What I need is you to leave”), with the song’s relieved chorus suggesting a burgeoning independence.

See also:Jerk Ribs”, “Breakfast”, “Biscuits’n’Gravy

1. Clean Bandit – Rather Be [feat. Jess Glynne], New Eyes

Clean Bandit

Available to buy on iTunes 

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at XL Recordings when two executives find their argument over which direction the label cash cow Adele’s should take on her next LP interrupted by a spirited, string-laden ditty blaring from the office radio. Classy but catchy, sprightly but sagacious, and with a vocalist who has more than a few shades a certain Diamond-certified seller to her nuances, “Rather Be” is that rarest of things: a hit you can’t hate.

Dwelling on Jess Glynne’s appearance seems a little besides the point, however, considering she is merely one of a dozen singers to grace the band’s debut record. Primarily comprised of a bassist, cellist, violinist, and a drummer and keyboardist, Clean Bandit are a group who live to up their moniker with productions that are fresh, streamlined, and yes, clean, but rarely clinical.

Adding strings is a classic ploy for credibility in pop music – a crime Clean Bandit have arguably been guilty of previously – but on “Rather Be” they’re used almost exclusively to complement the accompanying piano and popping synths that signal the group’s deep house fascination.

For all the quartet’s musical finesse, however, it is Glynne who stands out as the track’s MVP. “Rather Be” may be a pleading love song, but it’s hard to recall the last time an artist made co-dependency sound quite so empowering.

See also: Extraordinary“, “Mozart’s House“, “Cologne

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[Music] “Me, Myself and I”: Why Beyoncé’s Most Underrated Single May Be Her Most Important

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Cast your mind back to 2004, where, in the final moments of Sex and the City’s television run, Carrie Bradshaw came to the conclusion that the most “exciting, challenging and significant” relationship anyone can develop is with themselves. As arbitrary as this revelation may have felt – after six years of mostly romantically driven storylines, the denouement took great care to ensure each of the show’s quartet was paired up – Bradshaw wasn’t wrong, just late. A year earlier, recently established solo star Beyoncé Knowles had committed this message to record in the form of “Me, Myself & I”, a sumptuous slow jam that served as the third single from her multi-platinum debut Dangerously In Love. But despite the star returning to a more subdued R&B sound on her latest self-titled effort, the track remains an anomaly in her extensive discography.

The track’s reputation suffers not only from the being sole downtempo cut to be issued from its parent album, but also comparisons with the similarly-themed and infinitely more popular “Irreplaceable”. But “Me, Myself And I” is arguably  a product of a more innocent time, before the concept of directly equating of love and wealth became the major motif of Beyoncé’s career. On album track “1+1”, she comfortably eschews one for the other, while “Upgrade U”, “Ring The Alarm” and even “Dance For You” (in which she thanks her man for “the mula, for the power… of love”) all deal with the various tribulations of a world-conquering love built on a rich fiscal foundation. On “Irreplaceable”, this outlook extends to sculpting a healthy personal identity. It’s an uplifting song, but its most potent lyrical examples of self-empowering moments hinge on assertions of the singer’s largess:

“What did you think I was throwing you out for?
Because you was untrue
Rolling her in the car that I bought you.”

This is in addition to her ability to land another partner at the drop of a hat (“I can have another you in a minute / Matter of fact, he’ll be here in a minute”), but the song’s reliance on these factors isn’t problematic. Beyoncé has never had the magpie tendencies of Madonna; her reference points have been largely restricted to current R&B trends, as well as standard tropes set by icons of the genre. This duality has lent her music some much-needed edge since its introduction on her sophomore album B’Day, but it’s also exactly why a track like “Me, Myself And I” has become a curio.

For much of its duration, “Me, Myself And I” is an emotionally detached post-mortem of an unbalanced relationship. Even when Bey refers to herself as “dumb and naïve”, it doesn’t scan as self-deprecation; she’s simply holding a mirror to the man who hurt her. Nonetheless, let’s be honest here; to squander years of your life in an abusive relationship is pretty dumb, and there’s a strong chance some instincts were ignored in favour of sticking it out – but that’s OK. These admissions pave the way for a personal reconciliation, allowing the implications of the chorus to form organically.

“Me, myself and I
That’s all I got in the end
That’s what I found out
And it ain’t no need to cry
I took a vow that from now on
I’m gonna be my own best friend.”

The onslaught of self-empowerment hits in recent years – “Firework”, “Born This Way”, Bey’s own “Pretty Hurts” – saw a lot of songs being written on the assumption that anyone who listens to the radio is suicidal, and in desperate need of a sonic cuddle. While we’re sure the people behind these songs meant well, it seems a little disingenuous to suggest that flitting from being “one blow from caving in” to a colour-burstin’ firework is a normal (non-drug assisted) emotional trajectory. There’s no in-between, no stability.

“Me, Myself and I” doesn’t rely on tired platitudes. The gentle ebb and flow of producer Scott Storch’s funk keyboards, perky string sections and unimposing bass reflects the track’s admirable lack of histrionics. The lyrics aren’t poetry, and they certainly don’t dig much deeper than the singles we’ve mentioned, but this subtlety is its main strength. Is it not exhilarating to hear someone – anyone – simply say “I know I will never disappoint myself”?

It helps that the song contains some of Beyoncé finest vocal work to date. Even if she hadn’t quite mastered the art of emoting at this point, her voice is at the forefront of Storch’s lilting instrumentation, simultaneously proving herself to be a capable storyteller. Most exquisitely of all is how she punctures the line “Even your very best friend / tried to warn me on the low” with a belt before wrapping her silky voice around it. Even if the song fights Madonna’s claim that “only the one who inflicts the pain can take it away”, it’s as if this flourish sees Beyoncé applying a balm to the wound.

“Me, Myself and I” promotes independence in a way unique not for only Beyoncé, or Destiny’s Child, but any artist this side of Whitney Houston (whose classic “The Greatest Love of All” is an obvious reference point). Not even the prerequisite “girlfriends” are name-checked as her saviors, resulting in a Beyoncé-only affair. This is particularly striking considering that between leading the DC sisterhood, as well as her chronic ubiquity as part of music’s ultimate power couple, Knowles has rarely had a moment to stand alone.

Which brings us to the most pertinent question. Should we be concerned that such an iconoclastic song appeared – and, for many people, disappeared – so early in her career? Not exactly. If anything, it’s a virtue that she learned this lesson at such a young age. Lord knows Carrie Bradshaw could have saved herself a lot of time and stress had she done the same. RG