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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Top Music of 2014

I love music almost as much as I love books.  Discovering awesome new songs is addicting to me, and I decided that this year, I wanted to share some of what I've found.  (Yes, there will still be the yearly top ten books list.)  There's always my song of the week, in the lower right corner, or in this Spotify playlist, but this year, I'm devoting an entire post to amazing songs.

This will be a long post.  You have been warned.

This year, I added more new songs to my iTunes library than ever before, both brand new songs, and older ones.  I'll break it down into a few categories:

Top 10 Songs Released in 2014
10. 'Raging Fire' by Phillip Phillips (Behind the Light)
Initially, I had the same reaction to this song as I did to Phillip Phillips' other songs: "meh".  The more I heard this one, though, the more it grew on me.  I'm particularly fond of the string section sound in this one.
9. 'Sleepsong' by Bastille (All This Bad Blood)
All This Bad Blood is even more of an oddity than Bad Blood.  It's a little bit more haunting, a little more ambiguous, and a little harder to pin down what, exactly, Bastille is up to, which is what I like about the band.  'Sleepsong' is a perfect example of this.  It's catchy, but there's something a little unsettling about it.
8. 'Flares' by The Script (No Sound Without Silence)
No Sound Without Silence is a shift from The Script's previous albums (and a bit of a letdown for me), but 'Flares' is my favorite moment of it.  It's sad yet hopeful, and suits Danny Donoghue's voice perfectly.
7. 'Wherever This Goes' by The Fray (Helios)
Helios also was disappointing for me, but it does have a few gems like this one.  It's a bit different from The Fray's previous work, but somehow seems like it would fit well onto their first album.
6. 'All Of The Stars' by Ed Sheeran (The Fault In Our Stars: Music From the Motion Picture) 
I'm normally not an Ed Sheeran fan (I don't dislike most of his songs, but I don't love them, either), but this song is the exception.  It's perfect for The Fault In Our Stars.  His voice is lovely, and it's slow but still catchy.
5. 'Cardiac Arrest' by Bad Suns (Language & Perspective)
Yes, I do, in fact, check the free "single of the week" on iTunes every Tuesday.  I've found some good things there, one of them being this song.  It's catchy, but also a bit nonsensical ("how much do I invest"?).
4. 'The Draw' by Bastille (All This Bad Blood)
'The Draw' is another of Bastille's ambiguous, slightly-odd additions to the original Bad Blood.  Whatever it's about, it has the same semi-haunting quality as 'Sleepsong,' but at the end, finds itself in an edgier place than Bastille has ever gone before.
3. 'Luck' by American Authors (Oh, What a Life)
I love the lyrics of this: "Please just listen/'Cause I don't ask for much/I am my own man/I make my own luck."  It tells an interesting story, but it's also upbeat enough to get stuck in my head all day long.  Plus, American Authors has a unique sound.  It's acoustic, but they've added an electronic quality to the singer's voice.
2. 'Lanterns' by Birds of Tokyo (March Fires)
This is one of those songs that was popular for about two weeks on the radio station I listen to, and then was never heard again.  Except that I bought it and didn't stop playing it all year long.  Like the rest of the album, it has an ethereal quality to it, but it's anthemic at the same time.
1. 'Alienation' by Morning Parade (Pure Adulterated Joy)
Where do I even begin with this song?  I got it in May; by July, it was in my Top 25 Most Played.  It's full of interesting wordplay.  It builds and builds, except when the delicate piano chords come in.  And even then, the lyrics don't let up--this song has a lot of lyrics.  And they're brilliant.

Top 10 Songs Discovered in 2014 (released before this year)
10. 'Learning to Love Again' by Mat Kearney (Young Love, 2011)
A few weeks after I first moved into my dorm, I made a "bedtime" playlist of songs to listen to while I'm reading or scrolling through Tumblr right before I go to sleep.  For whatever reason, this became the first song I always start with (after that, the playlist shuffles).  I find Mat Kearney's voice really calming, and it's a beautiful, slower song that fits perfectly on my playlist.
9. 'Vox Populi' by Thirty Seconds to Mars (This Is War, 2009)
This song is cool on its own, but it's so much better in context.  It's one of the brighter moments on the album--the lighter version of the song 'This Is War.'  I love its big sound.
8. 'Here We Go' by Mat Kearney (City Of Black & White, 2009)
I'm so glad I discovered Mat Kearney this year in general.  I'm not sure exactly what draws me to this song, but it's my favorite from this particular album.  (All of which, in fact, is awesome, though I wish he'd go back to the pseudo-rap/spoken word style of his previous album.)
7. 'Be Calm' by Fun. (Aim & Ignite, 2009)
This song took a long time for me to like.  It's odd, even compared to the rest of Aim & Ignite.  It's another of Fun.'s contradictions, since there's nothing calm about it.  I also love its odd structure and unusual instrumentation.
6. 'Welcome to the Black Parade' by My Chemical Romance (The Black Parade, 2006)
I first heard this song on a Pandora station over a year ago, but I didn't think much of it until this past November.  I don't know what made me return to it, but I'm glad I did.  I had previously dismissed My Chemical Romance as "not my thing," but I realize that they do, actually, have songs that are "my thing."  Whatever that means anymore.
5. 'Born Alone' by Morning Parade (Morning Parade, 2012)
I relate to this song a lot.  "In my silence/I am strong/When I'm quiet/I belong."  So many songs are about how great it is to party all night, but how often do we hear about introversion?  How often do rock songs actually acknowledge that silence can be a good thing?
4. 'Never Let Me Go' by Florence + the Machine (Ceremonials, 2011)
Florence Welch has an amazing voice.  This song is about drowning, but it's still beautiful, which makes it even more compelling.
3. 'Hurricane' by Thirty Seconds to Mars (This Is War, 2009)
We're back to This Is War again.  'Hurricane' is one of the darker moments on the album.  The minor piano intro, Jared Leto's voice, and the string backgrounds all create an intensity that truly reflects the lyrics.  Instead of burning with this intensity, like the others, this one simmers.
2. 'Before The Worst' by The Script (The Script, 2008)
I hadn't paid The Script's first album much attention until I heard some of it live last June.  This song reflects the best of their early music--piano, sort-of rap, Danny O'Donoghue's breakup lyrics.  This style suits the band best, in my opinion.
1. 'Young Blood' by The Naked and Famous (Passive Me, Aggressive You, 2010)
I heard this one live, as well.  In fact, I had never heard this song at all until The Naked and Famous opened for Imagine Dragons in March.  There's something about hearing certain songs played blastingly loud that makes them better.  This is one of those songs.  The synthesizer part is what makes the song, but I also love how quiet it gets in the third verse.

Honorable mentions from both categories: 'Fade' by Egyptian, 'Fire & Rain' by Mat Kearney, 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' by U2, 'Soldier' by Gavin DeGraw, S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W by My Chemical Romance, 'A Thousand Nights' by Trent Dabbs, 'Final Masquerade' by Linkin Park, 'Silhouettes' by Of Monsters and Men, 'It's Not Right For You' by The Script, 'City of Angels' by Thirty Seconds to Mars

Top 5 Albums Discovered/Released in 2014 
5. Aim & Ignite (2009) by Fun.
I spent a long time listening to Aim & Ignite before I could decide whether or not I liked it.  It's quirky and doesn't really have a uniform sound (Strings?  Electric guitars?  French horns?  Why not all of the above?).  It carries an odd dissonance, since so many songs sound bright and upbeat when the lyrics tell a much sadder, more serious story.  Favorite songs: 'Be Calm,' 'The Gambler,' 'Light A Roman Candle With Me'  
4. Morning Parade (2012) by Morning Parade
Despite my love for 'Alienation,' off Morning Parade's second album, their first is my favorite overall.  It reminds me of The Fray's second album, but less acoustic.  It shows off the entire range of what Morning Parade can do, from hard ('Blue Winter') to slow and quiet ('Half Litre Bottle'), to a more standard rock sound ('Headlights').  Favorite songs: 'Born Alone,' 'Close To Your Heart,' 'Under The Stars'
3. The Script (2008) by The Script
I've counted The Script as one of my favorite bands for a few years, but I had never become familiar with their first album until I saw them perform live.  Finally, though, I got this album, and wondered why I didn't download it sooner.  Like I mentioned earlier, it has the strongest pop/rock sound, with the semi-rapping that was mostly nonexistent on their second album, Science & Faith, and then returned as more of a pop sound on #3 and, to a lesser extent, No Sound Without Silence.  Personally, I think this style suits them better than anything else.  Favorite songs: 'Before The Worst,' 'The End Where I Begin,' 'The Man Who Can't Be Moved'
2. Nothing Left To Lose (2006) by Mat Kearney
Mat Kearney has a knack for writing lyrics that feel intensely personal, even if you can't relate to them.  Much like The Script, he often finds that thin line between singing and rapping, but it comes out closer to spoken word on this album.  His songs are honest, which makes them emotional.  Favorite songs: 'Renaissance,' 'Won't Back Down,' 'Can't Break Her Fall'
1. This Is War (2009) by Thirty Seconds to Mars
The title of this concept album says it all--this is war.  The sound is big, dark, and intense.  It goes from the sweeping choral sounds of 'Vox Populi' to quiet, acoustic songs like 'Alibi.'  It's a different sound than Thirty Seconds to Mars' previous album, but I like this new direction.  Each song is good on its own, but this is one of those albums that is better heard all together.  Favorite songs: 'Hurricane,' 'Vox Populi,' 'Stranger In A Strange Land'

Top 10 Most Played Songs Of All Time (as of now)
10. 'Sweet and Low' by Augustana (Can't Love, Can't Hurt, 2008)
9. 'Syndicate' by The Fray (The Fray, 2009)
8. 'Secrets' by OneRepublic (Waking Up, 2009)
7. 'Enough For Now' by The Fray (The Fray, 2009)
6. 'Tiptoe' by Imagine Dragons (Night Visions, 2012)
5. 'It's Time' by Imagine Dragons (Night Visions, 2012)
4. 'All Fall Down' by OneRepublic (Dreaming Out Loud, 2007)
3. 'Breath of Life' by Florence + the Machine (Breath of Life - Single, 2011)
2. 'Never Say Never' by The Fray (The Fray, 2009)
1. 'Say (All I Need) by OneRepublic (Dreaming Out Loud, 2007)

I also went to two concerts this year.  The first was the Imagine Dragons 'Into the Night' tour, with The Naked and Famous and Nico Vega.  It was the first concert I ever bought tickets for, and it was so much fun.  Their songs lend themselves well to dramatic lighting and effects--and they sound good live, too.  The second was the OneRepublic 'Native' tour (my brother won tickets), with The Script and American Authors.  I'm a big fan of both OneRepublic and The Script, so I was excited to see both in one concert.  And now I've been in the same "room" as Ryan Tedder, which will always be cool to me.
Not my concert, but here's a GIF of Imagine Dragons.  And a lot of lasers.
I wish I had a way of getting statistics about my music listening over this past year (for example--I'd love to know my most played song of 2014 overall, not just of all time).  Still, here is a glimpse into what I've been listening to.  I have accepted that my music taste no longer follows predictable patterns.  I used to be able to say, "I like female pop artists like Leona Lewis or Jordin Sparks."  Then it became, "I like ambiguous pop/rock bands like OneRepublic and The Fray."  Now it's "I just made a playlist that includes OneRepublic, Les Miserables, My Chemical Romance, the Thor soundtrack, and Queen."  This year, I started listening to stuff that's a bit more "edgy" than I'm used to, like Thirty Seconds to Mars.  But I'm also starting to enjoy more electronic-influenced artists like Bastille.  We'll see how my taste changes, if at all, in 2015.

What did you listen to in 2014?  What songs were your favorites?
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  1. I can't quite say how much I love this post... Just know that I did, do, and will for a long time to come. I think it counts as a great Christmas gift. :) Thanks for sharing!! Spotify did some statistical stuff for the year. It was really interesting, but would be a lot more helpful for me if I listened to all my music on there, instead of just a few songs which skewed their data considerably. (And I'm getting your email/ letter to you soon, now that finals are done and such!)

    1. I'm glad you liked it! I also enjoyed Spotify's statistical information, though like you, I don't listen to it much, so the data was skewed. I usually only listen to albums that I'm considering buying, so it doesn't represent my whole collection at all. I wish iTunes did the same thing--that would be awesome.

      Thanks for commenting, as always!

  2. I think my music taste is sort of similar to yours. I also went to a OneRepublic concert this year and I am very proud of having been in the same room as Ryan Tedder. :)

    My current favorite song is "The Kids Aren't Alright" by Fall Out Boy. Some of my other favorites from this year are "Rollercoaster" by Bleachers, "Flares" by The Script, "Take It Or Leave It" by Cage The Elephant, "Ink" by Coldplay, "Preacher" by OneRepublic, "Angel In Blue Jeans" by Train, "This Is Gospel" by Panic! At The Disco, "Shadow and a Dancer" by The Fray, and "Do I Wanna Know?" by Arctic Monkeys.

    It was interesting to hear what your favorites were. I'll be sure to listen to them!

    1. You were probably also in the same room as Danny O'Donoghue, as well, which is also cool.

      We must have pretty similar tastes in music, since I'm familiar with most of the songs you listed. (This Is Gospel is fabulous.) I'll have to check out the ones I've never heard!


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