Here is our final post of this week-long look back at the best music we heard in 2014. As usual, picking the top songs of the past year was the easiest and most enjoyable part of these “Top 5s.” There were significantly fewer songs in my mind, solely connected to personal matters discussed previously, but as I mentioned with the Top releases, it’s not a reflection on the quality of the music heard over the year. More than just a list of the best songs from last year, several of these tracks are amongst my favorite in recent memory, including the final recording from a true master, an anthem that hits close to home and one of the most beautiful pieces of music from an in-studio performance that I’ve been involved with. Here are my Top 5 Songs of 2014.
***Honorable Mentions: Ana Tijoux – “Somos Sur,” Karol Conka – “Boa Noite,” BadBadNotGood – “Confessions,” Electric Wire Hustle – “Look In The Sky,” Madlib – “Robes (instrumental),” Flying Lotus – “Coronus, The Terminator,” Perfect Pussy “Driver” & “Big Stars”
5. Zara McFarlane – “Open Heart” – If You Only Knew Her (Brownswood)
foto © Andy Sheppard
Zara McFarlane – Open Heart
This one, like the top choice on this list, became more of a favorite based off of the performance Zara did for us at KPFK. The simple arrangement with just piano and her extraordinary voice brought the stark beauty of her songwriting to the fore and since matters of love and heartbreak were all on my mind all year long, I was predictably smitten. That performance had me re-evaluate the album as a whole and the version that leads that album off. That concept of an open heart being both lock and key is worthy of it’s own “What Does It All Mean?” post, but for now, I’ll just say that this was one of my favorite songs of the entire year.
4. Shintaro Sakamoto & the Komome Children’s Choir – You Could Be A Robot, Too – Let’s Dance Raw (Other)
Shintaro Sakamoto and the Kamome Children’s Choir – You Could Be A Robot, Too
A new record from Shintaro Sakamoto wasn’t even on my radar until a friend shared the video for this song, the original version of which is featured on Sakamoto’s Let’s Dance Raw. This version, released on a 7” and recorded with the Komome Children’s Choir, gives the song a much cheerier feel, even though the music doesn’t change between the two versions. Watching the video (which I highly recommend) also elides the rather dark nature of this song, which actually is a critique of contemporary Japanese and world culture that puts ease, convenience and a need to escape from the very things that make us human above an understanding that we must take the good with the bad, the pleasure with the pain, in order to truly appreciate our lives. The scariest part of this song is how close to reality we might actually be…I’m particularly frightened by the prospect of losing out to Teacher Robot.
3. Spain feat. Charlie Haden – You & I – Sargent Place (Glitterhouse)
Spain feat. Charlie Haden – You and I
No loss in 2014 hit harder than the passing of legendary musician Charlie Haden. Right up until his passing, Haden never lost his signature sound and by virtue of his son, Josh Haden, we have one final marvel, an unfortunately all too rare collaboration between father and son. While Haden might have had his father in mind when he wrote “You and I,” there were no plans originally to record the song with the elder Haden, those came later at the suggestion of producer Gus Seyffert. From the first note the sound is unmistakable and gorgeous as ever. Given the subject matter and the performance, the song itself is one of Spain’s most touching, one of my favorites of the year, and perhaps my favorite from Josh Haden’s entire career.
2. Bart Davenport – Fuck Fame – Physical World (Love Monk/Burger)
foto © Flucho Wop
Bart Davenport – Fuck Fame
I’m very much an anti-fame kind of guy. I’ve had chances to do much more in music and academically and I’ve chosen different paths that allow me to effect change in ways that do not put much of a spot light on me personally. As such, a song like “Fuck Fame,” along with a handful of others (Rotary Connection’s “Life Could,” Dr. John’s “Glowin’” and Erasmo Carlos’ “Minha Gente” are also personal anthems) resonates with me on a deeply personal level. Davenport articulates the dilemma of an artist embedded within the 21st century music industry. While fame may not be important, gaining greater acclaim, the red carpets and the like…it is still important to understand that this is a business and that artists can’t survive on art alone. The idea that artists should create for art’s sake remains a pervasive feeling, even though corporations continue to make billions and billions of dollars off of the art that these artists create. The song is delivered tongue in cheek, but it also speaks to some very real concerns for many, and for many, or at least those that hear it, it might just serve as an anthem for their way of living.
1. Rodrigo Amarante – The Ribbon – Recorded at KPFK (KPFK Archives) [studio version on Cavalo]
Rodrigo Amarante – The Ribbon (Recorded Live At KPFK)
As I mentioned in the interview, there are few musical pleasures I enjoy more than hearing Rodrigo Amarante playing acoustic guitar and singing. Part of Amarante’s power is in the extraordinary intimacy he conjures up through this simple performances. I was in the room with Amarante, recording the interview and making sure that everything was operating the way that it should, but listening with my eyes closed, and even within that space I felt transported. When you hear Amarante perform this way, it always seems as if you are listening to him perform at his home or on a porch. The song itself is an exceptional one, a companion to another song from his album Cavalo, “I’m Ready,” both dealing with the death of a soldier, one from the perspective of the mother who has lost her son, the other more from the perspective of the soldier looking back on his life after his passing. On the album, the production gives the song a ghostly, otherworldly quality. In this performance, recorded live at KPFK, the otherworldly-ness is wholly connected to the unique qualities of Amarante’s playing (in this case on a guitar he had never played before, a gift from a friend) and his voice. I’ve been blessed to have been involved with a number of fine performances, but this one is by far my favorite in my 20+ year career, which made it an easy selection for song of the year.