Very little about this list of my favorite singles from the year bears much resemblance to my list of favorite albums.
Apart from La Roux, the remaining nine songs were from albums or EPs that, as a whole, didn’t quite capture me. Instead, these particular sonic moments simply stopped me in my tracks — in nearly all cases, I wore out the repeat button, listening to a few cuts so many times it began to border on mania.
Here are my top 10 singles for 2014.
1. La Roux, ‘Sexotheque’
An exquisitely sleazy sojourn through the red light district — “She wants to know why he’s not home/Oh, I bet money, money, I bet/He’s at the sexotheque,” goes the gorgeous chorus — British singer-songwriter Elly Jackson (aka La Roux) makes straying from your significant other sound utterly intoxicating. With a lush, nu-disco beat, complemented by an addictive flute motif, and Jackson’s austere voice, it’s the most perfect pop song created in the last 12 months.
2. Wye Oak, ‘Before’
While the rest of Shriek, Baltimore indie rock duo Wye Oak’s latest LP, couldn’t quite live up to this stunning opener, Before was nevertheless a deeply captivating effort. Jenn Wasner’s haunted vocal floats through a musical ether, full of digital squiggles, echo and a loping, half-time rhythm which feels simultaneously like waking up as you fall asleep. The lyrics are equally discombobulating: “So I pull you forward towards this spot/That I have never seen or else forgot.”
3. Mark Ronson, ‘Uptown Funk’
The album bearing this particular tune doesn’t even come out for another month, but an argument could already be made for producer Mark Ronson and guest vocalist Bruno Mars having already won 2015 hands down. This scorching piece of pop-funk is — pardon the moth-eaten cliche — an instant classic, one detonating like nitroglycerine in the speakers. Full of Morris Day swagger and 21st century style, this effortless cut feels like a party you never want to end.
4. Jessie J, ‘Bang Bang’
A trifecta of ace female talent ripping into one of the hardest-hitting songs in heavy rotation this year, Jessie J generously lets Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj share in the spotlight on this polished banger. Sure, the lyrics aim squarely (if somewhat cleverly) at the lowest common denominator — “She’s got a booty like a Cadillac/But I can send you into overdrive” — but it’s impossible to not be swept up into the hand-clapping, sky-scraping brinksmanship as these three women dare one another to top that.
5. Sam Smith, ‘I’m Not the Only One’
The freshly Grammy-anointed singer-songwriter had a monster 2014, and while In the Lonely Hour is a compelling first effort, it doesn’t quite hang together with repeated listens. Instead, you’re left with vivid moments like this hit single, a deftly rendered portrait of insecurity amid infidelity (“For months on end I’ve had my doubts/Denying every tear/I wish this would be over now/But I know that I still need you here”). When Smith hits the soaring chorus, your heart can’t help but shatter.
6. Hozier, ‘Take Me to Church’
Irish troubadour Hozier (born Andrew Hozier-Byrne) snared me from his hit single’s opening line: “My lover’s got humor/She’s the giggle at a funeral.” What follows is a faintly psychedelic, four-minute epic, full of baroque religious imagery (“I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies/I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife”) and choral grandeur. What, precisely, Church is about remains a matter of fierce debate, but perhaps its meaning is beside the point — just lose yourself in this handsomely built cathedral of sound.
7. One Direction, ‘Steal My Girl’
There was an exceedingly brief moment where I considered placing One Direction’s surprisingly good Four on my year-end top 10. (Yeah, I’m not sure what I was thinking either.) Still, this confidently adult, transitional pop ballad — “Every jaw drop when she’s in those jeans” is light years away from “Don’t you know you’re beautiful” — suggests One Direction just might survive the move from screaming hordes of female fans to something approaching wide appeal.
8. Rixton, ‘Me and My Broken Heart’
Another earworm I couldn’t shake this year, this fresh-faced quartet, which bills its sound as a pop-R&B hybrid, laments a lost love in this infectious track, taken from their debut EP of the same name (the band’s freshman full-length drops in March). Heart fuses hope and mild despair in a way seemingly only the British know how to do without tipping over into treacle.
9. Gerard Way, ‘Drugstore Perfume’
Freed from My Chemical Romance’s overbearing, gloomy tendencies, singer-songwriter Gerard Way hit the reset button with his uneven, but intriguing solo debut, Hesitant Alien. Something about the melancholy stateliness of the elliptical lyrics and the strong whiff of Roxy Music suffusing the tune combined to create a song that clearly stood out and lingered like a lovely, half-remembered dream.
10. Sturgill Simpson, ‘The Promise’
Ask any trendy type who their favorite new artist was in 2014, and odds are pretty high Sturgill Simpson’s name will cross their lips. The Kentucky native exploded into everyone’s consciousness with the trippy, neo-traditional Metamodern Sounds in Country Music LP, the unexpected highlight of which was this cover of When in Rome’s classic ‘80s tune. Simpson drained away the synths and instead, zeroed in on the hurt lining every lyric — his near-shouted delivery of “I’m sorry/But I’m just thinking of the right words to say” near the climax is a stone cold heartstopper.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713