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Yesterday, I ranked the top albums of 2014. Today, I’m rounding up (this time in alphabetical order by band) my favorite songs of the year.
“Live Forever” – Call Me Lightning
A raucous, bouncy tune that doesn’t lament our certain deaths, rather embraces the finality of passing on. What’s not to love about that?
“Casino” – Calliope
The psych-rock four-piece Calliope seem like mystics you’d meet at the end of an intense mushroom trip. And “Casino,” from this year’s psychedelic six-song release, Orbis, resembles the chanting of insidious monks, foretelling of a mystical land where mysterious games are played. It’s all very trippy, dude.
“The Plunders and the Pillagers” – Canopies
“The Plunders and the Pillagers” is four straight minutes of dreamy, synth-pop from the spaced-out five-piece Canopies. It’s probably the catchiest song on Maximize Your Faith, an album sparkling with catchy songs.
“I’m a Man” – Dogs in Ecstasy
Dogs in Ecstasy stayed pretty quiet in 2014 after last year’s goofy, fuzzed-out six-song EP Dat Cruel God. A full-length album never surfaced, but the band did end up releasing two songs on Bandcamp this March. Both “Google Myself” and “I’m a Man” tackle the sweeping narcissism of the Internet generation and while the reference material is certainly well-tread territory, Dogs in Ecstasy still pull it off by keeping things effortlessly light. “I’m a Man” hilariously describes a satirical struggle happening between masculinity and a social media presence. The song starts off earnestly enough (“The world moves so fast/I’m just trying to keep pace”) and then instantly goes off the rails (“How will my daughter ever love me?/ When the software doesn’t recognize my face”). The band saves the best line for the end: “I want my daughter to be healthy/ And to take a decent selfie.”
“Little Viking” – The Delphines
Tucked away at track No. 8 on The Delphines’ 10-song debut, Hush, “Little Viking” emerges as the album’s hidden gem. The song mixes the buoyant keyboards and the faint, almost-whispered vocals of Jami Eaton and Harrison Colby into a catchy sampling of jangly post-punk. At just over 2 minutes, “Little Viking” ends up being the shortest track on the record, and instantly leaves you wanting more.
“Subdued” – Estates
This song originally appeared on a demo in 2012, but “Subdued” received the professional recording treatment this year on Estates’ self-titled EP. It harkens back to the early days of Midwestern emo.
“Ambrosia” – Field Report
This year’s Marigolden showed off Chris Porterfield’s skills behind more electronic-based arrangements, but the Field Report frontman still remained powerful when playing stripped down, like on the somber piano ballad “Ambrosia.” The simplicity mixed with Porterfield’s strikingly personal lyrics packs a heavy wallop.
“Gold” – GGOOLLDD
GGOOLLDD is all about excess. Lead singer Margaret Butler dresses in shimmering gold outfits. They use dollar symbols to spell their debut EP title $TANDARD$. Heck, they capitalize and double every letter in their moniker. Those indulgences carry over to their buoyant synth-pop sound, which when paired with the band’s over-the-top exuberance, feels unstoppable.
“David Bowie Wants to Steal Your Baby” – Heavy Hand
Ironically, Heavy Hand’s “David Bowie Wants to Steal Your Baby” has the longest title on this list but the shortest track time. A few seconds under the minute mark, the track comes in punching with a mean guitar riff and only ups the intensity from there as lead singer Anthony Weber shouts through his verses. He may only take three breaths throughout the entire song.
“Vortex Hole” – The Midwest Beat
The Midwest Beat’s Free of Being contains short bursts of energy throughout the record, but none sound more ebullient than the album’s second track, “Vortex Hole.” At only 90 seconds long, the song is the equivalent of speeding down a country highway with the windows rolled down and the stereo turned up.
“General Drag” – The Midwestern Charm
The angst-fueled, shambolic sophomore record, Growing Pains, from The Midwestern Charm focuses on the hardships of growing up with little direction or even worse cash flow. Shouting along with dive bar jukeboxes to Big Star provides the only comfort after a demoralizing workday on the spirited “General Drag.” It might not be much, but it works.
“What One Could, To These Three, Be For” – Old
Before jetting off to San Francisco, Todd Umhoefer released
this one-off piece on Bandcamp. Like most of his experimental folk (see this
year’s ambitious full-length A Wake in the Wells), the track plays
out as multiple songs all melded into one 13-minute stretch. “What One
Could, To These Three, Be For” feels like a slow wander through the woods
at dusk. It’s a fitting conclusion to Umhoefer’s time spent making music in
Milwaukee. His talent will surely be missed.
This titular song from Ramma Lamma’s 10-song full-length combines raucous glam rock and a delicious frozen desert. What could be inappropriate about mixing those two?
“TV Loverboy” – Sat. Nite Duets
One listen to the lackadaisical slacker rock of Sat. Nite Duets and it’s not too difficult to discern that these dudes spend a lot of time lounging around watching television. On “TV Loverboy,” they take the coach potato lifestyle one step further and fall madly in love with a character on the screen.
“Jupiter Calling” – Space Raft
Are the members of Space Raft aliens from another planet? The ‘70s power-pop influences and spirited guitar riffs say no. The wayward space-being looking to return to his celestial home on the fifth planet in our galaxy in “Jupiter Calling” says otherwise.
“Some Might Say” – Sugar Stems
Only Come Out at Night is a sticky sweet power-pop record, but everything isn’t roses in the Sugar Stems universe. “Some Might Say” chronicles some serious issues with depression and paranoia that seem as pretty questionable ways to deal with a little heartbreak. The song resembles the sun-blistered pop Best Coast, but contains far more substance.
“Way To Be” – Twin Brother
Lead singer Sean Raasch delivers an earnest, soulful performance on Twin Brother’s standout track from Swallow the Anchor. The accompanying jangly guitars and horn section guide this lofty, indie-folk tune through the clouds.
“Renaissance” – WebsterX featuring Lex Allen and D. Bridge
WebsterX didn’t release a mixtape or album this year, but that doesn’t mean that the hardworking rapper wasn’t busy. In a year filled with music video releases and collaborations with indie-rockers Soul Low, WebsterX teased an upcoming full-length with two new tracks. The first, “Renaissance,” dropped in July and is an infectious, soulful love letter to Milwaukee that features Lex Allen and D. Bridge.
“Right On” – Whips
One of the fiercest songs from any local release this year. Stand back.
“Broken Glass Ceiling” – Worrier
Worrier wins this year’s award for most DIY release. The dance-punk band dubbed its melodic synthesizer-driven single “Broken Glass Ceiling” over cheap, thrift store cassette tapes originally recorded by groups like Mötley Crüe, Janis Joplin and Kriss Kross. Mine came on Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? by The Cranberries, which caused the end of Worrier’s five-minute song to meld serendipitously into the middle of “Dreams” for a few seconds.
“Survival of the Fittest” – Yo-Dot
Gritty Sherman Park rapper bemoans the brutal winter weather and its demoralizing effects during one of the coldest snaps in recent history on “Survival of the Fittest”. This one’s nice to tuck away simply for posterity’s sake—a good reminder to bring out during a cold spell that the current temperature couldn’t be as bad as the winter of 2014.