The 25 Best Singles of 2014


alt-J, “Left Hand Free”

Although it still glitches and twitches like Radiohead hopped up on whatever Baroque musicians used to get high, alt-J’s new album telegraphs its oddity less forcefully than their debut. One of the primary points of entry is “Left Hand Free,” a song ostensibly written as a “normal” radio single to mollify their record label. The lyrics are full-on Dada (“I tackle weeds just so the moon buggers nibble”), the guitar riff sweats like a Black Keys jam session, and the hook is big enough even for American audiences. The group has called “Left Hand Free” “the least alt-J song ever,” but, despite its blues pastiche, only they could have written it. Caldwell


Sia, “Chandelier”

As a songwriter, Sia has scored copious hits by channeling the voices of pop stars as varied as Rihanna and Celine Dion. On “Chandelier,” her heart- and lung-rending delivery of a song about addiction feels entirely her own, the kind of full-throttle catharsis that you can’t fake no matter how big the paycheck. From the reggae-inflected verse asserting that “party girls don’t get hurt” to the sky-high chorus declaring the singer’s intent to swing from ceiling fixtures while drinking her face off, “Chandelier” captures how denial can morph into jarring revelations about the extent of one’s self-destruction. The song, however, keeps that reckoning in abeyance, riding its thudding beat and reveling in those final moments of exhilaration before the hangover inevitably hits. Annie Galvin


Sturgill Simpson, “Turtles All the Way Down”

In one sense, this is the song that real outlaw-country fans have been waiting for after something like 35 years of being let down again and again by Nashville’s conveyor belt of fake-cowboy-hat-wearing pop-country bros. When Simpson, a real small-town Kentucky boy, starts the song off a cappella, sounding like the ghost of Ol’ Waylon himself, it feels like spring finally beginning to bloom after a long, cold winter. But “Turtles All the Way Down” is far more than just a nostalgia kick. Rather than lie back on country clichés, Simpson sings about secular spiritual awakening and “reptile aliens made of light”; he even tosses in some psychedelic filtering effects for good measure. Winograd


Perfume Genius, “Queen&quot

Prior to Too Bright, Perfume Genius was known mainly for excess of the emotional variety, otherwise opting for spartan lo-fi and somber piano pounding, which is part of what makes the sudden shift into dramatic opulence on “Queen,” the album’s second track, so surprising. Riding a slow wave of distorted guitar strums and crystalline synth effects, he lets things build slowly before launching into a wordless chorus just past the one-minute mark, a mixture of grunts and trills signaling the union of sumptuous production with brash physicality—revisionist glam with an ornate, stomping approach to personal pride. Cataldo


Indiana, “Solo Dancing”

Elsewhere on our list, alt-J leaves little doubt about what the right hand’s doing. Here, Indiana’s introverted electro ballad draws a possibly too-obvious comparison between finding bliss by yourself while enveloped within the flashing lights and undulating waves of bass on the dance floor and finding bliss by yourself enveloped within the folds of your bed sheets and undulating gestures of…well, there’s no point in asking Indiana to elucidate further on the mechanics of her very Robyn-esque body talk. Best to just take her word for it and tend to your own, err, dance moves. Henderson